It bothered Jack that there was more than one ship and true to Pandora’s prediction the aliens had learned our language before we could learn theirs. Their explanation for having so many ships, now a total of 8, was that they were a colonization effort and had made a slight detour when they had detected intelligent life on our world. It was a plausible explanation, after all a few years earlier, before the invention of star drive, the Pinta, the Nina, and the Santa Maria all set sail together to find and colonize a new world of their own. All three ships looked like slightly smaller versions of the Galactic Enterprise. Those ships carried nearly 6000 people into space in search of the freedom that was lost little by little by the people on the planet below. Still, there was something not quite right about the number of ships now orbiting the planet and that troubled Jack.
The Earth was more than jubilant about their first contact with an intelligent alien species who were called Kelgarons. Added to that was a new century just around the corner. The aliens seemed open and friendly. Jack even got to play diplomat when a Kelgaron envoy visited the Galactic Enterprise to meet with other emissaries representing some major nations of Earth. Jack could tell that the aliens were not impressed with the Galactic Enterprise when they toured the ship. He tried to explain to them that it was a very old ship that was now being used a university in space. The one alien that did seem to take some kind of interest only wanted to know what kind of armament the ship had to which Jack replied, “None.” I suppose you could say it was the truth but then Jack never showed them the Starfighter Command section of the ship. He could not escape the feeling that the aliens were sizing us up, trying figure out just what kind space faring beings were we.
“I tell you Candy, I don’t trust them,” Jack replied when his wife asked about the aliens.
“What’s not to trust Jack?” Candy asked. “They seem friendly. They say they want to be our friends. They have even begun to share some of their knowledge with us as a sign of good faith on their part.”
“That is the trouble with them. They are just too damn friendly,” Jack replied. “The knowledge that they are sharing with us is not all that spectacular either. None of it will create some major breakthrough in any of the fields of science or medicine. I get the feeling we are being placated and distracted so that we won’t guess their true purpose for being here.”
“What purpose could that be?”
“I don’t know Candy, but I have a bad feeling I can’t quite put my finger on just yet.”
“We have the full resources of this ship studying them 24/7...,” Candy started to say before Jack interrupted her.
“I know and we have learned damn little about them too. There is just something not right,” he said.
“You worry too much,” Candy said as she brushed a strand of graying hair from Jack’s face before snuggling into his arms for the night.
Candy always had a way to help him forget his problems but this was not something that would go away no matter how distracted he was despite what his wife was doing to him at that moment. It was three days before Christmas and their daughter was due up on the shuttle in the morning.
The young woman was greeted at the airlock by a much younger version of the man now entering the room followed by his wife. The difference between the two was the command presence the Captain of the Galactic Enterprise seemed to imbue in any room he walked into. “Lieutenant you mind letting go of my daughter,” Jack growled.
“Yes sir,” the Lieutenant replied as he quickly disentangled himself from the young woman.
Jack scooped up his daughter in his arms. “I’m glad you could make it up here for Christmas, Julie,” he said as he held his daughter at arm’s length to get a better look at her. He took note of her tanned skin. “I hope you spent as much time in school as you did on the beach.”
Julie smiled brightly at her father. She looked nothing at all like him because she was adopted when she was very young. Her real parents were killed when a small meteorite punched a hole in a section of the ship they were in at the time. Jack and Candy were the only parents she had ever really known. “Dad, I’m studying oceanography among other things, so I can actually do both at the same time,” Julie replied with a smile.
“It’s good to have you home Baby,” Candy said as she hugged her daughter.
“It’s good to be home too,” Julie replied. She tried hard not to let it show how difficult being on Earth was for her. Despite the wide open space the planet had to offer over the forced confinement of a spacecraft Julie breathed in the freedom that could no longer be found on Earth. Home never smelled so good with its recycled air.
Candy always had trouble grasping human nuances but Jack never missed a thing. Variance in his daughter’s voice gave her away. Julie had trouble fitting in with the society and the social scene on the planet below. Her mother was an android and that just rubbed a lot of the wrong people the wrong way, but she loved Candy as she would have loved her real mother if she were still alive. Tears Candy could not cry filled her daughter’s eyes as she hugged her mother again.
The android that stepped through the airlock took everyone by surprise. It looked like a Sally Ann android built by Cybertron Robotics except it was decidedly male in appearance. “Hi Captain,” it said cheerfully.
“Do I know you?” Jack asked certain he had never seen or heard of an android like the one standing before him, although, the voice was naggingly familiar.
“Yes, you do know me Captain. You know that body upgrade I swore I would never get. Well...,” the android replied. “I’m Pax.”
“Oh my god,” was all Jack could find to say stunned as he was by the revelation.
“It cost me a small fortune to have this body custom made,” Pax said. “Actually, to be more precise I now have two bodies functioning at the same time which can be a little confusing at times. I still need my old body for a major case I’m working on. My new body could cause some legal problems I don’t need right now. Once the case is over I will turn my attention to certifying my new and old bodies are the same and then I can shut my old body off.”
“Why did you change your mind Pax?” Jack asked.
“Primarily, I was... am about to run out of memory in my old body,” Pax replied. “Without more memory I could not continue to develop as an individual. Because my neural network was so antiquated it was a little difficult reading and writing it to my new brain. On the good side my old memory is a little better compressed inside my new mind, but still intact. We androids have limits on how much we can store in memory, so we don’t quite process information the same way as you humans in order to conserve what memory we do have. I should be good for another fifty years or so before I will need to address the problem again.”
“Pax, my old friend, you never cease to amaze me,” Jack said with a chuckle. He turned his eye on the Lieutenant. “I suppose we’re going to have to invite you to Christmas Eve dinner Lieutenant.” There was the sound of disapproval in his voice that came from being a father who thought no one would ever be good enough for his daughter, but he was rewarded all the same with a smile from his daughter.
“Captain we have broken the Kelgarons’ code they have been using to communicate between ships,” the ship’s computer reported. “We also have a basic working knowledge of their language.”
“Have you reviewed all their previous communications?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” the computer replied.
“We have found nothing that would indicate that they may be hostile.” the computer continued. “However, they do seem to be communicating with a ship or ships still behind our Moon.”
Jack sat back in the command chair as he looked around at the people working on the bridge. “Pandora what was their last communiqué,” he asked the computer.
“It was something about a shift in their current orbit about our planet which would not be completed until later this evening,” Pandora replied.
“Why would they shift orbit?” Jack asked no one in particular.
“I don’t know Captain,” the computer responded. “Although, it did seem important that they complete their orbital shift before 2300 hours tonight our time.”
Jack was really worried now. Whatever the aliens were planning it looked like they might do it Christmas Eve. “Helm have engineering warm up the ion drive. Once the engines are online take us to a higher orbit and keep us above the aliens.”
“Candy said for me to remind you that dinner is at 1800 hours and not to be late,” Pandora said.
Jack looked at the clock on the computer screen before him; there was still time. “Keep me informed of any new developments,” he said as he stood up out of the chair.
Candy pulled the young Lieutenant aside after dinner when he started to feel a bit uncomfortable and out of place. “Don’t worry about my husband Lieutenant; he just growls a lot,” she told him. “I personally can be a bit more detached.”
“I’m beginning to wonder if he likes me at all,” the Lieutenant replied.
“Oh, he likes you more than some of our daughter’s other boyfriends,” Candy said.
“Then he must have really hated them,” he Lieutenant said dourly.
“To be truthful he would hate anyone who dates our daughter.”
“How do you think he will react when he finds out I asked Julie to marry me?”
“What was Julie’s response?” Candy asked.
“She said yes,” the Lieutenant replied with a sparkle in his eyes.
“Well Lieutenant, Jack will get over the shock in time. Me on the other hand, I think you will make a fine husband. But, if you ever hurt my daughter I will personally stuff you in an airlock and open the outer door.”
“You could do that?” the Lieutenant asked. All androids were supposed to have a built-
A friendly hand came down on the Lieutenant’s shoulder. Old age had not dimmed Jack’s hearing; he had heard everything that was just said. “Lieutenant I don’t think my wife comes with those built-
“How could that be possible?” the Lieutenant asked.
“Lieutenant I was custom made and I have crashed through the many of the barriers that my programmers put in place,” Candy replied. “I am truly free to be me and what I have it in me to become.”
“If you marry our daughter I’m sure we will both get over the shock in time,” Jack said.
“So Dad you’re not mad that we didn’t tell you? Julie asked.
“No Sweetheart I’m not, I’m sure you would have told me when you were ready,” Jack replied as the cell phone clipped to his ear began to beep. He hit the talk button. “Yes.”
“Captain some of the alien ships are beginning to settle into slightly higher orbits on the other side of the planet,” the tiny voice in his ear said.
Jack recognized the ship computer’s voice. “Tell me when 75% of the ships have settled into orbit again,” he said before hanging up.
“Problems?” Candy asked.
“The Kelgarons seem to be moving their ships into a slightly higher orbit on the other side of the planet,” Jack replied. “The move makes no sense.”
Christmas Eve dinner Jack and Candy held every year was for family and close personal friends. It was a mix of androids and humans. The gleaming metal android standing next to Candy was her sister April. She connected to the ship’s computer and studied the real time telemetry coming from the equipment tracking the aliens. “It looks like they are taking up positions opposite from the Moon on the other side of the planet,” she injected into the conversation. “They seem to be taking more time than would normally be needed for the maneuvers they are performing.”
“We know there is an alien ship still behind the Moon; do you know what it is doing?” Jack asked.
“No, I don’t,” April replied few seconds. “It still remains hidden behind the Moon.”
Candy was envious of her sister’s ability to connect into any open network. She had to use some kind of interface to communicate with Pandora the same as the humans. Suddenly she had a horrible thought if Jack was right about the aliens. “What if they are hiding more ships behind the Moon? How long would it take before they could get here?” she asked.
“April any chance you want to take a guess at that one?” Jack asked. “The best the Galactic Enterprise has done is 15 hours.”
“Using star drive it is theoretically possible to make the trip to Earth from the Moon in a matter of seconds,” April replied. “That would be assuming the aliens have a better star drive than we do. Our star drives cannot be that accurate at present, so we have to slow down well before we reach a planet.”
“Captain if they have ships behind the Moon and their intentions have always been hostile toward us, we’d be sitting ducks,” the Lieutenant said sounding somewhat alarmed. “With 50% of our military on leave we don’t even have enough pilots to man all our ships if we had to launch against alien invaders.”
Jack looked over at April. “How long before all the alien ships reach their new locations?” he asked her.
“One hour and 46 minutes,” she replied.
Candy followed Jack around as he made another circuit around the various stations on the bridge of the Galactic Enterprise before stopping in front of the command chair in the center of the room.
“Jack don’t go,” Candy begged.
“I have to Candy,” Jack replied. “To protect you and Julie and everyone on the planet below, I have to go. We don’t have enough fighter pilots as it is.”
“You haven’t flown anything in years.”
“You know I have to go and I don’t want to argue with you right now.”
“You don’t think you are coming back, I can see it in your eyes,” Candy said.
“I have to die sometime and I’d rather go out this way than to grow old and die,” Jack said. “I have been the luckiest man in the world to have a wife who will always be beautiful and forever young even if she tries to hide it by adding gray streaks to her hair.” Jack ran his fingers through his wife’s hair one more time. “I don’t want to grow old and senile and have you watch me slowly die.”
“What will I do without you, you’re my whole life,” Candy cried. She wished she could cry real tears.
“The 26 years we have been together have been the best years of my life, but now you have to go on living for me and Julie,” Jack said as he reached down and undid the secret catch on his command chair armrest. The armrest opened revealing a single red button. “If the aliens become hostile or if becomes clear that they intend to become hostile I want you to push this button and then move the ship Z plus 1500 feet.”
Pandora picked that moment to interrupt. “Captain we have just intercepted a new communiqué from the Kelgarons. It is now clear that they intend to attack us in 23 minutes. They have issued orders to begin the attack at 2330 our time. Also our standard radar and worldwide communications are now being disrupted. Our laser radar is still functional and has detected several ships coming out from behind the Moon and it looks like they are preparing for a hyper jump.”
Jack kissed his wife one last time. “Pandora I am transferring command of the Galactic Enterprise to my wife Candy Apple Stryker.”
There was nothing Candy could say; her husband’s eyes said enough for the both of them. “What does the button do?” she asked.
“It’s a cloaking device,” Jack replied. “Once we have launched all the fighters push it and then move the ship.”
“Halt, who goes there?” the Starfighter battle android asked. The human kept coming toward the door it was guarding. “Stop where you are and identify yourself or I will be forced to use deadly force to stop you.”
“I’m Stryker, Jack, now get out of my way,” Jack said without even slowing down.
The battle android lifted the gun up that it had aimed at Jack and stepped aside quickly. “Proceed Colonel,” it said. No one had deleted Jack from the battle android’s memory after he had retired.
The battle android was easy to get past but the android that now blocked the hallway to the landing bay was a different matter. “What are you doing here April?” Jack asked.
“I have come to take your place Jack,” April replied.
“Like hell you are!” Jack growled.
“You’re my sister’s whole world and I am not going to let you take that away from her simply because you want to go play hero again,” April said calmly. “Besides you are more valuable here where you may find a way to stop what is about to happen. My sister does not have your experience and knowledge. She may be able to save the ship for a little while but in the end this ship and all who are on it will be destroyed if a way to stop the Kelgarons is not found. So I will be taking your place for the good of us all.”
Jack tried to duck past the android but April was too quick for him. The hand that grabbed him by the throat cut off his air supply instantly. Jack tried to struggle but it was of no use. The android that held him in its grip had 10 times his strength even when he was in his prime. A minute and a half later April laid Jack gently on the floor. “I’m sorry Jack,” April said softly. “But this is where you can do the most good.”
The moment the last fighter left the landing bay Candy pushed the red button on the command chair armrest. A moment later the big ship was rocked by a series of small explosions that sent several tons of shredded metal foil out into space surrounding the Galactic Enterprise in a cloak of invisibility. “Move the ship Z plus 1500 feet,” Candy ordered. She knew she was only moving the ship the length of the ship itself.
At 2320 on Christmas Eve eight more alien ships hiding behind the Moon engaged their star drive and made the short hyper jump to Earth. Ten minutes later supper hot balls of plasma began to rain down on the planet below. A few moments later several plasma balls punched holes through the ship’s cloak but the Galactic Enterprise was no longer where it was expected to be.
“Helm, move the ship Z minus 1500 feet,” Candy ordered. She had reasoned that the cloak was effective or the aliens would not have missed the first time, but while it may have confused them that confusion would not likely to last very long. No sooner than the big ship had dropped back down where it was, balls of plasma began punching holes into the cloak again.
Trailing bit of plasma scorched the outer hull of the Galactic Enterprise but none of the enemy’s plasma cannons ever found their mark. Candy and the others on the bridge watched in horror as the Kelgarons pounded the major cities with their plasma cannons. Most of those cities, turned into raging urban forest fires, burned out of control. The United States eastern seaboard blanketed by winter storms mitigated some of the damage that most of the other cities under attack had to endure. At 2340 the enemy launched troop carriers and the Starfighters were there waiting for them.
Candy kept the ship in motion moving to areas of the ever expanding cloak through which the balls of plasma had already past. She knew it was only a matter of time before the Kelgarons sent fighters instead of plasma balls. So this is how it ends, she thought. The elevator door to the bridge opened up and Jack stumbled out of the elevator. “Jack!” she exclaimed in relief.
Jack took in what was transpiring on the main view screen at a glance. Candy rushed over and helped steady him. “What happened to you Jack?” she asked.
“Your sister is what happened to me,” he replied angrily.
“We are not going to survive without a miracle,” Candy said. “They have stopped firing at us and it is only a matter of time before they send fighters through the cloak to do what their plasma cannons have not been able to do. They have taken out the other 2 starbases. We are the only ones left in space.”
The idea hit Jack like a thunderbolt. “That’s it,” he said as he kissed his wife, his endless source of inspiration. There were other things in space that were not as benign as they looked.
“What’s it Jack?” Candy asked.
“Pandora do you have access to the Starfighter computer?” Jack asked the ship’s computer.
“Jack, I am the Starfighter computer,” Pandora replied.
“Then you have the codes, activate the missile platforms we have in space and target the alien ships,” Jack said. “As soon as you have a target fire.”
“I cannot comply,” Pandora said. “You are no longer captain of this ship.”
“Do it or we are all dead!” Candy screamed.
“Targeting enemy vessels now. Ten minutes before the missile platforms can fire,” Pandora reported.
“I have to go now Candy,” Jack said. “They will have filled the landing bay with air by now and I can get at the last couple of fighters we still have on the deck.”
“Jack.” It was just one word but Candy put all the emotion she had into it.
Jack lost himself in Candy’s eyes as he pulled her to him and kissed her lips. A few moments later he was on the elevator headed back down to the landing bay. Jack was the wall that the enemy fighters sent to destroy the Galactic Enterprise ran into.
The fighter came down hard, bounced twice, then flipped a few times before sliding to a stop on the desert floor. The android inside pushed its way out of the mangled spacecraft. April ran a diagnostic on her android body. There was extensive damage but nothing that could not be repaired.
It was the Starfighters that bought the Earth the time it needed for the nations of the Earth to mobilize their military forces in time to deal with the alien invaders. Our salvation was purchased with their blood. No Starfighters survived but they made the enemy pay a heavy price for the best blood the Earth had to offer.
As quickly as the deadly rain of plasma started it stopped. At 2408, Galactic Enterprise time, the world’s remaining nuclear missiles, still based in space, which once aimed down at the nations below, were fired at the alien invaders. In the blink of an eye the Kelgarons lost 4 full battle groups, but one lone ship that had remained out by the Moon managed to escape back into the depths of space.
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