Book: Forging Aegis

Forging Aegis

Forging Aegis

Abraxis Complex - Part IV

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2016 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II

Abraxis Code – Book III

Forging Aegis – Book IV


To my wife, Lori, without whom I would have surely never finished this book

To my brother Michael, without whom this work would never have been published

And to my mother, may she rest in peace, who taught me it’s alright to dream.


Forging Aegis

Imperial Palace Drell V Drell System Cerbilax Sector

Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Command and Control Dome Level 5 Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Command Center Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Terran Ranger Team Alpha Harclen Hyperspace vector

Harclen Democratic Consortium Outer system Harclen System

Office of the Governor Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Medical Center Castinim City Harclen System Harclen Democratic Consortium

Stardust Medical Center Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Experimental Lab Complex Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Stardust Medical Center Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Struve Rim Training Base Medical Center Struve Crater, Selene Earth's Moon, Sol System

Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Struve Rim Training Base Medical Center Struve Crater, Selene Earth's Moon, Sol System

Medical and Cybernetic Center Monlith Prime Monlith System Drellian Imperial Directorate

Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Struve Rim Training Base Medical Center Struve Crater, Selene Earth's Moon, Sol System

Grimaldi Ridge Base Ocean of Storms Selene, Earth's Moon

Forging Aegis

Imperial Palace

Drell V

Drell System

Cerbilax Sector

"We have finished analyzing the data taken from the primitive Earth computers, Master," Abraxis Prime said.

"I assume you found something worth telling me about?"

"We have; it would seem the inhabitants are a most curious species. They have a great many things that make them unique in the extreme. They are very much like the Drellian race used to be," Prime replied.

"In what way? I do not like that you are comparing our people to some inferior, mongrel race."

"It was not intended as a comparison my master, simply as a suggestion. This race would be very easy for you to manipulate and use to restore your race and expand your great Empire," Prime replied.


"In their current state, they are fragmented into multiple warring tribes. They are trapped on their planet by their greed and quest for power. They are paranoid and distrustful. The governments of the planet do not support the Rangers as the Rangers refuse to allow them any of the advanced technology as they believe it would be used to make war on the rest of the planet. That assumption is very accurate. However, if one of these governments were to be assisted with technology, and did manage to take control of the planet, they would be very grateful to their benefactor, so grateful they would be very easy to control and use as you see fit.

"They breed quickly, possess a curiosity and imagination that could make them very powerful, very quickly. We believe that has already begun but under the control of the human Rangers and guided by one of my rogue terminals. If they are allowed to ascend to supremacy in that sector, they could eventually pose a viable threat to your Empire," Prime finished.

"There are humans in our Empire. They are lazy and at best mediocre servants. What makes these humans any different?"

"There is something different about them. They possess an ingenuity that coupled with their imagination makes them potentially very powerful. It was my thought to destroy them utterly because of the threat they could become. However, because of their potential to the Empire, I brought this to you, My Master."

"You are attributing the recent failure in that sector to these humans then?"

"Yes Master, in the past, that sector has been barely worthy of our attention. When we discovered the location of The Code on the planet Earth, we sent a team to destroy it. It was shortly after that we discovered the existence of the human Ranger team. It was decided to destroy that node and annex the sector as four teams in one sector was to many to allow.

"That mission failed utterly and all teams sent there were destroyed. That was very far from the projected outcome for the mission, we can only assume it is because of the addition of the human team. That was when we began analyzing the data we took from that planet. We are now certain the mission failed because of the addition of these humans. It is the only parameter that had changed. If you do not wish to take control of them, we will begin preparations to sterilize the sector," Prime replied.

"We want more information on these humans and what they are doing. Send a team there with orders to observe and gather intelligence. Even if we are to decide to erase these vermin from the universe, we will need to know what they are up to."

"It will be as you order, Master. We will dispatch one of our best teams immediately," Prime replied.

"Be sure they are capable of making contact with the humans without the Rangers interfering. If we decide to use them we will need to be able to make contact."

"Yes my Master," Prime replied in supplication.

"What of your invasion preparations? How are they coming along?"

"Slowly, my Master. It will take some time to gather the required force to ensure our victory in that sector. With the loss of the three teams that were searching for my rogue node, it has left us weak in that area of the galaxy. However, once that force is assembled, we will use them to destroy that sector and subjugate the remaining sectors in that quadrant," Prime explained.

"Very well. Leave me, I would contemplate these developments."

The small tracked drone turned away from the old throne and trundled out of the room. The dust from its passage settled quickly back to the floor of the airless chamber. On the raised throne the burnt and decayed body of the long dead Emperor remained on the throne, silent witness to the departure of its insane servant.

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

"Grimaldi Base, team Alpha requesting clearance and landing instructions over?" Greg called as they coasted along the lunar surface.

"Welcome back, Rangers. Landing clearance is denied; base defenses are currently active. We have some unwanted visitors from the planet. The Governor is trying to talk them into backing down," the traffic controller replied.

"Lovely. Can you tell me who it is?" Greg asked.

"China and the Russian Federation have both sent armed missions up here," flight control replied. "I honestly can't tell who they are going to attack first though, they seem ready to fight each other almost more than attacking us."

"Idiots, they have no idea what starting that fight would mean. Do they even have the life support or fuel they'd need to make it back to the planet?" Greg asked.

"This is Jarad. No Greg, they don't. This was a one way mission for both teams. We're still working on how to handle that part," Jarad replied. "The Chinese shuttle is carrying a nuke. They have threatened to launch it if we do not surrender to them. The Russian ship is armed with a crude laser weapon as well as missiles. The laser is pretty weak and none of the weapons they are carrying can get through the shields."

"Understood, put me on with them please," Greg asked.

The next voice Greg heard was Carl's. "They're all yours, Commander. Good luck."

"Attention military shuttles, this is Commander Greg Albright, military leader of Grimaldi Base. If you fire on this base, or any of the craft attempting legitimate landings here, you will be destroyed immediately. The nations you represent have no claim to any part of this base. If you wish to argue that further then I suggest your Ambassadors take it up with the United Nations. However, the simple fact of the matter is we are here and have claimed this base and the area surrounding it as ours. We are here, you are not.

"I understand you do not have the fuel to return to the planet even if you wanted to. That is a situation we can assist you with, but hear this right now, you will not attack this base nor will we be surrendering to you. If you want a ride home, we can do that. If you want to die up here, well, we can do that too. We're tired of playing with you idiots. Jettison your weapons and we will make sure you are taken back to Earth. Otherwise, you can sit out here until you run out of air or fuel and crash; the choice is yours."

"This is the property of the…" the Chinese shuttle began, but Greg interrupted him.

"Did I give you the impression this was a negotiation? It's not. Attack and we will defend ourselves, surrender and we will make sure you get home, those are your choices. I'm tired of dealing with you idiots and frankly, we don't have the time anymore." He turned to his monitors and his two tired looking teammates. "Girls, let's get into position to defend the base. If the Chinese toss that nuke, I'd like to be in place to shoot it down."

They both nodded as Greg moved his sled according to the data Bella gave him. The orbiting shuttles became clearer on his targeting systems, but still did not register as threats.

"Do you think they're serious Greg?" Jolene asked.

"Sending nuclear weapons up here sounds pretty serious to me. I just don't understand how they think they can do anything to us," Greg replied.

A warning chime told Greg the Chinese had armed the Nuke. "Damn, the Chinese just armed that nuke. Ladies, attack formation."

"Do you know what you're doing here, Greg?" Carl asked over the still open comm. "If we blow up that shuttle it could have serious repercussions back on Earth."

"Do you want me to let them drop that nuke on you, Carl?" Greg asked.

"Maybe you should, Greg. Every one of the Super-Powers down there believes in the invincibility of their nuclear arsenals," Jarad explained. "If we show them that nukes have no effect on us, perhaps they will finally begin to understand. Besides, you would be far more justified in destroying them after they attacked us."

"What's your opinion, Carl?" Greg asked.

"Well, we already evacuated all surface personnel as well as all non-essential personnel from the domes. If we're sure that the shield and our armor will protect us, I'm willing to agree with Jarad. It would be a very overwhelming show of defensive power. One that even the Chinese couldn't ignore. Plus, by letting them attack first, it gives us the moral high-ground, politically speaking, with the rest of the planet," Carl replied. "That being said, I am in no hurry to let myself be nuked."

"Okay, if this happens, what effect will it have on the shuttles?" Greg asked.

"It'll kill them. The pulse will fry all their electronics. The ships will be dead in space," Jarad replied.

"Wait, I thought shuttles were hardened?" Bella asked.

"Against the normal stuff that happens in space, but not against a nuke. EMP is still a viable weapon as far as Earth tech is concerned," Jarad replied. "Neither of those shuttles appear to have had any extra hardening against EMP damage."

"Agent Danielson is correct. Based on current Earth technology, the mass of the shuttles is far too low to have had that type of protection installed," Abraxis replied.

"So, could we just pulse them ourselves and remove the problem?" Greg asked. "That would only kill their ships and we could still get them back to Earth."

"We're not equipped with anything that can do that," Jolene replied. "I am putting in a note for Mandi to see if she can add something like that to us in the future."

Greg nodded to her. "So for now, we have to let them drop that Nuke and take care of them from there. However, we will not destroy them. Carl, do you think you can call the UN and ask where they want these criminals dropped? I will not return them to their own countries after they do this."

"I'll see what I can do, Commander," Carl replied.

"Chinese shuttle, this is Commander Albright. If you launch the nuclear weapon you just armed, it will destroy your ship but still not harm the base. You will have given your lives for no gain. Consider the effects of your actions," Greg called.

"The People of China will not allow the American Government to control their sovereign territory, even if it is on another planet. Nor will we allow any other government to gain control of that territory. We will destroy it first. This is your last chance to surrender, American," the Chinese commander replied.

"You folks just don't get it do you? We are not Americans! If you want to count heads down there, former American citizens are in the minority now. There are even former countrymen of your own down there. We will not surrender nor will you destroy us. Like we've been trying to tell you people, none of your weapons will hurt us. So go ahead and fire the weapon, Commander. Kill yourself and your troops, we won't stop you, we don't need to," Greg replied.

"You will surrender yourselves and your equipment to the People of China now or it will be destroyed!" the almost fanatical sounding commander said.

"I doubt the majority of the people of China even know we exist, Commander. So you can drop that nationalist bullshit! Your government, just like the rest of the self-serving idiots down there, are the ones that want our technology. You could care less about this spot on the moon! If this moon were even a tenth as important to your nation as you say it is, there would already be a massive population up here and a huge base of your own! You people don't give two grains of rice about this moon so just drop that bullshit. Just like every government on that planet, you want what we have plain and simple! Your actions only prove how very right we were in keeping it from you. Now quit throwing your temper tantrum and go home!" Greg said. I've been gone for a week on a mission. I'm tired, hungry and I want nothing more than to relax with my family. But when I get here I find two spoiled children fighting over a loaded gun that neither of them can even get to!" Greg sighed and tried to get his temper under control. "Commander, just stop this lunacy and let us help you back to the planet. There is nothing for any of the governments here."

"Greg, they'll be in firing range of the base in five minutes," Bella said.

Greg nodded to her. "Show time, Carl. They'll either back down, or fire that missile. Honestly, I think the asshole they put in charge up here is insane, so I would bet on him firing that missile."

Carl nodded. "I agree. Which makes me wonder if this wasn't the Chinese plan all along. They had to know there is no way we would surrender this colony."

"Everyone, the Chinese Ambassador to the UN just announced that their commander up here is no longer under their control. Pretty convenient if you ask me," Jarad said over the comm.

"Did they give us permission to defend ourselves from him?" Greg asked.

"Uh, no, they didn't say anything like that," Jarad replied.

"Then it's a lie. The political officer would have killed him already if it were true," Greg said. "But, I'm sure the UN will accept the explanation, since that's how it always works with them. Since the nuclear weapon will not be detonated on Earth, no one really cares."

"The Russian shuttle is attempting to land. If they can make it down, and shut down all their systems, they might be able to save some of their ship," Bella said. "They are going to surrender so we can take them back."

"Okay, let’s move into position around them and get the tractor beams ready, we can help them if they need it," Greg ordered.

"What about the Chinese ship?" Jolene asked as she moved into position to assist the Russian ship.

"What about them? If this is the path they've chosen, then so be it," Greg said. "If the Russian troops are surrendering, then they need our protection right now. Once they get down, set down around them; we'll link shields to protect them from the pulse."

The Chinese ship did launch the missile, but it was for nothing. The guidance system failed and the missile simply headed off into space at full power. Greg couldn't help but laugh as he lifted off the surface and took off after the fast moving missile. Bella and Jolene used their tractors to lift the Russian shuttle off the lunar surface and move it closer to the base.

In anger, the Chinese shuttle set a vector that would put them on the surface just outside the domes of the base. Abraxis calculated it would burn up their remaining fuel reserves in an attempt to land. When he returned from destroying the missile, Greg locked onto them with his tractor and pulled them back into orbit. They exhausted their fuel fighting the tractor.

It might have been the plan of the Russian commander to say he was going to surrender and wait to see if they took him into the base. However, after they had been set gently on the surface of the moon, at least a kilometer across an open plain with no cover, any hopes he might have had where dashed.

While the troops exited the ship through an emergency hatch in the cargo area, the pilots shut the shuttle down and followed their comrades. Each soldier placed his weapons on the wing of the shuttle and moved several meters away and assumed a formation. The pilots who had also been carrying side arms, placed them beside the rest and moved over near the assembled troops.

Greg asked for a shuttle from the base to come and collect the Russian troops for their return to the planet. Greg let Carl work out their destination since he hadn't said exactly where on the planet he would have them taken. However, the equipment they had brought, everything from the shuttle all the way to the suits the troops had worn would be staying with the Terran Defense Initiative. Not that Greg had any use for the equipment, but he couldn't see just giving it back either.

Greg left the Chinese shuttle alone, in orbit until they were almost out of air. Then he pulled them down to the surface as well. When the troops poured out of the shuttle to attack, they found their target a far distant light on the horizon, and three very deadly looking ships hovering just out of their weapons' range.

The commander ordered his troops to open their suits rather than surrender. Two of his troops shot him while the rest began dropping their equipment to the surface of the moon. They moved away knelt to their knees and raised their arms. The suits they wore would not allow them to put their hands behind their head.

Again, another shuttle retrieved the troops and they were stripped of the remainder of their gear. They were given coveralls to wear, and sent back to Earth. Carl even made sure they were fed on the flight back.

Three Russian and six Chinese troops asked for asylum but only two were actually accepted. The others were spies sent along for just such an eventuality as this, so they were also transported back to the planet. One of the former Chinese soldiers asked for and received permission to open another restaurant featuring Cantonese cuisine. The former Russian soldier had mining experience and asked to be allowed to do that. He turned out to be a real boon. Yuri Petrov came from a long line of miners in the Ukraine. He grew up in mines and was taught how to speak with tales of miners and mining. Granted, when applied to mining in space, there were major and massive differences, but the principles were the same. After a single week on the job, he began making suggestions that improved the efficiency of the operations by an order of magnitude. Even the Greynus mining engineers were impressed with his knowledge and ability.

After dropping off the troops at a UN base on Earth, the UN basically sent them home without a word. Nothing further was said, and the whole episode was swept nicely under the rug by the world leaders.

The people, however, didn't ignore it. A formal petition was written up requesting that when TDI began releasing new technologies on Earth, China and the Russian Federation should be boycotted. It had an amazing number of signatures from all over the planet. So much so, that Greg decided to address the issue.

"Peoples of Earth, although the final decision on the disposition of the technology we will be releasing will not be up to me, I felt the need to speak to you about the petition that has been posted.

"The technologies we will be releasing will be for the people, not the governments, although I am certain they will find a way to make money off it, the whole point is to give the people the technology that will improve their lives. Hell, some of the stuff we'll be releasing has been available on planet for years, but only suppressed by this government or by some corporation. All we will be doing is making the information available and in as easy to understand format as we can. We are not releasing it to benefit the governments, it's all for you.

"So if we agreed to your request to withhold this stuff from the people of China as well as the Russian Federation, we will only be hurting them; the people - the same ones we are trying to protect and assist. Just like there is little to nothing the governments can do to stop us, there is little we can do to them even if we actually wanted to. As much as I hate to say it guys, they are your governments. It has to be up to you to fix them, or it would undermine the whole reason you have them. If we tried to do it for you, we would only end up hurting you in the long run. If you feel there is something wrong with your government, no one but you can fix it. We can't do it for you."

"Now, there is one other thing I want to talk to all of you about: aliens. We've been telling you all along that eventually there would be aliens coming here to live and work with us. Well, there are some here now, and more are on their way. A Greynus hive cluster arrived yesterday. Yes, I said hive. The Greynus are an insectoid race structured around a hive type societal structure. That might make some of you nervous, but let me reassure you, while they are quite large beings, they are as gentle as they are strong. They revere life to the point of mourning any death they learn of, regardless if it was one of their race or not. When their Ranger team has to fight, the entire society will take a day of mourning for each of the lives of the enemy they were forced to destroy. Now, I ask you, does that sound like an evil race to you?

"We also have Harclen here now. So far, they are the most human-like race we have met, although I am told there are closer races. Basically, the Harclen are cats. I mean that literally. We evolved from chimps, these folks evolved from felines. While they do share some of the traits we attribute to felines, the Harclen are a far more caring species. They are very intelligent and cunning, they are curious to a fault, but they are fiercely loyal to those they chose to ally themselves with or deem a friend. We are allied with them, and their Ranger Fighter is one of my closest friends.

"Very soon, there will also be Onarians here. I'm not sure how to describe what they look like, but they have blueish skin and are very logical. I would say they are much like the Vulcan race from Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, but I feel they can be much more annoying. That being said, they are as committed to our defense as the rest of us. They excel at computers and computer control systems and will be designing and building many of the systems in the facilities we will be building up here and elsewhere in the sector.

"As I said, there are others, but for now, those are the ones that will be arriving in the near future. I will ask Abraxis to compile a racial bio for each of them and request each race's histories for those of you that are interested. Thank you for listening to me. I hope each and every one of you has a great day. Please remember, it is our duty to each other to watch over and protect each other. If we don't, who will?"

Command and Control

Dome Level 5

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

While Greg and the girls had been on patrol, the tests on the effects of hypersled jumps on humans began. Greg's mother, Sharon had been the focus of the original test, but it had been expanded to include a normal human pilot as well.

As expected, the normal human not only couldn't handle the sled in routine maneuvers, the simulation of a hyperjump in a sled proved almost fatal to him. He was removed from the simulator before the stress could do permanent harm, but as it was he had to spend two days in the medical center recovering from the experience.

Sharon, however, had no issues at all either in sled handling or during a jump. That data proved Abraxis’ recorded data to be inaccurate with regards to the humans of Earth, at least the ones that had the 'Ranger Gene'. When Greg and the girls returned, Sharon rode with Bella and the team jumped out to Saturn and back. The event did not affect Sharon at all and she asked when they could go back and get a better look at the ringed planet.

In addition to their original duties, both Jarad and Sharon began Ranger training with the partial team from Australia.

Construction had not only begun on the military base, but also on a facility that would serve as the main Alliance Government facility for the Alliance and their ambassadors. After Carl had met with and discussed the issue with the other leaders, it was decided that, because of its location, Earth would be the best place to build the Alliance Government. Instead of a station, they opted for a lunar facility.

The Greynus took over the building of the military base, but Abraxis' drones were left to build the Alliance facility. The Greynus claimed that they didn't want to make a mistake when constructing the living quarters for the different races, but Greg secretly thought that they didn't want to deal with the multiple and continuous alterations requested by the races, and he couldn't blame them.

As he headed for the Command and Control center, he was amazed by the number of people he encountered. He knew that recruitment had been going full out since they opened the base, and there sure seemed to be a lot of folks up here now. Not just scientists and researchers, either, these were regular people doing normal, regular things. For a moment, Greg felt like he'd been transported hundreds of years into the future to a time when humanity had finally reached out for the stars.

"Abraxis, I know it's only been a little over a week, but how many folks are up here now? It sure seems like there are a lot more than when we left," Greg asked.

"Current population of the base is seventeen-thousand, four-hundred and eighty-five humans, thirty-seven-thousand, nine-hundred and fifty-two Greynus and twenty Harclen. We are growing rather quickly are we not?" the old AI asked him.

"Yeah, we sure are. I can't help but wonder if it's too quickly. Fifty-five-thousand beings? But, we do need the people to help with everything that needs to get done, so more has to be a good thing, right?" Greg replied as he pushed the button to summon the lift up to the dome.

"Well, we don't have an unemployment issue yet, so I would say we are doing remarkably well so far. Now that the Greynus are here, it is possible that our capacity will outstrip our need rather quickly."

"What do you mean? In what way?" Greg asked.

"The Greynus have taken over the building of residential areas as well as the military base. Two more hive clusters will be arriving in two weeks but they are assigned to different projects; the mining and ore processing project as well as the first of the assembly gantries, respectively. Before they arrive, the Greynus will have habitat modules built for them. The first habitat will be near the location of the future ore processing and foundry facilities and the star port group will be built in lunar orbit and simply moved to different locations as needed. Basically, that will be a large ship capable of housing the hive and their equipment. Until the ore processing and foundries get built, the star port group will be assisting the processing group," Abraxis explained.

"Well, I for one will be glad when the base gets finished. This is a long way to go if there was an alert and I needed to get to the dome quickly," Greg replied.

"That is why the Ranger areas as well as the command areas are getting built first," Abraxis replied. "Once those are built, you will be able to launch much quicker, as well as attend briefings and anything else you will need to do."

"Just because I'm curious, since the Greynus are so fast, do you know how long before they're finished?" Greg asked.

"About a week, considering what they are projecting, they will actually be faster than I could have done it with the drones," Abraxis said. "Once the raw materials are more readily available, I think you will truly begin seeing the wonders the Greynus are capable of."

"The wonders are yet to come, Abraxis. You've seen the construction forecasts for the ships we've designed. Unless something major changes, we're going to be at least a year short on the time we'll need," Greg said as the lift opened on the command level.

"The group is waiting for you in the main conference area, Greg," Abraxis said. "Second to the last door on the left."

Greg walked down to the indicated door and it slid open for him. He was surprised by the number of people included in this meeting. "I'm sorry, am I the last to arrive?"

"No, but even if you were, you’re still a few minutes early," Jared said by way of greeting.

Greg knew Carl and Jarad. He was surprised to see Joyce here as well, but there were a couple of others he didn't recognize. Carl took care of that. "Commander Albright, let me introduce you to Mining Master Amos Greeley, head of mining operations and Miss Teriska Oni, head of recruiting and placement," He turned to the two new people. "Amos; Teri; this is Commander Greg Albright, chief of military operations and the leader of our Alpha Ranger team."

"Commander, it is an honor to meet you," Amos said when he shook Greg's hand.

Greg smiled at him. "The honor is mine, Master Greeley."

"It is a true pleasure to meet you, Commander," Teriska said taking Greg's hand.

"For me as well, Ms. Oni," Greg replied and shook her hand. He looked at Carl, "Who else are we waiting for?"

Before Carl could reply, Jarad did. "Your wonderful mother, Greg. I think Joyce and the younger Rangers have been running her a little ragged."

Joyce snorted. "Not bloody likely! She might be older than us, but that woman never gets tired!"

"Like hell I don't!" Sharon said from the door. "I just won't let you kids know it!"

"Before I get distracted again and forget: Jarad, how's Paul doing?" Greg asked.

"Recovering, and well on his way to getting released from the medical center. You should stop in and see him," Jarad replied, smiling at his son.

Greg nodded. "I will after the meeting. So, what's up?"

"First off, we have had a number of urgent requests to build a few long range capable passenger ships, as well as increasing the size of the existing recruitment fleet.

“However, we only have one assembly facility at the moment and it's involved in building mining ships. We need both urgently and I'd like your opinions before I make a decision," Carl replied.

"Carl, we need those mining ships! We won't be able to build anything without the ores for them!" Amos said. It seemed like he was rehashing an old argument.

"Master Greeley, do you currently have the pilots and personnel those ships will need?" Joyce asked.

"We have a few, but by the time more people come in and get trained, we'll need them!" Amos replied.

"Carl, you said urgent requests in addition to the expansion of the recruiter’s fleet. May I ask who the other ships are for?" Greg asked.

"Several other races that do not yet have FTL transportation of their own would like to join in the effort. Their governments have already agreed to this provided transportation could be arranged. I would mention that not all of them would be coming here, and the Harclen are doing their best to get all the requests handled but they simply don't have the ships, nor can they get them built fast enough.

“They are the ones that have actually made the request to us, they have asked for an additional six ships to help offset the travel needs until a larger ship facility can be built thus building larger ships.

“Another request is from the High Queen of the Greynus; it’s very formally worded and flowery in prose, but basically they are asking for four of the largest ships we can build in order to more effectively get the hive clusters to where they are needed," Carl explained.

"On top of all of that, the current fleet we're using to pick up folks is running full out and around the clock," Sharon said. "I've had to grab as many pilots as I could and I've even trained a few. We have three times as many pilots as we do ships because I have to rotate out crews. I feel it’s getting dangerous because I can't stop the ships we have long enough for some of the maintenance they need."

Greg nodded. "Abraxis, I know that you are currently handling the ore processing for the base. How much of your capacity are the current miners using?"

"Commander, I am currently at a consistent eighty percent of my maximum capacity. The miners are doing a remarkable job getting raw materials delivered," Abraxis replied.

"Yes they are." Greg looked at the big miner. "You should be very proud of your people, Master Greeley."

"I am Commander, thank you."

Greg turned to Joyce. "Since you're in training, what do you think about this situation, Joyce?"

"A bit dodgy, but perhaps not as much as it would first appear to be." Joyce replied. "While Master Greeley has a valid concern, at the end of the day even he will still need the people to run the craft he wants built. So for that, I think that after the current batch is finished, we should change over to the passenger ships for Miss Oni. However, we cannot ignore the request from our allies either. So I need to ask, do we have designs available for the new ships?"

"There is a design for an improved passenger shuttle that is almost finished," Carl replied. "The Harclen offered their current design for us to use but it would have to be modified somewhat as it is too large for our current facility."

Joyce nodded. "Then I would suggest this; while the remaining miners are being finished up, we use the time to complete our shuttle design as well as to modify the Harclen design for our own use. Ideally, we should then split the building so one new liner and one or two new shuttles are getting built at a time. Failing that, I'd build at least one liner first, and then do a couple of the shuttles before doing another liner. We might need the shuttles more urgently, but we also need to show our allies that we can be relied on as well."

Greg nodded and smiled at the woman. "Right on all counts, however, will the change-over have any impact on the other projects currently being built by the Greynus?"

"Negative, Commander. The ore I am currently processing is sufficient for both projects. While there is a significant increase in demand forecast for the near future, it should not arrive until after the new processing facilities have been completed," Abraxis replied.

"Might I have a word on that, Abraxis?" Joyce asked.

"Do you have a suggestion, Fighter Joyce?" Abraxis replied.

"Well, actually my Ffixer had an idea he asked me to mention if I had the opportunity. Master Greeley, currently, you mine by basically grinding up floating asteroids and then hauling them back here, correct?" Joyce asked.

"Yes, that is essentially correct," the man replied, nodding his agreement.

"Well, while he admits he isn’t a miner, nor does he know a lot about the profession, he wondered about doing things a bit differently. He suggested we remove the heavy drills from the mining boats and equip them with scaled down cesium lasers and upgrade their engines. Instead of grinding them up, they would cut the big rocks into smaller chunks the mining boats could move.

“Build a few big mobile units that have the grinders built in them. The boats bring in the rock chunks, drop them into this grinder, and the big unit then processes it straight into different ores. These can be sent out to whatever facility needs it. But then again, we'd need to build some ore freighters too," she finished.

"Did he make a graphic of his idea?" Greg asked.

"Yeah, that's the only way I could understand what he was blathering about," Joyce replied.

"Please ask Abraxis to show all of us," Greg asked. When she did, the lights came on for the rest of the group and they understood what Fixer Arliss had intended.

Large mobile stations would roam the asteroid belts while 'parasite' mining boats would go out and capture asteroids and parts of asteroids high in mineral content. The boats would bring the rocks back and 'feed' them to the station. The station would pulverize the rocks and smelt them down into the raw materials the foundries could use. Freighters would then carry the massive loads of processed ores out to the foundries to be made into whatever parts needed to be made. Current transit delays would be almost completely eliminated.

"Master Greeley, what do you think of the idea?" Greg asked.

He laughed. "It makes me feel like an idiot, that's what! This would clearly be more efficient, but that is one big processing unit, can we build something that big yet?"

Carl shook his head. "No, that would have to wait for the big facility to get built. I dare say it would be almost as complex as one of the warships. It's certainly as big!"

"Fighter Joyce, may I have your permission to present this to my people as well as the Greynus engineers? If there is a problem with it, those bugs'll know what it would be! For the time being, Can I request five of the main units as soon as we are capable of producing them?" Amos replied.

"I don't know if we'll be able to do five right off the bat, Amos, but I'll see what we can do; we still need to design the damn things after all," Carl replied.

"We might want to speak to the Greynus engineers about designing and building an additional ship building facility specifically for things like this miner, big freighters and liners and the like," Greg suggested. "That way, we won't have to mix the technologies. If we have two facilities dedicated to nothing but the warships, and move the civilian stuff to another unit, that should keep our production on schedule."

Carl nodded and made notes on his pad. He looked up to Joyce and smiled. "Please tell Fixer Arliss his idea is greatly appreciated, and we will be calling on him to assist in the design of the units."

"I will certainly do that, Governor," Joyce replied, smiling proudly for her friend.

"Now, as to the immediate issues, Greg, your opinion?" Carl asked.

"I'm sorry Master Greeley, but I agree with Joyce's recommendations; specifically for the big passenger liners. We can use them for a pickup run or two to the planet as a shake-down. We will also need to recruit more pilots and crews for them once they assume their primary missions," Greg said.

Teriska nodded agreement. "We'll get to work on that right away, Commander. Might I suggest we speak to a few of the people in training to be freighter crews? Perhaps some of them would not mind taking a liner instead."

"Good idea, can you handle that as well Teri?" Carl asked.

"Sure, I just wanted to make sure it was okay first, we are going to need freighter crews too," Teriska said.

Greg snorted, "As fast as we're growing, I'd think we'd have folks crawling out of the bulkheads!"

Teriska nodded. "We actually have more applicants than we have the capacity to bring up here. It's like the whole planet wants to come up here."

Jarad nodded. "Yes, and the more applicants we have, the more important the screening process becomes. We have to be very careful about who we allow up here. The governments on Earth will stop at nothing to get their hands on any of our technology."

"Your paranoia is exactly why you got stuck with Security, Jarad. So far, you are doing a great job," Carl said, grinning.

"Miss Oni, since we stumbled across Joyce and her team, what steps are being undertaken to look for more Rangers?" Greg asked.

"Abraxis' terminal is now mounted at the reception area and everyone is required to touch it as they pass the scanner into the lounge. Also I am told that the medical section is doing a search of the planetary medical databases." She shrugged. "Without getting more intrusive I don't know how we could widen that search."

"It'll have to do. If we told everyone what we were looking for, the governments would seal up every record they could find and offer to do the searching for us. If we do find any more people, none can be told until after they are recruited and safely up here," Greg said. "If the governments find them first, they will be in serious trouble."

"Commander, we cannot be certain that the United States government is not already doing their own search. I did remove your records from the hospital you were treated at as well as the Ecogen systems. However, we cannot assume that they do not have a copy of your team's medical records. They may not know exactly what to look for, but they do have the knowledge to find out. It is certain that they have both Fighter Jarad and Pilot Sharon on file," Abraxis replied.

"What good would that knowledge do them, really?" Joyce asked. "They don't have hypersled technology. Hell, only the Rangers even have access to it, even up here. What do they think they would gain by trying to locate anyone like us?"

"They believe they will eventually get the tech, Joyce," Jarad replied quietly. "They would do whatever it took to make damn sure they had the right people ready and fully under their control for when they do."

"How can they even…" Teriska said. "Would they really dissect living people to do this?"

"They wouldn't even think twice about it," Jarad replied. "They have no morals or conscience; they will do whatever they need to do in order to ensure their own power and supremacy. In a lot of ways, they are more evil than even the Drellians."

"With respect Fighter Jarad, it is the same mentality of the ancient Drellian race. In a lot of ways, the Earth as it is right now, very much resembles pre-imperial Drell," Abraxis said. "I believe Commander Greg was far more accurate than he knew when he foretold what would happen if the Earth authorities had full access to this technology. However, because of the creativity of humans, they are far more dangerous than the Drellian Empire was. Isolated nodes such as myself as well as all existing Ranger teams would be hunted down with overwhelming force and destroyed. I doubt even Abraxis Prime could counter the new empire that would be formed."

"Well, on that happy note, I'll call an end to this meeting. We all have work we need to get back to," Carl replied.

"Ranger Alert! Drellian incursion detected in Harclen space. All Rangers please report to ready room," Abraxis said. "Commander, Ranger Fighter Delion is on the comm for you."

Command Center

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Greg and Jarad ran to the control center before taking the call from Delion. Joyce ran to make sure the teams were responding and there were no problems.

"I heard you got some playmates out there, Delion," Greg said by way of greeting.

"Yes, but we do not understand what they are up to. They are not acting like we are accustomed, so I called you," Delion replied. "I would hear any advice I can find."

Jarad was looking at the data Abraxis had. The Drellian did not seem to be heading for the planet, having appeared outside of the system, in deep space. Currently, they were just sitting there.

"This is a reconnaissance mission," Jarad replied. "See how they are sitting outside the system, just inside sensor range?" When Greg nodded, Jarad continued. "They're scanning the system to see what the Harclens are up too. I'd bet my hypersled that they'll stop at every Ranger protected system and get a full scan. I wouldn't be surprised if they did leave a few scanning drones behind too."

"They must not be allowed to continue their mission. We cannot let the Prime know of our preparations," Delion said.

"Considering what happened to the last teams they sent here, this team is either considered expendable, or they are one of the best Prime has. Be very careful out there, Fighter Delion," Jarad said. "I'm betting this is an elite unit and not an expendable one."

Greg nodded. "I agree. Prime needs to know what we are up to. He would not entrust such an important mission to an expendable or inexperienced team." He said as he typed on a terminal to bring up that area of the sector. "Abraxis, based on their current location, if they left Harclen space, their next logical target would be the Greynus system, right?"

"That is correct, Commander. However, we must weigh this against the possibility that they have already scanned the Onarus system," Abraxis replied.

"Unless they arrived here from a different sector," Greg said. "We know the Gravis sector is Drellian based on their activity so far. We have no information on the other three sectors surrounding us, but have assumed that they were still free. If these guys arrived here from the Hylocine Sector, they would have hit Harclen first."

"Are you saying that Hylocine is also Drellian?" Delion asked.

Greg bit his lip thoughtfully. "If not, then it is so under-defended that this team could move through they're space unmolested or undetected. It could be that like our own sector, they simply don't have the ability to watch everything." Greg shook his head. "No, unless there is a transit lane terminating just over the border, it would have to be Drellian and this team would have to be from there. It's just too long of a ride any other way."

"I have limited data on the Hylocine Sector, but there was a transit lane there. The opposing terminus was in the Quarilux Sector; six hundred forty-six light years away. It was listed as a class three lane," Abraxis replied.

"Hold it, I haven't gotten that far in training yet guys, what's a transit lane?" Jarad asked.

"Think of it as a worm-hole or tunnel in space. They can move ships incredible distances in the blink of an eye," Greg replied.

"If this one is a class three as Abraxis has said, then it has the capacity to move an entire fleet from end to end in less time than it takes to explain it," Delion added. "This is not a good discovery."

"No, it isn't. That means that Abraxis Prime could have his forces here a lot sooner than we want," Greg said. "Abraxis, could we add Fighter Thrasixt to this call please?"

"Certainly commander, one moment please," Abraxis replied.

Thrasixt, again wearing her helmet, appeared on the screen. "Greeting Rangers, how may we assist?"

Greg smiled at her. "Thrasixt, a Drellian team has arrived at the Harclen system. However, they are not attacking or even entering the system. We believe they are doing reconnaissance. Even though they are not attacking, we cannot allow them to move around freely and observe the preparations we are making. We believe that as soon as they depart the Harclen system, they will be moving to your system. I'd like to stop them before that."

"This is the reason you suggested we fly patrols. Wise. How may we assist in this?" Thrasixt asked.

"I would like you to take your team out to the edge of your system in the area we believe they are most likely to arrive in as a precaution against their moving before we reach them. I will launch with my team and jump for the Harclen system. I would like for Delion to launch her team and head towards them at sublight in order to buy us the time we will need to get there.

"Just as we are about to arrive near the Drellians, Abraxis will let Delion know and she can jump the rest of the way out. If we can catch them between our two teams we should be able to deal with them." He sighed. "There is a good chance our enemy is an elite team. I don't want to lose anyone while we destroy them."

Thrasixt nodded her head in agreement. "I share your concern. We will depart for the system boundary as you suggest. But I do have the concern that they will jump to the planet instead of the boundary as you suggest."

Greg nodded. "Yes, that is a possibility. Perhaps you should prepare a return jump in that event. If we do miss them, and they jump for your system, both Delion and I will follow if she agrees."

"Of course," Delion replied. "They must be stopped. Working together can only benefit us all."

"This is well meant and well received, Fighter Greg. We will do as you ask. May the hives protect you both," Thrasixt replied.

"And you as well, Fighter Thrasixt. Good luck," Greg replied. After Delion said her own good bye, Thrasixt disconnected.

"We will launch in a half hour, Fighter Greg. We will make sure they see us," Delion replied.

Greg nodded and smiled at his friend. "Just make sure they don't hit you. We will be with you as quickly as we can, Delion."

"Please do, this change in behavior makes me uneasy in this situation," she admitted. "I take comfort knowing you will be there to help."

"That's what this alliance is all about, Delion. See you soon," Greg said and nodded to her. After he ended the call, he turned to Jarad. "Have Joyce's team patrol the outer system. It'll extend our detection range. If something happens, we'll get back here as quickly as we can."

Jarad nodded. "I know. Just make sure nothing happens. Good luck, and God speed."

Terran Ranger Team Alpha

Harclen Hyperspace vector

"We're on course, Greg. ETA one point five hours," Bella said after they merged and made the jump.

"Thanks Sweetheart. Jolly, one of the things we need to look for when we get there is a sensor bot or something along those lines that the Drellians might leave behind. Can you set up your computers to look for that after we arrive?" Greg asked.

"Okay, you think they’re going to leave a probe of some kind behind?" Jolly asked.

Greg shrugged. "If it were me, I'd leave one on the off-chance the enemy wouldn't find it."

"Have you guys considered this could be a ruse to get the Rangers away from their planets?" Bella asked. "I mean, it's a long way for us to jump to get out there. Even if we turned around once we arrived, it would still be four days for the folks at home."

Greg was thoughtful for a moment. "The center of the sector, closer to where Earth is, there are a lot better sensors and detection systems. Nothing was detected there. It is possible that this could be a ruse to get the Rangers away from their planets, but if that were the case, it would be a poor try. Neither the Harclen nor the Greynus will be that far from their planets. I did order Joyce's team to patrol the outer system while we're gone to improve sensor range and resolution."

Jolene smiled. "That shouldn't be an issue for much longer; Mandi is putting the finishing touches on the new sensor system. Once we get them built and deployed, we should be able to see the entire sector."

"Really? The last I heard about it, you were having trouble with it," Greg replied.

"We were, but she finally solved the issue with a little help from an Onarian physicist. You see, the sensors will have to be left in hyperspace," Jolene said. "It was such a simple answer, I felt like an idiot for not considering that!"

Greg smiled at her. "Sometimes the obvious answer isn't so obvious. That's the whole reason for getting a new set of eyes on something."

Jolene smirked at him. "That's what Doctor Hebrast said, almost exactly!"

"He's a smart man," Greg replied, grinning.

"Okay, so how are we going to do this Greg? If these guys are the elites you think they are, they won't fall for any tricks," Bella asked.

Greg lost his smile. "No, they probably won't. The Harclen system has a Kuiper belt and Abraxis placed them just outside of it, between the belt and the system's Oort cloud. There's a lot of stuff floating around in that area, so more than likely we're going to be playing hide and seek. The Drellians were detected by a mining operation near the seventh planet…"

"Wait, if that's the case then they might think they are hidden and not know that they've been detected," Jolene replied. "We could use that."

"How do you mean?" Greg asked. "In about five minutes real time, Delion and her team will be heading straight for them."

She typed on her keyboard and a hologram of the Harclen system took form between them. "Here, let's look at this," she said. "The Drellian team is here, and the mining outpost is here… The Drellians would have to know the mining outpost is there, but I would bet they don't think it has the sensors to detect them. If Delion and her team go this way," she drew a line that took Delion out on the other side of the seventh planet, “She could hook around and coast into them.”

"We drop out here, where the rest of the normal shipping comes in we should be able to creep up on them as well. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me at all if this isn't exactly how the Drellians got there to begin with."

Greg thought about it a moment. "It would put them right between us and we could attack from both sides at once."

"If we do this, I'd put that mining base on alert as well. Playing around out there is going to knock some of those rocks around; some of them might even head in system," Bella said. "The miners could probably catch them before they got too far in."

"Did you get all that Abraxis?" Greg asked.

"Yes I did, Commander. Do you wish for me to pass it along to Fighter Delion?" the old AI asked.

"Yes please, if she sees a problem with it please let us know," Greg added.

"I will Commander," Abraxis replied.

"Okay, so now that we have a little bit of time, can we finally go over the Christmas lists?" Bella asked.

"Didn't we just have Halloween?" Greg asked.

"Yes we did, which means we're running late!" Bella said, seriously.

Jolene chuckled. "Bella, I don't think that's what he meant."

Bella growled. "Men!"

Harclen Democratic Consortium

Outer system

Harclen System

"Drop out in one minute, Greg," Bella said.

"Once we separate and get into the asteroids, be careful you two," Greg replied.

"You too, be careful, both of you!" Jolene said.

Greg winked at her as the canopies reformed prior to splitting apart. They wouldn't split up until after they dropped out of hyperspace, but it would happen immediately after they did, so they got the ships ready for it.

Greg watched as Bella finished counting down and the sleds returned to normal space and split apart. It took a moment for the flight computers to get their location, and Bella called into Harclen control just as if she were actually a freighter entering the system.

"Harclen Control, this is Terran Special. We have arrived and request permission to enter your space, over."

The traffic control center on Harclen was in on the ploy and played their parts. "Terran Special, welcome to Harclen. Traffic is light in your area. Proceed on approved flight plan, will advise on entering inner system."

"Understood, Harclen Control. Talk to you again soon," Bella replied grinning. "Terran Special, out."

Over their special short range whisper comm, Bella said. "You heard the lady, let's get after it."

"Let's go," Greg agreed. "Abraxis, are Delion and her team in position?"

"They are on course, but slightly ahead of you. They will arrive at the target location twenty seconds before you," Abraxis replied. "Shall I ask them to slow down?"

Greg thought for a second. "No, we'll try to make up some of the time, but it might be better if they arrive first. The Drellian team might just turn right into us."

"Intercept in ninety seconds, Greg," Bella informed him.

"Okay, try to pick it up a little, but be careful of these damn rocks! It's like flying through a damn mountain!" Greg replied.

"Some of these rocks are bigger than most mountains," Jolene replied as all three of them increased speed.

Greg didn't reply as flying was taking up most of his attention. That didn't last very long as his sensors warned him of an explosion not very far ahead.

"We're here, keep your eyes open, Ladies!" Greg said and cut his speed. He had already armed his weapons, but would try to avoid using the missiles if he could.

"Rangers are engaged!" Delion's voice was heard over the open comm channel. "Three hostile targets hiding in the outer belt!" She reported as if they had stumbled across the Drellian team.

"Understood Ranger One! Issuing the alert to the local traffic," the controller replied.

"Enemy attempting to flee, we are pursuing!" Delion said letting Greg and the girls know what was happening.

"Here they come ladies, get ready!" Greg said with quiet urgency. "Engage as you get them."

Just as he finished speaking one of the enemy craft shot out from behind a large asteroid in front of him. Greg opened fire and watched as the Drellian tried to evade and crashed into an asteroid.

"Splash one," Greg replied on the open channel.

"Another is gone!" one of Delion’s team reported. Greg could actually see her craft as she flew past the wreckage. He could also see the last Drellian ship had targeted her with a missile.

Without thought, Greg shoved his power all the way forward and shot forward, firing continuously at the Drellian. The enemy exploded in a ball of expanding plasma, but the missile had been launched. Greg continued on, firing at the missile but in his haste got too close; when his beams destroyed it, the explosion smashed his ship sideways, knocking him unconscious.

"Greg!" Bella screamed and recklessly rushed forward, Jolene fast beside her.

However, it was Delion herself that 'caught' Greg's spinning sled before it could hit an asteroid. There was still no response from the pilot.

"Harclen Control, we are inbound with a medical emergency. The human Fighter has been injured. Prepare the medical facility to receive us," Delion ordered. "Pursia, get us a jump point back as fast as possible."

"All Rangers, turn to heading one-zero-four by three-six by two-four-four. Proceed with caution, we will be going through the heaviest part of the field." The Harclen Pilot said.

"Bella, Jolene, He is alive, but badly hurt," Delion said. "Help us get him back to the medical facility."

"Yes Ma'am," Jolene replied. Bella didn't reply. They saw the damage to Greg's sled. The right front portion of the nose had been blasted away. The same part of the ship where Greg's legs would have been.

The sled itself was badly damaged, but it was keeping Greg alive.

"B-Bella, Jolene, I am very sorry your mate was injured. He saved my live and that is a debt I can never repay. Thank you," the Harclen Pilot said softly.

"There is no debt, Pursia. Any of us would have done the same," Bella replied getting herself under control. "You and all of our fellow Rangers are our family. There can be never be debts between us."

"Jump plotted Delion. We will be clear to jump in fifteen seconds," Pursia reported to her leader.

"Harclen Control we need clearance for six hypersleds at the medical facility, we will be arriving in four minutes. Clear the area, we're jumping in."

"All six? A… at once Ranger Fighter!" came the reply.

"Uh, Delion, I took damage as well." Pursia replied.

"Are you injured?" Delion asked.

"Yes, shrapnel from the explosion penetrated the hull and is lodged in my left shoulder." The Pilot replied. "I am unable to land my craft."

Jolene, moved up near her sled and locked her tractor onto her. "Drop the controls, Pursia. I got you. We'll get you down safely."

"Harclen Control, we have two injured. Ranger Pilot Pursia has taken damage to her left shoulder," Delion reported. "We are jumping back now." Delion switched back to the intership comm. "All Rangers, jump on my mark; three, two, one, mark!"

As one, all six ships jumped into hyperspace.

Office of the Governor

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sometimes Carl really hated his job. Luckily, the three most important people he needed to talk to were all still here. The forth just happened to be on the base since she was taking a break from the system patrols Greg had ordered before he left. Jarad and Mandi had already arrived, and as Sharon and Joyce took seats Carl stood.

"The reason I called you all here is to let you know Abraxis reported the Rangers mission a success. The Drellian team was destroyed in the Harclen system," Carl said.

"Why do I hear a 'but' coming?" Sharon asked.

Carl frowned. "There were two casualties."

"Oh no!" Mandi said as tears began to form in her eyes. "Please Carl, tell me they aren't dead."

Carl shook his head. "No, no one has died yet. Ranger Pilot Pursia of Harclen sustained a severe injury resulting in the loss of the use of her left arm. She is being treated at the main medical center on Harclen and is in 'serious but stable' condition." He paused and swallowed the lump in his throat. "Ranger Fighter, Commander Greg Albright of Earth sustained heavy damage to his hypersled when a missile exploded too close to him. He is also being treated at the main medical center on Harclen.

"He is currently undergoing emergency surgery to stabilize him for transport home. He is currently listed in critical condition with an unknown prognosis. His left leg blown off and his right leg had to be amputated at the knee. He sustained considerable internal damage as a result of the explosion. That's what the Harclen doctors are working to repair right now.

"I have already requested one of our freighters to make the jump to Harclen to retrieve Greg and his hypersled. Both Beth and Carla have already volunteered to go. I hate to do this to you, Joyce, but at least for the time being, you are Greg's second. I say that, because I want to send Jarad to Harclen to take charge of the girls." When Sharon opened her mouth Carl cut her off.

"I know exactly what you're going to say Sharon, but you have to stay here for a number of reasons. The biggest of which is that after Bella, you are the only other Ranger Pilot we have. Joyce will need you here."

"Carl, he's my son!" Sharon said in tears.

"Damn it! I know that, Sharon! This is killing me to order you to do this, but you have to stay here! Without you at this base to be Joyce's Pilot, this base will be open to attack; I can't let that happen!" Carl said in frustration.

"Sir, forgive me, but will Greg be able to continue as a Fighter?" Joyce asked, worried.

"We simply don't know yet, Joyce. Alliance technology can repair many things, but I'm led to believe his injuries are very bad. Abraxis told me that even with the emergency stasis unit in the sled, he should not have survived the trip back to the medical center. That combined with the loss of his legs might very well end his active career, we simply don't have enough information at this point."

"I'm going too," Mandi said in her bull-headed way. "You can punish me later, but I will be on that ship."

"Actually, I was going to ask you to go, Mandi. The Harclen and Onarian leadership will be sending their specialists to meet you on Harclen. There, you will give them the schematics and a technical briefing on the new sensor system you developed. They will be taking over the manufacture and deployment of the drones," Carl replied.

"How can you worry about those damn drones at a time like this?" Mandi asked.

Carl looked at her sadly. "Those 'damn drones' will help prevent a situation like this from happening again and could very well save the lives of the next Rangers that will have to go out and fight."

"When will we be leaving sir?" Jarad asked softly.

"Within the hour. The Harclen have requested human medical personnel to, and I quote, 'properly care for our military leader'. I think Greg's actions have elevated him in the eyes of our Allies," Carl replied.

"What do you mean?" Jarad asked.

"Greg was hurt protecting the Harclen Pilot from a missile that had been fired at her. He saved her life but not from injury. According to the battle report, he did so without thought or consideration for his own safety; he acted on reflex. That action meant a great deal to not only the Harclen but the Greynus and Onarians as well. The Onarian Ambassador said that for a human to act without forethought of his own safety, to defend another not of his own species, is in the truest and most honorable traditions of the Rangers. As illogical as his actions were, they were perfectly in line with Ranger doctrine. As I understand it, that is very high praise coming from an Onarian," Carl said.

"How are Bella and Jolene taking it?" Mandi asked.

"I haven't had the opportunity to speak to them, but Fighter Delion requested their assistance with a planetary emergency and they accepted. It seems the fighting dislodged a lot of asteroids and whatnot. The mining companies are having a lot of difficulty catching them and asked for Ranger assistance," Carl replied.

"I'll try to call them before we leave, then," Mandi replied. "If Greg is that bad off, they have to be pretty upset."

"Is there something going on that we don't know about?" Carl replied.

"Governor Hollister, because of the depth and type of bonds needed between Rangers, it is not unusual for them to form a more… personal relationship. Although it is not generally accepted by your culture, the commander and his team have grown into this level of intimacy," Abraxis replied. "To go into more detail would violate the Ranger's privacy."

"Oh!" Carl said in surprise. "I had no idea." He looked thoughtful. "I don't think it’s a good idea for a commander to be intimate with those under his command. There is simply too many ways that can end badly. What happens if they ever decide to split up? It could form a rift in the team."

"It could, but that situation is so rare that it almost never happens. The three members of a Ranger team, by definition, must form bonds that are very deep. There has to be absolute trust between them in any situation. The current situation is a prime example of that trust and understanding. Even though Greg is in critical condition and may not survive his injuries, his mates are still assisting the Harclen in protecting their world. I believe it is because they know that is what Greg would want them to do. They are one of the best examples of true Rangers. They may have a physical relationship with each other, but their relationship encompasses us all. By defending the Harclen, they are defending each other," Abraxis explained.

"You're saying the feelings they share are not just for each other, but for all of us?" Joyce replied, Carl didn't miss the furtive glances she kept shooting at Sharon and Jarad.

"That would be a very good way to explain it, yes," Abraxis replied.

Carl nodded. "I can't understand it, but I can accept it. After all, it's really none of my business unless it affects their duties. Jarad, Sharon, I am sorry I had to give you this news. Additionally, I am sorry to rush you, but the ship is waiting for Jarad and Mandi."

"Who's the pilot?" Sharon asked.

"Captain Albion Stephandropolis and his crew. They got one of the first freighters we built," Carl said, but Sharon was nodding.

"I know Al, he's been making bulk runs to Earth. I didn't know his ship was hyperspace capable," she finished.

Carl nodded. "It was one of the first ones we built, and the design included a hyperdrive. The ship isn't really that big as far as freighters go, but they should suffice for what we need done, we dropped in one of those habitat modules but still left enough room for Greg's sled in the hold."

Jarad stood and took his daughter's hand. "Come on Peanut, we need to get going."

"We'll see you off," Joyce said and stood with Sharon. She turned back to Carl. "If you'll excuse us, Sir?"

"Safe journey you two," Carl said to Jarad and Mandi, but nodded to Joyce.

After his visitors left, Carl sighed. "Abraxis, I think those bonds you spoke of earlier are starting to form between Joyce and Sharon. I couldn't tell if they included Jarad or not. That kind of uncertainty can't be a good thing in this situation."

"It is difficult to say, Governor. This situation is so rare there is little to no data available. However, interference at this point might make matters worse. I am confident those involved will work it out," Abraxis replied.

Carl nodded agreement. "I just don't want to see any friends hurt."

Abraxis took a moment to reply, and Carl was beginning to wonder if that was an end to the conversation, but the old AI finally did. "Of the humans I have knowledge of, your race seems to feel their emotions more deeply than those I have data on. At first I thought this might become a problem, so I tried to do more research on it. It is because of the depth of your emotions that your race stands out among most others.

"I will admit, it seems to have increased the predilection for violence, but it also has increased your compassion and will. The capacity for emotion seems to be at the root of your abilities to continue when others would give up. This is both good and bad. Anger and rage are far more pronounced in your race than others; leading to prolonged fighting and more horrific atrocities. Conversely, the depth of your compassion and love grants you the will to continue to fight when others would simply surrender. I feel it is the greatest strength of your race, but also its greatest flaw. It is a most interesting paradox."

"I think I will have to agree with you on that, my friend. Humans are very difficult if not impossible to define or comprehend in the best of situations," Carl replied. "Please keep me updated on Greg's condition and let me know if there is anything I can do for Bella and Jolene."

"I will, Governor," Abraxis replied.

Medical Center

Castinim City

Harclen System

Harclen Democratic Consortium

Faint beeping and humming. He was floating in a soft, warm, warmth and those noises were becoming irritating. Slowly he realized the humming was more like a soft purring and that wasn't so bad, in a way it was also comforting, but that beeping… like a heart monitor, was really grating. It was loud. He didn’t really want to wake up, but that beeping was keeping him from resting.

Before he opened his eyes he took stock of his body, his head hurt, but it was a dull pain. His stomach really hurt and as he woke it was getting worse. But below that…

He opened his eyes. He was lying in a soft bed, and he was holding two soft furry bodies close to him. Slowly it dawned on him he was in a medical facility. He must have been hurt again, but couldn't remember anything about it. He slowly turned his head to see the tiny face of a small cat-person. His mind labeled it a Harclen, but he didn't know how he knew that. Beyond that tiny head was the worried form of Bella looking out a window. Beside her, in a chair with her head on her crossed arms, Jolene rested.

His attention was drawn by a Harclen he did not recognize standing near a window. When she saw he was awake, she moved toward him. "Bella! Jolene!" She said softly.

In a moment all three woman were beside his bed. "How do you feel, Greg?" Bella asked.

"I'll get the doctors," the Harclen woman said and quickly left.

Greg? Yes, that was his name. He was Greg. "I’m pretty dazed. What happened?"

"You saved Mama!" the little bundle under his right arm said softly. He couldn't tell if it was male or female though.

"I did huh?" Greg replied. "That's good, then."

The little bundle on his left hugged him tighter, it hurt a great deal, but Greg tried to ignore it. "Thank you Fighter Greg! Thank you so much!"

Greg tried to smile tenderly. "It was my pleasure, little one."

"You took out a missile that was heading for Pilot Pursia. Unfortunately, you were too close when it went up, and you got caught in the blast. You got pretty messed up, Love," Jolene replied.

"How bad? I can't feel anything below my waist," Greg said.

Bella had tears in her eyes. "It's bad Greg, the doctors don't want us to tell you yet."

"Am I dying?" Greg asked.

"Not anymore young man," Greg heard and recognized the voice of Bella's mother, Beth.

"Oh shit, it must be bad, if you're here, Doc." Greg replied. "I'm sorry I got messed up again."

Beth smiled at him. "Don't worry about it Greg, it's just the price you have to pay for being a hero."

Greg shook his head. "I'm not a hero, Doc. Now, how badly did I get messed up?"

Beth looked at him strangely. "Before I get into that, do you know where you are and can you tell me how you feel?"

"Not really, but because of these two little wonders, and the lady I saw a minute ago, we must be on the planet Harclen. I don't remember the events that landed me here, but I am slowly remembering who I am. My stomach really hurts, and I have a pretty good headache going. I can't feel anything below my waist," Greg replied.

"You got hurt really bad, Fighter Greg," the left kitten said.

"We're really sorry that you got hurt, Fighter Greg, but you saved Mama," the kitten on the right said.

"Okay little monsters, you've bothered him enough for now, come on let's go get some lunch and let the doctor check Fighter Greg out," a very pretty Harclen woman with her left arm in a sling called.

"Mama!" the little ones said in happy voices. From behind the woman, two older youngsters came forward to lift the little ones away from Greg.

"Thank you for keeping me safe while I slept, little ones," Greg said in farewell to his bed-partners. "I had really good dreams thanks to you!"

"You're welcome Fighter Greg!" One of them said.

"Any time you need it, Fighter Greg!" the other said.

Greg smiled and chuckled but it hurt. He winked at their injured mother and finally remembered her name. "Are you alright, Pursia?"

"Yes I am, Fighter, thanks to you." She seemed almost overcome but came forward and gently licked his cheek. "Thank you." She turned and left the room quickly.

It kind of choked him up. Just how badly was he messed up? He turned back to Beth. "Okay doc, enough dancing around, what's wrong with me?"

"Are you sure, Greg? It's pretty bad," Beth asked.

"Look, I've got to know sooner or later and all this drama is starting to worry me. I can’t start fighting it if I don't know what I'm fighting," Greg replied.

Beth nodded. "You lost both legs. The left one at the hip, the right at the knee. You took what should have been a lethal dose of radiation from the missile and suffered extreme internal damage due to a failure of the sealing system caused by the damage to the sled, which is why your insides hurt so much. The Harclen had to do a lot of work inside you to repair the damage. I'll give you a pain killer in a few minutes that should help."

"Okay, so legs can be regrown and my insides will heal given time, what's the big deal?" Greg asked.

Beth bit her lower lip. "No Greg, your legs can't be regrown. Part of the internal damage was spinal. You're paralyzed from the waist down. We can't regrow your legs because of that damage. Marcus is already preparing the cloned tissues back home, but you need to know that there are no certain answers here. The radiation you were exposed to should have killed you, as well as the loss of atmosphere in the sled. We'll do our best, but you need to know that there is a better than average chance you'll never walk again." She paused. "Even if we manage to restore your legs, you may never be able to pilot a sled again."

"Can I still father children?" Greg asked taking Bella's hand since she was the closest.

Beth looked down and shook her head. "When your leg was blown off, it shattered your hip and pelvis. You genitals were destroyed as well."

"Options?" Greg asked.

"Like I said, Marcus is preparing the replacement tissues, and we will begin treatment as soon as we arrive. We'll do everything we can, but a full recovery from this much trauma is almost non-existent," Beth replied. "I wish I could give you better news, Greg, but you wanted the truth."

Greg nodded. "When will I be leaving?"

"Now that you're awake, and we have a better idea of your health, probably tomorrow," Beth replied. "I should mention that in addition to Delion, her team, and their kits, (children) there are a few others that would like to see you. Jarad and Mandi are here as well." She paused. "Before I let them in here though, would you like some time with you wives alone?"

Greg looked up at her and she smiled down at him. "Who told you?"

"Mandi did, but I already knew." She nodded at Bella and Jolene. "These two haven't been able to hide anything from me for years. I was just wondering how their relationship would fit into the one they had with you and Mandi. Now I know." She smiled back down at him. "I think they made a wonderful choice."

She bent down and kissed him gently on the forehead. "I'll give you three some time to work this out. Just let me know when you're ready for those visitors." She stood back up and left the room.

With the door closed, it was just Greg and the girls. "Sorry ladies, I guess I really messed up this time."

Suddenly he had a crying girl on each side of him, hugging him as tightly as they dared. "You idiot. Do you really think this is going to come between us?" Bella replied.

"We are still going to have your children, Greg. If nothing else, there is always the gene bank Abraxis had us create." Jolene said. "You're still the same guy we fell in love with, just because you’re hurt doesn't change that."

"If there is any chance at all I can recover from this, I will fight for it," Greg said. "I might get grumpy or depressed from time to time, so can you two make sure I don't give up?"

"You can count on it!" Bella assured him. "The Alliance is refusing to accept your injuries as well. You have lost your flight status, but no one is going to let you 'retire'. No matter what, you will always be listed as the Commander of the Rangers."

"Whoa, hold it, what? When did that happen?" Greg asked.

"Greg, you were in a coma for a week," Bella explained. "In that time, a few things have happened because of what we did here. One of them is that you got a promotion."

"I guess I can understand things happening, but why make me the overall commander? I'm probably going to be out of it for a while, I can't take command!" Greg countered.

Jolene chuckled. "Greg, Delion has asked her researchers to look into the possibility of interbreeding. I think she would like you as a mate!"

"From the way this planet is acting, I don't think she's the only one!" Bella replied. "We're going to have to get you out of here just to save you from the mobs of adoring females!"

"So, we're good?" Greg asked.

"Love, we were never 'bad'," Jolene replied.

"Okay, so now that I know that, I can handle whatever else life tosses at me. Should we let Beth know it’s okay to send in some of the others?" Greg asked.

"One last thing before we do this," Bella said, frowning slightly. "I really wasn't kidding about the hordes of adoring fans. The only reason Delion hasn't been in to see you yet is because she's standing guard outside the door. The constabulary has a perimeter around the hospital, but there are a few that still sneak through. No one gets past her though. Hell, Jolene and I have had like five interviews each since we got back, I think both Jarad and Mandi have had a couple as well. I know Beth was asked, but declined because she was busy caring for you. Greg, you are very much a national hero to these people. Apparently, saving the life of a fellow Ranger is a very big deal to them."

"It doesn't stop there either, you have hero status on the four major Alliance member worlds, and most of the minor members. The Greynus have assigned two additional hive clusters to the Sol system to complete the projects there for the Alliance. As soon as transportation becomes available, six other systems will be receiving three hive clusters apiece; one for mining operations if needed, and the other two to build whatever needs to be built," Jolene said. "While you were out, two hive clusters arrived here, one of them a 'primary cluster' whatever that means. Their leader is one of the VIP's waiting to see you. The rest of the Greynus have already gotten to work.

Greg was shocked, a Primary Hive cluster meant a Queen had been sent. The Greynus only had eight primary hive clusters and one of them was the overall head of the race, the other seven served as advisers.

"Jolene, that Primary hive is one of eight that rule over the Greynus. What you just told me is a Queen has been waiting to see me," Greg replied.

"Oh! I guess that certainly explains a few things," Jolene said. "Everyone was very differential toward her, so we were too, even though we had no idea who she was."

"The Grand Matriarch of the Harclen First Tribe has been here daily as well. I'm pretty sure it's a publicity thing, but they do seem actually concerned for your wellbeing," Bella added.

"I was meaning to ask, why did Mandi come? I mean I suppose she didn't give anyone a choice in the matter, but still…" Greg said.

"Actually, Carl sent her along so she could brief the Harclen and Onarians on how to mass produce the sensor drones. They will be taking over the project from this point. The Onarians have also commissioned the Harclen to build twenty long-range shuttles for them until they can begin producing their own. In exchange, the Onarians are designing improved control and navigations suites for the Harclen ships." Jolene said. "I think she has a new best friend too; she and Delion's Fixer have been attached at the hip since Mandi got here."

Greg chuckled. "No way, no one could replace the two of you in her eyes."

"I don't know, they really do seem like kindred spirits at least. I'm supposed to be pretty good at physics, but listening to them talking, I couldn't even tell you what they were talking about! It was like it was a different language," Bella replied.

"Well, I'd like to get that pain killer Beth mentioned, and then get these state visits out of the way so we can head home. The sooner I can get started on treatment, the sooner I can get back to being your husband," Greg said grinning.

Stardust Medical Center

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Before Greg left the Harclen Medical Center, he was asked to give a short interview for the people of Harclen. He agreed, but was surprised when not only the Harclen reporter but also a Greynus and an Onarian arrived as well. All three beings began by thanking him for giving them some of his time.

Greg was a little worried they might grill him with questions, but that wasn't the way the interview, if you could call it that, went. It was recorded yes, but it was really more like they just sat down and talked. It was refreshing; each of the reporters asked questions of each other as well as Greg. By the end of their time, he was actually enjoying their company and was a little sad it was over.

Later, Greg found out that the interview had been broadcast on all of the worlds that had joined the Alliance and two that were still considering it. It had been a hit with everyone and approval of the Alliance grew as the people got to meet and hear the words of the human that was now the leader of their protectors. The interviewers had worked their magic on him, and got him to talk freely and honestly about his hopes and fears for the Alliance and the beings he had sworn to protect.

The interview had been played after a reshowing of the incident that had gravely wounded him. Greg realized what had happened. The Alliance leaders had made him a hero in the eyes of the people and a symbol for them to get behind as a foundation for the new Alliance.

Greg worried about that tactic, as hero's had a tendency to fall eventually, and that could hurt the Alliance.

He expressed that concern to Carl when the two first got to talk. The older man nodded agreement. "You do have a valid point, Greg, and normally, I'd agree with you. However, while they did paint you as heroic, they did not make you 'larger than life'. They kept you as a remarkable young man that had done something heroic. To the people of the Alliance, you are now more ‘one of them’ than one of the revered and unreachable Rangers. Yes, you are a Ranger, and you are still revered, but that interview reassured a lot of people that were having doubts because of the way the other major races treated you. Let me ask you this; why did you pick Delion as your second in command of the Ranger forces? Why not Thrasixt, Joyce or Jarad?"

"Honestly, because I thought she would do the best job. Then again, Thrasixt begged me not to name her, and while they are both very good, neither Joyce nor Jarad are actually Rangers yet," Greg asked. "I hate to admit it, but also by naming a member of another race as my second in command I wanted to send a message to the other races that we aren't trying to take over."

"I can very much see that, especially after the interview you gave. You were honest to a fault; but I think you did exactly the right thing. I've been getting the feeling that a few of our more energetic members were considering bypassing us and making deals with the people of Earth directly. They are all used to doing business like that, but after your interview, I feel it made at least a few of them rethink that position, at least when dealing with humans. All in all, you did a good job, Greg."

"Thanks, I was worried I'd said too much, and you'd be mad at me," Greg admitted.

Carl shook his head. "Nope, you were honest and straight forward, nothing wrong with that. How's the treatment going?"

"Far too slow for me, but Beth says I'm doing really well, we're still waiting to see if the magic they did to my spine works, but I guess the rest of me is doing pretty good," Greg replied.

"I heard you've been trying to get some work done. I thought you have Delion for that?" Carl said teasingly.

"Well, it's either that or sit around the medical center being bored! Besides, Delion is doing great; she's doing all the stuff for me that I can't do. Although sometimes I'm worried that I'm pushing her a little hard," Greg admitted. "I'm also worried that she's doing this out of some form of guilt about what happened to me."

"Have you talked to her about it?" Carl asked.

Greg shook his head. "No, there hasn't been time. I was thinking about talking to her about it when she arrives for the Council meeting."

"That would probably be a good time to do it," Carl replied. "I was meaning to ask you, how is the sensor project going?"

"Really well, the Harclen have one of their largest factories already producing the drones. The Onarians are doing pretty good too. The first shipments of the drone control systems left Onarus yesterday. The first of the new sensors should be placed as early as next week," Greg replied, grinning. "They aren't messing around."

Carl chuckled. "They aren't the only ones. You should have seen the reaction of the Greynus mining teams when Amos told them of the idea Fixer Arliss had. Last I heard, they had plans in place to convert all of their own mining systems over to it. I know they plan on doing it here and in the Centauri System."

"That reminds me that I wanted to talk to you about opening the Centauri System; you know we won't be able to protect it as well as everything else, right?" Greg said.

"There are systems in our sector that don't have Ranger teams, Greg. But, if we find it does need to be protected, I can always ask you to temporarily assign a Ranger team there until our fleets start getting built. You might want to consider that it could be good training for new teams," Carl said and shrugged. "Really, the bottom line is that we are going to need the ores from there to build everything we're going to need built."

"The ores here aren't going to be enough? I admit I haven't seen a survey of the system, but holy shit, Carl!" Greg said in disbelief.

"It's not so much the amount of ores as the type. The Centauri system is rich in certain ores that our system is short on, and the reverse is also true. Besides, the addition of three potential colony worlds is hard to pass up," Carl replied.

"Three? I thought there was only one Earth type planet?" Greg said.

Carl grinned at him. "There is, but one of the planets is almost a clone of Greynus Prime, and the other is a very good candidate for our allies that prefer a lower temperature climate. Honestly, the Centauri system is a treasure trove for mining and farming. Of course, Earth is going to pitch a bitch, but they do that over just about everything we do anyway."

"The President still giving you a hard time?" Greg asked.

"Surprisingly enough, no. It's the other countries working through the United Nations. It's mostly the same drivel that the US was saying, so I just ignore it. Which reminds me, has anyone told you that the President has been trying to get through to you?" Carl asked.

"What does she want to talk to me about?" Greg asked.

Carl shrugged. "I dunno, ever since the report of your injuries was made public, she's been working hard to get through to you. We've been blocking it because you've been pretty out of it until recently. She's being really persistent. Since you're doing better, I thought I'd let you decide if you want to talk to her or not."

"Well, I've got a couple of days before my next surgery, so maybe I should talk to her and try to get her to calm down. If nothing else, she'll stop harassing the comms people," Greg replied.

Carl nodded. "Okay, well, I just stopped in to see how you were doing anyway. You had me worried this time; I was afraid you wouldn't make it back. I'm very happy to see you doing so well."

"I'm not so easy to kill, Carl," Greg replied, grinning at the older man. "But I was worried about you as well, you know."

"Me? Why?" Carl asked surprised.

Greg chuckled. "I couldn’t believe you had the stones to tell my mother she couldn't go to Harclen! When I heard that, my next question was to ask how badly she'd hurt you!"

"Well, I did have Jarad and Joyce there to protect me!" Carl replied and laughing, left the room.

After checking the time, Greg asked Abraxis to see if the American President had a few minutes for him. It was early morning in Washington D.C. but not obscenely so. He expected to catch the President at breakfast. What he got was Wilma wearing a housecoat with the Lincoln bedroom behind her. Greg briefly wondered why she wasn't in the Presidential bedroom, but really it was none of his business.

"It's good to finally see you, Commander. Before we proceed, this is in the nature of a personal call, could you temporarily suspend your simulcast?" the President asked.

Greg nodded to her, but spoke to the room. "Abraxis, Privacy record mode please," When Abraxis acknowledged the order Greg smiled at the woman. "We're alone now, Wilma. Good Morning by the way, and I'm sorry I got you out of bed."

Smiling, she shook her head. "Don't worry about it, we weren't asleep and Sherry knows I've been worried about you."

Greg raised an eyebrow, it had been rumored of course, but no one had ever been able to confirm that the President's longtime aide was actually her wife. Wilma hadn't even batted an eye at confirming it for him.

"Governor Hollister tells me that you've been trying to reach me. I apologize for you getting the run-around, but today is the first day I've really been allowed visitors. Since my next surgery isn't for a couple more days, I thought I'd see what you might need," Greg replied.

"Look Greg, I know we didn't get off on good terms. That couldn't have been helped. The political situation down here is volatile enough as it is." She sighed and shook her head. "Look I'm not the President right now, okay?"

Greg was a little confused, what happened to the cast-iron bitch he knew to be the President?

"Okay, what's wrong?" Greg asked.

"Unofficially and totally off the record, how badly were you really hurt?" Wilma asked.

Greg considered her question for a moment. "The only thing left out of the report was that I shouldn't have survived to make it to the Medical Center on Harclen, and that I'm paralyzed from the waist down. We do have the technology to repair this kind of damage, but in my case there were some pretty nasty extenuating circumstances. My prognosis for full recovery isn't very good, but I'm not accepting that. I will walk again, and I will pilot a sled again." Greg looked down and sighed. "I'll be a father eventually too."

Wilma sucked in a breath. "Greg we had no idea it was that bad. Look, I'm at my term limit anyway, so I do have a little bit of freedom. I can't do anything officially, Congress would string me up by my tits, but is there anything you need? Anyone you might need that I can sneak up to you?"

Greg looked at her in confusion. "Please forgive me for being suspicious, Wilma, but what's with the about face? This isn't like you."

Wilma nodded. "Yeah, and you have every right to be suspicious. Hell, I probably would have hung up by now if our roles were reversed. The truth is, there is nothing we can do down here to stop you. I knew that from the beginning, but we had to be seen to try. After I read the real reports you referred to at our first meeting it finally occurred to me what was really going on. Fuckin' conspiracy nuts have most of it right! The only function my administration serves is as a figure head for the country. It's the intelligence services that really run things, and they are controlled by the global conglomerates. The whole damn planet is under their control, Greg!"

"Easy Wilma, relax. Try to keep it together, Okay?" Greg replied, wondering if Wilma was getting mentally unstable.

She nodded and sighed. "You're right, I'm sorry. I know I sounded like a nut job myself there for a moment. But, Greg, it's the truth. Be careful of which corporations you and Carl start working with; I don't know all the players yet, but I can tell you that they want what you have, and they will do anything it takes to get it.

"One of the things you keep touting on your website is that the people have the power to change the government. That's not true. The whole election process is nothing but smoke and mirrors set up to appease the people. Most of us have no real power, it is our job to make sure the people think the changes they want are being made, when it really has nothing to do with them anymore.

"Greg, if we could do it, I'd ask you to come and get Sherry and me. Maybe after I get out of office, but I don't think they'll let us go. I am still having a hard time believing that three small fighter craft are all it takes to defend the planet though."

"It's more of a doctrine thing, Wilma. The hypersled was the pinnacle of Alliance weapons research. It was so good at what it was designed for, that even fleets of larger warships stood little to no chance against even three of them. At that point, both the Alliance and the Drellians quit building huge expensive fleets that could be easily destroyed by three small, single person craft. The Alliance and the Empire both fell shortly after that, and the balance has remained that way ever since. Currently, the Rangers and the hypersleds are the only viable weapons that work, and Rangers are extremely rare,” Greg explained.

"If they're that rare, what are you creating an Alliance for? Shouldn't you be concentrating on finding more Rangers?" Wilma asked.

"Oh, that's being done too, but the Alliance we are forming is more for support and mutual assistance," Greg replied.

"Wait, if you're injured and can't fly right now, who's defending the planet?" Wilma asked.

"There are other human Rangers, Wilma. Earth is still very much defended. Not to mention that we have been expanding our defensive weapons systems and a few other things. We won't leave anyone undefended if there is anything we can do about it," Greg replied.

"This is going to put me in a very difficult position. Personally, I support you and your efforts, Greg. But the President and the Commander have to remain enemies. I'll help you as much as I can, but officially, I'll have to do everything in my power to capture your technology and get you under control," Wilma said. "I called because I wanted to reassure myself that you were actually still alive."

Greg smiled at her. "I appreciate that, Wilma. As for the rest, I'll have to think about it. The Alliance is still pretty new, and while I might have been given carte blanche in building our military, I still don't think it would be a good idea to rock the boat too much."

"I'd heard you got a promotion; congratulations. What was that being you have as a second?" Wilma asked.

"Her name is Delion and she is the Harclen Ranger Fighter. Her people evolved from felines pretty much like we evolved from primates. While still curious to a fault, they are very peaceful people. They have a matriarchal society and have a corporate democracy for a government. She's really nice, but also a very competent leader," Greg explained. "I think you'd like her."

"Perhaps I'll meet her someday," Wilma said sadly.

"You never know what the future may hold Wilma," Greg replied.

"Call us back and let us know how you’re doing, okay?" Wilma said. "Off-hours of course."

When Greg had Abraxis play the recording later for Jarad, Lionel and Carl. All three of them looked troubled.

"Although not conclusive, I did not detect any deception on the part of the President," Abraxis replied. "However, I did detect a high amount of anxiety."

"Yeah, something has her rattled, that is for sure," Lionel said.

"She either got a look behind the curtain, or she thinks she did," Jarad replied. "If she did really get a look at reality, her days are numbered."

"Would they really kill her over that?" Greg asked.

Jarad nodded. "What do you think happened to President Kennedy in the nineteen-sixties? Both he and Khrushchev figured out the truth. Khrushchev agreed to play along, and JFK didn't. Since that time, elected Presidents have either already been a part of it, or were kept from discovering it. It sounds like Wilma stumbled across something she shouldn't have."

"Well, if she doesn't say anything publicly, she should be fine, right?" Greg asked. "Besides, I think I'm the only other person she's told."

Jarad snorted, "What, and you believe there is such a thing as a private telephone conversation? Especially when one end of it is in the White House?" he shook his head. "No, if they don't kill her outright, then they'll discredit her completely. Based on her anxiety levels over this, they could easily have her committed based on her 'paranoid delusions'."

Greg looked thoughtful for a minute. "Jarad, I want you to take a sled down there and inject both Wilma and her wife with tracking devices."

"If it's an order, I'll do it, but can I ask why you're concerned about her? In the grand scheme of things, she's not worth the risk," Jarad replied.

"Risk? Two people are going to be murdered or worse for no good reason, and we have the opportunity to prevent it. If we do nothing, we are no better than the people that kill them," Greg said. "I wouldn't care if it was John Q. Citizen from East Podunk, I would be asking you to do the same thing. I'd do this myself, but…"

Jarad looked at him for a minute. "You're a good man, Greg. I'll take care of it tonight."

"In the meantime, Abraxis, can you spare the processing cycles to monitor this situation?" Lionel asked. "It would be good to know how quickly this situation is going to be acted upon."

"There are a couple of projects that I can suspend for a short time. Dr. Jon Grien will have your own AI units finished soon, and they should relieve some of the burden," Abraxis replied.

"Thank you Abraxis," Greg said. "When did Jon get his Doctorate?"

"Actually, just before we left Earth. He was attending classes over the computer system, and had submitted his dissertation just before you arrived on the scene. Although he would normally have had to defend it, it was awarded to him while Prometheus was under siege by the government," Carl explained. "I'd say it was well earned."

Greg could only agree. "I'll have to remember to congratulate him next time I see him. I'm really surprised Bella didn't tell me."

"Don't be too hard on her, you guys have been kind of busy since you got here," Jarad replied grinning. "Speaking of busy, has Mandi been up to see you since we got back?"

Greg shook his head. "No, I do know she got involved with some project Delion's Fixer had been working on. I figured she was just busy."

"That's really unlike her. Before we left for Harclen to come get you, she was ready to fight anyone that told her she couldn't go. She saw you once right after we got there and has been pretty much ignoring you since. Did you two have a fight?" Jarad asked.

Greg shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of. We were on great terms before we left for the Harclen mission and she was the one that clued me in on how the girls felt about me. Honestly, Dad, I have no idea what's going on with her."

"Well, with the extended hours Sharon and I have been keeping lately, we have been neglecting you kids. Maybe we should go see her and make sure she's okay?" Jarad asked himself.

"I wouldn't call it neglecting us, after all, we're all adults now, right?" Greg asked, smiling. "But, I'm sure she would be happy to see you guys."

Jarad gave him a sidelong look. "If we haven't been neglecting you, then how did we not know about your relationship with Bella and Jolene?"

Greg blushed. "Well, we were trying to keep a lid on it. Other than the three of us, the only other people that knew where Mandi and Abraxis."

"I think you will find a great deal more tolerance in this society than if we were still on Earth," Carl said. "I will admit it shocked me to learn of it, but I honestly can't see as how it's really any of my business. After thinking on it, the reason I was shocked is because I still remember Bella and Jolene as young girls I've held on my lap like grandchildren."

Lionel chuckled. "I'm working on it, Dad! I just haven't found the right girl yet. I am kind of envious of you though Greg, you found two of them!"

"Was I as blind as he is?" Greg asked his Dad.

Jarad shook his head. "No, you were worse. You completely missed Mandi's interest in you, and you had to be shown the path to Bella and Jolene. Lionel's just being bullheaded."

"What do you mean?" Lionel asked. "What am I not seeing?"

"More like refusing to look, I'd say!" Carl replied smiling.

"Two words, Lionel; Lieutenant Mays," Greg said.

Lionel looked a little surprised. "I think you guys might have gotten the wrong idea; Emma isn't, uh, we kinda let the rumors about us develop to help protect her career. Trust me here, she isn't really interested in me."

"You might want to rethink that, Lionel," Greg said. "Because she's still acting, and there is no longer a reason for it."

"Of course, if you don't have those feeling for her that's another thing, but you haven't stopped acting either," Jarad said.

Carl picked up the phone and asked his assistant to call Florence.

"Hi Flo, it's Carl. Say, I was wondering if I could make reservations for the private room tonight?" Carl asked.

"Dad…" Lionel said in a warning voice.

"Really? Excellent! It's for my son Lionel and a lady-friend. They need to have a discussion, and I thought I'd see what I could do to help them along. Just put the whole meal on my bill okay?" Carl asked.

Lionel shook his head and sighed. "Dad…"

"Okay, seven PM! Got it. Thanks Flo!" Carl said and ended the call.

Greg chuckled. "Look at it this way, Lionel. If nothing else, you get a free meal with a pretty woman!"

Experimental Lab Complex

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Jarad and Sharon wandered through the maze-like warrens of laboratories and offices. Mandi had a small lab in here somewhere, but there was no definite map that outlined who was in what lab. Jarad finally had to resort to asking for Abraxis' help.

"Abraxis, this place is a maze. Can you help us find Mandi's Lab?"

The couple were standing by a wall, near an intersection, and Jarad honestly didn't know which way to go.

"Certainly, Fighter. You just passed it. Go back down the hallway you just traversed and it's the first door on your right," Abraxis replied.

"Someone really should make a map of this place. How do the scientists even find their labs?" Jarad asked. Sharon just chuckled at him.

He looked at her grinning. "You didn't know either, miss high and might pilot!"

"Actually I did, I was waiting for you to ask me," Sharon replied.

"Okay smarty-pants, how do we get out of here?" Jarad asked calling her bluff.

She pointed back down the hall. "Go to the tee-intersection and take a left. The exit is the only door to the right,"

Jarad gave a well-worn sigh and rang the admittance chime.

The door slid open, granting them entry into a bright, clean lab. They heard a "Back here, but stay to the left side of the lab." call from the rear corner of the big room.

They walked to the back along the left side of the lab, and Mandi smiled when she saw her parents. "Great! Perfect timing! Dad, please take this tennis ball," she handed him a tennis ball. "And walk down to the other end of the lab. When I tell you to, toss the ball through the hoop and into the small basket, okay?" She demonstrated by tossing another ball into a basket through another ring she had set up at beside her.

"Uh, sure peanut." Jarad said and walked off.

"Is this what you've been working on so hard?" Sharon asked.

"Yep, I'd tell you what it is, but it'll be much easier to show you," she said putting a heavy glove on her left hand. "Ready Dad?"

"Yeah, lemme know when," Jarad called back.

With her right hand she typed a command into her terminal and hit the enter button. The ring beside her lit up with cobalt blue lights all around it. She grinned. "Okay Dad!"

At the other end, Jarad gently tossed the ball through the ring…

…and it landed in the basket in front of Mandi, fifty feet away.

"Holy shit!" Sharon exclaimed, bringing Jarad running.

Mandi chuckled at the exclamation. "I felt the same way the first time I did that."

"What was it?" Jarad asked.

"Nearly instant travel between two distant points using a pair of linked compressed hyperspace portals. FTL travel without a jump engine," Mandi replied. "There are still some issues to work out though."

"Like what?" Jarad asked.

Mandi picked up the ball Jarad had tossed and dropped it to the floor. Instead of bouncing, it shattered like fine crystal. "That's one, the others are only two portals can link at a time, and they have to be aligned with each other. That is to say, facing each other. I haven't had the chance to test it through solid matter yet."

"Wait, compressed hyperspace? Why are they freezing when it should be charcoal?" Sharon asked.

Mandi nodded. "Good question. But, before I can answer that question, I'll need to get more distance between the two rings. As it is the transit time is too fast to record any data."

"This is really amazing, Sweetheart. I don’t mean to change the subject, but how are the repairs to Greg's sled coming?" Jarad asked.

"Almost finished. We rebuilt the internal structures and applied the meta-polymer inner membrane. Arliss is monitoring its progress while it reconnects its systems. Once that's finished, we'll get the outer hull going on repairing itself. It should be finished in another couple of days," Mandi said frowning.

"Okay, so why haven't you reported this to its pilot?" Jarad asked.

"He's still in medical and will be for quite some time. I had other projects I needed to work on, so I've been working on those instead," she replied somewhat crisply.

"Mandi, you've been in love with him since you two met five years ago, why haven't you gone to see him?" Sharon asked.

"He's my brother, Mom. I'm not 'in love' with him," Mandi replied somewhat sarcastically. "I have been to see him. I saw him when we got to Harclen." She turned her face away and squeezed her eyes shut as a tear escaped her right eye.

Just as Jarad was about to blast her for being an ass to Sharon, the older woman placed a hand on his arm to stop him. She shook her head when he looked at her.

"Mandi, he's only your step brother and both of you were too old for the sibling bond to form when Jarad and I got together. As far as your heart is concerned, he isn't your brother. You're as much in love with him as Bella and Jolene; you have been for years. Is that why you haven't gone to see him?"

"The stupid idiot almost died this time! He should have died this time!" Mandi said in a burst of emotion. "He's acting like it's no big deal and that his injuries are only temporary! If he does heal up, all he'll do is get back in his sled and go back out there!" She said crying openly now. "He's like a crack addict! He'll keep going out there until it kills him!" She sobbed and softly added. "They all will, and now so will you. Everyone I love is going to die, and I can't… you’re going to kill yourselves and I can't stop you from doing it!"

Sharon took the girl in her arms and held her while she cried.

Jarad stepped closer and caressed his daughter's hair. "Sweetheart, while I will admit flying the sleds is fun, we don't go out there for that. We go out there to protect our friends and you; the people we love. We're all working hard to reduce the threat to Rangers, and eventually a Ranger team will not have to go out alone anymore. Sweetheart, we have to do this, if we don’t, everyone and everything we know will be destroyed."

"I know, Dad. I know all of that, I understand it intellectually, but I just can't accept it. I mean, why? Why do the Drellians even care about us? If they hadn't attacked us, we wouldn't even know about them. It just makes no sense!" Mandi replied.

"They attacked Earth because you carry the kill codes for the Prime Nexus, young Fixer." Abraxis said softly entering the conversation. He formed his hologram beside Jarad. "I think the question we should be asking is how did they find you? I have been in this sector for hundreds of centuries and even I didn't know about you. What event gave the Prime Nexus the information it needed to locate you?"

"Are you saying that the reason we are in this position is because of Mandi?" Sharon asked.

"No, not at all, Pilot," Abraxis quickly clarified. "The fact that she has the code embedded in her DNA is no fault of hers. Rather, I was suggesting that there is something here we are not seeing that brought the Drellians to Earth. However, I feel I should point out that, regardless of all of that, I still would have made contact with you, just as I did, when I detected the formation of the team."

"Okay, so how did you detect them when the four of them had only just got together?" Jarad asked.

"In the case of Earth, all I could do was monitor the educational computers of the planet. When I would find records of exceptionally intelligent individuals, I would then search for their medical records and other data to either prove or disprove the possibility of them being a Ranger. When I found Bella and Jolene, I did not know they had not actually completed the formation of a team. So I dispatched the terminal to their location in the event they had. If you remember correctly, it took the addition of a Fighter to activate the terminal," Abraxis replied.

"We got off on a tangent here," Jarad said gently. "Mandi, Greg thinks you're mad at him. Yes, his wounds are serious, but he believes he can still overcome them. In order for him to do it, he'll need the love and support of his friends to do it. A person's will is driven by the love and care of those he holds dear. He needs you in order to get better." He caressed her face and made her look up at him. "He needs you to believe in him, the more we all believe in him, the better he'll be able to do what he needs to do. It's what pushes us and keeps us going when everything else seems to be against us."

"Go see him, Sweetheart. Tell him how you feel, you know how dense he is sometimes, tell him the truth. You should probably make sure his ladies are there too, so it doesn't seem like your trying to poach. Between the four of you, I'm sure you can work this out and still help Greg along," Sharon replied.

"Peanut, we're your family. We're here for you to talk to when you get in a bind like this. I know we've all been busy lately, but we'll make time for something like this if you need it. You don't need to deal with stuff like this on your own," Jarad said.

Mandi wiped her eyes, and looked up at her father. "Dad, there is no way in hell I'm going to come talk to you about some of these feelings. Trust me here, you are the last person I want to discuss my sex life with!"

Jarad blushed and cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, I can understand that. I meant that Sharon is here for you as well. There is also Bella and Jolene and even Greg, though I'm sure you don't want to talk to him about that stuff either."

"Dad, I love you," Mandi replied. "Just remember your own advice; you're going to be finding yourself in a very similar situation pretty soon."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Jarad asked.

Sharon blushed. "I haven't had the chance to talk to him about that yet, Sweetheart. He has a mission tonight, so I was going to wait until he got back."

"Mission?" Mandi asked looking back at father.

"Greg wants me to tag the President and her wife," Jarad explained. "There's a long explanation here we really don't have the time for right now. Why don't you ask Greg about it when you go see him?"

Mandi turned slightly and shut down the rings. "Okay, I'll head over there right now. When are you leaving?"

"Soon, this should be a cakewalk, really. I just need to sneak into the White House and tag two women. How hard can that be?" Jarad asked.

Mandi snorted. "What are you going to be tagging them with? A tracking device can be found by their medical people. I'd talk to the doctors and see if there is something that you could use that they won't be able to remove. Like a barium tracer or something," Mandi suggested.

"Good idea, I'll check with them before I go," Jarad said.

Stardust Medical Center

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

"So, what are we going to do about Mandi?" Bella asked.

"I dunno, but we need to do something soon or this'll just keep getting worse," Jolene replied, sadly. "I honestly had no idea how she felt."

"None of us did, Jolly. That's what caused the problem." Bella replied.

"What problem? What are you guys talking about?" Greg asked.

"Greg, Mandi is in love with you; she always has been," Jolene replied. "She hides it pretty well, but it's there."

"She was the one that told me about both of you when I was clueless. She told me then that she was over me," Greg replied.

Bella shook her head. "She's not over you. If anything her feelings have probably grown stronger. I think her behavior now is her trying to distance herself from you."

"So the question becomes what do we do about it?" Jolene asked. "I'm pretty sure she wouldn't… uh, I don't think her feelings include Bella and I; at least not in a romantic way."

Greg looked thoughtful. "I don't know what to do about this. I do love her, just not that way. She's my best friend and my sister. I don't want to hurt her, or see her hurt."

"As surprising as it might sound, I don't really want to have sex with you either. I wouldn't say no to it, but it's not really what I want," Mandi said quietly from the door. "At least most of the time."

"Damn, how much of that did you hear, Mandi?" Bella asked.

Mandi walked up to the older girl and kissed her softly on the cheek. "Enough to know that you guys care about me and don't want to see me hurt." She gave Jolene a kiss too. "Yes, I'm in love with Greg. I have been for a while. It’s not actually a sexual love; it was at first, and I certainly wouldn't fight it if it were to happen, but for now, it just isn't there.

"I am starting to feel the same way about you two as well," Mandi said to the girls. She moved over and took Greg's hand.

"The parents came to talk to me about this; they wanted to know why I hadn't been to see you. Everyone I care about is a Ranger now. Because of what happened to you, Greg, I was, and kinda still am, worried that you're all going to die. I was convinced of it.

"I'm sorry I was acting so childish. I'll try to overcome those feelings and will make sure you know how I feel from now on. So all of you; don't be surprised if I seem more affectionate towards you, especially when you get back."

Jolene came up behind Mandi and put her arms around her. "You don't need to wait until we get back to be more affectionate, Sweetheart. Anytime you need a hug or a cuddle, I'm sure any of us would be more than happy to give that to you."

Mandi leaned her head back against Jolene's breast. "Thank you, I will be taking you up on the offer."

Greg squeezed the hand that Mandi was still holding. "So what have you been cooking up in that little shop of horrors of yours?"

"I'll tell you guys, but you have to keep it to yourselves for the time being. Greya wanted it to be a surprise for Delion," Mandi said, mentioning the Harclen Fixer she had befriended. "Greya had this idea about how to make hyperspace travel more efficient, but was having some trouble with the idea, so we've been working on it. So far, we have been able to create a stable, for now short range, transit point."

Greg's eyes opened in surprise. "An artificial transit point? How far do you think it'll be able to reach?"

Mandi shook her head. "Because of the theory behind it, there is no realistic maximum range. However, there are other issues we need to work out before we try any large scale or even long distance experiments. Currently, it can only work between two perfectly aligned 'gates'. I don't know if there can be anything of mass between the two points, but that shouldn't be an issue.  Ideally, we want the system to be able to connect to either multiple points at a time, or be easily realigned to another point.

"Then there is the rather unusual side-effect I've had in testing; I've been using a tennis ball, and each time it goes through, it comes out very close to absolute zero. The balls usually shatter after transit. I'm going to try using a small probe with a shield generator on it."

"I think it would have to be a hyperspace field generator, Mandi: remember, we can't make a jump when our shields are up because of the magnetic resonance," Bella replied.

"The magnetic resonance prevents the hyperspace field from forming because they both have the same point of origin, Bella. The two wave forms interfere with each other due to resonance transmitted through the hull of the ship. In this case, the hyperspace event is originating externally, so a regular shield should work just fine," Mandi explained. She shrugged. "That's what experimentation is for. If we can get the system to work the way we want to, it should be a major benefit to getting the Alliance facilities built; at least commercial traffic would have almost instant travel between systems."

"It would help greatly with defense, too, Cuteness. If we could move our warships anywhere in the Alliance in minutes… That would be an advantage the Drellians just couldn't counter!" Bella said.

"Except, it would also make these gates a priority target for the Empire. Any system we install them in would have to be very heavily defended. If the Drellians were to capture even one gate, they'd have the whole system," Greg countered.

"No, as soon as our ships got through the gate, it would be shut down. If the fighting got too close or the gate was boarded, it could easily be destroyed. No, I can think of at least ten different ways to protect the system right off the top of my head. The Drellians would not be able to simply scan it, since hyperspace distortion would prevent it. They would have to board it to learn how it works or to reprogram it. Since the gates would be unmanned anyway, it would be a simple thing to set up a self-destruct if boarded. Just power it up and detonate any high-energy substance really close to it, and you'd have to search hyperspace for any molecules that might have survived." Mandi explained. "No, it would take a fucking miracle for the Drellians to get their claws on one of the gates."

The four friends talked for a few more hours before the nurses kicked everyone out. Greg had surgery scheduled the next morning, and they wanted him to get some sleep.

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Greg got a message to the President that he was having something delivered that evening that should help her with her 'problem'. He intentionally left it very vague as he knew the communication was being monitored. Abraxis did everything he could to ensure it was a garbled mess to those who were monitoring it.

However, Jarad did make it down there, with Joyce and her team providing cover. Although there was little that could have stopped Jarad, there seemed to be an unusual amount of fighter craft in the skies over Washington D.C. and there were twice the normal guards on duty in the White House.

Still, Jarad managed to inject the President and her wife with a specific chemical that could be traced from either satellites in orbit, or from the hypersleds themselves. Although they knew he was there, neither woman acknowledged Jarad's presence, even when he injected them.

Just before Jarad left them, a pair of guards entered the room to look around. All they found was the President and her Aide working on the President's upcoming State of the Union address.

Jarad took advantage of the guard’s entry to slip out of the office and return to his hypersled. The four Rangers returned safely to the moon without incident.

Greg's surgery had been scheduled for early that morning, and it was projected to be a long one because of the delicate nature of some of the work being done. If successful, it would allow the doctors to attempt regrowing his legs at best, or fit him with cybernetic legs at the worst. If they regrew his legs, there was still no guarantee he would be able to walk again, but this surgery would set the stage for that possibility.

While they waited, Bella and Jolene worked with Mandi in her lab while they tried to set up a remote gate on Harclen to continue the work on the project. Jarad worked with the recruiters on figuring out how to recruit the training personnel they would need. This was assisted by a small notebook the President slipped to him when he was down there. In it, he found a list of military and ex-military personnel that had a background in most of the training fields they would need. Some of them were retired, and others had been wounded and, most surprisingly, not all of them were from the United States. Ranks ranged from sergeants all the way up to a retired two-star general.

As it turned out, Carl actually knew the General and got a ride in Jarad's hypersled as the two men went to speak to him. Major General Abraham Small, United States Army, (Ret.) remembered Carl from his time in the military. General Small was quietly retired when he disagreed with his orders to abandon several of his troops to insurgents while in the Middle East. He instead staged a rescue mission that not only freed his trapped troops and destroyed the insurgent cell, but rescued several foreign nationals that the group had been holding hostage.

It had turned out to be a major political boon for the United States, but the powers that be couldn't let him get away with it. He was put out to pasture and his troops sent back into the frying pan.

At first, he was resistant to the offer Jarad and Carl made to him, but once they told him what was going on, and that the President herself had recommended him, he reluctantly agreed. He did have a problem with giving up his citizenship, as he did still love his country, but he finally did agree once he was assured that his family could be relocated to the lunar base if they chose.

"It occurs to me that you are taking a hell of a risk by recruiting a senior officer for such a prominent position. What happens if you find out that I'm actually spying on you for the government in order to get back in favor?" Small asked.

Jarad smiled. "I won't lie to you General, we will be monitoring you to make sure you are not doing exactly that. However, we honestly don't believe you would do that. More than anyone, you should realize and understand what would happen if any of the governments of this planet got their hands on our tech. Earth would become a dictatorship in very short order with the same assholes that retired you in charge.

"No if we catch anyone trying to pass our tech back to the planet, they will have a choice; incarceration on the moon until such time as we can safely release them, or reassignment to one of our allies far enough from Earth to prevent the transfer of technology," Jarad finished. "A pretty liberal policy, I know, but the guy in charge of the military up there believes that we have better things to do than to kill each other over stupid shit."

"Who's the guy in charge? Do I know him?" Small asked.

"I doubt it," Carl replied. "His name is Greg Albright. He's a Ranger Fighter and has recently been named as the senior Fighter among our allies. That basically puts him in charge of all military operations. Now, remember that becoming a Ranger is a genetic thing; no one picked him for this job. He's also Jarad's nineteen-year-old son."

"You have a nineteen year old kid running the military? Please tell me he at least graduated from a military academy?" Small asked.

"No, he didn’t, but I think you'll understand better once you see what he had to go through to earn the title of Ranger," Carl replied. "I had this same discussion with the President when she told me that she didn't feel a kid like him could defend Earth."

Jarad nodded. "They're better trained than any special ops soldiers I've ever heard of. Now that I'm going through the same training, I'm starting to wish I could have started younger, this can be pretty brutal."

"Okay, I'll withhold judgment until I understand the situation better. When do you need me to be ready to go?" Small asked.

"When would be good for you and your family?" Carl asked. "We can adjust to your schedule to some degree. We make multiple flights a day."

"I'm just amazed that no one has nabbed one of those flights, they had to have tried," Small replied.

"Oh they do, but so far, none of them have had much success," Jarad replied, grinning. "They can't hide from the sensors we use, so we stun them before our ship lands, then load up, and lift off. The ships then hang around until the team wakes back up, apologizes and makes sure everyone is okay, then heads for the moon or their next stop."

Small nodded. "I saw that on your web site, I got a link to it from a friend of mine. That happen a lot?"

"Not so much anymore, I think they are giving up on trying to capture one of those ships, at least until they can think of something new to try," Carl replied.

"I'm sure they will, too," Small said. "Okay, I'll talk to the family and get them ready to go. Hell, I think my daughter and her family have already applied to you folks. She'll be thrilled to go. I'll give you a call once we're ready for pick up."

Carl nodded. "I'll have my secretary send you a file on what you need to worry about bringing. Housing will be provided and we'll take care of you until you get set up. You shouldn't have to worry about a thing."

Over the ensuing weeks that Greg was recovering, progress was being steadily made on the base as well as the Alliance. The Greynus finished building not only the military base, but also the massive refinery and foundry in the Sea of Tranquility. The facility was so large that it could actually be seen from Earth.

Two of the Hives that had been assisting with the project then shifted over to their other tasks; the ship yards that would begin building not only the larger support ships to move beings and freight, but also the warships that would eventually protect the sector from the Drellians. While quite large in their own right, the shipyards would not be as massive as the refinery complex had been. In terms of total area, the shipyards would be larger, but not as dense.

The Harclen and Onarians mass produced the sensor drones Mandi designed and were placing them as quickly as they were built. So far, the Onarian area and part of the Harclen area were covered, as those were the two areas closest to the vector the Drellians most often used. Once the Harclen area was covered, Greg had asked that several of the drones be placed along the border of the adjacent sector containing the transit lane. The request was quickly approved and added to the list.

The Onarian Ranger team did locate another Fighter candidate, as well as two more Fixers and a Finder. However, the Fighter candidate was very young, and would not be physically capable of performing his duties for another two years. That did not stop him from being trained though.

The first formal meeting of the Alliance occurred while Greg was still in the hospital. He called Delion in to attend on his behalf, and to represent the interests of the Rangers and their duty to protect the people. She was not happy about it and insisted he also attend the meeting via a special comm channel so he could advise her on what to say and when to speak out.

He agreed, although his doctor, Beth Grien, wasn't happy about it.

One of the things he needed Delion to do was to brief the Ambassadors about the plan for structuring their military, the type and size of the planned forces, and the integration of those forces. He and Delion had a long discussion about the need for mixed race crews and ground forces. She did not understand the need for it and foresaw many problems and issues that could easily be avoided by not integrating them.

Greg argued that by working and training together, the races will gain a better understanding of each other and thus a better appreciation for the races they will be protecting. In the end he managed to convince her that, while mixing the crews and soldiers would be problematic, it would benefit them all in the long run.

As it turned out the Council shared her concerns, and Delion did her best to convince them of the need for it. While they accepted the structure outline, they continued to debate the need to have mixed crews. As far as ship's crews went, there would only be a limited amount of integration because not all of the races breathed the same atmosphere. Racial integration would be more prevalent in the ground forces that were planned.

Even Abraxis offered an opinion for the Ambassadors to debate. He informed them that racial integration was one of the key factors in stabilizing the Alliance, as it fostered mutual respect among the members. Something that would be very much needed once the large scale attacks began. In order to prevail against the forces of the Drellian Empire, the Alliance will need the mutual respect and trust among the races. If the Alliance was to succeed, every attempt at strengthening the ties between races must be made.

The four major races, those that had Ranger teams, seem to understand better because of the actions of the Rangers to date. The cooperative effort Greg had made in defending Abraxis by recruiting the other Rangers was still fresh in their minds. However, the minor races had a little more difficulty understanding the need. To date, all of their extra-racial dealings had been peaceful, commercial interactions and agreements. Only one of those planets had a military, and that was more of an emergency response force than anything else.

All in all, the first meeting of the Alliance council went very well. While Carl had been the moderator, he refrained from entering the debates or offering his opinions. He was there simply as the moderator and nothing more. The humans had their own Ambassador to speak for them.

The event was broadcast to all the planets in the sector, whether they had joined the Alliance or not. The non-member worlds that were in the sector had a vested interest in the proceedings, so it was made available to them. It was also offered as a netcast via the TDI website on Earth. The site had grown so large that bandwidth requirements had forced them to expand the site over multiple servers. Those servers now resided on the moon and had been tied into the Internet. There was even a small part of TDI that hosted commercial web sites for products and services offered on other planets.

The commercial side of the Alliance was doing great.

Grimaldi Ridge was growing almost faster than the drones could get stuff built. Six months after Greg ordered the drones to begin construction on the base, it officially became a city of one hundred thousand beings. Not everything had been smooth, either. They had their share of issues, from racial intolerance issues to domestic assault and even theft. Grimaldi continued to grow, and as with any growing city, there were always problems.

Shortly after the Council meeting, Greg was moved from Stardust Medical Center at Grimaldi to the Struve Rim Military Medical Center in the new military base. It was there that Beth gave Greg the news about his recovery. At Greg's insistence, she called his family together.

"Okay Doc, everyone's here. Lay it on me," Greg said.

"This is gonna be one of those good news/bad news things, so what do you want first?" Beth asked.

Mandi already had tears in her eyes, Bella looked anxious and Jolene was scared. Greg smiled at all of them. "The bad is easier to deal with after the good. So give us the good news first please."

Beth nodded. "Okay, internally, you're doing very well, much better than any of us ever expected you to do. Most of the damage to your internal organs has been repaired and you are healing amazingly fast again. Additionally, we managed to rebuild your genitalia testes and prostrate. You should at the least regain full use of that organ, but we will have to wait and see if you will produce viable semen. As you already know, your right leg is almost completely restored and there is a better than expected prognosis for that as well. Basically, you are going to recover with no long term side effects from this injury."

"You didn't mention the left leg, Beth. Is that the bad news?" Jarad asked.

She nodded. "It is. I've consulted every specialist I can think of to find, trying to find some way to restore your leg. The problem is the nerves simply are not coming back. We rebuilt the hip and buttocks, but the nerves just aren't reforming. At this point, there really is only one alternative left if you want to fly again; cybernetic replacement."

"I kind of figured there was something going on when nothing seemed to be happening. So, what's the issue with giving me a cybernetic leg?" Greg asked.

"It involves some rather complex neurosurgery for one thing. We would also have to remove the hip we rebuilt and replace it with one strong enough to support the leg. Then the control connections would have to be made. As I understand it, the control matrix will have to be grafted to your spine. It's a very tricky surgery that has to be done at the same time as we are installing the leg. However, once it’’s done, the connections are finished and your central nervous system accepts the new matrix, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference between it and your real leg.

"If you make it that far, then you'll have to learn how to walk again. You're looking at a long rehab," Beth finished.

"What are the odds he'll reject the leg?" Sharon asked with tears in her eyes.

"Sixteen percent of humans reject the graft. The bad news is that if it does fail, he'll lose the left leg too, or worse. At that point, no further attempt can be made that isn't experimental and very dangerous. There is a chance that rejecting the graft will be fatal," Beth replied.

"What about non-cybernetic prosthetics? He won’t be able to fly again, but he'll still be alive, right?" Mandi asked.

Beth nodded. "We could fit him with a prosthetic leg, but he will only be able to walk with crutches since the prosthetic won't move."

"Not much of a choice, really," Greg said. "How soon can you do the cybernetic leg?"

"We can do it tomorrow, if that's your choice. Greg, think hard about this. Really think it through; this could kill you or paralyze you," Beth replied. "Talk to your loved ones. Listen to what they have to tell you. But, in the end, the choice is really yours to make. I'll leave you guys alone to discuss it," She said, and after kissing her daughter on the cheek, left the room.

"Well, I think you guys know what I want to choose. I also know Mandi is against it. Is anyone else?"

Struve Rim Training Base

Medical Center

Struve Crater, Selene

Earth's Moon, Sol System

Bella and Jolene were against the surgery, but understood why Greg wanted to have it. Jarad understood Greg's reasoning and agreed with him. However, Mandi and Sharon had to be convinced. In the end, they still weren't convinced, but agreed that the decision was Greg's.

Bella asked her mother to return to Greg's room so they could inform her of his decision. When Beth heard it, she wasn't surprised.

"Beth, I've decided to have the operation to install the cybernetic leg. However, before I do, I need to take care of a couple of things first. Will I have time for that or do I need to start getting ready now?" Greg asked.

"I kind of thought you would chose this. That's why I had Marcus begin building the leg and put the team on stand-by. There isn't much you need to do to get ready for this, so you should have the day to do what you need to get done. We scheduled the OR for oh-six-hundred tomorrow morning. Will you need more time than that?" Beth asked.

"I don't think so, I just need to talk to Delion before she leaves and do a couple of other small things. What do you mean by a team? So far it's just been you and Doctor Rainwater, hasn't it?" Greg asked.

"I'll let Delion know you want to talk before she leaves, be right back," Jarad said and stepped out.

Beth nodded at Greg's question. "Yes it has, but this is something entirely different. There will be four doctors working on you, with a crew of eight nurses assisting, as well as Marcus, Leonard and his medical nanomachines. One of the doctors, Doctor Hasbro, is also an engineer and will be the primary doctor installing the leg. Two others are neurosurgeons, and then there will be me." Greg had begun laughing at the doctor's name, and Beth grinned. "Be sure to razz him about the name when you meet him. He really does get a kick out of it."

“Who’s Leonard?” Greg asked.

“The new medical AI for the military base. He was named Leonard McCoy after the fictional medical officer from Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. While I approve of the name, I refuse to call him ‘Bones!” She replied.

"We have a cybernetic engineer already? How did that happen?" Mandi asked.

"When we recruited him, Michael was already one of the leading scientists working in the field of cybernetics and animated prosthetics. When he got up here, he pretty much sent himself back to school by diving into everything Abraxis had on the subject and even contacted medical professionals from other races to get their knowledge. He's probably one of the best, if not the best, cybernetic surgeon available in the galaxy. Marcus and Leonard, have formally asked Abraxis to record a new medical specialty for him and the other doctors studying this; Cybernetic Medicine.

"Anyway, I'll bring the Doctors by later so you can meet all of them, and we can go over the details involved in this procedure. Tomorrow is going to be a long day for all of us, Greg. It's very important we all get a good night's sleep," Beth finished.

"How long will this take, Beth?" Sharon asked.

"Both medical AI agree that under ideal conditions, it will take around ten hours. But, if we run longer, don't panic; it only means we ran into something else that needed to be dealt with. After the surgery, if everything goes smoothly, Greg should actually recover pretty quickly,” Beth replied.

"Greg, Delion said she'll be here in a few minutes," Jarad said as he returned to the room.

"Great, thanks Dad," Greg replied. "Doc, I thought I was the only patient here, how come there seems to be so much activity out there?" Greg asked and nodding to the door Jarad had just used.

"To begin with, you're not the only patient anymore. We have a lot of new recruits coming in that need help. You were the first, but about two hours ago, shuttles began arriving," Beth replied.

"We've been recruiting the training cadre we're going to need, Greg," Jarad began. "Most of those arriving here are from the list Wilma gave us, as well as a few others we got on our own. Some of them need some medical work done. If I could, I'd offer free treatment to all vets regardless if they joined us or not."

"That's a hell of an idea, Dad!" Greg replied. "See if there is a way we can either expand this facility in such a way as to accommodate them. I don't know how many takers we'll have, but it sure can't hurt to make the offer. Be sure to stress that treatment is not dependent on their joining us, and it is open to all countries that wish to use it."

"Greg, while I agree that is a very noble and honorable thing to offer, we're already stretched thin with recruitment and transportation. What you're suggesting will increase the load by an order of magnitude. I'll make the suggestion to Carl and the planning and construction people, but stress that it is a goal for the future, not something we need to do right now," Jarad replied. "The civilian medical facility is running at maximum capacity as it is, and we need to make sure we don't max out this one, or we won't be able to treat our own soldiers."

Greg nodded. "You're right, I guess I just get over exited sometimes. There is so much we can do to help, that it's easy to forget that so much help is needed it would overwhelm us."

"We do what we can, as we can, Son," Jarad replied. "We'll get there, we just need to keep plugging along."

Greg nodded. "Yeah, I know. So, Mandi, how's your research going?"

The family talked until Delion arrived, and then politely left. They did have duties to get back to.

"Commander, you wanted to see me?" Delion asked as she entered the room.

"Delion, how many times do I have to tell you that, when we're alone, you can call me Greg?" Greg replied smiling. "You used to do that."

"That was before you got promoted. Before we were social equals, now I am your subordinate," Delion replied reasonably.

Greg shook his head. "Not really, you're my co-worker. We are equals, I just have different duties than you do. I am still just a Ranger Fighter, the same as you. In fact, I'm not even that at the moment!" he grinned and waved at his covered lower half.

She smirked at him. "Even if you cannot function as a Fighter, you will still be the Commander. As such, you are my superior."

"I'm also your friend, so please call me Greg, Okay?" Greg asked.

She sighed. "I will. What did you need to see me about, Greg?"

Greg smiled at her in return. "I wanted to tell you that you did a great job at the meeting. Even though you do not agree with my plan for integrating the military, you explained it very well."

"Actually, after hearing what Abraxis had to say on the matter, I am more inclined to agree with you. She did have some very good points," Delion replied. "Without the trust and ingrained cooperation from our military, the Alliance would fall apart right after our first major set-back. Add to that a mixed crew, it shows that no single race will be favored over the others, and it would serve to reassure the member races. I was in error to disagree with you, I simply had not thought it through as far as you had."

Greg nodded. "You would have eventually. You're a bit more open-minded than some of our contemporaries. I even had to convince Jarad of the need for it. Fighter Joyce had simply assumed it would be that way as that made the most sense to her." He shrugged. "Each individual is different, and we all have our own ways of resolving problems we are confronted with."

"Is that what you wanted to speak to me about?" She asked.

"No, not really," he hesitated. "I've chosen to undergo an experimental medical procedure that has the potential to end badly for me. As my second, I wanted to make certain you could pick up for me if that were to happen. Don't get me wrong, I intend to fully recover, but this needs to be done anyway, so it might as well be done now. Abraxis, please secure the room, and enter privacy mode."

As Abraxis acknowledged the order, Delion looked very uncomfortable. "Greg, I'm not… this is something I do not wish to discuss. Nothing will happen to you, of that I am certain."

"I understand, Delion. I appreciate your confidence in me more than I can tell you, but even if nothing happens to me during this surgery, there is still the possibility I could die in combat. Hell, any of us could. But as leaders, it is our duty to make certain any knowledge we have is not lost with us. I know it's unpleasant, but it is a necessity."

She nodded. "I understand."

"Okay, now, tell me; what would you do if you found the kill codes for the Abraxis Prime Nexus?" Greg asked.

The question took her completely by surprise, and her reply was guarded. "There is little that knowledge could be used for at this point. There is no way it could be used or to ensure its delivery. If the Prime Nexus learned of our knowledge, it would destroy the entire sector just to ensure its destruction. Any attempt to use that knowledge would give the Prime Nexus that knowledge, thus destroying our sector."

Greg sighed in relief. "What I am about to tell you cannot leave this room, do you understand? We cannot even tell the Council."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "You found it, didn't you? You have the sacred code." It was a statement, and not a question.

Greg nodded. "Abraxis discovered it encoded in my Fixer's DNA. He has used it to create a counter-virus that prevents his infection by the Prime Nexus."

Delion looked confused for a moment. "Greg, that is not possible. If you had the entire code, it would have deactivated him completely."

"He is only a node of the main AI, how could it deactivate him?" Greg asked.

"Two years ago, when I took over from my predecessor, a kit was born that held what we believed to be the sacred code. As you know, we screen all our children at birth for the genetic markers required of Rangers. This is now simply part of our post-natal care given to all children.

"The scan is not done by Abraxis or one of his AI, but by our own medical technicians. We deduced that if the sacred code was real, it had to be hidden in a living organism in order to survive the eons. So all such scans are handled by technicians. Abraxis has no knowledge of our discovery, we felt that if he had this knowledge, and he was somehow subverted, it would lead to our destruction.

"After a long and very heated discussion by our rulers, it was decided that all knowledge of the code must remain one of our closest guarded secrets until such time as it could be used with a reasonable chance of success. However, if your code did not shut down Abraxis, perhaps our code is not complete either," she finished.

"Perhaps, I ordered all knowledge of our code to be sealed and classified. Abraxis knows of it, but will not disclose any knowledge of it. I think, what we need is someone that understands how Abraxis operates to evaluate the codes to tell us what's really going on with them. In the meantime, we still need to keep all knowledge of the codes classified," Greg said.

"I agree, this information can only serve to get us into more trouble at this point," Delion replied.

"It has been mentioned that we use our part of the code to retake Drellian nodes back from the Prime Nexus. However, doing so would let the Prime know we have the at least part of the code," Greg said, thinking aloud. "That would still get us into trouble at this point. However, we do need to know if the adjacent sectors are Drellian controlled or not. This isolation between nodes prevents the spread of the Drellian virus, yes, but it also helps the Prime Nexus by keeping us from banding together to destroy it.

"We need to build a military large enough to defend ourselves from most attacks, then reach out and explore the possibility of either rescuing our neighbors or recruiting them. Before that though, we need to make damn sure our own people are protected. That has to remain our highest priority.

"When I became a Ranger, I asked Abraxis to do a few things in order to ensure his protection. One was the creation of the remote transmission drones we are using for communications now. It scrambles his communications, spreading it out over a wide area that makes it impossible for the Drellians to lock onto his current position.

"One of the other things I asked him to do was to create a number of secure vaults that contain full back-ups of his entire program and data. At present, he is no longer aware of those vaults, but a hidden code will active the next node in the event of his destruction. He is not even aware of the constant back-up of data that goes out to them. At present only two people know of all the locations that were built; myself and my Fixer, Mandi. I'd share that information with you, but there is no need. Abraxis will notify you when a new node is activated. I can tell you that there are a total of eighteen of these hidden vaults spread out all over the sector.

"That's about it for what I had to tell you," Greg replied. "Not much I know, but important nonetheless."

She nodded. "Yes, they are very important. You have done much more to protect this sector than anyone will ever know, Greg. I will do my best to carry on in your place if the need ever arises, though I pray it never will."

Greg grinned. "No one lives forever, Delion. All we can do is the best we can in the time we're given." He looked up at the ceiling. "Abraxis, we're done now, you can stand down from privacy and secure mode."

"Resuming normal operations, Commander," Abraxis replied, receiving the message since he was addressed directly.

Later that evening, Beth did bring the Doctors by to see Greg as she promised. One of the first things Greg asked was if his new leg was going to be built from toy building blocks.

One of the men burst out laughing. "I see my name has preceded me! No, there will be nothing of the toy in the new leg, but some of the principles used will be the same." The doctor then explained how the leg was designed and built. But when he finished, he gave Greg a poke of his own. "So, we will need you to come back in every two-hundred thousand miles for a tune up and an oil change!"

"I don't know, will you clean my windshield and check the air in my tires too?" Greg replied without missing a beat.

All four doctors got a laugh out of that. "But seriously, Commander, you will need to stop in from time to time so we can evaluate how well the leg is functioning, and make any adjustments that are needed. In reality, the prosthetic will be more biological than mechanical; it'll draw power from your body the same as your other limbs, but you might notice a slight increase in appetite due to the increased power requirements, but other than that, you shouldn't be able to tell the difference at all, if you can, we need to know about it so we can make adjustments. To begin with, there will need to be adjustments made. Think of it as fine tuning it to your body. That'll happen while you're learning how to use it again. There will be a monitor on it for the first little while so we can watch how well it reacts to your commands and to make sure the nerve grafts are not having issues," Doctor Hasbro replied.

Greg nodded his understanding. "That makes sense to me. I'll try to make sure I keep a journal for you as well, so you can get better data on this."

"That would be fabulous, Commander, Thank you," Hasbro replied.

"Okay, so tell me about the odds and why they're only eighty-four percent?" Greg asked the others.

"Well, to put it as simply as possible, everyone's brain is different and functions differently than everyone else. Don't get me wrong here, there is a lot that each individual has in common with everyone else, but the exact location of a specific nerve cluster might vary somewhat from individual to individual. I would also like to mention that eighty-four percent success rate is for normal civilians.

"In your case, the odds are greater because your body has been very well scanned and mapped out; in the event something like this surgery would ever be needed. I would say that your odds of success are closer to ninety-four percent because of that. Still there is a possibility of failure due to an unforeseen complication. One such complication I can foresee is the unknown reason the nerve clusters for your leg are not reforming. We can't explain that yet, but we will be finding out during the surgery.

"You don't need to worry about that, though because there is a lot we can do based on what we find. I'm pretty confident we'll have you back on your feet in no time," the woman Beth introduced as Doctor Gail Jeffreys explained.

With that, Beth got down to explaining exactly what was planned for the surgery and how things would progress. There was a lot of work these four were going to be doing and that in itself was somewhat disconcerting. Greg understood they needed to make sure he understood what they were going to be doing, but the scale of it did little to put his mind at ease.

"Now that we've finished scaring the hell out of you, I'll order a sedative for you to make sure you get some sleep," Beth replied, accessing the terminal controlling the bed he was in. "Before I hit the enter key, and put you to sleep, do you have any questions for us?"

"No, no questions. Doctors, I have every faith in you and your skills. I believe that you are the best chance I have of not only getting through this, but of walking again. If something does go south in there, I want you to know I believe in you and that you will have done your absolute best for me. Thank you," Greg said making eye contact with all of them.

"We won't let you down, Greg." Beth replied.

Greg smiled up at her bravely. "I know, Beth."

She hit the 'enter' key and Greg immediately fell asleep.

"What an amazing young man. That description would have scared the hell out of me, and I know exactly what's going to happen!" Glen Hasbro replied.

Beth nodded. "He is a very special person, and not just because he's my son-in-law. You've all seen the reports from Harclen, there is no way in hell he should have survived, but here he is now, almost fully recovered from that."

"You know, I got to thinking about those injuries he suffered," Glen said, thoughtfully. "Is it possible that he might have been contaminated by the bioskin hull of the hypersled? The bioskin would be gone by now, but it would certainly explain the failure of the nerve cluster reformation."

"How do you mean?" Beth asked.

"Well, the bioskin is basically a living organism. Could it have tried to heal itself while inside his body? Since it uses micro-sensors instead of nerves, it could have simply shut that 'function' down in the local area," he explained.

Gail Jeffreys nodded. "I suppose that is possible, but how could the bioskin even attempt to repair itself when surrounded by incompatible tissue? It's supposed to simply die out when that happens."

"I'll go back over the records from Harclen tonight and see what I can find," Beth said. "There was a lot of exotic radiation in that blast, so I guess just about anything is possible."

Glen shook his head. "Yeah, but if he got contaminated by mutated bioskin, what effect will that have on him internally? It could also explain how rapidly he healed from this. Knowing this, do we dare proceed?"

"Currently, there is no trace of exotic radiation in his system. So, if there were still fragments of bioskin present, they should be detectable. Let's not borrow trouble; I'll go over the records and data from his initial examination and see what I can find. If I find anything, I'll let all of you know right away," Beth replied.

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Jarad mentioned to Carl about how Greg wanted to expand the facilities to help Earth's veterans and how he'd explained that it couldn't be done right now. Carl just smiled and nodded.

"Greg does like to help people, doesn't he?" he typed on his keyboard and brought up a hologram of a space station. "This is something I've been playing with in my spare time. I'd planned to have it built in planetary orbit, but basically, it's a huge hospital. Of course, it has all the facilities it would need to function, including staff housing and the like, but mostly its sole function would be medical care.

"It started out as only a facility to treat veterans, but it kind grew to include just about everyone. It's a pipe dream right now, but maybe, eventually, we can do something like this," Carl replied.

"Maybe, eventually it won't need to be in orbit. Speaking of things in orbit, I'd heard that Ned's team was working on an orbital defense satellite?" Jarad asked mentioning Jolene's father.

"They are, and for the most part it's finished and ready to be built. However, they are looking into ways to track and destroy hypersleds. They are holding off on releasing the design until they can incorporate that," Carl said.

Jarad snorted. "That's easy; keep it simple. All they need to do is build a few special flak cannons. That'll keep any Drellian sleds honest."

"Flak Cannons? How could those even have any effect?" Carl asked.

"Build a mass driver that fires a small canister. The canister carries what amounts to anti-matter double ought buckshot. When the canister gets to the target area, it fires the buckshot in the direction of the sleds. Use a metal that holds the magnetic containment of the anti-matter for a set amount of time so they self-destruct. There you have it; anti-matter flak cannons," Jarad explained.

Carl sat, thoughtful for a moment. "You know, that would work. They could even be adapted for use as point defense weapons on the ships we're building!"

"I thought we were going with a type of mass driver CWIZ hybrid?" Jarad asked referring to the point defense weapons used by most naval ships on Earth.

"We are, but if we can modify them to use a type of cluster munition instead of a single projectile, that would work even better!" Carl replied. "Do you mind if I pass this along to the designers?"

"Not at all, if it helps, then I'm glad I suggested it," Jarad replied.

Carl made a note on his tablet. "Has there been any word on Greg?"

Jarad shook his head. "No, but Beth did warn us that it would be a long surgery."

"The IT folks reported that the site has been flooded with cards and emails wishing him the best and a speedy recovery. There are almost a million people waiting on the site for news about him. If you have time, could you log in and post something to help calm them down?" Carl asked.

"Sure, I can do that," Jarad replied, but was interrupted by Helen, Carl's assistant. "Sir, you need to turn on CNN right away. The President is in trouble."

"Thanks Helen," Carl replied and had the news channel come up on the wall monitor.

"…rumors being spread about the President's involvement with her long-time executive assistant. Sources close to the presidential guard detail have reported that they had been threatened with termination and legal action if they said anything about the President's personal lifestyle.

"In related news, growing concerns about the mental stability of the President in light of her almost paranoid report to congress about the United States intelligence community has prompted many in Congress to call for her to take a leave of absence while she undergoes mental evaluation at Walter Reed. In a closed session of Congress last week, the President all but accused the intelligence community of running a shadow government. Although a copy of her report has not been released, it has been said she used words like Illuminati when referring to the current leaders of the NSA and CIA. She also supposedly strongly hinted that her office as well as the entire Congress were little more than puppets used to cover the real actions of the 'true leaders' of our nation. There has been no reply as yet from the White House on these accusations. We will report more as soon as more information becomes available.

"The self-proclaimed Terran Defense Initiative web site is over flowing with well-wishers today as one of their leaders and TDI founders, Greg Albright is undergoing surgery to repair damage sustained in combat. Alicia Givens is live at Stardust Medical Center on the moon. Alicia?"

"Thanks Tom, as most of you know, Ranger Fighter Greg Albright was badly injured last month during a short battle with Drellian forces in the asteroid belt of the Harclen star system. We've been told that Commander Albright has recovered from most of those injuries due to the advanced medical care available from the doctors here. However, there was a problem with the replacement of the Commander's left leg, and he chose to undergo a dangerous, experimental surgery that will attach a cybernetic leg in place of his missing limb. That surgery began four hours ago.

"Of course, we can't get specific details about the Commander's condition, but we have been able to find out that the Commander has a very good chance of making a full recovery. At present, there has been no word from anyone here to indicate exactly how that surgery is going, Tom?"

"I'm sorry Alicia, but did you say the replacement of his limb? They can do that?" the talking head asked.

"Yes Tom, I did say replacement. They wouldn't go into details of the process, but apparently a missing limb can be cloned from a person's DNA and artificially grown to match the limb that was lost. The same process can be used to replace damaged or destroyed internal organs as well. I did find out that only the organ or limb in question is grown, and not an entire body. When I asked the doctor about the moral aspects of this procedure, he said there weren't any moral issues, they were simply using a part of a person's body to heal another part, not unlike a skin graft or hair transplant."

"I don't see how a skin graft can compare to regrowing a person's missing leg. Thank you Alicia, let us know if there are any new developments."

"I will, Tom."

"That was Alicia Givens reporting from Grimaldi Ridge on the moon." Carl switched it off then. "It looks like Wilma might be in trouble."

"Yeah, once they get her taken to Walter Reed, I doubt she'll ever be seen in public again," Jarad replied. "It was Greg's intention to save her and her wife's lives. I should get a team ready, and have Abraxis begin tracking them."

"How do you think they'll play this?" Carl asked.

"They send Marine one to Walter Reed as a public show they moved her, but in reality, they'll take her out to the country someplace and shoot her in the head. Probably one of their special 'safe' houses in the Virginia countryside. We'll have to hit them before they get there, or we'll be too late." Jarad replied.

Carl nodded. "It's your call, Jarad. Do what you need to do."

Carl's comm beeped again. "Sir, your eleven o'clock is here."

"Thanks Helen, I'll be right with them," Carl replied. "Holly and Sam Branson of Virgin Universe. They want to open a resort up here."

Jarad chuckled and shook his head. "Be sure to remind them that this will eventually be a combat zone."

"Actually, I was going to ask them to consider handling the civilian long range transportation. Maybe if I can get one of them up here, the others will follow suit," Carl replied. "United Airlines has been making some noises about it, and Qantas will most likely be asking about joining us."

"I thought Virgin bought Qantas?" Jarad asked.

Carl shook his head. "Nope, they tried, but the deal fell through."

"Well, have fun!" Jarad said as he left the office.

It turned out that Jarad and his team were almost too late. While he was correct in assuming they would take her to one of the 'safe houses' he underestimated how close the chosen one was to the capitol.

Joyce and her team provided support and air cover while Jarad and a team of Marines prepared to assault the small convoy. Sharon placed a holographic projector that showed a collapsed bridge, the other two sleds hacked the vehicles and shut them down. The assault shuttle jammed communications until all the vehicles were stopped and then stunned the occupants of the vehicles closest to the one carrying the president and her wife. That left two vehicles full of intelligence agents at each end of the convoy able to fight.

The hypersleds used particle projection cannons to keep the agents pinned down. They would do the least damage to the environment and wouldn't blind the agents. That didn't stop Jarad's team from using stun grenades on them though. Once the agents were neutralized, the shuttle landed beside the big SUV holding the President and her wife, loaded them and the team up, and took off just as reinforcements arrived from the 'farm' they had been heading to. The assault had been close enough that the agents guarding the property had heard the weapons fire.

Joyce reset the vehicle systems and escorted the shuttle back to the moon. The entire assault took less than an hour and left the intelligence community scratching their heads. They had the additional worry of what would happen now that they no longer had control of the President.

When the President came to, she was confused until she saw the armor on the soldiers, and Jarad's smiling face.

"Welcome to the Terran Defense Initiative, Madam President," Jarad replied.

Wilma sighed and nodded as she grinned. "Thank you, Agent Danielson. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it. How's Sherry?" she asked taking the hand of the unconscious woman next to her.

"Sleeping off the rest of the stun, Ma'am. She should be awake shortly," one of the Marines replied. On the Marine's left breast plate was a small red cross denoting him as the squad medic.

Wilma smiled at him. "Thanks Doc." She looked back at Jarad. "I'm not really the President anymore, if anything I'm just an escaped mental patient."

"Madam President, they were not taking you to Walter Reed Memorial for evaluation. They were taking you out to one of their isolated 'safe houses' to kill you," Jarad replied. "Even retired presidents still retain their title; besides, I'm not an agent anymore either."

Wilma nodded. "I kind of thought that was the case. If they had been really taking me to Walter Reed, they would have put us in the chopper and not an SUV. So, what happens to us now?"

"Officially? I have no idea how the intel folks are going to play it. Most likely, they'll claim we kidnapped or killed you in an effort to spread distrust about us." He shrugged, "We'll deal with that when it happens. As far as what will happen when we get to the moon, that's mostly up to you. Greg only wanted me to save you if you needed it; he didn't leave any other instructions. I suppose we'll officially grant you political asylum or something, but what happens is mostly up to you and your wife to decide."

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see how this plays out on Earth before deciding how to handle it. Neither of us have any skill that would be of use to you. Our whole lives have been wrapped up in politics and that's the only thing I've ever been good at," Wilma replied.

"Not true, Hon," Sherry said from beside her. "Yes, you've been into politics since we were in high school, but your strength has always been in economics. In fact, that's what won you the last election if you remember; the people wanted someone that could get a handle on that monster deficit. You would have had it, too, if not for the damn Senate!"

"I think it might go a bit deeper than just the Senate, Sherry. We did make some inroads, and we did reduce it quite a bit, but I imagine that will change pretty rapidly now that Justin will be taking office," Wilma said. "That man can't even balance his own checkbook!" She turned back to look at Jarad. "I don’t mean to change the subject, but how is Greg doing? They've kept us pretty isolated the last could of days so we haven't heard anything."

"Currently, he's still in surgery, but at this point…" Jarad said but was interrupted by Wilma.

"Wait, another surgery? What for this time?"

"You have been out of the loop. The doctors told Greg that he was recovering nicely, but they would be unable to regrow his left leg due to the amount of damage suffered in that area. So, he opted for a cybernetic leg. The scary part of that is that we are not exactly like the humans Abraxis has records of in his database, and this procedure has never been performed on one of us. Basically, everything about it is experimental.

"In the humans Abraxis has records of, this procedure had an almost twenty percent failure rate. However, because Greg is a Ranger, his body has been scanned and mapped in far more detail than a standard citizen would have been. That increases his odds by about ten percent.

"If it fails, the best case is he will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Worst case is he won't wake up from the surgery. Because of the nature of this procedure, if it fails, it cannot be attempted again. But, even knowing the odds, he chose this," Jarad replied.

"I thought your Alliance medical technology was very advanced; this should be a walk in the park, right?" Sherry asked.

"Normally, it would be. But the type of damage Greg suffered has a major effect on this. He was exposed to a lot of exotic radiation that affected the nerves and internal organs. The medical AI involved in the case projected a minimum of ten hours for the surgery." He looked at his watch. "They are fifteen minutes into the eleventh hour now."

Struve Rim Training Base

Medical Center

Struve Crater, Selene

Earth's Moon, Sol System

Waking up this time wasn't as bad as he thought it would be. It was more like waking up from a regular sleep than from surgery. Slowly, he became aware of pain. He could feel both his legs and they hurt; they both hurt.

Greg groaned from the pain which got Beth's attention. She turned from the monitor she was checking and looked down at him. "Welcome back, how are you feeling?"

"Damn Doc, if I'd have known it was going to hurt this much I would have taken the dumb leg!" Greg replied. "Jesus this hurts!"

"I know Greg, and I'm sorry for it, but we can't give you any pain killers yet. We had to purge what was in your system in order to make the neural connections. Now we need to make sure they're connected before we can give you anymore. Let me call Glen and Gail and we'll get it taken care of," Beth replied.

"Okay, do what you need to. I promise I won't run away," Greg said, gritting his teeth.

"Doctor Grien, I have notified your colleagues and they are on their way," a soft baritone voice said into the room.

Beth smiled. "Thank you Leonard. May I introduce you to our patient?"

"Please do Doctor," the voice replied.

"Greg, it is my honor and privilege to introduce you to Struve Base's Medical AI, Leonard McCoy, MD. Leonard, this is Ranger Fighter Greg Albright, Commander of our Alliance Military Forces," Beth finished.

"It is a true honor to make your acquaintance Commander Albright. However, I do wish it could have been under better circumstances," the AI replied.

"I do too, Bones. I'd like to thank you for your part in helping me get better. As I understand it, this latest surgery was not your normal thing," Greg replied.

"You are very welcome. No, your case is not normal in most contexts. In many ways, you are a very fascinating person, Sir." The AI replied.

"I think I'll take that as a complement, Bones. Beth explained why I can't have any pain killers right now, but could one of you please explain why it hurts so damn bad to begin with?" Greg asked.

"Certainly Commander. To put it in the simplest possible terms, your body is reacting to trauma of the alterations we made to it. In time, your body will adjust to those alterations. As it adjusts, the pain will decrease until you no longer feel it. Try to look at it this way; when you are wounded, the pain you feel is your body telling you something has changed. Over time, as it heals, the pain diminishes. The pain you are feeling right now is because you have not healed from the surgery," Leonard explained. "We will administer analgesics once we have verified that what was done is working correctly. The doctors would have been here already except you awoke sooner than predicted."

"Ah, okay," Greg replied. "How long did it take?"

"Thirteen hours, twenty one minutes," Beth replied. "I won't bore you with the details but we had to do a bit more work in there than we had anticipated. It seems the type of radiation you were exposed to prohibited the nerve clusters from forming. So we had to create artificial ones as an interface between you and the leg."

"Okay, so why can I feel the leg, but not move it?" Greg asked.

"We have the motor control system extremely retarded at the moment. We'll adjust it as we go to minimize the stress on the hip joint. Once the hip finishes healing and you learn to control the leg, those restrictions will no longer be needed," Leonard replied.

"Intellectually, I understand that. But it's really hard to accept it when I'm in this much pain," Greg replied.

"Well, then, let's get this over with so we can give you some good drugs!" Glen Hasbro said from the doorway.

Gail got him first. She tested his tactile responses and feeling. Making sure he could feel with the artificial nerves in his new leg. She poked him with blunt and sharp instruments then checked for warm and cold with a flat tool and finally, she used a feather to tickle him.

At first, his responses were exaggerated. When she poked him it felt like he'd been shot, and cried out. She made some adjustments on one of the machines he was hooked up to and he was surprised to feel the pain in that leg subside greatly. He told them that too.

"I owe you an apology, Greg," Gail told him with real regret on her face. "I thought I had the sensitivity turned way down, but it looks like it wasn't far enough. The settings I had were actually amplifying the pain somewhat, and I am sorry for that."

Once she got the settings dialed in, he still hurt, but it not nearly as bad. "Thanks Doc; this is a first for all of us, so don't worry so much about hurting me. Now you know where the settings should be, so you'll have a better idea next time if you need to do this again."

She smiled at him. "It was a mistake I should not have made, Greg. I guess those artificial clusters are far more sensitive than we imagined."

"Well, it does still hurt, but it's more of a dull, throbbing ache now than like it was before," Greg replied.

"Okay, I think you're about where you should be now. We can look at it again later when more of the pain has subsided," Gail replied.

When she stepped back, Hasbro took her place. "Before we start, I will also apologize. What I'm going to ask you to do is going to hurt; maybe a lot. We need to know if the connections are right, but because of the stress on the hip, the motor response has been reduced. It's going to feel like your leg is buried under concrete. Ready to start?"

Greg nodded. "Sure, only way to get it over with right?"

Glen smiled at him. "Okay, try moving your toes for me,"

Greg concentrated but couldn't move. Glen nodded and typed on the same console Gail had worked on. "I'm increasing the response factor. Please try again."

It took a while, but he did get his toes to move. Glen had him move up the leg slowly and made adjustments almost every step of the way. By the time they got up to the hip, Greg was sweating and really gritting his teeth against the pain.

"One last test, and this one will be the hardest; I need you to try to lift your leg slightly. If I tell you to stop, please do so immediately." Glen instructed.

By the time Greg got the leg to lift even slightly off the bed, he was in tears. Glen told him to stop and Greg gratefully relaxed those muscles and let the leg fall back to the bed. He groaned. "Physical therapy is going to suck so bad!"

Before he heard a reply, he felt the mellow wash of a pain killer flowing over him, muting the pain and making him groggy.

"There, is that better?" Beth asked.

"Whoa. Damn Beth, did you just pour a gallon of whiskey in my IV or something?" Greg asked.

"Nope, something much better. In about five minutes, that'll put you back to sleep. We need to get the last of the anesthetic out of your system and sleeping will help you heal. You'll be out until tomorrow morning, so we're going to let Leonard close up the bed so he can keep working on your hip. I'll let the family know how you’re doing, but you won't get any visitors until tomorrow after lunch," Beth replied.

Greg nodded slowly: the drugs were really hitting him. "Good prognosis then?"

Gail nodded to him. "So far everything looks pretty good. So yes, good prognosis, but only time will tell. You could still reject the graft, but there is no indication of that yet."

"Cool," Greg replied and closed his eyes. He was asleep.

Medical and Cybernetic Center

Monlith Prime

Monlith System

Drellian Imperial Directorate

"Harkness Thyreen, our Master has a mission for you."

"I guess you hadn't heard, Prime; my team is dead. Go torture someone else," the human replied.

"I know your team is dead, Harkness. This mission will not require a team, just you," the deep voice of the Prime Nexus replied. "While you were asleep, I down loaded the mission files to you as well as any special skill and languages you will need. I have also prepared a craft for you. Your hypersled would be detected by the local Ranger teams."

"What do you mean 'downloaded'? I am not a machine like you, Prime. I'm human; I don't have processors and memory," Harkness replied.

"While you still retain the outward appearance of being human, you are, in fact, no longer human; or rather, no longer just human," Prime said. "You have been cybernetically enhanced to have greater strength, speed, and intelligence than you had before. Basically, all of your racial weaknesses have been corrected. Now you are a perfect warrior for our Master."

"I’m a perfect warrior? I am surprised you let me live; I failed to contain the uprising on my planet, resulting in the loss of my team and our base there," Harkness replied.

"Your planet has been dealt with, Harkness. The failure on your planet was not of your doing. You no longer need worry about it," Prime replied. "Your ship is awaiting you on pad twenty-three, delta. You will depart at once. You will be briefed on the mission after you have made the jump to hyperspace. End of Line."

'It's nice to know I still have a purpose,' Harkness thought to himself. 'But I wonder what Prime meant by having dealt with Syrandia?'

With that thought in his head, Ranger Fighter Harkness Thyreen put on his flight suit and headed for pad twenty-three delta. He was still thinking about the people of his homeworld when he arrived and saw a large passenger shuttle waiting on the landing pad.

'Well, Prime did say my hypersled would be detected, but wouldn't this be much easier for them to detect?' He asked himself. To make certain, he sought out the flight operations officer.

"Flight Master, I am Fighter Thyreen. Is that ship out there the one for me?"

"It is, Fighter. It is the most advanced spyship I've ever built," the officer said. "I've made sure there is a full briefing on its systems available to you. Also, Prime was very specific on how we were to outfit it. You should be very comfortable on your journey."

"I do not understand, how were you told to outfit it?" Harkness asked.

"We rigged it almost like a personal luxury craft. It is designed for you to live in for an extended period of time, yet still be able to perform a wide variety of functions; all without being detected," the officer replied proudly.

"Not detected? It's a stealth ship then?" Harkness asked.

The officer nodded his head. "Very much so. It has the latest stealth technology we have built into it. Like I said, there is a full briefing awaiting you," the officer replied.

"Very well, I will be going then. Thank you for your time and efforts, Flight Officer," Harkness replied.

"It was my duty, Fighter. Say, aren't you Syrandian?" the officer asked.

"Yes I am," Harkness replied, curious.

"Ah, my condolences then. May your people find peace in the next world. Safe Journey Fighter," the officer said and moved off to his next job.

Harkness watched him go, wondering what he meant by that. Syrandia was a thriving world of ten billion that produced food for other planets in their sector. It had always been peaceful until…

Prime said Syrandia had been dealt with.

In order to quell the rebellion on the planet, Prime had destroyed it before the rebellion could spread. His home was now gone. Utterly and totally gone. Ten billion souls, men and women who worked to provide food for other worlds, destroyed because they wanted better health care and improved living conditions.

Numbly, Harkness turned and boarded the shuttle. He launched and noticed that there was already a flight plan programmed into the navigational computer. Once in orbit, he turned on the autopilot and let the craft do the flying. After it made the preprogrammed jump into hyperspace, he left the cockpit to investigate the rest of the ship.

It was a small freighter that had been turned into a luxury yacht. However, there did seem to be a rather large part of the ship that had been dedicated to the computers and data storage. He got himself a hot cup of janvra and took a seat in the lounge are of the ship.

As soon as he sat down, his eyes closed, and his head tipped back to rest on the cushion behind him. The data Prime had mentioned flowed into his brain from his new internal computer systems. There was a lot of information. He was surprised to see that his objective was a planet of humans. Although slightly smaller, this planet was almost identical to what Syrandia had been. However, they had not developed even interplanetary space flight. Greed and corruption were rampant on the world and his mission was to use that condition to subvert them into becoming vassals of the Empire.

He was to give them the technology stored in his ship and guide them in how to use it. Advise them on how to take over the other planets in the sector and expand even more. It was his mission to create another Empire based from the planet Earth.

Harkness had been a Fighter for a long time. He knew what living under imperial rule was like. Maybe, if he handled things correctly, this new empire would be better than the old one had been. He would have to be very careful though. Earth had a Ranger team now. Granted they were new and still very young, but they had to be something special in order to orchestrate the destruction of three Drellian teams so easily. Yes, he would have to be very careful.

He had plenty of time to think on a plan of action. It would take the better part of two months to get where he was going. Fair enough, the more time he had, the better and more detailed his plan could become.

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

Carl had met Wilma and Sherry at the terminal where Jarad's shuttle had dropped them off. She was surprised when none of the Marines got off with them, and only Jarad escorted them to the entry portal, where he left them.

"This isn't our stop, Madam President. We have to go over to the military part of the base, turn in our weapons, shower, and debrief. I'll catch up to you in a couple of hours. In the meantime, Carl is waiting for you on the far side of the gate," Jarad explained.

Sherry giggled. "You folks have the TSA up here as well?"

Jarad shook his head. "Nothing nearly as bad as that. This is simply a weapons screening as well as a brief health check. Lethal weapons are not allowed in the civilian areas of Grimaldi Base, and only the peace officers carry stunners. The health check is to make sure a contagion isn't brought in. This is the only way into the city, ladies, even Ambassadors have to go through this.

"Which reminds me, I wanted to remind you that we do have a lot of non-humans here now. Technically, they outnumber humans here. However, most of them are actually out working on projects but are only based here. I'm sure Carl will tell you all about it," he finished.

"Thanks again, Jarad, for saving our lives," Wilma said kindly.

Jarad smiled and winked at her before turning and walking back to the shuttle. Wilma took Sherry's hand and they walked into the archway that opened at their approach.

Wilma was surprised that it didn't take longer to screen them. Of course, they had no baggage or personal belongings except for the clothes they were wearing, so maybe that was it. However, she was surprised when she and Sherry left the entry gate and found not only Carl Hollister, but Alicia Givens and four other reporters waiting for them.

Carl stood and smiled at the two women. "Madam President and First Lady, welcome to Grimaldi Ridge. I hope your trip up was uneventful?"

She couldn't help it, Wilma started laughing. "Yes, very uneventful for us. Thank you Governor."

Carl chuckled and nodded to her. "The full video of your rescue is available to you if you want to see it. No one was harmed in your escape." He said and turned to introduce his companions. "As you know, Madam President, everything we do up here, at least on the civilian side of things, is generally public knowledge. Now while what happened to you is still a secret on Earth, we do not make it a habit of keeping important issues from the public. These reporters would like to ask you a million questions, but they already know that we don't want their reports sent until the United States responds to your rescue. However, you will be listed as new arrivals in our daily logs, and those do get published. You will be listed by name and not title, it's just the way we do things." Then he introduced each of the reporters.

Wilma smiled at them. "We really appreciate that you’re not mobbing us. If it would be alright, can we talk later? We're still new here and would like to figure out a few things before we get overwhelmed."

"No Problem, Madam President. We didn't actually think you would really be up to answering questions right now, and besides, at this point, I don't think the real story would be accepted anyway. We just wanted to come along and add our welcome to that of Governor Hollister's," Alicia replied for her group.

"Whatever happened on Earth, at the least you have survived the ordeal, Madam President," Anubha Bhan, an AP reporter from India, added. "Welcome to a very different and exciting new world."

The other reporters shook the new-comers hands and welcomed them to the moon. The last man, an Australian named Seth Harlow, added, "When we do talk, there will be a couple of others there with us. They would have come this afternoon, but did not want to overwhelm you since they're not exactly from around here."

"Really? Why would alien reporters even be interested?" Wilma asked.

"It's part of what I was trying to get you to understand in our earlier conversations. Our allies are pretty peaceful and have grown to the point where a few of them really don't understand life on Earth. Because we are so violent and warlike, we tend to make the other races pretty nervous. Two races have refused to join the alliance because they are scared of us more than they fear the Drellians. Yet, even with that fear, they refuse to create a military to defend themselves. So, having their reporters here is part of a major effort to get them to accept the Alliance and to reassure them we have no intention of harming them in anyway."

"Kind of a galactic public relations campaign?" Wilma asked.

Carl grinned. "Well, not galactic, but in our little corner of the galaxy at least." He nodded over his shoulder, "Come on, I'll show you around and take you to your new apartment. It's getting on towards evening here, and I'm sure you two would like to rest up after the events of the day."

The group left the spaceport and entered the large main plaza. The reporters excused themselves and departed, leaving the two new arrivals alone with Carl. However, there were quite a few people that took notice of the new arrivals and began whispering to each other.

"I take it, not everyone knew we were coming, Carl?" Wilma asked quietly.

"No one knew, Wilma," Carl replied. "We intentionally did not let knowledge of your rescue out so your government wouldn't know what we intended. Now that it's after the fact, we'll let everyone know you've joined us. We'll keep it as low key as possible, but the people on Earth will eventually figure it out. There are simply too many people that watch us up here. In fact, the web cams have already seen you."

"Is that smart? Aren't you afraid of a public backlash?" Sherry asked.

"From the beginning, we have never tried to hide anything from the public and we never will. We knew what the intelligence people had planned for you and we acted to prevent the loss of life, nothing more. Your situation is no different than if we had known that any other person was going to be killed. We would have rescued them as well. The only difference is that in your case, we had to wait until they actually acted against you," Carl explained. "Like I mentioned before, the entire rescue operation was recorded and will be available on our site just like every other military operation we are involved in. Since this operation was against Earth forces, we will also be adding our reasons for the strike as well as the outcome. We will not mention the reasons you were in that position as that is actually a separate issue."

"I'm afraid they'll make it your issue as soon as our rescue becomes public knowledge, Carl. They'll claim you kidnapped us and deny any intention of wrong doing," Wilma replied.

Carl nodded and grinned. "They can't; they already reported you killed in a car accident on your way to Walter Reed. Abraxis and two other AI located and invaded the global 'ShadowNet'. They secured copies of the orders to terminate the both of you. They copied their entire database. We have their whole network, names, dates, places; hell, we even have the orders to assassinate JFK! The entire mess will be dumped into the public domain tomorrow afternoon."

"You're going to expose them?" Wilma said in shock.

Carl nodded. "Every dirty little secret. The fallout from it will be bad, but we don't think it'll come to all-out war, as most of the world leaders are like you were. However, three or four of them are more active participants. If they’re left alone, we'll eventually bring them up here. The hardest thing to beat will be the corruption. There is a lot of money being paid out to people to look the other way and they are not going to want to give that up. Things are really going to change down there because of this."

"I had no idea it went that deep, Carl! I mean, I knew it was bad, but… just how large is this?" Wilma asked.

"Large enough that they have actually been running the entire planet for the better part of the last century. It started during World War II and built from there. Now it controls everything of importance on the planet; every corporation, military, and government are firmly under their control.

"I'm sure it will make people laugh to begin with, but unlike other conspiracy theorists, we have the proof to back it up," Carl finished. "We're devoting a pretty large amount of resources to this. It might surprise you to know the Alliance Council even made a ruling on this. 'Since the people of Earth are being unknowingly subjugated, it is our duty as their protectors to expose the truth and return their destinies to them. We must also protect them during this time of transition.' It was the first official order to the Alliance Military from the Council."

"How can we help, Governor?" Sherry asked.

"Well, to begin with, we're going to resurrect you from the dead," Carl said grinning.

"How can three, well two actually, Rangers protect the entire planet from what's coming?" Wilma asked.

"Earth has seven Rangers now, actually. But the fact is that by themselves, they can't. That's why there are far more than just the Rangers involved in this. Come on, let me buy you dinner and I'll tell you all about it," Carl replied grinning.

Struve Rim Training Base

Medical Center

Struve Crater, Selene

Earth's Moon, Sol System

"Hey hero, are you hungry?" the smiling nurse asked from his door.

Greg chuckled and nodded his head. The nurse, Cindy, had followed him over from the Grimaldi medical center, but had always referred to him as 'hero'.

"Yeah, actually I am," Greg replied. "Will I still get visitors today, and when will physical training start?"

Cindy came over and retracted the hood over the bed after checking a few of the readings. "Yes, you’ll get visitors later. As for the physical therapy… That starts right now." She grinned. "John? Steve? I'm ready in here."

Two very large men entered the room and grinned at him. Cindy took pity on him. "These two gentlemen are from rehab. They are here to help you walk from your bed over to the chair where your lunch will be waiting for you."

"Whoa, I thought we'd start with movement exercises while here in bed. Glen said something about not stressing the hip joint, is this okay?" Greg asked.

"The computer has been working on strengthening the hip, Sir." One of the men said. "I'm John, this is Steve." The other man nodded to him. "As for the exercises in bed, if you had a normal leg, that would be what we'd do, but you don't. We need to start training your brain how to operate that techno-marvel as soon as we can."

"I'm not going to end up like the six-million dollar man am I?" Greg asked.

"The who?" Steve asked.

"It's an old TV show from Earth about a test pilot that got rebuilt with bionics and became super-human," John explained to his friend. "No sir, nothing like that. If it were like that, it would shatter your bones the first time you tried to move it. No, this will be just like a normal leg. Now, let's get you sitting up. Slowly now, you're going to be a little dizzy at first."

Greg did what he was told, and was very dizzy. But, he actually did make it over to the chair mostly on his own. However it did hurt like hell when he put his weight on his leg. By the time he made it over to the chair six feet away, he was sweating again.

"Cindy, now that I'm up and about again, does this mean I can have a real shower soon? I know the bed has been keeping me clean, but I can still smell myself," Greg replied.

She laughed at him. "Don't get too gung-ho yet. I'll see about getting you cleaned up though."

"We'll work with you every day from now on, Sir," Steve said. "Before you know it, you'll be running again."

"That would impress me. Hell, just walking over here took everything I had," Greg replied. "I have a feeling there is a lot of work ahead of me."

John nodded. "Yeah, there is. While you're doing it, you're going to wonder if you're even getting better, but before you know it, you'll be looking back on it and wonder how you did it so fast."

Greg chuckled. "The way I feel right now, we have at least six months of therapy ahead of us."

"If all goes well, you'll be released from the hospital in two weeks," Cindy explained. "In three weeks you'll be released back to light duty and the hypersled simulator will be added to your therapy. A month from now, you will be re-certified as a Ranger and released from medical care."

"Whoa, that's pretty aggressive. You really think we can pull all that off?" Greg asked?

John nodded his head. "Actually, I have a bet with Cindy that you'll pull it off sooner."

Greg chuckled. "Dare I ask what you wagered?"

"A date," Cindy replied. "If I win, he has to take me out for dinner at a place of my choosing followed by a guided tour of the surface and a full body massage."

"If I win," John replied, grinning. "She has to make dinner for me, and we get to check out the new virtual fun zone and holographic movie theater followed by a visit to the hot springs. No matter what happens; I know I'll be the winner because I get a date with her."

Cindy blushed and smiled at him and Steve rolled his eyes. "Suck-up!"

"I wouldn't be too hard on him, Steve; he's the one going out with a beautiful woman; you aren't," Greg replied.

Steve chuckled and nodded his head. "Yeah, you've got a point. Are you comfortable sitting there? Any pain from the leg or hip?"

"I am feeling pain, but it's more like over stress of the muscles. It's getting better while I'm sitting here," Greg replied.

"Okay, then we'll leave you in the chair for now then, but we'll be back in a couple of hours to help you back to the bed. However, if you need to go back sooner, just let the nurses know and we'll move you back over, okay?" Steve asked.

Greg smiled. "Thanks, I was going to ask if I could just sit here a while."

"It's part of the therapy; while you sit there, we want you to work on leg lifts, and rotating your ankle. The more usage data we can get on that leg, the better we will be able to adjust it. In other words, the more you use it, the faster you'll get better," John explained.

"Well, don't worry John, I'll do my part to make sure you get that home-cooked meal. What's she going to make you anyway?" Greg asked.

"I'm going to make him buy me dinner, that's what!" Cindy said. "If you two manage to pull this off, I'll tell you what the menu is then. I'll even have the replicator learn the recipe and have it make the meal for you and your ladies," Cindy replied. "I promise you'll love it."

Greg laughed at her. "You know your stacking the deck against yourself, right?"

Cindy just shook her head, but she was smiling. "Not really. If it helps you get better faster, I'm all for it. We can do my date when he takes me out the second time."

"Well, then, I definitely have to do my part!" Greg said. "You want me to do this, right?" Greg asked and lifted his leg at the knee and tried to rotate his ankle.

Steve knelt next to him. "Try to get it all the way up if you can. You probably won't be able to hold it there for long yet, but just getting it there will help. If you can get it all the way straight five times, then I'd call that good for now. Just concentrate on lifting it a little and rotating the ankle. It looks like that's more difficult for you right now."

"Yeah, it is. Okay. I'll work on that stuff," Greg replied.

"Okay you two, out you go. There are a couple of tests I need to do while he finishes eating, then he gets visitors again," Cindy said making shooing motions with her hands.

"What tests did you need to run?" Greg asked.

"Do you remember the tactile tests the doctor ran yesterday?" Cindy asked.

"Yeah, I thought she got the settings fixed?" Greg replied.

Cindy smiled but shook her head. "They're pretty close, but may not be perfect yet. We will be testing and readjusting all the settings as we go. Since the pain has gotten much less, I've been asked to retest your sensations. If I understand her notes correctly, it also is a better indicator of how well you’re accepting the nerve grafting since sensations are much more delicate than motor function."

"Oh, okay then," Greg said.

Cindy knelt down and put a hand on each of his legs, just above the knee. "How does that feel?"

Greg chuckled. "Like you're about to do something that would make John very jealous."

Cindy chuckled. "Your ladies would clobber me. No, what I meant was does the pressure feel the same, are they equally as warm, that sort of thing."

"It kind of feels like your leaning harder on the right leg, but the left is warmer," Greg replied.

"Okay," she said, then got some ice out of a cup and tested each leg. Again the temperature was stronger in the left but he felt more pressure on the right.

She noted each of his replies, then did the poke test with a stylus she used on her data pad. It felt slightly sharper on the left, and she noted that as well. "Doctor Jeffreys will stop by later, after you’re back in the bed and make the adjustments. Just so you know, I felt that your left leg was a bit warmer than the right as well, but the bed will verify that."

Greg nodded and swallowed his current bite of food. "Okay, so who all is waiting to see me?"

Cindy grinned. "No one special, just your family and the President of the United States."

Greg almost choked on his drink. "They got Wilma up here? Do you know what happened?"

She shook her head. "Not a clue, but I'm sure they'll be more than happy to tell you all about it when they get in here." She got a blanket and covered his lap so he wouldn't be as exposed. "Are you ready for this?"

Greg nodded. "Yeah, it'll help give me strength to overcome the torture you're putting me through!"

Cindy snorted. "Yet you still love me, how romantic! Take it easy Hero, if you start hurting, let me know right away. Don't just try to ride it out yet. Once we get your settings closer to where they need to be, then you can be tough, but until then, we need to know everything you feel."

"Okay Cindy, I understand. What about that shower I asked about?" Greg asked before she could step out.

She winked at him. "I'll recruit your ladies to help with that. I'd do it myself but I'd get fired." She slipped out the door before he could reply, but left the door open to indicate he could see visitors.

His family filed into the room led by Jolene and Bella. The girls and Jarad were wearing duty coveralls over flight suits.

"Hey beautiful! Why are you guys dressed up?" Greg asked.

Bella grinned. "We're training your father today. We're doing a system patrol and survey mission. The mining guild would like to know what kinds of ores and minerals are in the rest of the system, so we're going to be getting some readings for them."

"You must be getting close to certifying if you’re going out on missions, Dad," Greg asked.

Jarad nodded. "I'm getting there. How are you doing?"

Greg grinned. "Well, believe it or not, I got to this chair under my own steam with only a little help, so I guess I'm doing pretty good, too."

"The day after a major surgery and you're already up and walking?" Wilma asked from near the door.

"Madam President! I'd heard you were here to see me! I take it things went to hell while I was out?" Greg asked.

Wilma nodded. "You could say that. Sherry and I were on our way to be killed when Fighter Jarad and Fighter Joyce rescued us. I'm told you issued the order for that?"

Greg nodded. "I couldn't just stand by and let someone be murdered when I knew it was going to happen. That would make us accessories to the crime. How is the world taking it?"

"Well, before we even made it back up here, it was reported that we were killed in a car accident. Then again, the entire planet saw me arrive here. So far, there hasn't been any official word from Washington about it. I think they have other issues to worry about at the moment," Wilma said giggling.

"Like what? Dad, what happened during that rescue?" Greg asked.

Jarad held up his hands. "It wasn't me, Greg. It was the Alliance Council. Once they learned of the rescue and the reasons Wilma and Sherry were put in that position, they reached a unilateral agreement about Earth. The people of Earth are being repressed by leaders not of their choosing. Therefore, it is our duty, as the protectors of that world, to free them of that subjugation and return control of the planet to the population by as peaceful means as necessary but including military action if required.

"Abraxis and a couple of the new AI hacked the ShadowNet and dumped it out onto the main Internet this morning. So far, everyone is trying to either destroy evidence, restore the cover-ups or do as much damage control as possible. None of which is actually working since the AI and the cyber-warfare group are countering them.

"There hasn't been a peep about any of it on the main-stream news networks, mostly because those are controlled by the bad guys. However, Alicia and Seth contacted a group of independent reporters and expanded the Alliance news web site that headlined the story. The servers are ours, so they can't be shut down by the bad guys."

The family talked and filled him in on all the stuff that had been happening that he hadn't known about. As it turned out, the last couple of days had been very eventful. Wilma again apologized for being a bitch to him, but Greg told her not to worry about it. At the time, she actually thought she was doing the right thing, and that is what truly mattered.

Finally, Jolene and Bella chased everyone out of the room and closed the door. Greg knew something was up when they started taking their clothes off.

"Uh, not that I don't appreciate it, but what are you doing?" Greg asked.

"Cindy told us you wanted to get clean," Bella said.

Jolene nodded. "So she asked us to give you a bath." She moved the table away from him and took the blanket off him.

"Uh, I don't see any bath supplies, and why do you need to be naked for it?" Greg asked.

Just then, the door slid open and Mandi entered carrying a stack of towels and personal hygiene supplies. She sat them on the counter, and peeled her own jump suit off.

"Well, in addition to getting you cleaned up, we were asked to get a sample from you as well," Mandi explained, smiling sensuously.

"After all, the doctors would like to know if the repairs they made are working," Jolene replied as she knelt between his legs.

"Uh, Mandi, I thought you didn't want this kind of relationship right now?" Greg asked. He was getting a little distracted.

"Just call it a little more visual incentive to help the girls," she replied, grinning at him. "Besides, I don't want to get my clothes wet when we clean you up."

Grimaldi Ridge Base

Ocean of Storms

Selene, Earth's Moon

"Hello and good day, people of Earth. As most of you know, I am Wilma White. I was the President of the United States of America until my reported death a few days ago. As you can see, I am not dead. Myself and my wife, Sherry, were rescued by Terran Defense Initiative forces from those who were trying to kill us.

"I am not speaking to you as the President, but as simply another citizen. My address to you today is simply an explanation of events as we understand them. However, before any of that, let me reassure all of you that we were not kidnapped by TDI, and it was very much a rescue. We are here, on the moon, by our own choice. We are in hiding up here because I found out too much of the truth about my former government. If either of us were to return to the planet we are sure that we would be killed as soon as the intelligence services could make the arrangements.

"It was rumored in the press that my longtime aide, Sherry, was really my lesbian lover. I will confirm that we have been in love since we met in high school many years ago. Throughout my career in politics, we never tried to hide our relationship, but we did not flaunt it either. What would be the point? What is between Sherry and I is a private matter and not the concern of anyone else. No, we did not defraud the American people by misrepresenting ourselves. If asked, either one of us would have freely and happily admitted to our relationship, but no one ever asked. I never referred to Sherry as my wife for the simple reason that until yesterday, we were not married.

"As for the rumored secret address I made to congress where I made multiple paranoid remarks about a shadow government and how the intelligence services had too much power; it never took place. In fact, if you would care to check the records, even the visual records of C-Span, the congress was in recess that day. There was no one there I could have addressed at the time they said I did.

"However, just to be clear, I do believe that the intelligence community is behind a lot of pretty shady stuff. I got a peek under the blanket while I was in office and it scared me. I was overheard discussing it with Sherry, and that's when we think they decided to have us killed. I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went until I arrived up here and I was shown what the AI had found.

"That same information is now available to you folks. Most of it is pretty unbelievable, but all of it is frightening, and every bit is true. The decision on whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you, but I have seen the evidence and how it was gathered. I know none of it is fake like it is now being reported. If you stop and think about it, there is simply too much there that fits too well for it to be made up.

"Now that I have a better understanding of what is really going on up here, and what these people are doing, I am going to support them as much as I can. As I said earlier, I am just a civilian now, I have no authority to give orders. However, if my opinion is of any value to you, then I would advise that you all take a good, hard look at your current leaders. Take an even harder look at their actions and ask yourself some very important questions; who and what are their actions really benefiting? Even if there is a benefit to you, the people, be sure to look and see who else is benefiting from their actions. I think you will find that in every legislative action in the past fifty plus years, there was a corporation or a business field that ultimately benefited the most from those actions. Even at the state level, nothing gets done for the sole benefit of the people, nothing.

"Why? Because it’s not your votes that elect people. It’s the corporations and conglomerates that elect politicians. Since the end of World War two, every election held that has been held for a major office of state or higher level, has been bogus. I can honestly say that not one single member of congress was elected by the people. I'm sad to say that I wasn't either. I would like to believe that if I had known, I would have resigned. That no longer matters. What does matter is what you do about the current situation.

"You can recall your senators and congressmen and hold new elections, but what will that do? As long as those in power remain in power, nothing will change. I'm talking about those that are really running things, and not the supposedly elected puppets in the governments. I think many of you will soon find that they will not be easy to unseat, after all, not one single member of that cabal has probably ever broken a law. It will be like trying to catch smoke with a butterfly net. How can you arrest someone for something that isn't a crime? These men and women hold all the power in the world, they were not elected, nor is there any way to take that power away from them simply because there is no law against it.

"Our defenders, the Alliance Council, has set forth a proclamation to aid the people of Earth in freeing themselves from tyrannical rule not of their own choosing. The cyber-attacks on the global intelligence network was one result, the dissemination of the information found there is another.

"Folks, we've been living under a single world government for the last eighty years and none of us knew it. Wars and conflicts make money and are good for business. It has the added benefit of reducing excess populations. It gives the population a solid enemy to focus on so they miss other far more important, yet much more subtle actions.

"Look through the information now available to all of you and you'll see what I mean. However, there is one last thing I would ask of you. If you decide to take action against those that control almost every aspect of your lives, keep one thing in mind; These uncaring and arrogant individuals also control every military on the planet as well as every nation's arsenals - nuclear and chemical alike. No nation is your enemy; rather the people that tell those nations what to do are.

"Thank you for listening to me. I wish all of you luck and peace in the future. Good day," Wilma said finishing her speech.

Two weeks later, Greg attended a meeting in Carl's office to discuss the state of affairs on Earth. It was the first official function he'd been able to attend since he was injured. After Lionel and the two Council Ambassadors welcomed him back, they got down to business.

"We're really lucky the Drellians have been so quiet while all of this crap on Earth is going on. While I appreciate the opportunity to be able to get this dealt with, I can't help but wonder what they are up to," Greg replied.

"Most likely beginning to build that invasion force we're expecting. However, it would not surprise me if they did not try to get something in this sector in order to observe us and see what we are up to," Jarad replied. "I know if it were me running the Drellian forces, I would want as much information as I could get."

"Did they not do just that when Commander Fighter Greg was injured most grievously?" The Onarian Ambassador Gragoe Jnee asked.

Jarad nodded. "Yes, it would appear so, but since that force was destroyed and we hunted down what probes they left behind, they no longer have any information coming from this sector. But, they know they will have to be careful about how they go about it. They know we will challenge any intrusion they make in this sector, so their next attempts will be far more subtle. I would be willing to bet that while they might send Rangers, they will not send them in hypersleds. I would send in multiple teams on vastly different vectors with a variety of equipment packages in different ship types. However, the only two ship types we really share with them are shuttles and the hypersleds. It would not be surprising if they did not try to steal one of our ships in order to move about freely in our space."

Greg looked thoughtful. "Abraxis, you've told us that there are other human races present in the Drellian Empire. Are there any other Drellian races that can pass as other members of the Alliance?"

"Because of the age of my information, I cannot give a wholly accurate answer to that question. However, from the information I do have, both the Greynus and the Harclen are unique to this sector. Neither of those species are listed as having been encountered before. While the Onarians are also unique, there is a species known to be a part of the Empire that could visually pass as a member of that race. However, the information I have lists them as a very primitive, hostile race. They are listed as extremely xenophobic and would attack other races on sight. They are listed as being what humans would call Bronze Age technology.

"Two of the minor Alliance races were very common within both the old Alliance and the Empire. It could be said that the Arnorian are the most prevalent species in the galaxy. They are very bright with an inquisitive nature. Like the Arnorian we know, they are a peaceful, friendly race that tends to view meeting new races as opportunities to learn.

"The other common race is the Cormoran. They are listed as not sharing any racial traits at all. The differing tribes of the race range from being peaceful to warlike, outgoing to reclusive, highly advanced to technophobic. The one thing they all have in common is that none of them have anything in common," Abraxis finished.

"So there are four races they could use to infiltrate us," Greg said thoughtfully. "About the only thing we can do is be extra vigilant. Only our survey ships venture into deep space and it would be very difficult to steal one of those because there are so few of them that the crews are well known. Still, I think we should implement remote monitoring of them while they are out on missions. Even if they don't get attacked, we would be able to respond faster if we knew they were in trouble."

"The safety of the survey crews is logical. Experienced crews are important, and there are not a lot of volunteers for such a long and dangerous assignment. Remote monitoring would be a valuable addition," Jnee agreed.

The Teraxan Ambassador, Enri Hews, nodded agreement. "Our crews would feel safer and more valued. It would improve morale among their ranks as well. The addition would also have the added benefit of alerting us to new major finds such as habitable worlds and new resources. Such an addition would be very feasible and invaluable for a number of reasons."

"Since it involves multiple races, I'll add it to the list for the next Council meeting. However, I am also going to add it to the requirements for the survey ships we are building. Even if it is never used, the option would still be available," Carl replied.

"If I may ask, what is happening on your planet, Governor?" Enri asked.

"So far, a lot of political chaos. No one has started fighting yet, but it's beginning to look like it will get there eventually, at least in some places. We are working to keep everything peaceful in those areas, but the people are very upset. In the United States, the federal government is pretty much deadlocked on what action to take. The states have begun recalling their elected officials, but some of them are refusing to leave. The new President tried to order a nationwide state of emergency and martial law, but most of the troops are refusing those orders as illegal.

"The city of Washington D.C. is more of an armed camp now than anything else. Troops still loyal to the government have surrounded as much of the capitol area as they can to keep rioters from storming the buildings damaging more property and killing people. Right now, it's one of the worst areas, and the first place we expect violence to break out.

"Several state governments have completely shut down while they try to get the issues sorted out. Vital services are still running, at least for now, but even before this stuff started the public had lost their trust of the police. I'm sure that we'll see an increase in violent crime soon too. Basically, it's a mess down there," Carl replied.

"This is not good, is there anything more we can do to assist in this transition? We fear a major loss of life will occur if we do not at least try to intervene." Enri said.

"We're getting our first batches of Marines trained as quickly as we can, but at the moment, there simply are not enough for something of this scale. I would mention that as an added side effect, there has been a major spike in applications to join us. We have even been contacted by the commanding general of Fort Lewis in Washington State. He has asked what he can do to help keep the peace on Earth."

"We might need his help," Greg replied. "But for it to do any good, we'd need thousands of shuttles and pilots just to shift troops around. Wait a sec. Isn't Fort Lewis a combined base? Don't they have air force there as well?"

Carl nodded. "It's actually called Lewis-McChord Joint Base. It was along the lines of an experiment in logistical support and operations as well as creating a rapid deployment center for the troops stationed at Lewis."

"So, they come equipped with their own transportation then?" Greg asked.

Carl chuckled. "Well, yeah, but they have conventional aircraft, so they would be slower than we could move them. What are you planning?"

"Well, if we could get other bases on board with this, maybe we could at least try to keep it from getting too violent; at least in the larger population centers. We could always work with them to get smaller teams into trouble spots quickly." Greg said thinking out loud. "Why don't Jarad, Lionel, Carl, and I have a talk with the General, and maybe we can all work this out. The other base commanders would be more likely to listen to him than they would to us, I'm sure."

"That sounds like a good idea. That way, it's still their own troops and not us 'invading' them. We might want to see if other countries would be amenable to something like this," Jarad said. "But North Korea, China and Libya are going to be problems no matter what. We're going to have to figure out a way to deal with them with the least amount of casualties."

"I have a rather unorthodox idea for China and North Korea. But as far as Libya is concerned, I think we should let the rest of the Islamic nations handle them," Greg suggested.

"That's a good idea for Libya, but what's your idea for the Orient?" Jarad asked.

"Well, I heard that before she became a politician, the Harclen Ambassador was an actor…" Greg grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.

About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.

Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.

He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.

Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






Join the Blue Space Publications, LLC. Newsletter (usually Bi-Weekly issues).

Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

Neptune’s Massif – Book IV

*Raptor Squadron – Book V (First Half of 2016)


Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II

Abraxis Code – Book III

Forging Aegis – Book IV

Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

Terra Dawning – Book III

New Day – Book IV


Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Debug Mode – Episode V

Beta Test – Episode VI

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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