Blackstar had assembled a small crew to man a group of modified freighters that Blackstar planned on using to search for the Time Matrix. Shi was accompanied by the Caitian Fleet Admiral V’Les, who was on extended leave from Star Fleet, a freighter Captain named Faera who was a normal cattaur, Vega Griffin, who looked as close to a cat-girl as a cat morph could get. Blackstar was also accompanied by new Blitz team member Serena, a cross-breed of a foxtaur and wolftaur. They were aboard Blackstar’s personal ship, the Midnight Star, when they learned that the rest of the Blitz team aboard the Starship Mystic, were in the solar system. Blackstar sent the freighters on ahead while shi met up with the main members of hir team.
Blackstar was surprised to find hir partner, a Caitian named Nightrose, was escorting hir little sister to the Spacedock’s infirmary. "What happened?"
Nightrose explained how the modified Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) had sent the ship at impossible speeds when they broke free of whatever they had been trapped in. When they did it the main screen became so bright that it blinded Blackstar’s sister, Trip.
As the two felines waited for the doctor to finish examining Trip they began to discuss what happened, "I’m sorry about this Blacky. This is my fault," said Nightrose.
"How is this your fault?" asked Blackstar.
Nightrose gave hir a dirty look, "I let you do something without me around. When you go on dangerous assignments I am always there to back you up at the very least. Anyone else would be dead."
"If you went with that kind of thinking you should blame Faera, who convinced you to stay behind," noted Blackstar. "And if you were anyone else I would’ve left you behind a long time ago. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you take being my partner too seriously."
Nightrose looked at the ground. "I gave you my word that I’d be your partner as long as you let me."
"You can leave this partnership anytime you want."
"But the thing is that I don’t want to!"
Blackstar was surprised; shi had never known Nightrose to raise hir voice to anyone. Before shi could ask what was going on the nurse came in. "The doctor will see you now."
Blackstar and Nightrose walked into the examination room. The doctor, a human female, greeted them, "I’m Doctor Dove, now we need to talk about Firefox’s condition."
"Dove, Dove," said Blackstar, "Where have I heard that name before?"
"Well do you read the Scientific Chakat?"
"No. I don’t read much that’s medical related." Blackstar snapped hir fingers a few times, "I know I’ve heard it somewhere though."
"Can we get back to the patient," asked the irritated doctor. "Hir eyes were heavily damaged. We have a few options, none of which are perfect. There is the possibility of cloning hir eyes and replacing them with surgery."
"That could take months, maybe years," complained Trip. "Are there any faster options?"
The doctor nodded. "There are cybernetic replacements that we could try. Not only will they replace your vision but they also will improve it. There is a device that could be linked to Firefox’s remaining visual receptors. Shi can adjust what shi’ll see. It’ll take a few months for hir to go through the necessary therapy, but it’s that or shi waits for the cloned eyes. Unless shi wants to go blind. Luckily shi is a Chakat so it’ll only be a matter of time before the eyes naturally regenerate over time. With medical assistance shi’ll have normal eyesight before hir First."
Blackstar turned to hir sister, "it’s your choice Trip."
Trip nodded, "Doctor, would it be possible to remove and reinstall the device at will, even after my eyes regenerate?"
The Doctor thought about it for a moment, "I suppose so."
Trip turned to hir sister, relying on hir empathic sense, "It looks like I’ll be sitting this mission out, sis. Hopefully you’ll be back before my therapy’s over." Shi walked over to hir sister and hugged hir. As Blackstar returned the hug hir sensitive hearing heard hir sister whisper, "Don’t get killed."
"I’ll do my best."
Nightrose smiled as she saw the exchange, while she made arrangements for Trip’s stay. She and Blackstar were surprised when Trip hugged Nightrose. "Keep hir out of trouble."
Blackstar asked, "Trip, do you realize I can hear you?"
"Yes." Nightrose and Trip giggled.
Blackstar returned to the Mystic with Nightrose. Shi was surprised when they were greeted by Sky. Hy handed Blackstar a PADD. Shi scanned over it. "What is the meaning of this?"
"My resignation. My negligence resulted in the injury of a Blitz team crewmember." Hy was standing so straight and formal Blackstar thought shi was going to get a strain just watching.
"Explain," demanded Blackstar.
"While working on the reverse warp maneuver I overrode all safeties. Including the viewscreen’s dimmer feature," explained Sky
Sky was shocked when Blackstar began laughing. "Sky, Trip’s condition isn’t permanent. And you saved the ship, when most engineers would’ve failed. If you think you’re going to get away that easily, think again. It wasn’t your fault. Now I want you to take your resignation and delete it. Then I want you to go to bed. We have a big day tomorrow and I need you at your best. Now I need to know how Parishka is duplicating herself."
Sky tilted hys head to the side, which Blackstar knew was a sign that hy was theorizing. "Maybe clones, but those are difficult to create a perfect duplicate, and it’s even harder to add the memory engrams. Hmm… maybe, a transporter duplicate."
"A transporter duplicate?" asked Nightrose, "Could you explain?"
Sky explained, "Well, a transporter normally transports a person’s original matter, but it could use matter at the other end of the transmission beam and merge it with the pattern from the transporter’s Mind Matrix. It would be difficult and inconvenient for regular transport process, but it’s far from impossible. Something similar happened to an Ensign Dale Perkins a while back. He was transporting with a large amount of bio-matter when a damn Human’s First group damaged the transporter. They lost his physical pattern, but they used the pattern of the last person through the transporter, a Chakat named Goldfur."
"Wait," said Nightrose, "Does that mean this Perkins is a copy of a Chakat now?" Sky nodded. "Bummer," Blackstar glared at her, "that didn’t come out right."
"No," said Blackstar, "I just didn’t expect a Caitian to say bummer."
"It could’ve been worse," said Sky, "I met Goldfur once back on Earth. Shi’s very attractive, very intelligent, and very friendly. I know worse people that Perkins’ body could’ve been turned into."
"Thanks Sky," said Blackstar, "now go to bed." Sky gave a small salute and walked off.
Blackstar began walking towards hir quarters, but paused when shi realized that Nightrose was following hir. "What are you doing?"
"You mean following you?" asked Nightrose. "Simple – I’m not letting you out of my sight. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice."
Blackstar raised one eyebrow, "Does this mean you plan on being my roommate?" Shi was surprised when Nightrose nodded. "Then I have one simple question. Why?"
Nightrose looked around to make sure the corridor was empty. She grabbed Blackstar by the arm and led hir to hir room. "Let’s continue this inside." When they were inside and Nightrose was sure they were alone she asked, "How much do you know about Caitian mating customs?"
Blackstar recalled, "Females outnumber the males five or six to one. They mate in a fashion similar to Terran lion prides. Each male can have up to six wives, but it’s the first wife who is in charge of the household. Status goes up with each wife. While it’s possible to have more then six status begins to go down. The wives are also assigned one of the six virtues of mating. The First wife is always intelligence because she has to make an informed choice on future mates. The other virtues are…"
"Okay, that’s enough," said Nightrose. "Where did you learn all that?"
"V’Les is mated to my grandfather, remember? She used to baby-sit a lot."
Nightrose sat down, while Blackstar lay down on hir bedding. Nightrose began, "it’s rare for a Caitian to mate outside her species because we wouldn’t be able to reproduce. And some people, like humans, only take one mate for life." Nightrose hesitated, "But sometimes, love overrides our need for tradition."
"Oh, I see," said Blackstar, "you’ve fallen in love with someone outside of your own species. And your love for him is fighting with your instincts and sense of tradition." Nightrose nodded, "As a chakat I suggest you go with love, naturally. But as your friend I suggest you think about the pros and cons of mating with this person. You may not even really be in love with them, and I don’t want to see you throw your life away for a passing infatuation."
"Would you say that even if it were you?" asked Nightrose.
"Even if it was me," said Blackstar. "We’re talking hypothetically now, right." Nightrose nodded almost too quickly.
Nightrose looked down, "Blacky, do you mind if I sleep here tonight?"
"Um… sure, I guess. Why would you want to?"
Nightrose hesitated, "Knowing that you’re near me makes me feel safe. Do you mind?"
"Only if you don’t mind me sleeping in the nude," teased Blackstar.
Blackstar was caught completely off guard when Nightrose embraced hir in a hug and nuzzled hir, "Thank you. Oh, and I should warn you, you’re not the only one who sleeps nude."
Blackstar grinned, "I think I finally know why I put up with you. You’re the only person I know enough to be able to know exactly what you’re going to say, but still catch me off guard."
"That doesn’t make any sense."
"I know. That’s what I like about it."
Nightrose giggled. Blackstar removed hir vest, revealing hir above average size breasts. Nightrose had seen the sight many times before, Blackstar often preferred being nude when in private, or on certain off-duty occasions. Blackstar however was surprised when Nightrose removed her top. Blackstar had only seen Nightrose naked on a handful of occasions in unusual circumstances. When Nightrose finished removing her clothes she noticed Blackstar staring at her. "Is something wrong?"
When Blackstar found hir voice again shi said, "I’m sorry for staring. I just didn’t realize you were serious."
Nightrose grinned, "Blacky, I’m always serious."
"Even when you’re joking?"
"Especially when I’m joking," Nightrose laid down and gestured for Blacky to lay behind her. A suggestion that Blackstar took. Shi curled up around the Caitian, who then proceeded to snuggle up closer to the Chakat. Blackstar was just falling asleep when shi heard the sleepy Caitian purring. Blackstar probed the Nightrose’s mind with hir empathic sense and sensed a great amount of happiness emanating from the Caitian’s mind. Blackstar grinned and followed hir partner’s example.
The next morning Blackstar, Nightrose, Faera, and Serena boarded the Midnight Star which was docked with the Mystic. Sasha met Blackstar at the airlock, "How long should we wait for you?"
"Zero seconds," said Blackstar, "I want you to begin the search immediately. Don’t worry, I’ll find you no problem."
"No problem? I’ve heard that before," said Sasha. "What about the person that sabotaged the ADF? For all we know the saboteur could be on the Star right now."
Blackstar gave Sasha a skeptical look. "The only people on board that had the chance to sabotage the ADF are Nightrose and myself. It could’ve been a simple case of Deus ex Machina."
"Or Faera. She’s visited the Mystic while we were constructing the ADF," pointed out Sasha, "I don’t trust her. I think she’d sell us out in minute if she was paid enough. Now you’re escorting her back to her ship. What makes you think you can trust her?"
Blackstar looked behind hir to look at the ship’s airlock. "Let’s just say I’ve known her longer then even she knows. I trust her, just like I trusted you a few years ago"
"What about the cat girl?" asked Sasha.
"My advice is keeping one eye open, and hide the alcohol."
"I don’t drink," said Sasha. Blackstar blinked twice before Sasha added, "Don’t worry, you might be the captain but I still have a few hiding places you don’t know about."
"Are you sure about that?" asked Blackstar who promptly turned around and added a confident swishing to hir tail as shi walked away.
Sasha shook her head, "Some day hir confidence will come to bite hir in the tail," she said to herself. "Then again shi might be right. I hope she is. I’ve got to stop talking to myself, people might start thinking I’m crazy."
"Too late for that," said a feminine voice.
Sasha spun her head around looking for the voice’s owner, but couldn’t find her. "Great, now I’m hearing voices. I’ve got to take a vacation soon. This job’s getting to me."
The Midnight Star left the Mystic far behind as she activated her advanced FTL drive. Unlike the Warp Drive traditionally used by Federation starships or even the skim drive of the Mystic, the Midnight Star created a slipstream in hyperspace, hence the name Slipstream drive. The Midnight Star was one of the few ships capable of navigating in Slipstream because of her unique computer and guidance systems, something the Stellar Federation’s technology couldn’t reproduce at present time, although it was one of many new Faster Then Light drives that scientists were working on.
Blackstar joined hir fellow travelers in what was the Midnight Star’s only crew lounge. "We should be back to Quenxel in about twenty-four hours. So what did I miss?"
Serena giggled, "Is it true you were a street racer?"
Blackstar’s cocky grin made an appearance, "People once claimed that I had Nitrous running through my veins. Back then I went the nickname of Silverbolt. And one of the only two racers to finish the Downtown jump of Sheboygan, I might add."
"But you were the only one of the two to get arrested by the cops, but I guess you never mention that," added Serena.
"Well, I was able to get away with a clean record, and I got the car back. Which by the way still ran once I replaced the tires. But the neon also had to be replaced, along with some minor body damage from when the cops scrambled my car’s electrical system," Blackstar pointed out. "But you had to replace the neon, the front end and repair your radiator." Serena’s eyes widened in surprise. "Didn’t think I recognized you, 8-Ball?"
Nightrose interrupted, "Actually, you checked her record and realized where you knew her from." Blackstar gave Nightrose a dirty look.
Serena chuckled, "I must admit how surprised I was to learn that Silverbolt here was not only a law-abiding citizen, but that shi started an organization to enforce the law. I must admit you’ve come a long way from the street racing criminal I once knew."
"Well, I had some extra cash so I put it to good use and started a pirate fighting force," said Blackstar.
"Where did you get all that money from? If I remember correctly you were the one who bought the Majestic, and the one who constructed the Mystic," said Nightrose. "Unless you’ve been making secret contracts with our employers behind my back, in which case I would kill you, I don’t know where you could get the money."
"It’s quite simple, really," explained Blackstar, "I got a generous inheritance from my grandsire when shi died, and I made some very good investments." "I have two questions about that," said Faera. "One: isn’t your grandsire MIA? Two: if you’re really that rich, why do you risk your life on a regular basis?"
Blackstar grinned, "You’re thinking of Starfox who, although I call hir my grandsire, is technically my grandmother. Weird, isn’t it?"
"What about this ship?" asked Faera. "Not only does it have a Slipstream drive, but it can navigate Slipstream without a living pilot at the helm. I’ve never been able to do that with the Torrin. Federation computers aren’t powerful enough."
"Wait," said Serena, "what can a live pilot do that a computer can’t?"
Blackstar explained it for Serena’s benefit. "For some reason a living pilot can navigate a slipstream’s seemingly unpredictable nature for some reason only a biological can make the necessary corrections to travel though slipstream. A computer, even one with an advanced AI unit, can’t seem to predict the right corrections. One theory is that maybe it’s the biological pilot that makes it the correct path."
"Now that makes me even more confused about how this ship is on auto-pilot," said Serena.
Blackstar’s grin got even wider. Nightrose was wondering just how much bigger that grin could get. "It’s quite simple," said Blackstar, "the Midnight Star doesn’t have an auto-pilot. Whereas some ships have an advanced AI system, this ship has an actual person as the equivalent of an AI. So when people refer to this ship with the female pronoun, it’s actually true. Her name is Layla. Say hi Layla."
"Hi, Layla," said a feminine voice seemingly out of nowhere.
"Smartass," said Blackstar. "It must be anyone hooked into a computer."
"Layla’s a pretty name," said Faera. "Does it mean anything?"
Layla answered, "It’s Arabic, and it’s usually translated as night, dark night, girl born at night, and/or ecstasy of wine and a moonless night."
Blackstar raised hir glass. "An appropriate name considering this ship’s name."
Layla laughed. "The ship was named after I was, remember. Silly fuzzball."
"So, Layla, do you have a physical form?" asked Nightrose.
"That depends on what you mean," said Layla. "If you mean a body with limbs, eyes, that sort of thing, not really. I have on occasion appeared in holographic form on the hologrid though. My original body was crippled by a rare disease, but my mind was fine. I was given a mechanical body, and eventually I was transferred to my current ship form. My original body is protected by several layers of super strong metal alloys. Just like anyone else, I have skills, likes, dislikes, and pet peeves just like everyone else. Oh, and don’t worry about privacy, I’m a computer not a peeping tom."
Nightrose breathed a barely audible sigh of relief. Faera posed a question, "Do you have complete control over the ship, and if so why do you need a crew?"
Layla laughed again, "I need a crew for heavy maintenance and for companionship. It’s hard to find another ship with a sentient computer. But before we left Earth I did meet a very interesting one named Tess. As for control, I can override any system connected to the Midnight Star’s computer cores, and related systems, but they can’t override me. I can also override systems I’m connected to if I have the correct override codes."
"That’s a lot of power to be given," said Serena.
"Not, really," said Layla, "many captains and owners of starships have a total override code that they can use to control a starship; this is no different." Everyone gave Blackstar the look.
There was a moment of silence before Blackstar said, "Well, this is awkward." Another moment, "So who wants to play twister?" Blackstar found hirself under assault by a number of pillows.
After a boring day of talking with the girls, Blackstar returned to hir cabin to go to bed and was just taking hir top off when there was a knock on hir door. Out of curiosity Blackstar decided to see who it was before yelling at them. Shi was surprised when shi was greeted by Nightrose. "What’s up?"
Nightrose seemed hesitant, "I couldn’t sleep. Do you mind if I join you?"
"Um… okay," said Blackstar. It wasn’t long before they were snuggled together in bed again. Blackstar was surprised when Nightrose was purring without even realizing it again. "Perhaps you should move in with me," joked Blackstar.
Nightrose’s head perked up, "Really?"
Blackstar’s mouth hung open for a minute before shi got it closed again. Shi had never seriously considered having Nightrose move in, and never expected Nightrose to want to move in. Being cautious, Blackstar said, "I didn’t expect you to take me seriously. Why exactly would you want to move in with me?"
A slightly embarrassed Nightrose took a moment to answer, "Well, it seems to help me sleep at night. And I’m, well, what I’m trying to say is…" Blackstar gestured for Nightrose to continue.
"Nightrose, is there something else?"
"Yes," Nightrose’s voice was barely a whisper, "before I left Cait, a male I was interested in promised he would make himself worthy to be my husband, and he wanted me as first wife. I told him to wait while I joined StarFleet for a few years. Then that failed, and I got side-tracked with you. When I fell off the grid he assumed that I wouldn’t return out of shame. I learned that he gained his first wife last month. He was my safety net for a mate."
"You lost that net." Blackstar finally understood. "You’ve been worried about never having a family to take care of." Blackstar mentally filled in the blanks. Nightrose had become so protective of Blackstar and the Blitz team that they had become a surrogate family to her. Blackstar suspected which role shi was in but didn’t want to make any unnecessary assumptions; they had bitten hir in the tail in the past. "You can stay with me as long as you want."
Nightrose teared up and hugged Blackstar, "Thank you."
The rest of the night was very private, but Blackstar had a nagging feeling like someone was watching.
On the Mystic, Sky was having problems of hys own. "There is no way we could last more then five minutes in your pseudo-slipstream. We’ve never tried anything like that before and I believe those speeds would tear this ship apart."
Vega shook her head, "I must point out that isn’t correct. In your most recent journey to Earth, your Advanced Flying Unit created an uncontrolled pseudo-slipstream. You went far faster than we would try with the controlled pseudo-slipstream. Besides, worst case scenario we’ll have to drop the main core, but the auxiliary cores should be enough to limp to the nearest base."
Sky disliked being told what to do, or what hy was doing wrong, and Vega was doing both. "Do you realize how expensive the main core is? And if your pseudo-slipstream failed like our accidental one, we’d lose the AFU as well. I know the captain wants us to hurry, but I don’t think shi wants us to tear hir ship apart in the process."
"Sky, what do you know about Blackstar’s past?"
Hy thought a moment before shrugging hys shoulders, "Not much. Shi lived with hir family for a while, fought pirates. Lived on Earth for a while, joined the academy. Then shi got kicked out and then shi started the Blitz team. That’s all I know, really. Why?"
Vega started explaining, "Between the end of hir traditional schooling and hir entry into the academy, we worked together as partners. I guess that’s why shi never worked well solo. But when we worked together shi trusted me with numerous modifications to hir vehicles, and the only time it blew up in our face was when it was intentional." At Sky’s questioning glance Vega said, "It’s a long story. It was a trick that Blackstar came up with. Shi had used a similar one before I met hir, when shi was working on the Black Curse project."
Sky took a double take on what Vega said. "The Black Curse project? That project was discontinued over a decade ago."
"I shouldn’t have said that," said Vega who returned her attention to the console in front of her. The Black Curse project was a project that never should have been started. Its purpose was to create temporal weapons. When the dangers of the project became known to the Federation Council, it had the project canceled.
"Vega, how was Blackstar involved in the program?" asked Sky
"Shi is the person who made it possible for the program to exist," said Vega. "Before the Time Matrix was hidden, enough study was done to figure out the basic principle of it. When the device was hidden, a group of scientists began working on duplicating its abilities. They even constructed a prototype temporal displacement device, but it was never tested."
"How is that possible? Blackstar’s medical records show that shi’s eighteen years old. Nineteen tops," said Sky, "does it have to do with this temporal project?"
"That’s private," said Vega. "Everyone has their secrets. I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to tell Blackstar about how you were ready to marry a human woman and left her at the altar when you accidentally changed gender in front of her whole family."
Sky’s mouth hung open in disbelief, "how did you know about that? I never told anyone about that. Not even my family."
"I have my sources," said Vega. "Oh, and your mom wants you to stop all this crazy work and come home. Hy says you should take a more practical and more stable job back on Chakona."
She was stopped when Sky hit her with a left hook to her jaw. "I don’t know how you got your information, but I want you to stop and I don’t want you telling anyone else about that. Got it?"
"Ya, just remind me to never piss you off," said Vega. "Now let’s start installing my new stealth equipment."
"Stealth technology? How does it work?" asked Sasha, who had just entered Main Engineering.
"How long have you been there?" asked Sky.
"Just got here. Were you talking about me?"
"Don’t flatter yourself," said Vega. "My stealth technology works on the similar basis of Metamaterials. Are you familiar with those?" Sasha shook her head. "In the 21st century human scientists developed an invisibility shield that would make an object invisible. Metamaterial is a complex hybrid structure of metal and insulator that makes light move around an object like air flowing over an airplane wing. In a process called refraction, these materials interact with light in such a way that it travels faster through the metamaterial than it does through a vacuum, the famed c in Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Properly tuned, the light emerges from the shield as if there were no object present.
"This cloak works on the same principle, bending sensor signals around the effected area. It also has the advantage of letting active sensors going out the cloak field. The trick is adjusting the receiver so that it can pick up signals behind the cloak. The problem is that another ship can still detect the active pulses."
"It’ll be like crewing a submarine," said Sky, "sending out a "sonar pulse" will be the same as transmitting our position, so each time we send an active pulse we’ll have to change our speed and course to avoid someone firing on our probable position."
"Essentially, yes," said Vega, "We’ll have to work on upgrading the passive sensors. Who knows, maybe we’ll run into someone who could help with us."
Sky said, "I’ve been working on creating Zulus. The originals were created by Captain Foster, but I haven’t gotten my hands on them. They’re so small that it’s difficult to find them on active sensors, and they could easily double our passive range, but I haven’t succeeded in creating the necessary range, or sensor abilities to make it work, yet."
"Unfortunate," said Vega, "but we’ll have to make do."
Sasha said, "Okay. I’ll leave you two alone with your technobabble."
Vega turned to Sky and asked, "How is Captain Foster?"
Sky looked confused, "I never met him. Do you know Foster?"
Vega shook her head, "I only know him by his reputation. I think Blackstar knew him a while back but I believe that they had some falling out a while back. Shi never really talked about him much. When I asked hir about it, Blackstar would say it started with Foster saying that the Flintstones could’ve really happened. Or at least that’s how the story started. Over time shi’s claimed that they had a fight about whether or not the first critter to leave Earth’s atmosphere was a dog, who the strongest Power Ranger was, and I think once shi even claimed to have hit him with a shovel. I think shi was just too much of a brat for Captain Foster to put up with."
Sky nodded, "I can see that happening. Blackstar hates being wrong."
"No shi doesn’t," said Vega, "shi’s never wrong." Vega and Sky both grinned knowing that Blackstar always maintained the story that shi never had made a mistake. Changing the subject Vega asked, "What are this ship's unique abilities?"
"What do you mean?"
Vega rolled her eyes, "Nice try. Every ship has something unique about it."
"Fine," said Sky. "Almost everything is completely modular, the main computer’s processors almost seem alive, the main warp core is positioned horizontal rather then vertical, and the bow has something that I can’t identify," answered Sky. "That’s only what I’ve discovered so far. I’m not quite sure what Blackstar was thinking when shi designed it."
"Blackstar designed the whole ship?" asked Vega. Sky nodded. When Sky turned hys attention to hys console, Vega said to herself, "That’s interesting. That’s very interesting."
Serena was an early riser since birth and often had a few hours in the morning by herself, but when the Folftaur started exploring the Midnight Star, she was surprised to find Captain Blackstar on the bridge. "Captain? Is something wrong?"
"No just an early riser," responded Blackstar, "like you seem to be."
"What makes you think that?"
"Because you’re awake," teased Blackstar. "What’s up?"
"The opposite of down."
Blackstar mouth hung open, "I use that same joke. That’s a little creepy."
"Your mother-in-law is trying to kill you out of vengeance for taking her daughter away from her, and you think us using the same joke is creepy? You have issues."
"Stay on for a few months and you’ll have them too," said Blackstar, "For example, Nightrose has been ultra-jealous of her older sister, Rosepetal. Faera is a part-time artist and has a tendency to overwork herself. Serge’s mother is a nympho and his father is gay. The others are too personal for the major stuff, but I think you get the idea. Now stop trying to change the subject; what is keeping you awake?"
Serena hesitated, so Blackstar gave her the puppy-dog eyes. "Oh, stop that. I was thinking about my mother. She was against me joining Star Fleet, so I joined the Blitz team. I wonder how pissed she’ll be when she learns what I did." Blackstar sensed there was more through hir empathic abilities, so shi gestured for Serena to continue. "And I left a girlfriend behind. She knows what I was going to do, but I wonder how she’s doing. I don’t think she really thought I’d make it."
Blackstar sympathized, "I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better, but I know from experience that the words often sound hollow and never really change a thing."
"Bolts, how often does a long distance relationship work out?"
Blackstar grinned at hearing hir old nickname, "I’ll be honest, 8-Ball – it’s very rare. Only in cases of true love will it work out and sometimes not even then. Oddly enough, serious long-distance relationships tend to fail more often then a… what’s the word I’m looking for… not serious long-distance relationship."
"You’re a real poet Silverbolt."
"I know," replied Blackstar.
"Must you always be sarcastic?" asked Serena.
"Yes. It is a gift and a curse," Blackstar put on a cubbish pout. Serena rolled her eyes and grinned. In a sing-song voice Blackstar said, "You know you like it. You want more of it."
Serena was barely restraining herself, "I know you pay me, but I will kick your butt if you don’t stop it." Blackstar knew Serena well enough to know that she would actually do it.
After a somewhat awkward silence Blackstar asked, "Would you like some grappler combat practice?"
"Grapplers? How often are they actually used in combat?"
"More often then you would think," replied Blackstar. "Pirates are very fond of using them on damaged ships. They were also turned into weapons during disputes among those pirate groups. I found that they can be useful both as weapons and as tools. Here, take the pilot seat."
Blackstar got out of the pilot seat and Serena took hir place. After switching the grappler system into simulator mode Blackstar showed Serena how to fit into the grappler manipulator, a glove and sleeve-like attachment. Serena got training with the various weapons and tools and even fought a few simulated pirates, and quickly became proficient in their usage.
A few decks away Nightrose was trying to wash away her problems by taking a shower. Normally a shower would make her feel better but she just couldn’t get her mind off of last night. What’s the matter with me? It’s Blackstar, shi’s my partner, and shi’s a shi. I must be going crazy. When she was finished in the shower Nightrose, chose to drip dry and looked at herself in the bathroom’s full length mirror. She leaned in close to the mirror and began talking to herself, "Blackstar is your partner. Shi is a Chakat, shi is not a male." Nightrose hung her head, "Then why can’t I stop thinking about last night?" Nightrose punched the wall out of frustration, and instantly regretted it. "You have a crush on your partner, you have a bruised hand, you’re talking to yourself, and you’re starting to sound like a Terran. Smooth."
Nightrose replicated an outfit and made her way to the bridge, trying to calm herself. She finally entered the bridge and stopped in the doorway staring at the sight in front of her. There was Blackstar being close to Serena. Blackstar stopped for a minute and looked back at the main door and saw the Caitian silhouetted in the doorway. Blackstar excused hirself and went to talk to Nightrose. "Mornin’ Nightrose. How are you this morning?"
"I’m doing fine," said Nightrose in an almost convincing tone. "How are you doing?"
"Nightrose, there two things you should know," Blackstar raised a finger for emphasis. "One, you’re a lousy actor, and two, I have a very high empathy rating so it’s almost impossible to lie to me. What’s wrong?"
Nightrose fidgeted for a minute before saying, "I… it’s just that… I’m not sure what’s wrong. I don’t know why I’m feeling this way."
"Well I felt some strong emotions coming from you when you entered the room," said Blackstar. "What’s wrong?"
Nightrose hesitated, "I think I was jealous."
"Jealous?" asked Blackstar, "That means either you’re actually a lesbian and have fallen in love with 8-Ball, or you’ve fallen in love with me which would be really weird. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world."
"Do you mean you could fall in love with me?" asked Nightrose who seemed to be very excited at the prospect.
"Well, we’re partners and close friends, and I’ll admit that I think you’re attractive. I’ve just never acted on it because you’re my partner, and Caitians aren’t known for their sexual stamina."
Nightrose put her hands on her hips. "Are you saying that you won’t date someone because they don’t have the same sexual stamina as you sex-crazed chakats? I’m more then willing to show you just how sexually powerful a Caitian can be!"
Blackstar was about to say something but shi paused when shi sensed someone in the hallway. Faera raised her hands into a defensive position and said, "I didn’t hear a thing. I didn’t hear a thing. I’m just going to go back to my room and have breakfast." Faera backed away, turned around and ran down the hall.
With a grin Blackstar said, "I bet she misses the days when all she had to worry about was whether or not her boyfriend was gay."
Faera’s voice could be heard echoing down the hall, "HE WASN’T GAY!"
"She still can’t accept that he was gay," said Blackstar. At Nightrose’s confused look Blackstar said, "He wasn’t that good looking either. I’m still not sure why she went out with him." After an awkward silence Blackstar added, "the word you’re looking for is: anyway."
Nightrose laughed. "Anyway," said Nightrose, "um… I think I’m going to get some breakfast. Would you like to join me?"
Blackstar agreed, "But don’t think that means you’re going to get out of talking about what’s wrong."
Nightrose and Blackstar walked down to Blackstar’s quarters and ordered their breakfast from the replicator. Blackstar ordered hir favorite cereal while Nightrose had the Caitian equivalent which resembled kibble, but tasted better. After a few bites Blackstar asked, "Now will you tell me what’s going on?"
Nightrose sighed and looked down at the cereal, thinking she would much rather be eating that than having this conversation. "Well, I think it’s a matter of bad timing on my part. You remember when I told you about how I was… dumped, I believe the term is?" Blackstar nodded. "Of course you remember," Nightrose muttered to herself. "Anyway, I am also entering heat and that’s why I wanted to sleep with you. While I don’t want to make our relationship awkward by having sex with you, I still needed some comfort." Blackstar nodded in understanding; many a chakat had found themselves in similar situations. Nightrose continued, "and now, I’m not sure why but I feel more attracted to you then ever." Nightrose waited for a reaction from Blackstar but when Blackstar didn’t say anything Nightrose said, "I sense you’re worried about something."
"You have no idea about just how right you are," said Blackstar, "because that was exactly what I was thinking." Blackstar took a sip of hir drink before continuing. "As you know Chakats are empathic, and I have a very high rating," Nightrose nodded in understanding so Blackstar continued, "and we already have a close bond from our partnership. You were entering heat when you and I slept in the same bed, but what I haven’t told you is that I am in my male phase at this time. I think we may be forming an even stronger empathic bond."
"Does that mean we can have sex?" asked Nightrose.
Blackstar raised an eyebrow, "You really are coming into heat, aren’t you?" It wasn’t really a question because Blackstar could already sense the answer and was already beginning to feel aroused by it, Nightrose nodded anyway. "Well it wouldn’t be the worst reason I’ve had sex with someone. And this time I actually have a chance at a successful relationship, but I want to do this the right way." Blackstar stood up, walked around the table and stood in front of Nightrose, got down on one knee and asked, "Nightrose will you be my Denmate?"
Nightrose giggled at the very human gesture Blackstar was making. She surprised even herself when she said, "Hell ya!" After getting control of herself she said, "I think we’re both spending too much time around Serge."
Blackstar nodded in agreement, "But there is one thing that I believe is universal in both our species."
"What’s that?" asked Nightrose.
Blackstar grinned, "Consummating it!" Nightrose smacked herself on the head for forgetting that. "You know when you do that, you’re only hitting yourself." Nightrose rolled her eyes. "I’ll work on the sarcasm."
Blackstar and Nightrose walked down to Blackstar’s quarters, but just when they were about to enter, Blackstar stopped Nightrose, "Nightrose there’s something I need to tell you. I’m a hopeless romantic." Before Nightrose could say anything, Blackstar bent down and swept her off her feet and carried her across the threshold.
"A girl could get used to this," said Nightrose. "Wait, what about returning the ship to normal space and landing on Quenxel?"
"Don’t worry," said Blackstar, "Layla can handle it."
Three hours later…
Blackstar was still putting on hir vest when shi and Nightrose reached the bridge. "What’s going on?" asked Blackstar.
Serena reported, "We’re receiving a distress signal from the capital, sir! A group of unknown ships is assaulting it. They also have giant battle mechs walking down Main Street and digging up the auxiliary power generators."
Layla reported on the technical readouts of the enemy, "The enemy fighters look like ornithopters that have eight machine gun type phaser weapons, four to a wing pod. The mechs are bipedal and equipped with an unknown type of armour. They’ve crossed Sixth Avenue, Fifth Avenue, and they are using lasers to dig out the generators. They have resisted all weapons. Code 90216 has been declared. Also none of them appear to be manned."
Blackstar nodded in understanding. "Inform them that I’m on my way. Prepare my ship for launch." Blackstar ran towards the small launch bay in the bottom of the hull that held a blade-class fighter whose cockpit was designed specifically for a Chakat pilot.
Nightrose followed Blackstar down to the bay. "Don’t think you’re going to get away that easily. I’m coming with you."
"It would be a tight fit. And you wouldn’t be doing anything."
"I’d be watching your back," said Nightrose, "and saving your life as usual."
"Fine," said Blackstar, "let’s roll out." Once Blackstar was situated in the seat, Nightrose climbed on hir lower back right before the cockpit closed. The fighter was angular and aerodynamic, with variable geometry wings. Connecting the wings to the ship was an equipment pod on either side that contained the primary phaser guns and shield generators. The equipment pod could be replaced to give the ship a large number of mission profiles. A single engine was mounted behind the cockpit. The tapered nose housed the sensors and the main computer as well as a plasma cannon that gave the fighter a rechargeable punch. The fighter could carry a small number of missiles and had a single missile launcher. This model only carried three missiles in its current configuration. The fighter also had a number of modifications that Blackstar had made to it over the years.
The Blade fighter launched and ran into the planet’s atmosphere. The re-entry was a bit rough but that was nothing compared to the sight of Quenxel’s capital being consumed by flame and smoke. Once flying at normal combat speed, the fighter’s wings reconfigured for a more maneuverable form, by using the elevators on the wings the fighter was actually more maneuverable in air then in space. "Hang on back there."
The fighter flew into the canyons of the city seeking out the vehicles attacking the city. It was only a moment before Blackstar spotted one of the flapping fighters and fired on it. The ornithopter was destroyed in a flaming fireball. "This is where it gets interesting." No sooner were the words out of hir mouth than a furry of phaser shots blazed past the cockpit. "What did I tell you?"
Blackstar put the fighter on its port wing and pulled hard up resulting in a hard left turn. The ornithopters didn’t have enough time to follow as Blackstar flew down the side street. "You okay back there?"
"Keep your eyes on the road flyboy," said Nightrose.
Once back into a main street, Blackstar rotated the fighter so that it was belly down again. Blackstar was able to pick off a few stragglers before shi finally spotted a mech; several in fact. Shi fired several shots at the advancing mechs but the mechs were barely phased by the blasts, with only a few dents to show for its trouble. "Shit! The phasers are useless. Perhaps we should make it hot."
"Watch your language," said Nightrose.
"Sorry, I tend to swear when in battle like this," explained Blackstar. Blackstar switched hir chosen weapon to the plasma canon, charged it to full power and fired. The blast heated the metal enough for it to glow red but did very little actual damage. "Darn, they’re immune even to the plasma cannon."
"What about the missiles?"
"We only carry three, hardly enough to take out this army," said Blackstar. Shi hit a button on the comm. panel, "Blackstar to Layla, I need options."
While Blackstar waited for reply shi picked off the airborne enemies and fired a few pot shots at the mechs. Layla finally replied, "The mechs are covered in some sort of metal that my scanners don’t recognize. Its properties show that it is resistant to blaster and weaker physical weapons. The Blade’s battle blades could cut through it and the missiles are very effective. They also have poor balance."
"Thanks Layla," said Blackstar. "It looks like we’re going to be getting close and personal with those mechs. Still glad you came Nightrose?"
"I wouldn’t have missed it for the world," replied the Caitian, "oh, there are three fighters closing on our tail."
"Thanks, hang on," said Blackstar. Shi dropped altitude to just above the street with the wings barely clearing the PTVs, and hit the brakes dropping air speed rapidly. The three fighters overshot the Blade, and Blackstar raised altitude and fired on all three with the phasers and plasma cannon. "This is too easy. Now let’s get a little closer to the mechs."
Shi felt Nightrose hug hir a little more tightly, she whispered, "I’m with you all the way."
Blackstar found a group of battle mechs being fired upon by the local military forces. "This is Captain Blackstar to defense forces, please cease fire; I’ve got a plan to take them out."
"This is Lieutenant Dawson. We’re ceasing fire. I hope you know what you’re doing," replied a female voice.
"That makes two…" a digging of claws made hir pause, "…three of us." Blackstar activated the feature that gave Blades their name, an energized blade on the edge of the wings. The fighter’s wings extended to maximum wingspan and their forward edges glowed a yellowish color. "Let’s get it on!"
The fighter’s cockpit just barely fit in between the bodies of the mechanized soldiers, but the blades themselves slashed through one mech after another taking causing critical damage. What Blackstar did not expect was the resulting explosions. The blade barely stayed ahead of blast. "What the hell is powering these things?"
Layla answered, "They are using the scorched earth method. These bots are suicidal. If you destroy them, the generators explode. I’m uncertain about how we should attack them."
"I have an idea," said Nightrose. "Attack the legs. It will render them incapable of using weapons and will keep their reactors from being destroyed."
"Calculating," said Layla. "I estimate a 93% reduction in danger of explosion."
"Good thinking, Nightrose," said Blackstar. "We’ll have to stay ahead of the falling bodies."
"What about those fighters?" asked Nightrose.
"Leave that to us," said a new voice, a female with a British accent. "Mobius Squadron engage at will."
Blackstar smiled as shi saw the blue-bodied fighters flying into the artificial valleys of the city. "It’s about time you showed up Big Blue."
"Well I couldn’t let you reap all the glory," said ‘Big Blue’. "We’ll worry about the fighters, and you take care of the mechs. They already have some of the generators, with enough casualties they should back off."
Blackstar started slashing the mechs at their legs, causing them to fall forward, rendering them immobile. It was only a few minutes before the mechs were disabled or destroyed. Blackstar grinned. "Sometimes it helps to not be in formation, especially when it’s close range combat."
"All mechs disabled," reported Layla. "Now help Big Blue clean up those fighters."
"No problem," said Blackstar. "Now I just need to find some."
"Actually they found us," said Nightrose. "We just picked up a few bogeys on our tail and they looked pissed off."
"They look the same to me," said Serena talking over the comm.
"Oh, trust me they’re pissed," said Nightrose. "They’re definitely coming back with a vengeance. They’re bots so it’ll be impossible to shake’em if they don’t want to be shaken."
Anything Nightrose could’ve added was drowned out by a number of phaser blasts weakening the aft shields on the fighter. "Can anyone help us?" asked Blackstar.
"Negative," said Layla. "No one can get to you for another two or three minutes. You’re on your own."
Blackstar tried dodging the weapons fire but, as the aft shields were continually weakening, shi knew shi was running out of time. "Okay, I’m going to lead them out over the water. Try to buy some time." Shi flew the fighter out of the artificial canyons of the city and flew out over one of Quenxel’s oceans. Blackstar took the fighter to an altitude of 10,000 meters before shi dove, losing most of what was left in the Blade’s aft shields.
The fighter continued to pick up speed as it dove towards the ocean with a half dozen ornithopters on its tail. As the fighter got closer to the ocean, Nightrose started to panic, "um… Blackstar, we’re going too fast, you need to pull up." Another few thousand meters and Nightrose repeated her warning, but Blackstar either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her. Nightrose gripped Blackstar even tighter. She watched the altitude meter dropped farther and farther down, it read triple digits, double digits, and the meter went down so fast the single digits weren’t even readable, before the fighter was submerged. Nightrose didn’t even realize that she had closed her eyes until she slowly started opening them. She looked around and saw a blue glow around the cockpit and realized the fighter was underwater.
Nightrose’s mouth worked up and down a moment before she finally said, "We’re under water," she gave Blackstar a dirty look. "You knew this the whole time? I thought we were going to die! You should have said something."
Blackstar turned around and gave hir a cocky grin. "If you can’t handle it, feel free to leave."
"You won’t get rid of me that easily," said Nightrose. She asked, "How are we not sinking without the marine attachments?"
"It’s something that Serge helped me rig up," explained Blackstar. "I got inspiration from an old twenty-first century movie he showed me. It was Sky Captain I believe, a human who flew a heavily modified P-40E and basically saved the day. One of the modified features was underwater abilities like this. You ain’t seen anything yet."
The Blade began to picking up speed and broke the surface of the water; Blackstar briefly inverted the fighter to spot the remains of the unmanned fighters. Nightrose couldn’t see Blackstar grinning when shi said, "I’m glad those weren’t piloted. It makes it easier to destroy them without giving it a second thought."
Blackstar hit the comm. "Layla, status report."
"The robotic force has suffered 90% casualties and the remaining forces are in retreat. Mobius Squadron has not suffered any damage. The city however is a different story. Estimates are in the tens of thousands for casualties and it’s being revised upward. All mercenaries in the air battle are being asked to report to Sand Island Defence Base for debriefing and job offers."
"Roger that, we’re on our way," Blackstar replied. "Maybe we’ll get answers as to what’s going on around here." The Blade flew out to a small base that was used to house the local defense fighters. The base’s survival confused Blackstar. Normally they would’ve been the first defense to be deployed, but there was no sign of the local squadrons.
After parking the fighter in one of the hangers designated for visitor usage, Blackstar and Nightrose were lead to a debriefing room along with the pilots of Mobius squadron, whom Nightrose never met but Blackstar was clearly friends with. The most unusual member of the squadron was its leader, who was of a species that Nightrose had never even heard about. The leader’s scent indicated a hermaphrodite and hir features were caninetaur based, but hir fur was a light blue. Shi also had a black eye patch over hir left eye and spoke in British accent. Nightrose waited patiently for Blackstar to catch up with hir friends before she was finally introduced to them.
Blackstar introduced the blue taur first, "Nightrose I’d like you to meet Krystal aka Big Blue, and leader of Mobius squadron, a fellow team of mercenaries. Big Blue, this is Nightrose my partner and first officer, not by choice."
Krystal extended hir hand, "Nightrose, it’s nice to finally meet the competition."
Blackstar had a shocked look on hir face and quickly said, "Shi’s joking! Shi’s just joking. You are joking, right Krys?"
Krystal got an evil grin on hir face. "Maybe," shi said. Shi turned around to take a seat in the front row. Blackstar was about to say something but stopped when Krystal slapped hir on the butt. When shi turned around Krystal winked at hir.
Nightrose raised an eyebrow. "How did you know hir, and just what species is shi?"
Blackstar looked back at Krystal for a moment before answering, "My father worked with hir mother a lot. We got to know each other real well before I left for Earth. Hir species is a whole another matter. Hir sire is unknown, but hir mother was a normal foxtaur vixen, except for the whole technology thing. Whenever we asked hir mother about it, she would claim that shi was a force from the future."
A slightly overweight wolf morph came in and took a position at the front of the briefing room. "I’m Colonel Orson Perrault, commander of Sand Island airbase. Thanks to your help, we were able to fight off the attack."
Blackstar raised hir hand. "Um… what’s with all this we stuff. Me and Mobius squadron did all the hard work. Where were your squadrons?"
Perrault glared at Blackstar. "This isn’t the first attack we’ve dealt with. Most of my squadrons were destroyed earlier this week. An attack on a city up north was the first call today, but they quickly destroyed the squadrons I sent before continuing to the capital. The remaining fighters are trainees. Any more smartass questions?"
Nightrose shook her head, knowing what Blackstar was going to do. Blackstar said, "Yes. Have you thought about trying a Weight Watchers program?"
Perrault spoke above the laughter. "No I haven’t. Now shut up before I have to talk to your commanding officer."
Blackstar stood up and said, "I dare you to call hir, asshole. You know what? Here you can even use my comm. device," which shi handed to the overweight wolf. Nightrose wished she could stop her mate’s childish behavior.
"Fine," said Perrault. He opened the comm. device and waited for it to show that the channel was open. Perrault finally got an answer, "Hello, this is Colonel Perrault of… wait a minute. Who is this? Pizza Barn? " Perrault dialed again, "Pizza Barn again?"
Blackstar raised hir hand, "since you keep calling Pizza Barn can you order a large mushroom pizza for me?"
Nightrose raised an eyebrow. "Only mushrooms?"
Krystal answered for Blackstar. "Believe it or not, Blackstar refuses to put any thing other than mushrooms for a topping on a pizza."
Perrault gave Blackstar a dirty look. He looked ready to pummel something before he said, "Let’s move on. These assault forces have repeatedly attacked our planet, but this is the first time they’ve attacked a city. It’s also the first time that more then a handful of mechs were destroyed. They come, they take what they need, and leave without a trace. We’re hiring anyone we can to defend this planet and its territory. I’d like the opinions of the squadrons on how we should defend the planet." He groaned when he saw Blackstar’s hand go up. "Yes, what is it?"
"Well first of all, I think it’s about time I told you that your fly has been open since you entered this room," explained Blackstar. When the Colonel finished fixing his fly, Blackstar continued. "Second of all you should start purchasing Blade-class fighters and training pilots for close range combat to fight the mechs."
Perrault rolled his eyes. "Do you know how expensive Blades are? Not to mention the cost of training the pilots!"
"I know better then anyone. I helped design the Blades and I’ve trained a few pilots, Mr. Perrault," said Blackstar. "So don’t give me one of those speeches where you act superior because you’re a military officer while I’m just a lowly mercenary. Do I make myself clear?"
The colonel laughed, "Do you expect me to believe that you designed the Blade-class fighters? The design is as old as you are."
Blackstar gave hir characteristic grin, "Perrault, one thing you should know about me is: nothing is ever what it seems. A single Blade in a set of trained hands is equal to a whole squadron of normal fighters."
Colonel Perrault glared at the Chakat before asking, "Just who do you think you are? Do you really think I’m going to listen to some cub who claims to be self-employed and a designer of the Blades?"
Blackstar exchanged a glance with Nightrose and Krystal and gave hir cocky grin, "I am Blackstar, Captain of the Mercenary Starship Mystic and leader of the Blitz team. I destroyed more pirate ships by age ten than your entire military has in the past twenty years. I am also the one who took out the battle mechs and a large number of fighters, before Mobius squadron came in and cleaned up what I hadn’t finished off."
Krystal laughed, "Well, we weren’t allowed to land because of those fighters and we were getting impatient. We were just coming in from a long patrol."
Perrault’s eye started twitching. "I think I’ll let my second-in-command handle this." Perrault left the room and another male wolf took his place.
This wolf was much more fit and much more attractive in Blackstar’s opinion. "I am Captain Allen Hamilton. Alright, I need names, prices, and resources. Once everything is checked out, we’ll contact you with contracts we’re willing to give until we get the local defense forces back on their feet."
After five hours of negotiating, Blackstar was assigned to train the training squadron that was on the base at the time. Luckily they were already piloting Blades, so it was only a matter of retraining them so they wouldn’t get themselves killed using standard military tactics, and Blackstar used the term ‘tactics’ loosely when talking about the Quenxel air force.
The contract gave Blackstar full command of the unit for three months. Shi was hoping that some of them might want to join the team at that time and then shi could buy out their contracts.
A wolf named Rys Dallows was the senior of the trainees, but the most likely to sell out, in Blackstar’s opinion. On the other end of the scale was Miles Prower, a rookie and a speed demon. He was an unusual fox morph with golden brown fur and had two tails, which had led to his being nicknamed Tails. A Quange named Tyria Sarkin was the most level-headed of the group, which wasn’t saying much, and she was skilled when making repairs to fighters and often created her own little inventions, earning her the nickname, Gadget. The chief mechanic was Tyria’s brother, Carl, who was also a decent cook. Serena also flew in a fighter that was provided in the contract and was flying under her street-racing nickname, 8-Ball. Blackstar thought that this would only be temporary, but shi had no idea just how long shi’d be working with this group of oddballs.
Two weeks later, the MSS Mystic came in at high warp, maintaining a much higher speed than normal thanks to the modifications to the new AFU and some minor adjustments the warp engines. What surprised Blackstar was that hir little sister was on board. Apparently shi had stowed away and wasn’t discovered until the ship was already two parsecs away from earth. When Blackstar talked to Trip about what shi had done, shi was given a most startling confession.
"They wanted to send me to Earth," explained Trip.
"What does that have to do with why you stowed away on our own ship?" asked Blackstar. Shi found it more then a little disturbing that shi couldn’t read hir sister’s eyes because of the VISOR Trip was wearing.
"Well, sis, one thing I don’t think you realize is that I’ve never been on a planet," explained Trip, "I’m very scared of landing on a planet."
Blackstar’s mouth hung open. "Have you really never landed on a planet? I never realized that. Why are you scared of landing on a planet?"
Trip hesitated for a minute, "Planets are very unsafe. They have tornados, hurricanes, landslides, earthquakes, all sorts of horrible weather. It’s just horrible on planets."
Nightrose giggled when she overheard that. Most people thought of space travel as being more dangerous than being on a planet, and here this little Chakat was afraid of landing on a planet.
Blackstar briefed the rest of the team on the situation and about the new squadron members they had been given as part of the contract with Quenxel’s defense fleet. During the first night the Mystic was in orbit, Blackstar, Miles, and Serena went on a simple patrol mission while Nightrose went to visit Snowfall.
Snowfall, Blackstar’s half-sister, lived in a lighthouse on a small island a few miles out of the harbor of the capital. Snowfall’s fur color was solid white, and shi had only met the Blitz team out of sheer coincidence (if you believe in that kind of thing.) Shi had left her mother, Parishka, and hired the Blitz team to serve as hir body guard. When Blackstar tried to find a legal solution, by trying to find another relative to take care of Snowfall, shi got quite a shock when Snowfall turned out to be hir half-sister. Parishka had a nervous breakdown and had been trying to get revenge by killing Blackstar ever since. Snowfall still kept in touch with the Blitz Team ever since shi relocated to Quenxel.
Snowfall greeted Nightrose with the traditional Chakat hug and escorted her to the living room. They sat down and started talking about how Nightrose and Blackstar had become mates, among other things. It was Snowfall who brought up the attack first. "I decided to do a little research on the net about the mechs and fighters that attacked us a few weeks back. I found a number of interesting facts in the process. They were created by an organization called E.V.I.L. That’s an acronym for something, it just happened to spell evil. They use a scorched earth policy when, even when lending them to people they have contracts with."
"Who runs E.V.I.L.?" asked Nightrose.
"A firefox morph named known as Sly Wacoon," explained Snowfall, "but he’s not the problem. E.V.I.L is just a weapons R&D now. And if they were doing anything illegal, Blackstar would’ve taken them down rather then investing in them."
"Wait a minute," said Nightrose, "Blackstar has money invested in a company that attacked the city, and then destroyed their equipment?"
Snowfall smiled. "Not exactly. Shi does have a lot of money invested in E.V.I.L. They loan out their equipment. According to their standard contracts,, none of their investors are liable for the destruction of the equipment that they’ve been loaned. It’s who they loaned them to that’s interesting. It’s a group known as the Grey Knights. It’s an anti-human group made up of wolf morphs. You’ll never believe who some of the members are. My mother is one of them, and another one is…" shi was interrupted by a large noise outside. "What the hell was that?" Snowfall walked over to the window and saw a light shining through it. "Oh, shit!" That was the only warning Nightrose had before an explosion destroyed the wall.
Blackstar was so bored with the patrol that shi was actually listening to the conversation going on between the two rookies. Shi actually got so interested in the pointless debate that shi took a moment to realize that someone was trying to hail hir. Shi switched to the appropriate channel, and got Hamilton on the mike, "Blackstar, an explosion was just seen on the Lighthouse Island 5."
"This is Blackstar; I’m on my way at max speed." Shi set course for hir sister’s lighthouse and pushed hir thrust indicator as high as it would go.
"Captain Blackstar, you must slow down. You haven’t been authorized to exceed supersonic speeds. Slow down now or…" Blackstar didn’t hear the rest because shi ‘accidentally’ hit the off button on the comm. unit.
Even with the Blade going as fast as it could in atmosphere, it took Blackstar ten minutes to reach the island. When it finally came into view, Blackstar could see the flames engulfing the top of the lighthouse. After decelerating faster than the Blade was ever designed for, shi landed on a grass field just a hundred feet from the lighthouse. Shi leaped out of the cockpit and ran into the burning building. Shi yelled at the top of her lungs for Snowfall and Nightrose, but couldn’t hear a response. Shi walked through the building until shi reached the downstairs living room. Shi could see a giant hole in the wall that could not be created by a fire but rather a powerful explosive. Shi heard something but as shi was turning around a flaming piece of wood fell and shi deflected it with hir left arm. Shi walked towards the voice and found Nightrose. "Nightrose, where’s Snow?"
In a raspy voice she replied, "They took hir," before she slipped into unconsciousness. Blackstar picked up Nightrose and carried her out the front door and laid her on the ground just beyond the starfighter. By now a medical unit had landed on the small island and walked over to the Caitian and the Chakat. They started with working on Nightrose, while Blackstar ordered the two other pilots still in the air to search for any suspicious craft leaving the vicinity of the island.
One of the field doctors walked over to Blackstar and began scanning hir. Blackstar knocked the tricorder out of the doctor’s hand and said, "I don’t need medical attention."
"You’re worse than your father. At least shi let people scan hir before shi knocked the tricorder out of the hand."
"How do you know my father?" asked Blackstar.
"Then how did you know about the tricorder, thing?"
A hand touched hir shoulder, "you told me. A few weeks back when you brought me here."
Blackstar took a good look at the man who had tried to scan hir. "Doctor Oliver? You aren’t a medical doctor, are you?"
"I’m covering for a friend. I took some basic courses in field medicine," explained the doctor, "and from the looks of it, you need a mechanic to repair that arm of yours."
"It’s just a scratch, I’ve had worst," said Blackstar. "How’s Nightrose?"
Dr. Oliver linked his tricorder to the others to see the reading they were getting. "She appears to have some minor problems easily taken care of. Some impact trauma; they’ll want to keep her for observation at a hospital overnight."
"I want her put on my ship."
"You don’t have a qualified medic," Oliver pointed out.
"You’re one," said Blackstar.
Oliver smiled for a moment. "No. Don’t even think about it. No Way!"
"Welcome aboard, Doctor Oliver," said Sasha as she escorted the doctor aboard. "This job’ll suck. You’re going to love it."
"This is just a temp job," he reassured her.
"Most of this crew said that at some point or another," commented Sasha. "Did you know that I was originally hired to kill hir?"
"Almost everyone has tried to kill me at some point," Sasha whirled around in surprise and found that Blackstar had snuck up on her. "Even Trip has taken a shot at me."
Sasha smiled knowing that was actually true. "And you haven’t always gotten away clean," she added indicating the artificial arm which still had metal showing through the fake fur that had been burned off during the incident earlier that night.
"Ironically this injury has saved my life more then once, including tonight," said Blackstar, "if this arm was real, I’d have second or third degree burns on it and I’d be in the hospital for the rest of the night."
"How do you plan to find your sister?" asked Dr. Oliver.
Dr. Oliver nodded in understanding but Sasha asked for an explanation.
"Everyone in my family has a special isotope hidden somewhere under their skin that transmits on a specific frequency," explained Blackstar. "All we need to do is adjust the scanners to sense the frequency and then follow the breadcrumbs." Sasha raised an eyebrow. "The breadcrumbs aren’t important; we just need to hurry, because it’ll fade in a few hours from now. It has a life expectancy of 24 hours." Shi hit hir comm badge. "Layla modify the sensors to trace Snowfall’s signal, and relay it to stellar cartography."
"I’ll be in sickbay," said Doctor Oliver before he went to check on Nightrose.
Blackstar and Sasha went down to cartography and met Trip there. Inside was a holographic representation of the Quenxel system. At the touch of a button, a green line went away from Quenxel and moved on a course away and down, relatively speaking, from the system’s sun. "Oh, my god, shi’s outside the system!" exclaimed Trip.
"Trip, get to the bridge. Set a course maximum speed and inform Sky and Vega to stand by with the AFU," ordered Blackstar. "Sasha, have all fighters on board and on hot standby A.S.A.P." Shi slapped hir comm badge again. "Layla, keep the engines on hot standby. If we can’t catch up in Mystic, we may need to go to Slipstream." Blackstar hit the badge again and barked out proper orders to prepare for launch and then addressed the entire ship, "All hands, prepare to roll out."
Final notes: Who was the member of the Grey Knights that Snowfall didn’t mention? Will they be able to rescue Snowfall? Will Nightrose and Blackstar be able to leave each others sight after the lighthouse incident? Will Blackstar forget to tell Doctor Oliver that they are leaving Quenxel?
Continued in Episode 4
Story and Characters are copyright of Alex Wiegerling unless otherwise stated
Faera is copyright of Ileah Pankratz and used with her permission
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove
Rosepetal is copyright Boyce Garald Kline Jr
The Folly and her captain are copyright of Allen Fesler
Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns
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