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