The evil of final exams has finally past, let us all rejoice! This is it, the end of North Star. Hope you all enjoyed the ride, sporadic as it could be. Major thanks to Toni, Lisa, Amanda, and Diva for their support on this. Especially Diva for her help in giving this part a makeover. Comments, and suggestions, are very welcome at: Adarkbow@yahoo.com
It was, Emily conceded, one way to make an entrance. The shuttle had been escorted from Longbow Base by a flight of no less than six Tiri fighters. They had cleanly peeled off of formation only when the shuttle itself was beginning its slow descent towards the helicopter pad below it. The four Marine Honor Guards had been supplemented by another eight, as she was here, not only as First Guardian, but as a member of the Imperial Family, and representing her father. She was in her dress uniform with rows of medals across her left breast, most of which she usually avoided wearing.
You would think that after centuries of having Guardians, that the Empire could have made dress uniforms that were comfortable to wear. I look like a walking pincushion.
With another curse at her brother for getting her into the diplomatic side of things, she waited until the shuttle had touched down and the antigravity drives had been secured, before undoing her safety harness. This would be the first official visit of a member of the Imperial family to the White House, and she was determined to try her best to make certain it went well. Sparing one more evil thought towards her brother, she emerged into the evening behind the full Honor Guard. The American Secret Service were no doubt having fits over the full combat load that tradition, and Imperial, law demanded each of her Honor Guards wear.
Thankfully, the rain that had been pounding the ground at Longbow was absent in Washington DC. Emily could only hope that was an omen of sorts. With a nod to Angwar, who she was amused to see was having just as much fun with his dress uniform as she was, she stepped out of the shuttle. A small group of reporters had been allowed to film the event, and she grimaced slightly at the rapid onslaught of flashes. Thank the Maker that the Marines know those are used for the cameras. Flashes had not been used for a long time on Tiri recording devices, and most Marines would have confused those flashes with a plasma weapon firing.
Stepping down between the double row of guards, Emily suppressed a smile as she saw the tension on their faces. They might have known what it was, but reactions had been trained into them, and more than one of them clutched their pulse rifles tightly. Angwar was exactly three steps behind her and to her right, as set by protocol for a Provost attending a function with a Guardian. Behind him came the dozen diplomatic corps members who would take the opportunity of this meeting to work through the mountain of minor issues that still needed to be dealt with between the Empire and every nation on Earth.
Her threats had apparently had the desired result, and the following morning they had received not only an apology for what was termed a diplomatic mix up, but an invitation to the White House for a face-to-face meeting with the President; something that Emily suspected would have been much more impressive for someone who had not grown up in the Imperial Palace.
The four last Honor Guards, her normal entourage, followed directly after her and Angwar as they headed down the red carpet towards the waiting welcoming party near the White House. The other eight remained with the shuttle, which had been a concession to the Secret Service.
With the practiced ease of one who had grown up in the spotlight, Emily ignored the reporters, instead focusing her attention on the waiting group ahead of them.
President William S. Blake was a tall man, nearly the height of the First Guardian herself. His face had a weather beaten appearance, reflecting his days as a construction worker during his youth. Beside the gray-haired president, Vice President Charles H. Fairchild stood a good four inches shorter. Both of them waited respectfully, along with the myriad of aides and a small group of unobtrusive Secret Service agents.
"Mr. President, a pleasure to finally meet you."
No Windstar worth the name would pass up the opportunity to at least present the illusion of agreement between the Empire and as powerful a nation as the U.S. was. The fact that her father had sent her a note nearly ordering her to offer her hand to the human had not hurt at all of course.
"First Guardian, welcome to the White House."
His grip at least was refreshingly strong and she found herself grinning as she returned the handshake.
"Mr. President, First Guardian, everything is set."
"Thank you, Charles. Let us get down to business, First Guardian, and hopefully we'll straighten this out."
"I would like that, Mr. President."
With a bit of a raised eyebrow, she followed the President down the hallway, past even more unobtrusive, and not so unobtrusive, security personnel, and into the Oval Office. The Vice President did not follow them, she noticed, and she nodded slightly towards Angwar at his slightly raised eyebrow. He had been her Provost long enough to understand her unspoken command and he remained outside as well, along with the Honor Guard, leaving the two of them alone in the Oval Office. It was, she admitted, glancing around, just as she had seen on the human news broadcasts.
"First Guardian, I thought we could perhaps talk alone for a while, and let the others work out the little issues, while we addressed the major ones?"
"I think that might be an excellent idea, Mr. President, considering the potential for disaster that this situation has."
Taking a seat on one of the couches that he waved her towards, she continued as he sat down opposite her. A tray of tea and coffee was already on the low table separating the two and he offered her a cup of tea as she spoke.
"Mr. President, I hope you understand that the meeting with that Ambassador did not improve the opinion the Tiri have for this country."
She studied the man as she took the cup, after the recent maneuvering in the courts, and the Ambassador, Emily needed to get a feel for how this man thought.
"First Guardian, you must understand that there are more interests at work than just yours."
With a slight frown Emily took a sip of her tea, frowning as she thought over his words. There were subtle nuances of what was being said and not said. Weston was going to owe her big time for this one. Tactics she could understand, but this diplomatic stuff was rapidly pushing her towards the limit.
"Mr. President, can we dispense with these formalities, and as the English saying goes, cut the bullshit?"
With a nod, the President sat down his own cup of coffee before having even taken a sip.
"Very well. You want it plain then?"
"I would like nothing better."
She watched carefully as he sat back, and took a breath.
"I would be lying if I am not alarmed myself at how bare our Armed Forces are now. You've stripped nearly every available man and woman from them. And then more than a few Senators and Congressman are being pushed by very influential Lobbyists to get what they want."
"I will assume that you already have a firm grasp of what is at stake here, Mr. President, since you do not strike me as a man who ignores reality."
Emily chose her next words carefully, studying the poker face across from her.
"If you continue to support these actions against us, you are going to only aid the Bak'ra by slowing us down. Imagine what that little bit of information will do for your political party's chances in the upcoming Imperial Senate elections, or even the next Presidential elections."
She had his attention and she smiled as she took a slow sip of tea, as silence reigned, broken only by the muted ticking of a grandfather clock. Just when she was beginning to fear that she had managed to make things worse, the impassive face across from her twitched slightly.
"You do prefer to just lay it out there don't you, First Guardian."
With a laugh he shook his head.
"Very well, First Guardian, I think that it won't come to that. God, I hope it won't! I think you can dispense with calling me Mr. President, and just call me Will, or Blake. Not Bill though, I always hated it when people called me that."
"Very well, Blake, we can dispense with the First Guardian stuff then, and call me Emily. Shall we talk about specifics then?"
"I almost fear to, Emily, but yes I suppose that would be for the best."
Two hours later they had come to an understanding, of sorts at least. A couple dozen of the legal pads that the President preferred to write on were spread across the table and the floor near them. Neither of them had particularly wanted to have an aid take notes for them. Angwar found them arguing over a how many Senator's each country would receive when he cautiously entered.
"Ah, Mr. President, let me introduce you to my Provost."
Both stood and her Provost shook hands with the President, glancing towards her with a bit of nervousness.
"Ma'am, if you have a moment?"
"Excuse me, Blake."
"Go right ahead, Emily, I think I'll go see what that Vice President of mine and the others are up to."
She grinned at the look on Angwar's face as the two of them were apparently on a first and last name basis.
"Didn't think I would be able to play nice, Angwar?"
"Of course not, Ma'am, it's just that..."
Emily couldn't avoid chuckling at that, and decided to have pity on her Provost.
"I was able to get away from being diplomatic. What did you want to see me about?"
"Ah, that would explain it."
The grin disappeared and she eyed him at that, even as he handed her the data pad that he had brought with him.
"Secure communication from Major Sims just came in for you, Ma'am. I thought it would be best that you see it right away. Its encoded Priority One."
Priority One was only used in emergencies, or in some cases, when the material contained in the communication was considered highly sensitive. Just to access the data she had to enter her full Command Authorization Code along with allowing the pad to sample her DNA and compare it to the DNA signature of the intended recipient.
"Thank you, Angwar."
Whatever it was, it had to be serious for the Major to have sent it Priority One. The First Guardian frowned as she waited for the pad to confirm her identity and access the message that it contained. When it did she went perfectly still, taking in the implications of what that message meant.
"Angwar, we'll be leaving. Leave the others here to continue their negotiations, and I will give my regrets to the President, but as soon as that is done we're taking off for North Star."
She was already headed for the doorway, and he had to hurry to keep up.
"Seems that someone managed to steal a dozen thermonuclear warheads from the Russians. The Major traced the elusive General Whittecker out there, and then to South America. Seems that when he and the rapid response team he called in got to the place, it was empty. Major Sims asked for a review of the orbital sensor scans, and it seems that one of the Orbital Forts got a read on what looks to be the power spike of an engine powering up."
"What sort of engine, Ma'am?"
"It had a Bak'ra signature. I think we should get out to Mars as fast as possible, and alert all the shipyards of a possible security risk."
The two of them shared a glance at that, both understanding what that meant. They had hoped, prayed, that the last sabotage incident had been the end of the infiltrators. Apparently they were not.
"Send a response to Major Sims, and get his team working on also finding out where these infiltrators might have come from. I think I'll find out where Julie is since she seems to attract trouble like a small black hole."
Any other time that would have brought a smile to her Provost's lips, this time he nodded as he heard the true note of fear in her voice.
"She does seem prone to being at the center of things, Ma'am. I'll meet you at the shuttle."
He headed down the hallway back towards the shuttle while Emily and her Honor Guards went to find the President and apologize for the early end to the negotiations. Even as she nodded absently to the Secret Service member who guided her down the hallway towards where the President was, her mind was already occupied with this new information. If these Bak'ra had not arrived with them in the Evacuation, and she was fairly certain they had not given the complete security and medical exams of all the Tiri evacuees, that only left one conclusion. A conclusion she did not like at all, and one that was bound to have dire consequences for the Empire, and Human kind.
"Mary, would you stop bouncing around, you're making my headache worse."
Julie snapped, wincing as the younger trainee thudded back down into her crash seat. They were in one of the many shuttles', which ferried personnel and supplies back and forth between Mars Base and the orbiting shipyards. There were a total of twenty-five shipyards operational now, with each of the massive spindle shaped objects having ten slips. All of the Guardian-Class ships were being constructed in Mars orbit, with what slips were left over going towards building the ships which would make up the battle groups. A constant, almost endless, train of transports brought materials to the shipyards from the asteroid refineries. Almost four million Humans and Tiri worked around the clock in a bid to complete those ships as quickly as possible.
She had woken up without a headache, something that the redhead was quite grateful for. That however had only lasted until they had reached the shuttle, and then the pounding headache had returned. Julie was going to have to see the base doctor when she got back to PAFB, even she couldn't deny that. The pounding had only gotten worse on the shuttle ride up to the first of those shipyards, and Mary's squirming as she tried to get a glimpse of the shipyards as they approached had finally driven her to snap at the teenager. . She'd been quite during the ride up; looking over the computer parts she had bought the last evening, and the new one's she had somehow "acquired" this morning. Now though she was practically jumping up and down trying to get a look out the view port.
Julie nodded and rubbed her temples once more, trying to at least reduce some of the pounding.
"Yeah. I'll see the doctors when we get back to PAFB."
"You sure you want to come along? I mean, I can go alone and you can go back down with the shuttle with the off-duty workers?"
Julie spared a glance out the small view port next to her, and then shook her head, carefully.
"No, we're almost docked, I'll stick around for the tour. I want to see what this new ship design is like."
"As long as you're sure. Maybe we can stop by the shipyards medical bay and get you something for the headache?"
Forcing a bit of a pained smile, Julie nodded and patted Mary on her shoulder, as best she could while still strapped down in the acceleration chair. That was a small problem with traveling by shuttle, or any of the other small Tiri ships, they didn't have artificial gravity. Weightlessness had not improved Julie's mood either, and she was more than a bit happy when they entered the shuttle docking bay of the first completed Guardian ships.
"Sounds like a plan, lets go."
The painkillers she got from the shipyards med bay were enough to dull the pounding to a more manageable level, and she was feeling nearly human by the time they started the tour.
"It's different than the Version Thirteen Guardian-Class, see how we widened the corridors by another foot? The Tiri don't seem to mind having enclosed spaces, but most humans prefer at least the illusion of more room. That's going to be the Secondary Damage Control Center, we're a bit behind on installing the computer access panels at the moment."
Even with the passes that Mary had obtained, and Julie was positive she didn't want to know exactly how Betty had gotten those security passes, they had an escort onboard ship. The fleet Lieutenant had been more than happy to escort the two of them, and even with the remnants of her headache, Julie had to resist grinning at his rather obvious attempts to impress the two of them with his knowledge of the ship.
Alpha, as the test ship was called, was the first operational Variant Fourteen Class Guardian ships. Well, mostly operational, she amended, glancing towards the control center that they were passing. The tour itself was turning out to be very interesting, and she hadn't even minded the attempts by Lieutenant Lewis to flirt with both her and Mary at the same time. Julie had a sudden image of Emily scowling and chasing away the Lieutenant.
"Feeling better, huh?"
Mary was grinning at her as they waited for the lift to arrive, and Julie did her best to stop giggling at the sudden image. Lieutenant Lewis was looking at her a bit oddly, and she realized that she had interrupted his explanation of the new lift lay out.
"Yeah, feeling a bit better. Where to next?"
The Lieutenant beamed as both of the trainees looked back at him and answered just as the lift doors slid open.
"I'll bring you up to the Command Deck and show you the command center. Then after that, we can go take a look at the new gravitic lance. It's just been installed and they finished calibrating it yesterday. Alpha is due to go out for its ship builder's trials next week. That's why we don't have many workers onboard at the moment."
All of which he had already said when they first came onboard, and at least twice since then whenever he ran out of something else to say. Hiding a quick jolt of annoyance, Julie nodded and stepped into the lift after Mary and Lewis.
"Is a Guardian going to bond to Alpha?"
The Lieutenant finished entering his authorization code, and the lift sped upwards towards the Command Deck, located as close to the center of the ship as was possible.
"No, this ship's just scheduled to test out the new technology and weapon systems that are being incorporated into the other Variant Fourteens. I don't really know what they plan on doing with Alpha afterwards though."
The lift slowed to a stop as it arrived at Command Deck, and the Lieutenant made a big show of bowing the two Guardian Trainees through the doors after they had slid open. Julie had to fight to keep from rolling her eyes, while Mary giggled at the gesture. Technically, as trainees they didn't hold a rank of any sort within the Empire. However, they were Guardian Trainees and that granted them a certain status, ranging from awe in some, to ill-concealed jealousy in others. Just one of the lovely side effects of being different, I guess, nothing new there for me.
Despite the Lieutenant's charming attitude, Julie was having the hardest time shaking the feeling that he was just trying to get on their good sides. The slowly building headache, which was pounding behind her eyes, didn't help her mood either.
"This is one of the two access's to the Command Center. When she's finished, there will be two Marines on duty here, and at the other access, at all times. We just don't have enough manpower to do that right now though."
Julie nodded at that, rubbing her right temple as they headed towards the thick blast doors, which led to the control center. If the triple fusion reactors, which would power the ship, were its heart, then here was its brain, and its soul. The heavily shielded command center was where the ship's Guardian would be linked to her ship self, becoming a part of it.
"Wish Emie could have come along for this."
Her grumble was low enough for the Lieutenant, who had stepped through the meter and a half thick armor plating ahead of them, to miss. Mary gave her a sympathetic smile and stepped through the thick doorway as well. Wincing at how bright the lights seemed to have gotten, Julie followed them out into the Command Center.
"The layout has been changed a bit from the type Thirteen Variant..."
Julie tuned out his voice as her eyes alighted on the crash couch located at the very center of the Command Center. While Lewis explained the reasoning behind moving the communications station, Julie found herself walking towards that couch. There was only one such crash couch on each Guardian ship, and only a Guardian was allowed to use it. Despite what the Lieutenant had said, they must have been planning to have a Guardian bond with the ship if they had built that couch into the Command Center.
It was not a normal crash couch.
Throughout its surface, and arm rests, were built in direct feeds to each of the central computer cores. Allowing the Guardian to bond deeper with her ship self than she would be able to do anywhere else onboard, unless she were physically standing inside of those computer cores.
Julie was not even aware of the silence behind her as the Lieutenant and Mary both looked towards her questioningly. Even the headache did not distract her as she ran her fingers down the arm of the couch, closing her eyes as she felt the power thrumming beneath her finger tips.
Is this what Emily feels? How does she pull herself away from it?
It called to her, that link, the power that she felt just below her fingertips. The ship itself called to her. To her senses, it was not a collection of weapons, environmental systems, and engines, wrapped in an armored hull. It was alive, coursing with a strength that called to her, a soul of its own. It was not the same connection she felt towards Emily, but it still called to her in ways she had not felt before.
He's kind of cute, but boy does he ever talk a lot. I guess he just wants to impress us with what he knows, but geez, I learned all this three months ago.
Mary did her level best to at least appear interested in what the Lieutenant was talking about, but it was hard. It wasn't that he was particularly boring; it was just that he thought that she and Julie didn't know half of the things that they did know. It wasn't as if they hadn't already been briefed on the changes that were going to be part of this version or anything.
With a mental sigh at the Lieutenant who was now talking about why the communications station had been moved, something to do with improved deck flow as far as she understood it, she glanced towards where Julie was. Or should have been anyway, the older trainee was no longer standing behind them. Blinking in surprise, Mary glanced around the Command Center until she spotted Julie down next to the Guardian's station.
Ignoring the question from Lewis, Mary took a few steps down towards the station as well.
"Julie? What's wrong?"
Her friend's eyes were closed and she had the oddest look of concentration on her face.
"Julie, what are you doing?"
Mary took another step
forward even as Julie climbed up into the Guardian's Station, and pressed
herself back into the full length of the crash couch.
she's not supposed to touch that!"
the Lieutenant once more, Mary hurried over to the couch and lightly touched
her friend's wrist. Even as she tried to get Julie to open her eyes, stations,
which had been powered down a moment before, sprang to life. The fusion core's,
which had been on standby mode, began their activation sequence. When that
got no response, she frowned and glanced around the Command Center.
I think you better go get some help. I think Julie's decided to bond to your
She can't do that!"
Rolling her eyes in annoyance Mary spun around and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Look, just get to the Med Bay, I doubt communications are working at the moment with her beginning to bond like that. They told us that there was a way to stop the bonding process, but only if you catch it early enough."
The Lieutenant, if anything, looked like he was going in shock. A quick glance towards the moved communications station proved that it was fully occupied at the moment as Julie's consciousness began spreading through the ship's systems.
"Med Bay? Um, well, we don't really have one yet."
Mary blinked in astonishment. More stations powered up, and main power came online.
"It's not finished, we don't even have most of the equipment here yet."
Mary stared at him for a moment, then snapped herself out of it.
"Well, what about the Shipyard, surely it has a Med Bay, right?"
The Lieutenant nodded as he seized upon that idea.
"The Shipyard, of course! I'll go get help."
He stopped halfway towards the Command Center's armored doors, and looked back at her expectantly.
"Don't take the lifts, ok? And hurry!"
Shaking her head Mary knelt down next to her friend.
"I wish Emily was here also now. Come on Julie, what are you doing? You're not supposed to bond to anything for another year."
Mary hoped that the Lieutenant would get back soon, with help. If they didn't bring Julie out of this soon, the bond would be permanent. Their training had been very specific on that. If any of them started to bond to something, no one was to simply pull the person away from whatever it was. That would only cause damage to the trainee, and might even lead to a cerebral hemorrhage.
"Shit, come on, Julie, don't do this now!"
With another muttered curse she looked around the now empty Command Center for something, anything, that would help. Julie's brow was covered in sweat now, and her friend's muscles were clenching and unclenching in what looked like waves throughout her body. For lack of anything else, Mary pulled off the belt that went with the trainee uniforms that she and Julie had been forced to wear to come on the tour. That at least she managed to pry between Julie's teeth to stop her from grinding them so much.
"Ah, a med kit."
Leaving the near convulsing Guardian Trainee's side, Mary nearly sprinted across the deck towards the medical locker she had spotted. Undoing the simple magnetic locks, she flung the cover open and reached inside of the empty locker. Groaning she examined the locker, which stubbornly remained empty despite her wishes to the contrary.
"Damn it all! What is finished on this ship?"
Mary's eyes widened as she got a good look at the station right next to the medical locker. The Gravitic drive's, both the one located in the bow and the aft of the ship, had begun powering up. Apparently, they had finished the propulsion systems.
The Bak'ra craft glided through space, arcing far out towards the asteroid belt before beginning its approach towards Mars. The craft waited until it was well within the shipping lanes that were being used by the intrasystem transports and shuttles, before powering up. It shimmered, for the briefest of moments, and then in its place was the form of an Imperial drop ship. It would not hold up to a thorough sensor scan, but it was good enough for most, and would get them close enough; at least, that is what they believed.
They were headed towards the shipyards in orbit of the fifth planet in this pitiful excuse for a Solar System. Soon, the Bak'ra fleets would arrive and remove the last of the tiresome Tiri from existence, and those Guardians. Then the Bak'ra would reign over this world, as they did on many others. It was, of course, inevitable.
The original plan had been to slip through Imperial security posing as a transport shuttle from one of the many asteroid refineries. However, when they arrived at Mars orbit, chaos reigned at the shipyard that they were headed for. The target had powered up, and engaged its gravitic drives while still inside of its docking bay. Interesting.
Its power signature was compared, and the specific power spikes compared to what data was available regarding Guardians. The new Variant Fourteen class ships made the comparison more problematic than would have been acceptable, however, a conclusion was reached. A new Guardian was bonding to the target. It was a perfect opportunity for the mission to proceed with the targets destruction.
It was relatively easy to proceed towards the shipyard, while the urgent evacuation of all personnel near the target was being initiated. The destruction of the ship designated as Alpha would delay the Tiri. A pity they had only been able to acquire twelve of the inefficient human thermonuclear weapons.
Warp Gating inside of the OK limit of a solar system was fraught with problems. Attempting to form a Warp Gate inside of the gravity well of a solar system was difficult, even for a Guardian, and the distance a Warp Gate could be formed to cover was fairly short. Anything further than half an Astronomical Unit, and the gate would collapse in on itself from the gravity sheer, with very messy results for any ship trying to use it. That was, however, still far enough to form a Warp Gate and reach Mars. Which meant that North Star emerged from its Warp Gate only an hour after Emily had left the White House.
Something she was rather glad of when she extended her senses through her ship self's sensor nets and detected the chaos evolving around Shipyard Thirteen. There were hundreds of individual transmissions going on, from the small plethora of craft and shuttles, which were doing their level best to get away from the shipyard.
Unfortunately, the gravity well limit surrounding a planet was not something that could be gotten around by doing small jumps. The more massive the planet, the farther out that gravity well extended. For Mars, with its mass less than that of Earth's, the well was not as bad as say it would have been out by Jupiter. Still, that meant North Star had emerged ten minutes from Mars Orbit, and that was at maximum acceleration and then deceleration, even after her own Gravitic Drive's came online.
"Lady Windstar, we're being hailed by Shipyard Thirteen."
Julie, you better still be on Mars Base, but why do I have the sudden feeling that this has something to do with you?
"Put it on the holo tank, Lieutenant."
Thankfully they had enough people to fill each of the stations, and her Provost was no longer relegated to doubling as a communications officer at the same time. A harried looking Fleet Major saluted as the channel was opened. He also was depressingly young looking to have risen to the status of Fleet Major, even with Re-gen treatments.
"First Guardian, we have a small problem. Alpha just powered up and its gravitic drive is activating."
Emily tensed against the safety harness, which kept her at her station while the Gravitic Drive came back online. Transiting through a Warp Gate with an active Gravitic Drive was paramount to suicide. Thus, all ships powered down their drive systems for transition and were in zero gravity for the few minutes it took to transition and then power back up the drives. Which, coincidentally, meant that a ship was at its most vulnerable when exiting a Warp Gate. North Star's sensors were still recovering from the brief insanity of transition, and even as the Major spoke she focused her attention on the blossoming power source in Shipyard Thirteen.
"What sort of problem, exactly?"
The Major visibly flinched at her tone, and he actually saluted once more.
"Well Ma'am, Lieutenant Lewis just came over and said that a Guardian Trainee had started to merge with the ship. We alerted our Med Bay, but before we could get people over there, Alpha's Gravitic Drives started to come online. I just ordered the evacuation of all workers. First Guardian, if Alpha's drives come online inside of the shipyard..."
"Understood Major, evacuate everyone you can, then give her a nudge out of the shipyard with a tractor. A nudge only, do I make myself perfectly clear, Major?"
"Good, because I swear to the Maker, if you push her too fast, you and I are going to have a long, unpleasant chat."
Cutting the channel as the Major started to salute again, Emily tilted her head enough to glance towards Flight Ops Coordinator, not so politely known as FOC. The crimson uniform was unique among the Imperial Forces and could not be mistaken for anything else.
"Shieri, offer what assistance we can when we get close enough with our shuttles. Com, try to hail Alpha. Angwar?"
The First Guardian closed her eyes as she felt her Gravitic Drive's come online finally, and began an emergency acceleration towards Mars Orbit.
"Have the Marines prepped for a boarding action, along with a medical team."
Please Maker; let us be in time to help Julie.
There was no doubt in her mind that the Guardian Trainee that was involved in this was Julie. The redhead was an interstellar incident looking for a place to happen on the best of days, and this had her name written all over it.
"She must have begun bonding early, damn it all."
No one on the command deck was stupid enough to ask who, or what the First Guardian was talking about. It was not unheard of for gifted to begin bonding earlier than expected, there was always some variation, but this was a full year early! The only thing Emily could think of was that her time spent in Majestic had put Julie further ahead of the others.
Angwar, after seeing to his duties , unbuckled from his safety harness, now that they had gone through Transition, and moved across the deck down to where the Guardian's station was located.
"She may not be involved this time."
Keeping his voice low, and she had no need to ask whom it was her Provost was talking about. With a sigh, she urged just a bit more speed out of her Gravitic Drives. She was in emergency acceleration now, and it gave her zero margins for error. Any failure in the inertial compensators and her crew would become paste against the bulkheads.
"Angwar, do you really believe that Julie doesn't have anything to do with this?"
She held his gaze just long enough to see the doubt in her Provost's eyes.
"She'll be binding herself a year early."
"I know, Angwar."
Her voice could not disguise her worry, and she forced the fear for Julie back down into her gut, sealing it away for now.
"She could lose herself, Angwar. Her Gift may be ready, but she hasn't been taught the rest. Julie won't be ready for the bonding."
Emie was silent for a moment, picturing the young woman who had come to mean so very much to her. Then the First Guardian was back, and she felt her face harden. Her Provost noticed it too, and he straightened unconsciously. Glancing towards him, she flicked a hand towards the communication station, already sinking deeper into the bond between herself and her ship self.
"See if you can raise them again."
"We've got to get out of here!"
"Really? You don't say?"
"Craig, I'm not joking here!"
Senior Technician Craig Soron glared at the human technician next to him. Since he glared at everyone, she didn't take too much notice and kept right on running down the seemingly never-ending corridor.
"Erin, listen to me, we'll be fine just as long as we get to the cross over to the shipyard before the Gravitic Drives come online."
"Oh yeah? And if we don't?"
Craig just grimaced at that and pushed himself to run a bit faster. The two of them had been at fusion three, working on a stubborn magnetic bottle when all the systems that had been powered down, began powering up. It had taken a moment of frantic attempts to contact someone, anyone, over the suddenly non-functional com system, before Craig had recognized what was going on. He was a Tiri, one of the many who were teaching the seemingly horde of eager humans in the art of zero-g construction techniques.
He'd been a construction worker on ships since he was barely old enough to shave, and had worked on Guardian Ships more than once. He'd never been onboard one when a Guardian was bonding, but he had heard stories.
There was a very good reason that no one other than a medical team was onboard when a Guardian bonded. The sometimes-random activation of systems and equipment was bad enough, but anyone who inadvertently interfered with the bonding process by activating a system by them could lead to the death of the Guardian who was bonding. The whole process, as far as Craig could remember, would last for anywhere from an hour to half a day, depending on the Guardian.
Now as long as they could get to one of the walkways, which connected Alpha to the shipyard before the ship's Gravitic Drive finished powering up, they could get off. He glanced towards Erin, slightly ahead of him, her longer legs eating up the deck faster than his; she was a good kid, a bit green, but learning quick. She was one of a breed, these humans were impressive, they would work for nearly sixteen hours, go to sleep for eight or so, and then get up and do it all over again. He rather heavily suspected that the only reason that they were anywhere near on schedule with all the ships, orbital forts, and thousands of other things which had to be built, was due to the simple fact that these humans didn't understand what was and was not impossible.
Tugging on his tool belt he scowled at the closed airlock ahead of them. The connecting walkway had been sealed off, and probably retracted on the other side. They'll probably be pushing us out of the shipyard as soon as they can to avoid the drives ripping apart the shipyard. Gnawing at a fingernail, he muttered to himself, aware that Erin was waiting somewhat impatiently for him to come up with something resembling a plan.
"Ok, come on. They'll be evacuating whomever they can from the shuttle docks I bet. We'll go down and board one."
There had only been a few dozen people onboard, since the ship was, by and large, finished. Just the problem-shooting groups getting her ready for her maiden flight and the ship builder's trials.
Erin simply nodded and ran with him. They didn't dare use the lifts, which left the emergency access hatches and stairs. It was more than twelve decks, and it took them fifteen minutes of running, checking shuttle docks as they went, before the found one of the airlocks with something docked to it.
The two of them pulled up in front of one of the shuttle docks. Unlike the shuttle and fighter bay's, these exterior docks were spread throughout the ship for emergency rescue, along with escape pods. They were basically little more than exterior airlocks through which shuttles, and other craft, could latch onto the ship and dock. This was the fifth shuttle dock that they had come across, and Craig had started to get a bit nervous. It wouldn't take the Gravitic Drives much longer to come online.
The indicator light above the inner airlock burned green, indicating something had docked to the outside.
"Finally, come on Craig, here we go."
"Yeah, yeah, I see it."
He grumbled and wiped a bit of sweat off his craggy forehead, sending a glare towards the tall brunette. Not that she had been affected by his glares for the last two months anyway though.
"Hope it's a passenger shuttle, Erin, then we can get out of here in style."
Erin eyed him at that, as they stood before the airlock, waiting for it to finish cycling through their rescuers.
"What is it with you and passenger shuttles? Every time we get shipped around you go off about how you hope it's a passenger shuttle. You get laid in one of those or something?"
"Hey, now listen to me, I like..."
His words trailed off as the heavy battle steel inner door of the airlock unlocked and slid open after a soft beep to alert those on the inside that it had finished cycling. Squinting, he eyed the men inside and the interior of the craft behind them. The weapons that they were holding weren't Imperial, and the long cylinder's that the one's in the craft were working on weren't either, nor was the craft itself.
"Hey! You're not..."
The high-pitched screech of a neural disrupter firing cut him off. The last thing he ever saw was Erin's face contorted in pain as her nervous system self destructed, and then that pain washed over him as well.
When the darkness came, he welcomed it, and knew no more.
The figures began carrying the rather heavy warheads inside, and deeper into the ship. To destroy the entire ship, the warheads would have to be placed near the reactors, and along the center of the five-kilometer long ship. They ignored the still twitching bodies of the technicians.
Julie was floating through a wonderful dream world. A place where her senses were magnified a thousand fold and she could sense everything around her. Her skin was battle steel armor, and she pulsed with the energy of three fusion reactors. A place inside of her, that she had not even known existed, was filled and content. This was what she had been missing all these years.
A part of her rejoiced in this new body, swimming through the hundreds of kilometers of solid-state electronics and crystal conductors. It reveled in the information stored in the computer cores, a near limitless resource of information and wisdom from both the Tiri and Humanity. The combined knowledge and history of both races, together, and she knew she could lose herself in that knowledge. It would be so easy to slip ever deeper into this new body, to wander its length and breadth, and absorb these new sensations.
She had been dead, and now was alive.
Something was missing.
No, not something, someone.
Her mind paused; even as she felt the links which bound her old body to this new one continue to solidify.
Her soul ached for one more thing to be completed. The perfection of this new body, with its sleek, deadly edges and intent was hard to ignore. It whispered to her with a Siren's call, and she felt herself, what made herself unique, her identity, begin to fray around the edges as she sank even deeper into it.
A memory stopped her.
Emily, laughing during the dinner with her father on Mars, her eyes sparkling in the light as she joked. Those same eyes, shadowed with concern on Earth after the attack at PAFB. The feel of her lips pressed against Emie's when they kissed, so soft and warm. Waking up, together, and holding one another while talking like the lovers that they were not yet.
She was what Julie was missing.
Emily would complete her; soothe the last part of her soul that was empty.
The lure of the bond paled in comparison to the warmth she had found with the older First Guardian. Still, Julie was not strong enough to pull away from the bond, not yet.
Emily was nearby though; Julie could feel her presence, like a distant echo at the edge of her senses.
Something nudged her, slowly pushing her out of the place where her new body had been built. If it were a hint, she would take it. This body did not have legs to move upon, but it had something so much better. She could fly.
Emily was nearby, and she would find her, and be complete.
Mary worked frantically, the pieces of her latest project spread out across the floor next to where Julie's body was laying. She'd been the best in the computer and quite good in the mechanical engineering classes during Guardian Training. Now to put her money where her mouth was, so to speak.
"Come on, come on, I know this should work."
Muttering she rummaged through her pockets, finally coming up with a half dozen hairpins, among various other odds and ends. And they always ribbed me about being a pack rat.
Gone was the multicolored hair, and nails. Her normal pale brown color had been allowed to grow back, and she'd taken to actually having at least a sort of a hairstyle these last few weeks. At least she still had her piercing though.
Carefully Mary attached the small capacitor that she had been planning on using to power the computer when it was done. Now she had a slightly different use for the carry on sack full of components that she had bought.
"Ugh, come on, why won't you work! You should work!"
The spread out components steadily ignored her demands, and stubbornly remained silent. She didn't dare try to use her Gift, not with Julie going through bonding right next to her. They had told them, during training, how tricky the actual bonding process could be.
In desperation she resorted to the last resort of any true technician and slapped the stubborn equipment.
"Yes! Ha, gotcha."
Carefully she adjusted the small communications device, crossed her fingers, and began transmitting.
"Hello, can anyone here me? This is Guardian Trainee Mary Eilsen, aboard the experimental ship, Alpha. Does anyone read me?"
The Lieutenant at the com station frowned as she studied the read out on the display at her station. There was a low level signal being transmitted from Alpha. It was most definitely not on any Fleet channel, and she had to make a few adjustments to pick it up, when she did, she let out a yelp of surprise. Feeling the blood immediately rush to her cheeks as she felt everyone on the bridge look her way.
"Um... Ma'am, I have something."
Emily resisted, barely, the urge to simply take over the entire communications bay through her ship link by pure force of will. There were protocols to be followed, and reasons for those protocols.
"Put it on."
"Yes, Ma'am, it's on a very low band frequency, and it's going to be fuzzy."
That said, the com tech put the signal on audio and Mary's more than slightly fuzzy voice carried across the Command Deck.
"...Trainee Mary Eilsen, onboard the Imperial experimental ship, Alpha. Does anyone read me? I repeat, this is Guardian Trainee Mary Eilsen, does anybody hear me, please God, someone answer?"
"Com, can we send?"
"Working on it, Ma'am, it's on an odd frequency, and I don't know... ok, you're on, Ma'am."
The shipyard had finished nudging Alpha out of her construction slip, very carefully Emily was pleased to note. If they had even jarred the ship a little, the First Guardian would have sent the Major to Pluto. Alpha's Gravitic Drives were coming online and Emily began an emergency deceleration in order not to overshoot the ship.
"Mary? This is Emily, can you hear me?"
There was a long pause, and just when Emily was about to tell the com Lieutenant to recheck her modifications, Mary's voice came over the crackling channel.
"First Guardian? Thank God! You have to get over here, Julie's bonding with the ship I think, and she's having what look like mini seizures."
Emily spared a bit of her attention towards helping the com tech stabilize the signal, doing her best to make certain that they wouldn't lose Mary's signal. Another part of her was monitoring the inertial compensators, while a third part kept watch over the Gravitic Drives, and yet a fourth part of her consciousness was keeping an eagle's eye view on Alpha while it's Gravitic Drives became operational. A glance towards her Provost showed that he was already notifying the medical team standing by inside of the first drop ship of the Guardian Trainee's condition.
"Mary, we're on our way. Do not touch her, don't disturb Julie in anyway shape or form, do you understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I think we're moving, the Gravitic Drives are online, I think anyway. It's hard to tell with all the random information that's being displayed on all the control panels."
They were close enough for an active scan finally, and instead of relying on her passive sensor suite, Emily started a detailed scan of Alpha. Her eyebrows raising slightly in surprise as the ship began moving towards her. It wasn't anything even close to the ship's maximum speed, but Alpha was definitely moving. The ship that a Guardian was bonding to did not usually actually move during the bonding process, usually that was. It was not unheard of for the Guardian ship to power up its Gravitic Drives, but it was unheard of for a bonding Guardian to be able to direct her or his ship self to move during the process.
"You are moving, Mary, but we'll be there in another..."
A quick recalculation of the converging vectors, and Emily realized she was going to overshoot the Alpha. They would have to come back around after slowing to a complete stop relative to Mars.
"... four minutes."
"Alright, the tremors are starting to pass I think, and Julie's looking a bit better."
"Good, now just sit tight and wait for..."
The First Guardian trailed off as her sensors picked up something that should not have been there on the flank of the prototype ship. It was, at first glance, an Imperial shuttle docked to one of the exterior shuttle docks. The power readings were a tad odd though, and Emily took a closer look at that shuttle, bringing her ship self's formidable sensor suite to bear on it.
Her face paled as her active sensor's penetrated the holographic cloak that was around the supposed shuttle.
"Mary, can you manually lock down the Command Deck?"
"The blast doors? Sure, I guess."
Came the rather puzzled response after a second of silence.
"Do it. There is a Bak'ra infiltration shuttle docked to Alpha. Seal yourself into the command deck, and then let me know when you're done."
Mary knew an order when she heard one and set to work manually cranking shut the huge armored blast doors, which closed the two entrances to the command deck.
Even as Mary answered, the snarling klaxons, which sent the crew to battle stations, sprang to life inside of North Star. You would have to be a dead person to ignore that sound, and North Star's crew of nearly nine thousand sprang into action.
"Angwar, make certain that the Marines understand that they are going to be boarding a ship where a Guardian is still bonding. She's accelerating towards us, so we're going to overshoot, and have to come back around. Tell them that they cannot interrupt any of the ship's systems."
"You know they aren't going to be happy about that, not when they'll be facing Bak'ra over there."
Angwar hid a sigh and went to make certain that the Marine's understood the situation, quite certain that they were not going to like what he was about to tell them. Emily didn't envy her Provost at the moment, but she had more important matters to deal with. Closing her eyes, she again sank deeper into her bond with her ship self. Once more desperately trying to get a response from Julie, repeatedly hailing her, as the two ships headed towards one another.
The results were not what Emie had been hoping for, instead of getting a response from Julie, her sensor's detected gravity bands shimmering into existence along the broadsides of the Alpha.
Her whisper must have been louder than she thought, since Angwar was looking at her with concern when she opened her eyes.
"The Alpha's shields just came online."
That was enough of an explanation for her Provost to understand the frustrated tone to his Guardian's words. With the broadside shields spun up, there was no way for a drop ship, or any other ship for that matter, to dock with the ship. Any ship which wanted to launch fighters, or recover them, had to drop its shields, at least for a little while.
"Tell the drop ship to stand by, we'll pass them in another two minutes, and then take another five minutes after that to come to a stop, and catch up with the Alpha."
Closing her eyes before she had even finished speaking, she focused her attention on the ship which Julie was bonding to, redoubling her efforts to get a response from her friend. She was running the danger of distracting the redhead by hailing her, which could have disastrous consequences, but they had to get those shields down.
Come on Julie, please, just answer me.
She had not noticed them until they were nearly inside of her number two fusion core.
Her attention had been elsewhere, learning the Gravitic Drives by feel and sense.
Now though, as they tried to override her security blast door and enter one of her three fusion cores, she focused on them. She observed them from every angle, and from a myriad of internal sensors. The twelve thermonuclear megaton-yield warheads were noted with detached interest. Without thought, she compared the readings from those twelve to readings in her data banks.
Twelve of them.
Inside of her ship self.
Two of them outside of her number Three-fusion core.
Ten more spread throughout the ship in pairs, each with a thermonuclear warhead.
The reaction was primal, instantaneous, and without conscious thought.
Fear, as the small part of her mind that was not taken over by the bonding process understood what they were doing, and what they wanted to accomplish.
All of her defensive systems activated almost as one. Klaxons rang out throughout the mostly empty Guardian ship, and her shields came online.
Urgent alerts were sent to her security stations, all of which were empty. The service robots that her crew and she would have used to repair hull damage were not there yet, and her attempts to get them to head towards the invaders went unanswered as well.
Fear began to slowly give way to panic.
As if from a distance, she could hear her name being called, but she was too busy thwarting the invaders attempts to enter her core. Again and again she easily disabled their attempts at overriding her door controls.
After the sixth attempt though, they changed tactics. Julie watched as they headed down the corridor. Projecting their path, the panic ate at the edges of her mind.
They were headed towards her.
Emily snarled in frustration as she failed, again, to get an answer from Julie. The two ships had passed one another, and now North Star was once more accelerating, giving chase after the experimental ship.
"I closed one of the blast doors, but the other slammed shut on its own."
The First Guardian stiffened at that, trying to figure out what that meant.
"Julie might know that they are onboard, and is trying to keep them from hurting her. Mary, she's raised her shields, and we can't risk trying to disable them from here. I'll keep trying to raise her, but incase I can't, you have to start trying to lower the shields from the bridge. Don't do anything yet, I'm just warning you might have to try."
The teenager sounded less than thrilled at that prospect.
Emily once more closed her eyes, and sunk even deeper into her bond, ignoring her command deck entirely. Sending images, pleas, and even promises had not worked so far. The First Guardian was positive that she was going to hear all about this from the other Guardians in system, since all of them would hear her not so subtle messages. At the moment she didn't care.
They could think whatever they wanted to, she had more important concerns at the moment.
She's afraid, and she's still bonding. I need to get her attention, and get her to lower those shields to get the drop ship over there. Now how do I do that without distracting her from the bonding process?
Mentally gritting her teeth she forced her thoughts to slow down and focus on the problem at hand. Ignoring the thoughts that were swirling around her, images of Julie, a memory of the first time she had seen her in that restaurant in Quebec, the feeling of her lips pressed against her own.
Maybe... maybe that's it. That's how to reach her.
It was quite possibly the hardest thing she had done in her life. Facing the Bak'ra in battle was easy compared to what she was attempting to do now. Opening a channel, one of many, she began broadcasting.
They were at the entrance to where her other self was now, the two of them who had been down near Fusion three. They were attempting to force the doors, and the part of her that was still Julie was startled to notice that they were actually making headway in cutting through the security doors. The panic gripped her again, and she found solace in the strengthening bond between her and her ship self. Still something was missing, something she was forgetting about.
Then she heard it, more like sensed it, gradually at first, caressing the edge of her awareness.
It whispered to her soul, calling her back from the edge of the pit once more. Gently, Julie became aware of the sensation that called to her from beyond her ship self. Instinctively, she recognized the source as coming from Emie, and Julie felt a smile spread across her body's face.
It was not a normal communication, but a combination of sensations wrapped together. Excitement, joy, contentment, desire, all combined together with a sense of love. It wrapped around her, calming the panic that had grown inside of her, and drawing her far enough out of the bond to think.
The sense of relief was nearly overpowering, and the sensation of being hugged flowed across from the First Guardian.
Julie. Please, you have to lower the shields. Hurry up and I'll be right over there.
A thin stream of smoke curled upwards from the inside of the command deck blast doors.
Emie, they're burning into the Command Deck!
Julie, listens to me, please love, lower the shields.
There was a long pause and Julie found her entire being focused on one thought.
You love me?
What could have been a curse came over the link.
Julie, I swear to you we will talk about this later, now just lower the shields!
Basking in the admission, Julie absently did as her love, she loves me, had asked.
The second they were down Emily opened her eyes and pointed towards Angwar.
"Send them! The shields are down."
Angwar nodded and leaned over to relay the orders down to the drop ship shuttle bay. The four drop ships launched a moment later, and sped towards the Alpha, which North Star had matched its velocity to earlier.
Julie, I'm on my way, hang on.
Emily was up and moving the second after she sent the message, and gestured towards the stand by helmsmen.
"Go to manual, I'm going over there."
Angwar managed to intercept her halfway to the blast doors.
"Angwar, get out of my way."
Her voice was low and dangerous, and she gave him high points for the look of fear that entered his eyes.
"According to Imperial Fleet regulation, 7.30, it is my duty as Provost to formally object to any action that would place you in avoidable risk."
Emily also gave herself high points for avoiding grabbing the front of her Provost's uniform and shaking him. Taking a deep breath she narrowed her eyes.
"Julie is in trouble, and I am going over there. Your objection is noted."
She ducked around him, and her long legs carried her towards the security doors and the lift beyond, her black hair sailing behind her as it came loose from the ponytail she had hastily put it into.
Angwar cursed and had to nearly sprint to keep up.
She spun around outside of the security doors and snarled, her blue eyes deathly serious.
"Don't make me hurt you, Angwar. Julie needs me, and I'm going over. Got it?"
Not even her Provost was suicidal and he cautiously took a step backwards, away from the darkness that briefly looked out at him from her eyes.
Then she turned and headed into the lift, and was gone with her Honor Guard. The lift trip down to the nearest shuttle hanger seemed to go on forever, and Emily ground her teeth in frustration. The deadly cold glare she focused on the lift doors, and the anger which rolled off her in waves, forced even the armored Marine's to keep away from her.
They were almost through the blast doors when they detected the ship's shields going down. That meant that their presence here had been detected. The odds had shifted, it was time to leave and take what they could with them. It would only be a matter of time before the Imperial Marines arrived. The thermonuclear weapons had been difficult to obtain, and the infiltration shuttle was a valuable piece of equipment. The returns were now outweighed by the risks.
They left the doors, and along with the others began to return to the shuttle. They would still be able to escape from this, and once far enough away, merge with the normal traffic.
Two of the warheads had already been set.
They would be enough to at least cripple the ship.
Emily was on her way, Julie kept repeating that, over and over, in her mind. The bond had begun to pull at her once more, luring her with a seductive ease that she was almost afraid of. Some part of her knew, instinctively, that if she gave in to the pull to go even deeper, she would never return.
Even distracted by what was going on as she was, a part of her noticed when the Bak'ra began moving once more. All of them headed back towards the external shuttle dock. So, Emily had scared them into running?
They had killed, her sensor's indicated, fourteen technicians who had been on board her.
Fourteen people who had been onboard of her ship self.
Fourteen of HER crew.
A surge of anger coursed through her, and she could feel herself reaching out to where her weapons should have been. The missile magazines were empty though, and she snarled. None of her internal security systems were operational either.
Four of the Bak'ra had reached the shuttle when she realized what she could do. If she had been thinking clearly before, she would have realized it earlier. The shuttle itself she had no control over, but that was her dock.
She felt a smile that had nothing to do with humor form over her body's face.
The inner airlock door slid shut, and she began to vent the atmosphere from inside of the airlock itself. The four Bak'ra on the ship were forced to seal their inner door as well, or be exposed to vacuum. A Bak'ra assault trooper could withstand vacuum, but not an infiltrator, for they were quite nearly as vulnerable as a human.
Blast doors across her ship self slammed down, slowing down the Bak'ra who still remained onboard. Her sensors were detecting the approaching Imperial drop ships, and she knew Emie was near.
Her heart was near.
Julie's thoughts of Emily were shoved aside as the Bak'ra, evidently coming to the opinion that they should cut their losses, tore away from her side. The pain as bits of her hull were torn away with the shuttle as it boosted, rippled through the newly formed bond, and on the Command Deck Mary watched fearfully as Julie's breathing hitched.
How dare they.
Kill my crew.
Invade my body.
Attempt to destroy me.
The anger followed the pain, and she snarled wordlessly. Her missile magazines were empty. The plasma launchers had not been powered up, and would take too long. Her frustration built as the shuttle boosted away from her. North Star was not far behind her now, and the Bak'ra might not be able to escape.
But they might be able to.
She wanted them.
They had killed her crew, and the primal urge to protect them welled up inside of her.
With another wordless snarl she watched in frustration as the shuttle raced ahead of her. There was nothing she could do, they would leave plasma launcher range before the launchers were charged, and without missile's...
She was in Alpha.
Her lips curled upwards as she reached out and stroked a part of her ship self that she had unknowingly powered up with the Gravitic Drive's.
They were well on the way to escaping. The experimental ship did not have any missiles to reach them, and they would leave Plasma Launcher range shortly. North Star was launching fighters, but they had a good chance of evading those once they entered the shuttle traffic and engaged the holographic cloak.
So it was with a bit of surprise that they watched the front Gravitic bow wave of the Alpha drop, and read a power spike.
There was no logical reason for that to happen, and the four Bak'ra were puzzled. Still, it meant that the pursuing Guardian ship slowed even further, and the distance between them and it increased.
The gravity lance, which fired from the front of the hammerhead ship, tore the infiltration shuttle apart. The gravity sheer simply disintegrated the small vessel, shredding it and its components down to the molecular level.
The very first firing of a Gravitic Lance from a Type-Fourteen Variant Guardian-Class ship was marked by a transmission from Alpha, across all channels. It was relayed throughout the inner solar system, only contained by the sensor sphere located at a distance from the sun as the asteroid belt. No one could miss the birthing cries of the first Human Guardian.
Die you sons of bitches.
Mary was tossed from her feet as the shockwave rippled through the ship, gravity failed for a moment immediately afterwards. Cursing, she hauled herself up from where she had fallen after gravity reestablished itself, and winced at the pain from her wrist, which she was pretty sure she had snapped when she got tossed that last time. The lights had gone out for a moment as well, and a few of the stations around the command deck had shorted out by the power surge.
A quick glance at the engineering station showed crimson lights indicating damage spreading across most of the port side of the ship. A groan drew her attention towards Julie, and she rushed to her friend's side.
Trickles of blood spread from the redhead's nostrils, and her breathing was erratic. Even as she reached her side, it seemed to Mary that Julie's breathing was becoming more and more erratic, and her face was a deathly pale shade.
"Julie, hold on, please just hold on. Emily is on her way, please just hold on!"
The detonation of two nuclear warheads followed the screamed transmission from Julie. Emily slumped against the inner wall of the lift as her sensors showed her the twin detonations, blossoming outwards from the flanks of Alpha. The ship's drives died immediately and fear grew in her as she watched power levels fluctuate across the ship.
Dear Maker, Julie is linked to that; she's still bonding.
The trip from the lift to the shuttle bay, and from the bay to Alpha was done in silence as well. Emily barely acknowledged the presence of the eight other Marines who went with her on the shuttle; each of which stayed wisely silent on the trip over to Alpha and the docking procedure. The only sound during the ride was the quiet voices of the pilot and copilot as they matched velocity with Alpha and carefully docked.
Emily kept her thoughts focused on the ship they were approaching, and dared not think about what they would find when they reached it. She gazed at the twin craters, still vomiting flame and debris, where the blasts had come from. They were deep wounds, and although not fatal for a fully bonded Guardian, those blasts would have been the death knell for nearly any Guardian still in the process of bonding.
A mask settled across her face as she forced herself to become the First Guardian. Otherwise the fear would become terror, and she would be no good to Julie then.
Two more Marines in full battle gear were waiting for her when they had completed docking procedures at one of the exterior docks. There was no crew onboard to guide the shuttle into one of the interior bays, so they docked as close to the command deck as they could manage. The twelve Honor Guard Marines went first, and even Emily could not alter that.
As they moved, ignoring the lifts, the Captain, again insanely young to be a Captain at least to the First Guardian, who had met them filled them in on the situation.
"We had a running battle with the eight Bak'ra left onboard, who thankfully only had light armor and weapons. Three of my men were hit by neural disruptor fire, but we got them treatment quick enough and they should recover. An explosive device that had been left behind at the blast doors onto the command deck killed another four. Guardian Trainee Eilsen was able to open the doors manually for us, and we secured the Command Deck."
He paused as the group of them descended through access ways towards the core of the ship, ignoring the lifts.
"Damage control teams are on the way over to deal with the damage from the thermonuclear blasts. We've got damage to nearly all-major systems though. The Guardian had gone into shock, and the medical team was doing its best to stabilize her condition when I left to escort you in. All twelve Bak'ra have been accounted for, along with the nuclear weapons. Fourteen dead fleet personnel have also been found."
He received what sounded like a grunt in return for his efforts, and the First Guardian broke into a jog as she spotted the half open command deck blast doors ahead of them. Power fluctuations were still occurring throughout the ship. The fear had become a band of terror, tightening around her chest.
Please Maker, let her be all right. Please...
Mary met her just as she swept inside, clutching to her hand as Emily's face tightened spotting the near gaggle of medical staff, which were clustered, around the Guardian Station. Her wrist was in a splint, Emie vaguely noticed.
"She isn't breathing."
It had been a pleasant dream, and Julie did her best to fight the call of consciousness. She had been dreaming of Emily holding her hand and talking to her, even though Julie herself hadn't been talking at all. That had been a bit of an odd part, and she frowned slightly, not opening her eyes quite yet, on the edge between dreamscapes and the reality of the day. The Guardian Trainee remembered the near love in her friend's voice, and the frown that had been on her face smoothed out into a small grin. That love had wrapped itself around her like a warm, fuzzy blanket, in which Julie had willingly sought shelter.
Sleep, as it had a wont to do, slowly slipped away and she gradually became more aware of her surroundings. Her mouth, she realized, tasted like something had crawled inside of it and died.
That realization was quickly followed by the fact that she could feel the ship that surrounded her. Instinctively, she knew where she was, in the Guardian's ready quarters, located just off of the Command Deck; that and that she was not alone.
Cracking open an eyelid, she surveyed the room, green eyes taking in the rather depressingly stark furnishings. The bed that she was stretched out on, little more than a large cot, had company in the form of a nearby chair, and that was just about it. The quiet hum of the life support systems was barely noticeable, and the only other noise in the room was Emie's quiet breathing. She didn't particularly care though, as the sight of the occupant of that lone chair caught her attention.
Emily had fallen asleep in the rather uncomfortable looking chair, her feet, sans boots, were propped up on the edge of the cot, and her head was tilted backwards at an uncomfortable angle. Her uniform jacket was half open, revealing the white dress shirt underneath, and her black hair look disheveled.
She was the most beautiful thing that Julie had ever seen.
The redhead carefully edged her way into a sitting position, after spending a quiet few minutes just watching the First Guardian sleep. It was a first, and she took her time taking a good long look at the tall woman. Her cheeks were classically sculpted, if a bit drawn after the stress of the past few months. Dark rings under her eyes attested to the fatigue Emie must have felt to fall asleep in such an odd position.
Julie had been trying to reach for the pitcher of what she hoped was water that was on the floor next to Emily's chair, trying not to wake up her sleeping friend. Unfortunately, her limbs weren't quite responding exactly as she wanted to commands from her mind, and she started to slide, rather ungracefully, off the bed and towards the floor. Wincing in preparation for the thud, she closed her eyes.
Which flew open again a second later when she realized she hadn't hit the floor, and that a pair of warm hands were lifting her, easily, back up and onto the bed. Blue eyes, which had no right being that blue, looked at her with amusement as Emily helped her get settled back into the covers.
"If you wanted some water, you just had to ask."
"Sorry, didn't want to wake you up, and I was thirsty."
Julie gratefully took the offered glass of water and drank greedily, surprisingly thirsty.
"Hey, slow down, don't drink so fast. Your stomach might not be ready to handle it so fast."
The bed shifted slightly as Emily took a seat on the edge and Julie was aware of being studied as she slowed her gulps to sips, through sheer willpower.
"You ok? You looked really tired."
The question, unexpectedly, got a laugh out of the First Guardian, and Julie found herself suddenly gathered up in a near bone-crushing hug.
"Am I Ok? What a question. Don't you ever scare me that much again."
Julie barely heard her words, getting more than a little distracted by the warm breath tickling her earlobe.
Suddenly serious blue eyes regarded her as Emily pulled back enough to study her face.
"What do you remember of the last few days?"
"Humor me, what do you remember?"
Julie scrunched up nose in thought and frowned as she couldn't remember anything after the tour.
"We were on a tour of Alpha..."
"Umm... I don't know. What happened?"
Emily took her hand and lanced their fingers together, which brought a near instant smile to the younger woman's face.
"You bonded, a year ahead of time I might add, and to an experimental ship. Congratulations on being the first human Guardian, by the way."
The redhead immediately regretted the near shout, her head feeling distinctly as if she had just been on a binger to end all bingers.
She tried again at a more normal level. Emily silently fished a pill out of her pocket and handed it over, which Julie swallowed down with a sip of water without question.
She demanded, when no further information was forthcoming from the dark-haired Guardian.
"Try thinking past the last thing you remember on the tour. Do you remember the Guardian's station? The Bak'ra coming onboard while you were bonding? The two warheads?"
"Bonding? What... OH!"
Green eyes slowly widened as the memories, the dreams had not been dreams. That explained the ache she felt through her bond, and her body.
"Yes, that's right, Oh."
Feeling her cheeks turn red, Julie risked a glance through her lashes towards the other woman.
"So you love me, huh?"
It was Emily's turn to look more than a little panicked, and she looked everywhere but towards Julie.
"Well, I... um, had to get your attention."
Ignoring the near terror she remembered feeling when she realized there were Bak'ra onboard, she moved closer towards the woman sitting just a few feet away from her. Moving closer until her lips just barely brushed the First Guardian's cheek.
"And you couldn't figure out any other way than transmitting the way you feel about me to everyone inside of the sensor shield?"
Blue eyes flitted closed as Julie's lips nipped across her neck and found an earlobe to nibble on.
"It seemed like the best idea at the ... umm... oh... time."
"Do you know..." she tugged on the earlobe, enjoying the taste of her friend's skin, and whispering into her ear, "...how nice that was?"
Holding back a sudden desire to laugh, Julie proceeded to show Emily exactly what she thought of that, and how she felt about it, by kissing the dark haired woman until they were both breathless.
"I ah, thanks."
Julie grinned and bumped her forehead against Emily's with a sudden smile.
"Yes, for what you did, and said. It goes both ways."
The confusion in the tall woman's eyes faded and she smiled brightly. It transformed her entire face, and Julie found herself pulled in, a call she did not resist.
This time it was Emily who started the kiss, and Julie let herself be swept away on the tide of emotions that warm, soft touch sent spiraling through her. The gentle kiss progressed from slow, loving kisses to hungry, open-mouthed, and passionate. They were both too tired for more, and slowly, as if by an unspoken agreement, they reduced the intensity.
"Sleep with me?"
Startled blue eyes met hers and Julie nearly laughed-- nearly.
"Just to sleep. You look exhausted, and we're not ready for anything more."
And I want to have your complete attention when we do more.
Nodding, Emily laid down next to her, waiting as Julie tucked herself up against her side.
"Sleep sounds good. You scared me you know."
Something in her tone made the younger Guardian look up. Seeing the worried look in her Emie's eyes, Julie hugged her tight.
"I'm alright, the Bak'ra didn't manage anything."
"It wasn't just the Bak'ra, although they are a worry. The team that was onboard your ship self, which you now get to name by the way, wasn't from the evacuation. That means they got to Earth some other way, especially with that infiltration shuttle that they had."
The information on the Bak'ra was worrisome, but that wasn't what caught her attention.
"What do you mean, not just the Bak'ra?"
Emily's arms tightened around her and Julie gladly rested her head against the older woman's chest.
"You were a year early bonding. You didn't finish your training for the bonding, and you didn't know how to direct the bonding itself; it's quite a shock. The Tiri lost a lot of Gifted individuals when we first started having Guardians. Your body went into shock, and we nearly lost you. Twice."
Julie didn't stop to think, just followed her instincts as she heard the fear in her voice. Propping herself up she gently kissed her friend, showing her that she was still there.
"Yeah. Don't you dare do that to me again, remember, you promised."
With a grin, she sank back down onto the bed, using the dark-haired woman as a pillow. A very nice pillow that I could get used to very easily, oh, who are you kidding, you want this all the time.
"We have time to figure out where those other Bak'ra came from. After all we've got, what, three and a half years left?"
Julie looked up in shock at that.
Serious blue eyes returned the look, and Emily nodded gravely.
"We picked up a transmission, yesterday, from a long range-scanning outpost in the W'essi system. If they continue ignoring the side systems like they appear to be doing, their new search pattern will bring them here in two years."
"Are we going to be ready?"
The silence was her answer, and Julie sighed, hugging the First Guardian again.
"We'll manage it somehow, Emie."
The chuckle that reverberated under her ear caught Julie by surprise, and she grinned instinctively in response.
"With human kind working together, or at least kind of trying to, we have a shot at least."
The starlight, brilliant here in orbit around Mars, was the only light in the room, and the two of them rested there, watching those stars, from which the darkness was coming for all of mankind. It would be here sooner than they expected, but they would fight it with everything that they had, with everything that they were. Because, everything else set aside, despite, or perhaps because of, its sporadic suicidal impulses, human kind had always fought to survive.
"I have a name, for my ship self."
"How does Southern Cross sound to you?"
The End of North Star
Author's note: Thanks for sticking around, I hope you all enjoyed reading this little tale. That's it for my bet, so I hope you liked the results Amanda. This is dedicated to my Angel, only 23 more days until your back home love. Let me know what you thought of this little story? What do you all think of Southern Cross as the title of the story of the Bak'ra invasion?