Prologue

Stars and Stargliders


2369 A.D.

A sphere-shaped space station rested just beyond Earth's atmosphere, not far from where the ancient International Space Station once was. It was not visible from Earth, and was about one quarter the size of our moon. Much like the way its predecessor the ISS eventually turned out, all the world's governments could work on and send people to it. No one nation had a claim over it, though it was just one woman from London who began the work on it ten years before. It was known by the name on its exterior- Starglider Base.

Within, it was a busy place. Florescent lights turned the stark white walls almost into glaring headlights, lighting up its maze-like passageways. At its heart- the control room, white and blinding as the rest of it- many were milling about, hoping to be onlookers of the first successful mission to another planet that was

capable of supporting life.
At the very front was a large clear window that wrapped nearly around half of the station. Just behind it was a large control panel, with many beeping and pulsing indicators in multiple colors. At the helm of it stood two people: the Commander of the base and the acting Captain of the Starglider fleet.

The Commander, Celeste Malkin, was a formidable woman with piercing ice blue eyes and short, wavy dark hair. She was the one responsible for all of the work done on behalf of this mission, including the construction of the base. The Captain that stood next to her was a rather good-looking, though slightly arrogant, man; with mischievous brown eyes and curly black hair.
At the moment, Commander Malkin had her hand pressed against her forehead, letting out a sigh of pain and frustration. Bright lights and loud noises often gave her bad headaches.

The Captain seemed to notice her distress, for he turned his head and gave her a concerned glance. But before he could say anything, an indicator just in front of him flashed bright green, and he was forced to turn his attention to it.

He dragged a finger across the screen, bringing up a three-dimensional display of the five Stargliders. They were long and thin, with a dark grey exterior. The fins protruding from the back made them almost star-shaped. They were much larger than normal Stargliders, however- considering that each one held about 1,000 people, not including the pilots and messengers. After checking the status of all five, the Captain turned back to Commander Malkin. "All systems go, Commander. The fleet is ready for takeoff. Should we commence with the shuttle launch?" he asked, smirking.

Commander Malkin gave him a tiny smile and nodded. "Order all pilots to launch in T-minus ten seconds, Captain," she replied in a serious tone.

But the Captain did not follow through immediately. Rather, he placed one hand on her arm and asked in a hushed tone, "Hey...you alright?"

She let out a frustrated sigh in response. "I'm fine. You know I get headaches, so stop worrying."

The Captain gave her a reassuring smile. "Not why I was asking. But don't worry- everything will go smoothly." With that, he pressed a button on the control panel, creating a holographic display of a woman. She was the artificial intelligence of the base, Lily. She spoke up, "Command recognized. Pilots, launch in T-minus ten seconds." Lily's voice increased in volume with that last sentence- she had sent that order to all the Starglider comms.

When she had finished speaking, the hologram changed. Lily faded away; and was replaced with a hologram of the number 10. Her voice could still be heard, however, as the number began to count down.

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

While the countdown was underway, all seemed to be watching with bated breath. But when it reached zero and the Starglider pilots could be seen zooming away, the silence was broken by the Captain's joyful shout.

"And they're off!"

Many scientists, workers, engineers, and observers alike began cheering and laughing. Commander Malkin, however, focused on her Captain.


"Honestly..." she sighed, rolling her eyes, though they had become alight with mirth. "You're the Captain of a fleet, not a horse race announcer, John," she said, exasperated. A broad smile spread on her face as she spoke those words.

He grinned at her. "So, we're on a first-name basis now, are we...Celeste?"

She mock glared at him, the smile dropping from her lips. "Not on your life, Captain. Verbal slip."

"Uh huh. Hey, that reminds me- I wouldn't say no to us getting dinner sometime."

Celeste rolled her eyes again. "If that's an invitation for a date, I'm gonna have to stop you right th-"

Before she could finish her sentence, the doors to the launch room swung open; a resounding thud echoing from the wall. A new voice cut in, causing everyone to go silent.

"Commander Malkin!"

At once the woman the intruder was addressing spun around, her face unassuming and her voice calm. She recognized that voice.

A tall, balding man in a lab coat and boots strode confidently into the room, a cigarette between his fingers. He wore the smug look of someone who had just beaten a man at his own game.

Commander Malkin focused on this man- Doctor Adrian Wallace. He had opposed Celeste's work almost from the beginning. For the last ten years, she had led experiments that modified humans, making them more resilient both mentally and physically. This was due to the more...severe scientific laws of the planet that they had encountered. Doctor Wallace, however, had wanted to create a new race rather than try to improve the current one.

Celeste kept her gaze level with his, her face showing no emotion. Her voice was calm as she spoke- she didn't want to show fear or anger; but she also didn't want any trouble.

"Yes, Doctor Wallace?"

The man she spoke to sneered, taking a long drag of his cigarette. "Tell me, my dear...why the premature rejoicing?"

She kept her voice steady as she tried to draw more from him by explaining herself.

"It is not premature, Doctor. I have worked on this, with many others, for thirteen years. Our spacecraft are resilient enough to make it through the acidic atmosphere, and the modified volunteers are much stronger than us. They will survive long enough to colonize the planet and make it habitable for all humans. You know very well that we need a new home; Earth is too small to hold all of us. By doing this, both planets will thrive."

Murmurs of agreement followed her brief spiel. Nice to know Doctor Wallace is the only one here who hates me, she thought to herself.

The Captain cut into the conversation then- Commander Malkin was a clever, strong, and compassionate woman, and he wasn't going to let this man antagonize her.

"Who are you, again? Oh, that's right. Doctor Adrian Wallace. The failed scientist who couldn't do a damned thing about the state of this earth. Commander Malkin, on the other hand? When she was just twenty, she saw the bad state that our planet is in, and decided to do something about it. She scoured the skies herself until she found a planet that could support life! And when shuttles burned in the atmosphere, she worked with thousands of engineers to create a new, stronger kind of shuttle. Our Stargliders can't be beaten, thanks to her! She's absolutely brilliant. And she helped innovate a way to modify humans, make them better! They'll make the planet habitable for people who can't or won't be altered themselves. No wonder the planet's named after her; she deserves it. Trust me."

He gave her a smile and a cheeky wink after this, which caused her to covertly roll her eyes at him. However, the rest of the people in the room seemed to agree with him, as more murmurs and even shouts to indicate that followed.

Adrian Wallace showed no emotional reaction to the Captain's speech; he simply smirked before dropping his cigarette and putting it out beneath his boot. When he spoke again, his voice was low and drawling, that of a man whose intention was to mock the receiver of his words.

"Tell me, Captain John Romak, what were you before you started working on this...pet project, hmm? You were a troublemaking flyboy American who couldn't hold on to money for any length of time. A drunkard, a gambler. You were a lowlife. Why did Ms. Malkin want you as her fleet Captain? You, of all people?"

Captain Romak let out a laugh, but there was no humor in it.

"Honestly, I don't know. I guess I was always good with space shuttles, and she told me I had potential. Don't know how she knew that, either. But...she was right. And yes, Commander Malkin made other humans better, biologically speaking. But she also made me better. Me, someone her own age who probably would've died early otherwise. I don't drink anymore; I'm well-off. And that right there shows the difference between you and her quite nicely, don't you think? She knows how to improve lives, she fixes things! Anything she wants, she works for honestly to get. You, on the other hand? You just...sit around and wait for someone to do your work for you."

Doctor Wallace sent him a glare in reply, though his confident exterior did not falter.

"I suppose that even I must concede the little lady cooked up quite a clever scheme. But I don't sit around, boy. Watch your tongue. I simply know how to avoid doing more than what is necessary, that is all. I delegate."

He paused, his face taking on a thoughtful expression. Doctor Wallace's bright blue eyes darkened in anger as he began to pace the room.

"You must think I oppose this project due to some personal grudge against Ms. Malkin. Well...in a way, that would be correct. But I supported the effort initially. Until she refused to cooperate with my idea, that is. By erasing the memories of the volunteers, a new race would have been born. A better one. But this young woman insisted it was 'unethical'," he replied, making quotes in the air with his fingers. As he enunciated the last sentence, he met Commander Malkin's eye. This prompted her to come to her own defense.

"It is unethical, Wallace! No matter the reason, it is simply not okay to interfere with a person's memories! We don't know how that would affect other parts of the brain- a vital organ that we need to live, mind you. And the mind is our greatest tool of survival- interference could only bring disaster."

Wallace abandoned all pretense of calm as he shouted, "Humans are dying out, you fool! Like it or not, we will be gone one day. No self-preservation effort could change that. And I don't know if I would change that, if it was possible."

For the first time since he had walked in, Commander Malkin was genuinely confused by Wallace's words. "And why not? Self-preservation is a natural instinct." Many nodded in agreement.

He growled, "You're all fools. I'm the only one who sees humans for what they are- weak! Controlled by hatred, greed, lust...we do not deserve to save ourselves!"

Celeste's calm but insistent voice cut in. "Maybe...you're right. Maybe we don't deserve the opportunity to save ourselves. But we do deserve a chance to be better, to try to improve our nature. And-"

"-We could only be better if we had no recollection of our past lives! No memory of the things that control us and make us weak. We could be more powerful than ever if the things that made us weak were out of the equation! Only strength and cleverness make us powerful. Pitiful things like love and pleasure...they cloud our minds, soften us! And I'm the only one who realizes that. But if those things were gone...we could be the gods of reality!"

His face had gone red from yelling, his eyes wild. His voice rasped in his throat as he continued: "You will fail, Commander Malkin. After all, just a moment ago, I said I was the only one who knew just how weak we are." He paused for a brief moment. "Well...I lied."

At that, his face split into a crazed smile.

"There's someone else, someone who knows the true nature of humankind. They are on a Starglider bound for your precious planet at this very moment. And when the crew fails to report back in two weeks, that will mean they have acted on my behalf; and the fall of the human race has begun! And from the ashes, a new race will rise, so much more powerful than us mere humans. They are already near immortal and can heal themselves at will, thanks to your efforts. They are godlike. Heed my words: when the human race falls, the Celestials shall rise!"

Once he finished speaking, he reached into the pocket of his lab coat and drew out a gun. By the time everyone was able to react, Doctor Adrian Wallace had put a bullet in his own head.

Celeste's eyes widened at the sight of her insane enemy, dead by his own hand. After the initial shock of that fact faded, however, she addressed her nervous-looking crew, her voice firm and resolute.

"The man before you was undoubtedly insane. Operating under a delusion, most likely. And there is one thing he said that was definitely wrong." She paused, clearing her throat.

"He said that love...love weakens us. Well, I say love strengthens us! After all, I started the work on this mission out of love for all the life on this planet. Many before us have fought wars that changed things for the better out of a love for justice! Does that seem weak to you?!"

Many shook their heads while some shouted, "No!"

"If Wallace was in fact lucid enough to form a plan, and whatever that foolish plan was succeeds in some way, I guarantee that love will be the driving force behind whoever or whatever stops him, eventually. Even if it takes a thousand years, and the humans become Celestials and forget who they truly are! I promise you that love has been and will continue to be humanity's greatest strength."

Celeste stopped and took a deep breath, before turning her attention to the corpse whose head was sitting in a rather large pool of blood, staining the white tiled floor pink. She beckoned to a sanitation worker. "Dawson! Please get this dead body out of here," she ordered.

And many years later, Commander Celeste Malkin would be proven right- love indeed was the universe's greatest strength.