This story contains sexual relations between a consenting male adult and a consenting intersexual adult. The story takes place about 500 years in the future of my Atlantis Unleashed Universe. I own the copyrights involved.
Commander Malcolm Ryan kept his feelings and his thoughts strictly to himself as he watched the track on the airlock rise to green indicating that the shuttle bay had been returned to normal atmospheric pressure. He knew that this mission was going to be difficult, but fleet command had really screwed up in pairing these two captains again. The last time they were assigned to the same mission, it hadn’t lasted long. They’d already proven that they couldn’t work together. But fleet didn't care about it any of that and cut orders at it chose to do. It was up to her members to work around it.
He nodded as the door slid aside and Captain Dacyn Atlyn entered the passageway with his own first officer, Commander Seizemore in tow. “Permission to come aboard, Commander?” the smaller man asked rather stiffly. Malcolm clamped down on his own mental shields and sighed inwardly. Atlyn was small compared to most Imperial Naval officers- barely clearing a hundred fifty centimeters and fifty kilos- but he carried with him a great sense of power. A lot of that power came from the fact that he was one of the top rated psis in the empire.
“Permission granted, sir. Welcome to the Genesis. Captain Storm is awaiting your arrival on the bridge,” Malcolm said and fell in beside Commander Seizemore. It had been almost a years since the last time he’d seen the commander, and that hadn’t been under the best of circumstances. That year had appeared to take its toll on her, because her deep green eyes showed a deep weariness, and of loss. There was a lot pain that had passed through those eyes in the past year. Her red long red hair- the exact same coppery shade as his own Captain Storm's, her cousin- was pulled back into a fleet regulation ponytail. Malcolm was hoping to be at least able to get a few moments alone with her to discuss the best way to keep Atlyn and Storm from taking blades to each other.
She nodded to him and smiled. “Commander,” she said.
“Commander,” he returned, not daring much more at this point. He knew better than to try and discuss anything with her mentally. Captain Atlyn was like himself and Commander Seizemore, a graduate of the Imperial Psi-Corps Academy on Kentaurus. He’d easily pick up any communication less intimate than a marriage bond, and at this point verbal communication was out of the question. One simply did not discuss a command officer with his subordinates in his presence.
The lift ride to the bridge seemed to take forever, as they traversed almost a kilometer of distance between it and the main hangar bay of the Genesis. He bode his time quietly, and waited to see how things went when they arrived. He would have to admit, that Captain Storm hadn’t handled things as well as he could have a year ago, but at the same time, Captain Atlyn didn’t have to write Storm off as a lost cause.
Now the situation with the Sol Union had thrown them back together. The war had been going just fine as far as Malcolm was concerned. They’d finally managed to push Terra back to the edge of imperial space, a hundred and fifty light years from Thule Prime. Malcolm was comfortable with that distance. It was halfway between Thule and Sol. The Empire had plenty of room to expand core-ward and both spin-ward and leeward. The Terrans could expand rim-ward and spin-ward and leeward as well, maintaining a long border right down the middle of the Orion Arm.
The lift finally arrived and opened to reveal the hustle and bustle of daily life aboard a Warder-class starship. Captain Storm was down in the navigation pit discussing the course the ship would be taking to the Epsilon Sagittarii System, where they were scheduled to meet the Sol Union Ambassador on an uninhabited neutral planet. Malcolm recognized the worried look on his captain's face, and was sure it wasn’t just about the mission itself. This last campaign had taken its toll on the fleet, and in this case a friendship that stretched back over twenty years.
“Officer on deck!” the security detail at the lift called. Malcolm saw Captain Storm look up and watched a brief smile flash across his face at the sight of the man next to him. Good, at least he still has some hope for things to get straightened out.
“Captain Atlyn,” he said smiling and climbing out of the pit. “It’s good to see you again, Dacyn.”
“And you too, Daniel,” Captain Atlyn said offering a gloved hand.
Storm looked at the hand a moment and then took in his own. “How was your flight over?”
Captain Atlyn smirked, “About as good as can be expected. You know how shuttle pilots are,” he said with a wary grin. “We’ve been in dry-dock for a month, and expect another five months before the Atlantis is space worthy again. We took a beating out there.”
Captain Storm nodded, “I know what you mean. It’s been a rough ten months for Genesis too. We liked to have not come through that mess at HR 6998. The system is pretty useless to both us and them, but it was just one of those situations where the fleets caught up with each other at the worst possible place.”
Captain Atlyn simply nodded and said, “If you have a moment,” he glanced down at the navigation pit, “I’d like to talk to you about our mission parameters.”
“Of course,” Captain Storm said. He looked over at Malcolm and Commander Seizemore. “Hello, Frankie,” he said to her.
“Captain,” she nodded.
“How’re your parents?” he asked.
“Father’s retired now and driving mother crazy. Which is not good since she's in charge of Atlantis' refit,” Commander Seizemore said.
Captain Storm smiled and said, “Send them my regards.” Turning to Malcolm, he said, “Commander Ryan, why don’t you take Commander Seizemore to the officer’s galley for something to eat before showing her to her quarters.”
“Aye, Captain,” the first officer told him. Turning to Seizemore, he said, “If you’ll follow me, Commander.”
“Frankie, please,” she said.
Malcolm nodded and replied, “It was Malcolm a year ago, it’s still Malcolm.” The two headed back toward the lift, entered and both waited for the door to close before letting out simultaneous sighs of relief.
“Think they’ll pull this off?” she asked.
“Not if they don’t straighten out that snafu from last year,” Commander Ryan told her.
“Exactly what happened on your end?” Frankie asked. “All I know is that when Dacyn came back from that meeting with Admiral Blake, he was furious. He said that Captain Storm had told the Admiral that he was not comfortable with the Atlantis as his backup. We went from the mission we were prepared for, to the one we weren’t.”
“What was that?” Malcolm asked.
“Hell’s Gate,”she said. “It ended up being a ten month running battle with no back up, no support and no relief. The Terrans threw everything they had in the sector at us. We limped back to Levi on slipstream, and raw will power. They took out our fold drive in the first week, hulled us in half a dozen places, and we lost half our fighter complement.”
“One ship?” Malcolm asked in horror. “Fleet sent a single ship to Hell’s Gate?” He’d heard the rumors of the place. It was high energy dark matter nebula right in the middle of the “corridor” leading from the Sol Local Bubble to the Loop I Bubble or its more common name: the Imperial Bubble. The two channels that ran on either side of Hell's Gate were the only relative safe way to get from Imperial Space to Union Space on slipstream drive. The Terrans were mining its gaseous clouds and asteroids for materials and had several massive ship yards there. It was also where they were staging their Fifth Fleet, for a push down the corridor to inside imperial space. The original plan was supposed to be for the carrier Endeavor to take her task force into Hell’s Gate and clean it out. But at the last minute, those ships had been reassigned to the Genesis. Malcolm couldn’t believe that Fleet Command would send a single cruiser to do the job of a task force.
“Why not? After your good Captain told Admiral Blake that he couldn’t trust the Atlantis and her captain and crew, Fleet didn’t give a shit if we came back from Hell’s Gate or not. After all, if the alpha fleet didn’t want us, we must not be good for back up for anybody.” Malcolm didn’t need his telepathic abilities to sense her feelings of betrayal. They were evident in her voice as she viciously jabbed the selection plate of the food synthesizer for her chicken salad and coffee. “Hell, the only reason we got this job was because nobody else was available. Rumor has it, that we may not even get the Atlantis back when this mission is over. It’s looking like it might be a permanent transfer to the diplomatic corps for Dacyn and desk jobs for all the rest of us- if we’re lucky.”
“I can’t believe Fleet Command would do something like that,” Malcolm said. “You took a cruiser and did the job of a carrier group. That has to say something about Captain Atlyn.”
“Yeah, it says that he’s damn good at his job,” she said. “But Fleet is about politics and Dacyn refuses to play politics.”
“He’s an imperial prince, I can’t believe that they’d be willing to risk that kind of fallout from the throne,” Malcolm said.
“He’s an imperial prince who has no chance of ascending to the Grand Council, let alone the throne. He’s been rejected by alpha fleet, and he came back with his ship shot to hell. The only thing open for him is an ambassadorship, and that’s only because of his experience in the fleet intelligence,” she said. “To be honest, I’m about ready to go upstairs and kick the ever living crap out of your brain-dead, Captain.”
“Daniel was just trying to protect him,” Malcolm protested.
“He protected him all right. Protected him right out of a career,” she said bitterly. “Just because Daniel can’t get his head out of his ass and jump Dacyn in his quarters, doesn’t mean he has the right to make everyone at Fleet Command to think that Dacyn can’t do his job.”
“I think you’re selling Daniel, short,” Malcolm said. “And I wouldn’t be tossing around insults about the captain too loudly on this ship.”
“He was my cousin long before he was your captain. I can call him anything I damned well please,” she said. “Besides, right now, I’m out of his chain of command.”
“He didn’t mean to give fleet the impression that Captain Atlyn was incompetent. He was just trying to keep him away from danger.”
“Dacyn, is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He doesn’t need Daniel to protect him. Hell, he took care of the whole damn ship at Hell’s Gate. If it hadn’t been for him, I firmly believe we wouldn’t have come out of there in one piece,” she said as the food synthesizer created her meal from the raw energy of the ship's power plant.
“So what’s the situation here?” Malcolm asked as the two grabbed one of the many empty tables in the galley. This close to end of shift, the place was deserted. “Is he the ambassador?”
She nodded her head and picked up her sandwich and bit into it. “Mmmmhuh.”
“Why is Fleet suddenly interested in a ceasefire with the Sol Union? We pushed them back into their own territory, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there,” Malcolm asked.
She looked around to make sure nobody else was in the officer’s galley to hear them and said, “Sol Union claims we destroyed one of their civilian agro-colonies. We know we didn’t do it. We know they didn’t’ do it. On top of that, somebody took out Station Twenty-six spin-ward. They didn’t even have time for the psis to send a distress call. All we got back was the sensor buoy, and a back-lash. The ship was definitely not Sol Union.”
Malcolm shook his head. This was not good news. In the five hundred years since the Great Exodus of the transentients from Earth, neither the Empire nor the Terrans had encountered a single other intelligent species in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way. “So, they’re sending the little prince to save the Empire,” he said half sarcastically.
“That was beneath you, Malcolm,” Frankie said with a hard look.
“I didn’t mean it like that, Frankie,” he told her. “I meant that..., how to put this…, people automatically underestimate him because of his size. That’s his strength. They think they’ll be dealing with a boy, and they’ll get a very skilled negotiator.”
“Good save,” she smiled over her coffee, letting me know that we both knew I was bullshitting. “I know where the nickname came from, and I know who came up with it.”
“Really?” he asked. “Exactly who came up with it?”
“Please, Daniel’s been calling Dacyn that since they were in school together on Thule Prime.” She winked at Malcolm. “The only thing that has changed in the nickname is that the word “my” has been dropped off the front of it when it’s used publicly.”
“Has he ever been his little prince?” Malcolm asked. He knew that his captain had had several lovers of both genders over the years. Sometimes it was a first officer’s job to pick up the pieces after a bad one, but as far as he knew, Daniel had never taken his highness to his bed.
“Let’s just say that I hope your timing is a lot better than Admiral Mitchell’s, or Lieutenant Price’s, or Ensign Monroe’s, or Daniel’s father’s. They have had plenty of opportunities. Their timing sucks, but they’ve had the opportunity.”
“I thought that might be the case.” Malcolm leaned back into his chair and asked, “I just wonder how that tension is going to affect the mission.”
“I don’t know. They’re both professionals, and usually they’ll do their jobs,” she said. “Dacyn knows how important this is, and I know my cousin has more sense than to let something personal get in the way at this time. But last time, Daniel let the personal get in the way of the professional, and Dacyn paid the price for it. I think they’ll get their acts together though.”
“I hope so,” Malcolm said. “I certainly hope so.”
“On the other hand,” she said. “You wouldn’t happen to have a small cargo bay we could lock them in and fuse the door would you? Maybe a shuttle we could drag along behind with just the two of them in it for a while?”
Malcolm smiled at the idea. “We both know that wouldn’t work. Both one of them could go right through the bulkhead and then it’d be our necks in the noose.”
“Nah, they’d wait until we reeled them back in, just to make us sweat.”
Daniel studied his old friend as they settled in to Genesis' main command office. Physically he looked the same as the last time he'd seen him. Small, exactly one hundred fifty-two and half centimeters, and fifty one kilograms, Dacyn would be likely to point out to anyone who questioned his size. His white blond hair was pulled back in a fleet-regulation pony-tail, and his ice blue eyes raked over the room taking in every detail. Dacyn was pretty, there was no getting around that. His features were androgynous at best, and downright effeminate at other times. There was a reason for that of course, but most people were unaware of the rather unusual medical condition that the youngest son of the House of Thule lived with. At twenty-eight, his ivory skin showed none of the early marks of age yet, but his eyes were a different story.
"You look tired," Daniel tried to open the conversation.
Dacyn swept his long midnight blue cloak off, and laid it across one arm. Daniel indicated the hook on the wall near the door, and Dacyn hung it there, turned and straightened his matching fleet tunic. Daniel couldn't help but notice that as the tunic was pulled tight, it outlined Dacyn's frame rather nicely, revealing to anyone who knew what to look for, his old friend's most personal secret. "I am tired. It's been one hell of a year."
"Tell me about it," Daniel said. "That mess at HR 6998 turned out to be one big screw up from the beginning. The system is pretty useless to us and to the Terrans, but we were within 50 light years from Sol and they couldn't let that pass. I don’t blame them there. I would have attacked any Terran battle fleets that close to Thule Prime. Both fleets were caught in a bad place at a bad time, and it turned into a slug fest."
"I heard about it," Dacyn said neutrally. Daniel had been Dacyn's friend long enough to know that he was upset about something. Of course he'd figured that out once Dacyn had stopped answering his communications right after he told Admiral Blake that he didn't trust himself to put Dacyn in danger. Daniel had thought it the honorable thing to do. To make it clear to command that they'd put him in a situation where his judgment wasn't always clear. The Admiral had then removed the Atlantis from the task force, even though Daniel had made it clear he was ready to step down.
"Is there a reason, you stopped answering my calls, Dacyn," he finally just came out and asked.
"It's kind of hard to answer communications when you're in the middle of Hell's Gate. We we've been kind of busy lately."
"Hell's Gate?" What were you doing there?" Daniel asked.
"Getting pounded into dust while trying to take out the Terran shipyards."
"That was supposed to be our job when we got back from HR 6998," Daniel said.
"Fleet decided it was the Atlantis’ job,” Dacyn said shrugging his shoulders.
"How many ships did you lose?" Daniel asked
"None, we were the only ship out there," Dacyn said coldly. "You had our support vessels."
"What?!" Daniel asked. "Is fleet command out of their collective minds? That was a carrier's job, not a heavy cruiser's!" That was a suicide mission at best. Fleet intelligence had said that most of the Terran Fifth Fleet was in those shipyards.
"By the time I got back from Admiral Blake's office, I had new orders waiting for me. Proceed directly to Hell's Gate and burn out the shipyards. My tenders were reassigned to your task force. I asked for replacements and was told none were available," Dacyn said. "I got the distinct impression that I was being told to either come back with my shield or on it."
"Who did you piss off at command?" Daniel asked carefully.
Dacyn's eyes turned hard as the ice they emulated. "Evidently, you," he said coldly. His voice took on a distant professionalism, but Daniel could hear the pain underneath it as he continued, "Now Imperial Intelligence has put us back together for this mission. I'm sorry if you wish it were different, but I have my orders, Captain Storm and I will carry them out." He pulled out a memory crystal and went over to the wall, and slid it into the socket there without another word. Daniel could not believe what his oldest friend was accusing him of.
"I don't wish to discuss it, Captain. We've got a job to do." His voice was implacable. "Station Twenty six in the Hyades Cluster was destroyed two weeks ago, and not by either us or the Terrans," he said quietly. Daniel knew him well enough to know that when his voice dropped that low, that he was angry. The microscopic electrodes in the wall's surface charged and it became a view screen to reveal the angle from the station's cameras. Station Twenty-six was a listening outpost just on the edge of what the Empire claimed as its space and along the border with the Sol Union. It was heavily armed and shielded, but lightly manned.
Daniel could see the star field that looked to be galactic north suddenly waver and split as a ship appeared out of the rip in space. The sensor data in the bottom right-hand section of the screen indicated that it was over ten kilometers long- twice the size of anything in the imperial fleet. The design was roughly wedge shaped, and there was none of the smooth organic lines that indicated imperial construction, nor the heavy welded plates of the blocky Terran aesthetics. Instead it had an almost crystalline shape to it.
Suddenly points on its surface flared in brilliant red light and something lanced out toward the cameras. The star field went white and then it faded to black as the station was destroyed. He read the energy output of the volley that hit the station. It had been powerful enough to not only punch through the station's shielding, but to totally obliterate the asteroid it sat on.
He turned to Dacyn and asked in shock, "Who?"
The smaller man shook his head, "We don't know. The ship isn't Terran design, or our own. It seems that we aren't as alone in the galaxy as we thought." That in itself was a frightening thought. In the five hundred years since the transentients had left Earth in the middle of the twenty-first century when it became clear that the bulk of humanity was ready to sell itself into slavery to it its own government, neither the imperial forces nor the Terrans that followed them into space, had discovered even a trace of another intelligent species anywhere in the Orion arm.
The only intelligent life in known space had originated from Earth at one point or another during her long history. The Shan, the Atlanteans, the transentients, and eventually the baselines as well, all came from Earth. Oh, there were hundreds of planets within the hundred and fifty light year sphere controlled by the Sol Union that could support life- and did. But none of it was any more intelligent than a dolphin or a whale. The same was true for Imperial Space centered almost exactly 300 light years from Sol.
"And what about the Terrans?" Daniel asked, although he already suspected the answer.
"According to them, their agro-colony on 18 Scorpii was utterly destroyed. Every man woman and child was killed. At first they blamed it on us, until they recovered their own "black boxes"," Dacyn said. "Then they sent several messages down unofficial channels requesting a meeting to discuss a ceasefire." Daniel thought about it. Both 18 Scorpii and the Hyades Cluster were to the galactic north- above the accretion disk, where the stars were thinner. Could there be a civilization in that direction?
"They keep their ceasefires only as long as it is convenient for them to do so," Daniel said.
"I think this has them scared. They're already frightened out of their wits by some of Imperial Intelligence's psy-ops. This just added to the cold feeling in their gut," Dacyn said.
Daniel suddenly had a rather unpleasant thought. "Did we attack colony?" he asked dead serious. If anyone would know the truth about that, it would be Dacyn. “Is this an I.I. action gotten out of hand?”
Dacyn stopped and stared at him. Daniel could feel those ice blue eyes cutting him into pieces. "We don't attack civilian targets. You know that."
"Officially, we don't," Daniel said.
"Or unofficially," Dacyn's voice became even colder. "I don't know what kind of crap you've been reading in the news holos, but you should know better than that."
"I thought I knew fleet better than to expect them to send a first son on a suicide mission," Daniel said.
"I said, I didn't want to discuss it, Dan," Dacyn said. This time his voice wasn't quite so cold- just very tired.
"I didn't tell Blake anything out of line, Dacyn," he told his old friend. "He asked me how I felt about the possibility of having to order my best friend and my cousin into a possible dangerous situation, and I told him that I had reservations about my own ability to do that. That was by the book and it was all I said. I even offered to step down and let Captain Baxter take the task force. He was just as qualified to lead the mission as I was."
shook his head, "All I know is what my orders were, Dan; I was given an
impossible mission, with scant resources. I pulled it off too.
left of the Terran Fifth Fleet is just hull fragments and expanding
The hull of the Atlantis looks like a patchwork quilt because I
great many of those fragments to seal my own hull breaches. Your
has a sense of humor. Whenever possible the fragments that were
the names of the Terran ships written on them. Atlantis
she's been signed by about half the ships we killed." He tilted
head at me and said, "My mission wasn't by the book, but it was
successful, and most of my crew are still alive. You tell me that
didn't tell Blake that you didn't trust me- okay. But somebody
impression. They may not have punished you for your honesty Dan,
sure the hell punished me and my crew. There’s still talk that we
get the Atlantis back- that I’ll be going to the diplomatic
corps and my
command crew will be lucky to get a desk job."
Dan just shook his head. He had no idea what had gone on at fleet command, but he knew someone he could call to find out. “I promise, I’ll get to the bottom of this, Dacyn,” Daniel told him.
Dacyn shook his head, “Do me a favor, Dan. Just drop it. I can’t afford any more admirals cutting my orders based on your recommendations.” He pulled the crystal out of the wall slot and pocketed it. “If you’ll excuse me, I have several files to study before we reach the jump off point for slipstream.” He took his cloak down from the wall and started to leave.
“Dacyn?” Dan called.
He stopped but didn’t turn around. “Yes?”
“Nineteen hundred?”Dacyn asked.
“My quarters,” Daniel said.
“I’ll be there,” he said and then left the office.
As he watched Dacyn leave the office, Dan wondered how things got so screwed up. Fleet Command had really dropped the ball on this one, and he got the feeling that someone back there was trying to cover their own asses. He sat down at his desk and called up his command transmitter and keyed a specific sequence.
It wasn't long before the image of his father came onto the screen. Ben Storm had been retired from the fleet for almost ten years now, but he still carried a great deal of weight with command.
"Dan, is something wrong?" he asked
Dan nodded, "Someone in fleet has screwed up royally. Can you check some things out for me?"
Dacyn shut the door to the quarters supplied to him, and sighed deeply. That had been harder than he thought it would be. He found himself struggling to keep his mind on his business, and Daniel's genuine surprise at the fall-out from what happened a year ago had not made it any easier. He even understood Daniel's reasoning. He wasn't sure that he could have ordered Daniel into danger either, and might would have done the same thing. Still it was difficult to come to grips with- he and his crew had paid a price for Daniel's honesty.
He hung up his cloak and sat down at the desk, and began to study the intelligence file on his counter-parts. Three names stood out on the list of personnel the Union was sending to talk to them. Kim Lee Tong- captain of the PS Koffi Annan was the son of a high ranking party official back on Earth. He had been groomed for this position from childhood. He was a highly decorated and efficient officer who had a reputation of leading his forces from the front line. There was a notation on his file suggesting that he was also an elite- Earth's attempt at genetically and cybernetically augmenting their forces to go toe to toe with the transentients in combat. He was obviously a dangerous opponent.
Dacyn called up the image of the man, and raised an eyebrow. Kim was the perfect example of Union's forced breeding program that began about three hundred years ago. He was tall, with nut brown skin and dark hair and eyes, the perfect amalgam of all the races of humans who'd originated on Earth. There was a keen intelligence to his eyes, but also a suggestion of easy mirth. He was actually quite handsome.
The next name to stand out was Lennox Davenport. She was a career diplomat and had handled the Union's rebellion on the Alpha Centauri colony. Actually, Dacyn was impressed with how well she'd pulled that one off. She'd managed to bring the colony back into the Union while at the same time keeping the Union Fleet from obliterating the main cities- which was their usual method of dealing with rebellion. She was even able to keep the number of citizens sent to re-education camps down to only include the actual rebels, instead of anyone who may have heard their propaganda.
She too was tall, with the same nut-brown skin and dark eyes. Her hair was beginning to gray slightly, but on her, it seemed to add to her sense of personal power more than detract from her beauty. There was a notation on the file that she would be wearing a synthetic mind-shield. It seems that the Psi Corps reputation preceded it.
Lastly was Davenport's attaché, Thomas Ubuntu. He was a big man that looked like his idea of negotiations involved the breaking of bones. He too was representative of the Union's attempt to do away with racial identity and breed an amalgam human species. For a moment Dacyn thought that the Union must be a very boring place to live if everyone looked so much alike. He looked closely and could see the slight scars around Ubuntu's hairline and along his arms where his cybernetic implants had been grafted. He didn't need the notation at the bottom of the screen pointing out this man was an elite.
His file suggested that most of his activities had been on covert missions. There was really very little of his official background listed. That told Dacyn one thing: this man was not attaché, he was a political officer. He'd been assigned to Davenport to make sure she didn't negotiate away any advantage the Union might have. He also probably had orders to make sure that she and Kim didn't introduce any "subversive" ideas about individuality or religion back into the Union.
Dacyn opened up the file on his own parameters the Empire had sent him. Daniel wasn't going to like some of it. All intelligence data indicated that the Union was unaware that the Empire had fold drive on any vessel smaller than a carrier. I.I. wanted to keep it that way, so under no circumstances was Genesis to use her fold drive anywhere within scanning range of the Koffi Annan. Fold drive was one of the biggest military advantages that the Empire had over the Union, and Imperial Intelligence wanted to keep them in the dark as long as possible. It allowed the Empire to strike within Union space without traversing the corridor.
The Sol Union was of course using slipstream drive, a way of creating a ripple in space between two points and then riding the crest of that ripple from point A to point B. Depending on the energy used to create the ripple, the spatial contraction around the craft ranged anywhere from the equivalent of the speed of light to around seven hundred thirty times that speed. But that velocity could only be maintained in the open space of a stellar bubble. The gasses and energy discharges found in nebulae and sections of space where the interstellar medium was denser, created so much turbulence in the wave, that it would throw the craft out of slipstream.
Space fold avoided most of that problem by folding the space between the two points together, allowing almost instantaneous travel. It was still limited by the density of the interstellar medium; much like it was easier to fold a piece of paper than it was a cloth of thick wool. It was also a technology that the Empire had guarded jealously since the Great Exodus.
As long as the Union could not penetrate the curtain of gas between the two bubbles in space, their threat was held at an arm's length, and there was a balance in the known galaxy. The Union was considerably less technologically advanced than the Empire, and far less efficient, but it made up for the difference in raw numbers. Their approach to a problem was to keep throwing resources at it until the problem was crushed by sheer mass.
Their innate philosophy and political structure made true innovation difficult at best, downright impossible at worse. That was why every imperial ship with a fold generator also had a self-destruct mechanism built into it. Dacyn's running battle at Hell's Gate was not against a superior armed foe, but against one of sheer numbers. The Union fought like a wolf-pack, and Dacyn had used the tactics of a great cat. He stalked the pack and picked off huge chunks of its fringes and then disappeared back into the dust and gas of the nebula. They tried to lure him out, to get him in the open where they could surround him. It was a matter of who caught whom where, and Dacyn had been very, very careful not to get caught too many times. If the Atlantis had fallen into Union hands, it would have been stripped and its technology copied.
Sighing, he leaned back and pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb. He was getting a headache, and the grumbling in his stomach reminded him that he'd had very little to eat for mid-meal. Looking at the chronometer, he realized that it was almost time for his dinner with Daniel. He hoped it went better than this afternoon.
rose from his desk and went to the head and began to strip. A
shower and he was sure he would feel better. He tossed his tunic
underclothes into the recycler and climbed into the cubicle and let the
wash away the tensions of the day.
As he exited the head, wrapped only in a robe, he heard someone moving out in his quarters. Quickly casting his mind out, he felt familiar thought patterns and smiled to himself. Tying off the ends of the belt at his robe, he padded into the main area of the stateroom as Frankie looked up from the plate of cheese and fruit she'd set on the desk.
"I know you're having dinner with Captain Storm in an hour, but I brought something to tide you over until then," she said.
"How did you know?" he asked her.
"It's my job to know," she told him. "If you don't eat something now, you're likely to make a pig of yourself at the dinner table, and as far as I'm concerned, that's not a good idea," she said with a smirk.
"Why not?" Dacyn asked.
She lowered her gaze at him and said, "Because both of us know that you won't stay mad at him for long, and when you two get to talking, you'll forget to eat."
Dacyn smiled, "You bucking for a promotion?"
"Hell no, Cap'n sir!" she said. "Just trying to make you and Captain Storm get your heads out of your collective asses and get one with what's important."
Dacyn raised an eyebrow. He and Frankie had been friends almost as long as he and Daniel had. When they were children, she'd tag along behind the two of them alternating between trying to annoy them and trying to get their attention. "That so, Commander?" he asked with a smile.
"Yes sir, Cap'n sir!" she said taking down the clean uniform he'd ordered the fabricator to cycle before going into the head. She looked at the garment and shook her head about something before handing it to him. "Here's your uniform, Dacyn. Do me a favor, don't come back to this cabin tonight without it being torn at least a little bit."
"Now, you're a matchmaker?" Dacyn asked.
"You and my cousin have been dancing around each other long enough. Time to seal the deal or move on," she said. "If you two had settled this a year ago, things might have turned out differently."
Dacyn shook his head, "You know why I'm wary of that kind of contact, Frankie."
She smiled up at him and said, "This is Daniel we're talking about, Dacyn. He knows, and he doesn't care."
"I know he knows, and I know that it's not important to him. But I haven't had a lot of luck with lovers," he said.
"You haven't had any luck with lovers, and that's the problem," she told him. "When was the last time you even let anyone get close to you, that magecat back on Vanir?"
"I backed out of that one, and you know why," Dacyn said.
"Yeah, I know, I know, they're just a little too "loose" for your tastes. I think you would have enjoyed her. I sure the hell did," Frankie said with a smile.
"Frankie!," Dacyn protested.
"I wasn't about to let a good piece of tail got to waste- literally," she told him. "Besides, I don't have a knight in shining armor waiting in the wings."
"Neither do I, Frankie," he told her.
"No, you are the knight in shining armor, and so is Daniel. That's why you're perfect for each other."
Dacyn grinned, "Did you really sleep with General Greenbough's daughter?"
"Dacyn, I can assure you that there was no sleeping involved in that encounter," she said with a smile. "And it took Doc Messier six hours to repair the scars on my back and do the blood-work."
"Afraid you were infected?" Dacyn asked.
"No, magecats aren't nearly as virulent as regular werecats. But you know Doc. He insisted."
Dacyn grinned, "I'll keep that in mind. Good thing for me, that Daniel's just an enhancer and not a nocturnal."
Frankie smiled, "The same can be said for you, you know. There's enough shifter gene floating around in the royal blood lines that you might could carry it."
"Not from either of my parent's side of the family," he said. "Mom is a pure psi, and Dad was just at ground zero when the AGG virus went active. That makes me so psionic that even the Mideanites give me a broad berth."
She handed him the plate of food and said, "Eat. You'll need your energy tonight."
Daniel looked at the mission parameters Dacyn had given him and sighed. "Okay, so no fold drive near Epsilon Sagittarii,” he said. “I can’t say I like it, but I can deal with it. We’ll be using slipstream down the corridor and out into imperial space on the other side. That’s going to make us vulnerable when we come out of the corridor into the Union Bubble.”
Dacyn nodded his head, “I know. But Atlantis did a very good job at Hell’s Gate. We now control both entrances to the corridor, and everything within a five parsec radius of where it opens into the Sol Union Bubble. “He smiled mischievously and said, “If you look at a star map of the area, Imperial space looks rather phallic as it projects into Union space. The Union doesn’t have a ship capable of threatening the Genesis in the area. There are six heavy cruisers patrolling the perimeter. The only Union warship that should be anywhere near that is the Koffi Annan, and that’s who we’re going to meet.”
“What about the Epsilon Sagittarii?” Dan asked.
Dacyn sipped his water and said, “It’s a failed Union agricultural planet. They abandoned it a hundred ten years ago. It was too far off their normal shipping lines to do them much good and the colonist began to develop a strong independent streak. The Union couldn’t allow that to happen, so they forcibly removed them and sterilized the planet.”
“Wasn’t that rather drastic?” Daniel asked. He’d heard of the Union going to some pretty strange lengths to avoid contamination of their political and economic philosophies, but that was going to an awful lot trouble.
“You have to understand how they think, Dan. To them, loyalty to the state is the only thing that is important. The state chooses who people marry, how many children they will have and what sex they will be. They even raise the children in state-run schools, not trusting the parents to do what’s best by them. Any deviation from the official state position on any subject is “corrected” with re-education.”
“I know, Dacyn. You aren’t telling me anything new,” Daniel told his friend.
Dacyn shook his head, “There’s a difference between reading the information, and knowing it up close.” Dacyn had served a stint in Imperial Intelligence, assigned to the Embassy on Earth. Even in a time of war, both sides thought it best to keep lines of communications open. He’d actually been on Earth, and had lived in the culture for a while. “It’s a horrible life, Daniel; at least for people who do not fit their cultural norm. It’s a civilization that glorifies mediocrity, and punishes both failure and excellence. The state is their religion, and equality is their mantra.”
“But some people are more equal than others,” Daniel offered.
Dacyn nodded and bit into his steak. Daniel knew that the Sol Union had
forged out of an attempt to eradicate poverty on the planet. However,
good ideas, it was one that had gotten out of control. "Some people are
more equal than others. Party leaders like Captain Kim's family get the
goods and services, have more choices in their lives, and for the most
don't have to struggle as much as the run-of-the-mill citizen. But,
still living in a nightmare if you ask me. At least we’re
about our class differences. We don’t make
everyone equal; we just give everyone an equal opportunity.”
"What about their elites?"
“Do you mean the party elites, or their special forces?” Dacyn asked.
“Special forces, like Captain Kim,” Daniel answered.
“I see you saw that too,” Dacyn said with a smile. “They get special training; extra privileges and the rules are somewhat relaxed for them. But at the same time, they have a role to play for the media services- heroes of the motherland and that kind of thing. To be honest, it was rather sickening to watch when I was there.”
“Did you get to meet any of them?” Daniel asked.
Dacyn chuckled and put his fork down and asked playfully, “Wondering if you have competition?”
Daniel raised an eyebrow and picked up the opportunity to flirt, “A man likes to know what he’s up against.”
“What you’re up against is a bland gruel of the same ol’ same ol’. Earth has no personality any more. They’ve bred themselves into mediocrity. Everyone is the same; the same skin tone, the same hair color, the same eye color. The only differences seem to be build, and they’re working on getting rid of that,” Dacyn said.
“What about the elite’s power? How much of a threat are they?”
“To you?” Dacyn shook his head, “Not at all. Most of them are either organically or cybernetically enhanced, but they tend to be class three and below. When our parents left, they did a very good job of scouring the planet of any traces of the enhancer gene and the nocturnals. Earth’s racial harmonizing program further diffused the gene, and now they’re lucky to get one in a hundred million that have an active gene and those are so low powered that the government has had to start implanting cyberware to make up the differences.”
“You still didn’t answer my question,” Daniel said.
“Did you meet any of them?” Daniel smiled and reached out and took Dacyn’s hand sat on the table between them. Daniel took it in his own and squeezed it gently.
“A few. They weren’t very subtle, and I think a few were assigned to get close to me, to find out what they could. My title both fascinated the Terrans and disgusted them as well.”
“Did they,” Daniel asked.
“Did they what?”
Dacyn raised an eyebrow and smiled coyly. “Not that close. I don’t have to sleep with someone to get that kind of information. Besides, that would give away secrets that could be used against my value as a negotiator.”
“So, chaste as ever,” Daniel accused.
Dacyn nodded and his tone became more playful, more relaxed. “I’ve had a few interesting offers, but every time things start to get interesting something interrupts.” He squeezed back on Daniel’s hand.
“So, do you want to pick up where we left off last time?” Daniel asked.
With a smile Dacyn said, “I forget where we were.”
Daniel stood and pulled Dacyn’s smaller form to him. With a gentle strength, he tilted the blonde’s head and back and kissed him seriously. He felt Dacyn melt against him, as his mouth hungrily sought Daniel's.
It had been over a year since Daniel had held this man like this. It had been over a year since he'd felt like holding anyone like this. Daniel had had his share of lovers in the past, but the one he never had was the one he kept coming back to. Fear of the loss of a friendship, fear of rejection from someone so important to him had kept them both dancing around each other since they were old enough to graduate to more adult games than furball and "space pirate".
He felt Dacyn's hand begin to roam up and down the front of his tunic, feeling the hard muscle beneath. With both thumbs, he began to rub circles around Daniel's nipples through the cloth. It was rekindling a slow burn in Daniel's body that he hadn't felt in over a year. He wrapped his arms around Dacyn and pulled him tight, as he kissed him with a building need he hadn't known he had.
Suddenly Daniel felt the flat of Dacyn's palm against his chest, and he was pushed backwards against the bulkhead. Like many enhancers, Dacyn was much stronger than he appeared. Daniel found himself thankful for his own enhancements because of the sheer force of the drive of Dacyn's body against his. The blond began to gently nip and then kiss the skin down Dan's jaw line, trailing his tongue along like hot little pinpricks of passion.
An almost incoherent growl came from Dacyn as he began to tear at Daniel's tunic, opening the seal at the shoulders, and pushing it down, temporarily pinning Daniel's arms in the neck of the garment. Daniel had never seen his friend like this, lost in a passion that never really showed through the tightly controlled reserve he usually exhibited.
Suddenly, a hot shiver of pleasure shot straight to Daniel's groin as Dacyn locked his hot little mouth, on Dan's right nipple, and began to gently nip at the hard little nub. Daniel struggled and wriggled to get his arms out of the sleeves of the garment that had fallen to his waist, all the while the smaller man was rubbing his hand against the hard pillar of flesh in Daniel's slacks. I've got to lose the height difference, he thought to himself. This just isn't fair.
Daniel finally managed to pull his right arm free of his tunic and push back at Dacyn's shoulders backing the smaller man off. "Drop to sub-light a minute," he said. Give me a chance to catch up. I'm not going to sit here and be felt up without at least a chance to do some groping of my own." He dropped the tunic to his feet and stepped out of it.
Dacyn smiled up at him and asked, "What's keeping you?" He reached up and deliberately tore the seam at both shoulders of his tunic where it closed on either side. "That should take care of that," he said.
"What?" Daniel asked pulling Dacyn's hands away from top of his tunic. "Let me do this."
Dacyn shook his head, smiled and said, "Just taking care of something Commander Seizemore warned me about."
"And what would that be?" Daniel asked pulling the seams wider to let them slip off Dacyn's shoulders revealing the ivory white skin and A-cup sized breasts beneath. He smiled and ran a hand across the hard nipple of one. "You know, you never let me see you shirtless after these started to develop."
"I was embarrassed," Dacyn said. "My body isn't exactly normal by anybody's standards." The fact that Dacyn was born a functional hermaphrodite was not exactly a state secret, but it wasn't generally known to anyone except for his family and a very few very close friends.
"I think your body is gorgeous," Daniel said ducking his head to lick gently on the dark pink nipple. He felt a shudder run through Dacyn's body, and a soft inarticulate groan escaped his throat. He bit gently on the small nub before bending to sweep the smaller man into his arms. Six steps later, he was gently laying Dacyn down on his rack.
Again, with a strength that surprised Daniel, Dacyn reached up and pulled him back down into a deep kiss. He felt Dacyn's tongue seek entrance into his body. Daniel had no idea where this passion was coming from, but it promised to be one wild ride. He and Dacyn reached for each other’s belt line at the same time and began to fumble with the fleet issue clasps. He felt his give way first and Dacyn pushed the material away to give him access to the straining cock underneath. Dacyn's hand was cool against his hot flesh, as he be pushed the foreskin back and began to gently stroke him.
Daniel opened his partner's trousers to find what lay beneath. He felt Dacyn's manhood rise like a hot pillar of flesh to meet his hand. Pulling back from the kiss, he looked down and began to push the uniform down Dacyn's legs. Dacyn lifted his butt to let the material slide off, and for the first time since they were children was Dacyn's most private secret revealed.
A long pillar of ivory flesh rose from a patch of white blond hair. Like most men in the Empire, he was uncut, and a deep purple head was peeking out from the foreskin gathered at the tip. Rich blue and purple veins rain down the skin to disappear into thin pubic hair. Following a line down from the split where the crown was, he could see the pillar disappear into the glistening slit beneath it, forming a second sex organ, a vagina.
"They're inside," Dacyn said.
Daniel looked up to see Dacyn sitting up on his elbows and smiling at him. "Huh?"
"You were wondering where my balls are," he said. "They're inside my body."
"Reading my mind?" Daniel asked.
"When you've got your hand wrapped around my dick, the connection is sort of intense. It's harder not to read your mind, than to read it." He gave Daniel a small look, "Do you mind?"
shook his head and
smiled, "Not at all." He dipped his head down and ran his
tongue up from the slit, tasting the juices flowing there, up along the
of Dacyn's cock. As he reached the crown, he pulled the skin back
reveal the head. Then in one quick motion, he engulfed the pillar
flesh with his mouth. Dacyn tasted like nobody he'd ever tasted before-
He brought his hand up and began to gently penetrated the slit under Dacyn's cock. It was wet and slippery and Dacyn arched his back alternating between driving his hard dick down Daniel's throat and Daniel's fingers deeper into his opening.
"Alert, alert, Captain Storm to the bridge!" the ship's communication system suddenly blared through the ship. "Alert, alert, Captain Storm to the bridge. All hands stand by. Alert Condition Amber!"
"What the fuck?!" Daniel said looking up from his task.
Dacyn collapsed back down on the rack and slapped the mattress, obviously even more frustrated than Daniel. "I can't believe the timing. Is the whole universe out to keep us from being together? Did we piss off some God, who's taking a perverse pleasure out of frustrating us?"
Daniel rolled out of the rack and began to pull his tunic back on. "You want to join me on the bridge?"
"Hell yes," Dacyn said. "And as soon as I get there, I'm going to kill Commander Ryan if this isn't something serious."
"Only if you give me Frankie as a replacement," Daniel told him handing him his tunic.
The lighting on the bridge had been subdued for battle conditions, a condition, Dacyn was all to accustomed to seeing over the last year. As he entered the large oval-shaped room, he could see that there was already a tactical readout of the Genesis' position as it traversed the corridor between the Imperial and Union bubbles of space. A second ship's position was being projected at five light years distance inside the gas field surrounding the corridor.
"Captain on the bridge!" the security detail at the lift called.
Dacyn noticed that Malcolm at least had the good graces to look embarrassed at the sight of him and Daniel together. "Captain, we've got a tail," Malcolm said. "Sensor contact five and half light-days distant inside the Ophicus gas field, sir. She's maintaining slipstream."
Dacyn and Daniel both did a double take at that, "Come again, Commander?" Daniel asked.
"She's maintaining a matching course and speed to us, sir- inside the gas field. Her Relative Luminal Velocity is matching ours at 731 ls per second."
"In the gas field?" Daniel asked again.
"In the gas field sir," Malcolm replied confidently again. "Don't ask me how captain. Her ship must be taking a pounding with those kinds of atomic collisions on her navigational deflectors. We can't see her, but her wake is impressive." He magnified the tactical readout on the main screen at the front of the bridge. An image of a compression wave created by the other ship's slipstream inside the gas appeared on the edges of the gas wall. It was like some kind of giant bubble moving just under the surface of the gas. "At first we thought it was a radar reflection of our own slipstream wake, but it didn't match up. The gas actually had an energy wave moving through it."
"What do scans indicate?" Daniel asked.
"Can't be sure sir. We really don't have anything to compare it with, as we've never encountered a ship that could maintain hyper-light speeds in a gas field. It keeps a course parallel to ours, and increases speed when we accelerate and decreases speed when we brake."
"Telepathic contact?" Daniel asked.
Malcolm nodded. "I wouldn't have called you to bridge if I hadn't confirmed it sir. There's definitely a sentient community in the vessel sir. I can't get anything clear. The thought patterns are distorted by their drive and the distance."
Daniel turned to Dacyn and asked, "Can you get anything?"
Dacyn nodded and closed his eyes. He cast his mind out- first feeling the fifteen hundred or so souls on the Genesis, and then screening them out. Widening his thoughts, he felt the three links that ran back to Thule Prime: the first two to his parents, and the last one to the mindsong- the empire's psionic network. He filtered those out and began to hunt.
It didn't take long. At the distance indicated by Malcolm, he felt an alien set of thought patterns: aggressive, strong, and stalking. They knew we were out here, but were just watching, waiting. Beyond that, he could get no more. Their thoughts and their drives were so strange as to be almost unreadable.
He felt something seem to detect him, suddenly aware that the watchers were being watched. Dacyn yanked his mind back just before the attack hit his shields. Surprise! Must destroy! Searching! Other minds! Must kill! Another wave of psychic assault hit his shields. It was almost too much. Dacyn reached out for the bulkhead to steady himself, only to suddenly find Daniel. He jerked his hand away lest the aliens use the contact to reach his childhood friend. He wrapped himself inside his own shields shutting off the outside world.
It was a hundred times worse than anything he trained for at the academy. It was alien, it was fierce, and it was electronically augmented. He felt the assault pour into his shields trying to gain purchase, trying to reach his core, trying to burn out his mind, and move on to the others in the ship. It had already engaged Dacyn, so it had to finish him off first, lest he strike from the rear.
Closed off from the outside world, Dacyn only had his own energy reserves to draw from. Frantically he pulled from deep inside him every erg of energy he could generate. The pounding continued, monstrously strong, it tried to overwhelm his shields with attacks from all sides. Dacyn reached deeper, to the core of his being to the white light was his very soul. There he found the lines of sharing that connected him to the mindsong, to his father, to his mother. His mind cried out.
Something clicked inside him. An indistinct image of another person reached out and touched his face. Energy poured into him. He drew on it, strengthened his shields. It was enough! He felt the battering start to give way, as the onslaught was slowly pushed back. He centered himself, reached out with his own mind and slung the attack back at his captors.
More surprise! Momentarily stunned! Dacyn pressed his advantage. He searched around with his mind for whatever was augmenting the attack. There! An image of a central crystalline device came to his mind. He mentally smiled to himself and poured energy back up the lines of attack.
It was like fighting a fire-hose with a fire hose. Psychic power blazed across the void of space and back to the minds of his attackers. With a final push, he drew up everything he could take inside himself and unleashed it in a single burst. It was enough, it was too much. He mentally screamed as the energy poured through his mind and out into the alien device. Suddenly it flared white hot and bright and the blackness took him.
"Helm! Get us out of here! Full power to the slipstream! Take us to 800 ls!" Daniel called as Dacyn suddenly pushed him away and collapsed to the floor. "Get medical up here on the double!"
"Aye captain," the helmsman replied.
"They're veering out of the cloud sir. They're on a pursuit course!" Malcolm said.
"Battle-stations!" Daniel said. He settled into his seat and looked over to where Commander Seizemore was trying to rouse Dacyn. "Charge defensive screens, bring the main batteries online." Turning to the screen he said, "Aft tactical."
"They'll have to cross our wake match our harmonics sir," Malcolm called. Two ships in slipstream couldn't hit each other unless they were on the same wave of contraction. The spatial distortion would send any weapons fire off into wild tangents away from the target.
The tactical screen switched to show an alien craft like the one in the mission briefing. It was big and crystalline in construction. Tiny points of light were gleaming along its white surface. He took a second to glance over to Frankie and ask, "How is he?"
She frowned up at him and said, "I don't know. It looks like some kind of psychic overload."
He turned to Malcolm and asked, "Why only him?"
Malcolm shrugged, "Unknown sir. He shut himself out from the song and the ship's net too. I think he was trying to keep them from discovering the ship's communications net. Then suddenly he was back in the song but not through the usual paths."
Daniel nodded and turned back to Frankie and said, "I'm sure that makes sense to you telepath types. Do what you can for him."
Frankie didn't say anything, she just turned back to trying to rouse him. Daniel for his part turned his attention back to the pursuing craft. "Change tactical angle to Z plus one tenth light-second."
Again the tactical screen shifted. It showed the alien vessel on a straight-line attack sequence- directly behind the Genesis. "What the hell?" Daniel asked. "Is their captain insane?" He turned to weapons officer and ordered, "Launch gravitic countermeasures."
The officer nodded and repeated his order, "Launching gravitic mines now."
On the screen, three dots detached themselves from the aft of the Genesis and streaked backwards. They suddenly split into three more, and those split into another three. He watched as the alien craft closed with his mines. "Detonate on my mark," Daniel commanded. Daniel couldn't believe it. A first year cadet has more sense than to fall directly aft of a ship of the line for the very reasons he was demonstrating.
As the alien craft closed with the mines, Daniel waited. "Give it to me by the numbers, Mr. Harris."
"Enemy craft 25 light-seconds from mine net."
"Twenty-sir, fifteen, ten, five, enemy craft will be on the mines on my mark, sir. Mark!"
"Detonate!" Daniel ordered."
On screen the twenty-seven gravitic mines suddenly pulsed as quantum space and real space were merged and ripped apart by a gravitic field equal to twenty-seven small singularities. The alien ship suddenly was thrown clear of their pursuit path, but surprisingly was not destroyed. It spun off of the slipstream wave and careened into the gas wall of the corridor.
"Quantum particles off the chart, sir. Her power plant has been ruptured," Malcolm said. Suddenly the section of wall where the craft disappeared erupted into a fiery explosion. "She's gone sir."
Daniel nodded to Malcolm and watched as the med-techs moved Dacyn to sickbay. "Very well, Commander. Send a scrambled message to fleet command with our sensor logs, and the bridge recordings included. Advise them that we are continuing to the rendezvous point at Epsilon Sagittarii. As soon as we get a report from Doctor Tyde in sickbay, send it as well-scrambled."
"Aye captain," Malcolm said.
"Time 'til we exit the corridor?"
"Just a little under three days sir," he said.
Daniel nodded and studied the corridor ahead. Three days until they left the corridor and into open space; three days until they could call for any kind of back up short of a carrier; Daniel got the feeling it was going to be a long three days as he settled back into his chair and watched the stars streak by. "Stand down from battle-stations. I want a ship's status report in thirty minutes."
Perhaps twenty minutes later, Malcolm stepped down from his bridge station and said quietly in his ear, "Doctor Tyde said to tell you that Captain Atlyn was starting to regain consciousness."
Daniel smiled over at his XO and said, "Thanks, Malcolm. You have the bridge." He then quickly slid out of the chair and headed toward the lift. "I'll be in sickbay if you need me."
"Aye, sir," Malcolm said as he took command of the ship.
Dacyn swam up from the blackness. There was a horrible pounding in his head, and he felt like every muscle in his body had been stretched and strained. Forcing his mind to concentrate, and his body to obey, he opened his eyes to see a woman wearing a medical smock. As her hand reached out to touch his face, he counted six fingers, and realized she was a Mideanite healer. Perfect for someone who was suffering from psychic backlash.
:How do you feel, Captain?: she asked him mentally.
"Like I just lost ten rounds with a werewolf," he said.
:Mentally, please Captain. I'm Doctor Sarah Tyde, and I need to assess any damage to your psirebral nodes,: she said again.
Dacyn nodded and said, :How's the ship?:
She raised an eyebrow, :As far as I know, we're safe. There aren't any emergency klaxons sounding.:
Dacyn reached out with his mind. His channels were raw and burned, but he could use them. It was painful, but he knew that would eventually subside. He found what he was looking for, the ship's psiber-brain had been untouched by the attack. :That's good.:
Dacyn felt Daniel's rather worried mind as he entered the sickbay. He mentally smiled to himself. The doctor stood and spoke aloud, "You're suffering from severe psionic backlash. Your channels have all been burned wider. You should be okay in a day or two, but for now, I prescribe rest, orange juice, and aspirin."
"Aspirin?" Dacyn asked.
"Aspirin. It'll relieve your headache but won't interfere with your psionic channels," she said.
"Channel widening?" he asked his second question.
She smiled at him, "You burned your psionic channels open wider. The amount of energy pouring through that attack you sent out must have been staggering." She shook her head and looked over at the captain and said, "You're lucky he's alive, Captain. He channeled about half the carrier energy for the mindsong in a five parsec radius into that mental blast. He blanked out most of the communications net for a good five seconds. We're getting all kinds of psi-calls all the way back to Thule Prime."
Dacyn watched Daniel shake his head and say, "I never understand it when you start talking psionic medicine."
Doctor Tyde smiled and said, "You know that the Empire uses certain frequencies of the Mideanite Mindsong as its communication net. The part used by the Imperial Navy is really a very small fraction of the overall energy of a psionic network that spans an area three hundred light years in diameter and encompasses six billion active telepathic minds, ship's psiber-brains, and technopathic transmitters. Well, Captain Atlyn shut the entire system down in the corridor and channeled its energy into a single psionic attack. He did this through his own psionic shields. To do that, he had to burn the channels in his psirebral nodes wide enough to handle that kind of energy without killing him. To be honest, I don't know why it didn't kill him, it should have. That kind of shielding has never been used while drawing off the mindsong." She smiled, "I may even get a couple of papers of it."
Daniel nodded and said, "I think I understand- a little." He turned to Dacyn and asked, "What happened?"
"They weren't aware that we have psionic capabilities. When they found me listening in on them, they attacked. When they followed me back here, they found the ship's psiber-brain as well as about two hundred or so telepathic crew. At that point, they had to finish me off first before they could move on; otherwise, I could attack them while they were distracted. I pulled into myself and shielded. Somehow I found the carrier frequency of the imperial mindsong and used that to counter-attack."
"Well, whatever you did, you turned their captain into an idiot. He tried to match our slipstream harmonics from directly aft. He flew right into our gravitic countermeasures."
"I would be surprised if the captain or anyone connected to their electronic augmentation survived. My counter attack wasn't to their minds, it was to that device. When I overloaded that, I would say that whoever was tied into the augmenter, got the backlash from it being destroyed," Dacyn told him.
Daniel nodded and said with a smile, "Just be careful next time. I'd hate to lose our ambassador on the way to the peace talks."
Dacyn smiled back and asked quietly, "Is that the only reason?"
Daniel looked around the sickbay to see if anyone was watching and leaned down and kissed Dacyn rather seriously, "No, but it's the only reason I'll give the crew right now."
As Daniel pulled back from the kiss, the ship's intercom went off. "Captain Storm, please contact the bridge." Dacyn noticed that Malcolm's voice sounded nervous.
Daniel went to the wall communicator. Dacyn could see that the privacy indicator light was on, so Daniel picked up the handset and spoke into it instead of putting it on the speaker. "This is the captain, what do you need XO?" Daniel's face took on a startled look. Dacyn's own channels were too raw to warrant a telepathic contact to simply satisfy his curiosity. Besides it would have been rude to eavesdrop on a private communications. At least that’s what Dacyn told himself. Finally, Daniel said, "I'll take it in my office."
He turned back to Dacyn and said, "You follow the doctor's orders. I've got ship's business to attend. I'll be back." He smiled at Dacyn and left the sickbay.
The news Daniel had received was something that no captain was ever really comfortable getting. There was a Priority One call for him from the Emperor. That was almost never good news.
Of course the term "emperor" was something of a misnomer. The Emperor was in actuality the eighteen members of the Imperial Grand Council acting as one. All of them were hundreds of years old and had been instrumental in organizing, and implementing the Great Exodus from Earth. They represented four poly-spousal families, consisting of the Lords of the Empire, the First Pride, the Shan First Pod, and the Mideanite King and Queen. Usually most of the day to day operation of the empire was delegated to the Lords of the Empire, two of which were Dacyn's genetic parents. Daniel had had enough contact with Dacyn's family over the past twenty years to know that all five of the Lords considered him their child.
He entered his office and locked the door. Standing at near attention at his desk, he called up the secure com channel, sighed deeply and hit the "accept" code. The air above his desk wavered and took the form of two men. Both appeared to be in their early twenties, but Daniel knew that they were well over a thousand years old. The well-built blond was Lord Sloan, and the smaller brown haired man was Lord William "Your Majesties," he said. "This call is unexpected."
"Well, the circumstances are unexpected, Captain Storm," Lord Sloan began.
"How can I be of service?"
"What is going on that somehow your ship is in the middle of a fifteen light year communication dead zone?" Lord William asked. "And are you in need of assistance?"
Damn! News travelled fast in the Empire, Daniel thought to himself. "We were attacked by the alien vessel, My Lord. Prince Dacyn came under psionic attack from their ship. He fought them, off and destroyed their electronic augmentation." Daniel shook his head, "I can't say that I completely understand the intricacies of psionic combat, but I'm told that he drained the local carrier wave for the imperial mindsong to counter-attack. It seems to have turned the alien captain's brains to gelatin, My Lords."
"And the status of our youngest?" Lord William asked.
Ah this was what it was about. Daniel knew that both of Dacyn's genetic parents were powerful psionics- something that Dacyn evidently inherited. However, neither of these men were those genetic parents. That suggested that they were handling the inquiry to keep it at least somewhat light handed. "He is recovering in sickbay. Doctor Tyde says that he'll have one hell of headache, and that his channels have been widened. There is a report on his condition on its way to the admiralty at this time, My Lords."
"I see," Lord Sloan said quietly as he leaned out of the transmitter's pickup range to speak to someone off screen.
"The ship is undamaged, and the alien vessel destroyed, My Lords."
"Any other casualties?" Lord William asked.
Daniel shook his head, "No My Lord. The alien vessel never got a shot off on the Genesis."
"Do you feel we need to send another ambassador, or will Dacyn be able to complete his job?" Lord Sloan asked.
"Lord Dacyn is completely capable of handling his duties, My Lords. Doctor Tyde assures me that he will be fully recovered by the time we reach Epsilon Sagittarii." Daniel took a deep breath and said, "He will however, not be going down to the planet without a fully armed security contingent."
Lord Sloan smirked and said, "Captain, if he went down with anything less, I'd have your hide."
"Yes, My Lord."
"Not your command, just your hide."
"So, in your estimation of the situation, Dacyn is tired but fine."
"No My Lord. Prince Dacyn is exhausted and injured but will recover in time to carry out his duties."
"He's tired, and fine," Lord Sloan said. "Trust me Captain, that wording will do us all a whole lot more good than injured and exhausted. He's tired and fine but will be fit enough to carry out his duties by the time you get to the rendezvous point."
"Yes, My Lords," Daniel said wondering exactly what was going on in this particular section of the imperial family.
"Good," Lord Sloan said. "By the way Captain..., well, you'll get the formal invitation when you return from this mission to Thule Prime..., but you've been invited to dinner upon your return."
"My Lords? I thought our mission parameters were to return to Levi, so that Captain Atlyn can resume command of his ship."
"The Atlantis is going to be in dry-dock for at least six more months. General Seizemore, your aunt I believe, is seeing to her refit and upgrades personally."
"Yes, My Lords. So we will be transporting Prince Dacyn back to Thule Prime to deliver whatever treaty and or report he can hammer out." Daniel took a deep breath and took his career in his own hands. "I trust, My Lords, that the Admiralty will be informed of this change in orders?"
"The Admiralty, will be told, Captain. You will report to Thule Prime as ordered, wherein you and your crew will be given extended leave while the Genesis will be refitted and upgraded to bring to her up to specs for her new role in the coming conflict with the aliens."
"My Lords, do you know something about the aliens that I'm unaware of, or more importantly should be aware of?" Daniel asked carefully.
"At this time we are simply classifying them an advanced hostile force until proven otherwise and feel it is better to be prepared than caught with our proverbial pants down. The Grand Council has already given the go-ahead on these upgrades, and both the Imperial Senate, and the House of Citizens have approved the funds."
"Yes, My Lords. Is there anything else?" Daniel said, still at attention.
"Yes, Captain," the female form of Lady Katherine, Dacyn's mother, entered the screen. "Don't let them upset you unnecessarily, and make sure that you and Dacyn take them for everything they've got and several things they don't know they had."
"My Lady?" Daniel asked.
"The Sol Union, Captain. Now would be a good time to start making them regret that they ever went to war with us; and you and Dacyn are in the position to do that."
"I believe Prince Dacyn and the Atlantis have already gone a long way in doing that My Lady."
"Yes they did. Now it's your turn to help finish the job," she said rather coldly. Daniel got the feeling that this was one woman he never wanted angry with him. "Dacyn will listen to you like he will listen to no one else. He'll bounce ideas off of you, Captain. I'd really rather not lose all those nice little colonies you've managed to obtain for us in that fifteen light year bubble around the corridor entrance. The freeing of that many souls from the tyranny of mediocrity is rather pleasing to me, Captain Storm."
"Yes ma'am," Daniel said carefully.
"Oh, and casual dress, Daniel," she said. "We're having a barbecue at the family compound."
"Yes ma'am," Daniel said. He remembered barbecues at the Atlyn compound when he was a child. They were a lot fun- for a child. He wasn't sure about as an adult when titles and rank meant more. He was after all, still only a citizen, not a member of any noble house.
"Relax Captain," Lord Sloan said. "We got what information we wanted. Unless you need support vessels we'll see you when you get back." Daniel understood the threat in that statement. A request for support vessels would probably garner a carrier task force, complete with Imperial personages aboard. He also knew that Dacyn couldn't do his job at that point.
"Yes, My Lord."
"Thule Prime out," Lord William said and cut the transmission.
Daniel sighed and leaned against the desk. This mission just got a hell of a lot more complicated.
Six days later, Dacyn was staring down his own executive officer, his attaché and his friend. "You will be taking a security contingent," she said.
"They'll just get in the way, Frankie. Diplomats get nervous around security types. It's difficult to talk peace while surrounded by guns. Besides, I can take care of myself," he protested
"What part of: you will take a security contingent with you, do you not understand. This is not open to debate or discussion." Frankie looked over at Captain Storm and said, "And he doesn't count as a security guard."
"What part of I don't need one, do you not understand?" Dacyn replied with a smile.
"The part where you're not listening to me. Because you are going to take a security detail. If for no other reason your security detail will be there to make sure that Davenport's security detail and her political officer behave themselves," she told him.
Dacyn locked eyes with her."Okay, but only three."
"Of my choosing," she said.
He raised an eyebrow and said, "Okay."
"You gave in to that too quickly," Daniel said.
Dacyn simply smiled and picked up the data sheet on the desk. "Where are the talks being held?"
"In an old government building that both the Empire and the Union have been renovating," Commander Ryan said. "It's been certified as secure by both security forces."
"It's not certified as secure by me yet," Frankie said.
"Didn't know you were a security expert," Commander Ryan chided her.
"Any XO worth their salt is a security expert, Malcolm." She grinned at him, “But then again, you already knew that."
He grinned back,
"Sometimes our captains forget what it's like to be an XO." He winked
at her and added, "We have to remind them."
Dacyn and Daniel exchanged looks. Finally Dacyn said, "Okay, okay. I get your point. I'll let you select my security and I'll stay with them at all times. And you can take a shuttle down and check out the security yourself. You can even take Malcolm with you. But if you do, you take a security detail along too."
"Okay," she said. Looking over at Malcolm she continued, "We leave in an hour."
"In the meantime, let's go over this itinerary, and what the Empire wants out of the talks, and what concessions we're willing to make," Dacyn changed the subject.
Daniel sighed and said, "I don't know what the Diplomatic Corps told you. But I have it on best authority that certain members of the imperial family would hate to see us give any of the colonies we've taken back to the Union." He noticed the long look Frankie gave Daniel.
Dacyn simply nodded, looked down at the sheet and made a few marks with the stylus. "I have some ideas along those lines," he said. "I have several options for an opening offer, a maximum that I'll "give away" and a compromise position I'm willing to take. I hope to hammer something out closer to my starting offer than my compromise position. I've also got a few "cultural" propositions that I think will do us much more good in the long run."
"You still look tired," Daniel said.
Dacyn saw Frankie and Malcolm exchange looks and made some excuse about going to check the shuttle over before going down to the planet. Dacyn smiled to himself at their kindness and appreciated their discretion. Sighing, he looked over at Daniel and said, "I am tired. Mainly it's because I'm still fighting my own channels after that attack."
"I don't understand. I thought that Doctor Tyde said that you would be completely recovered by the time we got here," Daniel asked concerned.
"I am- for the most part. It's just that what I did widened my channels so to speak. Now I have to simply restructure my personal shields to accommodate those wider channels. It means that not reading minds has been much more difficult lately."
Daniel nodded and asked, "Is it going to cause problems for the negotiations?" he asked.
Dacyn shook his head and smiled, "Only for them. I suspect that most of them will be using electronic mind shields while we are down there. I know that the Union file on me states that I am a graduate of the Psi-Corps Academy on Kentaurus, so they'll take precautions. However, like my parents, electronic mind shields- especially those of Union design- have never been very effective against me. Now, it would seem that they are even less so. Hell, half the time I can hear the ship psiber-brain chattering away as it runs the Genesis' systems. Those functions are supposed to be behind a shield."
"Have you reported it to the engineering department?" Daniel asked.
Dacyn nodded, "Yes. Both the electronic and the biological shields are in place. It's just me adjusting to what has happened."
"So that's why you're so exhausted. You've been fighting off the ship's brain." Daniel said.
Dacyn nodded and replied, "Something like that. It'll take a while to get readjusted. It won't interfere with the mission." He looked over at Daniel and said, "It's just interfering with our chances to resume what we started a week ago."
"No rush. I can wait," Daniel replied.
Dacyn shook his head and said ruefully, "As can I. It's just frustrating."
"Tell me about it," Daniel said. Dacyn could literally feel him forcing his mind away from the image of Dacyn laid flat on his back on his rack, rampant and excited. He felt the blood rise in his cheeks. "Your blushing," Daniel commented.
"Sorry, I caught that image," Dacyn said.
It was Daniel's turn to blush. He stammered for a moment and then said, "Tell me about these cultural ideas. I thought you said that the Union went out of its way to avoid cultural contamination."
Dacyn smiled, "I know. The real problem we are having with the Union is that there are no third or fourth parties for which public opinion can be swayed in either the direction of the Empire, or the Union. There's no real political pressure either of us can place on the other in the court of public opinion. There are just us and them."
"And now the aliens," Daniel said.
"The only public opinion of the aliens I'm interested in is how we can get them to stop attacking us," Dacyn said. "The real problem is that the only way we get the people in the Union to see us as something other than the monsters that their propaganda portrays us as, is to conquer the planet they're on, which is not really something we want to do. You wouldn't believe the difficulties their propaganda has caused their own officials in the colonies we've taken in this sector."
"We don't have much of a problem identifying the former political officers and party officials on the planets we take. Usually the local population is more than happy to hand them over to us- or at least their heads." Dacyn smiled, "The Union has spread a bunch lies about us torturing and killing civilians and prisoners of war. You know, beheading them to make an example and that kind of thing. Well, when we would take a planet, the people would go ahead and kill their political officers as sort of a way of trying to please the new imperial governors. They figured they save us the trouble of killing them. We've lost a great deal of valuable intelligence that way, but the populations have been almost eager to adjust to imperial rule."
"What do you propose to do about those colonies. You know the Union is going to ask for them back," Daniel asked.
"That's one of my fall back positions. We control a hemisphere roughly fifteen light years in diameter from the entrance to the corridor. Like I said, its general shape is rather phallic. The outer five light years of the sphere contain a total of two former Union worlds- neither of which is of any value to us, and the populations are made up mostly of military families, and postings. Outside of hostage situations, in which we are loathe to be involved, they are more trouble to keep than they are worth. I'm going propose making that a de-militarized zone for both governments. We can patrol its edges but not enter into those star systems with any armed ships. My fallback position would be to give those systems back to the Terrans and then make the next innermost five light years a DMZ. I won't go any further back than that."
"What about the systems in that area?" Daniel asked.
"A lot of agro-worlds, a few industrial complexes, and one or two recreational facilities. Most of them were already starting to get restless under Union rule anyway. I think they'd make fine colonies for the Empire. They are also diversified enough to create a third government among themselves to be an independent buffer state between us and the Union."
"So then it won't be just us and them?" Daniel asked.
"Yes, and no. We know better than expect any kind of fairness out an international or in this case and intergalactic governmental body. The UN screwed us hard back on Earth. The idea here is to create a zone of trade that will be too valuable to the Union in its influx of capital for them to try and conquer it, and it will keep our forces from bumping up against each other. It will also offer an insertion point for Imperial Intelligence to disseminate cultural changes into the Union."
"You're wanting to introduce free-market ideals into what is essentially the biggest socialist government in the history of Terra?" Daniel asked. "You're insane."
Dacyn smiled, "Their economy is stagnant. The only technological advancements they make are through espionage, not through any real research because free-thinking is discouraged. The richest elite have a standard of living that is barely above that of a citizen of the empire; and fewer freedoms than even our subjects. Their spreading the wealth around has only managed to lock the culture in place, and make the whole population slaves of the government. The only thing they spread around was the misery."
"This isn't some kind of crusade to free the masses of Terra," Daniel warned him. "They brought it on themselves. They tried to enslave our parents, and they drove us from our home planet in the name of global warming, social justice, and any of a dozen other catch slogans that were not about helping people or the planet but were about seizing power."
"Oh trust me, I know. I've listened to my mother and my fathers wax eloquently on everything that happened five hundred years ago. I've also gotten drunk with Captain Plainwalker of the Thunderbird and listened to him talk about his mother being murdered by a UN soldier using stolen Atlantean weaponry," Dacyn told his best friend. "I just think of this as a way of breaking the Union's back. You see I have also studied the fall of the old Soviet Empire, and I have a plan of my own to unleash on the Sol Union."
"What are you up to Dacyn?" Daniel asked. His voice suddenly worried.
Dacyn just smiled and said, "Nothing short of ending this war, and bringing freedom to this arm of the galaxy," he said.
"Freedom has responsibility with it Dacyn. Something our forefathers almost forgot. Something these people have no concept of. To them, the State holds all responsibility. They are happy in their poverty because everyone else around them is just as poor. They don't know it can be better."
"I know. It may take a thousand years, Daniel, but I have time to wait. I'm a patient man." He gave Daniel a playful wink, "I've waited almost twenty years for you. Waiting a few hundred for this kind of plan to come to fruition is no big deal."
"Do your parents know you're playing politics, Dacyn?" Daniel asked.
"My genetic parents do. My brother Colin does. The rest, are content to let me have a free hand here as long as I don't upset their apple carts."
"I can't believe that Lady Katherine and Lord Dannon would agree to this," Daniel protested.
Dacyn smiled at him and said, "Who do you think helped me come up with it?"
The facilities had checked out with Commanders Seizemore's and Ryan's expectations, and Daniel felt much better as the captain's pinnace flew in over the deserted city. The Union had used neutron weapons on the planet. It destroyed all animal life within a certain radius but left the cities and infrastructure intact in case they had wanted to use them again. Of course, that had been over a hundred and ten years ago, and much of the city had been reclaimed by the rich temperate grasslands and forests surrounding it. Now it looked more like a huge crumbling zoo than a city.
As the small craft had set down in the landing grid indicated by Commander Seizemore, the fighter escorts hovered above- again at Commander Seizemore's insistence. She wanted to remind the Union that they were sending a lowly ambassador to these talks. The Empire was sending a Prince of the Realm. Daniel approved.
As the air locks cycled and the craft's sensors confirmed the safety of the landing area, Daniel looked back over at the security contingent that the commander had chosen. They looked resplendent in their imperial dress uniform- with fully functional side arm and personal weapons. Two were shifters, a weretiger and true werewolf. The third was a Shan defender, marked by her bright purple hair the long folds of flesh running between the outsides of her arms to the small of her back, forming a flying-squirrel type of wing. Not very effective for flying in an atmosphere, but highly useful as diving planes in the water environment that the Shan preferred.
Although looking rather normal, the two shifters were well capable of handling several of the Union exo-cyborgs, and the Shan defender could tear the hull off this pinnace and use it as shield if need be. Of course that would also release the pheromones that defenders excreted when excited and would be highly distracting to anyone in the area- especially the two shifters. They would probably go berserk and kill anything attacking the party. Commander Seizemore had rigged the security detail for maximum effectiveness and the survival of her forces. Damn, his cousin was good at her job.
As the door opened and the detail filed out to take up flank positions, Daniel and Frankie straightened their uniforms. Dacyn had chosen instead to wear a rather striking white tunic and slacks with a matching hooded cloak. Between his own light coloring, and the gold trim, he would stand out amongst the more drab utilitarian uniforms and dress of the Union. He would be a white rose among the brambles. Daniel was still unhappy by the fact that Dacyn wore no weapon other than a small knife at the back of his belt- evidently the other ambassador would be similarly armed.
They filed out into the fresh air of the planetary autumn, and Daniel was struck by the beauty of the world that the Union had so casually cast aside because of the independent pioneering spirit the colonists had begun to develop. Rich golds and reds ran through the local hardwoods in the distance. The grass was just beginning to take on a slight gold cast to its deep green, and he could hear the sounds of what he assumed were birds crying in the distance. It was a welcome sight to his space weary eyes. The day that he came to prefer the recycled air of a starship to a planetary surface, was the day Daniel knew to resign his commission and become a farmer.
At the end of the walkway they were stepping out onto was a pavilion of sorts. On the other side, the Union shuttle was just touching down. In contrast to the imperial organic design that was more reminiscent of blade of grass, the Union craft was a big blocky thing with thick welded plates, short stubby wings, and huge engines that wrapped around its aft section. He noticed that their fighters too were hovering over the shuttle.
Daniel knew that the agreement called for both ambassadors to enter the pavilion simultaneously, so the party made a short journey to the end of the walkway and waited patiently. Silence surrounded the Imperials as they awaited the Union shuttle to cycle. Daniel leaned in next to Dacyn and said, "Your mother told me to make sure that you took them for everything they've got and several things they didn't know they had."
Dacyn looked at him startled and asked, "When did you speak to Mother?"
"Right after you fried the alien captain's brain," Daniel told him. That was what that summons from the bridge was about. I thought you knew."
"I don't read your mind unless asked, Daniel," Dacyn replied.
"Or we're intimate?"
"Don’t' get me started right now, Dan. I have to concentrate," Dacyn scolded him.
"Okay," Daniel told him. "Later."
Five minutes later, they were all entering the main pavilion of the conference hall. Daniel noticed that the Union security contingent was ten strong and was entirely made up of cyborgs in exo-armor. Each was capable of ripping a man in half, and had several rather nasty surprises built into their augmentations.
Davenport proved to be a woman of medium stature and graying hair. She looked as tired as Dacyn. Behind her was Captain Kim, giving rather uncomfortable sidelong glances at the cyborgs. Lastly was the huge form of Davenport's attaché, Ubuntu. The man just looked huge, mean and nasty. The whole contingent however, had a look of bland sameness about them. They were all the same shade of nut brown, with the same rich dark hair, and brown eyes. They weren't unattractive- far from it- they were beautiful, but they were simply all the same. It was in stark contrast to the rich variety of racial mixes found in the Empire. There was no ethnic strife in the Union because there was only one ethnicity.
"Ambassador Davenport," Dacyn said with a slight nod. Daniel noticed that he did not bow. A captain in the Imperial Navy did not bow to a superior officer. Bowing was for teachers, masters, and for the Emperor.
"Your Imperial Highness, Prince Dacyn Atlyn, it is good to meet you," Ambassador Davenport said. The woman immediately went up in Daniel's estimation. She was going to meet Dacyn on his terms, not try to force him into hers. He also noted the slight wince in Ubuntu's eyes.
"This is Captain Daniel Storm, of Their Majesties' Ship Genesis, Commander Francis Seizemore, my diplomatic attaché, and my security contingent, Lieutenant S'vinn of Shan Prime, Gunnery Sergeant Michael Stone of Levi, and Chief Garrett Tanaka of Thule Prime," Dacyn introduced the Imperial party.
Ambassador Davenport turned and said, "This is Captain Kim Lee Tong of The People's Ship Koffi Annan, Mr. Ubuntu, my diplomatic attaché, and his security detachment." Daniel smiled at the implication that the security detachment was Ubuntu's and not hers.
Dacyn smiled and gestured toward the conference hall saying, "Shall we go in and get started?"
The woman returned the smile and replied, "By all means, Your Highness." Again Ubuntu winced.
Dacyn said, "Please call me Dacyn. When people call me your highness I start looking around for my sisters. Besides, your attaché seems uncomfortable with my title."
"Titles are a remnant of the oppressive classes from Earth's history. We do not recognize them," Ubuntu said.
"That's nice," Dacyn told him blandly.
The man returned a confused look. Evidently he'd expected Dacyn to take offense at the remark. Of course, he didn't know Dacyn very well. Half the time he complained that his title gave him more trouble than his rank in the Imperial Navy.
"You are also a Captain in the Imperial Navy, are you not?" Captain Kim asked as if reading Daniel's mind.
Dacyn nodded and sighed. "Yes, I'm the Captain of Their Majesties' Ship Atlantis. She's currently in dry-dock, so I drew this duty."
"The Atlantis?" Captain Kim asked. "Isn't that the ship that engaged the Fifth Fleet in Corridor Nebula?"
"We call it Hell's Gate," Commander Seizemore said.
"A reference to a fictional religious after-life," Ubuntu said.
"An apt name for an unpleasant place," Captain Kim said. "It has the advantage of being much more descriptive." He nodded his head, one warrior to another, "The admiralty back home is still trying to figure out how you were able to defeat our wolf-packs with a single ship."
Dacyn smiled and said, "I was smarter than the pack, Captain Kim. Beyond that, I'd rather not say."
"Of course, Captain Atlyn. We in the service understand these things," Captain Kim replied with another sidelong glance at Ubuntu.
Daniel smiled at the exchange as they entered the main hall and moved toward the conference rooms. He got the feeling that Captain Kim was in many ways a kindred spirit to himself. That was an uncomfortable thought, the idea that the enemy was human as well.
Nothing else was said as they entered the conference room and spread out at the table. These negotiations were really like nothing that had ever taken place before. There was no intergalactic community looking on to see if they were acting diplomatic. There were no media channels recording. It was simply the representatives of two governments hammering out a ceasefire.
Dacyn took off his cloak and casually tossed it on an empty chair and waited for Ambassador Davenport to sit down. He poured himself a glass of water and sipped it carefully. Daniel had never seen his quiet friend this confident, this in control. He briefly wondered if this was the way Frankie saw him everyday aboard the Atlantis. He waited until the Ambassador sat down and opened his datapad and stylus and began to read.
As Ambassador Davenport got settled, he looked up and asked, "Now exactly what are the Union's requests for a ceasefire, and are you authorized to actually sue for peace?"
Davenport looked somewhat startled at his bluntness. She covered it by pouring herself a glass of water and drinking it as well. Setting the glass down, she said, "Yes, I'm authorized to hammer out a preliminary peace treaty- but it has to be ratified by the Sol Political Bureau, and the Prime Minister."
Dacyn nodded, "And your terms?"
"We want what was stolen from Earth's genetic potential returned," Ubuntu interjected.
"Excuse me?" Dacyn asked.
"When the enhancers rebelled against the rightful world government and left the planet, they scoured away the genetic potential for transhuman powers, as well as took with them the advanced Shan and Atlantean technology unearthed by the war criminals Katherine Katz, and her paramours. That's not to mention taking the shifter gene as well."
"Mr. Ubuntu," Frankie interjected. "You do realize that you just called Prince Dacyn's mother and fathers war criminals don't you."
Ubuntu's eyes widened somewhat. "That was five hundred years ago!"
"Yes it was. When my parents left Earth, they were over five hundred years old," Dacyn told him.
"I don't believe it!" Ubuntu protested.
"Believe what you wish, Mr. Ubuntu," Daniel told them. "I've known Captain Atlyn's family since I was a boy. Trust me, they're immortal, or as close to it as a human can get. All members of the Imperial Grand Council are, as are the First Princes and Princess."
"That's preposterous!" Ubuntu said.
"And that is the reason you continue to lose in conflict after conflict with the Empire," Dacyn said leaning forward. "Have you not yet figured out, we could take Earth back if we wanted to? But we don't want to. We just want to be left alone."
"The official stance of the Union is that the Transentient Empire is a group of systems in a state of rebellion," Ambassador Davenport said.
Dacyn leaned back in his chair and said, "Amabassador, we've never been part of the Union. The Empire was founded a hundred years before Earth achieved star flight and followed us into this sector of the Orion Arm."
"Be that as it may, that is the official stance of the Sol Union," she repeated, with a somewhat embarrassed tone.
Dacyn smiled and said, "The Transentient Empire's stance is that the Sol Union is an aggressive expansive state that is a threat to Imperial citizens and subjects alike. Now we can either continue this kind of posturing or get down to business."
Again, Davenport looked over at Ubuntu and sighed, "Very well, let's limit our talks to the matters concerning the ceasefire and leave politics for a later time."
"Good," Dacyn said. "Now what are the Union's terms for a cease fire?"
Ambassador Davenport looked at her own datapad and then said, "The Union's terms are that the Empire pull its forces out of the Sol Union Local Bubble, and the interconnecting corridor; the return of all former Union colonies, and properties, and compensation for the loss of the Fifth Fleet and the shipyards in the Corridor Nebula."
Dacyn nodded, smiled, looked over at Daniel and then back to Ambassador Davenport. "And after that list of demands that you are in no position to make, why shouldn't I simply ask Captain Storm to vaporize the Koffi Annan and resume the war as before." He leaned forward and said, "We're winning, Ambassador. The only reason we're considering this ceasefire, is because both of our territories have been attacked by an unknown hostile alien force. The Empire can fight a war on two fronts, the Union can't." Captain Kim's eyes grew large at the threat to his ship.
"Because I can guarantee that you would not get off this planet alive," Ubuntu threatened.
Frankie began to giggle as Ambassador turned to Ubuntu and said, "Shut up, Ubuntu. You're not being very helpful." Turning back to Dacyn, she said, "We would prefer you didn't. What are the Empire’s terms and let's see if we can work our way to the middle."
Dacyn smiled and said, "We leave our forces exactly where they are. Call it quits, stop shooting at each other, and open trade."
"To be honest, Dacyn," Ambassador Davenport said, “You could press for that, but I'd never get my government to agree to it. You have to give us something to show for our trouble; to save face so to speak."
Dacyn leaned back, and thought for a moment. Daniel couldn't believe it. He was actually getting the Union to consider the program they'd discussed on the Genesis. "We'll pull back five light years. Those five light years will become a demilitarized zone where neither of our forces will enter with armed ships. Traders only."
"That's only two planets!" Ubuntu said.
Dacyn raised an eyebrow. "Two planets with the families of several flag officers and at least three of your Political Bureau members’ families."
"I thought the Empire claimed not to take political hostages," Davenport said.
"We haven't. They're still right where your ships left them. We'll even let them go home if you want. But we'll keep the planets if you want to be recalcitrant."
"Seven light years," Davenport countered. "And you reimburse the Union for the lost Fifth Fleet."
Dacyn smiled and said, "I went to a lot of trouble to destroy those ships. It would look strange if we paid for my doing my duty."
"We'll send you their hull name plates back if you want. As soon we get them pried off the Atlantis' hull, that is. We needed them to repair our own ship," Frankie said.
"My government will never agree to that," Dacyn said. "That fleet was lost in a military action. Payment for them would be tantamount to admitting that destroying a warship in a war was wrong. It's not and we're not going to do it." He sighed, "However, I have counter proposal."
"Go ahead," Davenport said.
Dacyn tapped the e-pad with the stylus and brought up a star map of the sector. He drew a line across it, did a few quick calculations and said, "We'll pull back eight light years. We'll send your people from those planets back to you- those that want to go that is. You'll pull back another two light years from the present lines. We declare the whole area a demilitarized zone, and help the systems inside it set up a government independent from both of ours; with trade agreements to stimulate both our economies." He smiled, "A buffer state between us."
Davenport considered the options. She looked at her own datapad and showed it to Ubuntu. The two spoke quietly, and Daniel noticed Davenport fumbling with the pin on her collar. Finally, she looked back across the table, "It's a start. I think if we can set up the details of this independent state in a way that meets with both our approvals, we're on our way to ending this conflict."
Dacyn smiled and said, "Good. Why don't we get down to the brass tacks then."
"What about the Union's demand for genetic material?" Ubuntu said.
Dacyn looked up and said, "Mr. Ubuntu, we're not going to give the Union the ability to create transhumans and then enslave them. That was why we left." He smiled, "We're actually doing you a favor. To be honest, we really should give you the gene back, and sit back and watch you destroy yourselves with it. If you start breeding supermen with the ethics of your government, it wouldn't be long before you destroyed yourselves."
"But you stole Earth's genetic birthright!"
"No, Mr. Ubuntu, Earth rejected it and we left. You chose mediocrity over the right to fail. The problem with making outcome equal is that you destroy greatness as well as failure. Now you're paying the price for that choice. Your citizens are monitored, guided, and pampered right into apathy. They have no reason to strive for excellence and are punished for doing so. Who are we to deprive you of the unintended consequences of your choices? The genetic material is off the table, and it won't come back on."
Ubuntu looked stunned, but said nothing else as Dacyn and Davenport got down to hammering out the details of Dacyn's plans. Again, Daniel was surprised at his friend's ability to calm a tense situation with just the right word; to deflect a criticism, or to make a point by simply lifting an eyebrow or the downturn of his lips.
After a while, he became bored watching the proceedings and found himself wandering the room. It looked like a very utilitarian construction with little to no adornments. He found himself looking out the window as Epsilon Sagittarii set in the distance. It was a huge hot A class star, and the planet's orbit was much further out than Thule Prime was from its home star.
As the blue white light faded behind the mountains, the colors of the trees became deeper orange, and red. One whole mountainside in the distance looked like it was bleeding. "Beautiful, isn't it." He had not heard Captain Kim approach.
He turned and faced his counterpart, and said, "Yeah. Sometimes I miss the wind and the trees. Starship duty doesn't give much of a chance for that kind of thing."
"I know what you mean," Kim said. "I grew up on a collective near Pyongang, and sometimes miss the planting season." He smiled wryly and added, "And then I remember the smell of animal waste on the raw earth, and my nostalgia goes away."
"Aren't you going to get in trouble for talking to me?" Daniel asked indicating Mr. Ubuntu with his head.
"Ubuntu is Ambassador Davenport's political officer, not mine. I will speak with whom I want on this mission. At the moment I wish to speak to a fellow starship captain, even if he's technically an enemy of the state. I think that he and I have more in common than I do with Mr. Ubuntu."
"Brotherhood of space?" Daniel asked.
"Precisely, Captain Storm. There is something that binds sailors on the starry sea that the planet-bound will never know."
"Captain Kim, I believe you have the soul of a poet."
He smiled and said, "Long shifts in the void give one time to contemplate life, and the twists and turns it sends a man."
"Don't I know it," Daniel said.
"Do you have a family?" Captain Kim asked.
"My father, and two sisters," he said.
"No wife or lover waiting at home?"
Daniel shook his head and said, "No. There is someone, but we can never seem to get more than a few minutes alone without being interrupted."
Captain Kim smiled. "I understand. The Political Bureau has yet to choose a wife for me. I've had a few lovers, but never can seem to settle down. The call of space."
"We don't do that," Daniel said.
"Our government doesn't choose our spouses. We marry who we choose, and who we fall in love with, and who chooses us. There are those who are pulled together by other forces, a pride-bond or a pack-bond for shifters; life-bonds for the Mideanites and other psis, but for the most part we are free to make our choices, and our own mistakes."
"For three hundred years, the state has chosen our spouses. We are free to take lovers as we and our spouses choose, but children must be born with our spouse," he said. "It keeps the divisiveness of racial inequities from tearing our society apart."
Daniel did not trust himself to answer that. "Why not simply allow poly-spousal marriages?"
"That makes tracking parentage and genetics too difficult. It's easier for the state to handle things the way we do."
"I see," Daniel said.
"What is she like?" Kim asked.
"The woman with whom you can't seem to connect."
Daniel chuckled and said, "He."
"Excuse me?" Kim asked.
"My lover is a man," Daniel told him.
Captain Kim looked genuinely surprised. "You're government allows that kind of relationship?"
"Of course. It's none of the government's business who we love," he said.
Kim shook his head, "That would never be allowed in the Union. It's not productive to the state. Children born with the gene for same sex attraction are aborted before they come to term."
Daniel shook his head and said, "That explains a lot."
"Nothing," Daniel said. He couldn't believe it. Terra had managed to wipe out the very gene they were trying to breed for by aborting the sequence for same-sex attraction. The enhancer gene lined up with it fairly consistently, and almost completely for those with enhanced strength and durability. Add into it the propensity for bisexuality among shifters, and downright hypersexuality among magecats, not to mention the biological necessity for it among the Shan and you had a damn near requirement for a society to recognize and allow same-sex and polyspousal unions. The only race in the empire that came anything close to a majority of opposite sex two partner marriages were the Mideanites, and that majority was by the slimmest of margins.
The reason the enhancer gene flourished so heavily in the Empire was the advanced genetic engineering that the Shan and the Atlanteans brought with them. The adaptation of the Shan healing pods into artificial wombs had guaranteed the ability of every marriage no matter what the gender make-up to have children. Children and the sanctity of family were one of the Empire's highest social priorities.
"I don't understand, Captain," Kim said.
"Sorry," Daniel said. "It's a cultural thing. I think our societies have drifted very far apart. I don't think your Union would ever be able to absorb the Empire even if it had the military wherewithal to try. I think the only hope for our being able to live side by side peaceably will be Captain Atlyn's buffer state."
"Is this difference so very important?" Kim asked. "I mean are you incapable of controlling your base desires?"
"The point is why should we have to? What business is it of the government to decide what goes on in a bedroom, or a family?" he asked the Union captain.
"It doesn't further the species," he said. "It's not like two women or two men can have babies."
"Maybe not in the Union, but he Empire has resources that allow us to do just that. Captain Atlyn's oldest brother is the genetic amalgam of five members of a single polyspousal family."
"Isn't that a waste of resources that could be better used somewhere else?"
"Who is to say what resources are wasted? A family with the resources can use them however they want. It's not the government's or anybody else's business how a family spends its money," Daniel said.
"Besides, I'm rather glad that our government doesn't forcibly abort babies who carry the gene for same-sex attraction. That means I wouldn't be here," Daniel told him. "And I've got news for you, Captain. I like being alive."
"No offense was intended, Captain Storm. I am simply somewhat surprised by this discovery."
"Not a problem, Captain. Just remember when you're dealing with Imperial citizens that not everything is always as it seems. Don't judge us by your cultural standards."
"I'll keep that in mind," Captain Kim told him. "You've given me a great deal to think about."
"Just don't let Mr. Ubuntu catch you thinking," Daniel told him.
Kim smiled back. "I won't."
Ubuntu carefully out of the corner of his mind. The man was up to
something, and Dacyn couldn't afford to take his attention away from
to determine what it was. He sent a quick mental signal to
Ubuntu. He's up to something.:
:Will do, Dacyn. You keep your eye on what Davenport is offering. There's a trap in there somewhere,: she sent back.
He and the Ambassador began a diplomatic duel as deadly as any physical conflict in which he'd ever been involved. The fate and freedom of whole star systems and billions of people were at stake here. He would make a suggestion for the structure of the buffer state government, and she'd make a counter offer that sounded reasonable, but there were subtle dangers that would give the Union undue influence.
Dacyn had studied the negotiations of people like Carter and Brezhnev, Reagan, and Gorbachev, and Kennedy and Khrushchev. He knew the old playbook by heart. At one point, he leaned back in his chair, borrowed from the master negotiator of them all, and said, "Ambassador, if you don't wish to negotiate in good faith, I can walk out of here. We don't have to have this ceasefire, you do. We've already discovered that we can destroy the alien vessels. You can't."
That got her attention. "Very well, Prince Dacyn. We'll table the suggestion of military advisers to the buffer state for now. But don't make that threat again. We will let you walk out."
Dacyn smiled, "I'm sure you will, Ambassador." He didn't have to add the part about waiting for the collapse of the Union and going in and picking up the pieces. It was understood.
"This is enough!" Ubuntu slammed his hand down on the table. "I will not let you sit here and carve up this sector of the Union and give it away to the imperialist!" He turned to his exo-borg guards and screamed, "Kill them all!"
Suddenly the ten exo-cyborgs in the room swung around weapons drawn. Dacyn felt himself slammed into the floor as Lieutenant S'vinn threw him to the ground and covered him with her own body."
"Damn it, S'vinn, I'm not helpless! I can help!" he growled into the floor.
"No way sir!" Commander Seizemore threatened to cut off my wings if I let anything happen to you, and I believe her!" He felt the woman's massive strength pin him to the ground.
All around him, he heard the clatter of automatic weapons fire. Even after five hundred years, neither the Empire nor the Union had found a more efficient method of dealing death on a man-portable scale than hurling objects at hypersonic speeds. Sure, on a starship, energy could be broadcast to hand weapons, but on the battlefield it was not as effective as a simple slug thrower. Nobody had yet been able to come with a small enough battery capable of powering a hand held energy projecting weapon. Slug throwers were still the most efficient way to kill people.
"Okay, if you want to play that way," Dacyn growled and centered his mind. He closed his eyes and separated his mind from his body and let his astral form float through the defender. He couldn't really blame the woman, she was only doing her job, and that really did include throwing him to the floor and pinning him to the ground. Still it was unpleasant for both of them as his astral body passed through physical one.
Looking around he saw where both Chief Tanaka and Sergeant Stone had shifted. Tanaka was seven hundred fifty kilos of anthropomorphic tiger. He had one of the exo-cyborgs in each hand and was trying to stuff one of their heads through the other's torso. Stone was in his anthro-wolf form and about half Tanaka's size but was stalking the three ‘borgs who'd engaged their body armor and were surrounding Ubuntu in a protective stance. He could see the effect of S'vinn's pheromones on the bodies of his men, as they were both sporting huge rampant erections.
He watched as Captain Kim flung himself across the room, grabbed Ambassador Davenport by the collar, tucked and rolled pulling both of them under the heavy table. For just a moment, Dacyn saw the outline of a great cat in the man's avatar. :Well, well, well. The shifter gene isn't completely gone in Union,: he mentally sent to Frankie.
:Dacyn! What the hell do you think you're doing!: she screamed at him mentally.
Dacyn spun in time to see two 'borgs begin to take a bead on Daniel. :I'm protecting my investment!: he screamed back. He gestured and hardened the air between the Union soldiers and his lover. The bullets ricocheted up into the ceiling as the two bionically enhanced soldiers continued to pour fire into the force field. Daniel looked surprised for just a moment and then a smile spread over his face. Dacyn could see him concentrate on the lead 'borg. The man toppled forward, the metal reinforcements in the shoulders and neck of the exo-armor suddenly crumpled and the helmet crashed downward snapping his neck.
Suddenly the second exo-borg stopped dead in its tracks, a look of confusion on his face. Dacyn watched and smiled as the nut brown lips began to turn blue as he was deprived of oxygen to his biological components. Frankie had merged with his computer network and taken control of the cybernetic components. One of the problems with exo-armored ‘borgs was that many of the internal organs were implanted with computer controlled pharmaceutical pumps. Controlling those circuits was easy for a technopath like his first officer. This man was suffocating in a room full of oxygen.
The sound of a high powered sidearm came from the table near where both his body and Ambassador Davenport were stashed. He looked over to see a half transformed Captain Kim firing point blank into the joints of one of his own security contingent as the exo-borg tried to smash through the table with its mechanically augmented limbs.
Having little effect, the Captain slung the gun to the side and stood up, continuing to change into what appeared to be the battle form of a wereleopard- clouded by the looks of it. With a primal scream, the wereleopard tore into the exo-borg as the hapless man fired his chain gun into the captain's stomach. Unless he was firing silver- which was highly unlikely, the wounds would be painful, but not life-threatening. He watched as the Union Captain drove his claws through the eyes of his opponent. An incoherent scream later and the wereleopard was standing over the bloody corpse. Dacyn smiled at the sight of the bulge in what was left of the captain's uniform slacks. Even Union shifters were affected by Shan pheromones.
He felt the round that tore through Frankie's shoulder, more than he heard it. The two had shared thoughts enough that there was a rudimentary connection between them, and being in his astral form combined with his recent difficulties, he couldn't help but pick up on her pain. Spinning around to where she was lying on the floor in a growing puddle of blood, a nasty wound through her right shoulder, he felt something grow white hot in his mind. :Enough!: he shouted mentally. He felt and heard the crack and pop as every Union electronic mind shield in the room fried in its casing. He telekinetically grabbed the Union soldier standing over Frankie and pulled him off the ground. The man rose into the air by the unseen force of Dacyn's mind, and with a vicious twist of that force, was ripped in half. Great fountains of blood erupted as Dacyn dropped the dead exo-borg to the ground.
Looking back around, he saw that the two Tanaka had attacked were down. One of the ‘borgs surrounding Ubuntu had fallen but another had taken its place. The rest were dead or dying. Tanaka, Stone, and Kim were stalking Ubuntu's defenders. Davenport was huddling under the table, and S'vinn still had him pinned to the floor. He dove into his own body, ignoring the shudder of discomfort that ran through both him and the defender.
"Commander Seizemore is hit. Get her to pinnace, and I'll get the Ambassador out of here."
"No can do sir," S'vinn told her. "You're safety is top priority!"
"I'm trying to get my ass out of here Lieutenant, with as many of our people alive as I can!"
"Yes, sir, uh ma'am?"
Damn! I'd forgotten about the defender's sonar. At this close range it had to be giving her a detailed layout of my body, he thought to himself. He also realized that while his mind was gone, his body had reacted to the defender's pheromones at that close range. He not only had a spike in his trousers, but his underwear was soaked from both his sex organs. "Don't worry about it, Lieutenant. Just let me grab the Ambassador, and we'll high-tail it out of the room. You cover us, then grab Commander Seizemore and follow us to the pinnace!"
He could literally feel the Lieutenant thinking about her options. She couldn't come up with a better plan so she nodded. "Yes, sir! On the count of three, grab the Ambassador and get out of here." Dacyn nodded and prepared to leap. "One, two, three!" she shouted.
Dacyn rolled out from under the woman and grabbed the surprised and frightened Ambassador. "Come on, Lennox. This party's gotten a little too rowdy for my taste!" They both went running for the door, as Lieutenant S'vinn lay down a heavy covering fire of concentrated water blasts from her hands. Dacyn knew those blasts packed enough wallop to punch a hole through plate steel.
He darted across the room in a low crouch, the Ambassador in tow. Shoving her through the door and around the corner, he came face to face with a combined force of both Imperial marines and Union shock troopers. He looked over at the marine force commander and said, "kill anything in there with a cybernetic implant!"
Strangely enough, it was the Union commander who said, "You guys heard the lady, Captain Kim was right! Take out Ubuntu and his exos!"
"Lady?" Dacyn asked as Lieutenant S'vinn came through the door carrying Frankie.
Davenport pointed to the front Dacyn's uniform where it had been torn by the force of the Lieutenant's tackle and revealed his chest for anyone with eyes to see. He blushed deeply and pulled the garment up to cover himself. "It's a long story."
"I'd love to hear it," the Ambassador said with a smirk and tilt of her head. Then looking over at Frankie she added, "After we get her to your shuttle. I don't trust our medical facilities to handle a possible enhancer."
Dacyn nodded to her and the Lieutenant and said, "Come on."
They pounded their way down the main entrance to the building and out to the pavilion. A quick right hand turn and forty meters away, the pinnace pilot was awaiting them, med kit in hand. Dacyn shook his head as the skidded to a stop at the hatch and told the defender, "Get her into the auto-doc. I'm going back after the captain."
"No you're not, sir!" the Lieutenant protested.
Dacyn grabbed a side arm from the pilot and said, "You take care of Frankie. I'll be right back!"
"At least take my tunic, sir!" the Lieutenant stripped the garment over her head and tossed it to him. It was pain in the ass to get the Shan to wear clothing as it was, so Dacyn knew the woman had no problems with modesty. He just smiled and pulled it over his head, grateful that she was that much bigger than he was.
Beside him, the Ambassador had already grabbed a gun and was waiting on him. "What? My captain is in there too!"
Dacyn smiled at her and said, "Let's go!"
Before they reached the building though, the sound of automatic weapon fire and explosions filled their ears. Suddenly the center of the building exploded straight up and it began to rain fiery debris. They skidded to a stop and covered their heads as pieces of mortar, furniture, and brick fell all around them.
:Daniel!: Dacyn mentally screamed. He flung his mind out frantically searching for any sign of life in the building. It was just a jumble of frightened soldiers- both Union and Imperial.
I can't believe he stopped it.
Am I alive?
How did we survive?
Captain! That mind was Sergeant Stone's.
Dacyn homed in on Stone, and saw the image of Daniel lying crumpled on the floor, buried under the bloody form of Chief Tanaka's battle form. Without waiting for the smoke to clear, Dacyn ran headlong into the building, Ambassador Davenport just a few steps behind him.
He scrambled through the shifting debris in time to see Captain Kim and Sergeant Stone now in their human forms lifting Tanaka off of Daniel. "Daniel!" he yelled and began scrambling down the pile of rubble that used to be a wall.
Someone grabbed his arm, "Let them get him out of there first, Ambassador." It was one of the Union shock troopers.
For some reason the sincerity in the man's face stopped Dacyn cold. Somewhere along the way, this man and his comrades had stopped being the enemy. Now he was just a soldier doing his job- trying to give aid to another fallen soldier.
"What happened?" Dacyn asked.
The man shrugged, "I'm not sure ma'am. All I know is that when we rushed the room, Mr. Ubuntu said something about taking out half the city, and detonating some kind of explosive. The Imperial Captain over there did something and the blast was focused straight up. I don't know what he did, ma'am."
Dacyn nodded to the man and said, "Don't worry about it trooper." He turned back and saw where Kim and Stone were bringing the captain up. The marines were loading Tanaka into an oversized corpsman's sling. He scrambled down the debris to where a second corpsman was checking Daniel over. The bigger man was groaning. At least he's alive! Dacyn thought to himself.
"Looks like pushing sickness," the corpsman was saying.
"I don't know what that is," Captain Kim said.
The corpsman looked over at the Captain's torn uniform and smiled. "It means he pushed his enhancer talent to the point that he was drawing on his body's physical reserves. He exhausted himself directing that blast straight up instead of out where it would have killed all of us."
"How?" Kim asked.
"Daniel," Dacyn stopped and corrected himself, "Captain Storm can manipulate both gravity and density. I'd say he solidified the air around the blast into a cone shape, forcing it upwards like a shaped charge. I'll bet part of the roof of this building landed in the sea twenty kilometers to the east of here."
Captain Kim nodded and gave Dacyn a long look. Oddly enough, he wasn't wearing an electronic mind shield and Dacyn still couldn't read him. "So you're him."
Dacyn shook his head, "Him what?"
The captain smiled and said, "It's not important. Let's tend to our wounded and get out of here. Did you and Ambassador Davenport get things hammered out?"
"Not quite, but I think a few hours of peace and quiet tomorrow, with large pot of hot coffee may just do it," Dacyn told him.
"I'll make the briefing room aboard the Koffi Annan available to you. It's the least we can do after this fiasco."
"If you don't mind, Captain, I'd rather take care of this on the Genesis. As the ranking command officer, until Captain Storm recovers, I have a responsibility to advise her Exec."
"I understand," he said. "I'll make sure Ambassador Davenport is there."
later, Daniel found himself back in his own quarters, looking
the plate of high protein fish the galley had sent up. He hated
all of his life. Whenever he and Dacyn would go fishing as boys,
always give what he caught to the caretaker of the cabins where they
The door chimed and he called, "Enter."
Dacyn entered the cabin with a large tray and a smile. He still looked tired, but this time it was a good tired. He looked down at the tray on Daniel's desk, picked it up and dropped it in the recycler. "Hey, I wasn't finished with that!" Daniel protested more out of something to do than any desire to eat what was on it.
"Yes you are. You hate fish."
Dacyn uncovered the tray he was carrying and set it on the table. "So, I brought you steak: rare and with all the fixings just the way you like them."
Daniel smiled up at Dacyn and before he realized what he was saying, asked, "Have I told you that I love you?"
Dacyn stopped cold where he was and looked down at him. "As a matter of the fact, you haven't."
Daniel realized he just stepped over a line that there was no going back from. Up to this point, it could all have been passed off as experimentation, the stress of the job, or just general horniness. Now though, the words had been said, or at least implied. There was no going back. But Daniel found that he didn't care. He smiled up into those ice blue eyes, "Well, I do."
A light suddenly lit Dacyn's face like he'd never seen before. It was a look of pure pleasure. "I love you too, Daniel," the smaller man said in a very low whisper. "More than I could ever tell you."
Daniel reached up and pulled him down into a serious kiss. He felt Dacyn's tongue press against his mouth, seeking entrance. Daniel opened his slightly to accommodate the hot organ. One of them groaned and Daniel was unsure as to which one it was.
Finally, Dacyn pulled back and said, "Uh uh. Not until you've eaten. I promised Doctor Tyde I'd get some protein in you."
Daniel reached out and stroked the outline of Dacyn's hard cock and said, "I know a great source of protein."
Dacyn said, "Be that as it may, consider it dessert. If you're good."
"Hey, who's the captain here?" Daniel asked.
"We both are, but it is your ship. Still if you want dessert, first you have to eat your dinner."
"Okay, okay," Daniel said pulling the steak to him. "If I'm going to eat, you can at least catch me up on how the negotiations are going."
Dacyn smiled, poured them both a glass of wine from the bottle and said, "They're concluded. Davenport and I worked out something that both our governments can agree to. Don't be surprised if we both end up patrolling this section of space for quite a while."
"What do you mean?"
"There's going to be a fledgling government made up of the neutral systems. Both the Empire and the Union are going to work together to guarantee their independence from both sides until they're strong enough to stand on their own."
"Did anyone stop to ask the systems involved?" Daniel asked as he tore into the steak. It perfect, and much to his surprise, it was real, not synthesized. "Where did you get a real steak?"
"From Captain Kim. It seems that some of the cattle survived the sterilization of the planet and went feral. He and Chief Tanaka went hunting last night."
"You mean it was brought down,..,"
Dacyn nodded his head. "The captain is a rather good hunter."
"I take it the Union is unaware of his status as a shifter," Daniel commented.
"His command crew knows and Ambassador Davenport knows. She also knows my secret. But, she is keeping both to herself."
"When Lieutenant S'vinn tackled me, she ripped the front of my tunic off."
Daniel nodded and asked, "How did that go over?"
"She indicated that what she knew wasn’t important to her government. I think that woman is going to be calling in a lot of favors over the next few years. Some of them, even from us."
"Oh well, as long as it doesn't interfere with our oaths to Empire," Daniel said.
"Captain Kim knows about us too."
"So? The negotiations are over; neither of us can be used as a hostage now. It doesn't matter," Daniel told him between bites of steak. "Tell me something though."
"How are you going to get the systems out here to agree to the form of government you hammered together for them? I mean you never asked them what they wanted."
"What makes you think that? My brother Colin has been negotiating that side of it for almost six months now. I was using their blueprint. They're getting exactly what they asked for," Dacyn told him.
"You are one devious little shit, you know that don't you," Daniel said.
"I've had good teachers," Dacyn said. "I paid very close attention to both Mother and Father over the past several years."
"It's a shame you won't be on the Grand Council," Daniel said.
"What, are you looking for position as Imperial consort?"
"Heaven's no!" Daniel protested. Then something hit him. "Oh shit!"
"What?" Dacyn asked.
"We can't let this go too far?"
Dacyn put down the glass of wine he was holding and asked flatly, "And why the hell not?"
Daniel looked over the table at him and said, "Because I'm just a citizen. You're an imperial noble. Your parents will never agree to it."
Dacyn smiled, "You let me handle my parents. Besides, your father has turned down half a dozen peerage awards. You would be a noble if he'd just give in and accept one."
"Oh, that's what this is all about. Twisting Dad's arm?"
"No it's not about twisting Admiral Storm's arm. Nobody twists Genesis' arm and gets away with it, not even my parents."
"So what's this about then?" Daniel asked.
Dacyn stood and walked over to his chair and said. "You just told me you loved me. Did you lie?"
"Hell no! What a thing to ask! You can read my mind and find out that's true."
"Yes I can, but I won't. You know that," Dacyn said. "And if it's true, then you just answered you own question."
"That's too simple of an answer," Daniel said.
"It's a true answer," Dacyn replied leaning down and kissing him rather seriously. "Do you want me to show you exactly how true it is?"
"What about dinner?" Daniel asked between kisses.
"We can skip dinner and go straight to dessert," Dacyn replied unsealing the openings at the top of Daniel's uniform with gentle tugs with his fingers.
"Wait a minute," Daniel said re-sealing the uniform and going into the next room. He hit the intercom function on the wall and said, "Captain Storm to CiC."
“CiC here," Commander Ryan came on the screen.
"What's the status of Epsilon Sagittarii, Commander?"
"What's the status of this system's primary? Any danger of it going nova?"
"No sir, not for at least a billion years." Commander Ryan said confused.
"Good. Now I'm going to be in my quarters for the next eight hours. Unless the aliens show up, the Koffi Annan fires on us, or the that star goes nova I do not want to be disturbed Anybody that disturbs me for anything other than those reasons, I will bust down to assistant custodial engineer to for the academy’s C4 heads. Do I make myself clear Commander?"
"Crystal sir," Ryan said.
"Very good Commander. Storm out." he killed the connection.
Pulling his tunic over his head, he returned to the main sleeping area, to find Dacyn lying stretched out and nude on his rack. "Do you need to call my cousin?"
"Whatever for?" Dacyn asked. "She knows not to disturb me right now." He wiggled his eyebrows at Daniel, "That is unless you've got a kink I didn't know about."
"Dacyn!" Daniel protested as he shucked his trousers and crawled in next to him. "What a thing to suggest!"
"Shut up and kiss me," the blond said.
Daniel snuggled up to the smaller man and kissed him seriously on the mouth while his hands wander down the sides of his body. He felt the smooth skin down his ribs and lats and along his hips, and then dipped his hand inward to find he semi-hard shaft of flesh. He pushed back on Dacyn's foreskin and began to nibble down his neck.
Much to his surprise, Dacyn simply lay there and let him explore his body- something he'd always wanted to do. He kissed across the ivory skin of his collar bone and down the cone of his right breast. The nipple was hard and excited, and he bit and chewed on it gently. He felt Dacyn's cock stiffen in his hand, as if his mouth had sent a pulse directly to the organ below.
He reached up with the other hand and cupped Dacyn's other breast as he slowly began to stroke the cock in his hand. It was a strange sensation, having both a small breast and a dick in hand, but they belonged to Dacyn and that made it right as far as Daniel was concerned.
Dacyn groaned and arched his hips up to meet his strokes. Daniel released the nipple from between his teeth and began to kiss southward along the rise of Dacyn's ribcage, and down his flat stomach. A small treasure trail of fine white hairs led down from his navel to a patch of sparse white-blond hairs at the base of the cock and around the lips of the vagina that it disappeared into.
Daniel pushed the foreskin back and drug his hand gently downward to the opening below it. Taking the head into his mouth, he gently and leisurely sucked his way down along the thirteen or so centimeters of cock until he buried his nose in the white hairs below. Dacyn wasn't as big as most men, but he definitely had a mouthful. All the while, his hand sank lower and lower to find the entrance to Dacyn's most secret of places.
He felt the outer lips part, and his fingers slipped deeper past the inner ones to the opening inside them as he drew back from the cock in his mouth. Dacyn was soaking wet, and his fingers slipped inside easily. He heard Dacyn growl in pleasure as his strong hands began to play with Daniel's hair. He arched his hips up driving his cock deeper into Daniel's mouth and Daniel's fingers deeper into his pussy.
"Daniel, Daniel, Daniel!" Dacyn moaned. Suddenly a shudder ran through the small body under him and Daniel found himself gagging as jet after jet of hot thick semen hit the back of his throat. It was more than he'd ever seen any other man come in his life.
He fought to drink it as fast as it came, tasting the unique sweetness of it that was all Dacyn. When it finally stopped jerking in his mouth, he wiped his lips and looked up at his lover and said. "That was definitely dessert."
"Oh, that was just the first course, my beautiful Daniel."
Daniel chuckled, "Beautiful? Me? Hardly."
Dacyn smiled and sat up, his cock still hard. He pushed Daniel back onto his back and smiled. "With that red hair, and green eyes, you're the most beautiful man in the empire." He kissed Daniel on the neck and began to run his fingers through the light dusting of red curly hair around Dan's nipples and nipped him gently with his teeth. "I've thought you were beautiful from the first time I saw you in the palace with your father twenty years ago."
He ran his other hand up the hardness of Daniel's thigh to reach the long shaft of flesh sticking out of the mass of copper curls above it. With strong fingers he gently but firmly stroked Daniel's twenty-two centimeters of hard cock. Daniel felt Dacyn's hot breath on his stomach as he continued to kiss lower and lower down his chest, across his abdomen, until his cheek was brushing against the head of Daniel's cock.
Dacyn wiped it against his cheek, and across his lips. He whispered, "I've never done this before," and took about a fourth of it into his mouth, stretching his cheeks out wide.
"Teeth! Teeth!" Daniel warned.
Dacyn took the pillar of flesh out of his mouth and smiled meekly, "Sorry."
"Dacyn, you don't have to do that," Daniel said.
"Do you want me to?" Dacyn asked.
"Only if you want to," Daniel said.
"That's a cop out. Now do you want me to suck you or not?" he said playfully. Suddenly, he sat and straddled Daniel. "Or I can think of something else we can do." He reached back and grabbed the shaft of Daniel's cock and maneuvered himself over it. Balancing on his knees, he rubbed the opening of his vagina up and down the shaft. He leaned forward and kissed Daniel. "Do you want me as a man or a woman?"
"I want you as you, Dacyn," Daniel answered.
Dacyn beamed again with the same look as when Daniel told him that the loved him. "I love you Daniel Aaron Storm. I want you inside me. I want you beside me, forever."
Daniel reached up and grabbed Dacayn by the arms and pulled him down on top of him. He felt Dacyn's legs stretch out along side of his. "I love you too, Dacyn but we don't have to see all of the palace in one night." He could feel the head of his cock nestled between Dacyn's outer lips. "We can take this slow. Enjoy it. If you want to give me a blow job, that's fine. You know what they say about practice makes perfect."
"Perfect practice makes perfect," Dacyn teased.
"If you want me to make love to you that's fine too. Or you can sit up again and impale yourself on my dick and simply fuck my brains out. This is about both of us, Dacyn. It's not a competition to see who comes last, or first, or the most."
Dacyn nodded and snuggled against this chest. "I love you Daniel. Did I tell you that?"
"I love you too, Dacyn," he replied
He felt Dacyn shift his weight further down on his body. His cock head began to slip deeper inside Dacyn's vaginal lips. At the same time, he could feel Dacyn's hard cock leaking pre-cum again on both of their stomachs. Dacyn wriggled and slipped further down onto Daniel's cock until Daniel felt something blocking further progress.
With a sudden realization, he understood what was happening. He pushed Dacyn's shoulders up so he could see his face. "When you agreed about being chaste, you were serious weren't you." Dacyn nodded. "No wonder you're such a firecracker right now. This really is your first time isn't it? What I'm feeling with my dick is your cherry, isn't it?"
"Is that a problem?" Dacyn asked.
"Why don't you read my mind and find out?"
"I told you, I won't do that," Dacyn said.
"Why? I'm inviting you to. Dacyn, I have nothing to hide from you." Again, an epiphany struck Daniel. "You're afraid of what you'll find, aren't you. You're afraid that you'll find that I don't love you." He wrapped his arms around Dacyn and pulled him tight against his chest. "We're not going any further until you find what you need, Dacyn. Read my mind, find what you want."
Dacyn laid his head on Daniel's chest, and began to draw circles along his arms, as Daniel's cock was buried about a fourth of the way in Dacyn's pussy. Daniel felt a brief touch of something gentle against his mind, a bright shining butterfly kiss against his soul. :Are you sure?: Dacyn said mentally.
"Of course I'm sure," Daniel told him.
Again, the brief touch. It was if someone was gently sifting through is memories, his feelings. Images of Dacyn came to mind, recollections of feelings that he never understood as they grew into friendship, then something more. Curiosity about the hidden mysteries that he knew Dacyn's body held were gently examined; mysteries that he respected and loved his friend too much to ask about without invitation. :Oh, Dan. If you'd only asked, I'd have shown you anything you wanted to see.:
"But it wouldn't have been right. I didn't want you to think it was just curiosity."
:Some of it was, and that was okay. I've been curious about your body too,: he told him. The memories shifted again, the slow realization that his friendship had turned into something more, something precious, something he was afraid of losing if he expressed it. :We've both been fools, haven't we?: Dacyn's mind voice asked.
Daniel grinned at him, "Yeah, but we aren't now." He looked up at Dacyn and asked, "Did you find what you wanted?"
Dacyn nodded. "That and more."
"Now see, I do love you," Daniel said.
"That's a good thing, because you've got about a quarter of your manhood buried inside me, and since we've decided that we're going to finish with it, we might as well figure out how best to proceed." Dacyn said smiling.
"How does it feel?"
"Good, full, I want more, but it's a little painful."
"Well, it's stretching against the opening of my hymen and that's uncomfortable. I guess the only way to get past that, is simply to do it," he said.
"Do you want me to, or do you want to?" Daniel asked.
"Well, the brave thing to do would be to do it myself." He smiled at Daniel and twisted his hips slightly. "But you know something. I'm tired of being..., uhggg!"
Daniel knew what he was going to say, knew what was coming and decided to act. No building up to it, simply get the little pain over with so that the greater pleasure could be enjoyed. With a quick upward thrust of his hips, he felt his cock tear through the membrane and bury itself deeply in a single motion. He felt a rush of slick liquid suddenly pour onto his pubes as Dacyn settled all the way down. "How's that?" he asked.
Dacyn smiled as he sat up and said, "Much better." He began to raise himself up and then back down on the pole buried in his pussy. Daniel looked down to where he could see his dick disappearing into the lips of Dacyn's opening as his lover’s cock stuck out from where the clitoris would normally be. Daniel watched it continue to drip pre-cum in long strings to pool on his stomach.
"Do you always leak this much?" he asked teasingly.
"Don't you?" Dacyn asked.
Daniel shook his head, "No but then again, I'm not powering two sets of reproductive organs." Suddenly a thought hit him, "Uh, you can't,… uh get pregnant can you? I haven't gotten my shot this month because of being in sickbay." All Imperial Naval personnel were required by regulations to remain on contraceptives during their tenure of service if they were unmarried- no matter what the gender..
Dacyn smiled and said, "No. The doctors told me that the double set of hormones keep me from getting pregnant. If I want to get pregnant, I have to start taking something suppress the testosterone my body produces." He smiled. "We're safe."
"Famous last words."
"We can stop," Dacyn said.
"Do you want to?"
"Hell, no. I've waited twenty years to get you where you've got me and I'm not going to stop until we're both finished." He began to slowly rock back and forth on Daniel's cock, his face a mask of pure joy. For Daniel's part it had been a rather frustrating encounter up to this point. All the stops and starts had his dick throbbing and his balls aching. He reached out one hand and began to stroke Dacyn's cock as his own was buried inside the other man.
He could feel Dacyn pick up the tempo of the movements as again he felt the butterfly touch against his mind. He felt a strange echo of pleasure in his body, as Dacyn moved against him. He felt the sense of fullness Dacyn was feeling; the feeling of his own hand wrapped around Dacyn's cock, and the feeling of his own cock buried deep in Dacyn's pussy. It was the most sensuous thing he'd ever felt in his life.
Suddenly his body and Dacyn's were in sync. He could feel Dacyn's passion rising to match his own need. Daniel rolled him over onto his back and took over the thrusting. Dacyn locked his legs behind Daniel’s back and rose up to meet his thrusts. As he devoured Dacyn's mouth with his own, he felt Dacyn push his hand from the smaller pillar of flesh that was Dacyn's cock and take over stroking it in time with Daniel's thrusts inside him. With deep strong strokes the two men brought each other to the brink of infinity, and then plunged over the edge.
Daniel felt his cock explode inside Dacyn, coating the walls of his vagina with thick hot spurts of seed. At the same time, Dacyn's cock exploded between them spraying the both of them with a coating of Dacyn's own semen. Finally, they collapsed into each other on Daniels' rack, spent and happy.
It had been a long three weeks: a week back to the corridor, a week through it, and then a quick fold to Thule Prime and a week of debriefing for the Admiralty. Lord Sloan had been as good as his word. The Genesis had been cleared for the fold straight back to Thule Prime and went right into dry-dock. To say the Admiralty had been shaken up was putting it mildly. When he arrived back at Fleet Command, he found his father of all people in charge of fleet deployment.
His dad had taken him aside, at one point and said, "Boy I ought to tan your hide,"
"What did I do?" he asked.
"I've been trying to avoid any imperial entanglements since I put Kilpatrick down and retired. Now you go and put your neck right in the noose."
"What are you talking about, Dad?"
"This," his father said handing him a paper with the Imperial seal. "They've gone and made me a Grand Duke, and an Earl so that you can marry Dacyn."
"You'd think that they would have let me tell you first," Daniel said with a slight feeling of irritation.
"Boy, I've known you two were going to end up together since you were twelve. I'm just surprised it took you this long."
"Are you really upset about this, Dad?"
His father smiled, "About the fact that you are finally settling down? No. About getting stuck in the Imperial Senate, you're damn right. I don't need that kind of headache!"
"Let Aunt Mick or Uncle Jason do it."
"I can't," he said."They made it hereditary, so the only person that can replace me is you, or your sisters Mary or Ginger, and you damn well, those two need to stay out politics."
"So, it's not like I got anything to worry about. After all, since it's hereditary, don't you have to die for me to take over?" Daniel teased his father about his own longevity.
"I can always abdicate," he warned.
"Conflicts with my duties in the Imperial Navy," Daniel said. He remembered his Aunt McKenzie complaining about Dad saying just that in order to avoid helping run the family business.
"I'll conflict you. Remember boy, I'm cutting yours and Dacyn's orders now."
"Yeah, but Dad. You want grandchildren don't you," Daniel said.
"That's what Ginger and Mary are for," he said with a grin.
"Okay, Their Majesties want grandchildren don't they?"
"They can want in one hand and...,"
"Daaaad," Dacyn warned.
His father smiled at him, and said, “Go and get out of here. Your cousin wants to talk to you before you go to that barbecue tonight."
"What does she want?"
"She didn't say."
It took Daniel half an hour to track her down to the high energy physics lab at the shipyards. As she looked up from the computer model she was working on, Daniel noticed she was still favoring the shoulder where she’d been shot. Doctor Tyde had said it would be sore for a while but she should make a full recovery. He smiled at her and said, "Dad said you wanted to see me?"
"Oh, of course, Your Grace," she said with a mischievous grin.
"That's Dad, not me."
"Oh didn't you realize that since your Dad now holds two titles, the lesser of the two falls on you, My Lord," she said playfully.
"Don't you start," Daniel replied irritably. This day was just not going well.
"What can I say? Your side of the family seems to be getting all the good perks here lately."
"I don't know, you said something about a roll in the hay with General Greenbough's daughter."
"Yeah, but she hasn't called back. Probably won't either. She's probably off priding some place."
"Now what did you want to see me about?" he asked.
“Are you going to," she looked around to see if anyone could hear her, "going to make this a permanent thing between you and Dacyn or is it going to be another one of your wild, passionate, hot flings?"
"Frankie, we're talking wedding bells and titles here. I don't think I have a much of a choice," he said.
"No, there's always a choice. You may not like consequences of the choice, but there's always a choice."
Daniel shook his head, "Not really. You don't know what happened that night. It's permanent," he told her realizing that not only was it true, but that he was happy about that.
"It's his favorite metal for jewelry," she said.
"Oh, you mean for a wedding band or an engagement ring?"
"Wedding band, engagement ring, bonding cuff, cock ring, nipple piercing, whatever you guys are going to use," she said.
"Frankie!" he protested. Taking a deep breath he said, "Actually, the wedding rings are made of poly-ceramic steel."
"You got him a ring made out of a starship hull?"
"Yep, the command module of the Atlantis, and mine is from the Genesis."
"Damn Navy brats," she muttered. "Oh well then," she said reaching into her pocket and pulled out a platinum band. "Use this for your engagement ring then. It was Grandpa Storm's."
He took and looked at it. "Maybe you should keep it for your husband or wife."
"Please, I've got a starship to keep running, and a captain to look after. I don't have time for marriage."
"You won't stay a commander forever," he said.
"No, probably not. But that just means I'll have more work to do if I get my own ship."
"That's what XOs are for," he told her with a smile. "The good ones figure that out."
"Yes, that's what XOs are for. But you and I both know that I'm going to be harder on an XO than you or Dacyn ever were. By the way, how're you guys going to work out postings?"
"The Genesis and the Atlantis are both being assigned to patrolling the borders of the DMZ. We'll never be more that thirty light years apart. And there'll be plenty of duties alongside each other."
"Remember, Daniel. What Mom and Dad have always said: That's what marriage is about. It's about who's beside you, not who's on top."