ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE
STAR BLAZERS-TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
By: Frederick P. Kopetz
ACT SIX---THE LAST TRIAL
I. A CONVERSATION WITH NASKA
Desslok's Flagship Gamilstadt
The Vicinity of Mars
January 8, 2202
0810 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
"Talan," said Desslok as his planes began to return to his carriers, "...is the area around Naska's fleet clear?"
"It will be shortly, Leader Desslok. His fleet is now disabled and sitting dead in space. Our planes are out of the area, and ...so are the Star Force's."
Desslok nodded. "Talan, bring up the Desslok gun."
"Bring up the Desslok gun!" snapped Talan.
The Gamilstadt's crewmen got busy, and, a moment later, the ornate brazen firing stand emerged from its hideaway in front of Desslok. Deep within the bowels of the ship, power was transferred to the Gamilon surge cannon as the familiar, low, ominous sound of energy buildup began.
"Talan, open a connection to Naska's flagship," ordered Desslok.
A moment later, Naska appeared on the Gamilstadt's screen as he stood on the bridge of his flagship, the single-deck carrier Venshana. "Leader Desslok...what a pleasant surprise," he stammered.
"Not for you," said Desslok. "I note that, as far as you were concerned, it was not finished between you and I after you underestimated the Star Force and allowed them to defeat you at Brumus?"
"I merely asked you to appeal to Zordar for me!" snapped Naska. "And then, you turned traitor against our House!"
"Yes, and for good reason," said Desslok. "Your House only desired plunder and conquest without a good reason, and your superiors used me and played me for a fool without just cause. On the other hand, I was fighting for the honor of Gamilon. When I learned that the Star Force was fighting even harder for the honor of Earth, risking their lives even to the death for the love of Earth and each other, being as idealistic and honorable as I thought I was, it was a simple matter to decide where my true sympathies were. And, as I see that your quest for glory merely switched itself over to a new master, a master who attacked my own ships and worlds without cause..." added Desslok as he paused for a moment.
"WHOA!" said Dash on the Argo as the Star Force watched the exchange between Naska and Desslok with the ship's blast shields raised after Hardy's squadron had returned; Lubyanska's and Hartmann's squadrons were still far away, flying patterns near Phobos. "He has an even better reason to attack them than we do, Wildstar! They attacked him first!"
"Yes...it seems just like them," said Wildstar. "But Desslok didn't stand down. Now I see what sort of risk he took by originally helping us."
"...and," continued Desslok, "...since I am doing nothing more than defending my own interests and my own people, I feel no guilt whatsoever at sending you to your death, a death you so richly deserve."
"I may die," snapped Naska. "But others will continue the fight. You haven't seen the last of Gernitz's House, Leader Desslok. I've recalled the forces that were bombarding Earth. Very soon..."
"Thank you for the warning, Naska," said Desslok with a thin smile as he cut off the transmission. On the bridge of his flagship, Talan snapped. "Energy buildup complete, Leader Desslok. Fifteen seconds to firing."
"Now comes your end, Naska," said Desslok calmly as he pulled back the safety on his Desslok gun.
"Ten seconds to firing," said Talan. "...Eight...seven...six...five...four...three...two...one..."
"FIRE!", said Desslok as he squeezed the firing grip of his gun.
The Desslok gun went off, blowing a massive pink energy surge towards Naska's fleet. It hit his flagship dead-on, blowing it apart with very little effort.
Naska died in a scream and a roar of energy, but he died with a rictus-like smile on his face, because he knew that his final transmission would soon accomplish its result. I sent two of my carriers off with Paltris when we split up earlier today...they can deal with the Star Force, he thought. And...I also alerted Gernitz. Soon...Desslok will pay. I will not have died in vain!
The Cometine fleet blew apart, filling space with the pink, lurid roar of its demise as Desslok stood smiling on the bridge of the Gamilstadt.
However, the Leader noticed something emerging from warp right in front of the energy cloud.
"Leader Desslok!" snapped Talan. "Cometine destroyers! And...a battleship!"
"What? So soon?" said Desslok in surprise...but it was too late.
The Gamilstadt was hit, once, twice, three times over, from attacks from the destroyers at close range. Not far away, the battleship opened fire on one of Desslok's carriers with its shock gun. A moment later, a Gamilon tri-deck carrier blew apart, followed by a Gamilon battleship.
Some Gamilon destroyers tried to shield Desslok's flagship as every short-range gun on the blue battlecruiser was firing over the Gamilon ships to try to hit the Cometine destroyers, but two of the Gamilon ships perished even as one of the Cometine ships blew apart.
Not far away, the Argo was also coming under attack. Missiles and energy bolts were flying around the Earth battleship even as the blast shields were going up over the bridge windows.
"A large Cometine fleet...and at close range!" cried Holly Parsons from the tactical radar. "Distance, four megameters. There's six carriers, two battleships, and many escort ships, for a total of twenty-three enemy ships!"
"And...I'm reading a large fleet approaching at the edge of my radar range...about a hundred and fifty megameters beyond Desslok's fleet...off by the near edge of the asteroid belt." cried Nova.
"How many of them?" asked Wildstar.
"Over three hundred ships...plus a large space fortress...bringing it up on video."
Nova flicked a switch, and the bridge crew went white for a moment.
"Gernitz's flagship!" hissed Wildstar. "That ship alone could destroy our whole Defense Fleet...and it's approaching at full speed...if it attacks us and Desslok...."
Wildstar didn't need to finish the sentence. Instead, he ordered, "Homer, put me through to Hartmann and Lubyanska."
"The channel's opened," said Homer.
"Hartmann, Lubyanska...join up and attack the ships attacking the Gamilons. We've got to give Desslok some breathing space. Then, don't land, but remain around the Gamilon fleet until I order you to land on the Argo. We've got to take care of that carrier fleet behind us at once!" said Wildstar.
"Got it," said Hartmann. "Tatiana...give me a hand!"
"DA!" she said with a smile.
A moment later, both squadrons were streaking towards the Gamilon fleet, letting loose all of their missiles at the Cometine ships.
On the Gamilstadt, Desslok smiled with appreciation as the two Black Tiger squadrons took care of the immediate threat. "Wildstar...thank you," he said under his breath. "Talan, have our fleet turn about one hundred and eighty degrees...and have our remaining carriers launch every available plane...and then have them assemble in front of my flagship."
"Leader Desslok, that's at the far edge of even our improved SMITE range. It'll be dangerous."
"For our sakes...they'll have to be stopped. And then...we'll SMITE our remaining three battleships and our remaining three combat carriers around the enemy fleet...and, last of all...we'll warp behind Gernitz's battleship while they're occupied. And then...I'll have one chance to strike!"
"For Earth?" asked Talan.
"For Earth, as well; as for Gamilon's honor," said Desslok. "I never want it to be said, if it comes down to it, that my last battle was fought with me waiting impotently for our doom. And...we're not finished yet!"
II. WILDSTAR'S MOMENT
Space Battleship Argo
The Vicinity of Mars
January 8, 2202
0832 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
"Enemy fleet...range, four point eighty-two megameters!" said Nova. "Derek, they're slowing down!"
The Argo had turned to face the fleet, and her forward guns and torpedo ports were blazing like mad as they were just able to hold off the enemy fleet.
The Argo took a glancing hit on her stern from a destroyer as she began to turn.
On his bridge, the commander of the enemy ship smiled, said, "Gunners adjust your aim...blow their engines out..."
The destroyer fired again from "below" as the Argo turned. The port side auxiliary engine nacelle took a moderate hit...systems inside the engine shorted out, and the engine's RPMs went down...but, a minute later, the starboard engine took a dead-on hit.
Inside the nacelle, the engine's power coupling exploded when the engine was hit. The engine flared energy in a huge burst, and then went dark, with smoke trailing out the engine nozzle into deep space as a fire raged inside the unit.
Orion saw the output going down and demanded, "Yamazaki! What's goin' on down there? The auxiliaries are goin' red!"
"Sir!" said Yamazaki from the engine room. "The port and starboard boosters are hit. The port one is down 75%. The starboard one's dead!"
"Chief!" said Lieutenant Diane Henson from her panel at the rear of the engine room. "I'm reading fire in the starboard engine!"
"Shut her down and void the air out of the compartment!" he snapped. "Parmon! Get a crew over there ASAP and shut all the auxiliary power couplings to the starboard unit when the fire goes out! Be prepared to get your crew in space gear to do it manually if it doesn't work!"
"Yessir!" he said. "Carrington. Get your ass up here!" he snapped.
"What's the situation with the engines?" asked Wildstar a few minutes later.
"The fire in the starboard unit's out. The port one's at 40%," said Orion. "Thank heavens they didn't get the main engine...she's still runnin' at full power. Our speed's just a little reduced."
Wildstar nodded, relieved.
"Captain," said Homer. "I'm getting a transmission from Hartmann."
"Put her on the bridge speakers," said Wildstar.
"Captain, this is Hartmann. We've helped Desslok...but our fuel is running low. We'll need to land soon."
"All right. You and Lubyanska...get your squadrons back to your holds."
The Black Tigers returned, but they were coming in under enemy fire. Two planes were hit as they came towards the ship...and two planes came in damaged as the ship shook under them as they landed. All in all, out of their twenty-four planes, seven were lost and three damaged in the battle. The Star Force was holding, so far...but at quite a cost.
When the Black Tigers had returned to the ship, Wildstar said, "Venture, perform a ninety-degree turn to take us up above the ecliptic, and then accelerate at full speed to a point nineteen megameters above the fleet."
"Wildstar?" asked Venture.
"Prepare for full speed. Can we do it?"
"It'll be a little risky with one auxiliary out," said Orion. "But...I think I can give it to ye. Y'know we can't warp with that auxiliary engine out...."
"That's all right. We'll need some maneuvering space....and then, we'll take care of that fleet after we put some space between them and us for a bit."
"Roger," said Venture. "All hands...prepare for maximum speed...." he said as the Argo made its turn and accelerated away with the enemy destroyers in pursuit.
"General Paltris!" said one of the crewmen on the Cometine task force's flagship carrier.
"The Argo's trying to clear the area!"
"Gernitz would never forgive us if we allow that ship to escape!" yelled Paltris. "ALL ships! Keep up the pursuit! Change course! Catch them! Cripple that ship, and then prepare a boarding party. Have all boarders set their weapons on stun...we're to take them alive!"
"It won't be hard," said the crewman. "Sir, Captain Shadavar, on one of our destroyers, said that he took out one of the Argo's engines. If they let him get a lucky shot in, he can get another."
"Sir, they've just changed course again, but our destroyers are still after them!"
At that, Paltris grinned. "Great. I want to SMASH the Star Force! Change course...and close on in them!, he laughed. "Commence the assault with missiles...and then we'll stand off and launch our planes while the battleships continue their bombardments...When they're crippled...we'll commence the boarding operation."
The chase continued. Even damaged, the Argo was able to outrun her pursuers with Venture's maneuvering and course changes. Finally, the Argo knocked out her closest pursuers with several shots from her main guns and made another course change."
"Distance from enemy fleet, now thirteen megameters," said Nova. "We were able to outrun them for a bit...but they're still coming."
"No further damage to the ship...but we can't take much more of this sort of punishment," said Sandor.
"I know...and, for a bit...we won't have to," said Wildstar. "Orion, how's the main engine?"
"Energy output normal..." said Orion. "She's still holdin'..."
"Good. Stop all engines...and then transfer all energy to the wave motion gun!" said Wildstar.
"Wildstar!" said Venture. "They're still attacking...!"
"Distance to enemy fleet, now just twelve megameters!" said Nova.
"Incoming fire!" said Parsons.
"Wildstar..." said Venture as he looked back at the Captain with an incredulous look. "You aren't...?"
"I am. Now, we've got one clear chance to just get rid of them...and do what else we'll have to do to defend Earth and help Desslok, since he helped us. Orion?"
"Stop all engines...switching output," said Orion as the Argo's bridge went dark for a moment.
"General...the Argo's stopped," said Paltris' executive officer, Major Handanbal.
"I wonder why?" mused Paltris as he ran a hand through his white hair. "Maybe their Captain is going to surrender?"
"Perhaps he realizes he's beaten at last!" laughed Handanbal.
"Yes...those Earthers should have some sense. Well...we'll stop the attack, but keep our planes at the ready. After all, we'll have to pick them up when we take them prisoner! Send a message requesting their surrender...and let's be nice about it! They're fought so hard, after all...All ships, stop firing! We want some live prisoners to torture for information, don't we?"
At that, both men laughed like mad.
"Energy level...now at eighty percent!" said Orion as the bridge crew sat at the ready, prepared to put their flash goggles on. "Bear in mind, our range will be down a little with one of the auxiliaries out..."
"At least they've stopped firing...for the moment," said Nova.
"Captain...I'm getting a message from the enemy fleet," said Homer.
"What are they saying?" asked Wildstar.
"They're demanding our surrender," said Homer.
"Never," hissed Wildstar. "They'll get our answer soon enough. Dash?"
"Opening safety lock," said Dash at the combat station controls as he pulled back the plunger on his handgrip. "All preliminary preparations complete!" he said over the increasing whine.
"Energy level, one hundred percent!" said Orion as, outside, the Argo's huge bow muzzle began to glow as the magnetic restraining field reached its full strength and the bow shutter and equipment began to bleed excess tachyons into the glowing muzzle.
"Begin final countdown," snapped Wildstar.
Dash nodded. "Right," he said as his hand tightened on the trigger. "Ten...nine...eight...seven...six...five...four...three...two...one...ZERO...."
"FIRE!" snapped Wildstar.
"FIRE!" repeated Dash.
And, at that, a white flame like the fire of Hell itself roared out of the Argo's bow muzzle, blinding Paltris even before it reached his fleet. He frantically screamed orders for an emergency warp-out...but all of them were too late.
Even damaged, the Argo was more than able to deliver the death-blow to Paltris' fleet. In just a moment, his fleet was reduced to nothing but a ball of flame and gas as space was lit up all around in a lurid glare.
For now, the threat to the Star Force was over with. The last of the forty-two ships that had left X-3 three days before to attack Earth and the Star Force had met their fates thanks to both the Star Force and the Gamilons.
However, there was still Gernitz himself left to reckon with....
"Leader Desslok!" said Talan aboard the still embattled Gamilstadt. "The Argo's just finished off the carrier task force."
"Excellent," said Desslok with a grim smile as the ship SMITE'd away the last of the Gamilon battleships. "And now, for our last move. Prepare for warp..."
"WHAT?" said Gernitz.
"Sir," said Varlan. "We've just observed that the Argo has finished off Paltris. He had just informed us that he was requesting their surrender, and then they were apparently destroyed by the Argo's wave motion gun."
"That idiot," said Gernitz. "Well, he deserved it for letting down his guard around the Argo. Now, are we ready?'
"Yessir. Our main siege gun is ready. All we need do is wait for the Gamilons to come within range..."
"...And I can deal with them at our leisure once our ships clear the path for me," said Gernitz. "Then, I can deal slowly with the Star Force and the Earth forces. Do you have my speech prepared? You know...the speech where I demand Earth's surrender and they refuse? Then we use that to begin wiping the Earthers out?"
"It's right here," said Varlan just as the Gamilstadt appeared many megameters away from the fleet.
"Sir," said a radar officer. "The Gamilons have begun to attack!"
"Do you think I'm worried about that?" asked Gernitz. "Prepare the main gun. Desslok's flagship is the target!"
The siege cannon of Gernitz’s ship began to power up.
Not far away, a Gamilon battle carrier began to attack Gernitz’s ship with its main guns.
“What?” said the Captain after the first barrage bounced off the huge black space warship.
“The armor must be too strong,” said his first officer.
“They’re returning fire!” said the radar officer a moment later.
“Evasive maneuvers!” barked the Captain. “Prepare to launch planes!”
The Gamilon battle carrier turned, but its turn wasn’t fast enough. It took heavy engine damage.
On Gernitz’s ship, Gernitz laughed as his ship fired again at the Gamilon carrier.
Before the Gamilon ship could launch her planes, a withering barrage from the Cometine ship blew her to bits.
Then, as if he was shooting at birds, Gernitz aimed his guns, and he fired and brought down three Gamilon destroyers at once.
“Ha ha ha HA!” he yelled. “This is too easy! I’ll have them finished within minutes!”
“What a glorious moment,” said one of his officers. “We shall soon witness the end of Desslok and the Gamilons!”
“Yes, we certainly shall,” said Gernitz.
"Sir...a transmission's coming in!" said Gernitz’s communications officer.
"Probably Desslok trying to surrender..." said Gernitz. "I'll not spare HIM, the fool!"
"No...it's on the command frequency! It's from the Imperial Core...in Andromeda!"
"WHAT?" demanded Gernitz. "What do THEY WANT NOW????"
"Talan?" said Desslok calmly. “It looks as if our fleet has taken some damage…”
"The battleships and carriers are ready to cease their barrage at your orders, Leader Desslok. We've lost two of the carriers and several destroyers, but..."
"They won't need to be concerned any longer," smiled Desslok as his ship sat five megameters off the bow of the much larger Cometine battleship. "Screen up...full magnification."
The smoking Gamilstadt's main screen came on as Desslok smiled, focusing in on the dreadnought’s forward bridge tower. "That's where he is," smiled Desslok. "I'm sure of it. Talan, prepare a spread of space mines; I want him surrounded!”
“Yessir!” said Talan. A moment later, the Gamilstadt fired off and SMITE’d a group of space mines around Gernitz’s dreadnought.
“What are those?” asked one of Gernitz’s officers. “Andromeda Central wishes to speak to us!”
“Insignificant,” said Gernitz, who grinned like a madman even as one of the mines drifted in, hit his ship, and knocked out a gun turret. “The Gamilons will soon have more than that to reckon with.”
“Energy charge almost completed,” said Gernitz’s engineer. “Siege cannon ready to fire in eighty seconds!”
“But, Baron!” said his officer. “The Viceroy wishes to speak to you…now!”
“She does?” asked Gernitz. “Put her on, then. But tell her we are almost ready to defeat this scum.”
But, on the Gamilstadt, Desslok was ready to release his own deadly barrage.
The Gamilon leader smiled and said, “ Now, Talan...for the last time today...bring up the Desslok gun!"
"Bring up the Desslok gun," ordered Talan.
Again, the ornate firing grip came up, and again Desslok smiled as the energy buildup began. "Now, Gernitz...the would-be conquests of your House will end...."
"One minute to firing," said Talan.
"Goodbye, Gernitz," smiled Desslok.
"WHAT?" demanded Gernitz.
"As Lord Viceroy of the High Emperor, should I be questioned?" demanded a youngish woman in a white Cometine uniform and headdress that looked somewhat like the sort the late Princess Invidia had worn. "The Emperor has learned that Planet Rotella, a major territory of your would-be House, is in danger of rebellion. Would you allow the Empire to laugh at you and cause His Highness to question your leadership of your House and the interests of our people?"
"Lady...you do not understand. I stand at the midst of destroying Desslok of Gamilon, the traitor who turned against Prince Zordar, a kinsman of His Highness and helped cause his demise. And Zordar's objective is only a few days away from completion! I will take the Earth! Then after I take the Cosmo-DNA and its secrets from them, I will destroy that little stinking world! I can wipe them out within hours! The devastation of their planet’s surface with my siege cannon…it will be so glorious!"
"No....you will not.”
“I will not?”
“No. We need that world someday, fool! Our orders to you are these. RETURN. NOW! Leave a fleet at X-3 if you care to, but you are to disengage, and leave the Sol System now. This fight will be one for another day."
"What if I refuse?"
"Then, you would lose your House sanction, be branded a rebel, and you would have Prince Carnal entering your system with a Comet-ship within a year to destroy you...and the Earth along with you. Do you care to fight a city-ship yourself? Or, would you like to try to have your Terran slaves help you?"
"If you're wise...you'll return. I expect to see your force attacking the rebels at Rotella within twenty days."
"All right," hissed Gernitz. I'll do it."
"Good," said the Viceroy. "I knew you were wise, Gernitz."
The transmission ended.
"All ships, prepare to warp out to X-3!" screamed Gernitz as he pushed aside Varlan from the controls of the ship's main gun. "For now...our engagement here is over with! Curse the Emperor!"
"Ten seconds to firing!" said Talan.
"Now, you'll pay for insulting me" said Desslok with a grim smile as he released the safety lock on the Desslok gun.
"Eight...seven...six...five...four...three....two...one...," said Talan.
"What?" said Desslok with a raised eyebrow as the Cometine fleet began to glow and fade away, with Gernitz’s dreadnought taking some damage as it warped away and hit some more of Desslok’s mines. “He’s running from me? How amusing!“
"Sir," said an officer, Major Frausky. "We've detected a high-beam message from Andromeda in the old Gatlantis code...and the enemy fleet is warping away at full power!”
"Trace their warp-out point! NOW!" said Desslok as the whine of the Desslok Cannon faded down to a dull roar.
Frausky saluted and turned to his instruments.
"Oh, no! Seven ships approaching at high speed!" cried Nova from her radar.
"What?" asked Wildstar. "Put them up on video!"
Wildstar tensed, but he breathed a sigh of relief as he noticed an Andromeda-class space battleship, two Jamaica-class main battleships, and four New York-class fleet cruisers approaching. "Earth ships," he said. "Thank God."
"My IFF signals say that
they're the new Andromeda, the Britannia, the Deutschland,
and the fleet cruisers
"We're getting a transmission from the Andromeda!" said Homer.
"Put it up on the video panel," said Wildstar.
The bridge crew stood and saluted as Admiral Jeremy Falworth, the commander of the Earth Defense Fleet, came up on the main screen.
"Captain Wildstar, are you in need of backup?" asked Falworth. "We pursued the Cometine task force out of Earth orbit to this point."
"Thank you, but we need no further backup, sir," said Wildstar.
Nova's eyebrows went up as she glanced down at her scope for a moment, "OH! They're gone!"
"WHO?" said Falworth as Wildstar turned to Nova, knowing that she wouldn't interrupt like that unless there was a very good reason.
"Sir, we were tracking the main Cometine fleet...which was in battle with the Gamilons," said Nova. "They've just warped away...but the Gamilons are still there..."
Derek's eyebrows went up a little as Falworth said, "Gamilons?"
"The Gamilon fleet pursued the Cometines here, sir," said Wildstar. "They were helping us fight them off when a huge fleet of over three hundred ships warped in to attack Desslok's fleet, and presumably, us, next, according to Desslok. We defeated both of their smaller task forces before you arrived, but according to Lieutenant Wildstar here, the main enemy fleet has just warped out. I'm not sure what significance that has, sir, but it seems that we have some breathing space...and..."
Homer turned around and snapped, "Wildstar! Another transmission is coming in! It's the Commander! He wants to speak to all of us, the Admiral included!"
"Switch it over," said Wildstar.
Everyone saluted as Commanding General Singleton's balding, mustachioed visage appeared on the screen. "Thanks to you, Admiral Falworth, I've heard that the immediate threat has been dispatched. Earth is no longer under attack. Further, I've been told that...thanks to you, Captain Wildstar, half of the Cometine task force was dealt with thanks to your courageous use of your untested new Wave Motion Gun design. Further, I've been told that the main enemy force has warped out beyond our solar system, according to an initial analysis."
"Who told you, sir? And why did they just run?"
"I find this a little hard to believe, gentlemen, but we were informed of this by...Leader Desslok of Gamilon. He claims we have nothing more to fear from Gernitz...at the moment...even though he is trying to find out why the enemy fleet just warped away. He thinks he has some theories as to why they left...and where they're headed."
"We should thank him, sir. He was actually quite helpful."
"You can do that in person, Captain. He requested your presence at a meeting before he leaves the solar system to pursue the enemy fleet again. I've already taken the liberty of guaranteeing your presence."
"Thank you, sir," said Wildstar. "But...we'll need some time to make repairs....as well as to make up a few possible losses to our Black Tigers."
"You can do so at Ganymede. I've already alerted the base. Also, I've ordered all civilian space traffic to return to safe harbor and then make way back for Earth at the earliest opportunity," said Singleton. "Falworth, you're to escort the Argo to Ganymede and lend any and all possible assistance to the Star Force when the Argo lands there. Then, you are to return home in order to make a full report of your part of the battle," said the Commander.
"Understood," said Falworth with a salute. "Will that be all, sir?" said the Admiral.
Singleton nodded, and then, Falworth went off line. "Captain Wildstar, I'm told that Desslok will be ready to meet with you within two of our days. When do you expect to be at Ganymede?"
"Within a day at our best speed, sir," said Wildstar. "Our auxiliaries are a little damaged, so we'll have to go around the asteroid belt a little more slowly than usual."
"The Gamilons are now above the belt," said Singleton. "Since Desslok informed us that he's regrouping his forces, they should arrive near Ganymede within a day and a half. He anticipates meeting with you on the 10th, at 1100 Hours."
"We'll send him our acknowledgment...and our best wishes," said Wildstar. "And...our thanks."
Singleton nodded. "Without his assistance...this could've turned out much worse for us. Our Defense Fleet is still small and rebuilding...and it's scattered very thin. It would have been hard to muster a full defense at such short notice and with so few ships. But, thanks to the Gamilons, and the Star Force, we have again been granted a reprieve. For your part, thank you, Captain Wildstar."
"Thank you, sir. When would you like me to make a full report?'
"When you arrive on Ganymede. For now, I will say farewell. Thanks again for your efforts...and so soon after leaving Earth, too."
Wildstar nodded. He and the Commander exchanged salutes, and the image faded away as the Argo's bridge crew stood at attention, saluting.
"As you were, everyone," said Wildstar. "We're standing down from alert. Should anyone wish to see me within the next few hours, I'll be in my quarters."
"Thank you, sir," said Venture.
"Cap'n," said Orion. "I'll have to see how the work on the auxiliary engines is progressin'."
"See to it, Orion," said Wildstar. "Venture, you have the conn for now."
Everyone stood and saluted as Wildstar left.
In the meantime, in the Argo's engine room, Yamazaki, Ensign Carver, Lieutenant Randy Parmon, and Lieutenant Diane Henson were bent over different control panels, monitoring repairs that were being made by enlisted men in the auxiliary engine nacelles.
"That's not right!" snapped Parmon as he looked at a readout while yelling into the mike. "C'mon, Sergeant! Can't ya get that wiring harness trunk redone in fifteen minutes? We've got a lot of work to do on that damned port engine!"
"Sir, you've done this kind of work before," said the Sergeant back over the speaker. "It'll take at least half an hour to get this wire out of the cable housing."
"That's not good enough, Sergeant!" roared Parmon. "HENSON!" he snapped at the young brown-haired woman beside him. "Can't you light a fire under your peoples' butts?"
"He's doing his best, Randy," shrugged Diane Henson. "You know it's a tough job."
"Yeah...just as tough as tryin' to get you to put out years ago," he whispered maliciously.
"Listen, Parmon, what was then is then. What is now is now," said Henson. "I told you we'd keep on being friends."
"Bullshit," said Parmon. "That ain't what you said, dear," he muttered. "You told me..."
"I quoted you," whispered Henson hotly. "Now, shut up and get back to work before someone hears you," she said with a hot blush.
"You don't order me around," he snapped.
"Yeah?," snapped back Henson.
"Uhhmm--uhhmmm," said a deep Irish voice behind them.
"Suh," said Parmon as he and Henson turned around to see Patrick Orion standing there with his hands on his hips.
"May I ask ye what that's all about?" asked Orion.
"Nothing, sir," said Parmon. "It's just an argument about the repair work."
"Sir, permission to speak?" asked Henson.
"We don't have time and you know that!" snapped back Parmon.
"I wasn't speaking to you," countered Diane. "I was talking to the Chief."
"He has no time for this personal stuff," said Parmon.
"Lassie, I'll talk to ye later," said Orion. "As for you, Mister Parmon, Deputy Captain Venture wants power, and he wants it as soon as possible. It's yer job to get your crew together and bypass the damage to the auxiliaries. We're dependin' on ye....e got it?"
"Yessir," said Parmon.
"Good," said Orion. "You two will have to work together an' forget your personal differences fer now. We don't need any lovers' spats mucking up the Star Force." At that, he left.
"Sir, I'll go see Sergeant McCloskey and see if he can speed up his men," said Henson as Parmon worked on in silence. Randy just nodded and dismissed Diane as he looked at Orion out of the corner of his eye; he was talking with Yamazaki.
Looks like I'm gonna get bitched out...and all because of my damn ex-girlfriend and her attitude, thought Parmon. Little snot.
In the meantime, Diane thought, I can't get the Chief to listen to me...I just want to get reassigned to another section. Who'd listen, though? Venture? Nope. Who...ohhh... she thought.
I'll get my OTHER ex to listen to me...namely, the Captain. And I'll be...very...persuasive. she thought. And, maybe I can pull a fast one on Parmon and that damned Nova Forrester character he's supposed to be married to. I might get brig time...but this'll be good!
Smiling to herself, Diane continued to hatch her plans as she went aft towards the auxiliary engine nacelles.
A while later, over the intercom, Orion said to Venture, "I can give ye full output from the main engine, sir...but the both of the auxiliaries are gonna be out for quite a while yet."
"I see," said Venture. "How much longer?"
"Maybe a day and a half," said Orion. "I can give ye 50% power on the port booster now, if ye need it. The starboard one is dead."
"I think that'll work," said Venture as he put his hand on the throttle. "Main engine, ahead...half speed! Ninety degrees starboard."
And, at that, the Argo turned about and cruised on, assuming the head of a formation in front of the new Andromeda, with the two other battleships on each side.
III. AFTER THE
Captain Wildstar's Cabin
Space Battleship Argo
Above the Asteroid Belt
January 8, 2202
1108 Hours Spacetime
A knock came at the door of Wildstar's cabin as he sat at his desk with his peacoat off writing a report.
"Enter," he said.
In came Nova, looking a little sad.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Sir, I'm here to apologize," said Nova.
"I interrupted you when you were speaking with the Admiral, Derek. I'm sorry...and I'm ready to accept whatever sort of punishment you..."
Derek put up his hand to quiet her. "Enough," he said. "Nova, what you had to say was vital information, so it can be forgiven. Just try to be a bit more judicious in making reports in the future?"
"Yessir," she said.
Derek grinned. "That's what the Captain of the Argo had to say to you. Unofficially, you did a great job otherwise, today. Thank you for being so on your toes at such short notice. You, and Venture, and Dash, and Parsons, and everyone else. You all did a great job today."
"Thanks, Derek," said Nova, who began to leave.
"Where are you going?," asked Derek.
"Down to Sickbay. We have some wounded. See you later," said Mrs. Wildstar as she gave her husband a quick smooch.
"Later," said Captain Wildstar.
Later that day, in the early evening hours as the Argo cruised towards Ganymede, Wildstar called a meeting of his officers in the Central Strategy Room.
"So, what's the current condition of the ship?" asked Wildstar.
"It could be better," said Sandor. "The auxiliary engines were damaged, so our speed is still reduced slightly. The port side observation post was also hit, but that can be repaired pretty quickly once we make port. The bow sonar was also damaged...if Ganymede base has the proper electronic circuits I need, that damage can also be repaired in a few hours. All told, we could have come out of that battle with much worse damage."
"Orion, how long will it take to get the auxiliary engines fixed?," said Wildstar.
"About a day and a half, sir...faster if Ganymede has all the cable we need....a few hours slower if we have to fabricate everythin'," said Orion. "Right now, I have one auxiliary...the port one... up and runnin' at 70% capacity...she needs some new bearings. The starboard one is totally down until she's rewired."
Wildstar nodded. "Conroy, what about the Black Tigers?"
"That's a bit of a problem," said Conroy. "The Tigers are ten planes and pilots under strength, due to those losses we took from those Cometine Scorpion boats. Wildstar, we're going to need replacements from the complements of some of these other ships, or the base...and experienced ones, too. I think all the pilots that were killed were fairly inexperienced. I'd prefer some pilots with a few battles under their belts, if possible."
"I'll see what we can do," said Wildstar. "Homer?'
"I received another message from the Gamilons. Desslok reported that he thinks they have some idea where the Cometine forces went."
"When will he give us the information?"
"When you meet with him on the tenth," said Homer. "Desslok said that his scientific staff is still analyzing the information... but he doesn't think there's an immediate threat from the enemy forces."
"I hope he's right," said Wildstar. "Venture, what about our course?"
Mark walked to the center of the room and signalled for the large deck screen to be turned on. "Right now, we're here," he said, pointing at a schematic of the Mars/Jupiter area and the asteroid belt with his pointer. "We're passing the Icarus Observatory at the moment, progressing along at a cruising speed of twenty-four space knots. That's under our new optimum cruising speed, but not bad, even with one auxiliary engine out. Once we're done with our business around Ganymede and we complete our repairs, we'll be flying out beyond the gravitational influence of Jupiter, and executing a short warp out to the area of Phoebus, Saturn's farthest satellite. From there, we'll be cruising on out towards Brumus, and leaving the solar system once we pass the orbit of Brumus. All told, we should be out of the solar system within a week."
"Then..." said Wildstar. "We should have a good idea of where we're going as we continue to track that Cometine fleet. Then, we can figure out what we're going to be doing..."
"You mean we might be attacking that whole fleet by ourselves?" asked Orion.
"Perhaps...if we get an opportunity," said Wildstar. "If we catch them by surprise...one shot with the wave motion gun would probably do it."
"That's risky!" said Venture. "As a matter of fact, Wildstar, that sounds like suicide..."
Wildstar took a deep breath. "What would Earth do if they came back, Mark? The fleet's in no shape to take on that kind of armada within the solar system. The risk is just too great!"
"Do we have orders from the Commander to hit them?" asked Venture.
"No...but our original orders were to ascertain the nature of the new Cometine threat and to neutralize it. If we have one chance to hit the enemy fleet, shouldn't we take it? We fought alone against the Comet Empire itself...surely we could stop a fleet!"
"I'm not saying we shouldn't," said Venture. "I'm just saying that we shouldn't jump in and act unless we have a good plan..."
"We could come up with a plan...and we will," said Wildstar, a little hotly.
"It's a good idea," said Sandor. "But...we should wait until we have some intelligence. Desslok gave us reliable information before...and I'm even more sure he'll do it again, Captain."
Wildstar nodded, merely glancing at Venture. "So, we'll discuss this later on, after we find out what Desslok has to say to us. In the meantime, we'd better keep ourselves on a high state of alert. After all, who knows? They could come back just as rapidly as they left..."
"Yes...they could," said Venture.
IV. NIGHT CONFERENCES...
Captain Wildstar's Cabin
Space Battleship Argo
January 9, 2202
0019 Hours: Eastern Standard Time
After making the rounds of the ship, and after getting the latest reports from the section chiefs on duty that hour, Captain Derek Wildstar returned to his cabin, opening his peacoat as he went.
I wonder if Captain Avatar had days quite like these, he thought as he came in, setting down his reporting binder on a systems status panel near the fore part of the compartment as he rapidly crossed the compartment. It was in near-darkness. Derek sighed, plopping down in the single chair without giving a single thought to the dim light that was on above the desk. "Lights," he said out loud. "Intensity Level Two: Medium," he added.
The lights came on in response to Wildstar's command as he looked out at the stars, and thought, I wonder where Nova is? It sure is quiet in here....
A tap came at the door. Thinking it was Nova, Derek just called out "Enter," without much hesitation.
Wildstar didn't do anything when he heard footsteps echoing across the deck, and he didn't do anything when he felt a set of soft hands falling on his shoulders.
"Okay, Nova..." he said. "How was your day?'
"Terrible, sir," said a low female voice that wasn't that of his wife...a voice that made his blood run cold...because he DID recognize it.
"Lieutenant Henson?" he whispered. "What the heck are you doing here, Miss Henson?"
"I had an argument with Mister Parmon, sir. And...I'd like to lodge a harassment complaint."
"You could've seen the XO for that, Miss Henson, and at a more reasonable hour."
"But, sir...I thought you would give me an understanding ear. A VERY understanding ear, if you take my meaning."
"Miss...I don't agree with that sort of thing under my command," said Wildstar in both a calm but authoritative manner as he got up, lifted away Diane's hands, and stood back. "This is a space battleship, Miss Henson. If someone wants to see me in my official capacity, there's a proper protocol that is to be followed...and I didn't see you following it..." Derek looked around, thinking he had seen a movement near the desk. However, he noticed Diane turning towards him, so he ignored it. Probably just something falling off Nova's desk, he thought. And why'd she leave the light on?
"As for your complaint, you can see Mister Venture, or come back at a more reasonable time to lodge your complaint if you don't get anywhere with him. I don't think he'll ignore you, either, Miss Henson, especially since he's very good at his job..."
"But what if it's an emergency, sir?"
"Then, you can just go and see the Officer of the Deck. Tonight, it's Venture, and later tonight, it'll be Mrs. Wildstar on watch. Now, I'm sure they can help you..."
"But, sir...why won't you help me? Don't you care about me any more?" she sobbed.
"Oh...that's it," he whispered. "You know that was long, long ago! You're way out of line, Miss Henson. I'm giving you a direct order to leave. NOW."
"Yes, SIR," she said very caustically, turning off without saluting. "Captain, now I see how things are here. Very well!"
"Miss Henson, aren't you forgetting something?" snapped Wildstar.
"What am I forgetting, sir?" demanded Henson.
"You're forgetting to salute the Captain?" said another voice from near the desk, a voice that was just a little higher than Henson's sultry contralto. It was an alto voice that Derek recognized at once. His eyes widened a little as Nova, unnoticed until now due to the intensity of the conversation, stood up. She rapidly pushed in the chair she had been working at by the desk. She was in one of her medical dresses, minus her boots, and she looked a little tired.
"Oh," said Henson. "Now I see how it is. You two have some interesting berthing arrangements aboard this ship of the line, hmm?"
"This was mentioned at one of the briefings we had last night before we took off," said Wildstar. "There is a legitimate Earth Defense Forces personnel experiment in progress at this time regarding the presence of married couples aboard Earth Defense vessels. Mrs. Wildstar is assigned to my cabin as a roommate as part of this experiment, on the orders of Commanding General Singleton. I am the commanding officer of this vessel. You did not come here requesting my presence in a manner befitting an Earth Defense Forces officer, much less a member of the Star Force. Therefore, you will leave, and take this complaint to the XO, or to the Officer of the Deck. Do I make myself clear, Miss Henson?"
"Yessir," said Henson, as she saluted. Captain Wildstar returned the salute, and Mrs. Wildstar silently held the hatch open, standing there in silence as Henson left. Then, she pushed at the hatch. The hatch shut, and Nova stood silently facing her husband.
"You heard the whole thing?" asked Captain Wildstar.
"I did," said Nova with a sigh in her voice. "She makes me sick to my stomach. And you don't need to explain anything to me, Derek. I'm not sure if she has a real case or not, but...she has no business going against protocol the way she did. And, she has no business talking to my husband like that, either."
"Nova, thank you. You look tired," he said as Nova threw her arms around him.
"It's been a long day," she whispered. "You look exhausted."
"And...you sound a bit angry."
"I am, Derek...at all of this fighting. When are we going to be done fighting all of these battles? Has this war ever really ended, after all? Oh, God, I'm so tired," said Nova with downcast eyes and something close to a sob in her voice.
"And you'll have to be on the bridge at 0430," said Derek. He was stroking her hair as they stood there; she smiled a little and then fell against him. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I slept for a little while before I made my last rounds in Sickbay," said Nova as she looked up, fiercely wiping her eyes. "Dr. Sane's patients are fine."
"So, what do you think I need?" sighed Wildstar as he flicked a switch and shut out the stars with the automatic privacy shield.
"A personal counseling session...and then some sleep. After a conference like that, I think you could use some counseling...and so could I, Derek..." whispered Nova as she locked the cabin hatch, and quietly unzipped her dress and let it slip off her shoulders before she dimmed the cabin light quite a bit more, making the compartment almost totally dark.
Derek smiled as Nova put her arms around his waist and they kissed....
"What's that?" barked Bryan Hartcliffe as a streak of fur went by in the ready room.
"Oh, just the ship's mascot, Mimi," said Hardy.
"You've got cats 'ere?" said Hartcliffe "I'm allergic to cats...hachoo!" grinned Hartcliffe as he pretended to sneeze.
"I didn't see anything about your being allergic to cats in your records, Mistuh," said Hardy. "Besides...our squadron's off-duty in two minutes."
"Who's takin' over the watch?" asked Hartcliffe.
"Conroy's squadron," said Hardy. "Lubyanska's squadron is coming in now," he said as he glanced at his chronometer, "so, if you want to see Mrs. Hartcliffe, she'll be available after they debrief..."
"Naw...just tell 'er I'll be waiting in our cabin," smiled
"I'll make sure she gets the word," said Hardy. And ah'll warn her to be careful, too, given that look you've got in your eye...or maybe ah shouldn't... grinned Hardy to himself.
A yawning Angelique Hartcliffe
came to the hatch of the two-person cabin she shared with
The hatch whirred open, and as
soon as she got in, Angie noticed
"Hi, babe," said
"Thanks," she yawned
as she put everything down and gave
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Tired. You'd be tired if you were flying,
flying, and flying all day, too,
"AAA...they were newbies," said
"Beg your pardon?" she asked as she sat on her bunk to pull off one of her boots.
"You made friends already?"
"Yes. Don't you make friends when you join a squadron? " asked Angie.
"Not until they prove themselves...or..."
"Or what?" snapped Angie. "What? If they've got long blond hair and nice legs and are nice for you to leer at, you make exceptions?"
"Yeh. And you're all the above," said
"Are you CRAZY?" snapped Angie. "Did you hear what I said? Are you like, deaf? I just got in from a damned patrol! Is all you think of, sex, sex, SEX?"
"Yeah, surfer babe, that's all I think of," he growled as he hopped out of bed. "C'mere and gimme some..."
At that, Angie stalked off to
their head and slammed the door.
"What was that fer, ya
crazy broad?" yelled
"To cool off your mojo, you moron!," she
snapped. "Now calm down, and let's get to bed...in separate bunks tonight,
With a growl and a dirty look,
Lieutenant Todd Voorhees stood on the Argo's aft observation deck, looking back into space at the new Andromeda as she cruised along behind the Argo and the other two battleships deployed to port and starboard off the Argo's flanks. It's late, he thought as he watched the huge space battleship. At the moment, some signal lights on the great ship's bridge tower were flashing rapidly in their direction. He vaguely noticed the glimmer of some answering flashes up further on the Argo's bridge tower when the door whizzed open.
A young woman with red hair and a black-on-gold Living Group uniform came in, walked up to Todd, and gave him a smooch.
"Good evening, Mrs. Voorhees," said Todd as his wife affectionately ran a hand through his jet-black hair.
"That should be "good morning", Todd," she said. "It's oh-one-oh eight, now, hon."
"Like the view from here?" he asked.
Becky nodded. "When I was on that first journey to Iscandar, this was one of my favorite places," she said.
"How's the education thing going?" he asked.
"Silly...that's the 'education program'," she said. "So far, I've got thirty students signed up for courses already, with more to come later," she said.
"What sort of courses?" asked Todd.
"The basics, mostly...quite a few enlisted men signed up for Federation History, English, Spanish, two students signed up for German, a Space Marine signed up for...Philosophy..."
"A Space Marine?" asked Todd.
"Yeah. That new Group Leader, Ensign Hemsford? He seems to be pretty smart for a Marine...and very well-read, too."
"Who else is signed up?"
"Well, that new Engineering Lieutenant, Diane Henson, signed up for Psychology, and Mrs. Wildstar signed up for a course on Comparative Religions II."
"Damn. How does she find the time for that sort of thing?" asked Todd with a raised eyebrow.
"Beats me," shrugged Becky. "These courses are all "correspondence" style, self-paced on the computer system, but, still, these things require a time commitment. Well, I should have some interesting papers to grade on this cruise," she said.
"Yeah. the scuttlebutt mill says this is gonna be a LONG one. There's a lot to find out about this new Cometine enemy," he said.
"What's the Andromeda doing with those lights?," asked Becky.
"Signaling to us," said Todd. "Just routine traffic, I think. We're supposed to be under limited radio silence right now, so tight-beam laser squibs are the best way to communicate at this distance. See the flashes up above?" asked Todd. "The Argo's answering her back."
"Interesting...seeing us in Fleet maneuvers like this with seven other Earth ships nearby," said Becky. "We were just travelling by ourselves on the way out to Iscandar. Where's the Gamilons?"
"Heading off towards Ganymede by a different course. They're supposed to meet up with us tomorrow," said Todd.
"I see. Hey...wanna retire to our cabin, now?" she winked.
"For what reason?"
"I don't know...sleep...and personal reasons?" she asked with a wink.
"So, you're out for personal tutoring tonight?" asked Todd.
Becky answered him with a kiss.
"Sounds like a deal to me," he said. "Let's get going, teach."
At that, Becky laughed.
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