The tension on Mysticís bridge was high. The bridge was bathed in the blood red lights indicating that the ship was in battle alert mode, the equivalent of Star Serviceís red alert status during a combat situation. Mysticís engines were straining to get every last bit of speed they could to catch a signal being left by its captainís half-sister, Snowfall. In addition to being family, shi also may be the key to finding the Time Matrix, a device of infinite power. This device could literally do anything, even create other universes, change events in any universe, and even change the physics of the time-space continuum.
Almost everyone that came across the device and learned of its abilities agreed that it needed to be hidden, for it could not be destroyed. However there were individuals that wanted to use the device for personal gain. One of those individuals was a Wolftaur bitch named Parishka. When the device was first discovered, she tried to use it for improving the timeline by erasing key individuals. Even after being proven wrong she still wanted to try again. However Commodore Starfox, a Chakat, took a volunteer crew and hir ship into the area known as the Maelstrom. The Maelstrom was difficult to navigate even by modern day ships and had many anomalies, a perfect hiding place. Shi then had an illegitimate child with Starfoxís daughter, a Chakat freelancer named Stareye, and did something to hir. It was believed that Parishka did something to hir daughter that would lead her to the Time Matrix. Parishkaís plans were foiled when her daughter left her because she could no longer handle the condition the partially psychotic Parishka was creating at home.
When Snowfall looked for protection, no one couldíve predicted that shi would go right to the arms of Captain Blackstar and the Blitz team. Blackstar had followed the path set down by hir ancestors and had begun the pirate-fighting/freelancer force known as the Blitz team. To create a more permanent legal solution to protecting Snowfall, Blackstar had hir take a DNA test and find a relative to be hir legal guardian. They were both surprised when one of the matches was Blackstar hirself. Blackstar took care of hir half-sister until shi was a legal adult, at which point Snowfall moved to a lighthouse on Quenxel. Parishka never forgave Blackstar and was bent on revenge.
And only a few hours earlier, the lighthouse Snowfall lived in was destroyed and Snowfall was kidnapped. However, one thing hir kidnappers didnít know was that shi had a radio isotope that was leaving a trail for hir sister to follow.
Blackstar was waiting for hir crew to say that they had caught up to the ship hir half-sister was on. Sitting in the seat at hir right-hand side was hir Denmate and partner, Nightrose, still wearing bandages on her right arm and forehead. Nightrose had been with Snowfall and was severely burned by the fire at that finished off the lighthouse the night that Snowfall was kidnapped. Dr. Oliver was sitting by hir side, ready to provide medical assistance if necessary.
Blackstar hit the comm. badge on hir upper left breast, "Bridge to engineering Ė Sky, can you get any more speed?"
"Negative," replied the Skunktaur engineer, "weíre already at 125% and weíve shut down every non-essential system, minus the waste systems. I still remember what happened last time."
Before Blackstar could counter hym, another voice that shi recognized as Vega came up. "Any harder and we risk a warp core breach. And weíve already voided the warranty."
"Canít we just use force fields to strengthen it?" asked Blackstar.
"Negative," said Sky, "they would drain a lot of power and we wouldnít benefit from pushing it like that. We would just make it more complicated."
Blackstar was about to order Sky to do it anyway in the hopes that they could still get a little power when shi felt a push that said no. Shi looked at Nightrose and found her looking at hir. Blackstar glared at hir and was a little surprised when shi heard, or rather sensed, Nightrose say, patience my love. Donít be foolish. Weíre faster; itís just a matter of time.
Blackstar sighed and gave in. Shi, like any Chakat was very protective of hir family, especially those in hir care. It was a gift and a curse at times. Blackstar took several breaths to calm hirself down. Thanks.
A beep came from the helm station. Blackstarís little sister, Firefox aka Trip, reported, "The signal just slowed to impulse. Weíll overshoot them in one minute."
"Bring us out of warp fifty kilometers away. I want some breathing room," ordered Blackstar. Shi hit the badge again, "8-Ball, standby to launch the allied squadron. You take lead." Serena was effectively the lead fighter pilot for now and led the Quenxel squadron that was temporarily assigned to the Blitz team from the Quenxel defense force.
Meanwhile Serge took tactical and linked it to sensor control, not the most efficient way to work but the ship was short handed. It was Serena who reported, "Iíve got a tactical read on the enemy ship! I think you might want to take a look. This is pretty unbelievable."
"What are you talking about?" asked Blackstar. Then Serge put the tactical display on the main viewscreen. "Thatís not possible!"
There on the screen was a mirror image of the MSS Mystic coming about. Serena reported, "All sensor scans suggest that the ship weíre looking at is identical to our ship; however I didnít detect an Advanced Flying Unit. Theyíre powering weapons."
"Raise shields!" ordered Blackstar, "Target main phasers at the primary computer core, and set phasers to a frequency of 432.35." Nightrose raised an eyebrow. "Iím just hoping my luck holds out. Open a channel."
On the main screen an image of Parishka appeared, "It has been a while, Blackstar."
"Not long enough," said Blackstar, "Why donít you ever stay dead? This is going to be the third time Iíve killed you."
Parishkaís reply was quick in coming. "You fool! Iíve got a ship identical to yours, I have Snowfall, and that leaves you with nothing but a cloaking device that prevents you from using anything useful. Now I will destroy your bridge with you on it."
Blackstar looked confused, "I wish I could help you but, you see Iím not really here. Execute attack pattern Vega-1."
Parishkaís eyes widened when Blackstar faded into nothingness. Then her bridge shook violently and one of her bridge officerís reported, "The Mystic has disabled the main computer core and something has penetrated the mid-neck section."
The copycat shipís neck had been penetrated by the rarely used assault pole of the Midnight Star. The Midnight Star had used Vegaís cloaking device and flown ahead of the Copycat. Once it dropped out of warp the Midnight Star inverted and deployed the assault once the order had been given. The Blitz teamís own platoon, or rather Blackstar and Sasha boarded the copycat ship and began stunning anyone they saw as they made their way to the bridge. Sasha covered Blackstar as shi forced the door open. Once Blackstar entered the bridge, shi brought hir phaser to bear on the captainís chair, however shi quickly realized that the tail was far too long and thin for the old wolftaur. Blackstar spun the chair and found hirself staring at hir sister who had hir mouth, hands and both sets of legs were bound together with plastic ties.
Blackstarís jaw worked up and down for a moment, "No, no, no! That was my trick. I came up with that. I taught her that move. I canít believe this. This is so not fair." Blackstarís attention was captured by a noise every spacefarer hated, leaking air, "the bridgeís airlocks are opening!" Snowfall nodded. "Layla beam us out!"
Sasha picked up the pure white Chakat and slung hir over her shoulder. Although Snowfall didnít like being hauled around like a sack of potatoes there was nothing shi could do about it. Sasha, Snowfall, and Blackstar were beamed up and the assault pole was retracted as soon as possible. Layla put impulse engines to full power before the pole had been completely withdrawn and the drill-like head took minor damage as the Copycat jumped to warp.
Blackstar took the pilot seat and took off the sweat soaked vest. "That couldíve gone better." A moaning sound reminded Blackstar about hir sister, "Sasha, help Snow with the ties." Blackstar put a headset on and put one of hir favorite soundtracks on as shi and Layla searched for any clues as to Parishkaís whereabouts.
"I have the Copycat moving away at high warp," reported Layla, "I cannot asses their status. Well other than being able to travel at warp of course."
Blackstar opened a line to the Mystic, "I have the Copycat on the run. I want you following them with the Skim Drive; Iíll cut them off with the Slipstream Drive."
"Only if I come with you," said Nightrose.
Blackstar sighed knowing it would be pointless to argue with her. "Sasha, switch places with Nightrose and take Snowfall with you".
The Midnight Star flew at Slipstream speeds to get ahead of the Copycat, and almost lost it when they dropped out of warp with no apparent reason. The Star made a hard U-turn and dropped out of Slipstream just ahead of the Copycat. Blackstar opened a channel, "weíve got to stop meeting like this, Parishka. Weíll hold you long enough for the Mystic to get here. Then weíll outgun you. Might as well give up now."
The old Wolftaur responded, "You should double check the field. That was always your flaw Blackstar. You are so focused on the pieces that you donít notice the battlefieldís terrain. Thatís how I almost killed you when you rescued your sister, and how you and the Torrinís captain should have died. I may not stay dead, but at least I die. You can get some satisfaction from stopping my fellow clones and myself. You on the other hand just wonít die! At least Iíll survive this one."
"What is she talking about?" asked Nightrose.
Parishka gave a creepy grin before answering, "Simple, I chose this battle field because I have an escape route. I estimate a 98% chance of my survival. Sadly I estimate an 89% chance of your survival. Look behind your ship and youíll find a large nebula, that effectively renders shields powerless, weapons useless, and prevent high-speed travel. I just need to dive the Copycat in there and youíll never find me." She turned to the tactical station, which was in the same spot as the Mysticís. "Fire upon the Midnight Star. Clear a path to the nebula. Helm dive into the nebula."
The Midnight Star took a beating from the Copycatís gun. Over the sounds of the shuddering hull Blackstar ordered, "Return fire!" The smaller ship was rocked by the pounding of the Copycatís guns, but was able to hold itís own as the larger ship flew past and dove into the nebula.
The Mystic dropped out of warp and fired a few potshots at the Copycat before it disappeared but did little real damage. Sasha opened a channel with the Midnight Star, "Captain are you okay? Whatís your damage?"
The shaken Chakat replied, "Weíre fine, we just need to regenerate our shields. Scan the nebula and give me a tactical report in five minutes." Despite the fact that the last exchange of weapons fire had only lasted a minute Blackstar felt spent. Shi knew that it was the adrenaline wearing off again, having experienced it too many times in the past twenty-four hours.
Hir thoughts were interrupted by Sashaís report, "The nebulaís particle density is so thick that we wouldnít be able to handle more then 18,000 kph. Weapon range is less than a kilometer, and sensor range even lower, shields would be useless and we would be unable to go to warp. I think it goes without saying that the cloak is useless as well. Should we pursue?"
Sasha was waiting for any number of answers but she got the one she least expected. "No, we let her go." Sashaís jaw worked up and down for a moment, many of the crew suffering from similar reactions. "As much as Iíd like to give her a piece of my mind, she didnít try that hard to kill me and I donít think she was trying. Thereís something more here then meets the eye, but we donít have time to figure it out now. Letís pack up and head back for Quenxel, the freighters should have arrived by now. And have Dr. Oliver look over Snowfall, see if there is anything out of the ordinary for a Wolftaur/Chakat crossbreed. Iíll be in the landing bay in a few minutes. Blackstar out." Blackstar had Layla handle docking and just laid back in hir seat. Shi then sensed Nightrose staring at hir, "What is the problem this time?"
"I donít quite know where to start," she said, "Itís just not like you to give up on a chase. Normally Iím the one that has to talk you out of it."
Nightrose was baffled for the second time in ten minutes when Blackstar began laughing, "Iím not that unreasonable. We canít keep this pace up for hours on end with our current resources. Besides, weíre due back at Quenxel in a few days."
Nightrose gave Blackstar a skeptical look. "This wouldnít have to do with that message you got just before we left does it?" It was Blackstarís turn for a jaw drop. "Itís not my fault you talk in your sleep."
"We havenít slept since I got the message," pointed out Blackstar, "I knew bringing Vega was a bad idea." To answer Nightroseís unasked question Blackstar said, "You arenít the first person that sheís blabbed my secrets to."
Back on board the Mystic Blackstar ordered Trip to set a course for Quenxel. When shi stopped in hir ready room shi was surprised to find Vega waiting for hir. "So are you here to apologize for telling Nightrose about the message or is this something new?"
"Something new Iím afraid," said Vega, "When Doctor Oliver did a scan on Snowfall, he found this." She put a small translucent cube on the desk. "This is a comm. Cube with your name engraved on it. I assume itís for you."
Blackstar picked up the cube and looked it over; it was about the size of a die and was only a little heavier. Weíll have to wait till weíre at a facility more suited to deciphering this than the Mystic. Have us dock with the station in orbit of Quenxel when we get there, for this as well as repairs and refueling. Is there anything else?"
Vega nodded, "I noticed that you havenít eaten for a while with all this excitement going on. How would you like to join me for a decent breakfast? I hear the reviews of Carlís cooking have been excellent."
Blackstar grinned when hir stomachs growled in reply, "I guess I am a little hungry. Whoís Carl?"
"That Quange mechanic that tagged along with the Quenxelian pilots. He could build a fighter from scratch from what his sister tells me. Sheís the other Quange, Tyria," explained Vega. The feline grinned, "So how about we head down to the cafe for some grub?."
Blackstar stopped in the middle of hir nod. "Wait a minute. When the hellíd we get a cafe?"
Vegaís face expressed her confusion, "you mean you didnít authorize it? Heís been building it since they landed their ships here. He asked Sky and me for help with parts, construction, and power needs. I had assumed he asked you for the green light."
Thinking for a minute Blackstar made a decision, "I guess Iíll talk to him about it. I donít know what he was thinking, but I could do with some real food." Vega and Blackstar made it their way to the new cafe, which had been converted from a normal lounge in the aft section of the ship, while the empty cargo bay adjacent to the lounge had been converted into a galley. When Blackstar got there, shi was impressed that Carl had been able to get this facility constructed without hir knowledge. The lounge area was filled with a number of tables of various sizes with matching chairs or pillows for the taur-sized tables, and a number of bi-level spots were also included to allow a variety of choice for the dinners.
Looking around, Blackstar saw the buffet style counter, and many of hir crew enjoying the food. Walking over to the buffet, a very nervous Quange came from the kitchen behind it. "Hello Captain, I wasnít expecting you to come down here, so soon."
Blackstar looked the older Quange in the eye and asked, "Youíre a cook, a mechanic, a scavengerÖ itís a wonder youíre still single." That quickly broke the tension. "So whatís cooking?"
"Well, Iíve cooked up some hash-browns, sausage, pancakes, and bacon. I also make any type of eggs upon request. Weíve also got a variety of different flavored milks, orange juice and coffee," the smiling Quange replied.
"Sounds good," said Blackstar, "are you done back there?" The Quange nodded, "then join Vega and me when you have the chance."
The Quange walked back into the kitchen to clean up and Blackstar began gathering some food. Shi grabbed some sausages and pancakes from the food section and grabbed a glass of chocolate milk. Vega grabbed the pancakes and bacon and some coffee for her breakfast. They werenít eating very long before Vega pulled out a PADD, "I was googling before this morningís fight and I found that a Folftaur is reported missing in Wisconsin. Does she look familiar?"
Blackstar looked at the picture and shook hir head. "Nope. Never seen her." Blackstar took a sip from hir glass and noticed that Vega was glaring at hir. "What?" shi asked.
"Imagine that Serena was a redhead and then look at the picture," said Vega, "and you might want to look extra closely because that young Folftaur is only sixteen. And I know Folftaurs are among the rarest taurs in the world."
"Bah," said Blackstar, "she could have a sister that we donít know about. 8-Ball doesnít know who her father is, so it may turn out that he does live in Wisconsin and has a thing for vixentaurs." After a moment of Vegaís glaring, Blackstar said, "Iíll talk to her about it."
"See that you do," said Vega. She then cleaned up her plate and walked towards the garbage and dish receptacle area. Blackstar sighed and turned back to hir taur-sized meal. Even though Vega was much older and responsible, it still didnít help when it came to Blackstar admitting that she was right.
The old Quange came from the kitchen. "Does that feline actually inhale her food?"
"No, she just doesnít need that much food," explained Blackstar. "She has a very unique metabolism." Turning to Carl shi asked, "Just why did you go through all this work even though Iím only training your squadron for a few weeks?"
You didnít have to be empathic to know that the Quange was very nervous. "Well, I havenít had the chance to discuss this with you yet, but I was hoping that maybe you might have an opening for someone of my diverse talents. And I wanted to sweeten the deal because that would require you to buy out my contract with the Quenxel Defense Force."
Blackstarís sense of humor rose to the fore. "So you think that tearing my lounge apart, using my materials and a breakfast is going to convince me to buy out your contract?"
Carl was starting to get really nervous now. "Well, me and my sister, sir."
"First of all, donít call me sir," said Blackstar. "Second of all, Iím going to have to buy you out because this is some excellent food. And Iím guessing you and your sister are a package deal?" The Quange nodded in reply. "Well, do you want to just cook, or are you going to double up with other tasks?"
Carl was notably happier, "I could do that and more sir, I mean, umÖ what do you prefer being called?"
"Captain Blackstar or Captain will suffice in formal situation, like when weíre on duty, but for now you can call me Blacky."
"I see," said Carl, "Iím a decent fighter mechanic, that being my primary occupation at the base, and I could work on damage control if necessary. That just leaves the question: when do we take care of the paper work?"
"Right now," said Blackstar. Shi pulled a PADD out from hir vest, "hereís a contract. Please read it over, sign where appropriate, and the shipís computer will file it into appropriate locations, and give you a hard copy. Have your sister sign her own copy. The rest will be taken care of by me."
"Thank you Captain, we wonít disappoint you," said Carl.
Blackstar yawned. Yesterday had been a long day with rescuing hir sister and working on a lot of paper work for Carl and Tyriaís transfer. Because hir sister had been through so much, and because shi was used to group sleeping with hir companions on Quenxel, Blackstar and Nightrose slept with Snowfall. After slowly extracting hirself from the fur-pile, shi put one of hir combat vests on and visited the bridge, where Serena was finishing the night shift. Serena, who was sitting in the captainís chair turned to face Blackstar, "Morning Silverbolt. All systems are normal, and weíre cruising at warp five on skim-drive. Current destination: Quenxel. So, why are you up so early? I thought I had the bridge for another few hours."
Blackstar looked down and sighed before looking back at Serena. "Iíve known you longer than anyone else on this crew, with the exception of Vega. In all that time I thought I knew you. But I didnít even know that you were a red head." Serena visibly deflated. "So tell me something, how old are you, and why didnít you tell me before."
"You were my way out of that village," said Serena. "What else could I do? When you asked me before, I would say, ĎIíll be eighteen on my birthdayí, but I never said which birthday. Itís how I lived with myself." Tears started forming in her eyes, "I had to get away from that village. Everyone saw me as the oddball, the freak. I was the one with grey-fur, the one who loved technology, the one with no Ďtraditionalí skills. Even my own mother seemed to despise me. Our last fight resulted in a visit to the hospital. I had to get out of there. The only person who knew I was leaving was my girlfriend. She was the only one who liked me for me for me." Now she was visibly crying.
Blackstar hugged Serena and gave her a shoulder to cry on. "I understand. Iíll do what I can. Maybe you should take the rest of the shift off. Iíll cover you." Serena didnít make any movement to leave, "Seriously, youíve got to stop, Iím getting snot-tears on my vest." Serena let out a snort-laugh. "Iím going to need a new vest." Serena started giggling. Serena gave Blackstar a quick lick-kiss before leaving.
Blackstar grinned and turned to watch Serena depart the bridge. When shi turned around to face the main viewscreen hir hearts skipped a beat when shi came face-to-face with Vega. "What the hell did I tell you about doing that? One of these days, one of my hearts is going to stop permanently because of you. Someone should put a fricken bell on you or something. Arenít you supposed to be in engineering?" Blackstar took the captainís chair.
"Sky got up early to work on one of hys projects to improve the weapon control systems so they donít fail every time we go into battle," explained Vega.
Blackstar finished a check of the shipís overall status before looking at Vega and seeing a look in her eyes that Blackstar hated. "What is it this time? Are you going to spout off one of your fricken prophecies again are you? Last time almost got me killed."
"I just tell it like it is," said Vega, "I can see ki lines, and predict some possible futures. Your future is whatever you make it. Thatís why I find engineering fascinating. I canít predict what a machine will do." When Vega spoke of ki lines, it referred to life force or spiritual energy of the universe. She could see and predict the flow of ki lines and she would often be accurate, but there were still times when she would be dead wrong.
"What is it?" asked Blackstar. "What do you see?"
"Letís just say that a number of shadows from your past will cross your path again, but itíll be a while," replied Vega. She noticed that Blackstar was using the comm. to search the local newscasts. "You arenít listening are you?"
"How can I answer that if Iím pretending not to listen?" Vega had a problem with letting Blackstar get under her skin with those comments. She stormed off the bridge with enough anger emanating from her that a Chakat on the other end of the ship could have sensed it. Blackstar smiled inwardly at hir success.
Shi started playing a game on hir PADD, an old game shi had found while searching random things on the net. This one was found when shi searched hir grandsireís name, Starfox. Shi found that the game, Starfox Command, was actually quite fun for being from the early 21st century. Blackstar had gotten hooked on many games of that era, most of which survived because of their large quantities, but always came back to that series of games for some reason. Shi figured it had to do with being able to relate to the mercenary team of the game, or maybe because shi found an avian morph an interesting concept, or that Fox McCloud had a cute tushie. Whatever the case may be, it had saved hir from many hours of boredom during long boring jobs and assignments where the only other thing to do was stare at the view of warped space through the main viewscreen.
Shi was still playing when Tyria came on duty about two hours later. The Quange looked around in confusion for a moment, "I thought 8-Ball was on duty."
"She was," replied Blackstar, "I relived her because she was having emotional issues. Since when are you calling her 8-Ball?"
Tyria shrugged, "Iíve been hanging around with her while working on the fighters, and I helped her paint her preferred fighter. When I saw the nickname painted on the cockpit hatch I guess I just started calling her by it."
"Very well," said Blackstar, "Iíll be back up here in six hours; thatís about the time weíll arrive in the Quenxel system."
Tyria nodded in understanding. "Sir, I would like to address a security concern."
Blackstar was surprised, "Itís unusual for a junior member of the crew to question the captainís policies, but I suppose I should hear you out just in case itís legit."
"Thank you, sir," said Tyria, "I was wondering if it is wise to allow a junior officer to have free rein of the bridge."
"Are you saying I shouldnít trust you?" asked Blackstar.
"No sir, thatís not what I meant, but I know Chakats tend to trust too easily. If you trust the wrong person, who knows what could happen," explained Tyria.
"From your point of view that would be a valid concern," replied Blackstar. "I may not have eyes all over the ship, but Layla does. I donít think youíve been introduced yet. Layla say hello."
Part of the main viewscreen was replaced with an image of a red headed vixen. Tyria couldnít tell if she was a biped or a taur because the picture cut off above the waist. The vixen grinned. "Hello Tyria. Iím Layla, the brain of the Midnight Star. With various data connections, I can link up and interface with the Mysticís computer system. I can override any system if necessary, but that is rare. I keep an eye on critical systems and areas of both ships. Nothing has ever happened on my watch."
"Wow," Tyria was in awe, "so youíre some sort of AI? Iíve never heard of one with those abilities."
"No," said Layla, "Iím biological originally, but due to a childhood disease I was unable to move, so I was supplemented with cybernetic systems and was eventually grafted into the Twilight Maru."
"Okay," said Tyria, "every time you answer a question, two more come up. So are you naturally a Vixen or is that just your chosen avatar? And what is the Twilight Maru?"
Layla had a shocked look on her face, which was replaced by a look of concern, "I donít know. I canít remember. Iíve never thought about it." Laylaís avatar disappeared.
"Donít take it personally," said Blackstar, "she doesnít have much need for manners, and after a while youíll begin to expect it. I canít believe I never thought about her species before. Well, I can answer the Maru question. It was a prototype ship, after it was heavily damaged and deemed unsalvageable. Two ships with similar designs would be built at a later date; both had parts from the original; however the majority of the wreckage was used as projectiles during an emergency. The first of the two ships was the Twilight Star which was also destroyed. The last ship was the Midnight Star. The only thing all three had in common was that Layla was used as the brain of these ships. That makes her at least over 50 years old."
"The Midnight Star comes from a distinguished line of ships," said Tyria. "I remember my father telling me about how he was saved by the Twilight Star. The pilot was a hero, capable of all sorts of impossible feats. He said that the Twilight Star could fly into a black hole and come back out again."
"Thatís a bit of an exaggeration," said Blackstar. "The Twilight Star wouldnít be able to withstand that kind of stress. The Midnight Star might be able to slingshot a black hole at Slipstream, but that would be risky even with Vega at the helm." Blackstar and Tyria encountered an awkward silent moment. "Well Iím going to head downstairs, I sort of left my quarters without telling Nightrose where I was going, and after all weíve been through, sheís going to get worried about me."
"Have a nice day sir," said Tyria.
Nightrose woke up with in a cold sweat. She looked around for Blackstar in a panic. "Layla, whereís Blackstar?!"
"Shiís on hir way from the bridge."
Blackstar walked in only to be hug-tackled by Nightrose. "Is this the way weíre greeting each other now, because I kind of like it." Nightrose began sobbing into Blackstarís vest. Rather than make a comment about everyone leaving snot-tears on hir vest, shi choose the more compassionate route. "Whatís got you so upset?"
"I just had a bad dream, thatís all," said Nightrose.
"What do you say we go down to breakfast?" said Blackstar. Shi picked up a surprised Nightrose and put her on hir lower back.
Blackstar turned hir attention to hir sister, "I know youíre awake. Are you going to join us?
"Is there enough room on your back?" asked Snowfall. "And since when do you give rides?"
"Thatís a good question I suppose," said Blackstar, "I guess it started when I started going out with Sly Wacoon. Well not so much as go out as fondle each other, then one of us would go to the bedroom. Or Iíd carry him to the bedroom. One time he carried me to the bedroom, but he got a hernia so we didnít do that again. Letís discuss this over breakfast. My stomachs are growling."
Snowfall looked at the clock on Blackstarís dresser. "Actually itís more like lunch according to the clock."
"That explains why Iím so hungry! Letís go!" Blackstar took off down the corridor towards the café, with Nightrose hanging on for dear life.
Snowfall just shook hir head in dismay. "Shi might be older than me, but shi still acts like a little kid. Jeez, Iíve got to stop talking to myself or people will think Iím crazy."
A disembodied voice replied, "You arenít crazy when you talk to yourself. Youíre crazy if you answer yourself."
"That and when you start hearing voices," said Snowfall. The voice didnít reply. Snowfall shrugged it off as stress and followed hir older sister to the café.
In the café, Blackstar, Nightrose and, Snowfall enjoyed a light brunch. Nightrose was asking about Sly Wacoon. "For starters, am I ever going to meet him? Where is he from? You know all that jazz?"
Blackstar swallowed hir sausage before answering. "Well, Sly runs a corporation called E.V.I.L. Weíre more like weekend lovers a lot of the time. The HQ is on Tyrre in the Byrrilic Territories. Itís not part of any formal government, although there are enough rumors of sentient rights violations to warrant an invasion by the Federation. However most of them are rumors created by their rivals. The ones that are true are usually justified.
"E.V.I.L is more of a think-tank now, creating new types of equipment. Thatís where we got the RX40000 personal artillery unit. Sly is actually working on a portable version of that system, albeit a bit weaker due to size limitation. Heís also working on a way for bipeds and taurs to interbreed, so that he can father a child by me. And next time we talk, Iíll make sure that itíll be possible for me to be the father of any children you might bear. If thatís what you want of course."
Nightrose took a minute to absorb the information. Being co-mates with Sly might have its benefits. When Nightrose mated with Blackstar, she knew that there was a good chance that she would never be the mother of Blackstarís children, and she was willing to accept the loss of status if it meant that she could be with Blackstar. While she was sure the Blackstar would mate with other females, she never imagined that she could bear the children of her mate.
Nightrose grinned at the thought of finally being able to match her sister, Rosepetal, in status, if she wanted to of course. Nightrose would never force her Ďmaní to mate with more females for her personal benefit, even when she was certain Blackstar would do it. To carry the first Caitian/Chakat hybrid, with the help of a mate she loved was a far greater prospect than she could have ever dreamed.
"Do you think he could really do that," asked Nightrose. Blackstar nodded. "The first Caitian/Chakat hybrid. If youíd be willing to be the father of him or her or hir, Iíd do it."
"Of coarse I world do it. Iíd do anything for you, Nightrose," said Blackstar. "After all weíre more than just mates. Weíre partners."
Nightrose couldnít help but laugh.
Most of the crew was enjoying dessert when the intercom paged the captain. Shi excused hirself and left the café. Thatís when the ship shuddered, the warped view of space returned to normal, and when the battle alert sounded.
Two Days laterÖ
"This is Mystic Captainís Log #104, Captain Blackstar recording. We have been fighting a running battle with Parishkaís Copycat ship for the past two days. They hit us with a surprise attack during brunch and disabled our warp drive. With help from Carl, our engineers were able to get the drive working long enough to warp to a nearby system. Weíre currently hiding in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant, trying to finish repairs before Parishka finds us again. Our primary weapon control system is offline again, a system I plan to replace as soon as possible. We also had a failure in one of our antimatter pods. Due to a design flaw in the ejection system, we were forced to eject 15% of our full supply. I donít know why but our cloak is ineffective against their sensors. End Log." Blackstar sighed, shi was no stranger to desperate situations, but this was the first time that shi commanded the entire crew in the situation. Shi looked around the bridge Ė the forward stations were heavily damaged during the first assault, and only the helm, manned by Trip, remained operational. The console directly behind the captainís chair was covered in burn marks, a result of an overload when a phaser hit the aft bridge connectors.
Sasha walked out from the turbolift. "Repairs to the engines are complete, sir. The weapon control systems are repaired, but itís a patch job. Weíve reinforced the shields around it in attempt to compensate, but I recommend we avoid getting hit there anyway."
"I donít suppose Vega has any idea how they saw through our cloaking device?" questioned Blackstar.
Sasha shook her head. "No, but I was thinking, they didnít have any precise hits. If they could see us, they should have hit the cloak and fire control first. Instead they hit our shuttle bay, and the top-starboard nacelle."
What Sasha was suggesting hit Blackstar like a ton of breaks. "The isotopes?" Sasha nodded.
Blackstar opened a comm. line with engineering, "Vega, here."
"Vega, when you created the cloak, did you adjust it for the isotopes my family uses?"
Vega nodded. "Everyone between Starfox to Trip has been compensated." Blackstar groaned. "What? Did I do something wrong?"
"You used the database from the Falcon, didnít you?" Without waiting for an answer, Blackstar continued, "Donít worry. Itís not your fault. The Falcon doesnít have records of Snowfallís isotopes. Parishka must have been using it to track us."
"Perhaps that was the plan all along," came a new voice. Blackstar turned to see Dr. Oliver, "Think about it. She kidnaps Snowfall, then you have to chase them down and rescue hir. Then she follows the trail you leave behind. Sheís been playing you from the start."
Sasha was acting offended. "That analysis is in error. If it was that simple, then she couldíve just followed the trail left by Blackstar or Trip, and why would she let us take Snowfall?"
"Thereís no reason to be offended," said the Doctor, "but like Vega said, Blackstarís and Tripís isotopes are blocked by the cloak. Also with Snowfall aboard, they could attack us at their leisure, rather than waiting for an attack from us."
"Thatís how she plays chess." When Blackstar received blank stares, shi added, "Chess is a game of strategy. She leaves an opening, a way for your power pieces to land a devastating blow. Then she unleashes the trap she planned from the very beginning, then checkmate." As if on cue the station on the starboard side of the ship, which had been converted to a tactical console, began sounding the alert of a lock-on from a torpedo. "Just like clockwork. Trip report."
"Two torpedoes coming in from five oíclock high, impact in 34 seconds," reported the young but professional Chakat. "Standard evasive?"
"Negative," said Blackstar, "hard to starboard on my mark." Blackstar began tapping the time out with hir handpaw, much like how a musician timed his music. Trip began looking nervously between hir sister and the console, making various hurrying gestures. At about ten seconds to impact, Blackstar said, "Mark!" The ship turned hard to starboard, and the torpedoes passed the ship, passing it in an arc, trying to compensate for the Mysticís new course. Once the torpedoesí onboard computer determined that they couldnít reach the target, they self-destructed. The resulting shockwave didnít even reach the Mystic.
Blackstar was ready to give more orders when a beeping from the tactical console interrupted hir thoughts. Sasha reported, "Iíve detected a ship of unknown class in a calm layer of atmosphere about 2500 meters below us, roughly two oíclock low."
"Put the data on the main screen," ordered Blackstar. When shi saw the ship Blackstarís jaw dropped. "It canít be. Itís the Starsword."
"Youíre familiar with this ship?" asked Sasha.
Blackstar nodded. "She is, or rather was, one of the three ships that were part of Admiral Starfoxís escort to the Maelstrom. The other two were the Tailstrike and the Galaxytree, both of the same class as this. A type experimental heavy cruiser, each with 15 phaser banks and 10 torpedo tubes. They were also heavily automated during the last mission with a crew of ten apiece."
"That ship must be pretty old then," noted Trip. "They must be very durable to survive this long in a gas giant."
"Theyíre also very expensive," said Blackstar, "but they were designed to prove that the Federation could field a war fleet in a relatively short amount of time. This class of ship could carry a large contingent of ground forces and space Marines and were designed to handle any combat situation."
"And any pressure," said Sasha. "The atmospheric pressure would crush our ship even at full strength. Transporters are unavailable, however I believe the Midnight Starís hull could withstand the pressure."
Blackstar smiled, "Sasha, you read my mind. Get Nightrose up here and have her take command. Layla, prepare the Midnight Star for launch. Sasha, get Dr. Oliver and 8-Ball on your way to the ship. Tell Doc to bring a medkit. Full boarding arms just in case the automatic internal defense system doesnít recognize us as friendlies. And bring Rys as extra firepower."
The Midnight Star launched without a hitch and docked with the Starsword. When the team was past the airlock Doctor Oliver said, "That felt too easy."
"Donít say that," said Serena, "Thatís usually the point in a movie, book, or other form of media, where the characters are attacked."
"You worried?" asked Doctor Oliver.
"Of coarse," said Serena, "Iím the closest thing to an expendable character in this group."
"Thatís not true," said Blackstar, "Sashaís the glorified extra in this group."
The Rakshaniís jaw dropped. "How do you figure that?"
"Basic math," said Blackstar. "Out of the people I would consider the main characters, youíve had the least character development, youíre also the biggest target, and thereís a defense bot coming up behind you."
Sasha spun around and began firing on the automated defense bot. The bot was a simple arrangement designed for basic defense purposes, it was armed with a rifle and a defense shield, however the shield was little match for Sashaís battle rifleís physical ammunition and fell within a few seconds of the bombardment. The quick attack was too much for the simple defensive program of the bot to make a counter-move. As the smoking robot lost power Sasha declared in a loud voice, "I am not a glorified extra!" Looking around she realized the rest of the team had continued walking. "Oh, come on guys." She ran to catch up to them.
While Blackstar led the "ground-pounders" to the Starsword, hir mate Nightrose and the remaining crew fought the copycat ship. Serge already reported that Parishkaís ship launched a landing craft of some sort towards the derelict vessel. The problem encountered by the Mystic was that energy weapons were almost useless at long range in the unique atmosphere, and targeting sensors on the torpedoes had trouble locking onto the target.
There was also no time to address the problem as Serge reported the launch of specialized missiles. Nightrose considered the situation, composition of the atmosphere, distance and relative speeds of the torpedo and the two ships. She smiled, "Trip, turn us to five oíclock high."
"Wait," said Serge, "arenít we turning into the torpedo?"
"Yes," Nightrose said matter-of-factly.
Serge turned back to his console. From where he was sitting he didnít see what Nightroseís plan was. "Distance is 1000 meters. 500 meters. 250 meters. 100 meters!"
Nightrose had been tapping the time out with her foot claw almost as if listening to a song. "Activate all starboard thrusters, NOW!"
Tripís fingers played across the console like a pianist playing a fast-paced song. The Mysticís thrusters pushed the ship to port, without altering its orientation. The missile tried to follow the sudden movement, but still overshot the target.
"The torpedo has overshot. Itís coming around, and weíre on a collision course with the enemy ship," reported Serge.
"Stay on this course," ordered Nightrose, "but be ready to turn hard to port on my mark. And I mean as hard as you can."
The enemy bridge, an undamaged duplicate of the Mysticís, was busy, with all stations being manned. The sensor officer was reporting, "The Mystic is on a collision course!"
The acting commander, a Voxxan, began barking orders. "Tactical, fire all guns at that ship! Weíre so close that even with this atmosphere, the guns will still hit!" Something was bothering him though. Why werenít they firing? Then it hit him, "Hard to port!" There was much confusion as to the new order and the helmís reaction time was delayed as a result.
On the Mystic, Nightrose gave an identical order, however because the Mystic had prepared in advance, its turn was much sharper. The torpedo behind it was confused about the target profile. As far as the torpedoís targeting system was concerned, its target was splitting in two. The torpedo ran a simple randomization program to select which one was that target, and it selected the Copycat. It slammed right into the starboard engineering section. The damage was heavy, and the uninhabitable atmosphere didnít make it any easier to handle.
"Time to finish it," said Nightrose. "Fire aft torpedoes full spread." A set of four torpedoes left the Mysticís aft launchers and quickly traveled the distance to the Copycatís aft hull. The Copycatís hull was almost unrecognizable from all the hits it had taken, except for the port side. If one looked at its port profile, the only sign of problems would be the ships rapidly increasing decent into the planetís atmosphere.
The entire bridge crew breathed a sigh of relief. Trip turned to Nightrose, "I didnít think you were the gambling type."
Nightrose giggled, "I guess my mateís attitude and luck is rubbing off on me!"
"If you could see my eyes, Iíd be rolling them," commented Trip.
"How did you know the torpedo would go after the Copycat?" asked Serge.
Nightrose thought about it for a minute, "I guess I didnít. I figured that if both our ships turned at the same time we would have a 50/50 chance." A smug grin formed on Nightroseís face, "I just beat an enemy without firing a single shot! Wait until I tell Blackstar!" Nightrose began spinning her chair around and around, before jumping off and doing a back flip in mid air.
Trip and Serge stared at each other before Serge asked, "What was that all about?"
"I think sheís burning off adrenaline or something. Blackstar will do the same thing if shi has the energy left. Well, not the exact same thing of course, but I think you get the idea."
Sasha found rest of the assault team in a laboratory of some sort, the walls lined with a number of prototype weapons and diagnostic equipment. On the far wall were five cryostasis tubes used to store living beings for extended periods of time. Three had been occupied, two were covered in condensation due to use. Blackstar began working on one of the consoles, while Sashaís curiosity got the better of her. She began wiping the condensation off one of the tubes, but Blackstar spotted her movement, "Sasha stop."
It was too late. Sasha saw the face in the tube, "what theÖ what the hell is this?"
"Didnít you know, Sasha?" asked a new voice, "Every copy has to have an original."
Donít you hate when I stop when something interesting happens? What has been discovered this time? What will it mean for the Blitz team? Will I stop asking so many questions after every cliffhanger?
Continued in Episode 5.
Story and Characters are copyright of Alex Wiegerling unless otherwise stated
Faera is copyright of Ileah Pankratz and used with her permission
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove
Rosepetal is copyright Boyce Garald Kline Jr
The Quange were created by Roy D. Pounds II
The Folly and her captain are copyright of Allen Fesler
Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns
If Iíve managed to step on anyone elseís toes (or paws, claws, tails, or other various appendages) let me know at email@example.com and Iíll either give you credit or change my Ďtaleí.
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