50047-2

Launch is in eight hours, he thought to himself. Anas was understandably excited. Just hours after his sending a particularly interesting message he had received a personal reply.

The fire dragon was astounded at the personal touch that the reply had had. Most of time these were formal things, not to be taken so individually as this Marshal had taken it. But nonetheless, Anas was happy to send the reply.

He would have to hide it from his superiors so that he would not get into any sort of trouble. But that wasn't a problem. He recorded the message as audio only in a soundproof room only a few feet away.

"From Communications Officer Anas, to one, Marshal Zimmerman," he began, smiling. "Secondary Communications Control, Genesis, Creator be with you."

He was nervous. He didn't much care for talking to others of his own kind, let alone Humans. Yet here he was, recording a private message for a human who had offered his home.

He annunciated his Human-speak, trying to make a good impression on someone who might have had the same aspirations as he. "My dear Marshal…" He paused. Too personal. I don't even know him. He erased the last three words.

"To Marshal," he said, pausing again. Too formal, Anas thought. How does one address a Human? He erased his greeting again. "Marshal." Perfect.

"I received word when I was given the original message that I was to send, that I would be accompanying the shuttle to your ship as a communications officer. I would think it has something to do with my fascination with your artistic culture.

"In regards to your query, I, at least, would be happy to stay with you." He had said it. That was the point of the entire communiqué: to accept the offer. Now what, though. Anas was at a loss as to what to say.

Finally, he continued, deciding on a relatively safe course. "I confess I have wanted to meet a Human for some time. When you replied, adding what would normally be considered too personal a touch to it, I jumped. I'm sure the Emperor's son, Atim Ackmous, would also appreciate your offer."

Now what? Unknowingly, he was facing the same dilemma that Marty had faced when recording his reply. The dragon closed the recording and punched in the coordinates.

"Mm hmm," he hummed to himself. "That should do it." He erased all data concerning his reply and went back to his post.

Date: 4 July, 50047. Time: 05:05 am
Location: Secondary Communications Desk
Genesis Convoy Flagship Genesis.

Director Chandra "Sarah" Miles was manning Marshal's normal station when the message came through. She smiled when the recording played. Marty, you moron. She would have to reprimand him for the personal touch if anyone ever found out. But as of now, her light-hearted spirit would let it slide.

She forwarded the tape.

Marty was sound asleep by now. Five hours after he had gotten off his shift, he was dreaming of the possibilities that could very well take hold. Most of all, he couldn't shake the image of that warrior Daronite with the soft voice.

Beep! Marty moaned. The beeping continued in timed pulses. They were quickly beginning to irritate Marshal. Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Finally, the man stirred, almost waking the female next to him.

"It's alright, hon," he said softly. "Go back t' bed. I'll get it." He stood, throwing the blankets aside and stretching. The miniature screen next to his bed flipped on, telling him he had a private message.

Alright… He yawned to himself, checking the time. Oi. It was a forwarded message from the secondary control deck. I swear, he growled silently. If Lola's complaining about Kai again… His thoughts decayed into a series of muted, but not meaningless threats on Kai's manhood.

He pulled up the video that he presumed was his sister complaining again. Anas popped up on the screen, quite to the surprise of the recipient. He jumped, stirring his wife yet again.

"What is it?" she asked groggily.

"Nothing hon," he spoke gently. "Just a message from work, nothing to worry about." He hadn't told her about the offer he made to the welcoming party, let alone about the welcoming part at all.

Marshal turned the volume down and put on a headset. The video played, and Marty smiled at the dragon's pseudo-reprimand. And then burst with ecstatic joy when the offer was accepted.

Jenn woke up with a start, glaring murderously at her husband. "What was that?" The man shrank back under the deathlike stare of his wife. "Well? I'm tryin' to sleep, if you didn't notice."

Jenn did not take notice of the fire dragon on the communications screen. Marshal was thankful for that, until little Richie waddled in and pointed it out. "Heaven help me," Marty Sr. said honestly.

"You're gonna need it if you don't start talking."

The father sighed in resignation. Calling little Marty to his lap, he rewound the message back to the beginning and paused it. "Tonight, something happened on the main communications deck and a notice came in through our station from Darona."

That did not satisfy his wife or his son, who looked up at him with big childish eyes. Marshal Sr. continued, "They're sending a welcoming part and I was the one who had to send the reply. I told them that we'd offer our home for them as guests…"

The toddler didn't understand. But Jenn Zimmerman did. "You and your obsessions," she said simply. Marshal knew the real meaning behind her words and grimaced. "You could've told me before hand."

"It wasn't like I had any advanced warning," He countered. Marty J was now fully captivated by the scaly muzzle on the mini screen. "Besides, Junior likes the idea, doncha bud. Daronites are going to be living with us—"

He squealed in ecstasy before his father finished the sentence. Jenn resolved herself to silence, making clear her dissatisfaction. "It's only for a short while," Marshal spoke. "Only nine months, if even that."

"And?"

"And what?" His wife was giving him the look again. "I don't know what you're talking about Jenn. You have to make yourself clear."

"And you're planning on letting them sleep where?" As much as Marty hated to admit it, his wife had him beat. "Just like I thought," she said casually, as if her being right was a normal occurrence.

Why does she always have to be right? "Ok, so I didn't plan for it. I'm only human." Marty Sr. was absolutely sure that his wife would not be able to counter that. And I win, for once.

"I actually thought you were one of them," Jenn countered, crushing her husband. "You know so much about them, I could've sworn I saw a ship dock the night we met."

Game set, Jennifer Zimmerman.

Date: 4 July 50047 Time: 11:10 am
Location: Admarka Continent, Darona

Imperial Armed Transport Speedy.

The crew had been assembled for several minutes now and Michem was growing impatient. His personal belongings were packed and stowed in his quarters, quite spacious for a transport ship. The dragon Daronite was waiting now for the ambassadors and the Prince of Darona.

Now why had Anas been chosen for such an assignment? He had a perfect record of service, only one minor offense as a young child, but nothing major about him except for his knowledge of human artistic culture. Whatever the case, he decided, thank the Creator.

He had been chosen as the Senior Communications Officer, on the bridge for ten hours before the midday meal, then another five to complete his shift. But the messages that would be coming and going would keep the fifteen-hour interval from becoming boring. And he had a comfortable chair to work in, which Anas decided was always a plus.

The rest of his day, all fifteen hours of it, was devoted to himself and sleep. Although, it was going to be difficult to explain his reluctance to accept the lodging provided by the human government onboard Genesis. Who knew what would become of that human if Anas said anything?

The captain had arrived with the welcoming party, including Prince Atim. The Emperor's son addressed the crew. "Welcome," he said, his eyes demanding the attention from all those present. He too was warrior, like most royalty, with a darker shade of red scales. Aside from that, he was nothing like Anas, being tall and strongly built. Atim reminded Anas of a machine, built solely for fighting.

"I know this was very short notice," the Prince continued, "but the decision was only made yesterday by my father." He switched from explanation to exultation, and began introducing each of the governors. Anas paid close attention, though he would have buried his head if he could get away from the dullness of the moment.

Why was Atim doing this? Each of the crew could easily recognize the governors. And those who couldn't would surely be able to find someone from that region that could recognize them. He wanted to launch.

Anas had never been into space. He wanted to work on one of the major luxury liners to Incendia, but it was unbecoming of a warrior to work as a bridge officer on a passenger ship. He attended the academy for training in his preferred field and even worked on the ocean liners on Adamah.

And every time he put in his transfer request, he had been turned down because of his father. With no advancement in sight, Anas had resigned himself to a backwoods communications tower on the main continent. Until a certain message passed through his hands, that is.

Now Anas was as anxious as ever to get going. That human intrigued him, like they shared some deep and inner desire. Kindred spirits, Anas laughed to himself. Well, he is a brother in faith. I wonder if he has a family?

If he did, things were going to be interesting. Anas had no children and no mate. This would be a first hand lesson in family care. But a human family? Atim snapped him out of his thoughts.

"Will the Senior Officers step forward, please?" Anas stepped forward along with six others. Prince Atim inspected each of them carefully, examining each and every aspect of them. He stopped at Anas. "You're a tad on the small size, aren't you?"

"I— I— Uh… Yessir." Oi… Why me? "Just a little, sir." Anas had to crane his neck upward to make eye contact, letting his tail fall limply behind him (a sign of respect in Daronite culture). He was getting nervous under Atim's royal gaze. "Is there anything you wanted, your Highness?"

"How were you chosen for this assignment?"

Anas was perfectly baffled. "I'm not sure, sir. I can only offer a guess as to why I'm here." Atim nodded approvingly and took a step back, asking Anas what his guess was. "I know a great deal about the humans' fine arts, sir. And I have had the proper training for the assignment."

"So this is your first time in space?" Anas said yes, eliciting a sigh from his superior. "Well, are you up to the challenge? Or would you rather return to your previous job?"

"Your Highness," Anas retorted, but not disrespectfully. "I may be on the small size, but I've never backed down from a challenge. You can bet your wings, sir, that when it comes down to it, I'll surprise you."

The Emperor's son looked taken aback and slightly annoyed. He regained his dignity and smiled benignly at Anas. "Consider it a challenge then." He moved on to the next officer, leaving Anas with a smug look of subdued contentment.

Date: July 4 50047 Time: 11:59
Location: Admarka Continent, Darona
Interior of Imperial Armed Transport Speedy.

Just about time, Anas thought. He had gone over the checklist for his terminal five times, making sure that nothing was malfunctioning. The crew and passengers were strapped in, ready for launch. The ship itself, a disk-shaped craft with turrets evenly spaced along the hall, was a prototype for a much larger gun ship. Issues with resources being imported to Incendia had strained relations with the Incendian government. Though Anas never thought the issue would bring war, he thought it was nice to know that Admarka had some protection against whatever enemies it might have.

The captain sat back in his chair. "Lieutenant, are we ready to launch?" Anas turned from his panel, smiling. After he had been chosen for the position, he was given a second notice that stated he had been drafted into Admarka's Imperial Navy as a lieutenant.

Which was the reason Anas smiled. If only his father could see him now… "Yes sir. Tower says we're clear to take off, sir." The captain gave the order immediately, thrilled himself be in command of a prototype ship. "Speedy to launch tower, we are go for launch."

A torrent of commands issued from the captain's mouth, setting the bridge to an organized chaos in a matter of moments. The pilots started firing the engines, the officers in charge of monitoring the ships vitals were on full alert, making sure that the Speedy's maiden flight would be a success.

"Speedy to tower, engines fired. Altitude at—" He looked over to one of the pilots, who returned the look with quick number. "Altitude at 2230 feet msl and climbing. All systems go and no warnings."

The tower crackled over the channel, "Tower to Speedy, roger. What is the rate of climb?"

"900 feet per second and rising," Anas replied, now entirely alert to the goings on around him. "Rate of climb at 1100 feet per second, still rising." This was becoming a problem.

"Ensign, bring our ascent rate down," the captain said, calmly. The ship wouldn't handle more than 1800 ft/s squared ascent. "Cut the engines down to three-quarters power." The pilot complied.

"Our rate of climb is still rising sir," one of them said.

The technicians watching the ship's vitals were edgy now. The Speedy was now climbing at a rate of 1740 feet per second and beginning to show the effects. Anas sat nervously, relaying the situation to the launch tower.

"1810 feet per second, Captain!" Now he was beginning to show signs of frustration. "Captain!"

"How's the ship look?"

"Sensors indicate wearing on the outer hull and over heating in engineering." The commanding officer sat quietly for a moment. "I'm guessing sixty seconds before the hull breaches."

One minute. Anas could read the pilots' faces clearly: fear like he had never seen. The smallish dragon was feeling the same thing at that point. The ship started vibrating and if they didn't find some way to reduce the rate of climb, the ship would be nothing more than a flaming ball of molten steel.

Creator, save us please! It was the only thing he could think to do. So he prayed, and prayed louder, speaking in his native tongue fervently pleading for safety. The pilots took up the same prayer along with the rest of the bridge, save Captain.

"Retract the weapons turrets," Captain ordered sternly, shouting over the chanting crewmembers. "Reduce thrust to two-thirds."

"Hull breach in twenty seconds!" The ship was shaking violently now, forcing the captain down to his seat. "Fifteen, captain!"

Captain hesitated. Bringing the thrust ratio down any more might destabilize the ship and cause it to crash. Anas saw the hesitation on his superior's face and went white. His blood ran cold.

"Ten seconds…" The announcement was somber this time, as if preparing for the end of time. "Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Thr—"

"Zero thrust," came the order. "Extend the landing struts and the docking clamps! Seal all emergency doors!" The ship shuddered violently, throwing the crew about, and then stopped.

Anas floated out of his seat, smacking his head into the ceiling along with most of the bridge officers. Now comes the fall, he thought. Weightlessness would not last long for them. Then it would be certain death for the entire crew and passenger compliment.

"Sir, we're safe…" That was unexpected. But the viewer didn't lie. "We're in space, sir. The artificial gravity hasn't kicked in yet." The captain glared at the pilot who had made the comment.

"Artificial gravity online in three, two, one…" Anas fell to the floor, face first. "All internal systems online and working at least at seventy-five percent efficiency."

"Damage report," ordered Captain in a relieved manner. He had landed in his bucket seat hard and fast.

"Major wear on the outer hull. No breaches indicated," one of the monitors said. "The engines are slightly over heated."

"Engineering doesn't recommend more than three quarters thrust," Anas broke in. "And Prince Atim is wanting to know what happened, Captain."

"Tell Atim that we just had a minor malfunction and that we'll be underway in just a few minutes. We'll make repairs in transit," Captain said. "This ship will not be delayed… And Lieutenant, begin an investigation into what exactly happened."

"But, I don't have any technical knowledge, Sir."

"Do it anyway," Captain reaffirmed. "I want to know if this was just a malfunction, or if it was sabotage."

Sabotage? It was a well-known fact that there were quite a few Daronites that did not agree with sharing land with the Humans. If one of them had gotten on board, or even worse, a group of them had gotten on board, the ship could be destroyed before they even left Admarkan Space.

"Yes, sir,"Anas sighed, acknowledging the captain's order. He just knew that this was not a good sign of things to come.


A/N: End of chapter two. This is the start of the Speedy's journey to the Genesis Convoy and Anas's big adventure. I'd like to dedicate this chapter to Ins Dragonclaw as a part of our "Dedication Wars" and because of his on going encouragement.