A Poison Tree


Chapter 1

“I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe;
I told it not, my wrath did grow.”
* * * * * * * * * *

Tristan Valentine Rhade was a little over six years old when Michael Hunt was born. At first having heard that there was going to be another child on board, he was excited. As much as he enjoyed spending time with his parents or Harper, they were adults and the engineer was quickly running out of stories. Therefore the idea of having another child around pleased him. But when he first saw Michael, Tristan was not impressed.
What use, he reasoned, was there for something that was red and wrinkled, slept most of the day, and couldn’t even hold up its head when it was awake? As far as Tristan was concerned, Michael Hunt closer resembled a possible pet rather than a playmate. Beka had laughed at this observation and assured Tristan that he was not alone in his disappointment. Both Beka and Susan, Dylan’s wife, had poked fun at the captain, who was a bit concerned about being a new father, still not very comfortable around the newborn. Beka said that Dylan had probably been expecting a full-grown High Guard officer rather than the tiny creature that was so dependant on him.
Still, luckily for the older boy, Michael had his own parents and didn’t take up any of Beka or Rhade’s time, so Tristan supposed it was okay. Not that he was being selfish, but there was a small element of insecurity involved. He was not yet ready to share his parents and was glad he wouldn’t have to. Besides maybe when he was a little older, Michael would do more than sleep, cry, and poop. Tristan was still hopeful.
He remembered that Susan came to the Andromeda soon after the Magog attack and Kali’s death. Tristan missed the good natured half Nietzschean woman, but Susan was also nice. She had a very calm and passive personality, and his father once said that it was probably why she and the captain made such a good pair. After all the insanity in his life, Dylan needed someone solid to rely on. They married just four months after their meeting. Telemachus Rhade had been Dylan’s best man.

* * * * * * * * * *
“And I water’d it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with my smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Mister Harper,” Dylan stood in the doorway of the machine shop. “Andromeda’s upgrades are long overdue. What’s your status?”
“Dead in the water,” he replied without bothering to look up from the small project he and Tristan had started for fun. It was a remote controlled model of the ancient earth jet, X-1. Tristan stared at the captain from over the edge of the table.
“I said last week that we needed supplies,” Harper said.
“That sounded a lot like an I-told-you-so,” Dylan raised an eyebrow.
“From me? Never!” Tristan giggled as Harper turned and winked at him. Dylan was also smiling, but his smile said that he was about to tell the engineer something he didn’t want to hear.
“Well luckily for you, we’re about to pass Mercutio Drift. All the supplies you’ll need.”
“Aw, boss, do I have to?” the young man sounded remarkably like Dylan’s young son when he was cranky. “You know I’ll wander off after the first pretty girl and probably get into trouble. You’ll have to pawn the Andromeda to bail me out, and then where would we be? Ask Beka. She loves drifts.”
“Beka just received a request for private communication that she hasn’t had a chance to take yet,” Dylan said. “I’ll ask Rhade.” He turned and left the machine shop.
“Yeah that’s right,” Harper called after him. “Rhade. Rhade’s much more trustworthy than me.” He looked down when he felt Tristan tug on his shirt.
“Do you think Dad will let me go with him?”
“Sure, go ask,” he said. “And while you’re there, see if you can talk your old man into getting us some red paint for our jet.”
Tristan nodded and ran out after Dylan to find Telemachus. He quickly caught up with the captain just as Dylan was about to enter command. As soon as the doors slid far enough apart, he squeezed through and before Dylan could enter or utter a single word, he ran to Rhade’s station.
“Dad, captain Hunt wants you to go down to the drift and get supplies. Can I come with you? Please!”

* * * * * * * * * *
“And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright;
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Do not let him out of your sight for a single second,” Beka briskly walked besides Telemachus on their way to the hanger bay. Tristan was running well ahead of them, happy to have the chance to get off the Andromeda. The only chance he had to be off the ship was during their trips to Tarazed.
“You know I won’t,” Telemachus smiled at her motherly paranoia. “Besides I suspect that he’ll stay close voluntarily. Something tells me Tristan will not like the drift.”
“I don’t care if he likes it,” Beka stopped, hands on her hips. “Bring back my son in one piece, Telemachus Rhade, or I swear on the Maru you’ll never have any more kids.”
“Ah well since it’s the Maru, I’ll have to take you seriously,” he grinned and kissed her, “however I’m willing to bet you’ll regret that decision later tonight.”
The first officer tried to look offended but failed. “Okay I gotta take that message,” she said, giving him a quick kiss. “See you boys later.”
“Bye, Mom!” Tristan called from the other end of the corridor already half way to the hanger bay.
The adults exchanged a look. “He won’t leave my side,” the Nietzschean repeated and jogged after Tristan. Beka shook her head and headed in the opposite direction to her quarters, slightly wary of the upcoming communication.
The message had come from the planet Misculon and Aleiss. Beka didn’t harbor a great deal of ill will towards the princess but she couldn’t say she was really fond of her acquaintance. In truth, any message from Aleiss made her apprehensive at best. The first officer sank into her chair and opened a com channel. Instantly the face of Aleiss appeared on the screen. The princess hadn’t changed much in the year and a half since Beka last saw her, but her hair was a little longer and though she didn’t look out if shape, her frame had thickened a bit.
“Beka, it’s good to see you again,” she smiled warmly.
“Likewise,” it was just a formality. “How are you?”
“Getting tired of politics,” the other woman admitted, “but otherwise happily married and expecting our first baby.”
“Congratulations,” for once, Beka was genuinely happy for her.
“Thank you. And how has life been treating you, captain Valentine?”
“Well,” Beka said slowly. “I avoid politics as all costs. I’m not married but in an... unusually steady relationship. And like you, I also have a child. A son.”
“Really? All that in under two years. I hope this one will let me keep some of my figure afterwards,” Aleiss patted the slight bulge on her lower abdomen. “You look well for a woman who just had a baby.”
Beka didn’t bother to correct her. “Somehow I don’t think you called me to discus the joys of motherhood.”
Aleiss visibly hesitated at that. “Maybe not the joys of it,” she chose her words carefully, “but motherhood definitely has something to do with it.”
Color drained from Beka’s face, and she felt her stomach churn. “I hope we’re not thinking about the same person,” she said very seriously, “because if we are, this conversation is over.”
“Beka, listen, I didn’t divulge your presence voluntarily,” Aleiss replied calmly. “The story of the events that lead to my father’s death spread and your name was mentioned along with Dylan, Rhade, and the Andromeda in general. I’m sorry, but Talia was asking about you.”
“No,” Beka shook her head, feeling the uneasy sensation in her stomach increase tenfold. “Not after almost thirty years.”
“She said she had some sort of information for the entire crew and would contact the Andromeda with a request to come on board,” the princess paused. “Beka, Oedekirk is a thriving republic, one who the New Commonwealth has great need of. I know it won’t be easy but do try to maintain diplomatic civility.”
Beka scowled and her voice turned cold. “Good-bye, Aleiss.” Before the princess could object, Beka severed the communication and sank back in her chair with a sigh. She desperately wished that Telemachus and Tristan were still on board or better yet, that she’d gone with them and never received the message.

Chapter 2
* * * * * * * * * *
“And into my garden stole
When the night had veil’d the pole:
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.”

Telemachus Rhade, despite having a militaristic mindset, was also a very cultured man. In and out of the academy, he’d studied a wide verity of literature and history. When not plunging into battle, he enjoyed the finer things in life such as museums, art, classical music, and dinner with fine wine. Not that he had a chance to experience such luxuries often, but Telemachus had never forced himself to like things that he felt had no soul to them. Therefore it came as little surprise that he despised the crude and uncouth drifts. He hated the noise, the rude uncultured people, and most of all, the unbearable odor. All drifts as one were an offensive assault on his Nietzschean senses.
Tristan also hated drifts, but he hadn’t realized it until after he and his father arrived. His problem wasn’t the noise or smell. They only added to the unpleasantness. His real dilemma was memory, for it was on a drift not unlike this one on which he’d spent the first four and a half years of his life. It was a time of hunger and pain that he struggled to forget, but his current surroundings would not allow it, constantly bombarding the child with familiar sights. As Rhade predicted, Tristan stayed as close to him as possible.
The two made their way to the station where Rhade gave the manager the order for the supply shipment. The short heavy man said that it would take about two hours to gather everything they required and that at the end if that time, a transport would bring it to the Andromeda. Rhade thanked him, saying that they’d be back later and follow the transport to the Andromeda to make sure all went as planned.
“Can we get something to eat?” Tristan asked.
“I doubt you can find anything decent,” Telemachus glanced around, “but lets go see if we can run into anything half decent.”
A half hour later they settled on a small fast food place that Telemachus didn’t object to too much. Given the chance, Tristan could eat almost any junk food. It was a habit that Rhade blamed entirely on Harper. However Beka suspected that it was the fact that Tristan was almost starved early in life that made him less than picky about his food.
They ordered and sat down at the corner table near the entrance to a small ship. No one dared to bother the Nietzschean male and his son. Occasionally Telemachus caught a few hard glances from the Chichin and Nightsider at the bar. He casually extended and retracted his bone blades, and the pair quickly averted their gazes. Rhade looked at Tristan, blissfully sipping his drink. The child was oblivious to the prejudice directed at them. Good, thought Telemachus. Hopefully he’ll never see it. But even as he thought it, he knew it was a fool’s hope.
Tristan, having never lost his perceptiveness, stopped mid bite and looked up at his father, who was deep in thought. “Dad,” when Rhade didn’t respond, he reached over the table and touched his arm. “Dad, are you okay?”
The sound of his son’s voice brought Telemachus back to reality. “I’m fine,” he assured him. “Are you finished?”
Tristan looked down at his food. Suddenly he didn’t feel so hungry anymore. “Yeah, I’m done.”
“Alright,” Telemachus looked at his watch. “We have another half hour.”
“Oh,” the boy suddenly remembered. “Harper and I need red paint. It’s for our jet,” he elaborated when he saw Rhade’s raised brows.
“Ah I see,” he smiled.
“To make it look cool. It’s important,” Tristan insisted, sensing his father wasn’t taking him seriously.
“I never said it wasn’t,” Telemachus held up his hands in mock defense while privately wondering if they were Tristan’s own words or Harper’s. He suspected it was the latter. “We can check in that store,” he nodded his head at the shop next to the restarant. “If not, we’ll ask the manager at the shipping station. They’ll be sure to have some there.”
As it happened, the store didn’t carry any sort of crafts. It was just a modest gift shop with some simple jewelry and a few cards. Tristan was disappointed, but he soon brightened up when his eyes fell on a card. Telemachus looked down and smiled when Tristan held up a card.
“You want to get it for your mother?” Tristan nodded vigorously. “It’s very sweet. I think she’ll love it.”
He paid for the card and returned with Tristan to the shipping yard. The needed supplies were soon loaded onto several transports and Rhade and Tristan followed them to the Andromeda. Tristan sat at the window and watched as his father brought the cargo ship out of the drift’s docking station and set it on auto pilot as they entered smooth sailing. Telemachus glanced over his shoulder and frowned.
The boy was very quiet, which was odd for he was usually so full of energy. The only time Tristan became so still and silent was when the past returned to haunt him. Sometimes he cried, and then either Beka or Telemachus would come and hold him until the tears died down. Tristan never spoke of his nightmares to either parent. Telemachus often wondered if Tristan felt he was protecting them or if he feared that if they knew, Beka and Telemachus wouldn’t love him any more.
Silently, he moved from the pilot’s chair and made his way to the window where Tristan sat, gazing at the stars. Without a word, he placed a hand on his son’s shoulder, then sat down and gathered the boy into his arms. Tristan didn’t resist or cry, but after a moment of stillness, buried his face in his father’s chest. He was grateful for the silence, grateful that Telemachus hadn’t insisted to know what was wrong. It just having his father there was comforting.

* * * * * * * * * *

Because of the odd time shift from the drift to the Andromeda, the pair returned when the early morning shift was just beginning. Once Telemachus was certain that the ship received all the supplies, he and Tristan headed down the hall to command. Tristan wanted to give Beka the card and then head over to the machine shop to start coloring the model jet. However they didn’t get a chance to get half way when Telemachus spotted Beka quickly heading their way. Immediately he saw something was wrong. She was walking too quickly and wore a frown of worry, which she was trying to hide. As Beka drew closer, Telemachus heard the rapid thumping of her heart beat. Usually that sound pleased him, but at the moment, it was not a rhythm he liked.
Amazingly enough, Tristan didn’t seem to notice. He ran up to Beka, grinning from ear to ear, and held up the card. “Mommy, look what we got for you.”
For the sake of her son, Beka put on a mask of contentment. She smiled and graciously received the card. “Thank you, baby. It’s beautiful. Now why don’t you go find Harper? I think he was asking about you.”
Tristan nodded and ran past her to the machine shop, carrying the bag with the paint. His mother liked the card, so now his job was done. When he was out of sight, Telemachus looked at Beka in concern. “Rebecca, are you alright? Has something has happened?”
She gave a short humorless laugh shaking her head in disbelief. “You know, Telemachus, you’re lucky Gaheris Rhade is dead. Otherwise, chances are, he’d come back and bite you in the ass.”
“I don’t follow,” he admitted, more confused than ever, but before Beka had a chance to explain, Andromeda’s voice sounded over the com system.
“Attention all senior officers. Please report to command immediately. Incoming communication from the approaching cruse ship.”

Chapter 3

They arrived in command a little late just as the middle screen lit up to display a young pilot. Dylan’s back as turned to the door as he spoke to the man. He granted a docking request, and the pilot thanked him. Then the image disappeared and was replaced with that of a mid sized cruiser transport heading in their direction. Beka immediately recognized the markings even before Dylan turned in their direction and spoke.
“We’re being hailed by the cruse ship belonging to the senator of Oedekirk, Talia,” Beka folded her arms under her chest but said nothing. Telemachus, on the other hand, had trouble hiding his surprise. He scowled, grit his teeth, and released a low involuntary growl.
“Is there a problem?” all eyes feel on him.
“It’s nothing,” Telemachus quickly regained his composure and apologized.
“As I was saying,” the captain continued. “Oedekirk is important to the Commonwealth. When I gave Tri-Lorn the star map, the Route of Ages, for further analysis, Oedekirk was one of the few planets whose scientists were charged with its analysis. The senator says she has some information for us regarding the star map so we are going to escort her to Tarazed where she’ll present her planet’s findings to the Council and the Triumvirs. Andromeda will receive the transport in a few minutes, and I’ll personally greet…” Dylan was again interrupted, this time by the sound of Susan’s voice over his personal com channel. He excused himself and spoke to his wife.
“Dylan, Trance and I had an emergency with one of the crew in the med bay, and Michael just woke up from his nap. Could you come and take care of him?”
What perfect timing, Dylan smiled to himself, but of course, family comes first. He turned back to his crew. “Okay, so it looks like I won’t great her in person after all. Beka, would you mind…”
“Yes,” she replied firmly. “I would.” With that, she turned on her heal and quickly left command.
Dylan was surprised and annoyed. He knew full well Beka had very few diplomatic skills, but it seemed to him that she’d taken it almost personally this time. He turned a hopeful eye on the lieutenant commander. “Rhade?”
“I’ll do it,” he said simply and also went for the door.
“No!” Dylan was more than frustrated now. “I mean thank you for volunteering, but first tell me what’s going on with my first officer.”
Telemachus stopped in the doorway and sighed. “I share her bed, captain, not her secrets. Please, excuse me.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Beka quickly headed down the corridor towards the Maru. It was her safe haven, the place she retreated to when life got too difficult. Though she loved the Maru, she hadn’t felt the need to run at any point after the fight with the Magog was won. Knowing that the mother who abandoned her all those years ago was going to be staying on the Andromeda for any duration of time and sharing her oxygen made Beka want to take the Maru and run to some isolated little drift or even planet to wait out the storm.
Without warning, she braced herself against the wall as a wave of severe nausea hit her. She quickly brought the back of her left hand to her mouth and took several deep breaths in order to steady herself. Very slowly the sick feeling passed.
“Beka,” someone was calling her. The first officer turned to see a very concerned hologram, “are you alright?”
“Yeah I’m fine, Andromeda. It’s just a little indigestion,” she forced a smile. “Must be that stuff you served for breakfast this morning.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the food I provide,” the AI frowned, a little indignant.
“I know. I’m just teasing,” Andromeda didn’t look convinced. “Really. I’m okay.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Talia was a woman whose very presence demanded respect. She held herself with unwavering dignity with a slightly haughty look on her elderly face. Though in her mid sixties, the woman appeared in no way withered or frail, but rather poised and confidant. Her face divulged surprisingly few wrinkles for her age and her faded red strands mixed with the gray as both came together in a harmonious style. Her elegant dress and air of nobility would have made an impression on most who saw her.
Yet when the dark thoughtful eyes of Telemachus Rhade fell upon her, there wasn’t a single sign that the Nietzschean was impressed in any way. His features remained stoic, frozen in an emotionless expression that was quite common to his race but not to him. Had it been his choice, the woman would not have been allowed to even board the ship. Where others saw respect and power, all he recognized were disgrace and weakness.
He arrived in the hanger bay with four other crew members to assist in any way when the senator and her envoy stepped of the transport. She walked towards him, never losing her look of dignity. Coming to a full stop a good five feet away, she gave him an assessing look as if to determine weather he was worthy of being in her presence. Rhade scowled slightly. He knew the look very well for he had seen many other Nietzscheans regard humans in this manner. Despite the obvious prejudice, he had to remain diplomatic.
“Welcome to the Andromeda Ascendant, senator,” Telemachus greeted her.
“I requested to speak with your captain,” Talia sounded as if she’d been promised the Hegemon’s Heart and instead received a little stone from one of the souvenir surf shops of Infinity Atoll.
“Unfortunately, Captain Hunt had to take an urgent lave,” as much as he respected Dylan, Telemachus was not the least bit happy that he was left to deal with the visitor. But better me than Beka, he reasoned. “However, you may present your concerns and requests to me and I will pass them to Captain Hunt.”
“Does this ship not have a first officer?” Talia asked in a tone that one would have used when speaking to a small child when asking something seemingly obvious.
“Yes,” Telemachus replied slowly. Patience running thin, he took a deep breath to keep himself calm. He couldn’t tell weather she actually knew who it was she was asking to see or if it was a purely coincidental remark. “However that person is currently … indisposed. If you wish you may speak to me or wait until Captain Hunt returns.”
The woman glanced at him one more time and her eyes once again fell to his forearms. “I believe I shall wait.”
“Fine by me,” he muttered, and turned to the young woman at his right. “Ensign, show the senator to the guest quarters.”
“Yes, sir,” the woman smiled. “This way please, senator.”

Chapter 4

Dylan had never truly appreciated the size of the task Beka and Rhade had taken on when they had agreed to become Tristan’s legal parents and at the same time remain senior officers on board the Andromeda. In the past two weeks since Michael’s birth, he acquired more fatigue than at any point during his long service in the High Guard. Being a captain and a new father were certainly not easy jobs separately, however at the same time, they were nearly impossible.
It was quite late by the time Susan returned from medical. She came into their shared quarters to discover a very amusing but touching scene of Dylan cradling his sleeping son in his arms while attempting to read a flex at the same time. The captain yawned widely and glanced down at the infant.
“You are so lucky you get to sleep twenty one hours a day,” he told the boy. Michael’s forehead wrinkled, but he didn’t wake up.
“What are you doing?” his wife’s amused voice sounded from the doorway.
“I’m having a talk with my son,” he replied seriously, glancing up from the baby for a mere second.
“He doesn’t know how to listen,” Susan informed him with a smile.
“Does anyone around here?” Dylan got up and gently placed the infant in his mother’s arms. “I have to go. I have a meeting with that senator.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to take a nap first?” she offered.
“No, that’s okay. This little guy is doing enough for both of us,” Dylan touched his son’s cheek with his finger, and the baby reflexively turned his head at the contact. “I don’t need sleep.”
The captain greatly regretted that decision only minutes later in his office. He sank into his chair and quickly scanned the flex that Talia brought with her once more then looked up at the senator seated across the table. “This very sketchy. I’d like to know ahead of time what I’m getting my crew into.”
“For now all you need to know is that you are to escort me to Tarazed,” Talia replied coolly. “Your mission will be explained further once we reach the capital world.”
Dylan glanced between her and the flex. Something didn’t feel right. “Nevertheless, senator, I would appreciate a detailed outline before you make any public announcements.”
“This isn’t my assignment,” she objected. “It comes from the Triumvirs.”
“They know about this already?”
“Yes. In fact they are in the process of arranging more detailed instructions as we speak. You cannot refuse this mission, captain. My only reason for being on Tarazed is to make the announcement and to ensue that Oedekirk gets the credit it deserves.”
Dylan refrained from rolling his eyes. The woman was a true politician after all, concerning herself sole with the popularity of the planet she represented. Still one thing bothered him. “Why did you choose my ship?”
Talia had gotten up and was already at the door. She turned her head and considered his question before answering carefully. “Because I believe that of all people, you would appreciate having the opportunity to undertake this task. Now I’d like to retire to my quarters.”
Without waiting for the captains response, she made her exit. Dylan sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This certainly brought back memories, mostly those of strong frustration regarding the arrogant behavior of a certain Nietzschean grand duchess. Dylan came to the conclusion that woman in politics just didn’t mix well with him. The negotiations left the captain with more questions than answers. He desperately wanted to get some sleep, but he knew that he needed to inform Beka of their destination. That way, they’d be in Tarazed by the time he woke up.
However when he reached command, the captain was not pleased to find that his first officer was once again missing. “Andromeda, where’s Beka?”
“Deck forty-three,” replied the AI. “Training room. She is currently engaged in a target practice program.”
“Call her,” he ordered. “Tell her we have orders to go to Tarazed.”
“Aye, captain.”

* * * * * * * * * *

It didn’t take Beka long to realize that, for once, being in the Maru wasn’t helping. The ship was too full of memories of her past, the very things she was hoping to escape. After lashing out on a poor innocent lancer stationed at the hanger bay doors, she finally decided to take her frustration to the training room for some target practice.
She pulled out her gun and ordered for the target to be brought up. Instantly, the hologram of an angrily-looking Magog appeared before her, and Beka fired. She had dead aim. The represented wounds began to bleed red pixels, and the first hologram disappeared only to be replaced by the second and third. Beka didn’t even blink as she continued to fire at the computer generated opponents. She no longer saw the images of Magog. To her it was just anger, resentment, hate, feelings that she was trying to destroy.
Beka Valentine could remember admiring her mother. How could she not, when the woman was always so beautiful, so powerful, and so quick to exert her will over the universe? Seven year old Beka had always pictured herself as having the best qualities of both of her parents: a fearless sharp-tongued pilot with the poise and grace of a princess. Yes, Beka had certainly worshiped her mother, even loved her. The trouble was that no matter how hard she tried, Beka couldn’t remember feeling that love in return. Talia had always held a cool and distant demeanor, even with her children. It wasn’t that she ever beat them, unlike Ignatius who has been known to turn to violence against Rafe, his son, especially while on Flash. No, Talia had never raised a hand to her children, but she’d never offered them one either.
She sighed and whipped the sweat from her brow with her forearm, then slowly lowered her weapon. “End training simulation,” there was a pause. “How was the envoy from hell?”
There was a light hearted chuckle from the door, and the sound of soft footsteps headed in her direction. Seconds later, arms wrapped around her waist. Telemachus smiled, his cheek pressed against hers. “You’re getting better. I wasn’t sure you could hear me.”
“I didn’t,” Beka admitted, leaning into her lover’s embrace. “My sixth sense has been working overtime lately. So was she worse than you though?”
“No,” he admitted, “but then my expectations weren’t terribly high. She’s good at what she does, nothing more.”
“Humm,” Beka didn’t offer a more coherent reply, so Telemachus tried a different approach.
“I know something that will make you feel better.”
Beka turned her head slightly to look at him. “Nice long bath and hot steamy sex?”
He smiled. “That’s an idea. Maybe I’ll treat you to all that later, if you’re good, but I had something else in mind at the moment.”
He took a step back and took her hand pulling her after him. Beka reluctantly followed. They made their way through the halls until they reached his quarters. The doors slid open with a hiss, and Beka stepped in. Immediately her eyes fell upon Tristan’s sleeping form. Telemachus stepped in behind her, pointing at their son.
“She is good at what she does, Beka, but Talia’s a politician, no more. But you... you are something far greater. You are a mother, and no one but Tristan may judge you on that,” he paused. “You know he loves you.”
She nodded and took a few steps forward and sank to her knees by his bed. Tristan looked absolutely angelic, sleeping quite soundly. No nightmares haunted him that evening. His mother reached over and brushed a stray curl from his face and smiled. Her moment of peace was interrupted when Andromeda’s holographic avatar appeared before her.
“Beka,” the AI’s voice was mindful of the sleeping child, “we have orders to head to Tarazed. Dylan requires your presence in command to pilot.”
Without waiting for a reply, the avatar disappeared. Beka glanced between the space that the ship’s persona had just occupied and her son. As much as she enjoyed piloting, Beka felt that at the moment she would much rather stay with her son, where she felt at peace for the first time in two days. Telemachus seemed to sence that.
“It is my home planet,” he pointed out as a matter of fact. “Perhaps, since I am well familiar with the slipstream rout, I should pilot.”
It was a ridiculous excuse. Even though the rout to Tarazed was not simple, Beka had taken it enough times in the past two years to be able to follow it without any difficulty. His suggestion was purely for her benefit, and Beka appreciated the thought. She nodded.
“Of course,” he said already heading for the door.

Chapter 5

Unfortunately for Rhade, the Andromeda’s position was quite far from Tarazed. He spent most of the night shift in command piloting the ship. When he finally emerged, his back and shoulder muscles were stiff from the strain of piloting for nearly six hours straight. He grimaced and rubbed the sore muscles, but a smile came to his lips when he spotted Beka and their son heading his way down the corridor.
“Morning, Dad!,” Tristan called out before reaching Rhade’s side. The adult Nietzschean ruffled his hair affectionately, before his eyes turned to Beka. She looked exhausted, fatigue lining her face.
“Did you sleep well?” his concerned question was directed at Beka, but Tristan, thinking his father was talking to him, answered.
“Fine, thanks,” he said cheerfully. “You?”
“Um…” Telemachus exchanged an amused look with Beka. “Actually I’ve been piloting to Tarazed this night, so I didn’t get much sleep.”
“We’re going to Tarazed?” his face lit up. “When?”
“Whenever the transport arrives to take us planet side,” Telemachus replied. “We’re in orbit over the planet right now.”
“That’s great!” Tristan loved their trips to Tarazed, even more so after he met his numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. Telemachus’ family had welcomed Tristan with open arms, especially after they learned about how he came to be in Rhade’s care. On Tarazed, Tristan finally got the opportunity to play with children his own age, so every time Andromeda visited the New Commonwealth’s central planet, the boy was very excited.
“Alright,” Telemachus’ attention returned to Beka. “I know why I didn’t sleep, but why didn’t you?”
“Just wired, I guess,” she quickly replied, not wanting to cause either Telemachus or her son to worry too much. She didn’t want to tell them that she was still not feeling well. The dizzy episode from the previous day didn’t reoccur, but the nausea returned with a vengeance. Like a flu that just won’t quit, she thought miserably.
The sound of swishing robes on the floor caught Telemachus’ attention well before the person made her way into his line of sight. He narrowed his eyes he looked over Beka’s shoulder, jaw set. Beka caught that look and turned her head to follow it to the approaching figure. Her expression instantly hardened, but Beka firmly kept her place. Tristan, instantly sensing that something was wrong, took a step back behind Rhade. His eyes darted from one parent to the other, and he could tell that their sudden change of demeanor had something to do with the sophisticated-looking elder woman heading there way.
“Telemachus, go,” Beka’s eye never left the figure of her approaching mother.
Talia had reached ear-shot distance by then. A few steps and she stopped six steps away from her daughter. The senator cleared her throat pointedly, but was only rewarded with an inquisitive glance from Tristan while his parents ignored her.
“Are you certain?” he didn’t like the idea of leaving Beka alone with this woman.
“Yes,” she said. “I’d have to do this sooner or later. Better to get it over with now.”
“Very well,” he agreed reluctantly, and took Tristan’s hand. “The transport will be here soon,” he told his son, “so if you want to show your cousins the jet that you and Harper are working on, we’d better go get it now.”
“Okay,” the boy agreed, all the while wondering what was going on. “See you later, Mom.”
Once they rounded a corner and were out of sight, Beka turned to her mother. Talia may have changed over the years, but her demeanor remained the same.
“No ‘hello’s, Rebecca?” the senator asked calmly.
“Funny,” Beka folded her arms under her chest. “I don’t remember you bothering to say good-bye. But I guess actions speak louder than words. You haven’t changed a bit.”
“You have,” Talia responded. “I expected great things from you, and you have not disappointed me. The first officer of the New Commonwealth flag ship. Something any mother can be proud of.”
“Thank,” Beka replied dryly, “and if I ever had a real mother, I’m sure she would be. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my real family.”
She was just about to head down the corridor after Telemachus and Tristan when Talia’s cold voice reached her ears. “The Nietzscheans?” Beka stopped. “I heard what the boy said. Is it true?”
“Is Tristan my son?” the first officer turned on her heal and raised an eyebrow at the senator. “Yes, he is.”
“Rebecca, how could you?” Talia sounded so disappointed that if the statement had come from anyone else, Beka might have actually felt guilty.
“How could I? Excuse me, but I think you lost the right to judge me some thirty years ago,” she turned to leave once again, but then called over her shoulder. “And for the record, those two Nietzscheans who you so openly despise for no reason have been a better family to me than you ever were, Mother.”
“You may not realize it yet,” Talia called after her daughter, “but when we arrive on Tarazed, you’ll understand that my being here is really for your own good. Someday soon, you’ll thank me for this, Rebecca.”
Beka heard Talia, but ignored what the older woman said and hurried to catch up with Telemachus and their son. When she found them, the two were already in the hanger bay, waiting to board the transport that arrived minutes earlier.
“Hey,” she jogged towards them. “Where’s your plane, Tristan?”
“The paint was still wet,” the boy explained, “so we decided not to take it.”
“Ah,” Beka nodded. “Well maybe next time.” She was quiet for a moment, then turned her attention to Telemachus. “Do you think we’ll have time to see Persephone on this trip?”
“I think so,” he nodded. “Why? Is something wrong?”
“Not really,” she shrugged. “At least nothing worse than can be expected. I spoke to Talia.”
“And?” his face wore a frown of concern.
“And you were right: she’s definitely a politician.”

* * * * * * * * * *

If the Nietzscheans of Tarazed had any social structure that remotely resembled a pride, Persephone Rhade would have been that pride’s matriarch. In many ways, she resembled Talia. Just as the senator, she was a very independent and dignified woman. Though not involved in politics, people listened to her advice when she spoke. She dressed plainly but tastefully. However, unlike the senator of Oedekirk, Persephone was also a very kind woman in her mid seventies, who knew more than her fair share of the ups and downs of life having given birth to and raised seven children. Her wisdom was well known throughout Tarazed, and Persephone was glad that she’d passed on much of that wisdom to her youngest child, Telemachus.
She had been forty when she and her husband discovered that they were expecting another child. A miracle baby, and his mother firmly believed that his his arrival was meant to be. Persephone was a Nietzschean, and therefore not superstitious in any way, but there were some things which she held to be true. Persephone had always believed her youngest son, her miracle baby, was special. It wasn’t until after Telemachus was born, and his DNA scanned and recorded for historical files, that everyone discovered just how special he was.
All of Rhade’s older brothers and sisters attended the military academy, and so did he in his own time. He graduated at the top of his class with highest honors, and rose to the rank of Admiral faster than anyone before him in the entire three hundred years of history on that planet. But Persephone had never been more proud of him than the day a year ago when he arrived at her doorstep with a small boy shyly hiding behind him.
“Mother, I’d like to introduce you to Tristan,” he had smiled down at the child. “This is my son.”

Chapter 6

Persephone’s home was one of the most beautiful places in Tarazed. It was designed by the best architects on the planet and built suspended over a waterfall on the edge of the capital city. Because the Rhades were a very important family, both politicly and milateraly, they chose to stay close to the city. When Telemachus, Beka, and Tristan arrived, they were first greated by Telemachus’ older sister, Brisies, and three of her children.
“We didn’t know that you were coming until a few hours ago,” she said, giving her younger brother a hug. “Had she known, I’m sure Mother would have cooked a lot more.”
“She didn’t have to do anything,” Telemachus sighed, shaking his head.
His sister laughed at that. “Little brother, I’m surprised at you. You know our mother and how typical it is of her to fuss over her children and grandchildren.”
“And I’m sure in given time, you’ll be exactly like her,” Telemachus teased back.
She placed her hands on her hips and glared at him, but turned a smiling face to Beka, who had been observing the whole scene with great amusment. “Honestly, Rebecca, how do you put up with him?”
“Oh he has his uses,” the first officer mused, running an appreciative glance over her lover, and both women laughed.
“Is Mother inside?” Telemachus asked, ignoring their behavior.
“Yes,” Brisies replied, “and she’s waiting for you.”
Beka and Rhade made their way up the stone steps twords the house, while Tristan remained outside, happy to be in the fresh air and finally get a chance to play with his cousins. He promised to come up soon because Telemachus had reminded him that his grandmother would probably want to see him. Sure enough, as soon as she opened the door, Persephone’s aged eyes immediately searched for the boy. Before any sort of greeting passed between them, she asked her son.
“When are you bringing my grandson to see me?”
Telemachus smiled and huged her, warmly. “He’s here, Mother, just outside.”
Persephone nodded, satisfied, and smiled at Beka. “Rebecca, you look lovely. Come in.”
They passed through the hall way, whose walls were lined with portrits of family members dating back three hundred years to Gaheris Rhade. Beka had noticed them when she first set foot in the house. In particular, a portret of a beautiful proud-looking woman had caught her attention. The woman in the portrait had flowing chestnut hair and hazel eyes, which seemed to sparkle as if she was holding some sort of secret. Persephone had explained to Beka that it was a tribute to Maya, Gaheris’ first wife, who had been there with Sara Riely when Tarazed was first colonized. It was from her and her children that the modern-day Rhade line was born.
The dinning room was set up with a table full of food, everything from fruits to pastry. If Persephone really only learned about their arrival a few hours ago, she must have spent the whole time preparing, which was not at all unusual for her. Beka and Telemachus sat down as Persephone brought out clean plates. Beka took a glace of water, but hesitated when it came to the food.
“Please eat,” the Nietzschean woman sat down at the head of the table, a trace of an almost forgoten tradition of matriarchs in prides.
Beka didn’t want to offened her since Persephone clearly worked very hard for her guests. “It looks delicious, but I’m sorry, Persephone. My stomch has been… tempermental lately.”
Telemachus paused, an apple half way to his mouth while his mother raised an eyebrow. Both Nietzscheans looked concerned. “Are you ill, my dear?” asked the matriarch.
“No, just really stressed,” she admited. For some reason, it was always so easy to talk to the good-natured yet strong-minded elder woman.
Persephone smiled understandingly. “After seven children and twenty-five grandchildren, I know a thing or two about stress,” she glanced at her son. “I do hope that this particular child of mine isn’t the cause of yours.”
Telemachus sighed, remembering his sister’s coment from outside. The women in his family certanly had a strange way of showing they cared, but despite that, he knew they ment well. Beka looked at him sympatheticly.
“No, he’s been wonderful,” she assured Persephone.
“I’m glad to hear it. By the way, the Triumvirs had notified us that there was a woman coming with you who was to make some sort of announcment this morning. A senator, I think. Do either of you know something about it?”
“Only that she’s the source of most of my stres,” Beka replied. Persephone frowned and turned to her son for an explanation.
“Beka and this senator crossed paths years ago,” Telemachus explained without giving away the true circumstances. “It did not go well.”
“I see,” she got up, without pressing either of them for more information. “Well I hope you don’t mind, but I planed to watch this announcment. If whatever information this woman brings concernes this world, I would like to know.”
She walked over to the wall and activated a screan with the latest news. Instantly a video of Talia standing up on a platform at a microphone in the center of Tarazed’s capital. She wore ceremonial roabes, and there was a large crowed gathered around her.
“Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the Commonwealth, it is my greatest pleasure and honor to be with you on this day which I’m sure will prove to be a turning point in history. I did not come here to discus the discovery of new worlds, but rather of opening the door to an old one.
“I’m sure that every one of us has wondered about Tarn-Vedra, the long lost, but not forgotten, world of te Verdant, establishers of the Old Commonwealth and one of the great mysteries of the universe. So much time has passed that some have begun to think that Tarn-Vedra was no more real than OZ or Atlantis, however I am here to tell you that this planet is very real, just waiting to be rediscovered.
“With the copy of the starmap that my planet received from the Triumvirs and captain Hunt, the scientists of Oedekirk have worked tirelessly for over a year and at last, we were reworded with this. Ladies and gentlemen, the new route to Tarn-Vedra!”
She pressed a button on the podium that activated a hologram of several slipstream routes behind her. A rore of applause erupted from the gathered crowed, and Talia waited for it to die down before she proceeded.
“The only other known attempt to reach this lost world was made by Hasturi, a perseud who recorded his findings in a journal. Now unlike his route, which was composed of forty six jumps, this course is complete within thirty five and most of them are not nearly as dangerous as those illustrated in Hasturi’s journal. However, it would be unfair to say that a mission to Tarn-Vedra is not without peril. This is why it will be undertaken by the most experienced ship and crew the Commonwealth has to offer. The Triumvirs have decreed that the Andromeda Ascendant will be given the honor of being the first ship to enter the Vedran system . Further more, I take personal pride in announcing that the ship will be piloted by my own daughter, Rebecca Valentine.”
The screen went blank. Persephone was quiet, while Telemachus glanced between his mother and Beka, not really knowing how to help. The first officer’s head was down, her hands clenched around the glass of water she’d been holding. She only looked up when she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Rebecca,” Persephone’s voice was calm but warm, “would you like some tea?”
Normally Beka would have scoffed at such a proposal, but her nerves were too fried. “Tea sounds great.”

Chapter 7

Back on the Andromeda, Dylan was less than happy about the new mission to say the least. Tri-Lorn arrived moments earlier to discus the details and was not at all surprised to find the captain in a dark mood.
“We encountered a Vedran a few years ago,” Dylan pointed out. “She said that Tarn-Vedra knew of my attempt to restore the Commonwealth, but it was obvious that the Vedrans chose to remain where they were. If they wanted us to rediscover Tarn-Vedra, than they would have rebuilt the old slipstream route or at the very least contacted us.”
“I share your concern, captain,” Tri-Lorn admitted, “but unfortunately, I was once again outvoted. If it’s any conciliation, we just want you to try. Everyone understands that there’s no guarantee that this mission will succeed. Off the record, you have my full support to return to Tarazed at the first sign of trouble.”
“Thanks,” Dylan replied sarcastically, “but last time we tried this, it didn’t go well.”
“It’s out of my hands, Dylan,” the other man spread his arms. “I’m sorry, but the public as well as the other Triumvirs demand that you at least try.”
Dylan nodded, still incredibly frustrated, but he understood full well that the situation couldn’t be helped. “And the senator of Oedekirk?”
“Ah yes, your first officer’s mother,” Tri-Lorn thought for a moment. “I must confess I didn’t know that Talia had any children.”
“Yeah it came as quite a surprise up here to,” the captain agreed. “Certainly explains Beka’s current behavior.”
“Well I’m afraid they’re going to have to learn to share the space,” the Triumvir replied, “because Talia insisted on accompanying you on this mission.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Telemachus was both amazed and concerned by the way Beka handled the situation. No words passed between them as the left Persephone’s home and returned with Tristan back to the Andromeda. Tristan also looked very worried about his mother, but somehow knew not to ask what was wrong. They arrived just in time to see Dylan and Tri-Lorn enter the hanger bay where the Triumvir’s cruiser was ready to take him back to the capital world.
“Beka, I wanted to talk to you about…” but she didn’t even acknowledge the captain’s presence, merely brushed past him and out of the hanger bay.
Rhade on the other hand stopped long enough to salute Tri-Lorn and great Dylan. He was about to follow Tristan, who was running ahead when Dylan grabbed his arm.
“You knew about this,” it was not an accusation, simply a statement.
“And what would you have done had you known?” the Nietzschean inquired. “Yes, I knew, for almost two years now, and yet I am still incapable of helping the situation.”
“I’m sorry,” the captain said honestly. “Why don’t you go see how she is and if there’s anyway to calm her down. Take your time, but remember that there is a mission briefing in the evening.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he nodded, “but I don’t grantee that either of us will be there. With all due respect, captain, I value Beka’s well being at a higher price than this mission.” He shot a glare at Tri-Lorn, then made his way out of the hanger bay.

* * * * * * * * * *

Harper was trying his best to concentrate on his work, but his mind wouldn’t listen. He kept thinking about Beka and the bombshell that just dropped on all of their heads. For as long as he’d known her, she loved to talk about her late childhood and teen years. He heard plenty of stories about life on the Maru with her dad and brother, about all sorts of shipment and even some smuggling runs. They were best friend who’d seen each other’s best and worst moment. However there were certain topics that Harper knew were off limit. He’d always known better than to ask about her earliest days, but up until a few hours go, Harper never knew who.
The engineer looked up when he heard the sounds of small footsteps in the doorway. Tristan quietly walked into the machine shop and jumped up onto one of the benches, his feet dangling half a foot off the ground. The boy’s head was bent low and he was silent. Harper fiddled with a gear for another minute, before he decided it was useless.
“Hey, kid, how was the trip?”
“Fine,” Tristan replied courtly.
“The paint on the plane’s almost dry,” Harper tried again.
“That’s nice,” the child said absently, then fell quiet again. “Mom’s really upset,” he whispered.
Harper sighed and walked around his work table to sit down on the bench next to Tristan. “Yeah, I kinda figured she would be.”
“Harper, did I do something wrong?” he looked up pleadingly, desperate for an explanation.
“No, shorty,” the blond human smiled down at him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a good kid, and your mom loves you no matter what else is going on around this loony bin.”
Tristan’s lips curved slightly, then he frowned. “Then does it have something to do with the lady that came here a few days ago?”
“What makes you think that?” Harper asked, though he knew that Tristan was right.
“Because Mom’s been a little upset ever since that lady arrived,” he explained, then added slightly defensively. “Just because I’m little, doesn’t mean I don’t notice stuff like this.”
Harper had to laugh at this. “Trust me, kid, most of the time you’re more on the ball than most of us adults here. So you don’t like this lady?”
“It’s not like I ever talked to her,” Tristan wrinkled his nose in distaste, “but I don’t want to either. She looks really mean, but I still don’t really understand why Mom would be so upset. It’s not like we didn’t have worse around here.”
They both knew exactly what he was talking about and there was no need to put it into words. Though both had lived through slavery and Magog worldship attack, there was an unspoken agreement between them to never bring the past into the present.

* * * * * * * * * *

With his enhanced senses, Rhade could hear the water running at full force. He wasn’t fooled, though. Amidst the rushing sound coming from the bathroom, Telemachus could just make out the muffled sound of sobs from the same direction.
With a deep sigh, he leaned his head against the cool metal of the Maru’s outer hull. He could understand why Beka was acting the way she was. Though being born and raised on Tarazed kept him safe from stereotypical Nietzschean behavior, Rhade was not immune to the effects of deep inborn pride. He too preferred to handle personal situations by himself. He’d been reluctant to talk to anyone after Kali’s death, but Beka had forced him to address his feelings, both regarding the tragedy and what he felt for her. Of course neither Kali nor anyone else from his own family had ever created half as much anguish for him, but Telemachus could see Beka’s need to feel as if she was in control of her own life without anyone’s help. The problem was that the universe was indifferent to her desires.
Deciding it was best to give her some space, Telemachus waited for the water to stop running and didn’t enter the Maru until he heard Beka move from the bathroom to the crew quarters. Even then, he was hesitant to confront her, but he knew he had to. Telemachus made his way through the Maru’s halls and finally found Beka in the small medical room. She was rummaging through the supplies and every once in a while would drop a vial or two into the box on the table next to her.
“What are you doing?” he frowned looking around the medical facility.

Chapter 8

She obviously hadn’t heard him come in, because Beka jumped slightly at the sound of his voice. “Preventing myself from doing something stupid,” she replied harshly, “again.”
The first officer took the small box of vials and handed it to him. Telemachus looked down at it. “Acetylcholine, neurostimulants,” he read the labels on the vials. “Beka, these are ingredients for…”
“Flash,” she nodded. “Yeah, I know. Do me a favor and shove that crap out of the air lock, will you?”
Relieved, he smiled and put the box down on the floor. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he gently guided her to the crew bunks, and they both sat down. Beka sighed, shaking her head in disbelief.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, leaning against his shoulder. “I know I’ve been… off lately. I’m not usually this over emotional, but right now I feel like my mood’s swinging so far it’s a wonder it doesn’t double back and hit me in the ass.”
“Under the circumstances, I think it can be forgiven,” Telemachus gave her a bitter sweet smile.
“I mean, was it really too much to ask of her to let me keep my privacy?” Beka went on. “But, no! She had to publicly announcement for the entire Commonwealth to hear, just had to use me to boost her popularity. You do realize that’s the only reason she did this?”
“Yes,” Rhade nodded. “I’m sorry that Talia is such a sad situation.” He tilted his head to glance at her from a different angle. “You look tiered.”
Beka couldn’t hide the small yawn. “I am,” she admitted with a smile, “and while usually I’d happily blame it on you, this chronic exhaustion’s been hounding me for a couple weeks now. Not sleeping last night probably didn’t help much.”
She looked like she was about to doze off, so Telemachus stood up to make room on the bunk. Beka settled right over the covers and released a sigh of relief. “Get some sleep. Dylan’s meeting can wait.”
“Meeting?” her eyes shot open, and she quickly sat back up. “Oh no, I’m not letting Dylan drag me on a wild goose chase before I know all the details. I’ll sleep later. Let’s go.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Beka was well aware that the crew seemed especially careful around her. It was slightly reminiscent of the time right after she was possessed by the Abyss. They had been weary of her then too only it was out of fear. Now as she walked by, all the first officer saw were looks of pity. This only served to make her angry. As far as Beka was concerned, they could all take their pity and shove it.
When she and Telemachus arrived in the conference room, Dylan, Trance, Harper, and Rommie were already there standing over a holographic projects of their route. Everyone looked up when she came in and all the chatter in the room suddenly died down. Just like the rest of the crew, none of the senior officers knew quite how to act around her. The silence only served to make Beka angry. Finally Harper broke the silence.
“Boss,” he asked tentatively. “You…uh…you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she replied a little defensively.
“That’s cool,” he bit his lip. “‘Cause, you now, the kid…he was really worried about you.”
Beka had to smile at this, feeling some of the weight lift. “Thanks for looking out for him, Harper.”
“Definitely, so where are we with our latest field trip?” the engineer steered the conversation into safer grounds.
“Andromeda and I checked over the senator's course,” Dylan replied, also glad to be getting back to buisnes.
“Twenty eight of the jumps are through relatively well known space,” Rommie pointed out. “Right now, we’re still in orbit over Tarazed so the first nine jumps take us out of the Triangulum galaxy and into the Milky-Way. Twelve more jumps take us across the Milky-Way and into the Andromeda galaxy where the Vedran system is located.”
The map changed to show an image of the sister galaxy of the Milky-Way, then zoomed in on the massive twin black holes in its center. Beka shuddered slightly. It was the route between those black holes that drove her to take Flash last time. As good as her piloting skills were, Beka wasn’t sure if she could make it through under her own power. Hopefully the new course didn’t include that route. To her relief, that was exactly what the AI focused on next.
“Now the first seven jumps through the Andromeda galaxy shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t even have to pass through her center,” said Rommie, “but the twenty-ninth jump takes us through a solar nursery which is a very unstable environment. In particular, we have to pas through the Gehenna system.” The image shifted again, this time displaying a newly formed system with the infant sun safely hidden behind a giant cloud of gas. “It’s only approximately seven million years old. No planets have formed yet and the gas that still surrounds the sun makes for a very volatile and dangerous flight route.”
“Hey maybe we should rename you Icarus,” Harper cocked his head to the side to look at the avatar. “The ship that flew too close to the sun.”
“Mr. Harper,” the captain pointedly glared at the engineer.
“Random remarks aside, he’s right though,” Andromeda said. “A slight wrong turn in the slipstream, and we’ll emerge to close to that star to escape its gravitational pull. If that happens, any protective barriers I erect will only last so long. You’ll all be dead under forty-eight hours. On the other hand, if all goes smoothly, it shouldn't even leave a scratch on my hull.”
Dylan turned to Beka, who had been quiet through out the discussion. “What do you think? Is it doable?”
Beka slowly got up, fighting off the returning dizziness, and glanced at the holographic map. After a moment of analyzing the rout, she looked up. “It’s tricky,” then a smile brushed across her lips, “but I think I can handle it.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Talia was reasonably satisfied with her quarters on the ship. They were much smaller than her suite at the Oedekirk palace, but it was presentable enough to serve for the rest of the trip. She was just about to leave when the doors to her quarters slid open with a his, and Talia turned her head just in time to see Beka step in. The first officer had a cool unreadable expression on her face.
“I thought you should know that I’m not doing this for you,” Beka informed the senator. “I’m doing this because the Triumvirs asked Dylan, and he’ll need a good pilot. I’m doing this because my friends need me, but this has absolutely nothing to do with you. I don’t care about Oedekirk or your popularity status there. The only people that matter to me are Telemachus, our son, and this crew. You, on the other hand, can go straight to Hell for all I care.” Not bothering to wait for a response, Beka quickly walked back out, immediately feeling immensely better.

Chapter 9

After about a week, they were still barely half way into the Milky-Way. Everyone found their slow pace a little disconcerting, but it couldn’t be helped. Beka knew that she could handle about eight hours in slipstream and still walk away with enough strength to eat, shower, and argue with Harper before she headed off to bed. However after only five hours of piloting, she felt completely burnt out. The relentless dizziness and nausea didn’t help the situation much. Previously attributing the symptoms to stress, Beka finally decided that it might be some sort of virus. She just hoped she could work through it, because the later jumps were far more difficult. She was even having trouble with some of the current ones. On the last jump, Beka was regretting letting Rev leave. Just as she thought the pearly gates were in sight, Andromeda stumbled out of slipstream. Beka was sure that if she’d bothered to eat lunch, Dylan, who was standing in front of her at the captain’s station, would be wearing it. At least for once, she wasn’t the only one feeling sick. Everyone in command, with the exception of Rommie, was looking a little green.
Towards the end of the fifth hour, the first officer had to call it quits. Harper teased her, saying she must be loosing her edge. Dylan was surprised that she didn’t insist on staying longer. Trance was quiet as always, and Rhade looked worried. The first officer shooed them all away, saying that she’d be fine after some sleep and headed for her quarters. In truth, Beka was much better about hiding her exhaustion from the other’s than from herself. She barely reached her quarters and kicked off her shoes, before sleep finally overtook her, and she simple collapsed onto her bed.
Telemachus decided to check on Beka a little later in the night. He couldn’t get to sleep, mostly because of a nagging feeling in the back of his mind that he’d somehow missed something very important. Though he was confidant it wasn’t Flash, Beka did seem different lately. It was mostly subtle things that Rhade could have easily dismissed as side effects of Talia’s presence, but now he wasn’t so sure.
When he arrived, Beka was sound asleep on top of the covers. Her pants and shirt were slightly wrinkled, and even in sleep, Beka wore a frown on her face. The recent events were really getting to her. Telemachus gently lowered his weight onto the edge of her bed, and leaned closer, taking her hand in his. That’s when it hit him. That smell. It was so strong that Telemachus couldn’t believe he hadn’t noticed it before. There was no mistaking it for anything else. The scent was reminiscent of the scent of blood, slightly salty and metallic, but there was nothing malicious about it. It was warm and creamy.
He had to be sure. Telemachus reached down and ran his fingers over her lower abdomen, exposed since her shirt had ridden up as she slept. The skin was already starting to stretch under his touch, but Rhade felt something that astonished him even more. Closing his eyes, the Nietzschean focused, shut out everything else around him. It was only thanks to his enhanced sences, that he was able to detect it. Ever so faint, but it was there. A heart beat. A rapid pulse vibrating against Beka’s still flat belly.
Feeling more content and pleased than he had in a long time, Telemachus leaned forward and kissed her forehead, then lay down beside her. He gathered her into his arms, whispering soft words of gratetude. Not surprisingly, Beka didn’t wake up, but she did relax and the frown on her face vanished. She slept through the rest of the night, but Telemachus stayed awake, reveling in the new feeling.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dylan was in his office before the morning shift even started, discusing possible alternatives to the more dangerous slipstream routes that the scientists of Oedekirk had suggested in the overall course. Talia was insistent that they keep to their current path, but Dylan wasn’t so sure. Both stopped talking when Telemachus entered the office.
“Captain, senator,” the lieutenant commander greeted him with a nod, but only spared Talia a quick cold glance.
“Good morning, Rhade,” Dylan addressed the other man. “How’s Beka?”
Sadly, Telemachus was not at all surprised that it was Dylan, not Talia, who inquired about Beka’s health. “She slept through the night, and looks much better this morning, captain. Thank you for asking,” he sent a glare in the senator’s direction. “However, may I suggest that we all take a few days of rest before continuing? I do not believe that Beka’s in any danger, but I think that she, as well as the rest of the crew, could use some time off.”
“Good idea,” the captain agreed. “We’re actually near a drift so it might be a the best time before we head off into less commonly traveled space.”
“I must disapprove,” Talia interjected immediately. “We’ll loose our momentum.”
“And I must look after my crew,” Dylan shot back. “Rhade, tell Beka you both have the next few days off.”
Pleased with his accomplishment, Rhade bid the captain good-bye and left his office.

* * * * * * * * * *

Beka awoke at the sound of running water. It took her brain a moment to make the connection that someone else was in her quarters. By that time, the water stopped running, and she raised her tousled head just in time to see Telemachus step out of the bathroom, casually drying his hands.
“Good morning,” he smiled. “Did I wake you?”
“Not really,” she relied, stifling a yawn. “What time is it?”
Rhade flipped his wrist and glanced at the watch. “0900,” he replied without a hint of concern that they were both an hour late for duty. Beka, of the other hand, was speechless.
“0900?” her eyes were wide as she bolted up in bed. “Are you telling me I slept for fourteen hours straight? Why didn’t you wake me earlier? For that matter, why isn’t Dylan in here, hulling our asses to command?”
“Calm down,” he raised his hands. “We’re on approach to Purgatory Drift, and Dylan is giving the entire crew a break. I talked to him earlier this morning, and you and I have the next few days off from duty.”
“Oh,” Beka’s head immediately fell back to the pillow. “You didn’t by any chance have something to do with persuading him?”
“I did,” the Nietzschean admitted. “You looked like you needed rest.”
“Yeah, but I feel much better now,” it was only partially true, because the vale of fatigue never completely lifted.
“If you’re not going back to sleep, why don’t we go bet breakfast?” he suggested.
“I don’t eat anymore,” Beka replied casually.
“You don’t eat?” he raised an eyebrow. “At the risk of sounding like stereotypical, that isn’t a habit that promotes survival.”
“Food makes me sick,” she explained miserably, burying her face into the pillow.
“Ah,” Telemachus, being a Nietzschean and the descendant of Gaheris Rhade, was very good at keeping his emotions in check when need be. His face betrayed no indication that he knew the cause of her symptoms. “Well why don’t we head over to the mess hall and see if you can find something that will agree with your stomach?”
Beka wrinkled her nose at the idea, but her stomach was complaining. She knew she hadn’t been eating well lately, and excessive slip piloting would require all her strength and focus. Forcing herself out of bed, she briefly glanced in the mirror, noting her wrinkled cloth.
“I’ll need a minute to change,” she called out, but Telemachus was already at the door.
“I have to run a few erands anyway, so take all the time you need,” he said.
She nodded and headed for the bathroom, closing the door behind her. A shower made her feel a lot better, and when she came out, Beka was more refreshed and awake. Drying herself off, she went to dress and quickly realized there was a slight problem. Her pants were a little tight around the legs but even worse, Beka was barely able to zip them up. She frowned and tried to sit down, but it was useless. A few minutes later, Telemachus returned to find her standing at the mirror frowning at her reflection. Before he could ask, Beka turned to him.
“My pants don’t fit,” the annoyance in her voice was apparent. “I could have sworn they were fine a week ago, but now I can’t even sit down in them.”
Again, Rhade had to hide his foreknowledge. “Murphy’s Law is trying to make your life difficult,” he observed with a smile. Crossing the room, he hugged and kissed her warmly. “I’m sure it’s nothing, but maybe you should go see Trance and Susan in med. bay after breakfast.”

Chapter 10

By nine thirty, most of the crew cleared the mess hall, engaging themselves in the rec rooms or on the observation deck, as they waited for the Andromeda to dock at Purgatory Drift. Only Harper and Tristan remained in the eating area. The boy had woken up pretty late, and Harper was keeping him company as he finished the brunch. Tristan was always very active and therefore still slim despite the fact that he ate very well. He’d never quite forgotten his early years of starvation, and the instinct to hold on tightly to his food hadn’t yet left him. Harper wondered if it ever would. The Earth-born human had caught himself several times on the same issue, and for Harper, life on Earth was years away. Still he tried to keep things light and while Tristan ate, Harper chatted away on various subjects. He only looked up when Beka and Rhade entered the mess hall.
“Hey, Rip Van Valentine. You tryin’ to beat Dylan’s record for the longest nap in history?”
Beka would have usually replied with a rude comment, but restrained herself in front of Tristan, instead settling for simply glaring at Harper. She gave her son a hug and kissed the top of his head.
“Hi, baby,” she sat down next to him. “How are you holding up with all this excitement?”
“It’s not too bad,” Tristan shrugged, but pouted a little. “I just never get to see you anymore.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Beka apologized. “Believe me, I’d much rather hang out with you, but they pilled all this work on me. How about we take advantage of Dylan’s do something together later today while Dylan gave us a little break?”
“Okay,” he nodded happily, bringing a spoonful of the cereal to his mouth.
Beka smiled, but her happiness was soon interrupted. The smell of Tristan’s breakfast had finally reached her, and the wave of nausea returned. Quickly excusing herself, she ran to the bathroom on he other side of the mess hall. She just made it inside when her stomach completely revolted against her. Trouble was, Beka hadn’t eaten anything in over a day.
Telemachus was already at the door when she emerged from the bathroom, and Harper and Tristan were giving her worried looks from the table. She took a deep breath and whipped her mouth on the towel in her hand.
“I think it’s time for that visit to medical,” Telemachus said seriously.
Surprisingly, Beka didn’t argue.

* * * * * * * * * *
“Just tell me I ate something bad, and let me get back to Tristan,” Beka couldn’t quite see what was on the screen that Trance and Susan were fussing over. The other two women were whispering to each other in hushed voices.
“It’s a bit more complicated than indigestion, Beka,” Susan hesitated.
The first officer’s brow furled in concern, and she pulled herself to a half-sitting position. “What? Am I going to die?”
“No, nothing like that,” a smile sparkled across the gold alien's features, as Trance shifted the screen for Beka to see the blurry image. She squinted her eyes, but couldn’t make out anything.
“See there?” Trance pointed at the screen. “That’s your baby, Beka. You’re about six weeks pregnant.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Naturally worried about his mother, Tristan made his way to medical. The past year on the Andromeda had done wonders for his disposition, but he was still extremely cynical for his age. His parents weren’t the only ones who knew how to put on masks of content for the benefit of others. Tristan knew of deception.
His Nietzschean half aside, Tristan was never a malicious child, but for the first few years of his life, deception was the only means of survival. He didn’t understand the difference between himself and other humans on the drift where he and his biological mother lived, but he knew enough to keep his forearms covered with an over sized jacket. He knew that if anyone approached, the best strategy was to hide in a dark corner and play dead. No one cared about a scrawny little corpse.
Except Beka and Rhade had cared. Which was, of course, why Tristan was so devoted to his parents. His father thought him to be completely innocent. Not ignorant, but also not as someone with understanding of the full malice of the universe. It suited Tristan just fine.
He heard the senator's approach before he saw her. The combination of Nietzschean heritage and years of harsh life on a drift had granted Tristan excellent survival instincts. he didn't understand exactly why the older woman frightened him, but Tristan had no intention of finding out. He quickly looked around for an escape rout.

* * * * * * * * * *
There was an air of silence in the medical room. Beka stared blankly at the screen, her face not giving away any reaction, neither positive nor negative. Trance and Susan exchanged a concerned look.
“Everything is coming along well,” the blond medic tried. “Limbs are developing nicely, the heart beat is strong…”
“She’s very healthy,” Trance interjected.
“She?” Beka looked up.
“Or he,” the gold alien quickly corrected herself. “I suppose it could be a boy.”
Beka nodded slowly, the shock finally setting in, but she still didn’t move. Trance frowned at this. “Beka? Say something.”
After a moment, she dropped back onto the pillow with an angry sigh. “I am going to kill Rhade!”
“No, no,” Trance moved closer and touched her arm. “See this is a good thing! Because babies are so wonderful. Now Tristan can have a little sister... or brother.”
“Tristan,” Beka sat up again, remembering her son's words from earlier in the morning. “He doesn't get nearly enough of my time as it is between Talia and this new mission. I don't have time for this.”
“Excuse me,” Andromeda's holographic form appeared in front of the women.
“Not now,” Beka retorted, closing her eyes and passing a hand over her tiered face.
“I'm sorry,” Andromeda said, “but there's something that concerns you. It's about Tristan.”
Beka's eyes immediately snapped open. All other thought immediately fled her mind. Talia didn't matter. Her annoyance with Telemachus didn't matter. All she could think about was her son. Beka swung her feet over the edge of the medical table and pulled her shirt back over her belly.
“What's wrong with Tristan?” she demanded of the avatar. “Where is he?”
Andromeda hesitated. “Deck five, third corridor. I have already alerted Rhade. You should hurry.”

* * * * * * * * * *
The closer she got to the corridor, the more Beka's dread grew. Her thoughts didn't even drift to the visit to medical. As she rounded a corner, she saw Rhade standing near an empty escape pod hold. Beka was about to demand what was going on, but then her attention shifted to Talia, who was standing with her arms folded over her chest. At either side of the senator were two of Andromeda's android escorts. She was clearly not happy about her predicament, but Beka ignored her. The deep frown on Rhade's face told her everything.
“What's going on?” she asked her lover, hands firmly planted on hips.
“Ask the senator,” Telemachus nodded in Talia's direction.
“Rebecca, I demand that these things release me at once,” she gestured at the droids. “I was on my way to my quarters when these things apprehended me.”
“Not until you tell me where my son is,” Beka told her.
“Look, I don't know where that boy is,” Talia shot back, waving her hand impatiently. “I saw him further down the corridor, but then he slipped out of sight.”
“Andromeda, show us,” Telemachus asked the avatar.
The screen on the wall closest to the trio lit up as a replay of the last few minutes appeared. The footage showed Tristan stopping as Talia approached. The boy looked around, clearly searching for a way out. Beka and Telemachus watched as their son slipped into an opening in the wall, and then the roar of the engines of an escape pod were heard and Tristan was out of sight.

....to be continued

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