63 The Final Assault

Lieutenant Hammond stared at her left display in stunned disbelief for what to her seemed like hours, but in fact it was only thirty seconds before she leaned toward Alan and spoke up.

"How in the world did you come up with that ghost of a signal? It almost isn't there." She said very quietly.

Alan leaned back and smiled proudly.

"Angel is a freaking genius with signal recognition and her memory and cognitive abilities are stellar. When she hacked the Alongadohrn systems, she made a mental note at the time of the specific sensor signal architectures present during the event and after when we gave chase back to our dimension then watched them bolt right out of the atmosphere with their prize and tail between their legs."

"So this quantum resonate signature is prevalent when the Alongadohrn are around?"

"Just when they move from one dimension to another the way they do. It leaves a wake through space-time that lingers until it's absorbed or disrupted by natural quantum fluctuations that are always present, always in motion."

"How long till the trace signal is gone for good?"

"I don't know for sure. Every time I think I have a fix on it, it's gone and comes back somewhere else in an even more degraded manner. We have to be vigilant for new signals at the same time though, solar storms and unexpected guests have to be watched for while we're working on this in the background. You'll need to task the elder race enhanced signal processors in order to resolve the signal pattern among the mess of quantum noise out there."

"You're thinking there are specific tunnels or windows that have to be navigated to travel through the subspace barriers the way they do."

"I think they create them and the signal is like a breadcrumb trail leading to the window that once opened, remains open, permanently."

"They create a tear that never heals? Interesting theory."

"I wish I could take all the credit. When Angel and I were together, her mind crunched the data in mine and came up with this, giving me an avenue of investigation that I haven't presented to anyone yet…besides you."

"You want concrete evidence before you present your theory?"

"Yeah. I can multitask, but I don't want 'em shutting me down to make sure I don't miss a relevant local event because I'm preoccupied with something seemingly irrelevant to the immediate task of protecting our people down there."

"Gotcha. I'll help you search while watching my right display for irregular surface activity."

"They got you tracking what our people are doing down there?"

"Yeah. I'm not allowed to use enhanced visual surveillance for privacy reasons, some of them are going nude, the whole family if you know what I mean so…I just watch where they are playing and what is happening around them so I can detect strange happenings that represent a danger or outright hazard."

"Seems like an important task. Please don't let my stuff distract you the way I don't want 'em to think I'm being distracted."

"Never. I got people I care about down there sir, I won't let them or you down."

Alan heard Commander Decker clear his throat from the Captain's chair and he leaned forward and looked over at him.

"Is there something of concern over there Adjutant?"

"No sir. We were just…comparing notes about what we're looking for and getting acquainted. We've never met before."

"I see. Keep vigilant Alan, it's really important we don't miss any early warning signs. There are a hundred people down there counting on us to stay alert."

"Yes sir."

Alan looked at Lieutenant Hammond and lifted an eyebrow while grinning and she smiled at him sweetly and they leaned back in and paid attention to their displays while working on their background project. They worked diligently for over an hour, occasionally passing comments from one to the other via their displays, until Kyra achieved an eureka moment when she found a background ripple of quantum energy that had a different pattern of distribution. In one particular area of condensed signal trace there was an almost vortex like disturbance that culminated in a bunching up where the trace signal appeared to be tortured, scattered, yet compressed. She stared at the reading for a few moments while leaning in close then she alerted Alan and he too leaned in and he could discriminate the change in pattern suggesting a point of origin creating a flashing sign, 'they went here and will return from right here' is how they interpreted what Kyra had found.

Alan leaned back and looked at Kyra and gave her a thumb up with a broad smile and then he leaned in and typed a message that instantly appeared on her left display.

"That's what we've been looking for. Angel was right, we can find exactly where they punched into our realm and use that to hunt them down."

"Is that what the Captain has in mind? Are we going after them?" Kyra typed in response.

"Can't talk about it. Thank you so much for helping me nail this down."

"I get it. It was fun Alan. We found the preverbal needle in a cosmic haystack."

Alan leaned back further and looked at Commander Decker and he looked at Alan and cocked his head.

"Something wrong Adjutant?"

"Not particularly wrong sir. The Captain has me working on something and I've made a significant discovery toward that end. Can you check on his status?"

Commander Decker stared at Alan for a few moments, then reached over to his right pedestal display and he initiated a location and status query on the Captain and then he looked back at Alan.

"He's in the same place you last saw him. Do you want me to page him?"

"No sir. What he's in the middle of is way too important."

"Okay, you want to brief me on what you found?"

"The Captain's office?"

"It's that sensitive?"

"It's an important element of an upcoming…action plan."

"I think I know what you're talking about…you divulged this…element with your crewmate at science station three there?"

Alan glanced at Kyra and smiled at her and nodded before turning to look at Commander Decker.

"She has level three clearance so I enlisted her to help me, yes sir. That way we could both keep our eyes on our primary tasks while working on…what we were working on in the background."

"Smart. I guess that's what I get for pushing you to keep your eyes on your work."

"Maybe. Let me compile our work and I'll send it to the Captain's office so we can review it in there."

Alan leaned into his workstation and created a single file directory to reference all the work he and Kyra had been doing and he began dumping copies of everything into the file then he created a root access link and sent it over to Kyra's station and then he leaned back and Kyra looked at him and grinned.

"Way ahead of you sir. I already compiled everything I've worked on and put it into your file through the link you sent."

"Nice. Thanks for all your help Kyra."

"I'm glad I was helpful, thanks for letting me contribute."

Alan nodded then spun his seat around and stood up then leaned in and secured his station by logging off with a flat palm on his lower display panel and the station went dormant, then he walked toward the Commander and he too logged himself out, then pushed his displays aside and looked at the shield and sensor officer.

"You have the bridge until I return."

"Aye sir, I have the bridge." The sensor officer replied.

Commander Decker stepped down from the platform the Captain's chair is mounted to and he waved Alan to follow him and he walked out the main entrance and Alan followed right behind him to the Captain's office. Commander Decker had his palm scanned and the door slid open and the lighting glowed to life and they stepped into the room. Commander Decker walked over to the large viewer on the bulkhead and he touched the lower corner and the viewer sprang to life with the surface map in active mode. He then stepped to the side and Alan walked up to the viewer and touched the tiny icons in the margin and they increased in size and prominence and then Alan selected the AI hale icon.

"Greetings Commander Decker and Adjutant Myers. How may I be of assistance?"

"Hello Horizon," Alan said, "Will you retrieve the file labeled AL twelve dash four?"

"Right away, please standby…"

It only took a few seconds for the surface map to shrink away to a miniature image the size of an icon in the upper left corner of the display and the file icon appeared with the clear label 'AL 12-4' in the middle of the icon image. Alan reached out and touched the file icon and the contents unspooled onto the display and Alan selected last imagery of the trace quantum signature with its bizarre crumpled and compressed look as it created a vortex shape in space with the very specific coordinates associated with it in tag form using Da'Oah as the point of reference.

Commander Decker looked the data over and squinted at the truly strange looking signal pattern. He then looked at all of the complicated data points and he was shocked at the finite and exacting nature of the pinpoint coordinates since they included a Z factor that would create a path through the first subspace barrier and while he didn't exactly understand what he was looking at as far as the signal architecture, he knew a course plotting when he saw one.

"This is…incredible. I assume this how we're going to track the Alongadohrn back to their corner of the multiverse so we can wipe out their computing capabilities?"

"Yes sir. This also gives us a very precise localized point in space to scan for activity. They won't punch another whole in space to get here. It's too messy and inefficient in their eyes. Knowing their MO they will enter right there at those coordinate then slip just barely beneath the veil of normal space allowing them to prowl unnoticed and unchallenged."

"Except for the fact we tagged 'em and will know exactly where they are and where they go."

"Yes sir. That is the key to this whole line of research the Captain wanted us working on. Now we have those guys by the preverbal neck and all we have to do is reel 'em in and then hit 'em on their own turf and voila, problem solved once and for all."

"I uh…I apologize Alan. I had no idea the Captain had you working on something this significant. I never would've…"

"It's alright sir, like you said, you had no idea. You were maintaining discipline on the bridge and I can totally respect that."

"This is what you enlisted the Lieutenant to help you with?"

"Yes sir. Truth be told, Kyra's the one that narrowed down the target coordinates amongst the mess of Quantum noise out there. She has a talent for signal recognition sir, she definitely belongs on the bridge."

"Kyra? Kyra Hammond?"

"Yeah. You know her sir?"

"Not personally but the name…rings a bell for some reason…"

Decker looked down while rubbing his chin while engrossed in deep search of his memory until it was obvious a light went off and he looked up with an eureka look in his eyes.

"Of course…Lieutenant Kyra Hammond is the daughter of Cecelia Hammond. Cecelia's being considered for the position of governor of Genesis and her brother is a member of the civilian oversight comity, Calvin Hammond. How could I have missed that when I looked at the bridge crew roster?" Decker said shaking his head in disbelief at his lapse.

"She said she was from a family of overachievers. I had no idea her family was that influential too."

"Let me put it this way…" Decker glanced over at the sensor dome in the corner of the room near the ceiling and then he looked at the receiver element affixed to the corner of the viewer and Alan understood.

"Horizon, initiate privacy protocols."

"Privacy protocols are permanently active in the Captain's office unless I am specifically directed to override established privacy protocols. Nothing you say or do in this space is recorded, saved or monitored beyond my ability to respond to events since you activated my sensor elements. Once deactivated, the events I have witnessed will be shunted to my neural memory core. As you know Alan, that data is stored in such a way it cannot be accessed by any means unless I choose to transfer it to a digital format that can be viewed from an outside source."

Alan looked at Decker and held his hands up as if to say 'there you go'.

"Good enough. The Hammonds have taken it upon themselves to monitor and regulate happenings from within our burgeoning government and militaristic organizations to insure the rights and needs of the people aren't trampled upon. If they learned anything from the Earth we left, it's don't trust those in power with complete and autonomous levels of faith or trust. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

"I can actually respect that effort…a lot."

"Yeah, me too. I wouldn't tell most people about what I know but…you have a clearance level even higher than mine and I trust you implicitly, just like the Captain has divulged he does. We got your backs Alan, trust in that."

"Thank you sir. You don't think the Captain favors us or whatever?"

"Oh I know he does, but for good reason. You, Angel, Onica, and her husband Damien…you have earned his complete trust and respect and so…mine too. I'm kicking and breathing thanks to you and Angel, I am never going to be able to thank you enough for that aside from showing you the respect you deserve for the rest of my days."

"I'm uh…I'm a little humbled sir."

"I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or anything. Just stating things I can't anywhere else if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I get what you're saying sir."

"Good. This signal trace that you've figured out…it's important so I'll send a message to the Captain that you've made a significant discovery. Maybe he'll push things along so he can come take a look."

"Actually…I would kind of rather not rush him given what's up for discussion."

"Gotcha. Let's go back to the bridge until he returns then. I won't bother him, but thank you for reading me in. Now I know what's going on."

"You're welcome sir. I sensed I could trust you for some reason and now I know why, you're a good man."

"Thanks Alan."

Decker reached up and deactivated the viewer and then he and Alan walked out of the office and headed back over to the bridge. Alan walked over to science station two and sat down and placed his hand on the lower display, logging on and Kyra leaned back and waited for him to lean back in response.

"How'd that go?"

"Commander Decker wasn't exactly read in so, I gave him the cliff notes of what we're doing and now he gets it. He thinks the work is amazingly accurate…though I don't think he completely understands the signal breakdown, but he understands how important what you found is."

"That's good to hear. I was afraid he was going to…dress you down or whatever for wasting time when you should've been paying attention to the task of telemetry analysis."

"Nah. He's a good man and we can trust him. He was just maintaining discipline since he didn't understand what we were discussing."

"Are you assuming he's a good man because the Captain left him in charge or did you read him…Commander Decker that is?"

"I read his intentions and underlying character. He then made some statements that confirmed what I felt. He isn't a narrow minded power hungry military minded officer on autopilot like some people around us. He gets the core directive of the Civilian Corp, by the people in defense of the people for the betterment of all, Human and non-Human alike."

"You got all that from a momentary read of his character?"

"Yeah. It only takes a second to know what a person is like at the core and words can quickly confirm that read."

"So…you read the same thing about me?"

"Yeah. You're a sweet girl with your head and heart in the right place. You care what happens to the many due to the actions of the few with true power and influence at their disposal."

"Yeah…I think I like it stated that way."

Kyra smiled brightly and leaned in to her workstation and Alan smiled and leaned into his, glancing at Commander Decker who wasn't looking at him at the moment. He was starting to see the big picture the Captain was talking about, there were throngs of people that respected and supported him and Angel. There was no way a vote of action would go badly for he and Angel given that fact.

Alan went back to the telemetry analysis until he sensed Angel seeming to pop into his feelings. He knew she had to be on deck even if not yet on the bridge and he smiled while working until he sensed a rush, like a warm sweet fragrant wind washing over him and he leaned back and looked toward the bridge entrance to find the most beautiful thing he could imagine. Angel practically glowed under the beam lights illuminating the auxiliary readout panels near the entrance casting Angel in an almost ethereal glow, though he realized his deep love for her jaded his perception and the rush of emotional and essential energy she cast over him also altered the way he saw her.

Angel lit up with a beautiful smile when she saw Alan beaming at her and the building stress and tension in both of them simply dissolved away. Alan turned to his workstation and logged himself out, then scooted back and that's when he heard Kyra sigh and he looked at her.

"I can't get my head around how truly astonishing Angel's beauty is," Kyra said softly. "What a true wonder of wonders."

"I know what you mean. She takes my breath away every time I see her."

Angel walked over to the Captain's chair and stood fast and Alan walked up to Commander Decker.

"Sir, May I take a ten minute break from my duties?"

"Sure. I understand the proximity needs you and Adjutant Cade have. Go have a cup of nectar juice or something. Be back at your post in fifteen minutes."

"Aye sir. Thank you."

Alan presented a salute then Angel turned and did the same and Decker returned their salute and the pair then headed off the bridge. They only made it a few paces away from the Bridge entrance before Angel grabbed Alan by the arm and pulled him to her and they embraced in a long hug that was relieving and enabled a close range deep exchange of essential energy on a large scale. Once balance was felt Angel released her tight grip around Alan's neck and pulled her head back without stepping back and she graced him with the prettiest toothy smile.

"I can't tell you how much better I feel."

"I know what you mean. Let's go get something calming to drink so we can get our heads clear."

Angel nodded and the pair headed to the mess hall, ordered a full strength blue night blossom nectar drink, then they moved to the common area and sat on one of the three person couches squashed together. They sipped at their heavy and sweet drink for a time then Alan leaned back, finally feeling completely restored.

"How did things go down in the bowels of the stasis ring?"

"Really good. I trained a young ensign how to perform the regulator module upgrade without scrambling the plasma generators and we managed to get seven upgrades done."

"That's fantastic. I sense you really like Ensign Dolson. You were only scheduled five? Why so few? You're a dang wiz at that sort of thing."

"Well, they knew the trouble Ensign Dolson was having with the upgrade process so they assumed she would only get five done since she would have to perform a cold iron startup and realignment three or four times for each generator she worked on. I helped her overcome that issue and we're more than doubling what we can get done. I think we'll get twelve done by the end of our shift if all goes well."

"That's great babe. I'm glad you were able to help Ensign Dolson get better at her job."

"Yeah, me too. She's a sweet girl with lots of potential if she has the right guidance. How'd thing go with the signal analysis you were working on?"

"With Kyra's help I've narrowed the trace quantum trail down to a finite point in space. We found the entry window they'll use if they decide to come back and we can use it to make a trip to realm one oh two so you can do your thing."

"I sense it was…she's from a family of respectable influence. Lieutenant Hammond…" Angel groped her memory of the stasis list and it came to her in a flash, "I don't know them first hand, but I know the Hammond family are among the names on the stasis registry."

"Are you telling me you memorized sixty-five hundred names?"

"I didn't seek to. I just…I read the registry once when I was searching for occupants named Damien and the names stuck with me. I can visualize the list as if I'm looking at it again so…"

"You continue to amaze. Well I heard it from a reliable source that the Hammond family has lofty goals in mind that are extremely admirable. Kyra in particular is super cute, really sweet natured and sharp as a tack at signal recognition. She's actually the one that narrowed down the pattern to find the exact coordinates where it drops through the first subspace barrier."

"I can feel you trust Commander Decker implicitly. I'm proud of you for being able to cue in on his character like that. You're listening rather than tuning through me. That's huge Alan."

"I always had the sense babe, I just…yours is so much sharper."

"Yours would be that sharp if you would have confidence in your abilities. You doubt yourself cause your sense of future tense is so cloudy anymore. That can't be helped given the strange path we took to get here."

"I know…I know. I'm confident, just not in my abilities…not completely."

Angel leaned in and kissed Alan on the cheek then set her head on his shoulder for a moment then she sat upright and downed her drink and Alan followed suit and then they stood up, embraced each other, then walked over to the mess hall and they set their cups on one of the tables then headed to the transport compartment door, embraced one last time then Alan watched Angel step through the door to the transport compartment and then he headed to the bridge.

When Alan stepped into the bridge, Commander Decker looked at the Genesis time showing on his right display and grinned as Alan walked by fourteen minutes after departing. Alan glanced back and grinned and Commander Decker nodded and went back to work. Alan walked over to his assigned station, logged on and then glanced at Kyra as he leaned toward her.

"Angel is pleased to meet you Kyra. She's glad you're part of the bridge crew since you helped us resolve the trace signal and all."

"But…I didn't actually get to meet her."

"No…sorry…I forget how strange our pairing can be to outside observers. When we're in close proximity, especially after prolonged separation, there's this exchange and sharing of memory that includes the emotional sense of any experience we're sharing. It leads to a visceral sharing so vivid, it feels like you know the people your partner met. I'm also imparted with a deep sense of her feelings…she never told me she was pleased to meet you, I simply felt it…as if I was the one that developed the emotion…this must sound completely bizarre."

"Guys aren't known for the ability to express their feelings so this has got to be totally frustrating. I think I get what you're saying though. You will introduce me to her in person, right?"

"Absolutely. When our shift ends, are you going to work out?"

"Well yeah. We're all required to work out twice a day."

"Cool. Angel and I will meet you in the gym and I'll introduce you to her."

"I look forward to it. We better stay busy or we're going to get roused by Decker again."

"Don't you outrank him?"

"No. I'm a promoted transfer from the Airforce. I'm a JG cause of that."

"A junior grade…that certainly makes a lot more sense than a full blown LT at your age. Did you fly?"

"Nah, I worked in the law office. I was a law clerk for heaven's sake."

Alan nodded and they leaned back into their stations just as the door slid open and Alan sensed the Captain step onto the bridge. Commander Decker spun his chair around and started to stand up when the Captain put his hand up.

"As you were Commander…" the Captain looked at Alan and gestured for him to come with a waving finger.

"Aye sir." Commander Decker said, and then spun around to see who the Captain was gesturing to.

Alan nodded and logged himself off then stood up and walked toward the Captain and he spun around and stepped back out of the bridge and headed next door to his office. Alan caught up just as the Captain stepped through the door and Alan fast paced and made it in before the door slid closed. The Captain touched the viewer on the bulkhead bringing it to life then he froze as he stared at Alan's signal work instead of the real time surface map as he half expected. The Captain looked the data over for a few moments, then turned and looked at Alan while silently gesturing to the viewer.

"Oh uh…sorry sir, that was me…I mean that's my work…or rather it's mine and Lieutenant Hammond's work. She helped me narrow down the precise location the quantum signal trace led to. When we achieved success I asked Commander Decker what your status was…he said you were still in the inquiry so I came in here to fill him in on why I was talking with Kyra instead of paying attention to my work. I read him in since he has the clearance, but some of the bridge crew doesn't so, we borrowed your office for a few minutes."

"I see…" The Captain looked at the viewer and nodded while ginning. "That's some excellent work Alan. We got those guys by the nads now. Have a seat."

Alan nodded while fighting the urge to laugh at the Captain's comment. Alan sat down as the Captain sat down in his chair and looked up at the trace signal for a moment then he nodded and looked at Alan.

"I'm really glad to have you and Angel back onboard. You make my job so much easier."

"Thank you sir. How'd it go with the inquiry panel?"

"I'd rather wait until Angel arrives to fill you in so I only have to go over it once."

"It was that bad huh?"

"Not in the worst way. Let's just…wait until Angel gets here."

"Alright. Can I ask you something in the mean time?"

"Of course, what's on your mind?"

"Are you familiar with Lieutenant Kyra Hammond?"

"She's one of my bridge crew. I imagine you'll be working alongside her quite often since you're both assigned to the bridge."

"Yes sir…" Alan glanced around at the sensor elements then looked back at the Captain. "You know about her family connection and the positions they have installed themselves into around here and back home?"

"You uh…you figured out what's going on did ya'?"

"Kind of. I guess that answers my question, you are aware?"

"Yes. They have an agenda in line with the best interests of the people. They aren't spying or passing along inappropriate information, they are simply insuring the will of the people and essential rights and representation are respected."

"So…what Matson is doing…that must have them concerned."

"You and Angel hardly constitute the many…but yes, they are concerned. They are smart enough to see a new lust for control and influence building in a small pocket that will gather strength and pull others in like a vacuum. If the vacuum isn't sealed, it will become a whirlwind drawing in more and more power until it reaches a point of no return. Things are in the works to insure that doesn't happen, rest assured."

"It would be so much easier if I could read you sir."

"Don't go there son. I've told you…"

"I know sir. I would never betray your trust like that. I understand there are things in your head that have to remain secure. Believe me; I understand sensitive information being kept in the head it belongs in. Angel and I promised never to read or probe you and we will keep to that. It was just an expressed feeling, nothing more."

"Political wrangling can be disconcerting, but unfortunately it's in our nature to seek power while pressing what we think is important for the greater good."

"I guess I was just too young to understand or respect all that stuff when I came aboard sir. I guess there were goals in mind when some came aboard that I was oblivious to."

"That's an epiphany that will serve you well if you keep it in mind. Just remember, you are part of the greater good son, don't lose sight of that."

"Yes sir. I know I'm on the right side of things. I just…the good don't always prevail."

"You're thinking of the other Horizon. You can't hold onto that Alan. You know that was an alternate version of what could be."

"I know sir, but it demonstrates what is possible when that vacuum becomes all consuming, to the point of no return."

"We learned from that apocalyptic vision what we need to avoid. Who knows what else was different in their reality. Hell, the entire mission could've been launched with a different imperative programmed into the AI. Corruption is supposed to be one of the things she looks out for so…"

There was a tone heard at the door and the Captain enabled his desktop display and an image of Commander Hiller appeared. The Captain touched the open command and the door slid open and she walked in and grinned at Alan as she leaned over the Captain's desk as she set down a data scroll, she then looked at the Captain.

"Here's the information you asked for Captain. It's encrypted so you'll have to use your cipher key to unlock it…just in case."

"That was good thinking. Thank you Amanda."

"My pleasure sir. You want me to take the bridge until you're done here?"

"If you would, that would be great. We need Decker…elsewhere."

"Understood. I'll see you men on the bridge."

"Hey," Alan said, "Thank you for being there today."

"There's no way I was going to miss it Adjutant. Look…I know we had an adversarial start, but I've seen the light. You and Angel are worth the investment of time and energy to keep you right where you belong…where you want to be."

"Thank you ma'am. That means a lot to hear you say that. Angel sure likes you after all."

"The feeling is quite mutual. She's an incredible young woman."

Alan grinned and Commander Hiller turned and headed out of the room and Alan sensed Angel pop into his senses just as the door slid closed. He looked at the Captain and nodded once.

"She's here sir."

The Captain touched his virtual keypad on his desktop and then typed in 'Cade' follow by the command locate and two images appeared, one of Angel stepping out of the transport compartment and the other a simple diagrammatic view of the civilian berthing deck six compartment assignments with a blinking dot at Amelia's assigned quarters.

"I see she is at that. Tell me…can you tell where she's at like that over long distances?"

"If I reach out to her I become aware of her sense of awareness so, as long as she knows where she's at, then I'll become aware of it."

"What if she's unsure where she's at?"

"Well then I would have to use my remote viewing ability to have a look around to figure it out."

"So can you influence objects near her from a distance?"

"Not with my abilities, not over any significant distance but…if I channeled her abilities, then yes. From here if she were in main engineering, I could channel to move things around if I had to. It would take a serious effort though."

"Could she stop you from channeling if she wanted to?"

"If she quieted her mind, yes. Otherwise, because of our connection, she can't stop me from accessing her abilities since they're an extension of me."

"That's fascinating…and good to know. You can watch each other's backs from long distance."

"Yes sir, we could help each other out of a jam if we were trapped, pinned or incapacitated somehow."

"You have to be conscious for that to work though, right?"

"I'm not entirely sure sir. I would still be able to reach out and see her, but I don't know if I can channel her abilities if she's out."

The door slid open and Angel stepped in and Alan sprang to his feet and then closed his eyes as the warm relieving rush of essential energy washed over him and his stomach relaxed and his nerves fell to a calm and peaceful level making him smile. He then glanced at the Captain as Angel stepped right up to him and also looked at the Captain. The Captain gestured for them to go ahead and they stepped into one another and gripped the other tightly. After a long pause they separated and Angel stroked Alan's cheek.

"You can access my abilities anytime you want Alan. Remember my dreaming outbursts? My abilities work even if my conscious mind is inactive."

"You were listening to our conversation?" The Captain asked.

"Not exactly sir. He just shared his perceptions with me so I'm aware of your recent exchanges."

"I see. I was just curious. I'm not sizing you up or anything."

"I know sir. Alan and I are a puzzlement. We trust your intentions and questions."

"Good. Have a seat, we have a few things to discuss."

Angel nodded and she and Alan sat down and the Captain seemed to relax as he leaned back in his chair.

"So there will be no mind wipe. The AI made a convincing case that you wouldn't survive the process. It was also decided you never willingly gave anything up and nothing was ever recovered by any adversary that posed a danger long enough to be put into use. In almost all cases the adversaries were taken out of the picture and the remaining individuals never provided solid evidence they gleaned anything important. In the end, your word has been taken as proof positive."

"So, no repercussions at all?" Alan asked.

"I think they set the findings aside because a general vote would've made public the entire proceeding and they knew how that vote was going to go. You two are loved by the entire population so, no repercussions. You can consider the issue dropped, but now you know why you're being watched and how serious some see the level of trust instilled in you two."

"We get it sir. What about Onica and Damien? Are they going to leave them alone?" Angel asked.

"I pulled out every card I had to defend them and the interspecies immunity was the trump card that insured they won't be questioned or interrogated like you were, they will be watched, just like you two, but that's the extent of it."

"Good. They don't deserve to be persecuted for their hard work."

"I think I made that abundantly clear."

"Thank you for defending Onica's rights sir. She's an innocent soul in all this posturing and jockeying for position."

"I will defend any innocent person in my charge being sought unjustly, but you are very welcome. I happen to care about that young lady beyond the fact she is an officer I'm responsible for. She's an orphan I feel a particular special responsibility to. She's not going to be abused on my watch, you can count on that."

"You love her, don't you sir?" Alan asked.

"I guess I do at that. I'm sure she can read it, but it goes unspoken. I hope you two will keep it that way. I need people to respect how hard she has worked and studied to get to where she is. I had nothing to do with her achievements, I only approved or recommended her commendations and promotions when they were due. She earned her position and title all on her own."

"It's nice to know you're looking out for her like that. She loves Angel and I as her parents and she considers you part of her family too, even if there's no true relation. She loves equally and that includes you sir."

"So sir," Angel pressed on, "What about the Alongadohrn problem?"

"Well, your man here recruited some help and managed to narrow down the coordinates we need to watch if they decide to poke their heads out of the proverbial sand and we can give chase without alerting them when the time comes. I need you to get everything you need in place for the final assault. Now…you may not like it but…there has been a directive ordered that I must abide by. If your plan is in jeopardy of failure…I have been instructed to eliminate the imminent threat with our primary weapon."

"You can't do that sir." Angel insisted.

"Oh I think I can and I will. I don't get to question what come from this high up within the civilian oversight Angel. Not when the military, civilian representation and Corps opinion are of like mind."

"No, I don't mean you can't like that. You can't fire our primary mining weapon in realm one oh two. Energetic space like that will react violently to an injection of particle energy of that magnitude. The blowback will be catastrophic. I really can't predict what it will do to the Horizon, probably not much beyond casting her into deep space in a tumble, but it will undoubtedly have devastating results for anything nearby."

"I guess we hadn't considered that. What about point to point blasts from the turret mounted weapons?"

"If we can find a soft spot…you might be able to hit something internal that will cause secondary explosion sufficient to blow the ship apart."

"You were in that ship, any suggestions?"

"We didn't get to look around that much sir. You might find an energy source buried in the hull if we can get close enough and that will offer a target."

"I guess we can strategize that when we get close. I just want you to be aware what the plan is if yours fails."

"I'm going to do my best sir. There's no guarantee though. It's a really complex multistep process."

"I know. Just do your best. I would really prefer not to destroy them if we don't have to. I just want to put a stop to them coming to our part of the universe to conduct their imperative mission."

"Yes sir. That's what we would prefer too."

"I know you would. With that, get back to your duty stations and finish up your shifts. You only have around two hours left so, Angel I would recommend getting your tools stowed after finishing the last generator you're working on."

"Understood sir. Ensign Dolson and I are on schedule to complete twelve in all."

"Twelve…that's remarkable. I thought Titus only scheduled ten per team per shift?"

"Well…I got Ensign Dolson retrained so she could complete one in less than an hour so…"

"So you asked for extra assignments so you could keep busy?"

"Yes sir."

"That's the kind of traits I want to see instilled in our young officers. I know Commander Titus has his hands full down there so I appreciate someone with your skill and work ethics pitching in."

"It's my honor sir. In Commander Titus' defense, Ensign Dolson was trained how to perform the procedure on a plasma generator under normal conditions, but the generators are old and finicky. You just can't train for that kind of thing unless it's hands on."

"I understand. Titus is lucky to have you down there."

"Thank you sir. We'll get back to work now."

Angel and Alan stood up and presented a salute and the Captain stood up and returned the gesture, then they all headed out of the Captain's office. Angel and Alan walked to the transport compartment and pressed cheeks together while embracing each other for a few moments then Angel stepped into the transport compartment and Alan headed to the bridge.

The next two hours were uneventful and successful, at the completion of which Angel and Alan met up in the command deck common area. They then walked to the mess hall, consumed a meal together then went to their quarters and changed before making their way to the gym to get in a workout. When they stepped into the gym, Alan caught sight of Kyra on one of the elliptical machines. Alan took Angel by the hand and led her over to Kyra.

"Kyra, this is my…mate, Angel Cade." Alan said then glanced at Angel and she smiled at him.

"You can introduce me as your other half if you want," Angel thought, "I don't see that as disrespectful or whatever."

Kyra slowed her pedaling motion and the elliptical machine slowly wound down until it stopped and she stood on the pedals for a moment looking at Angel, breathing heavy as she tried to get past her stunning appearance up close. Kyra finally blinked a few times and smiled as she extended her hand and Angel clasped her hand and pumped it twice.

"It's nice to finally meet you in person Angel. I'm sorry for staring. I've never seen anyone so…breathtaking before."

"Thank you, it's nice to meet you too Lieutenant Hammond. I feel like I already know you because I share in Alan's familiarity with you. I remember all of your interactions as if I were there too…looking through his eyes…as if it was me enlisting your help and getting to know you."

"What an amazing partnership you two share. I guess you know everything he knows and he knows everything you know?"

"Not quite…but we have access to everything the other knows and my photographic memory means anything I share with or from him stays with me forever. I can't forget it."

"You don't have photographic memory like she does Alan?"

"Oh heck no. I mean, my memory is pretty good, but nothing close to photographic and that actually degrades her memory a bit, but she doesn't mind the trade off because there are so many other enhancements we enjoy thanks to our pairing. She considers it a small price to pay."

"That's crazy. What kind of trade off have you made for all the enhancements she bestows on you?"

"This might sound weird but…" Alan glanced around then looked at Kyra and spoke softly, "My sense of masculinity. I have doubts and insecurities that I have to fight against constantly. Angel encourages me and emboldens me, but I still have this…soft doubt that weakens me slightly. It's a small price to pay for all the amazing things I gained when we became paired though, so I don't much care about all that."

"That sounds like a psychological issue, not one of debilitation or whatever."

"I assure you it goes way deeper than that. There is a definite psychological component, but there is a physical aspect of weakening too. I share half my strength and very being with Angel. I would be physically stronger without her, but diminished beyond belief in every other way conceivable. I'm ten times the man I am without her. Most of my more impressive abilities require her presence to manifest the way they do."

"Sounds really complicated. I don't know how you can live with another person sharing your being like that."

"It takes a while, but you just adapt and actually come to enjoy the constant companionship."

"That part sounds amazing, the rest? I don't know about."

"We're living proof this how the Human Species is hardwired to exist. Something we genetically forgot over the eons since the last time one of us experienced a pairing."

"You mean I could…there's a guy out there that could pair with me like you two did?"

"You would have to be scanned to determine your neural density, it's one of the key traits necessary for a true pairing to be possible."

"It's almost scary to think something like that could just…happen…and I would have no idea what was happening to me."

"Thanks to the AI's study of us, you can do some research and find out what symptoms and physical traits to look for to determine if it could happen to you or if it is underway unknowingly. We've heard there are few other's showing signs of a pairing developing so we are the first, not the only."

"Hmm. Think I'll schedule a full scan just to be sure one way or the other."

"Couldn't hurt. Any advanced abilities you know of ever express unexpectedly?"

"Yeah. I would rather not discuss it though."

"Fair enough. You want to work out together?"

"Sure. Go start your recommended routine and select the elliptical for your first station and we'll spur each other on."

Angel smiled and nodded and she and Alan walked to the entrance and accessed the workout regiment program and then engaged the recommended routine schedule and then chose the elliptical stations to start from and the indicators on the deck near vacant machines glowed in green with their names brilliantly spelled out along with an arrow pointing to the machines.

The three of them performed a strenuous workout pushing each other to strain beyond the recommended minimum levels resulting in a great physical effort and sore muscles with a fulfilled feeling in the end. They then sat on a bench near the entrance and talked for a few minutes, then Angel and Kyra headed to the female shower compartment and Alan to the male showers. Angel hadn't given much thought to disrobing in front of another woman until Kyra stood in stunned amazement staring at Angel. Angel could feel slight feelings of attraction and awe and she looked at Kyra while fighting the urge to cover herself.

"What's the matter Kyra?"

"I didn't know your beauty was so total and complete. I'm sorry if I'm making you uncomfortable but…you groom yourself hairless, right?"

"Yeah. Alan likes to see everything so I keep myself hairless down there."

"Geeze…you've got perfectly round breast and I've never seen a girl shaped like you are down stairs. That's not a physical alteration is it?"

"No. I was born like this."

"I'm making you uncomfortable, aren't I?"

"Maybe a little. You gotta remember I can feel your emotions very clearly. You may not be aware of what you're feeling while looking at me the way you are."

Kyra shook her head and forced her eyes to meet Angel's and the depth of purly blue color made her skin tingle and she smiled at Angel.

"Thinking about it…I know what you're talking about now. I promise you I'm not gay…but you make me question that. I've never looked at another woman and felt the kind of things I'm feeling right now."

"I have that affect on people of both sexes when they see me nude. It's been problematic my whole life."

"I apologize for my reactions. I promise not to put hands on you."

"Is that what you're inclined to do?"

"Yeah. I won't lie about that."

Angel grinned and nodded and then they stepped into separate shower cubicles and got on with their showering effort. When they were done, Angel and Kyra dried off then retrieved white shin length robes and put them on, securing the waist belt then they walked to the berthing area and Angel reached her quarters first and she said goodbye and then stepped into her quarters and sat down on the bed after retrieving her hair brush. Alan arrived seconds later to find Angel slowly stroking the brush through her hair. Alan walked over to the bed and shucked his robe off and Angel smiled as she gazed at his amazing physique. Alan sat down next to her and put his right hand on her thigh and stoked her amazingly soft skin as he inhaled her wonderful floral scent thanks to the body wash she had used while bathing. He then got a sense of her feelings and experiences as she thought about the experience and he leaned against her.

"That stuff still happens?"

"Yeah. It never changes. Amazement, curiosity, then attraction followed by a twinge of infatuation."

"Sorry it bugs you so much."

"Oh I'm used to it, I just don't understand it when it comes from another girl."

"You tried to look at her the same way?"

"Yeah. I mean, she's pretty and well developed but…"

"But you can't imagine putting your hands on her?"

"Yeah. I mean the thought of getting busy with a girl is just…yuck. Kyra really wanted to feel me and kiss on me. I accidently sensed that she's experimented with that sort of thing before and it wasn't something she hated…although she's definitely attracted to men, not women."

"Well I can sure understand her feelings. You're an amazing sight Angel. No other woman alive looks like you babe. The perfect symmetry and tone you possess just engages primal reactions in men and women alike."

"I…I know."

"You've never seen a girl that made you curious or whatever, not even in the slightest?"

"I'm not going to talk about it."

"Oh my gosh…I'm…seeing your memory of what you did when you were eight." Alan uttered.

Angel tried to push the memory aside but only made it more distinct and intense and Alan closed his eyes and tried to push beyond what he was seeing in his mind's eye view, but the images and feelings were distinct and clear. Alan allowed the images and emotional trace feelings to flow then he sensed Angel growing increasingly uncomfortable sharing such an intimate early memory. Alan actively quieted his mind and then kissed Angel on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry for…"

"You didn't seek that out Alan. I was young and curious. I think everyone has a best friend they…do that kind of thing with at some point."

"Are you going to be uncomfortable around Kyra from now on?"

"No. As long as she doesn't develop true feeling of attraction toward me or whatever I'll be fine around her."

"You want to request private showering facility access from now on?"

"I'm tempted but…no. I gotta get used to the fact this is going to happen for the rest of my life, just like it has up till now. I think once desensitized…you know…once they see me they will just get used to the fact I look the way I do. It's just that first sight that takes 'em by surprise."

"I can remember the first time I saw you. I was dumbfounded."

"Believe it or not I felt the same way the first time I saw your erection. I had never felt such…enticement and attraction as I did at that moment. You were big, and shapely in a way that just made my heart pound. It was true attraction and desire that felt right and exciting."

"That's called developing love babe. We were falling hard and I think that's just part of it."

"Yeah, I guess. You're a seriously gorgeous man too though."

"I was just a kid then though."

"So was I. You were perfect for me at the time. You gotta know you're pretty girthy when you get aroused, even back then. If you had been any bigger, you would've done damage when we finally made love. It hurt like the dickens as it is."

Alan nodded and glanced down at himself in a flaccid state and Angel looked down at him too.

"I find you very interesting and attractive in this state Alan. I know other girls try to imagine what you look like when they realize how well defined your muscle tone is, then you talk and the tingles set in."

Alan looked at her and smiled.

"You read girls reactions that closely?"

"Of course. You're my guy and I get jealous. I know I can trust you, but I still feel the green monster from time to time when girls are attracted to you."

"I guess I can understand that."

"We should get some sleep. I don't even know what time our next duty shift starts, but I would imagine it's going to be early."

"Do you want to make love before we go to sleep?"

"With my mind reeling the way it is, would you be hurt if I just want to lay with you for comfort without doing anything?"

"Absolutely not hun. I get it."

Alan stood up and then Angel stood up and set the hairbrush on the bed and she removed her robe and set it aside and they pulled the top blanket back and then they climbed into the bed and Angel sat for a few minutes brushing her hair while engrossed in deep retrospect. After a while, Angel set the brush aside and got up and deactivated the lights then she climbed into bed with Alan and they curled up to one another and just as they got comfortable, the AI called out into the room.

"Angel, Alan?"

Angel's eyes popped open and she sat up slightly.

"We're here…"

"You did not access the duty shift roster. Your next duty shift begins at zero six hundred. Alan, you are assigned to the bridge with continuing efforts to monitor local space. Angel, you are once again assigned to main engineering to assist with the plasma generator upgrade efforts. Commander Titus is hopeful the stasis ring generators can be completed by the end of your duty shift."

"We understand. How many generators remain incomplete at this point?" Angel asked.

"Twenty eight units remain incomplete though one unit is permanently nonfunctional. That particular unit is going to be skipped."

"Can that one be repaired?"

"Negative. It requires a complete overhaul that cannot be accomplished onsite. That is the unit damaged when Damien was nearly killed in his stasis chamber. You crushed the plasma conduit to stop the breach which caused a backflow that destroyed the generator's internal components. I was able to enable the bypass mode before the generator exploded, but the damage was already done."

"I didn't know that much damage was done or that it was never addressed."

"The plasma network remained stable and viable so the issue was not judge to be important. As you know the system can function with only the plasma reactor and ten generators in the ring section functioning. The loss of one has no appreciable effect on total system stability and function. Would you like a wakeup call at zero five hundred?"

"If you would, that would be nice just in case we oversleep."

"Understood. Sleep well."

The com panel went dark and Angel laid her head back down and she sighed heavily.

"I guess we have to work separately again."

"Sounds that way," Alan said. "We can get through it."

"I know, I just don't like it."

"Can I ask you something babe?"


"What ever happened to Vera? Your friend that you were thinking about earlier."

"We were friends until the time I left Earth. We said our goodbyes eight months before mom and I boarded. You know how everyone is sequestered with others coming aboard to prepare you for the boarding?"

"Yeah, I remember that. So things didn't get weird between you after...you know…you played with each other those times?"

"No. It was mutual curiosity. We weren't attracted to girls, we were just learning about our bodies by looking at another girl up close."

"Oh. I was just curious."

"I know. Go to sleep handsome. I'll see you in the morning."

"Alright, I love you Angel."

"Love you too Alan."

They then slowly drifted off to sleep together. Angel stirred first at 04:35 am with a heavy bladder paining her. She pulled away from Alan's grip and headed to the toilet to relieve herself. She then stepped out of the bathroom to find Alan looking at her and she could sense his waking mind making her smile. She walked over to the bed and sat down on the edge of the bed while looking at him and she leaned down and kissed him then she stood back up and collected her hairbrush and stepped back into the bathroom and brushed her hair then brushed her teeth and rinsed her mouth out then she returned to the bed to find Alan lying on his back with the blanket pocked up in a distinct peak and she smiled at him as she sat down next to him.

"Did I do that to you?"

"It happens when I wake up a lot of the time, but seeing your beautiful rump definitely helped encourage the level of stiffness."

Angel chuckled and then stood up and gestured at the bathroom.

"Go brush your teeth and we'll go get something to eat."

Alan nodded and sat up as he pushed the top blanket down and his erection popped into view and Angel cringed and tingled from head to toe as she stared at his firmness while he climbed out of bed. Alan didn't fail to notice and he stepped up to Angel and embraced her as he pushed himself against her hip. Angel hugged him and reached down and gripped him and took a rapid inhale as she sensed the sensation of her warm hand gripping him. She kissed his neck then let go and stepped back.

Alan walked over to the bathroom and stepped in and brushed his teeth and rinsed his mouth out as Angel got dressed. Alan then came out and he too got dressed and they exited their quarters and headed to the mess hall. They found it was quite busy with activity including Kyra who only to happily waved them over to her table. Angel and Alan acknowledge her then retrieved orange juice for Alan, tea for Angel and then they walked over to the table Kyra was seated at.

"Good morning Lieutenant Hammond." Angel said smiling brightly.

"Good morning. I hope we're to the point we can use first names?"

"Sure, I would like that Kyra."

Angel and Alan sat down next to one another on the opposite side of the four person booth table and they glanced at one another and they both erupted in a smile of affection and Kyra chuckled lightly, making Angel look at her and furrow her brow.

"What's so funny?"

"You two. You're so in love and so cute the way you cast gazes on one another."

"You don't have a guy in your life you can dote over?" Alan asked.

"No, not really. I'm still trying to get used to my body. I'm not ready to throw it at a guy since my head is still stuck a few years behind it. At my perceived age, you just don't throw yourself into the game."

"Have you tried things out?" Alan asked blushing slightly.

"Nah. I let the AI take care of me with those amazing servo drones with warm hands. I don't need a guy to see to that need so it leaves my head clear to consider any relationship carefully. Most guys don't like that kind of thought investment."

Alan leaned in slightly and spoke softly.

"Those servo drones can take care of all your needs?"

"Yup. The AI understands our anatomy perfectly making things particularly intense and satisfying." Kyra looked at Angel and grinned. "You've never let the AI give you a massage then satisfy aching loins?"

"The massage part yes, the other…no. I have Alan and he's really good at pleasing me so I don't need a machine to do it. You have to remember, we share senses so he feels what I feel. He knows exactly how and where I like things…stimulated."

Kyra pulled her head back in surprise and she looked at Alan and now she was the one that blushed.

"You share her sense of touch when you do things?"

"Yes. Total and complete sensation sharing is part of our pairing. The moment of climax becomes an out of body experience."

"I bet. I can't even image what a guy feels during that. That would be so neat to share in every aspect of sexual contact."

A servo drone floated up to the table with menu scrolls and Angel collected them and handed one to Alan and they made their selections then handed the menus back to the servo drone and it rose up, spun around, and floated off silently. Angel then sipped at her tea as she read what Kyra was feeling and while there was mild curiosity about Alan in particular, Angel sensed it wasn't an actual attraction. He was just the male closest to her mind at the moment and nothing more. Alan sensed Angel wanted the conversation to go elsewhere so he pressed it that way to ease her.

"So I get to stand watch at the science stations again today. Are you assigned to telemetry analysis too?"

"Yeah. I have a knack for signal recognition so that's where they like me for now."

"Well you sure did a heck of a job with the quantum trace signal. They must've noticed."

"You told them about my contribution?"

"Of course. I'm not going to take credit for someone else's work."

"That's nice. Thanks for the credit where due."

"So, did you hear about the result of the inquiry?" Angel asked while listening to Kyra's response.

"Yeah. I'm glad they saw the light. Calvin told me what was discussed…even though I don't think he was supposed to."

"You have the clearance required to be read in," Angel said, "He didn't do anything wrong by talking about it with you."

"My mom told me we aren't supposed to pass things back and forth though, so it won't look like we're spreading sensitive information around."

"I think that's her attempt to keep a low profile. I don't think it's actually an expected behavior or whatever."

"Maybe. Mom is pretty smart though. If she says not to do something, we probably shouldn't."

"Maybe Calvin knew how important this was to you and wanted to keep you informed because of that fact."

"That's real likely. My brother and I are pretty close after all."

"Can I ask how old you were when you boarded the Horizon?"

"I was seventeen and my brother was twenty. We experienced a little over four years of physical aging while in stasis. It has something to do with a brown out while the ship was exposed to anti-time radiation…whatever that is."

"That's the radiation present in the realm we hid in while time wound down backwards around us so we could arrive at the horizon planet when we were supposed to. Unfortunately something went wrong with our exit and we missed our exact exit time by a significant margin."

"Yeah…I know it's twenty twelve and we were supposed to hit twenty-one seventy-five."

"Yeah, the AI had to perform a partial shutdown during the moment of exit so, none of the servo drones could be used to get us through the window into our space time and we just hung there for a time."

"Yeah, I got that much from the post stasis briefing."

Two servo drones floated up to the table with Angel and Alan's food on plates and they rose up and slid the plates on the table, then descended and floated away silently. Angel and Alan set in to eating their food and then they sat and polished off their drinks after they finished eating everything on their plates. Kyra then looked at her bio monitor to find out the time and Angel furrowed her brows.

"You're wearing one of the new bio monitors. Are you experiencing problems from the prolong stasis?"

"No. The AI wants to monitor my bio rhythms for a while longer to get a good baseline for what's normal for me. It's still early, you two want to catch a good run in the gardening ring?"

"We usually do a run at the end of the day so we aren't' working with sore legs but…yeah, we would like to get in a good run. How far do you usually run?"

"Five miles every other day."

"How long have you been out of stasis?" Alan asked.

"Six weeks."

"Hmm. Well let's get going while we still have time."

"We'll hit the gym then go to the gardening ring."

"That sounds good." Angel said.

They stood up and headed out of the increasingly noisy mess hall and walked to the gym and performed their recommended workout regiment and then they transported to the gardening ring entrance and then made their way into the warm humid and inviting environment of the gardening ring and they ran along the aft margin of the gardening ring until they had covered a full five miles. They then walked one trip around the ring to burn off lactic acid then they transported back up to the command deck and they showered, Angel only garnering an occasional glance from Kyra this time.

Angel and Alan met up in their quarters and they sat on the bed with their legs crossed and they engaged in the deep sharing of minds. After twenty minutes they withdrew and then got dressed for the day. They then headed to the transport compartment and they embraced for a few moments then pressed their cheeks together and then Angel watched Alan walk to the bridge, have his palm scanned and then step in giving a last glance and smile before he stepped in.

Angel was pleased that when she arrived on station in main engineering, there were only four generators left not including the damaged unit so she got right to work finishing up the last four units with Ensign Dolson's help. When she was done she requested time to go be close to Alan for a few minutes and Titus approved her request and her and Alan had a cup of tea while rejuvenating.

When Angel returned to main engineering she requested some time in her lab and Titus approved since the stasis ring generator circuit was complete ahead of schedule in part thanks to Angel's assistance in training the subordinate officers. Angel entered her lab and she couldn't help but smile at the playground she had to work in. She knew important things had to be completed, but the fixtures and computer access was second to none along with robotics and test equipment scattered about.

Angel decided to work with the new data core information to determine the necessary versus available elements to construct the satellite she was tasked with building and launching in the next ten years. She worked diligently with the doors to the lab wide open and anyone that wanted was allowed to come in a look around, a few recognizing what Angel was working on and they put their name in the pool of possible candidates to help with the satellite project. Angel found the population pacification satellite she was basing her design on was feasible, though horribly complex and a few crucial elements described were unavailable in the Horizon system and some of the technology described didn't exist so would have to be crafted from scratch with contemporary equivalents.

After working until the end of her stress induced symptom handling capability, she sealed her lab and Titus excused her for the day. Titus informed her that he was going to conduct her engineering readiness training very soon so she could stand a traditional duty station, but for now he had his hands full with others needing far more attention to get them up to standards of safety and competency expected of the main engineering teams.

Angel transported back up to the command deck and stepped onto the bridge and quietly walked up to the Captain's chair and he looked at her and nodded once.

"Adjutant. Good day down there?"

"Yes sir. It was very productive. The stasis ring network of generators is completely upgraded now."

"That's good news. That network is crucial to keep the sun tube operational."

"Yes sir. I managed to get some time in working in my lab in main engineering too. We have a long road ahead to get that satellite built on time."

"I know you can do it Angel."

"Yes sir. I already have from a certain point of view."

"That's true."

"It did occur to me though…what if we were mistaken and I send the satellite and another one arrives too?"

"That would be a big problem, but I'm pretty sure we have it right. Yours is the only one that will show up."

Angel just looked at the Captain and he dipped his chin and stared into her gorgeous deep blue eyes, eventually cracking a small glimmer of a grin. Angel understood he must've seen something in the Tel Pok Maron data that confirmed his supposition. Angel looked over at Alan and he was already on his feet logging out of his station and then he walked over to Angel and the Captain nodded at the pair and they headed off the bridge.

They embraced next to the bridge entrance then headed to the mess hall and ate their evening meal then went to the gym and worked out, once again with Kyra encouraging them on then they showered and retired to their quarters and Alan was pleased Angel was feeling more comfortable around Kyra in the showers now that the shock of first glimpse was gone. Angel sensed Kyra truly admired her stunning beauty, but there was no physical attraction or unspoken intentions aside from a desire for continued friendship.

Angel and Alan then retired to their quarters and they removed their robes and sat on the bed with their legs crossed and engaged in the deep sharing for half an hour, at the end of which Alan was so aroused due to Angel's less visible state of arousal, Angel opened her eyes with their foreheads touching and she was looking at his swollen head poking up at her. Angel smiled as her vision cleared and she lifted her head and stared deep into his purly green eyes.

"Am I creating frustration for you?"

"No, just pent up sexual tension maybe. You're horny so I am too. I can feel you're noticing more appropriate feelings from Kyra."

"Yeah. She likes looking at me because I'm unique and beautiful, but not because she has any lingering attraction and there are no signs of infatuation. I feel ready to engage in intimacy. Just do me a favor…"

"You don't want me to explore your early memories?"

"Yeah. You know how I feel about that stuff."

"You don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed about what you experienced as a child Angel."

"That's nice of you to say but I am so…"

"Alright. Unless it's present in your mind I won't seek it out."

"I keep those memories buried for good reason."

"I get it babe. I won't press the issue."

"Thank you Alan."

Angel uncrossed her legs but kept them apart as she laid back onto her elbows and she gave Alan a sultry gaze. Alan looked her up and down and took a deep breath then uncrossed his legs and maneuvered onto Angel and they engaged in a long round of kissing and petting followed by a vigorous round of cunnilingus then almost an hour of intercourse. Once they regained their senses, they withdrew into their own minds and put their robes on and went and took a shower, then came back to their quarters and the AI informed them they were scheduled for the night shift duty cycle so they decided to put each other out by engaging in the deep sharing until they dropped from consciousness.

When Alan woke first, he gently climbed off the bed, relieved himself then stepped back into the small extremely dimly lit compartment. He could feel Angel becoming more and more conscious, but her mind was not yet the flurry of internal thought and debate he normally sensed from her. He walked over to the bed, sat down, placed his hand on her supple but firm back and her mind popped to life as he clearly sensed her quickly debating the fight or flight response before calming down as she realized it was Alan and her eyes fluttered open. Angel immediately smiled for a moment then she blinked hard a few times before withdrawing into her own mind and it took them both a few seconds to adjust since they had been joined for hours.

Alan's face grew clear in the dim light and she once again smiled brightly.

"Morning handsome."

"Morning gorgeous. I thought we were going to avoid falling asleep while joined."

"Did you experience a bad dream?"

"No. Two involving playing with Onica when she was young, like she was when we first found her, I assume those were from your mind, and one dream about flying through a jungle at treetop level. We've never done that so, it must've been my mind reeling from the test flight in the X nine oh two while dreaming about the jungles of the horizon planet."

"Well there ya' go. No harm done."

"Is that what you're afraid of? That we'll share a nightmare?"

"You remember what happened when I experienced nightmare outbursts? That's what I'm afraid of."

"Those memories are docile in our heads except for the incredible level of sadness associated with watching the one we love being killed. We're not going to crack the ship open like before."

"You don't know that for sure. It's dangerous to take the chance…still…I wasn't tired so the deep sharing allowed us to bond, share energy, and eventually drift off to sleep since we were unaware of the world around us."

"We should get up and get something to eat before we're called to duty."

Angel rolled over and stretched hard then sat up and Alan smiled at her in the dim light.

"I sense a change coming. Maybe falling asleep with our senses acutely active allowed future tense information to filter into my mind."

Alan stood up and reached over by the door and activated the lighting then sat back down next to Angel.

"I'm sensing it now too," Angel admitted, "Something to do with you and I being made more useful around here."

Alan sensed Angel wanted to get out of bed so he stood up and Angel scooted to the edge of the bed then stood up and they went about brushing their teeth, rinsing their mouths out, and then getting dressed. They then made their way out of their quarters and walked to the mess hall. They found only a handful of people in the mess hall so they had choice of the compartment for where they wanted to sit so they chose one of the two person booth seats near the drink dispensers.

A servo drone floated up to the table with menu scrolls and Angel collected them then the servo drone settled to the deck and the AI's voice rang out.

"Hello Angel and Alan. I trust you slept well?"

"Hello Horizon," Angel replied looking down at the servo drone being used as a local speaker. "We slept very well thank you. We woke with a sense things are going to change for us. Do you have any idea if there are plans in place we're unaware of?"

"As a matter of fact I am addressing you in this unorthodox manner in order to inform you of a change in your duty assignments. Your engineering readiness training is to be administered immediately so you can be assigned to standard engineering duty stations. After you eat and perform your physical workout, please report to main engineering so your training can be administered. You are asked to quiet your minds during the administration of your training segments so your results are individually relevant."

"We can respect that. Is Lieutenant Commander Titus going to be the one administering our training?" Alan asked.

"Affirmative. He is in main engineering preparing your training curriculum as we speak."

"Curriculum…we thought our training was going to be onsite familiarization along with some testing or whatever?"

"You and Angel have sufficient neural complexity to withstand neural suggested information uploads of high complexity and large volume data content that would send most into neural shock. That fact will enable most of what you need to know to be imparted in a single upload session with the new cerebral augmentation system."

"It sounds like the neural manipulation system from the stasis chambers is undergoing further modification to serve our needs." Angel commented.

"The introduction of solid state crystalline housed quantum computing submicron processors has enabled a great deal of ground breaking innovation to take place. Manipulation of the information allocated to memory for the augmentation of intelligence is just one example of that leap in technological prowess."

"Is the cerebral augmentation system an inductive system, like that in the X plane?"

"Affirmative. It is essentially the same technology just a much more potent version."

"It's mobile enough to be relocated to main engineering?" Alan asked.

"Negative. Lieutenant Commander Titus is compiling the training curriculum from main engineering. You will be taken elsewhere for the actual uploading of the training material."

"Alright, we'll just go with the flow and take it as it comes."

"Given your astonishing physiology, you will not be exposed to anything even close to hazardous."

"I take it the Captain is aware of this plan?"

"Affirmative. Your placement on the bridge is extremely limited at the moment, he is anticipating your successful completion of the readiness training so you can be assigned to more critical stations on the bridge and in main engineering."

"Have the engineering spaces and components really changed that much?"

"The overwrite of your command training negated most of what you need to be fully aware of. This is the traditional way of implementing training."

"Alright. We'll report to main engineering once we're done with our morning routine."

"Understood. Your meals will arrive momentarily. Have a good day."

The servo drone rose up, spun around and floated off silently and Angel and Alan looked at one another and grinned.

"I guess being built this way has its advantages." Alan commented.

"I guess it does. I really don't know what to expect from this engineering readiness business. I know I should know but…that part of my command and control knowledge is simply gone."

"Are you hinting for me to take an advanced look at things to come?"

"Nah, let's just be surprised since we don't sense pain or danger."

Alan nodded and at that moment two servo drones floated up to the table and rose up and slid their plates of food up on the table then descended and floated away silently after Angel handed off the menu scrolls left by the first servo drone. Angel and Alan then got up and walked over to the dispensers and poured something to drink then sat back down and ate their meal in silence among the handful of people elsewhere in the mess hall.

When they were done eating they made their way to the gym and performed their workout routines then showered and dressed out in their working uniforms and then transported down to main engineering. Lieutenant Commander Titus was standing at one of the auxiliary computer access terminals and he glanced at Angel and Alan then with the flick of his finger, transferred the information he was working with onto a pair of data pads and then he collected them both and walked over to Angel and Alan and he held them out.

"Welcome Adjutants. I assume the AI informed you that I am going to administer your readiness training?"

Angel and Alan reached out and took the data pads.

"We were informed sir."

"Good. The first part of your readiness training will consist of engineering station identification. Have you two completed your written engineering familiarization exercises?"

"Not exactly sir. We've been kept kind of busy with missions and whatnot." Alan answered.

"I've perused the engineering team reports over the last few months sir. It was part of my research into the satellite program so I could narrow down team members to recruit into the project. Would that be sufficient since it involved movements and assignments throughout the ship?"

"Is Alan aware of the contents of your revelations?"

"Yes. We shared the essence of the information I gleaned."

"Then it'll do, but you two need to keep up with your studies. That is something that never stops, not even for someone in my position. I need you two to quiet your minds for this part of the readiness training. After this we'll head to the neural research lab to impart the neural suggestive portion."

"Aye sir," Angel replied, and then her and Alan actively quieted their minds. "I assume we have to achieve a specific minimum score on this written portion?" Angel asked.

"Wha…yes. You have to score one hundred percent or there's no point in moving on. I know you two have access to information beyond my understanding but I ask you to honestly complete the written portion from existing engineering space knowledge alone."

"We'll honor that sir." Alan replied.

"Good man. You'll find a pictographic diagram of each and every engineering station on this ship including those on the bridge, in auxiliary engineering spaces, and the main engine control room as well as the negative matter reactor engineering spaces, both primary and secondary. On the left hand side you will find a list of station identifications and all you have to do is link each and every one of those to its respective station throughout the ship. Simply drag the identification label to the correct station and drop it. It's as simple as that."

Angel's mouth dropped open slightly as she stared at Titus without looking at her data pad.

"There are at least two hundred engineering stations throughout the ship sir."

"You don't think you can recall them all? That's why you should keep up with your studies Adjutant."

"We can probably handle it but…it's going to take a while."

"That's to be expected. You can use your lab for peace and quiet…or you can go down to the main reactor control room. There are usually unoccupied redundant stations down there."

"How much time do we have to complete the written portion?" Alan asked.

"As long as you need, though they have to be done before you leave here."

"I think we'll go down to the main reactor control room sir." Angel said.

"As you wish. You may not enlist any help from any crewmates. This is expected to be a test of your knowledge and readiness."

"We understand sir. We promise not to cheat in any way." Angel assured him.

"I know. That's why you're being allowed to take care of this in such unsterile conditions. There are very few I would trust under these same conditions."

"This is standard readiness training?"

"Yes. Everyone on the engineering teams has completed the same exact readiness training. This and the neural induction portion…though that part of yours is going to be compressed more densely since you can withstand a compression ratio the rest of us can't."

"I assume it will include emergency preparedness exercises and such?"

"Yes. You'll know what you need to know in order to stand watch at any engineering station throughout the ship."

"It would've been better to just leave our command and control training in place." Alan commented.

"The overwrite was ordered from way over my head Alan. It was thought you would be more compliant if you learned how to be an engineer from the beginning, like everyone else."

"Yes sir. I know we can be a bit willful and that's not always a good thing from subordinate officers."

"Exactly. They were hoping to write some of that out by doing what they did. Now…go find a quiet spot and get started. Come see me when you're done and I'll have your results calculated and then we'll move on so long as you achieve a perfect score."

"I thought most scored written exams and such allowed for a margin of error sir?" Angel said.

"This is something you just can't get wrong and you have to know you two are held to a different standard than most. You will find your expected results will be in the ninety two percent or better for a passing score, in this case it has to be one hundred percent though."

"We should've expected that sir. We'll come find you when we're done."

Titus nodded and stepped back with a big grin on his face.

"Good luck. I know you two will do just fine."

"Thank you sir." Angel said as she and Alan headed to the stairs.

They climbed down to the reactor control room and stepped through the blast door into the brightly lit control room and a few of the officers looked their way, stared for the usual length of time as they desensitized themselves to the fact Angel and Alan were in their midst and astonishing looking, they then went back to work paying close attention to their stations.

Angel and Alan walked over to two vacant stations with dormant control panels and the free floating displays were deactivated leaving a large workspace to work with. The stations were separated by three active stations that officers were seated at, but they figured it didn't matter since they couldn't help each other.

Angel and Alan then got to work, the man next to Alan glancing over at what Alan was doing when he noticed that Alan didn't activate his station.

"Oh yuck!" The officer said, "I remember doing my readiness exams. I was made to do them in one of the deck eleven conference rooms. I absolutely hated it. Good luck Adjutant Myers."

"Thanks. I should've been doing more studying."

"You were in command for almost a year, it should be a breeze for you."

"They overwrote our command and control knowledge with subordinate officer indoctrination."

"Oh…I had no idea. Well, best of luck to you."

"I'm not allowed to use my advanced abilities to glean information so this has to be from true knowledge. I think I got this, it's just going to take a while to get it right."

The officer smiled and nodded then looked away as he paid attention to his station and Alan concentrated on his work as he and Angel began the painstaking process of properly identifying the myriad of engineering spaces scattered all throughout the ship. Angel worked for three hours ten minutes to complete her work, Alan took an additional five minutes then they headed up to the main engineering space with their data pads and they surrendered them to Lieutenant Commander Titus. He took them to the computer access terminal he had transferred the original data from and he set them down and enabled the grading program and the completed station identification exercises were scored in seconds by the AI.

Angel initiated a gentle push and Alan sensed the slight tingle in his stomach so he too pushed slightly opening his mind to Angel's influence and they both took a quick breath as they sensed the rush and the building tension was washed away. Angel stepped closer to Alan so they pressed together at the shoulder and Titus glanced at them with a stony look and Angel sensed immediately that he was messing them. Her sense was confirmed when he stood up straight and smiled as he turned and faced Angel and Alan.

"See…you were all worked up for no reason. You both aced the exercise."

"Phew…I was actually worried about the secondary transient surge controller and the primary regulator controller stations below the negative matter reactor." Alan admitted.

"Those get a lot of people since they're side by side and have similar layouts as far as the controls go. You two are sure you didn't use your advanced abilities at any point?"

"We're positive sir," Angel replied instantly. "We had our minds quieted the whole time and that means no access to any of our advanced abilities as well as each other."

"Good enough for me. Let me pose a question to either of that knows the answer. Hypothetical scenario here…we're face to face with an aggressive adversary and we want to initiate a full power jump to five hundred times the speed of light. You're on the bridge, what sequence do you need to initiate and from what station?"

"That's a trick question," Alan responded, "First of all you would never ramp the reactor to full power for any acceleration maneuver…"

"And you can't control the reactor from the bridge," Angel added, "you would signal the reactor control room from the bridge, asking them to increase the reactor output to maximum and they would carry that out from down here and like Alan said, you would never use full power. Maximum manageable velocity would be achieved with the reactor at around fourty percent and the excess would be used to bolster the shield matrix properly to avoid temporal slipping or exotic particle creation as the subspace barrier is pierced, and you would still have plenty of remnant energy potential to sustain the ships needs for energy."

"Impressive…very impressive. You two are absolutely correct. To be honest, most of our trainees get that wrong. They always get a mental picture of energy development being a direct result of increased demand from propulsion, the system just doesn't work like that."

"Propulsion is a separate system from that of the negative matter reactor. One propels us with outright thrust, the other warps space in a controlled manner to move space around the ship while augmenting the thrust through pulling forces that can only be quantified mathematically, relatively speaking anyways." Angel said.

"That's the kind of linear thinking that suggests you understand the complex processes we harness to get around."

"Thank you sir. Alan and I have definitely studied our propulsion techniques."

"I can tell. You just passed stage two of your readiness training without the need to put you in the simulator."

"Are we still going to have to perform simulator training after all this?" Alan asked.

"Yes. Everyone has to participate in the encounter simulation to gauge your responses to a critical failure."

"The no win scenario?"

"Yes. There are solutions, but none are ideal. We need to know you will make the right choice at the right time if things come down to your decision making abilities."

"Command choices or engineering operations choices?"

"You're being trained for engineering posts, not command. It's hopeful you'll aspire to reach for the big chair, but that's not what we're concentrating on at this point."

"So what's next sir?" Angel asked.

"Let's go to the research lab and we'll get the neural induction training taken care of."

Angel nodded and Titus led the way over to the transport platform and Angel and Alan joined him in transporting away. When they arrived at the neural research lab, unlike last time, they found the lab occupied by a pair of civilian technicians in bright white shin length lab smocks and they seemed to be waiting patiently because they lit up noticeably when the three of them arrived and stepped into the humongous compartment.

"Oh wow!" The woman among the two technicians exclaimed, "They told me to expect more than vid can ever prepare me for. You are more beautiful than I ever imagined possible Angel."

"Thank you ma'am," Angel responded.

"Come on in and have a seat," The male technician said.

Angel had a momentary flashback to her experience boarding the Horizon, but she knew this was going to be far tamer. The lab coats just left a creepy feeling in the back of her mind. Angel walked across the space to the chair and she sat down and leaned back. The female technician walked up to the adapter and activated it then walked around the chair so she was looking right at Angel.

"To facilitate the upload with the least risk of neural shock, I need to use a sleep inducer to put you to sleep. We'll take a read on your neural activity then begin the upload."

Angel nodded and then looked at Alan and reached out to him.

"Alan, she's not telling me something. Watch what they do to make sure they aren't trying to initiate the mind wipe." Angel thought.

"You got it babe. I'll watch 'em like a hawk." Alan thought in return.

The woman swung a cranial cradle up and over the top of Angel's head. The contraption was mounted on a swivel arm that allowed the device to drop up and over the headrest of the chair so it was out of the way when not in use. The technician then stepped over to the controller and Alan walked up behind her and watched closely as she activated the sleep inducer function. Alan looked over at Angel and she blinked a few times, each time her eyelids looking heavier and heavier until her deep blues were covered from sight by closed eyelids and Angel's head settled to the side slightly as she completely relaxed.

The male technician then pushed past Alan courteously and he and the woman began an active scan that seemed routine, but Alan was exposed to enough of Angel's mapping knowledge to know he was witnessing them making key tag notes in regions that had nothing to do with the hippocampus. He began to see a pattern, they were mapping her anterior memory mass along with its counterpart logic connective area in the frontal parietal lobe. Alan understood the mapping could be used to identify areas for sterilization if a memory wipe was desired later on. The technicians compiled the training program then initiated the upload.

Alan looked at the adapter as it clanked into action then he looked at the readings and there was the expected momentary spike then the targeted deposit ramped up with the hippocampus responding perfectly. Angel's readings fell back into the normal range and the female technician smiled while shaking her head lightly.

"What an incredible neural response. You can't even tell we're dumping years of study and research into her brain."

"I'm going to increase the density of flow to the maximum safe limit since her neural density is higher than anything I've ever seen before." The male technician said.

He began slowly increasing the density of information upload until Angel's readings finally showed signs of stress increase though the readings were still well within the safe range. Alan glanced over at the estimated time to completion and the time instantly wound down from fourty eight minutes to thirteen minutes and Alan grinned.

"That's it gorgeous, soak it up like sponge." He whispered.

"What? What was that Alan?" The female technician asked.

"Nothing. Just…admiring her stamina. That level of density should kill a person and she's taking it like it's a daydream and nothing more."

"I know what you mean. If you have neural density anything like hers, you are a couple of the most advanced Human beings to ever live. You'll probably be able to absorb the information in around fifteen minutes too."

"Maybe. My neural density is only a few points behind Angel's."

"You'll be fine then."

"You gunna take on the mapping you were doing on Angel on me once I'm in that chair?"

"Mapping? Oh uh, we were just making sure we targeted the right memory cortex since you and Angel…"

"Look, I'm just a dumb energy burner around here, you know, an engineer monkey, but don't talk down to my intelligence. You were mapping pinpoint targets for future reference as it applies to specific areas of eradication during a mind wipe. Don't insult me by insisting it's anything else."

"Alright look. We were tasked with identifying targets of interest since your brains are unique. It isn't fully understood how your memory works since you have three distinct areas devoted to memory, and access is almost exclusively accomplished through your frontal lobes. That's where logic and sense of self are derived from. The fact your memory is so intrinsically interconnected to those regions is significant and warrants closer study."

"You were tasked…by whom?"

"I don't know exactly…"

Lieutenant Commander Titus stepped up next to Alan and glanced at him then stepped closer to the female technician.

"You better answer than man's question better than that. You're screwing around with my people and two of the most important individuals among the entire population."

"Look, all I know is we received a request to conduct a neural suggested training session on Adjutants Cade and Myers. We accepted since we are among a handful of people that know how to do this safely. We received the first request from Commander Hiller, then after accepting, sometime later, we received an addendum instruction to conduct a discrete mapping of both of them so it would be accessible to level four clearance personnel. Right now any information about them is only accessible to level five personnel."

"That's because they're special consideration officers and minors you idiot. Who signed the addendum request?"

"That's the thing, it was unsigned. I mean…we just assumed it came from Hiller but…if their information is classified that high for the reasons you say….it probably didn't come from her. We just don't know. That's the God's honest truth."

Titus looked at Alan and Alan nodded once and Titus looked at the technicians.

"This is what you're going to do. You're going to conduct the upload under the close supervision of Angel when it comes Alan's turn. She is among the handful on this ship that understands the process. If she sees anything she doesn't like…I'm not a violent man and you better be glad of it because I'll have you locked up for consideration of the mind wipe. I can't have you violating my people in such a fundamental way. Civilian Corps personnel are not your play things…or those of whoever sent you that addendum request."

"We need to get some in-house people trained so the civilian aspect can be kept out of Civilian Corps business." Alan commented.

"I Agree," Titus said. "This is intolerable."

Alan gestured to the displays and took a step closer.

"You two make sure she comes through this intact…I'm not endowed with Lieutenant Commander Titus' sense of non violence. If she comes out of this altered or damaged in any way…I'm gunna lose my shit and God have mercy on your soul when I get a hold of you…" Alan looked at them with a steely glare, "You do know what Angel I can do, right?"

The female technician swallowed hard and looked at her counterpart and he nodded then looked at Alan.

"You can manipulate gravity in a localized field, alter the speed of proton spin of objects, make them freeze or ignite with no input of physical effort, and influence the mind subtly or fundamentally enough to alter a person's personality and way of thinking."

"That' s right. I will…"

Titus put his hand on Alan's shoulder and Alan took a deep breath and settled his anger knowing it would cause a spike in energy potential that could easily run away along with his emotions. Alan nodded and looked at the estimation of time remaining and he could see there were only seconds left to completion of implantation.

"The mapping has no effect on the upload process. We don't want to hurt her, we would never agree to something that would cause harm," The female technician said.

Titus looked at Alan and he shrugged his shoulders.

"If they didn't do anything else…then mapping is harmless since it's an electronic procedure and nothing more."

The interface adapter clanked and the energy began to decrease to the system and Alan looked at the display and watched closely as the technicians deactivated the system, then stepped over to Angel and swung the cranial cradle up and away from her head. Titus touched Alan's shoulder and he looked at him and nodded.

"It was a success. No anomalies were detected during the upload and all the data was implanted in the hippocampus and temporoparietal regions."

"I'm going to give her a stimulant to bring her around." The male technician said.

Alan snapped a look at him and he put his hands up.

"Take it easy Alan. You can witness me fill the pneumatic hypo cylinder so you know what's being administered. I promise you we have no intentions of doing any harm. We truly had no idea we were being asked to do something improper."

Alan nodded and watched him pick up the cylinder and a small ampoule of clear liquid and he handed the ampoule to Alan and he read the side of it then looked at the seal and he nodded as he handed it back. The technician then picked up a syringe and uncapped it and pocked it into the ampoule and drew the liquid out and then pocked the needle into the cylinder and injected the slightly hazy solution into the cylinder then he set the ampoule down and picked up yet another and showed it to Alan and it contained vitamin B12 and pure saline solution. Alan nodded and the technician drew a small amount out and added it to the cylinder right to the single dose mark then he set the needle down and he plugged the cylinder onto the pneumatic injection gun along with a charging cylinder. He then handed the gun to Alan.

"You can give it to her if you don't trust my intentions. The carotid artery will disseminate the stimulant the fastest, but you can deliver it into her arm too. It will just take a little longer to have full effect."

Alan took the gun and looked at Angel, then glanced at Titus and he gestured to his neck and Alan nodded. He pressed the delivery nozzle against Angel's prominent carotid artery that was pulsing with every heartbeat, and he squeezed the trigger resulting in a quick burp and he moved the nozzle away and saw a tiny red mark where the concoction had pierced her skin and left a tiny welt after. Alan handed the gun back to the technician and he set it aside and a few seconds later Alan sensed Angel's mind becoming active, then her eyes fluttered open and she immediately sat up and shook her head.

"Wow! What a rush!" Angel said ginning.

"Any blurry vision, ringing in your ears?" The Female technician asked.

Angel shook her head.

"Nope. I just feel like I could run twenty miles and still want more."

"That's the stimulant we gave you. It will metabolize pretty quickly and the buzz will wear off."

"Do you feel any smarter?" Titus asked.

"Not to come off like a smarty pants but, my intelligence quotient was already pretty high. I do have a better understanding of my responsibilities as a subordinate officer and the engineering tasks seem like second nature now."

"That's perfect. That means it worked."

"There's something you need to know though…" Alan started.

Angel cued into his thoughts and a flood of information washed over her and she first experienced fear, than total disgust, followed by downright anger. She pushed out of the chair and plopped onto her feet and she walked in a circle as she tried to quell her anger, then she stepped up to the technicians and stared right into their eyes.

"How can you be so smart, and yet so dumb at the same time. If Hiller wanted our confidential medical files downgraded to class four clearance access, she would've had the Captain declassify our existing files. She never would've asked you to poke around electronically so it could be accessed later on. Didn't that ring as odd to you in the least?"

"Well…we just thought this procedure and its findings were what she wanted to review later on, not your entire medical record."

"Wait…Alan never said a word. You know everything that happened while you were out?" The male technician asked.

"Alan opened his short term perceptions to me. Everything he saw and experienced I just shared in. You two need to think before you do something so reckless. I can feel you had no bad intentions in mind and you truly believe what you're saying so…I'm not going to press assault and violation charges."

"Thank you Angel."

"Here's what I want to do. This is a non networked terminal, right?"

"Yes. This whole system is independent of the main systems on the ship."

"Good. We'll perform Alan's neural training and I want you to map him like you did me, but I'm going to write in a background Trojan that will activate the second someone puts this data on another terminal. It will destroy the data and alert the AI instantly to by whom and where the data is being accessed by and from."

Alan looked at the chair and Angel nodded.

"I'll watch out for you," Angel thought, "I trust them when they say they don't want to do anything to hurt us."

Alan plopped down in the chair and got comfortable and the female technician swiveled the cranial cradle up and over Alan's head and then activated the sleep inducing harmonic frequency and it only took a few seconds for Alan to grow groggy and then pass out completely. The male technician then engaged the interface and the adapter snapped loudly as it engaged and the upload began.

Just like Alan did while Angel was under, Angel watched the readings closely and there was the customary momentary spike, then the levels dropped off and only showed occasional peaks and troughs as the data flowed into Alan's mind and the mapping tags were inserted where unusual but significant activity was noted and then the female technician looked at Angel.

"I'm going to increase the upload density to the maximum safe level like we did with you. Alan should be able to absorb the data in record time just like you did."

Angel nodded and watched closely as the density of information flow was steadily increased until it reached the edge of the red zone on the scale and Alan barely showed any signs of neural stress. Angel glanced at the time estimate to completion and she was impressed as it rolled backwards in a blur from fifty minutes to sixteen minutes then slowly counted down in ticking seconds.

"That is astonishing that a person can withstand that without suffering neural trauma." The male technician said.

"Our neural density is part of the reason why the AI selected Alan and I to put the ship back together. We could withstand the vast amount of data that had to be stuffed in our heads in order to understand all of the ships systems along with the necessary disciplines and behavioral programming for command and control."

"I can see how that would be crucial."

"That and our inherent existing intelligence and small body sizes. We had to crawl into some tight places you just wouldn't believe."

"I remember the post stasis briefing. It depicted some really tight spots the servo drones couldn't operate in."

Angel nodded then stepped up to the terminal that was collecting and storing the data being collected and a record of the procedures being performed. Angel began to type her spurious programming and the technicians quickly lost track of Angel's compilation. It was incredibly complex and elusive the way she was writing it to perform and hide within the exiting coding. She set the download trigger code then touched the accept command and the display simply went back to its normal monitoring display.

Angel looked at the stunned technicians and Titus pat her shoulder proudly.

"Nice work Angel. I'm glad you're on my engineering team. I could've lost your genius to the computer technology or R and D departments or something."

"Nah. I'm too restless for that. I'm right where I want to be sir."

"And the engineering department is all the better for it."

"Thank you sir. Another…" Angel glanced at the display to see the time remaining, "Six minutes and we'll be finished here. Bet you wish all your people could be stocked and loaded this fast?"

"You have no idea how much I wish that were possible."

Angel chuckled and then looked at the nearest sensor dome.

"Horizon, are you monitoring?"

"Yes Angel. How may I be of assistance?"

"I want you to sequester all the data, visual, audio and electronic, anything you have record of since we entered this lab. I want it all compiled and locked away in a secure file, cosmic clearance required for access, and then send the file to the Captain for immediate review. He needs to know what's going on. Someone is trying to get to Alan I. If the data captured here today is analyzed, it could be used in conjunction with the neural induction systems on the X plane or something similar."

"Understood Angel. Do you sense an impending threat of the nature you just described?"

"No. I don't sense danger closing in or anything like that. I'm just saying that's one way the data collected here could be used against us."


Angel turned and looked at the technicians.

"You are forbidden from speaking of this incident to anyone under penalty of imprisonment until the Captain can look over the events and confer with the oversight comity. Do you understand me?"

"Yes. We understand you perfectly Angel." The female technician replied.

"You aren't going to threaten to tear us apart with your advanced abilities or burn us alive like Alan threatened to do?" The male technician asked sarcastically.

"That was in response to someone taking advantage of the woman he loves when she is at her most vulnerable. I seriously doubt he would've done anything to hurt you. He was just pissed off and hurt. He's very defensive when it comes to me. I have no such violent instincts, but I can empathize with where he was coming from."

"So he carries the mean streak between you two and you what…the voice of compassion and wisdom?"

"Alan carries vast wisdom, just like me. If he wasn't wise and compassionate, he would've mangled you without warning. I was unconscious so he was exerting his own sense of will and determination to keep cool. People like Alan and I can't allow ourselves to get wrapped up in broiling anger or…things can happen. People like you think we're just a couple dumb kids with no idea how to control ourselves. You continuously under estimate us."

"I'm sorry Angel. We'll keep quiet about what's happened here, you have our word on that now that we know what's going on."

"The AI is going to monitor you two closely so be aware, if armed soldiers show up and arrest you without stating charges, this is what you're being arrested for speaking about."

"You don't want whoever used us to know you're onto them until the Captain is brought up to speed?"

"That's it exactly. Go about your business as if everything went according to plan."

"And if we're approached by or contacted by someone we weren't expecting?"

"The AI will be aware and the proper personnel will be dispatched either to you, or to the location of whoever is contacting you."

"We understand. We won't say a word to anyone." The female technician said.

At that instant the interface disengaged with a thud and Angel turned her attention to the results and she was relieved to see a successful result with no anomalies and no signs of any neural trauma experienced. The male technician deactivated the neural adapter and then swung the cranial cradle up and away from Alan's head. Meanwhile the female technician prepared a stimulant shot for Alan and Angel watched very closely then stepped back to make room and she administered the blast in Alan's carotid artery and then she set the pneumatic injection gun aside and within seconds Angel sensed his mind becoming active.

Angel stepped close to him and cupped his head as she leaned over him and he smiled brightly as he looked up into her stunning deep blue eyes.

"How you feeling handsome?" Angel asked before leaning in and kissing him.

"I know what you mean by what a rush. That stim shot is something else."

"Is the engineering readiness imbedded like it was for me?"

Alan looked away as he thought for a moment, then he looked at her and nodded.

"Yeah. It has been a while since neural knowledge was crammed into my head. I had forgotten how weird it is to have instinctive knowledge you don't remember being there before…but it feels like it has always been there."

"I know, right?"

Alan sat up then scooted off the chair and stood up straight and he opened his eyes wide and grinned at Angel as his eyes returned to normal.

"Did this wear off pretty quick for you?"

"Yeah. I still feel ready for anything but…the buzz is gone. Give it about five or ten minutes and it will wear off."

"My dang fingertips are tingling I'm so amped. I'm not sure I like this feeling."

"It's not healthy for people like us to experience that sort of thing very often."

"You're afraid being doped could what…unleash an outburst or something?"

"It's not out of the realm of possibility. We're too powerful to take that chance. I don't want drink or drugs in us, ever. We need to have our rational minds intact at all times or our faulty senses could cause a problem."

"I gotcha babe. I'm not going to get addicted to this feeling or whatever. I like having my head clear and I feel…off right now. I sense you created some unique electronic trickery for anyone that tries to download the data collected during our upload. You sure it will work the way you want it to?"

"If I had made a mistake the AI would've corrected me. She has been monitoring us the whole time, as she always does. I'm confident it will work the way it was intended to."

"Good. We have our training upload taken care of and a booby trap laid to catch whoever is trying to mine data about us."

"Yeah, if you can't access the top level files, create new ones you can access," Lieutenant Commander Titus said, "You're looking for someone with level four clearance. That gives you a specific pool of people to look at."

"It's disheartening that someone that high up is trying to circumvent the security and privacy measure put in place to protect people." Angel said solemnly.

"Maxim will get to the bottom of the problem."

"Now that our readiness training is done, what do you want us doing?" Alan asked.

"Oh your training isn't done, this phase is complete, that's all. You completed this so quickly we have time for you to participate in some simulator activities. Head down to the simulators and have the AI load the engineering readiness simulation. Just be aware, there is no right or wrong responses to what you will be presented with. It is simply meant to measure how you will respond to certain scenarios when presented with critical situations that require drastic decisions be made."

"Are we permitted to use our abilities to assist with whatever comes up?"

"It's not expressly forbidden, but you need to remember you're going to be in a simulation involving point projected force fields and holographic imagery to create realistic recreations of people and objects that have all the appearance of substance, but don't actually exist. Your telekinetic abilities won't have any influence on moving created objects since the computers won't be able to detect the forces you're trying to exert."

"Right…I guess that was a silly idea." Alan responded smiling.

"You're not the first with telekinesis to ask that."

"We'll head down to the simulator compartment sir."

Angel and Alan presented a salute and Titus returned the gesture then they headed for the exit. They walked to the nearest elevator and rode down and aft to deck eleven. They exited the lift car into a corridor that was over one hundred feet high and it dawned on them where they were. The gigantic compartment on the other side of the bulkhead was constructed to contain and pacify the Tridadols for the trip into and out of the anti-time region.

They looked up and a momentary flash of vertigo set in only to evaporate away as their spatial awareness and the heavy gravitation pull from the heavy duty gravity plating beneath their feet signaled how they were oriented and revealed the dimensions of the gargantuan compartment on other side of the bulkhead. They didn't understand why so many decks had been removed between where they were standing and the bottom of the deck visible some hundred feet over their heads, but they figured it must've served an important role.

They looked back at the deck for a moment then tuned left and headed to the entryway that was fifteen feet tall with double retracting doors that were arched at their apex. They stepped up to the com panel that was illuminated and an active engineering readiness simulation was listed as being in standby mode.

"Horizon, were you expecting us?"

"Affirmative. The scenario you will be exposed to is this, the Horizon was dispatched to a world called Enemos to evacuate refugees stranded at a holding facility. Enemy combatants have been reported in the area though none have been detected at present as the Horizon holds a geosynchronous position above the holding facility's coordinates. A transport is on its way up from the surface to offload one hundred twelve refugees. The Horizon has been tasked with transporting them to an enlightener safe haven in the Rocinon system. There has been a fluctuation in the field developed by the toroidal generator so you have been called to the bridge to facilitate diagnostic and repair of the faltering shield generator systems by the crew members you are relieving at propulsion and navigation."

"Seems pretty straight forward." Alan said.

"And plausible." Angel added.

"You may enter when you are ready."

"Let me ask you something…" Alan posed, "How real is the danger posed by this simulation? I mean, can we be hurt?"

"Hot, cold, object interaction and contact are as realistic as the technology will allow. Contact with objects will feel as if a solid object is involved, but the safety threshold will allow objects to pass through your body rather than lacerate or break bones."

"So bumps and bruises, no serious injury."

"Affirmative. You should also be aware oxygen deprivation and smoke inhalation are capable of causing lung injury and death if not addressed immediately and realistically."

"We remember where the temporary breathers are located throughout the ship including on the bridge."

"You're going to pump toxic smoke in on us?" Alan asked incensed.

"Your actions will dictate if that is to be part of your experience. There are eight thousand variant possibilities to the simulation based on your actions and decisions, not all involve simulating fires expelling noxious smoke into a confined space. I assure you I will not introduce anything toxic. Any smoke introduced will not be comfortable to breathe, but it will not do irreparable damage, especially given your ability to heal injuries."

"Can I ask one last question?" Alan posed.

"You may."

"Why were so many decks removed above our heads?"

"Simulation projection degrades when broadcast over great distances. Engineering decks needed to be built to reduce the distance the projections needed to be broadcast over. The missing deck work provided the raw material necessary with the least effort in order to facilitate the construction of multiple compartments and deck structures so the primary engineering spaces could be simulated effectively."

Alan looked up and grinned.

"So…all that space is a zero G region?"

"Negative. There is gravity plating in the bulkheads. You can walk right up the bulkhead to the decks above deck eleven."

"Are there plans to rebuild the decks out here later on?"

"I have seen no such plans, though I assume at some point that will be undertaken."

"I guess the missing deck works don't perform much structural support this deep into the superstructure."

"That is an accurate assessment."

Alan stepped over to Angel's side and she touched the open command and the door to the engineering simulator compartment slid open and the simulation commenced.

The doors were huge, but the simulated corridor had familiar aspects. They stepped into the bright white corridor to find they were standing at the concealed entrance to the battle bridge, down the corridor from the main bridge and the direction of the corridor was momentarily confusing since it was in contradiction to the actual corridor with reference to fore and aft and port to starboard. They mentally pushed past the confusion to allow for emersion in the experience and they turned around just in time to see the battle bridge door move forward slightly blending itself into the bulkhead so completely, if they didn't know it was there, visually it would be undetectable.

They headed off to toward the main bridge amidst a flurry of crewmen walking up and down the corridor and to their surprise they were crewmen they recognized, though they didn't know any of them personally. They stepped up to the bridge entrance and Alan had his palm scanned and the door slid open and they stepped into the bridge and it was exactly what they expected to see right down to the most minute detail. They walked up to the Captain and he swiveled his chair to the right so he facing them and they presented a salute that he immediately returned.

"Adjutants Cade and Myers reporting as ordered sir." Angel reported.

"Just in time. The transport is on its way up with the refugees. We are going to want to get out of here the second the transport is safely aboard. We haven't detected the hostiles we were warned about, but that doesn't mean they aren't around. Alan, take propulsion, Angel, take navigation. We need to get the shied generator system stabilized so when we decrease shield density to allow the transport to pass through the shield envelope, the shield strength can be restored immediately after. We need all hands on deck to diagnose and repair the toroidal generator before we have to do that."

"We understand sir," Alan said.

"I'll plot the safest course to the Rocinon system." Angel said.

"Good deal. Relieve the officers at propulsion and navigation so they can head down to engineering to assist with the shield generator issue."

Angel and Alan nodded and made their way to their stations, touching the officers at propulsion and navigation on the shoulder and they glanced at them and nodded then logged themselves out and Angel and Alan sat down and logged in and got right to work. The officers they relieved hurriedly exited the bridge and Alan brought up the plotting charts and searched for the Rocinon system. It took a few moments, Alan assumed as a result of an independent system searching a facsimile data base. Alan selected the system for plotting purposes and he discovered it was eight hundred light years distant and it would require two course corrections to avoid spatial anomalies that had enough power to exert an influence past the first subspace barrier requiring a reorient once transited past.

Alan then sent the plotting to the helm controls and propulsion and Angel arranged the priming sequence for the main engines to insure perfect execution of thrust vectoring when the helm initiated a hard burn for departure from Enemos orbit. It was ten minutes later that communications received a signal from the transport heading up from the surface.

"Horizon, this is the Hemordin. We're five minutes out with one hundred twelve refugee souls aboard requesting lading instructions."

"This is the Horizon Hemordin," Ensign Declan responded making Angel snap her head around and look at her when she recognized her voice. "We have you on sensors," Rosa continued as she looked at her left display mirroring sensor detection indicators from the sensor station, "You are cleared to land in the lower forward hangar. Be prepared for decontamination protocol transport to the isolation deck for examination, treatment and medical care of the refugees as needed. Medical personnel are already onsite in the decontamination wards to assist with the needs of the arriving refugees. Do you have any requiring immediate intensive care?"

"Negative. They are malnourished, dehydrated, and in need of bathing, but none are injured, though I can't rule out infections since they are dirty and disheveled looking. They have been down there for a very long time waiting for the bombing and strafing attacks to cease before eeking out a signal for help. They ran out of food and water some time ago."

"Understood Hemordin. We will see to their needs as far as food and water and the medical teams will screen for infections and illnesses brought on by their subterraneous confined isolation in such large numbers."

"Roger that Horizon. Are you detecting the hostiles that forced their ship down and drove them into hiding underground?"

"Negative. The scopes are clear aside from your signal. We will reduce the forward shield density to allow for your passage with minimal resistance."

"Understood Horizon. We will make for a rapid landing if you can have the gravitational grapple protocol waiting to arrest our forward momentum once we enter the hangar?"

"Roger that Hemordin. Auxiliary control is monitoring, they'll have the emergency grapple active when you make your rapid landing."

"We're in range making a circle in order to aim directly for the hangar before accelerating to five hundred KPH before cutting our thrust."

"Roger that Hemordin. We have you on sensors making your final arc before heading straight for the hangar…" Ensign Declan looked at the officer at Auxiliary control and he looked at her nodded. "The emergency gravitational grapple protocol is active so prepare your guests for sudden deceleration. We are decreasing shield density now."

Ensign Declan looked at the sensor and shield officer and he nodded once then reached up and brought up the shield matrix and among twelve prominent adjustment variables presented in a slider format, he touched his fingertip to the density slider at its current position and he slowly dragged it down, reducing the shield density to the minimum safe level. He then looked at Ensign Declan and nodded once.

"Hemordin, shield density is at minimum safe level. You are cleared for emergency rapid landing in the lower forward hangar. We have trauma technicians on their way to the hangar just in case your passengers suffer deceleration injuries as a result of the procedure."

"Understood Horizon, we are cleared for emergency rapid landing in the lower forward hangar, see you soon Horizon."

"We'll be ready for you sir."

Alan engaged the priming sequence for the main engines so they would respond instantly when the helmsman next to him enabled the plotting course and engaged the main engines at full military thrust to get the ship out of orbit and heading for deep space as quick as possible. Alan then leaned back and looked up at the giant viewer displaying an image of the Hemordin banking around for a straight in approach and he didn't recognize the ship design, but he knew from recent experiences that didn't mean much since new and improved ships were being built without his knowledge all the time anymore.

The Hemordin then accelerated in a flash and pierced the shield envelope, creating a symmetrical ripple that looked like a dew drop had dropped onto a soap bubble. A split second later a craft shimmered into view directly aft of the Hemordin. The sensor officer froze in shock momentarily then shouted as he tried to restore the shield to full protective level.

"Sir! We have a bogy directly behind the Hemordin! They have a particle cannon aimed directly at the hangar bay…the shield envelope is unstable and non responsive in the forward section. It's the toroidal generator, it's cycle over and over rather than increasing the field strength."

The Captain looked up and sprang out of his chair thrusting his displays aside, but he didn't have chance to say anything before the bogy fired a blast of bright white particle energy and it pierced right through the faltering shield envelope at the speed of light creating a bent vortex following the stream of energetic particle energy and then the blast ripped through Hemordin's engine nacelle causing the engine to explode violently throwing the Hemordin into a flat spin and it began casting debris in every direction as it spun directly toward the wide open hangar and the particle energy kept right on going, slamming into the interior of the hangar creating an explosion of energy and debris within the hangar with a tremendous thud and bang.

The devastated nacelle on the Hemordin created a cascade backflow of energy down the nacelle stalk and it ripped into the hull blowing the whole side of the ship open and the small fusion reactor instantly breached just as the Hemordin reached the hangar entrance and the concussion ripped into the hangar space, sheering metal that it then drove deeper into the Horizon cracking EMPACC reinforced panel seams apart allowing the blast to travel into the sub corridor bulkhead shearing the plasma conduits open that then augmented the blast effect shoving the bulkhead panels back exposing interior corridors to the blast effects and radiation, then the hard vacuum of space sucked everything out the now devastated hangar entrance.

The tipple thuds reverberated right through the hull and caused a slight position shift to the horizon the blast was so intense. The Captain was tossed back into his chair as a result of the concussive forces translated though the decks and he looked at the helmsman.

"Get us out of here before they fire again!"

The helmsman initiated a full power thrust up and away and the bogy simply dissolved behind a complex camouflage shield and then there were three distinct thuds heard and the forward sensor view glimpsed debris being cast forward momentarily before their forward momentum carried the debris back into the hull and down the curve of the bow section. Angel looked over at the Captain and the expression on his face told her he recognized the thud of plasma generators exploding then the emergency venting system engaged to dump the active plasma overboard, but the damaged conduits meant the venting was occurring in a corridor rather than out into space.

Angel debated getting up and running to the shield and sensor station to assist in getting the shield stabilized, but she knew navigation with the forward sensor array damaged was going to be more important so she looked at her display just as it blinked out, then the station next to her went dark, then one by one the stations started blinking out in sequence and she realized the primary bridge circuits were being cooked by raw plasma blasting through the subspaces between the bulkheads. The last critical station to go dark was the Captain's station, then the lighting dimmed momentarily then returned to full illumination.

"That's it!" The Captain shouted, "All hands to the battle bridge."

Everyone go to their feet and headed for the exit only to find the door didn't open when the first officer approached the door. The group began to form up close to the door and the first officer stepped to the side and hooked his fingers on the top edge of com panel and pulled it open to reveal the emergency manual release handle. He gripped the handle and pulled it down and there was a clank as the mechanical mechanisms disengaged allowing the next man to push on the door and shoved it to the side, into the bulkhead slot the door normally slid into so fast it was a blur.

They all filed out into the corridor amid a sounding off general quarters alarm. They walked to the battle bridge entrance and the Captain accessed the concealed access panel where he typed in his command code then had his retina scanned and the door moved in slightly then slid to the side and they began to file into the battle bridge, though for Angel and Alan they simply stepped out into the hundred foot high corridor they originally entered from. They stood next to one another in shock and turned back to find the tall arched doors sliding closed.

"Simulation complete." The AI said calmly.

"Wait…complete? The ship was devastated and one hundred fifteen people including the crew were just killed in an attack by unknown hostiles. You don't want to gauge our ability to help deal with that?" Alan asked.

"Your bio rhythms indicate you were invested in the simulation and that was one aspect being measured. You reacted to the unexpected situation by remaining at your stations, performing your duties up to the last possible moment. That is another aspect being measured."

"So…we weren't supposed to get involved with damage control or battle damage assessment efforts?"

"You had an opportunity to get involved with those activities during the simulation, you chose to remain on station and on task. You dictated the direction of the simulation to its conclusion. There are no wrong or right interactions so do not feel you failed or made a wrong decision. You merely interacted with the simulation according to your sense of what you would do under real world conditions. That is what was being gauged, nothing more."

"The scenario was so plausible…I truly felt immersed." Alan admitted.

"That is good feedback for future readiness simulations."

"Is this the same place we will need to come in order to use the flight simulators?" Angel asked.

"The next door on the left is the entrance to the flight simulators, including the bridge simulator."

"So things have been moved around a little." Alan commented.

"Yes. You are free to return to your duty stations. I will inform the Captain and Chief Engineer you have completed the engineering readiness simulation portion of your readiness training. I would expect to be assigned duty on the bridge after this."

"I almost wish I knew how the rest of the simulation was going to play out." Alan said.

"I would imagine with the shield failing in the forward section the hostile could've snuck through the outer envelope while we were temporarily blinded," Angel said as they started walking, "if they got around to our engine assemblies, they could do some pretty serious damage before we could respond."

"The turrets would take 'em out before they could do that."

"Only if they have to disengage their cloak to fire."

"That's true. Though they dropped their cloak in order to fire on the Hemordin so that should indicate an inherent weakness of their cloaking system."

"Or it was their proximity to our shield that caused a temporary failure of their cloaking system."

"Course…it was all a simulation so…"

"The fact we're supposing anything about the hostile speaks to the wonderful job they did with the technology and the story line. The portrayed characters were familiar and behaved exactly as we would expect of the real personalities. Someone knows how to use the technology at our disposal."

They walked back to the elevator and Alan touched the page button and the door immediately slid open. They stepped over the threshold and floated into the car then grabbed the handbar and the door slid closed.

"Main engineering." Alan called out and the lift began to rise forcing them to the deck.

The lift ascended for a time, then slowed and the horizontal motors banged into position and the vertical motors let go and the lift stopped completely then began to head toward the bow. They rode for five minutes while being pressed to the aft wall when the audio system crackled to life and the Captain's voice piped into the car.

"Angel and Alan, I'm instructing the AI to intercept your lift to redirect you to the command deck. We need to speak in a safe zone. Please go to my office and wait for me there. You have clearance to get in so, just go on in and have a seat. I'll try and get there as quick as I can."

"We understand sir." Alan said.

"If it matters, we've completed our readiness training."Angel said.

"Yes, the AI said as much. I'm really proud of you two for completing all three portions in a single duty shift. The observational period is the last portion so when you're assigned to your duty stations, please stay on station and on task until you're informed that the final stage is complete."

"I assume you're not the only one tasked with observational reporting for our readiness certification?"

"No. All reports including those from the AI and anyone else reporting on your actions and whereabouts will be part of the total accumulation of data considered during your review and consideration for certification."

"I guess we didn't know the process was so complicated or involved."

"That's actually encouraging since that is general knowledge for command and control training so…that information must've been successfully overwritten."

"There was question if it was or not?"

"By some. I had no doubt based on your behavior and statements, but some around here need proof before they believe. I have to go now, I'm right in the middle of something, but I'll see you real soon."

"We understand sir. We'll see you in your office."

"Maxim out."

The speaker popped as it went silent and the lift then picked up speed and continued all the way forward to the command decks then slowed and finally stopped, then the vertical lift motors slammed into place and the horizontal lift motors let go. The lift descended for a short time, then slowed and finally came to a stop and the door slid open and Angel and Alan pushed off from the rear of the lift car and took a clumsy step before catching their balance and Alan looked back after taking two steps and he watched the door slide closed then he looked at Angel.

"You know…it just dawned on me…during the simulation…how do you think they recreated the upthrust of the deck when the explosions supposedly took place?"

"Full motion actuators. The whole deck is attached to large cylinders that can move, vibrate or translate a violent thrusting motion to the people standing on it. The full motion flight simulators work the same way silly. Why do you think they needed so many raw materials? Doesn't that answer a few questions in that regards?"

"Yeah…I guess it does at that. Sorry for making dumb comments sometimes."

"Not dumb just…silly maybe."

Alan frowned then grinned and the pair set off walking toward the command and control corridor. They walked directly to the Captain's office and Angel had her palm scanned and then entered her security code when prompted and the door slid open and the lighting came to life. They stepped into the office and Alan sat down while Angel stepped over to the viewer on the wall and she touched the lower corner and the display glowed to life showing the real time imagery of the surface with moving and fixed sensor targets displayed. Angel stared at the display for a few moments then looked at Alan.

"All I want to do is serve them with honor while we explore what's out here and that's damn hard when people are trying to crucify you and I. Why do people fear what we represent?"

"I can't answer that babe. Not everyone embraces change even if they can't do anything about it but try and stomp on the sign of the times."

"You think it was Matson like I do, huhn?"

"I don't think he dirtied his hands personally but…yeah. He tried legal means and when that failed he resorted to unconventional means to get at us. I don't exactly know what he has planned, but at the very least he's trying to collect data that can be used against us."

"You think we could be reading this all wrong? I mean…could he be trying to understand us for educational purposes. You know, understand the strangeness within so you can learn to appreciate it since it isn't going anywhere."

"I never considered that. I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility but…that doesn't exactly fit with his character thus far, wouldn't you say?"

Angel walked over to the chair next to Alan sat down and sighed as she looked at him.

"I'm hoping he's being advised by civilian…influences that have a different point of view which involves less aggressive goals. The selection committee back on Earth supposedly weeded out violent and maniacal traits. I would hate to think Matson somehow got around that in order to secure his acceptance for the horizon project."

"I don't think most people knew advanced traits were being chosen either inadvertently by selecting people with lifelong perfect health or deliberately since it represented a trait that would represent better survival characteristics."

"I'm sure the selection committee was aware of the advanced abilities and traits presenting in ever greater numbers in the general population while they were weeding through the million or so people put forth for consideration. Chloe was directly involved with creating safe zone schools for children being ostracized because they were different. That had to be known activities that were investigated and considered during her vetting."

"The fact information was collected but not assimilated by the AI probably affected a lot of the selection process too. I know you saw data at some point that indicated the AI was directly involved with the final selections once it's base intellect protocols were activated allowing the AI to truly think independently once it recognized it was in fact an AI and integral part of the ship responsible for caring for the sixty-five hundred people it would be carrying across the galaxy. That small vacuum of considered information might have allowed personalities like Matson to slip through the cracks."

Angel smiled at him and nodded.

"You're remembering things you sensed in my mind. That's a big step Alan. I would say your memory is improving thanks to our pairing."

"Yeah, but at the cost of your prefect memory characteristic. It doesn't seem like a fair trade off."

"It is to me. It puts us on a closer plain to one another. Just like I gained your aggressive masculine traits and you suffered insecurity issues because of softer feminine traits introduced into your very character. You accept the degradation of your sense of masculinity since you know it improves my character substantially."

"Yeah…I guess I forget about my loss of confidence and all. I have you encouraging me in the background though, so it's not all that bad most of the time."

The door slid open at that point and the Captain stepped into the room and Angel and Alan started to stand when Maxim put his hand on their shoulders.

"At ease you two." The Captain walked around his desk and sat down then scooted his chair in. "I'm sorry for the delay. I had important business I was in the middle of."

"That's alright sir. We understand you're a busy man." Angel said.

The Captain looked up at the viewer on the wall and measured up all the indicators then looked back at Angel and Alan.

"It would seem all is quiet down there. I'm hoping we can honor all the requests for surface time that were submitted. Mind you, after your incident there was a large pool of withdrawals for surface time. I think some fear was instilled in the population."

"Yes sir, that would appear to be the case based on what you just said." Angel said.

The Captain nodded and leaned forward in his seat.

"I forget I don't have to be politically engaging with you two."

"No…you can speak your mind sir," Alan said, "We have history and likeminded interests. We don't need to be pacified into comfort sir."

"So onto why I called you here. I received a disturbing report about the actions of the civilian technician's during the neural induction portion of the engineering readiness training. Let me start by apologizing from the bottom of my heart. I thought I had things in hand and I was proven wrong. You should be able to carry out your orders without fear your privacy is being violated by unseen forces among us."

"We know you're watching our backs sir. You honestly don't have to apologize for the actions of a few out of hand elements." Angel said.

"I feel I do. Your sacrifices and contributions to all of us just can't be overlooked. The lack of gratitude and respect for that just infuriates me."

"Thank you for being so passionate about the level respect you feel is due to us sir."

"As I understand it you incorporated some unique background detection programming into the computer terminal in the lab?"

"Yes sir. Since that's an isolated system, I incorporated some unique Trojan programming that will immediately seek out a network connection with the AI's secondary communicative network system and then it will send a unique signal to the AI alerting her to the fact that the information collected during our time in the lab has been copied to another terminal. The signal will include the unique identifier associated with every single terminal in use on this ship. If the data file is then accessed the Trojan will initiate a catastrophic file disruption, essentially encrypting the data that can only be undone with a unique cipher key. If an attempt is made to circumvent the cipher the data will be destroyed and the terminal the Trojan is on will emit a continuous alert signal that the AI will easily be able to track down in real time."

"So the data will in fact be recoverable as evidence so long as someone doesn't try to get around your security measure?"

"Yes sir, that's it in a nutshell."

"That was really smart thinking Angel. If I find out the Master Chief is involved in this effort…friendship won't save him. I'll hang him out to dry and have his commission abolished. He'll be a puke on the surface eeking out a living as a civilian with no chance of holding a position that requires the least level of clearance."

"So you suspect him too sir?"

"It would sure point to him given what you just endured and persevered through at his hand. I won't jump to conclusions until we have firm evidence, but he is my number one suspect."

"Wasn't he busy with the after effects of the inquiry when all this was put into action?"

"We engaged in heated conversation and a five minute recess was called for in order to let tempers cool. It's during this time that the addendum was sent from an unknown source to the technicians. The timing is suspect to say the least."

"I didn't think anyone could send a message to anyone on this ship without it being monitored and traced." Angel said.

"Unfortunately that isn't the case. Let me show you how that's the case."

The Captain enabled his desktop virtual keyboard and his virtual display appeared floating above the desktop and he brought up a message pane and typed in a simple message with Angel to be the recipient. He then typed the message "This is a discrete test message". The Captain then brought up the message properties and he selected the terminal id and he simply swiped through it and hit delete and the data disappeared. He then closed the properties menu and flicked the message to the main viewer and he looked at Angel and Alan.

"Now you see the message, you know who it's from."

The Captain then selected the send command the message pane disappeared. A spit second later Angel received an alert tone on her bio monitor and she lifted her arm and touched the display and she saw msg alert flashing. She double tapped the flashing display and the message the Captain just typed appeared. Angel looked at it momentarily then moved the message up in order to read the message origin and it simply stated message delivered by the AI via direct terminal transmit from within the Captain's office, left ceiling node. Angel stared at it and nodded.

"So I received it in your office from that sensor node up there in the left corner of the ceiling, but it doesn't actually state who sent the message beyond that. I would think that to mean it came from the AI but that's not actually that case."

"Now you see how easy it is. Now imagine if you had previously received a message from me that was clearly identified as coming from me, then you received another message sometime later regarding the same topic from the same sensor node, you would be under the impression it came from me without looking at the fundamental source, right?"

"Yes sir. I can see how that would fool a person if they didn't look deeper into the source of the addendum request, especially if you didn't think the request was out of line."

"Does that exonerate the technicians from culpability?"

"I'm going to conduct an interview with them to reinforce how they need to handle sensitive data when such requests are made in the future, but I don't think they were acting criminally. This is part of the reason why I didn't like the idea of incorporating the civilian population into our business, but my objections were overruled."

"Maybe now you can make a case for that point."

"I plan on doing that when it comes to the sensitive medical record of our people and especially those of underage members of the Corps. We have hundreds of new crewmembers that are underage and I won't have their medical records downgraded so they can be accessed unduly."

"Can I ask if you know if any of our other records have been accessed?"

The Captain stared at Angel momentarily then accessed his desktop terminal and he performed quick query and the results were negative for attempted access. The Captain looked at Angel and shook his head.

"I have an alert setup to automatically sound off if someone attempts to access your records. I know your concerns and I have some of my own and that's why I'm so paranoid of someone trying to get access to your records. The alert will reach me no matter where I'm at or what I'm doing so, you should feel confident that the known records are safe. Those collected during your training will be collected by a very respected individual with the express instructions not to access the records for viewing, they are just to retrieve them, erase the original source material and transport the records to me for safe upload and storage by the AI. As you know certain extremely sensitive documents and data can be transferred to neural core storage that transforms the data into a format that can't be accessed by anyone but the AI."

"Is that what you plan on doing with our records after this?"

"I am going to present a reasonable request for that to be done with all personal records for Civilian Corps personnel after the facts of this incident are cleared up and made known to the oversight committee."

"I can't help but feel like we're causing more headaches for you sir." Angel said.

"You didn't create this headache. You were doing your job with honor and diligence and others tried to take of advantage of that loyalty and respect of duty. I won't have that on my watch. I appreciate that you had your head about you Alan to notice that something was out of place in the tagging effort by the technicians. You alerted me to something that has to be addressed before it gains any momentum. You can rest assured, I'll take care of this."

"Thank you sir. We know you have our backs."

"I do at that. You two have completed your readiness training with honor and I might say, ahead of time. Consider your shift complete so your accomplishments can be entered into record. Your next duty shift will be at zero six hundred tomorrow morning. Report to the bridge for duty assignment."

"We understand sir. Thank you for the break."

"You earned it. Try to relax the rest of the day but remain in uniform since technically you're on duty for the next fourty eight hours. If the need arises, you may be called to man an engineering duty station."

Angel and Alan stood up and presented a salute that the Captain returned then he grinned.

"You read my intention to release you without a word being uttered?"

Angel looked at Alan and shrugged then looked back at the Captain.

"We didn't even realize we did that sir. Does that upset you?"

"No. It makes things go much smoother if you know what I want as far as simple matters before I speak it. I was just curious if you realized you were reading me."

"No sir, we weren't aware but you're right, we did read your intention to release us."

"Okay, just so we're clear. You two are dismissed."

"Aye sir. Are we to report to you in the morning?"

"No, Titus is your commanding officer now that you're on the engineering teams. You'll report to him and he'll assign you to your duty stations."

"We can serve at the bridge stations now though, right?" Alan asked almost timidly.

"By morning, yes. Titus needs to update your training records and I'll approve your certifications to stand formal engineering watches, including all of the stations on the bridge. I haven't seen your scores and results but I'm supremely confident you've exceeded minimum standards. Are you concerned you'll be separated again?"

"A little sir. We can do what we have to in order to get through it, but it's a distraction if you know what I mean?"

"Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I would expect to be assigned to duty stations in close proximity to one another."

"Thank you sir. We'll let you get to what you need to do."

The Captain nodded and Angel and Alan headed out of the Captain's office. They headed directly to their quarters, changed, then headed to the gym where they worked out, showered, then headed back to their quarters and dressed out in their working uniforms and headed to the mess hall. They found the mess hall full of fellow crewmen eating evening meal. After retrieving drinks, they were waved over by Lieutenant Commander Titus so they walked over to his table near the middle of the mess hall where nearly the whole engineering team was gathered.

Angel and Alan sat down and Tutus slid a seasoning tray with several small canisters of various seasonings on it toward Angel and Alan and he pointed at one of the small canisters.

"You have to try this new seasoning made from powdered carrot tree bark. We actually have a tree on the horizon planet that looks like a ten foot tall carrot and the bark is super zesty as a seasoning."

"Really? Who'd of thought. Does the tree itself taste anything like a carrot?" Angel asked.

"No. The flesh is something like oak. No nutritional value whatsoever. The bark is the only thing eatable."

"Is the carrot tree orange?"

"Yup. It's a dead ringer for a huge carrot."

A servo drone floated up behind Angel and Alan and extended its manipulator claw between them with two menu scrolls securely clamped and Angel took them and handed one to Alan. They pulled them open then a familiar voice rang out.

"How did that inquiry go?" Kyra asked.

Angel and Alan looked across the table to find her looking at them.

"Oh uh…it was found there was no substance to the suppositions being made." Alan responded.

"That's a relief. We all knew you two didn't do anything wrong."

"Some genuine concerns were presented. We can understand where the concern lies, it was just unfounded to assume we were guilty of doing something reckless."

"Go ahead and order your food and we'll talk after." Titus said.

Alan nodded and he and Angel made their selections then collapsed the menu scrolls and Alan handed them back to the servo drone and it grabbed hold of them then rose up from the deck and floated off silently. Titus then planted his hand on Alan's shoulder and shook him lightly.

"You two completed your readiness training today so I've got a special training procedure I want you take care of in the morning?"

"Special training sir?" Angel asked.

"Yes. You need to get special weapons certified for manual operation of the new weapons platforms."

"We hadn't even thought about that."

"The weapons are automated, but I need everyone certified to operate them manually just in case a situation comes up in which you need target lock an adversary and fire the weapons manually. It won't take long knowing your level of learning ability, but it's a necessary skill. You have to be certified on the weapons in order to sit at navigation, propulsion, auxiliary control or any of stations that have weapons access so you need to be certified before being assigned to any of those stations while we are underway."

"We can see how that would be a limiting factor."

"Just come see me in the morning and I'll get you set up with the necessary training."

"We understand sir."

"Are we going to have to go back to the simulators?"

"Yes. We can't have you engaging the weapons platforms in real time."

"I was just curios if weapons training was conducted somewhere else."

"No, the simulators are the only place ship's weapons are trained for."

"Sir," A hulking man of an officer spoke up from down the table, "Can I give them some pointers?"


"Hey, I'm Lieutenant Chrisman. The key to successful hits on a moving target is to lead your target by a few seconds. The shots travel at the speed of light so they get on target real fast, but our motion can drag the rounds so you need to lead your target. The Automated system takes all that into account, but in manual mode you need to calculate it in your head. The other piece of advice, when using constant burn, you gotta remember the energy will travel most of the way through a system before dissipating substantially. You need to bear in mind what lies beyond line of sight. The system might score you a hit on your target then a few seconds later give you a fail for hitting a moon station or an inhabited world half way across the system."

"That's good information. I don't think constant blast would be called for unless you were trying to take out a substantial target."

"Can I add something to that?" Kyra asked.

"Of course Lieutenant." Titus said.

"You'll find the turrets are short range close quarters weapons. Greatest success is realized if you can lure your opponent in close before aiming the weapon at them. The targeting and aiming systems are separate so you can target lock them with sensors then at the last second aim and fire all in one action."

"Aiming is a separate function…that's good to know."

"Yeah, and the turrets come around onto target real fast. It's almost instantaneous since there are no friction bearings or anything like that. They pivot on electromagnetic suspension cushions. No part on part contact means no heat, wear, or lag."

"Can I ask you a personal question ma'am?" A young ensign across the table and down a few seats asked.

Angel looked the young man over and she sensed his awe, but he had an inner drive that pushed him beyond his nerves to speak to Angel despite butterflies flip flopping in his stomach.

"What's your question Ensign?"

"You and Adjutant Myers have a really powerful sense of telekinesis and such, right?"

"Yes. We have advanced abilities far and away above that of most people."

"Can't you control the weapons with your minds, or disable an opponent with the power of will?"

Angel chuckled until she realized he seriously believed it was that easy.

"It's not that simple Ensign. First of all, I can't control objects in a simulator, they aren't real objects, just point projected force fields that are holographically embellished to imbue three dimensional visual perspectives. Second of all, disabling a vessel in space with the power of the mind isn't something you can do lightly. The concentration and sheer power required for something like that is well beyond us. As far as controlling the weapons in the real world? We could manipulate their position, but the overt external force exerted would be detected as a fault and I'm sure the system would kick offline in response, locking the turrets in place and any force we applied would damage the weapons, maybe even ripping the platform off the hull."

"I guess I hadn't considered that ma'am. What if the system was down? Could you target and fire the system then?"

"Now you're getting into hypothetical situations I can't answer for. Maybe is all I can say, though the firing system is an extremely complex system requiring multiple stages of mechanical and energetic manipulation in prefect synchronization to get the system to fire. I'm not sure that's something we could coordinate using telekinesis."

Servo drones floated up to Angel and Alan and rose up with their plates of food and they turned and collected the plates then set them down on the table and the servo drones descended and then spun around and floated off silently.

"Okay, that's enough quizzing them for now. Let them eat in peace." Titus said grinning.

Angel and Alan collected their silverware from their plates then glanced around and the team members broke off their gaze and began talking among themselves and Angel looked at Titus and smiled and mouthed the words "thank you" and he nodded once while smiling.

Angel and Alan ate their meals while listening to the conversation taking place and it was encouraging that the conversation turned from duty topics to social topics. Who was interested in who, did you see the way so and so looked at so and so, let's get together in the gardening ring to play toss ball later, all things one would expect from happy well adjusted teens and early twenties youth. It was affirmation that what Angel and Alan had sacrificed and worked so hard for was worth it. The new crew were adjusting to the high strangeness in their lives as if it were just the nature of the job, not something to stress over and the job was enjoyable due to the social aspects.

Angel and Alan were invited to join the group meeting up I the gardening ring, but they begged out stating they had a lot of studying to do. Angel was miffed that she had so much to learn. She knew she was darn smart, but recent events proved she allowed herself to fall behind in her studies and she was determined not to let it become more of a problem than it had already proved to be. The overwrite truly obliterated certain aspects of her previous knowledge base.

Angel and Alan sat with Titus as the rest of the engineering team said their goodbyes and then filtered out of the mess hall until it was just Titus filling out and collating reports on his data pad and Angel and Alan along with one Ensign much further down the table, he too was reading from a data pad. Titus finished the form he was working with, then he took a long drink from his tea, and then looked over at Angel and Alan.

"You know…interacting with your peers, despite your rank, would benefit you two. You should stop and dabble in things that have absolutely nothing to do with work."

Angel nodded as she leaned in over the table on her crossed arms.

"It's not that we don't want to have fun with our new teammates sir. We just…"

"We don't quite fit in given the sate our minds are in sir," Alan added.

"You're smart, athletic, and young. You forget most of your peers are in the same boat."

"That's true, but we really do have a lot of studies to get to. You told us to get onto our studies yourself sir."

"I didn't mean at the sacrifice of a social life. I can respect your dedication and all, but you have to get away from the call of duty at some point."

"We will sir. I really want to get caught up a little bit before we socialize and stuff."

"Well you're both very likable and lord knows pleasant on the eyes so, you should make friends quickly enough."

"Oh we don't have a problem getting to know people."

"Alright. I won't harp the issue. I'm sure the AI has your engineering studies arranged for you?"

"Yes sir. I would imagine so. She will know where we need to be working."

"I need to go to the bridge, the oncoming duty shift should be arriving any minute and I need to assign them to their duty stations."

"We'll see you in the morning sir."

"I'll see you then."

Titus tossed back the rest of his tea, then collected his data pad and got up and headed out of the mess hall and Angel was about to get up when the Ensign looked at her and she felt a question in him that he was embarrassed to ask and her stunning appearance had him befuddled too. She offered a friendly grin, got to her feet and walked around to where he was sitting and she sat down facing out from the table.

"I sense you have a question. Go ahead and ask Ensign…" Angel raised an eyebrow in a questioning gesture.

"Oh uh…Ensign Keaton ma'am."

"I see by the color of your rank insignia that you're a second class Ensign. You must've been out of stasis for a while." Angel said trying to put him at ease as Alan walked over and sat down next to Angel.

"Ya…yes ma'am. I've been out since we arrived at the horizon planet."

"Well you've done well for yourself. What's on your mind Ensign?"

"I was wondering…I mean…I know you are probably really busy…you and Adjutant Myers…I know you had a long day and all…"

"It's alright. We always have time for our fellow crewmen."

"I'm having problems with my navigation trigonometry. Do you have a second to help me understand vector calculations?"

Angel smiled and Alan chuckled.

"Oh boy did you ask the right person. Angel loves that stuff. Babe you go ahead and help Ensign Keaton here with his vector studies. I'll go get our data pads and we can study a little over in the common area."

Angel looked at him and smiled while nodding.

"That sounds great Alan. Will you get me a cup of that blue night-moon nectar? That stuff is out of this world."

"Sure." Alan said standing up.

Alan leaned in and Angel graced him with a peck and then Alan stepped past her and pat Ensign Keaton on the shoulder.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help with your studies anytime you need it Ensign. We will always take the time to help you if we can."

"Thank you sir. I wasn't sure if I was out of line or whatever to ask for help from an Adjutant."

"Don't be silly," Angel said. "We want you to succeed so you can excel at your job. It serves us to help you where we can. Let's see what you're having trouble with."

Angel stood up and turned around and sat down right next to Ensign Keaton and he looked her in the eyes and his mouth dropped open slightly.

"Wow! You're eyes are really the color they look in the post stasis vid."

"Yup. I was born with eyes like this."

"You smell really good too. How do you make yourself smell like flowers like that?"

"The AI makes this body wash that is in the girl's showers, it's extracted from four types of flowers."

"I hope I'm not making you uncomfortable by mentioning such personal stuff."

"No, not at all. I can feel what a person's intentions are and you're merely surprised by what you've noticed now that were sitting so close together."

"Your empathic sense ma'am?"

"Yes. You can call me Angel when we're not on duty Ensign."

"Okay Angel. You can call me Kevin."

"Okay Kevin. Let's see if we can figure out what's perplexing you. Vector calculations can be a little tricky."

Kevin nodded and he slid his data pad closer to Angel and she looked over what he was working on. Alan in the mean time headed to their duty quarters and he retrieved their data pads then walked back to the mess hall and he poured Angel a cup of the nectar she asked for and then he poured himself a glass of pineapple juice and then he carried the drinks in his hands with the data pads tucked under his arm out of the mess hall, earning a sweet smile from Angel as he walked to the exit.

Alan sat down on one of the four person couches and he set Angel's data on the couch next to him and he set the drinks on the knee high curved table in front of him and he activated his data pad, selecting the AI contact icon and the AI's reassuring voice erupted from his data pad.

"Good evening Alan."

"Hi Horizon. Can you load my engineering studies on this data pad? Angel and I are going to try to get caught up a little bit."

"I monitored your exchanges with Lieutenant Commander Titus. I have compiled the recommended study material along with subsequent exam material. You and Angel are not as far behind as you think. Begin with the molecular identification studies then move on to the fractal algorithm studies."

"Oh man…I hate fractals."

"They are a necessary skill for the advanced engineering disciplines."

"I know. I just don't like 'em, but I understand how important it is to know how to compose fractal algorithms. Thanks for putting our study material together."

"You are very welcomed Alan. When Angel activates her data pad I will upload her study and exam materials."

"Alright, thanks."

Alan waited until the download was complete then he opened the study material file and began to work on his studies until Angel showed up. Angel sat down, took a long drink of her blue moon nectar and then sighed happily.

"Oh yeah, that's good stuff."

"I can feel you got Kevin on track with navigation vector calculations."

"Yeah. He was confused by finding vector components from magnitude and direction, but I got him feeling more confident about his level of skill now. He was just overwhelmed by the complexity of the formulas presented, but once he slowed down and thought logically, he knew how to do the work."

"That was really nice of you to take the time to help him like that."

"I love math, for some people though I understand it's a struggle. Besides…it desensitized him to my presence. I know it seems shallow or whatever but if a guy can get past that initial shock and puppy love, they feel more comfortable talking to me and being around me. I fixed two problems he was having so it was a win win."

"That's not shallow babe. You make guys feel all flustered and spellbound, it's just a fact of life. The AI uploaded my study and exam material onto my data pad, as soon as you turn yours on she'll upload what you need. We're getting into molecular identification studies, then fractal algorithms."

Angel nodded and put her drink down and retrieved her data pad from the couch and activated it and looked at Alan.

"I'm not real crazy about the molecular studies, but the fractals sound like fun."

"You would say that. You gunna tutor me like you did Kevin?"

"Of course. You can think through my mind and they'll come to you a little easier after that."

"Nice! I love being able to learn abstract concepts that way."

Angel smiled and nodded then they both got to work. They worked on their studies for two hours, then deactivated their data pads and headed to their quarters. They put their data pads away then changed into their nightwear and climbed into bed together. They engaged in the deep sharing for half an hour, then withdrew into their own minds and settled in for some sleep after deactivating the lighting.

In the morning, the AI brought the lighting up to half illumination at 05:00 and then called out into Angel and Alan's quarters.

"Angel, Alan?"

Alan stirred first, rolling onto his side while squinting against the light.

"I'm awake Horizon." Alan said groggily.

"Good morning Alan. The time is zero five hundred. Please wake Angel so you can begin your daily activities."

"I can sense her mind becoming active. Thanks for the wakeup call."

"You are welcomed Alan. I realize you are still waking, I want to inform you that your readiness training data has been scored and added to your official records. The Captain reviewed the data and approved your engineering certifications. You are now officially engineers, grade three. Upon completion of your subsequent engineering exams, you will be promoted sequentially to grade two and grade one."

"I got it. So with some study we can actually hold the position of ranking engineer on duty down in main engineering?"

"Yes. Upon your next promotion to grade two, you will be qualified to serve as ranking engineer on duty while on the bridge as well."

"You mean the Captain will be able to leave us in charge on the bridge?"


"I'm sure our duties will be more demanding with that level of responsibility though."

"Affirmative. You will often be assigned as a team leader for special projects. All members of your team and their productivity and safety will be your direct responsibility. A mistake will be viewed as your fault, no matter the person at the heart of the mistake. Project failures will be reflected in your performance reviews, enough negative reviews and censure consequences will be carried out against you."

"No pressure. We're still a ways away from being ready for that. A lot of our leadership knowledge was overwritten so…"

"That is understood. You are expected to work your way up to that level or responsibility over time. Your advancement is being administered on a more linear time line, not all at once without experience wisdom to guide you."

"Is all that a result of the mistakes we made in Onica's galaxy?"

"Affirmative. You performed admirably given the circumstances, but it was determined you made crucial errors in judgment that are attributed to a lack of experience wisdom. You will be able to learn and grow toward ultimate command level knowledge and responsibility. You are many years away from that at this time and that is a desirable state to begin training you properly as officers."

"So they know we have it in us."


Angel leaned over and kissed Alan's cheek and he smiled at her as he moved his arm around her and gave her a squeeze.

"I know, it's what you've been telling me all along."

"Yup. We have to work for it this time around." Angel responded.

Alan nodded and then he removed his arm and he pushed the covers down and he sat up at the edge of the bed, rubbed his eyes then he stood up and Angel got out of bed and stretched hard, then they hugged for a time then went about getting dressed, freshening up and finally heading toward the mess hall to get something to eat before their morning workout.

When they arrived at the mess hall, they found the entire first shift engineering team assembled at the same table they had been at the evening before and Angel and Alan started to realize this was the same people they had witnessed gathered at the center table in the past, they just didn't pay it much mind that they were all on the engineering teams. Angel and Alan poured a cup of tea each then walked over to the table and they received a warm welcome as if they were lifelong comrades. They engaged in brief good morning greetings, then chose their breakfast choices from drone delivered menu scrolls. They then looked down the table to find Ensign Keaton engrossed in his data pad once again though he didn't look stressed out this time, just distracted from the noisy conversations and occasional laughing going on around him.

Lieutenant Commander Titus made his appearance last, having collected and compiled the progress reports from the night shift teams that would be ending their shift shortly. He sat down in the middle of the group to warm welcomes and it struck Angel and Alan that he truly made an effort to mesh with his subordinate crew, something most of the other officers in charge avoided. To Angel's surprise Titus even made an effort to engage with Kevin, asking him how he was doing with his studies. Kevin smiled at Angel and then looked at Titus and told him he is doing much better now that he has enlisted help from certain superior officers that has proven invaluable to what he is working on.

Angel and Alan received their breakfast, ate and then joined the rest of the team in the gym, followed by a five mile run in the gardening ring, then showers and finally they all ended up on the bridge where the night shift crew were relieved one by one until all the stations were manned, navigation and sensor and shields being manned by low level ensigns which was a surprise to Angel and Alan since they were not assigned to specific duty stations. Angel and Alan were then approached by Titus and he put his hand on Alan's left and Angel's right shoulder as they stood side by side.

"Time for some target practice. I want you two to head to the simulators so you can begin your weapons certification training. I don't imagine it will take more than one session given your levels of ability. The AI will alert me when you're done that way I can enter your certification into your record of service so by the time you get back here I can assign you to any duty station."

"Are we going to face hypothetical scenarios again to measure our reactions?" Alan asked.

"Hypothetical in that the vessels you will engage with are fictional, not the portrayed adversaries, they will be modeled after real world species lurking out there, but it's not just your responses we're measuring. We need to know you understand how to engage an adversary efficiently should the situation arise."

"We understand sir. We'll head aft to the simulators so we can get on with our training." Angel said.

Angel and Alan turned and headed to the exit, stepping out once the door slid open. They walked to the transport compartment and transported aft as far as they could, then used the elevator system for the rest of the journey. When they arrived in the hundred foot high corridor, the AI addressed them at the simulator compartment with humungous doors where they had undergone their readiness simulation training as brief as it was.

"Greetings Angel and Alan. I have a separate instance of your weapons simulation program standing by in both simulator compartments. You may enter when ready."

"Is this going to be anticlimactic like the last simulator visit?" Alan asked softly.

"I am sorry you do not appreciate the value in what was measured of your responses and reactions to the previous training session. This visit will consist of real world adversaries you have not come up against but will very likely encounter in the future. Their tactics, numbers, and vicious characteristics have been modeled from real world information so the encounters will reflect what you will experience if and when an encounter occurs."

"I didn't know we had that many enemies out here."

"There are species in the local sectors that are hostile towards anyone they encounter. It is inevitable the Horizon will run across some of them at some point."

"I guess I forget how violent the universe can be."

"It is not so much a measure of the universe in general, just a result of the work we are going to be tasked with on behalf of the enlighteners. We will experience many first contact encounters on adversarial terms."

"It's just sad to think we have to kill to instill peace or whatever." Angel commented solemnly.

"If one puts stock in the philosophical disciplines of many advanced and ancient species all across the galaxy, death is but a passage from the physical realm into the next. As energetic beings, human beings are bound on a journey that is far longer and more complex than that of the short century experienced on this plain of existence."

"We didn't know you could grasp or appreciate such esoteric concepts."

"Given enough evidence the proof indicates substance of fact."

"Well we know from personal experience there are plains of existence beyond the physical world. There are places of pure energy and thought that are just as real as this realm, only less…definable."

"There are tens of thousands of species that speak to that being fact. You may enter either simulator compartment since both will present diverse experiences with known foes."

Angel turned and kissed Alan on the cheek then graced him with a beautiful smile.

"You take this one and I'll take the other one down there."

Alan nodded and then watched Angel make the walk to the other simulator compartment hundreds of yards down the corridor and then she disappeared through the doorway and then Alan stepped up to the huge arched doors before him and they slid open and he stepped into the simulated corridor and he found he was standing right where he was last time he entered the simulator. He was standing on the command deck just outside the entrance to the battle bridge. It took him a second to reconcile the reversed perspective to the corridor, but it passed quickly and he walked down the corridor to the bridge and had his palm scanned and the door slid open and he stepped into a vacant bridge that was eerily quiet and it brought back a flood of memories from the time he and Angel were the only souls awake on the Horizon. Alan looked around taking note that every single station was active and he looked up at the overhead sensor dome.

"Horizon, can you provide a crew compliment? It's kind of weird to be here by myself."

"I will provide recreations of the engineering day crew currently assigned to the bridge."

Alan watched as one by one the bridge crew materialized out of thin air, including Angel at sensor and shield control making Alan smile. Even as a simulation her stunning beauty out shinned all others making her stand out. The crew were frozen in time at the moment, but as soon as Alan walked over to the only vacant station, propulsion and he sat down and touched the lower display the crew came to life and a simulated klaxon blared out the battle stations call.

"We have inbound contacts sir," Angel called out soothing Alan's nerves with the very sound of her perfectly recreated voice, "Sensors indicate four waves of one hundred craft each, but the ships are small two person craft that are moving around in swarm like clouds. It's going to be difficult to target so many craft individually given their swarming tactics."

Alan looked up at the giant viewer at the front of the bridge and he winced at the sight of hundreds of small off white ships moving around in undulating formations like birds flocking as they fly in a confusing pattern to defend against predation. It was then that an idea came to him in a flash.

"Warm up the turrets for engagement." The Captain ordered.

Alan reached up and initiated the warm up sequence and there was a warning that automation control was down due to a fractured controller relay module in the automation center. The sub text alerted him that a new module would have to be fabricated with an estimate of two hours for fabrication and installation to be completed. In the meantime, two armrest-like stalks extended from Alan's control station and two joystick controllers with integrated triggers and thumb switches rose up from the stalks and then Alan's upper display presented the sensor view of the swarm of ships approaching and there were a flurry of small heretical sights presented as multiple ships were targeted.

"We're going to have to use the turret weapons in manual mode sir." Alan reported.

"Very well. Engage manual mode and standby until we can draw them in close."

"Aye sir." Alan replied then switched the weapons over to manual mode silencing the warning tone at the same time.

"Adjutant Cade, bolster the shield but keep us in the visible spectrum. We need to repel their fire while providing an attractive and obvious target for them to focus on."

"Aye sir, attenuating the shield to repel enemy fire without obscuring our presence."

Alan swiveled his chair around so he was facing the Captain.

"Sir, I have an idea for how to deal with these guys if they hold to their tactic of clustering up in a swarm formation."

"They are called the Varistok Adjutant…what's your idea?"

"We should roll the Horizon to present our belly to the enemy, it's the area where our turrets present the most concise overlapping lines of fire to protect our sensitive hangar openings. We can modify the shape of our shield envelope to present broad areas of unseen resistive space, one just aft of mid ship, another astern of the ship so any stragglers that get past the first snare run into another chance to be targeted by our aft platforms."

"You do realize the shield effectiveness will be reduced significantly if we exaggerate our shield envelope in such a profound manner. The weapons platforms themselves will be vulnerable and present an obvious target once we start firing, which I might point out requires a further modification of the shield architecture in order to allow the weapons discharges to pass through unhindered."

"I know it carries some risk sir…and it's only going to work against the first wave since the following waves will see the tactic for what is and avoid being caught up in the trap."

"Hmm. It's a sound plan that I approve of just the same." The Captain looked at the helmsman. "Helm, divert your controls to the propulsion station. Adjutant Cade, make the necessary preparations to enable the shield variations as Adjutant Myers described." The Captain then looked at Alan, "You have the helm and my confidence Alan, don't let us down since this could go badly very quickly if they overwhelm the thin shield protecting the weapons platforms and the main hangar."

"I understand sir."

Alan griped the pistol grip shaped joysticks, the left controlling flight attitude, the right weapons aiming, targeting and firing. The shield envelope was artificially displayed over the external sensor view so Alan would have a sense of where the shield was extended and distorted to enable his idea and he watched closely until the first wave drew in close and that's when he initiated forward thrust along with a rolling effort. He watched his display as the wave of small enemy ships formed up and began a corkscrewing maneuver to the left first, then to the right as they opened fire casting a swath of energetic white to blue projectiles toward the Horizon.

The first half of the wave made it past the snare of the shield as their weapons fire impacted the tenuous shield until penetration was accomplished and the hull began sustaining impacts, but the second half of the wave slowed and tumbled as they impacted the shield and Alan opened fire as he feverishly targeted the ships coming in a seemingly endless wave and the craft that made it past the mid ship trap fired along the hull of the Horizon as they spiraled aft along her gargantuan length until they encountered the rear extension of modified shield energy and Alan reached down to his lower control pane and enabled the rear turrets and he began targeting the now bunched up craft causing a great many secondary explosions from one craft to another due to their clustered positions. Once he had most of the aft targets eliminated he stabilized the rolling of Horizon and switched back to the mid ship weapons and he began splashing the now disoriented and clustered up craft caught up in the shield and he destroyed almost all of them in quick order with the overlapping Gatling gun like fire from the weapons platforms.

Alan then noticed out of the corner of his eye that a previously unnoticed space station in the distance was quickly growing larger as the Horizon headed straight toward it. He stopped firing and initiated a steady burn while turning away sharply to get some distance between the Horizon and the station and the subsequent wave of ships increased their velocity once they saw the first wave decimated and assumed the Horizon was making a run for it.

"I hope you have a plan for the rest of the enemy craft that are now in hot pursuit," The Captain said, "We still have three hundred plus contacts to deal with…though kudos on your idea destroying all but fourty of the first wave. That was a hell of a strategy that paid off handsomely."

"Thank you sir. I do have an idea. I don't know how fast the enemy ships can fly, but we seem to be just barely pulling away from them and I would prefer to keep them thinking we are a sub light capable ship to keep them interested. I need a funnel shape from the bow shield envelope. I'm going to initiate a hard about face and then punch the engines up to full power. I'm hoping to condense the ships into a confined area then just blow 'em apart. The last wave showed me they carry something volatile that explodes violently when they are hit just below the cockpit window. The secondary explosions when in close proximity to one another should do a lot of the work to reduce their numbers without requiring direct hits on every single ship."

The Captain looked at Angel.

"Can you make that happen with the shield envelope?"

"Yes sir, but it's going take most of our shield strength to make that kind of radical deformation to the forward shield. It's going to take precise timing since it will leave our stern vulnerable to incoming fire. The engines will be in serious jeopardy if it isn't carried out with split perfect timing."

"Understood. Make your calculations and wait for Adjutant Myers word before you divert the shield energy into the forward funnel shape."

"I understand sir."

"You're going to have to get the timing just right Alan. This ship doesn't exactly turn on a dime. She's the size of large city rolled up into a log."

"I know sir. I estimate it will take us fifteen seconds to come about. If we increase the shield density to maximum it will obscure us long enough to make the turn, then initiate the shield modification into a funnel shape. It will concentrate the inbound enemy ships right where our forward turrets have an overlapping line of fire and I should be able to destroy a significant number of the inbound before they realize what's happening."

"You should know sir," Angel interjected, "The stern portion of the ship, most notably the engines at the extreme stern will be dangerously vulnerable. Any weapons fire sustained will likely cause devastating secondary internal explosions if the engines are active when they're hit."

"We need the Varistok to capitulate and their culture will only accept that action if they are defeated in battle first. We're just going to have to take the chance and hope we aren't crippled before they realize they can't win when they come up against us. Proceed with your plan Adjutant Myers."

Alan nodded and punched up the main engines to maximum burn while developing a gravity well ahead of the Horizon to drag her up to higher velocities and the Horizon began to pull away from the advancing Varistok swarm ships. Alan waited until there was a four light minute separation between the Horizon and the advancing Varistok ship swarm and then he called out to Angel and the helmsman.

"Alright Angel, increase the shield density to obscure our actions, helm give me all you can from the thrusters to aid in our turn."

Alan twisted the flight control controller and Angel adjusted the shield properties instantly creating an obscuring field surrounding the Horizon and the helm initiated maximum turning thrust to the bow and stern thruster assemblies and the hulking mass of the horizon began a hard turn to port. The Horizon's superstructure creaked ship wide under the twisting force and there was a noticeable shuddering as the main engines gimbaled to maximum and burned hard while the thrusters pushed hard to twist the Horizon on her axis. As Alan thought, it took nearly fifteen seconds to complete a full turn then Angel initiated the adjustment to the shield and in a wave the shield envelope morphed forward leaving only a thin tentative shield to protect majority of the hull and next to nothing at the stern region.

As the Horizon popped into view, the Varistok adjusted their course to head straight for the Horizon and the hard engine burn of the main engines closed the gap rapidly as the funnel shape was clearly defined on the overlaid presentation on the sensor view. Alan targeted the confluence of the incoming wave with a variation to coincide with the confinement point of the funnel shape, then he waited and at the last instant he cut the main engines completely and the ships fell for the trap, increasing their velocity as they began their corkscrewing maneuver to the left, then to the right just like last time and then they opened fire.

Alan could see on the split pane view that there was a collection of twenty craft closing in to astern as they somehow noticed the shield was all but gone in the aft quadrant so they were targeting the engines that Alan was wise enough to shut down as Angel suggested so no secondary explosion would translate into the interior aspects of the ship, but he concentrated on the events in the forward section, focusing his targeting on the now clustering and tumbling ships as they encountered the shield forcing them together. Alan opened fire and kept burping pulses of rounds into the crumpling up ships and the secondary explosion began to do the work Alan was hoping for as the ships piled right into the conflagration and the fire ball grew so bright it was blinding and Alan switched to the rear turrets and began targeting and aiming on the ships forming up in circulating ribbons making run after run on the engines and thruster assemblies.

Alan found the circular pattern created a single aiming point that destroyed one ship after another until they realized what was happening and then the port turret went offline from sustained damaged but the damage had been done. There were only eight ships left and they broke off their attack run and Alan quickly switched back to the forward platforms and once again banged out burps of rounds as he squinted as he concentrated on the fleeing ships as they tried to form up while circulating in a left spiral pattern that only served to provide a precise point of destruction as they essentially flew right into the bursts of rounds. Alan finally stopped firing when he noticed the subsequent waves were breaking off and turning away from the Horizon as yet another large carrier sized ship popped up on the sensor view.

Alan targeted the large vessel but didn't aim or fire just yet until he figured out if they were going to try to engage the Horizon or simply recover what was left of the attacking force now dwindled down to two hundred eight ships that were all in full withdrawal mode. Angel maintained the forward modification of the shield to sweep the now immense debris field of devastated ships into a pile as the Horizon continued to drift forward until the last explosion flamed out and the velocity of the debris represented no danger to the Horizon's hull and then she shifted the shield to a laminar bubble shape ripping back along hull before the shield energy stabilized pushing the debris away from the hull after significant masses crashed into the bow section only to be deflected by the reinforced EMPACC coating resulting in no serious damage aside from scorching and discoloration streaks. There was an almost immediate signal received at the communication station and the communications officer practically leapt from her seat.

"That's it sir, we've received a capitulation signal."

"Nicely done Alan. What's our incurred damage?"

The officer at the damage control station shook his head lightly.

"Numbers three and five main engines are out of commission, six of the twelve aft thruster assemblies have been destroyed and the port aft weapon platform has been crippled. The lower forward hangar doors have been damaged resulting in the emergency force field coming online to prevent explosive depressurization form occurring. No hull breaches have been detected but were coasting until a more concise examination of our external damage can be undertaken via zero G drones."

"Wonderful! Use the gravity drive to swing us around so we're facing the Varisok carrier. Hopefully they don't realize how serious our damage is."

"I can increase the aft shield to obscure their sensor scans so we can hide the extent of the damage." Angel offered.

"Good deal…"

The Captain then simply blinked out and the rest of the crew blinked out and Alan stood up as the alarms and warnings fell silent and his display went back to an idle view of the normal propulsion readouts.

"Simulation complete." The AI uttered. "Your unorthodox tactics were impressive and in the end successful. Do you have a better idea how the new weapons platforms operate under manual control?"

"Yeah. I'm not sure our shield would perform so pitifully though. You sustained an awful lot of damage."

"I assure you the simulation was an accurate representation of the shortcomings of the toroidal generator capabilities when pushed beyond intended operational values. The type of controlled distortions you called up were beyond anything ever anticipated. You forced the focal energy into confined regions reducing overall efficiency in the remnant areas. The simulation was meant to present a scenario in which the weapons were forced into use and you chose to manipulate the shield to aid in that effort. You should be aware however, even without your creative manipulation of the shield envelope, the shield density would have to be reduced to a level presenting vulnerability so the weapons could fire through the shield energy without a scattering effect being imparted. Your tactic concentrated the swarming ships so they could be eliminated in a relatively confined area rather than targeting them individually as they swarmed around the hull inflicting a pounding barrage of weapons fire until their numbers could be reduced."

"So…the ship would've sustained damage either way, I just compressed the time involved?"

"Correct. Angel is still engaged in her simulation training, you may remain where you are to wait for her or you may journey out into the corridor adjacent to the simulator compartments, but I would ask that you not interrupt her training session."

"I can feel that she's experiencing heightened tension at the moment. I won't disturb her training. I'll sit here in the captain's chair until she's finished."

For Angel the training simulation was wholly different. She made the long walk to the heavy fixture engineering simulator compartment and stepped in to find herself standing in the main engineering space. She knew unlike the other simulator compartment, the space she was in was comprised of solid reconstructions of the bridge, engineering spaces and auxiliary support compartments required for complete engineering simulations for training purposes. Alan was experiencing ninety percent holography and confined pinpoint force field simulations by contrast.

At first the space was unoccupied, and then as soon as she took a step away from the simulated elevator door directly behind her, the workstations were populated one by one with familiar faces and then Lieutenant Commander Titus popped to life standing right in front of Angel, but the entire engineering team was frozen in place like mannequins and the AI's voice piped in over the engineering space loud speakers in the overhead.

"Angel, your simulation is this, The Horizon was asked to enforce an enlightener ordered withdrawal of the Ostani from the Teneric system they have invaded to strip it of its high value natural resources. You were serving on the bridge when a sneak attack was initiated by the Ostani. They possess obscuring shield technology much like ours rendering them all but undetectable unless one knows the specific spectral distortions to look for to enable detection. The Ostani waited until one of our ships was passing through the forward shield and that is the moment they pushed through our shield and opened fire directly into the lower forward hangar causing massive decompression explosions that severed the command and control interface to the new weapons platforms as well as devastating the main bridge as the explosive expansion forces buckled the deck superstructures. The Captain ordered you to come to main engineering to engage the Ostani with the turret mounted weapons. You should be aware of the only station in main engineering allowing access to the weapons platforms."

"Yes, the secondary command reroute station down here. I guess I won't question why the weapons aren't being accessed from the battle bridge since this is a hypothetical scenario."

"If the command and control interface is destroyed it will disable control from the battle bridge."

"I uh…I'm a little embarrassed to admit I didn't know that. I have so much to relearn about this ship."

"The later is knowledge you likely never possessed unless you looked into the functional design aspects of the new weapons."

"I only looked into their functional characteristics, not particularly how they're wired into how their control interfaces are wired into your systems."

"Understood. Your training simulation will begin the moment you take a step toward Lieutenant Commander Titus."

"Got it."

Angel took a step forward and Titus sprang to life along with the engineering crew. Angel presented a salute as she popped to attention.

"Adjutant Cade reporting as ordered sir."

"Thank God you're finally here," Titus said as he returned Angel's salute. "Go to secondary command control and activate the weapons platforms and take those bastards out before they get at our main engines or the main hangar."

"Aye sir. Our shield should be at full strength by now, but we'll have to reduce our shield density so I can fire on them once I have them targeted."

Angel turned to the left and walked to the secondary command control station. The station had four displays laid out on slightly angled perspectives to the seat presenting helm, propulsion, shield and sensor control, and auxiliary control including weapons access. Angel sat down and logged on and the displays popped to life and Angel immediately looked at the sensor readings and space was clear at the moment so she brought up the sensor dynamics and subtly adjusted the sensor processing until the selected spectral range revealed the Ostani cruiser.

The cruiser was ten thousand yards away making intensive sensor sweeps of local space, luckily in the opposite direction from the Horizon's current position. The shield was attenuated to provide an obscuration whilst allowing local space to be viewed optically with only a slight layer of distortion that the sensor processors were compensating for in order to display a clear image of space. Angel sighed heavy then it dawned on her that she wasn't actually about to kill anyone since she was engaging a simulated foe.

Angel activated the turret mounted cannons and two armrest like stalks extended from the console and she sat back slightly until the joystick controllers raised into position then she gripped the controllers and began debating how best to cripple the Ostani cruiser. Angel initiated a gravity drive turn to come about in hopes the gravity wake would go unnoticed. The Horizon's bulk began to swing around and Angel could see a cloud of cast off debris from the bow damage being carried by the inner shield envelope and she was surprised by the amount of material expelled from the explosive decompression event and for just a moment she wondered if the amount of material would match real world conditions. She prayed she would never have to find out, then she remembered the devastating hole she and Alan repaired when they first came out of stasis and she realized there would indeed be hundreds of tons of material blown out into space if the hangar exploded.

The Horizon slowly came about and Angel initiated a pushing gravity assist from astern to mask the gravity wake behind the Horizon's bulk and the distance to the Ostani cruiser closed rapidly. Angel targeted the engines nacelles of the cruiser, of which there were four, two above and two below the main bulky hull and then she aimed for the two larger upper engine nacelles. As the Horizon drew to within optimal weapons range she initiated a thruster burn to roll the Horizon so her topside was presented to protect the main hangar located on her lower starboard side. Angel then adjusted the shield to match the weapons frequency and squeezed the thumb trigger and the port and starboard cannons began burping out rounds at three thousands bursts per squeeze of the trigger. The rounds impacted the Ostani shields and splattered in orange pulses but the successive rounds penetrated deeper and deeper into the shield envelope until the shield was forced so thin and so close to the Ostani hull, the residual energy began to penetrate their shield imparting energetic energy to their engine nacelles causing their engines to falter and then shut down.

Angel stopped firing and targeted the top of the Ostani ship in a relatively flat area of hull and switched over to sustained pulse and she squeezed the trigger and two intense beams struck the Ostani shield and instantly caused a ripple that began to deform into a depression until it moved against the hull then opened up in a perfectly round hole and the plasmatic energy impacted the hull and instantly caused the hull to begin to heat up and in seconds material was liquefied and splashed out of the forming a crater.

The Ostani initiated an evasive maneuver with their remaining engines and Angel matched their moves to keep the weapons fire in contact with the same area and it only took a few more seconds for the melting to penetrate their hull and begin burrowing into the interior of their ship, quickly blowing through decks and bulkheads causing explosive decompressions and secondary explosions as vitals were severed and in some cases ignited. Energy coursed up and down now exposed corridors and passageways cooking everything in them. Angel held the sustained fire until she detected a region of heating on the bottom of the Ostani hull. Angel waited until the instant she detected debris splattering against the shield on the opposite side of the Ostani ship and she let go of the trigger just as a momentary burp of energy struck the shield but didn't penetrate beyond the inner envelope.

Angel initiated a steady thruster burn to move away from the Ostani ship and she could see their shield pulsing several times as it fluoresced wildly then it failed altogether. The Ostani ship then shuddered hard several times as more internal explosion occurred and flames blew out of window ports in long yellow spikes casting debris and bodies out into space and the ship began to tumble as the flames acted as thrusters casting the ship onto a new gently rolling trajectory. Angel was saddened and sickened by the display, but she knew if it came down to it, a few hundred Ostani meant a few thousand Human beings were safe so the strategy was justified even if deplorable to her sensibilities.

Angel ran a scan of local space and sensors detected a spectral shimmer that indicated another Ostani ship was approaching though indications were this one was much larger, something like carrier or full blown battle ship in dimensions. Angel checked the shield settings and thankfully the AI had already shifted the shield matrix to obscure the Horizon completely. Angel initiated a gravity well and pulled the Horizon away from the smoldering hulk now tumbling through space and then she slapped the communications link.

"Captain Maxim sir," She called out.

It took a few seconds then the Captain's voice came back at her.

"Nicely done Adjutant Cade. We have the battle bridge up and running so we can take it from here. The approaching heavy battle ship is what we expected. They will be looking for a way out at this point. Negotiating isn't their way so the mining weapon is our play, but you won't have to be involved in that since I know how much you deplore the kind of violence that is going to ensue. Stay down there in main engineering and monitor the situation in case we need to make a hasty retreat. You can assist the engineering team in getting the power we need to make a heavy gravity pulse to get out of the system quickly."

"Understood sir."

"Simulation complete," The AI called out as all of Angel's displays went blank and the engineering team disappeared. "You are free to return to your duties on the bridge."

Angel stood up and looked around the huge engineering space void of any life, full of dormant engineering stations.

"Am I going to be given a graded training score or something?"

"Negative. You destroyed the enemy while protecting our vulnerable areas. That is a passing response and you never once hesitated while using the new weapons admirably to accomplish the goal of the training scenario. You and Alan will share your experiences furthering your experiences and knowledge of the new weapons use and the vulnerabilities presented by utilizing them in a combat situation. You and Alan are now cleared for duty at any duty station since your certification is going to be recommended by me and put in place by the Captain by the time you get back to the bridge."

"Alright. I can feel that Alan is waiting for me in the other simulator compartment. Will you tell him I'm done so we can meet up out in the corridor?"

"I will inform him of your status and desire to meet up. I know what you just experienced was traumatic in nature for a person of your gentle disposition. There are highly qualified counselors now on call for all crew members desiring an outlet for talking about their emotional experiences enduring the violent and stressful nature of the role Human beings are being asked to take on as representative enlighteners. Would you like to schedule an appointment?"

"I appreciate the offer but I have Alan. He's has a tough masculine core that will help me cope with the violent nature of the business better than any stranger with a doctorate in psychology can ever hope to."

"I understand. Protocol dictates I put forth the resource for consideration."

"We'll keep it in mind."

Angel turned and headed to the elevator door that opened up to the outer corridor rather than an actual elevator car. Angel stepped out into the corridor and she felt Alan before she saw him, gracing a warm strong emotional wind over her that was welcoming and invigorating. She looked down the long corridor and a smile burst onto her face involuntarily as she saw his figure walking toward her having just stepped out of the other simulation compartment. Angel headed toward Alan and they met up with a tight embraced, concluded with a prolonged lip lock kiss and then a loving smile graced on one another. Alan sensed Angel's anguish and he stroked her soft supple cheek.

"I'm sorry this isn't the path you envisioned for the Civilian Corps."

"Yeah…enforcers instead of pure explorers is a bit disappointing, but I'm not the one calling the shots so I'll just honor my oat to serve in the best way I can given what we're now tasked with. How was your raining experience besides…tragically genocidal? I don't understand. Will you share your experience with me?"

"Of course. Just be forewarned it involved a lot of death and destruction."

Angel blinked a few times in curiosity then she nodded once.

"Show me."

Alan put his hands on Angel's hips and closed his eyes as he tipped his head forward and she closed her eyes and mirrored his gesture, placing their foreheads together as she placed her hands on the top of his shoulders then reaching out to one another they merged minds and contemplated their recent experiences. They shared their experiences in the most intense and visceral manner imaginable and the very emotional sense of the experience was imparted until the essence of their training was shared in its entirety. They withdrew into their own minds and Angel lifted her head and it was then that Alan noticed a tear welling up in the corner of her eye.

"You're such a tender soul Angel. It was just a simulation, I didn't actually kill hundreds of Varistok."

"I know. It just pains me to know this is how it has to be when we do encounter them. My training was no less distressing. I hulled that ship causing countless deaths in a horrific manner."

"You poor thing. They couldn't give us inanimate moving dots to shoot at. We needed the experience of real world targets responding the way they would in real life. You know they were measuring whether we would carry out our ghastly duty no matter how much it disagreed with our principles. You got on with the task at hand and gained valuable skill training with targeting, aiming and firing the turret weapons from main engineering and I got the same training from the bridge against a foe the likes of which we have never seen before."

"The realism of the simulation would almost suggest otherwise."

"I'm sure local archival data was taken from the Tel Pok Maron map system to get the details right."

"I guess that makes sense. With information about two hundred fifty million systems in there, it goes to figure there would be a smatter about the Varistok given their hostility toward all other species."

"I hate to sound callous, but you need to buck up and get on with things. You can use my confidence if you need to help you cope with the reality of the way of things."

"Thank you Alan. I'll do that. We should get moving so we can get on with our duty shifts. The AI has likely reported that we're done with our training as it is."

Alan leaned in and planted a soft kiss on Angel's lips then he pressed his left cheek to hers and then he moved his head back and held his hand out. Angel graced him with a beautiful smile that gave him chills. She placed her hand in his and they made the long walk to the elevator, taking the long scenic route through the gardening ring tube providing a spectacular view of the huge garden area that still evoked awe and wonder that something so majestic and grand had been created and had endured despite everything for nearly six centuries .

When they arrived at the command deck, they floated out of the lift car into the corridor and turned right and walked to the main corridor and they turned left and walked to the bridge entrance and Angel had her palm scanned and the door slid open and they stepped into the bridge compartment and the Captain swiveled his chair around and faced the pair as they popped to attention and presented a smart salute. The Captain returned the salute then leaned forward slightly.

"The AI indicated your training sessions were conducted with extraordinary results. I had no doubt you two were up to the task in a single session. I feel once again humbled by your abilities. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of you two. I've already entered your certifications into your service records so you're good to go."

"Thank you sir," Angel replied.

"I hope the experience wasn't such that you need to collect your thoughts before getting back to work?"

"No sir. I don't like the idea of killing on such a large scale, but I understand the time of innocents is over. There are people out there that are going to settle for nothing less to prove we are worth dealing with as equals. When it comes down to it, Alan is going to impart the aggressive masculine traits needed to get the job done. I won't hesitate or let you down in the heat of battle sir."

"Good deal. You've come a long ways Angel. You two really are among my finest officers even though you have so much growth still ahead of you."

"Thank you sir." Alan replied smiling warmly.

"Let's get you to work now that you're cleared to work at any duty station we see fit to post you to."

Angel was assigned to sensor and shields and Alan to navigation. Rather mundane to them both since the ship was sitting static in geosynchronous orbit above the hundred crew and passengers on the surface, but rewarding just because they were posted on the bridge where they truly felt at home.

Alan spent his time meticulously transferring data from the Tel Pok Maron map data into the active navigation maps in order to fill in the blanks in observed interstellar data. The Tel Pok Maron data was deliberately left unassociated with the main navigation systems due to the complex time variable elements integrated into the Tel Pok Maron maps and to protect the data from being corrupted or accessed from external sources via the bridge's interconnectivity.

Angel on the other hand paid close attention to the sensor readings while constantly rotating the shield harmonics to get familiar with the controls and complex properties capable of being created at will. She was careful to keep the density low enough to allow communications and coming and going ships to pass through the shield without interference whilst providing a measure of protection to the Horizon from cosmic radiation, solar radiation and intrusive scanning energy.

The day seemed to pass by without major incident, Angel watched the surface visitors returning while more people were shuttled down to the surface, all of them remaining in a ten square mile area of beach front. Alan busied himself with the painstaking effort to update the map data until midday mealtime. He and Angel were relieved so they could go get something to eat, then they returned to their posts.

It was only minutes into their return to duty that Angel noticed a change in the level of background quantum fluctuation near the dimensional window coordinates Alan and Kyra had identified. She initiated a deep field active scan and the sweep didn't indicate the overt presence of a craft or identifiable anomaly, but the conditions being watched for were in fact presenting in increased measurable levels. Angel decided it was enough to bring her findings to the Captain. She turned and looked at the Captain as he worked on his left display.

"Captain? I've detected something of concern at the coordinates identified as the dimensional window the Alongadohrn are using locally."

The Captain looked up at her and nodded.

"Show me what you have."

Angel nodded and turned back to her station and she selected the Captain's position and then mirrored the quantum sensor detection images onto his displays. The Captain brought the image up on his right display and looked the data over closely then he looked at Angel.

"Are you under the impression that is an indicator of the Alongadohrn vessel passing by recently?"

"I can't determine that for certain sir. If I had to guess…I think they accessed the window coordinates in order to access a subspace region somewhere below our realm, but it created currents that carried all the way into our realm."

"Like a measurable shockwave that propagates all the way through the window coordinates."

"Yes sir. Quantum energy behaves differently than traditional forms of energy radiation. I think at the very least this is an indicator that our efforts to remove our precise realm from their records may have been for nothing since they are obviously equipped to detect the window coordinates and then follow them to our region without having a precise fix on where they are going."

"That's concerning. They could transit subspace to coordinates beyond our monitoring range and then slip into normal space to continue their collection efforts."

"That's entirely possible sir. My contribution is only going to satiate them to a point. They are eventually going to realize they need a sample from a male of my species in order to fertilize the egg."

"Unless they destroyed the egg in trying to analyze the genetic material contained within it. That might embolden them to come looking for more material."

"That's a likely scenario too sir."

The Captain sighed heavily then looked at the communications officer.

"Contact our ships, issue the immediate evacuation order."

"Understood sir," Ensign Declan replied.

Rosa opened an all craft frequency and touched the immediate evacuation signal then looked at Alan, noticing that he was staring at her. Alan gave her a friendly grin then looked away. Angel in the meantime noticed an immediate change in the over flight patterns being carried out by the patrol craft on the surface. All but three craft made a beeline for the passengers scattered about. At the same time another five craft aboard the Horizon prepared for an immediate departure to fly patrol near the Horizon. It was obvious the involved personnel knew exactly what to do based on a single spilt second signal. No questions and no hesitation were expressed, simply quick decisive actions.

It only took minutes for the ships to begin heading for the Horizon with every single person aboard. The surface patrols then followed the last ship up from the planet and they filled the main hangar and then the hangars were sealed and Angel brought the shield up to defensive levels. The Captain then pushed his displays aside and walked over to Angel, placing his hand on the backrest of her seat as he leaned in close.

"You think you can track our friends if I give you the material signature of the tracking element we attached to their hull?"

"Yes sir. If I know what I'm looking for I can find 'em."

"Good deal. You think you can put your plan into action ahead of schedule too?"

"I uh…I haven't had a chance to work on it yet but…given a little time I should be able to put together the necessary elements. Um…it's going to be a major distraction while I'm assigned to the sensor and shield station. You know we have to pay attention to what we're doing at this station. Even a split second of distraction can have dire consequences."

"Alright. Keep alert and I'll get someone to relieve you. Will that work?"

"Yes sir. That'll work."

The Captain gestured at Angel's lower control pane and she nodded and leaned to the side and he accessed the secure file directory then he selected the exotic radiation signature list and third down on the list he pointed at.

"That one."

"Sir that…" Angel leaned in after glancing around, "That's an exotic signature consistent with indirect negative matter exposed ferrite material. Did you…I mean…"

"Just don't ask Angel. It isn't reactor material if that's what you're concerned about."

"I'm probably one of only a handful of people that would recognize that signature. I just don't understand how it's possible since exposure can only occur in the reactor assembly or the first stage cooling system waste gate…neither of which can be accessed without lethal exposure within seconds."

"Angel…your curious mind could take you places you don't want to go."

"Yes sir."

The Captain nodded once and then stepped away and Angel went back to her duties. She sensed Alan pressing at her slightly so she let him in and she sensed his presence wash over, through her, right down to her core, Alan's voce then echoed in her head.

"You think he would really enlist aliens to extract dangerous material from the waste areas of the main reactor?"

"Nobody has turned to goo from extreme radiation exposure so it's the only thing that would make sense. The waste byproducts are being extracted even though they're being put to a good use at the moment."

Angel glanced at Alan and he frowned and nodded then they went back to work, Alan knowing he couldn't distract Angel by messing around in her head. It was ten minutes later that an officer Angel didn't recognized touched her shoulder.

"I'm here to relieve you Adjutant."

Angel turned and looked at the young officer and nodded once.

"Understood Ensign. I don't know if we've met before…I'm Adjutant Cade."

"Yes ma'am. The whole ship knows who you are. I'm Ensign Thornton. I normally serve on the night shift, but the AI said the Captain needed me here so you can put together whatever you have in mind for the Alongadohrn. As I understand it…we're going after 'em."

"It's nice to meet you Ensign Thornton." Angel said as she logged herself out. "You'll see by the sensor logs there are indications the Alongadohrn may have found their way back. We're going to take preemptive steps to put them down."

Angel stood up and then stepped aside and the Ensign sat down and logged himself on and he looked over the conditional settings of the shield then he brought up the sensor logs and he nodded as he looked at the trace signature detected.

"Yup, that's definitely indicative of their presence somewhere in subspace real close. I would've alerted the Captain based on this too."

"Stay vigilant Ensign. If that signature reemerges to any degree or intensifies…"

"Yes ma'am, I understand what it means. I'll keep my eyes open."

"I know you will Ensign. You wouldn't have been called to take my station if you weren't good at your job, especially with what's going on. I'm sorry it cut into your sleep schedule."

"It's alright ma'am. It comes with the job."

Angel grinned and nodded then turned and headed to the science stations to build on her previous work in infiltrating the Alongadohrn systems. She knew this time around it was going to be far more difficult to accomplish what was required of her. Destroying coordinate data was one thing, crippling an entire computing network was far more involved since there was no foreknowledge of the basic nature of the computing systems. The architecture of the computing technique was evident, but the underlying technology involved was a mystery. Angel was going to have to hope she could find a direct control link to something like a core processor where she could initiate an overload or corrupting code sequence.

Angel logged in at science station three and she got right to work, accessing information she was a little surprised required top level clearance to access. She built on her previous work enabling an infiltration signal that would initiate the moment the Alongadohrn scanning beam was detected at the outer shield envelope event horizon. Angel figured out a way to incorporate her backflow signal right into the Horizon's shield matrix since it was going to be undetectable by the Alongadohrn. She worked for twenty minutes when she was approached by the Captain. He asked her to join him in his office for a quick word so she logged out and followed him off the bridge.

The Captain accessed his office, but only stepped in far enough for Angel to follow him and the door sensor would allow the door to close. She stood so close to him she could smell his aftershave cologne.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your work, but I wanted to ask for your thoughts on something just brought to my attention."

"You're asking for my thoughts sir? I'm uh…I'm a little humbled."

"It's one of your primary roles as an Adjutant. You're an advisor to civilian and Corps personnel alike."

"I guess I keep forgetting how unique our rank is. What is it you were alerted to?"

"The special weapons department has been working on a new weapon that is ready for testing. What's your thought about using an implosion weapon? Could the energetic nature of realm one oh two support that kind of weapon without creating blowback as you called it before?"

"Implosion? Hmm. Depending on how it's created…I would say that shouldn't elicit a spatial reaction."

"The primary function of the weapon is a micro singularity based trigger. I don't pretend to understand the underlying process, just that the weapon essentially creates a miniature blackhole that builds on itself for a short time then simply blinks out. It only works in a pure vacuum, like outer space or within a contained artificial perfect vacuum chamber which can be created within the weapon housing. For our purpose I'm told that wouldn't be necessary, making the weapon detonate faster and the weapon itself can be dramatically reduced in size."

"Is this new weapon being considered as a last resort weapon if my effort fails?"


"There aren't any explosive detonations releasing ionizing radiation bursts?"

"That's what I'm being told."

"Then I would say that's an excellent choice in weapons since we don't know a lot about realm one oh two. How would it be delivered?"

"That would…be the tricky part. We would have to park the Horizon so close, the Alongadohrn won't have time to destroy the weapon before it detonates. We would attenuate the shield so the weapon could be attached to their hull, then the shield would be ramped up to maximum."

"If we're that close to their hull it would shear a chunk of their hull away as we did that…maybe taking out the weapon at the same time."

"Well if we're going to destroy them we don't particularly care about causing damage, second of all we would move off some distance before increasing the shield to maximum. It would all have to be perfectly timed and executed. My question was just whether you thought the device could be engaged in their realm without ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe."

"Yes sir, I think it's ideal for the purpose if it comes down to it."

"Good deal. That was all I needed to know."

"Sir? You really trust my opinion over the scientists and engineers in the weapons research department?"

"Without question. Don't let that go to your head Adjutant. I just realize you have an understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe in a way that makes your opinion pretty solid evidence one way or the other."

"Thank you sir. I hope I never let you down in that respect. I'm pretty smart but I'm not perfect. I'm capable of making mistakes just like anyone else."

"I know Angel. It's part of belonging to the human race. Let's get back in there so you can keep at it. We need to get this over with as soon as possible."

"Alright sir. I'm doing my best but it's complicated. I just don't understand their fundamental technology. You said you had a plan in mind that would introduce a fatal error code, like last time but more thorough."

"I know sir. I'm working with one eye covered so to speak."

"Would it help if Alan worked alongside you? You know, so you can access the background cosmic knowledge."

"I'm not sure that would work. This takes an inside knowledge that is missing."

"Are you sure you didn't see something while you were on that ship that could be useful?"

"We saw computer consoles, but that doesn't tell us what's behind the consoles."

"Well…just do your best. I know you have it in you."

"Thank you sir, I'll keep working at it."

The Captain nodded and flicked his chin toward the exit and Angel turned around and stepped toward the door and it slid open. They walked over to the bridge and Angel had her palm scanned and the door slid open and they stepped back onto the bridge and the Captain was immediately flagged down by Ensign Keaton at the sensor and shield station. The Captain walked directly to his station while Angel headed back to science station three.

She logged on and her work popped up right where she left off. She leaned back and looked over at the Captain and she could see that he was concerned by what he was seeing so she leaned in and moved her work aside and brought up the sensor data, requiring her security code before station data sharing would engage. She could now see what had the Captain so concerned.

There was an unknown vessel heading directly for Da'Oah at eighty percent the speed of light and the trace quantum current signature was becoming more prevalent suggesting the Alongadohrn were nearby just below the first subspace barrier, possibly tracking the shield energy and gravitational wake of the approaching vessel. Angel wasn't sure if the Captain had put together that indicators were pointing toward an Alongadohrn reemergence, but she knew the sensor data meant she didn't have much time left to perfect her technique for disabling the Alongadohrn computing system. Her only concern now was disabling their system while they are in their own realm, not in local space hunting down another donor.

The Captain looked at Ensign Declan.

"Ensign, I want you to initiate a warning pulse to all ships in the Da'Oah system. Include the enlightener signature and warn them to come to a halt wherever their position happens to be."

"Aye sir."

Rosa set up the burst signal and then initiated the transmit cycle, and then she looked up at the Captain.

"It's done sir. We don't know if anyone in the system is going to understand it though. Not everyone is going to be familiar with the enlighteners."

"We detected a ship on a direct course for Da'Oah. It goes to figure they secured the proper permissions to visit the planet and that would require at least a feeble knowledge of the Enlighteners."

Kevin then smiled and raised his hand slightly.

"Uh sir…the approaching vessel as decreased their velocity to…" Ensign Keaton calculated the Doppler shift characteristic as their shield energy fluoresced, "one tenth the speed of light and their velocity is continuing to decrease."

"Sir?" Ensign Declan called out softly, "We're picking up a burst signal from the direction of the approaching vessel."

"Oh? Is it in a format we can decipher?"

"Yes sir. It's in the same format as our warning signal. I'm running it through the translator so we can…hear it is sir."

Rosa activated the speech modulator and the AI's distinct voice erupted.

"Request identification of the vessel issuing system wide warning to halt due to imminent danger. We recognize enlightener authority in this matter as evidenced in your transmission signature and we are complying. We cannot detect any vessels and request to know who is broadcasting such demands of all vessels in the Da'Oah system. End of message."

"I guess we need to see if they know who we are. Transmit our identifier and nothing more Ensign."

"Aye sir."

Ensign Declan transmitted the UEF Horizon identifier and there was no response for some time, then a single message was received as the sensor station detected the vessel slowing so much, it took long range deep scans to detect the vessels position since it no longer fluoresced or created a clearly definable gravitational wake that the Horizon's enhanced signal processors were sensitive enough to detect from nearly a six light months away.

The message translated to read, "Identification recognized. We yield to your authority over all things in this region."

"We have confirmation they recognize us and won't interfere or move closer sir." Ensign Declan reported.

"Good. This close to the dimensional window, any ship with sloppy shield properties providing no gravitational wake compensation or energy propagation control factors will draw the Alongadohrn into our realm."

The Captain then looked over at Angel as he started walking to his chair.

"We could really use progress over there Adjutant Cade."

Angel completed her last inputs then looked over at the Captain.

"We can go now sir. I'm bolstering my previous work but I'm really working in the dark until the Alongadohrn show up so I can work on their system in real time. I've incorporated my infiltration signal right into our shield matrix so the second they scan us, I can get in and start poking around, but I'm just not sure if I'm going to be able to find what I need very quickly. I'm trying to make sure I have everything set when you decide to go after them."

"Adjutant Myers, do me a favor and log off your station after mirroring your controls to science station four. I want you and Adjutant Cade to join forces and see what is coming. It might help her with a solid strategy once we're in the Alongadohrn system. If possible, I need to know the most likely outcome. Are we going to defeat this…nemesis with infiltration or do I need to prepare plan B?"

"Sir," Angel piped in, "I would suggest you get plan B all set up…just in case."

The Captain let a breath out in a huff as Alan logged off the navigation station and headed for the science stations. The Captain stood up and looked at Commander Hiller.

"You have the Bridge Commander. I'll be in my office making some special arrangements."

"Understood sir, I have the bridge." Commander Hiller responded.

"Angel, keep working until I have things in place. When I return, we're going in."

"Aye sir." Angel replied while delivering a single nod.

The Captain stepped down from the platform his chair is mounted to and Commander Hiller logged off her station and headed toward him and he turned and headed out of the bridge. Alan walked over to science station four and the Ensign seated at the station logged out and gave and an obligatory nod as he stood up and then he walked away heading for the navigation station. Angel smiled at Alan as she leaned back and he put his hands up to Angel's waist and she clasped his hands. Angel leaned forward at the same time as Alan and they set their foreheads together and took a couple deep breaths as they cleared their minds, then they reached out toward one another and easily slipped into the other's mind. Once the hormonal euphoric rush wore off, they opened their eyes and leaned back and their now heightened senses cued them into awe and curious feelings directed toward them and they looked around to find the entire bridge crew staring at them.

"Alright people," Commander Hiller said loudly, "Haven't you ever seen two people merge consciousnesses before? Let's get back to work!"

Everyone turned their attention back to their stations and Angel grinned at the Commander who gave her and obligatory nod then looked down at her own station and Angel looked back at Alan.

"We need to make a two pronged approach to the problems facing us." Angel said.

"Yeah, I feel what you're thinking. Not only do I need to look into future tense but I need to look into how to incapacitate the Alongadohrn computer systems by creating an overload within the electronic components at the heart of their electronic technology."

"That would be the easiest solution if such a thing is possible. I just need to know if I'm working in the right direction."

Alan nodded and grinned slightly.

"You know…you could channel and do this just as good as I can."

"No…the primary ability to sense future events resides in you so you'll have a stronger sense of the ability. It's better that you channel my power to your benefit."

Alan nodded and closed his eyes and let out a long breath and then pushed his perceptions beyond the present, beyond the local. He had a mind's eye view of the present solar system rushing away in a blur and then his sense was a spinning swirling vortex of light and perceived temporal waves passing by until he had a clear sense of energetic space all around him. He thought he had the Alongadohrn tracked down until he realized he was experiencing a future sense. He looked around and he couldn't see the Horizon, but he sensed more than two thousand souls close by and then his attention was drawn to the Alongadohrn ship moving through space at a slow creep and he could feel palpable pulses of scanning energy broadcasting in a focused beam and he realized the Alongadohrn were searching for something they were having trouble locating. Alan was convinced he was seeing the time when the Horizon lured the Alongadohrn out into the open in their own realm and they were now searching for the Horizon.

Alan pushed his perception toward the Alongadohrn vessel until he seemingly passed right through the hull and deep into the vessel's interior spaces where he sensed the almost comical looking creatures working at the control stations he remembered seeing when he and Angel were cornered on the ship. Alan looked at the nearest console and he realized he could push his sense of visual perspective right into the console to see what components lie within.

Alan pushed his presence toward one of the occupied consoles and the creature at that console seemed to stop what it was doing as it pondered the bizarre information being displayed. Alan pushed his perceptions past the creature and right into the console itself and Alan was stunned by what he saw. The interior was comprised of bumps and nodules connected by what looked like microscopic veins that were pulsing in a soft blue color. It was an organic architecture, not a solid state component based system as he half expected.

The interior space had round piles of fleshy looking material that Alan assumed served the purpose of microprocessors. It started to dawn him that they might be pursuing the wrong line of thinking to incapacitate the computer network. If it was organic based with interconnectivity accomplished by organic fiber optics he thought of an element that would be carried organically to the whole system and cause catastrophic damage to the components. He wasn't sure why but salt came to mind.

The fact he and Angel were placed in a liquid medium then left alone without physical probing or examining performed on them started to make sense. The salinity of the Human body was proving detrimental to their electronic technology and they were trying to figure out a way around the problem when Angel and Alan came to unexpectedly fast.

Alan withdrew his perception to the round compartment where the consoles were located, each occupied by one of the drone creatures, and then Alan pushed his view down one of the corridors he and Angel hadn't explored when they were last on the ship. As his view moved down the corridor he noticed openings in the uppermost surface of the passageway and there was a slight mist wafting out of one port after another as his vision moved through the nearly round corridor. He pushed on and on as the corridor began to ascend so sharply, the floor had integrated steps carved into what looked like rock though Alan was pretty sure the material was unnatural and synthetic in nature.

As the corridor finally leveled off, Alan sensed an enormous opening coming into view and there were hundreds of pools of bubbling liquid contained within formations that rose right out of the deck. There were glowing veins stretching from the ceiling high above and they led right into the boiling pools and Alan realized it was likely electrolysis separation in action. Oxygen and hydrogen would be separated and collected as evidenced by the hundreds of hanging tube like structures hanging from overhead.

Alan was pretty sure he had stumbled onto the heart of the oxygen production and circulation system and it appeared to be mechanical in nature according to the principles and techniques witnessed thus far. There were no displays or control consoles visible from his mind's eye view although he could identify round stony hand wheels protruding from the bulkheads, presumably to regulate the input flow of liquid and the current flow into the pools by adding resistance and capacitance within the vein like conduits in a controlled manner.

Alan then made a conscious effort to withdraw directly through the walls until he reached the exterior aspect of the vessel and the shape now started to make sense for a new reason, air flow. Regions of high and low pressure would draw air from high pressure to low creating circulation within the curved shape of the vessel and he was looking at the midpoint of arched curve of the vessel on the port side and he had a new strategy in mind for destroying their electronic systems using the air circulation system.

He now realized the new strategy should include Angel's original line of pursuit in infiltrating the Alongadohrn electronic system to create havoc by encrypting their base code with a simple hunt and replace program to tie up the systems with unrecognized lines of instruction then, with sensors that are electronic temporarily blinded, a penetrating drone could be used to introduce a massive introduction of iodine to the ship wide liquid circulation system and the air circulation system could be used to further distribute salinity into the interior environment.

Alan then withdrew completely and he sensed a temporal drag on his essence of perception until it felt current. He then felt for the Alongadohrn and he didn't actually see the vessel, but he sensed it was a uncomfortably close to the Horizon, holding its position for whatever reason. Alan then pushed beyond his remote viewing to future possibilities and as usual he was bewildered with a collage of imagery that he had to sift through to make out the most likely occurrences and he was able to determine the eventualities in which implosions were initiated there was no cosmic repercussions, but there were only a handful of instances in which that option was employed suggesting to Alan that wasn't going to be necessary.

Alan began to feel fatigued and so withdrew his senses and closed his mind resulting in a stomach sickening spinning sensation in his head and it took a few minutes to clear enough to open his eyes and move back slowly while breathing deeply as he swallowed his stomach down sharply.

"Did you catch all that?" Alan asked softly.

"Yeah…" Angel replied reaching out rubbing the back of Alan's neck. "That took a lot out of you. We need to get some protein in you and something sweet to drink."

Alan nodded without saying a word and Angel stood up and walked over the Captain's chair.

"Sir, we've discovered a few things we need talk about and Alan needs nourishment. Can we talk in your office?"

The Captain immediately pushed his displays aside, logged himself off and then looked at Commander Hiller.

"You have the Bridge Commander."

"Aye sir, I have the bridge."

The captain looked around the bridge and almost all eyes were on Angel or Alan and the Captain cleared his throat and then raised his eyebrows when eyes fell on him and everyone looked back to their stations and Alan stood up slowly, as if he were an old man avoiding the pain of a rapid movement. He reached down and logged off then walked over to the Captain and the Captain pat his shoulder and then spun around and stepped down from the platform his chair is mounted to and he led the way out of the bridge.

The Captain led the way into his office and Alan plopped down hard and Angel stroked his cheek, then got up and touched the viewer on the bulkhead and enabled the AI voice prompt as the Captain stood near the doorway.

"Horizon, please bring Alan an infused high yield protein bar and a glass of cold pineapple juice."

"Right away."

"I want you to enable voice recording until further notice too. What we're going to discuss is going to need to be disseminated to others."

"Please state your security authorization code to confirm that action."

"Eight six nine three nine."

"Voice print and security code accepted. Audio capture now in effect until further notice."

Angel then sat down next to Alan and the Captain shook his head.

"You don't look so good Alan."

"I expended an incredible amount of effort sir. You have to understand not only was I remote viewing, it was into future tense and into another realm one hundred and two levels beneath ours."

"I guess I hadn't counted on how difficult that was going to be. I take it you had a measure of success?"

"Yes sir. My head hurts so I'm going to be quiet for a few minutes. Angel will fill you in since she shared every aspect with me."

"Do you need to go down to the med deck?"

"No sir. The doc would see clear signs of brain damage he can do nothing about and prolonged observation will reveal signs of self healing that he can't explain. I'll be alright as long as I feed my body some of the essential elements it needs to carry out the healing process."

"I hate to press you into speaking more but…can you carry out your duties in the compromised condition you now find yourself in?"

"Not immediately, but what Angel is going to share with you will convince you we need to plan our attack for a later time."

The Captain nodded and at that moment the door slid open and a servo drone floated in with a tray containing a tall dewy glass of pineapple juice and a dull sandy colored large diameter protein bar and Alan reached down and retrieved them before the drone ascended. The drone spun around and floated out of the compartment and the door slid shut and Alan tossed back most of the pineapple juice then took a bite of the protein bar. The Captain looked at Angel and gestured to Alan.

"Are you sure that's going to be enough for him to recover?"

"For now. He is going to need a fortified meal later on, but it will provide crucial elements to prevent his body from shutting down."

"I'm going to have to remember I'm putting you out of service when I request you to exert your abilities like this."

"It's alright sir. We gleaned critical information and Alan was smart enough to withdraw into his own mind immediately after he ceased his effort so he wouldn't drain me too as his body tried to reestablish equilibrium using my energy reserves as a resource."

"I see. I need you at your post so please refrain from letting him drain you if you can avoid it."

"He's actually drawing from me real subtly right now, but it's nothing like it would be if we were joined, which Alan's mind is seeking in order to enable a more sufficient energy source, I'm actively blocking it though. Our current state of sharing isn't going to debilitate me or anything."

"Does that subtle draw continue if you quiet your mind?"

"No sir. It would cut him off completely, but I would rather not do that so I can feel what's going on with him. Our tentative bond allows for a measure of relief for his headache."

"I was just curious. I wasn't planning on asking you to quiet your mind once you said the drain is manageable. So…what did you two learn?"

"We found the Alongadohrn weakness. Salt sir. It's catastrophic when their version of electronic technology comes in contact with it. Their technology is more organic than anything, but it's still so…alien compared to what we're familiar with and it has a key vulnerability due to its very nature. We know where their oxygen production and circulation takes place on their ship so we can introduce heavy iodine contamination at that point and it will be distributed throughout their ship. We also know their liquid medium is stored and distributed from the same location so we can introduce a massive infection of salinity there and it will destroy their computer technology permanently whilst contaminating their entire ship."

"Do we know if salt is lethal to their physiology?"

"We don't know sir. Their physiology is so unlike anything we've ever come across before…we just don't know. My gut instincts say no, but that's purely a guess."

"So…salt…humph…who'd of guessed."

"I think that's why they didn't perform anything but a preliminary external examination of Alan and I sir. They detected the high salinity in our blood chemistry and they were trying to figure out what to do when we came to faster than they expected."

"I hate to say it, but I'm kind of thankful since it negated the worst kind of probing."

"Yes sir, me too."

"Can you draft some articles that will direct us where we can introduce salt contamination to accomplish our goal of disabling them without destroying their ship?"

"Yes sir. Alan's sense was that we would engage in an encounter by luring the Alongadohrn back to their realm before initiating any action. The implosion action isn't the most likely eventuality sensed though the few instances that he saw the implosion device being used didn't result in any anomalous spatial effects."

"I see. This is going to require some restrategizing how to proceed. You're certain there are no injuries on our side?"

"If we engage in active combat with the Alongadohrn…there will be losses on both sides. They are a powerful species sir. We shouldn't be complaisant about the danger posed by engaging them in aggressive hostile interactions."

"Understood Angel. I want you to go back to your station and draft some supporting documents to aid in future actions against the Alongadohrn. I'm going to contact the engineers and physicists in the specials weapons department to arrange for some weapons laden with salt. I know we have a healthy supply in storage so that raw material shouldn't be an issue."

"If I may suggest, a driller drone will be able to deliver the material to the precise locations I'm going to outline in the material I draft up for you."

"I'll take that into consideration. My ultimate question would be this, is the most likely eventuality one that involves a successful accomplishment of our goal?"

"Yes sir. Your request for us to look into the issue with our abilities has all but insured a safe conclusion to the engagement with our goals accomplished successfully."

"That's good to hear. Is that all you have to report?"

"Yes sir. That's the important details we gleaned."

"Let me ask you this…did you sense any outcome if we do nothing to stop the Alongadohrn?"

"Yes sir. The imagery was confusing but in a few instances the Alongadohrn were in the horizon system being engaged by multiple craft. We can't be sure of the eventual outcome but it was enough to signal we have to act if we are going to keep them away from our home system."

"You're certain they weren't there to negotiate an alliance or something like that?"

"These creatures don't think like us sir. In their eyes we are a means to an end and nothing more. The only thing we have that they want is us. Our technology is incompatible and inferior in their eyes thus undesirable so there is no reason to negotiate for anything."

"I see. That's all I need to know. Alan, take a break and get some solid food in your stomach so you can recover yourself, Angel go back to your station and compile the data I asked for."

Angel stood up and helped Alan to his feet. Alan tipped his glass up and finished off his juice, then set the glass on the Captain's desk and then the Captain stood up and headed out of the room, leaving Angel and Alan to depart at their own pace. Angel looked at the viewer.

"Horizon, engage privacy protocols."

"Understood. Privacy mode reestablished."

Angel then looked at Alan.

"You want me to join you in the mess hall?"

"No. I can wait to eat something but…I'll do as the Captain ordered. You need to go back to the science station to put together the things they need to put together a plan of action based on what we've discovered."

"Alright. I'm sorry it was so hard on you."

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. I was able to direct my senses right where I needed them to go so it was worth it in the end."

Alan stood up and then they embraced for a few moments then they stepped out of the Captain's office and Alan headed to the mess hall, Angel to the bridge. Angel was surprised when she entered the bridge to find the Captain wasn't there. She assumed he went to his quarters across the corridor from the bridge. She went right back to her station and got to work compiling the information the Captain was going to need to present a new plan of action against the Alongadohrn.

Angel worked diligently for thirty minutes, using part of the time to draft a purposed plan of action and the rest to sketch over an archival image of the Alongadohrn vessel to indicate exactly where the vulnerable points were and then she went back to her infiltration programming to tidy up the last details and as she finished the Captain returned to the bridge and walked right over to her position.

"How'd you do Adjutant? Did you get the information compiled that I asked for?"

"Yes sir. It's in my personal file directory labeled NPA. New plan of action."

"You included a plan of action?"

"Yes sir, at least a recommended outline anyways."

"You're always ahead of the game Angel," The Captain said softly, "Good work."

"Thank you sir, I try. You can access my personal files anytime you need. Your code is associated with my personal files."

"How do you know my access code in order to enable that?"

"I don't sir, but the AI knows how to create an access association that allows your code to unlock anything I create…except my personal logs. Those as you know require your command code authorization to break into and the AI would have to concur that it's warranted. I've instilled the same implicit trust in you that you have in Alan and I sir."

"I'm honored Angel. I'll make arrangements for the oversight comity to come together so we can discuss the matter before I proceed. Without even reading it…put together anything you need to facilitate your recommendations. I'm going to put forth that you have inside knowledge making your plan the most logical to follow through with."

"Awe, thank you for trusting in me like that sir. Did the special weapons department have something that will be able to deliver the payload effectively?"

"Yes. That's all taken care of."

"That's good to hear sir. I have my infiltration programming all set up for our encounter."

"I thought we wouldn't need that now."

"I need to scramble their computers then they will be blinded while the drones get to work."

"I guess I should read your purposed plan of action before I head to the meeting. If you're finished with your work, would you mind taking Alan's station at navigation so you can plot us a course with the right shield characteristics in place to attract attention so we can lead the Alongadohrn to realm one oh two?"

"I would be happy do that sir."

The Captain simply nodded then turned and quickly headed toward the exit, stopping to speak to Commander Hiller briefly before stepping out of the bridge. Angel in the meantime logged off science station three and then headed over to the navigation station and she relieved Ensign Keaton so he could go back to his quarters to catch up on his sleep before his duty shift. Angel enabled her cross station access so she could work on the shield settings from the navigation station and she got everything set for the encounter with the Alongadohrn. The shield would rotate creating a distinct optically invisible high energy fluorescing effect that would get their attention without giving away the Horizon's identity or precise coordinates.

Angel worked for thirty minutes, at which time she felt Alan drawing closer before he even stepped onto the bridge. She couldn't help but smile at the refreshed feeling she sensed in him as he walked in and headed directly to her. She stood up then froze as she looked at Commander Hiller and she cast a steely glare before cracking a smile and then she flicked her head toward Alan and Angel grinned and then she and Alan hugged for a few moments then stepped apart.

"I'm glad you're feeling better." Angel said softly.

"The headache is fading. The food in my gut did wonders for my energy level, but I'm still not a hundred percent. I didn't know pushing my perceptions into future tense across domains would be so difficult. I got everything right on the first try but…I definitely don't want to do that very often."

"You did a great job. We know what we need to do to take those guys down now."

Alan nodded and then glanced at the navigation station before looking back at Angel.

"You mind staying at navigation while I man one of the science stations? My head is still a little woozy if you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I got this. You can continue to monitor the sensor telemetry to make sure our friends don't pop up unexpectedly before we're ready for them."

"Thanks babe. You think the Captain is going to be able to convince the oversight comity?"

"Yeah. I outlined things pretty clearly and it all makes sense for what we need to get done. They'll get behind the Captain given what's at stake."

"I'm going to go monitor the sensor telemetry then. When you're ready for your break will you come get me? I want to have tea with you."

"Yeah, I'll do that."

Alan nodded then leaned in and kissed Angel on the cheek and then he turned and headed to the science stations while Angel sat back down at navigation, but only for a moment before Commander Hiller called her over. Angel acknowledged Amanda, and then stood up and walked over to the Captain's chair.

"Yes ma'am?"

"The Captain advised me to have a look at the work you've done and the purposed plan of action you have compiled."

"Yes ma'am. I think it's pretty comprehensive."

"Oh it is Angel. I just have one question not answered anywhere to my knowledge."

"Yes ma'am?"

"You've recommended driller drones normally used for asteroid coring to penetrate the Alongadohrn hull in order to introduce smaller delivery drones that will carry salt payloads into the ship. My question is this; do you know for sure we can drill through the Alongadohrn hull with our driller drones?"

"Yes ma'am. The sensor data collected when the Horizon was in direct contact with their hull indicates their hull is comprised of a mineral composition that is vulnerable to plasma energy. Extreme temperature and pressure should burn through the material, something like cutting through obsidian. Their hull is artificially grafted minerals that are fused around an unknown alloy framework."

"Okay. I just didn't see that information in your plan of action."

"I was taking for granted the Captain knows what their hull is comprised of so he knows how to equip the driller drones. They're already equipped to drill into hard rocky asteroids to extract and examine deep material composition so…"

"So we don't need to modify them very much. We just need to punch up the power a little and they will burrow into the Alongadohrn hull like melted butter."

"Yes ma'am."

"Good work Angel. There is a concise plan of action suggested with the missing information available if one looks around slightly. On a side note…I wanted to congratulate you and Alan on the high marks earned on your engineering certification."

"Thank you ma'am. I'm starting to get the feeling that there were some that weren't sure if we would make the grade."

"No, it's not that. The overwrite was a controversial measure employed to imbue more subordinate attributes in you and Alan. I was among those that worried it would affect your overall intellect. I'm just glad you proved me wrong."

"We've had to relearn some of what we know we knew before since we somehow led this ship across Onica's galaxy, eventually ending up at our new home in one piece, but the thought of trying to lead that effort now…well we are lacking substantial knowledge and confidence to even think about attempt something like that today."

"But your memories are intact, right?"

"As far I know ma'am. I mean it may sound ignorant, but I can only tell you I remember what I remember. Anything destroyed or covered up is beyond me so, I don't know I'm missing it."

"Right. You do remember the timeline of events though, right? I mean there aren't any gaps in the sequence of events or anything?"

"No, the overwrite didn't cover the memories of our time getting here. As you probably know, the neural suggesting process focuses on the short term memory area of the hippocampus so long term memory isn't interfered with. In the case of Alan and I, our long term memories are stored in three distinct areas so, even if traditional areas devoted to long term memory were messed with, we would still retain our memories because we're wired differently. I remember everything that happened with crystal clarity ma'am."

"What you were exposed to in your command and control training doesn't occupy that region?"

"No ma'am. That isn't comprised of active memories, that's ingrained behavioral traits. There were some memories involved and those remain, but that's all. The general knowledge memories are intact, but it has no context anymore so it's memory noise, nothing more."

"You're talking about subconscious memory."

"Yes ma'am. Fundamentally that is how neural suggestion works."

"Got it. Go ahead and take your station Adjutant."

"Yes ma'am."

Angel turned and headed back over to navigation and sat down and got back to work plotting precise spatial coordinate points along the subspace window from pure memory of Alan's experience and unwitting knowledge from beyond her reckoning.

The crew carried out their duties for nearly two hours without incident, and that's when the Captain finally returned to the bridge and relieved Commander Hiller and then looked around the bridge and he nodded as if agreeing to something unsaid. He looked over to the communications station.

"Ensign, give me ship wide. I want to address everyone before we proceed."

"Aye sir," She replied, "you know it will be difficult to hear you in the gardening ring if people are in the groves of trees?"

"Anyone there will just have to ask others what was said."

Ensign Declan nodded as she linked in every single com panel, control panel and servo drone on the ship then tied the Captain's station into the link and created an activation icon on his right display.

"It's done sir. You can go ship wide by activating the icon on your right display."

"Thank you Ensign."

The Captain sat down and sighed heavy as he pulled his displays up to a comfortable viewing position. He then cleared his throat and looked at the icon.

"I take it you didn't tie this into the bridge?"

"No sir. We can hear you loud and clear so I skipped the bridge audio tie in."

The Captain nodded and touched the icon and there was slight crackle as every single speaker on the ship went active simultaneously.

"Attention all crew, all passengers. This is Captain maxim speaking. Some of you know me, many of only know of me. I am your Captain and caretaker to those residing on the Horizon. In that light I felt it important to inform everyone that we are going to engage in preemptive actions against the Alongadohrn. We have detected indications the Alongadohrn are once again lurking in subspace and it is only a matter of time until they emerge and begin their collection efforts to obtain biological samples for inclusion in their genetic imperative. We have witnessed how that is carried out as evidenced by the abduction of our celebrity heroes, Angel Cade and Alan Myers. This activity is an unacceptable threat to anyone who is unlucky enough to encounter the Alongadohrn. While I do not anticipate live battle with our adversary, it is not out of the question so I am asking all passengers to seek shelter in the berthing areas. I am calling for all hands to man their battle stations and all airtight doors and hatches to be closed and sealed. We are going to be heading deep into another realm that is unfriendly to life as we know it. While our shield will insure no battle damage incurred, we are going up against an essentially unknown foe so we are unsure of their weaponry. The final attack we intend to employ will require us to reduce our shield density significantly. We will blind the enemy first, but there is a slight chance they will be able to offer up a defensive measure we are unaware of which is why I am asking all passengers to seek shelter in the most secure and hardened section of the ship, the berthing area. We will begin our campaign in one hour's time to give people time to evacuate their current locations and to insure the ship is locked down for battle. I am hopeful there will be no loss of life on either side, but I am especially determined not to have any loss or injury among us. This action is not one of choice, but one of necessity for our safety and that of our allies and charges. After the campaign is complete, the plan is to return to Da'Oah so those desiring surface time may indulge without worry of being accosted by nefarious entities. Thank you and luck to us all."

The Captain tapped the icon once again closing the channel and then he looked at Commander Hiller.

"Commander, give the signal to set condition zebra throughout the ship."

"Aye sir. Do you want the battle bridge prepped for use?"

"I don't think that's necessary. Inform me when condition zebra is confirmed in all sections."

"Aye sir."

The Commander initiated the command with the touch of one button resulting in a simulated klaxon sounding off all throughout the ship and the crews began to lock the ship down. Tens of thousands of airtight blast doors swung, lowered and raised into position creating a vessel with hundreds of thousands of separate isolated compartments in case of a breach. The vacuum tubes for the elevator system were shutdown to all personnel except those with specific and special need.

The Captain was impressed that within ten minutes Commander Hiller reported condition zebra was set throughout the ship and the Captain acknowledged her and then watched the sensor readings indicating the location of all persons on the ship until the gardening ring and stasis ring were vacant and every single soul aside from crew were in the berthing areas. The special weapons were assembled and loaded in the aft upper hangar and the weapon of last resort was prepped and ready in the aft lower hangar. It was attached to a drone that would deliver the weapon and keep it in close proximity to the Alongadohrn vessel until it could be detonated remotely or a timer set point is reached failing a trigger signal.

Once the one hour mark was reached, the Captain stood up, pushing his right and left stalk mounted monitors aside, and he looked around the bridge with pride.

"Nice work people. We're ready to go after the Alongadohrn. I'm proud of this crew for its efficiency and diligence. For a ship this large, ten minutes to reach a condition of readiness for battle conditions is impressive. I'm going need you people to be on your toes during our engagement. We don't know if the Alongadohrn are going to know what we're up to, but I would have to imagine it's going to be interesting if they figure us out. We really have no idea what kind of tools they will bring to bear and we are only limited by the extent of our imagination in what they might have, beings they have been around for millions of years. You all have your assignments for the mission…Adjutant Myers, you feel up to taking navigation with helm control at your station?"

Alan stood up and nodded.

"I feel pretty good sir. I can get us where we need to be."

"Good man. Take over navigation." The Captain looked at the helm station that faced directly toward the huge viewer at the front of the bridge compartment. "Helm, transfer your controls to the navigation station, but stay at your post for assistive efforts should it be required."

"Understood sir." The helmsman replied.

"Adjutant Cade. I want you at sensor and shield control. You have the clearest idea what needs to be done from there to carry out our mission goals."

"I understand sir." Angel replied sharply.

"Commander Hiller, I want you at power management. The rest of you are right where I need you based on your strengths. If this goes right, we'll lure the Alongadohrn where we want them, Angel will do her thing, getting in to blind them temporarily, then we'll hit 'em with the drones so we can distribute the iodine payload all throughout their ship, then we will run the shield up to absolute maximum allowing us to sink into another dimension before they can follow or even figure what's happening. Make me proud people."

The Captain sat back down and Angel made her way over to the sensor and shield station and she relieved the officer and he in turn headed to the science stations to relieve Alan and then Alan headed to the navigation station vacated by Angel. In the meantime Commander Hiller headed to the auxiliary power management station and she sat down and logged on, immediately initiating a direct connection with the negative matter core control room so changes in output could be initiated as quickly as possible if the need should arise.

"Alright, I think we're ready. Alan, take us out."

"Aye sir. Plotting a course for the subspace window." Alan reported as he entered the preprogrammed flight pattern into the helm controls.

Alan then slowly increased the thrust demand and the Lieutenant at propulsion increased the main engine output and then enabled the automation controls and linked them to the helm controls at the navigation station. The Horizon turned toward deep space and accelerated hard as Alan ramped the engine demand up to eighty percent thrust. As the Horizon sped away from Da'Oah, Angel started manipulating the shield harmonics to facilitate passing into subspace without experiencing temporal slipping and Alan glanced over at Angel and subtly reached out to her.

"You ready for this?"

"Yeah. I have everything all set."

Alan let go of the controls and enabled the plotting he had programmed and the Horizon banked over hard and gravitational energy began pooling in front of the Horizon until the first subspace barrier was breached and then the Horizon slipped through the created funnel of curved and warped space and then Alan held his hands close to the controls as the automation systems piloted the enormous ship down through the layers of subspace following the plotting points Alan had outlined precisely.

Angel then enabled the shield rotations and thinning that she was pretty sure should make the Horizon glow like a floodlight beaming into a pitch dark cave. It only took seconds for the distinct tag signal from the Alongadohrn vessel to pop up on the sensors and it was in fact drawing closer, though precise coordinates were impossible while traveling through subspace with the shield so distorted and in such a random fashion.

"The Alongadohrn have come up on sensors sir," Angel reported, "The shield is a mess as planned so they appear to be aware of our presence."

"Well that's encouraging. As soon as we get to realm one oh two, crank the shield back up. We'll see if they follow us all the way home, then I want you to engage in stage two of the plan."

"Understood sir." Angel replied.

The Horizon dropped into realm one oh two and before the sensor readings normalized, Angel reengaged the automatic shield stabilizer control allowing the AI the make the calculations more efficiently than any person ever could and the Horizon was obscured completely. The Horizon slowed gradually as she proceeded through the bizarre energetic space until she was several million kilometers beyond the subspace window. The Alongadohrn vessel became prominent on sensors and then it appeared as clear as day with active sensing engaged.

The Captain saw the mirrored readings on the main viewer and he stared intently to see if the profile suggested a direct course for the Horizon's position, but the Alongadohrn were seemingly wandering aimlessly as they searched intently, first veering to port, then drifting to starboard followed by a sharp pitch down and rolling maneuver. Angel glanced at the Captain and he looked at her and nodded once.

Angel initiated pulses of the outer shield envelope and the Alongadohrn responded exactly as expected. The Alongadohrn pitched and banked over toward the Horizon while scanning her previous position and Angel initiated another series of discrete pulses and the scanning became focused on the Horizon as she continued to slow but kept on the move. Angel brought up her secure file containing her work and research and she began her infiltration efforts, occasionally reaching over to pulse the shield into a detectable nature momentarily keeping the Alongadohrn interested and scanning in the direction of the Horizon.

It took Angel ten minutes to finally achieve success. She managed to infiltrate the Alongadohrn systems, worming her way deep into their computing systems until she found a series of root directory instructions and then she initiated her encryption sequence that essentially replaced character phrases with gibberish, tying up the systems as the computers tried to reconcile the unknown lines of instruction being generated system wide.

Angel looked at the Captain and grinned.

"It's done sir. That should confound them like crazy. Give it a few minutes and their sensing capability should go down as their computer systems spread the nefarious programming."

"Good as your promise as always." The Captain tapped an icon on his left display then spoke to the personnel waiting in the hangar control room. "Depressurize the hangar and set blackout conditions in preparations for launch. Operation sucker punch is a go."

"Understood sir." A male voice responded. "Are we sure two thousand kilos is going to be enough to get the job done sir? We could pack significantly more…"

"If we overdo it we could clog their circulation system resulting in failure to distribute the salt throughout their entire ship. Just stick to the plan as outlined."

"Aye sir. Depressurizing the hangar and setting blackout conditions."

The Captain then looked at Angel.

"Are you ready to increase shield density to maximum so we can make our escape before being fired upon?"

"I'm ready but…may I recommend we linger for a short time to make sure the payloads have the desired effect?"

"I thought your impressions were of a successful outcome?"

"We saw multiple eventualities, the most common thread being a successful attack via drones but…"

"You still saw a few instances that required the use of our weapon of last resort?"

"Yes sir. Either that's because it is the least likely requirement or the rarity of perception of that option might indicate the most likely eventuality in nearly singular threads. I'm sorry but our interpretation is subject to error due to our lack of experience with this sort of thing."

"Don't apologize for grappling with confusion over prognosticated events. Helm, get us clear, but use gravity drive, not thrust propulsion."

"Aye sir," Alan replied.

Alan initiated gentle gravity eddies and the Horizon gently moved away from the Alongadohrn just as their vessel came to near dead stop and their scanning efforts ceased completely.

"We're clear sir." Alan reported.

The Captain leaned toward his left display.

"Deploy the drones."

"Launching drones sir," The male voice responded. "The target coordinates are programmed into the seven drones so they won't require any input from us."

"Good deal. Angel, decrease the shield to allow the drones to pass through without damaging their delicate payloads, then take us out to one million kilometers helm."

Angel and Alan nodded and executed the Captain's orders resulting in the Horizon temporarily becoming optically visible as the drones passed through the shield envelope then Angel increased the shield properties to protect and obscure the Horizon and then Alan used the gravity drive technique to move the Horizon off while the drones performed their preprogrammed tasks. When the Horizon reached a distance of one million kilometers, Alan brought the ship to a halt then swung her stern toward the Alongadohrn ship.

The Horizon held position for twenty minutes and then they detected a reduction in the energy signature coming from the Alongadohrn vessel indicating a total collapse of their computer systems. There were no explosions, no attempts to flee, just a subtle loss of energy signature that continued to fade until the vessel was barely registering. Angel turned and looked at the Captain.

"I think we have our proof sir. The lights have gone out over there…so to speak."

"I can see that. Good work people. Let's get the heck out of this bizarre region while the getting is good."

"Sir…" Angel piped in, "I think I might have a way of closing the window these guys created or at least a way of disguising it locally."

"Oh? What's your idea?"

"Well, now that we have an implosion device that doesn't involve any significant energy discharge…we could pass through the window while pulsing the aft shield in the inverse of the quantum energy variance and it should cancel out the trail left behind and then an implosion detonation at the apex of our aft shield envelope at the precise coordinate of the event horizon of the window should draw the artificial tear closed. The Horizon would still be able to track the location down if tasked with it, but the Alongadohrn sensors are tailored for a different operational spectrum so the window should be undetectable to them once the resultant currents fade away. That will happen long before they restore their systems if they can at all."

"You can manipulate the shield to make that possible?"

"Yes sir. I'll just use the sensor data to determine the specific complex modulation necessary then associate an automatic variable adjustment protocol and the system will enable those conditions without me having to do much of anything."

"That's an interesting idea. I would ordinarily run that by the committee but time is of the essence here so…make your preparations while I have the Muscovium core device programmed to detonate at the event horizon."

Angel nodded and turned back to the sensor and shield controls and she got to work creating the automated control to enable the inverse architecture to nullify the quantum trace signature the Horizon would be deliberately creating as it traversed through the subspace window. It only took her a few minutes and then she looked over at the Captain as he was giving his last instruction to the programming technicians. He muted the communication channel and looked over at Angel.

"You all ready over there?"

"Yes sir."

"Are you certain this is going to work?"

"As certain as I can be sir. It should work if local space conditions allow the laws of physics to work the way we understand to them to work."

"Right." The Captain looked at Alan. "Helm set a course for the departure window but take your time in getting us there, the weapon won't be ready for deployment for a little while."

"I understand sir. Plotting a course to our universe the same way we came."

Alan programmed a reverse course and then initiated a steady burn from the main engines and the Horizon moved forward and initiated a hard turn as the main engine bells gimbaled directing the thrust to aid in creating a turning force while the massive bow thruster assemblies were fired to bring the bow around into the turn. Alan then set a forward velocity of ten KPS once the ship was headed directly toward the window that was easily detected by sensors.

A tone sounded off at the Captain's station and he looked at his left display and nodded then looked at Angel.

"Reduce the shield to allow deployment of the weapon."

"Aye sir, reducing shield density."

Angel adjusted the shield to allow the weapon to pass through and then there was a sensor indication of an object heading aft, then the energetic plume appeared on visual sensors as the large weapon zoomed away from the Horizon, passed through the shield envelope then made a rapid turn turning back toward the Horizon. Angel brought the shield back up to normal and the automatic settings kicked back in and Alan initiated the course to take the ship home at maximum thrust. The shield began to intensify and energy was dumped directly ahead and the Horizon was drawn inexorably toward the developing funnel of warped space.

As the Horizon slipped past the subspace barrier the implosion weapon detonated precisely as planed and right on target. The aft shield absorbed the residual energy eliminating any hazard to the Horizon as the ship continued on with the shield deepening until normal space was encountered and then the shield decreased in depth allowing normal space to fill the viewer at the front of the bridge. The Captain sighed as the Horizon slowed incrementally and the distant Da'Oah star acted a beacon even if faint and distant.

"Take us back to Da'Oah so those desiring a visit to the surface can indulge…"

"Sir," Angel interrupted, "There is a vessel in orbit around Da'Oah. It's probably the craft we warned off earlier."

The Captain looked up at the sensor readings being displayed on the huge viewer and he nodded.

"I see that…perform a deep field scan of Da'Oah to see if there are any life signs on the surface."

"From this far out that's going to be difficult to discern with any level of certainty. I'll give a try sir."

Angel initiated the deep field scan and then ran the sensor readings through the Elder Race enhanced signal processors and she was surprised by the minute signature detected on the surface.

"Well I'll be…we have clear indications of life on the surface sir. Half a light year away and we can detect people on the surface. The Elder Race really know how to build signal processors."

"Keep the shied modulated to obscure our presence and take us in so we can have a look at their ship. Maybe we can determine how they will react to our presence based whether they are here in a warship, a cruiser or an unarmed transport."

"Maybe we can tell them we are the ones that sent the warning signal earlier." Ensign Declan offered from the communications station.

"Yeah, we'll keep that in reserve. Let's get in close and see what they're up to first." The Captain said.

The crew remained vigilant as the ship cruised deeper into the system, eventually settling into a high orbit one thousand miles from the strangely shaped vessel already in orbit. The ship was comprised of three V shaped elements stacked one atop another set back from one another with a protruding bridge that was round resting at the rear of the uppermost V shaped segment. The ship was an obvious transport style vessel with no armament aside from launch tubes at the apex of each V shaped segment. It was an impressively sophisticated vessel, but it wasn't a warship by any stretch of the imagination.

The sensors were trained on the vessel to get an internal layout sense revealing the existence of a fairly large hangar located in the lowest V shaped segment with eight ships within, each rather boxy looking from the sensor echoes though they did incorporate folded wings that were flat against the hull until deployed, obviously for atmospheric flight. There were crude dual section tail structures with articulated flaps to aid in controlling the ships while flying in the atmosphere but the overall design looked more space-worthy than airworthy. The personnel carriers had distinct engine pods tucked up against the hull on either side of the main hull, but they weren't especially large suggesting sub-light velocity limitations thus short range designs.

The sensor data indicated fewer than one hundred people on the alien ship hanging in stationary orbit and another five souls on the surface. Their physical perspectives were bipedal with two arms, but their heads were long and slender with sharp almost faceted protrusions on each side of their heads with large ears and eyes punctuating their otherwise brown skinned faces, as evidenced by the clearly visible individuals seen through the bridge windows.

The personnel on the surface were engaged in some kind of geological study or preparation for extraction efforts based on the mechanized equipment they had assembled and were it appeared ready to drive into one of the larger caves near the water's edge not too far from the location of the surface visitors campsites when the Horizon had people on the surface. The Captain shook his head when he put together what the new visitors were up to.

"Well that seals it. As much as I hate it, we have no right to stop them from mining or exploring however they like, but I'm not putting our people on the ground while that is going on. Helm, plot a course for the horizon system. We need to get back to affairs at home. Those desiring surface time can do so at the beaches around the horizon planet and we will arrange for time to come back here down the road some time."

"Aye sir," Alan replied, "Plotting a course for home."

Alan found the coordinates for the Horizon planet in the navigational data and set a course then glanced at the Captain.

"The course is plotted and laid in sir."

"Good deal. Take us home Adjutant."

Alan nodded and engaged the main engines, thrusting the Horizon away from Da'Oah rapidly and then he slowly ramped up the star drive and a gravity well formed ahead of the Horizon drawing her toward it inexorably until she neared the first luminal velocity threshold then the negative matter core was ramped up to a higher level and the gravity well deepened and eventually formed a deep stretched funnel of twisted light and the Horizon bolted into the vortex and accelerated rapidly toward the horizon system at nearly two hundred times the speed of light.