The Impercipient

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Chapter 1: That from this bright believing band

The Andromeda Ascendant, the premier ship of the once glorious Commonwealth, hung seemingly lifeless in the coldness of space. Outwardly, the ship appeared to be at peace. Yet within the shielded warship, not all was quite as calm.
The shout preceded Captain Dylan Hunt as he stormed down the hallway. They had been ready to make a jump to slipstream when Andromeda informed him that she would be unable to... due to one of Mr. Harper’s experiments. After being assured that everything but the slip drive was working, Dylan sighed. The rest of the crew watched as Dylan promptly left the command deck, clearly exasperated.
The man in question, Seamus Harper, the only Earth born member of the Andromeda’s crew, jumped in surprise when the captain stalked into the room. “Boss! Look, it was a complete accident, won’t happen again. Wouldn’t you know it, but right as you’re getting ready to jump to slipstream, the drive gets broken. Couldn’t tell ya how, just happened and I’m gonna fix it right now so we can be on our way!”
Dylan stared at Harper as the self proclaimed genius rambled on in an effort to both explain the situation and escape any reprimand at the same time. Dylan was tempted to be amused until he looked down at what could loosely be termed Harper’s ‘workbench’. He frowned and reached down to pick up what should be a normal force lance... with the exception of the charred look to one end and the entrails of the weapon coming out the other.
Dylan looked at Harper. “What were you doing?”
Harper blanched at seeing the force lance. “Uh, nothing really boss. Hey, you should leave me alone so I can get everything working again. Take me twenty minutes, tops. Yeah.”
Dylan sighed and rolled his eyes. As Harper receded further into the room, the captain only groaned as he noticed the blackened hole in the wall to his ship. Harper had obviously caused the disruption in the engines, but Dylan wouldn’t press him on it yet. He pocketed the force lance, for everyone’s safety, he told himself, and turned to leave.
A crash sounded further in followed by a muffled exclamation from Harper. “I’m okay!” he called out, somewhere from the depths of the ship. “Not that anyone cares. You slave away and this is the thanks I get...” Dylan kept walking and returned to the command deck.
Before he could explain the situation, Andromeda appeared on screen. “Dylan, there are three ships on fast approach.” She brought the display to the front and reappeared on an adjacent screen. One large ship was trying to evade two smaller fighters that continued to try and destroy it with their weapons.
“The large ship is an AM9D Ung Tae Drop Ship. The fighters are both Garuda class patrol craft. Despite the fact that Garudas are generally Nietzschean ships, I only detect humans.”
“Commonwealth ships firing upon each other?” asked Telemachus Rhade, the only Nietzschean crew member.
Beka Valentine shook her head. “I don’t think they’re Commonwealth. Those are pretty old models. I’d place bets on either salvaged, traded or simply stolen. What is the status of the ships?”
The Andromeda’s living avatar Rommie answered. “The AM9D has suffered heavy damage, weapons are off line, with the main engine appearing to be failing. Shields weak, but holding. The Garudas have suffered minimal damage.”
“Life signs?”
“One human on each of the Garudas. The AM9D also has a human life sign. However, I believe I am detecting what could be two dead bodies in the back, only recently passed as I am getting a heat signature.”
“Dylan, we must help these people,” said Trace Gemini, the mysterious golden woman of the Andromeda crew.
“One of the Garudas is hailing us,” Andromeda reported.
“On screen,” ordered Dylan.
A human man appeared on the front screen, his expression clearly one of irritation. Dark, thinning hair spread over his head and a scraggly beard graced his chin, framing a thin mouth. His eyes alluded to his clear intelligence as he spoke. “Captain, I am Colus of the Taher Nine. I ask for your assistance in apprehending those on that ship. It was stolen from our base and we believe there may be hostages on board.”
“I am Captain Dylan Hunt of the Commonwealth ship Andromeda Ascendant. We will bring the ship in question into our docking bays. You are welcome on board where we may discuss this incident.”
“Thank you Captain. I look forward to meeting you.” The screen returned to the scene of the approaching ships, the blaze of weapons fire now gone.
“Do you think he’s telling the truth?” asked Beka.
Dylan shrugged. “It seems plausible. But somehow I don’t think they would fire so heavily on a craft that may have hostages on it. Especially now that they are dead. Unless they were already dead when the ship was taken.” He sighed. “We’ll figure it out. Beka, bring the AM9D into the ship, make sure that the Garudas are in a different sector, I want them isolated for now.
“Andromeda, what is this Taher Nine?”
Andromeda brought up a screen showing the nearest system of planets. “The Taher Nine are the governing body of the planet Taher in the Traljen system. When the Systems Commonwealth fell, civil war erupted on the planet between many of the countries. The Taher Nine are the elected officials, one member representing each of the main land masses of the planet.”
Beka frowned. “Something important must be in that ship for one of their main guys to come flying up after it. I don’t think I trust him much.”
Dylan nodded. “I think I’d have to agree with you.” He then turned to Trance. “Trance, please go prep the Med Bay in case there are serious injuries that we can treat.”
“I’ll be ready,” she answered and quickly left.
“Andromeda, open a communication to Harper.” He paused until he was told that it was done. “Harper! We are taking on a few guests. After they are off their ships, I want you to read any logs they may have, figure out how the firefight may have started. Try to figure out what the current situation on Taher is. But only after the slip drive is fixed.”
“I hear ya boss. And don’t worry about the slip drive, I told you that I’d fix it, sheesh.” Harper’s voice cut out.
“All the ships are safely on board,” reported Beka. “Though I think the navigation on the AM9D gave out, it had a rough landing.”
Dylan nodded. “Okay. Beka, you and Rhade go look at the AM9D. Take your force lances, just in case anybody in there wants to put up a bruising fight. Take them to the Med Bay if you can. Rommie and I are going to go greet our guests in the Garudas.”

Chapter 2: An outcast I should be

When the doors to the docking bay that held the AM9D opened, Beka and Rhade were half expecting to see a resistence set up along the outside of the ship. What they did see was a damaged Ung Tae with sparks erupting from various points. It had obviously had a crash landing and now seemed to be completely inoperable.
"At least they won't be going anywhere soon," commented Beka as they cautiously approached the ship.
Rhade nodded. "This ship has been damaged far before this fight. I believe that it was already on its last legs." The two stationed themselves on either side of the ship before Rhade opened the back hatch of the ship.
Initial inspection showed that there was nobody breathing in the back. The AM9D Ung Tae Drop ship was generally used as a troop transport. It had its own supply of force lances and could be used as a shelter on inhospitable planets during campaigns.
This model however, had seen far better days. The interior smelled rank, as if it had been used as a shelter recently. It was easy to see why when Beka and Rhade got their first clear look of the inside. Dried blood was everywhere. What was worse was that two lifeless bodies lay on the floor.
Beka crouched next to one of them. "Dead. These wounds don't look that fresh. They were dead before this ship took off."
Rhade nodded in agreement. "This doesn't seem right to me. Those men couldn't have been hostages. They are wearing the same uniform as Colus, therefore they are probably soldiers that serve him. They would have died in combat and these are combat wounds."
Beka rose. "Well, then. Let's see who was piloting."
They approached the door, Rhade leveling his force lance at the closed metal. Beka hit the release and the door slid open. There was no one waiting for them on the other side.
Rhade frowned and cautiously stepped inside. No one sat in the pilot's chair. Sparks flew from the counsel, heavily damaged in both the firefight and the crash. Turning to the side, he saw what they were looking for.
A human woman lay in a crumpled heap on the ground against the wall, possibly thrown from the chair. Blood ran down her face from a cut on her forehead. Her hair was caked with dirt and blood, making it hard to tell the original color. Her skin was pale, discolored with multiple bruises. She wore a torn and dirty dress, also covered with blood.
"She is alive," said Rhade, crouching next to the figure. He lifted one of her hands and silently swore. He could feel bones shifting under his fingers. "She is badly injured though."
Beka shook her head. "Colus is lying. There is no way this girl could have hurt those men." She paused and leaned closer to the unconscious figure. "Is that... frostbite on her other hand?" The fingers of the woman's left hand were clearly discolored due to the effects of the malady. "How did she get that?" Beka paused again to lift the hand and take a closer look. "Son of a bitch."
Rhade looked up, raising an eyebrow at her curse. "What?"
"She's a slave."
Rhade glanced back down at the unconscious woman. "A slave? How do you know?"
"These marks on her wrists." Beka gently ran a finger over the chafed skin. "I've seen it before. The cheapest and cruelest slavers don't buy the regular binders to keep their slaves in check. They use simple, coarse rope and tie it tightly around their wrists. Any movement by the slave chafes the skin and eventually causes bleeding. They only use it on slaves because criminals need to be securely restrained, they feel that the will of a slave can be broken into submission."
Rhade shook his head. He hated the injustice of slavery. He knew what it felt like to be mistreated and he swelled with anger at the thought of helpless beings being subjected to it. "So she saw a chance to escape and took it."
"Looks like it. We need to get her to Trance now, there's no telling how badly she's injured. Dylan will definitely not be happy."
Rhade moved back into the rear cabin to extract a stretcher from a compartment. "He most certainly will not," the Nietzschean agreed. Beka unfolded the stretcher and Rhade carefully lifted the woman onto it. He could feel the multitudes of broken bones in her body. If Dylan didn't have a few choice words with this Colus, he just might. "Let's go."
"I thank you captain for your assistance in this matter." Colus and another guard stood before Dylan, having only exited their ships. "It was very unfortunate, the events that occurred. Security was unfortunately lax, allowing the AM9D to be stolen. We will not make the same mistake again, I can assure you."
"Of course," answered Dylan, his face unreadable.
"May we see the ship as well as the prisoner?"
"Not yet. I currently have people securing the craft. Do you know anything about the person who might have stolen the ship?"
Colus shrugged. "We assume that it is a local woman, an outlaw and a thief. She can be ruthless and I would not want any of your crew to be harmed by her. We will take our leave of your ship and return to Taher with her."
Dylan gave a half smile. "What's the rush? You are perfectly welcome aboard my ship. In fact, I will have you shown to some available quarters while I check on the status of Beka and Rhade. I will alert you Colus, as soon as there is information to be had."
The Taherian looked uncertain, but nodded and followed a security detail out of the room, his other guard following him. Dylan turned to Rommie. "There is something more going on here. I definitely don't buy the fact that he would chase down a ship captured by an outlaw. He is lying about something."
Rommie nodded. "I agree. Guards will be posted at their doors so we remain informed of their whereabouts."
Andromeda appeared before them. "Dylan, Beka and Rhade have brought someone to the Med Deck from the ship and wish to speak to you."
Dylan sighed. "Let's go find out who our guest is."
Dylan and Rommie entered the Med Deck to meet Beka and Rhade, both silently watching Trance as she worked over an unconscious woman. It was obvious neither Beka nor Rhade were happy about what they had found.
"Is this the one that stole the ship?" asked Dylan. "Colus claims she is a ruthless outlaw."
Rhade clenched his jaw as Beka snorted. "Yeah, well I'm sure Colus claims a lot of things that aren't true. Dylan, she's a slave."
Dylan's eyes narrowed. "What?"
Beka sighed. "There were two dead guards on the ship in the back, I would say they were dead before the ship even took off. She must have been trying to escape. The marks on her wrists are from rope, used on slave worlds. I thought Taher used to belong to the Commonwealth?"
"It did," responded Dylan, anger creeping into his voice.
"My records show that no true inquiry into the planet and its social climate has been conducted in decades," said Rommie. "It is possible that slavery became common on the planet after their civil war erupted and any traces of it were hidden from outside visitors."
"That would explain Colus wishing to leave so fast," Dylan muttered. "He wants to hide their skeletons, literally and figuratively."
Rhade turned to Dylan. "We cannot let this continue."
Trance interrupted their conversation, coming to where their small group stood. She sighed and glanced back at the table where the woman lay. "She is in very bad shape. I am surprised that she is even still with us."
"Will she live?" asked Dylan in concern.
Trance nodded. "Yes, though I am unsure as to her mental state. Her injuries are many, and quite a few of them are old. She was hardly wounded in the craft, most everything occurred before she left the planet."
Much to the chagrin of the crew, Trance began to tick off injuries. "The oldest wound is to her left leg, which appears to have been shattered at one point. It is mostly healed, though I suspect there might be a limp, even after I attend to it. Her right ankle is sprained and she has a fractured right kneecap, so she would have a hard time walking anywhere, let alone running with both legs injured. There are several broken ribs, none of which punctured her lungs thankfully. Her right shoulder is dislocated and she has a severe concussion, which most likely came from the crash landing."
Here the golden woman paused to shake her head. "There are more troubling things though. Besides multiple cuts and bruises as well as a fever, there are two injuries that appear strange to me. She has frostbite on her left hand, but she also has burns across her stomach. I do not know how they could have gotten there, the two extremes. My only guess would be that she was tortured."
They were silent as they looked at the unconscious woman. Trance had already healed some of her minor wounds, but she was far from well. The idea of slavery was detested by all the crew, and they came to an agreement as to what to do without speaking.
Harper came running into the room, coming to an abrupt halt at seeing everyone grouped at the door. Recovering he moved to a panel at the side. "Boss, you won't believe what I just found in the communication logs on the Garuda." He pushed several buttons and a screen activated, Colus being in the forefront.
"We are tracking her now," Colus said, his words penetrating the stillness of the Med Bay. "The stupid slave thought she could escape. She and every other slave on that planet will pay for her attempted escape. If she even lives through this. She is infinitely valuable to us alive, but we'll shoot her down if we have to. I will not let her go to the enemy and work against us." He paused. "There is a Commonwealth ship ahead. If they find out what is happening on Taher we will all be done for. Especially if they realize who she is. Damn slave. We will work through deception now. Let me speak, or they might stumble on the truth."
Harper turned off the transmission. "After that, he opened up a line to the Andromeda. That guy's all slime and I'm sure most of his planet is too." He looked over at the woman on the table. "So Taher is a slave planet now? I say we blow Colus and his people to hell."
"Harper," admonished Trance.
"What?" he asked, shrugging. "Then there wouldn't be any more slaves on Taher would there? Just making a suggestion."
Andromeda appeared on a screen before them. "Dylan, Colus is requesting an audience with you immediately."
Dylan sighed. "Great. Let's pretend we don't know about his little secret for now. Beka, come with me. I have a feeling that they might want to come and see her. Harper, go with Rommie and pick up any more information on our guest or on the situation on Taher. Trance, do your best. If she wakes up, let me know. Rhade, stay here. In case I bring Colus with me, just make sure he doesn't do any more damage."
Rhade nodded. He almost wished Colus would make a move, so he could remedy the situation with his bone blades. He outwardly remained impassive though, as the others left the room. Trance moved back to the bed, Rhade following her.
"Is there anything I can do?" he asked.
Trance glanced up and smiled. "I think I could use the help. I do not understand this, how she could be so injured and still live. It is a sad reality in which we see cruelty to the innocent." She watched Rhade tend to the woman's chafed wrists, the most obvious sign of her enslavement. "Let us hope she awakes and tells us what has happened. Then maybe we can do more for her and her people."
Rhade nodded. He and Trance worked silently over their patient.

Chapter 3: Why thus my soul should be consigned

“What can I do for you Colus?” asked Dylan as he and Beka arrived at the man’s given quarters.
“Captain Hunt, I wish to impart the need that I must return to my people,” Colus said promptly. He stood rigidly, hands clasped behind his back. He looked tense, and Dylan didn’t blame him. “I would take our prisoner and leave.”
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” Dylan took small amusement in seeing perspiration gather on his balding head. “My first officer here, Beka Valentine, found the woman on board your ship. She appeared to be badly injured. I understand that she is a criminal on your world, but we are still tending to her wounds.”
When next Colus spoke, they could hear the strain in his voice. “Is she awake?”
“She’s still unconscious,” answered Beka, eyes narrowing. “Are you all right Colus?”
“Oh yes, yes,” replied the man, taking a deep breath. “It’s just a little warmer here than what I’m used to.” He paused. “Could you take me to see this woman? I merely ask to assure myself that she is indeed here and alive. She still must stand trial before the Taher Nine.”
Dylan was prepared. “Of course. She is still unconscious though, so any questioning would be out of the order.” They left the room, Colus’ silent guard walking behind them.
“We also found two of your men in the ship as well,” said Beka, wondering as to his reaction. “They were both dead and will be ready for transport back to your planet.”
Colus barely missed a beat. “Oh, yes of course. I must confess I had considered them dead from the moment she took off, she does not typically leave survivors, being the criminal she is. Thank you for preserving their bodies.”
Beka nodded. Lying scum, she said to herself. He knew those men were dead long before the ship lifted off. She was wondering what his reaction to seeing the slave would be.
They entered into the Med Deck, Dylan and Beka leading the way. Trance looked up at their arrival. She stared at Colus, only a half smile coming to her lips. She undoubtedly could tell his intentions. She merely nodded to Dylan and continued to work. Rhade only stepped to the side, allowing Colus to see the woman, but not touch her. His bone blades seemed to flare reflexively.
“Here she is,” announced Beka. She rounded the table to stand next to Trance and watch Colus’ expression. “As you can see she’s pretty beaten up. Must be rough on the streets of Taher. She looks all skin and bones to me.”
Colus glanced up at Beka briefly. “She may seem weak, but let me assure you she has some extraordinary skills.” He stepped closer and Rhade tensed, ready to move the man away as he looked down at the woman.
Everyone’s attention however, was drawn to the table as a small moan escaped the woman’s lips. She appeared to be waking, much to their surprise. They all leaned closer as she stirred, another moan leaving her.
She slowly opened her eyes, squinting against the light. When her brown eyes focused, they landed on Colus, who leaned over her expectantly. She gave a short cry of alarm and tried to roll away from him, falling right off the table. Beka tried to catch her, slicing her hand open in the process. She slowed the girl’s decent, but they both crashed to the floor.
Colus snarled at them, ready to leap over the table. Rhade quickly grabbed the human, slamming him back to the ground, his bone blades pressed against his neck. “Don’t even try it,” he warned. A security detail apprehended the other Taherian. They took the two men away with strict orders from Rhade not to let them out of their cells. Harper and Rommie edged into the room, watching the men being escorted away.
Harper raised his eyebrows, his hands clasped around some data cards. “Whoa, Boss, what happened?” He turned into the room and stopped at the confusion that was going on. Harper shook his head. “Nobody listens to Harper. I told you it was better to just get rid of the guy!”
Rhade ignored him and returned to the interior of the room in time to see Dylan and Beka lift the frightened and struggling woman onto the table. Once seated, the slave looked around her, eyes wide. Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap, the skin of her left hand an angry red from recently treated frostbite. “Who are you?” she asked, voice wavering. “Where am I?”
“I am Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant. You are here on my ship and you are perfectly safe here.”
She shook her head, trying to back away. “No. You are allies of Colus.”
“Allies with that freak show?” exclaimed Harper. “Not a chance. I voted for blowing him up, but nobody seemed to agree with me.” Rommie clasped her hand over Harper’s mouth, giving him a stern look. She understood the woman was frightened and a loud-mouthed engineer wasn’t going to help the situation.
The woman looked at each of them, eyes still wide. “You do not serve him?”
Trance gently shook her head. “No. We know what he has done to you, the hurts he has caused you. We will not allow him to enslave you again.”
The woman seemed to slowly relax, though her hands remained tightly clasped as she remained cautious. “Thank you. I am afraid I do not know much kindness.” She looked around again and her eyes rested on Rhade. “You stopped Colus from attacking me.”
Rhade nodded. “I did.”
She gave a weak smile. “I thank you especially. He would have killed me before I could speak to you.” With some help from Trance, she swung her legs over the table to sit on the surface and meet everyone’s eyes. “I am called Elena.”
The rest of the crew were quickly introduced to her. Elena nodded at each name, apparently trying not to shrink away from all the new people. She appeared to trust Trance readily, for some unknown reason. It was most likely she simply gravitated to the calmest being in the room. She also granted Rhade another timid smile, perhaps due to his involvement with Colus, openly showing that he did not like her enemy.
“Why is it that Colus is so intent on your capture?” asked Rhade.
Elena sighed. “I am no simple slave. I am - valuable to him and his government.” She reluctantly said, “It is because I am a Healer.”
“A Healer?” asked Harper, confused. “Anyone can use Med supplies. Why would that make scum face keep you around?”
Elena shook her head, some dirt falling from her ratty hair. “No, I do not use supplies like that you have here.” She sighed and looked to the first officer of the Andromeda and carefully unclasped her hands. “Beka? I believe your hand is injured?”
Beka unfolded her arms and looked at her hands. In the confusion of the moment, she hadn’t even noticed she had sliced her palm open. Looking uncertain, Beka allowed Elena to take her right hand, the woman holding it between her own. Elena closed her eyes, breathing deeply. After a few moments, her hands began to tremble and she opened her eyes. She released Beka’s hand and clasped her own hands together again, quickly.
The wound on Beka’s hand was gone, the only evidence it was once there was a few smears of blood. She stared at her hand, turning it over. “How did you -“
”I have said I am a Healer,” answered Elena. “That is why I am valuable to Colus. As his slave, I am always at his call and I need no supplies to work. He is worried I will help his enemy, heal their wounds as opposed to his own.”
“He is more worried you will give your life to them,” observed Trance quietly, her knowing eyes on Elena. “I know of your kind and the consequences of your healing others. Can I please see your hand?”
The rest of the crew were confused until Elena reluctantly unclasped her hands, showing the palm of her right hand to them.
A cut identical to the one that had been on Beka’s hand was now on her own. Beka cut back a gasp and stared at her hand again. The wound had simply been transferred.
Rhade carefully reached forward and took Elena’s hand, examining it. “So that is how you heal others. You take their wounds upon yourself.” He carefully pressed a bandage to the cut as a temporary solution, releasing her hand afterward he secured it.
Elena nodded. “Yes. I can sustain more injury than a normal human, at times I can survive a wound when they cannot. However, my body must heal at a normal rate. I can only heal so many injuries at a time before I collapse from weakness. Your equipment here has done much to heal me. It is rare that I am not without pain.”
“That was why you were as injured as you were,” observed Rommie. She paused, internally communicating with her AI. “I have no records that indicate any with your abilities have belonged to the Commonwealth.”
Elena shook her head. “No, there would not be. I do not come from the Tri-Galaxies. My people are from the Pegasus Galaxy. I have heard of the Systems Commonwealth before though, mostly talk among the slaves, remembering tales of a just world.” She shook her head. “Many of them still hope for liberation.”
“But you don’t?” asked Dylan.
Elena raised her eyes to him. “I have been a slave for many years now. The Taher that existed during the Commonwealth is gone. It is an outlaw planet, hiding its true origins from those that are just. Slave trade is common on the planet now, as are all manner of disgusting things.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “I do not remember hope. I have felt it in others, but never myself.”
“You have felt it in others?” asked Beka, raising her eyebrows. “What does that mean?”
Elena seemed reluctant to answer. Trance leaned forward, her eyes understanding. “You are safe here. Revealing your secrets will not cause you harm.”
Elena nodded at Trance. Turning back to the crew, her eyes landed on Rhade’s. “Even Colus is not aware of this.” She dropped her eyes to her clasped hands. “When I heal someone, I also receive a flash of their emotions. It is something that I can do, independent of healing. I cannot detect thoughts, only feelings.” Her eyes rose to Beka. “In you Beka, there was great distrust as well as anger. I also felt sadness. I can tell you feel these things at the moment, but not what has caused the feelings to occur or who they are directed at.”
The crew looked at Beka, who stared at the girl with wide eyes. Beka glanced at the others and tried to shrug nonchalantly. “Okay, lucky guess. Why would it matter if Colus knew? Would he become more of an ass than he already is?”
Elena nodded. “Yes. Deceit is a strong feeling. I could tell when one is lying. Not what they are lying about, but I would know the lie is there. If Colus knew, he would force me to enter into political discussions as well, try to keep him from being tricked. At least healing people I am doing something good. At least when I heal people I - I feel again. I can feel the hope some have. I feel the joy they hold. At times I even feel the love they express. I do not know these things for myself and I am loathe to lose it.”
She sighed and stopped speaking. Rhade shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about Colus anymore. You won’t go back to him.”
Dylan glanced at the Nietzschean, but nodded. “We will help you in what way we can.”
Rommie asked the question they were all wondering. “You said you are from the Pegasus Galaxy. Are there more of your people there?”
Elena shut her eyes tightly. “No. I believe I am the last of my kind.”

Chapter 4: To infelicity

“The last of your kind?” repeated Rhade, unable to believe such a thing.
Elena nodded. She hurriedly swiped at her eyes, removing some of the grime that was on her face. “Many years ago, my people achieved space travel through slip stream. For the first time, we finally had a way to leave our planet. For years our planet had been dying, it could support life no longer. So it was decided that a team of explorers and their families would take a ship and attempt to find allies as well as a new home. I was the youngest adult on that ship, and spent the days tending to the children as our inexperienced crew wandered through the stars.
“The first people we came across were the Taherians. We came to orbit their planet and we believed we had found help. It was not so. The Taherians did not know of us and were suspicious. We were a peaceful people that believed in beauty and fairness. They thought we would be a threat to their way of life, a threat to their slave trade. So the Taherians captured the ship.”
She took a moment, briefly closing her eyes in distress. “They slaughtered my people and my family. All because the ship was foreign to them and they were frightened. When the first warnings came, I tried to protect the children. I hid them in secret compartments, and tried to lure the men away from them. The Taherians found me as I had hoped, but they did not kill me. They questioned me, but I would not tell them anything of our world. So when they eventually found the children, they killed them in front of me, so I would always remember what my insolence brought.”
Elena swiped at her eyes again, determined not to cry. “The Taherians kept me around as a memory of their victory over the helpless. They enjoyed seeing me working with the slaves, for it reminded them of their power. They did not know of my abilities at first. All on my planet could heal as I can, but I did not want to endanger myself further. I worked in various sectors with those enslaved as I was. The other slaves, most captured from the Taher’s enemies gave me the name Elena, which means ‘of the stars’ in their ancient tongue.
“After several years they still did not know of my ability. Then one day in the quarry, I was bringing water to the workers. One of them was careless and his leg became broken. I didn’t even hesitate, for he had always been kind to me, and the Taherians would kill those who could work no longer. I healed him, taking the broken leg upon myself. One of the guards saw me and told the Taher Nine.” She shook her head. “That was the end to my days of relative freedom.
“They then kept indoors, for fear of me running off. Since that day I have been Healing for Colus. At first, I tended to the injured slaves, allowing Colus to keep up his productivity. But eventually they had me forget the slaves, and tend to the government’s personal needs. Once, a child slave was badly injured. Her wounds became infected, and disease ravaged her body. I would have been able to withstand such injuries and live. But Colus’ wife - she had severe internal bleeding from a careless accident. She would have recovered in time, but they did not want to take the chance. They ordered me to heal her, as opposed to the one most in need. The child died because I could not heal her as well and endure more than the internal bleeding. I could not stand to see such innocent life slip away because of some idle fancies of the Nine. I have tried before to run, I have tried to refuse to work. But each time they threaten me with taking the life of another, saying if I do not work they will kill them.
“Finally, I saw an opportunity to escape. The Taher Nine have encountered resistance from small groups throughout the countries, from those that oppose their rule. There had been a bloody battle and the Nine’s men had to retreat. The drop ship flew in and I was rushed to it, though I could not have done much in my current condition. I was helped on board and told to ‘do what I could’ for the unmoving soldiers while the rest were helped inside. The two men were already dead. I waited until the last of the Taherians left before I climbed into the pilot seat and took the ship. I had seen enough men pilot it to know how to fly it, but anything else was beyond me. Colus found out and ordered me to land, but I couldn’t. He fired on me for I do not know how long. The last thing I remember was crashing into your hanger.”
Her tale finished, she sat and looked at the crew’s reactions, while trying to collect herself. Remembering always hurt. Trance and Harper looked saddened by her tale while Rommie just looked down and shook her head. Dylan and Beka seemed angered by the injustice. Rhade’s face was impassive, but she could almost feel the tension raining off of him as he watched her, his eyes dark.
“So what do we do now?” asked Beka, her arms folded. “I’m starting to agree with Harper, we should just shoot him.”
“No, we can’t do that,” said Dylan, shaking his head. “He’s a member of the ruling government. If we’re going to change things, we would need him. Elena, what about these rebels in the countryside? What do you know about them?”
Elena frowned. “Not all that much. Some believe that the few slaves that have managed to escape are the origins of these bands, but none are sure. I know they are a significant threat to the Nine. When the drop ship landed, not one of those soldiers was uninjured. But the rebels are too few and they are not equipped to overrun the Nine or free all the slaves.”
Dylan frowned, tapping a finger to his chin. “Captain?” asked Rhade, wondering what he was thinking.
“Elena, if the slaves were given the opportunity, would they revolt?”
Elena’s eyes widened. “If the chances for success were there, I believe so. Many plan on escaping or starting a riot, but few do, and fewer succeed.”
Dylan nodded thoughtfully. He then clasped his hands behind his back. “We will come up with a plan in order to help you and the other slaves. Trance, why don’t you take Elena to wash up?”
Trance nodded and came to Elena’s side. Rhade stepped forward and helped the woman slide off the table. Elena looked at each of the crew. “Thank you for helping me,” she said quietly, general sincerity in her voice. She squeezed Rhade’s hand briefly before letting go and turning to Trance. She leaned heavily on the golden woman as they left the Med Bay, her left leg still too tender to place all her weight on it.
“So you’re thinking of helping these rebels?” asked Beka, turning to Dylan once the doors closed.
Dylan nodded. “Possibly. But we would need more than that. We need to coordinate some sort of attack with those from the inside as well.”
“That may not be a problem boss,” said Harper. He held up the data cards he had confiscated from Colus’ ship. “I haven’t finished looking through all of them yet, but I did find out some relevant information. Like the fact that anyone can land on the planet, but those that want access to the more underground trades, such as slave dealing, have to have certain codes. And aren’t you lucky, but you have a genius on board that can identify those codes from these few cards!” Harper waved them proudly.
“But that’s not all! Nope, your amazing engineer here has even figured out the reason why Colus was in the air at all!”
“He wasn’t chasing Elena?” asked Rhade.
“Nope, well, not originally. Turns out, they’re expecting some big shot trader to come into the system around now. Colus was out in his Garuda with an additional escort to greet his guest. Elena just had some bad timing.”
“I have not detected any other ships in the system, from the planet or exiting slipstream,” said Rommie.
A smile slowly crept onto Dylan’s face. “This could be our way in. Pretend to be that slave trader and plant the seeds of discontent on the inside.” He paused. “Let’s take the time to plan this. Rommie, go get the guard that Colus came with. Tell him that Colus is still speaking with me and that he was told to communicate with the surface of the planet, let them know he’s going to be a while longer.” Rommie nodded and promptly left the Med Bay.
“Dylan?” Trance entered into the Med Bay, her hands folded in front of her. “Elena is currently cleaning up. She will need to rest after she is done as she is still very weak.”
“Trance, do you think she would help us try to liberate those on Taher?”
Trance sighed and shrugged. “It is possible. I believe that she wishes most for freedom. But I do not know how much she is willing to do. She has suffered greatly over the course of her life. I simply do not know.”
“Looks like we’re going to have to talk to her, see how far she’s willing to go,” said Beka.
“You’re right,” said Dylan, turning to her. “But I don’t think it should be you or I asking her.”
“What, are you backing out?” asked Beka, surprised.
“No, I just think it might be easier if it was just Trance and Rhade in the room with her, as opposed to the entire crew.”
“Captain?” asked Rhade, surprised. “Why us?”
“Well, she obviously accepts Trance. And she seems to have warmed up to you as well. She would probably listen to the two of you more than me.” Trance and Rhade both nodded in understanding. “Then let’s figure out what we need to ask her.”

Chapter 5: Why always I must feel as blind

Elena sat quietly on her bed in the quarters given to her. Her back was braced against the wall, her legs outstretched in front of her. She marveled at the feeling of simply being clean again, no more dirt caked in her dirty blonde hair, no more blood dried on her pale skin. Trance had even had her dress washed. Even though the bottom of the skirt had been torn off ages ago, she was happy that the garment was clean once again.
Elena held her hands out in front of her, examining them carefully. Trance had healed the cut on her palm. Elena turned her hands over again and again, staring at that which had caused her so much misery.
A chime sounded at the closed door and Elena started. She wasn’t sure what it meant, or what to do about the sound. A knock sounded on the door next. Rhade’s voice reached her ears. “Elena? May Trance and I come in?”
Elena hurried over to the door and activated the panel, letting the door slide open. “Of course,” Elena answered. She stepped aside to let them come into the room, and closed the door behind them.
“How are you feeling?” asked Trance.
Elena smiled. “Much better thank you. I cannot remember the last time I was actually clean.” She observed them, making note of the slight anxiety in their stances. “Is there something I can do for you?”
Rhade sighed. “Elena, you should know that we are going to help you and free those that are enslaved on Taher. But we made need your help.”
“My help?” asked Elena, immediately wary. She clasped her hands together in front of her, a nervous reaction that did not go unnoticed. “What do you mean?”
“Would you be willing to speak to Colus?”
Elena’s eyes went wide and she backed up a step. “Colus? Why?”
Trance took a step forward, keeping her voice calm as she spoke. “Colus may have some information that we can use. He would not speak with us, but he might speak to you.”
Elena shook her head. “He would not just offer up information freely.”
Rhade nodded. “We know. We think he might brag about what is going to happen on the planet, try to make you feel guilty. We can use information like that.”
Elena nodded. She dropped her eyes in thought and turned away from them, slowly walking further into the room. Trance glanced over at Rhade before speaking. “We will be there in the room with you, you will not be alone.”
Elena turned and looked at them. She slowly sighed. “Then I will help you in what way I can. I trust you in this.”
Rhade frowned. “Elena, I am curious. Why is it that you trust us, but not the rest of the crew?”
Elena shrugged. “I have always been more inclined to trust those that heal as opposed to those that kill. I believe that while I was unconscious I was still aware of your efforts to heal me. There have been few people in my life that have stood up and tried to protect me. When you stopped Colus from hurting me, I felt that for once there might be someone that was on my side, someone I could trust.”
Rhade smiled. “You are right, you can trust us. You can trust me.”
She nodded and carefully unclasped her hands. “Then let us see to Colus.”
Trance led the way out of her quarters and Elena followed with Rhade walking beside her. Rhade watched her out of the corner of his eye, seeing her clasp her hands together again.
“Why is it that you always clasp your hands when you are nervous or scared?”
Elena looked up at him. “Well, it just seems that anytime that I become hurt in anyway, it is because of my hands. I heal with my hands, I can read people with my hands. When they are clasped nothing can happen. It’s just kind of a nervous reaction I guess.”
They halted in front of a closed door. “Colus is inside,” said Trance. “Are you sure about this?”
Elena took a deep breath. “Yes. The horror on Taher needs to come to an end.”
Rhade nodded. “It does. If at any time you want to leave, just say so.” He keyed the lock on the door and stepped in first, his bone blades extending ever so slightly. Elena followed him and stopped inside the door.
Colus stood in the center of the room, glaring at Elena. Several guards stood against the wall, evenly spaced for an emergency. Colus snarled at the new arrival. “So you survived did you? Pity.”
Elena seemed frozen for a second, but she gathered her wits and stepped up to stand next to Rhade. “It is over Colus. Every injustice you have ever committed is over and you will be made to pay.”
Colus sneered, showing partially yellowed teeth. “Not likely. I only wish that trader had showed up instead of your friends.”
“Why? So you could buy more slaves and subject them to your cruelty?”
Colus snickered. “Hardly. He was coming to make me an offer on you actually.”
Elena blanched. “What?”
“That’s right. He heard about your talents through one of our normal traders. He was pretty interested. Said he needed a good healer. And even though you aren’t exactly one of the prettiest slaves, he wanted to use you for other things as well.”
Elena’s eyes widened in fear. She faltered and Rhade put an arm around her waist to hold her up. Trance moved to her side. “We can go.”
But Elena’s attention was on neither Trance, nor Rhade. “You’re lying.”
Colus laughed, an unpleasant sound. “I don’t think so. And just so you know, I made sure to send a message back to the planet before I went after you. If you aren’t back after a certain amount of time, many of those worthless slaves you care for are going to be dealt with. You think I’m lying? Well, you’re never going to find out are you?”
Trance and Rhade were trying to ease her out of the room. But Elena could feel her fear turning into anger. She pushed away from them and stomped over to the restrained Colus. “We shall see,” she said venomously.
Colus eyed the woman uncertainly as she stopped right before him. She placed her hands on either side of his face and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. Slowly, her hands fell from his face to rest on his chest. Colus watched her in confusion for a moment. Then his expression turned malicious and he lunged forward as Elena gasped.
Colus would have crushed her underneath his own body weight had Rhade not acted in time. Just as Colus moved, Rhade pulled Elena against him and away from the Taherian. Their momentum sent them to the floor, while the security guards restrained Colus.
“You little harlot!” screamed Colus, struggling against the guards. “How dare you keep secrets from me! Do you know what you have done? Now I will make sure every slave child on the planet dies because of you!”
Rhade leapt up from the floor and pressed his bone blades against Colus’ neck. “I will not hesitate to kill you,” he snarled, causing the Taherian to stop struggling. Rhade glanced up at the men holding him. “Take him back to his cell.” The guards quickly dragged the enraged man from the room.
Rhade then quickly turned to face what was behind him. Elena lay on the ground, her stomach against the floor. She had her hands over her ears, apparently trying to block out the sounds around her. Her shoulders were shaking with barely suppressed sobs. Trance was on her knees next to her, trying to comfort the shaken woman.
“Elena,” said Trance, her hands resting lightly on her back. “He is gone now.”
Very slowly, Elena took her hands down. She placed them beneath her and pushed herself to her knees. Trance let her hands fall to her lap and Rhade crouched next to them. “What is it?” he asked, knowing she had read Colus’ feelings.
Tears fell silently down Elena’s face. “He wasn’t lying, not about any of it,” she confessed. “The trader was coming to buy me. Right before he lunged at me I could feel his hatred. I know he wanted me dead. And worst of all now every child on that planet will die because of me!”
“No they won’t,” assured Trance. “He won’t be able to give an order like that. They will remain safe, we will make sure of that.”
Elena shook her head. “That may be so, but my fate is still decided. The trader will come and he will take me - “She stopped talking and put a head over her mouth, her eyes full of fear.
“He will not,” said Rhade with conviction. “I will not let him. No one deserved slavery, least of all you. I will keep him from you.”
Elena turned her eyes to him, using her hands to wipe her face. She nodded slowly, as if she didn’t quite believe it. Trance stood up and pulled her to her feet. Elena leaned over and hugged the golden woman. When Rhade stood, Elena hugged him as well. She lightly kissed his cheek as she pulled away. “Thank you.”
“I think you should get some more rest,” said Trance. “You are not yet fully recovered.”
Elena nodded. She gave a shaky smile at Rhade and let Trance help her out of the room. A long sleep would do her good. Rhade watched them leave.

Chapter 6: To sights my brethren see

“You can’t be serious!”
The cry echoed through the observation deck where the crew of the Andromeda was gathered. They had been discussing the situation on Taher and that of Elena when Rhade objected to Dylan’s proposed plan
“I don’t like the idea any more than you Rhade,” said Dylan. “But if we’re going to change things on Taher, it’s our only option.”
Rhade shook his head. “There has to be another way. We can’t let Elena go back there, you’ve seen what that place has done to her!”
“There is no doubt she has suffered greatly on that planet,” said Trance quietly. “But there is no other way.”
Beka sighed and stood from her seat. “In that case we need to get an army to go down there too.”
Dylan shook his head. “Not going to work. Remember, the goal is to impersonate the trader and buy time while we build up an army from the outside. The Taherian have never met him before, so that will work in our favor. But this is going to require a lot of precise timing, trying to coordinate the slaves from the inside and the resistance from the outside.”
“Dylan,” interrupted Trance. “We should speak with Elena first. She is instrumental in this and we should see what she thinks.”
Dylan nodded. “Of course, Rhade - “ He didn’t even finish the sentence as the Nietzschean was already out the door and on his way to Elena’s quarters.
Rhade’s stride was long and even, eating up the metallic distance quickly. He did not like the idea of sending Elena back down to the planet, even if he would be there the entire time. It puzzled him how he had become so protective of the woman in the course of a day. He supposed it was due to being subjected to Dylan’s influence for too long: he now had the drive to defend those that couldn’t defend themselves.
Elena had spent her life in turmoil as she worked to save others, always at a cost to herself. It seemed that peace of life was ingrained into her very being, as it seemed she could do no harm to others. Therefore the protection she gave could extend only so far. It was high time that someone fought to protect her.
Rhade did not marvel that the task fell to himself. He preferred it that way. He hated to see sorrow in the innocent. He thought there was too much pain in Elena’s eyes. The few times she had smiled, her face was transformed. It was so rare, it seemed like all the worry would lift away from her features.
The Nietzschean sighed as he stopped before her door. He was not looking forward to the conversation, but it had to be done. He knocked on the door and grew concerned when a weak ‘come in’ filtered to his ears.
When Rhade entered, he found Elena seated on her bed, all but hidden beneath the blankets wrapped around her. Only her head and a mass of dirty blonde hair were visible, the rest of her was safely cocooned in the grey material. “Elena? What is wrong?”
She looked up at him, her eyes tired. “I am cold, inside.”
Rhade frowned, coming forward and crouching before her. “What do you mean?”
Elena shrugged, evidenced only by a slight shift in the blankets. “Sometimes, when a person’s feelings are particularly intense, it translates into, simply put, hot and cold. Love is warm. Joy is warm. But fear is cold. And anger is cold. When I felt Colus’ hatred, it was so fierce, a bitter chill set in me. It will remain until I either experience that of another or let enough time pass.”
Her eyes closed once she finished speaking and she pulled the blankets tighter around her. Rhade silently growled. His annoyance with Colus and all things Taher continued to escalate. He could at least fix this problem, even if he was a little wary about what he was about to offer.
“Elena,” he began, waiting till she opened her eyes to look at him. “There is no great fear or anger in me. Take my feelings.”
She stared at him, her eyes filled with confusion. “Why? Why would you do this?”
Rhade sighed. Why indeed. “You do not deserve any of this. You do not deserve to suffer. I said I would help you. This is only one of the ways that I can. I would have you feel warm again.”
She faintly smiled and chuckled. “Who would have thought I would have come to know kindness again. If you are sure?” Rhade nodded and Elena shrugged the blankets off. They stood and faced each other, Rhade rather unsure of what was to come.
Elena’s eyes held Rhade’s as her hands rested on either side of his head. Rhade tried not to flinch: her hands were like ice. Slowly, her fingertips trailed over the skin of his cheeks and neck till her palms rested on his shoulders. Her hands then slid down to rest on his chest, one palm directly over his heart. She closed her eyes, though Rhade continued to watch her.
The feeling that coursed through him was hard to describe. It was not strong and it certainly didn’t hurt. It felt as if there was someone else there, in his mind with him. It was more intimate than he cared to admit, having someone able to see him. The feeling brought on a surge of affection for the woman before him, for being shown something he would have never experienced before.
Elena’s eyes opened and she took her hands away from Rhade’s chest. The feeling slowly left his body, though the area over his heart that her hand had rested remained warm. She titled her head to the side. “There is a great deal of affection in you. It allowed me to push away the cold that had taken me. You offered a great deal when you - let me in, as it were. Thank you.” She paused to consider him. “But I felt that you are also very troubled over something. What is it?”
Rhade was surprised that she had picked up on his somewhat turbulent feelings about the plan. The very plan that he had to talk to Elena about. He sighed and carefully ushered her to sit back down, himself taking a seat next to her.
“The crew has come up with a plan to help those on your planet,” began Rhade. He sighed. “But in order for it to work, you would have to return to the planet so we can work out a rebellion from the inside.”
Elena’s eyes widened. Her hands, which had been at her sides, now came up so she could clasp them in her lap. She met Rhade’s eyes for a moment. “Go back?” She turned her head to stare at the floor. “I - I don’t know.” She bit her lip as she tried to consider the possibilities. “Why do you need me?”
“Because we are going to pose as this trader that was supposed to come. It would be like we captured you as you were trying to flee. We could gather up the slaves from the inside while others coordinated the efforts of the rebels from the outside. You would be the key to getting inside.”
Elena nodded. She sat in silence, her eyes fixed on the floor. Quietly, she asked, “Can I have some time to think about it?”
Rhade stood. “Of course. When you wish to talk to me, just ask Andromeda where I am.” He headed toward the door and activated the panel to open it.
“Telemachus?” Rhade stopped and turned around. The use of his first name surprised him, it had been a while since anyone had called him that. It was refreshing in an odd sort of way.
Elena’s eyes raised to him. “Thank you.”
Rhade frowned. “For what?”
“For giving me a choice,” responded Elena sincerely. “In the past day you have done more for me than most people have done in my entire lifetime. I feel I may actually know hope again, thanks to you.” A small smile graced her lips.
Rhade smiled. “You do not need to thank me for that. I am glad that you have found hope. Maybe soon you will find joy as well.”
Elena’s smile, though small, seemed to grow brighter. “Maybe.”
Rhade nodded to her and closed the door behind him, leaving her to her thoughts.

Chapter 7: Why joys they've found I cannot find

Elena spent the next hour nervously pacing her room, trying to decide what she should do. Her every instinct screamed at her to stay as far away from the planet as she could, but her mind and heart were telling her otherwise. There were innocent people on that planet, not to mention children that had done nothing to deserve the horrors that were brought upon them. If she could do anything to help those that were under the Taherians' power, she would.

But every time that the courage swelled within her, it slowly faded as she thought back on Colus and her life on the planet. The rage she had felt within him scared her. She knew what he was capable of. Her life had been filled with constant physical and emotional pain until now, all of which was caused by Colus. But now this new trader he spoke of could do things to her that made her blood run cold. She had to do something not only to save those on the planet, but also to protect her own well-being.

Elena had to remind herself that she wasn't going to be alone in this venture, far from it. She had a feeling that Rhade would be with her in the very least. The Nietzschean had come as a surprise to her. Living in a place of anguish had made her reluctant to trust, yet she warmed right up to him. He had been nothing but kind to her in her time on the ship, tending to her along with the golden Trance. He had willingly offered himself to her, something that no else had ever done before. The deep affection that she had felt was like a balm to her soul. She only wished that she knew who the affection was directed towards.

Elena shook her head. She should not be thinking these thoughts She was about to put her life in danger and she could not waste time on useless ideas. Coming to a halt in the middle of the room, she looked up at the ceiling uncertainly. "Andromeda?"

Andromeda's holographic form appeared before her, startling the woman. "Yes?"
Elena swallowed, a little disconcerted by the idea of talking to a ship. "Um, could you please tell me where Rhade is at the moment?"

"Rhade is currently in his quarters," responded the hologram promptly, her expression not changing.

Elena stared at the woman for a second. "Could you tell me where that is?"

A small smile seemed to cross the hologram's features, but it could have been nothing. "Go down the hallway to your right. His room is up the ramp and three doors on the left."

"Thank you." Andromeda went as quickly as she appeared, something that unnerved Elena to say the least. Knowing what she had to do, Elena followed the ship's directions to Rhade's quarters. Once there, she took a deep breath and touched the panel next to the door, letting him know that she was there.

The door slid open a few moments later. Hair still wet from the shower, Rhade stood in front of Elena. His eyes widened slightly at seeing her there, not expecting her to come to a decision so soon. "Elena?"

She didn't smile at him, just bit her lip before speaking. "Telemachus, I want to ask you something first before I make a final decision."

He nodded, trying to ignore the small thrill that ran through him at the sound of his first name. "Of course. Let us go somewhere that we may speak." She nodded and trailed behind him as he led the way to the observation deck.

They found the observation deck to be thankfully empty. Rhade closed the door behind them and called out, "Andromeda, engage privacy please."

"Privacy mode engaged."

Elena walked over to one of the benches and sat down, her eyes focused on the green planet of Taher. Rhade moved to sit next to her, concerned by her silence. "Elena, what is it?" She was silent and continued to stare out the viewport. "Tell me what you are thinking."

She glanced over at him briefly, the uncertainty in her eyes evident. She sighed and turned her body so she was facing him. "Telemachus, I need to know what is going to happen if we go back to Taher."

Rhade nodded. "Well, I would be posing as this slave trader Colus spoke of. You would come with me and I would claim that I had recaptured you. I would gain as much information about their slaving habits as I could while hopefully you try to gather the slaves together for a rebellion of sorts. Trance would also be with us, to help heal some of the more gravely injured and gather information as well.

"Dylan, Rommie and Harper are going to land in one of the more barren areas while Beka stays here on the ship. They are going to try and contact these rebels and organize a siege of sorts. We hope to coordinate the efforts on both fronts, which would increase the chances for success."

He paused so he could lean closer to her. "Elena, I know this is hard for you. But you are the only one that the slaves would trust. You do not have to fear anything, I will make sure that you do not come to any harm."

Her eyes remained locked with his once he finished speaking. She could see the sincerity in them. She sighed and turned her head back to the view of the planet that had been her home and her prison for so many years. An old memory crept to the surface, prompting her to speak.

"Back on my home planet," she began, knowing she was straying from the main topic, "the first trip through slipstream was a long time in planning. There was great risk involved, but the rewards appeared too great to pass up the opportunity. Every person on board that ship was a volunteer; every man, woman and child understood what they were doing.

"We were celebrated as heroes even before we left. I could not see myself as a hero or even worthy of being talked about. I thought the trip was an adventure, a way to meet new people and make allies across the universe. Almost my entire family volunteered for the mission, sharing my ideas.

"My brother, however, wanted nothing to do with it. He had been married for less than a year and had just had his first child. He did not want to leave the only place he had known as home, especially to a place so uncertain. He was wary of the idea of traveling across the stars and meeting others. He said that no matter how loving and peaceful we may be, there were others filled with hate and malice that would not receive us well.

"The day before I left, he came to speak with me, ask me to stay. When I told him I could not he said one last thing to me. He told me, 'If things ever go horribly wrong remember this. Sometimes the hope in the stars is dim and the sparkle of tomorrow is faint. Your heart may cry out from fear and desolation while your mind despairs. But know that your pure intentions will save you. And know that they can save others. Your will is strong and it can change your fate for the better. Never forget the hope and love your people give to you, for it will give you strength in the darkest of hours.'"

Elena stopped speaking. She stood and walked over to stand in front of the viewport. A tear fell from her eye to trail down her cheek. "I remember my home, even though it is probably gone now. These are the darkest times I have known, but the memories of joyful people long dead give me strength. I despair for the people on that planet. And even though I am scared beyond reason, I know I can help them. My pure intentions will save them."

Rhade stood, his heart silently going out to the woman before him. He stepped up behind her and carefully turned her to look at him. "I understand your fear. But your brother is right. You have a gentle soul, the likes of which I have never seen. It is this pureness that will help those on that planet." He paused, waiting until she raised her eyes to meet his own. "I wish for you to trust in me. I will do everything I can to make sure no harm comes to you."

Hesitantly, she leaned forward until she was leaning against Rhade, his arms almost automatically going around her. For once in her life she felt safe. No one had actually defended her before, not even herself. But things seemed to be changing now. She had come across someone that actually cared for her well-being. It made her decision that much easier.

Rhade didn't want to let her out of his arms, but released her anyway once she pulled away. The woman had awaken something in him he didn't know he could feel. He wasn't sure he was ready for the experience.

Elena stared up at him once she pulled away. "Tell me what I need to do."

Chapter 8: Abides a mystery

Rhade sighed and straightened his vest, which gave him a distinctly mercenary look. The Maru stood behind him, ready to be launched. Beka had just left after giving him a thorough talking to, explaining in great detail what should happen to him if anything happened to her ship. He had no doubt that she would follow up on her threats.

Harper walked over and handed him a flexi. "This should be all the information that you need. All we know about the trader is that he comes from the Teid system and his name is Sunev. On this card are the codes you need to get into the seedy part of Taher. You should be good."

Rhade nodded and tucked the flexi into an inside pocket. Dylan approached him next. "You know what you have to do?"

Rhade nodded. "I do."

"Good. Try and keep in contact. I know you and Trance can take care of yourselves, but watch out for Elena."

"You do not have to say anything," answered Rhade. "Of course I will watch over her."

Dylan studied the Nietzschean. A small smile crept into his eyes. "I know." He turned away and motioned to Harper. "Let's go." They left to go board a slipfighter, Rommie already awaiting them.

Trance and Elena then entered the hanger. Trance was very plainly clothed in a simple gray dress, which would allow her to pass among the slaves easily, despite her foreign looks. Elena was clothed in the same white dress she had always worn, even though the hem had been torn off at her knees.

Trance nodded at Rhade. "I will go do a final check of the ship." She disappeared up the ramp.

Rhade turned to Elena, who stood staring at the ship. "Are you sure about this?" he asked, reaching forward to take her hands within his own. "You don't have to do this."

Elena shook her head. "I do have to do this. Those people need my help. I will do what I can to free them."

Rhade nodded and squeezed her hands. "All right then. Let's go." She nodded and preceded him up the ramp. Though she had managed to fly the drop ship away from Taher, she knew very little as to the intricate workings of any ship, let alone one so patched together as the Maru. Beka had spent some time with her, briefly going over the controls of some of the less important equipment so that she could help out on the flight down to the planet. Elena was just happy she wouldn't have to fly again.

Trance took a place at one of the main stations while Rhade strapped himself into the pilot chair. He eased the Maru out of the hanger and headed for the planet.

Hardly a minute into their flight, they were noticed. "We're being hailed," reported Trance. "The transmission is coming from the planet." Elena eased into the shadows of the corridor so that she would not be seen as Trance patched the communication through.

A worn woman with streaks of grey in her auburn hair and hard eyes came onto the screen. "This is Tenree of air control for the planet Taher. Vessel Eureka Maru, please transmit codes before preceding." Rhade sent the codes Harper had specified, silently hoping the engineer had gotten it right. The woman's expression changed to one of surprise a moment later. "Sunev. You are late."

Rhade shrugged. "I had more important matters elsewhere."

The woman suddenly took on a distinctly uncomfortable look. "Sunev, about the slave you were coming to look at-"

"I know of the situation," interrupted Rhade, his voice and face hardening. "I caught her myself as she was trying to escape. She is with me now. I had not thought security on your planet was so lax."

The woman snarled. "One instance, Sunev. Colus, no doubt had much to say on the subject."

"I'm sure he would have had he been conscious." Rhade enjoyed the woman's shock. "His fighter was damaged and he is currently being held on my other ship as we treat him. Though I doubt he will be very happy once he recovers."

The woman nodded, her face going blank. "Indeed. You have permission to land in dock 1036 Alpha. We will meet you there. Tenree out." The screen returned to the image of the rapidly growing planet.

"Things will be disorganized, now that they know Colus will not be back right away," observed Elena. "They will most likely spend their efforts in trying to entertain you and forget about Trance and I."

"Good," Rhade mumbled under his breath. He easily landed the Maru in the specified port and let the ship power down to standby. He sighed and stood, not happy with what he was about to do.

Elena moved before him. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly letting it out, she turned around and put her hands behind her. "I'm ready."

Rhade nodded. Carefully, he took a pair of binders and fastened them around her wrists. They had to keep up the illusion that she was still a slave, as much as it pained them to do it. He then looked to Trance, who nodded that she was also ready. Rhade grasped Elena's binders in one hand, his other holding a gun. They walked toward the door and Trance hit the panel, opening it.

A group of guards and officials stood at the bottom of the ramp, waiting for them. Rhade made a show of pushing Elena before him, though in fact it was she that made the move convincing. Trance trailed after them, her eyes downcast. Tenree stepped forward, nodding to the group.

"Sunev, we thank you for returning the slave to us. She will be punished accordingly."

Rhade's eyebrows raised. "I would advise against that actually. I must confess that I had decided to purchase her, especially after I spent some time with her. If any harm were to come to her, I might have to rethink the significant sum I was prepared to pay."

Tenree hesitated, her eyes sliding to the gun clasped in his hand. "Very well. She will not be harmed for the time being. As long as she does not step out of line." Tenree reached forward and grasped Elena's arm, pulling the woman towards her. Rhade tried not to flinch as she stumbled.

Rhade holstered the gun, noticing the guards relaxing once he put away his weapon. "I must admit, this slave of yours has made me curious. I wish to see the others that you keep here."

Tenree's eyes narrowed. "Why? We have no more like her."

The Nietzschean crossed his arms before him, flaring his bone blades for emphasis. "There are other uses for slaves, aren't there?" Rhade thought he was going to be sick, based off of what he was implying.

Tenree nodded, not even batting an eyelash. "Of course. However, I cannot accompany you at the moment, there are other duties that I must attend to."

Rhade shrugged. "That is of no matter to me. I can go myself. I feel it would be best if I knew where she was at all times."

Tenree studied him for a moment before slowly nodding. "Very well. I will escort you to the slave quarters." She pushed Elena ahead of her, starting the procession to the desolate part of the compound, locked away from prying eyes and casual visitors.

Rhade looked around him in seeming disinterest, but in truth was gathering as much information as he could. There were no obvious signs that Taher was involved in the illegal slave trade, besides an unusual amount of armed guards. Everything he saw was well maintained. He knew the same could not be said for the slave quarters.

They soon reached a barred metal door, guarded by four men. Tenree turned to Rhade. "This is the entrance to the slave quarters. There are guards stationed everywhere, you only need to call out for their help." She nodded at Trance, who had remained silent the whole time, trailing the party. "Your own slave may stay here if you wish it."

Tenree nodded to the guard who opened the door, letting a musky stank permeate the corridor. Dim lights lit the hallway beyond the door, but no one was visible. She took off Elena's binders and turned her around. Tenree then clasped her hand around Elena's arm, squeezing hard enough to bruise. "Don't cause trouble," she advised. "Or you won't be able to move again when Colus gets through with you."

Elena quickly lowered her eyes, but Rhade was able to see the flash of fear within them. Tenree pushed Elena into the passage. At a nod of his head, Trance followed her, the two of them disappearing around a corner of the corridor. Rhade pulled out his gun and started to follow but Tenree placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

"Hey, Sunev? Try not to kill the merchandise, okay?"

Rhade wanted to hit the woman for calling people merchandise, but knew he could do no such thing. So instead, he simply let a sneer cross his face and entered into the hallway, listening to the door clang shut behind him. He sighed and put his gun away, then ran a hand through his hair. He hated this. But if he was going to help Elena at all, it was what he would have to endure.

He turned the corner to see Elena and Trance waiting for him. "Are we ready?" The two women nodded and the three started off, Elena leading them.


Dylan, Harper and Rommie traipsed through the overgrowth of a forest they had landed near. Rommie had picked up what appeared to be an encampment of humans and were hoping to meet with these rebels.

Harper slapped at his neck and groaned. "I swear, why is it that all bloodsucking bugs are attracted to me?"

"Harper," warned Dylan. They needed to be quiet so they could find these rebels and hopefully not get ambushed.

"No, I quite agree with him."

Dylan turned and came face to face with an old gun pointed at his head. More people appeared from around the trees, surrounding the three members of the Andromeda's crew. The leader, the man who had spoken and was pointing the gun at Dylan, looked surprisingly young. Long brown hair was tied behind his back and wolfish gray eyes sized them up. He was smirking. "The bugs can be bothersome." The smile disappeared. "Now why don't you tell us why you are here."

Dylan sighed and threw a sour look at Harper, who shrugged sheepishly. "I am Captain Dylan Hunt. I am here to help you."

The man's eyes narrowed. "Help us? Help us do what?"

"Stop the injustices that the Taherian government have committed."

The man's expression did not change. "We've been trying to do that for a while now. Somehow I doubt your help would change anything."

Dylan looked him squarely in the eye. "Except we have someone on the inside." The man was silent. "Look, just listen to us. We can help you if you give us a chance."

The man let his eyes wander over the three people before him. Slowly, he lowered his gun and motioned for the others to do the same. "I am Niaran. I will listen to your proposition. But if at any time you show that you are a threat, you will die."

Harper shrugged. "What else is new?"


Chapter 9: Yet I would bear my shortcomings

Elena led Rhade and Trance through the dank corridors, making her way to the main gathering place of the slaves, one of the few places that was not continually monitored by the guards. She hated being back in the dirty hallways, but there was little else for her to do.

A group could be heard up ahead, traveling towards them. Elena stopped walking, listening to the three voices she could hear. Rhade placed a hand on his gun, but Trance placed her hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

Three men rounded the corner and drew up short. The man in the forefront, who had a rather wily look about him, let his eyes widen. "Elena?"

Elena smiled and nodded. "Yes. I have returned with help."

The man stepped forward, his dark eyes disbelieving. "How can this be? We thought you had either escaped or been killed. How is it that you return to this place of damnation with help?"

Elena sighed and gestured to Rhade and Trance behind her. "These two have helped me. They are from the Commonwealth."

The name of the ancient regime brought the man to a halt, his mouth hanging open in a very undignified way. The sight made Elena laugh quietly. She turned to Rhade and Trance. "This is Isret. When he isn't trying to be a leader to those of us trapped here, he can always be found regaling the children with tales of the commonwealth." She turned back to the man. "We need to speak to the collective group. There is a chance they can be free."

Isret let his eyes travel over the group, taking them each in turn. Slowly, he nodded. "Alright. I will gladly take any chance at ending this darkness. Come with us and we will give you your audience."

The group turned and entered into the central gathering of the slaves. Elena was greeted by joyful cries and smiles on many filthy faces. Most simply ignored Rhade and Trance, casting them unsure looks as they passed after Elena. The room itself was large, though it seemed smaller with the sheer amount of bodies within it. In the center of the room was a small platform, constructed out of wood that rose only a foot in the air. It was to this platform that they were led.

Isret stepped onto the platform and raised his hands to call for silence from the assembled crowd. "My friends!" he began, quieting the people with his voice. "Long have we suffered from the unjust rulers of the Taher Nine. But our dear Elena has returned to us with help! With our cooperation, we can all be liberated from this tyranny!"

The crowd cheered and Elena grasped Isret's hand to step onto the platform. "I have brought friends to our aid," she announced, gesturing towards Rhade and Trance. "They come from the new Commonwealth!" A murmur of approval and surprise rippled through the crowd. "And they have come with a great warship that rests in space. Their captain is organizing the rebels from the outside." Her voice quieted, but did not lose its intensity. "But now it is our turn to organize a rebellion from the inside."

A great outcry arose in the room. Rhade watched Elena strengthening under the praise of the slaves. She had changed drastically from the crumpled woman he had found not too long ago, and not just in a physical sense. There was hope within her now. And hope was a very powerful force.

Isret motioned for them to be quite so Elena could continue. "I have been here many years and have seen many atrocities. These two have brought us hope. There is hope for us and hope for our children! I ask you to be prepared to help us fight for the freedom we deserve. Do not stir up the guards yet. Now we must look and listen and prepare for when the time comes. We will have our freedom back, but we must wait with courage and patience. Can you do that for me friends?"

A great cry to the affirmative rose up and penetrated the room. Elena smiled. She felt such joy knowing that she would be able to help these people. And her happiness grew once she realized that she felt the feelings for herself, not through another. Her smile was wide as she stepped down from the platform.

Trance smiled at her. "These people now have a reason to hope again. It is all because of you."

Elena shook her head, her smile turning wistful. "No, not because of me. These people have always had hope within them, they never lost it. I simply have been able to justify it." She smiled as the slaves thanked Rhade and Trance, no longer wary of the strangers.

Isret stood before the group, his face impassive, though his eyes betrayed his happiness. "We thank you all for your help. When will you need us ready to attack?"

Rhade produced a communicator from his pocket and hailed Dylan from it. "That is going to depend on Captain Hunt."

Dylan's face appeared on the small screen. "How are things Rhade?"

"Things are well," Rhade answered. "The slaves are more than willing to help. All we need now is your signal."

Dylan nodded. "Well, that could be either tomorrow or the day after. We have met with the rebels and are organizing as well as we can. We will start moving to your coordinates as soon as possible. Keep me updated. Hunt out."

Rhade nodded and pocketed the communicator. "He will be in place as soon as he is able."

Isret nodded. "That is well. Once the fire is started, it is hard to put out. Will you be remaining here?"

Rhade shook his head. "I am afraid that I must keep up appearances. Elena and Trance will remain with you though."

Trance stepped closer. "I would like to see your wounded and do what I can to help."

Isret nodded. "Any help you could give would be much appreciated. Please follow me." The group preceded out of the large gathering room where conversation had risen to a fevered pitch.

"We are going now to our own healing ward," said Elena, speaking to Rhade and Trance as they walked. "It is where I would spend most of my time, at least when Colus did not hold me captive elsewhere."

They turned into another room, though far smaller than the first. Rhade nearly stopped walking, for the smell that assaulted him was so brutal. The room smelled of one thing: death.

Trance and Elena immediately started moving among the patients that were stretched out on makeshift beds throughout the room. Rhade stood in the doorway, bleakly observing the many wounded, their weak cries reaching his ears.

Isret stayed at his side. "There was a collapsed tunnel several days ago, with many caught inside. It was part of what accounted for Elena's injuries when you undoubtedly met her. By the time she had finished healing the guards, as Colus ordered, she was far too weak to help much with the slaves. We could never blame her though, she helps when she can."

Trance came over, through with her initial assessment of the situation. "I believe we can help many of these people. Do you have the medical nanos?"

Rhade took off a small pack he had been carrying with him. He handed it to Trance who started off to treat some of the most grievously injured patients.

"Isret?" Elena returned to them, her eyes weary with the pain around her. "Where is Tolines?"

Isret sighed. "I am sorry Elena. Tolines passed only yesterday evening."

Elena closed her eyes and shook her head. "I could have saved him. If I had not thought of myself-"

"Stop that," cut in Isret, beating Rhade to the words. "If you had healed Tolines, you would have died and you know that. Tolines knew that. Do not blame yourself for something you cannot prevent."

Elena sighed and nodded. She was about to ask something else when a small voice cut through the air crying, "'Lena! 'Lena!" She turned to catch a small girl that nearly launched herself into Elena's arms, outstretched to the child.

"Why, there you are Pastin!" She hugged the small girl to her and then pulled away, a frown immediately coming across her face. "What happened to you sweetling?"

Rhade and Isret moved to see Pastin's face. Her skin was horribly pale in comparison to the small river of dried blood that was on her face. The blood originated from a nasty cut at her hairline. Pastin's smile was uneasy and a closer look at her eyes showed her pupils to be uneven. "I was not careful when Sindor came to check on us."

Elena's face grew angry. "He struck you?"

Pastin nodded, then stopped the movement and leaned against Elena when nausea threatened her. Without hesitation, Elena laid her hand on the cut over Pastin's head and closed her eyes.

Rhade frowned and bit back a curse when he saw what she was doing. He could not stop her though. Slowly, a cut opened on Elena's forehead, allowing a small trickle of blood to flow down her face. She opened her eyes and smiled weakly, allowing her hand to fall to her side.

Pastin grinned and violently hugged Elena, her knowledge only extending to the fact that she no longer felt sick. "Thank you 'Lena!" She jumped down and scrambled out of sight to go play with the other children.

Elena staggered and Rhade caught her. He turned her face towards him and noted the tell-tale signs of a concussion. "You should not have done that," he admonished, helping her to sit down. He crouched in front of her. "We need you to be well."

Elena shook her head and groaned, a hand going up to her forehead. "Pastin is a innocent child. I was able to help her. You could not have stopped me."

Rhade sighed and glanced up at Isret, who only shrugged, accepting the behavior as normal. Rhade used his sleeve to wipe away the blood that was trailing down her face.

Trance looked up from where she was tending another patient. Her eyes landed on Elena and Rhade, noting the way he was caring for her. She sighed and turned back to the patient, carefully setting broken bones. She wished she could spare her friends the pain that they would go through.

Chapter 10: With meet tranquility

Rhade sighed and paced before the doorway, wishing he could vent all the nervous energy within him. He had just spoken to Dylan, informing him that the rebels would be in position within the hour. They were almost ready to spring their attack.

He paused long enough to turn and look inside the chamber generally used to heal patients. Elena sat on one of the makeshift beds, the small child Pastin in her lap as she told her a story. Every person within the confines of slavery on Taher seemed to gravitate to Elena. The woman always has a smile ready for them and thought little of herself when she saw another in pain.

Rhade smiled as Pastin giggled and threw her arms around Elena. Her compassion for others amazed him at times. In fact, he knew it was what had endeared her to him in the first place.

He was a Nietzschean, schooled in keeping his emotions from displaying for all to see. Yet Elena had affected him in a way he had not predicted. She had touched him to a degree he did not anticipate. Yet he was not sad that she had-he welcomed it.

Pastin looked to the doorway and grinned when she saw him. She leapt from Elena's arms and ran across the expanse to launch herself at him. "Come play Rhade!" she cried, squealing when he tossed her in the air. It had not taken much for the little girl to worm her way into his heart either.

He walked over and sat down next to Elena, swinging Pastin in his arms as he went. She giggled happily when he threw her the short distance to Elena. Elena laughed and hugged the girl to her, smiling at Rhade. She leaned unconsciously against Rhade as Pastin settled down, tired from her games.

Trance passed away from the door, deep sadness dragging her down. She fervently wished that there was another way for events to play out, but she knew like no other that there was only one way. The pain was unavoidable. She tore her eyes from the make-shift family before her and left silently.


Tenree's eyes hardened further as she listened to the reports from her guards. "What?" she questioned, her eyes narrowing.

The guard nodded. "It is true, Sunev has either betrayed us, or he is not who he appears to be. We have knowledge of him helping to stage a riot from the inside, as some allies of his organize rebels from the outside. They plan to free the slaves."

Tenree slammed her hands on her desk. "Blast him to the Magog! We will need to deal with him now."

A loud explosion rocked the room they sat in, sending many of the occupants to the floor. Screams erupted from outside and the sound of fighting filtered through the window. Tenree jumped to her feet and rushed to the window, surveying the chaos on the streets outside.

"The fight has already begun. Send half your guards to help suppress those outside. Send the other half with me to make sure the slaves don't get any ideas. I will go and deal with Sunev." She stalked out of the room, taking her gun into hand as she resolved to kill the one masquerading as Sunev.


Rhade shouted orders as he ran down the corridor, shooting behind him. Cries of pain reached his ears, alerting him that he had killed the guards that had infiltrated the slaves' area. All around him, slaves were starting their revolt, taking down guards where they could. From what he could hear, Dylan had started the attack with the rebels right on time.

Seeing no immediate threat, he quickly made his way back to the area that was being used for the infirmary. He ducked inside, frequently throwing glances into the corridor. Elena was darting around the room, doing what she could to heal. Rhade had forbidden her to help anyone that would result in serious injury to herself. She had argued with him, but he was firm. She was needed to help the slaves after the fight was over with, she would be someone that they would look to. What was more, he couldn't stand the thought of her dying.

A large barrage of fire to his right brought his attention round. Standing in the hallway was Tenree with several guards. She narrowed her eyes at him. "You are not Sunev. I assume you killed him, but it is no matter. Your death is now."

She raised her blaster, the guards around her doing the same. Rhade reacted and raised his own weapon, firing as he dove into the doorway. Fire rained around him as walls blew up. Many of the slaves returned fire and the silence that grew after the volley attested to the fact that Tenree and her guards were dead. Rhade had enough time to register this before the pain hit him full force.

Elena ran to where Rhade was lying, her heart in her throat. He was on his stomach, dirt and dust covering him. Isret entered the room with some of the other slaves. "We've won!" he cried, but stopped short of celebrating once he saw Elena crouched over the Nietzschean.

Elena looked up at him. "Help me turn him over!" Isret dropped to his knees and carefully turned Rhade over onto his back. Elena cried out and Trance hurried over, drawn by her cry.

Elena bit her lip as she finally saw the extent of Rhade's injury. A blast had caught him in the stomach and was bleeding profusely. It was an injury that few could survive, not even a Nietzschean.

Rhade blearily looked up at them, only aware of the pain. He saw Elena's face above him. She was trying to tell him something, but he could not hear her above the roar in his ears. She had tears in her eyes. All he knew was that he didn't want her to cry.

Trance pulled away the remains of the shirt that Rhade wore to fully examine the wound. She looked up at Elena and Isret and shook her head. "There is nothing I could do that would save him."

Elena stared at the woman, disbelieving. And in that split second, she made up her mind. "Maybe not. But I can do something." She pushed Trance aside and leaned over Rhade's form. One hand rested on his forehead, while the other hovered over the wound.

"Elena!" protested Isret, knowing full well what Rhade would say in that instance. But Trance hushed him and pulled him to the side, allowing Elena space. The room was silent as everyone watched the woman they had come to love try to save the man that had given her hope. Outside, cheering was heard in celebration, and a procession of sorts was making their way toward the slaves. But for now, time stood still.

Elena closed her eyes and concentrated on Rhade, the feel of his skin beneath her hands. Gradually, the pain began to rip through her, the skin across her abdomen split apart and blood began to stain the dirtied white dress she always wore. She bit her lip to keep from crying out as the pain grew intense. Her hands began to shake, but she kept her concentration, knowing she could not stop now. Rhade groaned and tears leaked from her eyes. She refused to let him die.

The pain was almost too much for her to bear. But then she knew it was over when she felt his emotions overwhelm her. There was fear and anger deep within him. But at the forefront was the strongest feeling he held, love for her. Elena sobbed. He had not only given her hope, but he had given her his love as well.

Elena opened her eyes. Rhade opened his only a moment later. He gasped and sat up, looking down at his stomach to see no wound. He looked to Elena. She glanced down to see the red staining her hands and her abdomen. She looked up and locked eyes with Rhade before collapsing backwards.


Chapter 11: As yet disquiet clings about us

"NO!" cried Rhade. He scrambled over to Elena's side, horror washing through him at what she had done. She had saved his life at the expense of her own. Carefully, he gathered her into his arms, mindful of the injury she now bore. "No, Elena, what have you done?"

She gave a weak smile. Slowly, she raised a trembling hand to rest against his cheek. "You gave me my life back," she whispered, her words becoming slurred. "I could not let you lose yours." Her hand fell back and her eyes slid shut, much to Rhade's alarm.

"Let me tend her," demanded Trance, appearing at his side.

Isret's eyes flashed to the golden woman. He had watched the entire situation. "I thought you said you couldn't help her."

Trance shook her head. "I said there was nothing I could do to help Rhade. Elena is different; her physiology is different. There is a chance I can still save her."

Rhade reluctantly let Trance take Elena's limp form from him and rush into an adjoining room that was generally reserved for some of the worst off patients. He sat by himself for several long moments, staring at his hands that were covered in Elena's blood. He wanted to help Trance, but he didn't think he could force himself to do it; if Elena died there, he would not be able to stand it.

A crash sounded from the doorway heralding the arrival of the rest of the Andromeda's crew. Dylan and Harper slid to a halt, stunned by the sight of Rhade looking so defeated.

"Rhade?" began Dylan, clearly confused. "What happened? Are you hurt?"

Rhade shook his head. He laboriously pushed himself to his feet. He stared into the dark doorway that Trance had disappeared in. Turning, he pushed past Dylan and Harper. He deftly avoided Rommie as she came down the hall. It was clear the Nietzschean didn't want to speak to anybody.

Isret looked at the arrived group, already deducing who they were. With a great sigh, he told them what had happened.


Rhade stood outside, resting against a rock wall of a hidden quarry that many of the slaves were forced to work. Everywhere the slaves were celebrating their newfound freedom. The deposed leaders of Taher, the much feared Taher Nine, were currently being escorted under guard from their offices.

Rhade could not stand it. Everywhere around him there was joy. And all he could feel was the deep pit of despair consume him. Elena was dying and it was his fault.

"You knew this would happen," he accused, his eyes straight ahead. Trance walked silently up to him. Many did not detect her presence, but Rhade had rarely been fooled. "You knew she would give her life for mine."

Trance sighed. "I knew that something along those lines would happen. But I also knew that it couldn't be avoided."

Rhade rounded on her, his despair turning swiftly into anger. "Couldn't be avoided? Why not? Why does she have to suffer?"

"So that you learn something," replied Trance evenly. She watched his expression change before continuing. "Rhade, your Neitzschean upbringing has colored your views on life in a way that is only going to harm you in the future. You have always thought distance is important and that your feelings should not come into play. You felt that to compromise yourself in any way with an emotional attachment would only bring harm to yourself."

"And it seems that I was right wasn't I?" he snarled at her. "I love her and she lies near death because of my choices."

Trance shook her head. "She made her own choices Rhade. You have to see what good can come from what has happened."

"Fine." Rhade crossed his arms and turned to lean against the wall. "Enlighten me."

Trance raised a delicate eyebrow. "Very well. All of the slaves are freed. The corrupt Taher Nine are no more. And Elena has realized that there is hope in her life."

"A life that will soon be over," replied Rhade bitterly, refusing to believe that things would be alright.

Trance frowned. "You are not listening to me. You will not believe that some things truly work out for the better." She paused and then blinked serenely. "Maybe there is someone else that you will listen to."

Rhade growled. "The only person that I would listen to right now would be Elena and she is rather indisposed at the moment."

"Oh, I'm quite available actually."

Rhade spun around, mouth hung open in surprise. Behind him stood Elena, looking deathly pale, but smiling. She was hunched over slightly, an arm wrapped around her middle, but she was there and she was very much alive.

Rhade rushed forward and pulled her into his arms. He hugged her fiercely, all the while being mindful of her injury. She gasped slightly and he pulled away, concern on his face. "Did I hurt you?" he asked anxiously, resting a hand lightly on her stomach.

Elena smiled. "No, no, I'm fine. A little sore, but I think that I will be alright."

Rhade closed his eyes and drew her close to him again. "You should never have done that; you should never have given your life for mine."

"No, Telemachus, listen to me." Elena pulled away from him to look at his face. "I do not want to hear you blame yourself for what happened. I have no regrets about what I did. You have given me so much in so short a time. I could not bear to see you die when there was something that I could do."

"But you could not know that you would survive."

"I did not need to know that I would survive. What you have given me made the decision easy. For once in my life, I was happy and all of it was because of you."


"Telemachus!" Elena laughed and covered his mouth with her hand. "Let it lie. It is over with. I am here. There is no more slavery on Taher. Things are now the way that they should be."

Elena slowly lowered her hand from his face to reveal the smile that had now appeared across his lips. "I will let it lie for now. But I hope you never do something like that again."

An impish grin crossed Elena's face. "Don't get shot again and it won't."

Despite himself, Rhade laughed.

Chapter 12: Rest shall we

The next few days were spent establishing a new government that would treat all of the citizens with equal respect. The slaves were all treated for their wounds, most of which were minor. The revolt had come as a surprise to those of the Taher guard. Soon, the entire population of Taher was integrated together and all were on their way to a better life. The planet was added to the charter of the New Commonwealth and justice was finally seeing light on the dark surface.

Elena had been asked to take the position of one of the officials of the planet, but she had turned it down for a lesser posting. She did not feel that she was qualified for the job and she did not want it. She would much rather be helping others that were wounded.

Soon the day had come for the crew of the Andromeda to return to space. They had done all they could for the planet and there were other places that they had to be.

Elena found herself outside on that last night, staring at the stars. There was a slight chill in the air, but she did not notice it. She limped slightly as she made her way to a remote balcony; Pastin had twisted her ankle earlier, and Elena had hardly thought twice about her actions. Her mid-section was still tender as well, though Trance had done much to heal her. She sighed and leaned back against the railing so she could stare further up.

"Looking at anything in particular?" Elena smiled at Rhade's voice, but did not look at him, continuing to gaze upward.

She shrugged. "Not really I guess. I rarely was able to look at the stars since I've been here. When I could I would look at them and wonder if my home was still out there, maybe with my brother still alive. Maybe they found a way to stabilize the planet. Or maybe they left and found another home. Maybe one day I'll find out."

Rhade smiled. "Maybe." After a brief hesitation, he said, "Elena, I want you to come with me."

Elena did not look down at him, but kept her eyes upon the stars for several long moments. Then she sighed and looked at him. She studied him, wishing she could think of a decent way to say what she needed to.

"Telemachus, I would love to. But my life is here now. These people need me here." She shook her head. "And I think that I need them as well. They've given me a home when I though that mine was destroyed. It was a hard place to live, but I can help make this place wonderful now. I don't belong in space on a starship. I belong here. I can't leave them now."

Rhade nodded sadly. Somehow he knew that she was going to say something along those lines. "I understand. I just hope that I will see you again."

Elena smiled. "Of course we'll see each other again. Especially if you come and visit me as I want. I'm sorry Telemachus. You've helped to give me a life. You gave me hope to start living again. But I need to stay here."

"I know," admitted Rhade. He hugged Elena to him. "I know. I will come back though. I don't think I could stand to have us go our separate ways for all time."

Elena chuckled and leaned into him, wishing things could be different, but knowing that they couldn't. Above them, several stars flickered dolefully, as if they knew something that the others didn't.


The Impercipient by Thomas Hardy (1840 - 1928)

That from this bright believing band
And outcast I should be,
That faiths by which my comrades stand
Seem fantasies to me,
And mirage-mists their Shining Land,
Is a strange destiny.

Why thus my should should be consigned
To infelicity,
Why always I must feel as blind
To sights my brethren see,
Why joys they've found I cannot find,
Abides a mystery.

Since heart of mine knows not that ease
Which they know; since it be
That He who breathes All's Well to these
Breathes no All's Well to me,
My lack might move their sympathies
And Christian charity!

I am like a gazer who should mark
An inland company
Standing upfingered, with "Hark! hark!
The glorious distant sea!"
And feel, "Alas, 'tis but yon dark
And wind-swept pine to me!"

Yet I would bear my shortcomings
With meet tranquility,
But for the charge tat blessed things
I'd liefer not have be.
O, doth a bird deprived of wings
Go earth-bound wilfully!

Enough. As yet disquiet clings
About us. Rest shall we.


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