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Authors: Andrew Caruthers
Show Year: Y3
Rating: PG
Date: 2003

Story 5 in the "Forever Alpha" series +
1 - Forever Alpha
2 - Greetings from Cylon
3 - ... Et Willelm Ad Pevensae Venit
4 - Schanke Resurgens
5 - Crossfire
6 - Out of the Frying Pan…
7 - The Path To Eternity
After transiting a mysterious vortex, the Alphans find themselves in a new region of space, with planets that might provide a new home. And in the crossfire between two warring powers.
Average Rating: 4.0/5 (based on 14 reviews)

Dedicated to the memory of Alice Preugschat


"Oh, here comes the good part!" said Tony Verdeschi, hand and mouth full of popcorn, as he and Maya sat, snuggled close, on the couch in their quarters, watching an old movie on the screen.

"You've said that at least five times now, Tony," Maya reminded him, as they approached the climax of the film, the old Technicolor classic The Crimson Pirate."Although I do like all these acrobatics."

"Well, Burt Lancaster started out as a circus aerialist, Maya. It was a natural, I guess." He munched down on his popcorn, and snuggled closer. "Yes! Yes!" he crowed, as the rakish pirate skipper, aka Lancaster, rescued the raven-haired damsel in distress and the dastardly Baron fell to his death.

"I see that my people were not the only one's given to melodrama," said Maya, as the film ended. "Real life was never like that."

"Well, maybe not," said Tony. "But I've always been fascinated by those pirate days, Maya. Blackbeard. Sir Henry Morgan. Black Sam Bellamy. Brasilliano. Even Anne Bonny."

"Anne? A woman pirate?" asked the Psychon in surprise, one eyebrow rising nearly an inch.

"Oh yes, " replied Tony. "She ended up as the skipper of her own ship eventually, and was as bloodthirsty as any of the men out there."

"Humans!" she hrumphffed. "Romanticising a culture and epoch dominated by violent theft. These pirates were no more than muggers on the water." She got up, slowly, and pulled the disk from the player.

"Not all", said Tony, stretching out in her absence. "Some were actually privateers, not thieves." He explained.

"Same difference, as you Humans say," said Maya. "An aristocrat going out as a Corsair differs from a common thief only in having himself a title, Tony."

"Well, maybe. Still, it might have been fun, back then. Say, did they ever have pirates on Psychon?"

"Tony!" she replied, aghast. "What a terrible thing to ask."

"Well, centuries ago, when Psychon still had oceans and before modern technology. Wooden ships, and sails." He waited. "Well?"

"I...never studied ancient history, Tony,' she replied, turning to straighten something up. "I concentrated on the sciences, mostly."

"Uh huh," he grinned, arms crossed. "I see. Well, I suppose that does makes sense." He watched her straighten something for the fourth time, and shake her head as she read the title of another video.

"Cosmic Princess?" she asked, waving it as she turned to look at him, holding it as if it were likely to infect her.

"Yeah. Well."

"I think I'll take the pirates, Tony."

"Thought you might, Maya," he replied, grinning. He sighed, arms behind his head. "Ah, think of it. Just the sea and the wind."

"At least you could steer," chuckled Maya, in oblique reference to their unsteerable home. "And you knew where home was."

"Well, you've got me there, Maya. That is something I'd give a lot to know myself."

"Tony," she said, sitting down next to him once more. "I've never seen an ocean."


"No. By the time I was born, all our oceans had virtually dried up. I never saw what was left." She fell quiet, sighing. Slowly, she leaned against him, and he raised her face to his. Without words, they moved closer, lips touching...


"Mala fortuna!" muttered Tony, as he broke contact with Maya, and reached for the commlock. "Verdeschi here."

"Need to see you, Tony," said Commander Koenig, on the tiny screen. "Now."

"Right," said Tony, somewhere between a sigh and a growl. "Be right there, John. Damn. My day off,' said Tony, rolling off the couch. "Bloody hell..."

"What was that, Tony?" asked Koenig.

"On my way." He got to his feet, and began to dress. "No, you stay here, Maya."

"What do you think it's about, Tony? That man they rescued?"

"Probably. Maybe he woke up. I'll try to be back soon. Watch something if you want to." He leaned over and kissed her, then left the room. Maya stretched, and fingered through Tony's video and DVD collection.

"Hhmm... Cosmic Princess."

Chapter One

"What do you make of it?" asked the Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance, as he dropped the report onto his desk, and looked up at his subordinate.

"We're not sure, yet," said the tall, thin fellow with the receding hair. "But Destroyer 4 went silent, mere seconds after sending out a distress call, sir. And this is the only visual data we have." He indicated the photo accompanying the report on his chief's desk. A photo of a large planetoid, blurred, and showing scant detail.

"This planetoid appears on no chart, you say?" continued the Supreme Commandant, thwapping the photo with a finger. "Where did it come from, then?"

"Unknown at this time, sir," replied the other. "As the report says, the Destroyer ceased all transmissions seconds later. The commsuite on Lunar Seven had just gone back on-line, and therefore we missed whatever may have been sent previously. There have been no responses to any transmissions."

"I see." The short, stocky man at the desk considered a moment, then sat back. "Dispatch another Destroyer to the reported coordinates, and investigate."

"Sir!" said the other, clicking his heels, and saluting. He turned smoothly, and left the room. Once alone, the Supreme Commandant picked up the report, and studied the planetoid again. For some reason, he could not cast off the feeling of foreboding that suddenly came over him. What was this? Some new Nationalist treachery? The Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance of the Planet Terra did not know.

If any observer from Earth had been able to glimpse that world's former satellite at this particular moment, they might not have immediately recognized it. Instead of the barren, airless gray rock known since antiquity, Earth's errabundic satellite now, or once more, sported an atmosphere. Recent passage through a thick nebula had left its mark in the form of a thin, but very real, envelope of gases surrounding her, an acquisition still being assessed by the occupants of Moonbase Alpha.

Along with where they were, and what awaited them. While traversing the nebula, Alpha had been sucked into a vortex, a wormhole, and had been transported more than 84 light-years in a matter of minutes. Damage to the base was, thanks to considerable lead time, minimal, and once basic systems were back up, they could take stock. So employed, Professor Victor Bergman, and Maya Verdeschi discovered several things.

One, they were heading into an area of space well-populated F, G, and H-type stars, including a number of binary suns. Hopes of, at last, finding a new place to live were beginning, cautiously, to revive.

Two, the vortex they had just passed through had, it turned out, been artificial. Rather than some bizarre natural phenomenon lurking in space, like the Black Sun, it had been built by race or races unknown, deep in some remote past. The rapid transit of the vortex, coupled with intense radiation, had allowed for little in the way of detailed scanning or analysis, but its artificiality was beyond doubt.

Three, the atmosphere the Moon had acquired was, unfortunately, unbreathable, being composed primarily of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, nitrogen, and various other noxious substances. While not life-sustaining, it did not yet appear to be harmful to Alpha, and Victor put one of his people on it.

And, four, they were barreling into a region of space that was already occupied. Upon emerging from the vortex, they had encountered a ship. A ship that had slammed into them, sucked in by the Moon's suddenly-appearing gravity well. When reached and brought to Alpha, seven of the eight Humanoids aboard were dead, victims either of the crash, or the rapid loss of internal pressure. The lone survivor, a male about 50 in Earth terms, was recuperating in Medical.

And, already, they knew who he was.

"His name is Commandant Leiter," said Athena Carter, late of the Battlestar Galactica, marooned on Alpha some months before, during an encounter with the Cylons. In their flight from the destruction of their homeworlds, the Colonies, Athena's people had encountered the soldiers of the Eastern Alliance of the Planet Terra, a military dictatorship chillingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and every bit as brutal.

"A war?" asked Commander John Koenig, in his office. Along with his senior staff, it was attended by Athena, and two other Colonials, Greenbean and Brie, former Viper pilots from the Galactica.

"Yes, sir," said Greenbean, now an Eagle pilot. "The planet Terra is divided into two powers, the Nationalist Union, and the Eastern Alliance. The Nationalists are like us, sir. They believe in liberty, and have a fairly open society. They elect leaders, and have many free institutions."

"I see," said Koenig. "And this Alliance doesn't."

"No, sir," said Athena. "They are a military dictatorship, in many ways reminiscent of the Cylons. They annihilated nearly every Human being on the planet Paradeen in their war with the Nationalists."

"How?" asked Tony.

"Some sort of neutron weapons," she replied. "Killed them all. Starbuck said that when he and Apollo landed there, the one city they saw was virtually intact, but empty."

"Kill everyone, and leave all the cities and technology for themselves," said Helena. "My God, John. It's barbaric."

"Their policies are racially based, Commander," continued Athena. "While we never determined exactly how, they consider all others besides themselves to be inferior. Fit only to be either enslaved, or exterminated."

"Imperious Leader, anyone?" remarked Brie.

"What a cheery area of space we've blundered into," said Tony. "Forget the frying pans. We've just switched fires. I'll get my asbestos suit." Koenig scowled at him.

"How will this Alliance react to us, Athena?" asked Helena.

"They threatened the Fleet, when we passed through their territory. At least Commandant Leiter did. He told Father they would destroy us."

"Nothing like putting out the welcome mat," muttered Tony. "What kind of punch do their ships have?"

"Victor?" asked Koenig.

"Formidable, John," replied the Professor. "It has laser trackable guns, and carries missiles, some of them nuclear-tipped. We're still examining her electronic systems."

"Engines? What kind of speed?" asked Alan.

"We don't know, yet. Her engines were badly damaged when she crashed, Alan. Hopefully, we can get that information from her computer."

"Good work, Victor," said Koenig. "What about Leiter, Helena?"

Leiter was slowly recovering in Medical, though he still remained comatose. From the extent of his injuries sustained in the crash of his ship, it was, Dr. Spencer had opined, "semi-miraculous he had lived to make it into a pressure suit".

For the next week, Alpha continued to move through this new area, as yet encountering no one. While they did so, Victor rechecked every starchart they had, collating both data from the Galactica, the Destroyer's computer, and the database from the Voyager. Voyager had passed nowhere near here, sadly, and the data from the Destroyer was partly corrupted. The Galactica had taken scans of the region, but from a different point of view, and he was having trouble reconciling it all. However, he still emerged with a fair idea of the layout of this region, and he and Maya worked on the construction of a full starchart.

As they moved on, scanners strained to their limits, they drifted near a single, K-Type star, with only two small, dead worlds not unlike Alpha, the Moon's trajectory curving sufficiently to alter their course. It seemed odd, to look up and see more than just black sky overhead. The new vault was streaked with oranges, blues, and turquoises, the shadows less sharp, and while they were in range of the sun, there was even a brief twilight of sorts.

Helena decided that it was beautiful, and so did Maya. Alan agreed, up in orbit, scanning and photographing this new aspect to their wandering home. Below him, there were fronts, high and low pressure centers, winds, and even cyclonic systems, thanks to the Moon's rotation. The atmosphere was absorbing heat from the passing sun, and becoming surprisingly dynamic.

It was also mesmerizing, to see the eternally barren sphere surrounded by an envelope of gasses, albeit a thin and toxic one. Alan found himself thinking back to the atmosphere, an altogether more palatable one, given them by the mysterious inhabitants of Ariel. Though long gone, it was nonetheless not forgotten, and Alan allowed himself a moment's wallowing in the ocean of memory, and a few what-might-have-beens. So lost did he become, watching a tiny meteorite burn up, that he almost missed the ship.

Coming around the limb of the Moon, his scanner began to beep. A ship was just entering range, and approaching fast. He actuated his upgraded attack scanner, and began studying the data.

"She's a Destroyer," said Greenbean, next to him. "Closing fast."

"On us?"

"No, there's no...wait. Yes, they've painted us."

Koenig's orders were to hail any Terran craft, and appear friendly. Alan informed Alpha first, then did as ordered. After a few moments, and a second hail, he got a reply. A man with a militaristic haircut and a cap like Leiter's came on the screen, as Greenbean studied the scanner data.

"Frack!" said the Colonial

"Greenbean," said Alan, "I think we're in deep doo doo."

Chapter Two

"Identify yourselves at once," ordered the newcomer. No greetings, no questions. Just a demand. Alan did so, watching as the other ship drew closer, at last entering visual range.

"His weapons are armed," reported Greenbean. "And he's scanning Alpha, too."

"Why are you in our space?" demanded the other. Again, just the pure demand of one manifestly accustomed to obedience.

"We have no choice," said Koenig, cutting in to the conversation. "We have no way of controlling our Moon's trajectory."

"He's locked all his scanners on the Base, Alan," said Greenbean. " Felcercarb!"


"He's activated a transponder on that wrecked Destroyer! He knows we..."

Greenbean stopped, and for a moment neither man spoke. It seemed for a moment that space both outside and within the Eagle was filled with streaking blue spheres. A strange whistling sound accompanied them, darting across their bow, as well as that of the Destroyer, and the Lunar surface.

"What the..." began Alan, but he'd barely drawn breath, when the mysterious visitors were gone.

"My God," said Athena, down on Alpha. "They're back."

"What are?" asked Sue Crawford, next to her in hydroponics. She turned to follow Athena's gaze out the window. "Oh."

"The Lights."

"The what?" asked Alan, of his co-pilot.

"The strange lights we encountered, before the..." he stopped, as the cerulean luminosities vanished, as suddenly as they had appeared. "Before some of our pilots disappeared."

"Athena men..." began Alan, but his attention was yanked back to matters more immediate, by their visitor more concrete.

"You are illegally holding one of our ships, Commander Koenig!" hissed the warship's Commandant. "You will release it to me at once, along with her crew. At once, do you hear?" Koenig replied, trying to explain the situation under which they had acquired the ship to the other, but the Eastern Alliance fellow was having none of it. He altered his orbit, bringing his ship into position over Alpha, and threatening "dire consequences" if his demands were not immediately met.

But he had forgotten, or given insufficient attention, to Alan's Eagle. Though outwardly outclassed by the Alliance warship in every category, she nonetheless had a mighty sting, and Alan intended on making use of it. As the intruder vessel targeted Alpha, reorienting her weapons, Alan brought his own up to power. On his scanner, he could see that Koenig had raised the Bergman Force Field around the Base.

And none to soon. Without further eloquence, the Destroyer cut loose, her salvo missing the field's perimeter by only a few dozen yards, sending rock and soil flying. Whether it was lousy gunnery, or merely a warning shot, Alan wasn't sitting still to find out. Gunning her, he brought the Eagle in closer, just as a beam from the surface seared close to the Alliance ship. As it did so, Alan fired. The newly beefed-up lasers proved their worth, and sparks flew from the Alliance ship, tearing into one wing. Before they had even cleared, Alan fired once more, not letting the other come around.

But the other had aft batteries as well. Moveable ones. One shot went awry, but the second one found its mark. The Eagle rocked, but her newly modified shields held. For the moment. Alan fired once more, just as Petrov let loose a shot of his own. It caught the Destroyer under the nose, while Alan pinned an engine pod. The Destroyer's visual transmission died. He fired twice more, striking the Bergman Field dead on, the Alan replied twice. One Eagle's first shot shattered a fin, the last one punched through the ship's hull, sending debris spewing in all directions. The Destroyer began to spin out of control.

"Good job, Alan!" said Petrov, who fired again himself. His shot sliced off a wing, just as Alan drilled right through one of the Destroyer's engines, hitting her fuel cells. After spinning wildly for a few seconds, the whole nacelle burst open in a blossom of fire, ripping the ship open, and sending wreckage in all directions.

"Good shooting, Alan," called Koenig, as soon as the radio cleared. "What's your status?"

"Minor damage, sir. A couple of red lights. No visuals from you. How about Alpha, sir?"

"Nothing, Alan. I think he was trying to scare us into compliance. I'm glad the new shields on the Eagles held up so well."

"Me, too," said Greenbean, justifiably proud of Colonial technology. "That, and the fact they don't seem to have shields at all. But we have another problem, Commander. He got out a signal, presumably to his command base. I tried to jam it, but I wasn't fast enough."

"Which means they know about us, now," said Koenig, appending a few coarse tidbits to that observation. "Okay Eagle 4. Return to base."

"Eagle 4, returning to base, sir," replied the pilot, initiating landing procedures. As he passed the spreading wreckage of the other ship, he wondered aloud at the easy victory.

"We got lucky," said Greenbean. "He was arrogant, and didn't consider a ship like this to be a threat, because an Eagle is so small by comparison." Out the cockpit window, they watched as a chunk of wreckage hurtled past them, burning up as it tore through the new atmosphere. "If any of his combat telemetry makes it back to Terra of Luna Seven, we can't count on another Commandant making the same error."

"Yer right, Greenbean," said Alan, as Alpha came into view over the lip of Plato. "I bloody well wish you weren't."

As he descended for final approach, another of the mysterious blue spheres sped past the Moon, and was lost in the void.

Barely had the second Destroyer been blown to bits when Leiter woke up. He tried to sit up, succeeded, then sat on the edge of his bed, looking about the ward, and taking stock. This was certainly not the ship's Medical Bay. Perhaps...he had been rescued, and this was a base? No. The equipment was utterly unfamiliar to him, as was the lettering on it. And, as if that were not enough...

"Ah, you're up," said a voice. He turned, and saw an auburn-haired woman, in a white coat. She held a clipboard or data pad of some sort.

"Who are you?" he demanded. He tried to stand, but his head started to swim. The woman tried to return him to bed, but he protested. "Where is this place? Answer me, woman!"

"You are in Medical Section," she replied, a bit tightly. She drew a device from her belt, and raised it to her mouth. "Doctor Koenig?"

"Koenig here," came the reply, confirming Leiter's suspicion that it must be some sort of communications device, rather than a weapon.

"Doctor Barber here, Helena," she said. "The patient is awake, now."

"On my way, Natalie. I'll bring John."

"Right, sir."

"I demand to know where I am, as well as the whereabouts of my ship and crew," said Leiter, imperiously. He tried to get up again, but was pushed back down with a strength that surprised him in a woman.

"I said, stay in bed," she reiterated, smiling icily, and made another call on the odd communicator. After a few minutes, she was joined by a couple, a man and woman, and the woman heavily pregnant much to his surprise, and another man a few moments after that. Outside his door, he caught sight of another figure, wearing...armor? He puzzled over this, till the obvious leader of the trio began to question him.

The man radiated arrogance, Tony decided, even sitting up in bed. Upon Koenig's introduction, he sat up as ramrod straight as his condition would permit, and his face assumed a mask of almost Imperial superiority. He ignored everyone but Koenig. Even when responding to questions put to him by the women, he addressed himself to the Commander.

Arrogant bastard,thought Helena.

Arrogant bastard,thought Natalie.

Arrogant bastard,thought Tony.

Koenig explained how they had found Leiter's ship wrecked on the surface, and he the sole survivor from his crew. This seemed to dampen his arrogance some, and he was quiet for a long moment. When he asked about their bodies-

"We've kept them in vacuum storage," said Helena, making him look at her. "We knew nothing of the funerary customs of your people. Perhaps we can turn them over, if we contact your government."

"Of course," replied Leiter, taking a deep breath. "I am Commandant Leiter, Commander of Alliance Destroyer 4." He looked at Koenig, who once again identified himself and his staff, and explained Alpha. As the interview wore on, Tony analyzed their unwilling guest.

From what Athena and the other Colonials had told them, both of Leiter and this Alliance, it was a society that did not trust. Run something along Stalinist lines, trust in that system was like water in the desert. Hard to find, and gone very quickly. Whether by experience or temperament, Leiter manifestly did not trust the people who had saved his life. Maybe trust in this Alliance wasn't just rare. Maybe it was dangerous, too.

Maybe it just got you a bullet in the back of the head.

Leiter seemed not to believe Koenig's version of events, until he was shown pictures on a monitor of his wrecked ship, and the bodies of his dead crewmen. After viewing them for some time, he demanded to be released.

"Not yet, John," said Helena. "He took a fairly heavy dose of radiation, and he needs further therapy. That, and his head injury."

"Very well," sighed Leiter. "Now, tell me. How did your Moon come to be in our space?" Koenig explained the vortex that had shot them 84 light-years across space, into this new unknown. Leiter seemed to accept this, and explained his own mishap. His ship, he said, had been investigating a "bizarre energy phenomenon" in that sector of space, when the Moon had unceremoniously appeared in his viewports, bare miles above the surface. Faced with a sudden gravity well, his ship's gyros had gone wildly out of control, and the Destroyer had plummeted faster than her crew or engines could respond. They had hit, Leiter had made it into a pressure suit, then nothing.

"I must contact my government," he said, obviously growing fatigued. "Can you do this?"

"We shall try, Commandant," replied Koenig. "Can you give us a frequency?"

Arrogant bastard!

Leiter complied, but Koenig didn't transmit on it, yet. For the moment, he just listened. He also withheld from Leiter the battle with the second Destroyer. Pieces of it had been recovered for analysis, the rest had fallen towards the surface, burning up in the new atmosphere.

Victor had at last succeeded in downloading all the surviving data from the first Destroyer's flight recorder. While Leiter hadn't been lying, exactly, he hadn't been telling the truth either. Exactly. His ship's sensors had detected a mysterious energy surge, yes, but only because of its sudden appearance right in front of them. Their real mission was to try and find a ship that had caused the Eastern Alliance some considerable degree of headache.

The Battlestar Galactica.

Once more, Koenig sat down with the three Colonials, and reviewed everything they could remember about their encounter with the Humans in this sector. He also reviewed every scrap downloaded from the Galactica 's memory banks, and the Alliance ship. Meager as it was.

This Alliance was frightening, Helena opined to all. Ruthless and without mercy, their soldiers slaughtered without compunction, in their pursuit of "purity". A purity which seemed to consist both of ideological rectitude, and genetic perfection. Children born with any number of genetically-linked ailments were "compassionately" disposed of. It was, the doctor decided, a bizarre melding of the Marxist Historical Dialectic, with the Nazi pursuit of Aryan Man.

"A sicker version of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, taken to the stars," she finished. "And Alpha's headed right into it."

"What about these Nationalists?' asked Koenig. "What can we expect from them?"

"Hard to say," replied Brie. "But they never committed any acts of violence against us, Commander. And, after they killed everyone on Paradeen, the Alliance did attempt to annihilate them entirely in a pre-emptive nuclear strike, while hiding behind the fiction of peace talks."

"And us? Will they afford us protection while we're in their space?"

"I don't know, sir," answered Athena. "I just don't know."

Chapter Three

For two more days, Alpha sailed on, back out into the cold blackness of space. Although Sahn continued to monitor the frequency Leiter had given them, she heard little in the way of the interpretable. They were, at present, encountering some sort of interference, and she could do nothing about it.

Leiter was not happy about this, but could do nothing, either. At last released by Helena to quarters, he was permitted limited computer access, mostly historical files (recent events somewhat edited), but under guard.

"What in the name of...?" he choked out, on seeing his new guard. It was Falxa, one of the recovered Cylon pilots. "A Cylon?"

"You know about Cylons?" asked Tony, double-checking the computer lockouts in Leiter's new quarters. "You've had contact with the Cylons before?"

"Yes. We saw them, aboard that... pestilential Battlestar of Adama's." He spat the name, with an almost physical distaste. "How is it that you come to have any of them here?" He couldn't take his eyes off of Falxa's endlessly oscillating red scanner. Or his extremely ugly laser pulse rifle.

"We...encountered a wrecked Cylon ship, a while back," said Tony, wondering what Leiter's knowledge of Cylons truly betokened.

"And it serves you?" Leiter seemed confused.

"After a certain amount of reprogramming, yes. But only us," smiled Tony. "Just so you know." He showed Leiter where everything was, along with basic computer and commpost functions. He handed him his commlock, with ID photo and limited access, and left him alone. As the door closed, he locked it, and ordered Falxa to maintain position outside Leiter's door.

"By your command."

The President of the Nationalist Union of the Planet Terra listened to the information presented to him, making copious notes as he did so. On the other side of the desk, General Maxwell, an Intel officer next to him, filled their boss in on recent events.

"Two Destroyers, you say," said the President. "And all of this since the uncharted planetoid appeared?"

"Yes, sir," said Maxwell. ">From what intelligence our sources have been able to supply on short notice, the Eastern Alliance is mustering a Task Force to intercept it."

"The report says the planetoid is inhabited. Do we know by whom?"

"No, sir," said the Intel man, a Colonel, "although there seems to be some sort of installation there. The visual transmission, along with all telemetry from the second Alliance ship was cut off suddenly."


"We believe so, Mr. President."

"Very well," said the President, leaning back, and stroking his white moustache. "I want a ship dispatched to investigate this, but keep it as secret as you possibly can, General. Colonel."

"Yes, sir."

"Is the new ship ready?"

"Not quite, sir. She's still in dock, undergoing final static tests."

"Could she fly?"

"I believe so, sir. However..."

"Then get her going. I want to get to this planetoid before a fleet of Destroyers do, General Maxwell.'

"Yes, sir," said Maxwell. The two men saluted their Commander-in-Chief, and were gone. Once alone, the President returned to the intelligence before him. He picked up a picture of the planetoid.

"Moonbase Alpha."

At that very moment, the Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance was also getting a briefing. Unlike his counterpart, he was not happy at all. As if the loss of the Alliance's entire nuclear arsenal had not been enough, now a Nationalist Special Forces unit had wrecked an entire shipyard, putting it out of action for months, and two ships were gone, thanks to some rogue planetoid. If this kept up...

"How long before the ships are ready?" the Supreme Commandant asked one of the assembled underlings.

"Destroyers Six, Seven, Nine, Seventeen, and Twenty-Four are ready, sir. They are scheduled to get under way at noon."

"Excellent. Keep me informed."

As he perused the computer records that were open to him, Leiter had to admit to being somewhat impressed. A group of castaways, at least a century behind his own society in terms of technology, surviving the hostile and often capricious wilderness of space, on the surface of a dead planet. Had he not seen it himself, he would never have believed it possible, and felt, despite himself, a grudging respect. True, these people were not of his world, but they were nonetheless Human, it seemed.

And, they were holding something back, too. They Cylons he had seen on the base proved past contact. Though he knew little of them, he knew they were a race of robots, utterly committed to the eradication of all Humans, and the Borellian Nomen that had escaped from the Galactica with him had been thoroughly debriefed. He wondered fleetingly what had happened to those three unusual Humans. However, he was certain, this Koenig was telling a lot less than he knew.

As did any commander worth the title.

He was just trying to figure out where these people, as well as those of Earth of whom he'd heard aboard the Colonial Prison Barge, fitted into the Natural Order of the Universe, when his commpost beeped. The Alphan Security Chief appeared on the tiny black and white screen, and requested admittance.

"Commandant Leiter,' said Tony, with just the tiniest inclination of the head, "Commander Koenig sent us." He indicated Maya. It took a moment for Leiter to fully register that the stunning woman before him was not, in fact, Human. Then, another to digest that she was...


For a moment, his gut heaved. An... alien?? How in...?

"Yes?" he managed to croak out at last.

"Now that you're feeling better, he would like to speak with you at more length. In his office."

"I see." He looked from one Verdeschi to the other once more, and schooled his face to be stone. "I shall be with you momentarily." He dismissed them, and fairly ran to the head, vomiting up his light meal, in pure disgust. The very idea of a Human, of either sex, stooping to... His stomach heaved once more, and then he was done. Quickly composing himself, he dressed in his repaired uniform, and joined the Verdeschis in the corridor. Falxa took up position behind him.

"Commandant," said Maya, noticing how pale the other looked, "are you certain you're feeling well? You look..."

"I am fine. Thank-you,' he replied, curtly. He had wondered where these Alphans fitted into the Natural Order. Well, now he knew.

On the bridge of the Nationalist Union's latest technological triumph, General Maxwell watched the new prototype FTL ship Paradeen slip free of her moorings and into space. A lot was riding on this new vessel, he realized, as he felt the vibration of the engines rise beneath his feet. Perhaps even the very survival of his people.

He checked his watch for the umpteenth time. Launch was nearly six hours late, thanks to a plethora of last-minute technical problems, and Intel reported that Eastern Alliance ships were already on their way towards the mysterious planetoid. Could they beat them there? And, did it even matter?

Only time would tell.

While Leiter never flatly refused to answer any question that was put to him, he was nonetheless evasive. That much Koenig could see without effort. They way he kept looking at Maya also spoke volumes, and none of it friendly.

The data recovered from Leiter's ship indicated that his homeworld knew of at least four other, non-Human races fairly close by. The Curuf, the Reti, the Eletac, and the Shamarians. Preoccupied with their war with their Nationalist neighbors, their contact consisted of little beyond acknowledgement, and in the case of the Reti, a little trade. But the Alliance had plans for the future.

Nasty ones.

"I would like to see my crew," Leiter said, and Koenig readily agreed. They took him to a vault off Medical, which Helena had reduced to vacuum to preserve the corpses. Momentarily repressurized, it was opened, and Leiter was let in.

What sort of C.O. was he?Koenig wondered. Was he a stern, Pattonesque, kick-butt, hard-ass type of skipper, or had he been the sort who genuinely and openly cared for his men? Leiter seemed truly moved, as he lingered over the bodies of his shipmates, his face showing a few flickers of real emotion. He spoke, but Helena had left the intercom off out of respect, and they could not hear his voice through the thick glass. When he at last emerged, he merely gave Koenig a curt "thank-you", and left the room.

Late into Alpha's "night", Koenig pondered over the data from Leiter's ship, unable to sleep. He had lied, of course. "A tactical misrepresentation of actualities", Commissioner Simmonds had once artfully called it. He'd told Leiter that his ship was totally non-functional. By playing it so, he'd learned far more about both his guest, and his government, then he'd ever have up front.

Leiter was more than just a ship's Captain. He was a decorated one. Highly. He and his crew had participated in a considerable number of operations against their Nationalist enemies, and survived them all. Everything, from destroying relay stations to neutralizing ground installations, to pitched battles in space.

Then, Koenig saw it.

A little over a year ago, Terra time, Leiter and his crew had participated in, no, lead, the annihilation of the Nationalist colony on the planet Paradeen. Each city was struck from orbit with an extremely powerful neutron weapon, wiping out the mass of the population very quickly, but leaving the bulk of the infrastructure intact. Then, just to be sure, the major water supplies were poisoned with a fast-acting, though short-lived toxin, to kill whatever remnants of the population might be left.

It had worked superlatively. From what Athena had learned before coming to Alpha, all but about a hundred people had died, out of a population of nearly one million, with no long-term environmental damage. The Alliance had planned to move in, once the war was won...

Only the Galactica and her fleet of refugees had blundered into the region, and spoiled their party. Paradeen was, for the moment, left free to its survivors, and the Alliance found itself with other fish to fry.

Koenig couldn't decide if he felt livid, or just plain sick. He decided on both. The scale of this crime was almost beyond his comprehension. Almost. Steeped in both Earth and family history, he knew well, knew the names of, each of the 42 members of his family, liquidated by the Nazi death machine in WWII. People who had been deemed "non-persons", and relegated to oblivion, all to serve the twisted, sociopathic purposes of the maniacs in power.

Like the dead of Paradeen. So many questions were now answered, he decided, leaning back and rubbing his bloodshot eyes. He had just one more.

What to do with Leiter?

Chapter Four

By late the next "morning", Alpha had penetrated deep enough into this sector for Sandra to at last pick out coherent chunks of several transmissions. That, and the integration of the salvaged commsuite from Leiter's ship into Alpha's systems that Koenig had ordered was finally on-line. Many were just snatches of audio, and appeared encrypted. Others turned out to be the back and forth traffic between two ships, currently at the very edge of Alpha's sensor range, and moving at less than half-lightspeed. The ship recognition files from Leiter's ship showed them to be two freighters, belonging to the Shamarian race. Pacifists devoted to art, trade, and good living, they posed no threat whatsoever to Alpha. And, as they were amphibians that breathed an atmosphere rich in ammonia, contact would have been difficult, anyway.

It also seemed that the slow, ponderous vessels had either not detected Alpha, or didn't care, and were soon lost to sight. Sandra continued channel surfing, at last bringing in something that translated roughly as "election returns", with vids of a white-haired, distinguished-looking middle-aged man, in a crowded room, giving a speech to cheering, sign-waving throngs.

"Looks like a press conference, back home," observed Tony.

"A what?" asked Maya, brows furrowed. The image of a group of metal presses from the machine shop gathered together in a circle came to mind.

"A press conference," repeated Tony, explaining it to her. Having grown up as she had, Maya knew nothing of news media, printing presses, or electoral party politics. The man on the screen, according to the translation matrix, was congratulating his supporters on his re-election as President of the Nationalist Union. Then, as the image began to fade, they picked up the words "Eastern Alliance".

"It seems we are getting closer to this Terra," observed Yasko. "It is most curious, its name."

"It is, yes," seconded Maya, when the first images were replaced by others. Here, another man dressed much as Leiter had been, was also giving a speech. Computer translation of the subtitles identified him as Perzhov, Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance. The image changed, to shots of troops, missile launchers, and other war machines, some on parade, some in action. The dictator's voice-over spoke of "glorious victories" over the "Nationalist vermin", and the ultimate triumph of the "Natural Order". Unlike his Nationalist counterpart, he was neither distinguished nor photogenic. Not someone born for the photo-op, or the thirty- second spot on CNN. But he had, they all could see, or rather hear, a bizarre, even diseased kind of charisma, that made up for any mere physical lack.

As they watched, the war machines were replaced by cheering crowds of people, then the dictator once more atop a podium, the whole scene nauseatingly reminiscent of May Day in Red Square, right down to the snow and the fur hats. Then, in a burst of noise, the staticky image faded out.

"Seig Heil," hissed Sahn softly in disgust.

"Da, Comrade," replied Tony, shaking his head. "These guys are as bad as the Dorcons. The Cylons even. Pazzo."

"I don't think I really want to settle in this region, Tony," said Maya, crossing her arms. "With this Alliance everywhere, we'd never be safe." Both Tony and Sandra looked at her, and understood. She would never be safe. Neither she, nor her offspring. Tony had seen the look in Leiter's eyes. Seen it, and understood it.

An hour later, while Sahn still surfed the spectrum, Koenig launched four Eagles, to scout the course ahead. With recent upgrades, they boasted nearly twice their original range and speed, were better protected, and had better eyes.

"I hope they don't run into any more of those Alliance Destroyers," said Tony, watching the last of the Eagles lift off from pad four. "Popping that last one was as much luck as good shooting, John."

"Computer agrees, Tony. Kano and Ouma ran over two dozen tactical sims. In a one on one, the Destroyer comes out on top every time."

"I'm hoping our scouts do find a place to settle," said Helena, hand moving unconsciously to her abdomen. "Some place well away from this Alliance."

"With ships like theirs," said Sahn, "is anywhere in this sector completely free from them?" For a few moments, no one said anything, reminded uncomfortably of what the Alliance had done to Paradeen.

Leiter paced his quarters like a caged animal. Though vastly more commodious than the Colonial Prison Barge, they were still a cage. While he realized that communications home were tedious, given the time-lag, he was growing ever more certain that this Koenig was keeping something from him. These Alphans had obviously encountered the Galactica, made plain by Falxa at his door. That, and the fact that he recognized Athena, who'd been present at one of his debriefings. While they had never spoken, he'd seen her in his cell, on the monitor, profiled on some news program. IFB, if he recalled the name correctly. Heavens, he'd been so bored, he'd had to watch something!

Like here. He'd watched several things on his monitor. Documentaries from, and about, Earth (the fact that Terra in his own tongue meant Earth got his attention quickly), its history and cultures. He found the information on both the Nazi and Soviet States to be at once enlightening, and disappointing. Enlightening for their similarities, disappointing for their fates. Obviously, reactionary forces had conspired to derail the next proper steps in Earth's political evolution. How...

How disgusting.

Them supremely bored, he stooped to watching something, a form of entertainment, called a movie. Terminator 2. And that gave him an idea. He pressed a key on his commlock, and called Medical. He was feeling ill, again. Perhaps he was in need of more injections of that anti-radiation medication?

More tests, certainly. Falxa escorted him to Medical, and while Dr. Spencer was running the tests through the lab, Leiter turned to the Centurion.


"Flight Leader Falxa, by your command."

"You are a Cylon, correct?"


"Tell me how you came to be here, on this Alpha. What sort of contact have the Alphans had with a ship called the Galactica?" Ordered only to guard his charge, Falxa had no other instructions in that regard, and so detected no conflict in his programming by answering. After all, a question was a question.

"By your command."

Eagle 2 had encountered no sign of Alliance vessels, and was now scouting a system of six planets. The innermost one, a near-molten rock, and the second swathed in toxic gases, reminded Bill Fraser of Mercury and Venus, back home. The outermost was a gargantuan Jovian gas-giant, the next in a frozen stone ball, and sporting only bare wisps of frozen methane for an atmosphere. Three and four were the interesting ones.

Four was cold and rugged, but had a breathable atmosphere of sufficient pressure to allow Human life. Inhospitable, it might nonetheless make a home with a lot of work. Three was by contrast most inviting. Warm, green, wide seas, the works.

And inhabitants. A race of sentient felinoid beings, they lived in cities, numbered about 400 million, and had just invented radio. There were also mining works all across one of the uninhabited continents, populated by, so the scanners said, the race called the Reti in the Destroyer's database. Bill fleetingly wondered if they had asked the locals for permission. Obviously, the Alphans could not settle here. Disappointed, Bill turned around, and headed back for Alpha. Oh well. Maybe number four.

Eagle 9 was having no better luck. Nothing on her course save asteroids, and an inhabited group of them to boot. Someone was mining the belt, though they could not determine who. It was easy to see why. The tumbling space rocks were rich in a wide variety of minerals, as well as abundant water ice.

But, deciding there was nothing to be gained by annoying anyone, Steiner turned around, after getting a thorough scan of the installations, and got the hell out of Dodge before ticking anyone off. He hoped.

Eagle 7 was nearing the redline on fuel when Brie turned her around, heading back for home. She'd found only a lifeless system of two worlds under an unfriendly sun, neither habitable nor promising mineralogically. As the sun faded to just one more dot in the sky, the scanner began to beep. Something was closing on her position.

Four somethings.

As was something with Eagle 21. Also on the return leg to Alpha, Alan and Greenbean detected something on the far edge of sensors. At first unclear, it gradually resolved itself into a vessel.

"Funny energy signature," said Alan. "What do you think?"

"It's some sort of FTL vessel, sir," replied the former Viper pilot. "And she's hauling it."

"Any idea who?"

"No. Colonial ships use highly volatile reactants to power our FTL drives. The Cylons distort gravity, somehow. This reads more like a...ripple in the continuum."

"Which means?"

"Which means I don't recognize whose it is."

"What's her course?"

"Bearing 217 degrees relative, Z minus 2.1 degrees. She's on course for Alpha, sir."

Alan at once accelerated to maximum velocity, and signaled Alpha. With their respective trajectories, the two craft would intersect just over Alpha. Greenbean calculated the intruder's average speed at 1.935C, with fluctuations of 3-4% either way. They'd just gotten Alpha on the screen, when...

"Sahn?" asked Koenig.

"It is Alan, on Eagle 21," replied Benes. She switched over.

"Yes, Alan?"

"We've picked up a ship, headed your way, Commander," said Alan. "Unidentified."

"Nothing on the screens, yet, sir," reported Yasko.

"She's using some kind of FTL drive," added Greenbean. "Not like one I've ever seen though, Commander."

"Have you hailed them, Alan?"

"No, sir. I wanted to alert you, first. Besides,' smiled Carter, "they read as a lot bigger than we are."

"Well, hail them now. I..."

"Commander," interrupted Sahn, "distress call from Brie, on Eagle 7."

"Alpha!" came the Colonial woman's voice and image, as the screen was split with Carter's transmission. "Have encountered Alliance Destroyers! Am under attack! Repeat, under attack! Replying! Prepare all de..." Then snow.


"Transmission stopped, Commander. Cut off at the source."

"Try and regain. Did you get that, Alan?"

"Affirmative, sir."

"Damn filthy Alliance daggit..." they could hear Greenbean spew, in the background. Koenig turned back to Sandra, eyebrows raised in a question.

"No response, Commander. Telemetry has ceased as well. But, I am picking up the emergency locator beacon."

"Keep trying, Sahn." Koenig drew his commlock. "Tony?"


"We just lost contact with Eagle 7. She looks to have been destroyed by Alliance warships. Initiate Defense Procedure One."

"Right away, John."

"And bring Leiter to my office. Immediately."

"He's in Medical, undergoing more tests."

"I don't care if he's on the roof naked! I want him there, yesterday, under full guard."

"He'll be there."

"Sandra, what's the ETA on Eagle 21?"

"Six hours, seven minutes...mark."

"And the unidentified ship?"

"Five hours, forty-six."

"Have the other Eagles rendezvous at Brie's last reported position, if fuel permits. I want to know what happened! And forward Eagle 7 telemetry there." Without waiting for an answer, Koenig turned and left Command Center.

"Yes, Commander."

Chapter Five

"Commander," said Leiter, "I assure you. My people..."

"Bullshit!" bellowed Koenig, flinty-eyed, and turned on the monitor. It was the interrupted telemetry from Eagle 7. The Alliance vessels were clearly visible, as was their attack. Brie responded, then another Destroyer salvo, then nothing.

"As you can see, Commandant, one of my ships was destroyed, and your people fired first. Care to explain?"

"Perhaps they mistook your Eagle for a Nationalist vessel," answered Leiter, lamely.

"More bull, Commandant. We have data on the configuration of Nationalist ships, and an Eagle looks nothing like them." Koenig put a picture of a nationalist ship up in place of the Destroyers. "And you know it."

"Commander Koenig," said Leiter, rising, his arrogance palpable, "I do not care for your..."

"Sit!" boomed a voice, with a meaty hand on the other end of it. Said hand pushed Leiter back into his seat. Leiter looked up at Egbert, the transplanted 11th Century Anglo-Saxon, and swallowed. Restored now to full health and vigor, the erstwhile warrior was once more a mountain with feet, and had been chosen by Tony for his intimidating aura. It seemed to work, for Leiter actually looked frightened for a moment, and complied.

"Commandant Leiter," said Koenig, voice once more smooth and under control. "We have treated you well. We rescued you from a wrecked ship. We saved your life. But now, ships of your government, despite our efforts to avoid conflict, have fired on us." He now replayed the encounter over Alpha with the second Destroyer. "Tony."

"Commandant Leiter,' said Tony, rising from his seat, and facing Leiter, "I am hereby placing you under arrest, as an enemy alien."


"SIT!!" rumbled Mount Egbert, and this time Leiter's chair nearly broke under him.

"Put him in the brig, Tony," ordered Koenig. Leiter was pulled to his feet. "Unless, of course, you'd like to cooperate, Commandant." Koenig moved closer, till he was almost nose to nose with the Alliance skipper.


"Yes. Convince your comrades that we mean them no harm, and are no threat to your government. That we are merely unwilling..."

"Help you?" snarled Leiter. "You, who think and act like the Nationalists? Who have made common cause with the racially impure trash aboard the Galactica? You, who defy the Natural Order? Never!"

"Your people fired on us, first! Despite us trying to show our good faith. You..."

"As is our right! Your primitive base, and all the alien and unnatural half-breed filth in it, shall..."

He never finished, for Tony grabbed hold, turned him around, and decked him, first with a hard right to the gut, then a left-hook to the jaw. Leiter dropped like a stone, and Egbert picked up the limp form with one hand.

"How'd he learn about the Galactica?" asked Tony, calming down. "Did anyone tell him? Who told him about it?" He looked at everyone present, tried to ignore the lowering scowl from John, and asked again.

"I did," replied Falxa.

"What?" said Koenig, surprised. "What for?"

"He asked," replied the Cylon, simply. "responding to his interrogative did not conflict with my programming."

"Well, it does now," said Koenig. "From now on, you will answer no questions from the prisoner. Understood?"

"By your command, Imperious Koenig."

"Now lock him up."

"By your command, Imperious Koenig."

Bill Fraser's ship was the first on the spot, and he at once went to full scan. He was both angry, and surprised, at the results. Debris from Eagle 7 was everywhere, but so was other wreckage. A lot of it. Brie's ship had been blown to bits, but she'd gotten hers in, too. The sensors picked up more metal and expelled atmosphere than could be accounted for by one vessel alone.

And bodies! Bill read at least four shattered corpses floating amid the debris, none of them female. That, and the debris analysis told only one story. She'd been able to take out one of her attackers before being destroyed herself. Somehow, he couldn't see the former Viper pilot doing any less.

He radioed his finds to Alpha, just as Steiner's ship came into range. His scans confirmed Fraser's. The command module from Eagle 7 was still there, scarred and battered, but largely intact. The ejection hatch was open, obviously she had blown clear, but there was no female body within range, nor was he picking up her suit's locator beacon. Did that mean...

Both Eagles collected as much of what was left of Brie's ship as was practical, either stowing it inside, or lashing it outboard. Resources were too precious to waste, as was whatever data might remain in the doomed Eagle's flight recorder. Then, pushing their engines to the floor, the two ships resumed their return flight to Moonbase Alpha.

Koenig was glued to tactical, as the unidentified vessel came within scanner range. He was glad of the extra time afforded by the increased range of Alpha's sensors. With the original system specs, built on Earth, they'd have never seen it coming till it was much closer.

The mystery ship was still several A.U. distant when he ordered Eagles to launch. Once they were away, others launched, hanging back in a layered defense. On the ground, every laser battery was primed and ready, every missile appropriated from the first Destroyer mounted on improvised launchers, the Bergman Force Field, reconfigured and upgraded, at full strength.

The intruder vessel approached to within one A.U. of Alpha, then began to decelerate, dropping below lightspeed. There was a momentary burst of intense radio noise as she did so, then all was clear.

"Alan entering sensor range," reported Sandra.

"Sensor data coming in on the approaching ship, Commander," said Kano.

"Let's see it," said Koenig.

The main screen went to a graphic, with the ship on one side, and scrolling data on the other. It was a bulky affair, with a configuration superficially similar to an Alliance vessel. But instead of wings, there were outrigger nacelles on pylons, somewhat like the engines on the early jets, and blunt nose section tapering from the main fuselage. She was almost three hundred yards in length, had thick metal armor, and sported lasers and missiles.

"She's a warship," said Tony. "No question."

"Her power signature is entirely unlike the Alliance ships, though," said Kano. "Radically so. Her mode of propulsion is different, too."

"Any specifics?"

"Computer is still analyzing, Commander."

"Sandra, ETA on intercept."

"Seven minutes mark, Commander."


"Four minutes."

"Hail them, Sahn."

"Opening channels, Commander."

"General," said an officer, "receiving a hail."


"Ground source, sir. Both audio and visual."

General Maxwell pondered this a moment, while watching the mystery planetoid grow on a monitor. It was larger than the original spotty data had led them to believe, and swathed in a thin atmosphere of noxious gases. Given that, and the deep cold this far from any sun, there should be no life present. He watched the sensor data scroll up his screen, measuring the body's every parameter, and touched a pad, focusing in on the four craft heading this way.

Blocky, ungainly-looking, and considerable smaller than this new vessel, they nonetheless read as respectable, both in speed and armament. And, four to one, he had no wish to try them out in combat at this moment.

"Acknowledge the hail, Corporal," said the General. The other man did so, and the images on his monitor changed from the growing Moon, to a black-haired, apparently Human male, in some kind of control room.

"This is General Braxton Maxwell, commanding the N.S.S. Paradeen. I come on a mission of peace."

"John Koenig, Commander of Moonbase Alpha. Are you from the Nationalist Union of the Planet Terra?"

"We are." As Maxwell waited for a reply, he noted Koenig conferring with someone off-camera. He also noted another ship, identical to those blocking his path, coming into sensor range. As he waited for Koenig to reply, the Moon was drawing closer, moving at a surprising clip. Soon, he would have to...

"General Maxwell," said Koenig, "you may assume orbit around our Moon. We'll transmit coordinates to you. Please do not deviate from them."

"Understood, Commander. Standing by to receive."

"Alan's Eagle re-entered visual range just as Paradeen decelerated into Lunar orbit. He was preparing for re-entry when a small shuttle pod exited from a hatch on the newcomer's lower hull. Both touched down at almost the same time, and the shuttle was taken below.

Maxwell was visibly impressed by Alpha, as he and another officer were escorted to Koenig's office by Tony's men. A wandering planetoid, inhabited by people. And Humans, to boot; the bioscans had confirmed that.

And Koenig-he at once liked the man. Direct, no-nonsense, to the point. Like his old D.I. in boot, Koenig asked straightforward questions, and Maxwell answered them. For his part, he wanted to know how the Moon had come to be drifting through this region of space, and Koenig told him. Maxwell was obviously astounded by the story.

"A space warp?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Koenig. "It catapulted us here, light-years off our original course. That Destroyer crashed, and we brought it in for analysis." He told Maxwell of the battle with the second Destroyer, and was describing the destruction of Eagle 7, when Maxwell's communicator beeped. A few second's later, Sandra called from Command Center.

Three Easter Alliance Destroyers had come into scanner range, and they were closing on Alpha.

Chapter Six

"All defenses report ready, Commander," said Sahn, as Koenig re-entered Command Center.

"Status of Destroyers."

"Holding at approximately 50,000, Commander, matching our course and velocity."

"Any signals?"

"None directed at us, Commander," said Sahn. "But I did pick up one, directed towards their home base."

"Can you jam it?"

"Too far away, Commander."

"Let me try," said Maxwell, and called his ship. However, it was too late. The Destroyer had ceased all transmissions.

"You can bet your bottom lira that was a call for more ships," said Tony.

"Fortunately, the Destroyers don't have hyperdrive," said Maya.

"No," said Maxwell. "Their top speed is about 85% of light, and only for short periods." He stopped, staring at Maya. She returned it.


"Uh, excuse me. I..."

"It's quite alright," said Maya, and introduced herself. Though also a military man, Maxwell projected courtesy and charm, qualities utterly lacking in Leiter. As she conversed with him, Alan and Athena entered. Like her father and brother, Athena had a straightforward way.

"Why yes," replied Maxwell. "Our ship was named in honor of the people who were slaughtered on that planet. You know of it?"

"Oh yes, General. My brother was there."

"Your...I'm afraid I don't understand. You're not from Terra."

"General," said Alan, "may I introduce Athena, daughter of Commander Adama, of the Battlestar Galactica." He watched the two Terran officer's jaws drop. "And the sister of Captain Apollo."

"Apollo? Where is he?" asked Maxwell, brightening. "I would love to talk to him, again. He just vanished, into thin air."

"He's not here, General. But we do have a lot to discuss, yes."

"Indeed," said Maxwell's second.

"Commander," said Sahn. "Eagles 2 and 9 now within sensor range."

"Any sign of interference from the Alliance ships?"

"No, Commander," she replied, studying her scope. "Holding positions."

"Good. Have them land at once, and tell Petrov I want firing solutions for each Alliance ship, just in case. Regular updates."

"Yes, sir."

"Thanks, Sahn." He turned back to Maxwell. "Shall we resume, General?"

"Yes, Commander."

Commandant Voss, aboard Destroyer Six, watched as the returning Eagles moved past his fleet's position, towards the intruder planetoid. He made no hostile moves, being at the moment outnumbered. They might be somewhat backwards, but they certainly had a sting. As his counterpart on Destroyer Seven had learned to his cost.

And the other Destroyer to attack Alpha, as well. Voss could see traces of it still in orbit around the planetoid, as he reviewed the tactical status of his fleet, cursing for the nth time Destroyer 24's engine failure, reducing his force by twenty percent. He'd started out with five ships, now he had three. He wasn't liking this, and felt certain that the intruders below had made common cause with the enemy. Not good. Voss needed more information.

He left his cramped bridge, and went below decks. In the ship's brig, he deactivated the force field door, and went inside. His prisoner sat there, still in her orange space-suit, battered, bruised, and seemingly semi-conscious. He studied her a moment. That one person, and a woman at that, flying an...antique, had destroyed one of his ships both enraged, and impressed him. He had to admit to feeling a grudging respect for such a foe, yes.

But that would not stop him from interrogating her, to get the information he needed. He'd rip it out of her by any means, if he had to. He grabbed her chin in a vice-like grip, and lifted her face upwards. She tried, and seemed to fail, to focus on him, through eyes swollen nearly shut. Her face was swollen as well, her skin covered in runnels of dried blood, from previous interviews.

"Tell me more, about this Alpha,' he said, quietly. Brie didn't respond, so he squeezed tighter. She groaned slightly, but made no reply. After a moment, he dropped her chin, and drew back his hand, bringing his fist crashing down onto her face. She cried out weakly, but still said nothing. He smiled, anticipating his next tack. After all, he'd started out as an interrogator, and it felt good to hone the old skills, every so often.

"Tell me more about this Alpha!" he commanded again, his voice cruelly calm, as his fist descended once more.

"They must have her, Commander," said Bill Fraser, hotly. "We scanned the entire debris field, and Brie definitely ejected from her ship when it was hit. The flight recorder we recovered confirms it. And the only bodies we detected were Alliance troops."

"General?" asked Tony.

"The Alliance does take prisoners, yes. My own son-in-law was held prisoner for a time. And since the Alliance has never encountered you before, getting their hands on one of your people would be a priority."

"I see," said Koenig. "Maya?"


"Order all Eagles to scan the Alliance vessels for signs of Brie. General, does the Alliance use women in their crews?"

"No. If they have her, she'll be the only female aboard."

"Very good. Now, you were saying, General?"

"After the destruction of our nuclear arsenals, the Alliance suddenly decided to sue for peace. We agreed. After all, our people were tired of war. So, we signed a peace treaty."

"From your expression, I gather it didn't last," said Helena.

"Officially, yes," said Maxwell's second. "But the Alliance has raided outposts, hijacked merchant ships, that sort of thing. But we've struck back. Last month, we wiped out their shipyard at Lunar Two."

"Who's winning?" asked Athena.

"At present," answered Maxwell, "the scales are beginning to tip our way. We have a vastly richer economy than they do. More than seven times the size of theirs. Apparently theirs is beginning to show the strain."

"Then it's a war of attrition, now," said Koenig.

"Basically, yes."

"Does the Alliance possess hyperdrive technology, in any form?" asked Maya.

"Not that we know of. Certainly not that they have deployed. It's a technology we've just developed."

"My brother said you seemed surprised at the Galactica having light-speed," said Athena.

"We had never encountered another race that did," said Maxwell. "In fact, it was your people that gave us the last piece of the puzzle, Mrs. Carter."

"Oh? How so?"

"The two wrecked Viper fighters that you left behind on Paradeen. We analyzed them, and their technology has given us an edge over the Alliance."

"I'm glad, General. The rulers of the Alliance are as oppressive as the Cylons."

"We'd like to know more about them, " said the other officer.

As they talked, Koenig mused. He felt certain now he could trust Maxwell (curious name!) and his people. Obviously, the same was not to be said of the Eastern Alliance. This was a free society, fighting for its very existence, against a murderous enslaving tyranny. Normally, Koenig didn't like to take sides; after all, Alpha had neither been designed for war, nor staffed for it. And, the memories of getting involved in Dione's war, not to mention the Dorcons, were still fresh enough to sting.

But there was no getting around the fact that Alpha would need protection during her time in this region of space, and right now the Nationalists seemed their best bet. That being the case, he really ought to give his guests something...

"General, have you ever heard of a Commandant Leiter?" Before Maxwell could reply, the commpost beeped.

"Sir," said Sandra, "Eagle 11 reports a contact. "A Human female aboard the second Destroyer." She transferred a tactical display to Koenig's screen. The Destroyer in question flashed red.

"Still no response to hails?"

"None, Commander."

"Cease hails for the present." Koenig sat back, thinking furiously. Brie was a prisoner, doubtless under torture. He had to get her back. How? "General, would the Alliance trade our pilot for a prisoner we hold?"

"They'll agree," said the second man. "Then double-cross you."

Koenig frowned, more a scowl, really, then Tony saw that glint come into his eye. John Koenig had a plan. He punched in a code on his screen.

"Doctor Barber?" he asked. After a few moments, Nicholas Barber came into view.

"Commander Koenig?"

"Come to my office at once, please."

"I cannot," said Maya. "This far into a pregnancy, we cannot shift. It is a protective measure for the baby."

"I see," said Koenig, clearly disappointed. He then called Ouma, and got some better news. "Sahn, open a channel to the lead Alliance ship."

"Commandant Voss," said an underling. "Incoming communication from the planetoid."

"Ignore it, Grun."

"Sir, it is Commandant Leiter, of Destroyer Four."

" a channel." Voss watched as the image of Alpha was replaced by a fuzzy one of Leiter, in Alpha's Command Center. "Commandant Leiter!"


"It is good to see you again, sir. Are you well? We did not know you had survived."

"Yes,' said Leiter once more. "You have one of their people in custody?"

"From the planetoid?"

"It is called Moonbase Alpha. Yes."

"We do. She attacked us on our way here. We are interrogating her now."

"Commandant," said Koenig, replacing Leiter's image, "we want our pilot back. I presume you want your man returned as well? I propose a trade."

"A trade?" Voss' eyebrows went up. He steepled his fingers in front of his face. "Perhaps," he nodded. "But tell me, how would you manage this, Commander? You have destroyed two of my people's ships, and your pilot attacked us. How can we trust you?"

"Simple. You assume orbit around Alpha, and we will shuttle Leiter up to you, and take our pilot in exchange."

"Assume orbit? Over your base? Oh yes," sneered Voss. "Bring my ships within range of your weapons, I suppose. I count eight of them, Commander Koenig. Not exactly parity, is it?"

"Commandant, one of your vessels fired on us, and you hold one of my people. Should it not be we that distrust your motives? However, I agree to withdraw all but one Eagle. Will that be satisfactory?"

"It will," said Voss, after a moment's calculation. "I shall arrive over your base in one hour, Koenig. Until then." The screen went blank.

"Terse bugger, ain't he?" said Alan. "I wonder if he went to the Balor School of Charm?"

"Let's just hope he doesn't analyze that signal too closely, Alan. Nick?"

"It'll fit, Commander, but it'll be tight. I'll have to do some fancy re-arranging."

"Good. Get going. Alan, I want you to fly this one."

"On my way, Commander."

Leaving his two other ships on station, Voss took up position over Alpha at precisely 500 miles altitude. As promised, all but one Eagle had been withdrawn. The only other nearby object in orbit was a small weather satellite, launched to monitor this new atmosphere.

"Craft launching from surface, sir," reported an officer.


"Nine minutes, sir."

"Commandant, we are being scanned," reported another man.

"Source?" asked Voss, suddenly wary. "Their base?"

"No, sir. The small satellite in orbit above us. Shall we..."

"We're in its way, is all. Ignore it. We don't want this Koenig to get jumpy, after all. Yet."

"Yes, sir."

As he watched the Eagle climb higher, Voss was distracted by the sudden presence of countless blue spheres of light, tearing through space all about them. He at once demanded information, but his scanners could tell him nothing. Whatever they were, his instruments could not detect them. What Nationalist treach...

Then, they were gone, as quickly as they had come. He churned this bizarre occurrence over in his devious mind, but could make no sense of it. Perhaps it had just been some inexplicable space phenomenon? Goodness knew, the universe was full enough of those. Perhaps...

"Sir,' said his scan the first officer, "Alphan shuttle requesting docking instructions."

"Transmit them, now.' He scanned the incoming ship. As expected, there were three aboard. The pilot, Leiter, and what was probably a security officer. Voss ordered the universal docking cowl deployed. Once alongside, they would link up, make the exchange, and separate.

With a small limpet mine attached to their hull, of course. Then, once the Eagle was safely back in her hangar below, boom.

"Incoming shuttle at 40,000, sir," reported his underling. "35,000."

"Prepare to dock."


Voss went to the airlock, where Brie was waiting. He dismissed the guard, and watched the tiny monitor as the eagle approached, congratulating himself yet again for his cleverness. To think that these Alphans would actually trust him to this extent! Such foolish...

What the...

"Bridge to commandant," came a tinny voice over the IC. "Alien shuttle has stopped, sir. Holding position at 50."

"Holding?" He looked again at the monitor, and sure enough, the Eagle had stopped. "What treachery..." he began to say, when he began to feel a strange tingling sensation come over him, like boiling static electricity flowing over his skin, accompanied by a loud humming in his ears.

"Commandant!" he heard a voice say, then the interior of the airlock began to fade. For an interminable moment, he was both on his ship, and somewhere else, too. This weird state seemed to drag on and on, his vision dimming, then his own ship was gone, and he was somewhere else entirely. At first, Voss could not move, as if he were bound, or drugged. Then, the hum subsided, his vision cleared, and he could move.

" this?" he finished. "I..." He stopped, as shock settled in. He was in a metal and glass chamber, lined with faintly humming coils. The tingling had subsided, and he could see that the chamber was on a ship of some sort, with a blonde man, in a uniform like Koenig's, holding a weapon of some kind on him.

"Transport complete, Alan," the man said. "Let's get out of here!"

"Right, mate," came the reply.

"What in..." began Voss.

"Shut up," said the other, and reached out for the staggering Brie.

Chapter Seven

Firing main thrusters as fast as possible, the Eagle tore away from the Destroyer before her startled crew could react. But react they did, and quickly. Furious at the trick played on them, they at once brought their ship about, to pursue. Soon, a bright pencil of light tore across the Eagle's bow. But the remaining Eagle had been prepared. She at once accelerated, firing on Voss' ship. The first shot missed by a hair, the second one did not, pinning one wing, dead center.

As expected, the other two Destroyers began to move in, charging weapons. As Alan dodged the first ship, the second Eagle fired again, striking the Destroyer's bow. There was a blast of sparks, and the Alliance ship wobbled as her forward sensor suite was taken out. One of the other Destroyers fired, searing close to the second Eagle, sending bits of one landing gear flying. The ship rocked, and the Destroyer lined her up in its sights...

Erupting in a blue-white blossom of fire and molten bits, as a beam from the surface caught it smack in the middle of its fuselage. It bucked, then began to tumble away, its sister ship banking hard over to keep from being hit.

The first ship was still pursuing Alan, and though her targeting scanners were dead, she could still see her prey plainly. Hosing shots wildly at Carter, they didn't see the larger ship coming around the limb of the Moon, bearing down on them. The gunner on the Destroyer managed to line up on Carter's Eagle, gripped the firing control...

And was sliced in half as an intense beam scythed through the Destroyers hull, followed a moment later by another that sheared one engine off. The Alliance ship exploded, the two halves of its shattered hull flung violently in opposite directions, vomiting wreckage everywhere.

"Eagle One to Paradeen," radioed Alan, "thanks for the assist."

"Paradeen to Eagle One, the pleasure is ours," came the reply. At once, Alan turned his ship around, and headed back towards the fight. The Nationalist Battleship banked as well, lining up on the undamaged Destroyer. Both warships fired simultaneously, a torpedo from the Paradeen striking the Destroyer, just as a laser volley from the Alliance ship struck her screens. The torpedo had the better of the exchange, crumpling one wing up against the hull, and sending her spinning, fuel and air spewing out into space as she flew off in a gruesome cartwheel of death. After a few moments, she tried to right herself, maneuvering thrusters desperately clawing for control, but Petrov nailed it from below, shearing the bridge module off completely. Both flailing chunks began to tumble away.

That left one Destroyer to go. But they had, it seemed, thought better of the encounter, and, having righted themselves, were making a run for it. Damaged, they were doing so fairly slowly, and Alan quickly caught up with them. Ever the honorable man, Koenig offered them surrender. They replied by locking one of their stern tubes on Alan. He however fired first, directly into the Destroyer's weapon's array, taking it out. His prey now helpless, Alan targeted her engines...

"Break off, Alan," ordered Koenig. "Let them go."


"Let them go, Eagle One. We'll track them."

"Breaking off, " replied Alan, who let his thumb hover over the firing stud a moment longer. "Eagle One, returning to base." He watched the intruder vessel grow smaller and smaller on his scope. "Not your day, I guess," he muttered, and started the landing cycle.

"He was too close to try and separate with any safety, sir," said Nick to Koenig in Medical. "It was now or never."

"It's alright," said Koenig, looking down at Brie. She'd been beaten, deprived of food, water, or medical attention, and shot full of some drug cocktail Helena's medical database didn't recognize. However, Helena had proclaimed, she was young, full of fight, and would recover. "I'm just glad your transporter equipment would fit in an Eagle, Nick."

"It was a squeeze, Commander," replied the other. "As it was, we had to strip out a lot of stuff, and hope."

"I'm just glad we learned ahead of time about how they conduct exchanges." He looked up at Barber. "Good job with the truth drug, Nick. That and the computer-generated Leiter."

"Thanks, sir," said Nick, not bothering to inform Koenig that it had not been a drug that had gotten the information from Leiter, nor was the Alliance officer's performance computer generated. "It's also a good thing the Alliance ships didn't pick up the Paradeen on the opposite side of Alpha."

"Or that it was tapping in to the weather satellite's sensors to keep tabs on them. Inform me of any change condition, Nick. I'll be in my office."

"Yes, Commander."

"So far, we've been extraordinarily lucky," said Koenig, after the debriefing. "Four of their ships destroyed, largely due to surprise on their part. We can't rely on that forever."

"I agree, John," said Tony. "Sooner or later, they'll pounce on us with a whole damn fleet of Destroyers. Plus whatever else they fly. So far, their arrogance has been as useful to us as their ignorance."

"Arrogance is an Alliance trait," said Maxwell. "A trait we are trained to try and exploit. You did very well, Commander."

"We've had practice with deceivers before," said Koenig. "that, and what Athena has told us, from the Galactica's encounter with Leiter's people."

"Leiter is a wanted war criminal," said Maxwell. "For what he did at Paradeen."

"So we have learned, general," said Tony. Maxwell looked up at him, but his communicator beeped before he could reply.

It was a reply from Maxwell's government. Specifically, the Nationalist President himself. The signal was choppy, and the time delay, even with FTL communications, drug things out a bit. But, the upshot was that the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha were offered the status of allies with the Nationalist Union. If they wanted it.

They quickly agreed. As long as they were in this area of space, the Alliance threat was a very real one. Even if they were to find a planet to settle on tomorrow, would the Easterners leave them in peace? They'd been wildly lucky, or extraordinarily blessed, so far. Next time, it might be different.

"Could you find a place for us?" asked Helena, of the Nationalist President. "In your space? A place we could settle and live?"

"I'll have our charts searched," replied the President. "Now, we would like Leiter."

"And you may have him," replied Koenig. "We have no tolerance for war criminals."

As Alpha sailed on, they continued tracking the fleeing Destroyer as best they could. As expected, it was heading directly towards the Terran homeworld. The Moon also skimmed the gravitational influence of a huge brown dwarf star, resulting in a minor shift in their course.

"Two point oh four degrees, Commander," reported Yasko. "The computer has our vector plot." She put up a chart, with a flashing red dot for Alpha, the Moon's course a yellow line.

"Well look at that," said Victor, after a few moments study. "We would never have been in range, otherwise."

"How close?" asked Koenig of Yasko.

"Assuming no change Commander, we will pass within one and a half A.U. of the planet."

This was, guardedly, received as good news. Paradeen, said the data, was a world very close to Earth in size, mass, and gravity. The atmosphere was slightly thinner than Earth's, but nothing the Alphans would not be able to handle. With all but a few hundred of the population annihilated by the Alliance, it was empty, ready for settlers. That, and the fact that several technologically advanced, largely intact cities lay empty and waiting, added to the attraction.

Though he trusted the proffered data on the planet, Koenig nonetheless preferred a hands-on look. Given the Moon's unpredictable velocity, however, it would be some time before they came anywhere close to Eagle range of the planet. General Maxwell, however, had a solution.

"Why don't you let us take you there?"

His ship, built for combat, was cramped, but he would take along a small science team to check the planet out, and determine its suitability for Alpha's people. Koenig accepted the offer, after Maxwell got the okay from home, and selected his team. Professor Bergman for general science, Shermeen Williams for botanical studies, Dave Reilly for geosciences, and Dr. Spencer for medical. Tony would oversee the team, with two Security men, the first, Irwin, a Security veteran.

The second was Donald G. Schanke, formerly a homicide detective in Toronto, Canada, and recently "resurrected" through a bizarre experiment that hadn't gone according to plan, and "created" a new body for him. While the metaphysical side of the event was still mostly a mystery, the very real flesh-and-blood man, his new body growing stronger every day, was antsy, needing to do something besides sit around, and go to the gym. Since he'd never been anything but a cop, Security seemed a natural choice, and he found that he was anxious to fly in space.

"Thanks for your help greasing the wheels with Verdeschi, Nick," he told Dr. Barber, in reality his old police partner back home.

"No prob, Schank."

The idea that a habitable planet, full of technology but empty of people, might be open for them to settle had raised the excitement level on Alpha several notches. Finally, an alien government that was actually being benevolent. Helping them!

Koenig watched as the Eagle lifted off, to dock with the Paradeen, its own shuttle too small for the team and their equipment. Alan not only flew them up, he would be along for the ride, studying the Paradeen close up. Besides, he had advised, at least they'd have a chance of returning to Alpha if things went south. Koenig agreed, and wanted his best pilot to get the rest to safety if needs be. Once the Eagle was safely in the battlewagon's bay, the Paradeen moved out of Lunar orbit, and set course. With a blur of light, she was gone.

Chapter Eight

It took just shy of two and a half days for the Paradeen to reach its namesake planet. During the voyage, the Alphans got a limited tour of the battleship's less classified areas, a short course on the history of Terra, and more background on the war, vis--vis Maxwell's military reminisces.

"Terra is also a name for our homeworld," said Victor, in Maxwell's quarters. The Alphans were having dinner with the General and his senior officers, first day out.

"Captain Apollo from the Galactica said the same thing," replied Maxwell, "about the planet they were seeking. "It seemed it was called 'Terra' in one of the various languages of the Colonial Fleet. That's why at first they thought that we might be the planet they were looking for." Maxwell shook his head. "Man, I would have loved to have seen that Battlestar of theirs."

"Well, there must be a connection somewhere," said Dr. Spencer. "The similarity between our respective DNA is too great to be accidental. Our tests on Alpha conclusively showed that we are the same species, General."


"Yes," nodded Spencer. "Our two peoples originated on the same planet. When and where I could not say from the tests alone, we are as alike as Human beings get."

"And that is not all," said Shermeen. "That plant," she pointed to a bountiful bundle of green overflowing from a pot in one corner of Maxwell's quarters, "is a fern. The very same plant grows on Earth, General. There were several in the woods near my parent's home, when I was a child."

"Even this food tastes like it's from back home," offered Schanke. "I know lamb, or an onion, when I taste them."

From there, they fell to discussion of the other odd similarities between their respective worlds. The name, similarities in languages, even Maxwell's name. Maxwell wanted to know more about the "13th Tribe" Athena's people were following, and whether they might be an offshoot. The Alphans related their discoveries on the now-slowly reawakening world of Arkadia, where two self-exiled Alphans were starting from scratch, and for hours they discussed back and forth how it might all fit together.

"Hopefully, we'll solve it all, one day," said Tony, "but for the present, my major concern is the Eastern Alliance, and the threat they pose to our people, General."

"Yeah," said Schanke. "How exactly did this war with them get started? It sounds a lot like our old Cold War back home."

" 'ColdWar'?" asked one of the officers, the ship's XO, Stone. Schanke explained. "I see. Yes, similar," said the other man. Schanke didn't like the fellow for some reason. He couldn't say exactly why, though. He just...

"We were once a world of many nations," said Maxwell. "One of the richest was called Albia. Though originally monarchical, it was nonetheless built upon ideals of freedom and individual rights. Over many centuries, it grew as technology grew, going from wooden ships, to steam power, to nuclear energy, absorbing other smaller territories, either through colonialism or economic strength. On the other main continent was the nation-state of Donnskovy, an autocratic, collectivist, militaristic state, steeped in ideals of racial purity and feudal military power. After the two first encountered each other, it soon became clear that Donnskovy would never brook any rivals in her continuing quest for world domination. For centuries, the two warred on and off, slowly absorbing smaller states, until, about a hundred and fifty years ago, it was just the two of us. We both developed space flight about that time, as an outgrowth of expanding military technology."

"Just like home," said Irwin, shaking his head.

And it had snowballed from there. Being capitalistic, the Nationalists had sought to exploit the asteroids and other planets of their home system for their resources, rapidly developing the various technologies to do so. The Eastern Alliance, poorer in resources and having a gargantuan military budget, tried to take those outposts and colonies away, and before long it was open war.

Many times, the Nationalists had offered peace, but the Alliance only accepted after a defeat, and then waited for a chance to attack again. Some Nationalist citizens, sick of the whole damned mess, had acquired the fastest ship they could find, and set off to colonize the now-reachable planet of Paradeen, orbiting their sun's distant twin.

Terra's primary was orbited, at a distance from the outermost planet of almost three light-weeks, by another, almost identical G-Class star, around which circled one habitable world, named for its discoverer, the celebrated Nationalist astronomer Dr. Paradeen. Reachable now in less than a year's travel time, it was an irresistible prospect. Lush and fertile, the planet seemed to welcome them, and the infant colony prospered. For over sixty years, the colony throve and grew, providing resources for the homeworld, till the Alliance, at last having developed faster warships, was able to strike it in force. Nearly all the people, four generations of sweat and labor, gone in an hour.

Then Maxwell told them of the attempted nuclear strike on the Nationalist homeland itself, and how the Galactica had foiled it, leaving the Alliance weaponless on Terra. The Nationalists were too, though the Alliance didn't know that, and they had swiftly agreed to an humiliating Armistice.

Which, perhaps not surprisingly, they violated at their first opportunity, and within a few months, the war was on again. Raids, counter raids, terrorist strikes, the whole lot. Until the Paradeen.

"With this new technology, we hope to end this war, forever," said Maxwell. "The war is wearing us down, day by day. We've got to put a stop to it permanently. Now."

"Can a single ship do that, though?" asked Alan.

"Hardly," replied Maxwell, shaking his head, sadly. "But as rapidly as possible, other ships are being upgraded with the new propulsion technology, and a second ship of this class is under construction as we speak."

"Well," said Schanke, raising a glass, "here's to an end to war." They clinked their glasses together, and as he drank, Schanke felt the XO's eyes on him.

They saw little of Maxwell the next day, the General seeming to spend a lot of time in the High Security Commsuite. The ship was put through a couple of battle stations drills, and the Alphans spent a lot of time crew rec area, mingling. Being primarily a warship, and deployed in great haste, there were little in the way of purely scientific facilities aboard, but the engineer got the nod from Maxwell to answer Victor's questions about (non-classified) propulsion engineering and theory, and Alan got to view things on the bridge. For their parts, Spencer and Williams spent time hanging around the Medical Department.

Which left Tony and his two men. Irwin, the more experienced, was like a taught wire, seeming to be alert and ready for anything. Schanke, being new, was slightly agog, having gone from being Toronto cop, to being dead, to cruising through space at blinding speed. It was all very exhilarating, and he couldn't get enough of watching the stars streak by as they tore through the void.

Yet, for all his elation, he also couldn't shake somehow his feeling that something was wrong. He wasn't sure what, but his old cop instincts were going ding-dong. So, with no real evidence to back up his feelings, he stuck close to his fellow security men, learning all they could show him, and above all, staying alert.

He was on the bridge with Alan, watching, with some amusement, Carter getting an informal lesson from the Paradeen's senior helmsman, when it paid off. As he watched, he half-turned to see the ship's Exec, Stone, enter the bridge, and move slowly from station to station, punching a few buttons here and there as he went. Finally, at one station, he stopped, and looked around him at the entire crew, almost surreptitiously it seemed to Don. All were busy at their duties. Satisfied apparently, the Exec slowly reached down, and...

"Heya, Don!" said Alan, suddenly upon him. "What a ship, eh? With a baby like this, we could have gotten to Meta in an hour."

"Exciting, huh?" said Schanke.

"Oh yeah, she is that mate. Controls light as a feather compared to an Eagle. Responds like a woman." Alan laughed again. "Yeah, she's got it all."

"The Eagle will seem kind of blasé after this, eh?"

"Yeah, kinda. Even the Swift will." Alan looked at his watch. "Hey, dinner time. Time to knock heads with Victor and the rest."

"Right. Let's go," said Schanke, and motioned to their guide. As they entered the lift, Schanke looked back at Stone.

Who was looking at him.

"I don't know," said Schanke, cradling his left arm, as the fire crew doused the guest quarters. "I'd just stepped out of the can, when boom."

Sometimes after ship's midnight, Schanke, unable to sleep, had finally given in and gotten up, pacing their cramped quarters, before finally making for the head. No sooner had he reached his bunk, than the cubicle exploded, slamming him into the bulkhead. Within minutes, Maxwell, along with ship's fire and security personnel, were on the scene. Schanke had nasty burns on his arm and face, and Irwin some deep cuts from flying debris. The rest of the Alphans were rattled, but unhurt.

"Did..." began Maxwell, when the entire ship lurched violently, knocking most of them all off their feet. The General righted himself, and pounded on the nearest intercom. The ship had dropped precipitously out of hyperdrive without warning, and power was down in various sections. Now almost dead in space, they would be a sitting duck if the Alliance showed up.

Schanke and Irwin were taken to Medical, and their wounds tended. As the former detective lay there, discussing events with Tony and Irwin, trying to put it all together, everything suddenly went click.

"I've got it! I gotta talk to General Maxwell," he said, trying to rise.

"No, you aren't going anywhere," said the med tech, pushing him back down onto the biobed, and reaching for something.

"You don't understand," said Schanke. "This whole thing. It's sabotage! I have to..."

"No. You don't," said the other, and hefted a hypo. Schanke called for his partner, but Irwin didn't answer. "You're not going to talk to anyone, Mr. Schanke." Don tried to struggle, but the other was very strong. "Neither you, or Mister Irwin. Not now. Not..."

He stopped, with a short gasp, as the beam from Tony's laser slammed him in the back. Schanke looked up, and exhaled loudly as the other slid to the deck. In the hatchway, Tony stood, next to Alan, General Maxwell behind them. "You okay, Don?" asked Alan.

"Oh man, thanks, guys. That sucker wasn't going to let me talk." He slowly got back up to a sitting position. "Hey, Irwin. He gave Irwin something."

Irwin had been given a powerful anesthetic, evipan, and would have been dead in minutes had help not arrived. The hypo the med tech had been about to give Schanke had contained the same lethal dose.

"Our hyperdrive was sabotaged," said Maxwell, still in Medical, as Irwin began to come around. "The engineers tell me a virus was insinuated into the engine control computers, crashing the whole system. As if that weren't enough, the defensive system is down too."

"Then we're sitting ducks," said Tony. Maxwell crinkled a brow at the unfamiliar idiom, and Alan explained.

"Your exec, General,' said Maxwell, and the CO turned to him.


"Yes, General." Schanke explained what he'd seen on the bridge, and the XO's expression. "I saw him near our quarters, later in the evening, and then the bomb. That hypo was no antibiotic, and now your engines have been monkeyed with. Coincidence? I don't think so, General. I was a cop back on Earth, and I was trained to see patterns. And I see one here." He looked around. "Sir."

"Mr. Schanke," began the General, when the klaxon sounded. Two Alliance Cruisers were on an intercept vector. ETA, two hours, six minutes

Chapter Nine

Much to Schanke's surprise, someone in power actually took him seriously for a change. No sooner had the klaxon sounded than two things happened. An unauthorized transmission was detected, originating onboard the Paradeen, and the medtech finally regained consciousness. With a little, well...persuasion, he was willing to tell his interrogators what he knew.

"Mr Stone," said Maxwell, entering the bridge, holding a pistol and backed up by four heavily armed guards. His traitorous Xo turned, and his face dissolved into surprise. He made a mad dash for one of the control panels, but Maxwell was faster, and amid a flash of lights, the traitor crumpled to the deck.

The three of them, the medtech, the engineer, and the XO had been part of an Alliance intelligence operation to steal the technology of the Paradeen, if not the ship herself. The virus used to immobilize the battlewagon was thorough, and for a time it looked as if the ship was going nowhere. The Alliance ships were nearly in visual range, before the auxiliary drive was at last brought back on-line, and the ship at last began to move again. At a crawl. However, hyperdrive and defensive systems still stubbornly stayed down.

Coming up from astern of Paradeen at just under lightspeed, the enemy ships hailed them, demanding immediate surrender. Maxwell of course refused, watching the tactical display. Even at the uppermost limit of her sublight engines, unobtainable at the moment, the battleship was slower than her pursuers by a few crucial percent.

"No good, sir," said the new XO. "The computer still has us locked out of hyperdrive and fire control."

"Not good enough!" shouted Maxwell.

"Can you maneuver at all?" asked Victor.

"Barely. Helm is still virtually dead, and we can't clear it without disengaging the computer system entirely, and then reinitializing the individual systems one by one. It could take hours, and the computer won't release..." The vessel shook slightly, as the cruisers opened up on them from extreme range

"What about the backup computer?" asked Tony. "Have you tried to reboot it?"

"Also infected."


"General," said Alan, suddenly brightening, "I've got an idea."

The two enemy ships continued to close, unhurriedly now, seemingly confident in their victory. Being considerably more massive then her pursuers, the Nationalist vessel's acceleration was slower on her auxiliary drive, and they intended to take full advantage of that weakness.

There was no contact with their operatives aboard, which was somewhat worrisome, but in all other respects, the operation was right on track. The Alliance ships fired again, low power salvos so as not to damage their prize, and then split up, pinning their target between them.

"Captain Carter?" called Maxwell into his IC.

"Initializing, General. Get ready to disengage on my mark."


The Alliance cruisers, now stationary relative to their prey, guns trained on the battlewagon, again demanded surrender. Maxwell recognized his opponent, Commandant Heidrich, foe from many past encounters. Once more, Maxwell flatly refused, peppering his response with selected colorful epithets, calculated to anger his enemy. Instead of opening fire immediately, the Alliance commander showed his thin skin, raging about Nationalist inferiority, racial mongrelizing, and whatever else he was mad about.

Just as Maxwell hoped. He heard Alan's voice call "Now!", and looked over at the engineering systems interface, and signaled to both Victor and one of his own men. Victor rapidly tapped in a string of code, and the other man followed suit.

The bridge went dark, till the emergency lights kicked in. From under the console, a thick trunk of wires was pulled free, and the ship at once began to lose velocity. The Alliance vessels, caught off-guard, raced on ahead for several seconds, giving Maxwell the precious time he needed.

"Go!" he ordered. A moment later, the bridge lights blazed to life again, and the engines came back up, power surging through the Paradeen's frame. At last realizing what was happening, the Alliance ships turned, and bore down on their slippery prey. Or tried to. The Paradeen banked sharply away, avoiding the first salvo from one cruiser...

And deflecting the other as her screens came back up. Commandant Heidrich bellowed in rage as his enemy evaded, then again as he was caught amidships by first one torpedo, then another. Smoke belched from several control stations, and his vessel felt as if it wanted to shake apart under his feet.

The second vessel opened fire, but could not keep up with Paradeen circling around, popping in and out of hyperdrive, diving on her, then speeding away, confusing her gunnery. She tried to evade when the Nationalist ship bore down on her, but a massive blast from the battleship's forward guns slammed her nose, then another. The cruiser answered, clipping Paradeen underneath, then got two torpedoes for her trouble, knocking her wildly askew.

The first ship, now under control once more, attacked again, striking Paradeen dead center. The battleship replied, with both cannon and torpedoes, salvo after salvo hammering the cruiser amidships, till her hull could take no more, and...

She buckled, crumpling amidships like an empty beer can, then blowing outwards, as her hull gave way. Maxwell fired again, then once more, till the enemy vessel was still, hanging dead in space, spewing plasma and air from her wounds, junk trailing. Maxwell then turned his attention back to the other ship, but it was pulling away from the engagement, trying to escape.

"Limping home, sir. Her speed's down to bare minimum." said an officer. "She's badly damaged, General. Trailing drive plasma."

"The other ship?"

"Burning inside, sir. Saturated with radiation, and her reactor's running wild. It'll overload soon. And, scans say that her crew's all dead."

"Finish her off," ordered Maxwell. With a single shot, the Paradeen blasted the radioactive hulk to bits.

"My congratulations, and thanks," said Maxwell, once the Paradeen was under way again. "You saved us, Captain Carter."

"Just a bit of improvising is all, General," replied Carter. "We've gotten used to it on Alpha. I figured it had to have a better chance than doing nothing at all."

"Well it was a terrific one," said Schanke. "I never would have thought of it."

In the face of apparently hopeless defeat, so it seemed, Alan had wished he were in his Eagle. Naturally, his one ship stood no chance against the Alliance cruisers, but with the Paradeen's computer lobotomized...

Why not use the computer aboard the Eagle instead? Built for basically the same functions as the larger ship's, albeit on a smaller scale, if they could link up, somehow, and get the Paradeen going again, they might just, just have a squeaker of a chance. So, reconfiguring internal communications, and linking the two vessels up, they gave the Paradeen a brain transplant of sorts. One by one, her most critical systems came back on-line, long enough to fight off her pursuers.

Now, with the back-up computer cleaned out and functioning again, the Paradeen was once more on her way. Battle damage had been moderate; the knocking out of one sensor array, a low-gain backup antenna destroyed, and some minor buckling of hull plating near the engines. All in all, the Paradeen had emerged from her first real battle remarkably unscathed, much to the relief of all.

But, unfortunately, with her destination now known to the enemy. By the time they had disconnected Alan's overheated improvisation, rebooted their own systems, and gotten things back up to power (the Eagle had taken over only the propulsion and defensive systems. Other things like air, heat, and waste recycling had been left hanging, and the results had been, well, nasty), the surviving enemy vessel was just leaving sensor range. Cursing the luck of war, Maxwell resumed course, but they had picked up the enemy's signal home.

All in all, not the smooth mission that he had hoped for.

Chapter Ten

Paradeen, Tony decided as the planet at last came into visual range, was indeed beautiful. About the size of Venus, she was nonetheless very Earthlike, with blue oceans, clouds, and wide green continents, teeming with life. Two moons, one slightly larger than Alpha and with a commodious atmosphere of its own, created a complex pattern of tides, and by the time they had entered orbit, Victor was already hip-deep in monitors and readouts, studying sensor data.

They finally selected, for their initial landing site, a large city situated on a river in a wide fertile valley, surrounded by woods and farmland, a few miles from the sea. Once named Providence, it had boasted a population of over 50,000. Now, it lay empty. Silent and decaying. And intact, save for the small core of blast damage on the northern outskirts, from the neutron weapon the Alliance had used on it.

The Eagle touched down at the now silent airport, and they debarked. The Alphans all stopped, and took deep breaths. It felt good to breath real air for a change, to smell the scent of growing things, and to feel the wind. It was early spring in this hemisphere of Paradeen, and the plant life was overflowing in a profusion of color. The air was moist, the clouds just parting after a rain, and the sun shining through as if in greetings.

"I'm going to bottle this, and take it back to Alpha," said Reilly, grin wide. "Real air!"

"That it is, mate," laughed Alan, and slapped the geologist on the back.

While the moon buggy was loaded up and their equipment prepared, Schanke wandered about the airport. He was surprised at how like its Earthly counterparts it looked. The tower, the terminal building, planes still sitting on the tarmac, waiting for clearances that would never come. He was even more surprised to see some aircraft sporting propellers! Private craft from the look of them, he peered inside a few, seeing nothing of interest. Other, larger craft sat there, tires now flat, metal rusting, paint beginning to peel. At one end of the runway, a scattered pile of wreckage and ash gave testimony to the disaster that had overwhelmed this place.

"Poor slobs," Schanke muttered, vivid memories of his own initial demise brought powerfully back by the site of the crashed plane. Suddenly he stiffened, the hair on the back of his neck standing up. His cop sense of danger went ding suddenly, and he turned around. Nothing. The runway and buildings were the same as before. Cautiously, he looked inside another aircraft, and this time saw more than empty seats. The pilot, eyeless sockets still looking down at the instruments...

Then, it was gone. He turned back, and looked inside the terminal building. Big, empty, and quiet, it had an ominous, oppressive feeling, like a place where horrific sins have been committed. He was briefly reminded of a trip to Poland with his parents when he was twelve or so, and seeing Auschwitz. This place felt much the same, as if the evil worked here still lingered. Waiting. Watching. The skeleton near a dead floral display only reinforced it, as did the four at the lunch stand, and the one behind a counter. It was jarringly at odds with the cheery sunshine streaming through the windows.

"Like Pompeii,' he muttered to himself, looking up and down the empty building. "Frozen in a moment of..."

There it was again, only this time, he heard it. A noise. Soft, yet undeniable, like footfalls, or a gentle thump. He drew his laser. Was...


"Schanke here," he said into his commlock.

"Don, where are you?" It was Tony. "We're ready. Where'd you get off to?"

"Just checking out our perimeter, sir," replied Don, heading back towards the landing site. "Better safe than sorry. On my way."

"Okay. Out."

In the time since the Alliance had attacked Paradeen, almost two full local years ago, plants and animals had begun to reclaim the city. Weeds were in profusion everywhere. Something that looked like a wolf scurried across their path, and a park across the street from a large building was completely overgrown.

Then, the others saw the horror of it. Near a streetcar, stopped forever along its tracks, lay a skeleton, two more nearby. Wrecked, now rusting vehicles in the intersection still held their passengers, many others were scattered about, some burned, all damaged, left where the moment of death had deposited them. It was both horrific, and strangely surreal: a seemingly intact city of the dead, waiting for those who would never return.

"It's just like at the airport," said Schanke. "Like that old horror movie with Charlton Heston, The Omega Man, or that Twilight Zone episode with Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery. Gross."

"It's that, mate," said Alan. "Like Elba and Elna. Surreal."

"Yuck," said Tony, without further qualification. He took his security team inside one building, a mall from its design, and checked it out. It was, as Schanke had observed, gross. Like the Terminal, only worse. Skeletons lay where their owners had fallen, water stains from the decaying roof trailed down the walls like tears, all the plants in the displays were dead, yet some lights still burned, and they could actually hear the sound of running water.

"Looks like a scene outta Hell," said Alan, barely above a whisper. He looked about, deciding that it looked as if any moment the film would start up again, and things return to normal. As if to add to the unreality of it all, the fountain in the center of the place was still running, its basins filled with dark slime. Without a word, Tony found the switch, and turned it off.

"With work, we could reclaim all this,' said Irwin. "Ready made cities. Good farmland."

"Yeah," said Tony. "It would save a lot of time colonizing. But will the Eastern Alliance leave us alone?" He stopped for a moment, looking at the dead. One set of remains particularly tugged at him. Huddled in a corner were the bones of an entire family. Father, mother, child, and most heartbreaking of all, a tiny set of bones bespeaking a life snuffed out before birth. The man's arms were spread out, as if to protect his family. Tony felt a tear rise, and thought of Maya, herself heavy with his progeny. A tear, and anger. What kind of enemy did this? Erase the innocents who could not raise a weapon in their own defense?

"Come on guys," said Alan, looking up from a newsstand. "We've seen enough here." Tony didn't move. "Yo, Tone?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming."

As Alpha drifted deeper into the sector, Koenig was busy preparing his people for the worst. The force fields were tested, and then tested again. The main gun emplacements were tested, aligned, then retested. Salvaged missiles, both Alliance and Cylon, were readied. Before long, the base began to resemble an armed camp, but Koenig was, as always defiant that Alpha would survive.

And prosper too, it seemed. Big, hulking ships, freighters belonging to the Reti race as it turned out, came into scanner range, then changed course for Alpha. Investigating and contacting Alpha on their own, they weren't interested in shooting, conquering, murdering, or any of the usual stuff people who came to Alpha were interested in. As a matter of fact, they only had one question on their minds.

Did Alpha want to trade?

Hulking, furry creatures resembling a cross between badgers and bears, they were friendly, and seemed devoted, more than anything else, to the almighty buck. With Alpha always in need of something, Koenig agreed. In exchange for the gold they had acquired, and had little use for, Alpha got a variety of rare metals in return. Ytterbium, rhodium, polonium. And, were that not enough, the Reti wanted, yes wanted, Alpha's nuclear waste! More than happy to get rid of the stuff, Koenig agreed, and in return for what they viewed as a tremendously profitable trip, the gregarious Reti wanted to share with their new friends some of their rare food and drink.

Actually, they wanted to party!

Helena was more interested, naturally, in their medical technology, and Maya their general level of science. Their star charts, more complete than those of the Alliance, would take time to assimilate to Alpha's coordinate system, but...

"Commander,' said Sahn, "sensors detect another vessel approaching."


"It is a Nationalist ship, sir. She identifies herself as the cruiser Liberty. Requesting permission to enter orbit."

"Granted," said Koenig, who was busily trying to explain to the Reti skipper, an eight-foot tall fellow whose teeth seemed exposed in a perpetual grin, that the Eagles were not for sale. Then, as soon as they understood who it was who was approaching, the Reti suddenly had to be on their way, and were burning out of orbit just as the other ship was settling in.

"Are they enemies?" Koenig asked the Liberty's Captain.

"Not exactly, Commander," grinned the other. "But the last time they were in one of our ports, they skipped without paying their moorage fees."

"Oh. I...uh, see."

"And import duties. Anyway, Commander, I am Captain Banner, and we're here to provide cover, until the situation is resolved. You realize that your Moon will soon pass very close to Paradeen?"

"Yes we do. We hope to be able to settle there, as a matter of fact. We have a science team down there right now."

"So I have been informed by General Maxwell. I have also been authorized to inform you that an Alliance fleet is preparing as we speak to move on Paradeen, in anticipation of your arrival there. Intelligence says the objective is the destruction of you and your base, Commander. Several Alliance vessels are already on their way"

"But why?"

"We're not certain, Commander. But, we will stand by our allies. And we shall avenge Paradeen."

"Commander," said Yasko. "Incoming message from Professor Bergman's team, sir."

"Put it on, please."

"It's gorgeous," said Victor, into his commlock. Transmitted to the Eagle, it was uplinked to the Paradeen, then boosted to Alpha. He panned the open field with his pickup. Wildflowers and trees heavy with blossoms grew in profusion, and birds chirped away merrily.

"Is that a real river?" asked Helena, smiling broadly.

"Very real," said Victor. "And the environment, at least so far, is utterly benign, too. Seasonal variations within three percent of Earth's."

"Sounds fantastic," said Yasko.

"Not only that," continued the old academic, "but that's not the only way it's like home. So far, Shermeen's found seven plant species native to Earth."

"Native to Earth?" asked Koenig, surprised.

"Yes. And Dr. Spencer has found three animal species native to Earth as well."

"That's...incredible, Victor,' said Koenig, after a moment's thought. "What about the aftereffects of the attack?"

"Dissipated. Both the radiation, and the biotoxins they used. Everything is well below tolerance levels, John."

"Commander?" said Shermeen, coming on. "How long ago did they say Paradeen was settled?"

"About seventy or so of their years, Shermeen. Why?"

"Well, the environment is near perfect, as Professor Bergman said. But, I've found a few oddities, Commander."

"What oddities?" asked Koenig, impatient of the time lag. Even with the FTL communications gear, it still took several seconds between exchanges.

"Well, I've found numerous Earth species, as you know. But the evidence suggests they have been here since before the planet was colonized. There are signs of genetic drift in some of them that would have taken at least several hundred, if not thousands of years to come about. And the oak forest we scanned looks to be at least four thousand years old." She consulted her data pad. "So far I've found oak, larch, pine, elm, whortleberry, hawthorn, and lupine. And the grass growing in the parks is native to Earth too." Koenig finally held up a hand, lest Shermeen become lost in an interminable botany lecture.

"You're certain?"

"Absolutely. And Dr. Spencer has found trout in the river, robins and sparrows in the parks, and we've seen wild dogs and feral cats all over the place."

"But no people? Ed?"

"No, Commander," said the doctor, shaking his head, sadly. "Only skeletons so far. From Captain Apollo's report, their were some survivors, but we have yet to see them. Everyone was cut down in an eyeblink. >From the bone analysis, the amount of radiation must have been enormous. They must have died within minutes."

"Well, the Alliance is at it again," said Koenig. "It seems their fleet is massing for an attack on Alpha. They mean to hit us when we pass near Paradeen."

"Does General Maxwell know?" asked Tony.

"I'm sure he must."

"So what do we do, John? Return to Alpha?"

"No, you might encounter Alliance ships on the way back here. Stay there and continue your studies. But get under cover as soon as the Alliance shows up." Koenig sighed, and exchanged looks with Helena. "If we don't make it, at least you'll have a chance, down there."

"Understood," replied Verdeschi.

"Put Victor on." Tony complied, and Koenig apprised his old teacher of the situation. Alpha would just have to rely on her new allies, and whatever defenses she could muster.

And prayer.

Chapter Eleven

Once again, the Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance of the planet Terra was not happy. More than unhappy, he was in fact purple with rage. Another warship destroyed, and a second one limping home, crippled! And, as if that were not enough, the intricate and well-laid plans to steal the Nationalist's new propulsion technology had come to a miserable failure! THIS was the fleet that had brought the Nationalists to the very brink of defeat barely a year ago? It was impossible! Impossible!

Yet true. At this rate, along with everything else, the Alliance would be defeated before another year was out. And all because of this...this Moonbase Alpha! And the Supreme Commandant was utterly unwilling to countenance that.

"How many ships have we in the system now?" he asked. More like bellowed.

"Four, sir," replied an officer. "Two Destroyers, an Escort, and a Battleship. They are preparing to depart for Paradeen..."

"Not the Battleship. Not just yet. I have a special mission for them. The others may depart at once."

"Yes sir, My Commandant!" saluted the other, and was dismissed.

"Did you tell him?" asked another Minister, in hushed tones, outside the office.

"He never gave me the chance," replied the first. "If we thought he was angry now, this will have him livid!"

"It is getting worse," said the other man. "We cannot suppress them all! It's a disaster."

"Disaster? It's a catastrophe!"

Communications from Terra were now much clearer, and Koenig perused them keenly. From what he could see, and from what their Nationalist guardian was permitted to share with them, all was not well with the Eastern Alliance. There were reports, vigorously denied by the Alliance government, which labeled them "Nationalist lies and sedition" of a mutiny in the military, pestilence in the southern provinces, and food riots in at least one city. Though the news broadcasts were a bit dated by the time they got to Alpha, they made it abundantly clear that the Eastern Alliance, for all its vaunted military power, was daily edging ever closer to ruin.

"Trying to prop themselves up by war, like many a tottering dictatorship," said Helena, watching the images curled up on their bed with John. "That's why they're planning on attacking us. They hope a swift military victory will unite a disaffected people behind them, and save their rotten regime."

"Like the Soviet Union, or Galtieri, or Idi Amin. God knows how many others, all across the universe. It will only lead to their own ruin, Helena."

"But how many will be crushed, how many will have to die, in the meantime?"

"Commander!" called Sahn. He turned to the commpost. "The blue spheres have returned."

"Any sensor data?" he asked, straightening up.

"None, sir. They are moving too fast for us to scan effectively."

"Any signals?' he moved to a window, and could see the mysterious luminosities, flitting across Alpha's sky, some skimming the very rooftops of the base. "Maya?"

"None, Commander. And no trace of radio interference at all. They don't..." she began, then shrugged. "They are gone."

"Keep all channels open." He clicked off, and turned to his wife. "I'm going to talk to Athena and the rest again."

"Commandant," said an officer, aboard the Alliance Battleship 9.

"Yes?" replied Commandant Richter, the Task Force's CO. "You have something to report?"

"We now have the planet Paradeen on long-range scanners, sir."

"ETA, Grun?"

"Approximately forty-five hours, sir, at present speed."

"Enemy ships?"

"Too far for that data, sir. Otherwise, all scans are clear."

"Steady as she goes, helm," ordered Richter. He noticed that Grun was still looking at him. "What?"

"Our speed, sir. We are burning fuel very rapidly, and our engines are almost at red line now. The engineer..."

"We must reach Paradeen in time to carry out our mission, Grun! The enemy has a new form of propulsion, we do not. We must push ourselves forward, if we are to succeed! Ardor, Grun! Ardor will win this battle for us! Ardor will achieve the Ultimate Victory of the Natural Order!" He pounded the arm of his chair, his voice raised. "Am I understood?"

And if we blow up, what good is all the ardor in the universe? wondered Grun. Silently.

"Understood, sir."

"Good. And to reinforce this understanding, there will be a full battle-stations drill, in one half hour. Understood?"


"Yes, sir."

"Excellent. Steady as she goes."

Athena had been stranded on Alpha when her Viper, damaged in combat with the Cylons, had bellied into the lunar surface. Salvaged, along with the one Alan had been flying, it had been repaired, but never flown. In part because they had the Eagles, and in part for lack of appropriate fuel. But, today, she would fly again. With the chemlab's synthesizer, utilizing variously acquired now on-line technologies, busy producing fuel, both ships were checked and rechecked, then raised to the launch pad. Though primarily designed to be launched off a ship and land in the traditional way, the Viper possessed a limited VTOL and thrust vectoring capability, allowing it to take off in this fashion, and it seemed odd to Koenig, watching a ship so different from the usual Alphan Eagle, lifting off from the familiar launch pad. Later, Koenig decided, he might put Alan's suggestion into operation, and bulldoze a runway of sorts, near Alpha, to accommodate the fighter planes. If there was a later, he reminded himself. He watched the Vipers circle Alpha, as the pilots checked out their systems, then they kicked in their turbos and were gone.

Greenbean had been, predictably, concerned about Brie's condition, but the other pilot, thanks to Helena, was a fast healer. While still experiencing some discomfort, she insisted on flying, and with Alan away, and Athena unable to fit in a cockpit just now, Helena had agreed.

"God speed," muttered Sandra and Kate, watching them pull away on the scope. Within less than a minute, they were gone.

It felt good to be flying a Viper again, and Greenbean didn't mind saying so. Brie agreed, adding that one thing she certainly missed was not having a Battlestar to return to.

"At least we've got some kind of home, Brie," he replied. "Not the Galactica, no, not the Colonies. But at least Koenig's people have been awfully good to us. That bodes well for what the Fleet will find, on Earth."

"Yes, but I have to admit I do miss a round of ambrosia in the Officer's Club after a long patrol, Green. Jawing with Dietra, or Sheba, or Boomer. Listening to Starbuck go on about his latest system for Pyramid."

"Yeah," sighed Greenbean, remembering. "Yeah, I miss them too, Brie. I wish...ah never mind."


"Well, you've seen what kind of leader Koenig is. He's a lot like Adama. If we'd had someone like him, rather than that deluded old pacifist Adar for President, we'd have escaped the trap Baltar had set for us at Cimtar. I'm sure of it. Maybe we'd even have saved the Colonies."

"I know. I miss home too. My folk's place. The little creek at the bottom of the garden. Our old pet daggit. My friends on the Atlantia. Yeah."

Both pilots were quiet for a long time, eyes only on the mission ahead. After checking in with Alpha, and scanning ahead, Greenbean broached the silence once more. The silence, and the question.

"Was it bad?"

"Yes," replied Brie, after a long moment, her voice thin and angry. "They're barbarians. Commander Adama was right about them. They're as bad as the Cylons, Green. Maybe even worse."

"That's kind of hard to imagine," replied Greenbean, cautious of his next words. "Uh...did they..."

"Contact," said Brie, suddenly all Warrior, "bearing Epsilon 7. Range 4.2."

"I have it. A ship. She's making about three-quarters light-speed."

"Let's check it out."

"Commander," said Kate, looking up from her instruments (Sahn was on break). "Patrol reports a contact with an unknown vessel. Moving in to investigate."

"Tell them to keep telemetry and communications open."

It had turned out to be two ships, actually. A Destroyer, and a tanker, both Alliance, and both headed for Paradeen. Greenbean was just about to request instructions when the issue was decided for him. The Destroyer opened fire without a word, and both Vipers peeled away from the enemy ships. The Destroyer's hideously accurate gunnery tracked them, and only the Vipers superior speed and agility saved them from destruction.

The tanker, however, was another matter. Surprisingly speedy, but more ponderous than its escort, it was however lightly defended. As she came around, Brie's scanner told her the tanker was opening fire, and she locked on. She returned fire, stitching three sizzling wound along the other ship's underbelly. Unlike the Destroyer, the tanker's gunnery was pitiful, and her shots came nowhere near, as Brie looped around, evading.

To join Greenbean in returning the Destroyer's fire. He tore across her topside, hitting her twice, then was gone, the Viper's speed beyond what the Destroyer's crew was prepared for. A shot came close, searing his port wing, but his Viper again proved too nimble.

As was Brie's. She likewise strafed the enemy ship, then banked over hard to evade a missile. It exploded behind her, shaking her craft.

"Thanks, Green."

"No prob."

Once more, Greenbean accelerated, and strafed the Destroyer, his salvos finding their target. Sparks erupted from the Destroyer's hull, and she began to lose speed. As he peeled away, Brie followed right behind him, pumping shots into the Destroyer's stern. She did so, pass after pass, until something flared brightly.

She then returned her attention to the tanker. Armed only with a medium yield plasma cannon, she was proving to be an easy target. Certainly more so than her Cylon equivalent. However, she was as ponderous as her counterpart, maneuvering like a hippo in a mudhole, and Brie lined up first on her gun emplacement, then on her control pod. Her shots sent bits of hull plates flying, the next pass gutted an engine housing. The tanker slowed to a crawl, wobbling as she tried to run for home, as Brie closed in for the kill. Shot after shot amidships tore her open to space, and the tanker erupted in total annihilation.

As did the Destroyer. Greenbean had just pinned one missile pod, when the tanker exploded. Chunks of flying debris slammed the Destroyer, hitting an engine and shearing off one wing. Moments later, a cooling cloud of gas and wreckage was all that remained.

"Well, that answers the question," said Brie, as they ran diagnostics on their ships. So far, she had no red lights.

"What question?"

"Remember? Colonel Tigh wondered how a Viper would fare, against a Destroyer. Now we know."

"I guess so, Green. Of course it helps when our lasers have more than 20% more range." She studied her instruments. "Everything is fine here. How about you?"

I took some debris on my left wing. One of the control surfaces is jammed. Otherwise, I'm fine." He watched as she maneuvered close, inspecting the damage.

"Not too bad. As long as you don't try any fancy Armaments Day aerobatics in an atmosphere, you should be fine."

"Glad to hear it, Brie. Okay. Back on course."

"Back on course, aye. Reporting to Alpha."

"Commander," reported Sahn, "Vipers report being attacked by Alliance vessels."

"And?" Koenig was at once out of his seat.

"They returned fire. A Destroyer, and a tanker. Both destroyed."

"Good," sighed Koenig, letting out the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Inform Captain Wendice of the Liberty, and get me an update on our course towards Paradeen."

"Right away, Commander."

"Entering the Paradeen system, sir," said Grun, on Battleship 9. "ETA hours, four minutes."

"Enemy contacts, Grun?"

"Only one so far, sir. In orbit about the planet. A battleship, from her size." A few minutes later: "Another vessel entering radar range, sir. Nationalist. Approaching from Z plus fourteen degrees relative. Headed for Paradeen."


"Light cruiser, sir."

"Hold position at the outer planet, Grun. We will wait for the rest of our forces."

"Executing, Commandant."

The survey team had checked out two more sites on Paradeen, one a forest, the other prairie land, before returning to Providence just before nightfall. Like this city, the others had checked out as perfectly compatible with the Alphan's needs. However, as the team prepared to settle in for the night, they realized something. Across the city, the very one visited by Apollo and Starbuck during their trip to the planet, lights were coming on. Widely scattered across the otherwise dark cityscape, a few twinklings could be seen amidst the gloaming. Though struck by the Alliance, some survivors had begun to trickle back in, returning life to the dead city.

And mistaking Victor's team for Eastern Alliance soldiers. Ever since the airport terminal, Schanke was certain that they were being watched. He and Irwin went to investigate strange noises near a factory building, and suddenly found themselves surrounded by a dozen or so not very friendly-looking folks, armed with old-fashioned shotguns and rifles. Herded inside, they were soon joined by Victor, Reilly, and Shermeen, then Alan, Dr. Spencer, and finally Tony. >From the bruise on Tony's face, and the blood on his knuckles, he hadn't gone easily. Once inside, they found that the factory was once more operating, albeit on a small scale, turning out small arms and farm implements.

"Look," said Tony, "we..."

"Silence!" barked someone, an older balding man with a shotgun. They were brought into a disused office, and told that their fate would be decided by "the chief". In the meantime, they were left under the guard of two very odd-looking fellows with bulky clothes, strange headgear, and pasty skin.

"You're robots, aren't you?" asked Victor, after a long look with his scientist's eye.

"Why, yes," said one, smiling crookedly, and stepping forward, hand extended. "I'm Hector."

"And I," said the other, and his aire would have been almost comical were it not for the situation, "am Vector."

"And I," said Don Schanke, "think I'm gonna be sick."

Chapter Twelve

Slowly, as Alpha drew ever closer, the opposing fleets near Paradeen grew. A Destroyer here, a Cruiser there, the antagonists built up their power, never hailing each other, never exchanging a single word.

The count stood at seven Nationalist to nine Alliance vessels when General Maxwell was informed of the survey team's disappearance. They had failed to make their scheduled check-in, and a sensor sweep of the landing field showed the Eagle to be empty.

"Great," he muttered, "as if I didn't have enough to worry about." He decided, as he watched the scanners, that he would wait until the next scheduled check-in before informing Koenig of events. He didn't look forward to informing the excitable Alphan commander of this turn of events, and besides, the less radio traffic there was for the enemy to intercept, and perhaps decode, the better.

As he mused, a Nationalist Battlecruiser came into range, escorting a Carrier. Maxwell allowed himself a slight smile. The odds had just...

An enemy Corvette. A missile boat...

"And what is Moonbase Alpha, precisely?" asked the youngish fellow with black hair, dressed in some sort of metal fabric, and wearing a gunbelt. He had entered, been informed of the situation, and promptly seated himself. Schanke sized him up as someone who had seen way too much violence in their life. Too much death.

Victor explained Alpha, how the errubundic Moon had come to be in this region of space, and their business here on Paradeen, but from the looks they were getting from those around them, he wasn't being believed.

"When did the Alliance start putting women in their crews?" asked one of the men, at last. He had been looking Shermeen over for quite some time.

"We aren't Alliance," she replied, glaring back. "Look at our clothes. Do they look anything like Alliance uniforms? Or our equipment?"

"We couldn't get inside their ship at the airfield," said another man. "But the markings on it...sure doesn't look Alliance."

"The folks from the Galactica had trouble believing us at first," said Alan suddenly. It had the desired effect. The leader and a couple of the rest started, obviously surprised.

"What do you know about the Galactica?" demanded the leader. "Is she here? At Paradeen?" He looked from Alan, to Tony, then the rest. He seemed awfully young to be in charge, Schanke thought. But then, considering what had happened to the rest of the population here...

Looks like that guy on Emergency.

"No," said Alan. "But an Alliance battle fleet is gathering, up there. If you'd let us contact General Maxwell, aboard the Paradeen..."

"Maxwell?" said another local, sharply. "I served with him," he went on, turning to the leader. "He was my old C.O." Almost at once, the mood began to shift a bit.

"Paradeen? A ship of that name?" asked the leader.

"Yeah,' said Tony. "A Nationalist battleship."

"Cody, get up to the control tower and check it out," said the leader to the older veteran.

"Right, Michael," the other replied, and left the room. After he'd gone, Victor and the rest were barraged with questions about the Galactica. Had they met Adama, Athena, or Cassiopeia? The conversation went on for some time, till an old-fashioned-looking telephone on the desk rang. It was Cody.

"Well, it seems you were telling the truth, Professor Bergman," said Michael, rising from the desk. He had Vector loose their bonds, and fished their equipment out of a box, handing it back over. As Victor took his commlock, he said: "Welcome to Paradeen."

The rift that had placed Alpha in this sector had ejected the Moon from its unscheduled detour at enormous velocity. This only compounded the perpetual problem of the Moon's actual speed, something the Alphans had never been able to measure accurately. Once again, they seemed to cross the vast distances between suns within a time-span that no physics they knew could easily account for. As they drifted ever deeper into the region, the faster the systems seemed to come.

But as always, as annoying as it was to him, Koenig sought to make use of the insoluble. Comm time now being down to a bare minimum, he could keep his finger on the pulse of events in real-time.

After going into sleep-mode for the remainder of their voyage, the Vipers had now arrived at Paradeen. Fortunately, there were no more Alliance ships in Alpha's path, at least for the moment, for which Koenig was thankful. They were, actually, all waiting at Paradeen, which served to dampen his nascent good mood somewhat. Enemy numbers at twenty-one now, and counting. Brie requested permission to recon the enemy fleet, and Koenig told her to report to Maxwell, and coordinate with him. He also ordered Sahn to try and contact the landing party, once more.

"No success, Commander," she replied. "They are on the far side of the planet from us at the present, and there are no functioning relay satellites in orbit."

"See if one of the Nationalist ships will act as relay for us, please."

"Yes, Commander."

"If you get them, I'll be with Petrov in Weapon's Control."

"Yes, sir."

Koenig left Command Center, and headed for the nearest travel tube. He was tired, not having gotten more than ten hours sleep in the last week, and the maelstrom they were heading into wasn't promising to help matters much. Should he, perhaps...

Once he was in the tube, Sahn reported that the blue spheres had returned yet again, and some were buzzing Alpha. As before, no coherent sensor readings of the mysterious manifestations were possible. That, and something new and unknown had appeared on the long-range optical scanners.

"What is it?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. On one of the tiny screens in the car was what looked like a gigantic crystal city in space, a fairy-tale castle of incredible brilliance. For the briefest moment, Koenig was reminded of the Darian ship/ark.

"Unknown, Commander. Even at maximum, this is the best the computer can do, and there is neither reply to our hails, nor sensor contact."

"Optical only?"

"Yes, sir. All we can determine for certain is that it is pacing us. Estimated range is two A.U., Commander."

"Keep me posted," said Koenig, and clicked off. "Great," he muttered. "Just great. Another enemy."

"Oh, but we aren't your enemy, Commander," said a voice, and Koenig whirled. At the opposite end of the car stood a man, seemingly of vigorous middle age with neat, white hair, his hands behind his back, and dressed entirely in dazzling white. He had a kindly smile, and a twinkle in his eye.


"Call me John, John," said the newcomer, his accent sounding slightly British, and slightly something else, as the tube slowed to a stop.

As the Alphans shared stories of the Galactica and the Alliance over a rustic meal, the two Vipers paid the enemy a visit. Faster than any of the Alliance vessels, they skimmed a tanker approaching the area, which opened fire on them without either defiance or hail. The Warriors returned fire, inflicting several telling wounds, then strafed a carrier. Too nimble for their foes to track easily, they made repeated passes over the ship's hatch. Unlike Colonial vessels, the Alliance possessed no atmospheric force fields, and needed to open a heavy, ponderous hatch in order to launch. After a few passes, they made sure the hatch was staying shut.

"General," said an officer on Paradeen, "Alphan pilots report enemy carrier afire, and unable to launch."

"Excellent. Initiate battle plan Maxwell One-A."

"Initiating, sir."

"Who are you?" demanded Koenig. "How did you get on the base?" He began to draw his commlock.

"I'm sorry, Commander. We must keep things short. Time is running on. As you have already guessed..." The visitor reached out, and touched Koenig on the left shoulder. In an eyeblink, he was no longer in the Travel Tube, or even on Alpha. He instead found himself in a vast room, all of dazzling white, whose walls were covered in myriad bizarre geometric designs. In the background, little alcoves and balconies scattered about, he saw robed figures, only their eyes visible through their garments. Eyes fixed on him.

"...I'm from the ship which your instruments recently detected near Alpha."

"Whe...where is this place?" demanded Koenig. He looked around his new surroundings. "Why have you kidnapped me? I must get back to..."

"We have allowed you to finally see us, Commander. Partly to inform you of things which circumstances have made it imperative for you to know, and partly for you to meet someone." John led him along one wall of the huge, cathedral-like chamber, towards a doorway. "An old friend, who has asked to see you."

"An old...what the hell are you talking..." began a bewildered Koenig, but a voice interrupted him.

"Greetings, John Koenig," it said. Soft, melodic, and old. At once, Koenig turned, and beheld a woman, swathed in black, extremely old, yet someone radiating agelessness, sitting in a carved, wooden chair with a heavy dark cloth thrown over it, jarringly at odds with the rest of their surroundings, her ancient eyes boring into him. She smiled at him. "It has been too long."


Chapter Thirteen

From the sensors in the control tower at the silent airfield, Victor and the rest watched the battle over them begin. Alan, of course, wanted to go up and join the fray, but Tony said no. A single Eagle, no matter how upgraded, would be no match for that amount of Alliance firepower. Like it or not, he would have to leave the fighting to others.

"That's hard, mate, when Alpha's heading this way, right into the thick of things."

"Well these Alliance guys sure don't look like the poster boys for mercy," offered Schanke.

"Mercy?" said Michael with a derisive snort. "They don't have a word for it." As the locals went on about the Alliance, the sun set, and the Alphans could see that this city was not entirely dead. From the windows of the tower, they could see lights coming up in various areas. Michael explained that the survivors on this continent, numbering around eighty or so, had begun to reoccupy it, rebuilding their society. A few homes, the factory they had seen, and a power station were back up, along with one subway line. Alan and the rest were impressed, that amid all the war and destruction, these people carried on. These Humans.

Much like the Alphans.

Look," said Tony, looking at the radar scope in the tower. "Alpha's just come into scanner range!" They all leaned close. There, at the very edge of the machine's range, was the Moon, heading their way.

"Can we transmit with this equipment?" asked Alan. The answer was yes, and Carter tried to open a channel.

"Do not look so surprised, John Koenig," said Arra, with just the hint of a smile. "Surely you knew that we would meet again, one day?"

"No, Arra. I never really thought we would. Although I admit I have often thought of you."

"And I of you, John Koenig."

Arra was attired exactly as she had been when she and Koenig had met before, only now her robes were of the most dazzling white. Exactly like John's clothing. She reached up and touched Koenig's sleeve, and at once he too was clad in the same fashion, his Alphan uniform having lost all trace of color. Even the patches.

"Why have you brought me here?" he asked again, and turned to his guide. "I have to get back to Alpha. We're sailing into a war zone, and some of my people are down on Paradeen. The Eastern Alliance..."

"We know," said Arra, rising. "John Koenig, your being here is no accident, in this region of space. I, and many, many others, have watched over you. Little that has befallen Alpha has been by chance."

"But we have wandered randomly. The vortex we passed through wasn't detected until we were practically on top of it."

"So it may well have seemed to you,' said John. "But do you really think that encountering Thule, Piri, Elna, or Psychon and Maya, was entirely random? Or the derelict Menon ship, or the Galactica? All the technologies, without which you might not have survived, acquired since you left Earth? Random?"

"You serve a great purpose, John Koenig," said Arra. "Behold." She raised a hand, and a section of the wall vanished, to become a scene from..."

"Arkadia!" said Koenig. Before him, looking as real and as solid as his own body, was the valley where they had landed to investigate that mysterious planet. In the background was the Eagle Luke Ferro and Anna Davis had stolen, a stream flowing past it. The once sere and dead landscape now sported green grasses, spattered with blossoming flowers, for hundreds of yards in all directions, and both vegetables and fruit trees were planted in neat rows.

"Yes,' said Arra, as they watched the former Alphans work their small farm. Luke was tending an improvised apiary (the bees having come from one of Alpha's hydroponics labs), and Anna was nursing a baby of perhaps a year old. "As I told you, John Koenig, you will spread your seed amongst the stars."

"Will they make it?" asked Koenig, indicating the castaways. The old anger at Luke and Anna's actions was gone, replaced by a respect for their surprising achievement. Just two people, reviving a dead world. That, and he realized how much he missed those weekly kendo matches.

"Only time will tell," replied the Queen. "Perhaps. Perhaps one day, Arkadia will be as it was."

"I hate to interrupt,' said John, "but time rolls on." He looked at Koenig. "You want to know why we've brought you here. Well, while being in this sector is not an accident, your Moon's position at present is."

"What do you mean?"

"You were not meant to pass near this close to Paradeen, Commander. The unpredictable gravitational flux within the vortex, combined with your passage near the K-Type star, has put your Moon on a different trajectory than was intended. If you pass too close to the planet, Alpha will be irreparably damaged by Alliances forces."

"The Nationalist fleet..."

"Has it's hands full just now as you can imagine. The two Viper craft you sent on ahead got things going sooner then they should have."

"But, we had hoped to be able to settle on Paradeen. To at last find a real home for..."

"You cannot." John saw Koenig sag a little. "Look." He gestured, and the view of Arkadia vanished, replaced by a view of Paradeen and it's surrounding space. It seemed as if they were standing on a floor made of nothing but space, the planet and all around it spread out before them like a giant chart. The Moon came into view, and began to gradually arc in the direction of the Paradeen system. Closer and closer. The planet continued to circle in its orbit, until...

"Oh my God," said Koenig, barely above a whisper.

"Yes. The gravity of Paradeen's sun will draw your Moon closer. So close that the seismic effect on the planet of your first passage becomes devastating, not to mention the effects on Alpha." Koenig watched as Alpha skimmed close to the planet, barely staying outside Roche's Limit, then curved into an ominous cometary orbit around its sun. Behind it, Paradeen was left devastated by massive quakes, volcanoes, and killer tides. For its part, fractures in the body of the Moon were becoming visible as the interplay of gravities did its work. "Yes, you see it," said John. "In three such orbits, comprising less than one of your years, Alpha will collide with Paradeen, destroying both." As his host spoke, Koenig watched the Moon end, in a titanic ball of fire and rock.

"And Paradeen is not Aetheria," said Arra. "There will be no Great Change."

"Planet Paradeen now coming into scanner range," said Maya, putting her data up on the big screen. At this extreme range, they were barely picking up anything at all beyond a fuzzy dot, but there it was. They had arrived.

"Incoming message from Alan," said Sandra. She put him up, the image scratchy and snowy, but sufficient. The battle between the opposing fleets had been joined, but they were safe for the moment. Tony came on, and asked to speak to the Commander.

But he was nowhere to be found.

"What is to be done, then?" asked Koenig, still recoiling from the feeling of shock at seeing Alpha die. "Where can we evacuate to?"

"The question, Commander, is rather why are you in this sector at all? You are needed, and Alpha's destruction cannot be allowed."

"We cannot change the Moon's course!" said Koenig with some heat, gesturing at the space around them. "If what you say, if all this, is true, then...The Nationalists? Could they...?"

"It is, but not to worry. We shall...intervene?"

"How?" Koenig looked at Arra, painfully aware of how she wasn't much on stopping planetary collisions. She smiled, as if aware of his thoughts, and said-

"You know of the planet Terra?"

"Yes. The colonists on Paradeen came from there. So did Leiter and the others."

"You know of what we did there last year, from Athena," said John. "Well, it appears that the Alliance hasn't learned quite their lesson. They are attempting something that will not only result in the virtual annihilation of everyone on that world, but also affect us."

"You? How so?"

"As I told Captain Apollo, Commander, there is no time, as intellectually engaging as it might be, to explain to you physical laws which are generations, indeed millennia, beyond your current level of understanding." He saw Koenig scowl, and understood it. "You misunderstand me, Commander. We're not calling you stupid. Lord no. There are just some things you haven't learned yet. Like a cave man who has mastered fire and flint, but cannot conceive of metal and jet engines, or..." He stopped, seeing Koenig scowl even more. "Perhaps that wasn't the best analogy. In any event, time is running out, and once more, Moonbase Alpha is in the thick of it."

"What are you going to do?"

"Farewell, John Koenig," said Arra. "I hope that we shall meet again."

"Look, I..."

Helena had at once ordered a full search of Alpha. Every inch was gone over, even the storage vaults down in the Catacombs. Nothing. There was no sign of Koenig anywhere, either in or out of the base, nor were any spacesuits missing from the lockers. She had no idea where he was, and felt the creeping suspicion that maybe...

The blue spheres returned momentarily, skimming the Moon and the space around it. Helena turned to look at the image of the mysterious object pacing them. Perhaps...

"What the..." said Maya. She punched several controls, then spat out a Psychon word of dubious piety.

"What's wrong?" asked Kate, eyebrow raised.

"Paradeen," she replied. "It's gone."

"Gone?" said Kate and Sahn at once.

"Yes. And the star patterns have shifted slightly as well."

"We've moved?" asked Kate.

"Yes. And that's not all."

"What do you mean, gone?" asked Schanke.

"Just that, mate," said Alan at the scanners in the tower. "One minute, Alpha was there, headed this way. Then, the signal went dead, and the Moon's off the screen."

"Could the Eastern Alliance have done something?" asked Irwin. "Attacked Alpha in force?"

"None of their ships came near Alpha," said Victor, "nor do they have the firepower to destroy a body the size of the Moon."

"What then?" asked Shermeen.

"Picking up a planet," said Maya." Seven point four three A.U. distant. We are moving in that direction." For a few minutes, she continued to review the data, and try to get more out of Alpha's scanners. "We're entering a solar system with six planets, and two asteroid belts," she announced at last. "The third planet is emitting huge amounts of artificial radio energy, and reads as habitable."

"What...?" began Helena.

"Terra," said a voice. They all turned, and there was Koenig, his clothes still white, standing in the middle of Command Center.

"Commander!" they all cried at once, rushing to him. Helena embraced him as much as her shape permitted.

"I'm okay," he responded, once Helena let him breathe. As soon as they were back at their posts, someone put Terra up on the screen. At this range, it was little more than a fuzz blob almost obscured by the sun, but it was bursting with radio and visual communications. "Is the Nationalist ship still in orbit?"

"Yes, " said Sahn, "and her Captain is requesting an explanation, Commander."

"Tell him...tell him I don't have one. And get Athena up here, please."

"John, does this" said Helena, indicating his clothes, "have anything to do with our change in position?"

"Yes," he replied, telling her of his "visit", both with Arra, and the mysterious John. Once she had arrived, he questioned Athena again about everything she could recall concerning the Ship of Lights.

Which was now nowhere to be seen.

Chapter Fourteen

"HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE???" demanded, nay bellowed, the Supreme Commandant of the Eastern Alliance, staring at the images on the screen before him. There, staring up at him from the vidscreen, along with the photographs taken at the observatory just minutes ago, was the mysterious planetoid, drawing closer to Terra by the moment. An observation confirmed by the scanners on the outermost Lunar Post.

"We don't know, sir," replied an underling, with a gulp. "It just appeared, a little over an hour ago, on the edge of our solar system. No burst of radio noise, no radiation, nothing. It was just...there."

"Have there been any communications from it?" asked the dictator.

"None sir. They seem to be transmitting some sort of automated beacon, as well as scanning beams. But we cannot be certain at this range. But there have been no voice or video transmissions."

"Sir," asked another officer,, after taking a long, slow breath, "should we recall the Fleet from Paradeen?"

"What is the latest report from there?"

"We have lost a tanker, Carrier 2 is afire, and one Destroyer severely damaged, sir."

"Nationalist forces?"

"One escort confirmed destroyed, we're not certain about the rest."

"The Fleet will not disengage."


"NO!!!" bellowed the dictator, fist crashing down on the table. "My decision is final!"

"Sir," ventured the chastened officer carefully, "shall we dispatch Battleship 7 to investigate this planetoid?" He spared a moment's glance at the screen. Alpha was drawing ever closer.

"No. The Nationalist President's address is but hours away. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity."

"Yes, Supreme Commandant," said the first underling.

"Continue monitoring the planetoid," ordered the Supreme Commandant, then turned, leaving the room.

"Sir!" they all saluted.

"Are your people ready?" asked the first officer quietly, once they were alone.

"Almost. I shall await your signal."

The Captain of the Nationalist cruiser, Freedom, was as much in a puzzle as the Supreme Commandant. Already annoyed at being left to nursemaid a wandering planetoid, even more so at missing the battle, he was now totally confounded at finding himself home! Somehow, he, his ship, and Alpha had been transported a considerable distance in the blink of an eye. How? To add to his frustration, Koenig and his people didn't seem to have the answers either, so he went to battle stations, began scanning the area, and contacted Central Command.

"Only one military vessel detected at this range," said the scan officer. "An Alliance dreadnought. All other traffic private or commercial."

"Status of enemy vessel?"

"Holding position in high orbit around Terra, sir. No indication of hostile moves so far."

"Are they aware of us?"

"They began scanning Alpha when we appeared here, sir. Unknown whether they detected us."

"What are the nearest Nationalist vessels?"

"The cutter Farne, and the corvette Epirus, are seven and twelve hours away, respectively, sir."

"Contact them, and request their immediate return to Terra. Flank speed."


"And helm, try to keep Alpha between us and their scans."

Yes, Captain."

As the Nationalist ships turned around, just short of the battle, to head home, the Commandant of the Alliance dreadnought orbiting Terra checked his chrono. Soon, it would be time to strike. He turned to study his monitor screen. Below, in the Nationalist capital city, the vast Assembly Hall was nearly full in anticipation. Soon, the enemy President would arrive, along with the representatives of the newly encountered Melnorian race, and begin his address to the assembled dignitaries.

And it wasn't just the President. His Vice President, cabinet ministers, military brass, and other major government officials were all present, waiting, and blissfully unaware of what was about to happen.

Still frustrated at "John's" scanty information, Koenig was furiously trying to figure things out. Why here? Why this sector of space? Why this particular planet, so very much like his own. Why this moment?

He again perused all the local broadcast channels, hoping for a clue. Quickly moving past entertainments and such, he found more evidence of unrest in Eastern cities, but no mention of the battle going on near Paradeen. Wartime censorship, he presumed. Then, an announcement that the Nationalist President would shortly be making a major public address. Shortly, he thought. Most of this stuff was civilian, being transmitted by Frequency Modulation carrier wave, much like regular television back home, and thus wasn't FTL. What he was getting was already several hours old.

"Spacecraft coming into scanner range, Commander," said Maya.

"Headed for us?"

"No. It's coming in at...forty-three degrees to port, z minus ten point six degrees. Headed for Terra."

"Any idea whose?"

"No Commander," replied the Psychon. "We're still too far away for a detailed scan, but what I'm picking up conforms to no known design in our database. But it has some form of hyperdrive. Scanners are picking that up." She adjusted some controls. "It just dropped below lightspeed, Commander."

"Do they appear to be hostile?"

"No, sir. In fact..." Maya listened to her earpiece for a moment. She switched the signal over to Sahn's station, then zoomed the scanners in on the new ship as far as they would go. It was about double the size of an Alliance Destroyer, was painted a hideous shade of chartreuse, and had some sort of brightly colored crest or icon emblazoned on the side.

"Translation matrix says they are a diplomatic vessel, Commander," said Sandra. "The...Melnorians," she added, listening to her earpiece.

"Commander," said Maya, "Alliance warship is leaving orbit."


"Currently at zero point nine one nine C, Commander."

"According to the data downloaded from Leiter's vessel, that's about the top safety speed of an Alliance warship of this type," said Kano.

"What's her course?"

"On a direct line for Paradeen, Commander," replied Maya.

"How close will they come to us?" asked Koenig, turning his gaze to Kano. Kano turned back to his beloved computer.

"With our respective trajectories, the Alliance ship will pass within just under one A.U. of Alpha, Commander." Kano put a trajectory plot up on the big screen.


"ETA Paradeen, twenty-nine hours, six minutes. ETA closest approach to Alpha, sixteen hours, thirty-seven minutes, at her top speed."

"But battle has already been joined," said Helena. "Why now?"

"Why now?" asked the Freedom's skipper.

Chapter Fifteen

High over Paradeen, the battle, which had at first seemed to be going the Nationalist's way, was now slowly swinging towards the opposite pole. One of their cruisers was afire, a destroyer gone, a battleship crippled almost beyond hope, with Alliance ships closing in for the kill.

For the Alphans, it was frustrating in the extreme, watching the battle rage above, and not being able to do one damn thing. After all, a single Eagle, however augmented, was hardly up to tackling an entire armada.

"Like what would we do?" asked Schanke. "Ram 'em?"

Once up to flank speed and well on her way out of the Terran system and on the way to Paradeen, the Alliance battleship slowed, and then turned herself around. After making a few critical alterations to their ship, they kicked her back up to full speed, and headed home.

Chapter Sixteen

"And just how the blazes do we get home?" asked Tony, trying not to yell. "Alan, we can't..."

"Alpha's not around to bail us out this time, Tony. And if the Alliance wins up there, we're bug guts," said Alan, loading the heavy nondescript crate onto the Eagle. "They'll annihilate us, like they did the last lot, here." He pointed a thumb in the direction of the silent city. "They won't give a shit we're not Nationalist citizens."

"But if the Nationalists win, then we can get off Paradeen," said Victor. "Or, worse comes to worst, settle here."

"Either way, we gotta help, Tony," said Schanke. "We can't just sit on our tushes, and cross our fingers."

"Have you contacted General Maxwell, yet?" asked Tony, still not totally convinced.

"Yeah," said Alan. "He said go." He stepped down from the Eagle, and Schanke handed him another crate. Schanke looked at Tony, and managed a gallows smile.

"'course, we could pray."

"Picking up another ship in the system, Commander,' said Maya.


"Ahh...transponder signal and running light configuration indicate a Nationalist warship, Commander," replied Maya, frowning, her voice trailing off. "But she wasn't there...before..."

"Something wrong, Maya?"

"I'm not sure, Commander. Her transponder ID code says one thing, but her power readings..." She shook her head.

"Yes? What about the power readings?" asked Koenig.

"They don't seem to..." She straightened up. "Commander, she's the same Alliance ship that was headed out of the system earlier!" She turned back to her instruments, punching buttons furiously, and trying to bottle her impatience with Alpha's ever-slow computer. "She's tried to disguise herself, somehow."

"Disguise themselves?" asked Koenig. He punched a code into his console, and her station dumped its data to his as well. He frowned at the data. "That asteroid..."

"They're hiding behind it. If that side of it wasn't turned towards us, we'd never have seen this." She drummed her fingers impatiently on the console. At last, the scanners had collected enough, and zoomed in on the quarry. It showed a large warship, being gone over by figures in space suits. Colors were being changed, and lettering...

"But why would... Oh God!"

"The President!" said Helena, suddenly. "His address. It's some kind of attempt..."

"Sandra! Alert the Captain of the Freedom! Maya, inform the Eagle crews. All armed Eagles to launch as soon as possible."

"Can they make it there in time?" asked Helena.

"God knows."

After a short lull, the Alliance Battleship 9 had quartered in on the Paradeen, and engaged her. Though the Paradeen was the more advanced ship, the other had more guns, and soon the two were busy slugging it out, toe to toe. Both ships took serious damage, and after taking a close hit, the Alliance skipper let loose with his main battery. The Paradeen shook, then began to try and move away. Richter laughed, watching his prey try to escape. He was about to order pursuit, when Grun broke in.

"Commandant," called Grun, from across the dreadnought's smokey bridge, "vessel approaching from the surface of Paradeen."

"From the surface?" asked Richter, turning to look at the other. "What type?"

"Not Nationalist, sir. Attempting to identify."

"Local vessel? Survivors, perhaps?"

"No, sir. Computer identifies it as an Alphan craft, sir. Identical to those from the planetoid. It is manned." An image of the approaching Eagle came up on one of the Commandant's repeater screens.

"What do they want?"

"They say they are surrendering, sir."


Battleship 7, now fully altered, left the asteroid behind at high speed, then lazily decelerated as she headed back into the Terran system. Her transponder signal altered, she was automatically acknowledged by the Nationalist Fleet Control system.

But not for long. Almost as soon as she was acknowledged, the Freedom Captain was on the horn, warning his superiors of the deception.

Moments later, a functionary handed the Nationalist President a note. He frowned, even as his new guests, amidst great panoply and fanfare, entered the Hall.

Commandant Specter of Battleship 7 reviewed the data before him. Already, the Melnorian ship was being scanned, as well as the target on the ground, the data being fed into the fire control system. Soon, they would be in range, and the attack would begin before enemy ground defenses knew what was happening. The Melnorian ship would be destroyed, their representatives dead, along with the enemy leadership, and the Nationalists would take the blame. This bold, indeed historic stroke, would at last end this long and exhausting war. He and his crew might even survive. Terra was just becoming visible on his screen once more, when suddenly...

"Report!" demanded the Commandant, as myriad blue spheres of light began to rip through the space around them at incredible speed. "Weapon's officer! Target..."

"Losing speed, sir!" cried the helmsman. The news from fire control was equally bad. The...whatever they were, were moving far too fast for either the scanners to give them any meaningful data, or for the gunnery to track.

"Losing speed? Do not be absurd! Engine room!"

"Sir! Nationalist ship coming onto our scanners. Closing at flank speed!"

"Natio...Bring us around, helm! All weapons, lock on!"

Which was exactly what Richter was doing to Alan's Eagle. However, he was to be thwarted in two respects. One of the Vipers quartered in, slathering their forward batteries with fire, getting their attention off of Alan for the moment.

"All yours!" called Greenbean.

"Right, mate. Now!" said Alan.

The other was the nosecone of the Eagle, detaching from the main body as the explosive bolts were triggered, and powering away in a hard bank as fast as its little emergency motor could move it. Before it had fully sunk in for Richter, the main body of the Eagle accelerated, its main thrusters blazing in the dark.

Cursing loudly, Commandant Specter of Battleship 7 sat impotently, as his ship was slowed to a mere crawl, her power suddenly sucked away by an enemy no one could identify. All his bellowing, all his threats, all his ranting pontification about Alliance ardor and discipline availed him nothing against either the mysterious intruders, nor the laws of physics. Deprived of all but a fraction of her thrust, his ship had become as useful, and as controllable, as a space rock.

"What Nationalist treachery..." he seethed, pounding a fist on the arm of his command chair, ready to kill someone, anyone, to alleviate his impotent fury.

"Sir, Nationalist ship continuing to approach, sir."


"Heavy Cruiser, sir. Independence class. She will be upon us in less than..."

"Do we have any weapons capability left?" demanded Specter, getting up out of his chair.

"All weapons report operational, sir. But..."

"Target the Melnorian ship at once."

"Sir, at this range..."

"I KNOW ABOUT THE RANGE, YOU MISERABLE FOOL!!!" bellowed the Commandant, grabbing the other by his uniform and raising a gloved fist. "We have a mission! Our duty to the Alliance! Do you understand me? Now do as I say, or so help me..."

"Targeting, sir!" replied the other, scurrying to obey. Keeping his opinion of certain commanding officers to himself, the gunner tried to do as instructed. Terra was, however, barely the size of a shriveled pea at this range. Even though the Melnorian vessel was in an unobstructed straight line from them, the chances of...


"Ready, sir," reported the other, as even more of the blue spheres whirled about them.


In her current predicament, Battleship 9's gunnery was not up to the challenge of tracking the eagle. Greenbean's shots had momentarily blinded her targeting scanners, and another pass kept them that way. He peeled off, leaving Richter staggered, as the Alphan craft continued to close the distance between them, her main motor screaming at levels far beyond what was safe, or even sane. The warship's scopes began to clear, just in time for Richter to eyes to go wide, as...

The screaming Eagle, on the verge of coming apart, slammed into the other's damaged hull, burying her disintegrating self in the battleship's guts. This explosion was dwarfed a moment later by the enormous detonation of the explosives packed into the Eagle's passenger module. After a seemingly eternal moment, the warship's belly was peeled open like a piece of fruit, spilling her entrails into space, as huge blasts sent chunks hurling out into the void.

"My God!" said Alan, watching the enemy vessel break up as he tried to keep out of the way. On the battleship's bridge, Richter had barely enough time to watch his uniform and flesh burn away, or air to scream in agony as fire ripped up through the deck, debris scything through his body, a mere foretaste of the agonies to come, then there was no air at all. Guns flew off, and airlocks blew out, fittings and plating flying everywhere as the battleship went into a violent tumble, trailing bodies and wreckage in her wake.

"All batteries, fire!" ordered General Maxwell, but before the order could be obeyed, the other ship split violently in half, one chunk careening wildly towards another Alliance ship coming to her aid, the other tumbling wildly in the direction of the planet.

Now momentarily unencumbered, the Paradeen set about rescuing the Eagle cockpit, shepherding it into her shuttle bay. Once settled into a cradle, Alan turned to Schanke.

"That ought to even things up a bit, eh mate?"

Chapter Seventeen

Commandant Specter checked his sensor readouts. Again. Sure enough, the enemy vessel continued to approach. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, the confounded blue spheres vanished once more into the void, as mysteriously as they had come.


"Firing, sir." He was silent a few moments, waiting. Then he shook his head. "Unable to confirm hit on Melnorian ship at this distance."

"Continue firing. Helm?"

"Engines still malfunctioning, sir. Thrust down to barely three percent of normal."

"Maneuvering thrusters?"

"Barely responding, sir. Our maneuvering power is down by..."

"Sir!" called the scan officer. "Nationalist vessel will be in visual range in two minutes. But..."

"But?" Specter growled ominously.

"She is not alone, sir. I read other ships accompanying her."

"Other ships? What sort?"

"From the Alpha planetoid, Commandant! I read at least twenty. And they are armed!"

On Alpha, now but a short distance, cosmically speaking, from the engagement, Koenig and the rest could do little but watch the encounter unfold. He uttered a near-silent prayer, and hoped. Hoped that the improvements incorporated into the Eagles from both Cylon and Colonial technology would be enough. The blue spheres, somehow connected with "John" and Arra, seemed to be helping, but still, as always, when his people went into harm's way, he got a sick, churning feeling in his gut. He looked about Command Center, watching the faces of the others.

No. It never got any easier.

Specter kept his eyes glued to the readouts. While not invisible, the approaching ships were evidently employing a considerable arsenal of electronic countermeasures. Normally, that wouldn't be an insurmountable problem, but so many different ships coming his way, and the Alphans employing something his computer had never seen before, made cutting through the jamming all the more difficult. It was becoming increasingly difficult for his targeting scanners to provide him with firing solutions for the approaching vessels.

Still, his was a Battleship of the Eastern Alliance! The very best in fighting capability that man had ever devised. No mere...


"I see it," replied Specter, eyes fixed on his repeater arrays. The smaller Alphan craft were breaking formation, moving to englobe him. He nodded. A sound tactic, like the wolf pack, when faced with the bear. His opposite number was certainly no beginner. However, he cursed inwardly, at his lack of detailed knowledge of the approaching ships. Like all things in the Alliance, information about Alpha had been on a strictly "need to know" basis, and the fact that some Alliance ships had actually been worsted by the tiny Alphan craft had not received wide dissemination. As with the old Soviet military, things were much too compartmentalized for their own good, thus the dreadnought's skipper was poorly informed about the ships now quartering in on him.

Quickly bringing her guns to bear, Specter ordered his gunner to open fire, but Freedom beat him to it. One, a second, then a third shot from the Nationalist cruiser slammed him, before they could target the other. She answered, striking Freedom forward, then amidships, before the other maneuvered away.

Something that was very difficult for Specter, just now, with his engines down to barely a crawl. Specter tried to bring her about, to follow the other, but his ship hardly seemed to twitch. As he kept an eye on Freedom, he also watched the encircling Eagles with growing apprehension. What...

"Signal from Commander Freedom, sir," said his comm officer. "They are offering terms for surrender."

"Oh, are they? Are they indeed?" sneered Specter, snorting derisively. Well. "Weapons, prepare to fire on the Melnorian ship again...." Before he could finish, Freedom had moved between him and the planet, blocking him with her bulk. Angrily, he ordered his men to fire. Freedom answered, hitting him just as hard, sending him reeling to the deck. Then, another blast struck his ship.

"The Alphan craft, sir. They are firing on us as well!" Specter looked to his screen. Sure enough, one, then all of the Alphan ships were firing on him, tearing stinging wounds in the battlewagon's hull. He tried to bring his ship around, but the lasers of six of the Eagles caught him in a deadly cat's cradle of fire. Circuits around him spewed fire and died, then he was hit again. The Eagles were also carrying some kind of air-to-air missiles, and while they were nowhere near as powerful as what he carried, they were deadly accurate nonetheless. Again, Specter reeled as more Eagle fire hit him, and ordered return fire. He hit the Freedom, then his next shot went wild.

"He's hurt, Commander," said Steiner, on Eagle 13. He fired again, then banked away as hard as he could as the Alliance vessel returned his fire, tearing away part of his undercarriage. Red lights flashed, but the Eagle kept her power and hull integrity. "Attempting to run, sir."

"Pursue and destroy," replied Koenig.

Buzzing about her like insects, the Eagles struck the less nimble vessel over and over. She struck back, knocking Eagle 14 out of the fight, then Eagle 27 took a hit from her anti-aircraft. She rolled away, then her drive failed, as she trailed smoke from her main motor.

But the issue was not in doubt, now. As Specter continued to try and run, crawling towards Terra and trailing plasma, Freedom followed, striking two blows with her main guns. Chunks of hull went flying, and Freedom moved in even closer, ready for the kill...

When another, powerful beam of energy slammed the trapped Alliance ship. It was the Melnorian vessel, and she had joined the fight. She fired again, and fiery blasts erupted from the Battleship's hull. Again, then again. She shuddered, and began to lose what little speed she had.

As she slowed even more, the Eagles closed in firing, the fusillade of nearly twenty guns more than the burning Alliance ship could fend off. As she slowed to a dead stop, her guns fell silent, and another explosion rocked her amidships, sending more wreckage trailing.

The end came quickly, as every craft within range continued hosing fire into Specter's ship. Once more she offered surrender, it was again refused, and the merciless fire continued, sending explosion after explosion rumbling through the enemy's hull.

"Cease fire," said Steiner to the other Eagles, and they began to pull back from the shattered warship. The others did so as well, watching the Alliance ship burn. Then, in one final convulsion of destruction, it was no more.

"All Eagles return to base," ordered Koenig.

Despite the loss of their flagship at Paradeen, the Alliance attack only seemed to build up steam. Their Fleet Commandant was dead, their most powerful ship out of action, but the rest continued to fight with a renewed ferocity, like a cornered, wounded animal.

As did Maxwell. Though badly hurt, he barreled on, pumping fire into the damaged enemy carrier. It blew up spectacularly, just as a Destroyer made a run on his ship, guns blazing. He was hit, he wasn't sure how badly, then the other came around again. It opened fire, once more slamming him hard...

Then stopped. Surprised, Maxwell watched as it ceased firing before completing its run, then banked away, leaving the Paradeen alone. He tracked it as best he could, and was about to fire, when he noticed something. It, along with the remaining Alliance forces, had all ceased firing, and were disengaging, moving as best they could away from their foes.

"They're retreating!" said Alan, now on the Paradeen's bridge. "General, you've done..."

"No," said the comm officer. "They are standing down."

"What?" asked Maxwell.

"We're intercepting a message from their government, General. Uncoded, on an open channel. All hostilities are ordered to cease immediately, and all forces to stand down at once." The comm officer turned a confused face to his CO. "The Alliance is suing for peace, sir."

Chapter Eighteen

From a couple of miles away, Nationalist President Arends looked out over the still-smoldering ruins of the National Assembly Hall. But for the timely intervention of these Alphans, he and the Melnorians would be under the rubble right now.

"Damn lucky shot," he muttered.

"Sir," said an aid, Colonel Moore, coming up quietly next to him, "there is a message for you. From the Eastern Alliance."

"What?" The President was visibly taken aback. "The Supreme Commandant?"

"No, Mr. President. It's Deputy Supreme Commandant Geissler. He's ordered their military to stand down as of about twenty minutes ago, and..."

"And what? Well, spit it out, man!"

"And, he's suing for peace, sir." The man clearly could scarcely believe what he was telling his chief. He handed over the paper. Arends read it, then read it again.

"Deputy Geissler? But..."

"Is in power now, Mr. President. It seems they're having something of a revolution."

Koenig and the Alphans watched on their monitors as the news began coming in. In the Alliance capital, the main government building, the so-called "Palace of the People's Commissariat", was burning, along with a number of others, amid riots and large numbers of bodies lying in the streets. Statues were being toppled and propaganda posters were being torn down everywhere, mostly those of Supreme Commandant Perzhov.

Or rather, ex-Supreme Commandant. The megalomaniacal dictator of half of Terra was, said the new leader on television, dead. He and a hardcore group of supporters had been "removed", dozens of others arrested, and all hostilities with the Nationalists ceased. Deputy Supreme Commandant Geissler was now speaking on the tube, proclaiming the birth of a "New Order". Koenig cringed at the term, but hoped for better things.

The last of the Eagles had returned finally to their eyrie. Of those that had gone into battle, only 14 and 27 had been badly hurt, and had to be towed home. Sadly, Stone, in 27, had died of his injuries. When time allowed, Koenig would permit himself to mourn.

But for now, his people would see only his smile. Once more, Alpha had survived.

Later that day, the shuttle from the still-repairing Paradeen docked, carrying Victor and the rest of the Alphans. The ship was a sight, with battle damage visible everywhere, and crews in spacesuits scrambling all over her, putting her to rights. Soon, hopefully, her hyperdrive would be back on-line, and it would be time to go home.

"Too bad we can't settle there," said Schanke, watching the planet slowly revolve below them. "It was almost like..." He shrugged, sighing. "Like being back home again."

"Sure was, mate," said Alan. For their last few hours there, they had been housed in what had once been a sumptuous town house near the heart of the city, vastly more commodious than either the factory or the old control tower. The Alphans had been impressed at the degree to which the survivors had reclaimed it, building by building, struggling to keep their transplanted civilization going. Victor voiced his opinion that they would succeed, if the number of new births were anything to go by. "But it's not ours. There's a... government to take into consideration, this time." Alan sighed as well, watching the planet as intently, or perhaps as wistfully, as Schanke. "Damn."

"Red tape," said Schanke. "The one true constant in the universe."

"No question about that," said Victor, the merest touch of sadness in his voice. "A law of physics."

Certain people on both sides were reluctant at first to trust their opposite numbers, and considering their history, this was hardly surprising. So, in what he admitted to Helena was a bald-faced attempt to buy some good will regarding possible settlement, Koenig offered Alpha as the site for the upcoming Armistice talks. Neutral territory, as it were. The Moon would, it seemed, be within range of Terra for a few days, and both sides agreed.

Koenig's old office off of Main Mission was repressurized, dusted off, powered up, and became the conference room. No weapons were permitted within it, and only Alphan security was allowed, consisting primarily of Falxa and Hasta. As the representatives of both sides filed in (from opposite doors) to take their place around the "Round Table", Schanke looked at his old partner, and shook his head.

"From cop, to security at interstellar diplomacy session, Nick. Who would have believed it?"

"Peacemakers, Schanke," smiled Nick. "Peacemakers. As in 'Blessed are the..'"

"Yeah. But what about journalists?" Schanke asked, indicating the members of terra's Fourth Estate allowed to attend.

"Wouldn't know about that, Schanke," demurred Nat, behind Nick.

The talks got going immediately, and rapidly became quite intense. But, the surrender of the Alliance was never in doubt. The fall of Perzhov's dictatorship had been both violent, and quick. Koenig was reminded of the television images he'd watched back in 1989 of the fall of the Berlin Wall, or of hard-line, Stalinist dictators like Ceaucescu, put up against the wall, and shot. Terra might be a long way from either harmony or final peace, but they were certainly cleaning house.

Professor Bergman, the oldest man on Alpha (well, sort of), and some would have said the wisest, acted as mediator, smoothing things over to the best of his not inconsiderable abilities. His father had been a wounded veteran of World War I, and as a man old enough to have seen World War II, he knew that only disaster and ruin lay ahead on the path of vengeance. Unlike the victors of WWI, the Nationalists, in the sweet rush of victory, must neither crush nor humiliate their erstwhile foes, lest they thereby sow the bitter seeds of future bloodshed. The Nationalist President agreed, somewhat reluctantly, and soon it was down to details.

All hostilities will immediately cease.

Immediate aid will be rendered to all former enemy vessels, installations, and personnel that may require it, regardless of location at the time of the Armistice.

All Prisoners Of War are to be repatriated to their respective governments within ninety days.

There will be an immediate opening of full diplomatic relations between the governments of the Nationalist Union, and the Eastern Alliance.

All breakaway "Republics" that wish to join the Nationalist Union may do so, without threat or retaliation from the Eastern Alliance.

Negotiations towards a permanent peace treaty are to begin within ninety days from the signing of this instrument.

There were other points, but these were the main ones, and as the Armistice was signed, flashes popped and cameras whirred, for the "folks back home". They also caught Commandant Leiter, fresh from his incarceration, being handed over to Nationalist authorities, to be tried as a war criminal for his actions at Paradeen. He was joined in shackles by his fellow Commandant, Voss. The remains of Leiter's crew were returned quietly, also.

Pointedly, and perhaps most wisely of all, no mention was made of "reparations" payments.

Later, Koenig and his staff held a state dinner of sorts for the respective leaders and their staffs, sans journalists. Naturally, they wanted to know about Moonbase Alpha, and where they had come from, and Koenig obliged them with tales of Earth, the disaster of Breakaway, and some of the adventures they'd had, and the bizarre places they had seen. The fact that Earth was also known as "Terra" intrigued them, as did the fact that their own Terra lay along the path presumably taken by the refugees from Kobol. How this all fit into the mystery of Arkadia none knew, but both Geissler and Arends listened attentively all through the evening. During the dinner, Maya also asked about her people. Had the Terrans any knowledge whatsoever of her fellow exiles, the refugees who had fled from Psychon before the end? Sadly, they did not, nor did the Melnorians. Never losing her innate grace, Maya took the sad news in stride, and thanked them.

Then came the sticky point; could they settle here? As he waited for an answer, Koenig looked up from his plate, and saw-


John and Arra, still arrayed in dazzling white, looking directly at him from across the room. John shook his head, a bit sadly, and Arra spoke softly.

"No, John Koenig," she said, though no one else seemed to be aware of the presence of the visitors but himself. "This is not the place for you or your people. Here on Terra." Koenig looked from her, to his guests. Sure enough, no one else seemed to notice them.

Settlement in Alliance territory was not possible, said Geissler. Bankrupted by war, threatened by famine, with decaying infrastructure and torn by internal strife, the presence of "alien colonists" would only stir the pot all the more. As for the Nationalists, there were a number of factions opposed to any sort of "alien contact', and the political ramifications, so soon after the war...

Koenig sank internally, finding their reactions ungrateful to put it mildly. After all, they had in no small way helped to end this long and exhausting war, and a mere 250-some people would hardly impose a vast, crushing burden on an entire planet. Hell, the whole population of Alpha would fit comfortably into a decent-sized apartment building! He opened his mouth, but Arra spoke-

"This is not your place, John Koenig," said the Queen. "Your journey does not end here."

"You've stopped a war," said John. "That should be enough for now."

Koenig was about to protest, but his uninvited visitors either anticipated him, or read his mind.

"There are yet tasks for you, John Koenig," said Arra. "Errors to be corrected, evils to be set right, before you and Alpha can rest, and your children walk free under the sky."

Children. Open sky. He looked a moment at Helena. If only...

"I truly an sorry," shrugged John, with a half-smile. "I have my orders."

Koenig did not ask from just whom those orders had come. Somehow he didn't think he needed to.

Chapter Nineteen

The Alphans were naturally unhappy at the Terran's refusal, but knew that they not in any position to try and force the issue. Before the Moon moved at last out of range, they exchanged data files, star charts, and medical information. The Melnorian's charts showed several sun-like systems in the general region ahead, although their cartographers knew no more than that. Then, all farewells said, Moonbase Alpha was once more alone, sailing silently into the night.

"What is it, cara?" asked Tony, coming up behind Maya on the old observation deck. She was looking out, into their wake, where Terra's sun was now but a yellow dot, the planet itself lost in the haze. Her knuckles were white on the railing, a small tear rolled down one cheek.

"I was...I was so hoping, Tony. A green, living world to walk on. Our children born under a real sky. I just..."

"Hey," he said, slowly turning her around and taking her in his arms, "how do you think I feel?" He looked into her eyes. "Standing there, on Paradeen, with green grass under my feet, wind in my hair, seeing fresh water running down from the mountains? Mountains that looked so much like the Apennines? Being in that city square, the architecture so much like ours? It was like being home, Maya. It reminded me of parts of Italy, when I was a kid. was almost more than I could stand, and I didn't want to leave it."


"But," he continued, touching her lips with a finger, "I had to come back. To you, cara. What could life be for me, even on a paradise planet, without you?"

"Oh Tony," she cried, embracing him. He let her cry, wondering, like all men since Adam, or his Psychon counterpart, have wondered; why they cry. He let her wind down, rocking her gently, until he heard steps coming up to the deck.

"Oh," said Schanke, stopping, almost at the top of the stairs. "I didn't..."

"It's okay, Schanke," said Tony. "Nick. Natalie."

"Hi, Tone,' said Natalie, the Saxons behind her, come to watch the stars. "How are things?"

"Just fine. Oh, Don, I'm putting you in for a commendation."

"Me?" said the other.

"Yes, you. If you hadn't kept your eyes open, when we were on the way to Paradeen, we'd be space dust right now."

"Just doing what I was trained to do. Sir," shrugged Schanke.

"And being humble about it, as always," smiled Nick, patting his old partner on the back. Natalie snorted, arms crossed, but couldn't suppress her grin.

"Either way," said Verdeschi, "report to my office, at 0800, tomorrow."

"Yes, sir."

"It's Tony. And goodnight all."

"I like him," said Harold, after Tony and Maya were out of earshot down the stairs. "He is a good man."

"Sure is," said Nick. "Like a boon companion." He moved to the windows, and pointed. "Now, a star is composed chiefly of compressed hydrogen gas. Compressed to the point where..."

"I think I want to see this one, Tony" said Maya, later in their quarters, after some warm welcoming home on her part. She held up a disc. "The title intrigues me."

"Oh. The one with that Hungarian actress?" Maya nodded. "Yeah. She was in a bunch of good ones. On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Return Of The Pink Panther..."

"Right," said Maya, and popped it in, both of them soon forgetting everything in the grand and majestic sweep of Cosmic Princess.

Far, far away, moving through the void near a dead planet, a ship began to send out a signal. Weak, far from anyone or where, the wave traveled outwards, carrying its message.




This is story 5 in the "Forever Alpha" series. Previous story - Next story
Copyright (c) 2003. Reprinted with permission.

Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media. All stories are the property of their respective authors.
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