"Grandma, tell me the story of how the Great War ended,"
"Honey, I've told you that story a hundred times. Why would you want to hear it again?"
"Because it's really good, Grandma. C'mon, please? Tell it again."
"Child, that story is so long and it's boring! I lived through it and I'll tell you it wasn't nearly as entertaining for us as it is for you now."
"I know, but I really like it. Please, Grandma?"
"Oh, alright fine. I'll tell it once more, but listen closely because I won't be retelling it again any time soon."
"Okay, settle down, settle down. Let's see… I suppose it all started on the far side of the galaxy, where both your…"
"Not there! The story can't start there! That's a terrible spot! You skipped some of the best parts starting there. What about the car crash? What about the traitor? You even skipped one of the best space battles! Start from the beginning."
"You're very demanding, aren't you? Okay, the beginning… let's see now. I suppose it all really started countless years ago since the earliest days of human civilization. Since those days, we've developed tools of death and destruction and from their use; blood has since been spilled in the name of everything from justice to religion.
"In the centuries since, mankind has waged a war of self-annihilation. We've fought over the pettiest of things, from land to pride. Other times, we did battle for more serious reasons, such as freedom and independence. Although some of these are noble and worthy goals, while others are simply stupid, all of them have caused conflict that has done nothing more than increase the boiling hate humans seem to harbor for one another.
"With these wars came new and advanced technologies. Weapons of war changed from rocks and spears, to missiles and bombs. Over time, the warlike nature of humanity has brought about the creation of weapons that could destroy our own world. And although we never actually reached the point of using those terrible weapons, we have come very close… because war never changes… and we never learn.
"As humanity reached for the stars and began to spread out across the galaxy, we brought that same desire for war with us. A bloody civil war raged across the stars that nearly brought the human race to its knees, a war that could have destroyed us completely… but then everything changed.
"In the year 3198, after millennia of armed conflict, our enemies at long last became something other than ourselves… because the Na'Vaxii arrived. The war that followed that first encounter raged for almost five hundred years. We'd been fighting for so long; no one could remember the reason why it had all started in the first place. For centuries billions perished in the endless, senseless conflict that it seemed neither side could ever hope to win… until the Na'Vaxii started gaining ground.
"Our defense perimeter shattered under relentless assault from the alien invaders. Their powerful warships could cross the galaxy in the blink of an eye. They could be anywhere, anytime… and our ships couldn't hope to keep up with them. In desperation, the United Earth Federation began researching a new faster-than-light drive technology. Thus, the Arcturus Project was born. The hope was to create a hyperspace drive capable of matching those of the Na'Vaxii.
"Forty years later, in 3685, the UEF completed a prototype of the Arcturus Hyper-Accelerator. They installed it aboard a newly refit Intrepid-class carrier, UEF Endeavour, and planned the first test of the new interstellar drive. Personnel were handpicked from human colonies across the Federation. Flight crews, maintenance teams, Bridge officers and fighter pilots; Endeavour was manned by the best of the best. They were our only hope; our last chance for victory. They had to succeed…"
"I know the back story, Grandma. That part you can skip! Geez, you sound like an opening monologue every time you tell this story."
"You wanted to hear it from the beginning, did you not? Well, this is the beginning. Now, where was I? Ah, yes…"
Under the Milky Way
PROLOGUE; SECTION ONE: REVEILLE
The car flashed through the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was nearly midnight and quite uncharacteristically for the typically dry desert city, it was pouring down rain. The bright red vehicle burst from the tight confines of the city's streets and tore out onto the desert highway. The powerful engine roared as the car accelerated faster and faster until the vehicle was nothing more than a reddish blur.
Screaming across the sandy highway at over one hundred miles per hour, the powerful sports car was pushed to its limits. Its windshield wipers raced across the glass in a feeble effort to clear away the downpour that refused to let up.
The road was virtually abandoned except for the flashy sports car and the driver took advantage of owning the road and continued to accelerate. One ten, one twenty, one thirty, one forty. Faster and faster went the car across the wide open stretch of road.
It would perhaps never be known exactly what happened. Maybe the driver of the sports car never saw the SUV in the opposite lane or perhaps they merely lost control. Either way, the car skidded into the other lane at just the wrong moment and struck the sport utility vehicle.
The sports car was flipped onto its roof and skidded down the road before coming to stop just off of the curb. The SUV spun out and flipped end over end several times before landing on its side in the middle of the highway.
A young woman dragged herself out of the remains of the wrecked sports car. She stumbled as she tried to stand, blood streaming down her legs from a series of deep gashes she had received as she heaved herself from the ruined car. Blearily, she staggered toward the SUV, which was on fire. Before she could even begin to get close, the flames touched the power supply. The resulting blast tossed the remains of the SUV into the sand on the side of the road and blew the young girl off of her feet. Her head hit the concrete hard and the last thing she remembered was the sight of the gently twinkling field of stars above her.
~~Eight months later~~
Deep beneath UEF Fleet Command Headquarters in Sydney, Australia, a group of very powerful people sat around a fine oak table in a darkened room. The smells of tobacco and cigar smoke filled the air as the group of seven men and women flipped through stacks of personnel files.
"What about this one?" said one man, holding up the file he had been perusing. "Michael Swanson, 46, Captain of the Meriwether. He has a distinguished service record and fine leadership skills."
"I've met the man," said a woman. "He's arrogant. He's good, but not as good as he thinks. For any other mission, sure... but not for this."
"Well, what about her?" said another man, brandishing a file. "Abigail Laine. She's young, only 29."
"I know Laine personally," said the first man. "Her record is far from clean. She's recently gotten into some pretty serious trouble. She's a fine officer, to be sure. Wise beyond her years, but she's had a rough life. My only real concerns would be her lack of experience and emotional instability."
"We need a seasoned officer," said another woman. "Laine's recent activities…"
"Are understandable, given the situation," said the first woman. "But I think she'd be a good fit. She may not be experienced, but she connects with her crew in ways most officers don't… treats them more like friends, equals rather than subordinates. We don't need a stern hand with this crew, on this mission. These people know their jobs, after all. We handpicked all of them."
"She has a point," said the first man. "Abigail mothers her crew to a degree. She gets to know them, loves them, and listens to their opinions and concerns. That may not always be the best method of command, but in this case I think she's exactly what we need."
At the head of the table, the eldest man in the group leaned forward and looked down at the Abigail's file. He picked it up and flipped through it briefly and placed it carefully back on the table.
"We do not need a model, career officer," he said, his gravelly voice echoing throughout the room. "We do not need someone who follows the rule book to the letter and can't see beyond their own personal career goals and ambitions. Laine is a wildcard, but she's a damn good one. She's made mistakes, big ones… but that's what I'm looking for. Some capable of understanding that they failed and find a way to overcome those obstacles." He slid the file toward the others.
"She's the one," he said firmly. "Make the call."
1002 Hours (Federation Standard Time)/
January 26th, 3685 (Military Calendar)/
United Earth Federation Starbase, Space-Dock, Earth Orbit
The gigantic space station drifted lazily through the silent void, its silver hull gently reflecting the sun's blazing light. A thousand starships, with their steel blue hulls and sparkling external lights were moored alongside the enormous construct, looking like little more than toys in comparison.
Abigail Laine stood alone leaning against the railing of a wide walkway that hung suspended above the station's main concourse, a bustling space that was filled to bursting with people twenty-four hours a day. Space-Dock served as the primary orbital dock for military and civilian ships entering Earth orbit, which meant it was packed with thousands of people hurrying toward their various gates, either to board a ship bound out-system or to a shuttle to take them to the blue-green world spinning beneath them. Abby, however, seemed oblivious to it all.
She glanced down at the small music player in the pocket of her jeans and pressed the button to begin playing a new song. She secured her ear buds more securely as the song began to play.
How can you see into my eyes like open doors?
Leading you down into my core where I've become so numb.
'Numb,' Abby thought dryly. 'Yep, that's me all right...' The truth was that Abby was in a lot of trouble; the kind of trouble that gets you a life sentence in a federal prison if you're lucky. She should have been terrified, but she wasn't. She didn't feel anything at all. She hadn't… not for a long time.
Without a soul, my spirit sleeping somewhere cold.
Until you find it there and lead it back home.
Perhaps that was her problem. Had she lost her soul? Was that why she really didn't care? Why she wasn't worried what would happen to her? She couldn't honestly say she believed in souls, not really, but after everything... well, it was as good an answer as any other.
Wake me up (Wake me up inside)
I can't wake up (Wake me up inside)
Save me (Call my name and save me from the dark)
Wake me up (Bid my blood to run)
I can't wake up (Before I come undone)
Save me (Save me from the nothing I've become)
Now that I know what I'm without
You can't just leave me
Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life…
Abby shook her head and ripped the ear buds out of her ears. No... she couldn't start thinking like that. Not now. She shoved the buds back into her pocket and glanced up and down the concourse. What she didn't notice was that she was being watched by a tall, roguishly handsome man with unruly raven hair and emerald eyes standing on the far side of the concourse.
Jake Hawkins was a Major in Star Force and second in command of the 84th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He had been on his way to the Sun's Wake sports bar down on the promenade when he had been forced to stop upon seeing Abby. He had literally been stunned by her beauty, which wasn't all that surprising. Abby truly was quite stunning.
Jake watched her, taking in the very impressive swell of her majestic breasts that stretched the fabric of her black silk blouse. He easily noticed the sloping curves of her shapely hips, and her bare, flawless legs which seemed to go on for days... Jake couldn't pull his eyes away.
Yes, Jake had a flair for dramatic descriptions. Her thick mane of gently curly chestnut hair fell to her waist, hanging around her like a cape, shielding much of her body from view as she unknowingly turned her back to him and slowly slipped her ear buds back in. He leaned against the railing, preparing his approach. Jake arched his back, putting on his most impressive soldier pose and marched across the concourse toward her fully prepared to be dazzle her out of her mind and into his bed.
He walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. Her eyes were closed and she swayed slightly to whatever music she was listening to. She turned toward him and opened her eyes. Jake audibly gasped. He found himself staring into the most beautiful pair of deep blue eyes he was sure he had ever seen. It flustered him for a moment and he just stood there, not speaking.
Now, here was Jake's problem. He liked to think himself as a ladies' man. He was certainly a well-built, handsome man. He had rippling muscles, bulging from the gray t-shirt he wore. He was tall, tanned, and most people would think he just had a way with women. They would be wrong. Jake was easily flustered when it came to the fairer sex and a girl like this knocked him completely off of his game.
"Hi," she said, her British accent gave her soft, melodic voice an almost ethereal quality. She tugged the buds out of her ears and stared at him, cocking her head to one side.
'Words!' Jake's brain shouted at him. 'Say some words, man! Any words will do, really. Just say some words! Uh... wait! Don't actually just say anything. She's a beautiful girl, but if you start this confab by talking about her boobs you'll blow it. Just say 'hi'.'
"Hey," Jake managed to say, positively willing his eyes not to drop from the girl's.
'Good job, man!' his brain said encouragingly. 'That's a good start. Now, keep going. Don't just keep standing there staring at her, dumbass, introduce yourself!'
"Hey, I'm Jake... Jake Hawkins. I couldn't help but notice you standing here all alone."
"I'm Abby and I'm meeting someone," said Abby.
"Oh, husband?" Jake asked. Abby grinned.
"If you knew the man I'm meeting, you wouldn't ask that question," said Abby. "No, not my husband. I'm not married."
"So, just a friend then?" said Jake, sounding far more hopeful than he had intended. Abby nodded.
"I hope so," she said weakly. Jake smiled.
"Well, then I'm sure he wouldn't mind you having a drink with me," he said lightly. "Sun's Wake? They make one hell of an Aldarian Blackhole." Abby folded her arms and narrowed those blue eyes.
"And why would I go off to some bar with a man I've only just met?" Abby asked. "I don't know the first thing about you. You could be a murderer or a rapist for all I know."
"I'm not a murderer or a rapist," Jake insisted. Abby grinned.
"But that's exactly what a murderer or a rapist would say, wouldn't they?" she reasoned. "Tell me something about yourself." Jake smiled warmly.
"Well, baby, there's a lot to tell," He pointed to his chest with his thumb. "I'm a fighter pilot with Star Force. I fly off into dangerous alien territory on top secret assignments." Abby's eyes widened interestedly.
"Ooooh," she said excitedly. "Really? That sounds so exhilarating!"
"It is, sweetheart," said Jake smoothly. "I'm out there on the front lines, fighting the good fight. It's hard, knowing you could be killed in the blink of an eye, but it's also the adventure of a lifetime. Still, having someone to come home to… having someone keeping your bed warm while you're away helps with the pressure."
"So, I'm guessing someone's already warming your bed then?" Abby asked. Jake shook his head said the first thing that came to his mind. Of course, as always, that's the absolute dumbest thing he could have done.
"It's waiting on you, gorgeous," Abby laughed.
"That was good," she said airily. "Really, that was pretty smooth." She considered him for a moment and Jake was sure he'd won. "Tell you what. You're about to leave on a dangerous assignment, right?"
"I am," he said firmly. "A top secret mission. High priority."
"Well then," she dug a piece of paper out of her pocket and scribbled her contact ID code on it. "Assuming you survive and come home, contact me there and I'll come warm your bed for you." She pressed the paper into his hand and turned to walk away; leaving Jake standing quiet shocked on the concourse behind her.