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StarTroopers – Episode Seven

Written by shadar :: [Friday, 13 April 2018 04:09] Last updated by :: [Sunday, 15 April 2018 10:04]

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StarTroopers

Book One, Episode Seven

by Shadar

I left the galley meeting to head up to the bridge with Carmen so we could talk further.

“A good first fight, XO. But we got lucky. They didn’t expect us. But that weapon Ulyana reported could be dangerous if a lot of bugs are shooting them.”

“I’m more concerned whether they got a message off,” Carmen said. “I’d like to get to Mars before they realize their ship is missing. Even more interesting, the ship seemed to be badly under-manned. I wonder if their population is down? I heard my father talking once about a theory that they plan to bring their Queens down to Earth to reproduce, given they’ll have endless food there. If that’s true, maybe their population and food supply is at its minimum just before they conquer a new world. After all, it had to take them thousands of years to get here. Even if they raise animals for food, systems can run down over millennia.”

I grinned. “If you’re right, then we’ve got something to work with. The longer we keep them off Earth, and the more ships like this we take out, the closer we get them to critical manpower and maybe starvation. Eventually they may not be able to man every ship.”

“Which will make them even more desperate to protect their Queens. Maybe irrationally desperate. I’m betting they’re hiding them near Jupiter or closer in, in the asteroid belt. That’s where I’d hide my most valuable resources, given the bugs came from outside the system. Out on the fringes.”

I shrugged. “Sounds reasonable We go with the best speculation we have until we learn better.”

“Given what we do know, John, I don’t see any reason to change our overall plan. We get to Mars and kill as many of their ships and installations as we can. Get them to start pulling ships back from Earth for Mars defense.”

“Agreed. We hit them hard and then run like hell for Jupiter, making sure they see us go. We want to be chased.”

“Jupiter is a fucking long ways out there, John.”

“I know, and I can’t take the G’s we need to get up to proper speed to get there quickly. Since we’re hoping most of the warships that chase us come from Earth, we’ve got a big head start. And maybe you won’t need me after Mars.

Carmen shook her head. “I need you. We all do. And don’t count yourself out before you talk to Alana. She’s been busy.”

<>

Walking into Sick Bay, I found Alana staring at what looked like pictures of her husband and kids.

“Got a moment, Alana? I need your advice before we get into the fight at Mars.”

She flicked off her screen before turning to face me, those amazingly blue eyes of hers looking soft and sad. “Carmen has also been talking to me.”

“About my G tolerance?”

She nodded.

“We need to stay ahead of the bug ships that are soon going to be chasing us, Alana. That means pulling a lot of G’s for a long time. Plus we want to take a few weeks to travel to Jupiter, not years. She said you’d been busy working on something that might help.”

“I’m not even sure if we can call this medicine, John, but I went through everything you’d hinted at with Ariel. She’s angry at you and was terrified to tell me her secret, but she finally did. She wants so much to be a physician, but she knows that if word of her healing abilities got out, any chance of a normal career would be finished.”

I waved my arm around Sick Bay. “Ah, Alana, look where we are. Out here fighting bugs in this tiny saucer. There is very little chance of any of us having a normal anything after this is over. Hell, the chances of being alive a couple months from now are damn near zero.”

“My, aren’t we the optimist.”

“The point is, Ariel’s old life is over. Like it or not.”

Alana rose to cross her bare legs lotus style as she floated comfortably in mid-air. “Ariel has slowly come to realize that, John. Which is why she finally decided to open up to me. Not that it helped at first. I couldn’t measure what she was talking about. But then it hit me — the MedScanner has filters that by default limit its measurements to expected human responses. I turned the filters all off and managed to pick up something really powerful when she had her, moment. So to speak. The MedScanner came back with ‘unknown bio-field’. Her aura filled the entire Sick Bay with energy.”

“So you can measure her healing field, or whatever the hell it is, and its strength. That’s great progress.”

“Just because the MedScanner can see something doesn’t mean we know what it is. Or know how to use it. I ran the test on everyone, including myself. Which was embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone to demonstrate, except Alice of course, who doesn’t seem to have the slightest objection to my watching her demonstrate.”

“She probably enjoys the audience,” I chuckled.

Alana wasn’t amused, her voice growing hard. “I found that there is a baseline aura that is always present, which is why you feel refreshed after sleeping close to Alice. But that’s not enough to heal any real injuries. Think health and wellness instead. Ariel by a small margin has the strongest baseline aura, and Ivanka has the weakest.”

“That’s no surprise. Ivanka’s not exactly the nurturing, sharing kind. Holds all your power inside. But let me guess who was second strongest… Alice?”

“Why would you think that, John?”

“Because just laying next to her makes me feel really refreshed in the morning. Almost like sleeping with Ariel.”

“But have you ever slept with any other Ubers?”

“Ah… no.”

“Well, here’s the deal. Alice isn’t special in any way, nor Ariel, by much anyway, when it comes to baseline aura. We all give off the field, and as far as I can tell, all the time. But that’s nothing compared to the aura produced briefly during orgasm. Everything flares hot and nothing is held back, total loss of control. Then the aura strengthens tremendously. That’s what you experienced, who knows how many times, when she healed your broken ribs.”

“Ah, yeah… so it takes repetition, does it? Lots and lots of repetition?” I knew that would get a rise out of her.

“Quit thinking with your dick and focus, Captain.”

The intensity of her words had me standing at attention. Her voice wasn’t harsh, but it had the kind of force only an Uber can project. “Impressive. You would have made a hell of a drill sergeant, Doctor.”

“What is is important is that Ivanka is an order of magnitude better than Ariel when her aura is fully released, and Ariel is only a little ahead of everyone else.”

“Ivanka? Jesus!! The one with the erotic fetish about arc welders. Didn’t she burn some workers doing that?”

“Yes, and the burns looked awful at first, but I learned shortly before we left that the men had healed completely shortly after I saw them in the clinic. Like a miracle. Everyone was excited.”

“At least Ariel won’t have to feel freaky now. And I guess this is good to know if I ever need to be brought back from the dead. At the risk of being dismembered. But Ariel is the only one who can, you know, make herself available.”

“If you’re talking about gentleness and intercourse, then yes, she seems to have some kind of unique talent. One I haven’t figured out yet. She thinks it’s related to the long practice she and her last boyfriend had with Tantric sex.

“What I can measure is that the transfer of healing power is not position or penetration dependent.” She paused to look at me with a funny smile. “Well, unless you’re the one bringing her the orgasm.”

“I thought that was the point of it all?” I said with a wink. “But you were absolutely right earlier, Alana. This doesn’t sound like medicine. But its good to know that others can fix me up as well.”

“Except we aren’t talking about healing you. Or putting you back together. Carmen is interested in improving you. To increase your G tolerance significantly before a battle.”

“Is that even possible?”

“You’re the one who can answer that best. Ariel said there were moments when you two were making love that you seemed to have superhuman endurance. She was very impressed.”

I closed my eyes as I let my thoughts drift back to that day out in the meadow behind my old cabin. I had been trying not to think about any of that.

“I figured I was just inspired. I mean, she’s superhuman. I wanted the sex to be super too.”

“She said she’d experienced the same thing with her previous boyfriend. She said it goes well beyond inspiration, and after she gave me the details, I agree. What you did wasn’t humanly possible.”

I just stared at her, trying to wrap my head around how that discussion must have gone. “Ah… wow. OK. I guess, if she says so. All I know is that it was amazing. But superhuman, like a god?” I pretended to be impressed, standing tall and proud, but I already knew all this.

She laughed. “Sometimes you act like a 20th century throwback, Captain.”

“My father would resemble that comment, not me. His sexual politics were stuck in the 1970’s.”

“And now his son is sailing to Pluto with a crew of superwomen.”

“No way are we going to Pluto,” I grinned, my other thoughts remaining my own. “So, getting back to work here, what’s the proposal, Alana?”

“Carmen wants to toughen you up before we get to Mars.”

“Carmen wants to…?” My heart leaped.

“I said that wrong. She wants Ariel to make you stronger. Tougher. Whatever.”

“You’re talking the Ariel who is still pissed at me, and might be forever.”

“I’ll explain why she reacted so strongly sometime, John, but now that she’s discovered that she’s not unique when it comes to the healing aura, she’s no longer afraid of becoming a lab rat. She said she would cooperate if I asked her to.”

My heart really leaped now. And then reality set back in.Cooperatewasn’t the word a lover would use. “That’s probably not the best way for us to fix our issues, Alana. For her to be forced to be with me.”

“Forget for the moment whatever thing you guys think you had. She’s a member of your crew and she wants to make us all safer. And even then, I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing to help patch up what’s between you. Sex can fix a lot of things.”

“Or make it worse if it’s forced, or obligatory.”

“Well, if not for her, then it’s Alice.”

I blinked. “She said her ecstasy would break me into little pieces. Wouldn’t the same apply to everyone else but Ariel?”

“Remember, its not positionally dependent, but it does diminish with distance. We can take precautions. Everyone but Ariel kind of goes crazy in the moment. Clearly, being Uber ramps up everything physical. We can hang on to Alice to protect you during all this — that won’t bother her given she’s used to having an audience.”

I felt myself blushing. “It would sure as hell bother me having a bunch of superwomen helping us out — in that way. That would be way intimidating.”

“Which is why it’s best if it’s Ariel. You can have your privacy that way. And you two have some practice at this.”

I sat down hard, smiling. “You know, I knew things were going to be weird on this ship. The only man and the only Normal. I also knew that things between Ariel and I would be different, but it keeps getting stranger and stranger. Early on, I figured I’d just help you guys get through the first battle and then exit stage left.”

Alana floated closer to me, her hand reaching out to hold mine. “This war was never intended to be fought by Normals, John. That’s why the blue crystals were on Earth. But we need you. As our Captain. As long as we can have you.”

“But I have to be able to pull a lot more G’s to do that. OK, I got that. But do we even know if this is going to work? Not just healing me, but making me stronger?”

Alana started to nod, and then shook her head and finally shrugged. “It apparently did for a little while back on Earth, as you’ve both reported. All I can tell you with certainty is that your cardiovascular system is compromised. It won’t handle an all-out fight with the bugs. A dead Captain does us no good.”

“Nor does a live one who keeps you guys from fighting the way you must to survive.”

<>

I went back up to the Bridge for a while to think about the coming battle at Mars, but I couldn’t take my mind off Ariel. Or Alana’s words. I’d known that skippering theRociwas going to be full of surprises, but I hadn’t planned on being irreplaceable. I ultimately saw this as Carmen’s ship, not mine. And just by being here, I could get them all killed.

I saw two choices. Take Alana and Ariel up on the deal, and hope it was enough. Or cycle myself out the airlock right now so they’d have time to adjust and adapt without me.

I was tossing that scary coin back and forth when a pair of silky strong arms wrapped around me, pale blonde hair falling over me to form a golden tent. I thought it was Alice with one of her sexy come-ons until I heard Ariel whisper in my ear: “Alana says it’s time for your medicine. Captain.”

<>

I thought it would be awkward being with Ariel again, but it wasn’t. She was as warm and loving as she’d been back at my cabin. Our bodies fit together like we’ve been born for each other. She was amazing. She made me amazing. We practiced our medicine for many hours, during which I was as indefatigable as before. It was incredible to let go after the strain of being around Alice and denying myself, not to mention carrying the weight of theRocion my back.

Carmen finally interrupted us on the intercom to say we were approaching the outer patrol ships around Mars.

We quickly got dressed before running down to Sick Bay so Alana could run some tests on me, which basically involved Ariel wrapping her arms and legs around me to compress my body to simulate a heavy G load while Alana measured my cardiovascular response curve to the stress.

“We won’t know for sure until we get into it, but I think you can probably handle twice the G’s now. For how long, I don’t know.”

“See, you really are Superman,” Ariel winked at me.

Alana smiled at the joke, but I knew otherwise. Ariel had shared with me, back on our first night together, that her fantasy sexual fetish was the comic book Man of Steel — for the most carnal of reasons. Not an unexpected fantasy for an Uber, but it was amazing that we‘d shared those kinds of thoughts on our first night together. We were special.

It felt as if things were back to normal between us, but I knew better than to expect miracles. Maybe Ariel was just being a good crew mate and Medic, taking care of her Captain. I didn’t want to get my hopes too high, which was easy to do after those last perfect hours together.

“We’ve got to start decel and soon,” Carmen called again over the intercom. “Captain to his G-chair, please.”

I took off at a run for the Bridge, my body feeling light and flexible like I was a kid again. I could get used to this. I quickly strapped in as Alana hung in mid-air beside me, attaching a pressure breathing mask over my face. “OK, hit it Carmen.”

The G’s began rising. 8, 10, 12, 15. The pressure breather did most of the work for me. I looked up at Alana as the flesh pulled back from my eyes, my cheeks felt like they were flapping around my ears, and I was unable to close my mouth, lips peeled back, teeth bared. She smirked at me. I could barely see any G effects on her, except for her hair, which was now painted over her body, and her breasts, which looked more normal now and not so perkily round. Then I saw the G level hit 20 and everything went red.

“Is he good, Alana?” Carmen asked, a strain in her voice.

“So far. He can probably take a little more.”

Blinking through my blurry, distorted eyeballs, I saw the meter hit an amazing 22G’s — I was still alive! It hurt like hell, but I was conscious. Carmen held that incredible G-level for half an hour, with Alana floating next to me, nervously watching the portable MedScanner. And then the G’s dropped to zero. I floated out of my chair as Alana unhooked my mask. Ariel arrived in time to keep me from floating away.

“Well, your eyes are really red,” Alana said after giving me a quick physical. “But I can’t find anything else wrong.” She looked over at Ariel. “You are completely amazing, girl. He has more than twice his old tolerance now.”

Ariel shrugged. “Just a natural talent. But I doubt it will last long without reinforcement.”

I was stuck thinking of reinforcements as Carmen started barking orders, getting the crew ready for the fight. My brain was having a bit of trouble catching up after the red-out.

“Did I really see 22G’s on the screen?”

Alana nodded. “We did 24G for a bit after you redded out, John.”

I struggled to force my brain back into gear.

“Ok, Alana, how about you get Alice into the shuttle and you two standby while still docked to theRociin case anyone needs recovery. Ariel, why don’t you go join them in Torpedo. We might need you to defend the ship if that warship comes after us while everyone else is down busting up transports.”

Ariel looked alarmed. “I haven’t much training, but sure, I’ll try,” she said before flying away.

“Looks like only two warships in high orbit to me, Carmen. I absolutely do not want to engage them if we don’t have to. Slip by them and drop into low orbit and go after the transports down there and maybe nuke some ground installations.”

“I’d hate to have one of those shooters come after us with our Tactical team on the ground,” Carmen said.

“Ariel is ready to help. If we need to, Alana can too. I’d rather leave Alice in her shuttle to pick up anyone who needs it.”

“Not exactly our strongest weapons,” Carmen replied. “Warships might be hard to crack. I’d rather turn Ivanka loose on them.”

“I’m betting they won’t even see us. This is just a contingency. I want to bust up those damn transports. All of them.”

“Gotcha, boss.”

“I’m picking up more than a dozen large targets in low orbit now,” Bella said, reporting from her flight station. “They look the same as the one we destroyed.”

“Ulyana, Ivanka, Rhian… I need you guys to target the transports individually. We’ll get you close enough to not need torpedoes, given their backtrack would only lead the warships to us. You need to breach your way into their Engineering spaces and kick off their self destruct like we did the first time. Then move on to the next ship. I need you guys to hit as many as you can before you have to come back. We’ll try to keep up with you despite our higher orbit, but those warships are going to come down and try to find what’s killing their transports. If they do, we might have to fight, so don’t stay out there too long.”

Alana looked at me worriedly. “If any of them get in trouble, they won’t be able to help each other.”

“We need to make a big mess here, Alana. To scare the bugs. To get them to start pulling ships back from Earth and take the pressure off everyone there. I think it’s worth the risk. Carmen, do you concur?”

“Don’t like it, Captain, but I understand your logic. I’m good.”

“Then set us up in an orbit that’s about fifty miles above those transports. Then, once our people engage, we chase them, based on what they’re blowing up.”

We collectively held our breath as we dropped through the orbits that the warships were in. They were running their scanners, but didn’t see us as before. This was a SEAL’s wet dream — being invisible.

Carmen dropped us into a lazy orbit while a dozen or so of the big transports approached from behind and below, orbiting faster due to their lower orbit.

“You’re looking at slaughterhouses that collectively can carry more than 120,000 human bodies, people,” I said on All Ship. “Today, we do the slaughtering.”

“Ok, go now,” Carmen said.

I felt the pressure change in my ears as the airlock cycled.

As before, the waiting was hell. I kept staring at the blips that were the warships. After the first transports blew, they were going to go crazy.

It seemed to take forever, and then the last ship in line blew — the massive explosion turning my screen to snow for a moment. It came back just in time to be snowed again, and then again. Three down.

The warships hadn’t changed orbit yet, but our cobbled-together electronic countermeasures system said they’d greatly upped the power on their scanners. If they came down emitting like that, they were going to burn through our stealth.

Three more transports blew up in close sequence. The girls were good. Now the warships came like bats out of hell, drives blazing, but not directly at us. “Keep the shuttle shadowed beneath us, Carmen. Bad guys are coming fast. They’re looking for what is killing their ships.”

Three more transports blew, well ahead of us now, almost around Mars’ horizon. The bug warships went blazing off that way. “We gotta go after them, Carmen. Getting too far behind.”

“They might see us change orbit.”

“Can’t be helped. We’re behind their drive flame in any case. We gotta get our people back.”

I was slammed into my G-seat as Carmen’s flight crew poured it on. We were closing rapidly on the bugs when the scanners on the back of one of the bug warships suddenly paused to focus all its energy our way.

“Captain, at this range and power, he’s going to see us,” Bella called.

“Ariel, you need to go kill that thing. Tear holes in the hull, rip up everything you can inside. Kill the bugs. Just pay attention to what you heard about the shields.”

“Got it, Cap.”

I felt the pressure glitch as she went out, and felt sick to my stomach. Ariel wasn’t a combatant, and here she was taking on our first warship. This was a bad plan.

The bug warship was slowing slightly as it slid directly into our path, but still stern to us. It suddenly fired some kind of energy weapon from its nose, which caused something to flare brightly just behind one of the intact transports. I was opening my mouth to warn Carmen to not let it turn to train its main weapon on us, and then the warship’s drive system sputtered and went out. Seconds later, it began to tumble. Ariel was hard at work.

Way out at the horizon, two transports blew this time.

“Carmen, the bug warship shot one of our people. I’m marking the approximate location on the chart. Alana, go out and rescue her. Alice, you keep the shuttle docked until I tell you.”

Carmen flew us toward the spot I’d marked, pulling 10G’s, passing under the tumbling warship as we went.

“Alana,” I groaned over the G’s. “Go now. See… what… can find.”

The pressure cycled again. Now it was just the flight crew along with Alice in the shuttle.

Far ahead, two more transports exploded. The bug warship that Ariel had attacked, now behind us, looked very dead. Yet there was no sign of Ariel.

“Alice, take the shuttle toward the spot I’m marking on your display.” I struggled against the G’s to reach out and touch the blip from the warship. “You should hopefully find Ariel near there, along with a dead bug warship.”

Carmen dropped accel back to 2G’s so Alice could detach. To maintain our stealth, I couldn’t radio her any more instructions. They were out there on their own. All of them.

“Carmen, can you spare one of your flight crew.”

“Kara, drop out.”

The ship porpoised a bit before Carmen got it back under control.”

“What do you need, Captain?” Kara asked.

“You’ve been watching the tactical situation on your screen?”

“Yeah.”

“Get out there and go after the Tactical team. They’re around the horizon of Mars now. Get everyone back here. We’ll try to hold this orbit until Alana and Alice get back, but that’ll change fast if that second warship finds us. If we have to run, it’ll be toward you and into a much lower orbit.”

The airlock cycled again. I was really worried now. Our people were all over the place. They might have lost sight of the Roci and they only had so much time to find us. I had nothing left to throw at the second warship unless I wanted to reduce propulsion to just what Carmen would generate. That could free up Caitlan and Bella.

I saw two more flashes reflecting through the Martian atmosphere. The Tactical team, down to two, was still hard at work.

Carmen was dodging debris now, the bigger pieces anyway.

“We don’t want to lose any more stealth coating, Carmen.”

“You see where that other bug warship went, Captain?”

“I think he’s beneath the debris field. His scanners aren’t aimed our way in any case.”

One more bug transport blew up.

“Come on, come on, people,” I whispered. “You’ve done good work. Now come home.”

Staring at my screen, searching at full magnification, I saw Alice’s shuttle returning. The first piece of good news. She quickly maneuvered beneath us and docked. “I’ve got Ariel,” Alice said as she reconnected to the intercom. “She got shot with something. Bugs on that not-so-dead warship were reeling her in.”

Now I needed Alana here, and she was still out there. “Take her to Sick Bay, Alice. Make sure she’s breathing.”

I couldn’t leave my seat given that Carmen was still zigging around.

“I’ve got Alana coming in carrying someone,” Carmen reported.

The airlock cycled. “Alana, Alice has Ariel in sick bay,” I shouted. “She got shot with something.”

“And I’ve got Rhian. That warship shot her with some kind of energy weapon. I haven’t got a heartbeat.”

“Shit, shit, shit…” I cursed. I still didn’t know where Kara or Ivanka or Ulyana were. Beneath us, I saw the bug warship’s scanners burning through the debris field, nosing up and our way while putting out so much power that he’d surely see us if he turned more our way. I needed someone to take him out, and I had no one. Not if we wanted to keep flying.

“We have maybe five minutes before he’s going to be on us,” Carmen said. “He seems to be tracking… shit! His scanners are aimed directly at us now. Wait a minute, I see people returning. Three of them.”

“YEAH!” I yelled. “Get ‘em onboard and lets get out of here. Put on all the G’s you can once they’re on-board. That warship is coming on hard now.”

They were were almost to us when the entire ship groaned amidst a dozen very loud crashes.

“The warship below is firing something like a rail gun at us,” Carmen shouted. “So far, no pressure hull breaches.”

The airlock cycled, and Kara reported everyone in just as another burst of projectiles hit us with a loud, clattering bang. Carmen immediately launched us forward, piling on the G’s.

“Caitlan… we take… any damage?” I grunted.

“Outer hull punctured but secondary hull is sound. They shot through six fucking inches of armor!”

“I’m using the debris fields for cover,” Carmen reported calmly.” She was pulling 20G’s now, and I was in agony.

My screen flared as the warship fired it’s main weapon at us, the anti-matter particle beam thankfully deflected by the large region of debris from the transports. Its beam was annihilating chunks of debris the size ofRoci.

“Debris is saving our butts,” Bella said, a hint of strain in her voice. The flight team was working hard. “But not for long.”

Mars rotated faster beneath us as Carmen dove us low despite having escape velocity. She had to thrust strongly downward to remain at a constant altitude of twenty miles. Just as she did when she left Earth, she was working against the usual orbital dynamics, which helped ensure the bug warship was well behind us as we dove below his horizon.

Carmen dropped back to 10G’s, then down to 5G as we realized the warship hadn’t changed orbit as radically as we had. “All eyes on the ground. Look for a base or something.”

We were orbiting so fast and so low that most of our thrust was pointed downward, artificially keeping us low. Benefits of raw power.

Bella spotted it first. “Check out the tunnel entrance at one o’clock. Lots of bug ships parked near it. Might be the way into some complex under the surface.”

“Ulyana,” Carmen called, without hesitation. “Take a nuke and fly as far down that tunnel as you can and still get out in time. Might be something there.”

“Aye, boss,” she said. Seconds later I felt the airlock cycle.

“We got two ships lifting off about six-hundred miles ahead, ten o’clock. Look like warships.”

“Ivanka, Rhian. Kill them. Ariel, I need you to back them up in Torpedo again.”

Two streaks of light flashed ahead, blazing brightly as they descended into the thin Martian atmosphere. The two of them disappeared as long seconds ticked passed. The bug ships were climbing fast, almost out of the atmosphere, when the drive on one of them failed and it began tumbling. Moments later, the other blew up a mile behind it.

“Alana, you got timers on everyone?” Carmen asked.

“Yup.”

“Ulyana is going to have to really hustle to catch up with us after…” She paused as a huge flash light the atmosphere behind us. “That’s her nuke. Hopefully she’s on her way back.”

“We got incoming, Carmen,” Bella shouted. “Two missiles. No, four. That bug warship in orbit must have launched them.”

“Ariel, get out there and try to stop the missiles in case Ivanka and Rhian don’t see them in time.”

The lock cycled and I saw her shrink to a dot and disappear into the star field.

A half minute later, I saw a flash, then another.

“Two down,” Bella reported. “Other two are coming fast. Like, really fast.”

Two smaller flashes of light came ten seconds later, and now four objects were coming at us, two of them still flaring. “I think their warheads detached and are homing. Hang on, they’re going to…”

WHAM.WHAM

TheRocishook violently from the impacts, the power flickering and then going out, displays shrinking to black, leaving only red emergency lights. My nose wrinkled as I inhaled acrid dust in the air. No smoke, thankfully. No scream of escaping air.

The lights came back on and the electronics began to reboot. “What hit us?”

“Kinetic warheads. Big brother of the rail gun. Fuel cells #3 and the associated life support are out. Cell #1 is running backup. No breach, but I can see where the secondary hull is bent inward over Cell #3 to crush it. They came very close to holing us.”

“Carmen, keep the saucer edge on to approaching missiles. Makes us a smaller target and warheads are likely to skip off if they’re kinetic.”

“We’ll lose them off our scanners that way.”

“I’d rather be blind for a moment than holed.”

I felt the airlocks cycling. “Report in?”

“Rhian and Ariel here. I saw Ivanka and Ulyana headed our way.”

“Two more missiles launched, Captain,” Bella cried again.

“Ariel, go out and get them to lock in immediately. Don’t worry about decon. We gotta get out of here.”

“Missiles are three minutes out,” Bella said.

The next minute and a half was an eternity. Waiting to get the whole crew back. Finally, I felt the lock cycling. “We’re all here,” Ariel cried.

“Stand by for heavy G’s,” I shouted. “Carmen, go, go...” The words froze in my throat as my screens turned white and a horrible crackling sound filled the air.

“Particle beam! “ Bella started to shout and then everything went black again. That was followed by two ear ringing BLAM BLAM sounds. The ship began to spin wildly. Carmen was shouting commands to her Flight team given the intercom was down, her voice unnaturally loud.

We began to move, G’s building, wobbling, and then another horrible crackling sound filled the ship. Now I smelled smoke.

“The last missiles bounced off the hull at a shallow angle,” Caitlan cried. “No significant damage, but systems are down from their energy weapon… definitely anti-matter.”

The G meter climbed erratically at first, and then soared, passed 20, 25. Carmen was shouting commands to her team given the electronics was down. She was flying manually. I saw an amazing 27G’s… and then no more. My head seemed to explode in pain. Even the usual spots in front of my eyes went horribly black.

<>

I awoke to find myself enveloped in a pale golden light. Blinking as I struggled to focus my eyes, I found the light came from a cascade of silky strands covering me. Squinting, I saw sunshine golden and pale blonde strands intermingling, with a strong light filtering through them. Lifting my right hand — my left one didn’t seem to want to work — I gently pushed enough hair to the side to see Ariel snuggled up, facing me.

Her eyes opened wide as she felt my touch, her irises uncannily blue. She smiled at me. “Good morning, Captain. Feeling better?”

Alice, who had been snuggled up to my back, rotated weightlessly over me to snuggle behind Ariel, wrapping her arms and legs around her as she pressed her cheek against Ariel’s as they both faced me, beaming thousand watt smiles my way.

“What… what happened? Where are we? Is the ship safe?”

“Last question first,” Ariel grinned. “Yes,Rociis safe and a little beat up, but intact.”

I tried to move, but other than my right arm, my body didn’t want to cooperate.

“You scared the crap out of us,” Ariel said. “Alana said you had a major stroke during the hard G’s. When she took the pressure breather off, you weren’t breathing on your own, which is the worst kind of fatal stroke.”

“Fatal…?” I gasped.

“Normally, yes. But we’ve been working on you.”

Alice giggled. “In a manner of speaking. Mostly I’ve been working on you guys.”

I was really confused now.

“Alana needed you bathed continuously in a strong healing aura. Alice has been very helpful. Everyone has.”

“All of you? You are all… together? In that way?”

Alice seemed amused. “You’re on a ship with nothing but women, Captain. Not just women — superwomen who happen to have elevated libidos. Unfortunately, you aren’t exactly helpful, being a mere man — well, except maybe to Ariel. So what did you think was going to happen?”

“I… I didn’t really think…?”

“And you call me Dumb Bunny,” Alice said, looking superior.

“I never have…”

“Actually, nobody calls you that anymore, Alice,” Ariel said. “You’ve proven herself as a member of this crew several times over.”

“So… the two of you have been… at it for, a while. How long?”

“It’s just our turn,” Ariel said with a shrug. “Turns out Ivanka alone had the power bring you back from dead. She carries so many crystals that when she finally got them all to flare, her aura filled the ship. Knocked us all stupid, but you took a gasp and started to breathe on your own.”

“Ivanka…? The Ivanka who tried to kill me earlier?”

They both laughed at the look on my face. “Kill you. Save you. It’s always flexible with Russians,” Ariel smirked. “Besides, rules have changed. Everything has. We’re learning about ourselves all the time. While it’s easy for me to stay close to you in the moment, everyone else needs a little space given their freaky orgasmic Girl of Steel things. But we figured out a way to keep you safe, and now you’ve been bathed in everyone’s healing aura most of the last two days.”

“Everyone?” It would be too weird to have Carmen involved.

“Lets just say it was a team effort, with Alice the only constant at your side, and leave it at that.”

“You know, people used to like to watch the ways I enjoyed doing sex,” Alice said proudly. “Back when I was working. I was an artist.”

“Too much sharing,” I said, amused despite myself. “But how come my left side doesn’t work?”

“Because you aren’t fully healed. Bringing someone back from the dead was hard even for a goddess like Ivanka. We’re continuing the healing. Then we plan to work on the improvements.”

“Was I really that bad?”

“Yup. Reviving you was iffy. And if you don’t mind, we have more work to do on you. Go back to sleep if you can.”

I don’t know much about lesbian sex, or rather I didn’t before then, other than what I’d imagined, but Alice seemed to have a way with Ariel, holding her tightly, their bodies surging rhythmically as one. Ariel’s face dissolved into beautiful agony again and again. She gave off a golden glow of happiness, each strand of her hair seemingly lit from inside when she cried out, Hovering over me, their hair bathing me in silken gold. Soon an incredible sense of warmth flooded through me, pushing more and more of the numbness away.

Their lovemaking looked gentle and passionate, the two stunning blondes seemingly becoming one as Alice pleased her with her hand. I’d seen Alice work steel with those hands as if it was mere modeling clay, and I’d seen Ariel stop a coal train with her body, so the gentleness was probably deceptive. I’d also seen Alice poke her fingers through one-inch steel plate. All I know was that it was amazing and wonderful and astounding to see Alice playing Ariel like a musical instrument. They accelerated the pace until Ariel’s blazes of healing light filled me to the point where everything inside my head went white.

When I came around the next time, I was lying on the MedScanner. Alana was leaning over me.

“You know, John, if I were to ever write a paper for a medical journal about this, I’d either be professionally ruined or I’d be celebrated for making the greatest medical breakthrough in history.”

“Please, don’t publish anything. Am I going to be OK?”

“Better than OK. Ivanka is thinking about claiming you for herself. I think she’s already got Kara sewing something up for you that has an “S” on the chest.”

“No way!”

Alana laughed. “Just pulling your chain, John. The good news is that you’re completely healed. The better news is that you’re in far better physical condition and health than any human should be. I think the girls might have overdosed you. Or maybe Ivanka is right and some of her power has rubbed off on you.”

I rolled off the MedScanner to stand. I could tell we were pulling some G’s, but thanks to the gimbal, they were pushing me straight down on my feet. My feet didn’t feel particularly heavy.

“How many G’s are we doing?”

“Six.”

I blinked. Six G’s was uncomfortable as hell in my gel G-seat and would have broken my legs if I was standing. And yet I was standing. Comfortably. “Feels like only 1.5 or so.”

“As I said, you’re a bit improved. Don’t know if it will last, or how long if it doesn’t, but we at least know how to get you here. Just be careful when you try to walk. We haven’t suspended the laws of physics. You weigh well over half a ton at the moment.”

“But you have suspended the rules of biology. And so, everyone was involved when I was unconscious, right? With Alice, you know, facilitating?”

“They weren’t supposed to tell you that. But on this ship, none of that is particularly weird, John.”

“Well, then I’ve lived a sheltered life. They’re all girls born in the 20’s. I was born way back in the bad old days of ’05. Your somewhere in between. Sensibilities change.”

“They always have. My ancestors were slaves in Alabama, picking cotton. Now I’m a Canadian superwoman flying on a space ship to Jupiter. You want to talk about changes?”

Carmen’s voice came over the intercom to interrupt us. “Is the Captain ready for our post-combat debrief?”

“Hell yes he is,” I replied.

Carmen hit the All Ship button. “OK folks, we’re going to coast for a bit. Everyone to the galley. Captain John seems to be back on his feet and is reputedly much better than original condition.”

I heard some cheers echoing down the corridors. A whistle.

I felt the redness rising up my neck. I turned to Alana.“Please tell me Carmen wasn’t involved?”

“All you need to know is that Alice refused to leave your side, and we worked together. Ivanka most of all. And there is no such thing as privacy for you anyway. Everyone on this ship but you can see through walls. We can hear conversations you can’t.” She paused to tilt her head at me. “You have no clue, but there was some heavy betting going on regarding whether Alice was going to seduce you on the way to Mars, sharing your bunk and all. Given her professional experiences. I’m glad to say Ariel and I split the pot, given we were the only ones crazy enough to bet on you.”

“I didn’t need to know that,” I groaned, even as I was secretly incredibly proud that I’d lived up to Alana’s best expectations. Even more, Ariel’s.

“We’re all just glad to have you back, Captain. You’ve kind of grown on us.”

<>

The gathering in the Galley was as eclectic as usual. No two people wore the same anything. Ulyana was floating next to Ivanka, the two of them touching and giggling like lovers.

“Don’t be so surprised, Captain,” Ulyana said as she saw me stare. “Russians and Ukrainians are like coin. Hate on one side, love on the other. Toss enough times and you see both. Besides, healing you healed us.”

Ariel sat upside down on the ceiling, looking happy for the first time since we’d launched. Also a little tired.

Alice was sitting on Caitlan’s broad shoulders, her bare legs hooked under the Chief Engineer’s arms to keep from floating away. She looked as energetic as usual.

Bella was leaning back against Rhian, who was sitting against the wall, her strong arms wrapped around Bella, their blonde hair intermingling.

“Well, its nice to see the crew is getting on as well as you all seem to be. Since when did all this chumminess start?”

Smiles and laughs. “Look who’s talking, Captain,” Caitlan said. “The man who enjoys shagging his lovers a ship full at a time.”

“That was medicine and you know it,” Alana corrected. “Captain John would never do that normally, right Captain?”

“OK, make fun of me if you will. But given I’ve just risen from the dead, you can’t hurt my feelings.” I turned to look at Ivanka. “I understand I have you to thank for my life?”

She took a little bow as she said: “Wasn’t personal. Ship’s business.”

I just smiled as I gave her a little salute. That steel ego of hers was never going to crack.

“Let’s get this under way,” Carmen said, floating off the floor. “Captain, some stuff happened after you stroked out, but lets work through the initial attack first. We made mistakes, we survived by the skin of our teeth and now we’ve got some adjustments to make. I’ve debriefed each of you, but I want to go through it all again for the Captain’s benefit. After that, we’ll discuss the changes in tactics that are needed. Ivanka and Ulyana, why don’t you go first. You had the least of the problems.”

“Right,” Ulyana started. “The transports were exactly like the one we took out on the way to Mars. We swam through the shields, ripped a hole through the hull into Engineering, tore at the triple-domed slimy thingies that Caitlan thinks are the shield generator, and their self-destruct kicked off. We got out as fast as we could given those fusion engines were hot, hot, hot when they blew. No new problems. Oh, and like before, there weren’t many people in Engineering.”

“Any bodies hanging on hooks?” I asked.

“Didn’t look,” Ivanka shrugged. “Speed was goal. In and out. Boom.”

“Rhian?”

“The bug warship hit me with a beam of some kind. Everything exploded around me, which Caitlan says was particles annihilating my skin oil. The big deal is that the surge of power stopped my heart. Some kind of electrical overload that screwed up my heart’s natural pacemaker, according to Alana. We’re pretty sure it was a particle beam using anti-matter particles, given they used anti-matter bombs on Earth. Basically, I would have died out there if not for Alana.”

“I brought her inside and gave her a maximum charge with the paddles on the defib machine,” Alana added. “When that didn’t work, I shunted the 10KVA main electrical bus into the paddles. They disappeared in a cloud of sparks and smoke when I slapped them on her chest, and then Rhian sat up looking at bit confused and with very dry skin. Nothing more serious than that.”

“Amazing. Kara?”

“I flew out and found Ulyana and Ivanka. Given they were so far ahead, plus the effects of the self-destructs and the debris field, not to mention the Roci moving, they didn’t know where to start searching for home. They were headed the wrong way.”

“Outstanding. Alice?”

“I flew out with the shuttle, trying to get as close to the bug warship as I dared. I found Ariel stuck in the force shield thingy and several bugs were shooting those beams at her, her body freezing up. I flew in and grabbed her. Nuked two bugs with my heat vision at the same time, which was totally cool. Their heads actually exploded when I stared at them.”

“Nice work. Ariel?”

“The bug warship wasn’t hard to tear open once I got through the shield. I entered through what turned out to be their crew quarters, or so I think. There were piles of this amber-colored gelatinous stuff that I think were beds. There were only five bugs on board, two on the Bridge, two in Engineering and one who kept shooting at me. The beams would freeze me in place, every muscle tensing, even my brain seemed to freeze in my last thought, like time had stopped or something. It only lasts for ten seconds or so, but that’s a long time in a fight. After the first bug shot me twice, and I shook both shots off, then two bugs shot me at the same time. They alternated their beams on me as another bug, a really weird one that was extruding some spiderweb stuff, except it was nearly a millimeter thick, wrapped me up in it like a spider wrapping a captured fly. Once it had me covered, and they stopped shooting, I started to struggle, but couldn’t break the damned super-spiderweb stuff, which was gradually tightening as it cured or whatever. All I could think to do was to nuke it with my heat vision. We were in vacuum, so I knew it wouldn’t burn, but it melted enough that I could now tear the rest of it apart.

“Given that I’d already smashed a bunch of stuff in Engineering and the ship had a big hole in it and was tumbling, I figured it wasn’t going to hurt theRoci. So I flew out the hole, and was swimming through the shield when one of the bugs shot me again. I saw all three come out with weapons, and that’s when Alice grabbed me. I’m sure they would have captured me otherwise.”

“Any injuries to her, Alana?”

“Nadda. Whatever the freezy ray thing is, it appears harmless except for the brief immobility. Took her a while to get the sticky stuff off, however.”

“Captain, after we ran from that warship, we made it halfway around the planet while I forced us down into a very low orbit even though I had escape velocity. The bug ship didn’t, or couldn’t follow. Once I realized we’d apparently fallen off his scanners again, we found that huge tunnel entrance with lots of bug ships parked just outside. Ulyana dove down with one of her modded warheads. You want to tell it, Ulyana?”

“Yeah, I go into tunnel. It’s wide enough for two busses to pass. The deeper I go, more bugs I see. Different kinds. Larger heads, some with longer bodies. Some walking on just back legs, almost look like bug people. More and more as I keep flying deeper. Many bugs. Some try to shoot me, but I fly too fast. Finally came to area that was very warm and moist with many small bugs working around something inside huge membrane sack. They were shoving food in. Tons of it, none of it human, thankfully. Pink stuff ran in tubes all around it. I knew right away that it was a Queen. So I hit ten second timer, wedged my nuke along the side of chamber and flew for all I was worth. I was barely out tunnel entrance when entire complex burst to surface, miles and miles of tunnels. Then the nexus of all tunnels blew out as nuke fireball reached surface. Turns out I’d put in exact center of huge complex of radiating tunnels. Luck.”

“No shit!” I said excitedly. “If that really was a Queen you killed, they are really going to come after us now. Great work!”

Carmen jumped back in. “That’s when the additional bug warships came after us, burning so hard with their scanners that we could feel the heat inside. We outran them in the end, but they were able to get two beamer shots at us before we were out of range. Impact burned all the stealth foam off half the ship and partially melted our outer hull.Rociis thankfully tough. Very tough. We also learned that the bug warships are capable of sustaining 20G’s or so for a period of time, but not nearly as long as we can.”

“That hurts, losing the stealth,” I said sourly.

“No shit. Now that the bug ships could see us on their scanners, they launched four missiles. Ivanka and Ulyana stopped two of them, but two got by them. Ariel almost got one of those, but too late. They were kinetic kill vehicles, made of thick armor and something inside that was really heavy. The two that hit theRociput two-meter deep dimples in our thick hull, damaging the secondary hull. Battleship armor saved us. Ivanka, you want to talk about the missiles themselves?”

“Very, very strong. I flew into first one, let hit chest to blunt away, but knocked me silly. Hurt way way more than train did back in Michigan, Captain.” She reached up to rub her breast.

“Ulyana.”

“Yeah. I not stupid like Russian. I wrap myself around second missile and turned it back around, flew it back to bug warship. Let it go just before hit. Exploded against shields. Too bad.”

“We can’t take too many hits from those,” Carmen added. “Two in the same area could hole us. As it was, we lost one set of fuel cells and their corresponding life support systems.”

“I might be able to salvage some of the life support units, but those fuel cells are toast,” Caitlan added. “Give thanks for Russian toughness and redundant units.”

“I wonder why they didn’t use warheads?” Carmen asked.

“To save meat,” Bella replied. “These bugs have probably fought a lot of species over their history. Maybe during their travels here. Everything they do is to get food and find a place for their Queens to reproduce.”

“You sound certain,” I said.

Bella shrugged. “It just makes sense based on what we’ve seen, along with the theoretical work done back on Earth. Even more after I saw the missiles detaching from their fusion engines so just the kinetic kill vehicles hit us. They didn’t want to burn the protein.”

“And nothing but thick armor can stop kinetic warheads, ” I said. “Sounds like we had barely enough of that. Tell me more about losing our stealth coating, Caitlan. I’ve enjoyed being invisible.”

“Actually, not even a wee worry, Captain,” Caitlan said. “I found four containers of that expanding EMF-absorbing foam in a locker. Two big cans recoated the back half the Roci and also the shuttle. We’re even less visible than before. I’m going to put a thinner layer on some of the torpedoes too. Tight fit in the tubes, but I think it’ll work. That way they can’t trace them back to theRocias easily, and that will let us launch earlier and further out.”

I turned and looked at Carmen. She rose higher in the air. “There are some final lessons to be reviewed here. One, we aren’t going to attack individually again. Everyone has a wingman from now on and you stay far enough apart to avoid getting hit with the same weapon. Your first job is to protect each other.”

“We wouldn’t have taken out all transports that way,” Ivanka replied.

“I’d rather kill a few less bug ships and have my whole crew back to fight again.

“Second point is that their warships are better armed for handling boarders than the transports. They also seem to be focused on capture. Even worse, their main weapon, the anti-matter particle beam, is powerful enough to take any of us down unless we get rescued pretty quickly. I don’t know how long we can go without heartbeats before suffering brain injury, but we can’t self-rescue and we’d be easy for the bugs to pick up. A widely-separated wingman works for that too.

“Three, it’s too easy to lose track of theRociduring a fight. We need a homing beacon of some kind. Caitlan has started working on a simple device that points toward the ship, using a transmitter on theRocithat is set to a frequency that’s well away from anything we’ve seen the bugs use. It’s a risk, but theRocican always shut it down if a bug ship appears to track us, but right now, that’s the best we can do. Everyone wears a receiver.”

“Ah, wouldn’t receiver get nuked in attacks,” Ivanka said. “No good if melted.”

“That’s why the receiver will be small and you’ll carry it internally in a tampon-shaped tube until you need it. So far, our bodies seem to be indestructible.”

Bella laughed. “This is great. Feel lost? Just follow your cunt.”

“That plan has gotten me into trouble way too many times already,” Rhian laughed.

Carmen let them yuck it up for a few moments. “OK then, once Caitlan has it figured out, theFind Rocidevice is going to be in your person any time you go out the airlock. For any reason. It would be a shame to die because you got lost.”

Alice raised her hand, shaking it wildly. “Wouldn’t it be better if the thingy let us find them instead?” she asked. “Finding people out in space is really hard for me. My vision is crappy after looking through the steel hull. The cameras on the shuttle are even worse.”

I shook my head. “The obvious risk, Alice, is that if the bugs figure out the frequency, they’ll know where we’re going to attack. At least with only theRocitransmitting, we can shut down and move easily, given we aren’t directly involved in the attacks.”

“But why don’t we put a transmitter on the shuttle at least,” Alice countered. “So they can find me if I’m closer. Along with a radio link on that same frequency so I can talk to you. I mean, either they find our frequency or they don’t, so voice link is the same risk as the beacon.”

I was impressed. Alice was making a good argument.

“Caitlan, can you look into that too. I think it’s a good suggestion, but only for emergencies. Stealth is the thing that’s kept us alive up to now.”

“Anybody have anything else to add related to the attack?” Carmen asked.

Nobody did.

“We should be proud,” Alana said. “We killed enough bug ships today to have abducted at least 100,000 people from Earth to use as bug food. Maybe twice that number. It also sounds to me like the bugs had moved a Queen to Mars and had begun feeding her. That sounds to me like a desperate attempt to increase their working population. Our killing the transport on the way to Mars is going to make her very hungry. That was obviously their biggest harvest yet, otherwise we would have heard about it before leaving. The dozen or so transports we killed at Mars were there to support a much larger harvest to feed the Mars Queen and her people. The warships on the Moon were going to wipe out all of Earth’s defenses to give them time to upload fifteen slaughterhouse ships worth of people. We ended all of that before it started.”

“I hope you’re right, Alana,” Carmen said. “If true, then we did far more damage than we first perceived.”

“I think we hurt them more than they hurt us,” Kara said, “despite the loss of Paris, Moscow and Beijing, not to mention our facilities. That Queen will be starving, or at the very least, not reproducing. Maybe they dug into their food reserves to start feeding her in anticipation of plentiful food arriving from Earth. If so, they’re going to get desperate, and that means they’re going to make mistakes.”

“But don’t forget one thing,” Alana added. “Churchill was desperate at the beginning of the Battle of Britain, but he won.”

“There’s a lot of good thinking going on here,” I said. “I’m really proud of you all. I’ve fought with a lot of SEALS, but this crew is as smart and inventive as any of them. And that’s before we talk about your rather obvious special talents.”

Everyone looked pleased with themselves, as they should.

“So, where are we now, Carmen?”

“Two days from the edge of the asteroid belt. We’ve built up a lot of V since Mars. We need to talk soon about what we’re going to do next. The belt itself doesn’t present a statistical collision hazard — every rock is hundreds or thousands of miles from the next one. NASA and ESA have flown probes through the Belt before without hitting anything. But I think we have to assume the bugs could be hiding in there. Maybe on one of the larger asteroids or planetoids. Also, word of our attack on Mars will be traveling that way at light speed. If we’re wrong about most of their warships being at Earth, this could get ugly. And even if we’re right, their warships will be burning our way from Earth. Burning as hard as they can.”

“Which makes my guesses about the moons of Jupiter all the trickier,” I said. “If we spend too much time searching the Belt, and the Queens are on Jupiter’s moons, their warships could catch up with us before we can get there.”

“Which says I should plot the shortest course between the major rocks, and keep a lot of V up so we can burn hot to Jupiter if need be.”

“Lets run it through the NavComp and see what we get,” I said. “Maybe we don’t check them all, but just the biggest ones. If the bugs are there, that’s where they’ll probably be. Just remember, we’ve got a big attack force that we hope is a hundred, maybe two hundred warships, all burning our way, and we know they can do 20G’s, at least for part of the time. We burned off our V at Mars, but they’ll just be building it continuously. They’ll really be moving by the time they get to the Belt. We need a hell of head start if we’re going to Jupiter.”

I saw heads bobbing.

“Anyone see it differently?”

“Just that if we get it wrong,” Carmen said, “and we don’t kill their Queens, then Homo Sapiens and every other animal on Earth is going to get snuffed out. Extinction. No pressure.”

I heard a couple of chuckles. We all knew the stakes.

“Well, then we’re all agreed. Good news is, it’s likely there won’t be any fighting for a bit folks, so you should focus on making improvements in your areas. Rhian, how we coming on fresh food?”

“Tonight’s the night. As in, the last night before we go completely freeze-dried. We’re going to have a feast.”

<>

While everyone ate and laughed and goofed around and enjoyed each other in the Galley, which got a bit risqué, I headed back up to the Bridge to think. The events of the last day were overwhelming. I’d been able to digest them one by one, but when I put them all together, it was too much. It seemed impossible that we’d survived all that. Rhian and the anti-matter beam. Ariel with the freeze ray and the bugs nearly capturing her. Alana and Alice saving Rhian and Ariel — the Alice everyone had discounted at first. Then the bug warships and missiles and anti-matter beams.

And then there was my massive stroke. Ivanka and then everyone else helping to heal me. A lot of luck had been involved, but in the end, their Uber powers were stunning and amazing. So much power, so much toughness, and so much compassion for their crew-mates. They had faired far better against the alien weapons than I’d dared to hope, even if we’d found some weaknesses too.

It all made me wonder about those aliens who’d sent the message to Earth. Probably the same one’s who’d placed the blue crystals there thousands of years ago. They must have also inserted that special DNA sequence into some slivers of humankind so long ago.

They’d known the bugs and their weaknesses and their technology. They knew they would eventually come for the fertile Earth. Had they fought them and won? Or lost? Maybe the crystals and the message were their last gasp? A chance to help another civilization survive. All I know for sure is that without them, Earth would already be a feed lot for bugs, with the Queens pumping out millions of buglings.

We were safe for now. TheRociat least. Likely the bugs didn’t have ships out here in the black between Mars and the Belt. But they were all coming for us now. They might already be halfway to Mars from Earth. We had to find their Queens before their warships found us. Find their leaders too. Kill them all.

For all the good luck we’d had so far, there was no way we were going to survive diving into the core of their armada with all those warships chasing us. There wasn’t that much good luck in the galaxy. But if they pulled their warships back to Mars to protect themselves, or the asteroids, even better all the way to Jupiter’s moons, then Earth might have time.

Time to prepare. A chance to fight like we just had, but with a hundred ships and a thousand Ubers.

That’s all we could give Earth. Time to rebuild a defense.

It was something well worth dying for.

End of Book One

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