“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul,”
* * * * * * * * * *
“The Divine Comedy.” That was the title of the book. Not “The Birth of Tragedy,” “Daybreak: Reflections on Moral Prejudices,” “Beyond Good and Evil,” or any other book by the long dead human philosopher, Nietzsche. Telemachus Rhade had discovered that after reading many of Nietzsche’s works once as an adolescent and yet again as an adult, he had no guilt about picking up something else to satisfy his literary curiosity. After all, he reasoned, how could he grow and improve with such a narrow perspective of the universe. Telemachus was the kind of man who silently observed others, listened to their views, and then followed his own instincts. It was the same liberal frame of mind that allowed him to work well with all Andromeda crewmembers, regardless of the species. Well, almost all.
The only crewmember who seemed to give him trouble with her passive aggressive behavior was the ship’s first officer, Beka Valentine. He knew full well that her past encounters with other Nietzscheans, more specifically Tyr Anasazi, was the reason behind her hostility. Rhade had hoped that they could be friends, however after the incident with the bio-armor, he had set that notion aside. Close association with someone who attempted to rip out one’s heart did not serve to further one’s survival. His ribs still felt it every time he took a deep breath.
“Telemachus,” Rhade looked up from his book to see Andromeda’s holographic avatar appear in front of him. “Captain Hunt called for all senior officers to come to command.”
“I’ll be right there,” he replied, placing the book back on the shelf.
* * * * * * * * * *
“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
* * * * * * * * * *
As Telemachus entered command, his dark eyes immediately focused on a small beat up transport barely half the size of the Maru. There was nothing terribly unusual about the ship, but Rhade didn’t recognize the design. His brow furled in suspicion. There was something about it… It clearly posed no threat to the Andromeda, so why would Dylan have taken an interest in it?
“What’s going on?” he asked Harper. The young human stood in a corner opposite of the screen, hands folded over his chest. By the look on his face, Rhade could tell that he wasn’t the only one bothered by the transport.
“Unmarked ship,” Harper jerked his head in the direction of the monitors. “Best case scenario: thieves or smugglers. Worst-case scenario: slavers or assassins. And when was the last time we got the best case?”
“Wonderful,” the expression on the Nietzschean’s face mirrored Harper’s. Rhade had discovered that he picked up several quite human traits from the crew, among which sarcasm was at the top of the list.
“Preliminary scans indicate sixty bio-signs,” Andromeda blinked into existence on an adjacent screen. “ten in the cockpit and fifty in the cargo hold.”
“Guess you guys got your answer,” Beka called from the First Officer’s council. “It looks like it’s a slave ship.”
“Captain, there’s something else,” the ship’s avatar addressed Dylan. “Further readings indicate that only one of the bio-signs is still alive. The others are dead.”
“Cause of death?” asked Dylan. Rommie closed her eyes as she processed the incoming data. After a moment, she responded.
“Radiation leak. The levels are not drastically high, however they would be lethal to most species without proper protection.”
“It must have leaked so slowly that by the time they realized there was a problem, it was too late,” Trance commented sadly. “What about the one that’s still alive?”
“The location is within the cargo hold. It’s most likely one of the slaves,” Andromeda replied. “Life signs are weak and failing. Whoever this person is, I doubt he can survive much longer in that environment.”
“Agreed,” Dylan turned to his crew. “It’s too dangerous to bring that ship here; I don’t want radiation all over my ship. However if there’s any chance to save this person, we have to act fast. Rhade, assuming something were to go wrong with an EVA suit, would you be okay in there?”
“Not for an extended period of time,” the Nietzschean replied. “But long enough to retrieve the survivor, if that’s what you’re referring to.”
“You read my mind,” Dylan nodded. “Take Beka and a pair of EVA suits and get whoever is still alive off that ship. This way if something goes wrong with the suits, you’d still be able to get them out.”
Telemachus chanced a glance at Beka, half expecting her to protest being sent on another mission with him. But the first officer kept quiet. After the mission with the bio-armor, Beka had resigned her right to complain. In fact she thought Telemachus would be the one to object, but he also remained silent.
“As I mentioned, the body is in the cargo hold,” Andromeda said as her two senior officers prepared to leave. “The radiation is interfering with my sensors so I can’t give you more specific information.”
“Great,” Beka muttered under her breath. “Get out the shovels ‘cause we’re going digging through forty nine dead bodies before we find the one that’s still alive.” With that she turned on her heal and headed for the hanger bay.
* * * * * * * * * *
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
* * * * * * * * * *
The inside of the transport was much more intact than one would have guessed by simply looking at the outside. The internal systems were for the most part fully functional. Clearly it took much more time for radiation to affect mechanical systems than biological ones. The occupants were not nearly as lucky as their ship.
Upon entering, Rhade looked to his right at the sealed cockpit. Even through the partially foggy helmet, he could still make out the stream of crimson blood seeping through the space under the door. He looked away. To the left lay the doors of the cargo hold, which were slightly ajar as a crack spilled down the section were the two massive plates met. After fumbling with the control panel for a minute, Beka finally convinced the internal computer to open the door.
As the heavy plates slid aside both Commonwealth officers gasped as a pile of bodies tumbled out of the cargo hold. Rhade stepped over them, pushing others aside. The faces of the dead slaves were frozen in masks of horror. Bleeding from every pore in their body. No doubt as soon as they felt the effect of the radiation, they poured towards the door, begging their captors for release. Unfortunately their cries feel on deaf ears. Beka watched as an expression of deep disgust spread over Rhade’s face. She couldn’t blame him. While Telemachus knew that slavery was a common practice in several cultures, including certain Nietzschean prides like the Drago-Kazov, he had rarely witnessed the full extent of the atrocities until now.
“How could people do this to each other?” he whispered through clenched teeth, a question more to the cold unforgiving universe than to Beka.
She gave him a sympathetic look. “Hatred, fear, need to survive: sometimes it brings out the worst in people.”
“There is no excuse for this!” the Nietzschean shot back.
“I know,” she agreed. “Let’s just see if we can find the survivor.”
Rhade looked around one more time and pulled out his bio scanner. A dull blimp indicating the life sign pointed to a corner of the hold, and he motioned for Beka to follow him. A minute later, they dug through a pile of dead bodies to reveal a little boy. He was dirty wearing torn cloth which were clearly too big for his thin frame. Blood trickled from his nose and mouth.
“Looks bad,” Beka commented, “but nothing that can’t be taken care of back on the Andromeda. I wonder how he’s alive.”
“There,” Rhade pointed at the boy’s arms. Following his gesture, Beka saw the short fractured bone blades lining each of the child’s forearms. This, of coarse, was the answer to the mystery behind his miraculous survival. If the boy was Nietzschean, he was much more resilient to the effects of the radiation. However he was nowhere near okay.
“We’ve got to get him back,” she repeated, desperation building in her voice.
At that second both turned at a loud creaking sound coming from the direction of the doors. The metal plates let out a moan and began to slide together. The controls must have failed and any mechanism holding them together had shut down. The doors were now loose. Rhade quickly sprang to his feet, wedging his body between the loose plates of metal. Even with the failed mechanism and his Nietzschean strength, it was difficult to hold the masses apart.
“Hurry!” Telemachus gasped. Snapping out of her pity educed trance, Beka quickly picked up the child cradling him against her body and ran through the still ajar doors. With a sharp exhale, Rhade released the plates and they came together behind him with a loud crash.
As they made their way to the airlock of the doomed ship, the boy stirred in Beka’s arms. His eyes opened and for a split second deep brown met clear blue and the starship pilot could almost read his pain. A trembling hand reached out to touch her cool helmet.
“Pretty,” he whispered, then lapsed back into darkness.
* * * * * * * * * *
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Chapter 2

“It’s a good thing you got to him when you did,” Trance announced after running a full scan on the boy. “Second and third degree burns, fractured bone blades, and some cuts and bruises, but the burns are what worry me most.”
“Dylan, Harper, Rhade, Beka, and Rommie stood across from the med table as Trance examined him further. After a bit of cleanup, the crew had a chance to have a closer look at him. The boy was no older than six or seven, but Rhade pointed out that it was quite possible he was even younger than that, since Nietzschean children developed faster than their human counterparts. The boy had short unstilted dark brown hair that curled into half-moon shaped loops on his head. Pale, thin, and silky, if it wasn’t for the bone blades, no one could have ever guessed that this was a Nietzschean child.
“Damn,” Harper muttered under his breath, suddenly reminded of his own childhood on the Dragon infested Earth. “Kid didn’t deserve this. How’d he end up on a slave transport in the first place? I thought Nietzscheans were supposed to be the perfect parents. Who the hell let this kid out of their sight?”
“We won’t know until he wakes up,” Dylan relied. “Andromeda, keep an eye on our young visitor. Inform me if there’s any change to his condition. The rest of us have work to do.”
With that Dylan, Harper, and Rommie left the med bay. Beka was about to leave as well but noticed that Telemachus wasn’t moving. His fingertips lingered on the edge of the medical table, head down. Beka sighed. As much as she pestered Rhade about Nietzschean agendas and whatnot, she could only imagine how frustrating and tragic it was for him to see this boy. No matter how selfish Beka thought most Nietzscheans to be, she could tell that he cared.
“Hey,” Telemachus looked up at the sound of her voice. He straightened up and nodded.
“Right, we do have duties to attend to.”
A few hours later the crew, with the exception of Trance, was gathered in command discussing possible solutions for their numerous problems with the Collectors who have all but taken over the New Commonwealth and the Magog World Ship. No one wanted to admit how scared they were. One encounter with the monstrosity was more than enough for everyone. Half way through the discussion Trance’s voice came over the com system.
“I have good news everyone; our young guest is awake.”
“Excellent,” the captain smiled. “Nice to hear some good news for a change.” He looked over the holographic maps then at Beka and Rhade. “Do the two of you want to see him first? We need to finish here, but you can go if you want. We’ll come see him later.”
The two exchanged a glance then agreed and left command. No words were exchanged until they reached med bay. Upon entering, the pair witnessed a peculiar seen. The boy was sitting up and Trance stood over him, one hand on her hips and the other holding a glass of water. As soon as he saw them come in, the child gave them a quick assessing look. First his eyes fell on Rhade and it was then that he must have decided that running would be useless. Then he glanced at Beka and once again their eyes met. A look of recognition passed over his face, but it was clear that he was unsure if she was the same woman he’d seen earlier or if the first had been a figment of his imagination.
“Oh good, you’re both here,” Trance walked across the medical table still holding the glass of water. “He’s awake, as you can see, but severally dehydrated. Unfortunately he won’t take the water from me.”
“ ‘Cause it’s dirty,” the boy gave his voice from the bed. “Water’ll make me sick.”
“I think I see the problem,” Beka nodded. “Let me try.”
Clean water was not something that was wasted on slaves. Beka knew this full well because it had initially taken her months to convince Harper that the water from the Maru’s faucets was safe to drink after she had taken him away from Earth. Now that she thought about it, the whole process may have been useless since Harper mostly consumed Sparky Cola as a main food group. She took the glass from Trance and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. Instantly, the boy shifted further up and away from her.
“Kid, you’re sick right now,” she addressed him in an unusually patient tone. “Now this water has been filtered, cleaned. There’s no bad stuff in it and it’ll help make you feel better.”
“Why?” he glared up at her.
“Why what?” Beka frowned in confusion.
“Why would you care if I felt better?”
“Because,” she replied slowly, “it was wrong for those people to hurt you, and we’re not going to do that.” He didn’t move. “Come on, kid. Don’t you think if we wanted to do anything other than help you, we would have done that by now? What have you got to loose?”
Slowly and unsurely, the boy took the glass from Beka, careful not to come in skin contact with her fingers. He gave it one last suspicious look and emptied the glass of its contents. Then he sat still as if waiting for something bad to happen and when nothing did, the boy frowned and looked at Beka.
“See?” she smiled. “It’s perfectly safe. Filtered fresh daily. Now you want to tell us what your name is?”
He looked thoughtful for a moment then replied. “Mischling.”
Beka heard Telemachus take a sharp intake of air, and her eyes shifted from the boy to him. “That’s not a name,” his voice was just above a whisper but it was ice cold.
“It’s what my mama called me,” the child insisted. “So’d the bad men.”
“It’s not a name,” Rhade repeated in a sharper and louder tone. The boy gasped in fear, eyes wide and tiny fists digging into the white blanket, but he didn’t dare move. The adult Nietzschean growled under his breath and stalked out of med bay. Beka looked after him then turned to the frightened child.
“I’ll be right back,” she said before following Rhade.
He moved in swift brisk strides towards his quarters. In the back of his mind, he heard Beka calling for him, but he ignored her partially afraid that the only reaction he could provide was a violent one. He just slipped into his quarters and was about to close the door when he heard her call again.
“Telemachus,” his hand froze half way to the side panel. She’d never used his first name before. Never. He wasn’t even sure she knew what it was. He waited for her to catch up with him, and Beka rounded a corner coming to stand on the other side of the door frame, hands folded under her chest.
“Want to tell me what the hell that was all about?” she was clearly not happy that he scared the child, and Telemachus almost chuckled at this revelation. Despite what Beka herself thought, she would have made an excellent mother.
”Do you know what he called himself?” his voice was low, and before she could respond he continued. “No, of coarse you don’t,” He sighed and stepped out of the doorway. “Come in, captain Valentine.”
Beka hesitated for a second then entered. It occurred to her that hadn’t been in his quarters once in the months since Rhade first joined the crew. Beka took a mental note at how much more relaxed the style of his quarters was than those of his predecessor, Tyr. Rhade had two shelves of old paper books, which were quite a rare. Some of the wall space was taken up by prints of old earth oil paintings. The most drastic difference was the presence of plants placed around the room.
Telemachus paced for a moment, deciding how best to start. Finally he turned to face the first officer. “To begin with, the child isn’t Nietzschean.”

Chapter 3

Beka stared at him. “I’m sorry I thought you people were supposed to have perfect vision. You did see those things coming out of his arms.”
Telemachus gave a short humorless laugh. “Alright allow me to rephrase that: he’s not completely Nietzschean. The boy is half human.”
Beka frowned at the thought. It was possible, of course, but she’d never encountered such children. “How can you tell?”
“The name that he was called, mischling. It’s a… a bad word. Calling him that is like calling you kludge or calling me uber. It’s an insult which means ‘half-bread’ or ‘one with tainted blood.’”
“Again: how do you know?”
Telemachus sat down in a chair; a gesture that indicated the story was longer than the question. Beka also sat down on a cushion opposite of him. “You must understand, Rebecca, that the general culture of the various Nietzschean prides you’re used to seeing is drastically different from the culture of the Nietzscheans on Tarazed. It’s a concept I’ve tried over and ove r to convey to you, but it never seemed to work. We have been isolated from the rest of the universe for over three hundred years. Than, humans, Nietzscheans, and other species have had to coexist and form a homogeneous culture while sharing a single planet. Naturally, the cultures blended and post-Commonwealth generations of Tarazed-born Nietzscheans lost many Nietzschean cultural aspects and traded them for much more human ones. For example, Tarazed-born Nietzscheans still believe in self-improvement, survival, and other base teachings of Nietzsche. However, we also posses traits that you could never find on other Nietzscheans, such as openness to other cultures, monogamy, and the ability to… love.”
Beka raised an eyebrow at the last one, but didn’t comment. “I don’t see what this has to do with the kid.”
“Children like him are not uncommon on Tarazed,” Telemachus replied. “It is perfectly acceptable for a Nietzschean and human to marry and have children without the rest of society labeling those offspring and their parents as inferiors. Several of my cousins happen to be half or quarter human. I knew that most Nietzscheans frowned upon such a union, but I never imagined how far they despised it. Unfortunately I learned this shortly after I became admiral of Tarazed’s home guard. Driven by my own curiosity, I invited delegates from several small prides, strategically chosen to pose no threat, to come to Tarazed. I hopped to learn about their world, a world I belong to only by species and little else. It was then that I first discovered of Gaheris Rhade’s betrayal, even though at the time I refused to believe it.
“It so happened that one of my closer cousins, Kali, who happened to be half human, accompanied me. When we met with the delegates, the look on their faces could only be described as one of purest disgust and hatred. I did not understand what the problem was until one of them explained to me that where they came from, ‘half-breeds,’ or ‘mischling,’ were considered lower than insects and were to be exterminated at birth.”
He paused waiting for all the disturbing information to sink in. Beka wordlessly got up and walked past him to a corner counter with cups and a fresh pot of coffee. She poured two full cups, walked back to the chair, and handed one of them to Telemachus. He thanked her and took a sip of the steaming hot liquid before continuing. Beka could see how unnerved he was by the entire ordeal. His reaction was almost enough for her to take him out of her generalization for all Nietzscheans as plotting, backstabbing, bastards. Almost.
“I later learned,” Rhade went on, “that such hybrids only occurred in two cases as far as the Nietzscheans were concerned. Whenever the men... relieved themselves with slaves, in which case the fetus would be immediately aborted. The second possibility was on drifts with prostitutes, which I fear may be the origin of the boy. He said that his mother called him mischling. I assume that she didn’t want him either since she didn’t bother to give him a real name. In fact, I suspect that she may have been the one who sold him to the slavers.”
After a stretch of silence, Beka shook her head in disbelief. “Wow, this woman makes my mother look like a saint.”
Rhade looked up, but Beka already lowered her eyes not wanting to see his pity. She would have never admit it, but since the truth of her own mother came out, Beka was partially glad that she no longer had to bite her tongue every time such a subject came up. Not that she was ready to pour her heart out to Rhade anytime soon, but still. To his own credit, Telemachus never once brought up the subject.
“What will happen to him?” she asked as if Rhade knew.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Physically, he will heal and get stronger. Children are incredibly resilient, you know. I hope he can heal emotionally as well, but at the moment it’s too soon to tell.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The child quickly sat up when the doors to the med bay opened and Rhade entered. The boy’s dark eyes darted from him back to the doorway, as if he was hopping for someone else to come in. Telemachus had a pretty good idea who that was. He was slow in his approach, not wanting to scare the boy again. He was about a foot away before he stopped, close enough to prevent the child from running yet far enough to appear no threatening. With hands clasped at his back, Rhade addressed the child.
“I am here to apologize,” Telemachus said slowly. “I am sorry that I frightened you earlier.”
“S’okay,” the boy shrugged as if it was no big deal.
“No, it’s not,” Rhade shook his head. “It’s not alright. A child should never feel afraid, but be protected. I do not know how to convince you of this, but what those people did was very wrong. Just like the name you said you were given.”
“My mama didn’t...” the boy lowered his face. “She didn’t want me ‘round. That’s why she gave me away to the... the bad men.”
“I understand,” Telemachus nodded, “but you are not at fault. What your mother did, it wasn’t because you were bad or wrong somehow. It was because she was weak.”
The child eyed him wearily. “You won’t hurt me?”
“That’s really nice of you. Mama hurt me sometimes. The bad men hurt me worse.” Rhade knew that the truth was much more graphic than the child’s simple words, but he didn’t know how to express his pain any differently.
“How old are you?” he may have looked about six or seven, but Rhade had a hunch that the boy was even younger than that.
“Four,” he replied, “but ‘lmost five.”
So young! Rhade silently winced to himself. “Child, I must explain why I was angry before; what you claimed as your name was nothing more than a bad word, a word I never want you to use again. We need to come up with another name for you, a real name.”
The boy looked up at him. “What’s yours?”
“Telemachus,” the child looked confused and Rhade realized that there was no way he would be able to pronounce it. He sighed: the entire crew called him by his last name, what was one more? “Rhade.”
“Then you give me one, Rhade.”
Telemachus stared at him. He hadn’t expected to find himself in this position until he was married and had children of his own. Not that he minded, but where to begin? The boy was half Nietzschean and all Nietzschean children were usually named after powerful mythological or historical figures from ancient earth. He was named after the son of Odysseus, a war hero and ruler of one of the islands of ancient Greece. His ancestor, Gaheris Rhade, was named after one of the knights of King Aurthor’s round table in the legend of Camelot. Telemachus decided to stay within that tradition.
“How about Tristan?” he suggested.
“Tristan,” the child repeated. “I like it.”
Rhade raised an eyebrow and folded his arms over his chest. “You can pronounce ‘Tristan’ but not ‘Telemachus?’”
For the first time since his rescue, soft musical laughter erupted from the boy’s mouth, and Telemachus returned the humor with a smile. If he could laugh, there was hope for the boy yet.
“I’ll let you get some rest, Tristan,” Rhade was about to leave when the child called after him. “Yes?” he turned back to face him.
“Umm... where’s... where’s the pretty lady?” Tristan asked shyly. “The one who was here with you.”
“Beka?” a slow smile spread over Telemachus’ handsome features.
The boy shrugged, but Rhade knew he’d guessed correctly. “I think we just discovered a common language. Would you like to see her?” Tristan nodded vigorously. “Come on then.”

Chapter 4

The mess hall, which was designed to serve five hundred people at a time, was filled with crew. Tristan, who had learned to remain precisely two feet away from the person in front of him and didn’t like being touched, found it very difficult to navigate through the crowd and still follow Rhade. Everyone was just so much bigger than him and people occasionally glanced down, astonished to see a child on the war ship. Tristan tried his best to avoid bumping into anyone, still on the reflex that he could come across someone who would be terribly offended and raise a hand to him, but at his size it was often unavoidable to be bumped into. Telemachus had offered to carry him, but the boy categorically refused. He even refused help in getting down from the med table which was a good meter off the floor. Naturally, he fell and landed on his hands and knees, but then simply got up and without so much as a whimper, dusted himself off. To Tristan, touch was defined by pain and Rhade guessed it would take much time and effort to convince the child that this was not always the case.
Telemachus spotted a table near the corner window and smiled to himself. If there was no Dylan, Harper, or Trance to converse with, Beka always preferred to eat alone. As nice as the new crew was, they weren’t family. They didn’t know her story. Telemachus hoped that one day he would earn enough of her trust to be part of that. He glanced down at Tristan.
“Alright, we’re here.”
Beka noticed their approach before the duo reached her table. First she saw Rhade and had nearly missed the small figure hiding behind him. But as soon as she saw him, she recognized the boy immediately. Beka was about to scold the adult Nietzschean for taking the child out of med bay, but didn’t want to get into a petty argument in front of him. Besides, the boy looked much better.
“Rhade, what brings you to my little corner of the mess hall?” she asked in the sweetest voice she could muster, mostly for the child’s benefit.
“I would like to properly introduce you to Tristan,” he looked down at the boy, who took a small step forward. “Tristan, this is Captain Beka Valentine.”
“Hi,” he waved a little shyly, and Beka smiled at him.
“Hey, kid, nice to see you’re feeling better. Hungry?” Tristan nodded.
“I’ll bring something for you,” Telemachus offered and was gone before Beka could protest. Luckily there was not enough time for a strained silence to set in as Dylan and Harper arrived at the table. Tristan eyed both newcomers with suspicion and then climbed onto the chair next to Beka.
“Hey,” Harper sat opposite of him. “This our latest rescue?”
“Mr. Harper,” Dylan gave him a warning look then turned his eyes on the boy. “Don’t mind him. What’s your name?”
“Tristan,” he replied shortly, not at all convinced that the two men were friends.
Dylan raised an eyebrow. Beka had filled the captain in on what Rhade had told her, so he was a little taken back to hear that the boy now had a proper name. But then it wasn’t quite so surprising after all.
“Ah another knight of the round table,” the captain mused. “I assume our lieutenant commander is responsible for this.”
“Yeah,” Beka replied. “Believe me, it’s a big improvement over earlier. Tristan, these are my friends, Dylan and Harper.”
“Welcome to the Andromeda,” Dylan smiled at him. “I hope you find my ship comfortable.”
Young brown eyes widened in surprise. “This whole place is yours? You’re in charge here?”
“Yeah,” Dylan nodded. “Although sometimes I guess that’s just what everyone wants me to think and in reality I have absolutely no control on my own ship.”
Beka and Harper laughed at this and the spiky haired engineer snapped his fingers. “Damn, boss, you found us out.”
“So much for the master plan,” Beka shrugged and the trio laughed. Tristan missed the joke, but giggled anyway simply because laughing made him feel good. By that time, Rhade had returned with a plate of food which he set on the table in front of the boy.
Once again, Tristan’s eyes went wide in amazement as he stared at the food. “Is this all for me?”
“It’s not that much,” Telemachus sat down on his other side. “I’ll give you more, but it isn’t healthy to overeat, especially on an empty stomach.”
“But this is all for me?” the child looked so anxious, as if he was afraid that Telemachus would suddenly change his mind and take the food away.
“Yes, Tristan, this is all for you,” Telemachus replied patently.
“Wow! Thanks, Rhade!” enthusiastically grabbing a piece of bread, Tristan began to eat faster than humanly possible.
Harper felt as if he was staring at a younger version of himself. Exactly the same question regarding food echoed in his mind, a memory from the time he first joined Beka on the Maru. For someone fresh off a slave planet like Earth, it was a novelty that not everyone had to dig through garbage for a scrap of food. He felt sorry for the boy, but at the same time knew that the child was very lucky that they found him when they did. It would take time, but Tristan would be alright.
Harper was still lost in tragic memories of the past and nearly missed Dylan’s voice. “Beka, Rhade, may I please see the two of you in privet for a moment?” The trio began to get up, but Tristan’s eyes fixed on Rhade then on Beka. Fear of being abandoned yet again flashed over his face.
“Kid, it’s okay,” the first officer assured him. “We’ll be back before Harper has a chance to get on your nerves.” With that she and Dylan began to leave.
“Captain Hunt just wants to see us on Commonwealth business,” Rhade told him, as if the word ‘commonwealth’ meant anything to Tristan. “We’ll return soon enough. In the meantime, Harper can entertain you.”
“What?” the young man looked up. “Oh yeah, entertain him. Sure, will do. You like card tricks, Trist?”
* * * * * * * * * *
In the captain’s office, Dylan sat down behind his desk and rested his elbows on the table facing Beka and Rhade. “As glad as I am to see that he’s doing better, what are the two of you are planing to do with the boy.”
“Do with him?” Beka glanced over at Rhade, who wore a frown on his face. “What are we? His parents?” Telemachus raised an eyebrow at the idea, but remained silent.
“You’re the two people he trusts most on the ship,” Dylan replied. “So I’d like to know what are your intentions.”
“Under normal circumstances,” Telemachus chose his words carefully, “it would be appropriate to return to Tarazed and let him be adopted. As I mentioned to Captain Valentine, children like him are not uncommon on my home world. However…”
“However normal circumstances would mean that we didn’t have a price on our heads that is the dream of every lowlife and bounty hunter in the three galaxies,” Beka finished. “We can’t go back to Tarazed.”
“Well I’m open to suggestions,” the captain leaned back in his chair and the room fell into silence.
“I believe,” Telemachus finally said, “that since we can not return to Tarazed and we certainly can’t leave him on some drift, Tristan may stay here.” Beka opened her mouth in protest, but he held up his hand in a gesture of silence. “You said it yourself, captain, the child does trust me as far as anyone here and I do not mind sharing my quarters.”
Dylan though for a moment. “If you can keep him from getting into trouble and disrupting my ship, Tristan is welcome to stay here.”
“I can do that,” Rhade nodded, “with sufficient help.”
As soon as she realized that the lieutenant commander was referring to her, Beka held up both hands in protest. “Wait a minute, I can’t even take care of small animals. What makes you think I’d be any good as a first time mother to a four-year-old half Nietzschean kid? I mean, I feel bad for him, but seriously you guys need to find someone else.”
“He doesn’t trust anyone else, Beka,” Telemachus replied, and then leaned closer and whispered. “Do not let her mistakes impair your decisions.”
“Besides,” Dylan hadn’t heard Rhade’s last comment. “You took care of Harper, who was in a similar situation as our current young guest.”
“Harper wasn’t four!” she objected.
“Nonetheless,” Telemachus pressed. “The equation is still the same. All Tristan really needs right now is to feel loved and cared for. Everything else can wait.”
Beka folded her arms under her chest and glanced back and forth between the two men. “I must be insane, but fine I’ll help take care of him.”
“Excellent!” Dylan brought his hands together and pushed himself out of the chair. “Then until further notice, you two are responsible for him.”

Chapter 5

When the three of them left Dylan’s office, the captain and first officer headed for the command deck, while Telemachus returned to the mess hall. Upon entering Rhade was relived to see the boy laughing and clapping his hands together as Harper made one of the cards in his hand disappear and then reappear in the other. Every time Tristan laughed, a little peace of his past seemed to lift away. He saw Telemachus coming and waved happily, receiving a smile in return.
“Everything looks well here,” Rhade sat down next to him.
“Harper’s funny,” Tristan couldn’t hold back the laughter. “Did you know he can make things disappear?”
“I did,” Rhade replied with an affirmative nod. “Such as several gallons of Sparky Cola a week. It’s a great mystery where he puts it all.”
“It’s magic,” Tristan gave him the best silly-grown-up expression.
“Yeah, magic,” the man agreed. “Magic that quite realistically clogs up Andromeda’s bathroom facilities on a regular basis.”
Harper looked greatly offended. “Hey, it doesn’t happen that often and I always get it fixed.”
“All right enough on that,” Telemachus waved off the unpleasant subject. He leaned down and looked the boy straight in the eyes. “Tristan, Captain Hunt, Beka, and I have decided on what to do with you.”
Immediately the smile vanished from his lips, and Tristan stared up at Rhade in a mixture of anxiety and fear. All the tentative trust that had been built up over the past few hours seemed to vanish. “Are.. are you going to give me away?”
“What? No, of course not,” Rhade hadn’t considered his words carefully enough and realized that Tristan must have thought that he was about to be sold again. “No, Tristan, you’re not going back to… to that place. How would you like to stay here with us?”
“You mean it?” the boy looked ecstatic. “I get to stay here with you?”
“If you like,” Telemachus nodded. “I’ll put an extra bed for you in my quarters. They’re large enough for both of us so no one will bother you, and Beka and I will look after you. You’re going to have to learn quite a few rules, and I understand it will be a significant change in environment, but I suspect it is a change for the better. Do you think you’d like to stay?”
“Yes!” Tristan answered without a hint of hesitation. “Thank you so much!”
“It’s my pleasure,” Telemachus smiled. “Now, Beka has some work to do, but I have enough time until my next shift to show you around the ship and introduce you to where you’ll be staying.”
Tristan looked very excited, but then glanced at the now empty plate of food and then at Harper. Telemachus couldn’t understand what had caused the boy’s pause, but Harper immediately saw the problem. He flashed his best reassuring grin at the child.
“No worries, shorty. Let’s you, me, and Rhade take a little tour and then get you something else to eat before bed.”
“But I’m not tired,” Tristan protested.
“Trust me,” Telemachus said, “after covering even a small portion of the ship, you will be.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The first stop on the tour was the observation deck, which unlike the corridors, was the greatest open space on the ship with plants lining the stands perturbing from the walls. However it was the large windows to the star littered blanket of space that drew the attention of the young Nietzschean-human hybrid. Tristan ran to them, pressing both palms against the cool thick glass and staring out with aw. It was moments like this that Telemachus found himself in a similar situation as the boy. On the one hand, Tristan was much older than his age, having been exposed to things that no child should have to endure. On the flip side, he was very much innocent and unaware of the great wide universe before him. Telemachus often felt the same way. Though he was at one point admiral of an entire planet’s army, Beka had been right when she implied that he had no real knowledge of the world outside of Tarazed.
“He seems like a good kid,” Harper said to Rhade as both men watched Tristan run around the obs. deck, “to bad he’s been dealt such a lousy hand. Up until now, anyway. So what’s the big plan?”
“Plan?” Rhade frowned.
“Yeah, the plan on how you’re gonna handle a four-year-old. Or are Nietzscheans just born with perfect parental skills and don’t need a plan?”
“To begin with,” Telemachus replied, “I am not his father. Beka and I will be his… guardians. As for Tristan himself, he will need to be taught essential educational material. I highly doubt he knows how to read or write. Then there’s also mathematics…”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” Harper held up his hands. “Ordinarily I’d make some sort of wisecrack right about now about how you have no frickin’ clue on what you got yourself into, but since you’re so big and scary, I’m not gonna do that,” then his face grew more somber. “Listen, Rhade, after all the shit that kid’s been put through, right now all he needs to do is… well, be a kid. He just needs to be cared for, needs to play a little. I don’t suppose you have any toys for him?”
Rhade shook his head. The idea of toys hadn’t even crossed his mind. “Well then luckily for you, I’m not just a super genius, but also an excellent babysitter,” the engineer grinned from ear to ear. “The Harper’s got it all under control. Follow me.”
Telemachus called for Tristan and they exited the obs. deck. “Where are we going?” the boy asked curiously.
“Good question,” Rhade told him. “One best answered by Mr. Harper.”
“Oh didn’t I tell you?” Harper threw over his shoulder. He was leading the way down Andromeda’s corridors with Rhade and Tristan close on his heals. “Next stop: the Maru.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“Somehow, I don’t think we should be doing this,” Telemachus mumbled under his breath, “even for Tristan.”
“Relax,” Harper’s head appeared from some little doorway on the Maru. “Beka’s a terrible packrat, worse than a Nightsider. This place still has her and Rafe’s old toys from when they were kids.”
Rhade stopped opening drawers and stared at Harper. “I don’t think Tristan would enjoy playing with dolls.”
“You think Beka played with dolls?” Harper laughed at the idea. “Come on, Rhade, you’ve been around long enough to know better than that.”
Telemachus considered it, but had to agree that the thought of Beka playing tea party with dolls was just too ludicrous. He shook off the mental image and continued looking around until he stumbled upon an old photograph. Upon closer examination, he noticed a young read haired girl next to a blond boy who looked slightly older than herself.
“Pleasant memories,” Harper came over to look at the picture. “That’s from way back in the day, before her dad messed up with Flash and Rafe skipped out to do his own thing. Don’t know what happened to her mom. Beka never talks about her.”
“She has her reasons,” Telemachus said quietly. “It’s best to let these things work themselves out.”
“Beka doesn’t like to deal with her problems,” Harper said a little sadly. “She puts everything on the backburner and hopes it goes away.”
“She’s in pain,” Telemachus told him. “When you came, a little scar from her past began to heal. The same happened when she met Rev, Trance, and then Dylan and the Andromeda. Little by little the past will fade. It’ll never truly be gone, but the pain will subside. My hope is that Tristan can do that for her as well. She may not admit it, but she needs him as much as he needs her.”
“Is that philosophy?” Harper raised an eyebrow.
“No, simply a fact based upon observation,” Telemachus returned his attention to the drawer and pulled out a stuffed brown dog. “This will do for now.”
Harper had to return to the machine shop, hoping to finish his latest project, so Telemachus took Tristan back to their quarters. A small bed had already been set up on the other side of the room from Rhade’s, which was quite timely since Tristan was beginning to yawn and rub his eyes. Along with the bed, Andromeda had also provided clean linen and a fresh pair of pajamas. Rhade handed them to Tristan and told the boy to wash and change in the adjacent bathroom. By this time, he knew better than to offer help. When Tristan needed it and was ready to accept it, he would ask for assistance himself. The exhausted child trotted out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later and literally fell down on the bed, the stuffed animal tucked under his arm. Rhade smiled and dimming the lights, left the room.

Chapter 6

The first weak with Tristan on boarded past without much incidents. He spent much of his time with Rhade or Beka, and when both of his guardians were on duty, he was with Harper in the machine shop. At first, both Beka and Rhade were absolutely against it. Nothing personal against Harper himself, but the machine shop with high tech and often dangerous equipment was no place for a child. It took a lot of pleading from Tristan and arguing from Harper, but in the end it was Trance’s sound logic that settled the issue. The golden alien had pointed out that as senior officers, both Telemachus and Beka had long, often overlapping, shifts and duties to take care of. At least with Harper, Tristan had a chance to learn something instead of killing time in command.
During their time in the machine shop, Harper and Tristan truly bonded, nearly like one would expect siblings to. It wasn’t at all hard considering that the two had a common background of bloody abusive lives in slavery. They came together, each bound by a tragic past that they never spoke of. Their time together was mostly spent with Harper telling the boy stories from ancient Earth. He started with a few fairy tales but quickly discovered that Tristan had absolutely no interest in the “Three Little Pigs” or “Peter Pan.” What Harper hadn’t taken into account was that Tristan was half Nietzschean and at a mental age that was far beyond fairy tales. So Harper downloaded several flexes of mythology and while he worked, regaled Tristan with stories of gods and heroes. The child loved them and listened with attentive fascination.
Trouble started a little over a weak after Tristan arrived on bored the Andromeda. In the beginning he slept silently, without dreams or nightmares. He would just close his eyes and slip into a black void of darkness. It wasn’t the most restful of slumbers, but at least he wasn’t haunted by the past. Telemachus, blessed with enhanced hearing and a soldier’s intuition, was aware of everything that went on in his quarters even through sleep. If Tristan were to toss and turn or wake up suddenly, the adult Nietzschean would know immediately. Which is why, at three hours into the time when they should have both been sleeping, Telemachus was concerned to find himself standing over the child’s empty bed. He could smell the sweat soaking the tangled sheets. There was also a strong scent of fear lingering in the air.
“Tristan?” a note of concern rose in Rhade’s voice. His eyes searched the room until they fell upon a small shadow in the corner. He walked towards it and saw Tristan huddled in the corner, knees tucked tightly to his body arms around himself. The boy’s eyes were wide in fear, tears streaming down his pale cheeks, but he didn’t make a sound. All Rhade could detect was faint intakes of breath.
“Tristan,” he called again more gently. “Child, you’re having a nightmare.” Without thinking of the consequences, Telemachus reached out to touch the boy’s shoulder in a sign of comfort. His reaction was so violent that Rhade drew back instantly. Tristan flared his arms to bat the hand away as quickly as possible.
“Don’t touch me,” he whispered. “I’ll be good, I promise. Just don’t touch me.”
“All right,” Telemachus nodded, now convinced that Tristan was sleepwalking through a nightmare. He was afraid something like this would happen, but had never encountered a situation like this. Fortunately there was someone who would know what to do. “I’ll be right back, child.”
He got up and, without bothering to change out of his tight black night-shorts, padded bare foot towards the door and out into the hallway. Luckily all the senior officers’ quarters were located close to one another and it didn’t take him long to reach Beka’s room. However before he could knock on the door, it slid open and Telemachus found himself face to face with the blond first officer, fully awake and also out of uniform. Beka cleared her throat, slightly embraced, and tightened the sash of her cream colored silk robe.
“I know this is stupid, but I had a bad feeling,” she admitted. “Is Tristan okay?”
Telemachus raised an eyebrow. “You must be developing mother’s intuition. No, Tristan is not all right and I need your help.”
Without further questions, Beka followed him back to his quarters. Upon seeing Tristan huddled in the corner, Beka had a sudden déjà vu of the Maru and Harper years ago. She kneeled down by the frightened boy, careful not to invade his space too much. Tristan didn’t dare look at her. Where he came from, meeting someone’s eyes meant defiance, which was severally punishable. Rhade towered over both of them, a silent observer.
“Kid,” Beka called to Tristan firmly. She knew that at this state, the boy wouldn’t even remember his new name, much less respond to it. “Kid, look at me.”
He glanced up for a split second than lowered his eyes once more. Beka was patient and persistent. She knew how to fight these battles well. “I won’t hurt you, kid, but you have to look at me.”
Ever so slowly, Tristan raised his tear-streaked face to meat her gaze. For a moment, Rhade thought he saw a spark of recognition in the child’s eyes, but it was quickly replaced once more with fear.
“I’ll be good,” Tristan whimpered again. He sounded so hurt that Telemachus could feel his own insides twist into a painful knot. Beka paid no attention and continued.
“I know you’ll be good,” she said. “You’re a good kid. I won’t hurt you. See.” She held out her hands palms up in a gesture demonstrating that she had no weapons. Tristan seemed to understand that, and his tight firsts seemed to relax ever so slightly. Beka decided be a little bolder. “Do you know who I am?”
Tristan sniffed a little. “An angel?”
“No,” Beka smiled patiently. “Why would you think that?”
“Because everyone else hurts me,” the boy replied, “but angels are nice. And pretty. You haven’t hurt me, so you must be an angel.”
“I’m not,” she told him. “But you’re right; I won’t hurt you. No one will hurt you ever again. Come here, baby.” She extended her arms to him, wondering if he was ready to accept comfort by physical touch. Telemachus was also quite curious to see what would happen. So far Beka had handled the situation very well.
Tristan wrinkled his nose as fresh tears formed in his eyes, then slowly rose to his feet and climbed into Beka’s outstretched arms. The woman cradled the sobbing child to her chest, softly cooing to him as she rocked his shaking form. Tristan was fully awake now but so frightened by the nightmare that he kept sobbing, clinging to Beka as if she was his last lifeline. She stoked his dark curls then reached out to feel his forehead, which was warm. The hysterics brought on by the nightmare had worked him into a slight fever.
Still holding Tristan, Beka turned over her shoulder. “Rhade, go into the bathroom and bring me a wet washcloth. Cool water, but not too cold.” Telemachus disappeared into the bathroom to emerge a second later. Beka took the cloth from him with a “thank you” and placed it over the boy’s forehead. The cool water seemed to calm Tristan down a little more, and Beka moved them both to the child’s bed. She sat down on the edge and waited until he was asleep again, before gently placing him down on the bed and pulling the covers over his small form. Even in sleep, Tristan didn’t want to let go of her. Beka gently pulled her hand away and stood up with a deep sigh.
“Well done,” came a voice from behind her. She’d been so focused on the child that she’d nearly forgotten all about Telemachus. “He seems fine now. You did a very impressive job.”
“From experience, I guess,” she replied. “I’ve had my share of sleepless nights with Harper’s nightmares.”
Telemachus nodded in understanding. It was really quite lucky for all of them, especially Tristan, that Beka knew how to handle such cases. He regarded her for a moment. After all the times they’ve been in battle and other life-or-death situations, this was the first time he’d seen her truly worried and shaken.
“I don’t suppose either of us will be sleeping after this,” he said. “Why don’t we get some coffee?”
“What about…” Beka glanced back at Tristan.
“Andromeda will tell us if he has a relapse,” Telemachus assured her. “Besides, you look like you need a break.”

Chapter 7

Beka gave Tristan one last concerned look, before following Rhade out of his quarters. She was much more concerned with Tristan’s mental and emotional state than she cared to admit. The child just looked so fragile, like any little thing could break him. She would have stayed with him all night, if it weren’t for Telemachus’ sound reason. He’d insisted that Tristan would be okay now, while honestly more concerned with Beka herself. As upset as she was, the best thing for her at the moment was a little rest.
Both still dressed in their night cloths, the pair arrived on the obs. deck. As a little girl, the sight of the starry canvas of space was always a calming sight for Beka. It was something to stare at while she wandered the landscape of her mind, searching for a solution to whatever was bothering her at the time. Space was where she found solace after her mother’s abandonment, her father’s death, and the betrayals from practically every man in her life. Space was where she found a small little slave planet, origin of all humanity and that of her best friend. Space was home, dangerous, yet at the same time familiar in a comforting way.
To Telemachus, the nighttime sky over Tarazed has always been somewhat of a wonder. He’d never traveled far out of his home system, but always knew that there was a universe outside Tarazed bursting with all sorts of life that he could only begin to imagine. Even as a child, he knew that at some point within his lifetime, a archaic ship and a legendary captain would come down from that sky and change the course of history forever.
Beka was sitting on the ledge next to the wide window, staring at the stars, when Telemachus came over with a cup of coffee and sat down next to her. Beka graciously accepted the cup, remembering how their positions were ironically reversed when it was Rhade who was upset over the offensive title Tristan was original dubbed. Coffee seemed to have a calming effect on both of them.
“You really did very well with him,” Telemachus complimented her after a stretch of silence. “Tristan is quite found of you.”
“He shouldn’t get attached,” she replied, deftly tracing her finger over the edge of the cup. She sighed and wrapped the robe tighter around herself as if she was cold.
“Are you afraid?” Telemachus asked.
“Of what?” Beka pretended she didn’t know.
“Of failing him, like your mother failed you,” the words had a solid truth behind them, one that Beka couldn’t deny. It wasn’t hard for Telemachus to see where her uneasy feelings came from. It occurred to her that he could read people’s emotions better than most men she knew.
“I’m not his mother,” she gave the Nietzschean a stern look.
“No, you’re right,” he agreed. “His biological mother was a prostitute who sold him into slavery, not caring weather he lived or died. I would hope you are not like her. And even though I’m sure that Thalia, as the respected senator of Oedekirk, believes herself as being of much higher stature than Tristan’s birth mother. In truth, they are not very different, both choosing something else over their children.”
Beka smirked at him. “You think you’ve got it all figured out?”
“I do,” Telemachus affirmed without a hint of modesty. “And I suspect that you genuinely want to be there for Tristan, but are afraid of repeating the mistakes of past generations. It’s alright to be afraid, Rebecca. We all are at some point.”
“Even you?” she asked, a slight teasing note in her voice. Beka knew she should be angry with him for making such bold statements, but she was simply not in the mood for a fight. “Are you ever afraid, unconquerable man?”
“You flatter me,” Telemachus laughed, then grew more somber. “But to answer your question: yes, I grow afraid a times, afraid for my home world, for everyone I left behind. Often, like yourself, I too fear repeating the mistakes of my predecessor.”
Beka almost missed what he was trying to say, then sighed. “Which one?”
“Both,” Telemachus admitted. “Though I would like to think that Gaheris wasn’t as selfish as Tyr Anasazi.”
“Tyr wasn’t…”Beka caught herself before jumping to the former weapons officer’s defense. “Look, I know you don’t like him, and I’m not in the mood to discus him right now. So let’s just pick another topic.”
“Very well,” Rhade agreed. He thought for a moment, then decided to press his luck a little further. “I know I have asked about your past before, but I was hoping that perhaps this time you may grace me with an answer without trying to kill me.”
Beka took a sheepish sip of her coffee. “Yeah, sorry about that. I guess the reason I don’t talk about my past that much is because there aren’t that many happy memories for me back there. It’s really nothing personal.”
“Then I won’t intrude,” Telemachus promised, “but like you yourself pointed out, the past is past. For what it’s worth, I do not believe you will fail Tristan. If you wish it, I will leave you with your thoughts.”
He began to get up when Beka reached out and her fingertips brushed over his arm. It was a gentle short-lived touch, but both senesced tiny sparks of electricity pass between them. Beka immediately pulled back.
“Stay,” she whispered. “Having you here is kind of… nice.”
“As you wish,” he slowly sat back down, his eyes never once leaving her face. Beka fell silent again still looking out into space. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No,” she smiled slightly. “Just stay with me for a little while.”
* * * * * * * * * *
In the morning, the night’s incident was all but forgotten. Beka was back to her usual sarcastic self, teasing Dylan and Harper while directing smart sharp comments at Rhade. If he hadn’t been there, Telemachus would not have believed that their time together on the obs. deck ever took place at all. But then at times, she would throw a soft grateful look in his direction when she thought he wasn’t watching. During several instances, Beka was about to call him by first name, then stopped and fell silent. It was hard enough admitting to herself that she was warming up to the new Nietzschean without letting everyone in command know it as well.
Telemachus, for his part, was quite pleased with both Beka and himself. Though the change in her demeanor was far from obvious, it was still there. If there was any one else on the ship aside from Dylan whose respect he wanted to have, it was Beka’s. More than anything else, he wanted to help her.
Beka had just brought the Andromeda out of slipstream when she felt a tug on her pant leg. She looked down and a smile colored her lips. “Good morning, Tristan.”
The boy chewed on his lower lip for a moment, then wrapped both arms around her legs in a small hug. It was the best way he could think of to express his gratitude for the comfort she gave him. Words were too painful, and Tristan was afraid that if he spoke he’d have to explain the nightmare. Beka affectionately patted his curls in a sign that she understood and accepted his thanks. She reached down and picked him up, resting most of his weight on the main council while still holding on to the child to make sure that he didn’t fall.
“No more nightmares?” she asked, and Tristan shook his head. “That’s good. You know, Rhade and I were really worried about you.”
“I’m sorry,” Tristan’s eyes glanced back and forth between Beka and Telemachus in an apologetic gaze then fell to the ground.
“It’s okay,” Beka lifted his chin slightly with her fingertips so that he was looking at her. She knew how important it was to convince Tristan to maintain eye contact. “It’s not your fault, baby. Do you understand, Tristan? It’s not your fault?”
Whenever she spoke to him, Beka kept her voice calm and gentle, mostly for Tristan’s benefit but also she didn’t like advertising her own softer side to the crew. However this time she was caught. Beka jumped a little when a friendly little slap hit her on the back. She turned and glared at the grinning young engineer.
“Hey, boss,” Harper said in a comical voice. “Always knew you had a thing for Nietzschean guys.” He smiled at Tristan then looked over his shoulder at Rhade, wagging both eyebrows for effect. Telemachus pretended not to hear but had to admit that the comment was both amusing and interesting.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Beka asked pointedly.
“Sure, the machine shop,” Harper nodded. “I’m just here to collect my story-telling friend.” He nudged his head in Tristan’s direction.
“Do you want to go with Harper?” Beka looked back at the boy, and Tristan nodded. “Okay,” she placed him back on the ground. “Have fun, guys.”

Chapter 8

Another week passed before any event of significance occurred on the Andromeda. Over the seven days, Tristan woke up with nightmares three times. The first two times were not sever, and after Telemachus sat with him for a few moments, the child calmed down enough to get to sleep. However the third happened while the adult Nietzschean was on duty in command.
Tristan had revived in a cold sweet and the shadows of the dark room seemed to be closing in on him. He quickly untangled his sheets and padded out of the quarters, still bare-foot and in the white pajamas. After a little over two weeks, he’d learned how to reach several destinations on the Andromeda on his own. He knew his way to command, the mess hall, the machine shop, the quarters he shared with Rhade, and Beka’s room. Upon reaching it, the ever-present AI slid open the doors for the child, and Tristan silently entered. He knew that Beka would be there: it was her time for sleep as well.
The Andromeda had informed Beka that he was on his way long before Tristan ever got there. She sat up in bed, and turned over a corner, silently telling the child that it was okay and that he was welcomed. Tristan clamed in and curled into a little ball on the edge of the bed. Beka smiled and tucked the covers around him then leaned down and placed a soft kiss on the child’s temple. Tristan immediately relaxed and fell asleep again.
In the morning, he was once again with Harper in the machine shop while Beka joined the remaining senior officers in command. She took her place behind the slipstream council. A moment later, Telemachus came to stand next to her.
“Andromeda told me that Tristan had another nightmare.”
“Yeah but nothing as sever as before,” Beka assured him. “I let him spend the rest of the night with me, and he’s fine now.”
“Really?” a smug smile crossed the Nietzschean’s face. “Hum, I have heard of several men who’d be jealous.”
“Are you one of those men, Mr. Rhade?” Beka returned the tease.
Telemachus was about to answer when Rommie interrupted. “Captain, I’m detecting five slip fighters that just came out of slipstream.”
“Ours?” Dylan inquired.
“No, they’re older, pre-New Commonwealth,” Andromeda replied. “Though they do appear to be of Tarazed design.”
Dylan glanced over his shoulder at Rhade. “Expecting anyone?” Telemachus replied that he wasn’t.
“Front ship is hailing us,” Andromeda announced from an adjacent screen to the images of the slip fighters.
“On screen,” Dylan told the ship. A second later the image of the slip fighters changed to that of a young woman, about twenty five, with dark eyes and straight black hair that fell to her shoulder blades. She was dressed in uniform, but not that of the new High Guard but rather a uniform that belonged to the home guard of the old Tarazed republic. The bone blades on her forearms were partially covered by long sleeves.
“So yours is the face that launched a thousand starships,” the woman smiled broadly. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Kali Rhade, ensign in the Tarazed home guard and first cousin to Telemachus.”
For his own part, Telemachus looked quite surprised, but it was obvious he recognized her. “What are you doing here?”
“What?” she pretended to sound hurt. “Not happy to see your favorite relative?”
“Concerned would be a better word,” Rhade told her, arms folded over his chest. “What’s going on, Kali?”
The amused look on the woman’s face was replaced with a serious appearance. “Trouble back home, Tel. Among other things. Do you mind if we came on board?”
The lutenant commander looked at the captain than at the AI. Dylan shrugged his shoulders. “By all means. If she’s family, let’s bring them in.”
On the way to hanger bay nineteen, Telemachus wore a mask of deep concern over his face. He was very worried, mostly about the family he left behind on Tarazed. He’d been afraid there would be trouble for them ever since he had been accused of treason. His concerns increased tenfold after the beginning of the civil war between the part of the Commonwealth under the control of the Collectors and those who still believed in Dylan’s mission.
The sound of Beka’s voice had broken through his thoughts. Telemachus slowed down a bit to let Dylan take the lead by a few feet and fell into step next to the first officer.
“Telemachus,” she asked, and he noted that whenever she used his first name, her tone as well as her entire demeanor softened. “Is this the cousin you told me about earlier? The one who’s…”
“Half human?” he finished for her. “Yes, Kali is the one I spoke of, however I did not anticipate that you would meat her so soon. I believe you’ll like her, Beka. Kali is quite… interesting.”
Beka regarded him for a moment. “You’re worried about your family,” she stated, knowing it was true.
Telemachus gave her a sad smile. Beka had certainly learned to read his moods well. “Yes,” he admitted. “I am concerned for their well being. Those who remain on Tarazed, anyway.”
Beka was about to ask what he meant, when the three of them passed the machine shop. The doors were wide open and the sound of clear laughter could be heard. Dylan told them to hold and peaked inside the shop. Within the engineer’s domain, Tristan was sitting on the floor giggling in delight and clapping his hands as Harper reenacted a scene from one of the stories he’d been telling the child.
“And then, the great Hercules took out his sword,” Harper extended the force lance in his hand as a prop. “He lunged at the Hydra and…”
Dylan cleared his throat authoritatively. “Mr. Harper.”
Harper stopped his role-play and glared at the captain. “Boss! You messed me up on the best part!”
Tristan looked very much interested in the story and was patiently waiting for him to leave so that Harper could finish. “Hercules wins,” the captain assured him. “Hercules always wins.”
“Hey!” Harper grumbled and put away the force lance. “You just ruined the story!”
“You’ll both live,” Dylan said. “Harper, we have company and apparently news from Tarazed. I want you in hanger bay nineteen.” He briefly glanced down at Tristan. “You better come too. I’m not thrilled with the idea of leaving you here alone.”
Tristan quickly climbed to his feet and followed Harper and Dylan out of the machine shop. He walked next to Beka and Rhade, and the adult Nietzschean tapped his shoulder lightly. Telemachus was glad that for once, the child didn’t pull back. So far, Tristan hadn’t let anyone but Beka touch him. It was good to see that he was becoming comfortable with him as well.
“Where are we going?” Tristan asked.
“To meat a relative of Rhade’s,” Beka told him, “and some other people that Dylan needs to talk to.”
“Oh,” the boy sounded half surprised. The only family he’d ever known was a mother who sold him for little over the price of a tank of fuel. He had virtually no idea what real families were supposed to be like. All Tristan knew for certain was that the Andromeda, with Beka, Rhade, and the rest of the crew was the first place he could begin to call home.

Chapter 9

Inside hanger bay nineteen, the five crew members watched as ensign Kali Rhade disembarked from the slip fighter. Out of the corner of his eye, Telemachus saw Harper whistle softly and scowled at the young human.
“Seamus, you know that in most cases I’m very supportive of your… infatuations,” Rhade warned him. “But not this time.”
“Yeah yeah,” Harper muttered, still focused on the woman. “Don’t worry about me; I know when I’m out of my league. Which, unfortunately, is most of the time.”
As Kali approached, four men exited the remaining vessels and followed her. They were all human and also dressed in Tarazed uniforms. The five came to a full stop about two feet away from the crew, with Kali slightly in front of the men. At that point, Telemachus and Dylan were greeted with salutes. The formalities ended there.
“Well,” Kali said in good humor. “As impressive as this is, captain Hunt, I must warn you ahead of time that two hundred years is my dating age limit.”
“Kal!” Telemachus was far from amused. He was angry with his cousin and embraced in front of the captain. Luckily Dylan just raised an eyebrow at her comment.
“Oh calm down, cousin,” she laughed. “I was joking, with the assumption that captain Hunt has a better sense of humor than you. Not that it takes much.”
Beka nudged him with her elbow. “I think you’re right, Rhade,” there was a hint of laughter in her voice. “I do like her.”
“I see you’ve been quite busy yourself,” the woman cocked her head to the side to get a better look at Tristan who was hiding behind Beka. “You sure work fast, Tel.”
“He’s not…” Telemachus rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Never mind, Kal. It’s not what you think.”
“No?” she sounded almost disappointed. “And here I was looking forward to being an aunt already.”
“The admiral here is going to be the first Nietzschean in history to die a bachelor by choice,” one of the men behind Kali commented, but quieted as soon as Telemachus glared at him.
“At ease, soldier,” Rhade said in a tone that immediately reminded everyone that less than a year ago he was the admiral of an entire planet’s military. “I thought you came here for a specific reason, not to discus my romance life.”
“There’s nothing there to discus!” Kali laughed. “But actually I do have news.”
“Then let’s take this to the conference room,” Dylan interjected. “Rhade, take Tristan back to your quarters, show these gentlemen to the spare crew quarters. Beka, direct ensign Rhade to hers. I’m calling a meeting in the conference room within an hour. Everyone’s dismissed.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Telemachus left Tristan in their quarters, promising to be back a little later, while the four men waited in the corridor talking amongst themselves. They were soldiers, born and trained on Tarazed. They served under Telemachus for years, fought side by side with him, and the Nietzschean considered them good friends. He came out a few minutes later while they were talking.
“So,” one of the soldiers asked as they started walking, “what’s up with the kid?”
“Tristan? It’s a long story,” Rhade waved it off, not wanting to discus such things.
“Hey we were almost worried that we’d have to give a lot of anxious girls back on Tarazed the knews that you were no longer available,” joked the second man. “They’d be so disappointed.”
“They’ll still be disappointed, Drason,” said a third man. “We all know that the only woman the admiral here is interested in is a certain blond hot-shot pilot.”
All four men burst out into laughter, but Telemachus frowned. “I have no idea what you’re implying.”
“Sure,” Drason said sarcastically and slapped him on the back, “and the way you were looking at her back in the hanger bay is exactly how I would look at my sister.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Telemachus strode past them and rounded a corner towards the conference room. “By the way,” he threw over his shoulder, “she’s a red head.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Kali followed Beka to the guest quarters. The first officer showed her around for a moment and then prepared to leave.
“Telemachus told you what I am,” Kali called after Beka, and the other woman turned around.
“I hope I didn’t seem too curious to make you feel uncomfortable though,” Beka apologized after falling back to the door frame.
“It’s okay, I get that a lot,” Kali said, walking past her and sitting down on the bed.
“No, it wasn’t really about you,” Beka told her. “The little boy who you thought was Telemachus’ son, Tristan, he’s half Nietzschean and half human. I just haven’t met anyone else who was.”
“Ah that explains it,” Kali nodded. “It’s tough, you know, not fitting into one world or the other. But as you probably know by now, the Nietzschean on Tarazed aren’t like your average ubers.” The woman smiled that she was kidding by using the negative term.
“So I’ve been told,” Beka muttered under her breath, mostly to herself than to Kali. “You and Telemachus seem close.”
“Like I said, I’m his favorite cousin,” Kali laughed, “and also the youngest of our generation. He’s actually more like a brother than a cousin. That’s probably why I make fun of him so easily. But Tel’s a good man, one of the best I’ve ever known.”
“Yeah,” the first officer whispered as she walked out. “I’m starting to see that.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Dylan, Beka, Telemachus, Trance, Harper, and Rommie were all gathered around the table in the conference room an hour later and listened as Kali presented the disturbing new developments. With the help of one of the screens, she showed the crew several reports from the planets on the outer reaches of the New Commonwealth. The reports spoke of numerous other problems, chiefly a rapid increase of Magog attacks. News from within the government confirmed that the world ship was indeed moving much closer to the known worlds. Even residents of Tarazed, the most secure planet in the New Commonwealth, were becoming nervous.
The crew listened with extreme concern. Finally when the woman finished, Beka shook her head. “Damn. When I saw Tyr last, he said that the Magog were going to be here in about two months. I should have gotten more information out of him!”
In the seat next to her, she could see Telemachus grimace at the mention of the former weapons officer. “It’s not your fault, Beka,” he said. “The price for further information may have been too high.”
“It doesn’t matter whose fault this was,” Kali pointed out. “What matters is that there’s a floating death trap closing in on all of us, and what, pray tell, is the Commonwealth doing? It’s fighting a civil war!” She threw her hands up into the air in exasperation then directed her next comment at Dylan. “I have no idea how you plan to fix this.”
“That,” the captain leaned back in his chair, “is a very good question.”
“Yeah, it is,” she folded her arms under her chest, “and I wish that was all.”
“You can’t have more bad news,” Harper protested. “I think we’ve reached our limit for the day.”
“If only,” Kali replied. “The second part of the story is that the so-called Nietzschean empire that your Tyr Anasazi managed to put together with the Collector’s help is destabilizing, basically falling apart.”
“Isn’t that good news?” Harper asked.
“Not if we want a strong ally against the Magog,” Dylan explained, immediately understanding the woman’s thinking. “They may not like us very much, but they hate the Magog even more.”
“As well as the fact that the world ship is currently the largest threat to their survival,” Telemachus added solemnly. “One would think that of all times, this would be the perfect motivation for them to unite against a common enemy. However the individual prides are very selfish.”
“That’s exactly what’s going on,” Kali supported her cousin. “The Drago-Kasov pulled out first, claiming that they were not responsible for the smaller prides. After that, the entire empire simply began to crumble.”
“Okay,” Dylan whipped his hands over his face in apparent exhaustion. “I think I’ll have to agree with Mr. Harper. We’ve had just about as much news as we can take for one day. Meeting adjourned.”

Chapter 10

“I hate to be the bearer of such bad news,” Kali told her cousin as the two arrived in her quarters. Though his were larger and more comfortable, Telemachus didn’t want to disturb Tristan.
“It’s fine, Kal,” he said and sank down into a chair. “It’s better that we know this now while we have time to build up a defense. However I have a feeling that you’re not saying everything. What’s going on at home?”
Kali also sat down with a deep sigh. The happy-go-lucky expression that was on her face when she first arrived on the ship had disappeared completely. The woman befor Telemachus seemed do much older than she was.
“It’s not good, Tel,” she looked down at the floor, her fingers entwined. “Tarazed is divided, just like the rest of the New Commonwealth. Our family is with you, of course, but there are more than a few skeptics. Of all people, you know best that the shadow of Gaheris Rhade is not so easy to escape.”
“Except this time we’re on the right side,” Telemachus protested. “Kal, this is completely ludicrous! I didn’t let Tyr Anasazi escape! I hate him for all the hell he’s put everyone through.”
“Don’t you mean the hell he put captain Valentine through?” Kali raised an eyebrow.
Telemachus turned to her in confusion. “How do you know about that?”
“Come on, cousin,” she replied. “I may not have been around then, but I’m very observant. By what she said back in that meeting and how you responded, I’d have to guess that Beka went to see Tyr to get some kind of information. Whatever happened down there must not have been pleasant. When I mentioned his name, she looked like someone just ripped her heart out.”
“He may as well have,” Telemachus gritted his teeth. “It might have been quicker and less painful.”
“Less painful for whom?” she asked. “You or Beka?”
“Why does everyone insist on making this about me?” he demanded. “I am not found of Tyr. That is a well established fact, but what makes you think I have feelings for Beka?”
“Because it’s written across your forehead in big bold letters,” his cousin laughed. “Tel, you’re many things, but a good liar is not one of them.”
Telemachus took several minutes to pause and turn the thought over in his mind. He had never admitted it to himself, but there were so many little, yet ever so significant, innuendoes between them. Stolen glances, soft smiles thrown back and forth. Beka was a courageous independent woman, and he admired her for that. But despite the small incidents and their gradual bonding over Tristan’s welfare, there was still too much distance between them.
“No,” he finally decided. “I do care for her, but Beka has been hurt too much.”
“Exactly why she needs you!” Kali insisted, frustrated at his lack of understanding something that was so obvious to her. “Okay, forget Beka for a moment. Let’s talk about you. Why do you do this to yourself, Tel? Why do you choose to be alone?”
“Because I’m afraid,” he replied honestly. “I’m afraid of betraying and hurting those I care for.”
“Then maybe,” a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips, “you and captain Valentine are not so different after all.”
Telemachus didn’t say anything, simply stared out into the cold blanket of space. Perhaps not, he thought.
* * * * * * * * * *
The over the next week, Dylan and Harper spent several hours a day locked in the machine shop, discussing possible new weapons that could be built as a defensive measure against the Magog. They already knew that nova booms were ineffective against the floating world ship, so Dylan suggested building some new and rather unconventional weapons by using their knowledge of the other universes. Harper argued that they didn’t know nearly enough and even if they did, it would take years to develop the kind of weapons Dylan was requesting. Dylan then said that Harper had less than a month to do it, and the arguing continued.
Because he couldn’t stay with Harper while the engineer and captain were discussing strategic weapons, Trsitan remained in Rhade’s quarters. Andromeda kept an eye on him and also provided the child with games to keep him occupied. The action games didn’t interest him a great deal, but Tristan discovered that he was fascinated with the puzzles that the AI provided. Unlike an ordinary child, whose attention spend wasn’t nearly long enough to even begin to understand the goal of most puzzles, Tristan was completely engrossed in them, not putting one down until it was completed. The Andromeda also silently noted that he was quite good with them. It was clear to the AI that Tristan possessed an intellect and ability to learn concepts far beyond his age.
One evening, Telemachus returned from duty an hour early. There was nothing left to be done for that day so he’d offered to spend the remainder of the evening with Tristan, who happily accepted. They settled on the floor, Telemachus holding the boy in his lap. In his outstretched hand, the Nietzschean held a flex with a downloaded copy of the Odyssey enriched by scanned images of old Earth paintings depicting scenes from the story. However after only a half hour of reading, it became clear that Rhade’s attention was divided. Telemachus was reading, but his thoughts seemed far away from the great Odysseus and ancient Greece. Tristan looked up at his guardian in wonder.
“You can stop if you want,” he said.
“I’m fine,” Telemachus assured him, but Tristan didn’t look very convinced. Telemachus sighed. “My cousin, Kali, said something a week ago. Something that’s still bothering me.”
“The new lady who came here?” Tristan asked. “She’s nice. She helped me with one of my games once.”
“I’m glad you like her,” Telemachus smiled slightly, then chewed on his lower lip, wondering how he should phrase his question. “Tristan, how can you tell if someone is different from you?”
“What do you mean?” the boy frowned.
“People are different,” Rhade explained patiently. “For example, what’s the difference between Beka and myself?”
“She’s a girl and you’re a guy,” Tristan replied without flinching. Telemachus laughed and hugged the child, silently thanking him for his innocence.
“How else are we different?” he asked again.
Tristan wrinkled his brow in thought. “Well you’re both really nice to me. You guys care about everyone on the Androemeda,” he paused. “Beka argues with captain Hunt sometimes, but you usually don’t.”
“Nothing else?” Rhade didn’t even realize he was holding his breath.
“No,” Tristan shook his head. “Why are you asking?”
“It’s not important,” Telemachus smiled, getting up. “I think it’s past your bed time, Tristan.”
The child went to the bathroom to change while Rhade put the flex away on the shelf. Just as Tristan was climbing into his bed, Telemachus bid him good night and walked to the door. Before shutting off the lights, Rhade took another look at the now slumbering child and whispered yet another word of thanks into the night.
As he walked down the corridor, Telemachus couldn’t help but realize that Tristan had been right. In the end they were all the same, Nietzscheans and humans. Of course there were genetic differences, but at the core the two were the same species. Tristan, Kali, and his other cousins were proof of that.
Even more importantly, Tristan did not see a difference between the two. As a child, he was granted with the amazing gift of innocence, as if he could see beyond such things as prejudice and look into a person’s soul. He did not distinguish individuals by what species or culture they came from, but rather by the way they presented themselves to him. Beka and Rhade were his guardians, his protectors, that was all Tristan cared about.
Stopping midway to command, Telemachus looked at his watch. Third shift didn’t start for another half hour, and he remembered Beka saying that she wanted to make several repairs on the Maru. Finally making up his mind, Telemachus turned on his heal and headed for the hanger bay.
* * * * * * * * * *
Tristan was awakened from sleep two hours later by a dull thumping sound. At first, he thought that it had been another nightmare, but Tristan soon realized that he heard the sound even when he was awake. Tristan tried to place it then failed. He’d gotten used to most of the sounds on board the Andromeda and could usually sleep through them, everything from the hum of the engines to the voices and footsteps of the crew. However the thumping noise was something new, different, and more than a bit frightening.
There was no one else in the room, which in itself was not unusual, but Tristan was frightened. He got up and walked into the hallway. It was strange how everything seemed so deafeningly silent. At one point, the boy could hardly distinguish the odd thumping from the racing of his own heart. Another thing that Tristan found curiously strange was that the corridor lights were dim. Actually they flickered ever so slightly, as if the power was about to run out.
Suddenly the thumping stopped. Tristan waited for a few seconds before slowly turning his head to look around. Everything was silent now, save for the pounding of his heart. He made a full circle before fixing his dark dilated pupils on the furthest end of the hallway. Within a second, the child’s world once again erupted into terror as an explosion rocked the ship. A fountain of sparks began to spew from the damaged side illuminating what seemed like countless numbers of Magog, charging at him. Tristan screamed.

Chapter 11

“Damn,” Beka cursed under her breath as she reached for her lost wrench. She felt around the cold floor of the hanger bay where she rested on her bay as she struggled to repair the badly damaged belly of the Maru.
“Harper’s spoiled you,” she muttered to herself as she found the missing wrench and returned to work. “Having him around to fix everything all the time made you soft, Valentine.”
If she where honest with herself, Beka would have admitted that the fact that the engineer was too busy with weapon designs to repair the old beat-up cargo transport was only a convenient excuse for her to cram herself into the tight space under the Maru. Part of the truth was that she needed a place where she could escape the monotonous duties as first officer. The other part, the one that she desperately tried to deny, was that she needed something to occupy herself with in order to keep her thoughts from straying to a certain lieutenant commander. But no mater how hard she tried, Beka couldn’t will herself to stop thinking about him.
When Telemachus first came on bord, all Beka could see was just another Nietzscheans, just another Uber, just another man to betray them. After realizing that he was not leaving anytime soon, she’d reluctantly accepted him as a member of the crew, someone she had to get along with only as far as it served whatever insane cause Dylan got them into at the moment. She had been extremely reluctant to trust him. Then the two of them rescued Tristan from the doomed slave ship, and the little boy entered their lives. Beka watched Telemachus with the Tristan, watched him patiently teach the boy and help him be a child for the first time in his short life. It had forced her to reevaluate her opinion of Telemachus himself. Ever so gradually she came to see him as a warm, caring individual rather then a typical hard-hearted Nietzschean she’d expected in the beginning. So now the only question was when had those feelings of respect and friendship turned to something more?
Before she had a chance to follow that thought, Beka heard the door to the hanger bay slide open. She crawled out of the cramped space just in time to see the object of her disconnected thought enter the hanger bay. Despite herself, Beka felt a slight blush creeping into her cheeks. She must have looked a mess.
Telemachus spotted her and jogged in the direction of the Maru. “Rebecca, I was hoping to have a word with…”
Before he could finish, the entire hanger bay shook and several loud thuds could be heard overhead. Rhade frowned in confusion, but Beka’s ice-blue eyes widened in shear terror. Her heartbeat quickened, and the scent of her sweat hit him a second later.
“What is it?” his attention was focused on the ceiling.
“I hope I’m wrong,” Beka whispered. “I’ve never believed in the Devine, but I pray I’m wrong,” she quickly turned to him. “Don’t just stand there! Run!”
Before he could argue, she grabbed him by the wrist and dragged them both through the hanger bay doors. As the massive metal plates slid closed, Rhade caught a glimpse of what he thought was the nose of another ship punch through the hall.
“We have to get to command,” Beka yelled over her shoulder, “but first we’re stopping at the weapon lockers.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Tristan was frozen in fear. His every survival instinct screamed at him to move, but he couldn’t. The next thing he knew, Tristan was scooped up and held tightly to someone who was also firing at the approaching swarm of Magog. He felt that the person holding him was also running, and he chanced a look up. Tristan recognized his rescuer as the woman who arrived on the Andromeda earlier in the weak. Beka had said that she was somehow related to Rhade, and the boy could remember that her name was Kali.
“I got you, kid,” she said. Tristan couldn’t argue. They rounded another corner, and he heard more rapidly approaching footsteps. Tristan was almost afraid to look, but when he did, his heart soared to see Beka and Rhade, both heavily armed and heading in their direction.
“Take him,” Kali said, handing Tristan over to Beka.
“What the hell is going on?” Rhade demanded.
“What do you think?” Kali shouted. “We’ve got Magog swarm ships punching through the hall and guess who’s on the menu? We just had an encounter with them that was a little to close for comfort.”
Beka looked at the terrified child in her arms. Tristan was clutching to her and crying, simply out of fear. “I know, baby,” she whispered and held him just a little tighter. “So much excitement around here, yes? Bad Magog have no respect for little boys who need their sleep.”
“If it is the Magog, then Beka is right and we must make our way to command,” Telemachus declared. “Damn! Why didn’t Andromeda’s sensors pick them up earlier?”
“You can worry about it later,” Kali told him. “Right now the two of you have to get moving, and I need to get to get to the upper decks and find my men.” She was referring to the four soldiers who arrived with her.
“The upper decks are the first to go,” Beka objected. “They are directly in the Magog’s paths.”
“So is the rest of the ship!” Kali shot back. “I’m not leaving my men behind, and that’s final. See you later, kid,” She ruffled Tristan’s dark curls. “Good luck to both of you,” she turned on her heal was gone.
Once Kali was out of sight, Beka faced Rhade, the child still in her arms. “Medical is on the way,” she said quickly, “and it’s the most fortified area on the ship, so that at time of attack, those who can’t defend themselves would be safer. Tristan should be okay there. I hope that it’ll hold back the Magog.”
“Please don’t leave me!” the boy cried, now more afraid of being abandoned yet again than of the Magog.
“No one is leaving you, child,” Telemachus assured him as they ran to the med bay. “We just want you to be safe, and we will return.”
Tristan whimpered, but his sobs died down slightly. A moment later, they arrived at their destination. Rhade remained at the door, his ever-watchful Nietzschean eyes scanning for the enemy, gun at the ready. Beka carried Tristan over to the table, placing him down carefully. His eyes were wide with fear, cheeks streaked with drying tears. Beka gave him a small reassuring smile, soothed back his dark curls, and placed a warm kiss on the child’s forehead.
“Stay here,” she said softly, hoping that her voice would calm him if only a little. She pulled out her gun and got ready to leave med bay. “If someone tries to break in, you need to hide and stay very quiet.”
“Beka,” the boy called after her.
Beka sighed and turned back to him. “What is it, baby?”
“When you come back,” Tristan spoke quickly, staring at the ground, “would you mind… I mean, could I… could I call you ‘mom?’” He looked up at her, eyes filled with fresh tears, his voice so very desperate.
Beka gave a slight gasped, then smiled and brushed the tears from his cheeks. This was her chance, she realized, to prove to herself once and for all tat she was nothing like Thalia. Tristan need her, needed to believe that he was safe and loved, and Beka was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that nothing would harm him. And after all wasn’t that what real mothers did for their children?
“Sure, baby,” she promised. “You be brave for me, okay?” Tristan nodded vigorously. “Good boy.”
“Hey,” Rhade called from the doorway, and Tristan looked up at the adult Nietzschean. “I’ll bring your mother back to you. Nothing is going to happen to her.”
“Hear that?” she told the boy. “Everything’s going to be okay. Now I have to go.”

Chapter 12

Without looking back, Beka and Rhade exited the medical bay, securing the door behind them. They made it through several hallways on their way to command. On deck seven, Rhade suddenly heard a mass of approaching footsteps. He looked around and noticed a spot in the wall where several metal plates had been damaged, creating a deep hollowed grove. It would surve as a temporary safe house, he decided, and before Beka could protest, pulled her into the indentation within the wall after him. The first officer was about to demand an explanation, but Rhade quickly covered her mouth with the palm of his hand, indicating that she had to be quiet. Seconds later a wave of Magog rushed through the same corridor they had occupied seconds ago. From the opposite corner, Beka and Rhade could hear more crashes and detentions.
“You don’t think we’re going to make it,” Beka could barely make out Rhade’s comment even though he was right next to her.
“What?” she yelled over the noise of weapon’s fire.
“You don’t think we’ll survive,” he stated clearly, looking into her eyes. “That’s why you were able to make that promise to Tristan. You do not think that you’ll live long enough to face its consequences.”
As Beka stared back at him, Telemachus could see the expression on her face change from anxiety and fear to that of anger. The next thing he knew was the sharp stinging pain from the smack of her hand that landed upside his head. Rubbing the soar spot, Telemachus gave her a both amazed and questioning look. Beka was furious.
“I don’t know if you noticed,” she shouted at him, the threat of Mogog momentarily forgotten, “but about two minutes ago, I became someone’s mother! That makes Tristan my first and foremost responsibility, and this Valentine keeps her promises. I have an obligation to survive for my son.”
She turned away from the Nietzschean and risked a look behind the corner to see if it was safe to move, but Telemachus couldn’t tear his eyes from her. Pride swelled deep within his chest, and he once again marveled in wonder at what an amazing woman she was. Beka fell back into the grove in the walls another wave of fire passed through the corridor.
“Then,” Telemachus said, “I would like you to promise me something as well.” She glanced at him, weary of what he was about to ask, but Rhade only smiled. “I would like you to promise that after this is all over, you will do me the honor of accompanying me to the little club I mentioned a few months ago.”
Beka couldn’t believe what she was hearing and gave a short laugh. “You’re asking me out now?”
“I figured that this is the best time I can hope to get a satisfactory answer,” he shrugged his shoulders.
“Alright,” Beka agreed despite her better judgment. “We live through this, and you can take me out to dinner afterwards.”
“That’s all the motivation I need,” Telemachus pulled out his force lance as he stood, getting ready to fight once again. The only difference was, now he was no longer fighting only for his own survival. Now he was fighting for a possible family.
After fighting their way through several waves of Magog, Rhade and Beka arrived in command where Dylan and Trance were already preparing a counter wtrike. On the main screan, floated a huge image of the massive world ship. The captain glanced over his shoulder at the newly arrived officers.
“Harper and Rommie are in the machine shop getting the new weapons ready,” Dylan quickly filled them in. “We’re not sure why, but the core AI seems to have malfunctioned and Andromeda couldn’t warn us about the attack.”
“We’re on manual?” Beka asked as she ran to the pilot’s counsel.
“More or less,” Dylan affirmed. “Life support and communication with the crew on middle and lower decks are still under our controls. So are some basic defensive weapons, but that’s about it.”
“Wonderful,” she muttered under her breath. “Hang on to something people. This is gonna be a bumpy ride.”
She wasn’t kidding. Though Beka’s piloting skills were superb and she maneuvered the Andromeda through the swarm of Magog ships quite well, even Beka couldn’t prevent the impacts of the smaller ships against Andromeda’s hull. The entire cruiser shook violently.
* * * * * * * * * *
On the upper deck, Kali felt the afer shock of another explosion outside. She stumbled for a moment then regained her footing. Looking over her shoulder, Kali took note with some degree of pleasure of the countless carcasses of Magog that lined her path. She turned a corner and was overjoyed to see her troops coming towards her.
“Are you guys waiting to be Magog chow or are we getting the hell outa here?” she called to them.
At first the men looked happy to see her, then as one, their faces turned ghastly pale. Kali frowned.
“Commander, look out!” one of them shouted pointing behind her. Kali turned, but all she saw was a curtain of crimson.
* * * * * * * * * *
Haper came to the conclusion that fear was the best motivator. He would have sworn that he hadn’t thought so quickly in his life. Things just came together in his mind; formulas, ideas, and ways to build the ultimate weapon to implement them. He was close to compellation when the captains voice came over the com system.
“What’s your status, Mr. Harper? Sometime today would be nice.”
“I’m almost done, I’m almost… done!” Harper announced in triumph.
“Good, now how does it work?”
“Well, boss, this little baby,” Harper tapped the side of the massive bomb with his knuckles, “is the love child of a point singularity weapon and those pesky little negative ions from the hell universe. Delivered into this world by some anti-matter borrowed from our slip drive and your usual Earth genius, she’s guarantied to leave all her predecessors, including her big sister, the nova bomb, in the dust.”
“How does it work, Harper!” Dylan sounded very impatient.
“Ah you launch it the way you would a nova bomb,” Harper explained, “into the heart of the World Ship’s sun. When it explodes, the combination of negative ions and anti matter basically chews apart the infra structure of the World Ship. Then the point singularity kicks in and creates several miniature black holes that suck up the rest of the junk. Not even the Abyss would be able to pull it back together.”
“Excelent,” the captain was pleased. “Launch it.”

Chapter 13

“Ah… one problem, boss,” Harper admitted sheepishly. “For all her beauty and power, Andromeda can’t launch it. She’s just too big to manuver to the correct angel from which this baby has to fly. Someone’s gonna have to take her out on th Maru.”
Back on the bridge Dylan rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration, but he knew what was coming next. Beka released the pilot controls and set Andromed on auto pilot.
“I’m on my way,” she announced. “Load the bomb, Harper.” She was about to exit the bridge but Rhade caught up to her in the door way.
“I’ll fly the Maru,” he told her. “It’s much safer here on the Andromeda and I promised Tristan I would bring his mother back.”
Beka studied his face, but saw nothing but brute honesty and genuine concern. Biting her lower lip, she sighed. “Telemachus, we both know that if we have any chance of getting out of this alive, I have to pilot the Maru.” He was about to object, but she put a finger over his lips. “No, don’t argue with me. You can only do two things for me.”
“If my amazing luck doesn’t hold, take care of Tristan.”
“As if he were my own,” Telemachus swore. “What’s the second?”
“Give me damn good cover fire.” She brushed her lips across his and was gone.
* * * * * * * * * *
Beka sat alone in the Maru’s cock pit as she waited for Harper to finish securing the bomb. No one said good-bye, mostly because everyone was afraid that if they said it, it really would be good-bye. With a few precious minutes to herself, Beka finally had a chance to think. Most of her thoughts revolved around the past, but a few precious hopes slipped through. Things to look forward to. Reasons to live.
Her past experiences with men have been less than enjoyable. Sure, the sex was great, but in the end all of them ended up betraying her in one way or another just when she was beginning to come to trust them. She was afraid of taking any steps towards another relationship. And yet when she looked Telemachus in the eyes, Beka could see something, some kind of clarity and honesty that others lacked. There was a sence of warm familiarity that she felt she could rely on. Beka didn’t know why, but within the past month Telemachu’s presence had felt different, more familiar. It was as if they had known each other before. The thought passed across her mind, but Beka quickly dismissed it. If she lived, it would be interesting to explore a possible relationship with him. But for now Telemachus had promised to take care of her son, and that was the only thing she needed to know.
Tristan was her main reason. She wished with all her heart that she came back to her son. Only after she made the enormous commitment did Beka realize that she truly wanted to be a mother. She also came to realize that she wasn’t doing this to prove that she was in anyway better than Thalia. She didn’t need proof of that. Beka agreed simple because she knew that she began to care for Tristan as her own child from the first night he suffered from nightmares and she came to his aid. Beka would spend the rest of her life making sure that those terrors never haunted him again. She would wipe away his tears and laugh at his smiles. She would watch him grow to manhood. If only she lived through this.
“Maru, get me a visual of Andomeda’s med bay,” she ordered. A second later, the image appeared on the screen. Tristan was exactly where she left him, sitting rigidly on the med table, his young face marred by lines of concentration. There were dry tear streak on his pale cheeks, but Beka could tell he hadn’t cried since she and Rhade brought him to medical. He was too concentrated on staying alive to spend his lacking energy on tears. Tristan was quiet, not making a single sound or moving a muscle. It was a little comforting to Beka; the strong survival instincts from his Nietzschean half may help keep him quite and off the Magog’s radar.
Beka kissed two of her fingeres and pressed the kiss to the image on the screen. “Be brave, baby,” she whispered. “I’ll be back soon.”
At that moment, she received a clearence from Harper that the bomb was secure. “Show time.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“The Eureka Maru has been launched,” Andromeda told her remaining crew, “and is on her way to the world ship.”
Telemachus took Beka’s place as the pilot. “Our weapons are all but useless,” he said, “all I can do for Beka is to draw the swarm ship’s fire on us. It may give her the time she needs to slip through their lines and to the world ship.”
“Do it,” Dylan ordered, but Rhade maneuvered the Andromeda even before Dylan gave the word.
Telemachus had never been more concentrated on any single task in his life. Under his precise guidance, the Andromeda lead most of the swarm ships away from their origin. Shells exploded on Andromeda’s hull, but most of it was minor damage. Telemachus even managed to shake off some of the swarm ships that had punched through earlier. But in the end, everyone knew that it was up to Beka. If she couldn’t launch the bomb correctly, they wouldn’t be able to run from the swarm ships for much longer.
“How close does she have to be to the World Ship’s sun for the bomb to be effective?” Dylan addressed Harper who had just arrived on command.
“Ah… a few hundred kilometers,” Harper replied rather hesitantly.
“A few hundred kilometers!” Telemachus barked from his post. “She’ll never clear the point singularity effects in time!”
“She might,” Harper objected. “The Marue is way smaller than the Andromeda. The only thing is that she won’t be able to enter slipstream because of the enormous gravitational effects. But if anyone can clear that mess in time, it’s Beka.”
“If what Harper says is true,” Trance reasoned, “than we need to move as far away from the impact zone as we can, maybe even enter slipstream and move to a different system. The Andromeda really is much too large and will feel the gravitational effects greatly.”
“We can’t just leave Beka out here alone!” Rhade argued.
“We won’t,” the captain assured him, “but she knows what she’s doing. Rhade, head for the edge of the system. As soon as we get a confirmation of the bomb’s detonation, we’ll head to the nearest safe zone. After the point singularity effects of the bomb have expired, we’ll return to make sure Beka made it out okay. We’re no good to her dead, Telemachus,” he added.
Rhade muttered something else under his breath, but did as he was instructed and focused his remaining energy on piloting. Just then Andromeda’s avatar appeared on the screen adjacent to the image of the World Ship.
“Captain,” she spoke. “The Maru has reached it’s optimal possition. Bomb launched. Impact in four…”
* * * * * * * * * *
From her place in the Maru’s pilot seat, Beka watched the bomb fly towards the scarlet sun of the world ship.
“Job well done,” she told herself. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.” Maneuvering the Maru, she raced away from what was about to become a blazing inferno.
* * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
Tristan’s white knuckled grip on the edge of the med table loosened a bit as the horrible sounds from outside began to die down. The child could only hope that it meant that the monsters were defeated and not the other way around.
* * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
The remaining crew of the Andromeda Ascendant stared at the screen for any and all signs. For better or worse, this was an end to part of the journey. They prayed there was something after it.
“One,” then all hell broke loose in a white flash.

Chapter 14

The shock wave of the explosion hit the fleeing Andromeda a few seconds later and the ship trembled in the wake of the wave. Systems began to malfunction and Andromeda’s AI began reporting disruptions all over the ship. Several reactors exploded, sending bursts of fire down the corridors. The ship’s condition was disastrous. It was amazing she was still holding her own, riding the shock wave until it passed. Command lapsed into silence. It was as if everyone was holding their breaths.
“Andromeda, status,” Dylan’s voice was a whisper, almost as if he was afraid of the answer.
“Lower and middle decks are damaged, but minor repairs will suffice. Upper decks require extensive repairs, as they received the most damage. The remaining Magog on board are fleeing,” she paused as she analyzed incoming data. For a second, a smile played on the screen-locked image of Andromeda’s avatar. “The few pieces of debry remaining in the system are consistent with the makeup of the Magog worldship. It’s gone, Dylan. We won.”
“Not yet,” the captain didn’t look completely relieved. “Locate the Maru.”
Another pause. “The Maru is not in the system.”
There was a hiss as the pilot’s controls retracted and Telemachus moved away from the council. Without a word, he headed out. Dylan exchanged an inquisitive glance between Harper and Trance, both of whom simply shrugged, and followed Rhade out of command and on his way to the hanger bay.
“As soon as the minimal required repairs are complete, we can start looking for Beka,” he said. “If Harper’s bomb had the same effect that he thought it would, the Maru probably got pulled into slipstream involuntarily. We’ll find her.”
“No, that won’t do,” Rhade shook his head. “The Andromeda is in need of extensive repairs before she can safely travel through slipstream. I’ll take a slipfighter and trace Beka’s rout, then either return with her or contact you if we require assistance.”
Telemachus stopped and turned to look at Dylan with an unreadable gaze. On his part, the captain could only guess what the Nietzschean was thinking. He sighed and waved his hand dismissingly. “Don’t say it, Rhade.”
The other man cocked his head to the side and frowned. “I’m not sure to what you are referring, sir.”
“I know what you’re going to say. ‘We’ll find her…unless she’s dead.’”
Anger sparked in Rhade’s eyes. “I did not expect you thought me to be so cold.”
Immediately Dylan regretted his words. “I’m sorry, Telemachus,” he apologized. “It’s just that… for a moment, I thought that Gaheris would have said something like that in such a case. He was quite pessimistic, your ancestor.”
“I know,” Telemachus replied, resuming his quick and driven passe. “However, I am not him. I need for Beka to be alive, therefore I believe she is. Besides I made a promise to Tristan.”
Now it was Dylan’s turn to stop in the middle of the hallway. “What promise?”
“That I would bring his mother back to him,” with that, he turned a corner and disappeared.
On his way to the hanger bay, Telemachus approached medical. He had half a thought to check on Tristan, but the door was still locked so Rhade concluded that no Magog had breached the sanctuary. Besides if he arrived without Beka, Tristan would worry, and there was no reason to do so. Not yet.
Unfortunately for Rhade, luck was not on his side at that moment. Just as he decided to pass it, the door to the medical bay slid open and Telemachus found himself face to face with the little boy. Tristan didn’t carry the look of terror that Rhade remembered last on the child’s face, but his soft young features were marred by a deep frown of concern.
“Are they gone?”his voice was slightly shaken.
“Yes,” Telemachus confirmed, hoping that Tristan wouldn’t ask his next question.
“Where’s mama?”
Rhade winced and bit his lip. He lowered himself to Tristan’s eye level and placed both hands on the boy’s shoulders. “Your mother offered to do a very brave thing that saved us all. However to do that, she had to leave the Andromeda and fly out on her own ship. I’m not sure where she is right now, but I’m going to go and find her.”
Rhade wasn’t sure if such a simplified explanation was enough, but it would have to be. His bottom lip trembled, and Tristan dropped his gaze to the floor, his dark curls hiding his face from Rhade’s view. After a moment, Tristan looked back up at the adult Nietzschean, and Telemachus was amazed to see the composed expression on the boy’s face. His dark eyes shined with unshed tears, but Tristan’s emotions were perfectly collected.
“Take me with you,” he said.
“Absolutely not,” Rhade refused, getting up. “Tristan, I promised that I would bring her back and…”
“Telemachus, please,” the child insisted, garbing a fistful of Rhade’s pant leg. He butchered the pronunciation of his first name, of course, but he had made the effort. “If something happened to my mother, I’d like to see her one last time.”
There was a hint of desperation in his voice, but mostly it was cool and composed, so much that a chill ran down Rhade’s spine. Tristan sounded too old for his age, a reflection of the terrors that filled his short life. He knew death, and Telemachus realized that if this was indeed the last time Tristan would have a chance to see Beka, than he owed it to the boy to give him that chance.
“Alright,” he nodded, taking the child in his arms. “Let’s go find your mother.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Somewhere in the cold abyss of space, the Eureka Maru floated on black starry the canvas. The hull of the ship was badly damaged, one of the three engines was torn out, and there was a massive void where the slipstream drive should have been. Flying towards the Maru on his slipfighter, Telemachus became very concerned that the exterior damage reflected the condition of the cabin.
He was right. The interior looked just as bad. As he made his way through piles of broken pieces of metal on the floor with Tristan in his arms, Rhade assessed the damage. There was smoke everywhere. Wires, cables, and broken pipes were dangling from the ceiling. The ends of the wires were giving off static sparks.
The closer they got to the main cabin, the more Rhade felt a sense of dread fill him. He shifted Tristan in his arms so that the boy’s head rested on his shoulder, in case there was a horrific sight in front of them. Again he was right in doing so. Beka was slumped in the pilot’s chair. She was unconscious. The area around her abdominal was bleeding heavily as if she had been thrown forward in the shock wave, but it was difficult to tell exactly where the wounds were. The blood flooded all over her cloths and the equipment around her. Her head must have been cut as well, because there was blood in her hair. She was bruised and cut all over.
“Stay here,” Rhade commanded and quickly placed Tristan on the floor. Tristan nodded, and Telemachus made his way to the pilot’s chair. Reaching for her throat, he felt for a pulse. There was a sigh of relief when he discovered a faint heartbeat. Her body felt warm, which was a good sign. She would live, but he had to get her back to the Andromeda quickly.

Chapter 15

Beka slowly opened her eyes as the ceiling of the medical bay came into focus. Her head throbbed and she was sore all over, but she was alive. Around her, machines softly hummed and every so often a monitor would beep. She tried to sit up, but was hit with a dizzy spell and fell back down on the pillow. That was enough to alert the other occupant of the room.
“Well good morning,” Trance came to stand over her with a smile. “How are you feeling, Beka?”
“A little disoriented,” she confessed, “but otherwise, I think I’m okay.”
“You’re very lucky to be alive after an explosion like that,” the golden alien told her. “You have a mild concussion and some bruises, but aside form that nothing serious.”
Beka slowly let her gaze glide around the room. “And where are my boys?” It was funny how she’d come to think of Rhade and Tristan as ‘her boys.’
“They haven’t left your side since you were brought in almost eighteen hours ago,” Trance said, returning the smile. “Tristan wanted to stay, but Rhade insisted that he get some sleep. He left to put him to bed about fifteen minuets ago.”
Trance checked some of Beka’s monitors, then moved on to other injured crew members in med bay. A few minutes later, the med bay doors slid open and Telemachus entered. He looked pale, tired, and emotionally exhausted. There were dark circles under his eyes, but his face instantly lit up when he saw Beka. In an instant, he was at her side.
“Good to have you back,” he said, taking her hand in his.
“Hey you don’t get rid of a prize like me that easy,” she smiled. “Did we win?”
“We won,” Telemachus returned her smile, but somehow he still looked so sad. Beka frowned and was about to ask him about it when she heard the sound of small footsteps on the med bay floor. “Looks like I have another visitor.”
A second later, a pair of dark brown eyes and curly hair appeared on the edge of the med table. “Mommy?” Tristan sounded like he just woke up from a very short nap, which was exactly the case.
“Hey,” Rhade lifted him into his arms so that he could also see Beka. “I thought I put you to bed.”
“I wanted to see mom,” Tristan rubbed his eyes in a futile effort to hide his fatigue.
“I’m right here, baby,” Beka slowly sat up and took Tristan from Rhade to settle him on her lap. She kissed his forehead and brushed a stray curl out of his face. “I promised I’d come back, didn’t I?”
“I know, but I was scared,” the boy rested his head against her shoulder. “There were so many monsters.”
“Shh,” Beka soothed. “They’re gone now. Why don’t you go back to bed? I’ll come and see you a bit later.”
Tristan reluctantly agreed and trotted out of medical bay. When he was gone, Beka focused her full attention on Telemachus. “Okay, what’s wrong?”
The Nietzschean bit his lip. “We won,” he repeated slowly, “but not without great casualties.”
“Who?” Beka’s voice was lower that a whisper.
He took a deep breath and swallowed the lump in his throat. “Kali.”
Beka winced and reflexively squeezed his hand in comfort. The woman was brave and very well-meaning. She had saved her son’s life, and it hurt Beka to hear that she’d lost her own. The first officer looked up at Rhade.
“I’m sorry, Telemachus,” she said. “I know it doesn’t mean much, but for what it’s worth I’m sorry. She saved Tristan. I’ll always think well of her.”
“Thank you,” he nodded. “I believe it would have pleased her. Dylan is currently speaking with the Triumvirs, and when negotiations are complete, I’ll take her… her body back to Tarazed. Kali will be buried with honors next to Gaheris and our other ancestors.”
“That’s probably best,” Beka agreed quietly.
“I think it is,” he nodded. “I’d like to make sure Tristan’s really asleep this time, then if you don’t mind some company, I’d like to stay with you.”
“Sure,” she was touched by his concern. “Go see how he is.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The lights were dim in Rhade’s quarters when he arrived. Telemachus peeked into the room, then, not sensing anything out of place, was about to leave when Tristan called to him sitting up in bed. The adult Nietzschean’s lips curved slightly; somehow he had suspected the boy would still be awake. Telemachus turned on a dim light and crossing the room, sat down on the edge of Tristan’s bed.
“I see you insist on being stubborn,” he said kindly.
“No,” Tristan replied. “I was just wondering about that lady, your cousin. Something happened to her, didn’t it? Something bad.”
Not for the first time, Telemachus was amazed by the child’s perceptiveness. “Yes,” he didn’t try to hide the truth. “She’s gone, Tristan. She died.”
Tristan turned the thought over in his mind. “It’s not fair,” he finally said. “She was so nice to me, and you were very proud of her. Why did she have to die while other people -bad people- get to live?”
Telemachus gave a short humorless laugh. “Unfortunately neither life nor death are fair. There’s an old human saying that God kills indiscriminately. But you’re right: Kali was a good woman, and I was very proud of her. What is important now is not that she died, but how we remember her.”
Tristan seemed to understand that, then another thought crossed his mind. For a moment he glanced up at Rhade before his gaze fell back on his lap. “I never knew my father,” he whispered, “I wonder if he’d be proud of me, but I… I don’t think he was a good person.”
“Well I can’t judge your father,” it was only partially true, but Rhade would never admit to Tristan how little he thought of his genetic donor, “but I can tell you that any man would be proud to have a son like you.”
He placed his hands on the boys shoulders and made him look him in the eyes. “And if you allow it, as you think of Beka as your mother, I would be honored if you would think of me as your father.”
Tristan’s eyes moistened. “I have for a while now,” he confessed.
“I’m glad,” Telemachus hugged him warmly. “Now get some rest. I’m going to go see your mother.”

Chapter 16

Harper had come to see her on the day when Beka was to be released from medical bay. He felt guilty for staying away for so long, but something inside prevented him from coming to see her. He hated seeing her like that, so weak and fragile. After all, she’d been the one to take him away from his hell-hole of a home world. Over the years, Harper had come to see her as somewhat of a super human. Thus it was always difficult for him to see her so badly injured.
He entered just as Beka was drying her freshly washed face with a white towel.
“Hey,” she called over her shoulder, “I see you’re still with us. I haven’t seen you in a while. Almost gave up hope,” she teased.
“Yeah well I’ve been busy,” he all but snapped. “We’ve got a shit load of repairs.”
Something in his voice caught her attention, and Beka turned around. “Seamus,” she asked somewhere between shock and concern upon seeing his slightly puffy red eyes, “have you been crying?”
“Hey you know the Magog aren’t my favorite people. Besides, Tristan cried, and he’s a Nietzschean.” He added defensively as if justifying himself.
“Harper, shame on you,” Beka scolded in a playful tone. “First of all, Tristan’s half Nietzschean, and second, he’s four!”
“Five,” the young engenier corrected, and Beka frowned at him. “Andromeda checked him out and determined the exact date of his birth. Kid turned five the day of the Magog attack. Happy birthday to him, huh?”
“Yeah,” Beka murmured, more to herself than to Harper. “Well thanks for stopping by, but I think I’ll be going back to my quarters now.”
“Sure thing,” Harper nodded. On his way out of medical bay, he turned around. “Hey, boss?”
“I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Me too, Seamus. Me too.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The funeral of ensign Kali Rhade was held on an unusually pleasant day. Tarazed’s single sun shone in all its splendor as her coffin was carried out into the field where only the most honored of the planet’s heros were buried. The four soldiers who arrived with her on the Andromeda brought it to the place where she would finally be laid to rest as someone began to sing a sad but beautiful song of hope and thanks. Overhead, jets flew in the “lost man” formation. The remaining crew of the Andromeda gave their silent salutes as the funeral precession went by. Beka was holding Tristan’s hand. She’d expected the child to cry, but Tristan was uncharacteristically silent.
The senior officers stood close together, all with the exception of Telemachus, who stood well off to the side. His tiered face bore a sullen expression, arms crossed over his chest. He’d briefly conversed with his family, making sure they were as well as possible under the circumstances, then distanced himself from the crowd. Beka glanced in his direction every once in a while, but he hadn’t shown any signs that he would respond to any conversation. Despite his initial appearance of calm acceptance back on the Andromeda, it became quite clear to her that it had been false comfort. The shock hadn’t set in yet. With great pity and sadness, Beka watched as a silent solitary tear ran down his cheek.
After the funeral, the crew returned to the ship. Dylan had concluded the negotiations with the Triumvirs and made sure that all accusations of treason were retracted and that everyone on board the Andromeda was granted full pardon. Though invited back into Tarazed’s Home Guard, Telemachus had chosen to remain with the Andromeda. He’d once again said good-bye to his family, explaining that he felt he would serve the New Commonwealth much better as a soldier under the command of captain Dylan Hunt than he would by staying on Tarazed and playing politics with the Triumvirs. He didn’t say anything regarding Tristan, because he felt the boy was not nearly ready to accept so many people who he’d never met as being of any relation. He’d accepted Telemachus and Beka as parents, and for now it would be enough.
* * * * * * * * * *
The evening after the funeral, Telemachus returned to his quarters and immediately noticed Tristan’s absence, which in it self was not unusual since Tristan tended to entertain himself under the ever-watchful presence of the AI. However the hour was quite late, and he was quite surprised not to see him. He was even more surprised to see Beka.
“Where’s Tristan?” he asked, more out of curiosity than any actual consern that something had happened to his son.
“He’s fine,” Beka assured him. “He and Harper are having a boy’s night out. A sleepover, I think Harper called it.”
“And whose idea was that?” Rhade asked with a slight smile of amusement.
“Mine,” she admitted without hesitation. “I wanted to talk to you alone.”
“Tel, don’t do this,” she sighed, and he winced inwardly. Rhade wondered if Beka knew that Kali had been the only person to call him that. He had a strong suspicion that she did.
“Do what?”
“This,” she gestured at him, her mild frustration apparent, “the I’m-an-alpha-male-so-I-don’t-need-anyone bravo.”
“I don’t recall ever doing that,” he objected.
“No, you didn’t,” she agreed, “not until after Kali’s death. I’m not as perceptive as Tristan, but I can tell you’re bothered a lot more than you’ve been trying to let on. Talk to me, Telemachus.”
Realizing that he wasn’t going to get away with not talking to her, Telemachus sighed and sat down on the edge of his bed next to her. “I’m not just mourning the loss of a kinsman, Rebecca. True, I loved her as a sister, but it’s more than that. Kali is... was like Tristan, and not just because they are both borne of our two species. She had an amazing ability to understand people, particularly me. At times she could tell me things about myself that even I had failed to recognize.”
“Those type of people are rare,” Beka agreed. “Trance does that a lot, and sometimes I get mad at her because she tells me things I don’t want to admit.”
“Yes Kali frustrated me more than once with such things,” he admitted with a chuckle.
“Such as?” Beka asked.
Rhade thought back to his conversation with Kali after she’d come on boared. She’d forced him to admit that his feelings for Beka were real. If it wasn’t for her insistence, Telemachus suspected he still wouldn’t have approached the first officer. Not that he accomplished much, but the promise of dinner seemed like a descent start.
“She forced me to realize that I was being a coward,” he finally said. “Since the moment I learned the truth, I let the shadow of Gaheris Rhade rule over me. I was afraid of making his mistakes and betraying those I love. Especially you,” he met her gaze.
Beka was silent for a moment. Her eyes fell to the floor then she looked back at Telemachus. “Looks like we both let dead men rule our lives.”
“You were afraid I’d betray you,” Telemachus stated, “like Tyr did.”
“Don’t take it personally,” she placed a hand on his forearm. “It’s not...”
“It’s alright,” he interrupted. “I was afraid I’d betray you as well.”
“You’re giving him too much credit,” said Beka. “It’s not just Tyr. Most men in my life - Dad, Rafe, Sid, Bobby, Leydon, - have let me down. My track record’s not that good, especially when it comes to romantic attachments.”
“But there are so many who care for you,” Telemachus persuaded. “Dylan trusts you with his life and more importantly his ship.” Beka smiled at his light humor. “Harper is immensely grateful to you for being there for him when no one else was, and Tristan adores you. As for me,” he paused, carefully considering his words, “I think I love you.”
“You think?” she asked without a hint of surprise in her voice.
Telemachus laughed, the clear light sound lifting some of the tension. “Please be patient with me, Rebecca,” he begged. “Even after three hundred years on Tarazed, romantic love is not the easiest concept for us Nietzscheans. I do not fully understand everything that I feel.”
“Maybe I can teach you,” Beka leaned forward so close that she could feel his warm breath on her cheek.
“I’d like that,” he whispered, before their lips met.
They kissed with tentativeness but also with great passion as hurt and pain was left behind, making room for new and yet undiscovered feelings. Beka ran her hands under his black shirt feeling the smooth texture of his warm skin. It was like velvet over the strong solid steel of his muscles that rippled under her touch.
Telemachus deeply inhaled the fresh scent of her hair. It was indescribable, something that was uniquely Beka. He couldn’t remember any other woman who felt quite that way. Slowly they moved towards the bed. The universe fell away.

Chapter 17

Dylan honestly enjoyed most of his duties as captain, but if there was one thing he despised it was tedious paper work. With a good third of his crew dead and buried, he had to sort through the list of newcomers and make sure all were qualified. It was tedious, but he wouldn’t have trusted anyone else with it. The new crew members had been assigned by the New Commonwealth, and Dylan was not yet sure if the government was completely free of corruption. The captain looked up at the sound of a knock on his door.
“Enter,” he called out.
The door slid open, and a woman came in. Her uniform wasn’t of the typical High Guard design but rather that of a medical officer. She was in her mid to late thirtys, about a head shorter than Dylan, with golden blond hair neatly tied into a short braid. In her hands, she carried a folder.
“Captain Hunt,” she apologized. “I’m sorry for my late arrival. I’m one of the new medical officers, and I just wanted to give you my portfolio. I hope you don’t mind the inturuption.”
“It’s alright,” Dylan recieved the folder. “I needed a break anyway.”
The woman nodded and turned to go. Dylan quickly flipped through her information and looked up again. “Three hundred years ago, I prided myself on knowing the name of all my crew,” he said before she could leave. “I’d like to say I can still do that.”
Her back turned to him, she smiled. Her name was written on the edge of the folder, but the woman thought she would humor the captain. She faced him again. “Susannah. My name is Susan.”
Dylan gracesly returned her smile. “Welcome abord the Andromeda Ascendant, Susan.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Beka was wandering somewhere between the dream world and reality for a long time, but she didn’t want to wake up. Being awake meant duties in command, arguing with Dylan and chastising Harper. Most importantly it meant getting out of the warm and comfortable bed. She smiled and rolled over on her side, but quickly noticed that something was amiss. The other side of the bed was empty.
A string of memories from past experience insisted to her that this was never a good thing, but Beka calmly sat up, wrapping the sheets around herself. She looked around then put her hand on the pillow. The space retained just a hint of Telemachus’ warmth. He couldn’t have left more than a half an hour ago. Suddenly her hand came on a piece of paper left behind. Leaning against the wall, she unfolded it and read.
Please excuse my absence, but I didn’t wish to wake you. You looked peaceful, and that is such a rare state for you. I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of telling captain Hunt that you’d be late for your duties. He’ll understand. He always does.
Tristan has inquired about you whereabouts. I suspect he’s still slightly paranoid after the events with the Magog. I told him you were tired and sleeping, but do go see our son once you’re up. Please see him before you begin your duties. Command can wait. Tristan’s more important.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for last night. Thank you for trusting me, where I did not trust myself. You drove the demons away, at least for now. I hope that if they return, I could come to you once more and that you’d share those that haunt you. We both have a great deal of demons, but perhaps we are stronger together.
You were amazing.
P.S. There’s a fresh cup of coffee for you on the table. Enjoy.
She read over the letter one more time and smiled. Any man who made her coffee in the morning must be a keeper. She placed the letter on the the table, dressed, then looked in the mirror. Her cloths were wrinkled, hair disheveled, and body slightly sore. She hadn’t felt that good in ages.
Taking the cup of coffee with her, she headed for her own quarters. On the way the passing crew gave her funny looks. Some snickered, while others just raised eyebrows. Beka didn’t care. Let them wonder. She reached her quarters, changed into fresh cloths, and prepared for her duties.
“Andromeda,” Beka called to the AI. “Where’s Tristan?”
“With all the senior officers in command,” the ship replied. “You’re late, Beka.”
“I know, I know,” the first officer muttered as she sat down to pull on her boots. She didn’t like being scolded like a child.
“I suggest you hurry. New orders from Tarazed are coming in, and Dylan requested that all senior officers meet in command.”
“Some people have a very strange way of saying ‘thanks.’ They call us traitors, we save their collective asses from the Magog, and they’re still barking out orders,” she grumbled, fastening the straps of the other boot.
Instantly, Andromeda’s hologram appeared in front of her with crossed arms. “Beka, they’re the Commonwealth, and I’m a war ship. We have to follow orders.”
“Yeah,” she finally got up and walked past the hologram to the door, “but I don’t have to like them.”
Andromeda actually smiled at this. “If liking the government was a requirement to serve in the military, we wouldn’t have half the people we do.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The feeling of anger didn’t last long, not even half way to command. Beka wasn’t that angry with the Triumvirs, just annoyed. She didn’t understand politics and didn’t wish to be involved. Dylan was doing just fine on his own. When the door slid open, Beka walked in on a totally different scene than she’d woken up to for the past year. Everyone was at their stations, talking and performing their duties just like every morning. But there was something missing. Of course, she smiled. The feeling of dread, the uncertainty that they might not all be here the next day, the stress of running had all lifted from the shoulders of the crew. There was no longer a need to fight for survival. They had won that battle and earned the reward of life free of fear. At least for the moment.
Her eyes roamed over command until she spotted Tristan and Telemachus. Rhade was holding the boy and pointing out various items on the control panel. Every now and then, Tristan nodded in understanding and proceeded to question his father about something else. Beka smiled at the pair and moved to her pilot’s console not wishing to interrupt. Dylan, who was facing the front screen with his back to her, finally acknowledged her presence.
“Beka, so nice of you to finally join us.” His voice oddly cheerful. Dylan turned to face her and his amused gaze bounced from her to Telemachus for a moment. “I trust you had a pleasant rest?”
From the corner of her eye, Beka saw an involuntary smile touch the Nietzschean’s lips, but he continued with his lesson as if he hadn’t heard anything. She gave the captain her best look of innocence. “Yes, I did,” she grinned. “A very pleasant rest.”
Dylan shook his head, but it was all in good humor. He’d long ago written Beka off as a lost cause when it came to military discipline. He was happy for her though. The time and energy she bestowed upon her son and Telemachus was unmatched. She was loyal and detected, despite some odd methods. Dylan saw glad to have her on his crew.
“Captain,” The AI appeared on screen. “Orders from Tarazed are coming in.”
“Good,” Dylan nodded. “Let’s see what they have for us.”


Sequel: A Poison Tree

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