Sasha found her fellow crewmates 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 a living being for extended periods of time; three had been occupied, two were covered in condensation due to use. Blackstar began working on one of the consoles, while Sashaís curiosity got the better of her. She began wiping the condensation off one of the tubes, but Blackstar spotted her movement, "Sasha stop."
It was too late. Sasha saw the face in the tube. "What theÖ what the hell is this?"
"Didnít you know Sasha?" asked a new voice. "Every copy has to have an original."
The boarding team turned around and saw Parishka and a group of escorts. Blackstar waved. "Hey, how you doing? Hey how did you get here? The Midnight Star barely made it, and sheís got one of the strongest hulls available."
"We improvised a way to increase the structural integrity on our shuttle, long enough to get here," explained Parishka. "It doesnít matter because this is where you die."
Blackstar crouched down and put hir left arm up defensively, and to position hir personal shield to an optimal position, but no shots were fired. After a moment Blackstar looked from one hired gun to the next, and quickly realized that no one was firing. Then Blackstar turned hir head to look behind hir and decided that shi had figured it out. "You need the original for something, so your men arenít firing. What do you need her for?"
Parishka crossed her arms. "Like Iíd tell you. I talk too much as it is, but Iím not going to keep babbling about how I need something or someone to you."
While the Blitz team members could easily shoot Parishka and her cronies, Blackstar hesitated because it didnít quite seem fair. Being a Chakat, shi had difficulties in situations such as this one, and hir practical and peaceful sides would be in conflict. After a moment debating with hirself, Blackstar finally came to a decision. "Fire stunÖ"
Blackstar was interrupted by Parishka shouting, "Attack!" to her men. Only 8-Ball was able to get a single shot fired before the morphs under Parishkaís command engaged them in hand to hand. Most were able to disarm their opponents, however. The Blitz team had started out as primarily being a ground unit before they purchased a capital ship, and Blackstar made sure that every member could at least fight in hand to hand combat.
The Quenxelian wolf morph, Rys, delivered a quick kick to the knee of his opponent, a fox morph. As the fox began to lose his balance from the blow, Rys smashed his elbow into his enemyís snout, knocking the fox backward. Rys delivered an upper cut to his opponentís jaw, knocking the unfortunate fox to the floor. Rys recovered his stunner and used it to finish off his opponent.
Sasha was faced with two fierce wolf morphs, one of which was sent flying after receiving a blow to his chest. Judging by the cracking sound, at least one of his ribs was broken. The second wolf was far more cunning and tried to slide in close to his far larger opponent, and actually got behind her. However this would prove to be a far worse location when Sasha bent over and balanced on her hands. Her powerful legs sent the wolf into one of the unoccupied stasis tubes. The wolf tried to stand but fell forward.
8-Ball, having all but lived in a local bar during her youth, delivered a low blow to the badgerís groin. This had been a move that had served her well in many a bar brawl, unless the unfortunate guy was too drunk to feel the pain While the war morph tried to recover from the devastating blow, 8-Ball delivered a one-two punch knocking the badger morph out cold.
Dr. Oliver was normally a pacifist, but when a badger morph tried to land a blow, he deflected it with ease. He grinned and said, "You really shouldnít pull your arm all the way back like that. It leaves you open to attack." An attack he demonstrated well, with a punch to the solar plexus, with a follow-up punch to the badgerís face. The badger fell to the ground nursing his bloodied face. A wolf tried to knock the doctor down with a sweeping kick, but the doctor used the foot the wolf was aiming for to send himself into a spin. He used the momentum to kick the wolfís side. When the wolf doubled over, the doctor picked him up by his clothing and rammed him into a nearby computer console causing a number of sparks to be sent flying.
Blackstar had no problem with hir opponents, a pair of wolves and a male Caitian. The Caitian made a frontal attack, which ended when Blackstar grabbing an arm at a specific pressure point. The Caitian was then knocked out with a blow to the head. The two wolves tried to attack from hir right side and rear, believing those to be hir weakest points. The wolf attacking from behind was caught by Blackstarís prehensile tail. To counter the other wolf, Blackstar did a side flip to hir left side, grabbed the wolf with the claws of hir handpaws and sent him flying into a nearby computer console. Blackstar used the momentum to send the wolf that shi had trapped with hir tail flying to join his companion. The wolves were finished off with a series of shots from Blackstarís stunner.
Blackstar took a quick look around the lab looking for an opponent. Shi nodded in approval as shi saw the enemy had all been defeated. Then shi realized that Parishka was nowhere to be seen. "Oh, crap. Where has she gotten off to?" Shi went to work on the console controlling the stasis pods. "Weíll need reinforcements," shi explained, "and these two are the best ground-air team weíve got."
Sasha, being a curious feline by nature, rubbed the condensation off the second pod finding herself face-to-face with an armored figure. "Who is this?"
"That would be Tex," said Blackstar. "Heís the ground specialist. The armor is also his life support system. He was badly injured and his neural net was grafted into that suit. He is about as strong as a Chakat and just as quick. He can shoot a flea off a dogís back at thousand yards with a pistol."
Sasha blinked twice. "Youíre making that up. Arenít you?"
"Just about his aim," Blackstar replied. The room began to fill with some sort of steam or smoke being released by the pods. "Yes arise! Arise my evil minions!"
The figures of the two that had been held in stasis emerged from the steam. The otherwise dramatic effect was ruined by them both coughing. The young Wolftaur looked at her armored companion with a look of confusion. "Hey Tex, if you donít have lungs why are you coughing?"
A deep synthesized voice replied, "I guess itís old habit." The armored figure, who stood at 6í10", turned to most likely look at Blackstar. However, a reflective visor prevented anyone from knowing where he was actually looking. "So Boss, whatís so important that you woke us from our naps? I was having a good dream where Lucy and I were screwing like rabbits."
Once she stopped coughing, the young Parishka punched Blackstar in the face, and then as if nothing had happened, she stood at attention ignoring the fact that she was nude. However what was more surprising to Sasha than Parishkaís posture was her southern drawl "What are our orders, shir?"
"What was that all about?" Sasha looked at Blackstar with a confused stare. "You were their commander? Parishka has an accent? What else have you not bothered to mention?"
Blackstar shrugged. "Maybe, I commanded them once. Those two, Vega, and myself were a squad of elite fighters. Our last mission was supposed to be escorting the Time Matrix to its new hiding place. Of course the best hiding place is where no one would look."
"The Maelstrom?" asked Sasha.
Before Blackstar could answer, Tex interrupted. "Not to be rude or anything, but I was under the impression that we werenít supposed to talk about the mission or the device to anyone. Who are these people and just how long have we been out?"
"Donít worry, Tex. Sasha is my chief tactical and security officer. You two have been in stasis for twenty years. And I am the Captain and owner of the Blitz team. Also, donít feel too jealous that Iíve been awake longer then you. I was injured shortly after my departure and was in stasis until a couple years ago. Also, Iíve been chased half way across the Maelstrom by Parishkaís psychotic clones."
The young Wolftaur now interrupted Blackstar. "UmÖ why would my clone be chasing you?"
Blackstar hesitated, looking for a way to explain it without putting the original Parishka into shock. Shi never got the chance though as 8-Ball had gotten impatient and answered for hir. "From what I understand, your clones are missing something or something went wrong in the process and they need the original, you, to fix it. However this defect has made them crazy, unless you are naturally going nuts, but in any case, the first clone taking care of your daughter went crazy when shi ran away. Since, by what I assume is only a huge coincidence, shi ran into the care of hir half-sister, the clone is trying to kill Blackstar for revenge and created more transporter clones of herself to ensure that is accomplished. And now her ship is in combat with our ship and sheís on board this ship, trying to kill us." 8-Ball turned to Blackstar and asked, "Did I leave anything out?"
Blackstar shook hir head, "No, I think that pretty much covers it."
Parishka nodded and said, "Okay."
"Okay?" asked Blackstar. "None of that was confusing or anything?"
Parishka shrugged. "Well, I admit yaíll got to tell me more about this Ďtransporter cloningí stuff later, but I think Iíve got the gist."
Tex laughed before he asked, "Iím more concerned about this half-sister of Blackstarís. Please tell me it wasnít hir father that got you pregnant." The look of guilt on Parishkaís face was answer enough. "Thatís wrong on so many levels. Have you thought about therapy?"
Parishka gave Tex a dirty look. "For your information, we were stuck on an alien planet, and I was in heat. And you of all people should know how bad I get when in heat. Shi turned out to be a very good lover."
"Oh, gods. Thatís something I donít want to hear about," said Blackstar. Shi was covering hir ears, which had lain back against hir head. "Weíve got bigger things to deal with then that. Is the armory still stocked?"
"As far as I know," said Tex.
"Good." Blackstar typed a number of commands into the computer and two containers filled with a number of weapons appeared. One container held Star Fleet standard phasers, phaser rifles, and stunners. The second contained more primitive weapons that used bullets rather then energy beams as well as some grenades. Blackstar pulled out a shotgun from the second container and tossed it to Tex. "Saddle up."
"Lock and load," finished Tex.
Blackstar grinned and grabbed an assault rifle and gestured to the others to grab weapons as well. Blackstar began thinking out loud, "If I were Parishka, where would I go?"
8-Ball interrupted Blackstarís train of thought with an observation, "Why donít we ask her? The clone might have twenty more years of experience then this one, but people will usually use the same strategy as long as there is no unknown factor affecting their decisions."
"Well if it was me," said Parishka, "which it technically is, I would be heading towards engineering to take control of the whole ship."
"We should split up and take the different access routes," suggested Tex. "Since only three of us know the way, so we should split into three teams."
"Agreed," said Blackstar. "Tex, you take Rys and the Doctor to the maintenance shafts. Parishka you take Sasha through the main access corridor. 8-Ball and I will take the back door. Letís get a move on." Shi led the heavily armed team out into the corridor.
The group hadnít even split up before they ran into eight armored figures, each identical to Tex except that they wore a dirt brown color rather then Texís black color. "Oh, I forgot about them," said Parishka. "I guess I would activate the shipís compliment of robot soldiers as well."
"I got this," said Tex. He pulled out a grenade and tossed it into the group of robotic soldiers. The grenade detonated and sent the robots into the walls and disabled at least half of them. The team open fired and was able to defeat the bots before they could fire a shot. Turning to the team, Tex said, "Donít expect all encounters with those bots to be as easy. We just caught them off guard this time. Next time weíll be separated. Be careful."
After the team had separated, Tex was being annoyed by his companions as they opened up a maintenance shaft that led to engineering. Rys and Doctor Oliver were complaining about crawling around when Tex had enough of the whining. "I need you two to shut up. You think itís hard for you? Iíve got a massive suit of armor for a body! All I do is carry tank-sized cannonsÖ wait. Close that up. I just got an awesome idea."
Rys and the Doctor looked at each other. "What do you think we should do?" asked Rys.
"Well, anything is better then crawling through a maintenance shaft," said Doctor Oliver.
Meanwhile, Blackstar led hir Folftaur companion to the level above the main engineering room. 8-Ball was the first to break the silence. "How well do you trust her? The original Parishka I mean."
"I trust her more than you if that helps," replied Blackstar. "As you heard, we were part of the same team. We were well balanced. Parishka was the ace pilot and cook. Tex was the ground specialist and munitions. Vega was the rookie and psychic of the group. I was the team leader."
"Psychic? Do you really believe in that stuff?" asked 8-Ball.
Blackstar shrugged. "Not really. However Vega has often been more right than wrong."
Blackstar stopped in front of a door and indicated that 8-Ball should take the other side. After counting down with hir fingers Blackstar and 8-ball stormed into the room, weapons ready. At the center was a massive column, and a number of consoles on either side of the room. The columnís blue glow was the only illumination, giving the room an eerie appearance. As the two taurs made their way around the column, they saw a figure below the upper deckís balcony. It was working on a console that Blackstar remembered was the primary Warp Core power management console. Blackstar whispered to 8-Ball, "Donít try this at home."
Before 8-Ball could stop hir, Blackstar ran and jumped from the balcony to a position on the opposite side of Parishka. Shi used hir momentum and the claws on hir right front leg to bring hir around to face the old Wolftaur. Blackstar got hir rifle into position before Parishka could even register what had happened. "Parishka you are under arrest. Now surrender. I hate bringing in corpses, and I donít think youíre worth the price of a bullet."
Blackstar was surprised as Parishkaís face broke into a grin. "My, my, my. You are persistent. Not to mention annoying. Now Iíll be rid of you once and for all, and if I ever find where you hid the Matrix, Iíll change things so that youíll never exist in the first place."
"You never learn, do you?" Blackstar slowly shook hir head in disappointment. "If I never exist, then youíll never meet my father, and you two will never have sex and have a kid. All youíve fought for will also not exist."
Parishka wagged a finger in front of Blackstarís face. "You should know better then anyone that the device doesnít just change history, but that it has that failsafe that protects the user from being erased. If I can extend that power to my daughterÖ"
"Shiíll remember everything you did, including try to kill me, kidnapping hir, and who knows what else," Blackstar grimaced as shi explained this. "You can have success in your mission but itíll take millions of years before you can get all the variables just the way you want them. Of course thatís all assuming that you find the device. Which you wonít because Iím a freaking genius." Just as shi finished talking, Blackstar open fired on the old Wolftaur. However each and every bullet was deflected by an energy shield that surrounded Parishka.
"You always were too cocky," said Parishka. "One of these days itís going to get you killed. I believe that day is today." Parishka snapped her fingers, and the younger Parishka and Sasha entered, escorted by twenty robotic soldiers. "I believe these are your people."
8-Ball watched as this all unfolded before her eyes. "Iíve got to do something, but what? Iíve got to think this through." 8-Ball watched as Parishka had one the robots toss her the weapon belts from the young Parishka and Sasha. Then it hit 8-Ball like a bolt of lightning. She pulled out one of the more unusual weapons that she found in the cases of weapons that Blackstar had let them use. It was designed like a crossbow, but it had a barrel of the arrows that were used for ammunition. She adjusted the fire rate selection for single-fire mode. Then without a second thought, she fired an arrow straight at the older Parishkaís upper body, striking just centimeters away from her heart.
8-Ball fired another shot as Parishka turned, landing an arrow in her right arm. A third arrow landed in Parishkaís upper heart, right as Parishka ordered her robotic troops to fire. 8-Ball quickly succumbed to the effects of the stunners. The robots grabbed 8-Ball and dropped her unconscious body next to her still-standing crewmates.
The old Wolftaur pulled the arrows out of her chest and arm. "How annoying. Really, how much more of this will I have to endure?" Without waiting for an answer she added, "At least one more since that hot wolf and the human are still missing. And I suppose if my younger self is here, itís reasonable that Tex was also revived. So tell me something, where are they?"
Blackstar looked around, specifically the maintenance hatches. "Iím going to be one hundred percent honest. I have no idea where they are. They should have come through a maintenance hatch by now and either a) saved us or b) got caught by you. If they donít show up, I am so docking their pay."
"Iím sure theyíll show up and rescue us with a well-formulated plan any second now," said Sasha. The heavy double door that served as main engineering opened up. "Or they could just storm engineering in a suicide run too."
Then all hell broke loose as a massive explosion consumed five of the robotic soldiers. The explosion was followed by a large hunk of metal, otherwise known as a tank, rolled in through the doors, crushing anyone who got in its way. The elder Parishka took the chance to make a run for it. Blackstar yelled to the younger Parishka to cover the still unconscious 8-Ball, while shi followed the older Wolftaur. Sasha and young Parishka reclaimed their weapons and started picking off the robotic soldiers, a task hindered by the fact that they could take much more damage than any living being would take from similar hits.
Blackstar pursued Parishka through the hollow corridors of the Starsword. The only sound was the panting of the old Wolftaur and the young Chakat and the pounding of their paws on the deck. It almost seemed like time slowed down as Blackstar relentlessly pursued hir prey, making the seconds seem like hours, but in reality the chase only lasted five minutes. Parishkaís front legs tripped over themselves and her front side smashed into the deck. Blackstar barely avoided running over hir prey, jumping over her instead, and spinning in midair to land, facing the elder Parishka and cutting off her escape.
Parishka was just getting to her feet when she felt Blackstarís left hand around her throat, claws exerting almost enough pressure to penetrate. When Parishka looked into Blackstarís eyes, she could see the hesitation and laughed. "íCanít kill the monster without becoming oneí, thatís what Starfox used to say. Or at least when it came to situation like this, where you literally hold their lives in your hand. Tell me, do you have the strength to go through with it? Or are you just another weak, cowardly Chakat whoís afraid of me?" Blackstarís grip loosened a little. "Thatís what I thought. Even when thereÖ" Parishka was cut off as Blackstarís right fist slammed into the Wolftaurís jaw. "So the Chakitty has some guts after all."
"After what you did to me and Snowfall, I have every right to toss you out an airlock," said Blackstar, "but do you know why I donít? Itís because Iím not like you. So if you would kindly die on your own, Iíd appreciate it."
"You can kiss my big fuzzyÖ," she was interrupted as Blackstarís other fist connected with her jaw. Parishka collapsed, fading into unconsciousness.
Blackstar looked down at the fallen Wolftaur with a grin on hir face. "I ain't 'fraid of no clone."
Blackstar looked up from Parishkaís limp body to see 8-Ball staring open-mouthed at what Blackstar had done. "Did, you just kill her?"
Blackstar shook hir head. "No, sheís just unconscious. Give me a hand with her. I wish I had brought cuffs or something." 8-Ball pulled a pair out of hir pockets. Blackstar raised an eyebrow and asked, "Do you always carry a pair of handcuffs?"
8-Ball shrugged. "Ya, so what? You never know when you need a pair. Hey, need to make sure she stays quiet?" 8-Ball pulled out a ball gag.
Blackstar shook hir head. "You know what? Iím not even going to ask why you carry a ball gag. I honestly donít want to know. Put that away, and help me carry her."
"Wouldnít it be easier to use the combadges as a makeshift transporter enhancers and beam her back to the Midnight Star," suggested 8-Ball.
"Impressive, except to do that weíd need a third combadge. Where do you propose we obtain the third one?"
8-Ball crossed her arms and grinned. "Thereís a third com in your left arm. Just incase the external one you normally wear was lost or taken, like in a hostage situation."
The Chakat was a little disturbed by how quickly the Folftaur was adapting to a job that required improvising and know information that she shouldnít. "You catch on quickly. Okay, set it up in a triangular pattern. Blackstar to Layla, transport old Parishka to one of your holding cells and keep her sedated." The old Wolftaur disappeared in the transporter beam, and the combadges were put back in there proper places. "Letís see how the others are doing."
The two returned to main engineering to find the robotic soldiers to all be disabled, destroyed, or crushed by the tank. "Not bad for a dayís work," said Blackstar. Shi saw the team was mostly trading stories and checking out the tank that had saved their tails. "Hey, why are we just sitting on our tails here? Parishka, Tex, Sasha and I will begin raiding the supplies for weapons, medicine, ammo, vehicles, and fuel. Layla will download the shipís database. The rest of you pack up and head back to the ship."
Before Blackstar could stop them, Dr. Oliver and Rys climbed into the tank and exited engineering with it. They were joined by 8-Ball who jumped up onto the tank and rode on top of the scorpion-like canon. Blackstar shook hir head at their antics. The young Parishka walked up beside hir and said, "At least theyíre in good spirits. Remember when we used to be like that?"
"Used to? I never did anything like that," said Blackstar.
"Thatís not true," said Tex. "I have video footage of you straddling a photon torpedo like that dude in Armageddon on the nuke when he went nuts."
Blackstar smiled. "Ah, fond memories. Well letís not waste time reminiscing. We got a wreck to loot. I assume most of the ground equipment is on board."
Tex nodded. "The crew took the stuff from lockers 2 and 4 when they helped the Commodore. Lockers 1, 3, and 5 are still full along with all planet-side vehicles. The rest were emptied before we left port."
"Okay, Tex and Sasha work on locker one, Parishka and I will take locker three, and weíll meet up in locker room five. Letís get to work," ordered Blackstar.
Tex led Sasha to the first locker room and began checking the weapons and ammunition, packing them into containers and placing them into a mini-transporter designed and used for small cargo transfers. After setting up an efficient process, Tex and Sasha were working well enough that they began to talk. Tex began by asking what had happened in the past twenty years since he had put in stasis and Sasha answered the best she could. Later Sasha began asking questions of her own about her captainís clouded past. She was certain that Tex was exaggerating about some of the more unbelievable stuff, such as the time that they won a four vs. thirty dogfight, or some of the alleged battles over the Time Matrix.
In locker room three, the two occupants were having a much more violent conversation. Blackstar snarled at Parishka, "Twenty years go by and the first time weíre alone, you want to argue with me about who you work with? You have a group of clones hunting me down, a daughter who was sired by Stareye of all people, and the first thing you do is complain about not working with Sasha! You are supposed to be older than me."
Parishka rolled her eyes and shook her head, being used to Blackstarís lecture about how she behaved. "First of all, there is nothing wrong with being attracted to a woman with breasts that size. And the clones were only created to protect my daughter. But to be honest Iím not surprised you pissed them off enough for them to kill you. Youíve gotten me to that point a few times. Oh, and before you judge me for sleeping with your sire, at least hear me out."
Blackstar was sorely tempted to use one of the weapons in the locker room on Parishka, but hir Chakat instincts and years of friendship with her stopped Blackstar from pulling the trigger. "Alright, you can tell me why of all people you slept with my dad, you little sleazy slut."
"If you recall, shi and I were stranded on that sinkhole planet for nine months, and I have a very tough time dealing with my heats. I wouldíve had sex with anyone. And I shouldnít have to defend myself against you, and would you really want it any other way?"
"What do you mean?"
Parishka explained, "From what I understand, you are very close to my daughter, your half-sister. Now would you rather things happen in a way that shi wouldnít have been born?"
Blackstar hated it, but Parishka had a point. While the result of Parishkaís mating with Stareye did result in a number of problems for hir, Blackstar wouldnít ever trade Snowfall for any of it. "I suppose youíre right. But that doesnít mean I hate you any less."
"Thatís okay, Iím not exactly thrilled with myself either," said Parishka. "So what is shi like? My daughter I mean."
Blackstar was glad that the original Parishka was interested in hir daughter despite the fact that Snowfall was almost the same age as her. "Snowfall is your typical Chakat-Wolftaur hybrid. Shiís not the violent type like me. During the year or so I was hir legal guardian, shi served as our teamís unofficial ambassador. Shi normally lives at a lighthouse, and is paid to operate it. Shiís also writing the story for a new holo-program, which shi says is inspired by hir time with the team." Blackstar stopped talking when shi saw a tear role down Parishkaís cheek, something that was out of character for her. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing that you can change," said Parishka. "When your kids are born I think youíll understand. Iíve missed my daughterís whole life. The parts of hir life that I shouldíve been around for, and from what I gather my clone wasnít the mothering type. Shi was brought into this world without any forethought or planning and had to deal with whatever hell my clone put hir through. Iím sure shi hates my guts. And the sad part is, shi has every right to hate me. If shi wasnít a Chakat, Iím sure shiíd kill me the first chance shi got."
"Then I guess I should mention shiís on board the Mystic right now."
"I take it the Mystic is your ship?"
"Didnít I mention that?" Blackstar decided to brief Parishka on some of the points of hir life. "The Mystic is the flagship of the Blitz team. We also have three freighters that will arrive at Quenxel by the time we return. Also, Quenxel is now a civilized planet. In addition we own five state-of-the-art Blade-class fighters and one modified by yours truly. Also Layla has been moved to a new ship, the Midnight Star. The Star is also Slipstream capable, one of only a handful in the Federation. Also, I have recently gained a second denmate, my Caitian first officer, Nightrose. My first mate is a Red Panda named Sly Wacoon, although he occasionally goes by Jabbers, or on one occasion, Bessie."
Parishka grinned a little. "You know, itís a good thing Iím not as curious as certain felines. Although when you said Caitian, I half-expected you to say VíLes, because something that bizarre would be in line with our type of craziness. Sleeping with traitors wouldnít be too much of a stretch."
"Traitor? Are you saying Admiral VíLes is a traitor?"
"Admiral? VíLesí ship led an attack on our little convoy," explained Parishka.
Blackstar shook hir head in disbelief. "Thatís impossible. Computer, playback the last recorded images of VíLesí ship." A nearby console lit up with an image of a Star Fleet vessel that Blackstar recognized as the ship VíLes had commanded twenty years ago. It was firing a spread of photon torpedoes at a nearby ship that Blackstar identified as the Galaxy Tree. "Iíve known her for two years since I came out of stasis. She never told me about this. What happened?"
"The other ships jumped out of the system together and we played decoy. Antimatter failure forced us to eject our fuel. We put the Starsword into orbit of this gas giant in the hopes that we could find enough fuel here to get to a habitable planet. However there was nothing here that we could use, so Tex and I went into stasis waiting to be rescued. We didnít expect it to take twenty years though. We figured one of the other ships would be by to rescue us in a week or two at most."
"Well, at least we wonít have to worry about anyone attacking us," said Blackstar. Almost as if on cue, the deck shuddered as the Starsword was pummeled by photon torpedoes. "You know, I almost felt that one coming. Layla, give me a report."
"Multiple torpedoes are penetrating the upper atmosphere and striking the Starswordís dorsal structure. We are losing altitude. Even if the attack ceases, the pressure will crush the ship in about five minutes. The attack is stopping. From what I can detect an object, I believe the Mystic, is blocking the attacks."
Blackstar swore under hir breath. "Everyone back to the Star now!" Luckily the group still aboard the StarSword was swift on their feet. Sashaís long legs and hours of training let her keep up with the two taurs and the cybernetically enhanced Tex. They were just within sight of the docking hatch when the deck suddenly fell away from them. Then just as unexpectedly the floor slammed into them again. Blackstar was the first on hir feet and when shi looked at the docking port, shi swore a second time. "I swear this bloody ship is cursed or something."
The port that had served as the gateway to the Midnight Star had become a portal of doom. When Sasha asked what had happened, Blackstar began explaining what shi could figure out. "The StarSword suffered a rapid descent of some sort beyond the inertia dampenersí ability to compensate for. The Midnight Star detached from the docking port for related reasons. Probably part of the survival programming that saves as many lives possible. In this case, sacrificing us in the process, and since we were already at 98% of its structural limits, we have probably descended beyond its ability to reach us, which is why the ship detached. The docking port then brought up an emergency force field that would hold long enough for the proper hull to return to its normal structurally sound position. Now we wonít be able to escape because no one can reach us and this ship is out of fuel, which is why it was here in the first place."
"What about the escape pods," asked Sasha.
Tex shook his head. "No. Theyíd be crushed like a tuna can."
"Well, not all of them, but we could hotwire one with the systems from a few others and boost the structural integrity field and the engines to hold long enough for us to exit the atmosphere. The systems donít need to last long, just long enough to get into orbit," explained Sasha.
"Thatís brilliant," said a very enthusiastic Parishka. "Itís just a matter of how long the systems will last with the forced overload."
Tex began using his cybernetic systems to run the necessary calculations, "If we properly calculate the engine power necessary to reach escape velocity, and balance it with the power for the SIF generators to make it last long enough to get rescued without blowing out the environmental systems in the process. However I estimate only a 19% chance of survival."
"Iíd like to point out that if we stay on a sinking ship, we have a 0% chance of survival," said a slightly pissed Sasha.
"Thatís a good point," admitted Tex.
"Okay, where should we begin, sir? Blacky?" Sasha looked around realizing that her captain had gone running down the corridor. "Okay, shi is either beginning the work without us or shiís enacting hir own plan." Sasha began pursuing her captain followed by Parishka and Tex.
When they finally caught up, Tex asked, "What are you up to?"
"Saving our collective asses," said Blackstar, acting like it was something shi did on a daily basis. "The lifepod plan would work, but the additional equipment will reduce the crew capacity to maybe one Terran-sized biped. If Sasha curls up into a ball she might be able to escape. Not only that, but even if we could fit inside the refitted pods, we wouldnít have enough time to launch them before we got too low for the escape to work. If you feel like saving just Sasha, feel free, but I got an idea to save all four of us and this ship."
"How do you plan to do that?" asked Parishka.
"I plan on flying this ship out of here," said Blackstar.
"Once again I ask: how do you plan to do that?" asked Parishka.
"Iím going to blow it up," explained Blackstar.
Parishkaís and Sashaís faces were a combination of worry and confusion. If Texís face had been visible, it would have been a wide open grin. Instead he just nodded and gave two thumbs up. "Is this going to be like the Russian job?"
When Blackstarís nod confirmed this. Parishka visibly deflated, "Iím gonna get frostbite again arenít I?"
Blackstar shook hir head. "I didnít mean exactly like the Russian job, you freak."
8-Ball was still arguing with Layla to go back for Blackstar when the Midnight Star breached the upper atmosphere of the planet. The argument was stalled by the sight of the Mystic facing off with a Star Fleet ship. Layla zoomed a section of the viewscreen on a section of the Star Fleet vesselís saucer section. The name and hull number was FSS Los Angeles NCC-2525. Technical data was displayed to the right side of the picture and from what 8-Ball could tell, the Mystic was no match for the Los Angeles.
"Whatís the situation Layla?" asked 8-Ball, who seemed to assume command in Blackstarís absence.
Laylaís pissed-off voice came through, "Do I look like I know? Iím a computer entity, not an all-knowing deity!"
"Well I thought you might be monitoring their communications and have some idea of whatís going on, so you prevent us from doing something that could worsen the situation," explained 8-Ball.
A subdued Layla said, "Oh, sorry. Iím just a little upset about leaving Blackstar behind."
"Donít worry. Shiís a big herm and I have no doubt shiíll find a way home," said 8-Ball. "We canít let that distract us though. We must focus on the problem right in front of our faces. Now whatís going on out there?"
Layla, who had been monitoring the situation since 8-Ball suggested it, explained it as best she could, "Nightrose says that the Los Angeles fired on a Blitz Team vessel. The Los Angelesí captain claims that sheís interfering with a Star Fleet operation. She says that the StarSword belonged to us according to salvage rights as dictated by interplanetary laws. He says heís just following orders. Theyíre now going back and forth about the legalities and I estimate that itís only a matter of time before they fire on eachÖ wait. The Los Angeles is targeting us now. They think we have classified material. They are demanding we surrender our entire computer core to them."
"Open a channel," ordered 8-Ball. "This is 8-Ball of the Blitz team. Please explain why youíre targeting us."
A Ďwindowí opened up showing the Los Angelesí captain, a wolf morph. "This is Captain Traven of the FSS Los Angeles. My orders are to prevent any information from the derelict ship from falling into the wrong hands. Even if it means destroying the Blitz team."
8-Ball struck what she hoped was a heroic pose and began a small speech of her own. "Any attack will force us to defend ourselves, and most likely result in your destruction. Seeing as youíd be guilty of both unprovoked assault and attempted piracy and weíre outside of your jurisdiction, we donít have to worry about legal retribution fromÖ Iím sorry who gave your orders?"
"Admiral VíLes," answered Captain Traven. 8-Ballís and Nightroseís jaws dropped simultaneously. "Do you know her?"
Nightrose answered, "Sheís normally the person we have contact with when Star Fleet has an assignment for us. Not to mention that sheís our captainís grandmother by marriage." After muting the audio to the Los Angeles, Nightrose asked, "Speaking of which where is shi?"
Before 8-Ball or anyone else could reply, Serge reported a massive explosion in the planetís atmosphere. Nightrose sighed and said, "Never mind. I have a pretty good idea." The explosion actually reached the highest point of the atmosphere. As the explosive fireworks died down, a form began to appear. It was a charred, but otherwise virtually undamaged Starsword. Nightrose opened a channel to the StarSword, acting as pissed off as possible. "What do you think youíre doing?
Blacky appeared on the channel. "I can tell you what I wasnít doing. I sure wasnít recreating the coolest scene from Dukes of Hazzard ever on a ship-sized scale."
"You know what? I donít even care right now. Iím just happy youíre okay," said Nightrose.
Blackstar smiled. "So what did I miss, luv?" Nightrose didnít get a chance to answer as 8-Ball started waving her arms. "Hold that thought. I think 8-Ball wants to answer. Go ahead 8-Ball."
"Thanks Silverbolt." 8-Ball cleared her throat and began explaining, "Traven and his Los Angeles are here by VíLesí orders to destroy the StarSword and any information from it, including that aboard the Midnight Starís database. Iím assuming this is to prevent any information on the Time Matrixís location from falling into the wrong hands. Traven also seems to be by the book on this one and wonít give us an inch."
"Donít worry," said Blackstar, "I can be very persuasive. Iím opening a channel to the L.A."
Captain Travenís face was a cross between bewilderment and horror when he saw Blackstarís face appear on his viewscreen. He began yelling orders at his helmsman, "Get us out of here. Full speed. Everything we can afford to shunt into warp engines, see that itís used. Go, go, go!" He then cut all communication and his ship escaped at warp speed in the direction of the nearest Starbase.
Blackstar shrugged and said, "I know Iím good, but that has got to be a record." Under Nightroseís intense stare, Blackstar added, "Heís paying me back a favor by running off so quickly. I helped him with a terrorist situation a while back. Between the time I left the academy and the time we teamed up."
"Whatever," said Nightrose, "just get your big butt over here before I drag you over here."
Nightrose welcomed Blackstar home with a big kiss, while Snowfall settled for a hug. There was more than a little confusion with the new, younger Parishka. By the end of the night, she was talking about some of Blackstarís adventures with her. Sasha and Nightrose both were being cautious around Parishka while Snowfall tried to avoid her altogether. Tex on the other hand was accepted by the crew almost immediately. Texís bizarre personality seemed to be par for the course on the Blitz Team.
That night in the Café, Blackstar was explaining to hir mate how shi was part of the StarSwordís original mission crew but escaped before the battle. "You see after a number of needle shots passed through me, not only was I poisoned, I had enough holes in me that Iíd look like one of those cartoon characters who drinks water and then have it leak all over the place." Nightrose giggled a bit. "Since we had limited medical resources, I was put into stasis and Vega took me back to Earth. The one thing that sucked was that the poison was unusual and there wasnít a cure for it at the time. I was in stasis for twenty years until they found a cure. I bummed around for a while, eventually landing up at the academy. You know what happened after that. Itís crazy. I lost Vega during that time. She changed too much during those twenty years. Then I found out my team was still alive. Amazing, how I have gone through so much in twenty years or so of my life when others donít have this much excitement in 150 years. I wonder if Iíll ever have a normal life."
Nightrose shook hir head, "No."
Blackstar was surprised when Nightrose was so definite about her answer. "Just what do you mean by that?"
"Simple," said Nightrose. "Itís that you attract Ďexcitementí. Wherever you go trouble will follow. How did Vega put it? Ah, yes. ĎHir aura is strong, and like a magnet it attracts other powerful auras and like a magnet they are opposite of hir.í But that doesnít mean theyíre all bad. After all it got you me. Does that make any sense?"
"Trust me, if Vega hangs around long enough, youíll get used to it. Or have a psychotic episode in a month."
Blackstar and Nightrose were eating dinner when they were approached by Dr. Oliver just after Tex delivered a decent joke that made the crew that was listening laugh, and handed Blackstar a PADD. "Iím happy to inform you that Nightrose no longer needs regular medical attention. You have a very resilient mate. I hope you donít mind but I was looking through the EMHís medical records, out of boredom, and I noticed that you left before the EMH gave you the full report."
"What do you mean?" asked Blackstar "She gave me a clean bill of health. End of story. Right?"
Dr. Oliver bit his lip. "Thatís not the end. In fact it might only be the beginning. Tell me Captain, when was your last heat?"
"Thatís a bit personal," said Blackstar. "Why?"
"Think about it," said Dr. Oliver.
Blackstar was silent for a moment. Shi counted something out on hir fingers before getting up and running out of the café. "I think weíll be in sick bay," explained Dr. Oliver.
Nightrose sighed, wondering what was so important. Nightrose had to work on surprises of her own anyway. A surprise that she knew Blackstar would both be pleased with and caught off guard at the same time.
Before Nightrose could leave, she was approached by the young Parishka. Nightrose found the similar appearance between the cutthroat old bitch and this young high-spirited doppelganger more then a little disturbing, but from their personalities, it was hard to believe they originated from the same person.
Parishka held out her hand in greeting. "Howdy. I donít think weíve been properly introduced. Well, with me at least. From some of the horror stories your crewmates have told me, yíall got too familiar with my clones. Iím Parishka the Original. And with luck someday Iíll be the only one again."
Unsure what to do Nightrose, shook Parishkaís hand. "Iím Nightrose. Iím Blackstarís partner, Denmate, and the second-in-command of the Blitz team."
Parishka laughed at Nightroseís surprised face. "Iím sorry; I guess after working with Kid for so long, some of hir straightforwardness rubbed off."
"Kid? Whoís Kid?" asked Nightrose.
Parishka looked dumbfounded for a moment but quickly recovered and put on a grin. "Ya, thatís what we called Blackstar before Commander Armstrong was lost. Shi was only in hir teens when shi joined up. Iím the only one gutsy enough to call hir Kid after shi took command. I wonít call hir by commander until shi starts swearing like one."
"I see," said Nightrose, which was only half-true. "So could you tell me more about my mateís old antics."
Parishka tilted her head in confusion. "I would think shi wouldíve told yíall about it."
So did I, thought Nightrose. "I didnít even know you worked with hir before shi pulled you off the StarSword. I didnít know about Vega until we picked hir up on Terra. You know more about hir then I do."
Parishka shook her head. "Not likely. Like how you got hir to not only mate, but mate a crewmember."
"Ah, the old donít screw the crew rule," quoted Nightrose. As a general rule most people tried to avoid having intimate relationships with fellow crewmembers as it often clouded judgment and created unnecessary drama. However Nightrose knew from spending so much time with Blackstar that Chakats rarely followed this rule due to their tough heats and ruts, but their nature also led them to be less susceptible to the drama that too often afflicted other species associated with such a personal affiliation.
Nightrose thought about why Blackstar agreed to be her mate, but she couldnít really come up with a reason why shi changed hir mind on the rule. "I canít think of why shi broke the old rule, but if I know who could answer the question of mating, Iíd have to refer you to hir first Denmate, Sly Wacoon. Iíve never actually met him though."
Her eyes widening, Parishka asked, "Shi has another denmate? Wow. Shiís really growing up."
"Wouldnít shi be considered grown-up when shi started blowing up pirates?"
Parishka shrugged. "Well, doesnít everyone do that as a kid?" Nightrose shook her head no. Parishka feigned surprise. "Really? I thought that was part of growing up, like learning to read, having the cub of your best friendís dad, stealing a starship or stabbing your parents."
Finding the last part hard to believe, Nightrose asked, "Are you making some of this up?"
Parishka nodded. "Of course." Nightrose breathed a small sigh of relief. The Wolftaur then added, "I never learned how to read." Nightrose rolled her eyes in response. "Iím kidding. I didnít make any of it up," explained Parishka.
"How much have you been drinking?"
"Nah, drinking is too old school. I have alcohol injected right into my blood stream."
Nightrose groaned because she could tell that this was quickly turning into a difficult conversation. "So, Parishka, why donít you tell me more about my mate. Despite having known hir for a year or two, I hardly know anything about hir past, and shi barely mentions it, even when itís staring us in the face."
"So shi still tries to avoid hir past like talking about the Yankees in Boston," stated Parishka. At Nightroseís quizzical look, Parishka explained, "Rival baseball teams. Even after the curse was lifted."
"Curses?" asked Nightrose. "You donít believe in those do you?"
Parishka nodded. "Thatís how Tex got stuck in that suit. He was cursed to neither be truly living or dead for twenty years. When he was badly injured, he fused his neural synapses to the neural relays in the suit to support his higher brain functions. They can repair the suit, but even if they wanted too they canít separate his neural net from the suit. He canít physically feel anything, but he canít die either. The suitís most protected system is the neural net to prevent injury feedback to the user. Ironically, fusing of the neural synapses is one of the things it was supposed to protect against. Somehow Tex was shot, disabled the safeties and rewrote the codes to fuse his neural net all in under thirty seconds."
Nightrose followed along, learning more about the unusual armored man who did the impossible. Disabling the safeties on a priority system like that should have been near impossible, much less been done in under thirty seconds. "I donít think thatís possible, even if he knew the codes by heart."
"Thatís what Iím saying," said Parishka. "Iíve known Tex for a good five years, and heís not that smart. And we checked the damage to his armor, and its records of the battle. There is no way the damage done to it could cause the safety to fail."
"I see, and you think the curse is at fault," Nightrose concluded. She wasnít totally convinced, but she did enjoy learning more about a potential crewmate. "I donít suppose you know anything that crazy about my mate, now do ya?"
"Well let me think. Did shi tell you about hir pirating days?" asked Parishka. Nightrose shook her head, partially to signal no, and partially out of disbelief. "Itís not as bad as it sounds," said Parishka. "They only pirated from pirates. But Star Fleet still saw it as piracy and hired a freelancer to hunt hir down. That freelancer turned out to be none other then Stareye, Blackyís father. Thatís when they started their little feud. Even though Blackstar and hir crew were doing good, they were still hunted down. Of course that was before I met hir. Before the ship itself was finally caught, they mutinied and put Blacky in the brig."
"Now Nightrose, you need to understand something. Shi was able to escape from the shipís brig and make it to Quenxel. The station in orbit rescued hir, and shi claimed to have escaped from pirates after being held hostage. They bought it, and has been waiting to get revenge on the traitorous first mate that betrayed hir."
Nightrose who was fully engaged in the story asked, "Who was this first mate of hirs?"
"A Rakshani known as Jakkan na Borenth sa Larenne. He was relatively young, so heíd still be alive, so Blackstar has been keeping an eye out for him ever since," explained Parishka. "The really sad thing is that the last time shi had a chance to kill him, Blackstar couldnít without risking the lives of over a hundred innocent civilians."
Nightrose gave Parishka a skeptical look and asked, "How much of this are you making up?"
"None of it."
"How much did Blackstar make up?"
"About 90% of it," said Parishka, "and shi borrowed most of it from a movie shi saw a while back. But if you see Jakkan, donít tell Blackstar."
"So thatís part of the 10% that true. But other than the usual moral reasons, why would I want to stop my mate from getting revenge?"
"Jakkan has kids. Thatís what really stopped Blackstar last time. His daughter, who was like four or five years old, was looking on. I guess sheíd be an adult by now. Her name was like Sassy or Sala or something."
"Come to think of it, that name sounds familiar," said Nightrose, "Iím almost certain Iíve heard it before."
Meanwhile down in the bowels of the Mysticís corridors, Blackstar was making hir way to the team garage where they kept a pool of vehicles ranging from old cars with internal combustion engines to PTVs to the tank they recovered from the StarSword. Shi was so engrossed in the information on hir PADD that shi didnít notice a brief breeze, something unnatural on a starship, or the shadowy figure appearing behind hir. Blackstar had no idea what was happening as hir muzzle was clamped shut by a strong hand and shi was whisked away in a transporter beam. A firm and familiar voice said, "Donít scream."
The two-tailed Quenxelian fox morph nicknamed Tails, had hoped for a lot more action for this Ďtrainingí mission. Outside of a few simple patrols, he had done damage control and now was stuck watching some guys in a brig. The only bright side was that it was a slacker job where he basically did whatever he wanted on the computer. He was actually so bored he was watching a soap opera, when he came to full alertness by a loud hissing sound. He was looking around for the source when one of the prisoners, a wolf, asked, "Whatís that on your neck?"
"Is it a spider?"
A fox in the same cell said, "No, itís blue."
"A blue spider? Get it off." Tails was deathly afraid of spiders.
The wolf said, "No, itís like a pulsing blue fuzzy thing. And we canít, weíre behind a force field."
"Is it dangerÖ" Tails was interrupted by an explosion from the blue thing.
The prisoners, who had all ducked or hid as best they could from the explosion, cautiously approached where the barrier had been. One reached out past the field, confirming that the force field barrier was gone. The clone of Parishka walked out of her cell and looked over Tailsí body. She shrugged, "Nothing personal." The clone turned to the other prisoners and said, "Everything is going according to plan. Team Alpha secures the bridge, Team Beta will take the hanger, and I will lead Team Delta to the engine room. Letís move out people."
Continued in Episode 6.
Story and Characters are copyright of Alex Wiegerling unless otherwise stated.
Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove.
The Quange were created by Roy D. Pounds II.
Skunktaurs are copyright Bob Reijns.
Sly Wacoon is used with the permission of his player.
If Iíve managed to step on anyone elseís toes (or paws, claws, tails, or other various appendages) let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and Iíll either give you credit or change my Ďtaleí.
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