Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress

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Dallas Hyatt - Adventuress

Part 1 - Finding Balance


Chapter 1 - A meeting of friends.

To the casual observer Major Dallas Hyatt stood looking out the window of the starliner Mara Lau's observation lounge, transfixed by the planet below. Those who knew Dallas may have thought she was a little tense as the liner's crew loaded her ship into one of the starliner's hangars. She wasn't, Dallas was looking at her reflection, wondering who the woman looking back was. It wasn't the first time Dallas had been injured badly enough to be thankful medical science was advanced enough to bring a person back from the dead or near death. She had been injured three times now, Doctors having to grow skin, muscle, bone and nerve to make her whole again. Each time physically healed, but left wondering if she was still the same woman her mother had given birth to. This time had been very bad. She had lost both legs, right arm and the right side of her face.

To the casual observer, Dallas looked the picture of health, 8 years in the Federation Marine Core had left her a fit, healthy looking young woman. A woman of medium height, fair skin, blond hair, blue eyes, she was 26.

The doctors had done a good job repairing her body, lab grown limbs and skin, cloned from her own tissue, seamlessly grafted, her face showed none of the horror she had gone through. Dallas had stepped on an antipersonnel mine, last thing she could recollect was a roaring white light, searing pain, then nothing, until she awoke in the Marine medical centre. Her skin was still new born pink in places, a few weeks on a beach somewhere would fix that.

She was on vacation, on her way home.

"Don't worry Major Hyatt, my people wont scratch your paint job."

It still amused Dallas she had been promoted for being blown up. Dallas had not noticed the starliners Captain, Jessica Ibanez, approach. Jessica was a smaller woman than Dallas, a little older, brunette, with gray eyes, she had been Dallas' commanding officer. Jessica radiated a calm authority that Dallas had always marveled at, when she gave an order, you knew it was the right choice, people under her command respected, admired and loved her. Not the sort of officer that led from behind, Jessica had always been first down the ramp, first through the door. When they left a world she made sure no one was left behind, even under fire, often at great danger to herself, that, in the end had been her undoing.

"They better not, my crew chief will have a fit, even if we do both outrank her".

They hugged, Dallas had not seen Jessica since the older woman had mustered out of the Marines four years ago.

"So how you doing, Dallas?", the Captain asked,

"Ask me again in a couple of months, Jess", she replied.

"Yeah, it's like that, those medics are real good at mending the body, but...", leaving the rest unsaid.

Captain Ibanez had been injured as badly as Dallas, had opted to leave the Marines, gotten a command on a starliner, Dallas had been promoted as her replacement.

"So how's civie street?"

"Great! Food's better, pay's better and I get my uniforms tailor made now.", both women laughed.

"Where you headed? Back home? See your Mum?"

"Yeah, I'm on extended sick leave, haven't seen my family for a while and I feel in need of a vacation",

Eight years in the service and Dallas had not taken more than a four day pass, she had managed to avoid any longer leave, now the psych girls and boys were making her take it all.

Whether or not she returned to the Marine Core was up to her.

Captain Ibanez gestured out the window, "OK, I gotta ask, why a Raptor? I know what you're like, you never spend money, I would have thought you'd have enough saved for a yacht by now.",

"Are you calling me frugal?"

"Actually, I would have said tight arsed!"

They both laughed again.

The ship in question was an ex-military assault ship, Raptor class, twenty metres long, ten metres wide. She had berths for fifteen, if you didn't mind sacrificing comfort and about half that if you did. This particular Raptor, 'Dragonfly 12', had been Dallas' first and only command. After her last tour it had been decommissioned, the Core was upgrading.

Raptors were legendary for the amount of abuse they could soak up and still remain space worthy. "Take you into hell and bring you back!", they used to say. Dallas' platoon had purchased it for her, repainted and refurbished, Dragonfly 12 looked almost new, but well used, a bit like the way Dallas felt. As Jessica glanced over Dallas' shoulder, her eyes grew wide in alarm, she swore softly,

"I have repeatedly told her to keep that, 'thing', in her apartment!",

Dallas turned, saw what the Captain did.

The woman was of small stature, well built, beautiful, with raven black hair and emerald green eyes, there was no mistaking her or her deadly, furry companion. Dallas recognised both of them at once, her heart raced, memories rushing in like the tide.

The woman's name was Kristen Karlston, Princess Kristen to some, Doctor Karlston to others. A genius of engineering, mathematics and computer science, she was also second in line to the throne of the Karlston Empire. They had been very close, at one time inseparable, Dallas had run afoul of the law, been given a last chance, she'd joined the Marines, it was that or jail. Dallas could not define the complex mix of emotions that welled up in her, she felt her eyes moisten, fought back tears.

At first glance it appeared she was talking to the large, fluffy stole wrapped around her neck and shoulders, pointing out details on the planet below.

Then the stole moved. Of the venomous creatures so far discovered in the galaxy, this one was in the top three. A Jrrr'le17, a big one. They were sentient, telepathic, practically immortal, could be utterly vicious, there was no antivenin, they could move too fast to see, were incredibly strong and could blend in anywhere, changing colour and pattern chameleon-like.

The other passengers had noticed as well and were moving quickly away.

"Don't worry Jess, she is a good friend, I like her."


"Yeah, she saved my life.", said Dallas quietly.

Not for the first time Captain Ibanez wondered just who Dallas really was, all she knew for sure was that Dallas was a competent soldier, a decent person and above all a good, good friend. Jessica would have to rethink the way she felt about the Jrrr'le, even though it scared her in a way she couldn't describe. Jessica Ibanez didn't scare easily. The woman turned, saw Dallas, so did the Jrrr'le, who slithered off the woman's shoulders and sinuously made her way across the observation lounge to Dallas, her coat a riot of changing colours and patterns.

"Oh no, no, no, no.", gasped the Captain, groping for a sidearm that wasn't there.

"Calm down Jess", said Dallas, "you worry to much. These two are friends of mine. I haven't seen either of them since I joined up."

Dallas bent down, allowed the creature to flow into her arms and around her shoulders.

"Hello Celia, how have you been?", Dallas said as she stroked the Jrrr'le, the creature purred and trilled in response,

{Hello Dallas, nice to see you, I am well, you have been hurt again}, Dallas felt the reply form in her mind.

"This is Captain Jessica, Celia, she's a friend of mine, Jess this is Celia.", the creature trilled again.

"Uh, Hello Celia, I'm gonna let you two catch up, I, uh, got Captainy things to do, I'll see you for dinner. 1900.", the Captain walked away, as quickly as she could without breaking into a run.

The smaller woman walked over, a joyous expression spread across her face.

"Hello Dallas, long time no see", it had been 8 years, "you look so handsome in your uniform."

Dallas took the smaller woman in her arms and the Jrrr'le wrapped itself around them both, trilling happily.

"I didn't think I would ever see you again, What are you doing here?", they said together, both women smiling, their cheeks wet with tears.

"Dallas, what have done you done to yourself? You've been hurt again.", Kristen said.

With that Dallas began to cry in earnest and did not stop for some time. Kristen led Dallas back through the vast ship to the apartment where she, Celia and her older sister Ashlay lived.

Princess Ashlay Karlston, heir to the throne of the Karlston Empire, same height as Dallas, somewhat more slender, brunette, with sparkling blue eyes.

"Yo! Sis! Look who's come to stay with us!"

Ashlay could not believe who she was seeing, tears welled up in her eyes.

"Will you look at you both?", Kristen chided, "I'll have to get a bucket and mop! Why so many tears! This is great! The fantastic four, together again! Ta,raa! Ta,raa!"

"Dallas, sorry, Major Hyatt! You are a sight to behold! You look so handsome in your uniform, a Major no less. Living a life of adventure seems to have been good to you.", Ashlay declared.

"Thank you, your highness,", Dallas bowed formally, then hugged her, they were both still crying.

"Ah, Dallas, we're travelling incognito", Kristen told her, "We'd rather our royalness not be common knowledge. Sis, lighten up, it's Dallas, we're not at court anymore, remember? We came out here to get away from titles and formality. You'd think she was Queen already."

"I'm sorry Dallas, but that uniform does suit you, and I, we, have missed you so. You must tell us everything.", declared Ashlay. Dallas took off her jacket, Ashlay saw the telltale signs of reconstruction, patches of newborn pink skin against Dallas' fading tan.

"You've been hurt again,", Ashlay said worried, "are you well now?"

"I'm fine, good as new physically, just wondering who the woman in the mirror is.", Dallas said quietly.

"That is to be expected, physical trauma can be healed, the mind is somewhat more fragile. Don't worry, we will remind you of who and what you are."

"Yes, Ma'am!", Kristen told Dallas, saluting, "We may not share blood, but we are sisters, the four of us! Waa! Hoo! This is gonna be great! Dallas has her own assault ship! A Raptor!! We should go find some adventure, excitement and wild times.", Kristen was ecstatic.

"Kristen, please, Dallas has just arrived, calm down a little."

"It's OK, Ash, really, kind of what I had in mind, go to a world with no people, just sun, surf and sandy beaches. First, I want to go back to Earth and see my family, see my Mum."

"Excellent, that is were we are headed! You must stay with us.", Ashlay said, "I really have missed you."

To Dallas' eye she looked troubled, something was on her mind, not just her precocious younger sister. Dallas made a mental note to ask her about it.

"Have you news of your family?", Ashlay asked her, "We have not seen them for some time. Your mother and I write, she sounds well, but misses her daughters being around,."

"As you know, Mum is serving her third term as Federation President, my brother David is her chief of staff. Angelina is building bridges, dams and shopping malls somewhere in the central Federation. Monique is on the outer rim, on a dig, part of her post grad archeology studies, unearthing some ancient ruins, got a letter a couple of months back, she sounded excited at what they had found, something else as well."

"What was it?", Ashlay asked.

"I'm not sure, she was more than a little cryptic, you know what Monique is like.", Dallas replied, the youngest Hyatt sister had always been quiet, more so since the death of her father and older brother.

"We could go there! The outer rim, on edge of the great black! Does your ship have that range?", Kristen asked.

"We could, but it wouldn't be as comfortable as this.", Dallas looked out across the patio, they had an excellent view of one the Mara Lau's parks, "It's hard to believe we're on a ship."

"Yes, this is a big vessel, I like it here, I feel safe, secure.", Ashlay said.

"Pity you don't leave the apartment much, you need to get out more, Sis, we should go surfing or dancing or skating, so many things to do here!", Kristen said, "Best purchase I ever made."

"You bought this apartment?", Dallas asked, eyes wide.

"Uh, yeah, it was a surprise for Ash here."

"And a wonderful surprise it was.", Ashlay said as she hugged her sister.

"The genius business must pay well Kristen.", Dallas told her.

"You have no idea, my darling, not just that, it's fun and very satisfying.", was Kristen's reply.

Ashlay had that worried look again.

"Well, anyway", Dallas changed the subject, "we are having dinner with our Captain tonight, at 7 o'clock"

Ashlay was surprised, "You know her?"

"Captain Jessica is Dallas' old CO.", Kristen told her sister.

"How do you know that?", asked Dallas.

"Oh, You know, word gets around.", was all Kristen would say, "Hey Dallas, I have an idea, you need some retail therapy, LET'S SHOP!! CHAAARRRGGGE!! or cash, which ever you prefer!"

"OK, sounds good, first, let's go get my bags from the Dragonfly, I need to change, they should have her aboard by now. After you have a look around on board, the idea of a eight week voyage may not seem so glamorous.", Dallas told her.

"Don't be so sure, Dallas, remember the basic premise, she is crazy!", Ashlay said.

"You betcha, who wants to be sane, Ta,raa!, Ta,raa!, To the hangar!"

Dallas, Kristen and Celia entered one of the smaller hangers where Dragonfly 12 was parked, a couple of the Mara Lau's crew were admiring the recently refurbished assault ship,

"Nice boat Major Hyatt, we've not hooked her up to the ships power or data systems yet, do you want us to Ma'am?", one of the engineering staff asked.

"No, that's alright, I don't think that will be necessary. Not like I'm allowed to fly her in or out, and I wont be using her until we get to Earth.", Dallas told them.

"Very well Ma'am, you have exclusive use of this hangar, as per the Captain's orders. No one else besides yourself or engineering staff have authorization. If that's all, we'll leave you to it. If there is anything you need, just ask."

"Very well ensign, thank you.", Dallas replied.

"This is so cool Dallas, most of the people we know that own ships have poncy space yachts that look like they would break in a stiff breeze.", Kristen told her, she walked around the assault ship, running her hands over the new paintwork, examining the sensor arrays, weapon ports and empty stores pylons.

Dallas laughed, "Space yachts are actually pretty robust, they have to be, but yes, a Raptor does look all business, no frills. I love the camouflage job my crew chief did, not very regulation, but she will be hard to spot on the ground."

"What sort of range does she have?", Kristen asked.

"Well, with just the four of us, it's pretty open ended, life support will recycle air and water indefinitely. The generators are good for about twenty years and this is a brand new one. Marissa, my crew chief made all the modifications she'd been dying to do, but the regulations wouldn't allow.", Dallas said wryly.

"Like what?", asked Kristen, being technically minded she wanted to know the in's and out's of all the ships systems.

"Well, she has a new over-rated warp field generator, military grade inertial dampers, so we can jump straight to max warp, top speed is faster than most larger ships. The shield generators are over-rated like all assault ships, that's so we can go from orbit to ground as fast as possible, to avoid anti-aircraft fire, triple A and the like. Marissa added a lot of creature comforts, a bathtub! The bunks have been removed and replaced with two cabins, she added a real galley and a lounge area. The computer capacity has been uprated, we have a huge selection of music, movies, books and reference material. Stuff like that."

Dallas lowered the main ramp at the rear of the ship, waiting for them was a six wheel all terrain vehicle that could take seven Marines, normally there were two, instead of the second ATV there was a small power boat on a trailer, four metres long. Stored along one wall was a three and a half metre outrigger canoe. On the other side of the bay were a couple of surfboards and sailboards. Dallas had always loved the sea and water sports. Behind the boat were two fuel-cell powered dirt-bikes.

"Wow!!", exclaimed Kristen, "do we have diving gear?"

"Oh yeah, and I bought water ski's, wave boards and a couple of para-foils. And Jessica says I don't like to spend money.", Dallas told her, laughing. Because she had not taken any substantial leave, Dallas had saved a tidy sum of money in the eight years she had been a Marine.

"So you really are serious about hitting the beach for a while.", Kristen said, she was poking about in the equipment lockers, mentally noting what was where.

"Yes Ma'am, I would much rather be in the wild than a big city, you know that.", Dallas replied quietly, she had never really liked the public attention that came with being the President's daughter. Less so after the death of her father and brother.

"I have some camping gear and other stuff on board Dallas. This is going to be great!!", Kristen was excited about really getting away from civilization.

"Dallas,", Kristen asked, suddenly sombre, "are you, I don't know how to put this, you know, OK, about how things turned out?"

"Which part? Getting hurt, getting in trouble, getting the choice of the Marines or jail?", Dallas asked.

"All of it, I mean, I helped you get busted, remember?", Kristen replied, "I just don't know what to say..."

"Look, it's OK, really, it all turned out for the best, I mean that, honestly, don't go upsetting yourself.", Dallas told her, she hugged her friend, "I really have missed you, Celia and Ashlay."

{so have we, Dallas, so have we}, Celia's reply formed in her mind.

"Come on, I'll show you the rest of the ship", Dallas told them.

They left the rear vehicle bay and walked into the crew quarters section, "As you can see the internal layout has change quite a bit, over here to the right is a bathroom, with a BATH!!", Dallas still couldn't believe how much the interior of her ship had changed, compared to how it was previously, Dragonfly 12 was almost luxurious. There were two cabins, the galley area had been enlarged, with a dinning table, seating bench's along the right wall and forward bulkhead.

"This is like a dream Kristen, we used to cram fifteen troops in here! We had bunks along the port side, three high, five deep. Now there are the two cabins, look at this galley, It's great!! Now we can have sit down meals! We used to just heat prepackaged meals and eat in the vehicle bay or outside if we were on the ground."

"What did you all do in flight?", asked Kristen, "How did you fit fifteen people in here?"

"Well, we usually didn't fly longer than a day or so, normally we were ferried in a larger ship. The Raptors were deployed when we got to the area of operations. The longest flight we ever took in her was a week, that was hell, the only thing that got us through that was a good supply of reading material.", Dallas shuddered at the memory. Kristen went to the combined galley and commons area, activated the library computer terminal, "Looks like I need to upgrade a few software systems here.", Kristen told Dallas, "Nothing major, just a few improvements. I'll get on it straight away."

"What sort of things have you been doing? Was it all combat?", Kristen asked.

"No, I only saw combat four times, mostly we were doing disaster relief, helping rebuild after natural disasters, cyclone's, earthquake's, tsunami's, some new colony development, building spaceports, roads, dams, canals, engineer stuff, we were all really glad of that. The Federation hasn't fought a real war in over a hundred and fifty years.", Dallas told here.

"Wow, not like the Empire, some of our world's are always fighting someone, usually another of our world's. I hate it, so does Ashlay and our parents. Dad spends most of his time keeping our subject princes from ripping each others throats out. Ashlay dreads the idea of becoming Queen and I wouldn't have the job no matter what the perks. Not very loyal to my people I'm afraid."

"I don't blame you, I wouldn't be President for anything, come to think of it, I wouldn't want to rise much higher than the rank of major.", Dallas replied.

"I often think we were born to the wrong parents. Maybe gypsies swapped us at birth.", said Kristen.

"Maybe", laughed Dallas, "I'll show you the cockpit, we'll have to give you some flight training."

"I already have my ticket Dallas.", Kristen told her, "I've been busy while you've been away. Your Mum taught me to fly. I have my own runabout in a hangar on the other side of the ship, where my workshop is."

"Did she? She taught me to fly sailplanes when I was about six years old. Mum loves to fly, I wonder how much time she gets these days.", Dallas mused.

"Your Mum goes flying at least once a week, she says it clears her mind, helps her stay focused.", Kristen told Dallas. Kristen and Ashlay had stayed with the Hyatt's for six years after Dallas had 'enlisted' in the Marines.

"I'm glad Mum had you, Celia and Ashlay to help her through all the strife I caused.", Dallas told her, "Do you think she has forgiven me?"

"What do you mean?", asked Kristen, "You do realise your mother knows what we did."

"What?", Dallas was horrified, her well publicised descent into crime and subsequent trial, to the outside world would have looked like a teenage girl acting out after her father and brother had been murdered. In reality, Dallas and Kristen had plotted and schemed to avenge the deaths of their loved ones. They had conducted their own investigation, using methods that were in no way legal, against people who had distanced themselves from the heinous crime they had payed others to do, all for the sake of power and money.

Most of them were dead, Dallas had seen to it personally, with Kristen's help. Afterwards Dallas and Kristen had not spoken of what they had done to anybody, or so Dallas had thought.

"Well she is the President, Fleet Intelligence kept her informed of what were doing the whole time, Carla my not have approved of our methods, but she certainly didn't mind the outcome." Dallas didn't know what to think, she had been carrying the guilt and shame of her descent into crime for eight years. It was what had driven her to perform as well as she could as a Marine, to go the extra yard, forgoing leave, taking on extra duties, volunteering for the hardest, nastiest duties, reenlisting for a second four year hitch. "So you're telling me my mother knew? All this time?", Dallas was floored, "I knew Fleet Intel was aware, they tried to recruit me in basic training. I said no."

"Yeah, I know, I'm glad you didn't, it made things way simpler.", Kristen told her.

They sat in the cockpit for some time, Kristen checking the Raptors software systems, Dallas staring out through the canopy at the hangar doors, she had spent eight years thinking she had shamed and embarrassed her mother and family, now it seemed as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders, the tears came again. Celia flowed off Kristen's shoulders and onto Dallas'.

{Dallas, don't be upset, you did what you had to}, Celia told her, the words forming in her mind, {most people thought you were reacting to your grief and anger}

"I was Celia, I was."

"Well I've done all I can here for now, I've linked up with the Mara Lau's main computer, downloaded some software upgrades and other stuff, new music, movies, updated the star charts, upgraded the security software. So Dallas where are we going? Which planet did you have in mind?", Kristen asked.

"Well, there are quite a few M class planets we could go to, places that had mining colonies, abandoned after the ore ran out. Couple of places spring to mind, lots of water, not much land, so the weather is very mild.", Dallas said.

"Mining worlds that had to import everything?"

"Yes, they will have plants and animals, nothing dangerous, plenty to eat for the four of us, but not for any substantial population." Dallas started calling up geographical data on a dozen or so worlds from the ships data base.

"Why don't we go visit Monique at her dig? I haven't seen her since your sister Angelina graduated."

"Kristen, that's almost a three month trip from here! I could cope, I don't doubt that you could as well, but what about Ashlay? Do you really want to subject your sister to a trip like that in this ship? It would be a better if we went to Earth, saw Mum and then get the Mara Lau to drop us a little closer."

"I guess you're right, Ashlay isn't as stoic as we are.", Kristen said.

"Nutter, maybe you should have enlisted with me.", Dallas replied, laughing.

"We should collect your luggage and get you that retail therapy!", Kristen told Dallas.

"OK, I need some colour and movement, get my mind off things."

With that they collected Dallas' bags and headed back to the apartment. On the way Dallas started thinking about the first time she had met Kristen, Ashlay and Celia, twelve years had passed, suddenly it seemed like only yesterday they had met.


Chapter 2 - Turn back the clock

12 years earlier.

"Dallas, you have visitors", said her mother, Carla Hyatt, vice President of the Federation, "they are here to study and will be staying with us for a while." Dallas had been badly injured a year ago, racing with her older brother, Michael, along forest a track on snowmobiles, she had hit a logging truck, at speed. The fuel cell ruptured, caught fire as she lay trapped beneath the truck. Dallas had broken both legs, her arm, her back. She had massive head trauma and third degree burns. It had taken over a year to recover. Although the physical damage had been repaired, leaving no outward signs of injury, she was still learning to walk, talk and eat by herself again.

"Dallas, this their royal highness' Princess Kristen and Princess Ashlay, from the Empire",

"Oh, PLEASE!, Madame Vice President! no titles!",said the younger girl Kristen, who was the same age as Dallas.

"I agree Madame Vice President", said the other girl Ashlay, older by a year, "We get enough of that at home! I assure you, we can title with the best of them!"

"OK, OK!", replied Carla, "we'll forgo the formalities around the house." Her mother hoped that two real life princess' would be a morale boost, both girls were very beautiful and Dallas' eyes were wide with awe.

"ar,are y,you b,both r,r,really p,princess's,ss?",

"Yep, we surely are, ain't we sis?", replied Kristen

"Heck yeah, all eli-gance and reef-inement!"

Dallas could tell she was going to like these two.

"wha, what's th,tha,that?", Dallas asked, trying to point at the furry creature the younger girl had draped around her shoulders, barely able to lift her arm with anything resembling coordination.

"She's a Jrrr'le, her name is Celia."

The Jrrr'le slithered onto the bed and into Dallas' lap, Celia began to purr.

"She likes you, she says your brain has been hurt, but it's on the mend, she'll help you get better", Kristen declared.

"Y,y,you can share m,my r,room if you, w,want to", Dallas could feel something inside her mind shift, it was like a morning breeze blowing away a thick fog.

"Mum, would that be OK?", asked Dallas, quite clearly, without stuttering. Carla was amazed, some of the best doctors in the Federation had said it would take many more months for Dallas to regain her full mental and motor skills.

"Absolutely, would you like that Kristen?"

"Heck yeah, I can teach Dallas the finer points o' be'in' a princess, reef-inement and eli-gance and such like"

With that Kristen and Celia moved into Dallas' room. Dallas' recovery progressed at a rate which had her doctors wondering what was going on until they learned who she was sharing her bed with. Jrrr'le's are both telepathic and empathic, but there was more, much more. Jrrr'le's emit a biogenic field, part of their empathic ability, just being near one made a person healthier, sleeping with one had a far more pronounced effect, which was why Dallas' recovery was so abrupt. Jrrr'le's have the ability to selectively change the nature of the venom they produce. The compounds produced can eat through most materials, kill or heal. They were sentient.

"Why didn't you just ask us?", Kristen said. Dallas' father, President David Hyatt, organised Celia her own passport and Federation citizenship, which as a sentient being she was legally entitled to. It also quashed any moves to study Celia without her consent. Even so, when Celia thanked the President herself, it still surprised him,

{I wish to thank you President David, I will always remember your kindness}

"Not at all Celia, thank you, my wife and I will always be grateful to you. Dallas was miserable, you've made her whole again.", the President told her.

{I will watch over your family and protect them with my life}, Celia told him.

Michael, Dallas' older brother, had been feeling guilty over his sisters accident, was relieved that she was going to be alright, in far less time than what the doctors had said initially. By the second week of their stay Dallas was able to dress, eat and walk unaided.

King William V and his wife Queen Margarette, who had never been to Earth, stayed for several months, glad to be away from the constant intrigues of court. The king showed his wife the sights, with their daughters safe with the Hyatt's, they travelled to every corner of the globe, taking in the rich culture of Old Earth, wishing that their own realm was as enlightened.

Back in New York, life settled into a pleasant routine, Ashlay enrolled in the local high school to finish her final year, attending with Dallas and her older sister Angelina and brother David. Dallas' sisters and brothers got along well with their royal guests, it was hard not to, everyone who met them found them articulate, intelligent and polite. Michael, who was in his final year of university was a little taken aback when Kristen enrolled at Columbia University where he attended, as they had common fields of interest they got along well and he found her to be a more than able study partner, even if she was eight years younger. Ashlay and Kristen saw to it that Dallas' younger sister Monique did not feel left out, at 12 she had already decided that to be an archaeologist was a fine thing to aim for. Kristen built her a ground penetrating radar unit and they spent hours scanning the grounds of the Presidential residence together, finding shards of broken crockery, hoping against all reason to unearth native american arrowheads or other artifacts. Kristen, at 14 was a genuine, one of a kind genius, she studied mathematics, computer science and electronics. Some people found her intellect somewhat intimidating. Within the first week of living in the Presidential residence, Kristen found and disabled over two dozen audio and video bugging devices.

"You definitely are a handy girl to have around", President Hyatt told her at dinner.

"Why thank you mister President, Oh and by the way, I've reconfigured all the network firewalls, both here and in your office."

"How did you do that?", asked the President, after a significant pause.

"The firewall configuration had so many back doors and security holes big enough to fly a star freighter through, if I were you, I'd start looking for moles, in your official and personal security,"

"Why do you say that, Kristen?", asked the President.

"Well, quite a few people are very interested in what you, the lady vice President and your government are doing."

"Are you sure?", he asked.

"Quite, I have the evidence if you would like to review it, could you pass the salt please?"

The evidence that Kristen showed him was a powder keg, with the fuse already lit. The Federation Justice Department began it's own investigation and began issuing warrants.

Fleet Command began it's own parallel investigation, uncovering disturbing evidence and passing it along to the Justice Department. Kristen unveiled her pride and joy, 'Sentinel', a sophisticated computer security, anti virus and counter surveillance program. The Federation Government and Fleet Command put it into service straight away. But the damage had been done, within a month Dallas' father and brother Michael would be dead.

"I have to tell you Will, Kristen has been a huge help here. What she has uncovered so far, will have far reaching consequences, both here and in the Empire.", President David told King William.

"I know, I want them to stay here, where it's safe, Ashlay is next in line to the throne, but has no desire to rule over the snake-pit the Empire has become.", the King confided, "What a mess, if the Empire were a society like the Federation, I wouldn't worry, as things are, she see's a very bleak future. Poor girl just wants to be an artist, she has great talent for art and music, but no interest in politics."

"It must be hard, to not have any say in your own destiny. Ashlay and Kristen are welcome to stay as long as they want, whenever they want.", President David told him.

"Thanks, You certainly have come along way since we graduated, I'm not sure your association with me is seen as a good thing.", replied the King.

"Yes, people just can't get it into their heads that we are just friends who went to Uni together. This crazy talk of amalgamation is absurd! Where do they get these ideas?", the President was more than a little worried.

"In principle it sounds good", King William replied, "but think of the logistics! Reforming 180 worlds, how would we do it? Most of my subject Prince's would be in open revolt at the very idea. Some of them don't let their people attend school, let alone vote. I dread going back."

"I bet, your visit is coming to an end all to soon my friend, Carla and I have enjoyed your company.", President David told him.

"Margarette and I will miss the girls, but knowing they are safe here is well worth it.", the reluctant King said.

All to soon the King and Queen of the Karlston Empire had to leave, King William was afraid of what mischief was unfolding in his absence.

"Come along girls, the motorcade will leave without you!", Dallas' mother told them.

"Mum, can I ride with the King and Queen?", asked Dallas.

"I don't see why not.", her mother replied.

Ashlay had already said her goodbye's and was not going to the spaceport with her parents, she was sad at their leaving and didn't want to be teary at the departure gate, Dallas' brother Michael was going to ride with his father, he liked the media attention that being part of the first family got him. It helped his college romances no end. The other Hyatt offspring had commitments, as did Vice President Carla.

"Don't worry, we will look after your girls as if they were our own.", Carla told the Queen.

"I think they want you to adopt them, Carla. Ashlay thinks that would get her off the hook secession wise.", Queen Margarette said.

"I'm glad Will has you Margarette, he needs someone like you by his side, he's a good man, but you already know that. Be safe.", Carla told the queen, a vague feeling of foreboding she could not define swept over her.

The motorcade left the Presidential residence in Manhattan, they went by road, in two limousines, mainly to prolong the journey to the John F. Kennedy spaceport. The official escort was more tradition than something that was felt necessary. Both cars were flanked by antique Harley-Davidson police motorcycles, with a lightly armed Secret Service car in the rear. Both limousines were flying Federation flags,

"Sorry, Will, we don't have any Empire flags.", President Hyatt told the King sheepishly.

"Don't worry about it! I really don't care, besides this is not a state visit. We're on vacation, remember!", was the Kings reply.

The President and his son were in the lead car, with the King and Queen following, the two girls, Kristen and Dallas chattering all the way, pointing out the sights, oohing and aah'ing at everything they saw.

"New York is the greatest city in the world!", declared Dallas.

"Absolutely, there is so much to see and do! I hope Ashlay has fun at the Guggenheim.", replied Kristen.

"I'm sure she will, it was marvelous, we went last week.", the Queen said. It was a journey of about an hour normally, but a detour due to construction, through Brooklyn added another half hour to their travel time. They drove along Linden Boulevard, as they approached the suburb of Ozone Park, Celia let out a strange noise,

{Something is about to happen, something bad, an attack}, Celia told them.

Two anti-tank rockets streaked out of nowhere, hitting the limousine carrying the President and his son, then two more. The car disintegrated in ball of fire and smoke. The police escort was down, all of them lying on the road, they were not moving. The car carrying the King, Queen and the two girls slid to a halt.

{Everyone out, NOW!}, Celia urged them.

The King had the door open and was propelling his wife and the two girls out onto the street, the secret service car raced up to them, just as they were clear of the limousine, it was hit by a rocket, it too went up in a flash and roar, the driver not making it out. The secret service car was hit next, one of the agents was down, the King grabbed his carbine and dragged him off the street with the help of the remaining two agents, they herded the Queen and the two girls into the dubious safety of a restaurant entrance.

"CODE RED, CODE RED, WE ARE TAKING FIRE, REPEAT, WE ARE TAKING FIRE!", screamed one of the agents into a handset, he gave their location and was hit by rifle fire, he went down. Kristen ran to him, grabbed his weapon and dragged him to cover, firing at someone on the rooftop across the street, he was hit and fell over the parapet onto the sidewalk below. She took aim at a man who was aiming a rocket launcher at them from another rooftop across the street, she fired, he fell. Another man ran around the corner of the restaurant, Celia hit him with a jet of venom, he screamed, dropping his handgun and staggered onto the road, his clothes smoking, his face dissolving into bloody ruin, he took three steps and fell, dead. Then seemed to melt into the roadway.

Celia took on the colour and texture of her surroundings and disappeared, a few moments later they heard screaming from the other rooftop where rockets had come from. Another two men exited the alley across the street, Kristen shot them both. All Dallas could do was watch, as what was left of the car that had carried her father and brother burned.

Celia was back.

{That was all of them, I killed both men on the rooftop, we are safe now}.

Queen Margarette went to Dallas and held her close, "Don't look, Dallas, it's over now.", she didn't know what else to say.

{King William they were after you and the Queen}

"Are you sure Celia", He asked her.

{Yes, I went into their minds before they died, they thought we were in the lead car}

"But Why, Why?", asked the King.

{Something to do with ''amalgamation'}

"Oh, no, no.", was all he could say.

Backup for the Secret Service agents arrived, as did local police. Overhead a news telecast hover had filmed the whole action, billions of people across the Federation had seen their President killed over an unfounded rumour, seen a fourteen year old girl drag a grown man to safety, then shoot dead four assassins, one at distance of 200 metres. She was hailed a hero, as was Celia.

It was small comfort.


Chapter 3 - Journey begins

back to the present

The starliner Mara Lau broke orbit and made for the next system on her route. A truly beautiful ship, both inside and out, over eight kilometres long, four kilometers across at her widest and two kilometers high. She had theatres, cinemas, shopping malls, quite a few parks, many gardens, an artificial surf break, skate park, a huge ice rink, plus all the amenities that people expect on a cruise liner. Mara Lau could carry over a million people, not all tourists, some were permanent residents, retirees and students mainly. The ship had a regular route, visiting around forty systems, it took around a two years to complete, so that her permanent residents could have regular contact with their loved ones and friends. Travel between the ship and the planets they were orbiting was free for the families of permanent residents.

Many people saved their whole lives just so they could retire to a ship like the Mara Lau. She carried general cargo and in the event of an emergency, functioned as a hospital ship, there were two hospitals on board, all with excellent facilities. There were day care centres, kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. In addition she had a well equipped and staffed university, students from all over the Federation and beyond came aboard to study. The previous owners had let the ship decline, the new owners had refurbished, renovated and updated all her systems and once again she was state of the art. Travel aboard a ship like her was not just for the very wealthy, Mara Lau catered to all walks of life, from backpackers to five star accommodation. Less like a spaceship and more like a small to medium resort town, living was easy and comfortable for her passengers, residents and crew.

Dallas moved into the large apartment that Ashlay, Kristen and Celia lived in.

"This is the most beautiful ship I have ever seen,", proclaimed Dallas, "small wonder Jessica is so happy in her new command."

Dallas, Kristen and Celia were together constantly. Dallas spent as much time with her friend and old CO as the Captain's duties would allow. Eventually Captain Ibanez warmed to Celia.

"You know, as a sentient being, Celia has the same rights as a Federation citizen that we do.", Dallas told the Captain.

"You're kidding me."

"Nope, has her own passport and citizenship, she really is very nice, telepathic as well."

"Oh no, that's all I needed to hear", but afterwards, the Captain asked Kristen if Celia had any special needs that needed to be met.

"No,", Kristen replied, "but she does like hunting the vermin that get on board, rats and the like."

"That's a bonus, get a few for me, Celia", the Captain told her, Celia trilled in reply. They dinned at the Captain's table most evenings, slept late and generally enjoyed themselves.

"Celia says this trip is exactly what you needed Dallas.", Kristen told her.

Dallas couldn't agree more.

After about two months and four star systems, Dallas noticed that Ashlay was very subdued, spending most of her time in their apartment, painting and drawing.

Dallas decided to ask what was wrong.

"It's Kristen, she's been, well, doing things back home."

"Like what, 'things'?"

"Well, at first I didn't notice, you know how secretive she can be."

"Ashlay, what things? Is she in trouble?"

"Lots, we both are, I think, I am not sure, not just from our fathers enemies, maybe from the law as well."

"What?! Has Kristen turned to a life of crime?", Dallas asked jokingly, as the colour drained from Ashlay's face she knew she had struck a cord.

"Tell me, what is it?"

"Kristen crashed a few planet wide computer networks, left a more than a few of our fathers enemies without a credit to their name."

Dallas' eyebrows went up, "Anything else?"

"Prince Mason, our fathers greatest threat, has been building capitol ships, well, several have suffered inexplicable catastrophic failures, resulting in the loss of the ship and all crew."

Dallas swallowed hard, "Anything else?", she asked quietly.

"Half a dozen, eight museums have been burgled, She wont tell me the exact amount, but it could run into tens, maybe hundreds of millions of credits."

Just then Kristen returned with Celia, they had been shopping at one of the malls, she took one look at them and started laughing.

"What's so funny?", asked Dallas.

"Ooh!, tens, maybe hundreds of millions, Ha! Try billions, around one hundred and forty three billion!", she said triumphantly, Celia trilled.

Dallas and Ashley were thunderstruck, "How much?", they whispered together, looking nervously around the suite.

"Oh, don't worry there are no bugs in here, I sweep every other day and I've upgraded the apartment's security. In round numbers it's about one hundred and forty three billion, give or take a few hundred million, from around a hundred and twenty worlds. We dinning with the Captain tonight?"

Kristen sat down and started flicking through the vid channels with the sound off.

"Besides,", she said over her shoulder, "the less money they have, the fewer ships they can build, the less trouble they can cause."

Finally, Dallas found her voice, "How...",

"How have I hidden that much money? Well, in the Federation of course, trusts, stocks, bonds, a few companies, bank accounts, you know, stuff."

"Like what, 'stuff'?"

"You know, like this ship, we own the company that owns this ship."

"You are kidding aren't you?", they both asked her, she shook her head and smiled broadly.

"Well, now the cats out of the bag, so to speak, Dallas, there is something I need to ask you."

"What's that?", Dallas asked.

Kristen came over to Dallas, got down on one knee, took her left hand, slipped a ring on her finger, Dallas looked down at a diamond the size of a robins egg.

"Dallas, will you marry me?", she asked very solemnly, Dallas could tell she was serious,

"You don't have to answer straight away, just think about it for a while."

"OK, I will, think about it, seriously, you know I love you, really, but, I gotta say, You are FREAKIN' CRAZY!"

"And your point was?"

Dallas laughed and hauled the smaller woman onto the couch where she and Ashlay sat, they both hugged her.

"Hey, if we get married, does that mean I get to be a princess as well?", mused Dallas, "Hmm, Princess Dallas, has a nice ring to it."

"Sounds like a boat.", replied Kristen, they all laughed.

They dinned that night, as they usually did, at the Captain's table,

"Whoa, that's a big rock Dal', you gettin' hitched?", asked the Captain.

"She hasn't said 'yes' yet,", Kristen said, "on other hand she didn't say 'no' either, don't worry Captain, if Dallas comes to her senses, you will be the first to know. There will be a ceremony to perform."

"If I new you were batting for the all girl team, I'd have hit on you years ago.", declared the Captain.

"Don't be silly, you were my superior officer, that would have been fraternisation, they court marshal you for that, shoot you at dawn!", replied Dallas.

Celia was right, this trip was turning out to be more fun than she had had in ten years. The woman that looked back at Dallas from mirrors didn't look as unfamiliar as she did a month ago. After dinner the four of them went to one of the many nightclubs on the ship. They were watching Kristen dancing with Lieutenant Commander Stan Riley, the senior engineering officer. Celia was asleep in the booth, between Dallas and Jessica.

"Does Kristen ever go anywhere without Celia?", asked the Captain.

"No,", replied Ashlay, "and that's a good thing, you wouldn't like her without Celia."

"What do you mean?"

"Kristen is schizophrenic,", replied Dallas, "Celia keeps her sane."


"When we were younger Kristen was a handful, she claimed everyone and everything were plotting against her, she was often violent, abusive, even with medication. When she found Celia it was a godsend.", said Ashlay.

"Are you serious?"

"I'm afraid so, when the medication worked, it made her little more than an animated vegetable."

"Is Celia's effect on her permanent?"

"I'm not sure, hey! Celia!,", Dallas said poking the Jrrr'le, who had changed her coat to match the upholstery of the booth they were sitting in making her almost impossible to see unless you looked very closely. Celia opened one eye, her coat changing to an abstract tortoise shell pattern,

"This effect you have, is it permanent for Kristen like it was for me?", Dallas felt the reply form in her mind,

{Up to a point, mine and Kristen's interaction is mutually beneficial, but we need regular contact}

"Celia says they need to make regular contact."

"Whoa, can you talk to Celia as well?", asked the Captain, "hang on, what do you mean like it was for you?", Captain Ibanez had stopped referring to Celia as 'it' and 'that thing' weeks ago.

"Celia has ears Jess, anyone can talk to her. I had a brain injury when I first met these three, Celia healed me."

"The snow mobile accident?", the Captain asked, "I was your CO, I read your file.", she parenthesized.

Dallas nodded.

"I remember seeing that other Jrrr'le on the news when, um, anyway, scared the crap outa me,", said the Captain, "that's why Celia spooked me so much. I saw what a Jrrr'le can do. Those thugs dissolving into the street and rooftop."

Dallas almost choked on her drink, Ashlay looked surprised, even Celia took notice.


"That was Celia, Jess."



Celia winked at Captain Ibanez who took a long pull on her drink, then it dawned on her just who these two svelte young woman were.

"Please keep it to yourself Captain, we are travelling incognito.", Ashlay said and then, "Captain, who owns the Mara Lau?"

"A company called Ashkris Leisure bought the shipping line that owns her and three others, plus a couple of star freighters."

Dallas gagged on her drink again, Ashlay looked surprised, again.

"You developing a drinking problem soldier?", asked the Captain.

"No, but I think I will be getting married.", replied Dallas, Ashlay laughed, Celia trilled.

"Hey Ash, do you think you could cope with having me as a sister in law?", Dallas asked, looking at the huge sparkling diamond on her finger.

Ashlay laughed, and replied, "Gold digger!"

It dawned on the Captain just who exactly she worked for, "Ash - Kris", she said slowly, nodded and took another long pull on her drink.

"Don't worry Captain, Dallas and I only found out a few hours ago ourselves."

"Ashlay, please, call me Jessica", said the Captain smiling, then taking Ashlay's hand, "Tell me, do you have anyone special in your life?".

Ashlay laughed, "Are all Marines gold diggers?!"

"Hypothetically speaking, if we got married, would I get to be a princess?", asked the Captain.

"At least Princess Jessica doesn't sound like a boat.", said Dallas. They all laughed. Kristen came back from the dance floor with Lieutenant Commander Riley, he was about to sit down when his pager chimed,

"Please excuse me ladies, duty calls", he bowed and left.

"Looks like Dallas is going to say yes, Kristen.", her sister joked.

"If I did, and your Dad locks me up in a tower or throws me in a dungeon, you will bust me out wont you?", asked Dallas.

"Yes darlink, of course I would.", Kristen hugged her, adding, "He wouldn't lock you up, he likes you."

"Kristen, how did Jessica get this job?", asked Dallas.

"I myself ponder that at times", Captain Ibanez said, "'coz I originally applied for a position on a freighter, as first officer"

"Easy answer there, I looked at your service record and you were the best woman for the job, being Dallas' old CO helped a bit."

"Really?", asked the Captain.

"To right! The other applicants were fat, old, piss pots, that I wouldn't have given a bath duck to command."

"Really?", asked the Captain again.

"YES!!, it wasn't just the capital outlay, if I'm going to live on a ship, I want someone competent in charge."

Dallas had to ask, "How much did this shipping line cost?"

"Well the original company was about to go belly up and I got it cheap, around a eighty billion credits."

It was the Captain's turn to gag on her drink, "What do you do, rob banks?"

"How did you know that?", Kristen replied, smiling broadly.

"She's kidding right?"

The other two women looked more than a trifle uncomfortable.

"...not kidding, OK"

"Don't worry", said Kristen, "none of them were in the Federation, and the Empire has no extradition treaty with the Federation, besides, I have friends and contacts in the government and Fleet Command."

Lieutenant Riley returned to their table, trying to not look concerned, failing miserably.

"Captain, we have a problem in engineering, we need you on the bridge."

"What is it Stan?"

"We should talk elsewhere.", glancing significantly to the other women at the table.

"It's OK Stan, keep it to yourself, but these lady's are the ships owners."

Lieutenant Riley looked as though a large polar bear had entered the nightclub wearing a tuxedo. He recovered his composure and said,

"We have just found evidence of a sabotage attempt, both physical and in some software systems, the virus detection and security software just alerted us."

Kristen took a small portable terminal from her handbag and opened it, looking at the screen she pursed her lips and frowned,

"Looks like it's in more than one system, helm, navigation and comms are affected, engineering is unaffected, 'Sentinel V' has isolated the virus code and is eradicating it."

"How do you know about 'Sentinel V'?", Riley asked, "I mean, I was surprised that we had it, I was under the impression it was military only before I got this job.", Commander Riley, like most of the crew was ex Fleet Command or Marine Core.

"I wrote it for Fleet Command when I was fourteen, that's why we have the latest version, Fleet are only up to version four.", Kristen replied distantly as she navigated her way through system after system.

"Hey! You shouldn't have access to any of those systems!"

"I'm the owner remember?, besides, I wrote most of the software on this ship, Captain?"

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"I need access to central engineering.", Kristen looked concerned.

"OK, Commander give the lady what ever assistance she needs, Dallas go with her."

"Aye Captain", both officers replied. Captain Ibanez took a com unit from her belt, "This is the Captain, go to alert status orange."

"Aye Captain.", came the reply.

"Let's leave discreetly, and Stan,", the Captain said, smiling happily.

"Yes Captain?"

"Smile, Let's not alarm the punters, OK?"

"Aye Captain."

They left the club, the Captain smiling and returning greetings and waves to the few passengers who noticed them.

"See, Captain Jessica,", said Kristen, "this is why I hired you. You radiate confidence and charm."


Dallas Attractions To the casual observer Major Dallas Hyatt stood looking out the window of the starliner Mara Lau's observation lounge, transfixed by the planet below. Those who knew Dallas may have thought she was a little tense as the liner's crew loaded her ship into one of the starliner's hangars. She wasn't, Dallas was looking at her reflection, wondering who the woman looking back was. It wasn't the first time Dallas had been injured badly enough to be thankful medical science was advanced enough to bring a person back from the dead or near death. She had been injured three times now, Doctors having to grow skin, muscle, bone and nerve to make her whole again.

Dallas Hyatt is my favorite - thanks for posting Chapter One!!!


That was the first 3 Chapters, I'll post the next 3!


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - Trouble comes a knocking

Down in main engineering there were a lot of concerned faces, officers and crewmen alike.

"What's our status?, asked Commander Riley.

"Well, a few minutes ago 'Sentinel V' went 'hot', started putting up firewalls around all our critical systems, but we have lost helm, navigation and comms."

"It's only temporary", Kristen said as she went to the main engineering console and started querying systems all over the ship,

"Sentinel has isolated the problem areas and is eradicating the virus kernels where ever he encounters them."

Kristen's fingers flew over keyboards and touch screens, almost to fast to see, watching data flow across displays to fast to read.

"Looks like Sentinel caught it in time, Good dog!, Still response on all these displays is about two thirds what it should be." The engineering team thought they were seeing an android or cybernetic goddess in action.

"Anything I can do?", asked Dallas.

"Yeah", opening her handbag Kristen took out a small unmarked, matt black object the size of a makeup compact, it had a lead wrapped around it, "could you plug me in?"

She handed Dallas the end of the lead, bent her head forward and to the left, exposing a small socket implanted in the bone just behind her right ear. Dallas inserted the plug into the skull socket and Kristen placed the small black box on the console interface panel.

"Watch my back will you", she said quietly to Dallas, "we have a traitor amongst us."

Kristen sat in front of the main engineering console, with Celia curled in her lap, she leaned back, relaxed and closed her eyes. A few seconds later she was looking back at them from several screens, Celia by her side.

"How did her, um, whatever it is, kitty, get in there with her?", asked one of the engineering staff.

"They have a telepathic link.", Dallas told him.

All those present who were ex Fleet Command, which was most of them, were more than a little surprised, neural interfaces like this were usually a lot larger and very classified, not something you saw in civilian hands, ever. The main reason being this technology made sophisticated computer crime and espionage so much easier to commit and that much harder to trace, let alone prevent or stop once in motion.

"Hello !",Kristen smiled gaily and waved to them from the display, her voice coming from the speaker on the console. On screen she was wearing combat armour and had an assault rifle in her hands, Celia still by her side.

"OK, Here we go!, I''ll see you all in a while, Celia and I are goin' a huntin'". Kristen disappeared off screen, in the physical world she appeared to be dosing in front of the console.

"Where did she get this gear?", asked Commander Riley, more than a little concerned, "We could all end up in prison!"

"Relax Stan, I wrote the interface software for Fleet Command a couple of years ago.", came the reply from the console speaker.

"Commander Riley, Sir, our primary systems are shutting down, we are switching over to secondary systems.", one of the junior officers told him, sounding worried. All around them screens and status displays were in constant flux, data flowing across them at incredible rates, seated in front of the console, Kristen gasped softly and seemed to be having trouble breathing. Commander Riley hit an intercom switch,

"Medical team to main engineering, stat!", he ordered. Up on the bridge Kristen made her presence in the ships computer systems known to Captain Ibanez, she appeared on a screen and motioned the Captain to pick up a head set.

"Captain, I've almost gotten all the virus copies and I found the culprits."

A printer whirred and spilled out four personnel records. The Captain picked them up,

"These people are in general maintenance, they don't have access to ships primary systems."

"No, they do not", agreed Kristen, "that's why Sentinel took their photos while they were doing it." Kristen played the security videos for the Captain to see. The Captain swore softly under her breath, looked to her head of security, Lieutenant Commander Jane Alcott, ex Fleet Command Intelligence,

"Go pick these people up, place them in custody, question them, do not take chances, use all force necessary."

"Aye Captain."

"And Jane, I want a full report on how this happened, who they are, who they work for, what they want."

"Understood Captain."

"How's it going Kristen?", the Captain asked, "Stan just called for a medical team, are you OK?"

"Yes, Ma'am, the virus was nasty, not very smart, but nasty, OK, last virus kernel gone, switching over to primary systems in 3... 2... 1... Mark! You have helm control, navigation and comms online."

With that Kristen vanished from the bridge screen and all displays and indicators were back to normal.

"OK People, We stay at Orange alert, maintain shields and weapons on-line, I want full diagnostics of all systems and a complete scan of the ship for explosives, weapons and the like, Let's get to it!", ordered Captain Ibanez.

"Aye, Aye Captain.", chorused the bridge staff, two dozen people in all, the bridge instantly became a hive of activity.

"Comms, get onto Fleet Command, advise them of our situation, tell them we have problems and may need assistance."

"Aye Captain."

Captain Ibanez turned to Ashlay, who had accompanied her to the bridge, "Your sister just pulled our chestnuts out of the fire, but we may still have problems."

"I agree. Captain, I must apologise for not being up front about who we were, I am sorry, truly.", Ashlay told her, looking more than a little upset.

"Hey, don't sweat it, I'm sure you have your reasons, did your father send you here to be safe?"

"No, we came without telling anybody, I left our parents a cryptic note, they will assume we have gone to Earth, to stay with the Hyatt's."

"There is trouble coming isn't there? Maybe war between the Federation and the Empire?"

"Perhaps, but it wont be my fathers doing, he wants the Empire to be more like the Federation.", replied Ashlay.

"That must be making him unpopular."

"Yes, my father has his enemies, less now that Kristen has turned many of them into paupers.", Ashlay sighed, "that was the main reason we came, then Kristen said she had a surprise for me."

Captain Ibanez looked around the bridge, "Some surprise!"

Ashlay laughed, "Yes, I thought Kristen had purchased our apartment, I didn't realise she bought the whole ship!"

"Don't forget the other three just like her!".

They both shook their heads and laughed.

Back in main engineering Kristen opened her eyes, sat up, began checking systems, as a medic scanned her,

"Doctor Karlston appears to be fine, her vitals are elevated, that's to be expected from the affects of the neural link. Heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity all within optimal parameters."

"Thank you, Lieutenant.", Dallas told the medic. He put his gear away and left.

After hearing the medic refer to Kristen as 'Doctor Karlston', more than a few of the engineering staff looked at her with barely muted awe, Kristen was a legend amongst the technical elite of Fleet Command and the civilian world alike. Her cybernetic theories had revolutionized the computer software and hardware world over a decade ago.

"Oops!", Kristen said, "I would appreciate it if you all could keep who I am to yourselves.", she added.

"Yes, Ma'am!", came the reply from all present.

"Well", she added, "there goes my anonymity."

"I wouldn't worry Doctor, uh, sorry, Kristen", replied Commander Riley, "almost all the engineering staff are ex Fleet Command."

"I know, I personally vetted all the staff.", replied Kristen, "Like I said, if I'm going to live aboard a ship, I want competent people commanding and maintaining her."

The engineering staff felt complimented beyond imagining, all standing just a little taller and prouder. An intercom chimed, Commander Riley picked up the handset,

"Aye Captain, will do.", replacing the handset he announced,

"OK people, listen up! Captain wants a complete diagnostic of all systems and a sweep of all sensitive areas of the ship, scan for explosives, bugs, data taps and the like. You all know the drill, let's get to work!"

"Aye, Sir", came the reply, the engineering staff went about their tasks like a well oiled, precision machine. Dallas picked up the intercom handset,

"Captain Ibanez.", after a slight pause, "Jessica, looks like we caught it in time.", a pause, then, "OK, we'll be right there."

"Captain wants us on the bridge", she told Kristen.

When they arrived on the bridge, Ashlay, Captain Ibanez and several bridge officers were watching a monitor. On screen they saw security personnel in full tactical gear approaching an apartment from both ends of a corridor in the crew quarters section of the ship.

"We are about to arrest our saboteurs", the Captain told them, adding "Good work Kristen, we would have been blind, mute and adrift if you hadn't intervened."

Kristen blushed, "Thank you, Captain", she replied shyly.

"But we have other problems, all comm channels are being jammed."

"We should scan for cloaked ships nearby.", their resident genius suggested.

"Way ahead of you.", replied the Captain, "Scan, anything yet?"

"No Ma'am, nothing as yet, they could be hiding in our warp field wake.", replied the scan officer.

"I better address the passengers, people will start noticing somethings up, I don't want a panic on our hands."

On screen the tactical teams had found and disabled snoopers in the hallway, placed there by the saboteurs to alert them of just what was about to occur. A Tac-team member was by-passing the locks on the apartment door. When the door slid open, two Tac's threw stun grenades into the apartment, then two more.

"Don't mess around Jane.", Captain Ibanez said softly.

"You did tell her not to take chances.", Ashlay reminded her.

The monitor image shifted to one of the Tac-team's helmet cameras, the scene was confusing, dark, much smoke, there was a brief exchange of fire, stun rounds from the Tac's, a single disruptor shot from one of those inside the apartment. The Captain picked up a handset,

"Med team to Deck 48, Section 12, Crew quarters.", she ordered. Commander Allcott appeared on-screen, "We have them Captain, no casualties. I'll have our technical people go over every millimeter of these quarters."

"OK, take them to the brig, I'll be down."

"Aye, Captain."

"And Jane, good work, you and your people both."

"Thank you Ma'am, Allcott out."

"Well that went well." the Captain said, mainly to herself.

"Captain,", Kristen was looking at the personnel records she had printed out earlier, offering one to the Captain, "this man looks familiar, I'm certain he works for Prince John."

"Mason!? Why the hell would Mason want to sabotage us...", Captain Ibanez trailed off as she saw the look of horror on Ashlay's face, "You think they were after you and your sister? OK, that's it, Comms, give me ship wide intercom."

"Attention all passengers, this is the Captain speaking,", Captain Ibanez began in her most soothing voice, "in the interests of safety, we will be running a series of drills to test the crew's response to emergency situations. To that end, some ships amenities will be unavailable for a few hours. I apologise for any inconvenience. Thank you."

"Luke, sound general quarters, code 12.", she told her first officer, Commander Lukas Trask.

"Aye, Aye Captain!", he replied, picking up a handset, "Comms give me shipwide."


Code 12 meant that it was not a drill, it was a code intended to not alarm the passengers.

"There is another possibility Captain,", Kristen looked worried, "they could be after Dallas."

"Why...? Oh, yeah, most times I forget you're the Presidents daughter.", she said to Dallas, "Having you would be a powerful bargaining chip."

"It wouldn't do them much good,", replied Dallas, "my mother would never sacrifice Federation security on my account, nor would I want her to."

"Yes, but Prince John and his merry men might not know that. We need to lean on those slime bags we just arrested.", the Captain said coldly.

"Captain, Let me and Celia, uh, question them.", Kristen said, the look on her face made the Captain wince.

"You do realise what you are suggesting is against Federation law, anything you get will not be admissible evidence, but I guess that will be moot if we all get our throats cut. OK, Do it."

"Ma'am, we should go to max warp.", the first officer suggested.

"Engineering to Bridge, we have a situation here.", Commander Riley said over the intercom. "What is it, Stan?", asked the Captain.

"Whoever planted that virus, has done a number on our main drive, if we go over 2 LPD27 the warp drive will perform a hard shut down.", the engineer told them.

This meant that it would take at least two days to recover, leaving them with sub light engines only.

"We are on it, but it'll take six to eight hours to undo the mess they've made."

"Understood Stan, Do your best, we may have incoming.",said the Captain, "What's our weapon status?"

"Everything looks green here, all diagnostics ran OK, but we'll check them again." he replied.

"Right, get onto it and keep me posted, be alert, there may be more saboteurs.", the Captain warned him.

"Understood, Engineering out."

Captain Ibanez turned to Kristen, "What sort of ships can we expect Prince John to throw at us?"

"Nothing we can't handle, our shields and anti-missile systems can cope with anything dear Uncle John can throw at us. That's where the virus was headed after it took out those other systems, Sentinel is always active around the most critical systems, I've changed the configuration so that he is now active around all systems. Sorry, I should have done that from the beginning, I didn't expect someone to sabotage us. Sorry, I just..."

"Hey, don't be so hard on yourself", the Captain told her, "we're a cruise liner, not a battleship, our defences are designed to repel pirates, not take us to war."

"Uh, that's not entirely accurate Captain.", Kristen looked sheepish, "When I had the ships refitted, I, uh, went as far as the law would allow, plus a bit, well, quite a bit, especially on the Mara Lau. Like I keep saying, if I'm going to live on a ship..."

"You want to feel safe and secure.", the Captain finished for her, "Tactical, what am I looking at?"

Captain Ibanez and Kristen went over to the Bridge Tactical Station, the tactical officer, Lieutenant Commander Susan Milante started to pull up technical specifications, the Captain was more than a little surprised at what she saw.

"How in hell did you get this lot approved?", the Captain demanded, looking incredulously from the display to Kristen and back. The Captain had known the ship was armed, cruise liners always are, she had read the maintenance reports and trusted her people to do their jobs, which they did more than well, but had never bothered to check the extent of the Mara Lau's firepower, up to now there had been no need. What she now saw staggered her, it was nothing short of withering.

"Well, uh, I've been doing contract work for Fleet Command since I was a teenager, remember, I have contacts, friends in high places, you know, the President, Fleet Commandant.", Kristen replied, "Like I said I want to.."

"Feel safe.", the Captain finished for her, "Hell's bells Kristen, we're armed like a dreadnought!, The only thing we don't have is planetary attack capability.", she looked at her tactical officer, "Didn't you think we were a little over armed?"

"Not really, then again, my last Fleet posting was on a battleship, I just figured we were this well armed because we have so many passengers, some of them very wealthy, that and the fact we do contract out as a hospital ship when the need arises.", she replied sheepishly.

"Rrright,", Captain Ibanez recovered quickly, "so we can handle ourselves in a ship to ship action, as well as take on a couple of squadrons of fighters."

"Certainly can Captain!", replied the tactical officer proudly.

"I told you I picked our crew carefully", stated Kristen defensively, "Poached the best Fleet had to offer. That's why we are allowed to be so heavily armed. All you guys are ex Fleet Command."

Dallas had come over to the tactical station and looked at the displays, her eyes widened, she whistled softly, "Let's get down to the brig, see what these slime puppy's were up to."

"I agree.", said the Captain, "and Kristen, don't bother being gentle or subtle, understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am.", she replied smiling gaily.

"Ashlay, I want you on the bridge with me, there may be more of a fifth column we don't yet know about, I want you safe, OK? I can't woo you and get to be a princess if you are dead or captured.", Captain Ibanez told her.

Ashlay laughed, "SO, you are a gold digger after all!"

"Damn straight, your Highness, besides Princess Jessica has a nice ring to it."

Dallas, Kristen and Celia made their way to the brig, stopping at their apartment to get their sidearms. Kristen took her handgun out of a wall-safe that Dallas saw was hidden behind a mirror in the living room, she made no comment, having seen Kristen use weapons before, knowing she was very good and extremely cool, in fact scarily cool, under fire.

"Sometimes it's good to be crazy.", she had told Dallas, a long time ago.

When they got to the brig, Commander Allcott was waiting for them,

"Captain told me that Doctor Karlston would be handling the interrogation. How do you want proceed Ma'am? We have them isolated and restrained. The effects of being stunned have worn off, they are screaming for a lawyer, jabbering about their civil rights.", she was angry, more so at herself, that these people had performed mischief on her ship and right under her nose. It had offended her professional pride.

"I have my people running background checks on all crew, ex Fleet and civilians, as well as the passengers.", she told them, "I can't believe this is happening, on my ship!"

"Commander, settle, please, Now kill the lights and I want white noise in there, at about 90dB. Can we kill the lights in the corridor outside the interview rooms, I want to enter without them knowing I'm in the room, You ready Celia?", Celia trilled, "OK, Let's get it ON!", she said cheerfully. Dallas and Commander Allcott watched on the infrared camera as Kristen and Celia entered the first interview room, it was obvious the prisoner had no idea he was no longer alone.

"What is she going to do, use the Jrrr'le's venom?", asked the security chief hopefully.

"Not sure, I assume they will just go tromping around in combat boots through the guys mind.", Dallas told her.

"Hope it hurts like hell.", Commander Allcott replied softly, Dallas realised how angry the security chief was.

"He probably won't even know what's going on.", Dallas told her.


Inside the interview room Kristen stood behind the man, Celia draped around her shoulders as usual, he stiffened, gasped for a few moments, then slumped unconscious in the chair. Kristen and Celia repeated the process for the other three detainees, afterward she looked a little drained. Kristen returned to where Dallas and Commander Allcott waited.

"Well, they were here to disable the ship so that Prince John's merry men could snatch Dallas. When they found out Ashlay and I were on board, it was just icing on the cake.", Kristen told them, "We have had a cloaked escort since Dallas came on board, they were not planning to leave witnesses."

Commander Allcott swore softly. Dallas looked worried, not for herself, but her friends and all the other people on the ship.

"How many ships, Kristen, did they know?", asked the security chief.

"Somewhere between two and four, that's one big boarding party they are planning to throw. I have an idea, we need to get back to the bridge. These idiots are going to be very pliable for a while Commander, get your people in to have a more detailed chat with them.", Kristen told her, "I don't think there are any more of them on board, if there are, it's possible they don't know."

"Yes Ma'am, we'll all have a nice chat.", the security chief replied coldly.

"That was quick!", commented the Captain on their return to the bridge, "Jane told me what you found out, We found override devices on four of our docking bay's door mechanisms."

"Any luck scanning for the cloaked ships?", asked Dallas.

"Not as yet, but if they are hiding in our warp wake, they will be hard to detect.", the scan officer told them.

"OK, Options.", Captain Ibanez asked of those present, "Anybody?"

"Captain, Let me have access to Comms, I'll show you options.", the tone Kristen used sent a cold shiver down the Captain's spine.

"What are you going to do?", Captain Ibanez asked her.

"Take 'em out, decisively.", Kristen replied coldly.


"Do you know about 'Tapeworm', Captain?"

"Only in very general terms, it's exact function is classified, it's a virus isn't it?", the Captain said, "very dangerous to older ships, is that another one of your creations?"

"Oh yeah, it's more than a virus, way more, it's like the opposite of 'Sentinel', lurks in a ships computer systems and can override the command protocols. Federation ships have 'Sentinel' to protect them, Empire ships don't. 'Tapeworm' sits and waits until it gets the command to do it's thing", Kristen told them, "Before we left the Empire I infected every ship, space station and military installation in the Empire. Those ships out there waiting to pounce on us are infected, All of Prince John's ships are."

Dallas recalled what Ashlay told her about mysterious ship failures.

"What will happen when you activate it?", Dallas asked.

"It will rip their guts out, literally.", was the quiet reply.

"OK, then what?" asked the Captain, "We are a long way out, nothing to stop them trying again, although we will be able to contact Fleet Command once they stop jamming us."

"Well, I propose thusly,", Kristen proclaimed, "Ashlay, Dallas, Celia and I get into Dallas' ship and head for one of those worlds we were discussing. Hit the beach, soak up the sun, eat seafood, the probability that hostile forces will find us is very, very low."

Captain Ibanez, Dallas and Ashlay exchanged a meaningful look.

"Dallas?", Captain Ibanez queried.

"Sounds good to me, I did want to see my family, but not if it's going to put anybody in jeopardy, especially them or anyone onboard the Mara Lau."

"Ashlay, what do you think?", Captain Ibanez asked.

"Yes, sounds good, my tan could use some work.", she said, trying to sound braver than she felt, "We can return to the Mara Lau when this situation is resolved. Although I am a little concerned for our parents."

"I'm worried about them as well, when Dad told me to get you to safety, he had concerns that he wouldn't tell me about.", Kristen replied.

"Dad told you take me to the Federation? Here I was thinking that it was my idea.", Ashlay said, "I need not have left that note after all."

"YOU DID WHAT?", Kristen could not believe what she had just heard, "What did your note say?"

"Just that we needed some time away from court, to see friends, Why?", Ashlay replied.

"Ash, how could you be so silly? You know what it was like back home, the intrigues, the scheming, there are spies everywhere at court. Dad's opponents were beginning to suspect what I had been doing, with his and Fleet Intel's help.", Kristen was incredulous.

"Dad knew what you were doing? Oh, no, what have I done? I thought that you had become some kind of criminal mastermind, avenging President Hyatt and Michael's death.", Ashlay looked distraught.

"Well, yeah, but that wasn't the only reason I went on my rampage. Dad and Fleet Intelligence had received word that Prince John and his merry men were planning to attack the Federation. You know that Dad and his followers would never go for that. It was decided to pull as many teeth as possible. Like I said the less money they had, the fewer ships they could build, the less damage they could do. How do you think I got 140 billion credits across the border? I work for Fleet Intelligence. We didn't tell you because we wanted you to have plausible deniability.", Kristen told her.

At the mention of her father and brother's murder Dallas looked startled, "What did Prince John have to do with the assassination?", she asked.

"A lot, our fathers were trying to bring reform to the Empire, it was something they had discussed while they were in university. Prince John got wind of it, by way of certain captain's of industry in the Federation, who believed a 'damn good war' would stimulate both economies.", Kristen told her.

"Hang on, back up," said Captain Ibanez, "You work for Fleet Intel? For how long?"

"It started small, like most things do," Kristen explained, "while I was studying at Columbia, I wrote the first version of Sentinel, things kind of snowballed from there. So it's been like 12 years now. That's the rest of the how and why Mara Lau is so well armed, equipped and staffed. Why they let me lure their best people away to Ashkris Leisure when they mustered out."

Most of the bridge staff heard this last part,

"So Ashkris is a front for Fleet Intel?", asked first officer Trask.

"Not at all, you all work for Ashlay, Dallas, Celia and me. It's a legitimate business concern with an annual turnover of over eight hundred million credits a year. How do think I can afford to pay you lot so well.", Kristen told him, "I may be a spy for the Federation, but it's a hobby, not my day job. I'm an engineer, mathematician and computer systems expert. I do research and development for lots of major companies in the Federation."

They were all very quiet for a few moments, then Kristen said, "Well, we gonna take these creeps to the cleaners and then go camping or what? Captain Jessica? Your call."

Captain Ibanez looked at Dallas, then Ashlay, "Well?", she asked.

"OK, Let's do it, send these jerks to hell.", was Dallas' quiet reply.

"I agree, I could certainly use some back to nature time.", said Ashlay.

"Right, Dallas, Ashlay go pack and prep the Dragonfly", declared the Captain, "Kristen, what do you need from us?"

"Just access to Comms for a few minutes should do the trick.", she replied.

As Ashlay and Dallas left to pack, Captain Ibanez said, "Dallas you might want to record a message for your mother, not the where, but the why and how, I'll get someone to sweep your boat for bugs and tracking devices."

Dallas nodded, then she and Ashlay left looking thoughtful.

At the bridge Comms station Kristen took her neural link from her handbag again,

"Could you plug me in Captain?", leaning forward to expose the her skull jack, "this is the best bit about working for Fleet Intel, the groovy toys!"

The Captain inserted the plug and declared, "You are a worry girl, that's no lie!"

"Why thank you Captain Jessica, that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day!"

Kristen placed the neural interface on the Comms console interface panel, sat back, with Celia in her lap, closed her eyes and relaxed. Within a few minutes, she inhaled sharply and said in whisper, "There you are, gotcha!"

Almost immediately the Scan station officer called out, "Ship De-cloaking, Wait, make that two, behind us, to port, bearing one nine five, mark zero, range fifty kilometres. Just as we thought, in our warp wake."

Then a few minutes later, "Two more ships De-cloaking, to starboard, bearing one six five, mark zero, range sixty kilometres, Reading energy fluctuations in the lead ships, they are venting atmosphere, dropping out of warp, trailing ships not changing heading, they're going to collide!"

"Divert all shield power to rear shields. Full power to inertial dampers, stand by for shock wave.", ordered the Captain.

On board the Empire ships was total chaos, 'Tapeworm' had turned off the artificial gravity, activated the firefighting systems, killed all lights and power, it opened airlocks and bulkhead seals, overriding the systems that should have stopped the total loss of atmosphere. The lead ships dropped out of warp, the trailing ships hit them, hard. For the crews of all four ships the end came mercifully quickly. It was all over in seconds.

"All four ships destroyed, Captain, I am not reading any, repeat, any life-signs or energy readings.", the Scan officer reported.

Kristen opened her eyes, reached back, removed the plug from her head, "That's four more for Dallas' father and brother.", she said quietly, a tear rolled down her cheek.

"You OK, honey?", enquired the Captain.

"Yes, thank you, I'm fine, we have Comms again, jamming has ceased. All yours Lieutenant, see if you can raise Fleet Command now.", Kristen said.

As she rose from the chair the Captain could see she was crying, putting an arm around her, Jessica led Kristen to the Captain's wardroom, just off the bridge.

"Can I get you something? Coffee? Something stronger? Do you need a medic?", Captain Ibanez asked, seeing the normally bright, bubbly woman upset, touched the Captain deeply.

"No, really, I'm fine, as fine as I can be, having just killed over two thousand people, those were big ships, not to mention ruining the surprise boarding party they were going to throw for us.", she sobbed. Celia made comforting noises.

"Look, from what you found out, questioning those animals in the brig, it's what they had planned for us and we have over five hundred thousand on board, They were soldiers, they knew what were signing on for, all soldiers do. You did the right thing. Needs of the many and all that, trust me.", Captain Ibanez felt for the young woman, as soldier she new what Kristen was going through, like the saying went, "If you are smart enough to kill, you are smart enough to know it's wrong."

{Yes, but sometimes the ends do justify the means Jessica}, Captain Ibanez 'heard' in her mind.

{You look after her, she's not just my boss, you know}, the Captain thought back.

{I will, I always do, we need each other. I'll watch over Ashlay and Dallas also}, came the reply. Celia and Captain Ibanez smiled at each other.

Back in their apartment, it suddenly dawned on Dallas what Kristen had said on the bridge,

"Do you think Kristen was implying I'm one of the principles of Ashkris Leisure?", she asked Ashlay.

"It wouldn't surprise me, nothing Kristen does ever again will surprise me, my sister, the spy, who would have thought? Oh, what have I done Dallas, I've put us all in grave danger.", Ashlay said.

"How? By leaving a note that could have meant anything, don't be silly, besides those ships were here for me.", Dallas told her, putting her arms around Ashlay, holding her close.

"Where will we go Dallas?"

"Well, from here we can get to around a dozen or two systems with M class planets that are uninhabited. It'll be fun, Le Grande Adventure! Look on the bright side, Kristen isn't a master criminal after all, well not entirely, anyway."

They both laughed, "I am so glad we met up with you Dallas, I have missed you, so have Kristen and Celia."

"Yeah, I've missed the three of you as well these past eight years."

"Was it worth it? Getting revenge, then getting arrested, joining the Marines instead of going to jail?"

"Maybe, I'm a better person for it, I'm certain of that. More complete. I have a better handle on who I am.", that and her love for these three women, if nothing else, Dallas was sure of.

"What should I take Dallas?"

"Well, we're not going to an inhabited world, so just bring casual clothes, camping attire, a swimsuit or two. We'll pick somewhere the climates pretty mild, pack for weather just in case. Take your paints and brushes, your guitar. We have a good selection of music, books and movies, download anything you prefer. Do you have a wetsuit?"

Ashlay gave Dallas a questioning look, "Yes, but why will I need one?"

"We're going surfing and water skiing, girl!! I'm not taking you to hide under a rock!", Dallas laughed, "Kristen's right, this is going to be fun!"

Kristen arrived with Captain Ibanez, "I'll be ready in just a flash."

Kristen went to the living room mirror, swung it back and opened the hidden safe. She selected an assault rifle, a hunting rifle, a shotgun and ammunition for all three, as well as spare clips for her sidearm. Captain Ibanez looked over her shoulder, in the safe there were over a twenty weapons of all types, she winced and said, "If you weren't the owner, I'd be locking you in the brig for this lot. How many weapons do you need?"

"Well Captain, I like to keep my options open, what can I say? I like guns."

Dallas laughed at the Captain's expression, "Remember Jess, she is crazy!"

"I'm getting that.", Jessica said ruefully.

Kristen returned from her bedroom with a hunting bow, a quiver full of arrows, a pair of spear-guns, her backpack and sleeping bag.

"Ash, I got your spear-gun, you want your bow? Dallas, do I need to bring climbing gear? or do you have some on board the Dragonfly?"

"No, I have all that pretty well covered.", Dallas said, laughing again at the Captain's expression.

"Here I was thinking you had both led sheltered royal lives.", Captain Ibanez said. Ashlay laughed, their situation was seeming less dire by the minute.

"You have to be kidding, there is not much to do at court, we had to find our own amusements. Ashlay paints, draws and composes music, I write computer software and build things. We both like to go into the wild, the royal hunting estates are whole worlds set aside as game and conservation parks. No servants, no courtiers, usually just a landing area and ranger station. In a word, 'paradise'.", Kristen told her.

"Have you recorded a message for your mother, Dallas?", asked the Captain.

"I'll do it now Jess."

"I'll encrypt it when you're finished Dallas, your Mum has the key already.", Kristen told her, "We always send our mail to Carla encrypted, no matter what the content, no one will be able to break it, not in the next thousand or so years anyway."

"Kristen, is there anything you don't do?", asked the Captain.

"Well, I have wanted to try brain surgery for a while now."

"I think I am ready,", Ashlay told them, "Don't worry Captain, I am really not the delicate flower you may think."

"Yes, I am starting to realise there is a lot more to you both than I could ever have imagined. I'll have to start saving for a big rock like the one Kristen gave Dallas."

Ashlay blushed, "You never know what fate could bring you Captain."

"Dallas, get that message recorded and I'll help you get your gear to the hangar."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I was hoping to spend more time with you Dallas, the last couple of months have gone by to quickly, I realise how much I've missed you."

"Don't worry Jess', we'll be back, safe, whole and with tales to tell."

{Celia, you look after them and yourself}, Captain Ibanez thought to the Jrrr'le.

{Do not worry Captain Jessica, all will be well, I will make sure of it}


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Casting off

Dallas recorded a letter to her mother, Kristen encrypted it, they made their way to the hangar. Ashlay got her first look at Dragonfly 12.

"So, this is to be home for a while. You may not think so Captain, but I really do enjoy the simple life.", Ashlay told the Captain.

"Whoa, Dallas! What have you done to her?", Jessica exclaimed, "Here I was thinking you never spent money! Nice boat.", she told Dallas after examining the ski boat and other gear stowed in the vehicle bay.

"You wait till you see what Marissa did to the crew section.", Dallas said.

Captain Ibanez stepped through into the commons area, "Wow!! Wish it had been like this when I was in command of her.", she looked into what had been the head, "A BATH! We all certainly would have smelt better!"

The Captain was amazed at the magic her old crew chief had worked, "This is amazing, I might have to see if I can buy a surplus Raptor and get Marissa to give it a going over."

"Captain Jessica, you have the Captain's yacht.", Kristen said.

"Yeah, but it's not as heavily armed as a Raptor and certainly not as robust.", said the Captain, "Besides who wants a poncy yacht when you could have one of these?", both she and Ashlay couldn't understand why Dallas and Kristen found the last part so funny. Dallas, Kristen and Ashlay stowed their gear, Kristen and Ashlay chattering excitedly, obviously eager to set off.

In spite of their confidence the Captain was concerned about what lay ahead for the two women, "Listen,", she told them, "I think you're both capable and sure of yourselves and that's good, but remember, Dallas is in command, she's had training you haven't, follow her lead and you'll all get back safely."

"Aye Captain.", replied Kristen and Ashlay quietly.

"Alright, I guess this is it. I'll transmit your message a couple of hours after you leave."

"OK, Thanks Jess, sorry about all the trouble.", Dallas told her old CO.

"Hey, no big deal, who wants a quiet life, normally it's just rowdy passengers who've had to much to drink. Now you bring my princess' back in one piece soldier, that's an order!"

"Aye, aye Captain!", Dallas replied, saluting. Captain Ibanez returned the salute, hugged them all, left them to prepare for disembarking.

Dallas began her preflight checks with Kristen and Ashlay's help, both princess' had shipboard experience, so Dallas was not overly concerned about how they would cope, she gave them a quick overview of safety procedures, showed them where the spacesuits were kept, made sure they knew how to put them on.

"Like all ships in the Federation, controls and systems are standardised, I want to make sure you can handle her in an emergency.", she told them, "Celia, in the event we lose cabin pressure, I want you in your travel box ASAP, OK?"

{I understand Dallas, but I can survive in hard vacuum for quite a few hours, longer if I do not exert myself}

"Really? I knew you were tough, but I didn't think you were that tough. Well, looks like we are ready, last chance ladies, have you forgotten anything?", Dallas found herself eager to be on their way.

"Nope, can't think of anything, got my clothes, weapons, camping tackle, wetsuit, camera. That's about all I need besides you three.", Kristen declared.

"I have my paints, pencils, paper, camera, my guitar, clothes, camping gear. I am ready. Let us depart!", was Ashlay's reply.

{I am ready}, Celia told her.

"How about you Dallas, have you forgotten anything?", Kristen asked.

"Nope, just about everything I own is on this boat already. Kristen you take the number two seat, Ashlay you have comms, Celia can you handle scan?"


"Kristen, you have the controls, begin preflight sequence."

Kristen shot Dallas a look of concern, "You can handle her, don't worry I'm right here.", Dallas reassured her, "Just go through the checklist. OK?"

"OK, vehicle bay sealed."


"Power systems, green."


"Flight systems, green."


They heard the main generators spool up, a soft whine that began to build in volume.

"Weapon's armed, safety's on, Shields to standby"


"Main engine start, spooling to standby.", Kristen said, she could feel the Dragonfly begin to come alive, "Is that it? Not much of a checklist."

Dallas laughed, "This is a military ship, no theatre here!", she told Kristen, "OK, Ash, call the bridge, get us take off clearance."

"Bridge, Dragonfly 12, requesting flight clearance."

"This is the bridge, standby, depressurizing hanger.", came the reply.

"Dragonfly 12, standing by."

After a delay, "Hanger depressurized, hanger doors opening."

"Affirmative, bridge, standing by.", Ashlay sounded a little tense.

As the hanger doors opened, they saw stars, when the doors had opened fully,

"Dragonfly 12, you are clear for launch."

"Alright Kristen, power up, take us out, nice and easy.", Dallas told her, "Celia, can you sense anything out there? No one lurking cloaked?"

{I will not be able to tell until we get away from the Mara Lau, there is nothing on our sensors}

Kristen brought the Dragonfly into a hover, retracted the landing gear and eased the ship through the hanger doors.

"It is so beautiful, look, you can see the galactic core.", Ashley whispered.

"Dragonfly 12, this is Mara Lau.", Captain Ibanez' voice came over the radio.

"Dragonfly 12 receiving, all systems green, we are ready Captain."

"Understood, I want you girls to be careful, have fun and bring me back some crabs, better still some lobster! I'll see you in a couple of months."

"Affirmative Captain, we will do our best. Dragonfly 12 out.", Ashlay told her.

Dallas began plotting a course as Kristen took them away from the Mara Lau, "Celia how far will we have to get before you can tell if there are any lurkers?"

{give me a few minutes, I can sense a ship full of people at warp}

"OK, Kristen, course plotted, take us to warp.", Dallas commanded.

"Aye, aye Captain Hyatt!"

Kristen applied power, gradually accelerating them, when she engaged the warp drive, there was almost no sensation.

"Very smooth Kris!", Dallas complimented her.

"Thank you. Engaging autopilot."

"What is our itinerary, Dallas?", Ashlay asked.

Dallas activated the holographic display, a section of the spiral arm projected into the area above the cockpit's main console, "We're here,", she said as a small ship icon appeared, "Earth is here, that's about three weeks to a month away, inwards along the antispinward45 edge of this spiral arm. As you know the Empire is in the next spiral arm to spinward, between us and those heathens, is most of the Federation and part of the league of nonaligned worlds.", Both princess' smiled, "Oh, sorry, your heathen highness', anyway, all along the edge of this arm are a lot of very pleasant habitable, but uninhabited planets, some were mining operations that were abandoned when the ore ran out, some have never been inhabited. That's why there is a big market for spaceyachts, pointless having one, without a destination."

"So which one are we going to Dallas?"

"I gave Jessica a list of a dozen.", Dallas touched a button, they were highlighted, "Pick one Ash, your choice, unless Kristen or Celia has a preference?", Dallas said, "All of them are in the almanac, so we'll have maps and any warnings or cautions."

Ashlay ran the cursor along the highlighted stars, data on each system appeared on her screen.

{That one, Dallas, I was there over a century ago, it has many small to large islands, the climate is mild, the hunting and fishing excellent}, Celia told them.

Ashlay, Kristen and Dallas called up the data on the system Celia indicated.

"Looks good Celia, a primary world, two secondary and a tertiary world. Two big asteroid belts. The primary has three settlements, spread around the planet on the larger islands, says here they just abandoned it when the ore ran out and that everything should be fairly intact, that was a hundred years ago. It was a germanium mine, some gold, palladium, platinum, iridium, osmium. Wow, shiny, shiny!", Kristen said.

{Yes, they just mined, the ore was taken elsewhere for processing, there was minimal impact on the biosphere}

"Just how old are you, Celia?", Dallas asked, not for the first time wondering about her deadly, fury friends past.

{I thought it was impolite to ask a lady her age}

"That old?", Dallas said mischievously.

{Don't be rude}, they all laughed.

After reading all the information they had, together with Celia's first hand account, it seemed like an ideal place to go and stay a while, also it was only a day away at cruising speed.

"OK, Kristen, lay in a new course and execute it."

"Aye Captain!"

A chime from the printer in the commons area told them their maps were ready.

{Dallas, was there supposed to be anybody in your ship besides us before we left?}, Celia asked.


{I can smell someone other than us and Captain Jessica}

"Can you tell where?", Dallas asked her.

{Not yet, I will look}, Celia left the cockpit and went back towards the rear of the ship.

"Dallas, do you think this could be a problem? Should we put our suits on?", Ashlay asked, she looked concerned.

{Dallas, I think I have found a tracking device}

"Where are you?", Dallas asked.

{In the vehicle bay, please bring a scanner unit, I think it would be a good idea to scan the outside of the ship as well}

"You two stay here.", Dallas told Kristen and Ashlay, "Scan the outside of the ship and as much of the inside as you can."

"Here,", Kristen said to Dallas as she handed her a scanner, "this has a lot more resolution than a standard military issue unit. Something new I've been working on."

"Should we suit up, Dallas?", Ashlay asked, she looked worried.

"Not yet, just prep them, keep them here in the cockpit with you."

Back in the vehicle bay Dallas found Celia sniffing about, "Where is it Celia?", Dallas asked her.

{Here, under this ground vehicle, I can smell explosive residue on the device, but it is not in here}

"Damn, I'll have to suit up, go outside and look.", Dallas was worried.

{I will go, as I said, I have no need of a spacesuit for short periods}

"Let's think about this, they wanted me alive.", Dallas said, adding, "This thing could have been put here before I went aboard the Mara Lau."

{Yes, but that was when our enemies had ships trailing us, killing you attempting to escape may be their contingency plan}

"This thing could be how they found the Mara Lau, Celia."

{I don't think that likely, the Mara Lau's route is no secret. Dallas, who knew you would be travelling aboard her?}

"Any number of people, my CO, the other brass, the staff at the Marine hospital, Fleet Intel, did Kristen know? "

{Yes, we had a hand in the Mara Lau's being there to pick you up}

"So it wasn't just a happy coincidence. Well, get Kristen down here to disable this tracking device. Has she found anything with her scans yet?"

"No, not yet, Ashlay is going over the outside of the ship, I knew we had another saboteur on board, someone in engineering.", Kristen said as she entered the vehicle bay.

"What makes you say that?", Dallas asked, not at all surprised that Kristen's link with Celia was quicker than calling on the intercom.

"Remember what that ensign said, after they got the Dragonfly onboard? Only you and the engineering staff had access. We should have thought of this sooner. I already checked the Sentinel logs, no one came aboard, so it would have to be somebody in engineering, before I installed Sentinel.", Kristen declared.

"Jessica said she had someone scan the Dragonfly before we left. Why didn't they pick this up?", Dallas asked.

"I rest my case Dallas."

"Dallas, I have found something, it is in the rear, portside, landing gear bay.", Ashlay told them over the intercom, "The ship's data base identifies it as approximately fifty grams of composition four, whatever that is.", Dallas and Kristen exchanged a meaningful look,

"The ship has also detected an attached radio receiver. The device in the vehicle bay became active, that is, began transmitting after we left the Mara Lau.", finished Ashlay.

Kristen went to work on the tracking device hidden under the ATV.

"Dallas, this thing is a subspace receiver and transmitter, it's also putting out regular coded pulses of radio waves, looks like it will wait until a given command, then transmit our position over subspace, then send the radio trigger to that bomb.", Kristen told Dallas after a few minutes examination.

"So 'Whoever', wants to disable, not kill us. Hmm, that's a little sinister.", Dallas said.

"Yes.", replied Kristen, "What should I do? If I disable this unit, the bomb will detonate, if I don't, Prince John or whoever, will do it for us."

"Could you somehow mimic the radio signal this thing puts out?", Dallas asked.

"That should be fairly easy, then what? Wait until we are on the ground, then deal with the bomb? What else is in or around that landing gear bay, Dallas?", Kristen asked as she went to the vehicle bay computer terminal. She called up technical specs for the Raptor.

"Oh no!", Kristen exclaimed, "That's right near the warp generator power feed!"

"I could have told you that. If it goes bang, we'll have no FTL capability.", Dallas told her, hitting the intercom switch,

"Ashlay increase our speed to maximum."

The ships drive noise gradually increased in level and pitch.

"Kristen, could you just disable or jam the subspace transceiver portion, leave it sending to the bomb, until we get on the ground."

"Yep, either, are you worried that disturbing it might cause a boom?"

"It's a possibility, let's not add to our woes.", Dallas hit the intercom again, "Ash, what's our arrival time at this speed?"

After a pause, "I calculate it at around six hours.", came the reply from the cockpit.

"OK, We'll do that then, disable or jam the subspace section Kristen."

"Then what Dallas?", Kristen asked, more than a little worried.

"Then we have something to eat, kick back, have a beer and look over those maps. See where we're going to land. Plan our timetable of sloth and indolence."


"Well yeah! I'm starving.", Dallas said, then, "Get to work crewman! They don't pay us by the hour! Hop to it!", in her best commander's voice.

"Aye, Aye, Captain Hyatt, Please don't keelhaul me, I'll be a good sailor!", Kristen replied laughing, if Dallas was thinking of food they couldn't be in that much danger, could they?

Later in the galley, the four of them sat eating sandwiches, drinking milkshakes, examining the map printouts and almanac data. The primary planet of the system they were headed to had no major continents, only a dozen or so fairly large islands, about the size of New Zealand, the rest of the surface was ocean, coral atolls and archipelagos. This was exactly the sort of world Dallas and Kristen had dreamed about running off to when they were teenagers.

Now they were going there.

"I think we should land here.", Dallas suggested, "It wasn't the largest settlement, mainly a rest and recreation area for the miners, housing for their families. Some market gardens, orchards, a golf course."

The island, like all the larger land areas, was very rugged, mountainous, lush, subtropical, with several rivers snaking their way to the coast. The almanac said they would find deer, goats and wild pig. The seas had a huge variety of life, fish, shellfish, a few species of whale, dolphin, seal and sea otter. There were no major carnivores, in particular, no sharks.

"This world is paradise, when you three go back to civilization, you can leave me here.", Ashlay said quietly, Dallas could tell she was not joking.

"Why would you want us to maroon you here Ashlay? What are you going to do, become a hermit?", Dallas asked, not sure what was going on in the princess' head.

"Why do you think? I do not want to become Queen, I just want to be, live a normal life.", Ashlay replied, starting to cry.

"Hey, come on Sis, we'll get by, think of something.", said Ashlay putting an arm around her older sister.

"Like what? There is no way either of us will live long enough to become Queen and if we do, we would not live past a year. You know that. I don't care if the Empire goes down in bloody ruin. It will be civil war no matter what you or I do.", Ashlay told them, "I do not want this responsibility, I never did, nor will I ever. Most of all I do not want to die."

Dallas could tell the weight of being heir to a throne she didn't want was all but crushing her friend.

"Ash, it's alright, we'll all stay if it comes to that. No one will hurt you, I promise. If the worst comes to pass, you can get asylum in the Federation, both of you. You know you're both welcome in my family's home anytime, for as long as you want.", Dallas told her, "If it comes to civil war or an uprising against the ruling class, the Federation will step in. Stranding yourself alone is no answer. You'll go crazy!"

"So? Kristen is crazy and she does well for herself."

Kristen laughed,"Gee, thanks Sis!"

"Sorry. This last year aboard the Mara Lau has been the most enjoyable time I can ever remember.", Ashlay sobbed.

"We can go back, we own her remember? That was why I bought her. So we could be independent. We are the principles of a legitimate business concern, we have an income, a place to live, our own life.", Kristen said, "That goes for you as well, Dallas. All four of us have a seat on the board of directors, well actually, we are the board."

"How did you manage that Kristen?", Dallas asked.

"I forged your signature on a few documents here and there, I didn't think you would mind."

Dallas shook her head, laughed, "So do I have tax problems?"

"Nope, our accounting department takes care of all that."

Just then the Dragonfly's computer sounded an alert. "Well, this is it, cheer up Ash, we've arrived! Standby to have fun! Please leave all cares and woes in orbit!", Dallas told them.

The explorer who first found and charted the system had named it Silas, after her golden retriever, the star was a yellow dwarf much like Earth's sun. In all there were twelve major planets, six of the outer ones were gas giants, each with rings and moons enough to be small solar systems in their own right. The two asteroid belts were very dense, millions of bodies, ranging in size from grains of sand up to bodies the size of small moons. The almanac and encyclopedia said this was the reason mining operations had ceased, to describe navigation as difficult was an understatement. The almanac said the system was resource rich, but the costs did not justify the return. The inner four planets were a different story. The inner most had an atmosphere, breathable, but only just. It was a tropical hell, vegetation covered everything, even the seas were a bright emerald green. Deep radar scans showed the remains of several large city's.

The next planet out was a little better, not quite as hot, with small seas, vast forests and grasslands. Most of the southern hemisphere was desert. Again, deep radar scans showed the remains of several large city's. The high background radiation count and presence of radioactive isotopes in the air and soil suggested the inhabitants had fought a nuclear war many centuries ago, managing to kill themselves off in the process.

The fourth world was colder and dryer, a little like mars, with a breathable atmosphere, small seas, evergreen forests, large deserts. There were ruins here as well, but no outward signs of war. The initial survey suggested a different race had evolved there.

The third planet, where our adventurers were bound, looked inviting from orbit. The larger islands were just as the almanac said, mountainous, lush, with sandy beaches. The seas were relatively shallow, no deeper than two kilometers. They could see coral reefs and leafy atolls. The sensors told them the surface temperature was around twenty six degrees centigrade. They could see no major storm activity.

To call the planet beautiful or a paradise seemed inadequate.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever seen such an inviting world.", Dallas whispered.

They maneuvered the Dragonfly into orbit, Dallas began a scan of the surface, she didn't want any more surprises. After a dozen orbits they found no major energy readings or outward signs of intelligent life.

"Celia, can you sense anyone down there?", Dallas asked.

{Only what the almanac said, just the people living in the seas}

"There are people here? Humans or other races?", Kristen asked, her scans had shown nothing so far, "I'm not getting anything but large sea mammals."

{That is what I just said, think outside the box Kristen}

"You mean the whales and dolphins?"

{Don't forget the seals and sea otters, they are people too, I wonder if they will remember me}

"Sorry, So I guess we will have company. How long were you here?"

{About twenty years, as I said it is a very nice place}

"How did you move from planet to planet before you met Kristen?", Dallas asked.

{I blend in well, that and as I said, I can withstand vacuum for quite a while if I do not exert myself}

"What, you hibernate on the outside of spaceships?", Dallas was incredulous.

{Yes, a girl has to do what is needful to get by}

After they were satisfied that they had the planet almost to themselves, the crew of the Dragonfly prepared to make planetfall, normally a routine operation, but with the explosive charge hidden in the landing gear bay, Dallas wanted to make sure nothing else was going to go wrong.

"We'll make a normal approach, we just won't lower the landing gear till we are all the way down. That way we'll have less distance to fall.", she told them, "From the size of the charge, fifty grams of C Four, it was meant to disable, not kill us. I think the intent was to just leave us drifting until one of those cruisers picked us up. They were a long way from Empire space and so are we. Kristen what do you think?"

"I agree, we are more use alive than dead and I'm almost certain there were no other ships. Just how big a bang are we talking about?", she asked.

"Well, about a quarter of a grenade, maybe less. It'll knock out our FTL drive, the ship will still be able to operate on sub-light engines. We'll be able to fix it. There are workshops and a spaceport here, the almanac says that a few shuttles were left behind. What sort of shape they are in is any body's guess. I am hoping you're going to be able to cobble us up a replacement."

"OK, no pressure."

"Ashlay,", Dallas asked, "do you have anything to add?"

"No, I just want to get on the ground, go for a swim."

"Celia, do want to weigh in here?"

{No Dallas, your plan seems sound}

"Well, let's do it! Do you want take her down Kristen? Ashlay?", Dallas asked.

"Dallas, Bomb? Remember?", both princess' said together.

Dallas laughed, "Wait 'till you have to land under fire! Triple A bursting all around, missiles coming for ya!". The other women paled at this last statement. Dallas laughed again.

Dragonfly entered the planet Silas' atmosphere without incident, as they got lower, Ashlay at the scan console, began picking up electrical activity from the larger settlement, "It is not much, looks to be equipment on standby.", she told them. As they overflew the town, they saw the forest was well on it's way to reclaiming the area. The town was quite large, well laid out in a concentric circular pattern. They saw trees and brush growing in and around the open spaces, the buildings, none higher than ten to twelve stories, were hung with a rich garland of blossom laden vines and creepers. The spaceport, north of the town, had at least a dozen ships parked around the buildings.

"Wow! did you see that?", Kristen said, "It's like Angkor Wat or um, that Mayan city in Guatemala. This is gonna be great!"

They crossed a short stretch of ocean, about fifty kilometers, on the way to their chosen landing site, "Look, whales! A pod of at least forty!", Ashlay exclaimed, she used the Dragonfly's cameras to take still photographs and video footage. Approaching the island, they saw the settlement, there was no mistaking it for the resort it had once been. Clearly visible were a cluster of main buildings, surrounded by tennis courts, pools and the remains of what was once a golf course. Along the coast were boat-houses, boat-ramps and a few vessels of all types. Dallas found what had been the airport without trouble, "Look, a couple of transports and a hangar. Looks like we'll be able to hide the Dragonfly here and have somewhere to work on her. OK, this is it, brace for a hard landing girls!"

Dallas let their speed wash off as she brought the ship into land, when they were three metres off the ground, she went into a hover, "Landing gear down in 3.. 2.. 1..", the explosive device hidden in the landing gear bay went off with a barely audible pop, they felt a slight jar, the ship was still hovering. Several warning lights and audio alarms started bleeping and whooping.

Dallas got them down, killed the power, lowered the ramp, "Everybody out now!", she ordered. They ran back to the vehicle bay, Ashlay jumped into the ATV, powered it up and drove the vehicle with the boat in tow out onto the planets surface. They had already put as much essential equipment and supplies as they could practically cram into both the ATV and boat. Dallas and Kristen grabbed fire extinguishers, ran down the ramp and under the ship. There was a little smoke and thankfully no fire.

"That went well!", Kristen said. She had her scanner and a flashlight, together she and Dallas inspected the damage.

"Well, they really new where to put that charge. See? It was very directional, cut through the cover on the power coupling and into the conduit itself.", Dallas said.

"So 'they', whoever 'they' are, wanted us alive. We'll have to disassemble the housing to see how much damage there is. It doesn't look to bad from here.", Kristen told her, "So what now?"

Dallas signalled Ashlay to bring the ATV back, "Let's look around, we'll check out this hangar first, move the Dragonfly in, then the look over the resort.", Dallas grabbed Kristen and hugged her, "WE'RE HERE!, remember when this was all we talked about? We are totally alone! No one to bother us, no one telling us how to act, what to do. We can run around naked, covered in lime jelly if we want to!"

"I remember, it seems like a long time ago, definitely well worth the wait.", Kristen replied, "So have you decided yet?"

"Decided what?"

"Whether you're going to marry me?"

"Is that what you really want Kristen?", Dallas asked seriously.

"Oh Yeah, more than anything, that's what all this has been about, that and keeping Ash safe."

"Then, yes, I will. I'm not sure what Mum will say, but yes.", Dallas told her,

Kristen kissed her, "I've been wanting to do that since I first saw you on the Mara Lau.", she declared.

They were still kissing when Ashlay pulled up in the ATV.

"I gather Dallas just said 'Yes', Kristen?", Ashlay asked.

"Yep, looks like you'll have a sister in law, Ash!"

Ashlay said, "Well I guess you will have beautiful children!"

They all laughed, the tension of the last few of days evaporated under the warm tropical sun.

"Dallas, what are our priorities?", Ashlay asked, "I have an urge to explore, are we going to stay on the Dragonfly?"

"Well this was a resort, we should see what shape the buildings are in, then decide. We'll put Dragonfly in the hangar, start working on her later.", Dallas replied.

"We will not be making her spaceworthy straight away? What if someone comes looking for us?", Ashlay asked.

"She is still spaceworthy Ash, just we have no FTL capability. It's going to be a days work just to see how bad the damage is. If someone comes looking for a fight, we'll give it to them in spades. We have weapons and other stuff.", Dallas replied.

They moved the Dragonfly into the hangar, then drove to the main resort building. All the buildings were in good repair, still they were surprised at how well preserved the interior was. There was almost no dust or any sign of weather damage.

"This is a little spooky, I keep expecting someone to ask us what we are doing here or offer me a drink.", Kristen said.

"Celia, can you sense anybody here?", Dallas asked.

{No, there are no other humans here, just those who dwell in the ocean}

"Dallas, what's Federation law in relation to places like this?", Kristen asked.

"I think it's probably a case of vacant possession, it's not like we're going to get busted for trespass.", Dallas told her, "Why?"

"Well I could see this place being a great investment, another acquisition for Ashkris Leisure. People would flock here. We could make it a stop over for the Mara Lau."

"I would rather keep it for ourselves.", Ashlay said.

"Me too,", Dallas said, "Besides it's a ***** to get to. I don't think Jessica would enjoy bringing Mara Lau here, she'd love it herself, not for her ship."

"Dallas, do you think it will be safe for us to use radio's here? That is something we should decide now.", Ashlay asked.

"I think it'll be alright, nobody knows we're here. We'll keep radio usage to a minimum. I've shut down most of the Dragonfly's systems, she'll be hard to spot. Look how low we were before the sensors picked up anything.", Dallas told her, "all the same I don't think we should wander around alone till we get the lay of the land."

{Dallas I can assure you we are alone, totally. I will be able to warn us of any ships coming into orbit. The most dangerous things here besides us, are the wild pigs}

"They can be nasty, so we all carry our sidearms at the very least.", Dallas said, "And Kristen, no hunting alone, alright?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

They began to explore the resort in earnest, the main building had restaurants, bars, a nightclub. In a storeroom were bottles of spirits, beer and water. They found the basement and to their surprise, a wine cellar, stocked with a good selection of wines. "Do you think this stuff is safe to drink? After a hundred years?", Kristen asked.

"The spirits will be well aged, I don't know about the rest.", Dallas said.

Finding the resorts power plant, Kristen checked it out and found it to be in working order.

"Shall we turn it on?", she asked.

"Why not, we can always shut it down.", Dallas said.

Kristen went through the startup procedure, threw the main switch and the generator powered up. They could hear the soft murmur of the air conditioning system, other than that nothing.

"As long as we keep the exterior lighting off I don't think this will look like anything from orbit.", Dallas told them. Locating the relevant light switches, they turned them off.

The four of them slowly made their way to the shore, making a superficial survey as they went, finding sporting equipment, pool furniture, gardening tools. "This is weird, it is like the people just up and left.", Ashlay said, "Why did they not take any of this gear with them? Was it just the cost of transportation?"

"I would say so, I wonder what we'll find in that larger town we flew over?", Dallas wondered aloud.

At the shore they found the boats they had seen on their approach, all were weathered but serviceable. Ashlay went into one of the boat sheds, while Dallas and Kristen were looking at a couple of catamarans, wondering if there were any sails to be had.

"DALLAS! KRISTEN! Look at this!"

Inside was a twelve metre yacht, sails furled, sitting on a launching trolley. It looked as though it was waiting just for them. Ashlay was all smiles, Dallas and Kristen could not believe their eyes.

"What a pretty boat!", Kristen declared, she began running her scanner over the hull, "The hull is fine, Ash, What state are the sails in?"

Dallas had climbed up onto the deck with Ashlay, together they began to raise the mainsail, the duralon fabric was as good as new. This was a find beyond imagining, all three women had grown up sailing with their parents. Dallas was almost in tears, her father had had a boat like this, "How do we open the doors Kristen? Did the power get here?"

Kristen went to the front of the boat shed, hit the door 'open' switch. With a little grumbling and squeaking the doors slid aside. She then went to the winch mechanism at the other end of the shed, "Shall I?", she asked.

"Oh yeah, do it!", Dallas told her.

"Reef that sail and hang on!!"

Dallas reefed the sail, then she and Ashlay braced themselves, Kristen tried the power switch, nothing happened, she ran her scanner over the winch, found the clutch lever, raised her foot and kicked it. The yacht slowly rolled out of the boat shed and into the waiting sea.

All three of them were screaming like teenagers.

"I hear-by pronounce our vacation started!", Ashlay said in her most imperious tone.


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 6


Chapter 6 - Mail call

In New York City, it was morning, President Carla Hyatt was having breakfast with her son and chief of staff, David Hyatt (Jr), "Did you get a letter from Monique?", he asked her.

"Not for a couple of weeks, why?", Carla asked.

"Here, read this.", David said as he handed his mother the letter from the youngest of the Hyatt offspring. Monique was studying archeology, she was currently on a dig, doing her post graduate studies. The dig was on a world situated on the very edge of the Milky Way galaxy, as the system was above the galactic plane, the night sky was spectacular. The photographs and holograms Monique had sent them were nothing short of breath taking. The view of the Milky Way from Earth is edge on, with vast areas obscured by dust clouds, where Monique was, the whole of the galaxy was laid out plan-wise, in winter there were almost no stars, the sky pitch black, in summer there was no night, the Milky Way filled the sky, even visible during the day.

Carla read the letter, frowning, "I don't know that I like the sound of this, what does she mean, 'a discovery exciting, but scary'?", Carla read on, her frown deepening.

"I definitely don't like the tone of this, who resupplies the expedition?", Carla asked her son.

"A Fleet Command ship from the survey section. Why? Do you want to send some Marines? Do you think Monique is asking for our help?"

"Don't you?", Carla said, "The tone of her letters has changed quite a bit over the last couple of months. What's the expedition leader like?"

"Professor Faulkner, He seems competent, a bit of a Seeder fanatic.", David replied.

An aid entered, "Madame President? Admiral Shepherd is here from Fleet Command, he says it's quite urgent."

"Thank you Samantha, please, send him in."

The admiral entered, Carla rose to meet him, "Admiral Shepherd, good morning. Can we get you something, coffee? Please, have a seat."

"Thank you Madam President, coffee would be most welcome."

Carla could see that he was concerned about something, "What is it Alan, you look worried."

"With good reason Madame President. We have just received a distress call from the Mara Lau.", the Admiral told her.

"Distress call? What's wrong?", Carla and David said as one.

"As you know your daughter, Major Hyatt took passage on her two months ago, Doctor Karlston wanted to be there when Major Hyatt got out of the Marine Core hospital. Yesterday, they had a sabotage attempt, Sentinel and Doctor Karlston stopped it before things got out of hand. There were four Empire cruisers shadowing the Mara Lau, Doctor Karlston activated the copies of 'Tapeworm' on board all four ships, they were destroyed. Fleet Intelligence says they were Prince Mason's ships. They were there to grab Major Hyatt.", Admiral Shepherd told them.

"Do we know this for sure?", asked David.

"I'm afraid so, four suspects were taken into custody, Doctor Karlston, uh, interrogated them, found out the whole plan. Mason's men discovered that Doctor Karlston and her sister Ashlay were on board, as well as Major Hyatt, it seems the plan was to board, grab Major Hyatt and the Karlston Sisters, then destroy the Mara Lau. Leaving no survivors.", Admiral Shepherd said.

"This is insane, is that fool Mason trying to provoke a war?", Carla asked, "Wait, how did they know Dallas was going to be on that ship?"

"That we don't know, Captain Ibanez found a fifth agent on board the Mara Lau. Unfortunately Doctor Karlston is no longer aboard, so Captain Ibanez was unable to interrogate him in the same manner as the others. After examining security video footage, it was found he had planted something on Major Hyatt's Raptor."

"Where is my daughter now, Admiral.", Carla asked quietly, bracing herself for the worst.

"We received these along with the distress call.", the Admiral handed Carla two memory cards, "Captain Ibanez says you have the encryption key."

Carla took the cards, slotted the first into the data unit on the table, she entered her key code, said "Play message", on screen Dallas appeared with Celia draped around her shoulders.

"Hi Mum, where do I start? A funny thing happened on my way home. As you know by now, Mason's merry men attempted to pirate the Mara Lau and grab me, they found out Ashlay and Kristen were on board, tried for a hat trick. We took them out, but in the interests of safety and security, Ashlay, Kristen, Celia and I have decided to go to ground. I don't want to say too much, I'm not sure if you remember what Kristen and I used to talk about, you know, about getting away from it all, hitting the beach. I gave Jessica a list of a dozen worlds where we might go. We will decide which one after we have left the Mara Lau and are well and truly on our way.

It will be pointless to say don't worry, but I'm gonna say it anyway, Please, Don't worry, I'm a Marine, a good one, Celia and I will protect Ashlay and Kristen with our lives if need be. There is so much I want to say, I just can't find the words, I'm sorry for, well, everything, all the trouble I caused. Kristen has just told me you knew what we did. I've spent the last eight years thinking I'd embarrassed and humiliated you and the rest of the family. Wondering if you would ever forgive me. Have you? I hope so. I want you to know I love you and I've missed you.

One last thing, have you heard from Monique? I've had a few weird letters, is she OK? I keep getting the feeling she's in some kind of trouble, something to do with the dig she's on. Kristen wanted to go see her, I didn't want to inflict a trip like that on Ashlay, not in a Raptor.

Oh, on a lighter note, I just got engaged, will you look at the size of this rock? Kristen has asked me to marry her, I haven't said yes yet, I don't want to seem too eager, I probably will though. Say yes, that is. Could you handle Kristen as a daughter in law?

Well, like I said, Please don't worry, I'll see you soon, say 'Hi!' to David, Angelina. Send some Marines to look in on Monique, make sure it's a strong force. I love you, I miss you and I'll see you soon."

Carla, David and Admiral Shepherd sat quietly for a few minutes, digesting what they had just heard.

"I'm not sure,", said Admiral Shepherd, "but are congratulations in order, Madame President?"

"That was a big diamond.", said David, "I can cope with Kristen being my sister in law."

"Madame President?", this from the Admiral.

Carla raised her hand in a gesture of silence, slotted the second memory card, "Play message", she commanded, Kristen appeared on screen.

"Hi Carla! How are you? I Just wanted to say, don't worry, I'll look after Dallas and Ashlay. Have you heard from my parents? I'm worried about them, things were looking bad when we left. Ashlay thought she was taking me to safety in the Federation, she left what she called a cryptic note, telling our parents we needed time away from court, to see friends. Any of Mason's spies will assume that means you and your family. Dad wanted me to get Ashlay out of the Empire.

If you're not alone, stop play back now!

OK, as per plan I have infected every ship, space station and military outpost in the Empire. Make sure you know the ships that you attack are actually hostile. Dad has few enough allies as it is. So make sure, Tapeworm is set up to kill, not disable. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, I asked Dallas to marry me! She hasn't said yes, then again she didn't say no. I think she's playing hard to get, either that or she doesn't want to seem too eager. Well, I miss you and can't wait to see you. I love you all, and don't worry, I'll look after Dallas and Ash. Bye!"

"Madame President are you alright?", asked the Admiral.

"Mum, are you OK? Say something, please?", said David.

After a few minutes pause, "Admiral what do you propose we do?"

"Well, we have sent three cruisers and a carrier to intercept the Mara Lau, she has over half a million people on board, most of them students and retiree's."

"What sort of officer is Captain Ibanez?", asked Carla.

"The best sort, she's no fool, doesn't take unnecessary risks, she puts the safety of her people above everything, including her own. She was Dallas' CO, before she was wounded in action, here, see for yourself.", the Admiral turned the data terminal to face him, entered his access code, called up Jessica Ibanez' service record.

Carla read it, "She looks to be an able commander, why did she leave the Marines?"

"Ibanez was hurt pretty badly and was looking for a change, she had sixteen years in the Core, half of that with your daughter. After she was discharged from the Marine Core hospital, Doctor Karlston lured her away to command the Mara Lau. Along with quite a few other very good officers and enlisted personnel.", the Admiral informed them.

"What has Kristen got to do with the Mara Lau?", asked David.

"Well she, Princess Ashlay, Celia and Major Hyatt are the owners of Ashkris Leisure, the company that owns and operates the Mara Lau and another three liners. They also own a half dozen cargo ships, three or four mining operations, some planet-side resorts. Things like that.", the Admiral informed them.

"Are you telling me my daughter has become a billionaire?", asked Carla, eyes wide.

"Well, yes, didn't you know? Doctor Karlston put up the money, Major Hyatt has a twenty five percent share in the company. It's all legal and above board, here in the Federation anyway. I hear the story is different in the Empire.", the Admiral remarked.

"In what way?", David asked.

"Well, Doctor Karlston has been sending quite a few of King William's opponent's to the poor house. Robbed them blind, amazing work, I'm glad she is on our side.", replied Admiral Shepherd.

"Our Kristen is a spy for Fleet Intel?", David asked.

The Admiral looked to President Hyatt.

"Yes David, since she and Ashlay first came to live here, when she was fourteen. Sentinel? Remember?", Carla told her son, "Don't you stay awake during security briefings?"

"Admiral, can we call the Mara Lau? I'd like to speak with Captain Ibanez.", Carla asked.

"Certainly Madame President. My I use the phone?", Admiral Shepherd talked briefly to someone in Fleet Command, then said, "It will take a few minutes, Madame President."

"While we wait Admiral, please read this letter from my daughter Monique, see what you think."

After reading Monique's letter, he said, "I can see why you and Major Hyatt are worried. How excitable is your daughter?"

"She's not, ever, Monique is sanest one of us.", was David's reply.

"That's a fair assessment.", agreed the President.

The intercom chimed, "Madame President, I have Captain Ibanez on subspace comlink."

"Thank you Samantha, please put her through."

Captain Ibanez appeared on the wall screen at the end of the room.

"Madam President, this is an honour, I think it would be a good idea if we use the encryption keys Kristen gave us.", Jessica said.

"I agree.", replied Carla.

There was a brief burst of audio and video static.

"Madam President, I would like to apologize for not being able bring Dallas all the way home, we have had problems.", Jessica told them.

"I'm aware Captain, we have help on the way. Do you know where they have gone?", asked Carla.

"No Ma'am, I don't, I have a few ideas, nothing definite. Permission to speak freely Ma'am.", Jessica asked.

"No need to be formal Captain, you're not a Marine. I'm no longer your commander in chief.", said Carla smiling.

"Sorry Ma'am, old habits die hard. I was Dallas' CO for eight years Ma'am, she's an extremely capable soldier, level headed, cool under fire, good in a tight spot. In my estimation Kristen and Ashlay are just as capable. I wouldn't have let them go otherwise.", Jessica told them, "Dallas said they were gonna hit the beach for a while, they have plenty of equipment, weapons and supplies."

"Why did they leave the Mara Lau, Captain?", Carla asked.

"Dallas, Kristen and Ashlay thought they were endangering the ship and her passengers. They, uh, we, reasoned that if they were not aboard, we would be in less danger. It looks like it worked, we caught a fifth saboteur, not before he managed to get a transmission out to somebody, additionally we have evidence he planted two separate devices on Dallas' Raptor."

"What's your next move Captain Ibanez?", asked Admiral Shepherd.

"Well Sir, if I didn't have half a million passengers on board, I'd go looking for them. Although we are outrageously over armed, I am still reluctant to risk my ship, crew and passengers. These people aren't soldiers Madam President, I would be loathe to put them in harms way, even for my friends.", Jessica's voice broke a little, she wiped away a tear, "Sorry Ma'am, I'm worried for my friends, for Dallas."

"I can see that, we have three cruisers and a carrier on their way Captain, would that put your mind at ease?", Carla told her.

"Yes Ma'am, it would, I should warn you though, Dallas will be hard to find, she's an expert in camouflage and concealment. I taught her well, that and she will be on the most distant, hardest to get to world she can find.", Jessica told them, "It could take weeks or months, I told them I wanted some crabs and lobster, that does narrow things down a bit. I am just concerned as to what this animal did to Dallas' ship.", she wiped away another tear, "What do you think Ma'am, would the endgame be to capture them or kill them. I can see Mason wanting Kristen and Ashlay dead, what about Dallas? She was the original target, my people just can't see a motive, you've had more contact with these Empire animals Ma'am, can you shed some light?"

Carla told her, "Not really, no matter what, I would never sacrifice Federation security on her account, nor would she want me to.", Carla noticed Jessica's reaction, "What is it Captain?"

"Those were Dallas' exact words Ma'am.", Jessica said, adding, "You can be proud of your her, as I am."

"I am Captain, I am. Please standby for a moment.", Carla told her, then to Admiral Shepherd, "After they make the rendezvous, I want Captain Ibanez in command of all five ships and the search. Can we do that?"

"I don't see why not,", the Admiral said, "If you look at the Mara Lau's crew roster, for all intents and purposes, she is a Fleet Command ship. So, yes."

"Captain, after you make the rendezvous with the Fleet Command ships, you will be in direct command of all five ships and the search operation, bring my daughters home, do I make myself clear Captain?", Carla asked her.

"Yes Ma'am! Crystal! I won't let you or Dallas down Ma'am.", Jessica solemnly replied.

"Thank you Captain and good luck. New York out."

"Mara Lau out."

The screen went dark gray.

"Madame President, how do you want to handle the situation with your other daughter?", Admiral Shepherd asked.

"Just how far out are they Admiral?", asked David.

"Well, it's as far outward as we have gotten, there are very few systems beyond their location, right on the edge of the galaxy.", the Admiral used the data terminal to call up a plan view of the galaxy on the wall screen,

"We are here. This is where your daughter is.", a small icon appeared. David whistled softly,

"How long a voyage is that, Admiral? two months?"

"Closer to three, Mister Hyatt. As I said, it is a long way out, Professor Faulkner seems to think it was the last place the Seeders lived before they left this galaxy. I should add, he is quite a Seeder fanatic, one of many that see them almost as gods."

"What sort of resources do they have?", asked Carla.

"Beside the dig team, twenty in all, they have a contingent of thirty marines, to help with base maintenance, heavy engineering, security and medical support.", Admiral Shepherd told them, "The base CO sends regular reports, I suggest we review them."

"Well, ", Carla said, "so much for my day off.", she touched the intercom button, "Samantha could you phone the airstrip, ask them to put my plane back in the hangar. Thank you."

"Good to see you keeping up your flight hours Madame President.", Admiral Shepherd said.

"I try to get in a few hours a week, it clears my head.", Carla replied.

David came back from the printer with several sheaf's of collated reports, "Mum, here's Monique's logs, Admiral, the base CO's, I'll take the good professor's logs."

As they poured over the logs and reports it soon became obvious that the team had made a major find. The planet had once supported a population of billions, large cities had been found, many of them ruins, others well preserved, no clue as to what had happened to the inhabitants, it looked as though they had simply vanished. Progress had been slow, even though they had found libraries full of books. They had not been able to make any headway translating them, until Monique had found what had been a secondary school, a periodic table of elements had provided the key to unlock the ancient language. That was four months ago. Afterward, discoveries were made on a daily basis, technologies only dreamt about discovered. It was about this time that Monique's letters had changed in tone and content. It also became obvious that hers was the only mail that showed no sign of tampering. Somebody had been editing all other reports from the dig. Monique had used Kristen's encryption key and sent all her mail home encoded. No one else had bothered, why would they? This was scholarly work, carried out by professionals and students. As the months wore on, the disparity between the official reports and Monique's became greater and greater.

The obvious culprit was Professor Faulkner, but why? What was he trying to keep hidden?

"I think Major Hyatt was right, we should send a larger contingent of marines and technical personnel.", Admiral Shepherd suggested.

"I agree Admiral, How long would it take to assemble a team?", asked Carla.

"A month, six weeks at the most, some of the technology your daughter talks about could be dangerous, to say the least, in the wrong hands.", the Admiral told them.

"Well, let's get on it. I am so glad Angelina is an architect and not a gung ho adventurer like my other daughters.", Carla said worried, then as an aside, "By the way, David, you're grounded!"

They all laughed.

"Yeah, right, like politics is a safe profession. I should have joined up with Dallas, besides getting blown up, it sounds like she was having fun.", David replied.

"Well, never to late to join up son! Fleet and the Core could use a man like you!", Admiral Shepherd said jovially, until he saw the expression on his Commander in Chief's face, "Just joking, Madam President, just joking."


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 7


Chapter 7 - Setting sail

The four adventurers had explored the resort complex, found a four bedroom bungalow in good repair, cleaned, dusted and aired the house. The furniture was all serviceable, being made of synthetic materials, not having had exposure to the sun and elements. The view from the patio was one of surf, wide sandy beach and palm trees. Frequently they saw pods of whales and dolphins, playing in the warm, shallow waters of the bay. Kristen made crab nets and lobster pots, catching a few of both, they fished every day, collected fruit from the trees in and around the resort. There were bananas, paw-paw, mango, avocado and coconuts. The planet, Silas, had a single moon which made for easy tide calculations, within the first few days, Kristen had found and modified a clock to show them the tides. The three of them worked on the sailboat, Sirocco, its name painted on the stern. They didn't have much to do, just small maintenance jobs. Kristen managed to get the sonar and radar to work. They took her out and sailed down the coast to another resort, finding much the same as they had at the first.

"This is even better than onboard the Mara Lau.", Ashlay said, she was drawing and painting constantly, finding inspiration in everything she saw.

Dallas and Kristen went to work on the Dragonfly, removing the the damaged inspection cover, they were able to see the extent of the damage.

"This doesn't look good.", Kristen said.

"No, and none of these transports have FTL drive, we'll have to go to the other island, see if the ships at the spaceport have parts we can use.", Dallas said, "If it comes down to it, could you make one from scratch?"

"Given the right tools and materials, yes I could. We'll have to check out the workshops at the mine and spaceport."

They made their plans to cross the fifty or so kilometers of open ocean to the main settlement, it wasn't far but Dallas wanted no surprises. They found sea charts, showing where the reefs and shoals were, it was an easy voyage and they were looking forward to making the crossing.

"You know we could take the Dragonfly.", Dallas said, "It would be safer, not as much fun, more practical."

"Don't be silly Dallas,", Ashlay said, "Who cares about safety and practicality?"

Dallas was amazed at how relaxed Ashlay had become, here she was no princess, they were sitting around a fire on the beach, spit roasting a small piglet Ashlay had shot that morning. It had surprised Dallas when Ashlay had asked to borrow an assault rifle from the Dragonfly's small armoury.

They had made a salad from wild lettuce, cress and some other vegetables they'd found in a garden inland from the resort. Just about everything they needed was just a short walk or drive away. Kristen had worked for two days on a small air cushion vehicle they'd found, finally her efforts paid off. Going upriver they discovered a marsh, wild rice growing in abundance. They harvested several kilograms, it was excellent steamed.

"Well I don't think we'll have to worry about malnutrition.", said Kristen laughing, "I don't think I've ever eaten so well!"

"If we keep this up we're gonna get fat!", Dallas joked.

"Dallas, I'm not saying we shouldn't go to the other island, fix the ship, but...", Ashlay paused.

"What Ash?"

"I don't want to leave, ever."

"What about our families, they will worry about us, I know Mum will.", Dallas told her, "Besides, what happens when you run out of paint, pencils, paper, canvas and guitar strings?"

"I can make my own paper from local materials, the same goes for pigments, I can stretch some sail cloth for canvas, guitar strings are problematical, I'm sure I can improvise."

"Ash that all sounds like grasping at straws, what if one of us gets sick or worse injured?"

"I simply do not want to leave. You three go back, I want to stay. I will keep the home fires burning for you.", Ashlay was serious. Dallas understood perfectly, here they were beholden to no one other than themselves and each other, it was a seductively good life.

"Look, we'll talk more on this later, we're not leaving until we fix the ship or Jessica comes and gets us. OK? Don't fret, we'll work something out. If I have to spend the rest of my days here with you three, I can cope with that.", Dallas told her.

"Alright, when do we leave for the other island?", Ashlay asked, "Let us set a date."

"Itchy feet, Sis?", Kristen asked.

"Sort of, I was looking at the stills and video I shot as we flew over, your likening it to Angkor Wat has not helped, I want to do some drawing and painting there.", Ashlay replied.

"I really like the work you've done since we've been here Ash, you've really caught the spirit of the place.", Dallas told her, "How about we leave the day after tomorrow?"

"Fine by me, Ash?", Kristen said.

"Just give the word Dallas, I'm ready now.", Ashlay replied.

"Celia,", Dallas said, "You've been quiet since we landed, are you enjoying yourself?"

{Yes Dallas, I'm happy to be here with my friends, also it's not often I get to hunt every day}

The next morning they made Sirocco ready for the voyage, laying in supplies and water. They did not expect the trip to last longer than a day, but Dallas wanted to make sure they had a wide margin for error, eight years as a Marine had taught her to plan ahead. The five P principle, Proper Planing Prevents Poor Performance.

"I heard it was the six P principle!", Kristen said laughing.

"Yeah, but the brass doesn't like it when you yell that at the top your lungs.", Dallas replied.

They spent the rest of the day surfing and lying around on the beach. Ashlay had asked Dallas to sit for a portrait several days ago, "I want to give Carla a present, to repay her kindness over the years.", Ashlay said.

"So you are planing to go back?"

"No.", was all Ashlay would say. She had roughed out the painting and was now working on detail.

"Am I really that good looking?", Dallas asked.

"Dallas, you are one of the most beautiful women I've ever met.", Ashlay told her friend.

"I'll second that!", Kristen declared.

"It's all surgery, you know that. I've been rebuilt three times now, no doubt the doctors used a bit of artistic license here and there."

"That's the silliest thing I've ever heard Dallas! I've seen photo's of what you looked like before we met, you looked no different after that first accident and no different after the second!", Kristen told her.

"I agree Dallas. You are not still wondering about who you are, are you?", Ashlay asked, concerned. She knew it was a common phenomena for those who had undergone massive physical trauma and reconstruction.

"Not really, I don't know, I just have doubts sometimes, that's all.", Dallas replied quietly.

Kristen hugged her, not knowing what to say.

{You are Dallas Hyatt, my friend, I would know if you were not}, Celia told her.

They sat quietly, watching the surf roll in, seabirds riding the breeze.

"High tide is at ten hundred, local time, so we'll have to break precedent and get up early!", Dallas told them.

"Do we have an alarm clock?", Ashlay asked, "I left my watch on the Dragonfly."

"My laptop will do the job.", Kristen told her, it was the only way they had of marking time, three weeks had passed since their arrival.

As the sun set, they saw dolphins surfing breakers in the fading light.

The next morning they were awake just after dawn, starting their day with a morning swim.

"I could really could get used to this Kristen.", Dallas said, "Maybe Ash is right, we should stay."

"Jessica will find us or your mother will have half the Fleet looking for us.", Kristen replied, "I don't want to worry Carla, our parents or Captain Jessica. Besides we have a company to run."

The four adventurers made their way to the dock and at the change of tide, cast off, raised the jib. Navigating out through the reef was made easier with a working sonar, once clear they turned into the wind, raised the mainsail, the morning breeze picked up and their island home fell away to stern.

The four of them sat in the cockpit, Dallas making course corrections as needed.

{We have an escort}, Celia told them, as dolphins rode their bow wave, {they are wondering if the other people are returning}

"What did you tell them Celia?", Dallas asked.

{I told them it was just the four of us, they say they miss the people being here}

Just after midday they saw clouds on the horizon, radar showed them the other, larger island.

"We've made good time.", Dallas told them.

Three hours later the women could see the taller buildings of the town, they were hard to make out at first, being covered with vines and creepers. Ashlay took dozens of photographs. As they rounded the breakwater, they saw seals, some sunning themselves on the rocks, others playing in the waves.

{They seals say hello, they too are wondering if the other people are returning}, Celia said.

"How did they know we were here?", Ashlay asked, taking more photographs.

{They saw us fly over}

"I wish I could swim that well.", Dallas said.

"Me too.", Kristen agreed.

They rounded the breakwater and entered the marina, The town beyond looked even more mysterious up close than it had when they overflew it.

"This must have been a big mine, this town is way larger than other mining settlements I've been to.", Dallas told them.

"Well, the almanac and encyclopedia say there was a population of over two million people here. They brought their families, so they needed to bring all the trappings of civilization, administrators, teachers, doctors. When the ore ran out this place was abandoned almost overnight. It says here all the people were gone within a year.", Kristen was reading from her laptop, "As you said Dallas, navigation in this system is challenging. I can't help wondering though, with modern technology this system could be made profitable, all the minerals in those two asteroid belts would be worth a fortune."

"How much money do you need, Kristen?", Dallas asked.

"It's not just us, it's all our employees, we own four mining companies, when the ore they're mining runs out, they'll need somewhere to go. We have a responsibility to our workers. We employ thousands of people.", Kristen replied, adding, "Besides I'm going to have a wife to support!"

Dallas and Ashlay laughed.

"Kristen, What else do we own?", Ashlay asked.

"A few things, I've tried to diversify our income. It's not good to put all our eggs in one basket. We own a few resorts, like the ones on the other island, others are really swanky, real five star jobs, every need catered for. We're in shipping, not just the four liners, bulk cargo haulers. Then there's my consultancy, I develop software and do engineering stuff, you know the genius business. Oh, and I write games and simulation software.", Kristen replied.

"I had no idea you were so busy.", Ashlay said surprised.

"I try! Things have picked up since we've been living aboard the Mara Lau this last year and a half."

"You've done all this in the last eight years?", Dallas asked, as surprised as Ashlay.

"Well, no, I've been making money with my brain since I was fourteen, when we came to the Federation. I didn't give Fleet Command 'Sentinel' and the other programs I wrote for them. Remember I also own the rights to a few basic patents, the royalties on those alone would keep us comfortable for the rest of our lives.", Kristen told them.

They reefed the sails, tied up at the dock. Now that they were actually at the town, it was somehow more menacing.

{Will you all calm down, I keep telling you, besides the sea dwellers, we are alone, totally}, Celia told them amused.

"It's OK for you Celia, we don't have the senses you do. It's a human thing, fear of the unknown.", Dallas told her.

{Fear of the unknown is not just a human condition, in this case I can feel you more afraid of your imaginations!}, Celia was more than a little amused, {Do not worry, I will give you all plenty of warning if peril approaches, be calm, enjoy the moment}

They laughed, knowing Celia was right, their imaginings far worse than any real threat.

"We should look for some kind of ground vehicle, it's a twenty five kilometer hike to the spaceport.", Dallas said.

Ashlay had her sketchpad out and was drawing the town from the dock area, "This is beautiful, in a way I can not quite define.", she said.

"I know what you mean,", Kristen agreed, "Dallas, are there many planets like this?"

"Lots, like you said, ore bodies don't last forever. We learnt our lessons on Earth the hard way, worlds where mining takes place don't suffer the environmental vandalism that we inflicted on the Earth. It took us five hundred years to figure that out, remember by the end of the twenty first century Earth was pretty trashed,", Dallas told them, "Mines like Ok'Tedi or Bouganville, simply wouldn't be allowed to go ahead, you should know that, being the owner of a mining company."

"That's not what I meant, Large settlements like this, abandoned.", Kristen replied, "Incidentally, WE, own mining ships, the law is way more relaxed for asteroid mining operation's."

Dallas laughed, "Sorry I wasn't implying you were environmentally irresponsible or a vandal! I went to a world once that had to be abandoned, the star had become unstable, massive flare activity, I think in a hundred years that place would be spookier, the radiation will have killed off all the plants, animals, everything. That would be sadder than this. Nothing but dust."

"That does sound sad.", Ashlay agreed.

Kristen had her scanner out, "Looks to be power readings that way.", she indicated a direction, they shouldered backpacks and set off.

As they made their way through the deserted town Dallas understood the fascination studying the past had for her sister Monique. She wondered how her younger sister was, whether or not she was safe.

"Monique would love this!", Kristen said.

"I was just thinking that, are you reading my mind witch?", Dallas said laughing, then, {Can she do that Celia?}

Kristen laughed.

{No, Kristen can not, and before you ask, neither can I without you knowing it, most of the time I just get a general impression of how you all feel}

"But you said you could tell if a ship enters the system.", Dallas said aloud.

{Yes, but that is the presence of many minds, that is why I could not sense the ships trailing the Mara Lau, all those on board masked the others presence}

"Right, so we use you as a sort of, I don't know, um, telephone exchange, is the nearest thing that comes to mind.", Dallas asked.

{I usually do rebroadcast our conversations amongst us, otherwise it would sound like you were talking to yourself}

"So, how far, I mean, what kind of range does this work at?", Dallas asked.

{Telepathy is a complicated interaction between subspace, hyperspace and realspace, so if I know the person well, the range is unlimited, time not a factor}

"Wow! Does that mean you could tell Jessica and my mother that we are alright? Could you check on Monique for me? Tell her we plan to visit after we see Carla?", Dallas asked.

{I could try, though it might be somewhat disconcerting for them, I have spoken to them before, so they will know that it is me, still, it may be unsettling, especially if they happen to be asleep}

"Please Celia, could you try, especially Monique, I'm worried about her."

{I will try, though it may take a while, I will need to concentrate}

"I'm glad I know you Celia, grateful you are my friend, my sister, one of my family. I love you, I always have."

{Likewise Dallas, I owe you and your family a great debt, without your father, I might have ended up spending my last days in a lab. My greatest regret is and always will be, not being able to prevent his death}

"Celia, are you a Seeder?", Dallas asked, "I've always wondered."

Kristen and Ashlay were surprised at Dallas' query.

{What a strange question Dallas, what makes you ask?}

"Well a lot of things, your grasp of language, culture and technology, I'm sure you're thousands of years old, maybe older. You have a, I'm not sure how to put this, a quality I can't quite define. A worldliness, scholarly."

{Hmm, interesting idea, well thought out, but no, I am not a Seeder}

"Would you tell us if you were?", Ashlay asked.

{Yes, I would, you are my family, now let me concentrate, I'll try to contact our other sisters}

They walked on towards the power source Kristen had detected, taking photographs, holographs and shooting video as they went. All the buildings had furniture, the offices had workstations on desks, paintings and photographs hanging, sculptures in foyers. As the buildings were sealed there was no dust or weather damage. It gave the town a surreal, dreamlike quality. At one point, Ashlay spied her reflection in a mirror, she screamed, had her handgun out of its holster before she knew it, then quickly realized it was herself she saw. Kristen and Dallas had drawn their sidearms, gone for cover. Ashlay turned to apologise to her companions, saw an empty street, had a second moment of terror,

"D,Dallas, Kristen, Celia?", she called quietly. Dallas peered around from behind an overgrown planter she had thrown herself behind, Kristen dripping from the fountain she had dove into, Celia looking down from a small tree.

"Ash! Don't do that!", Kristen yelled, then started laughing. Dallas got up, dusted herself off, went to Ashlay, hugged her, "Are you OK?"

"Yes, sorry, The patina of dust on the window partially obscured that mirror.", she said sheepishly. They all holstered their handguns and kept walking.

"And you want to stay here by yourself!", Dallas said laughing.

After two hours of walking, they reached the power source Kristen had detected, it was a generator in a maintenance building. Inside were a dozen vehicles, all hooked up to the garage charging system.

"Yes!", Kristen exclaimed, "Let's see if we can coax one of these into working."

The first truck they tried powered up with no problem, Dallas folded the windscreen forward, while Kristen persuaded the garage door to open.

"Well, that was easy.", Ashlay said.

They continued on their way, driving to the edge of town. The road to the spaceport was cracked, buckling in places, grass and brush growing through the pavement. Dallas drove slowly, about halfway they came to a bridge. Dallas brought the truck to a halt, they got out, Kristen started to scan the bridge structure, seeing if it was safe to cross, it was ten metres down to the fast flowing river below.

"I can't see any flaws in the structure, it should be safe.", she told them.

"All the same, I'll drive over, you three cross on foot.", Dallas said. She waited until her companions had crossed then drove over the bridge.

"I wonder how much time must pass before a structure like this becomes unstable.", Ashlay wondered aloud.

"Hard to say Sis, depends how over-engineered it is to start with.", Kristen replied, still scanning as Dallas drove over, "This bridge will be here for quite a while I think, I'm not getting a peep from the structure."

They got back in the truck, continued along the road, which had started to climb into the foothills behind the town, the spaceport was on a plateau, near one of the mines. As they rose higher into the mountain range, they saw the settlement spread out on the coastal plain and were able to see the Sirocco at her mooring. Dallas began to worry they might not make it back to the boat before nightfall.

"I'm starting to think we should have waited until tomorrow morning before going to to the 'port.", Dallas said.

"Are you worried about driving back in the dark?", Ashlay asked.

"A little, I guess I'm getting cautious in my old age!", Dallas joked.

"I resent that!", Kristen said in mock indignation, "We're the same age!!"

They arrived at the spaceport, it looked like any one of a thousand other medium sized airports or space ports. "Have you ever noticed no matter where you go, air and spaceports always look the same?", remarked Kristen, "It's like they stamp them out or something."

Dallas laughed.

Ashlay replied, "I thinks it is form following function, getting passengers and luggage to and from their destination as efficiently as possible. What I do not understand is why no mater which culture or race, the music they play is just as similar as the facilities."

Dallas laughed again, "That's another universal constant, there will always be people who get nervous about leaving the ground, the music is supposed to be soothing."

{I have always thought it would be less intimidating and put the passengers more at ease if they didn't call it a 'terminal'}, Celia remarked. The other women found this hysterical, Dallas had to stop the truck she was laughing so hard.

After consulting the photographs that Ashlay had taken from the air, Dallas drove around the terminal building to the tarmac area. When they saw the parked shuttles, Dallas swore under her breath, "Well Ashlay, looks like you get your wish, we won't be leaving anytime soon, unless Kristen can fabricate the parts we need."

"Why do say that Dallas? We have not looked inside any of these ships yet.", said Ashlay.

"These are all ground to orbit shuttles Ashlay, they have no FTL drive.", Kristen told her.

"Oh. Might not there be spares in some of these hangars?", Ashlay asked.

"Maybe, but don't hold your breath.", Dallas replied, "I guess we get to see just how good an engineer Kristen really is."

"Like I said before, No pressure!", Kristen said, "Let's look for the maintenance area, it should be signposted."

They found a site directory, followed the signposts to the maintenance area, again Dallas swore softly, using a word little boys like to scrawl on privy walls.

"I concur Dallas, we should have thought of this.", said Kristen.

"I do not understand, what is wrong?", Ashlay asked, "Pretend for a moment I am but a simple artist."

"Look around Ash. What do you see?", Dallas asked her.

The maintenance facilities were enormous, huge graving docks, a kilometer long and half as wide. Gantry cranes two hundred and fifty metres high. The workshop buildings themselves were almost as big in area as some of the larger parks on the Mara Lau. This was engineering on a truly gargantuan scale. Ashlay was taking photographs, holograms and making rough sketches of everything she saw.

"Well, uh,", replied Ashlay, "It all looks very big. Oh, I think I see the dilemma. They only serviced the ore transports here."

"Exactly, we might have more luck in the mine workshops, but again, don't hold you your breath. Kristen what do you think?"

"I don't know, let's look around some more. Even if we don't find anything we can use, this is all way cool, I don't know about you two, but I live for this stuff! I can't wait to see the mine!"

Dallas laughed, "I have to agree, it is impressive, I've seen this sort of thing before at other mines and the Fleet repair yards. We should look for some kind of admin building. We might get a better overview from there."

They drove on, exploring on foot would have been pointless. Kristen examined Ashlay's photographs again, "Turn right when we leave this building Dallas."

Approaching one of the graving docks, they found an ore carrier. Outwardly it looked intact.

"I know the Mara Lau is many times larger, but this is still impressive, on the aerial photograph it looks like a building.", Ashlay said.

The ore boat all but filled the dock, eight hundred metres long, four hundred metres wide and just as high. "How do we get in, I would like to see inside.", said Ashlay, then as an afterthought, "I wonder if it is still serviceable."

Kristen and Dallas gave her a surprised look.

"I was not suggesting we go home in her, but, if it came down to it, could we?", Ashlay had simply been speculating out loud, now she wondered at the possibility of getting this small leviathan into space.

"So much for the simple artist.", Dallas said.

"Look over there, is that a boarding ramp?", Kristen asked, wondering what was going on in her sisters mind.

"Yep, looks like it.", Dallas replied, driving the truck towards the structure Kristen had indicated. The boarding ramp was of the same proportions as the other machinery around them, large enough for Dallas to drive the truck up and into the ship. Dallas turned on the truck's headlights. Inside the way to engineering was clearly marked, the passageway more than ample for them to drive through.

"Kristen, are you getting any energy readings?", Ashlay asked excitedly.

"Sorry to burst your bubble Ash, there is no way I'm going into space in a ship that's over a hundred years old and probably longer past an overhaul!", Dallas told her.

"I am getting energy readings Dallas.", Kristen said.

"Might we not get the parts we need for the Dragonfly, or the materials to fabricate what we need?", Ashlay asked.

"It's possible, I'll still need a machine-shop, furnace, measurement and diagnostic equipment, it's a good idea Ash.", replied Kristen.

They drove into the main engineering area, leaving the trucks headlights on, they took flashlights out and began looking around. "If a ship this size has an engineering area this big, what is it like on the Mara Lau?", Ashlay asked her sister.

Kristen laughed, "Way bigger, and there are over forty sites, spread all through the ship. All this is power and propulsion. Mara Lau's engineering sections are way more complex, as a liner she has to be, this is just a bulk hauler."

"It is all very impressive, just the scale, like everything else we have seen today.", Ashlay said.

"When we get back to the Mara Lau, I'll show you around.", Kristen told her.

"Kris, any idea what the warp field generator looks like on a ship this big? or where it might be?", Dallas asked.

"Only vaguely, give me a few minutes."

They looked around for about an hour, then Kristen said, "OK, get ready to run for it!"

"Why? What are you going to...", Dallas didn't get to finish her question. She became aware of a steadily building whine, then without any smoke, sparks or flame, the lights came on.

"OK, I think the Chief Engineer's office is this way.", Kristen walked down a short corridor, to a door marked Chief Engineer. She went in, the others following.

"Next time you do something like that, could you give us a little more warning? Please?", Dallas asked.

"Uh, yeah, OK, sorry.", Kristen said absently as she started going through records and maintenance schedules.

"Looks like we could almost take this ship up Dallas, her name was the John Ross, sorry his name. They had just finished installing new life support systems when they got the word to bug out. I'm starting to wonder what the whole story was here, maybe the ore didn't run out.", Kristen said, "Let's go up to the bridge."

The bridge was fifty metres above them, they took the stairs, not trusting the elevators. When they finally reached the bridge, Kristen made sure all the running and navigation lights were off, she was still cautious about attracting unwanted attention. Kristen brought the ships computer out of its long slumber, using her laptop she hacked into the Captain's log. The final entry spoke bitterly of financial mismanagement, corporate bungling and finally, embezzlement. The company had been trading insolvent for ten years, senior board members had covered it up, ending up in jail, the company went into receivership. The employees had tried to buy the company, but the level of debt had been to high. In the end the Federation had stepped in and ferried the population back to civilization. The people had had a good life on this world, a good life that had been ended by stupidity and greed.

"You realize what this means don't you? The mine is a going concern! According to the voyage logs, there is an ore processing plant somewhere in the inner asteroid belt! We could make this place live again! We have to get back, I'm going to acquire this system for Ashkris Mining!", Kristen was ecstatic.

"We still have to get back.", Dallas reminded her.

"Details, details, look at the big picture Dallas!"

"So, could we take this ship home if the need arises?", asked Ashlay.

"From what I'm seeing here, yeah, we could, this ship, like most of the stuff we've found is operational!", Kristen told her sister.

Dallas decided to put her foot down, firmly, "Listen very carefully, both of you. This ship is way and beyond too big for the four of us to manage. Way too big! Understood? How long is it since she had an overhaul?"

Kristen checked, "Looks like, in round numbers, one hundred and ten years."

"I rest my case! No ifs, buts, or maybes, we are not, repeat, not taking this ship out, not until an engineering team has given it a thorough going over and we have a full crew, OK? After that if Ashlay wants to be a bulk hauler Captain, fine! But not until then. Are we clear? Say it marines, that's an order!"

"Yes Ma'am, we are clear.", both princess' sulkily replied.



"Good, now we have that settled, shut her down, the sun has set, we'll come back in the morning. Let's get back to the Sirocco, I'm hungry.", Dallas said.

Kristen shut down the computer, they made their way back to engineering where she shut down the power. As they got back into the truck, Kristen stage whispered to Ashlay, "I'm starting to think Dallas is the sort of officer that gets 'accidentally' shot by her own troops."

"I heard that, marine, watch yourself or it'll be ten lashes!", Dallas said laughing.

"Ooo! Promise?", Kristen said as she put her arm around Dallas, hugged her.

Ashlay laughed.

"The things we go through for the ones we love!", Dallas said, hugging back, kissed her.

"Oh, please you two, get a room!", Ashlay said laughing.

Dallas drove out of the ship, threading her way through the maintenance area, spaceport and onto the road leading back to town. The drive back was uneventful, the view from the plateau of the sun setting over the ocean, was breathtaking.

"I am glad we now know what really happened here.", Ashlay said.

"Yes,", Dallas agreed, "See Ash, I told you we would sort things out."

"You mean my sisters impending flogging? It might keep her in line for a while, do not count on it lasting.", Ashlay said, "We may have to make it a weekly event."

"Thank you very much!", Kristen replied, "I think I shall sulk!"

"Oh No, not that, anything but that, quickly Dallas, do something!"

Dallas kissed her wife to be, "Better now?"

"Almost, Watch the road woman!"

"So what did you mean Dallas?", asked Ashlay.

"Well if we are going to buy or acquire or whatever this system we can be here quite a bit. It is a beautiful place, I for one would like to live here. We can keep the other island for ourselves, have our privacy, still be near at least the vestiges of civilization, you know, little things like health care, regular mail, occasional shopping trips."

"I suppose you are right, I would prefer to have the place to ourselves though."

"Me too,", added Kristen, "I can see Dallas' point. I wouldn't want any of us to get sick or injured, especially with no way to get help or medical attention. I do want to have kids one day, I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure we'll need medical intervention for me to bear Dallas' children."

"Ashlay, how do you think our parents are going to cope with Kristen and I getting married?", Dallas asked.

"Our parents will be fine, Carla will take it her stride as she does most things. I can not see your sisters or brother minding, so do not worry. Why? Not getting cold feet already?"

"Not at all, Kristen talking about children got me thinking, that's all. I love this lunatic, I always have and always will. Same goes for you and Celia."

They wound their way down the mountain, the moon rose as they passed over the bridge, the river below making its noisy way to the coast. Hearing it, Ashlay wondered aloud, "I wonder if there are any kayaks back in town?"

"I wouldn't doubt it, we've found every other piece of sporting equipment here. We have the canoe back on the Dragonfly.", replied Dallas.

When they reached the edge of town, Dallas said to Ashlay, "Ash, Could you get your photo map out and navigate us back to the dock?"

"Yes Ma'am."

Ashlay found them a route to the coast road, it was the long way, but they didn't care. They arrived back at the dock, Sirocco waiting for them.


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 8


Chapter 8 - Interlude - Message in a dream

It was after midnight in New York City, President Carla Hyatt was in the midst of an uneasy sleep, the trouble brewing within the Empire, the concern about her daughters safety, the ongoing stress of being responsible for the health and well being of a hundred and fifty billion people, were all taking their toll. She was dreaming, in her dream she was on a on sailboat tied up at dock, seabirds wheeled overhead, she could see seals playing in the water, others sunning themselves on a breakwater. Beyond the dock lay a town, the buildings overgrown with vines and creepers. She was there. This was the most vivid, detailed dream she could recall. Celia was on deck, speaking to her.

{Hello Carla, this is no dream, Dallas wanted me to make contact with you. I told her you might find it a little disconcerting}

"That's alright Celia. Where are we?"

{This is the primary planet in the Silas system. We are well, having a fine time, this planet is a paradise, we have plenty to eat, the others are in good health and spirits. Dallas' ship was damaged by sabotage. We were able to land, but have no FTL capability}

"I have Captain Ibanez looking for you. Do you need me to tell her where you are?", Carla said, looking around, it did look to be a very beautiful place.

{It might be prudent, you were easy to find as I knew where you were. As I'm not sure where Captain Jessica is, it may take longer to reach her. Dallas has asked me to look in on Monique. She is worried that there may be trouble where she is}

"Yes, It would seem so, I have ordered a team assembled, they will be leaving in two, three weeks and arrive almost three months later. Could you make contact with her?", Carla asked amazed, she knew Celia had many talents, this was something else altogether.

{It would be easier if I knew her location}

"I know where she is, I could show you"

{Yes, that would help, picture the location in your mind}

Carla thought about the map Admiral Shepherd had shown them.

{Carla, that is a bad place for anyone to be, those people were very advanced, I have been there, many centuries ago. They thought they were making a great leap of evolution, in the end, it was their doom}

"Will they be safe?", Carla asked concerned.

{As long as they do not activate certain pieces pf equipment they will, if they do, then I'm not sure}

"Celia, can I talk to the others, I would like to speak with Dallas.", Carla asked, she sat down next to Celia in the boats cockpit.

"Mum?! How did you get here?", Dallas asked, looking around eyes wide, suddenly finding herself sitting next to her mother.

"Dallas! I have missed you! Celia brought me here, we're dreaming.", Carla said hugging her daughter.

{I told you it would be disconcerting}

"Oh wow, you look good! How have you been? How are David and Angelina? Have you heard from Monique?", Dallas asked.

"I'm fine, worried about my two adventurous daughters. David and Angelina are fine. Happy and well. We don't know how Monique is. Celia just told me she could be in great danger. The fool in charge of her dig may have stirred up some trouble.", Carla replied.

{There will only be trouble if they activate certain equipment, otherwise, that planet is a treasure trove of knowledge, you will learn a lot, maybe to much}

"Celia,", Carla asked, "are you one of the race we refer to as the Seeders?"

Dallas laughed, "I asked her that, just yesterday."

{No Carla, I am not, neither were the people where Monique is, the Seeders are long gone, they had left millions of years before my people went into space. The main legacy the Seeders left are worlds like this. Most of the ruins people attribute to the Seeders are the remains of other, long dead civilizations}

"Where did they go?", Carla asked.

{They ascended to a higher plane of existence, a non corporeal state of formless energy, pure consciousness}

"Sounds boring.", Dallas said.

{Yes, it does, that is why I did not follow some of my people when they ascended, millennia ago. I never held to the notion, 'I think, therefore I am'. Physical existence and life are far too rich and varied to give up, no matter how much experience one acquires, even if it does mean I am one of only a handful of my kind left}

Carla and Dallas sat quietly, watching the seals swim and play, seabirds wheeling overhead.

"I really, really wish you were here Mum. You would love this place. Do you remember the boat Dad had, like this one?", Dallas said.

"Yes, where did you find it? And what's this about getting engaged?", Carla asked.

"We found her in a boat shed, on the other island where we've been living, it's about fifty kilometers east.", Dallas replied, "As to getting engaged, Kristen asked, I thought about it for a while, then said yes. Don't worry, Kristen has already said she wants to give you grandchildren. In a lot of ways it makes sense."

"Yes, I can't see any force in the galaxy stopping you two being apart for any length of time. Are you going back to the Marine Core?"

"No, I liked the life, but I have the feeling I'm going to be busy for a while.", Dallas told her mother, then, "Did Fleet Intel keep you informed of what Kristen and I did. After Dad and Micheal were killed?"

"Yes, I received regular briefings, I never would have believed you a criminal, Dallas. As hard as it was, I just went along with the popular theory, that you were acting out in grief and rage. I'm very, very proud of you, the person you've become and all you've accomplished. Your service record is quite impressive, you've done good work. Stop beating yourself up, you did the right thing, it may not have been legal, but it was right.", Carla told her.

"Celia, I don't suppose you can teleport Mum here can you?", Dallas asked wistfully.

{I'm afraid not, it is too far, Carla too big}

They sat quietly together, enjoying the moment, each others company, the motion of the swell gently rocking the boat. After what seemed like several hours, Celia told them,

{I'm afraid I will have to break the link, I will inform Captain Jessica of our location, Carla, you should use more conventional means in case I can not. I will try to make contact with Monique}

"How much of this will I remember?", Carla asked.

{Everything, now say your goodbyes, and don't worry}

"I'll try not to, and Celia, thank you for this.", Carla said, stroking Celia's fur.

"I'll see you soon Mum, I promise, I'd like to go help Monique, we were going there anyway, after I had been home.", Dallas said, "Goodbye, I love you."

"I love you too, say 'Hi' to Ashlay and my daughter in law to be. Be safe. I'll be waiting to hear from you.", Carla said, "I'm ready Celia, send me home and thank you."

{As always, you are welcome Carla}

Carla awoke, reached out, turned on the light, sat up. She wondered if what had happened was real or if she was losing her mind. Had she really spoken to Dallas through Celia's link?

{Yes, it was real Carla, remember the name of the planet was 'Silas'}

"Celia?", she said aloud, "Are you still here?"

{Well no, I never was, not physically. For a true telepath, distance is never a barrier. Now I will have to leave you, I must try to contact Monique and Captain Jessica}

"'Bye.", Carla said to an empty room.

Carla got up, put on her robe, went to her office, it was just after 1 am.

She picked up the telephone, dialed Admiral Shepherd. He answered after several rings, sounding groggy.

"Sorry to wake you Alan, but I have just had word from Dallas, we need to contact Captain Ibanez, I have the name of the system where Dallas and the girls are."

"How?", Admiral Shepherd asked.

"This is going to sound crazy, but, Celia used her telepathic ability, I was asleep, she took me to the world where the girls are, in a dream. When I woke up she spoke to me again, made sure I knew it was real. She has given me some disturbing information."

"You're right Madame President, it does sound crazy.", Admiral Shepherd agreed, "But I am well aware of Celia's abilities. I can't vouch for the integrity of this link, so watch what you say. I will be right over."

"Thank you Admiral, I would appreciate it."

She hung up, went to her room, dressed. Even though she had only slept for a few hours, Carla felt refreshed, it was as if her dream trip to the world where Dallas was had been real, her tension and fatigue washed away by the warm tropical waters of a world many light-years away.

Admiral Shepherd arrived within half an hour.

"Madame President, what did Celia tell you?", he asked.

Carla described the experience, what Celia had said about the world Monique was on, the dangers that lurked there.

"So, these people attempted to rise to higher state of being, failed and destroyed themselves?", Admiral Shepherd asked.

"Yes, Celia said she had been to that world, many centuries ago, told me it was a treasure trove of knowledge, implied we would have to be careful how we used it. Celia told me more about herself than she ever had before, that alone make me nervous."

"What did she say?"

Carla related what Celia had said about herself, her people, the Seeders.

Admiral Shepherd said, "I'd always thought the Seeder stories were bogus, too many of them, each conflicting with every other and that's only the faintly probable ones. I've always thought they might have been like us, explorers, moving from star to star, colonizing, terraforming, taking plants and animals with them, the same way we do."

"I think the revelations about Celia and her people more interesting. I always knew she was old, until now I could never have imagined how old and well traveled. She certainly is an amazing person.", Carla said.

"Getting back to the situation with your daughter Monique. Could it be the device the people there used in their attempt to evolve is what Professor Faulkner has found. I can see him finding a description of it, but if the people who built it became non corporeal, there would have been no one left to record what happened after they used it. It would also explain why it looks as though they all simply vanished, because they did, vanish.", Admiral Shepherd said.

"Dallas told me they had planned on going to see Monique after they visited here. I'm starting to think it would be a good idea if Celia and Kristen went there, their combined knowledge and skills may be all we have to stop a disaster.", Carla told the Admiral.

"And Celia is going to try making contact with Monique, to warn her?", he asked.

"Yes, that was her plan. How are we going contacting the Mara Lau?"

"The call should come through anytime now."

Onboard the Mara Lau, Captain Ibanez was worried how her friends were making out. They had visited only two of the twelve systems on the list Dallas had given her. That had taken three weeks. As Jessica went over progress reports from the Captain's of the other Fleet Command ship's involved in the search, she felt a familiar presence in her mind,

{Celia? Is that you?}, she thought.

{Yes, Captain Jessica, it is I. How many other telepaths do you know?}

{Well, none, but I figured you're not the only one around. How are you? Is everything alright?}, Jessica asked.

Celia related what had happened, where they were, what she had learned from President Hyatt.

{You should be getting a call from Carla anytime now. How long will it take you to get here?}, Celia told her.

{From here it should be about a week. I'll tell the carrier's Captain to recall the scout ships and fighters we have scanning the world we're currently orbiting. We'll break orbit and be on our way in a couple of hours}, Jessica told her, {Have they got my crabs and lobster?}

{Yes, and quite tasty they are. You will love this world. By the way, Kristen wants the Ashkris legal people to lay claim to the Silas system}

{What? Why?}, Jessica asked.

Celia filled Jessica in on what they had found, what Kristen had in mind.

{OK, I'll get on it straight away. That girl is a marvel, there's no doubt about it}, Jessica said.

{Yes, Kristen amazes me at times}, Celia replied, adding, {I will leave you now, See you soon}

{You can bank on it! Save me some crab!}

Captain Ibanez called the Captain's of the three cruisers and the carrier, told them she had confirmation of the location of the President's daughter, she didn't tell them how she had received the information, letting them think it had come by conventional means. All five ships made ready to get underway. Three hours latter they were en route to the Silas system. The Comms officer called her, "Captain, I have a call from President Hyatt. I've already enabled encryption, the link will be secure."

"Thank you, I'll take it in my wardroom."

"Aye, Captain, putting it through now."

Jessica sat at her desk, brought her screen online, President Hyatt appeared.

"Madame President, I just got word from Celia, saying you'd call. We are en route now. We'll be there in a week, give or take a couple of days."

"That's good news Captain. I'm relieved. Were you asleep when Celia called?", asked Carla.

"No, I was here, going over progress reports on the search. Why do you ask?"

"I was asleep when Celia made contact, it was interesting to say the least, I was able to speak to Dallas, she is well. You were right, Dallas' ship had been sabotaged, they arrived safely, but are now stranded in that system.", Carla told her.

"Yes, I know. Celia gave me all the details and they have my crabs and lobster, I'll put some on ice for you."

Carla laughed, "Thank you Captain, I'll look forward to dinning with you. Now Captain, there is another matter we need to discuss."

Carla told Jessica all she had learned from Celia, of the potential disaster brewing on the edge of the galaxy.

"The upshot of it is, you are closer, have the resources. We are assembling a technical team, they are over three months away. From what I understand, your technical people are very good and the staff of the Mara Lau's university are among the best in the Federation.", Carla said, adding, "I hope you don't mind, we are reactivating your military status, you now have the rank of Fleet Admiral, I will inform the Captain's of the other ships with you, they'll remain under your command. I want you to secure that planet and any technology the dig team has found. I can't stress how important this operation is. Celia has told me of the dangers that wait there. The leader of the expedition seems to have gone maverick. He's a Seeder fanatic, I want him arrested. He's been editing the logs and reports from the site, both the academic ones and the Marine commanders reports. That alone is enough to give us grounds for his arrest. I know it's a lot to ask, but this is important. Get Celia to advise you on how to proceed once you get there. She's been to this world before, knows what you'll be up against. I know you'll not take any unnecessary risks. Once you are further out, direct communication's will not be possible, so use your best judgement. You have full authority in this matter."

"Uh, Madame President, Thank you for your confidence in me, but aren't you taking quite a risk on a retired Marine Core Major?"

"Not at all Admiral Ibanez, as I said, I've read your record, it's quite impressive, you're a good soldier, an able commander and no fool. Admiral Shepherd supports my decision to put you in command.", Carla told her.

Admiral Shepherd added, "Admiral Ibanez, congratulations on your reenlistment and promotion. How do you think your passengers and crew will take this? Being shanghaied off to the edge of the galaxy? Will there be a problem?"

"No Sir, I don't believe so. Most of the retirees are ex military, they live onboard for the odd chance of excitement, the students and staff of the university likewise. It's the same for all the permanent residents, they all live on the Mara Lau for the adventure. We don't have many passengers at the moment, of the ones we do, most of them are doing the grand tour, taking in our whole two year route. They won't complain. I've noticed that's the common bond between all of the Mara Lau's people, the lust for adventure, to see new sights, go to as many worlds as possible. I know that's why I took the job.", Jessica told them.

Carla laughed, "It sounds like you have your hands full, though it does put my mind at ease. I know where I'll be spending my next vacation."

"Thank you Ma'am, I look forward to meeting you in person, I'm beginning to understand why Dallas is so capable."

"Likewise Admiral Jessica, I look forward to our meeting also. Well, we'll leave you to it. Call after you pick up Dallas and her motley crew. Be safe, New York out."

"Acknowledged, Mara Lau out."

Far out on the edge of the galaxy, Monique Hyatt returned to the quarters she shared with Marine Core Sargent Erica Morrison and Tersilla Melzawie, she put her rucksack down, took off her boots. Tersilla was up north, working at one of the other cities they had found, she would not be back for a couple of days.

"You look like hell Monique, what's up?", Erica asked.

"I don't know, this place is getting to me. That and the Professor gets loonier by the day. His Seeder obsession is really getting on my nerves.", she replied.

"Yeah, He gives me the creeps. So does this world, no animals, birds, bugs, nothing. Just sea critters. I've been on a lot of worlds, but nothing like this."

"I thought he was going to hit me the other day. Demanding I turn over my personal mail, notes and laptop, where does he get off? I'm glad the Lieutenant intervened, I thought I was gonna have to shoot him, that would have been such a shame. You do all realise he's up to something?"

"Yeah, We've been getting that, any idea what? It's that equipment he found in the underground facility isn't it?", Erica asked.

"Oh yeah, I have a bad feeling about this. I've written to my brother, telling him all I know. And my sister Dallas."

"Is she out of the Core hospital yet? Sounds like she took quite a hit. A mine can really ruin your day, don't worry, the Core looks after their own, she'll be good as new. You'll see.", Erica tried to reassure her roommate and friend.

"I don't know, last letter I got, she was in intensive rehab. This is the third time Dallas has been rebuilt. She sure has had more than her share of bad luck.", Monique replied.

"Sounds like.", agreed Erica.

Monique began sorting out her notes for the day, thought better of it, decided to turn in, she was dead tired. The silence on this world was oppressive, no bird sang, no cricket chirped, as Erica had said, no life of any kind, besides plants, existed on the land. The only creatures they had found were in the sea. There had been, once, they had found fossils, there were many species of flowering plants that now had to rely on the wind to spread pollen. In the libraries they had found, were books that had diagrams, pictures and photographs of animals, birds, reptiles and insects. It was obvious that whatever fate had befallen the people of this world, it had taken all the creatures, great and small. Monique showered, got into bed, let the weariness take her and was asleep almost immediately. In the last few months her dreams had become troubled, shadowy creatures stalked her through the ruins of shattered cities. This one was different, pleasantly so. Monique found herself sitting in the cockpit of a boat, much like the one her father had owned. Seabirds wheeled overhead, she could see seals playing in the marina the boat was tied up at, more were sunning themselves on the rocks of a breakwater. An abandoned town, looking more inviting than the ones she now spent her days sifting through, lay inland from the marina.

{Hello Monique, How are you?}

"Celia, am I glad to see you! Where are we? Is Kristen here? Dallas?"

{Yes, Ashlay too, We will be coming to see you, Dallas was worried, she asked me to look in on you}

"So, this isn't a dream? This is a real world?"

{Yes, this is where we are now, we had troubles of our own. Carla told me where to find you, she has dispatched ships to come and get us. Afterwards we will be going to you. Listen, there is much I must tell you}

Celia spoke to Monique for some time, filling her in on the mysterious worlds past, what had happened to its inhabitants. Celia didn't just tell Monique, but showed her, sharing memories from when she had been there. Much of what Celia showed her was familiar from her explorations, seeing whilst it still lived, a surreal experience. As well as the planet's people, who were humanoid, she saw many Jrrr'le, a host of other races. Celia told Monique about her people and all she knew of those who had lived on the world where the expedition was. About their desire to bypass a million years of evolution, the inevitable consequences. She showed Monique the machinery and equipment the people had developed to aid in their grasp for not just immortality, but what they saw as godhood.

"Celia, no one will believe me, how am I going to convince them? We're all so tired and stressed, everybody will think I've lost my mind. Do I have to be asleep for this to work? Could you talk to others here?"

{Certainly, just wake up}

Monique woke up straight away, Erica was still awake, reading.

"What is it, hon? You were dreaming, talking in your sleep.", Erica told her.

"Celia, are you still there?", Monique said to the room.

{Yes, don't worry, it was all real or perhaps you should worry}

Erica looked concerned, "Uh, Monique, who are you talking to?", still she looked around the room, making sure they were alone.

{She was speaking to me, Sargent Erica, my name is Celia}

"Monique, what the hell is going on?", Erica asked quietly, "Is there a ghost in the room?"

{I am not a ghost, I am here to help}

"Don't worry Erica, Celia is a friend of mine, well actually, she's family, one of my sisters, you can trust her. She's here to help us, we're in danger.", Monique told her friend.

"OK, I'll bite. Give me the scoop, Celia.", Erica said to the room.

Celia related the sad tale of the fate that had befallen the people who had once lived here.

"Celia, If I tell this to the Lieutenant, he's gonna think I'm bucking for a section 8, can you tell him what you've just told me?"

{Certainly, that's why I'm here}

"OK, Just hang on.", Erica said, she picked up the field telephone, keyed Lieutenant Hicks' number, after a pause, "Sir, this is Sargent Morrison, uh, I have a situation in our quarters, I need you to quietly come over, Monique and I have something you need to, uh, see. Yes Sir, I'm serious. Right, We'll be here.", she hung up, "He's on his way."

A few minutes later Lieutenant Chris Hicks knocked on the door, they let him in.

"What's up Sargent, this better be good.", he said.

{I'm afraid it is far from good, Lieutenant Chris}

He went a little pale, "What, uh, who was that?"

{My name is Celia, President Carla has asked me to speak with you}

"OK, shoot, I'm all ears.", he sat down, Celia told and showed him what she had Monique and Erica.

Afterwards, he said, "I knew Faulkner was up to something. The President has sent ships here?"

{Yes, the Mara Lau, three cruisers and a carrier, we'll be there in four weeks, maybe less. I suggest you keep Professor Faulkner from doing anything untoward, you must NOT let him activate the portal}

"Monique, how close is he to activating the equipment in the underground facility?", he asked.

"How should I know? I'm no longer allowed down there. You may have noticed I'm not exactly his favourite student."

"Yeah, I got that. How technical is he?"

"Not very, he's an archaeologist, not an engineer. When I started reading what the original inhabitants had been doing down there, I got the gist of what it was all for. Faulkner demanded I help activate it, I told him to go procreate with a chicken. Some of the other students may have the skills to get that thing working, I might be able to, it's a big job, the device looked like it had been left on, the power source is depleted, if they get that working...", Monique replied, trailing off.

"We all just vanish, become ghosts."

{No, you simply die, you are not evolved enough to survive the transition, let alone exist in the dimension the portal will lead to}

"So this is why there is no animal life on the land here?", Lieutenant Hicks asked.

{Yes, everyone will simply become random energy flux, there is no coming back}

"How far out does the effect reach?"

{The portal generator uses the planets magnetic and electrical fields, the effect will be contained within the magnetic field of the planet}

"Could we take shelter under the sea?"

{Hmm, an interesting idea, It may work, I would not like to stake my life or yours on it, there are underwater habitats there, what state they are in, I can not say}

"Sir, I suggest we arrest Faulkner, secure the facility, ASAP.", Erica suggested.

"Very well, Sargent, let's get on it. Monique can I count on you and the rest of your team?"

"Absolutely, I'll do whatever I need to,", Monique assured him, adding, "I don't know how many of the others we can count on. Some of them believe, I mean really believe, this Seeder drivel Doctor Faulkner spouts. They're fanatics, with all that implies."

"Uh, Miss Celia, are you in still touch with the President?", Lieutenant Hicks asked.

{I can speak to her again, appraise her of your situation}

"Thank you, do what you can. and Thanks for the warning.", Lieutenant Hicks told her.

{You are welcome, I will return later if I can}

"Goodbye Celia, give Mum and Dallas my love, see you soon.", Monique said.

{I will, until then}

"You have interesting friends Monique."

"You don't know the half of it.", she replied.

Back in New York, Carla was still in conference with Admiral Shepherd, she felt a familiar presence.

"Celia, is that you?", she asked aloud. Admiral Shepherd gave her a quizzical look, then 'heard' a reply.

{Yes Carla, it is. I have made contact with Captain Jessica, Monique, Sargent Erica and Lieutenant Chris. I have told them all that I told you}

"How is Monique, Celia? Is she well?", Carla asked.

{She is tired, the world she is on is not a very pleasant place, it weighs on all who dwell there}

Admiral Shepherd began recalling service records for all those stationed there, showed them to Carla. After reading them she began to feel a little more at ease, "Celia, what did you think of the people with Monique that you spoke to?"

{Like you, I feel Monique is in good hands. Carla I would like your permission to modify the drive systems on the ships that will be making the journey, I can halve the travel time. This is not something I would normally do, the time for caution has passed}

"What are you going to do, Celia?", Admiral Shepherd asked, "We might not be able to spare the time for major modifications."

{What I have in mind is not a modification to the ships physical systems, but an upgrade to the software that controls the drive systems. They will become more efficient and safer}

"Why have you not done this before?", Carla asked.

{Morally speaking, I have always thought it important to let your people develop at their own pace. What I have in mind will alter the balance of power. Your ships will be faster, be able to hit harder, be able to take harder hits. I have been too complacent, I deeply regret this. Besides, with the technology lying around on the world where Monique is, it will be a moot point. As I said before you will learn a lot there, maybe too much. I feel your people are now mature enough. I can not see the Federation embarking upon a campaign of conquest}

This last statement brought forth raised eyebrows from Carla and Admiral Shepherd both.

"Do whatever you think needful. You have my full authority. Thank you for your confidence in us, Celia, we'll try to act responsibly.", Carla told her friend.

{I know you will, I will keep you informed, Goodbye Carla}

Carla and Admiral Shepherd sat quietly, digesting what they had just been told. Told to them by a being that looked for all the world like a large ferret.

It was more than a little humbling.


Re: Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress - Chapter 9


Chapter 9 - Last days in Paradise

The morning after her mothers dream visit, Dallas woke just after dawn, disentangled herself from Kristen's embrace without waking her, went up on deck, took off her clothes, dove into the warm waters of the bay. Immediately she was surrounded by seals, Dallas was delighted by their lack of fear, their curiosity. She swam and played with the seals for nearly an hour, swam out to the breakwater, where other seals were sunning themselves. Dallas climbed out of the water, stretched out on a rock and lay in the morning sun. One of the seals ambled over, nuzzled her ear, lay down nearby.

"You guys have a pretty good life here, you know that?", she asked the seal.

"Urr, uuurrr!", the seal replied. Dallas laughed. Having seen her mother, albeit in a dream, had lifted her spirits, knowing her mother didn't think she was a criminal was like a tonic. The uncertainty she felt was slipping away. She was back, it had taken eight years, but, she was back!

Dallas Hyatt, Adventuress! In the house!

She laughed out loud, "Urr, urrr.", her companion said.

Whatever the horrors that awaited them on the galaxy's edge, Dallas felt she could face them head on. She was not alone, she had her family, her friends.

She saw Ashlay come up onto deck of the Sirocco, Dallas waved, called out, "Come over, the water's great!". Ashlay undressed, dove into the water, a perfect entry, not making a splash.

"That was a ten.", she said to the seal, "Uuurr.", her companion agreed. Ashlay swam over with an escort of seals, climbed out of the water, stretched out next to Dallas.

"You look happy!", Ashlay said.

"Yeah, I saw Mum last night, she was here, we spoke about, stuff. Celia arranged a visit."

Ashlay looked thoughtful, "Does that mean Jessica is on her way?"

"Uh, huh. You still bent on staying here by yourself? Jessica will be crushed you know."

"I do not know Dallas, I am really worried about going back."

"Yeah, I know, like I said, I'll protect you. I won't let you down. Don't forget you have my family, Kristen, Celia and Jessica looking out for you."

"Urr, uuurrr!", the seal said.

"See, even he thinks it'll be alright!"

"I am starting to see why you and Kristen get along so well, you are both crazy!", Ashlay said, laughing.

"It's not like we'll never see this place again, Ash. We'll be back, you can count on it! I would like to call this place home, at least some of the time.", Dallas told her, "The way I see it, we can do pretty much anything we want. Kristen's made us rich, we have one of the most beautiful ships in the galaxy at our disposal, within reason. We have my ship. We have our family, our friends. Life is good, Life goes on. If nothing else, I'm sure of that much."

"That is a good, sound philosophy, Dallas, simple, to the point."

"Ash, do me a favour?"

"What Dallas?"

"Say 'ain't'", Dallas teased.

Ashlay laughed, "Jehoshaphat Dallas! I ain't sayin' ain't, I's a princess remember? Eli-gance, reef-inement, and such like! Next you'll be asken me ta spit!"

They both broke into laughter, "Urrrrr, uuurrr!", the seal said.

"Too right, Mister Seal, too right!", Ashlay told him.

Kristen finally awoke, she found below decks empty, going on deck, she found a pile of clothes. Looking across the bay, she saw Dallas and Ashlay stretched out in the warm morning sun. She shrugged, slipped out of her clothes, adding them to the pile. She dove into the bay, swam across to the breakwater with a seal escort. Kristen climbed out onto the rocks, joined Dallas and Ashlay.

"Have you seen Celia?", she asked.

"No, she's probably hunting.", Dallas told her, "Do you know what happened last night?"

"Yeah, I got the gist of it, so, a week, give or take a few days, left in paradise.", Kristen said, sounding tired.

Dallas felt her forehead, took her pulse, "Are you OK?", she asked.

"Yeah, just a little tired still, Celia expended a lot of energy last night. That was weird. I got to experience most of it, third person. Like I was watching a play or story unfold. Celia told Monique her whole life story.", Kristen said, yawned, stretched out next to Dallas, she looked drained.

Dallas was worried, "Does this normally happen Kristen?"

"How should I know, Celia hasn't tried to speak over a hundred plus light years before, not since we've been together, anyway. We're symbiotic, you know that. The door swings both ways. Are we going back to the 'port today. Check out the mine?"

"Besides curiosity, is there any point?", Ashlay asked.

"Isn't that reason enough? Or do you want to head back home?", Kristen asked, "Dallas, Ashlay, your call."

"Let's go back to our island. We'll make ready to leave, get the Sirocco ready, put the truck back in the garage.", Dallas answered.

Celia scampered down from the top of the breakwater, carrying a crab in her mouth.

"You gonna cook that?", Dallas asked.

{No}, started to devour the crab, {In fact I think I will eat a few more, there are many here, Kristen you should eat, we expended much energy last night. I will catch you a few, go boil some water}, she finished the crab, burped, dove back into the water.

"That sounds like a good idea, come along wench, let's get you fed.", Dallas said.

Kristen laughed, "Yes Ma'am."

They swam back to the Sirocco, got dressed. Dallas took the truck back to the garage, when she returned Kristen and Ashlay had a pot of water boiling on the dock. Kristen had the wire basket they used to cook crustaceans in, it contained eight crabs. She took out her sidearm, set it to 'stun', shot them twice, killing them painlessly.

Dallas gave her a wondering look, "What are you doing?", she asked.

"I can't drop living creatures into boiling water!"

Celia was asleep on the dock, her abdomen bulging. She looked content.

"Well, the wind's from the south, we should make good time. Be home before dark. I bet Ashlay's eager to get back to her painting.", Dallas said.

"Yes, In a couple of weeks I will be ready for an exhibition!"

"You know Sis, there are half a dozen galleries onboard the Mara Lau. I think there's a few exhibition spaces as well. You're not the only one who paints onboard.", Kristen said, "Some of the other passengers are quite good, not as good as you, then again I'm biased."

"I have seen the galleries, there are a quite a few very good artists onboard.", Ashlay replied, adding, "I would like to do a portrait of the Captain. Do you think she would sit for me Dallas?"

"I'm sure she would, she likes you."

They ate crabs and fruit, packed their gear, cast off, made their way out of the marina, waving to the seals, "Tell them we'll be back Celia. Thank them for the company!", Dallas said.

{They wish us fair winds and a good voyage. They did remember me, so do the dolphins and whales}

"Do they have an oral tradition or is it racial memory?", Ashlay asked.

{A little of both, some of the whales are very old, there is quite a bit of interaction between species here}

Around noon they saw the telltale long clouds that formed over the islands, Dallas turned on the radar, made a minor course adjustment. As Dallas had said they were back well before nightfall. As they approached the bungalow, they had the unmistakable feeling of returning home.

"This place is going to be hard to leave. We've only been living here three weeks and it feels like home.", Dallas said.

"I know what you mean,", Ashlay said, "I felt the same way when we left the apartment on the Mara Lau.", then, "Dallas what am I going to do? I do not want to go back, I very much want to stay. What shall I do?"

"Ashlay, you can't stay here alone, it's just not safe. I can tell you now Jessica will not let you, it goes against everything we've learnt as Marines, it goes against common sense. Besides Kristen needs you, I need you.", Dallas told her.

"Kristen, couldn't you leave me your runabout?"

"I could Sis, that still doesn't get around the safety issues of being here alone. Even something simple like a broken arm could end up being fatal. Like Dallas said, we need you."

"Celia, do you have any relatives that could stay with me?", Ashlay knew she was grasping at straws.

{Hmm, Yes, I've not seen them in centuries, I'm not sure I could convince them to come. Listen to Dallas and Kristen, we need you. We all compliment each other, think about how things have been without Dallas. Besides, if you stay, we will all worry about you. It would be a distraction, with what we go to face, that is something we do not need}

Ashlay sighed, "I suppose you are all right. What are we going to face?"

Celia gave Ashlay the whole story, shared memories with her, showed what lay ahead. Afterward Ashlay was quiet for some time, then said, "That was supposed to put my mind at ease was it?"

{Well you did ask, I would not want to keep anything from you}

"Well thank you for not sparing me, now that I know that I may end up as, what was the term you used?"

{Random energy flux?}

"Yes, that was it, random energy flux, random, energy, flux, whatever that is, I just can not wait, it sounds like fun!", then happily, "Is that like vaporized?",

{more like energetic plasma, spread across several realities}

To say Ashlay was horrified, was an understatement, "I know my sister is crazy, I have always suspected that Dallas was. Celia, I thought you were cautious! How did you survive this long?"

{Ashlay, please, be calm}


Dallas said, "You'll be on the Mara Lau, if the portal thingy gets activated, you'll be OK."

"That is just great, dandy, I ain't getting left behind when you all get turned into RANDOM ENERGY FLUX!! We live together, we die together!", Ashlay declared, "Now leave me alone, I wish to prepare myself for the doom that awaits us and finish your portrait. Carla will at least have something to remember her daughter by. Go fish or something.", she made waving motions towards the door.

Dallas, Kristen and Celia went outside. Dallas asked, "Have either of you seen her like this before?"

"No", replied Kristen.

{Neither have I, maybe we should leave her behind}


"You wanna go windsurfing?", Dallas asked.

"Sounds good, let's enjoy our last days!", Kristen replied cheerfully as they stepped off the patio.


They ran to their boards, made for the water as quickly as possible.

The next week went by pleasantly, they knew their time on the island was nearing its end. Kristen set out her crab and lobster pots twice a day, putting the crustacea on ice, along with abalone and reef fish. Kristen and Dallas took the resort ACV upriver again, harvested more rice, shot a few duck. Celia retrieving.

"Good dog! It never ceases to amaze me, you have so many talents!", Kristen said, patting her on the head.

{Woof! Woof! Any more of that and I will whip up a batch of venom that will have you seeing butterflies and green dragons. For a week}

"You can do that?", Dallas asked hopefully.

{Yes I can}

"Dallas!, don't corrupt Celia!! That's how you got blown up, remember? Bad Girl! And Celia, don't listen! And don't encourage her!"


{yes, sorry}

Kristen started the blower, inflated the apron, accelerated off, hard enough to throw Dallas to the deck, Celia to dig her claws into the deck.

About sixty kilometers up river, there was a lake, another resort lay on the western shore. The idea of not looking, never came close to occurring. The resort had been built on the border of lake and forest, now it was the border. An open, multilevel structure of inverted parabolic arches. Giant fig trees grew around and amongst the buildings, built on wide circular pillars, the fig tree's thick buttress roots flowing around the foundations like grey wax. The resort was connected by walkways, gracefully spanning the void between levels. An elevated walkway snaked into the forest, to more buildings on tall arches, at all heights, right up to and above the forest canopy. Along the lakes edge, a landing barge, floating docks and boat ramps. Kristen cut their speed, came to a halt on one of the ramps, shut down the ACV. They sat for a while, taking in the beauty of the structure.

{I never tire of the infinite ways humans build shelter, with some races it is all function, humans have mastered the art of form and functional form, shelter as art}

"Did your people ever build houses, Celia?", Dallas asked.

{yes, they look like those structures you seen in pet shops for large rodents, many stories tall, with sky lobbies, whole floors of garden. Archologies with footprints of hundreds of hectares, kilometers tall. Would you like to see?}

"YES!!", Dallas and Kristen exclaimed.

It was just as Celia described, an enormous rat run, pipe sections three meters in diameter, crystal clear, the frame work outside, supporting the pipe sections, was clear as well. It made sense, as Celia had said, they could see whole floors, devoted to vegetation, parks, gardens, orchards, sunlight streaming in, the sight was amazing.

"Is this all polymer Celia or is it ceramic or both?", Dallas asked.

{good guess Dallas, which is which, and why?}

"The pipe sections are ceramic, they'd be better for heat and light transfer, block UV, rigid in both the vertical and horizontal plane. The structure is polymer, it's elastic in the vertical plane, that means the building will 'give' in the wind, it's relatively rigid in the horizontal plane, so it won't twist. I'm not sure about the structure holding up the floors though, I'm betting both."

{I am impressed, you are a military engineer, still, that was an excellent train of logic}

"Thank you."

Kristen asked, "Celia, is this a sealed environment? I mean it's, uh, four kilometers tall?"

{closer to six, some sections are at ground level pressure, others at the pressure of the corresponding altitude. As I said I do not need any air for short periods of exertion, with some air, we can work at altitude for many hours}

"What kind of work?", Dallas asked.

{research, fabrication, manufacturing, agriculture}

Celia showed them low pressure foundries, manufacturing areas, research labs, growing areas for many types of plant, fern, cactus, mould, lichen and fungi. Dallas and Kristen were in awe, they saw technology they had only dreamt about. Airlocks between areas of different pressure had emergency doors, they were open. In place of a physical door was a containment field. They could see the interaction with the Jrrr'le as they passed through the field, a ring of blue green Saint Elmo's fire, contoured to the body, brushing the fur slick. Most of the jrrr'le gave a quick shake after exiting the field, it was efficient, cleaning and grooming in one simple action.

"Does that field filter out dust and organisms when the people pass through?", Dallas asked.

{You really are asking all the right questions today Dallas! Yes it does, loose hair too}

"Thanks Celia, I've always been a tech geek, when I was given the choice of being a Marine Engineer, I jumped at it.", Dallas replied, "That's why I was hardly ever in combat. Mind you, we were the ones that cleared unexploded munitions, booby traps and mines. Yep, those mines can ruin your day! Especially when you step on one."

Dallas casually thought of the fifth of a second between, stepping on the mine, feeling the click through her combat boot, then...

They were all there, as Dallas, as the mine exploded. Dallas, Kristen, Celia and thousands of Jrrr'le. It only lasted till the end of the explosion, that was enough. Dallas felt the minds of many thousands of Jrrr'le, all focused on her, felt the mild annoyance, the warmth, the friendship.

She heard, {Thanks for sharing! You should be careful! You made Celia one of your family, that makes you one of us. You be careful sister! That is no memory you want to carry, we will tone it down}

Dallas gasped, felt something shift in her mind, it felt good. She saw the explosion again, the terror and agony of being torn apart, burnt by the mine, all the chaos and pain that followed, all she could remember, without the physical sensation, less noise, less pain. It was a distant memory, seemingly decades ago. {Thank you}, she thought, {You are welcome, sister Dallas, You be careful! be well}

Celia broke the link, they were back in the ACV, on the boat ramp of the lake resort.

"That was intense.", Kristen said.

{Dallas are you alright?}

"What just happened?", Dallas asked, she felt different, good, a little goofy, light headed, so much more aware.

{You just had some psychic surgery. I would have asked first, given you the option, they have had no contact with humans, they saw something wrong, they fixed it. I'm sorry Dallas, truly. How do you feel?}

"Funky, I feel good, but funky.", Dallas replied distantly, quietly, "Let's explore, I wanna look.", got out of the ACV, walked up the ramp, into the resort.

"Wow Celia, I knew getting blown up would hurt, but not that much! That was horrible, why did Dallas remember in such detail?"

{Intense experiences can imprint for a long time, sometimes permanently. For all five physical senses. It is the cause of post traumatic shock and battle fatigue. Memories are chemically imprinted or stored, intense memories more so. To make matters worse, memory is holographic, only a small section of a memory is needed to make an albeit hazy, whole memory, that used to be called suppressed memories. In the same way, by various means of coercion and enough repetition, a person can be made to 'remember' events that did not occur, see things that did not happen, admit to acts that they did not do}

"Gee Celia, you sure know a lot about the way minds work.", Kristen remarked.

{Uh, Kristen, I am a telepath, it comes with the territory}

"We must have been on vacation too long, time to get back to serious work, my mind is turning to mush.", she said, then asked, "Why is Dallas so sharp today?"

{Dallas will be a lot sharper, faster, a little stronger now, my people made some rather fundamental changes to her mind, structural changes to her brain}

"What!?, What do you mean? What kind of changes?"

{Dallas will be able to do the things I can, over time her ability and control will grow. I can feel her now, reveling in how much more aware she has become}

"So you're telling me she's become Super Dallas?"

{something like that}

"But I've noticed Dallas has been a lot sharper than I remember, since she boarded Mara Lau. More confident than I remember."

{Kristen, she has been a soldier for eight years, risen to the rank of major, that is bound to leave a mark}

"Yeah, I see. Come on let's catch up with her!"

Kristen and Celia ran up the boat ramp, on into the resort complex. The designers had allowed for the intrusion of forest plants inside the building, blossom laden vines hung from railings and other parts of the structure. Jasmin, wisteria, bougainvillea of many hues, a riot of colour and fragrance. Orchids and ferns overflowing from planters. The interior of the buildings just as pristine as they had found in the coastal resort, main settlement and spaceport. Kristen could already imagine what it would be like after their people had refurbished and made it ready for visitors. They walked on through the complex, taking photographs and holographs as they went. Ashlay would have to see this.

As Kristen and Celia got to the forest side, they saw Dallas on the walkway, heading for the tallest of the buildings that arced up above the canopy. She felt their approach, turned, waved them on, waiting at the foot of the wide ramp that spiraled up to the building above them. Walking along the raised path, they saw many different specie of fern, orchid and fungi growing on the forest floor below. Bract fungus of many shades and hues, growing horizontally from tree trunks and fallen logs. Animal life in all its many forms everywhere they looked, brightly coloured snails and slugs, multicolored butterflies fluttered around them, rainbow hued lizards sunning themselves, enormous centipedes, bright fiery red and orange, scurried through the leaf litter. Birdsong rang out through the forest. Kristen saw a millipede, a metre long, as thick as her forearm, making its way along a log. They caught up to Dallas at the foot of the ramp, a large dragonfly hummed by, she smiled broadly, "This is just...", she trailed off.

Kristen smiled back, "Are we going up to the top?", she asked.

"Oh yeah, the view will be well worth the climb."

As they wound their way higher along the ramp, the variety of plants and animals changed as they rose, spanish moss and saprophytic ferns hung down from the trees, giant stag-horns, metres across, swaying in the breeze. Periodically, walkways led from the ramp to accommodation facilities. Mostly suites that could only be called sumptuous. The feeling of being in a tree house unmistakable. Reaching the top of the ramp they saw the forest canopy stretching to the foot of an escarpment kilometres away. Kristen had her binoculars out, scanning the lip of the cliff. A waterfall thundered over the edge, audible in the distance. She saw another cluster of buildings adjacent to the cataract, built not just on the edge, but over and down the cliff face as well. She handed the binoculars to Dallas.

"We have to look at that, no question of it!"

"Absolutely!", Kristen agreed, taking back the binoculars, holding them so Celia could use one half as a telescope. Going across a wide patio they entered the building. The top floor was a restaurant, bars and a nightclub. Again, the door and window seals had kept out the dust and weather.

"You're right Kristen, people are going to flock here! I've seen a lot of resorts, nothing like this! No wonder the company went broke! They certainly liked to be comfortable."

"Yeah, I've been thinking that. Our people won't have much work to do, getting this place serviceable again, just a little cleaning and airing out."

The three explorers made their way back to the ACV waiting on the boat ramp, Kristen powered up, backed up out onto the lake. Using the photo maps they had made from orbit, Kristen found where the river flowed into the lake. She applied power, began the journey upstream. The river was not as wide, the current swifter, the ACV made easy going of the rougher water. An hour later, rounding a bend, they saw another cluster of buildings spanning a small marshy area at the foot of the cliff, right next to the waterfall, spray filled the air as hundreds of tonnes of water thundered over the cliff. It was too loud to speak or at least to be heard. {Over there}, Dallas indicated a direction, Kristen steered towards another boat ramp, sheltered from the current by a rocky breakwater. She ran the ACV up the ramp, killed power. Another stairway could be seen, making its way up the outside of the structure built into the escarpment. The complex at the base of the cliff was a reception, administration and maintenance area. There were kayaks, canoes and other boats stored in the building at the head of the ramp.

"Ashlay should have come along! That river would be fun to kayak. Not to challenging, but fast!", said Kristen.

Once inside it became obvious sound proofing had been used, they could barely here the pounding water, although they could feel a muted vibration. Making their way to the foot of the stair, began the long climb. It took the better part of an hour to make the two hundred metre vertical trek. The structure built into the cliff face was again, luxury suite lodgings. Once at the top, they saw the waterfall was fed by a lake, larger than the one they had just left. The complex at the lip of the waterfall had the unmistakable air of a hotel. A wide paved area spread out from the lakeside around to the cliff side. Scanning the mountain slopes above them, Kristen saw with her binoculars a permanent snowline, just below another cluster of buildings, she saw a line of skeletal structures that could only be a ski lift making its way up the mountain to another small cluster of buildings, perched amongst the rocks, ice and snow.

"There's a ski resort up there!", she exclaimed, handing the binoculars to Dallas.

"Did these miners actually do any mining?", Dallas wondered aloud.

{I have already asked Captain Jessica to get our legal department to lay claim to this world}

"Good Girl, Celia!", Kristen told her, "That's going to save some time, I wonder what sort of time scale we'll need to get all this up and running. Are we really off the major space-lanes Dallas."

"A little, but like I said, people buy space yachts with the idea of going to exotic locations, knowing five star resorts like the ones we've visited are waiting will be a big draw card.", Dallas replied, "The idea of being 'mine host' in a place like this has a lot of appeal."

"Too right, Dallas!", Kristen agreed, "We should have brought the para sails."

Dallas laughed, looking down at the thick forest below, remarked, "I don't like the look of ending up in amongst those trees! Not without a search and rescue hover to pull me out."

They looked at each other, suddenly realising such craft must be nearby, then Dallas said, "No, that's another one of those 'Not without a major overhaul' things Kristen. Sorry."

"We should look though. Let's document as much of this hotel with our cameras as we can."

"Good idea, Ashlay will love this.", Dallas mused, then, "Celia, how far away is your world? I can still feel your peoples presence. I get the feeling I'm always going to."

{That was not our world, just one of the many colonies we've built. That world is between us and the galactic rim. They made you one of us Dallas, you are part of a much bigger family now, you always will be.}

"I feel so much more aware, much more connected to this world and the universe. I can almost feel the planet rotating.", Dallas laughed nervously, "That must sound crazy."

{Not really, I can feel the planet turning, so you probably can as well, don't worry, you will get used to it}

"Celia, you said Dallas will be able to do the stuff you can, does that include being able to change colour and pattern?", Kristen asked hopefully.

{maybe her hair colour, but I would not count on it}

"That will be convenient. Save time.", Dallas said thoughtfully, she had been one of those teenagers that changed hair colour on a weekly, sometimes more frequent, basis. Kristen, having raven black hair, never bothered to try a different colour. She had the mental image of Dallas changing her hair colour at will, strobing through a range of colours the way Celia's coat did when she was excited. She laughed, Dallas looked at her, wondering what was so funny, until Celia showed her the effect Kristen had visualized,

"That's cool! I'll have to work on that!", Dallas said.

They explored the hotel in earnest, finding many wonders, among them was a restaurant, built below the water level, huge picture windows looking out into the lake. The scene was one of an underwater garden, a large variety of aquatic plants growing. Fish of all sizes and specie swam before them.

"LOOK! A tortoise!", Kristen exclaimed as the reptile swam past the window.

They found the search and rescue hovers they had speculated about. There were four in a hangar, adjacent to the hotel's infirmary, which was a well lit, cheery place. Photographs of many guests, sporting arm and leg casts adorned a pinup board, most were smiling gaily, waving crutches.

Dallas laughed, "Yep! There's a ski resort up there! Why do ski resorts always have a wall of pain like this! And why are people always so proud of breaking a limb skiing?"

As Dallas examined the infirmary, noting diagnostic equipment and facilities, she heard a turbine begin to spool up. Running back to the hangar, she saw the doors open and was horrified to see Kristen and Celia in one of the hovers, going through a pre takeoff check, Kristen waved her over, she went to the hover and against her better judgement, got in, buckled up, put on a headset,

"You're crazy, if this turbine flames out, the three of us are history.", Dallas told her ruefully.

"Roger that, Major! Standby for take off! Let's go look at the ski resort, then get Ashlay!"

"Alright, but if we die, I'm not speaking to you ever again!", Dallas told her crazy friend.

"Don't worry, I gave it a thorough going over, checked the lubrication levels, filled the fuel tanks. She'll be fine.", replied Kristen, she ramped up the power, brought them into a hover, eased them out of the hangar, applied more power and climbed into the air.

"Have you flown a model this old before, with a gas turbine?", Dallas asked.

Kristen shook her head, "No. Anything I should look out for?"

"Yes,", Dallas replied, "Watch the turbine exhaust temperature, it's climbing, throttle back a little.", indicating the relevant gauge.

"Roger that!", Kristen backed off the throttle, the indicator dropped back into the 'green' area.

"Remember, this is aerodynamic flight, not grav drive, watch out for turbulence, the ground and especially any combination of both!", Dallas warned her, they crossed the lake, climbing as they went, towards the snow line and ski slopes.

"When Mara Lau gets here we should give the planet a thorough deep scan, I think there are more than a few omissions and inaccuracies in the almanac and encyclopedia.", Dallas said.

"Absolutely!", replied Kristen, "I know it was over a hundred years ago, but the history is all wrong! And no mention of the refining facility in the asteroid belt, I wonder what that is like."

"I'm starting to wonder what the other three worlds are like.", Dallas replied, "We should see if the original survey report is available."

Kristen flew them up to the ski resort, saw more of what they had already, a well laid out complex, blending in with its surroundings, as Celia had remarked, a wonderful blend of form and function. Besides the maintenance area at the spaceport, all the building here had been done in harmony with the surroundings, there were no blights on the landscape, no eyesores. It was consistent, as though one architect or group of architects had designed all the buildings. It must have cost a fortune.

Kristen made a couple of circuits of the ski resort, while Dallas photographed, holographed and videoed the complex. She then headed back the way they had come, across the lake. As they approached the lip of the waterfall, Dallas knew what Kristen was about to do, braced herself, made ready to video the descent. Kristen flew over the lip, pointed the nose towards the ground, they fell two hundred metres through the spray, towards the forest below.

"Break left!,", Dallas told her, "Look, is that a monorail?", she asked.

"Looks like. I've been wondering how they got people to and from this resort."

Kristen leveled off, flew along the double track monorail snaking its way through the forest. The track looped past the lakeside resort, headed towards the coast. The terminus was another coastal settlement, further down from where they had landed the Dragonfly and the second resort they had sailed the Sirocco to. Kristen circled the town, this was a town, not just a resort. They saw orchards, gardens and fields. What was obviously a school. The airport was bigger, more transports parked there. The monorail left the town and headed south. Kristen turned to follow it,

"Let's go get Ash, she'd love this!", Dallas told her.

"Roger that. Rescue One, returning to base!", Kristen replied.

Kristen banked around, followed the coast to where they called home. As they approached the bungalow, Ashlay came outside, hearing the approaching engine noise.

Dallas said, "Celia, could you tell Ash to grab her camera, sketch book and shut the door."

They saw her go back inside, reappear with her camera, her backpack slung over one shoulder, she shut the door. Kristen selected a flat section of beach to land on, Ashlay filmed the landing, ran over and got into the SAR hover.

"What did you do, raid an aviation museum?", she yelled, laughing, "What a wonderful machine!"

"Wait till you see what we found!", Dallas yelled back, "Here.", handing her a headset, "Buckle up!"

Kristen waited until her sister was secure, then lifted off, more smoothly than the first time, "I think I'm getting the hang of this!", she said over the intercom. She turned them around, found the river, flew along it to the lake.

"Wait till you see the resorts we've found, I've never seen anything like it!", Dallas told Ashlay, "Look!", she said, indicating the forest resort on the edge of the lake.

"Kristen, hover here I want to get some photographs!", Ashlay had the cockpit door open and was taking frame after frame, "Are we going to land?", she asked.

Kristen looked to Dallas, who answered by tapping the fuel gauge lightly, it read half way, Kristen asked, "Have we been in the air that long or have I been heavy on the throttle?"

"A bit of both I think. Ash, we'll come back in the ACV, first we'll refuel, show you the other two resorts we found"

"Don't forget the monorail and town!", Kristen added.

Ashlay's eyes went wide, she nodded in agreement. Kristen rose above the height of the forest canopy, circled slowly so Ashlay called capture more images. They flew along the monorail track, Ashlay saw the waterfall, the buildings at the base, those seeming to cling to the cliff wall. Kristen rose slowly, so her sister could film the thunderous cataract. They crested the escarpment, made a circuit of the lakeside hotel, flew across the lake, up to the ski resort, landing back at the hotel hangar area. Kristen shut down the hover. The exhausts making crackling, popping sounds as they cooled.

"Dallas, show Ashlay around, I'll refuel and check over my new toy. I want to make sure the engine and transmission bearings are OK.", Kristen said, she began to go over the hover, popping access panels, running her scanner over the internals. Dallas led Ashlay on a tour of the hotel complex. Ashlay found the infirmary's 'wall of pain' as amusing as Dallas had. They stood transfixed by the sight of the huge volume of water cascading over the escarpment. When Dallas showed Ashlay the underwater restaurant, she was mesmerized. In the main foyer they found elevators leading down to the cliff side accommodations. Quite a bit of the hotel had been excavated out of the living rock. Ashlay agreed with Kristen and Dallas, people were going to flock here, there was something for everyone. They went back to the hangar, finding Kristen refueling the hover. She had found two external fuel tanks, using a jack trolley, had fitted them.

"So, what's the prognosis Doctor Karlston?", Dallas asked.

Kristen smiled, said, "Well the engine and transmission bearings are ceramic, likewise for the combustion chambers, I think this was a originally a military model, designed for medivac operation's. It could take quite a few hits and still fly, even if all the trans oil drains out. Let's go to the town, see where the monorail ends. These external tanks will quadruple our flight time."

"Sounds good to me.", Dallas said.

"Yes, this all looks and sounds to good to be true. I can foresee this world being a popular tourist destination for years to come.", Ashlay said.

Kristen restarted the SAR hovers engines, let them 'warm' up and lifted off, "She feels different with all this extra fuel, heavier, but not sluggish. You wanna take the stick Dallas?"

"Sure, I haven't flown anything jet powered since basic."

Dallas took them over the escarpment, followed the monorail to the town, they circled twice to give Ashlay a look.

"It looks as though there is the agricultural capacity to support a fair sized population here.", Ashlay remarked. Dallas followed the monorail southwards, they overflew several small towns, all linked by the monorail and roads. They flew for several hundred kilometres, passing over the occasional farmhouse. The monorail terminus was another town, grain silos confirmed Ashlay's assumption of a reasonable level of agriculture. They landed in the town square, shut down the hover, got out to explore. It was like any small country town, business' around the town square and along the main street.

"I can not believe these people left willingly. I do not want to and I have been here less than a month.", Ashlay remarked.

"I guess once the mining company went into receivership they had no choice, it was that or be cut off from the rest of the Federation, possibly for good. It must have been a hard choice to make.", Dallas said.

"When we get back I'm going to make a thorough search of all the archive material on this world. See what the whole story was.", Kristen told them.

Some of the business' still had stock on the shelves, the hardware store, pharmacy and supermarket. It was like a time capsule of everyday life from a hundred years ago. Some brand names they recognised, others were totally unknown to them.

"This is surreal, I've been to a lot of worlds, I've never seen anything like this. It's like they went on vacation and haven't come back yet.", Dallas told them.

"Let us see if there is a cemetery here. That is always a good start to get a feel for the history of a place and the people who dwelt there.", Ashlay suggested.

The found the cemetery without trouble, just within the town, surrounded by a stone wall. They wandered around looking at headstones and monuments. Ashlay was noting dates, the earliest they found, just over two hundred and twenty years ago, the latest, one hundred and ten. This fitted with what they had read in the Captain of the John Ross' final log entry. Ashlay was relieved to find no greater number of graves towards the end of the settlements life.

"Did you expect to?", Dallas asked.

"No, but finding an even distribution of dates across the cemetery's history, tells us there was no plague or other cause of mass death. Look, most of these people live long, full lives. Well over a century old. The inscriptions read, 'beloved father, grandfather and great grandfather', things like that, notice also, there are no great number of infant and child graves, this tells us they were a predominately healthy people. Also there was no increase in death rate towards the end. I believe that confirms the financial mismanagement theory.", Ashlay summarised.

{Well thought out Ashlay, I was here about a hundred and fifty years ago, I stayed for nearly twenty years, there was no war, famine or disease. It was a good place, the people happy}

Kristen said, "We should head back, I want to get the ACV, before dark. Ash, we have duck for dinner!"

"By all means, let us depart! Hmm, roast duck with steamed wild rice stuffing, sounds very good to me! To the rescue hover, with all haste!", Ashlay declared.

Walking back to the town square, they looked in several of the houses, there was furniture, no sign of personal belongings, this seemed to support Ashlay's theory of voluntary, yet unwilling evacuation of the planets population. Dallas powered up the SAR hover, headed back the way they had come, along the monorail.

On the way, Kristen said, "How could the company board have been so stupid and greedy? Didn't they have any sense of responsibility to their employee's? To the other people who lived here? I can tell you now, this would be almost impossible to occur in our company. I have in place checks and balances to stop this sort of financial mismanagement getting started, let alone perpetuating over any length of time. I have multiple levels of oversight, by independent and government auditors. Plus I keep a large cash reserve, a buffer against hard times or unplanned circumstances. If any of the accounting or management staff suggest a 'risk management' approach, I warn them first, then fire them if they persist. I will not abide cutting corners just for the sake of a few credits, risk management always comes back to bite you on the butt. It's just not worth it."

"You must be a horror to work for Kristen.", Dallas said, laughing.

"Not at all, I just expect my senior management, to do as they're told, follow my guidelines, be creative, but not too creative. We make money, but do it responsibly. Also we are not a public company, well we are, but we are the only shareholders.", Kristen replied.

They arrived back at the resort complex at the base of the waterfall, Dallas dropped off Kristen and Celia. Kristen powered up the ACV, headed back down river, with Dallas shadowing them from the air. Making good time, they arrived home as the sun set. Kristen set about preparing dinner, Ashlay, Dallas and Celia went out onto the patio to watch the sunset.

"That was a good days exploration and discovery.", affirmed Dallas.

"I agree, we have filled in a few more of the blanks surrounding this worlds past.", Ashlay said, "Where is my roast duck?", she asked her sister.

"Give me a break! It's in the oven!", Kristen replied laughing.

Ten days after Celia had contacted President Carla, Captain Jessica and Monique, Dallas was awoken from a fitful sleep, she was not sure what had woken her. It was near dawn, the eastern sky was showing the first glimmer of sunrise. Dallas disentangled herself from Kristen's arms, got out of bed, slipped on her clothes, went outside, assault rifle at the ready. Something was different, Dallas could feel a presence, not on the planet, but far out in space. She began to worry, began thinking of how best to defend themselves.

{Don't worry Dallas, it is the Mara Lau, she has just entered the system}

"So this is it.", Dallas replied sadly, "Vacations over. It will be good to get back to the ship, I will miss this place."

{Don't worry Dallas, we will return, I am sure of it. Some of my, or should I say, our people would like to come here}

"Celia, what is happening to me?", Dallas asked, "I can feel things. I'm not sure how to describe it. I'm not sure if I can cope with it."

{Do not worry, I will help. My people have made some very fundamental changes to your mind and brain. From a human standpoint it was not very ethical, from theirs, it was logical. You were ill, they healed you. With time your new abilities will seem as natural as sight, smell, hearing and touch. You are still Dallas Hyatt, just Dallas Plus now}

"Thanks Celia, I know they did the right thing. I didn't need to remember getting blown up in such detail. Why did they add these extra senses?", she asked Celia.

{They didn't add anything that was not already there, humans have much more ability than most of them realise, all my people have done is made your extended senses accessible}

"Is that how deja vuos works, feelings of dread before something bad happens?", she asked.

{Exactly, most peoples experience a mild form of precognition, it is a survival trait. What your people call deja vuos, can sometimes be attributed to a cross over of perception, from an almost identical version of themselves in a nearby, parallel reality. Strong emotions especially can cross the quantum divide between realities. Remember the basic premise behind quantum mechanics, All things are possible, some more probable than others. Which is to say that totally improbable events can not occur. You could float away at anytime, but it is highly unlikely}

Dallas laughed, then asked, "Celia can you teleport? When I asked if you could bring Mum here, you said she was too big and too far away."

{Hmm, Yes, I can, it is not what I would call teleportation, but, translation}

"What's the difference?", Dallas asked.

{I have always thought of teleporting as breaking down an object into energy, transmitting it to a another location, then reassembling it. That takes a lot of energy and is fraught with dangers. Translation, on the other hand, involves moving not just the object, but the area of space-time around it, bypassing the realspace between the original and final positions. Like telepathy, this involves a complex interaction between subspace, hyperspace and realspace}

Dallas raised her eyebrows, asked, "You mean creating a wormhole between two locations?"

{Exactly! The boundaries between all three spaces is not as rigid and inflexible as some would have it. In subspace there is finite volume, with infinite area. Hyperspace on the other hand, has infinite volume, with finite area. As you know realspace is infinite in both volume and area}

"Could you show me?", Dallas asked.


Dallas felt Celia enter her mind, saw the complex spacial interactions the Jrrr'le spoke of. Then, without any sensation of time or distance passing, they both stood at the waters edge, just beyond where the waves lapped at the shore. Dallas thought she saw how Celia had accomplished the translation. She formed the same thoughts Celia had. They stood on the patio again, looking out over the beach, from where she stood, Dallas could see the footprints where they had stood by the waters edge.

{That was very good Dallas, I am impressed. You have just taken your first step into a bigger world}

Dallas didn't know what to think. The short journey had seemed to take no time, there had been no sensation.

"We should go scare the hell out of Jessica!", Dallas said laughing, she knew exactly where the Mara Lau was, how far away, how fast they were moving, "Is that too far?"

{not really, but Captain Jessica is I believe you would say, 'a little twitchy', at the moment. It might not be a good idea. We might get shot! One thing I should warn you of, do not enter a casino, they have crude but effective sensors to detect psychic abilities. You or I would set off every alarm in the building}

Dallas laughed, "I'll keep that in mind! We should make contact with Jess', tell her where to find us."

{I agree, do you want me to or do you want call on the radio?}

Dallas laughed again, "The radio seems a little pedestrian after what you've just shown me."

Just then the subspace transceiver began bleeping inside the bungalow, Dallas went inside, picked up the radio, took it outside so as not to wake Kristen and Ashlay. Dallas switched the radio over from standby, Immediately she heard the Mara Lau's communications officer hailing them.

"Mara Lau calling Dragonfly 12. Mara Lau calling Dragonfly 12. Please respond."

Dallas picked up the handset, keyed the transmitter, "Dragonfly here, receiving."

"Major Hyatt, good to hear your voice! I have the Captain here, she's just about ready to have kittens. Standby."

"Standing By", Dallas replied, laughing.

"Dallas, thank the stars you're OK! You're on the third planet?"

"Yes we are. We have your crabs and lobster! Been havin' a real hard time Jess. So hard to decide how to start the day, with a swim or go surfing!"

"Understood, We'll be in orbit four hours from now. I'll come down when we get there, I wanna see for myself how much you've been suffering!"

Dallas laughed, replied, "Roger that, Captain! See you in four hours!", then to Celia, "Well, what do you think? A swim or go surfing?"

{Why don't we windsurf, I like the sensation of speed}

"Works for me!"

When Dallas and Celia returned to the bungalow, they found Kristen and Ashlay getting breakfast ready on the patio.

"Our last breakfast in paradise.", Ashlay said solemnly.

"Don't think of it like that Ash. We are coming back! Believe that, count on it! I am.", Dallas told her.

"That's right Sis, we're going to buy this system remember?", Kristen agreed.

Dallas looked thoughtful, then said, "They've just gotten Mara Lau and her escort into low orbit."

"I've already asked Captain Jessica to do a deep scan of this world, update the maps. She said she'd be down shortly.", Kristen replied.

"Kris, you wanna see something really cool?", Dallas asked, smiling.

"What?", Kristen smiled back, wondering what Dallas had in mind.

Dallas went to Kristen, put her arms around her, thought about being back at the forest resort, then...

They were there!!

Kristen looked around flabbergasted.

"Celia said you'd be sharper, I never imagined this!!", she said in total amazement, "If you're trying to make me love you more, forget it! I'm already smitten!"

Dallas laughed, hugged her, thought about the bungalow where Ashlay waited...

They were back.

Ashlay let out a squeal of surprise, "How in the name of cold duck salad did you do that?"

Celia told Ashlay all that had occurred the previous day. Ashlay took it in her stride, "So she is 'Super Dallas' now?"

{More like Dallas Plus. Dallas you will need to be careful until you have truly mastered your new senses. Enjoy yourself, but use caution}

"Sorry, Celia, I just had to show Kristen.", Dallas said, then, "So how do I change my hair colour?", she asked.

Kristen and Ashlay thought this hysterical. "I knew you'd get around to asking that!", Kristen said.

"Give me a break! I've been blond for eight years!", Dallas exclaimed, "Come on let's eat! I'm starving!"

The three women set about preparing to leave. Dallas drove the ATV to the bungalow, they loaded their luggage, surf and sailboards, the portable freezer unit they'd found at the resort, full of crab, lobster and crayfish. Ashlay had over two dozen canvas', of all sizes, in various stages of completion, she had filled a dozen sketchbooks. All three of them had taken hundreds of photographs, holographs and shot hours of video footage.

"It will take me a month to sort out all these images!", Ashlay said, then, "With all the video we have shot, we will be able to cut together a feature length film, 'What I did on my vacation or Paradise Gained!'"

"That's a great idea Ash! Why didn't I think of that! We can show it at the cinemas onboard the Mara Lau and the other liners!", Kristen said, "Whip people up into a frenzy about our new upcoming resort!"

"Kris?", Dallas asked, "What are the other liners called?"

"Well there's the Mara Lau, the Selim Khan, the Madonna Louise and the Millennium Queen.", Kristen replied, "Mara Lau is the biggest, only by a kilometre, other than that they are pretty much the same, although I tried to make them all as distinctive as I could, wanted people to know which ship they'd been on. They all follow pretty much the same route, have almost same facilities, Mara Lau is the only one with a surf break, she also has the biggest ice rink and skate park."

It was almost midday when they heard the whine of cold jets, Ashlay had her camera out, filmed the transport shuttle's approach and landing. They were at the airport, loading their gear aboard the Dragonfly. They had moved the Raptor out on the airport tarmac, Kristen was getting ready to put her SAR hover in the hangar. She had decided to take the ACV with them, saying she'd grown attached to it, there were others at the resort, so Dallas didn't argue, she also had a feeling it might come in handy where they were headed.

"Here comes Jessica.", Dallas told them.

The transport came in on contragravity and cold jets, coming to a hover, the landing gear extended, gently landed.

Dallas laughed, said, "That's Jessica at the controls, I'd know her landing a destroyer!"

The transports ramp extended, the Mara Lau's Captain walked down the ramp to be greeted by her friends. Jessica saluted smartly, Dallas returned likewise.

"If you notice any extra grey,", she indicated her hair, "that's your doing! Come here soldier!"

Jessica hugged Dallas warmly, "When we found out you might have been sabotaged, I was worried. We have the culprit in custody if you want to slap him around a bit."

Jessica hugged Kristen and Ashlay, fighting back tears, "And you Celia!", picking up the Jrrr'le, squeezing her tightly, forgetting she was taking liberties with one of the most deadly creatures in known space, "I apologise for any ill feeling I had about you initially. I'll serve with you anytime, anyplace!", letting Celia drape herself around her shoulders

{Thank you Admiral Jessica, I have missed you to}

Dallas realised her ex CO was wearing the uniform and insignia of a Fleet Admiral,

"Uh, Jess, what's with the admirals uniform?"

"President Hyatt, has reactivated my military status, I'm promoted to Fleet Admiral for the duration of this current emergency. I have command of the task force assigned to deal with the situation. Full authority to act on behalf of the Office of the President of the Federation. I should also mention that I am under Celia's command, she now outranks us all. President Hyatt wants her best people on the job.", Admiral Jessica Ibanez replied.

"What emergency?", Kristen asked.

"Do you not remember? Our impending conversion into random energy flux. Energetic plasma, spread across several realities.", replied Ashlay.

"Oh, that emergency."

Dallas and Jessica thought this exchange amusing, "Civilians! Getting their underwear in a twist at the drop of a hat!", they said together.

Jessica noticed the SAR hover, "What did you do, raid an aviation museum?", she asked, looking over the craft admiringly, "We got time, can I take her up?"

"Absolutely!", Kristen replied.

"OK, then! Let's get all your gear loaded, Dallas you'll be taking the Dragonfly up? I'll have our people repair the damage that expurgated unmentionable did to her. So come on, show me around!"

They gave Jessica a brief tour of the resort, she 'liberated' a case of assorted spirits and another of wine from the resorts bar. When they showed her the bungalow, she said ruefully, "Must have been hell, doing it tough like this!"

Jessica helped them check they'd not left anything behind. They closed up the bungalow, Kristen shut down the resort power generator, they went back to the airport, put the ATV and the last of their gear aboard the Dragonfly.

Jessica, behaving like a kid on Christmas morning, climbed into the SAR hover, went through the brief pre flight checks, powered up the engines, letting them 'warm' up a little, spooled to take off power, lifted smoothly off the ground.

"They certainly do not make them like this anymore!", she said happily over the intercom.

They flew along the river to the lakeside resort, followed the monorail to the waterfall, up over the escarpment, looked over the hotel on the lip of the cataract, circled the ski resort. Then followed the monorail to the coastal town. The same route Dallas, Kristen, Ashlay and Celia had taken the day before. Returning along the coast, Jessica deftly parking the hover in the hanger.

"Thanks girls! I really needed that!", Jessica told them happily, "I don't to get to fly as much as I used to."

"No, problem Captain, sorry, Admiral Jessica!", Kristen told her.

"Well, let's load your ground effect machine into my transport and we'll leave. Oh, Kristen, our legal people have gotten the ball rolling in relation to claiming this system. It would seem it's a case of vacant possession. I already took the liberty of getting Ashkris Leisure and Mining to send a couple of ships here.", Jessica told them, "We can move in anytime we want. I for one want to vacation here."

"Waaaaa! Hooooo!", was all Kristen could think of to say.

With that, Kristen loaded her ACV into the transport. Ashlay decided to fly back with Jessica. They bid their island home farewell, vowing to return. Jessica and Dallas did their pre flight checks, spooled engines, took off. They flew a tight formation all the way back to the Mara Lau.

As they were on final approach, Jessica asked Ashlay, "I don't suppose you thought to get me some venison?"

End of Part 1

17 pronounced jur-lay

27 LPD - light years per day

45 When the milky way is viewed from above, travel in the clockwise direction is referred to as spinward, anticlockwise, antispinward, towards the edge, outward, towards the core, inward.
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