By: Frederick P. Kopetz



The Gamilon Fleet

The Vicinity of Io

January 9, 2202

1356 Hours: Spacetime

"Nova, you're right," said Derek Wildstar as their Cosmo Tiger plane drew closer to their destination...the Gamilon Fleet. "It's that green tri-deck carrier, right off over there to starboard. That's where they want us to land...on the uppermost deck."

"Do they want you to maneuver much?"

"Nope. They just want me to follow their lead. I'll patch their flight controller through to your headset, so you can hear what they've got to say, Nova."

Nova then heard a cold, high-pitched Gamilon voice saying, "Earth plane...we now have you on our directional beam system. This is standard procedure. You will not deviate from the indicated course; please land with dispatch. Upon landing, you will transfer one deck below to a waiting shuttle for your departure for the Gamilstadt. Please understand that Leader Desslok does not like to be kept waiting. Please acknowledge."

"Acknowledged," said Wildstar.

"Excellent. We anticipate your arrival." At that, the headset went silent.

"It doesn't sound like they want us to see much of their carrier, Nova."

Nova nodded, adding, "It doesn't sound like they want to see much of us, period."

"Yeah...I kinda get that impression, too."

Wildstar, with his peacoat off, dressed once again in his familiar old Combat Group Leader's uniform, (albeit with a small gold anchor pin on his red collar) sat grasping his plane's control stick. He was still not quite ready to comprehend the sheer strangeness of the occasion as he maneuvered in on the beam to land aboard a ship that had recently been part of an enemy fleet.

For all he knew, this very carrier had probably launched planes that had attacked the Argo in deadly combat just a few weeks ago. Now, he was going to land a Cosmo Tiger on the same flight deck? Wildstar wasn't quite sure, for a second, that he wasn't lying in bed on the Argo dreaming all this. After all, hadn't the Gamilons been their enemies for years And...hadn't they killed his parents?

Before long, Derek and Nova felt the Tiger's tires screeching hard on the Gamilon carrier's glossy forest green deck, not far from a wide white stripe. The plane was abruptly slowed down by a strong magnetic arresting field that did its job effectively, but also threw them against their harnesses a bit harder than they expected.

Weird, thought Nova. They're just like us, but their pilots must have iron spleens or something. Feels like someone just punched me in the gut! OUCH!

Wildstar maneuvered slowly forward towards a set of bright yellow blinking lights that seemed to be mounted in little hooded receptacles in the deck inside the open flight deck crew standing there with lighted wands on this carrier! As Derek checked his instruments and found that there was indeed atmospheric pressure behind the barrier field they had undoubtedly passed through when they had cruised into the carrier's enclosed flight bay, he cracked the canopy and undid his harness while opening his visor. The air that rushed into his nostrils was clean but was somehow cold and smelled slightly bitter. It was sort of like the scents he had caught on Desslok's flagship a few weeks ago under the more obvious odors of burning circuits and systems he had picked up in the air during his visit aboard the damaged Gamilon command cruiser. The unearthly moan of the ventilation system was something that both he and Nova remembered well, of course.

A strange-sounding gonglike sound rang as lights flashed over a hatchway. The hatchway hissed open, and a grey-uniformed Gamilon officer wearing some type of odd skin-tight headdress that left only his face showing strode up. Nova shivered a little when she noticed the Gamilon had no pupils. Why was that?

"Please pardon the delay," said the Gamilon officer in the cold voice they had recognized over the radio as four lower-ranking Gamilons, clad in the familiar dark brown armorlike suits they had come to know and dread on Titan --although they had been worn by a Caucasian race that they knew were not actually Gamilons...they had never figured out who they were after they had captured the Gamilon pilot and found out that he and all other Gamilons were blue.

The honor guardsmen (or so they guessed) came up and snapped their right arms up in stiff gestures of salute that reminded Wildstar of old film he had seen of soldiers saluting Adolf Hitler in the 20th Century. By instinct, not quite believing what they were doing, Derek and Nova returned the salutes, and watched as the officer raised his right arm in a different salute, with his arm at a right angle with his palm facing towards them.

"I am Mergis, a staff officer aboard this vessel. I regret that I have no time to offer you a tour; it is my understanding that Leader Desslok needs to leave the environs of this star system in a great hurry. Why, I am not sure. I have been told he will tell you when he meets with you. Are you Captain Derek Wildstar of the Argo?"

"I am," said Wildstar. "The woman beside me is Lieutenant Nova Wildstar. She is one of my most trusted officers, and my wife."

Mergis nodded once. "Leader Desslok informed me of that fact. He was fully aware that the female was your consort due to...the unique circumstances of your last face-to-face meeting with him. He is also aware that the female is now your legal bondmate, as he has monitored some of the communications of your news media. My greetings to both you and Nova. If you will pardon me, we must make haste. Your shuttle awaits one deck below. I will act as your liason and guide during your journey. Kindly follow me."

Derek and Nova followed Mergis while holding their helmets. The four guards fell into ranks behind them, with their heavy blaster rifles at port arms, or some gesture that Wildstar guessed was like port arms. They entered a lift, which silently descended one deck to a flight bay similar to the one they had just left.

A dark blue shuttlecraft sat waiting on the deck with red navigation lights flashing. Derek and Nova were shown to comfortable seats inside the shuttle as Mergis disappeared through a hatch into what Derek guessed was the shuttle's flight deck. Before long, the hatch hissed closed, and the vessel was soon rocketing down the flight deck. Derek and Nova felt a rapid ascent as the shuttle soon cleared the edge of the deck, turning hard and roaring towards its destination. Both of them noticed that the cabin of the shuttle had no windows, but seemed rather plush in an odd alien sort of manner. Nova guessed that Sandor would give his eye teeth for a good look at this Gamilon shuttlecraft.

They only were aware they had reached their destination when the shuttle abruptly slowed and glided into a space where they could hear its engine pulsing. A heavy hatch clanged shut outside, and the shuttle set down on a hard surface as a silent Mergis emerged from the flight deck and gestured for Derek and Nova to follow him.

Soon, the shuttle's hatch opened, and their honor guard formed ranks on each side of the ramp, saluting stiffly on each side of them as they turned to face them. Not far away, another hatch opened, and a larger honor guard of twelve Gamilons formed before the hatch, saluting as they strode past them with Mergis in the lead.

"This way," said Mergis. "This lift will take you to the anteroom of Leader Desslok's suite. There, I must leave you, as I have been ordered to stand guard outside the suite with the Leader's Imperial guard."

"Thank you," said Derek as they walked out into a familiar bronze-colored corridor and got into the waiting lift alone with Mergis. Nova shivered a little at the strange, but somehow familiar organic look of the Gamilon lift as it rapidly descended down a few decks. While she had not been in this precise part of the ship, she knew that she was again aboard Desslok's flagship...the same ship where she, a few weeks ago, had gone through a desperate search for her beloved Derek as the cruiser burned around her.

Before long, the lift stopped, and Derek looked at Nova; both felt a slight hitch in their stomachs as they looked out at the passage. Although it was now no longer damaged, with pipes and conduits hanging loose, they recognized the look of the passage; they were definitely aboard Desslok's flagship...but, this time, as guests? Not as boarders? They walked a few steps down the curved corridor, holding hands as they passed hatchways that were locked and silent. The strange, moaning sound of the ship's ventilation system sounded all around them as they strode through a large blast doorway, and then, turned at an angle and stopped before another blast doorway.

"We're here," said Mergis.

Nova gasped a little as she recognized that the two Gamilons facing them were steadily holding their hand weapons upon them...and her eyes widened as she realized that she was facing two Gamilon women. Derek noticed her surprise, and he forced himself to keep from reaching for his Astro-automatic (which he had noticed the Gamilons had not said a word about during their whole trip). Mergis strode up to the women, saluted, and said, "These are the Earther visitors. Leader Desslok is waiting for them."

One of the women spoke softly in what Wildstar guessed was Gamilon into a small lip mike that she wore. A moment later, Derek guessed that she had received some sort of reply over a headset built into her strange headdress, for she turned to her mate and softly said, "Kondirzen. Offnensi za d'Ubelnsebrenst aus Dessla'keinst."

"Je," nodded the other one as she flicked a switch and the hatchway slid open. She nodded at both of them, and smiled brightly as the party passed into what was obviously a restricted area of the ship; Desslok's quarters.

Now Wildstar guessed why the guards had greeted them as they did; these were the sort of guards guarding their sovereign against assassination threats. Inside the restricted area, Mergis guided them to a large door and stopped. "This is one of the Leader's conference rooms. The Leader, and one of his generals, awaits you inside, Captain Wildstar and Lieutenant Nova Wildstar. Here I must leave you. I pray the information you will receive from Leader Desslok is useful for the defense of your planet."

"Thank you, Mergis," said Wildstar. At that, he and Nova strode toward the door, which silently opened before them like an iris; it reminded Nova a little of the doorways in Starsha's palace on Iscandar. Derek and Nova stepped through the hatchway, not certain of what they'd find within.

Inside, they stood in surprise before what they guessed was a viewport on the strange Gamilon flagship. A panoramic view of space, with Jupiter dominating their view, yawned before them behind a long, strange, curved table of some type. The room was a little larger than they had expected, somehow. Before them, on the other side of the table, was a heavyset, mustachioed Gamilon general that both of them swore they had seen before. He was silent as he stared at them with eyes that seemed to be somewhere between curiosity and cold contempt.

Behind the general was something that they guessed was a throne of some kind; it was vacant at the moment. Behind the throne was a massive bronze sculpture that looked both powerful and strangely ominous; it was of a huge, clenched hand, holding a heavy sphere of some type covered with deep reliefs and large holes. Then, it slowly dawned on them that the sculpture was a representation of the planet Gamilon. Wildstar's eyes then traveled to the extreme edges of the viewport. There, near a scarlet curtain edged with gold that hid the edges of the viewport, there stood a tall, lonely figure in a jet-black cloak with his back turned to his visitors. He seemed to be contemplating Jupiter for a moment.

When Nova recognized the gold brooch on his left shoulder (as it was situated as he stood turning away from them) and his blond hair, which was a little hard to see in the shadows, she gasped a little at the thrill of recognition. That's him, she thought. O my God, That's...

Finally, the heavyset Gamilon general cleared his throat, and said in a clipped, British-sounding, but slightly fearful voice, "Leader Desslok. If I may interrupt your thoughts for a moment, they're..."

"Yes...they're here. My apologies...please," said the tall, shadowed figure in his familiar, melodic voice. "Wildstar, you must understand that much weighs on my mind right now. There are many things...far more than even you have expected. It would appear that you and I have met our match in power and cunning." At that, Leader Desslok abruptly turned, strode up to the table, and extended his hand to Wildstar.

"Captain Wildstar, I extend to you and Nova my greetings. When last we met, I felt we would meet again someday. Little did I expect it would be so soon, and under such circumstances."

"Thank you, sir," said Derek as he (not believing for a moment he was doing this) shook hands with a slightly smiling Desslok. When Desslok stood before Nova, she was shocked to see the powerful Gamilon Leader bow slightly before grasping her hand.

"Nova. I am pleased we have met again, as well. Please understand my is usual for a Gamilon of breeding to bow when again meeting a beautiful woman. I trust you and the Captain are happy together?'

"We are...Leader Desslok...thank you," said Nova softly as she blushed a little. "This is Talan," said Desslok as he gestured towards the standing General. "When...last we met...he was aboard Gamilstadt as my adjutant and second-in-command of all Gamilon forces, as he is again today. He stands ready to assist both myself and you. I trust Mergis, of my staff, treated you well?"

"He did," said Derek.

"I am pleased. Talan, would you provide our visitors with suitable refreshment?"

"Yessir," he said as he turned and then took a tray holding three goblets from a hatchway below a dimly glowing viewscreen of some type. Talan handed Desslok a glass filled with a dark, purplish liquid that reminded Nova of a fine wine. Derek and Nova were handed glasses filled with a similar liquid that looked similar, save that it was pink.

"This is Aeonas," said Desslok. "It is a synthesized beverage similar to your Terran wine. The original was taken from a fruit that was indigenous to Gamilon. The purest variety of that fruit was historically preserved for the Imperial House and its honored guests. I cannot offer you the same full-strength Aeonas which I drink today, due to the fact that both of you must navigate your plane back to your ship later, and it would not do me well to intoxicate you under such circumstances. However, I trust this new Aeonas will refresh you, and serve as a pledge of my desire to someday serve you my own Imperial drink when we meet again under less trying and urgent circumstances, as is my desire. Let us share a sip, and then get down to business."

All three of them took a sip of the beverage and then set their glasses down; Derek and Nova were surprised to note that small recessed openings opened in the arms of their comfortable chairs after they drank. They oddly... wondered if the chairs were in some fashion sentient.

"Now, to explain the purpose of your visit," said Desslok. "When last we spoke, I told you that I believed I had an idea where Gernitz's armada was heading. My scientific staff, at my wishes, translated and confirmed a scrap of a message that was sent to Gernitz just before he left. Having listened to the information, and having analyzed it, it became clear to us that the reason Gernitz left so...precipitously...was a reason not to his liking, but a reason that he was compelled to obey. For some reason, a reason that was made clear when I translated this data," said Desslok as he waved his hand and a complex graphic of a galactic system that Derek and Nova knew was not the Milky Way, but was, instead, another galaxy..."it appeared, and I now can confirm, that Gernitz was recalled here, to deal with a rebellion in one of Zordar's old Planet Rotella, where this blip is," said the Gamilon Leader.

"Our analysis indicated that the recall message came from this point, here in the Andromeda Galaxy, from a planet I only know as "Imperial Center".... Zordar himself never told me the Cometine name for it; it is somehow...sacred. "Imperial Center" is the nerve center and capital world of the entire Cometine Race. Even a high-ranking Cometine Prince such as Zordar can travel there only when directly summoned. The High Viceroy of the Empire is the Mouth of the Cometine High Emperor, who is a very mysterious, hidden figure," said Desslok as he paused to sip at his beverage.

"Did you or Zordar ever hear from this...High Emperor?" asked Wildstar.

"No. The Emperor is a sequestered figure. The Viceroy speaks for the Emperor, who does not deign to address even the Princes and Barons personally, and her commands to the Barons and Princes who actually conquer and administer territory in her name are considered something like divine, absolute law. At least, that is what Zordar hinted to me the one time we spoke of the subject. The fact that there were others over Zordar humiliated him immensely...I think he lusted after the Prime Seat of Power himself. But, for your purposes, it is enough to know, and I can guarantee it, that Gernitz is gone. Based on the distance to Rotella and what I know of it, I believe it will be years before he returns to take up where he left off...if he ever does, that is. From what I learned, it appears that the Seat of Power was unhappy that Gernitz was turning so soon upon Earth while his own deeper realms and the prestige of the Empire was threatened. For that reason, I am pleased to tell you that the threat of Gernitz...apparently is, for the foreseeable future, a moot point. To my knowledge, today, the threat of the Comet Empire to your Earth is at last least for a time, while Gernitz is occupied elsewhere."

Nova smiled, while Derek took a deep breath. He, too, began to smile, but then, he said, "You had something else to tell us, Desslok. What is it? What did you mean by "we have met our match in power and cunning?"

" "By "we", I mean both Gamilons and Earthlings, of course," said Desslok. "I believe that we now face...something else that is...for lack of a better term...a mystery. Perhaps, a legend of some sort, come to life."

"A legend?" said Wildstar.

"A legend of deep space, which the Gamilons have heard mere rumor of, about which Iscandar knew of, in a sense, but never directly mentioned to the Gamilons as fact. It was never spoken of, save in vague hints that intelligent Gamilons always felt was...mere folklore...the sort of legend one used to threaten naughty, small children with. Others saw it as the sort of legend that the loremasters discussed against dark nights on Gamilon when Iscandar itself was behind the planet and not visible. Oddly enough, other races that the Gamilons have encountered also know of legends of this nature. So does your Earth, from what I have come to learn of it."

"What sort of legend is this?" said Wildstar, who began to feel a strange chill running down his back for a reason he could not account for.

"Many races, of old, " continued Desslok, "have had an origin of sorts for the very problem of Evil. In many legends and myths, the question is broached...what caused the Cosmos to, once upon a time, turn from a paradise of sorts into a place of suffering and pain? Many races have preserved, in their folklore, a legend of sorts about a Being who is the prime cause of evil...the prime cosmic vandal against the gods, God, or the original Cosmic Scheme, as we Gamilons call it. We always thought these things to be legends. Some still hold them to be religious beliefs of a sort," said Desslok. "I know enough of Terran religions to know that you hold beliefs in such an idea, do you not?"

"Some do, some do not." said Derek. "I learned to believe in good and evil while growing up in Japan and being exposed to Shintoism, Buddhism, and a bit of Christianity. Nova was raised in the Christian faith, but she's a little more mystical about things like that than I am. I'm a bit of a rationalist."

"We both believe in a source of evil," said Nova, "even though we might have different explanations for it."

"So, I see," said Desslok. "You've explained your faiths. Our Gamilon beliefs would appear to be somewhat similar to your Shinto beliefs...or the beliefs of your ancient Norsemen," said Desslok. "I understand many of your faiths hold that self-sacrifice and love is a virtue?"

Nova and Derek nodded.

"Hmmm…Self-sacrifice and love. Such a belief seems to explain many of your actions. It's an…admirable system of belief many of your Terran faiths. However, we have our admirable characteristics in our way, as well. Honor...duty...obligation...faithfulness...sacrifice for a greater good...those are the values that the Gamilon way stresses. Please pardon my digression. As you can see...many races believe in a being of good and a being of evil. Some hold that this being of evil has representatives alive in the Cosmos now. Or, so say the legends. I was never able to prove...or disprove such legends...until recently. It is because of what we have learned about this legend that I have decided to see you earlier than we planned." Desslok paused, taking a sip of his drink before continuing.

"Some of these legends...a few of them, state that some sort of Prime representative of evil has his home...or his seat of power, this distant galactic system," said Desslok as he waved his hand. An ominous-looking galactic system, almost half-eaten by dark gas (or so it appeared) appeared on the screen. "Do you recognize this system?" asked Desslok.

Derek whistled. "Yes! I saw pictures of it in the Space Fighter's Training School, once. It's a place known as "The Blackeye Galaxy in our language. One can see it around the Constellation Virgo. It's usually known by an NGC Number, and it's about twelve million lightyears away, or so I'm told. Another galactic system, a bit closer to us, that we usually call "The Dark Nebula" also sort of looks like that. However, this place looks far worse. How'd you get such a great image of that galaxy, Desslok?"

"Gamilon has always been skilled in the hard sciences," said Desslok proudly. "This image was taken by a remote interstellar space station of ours some years ago. We also have learned that, as many of our scientists predicted was true for other galactic systems which form spirals, that there is a massive black hole at this Galaxy's innermost heart. The amount of radiation that it gives off can be detected from afar even from the Great Magellenic Cloud, with our sophisticated instruments. We also feel that this immense black hole may well be a grand distortion upon the fabric of subspace itself...even at this great distance. A great natural threat...but a remote one."

"Still," said Desslok. "It always seemed curious that many whispered legends of space seem to somehow center upon this strange place. To my knowledge, no one from our Local Group has ever gone to the Blackeye Galaxy, and no one from the Blackeye Galaxy has ever come here to our region of the Cosmos to talk about its mysteries. Yet...the legends focus upon it. Why? Is it its ominous appearance? Is it the odd feeling that if you stare at that visual image long enough, even removed by millions of lightyears, that something there is looking back at you from that blackness with jaundice? The names of that place...from the legends...might seem to support this. I've heard that Galaxy referred to as "The Pit" "The Eternal Depth"..." "Morgul'K'D'Shar..".... ."

"It does NOT look like a nice place at all," said Nova with a shiver. "Can't you get rid of that graphic of the Blackeye? I feel..."

" there's something alive in there...leering at you?" said Derek, who was surprised as to why he was blathering like this. Were they making asses of themselves in front of Desslok?

Desslok looked at the graphic for a moment longer, and then Derek and Nova, so help them, swore they saw him shiver for a moment before he got rid of the graphic with a wave of his hand and a momentary look of revulsion. "Not the most comforting image, I know." said Desslok blandly. "Strangely enough, many legends seem to have some kind of common link to that galaxy. Perhaps it's because of its ominous appearance. Perhaps it's because some races know of the power of the vast black hole at its heart, even at a distance. I'm not sure. I've even heard tales come to my ears that, somewhere, there's a race so twisted that it worships the Blackeye Galaxy, or the black hole at its heart, or even some sort of devilish being that they say dwells there. If there is such a race, Talan, remind me to avoid meeting them," said Desslok with a tight smile.

"I will, sir," said Talan.

"Now...the reason I decided to discuss all of these odd tales," said Desslok. "And, the reason why I feel we're facing something that I'm not sure we can it natural threat...created....whatever."

Desslok swept his hand before the screen again. "Behold...the star system about 1000 lightyears from here, towards the upper reaches of your Sagittarius Arm, above the plane of the ecliptic, known as Varalndus to us…but I believe, to you, it is known as the "Beta Valentis" system. This system has little in the way of resources, for it has merely some rocky, long-dead planets and one gas giant, and a star weaker than your Sun. The Varalndus, or "Beta Valentis" system, if you prefer, is barely useful to Gamilon at all, save as a place where our forces can easily send transmissions above the plane of some of your galactic dust towards the region of the Magellenic Clouds. We have used this place as a rendezvous/relay point for years. When I came towards Earth, I stationed a small destroyer squadron here...between the second and third planets," said Desslok as the view changed to that of a dark, forlorn stretch of space in the Varalndus System.

"It was there solely to relay messages back and forth between this fleet and a temporary rendezvous point I reestablished in the region of the Magellenic Clouds near an old base of ours. Nothing more. This was the view they sent back three days ago...unchanging...empty... the cold gap between the second and third planets. No planet was ever known of in this region, either by the Gamilons, or even by the Cometines."

"It certainly looks like a very bleak and forsaken place," said Wildstar.

"This image was sent back by a destroyer squadron earlier today. Be prepared for a shock..."

The image changed, and Derek and Nova were startled to see what looked like some kind of maelstrom that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the blackness. It was a vast, vast cloud of dust, space trash, and hunks of ice, blowing past the ships like mad.

"Where did that come from?" said Wildstar.

" part of the mystery," said Desslok. "Even stranger than this...our destroyers also sent back an infrared scan of the mass. Be prepared for yet another shock..."

A moment later, the graphic came up. Nova let out a low whistle as she looked at the color signature, even though she couldn't read any of the Gamilon writing in one corner of the image. "There's something unaccountably warm in there, by the looks of it...if I'm reading the colors right, that is."

"You are," said Desslok. There's a great heat source there...that wasn't there before."

"This is weird!" cried Nova as she held Captain Wildstar's hand.

"Last of all, they took a partial gravitronic scan of the subspace surrounding the object at the heart of the dust cloud. Have a look at this," said Desslok.

"That's a warp signature...isn't it?" said Wildstar.

Desslok nodded once. "When we got can see that from what we can pick up...this is something akin to a funnel in subspace that something just blew out of for no reason. Our scientists, for curiosity's sake, decided to trace the funnel's waves out and down towards the ecliptic. Look where one of them ends up."

Derek and Nova suddenly shivered when they saw the graphic rolling down towards the ecliptic...and coming though the middle of their own solar system.

"At the very least, this is a navigational hazard to your activities here in your solar system," said Desslok. "It won't "hit" for about twelve to eighteen of your hours. The least you can do is send a warning to your forces and any shipping going through the Saturn region that they can expect to have a great deal of subspace turbulence boiling through your solar system."

"And, we'll do that, Desslok," said Wildstar. "Thank you. But...why don't I feel reassured?"

"Because we don't know what in the Cosmos could blow some object out of subspace like that...and so near to Earth, too," said Nova.

"A fine observation...almost worthy of the best of our scientists," said Desslok. "Whatever has happened in the Varalndus System is certainly worthy of our study. Be assured that my forces should reach the area within about eight of your days. How soon could you come out there to investigate this...oddity... with us?"

"Perhaps ten days...if we receive permission to investigate it in the light of other recent events," said Wildstar. "Other than the subspacial disturbance and the strange scientific seems to represent no real threat to Earth."

"Perhaps...perhaps not," said Desslok. "I would like to leave you with two more of our observations about this...natural phenomenon. These are the strangest of all. The first happens to be...this radio scan taken of the object at the heart of the dust cloud. You know of natural hydrogen radio sources, I'm sure...x-ray sources…all emissions of that type. Have a listen to this..."

At that, Desslok snapped his fingers, and a strange, static-filled hum came across the hidden speakers in Desslok's cabin. "There's a power source there. Natural...or perhaps not. We listened again, at the very highest gain, and translating out as much static as possible...we picked up this..."

Derek and Nova looked at each other as the strange, lonely whine of blowing gas and energy blew across the band. It sounded like a strange, solitary, dying whalesong (or such as they were once heard on Earth). The strange whines and cries sounded lonely, sad, and as forlorn as anything they had ever heard before.

Then, Nova started when she heard the low, soft, barely audible, moaning sound of.... ""

"Derek! There's WORDS in that noise! I can hear them!" cried Nova.

Me too," said Wildstar. "Can we hear that again?"

Desslok nodded. "Yes. I heard them, too, if you were wondering. And why are they in Terran, Wildstar? I wish I knew."

" all.........nooo...please...," said the sad voice, which sounded like the voice of a woman who was...dying? Or just...very weak?

"This sounds all too familiar," said Wildstar.

"Telezart...all over again?" asked Nova.

"It bears investigation," said Desslok in a low voice. "What could be alive in there? Does this pique your interest...hmmm?"

"It does," said Wildstar as he began to grow cold. " said there were two observations. Were they...the radio noise...and the voice that seems to be in them?"

"That's one observation," said Desslok. "The last one...the one that seems to tie it all together...all of the threads of legend, terror, and oddness we have been discussing....seem to center on what happened when we extrapolated the sub-spacial pattern around this appearance of gas...the neck of the funnel, as it were....out in the other try to get a fix on where this space cyclone could have come from. We did that...knowing that this could be a mistake...and look what we got..."

An image of space began to roll across the screen as blue computer-generated lines rolled across the stars....and began to form a funnel......with the circle of the funnel, beyond the Varalndus system growing smaller, smaller, and smaller, focusing upon the Constellation Virgo. The circle of extrapolation rolled past Virgo, out beyond the Milky Way, out into the trackless wastes of intergalactic space and the distant smears of a few galaxies, rolling past the closer galaxies of the Virgo "Group" one by one, by one...focusing upon a tiny smear of light in the distance.

The circle shrunk more, and more and more and more…as the smear of light grew, as if magnified. A galactic spiral began to take shape, form, and then, suddenly they noticed that half of the spiral was darkened.

Then, before Derek and Nova's eyes, the unmistakable shape of the Blackeye Galaxy loomed up within the point of the circle, with the tiny tip of the "funnel" ending at a point within the Blackeye Galaxy that looked shining and bright, but was near the edge of the darkness.

Then, last of all, at the greatest magnification of all, the bright point shone out, like a massive nova or supernova of some sort, with a heart of darkness right near it. The bright point shone like a beautiful star out of legend...but the heart of the darkness looked compellingly...and bizarrely, like a human head.

No...not a human head. A human skull...grinning at the viewers...with two horrid, red points of light in the deep set, livid eye sockets of the "skull"

"The legends speak of that formation, too...a strange what we think are in two different incredibly ancient languages. I think you two are the first Terrans to see it," said Desslok

"What is the name?" said Derek.

"E'sharuiyu'd'varanda'e'k'Rikashiya, za'karalnda'd'stal," intoned Desslok. "It's supposed to be in two strange alien languages that I believe are actually dead languages. But, two meanings of the phrase have passed into the legends based on what is known of the languages. One variant translates that phrase as "At the Heart of Blackeye, lies the place of the Skull, sign of the E'sharuiyu and his Accursed Ones, the Rikashiya. Beware!" What the "E'sharuiyu" and "Rikashiya" one knows. I've never heard translations of those words. I have no idea what the languages even really are...or were. The other variant translates that phrase as, "At the Heart of Blackeye, a sign: the Place of the Skull, where God Screams "Forsaken" in vain, and the Dark Lord, a minion of Hell, laughs at the suffering ones' plight." Neither phrase sounds very encouraging. And, at that...I must leave you. I hope to see a few the Heart of the Mystery in the Varalndus System…if you are given permission to come, that is. Farewell, my friends."

At that, Derek and Nova stood up, and shook hands with Desslok. Then, he handed them a tape cartridge. "The data supporting all that we discussed is here. Speak to your Commander...again...I think that this phenomenon is most...interesting. Possibly even unsettling in its implications."

"Desslok...I agree with you," said Derek in a low voice.

To be more precise, thought Wildstar as he and Nova flew back to the Argo a while later in scares the crap out of me. But why? WHY?


First Bridge

Space Battleship Argo

The Vicinity of Phoebus

January 9, 2202

2022 Hours: Spacetime

"So," said the Commander as he looked down at Wildstar from the Argo's main screen. "You're at the edge of the Saturn region as I ordered...?"

"Yes, Commander," said Wildstar as he looked up at Commanding General Charles Singleton on the screen.

"Excellent. I just came out of a meeting of the Earth Defense Council, where we discussed the preliminary results of your...conversation with the Gamilons...about four hours after you sent us the information Desslok gave you at 1400."

"What did they think, sir?" asked Wildstar.

"They had a hard time believing most of it. To quote Sandberg," said the Commander, who flicked on a tape he had at his private desk. "'What?'" said Sandberg's recorded voice. "'Now we're sending the Star Force out after a Gamilon legend? Wasn't Gamilon tryin' to destroy us recently?'"

"Sir...what did the rest of the Council think?" said Wildstar as he looked at the Commander, who just sat there with his eyes closed.

"They were inclined to agree with Sandberg until they heard the recorded voice of the young woman speaking in our language, and until they received the scans that seem to indicate that some gravitronic wave is about to hit between 0100 and 0600 tomorrow morning. In reference to those phenomena, I have decided to amend the order I sent out when we were dealing with Gernitz. Between 0100 and 0700 hours tomorrow, all private vessels, which are on their way home per our recent orders, and all Earth Defense vessels in the region between Saturn and Neptune are to come to a stop...except for your ship, that is. We need scans of the disturbance from the close as you can possibly get." 

Wildstar nodded. "Sandor, where did you say that your scans of the wave patterns seemed to indicate where the center of the disturbance would hit?"

Sandor, at attention, turned to his instruments. "Sir, our scans would seem to indicate that the center of the disturbance is going to pass across Neptune's orbit in an oblique pattern. The closest we can get to it is point WA-212, 3500 megameters away from Neptune."

"Wildstar, I want the Argo there," said the Commander.

"Is there any private shipping there that we should warn?" said Wildstar.

"To be precise, yes," said the Commander. The image on the screen changed to that of an area near Neptune. Then, the image zoomed in on a large private passenger liner being escorted by a space frigate.

"This is the new spaceliner Westhampton Beach," said the Commander. "She's on her maiden voyage...with a manifest full of rich and important individuals and government officials. It would be a political disaster if she's lost. She's being escorted home under our prior declaration by two space frigates...the image you're seeing was being sent by one of them. It's a little dicey since this liner, like most commercial ships, with the exception of a few freight-only couriers, does not have a faster-than-light drive. Hence, the quickest she can make it home is within about five days. I want you to scan the area, pick up the expected edge of the disturbance, plot it, and then call the two Sun H'tsu class frigates we have in the area so they can warn the liner away from the disturbance. The two frigates are the Thaddeus Kosciuzko and the Colin Powell; the Powell is the escort detail command ship; you should be contacting her."

"Yessir," said Wildstar. "I hope to be able to contact the Powell around 2330 tonight after Sandor, Royster, Lieutenant Wildstar, and Junior Lieutenant Parsons pick up the projected epicenter of the disturbance and extrapolate outwards from it. That should give the Westhampton Beach enough time to get away from this particular "iceberg"."

"Sandor...Mrs. Wildstar...Miss Parsons," said the Commander. "You feel you can plot the exact epicenter of the disturbance, so that the Westhampton Beach and our bases in the Neptune area can be warned to take appropriate measures?" asked Singleton.

"Yessir," said Sandor, Nova, and Holly all together. Holly Parson was sweating a this was the first time she had ever spoken to Commanding General Singleton personally. She knew that Sandor and Nova had both had many contacts with the Commander before, but talking directly to head of the EDF herself made her more than a little nervous.

" for Royster?" said Singleton.

"He's busy working on scans on the second bridge now, sir," said Wildstar. "Don't worry, Commander. We'll do everything we can to ensure the safety of that liner. And then...?"

"The Earth Defense Council has a slim majority, that you should rendezvous with the Gamilons in ten days, on January 19th, at the Beta Valentis System. There, you are to cooperate with the Gamilons in investigating the appearance of this strange object in that system and the origin and nature of the message emanating from it. You are also to discover everything that you can about the...phenomenon ...that brought it so close to our solar system...and you're to find out, if possible, what brought it here, and what, if anything, it has to do with the warning message the Gamilons picked up from it. Furthermore, you're to report back anything else that you or the Gamilons discover about this phenomenon...or about the area of the Beta Valentis, or Varalndus System, as the Gamilons call it. I hope to be able to report to the Council and the President about this matter by February 15th, so please time your investigation accordingly, Captain. After that, you will be expected to again concentrate full-time on the threat of Gernitz. You are also to report immediately if you fall under attack from his forces…or any other Cometime forces or unknown hostiles. Is that clear?"

"Yessir," said Wildstar.

"All told, in regard to the recent crisis, Earth owes you and the Star Force a debt of thanks in helping to organize such a pointed resistance to the new "House" of the Comet Empire that was apparently poised to attack Earth. Oddly enough, we also owe the Gamilons a debt of thanks for the aid and intelligence they provided in this matter and in the upcoming investigation of the Beta Valentis System and the mystery that lies there. To sum it up, perhaps these...Houses of the Comet Empire ...will think twice before they attack Earth again now that they know of the resolve and bravery of the Star Force. Perhaps," mused Singleton. "Let us, at any rate, pray that this is the case. It is my hope that you discover in the coming weeks that Gernitz has indeed decided to leave Earth alone. The news that the matter of the Cometines did not indeed end with Zordar 's death was very disturbing to the Defense Council, to say the least.  One member of the Council proposed that, perhaps, we should take some action to ensure continued contacts with the Gamilons of some type so that Desslok can continue to communicate such intelligence to us on an informal basis. To say the least, the nature of such contacts, and, even if there should be any, is still being debated by the Council, which has at least agreed, by a slim majority, that you should learn all that you can from Desslok in this current situation." At that, Singleton paused before going on.

"Another member of the Council also proposed that, after this current crisis ends, one way or the other, we should, perhaps, consider contacting Starsha so that we could learn what, if anything, the scientists and engineers of Iscandar might have known about this legend and its implications. It was felt that if Iscandar could confirm the nature of this threat, it might aid us in confirming or disproving Desslok's data. So, be ready, Captain. This...trial... cruise of the Argo might be a longer and more difficult mission for you than we first anticipated."

"So...we might be making ...another long journey after we find out what we can learn about Gernitz and this new phenomenon?" said Wildstar.

"Yes, but just don't go retrieving your old charts of the Great Magellenic Cloud and of Iscandar just yet," said Singleton with a slight grin. "We just don't know enough, yet, even though I'm pleased to see that the Star Force is so ready to volunteer for another long, difficult mission. For now, I hope to hear from you tomorrow morning...with the news that the Westhampton Beach escaped from harm's way and that our bases in the Neptune area are undamaged and intact. And, as you have a great deal to tend to, I'll leave you to your work now, Captain Wildstar. Good luck, and good wishes, Captain."

"Thank you, sir," said Wildstar. "You can count on the Star Force."

Wildstar and Singleton exchanged salutes, and then the screen went dark.

"Well, Captain?" said Venture.

"Do you think we might possibly be heading out to Iscandar again in the next month?" asked Homer.

"Might be good for the new wave engine," joked Orion. "She might need a long trip to help break 'er in..."

"I don't think so," said Wildstar. "We have a lot to do, everyone, and we've got to take things one step at a time. It's going to be a long night."

"I'll get us lots of coffee before I get to work on helping Sandor, Royster, and Parsons with those scans," smiled Nova.

"Thanks. I think we could use strong and dark as you and the galley crew can make it," said Derek as he laid his hands on Nova's shoulders and smiled a little. "As it is...I've got a lot to think about in the next hour or two.'ve got the conn," said Wildstar.

"Right, Derek," said Mark. "Where are you going?"

"To my cabin to think for about forty-five minutes. I've got a lot to think about," said Wildstar as he got up, nodded goodbye to everyone, and left the bridge.

"He's got a lot on 'is mind," said Orion after he left.

"I know, Orion." said Nova quietly. "I know."


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