Ted Iverson.com

Preview of Book 2: Hostile Takeover

“It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars.”
Arthur C. Clarke

This book was written for all those who believe in destiny, whether by nature or their own making…


Two and a half years had passed since the loss of their parents and brother. Sitting in the cockpit of StarDancer II, Skye and Pollux’s hearts were beating rapidly. In minutes they were to realize their parent’s dream, one that had been taken away from them. After the confrontation in the hills of South Dakota with Senator Axion and Meteoric Corporation’s army, in which Space Tech was victorious, Senator Fillmore had kept his promise. Meteoric had all assets seized immediately by the government, Space Tech was returned to the three brothers intact and the grant for FTL research restored. Those events were only a part of what had led to this moment. There were also two years of intense labor and research by everyone at Space Tech’s facilities: the Corporate Headquarters, the OBL (Orbital Lab), Luna Base and, of course, where they were at that moment, the Outpost. They were doing routine pre-launch checks, but both brothers were thinking of their lost family members.
Castor, Joanne, Aunt Peggy, Uncle Nate, Captains Powers and Lyet were also there behind consoles with numerous other control operators going over the checks with the two men in the ship. Ed had been invited, but had opted to stay on Earth. His new position as Director of Space Tech’s newly formed Peace Task Force was keeping him busy, plus he didn’t much care for space travel.
Castor was glancing up at the large video board. Captain Cyrus Lyet had opted for this type of viewing in the control room instead of holo-imagery for flights. He never really gave a good reason why, but his crew said it was his love for the movie style of Digital Versatile Video discs, or as he referred to them “DVD’s.” This method was OK with Castor as long as nothing happened to his brothers. The video board showed the enormous ship still docked, droids on solo flying platforms floating over the ship, doing last minute inspections on the exterior. The countdown hit five minutes and Captain Lyet gave the recall orders for the droids. Only a minute later, the ship looked lifeless without activity surrounding it. Aunt Peggy and Uncle Nate had left and made their way to the observation deck to take their seats. Castor had decided to watch the launch from the control room, Joanne staying by his side.
He had been so engrossed his thoughts and feelings that he hadn’t heard the final seconds counted off or the words, “We have a launch!” The Outpost shook beneath them; Joanne had her hand in his and was tightly grabbing his arm with her free hand. The video board showed the ship slowly breaking free of it moorings. Thick lifeline cables, lines and large metal holding arms were retracting or being tossed aside with the sheer force of the launch. Ice crystals that had formed on the StarDancer II were falling from the hull and the outer Outpost structure and floated aimlessly in the ship’s wake. It was an impressive sight. Staring at the video, he was barely breathing. The pair glanced toward each other at the same time, smiled, and returned their gaze to the launch. The Outpost had stopped shaking and he became aware of the mass activity in the room. Joanne moved closer and tilted her head to rest it on his shoulder. He took some deep breaths and felt better. The ship was slipping from sight and into the unknown. Soon, it was no longer visible on the big board and was replaced with tracking paths and other information. Standing among the buzz and activity, Castor felt this was the beginning of an incredible new era for mankind. The only thing that bothered him was that no one could tell exactly what the new era would bring…

Some thirteen hours into the mission a single alarm went off. Pollux called out to Skye, “Seems as if we have some sort of disturbance to the rear of the ship. It’s not on the ship, it’s more like, oh, say, two meters behind and under.” Handing his brother a quick read-out from the computer, he touched a plasma button and the rear holocam came online. They could see that there was a long, deep, distorted depression that was maintaining a constant distance behind them. It was surrounded by what seemed to be a multitude of colors in a swirling state. They could see no end to the phenomenon. “It is steady and doesn’t seem to be interfering with the flight, I say we continue.”
“Agreed.” Skye was upbeat. “Everything checks normal.” The two brothers left the holocam on, admiring the strange view occasionally, and went back to work.
Fourteen hours into the flight the time was drawing near to reach light speed then accelerate past it. Everything had been good so far. They were already flying faster than anyone, other than their parents, ever had. Flipping some pages in the flight manual and checking the holoscreen readouts in front of him, Pollux announced, “Approaching MARK point.”
Skye reached down to his side and pulled out a laminated sheet, the final checklist before reaching FTL speed. This was going to be the first successful, manned FTL flight. His heart raced as he tried to stammer out the checks, “Forward obstruction sensors?”
“Online,” Pollux called out.
“Rear obstruction sensors.”
“Online. The rear disturbance noted earlier has no change.”
“Star map nav system.”
“Star magnetic field sensors.”
“Field locations.”
“Plasmat engine one.”
“Plasmat engine two.”
“Magna drives one through three.”
“All conventional engines.”
“Online, all drives and engines operational.”
“Drive syncro sensors.”
“Do you have the coordinates from Mom and Dad’s notes locked in?”
“Affirmative, we have coordinate lock.”
“Magnetic plasma shield.”
“Holding steady at one-hundred percent.”
The checks continued for several more minutes and now history was at hand. “Engage magna auto drive on my MARK”
Drawing a deep breath, Pollux reached down beside him and, with his left hand, touched a plasma switch, then slowly moved his hand behind the switch and gently rested two fingers on a set of plasma buttons. He then heard his brother’s voice. Would this be the last time?
“MARK!” he barked out.
He pressed the keypads simultaneously.
Skye counted down, “Three, Two, One. FTL has been achieved!!! Now passing FTL and accelerating. Throttle back the magna drives, and maintain a speed just over FTL. We don’t want to push the envelope on this trip.”
Suddenly the ship lurched upward, almost as if they’d hit a bump in the road. The forward obstruction sensor alarm went off. Their hearts began to pound as the computer started to spit out data. Once again, Pollux handed his little brother the sheets and immediately switched the holocam to the front of the ship. The front blast shield had been closed over the front viewing window, so the holocam’s image was projecting onto the back of it. What they saw astonished them. The space in front of the ship now resembled the rear. There was a deep distorted depression about four, maybe five, meters ahead of the ship and seem to be maintaining that distance as they flew on. It, too, was surrounded by a colorful, swirling, tunnel-like image. There was a difference at the very end of the tunnel, a small, dime-sized hole where the black of space could be seen. The hole never changed size and seemed to remain the same distance out as they flew on.
“Oh my…” Skye could hardly breathe. “We’re space surfing,” his words trailed off.
“You mean… No. It isn’t possible, it can’t be.” It was Pollux’s turn to be astonished.
“Yes, I do mean! The rear disturbance or depression must have been created by the intense magnetism of our ship when we shifted the magna drives a little higher. It’s sort of like a ship’s wake. Then when we hit faster than light it created the depression in front of us. We are in the middle, riding the wave. Space surfing! It even appears that we are in a suspended state and not moving, but look at the instrumentation,” he pointed to the plasma panels, “we are. And because we are traveling at such a high rate of speed, the light has distorted and twisted into the multitude of swirling colors! Just keep doing what is in the flight plan, maintain a constant speed.”
Pollux obeyed his younger brother’s command and began working the controls. He began to breathe a little easier, they had done it. The search was over, or was it just beginning, he wondered. “Begin transmission,” he spoke into the com, just as Neil Armstrong had done when he first stepped foot on the moon. Pollux remembered a poem they’d learned in high school by John Masefield, he began the transmission with it.

Chapter One (Tuesday, October 16th 2057)

Still in the control room after countless hours, Castor had found a seat behind one of the many large consoles. He was extremely tired, but not enough that he couldn’t stay and listen to every conversation between the mission controllers and crew. He knew that the moment was near; he slowly removed his headset and ran a hand through his sandy blonde hair. It looked as if it hadn’t been combed in days. He began to rub his bloodshot, brown eyes when he heard a familiar voice.
“Hello stranger.” Her reddish brown hair fell down from around her neck and onto her lightly freckled face as she bent down and gave him a tender kiss on the cheek. Joanne pulled over a chair and sat down beside him. She handed him a steaming cup filled with coffee.
He smiled. Over the two years since she had come to work directly for him they had become very close. He still could not get over the way she made him feel whenever they were together. And today, even though history was at hand, there was no change in that feeling. Looking deep into her beautiful brown eyes, he began, “They are real close, and I think the next transmission we hear should be the one.” Even as tired as he was there was excitement in his voice, “I wasn’t sure you’d wake up in time for it.”
“What? Sorry, there would be no way I would miss this. That catnap was just enough for me, but how about you? You’re looking terrible.” She reached over and gave his hand a gentle rub.
“Me, oh don’t worry, I’ll get my sleep soon enough. This is the point where we lost Mom and Dad during their flight,” his voice cracked and he choked back emotion. “Joanne, I’m scared I’ll lose my brothers, too.”
She shook her head in disagreement as he wrestled the headset back on his head. “Castor, things are different. Axion is gone and your brothers worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this flight. It’ll be fine,” she reassured him.
“I wish Orion could be here for this,” he muttered softly. His older brother had discovered the FTL prototype ship back in the hills of South Dakota. He had fallen, unexpectedly, into a large cave where his father had housed a perfected, large matter transfer machine. When Orion stumbled across the ship; he’d also stumbled onto the mystery of how the incredibly large vessel had vanished from thin air and come to rest in the enclosed cave. Orion had taken on their enemy, Senator Pitor Axion, single-handedly in the all out battle between Axion’s army and Space’s Tech’s newly formed droid peace force. The winner’s prize: the prototype and Space Tech, which was still the only privately owned space agency. He’d fought valiantly and thought that he’d been victorious as he dangled the deranged Senator over the chasm. But Axion had other plans. Castor was remembering the moment he saw Ed, who was now Space Techs Peace Task Force’s Director, peering into the depths of the chasm in the cave. Ed had slowly turned to face him and his brothers with tears streaming down his face. Yes, Axion was gone, but with him, their older brother.
“Incoming transmission from StarDancer II!” The voice rang out from the communications officer’s array of panels.
The announcement brought Castor out of his thoughts and he began to adjust some plasma dials. Then the distinct voice of his brother, Pollux, crackled over the com, a voice wrought with emotion, a voice so very far away:

“I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.”

“StarDancer II has achieved FTL speed. As we accelerate our tall ship, mankind now can truly use the stars to steer by. We approach a neighboring star system in peace, and we hope that, if only for this moment, you on Earth will reach out to your neighbor in peace and share in an achievement for every human no matter what race, creed, or color. Pollux and Skye Bindl out.”
They had done it, they had achieved faster than light speed. Castor was punching the console as fast as his fingertips could but the transmission ended before he could talk to them. He was furious. He’d wanted to be the first to congratulate them, share in the achievement, but instead, there was just dead air. Frustrated, he pounded his fist on the console.
“Castor, calm down, it’s OK.” Joanne took both his hands. “It’s OK, they must have a lot going on and listening to us probably isn’t high on the agenda right now.” She smiled at him.
“Yeah, I know you’re right, but they made it! They did it!” He was beaming with pride. Listening to her firm voice had been enough to calm his nerves once more.
“I am sure they’ll be talking to you soon. Now you just come with me.” She stood and pulled him up. “We’re going to get you to your quarters and get you some rest. You know you’ll feel much better after you’ve slept. If Pollux or Skye contacts us, I promise you, you’ll be the first to know.” She brought him close and gave him an embrace and a kiss on his cheek. Letting go of her, he smiled.
“OK, OK, I’ll go.” He turned and began to walk. He was having second thoughts and turned his head back. She was standing there, a stern look on her face and her arm outstretched and pointing to the hatch. Turning back, he activated the V.G.I.D. (Virtual Gel Identification Device). After immersing his palm into the bluish substance and then withdrawing it, he watched it drip off, leaving his hand completely dry. The hatch slid open and he stepped into the hallway. Realizing just how exhausted he was, he slowly made his way to his quarters.

Ed Serner was sitting behind his desk at Space Tech. The invitation to join everyone at the Outpost for the launch had been enticing, but the thought of flying changed his mind. Pollux and Skye had poked fun at him, reminding him that the way he drove his hover wasn’t much different than flying. They’d all gotten a good laugh before the young men had boarded their shuttle to the Orbital Lab. From there they flew to the newly renamed Deep Space Outpost for the launch of StarDancer II. His eyes closed for a moment. It was a pleasant memory as he remembered watching their shuttle racing down the Mag Rails and lifting off to take them to the first stop on their ultimate journey. The setting sun, which was attempting to shine through the scattered clouds on the horizon, had made the plasma contrail of the shuttle an amazing sight as the ship reached upward toward the heavens. Opening his eyes, he tried to refocus on his present task.
He had been following the mission on his holopad. The pad was a small, black octagon shape which had a small hole in the center. This allowed a 3D holographic image to be projected above the device. He hadn’t moved from his office since it all began. But, now that it seemed to be a rather rousing success, he’d decided that it might be time to pack it in and go home for some much needed rest. He lifted his large frame from the plush leather chair he’d been seated in and began to gather some paperwork off the large desk in front of him and stuff it into a duffle bag.
At a little under 6 feet, Ed was a fairly large man. He was fairly agile, even for a man of his size. Standing at the small sink in the bathroom looking into the mirror, his bloodshot eyes told him that he definitely had been up too long. He turned the slim sliver handle on the faucet to cold, leaned over and began to splash his face with the cool, refreshing water. Still hunched over the sink, water dripping from his face, he reached for the towel to his left and began wiping his face dry. Finishing, he looked into the mirror. He had lost weight in the last two years, and, for every pound he’d lost, he saw a gain in the white that streaked his extremely dark brown hair and beard.
His thoughts drifted aimlessly over his life so far. He’d left teaching at the police academy to become the head of security at the AxMet hotel in the Capital at the request of the general manager, Paul Spencer, who was also a close friend. Now, he was pondering over the occurrences of the past few years and friends lost and gained over Space Tech’s race to achieve faster than light travel. After the victory in the cave over the Bindls nemesis, Senator Pitor Axion, Castor had offered him a job: Director of the Corporation’s newly formed Peace Task Force (PTF). It had been a difficult decision to leave the AxMet and Spencer. That inner fight had been resolved when Paul and Castor had reached an agreement to station a small contingent of PTF guards to help with the AxMet’s revival of guarding dignitaries who came to the Capital.
Ed let out a long sigh. He was happy and very content with his work. It had been an uneventful couple of years. But, deep down he knew, since FTL had been achieved, it would only be a matter of time before trouble would rear its ugly head again. He wished he knew in what form. How could he prepare the PTF if he didn’t know? A perplexing problem indeed. He turned away from the mirror, exited the small room, grabbed his bag, and left his office. A good night’s sleep would most certainly be welcome.

Chapter Two

Skye was watching the still incredible view on the forward observation window’s blast door. It was nothing like what he thought it would be. The stars did not fly by in long white streaks. Instead they were twisting and turning, distorted by the speed they were traveling, and hidden partially by the bluish hue of the protective magnetic plasma energy shield. After what seemed like an eternity, the ship suddenly jarred and both boys’ hearts sank.
“It’s nothing, Skye. We’ve reached the deceleration destination point. That was only the magna drive reversing polarity. We’re slowing down.”
Suddenly, the view in front of the ship seemed to flicker. The swirling stopped and the tiny black hole that was at the end of the tunnel grew rapidly. The depression disappeared and, in an instant, they could see the pinpoint light of the stars again. They switched the holocam to the rear and now they saw nothing but black sky with stars.
Pollux spoke, “Skye, once our speed fell below light speed the magnetics must not have had enough of an effect to hold the surfing constant. I sure hope we’ve recorded and documented enough of this event. When we get home and present this, the scientific community will go nuts!” He let out a deep breath and went on, “OK, now it’s time to get back to work.” He looked over at his brother who was nodding his head in agreement.
Once again they got busy doing checks and rechecks; everything still looked great. After an hour and forty-five minutes for deceleration into the first solar system beyond Earth’s own, they couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. Starting out small, it grew as they made their approach and could have been Earth’s twin. Pollux wanted a better view, a view outside the shield. Touching some plasma knobs and then pressing another, they heard a thump, and an object raced away from the ship. It broke through the shield and raced toward the planet. “Probe launched.” As the probe’s camera came online, the planet appeared on the holopad between them. They entered into a high altitude orbit and began scanning. The probe had descended into a much lower orbit and was still sending images back to them. They were impressive. The oceans appeared larger and were a very deep bluish-green and the inland seas were almost a light sky blue. It was hard to tell without having the time to really analyze the pictures, but the land masses also seemed to have features similar to Earth’s. Mountain ranges and dry desert areas were a deeper darker brown in color, foliage areas were an incredible darkish green. Not on this mission, but Pollux knew that they would have to come back and explore this place sometime.
The StarDancer II had completed twelve orbits in a criss-crossing pattern when a scanner started to chirp and come to life. The computers began to spit out data. Pollux began rapidly analyzing the data that appeared. He was astounded. Rubbing his eyes to make sure that he wasn’t seeing things, he began adjusting the plasma knobs. Next came the reentering and reanalyzing of data, his eyes widened and his heart raced, he broke the silence, “Skye, you’re not gonna believe this…”
Still focusing on his tasks, Skye spoke, “Not gonna believe what?”
“I’ve picked up a signal from the surface of the planet. It’s really weak, but it definitely is there!” His voice rose.
Skye’s head snapped over toward his brother in amazement. “What type of signal?”
“It, it seems to be one which resembles our droids. I know it’s not possible, but I’ve double checked everything. Actually, it’s two separate signals. They seem to be 278.416 kilometers apart from each other and on what you and I would consider a land mass in the southern hemisphere.”
Eyes forward once again and working the controls Skye spoke, “How could that be?” His mind was spiraling out of control with excitement. The first inhabitable planet the human race finds and it may have droids on it! Not droids but the same signature as the ones his parent’s had developed. It couldn’t be a coincidence. “We should investigate this!” he shouted over the loud roar of a retro firing to readjust their orbit.
“It’s an interesting development for sure. I am going to send out two more probes to get data on those specific locations.” He touched a plasma switch and a separate panel eased its way up vertically from the side of his seat and stopped. It then projected a holopanel horizontally in front of him. He began to tap the plasma keys.
“No, skip the probe, let’s go down ourselves! This ship can run on auto! Man, it’ll be great. We know conditions can sustain us.” Skye was attempting to rise from his seat and unbuckle himself when an arm shot out and caught him across the chest forcing him back down.
“And just where do you think you’re going?”
“Uh, well, I thought we’d check it out,” the excitement was still in Skye’s voice.
“Go down? This is just an investigative mission. We’ve got probes for that purpose. There is no way we’re going to…Wait.” A truly disturbed look formed on Pollux’s face, his eyes now squinting and burning into Skye’s shocked face, “Just how did you think we were going to get down to the surface anyway? It’s been a long while since you’ve done something stupid. Tell me that what I am thinking is wrong.”
Hesitating, Skye spoke, “Stupid? Hey now, you’re not being fair. I wouldn’t call it stupid. I’d call it, well, as Ed would say, “being prepared.””
“Prepared?” Stopping his tapping on the panel in front of him, Pollux turned to face his brother. “Spill it now, I don’t have time for games and neither do you.”
“OK already, you don’t have to be so snappy. I just wanted to have an out if something went wrong with this ship. A backup plan. When we built this we allowed a certain percentage for storage and weight. Well, I kinda fudged the numbers. We can carry more weight than what you thought.”
“How? I went over all the numbers.”
“And then you passed it on to me to finalize and approve. So, I, well, finalized them into the schematics. Having done so, I relieved the guards a day before the launch and rearranged our cargo.”
“Rearranged? You mean added? Added what?”
Waving his hands in a sort of “I’m sorry for not telling you manner,” Skye blurted out to Pollux, “I brought a,” drawing a deep breath and releasing it, he continued, “a shuttle. It’s just a small, two-man shuttle.”
“You brought along a shuttle? What did you think we were going to do with a shuttle traveling faster than light? What I want to know is what supplies did you sacrifice when you ‘added’ the shuttle?” He was clearly upset with his younger brother.
“Nothing, I swear to you, absolutely nothing. I built it in. I just thought that we might, well, could use it for…” He stumbled over his words and unable to find a suitable answer, he just pointed to Pollux’s blinking panel where the signal was still chirping through.
“So, you think we are just going to go down to a newly discovered planet without sending more probes out first? And leave an unattended ship orbiting the planet. Skye, we aren’t here for a joy ride, there are no life signs down there, just possible androids. We can’t even be sure of that. This is just an exploratory mission, a test drive of this ship, if you will. You must learn to keep your priorities straight. I sometimes have to question your line of thinking. Put any thought of physically exploring this, or any other plane or moon, out of your thoughts for a long time. Our top priority, besides getting back to the outpost safely, is this ship. We need to make sure she is completely operational. That is first and foremost. You got that?”
Pollux turned his attention back to the panel in front of him and continued to program instructions for downloading onto the two probes he would be sending out.
Hiding his disagreement from Pollux, Skye acknowledged, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It really wouldn’t be wise. We should wait for another day.”
“That’s right. I’m glad you came to your senses.” He reached over and gave Skye a playful punch in the shoulder. “It’s all good bro!” Pollux smiled.
After doing some routine checks, Skye unbuckled himself and stood hunched over, as the cockpit of the large ship was tiny, then turned to his brother and motioned to the stairwell that led down to the ship’s underbelly, “Been awhile since I’ve checked engineering. I’m going to go have a look, I’ll be back shortly.”
Busy doing his programming, Pollux cocked his head slightly and cast a quick glance at him, and just muttered something to the effect of, “Uh huh, sounds great.” He turned back to his work and continued. He felt uneasy about leaving the careless young one alone, but was hoping his inner voice was unfounded.
Skye grabbed the railing and made his way down the fifteen-foot, circular stairwell and into a small room. Hanging on the wall were two suits designed especially for protection against the electromagnetic radiation given off by the ships magna drives. Skye began slipping out of the launch flight suit and into his radiation suit. He was thinking about Pollux’s harsh tone toward him. The more he thought, the more upsetting it was. He was trying to push the thoughts aside as he finished attaching his helmet in place. He walked forward a few steps and was facing another hatch that was staggered, off-set to his right. A V.G.I.D. depression was there on the wall. After pulling out his hand and moving through the hatch, he was into the second of the rooms. This room held nothing but, as in the preceding rooms, it was surrounded in a heavy plating to shield against the radiation. The hatch here was centered and, once through, he slipped on the remaining glove, attaching it securely to his suit. The hatch hissed shut and he slowly made his way back down the very narrow hall.
As he did so he was thinking about all the old science fiction movies his father had shared with him. This ship was as technologically advanced as they came, but there were no spacious quarters, no tables in the gallery to visit with other shipmates. If two people passed in the hall of the StarDancer II, one would have to turn sideways and slide by the other. Even then, it would be a tight squeeze. Also, there was no galley, you stood as you ate. The room behind the cockpit was equipped with a bunk and a sleeping bag securely attached to it. The bunk itself was attached by a rotating pole protruding from the wall. The small platform was mounted to the pole by a rotating bracket; this allowed it to stay at a level position, compensating for any turbulence or rolls. There was only one bunk, as someone had to be in the cockpit while the other slept. There were two lockers for gear, one for each boy, and one small desk. With the exception of how the bunk was attached, it mostly reminded him of an early World War I submarine one might see in a museum. And last, of course, the ship had a separate small shower room with toilet. Tight quarters? To say the least. Smiling, he finally made his way to the cryogenic tanks. The hatch slid open and Skye entered.

Skye had been gone for some time, but Pollux thought nothing of it, after all it was a very large ship and there were an incredible amount of mechanical, as well as electronic parts to check. He was now deep into analyzing the planet and its location in its solar system. He was thrilled beyond belief at his findings. Out of all the billions of stars and planets, and all the hundreds of scientists that have ever searched for one that might have been Earth-like, his parents had apparently stumbled on just that! It had everything. The atmospheric planet. Near space scanners and the deep planet sensors were sending data back to him that confirmed it all.
The planet had a tough, rocky mantle with a hot, metallic core. It sat in the HZ or hospitable zone, a tiny zone around its sun where liquid water would remain stable. Also, it had one moon, which they had narrowly avoided when entering the planets orbit. One of the biggest things that had Pollux smiling was the sun in this system. It was a V class, yellow dwarf star, the same as Earth’s. Only 10% of the known stars were V class stars. This, he knew, was a rarity. The deep planet scans also showed that the land masses, separated by the bodies of water, were definitely due to plate tectonics. One more amazing fact was that this solar system, while only having six planets, had a gas giant, fifth-planet like Jupiter. This planet, as Jupiter, acted like a large defense shield against incoming meteors and other debris. What was missing was what scientists on Earth called the Cambrian Explosion. This was a period where complex life began to form. Pollux knew that the sensors had failed to indicate any noticeable life-forms on this planet, except for vegetation, but it did have everything needed for a Cambrian Explosion. He was also aware that the ship’s sensors might not be sensitive enough to pick up any microorganisms that might be on the surface. He was programming the last of the information into the probes when he stopped. He taped the com, “Skye, do you copy?” He waited for a minute. No response. “Skye, do you copy?” he repeated. Again no answer, he switched on the small tracking screen. Both of them wore a small, mandatory primary tracking device and carried a backup. The screen began to glow and Skye’s signal came through strong. He appeared to be near the rear sub-light engines. Figuring it was just a com glitch, Pollux turned his attention back to his work.

Skye, after entering the cryogenic tank room, had started standard routine checks when he stopped. He began to make his way toward the sub-light engine room. As he entered he was thinking that it had to be now or maybe never. He needed to know just what those signals emanating from the planet’s surface were. He knew he should stick to the task at hand, but he gave in to his old reckless nature. As he stood there, he knew that he wasn’t making the right decision. Just then his brother’s voice came across the helmet com.
“Skye, do you copy.”
He couldn’t respond. He knew if he did his brother would tell, by the tone of his voice, the indecision that was eating him up. He quickly made his way to the back of the room, detached his primary tracking device and attached it to a beam in the sub-light engine room. As he turned and made his way back toward the cargo hold, which was at the front of the ship directly under the bridge, he heard Pollux again.
“Skye, do you copy?”
He could hear the urgency in Pollux’s voice. Once inside the cargo hold, Skye finally answered, “Sorry, little problem with the com, you were cutting in and out. I seem to have it corrected.”
“Good, you had me a little worried. I see you’re in with the sub-lights, everything checking out?”
“Yeah, just fine. I’ll be back up soon.” He hoped his brother would forgive him for what he was about to do.
“OK, Skye, see ya in a bit. Pollux, out.” He was relieved. Maybe his little brother had really grown up in the last couple of years. Tapping the last few buttons on the panel in front of him, Pollux raised his right hand, extended his index finger, hesitating and holding it above the panel for a brief moment, he brought it down touching one of the plasma buttons. As he did so, he looked out of the forward observation window and muttered to himself, “Fly, be free!” He could hear two familiar thumps and, once again, he watched the probes race toward the planet’s surface in tandem. Just before they disappeared into its atmosphere he saw them split and head into two different directions toward the signals they had picked up. He just couldn’t imagine what image and data they might send back.

Chapter Three

Skye reached into one of the small folds of his suit and detached the small backup tracking device from the lining. Resealing the suit, he walked over to one of the numerous metamaterial columns that were supporting the structure of the ship. Jutting out and up from the column at about a 45 degree angle was a support beam. He stopped for a moment and stared at the device with indecision. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and placed the tiny tracker where the two intersected. Opening his eyes, he began looking around as if someone was watching. He moved toward the outer hatch that led to the cargo bay.
Reaching the cargo bay hatch, he pulled off a glove and pushed his palm into the V.G.I.D. He yanked it out so fast the device barely had enough time to ID him. Dropping the glove onto the deck, he realized that he was shaking and the sweat was beginning to build up inside the suit. The cargo bay hatch slid effortlessly open and he stepped inside as the hatch slid shut without him even noticing. Skye began stripping off the radiation suit as he briskly walked toward the freight that hid the small shuttle. Discarding the suit on the floor, he kicked it out of the way. Knowing that there would only be a few minutes to move the heavy cargo that stood in front of the shuttle, he quickly began moving boxes with speed and agility, making just enough room for the shuttle to exit.
Activating the security measures, the small ramp hissed as it detached and slowly swung down from the side of the ship leaving only the entry point open. Skye ran up the ramp and made his way into the ship and toward the small enclosed cockpit. He rapidly slipped on the flight suit that had been neatly folded and attached onto the rear of his seat. He grabbed the helmet resting on a small armrest to his right, slipped it over his head and attached it to the suit as he began to sit. Now seated in the pilot’s chair, he knew that there was only a short time to ready the small ship.
He had loaded limited supplies because he had figured that with just a quick visit to the surface he wouldn’t need much. He began the pre-flight checks
Pollux wouldn’t be fooled for long and if Pollux were to actually get a hold of him before exiting the StarDancer II, well, he put the thought of his mind because it was truly an ugly thought.
Glancing over at Skye’s tracking beacon, Pollux saw that it hadn’t moved at all in about fifteen minutes. He squinted at the screen and suddenly understood. The beacon was not the green blip of the primary, but the blue of the backup. Anger gripped him. Balling up his fist, he wanted to bring it down hard on the delicate instruments before him, but he knew better. Instantly he began to wrestle with his safety straps, but his anger made him clumsy and he just couldn’t get them undone. Regaining his composure, he unstrapped himself and made his way out of his seat and began taking the staircase two or three steps at a time.
Ripping off his flight suit and grabbing his radiation suit, he was trying to put it on as he made his way through the maze of small rooms that protected them. Unable to completely get the radiation suit on, he let it tumble, tripping over it as it fell. Regaining his balance in the artificial gravity wasn’t easy, but he somehow he managed. He was now running toward the cargo bay in a panic. How could Skye do something so stupid? He was hoping he wouldn’t find his brother there, but knew in his heart that was exactly where he’d be. If he could just reach him in time he might be able to stop his impetuousness. Skye had clearly crossed the line on this issue. It was difficult enough to operate the massive ship with two people, let alone one. If something were to happen to him… Well, he just wasn’t going to think about that.

Captain Cyrus Lyet was in charge of the outpost and had been since its inception. He had worked closely with the boys’ parents and had lost dear friends when they were killed. He was also a product of Jeff Bindl’s genius. Cyrus had been a decorated officer in Dayton, Ohio when a raid went bad and he and several colleagues were seriously wounded. Doctors had given his wife and daughter a dim prognosis about his injuries. Jeff had somehow found out about the tragedy and rushed to Ohio. He offered to try to save the men by using an old theory, but one he insisted that his corporation had perfected: cybernetics. He had made the families no guarantee, only promised a possibility. They had agreed and the injured were rushed off to Space Tech. When Cyrus awoke after several weeks and was told of the procedure, he was distraught. The boys’ father spent countless hours consoling and confiding to him about the ambitious dreams and plans for Space Tech. Lyet had become a changed man and, with all his implants, he’d pleaded for Jeff to tell his family he’d not lived. In return he’d help build Space Tech’s future and help recruit others. Men and women like him that had served the public: People who would be saved from certain death and a life of misery; people who would willingly work for the corporation in secrecy, abandoning their previous life. Jeff was avidly against this idea, but had finally given in and agreed. A friendship was born.
The visit to Earth to defeat Axion had been painful. He and the others had intended to visit their families and disclose what had happened all those years ago, but at the last minute decided against it. It had been just over ten years since he’d seen his wife and daughter. He made a conscious effort not to trace them at first, but as the years went on he’d broken that vow. The Captain now knew that his wife had never remarried and had a very secure, well paying job. His daughter had become a fine, young woman who was involved with a fine, upstanding young man, a young man whom he now knew very well. He was battling the demon inside on whether to tell her who he was or not. The emotions flowed as he watched this mission to the stars unfold. He was proud to be part of the historic flight.
Joanne had stayed in the control room and was helping out where needed as Castor got some much needed rest. She grabbed some papers and hurried them over to Lyet. “Sir, these are the latest reports and all seems to be going well. We just tried reaching them with no answer, but there could be a dozen reasons why: behind the planet, spatial interference, and, well you know.” Her smile was infectious. She turned to leave, but Lyet softly grabbed her by the arm.
“Joanne, I was wondering if we could catch a cup of coffee later? At your convenience.” His face was pale and he wasn’t sure he should have asked.
“Is everything OK captain?” Her cheerful look went away quickly. A moment later she asked again “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, yes it is. I am not trying to alarm you. It’s just that I have something I wish to discuss, with a friend,” He tried to steady his voice. He was able to mange a weak smile.
Joanne squinted, she knew better. Since she had gotten to know the older man over the years she’d thought of him like the father she had never known. “Yes, of course we can meet later. I need to finish some things up here and then I’d love to visit with you. It is an exciting time isn’t it!” Her cheerfulness returned, it was just a cover of her intense curiosity of the conversation to come. She patted his arm, “See you in about thirty minutes.” She turned and went back about her duties.
Captain Cyrus Lyet had to agree, these were exciting times, but as he watched her work he was sure that Joanne was about to get some news that might not be the excitement she’d signed up for.

Skye was sitting in the cockpit of the small shuttle finishing the final pre-flight checks as quickly as he could. He knew that, by now, Pollux would have surely figured out that he was planning to take the shuttle out. He reached out and touched one of the shuttle’s console buttons and the hatch he had initially come through began to rise from the floor and close back up into the side of the ship. Another button and the craft’s thrusters came to life. It began to creep forward and two large doors leading to the forward air lock began to open. After passing into the air lock, the massive doors creaked shut, slowly. His shuttle then stopped about 10 yards from the big, cargo hold doors. From the floor behind him, a large hydraulic piece of the floor slowly started to rise.
By this time, Pollux had made his way to the cargo hold. After identifying himself and entering, he could see the airlock doors closing in front of him. Knowing that there was no way he could stop his still reckless brother, he was in a sheer panic. He raced toward the doors, but they closed tightly with an enormous clang that echoed ominously throughout the hold. Looking sharply to his right, he dashed up a flight of metal stairs, his boots echoing through the ship. Reaching the top quickly, he found that he was standing on a mesh like metal platform that had a small viewing portal on the wall looking straight into the airlock. Out of breath and shaking uncontrollably, placing his hands, palm side down, on the bulkhead above his head, he peered through and saw his brother’s planet-bound shuttle preparing to launch. Horrified, he watched as the airlock doors opened and space began to present itself. He balled his hands into fists and began to pound the bulkhead repeatedly. He was too late and he knew it. Skye was disobeying orders again and this time he was on his own. With no other shuttle, there would be no rescue, if needed. Tears of anger flowed down Pollux’s face as he watched this latest defiance, helplessly.
The doors now open, Skye touched the last plasma button and watched as it rippled slowly. As he lifted his head and looked out through the viewing window, the shuttle’s engines roared to life and it bolted out of the StarDancer II with a purpose. Skye couldn’t see the ship’s doors closing behind him; he couldn’t see his brother’s anger; he couldn’t see the carelessness of his actions; all he saw was another adventure and a chance to be the first to visit his parent’s new-found planet. He coaxed the shuttle’s yoke to the left and it responded. He began a slow turn and encircled the StarDancer II for a view of the great ship in flight. The adrenaline rush was unmatched as he watched the great magna drive rings operate. He could see the blue hazy plasma field which the ship produced encompassing it. As he came around the stern, he saw it. The planet, his destination, lay in front of him. He thought for a moment. He could stop his flight now and get back to the StarDancer II and he’d probably just get a good scolding, or he could continue and take the consequences when he returned. His curiosity about the two beacon signals got the best of him. He pulled the yoke to the right and the ship responded. The planet lay dead ahead.
Skye was making his approach, going over last minute details for entering this strange world’s atmosphere. It had been determined that it was similar to Earth’s so he felt confident he could navigate it. He’d designed the small ship for space flight and atmospheric flight. While in space the wings were secured flush into the side and the tail was retracted into the ship itself. The reason was simple, there was no air resistance in space, and therefore, there was no need for wings. Small, conventional, sub-light engines and retros were used. Once in the planet’s lower atmosphere, the wings would be deployed, the tail raised. It could then be used as any airplane on Earth. As with most of Space Tech’s crafts, it could land horizontally or vertically, so an airstrip was not needed.
The shuttle itself was a pill shaped oval. The front was rounded as well as the rear. The rounded rear would split when in operation and the engine covers would retract into the body, exposing the small engines; Two sub-light for orbiting and space operations, and two conventional for atmospheric flight. Most of Space Tech’s ships were metal or steel grey in color. Skye had wanted to avoid being boring when he built this ship, so it was a blue steel color. On the forward rounded nose there were powerful lights and two small plasma cannons. This, as far as Skye was concerned, was the prototype for the peace task force’s new line of defense ships. Sleek, fast, and deadly, if need be. It was a ship he was very proud of, thus another reason to test it, he reasoned. He began to ready for his approach into the planet’s atmosphere.
Pollux had left the cargo hold and was making his way, slowly and dejectedly, back to the cockpit. He was rubbing his hands, making fists and opening them. His hands were aching. Perhaps he’d hit the bulkhead one too many times. No matter now, the deed was done. His first thoughts were to contact Skye and make sure he’d be able to track him; that is if he had a long range tracker on him. He was debating on whether to scold him now or simply kill him when he returned. Pollux found his flight suit lying on the ground and put it back on. He was finally making his way back up the spiral staircase to the cockpit. As he sat down in the captain’s seat, he felt alone. He wondered what his parents would have done if they were there. It had been so long since their death. To him it still felt as if it had happened yesterday. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he located the com set and placed it firmly on his head. Clearing his throat, he adjusted a few knobs and began his transmission, “Skye, Pollux here. Do you copy?” He waited a few moments and transmitted again, “Skye, do you copy?” Then he heard a faint crackle. It grew louder and instantly a voice was heard.
“Yes, I copy Pollux. Wow, this is some flight!”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Pollux voice was filled with disgust. “You realize that you have seriously endangered this mission, violated every directive of this flight? Don’t you have any common sense at all? We agreed that there would be no celestial body landing and your impatience once again reared its ugly head.”
“So you’re disappointed with me?” Skye tried to make light of the situation.
“Disappointed? You are unbelievable. Do you not understand that you’ve left one person to tend to this ship? This is the most important manned space flight in history and you’re making fun of it. I fail to see the humor in this.” Anger began to rise in his voice again, “How do I explain this? Our next transmission is due to be broadcast in about thirty minutes. Oh, wait, I’ll just tell them that you stepped away from the cockpit for minute and after your little joy ride you’ll be happy to explain your scan findings when you come back. Except that you haven’t scanned anything because you’ve disobeyed orders again!”
“Wow, you’ve got anger issues, bro. When we get back, we’ll have to have that looked at!” He chuckled. The ship was now close to entering the planet’s atmosphere so he began adjusting his flight path and angling the ships nose up a touch.
“Why do you always think everything is funny?” Pollux just shook his head. “Can you at least activate the long range beacon on the ship so I can track you? So, like I don’t already know the answer to this question, but here goes: are you planning on just taking a short spin around the droid signals or are you planning on setting down and actually looking around? I am also guessing that reminding you that setting down, by yourself, on the planet is foolish. I mean with no one there for back up.” Sighing loudly, he waited for the answer.
Hesitating, Skye understood that his brother was right. That would be foolish. Just getting near the surface would have to suffice on this trip. “Pollux, you’re right of course. I think on this trip we’ll swing by the beacons for a look see, take some photos, some readings and then swing back up. Bing, bang, boom!” There was excitement still in his voice.
“Bing, bang, boom? Wow, that’s special.” Finally cracking a tiny smile, the older brother went on, “I’ll be monitoring your com. Try to keep safe and please hurry back. Pollux, out.” Feeling a little more at ease now, mainly because he had no choice but to, Pollux began to resume scans of the planet to keep his mind off of his predicament. He still couldn’t help but be upset with his brother. As much as he hoped that this would be the last time Skye would do something foolish, Pollux knew better.

The small ship shuddered and then began to shake. Skye was now entering the planet’s lower stratosphere. He could see the fiery, orange-red glow surrounding the magnetic, blue plasma shield that surrounded the ship as he descended. Even though Skye was strapped tightly in his seat, he was being tossed around like a rag doll. The whole world seemed to vibrate violently before his blurred eyesight. According to the research they’d done when they arrived, this entry shouldn’t have been any more difficult than the hundreds of times he’d returned to Earth. But it was different.
Barely keeping the shuttle at the right trajectory, he fought to maintain control. His first thought was that it must be some sort of atmospheric storm. He glanced out the forward viewing window and he thought he saw a ship. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Was his mind playing tricks? Opening his eyes he saw nothing but the blur outside caused by his shaking head. He began to worry; maybe this wasn’t such a grand idea. Focusing, he began to adjust the strength of his shield. If he could get enough power switched over to the forward shield he might be able to go into a front dive, diverting enough heat off the ship to keep it from arriving as a molten glob. Maybe, just maybe, this would allow him to speed his way through the turbulence. That actually would be the easy part. Once past that, he’d have to have enough presence of mind to know when to pull up. With his current lack of vision and the speed with which he’d be traveling, it might just be a little difficult; especially not knowing the terrain he was approaching. It was a chance he’d have to take, much more violent shaking and there wouldn’t be a ship to even attempt to land. He touched a few more plasma dials and buttons, then, easing forward on the stick, the nose began to dip down and the ship picked up speed.

Chapter Four

Joanne opened the hatch, stepped into the hall, and almost ran into Castor. Startled she said “Castor, I didn’t see you there; I thought you’d still be napping.”
Castor reached out before she bumped into him. Placing his hands on her shoulders, she stopped. He held her at a short distance; he couldn’t help but peer into her brown eyes. They had a certain twinkle to them. “No rest for the wicked I’m told.” Grinning he went on, “I’ve had enough rest for now, just too much to do. Any more contact with Pollux and Skye?” His hands dropped from her shoulders, slowly letting his hands brush along her arms entire length
“No. I told you I would contact you when we heard from them. We figure it to be awhile yet. I’m guessing they are incredibly busy. Can you still believe that they’re orbiting a planet like ours? And so far away. Bet you wish you were with them.” She gave him a playful push. “Anyway, I am headed to the cafeteria for a coffee and to visit with Cyrus, I think something is bothering him. Care to tag alone?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I think I’ll stick around the bridge and wait to talk to the guys. I need to contact Space Tech anyway. Got to see how things are going, been a long time since I’ve been there. I’m sure Emily’s got everything under control.” He leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You’d better get going.” He ordered.
She gave a mock salute. “OK, say hi to my Mom for me and tell her we’ll be home soon.” She turned and was off to see Captain Lyet.
Watching her for a moment longer he turned and entered the bridge. He walked over to the communications officer and stood behind him for a moment. The other man turned, tilted his head up and politely just shook it, “I’m sorry sir, no contact yet.” Turning back to the console, he continued his work. Giving him a pat on the shoulder, Castor turned, walked a few seats down and took a seat in front of one of the consoles. Reaching out, he grabbed a pair of headphones. He was untangling them when a crackle came across the air. Silence fell across the room. Once more the crackle came across but it wasn’t his brothers, it was just some interference. Letting out the breath he’d been holding, Castor asked across the com, “Flight status.”
“Sir” a voice came back, “All systems are go and functioning properly, we are monitoring the StarDancer as best we can. She looks just fine sir; Pollux and Skye are probably just completely emerged in scans and tests. We just need to show patience. I believe it’ll all be good and there is no need for concern.” A murmur of agreement could be heard throughout the large room.
“You, my friend have never been around my brother Skye for any amount of time.” A frown spread across his face. “There is always room for concern lieutenant, always.” His frown eased a bit as a low laughter spread through the room. Smiling he added, “So, some of you do know Skye?” The laughter continued for a short while longer while everyone went back to their duties. “OK, lieutenant, we’ll wait a little while longer…” Castor began to work the monitor that began to flicker to life in front of him. His thoughts seemed to be jumping constantly now. From his brothers to Joanne and to Space Tech. Space Tech, he’d been away far too long he thought. Business must be piling up for sure. He decided that after his brothers checked in he’d make preparations to head back to Earth and tend to business, there would be so much to do. He began adjusting some plasma knobs and heard a familiar voice come across his headset.
“Why hello Castor! How is everything going? You know we only get bits and pieces from you off-worlders.” Emily’s voice was playful.
Castor thought back to the first day he’d met her. He was just a little tyke; she was at the same reception desk when his father had introduced him to her. In all the years she hadn’t changed much at all, still charming and as reliable as ever. His parent’s had made a very wise choice hiring her on. He smiled as he thought of how she’d carefully nominated her daughter as his personal assistant after he’d assumed the top role in Space Tech. Thinking of Joanne he grinned. Snapping out of his thought’s he heard her in his ear.
“Castor are you there? Is everything OK?” Concern in her voice.
“Uh, yes, I’m sorry, daydreaming I guess. I was calling to check in and see if you might need anything.”
“Well, I’d ask for some basics, you know, milk, bread, but by the time you get back it’ll probably be spoiled!”
“Um, I, that’s not really what…”
“I know that’s not what you meant. Relax; you sound wound up tighter than a spring. Castor, everything’s fine back here. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t welcome you back soon, but we are doing good.”
“Sorry, just a little stressed. We are waiting for Pollux and Skye to contact us and tell us that they’re on the way back. After I get that transmission I’m going to start making arrangements to come back. I honestly can’t wait to get back to the daily grind.”
“We’ll all be waiting. Make sure you send a communication to us here and to the Orbital Lab, everyone is very anxious to hear how the mission is going. By the way, how is my daughter doing; seems she hasn’t found the time to contact me.” Her voice was a little on the scolding side.
“Joanne is doing just fine. She’s been keeping herself occupied. I’ll get on her and have her get in touch with you. You know Emily; your daughter is something special. She completes me.” A snicker followed.
“She comple… Castor Bindl, you are a strange boy. I have no idea what my daughter sees in you!” She was laughing loudly. Calming down, her tone became a little serious. “You take care of her and get her back here safe, OK? Promise me.”
“Emily, I promise, we’ll both be back and safe. I’ve got to go; see you in a few days.” He cut the transmission and learned back in his chair. His thoughts began to drift once more, what an eventful few years it had been.

Pollux had been watching the small crafts tracking signal flicker in and out with sheer horror. It almost looked as if it were completely out of control. He closed his eyes and tried to shake the vision of his insane flight two years ago from his thoughts. He and Skye had taken separate shuttles to Space Techs’ Luna base when his ship had taken over all controls automatically. He’d been thrown all over the ship and wound up unconscious, only to wake up and have no idea where he was or what had happened. He remembered how frightened he was during the ordeal. Of course everything had turned out OK. The ship eventually had brought him to the Deep Space Outpost and the discovery of where his parents had launched the original StarDancer. But that was years ago and this was now.
Noticing that the small shuttle was picking up speed instead of decelerating, he tried the com, “Skye, Skye do you copy. Again, Skye do you copy.” Nothing but interference ensued. Panic and helplessness were beginning to set in. The tracking beacon flickered once more, and then disappeared. Pollux sat frozen in his seat, fear surging through every part of his body. The color had left his face and he could only think of three things. One; Skye was in serious trouble, second; he was dead and the third thing was that either way, he was alone.

The red hot glow was now dissipating as Skye’s shuttle passed through what Earth would call the mesosphere. Still, the danger grew. Surprisingly on this planet the stratosphere layer seemed to be comprised of thick billowing dark, almost blackish, clouds. It would be impossible to gauge where the ground was by sight. Skye was hoping that if this layer of atmosphere had clouds the next may not. The ship was still shuddering badly but there was a noticeable decrease, for that he was grateful. The ships’ altimeter was fluctuating, but steadied for a moment, just enough for him to determine that he was around 65,600 feet from impact. His speed was still increasing.
The danger of burning up had passed. Now it was just a matter of hurtling toward the ground, to what he guessed might be a grizzly impact. He understood that it was time to find a way to slow it down, and fast. Regaining his wits he now could tell that the cloud cover, though thick, had taken on a distinctly different looking texture and color. It was as if he was plowing through snow back in Illinois. They were a distinctly dirty light grey in color now. An educated guess told him that he had passed through the stratosphere and was now in the troposphere. He was now a mere 32,800 feet from certain death. Quickly manipulating the control panel, Skye input information into the shuttles computer with frightening speed. Reaching up, he did the same on the overhead console controls. Grasping the yoke of the small ship, he pulled back with all his strength and lifted the nose up so the belly came into direct contact with the thick atmosphere. He then touched another button, it rippled.
There was a loud noise and jerk as two wings unfolded from the sides of the craft locking into a horizontal position. He touched a button on the yoke for just a split second, the plasmat engines fired, then died. The ship lurched and the small powerful engines forced the nose down, in an instant the ship was almost vertical, it nearly went into an end over end roll. Gasping, Skye pulled back on the yoke once more and was somehow able to regain control rather quickly. He felt his heart skipping beats; maybe he’d held the button in a tad too long. The altimeter now read 19.685 feet; this was going to be too close for comfort. Now was the time to do an old NASA shuttle move. Moving the nose down slightly and moving the yoke to the left, the shuttle went into a hypersonic split-S maneuver. He needed to generate additional drag to help slow the ship and this was the first thing he could think of.
Coming out of the maneuver he glanced at his instruments, 12,563 feet above the surface. Raising an eyebrow that was drenched in sweat, he decided that he could try one more split-S, again he shifted the yoke. The vehicle responded but seemed to be a bit sluggish this time. Sluggish, now that really didn’t describe it he thought; it was more like dragging your body through a puddle of thick mud using only your hands. Two hands on the yoke now, he was using every ounce of energy he had. Finally exiting the second split-S, he glanced down, 6,237 feet. He’d lost half of his altitude; he’d slowed, but nowhere near enough, and now the craft was a little over a mile from the planet’s surface. Still having no visual of the surface, finding any type of clearing for a controlled crash was out of the question. The ships belly was still up so he decided to level it a bit. Now at 4,321 feet the thick molasses cloud cover was clearing a bit.
Realizing he hadn’t checked his directional beacon since he’d entered the atmosphere, he peered down. Amazingly he wasn’t that far off his intended course. Smiling a bit, he still knew that a safe landing was needed and he wasn’t certain this would happen. Beginning to move some controls, he caught a flash out of the forward viewing window, then another. It didn’t look like lightning and the sound didn’t sound like thunder. It was more of an explosive sound, yes, that was it, explosive. Another flash, this time his shuttle rocked hard, he almost lost grip of the yoke. Panic coursed through his body with the next hit. The shuttle flipped over, going into a spiral spin that seemed to last minutes. Skye once more managed to regain control, a testament to his incredible flying ability. Coming out of the spin he realized he had no power. 1,584 feet. He knew that at the speed the ship was flying and the thin cloud cover, there would be no way to even attempt a breaking sequence that would guarantee a safe landing. He was sure that he’d bought the farm. One last try at a smile, he knew that was a phrase his father might have used. He began to pray.
The ship lurched violently and his body was tossed abruptly against his restraints. It felt as if he’d hit an invisible stationary object. The small craft seemed to stop in mid-flight for just a moment before beginning to creep forward at a slow but steady pace. Regaining his senses, Skye began to feel the pain from the sudden stop. Looking out of the forward viewing window he saw nothing through the thinning haze. 675 feet is what the altimeter now read. Somehow, even without control, his ship was in a slow controlled descent.
He squinted out viewing window once more. The blue magnetic shield was not there. It had been replaced by a very light reddish glow. The glowing field seemed to encompass only the forward section of the shuttle and seemed to emanate from the ground up. The thought crossed his mind; tractor beam. It couldn’t be; not even Space Tech had been able to develop an operational beam. From the steady rate of his ships descent and the trajectory from which the beam was coming from, there was no other answer. He pondered his predicament and wondered how this could be happening; there had been no signs of life on this planet except for the droid signals. A thought crossed his mind, those signals, I completely forgot about them. Realizing the unthinkable now, he unstrapped his aching body from the seat and gingerly made his way toward the back. Quickly sifting through his gear Skye thought, if I am going to be taken, it won’t happen without a fight.

The hatch to the cafeteria slid opened and Joanne gracefully strode in. Captain Lyet was already seated; he looked up as she approached him. She was beautiful, he thought, just as beautiful as her mother. He was beginning to wonder if having this conversation would be a good idea. He stood as she eased up to the table.
“Hello Cyrus. I brought some new reports for us to fall asleep to.” She let them drop onto the table. She’d them brought them knowing that she had been asked to come for something else but she didn’t want the Captain to know.
Lyet placed his hand onto the reports and carefully pushed them off to the side. “Honestly Joanne, I really don’t care to discuss business at this time.” He attempted a smile. Motioning with his right hand, she took a seat across from him. “I’d like to talk about an issue that I’m having and I thought you might be able to help me.” The smile left and was replaced by a more serious look.
“Sure, I’m actually pretty burned out from work myself. So what can I do for you?” Her tone became serious as she saw the concern on his face. “What’s the matter sir?”
The look left his face and was replaced by a tender expression. “Well, yes and no, if that is an answer. You see Joanne I have a real problem. You don’t really know me that well and I” he hesitated for a moment, “I would like to share some things with you. Things that you need to know. I don’t know where to begin, so the best place would be at the beginning.” He began by giving her a quick synopsis of his younger days as an officer in Dayton and of his meeting and marrying the love of his life. He then went into great detail of that fateful day when he’d been shot. “So when I awoke, in what I thought was a hospital, there was a stranger seated beside my bed. Not my wife. I had no idea what had happened. He explained everything to me, I was completely taken aback, it all seemed surreal to me.”
“Where were your wife and daughter during all this? Did the doctor tell you?”
“Well, that’s the point here. That stranger was no doctor. He was from a company that was working in an old field but one that his company had perfected. The stranger told me that my wife had given him permission to try to save my life, and he did, but just not in the traditional way. You see, that man was Jeff Bindl. He saved me by implanting cybernetics into my body. As for my wife and daughter, well, I never saw them. You must understand that was my choice. I know that they were trying to save my life when they gave him permission to do the implants, but I didn’t feel human anymore. I can’t explain it. It just wasn’t me anymore, not that I’m not happy to be alive. Now I am, but back then while it was all happening I just wanted to get by day by day.” Eyes glistening, he held back tears. Clearing his throat he continued, “Anyway the days that followed were hard, rehab was incredibly difficult. I had asked Jeff to keep telling my family that I was in a coma and couldn’t have visitors while I tried to sort things out. He was totally against this. He kept reminding me that I needed my families support more than ever, I refused.” A tear flowed down his cheek; he lifted his shaking hand to wipe it away.
Joanne now was now beginning to realize the reason for this conversation. It was a mirror image of what had happened in her life, what had happened to her father. The shootout, the long hospitalization without seeing him, it must just be a coincidence she thought. She tried to maintain the rough exterior she’d built up but began to shake slightly. He couldn’t be telling her what she was now thinking. He couldn’t be.
“I chose to die, so to speak. Then I offered my services to Jeff. He was appalled that I would even think of such a thing. He had no idea of what I was going through. I don’t ever regret letting him allow me to live. I pushed him and pushed him until he agreed to do things my way. I have been recruiting gravely wounded comrades ever since. What I do regret now, and every day since, is not seeing my wife and daughter.” Reaching across the table, he took her hand gently. “I regret not being able to face my feelings and not including you and your mother in my life.” The tears ran freely down his face. It was twisted in fear and hurt. It was one that told a story of years of love and regret. It was her father’s face.
For a moment, time stood still, she could not breathe, she had to stay calm. She felt the gentle squeeze of his hand in hers but that was all. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind. Still silent and stone faced she knew she could never hate this man for what he had done; after all he had done enough hating of himself. She quickly removed her hand from his and stood.
Still seated, he looked up at her, with the fear of rejection in his voice he choked out one word, “Joanne.” The emotion in his voice was raw and powerful.
She moved over to him as he stood to meet her. Without wasting a movement Joanne embraced him burying her face on his shoulder, she began to sob. As the moment lingered on she moved her head back, held him at arm’s length, peered into his eyes and squeaked out, “Dad, I’ve missed you…” Embracing him again, she began to cry harder than ever and for the moment her toughness disappeared.

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