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A rose grows in weeds

A rose grows in weeds


Saxon Andrew A rose grows in weeds

Introduction

    “Get Mikado and Ren-Bir on the com,” Dorg ordered. The two ship captains appeared on his display and Dorg said, “We have a Plant scout that just jumped into the system on the other side of the sun. I am sending you the coordinates of the ship and I am planning to jump in and surround that ship with our three vessels and fire immediately on emergence from null space. The Dremel are going to detonate a nuclear weapon on an asteroid close to the scout and we will all jump one sem before it goes off. Have your jump officers synchronize their systems with Rossville and use your primary beam and two needles. We’ll begin the operation as soon as the plant ship crosses the jump limit by 15 minutes, any questions?”
    “No sir,” they both said and broke connection to ready their ships.
    Lt. Glensh looked up from her display and said, Sir, the scout has crossed the jump limit and is one drag inside it.
    “Klas, tell the Dremel to launch the missiles on my mark, we will jump at 14 sems after launch. Ready, mark; please count down the launch for us.”
    “Ten sems, nine, eight, seven… two, one, fire.”
    “Mark 14 sems and jump; ready weapons,” Dorg ordered.
    The time counted down and Glensh said, “Jumping now.”
    The three megaships jumped and broke back into normal space surrounding the Algean Scout just as the nuclear explosion detonated. “Fire now,” Dorg yelled!
    The scout was hit by three 5,000 foot wide primary beams and six needles. The 6,400 foot long scout disappeared in an explosion that didn’t even leave rubble. Nothing remained of the huge ship bigger than dust motes and expanding gas.

Chapter 1

    “Tag,” Danielle thought, “it’s time.”
    “What?”
    “Our little one is telling me that it’s time.”
    “Call the doctor, get to the medical facility, oh my god, call Leila to come help you, I’m on my way.”
    “Take your time, Darling. The baby says it will begin in three hours so I should begin preparing.”
    Tag just sat stunned, “Danielle, can the baby communicate in words?”
    “Not exactly, but her meaning is clear.”
    “You just said her, is it a girl?”
    “Yes she is, better be thinking of a name.”
    “I’m on my way.”
    Tag ordered the Captain of The London to jump the megaship straight to Earth. They had been testing the new ship on its first field trials and it had performed marvelously. “We have Admiral Kosiev on a channel for you sir,” Lt. Thomas said.
    Tag pressed his com and said, “What’s up?”
    “I just wanted to discuss Admiral Dorg’s upcoming effort to contact the Dremel. I’m concerned about him going in only one ship. He’s going into hostile territory and I don’t want to run the risk of losing him; he is after all a Cainth warrior and is reluctant to run from a good fight. If the Plant fleet is there he could bite off more than he could handle.”
    Tag stared at his console for a moment and said, “Let’s have a conversation with him prior to him leaving. He will probably know we’re trying to protect him but I agree with you, we still need to do it.”
    Kosiev thought for a moment and said, “If we position it right, he won’t.”
    Tag laughed, “Five credits says he’ll know immediately.”
    Kosiev smiled, “You’re on.”
    “Sorry I have to run, Admiral but the baby is due to be born in three hours and I have to hustle to be with Danielle.”
    “Congratulations, you better hurry to the medical center. How do you know you have three hours?” Kosiev asked.
    “The baby told her.” Tag cut the connection and jumped on a shuttle to take him down to where Danielle was waiting for him.
    Kosiev looked at the blank screen and shook his head, “The baby told her? I will never get accustomed to that family.”
    Danielle sat in her bed and held Tag’s hand. “I love you, Tag. I was so lucky to have found you.”
    “Danielle, I’m not completely certain that it was luck. Think about all that could have happened to prevent our meeting.” Danielle started to protest but Tag raised his hand and said, “Wait, hear me out.” Danielle sat back and folded her arms. “I’ve never explained to you how I’m so good in martial arts. You’ve seen firsthand how quickly I can respond to an attack. Do you know how much thought goes into my reactions?” Danielle raised her eyebrows and Tag continued, “None, absolutely none. It’s like my body is taken over by a power that I don’t control. I can see all that is happening but it’s like I’m a spectator to what’s taking place. This gift I was born with actually controls me in those attacks. I have been thinking about you and I for some time and I had an insight; maybe my gift and yours sensed each other and placed us in circumstances that would bring us together.”
    “Tag, get real. How could that have possibly happened?”
    “Think about it Danielle. Why did you ask me out? I would have never asked you. Think real hard, was it an impulse you couldn’t fight. You’re beautiful and I’m just average. Every red blooded male in our school was chasing you but you were attracted to none of them and some of them were really great looking. I was also in love with Leila at the time but my attention turned to you when you touched my hand in the lunchroom when we met. Am I really that wrong?”
    Danielle thought back to the moment she met Tag. Leila had brought her over and introduced her to him and his best friend Eric. Eric, who was very good looking, immediately asked her out but Danielle ignored him and only looked at Tag. She gave herself several reasons for asking him out but she had to admit that after he took her hand in his and she felt the little shock that always happened when they touched and then looked into his eyes; she had no interest in anyone else from that point on.”
    “Tag, are you saying destiny made this happen and we had no free will?”
    “What I’m saying is that how could the two strongest psychics on Earth end up together by chance? Perhaps the universe made this happen so that this child would come into existence. I don’t even want to think about what her purpose would be and I haven’t talked about the odds of me crash landing on the moon right next to Atlas’ cave. There’s just too much coincidence that defies all logic.”
    Danielle just closed her eyes and thought about all that Tag had said. Her talent of seeing the truth was screaming at her that he was right. There were too many coincidences. What or who made this happen? “You’ve got me wondering about this but perhaps I better wait until after this is over to talk with you.” Suddenly, Danielle doubled over and her water broke. Tag grabbed her hand and then let the doctors take her into the birthing room. He opened his link to her and let her know that he was right there with her. He sat down and shared the intimate moments of their child being born.
    Tag thought in his deepest thoughts, “I’m anxious to hear what she thinks but it can wait. Whatever the reason, it can’t be bad if it gave her to me.” Tag then closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair and joined Danielle in the birth of their Daughter.
    Tgon-Gee and Dorg were sitting in the waiting room while Danielle was delivering. They had jumped in as soon as Leila told them it had begun. Tgon-Gee had made Leila promise to tell him when it was time and Leila knew that a broken promise to a Glod was never a good thing; especially not to the Crown Prince. Five hundred pounds of a seven foot six Glod warrior was best kept as happy as possible. Tgon-Gee had then commed Dorg and asked him to come immediately. Dorg jumped to Earth on the Rossville, sent Tresk to Ross to pick up Klas, and then took a shuttle down to the medical center. Dorg ran into the waiting room, looked at Tgon-Gee and asked, “Why is it so important for us to be here? You act like its life or death.”
    Tgon-Gee raised his head and said, “Dorg, do you remember when you once said that you’re glad that Tag was on your side and I corrected you by saying, no, we had better be glad that we’re on his?”
    “Yes, why?”
    “The foundling being born today will sense us here and sense our love and protection for it and its parents. I have seen its aura; and I want to make sure the foundling knows that we are willing tools for it to use. Dorg, you have no idea of the power this child will posses. I only pray that its spirit is like its mother’s and not warrior like its father’s or ours.”
    Dorg could see the Glod Prince was nervous, “You’re really afraid, aren’t you?”
    “Dorg, you would be too if you understood the power being born today. I wanted you here to protect your people just like you protected mine when the Alliance attacked the Humans. The foundling will have a special place for us because we are here. You do not want to miss this moment.”
    Dorg looked out the window of the waiting room at a beautiful spring day on Earth and thought about what Tgon-Gee was saying. Dorg and his race were skeptical about psychic powers. Their main claim to fame was being one of the most aggressive warrior races in the galaxy. However, he had seen firsthand how everything that Tgon-Gee had said had been verified by subsequent events during the war with the former Alliance of Worlds. Tgon-Gee said that Tag could not be defeated and Tag had gone out and proven it defeating five Glod martial arts champions bare handed with no weapons. He also knew from first-hand experience that every time his race had challenged the humans they were beaten when this young human led them. He thought about it and it came to him that without Tag and Danielle’s wisdom and forgiveness that his race would probably be extinct now. They had given his people, and him, another chance. He knew in his deepest feelings that he would give his life for the two humans and their race. He also discovered at that moment in the deepest part of his being that he would do the same for their child. He looked at Tgon-Gee and said, “Thank you. I will always value your trust in me to have me here with you today. I will protect this family with everything I have.”
    Suddenly both Tgon-Gee and Dorg felt something in their mind that was like a warm glow. Tgon-Gee smiled and said, “The foundling hears you and accepts you.”
    Dorg no longer needed to be persuaded about anything psychic. He could feel the child in his mind and he held on to that warm glow as long as he could.
    Tag was sitting in the room with Danielle and their new daughter. He could actually see the psychic field that surrounded the two of them and he wondered at what psychic talents their daughter would have. Danielle and the baby were asleep in the bed with the baby lying on her chest. As Tag watched them, Danielle without opening her eyes said, “She’s beautiful isn’t she?”
    “Just like her mother,” Tag said tenderly. “She’s got blond hair just like you.”
    “But she has your eyes, Tag.” Danielle quit talking and used her thoughts to speak with Tag. “You’re wondering about what we were discussing before the baby started coming?”
    “Yes, I am. I think you may glean why we ended up together.”
    “This is probably going to sound crazy but it feels right to me.”
    “Then it must be right; I’ve never known you to be wrong,” Tag thought softly to his wife.
    “Tag, our baby brought us together.”
    Tag just looked at her with a stunned look on his face. He didn’t know how to respond to what she said. “Tag, the part of you that is used to produce a child also has psychic powers. Your DNA was looking for a match that would compliment your talents. I also believe that my DNA was doing the same. Just like your body taking control of you when you’re attacked; your genes sought the perfect partner. Somehow, our inner selves saw each other even when we had never met and manipulated events to insure we would come together. All of this was for us to have this child. The defeat of the Alliance was simply a byproduct of the process. You are right; it is not an accident that the two strongest psychics on earth ended up together.” Danielle placed her head tenderly next to her new baby and nuzzled her cheek.
    Tag continued to stare at her. “Are you telling me that we had no say in what happened? We had to come together? I find this hard to believe.”
    Danielle kept her eyes closed but thought, “Don’t you see, love? We loved each other from the first moment we touched. Our inner selves longed for each other long before that happened. It was what we are that brought us together. The universe has a reason for this and we may not ever know that reason. However, how do you feel now that our daughter is here? Look deep inside yourself and tell me what you feel.”
    Tag closed his eyes and looked at his deepest feelings. Danielle waited and watched him as he sat for several minutes. Finally he opened his eyes and said, “I feel at peace. It’s hard to describe, but somehow I feel complete.”
    “As do I; we need a name, Tag. Oh, what a hoot; a name tag. I made a funny.”
    Tag smiled and said, “I have read a great deal about Earth’s ancient history and I learned that the flower most associated with love was the rose. I would like her name to be Rose.”
    “Tag, what a wonderful name; I agree with you. She will be Rose Luanna Gardner.”
    “Luanna,” Tag asked?
    From my great grandmother who lost her husband and raised her children on her own; she was the strongest willed person in my family. I suspect our daughter will be a lot like her.”
    “Rose Luanna Gardner it is. Are you ready to let the two new uncles in to see her?”
    Danielle smiled and said, “I look a mess but they deserve to see her after sitting there for hours. Call them in.”
    Tgon-Gee and Dorg walked in the room and saw Danielle and the child. Tgon-Gee came to the bed and bowed low to them and Dorg also hit a knee. Danielle said, “Please stand, you’re here with friends. There’s no need to bow.”
    Tgon-Gee said, “My Queen, I can see your child’s aura. She will be the future leader of all our races. She deserves my homage and my total loyalty. I can feel her presence.”
    Dorg said, “I can’t see anything about an aura, but I, too, feel her. I also give her my total loyalty just as I’ve given it to you, Majesty.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at each other both a little unsettled by the admission that the two leaders could feel their baby’s presence. Danielle thought to Tag, “I think that life has taken a major turn here.”
    Tag only smiled because like his two friends, he could also feel her and what a great feeling it was.

Chapter 2

    Admiral Dorg sat in the fleet command chair on the Stars Realm Megaship Rossville. He had just returned from the birth of the Gardner’s baby two days ago and he was introspective about what that child would mean to the Stars Realm. He could still remember the feeling he had when the baby was born. He glanced at the status display on one of his four consoles that gave a read out on the ships readiness for jump. The Commander of the ship, Tresk, sat just below his chair issuing orders to his crew for departure within three drags. Dorg shook his head and focused on the mission he was about to undertake. He would think about the child and the possible implication of what Tgon-Gee had said later.
    He was impressed with his former adjutant’s knowledge of the ship’s systems. Tresk had come a long way from being a staff officer to a warship commander and the ship’s crew was excited about the mission. His communication console beeped and he looked over and saw the two human leaders of the Stars Realm Military, Admiral Kosiev and Prince Thomas Gardner. “Good day Mr. Gardner and Admiral,” he said into his com.
    Kosiev smiled at him and said, “We just wanted to check on you to see if everything was on schedule for your departure.”
    Dorg was a Cainth Warrior and in the aftermath of his species being defeated by the Humans during the Alliance conflict he had learned to respect and actually like his former enemies. The Cainth looked remarkably like a four armed earth kangaroo. The main differences, other than four arms, was that the Cainth had small ears on the side of their heads instead of the long ears of the earth kangaroo and their two legs were very thick and strong which made them walk somewhat stiffly. They had a light covering of brown fur and very narrow eyes that were totally black. His species was known in the past for being extremely aggressive and territorial usually shooting first and talking later. The defeat at the hands of the humans had forced his race to reevaluate their former viciousness and come to embrace the concept of working with other races to become friends and allies. Now his race and the humans had become Clan Brothers sworn to defend and protect each other. After the defeat of the Alliance by the Humans, Cainth, and Glod, his race attained a high status among the 832 races that now made up the membership of the Stars Realm. He had taken a life oath to make up for the deaths of the human colonists that he had ordered murdered during the attack on the human colony planet Ross. His ship was named for the city on that planet where 20 % of the colonists were executed. He still had nightmares of the humans that had been killed and he drove himself to make up for their deaths with what life he had remaining. Now he was going to try and save a world that was going to be destroyed by the plant creatures that literally destroyed planets and consumed all life.
    “Everything is going fine and we’re scheduled to leave in three drags unless there’s something else you want done prior to my departure,” Dorg replied.
    Tag, which was Thomas Gardner’s nickname, said, “As a matter of fact there is. We want to send you two more megaships. We think that you should be supported in your efforts to contact the Dremel and we think each of the original Star’s Realm members should have a representative there.”
    Dorg looked at his two friends on the display and smiled, “Is is also because if things go bad quickly there’s a better chance of at least one of the ships escaping with information of what we encountered and I might not be so aggressive with the welfare of three ships in my trust?”
    Tag and Kosiev looked at each other and Kosiev handed Tag a five credit, “You’re right,” Kosiev said, “He understood immediately.” Kosiev then looked at Dorg on the display and said, “You’re possibly going into a very hostile environment and we don’t know if the Algeans have already discovered the Dremel and have begun harvesting operations. We also don’t know much about the Dremel and you’re too important to risk losing. We also think with more ships involved in this operation you will have more options on possible courses of action; it also increases the chances of survival. I have ordered two of the recently completed megaships to join you and they should be jumping in to meet you within the drag. One of them is a human ship commanded by Captain Mikado and the other is a Glod ship commanded by Ren-Bir. You will have overall command of the squadron and the ships have already completed their pre-jump system evaluations so you should be able to leave on schedule.”
    Dorg had patched the conversation to Tresk’s console as soon as he learned of the two new ships and he noticed that the Commander was listening in on the communication. Dorg looked at Tresk as he said to Tag and Kosiev, “We will probably delay our departure for an additional rotation so that we can meet with the two other ship commanders and iron out our plans for contact.” Tresk looked up from his console and nodded at Dorg indicating his understanding and began issuing new orders to his crew for the delay and to get a meeting space prepared for the upcoming strategy session. “I thought Mikado was a commodore,” Dorg said to Kosiev.
    “He was in the Directorate Navy but he transferred to the Stars Realm Fleet and lost a rank,” Kosiev answered. “He should make up ground quickly.”
    Tag smiled at the Cainth Warrior and said, “If you think of anything else you might need, com us and let us know. We will also have thirty of the old ultra ships on standby ready to jump in to support you if things go bad. Com Kosiev with the coordinates of the Dremels system as soon and you make contact and let us know what you discover.”
    Dorg nodded, “Your orders will be followed. Let us hope the standby ships are not needed. Thank you and I’ll contact you upon our arrival in the Dremels system; and once again, congratulations on your new child Mr. Gardner.”
    Tag smiled and nodded then Kosiev and Tag looked away from their screen and the connection was broken.
    Dorg sat back in his chair and thought about possibly facing one of the Algean fleets that had more than a hundred thousand ships. Some of those ships were more than twenty miles long and were fully armed with beams and missiles. He noticed on his systems console that the weapons officer had reported that all systems were fully operational and armed. If the Plants had already started attacking the Dremel, then all he could probably do was just jump away. The upcoming conflict was frightening in the scale of the enemy they were going to face but the warrior part of him actually reveled in the opportunity to fight the good fight. He remembered the recordings of the Plant Fleet that attacked the Pydres Planet and totally defeated them then began eating the population as they started harvesting all organic life on the planet. They had to be stopped now before they grew too big for anything to slow them down. Dorg looked at Tresk again and wondered if his ship was going to be strong enough to survive in the upcoming conflict. “We’ll soon know,” he thought.

Chapter 3

    Danielle and Leila were sitting in her nursery on Earth discussing the multitude of requests for the Queen’s time. Rose had been born eight days earlier and Danielle had asked Leila to come in and update her on her schedule. Danielle was overwhelmed and was beginning to get frustrated. She sighed and gazed out the windows at Central City which was spread out below her home and extended as far as the eye could see. White hazy clouds covered the floors 40 stories below and the sun was reflected off the 4,000 foot tall buildings around her. It was a beautiful spring day on Earth and she was looking forward to taking Rose out for her first exposure to sunshine. She almost wished she was a medical technician again, but then she would have never met Tag; all of this was worth it just to have him in her life. Being queen was not something she would have ever chosen but now that the job was hers, she needed to learn to handle the pressures. She held Rose and listened to Leila as Rose was given a bottle of milk. She looked at Leila and said, “I just don’t see how I can meet all the requests. I’m only one person and there are 832 worlds out there demanding my presence. With a new baby taking a lot of my time,” Danielle hesitated for a moment and then said, “Leila, what am I going to do? I have no idea what a queen is supposed to do. This title was thrust on me and I’m not sure I’m up to the task.”
    Leila came over and placed her hand over Danielle’s and said in a soft voice, “Danielle, you can’t do what they’re asking and they know it. They assume that it won’t hurt to ask; all of them would dearly love you to visit them. However, I disagree with your assessment about yourself. I know you and there’s no one else I would trust with the power you’ve been given. You just have to make the decisions that feel right to you. I have not seen you make a bad one yet which leads me to something that you should think about. There’s a problem that will eventually come up that you will need to plan to solve.”
    “What is that?”
    “If you make Earth your center of government, then how long before other races start to feel you might be playing favorites? You’re loved, but there is a certain jealousy about your being here so much.”
    Danielle thought for a minute and said, “You’re right, however whatever planet I choose, all the others will feel slighted.” Danielle thought a moment and said, “Excuse me, Leila; I want to talk with Tag about this.”
    Leila stood left to go to her office. “Tag,” Danielle thought.
    “Oh hi, Love. What’s going on?” Tag replied.
    Danielle knew that Tag was in a star’s system light years away testing new weapons but the link that the Alfont Ship had given them allowed them to hear each other’s thoughts no matter how far they were from each other. She was thankful that Atlas had given them that gift. “I was just talking with Leila and she brought up a point about the location of my home and how others may feel slighted if I have it on Earth. Do you think she’s making a valid point?”
    “It’s not what I think, it’s what you sense. You know you’re far better than I am at seeing things you encounter; it’s your psychic gift. Did it sound true to you?”
    “Yes it does, however, no matter where I put it; all the members of the Stars Realm will have a problem with me not selecting them. I do know that being from Earth will cause sentiment that I might be playing favorites with my own race if I choose to stay here.”
    “Let’s get Atlas involved in this. Atlas, are you listening in?”
    “I wasn’t until Danielle thought about the link I gave you. Congratulations on your new baby.”
    “Thank you, Atlas,” Danielle thought, “Do you have any ideas about how I get around this issue of playing favorites in selecting the location of my home?”
    The ancient Alfont Ship hesitated then said, “Danielle, you must select a location that has a valid reason for its selection. All your subjects want is to know why you chose to be where you are. Is there a place that no other planet can match for its selection?”
    Danielle reflected a moment and thought back, “Obviously, Earth, Cainth, and Glod as the original members and founders of the Stars Realm would make sense but selecting any one of them would still cause the other two to feel slighted.”
    Tag could sense her frustration and wanted to protect her from bad feelings so soon after Rose was born; he said, “Danielle, I don’t see a way out of this box; you’re just going to have to choose and the others will just have to understand.”
    “I guess. Let me think about it.”
    “Tag,” Atlas said, “Admiral Dorg is leaving shortly for the Dremels system and is planning to meet with them. It was a good idea to send Klas with him to interpret. I must say that his new ship really impressed the Pydres and the Human Colonists on Ross when he showed up to bring him on board while Dorg was at the hospital.”
    “Those ships are very impressive,” Tag thought back.
    “That’s it!” said Danielle.
    “What’s it?” said Tag.
    “Ross will be the new capital and my home.”
    Tag and Atlas both were silent for a moment then Atlas said, “Ross is the site of the opening conflict between the Alliance and Humans.”
    “It was also where 20 % of the colonists were executed by the Cainth and our first marine casualties happened,” Tag added.
    “It’s where everything started that eventually led to the formation of the Stars Realm,” Danielle said, “and I can say I’ve chosen it to honor the ones that lost their lives to make everything possible. The Cainth, the Glod, and Humans along with thirty three other planets all lost some of their citizens in that first battle at Ross and the subsequent fleet action. No other planet can say it was first.”
    “It’s an excellent choice, Danielle,” Atlas said, “and as undeveloped as it is, no one can accuse you of playing any kind of favorite in its selection.”
    “Can you be satisfied living there instead of one of the more developed planets?” Tag asked. “There is little in the way of urban development.”
    Danielle smiled, “How long do you think it will remain undeveloped if we announce that my new capital will be located there? It will become the center for all races to come visit. I can see a huge tourist trade just to sightsee. It also has a very small population and I suspect that a lot of our members will have some of their people move to Ross to be near the government center. It also has all the natural resources necessary to build the structures needed as the population grows. We will also make sure we don’t overdevelop like Sten’s planet; we’ll make sure we keep enough agriculture to support our population. Trust me, it will develop faster than we imagine.”
    “Well, when are you going to make the announcement?” Tag asked.
    Danielle laughed and said, “Soon. We need to start construction on a place to live with a nursery.” Danielle pressed a button on her com and said, “Leila, would you please come back in!”
    “Talk with you later, Love,” Tag thought.
    “Leila, we are going to make Ross our new capital.”
    Leila looked shocked for a moment then said, “No one can argue with that choice with all the new history that was written there. I’ll notify the government on Ross of our selection and swear them to secrecy then I will send Eric to select the site of our government center. Once that’s selected and we’ve guaranteed the property, you’ll need to release a notice to the members of the Realm and let them know of our new home. Danielle, it’s the perfect choice. No one can feel slighted. I suspect a large number of companies will follow you there.”
    “I think you’re right.” Danielle felt a warm glow from Rose and she thought, “Oh, you approve also. I love you little one.” The glow got warmer. Danielle closed her eyes and felt her child lying on her breast.
    Tag looked at Kosiev and noticed him watching while he was communicating with Danielle. “We’re ready to begin our trial of the new needles,” Kosiev said.
    “Let’s see what they can do, what’s the target?”
    “It’s the old Los Angeles. We have a new megaship being launched in a week using that name so we’re going to use the old one to see if our needles are stronger. Our old needles would not have penetrated the screens of the Los Angeles.”
    “Well, let’s see what we’ve got,” Tag said.
    Kosiev turned on his com and said, “Power up the screens and let me know when Los Angles is at full power.”
    Ensign Orton said, “Screens are at full power, Sir.”
    “Weapons, fire when ready,” Kosiev ordered.
    Tag watched the display showing the Los Angeles hidden behind its screen when suddenly an intensely bright light flashed out from the Moscow and hit the Los Angeles. The beam went completely through the ship and out the other side. “Holy Groad,” Tag said.
    “I was afraid of that,” Kosiev said. “We shot her through her tail so as not to damage her screen generators. Let’s move away to about 70 miles and give it another try.”
    “Admiral, can you use the needles for close in fighting if it goes thru the ship you’re firing at?”
    “What we will have to do is make the beam wider. Instead of punching a three foot hole in the target, we’ll have to adjust the needle to a ten foot circumference. That should contain it in the target.”
    “If you puncture a ten foot hole in a ship, do you really need to use the hornets?” Tag asked.
    “You’ve seen some of those Algean ships. Some of them are more than twenty miles in length. We need that big a hole to get enough hornets inside to blow it up. The hornets are programmed so that the first ones to enter the ship will blow holes through the walls so that the others can scatter throughout the target. Let’s see if this is a good range now. Weapons fire when ready,” Kosiev commanded.
    Tag watched the display of the Los Angeles and the intense beam struck her again and burned a hole thru her hull but did not penetrate out the other side. “One more shot weapons but this time I want 10 hornets loaded into the needle; fire when ready.”
    Tag saw that the screen was still working on the wounded ship; it was pretty good shooting to miss the screen generators at this distance. Once again the beam struck and burned a hole in the hull but this time the ship exploded into a huge explosion that shot debris in all directions. “What have we learned Admiral?” Tag asked amazed at how fast the hornets destroyed the Battleship.
    “Well, it looks like our standard size needle is good on normal ships out to ninety miles. If a standard ship gets closer than twenty miles we will have to expand the needle to thirty feet wide to prevent total penetration. We will write into the needles software the parameters based on distance. There are three hundred needle ports on the new Megaships and there are three gunnery crews handling one hundred each. We need that many because of the numbers of ships we expect to encounter. We also have a brand new weapon that has been developed out of our needle technology.”
    “Do I dare ask what it is?” Tag said.
    Kosiev said, “Currently, our ships do not use missiles over long distances. We have to wait for the enemy to come into range and fire at them with our screen weapons. Our weapon scientists have developed a pulse penetrator.”
    “What is that?”
    “It’s similar to a needle. An energy cannon shoots a pulsed beam containing anywhere from 10 to 500 hornets thru our screen and it leaves using a Coronado Cell for propulsion. The hornet’s guidance system inside the pulse will be attracted by any ship that doesn’t have a Coronado Screen within 300 miles. It will penetrate the screen of most ships and release its hornets. This is a shoot and ignore weapon. Like the hornets, it will designate a ship with its Coronado sensors and once illuminated, the other pulsed penetrators will ignore that target and search for one that is not illuminated. If the penetrator doesn’t destroy the ship, once its illumination beam ends, other penetrators will lock on the target.”
    “Admiral, can you believe how fast our weapon development is happening. The old Washington is now obsolete and wouldn’t last five minutes against these new vessels. We call it old but its less than two years that the Washington was commissioned. Its eye opening to see where we’ve come is such a short period.”
    “Mr. Gardner, I suspect that we will be facing an enemy with more than ten million ships. I’m still worried about whether we can handle them. I’m hoping for faster development and I suspect you are too. They are going to run out of planets to harvest in their galaxy and they will start expanding in to other galaxies. We have to stop that.”
    Tag smiled and said, “I think you and I are on the same sheet of music. How many Megaships do we have to take to the system?”
    “Only twenty, but we have more than 40 thousand of the old ships converted to Coronado Technology. Why don’t we call a meeting of the leaders and plan our response.”
    “Good idea. I’ll contact Terl and Tgon-gee and have them contact all the interested parties.”
    “Looks like war again, Mr. Gardner; this time we won’t be taking prisoners.”

Chapter 4

    Admiral Dorg Leaned back in his chair and saw Tresk looking at him. He had just finished the meeting with Captains Ren-Bir and Mikado. All three ships were at battle stations and were waiting for the order to jump. They were going to jump into three other galaxies before jumping to the coordinates that Thomas Gardner had provided for the Dremels system. The jumps would happen in quick succession and Dorg had made it clear that if the Plants were in the Dremels system then the three ships would jump out immediately to the last galaxy. If the Plants were not present then they would begin to attempt to contact the Dremel. Dorg had also made it clear that no one had permission to open fire on any ship that was not a Plant vessel. He thought again about the colonists that had been murdered due to his orders and hoped to try and make up for his mistake by saving the Dremel. “Captain Tresk, notify the other two ships we will be jumping in twenty sems and count it down, please.”
    Tresk punched a button on his com and said, “Engage star drives in 5, 4,3,2,1, execute.”
    All three ships disappeared then briefly appeared in three other galaxies before breaking out into normal space in a system with a medium size star. “Ships approaching firing weapons, sir,” Glensh the sensor officer reported.
    The three megaships were surrounded by 50 ships that had jumped in on their location and were firing beams and nuclear missiles. “Status of our screen Lt. Glensh,” Tresk asked?
    “Their weapons pose no danger, sir. They are actually adding power to our screens.”
    “How many ships are attacking?” Dorg asked.
    Fifty in the initial wave but ninety more have just jumped in and are joining in the attack. They still pose no threat.”
    Dorg looked over at Klas whose race had contact with the Dremel before his planet was destroyed by the Algeans and said, “Would you please broadcast a request for a meeting with their leadership; communications broadcast it on the frequency those ships are using to communicate.”
    Klas was a Pydres. His species was humanoid in appearance but were dark brown in color and had six fingers on each hand with two opposable thumbs. Their arms were shorter than Humans but had elbows that appeared to be able to rotate 360 degrees. Their black hair was sparse but covered most of their body. The head was large with a brow that had a ridge of raised skin that ran from their eyes to their ears which were small almost bat like. He raised the com to his mouth and began speaking to the attacking ships. The ships continued to attack and it appeared that his message was not getting thru until suddenly the 140 ships stopped firing and surrounded the three Stars Realm ships. A voice came over the communications console and Klas interpreted. “Why have you intruded into our system? We are the Dremel and we are expecting to be attacked by a huge invading fleet; you only endanger yourself if you stay.”
    Klas raised the com and said, “We are aware of the enemy coming to your system. They have already devoured my world that you tried to help by warning us of them. We have come to try and help you in the coming conflict and would request a meeting with your leaders.”
    There was silence for a few minutes and then the voice said, “My leaders request you come to the planet and they will meet with you there. Only send one ship, the other two will stay here with us.”
    “Notify your leaders that we will arrive in five seconds,” Klas said after he heard Dorg tell Tresk to jump to the planet in ten seconds.
    The Dremel stuttered, “No one can get there that fast.” Then he watched as one of the Ships his fleet had surrounded disappeared.
    The Rossville broke back into normal space just above the main planet and waited for the Dremel to contact them. Klas looked at Dorg and said, “From this point on, I will translate what I hear and what you say. I think you need to speak directly to them.
    “Message coming in, on speaker.” the communications officer said.
    “…are the Dremel. I believe my fleet leader was planning to escort you to our planet. He’s concerned that we can’t get a ship here from the jump limit within ten hours which places us at your mercy.”
    Dorg spoke and Klas translated, “You have nothing to fear from us. We did not retaliate when your ships attacked us; we are here to open a dialogue to see if we can help you in the coming conflict with the Plants. It’s our opinion that wasting ten hours to get here was not a good decision.”
    “I suspect you’re right.” The Dremel said. “We expect them to enter our system soon and we assumed your ships were the initial scouts they send out. I’m sorry we attacked you so quickly but we have to try and destroy the initial contact by the monsters before they can communicate our position.”
    Dorg gave a sigh of relief, “I’m glad to hear you say that, we don’t share our technology with aggressive races. After Klas told us about your warning his people about the coming invasion, we felt we should come and help you if we could.”
    “We are a peaceful people but we had to build the ships that attacked you. Though we are peaceful by nature, we will not submit to destruction without putting up a fight. I have turned on a beacon with a laser designator pointed at your ship. If you will follow it down to the planet we will meet and talk with you about why you came to our world.”
    “I’ve got it sir,” Lt. Glensh said. “I’ll send the coordinates to your shuttle.”
    “Thank you Lieutenant. Klas if you’ll join me let’s go meet our new friends.”
    Admiral Dorg sat in a room surrounded by the twenty Elders of the Dremel. He began speaking while Klas translated, “I am sorry for our sudden intrusion into your system but we have come to see if there is a way that we can help you in the upcoming conflict with the plant creatures. We have saved some of the Pydres from their planets destruction and they told us of your warning them. I came to investigate to see if your race could be helped by my government.”
    “Just how do you think you can help us? Nothing can stand up against the monsters. We’re working hard to build transports to try and save some of our population but we just don’t have enough time or capacity to build enough ships in the time we have remaining. Some of our population has already left for a planet further out on the arm of this galaxy”
    Dorg looked at the old Dremel and said, “Perhaps we can buy you enough time. I want to discuss the possibility of using your world as a base to be the center of our fight against the plants. We will do all in our power to protect your world in return for using it to be the center of our fleet operations against them. I recognize that our efforts against them will bring huge numbers against you, but if we don’t help, you will be destroyed and consumed. Perhaps we can buy you enough time to save your people.”
    “Do you think you have any chance against those horrors?” the old Dremel asked.
    “Honestly, I don’t know but that’s why I’m here; to begin the fight against them and see if we can stop your destruction. If you agree, we will not leave you to stand alone; we will fight them with you.”
    The twenty Elders began talking among themselves. Dorg thought the Dremel looked like very thin Humans. They were about 6 feet tall and were bipedal like humans. Their hands had five digits just like the Humans but had no thumbs though it appeared that their fingers could bend in multiple directions. Their face was similar but had no hair and the nose was flat on its face. The lips were thin and the chin very pointed. Their skin was gold in color. They moved very smoothly with an economy of motion that made them look slow but it was difficult to maintain their pace when following them. Finally the speaker said, “Klas says that he was saved by your people and he has seen goodness in you. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. We agree to start working together and we thank you for your help.”
    Suddenly a Dremel in military uniform ran in and started talking quickly. The twenty Elders got up and began talking on their communication consoles. “What’s going on, Klas?”
    “A plant scout ship had just jumped into the outer system on the other side of their sun. It can’t see their world yet, but it’s moving in system and will see the inhabited planet within ten hours. All of their ships are on this side of the sun. They were not prepared for the scout to enter the system from that direction.”
    “And so it begins,” Dorg thought. “I hope we’re ready.

Chapter 5

    The Algean scout ship came out of star drive and the ship leader looked at his board, “Looks like nothing in this system.”
    “Sensors indicate that there are other planets on the other side of the star,” the systems operator answered.
    “Are there any in the habitation zone?”
    The systems operator looked at his board again, “Gravity readings indicate that there is a planet inside the zone for life to develop.”
    The ship leader looked at his readings and ordered, “Plot a course around the sun and take readings on the planets as we pass. There may be life we can harvest and we should make sure.”
    The systems operator turned the ship toward the closest planet.
    Admiral Dorg asked Klas to get the Dremels attention so he could make a suggestion. The Dremel were all talking on their communication consoles so he had to yell to get them to hear him. The leader stood up and said, “We are in the middle of a crisis. What do you want?”
    Dorg said while Klas translated, “Why don’t you let us attempt to destroy the scout. We are much better armed than your ships and we can jump to where ever the scout is located. What I need from you is a distraction to take their attention for just a moment. Can you set off a nuclear explosion on one of the asteroids on the other side of the sun and give me the coordinates of the scout?”
    The leader told the other Dremel to stop making plans and to listen. They turned from their consoles and listened as he told them of Dorg’s offer. One went back to his console and spoke for a few moments and then said something to the Leader. “We have a small ship armed with a nuclear missile on one of the asteroids on that side of the sun. He will fire it into another asteroid close by when ordered. Why do you want him to do that?”
    “I need something to distract the scout for just a moment as we come out of our jump so that they won’t communicate. We’ll jump in directly behind the scout just as the explosion goes off and attempt to destroy it. I’m hoping that being inside the jump limit the emergence of a star drive near them will be discounted as a sensor error. We need to do this an hour after the scout has crossed the jump limit.”
    The Leader looked at Dorg for a moment then said, “Are you sure your ship can destroy it? That scout is the same size as your ship and heavily armed.”
    “From what I’ve seen of your ships, we have a much better chance than you do. None of them could get through our screens.”
    The Leader stood and was struggling to make a decision but finally said, “Nekrn, give him the current coordinates of the scout and prepare to fire the missile.”
    Dorg left his chair and went back to the shuttle to go back to the Rossville. He told Klas to stay with the Dremel and translate his communications.
    “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” Klas asked.
    “No, you need to stay and make sure these leaders don’t do something that would cause the Plants to start communicating with their home world. Plus, we need to time this down to the second. Keep your com open, I’ll let you know when I’m back on board.”
    Dorg ran into the shuttle and sent the coordinates to his jump and weapons officer. He ordered the primary beam charged and two needles loaded with 40 hornets each. As he entered the bridge he asked, “Do we have them on visual yet?”
    Glensh said, “We’re getting a feed from the Dremel ship that is going to fire the missile and we’ve locked our jump system to come in twenty miles astern of them.”
    “Klas, ask the Dremel how long after launch before the missile hits the asteroid.”
    “They say 15 of your sems from launch.”
    “Get Mikado and Ren-Bir on the com,” Dorg ordered. The two ship captains appeared on his display and Dorg said, “We have a Plant scout that just jumped into the system on the other side of the sun. I am sending you the coordinates of the ship and I am planning to jump in and surround that ship with our three vessels and fire immediately on emergence from null space. The Dremel are going to detonate a nuclear weapon and we will all jump one sem before it goes off. Have your jump officers synchronize their systems with Rossville and use your primary beam and two needles. We’ll begin the operation as soon as the plant ship is a drag inside the jump limit, any questions?”
    “No sir,” they both said and broke connection to ready their ships.
    Glensh looked up from his display and said, Sir, the scout has crossed the jump limit and is a drag inside it.
    “Klas, tell the Dremel to launch the missiles on my mark, we will jump at 14 sems after launch. Ready, mark; please count down the launch for us.”
    “Ten sems, nine, eight, seven… two, one, fire.”
    “Mark 14 sems and jump; ready weapons,” Dorg ordered.
    The time counted down and the Jump Officer said, “Jumping now.”
    The three megaships jumped and broke back into normal space surrounding the Algean Scout just as the nuclear explosion detonated. “Fire now,” Dorg yelled!
    The scout was hit by three 5,000 foot wide primary beams and six needles. The 6,400 foot long scout disappeared in an explosion that didn’t even leave rubble. Nothing remained of the huge ship bigger than dust motes and expanding gas. “Communications, did you detect any kind of broadcast from that ship?”
    “There was the beginning of a frequency that I’ve not seen before, but only for one hundredth of a sem. Nothing could have been said in that amount of time.”
    “Tune your sensors to that frequency and see if anything is being beamed at this system.”
    They waited for a drag and nothing was detected. “Perhaps there are so many scouts out that they don’t maintain constant communication. We’ll have to plan as if they did and start moving quickly. Jump us back to the planet,” Dorg ordered. “Captain Mikado, take your ship to the sun side of this system and power down and watch for any Plant follow-up. Captain Ren-Bir, you do the same on this side of the sun.”
    The Leaders of the Dremel stood as Dorg entered the room. The speaker said, “My name is Grijly. On behave of my race I thank you for your help I also pass along a message from our fleet commander thanking you for not firing on our ships when we attacked you. We are no match for your vessels.”
    “We are truly happy to help. We only detected a small frequency broadcast just before we destroyed the scout. We think it was too short to have carried any information but we have to assume that the scout’s absence will be investigated. We need to start planning for the upcoming conflict.”
    “We do appreciate your help but the Plants will bring thousands of ships when they attack us. Can you stop them all before they bombard our world?”
    “I don’t know but we can possibly prevent them from bombarding you. I need your permission to bring some defenses in for your planet.”
    “By all means bring them. After seeing your ship in action, nothing you do will surprise me.”
    Dorg smiled and said, “Oh, I might have a few surprises for you.” He pressed his com and said, “Tresk, order the asteroids to jump into this system and send them close to the sun to fully charge them. After they’re fully charged, bring them to the planet and get them in place. I want trial coverage within ten drags.”
    “We can probably do it in less than five, sir. They were charged before we left and I’m certain that they will lose very little of their power jumping here.”
    “I still want them at full charge. The numbers they are going to have to handle are staggering and I intend to use every advantage I can get.”
    Klas listened to the Cainth Admiral issue his instructions and wished that his people had known this race earlier; they might still be alive.
    Planet Leader Sten was in his office when Tag contacted him. “Planet Leader, one of our ships has just destroyed a Plant Scout ship. It looks like time is growing short before full hostilities begin. Is there any way to speed up your production of Megaships?”
    Sten looked at Tag on his display and said, “It’s good to see you. I was just discussing that with Admiral Kosiev. We are currently producing ten a month. We plan to launch five within seven rotations. These ships are huge at five thousand feet long and take time to complete. If you will send us enough engineers and techs to complete the other hundred facilities, which are only half done, and enough raw materials, we should reach our goal of a hundred and ten a month within three months after those facilities are complete; but it has to happen quickly to meet that goal.”
    “Let me go to work on that. Perhaps our Queen might get things done quicker than we can thru our bureaucratic methods.”
    “I suspect you’re right.”
    “Danielle,” Tag thought.
    “Yes, Love.”
    Tag quickly explained about the attack at the Dremels system and what Sten had told him. “Can you help us get enough skilled techs to Sten’s world to make this happen?”
    “All I can do is ask our members to help. I’ll get Leila to schedule an emergency announcement six hours from now. Perhaps our members will respond to my request; I can’t order them to go.”
    “You underestimate your authority. I think you could and your orders would be followed.” Tag paused, “However, do what you think is best.”
    “I prefer to ask. No one likes a demanding Leader. If that fails, I’ll start issuing orders.”
    “Fair enough, Dear. Talk with you later, I love you.”
    All the member worlds of the Stars Realm received notice of the emergency message from their Queen. This was the first time that she was going to speak to all of them since she had addressed the old Alliance Government. The tension mounted as the time approached for her to speak and everyone wondered what was so important. Finally, all the communication devices on every planet changed to a screen with Danielle sitting facing them. She still looked small and she was wearing a dark blue suit that made her blond hair look like a halo around her. She was holding Rose and a huge number of those watching had tuned in just to have a chance to see their queen and her new child.
    “Citizens of the Stars Realm, I want to thank you for taking a moment to hear me today. I have learned that the Plant Race is going to attack another world shortly. One of our ships destroyed one of their scouts today.” Danielle then played the recording of the three megaships destroying the scout. The 830 worlds were amazed at the power of the new ship and how quickly they destroyed the target. “I show you this recording because the ships you see here are one of our newest Battleships. We currently have twenty three of them in service but we need so many more to stand a chance against the hundreds of thousands of ships the plants will send against them. Planet Leader Sten tells me that if he can get the skilled engineers, technical help, and raw materials to complete the ship building facilities on his world, that he could be producing 110 of these ships every thirty rotations. I believe that it is extremely important to make this happen. These ships will be used to defend all of us and we all have a vested interest in our fight against the plants. We also cannot stand by and watch the Dremel be eaten by these monsters. With that in mind, I am asking each world to provide as many engineers, construction teams, technicians, and building materials that you can give to make this happen. I have ordered the navy to provide transportation to those who volunteer to go on board of one of our ultra ships to get them to work as quickly as possible. If your leaders will contact Admiral Kosiev he will arrange the transportation for all that you can give us. I am proud to serve you as your Queen and I reluctantly ask this of you. I do not want to interrupt your lives if I can avoid it and only critical events will ever make me do it but now is a moment that we must act. I see this as all of us doing what is needed to defend all of us. Please help Sten get his facilities completed. I believe that you can be counted on to help. I also want to introduce The Stars Realm to our new Daughter Rose who was born twelve days ago.” Danielle lifted the baby and showed her to the camera. “Thank you for taking a moment for me and Rose.”
    “Well, how do you think that went?” Tag asked Kosiev.
    “We’ll know shortly. If they are going to help, they’ll be contacting us for transportation.”
    “Admiral,” Ensign Orton said, “We have ninety worlds requesting transportation immediately. I have 200, no make that 350 on line saying they will provide their own transportation and will have them arriving at Sten’s world within six rotations. If you could provide transportation from the Star Drive limit in, then time will be saved. The Vgrig are sending 8,000 engineers and are requesting to be allowed to crew a hundred of the new ships when they are ready. Sir, my board is overloaded.”
    Tag and Kosiev looked at each other holding their bag of popcorn and Tag said, “Maybe there is something to this important decisions and popcorn.”
    “Sir, the Planet Ross has just asked if they can donate one of their continents to build additional ship building facilities. They will give the land freely.”
    Kosiev said, “If we get this kind of support, we can probably make that happen if Sten will send some of his planners to Ross.”
    “Let’s get him on the line and see if he can help with that project. We should wait until Sten has all his facilities completed and then send the workers to Ross. We also need to determine how to distribute these ships to our members. If they are all contributing to this effort, then they should receive some benefit.”
    “Tag,” Kosiev said, “Let’s think about that; why have 830 fleets? There should only be one navy and all of the members will provide crews. After we start this project and get it on the way, we’ll get Danielle to announce the formation of a new Navy that will defend all of its members and request all new warships be made a part of the new fleet. Leaders of the various elements of the fleets will be selected from each member.”
    “What a great concept. We’ll start it by asking the members to provide the crews for the new ships and tell them that these ships are going to be the nucleus of the Stars Realm Navy. We will then ask them to provide ships to us to use in our plans against the plants. It will then be a simple matter to consolidate all our ships into one organization; but first, let’s com Sten about Ross.”
    Tag and Kosiev sat on board Moscow and looked at the fifty new ships joining their fleet. It had been a fast six months since Danielle had asked for support and the new worlds responded splendidly. The facilities were completed in three weeks and then the loads of raw materials began to arrive. Another 100 ships were being delivered in thirty days. Ross had its first facility on line within four weeks after the work crews arrived and twenty more were due to begin operation within forty days. Ross was planning for eighty ship building facilities when all were completed. The plants had still not shown up at the Dremels planet and the asteroid forts were in place. More than 4,000 ships were in their system forty of them were megaships.
    “We need to rethink the Navy idea,” Kosiev said.
    Tag looked at him and said, “I wondered if you were going to bring that up.”
    “Why? Do you know something I don’t?”
    “No, I just got to thinking that why would we want all of those out of date ships in our navy. As long as we can prevent the various members from ever attacking each other, we really don’t need them disarmed. We will also have more ships than we can effectively command within twelve months and double that number twelve months later. All we really need is crews that we can train for the new ships.”
    Kosiev sighed and said, “You’re right. I think now we need Danielle to announce the creation of the new Navy and a meeting to select the one to lead it.”
    “I thought it would be you,” Tag said.
    “They might select me, but to just appoint me would smack of favoritism and would start us out on the wrong foot. We have to allow the leader and his second in command to be selected by all our members.”
    “You’re right. I’ll get Danielle to make the announcement. If you’re not selected, can you serve under someone else?”
    Kosiev cocked his head to the right and said, “What do you think I’ve been doing with you? I know who has the real power here.”
    Tag smiled and said, “Maybe, but you’re the one that made it happen. Don’t sell yourself short.”
    Kosiev said, “Ensign Orton, get Terl and Tgon-Gee on a channel.”
    Tag and Kosiev went to the mess and got a bag of popcorn and a sweet drink and came back to the bridge just as the two leaders came on their display. “What do you need Mr. Gardner?” Tgon-Gee asked.
    “We’ve been discussing the organization of our fleet now that we have the new Megaships coming on line and we think we have a suggestion and would like your take on it.”
    “Go ahead,” Terl said.
    “We think that instead of having 837 navies we should have a fleet that is commanded by our Queen. It will be the Stars Realm Navy and the members will provide the crews that man its ships. The purpose of the fleet is to protect the members of the Realm from all dangers both foreign and domestic.”
    Terl and Tgon-Gee looked at the display and then Terl said, “You expect us to give up our warships?”
    Kosiev said, “Absolutely not. Only the ships that all the members have contributed to build will be in the fleet. All the members will keep their ships. Only the ships built on Sten’s planet and Ross will be in the fleet.”
    “Who will command the fleet?” Tgon-Gee asked.
    “That’s why we called you. We should get all the member worlds to send a military representative to a gathering where the Fleet commander will be selected. This is a Navy of all the members and all of them should participate in its founding.” Tag paused for a moment and then said, “We should also have an Academy where the crews of the fleet are trained. The first crews will actually be existing sailors on current assignments but once our fleet is manned, the next generation should be trained by the Stars Realm trainers.”
    Tgon-Gee looked at Tag and said, “I initially felt huge reservations about this suggestion. I felt I was giving up my independence and protection but the reality is that I would trust that fleet more than any other fleet in our membership other than Earth and Cainth of course. We will instill in those crews that the duty to protect our worlds is the most important role they play. We will also have multiple races on each ship so we can start building commonality among our members.”
    Terl listened intently and then said, “I don’t care if you took all of my ships. Except for your forgiveness, we would have no ships. I think the idea is outstanding. Where will the fleet be headquartered?”
    Tag hesitated but then said, “It will be located at the Capital of the Stars Realm.”
    Tgon-Gee said, “So Earth will have control of the fleet.”
    “Danielle has chosen to locate her Capital on the planet named Ross in honor of those that gave their life there to found our new brotherhood.”
    Tgon-Gee started laughing.
    Terl looked at him and said, “What’s so funny?”
    “Every time I fall back into my old distrustful ways, my Queen does something to show me just how much I’ve yet to grow. Ross is the only choice for our capital, fleet, and academy. It is the spiritual founding of our coming together. It represents what can come from the worse of us to be the best of us. I however, do disagree about how you’ll select the Fleet commander.”
    “How is that?” Tag asked.
    “We are not a democracy anymore, if we ever were for that matter. We are a monarchy. What the Queen decides, that’s what we will do. If you start trying to get 830 worlds to agree on any course of action, then we’ll never get anything done. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust those new ships under anyone else’s control and I’m quite sure after having seen how it destroyed that Plant Scout, most of the member worlds would agree with me. They trust their Queen and rightly so.”
    “Gentlemen, do you mind if I include the Queen in this conversation?”
    “No, please invite her,” Terl said.
    “Ensign Orton,” Kosiev said, “Please com the Queen and ask if she has a moment to talk with us.”
    “Danielle,” Tag thought.
    “Yes, Love.”
    “You have a call coming in requesting you join our meeting. I think you really need to be in on this.”
    “Leila is taking the call now; Leila, I will take that particular call. Hang on, I’ll be right there.” Leila raised her eyebrows wondering how Danielle knew about these calls before they came into her board.
    “Good day,’ Danielle said. “How can I help you?”
    Tag explained their conversation with Tgon-Gee and Terl adding their views as Tag finished. “Tgon-Gee is of the opinion that you should choose the fleet commander and not the members.”
    “Your majesty, that many cannot make a decision in less than a season. Everyone will want the leader to be from their planet.”
    Danielle listened to them and Kosiev remained silent and watched her. “She’s communicating with Tag. I can see it. How; can they hear each other’s thoughts?”
    Finally Danielle said, “Tgon-Gee is right, I should make the decision. I’ve been told by everyone that the members trust me so it’s appropriate that they should back whomever I choose. However, I can’t leave my people out of the decision making process. Here is what I want to see happen; I want each member planet to elect a representative to be their voice to the Queen. We will build a structure on Ross, which will become our government center where they will meet and offer their opinions on what they would like the Queen to do in the various decisions that have to be made. The name of their organization will be “The First Family” and they will be charged with protecting all families in our Realm. They will be asked to offer multiple choices for the Queen. I of course will do what our psychics say is the best thing to do to insure our future. If I don’t do what the assembly asks, then I have to explain why, but I think a lot of the time we will be in agreement. Tgon-Gee or Terl will lead those meetings and I think they would listen to their wise council.”
    The four looked at Danielle and Terl said, “I am amazed again. Who will make the announcements?”
    “I will have my staff do all the things to make this happen. We should have our structures built within six months. We will announce our move to Ross and ask for selections to be done within that time frame. This will give those who wish to campaign for a position in the new Stars Realm government the time to organize. This should also make the new Navy easy to mandate.”
    “Thank you, My Queen,” Tgon-Gee said and then Danielle smiled and disappeared from the display. Terl and Tgon-Gee broke the connection leaving Tag and Kosiev with their popcorn.
    “Well. Let’s see what we can do to make this happen,” Tag said.
    Three months later Tag and Kosiev were on board the Moscow discussing the plans for using the new ships that had been completed.
    Tag looked at Kosiev and said, “The fleet academy is moving right along. We need to start putting a list of instructors to be assigned to teach there.”
    “I hope you will forgive me but I have a trip to make,” Kosiev answered.
    Tag looked at him and said, “Dremel?”
    Kosiev nodded and said, “The Plants have not found them yet and we need to get ready for them. I’m taking fifty more Megaships out to Admiral Dorg and I’m going to take a good look at the situation there. The new crews will need some training to fit in with the existing ships and Dorg has told me he can use some help. I’ll jump back if you need me.”
    Tag thought a minute and said, “No, go ahead with your plans. I’m sure the military staffs can put together a list that will do a good job. We’re still at least three months away from completing construction. Good luck, Admiral. Stay in touch and keep us up to date on any developments,” Tag Said.
    “I’ll be glad to do so. I’ll see you in six months if nothing happens.”

Chapter 6

    The Algean sent a message to a ship that had not reported in on schedule. He tried again but received no response. It was troubling. All ships reported on schedule and this particular scout had not answered. He sent another message but only silence answered him. He thought a moment and then decided, “Elder. I have a scout that has missed its scheduled report and it does not respond to my inquiries.”
    “Where was it at its last report?”
    “It had finished scanning a system out in the third quadrant and had decided to move further out into the quadrant.”
    “In what direction was it moving?”
    “It did not say, Elder. It was going to report after it entered another system.”
    “So now it’s missing and we don’t know what part of the quadrant it went.”
    The Fleet Tracker felt nervous, “That appears to be what happened.”
    The Elder thought a moment. With more than fifteen million scouts searching for planets to harvest, the chances of accidents happening were miniscule but the odds were still possible. Ships do sometimes blow up or have collisions. “Do we have any other scouts in that quadrant?”
    “Yes, Elder; we have more than fifty thousand.”
    “Warn them to be careful and to scan for any debris in any system they scan. It was probably an accident but they should be on guard. I can’t see anything that could have destroyed the ship without them reporting unless there was a reactor explosion or nova that destroyed the ship. How old was that scout?”
    “Two thousand cycles, Elder.”
    “It was an old ship. They are more prone to reactor problems. Keep me informed if anything turns up.”
    Yes, Elder.
    Admiral Dorg and Kosiev sat on the bridge of the Moscow and looked at the replay of the destruction of the Algean Scout Ship. Kosiev and Dorg had worked for a month getting the fleet organized and the Megaships crews trained which had now grown to a hundred and ninety ships. They now had the time to look at the scout’s destruction. “Slow it down to 500 ^ th speed,” Kosiev asked. The replay started just as the three needles struck the screens of the scout. “There, did you see it?”
    Dorg watched closely and said, “I think you’re right. The first needle didn’t penetrate but the other five did. I didn’t notice that before. Their screens are strong but appear to have slow recovery. It makes me wonder if our primaries would have penetrated on the initial salvo.”
    Kosiev leaned back in his chair and gazed off into space for a moment then said, “If that small scout stopped one of our Megaship needles, what would their larger classes of ships do against it? It also causes me to question whether our pulse penetrators would get thru their defenses.”
    Dorg stared at the display and lifted his two bottom arms straight out which showed his agitation. “We don’t know their capabilities. Our old ships may not be able to match up with their heavier ships; we just don’t know enough.” Dorg leaned back and grabbed a bag of popcorn and replayed the recording again.
    “Klas shared his recordings of their fight against the Plants and his ships were only successful when their fleet attacked one of the plant ships with ten or more of theirs and he readily admitted that his fleet was not nearly as strong as ours.” Kosiev paused, “Most of his weapons were nuclear missiles. They didn’t have strong beam weapons.”
    “Could the needle have been defective? Perhaps a hornet exploded early.” They slowed the recording even more but it yielded nothing new. “We have to go see,” Dorg said.
    Kosiev nodded, “I must reluctantly agree. We must be careful in planning this; we don’t want to lead them here or to our Galaxy. We also don’t want to reveal a Megaship to them or that we can jump into a system close to the star.”
    “Ok, then I’ll go and investigate,” Dorg said.
    “I don’t think so,” Kosiev countered. “This is your show here and you have fifty new Megaships that just arrived to assign positions in the fleet to bring up to speed on your tactics.”
    “Are you saying you’re going to go?” Dorg asked in a strained voice.
    “No, for the same reason; it’s time we started trusting our subordinates to handle the dirty work. You and I are needed much more here.”
    Dorg didn’t like hearing what Kosiev said, but he knew he was right in his assessment but the warrior in him was not happy with the assessment. “Then who do we put in command of this expedition.”
    “I would send Captain Mikado. He was the captain of my fleet flag ship in all our confrontations and has watched first hand all the decisions that were made. I would assign two Ultraships and maybe three of the old Empire class battleships so we can see how they match up to the Plants. Unless you have someone that you feel better about, I think he would make the right decisions.”
    “I’ve just learned another lesson from you; you’ve groomed him to take your place. I’ve always worked on my own without helping someone grow in their command skills. I’ll resolve to solve that problem immediately. Tresk will begin an accelerated education. However, your choice is obviously qualified to command this.”
    “I intend to promote him to Admiral once we have enough ships here to constitute several fleets. Let’s call him in and brief him on our plans and see if he has anything to offer.
    Dorg smiled and said, “Good idea. How do we find a Plant Fleet to attack?”
    “I would guess that there are still ships at the Pydres world. It takes a long time to completely strip a planet clean. We’ll go there first. Of course we’ll jump in from a completely different line from here. Then we’ll wait at the jump limit for them to come and visit.”
    Dorg pressed his com console and said, “Tresk, please invite Captain Mikado to join Kosiev and myself on board the Moscow at his earliest possible convenience.” Dorg released his com and said, “Until he gets here, have you decided how we should organize the ships we have here?”
    “Yes I have,” Kosiev said, “but I’m not married to my plan and I am open to any of your suggestions.”
    Recently promoted Commodore Lin Mikado stood on the bridge of the Zeus; it was like a homecoming. It had been a fast four weeks since the meeting with Kosiev and Dorg. He had been assigned a new Megaship for his command with Captain Kelly as his ship’s captain upon his return from this mission but he had to select the crews going with him to confront the Plants and train them on the tactics to be used. He had brought Kelly and members from his old crew with him for this assignment and his former Ultra ship felt like home. His five ships were now in the Pydres system watching the Plants as they continued to strip the planet they had invaded and destroyed. He thought about the meeting he had with the five ship commanders to make sure they understood their roles. “We will jump to the Galaxy we have designated gamma. We will then jump into the Pydres system on the line from that Galaxy on the chance they can read Star Drive direction. Once the mission is complete, we will jump back to gamma and then to delta, then to beta with no pause in our jumps. Make sure your jump officers have the coordinates preprogrammed into their jump drives before we exit the system. We will wait at the jump limit for them to come to us. If other ships jump into the system after we’re detected, we will jump forty five degrees around the limit. I don’t want to be surprised by what comes after us. Keep your jump drives hot throughout this exercise and avoid being hit with a beam weapon that would prevent your being able to jump. We will launch two stealth sensor buoys on our emergence into the system to record anything that happens on the off chance none of us make it back. One will jump back on a route that takes it thru eight other galaxies and the second will find a hiding place and send us a feed. Are there any questions? No. Good hunting.”
    “Sir,” Captain Kelly said, “Sensors say than none of the ships at the planet are moving our way. Communications report that as soon as we emerged into normal space that the frequency we recorded from the attack on their scout started and it is still being broadcast.”
    “They know we’re here.’ Mikado said. “They recognize that it would take the ships at the planet more than 18 hours to get out here so I think they’ll jump in on us. Attention all ships. Keep your jump drives hot and as soon as you detect a star drive field, immediately jump to the next assigned site.”
    The Stars Realm ships waited and recorded what they saw taking place at the planet. After 30 minutes, Mikado thought that he might have to go in system and provoke a fight then suddenly Colson his sensor officer said, “Multiple star drives breaking into normal space.”
    “Jump,” Kelly ordered.
    Mikado’s ships emerged in normal space and saw more than 300 Algean ships where they had just been. “Record all those ships and keep the record running; also send a feed to Admiral Kosiev,” Mikado ordered. “Alright, split up and go out system with separation between your ships. Go no faster than one quarter speed.”
    The Algean fleet turned and began moving to intercept the five SR ships. The large Plant Warships in front were seven miles long and bristled with weapon ports. They were long and triangular in shape and black in color. Their surfaces were irregular and were the function of being used to transport the food from the planets they raped. Their seven mile length made the 1,500 foot ultra ships look small and the 700 foot empire ships tiny. The Algeans began slowly gaining on the small ships and after a forty minute chase, one of the biggest ships more than seven miles long came into weapons range. Suddenly, the giant ship fired an energy beam at one of the Empire Battleships and launched thirty huge missiles. The Empire Class ship Tarpon Springs shrugged off the beam but its screen went from white to yellow. The huge ship fired again and the screen went into the red.
    “Tarpon Springs bleed off some of that energy by firing your primary beam into that ship.” Mikado ordered.
    The Empire ship fired its 700 foot wide primary beam at the nose of the oncoming behemoth. The Algean Battleship’s screens held for a moment and then failed completely as the second primary beam hit it. The nose of the giant ship was blasted more than 300 feet deep and it veered off course. As it fell away it turned broadside to the Empire ship and it fired twenty of those huge beams. The Tarpon Springs screen went rapidly from yellow to blue and was approaching overload when it fired its two primary beams continuously into the wounded battleship. The two beams ripped the battleship in two and then cut the two halves into eight parts. The reactors were hit and the resulting explosion blew all the wreckage away from the center of the explosion.
    “Status of the enemy missiles,” Mikado asked.
    “The six fired at us will impact us in 15 seconds, sir.”
    “Let’s not wait for that to happen. Weapons, can you target those missiles with our needles? Use low energy without any hornets.”
    Lt. Colson said, “Already tracking them, firing now.” The five SR ships destroyed all thirty missiles in less than two seconds with their needles. Suddenly, the 300 Algean ships launched 1,500 missiles at the five ships and followed them toward the Stars Realm Ships. “Sir, some of those incoming missiles are giving off a different reading. About twenty percent have that reading.”
    “Hit one of them with a needle and see what happens.” A needle stabbed out and hit one of the missiles and the resulting explosion set off the other missiles close to it coming in. The blast wave was enormous and started a chain reaction of explosions among the 1,500 incoming missiles. The Ultra ships screen went into the red as the blast wave approached. The Tarpon Springs which was closest to the enemy ships had five of those strange missiles close to it and was blown into dust when the chain reaction set them off. As the chain reaction of explosions went thru the Algean missiles, ships in the front ranks of the Plant Fleet were destroyed. More than fifty Algean ships were blown apart by their own missiles.
    “What in the Torg was that?” Mikado exclaimed!
    Lt. Colson looked up from his screen and said, “Sir, it looks like the Plants have developed anti-matter warheads in their missiles. That is what was giving off the peculiar readings.”
    “Were all their missiles destroyed in the blast?”
    “No sir, there are still twenty coming at us and one of them is Anti-matter.”
    Mikado thought for a long moment and then picked up his com and said over the ships intercom. “Gentlemen serving on the Zeus; our mission is to determine the capability of the Plant weapons. It appears that they have a missile with an antimatter warhead. We have to know if our screens can handle it. We are going to pick up speed to stay ahead of it until our screen recovers and we are then going to allow it to impact us. We will destroy all the standard missiles with our needles and just leave the anti-matter missile. All of our power will be directed into our screen but we have to know if our ships can survive in an environment with these weapons. I am ordering the Boston to record what happens and to then jump the remaining ships away. Brace yourselves and God Bless.” The Zeus picked up speed and and increase the distance from the Algean ships and stayed ahead of the faster incoming missile until its screen went from red to white. Zeus destroyed the standard missiles with needles and continued to run from the anti-matter missile. She fired her primary beam twenty times to bleed of excess energy and finally, Mikado said, “Slow the ship and prepare for impact.”
    The display showed the missile seeming to pick up speed as the Zeus slowed and then it struck the screen of the Ultraship. On board the Boston they saw a tremendous flash in which everything disappeared. All the display screens overloaded but then came back on line. There in the middle of the screen was the Zeus with her screen almost blue in color. “Prepare to jump, Execute.” Mikado ordered. The four remaining SR ships disappeared into Star Drive.
    On board one of the Algean battleships, the fleet leader asked his ship commander. “Who were those ships? I’ve never seen ships so fast that could survive our most powerful missile.”
    “I’ve never seen any design like that and there is nothing in our records that is remotely close to them. It looks like they jumped out toward a galaxy away from the central arm.”
    “Perhaps they come from a different galaxy and will stay away now,” the fleet leader said. “In the future, we should launch fewer of our power missiles further away from the food source so that our ships will not be endangered. They have some sort of energy beam that can be targeted on individual missiles. They hit one of the power missiles which led to a chain reaction of destruction. Only one of our power missiles got thru.”
    “Fleet Leader, the ship it hit was easily outrunning the missile until it lost speed and was hit. Perhaps they can only go that fast for short periods or they could have been trying to avoid the explosion if they hit it with one of those small beams.”
    “That beam weapon they used concerns me. It killed one of our Battleships. See what our scientists can determine about it. In the meantime harvest the dead from the damaged ships for food stores. It’s a shame we didn’t get to harvest those ships that escaped.” The Fleet Leader leaned back in his chair feeling his hunger.
    “You did what!” Kosiev yelled at Mikado.
    “Calm down,” Dorg said. “I’m sure he had a reason for endangering his ship and crew.”
    “As a matter of fact, I did,” Mikado answered.
    “Then explain yourself Commodore,” Kosiev ordered, “and it had better be good or I’ll have you in front of a board of inquiry so fast you’ll see your grump pass your face.”
    “Admiral, when we fired a needle into one of those antimatter missiles and set off a chain reaction that detonated most of them we lost the Tarpon Springs. We could not determine if we lost her because of the multiple blasts since she was closest to the Plant fleet or if one missile destroyed her. I determined that we had to know before we confronted this weapon in actual combat. If I had waited then we would have found out at the expense of hundreds of ships instead of just one. We have to know how strong their missile is in order to plan effective strategy to counter them. When 10, 000 Plant ships fire 50,000 missiles at our ships, it’s too late then to hope we can survive the hit. My task was to determine the plants weapon capability. To leave without discovering the power of those missiles would have wasted an opportunity we may not have again.”
    Kosiev and Dorg looked at Mikado and said nothing.
    Mikado then said, “Sir, it was just like when you took on two ships both of which were ten times your size in order to save the next ship that might be attacked.”
    Dorg looked at Kosiev and said, “That was you? You have got to tell me what you did. We never did find out the whole story.”
    Kosiev looked at Dorg then looked at Commodore Mikado, his former sensor officer, and said, “It would have been a terrible waste of talent if your ship had been destroyed, not only you but Captain Kelly as well. You did survive and that is in your favor. Did you even think you had a chance to survive that blast?”
    “Yes sir, I did. The Ultra’s screen is ten times stronger than the Empire’s but if we didn’t, then all of our ships would be in danger except for the Megaships. Now we know that any missile that reads anti-matter will have to be detonated long before they impact. I think that if they don’t directly impact our screens, then our ships should survive in a hostile environment. I found it interesting that they fired 1,500 missiles with 300 of them anti-matter at our five ships. If 300 ships will launch 1,500 then how many will a thousand ships launch; five thousand with 1,000 anti-matter warheads? We also know that there were 100,000 ships that attacked the Pydres. Sir, we had to know. We also had to learn if the screen around the planet was going to be strong enough to handle anti-matter hits.”
    Kosiev leaned back in his chair and said, “Grab a bag of popcorn Commodore and tell me what you think will work against these kind of numbers.”
    “Sir, the best tool in our tool box is the pulse penetrator. We can outrun them. We stayed ahead of their missiles at 1/3 speed. We need to see if the penetrator can actually penetrate their screens. It seems that their screen is tremendously strong against an initial hit but does not recover quickly. I doubt that one penetrator will break thru but two will. We will need to program them in pairs to lock on to any ship without a Coronado screen and to also prioritize a ship that already has one lock on. Shoot and let the Pulse Penetrators select their targets as we move away from their main fleet faster than their missiles can fly. Once they do their work we take out the missiles with our needles and then launch our penetrators again. Admiral, how many penetrators are on the Megaships and can the Ultras be modified to accept them?”
    Dorg looked at Mikado with open admiration and said, “Kosiev, you have done an excellent job training this officer. I suggest you promote him immediately and put him in charge of the training of our new crews. To answer your question, the ultras can launch 300 penetrators if we modify their needle ports to accept them and the Megas can salvo 800.”
    Kosiev looked at Dorg and then stood up and said, “Commodore Mikado, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral over the 190 Megaships here and you will select the other commander of the older ships in our fleet. Come up with tactics that will give us the best probability of surviving a fleet action against the Plants here in the Dremels’ system. Be prepared to cover us on your plans within ten days. I want your fleet ready for a possible Plant invasion here within ninety days. Plan to use five hundred megaships in the defense; we should have that many by then. I would suggest you train the ships commanding officers now and give them their ships as they arrive. Crews will begin arriving immediately from current Stars Realm members and their training will be ongoing.”
    Mikado couldn’t believe his ears. “Thank you sir; I’ll do my best.”
    “Congratulations now get out of here and go to work. We have to be prepared and let’s hope we have ninety days to get ready.”
    “Sir, may I request that Captain Kelly be promoted to Commodore as my second in command and also promote Captain Smith to commodore over the Empires and Ultras”
    “Is that the same Smith that was my helmsman on the first Moscow?”
    “Yes sir.”
    Kosiev shook his head and said, “Are they good, Admiral?”
    “They learned from the best, sir.”
    Kosiev looked at Dorg and said, “Do you have anyone you want to use in these positions?”
    “Unfortunately, no one is as qualified as the ones recommended here; after all, you won the war against us. One thing is certain, these sailors have not lost. Let’s hope they continue their success.”
    “Permission granted, Mikado. Call them in and we’ll issue the promotions. Now get to work.”
    Dorg looked at Kosiev after Mikado left the room and said, “He makes a good point about the asteroids screens. Will it handle thousands of anti-matter hits?”
    “Probably not over an extended period; we need to double up on the number and go to 16 instead of eight. I’ll get a rush order in and see if we can get them here quickly. We’ll also use the 70 foot power cells on them. They will have a much broader field of fire and perhaps most of the missiles will be detonated before they reach the planet.”
    “Have you thought about arming those forts with Pulse Penetrators and needles?”
    " That is an excellent idea. I’ll get Tag to send the engineers to convert the existing forts to that technology and we’ll build it into the new ones.”
    “Those asteroids are huge. How many penetrators can they handle and what is the range of the Penetrators?”
    Kosiev munched his popcorn and then said, “I don’t know. The penetrators were primarily developed as a fleet weapon but I think we can increase the range if we add energy. These forts have that in abundance. Perhaps the plants will have great difficulty getting close enough to launch their missiles. I’ll get the engineers on it now.”

Chapter 7

    Danielle was sitting in her office answering questions on a form about what her needs would be in her new home on Ross. Rose at nine months was standing and holding on to the wall of her play pen watching her mother with obvious curiosity. Danielle pushed her com and said, “Leila, I’m expecting an engineer from Ross to arrive shortly to pick up this form I’m working on; please show him in when he arrives.”
    Leila replied, “Yes, Your Majesty.”
    Danielle gave a heavy sign and left her com on so Leila could hear it. She wondered if she would ever get used to the honorifics that came with her office. She looked at Rose who immediately smiled and started bouncing up and down at her mother’s attention. Danielle smiled at her blond hair, green eyed child and put the form down. She walked over and picked Rose up and sat down with her in her lap and began singing. Rose gave a shreek and started laughing out loud. Danielle caught the mood and began laughing herself. How many mothers can make their child laugh so hard just by singing?
    Her com buzzed and Leila said, “Mr. Ereckson from Ross is here to pick up the form.”
    “Send him in, Leila.”
    A distinguished looking man dressed professionally entered and came forward and bowed. Rose looked at him with wide eyes. “Please rise and say hello to my daughter, Mr. Ereckson,” Danielle said,
    “Good morning your majesty and hello Rose,” he said and offered his hand to the little girl. Rose reached out and grabbed his index finger and smiled. He smiled and shook her little hand.
    “Mr. Ereckson, I’ve put as much information as I can think of on this questionnaire but I really trust the building team to just use their own judgment,” Danielle said. “I do appreciate all the effort that is going into building our home on Ross.
    “We are excited more than you could ever know to have your family coming to live on our planet. I am actually one of the scientists from the academy that we’re building there. Our engineers are so determined to complete the building on time that they requested me to come see you about your wishes.”
    Danielle stood up with Rose and said, “Come with me Mr. Ereckson, I need to put Rose down for a nap.” They walked out of the office into an adjoining room where Rose’s crib was located and Danielle laid Rose down. “I really have very simple needs, Mr. Ereckson. Just tell the engineers to use their own judgment and whatever they do will be perfectly fine.”
    Mr. Ereckson nodded and said, “They just want to make sure you’re happy with your new home.” Then he looked at Rose’s crib and said, “Isn’t that a mobile of Ross’s solar system hanging above her crib?”
    Danielle smiled and said, “Yes it is. The academy sent it to us saying that they wanted Rose to get to know her new home. I’m told that it is an accurate recreation of all the planets and moons and Rose just loves staring at it watching it move.”
    Mr. Ereckson looked at the mobile and his expression changed markedly. “What’s wrong?” Danielle asked.
    He looked at Danielle, “This mobile is free moving; it does not move on its own. I remember when we sent it to you.”
    They both stood there and looked at the mobile and they could see the planets moving around the sun ever so slightly and the moons revolving around the planets. “I also know that the tenth planet has all of its eight moons positioned exactly as they are now in the system. I was looking at a message that I received that showed the planet just before I arrived here.”
    Danielle looked down at Rose lying in her crib smiling up at them. She said, “Mr. Ereckson, can you get a picture of where all the planets are in your system right now.”
    Ereckson turned on his com and started speaking into it. Danielle heard, “I don’t care, just do it and do it now.” They continued to watch the mobile move for five minutes and then Ereckson’s com buzzed. “I have it now, Your Majesty. Is there a screen I can send it?”
    Danielle pointed to the one beside Rose’s bed and said, “Use that one.”
    Ereckson pushed a button and a picture of Ross’s solar system appeared on the wall. They both stared at it and compared it to Rose’s mobile. The two were identical. Danielle looked at Ereckson and said, “Do you know how this could be happening?”
    Ereckson said, “No but let’s try something.” He reached up and moved all the planets to different places around the sun. Rose looked up at him with a serious expression and then looked at the mobile and the planets all moved back to their previous locations.
    “Let’s try it again but let me take her out of the room,” Danielle said. Ereckson nodded and Danielle picked up Rose and took her into the other room and put her in her play pen. She went back in and watched Ereckson give the mobile a spin. The planets whorled around the sun and then settled back into the positions they were in originally. Danielle and Ereckson mixed them up repeatedly but they always returned back to the current positions the planets and moons were located in the real solar system. Danielle and Mr. Ereckson looked at each other then went back in the office and found Rose asleep in her play pen. They went back and spun the mobile again and watched as it spun for a full minute and settled back into the current orbits of the Ross system. Danielle went back and looked at Rose sleeping peacefully in her play pen and wondered how she could have possibly known the current orbits of the Ross solar system. She looked at Ereckson and said, “How could she have made this happen?
    He looked at her and moved one planet in the mobile to the opposite side of the sun and let it go. It slowly revolved around the sun until it returned to its proper place. “The only way she could have done this is to actually see the entire solar system as it is right now in real time. The light from our system won’t get here for thirteen years.” He then looked at Danielle and said, “I have absolutely no way of explaining how she did this.”
    Danielle thanked him for his work on their new home and escorted him out to Leila. She walked back in and looked at her child sleeping soundly and wondered what she had just learned. Is it possible that she can actually see solar systems light years away? She had a lot to discuss with Tag.
    Two months had passed since the incursion into the Pydres system and Admirals Kosiev, Dorg, and Mikado sat on board the Rossville watching the wall display which was showing a video of Mikado’s action with the Plant Fleet. “Groad, they build them big,” Dorg said.
    Mikado nodded and said, “That was a small battleship the Tarpon Springs killed and it was more than seven miles long. I think that every one of their vessels is designed to participate in the harvesting of their food sources. It takes huge ships to load all the resources of a planet and transport them to another world. Matter of fact, the southern continent on the Pydres world is still basically untouched. Most of their cities were on the northern hemisphere so that’s where the Plants landed. It’s a shame to let them take the rest.”
    Kosiev looked at Dorg and it was like they had the same thought simultaneously. “You make a good point, Lin. How would you go about stopping them?” Kosiev asked.
    Mikado looked at the planet on the display and said, “I would take most of our Ultra’s and Empires and go in to confront the remaining ships around the planet. I would not jump in to the planet but would go in from the jump point at 1/3 speed which is what they saw during the last conflict. I think they would leave the planet to come meet us on our way in so as not to endanger their food source. The Plants would probably jump in a fleet behind us and try to pin us between the two fleets.”
    “So how would you counter those tactics?” Kosiev asked.
    “Before I even get into that, this war is going to be fought at long range if we can make it happen that way and there will be no hiding our capabilities from them. If we try to hoard the Megaships to get an edge in a significant battle then the war will be long over. This is Plant territory and they have more ships than we could ever handle in continuous battle. We would have to take the fleet out at the planet before the second fleet joins up. Once the second fleet jumps in we will have to go to full speed to open a large enough gap to finish off the ships from the planet. If we can do that, then we will turn and move on the incoming fleet. Just as we engage them we jump the Megaships in behind them and fire a full salvo of penetrators. The Megaships will stand off and target the missiles that will be launched at them. Trust me; it won’t be a small number. If they have to they will jump over the missile barrage and fire another salvo at the Plants and then jump in the middle of their formations fire all their needles, and then jump out of the system to reorganize.”
    Kosiev looked at Mikado and shook his head. “Lin, I never knew you were so good at strategy. You should have been making suggestions long ago.”
    “Quite frankly Admiral, I was more or less awestruck by Mr. Gardner. He seemed to always have the right answer and I didn’t feel confident enough to contribute. However, I learned a lot from watching the two of you. We also have to do something else when we start this action.”
    “What is that?” Dorg asked.
    If our goal is to prevent the Plants from harvesting the remainder of this planet; then immediately upon the completion of destroying their two fleets, we have to jump in some seventy foot asteroid forts and Marines to take control of the surface. Since the Empire ships can’t jump out of the system from the planet but would have to move out to the jump limit, we would park them in orbit around the planet inside the forts to support the Marine landings; they will need all the support they can get. The war then begins here with the Ultra and Megaships jumping in and out destroying as many ships as possible that the Algeans send to dislodge us. This also gives us a chance to see what the Plants can do against our technology without risking a populated planet. If they prevail here, we fall back to Dremel.”
    The two admirals looked at each other and Dorg broke the silence by saying, “I’ll get the forts being sent to Cainth sent here instead.”
    “Admiral, we will need them in Gamma Galaxy ready to jump in to the planet before we begin our attack. It might also be a good idea to have the marines and their transports on the surface of the Asteroids so that they don’t have to fight their way in system. If the Fleet is successful, then we move on the planet.”
    Dorg got on the com and talked with Terl about the movement of the asteroids and after a brief description of their plans, Terl agreed that their current forts would suffice until a later date. Dorg then contacted the Asteroid Command and asked when the new forts could be jumped into the Gamma sector. Colonel Taz got on the line and said they were slotted for Cainth. “Colonel, Terl has already approved their use here in the fight against the Plants. Admiral Kosiev is standing by to back the request; what we need to know is how long it will be before they are capable of jumping into the Gamma Galaxy.”
    “They have jump capability right now. With the seventy foot cells you could jump them directly to the planet you want to use them to protect. I, however, will have to confirm with the Cainth Clan leaders that this is their wish.” Kosiev and Dorg saw Colonel Taz look away from the display and listen to someone then look back and say, “Alrighty then, they’re yours, when do you want them delivered.”
    Kosiev said, “Before we move them from Earth, I need to make some contacts and get some ground forces and their transports on their surface. While I’m doing that, will you jump them close to the sun and get them fully charged then bring them back to Earth.”
    “Yes Admiral, I’ll issue the orders now. How many troops are you planning to take with you?”
    Eight divisions will make the trip; one for each asteroid. We are going to issue orders to have our stronger Allies provide the troops and our agricultural worlds to provide transports with enough provisions to support them for a year.”
    “Admiral, that could take a long time to organize.”
    “Perhaps, but don’t let your end of this be the part that slows us down. I suspect that some of our Allies will fall all over themselves for the chance to face a real enemy in combat. I suspect I am going to have to slow them down enough to make sure that that they come prepared.”
    General Richard Wiseman was in his office going over the delivery of his new Troop Armor and its specifications. His com beeped and he picked it up and saw Misty Nicole, Earth’s Director, on his display. “General, how long would it take for your division to be ready to fight for a prolonged tour of duty?”
    “How long will we be fighting, Madam Director?” he asked.
    “Maybe a year or longer,” she said.
    “We could be ready in twenty days with all the military munitions we would need. We might take longer to get the provisions to feed the division for that long.”
    “General, we will provide the provisions. You handle the military materials you need and organization of the men. When will you be ready to go fight?”
    “The first Naval Marine Division will be ready in twenty days.”
    “You will receive your orders from Admiral Mikado within six hours. Get your men back on base and get moving.”
    “Yes, ma’am, right away.”
    Richard jumped from his chair and yelled for his XO to get his grump in his office immediately and bring the staff with him. The ten staff members entered and Richard said, “It looks like we’re going back into the fray. Cancel all leaves, recall all our men, bring all of our armor and weapons platforms out of storage and into battle readiness. I want all of our officers down to company commanders in my briefing room six hours from now.”
    Col. Jeremy Watson was packing his gear and thinking about the call up. He had been promoted to battalion commander knew that this call up was not a drill; there was going to be fighting. A pretty dark skinned lady came in and wrapped her arms around him from behind and hugged him tight. He turned and took her in his arms and kissed her lightly. “Please don’t worry, Maria. I’ll be fine.”
    “How you can stand there and tell me that I’ll never understand; especially after my last husband was killed on Ross. However, I know who you are what you are and I know that you have to go or you wouldn’t be the man I love so much. Just do you utmost to come back to me. If I lose you I will thank the creator for our time together but I don’t want to lose you. Come back to me, Jer.”
    Jer looked her in the eyes and said, “I miss Al too but I know he’ll be there with me. I’ll come back to you or die trying.”
    Maria smiled and said, “That’s not funny. You know I’ll be waiting and I love you.”
    “I love you too, Maria.”
    Admiral Dorg had Tgon-Gee, Terl, and the Vgrig chancellor on his com screen. Tgon-Gee looked at him and said, “What are you up to, Admiral?”
    “We are going to take the Pydres planet back from the Plants and we need some drop troops to make it happen.” The Vgrig Chancellor actually grinned and even Tgon-Gee and Terl looked excited. “We are going to need a total of eight Divisions to make the initial drop with all of their fighting gear. They will be on the eight asteroid forts with a division stationed on each with their transports. They will drop on the planet and then the forts will turn on the screen. We will hopefully have Naval ships overhead to support your drop but I can’t say how many will survive the fleet action to be available. You will not be brought in until we defeat the fleet the Plants send in against us. I am asking you the members of our Realm that have the finest fighting tradition first to see if you want to participate. If you don’t I will go to other Allies.”
    “Thank Gexel our war god that you have found something for my warriors to do. They have not fought each other since we joined the SR but they are getting more and more anxious; they need an outlet. We could provide all eight divisions if you like,” the Vgrig Chancellor said.
    Terl and Tgon-Gee both shouted at the same time that they needed the campaign as an outlet for their warriors also.
    Dorg said, “Calm down, we may need to call in reinforcements if the ground battle goes poorly. The Vgrig will be allowed to contribute three divisions, the Cainth two, the Glod two and the Humans one.”
    “Who will have overall command of the campaign?” Terl asked.
    “The Human General Richard Wiseman who defeated two regiments on Ross with one small Battalion will be in overall command. The Human division will have the best technology and their Commander has been tested in battle. I need you to get your division commanders jumped to Earth to meet with him within three rotations. We have scheduled the mission twenty rotations from now. Are there any problems with the command selection?”
    The Vgrig Chancellor looked at Dorg and said, “I’ve seen recordings of the action on Ross. He is one that I can count on to stand firm in the worse conditions. I support your decision.”
    Terl said, “I also support your choice but I must make a decision you might not like, Admiral.”
    “What is that Clan Leader?”
    “I am going to give one of our divisions to your brother. After his defeat on Ross and the subsequent imprisonment by the humans, he has had great difficulty living with the shame of having murdered the Human Colonists. He must be given a chance to redeem himself. Fighting alongside these Humans may give him the release he so desperately needs.”
    Dorg looked at Terl and said, “It was I that ordered those murders. My brother was a victim of my stupidity. I thank you Clan Leader for the opportunity. I could never have made that decision but I know he and I will never forget your kindness. Friends, you have twenty rotations to get your troops ready for transport. We will provide all their provisions; you need only worry about their military needs. You will be facing more than two million Plant soldiers. Make sure your warriors are prepared adequately.”
    All three leaders looked at each other with the knowing expression that any warrior would recognize as the longing for the good fight against a worthy adversary. Then each of them went to notifying those that were lucky to be in the coming battle and explain to others why they weren’t going this time. It was going to be glorious.
    Mikado studied the Algean fleet around the planet. There were 20 thousand ships with some of them more than 20 miles long with hundreds of missile and beam projectors. The Ultras and Empires were being refitted with pulse penetrator ports and all of them were supposed to be ready in 6 rotations. It was the success of that particular weapons platform that would determine the success of his fleet. His ships were going to be too busy knocking those anti-matter missiles out to really fire their weapons accurately. The penetrators were shoot and forget weapons and Mikado made sure that every ship’s Captain knew that he could not stock too many. “Fill every available space with all you can hold. You can get your provisions from the Asteroids after the action but you won’t need the provisions if you run out of weapons. Needles and penetrators; don’t get caught without them.”
    Richard Wiseman stood in front of the auditorium facing the leaders of the troops that the SR was sending to take back the Pydres Planet. He thought long and hard about what to say and then turned on the video showing the plants attacking the Pydres settlements. The speed and viciousness of the Plants in their attack was incredible. They wore no armor but they had energy and projectile hand weapons. The floaters provided most of their heavy weapons fire. “What you see here is the enemy. They will not retreat, they will not back off, they will come at you in unimaginable numbers until they over run you. This is like nothing you have ever seen before and these creatures are incredibly strong. Picture a jungle vine capable of picking up a floater and you’ll get the picture of what they are capable of doing. They don’t use armor because if you shoot off an arm or leg, they grow a new one. We will have to totally burn all of the ones we hit. We are not going to wait for these nightmares to come to the southern continent to attack us. We are going to land close to their largest concentrations and dare them to take the ground from us. What I want all of you to know is that I and my Brother Marines will not leave you to die. As long as there is power in our armor, we will support you our brother warriors. We will not run and leave you defenseless. We know the importance of being able to trust your comrades to protect your back.”
    The leaders in that room listened to him and knew he meant what he was telling them. They sat straighter and looked at their fellow warriors and each of them vowed to do the same for each other. “We will drop our fort in on the Algeans largest concentration which is located in the center of the northern continent. We will surround it on four sides with two divisions per side. General Dorg’s Division and my Division will take the northern side. Two of the Vgrig will take the south. The remaining Cainth and Vgrig divisions will take the east and the Two Glod Divisions will take the west. We will immediately dig in upon landing and get ready for the assault. We will not have to go to them; they will come to us. We need to handle them quickly because once the word goes out over the Plant message center that a new food source has arrived; reinforcements in the hundreds of thousands will be rushing to join in the conflict. We will need to have completed our fortifications to hold off the coming horde. We think we will have support overhead but we are uncertain of how much. I will let my XO cover you on your individual assignments and I will speak with you again once we are on the ground. There are millions of warriors around the Stars Realm that would actually kill to be in your place right now. Let’s go show them how real Warriors fight and give them something to try and better.”
    The entire room stood up and cheered. Death stood among them and cheered with them and the warriors knew death waited for them on Pydres but they didn’t care. This is what they lived for, and this is what they were willing to die for. “This is a strong group,” Richard thought. “Let’s hope this new armor is all they say it is.”
    Mikado was sitting on his new Megaship Rising Sun with Colonel McAllister who was charged with weapon development. “Colonel, I’m concerned that our pulse penetrators may not get thru the Algeans screens. The first needle fired at their scout ship did not get thru thought the following two did. The Ultra’s primary beam did make it thru one of their medium cruisers screen but I’m concerned that the way our hornet’s guidance systems are programmed that to only target one ship if it is designated by the sensor may not be enough to stop them. If we don’t impact them quickly after the first strike then their screen may have time to recover. I think from looking at the recording of our last fight that their screens are more powerful than any we have ever encountered but lose efficiency immediately after a hit for a short period. I don’t want to waste weapons but I’m worried about what will happen if we barrage them with single penetrators and none get thru.”
    Colonel McAlister watched the display and said, “I see what you’re talking about. What if we set up dual protocols in the hornets software where we can change the system so that they will lock on any ship without a Coronado screen initially but if they don’t get thru we send a signal which will switch them to going after ships that have already been designated.”
    “Would you have many then strike a single ship?”
    “No, we will program them to lock on a ship if there are no penetrators locked on and then have the closest penetrator to see the single lock designate the same ship. If the penetrators sense that two sensor beams are locked on a ship, then they will ignore that ship. Until you send that signal, they will operate normally. I would suggest your initial salvo be limited so that you can see their effectiveness and then you may want to double your salvos very quickly to make sure you have enough to be effective. Our current magazines can fire a salvo every five seconds. If their screens can recover faster than that the ships that get hit with only one may not be destroyed and you’ll have to depend on your primary beams.”
    “Colonel, if we get close enough to use our primary beams, then we are going to lose ships to their anti-matter missiles.”
    “How far would you have to be to be able to escape the missiles?”
    Mikado thought and said, “At least 100 miles to be able to get up to speed to out run them.”
    Cade thought a moment and said, “Admiral, your primary beams are currently as wide as the ship is long. What if you focused all of that energy into a beam that was only 300 feet wide?”
    “What would be the benefit of that?”
    “The Megaships primary beam would have 95 % of its power 200 miles away. The Ultras would probably be good for about 110.”
    “Can we target a ship that far, Colonel?”
    “The beam is moving at the speed of light. The ships you’re firing at would be relatively standing still. We could modify the software and have the beams automatically lock on anything your sensors detect. It would be hard to determine what part of the ship you would hit at that range but you could fire each primary on the Megas every five seconds and you have six of them instead of just two.”
    “How long will it take to make these changes?”
    “All of these changes are basically software changes. If you get all the ships you’re going to use in the upcoming battle in one location, I could download the changes in less than twenty hours after I write the programming. The program can be completed in fourteen days.”
    “One more question, Colonel; could this same thing be done to the primaries on the asteroids?”
    Cade thought for about a minute and scribbled notes on a pad, “Yes it can.”
    “How far would the beam be effective?”
    “Well, if you make the ten mile wide beam six hundred feet wide it would have 95 % of its power at 4,000 miles. The seventy foot Asteroids would have a beam 1,500 feet wide at 30,000 miles. Remember that the 70 foot forts primaries are sixty miles wide out to 2,000 miles.”
    “Colonel, why haven’t we done this before?”
    “Admiral, our development processes were designed to protect a fleet in close fleet actions. We just haven’t focused on long distance engagements. Bigger and more powerful has been the watch word. The needle development has been the closest thing to a standoff weapon.”
    “Could a hornet package be contained in those focused primary beams?”
    “Not in time for your battle. The protective sheath around the hornets would not handle the high energy of the primaries. We’ll work on it but I doubt we’ll have an answer for that very soon.”
    “Has anyone mentioned adding pulse penetrators to the asteroids weapons mix?” Mikado asked.
    “As a matter of fact they have. All of the new seventy foot asteroids will have the magazines built right into the surface beside the needle ports and the forts will have more than twenty million penetrators in their stores.”
    “Our ships and asteroids will be gathering in the gamma galaxy in twenty days. I’ll give you the coordinates and you can meet us there to download your changes.”
    “I’ll need to get to work; I’ll see you there.

Chapter 8

    Kosiev contacted Tag and brought him up to date on what was being planned. Tag was at home with Danielle and the baby and he was concerned about the upcoming conflict. “Admiral, your fleet is going to be attacked by numbers that are almost unthinkable. Why do you want to start this conflict early?”
    “Mr. Gardner, this is going to be a war of attrition on a monumental scale. Once we take a stand and stake out a position, then you’re right, it is going to be a huge battle. Our thinking is that we would rather start this at a place where a planetary population is not at stake. If we’re pushed out, then we take another position away from the Dremel; the longer they stay hidden from the Plants, the better their chance of survival. It will also give us time to get the transports for their population to move.”
    “Wouldn’t it be better to wait until we have more Megaships in our arsenal?”
    Kosiev looked at Tag and then said, “What if the Megaships aren’t enough. What if they can’t handle the Plants weapons? We need to know before we continue to throw all our development into them. We have some new tools that we hope will keep them at arm’s length but it may be that smaller ships equipped with these weapons are the way to go. We need to find out.”
    Tag thought a minute and wished he had a bag of popcorn, “You’re right. We can always jump out and work on new weapons. Would it be a problem if I came to the party?”
    “Absolutely not, Admiral Mikado would appreciate the help.”
    “Admiral Mikado?”
    “He is the leader of this excursion. It is his plans that we are following. He is also the one that came up with the new long range weapons we’ll be deploying in the coming battle.”
    “I’ll take a pass then; I want him to be focused and not worried about my presence.”
    Kosiev looked at Tag with a degree of amazement on his face, “You never cease to amaze me at your insight. I have to agree with you. He would defer to you and he needs to be the one making the decisions.”
    “That doesn’t mean I won’t be watching,” Tag thought. “Keep me updated, Admiral.”
    “I will Mr. Gardner.”
    “Does that mean what I think it does?” Tag heard in his mind.
    “Atlas, you’ve been snooping.”
    “I always snoop so get used to it; am I right?”
    “Yes you are. Would you like to go check out the planet before our fleet arrives?”
    “I think that would be a good idea. When do you want to go?”
    “After the baby is asleep; I’ll go tell Danielle now.”
    Atlas and Tag were parked on the third moon of the Pydres Planet watching the ships that were harvesting the planet. “Atlas those are huge ships. They have to be 20 miles long or longer. They also look like they’re fully armed with beam and missile ports.”
    “They are and they’re actually 23 miles 856 feet long. There are about 3,000 of them in place around the planet; most of the others are used as transports to bring the spoils from the planet to them.”
    “How many plant warriors are there on the planet?”
    “More than 3 million.”
    “Atlas, do we have a chance against these creatures?”
    “I don’t know but if you don’t try then they will someday be knocking on your door. You don’t want to have to face multiple galaxies of them. My masters used a virus but it also killed all the life in the galaxy of the creatures and eventually led to their death. They could have defeated them conventionally with their ships but weren’t willing to put forth the effort and time necessary to do it.”
    “You sound somewhat bitter, Atlas. Aren’t you saying the same thing to me now? We have to be willing to make the effort.”
    “I guess I am. They would still be here if not for their laziness and I would not have been left alone those sixty five million years.”
    “Atlas, I’ve never said anything but your master looked very much in shape and form like Humans. Is that just a coincidence?”
    “No, my master knew he was dying and that so were all the other Alfont. He seeded your planet with DNA in some of the higher life forms. You and your people are his descendents and I hope you don’t make the same mistake. I believe that most of the intelligent life in your galaxy is a product of my masters DNA seeding.”
    Tag thought a moment and said, “Is that why all of our members are oxygen breathers?”
    “Probably, my masters were. If you had not asked me about what caused my master’s death, I would have probably not even thought about the Plants. I was just rusty from inactivity. Your new alliance has the opportunity to face these creatures and try to end their savagery. Those poor Pydres huddled on the southern continent don’t stand a chance.”
    “Atlas, what Pydres are you talking about.”
    “There are about one and a half million of them hiding since the plants invaded. They fled from the cities and went out into the wild lands. I thought you knew about them and that that was why you were coming here.”
    “No Atlas, we didn’t know there were any survivors. Will you connect me with Admiral Kosiev?” The display in front of him came on with Kosiev on it.
    “Mr. Gardner, can you please explain how you’re able to bypass my communications officer and go straight to my com. He’s understandably a little puzzled by how you do it.”
    “I’ll send him a sympathy card but in the mean time I have some information that we need to act on quickly.”
    Kosiev raised his eyebrows and said, “Does it relate to our upcoming plans?”
    “Yes it does. There are between one and two million Pydres survivors hiding on the southern continent attempting to avoid being eaten.”
    Kosiev looked at Tag with an intent gaze and then pushed a privacy screen around his com. “This has something to do with that ship that brought you to us after the remote fleet destruction doesn’t it?”
    Tag looked at his long time friend and was uncertain of what to say. “Yes it is Admiral.” Atlas said. “My name is Atlas and I am what you would call an Alfont ship. Tag is unwilling to reveal my existence to anyone because of the tumultuous effect it would have. I am by your standard intelligent but I am a construct. We are currently on the third moon looking down on the Pydres Planet and there is actually about one point three million Pydres’ hiding on the southern continent. A lot of them are not in great shape but they are surviving until the plants turn their attention to that land mass.”
    Kosiev sat there stunned and while he was digesting this revelation, Tag said, “Admiral, Atlas will not take part in the war between the SR and the Algeans. He believes that it would be a mistake to introduce his technology to a people not ready to handle it. I happen to agree with him. He would even allow us to be defeated before he intervened. He does allow me to travel with him occasionally and he has insights that have helped me.”
    “That’s how you communicate with your wife too,” Kosiev said. “I’ve wondered about that. Mr. Gardner and Atlas, I will not reveal you existence to anyone. I give you my word as an officer of the Stars Realm. What you have done is remove a tremendous amount of suspicion that has plagued me since I’ve seen the unexplainable things you’ve done. I also guess the force field and weapon you used on Ross are by products of this also. I don’t care for an explanation; I’m just glad you’re on our side Atlas and you too Mr. Gardner.”
    “Admiral, now that you know, I insist that you call me Tag. You have been not only my confederate but also my friend throughout this changing time. Take your titles and shove them; Call me Tag.”
    “It would seem funny if you called me Mr. Atlas, Admiral.”
    “Kosiev grinned and said, “Only on private communications. You can call me Alex.”
    Tag said, “I never knew your first name, Alex.”
    I actually never hear it. I’m unmarried and have no family except for my crew so I never hear my first name. It actually sounds strange to me.”
    “Alex, it’s a pleasure meeting you,” Atlas said.
    “Likewise, now what do you two think about your discovery.”
    Tag looked frustrated then said, “I really don’t know. In an ideal world we would just kick the groad out of the Plants then transport the remaining Pydres to Ross. However, I don’t think we could get the process started before the intense fighting began again with numbers that would overwhelm any unarmed transports.”
    “Could we use the Megas to lift them out?” Kosiev asked.
    “We don’t have enough to do it. Each one could only handle 1,000 Pydres if they took nothing with them. That would mean we would need 4,200 trips to move them all and what would prevent the Plants from following that many jump lines back to our galaxy. Unfortunately, we can’t wait. The plants have come close to completing their harvest of the northern continent and will be moving on the south quickly.”
    “Tag, ask Danielle how to do it,” Atlas said.
    “Danielle,” Tag thought.
    “Hi, Love.”
    “Pick up your com. It’s got a live call on it but Atlas didn’t want to beep it and wake the baby.”
    Danielle joined them on the display. “Danielle, we have a real problem on the Pydres planet.” Tag then explained what they had discovered.
    “So you don’t know how to get them out if we’re over whelmed; is that the issue.”
    Kosiev said, “I guess that cuts to the meat of the problem. Before we knew about them we would just withdraw if the Algeans were getting the better of us. Now if we do we leave those survivors to die.”
    Danielle thought for a moment then asked, “What would you do with the Asteroid forts if you withdraw?”
    Kosiev gave a start and said, “We would jump them out of the system back to our space.”
    Danielle then asked, “Well if you can jump those asteroids out of the system; can’t you land transports on their surface that would be under the forts screens for protection as they leave?”
    Tag and Kosiev looked at each other and finally Tag said, “Thank you, Darling; you have helped us a great deal.”
    “Don’t mention it, good night.”
    Kosiev shook his head and said, “She is amazing. Each fort would have to hold 150,000 to get them all off. Let me see; they are about sixty miles in diameter so they should be able to have that many. We will have to create an environmental screen to hold atmosphere but we should be able to do that under the forts screen. The main problem will be getting that many colonists to the forts from the surface.”
    “I think I have an answer for that,” Tag said.
    Atlas said, “Well let’s hear it.”
    “The Cainth have military transports that can carry 20,000 troops and all their hardware. They are huge and we can bring in eight of them when the marines land and park them on the southern continent. Each of them can hold 60,000 if there’s no military hardware. If things get dicey, then each of them will make two trips to one fort and the population is lifted. Matter of fact, the second lift will just remain on the transport so the environmental field won’t be necessary for them.”
    Kosiev said, “Why not just bring in sixteen and lift them in one lift. We might not have time if things go bad quickly. Also, once they jump into the gamma galaxy, the transports and the forts will all jump in different directions to throw off any attempt by the Plants to track their destination.”
    Tag said, “Make it happen, Alex. We need to move on this quickly.”
    The leaders of the Algeans stood in the rich golden soil on their home world. They had just learned about the strange ships that had appeared at one of the food bearing planets that they were harvesting and destroyed a number of their ships. The oldest leader said, “They actually only destroyed one of our ships. The rest were lost when they shot one of our power missiles and the chain reaction destroyed the other ships.”
    “We are also missing one of our explorers. They probably killed that one too,” another leader said.
    “How could they have destroyed the explorer before it could have sent a warning about their existence?” one of the younger leaders asked. “One of their ships also took a direct hit by one of the power missiles and survived it. It had also been outrunning it until it suddenly slowed just before impact.”
    The group was silent. Finally the Elder said, “I wonder if it deliberately allowed itself to be hit to see if it would survive. I almost believe that they were attempting to determine our weapon capabilities.”
    “What do we do about it?”
    “We change the way we fire our missiles. No power missile may be closer than 50 geds from each other. We will also launch them from a longer range so that even if they hit them our ships won’t be harmed. We also notify the fifth fleet to be prepared to jump at the first sign of these ships. We need to know who they are and where they are; it could be another valuable food source. Make sure we track their line of departure.” The group buried their feet deeper in the rich soil and absorbed the wonderful nutrients that only existed on their home world.

Chapter 9

    The SR fleet gathered in the gamma galaxy preparing for the coming offensive. Commodore Smith had 10,000 of the old Empire and Ultra ships. Admiral Mikado’s fleet of Megaships had grown to 500. They had just completed the software downloads and Colonel McAllister was running tests on the hornets to make sure they would go to the new protocols when a signal was sent to make the change. “Admiral, our tests have been confirmed and the hornets responded as programmed.”
    Mikado looked at the old dreadnaught that had been used as a target and there wasn’t much left to look at. “Commodore Smith, take one of the ultras out to 100 miles and use the new focused primary beam to hit that wreckage, please.”
    The Atlanta moved away from the fleet and took position then fired an intense beam at the derelict. The beam struck the wreckage and disintegrated half of the remains.”
    “Captain Kelly, move the London out to 300 miles and let’s see if we can hit what remains.”
    The Megaship moved out of formation and turned as it fired its new primary from 300 miles away. It only caught half of the remains but nothing was left of what it hit. McAllister said, “Admiral, I can only feel comfortable with targeting at 200 miles. Three hundred is stretching the envelope.”
    “Did we hit it?” Mikado asked.
    “Not a direct hit but yes you did.”
    “Then I won’t hesitate to use it from 300 miles. The ships we’ll be shooting at will be more that twenty miles long in some cases. It’s a much bigger target than what we just hit.”
    “You will only have 87 % of its energy at that range,” McAllister said.
    “Colonel, if a penetrator hits one of those ships and weakens its screen, would the primary penetrate at 87 % power,” Mikado asked?
    “If it’s a direct hit it wouldn’t need a penetrator to penetrate the screen. The focused primary beam is stronger at 300 miles than the normal primary beam would be at 80 miles.”
    “I couldn’t ask for more than that. We are going to initially use it against ships that are hit by only one penetrator as a follow up. I’ve set up our sensors on the Megas to highlight the ships that only have one designated hornet. Our targeting systems will automatically aim a primary at those ships and also change the color in all the other ships targeting to indicate that a Mega has locked on so that we don’t overlap. We will launch our penetrators from 300 miles out once the second Algean fleet moves that far inside the jump limit so we have time to out run the answering Algean missile salvos. We will jump 300 miles behind the Algean fleet that jumps in to support the planetary ships, launch our penetrators, follow up with the new primaries, fire another salvo of penetrators, and then jump in to our fleet at the planet just before the Algean missiles reach our position. I’m hoping the second Algean fleet actually fires two salvos at us before we jump.”
    McAllister said, “They shouldn’t know you can jump that far in system so they may even turn to move toward your first position which will delay their arrival to help the fleet they have at the planet.”
    “That is exactly what I’m counting on; I plan to move away from them when they launch their first missiles and run to ensure a second salvo. We’ll jump in once the second fleet turns toward us.” Mikado said.
    “Commodore Smith, form up your fleet and prepare to jump,” Mikado ordered. “Mega Captains, maintain formation and jump on my command and launch penetrators upon emergence into normal space. Commodore Smith you may jump when you’re ready. Notify me as soon as you learn whether or not one penetrator will get thru their screens.”
    The bright white Ultra and Empire ships were formed into three lines of 3,300 ships per line and were glowing waiting for their jump instructions. The crews of those ships were anxious about the upcoming battle but had faith in their commanders.
    “Will do, Admiral; prepare to jump on my command, Execute.” The 10,000 Stars Realm ships disappeared.
    And reappeared at the jump limit in the Pydres system, “Start moving in system at? speed and hold your formation,” Smith ordered. Eric smith thought back to the time he was just the helmsman on the destroyer Moscow and wondered at how quickly the world had changed. His promotions had been fast and he attributed it to the time he had spent watching Kosiev and Mikado fight their ship in the battles against the old Alliance. He had learned a lot and he was determined to not let them down even though he was heavily outgunned by the Plant fleet. “Target the heavies first and be prepared to run from their missile salvo. Launch our penetrators at 240 miles and follow them in to 200 to use the primaries. Needle operators, no hornets initially; use them to target the anti matter missiles. If you’re hit and your screen goes blue, increase speed and move behind the other ships in your line until you bleed off the excess energy.” The SR fleet moved in system and for an hour it looked like the Algean fleet at the Planet didn’t know they were there.
    “Lt. Barrett, have you detected that frequency the Plants use?”
    “Yes sir, it started as soon as we broke into normal space.”
    “Well, it shouldn’t take long now,” Smith said.
    Lt. Chen looked up from his display and said, “Sir, our sensors show some of the fleet moving away from the planet in our direction.”
    Smith looked at his display and said, “Time until contact?”
    “They are matching our speed so we will be in range in 7 hours.”
    “Maintain current speed. We don’t want them to know how fast we are capable until they fire their missiles.”
    There were 4,000 ultras in his command and they were at the point of his attack so they would have a clear field to use their new focused primaries. The Glod and Cainth dreadnaughts were on each side of the Ultras because their primaries were actually stronger than the Ultras. They were four times the size of an Ultra and had ten primary beams to the Ultras two so they should have a heavy impact on the initial contact. The old Empire ships were going to be used to target missiles and close in fighting. “I want the Ultras to fire one pulse penetrator each followed ten seconds later by a full salvo by all ships. Sensors I want to know if the initial penetrators make it thru the plant screens. If not, I want the signal sent to the full salvo five seconds before they reach the Plant fleet. Be sharp, Lt. Chin, have your finger on the signal and don’t hesitate if the first ones don’t get thru.” The full salvo of 300,000 penetrators would be halfway to the Plant fleet and only ten seconds from contact when the first three hundred impact. There would be less than a second to send the signal which at the speed of light would arrive in time if sent within that one second window so that the penetrators can change their targeting program. I also want each Ultra to follow the penetrator it fired and be prepared to fire its primary beam at the ship its penetrator hits. Chen, notify all the Ultras of the follow up.”
    Time dragged as the two huge fleets moved toward each other. “Sir,” Lt. Chen said, “only 12,000 ships are moving toward us; evidently 8,000 were on the planet and are now lifting off the surface. All the heavies are in the first group; the second group will arrive ninety minutes after we contact the first group.”
    “That’s good news,” Smith thought. “Our numbers are almost even. We will need to make quick work of the first group before the second group arrives. If that’s possible; those ships are huge; how many heavies, Chen?”
    “Three thousand, Sir.”
    “Those ships are more than 20 miles long,” Smith thought. “I hope our weapons can stop them; we should know shortly.”
    “Eight hundred miles from contact,” Chin reported. The two fleets slowed to avoid over running each other but the Plant fleet was getting closer visibly.
    “Prepare the initial 300 penetrators.” The bridge of the Atlanta went to battle status and all the lights dimmed to make the various displays more visible.
    “Sir,” Chen responded, “the ship that fired the initial hornet will track it in and have their primary targeted on it. The initial 300 will be fired from 300 Ultras along with 300 more Ultras targeting them with their Primary beams also. I thought it would be easier to assign targets that way to make sure. The primaries targeted on those initial hornets are also going to be triggered by the signal sent out to the hornets so there won’t be any delay. At the speed of light, the two beams should hit in less than a second from the penetrators impact on those first 300.”
    Smith looked at his sensor officer and thought, “If we make it thru this, you will command one of the new Megas. This is one sharp officer.” He then said, “Target all the salvos accordingly. Send the order out.”
    Chen turned back to his console and began issuing the orders. Smith noticed he never took his finger off the signal button. Then he heard Chin report, “One hundred fifty miles from initial launch.”
    Smith turned on his fleet com and said, “Launch at 240 miles, weapons clear.”
    At 240 miles the SR fleet launched 300 pulse penetrators. They arrived and impacted in less than fifteen seconds and Chen pushed the button. “Initial hornets did not penetrate the heavies, Sir. The smaller vessels shorter than 8,000 feet were hit and their screens were also not penetrated.”
    Smith heard his sensor officer in the background but was fixed on his display where 600 focused primary beams hit 300 of the Plants ships with a beam 100 feet wide. All three hundred Plant Ships were immediately damaged. Half of the hit ships exploded into huge explosions taking out another ship. Of the ninety heavy ships hit only forty of them had massive explosions that stopped them. The others continued to move forward. Then the massive salvo of penetrators arrived at the Plant fleet and began hitting them two at a time. The exploding ships were too numerous to count. Fifty of the heavies were so severely damaged that they fell out of formation leaking atmosphere.
    “Lt. Barrett, notify Admiral Mikado that penetrators will not pierce the screen of their ships on the first impact,” Commodore Smith ordered.
    The Algean fleet scattered trying to avoid the penetrators. They fired their beams and killed a huge number of them before they could impact but every ship had more than two hundred moving on it. The Algeans then launched their missiles at the SR fleet. Each of the heavies fired 2,000 each with all the others firing 500 or more.
    “Launch second volley of penetrators and move to flank speed,” Smith ordered.
    The SR fleet seemed to instantly accelerate away from the Algean fleet and the 600,000 missiles coming at them. To the Algean fleet, the speed at which the enemy turned and fled was incredible. No ship they had ever encountered could move that fast. Then the second wave of penetrators arrived and the Plants had no time to worry about the fleeing ships.
    “Attention all ships,” Smith said on the fleet com. “I’m going to attempt a trick I’ve once seen in action. All ships maintain enough speed to stay ahead of the Plant missiles but follow my ship and stay in formation.”
    “Sir,” Chen said, “a plant fleet has just appeared at the jump limit and is moving in system. There are more than 100,000 ships.”
    “We’ll worry about them later, Lieutenant.”
    “Ensign Mason, I want you to make a turn away from the Plant ships we just fired on and head toward the 8,000 ships in the second group coming from the planet.” The entire bridge crew looked at Smith like he was a lunatic. The SR fleet made a big turn outrunning the missiles that were cutting the corner of the turn to shorten the distance. Once the turn had been made the SR fleet was only fifty miles ahead of the mass of Plant missiles. “Ensign, I want you to slow so that the missiles are only two miles behind us and maintain that distance.”
    The helmsman complied and the rest of the SR fleet maintaining formation on the Atlanta thought their commander had lost his mind. Those missiles were close and twenty five% of them were anti-matter. They were charging in on the 8,000 plant ships from the planet at an unbelievably high speed.
    Smith turned on the Fleet com and said, “We are going to fly straight into the second Plant fleet and run their missiles into their formations. We will fire two volleys of penetrators as we approach their fleet and follow them in and then turn as we approach their ranks and go over the top and bottom of their formation. Some of us will be hit as we pass but I believe that our losses will be less than if we let these two fleets combine against us. Put all your power into your screen and be prepared to make the turn. All of the Plant Heavy ships are in the first group so we should have to endure less of a hit than the first group would give us but it will still be massive. Change the formation to two lines so that the Ultras are on the bottom and all other ships are in the line above them. We will split when we are two seconds from the enemy and go over and below them. Once clear of them rejoin on my ship and turn for a pass at the survivors.”
    The second group of ships coming from the planet saw the strange ships run from the first group and turn their way. Their excitement rose; here was a chance to hit the enemy. Then they saw the unbelievable speed of the approaching ships and knew that they would be on them is less than forty five seconds and then they saw thousands of bright lights leave the strange ships and come even faster toward them. “Fire missiles and beams, the Plant Fleet Leader ordered but by the time the ships fired the strange ships were on them and going above and below their formations. Their thousands of beams killed more than 400 of the strange ships but then they were past and more than 600,000 penetrators hit them followed by 600,000 missiles fired by the first Plant fleet. Those missiles were programmed to avoid Plant ships but there were too many of them and they couldn’t turn fast enough to avoid their ranks. Once the anti-matter missiles started hitting the Plant ships, the destruction was total. More than a million missiles and penetrators hit those 8,000 Plant ships. As the SR ships turned and came back around to attack the survivors, there was nothing left to attack. As the SR fleet split and went over and under the Plant formations, the Plant missiles lost the ships they were locked on because they could not turn as fast so their sensors locked on one of the penetrators and chased it into the Plant fleet. Most of the Plant ships were hit more than 60 times. Nothing remained, not even dust, especially when the anti-matter missiles they carried on board went off.
    “How many ships did we lose?” Smith asked Chen.
    “We lost 467, sir.” Smith hung his head a moment and then said, “All ships, move back into formation and prepare to attack the first group.”
    The rest of his ships moved quickly and efficiently into formation and the members of the fleet felt a huge confidence in their commander. They had lost more than 400 ships but if a fleet action had been necessary, they all knew that the number would have been tremendously higher. “Attention all ships. We will move in on the first group at flank speed. We will fire two volleys of penetrators and follow them in 200 miles behind them. I want a minimum of ten ships to target their focused primary on every Heavy Battle Ship the Plants have remaining. Weapons, arrange the spacing between each primary to 600 feet. You have 2 minutes to set up your firing solutions. The penetrators will be impacting just as we fire the primaries. Once we fire, all ships turn 90 degrees and fly straight up from their fleet. I’m sure we will have more missiles to dodge.”
    Chin programmed the instructions into the weapons console and downloaded them to all of the ships. The computer then assigned the ships to each of the remaining Plant heavies that sensors had targeted and the weapon officers on each ship sighted in on their assigned section of the Heavy’s hull. The distance was decreasing rapidly. “Approaching launch point for the penetrators, Sir.”
    “Weapons free, fire penetrators at three hundred miles.”
    The salvo of 300,000 penetrators was fired and moved quickly ahead of the fleet. As the fleet reached 200 miles the penetrators began hitting the Plant fleet and every ship fired their primaries at the Heavies. The Plant fleet fired more than 100,000 high energy beams into the SR ranks and those ships unlucky enough to be hit by 100 or more had their screens overload and blow up. The remaining ships turned and rocketed away above the mayhem taking place among the Plant ships. Of the 5,000 heavy ships still in operation before the attack, only two remained able to steer and navigate and they had ten 100 foot wide holes blown completely thru them. The remaining huge ships had the misfortune to have their anti-matter magazines hit and there was nothing left in a forty mile radius around it. Since most of the heavies had support ships to protect them, most of them were destroyed in the resulting blasts. Of the twelve thousand ships that initially attacked the SR fleet, only 2,800 remained that could fight and more than half of them were damaged to some degree. They still would not retreat and turned to chase their attackers.
    “Helmsman, come about and make for the remaining Algean ships.” Seven hundred and twenty nine more ships were lost in the second attack against the Heavies but of the original 10,000 that began the attack, 8,804 still remained. They made very short work of the remaining survivors and they then turned to face the massive fleet moving into the system to face them.
    The Algeans had lost more than 20,000 ships including all of the heavies that had been collecting the harvesting of the food source for the Algean Empire. The loss of those ships was going to be felt and the incoming fleet was bent on making the intruders pay.
    The Algean Fleet Leader that had jumped into the system had been watching the conflict between the ships from the planet and the strange ships as his fleet formed up and began moving in system. “Those strangers are more than twice as fast as my best ship. If we can get close, we can destroy them. The only ships they lost were when they came into range of our beam weapons. Firing missiles at them is an exercise in futility. They can out run them. How am I going to trap them?” He thought as his huge fleet continued to move in toward the strange ships.
    Suddenly, the Detection Leader said, “Strange ships coming out of Star Drive behind us.”
    The Fleet Leader looked at his display and there were more of the strange ships and these dwarfed the ships that had come in earlier but there were fewer of them. At that point things went bad very, very fast.

Chapter 10

    Admiral Mikado looked at his display and was amazed at the size of the Algean Fleet he was facing. He had faced twenty thousand ships before in battle but the biggest ships were dreadnaughts that were only 3,600 feet long. The Plant heavy ships were more than 100,000 feet long at 23 miles in length and there were more than 40,000 of them in the ships facing him; his ships at 5,180 feet long looked tiny in comparison. He had to decide now about what direction he was going to take. One part of him said to do as much damage as possible then run; but then the remaining 2 million Pydres would be facing a death sentence once the Plants continued the harvesting of their planet. He turned to Captain Kelly and said, “Get Kosiev and Dorg on a channel right now.”
    Kelly turned to his communications officer Cheryl O’Sullivan and said, “Make the contact, Lieutenant.”
    He waited for a minute then his display came on. He saw the two Admirals looking at him and he said, “I’m sending you a feed of the Plant fleet sent to rescue the ships at the Pydres Planet.” On his display he saw both of them look away and he could see their amazement at the feed they were receiving. “Before I continue this operation, I want to make sure that this is what you think we should do.”
    Kosiev said, “You’re the commander on the scene; what are your thoughts.”
    Mikado looked at the feed and then said, “If we back off now we will be running from now on. I recommend that we jump the forts and transports in to the Planet and start the ground action against the Plants. We may have to leave the system if our fleet can’t defeat this large an enemy but I am going to trust that even this fleet won’t be able to defeat the forts. The new weapons should keep them at long range. I would rather fight them here and now than at the Dremels planet where there are billions of lives at risk there.”
    “Do you think the forts and Marines can hold out over an extended conflict?” Dorg asked worrying about his brother leading one of the divisions.
    “I took the liberty of using the Cainth transports you sent to load them with munitions and structures for the troops to erect to fight the Plants. Those transports are huge and the troops and the fort should have enough to last 6 months. If we have to retreat, I will park the Empire class ships under the forts shield to support the drop troops and then the Ultras and my Megas will just jump out of the system.”
    Kosiev thought about what Atlas said about his former masters not having the will to fight when it was necessary and it cost them everything. “Admiral, begin your operation. If it’s to be a war of attrition then we will begin there. What can we do to help?”
    “Start getting relief divisions for the troops prepared and develop some transports that have in system jump capability. Normal transports would never be able to fight their way thru this fleet to the planet.”
    “We’ll get on it immediately; good luck and good hunting, Admiral.”
    Mikado watched his screen go blank and then said, “Status of the Algean fleet?”
    “They were moving in system now half of them are turning back toward us and half are continuing toward Commodore Smiths ship,” Lt. Patel answered.
    “Have the Plants launched any missiles at us?”
    ‘Lt. Colson said, “No sir, they have not.
    “Let’s see if we can turn them all around toward us.” The Algean fleet had moved 200,000 miles inside the jump limit when the Megas jumped in. He picked up his fleet com and said, “All ships form a line with two mile spacing and move in toward the Algeans at 1/3 speed. I want five salvos of penetrators fired when we are 500 miles from the enemy and we will follow it up with our primaries on those ships only designated by one penetrator at 300 miles so make sure your sensor officers mark on their consoles those ships that only get hit by one. We will then back away from the Plants and fire five more salvos with primary follow up. We will continue to do this as long as they continue toward us. Captains, maintain the 300 mile separation from them.”
    The SR fleet closed the gap quickly and at 500 miles from the Algeans each ship fired five salvos of 800 penetrators each then moved in to 300 miles and stopped. These penetrators carried 300 of the new hornets. Where it took 200 of the old hornets to destroy a dreadnaught, the new ones would have done it with six. These new devices had a devastating sting.
    The Penetrators spread out and began designating the ships in the front ranks of the Algean fleet. Thousands of beams reached out to stop the incoming salvos but the penetrators were programmed to fly an erratic path to its target. Thousands were destroyed but the majority made it thru the Plant’s defenses. Five hundred brilliant beams stabbed out from the Megaships into the Plant formations targeting the ships that had only one penetrator locked on. Two seconds later, five hundred more beams fired and continued until the first hornets had all hit or died.
    Twelve thousand Algean ships died and five thousand more had been damaged. “Fire Second volley,” Mikado ordered. “Begin backing away from the incoming ships, maintain 300 mile distance.” Five more volleys of 400,000 penetrators headed toward the massed ranks of the Algean fleet.
    “Colson, damage status done by the hornets,” Captain Kelly asked almost as if he was reading Mikado’s mind.
    “No single penetrator makes it thru the Heavy Ships or their Medium Battleship’s screens. If two hit within five seconds of each other, then the second does penetrate releasing the hornets. The resulting damage appears to severely damage the heavies but doesn’t knock them completely out of action. It does appear that if one of the hornets hits an anti-matter missile port then the entire ship is destroyed. On the lighter classes, if one can call a seven mile long ship a lighter class, then it only takes one penetrator to breach the screen; having two designate it is overkill. The 600 hornets totally destroy their lighter ships. Following up the penetrator with the new primaries is only partly successful. The penetrator weakens the screen on the heavies and the 500 foot wide primary goes completely thru the ship but 500 feet on a hundred thousand foot long ship won’t take it out of action unless you’re lucky enough to hit an anti-matter magazine. It will slow the heavy down but not take it out of operation.”
    Mikado watched as the penetrators approached the enemy ships and said quickly over the fleet com, “Target five Megas for each heavy designated by only one penetrator; make it happen now. I want to kill a hundred with every volley.”
    Lt. Colson started entering the new instructions into his console but there was no way he could down load them to the fleets computers in time before the penetrators struck. It wasn’t organized; some of the heavies had 200 Megas target them and some only had two but the results could be immediately seen. More than 100 of the Algean Heavy ships were destroyed out right or dead having lost the ability to move. Another 15, 000 Algean ships died.
    Commodore Smith watched the approaching 50,000 ships and began issuing orders, “When those ships are 300 miles out, fire a full salvo of penetrators and prepare to follow them in to 200 miles.”
    Suddenly, the tide of ships began turning and moving out toward the battle that the Megas were raging just inside the jump limit.
    “Attention all ships, assume line formation and form up on my ship. We will attack the Algeans as they move toward the Megas. All Empire class ships will leave formation as soon as the forts jump in and assume formation under them as the drop troops begin landing operations. Plan to intercept any missiles fired at the forts from the planet’s surface.”
    As Mikado continued to back away from the Algean fleet they suddenly turned and moved away from his ships. Colson said, “The ships headed toward the planet have reversed course and are moving out toward our location. The other ships are moving to join them.”
    “Stop all engines and hold position,” Mikado ordered. “Captain Kelly, they haven’t fired any missiles at us. Why do you think that is?”
    “Commodore Smith scared them. He used their missiles to destroy that follow up fleet. They’ve observed twice that we can outrun any missile they fire at us. I think they’re not going to give us a stick to beat them with.”
    Mikado thought about it and said, “You’re probably right. I wanted to keep this at long range but they probably are not going to cooperate. Ms. O’ Sullivan, contact Commodore Smith and tell him to hold off attacking until the two fleets have joined up and to wait for further instructions.”
    Captain Kelley said, “What do you have in mind?”
    “We have knocked out one quarter of their fleet and have not lost a ship. I think they plan to spread out and attack us on a front too wide for us to stop them.”
    “We could always run,” Kelly said.
    “I think that’s what they hope we’ll do so that they can come up with better tactics against our superior speed. However, there is one more thing they can do.” Kelly raised his eyebrows and Mikado said, “We are still 150,000 miles inside the jump limit and they look like they want to draw us further in; that’s why the withdrawal. They will spread their fleet out around our 500 Megas, move forward, and then jump another fleet in to trap us between the two of them inside the jump limit and then fire their missiles when we are surrounded on all sides so we have nowhere to run.”
    “Do you think they can get another fleet together that quickly?”
    “Do you think they had those 100,000 ships just waiting for us to show up?”
    Kelly shrugged and said, “You make a good point. What are you going to do?”
    “Exactly what they want me to do; order the fleet in system pacing the Plant fleet at 300 miles. I want single volleys fired as we advance. Our software will now apportion our Megas out to the Heavies hit by one penetrator but I suspect that the heavies will be moved behind the other ships as they move in to join with the other Algean fleet.”
    Colson looked up from his console and said, “That’s exactly what they’re doing and it also looks like they’re trying to coordinate the firing of their energy beams so that there is a solid wall between them and our penetrators.”
    “How successful are they at that?” Mikado asked.
    “They are knocking more than 60 % down than before but once they start maneuvering to dodge the incoming penetrators then their coordination fails miserably.” Colson looked up again from his display and said, “How many do you think they will jump in to trap us, Sir.”
    Mikado got a faraway look on his face and said, “I’m scared to even think about it but as soon as those two fleets join up in front of us I’m going to jump the forts in to the planet, have Smiths group fire two salvos of penetrators from behind them and then have the Ultras jump to our position and fire two salvos of penetrators while the Megas fire five salvos into the fleet facing us. We will all then jump in next to a Heavy and hit it up close with our main primary beams. Colson, have three jumps locked into each ship’s guidance so that they can multiple jump within that fleet next to three heavy battleships. I only want two seconds of time between each jump. After the third jump, have all ships jump to a location directly above their formations and fire all of our remaining penetrators. We will then jump to the planet and stay as long as possible to make sure the forts are up and running. Then we will jump out and go home to replenish our stores. Mr. Colson, will you send the orders to Commodore Smith along with the down loads for their selected targets.”
    After receiving his orders, Chen looked up again and said to Smith, ‘Why can’t you launch a full volley of penetrators at each jump inside their fleet to increase the odds of more getting thru; plus, if they use their beams to hit the penetrators they will probably hit their own ships.”
    Commodore Smith commed Mikado and offered Chens suggestion. Kelly and Mikado looked at the sensor officer relaying the message and then at each other. Mikado lifted his personal com and said, “Effective immediately, Lieutenant,” Mikado paused his recording and said, “Mr. Smith, what is Chen’s full name?”
    “Tony Olivo Chen, sir.”
    Mikado continued his recording, “Tony Olivo Chen is promoted to the rank of Captain and will be assigned a Megaship to command upon return to fleet headquarters.” Mikado stopped the recording and said, “Mr. Chen, this is a battlefield promotion that cannot be revoked. You will continue in your present position until the conclusion of this campaign and then await the assignment of your ship. Please issue the orders with your suggestions included.”
    Chen rose to attention, saluted Commodore Smith who was smiling and said, “Thank you, sir.” The entire bridge crew cheered and Smith could see that Chen’s crew members respected the promotion. “Good,” he thought, “that supports my views of him. He’ll move fast in this navy.”
    The SR fleet continued to follow the Algean fleet further in system firing penetrators and primaries as they advanced. The Algeans had lost 43,000 ships in the rescue fleet and another 20,000 that were originally in the system. The destruction was far from over.
    The Algean Fleet Leader watched as his fleet was being mauled by the smaller ships but the plan was working. The Leaders will have to look at how we handle these strange ships in future conflicts. It was clear that they were more technologically advanced. The Fleet had depended on its size for too long and now it was paying the price of not continuing advances in weapon development. Those energy missiles the strangers were using were killing his fleet. We should have them in the position we want shortly,” It thought. “It won’t be long now.”
    Colson looked up from his display and Mikado saw a look on his face that told him more than words. “Sir, another Algean fleet has just jumped in to the system and is moving our way.”
    Mikado kept his voice steady and said, “How many ships Mr. Colson?”
    “Five hundred thousand, Sir and more are still arriving.”
    “How many of them are heavy battleships?”
    “Three hundred thousand, Sir.”
    “Mr. Colson, notify the forts to jump in to the planet, have Commodore Smith execute his orders and be prepared for his Ultras to arrive at our location”
    Smith received his orders and raised his fleet com, “All ships, we will accelerate to flank speed and launch two salvos of penetrators into the Algean fleet. The Ultras will then jump to the Megas position and launch two more salvos. The Rising Sun will then press the signal that will jump all our ships simultaneously into the Algean fleet. You have two seconds between jumps to fire a salvo of penetrators and hit a heavy with you main primary beams. When we rejoin we will launch our remaining penetrators into the Algean fleet from above. The Empire Class ships will return to the planet after the first two salvos. On my command, execute!”
    The eight thousand ships in Smith’s fleet accelerated at full speed and closed on the Algean fleet so fast that the Plants didn’t have time to return fire before the 3800 Ultra’s disappeared from their sensors and the Empires turned and fled toward the planet. The Plants sensors did record the eight huge constructs that suddenly appeared surrounding the planet. They even made their heavy battleships look small. Then they were fighting to avoid the three million plus penetrators coming at them from the rear.”
    The Algean Fleet leader watched his display and suddenly stood up and yelled at his bridge crew, “Where did those ships go?”
    His sensor leader said, “Leader, they jumped to the position of their big ships and all of them are launching those energy missiles at us.”
    “That’s not possible. They are inside the band that prevents jumping.”
    ‘Look for yourself, Leader.”
    The Fleet Leader looked at his display and he saw the 500 big ships had been joined by 4,000 ships from the first stranger’s fleet. He could see on his display the three million missiles coming at his ships from the rear and an additional six million from the front. Then suddenly all the strange ships in front of his fleet disappeared. That’s when he saw hundreds of his heavy ships exploding in his fleet and suddenly saw one of the strange ships alongside his flagship. The last thought the Fleet Leader had was, “We had them where they wanted us.”
    The SR fleet came back together above the Algean fleet and emptied their magazines of penetrators. Another 800 ships had been lost moving thru the Plant fleet with 165 of them being Megaships. They learned that some of the Plant ships were programmed to fire an anti-matter missile if a ship other than an Algean got close. In the Megaships that were lost, they had the misfortune to be hit by an Anti-matter missile on their first jump which moved their screens into the red and a subsequent hit destroyed them. Ships that were hit later survived the hit. The SR fleet looked down on the Algean fleet and saw it being destroyed. Everywhere Plant ships were turning to avoid the penetrators and collisions between ships were numerous. “Execute jump to the planet,” Mikado ordered. Of the 128,000 ships sent against the SR fleet, only three small ships emerged and two of them were damaged. The Stars Realm fleet lost almost 2,000 ships.
    The Algean Half Fleet Leader that had just arrived with his fleet of half a million ships watched on his display as the strange ships demolished the ships that had called him for support. It had been thousands of eight seasons since the Common had to call in more than the tenth fleet that had just been destroyed. His half fleet was involved in harvesting efforts on the other side of the galaxy when the request was received. The Home Leaders made the request so he had moved his fleet immediately; now he saw why. Those strange ships were capable of making null moves inside the limiting band that restricted their own null moves. He was of the opinion that it was impossible to make those moves that close to a star but now he had seen it done and knew his scientists were in error. This was going to call for an examination of their decisions and processes. His fleet had spread out at the limiting band and waited for the strange ships to try and run for safety when the fifth fleet attacked. Obviously, it should have been the fifth fleet running for safety. Of course that would never happen because the Common never ran from conflicts. The Fleet Leader had it cross his mind that sometimes it might be better if they would run but then he dismissed it from his mind. He sent his captured views of the destruction of the fifth fleet and what he could see of the huge constructs now circling the food source planet. The ships that had destroyed the fifth fleet were also at the planet apparently waiting for them to come to them. He held his fleet at the limiting band and awaited instructions from the Home Leaders. He wondered how he was going to attack ships that were faster and could go into null inside the limiting band.
    The Home Leaders were studying the views of the fleet battle between the strangers and their tenth fleet. They had already seen the harvester’s fleet destruction and that was why they had sent the half fleet to trap the strangers before they could get back to the limiting band. Now they knew; the effort to trap the strangers was wasted effort; they could escape anytime they chose. The leaders dug their feet deeper in the soil and thought about the current situation. “What do we do now,” one of the younger leaders inquired?
    No one else spoke and it remained that way for several moments. The Elder Leader said, “We cannot trap those ships but we can do something about what they are trying to do at the planet. I recommend we send the half fleet in to remove the strangers and continue our removal of the food source.” The other Leaders shifted from leg to leg and finally one of them said, “We need new technology if we’re to prevail against those ships.”
    The Elder Leader said, “Go waken the scientists in their grove and show them these views. Instruct them to develop new methods to defeat these ships. Also send in the half fleet to remove them from the system.”
    The Younger Leader inquired, “What do we do if the half fleet is destroyed?”
    “Then we send in a total fleet. If necessary we will destroy the planet with our most powerful missile. We will not allow these strangers to intrude on the Commons space. Set up our tracking ships to determine the line those ships leave on and ready a ship to follow them on that line.”
    A Plant Elder swayed and said, “We have to be close to where they jump out to read the coordinates. We cannot get to the planet, read the coordinates and jump from that point because we can’t jump inside the null limit.”
    The Eldest thought and said, “You’re right. We have to be prepared to go to one of their jump points outside the limit to get a direction on their escape.”
    The half fleet leader looked at his board and saw the instructions that had just arrived. “Attention all elements, spread out and move in toward the planet; I don’t want a concentration of ships for them to mass launch against. Leave enough room between ships to use your energy weapons to defeat those stranger’s missiles. Once in system we will surround the planet and destroy those constructs.” The huge fleet began their movement toward the planet that was 20 hours away.
    “Sir,” Colson said, “the Algean fleet is moving in system. They should be here within twenty hours. They are spreading out with twenty miles between ships.”
    Mikado looked at his display and said, “They learned not to mass together. It won’t be as easy next time.” He looked at the landing operations and commed General Wiseman, “General, we are going to jump out of system shortly. We are going to leave the Empires under the forts screen for support. Is there anything else we can do?”
    Richard Wiseman looked at Mikado and said, “Admiral, just get back with relief as soon as you can. There are several million Plant Warriors dirt side and they won’t be happy that we crashed their party. I thank you for the ground fort and screens; they should make a big difference in holding the plants off us.”
    “Are you thinking that they will come to you or will you have to go to them?”
    “Admiral, all their food was destroyed with their fleet. This continent is basically stripped bare and we’re the only food available. Oh they’ll come or they’ll starve.”
    Mikado knew the Marine General was right. “General, I shall return as quickly as possible; you hold out until I do.”
    “Yes sir. That is my intention.”
    Mikado broke connection and asked Colson, “Are all ships ready to jump?”
    “Yes Sir, they are, however, I’ve noticed something interesting.”
    Mikado raised his eyebrows and asked, “What is that, Mr. Colson?”
    “The fleet moving into our system has left 1000 ships evenly spaced around the system at the jump limit.”
    Mikado thought for a moment and then said, “What do you think is their purpose?”
    Logan looked at his display and then said, “I believe that they are there to get a line on the direction we jump out of the system and then those ships are to try and follow us to determine our origin.”
    “Do we still have that old program that makes multiple jumps thru different galaxies?”
    “Yes Sir, we do. I can download it to all our ships and reduce the time between the jumps to one second. Matter of fact if you’ll give me an hour I can modify it so that every one of our ships jumps out in a different direction and none of them toward our home.”
    “Make it happen, Mr. Colson.”
    One hour later the 4,238 SR ships jumped from the system in four thousand different directions. The 1000 ships set up to track the line of departure were overwhelmed with the data and failed to follow any of them. By the time they picked one at random and followed it; the trace in the other Galaxy had faded.
    The Home Leaders were once again dismayed by the tactics of the strangers. “Next time we will have as many tracking ships as they have ships. Next time we won’t miss.”

Chapter 11

    Tag sat in Danielle’s office holding their daughter. He felt a warm glow and he knew it was coming from her. He knew he would never tire of looking at Rose and the same could be said for staring at Danielle. Danielle finished talking with Leila about her schedule and came over and sat beside him. “She’s got your eyes Tag Master. They’re so green that they look like they’re on fire.”
    Tag smiled and said “It looks that way but she’s has your beauty. Just look at her smile and that beautiful blond hair.” Rose stood in his lap and bounced up and down on her legs smiling at her father.
    Danielle just smiled and leaned against Tag’s shoulder and sighed, “She also looks like she’s going to be taller than I am.”
    “Danielle, I need to discuss what you suggested to me just before Rose was born,” Tag said.
    Danielle straightened up and looked into Tag’s eyes and said, “It has you bothered doesn’t it?”
    “Yes it does but not for the reason you think?” Danielle arched her eyebrows and Tag said, “You might be right in what you believe but I think there is more than you see.”
    “Such as.”
    “What you suggest about our DNA leading us to each other makes sense even if it is hard to fathom but there are issues that trouble me. If our DNA was leading us together because we are the perfect match psychically, then what about before?”
    ‘What do you mean before?”
    “I was going to end up with Leila. I had known that since the second level. I stole her test booklet because of that love. Everything changed to you after that theft took place.” Danielle started to respond but Tag held up his hand and said, “I know what your response is going to be but Danielle, I was firmly fixed on her, so much so that finding you was a tremendous change for me. I just want you to consider another theory.”
    “Ok, shoot. I’ll keep an open mind.”
    “I fell for Leila one night in the second level when I could see her in my mind looking at my picture in our school annual. I just assumed that it was part of my psychic gift that I could see her because she was thinking about me. She was more than two miles away from me at that moment. I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and quite frankly, I’ve not seen anyone else that far away thinking about me.”
    Danielle furrowed her brow and said, “Maybe those circumstances haven’t happened again.”
    “Danielle, think about it. I’ve been out in my front yard hundreds of times and my mother was inside with my pictures scattered all around the house. Do you believe that she never once looked at my picture and thought about me? I only got a reading when she actually looked where I was. That’s the way my talent has always worked; I know when someone is looking at me.”
    “So what are you saying, Tag?”
    “With the information you have, your answer is the only solution to explain all the coincidences that brought us together. Let me give you something else to think about. Did the Special Forces Group tell you when they first sensed my psychic gift?”
    Danielle thought hard and tried to remember, “They asked us to find you two years after you went missing. They said they had seen your aura and how your psychic powers were strong. I think I assumed that is when they saw you.”
    “What if it wasn’t?”
    Danielle sat and played with that thought and after a minute her face suddenly showed understanding about where he was going. “Do you really think they did that?”
    “Which makes more sense?”
    Danielle pressed a button on her bracelet and Leila came in, “Leila would you please request Sung Lea to com me at her earliest possible convenience for a private call.”
    Leila went out and Tag and Danielle looked at Rose and made funny faces at her. It’s time to give her a bottle, would you like to do the honors?”
    “Absolutely, hand it here.”
    Tag fed Rose and by the time the baby had finished half of the bottle Leila announced that Sung Lea was on a channel. Danielle’s wall display came on and not only was Sung Lea on the display but the other five members of their team. “Good day Sung Lea, you didn’t need to have everyone present.”
    “I believe I did; hello Mr. Gardner.”
    “Hello Sung Lea, I guess you know why we called.”
    “I have seen a number of possibilities. Maybe you should tell me why you called.”
    Tag looked at the display and said, “I understand that it was one of your members that sensed my psychic skills which led to you asking the Enforcement Committee to find me.”
    Sung Lea simply nodded.
    “When did you discover my psychic skills?”
    Sung Lea looked at Danielle and knew she would know immediately if she did not tell the truth. “Why do you ask, Mr. Gardner?”
    “Just answer the question, please,” Tag said.
    “You were two days old,” Sung Lea said.
    Even Tag was shocked; neither he nor Danielle could speak. The Special Forces Team just sat by and waited for them to gather their wits. Finally Tag said, “It was one of you that allowed me to see Leila looking at my picture in second level.”
    One of the SFT members raised their hand and nodded.
    “So you had decided that she was the best possible mate for me even at that age.”
    Sung Lea said, “She is a remarkably talented and smart woman.”
    “Did you also arrange for her parents to have that fight which led to me taking her test booklet?”
    Another member said, “We felt that once she found out what you did for her that it would start the relationship between you.”
    “Then the attack on me going home was a surprise to you.”
    “I never saw it in any of my visions. It was one of those events that exist outside of predictability,” Sung Lea said. “After it happened, we worked to maintain damage control so that you would not be caught.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “Up until that moment, you had planned for Leila and me to eventually marry. However, once you saw Danielle and her psychic aura, you changed your plans.”
    “We never would have seen her unless that attack had happened. Once one of us saw her, we knew she was the one.”
    Danielle looked up sharply and said, “What do you mean “the one?””
    “You were the compliment of Mr. Gardner’s psychic gifts. The two of you would produce a child with psychic skills so far ahead of us that we would effectively become obsolete.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at Rose and then at each other. Then Danielle said, “Did you manipulate Tag into a relationship with me?”
    “We didn’t have to; once you shook his hand in the lunch room when you met him, your auras touched each other and you and he were bound. It just took a while longer for your consciousness to realize it. It was that contact, incidentally that caused us to see Danielle. I’m sure both of you felt a small shock but we could see the blast of the aura on the other side of the planet. We immediately sent one of us to investigate and we discovered the happy news.”
    “What do you mean happy news?” Tag asked.
    The leader of the SFT said, “Mr. Gardner, we tried to find the best mate possible for you so that your gifts could be passed on to your children. You actually found the perfect mate on your own. Once you touched Danielle, all of our plans were for nothing. Quite frankly, I thought we were out of the woods and things were going to work out well but then you were attacked again. Danielle’s psychic gifts had also been improved as a result of your contact. Her aura was getting stronger every day but your contact accelerated the development. When you ran away after the last attack, we could no longer see you. If you are thinking that you have to hide, your talents make you invisible to us. That’s why we enlisted the aid of the Enforcement committee to find you. You might also be interested to know that the man you chose to live with has a psychic talent at being invisible to psychics. He’s the reason we never saw the attacks in any of Sung Lea’s visions.”
    Danielle looked at Tag and said, “Do you still think my original answer is not true?”
    Tag thought hard and said, “Do you still think it’s true after all you’ve just heard?”
    “Did a force invisible to the SFT cause the circumstances that brought us together? Did it happen at just the moment that you were going to be bonded to Leila? Did it send you into safety once you were discovered to be the superman we were searching for? Finally, what got you in the crater where you landed?”
    Sung Lea asked, “What does that crater have to do with what happened?”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “Love will find a way. It couldn’t allow me to leave you for another planet and it had to make sure I wasn’t hurt in stopping my escape. The subsequent fall of the Alliance was simply a byproduct of it making sure we were safely together. Love conquers all.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at Rose again and wondered at just what their child was going to become. Danielle said, “Thank you for your honesty. My husband and I have some things to discuss.”
    The six members of SFT bowed and the display went blank. Danielle pressed the button on her bracelet and said, “Leila, would you mind coming in for a moment?”
    Leila came in with a notebook in hand and Danielle could see she was trying to maintain a neutral face. “What do you think about what the SFT just said?” Leila turned bright red and Danielle said, “I know you listen in on my calls to make sure that you can protect me or help me thru difficult times. I trust you with my life; now I need to know what you’re thinking.”
    Leila sat down and hung her head. “I must confess that I have terribly mixed emotions about it. I see the two of you and I can’t help but picture myself as Queen.” Leila paused and then said, “But I would never want to be manipulated into any relationship and that is what they were doing. I also love Eric with all my heart. Danielle, I think everything turned out exactly the way it should have. Eric and I can go anywhere we choose and enjoy ourselves; you can’t. You’re the most recognized face in the universe. No disrespect, Tag, but I’m glad you ended up with Danielle.”
    “None taken, Leila; I also know how much Eric loves you. I think that all of us have happier lives just the way things are.”
    Suddenly, they felt the warmest feeling of happiness and then Rose’s pacifier lifted from the table and floated over to her mouth. Leila, Tag, and Danielle watched it and Leila said, “I think the best thing about the two of you getting together has just been demonstrated. Life is going to get very interesting and I’m glad I’m going to be around to watch it.”
    Mikado sat with Kosiev and Dorg and munched on a bag of popcorn while they watched the recordings of the fleet action against the plants. “Lin,” Kosiev said, “you did an outstanding job and before you talk about the loss of 2,000 ships, anyone else would have lost many more than that. Your plan was very well done. My concern is that it takes too many weapons to kill those ships. Our penetrators are the best tool in our box; I would hate to think about what a ship to ship action would cost us. However, we used more than 15 million penetrators to kill 120,000 ships. We can’t carry enough of them to take on the fleet that arrived when you jumped out.”
    Dorg sat and listened then said, “The problem is that their screen can handle anything we can hit it with on the initial hit, right?”
    Mikado and Kosiev nodded. They thought about it then Mikado said, “Would the two of you mind if I ask one of my officers to join us?”
    “Who,” Kosiev asked?
    “I’ve just promoted one of my sensor offices from Commodores Smiths flagship to captain and he will be commanding one of the Megaships we’ll receive shortly. He has quick mind and see’s things about the use of weapons faster than anyone I’ve seen. Commodore Smith says a large part of our success was due to his seeing the best use of our weapons. He’s waiting downstairs for you to sign his paperwork and receive his new commission.”
    Dorg turned and then commed his adjutant to bring Lt. Chen to the meeting. Lt Chen came in and came to attention and saluted the three officers. “At ease, Lieutenant,” Mikado said. “I need your insight into something we’re trying to get our hands around.” Dorg then told him about what he saw as the problem.
    Lt. Chen thought a moment and said, “So we’re wasting 50 % of our penetrators just to soften up their screen along with all the hornets inside them and if the second hit is delayed then both penetrators are wasted?”
    “Exactly,” Kosiev said.
    “Have you thought about making a two stage penetrator?”
    Mikado said, “What do you mean two stages?”
    “Well, what if the penetrators were made in two parts but launched as a single pulse. The front part of the penetrator is an energized power cell with a tremendous energy charge that would separate from the rear section and speed a half second ahead to impact the screen of the ship it designates. The second stage would contain all the hornets and it would hit the exact spot the first stage impacted; its guidance system would be looking for that point of impact. The first energy pulse weakens the screen and the follow up breaks thru with the load of hornets.”
    Mikado said, “Get Cade McAllister on a com and ask if what he’s suggesting is possible.”
    Three minutes passed and Chen was given a bag of popcorn to eat. The wall display lit up and McAllister was on the screen. Chen quickly explained his idea and Cade listened and took notes. “Actually, it would be very easy to build what you’re suggesting,” Cade said. The reason the penetrators don’t make it thru their screen is that we can’t make the energy shell around the hornets too hot or the hornets will degrade or explode inside of it. They can only handle a medium amount of energy. If the first stage is just an energy pulse activated when launched with no hornets it can be much hotter with three times the penetrating power in the warhead. The unit will be guided by the system in the hornets but the pulse will be programmed to follow the Coronado screens designated beam that locks on any ship without a Coronado screen. It should also only be about 5 feet longer than the current penetrator so it won’t require tremendous modification of our magazines or ports.”
    “How long will it take to make them and how long until a mass quantity will be available,” Mikado asked? “There are troops that will need relief and we can’t wait too long.”
    “We can actually modify the existing penetrators to accept the front stage; we will just need to put a shield between the two stages to protect the hornets from the high energy of the front stage. I would think that if the Queen approves the change and authorizes changing all of the manufacturing facilities on all the planets, we should have them ready in less than 5 weeks.”
    Dorg looked at Kosiev and then called his adjutant in, “Please get Queen Danielle on a com and let her know it’s an emergency.”
    Right away sir.”
    “Admiral Mikado,” Kosiev said, “Admiral Dorg and I have made a number of decisions. First, you are hereby promoted to Vice Admiral responsible for the ongoing fleet action at the Pydres planet. Commodore Smith is promoted to Rear Admiral and will command one of the Megaship squadrons under your command. Captain Kelly is also promoted to Rear Admiral to command one of your squadrons. Lt. Chen, your promotion is denied.”
    Mikado jumped out of his chair starting to protest the action but Kosiev held up his hand and said, “Gentlemen, I was promoted from a ship’s captain to Fleet Admiral. I was not qualified but after the fact it dawned on me that I was a good choice at the time. Things worked out well and it was because Mr. Gardner recognized what little ability I had and challenged me to use it. I agree with you Mikado, this officer has the ability to see the big picture which is absolutely critical in high command positions. He possesses insight into our weapons mix that will be crucial to our success. Lt. Chen, if Admiral Dorg is in agreement, I am promoting you to Rear Admiral commanding Mikado’s third squadron of 500 Megaships. I expect the best of you. Don’t disappoint me. Lin, I would also recommend that Lt. Colson be promoted to Captain of the rising sun to replace Captain Kelly.”
    Dorg said, “I support the decision; Mikado, take Admiral Chen and let him choose his command ship and give it a name. If we have five weeks, we should have a thousand more Megas for you to organize. You will have three rear admirals under you commanding 500 ships each; these three new admirals will take 500 Megas each and whip them into order. A large number of current fleet personnel from all of the Realms planets are joining the SR Navy and we need to get them sorted out into ship crews. You need to start choosing the crews that have applied to join. You have a heavy organizing and training load ahead of you so get busy.”
    Suddenly the display came on and Queen Danielle was looking at them with Tag sitting next to her. Dorg said, “You’re dismissed Admirals.” Then he turned and bowed to Danielle and began explaining how they needed her help.
    Mikado and Chen left the room and Chen was in a small state of shock. “This is happening too fast. Sir, do you think I’m up to the task they’ve given me?”
    Mikado looked at him and said, “Quite frankly, I will probably be reporting to you in the future. You have a gift of using the weapons at your disposal in unique ways. I can’t think of anyone that could do a better job.”
    “Thank you sir, do you think any of the current Admirals in the Alliance fleets will resent my promotion?”
    “No, they have their own commands in their home fleets. I suspect a large number of them will be requesting to join the new SR Navy. The only thing they’ll regret is that they weren’t here earlier to get the command. This will probably cause a number of them to speed up their transfers. What are you going to name your ship?”
    “Nemesis, Sir”
    “Why that, Admiral?” and Mikado noticed that Chen flinched at his new rank and then smiled.
    “He was the ancient Greek God of Retributive Justice; I think the Algeans are long due for justice after all the species they’ve destroyed.”
    Mikado nodded his head and said, “I like it. Your first command decision is a good one. Now let’s go make some more.”

Chapter 12

    Richard Wiseman sat on the bridge of the Cainth Transport Four Swords and watched as the Empire Ships fired their beams into a section of land just north of one of the Plants concentrations. He flexed the arms of his new battle armor and marveled at how he really didn’t even notice it any more. It was like a second skin but what a skin it was. It allowed him to run ninety six kilometers an hour and jump more than forty feet straight up. It had a built in pulse rifle in one arm and another hand blaster for his other hand. It could also be put in camo mode and assume the color of its surroundings. When the developer had introduced it to him, Richard walked into the room for the presentation and when told about the suits ability to blend in with the background, Richard laughed and said, “Nothing blends completely.” At that moment the developer said, show yourselves and eight suits of armor suddenly appeared in the room along the wall. Richard nearly fell over backwards in his seat. “I take back what I said; I didn’t see any of them. How did they stay so still?”
    “They didn’t. The suit compensates for movement. You just won’t see any breaking of the surrounding colors as it moves by. Whatever is behind the suit is shown on the front.”
    Richard was impressed. “I notice that the skin on the armor looks like clear plastic; what is it?”
    “It’s the same clear coating we put on our Megaships to protect the Coronado Power Cells. It is actually the strongest substance we currently manufacture. It can withstand most weapon floater’s guns and it would take many hits to break its integrity. One of the things you’ll like is the visor incorporates a heads up display of the terrain around you 360 degrees and can track multiple targets in that terrain. The hornets in the back launcher can be targeted from the display or fired to use their own targeting systems.”
    “How many hornets can the back pack carry?” Richard asked.
    “Seventy five of the new ones; we want to call them wasps because they are smaller, faster, and carry a bigger punch than the original hornets you used on Ross.”
    “How much time in combat will the armor have at full power?”
    “Ten days if the blasters are fired constantly. Two weeks if used more sparingly. They also can be recharged in sixty seconds from one of the mobile black hole reactors. The reactors can charge more than 3,000 suits using the cables that attach to it. We hope to shorten the time but that’s where we are with the current technology. We’ve also added a high intensity laser to the helmet that will cut thru most substances out to a hundred yards. It won’t damage the armor on the suits so it won’t be dangerous to use in close in fighting. The suits will just shrug it off.”
    Richard was amazed at his new suit but knew it was going to be tried to its fullest against the horde of plant soldiers. “I hope it’s enough,” he thought.
    Richard looked on his console and saw that the asteroid forts had finally gotten into position so that they could engage the screen. The Algean fleet was still ten hours out and was looking larger every time he looked at it. The Captain of the transport announced over the ships com that fleet control had set drop to begin in ten minutes. Richard keyed his general com and said, “All Division Commanders, prepare your forces for drop. Get the mobile fort up quickly and charge your weapons. The transports will unload your heavy weapons as soon as they ground; make sure the perimeter around the fort’s site is secure and your troops ready to hold off mass attacks by the plants.” The 16 huge Cainth transports began their decent and Richard could see the bright clouds below made stark by the dark landscape where the Plants has stripped all life and sent it to one of their harvesting ships.
    Lt. Colonel Jeremy Watson also watched the clouds thru his viewport and thought about his last decent on Ross. He flexed his arm in his armor and thought that if the new armor were available when they had landed on Ross then Al would probably still be alive today. He loved Maria who was Al’s wife before he died but he would gladly give up his happiness just to see him again. He owed Al his best effort in this campaign. The Solar Star he won for the battle on Ross led to promotions faster than he thought possible. The reality was that so many were killed on Ross that officers with actual combat experience were rare among Humans. Now he was responsible for a battalion of Naval Marines. He looked deep inside himself and saw that he had no fear of dying; Maria and the children were taken care of for life because of the benefits of him receiving Humanity’s highest award for bravery. He thought about his troops and made a vow to himself that he would do his best for them. He also saw the stark barren landscape they were dropping on and thought, “We should have no trouble seeing them coming.”
    Lt. Colonel Huseen was working hard to get his forts on line. He had finally managed to move them into the correct positions around the planet and was talking with his fort commanders to check their systems. “No, I don’t want the screen turned on yet. I want each fort to fire a laser at each other’s emitters to make sure they are lined up properly.”
    “But Sir, we need to make sure the system is working,” Captain Donaldson said.
    “Why would you want to wait to turn it on, Sir?” Captain Paulo asked.
    Huseen took a deep breath and said, “Our forts are no longer just defensive constructs. With the focused primaries and penetrators we can be formidable offensive platforms. What would happen if we turn the screen on as soon as that fleet gets in system?” He paused a moment and said, “They will send a few ships in to test a situation they have never seen before. Otherwise they will approach us just as they would any other ship and launch missiles at us from close range. I want them close. We can do a terrible amount of damage to them if we can get them close enough. Here’s what we’ll do, align your emitters and turn them on at 1/10,000 power for 1/10 of a second. The screen should be invisible at that level and their sensors may pick it up but assume it was from weapons used on the planet. We’ll also have the empires fire into the surface at the moment we run our trial.”
    The eight captains nodded and thought about what he was saying. Donaldson asked, “What time will we run the trial?”
    “In exactly thirty minutes, set your timers, from rightttttt now.”
    The display went dark and Huseen turned to his communications officer and said, “Lieutenant, get the commander of the Naval ships on a channel.”
    Thirty minutes later Huseen counted down the seconds. Just before the test he saw on his sensors that all the Empire ships above the planet fired their primaries at the planet’s surface. Then the countdown hit zero and his readings showed the screen was active and then off. “What was the reading?” he asked his sensor officer.
    “Ninety nine point nine, Sir; everything was aligned perfectly except for fort six. It needs to be moved forty meters closer to the planet.”
    “Get Captain Green on the com.”
    Suddenly Captain Green appeared on his display and said, “I know, my position is forty meters too high. I’ll move immediately.”
    Huseen nodded and thought, “I’ve got a great group of officers here. Now let’s show the Plants what we can do.”
    The SR drop troops headed in toward the planet and 10,000 feet above the surface the transports opened all of its troop ports and 160,000 troops dropped from the transports and fell toward a beacon already on the planet’s surface. The eight divisions separated while falling and moved toward the assigned positions on each side of the beacon. General Dorg’s and Richard Wiseman’s divisions were assigned the northern line with the two Glod and Vgrig divisions taking the east and west fronts. The remaining Vgrig and Cainth divisions took the southern line. Once the troops landed they organized and dug in along their lines. The sixteen huge transports landed in the center of their formations and began disgorging their weapons platforms and floaters. Right behind them the engineers were unloading the materials to construct the fort along with its screens. The troops waited nervously while their equipment was being off loaded. So far the Plants had not shown up but they knew from the recordings that they would come in mass and fast once they began moving.
    “Fleet Leader Hogn,” Richard Commed to the Empire Ships Commander, “Do you have any plant movement on your sensors?”
    The Small Cainth Commander on board the Cainth Empire Ship Short Sword replied, “We have some movement your way but it is so scattered that they’re not presenting much of a concentration for us to fire on. They won’t arrive at your location for more than eight hours which will be around the same time that the Plant fleet arrives. It will be dark by then and since they don’t give off any heat, they’ll be more difficult to see. If they use weapon platforms or anything else that uses energy, we will hit it from space but the plants won’t be easily seen, at least not from this altitude. If you’ll set your markers, you can call in supporting fire as you need it. If the forts get in trouble, we will have to move to support them and you and your men will have to hold out.”
    Richard thought that it was not coincidence that the Plant troops and fleet were arriving at the same time. “How are we doing on the off loading of our weapons?” He looked over his shoulder and saw the huge structure going up in the middle of their formations. The four sides bordered a square that was two miles on each side. Once completed the structure would have walls fifty meters thick. There would be enough room for all the drop troops to enter but then they would be trapped inside with no freedom of movement. Drop troops were at their best in fluid situations that allowed them to move and attack from different directions.
    General Dorg beeped his com and Richard said, “Go ahead, General. What can I do to help you?”
    “Have you decided how you want to handle the initial assault?”
    “I would like to entice them into attacking our front. It’s my opinion that the Naval Marines armor is superior to all of the forces here so I would like to take the initial and heaviest charge.”
    Dorg looked at Wiseman and said, “Just how do you intend to do that?”
    “We will space our forces among your troops and turn on their invisibility. To the on rushing Plants our lines will look much more porous than the other three. All of our weapon platforms have also been coated in the clear armor and they will also be unseen.”
    Dorg said, “How will we maintain unit cohesion during the fight? Won’t the command structure be compromised if we mix our forces together?”
    “Our basic structure is built around our companies which consist of 160 troopers and their support weapons.”
    “My division is broken down much the same way,” Dorg said.
    Then I suggest that we alternate our companies along our front. The 160 man spacing will look like openings in your lines. Set up your weapon platforms to cover the area between your companies so it looks like you don’t have enough troops to cover your front. We will set up our platforms to cover the front of your companies. Once the Plants discover our little subterfuge, we’ll free our platforms to targets of opportunity.”
    “Just how good is your new armor, General?”
    “It can take direct hits from your heavy weapons platforms.”
    Dorg looked at Richard on his display and it was clear he was skeptical of the claim. Richard keyed his com and said, “Colonel Watson, report.”
    Jer came on their display and said, “Yes Sir.”
    “Jump over to General Dorg’s headquarters and demonstrate your armor for him.”
    “Jumping now, Sir.”
    Dorg stood there and waited for the Colonel to show up. After two minutes he said to Richard, “When is he going to get here?”
    “Colonel Watson, show General Dorg your armor.”
    Suddenly Jer appeared standing within a foot of Dorg directly in front of him. Dorg jumped back and nearly fell until Jer grabbed his hand and held him up. “I never saw you,” Dorg said.
    “Our coating can hide us effectively, General. It allows us to be very, very sneaky.”
    “Colonel, step out in front of the Generals lines and let them hit you with heavy weapons fire.”
    “Yes Sir.”
    Jer jumped completely over the Cainth’s front line and stood a hundred yards in front of their position. Dorg shrugged and ordered him hit with both beam and projectile platforms. The two platforms opened fire and Jer disappeared in the dust that rose around him. “Cease fire, Dorg said.
    Jer stood there and then jumped back inside their lines. His armor looked just as it did before. Dorg was amazed. “General Wiseman, we have to get this for all our troops.”
    “We’re working on it but it is so new we can’t even get all of our forces in them. We have sent the specs to your government but it looks like Earths factories are the only ones at this point that can produce them. We’ll just have to use what we have General. Once the battle starts, the fort will start firing when the Plants are three miles out, you will start at two miles out; my companies will hold their fire until the Plants are one mile out and at that point we will hit them with all we’ve got. If we have to fall back, your companies will go the first 500 yards and then ours will move back even with them and this process will continue until we are inside the walls of our fort. We will try and hold our lines but fall back if it looks like we’re going to be overrun.” The eight divisions started working hard to get their lines organized before the plants arrived.
    Seven hours later Richard looked away from his display and said to General Dorg, “Navy reports a huge mass of Plants headed this way. They are currently hitting them from space but the mass is using the topography to avoid the beams. They’ll arrive here in forty minutes and they’re moving fast.” Richard keyed his general com and said, “Attention all units; the Plants will arrive in forty minutes. Prepare your lines and hold. Keep your general com open in the event I call for a withdrawal.”
    Colonel Huseen watched his sensors display and saw the Algean Fleet arriving. The ships split and moved to surround the planet from 50,000 miles out. It held that distance until all of its ships were equally distributed around the equator. He keyed his com and said, “The range of our focused primaries is 30,000 miles with a width of 1,500 feet. If we can get them in to less than a thousand miles, we can probably take out a large number of their ships. We will not turn on the screen until we absolutely must do so. Use you needles to hit any missiles targeted at the forts from long range. I want them to think they have to overload our defenses with huge numbers. In the fleet action they fired when they were less than 800 miles away. That is what I’m hoping to get done here. All forts can turn on the screen with their energy switch if they are endangered; however, I want all of you to delay as long as you possibly can.”
    The Algean Half Fleet Leader held his ships at 50,000 miles from the forts and planet. He knew the Algean armies on the surface were timing their attack with his arrival but he didn’t want to go in blind against those eight huge asteroids circling the planet. “Fire one power missile at each of those constructs.”
    On the asteroids, the warning klaxon started sounding warning of incoming missiles. Huseen saw that the plants had launched an anti matter missile at each of the forts and keyed his com, “Hit the missile targeted at your fort at 900 miles. It’s an antimatter missile so turn just the screen around your fort to 1/500 power. Do not turn on the general screen.”
    The missiles flew at the eight forts until 900 miles out a needle hit each of them causing one of the largest explosions ever witnessed by the crews on the asteroids. The forts individual screens flashed on just long enough to stop any damage then went off. “Stand by,” said Huseen. “Let’s see what they do next.”
    The Algean Fleet Leader ordered, “Fire ten missiles at each of those constructs and make five of them power missiles. Spread them out so the blast won’t take out all of them.” He watched his display as the 80 missiles left his fleet, spread out and headed toward the forts.” Once again they reached the same distance from the huge constructs and were all detonated by those small energy beams. The explosions were enormous and the Pydres hiding on the southern continent saw what they thought was a sun surrounding their planet. The bright light turned the night into daylight and they wondered what was happening.
    The sensor leader turned to the Fleet Leader and said, “It appears that their defensive systems have a range of about one pund. The Ground Leader has notified us that his ground tools are being hit hard by their ships. He also wants us to try and hit that structure that they have made on the surface. He asks how much longer before he can begin his full assault?”
    The Fleet Leader was reluctant to move any closer but it was clear that his missiles were not getting close enough to do any damage to the orbiting structures. Launch 100 missiles at each and an additional hundred at the structure on the planet. Don’t use power missiles on the planet; we do not want to destroy our tools on the ground.” Once more the missiles reached out from the fleet but once again they were all destroyed at 900 miles. Even those targeted on the structure on the planet were destroyed by cross fire from two of the orbiting rocks.
    Back on the home world of the plants the Leaders were watching their displays and one of them said, “He needs to move his fleet closer and launch a full barrage.”
    The Eldest Leader said, “Issue the order to move closer.”
    The Fleet Leader saw the light on his console come on indicating a message from the Algean Leaders and guessed that they were not satisfied with his caution; his communications leader confirmed it. “We are ordered in to launch a full barrage, Fleet Leader.”
    The Fleet Leader raised his arms shoulder high which was the equivalent of a shrug and spoke over his fleet frequency, “Move in to one pund. Launch full barrage on my command.” He then turned to the communications leader and said, “Notify the Ground Leader to begin his assault once our ships are in place.”
    Colonel Huseen watched his display and then keyed his general com, “Attention all forts, they’re moving in. Hold your fire and wait until they stop then when I turn on the planetary screen you will have weapons clear. Take out as many as you can until they move back to 4,000 miles then launch your penetrators and go to focus primaries; use only the general primaries and needles until then.”
    The Algean fleet moved in and sorted itself into eight groups aligned on each of the forts. Huseen saw that each fort would have more than 60,000 ships to contend with and he was thankful that the forts were fully charged before they were put in place. He wanted to hit the Fleet before they launched their missiles so it was going to be a matter of timing. If he waited too long after they stopped moving in then they would launch. He expected them to move in to 900 miles but kept his com keyed in case they stopped short of that distance. His sensor officer said, “Sir, they are slowing down, computers project they will stop right about 1,000 miles.”
    Huseen kept his hand on the general screen switch until the huge Algean fleet arrived at 1,000 miles then he threw the switch and the planetary screen came on at full power, “Weapons free,” he shouted into his com and his eight forts fired their primaries.”
    The Half Fleet Leader had left his command ship and its support squadrons at 50,000 miles out to have a general view of the conflict. He was just about to order the missile launch when the entire planet disappeared behind a screen and his fleet was hit with hellish beams that were wider than anything ever conceived. Even the Leaders on the home world were stunned.
    The Algean Fleet was caught like a moth in a flame. The sixty mile wide primary beams of the fort shot out into the ranks of ships and fanned across them for three seconds to be followed two seconds later by another beam. Most of the ships had missiles in their magazines preparing to launch and when the beam touched them they exploded into violent anti-matter explosions. The carnage was unbelievable. Tens of thousands of ships were being destroyed every second. The Fleet Leader yelled in his frequency board, “Withdraw, withdraw, escape now.” Ships that had not been hit launched their missiles and turned to flee the terrifying beams but the damaged continued. The fleet leader watched his half a million ships get decimated by the wide energy weapons. Even those that managed to turn and run were being hit and whatever those beams touched disappeared. The survivors reached 4,000 miles from the forts and those beams grew smaller and started targeting single ships. It was then that the Fleet Leader saw those energy missiles the strangers used against the other fleet launching from the eight rocks and there were literally millions of them.
    Huseen keyed his com and ordered, “Fire the focused primaries at the heavy battleships. Get as many as you can then go after the others.”
    One of the Plant heavy battleships had managed to flee to eighteen thousand miles from the planet and thought it was clear when a 1,500 foot wide beam hit it amidships and cut it in half. One half detonated when its anti-matter missile magazine exploded taking the other half with it along with three other Plant ships fleeing close to it. Everywhere around the planet the Algean fleet was being destroyed. The Fleet Leader watched as his ships continue to blow up from that hellish beam at thirty punds from the planet and now the energy missiles were in among his ships wrecking havoc. Finally, the survivors of his fleet crossed 40 punds from the planet and the terrible beams finally stopped. His sensor leader turned to him obviously shaken and said, “Only 3,000 ships have managed to escape; none of our heavy harvesters. Sir, there are 4,000 ships leaving the planet and headed toward us at twice our fastest speed.”
    The Fleet Leader keyed his home frequency and said to the Algean Elders, “Leaders, it would be my recommendation that in any future encounters with these orbiting rocks that you maintain the 50,000 mile separation.” The Algean Leaders on their home world watched as the strange ships caught the fleeing remains of their fleet forty minutes later and totally demolished the survivors. They watched it all because the Fleet Leaders ship had a head start on the rest and was the last destroyed. Their feed ended abruptly. This was the first time in their remembered history that any of their ships had fled from a battle.
    Richard Wiseman watched the display at his headquarters and thought that not being involved in the fighting was not something he would ever get accustomed. Just prior to the ranks being formed with the Cainth, he called Colonel Watson and asked for a private channel. “What’s up boss,” Jer said.
    “Colonel, I am taking your battalion out of the ranks and bringing it into the fort to change your weapon load.”
    Jer just looked at Wiseman on the display and said nothing. “His expression says it all,” Richard thought. Richard said, “Colonel, I’m highly concerned that one or more of our lines will break. If we hold our line and one of the others fail then the plants will be in our rears and roll us up. Navy has just informed me that they are going to have to use the ships overhead to finish the Algean Fleet. We will not have orbital support initially and I don’t know how long it will take them to return. I am bringing your troops in and putting jump jets on their packs and changing their hornets from anti-weapon to anti-personnel. I will use you where the fighting is the worse.” Richard noticed that Watson changed his expression when he said that. “Colonel, I need my best unit ready for this so get in here quickly and load up.”
    “Yes Sir,” Jer said. “We’re moving now.
    The Plant Ground Leader saw that the overhead bombardment he had been hit with was slowing down and tapering off. That meant the fleet action was starting overhead. He ordered all his tools to attack the invaders and destroy them. His heavy weapon platforms had been moving forward for some time because once his soldiers went into battle frenzy; they just couldn’t keep up with the mad rush to feed on the enemy. The green tide of his army rushed forward with more than two million rushing across the barren plain. He committed more than a third of his forces at the northern line that had breaks in its front. It looks like they didn’t get enough tools and now they will pay the consequences. He saw his forces being hit with beam weapons from the structure the strangers had built but it was not going to be enough to stop his tools.
    The SR drop troops watched as the green tide of Plant Soldiers rushed toward them at 40 miles an hour. The land was barren from the harvesting and they could be seen coming across the flat plain more than five miles away. Their weapon platforms were at the front of the charge but it was clear they would be quickly overtaken by the swarming mass running behind them. General Wiseman watched his display as the Plant troops began firing their blasters and projectile rifles and ordered, “Hornets are released, open fire at two miles.”
    More than 80,000 hornets lifted off the back packs of the troops dug in and headed down range toward the Plants. Each of them picked out a weapons platform or floater and flew in on it faster than the speed of sound. The sonic booms from the hornets sounded like a thunderous artillery barrage and had a devastating effect on the Plants equipment. Ninety percent of the Algean mobile hardware was blown out of existence with the first barrage. These hornets had a powerful sting. Not only did they destroy the platform but killed everything within forty yards of the blast and thousands of the rushing Plants died. A second volley of 80,000 more hornets lifted and targeted the remaining platforms. When all of them were designated by a hornet’s sensor, the remainder changed direction and headed straight at the front of the on rushing horde. The massive explosions along the front lines of the oncoming Plants should have stopped them but as the front rows died the rows behind them jumped over and continued coming.
    General Dorg looked at the oncoming sea of green and now knew what the Humans must have felt at Rossville. There was no way to stop them but he would not run. He could see from his general display that his line was getting many more than the other three lines. Another 80,000 hornets launched and walked the front line of the incoming Plants blowing thousands apart. Then they were two miles away and he ordered, “Weapons free, fire at will.”
    As planned, all of the Cainth units opened fire and once more the toll was incredible on the on rushing Plants; so many were being killed that the back ranks had to jump over the mounds of dead. The tide continued to surge toward the Cainth’s units and started rushing toward the breaks in their front lines. Colonel Crandon watched and said over his unit frequency, “Hold your fire until they are a mile out. Steady, Lads, get ready…fire all weapons.”
    The Plants were more than surprised when a murderous fire came from the breaks in the line in front of them. The incoming fire was more than double what they were receiving from the others. The blaster fire extended more than 500 yards further than the fire from the ranked invaders and that fire was hitting the entire plant front. The first mile of Plants rushing toward the SR lines was burned out of existence. The ones rushing up could not see over the mounds of dead Plants to see the devastating effect of the fire. The Humans had wisely left the mounds to slow the advance of the following ranks. Colonel Crandon said, “Hold your fire. Cainth units continue to fire. I don’t think this lot actually saw what happened. Let’s see if we can do it again.”
    The Cainth Drop Troops were amazed at the power of the Humans armor. Most had thought that they were done once the horde had gotten to within a half mile of their front, but now they took heart and began the process again.
    Things were not going so well with the two Vgrig divisions. They had stopped the Plants temporarily and at that point some of their warriors ran out of ranks to fight individually with the Plant soldiers for personal honor. The Plants grabbed them and ripped them out of their armor and ate them. The brief respite allowed the Plants to surge forward and the Vgrig were fighting them 10 yards in front of their line. Some Plants were making it into their ranks and killing Vgrig warriors; the entire line was close to collapse. “Colonel Watson it’s time, jump your troops to the Vgrig now.” Jer looked at his display and saw that the center of the Vgrig line is where the bulk of the plants were breaking thru. Hundreds of the Vgrig were being torn apart by the Plants. “Remember your alignment, thirty meters apart. Jump in under full camo and blast the ground you’re landing on; then your lasers 360 degrees around you and then a hornet every two seconds. Lock on my signal and prepare to jump, Execute jump.”
    Jer’s one thousand Naval Marines hit their jump jets and jumped from the fort to exactly ten yards in front of the Vgrig’s front line. They were in full invisibility mode and even the Vgrig didn’t see them coming. The first indication that something was going on was when one thousand ten foot circles were burned into the Plants frontal forces. Then the Marines turned on their suit lasers and turned a circle cutting thru every plant with in fifty yards of their position. The Marines landed 30 yards apart and their kill zones over lapped killing everything along a two mile front in the center of the Vgrig line. They then turned off their Camo so the Vgrig could see them and started moving forward using their suit blasters to burn everything in their path. The Vgrig swarmed the Plants in their formation and managed to kill them all.
    The Marine Battalion moved forward. Every two seconds an anti-personnel hornet left their back packs and flew forward and exploded sending small Coronado charges into the front ranks which then released their energy and burned whatever it penetrated to ash. Each hornet spewed more than three thousand of the small charges and the Plants directly in front of the Vgrig line were decimated and blown back to half a mile. The front line recovered and the Vgrig regained control of their front.
    “Colonel Watson, the southwest corner where the Cainth and Glod come together is about to be over run; jump immediately.”
    Jer’s battalion heard the order and jumped toward the coordinates without having a plan. Jer told his marines in the air on the way over the installation to jump higher by squads and that first squad would land first, then second two seconds behind and move right, third squad would land third and move left. They would continue this until all units were on the ground in action. The first squad landed right at the juncture of the two divisions and saw thousands of Plants right up against their lines killing both Glod and Cainth warriors. The two divisions were struggling to send help to prevent the Plant break thru but were also barely hanging on themselves. The first squad fired two hornets each into the ranks of the plants and then they then burned the plants right up against the line as they landed. They then hit their lasers and cut down every plant around them even firing their lasers among themselves. The first squad took four steps forward and the second squad landed behind them and moved to the right killing Plants as it moved, two seconds later third squad arrived and the process continued and the Plants were again being driven back. The Glod and Cainth Warriors watched the Humans walk into the Horde of rushing Plants fearlessly firing their blasters and bringing death to everything in their path. They saw the Plants overwhelm some of the Humans but they closed ranks and continued fighting their way forward. The reputation of the Humans was already of supernatural proportions and once the stories of what happened today began circulating, it would almost be mythic. The Cainth, Vgrig, and Glod all thought of themselves as the fiercest warriors but now they saw warriors that demonstrated how important it was to depend on each other in battle. They were amazed at the Human’s fearlessness in protecting them.
    The Human division along with their Cainth brothers had totally massacred the Plants attacking their lines and Colonel Crandon contacted General Dorg and asked if he would go out and burn any plant that could possibly regenerate. He was taking his division and sending half of it down the east side and the other half down the west. He had just had his troops change to the anti-personnel hornet back packs and had recharged their blasters. General Dorg said that he would make sure there were none to regenerate.
    The Two Human regiments turned and began moving down the two sides of the square formed during the SR drop. They spaced each marine 30 yards apart and the regiment with its 10,000 troops moved along a sixty mile front into the Plants flanks. As they rolled down the sides the troops in the lines moved out and killed anything that was on the plain that could regenerate. Finally the two regiments met at the southern line and turned and encircled the remaining plant warriors. The Plants seeing that they were encircled milled around in the Middle. The Vgrig Warleader called upon the Plants to surrender and avoid any unnecessary killing. He felt certain that the Plants didn’t understand him but they should understand the message because the SR troops had stopped firing.
    The Ground Leader of the Plants was in the Middle of the mass and saw that they had no chance. He used his wrist frequency generator and reported to the leaders on the home world that his tools had been totally destroyed and that he was surrounded and that the strangers were calling for him to surrender. The Elder Leaders said, “Then finish your job. We don’t communicate with any creature but the common.”
    With that the Ground Leader ordered the remaining Plants to attack and they were all blown away before they could reach their enemy. The war on the ground was over except for mop up operations that would continue for the foreseeable future.

Chapter 13

    K osiev and Admiral Dorg were on board the Moscow watching the feeds from the Fleet and land battle. The victory left them both exhausted; especially the land battle. “Those forts are incredible,” Dorg said. “That Algean fleet had no chance once it came as close as it did. Maybe they’ll think twice before attacking again.”
    Kosiev shook his head and said, “What would you do if you had just lost half a million ships to our forts. Would you go away and forget about it?”
    Dorg said, “Of course not and you’re right, neither will they.”
    “They will do exactly what we would do in their place. They’ll go back to the scientific drawing board and develop something to offset our advantages,” Kosiev mused. “Their screens and ant-matter weapons concern me. If they develop screens that can last longer after a hit, then fleet actions can become really dangerous.”
    Dorg thought a moment and said, “We also don’t know the scope of this enemy or where their central planets are located. I think we need to do some scouting around ourselves to get an idea.”
    Kosiev thought about what Dorg was saying and then had an idea. We know the direction they came from. Just line up the Dremels planet with the Pydres and follow it in toward the center of the galaxy.”
    Dorg nodded and took another bite of popcorn. “There’s something else that has me concerned.”
    “What’s that?”
    “We need to rethink the command structure of our ground forces.” Kosiev looked at him quizzically and Dorg continued, “I’ve been talking with my brother about what he has seen during the battle and he readily admits that the Humans are twice as good as his best warriors.”
    Kosiev said, “He’s exaggerating.”
    “Let me explain why he feels that way. My warriors, the Glod, and the Vgrig have had a long history of traditions revolving around single combat. We nearly lost the land battle when the Vgrig left their line for single combat glory. The Glod also looked to fight single opponents during the break in their lines. The Plants didn’t care; they just swarmed anything they could eat. We are not well equipped or have the temperament to fight well as a group. Even our Navies look for single combat unless ordered to attack together and even then it’s not well coordinated. I’m sure you saw this in our earlier conflicts.” Kosiev shrugged and then nodded. “We need to sit down with the leaders of our warrior members and discuss what we learned here.”
    Kosiev looked down at his bag of popcorn and then put it aside. “My friend, will you set it up and I will try to get the Royal Couple to attend. I also need to speak to McAllister and see if he can beef up the screens of the forts.”
    Dorg tilted his head to the right and shrugged both sets of arms, “Why, I thought they performed well?”
    The Algean fleet did not launch a massive missile attack but take a look at this.” Kosiev then showed where an anti-matter missile struck the screen and the entire screen went red briefly.
    “I haven’t seen that.”
    “What do you think would happen if they managed to crash a ship loaded with anti-matter into our screen?”
    Dorg just looked off and said, “Show this to McAllister. We need to work on this immediately.” Dorg looked out the viewport at the millions of stars and said, “What do you think the Plants will do next?”
    “If I had to guess, they’ll design some new ships to fight us. I don’t think they are mindless; their technology belies that, so I don’t think they will throw more ships away. We need to relook at our own ships and think about where our next development will be. The Megaships will continue to roll off the assembly line but we need to get our scientists and engineers to see if we are maxed out right now on our capabilities. I may be wrong, but would you continue attacking an enemy that you can’t run from and every weapon you have is too slow to hit them?”
    “Put like that, no I wouldn’t. So you think we will have a period of no attacks.”
    “I think that if they were going to continue with their offence, then the fleet would already be here. I almost wish they would; I’m worried about what might show up next time.”
    Dorg only nodded.
    Danielle was on the air again addressing all the citizens of the Stars Realm. Most every planet had heard about the battle at the Pydres Planet and there was huge interest in what she was going to say. It was also the second time that everyone was going to see her new child which was reason enough for a massive viewing audience even if the battle had not taken place. Then there she was on everyone’s display.
    “Good evening, to everyone on all your worlds. I thank you for taking time to allow me to share some things with you. As you can see, this is Rose Luanna Gardner and she has grown a lot since our last conversation,” Danielle held her up so the recorder would have a clear view. “Thanks to those of you who have sent your well wishes and after our battle with the Algeans, I feel somewhat better about her future and our defenses. However, I am asking for all of you to support the following changes. First of all, I am making Ross the Capital of the Stars Realm. It is literally the birth place where our union began. The Colonists, soldiers, and sailors that were killed there gave their life’s blood to cement the building blocks of our new civilization. Their sacrifice on Ross ultimately led to all of us coming together. It is only appropriate that we honor them with making that hallowed soil our Capital. The Government of Ross has donated one of the Northern Continents that is now unpopulated to our new union.”
    All the billions of citizens were amazed at her choice. Everyone had expected it to be one of the first three members with the majority expecting Earth to be the first choice. The choice of Ross was perfect. Every race respected what the Humans did after they confronted the Cainth after they had killed the colonists but then allowed them to survive and embraced them as brothers. It was known by all that you could actually insult a Cainth and get away with it but it was fool hardy to say anything bad about their Human brothers. A fight always followed. Those deaths on Ross bound the two of their races together for all time.
    Danielle paused a moment and then said, “I have been a reluctant ruler. I do not like forcing my will on others however it is the lot that has fallen to me. the birth of my child and becoming a parent has shown me that if hard decisions have to be made, then I am the one to make them; however, I don’t want to make them without your advice. We are building a government center on Ross and I want each member of the Stars Realm to elect a representative to serve you there. They will discuss critical issues and offer me advice on what they would like to see done. I’m hoping that they offer multiple suggestions which will allow me to make the best decision possible. I may not always see it like they do and make a different decision based on what I sense is right but where I can, I do want to use their wisdom and judgment. The Government center will be finished in six months and I’m asking you to elect your representative by then. That will allow those who would be interested in serving your planets to make their desire known. There will be two organizers initially that will serve to lead the sessions; Tgon-Gee and Terl. They will take turns because they also have responsibilities leading their own planets.”
    Danielle paused once again to give time to digest what she was saying. On every planet there were politicians already thinking about how to win their planets choice. Then Danielle said, “Third, I am going to impose a tax on all trade in the Realm.”
    Billions thought, “Here it comes; we knew they were going to hit us.”
    Danielle continued, “I know the Alliance had a tax of thirty three% and quite frankly, I don’t see how you tolerated it. The Stars Realm tax will be three%.”
    The citizens were stunned. They expected at least thirty% to be levied and most of them thought that three% was not enough.
    “I don’t feel that this will place an undue burden on any one and we plan to live within our budget. It is my plan to develop products on Ross that we will sell to raise the bulk of our operating expenses. We currently don’t have the businesses yet but we do have a number of scientists that have requested to come and help us develop our world and we have accepted their application. Anything that we develop will be shared with all members equally. I thank you for your time and once again I thank you for your confidence in me. My family will continue to serve you and do our best to make life good for all. Good day.”
    There was a huge aftermath following Danielle’s speech. Election fever ran rampant on all the planets; anyone who was anyone wanted to go to Ross. There was also a huge surge of applications from businesses to relocate to Ross. Danielle refused relocation but allowed some of them to open a branch. She would not allow loss of employment to develop her capital. What actually happened was that the branch on Ross ultimately became the headquarters for those businesses. Even before the Government center was completed, thousands of businesses had built their facilities in a technology center surrounding the Government Center and Castle. The members of the Stars Realm donated funds to build the Castle that Danielle and her family would live in. They also sent the engineers and construction workers to build it and it was going up fast. Danielle insisted that a humble structure would suit her just fine. The leader of the project told her that they would make it as humble as possible with the funds that they had. Danielle agreed that it was wise to stay on or under budget.
    Finally the day arrived and she was told to pack and bring her family to her new home. Tens of thousands of people were at the spaceport to say goodbye. The signs and banners wishing the Gardner’s farewell were too numerous to count. The Director was there and handed Danielle a dozen roses.
    “We are going to miss the two of you. Our entire world is so proud of all you’ve done to save us from annihilation. We can never show you how much you mean to your people. Earth has moved from being second class citizens to being highly respected by all the members of the Stars Realm. Have a safe voyage and don’t forget to come back to see us.”
    Danielle and Tag loaded all their belongings on the Atlanta and looked down at Earth that had been their home for so long. “I’m going to miss this,” Danielle said as she held Rose and cooed her to sleep.
    “Well, it could be worse but we have been able to make a few personal things happen.”
    Danielle said, “What things?”
    “Well, Leila and Eric are already there getting your office and staff organized and Tara and her husband Tim have also taken positions on the administration staff.”
    “Really!” Danielle squealed. “That makes it a lot better.”
    “You might also find it interesting that Eddie Ortiz is now responsible for castle security and Esa Conner has allowed Julie to finally retire and become the head of your communications. Maggie Wiseman and her family are also there now and they will be responsible for the upkeep of our new home.”
    Danielle started to cry. “It really will be home now.” Then she thought and said, “Where are all these people going to live? We’ll have to build them homes near ours so they can get there easily.”
    Tag smiled and said, “We’ll make sure they live close, Darling.”
    Tag then looked at Admiral Smith and said, “You may jump now.”
    The megaship jumped into Ross’s orbit and Danielle and Tag with Rose boarded a shuttle and headed toward the Planet. Their new home was on the night side of Ross so Danielle couldn’t see it. The shuttle landed at the spaceport and they boarded a floater to go to the Castle. Danielle saw a large city ahead and marveled at the beautiful spires rising from it. “That must be the new government center,” She said. As they approached at ground level, suddenly the structure ahead turned on all of its lights and Danielle was almost blinded when night turned into day. The floater rose above tree level and Danielle saw a huge city in the distance reaching the horizon. Then she saw it; the giant structure they were approaching had a giant Rose superimposed over a G on the center tower. The building extended more than a mile in both directions and was nine stories tall. Her eyes grew wide and she looked at Tag, “They built it under budget dear. It’s powered by black hole reactors and the entire roof is coated in Coronado Power Cells to supplement the power.”
    “Tag, it’s enormous. How could we afford to build this?”
    “We didn’t. One of the news agencies went on the air and asked for donations to build your new home. They even played your request to the head engineer that he should stay within the budget and that you had no problem with humble dwellings; it seems your subjects did. He only used one third of the donated funds to build this and the rest are going to be used to pay all of your workers for the next hundred years; what remains will be used to build the Fleet academy. Everyone who serves you in your home has a place to live in the structure. The head engineer said to make sure you know he stayed under budget.”
    She looked at the central tower and said, “What is the G with a Rose over it?”
    Tag looked at her and said, “There was a contest among all the children of every race to come up with a Royal Crest for you. This entry was selected by a majority of all the children. It’s simple. I have a little difficulty accepting myself as royalty; I can always say I attained it by marriage. I can understand how you feel about all the attention now, however, Gardner is the name of the Stars Realm Royal Family and it’s only appropriate that the flower associated with love is part of our crest. It’s my understanding that the sale of roses throughout the realm reached epic proportions once it was broadcast that we named our first child after a flower grown on Earth that symbolizes love.”
    “Tag, it’s beautiful. The crown on top of it floating like a halo is a nice finishing touch. Let’s go home; I’m looking forward to our new accommodations.”
    Tag stood behind her and enclosed her and Rose in his arms. They felt that warm glow again and they both knew Rose also liked her new home. Life was good.
    The Elder Leaders on the Algean Home World swayed gently in the wind and watched their display once more as they saw the Rocks around the food source planet destroy their half fleet. They also saw their ground forces being mowed down while their last ship was blown out of existence. The Eldest Leader said, “The Strangers have too big of a technological edge on us. They are faster and their beams are too strong for our screens. It would not matter what size fleet we used, they would have all been destroyed. It would be foolish to follow this loss with another fleet until we can counter their edge.”
    Another leader replied, “You didn’t mention that they can use their null engines anywhere in the system. It appears the star does not affect them.”
    “Which only means that even if we did trap them with our numbers they would just jump away,” a younger leader said.
    “What have the scientists reported after they viewed this information?” the Middle Leader asked.
    “They say we have to build a different type of ship. Our ships are too big and slow to stand up to these strangers. They also report that multiple force fields must be used to resist their weapons. They are strong enough initially but can’t regain enough strength quickly to stop the second impact.” The Science Leader said.
    “How many more fields?” the Eldest asked.
    “At least five to stop that biggest beam from their large ships,” the science leader said.
    “You haven’t said anything about our missiles being so slow.”
    “That’s the easiest part. We put three engines on the power missiles and use a tool to fly it in to its target. We also increase the anti-matter in the war head.”
    All of the leaders thought about that and nodded. None of them even flinched at the suicide nature of the mission; that’s why the soldiers were called tools. “Will they be faster than the Strangers ships?” the Eldest asked.
    The Science Leader swayed gently and said, “If launched within one geld of their target they should match their fastest speed.”
    “How long will it take to build the new fleet and weapons?”
    “Three Cycles of our Home World.”
    “That long, what about their ability to jump away?”
    “I believe we have an answer to that. We have a frequency generator that will prevent null drive usage close to the sun. This frequency was discovered more than 10,000 cycles ago. We have never had a use for it in the past because nothing we’ve ever seen could use their drive inside the null band. The frequency coupled with the star’s gravity will prevent null jumps inside most systems. They still might be able to use their jumps closer than normal but not by much. Now they will have to move outside the new null band to use their drives. It only works in combination with the star. It will take three cycles to build enough ships because the Strangers will also be building at the same time we are. We will need at least a half fleet to defeat them.”
    The Leaders swayed and the Eldest said, “Notify us when you have everything ready.”

Chapter 14

    It had been over three years since the defeat of the Algean forces in the Pydres System. There had been major changes in the Stars Realm not the least was the establishing of the Stars Realm Fleet with Admiral Kosiev in overall command. There was no controversy over Kosievs’ selection because the elected representatives selected him which relieved Danielle of having to overrule them. She accepted that decision and most of the others presented to her. The Fleet Academy had been built and the Navy had grown tremendously. Admiral Mikado along with his officers was in the Pydres system waiting for the Algean answer to their defeat. Kosiev and Dorg considered going looking for the Plants but were overruled by the Special Forces who felt that to follow that path would be a mistake. Kosiev was in the Dremels system on board the Moscow talking with Mikado, “Have you changed the software on your penetrators?” Kosiev asked.
    “Yes Sir, they can be changed in flight or on board. I do think that changing the selector to any number between two and twenty is a bit exaggerated,” Mikado said with a chuckle.
    “Then you don’t have the most current upgrade. The selector can now be up to 100.” Kosiev answered.
    “Why would we do that and what would possibly need a hundred penetrators targeted on it?”
    Kosiev looked at Mikado and Lin could tell he was in no joking mood. “Mikado, those Plants have been in space for more than a million years. They have seen all of our tricks. The only thing we haven’t shown them is our top speed. They have only seen two thirds of our maximum. Now that they have been roundly defeated, why do you think they have not come calling again?”
    “Fear perhaps,” Mikado answered but he began to worry also. “Sir, will you send the new selector out to my fleet for installation?”
    “I’ll do it immediately. Your ships should get it ahead of the ships here.”
    “Tag, will you get Rose to drop her doll off the ceiling. I’m expecting guests and you and she know I don’t like here using her psychic talents around non-family members.” Danielle said with a tone of exasperation.
    Tag looked at Rose and she giggled and he heard in his mind, “I know, I know, Mommy wants my doll down.”
    Tag had been amazed that Rose could communicate with our having a link from Atlas since the age of two. He also thought that he still had no idea of all the psychic skills she possessed. Tag smiled and thought, “Rose, do you enjoy frustrating Mommy?”
    Rose frowned and thought back, “Never, I love Mommy, but I do like to play with her. That trick you taught me with the shadows is a lot of fun. I can sneak up on her and scare her. Now that’s funny, Daddy.” Rose put her hand over her mouth and giggled.
    Tag looked at his four year old girl with her blond hair down to the small of her back and her bright green eyes looking at him with happiness. She was going to be even more beautiful than her mother he thought. Tag picked Rose up and sat her in his lap. “Rose read my thoughts; I’m going to open them to you.” Rose frowned and shook her head but Tag said, “I know we’ve taught you not to invade another’s privacy by reading their thoughts uninvited but I’m inviting you to read mine.” Rose looked hesitant but Tag said, “It is ok, Darling, go ahead.”
    Rose looked into her father’s eyes for a few moments and then said, “Mommy has a lot of responsibility for a lot of others doesn’t she? She also worries that she’ll make a mistake that would hurt a lot of people.”
    Tag nodded and smiled at her thinking that his daughter’s eyes were so green and looked so bright.
    “I should wait for Mommy to come play with me first. Scaring her or hiding from her keeps her from making good choices for her subjects. I’ve only made her worry more, haven’t I?”
    Again Tag nodded.
    Rose frowned and Tag could see she was pondering what she had just learned. The doll floated down from the ceiling and settled on Rose’s lap. “Daddy, why do I have to hide my mind skills?”
    “Read my thoughts again, Rose.”
    Rose was quiet for a long time and then she said, “I didn’t know you had to hide yours when you were little, Daddy.”
    Tag was genuinely surprised. His childhood had not been in his thoughts but she had seen his memories. She surprised him more and more every day.
    “I understand, Daddy. It will be hard to get friends if they’re afraid of me. I’ll keep my gifts hidden like you did.”
    Tag hugged Rose tightly and she giggled again. “I want you to fly me like your father used to fly you when you were my age.”
    Tag felt the warmest love for his daughter and then he grabbed her and spun her around then lifted her over his head and ran out of the room with her giggling the whole time while he relived his fondest childhood memory with his daughter.
    Kosiev was on board the Moscow and his crew had just loaded the new penetrators into their magazines. He was preparing to leave Dremel when his communications officer yelled, “Sir, a large Plant fleet had just jumped into the Pydres system.”
    “Put Mikado thru now,” Kosiev ordered. “Lin what’s happening?”
    “Sensors report half a million ships in the outer system coming our way. The ships are all 2 miles long and are moving in at twice the speed of their original fleet. Sensors also say that the ships have multiple force fields around them. You were right sir, the analysis of their screens indicate that each of the five screens is as strong as the one they employed on the old ships. There are no heavy ships in this fleet.”
    Kosiev felt a bad premonition. “Admiral Mikado, get the Pydres left on the planet into transports and take them to the forts. I think the Plants feel like they have a solution to our planetary screen and I don’t want to risk the population. Send a fleet out to see what they are capable of doing.”
    Mikado ordered Admiral Smiths fleet to jump out and attack the Lead ships. Smith reported back in that his star drives were inoperable.
    “What! What do you mean you can’t jump?” Mikado yelled.
    “Sensors have picked up a frequency being broadcast by six ships moving in with the Algean fleet that prevents our drives from working. It seems to prevent the drive field from resonating on a fixed frequency. The engineers are going to have to answer how this works but the drives won’t resonate. The sun’s gravity and that dampening frequency won’t allow us to jump.”
    Kosiev had been listening to the exchange and ordered, “Lin get your ships out of there. Get the forts fired up and get them moving out away from that fleet.”
    Mikado looked at Kosiev and said, “Too late sir, the Plant fleet has encircled the planet at the jump limit and have any route out of the system cut off. They can jump around the limit to any direction we try to go. We also have to wait until all the Pydres are on the forts which will take four hours.”
    “Get your fleet under way and try to slow them down.” Kosiev ordered.
    Admiral Smith said, “I’m on my way, Sir. We’ll meet the ships moving in system. The other Plant ships are jumping around the SD limit and beginning to move in. They should be here in twelve hours.”
    Smith’s 1,500 Megaships accelerated out toward the Plant fleet at? speed while Chen’s and Kelly’s fleets moved into formation to confront the incoming ships before they reached the forts. Kosiev watched the video feed coming to his ship from the Rising Sun. Kosiev noticed that Tag and Admiral Dorg just commed in on his display and were being informed by Kosievs’ communication officer what was happening. “Send me the coordinates of those ships broadcasting that frequency.”
    “It won’t do any good, Sir,” Mikado said. “They are heavily guarded by hundreds of those ships and moving in with the main body of their fleet; we’ll have to fight our way thru hundreds of thousands of ships to get to them.”
    Kosiev watched as Smith’s ships ran toward the Plant’s front ships. Three hundred miles out the Megas started firing their primary beams at the Plant fleet but the targets were shrugging off the beam at that range. Three screens would burn thru but the beam would quit before it made it thru the inner two screens. Kosiev stood up and watched a massive missile launch from the Plants just as the Megas reached 100 miles out. The missiles were faster than any Kosiev had ever seen. They were even faster than penetrators and they had much larger anti-matter warheads. They also flew erratic courses toward the Human ships.
    “Sir, these new missiles have three engines and are piloted. Sensors report an Algean onboard each of them piloting an evasive course to our ships. Their speed is incredible.”
    Smiths 1500 Megas began killing Algean ships and missiles when the range was down to 100 miles but then the missiles struck and Smith lost 900 ships instantly.”
    Mikado and Kosiev were stunned. Mikado yelled, ‘Get your ships out of there! Run toward the planet.”
    The remaining 600 SR ships turned and went to full speed but it was too late, the rest of the ships were blown apart by the anti-matter warheads that had gone past and circled back on them. No one survived.
    Mikado thought, “We’re trapped.”
    Kosiev looked at his sensor officer and said loudly, “Do you have the coordinates of those ships broadcasting that frequency?”
    “Yes Sir, I do.”
    “Send them to me now; that’s an order!”
    Kosiev looked at his jump officer and said, “Program them in and jump thru the gamma galaxy to those coordinates. I want our primary beams focused tightly in front of our ship. We are going to go to full speed as soon as we emerge into normal space and burn anything in our path out to 200 miles in front of us. On my order you will launch every penetrator in our inventory with the selector set on 100. I want all our power fed directly into the primaries only. Forget the screen around us; I hope we will be moving too fast to get hit from the side. On my command, jump to gamma. Jump now.”
    Dorg had been patched in to the action and Tag had just come on the channel when Kosiev jumped out from the Dremels planet. “Just what do you think you’re doing Admiral,” Tag asked.
    Kosiev could see Danielle sitting beside Tag at the com with a concerned look; Kosiev picked up a bag of popcorn and said, “I’m going to save some friends.”
    Dorg said, “You stand no chance. We can’t stand up to their missiles.”
    Kosiev looked at them thru their display and said, “My ships at the planet stand no chance, the Pydres population stand no chance, the forts stand no chance unless those six ships broadcasting that frequency are knocked out. That’s the only way my people can be saved.”
    Tag said, “You can’t do this, Alex. Please don’t do this.”
    Kosiev smiled and said, “On Ross, you really didn’t know if you would survive or not when you landed on the planet did you?”
    Tag shook his head. “No, I wasn’t sure.”
    “But you had to try anyway.”
    Tag only looked at his long time friend.
    “So do I, my friend. So do I,” Kosiev said.
    Mikado came on line and said, “Admiral you’re worth more than all of us. Don’t do this.”
    Tag winced. That was exactly what Kosiev had said to him when he had dropped into the middle of the Rossville ground battle. He knew there was no stopping his long time friend.
    Kosiev then looked at Tag on his display and said, “I don’t know what is going to happen, Tag; but I’m certain of one thing; you have to come back and be the point of the Stars Realm Spear against these creatures. We were most successful when you were leading our battles. Mikado is better than I am at handling fleet actions and Admiral Dorg is better at fleet organization. I see now that we are going to need everything we posses to win this war.” Kosiev then smiled and said, “We’ll talk about it after I take care of those six ships.” Kosiev then turned off his com.
    Dorg ordered, “Mikado, give me a feed from those ships he’s after.”
    The Algean ships broadcasting the frequency were 900,000 miles inside the jump limit clustered together to make their signal stronger. Suddenly one of the stranger’s ships came out of null drive at the band limit and began accelerating toward them. The Algeans didn’t worry; there were 1,800 ships between them and that single ship.
    Tgon-Gee, Terl, and Misty joined Tag, Danielle, Dorg, and Mikado as they watched their displays. The Moscow accelerated at an incredible rate even for one of their Megaships. They could see that there was no screen around the ship only the two focused primary beams glowing sun bright in front of the ship. One beam would fire for four seconds and then the second would begin firing. Mikado said, “He’s overloading his reactors. They’ll only last another few minutes but he’ll cover that distance in less than two minutes at his current speed.” They watched as 800 ships converged to destroy that single ship. They fired a swarm of those new anti-matter missiles at it but it burned the ones in front out of existence and out ran those coming from the sides. Twenty ships tried to ram him but his overloaded reactors tripled the power of his primaries and they were burned out of his path. One huge plant hip blocked the Moscow’s path but the primaries burned a giant hole through the ship and the Moscow flew through the ship. Nothing could reach him from the sides; his ship was moving too fast. Finally fifty miles from the six ships his last reactor burned out and Kosiev launched twenty thousand penetrators programmed to hit their targets with 100 of their numbers. They watched the Moscow as it slowed and fifty of the anti-matter missiles struck it. The blast was unbelievable and when the screens cleared, nothing was left. Tag grabbed Danielle and held her close as they watched their friend die. Dorg sat and remembered all of his moments with Kosiev. This loss hurt as much as the memory of the Rossville Colonists. “I hope I can die as gloriously,” he thought then stood and sadly lowered his head for his former adversary and friend.
    Mikado watched with a heavy heart as his former commander’s ship was destroyed but those penetrators got away and homed in on those six ships. Now they tried to escape but it was too late. The penetrators locked in on them and their new five force fields were blown away by the first seven penetrators that hit them. The remaining then locked on the Algean ships protecting the frequency ships and began killing them by the hundreds. The six ships were blown up so quickly that one moment they were there and the next they no longer existed. Mikado’s sensor officer said, “Star drive is back on line.”
    Mikado knew that they had to jump quickly before the Plants jumped in more frequency ships but then he noticed that the Plants had left more than 130,000 ships outside the jump limit and he suspected that they were going to follow their jump to track them back to their home world. “Send all ships our jump coordinates in Gamma,” Mikado ordered. “Attention all ships and forts, I’ve just sent you the coordinates I want you to jump to in the gamma galaxy. I believe that we will be followed. As soon as you come into normal space, release half of your inventory of penetrators set for thirty. Then jump to your individually assigned jumps and fire the other half at your second jump. Then make your third jump and wait to see if anything is able to follow you. If there is, you can’t jump home until you lose them. Set your penetrators, prepare to jump, Execute.”
    The Plant fleet moving in system at high speed had reached 1000 miles from the planet and launched a missile salvo of a million missiles at the forts surrounding the planet. The missiles were halfway to their targets when every ship and rock circling the planet disappeared. There was nothing to stop the missiles so they continued to the planet and totally burned everything on it in anti-matter fire. The planet actually cracked in the middle of one of the smaller continents and the core of the planet blew up thru the surface causing huge earthquakes and then the escaping core burned the atmosphere. The planet disappeared under a black cloud cover and shook in its death throes. The Half Fleet leader watched his video grimly, “There was a whole continent of food source not harvested.” Then he watched it all burn. “There’s going to be hunger in the fleet,” He thought. “Perhaps the Leaders might want to rethink their attack plans at the next planet.”
    Mikado’s 3,000 surviving ships came out of null space and ejected 1,300 penetrators each; the forts released another two million then all the ships and forts jumped to their second jump coordinates leaving 6 million penetrators behind. Ten seconds after the SR fleet disappeared; the 130,000 plant ships came out of null space trying to read their jump tracks. They had the misfortune to come out in the middle of 6 million penetrators. Unfortunately for the Algean ships, they did not have any coordinates in their star drives because they were going to load in what they tracked from the stranger’s ships. The three seconds that it took to load in any coordinates was two seconds too long. Every Algean ship was less than a mile from a hundred of the high powered penetrators when they emerged from their jump and the penetrators only took one second to lock on and another half second to hit. All 130,000 ships were destroyed. The explosions also erased any drive tracks the Stranger’s had left. The ships that followed up on their tracking ships only found wreckage. The first 750 follow up ships had the misfortune to jump into that cloud of penetrators and ended up like the first 130,000. After no response, a Plant Leader finally suggested jumping to a different coordinate close by. The Algean Leaders were once again frustrated in trying to track where the Strangers were coming from.
    The Leaders were elated at their victory, but now they did not know where to go to continue their success. The Elder said, ‘Get the explorer ships out. Look in that Galaxy they keep escaping to and start looking to see if there is another planet in our galaxy they are using. Find them before they can counter our advantage.”
    Another Elder said, “We can’t do anything even if we found them now.”
    The Eldest said, “Why is that so?”
    The Strangers lost a hundredth fleet to our missiles. We lost almost a third of our new ships when we tried to track them. Those ships have to be replaced and it will take half a planetary cycle to complete them.”
    The Eldest stood waving in the wind pondering what he had just heard then said, “Making the new ships will do us no good if we don’t know where to send them. Use all of our old ships to search and hold the new fleet together to attack when we find them. Now that they know about our new ships and the frequency generators, we have to find them quickly before they develop technology to defeat us. We can’t give the Strangers time.”
    All of the Plant Leaders stood silent waving in the wind contemplating what the strangers might come up with next.
    There was sadness and grief among the members of the Stars Realm at the loss of their most decorated and famous Admiral. The loss of the battle was secondary to the weight of losing Admiral Alexander Kosiev. The video of his death was shown to the citizens of the Stars Realm and they all saw the bravery of Kosiev and the crew of the Moscow. Director Misty Nicole ordered a memorial built in Central City surrounded by parks to give honor to the Admiral and crew of the Moscow for their sacrifice. Queen Danielle Gardner issued an edict that Admiral Kosievs statue would be the central feature of the new Fleet academy that would forever forward bear his name. Kosiev became the first Human to win the Solar Star three times. He was the first recipient of the Crimson Crown which the Queen decreed would be the Stars Realm’s highest award for bravery. The medal was placed in clear armor on his statue with a description of his action and listed all the members of his crew that died with him to save those trapped at the planet.
    Admiral Dorg, Tag, Danielle, and Admiral Mikado sat on board the Rossville in orbit above Ross. Admirals Kelly and Chen were also present on display along with Tgon-Gee, Terl, Misty Nicole, and Sten. All of them had bags of popcorn in one hand and the drink of their choice in the other. They had spent the last two hours reminiscing of their memories of Kosiev. Tag told them about when the Vgrig Warleader was allowed to escape and to make it look real missiles had been fired that came remarkably close to hitting the escaping ship before it jumped. “Kosiev had laughed so hard he could barely breathe,” Tag said, “Finally he got out that the Warleader had probably opened a porthole and pushed some of the missiles away.” Everyone laughed and they ate their popcorn and missed their comrade and friend.
    Danielle then stood and said, “The name Moscow will never be assigned to another ship. It will be retired and will be the symbol of courage. From now on the Crimson Crown Medal will be placed above the shape of a Megaship with the name Moscow on it. His medal will be the only one ever given with just the Crown.”
    The room started clapping and Danielle said, “I hereby order it by Royal Decree and the first recipient of the new medal will be Admiral Smith.” The room cheered her decision and for a moment their sadness was held at bay.

Chapter 15

    Tag was sitting in the library at their castle staring at the map of the Plants Galaxy. Danielle came in and saw her husband looking somber and she knew that the loss of Kosiev had hit him hard. He had been in a depression since the funeral and she knew it was not getting better. She walked in and sat down beside him and he put his arm around her. Danielle looked into his eyes and she saw his pain. She then thought to him, “What Kosiev said has caused you pain.”
    Tag remained silent for a moment then thought back at her, “If I had been with him, he would still be alive.”
    “No, Tag, he would be dead and you would be floating in Plant space.”
    “No, Danielle, you’re wrong. You know how Kosiev often reacted without thinking things thru and that’s exactly what he did this time and it cost him his life. If I had been there, my talent would not have allowed us to go alone. I would have stopped him and called in 20 more megaships to support his effort from Dremel. His reactors ended fifty miles from the target ships when all he had to do was get to within 200 miles and launch penetrators. With that many megaships there would have been twenty times the number of penetrators that he launched. We could have then turned way and used our jump drives to escape when the frequency generating ships were destroyed. The Planet was attacked thirty minutes after the frequency generating ships were destroyed so there was thirty minutes to get the additional ships to assist us. He died because I was not there. My psychic talents would have caused us to come up with a plan that worked.”
    Danielle saw in Tag’s mind the plan as he described it and she knew that he was right. She felt his pain and her heart ached for him. “There’s something else.” Danielle leaned back and looked into his eyes. “I may be responsible for his death.”
    Danielle sat up straighter and said, “Just how do you see that?”
    “Danielle, you know what the Glod say about my talent. You also know that Sung Lea can see visions of the future and that we try to follow the best vision. I think that my talent could see that I was sitting back and letting Kosiev lead the war against the Algeans. Perhaps I knew deep inside that we would lose if we continued on the path we were taking and the only way to get me involved in the war was to remove Alex so I would be forced back into the fray. Remember, the Glod say that I will do things without even being aware I’m doing them and that my enemies will be destroyed. If our talents could bring us together even if the old Alliance had to fall in the process, do you thing losing Kosiev would just be another way to protect us.”
    Danielle listened and though she wanted to believe otherwise what he was saying sounded true to her. She now understood why her love had been so depressed. If he had been involved, Kosiev might not have had to die. “So what do you do about it?” she asked.
    “What do you mean?”
    “Tag, why are you here instead of out there flying at light speed toward the enemy? Kosiev saw that you should be the lead in our attack on the plants. It scares me to have you in danger but Kosiev was right, we’re at our best with you in the lead. I think you are right in what you’ve said and if you are then it should tell you and me that you must take the lead in this war.”
    “What about helping you in your duties ruling the Alliance and having to leave Rose?”
    “Tag, do you seriously think that the Stars Realm looks to you for direction. You can still go out for walks in public and only get a small mob. I go out and riot police are needed.” He looked at her with a furrowed brow and she immediately said, “I am the one chosen to be the leader and sometimes I grow weary of the task. You are the one chosen to lead our military. You walk into a room of soldiers and they immediately focus on you and later look at me. We have our different callings. As far as you leaving Rose and me, how long would it take you to leave a battle and jump back to Ross?”
    Tag thought a moment and said, “Well, with four jumps to different galaxies, forty five minutes.”
    “Also consider this; how much real time have you spent actually planning and fighting battles? You could actually choose to jump home each day if you chose.”
    Tag looked at his wife and knew she was right. He had taken time away from the conflict to be with his family and Kosievs death had jerked him back to reality. It was time to get his hands back into the fray. “I’ll start in the morning,” he said. “We need to establish our new command structure.”
    Danielle looked at him and said, “We’ll have the meeting in the morning. Right now, I need you back with me.” She then put her arms around his neck and pulled him close.
    Tag looked in her eyes and for that moment his pain was forgotten.
    Upstairs Rose lay in her bed feeling her father’s anguish. Though she was only four, she understood what he had said. She sent a warm feeling of love to her father and decided that she was going to keep her eye on what he was about to undertake. She was not going to let him get hurt if she could prevent it. Then she went to sleep when she felt Tag release his pain.
    Tgon-Gee, Terl, Misty, Admirals Dorg, Mikado, and Chen were waiting in Danielle’s outer chamber. They had been summoned by the Queen that morning and had come to Ross as quickly as possible. “I wonder what’s going on,” Admiral Dorg said.
    Terl said, “It has to have something to do with the military. Perhaps Kosievs replacement is going to be announced.”
    Tgon-Gee looked at Tel and said, “If that were so she would have asked the Stars Realm’s representatives for selections to consider and she has not done that.”
    Danielle and Tag walked into the chamber and Danielle said, “Thank you for coming so quickly and if you’ll follow me to the library we’ll begin.” The group stood up and followed Danielle into a room that looked like it was a hundred yards square and had galactic maps covering the walls. Danielle asked, “Admiral Dorg, can you update me on how many megaships we have in our inventory.”
    Dorg looked at his com and pressed a button, read the display, and said, “Close to forty thousand, Your Majesty.”
    “Have we made any changes to these ships since we lost to the Plants at the Pydres’ planet?”
    Everyone looked at each other and Tgon-Gee said, “Unfortunately we have done nothing. We are in a leadership vacuum and everyone is looking at everyone else to move us forward.”
    Tag stood up and looked at the assembled leaders and they could see the resolve in his face, “That time is over. Kosiev was right, I should be involved in the fight and from this moment forward I will be. However, we must set up our leadership structure and unfortunately there won’t be a vote on what we’re going to do. As most of you know, I possess some psychic ability and though I can’t explain how it works, I know it does. I have discussed this with my wife, your queen, and she agrees with me.
    Danielle stood and said, “I have issued a royal decree concerning the changes being made during this meeting and they will be effective immediately. My first decree is that Tag is the one designated to direct our war against the plants. I am going to insure that all our members are notified of the changes being made immediately. Tag will lead this meeting in my absence.” She then left the room.
    Tag looked at Admiral Dorg and said, “You are now the overall commander of all Stars Realm Armed Forces and will report directly to me.”
    Dorg started to protest but then remembered what Kosiev had said. “I doubt that I’m qualified for this position, but I will do my best.”
    “Kosiev said the exact same thing when he was chosen. It might interest you to know that our SFT group has said that the best possible future for us is with you and me working together. I also agree with them.” Tag then looked at Mikado and Chen and said, “We are dividing our forces into two fleets. Each of you will command one of those fleets and will work with each other such that your two commands can smoothly work together in joint maneuvers. Admiral Mikado is second in command to Admiral Dorg and will have the responsibility of developing fleet strategy prior to any conflict to present to Admiral Dorg. Obviously, Admiral Chen will assist in the preparation of that strategy but Mikado has the accountability of producing the plan. Both of you will call Cade McAllister and discuss the last battle with the intent of developing an answer to the Plant’s new screens, piloted missile, and frequency generating ships. You may leave now and begin that process. I also expect an organization chart of the command structure for each of your fleets of 20,000 ships turned in to Admiral Dorg for his approval within forty eight hours.” The two officers looked at each other then stood, saluted Tag and hurriedly left the room.
    “Tgon-Gee, your race has not presented an officer to have a general command position of one of our fleets. I’m concerned that we may be overlooking someone that could help us. Is there a general command officer you would like to suggest to the group?”
    Tgon-Gee looked around the room and said, “Unfortunately, my race has always been aggressive and rewarded those commanders that had individual success over group coordination. We are ill prepared to lead large numbers. Our forces will be more successful if commanded by someone that can get groups to work together. However, one of our naval officers has shown an aptitude to have the skills you want.”
    “Who is that?” Tag asked.
    “He is graduating from the fleet academy in fifteen days. His instructors have ranked him number one in his class even ahead of his human classmates. You actually know him, Mr. Gardner.”
    Tag raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the side, “When have we met?”
    Tgon-Gee said, “He was the warrior that our Queen gave the choice during her challenge on Glod. He chose her to rule our people.”
    Tag’s face showed his amazement. “He chose to enter the academy when he was already one of your planet’s greatest hero’s.”
    “He is currently our most loved hero and yes, he did. He felt he was not qualified to lead in the new navy. He wanted to prepare himself to offer the most he could to serve our Queen. It appears he tried very hard and was successful. Our people still sing about his action during the challenge and he could have any position he wanted on Glod but he wanted to fight for our Queen and felt the navy was the best way. He was a dreadnaught commander during the conflict with the Alliance but said he knew he was not qualified to fight on an equal footing with humans. He came to the academy to improve his skills.”
    “Did he get into any fights during his training?” Dorg asked knowing how the Glod loved a fight.
    Tgon-Gee looked at Dorg and after a slight pause said, “Who, other than Mr. Gardner, would take on a Glod Martial Arts Champion? Would you?”
    Dorg smiled and said, “Point well taken.”
    While Dorg and Tgon-Gee were addressing each other Tag closed his eyes and thought, “Danielle.”
    “Yes Dear.” She replied in his mind.
    “The Glod that chose you during the challenge on Glod is graduating from the fleet academy in fifteen days. What did you sense about him during the challenge?”
    “Really, I’m not surprised. I could see that he was looking for meaning in his life during that conflict. He’s much more than he appears, Tag. His mind is as sharp as his fighting skills.”
    “Thanks, Danielle.”
    Tag opened his eyes and said, “What is his name?”
    Tgon-Gee said, “Ron-Dar.”
    “He will report to my flagship immediately after graduation and assume command of my ship. My ship will be ready in twenty two days and she will be called Retribution. Notify Ron-Dar of his new assignment.”
    Admiral Dorg looked at Tgon-Gee and they both knew that whoever commanded Retribution would be on a promotion fast track. Tgon-Gee felt his pride grow for the new ships captain coming from his race. “I’ll notify him immediately,” Dorg said.
    Terl looked at Tag and said, “I have six officers that I think fleet academy will help to develop the skills they need to be fleet commanders. I think Ron-Dar had a good idea. Perhaps all of our future Admirals should go thru the Academy.”
    Tag looked at them and said, “It would certainly cause a lot of our current captains to attend. Are we agreed that any future Admirals will come from academy graduates?” Everyone in the room nodded. “That’s how we will do it from now on and the Queen will make that part of her decrees. We are also stopping the production of Megaships until we can agree on whether or not they can be modified to handle the new plant technology. We also need to train and develop our existing crews to work together. Throwing thousands of ships into fleets just prevents them from learning ship coordination. Our fleets will be built with squadrons that have trained together and know how to work together. We will build ships as we have crews graduating to man them. The production facilities will be used to manufacture the armaments our ships need to fight. Admiral Dorg, our highest priority is to develop new weapons to counteract the plants new ships and missiles. Please plan to meet with me in forty eight hours with your junior officers to plan where we go from here.” Tag stood and everyone stood with him.
    Dorg said, “Yes Mr. Gardner, I’ll see you in two rotations.” After Tag had left, Dorg turned to Tgon-Gee and said, “What do you think about all this.”
    Tgon-Gee said, “Remember, you always want to be on Death Incarnates side in any struggle. Now he’s back and our future is better for it.” Dorg just stood and wondered what would happen next.
    Admirals Mikado and Chen had left Cade McAllister’s office and left instructions as to the need for new weapon development and scheduled a return visit with the top command staff in five days. That was twelve hours earlier and now Cade was viewing videos of the new Algean ships with one of his top engineers, Anita Lea. They watched as the primaries went thru three screens but were stopped short of penetrating the inner two. “They have really strengthened their screens in these new ships,” Cade commented.
    “Yes, they have but they are actually at a bigger risk than their old Heavy ships,” Anita responded.
    “Why do you think that?”
    “They’re not as big and more of their surface is covered in missile and beam ports which require their magazines to be close together on the surface. One hit and the whole thing should go up.”
    They both thought in silence and then Cade said, “So we don’t have to have hornets hitting the ship in multiple locations to knock it out of action.”
    “It sure looks that way,” Anita said. “One hit on one of those missile ports should do it, especially since they’re anti-matter. The anti-matter missiles are eight times larger than their old ones because of the addition of two more engines and a pilot. They almost qualify to be a ship except for lacking multiple reactors and screens. The majority of the hull space of the smaller new Algean ships surface is covered with their launching ports.”
    “Let’s think about this. The focused primary only made it thru three of the five screens at 300 miles. We had to close to 100 miles to make it thru all five, right.” Anita looked at the data and nodded. “We know what the energy of the primary is at 100 miles which made it thru all five screens but even though it is a focused beam, it’s still more than 1,500 feet wide. I wonder what would the energy would be if we condensed a full primary beam to a beam two feet wide.” Cade said. Both of them grabbed their calculators and began punching numbers.
    “Two hundred and sixty miles,” they both said simultaneously.
    “Ok, Ok, let’s not get excited yet. What good would a two foot beam do?”
    Anita thought for a moment and said, “What if it is set to hit and move thirty feet before it ends?”
    They both jumped up and went back to the video and stopped one of the ships and began measuring the distance between missile ports. Cade looked at the engineer and said, “Between forty and fifty feet,” Cade said
    “Give or take a few feet; how much range would we give up on the beam to be able to move it 70 feet before it played out?” Anita asked.
    “Well, we would have to go to a three foot beam to make it cut that far, and the energy would be the same at,” he paused while he calculated, “228 miles.”
    Cade thought for a moment and then asked, “How fast is this new missile? It caught our ships when they were 100 miles out.”
    Anita looked at the video and measured the velocity of the missile and then said, “It looks like it is faster than our top speed but it runs out of energy after 300 miles. Those three engines have a huge power to weight ratio but they can only sustain that speed for a limited distance due to their limited energy supply; it’s too small to carry multiple reactors. You also have to factor in that the Plants fired their missiles when our ships were 300 miles out and they didn’t start hitting our ships until they were 100 miles out.”
    “Are you saying that if we attack them from further out than 200 miles they won’t catch our ships?”
    “You’re looking at the same data I am. Some of Admiral Smiths ships were destroyed right at the 300 mile mark but forty% of those missiles had stopped and run out of energy at 280 miles. I think that we have their top speed in these videos so with a 100 mile head start, they won’t catch our fleet.”
    Cade looked at the video again and said, “What’s to prevent them from firing their missiles at our ships as soon as they get within 300 miles; that way in order for us to get to 200 miles to attack, their missiles will be less than 100 miles from our ships when they reach firing range? They could also have the missiles flying 100 miles in front of their formations.”
    “That’s true but remember that they only have a finite amount of fuel and if they use it flying in front of the main fleet, then they reduce the distance they can fly at full speed to chase our ships. It’s a tradeoff. We also need to look at our penetrators; they are slower than the new missiles.”
    Both of them continued to look at the video and then Cade said, “We’re using the wrong type of ship for this new plant fleet.” Anita looked at him and shrugged and Cade continued, “Let’s look at what we know. First, hornets are not needed to destroy the new ships, all we need do is hit its surface on a missile port or beam port. Second, our penetrators are slower than their anti-matter missiles and are not faster than their new ships. Third, we have to use millions of armaments to kill their ships sometimes using 100 for a single ship. And lastly, our screens cannot handle multiple anti-matter hits. Is that about right?”
    “Those are the most obvious problems,” she said.
    “Cade smiled at her and said, “Well that shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” and they both laughed and called in their team.
    After all twenty engineers on Cade’s developmental force arrived; he explained what he thought they should do.
    The engineers pondered a moment and one said, “How do we target them and what will we need to do to make the current cells operate with the smaller beam?”
    Cade rubbed his forehead and then said, “We make it happen automatically. The cells will use its leakage to sense any ship that doesn’t have a Coronado screen and when it gets inside 228 miles the cells will target it and fire the condensed beam that will then move seventy feet along the target’s surface.”
    “Will every cell on the surface of the hull target and fire at the same target?”
    “You keep asking me tough questions,” Cade answered.
    “What about this,” the Anita said. “We program every cell on the hull with a number designation from one to fifty. All cells designated as number one will fire together after each of them designate a target, then number two will fire and they will be programmed to ignore the targets designated by number one; then three will fire ignoring number two’s target and so forth until it gets back to one; while this is happening all the cells not being fired can be used for the primaries, screens, or sensors.”
    “How many cells will be needed to produce the beam you’re talking about?” one of the junior engineers asked.
    “Our calculations indicate that fifteen could do it. There are seventy five cells along the length of the mega ships arranged in ten rows around the hull. That would make 50 beams available for firing. They could be fired for up to three seconds and recharged every two seconds.” Cade answered.
    Anita looked at the video again and said, “I notice that the missiles do not have a screen to protect them. What is the top speed of our new hornets?”
    John Nichlos who had designed the new hornets said, “They are twice as fast as the penetrators.”
    Cade and John went to the video and measured the speed of the new plant missiles. Cade said, “It looks like our hornets are slightly faster than the new missile.”
    “They can also maneuver faster than the missile because of less mass to change direction,” John said. “They would be effective as an anti-missile weapon. They don’t have long range capability but could protect our ships if the new missile gets closer than a hundred miles.”
    Cade looked at the clock and said, “It’s going to be a long night, call the entire team in and let’s get this moving. Dorg’s command team wants an answer is five days and I want to have this on a ship for trial in four days. Get moving, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
    The Algean Fleet Leader watched his display at the elements of his fleet as they sorted themselves out into their squadrons. An explorer had discovered a high technology planet and had sent its coordinates to fleet command. His fleet had the new ships and missiles and any discovery of a world with advanced technology meant that he was the one chosen to investigate. The explorer had remained at the null band so as not to get trapped inside by one of the stranger’s ships since there were no frequency vessels to prevent them from jumping to attack. So far nothing had happened and the fleet began moving uneventfully toward the planet after setting up the frequency generating ships.
    “Fleet Leader, there is a battle going on at the planet.” The sensor tool paused and said, “I do not recognize any of the ship types involved in the conflict.”
    “How many ships are there involved?”
    ‘Sensors indicate more than 50,000. There are also ground installations firing at the ships in orbit. It appears the planetary forces are losing this battle and the attacker’s ships heavily outnumber the other. They appear to be using conventional laser and projectile weapons.”
    The Fleet Leader smiled; the planet was lush and green with huge land masses. The Common was suffering due to the loss of the harvested food sources from the planet the strangers had defended and here was a possible replacement for it. Then he had an idea. “The ships that are attacking the planet are to be allowed to escape. Have tracking ships at the null band to follow them back to their source. Maybe we can get two food sources from this.”
    The huge Algean fleet moved in quickly toward the Planet feeling its hunger. Five hours out from the planet, the attacking ships stopped firing at the planet and remained in orbit. Ten ships left the planet and accelerated toward the incoming fleet. “Destroy them quickly. I want the others to run home,” The fleet leader commanded. “Also notify all ships that no power missiles are to be used on the planet. Only conventional missiles will be used in this conflict.”
    The ten ships arrived at the Algean Fleet and started firing their lasers that didn’t make it thru the first force field of the incoming ships. The Algean ships fired and missiles weren’t needed. All ten ships were blown apart in expanding explosions. The invading ships at the planet turned and flew out toward the null band away from the incoming fleet. The Sensor Leader noticed that they could catch those ships easily but chased them at 1/3 speed to make sure they escaped.
    The planets inhabitants saw the attackers of their world flee and began celebrating their rescue by the huge fleet coming their way. The planet had been fighting a war with the invaders for fifty cycles of their sun. They knew that they would have lost had not these new ships arrived and they began broadcasting their welcome and thankfulness to the rescuers for their timely arrival. It was six hours later when the first Algean troop ships began landing on their planet and the giant harvesting ships were seen moving in from the outer system that the inhabitants realized that they had not been rescued but made to face a brand new horror that even the old invaders would have been hard pressed to beat. The inhabitants faced a green horde that consumed all it touched and this time there was no one coming to save them.
    The Fleet Leader looked at his Sensor Tool and asked, “Were we able to follow the ones that escaped?”
    “Yes, Fleet Leader; they led us to another planet that is a giant food source for the common. I have the coordinates in our data.”
    “We will finish here first. We must make sure the Strangers don’t come and try to prevent our harvesting. After we finish, then we will take the other world.”
    The Elders on the Home world were faced with a dilemma. They had spread their fleet out to look for the Strangers but here was a bonanza of two food sources found. Do they leave their fleets spread out or do they defend their newly discovered food sources?
    ‘What are the chances that they will attack while we are harvesting the food source?” one of the middle Elders asked.
    “The Eldest replied, “You need only look at when they attacked last time; we were in the middle of our harvest. If we take our new ships to look for the strangers then you have seen what they can do to our old vessels if they attack us while we are harvesting. We could lose our harvest again and the common is running short of food reserves. We have to delay our search until these two are done.”
    All of the Elders swayed and could feel the hunger of the masses on their world; all agreed to delay the search for the Strangers. The Algean Fleet settled down around the planet like a lion over a fresh kill to keep it from the hyenas and vultures. The Stars Realm had been given more time but these two worlds were doomed.
    Tag was sitting in the main library studying the videos that had been collected from the battles with the Algean fleets. He watched the recording of the new faster anti-matter missiles as they destroyed Admiral Smith’s fleet. “We got too close,” Tag thought. “We had no choice; their screens were too strong further out.” He had talked with McAllister and learned of the new small needles that his group felt would be more effective from twice the range but they would only work on the newest Plant ships. He pulled up a picture of a Plant Soldier to see if there was anything about them physically that could help him understand why they were so voracious. He was staring at the picture when Danielle walked in carrying Rose on her way to bed.
    “Say goodnight to Daddy, Rose.” Tag stood up to kiss her goodnight when Rose saw the picture of the Plant Soldier on Tag’s display. She said, “Bad weed is killing people.”
    Tag turned and saw what she was looking at and quickly turned off the display. He said, “They’re not killing anyone right now, Darling, you’re safe here with us.”
    Rose looked at him with those eyes that seemed to penetrate right to your soul and said, “Yes they are Daddy. They’re killing a world of people right now.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at each other and Danielle looked at Rose and said, “Darling, you don’t know that. It’s just your imagination.”
    Rose looked at her mother and said, “Can I show you?”
    Tag looked at his daughter and said, “Why don’t you show us both, Rose.”
    “I’ll have to show you my mind pictures in your mind, is that all right?”
    “Yes, Darling, go ahead,” Danielle said.
    Suddenly Tag and Danielle were at the planet that the Algeans were attacking and they saw the hundreds of thousands of ships around a planet with flashes of combat on the surface. They saw the huge harvesters moving in toward the planet and they could sense the inhabitants dying by the thousands.”
    Tag took her from Danielle and said, “When did you see this?”
    She looked at the now blank display and said, “When I saw it on your picture, I could see them attacking those people.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “She can see them. Rose, you should quit looking at that planet. It isn’t something that you can understand yet.”
    Rose got a very serious look on her face, an expression that Danielle called her big girl expression and said, “I know that they are mean and kill everyone they can. I’ve seen them before when Uncle Kosiev was fighting them. They are the reason he is no longer able to visit me.”
    Danielle said, “This is awful, Tag. What can we do to help those people?”
    Tag just stood there amazed by his daughter but also confused about anything that they could do to help. There was no clue as to where Rose was seeing her vision. Then Rose said something that shocked them both. “When they finish with that world, they are going after another world right there.” And she pointed at the map of galaxies on the wall.
    Tag and Danielle looked at the map and then back at their daughter. Danielle said, “Tag do you remember the mobile over her crib that matched the location of all the planets and moons in Ross’s solar system.” Tag frowned and Danielle followed with, “You remember, we sent it back to Ross to hang in the Fleet Academy. It still follows all the planets accurately.”
    Tag said, “Yes, I remember.”
    “Tag, she had to be able to see that system in order to make that happen. She can see other stars even as a baby.”
    Rose said, “I’m not a baby, Mom.”
    Danielle hugged Rose and said, “No you’re not; you’re my big girl.” Rose smiled and hugged her back.
    Tag said, “Rose, let me show you how to move around this map and make sections of the map grow larger.” He showed her the control knob and how to move the cursor to where she wanted to look. “Where are the planets you’re talking about, honey?”
    Rose said, “That’s too hard, Daddy. Do you care if I do it my way?”
    “No, Darling, do it your way.”
    Rose walked over to the control table and looked at the maps on the wall. The cursor moved to the Plants galaxy on the map with no one touching the controls. Then an area on the map under the cursor grew larger until a star appeared in the center of the display. Rose said, “That is where they are now.”
    Tag took the cursor and locked in the coordinates. Then the cursor moved again and stopped at another star. “That is where they are going next.”
    Tag noted the position of the cursor each time and wrote the coordinates down. Tag looked at Danielle and then said, “Rose, it’s past your bed time. Do you want Mommy to fly you up to your room like a space pilot and put you to bed?”
    Rose giggled and jumped into her mother’s arms and said, “Yes, pleeeese. I love it when Mommy does that.”
    Danielle gave Tag a look that said she would discuss this later and then hugged her little girl as she ran away toward the stairs with Rose laughing all the way.
    Tag hit his com and said, “Mikado and Dorg, I need you on Ross immediately and bring your staffs with you.” Dorg and Mikado looked at Tag on his display with questioning expressions. “The Plants are attacking another planet as we speak and are going after another one when they finish the first.” Both Admirals said nothing but nodded and the display went blank. Tag smiled and thought, “Leila had a good idea about direct links to his commanders bypassing normal channels.” Then he sat down and started thinking about his daughter and what he had witnessed. “She’s four and she sees other galaxies.” Tag wasn’t sure just what he felt but he knew the surprises were not over yet. “She’s only four,” he thought again.

Chapter 16

    Tag along with Dorg, Mikado, Chen, and Kelly sat at a table with Cade McAllister and his chief engineer. Tag explained that the Plants were attacking another planet and had a second lined up after they finished the first one. He told the group that he wanted ships that could attack and survive against the new Plant ships. “I want to go to this planet they are attacking and make things difficult for them. The longer we can tie them down at that planet gives us more time to prepare our ships to fight them.”
    Cade began explaining the modifications they had made to one of the megaships. “We have changed the beams on the ship to focused beams only three feet wide.”
    Dorg interrupted and said, “Why would you do that,” but Tag said, “Give him a minute and I’m sure he’ll explain.”
    Dorg sat back and waited for an answer but showed he was skeptical of the change. Cade continued and said, “We have also taken the hornets out of the penetrators and have modified each Coronado Power Cell on the hull to have a wide range of independent action.” Even Tag raised his eyebrows at that statement.
    Cade shrugged and said, “The Mega Ships are the wrong ships to fight the new Algean fleet but they are all we currently possess. The Algeans built an entirely new ship to take away our advantages and then produced half a million of them. Our problem is that they still have millions of the old models and it’s difficult for us to built two different ships in the quantities necessary to fight both types. We need the Megas to fight the old models but we are going to attempt to modify some of them to handle the new Algean ships.”
    Then Chief engineer Anita Lea said, “I know you think that three foot beams and penetrators with no hornets make no sense and in the old fights hornets were needed but this new Plant Ship calls for a different approach. The Plants have shrunk their heavy ships anywhere from 20 miles long or seven miles long into a ship only two miles long. The new ship is faster than their old heavies yet it carries almost as many missile and beam ports as the old vessel it replaces. That is their weakness.”
    Dorg said, “How can that be a weakness? They’re faster, have just as many weapons, and with five screens each as strong as the one it had before.”
    A picture appeared on the rooms display and it had an image of one of the new Plant Ships. “Notice along the hull of this ship that it is covered with missile and beam ports. We measured and found that there was only fifty feet of separation between those ports.” Cade said. “The reason we had hornets in the penetrators in the first place was so that they could attack the ship’s hull in the hopes it would cause enough damage to the ship and force it out of action or hit a missile magazine and destroy the ship entirely. We no longer have to do that. All we have to do is get a beam thru their screens and move it 70 feet along the hull and it should hit a weapons magazine.”
    Suddenly it seemed that lights went on in the officer’s minds. “You’re right,” Mikado said, “and a beam is easier to penetrate a screen than a penetrator.”
    “Exactly,” Anita said. “But keep in mind that without the load of hornets that a pulse penetrator has had to carry before, it becomes twice as fast. We can also make them three stages instead of two with each stage having three times the penetrating energy of the old two stage penetrator without being any longer. Once it designates a target, it accelerates and separates into three sections that will impact 25 feet apart insuring a weapon port should be hit by one of them.
    Tag looked at them and said, “Then why should we get close enough to use those three foot beams when we can just stand off and hit them with penetrators.”
    ‘Because the Plant ships are fast enough now to out run them if launched further out than 300 miles. That means that their ships may get close enough to launch a missile attack at you and the beams can save you if their ships get close or their missiles come at you.”
    “How can they save us?” Chen asked.
    The new modifications we’re going to use against the plants have had their Coronado Power Cells reprogrammed to work with their sensor. Each cell on the surface of the Megaship will target any object coming at it that does not have a Coronado screen and it can hit an object up to 200 miles away. Let’s say 500 anti-matter missiles are coming at you, the 750 power cells on the surface of the Mega will each target one of those 500 and begin firing 500 beams sequentially every tenth of a second. The three foot beam is actually five times hotter on the surface it hits than the full primary beam and it moves 70 feet across whatever it hits. It would cut a missile in half and we feel certain that the Plants new five screens won’t slow it down.”
    “What if they launch twenty thousand missiles at each ship,” Dorg asked.
    “That’s where the new hornet comes in,” Cade said.
    Tag said, “This sounds interesting.”
    Remember that the Plant missiles do not have a screen to protect them. To add additional reactors or screens would make them so big that they would not be fast enough to catch our ships. To stop one, all you have to do is hit it hard enough to rupture its hull; thus, the new hornet. It is only three feet long and is basically a power cell with holes in it to direct its energy to accelerate and change direction. A magazine on a mega can hold 200 of them which allow a Mega to launch 200,000 of them if it used all its ports. We have rotating magazines that can switch between penetrators and hornets.”
    “What happens if they use their old ships in combination with the new ones?” Chen asked.
    Cade looked at the group of naval officers and asked, “Don’t we have more than 100,000 old ultra and empire ships that match up well with their old design. We can use the new hornets with them to offer some protection against the anti-matter missiles and make sure that they fight the Plants in an area where they can jump to safety if necessary. Using the new weapon mix, you can arm your Mega ships anyway you choose. If some of their old ships are being used, then arm your fleet accordingly.”
    Tag said, “Have you tried any of these new designs in the field yet?”
    “As a matter of fact, we have, sir. We had developed the new hornet a year ago but did not see how it would be effective in the close ship to ship combat that we were doing at that time especially since our screens were strong enough to handle missile impacts and the hornets could not penetrate an enemy’s screen unless it was inside a penetrator. The new penetrator is just a modification of the two-stage and the change in the screen is basically a software change. We modified a mega last night and took it out to see if the modifications would work. The ship is in orbit overhead if you would like a demonstration.”
    Dorg said, “Lead the way, I want to see.”
    Tag watched as a mega ship launched 600 penetrators targeted at the modified Mega. “Launch hornets,” McAllister ordered. He watched his display and did not see the hornets as they left the missile ports because they were very small and moving so fast. Suddenly all of the incoming penetrators began exploding until none were left.”
    Mikado saw the display and said, “This might be the answer for our forts. They could hold millions of these hornets and probably keep any missile from hitting them.”
    “The hornets are only effective against objects that do not have a screen. Ships would not be affected by them,” Anita said.
    “Maybe so,” Mikado answered, “but the forts have their own beams to handle ships with screens.”
    “What about the new penetrators?” Chen asked. “Do you have anything to demonstrate them against?”
    “We have a mega that was damaged in the last battle with the Plants. Its star drive system failed when it tried to jump after its third programmed escape jump and several of its missile ports were severely damaged during the battle. Its screen however, is fully functional and is stronger than the five screens of the new Algean ships. We are going to launch just one of our new three stage penetrators at it and see if it will penetrate its screen and also what kind of damage it does.”
    “Where is the target?” Kelly asked.
    “It is 200 miles away. We’ve had to override the protocols of the penetrator so it would hit a ship with a Coronado screen.” McAllister looked at his weapons officer and said, “Execute Launch.”
    The penetrator left at a velocity almost too fast to follow. Less than a half a second later the sensor display showed the target mega explode in three places with huge flashes. “Take us out to the target,” Tag ordered.
    The Stars Realm Naval Officers were amazed at the damage. There were three holes 50 feet wide in the hull of the Mega ship and it was obvious that at least one weapons port on the new Plant Ship would have been hit. “Cade, you and your team have outdone yourself. How long will it take for you to convert our ships to the new weapons?”
    Cade looked at his team and said, “The modifications are simple. We don’t have the new penetrators or hornets available to arm them.”
    Tag said, “Com the specifications to Sten and also to Ross. We are not currently building new ships so their entire industrial capacity is available for weapon manufacture. I want five ships armed as quickly as possible to go and harass the plant Fleet attacking the new planet. They will be used to begin harassing the Plants whenever we find an opportunity. We will add to that number as the munitions come on line.” Tag then turned to Mikado and Chen and said, “Do you two see any obvious strategies for these new weapons?”
    Mikado looked at Chen and said, “These ships are perfect for hit and run tactics outside the jump limit. They can also go toe to toe with the Plant ships and survive in a hostile environment with anti-matter missiles.” Then he looked at Cade and said, “Have we come up with an answer to their dampening frequency?”
    Cade shrugged and said, “Not yet. I think that it will require a technological breakthrough to defeat and breakthroughs cannot be scheduled. We are working on it.”
    Tag looked around the group and said, “I think you and your team have helped us tremendously. Everyone go back to work and develop a plan to use these new weapons.” Everyone shook hands and left with excitement at their prospects against the Algeans. Tag could see in his mind numerous uses for the new weapons. He smiled as he thought about revenging the loss of his friend. “Oh Kosiev, I miss you and your popcorn,” he thought and then ate a handful as he reflected on all that had happened.
    Ron-Dar was sitting in the front row at his graduation from the Kosiev Naval Academy. His chair was much larger than those around him. He was big even for a Glod. He stood eight feet tall and weighed five hundred and forty pounds. His orange hair was tied in a braid down to his waist and he wore the two ceremonial swords to his graduation. He had spoken briefly to Tgon-Gee who had come to see his graduation and he felt a sense of pride for being number one in his class. He thought about how the last four years had changed him and his view of the universe. He had come to understand that working together will always win over individuals working alone. He knew his fellow Glod warriors at home did not understand that concept and were thus weaker as a result. The President of the Academy was speaking and his mind drifted back to the day of the challenge when he was forced to choose for his race whether or not to accept Queen Danielle as their ruler. He could still see the determination in her eyes and her fear for his safety if he had to fight that demon husband of hers. He did not fear death and he knew he would die if he fought Thomas Gardner but her fear for him changed him. He saw the greatness of her spirit and it made him feel small. It was that feeling that brought him to this academy to try and become more than he was. He had worked hard during his studies and being first in his class helped him begin to feel whole again. Then he heard his name and noticed all his class mates were staring at him. Then the President said, “Ron-Dar is number one in this graduating class and he has been ordered to his first assignment; standup Ron-Dar.” He stood and the President lifted a sheet of paper and began reading, “Ron-Dar is hereby promoted to the rank of captain and will report to the Megaship Retribution immediately after this celebration to assume the command of that ship.”
    His classmates jumped up and began cheering his good fortune. No one had graduated from the academy with that high a rank. He was being pounded on the back and hugged but then he heard over the noise the President calling for order. The graduates finally quieted down and the President said, “There’s more to this assignment that we all need to hear.” Ron-Dar was numb from the news but then he heard, “Retribution is the Flagship of Thomas Gardner and it will be leading our war against the Algeans. One of our own will be in the forefront of that fight.”
    Whatever was said after that was never heard, his classmates hoisted all 540 pounds of the stunned Glod and began parading around the campus. Ron-Dar had finally found what he was seeking and for the first time since the day of the challenge he felt whole again.
    Tgon-Gee stood at the rear of the crowd and felt his pride swell for the Glod Champion that had just been promoted. His success at the academy would cause other Glod Warriors to enter now that they knew they could compete head to head with the humans. Ron-Dar’s example would be the first small step for his culture to become greater than it had ever been. He moved into the crowd to assist the graduates in lifting the heavy Glod classmate. Somehow, he felt much lighter than he should have.
    Misty Nicole sat at her desk with the top scientist from the Directorate’s Labs. “I need you to drop what you’re working on and try to find a way around this dampening frequency that the Algeans are using to prevent our ships from jumping inside the star drive limit.”
    Gerald Nelson looked at the Director and said, “We have looked at the problem and unfortunately we have come up empty handed. The stars gravity already makes the resonance of the drive field difficult inside the limit and it’s only those ships with the most powerful Coronado screens that can overcome it. It only barely overcomes that gravity and it only takes a small disturbance to prevent the drive from being able to hold a resonance. That dampening frequency doesn’t even have to be strong to stop the drive from working. Outside the limit the frequency has no effect.”
    Misty looked at Gerald and said, “Explain to me so that I can understand how that is a problem.”
    “Director, Douglas discovered accidently that every place in the known universe has a certain resonance frequency.” He pointed at a cup on her desk and said, “That cup resonates at a frequency that no other place in the universe resonates and that frequency is the coordinates of that cup’s location.” He reached forward and moved the cup a tiny bit then said, “Now the frequency has changed with its new location. Douglas discovered that if you surround an object with a field resonating with the same frequency of another location, then that object instantly moves, or as we say, jumps to the location of the matching resonance and it doesn’t matter if its six inches away or six light years.”
    Misty had her head tilted and said, “Where does it go when it jumps?”
    “We honestly don’t know. Some scientists have speculated that the resonance field is actually no larger than the size of the universe just before the big bang which was the size of a small atom; so the distance traveled between jumps is actually too small to measure which is why the jumps are instantaneous. That concept however, is conjecture. We do know that using the field reader one can read the resonance frequency of any point in the universe and strangely, the field is instant and is not bound by the speed of light.”
    Misty then asked a question that would change the course of the war, “Well what is the frequency of the space you go thru to make a jump?”
    Gerald Nelson looked at her and Misty could see lights go on behind his eyes. “I have no idea, Director. I have never thought about that and I don’t know if anyone ever has.” Gerald’s mind was running away with him. What a concept, why hadn’t he thought of this before. “Director, please pardon me but I need to call my assistants together to explore this concept. Would you mind if I go to work on it.”
    Misty smiled and said, “Get out of here, and let me know what you find out.” Gerald left the room running.
    Danielle sat in the play room watching Rose play with her dolls. Danielle loved her little girl and could feel her presence no matter where she was. She was worried about her future happiness because it was clear her psychic skills were growing every day and finding someone to match her was probably not going to happen. She watched Rose move her dolls from chair to chair without touching them and she laughed when Rose sent one out of the room to find a missing teacup. She stopped laughing when the doll walked back in holding the teacup in her stuffed arms. The stuffed doll walked up to the table and placed the cup in front of another doll and then sat down in one of the little chairs. Danielle looked at Rose and said, “Honey, how did your doll know where to find that teacup?”
    Rose looked at her mother and said, “I told her to find it and she did.” Rose looked at Danielle and then got up and walked over and put her little arms around her mother’s neck and said, “Mommy, what are you sad about?”
    Danielle knew her daughter could sense her moods and she was not going to ever be less than honest with her. “Honey, I just wonder who your husband will be some day. I want you to be as happy as your father and I are.”
    Rose looked into her mother’s eyes and said, “Don’t worry Mommy, he was born two years ago and we know we will be happy.”
    Danielle was stunned. “Tag,” she thought.
    “Yes dear,” Tag answered.
    “Rose just told me that her future husband was born two years ago.”
    Danielle could hear Tag’s silence in her mind. Then he said, “She did what?”
    Rose looked at her mother and said, “Mommy, let me tell him.”
    Danielle nodded and Rose thought at her father, “Mommy was worried about who I was going to marry and I wanted her to feel better so I told her that he was born two years ago. I am older than him just like Mommy is older than you.”
    “Rose,” Tag thought, “How do you know he is going to be your husband?”
    “The same way you and Mommy knew,” Rose said matter of factly.
    Danielle thought to Rose, “How does he feel about it, Rose.”
    Rose giggled and said, “He doesn’t think about it yet but he feels me and it makes him happy. We will talk when he learns how to talk better.”
    Tag was amazed and then he had a thought, “When can we meet him, Rose?”
    “When I meet him; I think that will be when I am eighteen.”
    “Why do you have to wait until then?” Danielle asked.
    Rose looked at her mother like the answer was obvious, “Because we won’t be ready for each other before then.”
    Danielle and Tag shared a thought, “Perhaps that’s exactly the way we did it.”
    Danielle took Rose into her arms and hugged her tight and Rose could tell that her mother’s worries were gone. “I love you, Rose,” Danielle said.
    “And I love you so much Mommy.

Chapter 17

    Ron-Dar sat in the Captain’s chair on board Retribution. The chair had been specially built for the physical dimensions of a Glod. He looked at his controls and displays showing the status of the ships many systems. He glanced over at a young Cainth female that had just been assigned his new sensor officer and asked, “How are the sensors operating, Lt. Rena?”
    She looked up from her console and said, “I have a small fluctuation in three Coronado Cells that reduce the range to our port side by 10,000 dregs. I have assigned a team to go correct the problem but other than that, our system reads out to three light weeks.”
    Ron-Dar knew that 10,000 dregs was less than one, one trillionth of optimum performance. Too small to really be noticed but his sensor officer had found it. This spoke well of her ability. “Carry on, Lt,” he said and then he went thru his crew list and noted the department heads. He sent a message to each one’s com with a time he was going to inspect their departments. He looked around the bridge and he could tell the intensity everyone felt as they prepared the new Megaship for Thomas Gardner’s arrival. He knew that everyone on the ship had been selected because of their outstanding performance. He was surprised at how well the new crew members had meshed together and were working well with each other.
    He was also amazed at the difference in his ships Coronado Power Cells. Most Megas had the forty five foot cells but Sten had built Retribution with 120 foot cells that for the first time in the manufacturing process had been bent into a curve such that three of them surrounded the hull instead of the usual twenty seven to cover the same space. Retribution also had a new generation of black hole reactors which removed the need of having an outside energy source to help keep the power cells charged. In meeting with Planet Leader Sten, Ron-Dar was told that this was the first of the new megaships that would use this new technology. The Megaships were fast but this ship was more than double their speed. Sten also believed that the new screen would handle multiple anti-matter hits. Although production of new Mega Ships had been stopped, Admiral Dorg had insisted that the five ships Thomas Gardner was going to use had to be stronger than normal. He and Mikado both agreed that the risk of losing Tag was something that they would do everything to minimize. Thus the new ships were much stronger than normal. Ron-Dar looked over at Lt. Rena and said, “When are the other four ships scheduled to arrive?”
    Lt. Rena looked at her display and said, “They have just completed on loading their munitions and stores and will jump within half a rotation.”
    Ron-Dar pressed his com and said, “Weapons, how much longer until our magazines are loaded?”
    Chief Petty Officer O’Brien answered, “Six drags, sir. Two of our hornet launchers are jammed and are being replaced. The penetrators went in without a problem. All the other hornet magazines are loaded.”
    “Have you calibrated the new needle to our sighting systems.”
    “Yes sir. We launched three hornets 200 miles out and the system hit all three of them within five hundredths of a second.”
    Ron-Dar was impressed. Those hornets were only three feet long and moving at extreme velocity. The system was impressive. He had decided that he would use the ships needles to protect it against incoming missiles until they were 125 miles out and then he would launch the hornets. Anti-matter explosions were no danger unless they were inside fifty miles. “Carry on, Mr. O’Brien and inform me when those launchers are completed.”
    “Yes sir.”
    Ron-Dar called in his jump officer and began issuing instructions, “Have you managed to finish calibrating the jump linkage for the other four ships?”
    “Sir, what you’re asking has never been tried before.”
    “I didn’t ask you if it has been tried before; I asked if you had completed the project I assigned you.”
    The drive officer looked uncomfortable and said, “I have the slave mechanisms built but I need to trial it on two ships before I install it.”
    Ron-Dar pressed his com and was connected to Admiral Mikado. “Sir, I need two ships to trial a device before we leave for the Algean Galaxy.”
    Mikado looked at the newly promoted Glod Captain and asked, “Just what is the purpose of this device?”
    “I want to be able to press a button at Mr. Gardner’s direction and have all of the ships in our squadron jump immediately to the coordinates entered on Retribution. I also want to be able to enter the formation that they will emerge into normal space so that we can maximize our firepower.”
    Mikado stared at the Glod and said, “What prompted you to come up with this, Captain?”
    “I thought that fast hit and run tactics would work best if all the units involved could move simultaneously without having to coordinate every jump officer on every ship. The mechanism will engage when the flagship energizes the master unit, then he only needs to decide where to go and put the formation he wants next to the coordinates.”
    “I understand that you will have a total of five ships in your squadron; is that right?”
    “Yes sir, it is.”
    Mikado looked away from his display then said, “I will have five mega ships jump in to your position within an hour. Run your trials with them and if your device is successful, I want a working copy left with Captain Schmidt on the Texas.”
    “Yes sir and thank you for your help,” Ron-Dar said. He looked at his drive officer and said, “Get your staff and equipment ready and go make it work. I’ll expect our ships to be linked by nine hundred hours.”
    “Yes sir,” and the drive officer ran from the bridge. Lt. Rena watched the exchange between the two officers and thought that this new captain was one sharp blade. She looked forward to seeing what other surprises he had planned.
    Tag sat in his ready room aboard Retribution looking at the five captains sitting around his conference table. Two of them were Human and one was from a race called Venzer and had participated in the final battle between the Humans and the Alliance at Sten’s Planet having chosen to side with those that rebelled against the Hargons. He looked almost amphibian with webbed fingers and toes and sleek dark fur covering his body. He stood four feet tall which actually made him shorter than the Cainth. Tag thought he looked like a beaver without the tail. The last two were his captain, Ron-Dar, and a Pydres. Tag was surprised to learn that he was Klas’ son and had worked his way up thru the ranks fighting against the Plants. Tag could sense the intensity of the young Pydres and knew he had a score to settle with the Algeans.
    “Officers, good morning and welcome aboard,” Tag said. “The Plants are currently attacking a planet in their galaxy and harvesting all the life forms for their consumption. We jumped a stealth sensor probe outside the solar system, accelerated it toward the sun, and then shut down all systems except for passive sensors. We have been able to determine that the new ships the Plants have developed are there guarding their harvesting efforts. We have seen that forty of their heavy harvesting vessels are leaving the planet and moving toward the jump limit. We would like to be able to jump into the system and hit them but there are also frequency ships in the system preventing that. We will be attacking those harvesters just before they reach the limit. We also have developed a new technical device that will jump our ships as one unit. Ron-Dar will explain how it works. The harvesters arrive in 20 hours so we will be jumping to Gamma Galaxy in 19 hours and then to the system being attacked. Ron-Dar will be the senior officer on this mission simply because he is the commander of the flag ship; any questions?”
    No one said anything so Ron-Dar stood and said, “Let me explain how the new device slaves our star drives together.” Tag stood and left the room to his officers.
    The Algean Fleet Leader watched his display onboard his flagship as the fleet continued harvesting operations. His crew had just finished eating some of the inhabitants and he was preparing to move his ship back to the null band when his sensor leader stood up at his terminal and said, “Our ships at the null band have just been attacked by the Strangers.”
    The Fleet Leader asked, “With what results?”
    The Sensor Leader said, “We lost 489 ships with twenty of them being the heavy harvesters that were leaving the planet fully stored.”
    The Fleet Leader slammed his arm on his console and broke the chair arm. “How do they keep finding us? Did they go inside the null band?”
    “No Fleet Leader, they stayed outside and made a quick attack and jumped away.”
    The Fleet Leader thought and then ordered, “No harvesting ship is to leave without an escort of 5,000 ships. Have the fleet form up at the null band and enclose a space for our harvesters to go and jump out of this system. Where did the Stranger’s ships go?”
    “They jumped away after running thru the middle of our ships destroying everything in their path. The fleet is spreading out waiting for a return.”
    “Are the broadcasters in place to prevent them jumping into the system?”
    “Yes Fleet Leader. We’ve located them 550 gelds inside the band.”
    “Form up the Fleet. Those ships that have not eaten will rotate in to the planet 100 at a time. Bring one of the harvesters out to 20 gelds to expedite the process.” He then turned back to his display and sent a message to the elders that the Strangers had attacked again.
    Tag’s five ships jumped into the system being attacked by the Plants, spaced themselves sixty miles apart, and ran full speed at the huge harvesters. The Plant fleet was caught by surprise and hundreds of ships tried to get between the harvesters but then the five ships turned on those new needles as they swept thru the Algean ship formations. The tiny beams lanced out and struck the Plant ships and every time a needle hit a ship died. The Plants launched more than 50,000 missiles at the stranger’s ships but they were exploded before they could reach them.
    Ron-Dar ordered the squadron to load their missile ports with the old two stage penetrators which had hornets and watched as his ships approached the huge harvesters; they then fired 90 penetrators at each of the twenty mile long ships. They started blowing up like a string of giant firecrackers and in less than 15 seconds all twenty had been totally destroyed.
    The new hornets were keeping the plant missiles off his ships as they passed thru the Plant squadrons but Tag looked at his captain and said, “Time to leave.” The formation was slaved to Tags ship so whichever direction Ron-Dar directed his ship the others moved automatically with it. The strike force was moving at full speed and just as a huge swarm of missiles approached them, Ron-Dar jumped his formation away. “It looks like your new device worked well,” Tag said.
    Lt. Rena said, “We give up a lot of our advantage not being able to jump inside the jump limit. Has anyone come up with a way to counter that frequency they’re broadcasting?”
    Ron-Dar looked at his jump officer and said, “Not yet. The gravity of the star coupled with the frequency work together just enough to dampen the resonance of our drives. We tried to find a frequency that would eliminate the one they are using but they are broadcasting at such a high power that nothing has worked so far.”
    Tag looked at his display and said, “Then there isn’t much we can do to save the inhabitants. All we can really do is to try to make things miserable for the Plant fleet but it would be suicide to move in toward the planet.”
    “What about the other world?” Can we do anything there?” Ron-Dar asked.
    “Admiral Kelly went to see if we could support them against the Algeans but that species is totally antisocial. They attacked his ships and even though he didn’t fight back, they refused to acknowledge our communications and continued their attack. It appears they are just as violent as the Plants but lack their technology. We have left a passive Coronado sensor in their system to give us a feed when the Algean invasion starts.” Tag thought a moment and then said, “We’re probably wasting our time here except for making the Plants keep their new ships here to defend the harvesting of the planet. It looks like they will be here for the next five years before they move on to the next planet. If the other planet takes as long then the Dremel should be moved and safe before they could move against them. Captain, why don’t you target another group of their ships and let’s keep letting them know we aren’t going away.”
    Ron-Dar looked at his display coming from the remote sensor for a good target and Tag leaned back in his chair and ordered a bag of popcorn. Mikado should have his fleet updated with the new beams and penetrators shortly and then we can start to reduce the size of this fleet.
    Ron-Dar looked up and said, “All ships prepare for group jump in twenty sems. We will fire two volleys of penetrators and immediately jump away. On my mark, 3,2,1, jump.”
    The five ships entered normal space in the middle of the bulge the plants were forming at the jump limit for the harvesters to jump from and fired two volleys of penetrators. The Plant ships could not fire back at them for fear of hitting their own ships across from them. Before they could target the SR ships with piloted missiles, they had jumped away. The Plant Half fleet Leader pounded his chair again and asked his sensor leader, “How long were they in normal space?”
    “Only four interals, Fleet Leader.”
    The Fleet Leader stared at his display a few moments and then turned on his communicator, “Attention all ships, launch two layers of power missiles and form the bulge with one layer facing in and one layer facing out. As soon as a star drive is detected the closest missiles will attack immediately. Form the layers now.”
    Ron-Dar watched the feed from the stealth probe and leaned back in his chair. He turned and said, “It will be too risky now to make any further attack, Sir. There are more than a million anti-matter missiles in that bulge.”
    Tag was also watching his display and shook his head. “No one can say these weeds are dumb. If we jump into that bulge to go after their harvesters, then those missiles are close enough to hit us just as we emerge from null space. Well, it’s going to take some time for them to fill up some new ships. I don’t think they will come outside the jump limit to challenge us, so I guess our work is done.”
    “Maybe not sir,” Ron-Dar said.
    Tag arched his eyebrows and said, “What else do you have in mind, Captain?”
    “Those missiles are rather close to each other and I think we can jump far enough away to launch a full volley of hornets at them before they could reach our launch site. The hornets would have no effect on the ships they were using to form the bulge because of their screens but those missiles don’t have a screen. I suspect that we might cause a chain reaction and probably destroy them all and any harvesters close to them. If we brought more ships in we could possibly launch enough hornets to destroy all of those missiles.”
    Tag looked at Ron-Dar and smiled. He had a feeling similar to the one he used to have when Kosiev would come up with a new idea. For a moment he missed his friend but then he knew that he had a new commander that could step right in and work closely with him. “That is an excellent idea; however, I don’t want to waste it on just those missiles. I’d like to get the next group of harvesters. We’ll have the probe to send us a feed and we’ll plan our attack with their exit from the planet. Let’s go home, Captain. The other four ships can also go home until we notify them to join us.”
    Ron-Dar turned to his com and began issuing orders. Tag leaned back in his chair and thought, “It will be good to see Danielle and Rose. I miss them very much.”
    Tag then jumped straight in his chair when he heard Rose say in his mind, “I have also missed you, too, Daddy.”
    He didn’t even know she was listening to him, so he thought back at her, “Honey, I thought I told you not to go in someone else’s mind without permission.”
    “I didn’t, Daddy. I heard you say you missed me. I just answered you.”
    ‘OK, Darling,” Tag thought back at her. “I love you and I’ll see you later today.”
    “I love you, too. I’ll tell Mommy you’re coming home. I’m so happy.”
    Tag could feel her excitement and he planned to talk with Danielle about Rose hearing his thoughts even when she wasn’t in his mind. Their daughter was showing more and more psychic ability every time he saw her. She would soon be six and she was so far ahead of where he had been at her age. Unlike him, she seemed to fully understand her skills and how to use them. He thought for a moment and remembered that he didn’t even know he was psychic until he was seven years old after a game of hide and seek. Rose had the benefit of two parents that knew they possessed psychic ability and Tgon-Gee, who made it clear to anyone that would listen that she had an aura stronger than anyone that had ever been seen by the Glod. Tag left the bridge and went to his room and thought about what to do about the Plant’s attack. As long as they controlled everything inside the jump limit, their numbers would overwhelm his ships. Perhaps Dorg and Mikado had come up with an idea. He hit his com and said, “Captain Ron-Dar, please schedule a meeting with Admirals Dorg and Mikado for tomorrow morning.”
    “Yes Sir.”
    Tag went to his room and lied down on his bed. He closed his eyes and thought about his wife and looked forward to seeing her. He fell to sleep immediately.
    Rose smiled and went back to her toys. She had helped her father relax with soothing psychic pulses and stayed with him until he went to sleep. “Now where did I leave my tea pot?” she thought. She looked at one of her stuffed bunnies and it got up and left the room to look for it. She giggled and checked on her mother briefly to see if anything interesting was happening. Her life was full and she enjoyed every minute of it.

Chapter 18

    Tag, Mikado, Chen, and Dorg were sitting in the library at the castle on Ross discussing possible strategies on how to attack the plant ships at the new planet being harvested. Leila came in and said, “Please excuse me for interrupting your meeting but I have two scientists that want to speak with you about the Algean frequency ships.”
    Tag looked at her and said, “Send them in.” He looked at Dorg and he just shrugged and nodded.
    Gerald Nelson and Anita Lea entered the room and Anita said, “Please excuse the interruption and I apologize for Colonel McAllister not being able to come but we think we might have a way to get around the Plant’s dampening frequency.”
    All four of Humanity’s military leaders sat straighter in their chairs and Dorg said, “Please tell us what you have.”
    Anita turned to the old scientist with her and said, “This is Gerald Nelson who is one of our top scientists on jump mechanics. He has made a discovery that you might find very interesting.” She sat down and looked at the scientist.
    “Gentlemen, I had a meeting with the Director, Misty Nicole, who wanted a way to get around the Plant dampening frequency and quite frankly, I had no answers for her. I had to explain in basic language how our star drives operate and she posed a question that took me by surprise. She asked me what the frequency was for null space that our ships go thru to jump.”
    The four officers looked at each other and all of them immediately could see where the conversation was headed. Tag said, “Tell me you found out.”
    Gerald smiled and said, “We did. I find it totally remarkable that no one had ever asked that question before and it took someone that really knew nothing about jump mechanics to ask the simple question that took our knowledge to an entirely new level. We discovered that null space has no frequency.”
    Mikado looked puzzled, “How does that help us?”
    Gerald turned and opened his display and looked at them with a smile and said, “Because the Plant dampening frequency prevents a star drive from resonating. To jump into null space all you have to do is set the screen of the ship to not resonate at any frequency; that ship will then jump into null space and stay there. Since the Plant dampening field is designed to prevent resonating of a Star Drive screen, it should actually make it easier to make a screen resonate at no frequency.”
    Dorg looked grim and said, “Have you confirmed that it is the size of an atom and if you have, what happens to the ship that goes in there?”
    “Yes, Admiral, it is the size of an atom and it rejects rather forcefully whatever goes in instantaneously.” Dorg raised his shoulders and Gerald continued, “The no frequency screen of the ship is immediately stripped upon emergence into null space and the resonance of the screen surrounding an object inside the null screen is where the object will jump.”
    Tag looked puzzled and said, “Why don’t you explain how you think we can use this.”
    “We have to use two screens on our ships. The outer screen will instantly go to no frequency at the same moment that the inner screen will be set to resonate at whatever point of emergence the ship needs to appear. They must be set with no less than one tenth of a second between the settings. The no frequency screen must energize first which will throw the ship into null space. It takes about two tenths of a second to fully leave normal space and that is when the second screen will be activated inside the outer screen so that when the first screen is stripped in null space the ship will then appear at the coordinates of the second screen.
    Chen cocked his head and asked, “What happens if the second screen isn’t activated?”
    Anita looked at the group and shook her head. “The object in null space with no screen when the first is stripped will be destroyed totally; normal atoms cannot exist in null space. The best we have been able to determine is that all the atoms of the object will be totally stripped, broken apart, and equally distributed thru out the universe which may account for the random atoms scattered throughout space. The only thing that prevents it from happening normally is a resonating screen. Without a frequency for normal space to send the object, well, you don’t want to be on a ship that finds itself in that predicament.”
    “Have you tried your idea on a real ship?” Tag asked.
    “Yes we have and it works. We have not tried it inside a jump limit with an Algean dampening field operating but we would like for you to allow us to send a ship to see. All of our estimates point to it being able to jump in and out of that environment.”
    Chen said, “I will take my ship in.” The other three started to object and Chen said, “Gentlemen, you all out rank me and are much more valuable to the war effort. You know it only makes sense for me to do it.”
    There was silence and Tag said, “Maybe, but we’re going to do this so that whoever goes in stands a chance to escape if anything goes wrong and also try to get the Plants to strengthen their position in hopes that it does work. We will attack the Plant Fleet at the new planet just outside the jump limit on the planet side of the sun. That should draw their ships to our location. I’m sure the frequency ships will be broadcasting and the Plant ships on the sun side should jump around to our side to support their main fleet. Once we see them arrive, that is when we will jump in to the sun side away from the planet and try the new screens.”
    Dorg looked at Tag and said, “How many ships will you use in the attack?”
    Tag thought a moment, “How many Megas do we have?”
    Dorg pressed a button on his com and said, “We have about 45,000.”
    “That’s how many we will jump in. I also want them all slaved to my ship so that when all of the Plant ships jump in from the other side of the planet and God knows from where else, we can jump to another location to keep from being surrounded. At that point the Admirals will take command of their ships for coordinated attacks. If we are successful in our fleet action then I suspect the Algeans will build up their numbers at this planet so that if this new screen technology works we can deal a huge blow to their numbers. We will only fight long enough for Mr. Nelson to make his trial and then we all jump away.”
    Dorg looked at Chen and said, “You make a good argument about how valuable we are, however, the same thing holds for you. You command half our fleet and we need you available for the fleet action. We will send Captain Tresk in his ship Short Sword to make the jump with the new screen.”
    Chen started to protest but Tag held up his hand nodding, “I agree with Admiral Dorg. Tresk will make the jump. You need to lead your fleet.” Chen sat back down and looked at Mikado who was also nodding.
    Chen leaned back and picked up his bag of popcorn and said, “It’s probably going to be more fun with the fleet anyway.”
    Everyone laughed and Tag said, “How long before you can have the ship ready Mr. Nelson?”
    “Ten days, Mr. Gardner.”
    Tag looked at Dorg and said, “Better get your ships moving; we have a party to attend. Let’s send out invitations for four months from now so our Admirals here can get their fleet maneuvers sorted out and the new weapons installed on the ships. I want every ship to know their part in the upcoming mission.”
    Dorg smiled and said, “I’m sure it will be a blast.”
    Tag and Danielle were sitting in their bedroom on a couch cuddled up under a blanket. The bedroom was more than fifty yards wide and had a huge fireplace in front of the couch. It was primarily for visual effect because the temperature was controlled by Coronado Solar Panels. Danielle liked to keep the room cool so a fire would be just right. Tag held her close and thought to her, “Danielle, Rose heard my thoughts in another galaxy without my directing them at her.”
    Danielle sat up and looked at Tag. “What did you think that she heard?”
    “I was thinking that I missed you and her very much. She immediately thought back to me that she missed me, too.”
    Danielle thought a moment, “Do you remember that you told me you could sense anytime someone was looking at you when you very young?”
    “I can still sense it.”
    “Well perhaps our daughter can sense anytime someone thinks about her. It’s not a far cry different from what you can do and if I’m right, she’s listening in right now since we’re discussing her, right Rose?” Danielle thought.
    There was a pause then a very contrite Rose thought back, “Yes Mommy. I don’t mean to listen but I hear anything you say about me.”
    “Why don’t you come downstairs and join us, honey,” Danielle thought at her.
    Tag could hear her running down the steps and suddenly she turned the corner and ran and jumped into her father’s arms. “I’m sorry Daddy.”
    Tag looked at Rose with a smile, “Darling, you are what you are. It would be like being angry if a normal person were in a room and everyone was talking about them then getting angry because they were heard. You are blessed with talents that no one else has and I worry about where they might lead you.”
    Danielle looked at him with a stern look on her face but Tag continued, “I once had someone tell me that I had the power to defeat anyone I fought. He went on to say that it was a good thing that I did not go looking to use my talents but only used them when absolutely necessary. Do you understand what I’m telling you Rose?”
    Rose lowered her head looking into the fireplace and was silent. Danielle started to speak but a look from Tag silenced her. They sat there for what seemed to be a long time then Rose lifted her head and said, “You worry that I will use my talents to hurt others just because I can. I also know that my talents are like yours and Mommies only they are stronger and without really meaning to, I could hurt someone badly; just like you did to Eric in school.”
    Tag was startled but then remembered that he had invited Rose to look at his memories when she was three. It was amazing that she remembered that particular memory. “Yes, Darling, I actually hurt Eric before I knew I had the talent for violence. Unlike me, you know you have those talents so you remove any excuse if someone is hurt. Do you remember what I did after I hurt Eric?”
    “Yes, Daddy, you never won another fight. You refused to hurt your opponents.”
    “Now tell me honestly, Rose; what do you think about what I’ve just said to you.”
    Rose looked at her mother and Danielle could see trouble in her little girl’s eyes. “Daddy, you and Mommy have gentle loving hearts. You only hurt those who want to hurt you, Mommy, or me. I also have a loving heart. I have known nothing but love from you, Mommy, Leila, Tgon-Gee, Dorg, Kosiev and all the others I’ve had in my life. One thing I have that you did not have is enough talent and control to avoid a fight. I will only hurt those who try to hurt my family or my family of worlds.”
    Danielle asked, “Your family of Worlds?”
    “Yes Mommy, the Stars Realm’s enemy is my enemy.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “I have no doubt that she will follow you as Queen of the Stars Realm. It’s good she’s developing a protective attitude toward her future subjects.”
    Danielle looked at Tag and said, “It’s too early to be so serious. She’s only five and she should enjoy her childhood.”
    Tag looked at Rose and said, “Why don’t you ask her what she finds to be the most fun.”
    Danielle looked at Rose and Rose smiled and said, “I love listening to you make decisions about how people will live in peace and harmony and then seeing everyone scramble to follow your wishes. I sometimes look at the worlds you rule and see how much the people love you. I hope someday they will love me as much. I also love playing with my teapot and bunnies.”
    Danielle burst out laughing. “I guess you are enjoying your childhood. Do you also have my ability to see the truth in various situations?”
    Rose hesitated then said, “Yeesssss.”
    Danielle arched her eyebrows, “Why do you say it that way?”
    “Well, do you remember the Yrwset representative that was in here three days ago asking for credits to build a dam on their northern continent?”
    Danielle said, “Yes, I do remember.”
    “Well, the dam is already built. They really want the money to build a town near the dam.”
    Danielle looked at Rose and said, “How do you know that?”
    “I looked at his planet when he was speaking to you and saw the dam. I did not look in his mind.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “Perhaps she could help you. Maybe she could let you know when she see’s deception. I suspect she listens in on you all day.”
    Rose lowered her head and said, “I’ll stop if you want me to, Mommy; I just find it so much fun to watch all the things you do every day.”
    Danielle laughed and said, “No honey, you keep right on watching and if you see anything that you think I should know; send me a thought.”
    Rose jumped into her mother’s lap and said, “Oh goody, this is going to be so much fun.”
    Tag looked at his wife and daughter and thought to them, “Both of you are born to rule; together you’ll be amazing.” Both of them curled up into Tags arms and he held them close as they sat and watched the fire.
    Four months later Cade and Anita were on board the Megaship Short Sword talking with Commander Tresk and his jump officer. Cade pointed to the jump console and said, “The new system is not greatly different from the old one.” He then pointed to a switch in the middle of the console and said, “This switch determines which system you’ll use. Pushed forward, it operates just like you have always used it. Just enter the coordinates and you’ll jump to whatever location you’ve chosen once the star drive is engaged. However, if you pull the switch toward you, then the new system becomes active. You will still enter the coordinates you want to jump to but the system will automatically produce two screens with the first one taking you into null space and the second one turning on just before you leave normal space. Once you enter null space the outer screen will be stripped away and you will be ejected from null space to the coordinates you used for the inner screen. Do you understand?”
    Tresk looked at the two engineers and said, “Why do you need to go to the Plants fleet to test this? Can’t you just do it right now?”
    Anita shook her head and looked Tresk in the eyes, “Commander, the whole idea of developing this screen is to enable our ships to jump inside the jump limit while the Plants are using their frequency ships. The only way to truly test it is to do it while those ships are broadcasting.”
    Tresk looked at the console and said, “What happens if it doesn’t?”
    “Nothing,” Cade said. If it doesn’t work you can’t jump inside the jump limit or jump out. You’ll just stay where you are.”
    The jump officer then asked, “What if it allows you to jump in but then won’t work coming out?”
    Cade smiled, “That’s why you’re going to make two jumps; one just a short distance inside and back out of the jump limit and another all the way into the inner system and back out if the first one works.”
    Tresk shook his head and said, “Well, I’ll be the first to let you know if it works.”
    Anita laughed, “Commander, we’ll know as soon as you do, we’re going with you.”
    Tresk just looked at the two scientists, “I guess that means you have outstanding confidence in the system. Well welcome aboard, we’ll be leaving as soon as Admiral Mikado and Admiral Chen get their fleets sorted out. Officer Nerha, please take these two and show them to their quarters.”
    The Algean Leaders swayed in the gentle breeze on their home world looking up at the bright red sun. They had their feet solidly placed in the golden soil tasting the nutrients. One of the Algean scientists approached and stood beside the soil waiting for the leaders to notice. The Eldest Leader broke his attention from the sun and said, “Have you been able to determine how the Strangers have been able to find us?”
    “No, Leader, we have not. Some of us think that perhaps they managed to place a device on the hull of one of our ships but close inspection has not turned up anything. We will continue to look but I think they must have some form of technology that we do not possess. One of our junior scientists postulates that they might be doing it with psychic skills but again we have no evidence to support that view.”
    The Eldest Leader swayed and said, “Have any of our psychics ever been able to do what he is postulating?”
    “No, Leader, we have not. I just think we have tried to come up with any idea because we just can’t explain how they keep finding our harvesting operations. Doing it psychically is just pure conjecture.”
    “Thank you, you may go back to your group. Notify me if you find anything.” The old scientist bowed and shambled away from the grove of Algean Leaders.
    The second oldest leader turned and said, “The Strangers have not returned since their last attack on the Harvesters. I’m concerned that they may be waiting for the next Harvesters to come out to the null band.”
    The Eldest Leader leaned toward the Military Leader and said, “Have you made any plans to insure the Harvesters safety.”
    “Yes, Leader, I have. We will bring the new fleet to the null band and place a missile shield around the space the Harvesters will jump from to our storage world. I am also having two full fleets on alert for immediate jump into the system if the Strangers show up again. I know they are our older model ships but they have been armed with the new power missile. We will follow them this time when they jump away. I will assign a ship to every ship they use to track their jumps.”
    The Eldest Leader said nothing but looked back up at the bright red sun which told the Military Leader that his plan was acceptable. The golden soil continued to feed them and they relaxed enjoying the beautiful day.
    Tag, Dorg, Chen, Mikado, and Ron-Dar sat around the conference table in the Gardner Castle Library planning the upcoming battle. Tag looked around the table and said, “I’m sure some of you are wondering why I’ve invited Ron-Dar to the meeting. His actions during our hit and run on the Algeans at the planet they are currently harvesting have convinced me that he has the talent to command more than just one ship, so I have sent the paperwork to promote him to Commodore effective with this meeting. He will continue to command my five ship flotilla and control the group jump mechanism that is being installed in all our ships. My group will not be involved in the fleet action but will stand off and observe what is taking place making sure our ships are not trapped during the battle. Welcome to the Fleet Command Circle, Ron-Dar.”
    “Thank you very much, Mr. Gardner. I look forward to assisting this group any way I can.”
    Dorg smiled and said, “It’s good to have a Glod on our team. I was getting weary of this constant Human perspective.” He looked around the room at the humans present and said, “Lighten-up, you know I’m just playing with you. Ron-Dar, I know Tgon-Gee and all your people are proud of you and we also look forward to working together.”
    “Where are we in our plans right now?” Tag asked.
    Dorg pressed a button on his console and pointed at the wall display, “We have discussed how we are going to prepare our ships for this engagement and what you said earlier troubled me.”
    Tag leaned back in his chair and said, “How so?”
    “I don’t think the plants will wait until after this battle to use massive numbers. We hit their harvesters at just the moment before they jumped and you know we hurt their food resources by doing so; I think they probably expect us to hit them again when the next harvesters attempt to make their exit from the system.”
    Tag leaned back, closed his eyes for a minute and said, “We would do the same thing if it were us. I think you’re right. I suspect they have a plan in place to use additional support if we show up again; I’m just not certain about how much support that might be.”
    Mikado leaned forward and added, “How many ships are we going to use? Why would they not make an overwhelming number available?”
    “So what’s the Plan?” Tag asked.
    “We are going to prepare two fleets differently,” Dorg said. “Mikado’s fleet will carry a weapon load and set their beams for the new ships the Algeans have developed. Admiral Chen will arm his ships with the weapons needed to handle the old style ships. Obviously, Chen’s penetrators will have to carry hornets where Mikado’s will be the new three stage penetrators. Mikado’s ships will also be programmed to fire the small primary beams that move seventy feet across the surface of the ship they hit. Chen’s will use the wide primary beams of our earlier battles.”
    “Why can’t you arm the ships with both types of weapons?” Tag asked while looking at the wall display that had pictures of the various weapons to be used.
    “Because it takes time to rotate the mix and in a space battle time is something that is in short supply. Not only would the Captains have to track what type of ship they’re tracking but then advise weapons to change the mix of weapons. This way, you avoid the ships you’re not armed to handle and attack those you are.” If none of the old ships show up, then Chen will stand off and fire two stage penetrators at the Algeans. We are including three volleys of the new hornets on Chen’s ships because the Algeans may fire some of those new anti-matter missiles at him. This would at least allow him to escape before being hit.”
    “I think you’ve come up with a good plan, Admiral; while we’re fighting, Tresk will attempt to use the new jump system on the other side of the planet. We won’t have to stay long.” Tag looked around and said, “Is there anything else?”
    No one said anything so everyone stood up to leave but Ron-Dar said, “I have one small concern.”
    Everyone stopped and looked at him and he said, “If they bring in the number of ships you anticipate, won’t they have enough to assign every one of our ships several vessels to track our jump line? And since the battle takes place outside the jump limit, they will have immediate readings of our jumps.”
    Everyone sat back down. Ron-Dar said, “If I might suggest to the group, why don’t we use some of the Plant tactics.”
    Dorg looked at him and said, “Go on.”
    “We know the route we’re going to use to jump from the system while making our escape; why not set up a globe of penetrators in five consecutive jumps. Our entire fleet jumps into the first coordinates in the middle of fifty thousand penetrators and immediately jumps out to the second globe of missiles, then to the third, and so forth. After we enter the fifth globe, we jump back to the first globe and finish off any ships left behind and then go thru the other four systems we left penetrators. When we get back to the fifth globe the second time, we jump our ships into the center of the globe facing out. I don’t think they will jump into the center again at that point. We will then destroy any ships that show up. We know that the jump tracks will disappear after 10 minutes so we’ll jump out to a sixth location and see if anything shows up. If nothing does, then the fleet will jump thru three other locations waiting 10 minutes each time to make sure they were not followed.”
    Tag was smiling and he immediately noticed that Mikado and Chen were shaking their heads in admiration. Dorg stood and said, “Commodore, you are tasked with setting up the five jumps and getting the penetrators in place. Our fleets will be slaved to your ship, so take us on a ride that the Plants will not soon forget. We might get them to quit trying to follow us eventually if they keep losing ships.”
    Ron-Dar stood and said, “Yes sir, I’ll have it set up in five rotations. I don’t want to take the penetrators from our ships stores so I’ll get Cade to transport the penetrators to the five systems selected in advance.”
    Chen asked. “How long will it take to get the penetrators in place?”
    Ron-Dar said, “I suspect it will take at least twenty more rotations. I think we have time because the harvesters at the planet have not started moving out yet.”
    Tag stood and said, “This meeting is over, we will probably leave within three days after the penetrators are in place. The sensor probe we left behind in the system indicates that three of the harvesters have gathered away from the planet but it looks like forty more are still being loaded. I suspect that within thirty days they will start their exit and of course that is when we will make a grand entrance. Get your ships ready, we will form up at the jump point we will use to exit the system. We’ll start our attack from there.”
    Everyone stood and left the room and Tag sat back down thinking about the upcoming conflict and then thought, “Atlas, did you listen in on our meeting?”
    “Yes, I did,” Atlas replied.
    “I don’t know why, but something doesn’t feel right about this upcoming battle.”
    “Listen to your feelings. I would suggest that your departure plans from the harvesting system not be delayed if things get out of control.”
    “Do you know anything?”
    “No, but I’ve seen too many of your hunches to know that you should listen to them.”
    “Ok, I hope it’s not something too bad, but I don’t feel right calling off the attack simply because of a bad feeling.”
    “I think that’s the most important reason to call it off. Remember, your psychic skills will protect you. Don’t try to analyze them, just trust them.”
    Tag sat a moment in silence, and then he thought to Atlas, “I’ll contact Sung Lea and see if she sees anything. Beyond that, I have to think about what we should do.” He stood to leave but the feeling of wrongness would not go away and followed him out of the room.
    Rose was sitting in her play room with her toys on the day of the fleet’s departure and could sense the bad feeling her father was experiencing as he sat on his ship getting ready to travel to the weed galaxy. She got up and walked out of her room and went to the library where the map of galaxies was located. She sat down surrounded by the ten bunnies that had followed her into the room and looked at the maps. She took the band out of her hair, let her pony tail fall to her shoulders, and closed her eyes. The cursor began moving by itself on the map; it stopped on the galaxy of the Algeans. The galaxy grew larger and soon filled the whole room. She closed her eyes again and let her mind move from planet to planet until she found what she was looking for; two huge plant fleets holding position with all the ships in formation. She looked closer and saw that they were loaded with anti-matter missiles already charged and ready for launch. She listened in on the transmissions between those two fleets and the fleet at the planet being harvested. They were planning a trap. She thought about what she should do and decided that this was information she needed to share with her father but first she was going to ask her mother if that was misusing her talents. She walked into her mother’s office carrying her favorite bunny where Danielle was meeting with Leila and Eric about expanding the west wing of the castle. She stood there and waited for them to finish their work. Leila was saying, “I think we can complete the plans within two months and, oh, hi, Rose. Is there something you need?”
    “I need to ask Mommy a question.” Rose said softly.
    Danielle looked at Rose and started to tell her to wait until later but noticed that Rose had her big girl look on her face. “Leila, will you and Eric excuse me for just a moment?”
    “Certainly, Your Majesty.”
    Danielle walked over to Rose and took her hand and then walked out of the office into the reading room. “What question do you have, darling?”
    Rose looked uncomfortable and looked at the floor and said, “You know how you and Daddy say I should not use my talents to take advantage of others?”
    “Yes, darling, why do you ask?”
    “Does that include taking advantage of the bad weeds too?”
    Danielle straightened up and said quickly, “Rose, what do you know?”
    “The weeds are planning a trap for Daddy and his friends.”
    Danielle turned pale and said, “What kind of trap?”
    “”Are you sure it’s ok to use my talent if it hurts the weeds?”
    “Absolutely, Rose, especially if your Father in danger.”
    Rose smiled and said, “I thought so but I wanted to make sure. The weeds have two very big groups of ships waiting to attack Daddy when he goes to help those people.”
    “Tag,” Danielle thought, “I need you right now,”
    Tag was sitting in his command chair on board the Retribution talking with Sung Lea again to see if she had seen any new visions of the upcoming attack and he did not want to be interrupted. “Can it wait, Darling?”
    “Absolutely not; stop what you’re doing, pay attention and stop your planned jump immediately.” Danielle said in a stern tone.
    Tag looked at his com and said, “Sung Lea, I apologize but I have an emergency call I need to take. I’ll contact you in a few moments.” Sung Lea nodded and disappeared off his screen. He then turned to Ron-Dar and said, “Put the countdown on hold until I order otherwise.” Ron-Dar looked startled but turned and issued the order over the general fleet channel. “Danielle, what’s going on,” he thought at his wife.
    “Tag, Rose sees two huge Algean fleets preparing to jump in and attack your ships when you jump to the harvesting system.”
    Tag sat straight up in his chair and thought, “Rose, what do you see?”
    “May I show you my mind picture, Daddy?”
    “Show your Mother and me, Rose.”
    Suddenly Tag and Danielle could see the two huge Plant Fleets waiting in formation. Danielle said, “Oh my god. How many ships are there in those fleets, Tag?”
    Tag said, “It looks like more than a million ships in each fleet. With close to half a million ships at the planet being harvested, they total close to two and half million.”
    “Tag, you can’t lead our fleet into that trap,” Danielle thought.
    “Rose, how did you see those fleets?”
    Rose looked guilty and said, “I could feel you feeling bad about your trip for the last three days and I thought about why you should feel bad; I could sense that it had something to do with the weeds. So I took a look around their home stars and my attention was taken to those ships.”
    “I was feeling bad about this attack, Danielle, and I couldn’t explain why. Now I know. If that many ships spread out and then jumped in on top of us and hit our screens with energy beams to stop us from jumping; we would have lost our fleet. I expected a big response from the Algeans but I planned to launch our weapons at the ships jumping in anyway and try to cut down on their reserves. With that many ships jumping in on us, if we had hesitated to jump away as soon as a star drive was detected, well, we would lose our fleet. Rose, if you see anything that you think is important about the Plants, please tell me as soon as you know,’
    Rose smiled, “Ok, Daddy, I will.”
    Danielle picked Rose up and hugged her tightly. “Next time don’t wait to be noticed either. Come straight to me and get my attention.”
    “I will, Mommy.” Rose felt better and now knew she could exercise some of her talents against the weeds without worrying about doing anything wrong.
    Tag pressed his command frequency and got Dorg, Mikado, and Chen on his display. “Change of plans, gentlemen.”
    Dorg looked at Tag like he was crazy, “It’s too late to change our plans this late.”
    “Admiral, the Plants are going to jump two million ships in on our fleet as soon as we emerge from null space.”
    The three Stars Realm Officers looked stunned. Then Dorg said, “Ok, what do we do?”
    Tag looked at the three and said, “We still need to try our new jump system and we should at least use the ships we’ve gathered. We will jump to the system going thru each of the five jumps we’ve left penetrators and drop off enough of our stores to supplement them so that there are 300,000 in each system. Then we will jump into the harvesting system and upon emergence fire every penetrator we have left. We will also fire all of our hornets at that shell of missiles around the bulge the harvesters will be attempting to jump from. We’ll time our jump with the harvesters getting close to the jump limit; as soon as we fire our weapons, we will immediately begin jumping thru the five exit systems as quickly as possible. Impress on your ship commanders that they will only have ten seconds to empty their magazines before Ron-Dar jumps us all away, so make it good. Tresk will time his jump into the system three seconds after we jump. Mikado, how long is it before those harvesters reach the bulge?”
    “Forty five minutes sir.”
    “Notify all ships we will be jumping to system five in one minute; also notify them to eject the appropriate number of penetrators. It won’t be a long party, gentlemen, but it should be a loud one.”
    Chen and Mikado got on their coms and began issuing orders. Tag sat back in his chair and noticed that the bad feeling had disappeared. Thank God for my daughter, she’s the strongest weapon we have and she’s not even seven yet. He smiled and thought, “Love will find a way.”
    Rose thought back to him, “And I love you, too, Daddy.”
    Tag smiled and watched the countdown.
    The Leader of the New Half Fleet watched as the harvesters approached the bulge of the power missiles. His sensor officer looked up and said, “There are no Stranger ships on my screen, leader.”
    “Are the two whole fleets ready to jump as soon as we detect them?”
    “Yes they are, Leader. Do you think the Strangers will come?”
    “Oh, they’ll come. When they do all our ships in this system and the two whole fleets will jump in on top of them and hit them with beams so they can’t escape. We need to capture one of their ships to see how they are able to do the things we’ve seen.”
    “Why don’t we have the two whole fleets here waiting on them?”
    ‘Because then they wouldn’t come. Somehow they are able to see us and I want to make sure they come.”
    “Well, if they are coming, they should be arriving now; the harvesting ships are only moments from the jump limit.”
    The Half Fleet Leader started to respond but his sensor tool said, “Thousands of ships breaking into normal space just outside the null band.”
    “Order the two whole fleets to jump,” the Half fleet Leader ordered and then looked at the screen where he saw thousands of the Stranger’s ships break into normal space and fire millions of those energy missiles. Then as soon as they appeared they jumped away.”
    Right behind the Strangers disappearance, the two whole fleets emerged from null space. “Order them to follow the jump tracks.”
    “They all left on the same track, Leader.”
    “All the better, maybe we can get them in a group, go after them now.”
    Two hundred thousand ships read the jump track of the Stars Realm fleet and jumped after them. They broke into normal space and were immediately hit by thousands of penetrators waiting on them. The next jump track was read and the ships jumped to the new coordinates but not before losing more than 35,000 ships. The Plant fleet once more emerged into normal space and once more was barraged by 300,000 penetrators. These penetrators were programmed to hit with five per target and the Algean ships jumped right into the middle of them. The Ship Leader hurried his sensor tool to quickly read the jump track and follow but it took four seconds to read and then transmit it to the other ships. This time the number of ships chasing the Strangers was reduced another 50,000 ships. Once more they emerged into normal space in the middle of another 300,000 penetrators and again the fleet was reduced another 47,000 ships. This process was repeated a fourth time and the original 200,000 ships were down to 60,000 ships. The Ship leader ordered his surviving ships to jump back to the main fleet and discontinue the chase. He had no idea how many more traps were set but it was foolish to continue the loss of his fleet. He reported to the Half Fleet Leader and sent a video of what had happened. The Half Fleet Leader slammed his arm on his console breaking his new display screen. It was just not worth the price to pursue the Stranger’s ships. The Algeans were no closer to finding out where the Strangers were coming from.
    The Stars Realm Ship Short Sword broke into normal space and Tresk looked at his jump officer and said, “Do you detect any Plant ships?”
    “No Sir, the screen is clear.”
    Tresk, looked over at Cade McAllister and said, “The ship is in your control.”
    Cade set the two screens and announced, “We will be jumping 10,000 miles into the jump limit on my mark; ready, execute.” The short sword disappeared and broke back into normal space 10,000 miles inside the jump limit. “Jumping back out on my mark, execute.”
    Short Sword emerged back outside the jump limit. Cade then said, “This time we are going to jump in system next to the planet closest to the sun and then jump out of the system to the Gamma Galaxy and begin our trip home. On my mark, execute.” Short sword broke into normal space next to the inner planet, released two stealth sensor buoys, and then jumped out of the system.
    Tresk looked at Cade and asked, “Were the plants using their dampening frequency?”
    “Yes they were and the system appears to have operated flawlessly. We need to look at our data but we’ll do that when we get back to our labs.
    Tresk looked at his jump officer, “Ok, you know the drill. Jump thru four galaxies to erase any jump tracks. Let’s go home.”
    At the jump limit, the four million penetrators that were launched by the Stars Realm fleet before jumping away began locking on Algean ships that were just inside the limit and those that were breaking out into normal space. Everywhere ships were being hit by the penetrators as they accelerated to full speed after acquiring a target. As the two fleets began maneuvering to avoid the penetrators, more than a million hornets homed in on the anti-matter missiles that were in the bulge that was formed for the harvesters to escape. As the hornets began hitting the missiles, a huge chain reaction of explosions began and the blast zone expanded instantly to more than 4,000 miles wide and engulfed the harvesters, which had not quite made it to the jump limit with 20,000 of the new Algean ships that were escorting them out of the system. There was nothing left of those ships after the blast wave passed them and the explosions continued as the hornets continued to chase and hit the missiles trying to escape the wave front. The Half fleet Leader watched as his ships were being destroyed by the thousands but even more serious than that was the loss of the second group of harvesters to the strangers. In hindsight, using the missiles was not a good decision and he worried that the loss would cost him his command.
    On a moon circling the inner planet on the other side of the sun, an Algean Installation buried beneath the surface recorded the emergence of Short Sword as it entered normal space and then its jump back into null space. An Algean shuttle lifted and flew quickly to the jump point and attempted to read the jump track but came up with nothing. The pilot of the shuttle contacted the Half Fleet Leader and reported what had happened. The Half Fleet Leader watched the display showing the Stranger’s Ship as it jumped in and back out.
    “Were you able to get a reading on their line of departure?” he asked the shuttle pilot.
    “”No, Fleet Leader, I arrived too late and the track was gone. I recorded no reading at the jump point.”
    The Half Fleet Leader pondered what he was seeing and then contacted the Elder Leaders on the home world. “Eldest Leader, it appears the strangers have found a way to defeat our dampening frequency. I believe that the attack at the null band on the harvesting ships was a diversion to test their new Star Drive. We have also lost the second group of harvesters from the food source.”
    The Elders started swaying and the Eldest said, “Fleet Leader, what is your plan to protect the food source you are currently harvesting. It is unacceptable to continue to lose our harvest to the Strangers. How are you going to stop them?”
    The Half Fleet Leader knew his future rested in the balance of his answer. “Eldest, we will station the two full fleets completely around the food source planet with spacing such that anything coming out of null space will have more than five ships firing power missiles at the emergence. The only place the Strangers can approach the system is outside the formation of our ships. We will use a third whole fleet to escort the harvesters to their jump. I recognize that they have tied up more than three whole fleets but this food source is worth it. Even with the loss of the first two groups of harvesters, we have not touched more than ninety five percent of the planets food. No other food source has as much to offer as this one. We will use what we have an advantage in, numbers. Even if they can jump into the system, they will have to do it outside our ships and we will have enough missiles on station around our formations to force them to stay away from us. We will also place our ships such that the heavy ships are on the outer edge. We will use their beams to destroy the weapons they might launch at us. We should have enough to completely cover any approach to our fleet.”
    The Eldest stood still and then said, “Make sure your plan works, Fleet Leader.”
    Tag was sitting in his office with Cade McAllister looking out over the rapidly growing city that has sprung up after Danielle had announced that Ross was to be the Stars Realm Capital. The population had grown swiftly and in the last five years had grown to more than a billion. Every race in the Ream had some of their citizens living there and the planet was becoming a model for the other members of the Realm to emulate. It was also the home of the Fleet Academy and it also became the center for weapon development since it was the academy that their use would be taught.
    The fleet had arrived from the attack on the Algeans a week before and Tag had isolated himself from the military and had stayed in his study pondering the next action to be taken. He called Cade in an hour ago and he had promptly dropped what he was doing and went to Castle Gardner.
    Tag looked at Cade and asked, “How did the new star drive work in the Plant system?”
    “Both jumps worked perfectly, Mr. Gardner, they went off like clockwork.”
    “I want to show you a video, Cade, that I received a day after we arrived home from the attack. I think you’ll find it interesting.” Tag then played the video from one of the stealth buoys that Tresk’s ship had dropped in the Plant harvesting system while making the two jumps. Cade saw Short Sword come out of a jump close to one of the inner planets of the system and then jump away. “Here’s the interesting part,” Tag said. Cade continued to watch and he saw a Plant Shuttle lift off one of the planets moons and fly quickly to the sight of the jump. Cade was shocked.
    “Sir, our sensors did not show anything of Algean activity.”
    “I know,” Tag said. “The Plants have an installation buried under the surface of that moon. With its high metal content, your sensors would not see it. It is now a certainty that the Plants know that we have found a way around their dampening field which leads me to believe that is why they changed their tactics after we left.”
    “What changes did they make, Sir?”
    “Take a look at the current feed we’re getting from our probe,” Tag said.
    A picture of the system being harvested was on Tag’s display showing the planet that was being attacked surrounded by what looked like millions of ships evenly spaced around it out to 100,000 miles; outside the ships was a band of anti-matter missiles also evenly spaced encircling the plant ships. “Cade, there are more than a billion anti-matter missiles in that formation and the spacing between those ships means that any ship that jumps into their formation would be hit by five to ten anti-matter missiles as soon as it emerged from null space.”
    Cade was speechless. “One more thing,” Tag said. “I’ve had a thought about your new star drive. Have you tried it in a small ship with a standard screen to see if it could jump inside the jump limit?”
    “No Sir, why do you ask?”
    “I have a feeling about the new drive that bothers me. What would happen if the Plants discovered the frequency of null space; could they then jump inside the jump limit from null space? Right now they can’t because they don’t have power cell technology. Would this new technique give them the means to jump inside the jump limit?”
    Cade had a quick nightmare about that possibility. “I don’t know but I’ll find out quickly. Give me one day and I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Tag nodded and Cade left the room quickly.
    The next day Cade was back in Tag’s study. “You were right, Mr. Gardner, using the null space resonance frequency allows any ship to be kicked out to whatever coordinates their second screen uses. Ships no longer have to use the larger power cells to reduce the effect of gravity to jump inside the jump limit. If the plants acquired this knowledge then they would be unstoppable.”
    Tag looked at Cade for a long moment and then said, “I don’t think they know what we did when you jumped into that system. I timed how long it took that shuttle to get to your jump point and it was twelve minutes. If it read anything, it would read no resonance, which will cause them to think that we can now mask our star drive tracks or that they just arrived too late to get the reading. Our probe doesn’t show any of their ships being taken off line to change their drives so I think we’re safe at this point. However, we cannot use the new star drive system because we can’t run the risk of the Plants discovering it.”
    “So we’re back where we started,” Cade said.
    “Yes we are. I’ve asked our analysts how long it is going to take the Plants to harvest that planet and they say that it will probably take them five years.” Cade furrowed his brow and Tag said, “That planet has very small oceans and a huge amount of land mass; the amount of organic life is huge. They will have to keep a large number of their ships in the defensive formations and out of the harvesting activities. It would be suicide to try and attack that planet. Since we cannot jump into the system, we would have to fly 8 hours to get to their fleet. I’m sure that the plants would also jump a fleet in behind us. We are going to take the time they are harvesting the planet to work on our weapons. The Plants are also going to attack another planet after they finish the one they’re harvesting which means if we can keep them occupied with long range attacks we will probably have more than eight years before they move on to another planet. I want some long range weapons we can fire from the jump limit at their ships so I can remind them that we are still here and force them to keep all those ships in that system. You and your team have to find us the tools to win this fight, Cade.”
    Cade looked at Tag and said, “We’ll do our best, Sir.”
    Tag smiled, “That’s all I ask.”

Chapter 19

    Five years passed while the Stars Realm fleet would jump in and fire penetrators at the jump limit to remind the Algeans that they were still aware of their harvesting. The Stars Realm had also grown and prospered during that time. The original 832 members had grown to 856 with the discovery of new races and the 1,400 planets that were originally inhabited had grown to 3,300 with the economic expansion of the Realm. Now that the members no longer feared being attacked by other members, they turned their attention to making life good for their citizens. Danielle played a huge role in choreographing the new expansion and she had become more and more dependent on Rose’s help. The psychic talents of Rose were incredible and she seemed to know everything that was happening and how it all related. She was eleven now and she enjoyed the ruling of the Realm immensely. The Stars Realm loved their Queen but they also adored Princess Gardner. Danielle was sitting in her bedroom in front of the fireplace with Tag and enjoying the moment. She looked up at him and said, “Tag, Cade McAllister has asked me to issue an order to convert more than 200 of our fleet weapon facilities to a new device his team has developed.”
    Tag sat up straighter, “He hasn’t said anything to me.”
    “I think he plans to do that soon. He knows that I would discuss it with you and that you would call for him to explain. You haven’t been easy to contact since the last fleet action.”
    Tag lowered his head, “I didn’t want to stifle his creativity. I sensed that he and his team would need some room to maneuver and my constantly looking over his shoulder would be a distraction.”
    “Well, I’ve appreciated your help in governing the Realm but I think he might have what we need to get you back into the fight. As Kosiev said, you should be the point on the Stars Realm spear.”
    “I still miss Alexander, Danielle. Dorg is doing a great job, but Alex had so much to offer our efforts.” Tag remained silent for a few moments and then lifted his com and said, “Leila, would you contact Cade McAllister and ask him to meet me here at midday tomorrow. Tell him to bring anyone he thinks might be needed.”
    “Yes Your Majesty, I’ll set the meeting up.”
    Tag was startled and Danielle snuggled closer and said, “I guess you didn’t know that the First Family voted this morning and declared Rose to be my successor; that vote was 100 percent for her. They also voted you the title of Prince Thomas Gardner, Defender of the Realm; which was also 100 percent. I signed both votes into law so now you are royalty.
    Tag was stunned, “Danielle, I don’t have anything that comes close to making me royalty.”
    Danielle smiled, “And a medical technician is qualified to be Queen because…”
    Tag sighed and said, “OK, I see your point. I’m just not comfortable with the idea.”
    Danielle actually laughed and said, “Trust me, it will grow on you. You’re already known and respected for your fighting skills. This is just the Realms way of letting you know how much they appreciate your efforts.”
    “Alright, I accept. I’m not surprised about Rose. She is the perfect choice.”
    Danielle said, “You know she’s hearing your thoughts right now but the truth be told, at the rate she’s developing, I should step down and let her begin her reign.”
    Eleven year old Rose walked in the room and Tag saw how beautiful she was becoming. She was as tall as her mother with her mother’s long blonde hair and her green eyes shone like emeralds on fire. She was wearing a red jump suit that fit tightly and Tag wondered at how quickly the years had flown. It seemed she was just a baby yesterday. Rose said, “Not yet, Mom, the Realm adores me but they love you. Never forget, Love conquers all and love can accomplish things that would never be done without it. The Realm is not yet ready for me.”
    Tag and Danielle both looked at Rose feeling their love for her and both were amazed at her maturity at such a young age. “Thank you, Darling, and I’ll keep that in mind. Now come over here and join us by the fire.”
    Rose ran over and jumped into Tags arms and snuggled in between her parents. For a moment, the Gardners were at peace.
    Tag looked across the conference table at Cade and thought, “He’s aged a lot since our last meeting. His hair was now grey around the edges and there were wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. “I understand you want some of our weapon factories for your use.”
    Cade smiled and said, “Yes, I do, Prince Gardner.”
    Tag sighed heavily and decided that he was just going to have to get used to his title. “Alright, what do you want to make?”
    Cade had brought Anita Lea in with him and she pressed a button on her portable console and a picture of a strange looking ship appeared on the room’s display. “What is that?” Tag asked.
    “It’s a new penetrator,” Cade said.
    Tag stood up and walked over to the display, looked closely, “Are these power cells on its surface?”
    “Yes, the entire surface is covered in the power cells that used to be on our destroyer class vessels.”
    Tag raised his eyebrows, “Does it carry a reactor?”
    “No it doesn’t.” Cade said. “The power cells are charged by taking them close to the surface of a star and once maximum storage has been achieved, it will have all the power it will need for its function.”
    Tag sat back, “I’ll listen from this point on without interrupting you; why don’t you tell me all about it.”
    Cade looked at Anita and she started by saying, “The penetrator is 140 feet long and thirty feet wide. Fifteen power cells will provide its acceleration which will approach? the speed of light in less than fifty seconds. If you remember Admiral Kosievs’ attack on the frequency ships which cost him his life, he was moving too fast for any of the Plant missiles or ships to hit him from the sides. This penetrator will be moving more than three times faster than the Moscow was able to achieve. It will also be programmed to avoid any missile in its path and target only Plant vessels. The Coronado Screen around it will shrug off any beam fired at it for more than three minutes just like our old destroyers could. It’s the screen that makes this new weapon truly a penetrator. Once it locks on its target, it will accelerate to full speed and the entire screen will be focused in front of its warhead just before it impacts the screens of a Plant ship. The Plants could put ten screens around their ships and this penetrator will punch through. Once it makes contact with the mass of the ship, all of its Coronado power cells will completely release their stored energy.”
    Cade looked Tag in the eye, “The resulting explosion will disintegrate everything in a five mile circle. We have also programmed them to self destruct if they miss their target and get close to running out of power. That way the Plants will not get a sample of a power cell.”
    Tag was beginning to get excited, “What is their range?”
    “Only 1,200 miles,” Anita answered.
    Cade could see the disappointment in Tags face and quickly said, “This penetrator is not designed to be launched from the jump limit; this penetrator is designed for ship to ship action.” Anita then pressed her console again and a different penetrator appeared on the screen. Cade pointed at the display and said, “This is the long range penetrator.”
    Tag noticed that the two were close to the same size but that the second one had a bulge in the center. He looked at Cade and said, “What’s the difference other than the bulge?”
    Cade leaned back and said, “I was troubled when we discovered that if the Plants learned about our null star drives that they would become unstoppable so I have been doing some experimenting with the new drive and this is what I’ve learned. Remember that the outer drive that has no frequency that takes an object into null space is totally stripped off the object and it’s the second screen frequency that the object uses to push it into normal space. We tried to read a star track of numerous objects that used the null drive and we discovered that the only thing that would be read is the coordinates of where it came out in normal space; the null frequency will not follow it into normal space. However, the reverse is not true. If you use the null screen to jump away, the null frequency will remain behind to be tracked thus posing a risk that the Plants would then learn the frequency of null space.”
    Tag immediately understood, “We can jump in system but we can’t jump out.”
    “Exactly,” Anita said. “The bulge you see on this second penetrator produces the two screens so it can be jumped into null space and then to any coordinates programmed into its software where it will then perform much like the first one you saw.”
    Tag’s mind saw almost endless uses for the new weapons. “This could be what ends this war.”
    Cade said, “It could certainly make a huge impact the first time they’re used. There is one other thing that I think you’ll find interesting.” Tag raised his eyebrows and Cade said, “We have developed a mechanism that will read the coordinates of any Algean ship that is broadcasting that dampening frequency, download it to the type two penetrator, and it will then jump in next to the broadcasting ship and target it for impact. It doesn’t matter where they are in the system, the penetrators will find them, which means that once they are destroyed, you can jump away using the normal star drive systems.”
    “How many of these penetrators can a Megaship hold?”
    “Unfortunately, they are 140 feet long which means that the launching ports are big. A Megaship can only carry fifty of them. To carry more would break up the ships surface such that the screen would have holes in it.”
    Tag thought quickly, “We now have 100,000 Megaships so that means that the fleet can carry five million of these into combat. If, as you say, each one of them hits, then we can knock down the size of the Plants fleet significantly. “How long is it until you can have enough manufactured to carry out a major fleet action?”
    Cade looked at Anita and said, “If our Queen will give me the 200 manufacturing facilities, then we should be ready in a year with the short range penetrator.”
    Tag said, “The Plants are close to completing the harvesting of the first planet. I suspect that they will finish within 7 months. What if I gave you eight hundred facilities, then how long?”
    “Sten’s facilities are huge. If you include those then we could be ready in five to six months. The bulk of the time will be spent building the new fabricating machines; once those are done we will be able to produce more than 300,000 a month.”
    Tag was energized. This is what he had been waiting for five years. “Cade, begin making your plans; the facilities will be yours beginning two days from now.”
    Cade and Anita smiled and said, “Thank you Your Majesty.”
    Tag sighed again and then sent a thought to Danielle telling her what he needed. “Please let us be ready in time,” he thought.
    Suddenly Cade ran back in and said quickly, “A Plant Scout has just entered the Dremels system and has broadcast its location before we could destroy it.”
    Tag looked at Cade and said, “We have to have the new penetrators ready before the Plants complete harvesting activities. I’m certain that the Dremel will be the first thing they will address after they’re through. We will make this a Realm emergency project, Cade, so don’t let us down.”
    Cade bowed and ran from the room. Tag’s display lit up and Admiral Dorg was on the screen. Tag immediately said, “Cade just informed me about the scout. I need you and your command team to come here to meet with me about our plans to handle this issue. Plan to be here in eight drags.”
    Dorg nodded and said, “Yes Your Majesty.”
    Tag said, “Not you too.”
    Dorg actually laughed, “Oh yes, me too. Besides, we’ve been idle too long; it’s time to get back into some real action.”
    Tag looked at Dorg and said, “You miss it, don’t you?”
    “Yes, I do. Besides, there are some human colonists to whom I owe a blood debt and a close friend that should still be here that calls for us to act.”
    Tag smiled and said, “Wait until you see the new toys we have to play with. I think our playmates will not like them at all.”
    “I look forward to seeing you in eight drags.”
    Rose was sitting in her room listening to her father start making plans for a major assault against the plants. She stood with a frown on her face and appeared to be concentrating. She got up and went to the map room at Castle Gardner and started looking at the wall maps that showed all of the known universe and the millions of galaxies that had been discovered. She sat and thought for a long time neither moving nor showing any expression. Finally she gave a heavy sigh and looked up at the map that had the Milky Way on it. Suddenly, all of the galaxies around the Milky Way started changing positions relative to each other and then came to a stop. Rose looked at the closest galaxy to the Milky Way. “I hope I’m wrong but I have to make sure.” She thought. “Please, let me be wrong.” She remained in the map room for most of the day for the next four months.
    The Fleet Leader sat in his command chair on board the Algean Fleets command vessel pondering the soon to be completed harvesting of the planet that had taken six cycles to complete. There was only two thirds of a cycle left until harvesting operations were totally over and he was curious about why the Strangers had not interfered on any massive scale. The previous five cycles had only seen minor appearances by the strangers and it just didn’t sit right with him. Why were they waiting to attack? Had they just given up? They had discovered a way to get around their frequency ships, he had a recording of that ship jumping into the system, but then they had effectively just disappeared. It was a huge waste of resources to keep the three whole fleets in this system but they could not afford to lose the harvest. Something was going to happen; he could just feel it, even though he had no proof, and if the Strangers were consistent with their past actions, it was going to be dramatic. There was still the other planet to harvest and the scouts had found three more during the previous five years waiting for attention. One disturbing discovery was of an advanced technological world surrounded by those small rocks that had destroyed so many of their ships in the early conflicts with the strangers. The Elders think that the system might be the Strangers home system. Before any other harvesting was begun, that system was going to be visited, unless the Strangers came here first. The Fleet Leader was not sure which scenario he preferred. He felt certain of one thing; the next contact was going to be brutal. He hoped he was wrong, but somehow he knew he wasn’t.”

Chapter 20

    The Stars Realm Command Team along with Tgon-Gee, Terl, Misty Nicole, Sten, Headman Dgzh, Cade McAllister, Danielle, Rose, Sten, and Tag sat around a large conference table in Castle Gardner’s meeting room. The room had displays that covered most of the walls along with an active universal map. The room was circular so any display could be seen by all. Tag pulled a photo the two new penetrators that had been developed and then said, “Cade, explain how these two new weapons actually perform.”
    Cade stood and used a laser pointer to indicate the first display, “This penetrator is designed for ship to ship conflict. It has an armored skin of Coronado Power Cells that are charged to the maximum. It can accelerate faster than anything we’ve ever created or seen and it will also penetrate any screen we’ve ever observed, even ours.” Everyone immediately sat straighter in their chairs; this was an important development. “Once its sensors detect immediate impact, the entire screen around the penetrator will focus directly in front and burn a hole thru any screen it impacts. Once the penetrator hits anything solid, then it will release all of its stored energy into a single blast. We have measured the diameter of that blast to be five miles.” Cade faced the group, “Nothing can out run it, no screen can stop it, and anything it hits will be destroyed. Even the ships that are twenty miles long will not work if a five mile wide hole is blown into it. This is the ultimate ship killing weapon.”
    “Is there anything that can stop it?” Dorg asked.
    “An anti-matter hit will stop it, however, it is programmed to avoid their missiles and it will blow past anything in its path faster than they can react. Theoretically, if you can surround your ship with antimatter missiles so that there are no gaps smaller than the width of this penetrator, then you might be safe. However, if you do that, then the blast will then lead to a chain reaction of explosions of all the other missiles which will probably destroy the ship in the middle.”
    Tag stood and said, “The second penetrator is just like this one except we can jump it to any coordinates programmed in using the null star drive.” Everyone gave a start at this statement. “We have learned that if you use the null drive to jump into a system, it will only read the coordinates of the place it arrived and not the null coordinates. However, if you use it to jump out of the system, then the null coordinates will be read running the risk of letting the Plants learn of the null star drive system. These penetrators, however, will only be jumping in, not out.”
    Terl said, “Why do we even need to risk a ship; just jump enough of these in system to destroy their ships.”
    Tag looked at Cade and nodded; Cade stood and said, “Picture in your mind what would happen if we jumped these penetrators into the Plant fleet. The fleet would scatter and we don’t have a system big enough to target millions of ships rushing out of a system on different trajectories and get their coordinates into a single missile for each escaping ship. These penetrators have a 1,200 mile limit. Even with their acceleration, ships would block the penetrator’s sensors if they were bunched and a large number would be able to escape. The Megaships could use their systems to target ships that were escaping.”
    Tag remained in his chair and said, “It really doesn’t matter about this particular penetrator because we are probably not going to use it in our first battle at the planet the Plants have been harvesting.”
    Tgon-Gee said, “How could you attack them without using it? It’s suicide to hit them head on if you can’t use the null star drive to escape.”
    Tag sat in his chair and listened to the meeting disintegrate into the various participants all giving their opinion about the best use of the new penetrators. In his mind he could see Admiral Kosiev leaning back in his chair, eating his popcorn, and saying to him, “Now is when you tell them how it’s going to be.” Tag smiled and once more missed his old friend; then he reached under his chair and grabbed his bag of popcorn and began eating a few kernels. Dorg and Mikado saw him eating and stopped talking. They knew him well enough to know that he had something that would make a huge impact. Chen then saw them eating popcorn and he also sat back and quit talking. Then one by one, everyone noticed the popcorn and the room became silent.
    Dorg chewed his popcorn and after a few minutes of silence he said, “Oh how I miss Kosiev.”
    Tag stood and said, “He’s still here with us. We’re not going to use the new star drive penetrator for two reasons; first, I want to have the biggest impact possible when we do use them; and second, we won’t have enough manufactured by the time the Plants finish harvesting the planet. I have asked Cade to use all of the facilities to produce the ship-to-ship penetrator so we can have enough in time for the first battle.” Tag looked around the room and made sure everyone was listening to him. “We are also going to go into the harvesting system with only half of our megaships.” That statement started the room buzzing but Tag held up his hand and the room became quiet again. “We are going to use tactics that we used to defeat the Alliance. We are not going to reveal our numbers to the Algeans. They know we have 40,000 ships so 50,000 won’t be a huge surprise to them. They cannot stand up to our fleet with the new penetrator. We can carry fifty of them on each megaship and that means we will have two million of them in our fleet. Remember, each one of them will destroy any ship it hits. We can enter the system and go after the fleet that’s there in the system then choose our route out and fight our way to the jump point. The Plants might be able to jump a fleet in on us but the penetrators will clear us a path out. We will then immediately jump to the Dremels system.”
    Dorg said, “Now I understand. The Dremels population has left for the former planet of the Grendap so no civilians are endangered by leading them there. They already know about our forts there so they would be planning to attack there as soon as their fleet was free from harvesting operations.”
    Mikado leaned forward and said, “And since you hurt them in the harvesting system, they will bring the biggest fleet possible to the Dremels’ system setting up the use of the new jump penetrator.”
    Tag nodded and said, “I also suspect that they will take some time to organize their response which will give us more time to manufacture the new penetrators. When we use them, we will jump them straight to the Dremels’ system and not go through multiple galaxies. We will stockpile all we have in one location and jump them from there.”
    Danielle watched Tag lead the meeting and it reminded Danielle of all the reasons why she had fallen in love with him. She sat and remained quiet during the meeting sharing her thoughts with Rose. “He’s doing a great job, isn’t he,” she thought to Rose.
    “Yes he is, Mom. These people have learned to trust him and he really doesn’t know his own importance to us. He’s not humble but he isn’t self important. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
    “As have I, little one.” Then Danielle had a thought, “Rose, can we handle the Plant’s response?”
    Rose was quiet and then thought, “Our ships can escape if it gets too bad. Now that we can destroy the frequency ships, everyone should be able to survive when they attack at Dremel.”
    Danielle was very quiet and then thought, “What about at the planet they are harvesting. Is it going to be that bad,”
    “Yes Mom.”
    “Are you going to tell your father?”
    “He already knows at some level but I still won’t tell him. Mom, we can’t avoid them and win. We have to reduce their ship counts and by avoiding every battle that the Plants use huge numbers will only give them more time to build better weapons to use against us.”
    “Are you going to suggest anything that might help them?” Danielle asked.
    “No, but you are.” Then Rose shared a thought with Danielle.
    Danielle said, “I have an idea that the group might consider.”
    The room was silent; then Tag said, “What it that, Your Majesty?”
    “If those missiles can release all of its energy at one time, can the mobile forts do the same thing?”
    The room was quiet as everyone thought about why she would ask that question. Then Tag said, “I believe we can program them to do that; why would we want to do that?”
    “What if things turned bad and we were forced to jump out. What would those forts do if they were flown into the Plants fleet and detonated? How big of an explosion would they make? Also, if they appeared to be escaping, wouldn’t the Plants attack them with large numbers?”
    Tag was quiet and then turned to Cade. “What about it. Does what she’s suggesting have any merit?”
    Cade sat there running calculations on his console and then he looked up shaking his head and said, “If we flew the 16 forts around the Dremels Planet half way out to the jump limit and detonated them, everything within 100,000 miles of each of those forts would be destroyed.”
    Tag sat down stunned, “How can that be?”
    Cade said, “Remember, those 16 forts have the ninety foot power cells and it takes more than two weeks close to a star to fully charge them. Releasing all that energy at once would be similar to a small nova; the blast wave would be devastating.”
    “What about the crews manning the forts?” Misty asked.
    “That’s actually the simple part,” Cade answered. “We place a transport on the fort with the null star drive to escape. When the star drive is activated, the fort detonates five seconds later. The resulting blast will eliminate the null drives coordinates so the Plants won’t be able to read them.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “What a great idea. Even if things don’t go bad, we will use these forts for that purpose. What better use could we use them except to reduce the Plants fleets. I think we can now break off and discuss this among ourselves and see if there is anything else we can think to do. We’ll get back together in two hours, or drags for those speaking Alliance.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and thought to her, “Tell Rose I said to thank her for that idea.”
    Danielle furrowed her brow and thought back, “How did you know that?”
    Tag looked at the woman he loved and thought, “Because thinking of ways to take life is foreign to you; you always find ways to save life.”
    Rose sheepishly thought to Tag, “Caught again. You have to admit, it is a good idea.”
    Tag laughed and thought back, “Keep them coming, Rose; keep them coming.”
    The Algean Fleet Leader was discussing the completion of the harvest and the plans to invade the recently discovered system suspected of being the Strangers Home System with the Elders. There were only ten rotations left and most of the final 900 harvesting ships were full and ready for departure. He was beginning to believe that the Strangers were not going to interfere with their final harvest and that he had just been nervous. He keyed his console and said, “I was worried about the Strangers attacking again but it appears that we will finish with no interruptions.”
    The Eldest Leader said, “What plans have you decided to use to attack the Stranger’s System and how long before you leave to attack them?”
    “We will finish here in ten rotations and we will then organize the three fleets and go directly to their system.”
    “Will you need more ships?”
    “No, Eldest, they ran from our combined fleets last time and we should have enough ships to defeat them.”
    Suddenly the Fleet Leader’s sensor tool interrupted him by yelling, “Thousands of Stranger ships have just jumped in the system and are moving in toward the planet.”
    The Fleet Leader looked at his display and saw thousands of the white ships lined up and moving inside the jump limit toward his massed fleet. He had moved most of his ships close to the planet to protect the harvesters from the hit and run tactics the Strangers had been using at the jump limit. He had left two bands of anti-matter missiles between his fleet and the jump limit and those missiles were now turning on their engines and began targeting the incoming ships. The Eldest looked at the Fleet Leader and said, “Are you able to handle this attack?”
    “They are bringing in the same number of ships they used in the last attack, so I believe we should have enough unless they have new technology. It might be a good idea to have another fleet ready to jump in behind them to prevent their escape.”
    The Eldest looked away from the display and said, “Order another fleet to the system.” He then looked back and said, “They will arrive quickly to support you.”
    The Fleet Leader nodded and turned off his display. He looked at his console and saw on his display that the anti-matter missiles were waiting for the incoming fleet to reach 300 miles from their position. There were 30 million missiles waiting for the Strangers to come into range and he ordered his fleet to begin moving to intercept the Strangers. Suddenly, 2000 huge ships jumped in behind the line of Stranger’s ships, accelerated to just in front of the incoming ships and then turned and accelerated back to the jump limit and disappeared. “What was that about?” he wondered.
    Tag watched his display as the transports accelerated to his formation and released their full load of hornets. Each one of those transports carried more than 30,000 hornets that were ejected out of their pulse cannons at tremendous velocity. The 60 million hornets leaped ahead of the Stars Realm fleet and moved toward the band of waiting anti-matter missiles. “Maintain five thousand mile separation from the hornets,” Tag said over the general fleet frequency. The SR Fleet slowed and allowed the hornets to move 5,000 miles in front of them and the fleet accelerated and matched the hornet’s velocity. Once the hornet’s sensors began detecting the anti-matter missiles, they turned on their thrusters and accelerated into their ranks. As the hornets designated the front ranks of the Plant missiles the remainder flew above and below those that were targeted. Five thousand miles in front of the SR Fleet, anti-matter missiles began exploding.
    Tag spoke into his com, “All ships, move into tube formation and launch hornets as needed.”
    The 50,000 ships of the SR Fleet moved from a line into a hollow cylinder formed by five lines of ten thousand ships each moving toward the waiting missiles like a spear. The hornets had been programmed to destroy everything in front and to the sides of the formation. The blasts were far enough away from the fleet that the Megaships screens could handle it without failing. As the outer ships screens turned red, they would move inside the cylinder and new ships would replace them. The SR Fleet moved inexorably toward the Algean Fleets surrounding the planet.
    The Algean Fleet Leader could not determine what was happening. The entire space in front of the Strangers ships was a huge mass of anti-matter explosions that were happening on such a massive scale that none of his sensors could see into it. Power missiles were exploding on a ten thousand mile front. He ordered his ships to stop moving toward the Strangers ships out of fear that the anti-matter explosions would destroy his ships. His fleet stopped and stayed behind the second band of power missiles. He kept watching the massive explosions wondering how much longer they could possibly continue. He had placed two bands of power missiles between the jump limit and the planet. The power missiles had a range limit of 300 miles before they ran out of fuel so they had to wait for the incoming ships to get inside their range. There was 100,000 miles between bands and the second band could not go to support the first band because they were too far out. The first band was 90,000 miles wide and had more than 30 million power missiles. “How can anything survive that?” he thought and then he saw the huge cylinder of the Strangers Ships emerge from the explosions and then fan out into a long line moving toward his fleet. The Fleet leader was stunned. The missiles did not appear to have any affect. The Strangers ships accelerated toward his second band of power missiles and moved rapidly beyond the 300 mile range of the missiles in the first band that had survived.
    Tag watched as the fleet emerged from the explosions and fanned out into a line again. He looked at Ron-Dar and said, “Issue the orders for the second hornet launch.” Ron-Dar nodded and turned to his communication console. The transports had launched 60 million hornets to get the fleet through the first band of anti-matter missiles. There were still explosions behind them where hornets were killing any missile that survived. The SR Fleet moved more than five hundred miles beyond the first band of missiles and out of their range. Each of the 50,000 megaships launched one thousand of the old pulse penetrators toward the second band of Algean missiles. Each of the old penetrators carried 80 hornets which were released 100 miles from the Algean missiles. Four hundred million hornets roared into the ranks of the Algean missiles as the SR Fleet stopped and waited for the explosions to stop. Across a 100,000 mile front, the universe looked like it had gone nova. The members of both Algean and Stars Realm fleets were amazed at the magnitude of those explosions. It looked like a universe gone mad.
    Tag looked at Ron-Dar and said, “When the explosions stop, advance at full speed. We will launch one million of our new penetrators 1,000 miles from their fleet and then move into cylinder formation behind them at full speed and penetrate through their ranks to the planet. Once we hit the harvesters, we’ll exit the system.”
    Tag’s display showed Admirals Dorg, Mikado, Chen, and Kelly. He pushed his communication button and said, “You all know the plan; each of your individual fleets will make one of the five walls of the cylinder and as soon as we penetrate to the planet you will all exit at ninety degrees from the formation and launch half of your new penetrators. We will then reform the cylinder and exit vertical to the systems plane. We will only use enough penetrators to break out of the Algeans formations. I want to save as many of the penetrators as possible to break out to the jump limit. I expect the Plants to jump ships in behind us.”
    Dorg shrugged and said, “What happens if we don’t have enough after the attack.”
    “Those ships with the most remaining will form the point of the formation where most of the action will be happening. At full speed, it’s my belief that they won’t be able to hit us from the sides. Remind you ships that when they empty their magazines of penetrators to fall to the back of their respective line and launch hornets from the side of the formation to hit any Plant missiles that get close to us.”
    The four admirals looked grim; they had seen the two and a half million ships surrounding the planet. This was war on a scale that was beyond anything they had ever experienced. Tag’s display went blank as the admirals began issuing orders to each of their ten thousand ships. Tag looked at his viewport at the continuing blasts of anti-matter in front of his fleet. The explosions continued unabated for two hours until they slowed and finally stopped. Now there was nothing separating the two fleets.
    The Fleet Leader ordered his ships to surround the Stranger’s ships and the newer designed vessels started moving ahead of the older Plant ships because of their superior speed. He was nervous about the attack. They were not fleeing like they had done before. His anxiety turned to fear as the Stranger’s ships moved into that cylinder formation and came at his fleet at a speed that was faster than anything he had ever seen. Then things went bad very, very quickly.
    One thousand miles from the Algean fleet, the SR ships launched one million of the new penetrators that flew into the incoming ranks of the Plant fleet so fast that there was no reaction time. The two mile long newly designed ships that were out in front of the Plant fleet were blown into fragments so small that sensors could not register them. The larger older ships behind the front ranks were hit and five mile wide holes were blown into their hulls often exploding their weapon magazines and totally demolishing them. An eight hundred mile wide hole was blasted through the approaching Plant fleet that the SR Fleet flew through to the planet. The new penetrators flew so fast that they looked like laser beams as they struck the Plant ships.
    The Fleet Leader was in his command ship at the planet as the Stranger’s ships broke through his lines and then split into five groups that scattered and launched more of those terrible new weapons. He saw ten of the ships were going to come close to his ship and he saw his death coming. “Now I wish I had been relieved after the last battle.” Just before one of the new penetrators hit his ship he thought, “Can we win this war?” That was his last thought as his ship and all of the harvesters disappeared in five mile wide blasts.
    The Plant fleet did not have a chance to scatter to avoid the new penetrators. Once the penetrator locked on a ship, that ship died. On all sides of the SR Fleet, millions of ships exploded. The Algean Elders watched the feed of the battle and swayed almost uncontrollably as they saw their ships being blown apart. The fleet sent to jump in behind the Strangers ships watched as the huge toll of destroyed ships grew. The Elders were stunned. Then the Eldest leader said, “Order the support fleet back, there aren’t enough to stand up to those weapons. Order our ships in the system to ram those intruders.”
    The SR Fleet turned to reform the cylinder and found hundreds of thousands of Plant ships running full speed at them. On board the London, Captain Jane Calloway watched as a solid wall of Plant ships moved toward her ship. Her orders were to save as many penetrators as possible for system exit but she had to launch all of her remaining penetrators to barely escape the ships trying to ram her. Other SR ships were not so lucky. More than 18,000 megaships were rammed and destroyed before the cylinder could be reformed. One of those ships lost was Chen’s Nemesis.
    Chen watched as solid walls of Algean ships surrounding his ship were moving at full ramming speed. He tried to blast his way out but there were just too many. Just as he saw a gap in the Plant ships one of the seven mile long battleships hit him from the side. Both ships exploded as the Coronado power cells release all of their energy.
    Ron-Dar was doing everything possible to escape the ramming ships but nothing was working. Tag was amazed at how well he fought his ship but he could see that there were too many. Ron-Dar had exhausted all of his weapons and 100 of the Plant ships were closing on Retribution. He turned and said, “I’m sorry sir. I’m responsible for your loss. Please forgive me.”
    Tag could sense the Plant ships accelerating toward his ship; just before impact he jumped from his chair and ran over to Ron-Dar and wrapped his arms around him and closed his eyes and thought, “You cannot see me, you cannot see me, you cannot see me,” and then the world turned white.”
    The SR ships that made it back into formation turned and accelerated up and out toward the jump limit. Mikado commed Admiral Dorg and said, “Retribution has been destroyed.”
    Dorg felt a pain hit him and thought, “Not another friend. Not you too, Tag.”
    Then he heard Mikado say, “What are your orders sir?”
    Dorg shook off his sadness and made himself focus on the situation. “Tactical, Lt. Grada”
    “Sir, we have broken out of the Algean formations and are headed toward the jump limit. A Plant fleet of a million plus ships have jumped into the system and are just inside the jump limit moving toward us. We have less than 90,000 penetrators remaining.”
    Dorg knew that it wouldn’t be enough to break out of the system and knew that he was probably going to lose the rest of the fleet. “Well,” he thought, “might as well go out with a bang. Form the cylinder, redistribute ships as needed, those with penetrators move to the front of the formation, and full speed ahead. Let’s take as many as we can.”
    The cylinder moved closer and closer to the jump limit and when they were less than thirty minutes from the Plant fleet, the Algean ships turned, moved outside the jump limit, and jumped away. Dorg was dumbfounded. “Why did they do that?”
    Mikado appeared on his communication console. “I guess they thought they didn’t have enough ships.”
    Dorg looked at him on the com screen, “What makes you say that?”
    “Look at your ship count. The Plants had two and a half million ships in that system and all of their new designed ships. They lost more than two million ships. It’s my guess that they thought we had enough of the new penetrators to kill the fleet that had jumped in. They didn’t know how few we had left.”
    Dorg realized Mikado was probably right. “All ships prepare to jump to the Dremels’ system.” As the survivors of the SR Fleet jumped Dorg felt his sadness again, “Oh Tag, how could we lose you?”
    Rose opened her eyes and went into her mother’s office. Danielle looked up from the list of issues put before her by the Stars Realm representatives and saw her standing in the doorway. She immediately saw the look on Rose’s face and Danielle felt her heart go into her throat. She dropped the document and said, “No! Rose, tell me he’s ok.”
    Rose looked her mother in the eye and said, “His ship was destroyed.”
    Danielle immediately thought, “Atlas, Atlas, where are you?”
    “I’m inside the system waiting for the ships around Tag to move so I can go in and get him. There are so many that there’s no room for me to get close. He is still alive, Danielle. Just hold on.”
    “What if they see him and capture him,” Danielle wailed.
    “Danielle, I don’t know exactly what he’s doing but the only way I’ve been able to locate him is because I can read the force field around him. I’m unable to see him and you know how good my systems are.”
    Rose thought to them, “He’s using his psychic skills to hide. He’s able to put a field around him that bends light around him. I haven’t seen him do that before and it’s a pretty clever trick.”
    Danielle and Rose had walked out of her office and were sitting in the bed room. Danielle looked at Rose and said, “What do you mean?”
    Suddenly, right in front of Danielle, Rose disappeared. Danielle jumped up and spun around and started to panic, but then Rose reappeared right where she was before. “I’m sorry, Mom, I just wanted to demonstrate how he was hiding.”
    “Rose, is he going to be ok?”
    “I think the weeds better hope they don’t find him, remember, he has a pretty effective Alfont hand weapon. Just be patient, Mom, Atlas will get him.”
    “Can you see him, Rose?”
    Rose closed her eyes and furrowed her brow, “Yes, I can.” Then Rose’s eyes got wide and she said, “He’s not alone. Someone is with him in the force field.”
    Danielle said, “Show me Rose, I’ve got to see him. I can’t lose him, he’s my life.”
    Rose sent her thoughts to Danielle and she saw him floating in space surrounded by thousands of ships. Tag, are you alright?” she thought at him.
    “Mom, your thoughts can’t get through his psychic field. Even Atlas can’t reach him; just be patient.”
    Danielle sat down and worried about the love of her life.
    Tag floated in space surrounded by the force field Atlas had given him during their first meeting on the moon. Ron-Dar was lying against the force field wall looking out at the thousands of Plant ships surrounding them. He looked at Tag and said, “I’m sure there’s an answer for what’s happening. Would you mind telling me? Are we dead?”
    Tag sighed and looked out at the Plant ships around them, “I have been given a gift by a friend that puts a force field around me whenever a projectile or explosion comes at me. I knew that there was room for me and one more. You are too valuable to the Realm to allow you to die. I watched you fight your ship and you are the best ship commander I’ve ever seen, other than Kosiev, and you might be better than he was. I was able to get to you before the ship died.”
    Ron-Dar looked out again and said, “Mr. Gardner, no one has this kind of technology.”
    “You’re right and I’m afraid before all this is over, you’re going to know more than anyone else about it. I ask that you keep this information to yourself and never reveal it.”
    “You have my promise, Mr. Gardner. I’m just sick to my soul at the loss of my ship and crew. I couldn’t save them.”
    Tag could feel Ron-Dar’s pain, “Never lose that feeling, Commodore. It’s what keeps us aware of the price we all have to pay in conflicts. If we ever start enjoying it, we’re doomed.”
    “What happens now, Mr. Gardner?”
    “Well, I thought I could call for help but my communication methods are not working.”
    A giant Plant battle ship moved by and brushed against the force field surrounding them and pushed them away. The ship stopped abruptly and Tag could sense the sensors of the ship sweeping around it. “My force field must have tripped their sensors,” Tag thought. The ship remained stationary for an hour scanning space around it and then it moved away.
    “Why can’t they see us?” Ron-Dar said.
    “I’ve placed a psychic field around us that prevents them seeing us but I think they can detect us if they make contact with the force field.”
    Suddenly, the Plant ship that hit them stopped, turned, and moved back at them with five other ships side by side. “Uh oh, it looks like they aren’t going to pass our contact off as a bad sensor.”
    “What are we going to do,” Ron-Dar asked as the ships moved closer and closer and it was clear that one of the ships was going to hit them.
    Tag knew his time was short and if they hit him again, they would send ships out to find him. He held his hand out and pointed it at the oncoming ship and a hand weapon appeared in his grip. Just as the ship came within ten feet of their position, they were suddenly pulled out of the way of the oncoming ship and pulled inside a small room. Tag though, “You can see me, you can see me,” and the psychic field around him disappeared.
    “Welcome aboard, Tag. You do live an exciting life.”
    “Atlas, you are a life saver. Thank you for being here.”
    Ron-Dar lay on the floor of the Alfont ship looking out at the Plant ships around them and then suddenly the fleet disappeared and they were in empty space with a blue star shining off in the distance. He looked at Tag and said, “What kind of ship is this?”
    Tag stared at him for a long moment and then sighed, “We are on board an Alfont ship. The ships name is Atlas and is intelligent.”
    Ron-Dar was stunned into silence and then one of the speakers on the wall said, “Welcome aboard Commodore; you did an excellent job during the last battle.”
    Ron-Dar and Atlas began communicating and Tag was suddenly barraged by thoughts from Danielle and Rose. “Tag, are you alright, did you get hurt in the blast of the ship, tell me you’re coming home.”
    Rose was right beside her mother’s thoughts, “Dad, don’t ever scare me like this again. I was worried sick but I couldn’t show Mom because I was afraid she was going to lose her mind.”
    ‘Slow down both of you; I’m fine and I was able to save Ron-Dar. It got scary right there at the end but Atlas came thru again and saved us.”
    Danielle started crying and couldn’t control her emotions as the fear found outlet in tears. Tag thought to her, “It’s ok, Darling; I’m fine and I’ll be home as soon as I can get a ride.” Rose went over and put her arms around Danielle and held on to her. Give me a few moments to arrange a few details and I’ll talk to you then.”
    On board the Rossville, Admiral Dorg was trying to get the nerve to contact Queen Danielle to tell her about the loss of her husband. His heart was heavy and he was worried about how the Stars Realm would be able to make up for his loss. Suddenly, his communications officer stood up and said, “Admiral, Thomas Gardner is on the com wanting to speak to you.”
    Dorg looked at him and was going to bust him into the brig for the hateful joke when he looked at his display and saw Tag. He pushed his com and said, “I saw the recording of Retribution exploding. I thought you were dead. Thank the creator you survived; how did you survive?”
    “All in good time Admiral, but first I need you to help me.”
    “What do you need done, Your Majesty?
    “Admiral, you don’t need to address me that way.”
    “Yes I do. I was sitting here sick at the thought of continuing the fight against the Plants without you. You are our fighting forces spiritual leader. You deserve the title and much more.”
    Tag looked at Dorg on his display and nodded to him. “Do you remember the cavern we hollowed out on Callisto to hold the prisoners we captured during the Ross conflict?”
    Dorg pulled up the description of the cavern on his console and saw it was on a moon circling the largest planet in the Humans home system. “Yes, I know where it is; why do you ask?”
    I want you to take one of the interstellar shuttles from your ship and meet me as quick as you can jump to its location. It’s just inside the jump limit so you won’t have to go far inside the system.”
    “I’m on my way, sir.”
    “Admiral, come alone.”
    Dorg looked at Tag and wondered what was going on but nodded, turned off his console, then turned to Tresk and said, “You have total command of the ship until I return. Begin rearming immediately.”
    Everyone on the bridge wondered what was going on but Dorg left without telling them. There was a vibrancy that everyone felt on the bridge; Thomas Gardner was alive and the word was going out to the survivors of the battle. The emotions of despair that was taking hold of the fleet vanished with a sudden swell of pride and happiness. They had hurt the Plants and their leader had survived. On all 32,000 ships, they felt that this was a war that they could win. The celebrations began and continued until the Fleet arrived at the Dremels Planet.
    The newly promoted Algean Fleet Leader began getting his surviving ships into formation. The Strangers had destroyed two million ships that were in the system when they attacked. When the Fleet Leader’s ship had been destroyed, he had assumed command and ordered all remaining ships to ram the strangers. Up to that point, according to recordings, the strangers had not lost a single ship. The subsequent recording revealed that once the ramming started, they lost close to 20,000. He guessed that the Elders promoted him because of his actions. As the fleet reorganized, he knew that his surviving ships were in bad shape. Ninety percent of the newly designed ships that were in the system had been totally destroyed. He knew that another full fleet of them had been manufactured during the four cycle lull of combat, but those were all of the new ships that were available. The three fleets at the planet were pretty much destroyed. The survivors would have to be integrated into other fleets. He continued to watch the recording of the battle and grimaced as the fully loaded harvesters were totally destroyed. The only bright spot out of this battle was that tremendous stores of food had been harvested and saved before this attack.
    He turned his display to slow speed and put a close up of one of the new weapons the Strangers had used against them. He had to slow it down three more times before he could get a good picture of what they looked like; super fast missiles with screens that penetrated the new five screened ships like they were protected by thin leaves. He also watched as the tiny missiles hit the band of power missiles. Those tiny missiles were not screened. He began thinking about how to overcome this new weapon and he kept coming back to screened missiles. He looked at his display on the arm of his chair and decided to ask the Elders about possibly screening their own missiles and extending their range.
    The Algean Elders swayed in their groves discussing the new technology of the Strangers. The fourth Eldest said, “We have analyzed the new weapon and found that it is a missile that has its own protective screen. It is also faster than any manufactured object we have ever recorded and is also as powerful as our power missile but doesn’t use the negative matter. It appears to have a range of one point five punds.”
    The seventh eldest said, “The new fleet leader asks if there is any possibility of screening our own missiles and extending their range.”
    The Eldest listened to their discussions but wondered if his race had finally encountered another race strong enough to defeat them. Millions of cycles ago his race had been almost totally destroyed except for seeds that had survived in space. His species was still paying the price of that virus that had infected their food. Now there was a new strong enemy. The only thing that worked in the last battle was ramming the Strangers ships. Then he had a thought. “Power missiles will no longer be effective against the Strangers. They can be stopped with those small missiles they use. We need to come up with a new plan and I think I have a thought that might help us destroy their home system.” The remaining Elders quit talking among themselves and listened to the Eldest. “How many ships do we have remaining in all our fleets?”
    The Tenth Eldest looked at his portable com and said, “Eighteen million.”
    “How many of those are scouts?”
    “Six million.”
    “If we were to remove everything inside a scout ship and install eight engines along with the five screen force fields; how much faster would they be?”
    The tenth worked his calculator and said, “Twice as fast as the power missiles and if you used that empty space for additional fuel you would extend the range to 3,000,000 punds instead of one third pund.”
    “We will put a negative matter warhead on the front and use the scouts to ram the Strangers,” the Eldest said.
    “How many tools would be needed to fly the ship? The Second Eldest asked.
    The Fourth Eldest that was responsible for ship building said, “We could tie all controls into one control board. Since it will basically be a one way trip, one tool is all that would be needed to pilot the ship.”
    “How long will it take to convert them? The Eldest asked.
    “Two cycles,” the Fourth Eldest answered.
    “Begin the conversion. We will destroy this home system of the strangers no matter the cost. We will use eleven fleets to make sure we win and every ship is ordered to ram if the opportunity presents itself. Are there any objections?”
    “The Eleventh Eldest said, “What if we lose all of our ships in the conflict?”
    “We will still have seven fleets for home defense; as long as we destroy the Strangers, it will be worth it; we can always rebuild and our food requirements will be reduced.”
    No further objections were given and the plan was agreed to be implemented.

Chapter 21

    Admiral Dorg came out of null space and commed spaceport authority to identify his ship. He had barely entered normal space when an Earth Megaship jumped in next to him. The Dublin commanded by Captain Bridget O’Donald pulled up beside Dorg and then opened a communication channel.
    “Oh, I’m sorry Admiral, I just received word of your arrival; your ship wasn’t listed on arrivals for today. Is there any assistance you need?”
    Dorg was impressed with the fast reaction to his jump and made a note to contact Earth prior to any future arrivals. “No, I’m going to visit the prison where my brother was held captive during the Human-Alliance conflict. I’ve heard a lot about it and I want to see it for myself.”
    “Could we offer you a guide to the installation, Sir?”
    “No, I want to go alone. I have some feelings tied up in the history of that conflict and I need the time alone to process them. I don’t want to be rushed.”
    Captain O’Donald looked at Admiral Dorg who was the highest ranking Stars Realm officer and wondered if he was being honest. She, however, was not going to question his reasons. She liked commanding her ship and was not going to do anything to upset this Cainth Warrior. “Yes Sir, I have sent the locking protocols for the facility to your console and I hope you enjoy your visit.”
    “Thank you, Captain; you may return to your duty station,” Dorg said and watched the Dublin disappear into the blue-white flash of its star drive. Dorg locked in the coordinates of Callisto and accelerated around to the other side of Jupiter where it was currently located. He brought the shuttle down to five thousand feet above the surface of the moon and then his com beeped. “Is that you, Mr. Gardner?”
    “Yes it is Admiral. I am going to approach your ship from the surface and board thru your shuttle bay, if it meets your approval.”
    “By all means; I’ll come open the bay door for you.”
    “That is not necessary; I’ll enter thru the wall. Standby, I’m approaching now.”
    Dorg looked out of the shuttle’s viewport and saw nothing. If Thomas Gardner was approaching, none of his instruments or sensors registered anything near his ship. Suddenly, a silver ship shaped like a cylinder with rounded ends appeared next to his shuttle and he could see a corridor extend from its side to his ship. A minute later Tag joined him on the shuttles bridge with Ron-Dar following behind him.
    Dorg stood and hugged Tag and then shook Ron-Dar’s hand. He then pointed out of the viewport and asked, “What is that?”
    Tag looked with him at the silver ship and said, “That is what started all of our meetings.” Dorg looked puzzled and Tag continued, “That is an Alfont Starship.”
    Dorg was stunned. “A what!”
    “I stumbled on it when I was on Earth’s moon trying to escape capture by Earth’s government. It was touching the dead body of his master that set off the tone that set the Alliance on a path to annihilate my planet.”
    Dorg stared at the silver ship and felt the wonder of what powers that ship must possess. Then Tag said something that grabbed his attention. “The ship is actually intelligent and his name is Atlas.”
    Dorg sat down in his command chair and said, “What do you mean intelligent?”
    A voice came out of the speaker on the wall display, “What Tag is trying to tell you is that I actually have a mind of my own and make my own decisions. I am my own ruler and choose what path I follow. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Admiral. You’ve changed a lot since the Ross conflict.”
    Dorg could only sit and stare at the ship holding station next to his shuttle. Then he said, “Why are you showing me this ship. This is information that could explode on the people of the stars Realm, especially with the history of planets being destroyed because of contact with their artifacts.”
    Atlas said over the speaker, “Maybe he hasn’t changed as much as I thought. Is he always this serious?”
    Tag laughed and said, “Atlas, it does take a few moments to come to terms with your existence.”
    “Perhaps, but like your friend Eric once said, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, then go and buy one.”
    Even Dorg smiled at that one.
    “Admiral, Atlas will not take a side in any conflict that we are involved in; he believes that if we became dependant on him to win all of our conflicts that he would ultimately become our ruler and stunt our development; he does not desire to do that.”
    “What Tag is saying is true, Admiral. I will attempt to prevent Tag’s death if I can do it without revealing my existence but I will not take part in the decisions that your races make regarding what you choose to do. I am not going to be responsible for possibly making a bad decision leading to your destruction. I have not completely reconciled myself to the role I’m to play in this universe.”
    Dorg leaned forward and said, “You still haven’t told me why.
    “Because I’m going to need you to help me explain how I escaped Retribution’s destruction without revealing Atlas’ existence,” Tag answered.
    “Oh, that should be easy,” Dorg said.
    Tag raised his eyebrows and Dorg said, “Everyone in the Stars Realm knows you possess high psychic ability. Just tell them that you and Ron-Dar jumped into an escape pod that had a jump drive in it and you masked it with you mind.”
    Dorg leaned back and chuckled until Ron-Dar said, “That’s exactly what happened.”
    “Ok, I can use that, but how do we explain how I managed to escape the system so close to the star and surrounded by thousands of ships?”
    “Simple, you used a null drive from inside the screen of a plant ship which caused the ship to explode wiping away the trace of your null drive. You contacted me and I came and rescued you.”
    “Would that actually happen if a null drive was used inside the screen of a ship?”
    “McAllister told me that he thought it would when he was developing it; we will just order him not to experiment to find out either way. We’ll just tell him you confirmed it.”
    “That’s the story we will use,” Tag said, “However, I need the two of you to swear secrecy about Atlas’ existence. No one can know and I need your solemn oaths to never reveal what you know to anyone; and I do mean anyone.”
    Dorg remembered Tgon-Gee saying that he had better be happy that he was on Tag’s side of the Alliance conflict; otherwise he would have been destroyed. This was not an issue he was going to have between them. “Prince Gardner, I swear on my Clan and my family that I will never reveal its existence.”
    “I also swear to keep the secret,” Ron-Dar said.
    “Ok, Admiral, if it’s not too much trouble, could you jump me to Ross so I can calm my family down. Would you also contact Planet Leader Sten and have him prepare me a new ship. I am also ordering Ron-Dar promoted to Admiral to replace Chen. I will also need a new ship commander which I will leave to you. Plan to meet with me in two days at Castle Gardner to discuss our next plan.”
    “Yes, Your Majesty, it will be done as you say.” Dorg then turned and flew the shuttle back out to the jump limit and engaged the Star Drive. The ship disappeared and on board the Dublin, Bridget O’Donald noticed that the Admiral never went to the surface of the moon. That’s odd; she wrote a report and sent it to Misty Nicole’s attention describing what happened.
    Dorg came out into normal space at the jump limit in Ross’s system. He started the flight to Ross and had moved an hour in system when his com beeped with Earth’s Director Misty Nicole on his screen. Dorg pushed his com and said, “Madam Director, what a pleasure to see you.”
    Misty looked at him and said, “One of our ships has notified me that you came to our system to visit Callisto but then never went down to the surface. I was wondering if there was a problem that I could help you with.”
    Dorg was stumped on what to say but then Tag stepped in front of his com and said, “Good day, Director. I interrupted his trip to come and pick me up. It seems my ship was shot out from under me during the battle at the harvesting planet and my ship’s commander and I were barely able to escape in a pod. I had Admiral Dorg’s com frequency on the pods control board and he came to pick us up.”
    Misty looked shocked at Tag and said, “What were the results of the battle? Are you ok?”
    “Yes, Director, I’m fine but we lost more than 18,000 ships and Admiral Chen was killed when his ship was hit. According to Admiral Dorg, we destroyed more than two million Plant ships so we have to look at this as a victory, but they can afford to lose massive numbers and we can’t. The next battle will probably determine the final outcome of our war; I expect the Algeans to use the bulk of their fleets to attack the Dremels’ planet.”
    “Please keep me updated on what you plan.”
    “Director, I expect you and your staff to attend the next planning session.”
    “I look forward to seeing you again Prince Gardner.” Tag could see her smiling as she broke the connection.
    Dorg looked at Tag and said, “Thanks for stepping in on that conversation; I was at a loss on how to explain what happened.”
    “Glad to do it Admiral.”
    Dorg stood up and looked out the viewport and said, “I’m somewhat angry at the Ship’s Captain that jumped me when I jumped into the Human’s system. She also passed information along that she would have only had by keeping an eye on my actions. She must stay alert all the time. She also jumped in on me within three seconds of my breaking into normal space and that tells me that her crew must be well trained to respond so quickly.”
    Tag looked at him and said, “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting.”
    Dorg grinned and said, “Yes I am, if it meets with your approval.”
    Tag shrugged and laughed, “You’re going to scare the living groad out of her, aren’t you?”
    “Absolutely,” then Dorg keyed his com and said, “Earth Command Center, please respond.”
    “Go ahead Admiral.”
    “Please detach the Dublin from your system defense and have it report to Castle Gardner in forty eight hours.”
    “How long will they be detached, Sir?”
    “Indefinitely, have them report to me upon their arrival.”
    “Yes Sir, I will notify the Dublin and Command immediately.”
    Dorg looked at Tag and Ron-Dar and said, “Who says I don’t have a sense of humor?”
    A voice came over the speaker that said, “You are making progress, Admiral.”
    All three of them laughed out loud and continued their flight to Ross.
    Tag walked into Castle Gardner from the roof to find Danielle and Rose waiting for him. They both ran up and wrapped their arms around him and held on tightly. “I was so worried, Tag,” Danielle said as tears started down her cheeks.
    “Danielle, you know I’m protected.”
    Rose chimed in with, “Yes you are, but what if the Plants found you floating in space and began nudging you toward the sun. If you were forced into that furnace, I believe we don’t have a ship that could rescue you.”
    Tag thought, “Atlas, is there any truth in what she’s saying?”
    “I’m afraid she’s right, Tag; oh excuse me, Your Majesty. I would not be able to go to the core of a star.”
    “Forget the Your Majesty, we’re among friends here. Then if they had tried that, I would have determined just how effective your hand weapon is.” “If you used it they would pinpoint your location and then use their primary beams to push you toward the sun. Rose is right, we could have lost you.”
    “But you didn’t; so let’s be thankful and try not to let it happen again.”
    Danielle held on to Tag and continued to cry. Rose kissed her father’s cheek and left the room. “Danielle, I’m here and I’m ok. You know there are risks in what we are doing and you have to come to terms with them.”
    She looked up into his eyes and then turned and took his hand and pulled them toward their private quarters. “I’ll show you some terms,” and then she closed the door behind them.
    Rose commed Leila and said, “I believe Mom will be busy for a while. Will you hold her calls?”
    “Already doing it, kiddo.”
    Rose smiled and then she went to the map room to take a look at the Algeans.
    Bridget O’Donald was sitting on her bridge preparing for departure to Ross. She sat there knowing that she was in big trouble and was hoping she kept her command. “I thought I was doing the right thing but now it looks like I messed up keeping an eye on my Commanding Officer. Oh, this is not going to be good,” she thought.
    “Sir, the ship is ready for departure.”
    She looked out of her viewport at Earth and then said, “Jump in five seconds.” She sat and waited nervously as the universe turned around her.
    The Dublin broke into normal space just outside the orbit or Ross and settled into a geostationary orbit over the capital city. Bridget keyed her com and said, “Spaceport Authority, I am arriving at Admiral Dorg’s request and ask permission to make orbit.”
    “Permission granted and he is expecting you. I have sent the directions to your display and he asks that you be there in thirty minutes.”
    “Holy Mother,” Bridget thought. “It’s worse than I expected.” Then she turned to her sensor officer and said, “Locate the coordinates of these directions so I can get there quickly.”
    Lt. Miller ran them thru the program he had set up for Ross and found them very confusing, however, the program was almost intelligent and when the answer came out, both of them were confused.
    “Sir, I suggest you take a chance and go where this says you should be,” Lt. Miller said.
    Bridget looked again at the coordinates, shrugged, and went and boarded a small one man shuttle. She exited the main bay and dropped through the atmosphere to the planet’s surface. She braked and hovered forty feet above a park in the middle of the city and waited while people under her ship moved so she could land. After a minute she lowered the shuttle to the ground and stepped out into the park. She immediately noticed a large group of statues in front of her. She walked up to the edge of the clearing and saw that they were statues of human colonists that were being killed by Cainth weapon platforms. She stared at them and then heard a voice from behind her.
    “It looks like I owe Prince Gardner five credits.”
    She turned around and saw Admiral Dorg. “I always come here whenever I come to this planet. I don’t want to ever forget the debt I owe for my stupidity and arrogance.”
    Bridget looked at him and could tell that he was sincere. She had heard about all he had done for the survivors of the Ross invasion and she knew he had been forgiven by the colonists. “You can’t forgive yourself, can you, Sir.”
    Dorg looked at her with an expression that showed his surprise. “Captain, I’m surprised. I never expected you to work out those directions in time to make this meeting in a timely fashion, but you did. Now you see me as few have. No, I will never be able to forgive myself for what happened here. I come here to remind me to never forget what conceit and arrogance can lead to.” Dorg then sat down on a bench and motioned Bridget to join him. “Quite frankly, I was going to work you over and then tell you why I brought you here, but now after seeing the statues, I don’t have the heart for it.”
    “Why did you bring me here, Admiral?”
    “I was somewhat angry about you keeping track of me back at that moon. When your Director called and asked about my actions, I knew you had kept me on your monitors and I didn’t like it.” Bridget looked very uncomfortable but remained silent. “I notice you’re not apologizing and that makes me more convinced that I’ve made a good decision here.”
    “Here it comes,” She thought.
    “You kept track of me because you are responsible for the safety of your system. Keeping track of me was also done for my safety.” Bridget was startled that he would know that. “If anything happened to me on your watch, you like I, would have difficulty forgiving yourself.”
    “I’m genuinely surprised you see that, Admiral.”
    “Now, letting Director Nicole know was more than what was needed but I’m forced to admit that if you reported to me and didn’t notify me if someone of my stature came in the system, then I would be greatly upset.”
    “Exactly, Sir; she deserved to know.”
    “So, why are you here, Captain?”
    “I thought you were going to bust me and send me home; now I honestly don’t know.”
    “How did you find your way here?”
    “My sensor officer spends his spare time developing programs that will get the coordinates of any place in the Stars Realm. He fed your directions into his program and it said that I was expected here.”
    Dorg lifted his com and said, “How long will it take you to get here.”
    “I’m actually right behind you waiting for you to call me.”
    Bridget turned around and there walking toward them was Prince Thomas Gardner and his daughter. She jumped up and came to rigid attention and saluted.
    “At ease Captain,” Tag said. There was a crowd of people being held back more than a hundred yards away by a company of marines. “It’s hard for us to go out in public but I think this situation is worth the effort.” He then turned to Dorg and said, “Well, what’s your decision?”
    Dorg looked at Bridget and said, “Captain O’Donald, you are hereby promoted to the rank of Commodore. You will turn you ship over to a crew graduating from the academy and move your crew to the transport waiting for you in orbit.” Bridget was stunned but Dorg continued, “Your current Megaship is one of the first generation and is only used for system defense. You and your crew will be taken to Sten’s planet to take possession of a new megaship that incorporates a number of new designs. You and your crew will learn how to fight that ship and once you master its systems, it will be brought back here to Ross and will become Prince Gardner’s Flag Ship. I expect you to perform admirably, Commodore.”
    Bridget could not stop grinning. This was more than she could have ever hoped for and Prince Gardner was signing her promotion as she stood there. Then he turned and said, “My last ship’s commander is now a fleet admiral, but I’ll make sure he takes time to bring you up to speed on the systems he used in Retribution.”
    Bridget saluted both Dorg and Tag and then asked, “What is our new ships name, Sir?”
    Tag looked at Dorg and said, “She is named The Stars Realm Ship Alexander Kosiev.”
    The emotion that washed over Dorg and Bridget O’Donald could be seen by anyone looking at them. The pride the new commodore felt was clear to all. “Dismissed, Commodore; you need to go get you crew ready to transfer to the transport.
    Bridget ran to her shuttle and took off at a speed that was excessive, but she didn’t care; her crew was going to be excited beyond belief about their new assignment and ship.
    Dorg watched her leave and looked at Tag and said, “Was I ever that young?”
    Rose laughed and said, “No Admiral, you were born old.”
    Dorg scowled, “Not you, too.”
    Rose laughed then ran and jumped into Dorg’s four arms. “No uncle, you know I love you.”
    Dorg held her and remembered her sensing him as she was being born and sending him her feelings of good will; what a remarkable family these Gardners are. Then he stood and swung Rose in circles.
    The conference room was full and Tag looked around at everyone. He reflected for a moment and then thought, “Atlas, we are at a critical point of this conflict and I’m worried about the upcoming conflict.”
    “Tag, I’ve visited the Plants and I don’t think they will be attacking soon. They are changing a whole class of ships. I think you have some time.”
    “He’s right, Daddy,” Rose thought. “The Plants are going to get ready for the battle and it’s going to take some time.”
    Tag took a deep breath and said, “How much time?”
    Rose said, “Hard to tell; probably more than a year.”
    Tag stood and said to the group, “I hoped that by using fewer ships that the Plants would attack the Dremels planet with the bulk of their fleets. I think I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. My daughter tells me that they are redesigning a class of ships and I don’t think it takes a genius to figure that the ships will be used to ram. That means that the hornets being used to stop their anti-matter missiles are no longer an effective weapon; which also means that the rammers will be screened and fast. I don’t know how many ships they will bring but I’m certain that the number will be staggering.” The room was silent. Tag then looked at Cade McAllister and said, “The delay in attacking us is actually a blessing. We don’t have nearly enough of the jump penetrators to win this fight. The delay will give us an opportunity to manufacture enough to make a difference.”
    “How many do you think we’ll need?” Terl asked.
    Tag looked at Rose and said, “Millions.” He noticed that Rose nodded.
    Misty Nicole stood and asked, “How do we use the new weapons?”
    Tag looked at Cade and said, “Why don’t you handle this one.” Cade stood up and looked at the large group and hesitated. Then he turned on the wall display which had a diagram of the Dremels system. The Dremels planet had 16 asteroids circling it and the 32,000 SR ships were in orbit around the planet.
    “I’m not going to try to tell you that when the battle starts for this planet that it is going to be easy. Matter of fact, being on board a ship will be a very dangerous place to be. I have looked at this situation and unfortunately I’ve only come up with one plan that maximizes the jump penetrators.’ H e looked directly at Tag and said, “All of our ships will have to be at the planet.”
    Tag said, “You know that there will not be an escape through their ranks once they arrive at the planet.”
    “Yes Your Majesty, but if there were ships attacking from outside the planets orbit, they will be in the path of the penetrators. There will literally be millions of penetrators jumping in and moving at their incredible velocity into the Plant Fleet. If ships are between them and the Plants, there will be gaps for them to escape. The ships and the forts will be launching the normal penetrator and we will be jumping in the jump penetrators so that the Plants can’t retreat from the system. The forts will have a huge number of the penetrators and each ship will have more than 400 mounted on their hulls. If the Plants begin to get close to our ships then the forts will launch all their penetrators and then fly out into the middle of their fleets and release all their energy. The ships will not fire their penetrators until the forts have exhausted their stores and have self-destructed.”
    Tag looked out at the leaders of the Stars Realm and said, “This is not a place for the faint of heart and I believe that our Navy will carry out this plan. Admiral Dorg, I agree with Cade on this plan and we need to move the rest of our ships to the Dremels system. Transports will move the penetrators to be mounted to the hulls as they are produced. We will manufacture them as quickly as possible and maybe the Plants will give us enough time to manufacture the number we need to be successful. There is one more thing, Cade.” Cade looked at Tag with raised eyebrows, “You do have the penetrators that will seek out and destroy the frequency ships, don’t you?”
    Cade nodded and said, “Yes, we do.”
    Tag looked around the room and said, “Then if it gets to the point of the destruction of our fleet, we will jump away, however, I want to take a toll on the plants before we go.”
    Danielle and Rose watched Tag lead the meeting and once more Danielle felt the fear of losing Tag. She looked at Rose and thought to her, “Will he be safe?”
    Rose broke her gaze from Tag and looked at Danielle. She had never lied to her mother and she was tempted to tell her first lie; but she couldn’t. “Mom, no one will be safe. He knows it, too; but Mom, he wouldn’t be the man you love if he didn’t lead his sailors in this conflict. He has to go and you know it.”
    Danielle looked into Rose’s eyes and was amazed at the maturity of her eleven year old. She kept her composure and then reached out and hugged her daughter. Rose held on to her mother and thought, “I would tell you that you’re expecting another child but I don’t think you could handle it at this moment. You don’t need to learn this happy news at this sad time. She felt the little embryo and sensed that it, like her, would be very talented. It would be good to have a brother to share her gifts with.” She let her mother go and turned her attention back to her father. Even this battle won’t solve the problem with the Algeans. It looked more and more like total extermination of the plants was the only solution. “I know how to do that,” she thought.

Chapter 22

    Bridget O’Donald and Tag sat in a room with Planet Leader Sten looking at his new ship that was being completed at the Central Planet’s largest ship yard. Both Tag and Bridget were amazed at its size; it was at least two miles long. Sten let them stare and then said, “I suppose you’re wondering why it’s so big.”
    Tag looked at him and said, “Yes, I am. How big are the power cells on its surface; I can’t see the seams where they come together.”
    “That’s because there aren’t any.”
    Tag and Bridget both looked at Sten with shocked expressions and Sten said, “Sit down and let me explain how this ship came about.” They sat down and Sten turned on the large display in front of their table. “This is a one of a kind ship; we will never be able to build another. Cade McAllister came to me more than two years ago with a video he wanted me to see; it was the destruction of Admiral Kosievs’ ship.” Sten immediately saw the pain in Tag’s expression and knew the loss he felt for Kosievs’ death. “McAllister saw something in the recording that he couldn’t explain and wanted me to help him understand it. I know the pain this video might cause you, Your Majesty, but I think it’s important for you to see it.”
    Tag looked at Sten and said, “Go ahead, I see it in my mind at least once a day.”
    Sten began the video at the point just before the fifty anti-matter missiles hit the Moscow. I want you to watch closely what happens during the explosion.”
    Tag watched as the missiles hit the Moscow and the huge explosion that followed. He noticed that the explosion seemed to be bigger at the top of the doomed Megaship. “Why is the explosion bigger at the top?”
    “Excellent, you saw the same thing McAllister did when he looked at it. I’m going to slow the explosion down to one ten thousandths of normal speed,” Sten said and then ran the recording again.
    Tag watched and saw the ship blowing up but there was a piece of it that was blown away so fast that even at the slow speed of the video it left almost faster than he could follow. “A piece of the ship survived the blast.”
    “Yes it did. Once McAllister made that determination he decided that there should have been no way any part of that ship should have survived that many anti-matter blasts and he decided that finding that piece of the Moscow that survived was important. If it could survive then maybe we would have armor that is anti-matter proof.”
    “So what did he do?” Bridget asked.
    “It wasn’t as easy as he thought it was going to be. The Plant fleet had left the planet after their missiles had destroyed it, so McAllister went to the last coordinates of Kosievs’ ship and oriented his sensor array on the line that the piece was blow away. He has one of Earth’s foremost engineers determine the velocity that it has left and calculated how far away it had to be. He knew that the slightest variation would put him off millions of miles so he brought fifty megaships to spread out to the limits of their sensors and then jumped to the vicinity of where the piece should be located; nothing showed up on their sensors. He called in a thousand megaships and began the process again and once more nothing showed up.”
    “Could he have read the trajectory wrong?” Tag asked.
    “He had five other scientists check the trajectory and they all independently agreed that he was right.” Sten leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. “It took him four months of troubled thought to come up with a breakthrough; maybe it could not be read by the sensors.”
    Bridget frowned and said, “How is that possible?”
    Sten said, “He didn’t want to believe it either but he decided to try another way to find it. He ran his calculations again and used three thousand megaships spaced evenly in front of where the object should be traveling and set their visual sensors to alarm if anything caused a star to blink because an object crossed between it and a ship. In less than a day ten megaships had their sensors alarm. McAllister used their readings to triangulate where the object was and jumped to where it should be. He came out of his jump and the object barely missed hitting his ship as it sped by. Cade had his ship accelerate and catch up to the piece of the Moscow and match velocities. He called the other Megaships over and he shot a grappling hook into the object; the grappling hook disappeared and was cut off with the smoothest, cleanest, cut McAllister had ever seen.”
    Tag and Bridget looked at Sten with furrowed brows. “What was going on with that piece,” Tag asked.
    “Prince Gardner, Cade followed that piece for more than eight months trying to slow it down; nothing worked. Whatever touched the object disappeared and no energy was read from the object. He was starting to get frustrated. He decided to extend his screen in front of the object in hopes that the energy would slow it down.”
    Bridget said, “Wasn’t that dangerous? What if the screen touched it and the object pulled whatever was in the screen into it.”
    “Sometimes in the heat of frustration one doesn’t think things thru.”
    “What Happened?” Tag asked.
    “The object hit the screen and came to a complete stop just inside the screen; McAllister was dumbfounded; he immediately fired another grappling hook and it locked on the piece without being destroyed. Cade surmised that the object had to be contained in a Coronado Screen or it would be dangerous to work with. That’s when he called me and asked if I could help him understand what was going on with the object. He brought it here and I erected a space lab to work on it that was completely surrounded by a Coronado screen. Once we got it in we examined it quite thoroughly. We were amazed at what we discovered.”
    Sten paused and Bridget said, “Well don’t keep us waiting.”
    “You know that the Moscow was powered by five black hole reactors that Kosiev had overloaded and burned out to get to the ships that were preventing our fleet and forts from escaping. Just as they failed, the Moscow was hit with multiple anti-matter missiles that released a tremendous amount of energy. We now believe that just as those five small black holes broke thru their containers in Kosievs’ reactors they were blown into the top center section of Moscow’s hull and all five were trapped in the Coronado Power Cells. The explosion then blew that section away.”
    “Why didn’t the explosion destroy that piece like the rest of the ship?” Tag asked.
    “Sten smiled and said, “Because once those black holes locked themselves into those cells, their ability to absorb energy grew more than a trillion fold. We, quite frankly, have been unable to determine just how much energy that object can hold but we’re beginning to believe that it has no limit. And it doesn’t have to be energy; we’ve actually flown one of our old megaships that was damaged in battle into it and the megaship disappeared as if it never existed and there were no energy readings given off.”
    “That doesn’t make sense. When matter is destroyed, it produces energy.” Tag said.
    “You’re singing to the choir,” Sten said. “I really like some of your human expressions; they are so appropriate at the right time. Anyway, you’re right; it should have released energy. We decided to try and reduce its power so we attached a hundred foot long section of power cells that were still connected to their software connection. We hoped that possibly one of the black holes would leave the fifty foot object and enter the new section. A remarkable thing happened; the new section seemed to melt into the object and there were no seams between them. The fifty cells on the new section all melted into one large power cell.”
    Tag and Bridget could only stare at Sten.
    Sten sat up straight and continued, “The thing that really surprised us was that the new object actually followed the software instructions. We hit the switch to turn it off and it turned off and became safe to work on ever outside a Coronado Screen. Now we had a way to work with the new cell. The result of that work is now sitting there in front of you; there will never be another. We have tried every conceivable method to reproduce the cell and have failed totally. We just don’t have the technology to control the exact moment of black hole insertion into a power cell and we discovered that only the huge energy that happened during those anti-matter explosions could make them enter a cell without exploding it. This is a one of a kind ship and I’m almost thankful that we can’t produce another.”
    “Why is that?” Bridget asked.
    “Because I believe that it is indestructible and whoever controls this ship has the universe’s most powerful weapon. Prince Gardner, I wouldn’t trust anyone other than you to control it. We have designed it such that its advanced screens and weapons will not work unless you are on board and on the bridge. The software will read your presence and will release the hand reader on your console; place your hand in it and the ship’s advanced systems will be released.”
    “What if I have to leave the bridge, will my crew be left defenseless?”
    “No, the old weapons such as primary beams and needles will still operate like any of our ships; you may want to send your ship on missions for you and the standard weapons will operate normally; however, your personal quarters are located next to the bridge and the bridge will still operate if you are there.”
    “Is Prince Gardner going to have to be here during our training?”
    “No, but I will,” Sten said. “I will have a temporary activator programmed to me that will allow the training to take place. Once the training is completed, the activator will be removed and the ship will be yours. I’ve said that you will have the normal weapons of the megaships, however, Commodore O’Donald, they will be quite stronger than any you have ever seen. You and your crew have a difficult time ahead of you learning to fight this ship. However, I’ve talked with Admiral Dorg and he believes that you and your crew are up to the task. I look forward to working with you.”
    Bridget looked out at the two mile long ship and hoped she was up to the task. She decided that she and her crew were going to learn this ship inside and out. Prince Gardner deserved their best effort and she was going to make sure he got it. “I look forward to working with you Planet Leader. I’m excited about the possibilities.”
    Sten smiled and said, “You have no idea, Captain, tell me that in two weeks.”
    Tag looked down at his new ship and said, “The Kosiev will be special, just like the one she’s named after.
    Two years passed while the Algeans prepared for the attack on what they thought was the Strangers home system. The Stars Realm grew technologically and economically. Coronado technology made the transformation easy with cheap, unlimited energy. The economy was booming and there was enthusiasm about the future thru out the Realm. Rose celebrated her thirteenth birthday and Danielle had delivered a healthy baby boy one year earlier. They named him after his father and called him Tommy. There was joy in Castle Gardner but the continuous tension caused by the upcoming attack was always present. Then one day Rose thought to her father, “Dad, I believe the time has come. I see Algean fleets forming up.
    Tag thought back to her, “Thanks, Darling.” Then he got on his com and called for Commodore O’Donald to bring her ship to Ross to leave for the Dremels Planet. As Tag packed to leave for the upcoming battle, Rose entered his room and said, “Dad, I have to go with you to this battle.”
    Tag straightened up and thought to Danielle, “Dear, get down here fast. Rose wants to go to the battle with the Plants.”
    Danielle didn’t even waste time sending a thought back; she ran down the stairs and entered the room at a run. “What kind of nonsense are you talking about, Rose?”
    Rose stood and looked at her parents and both of them could tell that she was more serious than they had ever seen her. Danielle grabbed Tag’s arm and sat down on the couch in front of Tag’s bed. Rose looked at the floor for a moment and then looked them in the eye. “I am not asking if I can go; I am going.”
    Danielle began to tell her daughter who made the decisions in her family but Tag took her hand and made her look at him; he shook his head and then turned to Rose and said, “Help us understand why you have to do this.”
    Rose looked at her parents and said, “I can’t tell you and you’re going to have to trust me that there is a good reason for my keeping it secret. I would ask both of you one question; which of the three of us has the best understanding of the war between the Stars Realm and the Plants. I would further ask you which of the three of us has the best psychic skills to see the big picture to make the best decisions. I know you don’t understand but soon I will be ruling the Stars Realm and my decisions will determine the direction that our people will move. I know I’m young in years and it’s hard for the two of you to see me as anything but your little girl; however, I want you to understand that if you don’t allow me to go, then we as a people will lose our souls because of this conflict.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at their daughter and Danielle could see that she was telling the truth. Tag looked at Rose and said, “Rose, how can I allow you to go when you don’t have a screen to protect you? Would you agree to allow Atlas to put a screen into your molecular structure?”
    “No, I will not allow that; but I will promise to stay at your side during the battle and you know both of us will fit in your shield should it be necessary.”
    Rose watched her parents look at each other and she said, “I know it’s early for you to completely trust my decisions and I have tried to simply guide you in the past and let you come to decisions on your own, however, this is not a decision that I can avoid and I can’t manipulate you into doing what is needed. Now you are going to have to decide if the child the two of you produced is really as talented as you think she is.”
    Tag looked at Danielle and said, “I will have a chair for you installed next to mine on the bridge, and you will also have to sleep in my quarters so you’re never far from me.”
    Rose shouted with glee and ran and jumped into her father’s arms. Tag looked at Danielle and saw her nod her head. Both of them were afraid but they knew the power of a psychic mind from their own experience and their daughter was the strongest psychic they had ever encountered. In the end, they trusted her talents to protect her just as Tag’s protected him.
    Tag released Rose and said, “Pack your things now; we have to leave for the Dremels’ system. I also have to stop in Delta galaxy to talk with Cade.”
    Rose ran from the room to get her things together. Tag looked at Danielle and said, “I’ve been feeling like something was wrong for more than four months. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was but that feeling disappeared when Rose asked to go. I trust my instincts; there is a reason for her being there.”
    “Keep both of you safe, Tag.” Danielle said while hugging him. “My life is on your ship. I don’t want to lose it.” Tommy waddled in on shaky legs and went to Tag and hugged his legs. Tommy had Tag’s brown hair and Danielle’s blue eyes. The little boy looked up at his father and Tag knew he was concerned. Tag picked him up and said, “We’ll be fine; stay here and Take care of your mother.”
    Tommy looked into his father’s eyes and then turned and reached for Danielle. She took him from Tag and held him close.
    Tag looked at his love and held her tighter; nothing else needed to be said.
    The Eldest Leader of the Algeans looked at his display and said, “Destroy that planet; I don’t care about harvesting anything. There are worlds waiting for harvesting, the strangers must be eliminated first. Are your fleets ready and is your plan in motion?”
    “Yes Eldest, the largest ships will accelerate to full speed and the rest of the fleet will follow them in. If they are hit, the inertia should carry the pieces not destroyed onward toward the planet. The smaller ships will continue to use them as a screen to hide behind until they reach the planet.”
    “The Common is counting on your success. Destroy our enemies.”
    “Yes Eldest.”
    The Kosiev jumped to Delta Galaxy and Tag commed Cade McAllister. “Cade, are the jump penetrators ready?”
    “Yes, Your Majesty, we have them programmed to their jump coordinates and they will be volleyed when the Plant fleet gets five hours inside the jump limit.”
    “Why not earlier?” Tag asked.
    “Mainly because we think that it will take that long for their entire fleet to enter the system inside the jump limit. We don’t want them to jump away when the shooting starts.”
    Tag thought a moment and then asked, “How far will that make them from our front?”
    “Three hours.”
    Tag just looked at Cade on his display and Cade could see his troubled expression. “Sir, any further out and a massive part of their forces will be able to escape. Some of my staff wants them even closer than that but I’m just not willing to risk it.”
    “Are the forts programmed in the event things get close?”
    “Yes they are, Sir, and Commodore Roselli has the module that will start their run. The crews will jump just as they leave orbit.”
    “Cade, I’m counting on you to provide the barrier that will keep our fleet out of danger. Don’t let us down.”
    “Yes, Your majesty.”
    Tag looked at Rose sitting beside him on the bridge and said, “Commodore O’Donald, please take us to the Dremels’ Planet.”
    Bridget nodded to her helmsman and the ship sounded its jump tone and entered null space.
    The Kosiev emerged from null space close to the planet and stopped next to the Rossville. Most of the fleet had not seen the new flagship of the SR Fleet and its two mile length impressed the crews on duty that were able to see it. It was an entirely new design and everyone that saw the Kosiev immediately noticed that there were no lines between its power cells. Tag commed Dorg and said, “Is the fleet ready?”
    Dorg looked at the Kosiev out of his viewport and though he had seen it before, he was still impressed. “Yes, we are ready. Please notice that we have mounted mobile launchers on all of the ships so that they can carry double the normal capacity of the new penetrators. Depending on the number of ships they send, we should be ready to destroy the bulk of their fleet.”
    Dorg then noticed that Rose was sitting next to Tag and he stood up from his chair, “What is she doing here? This is not a place the Princess should be; what are you thinking?”
    Rose pressed her com and joined Dorg and Tag in the conversation, “Oh Uncle, Dorg, you always worry too much. Besides, I have to be here.”
    “By the love of the creator, why?”
    Rose looked at the Cainth Warrior and said in a soft voice, “I can’t tell you but you’ll understand later; until then, you’re going to have to trust me.”
    Dorg glared at Tag and held his opinion. Tag said, “Admiral, I want you to think this thru carefully. She said she has to be here; are you willing to run the risk of her not being allowed to come?”
    Dorg furrowed his brow and looked out of his viewport for a moment and then said, “If things go bad, you will jump her out of here to safety, won’t you?”
    Tag smiled and said, “I suspect that being close to her is the safest place to be in the upcoming conflict. However, I will have to account for her safety to our Queen and I’m not prepared to endure that if she’s harmed.”
    Dorg smiled and said, “Better you than me, I’ve seen her angry. Are you changing the plan?”
    “No, I do want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Would you please get Mikado, Ron-Dar, and the fort commander to join us on this channel?”
    “Dorg looked over at his communications officer and said, “Standby for just a moment.”
    Tag and Rose sat in their chairs tapping their feet while listening to the Matt McCagg Experience sing “Don’t Play With the Spaceship,” while they waited for the others to join the meeting.”
    “I believe that everyone is on the channel with us, Your Majesty.”
    Tag shook his head; he just could not get used to being treated as royalty. “Good day and welcome everyone. I want to make sure that we are all in complete understanding of the plan for the upcoming battle. We are going to wait here at the planet for the Algean fleet to come in system more than five hours before we start our response.”
    “Why are we waiting so long?” Mikado asked.
    “It is the opinion of our strategist that it will take that long for their entire fleet to get in system from the jump point. If we start our attack too early then a huge portion of their fleet could escape.”
    The group was silent for a long moment and then Ron-Dar asked, “How many ships do they anticipate the Algeans will send against us?”
    Tag took a deep breath and said, “Between five and six million.”
    Dorg shook his head slowly and said, “I’m even more uncomfortable now with waiting five hours.”
    Rose said, “Uncle, for every hour you reduce from five hours, two million of their ships will be able to escape.”
    Tag looked at his daughter with surprise. How did she know that?
    “It might also interest you to know that they are not sending eight million ships,” Rose said as a matter of fact.
    Dorg said, “Good, I was worried about handling that many.”
    “They’re sending a little over eleven million with more than six million of those ships redesigned to suicide with anti-matter warheads,” Rose continued. “The suicide ships also have the five screens protecting them.”
    The SR Fleet Commanders looked at her with shock on their faces.
    Tag looked at his daughter and said, “Did you know this before I agreed to bring you into this battle?”
    Rose looked at her father and said, “Yes, and there’s much more that I can’t tell you yet.”
    Tag stood there in turmoil. This was going to be very dangerous space and he was scared for his daughter’s safety. Rose looked at him and said, “You need not worry about my safety; I just need you to do what I ask you to do at the precise time I need it without questioning my decisions. Will you do that for me?”
    Tag looked at Rose and nodded begrudgingly.
    “Dad, I’m extremely serious. You’ll want to think it thru but I need you to respond immediately. Promise me you will or the danger to all of us will be unimaginable.”
    All of the SR Fleet Commanders were listening to the dialogue and they could see the struggle taking place with Tag, then they saw him nod and say, “I trust you with all of our lives, Rose. It will be done as you say. I wish you would tell me what I’m agreeing to do.”
    Rose smiled and said, “I can’t because then you wouldn’t do it.” Then she looked at Bridget and said, “The first thing I need you to do is to move the forts self destruct module from our ship to Admiral Mikado’s and I need it done immediately.”
    Tag started to protest but then caught himself and said, “Do as she says, Commodore. She is in control now and believe me, I almost said no to her first request and my inner senses warned me that I would be making a mistake.” Tag then looked at Admiral Mikado and said, “The forts self-destruct module is being moved to your ship. You will be in control of the timing of their runs.”
    Dorg looked at the two Gardeners and felt real fear. He knew the power of Tag’s talents having seen them over the years. Then he remembered that Tgon-Gee had told him more than twelve years earlier at Rose’s birth that her powers would make her parents look small in comparison. The thing that made him draw some comfort from the present situation was that Rose was not showing any doubt what so ever and knew what she wanted. Then he chuckled to himself and thought, “I guess trying to explain it to us mere mortals would just take too long.” He then saw the shuttle leaving the Kosiev with the destruct module for installation on the Rising Sun. I wonder how much longer we have before the Plants arrival.”

Chapter 23

    Tag sat on the bridge with Rose waiting for what they knew was coming. They were talking with their thoughts and Tag was hurt that his daughter didn’t trust him enough to tell him what was going on. “Dad, It’s not an issue of trust and you’ll understand that when everything happens. However, I know that you can’t see that right now. Just keep your promise and follow my instructions.”
    Danielle was also listening to the conversation and she said, “You can’t tell me either, can you?”
    “No, Mom, I can’t and I’m going to ask you not to try and figure out why. I know your talent at digging out the truth but this is one time I’m going to ask you as a lifetime wish to forego using your talent until this battle is over.”
    Danielle was almost dying to work it out but she forced herself to not think about why, “yet.”
    Rose looked at Tag and said, “It’s time; they’ll start arriving here in less than a minute.”
    O’Donald was listening in and nodded to her communications officer. She sent the message out to the fleet and she turned on her general ships frequency. “Battle stations, all hands to battle stations. Secure the ship and report in on status.”
    Bridget watched her communication officer’s console and saw all ninety lights go red indicating her ship was ready to fight in less than thirty seconds. She had heard Mikado say that when he served on the Moscow that they could do it in forty five seconds. “We beat them,” Bridget thought. (Later Mikado would tell her that the Moscow did it when the crew was asleep and was not expecting anything to happen.)
    Everything looked normal at the jump limit; then suddenly more than 20 thousand ships emerged from star drive and began accelerating toward the planet. Less than thirty seconds after the first line of ships began moving in system, 20 thousand more ships appeared and began accelerating. Every thirty seconds after that a new line of twenty thousand ships would jump in. The SR Fleet watched the ships coming at them and Mikado noticed a pattern. He commed the other commanders and said, “Have any of you noticed a pattern in the Algeans formation?”
    Tag said, “Yes, I have; all of the ships in the initial wave are the heavy harvesters and they are allowing the ships behind them to catch up to form what looks like a cylinder.”
    Mikado raised his eyebrows and said, “Right on, Your Majesty. What do you think they’re doing?”
    Tag thought a moment and then said, “I hope I’m wrong but it appears to me that the heavy harvesters will form a shell around their suicide ships and do the blocking of our weapons until they get in range.”
    Ron-Dar looked at his display saying, “Do you think that will work?”
    Tag thought and then said, “What will happen to a harvester when one of our new penetrators hit it?”
    “It should destroy it when it sets off their magazines,” Dorg said.
    “What if they aren’t carrying missiles and the only weapon they use is a beam.”
    “Then a five mile wide hole will be blown in them,” Mikado said.
    “And what will happen to the remaining fifteen miles of ship?” Tag asked.
    Then they all saw it. Ron-Dar said, “The remainder will continue moving toward the planet because of its inertia which will still give the smaller ships a huge moving screen to hide behind.”
    Tag pressed his com and got Cade on the channel and explained what he believed was happening. “Are our penetrators programmed to handle this situation?”
    Cade looked worried. “No, we aren’t. The penetrators are programmed to ignore ships designated by another penetrator. The harvesters will only be hit by one penetrator at a time. Since the ships that have been hit will probably not be under power, our penetrators will probably ignore the damaged ships.”
    Tag said, “Begin reprogramming as many of them as you can. Notify me when you’ve made progress.” Tag then looked at the commanders and said, “Change of plans, our fleet will use their penetrators to target the damaged ships. To totally destroy a harvester may take four penetrators to destroy its twenty mile length, however, I want you to assign a section of the incoming plant formation to your ships and hit them as them approach. We will move the fleet to within twelve hundred miles of the five hour mark and begin firing as we retreat toward the forts matching the Plants speed. We cannot allow them closer than the penetrators range. Cade, as soon as the Plants hit the five hour mark in system; start volleying the jump penetrators; we will hit anything that comes thru the volleys; any questions?”
    No one said anything, so Tag ordered, “Move the fleet forward now.” The 83,000 ships of the SR Fleet moved to 1,200 miles from the five hour mark and watched for more than four hours as the Plant fleet entered the system. The Plant formation was more than thirty million miles long and was picking up speed as it moved toward the planet. The SR ships watched amazed at the huge numbers moving toward them. Now the only thing separating the two enemies was a short period of time.
    The Fleet Leader watched as the Stranger’s ships left the planet and moved out toward his fleet. “I knew they weren’t stupid,” he thought. “They have figured out that the heavy ships will be used as a shield and are moving to counter them.” His fleet had been jumping in system for more than four hours and finally, all of his fleet was moving toward the planet. They were limited to the speed of the heavy ships but that was a risk that he had to run to protect the new screened missiles. He keyed his fleet frequency and said, “Form the attack formation and begin full acceleration.” The Algean fleet picked up speed and formed a huge cylinder four hundred miles wide with the harvesters composing s hundred outer layers. The plant fleet moved inexorably toward the planet.
    Five hours into the system the heavy ships in front of the plant formation were suddenly being hit by jump penetrators coming out of star drive. The Algean fleet leader was amazed at the new weapon. “How can they jump a missile with a screen so close to the sun?” He also received notice that every frequency ship had been destroyed. He moved more in but as soon as they crossed the jump limit they were hit and totally destroyed. He watched his display as thousands of the missiles began hitting his ships but the damaged ships continued moving toward the planet as other ships dropped in behind them. The cost was going to be heavy but his fleet was still moving forward.
    The SR Fleet was firing penetrators at the huge ships that were damaged that continued to come at them. The entire front of the Algean fleet looked like a giant wall of fire that huge pieces of wreckage would come out of and continue toward the planet. As the damaged ships moved forward the jump penetrator’s arrival points had to be moved backward because they would not come out of null space close to another object. The Algean Fleet moved slowly but surely toward the planet. The SR Fleet backed away from the Algean formation firing at the huge ships that came thru the wall of fire. Dorg commed Tag and said, “We’re not killing them fast enough. There’s only an hour and a half left before they reach the planet and we run out of space to jump the penetrators in.”
    Tag looked at the display and said, “We need to give ourselves some room to operate. Jump one of the forts into the front of their formation now.”
    Dorg pushed his com and said, “Mikado, jump one of the forts 50,000 miles into the plant formation and detonate it.”
    Mikado pressed the control on his control panel and one of the forts moved out from the planet and began moving toward the plant fleet. The crew on the fort boarded their ship and counted down their jump to coincide with the forts jump. Mikado turned on the fleet general frequency and said, “Ten seconds until the fort jumps.”
    All of the human ships watched until the fort suddenly disappeared and a blast engulfed the front ranks of the plant fleet. The plant ships in the first 100,000 miles were blown out of existence. Rose watched the blast and closed her eyes and saw what was going to happen. She turned to Tag and yelled, “Withdraw the fleet now, we’re about to be hit.”
    Tag looked at her and looked back at the huge blast in front of the Stars Realm fleet wondering how they were going to get hit by anything. Then he commed the fleet and said, “Withdraw toward the planet now.”
    The Stars Realm fleet turned and accelerated toward the planet. Then Tag saw what Rose was yelling about. More than two million of the new plant ships came around the blast from all sides moving at a speed that was incredible. They were going to be on them in less than five minutes and the fleet was not going to be able to outrun them.
    Tag commed McAllister and said, “Launch as many penetrators as you can. We’re about to be overrun.”
    Cade commed him back and said, “We won’t be able to get enough in to stop them all; we are still trying to slow the rest of the plant fleet coming around the forts blast.”
    “Do what you can but we are going to lose ships if you don’t slow these new plant ships.”
    The Stars Realm ships began firing their penetrators and space between the two fleets looked like hundreds of thousands of laser beams as the penetrators accelerated into the incoming plant ships at half the speed of light. There were so many plant ships that the front ranks would be targeted by the penetrators but those in the second and third ranks were hidden behind the front rank. Then the two fleets hit and ships began to die.
    Tag watched as his ships killed thousands of ships every second but more than six thousand of the plant ships made it through and hit his fleet. Five thousand mega ships died with nine hundred more being damaged severely within five minutes of contact.
    Tag lifted his com and said, “Admiral Mikado, prepare the remaining forts to make their run into the plant formation to take out the front of their fleet. Walk the forts out with the second one exploding 25,000 miles further into their formation than the first one. Let’s see if we can’t back them up to give us some room to maneuver.
    One of the forts jumped into the front of the oncoming fleet and exploded clearing a hundred thousand miles of their front ships. The next fort jumped to the back edge of the explosion and cleared out another hundred thousand miles. This continued until all sixteen forts had made their jumps. Almost two million miles of the front of the incoming fleet was blown away in the huge explosions of the forts. Of the plants eleven million ships, more than six million were destroyed.
    Rose looked at the plant fleet and knew that most of the ships killed were the old heavy harvesters and that more than four million of the new missile ships were still coming. Now there were no more forts. She looked at Tag and said, “You’ve got to prepare the fleet to jump away. They are coming and there are still more than sixty thousand miles of heavy harvesters to get thru before you can hit their new ships. Those new ships will be on you before you can get underway if you wait.”
    Tag looked at Rose and keyed his com, “All ships, have your star drives ready to jump on my command. We are going to go out to 1,200 miles from their front and back away toward the planet. As soon as their new missile ships come at us, I want you to jump away when they are five hundred miles away.”
    Tag keyed his com again and said, “Cade, we’re out of forts; you have got to keep them off us. Jump your penetrators into the gap between the fleets and keep firing as we back away toward the planet.”
    Cade nodded and the screen went dark. Suddenly thousands of the new penetrators began jumping in between the front of the oncoming plant ships and retreating Stars Realm fleet. Tag and Rose looked at the penetrators coming out of their star drives and the whole front looked like a continuous silver-blue lightning flash as they emerged from null space. Rose watched the rolling of wave after wave of penetrators and saw that the Plant fleet was being held two thousand miles in front of the SR Fleet.
    Rose looked at Tag and said, “Dad, it’s time. She looked at Commodore O’Donald and said, “Jump your ships to these coordinates, please.”
    Bridget took the paper with the numbers on them and said, “These are a long way from here.”
    Rose said, “None the less, make your jump immediately and have all your weapons brought on line before your jump.”
    Bridget looked at Tag and he went to his chair and placed his hand in the indent on his console and said, “Weapons free.”
    The Kosiev felt like it had come alive. There was a hum that filled the room then rose in pitch until it disappeared. The lights dimmed and a background of yellow light filled the bridge. Bridget handed the coordinates to the helmsman and said, “Jump to these now.”
    Tag commed Dorg and said, “Hold the fort and don’t let them take the north wall. We are leaving and you now will assume overall command of our fleet.”
    “Where are you going?” Dorg asked amazed that Tag would leave at this critical moment.
    “I don’t know, Admiral, but Rose says we must go now.”
    Dorg looked at Tag and said, “Stay in touch and tell that daughter of yours I love her.”
    Rose commed back, “I know, Uncle; we’ll contact you shortly.”
    The jump officer entered the coordinates and hit the jump switch. The jump tone sounded and the Kosiev disappeared from the raging battle.”
    The Algean Fleet Leader saw the huge ship disappear from his sensors and wondered where it was going. He didn’t know why but it worried him. These strangers just weren’t predictable and he knew that the big ship leaving was not a good thing.
    The Kosiev broke back into normal space above a green covered planet. It hadn’t been in normal space but ten seconds before thousands of ships began attacking. He could see that millions of ships around the planet were moving toward them on his chair’s console screen. “Where are we Rose?” Tag asked.
    “We are at the Plant’s home world. Commodore O’Donald, I need you to hold off the attacking ships while I try to persuade the leaders of the Plants to communicate with me.”
    Tag was stunned. Rose was right, he would have never allowed her to come here but he was committed to try and help her accomplish what she came to do. “Commodore, the ship is yours.”
    Rose said, “Try not to fire at any of them; you should be able to hold them off defensively for a while.”
    Tag looked at his daughter with amazement then looked at O’Donald and saw her nod. “She’s right, Your Majesty; they will not be able to harm us. I’ll hold them off until you order us to fire our weapons.”
    Tag looked at O’Donald and thought, “There is a lot about this ship I haven’t learned. Maybe Rose does know what she’s doing. Then he turned his attention to Rose who was allowing him to listen in on her communication attempt.”
    “I am trying to communicate with the Eldest Leader of this race,” Rose thought at the planet.
    Meanwhile thousands of ships fired on the Kosiev and then attempted to ram. Tag watched as the first ten ships hit the Kosiev amidships and just disappeared into its hull without a trace or even any evidence they had hit. Then he saw one of the huge harvesters accelerate straight at the Kosiev.
    Rose continued, “You should be seeing that none of your ships can harm us in any way. If you want to waste the harvester you’re sending to ram us to make sure I’m telling the truth, then by all means do so, however, it will have no affect on my ship.”
    The harvester picked up speed and hit the Kosiev. Everything that touched the SR Ship disappeared and the remaining parts above and below the Kosiev continued moving away from the planet.
    Rose continued her attempt to communicate. “I allowed your ship to hit us because I want you to know that we cannot be harmed. I also know that you have ordered long ago that no member of your race is to ever communicate with any other race. I know why you did that.”
    On the planet below the Algean Elders in their grove were swaying almost uncontrollably. They were almost yelling among themselves that the strangers were going to destroy them and that something had to be done. Then they heard the stranger say that they knew why they would not communicate with other races. The Eldest was so surprised that he responded before he could stop himself, “There is no way you could know that!”
    Rose and Tag were startled at the anger in the response. Then Rose said, “You don’t communicate with other races because the only race you ever contacted totally destroyed all of your planets and inhabitants.”
    The Algean Eldest was stunned. How could the stranger know that? It had happened more than seventy million cycles ago and no one of his race was alive at that time. The memory had been passed down with the seed that he came from.
    He still refused to communicate further until the stranger said, “They not only eradicated your race they also destroyed your food source.”
    The other Elders stopped yelling and looked at the Eldest. The Eldest paused and then said, “How do you know these things. Was your race alive when it happened?”
    Tag was stunned. What was Rose saying? Then she continued. “Eldest, I want to communicate with you about the future between our two peoples. However, before I continue, I want you to stop the fleet attacking the planet where our fleet is while we are talking.”
    “Just why would I do that? We will destroy you in less than another knomel.”
    “Because that is not our home world and we have enough of our new missiles to destroy more than ninety percent of your remaining fleet.”
    The Eldest was startled. Surly this being was not being truthful with him. Then the stranger said, “Eldest, we moved the race that formerly inhabited the world you’re attacking to our galaxy to save them from your attack. We have more than 3,200 worlds armed like the one you’re attacking. That one is uninhabited. I want you to ask your fleet to stop and hold its position while we talk and I will order my forces to do the same. If at any point you don’t want to continue talking then resume your attack. I should tell you that if you refuse to do as I ask, I am prepared to totally destroy the grove you’re in and all the soil around it for a distance of one quarter of your planet’s surface.”
    The Eldest felt real fear. If the stranger did what they said, his race was doomed to eternal savagery and dementia. “You have no idea what that would do to my species,” the Eldest said.
    “I believe I do,” Rose said, “and I don’t threaten this lightly.”
    “I will order a temporary halt,” the Eldest said.
    Tag keyed his com and said, “Admiral Dorg.”
    “Yes Your Majesty,” Dorg answered.
    The Plants have ordered a temporary halt to their attack. As soon as you see them start stopping, order all of our forces to cease firing until you see them move again.”
    Dorg was stunned, “How did you do this?”
    “Not right now Admiral.”
    Dorg keyed his com and placed the orders. He looked at his display and said, “They’re stopping. Cease fire, all SR forces cease fire.”
    While Dorg was stopping the SR Fleet, O’Donald contacted Cade and patched Tag thru, “Cade cease fire on the penetrators immediately.” Cade looked at him with dismay and Tag said, “This is a direct order, do it now.” Cade turned and pressed a button on his console. “Commodore O’Donald will notify you if we need you to continue so keep your channel to her open.”
    The Algean Fleet Leader received the order to stop and hold his position and did not believe what he was hearing. “You want me to do what, Eldest?”
    “Stop and hold your position until I notify you. The strangers are here at the home world threatening to destroy the Sacred Grove. Now do as you’re ordered.”
    The Fleet Leader felt fear course thru his body. Not the Sacred Grove, please, not the Sacred Grove. Then he ordered his ships to stop.”
    Both the Algeans and the crew of the Kosiev watched the battle come to a stop. Rose then thought, “Thank you, Eldest. Now we have an opportunity to try and resolve this conflict we find ourselves enmeshed.”
    “I am being forced to communicate with you and I do not see any way to resolve our issues nor do I have any desire to do so.”
    Tag thought, “Danielle, please join me in what is happening.” Tag felt Danielle come into his mind and both of them listened as Rose talked with the Algean Leader.”
    Rose paused a moment and thought, “Eldest, is your reluctance to resolve our issues because of what happened to your race long ago?”
    “That is a major part of it. I do not trust any race outside of my own and I think that any resolution that you would want us to come to would include not harvesting any more worlds. I think this because of your past efforts to stop our efforts at gathering food for my race.”
    “What if you no longer needed the food you’ve been harvesting?”
    The Eldest became very silent and said nothing. Then Rose said, “You didn’t always need to harvest food did you?”
    The Eldest still remained silent and after a long pause said, “No, we didn’t. My race did not originally consume organic materials.”
    Tag and Danielle were shocked but continued to listen to the conversation.
    “What changed that, Eldest?”
    “The race that originally destroyed us released a disease on our planets that destroyed our food source. Without it, we were forced to consume organic material. This small land of golden soil here is all that remains of our food.”
    Rose nodded and said, “And since organic material is not your normal diet you are forced to consume huge amounts of it to live.”
    “Yes we do and my race always feels hunger no matter how much they consume. The food we need only remains here in this small area that is only large enough to develop the leaders of my people. Your threat is the only reason I stopped our attack.”
    “Why do you think the race released the disease on your worlds?”
    The Eldest said nothing then Rose, Tag, and Danielle could hear the heavy mental sigh that came from him, “Because of our children.”
    Danielle could not restrain herself, “What do you mean your children.”
    The Eldest thought, “Who is that?”
    Rose said, “She is my mother.”
    The Eldest said, “Then she knows the importance of raising children properly.”
    “What do you mean, properly?” Danielle asked.
    “We had four stages of life before the Silver Monsters destroyed us; birth where our babies would put their feeding tubes in the food source and grow for ten cycles absorbing the energy and nutrients for their next sixty cycles; the second stage they would remove their feeding tubes and go out to explore the universe around them; the third stage is where they would return from their explorations, discuss their discoveries with others, reproduce and start their families; the final stage is where they plant themselves in the dirt and give back the things they’ve learned to their race in new ideas or inventions. To properly raise a child it must complete those four stages.”
    Danielle thought a moment and realized that human development was very similar to the Plants. Then Rose said something that got her full attention. “It was your adolescents that caused the problem with the Silver Monsters, wasn’t it?”
    The Eldest paused again and then said, “How did you determine that?”
    “They wouldn’t leave the monsters alone.”
    The Eldest’s thought turned hard immediately, “You don’t understand, they couldn’t leave them alone. Our adolescents were driven by their curiosity; it’s part of their makeup that drives them, and they could not stay away even if they wanted; the Silver Monsters were too much for them to resist. Unfortunately, the Monsters would not be patient with our children. We tried to stop them from following the Monsters but they just could not contain their curiosity. The Monsters didn’t even communicate with us about controlling our seedlings; they just destroyed the means for them to exist; then they released a disease that killed us all.”
    Rose said, “They destroyed the food you needed to develop first.”
    The Eldest remained silent showing his agreement.
    Danielle thought, “That’s terrible; what happened after that?”
    The Elders could hear the anger in the Stranger’s thoughts and wondered why it was there. These strangers just did not make sense to him. The Eldest said, “Our young became the tools you have seen attacking and harvesting planets. Their entire life is ruled by hunger and their intellect is stunted from improper nutrition. They are little more than savage predators with little or no mental skills. Our leaders are from here where they develop so that our children can be led to food sources to keep them from starving.”
    Rose said, “I ask you again, if we could restore your food source, would you stop harvesting other worlds?”
    The Eldest said, “We have tried for millions of years to bring back our food but nothing has worked. We could not trust you even if you could restore it. You would eventually try to eradicate my race.”
    “Is it impossible for you to trust?” Rose asked.
    “No, we trust each other; not outsiders.”
    “You can’t understand someone willing to help you without an ulterior motive.”
    “It’s there; you’re just not revealing it.”
    “Eldest, I have just one more request and we’ll end our conversation and go about destroying each other again.”
    “What is that?”
    “I would like to bring someone here and take him to the surface to communicate directly with you.”
    “Why would you want to do that?”
    “It will answer some questions about us that you would not even think to ask. I know you can guarantee our safety while we meet and after we talk I will leave your planet and allow you time to bring in enough ships to defend it.”
    The Eldest thought for a moment and said, “I’ve seen your ship in action and I think it wouldn’t matter how many ships I brought in, would it?”
    Rose paused and said, “No, we would still be able to destroy you but at least it wouldn’t be today.”
    The Eldest smiled and said, “You’re right, not today. Bring whoever it is you want to bring and I’ll guarantee your safety.”
    “Eldest, he will be coming in one of our older ships so you probably could destroy it but he will exit the ship in a shuttle and the ship will then jump away. He will have his screens down when he jumps in.”
    “Fair enough, you know where we are.” The Eldest quit communicating with Rose and sent a message to his fleet surrounding the Kosiev.
    Tag looked at Rose and said, “You are not going down on that planet without me with you.”
    Rose looked into her father’s eyes and said, “Yes I am; you are going to Ross and get Mom and bring her back here while I’m on the surface.”
    Tag stopped in mid thought and said, “Why do I need to do that?”
    “Dad, both of you must be here quickly. It is absolutely necessary or everything will fall apart if you aren’t.”
    Tag was struggling mightily with his fears. He heard Rose in his thoughts say to Danielle. “Mom, Dad will be coming to get you shortly in the Kosiev; please be ready for him when he arrives.”
    “What are you going to do, Rose?”
    “Visit the Plants with a friend.”
    Danielle was scared but thought to Tag, ‘Come get me, I need to be there. Don’t leave me here while our baby is there.”
    Tag looked at Rose and said, “Who is going down with you?”
    “You know, Father, the one who is most like the Plants, Uncle Dorg.”
    Rose pushed her com and Admiral Dorg appeared on her display. “Uncle, I need you to follow the next instructions I give you exactly as they’re given.”
    Dorg looked at Tag on his display and could tell Tag was not comfortable with what was happening. “Do you agree, Prince Gardner?”
    Tag looked at his daughter and felt fear like he had never known and he started to say, No,” but then his senses warned him about making a bad decision. He ran his hand thru his hair and said, “Do exactly as she says, Admiral. She is now in command of this project.”
    Dorg was worried but he said, “What do you want me to do, Rose?”
    “I am sending you some coordinates for you jump into this system. I want you to jump the Rossville here with all your screens down and as soon as you enter normal space I want you to leave in a shuttle and come to the Kosiev to pick me up. Once you’re clear of the Rossville, it will jump back to the fleet and wait for you to call it back.”
    “Where are you and I going?”
    “We are going to land on the Plant’s home world to have a discussion with their leaders.”
    Dorg looked at Tag and if expressions could beg for help, Dorg had one at that moment. Tag looked at him and said, “Hurry Admiral, our time is short.”
    Dorg took a deep breath, pressed his com and said, “Mikado, you are now in overall command. I am going to meet a Princess.”
    The Rossville disappeared into null space.
    Mikado looked out at the millions of Algean ships just a short distance from his fleet and wondered, “What are the Gardners doing?” He wondered if the Algean fleet shared his fear.
    The Plant Fleet Leader watched another ship disappear from the Strangers fleet and wondered what was happening at the Sacred Grove. The entire Algean fleet felt fear for the future of their race.
    The Rossville broke into normal space a mile from the Kosiev among thousands of Plant ships that did not attack. Dorg left in a shuttle and the Rossville immediately jumped away. Dorg piloted his shuttle around the ships between the two SR ships landed in the Kosievs’ landing bay where Rose entered his shuttle and said, “I will fly the shuttle, Uncle, I know where we’re going.’
    Dorg watched as Rose deftly moved the shuttle out of the bay and headed toward the planet. Dorg said, “That was one of the smoothest uses of shuttle jets I’ve ever seen, Rose.”
    “I didn’t use the jets, Uncle, I moved it with my mind; now calm down and let’s go meet the Plants.”
    Dorg couldn’t help himself; he was afraid but if this thirteen year old was going in, she was not going in alone. He would die to protect her and this was as good a place as any. She was just so young and small. Her blonde hair hung down to the small of her back in a braid and she looked just like a miniature Danielle in her small space armor. She looked at him with those startling green eyes and then placed her hand on his arm and said, “We’ll be ok, uncle; the Eldest has promised us safe passage.” Rose smiled to herself and felt the love she had for this brave Cainth Warrior who had a bigger heart than even he realized. Pardoning him for the death of the colonists was the best thing her parents had ever done and hopefully the reward for that was about to be paid. She loved him from the moment of her birth when she felt him outside her birthing room. His demons still haunted him and she wished she could help him put them at rest; perhaps this experience would help do just that. She noticed the group of tall bushes on the surface below and brought the shuttle to rest directly in front of the grove a short distance from the yellow soil. She opened the shuttle door and took Dorg’s hand and walked out to the where the yellow dirt began and then stopped and waited. One of the tall bushes walked up on its roots and stopped just in front of her. She spoke her thoughts so Dorg could hear what was being said, “Hello, Eldest, you do not appear anything like I thought you would.”
    The Eldest looked down on the small creature in front of him and said, “Nor do you. You’re much smaller than I thought you were.”
    “Eldest, this is one of our highest ranking military leaders and I believe that you would learn a lot from seeing his memories. I know you can use telepathy and I want you to see our people from this warrior’s eyes.”
    Both the Eldest and Dorg both said at the same time, “Why?”
    Dorg looked at the Eldest and the Eldest looked at Dorg at that same moment; Rose said, “Because the two of you are more alike than you are different. Look at his memories, Eldest, and we will leave your planet and resume our conflict if that is your wish. Uncle Dorg, look at his memories as he looks at yours so we can better understand this race.”
    The Eldest looked at the little Stranger then turned his attention to the one she had brought to him. He entered Dorg’s mind and Dorg heard him say, “Show me your life.” Dorg thought back to his childhood when his father began teaching him to hate the Humans. He started with the original Cainth invasion of Earth where human outposts on Mars and moons of Jupiter were totally destroyed.
    Rose watched Dorg carefully and could feel the Algean leader examine her friend. She sat down on the ground just outside the yellow soil and waited.
    The Kosiev entered normal space just outside the atmosphere of Ross and Danielle’s shuttle fired its thrusters and moved into its landing bay. O’Donald heard the all clear from her console and ordered an immediate return to the Algean home world. The Kosiev broke back into normal space where it had previously been and waited. The hundreds of thousands of Plant ships surrounding them waited with them.
    Danielle thought, “Rose, what is happening?”
    “Hi, Mom; Dorg and the Eldest are sharing their thoughts and I’m waiting for them to finish.”
    Danielle thought quickly, “May we join you on the planet?”
    Rose didn’t say anything for a long time and then Danielle heard, “It’s not safe for you yet. Don’t get upset, Mom, I am safe; I have the Eldest’s safe passage and no Plant would go against his word; just be patient.”
    Rose continued to sit and wait and she noticed that the other bushes in the grove had moved close to where she was sitting so that they could observe her. “Looks like they still have some curiosity,” she mused.
    Finally after three hours the Eldest and Dorg broke their connection. Dorg was sitting on the ground and he looked at Rose and said, “I have misjudged these creatures completely. They have such a tragic history. The universe has not treated them fairly.”
    The Eldest looked at Dorg as he spoke to Rose and said, “Why didn’t you destroy his world after all the horrific acts his race had done to your people?”
    Rose looked at the towering bush and said, “Because then he would not be here to show you what trust really looks like. We really believe that every race has an important role in making the universe a better place to live. To destroy his people would go against everything we hold to be sacred; destruction goes against our strongest beliefs but we will do it if forced to do so.”
    The Eldest opened his thoughts to the other Elders so they could hear the exchange and then said, “I saw in his mind that you can destroy every ship we sent to attack that world we thought was your home planet. I also see that you could then totally destroy this world afterwards. Are you here like you were when you moved on his planet?”
    “Yes! We are here, Eldest, because I saw that your race did not deserve to be destroyed and I hoped to try and stop our conflict.”
    The Eldest bent down and touched one of his branches to Admiral Dorg’s hand, “I hope you find inner peace in your lifetime; you deserve it and I thank you for your thoughts. The little one is right, I have learned much from our contact.” The Eldest then turned to Rose and said, “I can see that you are trustworthy. You are nothing like the Silver Monsters. If you embraced his world after all that happened, then you would not be my enemy but I’m afraid that our conflict will be forced to continue.”
    “Tell me why,” Dorg asked.
    “Because we cannot feed our people; we are forced to harvest or we will die if we don’t. This small grove is all that remains of our natural food and even it is tainted by that virus the Silver Monsters released on us. Except for that, I now know that you are a people that can be trusted.”
    Dorg looked up at the tall plant and said, “However it goes, I will always think of you as a friend. I thank you for your wisdom. I, too, will not be the same from this time on.”
    Rose stood and said, “Eldest, I want you and the other leaders to back away from the edge of this grove.”
    “Why do you want that?” The Eldest thought fearfully.
    “Because there will be a change momentarily and I want you to be able to witness it.”
    The tall bushes moved back fifty yards wondering what was going to happen. Rose bent down and put her fingers into the yellow soil and closed her eyes. For two minutes nothing happened and even Dorg was beginning to wonder what Rose was doing. Suddenly the dirt around Rose began trembling and then it seemed to rise up like a wave of soil three feet high and move out from her in all directions like ripples from a stone dropped into a still pond. As the wave moved away, the soil it left behind was bright yellow, even brighter yellow than the grove the Elders were standing in. Then even the Sacred Grove turned a brighter shade of gold.
    Dorg watched the wave as it passed the hundreds of thousands of Plant soldiers surrounding the grove. The soldiers looked at the yellow soil under them and then planted their feet in the soil. An immediate change started taking place; their mantis form began to disappear and the soldiers started to grow taller and assume a form that looked like tall sunflowers. The Algean Leaders in the grove watched as their children planted their feet in the ground and began absorbing the natural diet they needed to develop. Even Dorg could feel the joy emanating from the tall leaders and then suddenly the Algean leaders began sprouting blooms. The Eldest bent and lifted Rose and Dorg into his branches swinging them back and forth. The tall bushes smelled wonderful.
    “How did you do that?” The Eldest asked.
    “The same way I’ll convert thousands of the Planets you have destroyed into the soil you need to survive. All you need do is take a bag of this soil and place it where you want it to spread and the small bacteria you depend on will begin spreading at a tremendous speed. It will only take half a cycle to completely cover a continent.”
    The Eldest opened his thoughts to Dorg and Rose then they heard him say on his communication frequency, “Fleet leader, turn your ships around and come home to your first full meal. The Strangers have given us our life back. We have made some new friends today.”
    On board the Kosiev, Bridget, Tag, and Danielle saw thousands of shuttles leaving the ships around them and dropping toward the planet. The entire crew of the Kosiev could hear in their mind the millions of thoughts from the plants headed toward the planet thanking them for giving them their lives back.
    Tag heard the Algean make the call and he contacted Mikado and Cade and then said over his com, “The war is over; stand down; all Stars Realm military forces stand down and wait for further orders. Commodore O’Donald beamed a message to the government center announcing the joyous news. The entire Stars Realm began celebrating on all of their planets.
    The Algean Fleet Leader watched his console and saw the joy at the Sacred Grove and the hundreds of thousands of shuttles headed toward the golden soil that waited for them. He never expected to ever have a family in his lifetime but now there was hope. “All Ships, return to the Sacred Grove for your first satisfying meal. We now look forward to tomorrow without hunger.”
    Rose swung on the Eldest’s branches and then thought, “Now for the hard part.”

Chapter 24

    Rose and Dorg boarded the shuttle, lifted off the ground, and set course for the Kosiev. Rose keyed her com and talked quietly into it for a few moments while Dorg flew the shuttle into the landing bay. The bay pressurized and Rose ran out and jumped into the arms of her parents. Dorg moved toward the bridge to contact the Rossville. Tag and Danielle were overjoyed at having their daughter back safe and sound. As Danielle embraced Rose, Rose looked over her mother’s shoulder at Commodore O’Donald and saw her indicate the back wall of the landing bay with her eyes. Rose nodded, then smiled and said, “Mom, Dad, step back here with me for a moment; there’s some things I want to tell you and I don’t want to wait. Rose took their hands and walked to the back of the landing bay. She turned them against the back wall and said, “I know you have been wondering why I have been so secretive about what I was doing. Tag and Danielle looked down at her and Tag said, “Yes, we have.”
    Commodore O’Donald walked up with another crewman and said, “I hate to interrupt you but we’ve been working on this wall and the surface is exposed; I need you to put your hand in these gloves and keep them on while you’re back here.”
    “We can move if you need us to, Commodore,” Tag said.
    “I don’t want to wait,” Rose said.
    Bridget looked at Rose and then said, “Just put the gloves on, it won’t be but for just a moment.”
    Rose, Tag, and Danielle put their hands forward and the crewman and Bridget slipped the gloves on their hands and tightened them. “Are they secure, Your Majesty?” Bridget asked.
    Tag and Danielle flexed their fingers and said, “They’re quite snug.”
    Bridget said, “Good,” and she and the crewman pushed Tag and Danielle into the wall where they disappeared.
    Rose had her eyes shut and was concentrating extremely hard. After thirty seconds, she opened her eyes and said, “OK bring them back.” Bridget pressed a button on her sleeve control and Danielle and Tag were thrown out of the wall into Bridget’s and the crewman’s arms.
    Tag was angry, “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
    Danielle said, “She had to do it, love, to protect us.”
    Rose looked at her mother and Danielle said, “I didn’t work it out until you pushed us into the wall so I kept my promise to you.”
    Tag looked around frustrated and said, “What is going on?”
    Danielle said, “Turn on your shield, Darling.”
    Tag thought, “Shield on,” and nothing happened.
    He held out his hand and the weapon did not appear. “What have you done, Rose?”
    Rose looked at Commodore O’Donald and said, “Thank you for trusting me and helping me with this.”
    Bridget bowed and said, “You father said you were in command of this operation and I was compelled to follow your orders.”
    Tag looked at Bridget and said, “We’ll discuss this later.”
    Rose looked at Tag and said, “You’ll be thanking her for saving your and Mom’s life at that time.”
    Tag looked shocked, “What do you mean? Will you please tell me what’s going on!”
    “Let’s go somewhere more private,” Rose said. She took her parents hands and led them out of the landing bay to Tag’s quarters just off the bridge. They came in and sat down and Rose looked at Danielle and said, “Why don’t you tell him what you’ve worked out, Mom.”
    Danielle took Tag’s hand in hers and said, “Its Atlas, Tag. He’s been lying to us all along.”
    Tag looked at her and said, “What do you mean?”
    “Tag, he told us that the Plant Race was attacking other worlds from the beginning. He did not tell us that his race forced them to it.”
    Tag sat there for a moment and said, “Well, one could understand his reluctance to admitting causing them to become harvesters but his race tried to correct their mistake.”
    Danielle said, “By exterminating a basically peaceful civilization because they did not have patience for their young. That tells me a lot about their moral code.”
    “He has lied about much more than that, Dad.”
    Tag and Danielle looked at Rose and Danielle said, “What have I missed?”
    Rose sighed heavily and said, “Atlas you can join in anytime you want.”
    A speaker on the workstation said, “You have genuinely surprised me, Rose. I was not prepared for you to remove my links in your parents. I felt as long as I controlled their safety, I could keep you in line.
    Tag was stunned. “Atlas, is she right?”
    Atlas said, “Let’s just see how smart you are, Rose. Why don’t you tell him what you think you know.”
    Rose shook her head and looked at her parents and said, “I couldn’t tell you about my plan to end the war with the Plants because Atlas would have interfered. He doesn’t want a race bent on revenge against him to survive.”
    “But it was his master’s that kill the Plants, not Atlas,” Tag said.
    “No, it was ships like Atlas that did the killing; he had no masters. That was his first lie to you.” Tag looked completely confused. “Remember when you touched the body lying in the front of the cave where you found him; it set off an Alfont tone; however, when you touched Atlas, it did not produce a tone. Remember that Atlas said that all of his race’s artifacts had that tone built in, which leads me to believe that the body you found in the cave was an artifact that Atlas used to explore away from the ship. In your memories Atlas said to you, “What did you do to my” and then said a word you didn’t understand. Notice he said “my”. You assumed the word was master but then he asked what you did to “it”; not him or her but it. At that point he went along with your idea that the dead body was the master. You also have to ask yourself; why would you have a force field that produces atmosphere when you’re in a vacuum and the body on the moon wore a space suit.”
    Tag saw it with that observation. “You’ve lied from the beginning.” He said at the speaker.
    “Is that all you’ve worked out?” Atlas said. “Before I have to destroy your ship because of this knowledge, I would like to see if you could get it all.”
    Rose looked at the speaker and said, “You won’t be destroying anything and I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first I want to finish telling my father about you.” Rose then looked at Tag and said, “You heard the Plants call Atlas’ race the Silver Monsters. The Alfont are not dead, the ship is the Alfont. When you touched Atlas in the cave the reason there was no tone was because the ship is the Alfont and not an artifact. At some point in their long history they were able to move their psyche into the ships they traveled in. The Silver Ship is the actual race that destroyed the Plants. Atlas was sleeping for all those years.”
    “Then where are all the others?” Danielle asked.
    Rose stood up and walked over to a viewport and looked out. “I see you, Atlas. You’re just off our port bow about three thousand yards.” The small silver ship appeared where Rose said it was.
    “So what; you know I can’t let you go with the knowledge you now possess.”
    “You were going to hold my parents hostage against my remaining silent about you and that’s why I had to remove their links to you; but you will let us go.”
    “Rose, I have always liked your parents but that won’t stop me from trying to protect against this information getting out. Why would I not destroy your ship?”
    “Two reasons; the first is that your weapons will not work against this ship. The power cell was one of your developments but the merging of black holes was something your race never discovered.” Suddenly a bright blue beam shot out from the silver ship and hit the Kosiev; nothing happened. “Your weapons will not have any effect on this ship. The second reason has to do with why you were hiding in that cave on our moon.”
    Tag looked at Rose and said, “He was hiding?”
    Rose continued to look out the window at Atlas and she said, “Look at the evidence; four solid walls, all his power shut down for millions of years; he was hiding.”
    “You don’t want to go there,” Atlas said and even Tag could detect the nervousness in the ship’s response.
    “The reason you don’t see the Alfont is because the vast majority of them were destroyed. I was always puzzled as a child when I looked at your memories of your first encounter with Atlas on the moon about something Atlas said to you.”
    “What was that, Rose?” Tag asked with a furrowed brow.
    “You asked him how long his systems would last and he answered, “As long as the Universe has energy.”’
    Tag thought a moment and said, “That’s exactly what he said.”
    “Well. It caused me to wonder; where are all the other ships? If the masters died of a virus like Atlas said, then where were all the ships? It became obvious to me that he had been hiding on our moon and that whatever he was avoiding must have posed a real danger to him. So, I decided to spend hours in our universal map room as a child looking at the maps of galaxies in our universe. I rewound the map back to where the galaxies were located about sixty five million years ago and started letting my mind explore those that were closest to us and worked my way out. I finally found what he was avoiding. There is a race a long way from our galaxy that has millions of the Silver Ships locked in some kind of energy matrix that holds them prisoner.”
    “You can’t go near them,” Atlas said over the speaker in a low fearful voice. “They will destroy your civilization.”
    Rose looked at the speaker and said, “I have no intention of letting them know you are alive or about our existence.”
    Danielle said, “Why not, he’s a danger to us. We can’t harm him even to protect ourselves.”
    “He isn’t a real danger, Mom. He is literally the father of our race.”
    Tag sat down stunned. The speaker said, “I must say that you have far exceeded what I thought you were capable of doing, Rose; you know it all. I started your race’s development soon after the asteroid struck your planet millions of years ago when most of the larger animals were killed. I also started the other races that became the civilizations that made up the Alliance.”
    Rose said, “That’s why we are all oxygen breathers.” Then Rose looked at the speaker and said almost softly, “You did this because you hoped that someday one of your projects would evolve and help you go free your brothers in captivity.”
    There was silence for more than a minute and then they heard, “You don’t know what it’s like to be this alone, so alone, so totally alone.”
    Rose had a tear fall from her eyes as she looked out the viewport at Atlas and said, “Atlas, I would not destroy you even if you posed a danger to my family because I do believe that it would remove a species from the universe that could truly make it a better place to live. We owe you our existence; you are our father from long ago. I hope you will make peace with us and our new Algean friends and not interfere with our development; I will promise you this; I will do all I can to help you find a way to release your brothers. It may not happen in my life time, but I can feel your pain and I know that your kin are also suffering.”
    There was a moment of silence, and Atlas said, “Then this time we become friends honestly without deceit, I’m sorry I misled you.”
    Rose looked out the viewport at the Silver Ship and said, “Atlas, can you be trusted?”
    The silence lasted for more than two minutes then the speaker said, “Until this moment, no; but you just gave me an amazing insight that I’ve not considered before.”
    “What is that, Atlas?” Tag asked.
    “Those ships trapped out there are my brothers but you are also my kin. You possess a part of my DNA in your structure. We are family and for my race, that is what keeps us whole. I will not be a danger to you and I will assist you any way I can to help you live better lives and hopefully find a way to free my brothers.”
    Rose said, “Welcome home grandfather.” Then Tag, Danielle, and Rose all hugged each other and held on tightly while Atlas joined them mentally.

Epilogue

    The Eldest was right about the adolescents, they were insatiably curious. Once the Algeans transformed enough worlds for their young to begin development, the first of their youngsters to finish their childhood headed straight for the Stars Realm at jump speed to learn all they could about the races that saved them. Soon you could find the adolescents on every planet learning all they could.
    After three years had passed, Atlas went to the Algean home world and begged forgiveness for what had happened millions of years ago. He removed the remaining virus that was still alive and promised to never hurt or betray the Algeans ever again; he also volunteered to teach some of the adolescents if the Eldest would trust him to try and make up for the past.
    The Algeans were angry initially but the Eldest had seen Dorg’s sorrow and remorse about the killing of the colonists and he understood what it meant to ask for forgiveness. He accepted the apology and Atlas became a legend as time passed in the new Algean League of Planets. The adolescents that were trained by him ultimately became the leaders of their race. Only the best adolescents were sent to Atlas to learn.
    Rose assumed the throne of the Stars Realm at age seventeen and Danielle gladly stepped down to travel with the man she loved so much. Two years later, after Rose had met her mate and they had developed the love that was in them, she was married in the largest ceremony ever witnessed. Tgon-Gee noticed that Rose’s husband had a deep violet aura and was pleased to see that the future succession was assured.
    Rose’s brother Tommy was more like his father than his mother and he had psychic talents just as strong as his sister’s. He decided early in life that the race holding Atlas’ brothers captive had to be taught a lesson; he decided to make it his life’s mission to help Atlas free his brothers. Atlas and Tommy became inseparable. They worked on the project together and after ten years they were joined by the smartest and brightest of the developing Algeans. The Stars Realm had more technological development during that time than ever before. The first teleportation device was developed by Tommy and Atlas with the help of the Algeans. Now you could travel anywhere in the Realm just by taking a step thru a screen in your home and arrive at any place you chose. The Realms many races truly became united as their populations mingled and traveled from planet to planet.
    The Kosiev was parked inside a star that was located in a dead system. This was a weapon that had to be tightly controlled. Only the Stars Realm Ruler could activate the ship and bring it to life if it was ever needed to defend the Realm. Once activated, it would consume the star it was in and wait for the operational codes to come aboard. Only the Ruler of the Stars Realm possessed the activation code to bring it back to life. No one could get near it inside the star so it was safe from anyone using it.
    Admiral Dorg finally forgave himself after allowing the Eldest to share memories. He learned that the Algeans did not desire to kill as many races as they did; they were forced to do it to survive. The Eldest knew that he would not have done it unless it was thrust upon him. Dorg learned that he had his father’s hate thrust upon him and that he had to let his sorrow go. He never forgot the colonists and visited their burial site every year during the ceremony honoring them. When he finally died, the descendents of the colonists that were killed petitioned the Queen to bury Dorg in the ground where their ancestors had been killed. The Queen agreed and Dorg’s burial was larger than Rose’s wedding ceremony in size. The Algeans had as many there as all the other races combined; all of the Elder leaders left the Sacred Grove to be there. Dorg had become a part of their mythology as the one that taught them to trust. One of every five Cainth children was named after Dorg from that time on. The Stars Realm citizens would visit Ross to pay tribute to those that lost their lives to begin the Realm. The Algeans would visit Ross to pay homage to the one that taught them to trust and gave them their lives back. Ross became the heart of all civilizations.
    On Kosievs’ monument on Ross, there was a small addition made right under the model of the Moscow. In clear armor a small, worn, red covered, test booklet with the name Leila Barber on the front was placed. An inscription under it read, “From Small Things, Great Empires Arise.”
    Tag and Danielle lived their love every day until they died.
    Annihilation Trilogy
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