50047-3

"Sir," Anas said hesitantly. He had just approached the Prince's quarters, following Captain's orders to personally deliver the message. He knocked again. "Your Highness? A message for you from the bridge, sir."

An attendant answered, opening the door and greeting Anas politely. "Yes?" he queried pleasantly. "How may I be of assistance?" Anas was put off slightly by the sheer niceness of the dragon who had greeted him.

That is going to get annoying. "I have a message for Prince Atim," he said, holding up the scrap paper for the attendant to see. The attendant stooped down to view the paper.

"I'll—"

"I was supposed to hand deliver this myself," Anas interrupted. He sensed that the greeter was becoming annoyed with his persistence. "Captain's orders. There isn't anything I can do except follow them." The greeter moved aside for Anas. Thank God, he thought.

"Just one question." Anas turned around. "Why didn't Captain send someone else? You're a bridge officer aren't you?"

"Captain thought that anything less than a lieutenant would be insulting to his Highness." He could use a bit of humility, he added quietly to himself. The attendant nodded and resumed his guard duty silently. "Frankly, I don't give a darn."

"In my opinion, I don't much care for the prince either." The two shared a short laugh about that before Anas continued. He would have to spend a bit of time with that attendant later if he thought the same way as him. "Atim should be in his chambers sitting down to a late lunch."

Anas thanked him and left in a hurry, wanting to get back to the bridge. Two minutes of searching later, the smallish dragon found his query sitting exactly has he had been told. Anas bowed low to the floor.

"Your Highness," he said, still bowed. "A message for you from Captain." Atim motioned for him to stand erect, which the lieutenant did without hesitation. "According to Engineering, we had a minor thrust variation due to a malfunction of the AG adapters in section 3-A, which is what caused the temporary weightlessness and the minor vibrations which undoubted caused you some inconvenience, your Highness."

The brutish form of Prince Atim glared at Anas. "Is that the official report," he asked. Anas nodded. "Direct from the Captain?" Another nod. "Would you mind explaining it to me?"

"I'm very sorry, your Highness. I don't have the technical expertise to give an accurate interpretation of the information." Atim shook his head in frustration, his claws unwittingly digging into the imitation wood table before him. "Captain instructed me, however, to give you the number of the Chief Engineer if you asked just such a question."

"Never mind it," he replied, setting himself about eating his lunch. "You may return to your duty station, Lieutenant. Tell the Captain that I would like to see him here in half an hour." Anas bowed and acknowledged the request, then left as fast as he could without being disrespectful.

Date: 4 July, 50047. Time: 13:15
Location: Secondary Residential Deck
Genesis Convoy Flagship
Genesis.

Marshal woke earlier than usual. His videophone was ringing again, much to the man's annoyance. Jenn had woke up hours ago to tend to Marty J. Marshal was glad for that. The last time he had been woken by his phone, he had fought with his wife about the subject of the call.

He pressed the button to receive the call. Director Miles' face appeared on the screen, smiling. "Good afternoon," she said cheerfully. "I've got news for you, Marty. It comes in three parts, so you'd better get the wife."

Come on, he thought miserably. "Director, if Kai put you up to this, I'm gonna kill 'em." He called his wife into the room nonetheless, hoping beyond hope that his sleep hadn't been interrupted for a prank call. Jenn came in slowly, holding a sleeping Junior in her arms.

"Alright," Marshal groaned. "What's so important that you just had to wake me up in the middle of my night?" Marshal noticed a look of subdued amusement pass across his Director's face. "This is a prank, isn't it?"

"No," Miles said with her soft voice. Her pail face meshed into a smile. "Our crew has been bumped up to Primary Communications because we intercepted the message."

"So. The normal Primary crew could have gotten it too."

"The Daronites had the coordinates wrong. It would have bounced off the hull and into dead space," the Director explained. The amusement in here face transferred to her eyes and remained there, slightly annoying Marshal.

"We were on the ball and intercepted it. The bridge sensors were totally off caliber and would have missed the transmission completely. But we, on the other hand, take good care of our equipment and got it."

"Well," Marshal said exasperatedly, "it helps that we never have to recalibrate the sensors. They aren't used enough to worry about it." Jenn was monitoring the conversation carefully, looking for any hints as to why she had to be there. Marshal, as tuned as he was to his wife, caught on and asked.

"Because I wanted to be the one to tell her. Because we've been bumped up to Primary, you'll be too far away from where you're living now. We've got a bit bigger sized apartment on the Primary Residential deck for you." She added with a slightly mischievous grin, "It might be big enough to accommodate that Daronite you invited to stay with you."

"Thank you, Director," he said sarcastically. "Need I be reminded of him?" Chandra nodded, giving him a wink. "Don't start with that, Chandra. I don't want you reminding me of it. Jenn already thinks I'm a moron for it."

"You are a moron for it," Director Miles spoke tersely. "Do you even know what his name is?" She looked at Marshal skeptically. His silence spoke volumes. "I thought as much. You just wanted to meet a Daronite. You don't really much care what he looks like or what his name is."

"Granted I'm a bit absent-minded sometimes, but I do know his name. It's Anas." Director Miles smiled again. Marshal was smiled back, and said: "And if you think I'm lucky, he was red, short and wore a vest with the Emperor's seal on the breast."

"Good, so you do remember him. Be sure to tell Jenn for me, alright," she asked in a pleasant, conversational voice. "They want you packed and ready by tomorrow if possible. For you, though, that shouldn't be a problem…" Her voice trailed off and the screen did the same.

"It was nice talking to you too," he added sarcastically after the screen had gone blank. He turned to his wife expectantly. "Well? What do you think about all this?" He had expected to be criticized like the day before, but was pleasantly surprised when she smiled.

"Marty," she spoke in a warm tone, "you're a fool and you don't think as often as you should, but I love you anyway."

"And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"It means you're going to get your Daronite friend, dear." Jenn touched his cheek, laying the child in her arms gently down on the bed. Marshal knew that his son was going to be excited to see the main residential deck, and even more excited when he found out that they were going to live there. Jenn, though, was not as enthusiastic as he would have hoped. "Come on, Marshal. You've got to get our stuff packed." The next day, after hours packing, a tired looking Marshal Zimmerman waited outside a freight-station with his wife and son.

Date: 6 July, 50047. Time: 24:02
Location: Living Sector, Private Quarters
Imperial Armed Transport, Speedy

"Genesis, from the armed transport Speedy. Creator be with you. Personal message to Communications Officer Marshal Zimmerman.

"Hey Marty! It's me again, Anas. We dock in four days, comrade. You said your son wants to meet me? Sounds a bit like you. He seems like a good kid, though a bit young. Daronite children mature faster, but it doesn't much leave time for parenthood. Anyway, I'm sorry your mate was angry with you, but send her my regards anyway.

"Anyway, to get to the point, I talked to Captain yesterday evening about the living arrangements while we're onboard Genesis and he didn't seemed to surprised by the fact that I had other plans. Prince Atim thought it to be an insult to his character though, not that I care. He's a pompous, brutish pig in my opinion. (Be thankful that only Captain understands Human-speak… I mean English).

"Argh… I'm not supposed to be sending personal messages like this. But I don't care about that either. Friends don't come along often like this. Chance messages… Cosmic Improbability I think. Thank the Creator.

"I did a little searching and I found some things out about you. Tell me if I got the right Marshal Zimmerman: You were born as the son of some of the richest men onboard the ship. But instead of going on to a business environment, you decided to go to the Academy to learn communications so you could work on the bridge.

"So, am I right? I thought so. I've gotta get some sleep. My shift is in seven hours and it's always a fifteen-hour duty shift. You know how that feels. God bless, Marshal. And good night."

Date: July 7, 50047. 24:37
Location: Primary Residential Deck
Genesis Convoy Flagship Genesis

"To armed transport Speedy, from the flagship Genesis. Personal message to Senior Com Officer Anas.

"You've really taken a shine to the English language, haven't you? I'm rather impressed on how you've cut your accent down. It's nearly vanished. I suppose though, that that could be from talking to me so much. Won't it be just peachy when we can talk on a live channel?

"I let little Marty watch the last message you sent. He gets so excited every time he sees your face. I don't think Christmas could even take his mind off of the fact that you're coming. I just hope he doesn't bog you down when you get here. Jenn says hello as well. She's been busy with the local youth group lately. I think it's bothering her that we hardly ever see each other any more. Can't let that get me down though!

"What is it? Only three days until rendezvous, isn't it? Since we talk so often, I got some strings pulled so that I'll be at the welcoming banquet for you all. And guess who will be sitting in our little family circle? To tell the truth, I'm giddy.

"Now what was that you were saying about Cosmic Improbability? I'd have to agree with that. Even more so since we both trained for higher positions and got stuck in the back alleys, isn't it? Very similar backgrounds. I feel like we could almost be twins.

"Oh! I just remembered! Little Marty wants to know what a normal day on the Speedy is like. He wants to see it for himself, he told me. 'A real spaceship daddy!' I told him I would see what I could do. I doubt if your captain would allow him onboard, but see what you can do for him, all right?

"That's all I can send for now. I hope this gets to you all right. God bless, Anas. We'll be looking forward to your next transmission."

Date: July 8, 50047. 16:42
Location: Officers Mess Hall
Imperial Armed Transport, Speedy

Anas finished watching the transmission and gave a soft chuckle. That was so like Marshal. Anas had taken a liking to the human. For the past few days, the two had been exchanging private messages on their off hours. During the course of the Speedy's voyage, Anas had met Marshal's family as well. The human had a wife and child, and the child was even more interested in Darona than his father. Anas smiled.

He did not have time to reply right now. The officer was on his way to meet with the Chief Engineer about what had caused that malfunction on takeoff. The investigation had gone smoothly and discretely as possible, thankfully for Captain and all those involved. Prince Atim had not found out the true cause. If he had, no doubt the ship would be forced to turn around.

Anas thought it better that the prince not find out about it. He was a meddler and had no idea as to the meaning of the word discretion. His mind was fitted on the power he held. And not even God could change that. It was of strong opinion throughout the ship that Prince Atim was not fit for the thrown of Darona.

But that was beside the point. Anas had already begun picking his way out of the Officer's Mess and down to Engineering. Captain had ordered him there at 17:00 hours sharp. He passed a few dragons that he knew on his way and greeted them accordingly. Despite his small size, Anas had grown popular among the Officers that tended Engineering and the Medical Bay.

At 17:01, Anas arrived at his designated meeting area one minute late. Captain gave him an abbreviated denouncing and them ushered him into the Chief's office. It took them only a moment or two to get settled; Anas had squeezed himself into the office. The two larger Daronites (both being at least twice as tall and built like trees) made special care not to crush him.

"Lieutenant," Captain said, eyeing Anas. "Sometimes I wish you were taller." He sighed and lifted the miniature dragon onto the Chief Engineer's (who was a First Lieutenant) desk, which was quite tall to Anas, who would have had to reach over his head to get at anything that was lying on it.

"Thank you, sir."

The larger of the Lieutenants closed the office door. "What is about to be said here cannot and will not leave the confines of this room. I've completed the last of the investigation and have come to a conclusion as to the nature of the malfunction."

Anas listened intently and Captain urged the Engineer to go on. He did so with only slight hesitation. "It seems that the one of the vice-caps for the power couplings was removed just before takeoff. If even one of those is removed, the power systems go berserk and everything misfires. The missing vice-cap caused the fourth engine to misfire and the control system to freeze. Only a complete shut down would have saved us."

"Do you have any idea of who it might have been," Captain asked, his voice grave with concern. This was not just some low-level operative; this was a trained engineer from the Admarkan training academy. The point was not lost on Anas, who had been silent since he had arrived. He had been listening carefully to every word issued from his superiors' mouths.

"I've no hard evidence against any of the crew, but I have a few ideas," the Senior Engineer replied. "As of yet, I would not like to name names. There are only a few however, who would have access to the relay systems and the power couplings. It would be quite easy to simply remove a vice-cap."

"What about you," Captain asked Anas. "What have you to say from your end? You attended the academy as well, didn't you? What kind of personalities stand out in this sort of situation?"

"Sir, you won't like my answer."

"Answer anyway."

"While I don't have any special knowledge in the field of psychology or social analysis, I do know most of the crew," Anas started. He certainly didn't like his own conclusions, let alone what that evoked in the long run. "The saboteur would have to be clever and well versed in the art of stealth. When I went over the security tapes, there wasn't even a shadow of anything in the room. They must have bypassed the system somehow."

"Who do you think would have done it," Captain asked, beginning to make mental speculations of his own.

"I, like our Engineer, would not like to point fingers at this point," he said, blinking quickly. "But whoever it was had to have knowledge of the security system, the layout of the ship itself, a background in engineering, and must have had an extremely high rank. That narrows it down to Chief Officers, their aids—And Prince Atim."

The captain was incredulous. "You mean to tell me that you think that a member of the Royal Family sabotaged my ship!" Captain's voice had risen to a defining roar inside the office, and now people outside could hear him quite easily. Thankfully, he caught himself before going on. "Could it have been one of the designers or the prep crew?"

"As I've said before," the Engineer stated, more intimidated now by the Captain's roaring, "the vice-cap was removed just before takeoff. Only by about five minutes. The prep crew wouldn't have been on board at that time."

The Captain sighed, his mane bristling with anger. "Lieutenant Anas, send an encrypted communiqué back to Darona by my authorization. I don't care when you do it, but just do it. And send a warning to the Genesis as well. They will most certainly want to know about this." Anas saluted and jumped down from the desk. "And remember to keep this under the hat, as the humans say it."

"Yes, sir."

Seven hours and one half later, Anas was sitting in his quarters, cleaning up a bit of a mess he had made. He had been working with his canvas again, painting a scene he remembered from his early childhood. So far it was looking good. Nothing had been out of place in the painting, but it still seemed cliché to him for some reason. Anas finished shelving his oils and stared at the painting. The reds were flat and the yellows stuck out far too much. It was stenciled gibberish.

"Nothing coming," he said to himself. He had to wonder what Marty was doing at the moment. Probably working his tail off on the bridge of Genesis. That painting though, was a disgrace to all his hard work. Anas thought of shoving out an airlock, but thought better of it. Too much space debris would clog up the sensor array on the outer hull.

He should have been at work right now, sending an encrypted message to Genesis. But he did not want to bother them right now, however urgent it was. They had enough to deal with right now in finishing the preparations for the Prince's landing in the human ship's shuttle bay.

Prince Atim… Anas had to wonder if he was right about him. He has no idea anyway of the concept of real life. It was as if the Prince was living in a fantasy world of his own making, where people only lived to fulfil his every whim and desire. Anas almost wished that Atim were the saboteur. It would save Darona and Admarka from a terrible leader.

That painting was terrible. It was staring him in the face, mocking him. Anas clenched his claws tightly, almost drawing blood. The blues and greens were cascading into a puddle of sickening mud at the bottom of the scape. He hated it. Why couldn't he get it right?

He mouthed a quick prayer. That saboteur was still on his mind too. The number of possible culprits included every single one of the bridge officers, all of the senior engineering staff, Prince Atim, the cargo officer and all of the maintenance crews, provided they had the necessary skills. It included Captain. He would have to learn a little psychology, how to distinguish between likely candidates and those who are truthful and learning how to read body language better would also be helpful.

Anas was beginning to envision himself charring that painting. He could always apply some paint thinner and destroy it that way, but he really hated that painting. As far as he was concerned, the canvas was corrupted beyond repair. His breathing was becoming faster. The only good thing about that mural was that it wouldn't ever be seen by anyone but himself. One piece of space junk wouldn't hurt anyone. But the airlock was guarded quite well and he knew they wouldn't let him throw just a painting in there. A controlled flame-breath would fix it. Snafu! Situation normal, all fouled up!

A whoosh of hot air came from Anas' mouth and the painting was gone. No one would have remembered it anyhow. Maybe his father was right? Should he have gone into the family business? No. You'll never make it, his father had told him. Anas proved him wrong perfectly. And that burning landscape now gave testament to it.

Now all Anas had to do was do the same thing to that bloody saboteur. He would look up the required skills in the ships database, then put it into practice. Eventually, Captain would have to inform the officers of the sabotage that took place, and that would filter down to the rest of the crew and then into the Prince's chambers. Of course, that was only if Captain's outburst was not overheard. It would also make Anas's and the Engineer's jobs even more incredibly difficult. Anas needed to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

But now it was time for him to set about sending that message. He steadied his breathing, for a flame-breath takes one's breath away. This was meant to be a private message, so he would have to use his own terminal. The screen flashed on, recognizing his eyes.

"Personal message to Communications Officer Marshal Zimmerman onboard Genesis, authorization 99432741-583. From Senior Communications Officer Anas onboard Speedy." Anas sighed, this wasn't the kind of thing he usually did. His life was changing, that was for certain. But whether it was for the better or worse he had yet to find out. "Subject: Classified Message for Director.

"Good evening, Marty. I'm sorry I had to do it this way, but we don't want anyone finding—" Something arrested his attention. It was a faint ticking sound, like an antique clock. It stopped for a moment, leaving Anas wondering what it was. Click.

Nothing was heard outside Anas's door until it was blown to pieces by a tremendous explosion originating from inside his quarters. A few dragons that were passing might have been injured if it hadn't been for the fact that they were not yet at the door when it happened. When they heard the explosion, they rushed back to find what it was, only to see the remnants of the fireball and Anas, who was unconscious and chard from head to foot. The bomb had caught him full force in the front.

One of the passersby checked for a pulse. "Someone get the medical staff," he shouted. "There's still a pulse!"


A/N: Guess what? That's right! Chapter three! Someone should smile. Ok. This was a relatively long chapter for me. Anyway, this one too is dedicated to INSDragonclaw, because I said so and because he'll pick throught it unceasingly until he finds just one typo and then pounce on it like stink on an ape.