The Grim Reaper

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Being first officer of a High Guard warship was going to keep him from home far too much. These times when he would have leave long enough to visit his wives and children were precious to him. Gaheris Rhade was still quite young, but his deeds and his rank had attracted seven strong Nietzchean women to him, and now he had three sons and two daughters already born. In these times Nietzchean women were accommodating their husbands eagerly. Five of his wives were expecting again and he had just spent his leave attempting to do the same for the remaining two.

Now, however, he had to report to the Andromeda to take his position as her first officer. It was a prestigious accomplishment for one so young, one that may even attract two or more new wives. This position gave him a unique opportunity that eluded most of his race, and if he distinguished himself he may even accomplish what not one of his people had managed before, his own ship and a captain’s commission within the High Guard.

He wasn’t sure of this man who had been given the captain’s rank. His one mission with Dylan Hunt showed the human to be a capable warrior, but too idealistic for comfort. Hunt was plagued by optimism and a belief that there was good in everyone. Such thinking could get you killed. Perhaps that was why Admiral Stark had selected him for this position, so that his superior intellect and survival instincts would be able to temper the captain.

Gaheris stepped off the transport that had brought him to the Anteres orbital station. It was a Commonwealth trade and refueling stop for military, personal and commercial use. He would be here for three days until the Shining Horizon arrived for supplies. He had already secured passage with the warship to rendezvous with Andromeda. Three days to keep himself busy and pass the time. There were a few other Nietzcheans here, but not many and none of them likely to be female. He wasn’t one to indulge in shopping nor did he venture into clubs unless there were possible political gains to be made from it. He settled, instead, for indulging himself in the one truly cultural aspect of the station: A museum detailing to long history of the Commonwealth and High Guard.

The room was large and open with multiple sections set up to depict various times in the Commonwealth history. Much of it he knew from his time at the academy, but the historian who had constructed this particular collection had dug up arcane and forgotten facts that fleshed out the skeletal structure of the known past. Gaheris moved from exhibit to exhibit, hands clasped behind his back as he absorbed new knowledge.

A movement to his left caught his attention. He shifted his gaze to note the person examining the exhibit next to the one before him. A non-modified human female, perhaps thirteen or fourteen years of age. She was slender and dressed much as a space-trader would be with long, dark hair pulled into a tight braid. He turned a bit to examine the other occupants of the area and found a human male, nearing forty years and with hair the same dark shade of brown. He noted that the man kept his distance but did look over at the girl repeatedly to assure that she was safe. A father watching over his daughter while giving her space for herself. It was something Gaheris could approve of and neither appeared to be a threat.

He toured the entire museum, impressed by the knowledge available. Before leaving he did indulge himself in purchasing a record of the man who had assembled it as well as a copy of the book he had written. It would make for an enlightening way to spend his time until the Horizon arrived. He returned to the room provided to him by the High Guard for his stay here and took advantage of the rare chance to relax. He spent the rest of his first day on the station reading after having dinner brought to his room.

The first half of the second day was occupied by a visit to the spacious hydroponics garden that served three purposes; growing fresh fruits and vegetables for consumption, nurturing oxygen producing plants to keep a clean atmosphere on the station and providing a pleasant place for visitors to walk and, perhaps, forget that they were not on a planet. Again he spied the father and daughter, walking together just ahead of him on the path. The father was talking in a low tone to his child who would nod occasionally to indicate that she understood. Rhade’s superior hearing picked out the occasional word and realized that the child was receiving a lecture in trade negotiations, something vital to her existence if she were to continue on her father’s career path.

The afternoon of the second day he decided to patronize one of the smaller cafes on the station for lunch. The food was simple but good and the clientele was polite. He was reading his book at his table when the station alarms sounded out. Shortly thereafter was a vocal message advising all civilians to hurry to a secure shelter or their ships and all guard and High Guard to report to the nearest security center. Gaheris left his book on the table and left the café at a run. Just before he reached the center he saw the first of the swarm ships pierce the station hull.

There was an arms master passing out weapons and ammunition to the soldiers assembling there. He spotted Rhade and shouted for him to identify himself. “Gaheris Rhade, Commander on the Andromeda Ascendant.” The old fighter nodded and shouted for the attention of a group of lancers. “You men, you’re with him!” Gaheris took the weapon offered him and assumed command of his hastily gathered squad.

The Magog were a terror that had taken the lives of billions. Their strength was in their numbers. They reproduced by implanting their eggs in the bodies of sentient beings. The eggs would hatch and the larvae would eat their way out. One incubator could produce nearly one dozen new Magog, allowing their numbers to expand exponentially. What victims they did not use for reproduction they devoured. They were creatures of nightmare and fear, and Rhade despised them above all other things.

His squad of lancers proved to nearly all be experienced in a fight and willing to obey commands. They recognized the need for military discipline if they were to survive. None questioned his lead and if any held resent or bigotry against Nietzcheans they hid it well. He had been given a total of seven men to lead. When they had cleared the area they had been assigned to he still had six of them. The seventh had fallen when six Magog jumped him at once. None of the six attackers remained living.

Their goal was to get as many people into the escape pods and ships as possible, to save as many lives as they could. They had to separate the infested from the clean, sending them running behind them through the cleared pathways to relative safety. At any one time the station held one quarter of one million sentients, and only twenty thousand of them would be soldiers or trained guards. The traders and private ship owners could go either way when it came to helping out, either fleeing alone or taking survivors onto their ships and evacuating them.

The stench of a Magog drifted strongly to his nose, far too strongly for his comfort. Rhade turned to fire and froze in disbelief. The creature that had been about to attack him was now struggling for its life at the hands of the seventh lancer. The actions of the… body… were less than fluid and its eyes glowed with a strange, putrid green radiance as it crushed the neck of the Magog. Rhade tensed, waiting to be attacked, but the corpse instead rushed past him and into an approaching group of more Magog.

“What the fuck?!” The exclamation had come from one of the other lancers, but he wasn’t looking at his fallen comrade. Rhade turned and saw that several other fallen bodies had gotten back up and were meeting the Magog. “Sir, what’s going on?”

“Keep moving! Fall back to the transports!” He wasn’t sure what was going on, but anyone who could be saved had been. He needed to get the soldiers out of here. He shot and killed another Magog, but most of the attackers were trying to fend off the moving corpses. He sent the lancers ahead, something that conflicted with his Nietzchean heritage but fit seamlessly into his training as a High Guard officer. They were his men, his responsibility.

He was running through the station corridors, his feet occasionally losing purchase in the blood and gore that smeared the walkways. Time seemed to slow down around him. As he ran he saw the bodies of the fallen twitch and move, pushing themselves up to face the Magog. They seemed to have no interest in the living and Rhade wasn’t going to stop to question why. Survival was first and foremost on his mind.

He rounded a corner, straight into a pack of Magog. Just as he was about to raise his weapon to fire two bodies littering the corridor gripped a pair of the creatures and pulled them down. As if out of nowhere he felt a presence behind him, warm and tall. Another weapon fired from just to his left, taking out two of the six Magog. The remaining pair leapt at the person to his side, ripping into him before the animated corpses could dispatch them. Rhade killed one while the ‘bodies’ took care of the other. He then spared time to look at the man who had just saved his life.

It was the human father he had seen twice before. The man pulled himself aside so that he now rested against the wall of a shop, deep lacerations tearing through is torso. “Are you… all right?”

Rhade nodded as he knelt down by the man’s side, his weapon at the ready. Behind him he heard the Magog being torn apart by the dead. “I am unharmed.” His eyes looked at the man’s injuries. He would not survive this.

“Good… I’d hate to hurt this much and have failed.” He offered a strained smile as his eyes fell to rest on Rhade’s wrists. “Nietzchean. Strong warriors, excellent survivors… exemplary parents.” He tried to move and winced as pain lanced through him.

“Where is your daughter?”

“I told her to stay with the ship.” The man winced again from pain. “Which means… she’s probably somewhere… somewhere else.”

“We cannot stay here.”

“We both know… I’m already dead.” The man took a shuddering breath and peered up at Rhade. He placed one hand inside his jacket, fumbling a bit before he pulled out a hand-held device Gaheris recognized as the command unit for a space vessel. The man pressed a button on one side. “What is… your name?”

“Gaheris Rhade.” He peered around him. The few Magog remaining in this area could not get through the animated corpses.

The man took another breath. “Confirm.” The box beeped and then responded in a tinny, static filled voice. “Confirmation of voice pattern: Gaheris Rhade.”

Gaheris looked the man, his brow furrowed. The stranger continued to talk. “Access… Simon Keogh… transfer ownership to… to Gaheris Rhade. Confirm.”

The static filled voice returned again after another beep. “Confirmation of ownership transfer to Gaheris Rhade.”

“What are you doing?”

“Making sure you… that you survive.” The mane took another breath, his skin pale from fighting the pain. “I saved your life. I give… I give you Kathleen… in return.” He was losing his battle with death. “Watch over her. Use those… those Nietzchean parenting skills of yours.”

The gravity of the moment was not lost on Rhade. To a Nietzchean it was the greatest moment of trust and brotherhood to have another Nietzchean entrust you with the raising of his children. It rarely happened because often the male had enough wives with extended families to see to the task. In those rare cases where war, or worse, had destroyed the rest of the bloodline, to be given the guardianship of a child was to be entrusted with the continuation of a genetic code.

Simon smiled. “She’s down the corridor, to the left of us. The ship… isn’t much father.” He pressed the command unit into Gaheris’ hand. “Try… try not to… be afraid of her.”

Rhade gripped the unit in his hand, his eyes fixated on the face of Simon Keogh as the man closed his eyes. With one final, shuddering breath, the human was gone. “I will see her safe.”

He pulled himself into a standing position. The Magog were falling to the dead, the dead had no interest in the living of the station. The entire scene was like something out of a nightmare that his mind could not have hoped to create. Simon had said that Kathleen lay to the corridor to his left, and that corridor appeared to be clear at this moment. Adrenaline was all that kept him moving at this point, his muscles started to scream from exhaustion as he took off in a run. He kept his senses sharp, looking for signs of a potential attack.

The corridor turned and twisted. Along the floor were littered the bodies of fallen Magog and long trails of what smelled like human blood. He turned another corner and found two corpses tearing the head off of a Magog. Behind them was the slender form of Kathleen Keogh. She turned as he entered the enclosed area, her hand automatically bringing up the weapon in her hand.

Her eyes were wide, the whites standing out starkly against the dark streaks of blood and gore that riddled her skin. Parts of her clothing were torn from struggle; other parts were matted to her with wet blood that was starting to dry. He held his hands out to show that he wasn’t a threat. “I am not here to hurt you. I was sent by your father.”

As he moved closer he noted streaks in the smears of blood where her tears had washed the skin clean. “I know.” She backed away from him, the weapon moving away from pointing at his head to pointing down one of the side corridors. “We have to hurry.”

She turned and fled down the opposite corridor. Rhade did not hesitate as he followed. This way led to the docking areas, where the trader ships were connected. He new vessel, Simon’s ship, would be in this direction. They hurried through the halls until they reached a loading dock. Kathleen was moving so fast that she almost collided too hard against the hull, her footing lost when she hit patch of grease from an overturned container. The body of the technician who had been moving it lay nearby; half of his torso stripped clean from a Magog feeding. She punched in the access code to the outer door and entered the ship.

Rhade followed, turning behind him to make sure that they were not followed. He entered the ship and closed the door behind him. “Detach from the station and get us out of here!”

“I am!” Kathleen had run to the front of the ship and had taken the pilot’s chair. She entered her access code to the controls and started the process of detaching the fueling probe from the station. Rhade headed to the back of the ship, ensuring that there were no unexpected stowaways.

He felt the ship detach from the station and move out into open space. Once he was satisfied that nothing else had hitched a ride with them he started making his way up to the front of the vessel. “How well can you fly?”

“Better than most.” She seemed far too delicate and dainty to be sitting in that chair, but he watched her movements and quickly became assured she knew what she was doing.

“Your father…”

“I know.” Her voice had the same tone as when he had told her that her father had sent her. “Any ideas on where to go?”

Rhade studied the dark head before him. He couldn’t see her face from this angle. “The Shining Horizon is not far from here. She was to arrive at the station in two days from the Kilorn System.”

Kathleen reached out and tapped in the information to the computer. “There’s a jump nearby.”

“Probably the same one the Magog came from.” Kathleen didn’t respond to that. Instead she entered the coordinates into the computer and gripped the pilot handles firmly. Rhade studied the dark head, plastered to her skull in places by drying blood. “Get up.”

“I can do this.”

“I didn’t say that you couldn’t, but you should get cleaned up before that blood has a chance to make you ill.” A too-young face turned towards him, skin tone made so much paler by the contrast of the red-brown that streaked it. Eyes that were a light shade of lavender seemed wide and innocent in spite of what she had just gone through. She seemed to weigh him silently before she got up from the pilot’s seat, relinquishing control of the ship to him.

“Yes, Sir.” She stepped away and headed to the rear of the ship where the crew quarters were. There was only room for three separate compartments, and in his search he had noted signs of inhabitance for Simon and Kathleen, and a spare room that was unoccupied.

Rhade took the pilot’s seat. As a Nietzchean he wasn’t the best pilot, but he could manage. He examined the coordinates and kept the ship on a course to the next slipstream point, only three minutes away. He took the command unit and plugged it into the base on the control panel, allowing the ship to register the new ownership and command level access. He heard the standard, uncomplicated ship’s system respond.

“Please specify personnel to have control access.”

“Rhade, Gaheris; command level access. Keogh, Kathleen, pilot and weapon level access. Confirm.”

“Confirming command level access to Gaheris Rhade. Confirming pilot and weapon level access to Kathleen Keogh.”

He nodded, more to himself than to anything or anyone else. When he was getting close to the slipstream point he accessed the ship wide com system and gave the girl warning to brace herself. The blue-white corridors of slipstream were a welcome sight, one that meant the station the death aboard it were soon to be far behind them. Within moments he pulled them out into the Kilorn System. He pulled up the identification of the ship and paused, one brow arching before he activated the com system.

“This is the Grim Reaper to the Shining Horizon. Emergency code Six-Two-One-Alpha-C. Please respond.” He waited a moment and, when no response was immediate, set the greeting to an automatic loop. Afterwards he leaned back in the pilot’s seat, arms folded. “The Grim Reaper?” Images of dead bodies wrenching the jaws of the Magog apart filled his mind.

He frowned, the stench of congealing blood offending his Nietzchean sense of smell. Sitting up he turned and looked to see streaks of drying blood on the chair from where Kathleen had been sitting. He pulled off his overshirt and began to clean it off. The young age of his new charge came to mind and he wondered how well she was going to stand up to the sheer horror of what she had just been through.

He activated the autopilot, assuring that the ship would remain in place. Next, he located and activated the proximity sensor, which would alert him to any ships approaching them. After that he rose from the pilot’s seat and headed to the back of the ship.

He found Kathleen in the room he had correctly labeled to be hers. She was in the facility, cleaning the blood from her body. A fresh change of clothing lay waiting on the narrow bunk, reminding him that he would have to scavenge for clothing from her father’s possessions. Simon Keogh had been about his height, but more narrow in build. The fit would not be perfect.

“Kathleen, come out here.” He took up a stance of parade rest in plain site of the shower. His eyes noted as a slender arm snaked out to retrieve the large towel waiting for her just after the water had been shut off. She looked very pale and small as she exited the facility to stand before him. “I’m sorry, but I have to be sure.”

“I understand, Sir.” She focused her eyes forward as he reached up and tilted her face away, scanning her neck for signs of Magog-inflicted wounds. He looked her over completely, ignoring the signs of womanhood that were emerging on her slender form as she lingered on the cusp of becoming an adult. He knew this was invasive, but it was best to know now, before eggs had a chance to hatch. Once he was satisfied that she had not been implanted with Magog eggs he left her to get dressed, returning to the helm.

He only had to wait a bit longer before the Shining Horizon responded to his message. The face of Captain Stone filled the small screen before him. “This is the Shining Horizon to the Grim Reaper. Please report.”

”This is Gaheris Rhade, Commander and First Officer of the Andromeda Ascendant, owner of the Grim Reaper. Anteres Station has been overrun by Magog. Escape pods and life boats were deployed.”

“Acknowledged, Commander Rhade. Please relay your status.”

“Our ship is unharmed. However, I have a minor citizen aboard who will require transport to Kildare Five.”

He saw Stone’s lips purse. “We are not able to offer transport, Commander. We are under orders to remain in the area and another rendezvous is not scheduled.”

Rhade sighed and nodded. He punched a few commands into the console before responding. “Understood, Horizon. We have enough fuel and supplies to make it to the rendezvous point with Andromeda. We will proceed on our own.”

“Acknowledged, Commander. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Rhade discontinued the communication and entered in the new coordinates for the rendezvous point. The scent of fresh soap and water reached him before the sound of feet on the ship floor did. “We will have to proceed to my ship alone.”

Kathleen took up a seat in the chair to his left, the weapons console. “How far?”

“About a standard week. The Andromeda is in the Trivale system. The nearest jump point is eight hours away.”

An extended silence spread between them before she spoke. “I can mind the controls for a while, if you want to clean up.”

Rhade nodded. “Keep on our present course until then.” He stood up, sparring a moment to take in the young girl with her still damp hair and baggy clothes. “I won’t take long.”

Kathleen nodded, her expression inscrutable. “Yes, Sir.” She took his place in the pilot’s seat and claimed control of the ship. “He kept his clothing in the middle two drawers.”

Rhade paused, and then nodded without comment. He moved to the back of the ship to the quarters that were obviously Simon’s. Seeking to gain some insight into the man whom he was replacing he noted the contents of the room. On one wall were three knifes, each ornate and obviously ceremonial in purpose, suspended in a shadow box for display. On a narrow desk was an antiquated copy of the Holy Bible, the King James Version. Rhade opened the cover to find an extensive family tree spanning what looked to be about forty generations. The last page with entries proved to contain the names of Simon and Elspeth Keogh with a branch leading to Kathleen Keogh. According to this, Elspeth had died some nine years before and Kathleen was only a tender thirteen years.

“So young to be alone.” But she wasn’t alone. Simon had given her care over to him, along with this ship. It wasn’t particularly impressive, but it would still fetch a handsome price on the open market. His commission came with a nice salary, and to be truthful, if he were to be serious in the guardianship of the girl then he would be better in selling the ship and putting the funds in an account for her. Being an unmodified human she had no future with the Nietzcheans after she reached adulthood. It would be better for the girl if she had nest egg to use to help forge her future.

He pulled open the wardrobe and hunted through the clothing. Selecting the largest pair of pants and shirt that he could identify, he turned his attentions to the shower. Water showers on a trading ship this size were a luxury, especially two of them. Simon must have been doing relatively well for himself. It would be a good week before they reached the Andromeda Ascendant. During that time he would need to familiarize himself with Simon’s books and belongings, identify any accounts and properties that would need to be secured for Kathleen. The High Guard had legal counsel available for it’s members to see to such things.

He stripped off the dirty clothing and threw it aside, grateful to be rid of the stench of Magog and death. The hot water from the shower was a welcome sensation to his body. Now that they were away from the attack site he could finally allow himself to begin to relax. He had survived, which was the goal of every Nietzchean. He would continue to be a husband and father. He let the rush of battle wash away with the dirt and blood from the battle, clearing his head as well as his skin.

The clothing was snug, but not uncomfortably so. He had to rip the long sleeves a bit to accommodate his bone blades and there were no shoes his size so he settled for wearing thick socks until the boots he had been wearing were clean and dry. He identified the internal ship com system and activated it. “Kathleen, where is the cleaning unit?”

There was an extended moment of silence before a broken, shaken voice replied. “Further back… just before the hold door… on your left.”

He didn’t need to ask what was wrong. Now that the heat of battle was over the girl was allowing the reality of her situation come to her. Her father was gone and she was mourning the loss. This was natural and he would have been more worried if she had not. Doubtless she was crying, a part of the healing process. It would be foolish and counter productive to interrupt her grief. He wrapped his soiled clothing in a damp towel and proceeded towards the hold. As she had said there was a cleaner to his left. He opened the door and found that her clothing was already there, waiting for the rest of his. He added the garments and activated the unit.

She was wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt when he returned to the front of the ship. He did not inquire or comment, knowing that there was little help he could offer. Instead he placed a hand on one shoulder to let her know that she wasn’t alone. “I can take over if you want to sleep.”

“I’m not tired. Thank you, Sir.”

He sat down in the chair to the left of the pilot’s seat. He studied her profile closely before he spoke. “My name is Gaheris. You may call me that if you wish.” She nodded to indicate that she had heard him. “Your father’s last thoughts were of your safety. He asked me to look after you.”

“He gave you the Reaper, too. I noticed you changed the owner codes.”

Gaheris nodded. “A minor cannot legally own a vessel capable of slipstream.” He took stock of her body language. She was tired, which was understandable. Her skin was still very pale but he was beginning to think that was natural for her. “The Horizon was not able to take you so you’ll be coming with me to the Andromeda Ascendant.”

“Will they take me?”

“I’m to take up the post of first officer aboard the ship. We won’t know how long you’ll have to stay there before I can arrange transport to my clan’s home.”

Kathleen nodded again. She licked her lips and took a deep breath. “Do you have a large family?”

“Seven wives and five children. Five more children on the way, if not more.”

“You’re young. I’m guessing you don’t have any thirteen-year-olds.”

Rhade couldn’t help but smile. “No, you’re the first teen.”

She was silent for a moment. “Daddy… he used to say he dreaded my growing up. He said that teenagers were overemotional and difficult to deal with. On my birthday he set back all the time clocks on the ship by a day and said that I wasn’t allowed to get any older.” Her voice had begun to shake towards the end.

Gaheris gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “You should rest. I’ll get us through the next slip point.”

Kathleen unfolded herself from the chair. Standing up she barely reached to his shoulder, but it wasn’t unfeasible that she would grow several inches still before she reached adulthood. Her smaller stature and the current emotional weight she carried made her seem frail, almost insubstantial. Rhade kept the observation to himself and made a mental note to have her DNA tested when they reached the Andromeda. If she had a genetic weakness that could inhibit survival he would need to know now so that precautionary steps could be taken.

She vanished into the back of the ship as he watched. For the first time he noticed that she wasn’t wearing socks or shoes, exposing her bare feet to the cold hull of the ship. Her footsteps made a soft slapping sound as she moved out of sight. Gaheris rubbed his eyes and sat down in the pilot’s chair. He had a week before they would reach the location the Horizon was to meet up with Andromeda. He hoped that sorting out the affairs of his predecessor and becoming better acquainted with Kathleen would be enough to fill up the time.


The Reaper settled on the hangar floor with a metallic thud. Captain Hunt had been surprised and relieved when they had made contact. Word of the fate of Anteres Station had reached them by courier but not from the Horizon. His own status had been unaccounted for.

“He seemed nice.” Kathleen leaned forward to peer out into the hold. “Is it true that High Guard warships can think for themselves?”

“Each warship has an AI whose function is to monitor all ship systems and assist the captain in his duties.”

“I thought that was your job.”

Gaheris smiled. “It’s a big ship with a crew of four thousand. Every set of eyes and ears helps.”

“Oh.” She pulled her feet up into the chair. “Is he going to angry? About me, I mean.”

“I don’t know much about him other than what is in his file and what I’ve heard. I’ve only worked with him once, but I doubt he’ll be angry. He appreciates life. He’ll understand why you’re here.” He glanced over to see rest her chin on her knees. “Get your shoes on.”

“Yes, Sir.” She still called him ‘sir’ more than anything else. He wasn’t sure if she did it in subtle resentment that he was now in control of her life or if Simon had just raised her to be unerringly polite.

He powered down the engines and got out of the pilot’s chair. By the time he had reached the outer doors Kathleen was emerging from her quarters, shoes on and a small bag slung over her back. “Come. It isn’t wise to keep a ship’s captain waiting.”

She nodded, chewing on her bottom lip nervously. He watched her smooth a hand over her tightly braided hair, as though concerned it may be coming loose. Turning away from her he opened the outer doors and waited for the ramp to fully extend before heading down.

Dylan Hunt came into the hangar. His relief at Gaheris’ continued survival was still evident on his features. Rhade stopped a few feet from him and snapped a salute. “First Officer Gaheris Rhade reporting, Sir.”

Hunt returned it. “I’m glad to see you, Commander. We feared the worse when news of the station reached us.”

“I had no way of getting a message to you or I would have. This ship doesn’t have couriers.”

Hunt’s eyes flicked to the trading vessel. “The Grim Reaper?”

“That’s the name she came with, Sir.”

“You don’t have to keep sir’ing me, Commander.” The captain looked towards the ship and noted the slender form hovering in the doorway. “A survivor?”

Gaheris looked over his shoulder. “Kathleen, come here.” She moved down the ramp and started towards them. “Her name is Kathleen Keogh. Her father saved my life on the station, at the cost of his own. Before he died he gave her guardianship over to me.”

Captain Hunt winced in sympathy. “Ouch. Poor kid.” The words were soft, kept low so Kathleen didn’t hear them. When she was closer he gave her a bright smile. “Miss Keogh, welcome aboard the Andromeda Ascendant.”

Gaheris watched for Kathleen’s reaction. She seemed to size up the man before returning his smile. “Thank you, Captain Hunt.”

“Call me ‘Dylan’.” He looked towards Rhade. “The High Guard doesn’t really allow for minors aboard warships, but I’m afraid we aren’t in the position to send her to your family at the moment. We have orders to be underway and no planned rendezvous. It could be as long as your next leave.”

“Which could be up to a year.” Gaheris leveled a gaze at Kathleen. “You will need to keep out of the way for that time.”

She swallowed. “Yes, Sir.”

“Oh, not completely out of the way. Just try not to be a disruption on my ship.” Dylan gave the girl another warm smile and reached out to take the bag from her shoulder. “Andromeda.” A holographic representation of the ship’s AI flickered to life before them.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Have one of the quarters next to Commander Rhade’s cleared out for Kathleen. She’s going to be staying with us for a while.”

“I’ve already issued the order. If I may suggest it, after she’s settled in I can test her academic abilities and structure a lesson program to continue her schooling as well.”

Hunt looked over at him. “Does that sound acceptable to you, Commander?”

Gaheris nodded. “It would be wise, but I will want to review the lesson plan first. For now I would like to take Kathleen to medical. There hasn’t been a chance to have her fully examined since the attack on the base.”

“Of course. Thank you, Andromeda.” The hologram flickered out as Hunt began to lead them out of the hangar. “Once we drop Kathleen here at medical I’ll need to speak with you about the station. There have been some strange reports coming through.”

Rhade nodded. Memories of dead bodies tearing into the bodies of the Magog flashed in his mind. He recalled the trails of blood and the screams. Kathleen’s pale and frightened face was the sharpest image, an orphan alone and surrounded by death. “Truth is often stranger than fiction.”

Andromeda’s chief medical officer greeted them, having already been alerted to their approach by the ship’s AI. He was a handsome man with graying hair at his temples and a warm smile. “It’s good to see you’ve arrived in one piece, Commander.” He turned his smile to the girl half hidden behind Rhade’s back. “And this must be the visitor Andromeda told me about.”

Rhade reached back and put a hand firmly between Kathleen’s shoulders. He brought her before him and pushed her gently towards the examining table. “She was on Anteres Station at the time of the attack. Since then she’s had trouble sleeping and her appetite is not what it should be. Understandable, but I would feel better knowing her health is optimal.”

The doctor seemed a bit uncomfortable with his cold, Nietzchean way of stating things, but kept his smile in place. “Of course.” He patted the table to indicate that she should get onto it. “This will take some time, Captain. The next meal cycle should happen about the same time I finish here. I’ll take her to the officers’ galley when we’re done.”

Hunt nodded. “We’ll see you then.” He turned to leave, but Rhade motioned for the doctor to walk him to the door.

Once they were out of earshot Gaheris pitched his voice low. “I want you to run a complete DNA profile on her. I’ll return later for the results.” He could tell that this did not meet with the approval of the physician, but the man nodded his agreement anyway. The discomfort that unmodified humans had when faced with the importance Nietzcheans placed on genetics was something that Rhade’s people had dealt with for centuries. He was beyond caring about it.

He walked with Captain Hunt to his quarters. Gaheris examined the room, admiring the space that it afforded as Hunt sat down behind his desk. “Please, make yourself comfortable. I know that we didn’t really have a chance to get to know one another during our last meeting, but I hope we can remedy that. I believe we’ll work better as a team if we are more comfortable with one another.”

Gaheris nodded but made no comment. He sat down in the chair located slightly to the right of the captain’s desk. It was more comfortable and spacious, the chair meant for the First Officer. The smaller, harder chairs directly in front of the desk would be intended for crewmen who were there for less than pleasant reasons. “I agree with your assessment. Our last encounter was a stressful one. If I am to have a better understanding as to what you need from me as your first officer, I will need a better understanding of you.”

“Well then, I have to insist that you call me ‘Dylan’.” Hunt gave him another smile. He smiled a lot, this man. He was warm and open, and perhaps too trusting. His idealism was a danger to himself, to Rhade and to the crew. It would take all of Gaheris’ cunning to keep him from making a foolish mistake.

“As you wish, Dylan. I believe you wanted my report on what happened at the station.”

“Yeah, the station. Most of the guards that have been located are telling some pretty strange stories. What did you see?”

Gaheris took a deep breath. “I saw things that should not have been possible.” Men with their entrails exposed, the flesh ragged from the damage done by feeding Magog but still moving to crack skulls and pull off limbs. “I saw fallen soldiers get up again to continue the fight.” He kept his eyes trained on Hunt, to see if the man would believe him or judge him insane.

Hunt tented his hands under his chin and made a non-committal grunt. “That matches with the reports Command has been receiving. If it weren’t for the fact that so many are saying the same thing, they would question the possibility of stress induced mania. As it is they are wondering about the possibility of a chemically induced mass hallucination, however…”

“As a Nietzchean I would be unlikely to succumb to such a chemical.” A tension uncoiled within him. The other lancers had reported the truth, meaning his report would also be accepted. He had wondered if anyone would confess to what had happened. “Are there any other theories?”

Hunt shook his head. “Command is at a loss as to explain it. However, I did learn from some reliable sources that Anteres Station wasn’t the first place something like this happened.”

Gaheris could not hide his surprise. “There were other occurrences?”

“Five that can be confirmed. Spread out over the past seventy years and none of them close to any of the others. Each involved a Magog attack. Survivors reported that the dead just… got up and started fighting. One incident was on a pleasure ship hosting a scientific conference, the other four were on worlds. During those attacks it was reported that the graveyards even emptied out.”

“Why hasn’t this been brought to our attention before?”

“Dead people walking among the living? Tearing into the Magog?” Hunt gave a short laugh. “It would send people into a blind panic. And no one knows how this is happening, or how to duplicate it if we even wanted to.”

Rhade drew in a breath, one hand clenching to his side. “On one hand, decaying corpses would spread disease. On the other, it would help preserve the living. An interesting question: Do we seek to bring about a waking nightmare?”

Dylan grew silent, his expression one of concern. “It must have been terrible, being there. I don’t know if I could have remained sane had I been in your place, and I can’t imagine what that child must be going through.”

“It did give me pause, but once I ascertained that they were only interested in the Magog I ordered the lancers placed under me to pull back to the transports. That was when Simon Keogh saved my life from a pair of Magog about to overtake me. As for Kathleen,” he frowned, pondering his new ward, “she’s handling things better than would be expected. I don’t believe that she has come to terms with her father’s death just yet. She hasn’t had time.”

The captain sighed and sat back in his chair. “And now that she’s somewhere she can let down her guard it’s likely to hit her full force. Let me know if you need anything. You’re likely to be in for a rough time of it. I’ll need a full, written report from you to transmit to Command, but take care of her first. She’s going to need you.”

“Thank you for understanding.”

“A wise man once told me to never stand between a Nietzchean and his child. I doubt you’d be any less serious about her care just because she wasn’t born to you.”

“I’m impressed.” He meant it. “Not many unmodified humans would bother to take such things into consideration.” The possibility that Dylan Hunt might have a deeper understanding of his people than most was pleasing. It meant that he would likely give greater credence to his suggestions.

“You’re my first officer, the person on this ship meant to be my right hand. I need you focused and you can’t do that if you’re worried about her. Do what you need to do.”

Gaheris stood from the chair and extended a hand towards him. “Thank you, Dylan. It’s good to see you again.”

Hunt rose from his chair and shook his hand. “It’s good to see you, too, Gaheris. I’m glad you could make it.”

Rhade nodded and left the captain’s quarters. He clasped his hands behind his back as he walked down the corridor, pondering this existence that had become his life.

He found her sitting at a small table in one corner of the galley, the physician sitting to her right and apparently encouraging her to eat more of her meal. Gaheris walked over to them, hands clasped behind his back. “All is well?”

The doctor looked up. “Better than I had anticipated. She’s suffering from sleep deprivation and she could stand to add a bit more weight, but physically she’s perfectly sound.” The older man gave Kathleen an indulgent smile, much like that of a grandfather. “I’ve prescribed something to help her get more rest over the next few days. She shouldn’t need it for much longer than that.”

Rhade nodded. “Thank you, Doctor. Kathleen, after you’ve eaten I’ll show you to your quarters. We can see to moving your personal items after you’ve rested.”

“Yes, Sir.” She pushed her food around the tray with little enthusiasm. He examined the contents.

“Finish one half of what is left and you may leave.”

“Yes, Sir.” She straightened her back a bit more and turned her concentration to eating. Satisfied that she would obey, Gaheris turned away to see to his own needs. He was aware that many of the officers present were watching him carefully, taking note of the new First Officer. There were Nietzcheans in this crew, but when in a military setting such as this he would not have to worry overly much about challenges to his authority. He claimed his own tray and returned to the table, sitting down on the other side of Kathleen just as the physician was excusing himself to return to his duties.

They ate in silence. He had made attempts to know her better during the trip here, but found that Kathleen rarely volunteered anything about herself and didn’t speak much in general. For the time being he would not push. Instead he had turned his attentions to ship and Simon’s logs. There were a few accounts, none of them exorbitantly large individually, but together they would make a sizeable sum. When he transmitted his report to Command he would also transmit the information needed to start moving those funds into a trust for Kathleen.

His search of Simon’s quarters also turned up a more complete family tree, this one spanning far more than forty generations. Rhade’s own people kept meticulous records of lineage, but the Nietzchean people had only come into existence within the past thirteen centuries. The data he had found on the Keogh family went back more than two thousand years. He had questioned Kathleen on the records but she only said it was so that they could ‘remember which was who’. To his surprise he found the name of the man who had put together the Anteres Station Museum listed among her relations. She had only nodded and said that his museum was the reason she and her father had gone there in the first place.

Kathleen put down her fork. Gaheris looked over and saw that she had done as he had told her and gave her a nod of approval. She remained seated while he finished his own meal and then they returned their trays together. Rhade led the way, his hands clasped behind his back as was his usual stance. He knew that she was following close behind, but he did not know that she had adopted the same mannerism, like a little shadow trailing in his wake. He reached the crew quarters and led her down to where the officers lived.

“My quarters are there, right next to you should you need me.” He opened the door to her new home and let her enter first. It was more spacious than the living quarters assigned for the enlisted, with a full sized bed. “You can raise me on the com unit if need anything. Try and get some sleep.”

Kathleen nodded. “Yes, Sir.” He nodded and turned to leave her. “Sir?” Pausing, he turned back around. She hesitated for a moment, and then stepped towards him. When she raised herself up on her toes he followed his instinct to bend down where she could reach him. The kiss she placed on his cheek was almost too light to detect, but it was enough to surprise him. “Good night, Sir.”

He left the crew quarters to walk the ship. He knew the layout of the vessel but the real power of a warship was the crew. He needed to know where the possible weak points might lie. He was going through corridor nineteen when the ship’s AI chimed in. “Do you require my assistance, Commander?”

“Perhaps. When was the last security drill?”

“Captain Hunt has run two drills since he took over command last month. The most recent was four days ago.”


“Four minutes, three seconds.”

Rhade gave a disapproving growl low in his throat. A lot of damage could be done in four minutes. He clearly had his work cut out for him. “Have a list of all team leaders ready for me in my quarters. That will have to improve. I also want a complete listing of all disciplinary actions administered in the past year. I want to know who the troublemakers are likely to be.”

“Acknowledged. Commander, when would you like for me to test Kathleen’s academic skills?”

“Wait a few days. Give her time to adjust.”

“Yes, Commander.”

Gaheris turned around to head back to his quarters. “Andromeda, I will also require a schedule of which crew members are assigned to each shift. I want to keep the drills timed so everyone improves.”

“Yes, Commander.”

He was halfway back to his own quarters when his com unit chimed. “Commander Rhade, this is Doctor Marks.”

Gaheris stopped walking. “Yes, Doctor?”

“I have those test results you wanted.”

He nodded. “I’m on my way.” He changed directions and returned to medical. Dr. Marks was sitting at a worktable studying a computer recreation of a human brain. “Doctor.” Marks looked up quickly, startled by his quick appearance. “The test results?”

“Ah, yes.” The physician picked up a flexi, frowning as he walked towards Rhade. The expression caused concern in the Nietzchean.

“You found something?”

“What? Oh, I’m sorry. I’m just puzzled.” He looked over at the recreation he had been studying, apparently lost in thought. The delay was making Gaheris impatient.

“Are you puzzled regarding something involving Kathleen or would you rather return to what you were doing?”

“Actually, it is about Kathleen.” Gaheris studied the doctor more closely. The man looked unnerved as he handed over the flexi. “I can’t explain it, Commander. If it weren’t for the lack of bone blades and one genetic abnormality, I’d swear that child was a Nietzchean.”

Rhade frowned and activated the flexi. To someone from a race where genetics were all important, reading the code now displayed was easy. He could see what was confusing the doctor. “You’re certain this is the sample you took from Kathleen?”

“Positive. I took the sample myself. Her code is clean, as clean as your own. None of the potentially harmful recessive traits that unmodified humans can possess are present in her DNA. This is the same result I’d get if I tested your DNA, or that of any one of the Nietzchean crewmembers.”

“Except for one abnormality.” Gaheris isolated the sequence in question and examined it. “Is it harmful?”

“That’s what I was attempting to figure out.” Dr. Marks motioned for Gaheris to follow him to the screen. “I’ve recreated what I believe the result of the abnormality is. It appears to be linked to brain function. According to this model that code could feasibly allow her to access parts of her mind that are usually dormant in other humans. I haven’t determined yet what the purpose of it would be, or if there is a purpose to it at all. The DNA test wasn’t done when I released her from the examination, so I didn’t have a reason to take a scan of her brain activity. With your permission, I’d like to bring her in for more tests.”

Rhade looked at the computer-generated model, noting the theorized neural pathways with a stoic expression. In the back of his mind he heard Simon’s last request to him. Try not to be afraid of her. “Not at this time. You’ve assured me that she is not in danger of falling prey to any genetic illness. Thank you.”

“Commander, I can’t be sure what this abnormality may do to her.”

“You said that the code affects brain function. Surely if it was a danger then she would have already suffered the ill effects.” He turned off the flexi. “Thank you for your assistance, Doctor.” Turning on one heel he left the med lab and continued to his quarters. Once there he sat down at his desk and turned the flexi on again. Dr. Marks was correct. Kathleen’s code wasn’t just clean; it could only have been engineered. She possessed the same safeguards against mutation and alterations to increase the ability to adapt and thrive in harsh environments that were present in his race. That would indicate that the apparent abnormality might also have been engineered.

Try not to be afraid of her.

“Where you afraid of her, Simon? Or were you just more of the same?” He put the flexi down and leaned back in his chair. “Andromeda, upload the Keogh family lineage and display.” The history of Kathleen’s family troubled him. Actually, it was only the last five decades that troubled him. What had once been a growing an expanding bloodline had started shrinking. The death rate for the Keogh’s had risen and they had begun dying earlier and earlier in life. If this record was current then there were only seven survivors other than the girl sleeping soundly in the quarters next to his. “Andromeda, I need you to see if you can get the details on how members of the Keogh family died. Search through the last half century.”

“That will take some time, Commander. I will need to be able to access the Commonwealth’s primary central database.”

“Take all the time you need.” His eyes looked towards the flexi again. With a genetic code such as this Kathleen didn’t necessarily have to leave the Nietzcheans when she reached adulthood. Should she make her genetics public then the clans would be interested in keeping her. She could become wife and mother to a strong alpha; if that was the life she wanted for herself. Simon couldn’t have possibly been unaware of his daughter’s genetic makeup. It was possible that he and his wife had turned to a geneticist to help with a problem of infertility and Kathleen was the result, but something told him that was not what had happened.

He turned off the flexi again and stretched his neck. He had been afforded little time to truly rest since the attack on the station. Nietzcheans might be superior, but they still needed the same things as unmodified humans. Setting aside the mystery that was his new ward Gaheris turned instead to writing his formal report on the station attack. He made it as detailed as was needed, knowing he would have to include why he now had a minor aboard the Andromeda. He also completed a message to the High Guard Legal Offices to being the process of consolidating Kathleen’s trust. A copy of the report would be given to Captain Hunt and both originals would be sent to Command via courier ship. That task complete, he settled down to get some much-needed rest for himself.


Kathleen frowned as she looked about her new quarters, searching for a place to put the large metal box in her arms. She finally settled for the shelf at the top of the small wardrobe, standing on her toes to reach it. She was halfway up when the warning to brace for slipstream came over the ship’s system. “Just a little bit more.” She jumped, trying to push at the same time, but the ship took off before she was done. Her landing was less than graceful and she bit off a curse as the case opened, spilling its contents over her head.

“Are you all right?”

She sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing hurt but my pride.” She sat up, gingerly removing a glittering bracelet from her hair as she did so.

“Where did all this come from?”

“Some of it was my mother’s, most of it comes from Dad’s side of the family. The biggest part of it is heirlooms. Can you help me make sure I find all of it?”

“Scanning. On screen.” Kathleen looked up at the com screen built into the wall of her quarters and saw that Andromeda had given her a grid map with all the pieces marked. “Most of these are museum quality. It’s an impressive collection.”

“It’s been around a long time. I wanted to make sure to get them out of the Reaper before Sir sold her.”

“It’s highly doubtful that Commander Rhade would force you to part with anything that held significant importance to you.”

“He’s making me part with the Reaper.”

“Talk to him. If you let him know how you feel about the ship then he would likely reconsider selling her.”

“He’s not exactly easy to talk to.” She reached under the small desk and retrieved a ring. “He’s too serious. Dad used to laugh a lot, tell me jokes.” She studied the ring for a moment before deciding to slip it onto her finger. “He said that life was too short not to have humor, and that if we didn’t learn to laugh when we’re alive then we’d bore everyone silly after we’ve died.” She found the last two necklaces and put them gingerly into the case before shutting the lid.

“Commander Rhade is a Nietzchean. They view life differently from normal humans.” The holographic representation of the ship flickered into being next to her. “However, if you are uncomfortable speaking to him about it I can bring your concerns to his attention.”

Kathleen pondered this before shaking her head. “He’d think I’m weak. I don’t think that would be a good thing.”

“Very well. I have added a registry of all the pieces in your collection to my database in order to help secure it against possible theft.”

The girl seemed to take the sudden change in topic in stride. “Thank you, Andromeda.” She opted this time to put the case somewhere closer to the floor, locking it inside one of the drawers in her wardrobe. “What is Sir doing now?”

“He is performing an inspection of the enlisted and non-commissioned quarters. From his tone of voice he’s clearly not happy. I would recommend making sure your own quarters are neat at all times to avoid conflict.”

Kathleen nodded and sighed. “I’m bored.”

“Commander Rhade asked that I not proceed with building a lesson plan for you just yet. He is wanting to allow you a few days to acclimate to the change.”

“What does the crew do for fun?”

“Various games, some of which are not suitable for a thirteen-year-old. I have a library of over ten thousand books, both fiction and non-fiction. There are also the gymnasiums.” Kathleen lay back on her bed, arms spread wide. She stared at the ceiling, eyes not focusing on any one thing. The silence seemed to grow around her until the ship’s voice bit through it sharply. “Kathleen!”

She jerked herself back to the present. “Huh?”

“Your core body temperature dropped by almost three degrees. Are you feeling ill?”

“No, I’m fine.” She sat up again. “Where’s the gym?”

The hologram frowned. “I’m not sure that would be wise.”

“I’m fine. Better than all right. Do you have a balance beam?” She got up from the bed and started rummaging in the wardrobe for a change of clothes.

“There is one on deck twelve, which happens to be on the way to Medical.”

“Don’t need medical.” She stripped quickly and donned something a little more suitable for exercise. “Do I read as cold now?”


“Then I’m fine.” She smiled at the hologram and backed out of the room in search of deck twelve.


Gaheris gave a disdainful to a corporal as the sergeant assisting him with the inspection removed contraband reading materials from a hiding place in the back of the wardrobe. “Report to my office immediately after your next shift.”

“Yes, Sir.” The young man looked decidedly green at the corners of his mouth. No doubt fearing was what to come.

“Andromeda, give me this entire section.” He waited for the confirmation beep before speaking again. “The results of this inspection are disgraceful. You are soldiers in the Commonwealth High Guard, crewmen aboard the Andromeda Ascendant. Your position here means that you are to set a higher standard than those who would hope to consider themselves your peers. Downtime privileges are hereby revoked until you bring these quarters up to my standards. I assure you, they are high. Dismissed!”

He watched the soldiers scatter into their quarters to begin correcting the multitude of mistakes he had found. Most of them had been minor things, little details such as the way their socks were folded or dust on the bottom edge of the beds, things that hadn’t been bothered with since their training. Still, the best way to get them to start paying attention to details when working was to make them pay attention to details all about them. What little he had seen of Captain Dylan Hunt indicted that the man was the sort who preferred to be liked by everyone. That meant that it was up to Gaheris to be the one everybody feared. He was fine with that.

“Andromeda, find a shift where Corporal Jansen can spend the next standard week assisting with cleanup in the engine room. A time that does not conflict with his regular assigned duties.”


“Give me the location of Kathleen Keogh.”

“Kathleen is currently located in the gymnasium on deck twelve.”

Rhade frowned. He had assigned her the task of removing whatever personal items she wanted to keep with her into her quarters. “Did she finish unloading the Reaper?”

“She removed all appropriately sized clothing and many personal items that belonged to her parents, including an extensive collection of fine jewelry. I will have a manifest of the items ready for you in your quarters for your review.”

“Very well.”

“Commander, if I may suggest…”

Gaheris paused. “Yes?”

“Perhaps you should speak to Kathleen about her father’s ship.”

“For what reason?”

The AI paused before continuing. “I am not at liberty to say. I merely suggest that you discuss the topic with her.”

Rhade arched a brow but remained silent. Part of him wondered if a Nietzchean Matriarch had not programmed the ship’s AI. She certainly fit the behavior of one. “Acknowledged.”

The gymnasium wasn’t hard to find, and with the non-coms and enlisted busy bringing their quarters up to code, it was empty save for Kathleen. He stopped in the doorway to watch her for a moment. She was moving slowly across the balance beam, making the movements more a test of strength and balance rather than speed. The level on control needed for a slow back bend was considerable. She got that much perfect, but she was a bit awkward in bringing her legs up so that she was in a full handstand.

Gaheris walked forward, training and skill making no sound on the floor as he approached her. When he brought his hands up and gripped her waist he heard her gasp and felt her fight to maintain her balance. “Careful. Your form is crooked. Straighten out your legs.” She did as she was told. “Good.” There was strength in her, as well as balance. “Can you take away one hand?” Slowly, she shifted her weight to her left arm as she began to lift and extend the right to her other side. “Excellent.”

He released her waist and stepped back. “Finish it.” Her hand was brought back down and she completed the flip so that she was on her feet. Now she worked at what would be considered normal speed, completing the length of the beam with two more full flips and dismounting to land flawlessly. Rhade gave her the barest hint of a smile, nodding in approval. “I’m pleased you have some athletic training. I wanted to try and tailor your schedule so that you would be doing something you could enjoy. Gymnastics is an excellent choice.”

She shrugged. “It’s something to do.”

“Who was your instructor?”

She looked uncomfortable with that question. “Various people. I learned from whomever I could find. Dad always said to seek new knowledge and new skills from the teachers fate provided for us.”

Gaheris nodded. “Your father was a wise man.” He picked up the towel she had brought with her and handed it to her so that she could mop her brow. “Are there any other sports you enjoy?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t played any.”

“We shall have to remedy that. I will also see that some weight training is added to your schedule as well.”

She nodded as she draped the towel around her neck. “Books and weights and sports. Sounds like I’m going to be busy.” She chewed on her bottom lip, a light frown creasing her forehead. “Could… may I ask you something?” Gaheris nodded for her to continue. “Do you have to sell the Reaper? I mean… couldn’t we just put her in storage somewhere, or maybe let your family use her until I’m old enough you can transfer her to me?”

Rhade’s brow rose as he studied the girl before him. “The ship is that important to you?”

“Well… yeah. She was Dad’s. He bought her after he and Mom got married. I was born on that ship. My whole life has been aboard the Reaper. She’s like… family.”

He nodded, pondering this. “You should have said something sooner. I never intended to add to the current stresses in your life. There is no reason why she has to be sold if you would rather keep her; I only thought to add the profits from the sale to your trust. I don’t see why we cannot simply let my pride use her for a cargo transport until you’re of age.”

Kathleen seemed to relax, a bright smile lighting up her eyes. She looked as though she were about to hug him, but then thought better of it. “Thank you, Sir.”

“Is there anything else bothering you?”

She shook her head. “Dylan came by earlier. He asked me how I was settling in and what I liked to do for recreation. He plays Go. He said he’d give me a game after the last meal, if it’s all right with you.”

Rhade tilted his head to one side. “You’ll call the captain of the ship ‘Dylan’, and yet I’m still ‘Sir’?”

Her cheeks grew rosy and she began to worry then ends of the towel. “Well… yeah. You’re a ‘sir’. He’s… not.”

“He outranks me.”

“But you’re so serious all the time. He’s… bouncy. Like a big puppy.” Her flush grew darker as she closed her eyes in mortification of what she had just said. “I really shouldn’t have said it like that, should I?”

The captain reminded her of a big puppy. Gaheris kept his amusement on the inside even as he thought that she probably had the measure of Dylan Hunt pretty much to rights. “That is an observation that should remain between the two of us.” She nodded rapidly in complete agreement. “And I don’t mind if you play Go with Captain Hunt, although I would prefer to be present.” It had been far too long before he had enjoyed a game himself, and it would also allow him to examine her strategic skills. “Get cleaned up and meet me in the officers’ galley. I will expect you to compensate for the amount of energy you have expended here.”

Kathleen gave a sigh and turned to leave. As she exited the doorway he heard her mumble something along the lines of how fortunate it was the ship had the latest in auto-chefs.


“Careful. Six moves until I win.” Gaheris saw Kathleen hid her mouth behind her knee from where she was sitting on Dylan’s couch, watching them play. Dylan raised his brows in response to the boast, but said nothing. As the human considered his next move Rhade looked over at his ward to see laughter shining in her eyes. In truth the captain was talented at Go, but he did not have the drive to win that Gaheris was endowed with.

Since Rhade had arrived to the captain’s quarters first he had gotten the first game. One of the junior officers in the galley had accidentally spilled part of his meal on Kathleen, forcing her to retreat to her quarters to change clothes before she could join them. The first thing she had done upon sitting down was to remove her shoes. She apparently had an aversion to wearing anything other than socks on her feet. It was an odd quirk he had noticed in her.

True to his boast, Rhade did win in six moves. “An excellent game, Dylan.”

“Thank you, Gaheris, however I will have to strive to do better.” The captain turned his smile towards Kathleen. “You try. Maybe he’ll go easier on you.”

Rhade made no comment, but he did allow himself to smirk. Nietzcheans did not ‘go easy’ on an opponent, even if it was a child. To do so would be to teach weakness. He cleared the board, adding the pieces to their respective bowls as Kathleen took the chair abandoned by Dylan. She pulled her feet up into the chair with her, sitting there with a level of comfort only the very fit or very young could have pulled off. He allowed her to place the first piece.

After about thirty minutes of play he had to admit that he was impressed. “Who taught you to play?”

“My father, among others.” She blocked one of his strategies with a well-placed white stone. Rhade nodded in approval. He was still the one more likely to win this game.

“Then you will always have something of him with you.”

“My father is dead, Sir. That doesn’t mean that he is lost to me.”

“True. We live on through our genes. He is a part of you, always.”

Dylan smiled from the couch where he was now sitting. “Gaheris, that’s the Nietzchean way of looking at life after death. A lot of people have a different view, that our soul carries on after clinical death.”

“There is no ‘life after death’. When we die, all that is left of us is the memories possessed by others and the genes we pass on to our children.” He placed another piece and looked up to see Kathleen shaking her head.

“You’re wrong, Sir.”

Rhade saw Dylan smiling from out of the corner of his eye and arched an inquisitive brow at his ward. “And what do you believe happens after we die?”

Kathleen placed another piece. “I believe that death is cold and dark, but it is not empty. When a man dies he merely continues to do in death what he did in life, only there are no interruptions. He never has to break for sleep or food or drink. He can spend every moment of every day talking to friends and family that have gone on before him or who join him in death later on. He can continue to work on what he enjoyed doing when he was alive. Writers continue on to write their greatest masterpieces. Composers create symphonies so beautiful that it would drive a mortal man mad to hear them. Architects and ship designers create vessels that are traveling cities, capable of being home to a population of millions without ever having to travel planet side.”

Dylan leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees, studying the girl. “But who would every read their books, hear their music, travel in their ships? It seems empty.”

Kathleen smiled gently. “They share them with one another, or simply enjoy them for themselves. Death is merely… a holding pattern, waiting for the end of all things to come about. Waiting for when the Divine separates the good from the evil and carries them into the next life.”

Gaheris was disappointed by this last part. “You’re a Wayist.”

She shrugged. “Some may call me that.”

“Many people are Wayists, Gaheris. It’s a respected religion.”

“It is a weakness.” He purposefully made his voice sharp. Kathleen had to see the error of her ideology. “By promising people a paradise after death you inhibit their will to survive. This life, right now, is the only life.”

“You are wrong, Sir.”

He turned his eyes back to her, his expression firm. “There is no afterlife, Kathleen. The only part of your father that lives on is the part of him that is in you. If you wish to assure that he continues to live on your only option to do so is to reach adulthood, take a mate and bear children of your own.”

She lowered her eyes, looking down at the table in front of her. He knew his words had likely stung, but it was his duty to instruct and guide her until she was old enough to be on her own. Dylan’s disapproval of his methods was almost tangible, but just as the captain was about to speak his mind, Kathleen’s voice sounded again. “Your move, Sir.” Her form straightened, her legs unfolding so that her feet touched the floor. Her strange, lavender eyes raked over the board before she smiled and met his gaze. “Careful. Nineteen moves until I win.”

Dylan dropped whatever he was about to say to give an admiring look at the girl now showing a great deal of backbone. However, Rhade was fixated by her eyes. It was Kathleen’s face, Kathleen’s eyes, but he had the unsettling feeling that it was not Kathleen looking back out at him. His bone blades twitched and he felt the insane urge to bury them in the neck of the slender female sitting across from him. He reined in the sudden, irrational thought of violence, shaken that he, a Nietzchean, could ever consider harming a child in his care. The game had suddenly taken on a more volatile tone. She was suddenly playing with more skill and knowledge that he had previously seen in her. True to her word, she had defeated him in nineteen moves, leaving him to stare at the board in disbelief.

Dylan rose up from the couch and clapped a hand on her shoulder. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Good game, Kathy.”

Rhade looked up at her, just in time to see her blink and give her head a little jerk. She acted as though she were trying to clear her thoughts of something. Suddenly it was Kathleen looking out of her own eyes again, but her expression towards him was one of disappointment. He only saw it for a moment before she looked up to give the captain a smile. “Thank you, Dylan. You’ll have to play Sir again, though. It’s getting late.”

Dylan petted her dark hair as she stood up and gave her a one-armed hug, much like an older brother might to his sibling, or an uncle might give a favorite niece. “Sleep tight.”

“Good night.” She paused as she came by Rhade’s chair and bent down to place a kiss at his temple. The touch of her lips was far too cold. “Good night, Sir.”

As life on the Andromeda Ascendant settled down into a normal routine, there were two fundamental truths: Everyone strove to do their best for Captain Hunt because they desired his approval and everyone strove to do their best for Commander Rhade because they didn’t want to give him a reason to be angry. The only person who didn’t seem to be driven by either desire was one teenage girl who was too busy trying to keep up with the insane schedule her guardian had set for her.

Gaheris received a report of her activities every evening. The academics didn’t seem to be a problem. She excelled in every subject set to her. The ship’s AI had created a lesson plan that covered the primary requirements set forth by the Commonwealth for a citizen her age. He had added studies in Nietzchean culture and customs to prepare her for integration into his family and Dylan had suggested a second ‘elective’ to ‘round out’ her education. When given a choice in what additional subject she would study Kathleen had chosen art.

When she wasn’t studying she was training. Every other day she was required to practice her gymnastics for three hours. The alternate days were spent in weight training. Her performance levels in both were satisfactory. The physical exertion had made it a bit more difficult to bring her weight up to a more acceptable level, but since he had also dictated her meals it had been accomplished. He saw very little of her outside of the times he oversaw her physical training personally.

He was enjoying a game of Go with Captain Hunt when Dylan broached the subject of his ward. “So how’s Kathy doing?”

“She is progressing well. The ship’s AI reports that she is advanced academically beyond someone of her age group and her physical skills are more than adequate. Why do you ask?”

“I just haven’t seen much of her. She hasn’t been here since that night she beat you at Go, and I really wanted to know how she did that. You’ve been keeping her so busy I’m surprised I haven’t heard of her dropping from exhaustion.”

Gaheris blocked another of Dylan’s moves. “You disapprove of my methods in raising her?”

“I’m just saying that she’s a thirteen-year-old girl and you’re treating her like an Academy cadet. What about having some time down time, play time?”

Rhade arched a brow in his captain’s direction. “You find such things important?”

“Of course they’re important. What would a Nietzchean girl her age be doing?”

Gaheris watched as Dylan placed a white Go piece. It was a good, solid move. “A Nietzchean girl of Kathleen’s age would be spending time with her mother, her aunts and the Matriarch learning ‘proper’ behavior. She would be educated on what she should look for in a male as signs of superior genetics so that she would be better prepared to choose a mate once she was of age.”

This revelation seemed to take Dylan by surprise, but the human shook it off. “Okay, but let’s remember that Kathy isn’t a Nietzchean. She’s a human teenager, and as such, needs time for recreation. She’s bound to have interests outside of studies and gymnastics. Have you even bothered to look at any of her artwork? She selected that subject on her own, so she’s likely to have an interest in it.”

Gaheris pondered this. He had agreed to her study of art because it would encourage creative thinking, something that was good for survival. It had not occurred to him that he should ask to see what it was she was creating. “Have you?”

“No, I haven’t. I never see her. You’ve got her jumping through hoops late into the night.”

“And what would a thirteen-year-old human child do for recreation?”

Dylan shrugged. “Normally they would spend time with people her own age, but that isn’t an option in this case. Still, there are several crew members that are little more than children at heart.”

“Who are all legal adults and who are mostly male.” The idea did not appeal to him in the least. Kathleen was young, but she was still blossoming into womanhood and not unattractive.

“True. But we are arriving at Hiksarin in three days and will be in orbit for at least a week. Maybe you should take a couple of days of shore leave and escort her to the planet. Let her walk around and see the sights. Give her a couple of days’ break.”

Hiksarin was an old and established member of the Commonwealth. There were several sites of historical interests and a thriving Nietzchean population there. It might be beneficial for Kathleen to be exposed to a typical pride before he took her to his own. “The idea has merit.” He blocked another of Dylan’s moves and tilted his head to study the human. “You should consider progressing your relationship with Admiral Stark’s niece, Dylan. You would make an excellent father.”

Hunt blinked, then smiled. “Thank you, Gaheris. I’ll take that as a compliment.”


She was seated with a group of girls her own age, the pride matriarch close by to supervise their behavior as they watched the sparring matches. Ranging from thirteen to fifteen, the girls were all a bit silly and giggling as was natural for their age. All but Kathleen, who answered questions and responding to comments directed towards her, but did not appear to show the same level of enthusiasm as her peers.

“She seems a quiet and withdrawn child. How long has it been since her father’s death?”

Gaheris turned his head to Hector’s first wife. “It has been barely five months. He had been her sole guardian for nine years, since the death of his wife.”

“Then give her time, Rhade. The loss of her father, a stranger being given guardianship of her, she is handling it far better than what could be.”

He smiled. “I have found that Kathleen is remarkably adept at adjusting to new situations.” He watched cringe as one of the males landed a particularly brutal blow and then lean over to the girl on her right to ask a question. “She has a strong survival instinct.” Almost as strong as ours.

Hector, the Alpha of Ursa Pride, leaned over to him. “And what news is there within the High Guard, Rhade? Word spreads among the prides of disgruntlement with the way the Commonwealth run the known galaxies.”

“Such words can be dangerous, Hector.” Gaheris kept his features carefully blank. Yes, he had heard the talk, the arguments. Every time he returned to his family more and more of the males were angry at the way the Commonwealth tended towards compromise and more and more spoke of rebellion. Gaheris wasn’t sure that rebellion was the best course of action. The Commonwealth was strong in spite of the weakness of its leaders, kept strong by men like Dylan Hunt who were an odd mixture of stout warrior and optimist. “Tread lightly when you speak them.”

“Always, Gaheris. It’s just that the prides will talk. Ultimately, we must look to the survival of our people.”

Rhade nodded, agreeing with the concept if not the anticipated means. He knew that already the prides were working on their fleet, building ships and gathering their forces. He said nothing out of loyalty to his people. “That we must.” He looked back to Kathleen. The other girls were talking and giggling all about her, but she seemed not to notice. Her eyes were on the ring, but he could tell she was not seeing the combatants within. She had the introspective look he had seen her wear several times in the past, as though carrying on some secret conversation within her mind. She stayed that way a long while before she blinked, then shook her head slightly as though to clear it. She again focused on the combatants, her expression now one of apparently complete understanding, all confusion erased.

They remained until it was time for the oldest of the adolescents to take to their beds. Rhade thanked Hector for his hospitality to himself and his ward before collecting Kathleen and walking her back to the shuttle they had borrowed for the trip. “What did you think?”

“They’re so… loud.”

“Loud?” It seemed a rather naïve summary.

“There are just so many of them. So many wives, so many children. How do you keep them all separate in your mind? When do you have time for silence?”

Gaheris considered this view. It occurred to him that Kathleen had grown up on a small freighter with only herself and her parents, and as such was not used to such large crowds of people. “My own clan and pride are just as large. My children are still young. There will be a great deal of noise.” He heard her make a non-committal sound. “It is the way we ensure our survival.” He was about to go into further detail, but Kathleen began talking.

“The females choose the males based on apparent genetic superiority. The males strive to improve themselves and to prove themselves so that a female may choose them. A male can have as many wives as choose to be his wife and is encouraged to father as many children as possible in order to ensure he will survive.” Her tone was like that of someone reciting a bit of script committed to memory.

“Very good. Your studies on Nietzchean culture are going well.”

“But why go through all that trouble to beat each other up? Why not just make the kids perfect in the womb and save yourselves the trouble?”

He cast a sideways look at her as he buckled himself into the pilot’s chair. “That is difficult work to accomplish, and often fruitless. You would lose more children than would be born. It is also expensive and requires extensive labs and medical facilities. Nietzcheans are genetically programmed for survival and we ensure that survival through having large families.”

“Oh.” She looked out the front portal of the shuttle. “I didn’t realize it was that hard to scrub someone’s genes.”

Gaheris gave her a questioning look. “Perhaps we should have your studies retuned to cover the sciences at greater depth.”

“Hmm? Oh, if you think so.”

Rhade pondered her words carefully. She said them with what seemed to be confusion, as though it didn’t agree with what she knew. “Is that what your parents did to you, Kathleen?”

She became very still, as if aware that she may have said too much. “Sir?”

“I have seen the map of your genetic code. It’s quite impressive. Who engineered you?”

She didn’t say anything for a long moment. Gaheris was beginning to wonder if he would have to take a firmer approach when he heard her draw in a breath. “People we know, old friends of the family.”

“Why would your parents take such a risk? Trouble conceiving? A potentially detrimental defect in your family DNA?”

Kathleen shrugged. “It’s the way it’s always done. It’s the same for every Keogh.” She sat back in her chair, pulling her knees up to her chest. “I don’t think I’m supposed to be talking about this, Sir.”

Rhade frowned, but did not press. He had four more months before his next confirmed leave and would have ample opportunities to drill her for the information before turning her over to the care of his wives. He signaled their approach to the Andromeda and directed their shuttle to the hangar designated to them. He frowned when he realized that Dylan had come out to meet them.

Kathleen gave Dylan a brief hello before hurrying off to her quarters. Rhade suspected she did not want to be in a position where she would have to answer any more of his questions. He nodded to Dylan. “Is there a problem?”

“I think so. We’ve been given an emergency diplomatic assignment.” They left the hangar, walking down the corridor together. “What do you know of Sentas?”

Gaheris growled in his throat. “A planet that was once home to over seven billion people. Three continents, each with it’s own government. They’ve been at war with one another for over a century and have decimated their population to less than one quarter of what it once was.”

“Yeah, that’s where we’re going. The Commonwealth wants us to try and persuade them to dismantle their more destructive weapons before they kill themselves.”

Save the world, or at least a world. “When do we leave?”

“Now that you’re here, right away. There are few slipstream points between here and there, so it’s going to take us about three days just to make it to the planet.” Rhade nodded but made no comment. “Now that the bad news is out of the way, how was your trip?”

“It was quite enjoyable, thank you. I introduced Kathleen to the local pride and she was warmly received.”

“Glad to hear it. Do you think you’ll let her come out and play any time soon?”

“It might be arranged.”

It was arranged the very next shift. Kathleen and Gaheris joined Dylan in his quarters for Go. Dylan had already lost to Rhade and Kathleen was now playing the victor. Rhade was interested in how she had defeated him the last time as well. So far, he saw little that lead to a blatant strategy. Dylan was watching her with a smile. “Kathy, when do we get to see some of your art projects?”

She paused, her hand hovering with the Go piece still in it. After a second, she collected herself. “I suppose that you can whenever you wish, Captain. Andromeda should be able to access the files.”

“Yes, she could, but I’ll wait until you feel comfortable enough to show me.” Dylan sat down on the sofa, observing the game. “How many moves until you win?” Gaheris knew that Dylan wasn’t talking to him. He waited for a boast from his ward, but none was forthcoming. It wasn’t until he heard Dylan say, “Kathleen?” that he looked up.

Her face had gone chalk white, her eyes out of focus. There was a look of complete and utter horror etched onto her face as she sat there, her body shaking. Her breathing was ragged. “Andromeda, give me a reading on Kathleen!”

The ship’s hologram flickered into life next to the table as Rhade got out of his chair and knelt down by Kathleen, one hand reaching up to her cheek. She was ice cold to the touch. “Heart rate is 127 beats per minute and climbing. Blood pressure is 167 over 98 and climbing. Core body temperature is 96.2 degrees and falling.” The body went into hypothermia at 95 degrees. Gaheris gripped Kathy by her shoulders and shook her.

“Kathleen! Answer me!”

The girl gave a loud, heart-wrenching sob and relaxed into his grip. “Sir! Oh, Sir!” She was starting to cry in long, ragged breaths. Gaheris shook her again to make her focus on him.

“Kathleen! What has happened?”

She sniffed, her eyes streaming. “We’re too late.”

An icy chill settled in the pit of Gaheris’ stomach. Another little piece of the puzzle clicked into place, but he only knew one thing for certain: Sentas was now a dead world.


Kathleen’s core body temperature had continued to drop. Gaheris had carried her at a run to Medical, Dylan right behind him. By all rights she should have been dead, but her other vitals were still strong. Her heartbeat had slowed to 75 beats per minute, but her blood pressure was still high and she had begun to clutch her head in pain. Nanobots and sedatives were administered, but they didn’t seem to help very much. As Rhade looked down at the now unconscious child he saw that her forehead was still creased, as though she still felt the discomfort.

“What’s happening to her?”

“I don’t know.” The physician was frowning, looking at the readouts. “I’m not even sure how she’s still alive. Her core temperature has dropped to below 83 degrees. But look at these readings.” He motioned for Gaheris to come to his side of the monitor. “I’ve got her under sedation and she should be sleeping, but her brain activity is higher than anything I’ve ever seen. All those synaptic pathways that I told you she should be able to use are firing. It’s like watching the ship’s AI processing a complex equation.”

Dylan came to stand behind Rhade’s shoulder. “What is she processing, though?”

“No way of knowing, not without waking her up and I doubt she’d be able to tell much if she did. Nothing I’ve tried seems to be making any change in her pain levels. She’s unconscious, but she’s still in agony.”

Gaheris looked back to where Kathleen lay on the table. He felt… powerless. The sound of the ship’s AI calling for the captain pulled him out of his thoughts. “We have reached Sentas, Captain.”

“What do we have?”

“The planet is dead, Captain. The last volley of weapons managed to burn off the atmosphere. Nothing has survived.”

Rhade looked up, stunned. There had still been nearly two billion people on Sentas and all the same race. That anyone would be so blind that they would destroy themselves to destroy an enemy, seek total annihilation, was more than he could fathom. It was in direct violation with the most basic instinct for survival.

Dylan looked ill. His gaze shifted from Rhade to the unconscious girl. His expression became thoughtful. “Acknowledged. Gaheris, come with me.” They stepped out into the corridor and waited for the door to close behind them. “Rhade, how did she know about Sentas?”

“I do not know the answer to that.” He had his suspicions, but he did not have the answer.

“I think it may be important that we find the answer. If for no other reason than it may help her right now.” He sighed and shook his head. “I’ll oversee the report on Sentas. You take care of Kathleen. She’s more important.”

Gaheris nodded and watched the captain depart. He gave a look at the closed door to Medical before returning to his own quarters. Unlocking the drawer of his desk he pulled out the flexi containing the DNA map and turned it on. His eyes were drawn to that one abnormality, the little flaw in the code that kept her from being absolutely perfect. “What are you doing to her?”

His jaw set tight and he breathed out. He frowned when he noticed that his breath was visible in the air of the room. His Nietzchean genetics had automatically compensated for the drop in temperature without his even knowing.

“You can glare at it until your bones turn to dust and you will be no closer to understanding.”

Gaheris whirled around, bone blades flexed and ready for battle. When he saw who was now in his quarters with him he dropped the flexi in shock. He opened his mouth to speak, but was stopped when the invader spoke again.

“The ship can neither see nor hear me.”

Rhade swallowed. “Andromeda, initiate privacy mode.” He heard the confirming beep and took a deep breath before addressing the insubstantial figure hovering four feet in front of him. “Simon Keogh.”

Simon gave a sad smile. He was transparent, hardly more than vapor. “It is good to see you again, Gaheris Rhade. But wouldn’t it be better if you were in Medical right now?”

“And do what? We don’t know what’s happening to her.” He reached down and snatched up the flexi. “It has something to do with this, doesn’t it? What is happening to your daughter?”

“Sentas is happening to her. Or rather the people of Sentas. Nearly two billion souls, all robbed of life in less than two hours. Does it have something to do with that little bit of DNA? Unfortunately, it has everything to do with it.” Simon’s legs moved, but since he wasn’t touching the floor it was probably not needed for him to move closer. “An abnormality, a mutation that appeared in the Keogh bloodline millennia ago.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Not usually, no. However, it isn’t often that a Keogh is this close to such a large number of newly dead, and for that Keogh to be so young…”

Gaheris scowled. “How could you even think that I’d be prepared for something like this? How can I possibly protect her?!” He wanted to hit the apparition in front of him but knew it would do no good. “This is killing her.”

“Not likely, not as long as your medical staff continue to provide her nourishment. If she were on her own, however, it is possible that she would die of thirst, unable to pull out long enough to see to her own needs. But she’s not going to recover any time soon as long as they keep her asleep. She needs to be reminded that she’s one of the living, but she can only do that if there is someone living to remind her. I can’t do it. All I can do is try to pull the people of Sentas away from her mind, which won’t be easy. I am as dead as they are. I don’t have what they desire.”

Rhade frowned, his mind whirling. “Cold and dark. Kathleen said that death is cold and dark. They want her warmth. That’s why her core temperature has dropped, they’re leaching it out of her.”

“I’m impressed. I would have thought a Nietzchean would have more trouble wrapping his mind around the concept of life after death.”

“Having the proof of it hovering in front of you tends to make one think.” Something that was unpleasantly like fear was trying to grip his heart. “What do I do?”

“Wake her up. Make her focus on you. Keep her talking and force her to give you the answers herself. I didn’t do that enough with her in my own life, she’s grown too used to seeking better answers from dead minds. Make her think for herself. If you keep her thoughts her own, she’ll be able to pull free.”

“And then what?”

“Get her to your family, Gaheris. Kathleen has been isolated most of her life. Surrounding her with children and people that are warm and alive will remind her that life is worth living. If she continues on as she is now she is in danger of losing herself to the Great Majority, the teeming numbers of all the minds that have lived and died. There are too few Keogh’s left in the universe for that to be allowed to happen, and although you may not realize it now, you will need our kind in the future.”

Gaheris was about to ask more, but the apparition faded away. The room quickly heated back up, assuring him that he was alone. He nodded to himself and left his quarters to return to medical. Dr. Marks looked up from his flexi when the doors opened.

“Commander, I’m sorry but there’s nothing new to report.”

“Wake her up.” He came to a stop by the medical bed, looking down at Kathleen. She was pale but her lips maintained their color in spite of her low body temperature. Blood flow, it seemed, had not been compromised.

“I’m afraid that I can’t do that. Her pain levels are still too high. If we wake her up in the middle of that we’re likely to get nothing but screams out of her.” Gaheris scowled at the medic and turned his attention to a tray of medical instruments. He claimed a vial of the counter agent to the sedatives she had been given and secured it inside the jacket of his uniform before turning back around and lifting Kathleen into his arms. “Commander! You can’t take her out of here! We need to be able to monitor her!”

“Get out of my way.”

“I will not! The well being of every person on this ship is my responsibility. If you take her out of here you will kill her.”

“You have nothing that you can do for her, and you said yourself that she is unharmed except for the pain and the cold. Kathleen is my responsibility. I will see to what’s best for her. Move aside!”

“Captain Hunt will hear of this.”

“Captain Hunt trusts me to take care of my ward. Now move aside or I will make you move.” He adjusted his grip on Kathleen slightly in case he had to switch her weight to one arm in order to free himself to strike the human. Marks, however, reluctantly submitted to the order, scowling at the first officer as he cleared the way. Gaheris carried Kathleen through the corridors to his own room, ordering privacy mode to be engaged as he deposited her onto the wide bed. With deliberate movements he pulled the covers up and around her, bundling her tightly before pulling out the counter agent and injecting it into her neck.

It took a few moments for her to wake up. She didn’t open her eyes but rather squeezed them more tightly shut as a pain-filled whimper escaped her throat. She tried to curl away from him, but he held her firmly. “Kathleen, look at me.” Her eyes opened slightly. The whites were blood shot, but the lavender color was still clear. “Who am I?”

She swallowed. When she did speak, her voice was weak, barely more than a whisper. “G..Gaheris Rhade. Sir.” Her eyes started to close again, but he tapped her cheek lightly.

“Can you tell me where you are?” She looked about the room, blinking her eyes in confusion. He saw her gaze start to loose focus and tapped her cheek again. “Tell me yourself. Do not ask them.”

She hesitated, something akin to fear crossing her face. Her eyes moved around room again before coming back to meet his gaze. “Your quarters. On the Andromeda. She’s a High Guard ship, a warship.”

Rhade allowed himself to smile slightly. “Very good.”

“It hurts.”

“I know, but you have to stay with me. If you are to survive, you must remain focused on me, on this life.”

“But there are so many of them. It’s like they’re screaming all at once, pressing in from everywhere.”

He framed her face in his hands, forcing her to keep her gaze locked with his own. “They are only echoes. They’re lives are over and done. You are not one of them.”

She took a shuddering breath. Her skin was warming, a good sign, but she was still far too cold. “They’re angry and they’re sad. There’s a child, an infant. He’d only been born an hour before. He still doesn’t understand what happened. There was a wedding on the southern continent. The ceremony was almost finished when the fires started. It was all so fast, so sudden. The leaders don’t even rememb…” her eyes started to loose focus again. “Daddy?”

“No! He is not there for you, he is there for them.” He gave her head a little shake, making her refocus on him. “I am here for you. You must stay with me.” She looked torn, but remained focused. He had to keep her talking. “What is the difference between Nietzcheans and unmodified humans? Tell me in your own words, not theirs.”

“Nietzcheans don’t laugh as much.” That wasn’t exactly what he had expected, but the person looking up at him through Kathleen’s eyes was definitely Kathleen. “And you’ve been scrubbed. All the bad genes were taken out and the good genes tweaked. You’re faster, stronger and can survive in harsher climates. And you have those funny bone thingies sticking out of your arms. Unmodified humans are just plain, ordinary folks.” She frowned. “Then what am I? I don’t know anymore.”

“Who do you think you are?”

She blinked, confusion marring her expression. He watched for signs that she was trying to ‘turn inward’ again, but this time she appeared focused. “No one… and everyone. Everyone who was.”

“No one can be everyone, Kathleen.”

“I can.” She winced, her whole body jerking. Gaheris held her firmly so that she couldn’t shrink back into herself again.


She sniffed. “Sorry. There was screaming. They’re not as bad as before. They’re getting quieter.”

“Tell me how you were made. Who engineered you?” She frowned and tried to pull away from him. His grip on her and the tightness of the blankets wrapped about her held her firm. “I must know, Kathleen. Your father entrusted you to my care. You have to trust me as well.”

“There are those who say you should never trust a Nietzchean. There are many who are angry with Daddy for giving me to you.” Her voice was somber and low, her brow furrowed. “They say I shouldn’t tell you anything and that I’ve told you too much all ready.”

“When did they tell you this?”

She gave a bitter smile. “All the time. When I’m sleeping. When I’m studying. They’re always there, like static in the back of my mind. They’re not as loud as Sentas, but they’re never quiet.”

The far away looks that she got from time to time, that expression as though she were having a silent argument. Gaheris forced himself to ignore the chill that tried to crawl down his spine. If he had not seen Simon Keogh hovering before him as a specter, he would have thought Kathleen had gone mad. Now he wondered how it could be that she had retained her sanity. “Your father told me what needed to be done for you, Kathleen. He trusts me and continues to trust me. I am your guardian now, responsible for your well-being. I cannot fulfill that task if I do not know all that may interfere. Who created you?”

She studied him in silence for a long moment before she took a deep breath. “Museveni.”

Rhade could not hide his surprise. “Drago Museveni?”

Kathleen shook her head. “Dr. Museveni, the geneticist that created him. After he joined the Great Majority he learned of us, of the Keoghs. We weren’t always like this, like me. The code used to be hit or miss. Sometimes it bred true; sometimes it was dormant for a generation or more before showing up again. Our family had already started to leave Earth, to branch out into the stars. There were so many new minds, so many new sentient species to speak with. Sometimes it was too much for us. Museveni and other scientists of like mind argued that we were too important to leave genetics to chance. They, like all the others, wanted to continue to do in death what they did in life.”

“And your family let them.”

“Several Keoghs who had moved on to join the Great Majority agreed it was for the best and gave the geneticists open access to their descendants. Now they reach into the womb when we are conceived, take out any potentially dangerous traits. The code isn’t so iffy any longer, it always breeds true, and it doesn’t matter who the other parent is because they can fix whatever might be wrong.”

“Why are the Keogh’s so important?”

“Because no one else can do what we do. Dad used to say that to be a Keogh is to bear an unimaginable burden. He described the Great Majority like a library with infinite knowledge and wisdom. That knowledge is there for us to access if we wish to do so. However, he used to say that knowledge is power and power corrupts. That to be a Keogh is to forever be walking a very fine line, and crossing that line would be unpardonable.”

“Then you are Nietzchean. All of you are.”

“You won’t find many who would agree with that. I hate to tell you this, Sir, but you’re people aren’t the most popular bunch. Museveni wants a seat on The Council, but so far he has been denied because too many think his creation of the Nietzchean people is an unforgivable sin. It doesn’t matter that he’s the one who has ensured there will always be people like me.”

“Many fear the strong and the powerful. They fear the Nietzcheans because they know they are inferior.”

“Or because your heads are so large.” She winced at her own comment. “Sorry, that was uncalled for.”

Rhade arched a brow at her. “I’ll ignore it and consider it a sign that you are feeling more like yourself.” He folded his arms over his chest. “Is there nothing that is kept from you?” She shrugged.

“Sometimes. From me, anyway. There are times that I ask questions and get a typical grown-up response.”

“A grown-up response?”

“Yeah, you know; ‘You’re too young to understand’ or ‘We’ll explain when you’re older’. That type of thing.”

“And what type of question gets that type of response?”

She chewed her bottom lip, suddenly looking nervous. “When… I asked them about the Magog.”

“What about the Magog?”

She shrugged. “There’s a connection, between the Keogh and the Magog. I’ve heard whispers of it in the edges of the static in my head. When I try to ask about it, they refuse to answer. They say I’m not ready to know.” She frowned. “Sir, are you going to tell Dylan? About me, I mean.”

“Do you think that I should?” She was squirming in the blankets and he noted that she was starting to feel too warm. He sat up to help her get free and helped her to scoot back until she was resting against the headboard, a pillow behind her back. She met his gaze straight on, her expression one of worry.

“In a way, I suppose you should. But, in the past that has never been a good thing for us. People fear the Nietzcheans because they are genetically superior and can persevere where normal humans cannot. History has shown the Keoghs that people are terrified of us, and it almost always ends in someone trying to destroy us.”

“A family that can pluck any secret from the minds of the dead. You could identify a murderer by talking to his victim. Stop political corruption no matter how well hidden through secret bloodshed. If you were devious enough you could even kill and then take what you needed. It is understandable that such an entity would be feared. Then there is the apparently limitless army that is at your disposal.”


Gaheris gave her an inquiring look. “Do you intend to tell me that you and your father had nothing to do with the reanimated bodies that attacked the Magog on Anteres Station? I thought you were beginning to trust me.”

She shook her head. “We didn’t do that, Sir. The dead do not need a Keogh to make them capable of moving their own bodies. They just don’t do so normally because once you’re dead you really don’t notice the living. Dad and me… we were just a focus.”

“A focus?”

“Yes, Sir. Death is cold and dark; a Keogh is warmth and life. Our being there on the station, we were like beacons, illuminating the darkness. Because we were there, the fallen could see what was happening to the living. After that, they got up on their own.” She gave a slight shrug. “Any corpse can walk, it just needs a reason.”



“It would seem the most likely answer. She was aware of Sentas either at the moment of the attack or shortly after, not before. That would indicate a real-time perspective.”

Dylan nodded, looking slightly disappointed. “I have to admit that I would have preferred it if she was experiencing precognition instead. Then, at least, she might be getting a little forewarning of events.”

“Either way, the ability appears to be erratic and unreliable in timing. She does not appear to be able to call it forth at will. Like the majority of those few with such abilities, Kathleen does not appear to be very well developed in it. Her sudden illness seems to have been a reaction to the ‘vision’, a sort of system shock.”

The captain nodded again. “Understandable, given the nature of what she saw.” Dylan gave Rhade a sympathetic smile. “I can’t help but feel sorry for her. First she has to witness the Magog attack on Anteres Station, losing her father, and now she has to deal with the trauma of witnessing the destruction of all life on Sentas. I don’t know how she’s holding herself together.”

Gaheris inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement. “Youth is resilient and Kathleen has a strong instinct for survival. She feels sorrow, of course, but she also understands that she cannot lose herself in that sorrow.” And now that he knew what he was dealing with, he’d make certain that she concentrated on living so that she never lost herself again.

“Thank you, Gaheris.” Dylan sighed and leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “I’ve finished my report to Command. I thought you should know that I’ve chosen to leave Kathleen out of it. I thought that the last thing that girl needs right now is to be hauled into some lab so that they can try and figure out how she saw that.”

Rhade paused, surprised by this gesture from the human captain. He would not have thought Dylan Hunt to be the kind to push the edges of falsifying official reports. He inclined his head slightly. “Thank you, Dylan. I will admit that I did have concerns as to what may happen.” The human waved it off with a hand.

“She’s been through enough, and I doubt you realized what you were getting into when her father asked you to take her. I’ll help you keep her under the High Guard scanners until you can take her home.”

Rhade nodded in thanks. He had been concerned about that as well, wondering how he would keep the High Guard from trying to take her from him. In truth, with the rapid way in which her father turned over guardianship, his claim would have difficulty standing up against legal pressure. They could take her, and then she would be without anyone to understand the fine line she walked. “If you will excuse me, it is time for Kathleen to practice her gymnastics. I would prefer to be there, given her recent illness.”

“Of course. I didn’t mean to keep you so long.”

Rhade left the captain’s quarters and made his way to the small exercise room that was designated for Kathleen’s sole use at this time every day. She was already there, warming up with the complicated stretching routine he had developed for her. “Andromeda, privacy mode.”

Kathleen waited for the confirming beep before speaking. “How did it go?”

“We have an unexpected ally. Captain Hunt is purposefully leaving you out of his report to command without any prompting from me.”

“I told you Dylan wouldn’t willingly put me in any danger. He’s a good man.”

“And you base this on…”

Kathleen gave a shrug, looking a bit sheepish. “I asked around. Talked to some people who served with him in the past.”

Gaheris nodded. “A useful ability, although I believe that it would be best if you moderate how much you rely on them. I do not want another episode like with Sentas.” He tilted his head to one side, studying her form as she twisted herself into a rather complex position. “You mentioned that Museveni had been trying to get a position on The Council. Who are they?”

She turned her head towards him. “The Council? They are a collection of some of the greatest leaders, philosophers and thinkers throughout history. The intellectual elite, so to speak. Great generals, kings and scholars. They were formed after the Keoghs began to leave Earth and discovered that the dead from other sentient races would also speak with us. It was argued that our interests would lie mainly with the human dead, so the council was formed to be a sort of… compromise.”

“To ensure what, exactly?”

“That the concerns of all the Great Majority were heard.” She completed her stretching routine and stood up straight.

“And what concerns the dead? You said that they were unaware of the living.”

“But that doesn’t stop them from thinking about them. You said it yourself; we can pluck any secret from the minds of the dead. Most of them tell us willingly. Think of a man who is killed while trying to get word of an impending invasion back to his people so that they can prepare themselves. The enemy believes that he is now silent, unable to give warning, but to a Keogh he is not silent. One of us can carry his word back to his people, deliver the warning and thus help them prepare for the attack. And it isn’t always completely without reward for us. There have been several instances where we were able to complete the work of someone who had died before he was done.”

“Such as?”

“Does the name Dr. Emanuel Knight ring a bell?”

“The researcher who delivered the cure for Ulgarian Leprosy, he based his work off of that of Dr. Hyram Gold.”

Kathleen grinned. “Dr. Emanuel Knight was the son of Elizabeth Knight, who was the daughter of Gabriel Summers who was the son of Moira Summers, born as Moira Keogh.”

Rhade couldn’t help but smile. “It wasn’t his work. It was Hyram Gold’s.”

“Who lamented in death that he had not completed his work and found a cure for a disease that threatened to wipe out the population of nineteen star systems.”

“Emanuel Knight was made a wealthy man because of that discovery. And a famous one.” He nodded in admiration. “Brilliant.”

“We have our moments.” Kathleen hoisted herself onto the balance beam. “In actuality, it goes against the Nietzchean way for me to limit my conversations with the Great Majority.”

“How so?”

“Because it is the Nietzchean way to always win, thus proving yourself superior. By using my ability to gather information from the Great Majority, I can thus gain the upper hand in most situations I may find myself and come out the victor. Therefore, it would be very un-Nietzchean for me not to use the skills that my own genetics have given me.”

Gaheris folded his arms across his chest, leveling a firm look at his now grinning ward. “Back flips.”

“You’re just sore because I’m right.” Nevertheless, she did begin her routine.

“Commander. I have completed the information you requested. Bringing it up on your screen now.” Gaheris frowned, not remembering what he had requested until the information scrolled before him. “It took some time to locate most of the records.”

“Thank you, Andromeda. That will be all.” There was a beep to signal that the ship’s AI had terminated the conversation, leaving Rhade to scan the information. He ran over the multitude of obituaries. Less than one quarter of the Keoghs, both those with the family name and those descended from daughters whose names had changed when they married, had died of old age. A few had died due to illness, but only a very small number of them. Most had died either under suspicious circumstances; while in military service to whatever world they held allegiance to or in attacks, mostly by the Magog.

The other seven members of Kathleen’s family that were still alive had been identified and most of them located. A profile on each one had been included in the information. Two of them were wanted for various crimes, including murder. Given what he now knew of the family’s unusual abilities, Rhade would not have been surprised to learn that there had been justifiable reasons behind their actions. Three were missing, presumed dead. Somehow he thought that if they had been Simon or Kathleen would have updated the family registry. One was an old man, very old, living out his life as a professor on Tarn Vedra of all places. The final one, Daniel Summers, was currently a lancer aboard the Starry Wisdom. He was young, just turned twenty-three, and unwed. Certainly not a fit guardian for a teenage girl.

“Andromeda.” There was a beep to signal that the ship was listening. “Send a courier to Command and request the service record of Daniel Summers.”

“Acknowledged.” The AI ended the transmission, leaving him with his thoughts. He was curious as to what kind of lancer a Keogh made. His eyes were still scanning the reports of the various Keogh deaths when the ship interrupted him again. “Commander. A courier has just arrived with a private message for you from Boromir Rhade.”

Gaheris looked up in surprise. “Have it transmitted to my quarters and engage privacy mode.” What did his brother want? He knew that Boromir was one of those who supported rebellion against the Commonwealth. Their conversations of late had not been comfortable.

The holographic image of Boromir flickered to life before him. “Greetings Gaheris. It has been too long since you were among your family. Your children grow strong within our protection. You should be proud.” The form of his brother shifted a bit. “I have sent this message ahead to warn you that our mother is on her way out to your ship, along with the Katherine, daughter of Achilles. She wishes to make an offer of marriage to you.” Boromir was obviously trying to hold back his smile. “It seems she is blinded by handsome uniforms to the point she cannot tell an inferior male when she sees one.” Gaheris shook his head. Boromir was always lording his larger size and seven year age difference over him. It was an old and beloved sibling rivalry. “Good luck, Brother, if you believe in such things.”

The hologram flickered out. He understood why Boromir would have sent warning. Their mother was the current matriarch of their pride and was like a whirlwind in her own right. She seemed like such a graceful, peaceful creature, but Gaheris knew well most males feared her. One word from Elizabeth Rhade could destroy a hopeful male’s chance at being a husband and father forever, and she never failed to let the males know this. Still, he doubted that bringing Katherine was her only motivation. More likely she was curious about these humans he served with, especially this Dylan Hunt who sought to be alpha over him. Elizabeth had never truly understood the desire to allow yourself to be pushed into a military rank system. She favored the Nietzchean way of the strongest advancing in leadership as they were able to.

Gaheris reached over and touched his com unit. “Dylan.”

There was a brief moment before a response came over. “Dylan here. What is it, Gaheris?”

“It is my dubious honor to inform you that we are to expect visitors.”

Elizabeth Rhade, mother of Boromir, Freya, Isis, William and Gaheris, stepped off the platform and onto the decking of The Andromeda, the ship that had become her youngest son’s second home. Sharp, dark eyes did not miss anything as she surveyed the honor guard that stood at attention behind her son and the man she assumed must be Dylan Hunt. The human was taller than she had expected, handsome as well. If she didn’t know better, she would have mistaken him for a Nietzchean.

Gaheris stepped forward, his smile gentle. “Greetings, Mother. Welcome aboard the Andromeda.” Unlike greetings between males, they did not exchange the Nietzchean salute. Instead, Gaheris placed a soft kiss at her temple, giving her a chance to inhale deeply. His scent held no hint of illness or malnourishment, but there was a soft undertone that was female, though not that of an aroused female. She suspected that it was from being in close contact with the human girl he now had guardianship of, the child he had sent word of to his wives.

“It is good to see you, Gaheris.” She looked over his shoulder towards the human captain. Her inquiry was clear.

“Mother, allow me to introduce Captain Dylan Hunt.”

Dylan inclined his head, his smile warm. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Ma’am.”

Elizabeth raked her appraising gaze over the human. “Gaheris has mentioned you in his messages. He reports that you are an excellent strategist and a good commander.” She gave him a slight smile. “High praise for a human, coming from one of our own.”

Dylan glanced at Gaheris. “I’m flattered. I consider Gaheris one of the best officers I’ve ever had the honor to serve with. I don’t know how I’d manage without him.”

Elizabeth nodded and scanned the crowd again. “Gaheris, where is the child?”

“Kathleen is attending to her studies. However, I have allowed her to forgo her weight training this evening so that she may join us for a formal dinner. I am certain that she is looking forward to meeting you as well.”

She nodded. “Very well. Gaheris, you remember Katherine, do you not?” She motioned for the young woman with her to step forward. The daughter of Achilles was an excellent match for her son. Beautiful, intelligent and strong. She would make an excellent mother, provided Gaheris found her acceptable.

“Indeed I do. It is good to see you again, Katherine.”

“And you, Gaheris.”

Dylan looked from his First Officer to the prospective bride and back again. “Elizabeth, I would be honored if you would allow me to give you a tour of my ship.”

“That sounds most enjoyable, Captain Hunt. Let us leave these two to get reacquainted.” The matriarch walked forward and accepted the guiding arm Dylan offered. “Tell me, Captain, are you married?”

Gaheris and Katherine exchanged amused smiles when they heard Dylan falter, clearly taken aback by Elizabeth’s forward manner. “Uhm… Lancers! Dismissed.” He wasted no time in guiding the matriarch out of docking bay, leaving the pair alone.

Katherine took a hesitant step forward. “I fear your Captain Hunt does not realize what he is getting himself into.”

“Dylan is an intelligent man, but my mother is a formidable woman. It will be interesting to see which one of them comes out on top.” He stopped and looked at the woman before him. “I am glad that you and mother have come. I have been parted too long from our pride.”

“We have felt your absence, but you exploits are always noted. Even Boromir cannot help but to boast of you, though he would never admit it to you.”

Gaheris nodded his head, chuckling softly. “True.” He tilted his head to one side in an appraising glance. “Would you care to take a walk with me?”

“I would like that.” Unlike Dylan, Gaheris did not extend an arm. Nietzcheans were not as hung up on manners as humans, so Katherine did not mind. She was content to simply walk beside him as they exited the docking bay.


“Is that not mature for your age?”

“You think?” Kathleen frowned at her reflection, the holographic representation of Andromeda standing behind her. They were discussing the pearl choker she had clasped about her neck, a cameo in the center. She had thought it rather fitting for the lace dress she had dug out from the back of her wardrobe. Her father had bought it for her on a drift they visited just before Anteres Station. She’d never had an occasion that merited it until now. “I thought it was pretty.”

“It is, but you will only be fourteen tomorrow. Perhaps something a bit younger.”

“But Sir’s mother is here. I don’t want to seem like a silly child.”

The hologram gave her an inquisitive look. “It is hardly likely that you will be considered to be silly. Dr. Marks has commented on more than one occasion that you often behave far more mature than your age warrants, a fact that is backed by your psyche profile. However, Captain Hunt feels that you need to behave like a child more often.”

“Dylan thinks I’m growing up too quickly. I hate to think what he’ll be like if he ever has daughters of his own.” She smiled at the thought. “He’ll probably run any hopeful boyfriends through basic training even after he’s done a thorough background check on them and their extended families. Probably won’t even let them date until they’re thirty.” She took off the choker and examined the jewelry case as she put it back into it’s compartment. She found a sapphire pendant on a delicate silver chain. “How about this one?”

Andromeda studied it and nodded. “That appears more suitable.” The hologram observed as Kathleen fastened the chain about her neck, but her attention was drawn away suddenly. “You have company. Elizabeth Rhade is approaching your door.”

“What? Now?” Kathleen looked around her room, making sure everything was neat and tidy, just the way Sir liked it. She figured he had to get his annoying habit from someone, and his mother seemed the most likely candidate. She saw one of her school flexis laying out and threw herself towards the desk to ferret it away as the door chime rang. “Come in!”

The door slid open, allowing a beautiful, stately woman entrance to her quarters. Elizabeth Rhade moved with a purposeful grace that almost screamed ‘in charge’. Sir had told her that his mother was the most feared woman in the pride and reveled in that fact, but that she was actually easy to get along with if she liked you. Kathleen desperately hoped that Elizabeth would like her.

The woman swept the room with her dark eyes, finally coming to rest upon Kathleen. “That was not very wise of you. What if I had been an enemy?”

Kathleen blinked. “Andromeda told me who you were.” This drew the woman’s attention to the holographic image behind Kathleen.

“I see.” She walked further into the room, her eyes taking in Kathleen’s appearance. “Turn around, girl. Let’s have a look at you.”

She faltered at first, not really certain how to take this abrupt person. She felt several of the voices always present in the back of her mind bristle from the less-than-polite treatment, but she automatically shushed them as she did as she was told. On her way around she saw that the hologram’s expression had turned a bit harder, as if the ship also did not approve of Elizabeth’s manner.

“Pretty. You could almost be Nietzchean. A shame that you aren’t.” Elizabeth stepped closer still, taking Kathleen’s chin into her hand and turning her head to the left and then to the right. “My son has informed you that you will be leaving this ship to come live with his wives and children, has he not?”

This treatment was quickly getting on her nerves as well. The grumbling in the back of her mind didn’t help. “Yes, Ma’am, he has. I’m looking forward to it.”

“You are? You look forward to living with Nietzcheans who will no doubt constantly remind you of your genetic inferiority? A rather masochistic desire, is it not?”

Kathleen tightened her jaw, her smile going brittle. “That is, of course, assuming that you are superior to me, Madam. Perhaps you should speak further with Sir. He finds me to be quite impressive for a human.” She lifted her chin a bit, daring Elizabeth to say something.

The Nietzchean woman returned her gaze with a dark, piercing stare. Woman and child stood that way for a long moment, the ship’s hologram observing and prepared to summon Commander Rhade the moment it looked as though things might get out of hand. Then, to the surprise of both Andromeda and Kathleen, Elizabeth began to chuckle, warm and low.

“Good, child. I had hoped you had a backbone. You’ll need it if you’re to live in the same house as my grandchildren. They are young, which means they can be quite the trial.” The matriarch looked down at the bed and spied the jewelry case there. Carefully, she shut the lid and pushed it back so that she could sit on the foot of the bed. She patted the space next to her with one graceful hand. “Come, sit with me. I would know more about you.”


Kathleen was running through the corridor, dodging the random crewman on her way to her gymnastics session. With her luck, Elizabeth would be there, waiting to ‘observe’. Showing up late would be an unforgivable sin. Since that woman would have the most say over her life until she reached eighteen, she wanted her to be pleased. Kathy skidded to a halt outside the door to the training room and collected herself somewhat before she opened the door and stepped inside.

“Surprise!” The lights glared on as a multitude of voices rose up all around. Kathy jumped in shock, taking a moment to register the bright streamers and the sign strung up over a table that wasn’t supposed to be there. ‘Happy Birthday’ shone out in metallic letters and a huge cake with fourteen candles stood proudly, surrounded by a multitude of gaily-wrapped packages. She caught sight of Dylan’s smiling face and found herself laughing at it all.

“This is great!” She hurried towards Dylan, knowing he had to be behind all this, and hugged him tightly. “Thank you! I’ve never had a real birthday party before.”

“Well, we couldn’t let Gaheris ship you off without celebrating the most important day of the year.” He mussed her hair up playfully. “Come on, blow out the candles before the wax gets into the icing. The engineers have been complaining about how long you were taking to get here.” She untangled herself to stand in front of the cake, taking a breath. “Don’t forget to make a wish first.”

She closed her eyes and imagined what she wanted. A single, cold voice in the back of her mind whispered that she was dreaming, but the others present ordered him to be silent. She released the breath and blew out all fourteen candles at once, to the applause of those present. Sure enough, it was an engineer who put the serving knife in her hand. She grinned at him before she started cutting.

Cake, ice cream, coffee and punch were in abundance for all. Sir only drank the punch, as did Elizabeth and Katherine. Kathy noticed that Sir was wearing only a dark, sleeveless shirt with his usual trousers, baring his arms. He usually only dressed so when he was exercising, but she then noticed the metal band worn about his left bicep. The Double Helix, a symbol of the titles ‘Husband’ and ‘Father’. Apparently he had found Katherine’s proposal favorable. He also seemed a good deal more relaxed than normal, even smiling a little. A few of the less reserved voices in her mind sniggered and commented that ‘getting laid’ apparently did him some good. Kathleen felt her cheeks warm from blushing and diverted her gaze elsewhere.

Someone tapped her on the top of her head lightly. She looked up to see Dylan towering over her with a long, rectangular package. “This one first.”

“Thanks.” She put down her punch and accepted the present. The card said it was from Dylan and Sarah. She looked up at him questioningly, since she’d never met Sarah. Dylan smiled.

“She helped me pick it out. I didn’t have a clue what to get a fourteen-year-old.”

“She sounds like a keeper.” Kathy grinned and started tearing the shiny wrapping. Inside was a wooden box, beautifully carved and detailed. When opened, revealed was an old-fashioned artists kit, complete with oil paints, various brushes, colored charcoals and things that Kathleen had to silently inquire about because it had been so long since they’d been used by anyone. “It’s wonderful!” She closed the lid, snapping it securely shut. “I love it! Thank you, Dylan, and thank Sarah for me, too.” She tucked the large case under one arm and hugged the captain with the other.

Elizabeth watched it all from one side of the room. Katherine remained by Gaheris’ side, but she noted that her son was intent on keeping watch over his young ward. He was nothing if not an excellent father.

As for Kathleen, Elizabeth wasn’t sure she fully understood this human ritual of throwing a party to celebrate a completed year of life. It wasn’t the celebration of survival she didn’t get; it was showering the girl with gifts. Along with the art set Dylan Hunt presented her with, there were items such as books, clothing, jewelry and various items that were more for decorating a room or home than anything else. It seemed as though they were spoiling the child, but her son did not appear to be too concerned over it.

The party went on for hours, with personnel being switched out for others as one group left to begin their shift and another got off duty. The galley crew kept them in a supply of snacks and drinks and it seemed that most everyone had gotten at least some type of present for Kathleen, most of the gifts coming from entire teams or shifts where they had pooled their spending money to get one, large present. Gaheris seemed to be keeping close attention to the passage of time and eventually stepped forward to remind everyone that it was late. “Kathleen needs her rest.”

The girl in question gave him a momentary pleading look but quickly abandoned it when she remembered that such tactics didn’t work on her guardian. She sighed and helped a friendly engineer load up her gifts onto an anti-grav lift to be taken to the Reaper. She had been slowly loading up her personal belongings in preparation for her journey in a few more days. The ship that Elizabeth had hired to bring them to the Andromeda had been dismissed after Rhade had pointed out that Kathleen came with her own ship and was more than capable of taking them home again. Dylan gave her a kiss goodnight on her temple and surrendered her to her guardian who escorted her out of the room.

Katherine approached Elizabeth, her expression carefully reserved. The matriarch tilted her head inquiringly. “You have a question?”

“What, exactly, will be done with the girl?”

Elizabeth arched a single brow. “Done with her? She will pilot us back to our home where she will take her place in your husband’s household.”

“But she isn’t one of us.”

The matriarch frowned at the woman beside her. Perhaps Katherine had not been such a wise choice for her son after all. “Her father protected the life of the man you now call ‘husband’, an action that cost him his own life. In exchange he entrusted the care of his only viable offspring to Gaheris. By our customs Kathleen is as much a child of this pride as any child you bear shall be. It would be wise to remember this.”

The younger woman appeared to realize that she had managed to offend her husband’s mother and nodded, contrite. “Of course. I meant no disrespect.”

Elizabeth continued to study her son’s new wife. “I would also remind you that more than one of your sister wives is expecting with a current child who can already walk or crawl. You will now have the benefit of a fourteen-year-old girl who can help mind the toddlers, thus allowing the mothers to concentrate more on their newborns. It is an asset that most houses have to wait a full fourteen years to benefit from. The wives of Gaheris Rhade, however, do not have to try and manage until one of their children has matured.” This was a valid argument, of course. Trying to care for an infant while keeping up with a child who was just learning to walk and was now able to get into anything and everything was a trial for any woman. Having a teenager would be beneficial to the family. Elizabeth, however, did not intend for her son’s wives to work their new charge into an early grave.


“What do I call them?”


“Your wives. What do I call them?” Gaheris looked over towards the girl who was now turning down the covers of her bed. “Do I call them all ‘Mrs. Rhade’ or ‘Ma’am’?”

“I would recommend addressing them by their names.” He turned his attention back to the flexi in his hand, his expression curious. “Is this what you’ve been working on?”

Kathleen nodded. “That’s it.”

“This is your art. You’re drawing a ship.” He picked up another flexi and turned it on. The screen ‘drew’ the next part of the project. “Exterior as well as interior.” He put the two flexis down and claimed another as Kathleen crawled in between the covers. “And engine schematics. You’re not drawing a ship; you’re designing one.”

“With help. I had to change a few things as it was pointed out to me that some of it was structurally unsound.” She fluffed her pillows and leaned back. “Do you like her?”

Gaheris was running through the projected performance of the engine design. It was radical and extreme, but if the calculations were correct, it was flawless. “She’s magnificent.”

Kathy grinned. “I meant this Katherine person. The woman you married? Remember her?”

He frowned and looked up. “She’s an acceptable wife. Her genes are sound, her lineage impeccable. She’ll make an excellent mother. Why do you ask?”

She frowned. “She’s awfully… cold. Shouldn’t a mother be more motherly? Warm, like your mom.”

“You think Elizabeth Rhade is ‘warm’? There aren’t many who would agree with you in that assessment.” He put the engine flexi down and picked up another. This one was internal ship design. He ‘scrolled’ through the levels.

“I think she’s warm. Pretty, too. She really loves you, you know. She loved your father, too. She cried when he died.”

“How do you know that?” His eyes were still glued to the flexi, taking in every little detail of the projected design. “These rooms aren’t wise. You’ve designed over one hundred bunking facilities, each with bunks to house thirty men. But if you put them in such close quarters it will be too taxing on their mental state. Humans need space and a chance for privacy in order to keep sound, especially during long periods of space travel.”

“They’re not for humans.”

Gaheris looked up questioningly. “They’re not?”

Kathleen shook her head. “Look closer.”

He turned his attention back to the flexi and examined the design more closely. “The ventilation system… the bunking facilities aren’t set up for recycled air. You’ve got the vents leading to some sort of supply line.”

“Cryogenic gas, to retard decomposition.”

Gaheris looked up sharply. Kathleen was leaning forward, watching him. “The ship is designed to hold over three hundred corpses.”

“They prefer the term ‘grounders’. Foot soldiers. And I’m actually going to modify the design. It seems that my estimation of how many living personnel would be required was greatly inflated.”

He turned off the flexi, his eyes still fixed on his ward. “Foot soldiers. You’re designing a ship intended to transport corpses to fight, like they did on the station.”

Kathleen shrugged. “They’re perfect for the job.”

“What job?”

“Fighting the Magog. The Magog can neither devour nor reproduce in decaying flesh. Also, the dead cannot die again, and they’re very hard to stop. You sever the arm of a living person; the arm just lies there. You sever the arm of a moving corpse, and the arm will probably keep moving until the mind controlling it says to stop.” She shrugged. “The Magog have made a lot of enemies since they first came onto the scene. It’s not all that hard to find members of The Great Majority willing to take up the fight.”

“So when you say you’re going to modify the ship design, you actually mean that you plan to build it so it can hold more.” She nodded in the affirmative. “Who is going to be in charge of this ship, Kathleen?”

She smiled a bit. “Well, I hope to be one day. Until then Daniel is really the only one in a position to do so, but he’d have to wait until his stint as a Lancer is up.”

“Not to mention gathering the money and resources needed to build something like this.” Gaheris looked over to the file that held all the flexis. “Do you mind if I take these with me? I would like to look over them, see what all you’ve come up with.”

She frowned slightly, not answering at first. He noted that she started to get that far-off expression again, the look she got when she was ‘discussing’ something with those voices always whispering at the back of her mind. He waited, keeping alert for any sign that she might be ‘losing’ herself, and it was a relief when she shook her head as though to clear it. “Sure, but I’ll need them back before I leave with your mother.” Her smile was tight, giving him the distinct impression that she was actually going against the counsel given to her.

“I’ll be sure to do so.” He put the flexi in his hand back into the file and picked the entire thing up. What little he’d already seen was too detailed for a casual study. He would need to pay it closer mind. Crossing the room, he pulled the covers up over her as she scooted down further to sleep. “Try to get some rest over the next few days. It’s a long trip back to my home, and you’ll want to impress my mother with your piloting skills.”

“Yes, Sir.” As was her custom, she leaned up to kiss his cheek. He was pleased that her lips were the proper temperature. “Good night.”


“Commander Gaheris Rhade?”

Gaheris looked up from the flexi containing the latest news out of Tarn Vedra to see a handsome young man in a junior officer’s uniform standing a few feet from his table in the small, leafy cul de sac of Kittalan’s exemplary botanical garden. He recognized the face easily enough, recalling the personnel file. “Lancer Summers. This is a surprise.”

Daniel Summers looked somewhat surprised himself. “You know who I am.”

“Of course. Given my position as Kathleen’s guardian I thought it prudent to identify any surviving family members.”

The lancer nodded. “Of course. It is the logical course of action. May I join you?”

He turned off the flexi and indicated the chair across from him. “The Starry Wisdom isn’t docked here. I assume you’re on leave.”

“Yes, Sir. When I learned that the Andromeda was scheduled to be here, I wanted to take the chance to meet with you.” He sat down, his expression cold and without emotion. He could have been a Nietzchean about to attempt to outwit a rival Alpha. “We have decided that it would be in Kathleen’s best interest were I to take over guardianship of her.”

Gaheris’ brow rose. “Indeed? And by ‘we’ you mean…”

“The Council, the other Keoghs and myself. We feel that Kathleen would be better served were she raised by her own kind.”

“I see.” Rhade leaned back in his chair, his expression carefully passive. “Tell me, how do you intend to provide for a fourteen-year-old girl? Have you married since obtaining your commission?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“As I said; she’s fourteen. Kathleen is at an age when a strong, adult female presence is needed. She will be going through difficult times in her life as she tries to come to grips with her sexual identity. There will be subjects she wishes to discuss with someone her own gender. How do you, a single man who has not yet lived a quarter of a century and have no experience has a parent, expect to provide for such needs?”

Daniel gave a smug, icy smile. “You are well aware that Kathleen has no shortage of teachers. She can even call upon her own mother, should that be what she desires to do.”

“True, but where will she be as she does so? She cannot remain on the Starry Wisdom with you and you have another six years to serve in the High Guard. According to your file, you, like Kathleen, were born aboard ship and therefore have no real home world. You have no residence at all. And while you are out keeping the peace and defending the Commonwealth, who will be there to hold Kathleen those times when all she needs is the warmth of another living person?” He paused, letting his question sink in for a moment. “Or do think that a Keogh has no need for such creature comforts?”

Summers’ shoulders squared, his chin lifting. “Some of us do quite well without it.”

“Ultimately you are still human, and humans need the comfort and contact of their own kind.”

The lancer gave a quiet chuckle. “We are Keogh.” His expression became cold, his eyes empty. “If knowledge is power, then we can be likened unto gods. And only a fool would leave a goddess in the hands of a Nietzchean.”

Gaheris willed himself not to strike out at the inhuman creature now sitting across from him. He felt an icy chill settle over his mind, soon followed by the whispered voice of Simon Keogh. ‘This is what I warned you of. This is what happens when we lose ourselves to the grave. Daniel has been alone most of his life, with only the dead to comfort him.’

Daniel’s eyes widened briefly in surprise. “I see my cousin has decided to bend the rules. It takes a great deal of effort for those of the Great Majority to speak to someone who is not a Keogh, unless the one in question was a Keogh in life. You should feel honored.”

“I feel grateful and pleased to know that Simon takes his responsibility as a father so seriously that he helps watch over her even in death. Still, he realized that Kathleen needed the living to raise her, a family to guide her. Had he thought otherwise, I am certain his last words to me would have been to bring her to you or to one of the few other members of your bloodline that can still be found. As it was, his request was that I… ‘Use those Nietzchean parenting skills’, to give an exact quote. Right now those skills tell me that Kathleen is exactly where she needs to be; on my home world, in the house where my wives and children dwell and where my mother can impart her wisdom as Pride Matriarch should she need it.”

The man across from him gave a sneer. “The wisdom of a Nietzchean who has lived only one life time. You still don’t understand. You are like children when compared to us. There is no secret known that would be kept from her.”

“Tell me, this Council that decided to send you here to try and take Kathleen; are there any Nietzcheans in it?” Summers paused, giving Rhade all the answer he needed. “I thought not. Kathleen has already advised me that this collection of the finest thinkers and leaders throughout the millennia continues to deny a seat to the creator of the Nietzchean race, even though they allow him to reach into the very wombs of your mothers to ensure that you are every bit genetically superior as we are.”

“This is of no importance.”

“It is of every importance. If you do not even let my people have a voice, how can any decision by your Council possibly have merit when determining whether or not Kathleen is better served by living among us? For that matter, how can a gathering of dead men and women who have no doubt forgotten what it is to be alive make such decisions for a living, breathing girl who is destined to grow up into an extraordinary woman?” Rhade leaned forward slightly. “The answer is that they cannot, Lancer Summers. I, however, can. Kathleen remains where she is. It is the best choice for her.”

“You are forgetting one thing, Commander.”

Gaheris gave him an inquiring look. “And that is?”

“All you have is your verbal account that my cousin bequeathed Kathleen’s ward ship to you. There are no official records or accounts. I, on the other hand, can prove a blood relation. In a court of law, a court of the living, I would hold the greater claim.”

Rhade was surprised that the man remembered such a detail, given his apparent disdain for the living in general. “True, but then you would have to go to my home to claim her.”

“You think that I wouldn’t?”

“I think that you could try and find out that you can’t make Kathleen go anywhere she doesn’t wish to go.” He saw the other man’s smug expression falter in confusion. “It’s my home world, Lancer Summers. It is populated by Nietzcheans. It is where Nietzchean men and woman have been born, lived… and died.” He let the last word hang in the air between them even as he felt Simon’s icy voice chuckle in amusement. “I wonder; if it came down between you and Kathleen, which of you would my ancestors listen to?”

He watched the man wrestle with his anger and could guess what he was thinking. If Daniel managed to kill him, he would still have to deal with the rest of the Rhade clan, and Boromir was not likely to turn over Kathleen to the man who killed his brother. And there was no doubt that Kathleen would tell Boromir exactly who had killed him. “Then, Commander, this conversation is over.”

“Not quite, Summers.” The man paused in mid-rise from his chair. “Allow me to impart a bit of Nietzchean Parenting Wisdom to you; you are as genetically superior as any member of my race.”

“I am aware of this. What difference does it make?”

“I have examined your family tree quite extensively. At first I feared that you were a bloodline given to foolish heroics, but now I’m not so sure. I think it is more likely that you have enemies, powerful enemies. It is clear to me that someone is making a conscious effort to destroy your bloodline, most likely out of fear of your… unique gift. There are only seven of your bloodline left, and only you and Kathleen are in any position to provide a future generation.”

“And what would you recommend to correct that?”

Rhade gave a shrug. “Turn over a sample of your DNA to be mapped out and given to a few select Nietzchean prides. I can help you choose which ones would be the most welcoming. With your exemplary genetics and what will no doubt be a superior military service record, you would likely attract some rather handsome offers of marriage. Gather as many wives to you as you can, father as many children as you can, and allow our greater birth rate save your family.”

Daniel’s eyes narrowed. “Is that what you plan for Kathleen? To imbue your pride with our gift?”

“We are Nietzchean, Summers. The women choose whom they will grant the title of husband and father. As her guardian I will not deny that I would prefer she select a husband from among my own people, but ultimately the choice is hers. I am merely pointing out to you how you can save your bloodline, save your abilities, before the Keogh fall into oblivion.”

The lancer faltered before standing up. “I am sorry that we cannot come to an agreement over this, Sir. Be assured, however, that this does not end here. There are many who are unhappy with your possession of Kathleen.”

“Kathleen is not a possession.” Rhade’s voice went hard, anger filling him that someone would attempt to reduce her to such a status. “If you are going to consider her as such, then I would recommend that you remain very far from my home and my family. They aren’t likely to be very appreciative of your views. Good day, Lancer Summers.” The dismissal was clear as he reclaimed his news flexi and brought up the article he had been reading before. Summers hovered a second longer before leaving.


Kathleen’s eyes snapped open a second before a scowl marred her young face. She got up from her bed and crossed the small room she had been provided. She threw the latch of the door before moving back to the bed and sitting down. Her shoulders were shaking in rage as she directed herself inward. ‘How could you!? What gives you the right?’

‘We are only attempting to see to your welfare.’

She hated speaking to The Council. Centuries of working together had given them the habit of ‘speaking’ in unison. It was like a weird, multi-toned voice, ranging from male to female, from young to old, all blended together. The affect was creepy, even to her.

‘I’m staying here! I won’t leave!’

‘You do not belong with them.’

‘Why? Why don’t I belong with them? How am I any different from them? We were all made by the same man!’

The Council fell silent, but she could still feel them. They had started attempting to assert their will more and more often since she had come to Sir’s home. So far, however, the Rhade family tomb had provided her with excellent protection. It had taken a little time for the Nietzchean members of the Great Majority to accept that they did have thoughts after dying, but they banded together in true family fashion once they realized how she was being bullied.

The Council hated it.

‘We only wish to protect you.’

‘It is not your place to protect me. I am not a pet and I am not your child.’

‘You are Keogh. You are the light in the darkness. We seek to protect that light.’

‘Then keep that creature who calls himself my cousin away from me. I will not become like him.’ She ‘pushed’ them from her mind and crawled back under the covers of her bed. She was still furious. She had coaxed the fallen Rhades into telling her of others who had met their ends off world and then reached out to those minds until she had a solid ‘network’ of minds that were mostly ignored by the bulk of the Great Majority. They helped her to keep an eye on Sir, to see how he was and if he was safe. She was certain he would be upset if he knew of her spying, but she was glad that she had.

To send him of all people! Daddy had warned her about Daniel Summers, but it wasn’t until she had come to live with Sir’s family that she had truly appreciated his warnings. He was what she had to take care not to become; a Keogh so wrapped up in the dead that he would discount sentient life all together. Daniel Summers had no place being a member of the High Guard. A soldier should be ever aware of how his actions altered the lives of others. Daniel would likely ignore the fact that men died all around him, because he was aware that even in death he had not lost them. He was cold and uncaring, focused only on being a Keogh.

“I won’t be like him.” Her whispered voice echoed off the walls of her small room. She rolled over onto her side and willed herself to return to sleep.


In a little over three years Gaheris had only been able to return home for an extended period of time twice. Both times he found his wives content, his children growing and his ward settling in comfortably with her new environment. Still, there was the growing pressure from unsettled factions within his race that were becoming more and more disillusioned with the Systems Commonwealth. As he saw his military superiors waffle more and more regarding the threat of the Magog, he was finding it harder and harder to maintain his support. The idea that the Nietzcheans should unmake the current government and save the citizens from themselves was becoming stronger with him.

He climbed out of the transport, grateful to be home for his third extended leave and anxious to see his family again. His first wife was waiting for him with a gentle smile on her face. She was still as beautiful as the day he had first laid eyes on her, back when he was newly graduated from the academy and there were several older males trying to attract her attention. He had been honored when she chose him to be her husband and the father of her children. “Bodicea.” He smiled and embraced her warmly. “How have you been?”

“Well, and recovered from our last daughter. It helps to have a girl in the home who is old enough to entrust with the little ones.” She slipped an arm about his waist and walked with him through the docking facility. “It is good to have you home again, Husband.”

“It is good to be home.” He kissed her, not having missed the subtle hint about being recovered from her last pregnancy. It was her gentle way of advising him that she expected her rights as a wife that evening. He was more than willing to accommodate. “Anything I should be aware of?”

“A few things…”


There was a half-painted canvas in one corner of her room. Gaheris studied it with a smile, admiring the graceful lines of what was doubtless the projected ship she was designing. “Graceful. You wouldn’t imagine that it would be so deadly.”

“I like it.”

“Have you named her, yet?”

Kathleen sighed. “No. Reaper is already taken.” She grinned and sat down on her bed. “Da’himan says I shouldn’t worry about it. He says that the ship will tell me what she wants to be named when she’s ready.”

Gaheris gave her an inquiring look. “Da’himan? The Master Shipbuilder of Kikhol. I wondered where you were getting your education from.” He turned his attention back to the canvas. “Apparently he’s been rather busy since his passing.”

“You should see some of the designs he has. Forget orbital habitats. He’s designed ships capable of complete, self-sustaining ecosystems. Easily used to press forward between the galaxies and into previously unknown space.” She grinned more broadly, eyes bright. “Inter-galactic colonization.”

“Impressive.” He looked away from the canvas. “However, I did not come here to discuss your ship. Another matter has been brought to my attention.”

“What’s up?”


Kathleen growled before throwing herself across her bed, her expression turning dark. “Oh. Him.”

“Yes. Him. The male whom, until very recently, you were practically inseparable from. The one who, apparently, has been behind some of your more adventurous pranks, including the one where you died my eldest brother’s hair orange.” He sat down on the bed beside her. “Now I’m told the two of you cannot be in the same room together without you threatening his life. What happened?”

“He turned into a self-centered, egotistical, holier-than-thou jerk.”

“He’s Nietzchean. Most males seem that way to normal human women.”

“You don’t.”

“Don’t I?”

Kathleen smirked. “Not according to what I was overhearing while I was on board. If you went for non-modified human females, you could’ve picked up another half a dozen wives, easy.”

He made a playful swipe at her head. “Not amusing.” She giggled, ducking away from him. “And you’re trying to change the subject. What is really wrong?”

She sighed and rolled over onto her back. “I want my best friend back. He changed when he started getting marriage proposals. He got… cranky.”

Gaheris nodded. “His father blames it on you. He’s received offers of marriage, but he’s turned them all down. Apollo believes he’s waiting until you are of age.”

Kathy sat up quickly. “Me? Eewww! Where did he get that idea?”

“You find something unsuitable with Achilles? He is a strong and handsome male, far more likely to be an alpha than his brothers. I thought you liked him, until recently.”

She gave him a dark scowl and dropped back down on to the bed. “I don’t like the new Achilles. It was different before. He was someone I could talk do if I needed a person who wasn’t living in the same house as I was. He was… my pal. But lately, he flies off the handle at any little thing. Sometimes it feels like I can’t even breathe without him glaring about it.”

“Perhaps because you have not been receptive to his overtures.”

“I’m seventeen. I’m too young to be considering anyone’s overtures.” She scowled. “Besides, he’s not on The List.”

“The List?”

She grabbed one of her pillows and rolled over onto her stomach, trapping it beneath her chest. “The List of Acceptable Males. The Council came up with it. Lately they’ve been growing increasingly vocal about how few Keoghs are left.”

“I see.” He leaned back on one elbow, reclining comfortably on the opposite end of the bed. “You do not wish to hear this, but they have a valid point. You and Daniel are the only two members of the bloodline with any real chance to further the bloodline.”

“Then let him do it. He’s certainly got a good start.”

“He has married?”

“No one’s saying we have to get married, just have kids. Daniel Summers has found a girl at practically every shore leave. At last count there were three illegitimate Keoghs within the Commonwealth. He just makes them and leaves them to be guided by the Great Majority, not even giving their mothers a clue as to what he’s gotten them into.”

The idea of failing to protect and care for your own offspring as sickening to Gaheris, as it would be to any Nietzchean. “Can you identify these children?”

She cast a glance over at him before reaching over the edge of the bed and underneath it. She pulled out the box that contained the old family bible and took out the heavy tome. Gaheris accepted it and opened up to the more recent pages of the family tree. There, branching from Daniel’s name, were three recently written names and dates, two sons and a daughter. “Disgraceful. They will need to be located. If the mothers are agreeable, I can have the children brought here.”

“And if they’re not?”

“Then I will do what I can to make sure that the mothers have all the assistance they need to provide for themselves and their children.” A smirk touched the corners of his mouth. “DNA testing is simple enough to manage these days. It can easily be proven who the biological father is and High Guard protocol will ensure that support is paid to the children out of Daniel’s pay. If nothing else it should encourage him to be a little more responsible.”

“Serves him right. He has no business being a father anyway.”

“I’m guessing The List is their selection of potential fathers for your own offspring. You are a little young to be considering such matters. Although you are physically capable of reproduction it would still be an unneeded strain on you.” He closed the bible, keeping hold of it for the moment. “I thought you wanted to attend a university next year. Have they taken that into account?”

“They say it is a needless waste of time given that I can learn all I need to know directly from the sources.”

“Ignoring the fact that you would be giving up interaction with other young adults. Hardly conducive to your mental and emotional well being. As your guardian, I am opposed to such an action. It is my belief that you should wait until you are at least twenty, if not older. What of the men they have selected for you?”

She rolled her eyes. “All of them chosen for their malleability. Easily controlled. Remember, it doesn’t matter who the father is; once the GM is done, the child will still be perfect.” She gave a single shoulder shrug. “Needless to say, there aren’t any Nietzcheans on the list. Apparently they feel your people are too pushy.”

Gaheris studied his ward’s profile for a moment. “Would you prefer to have a Nietzchean for a husband?”

She shrugged. “I hadn’t really given it much thought, but it does make the most sense. If the Council is after children, then why not a Nietzchean for a husband? My daughters would still only be able to have maybe five or six a piece, but the sons would be in a position to a lot better. It would certainly give us a boost.”

Exactly his thinking when he had ‘advised’ Daniel to seek acceptance into a pride three years ago. “Sound thinking. I am pleased.” He truly was. “Might I suggest that you consider someone not too far above you in age, perhaps only five or six years. Perhaps Achilles?” Dylan was a bad influence on him. He should have been able to resist making that jab. Kathleen kicked out at him half-heartedly with her foot.

“Not funny.”

“Maybe you need to work on your sense of humor.” He got up from the bed, taking the bible with him. “It’s late. Get some sleep.”

“Yes, Sir. You’d better hurry. Bodie can be a tyrant when she doesn’t have her way.” She giggled as Gaheris snatched the pillow from under her and hit her over the head with it before leaving.


“How long do we have you home?”

Bodicea was tracing nonsensical patterns against his skin, blissfully sated for the moment. He ran his fingers over her hair and placed a kiss on her crown. “A month, unless something happens that calls me back.”

“Good.” She wrapped her arms about him and snuggled against his chest. He had missed this, the closeness of his wives and family. Military service was hard on a husband and father, and even harder on the women and children left behind. Sometimes he wished he could turn his back on all of it and just stay here, in the warm embrace of home. “You have been missed.”

“As have you.” He ran his hand along the length of her spine when the sound of a baby’s fretful cry sounded from the cradle on the other side of the room. “But apparently you’re the one who is missed the most at this time.”

She smiled and got up from the bed, wrapping a robe about her as she went over to the cradle and picked up her child. “Your daughter is very demanding. She takes after you in that respect.”

“And you aren’t demanding at all?” He sat up as she returned to the bed, holding their precious bundle. Nietzcheans believed that mother’s milk was the best for children, so they continued to breast feed until the child was able to sustain themselves on solid foods. That meant that a child could still be feeding for two years, if not longer. A smart wife would avoid conceiving again until after that time, since a new pregnancy could hamper or completely halt milk production. Gaheris did not doubt that Bodicea had taken precautions to prevent pregnancy on behalf of their daughter. He didn’t mind. Lily’s health was tantamount.

His wife held their daughter close as the baby suckled, one tiny fist pushing against the swollen skin of her mother’s breast. “Lily, this is your father, Gaheris. He’s a good enough man, but he’s prone to being very bossy. Don’t worry. I’ll teach you how to handle him.”

“Lily, this is your mother, Bodicea. Don’t believe a word of what she tells you. Everyone knows that she’s the bossy one.” He ran his hand over the infant’s head, amazed at how much hair she already had. “But I’m the wrong person to teach you how to handle her. No one knows how to accomplish that.”

“Very amusing.” He would have gotten punched for that one had she not been holding the baby. “You spoke to Kathleen about Achilles?”

“I did.”


“She wants her best friend back and is displeased that his feelings towards her have changed. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen. He’s twenty-two and at the age to start thinking about wives and children, but she’s smart enough to know she’s too young for that just yet.”

“Still…” she hesitated, as though uncertain how her husband would react.


“It is a good match. Achilles is an excellent breeding specimen, and Kathleen is extraordinary.”

Gaheris leaned back against the headboard, his expression neutral. “Even if she is not a Nietzchean?” Bodicea shifted nervously, fussing with Lily’s blanket. “Bodie?”

“I told you about the accident last year, about the ceiling collapsing at the school.”

“Yes. I remember. Kathleen was injured, broken bones and some lacerations, but she recovered completely.”

“Yes, she did.” She switched the baby to her other breast, biting her bottom lip briefly. “She recovered quickly, too quickly. I found myself curious as to why…”

He sat up straighter. “What have you done, Bodicea?”

“Andara had just given birth to her daughter, the one who died shortly afterwards. I labeled the sample in the baby’s name. It is my right as your first wife to be concerned about any potential genetic defects that may be among your wives and children. No one questioned the testing.” Gaheris gave an uncomfortable sigh and shifted his weight on the bed.


“You had to have known, Gaheris. The logical thing to do would have been to test her the first chance you could, to learn of any potential health problems that would need to be guarded against. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I did not feel she needed to be faced with trying to answer a lot of questions. She was recently orphaned and being sent to live with complete strangers. She had enough stress in her life.”

“Then who is she, Gaheris? What is she? Part of a lost pride that has taken the bone blades out of their code? Is someone trying to recreate Museveni’s experiments?”

She was hitting too close for comfort. “Bodicea, I know you are curious about her, but trust me when I tell you that now is not the time.” He reached out and rubbed her upper arms. “I know what’s best for you, for all of you. It’s best that she be allowed to live without the added problem of people questioning her origins.” His wife did not seem satisfied with that answer, but she seemed willing to drop the subject. “Have you told anyone else?”

“No, not anyone. Not even Katherine, although it may go a long way in changing her attitude.”

Gaheris frowned. “Is she still giving you problems?”

The baby was satisfied, for now, so Bodie shifted her to rest against her shoulder, patting her back gently. “I know that Katherine is from excellent stock, and she’s a superb mother with her own children, but she’s still not very accepting of Kathleen. There hasn’t been anything blatantly rude or unkind… she just tends to behave as though she thinks Kathy’s something unpleasant.”

So much for a pleasant leave. “I’ll speak with her about it.”

“Good. If you don’t then your newest wife might meet up with an unfortunate accident.” He gave her an inquiring look. “I’m not threatening. I’m just concerned that with her nose so high up in the air, she might walk out of a window or something.”

“Of course.” He shook his head, not really believing it.


“Hey! Jackass! I wanna talk to you.”

Achilles, son of Apollo, looked over his shoulder and got that now familiar feeling of someone hitting him firmly in the gut. It was the same thing every time he looked at her these days. When had his knocked-kneed, scrawny little best friend grown up into the beautiful woman glaring at him now? And how had he missed it? “What do you want?”

“I want to know why I just got called out on the carpet by your older sister because you can’t tell a good thing when it practically begs you to notice it. Apparently, it’s all my fault that you aren’t married yet.” She kicked the lid of his tool chest, forcing him to yank his hands out quickly. The lid shut and she put one of her feet on it to keep him from opening it again. “Care to tell me why she’s giving me grief?”

He looked at her in silence for a long moment, reminding himself again that she wasn’t grown yet. He only had another five months. After that, she would be a legal adult and no longer bound to this place. “My sister is often unpleasant. It’s the main reason her husband is gone from home so much. Don’t take it personally.” He pushed her leg so that her foot came off the chest.

“You turned down Diana. Diana! Do you know how many males are mooning over her like lovesick puppies? Why would you turn her down?” She put her foot back onto the chest.

“I am attempting to repair the engines on your ship. They sound off.” He pushed her leg off again. “Besides, shouldn’t you be with your family? Gaheris is home, but most likely one catastrophe or another will call him away again.”

Kathleen kicked at him, making him dodge back in self-defense and giving her the chance to step over the chest and use it for a seat. “What happened to us, Achilles? When I got here you were nineteen and I was fourteen, and we got along fine. We’ve always gotten along fine. You were there for me when I needed to just get away from Elizabeth and the others attempting to ‘fix’ me because I’d grown up without a mother. You made me laugh when I didn’t even know I needed to. What changed?”

He leaned forward, placing one hand on either side of her where she sat down on the chest. “You grew up.” He gave her a sad sort of smile. “You had the audacity to grow up. How dare you?”

She blinked, and then rolled her eyes. “Well that at least sounds a little more like the old you. That’s what teenagers do, Achilles. You did it. Your sister did it… kinda.”

He chuckled. “Yes, she didn’t manage it perfectly.” He leaned forward, crossing his arms over her knees. “I know I’ve been pushy, even short tempered, but I became worried.”


“I realized that you’ll be a legal adult soon, and then you and the Reaper will be leaving. I hadn’t realized how much I didn’t want that until it was coming so close to being time.”

“Ah! So that’s the big secret! You’ve fallen in love my ship, the two-timing hussy!” He growled and tickled her ribs, making her giggle and try to squirm away. “Who said I’m leaving?” She reached out and ruffled his hair. He had always hated it when she did that, and now was no different. He jerked his head away and slapped one of her knees lightly with an open hand. “Just because I’m going to be an adult doesn’t mean that I’m going to pack up and head out. I’ve still got plenty of prank potential in me, small, baby-Rhades to corrupt… Katherine to torment. I can’t do that alone! I need my best bud, so make sure whatever girl you end up accepting knows that I come with the deal.”

He looked at her, his expression inscrutable. “Could you truly never see yourself as my wife? Is thought of marrying a Nietzchean that repugnant to you? I thought you were above such blind racism.”

She blinked. “You don’t wanna have me for a wife. I’m pushy and obnoxious. And let us not forget that I am not a Nietzchean.”

“I wouldn’t be the first Nietzchean to marry a human. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.” He reached up to frame her face in his hands and urged her closer. “Besides, who better to spend your life with than me? Who else would have you?”

“Ah!” She gave him a shove, pretending to be angry. He laughed but did not let her go. “I should go straight to the matriarch and tell I want to. It would serve you right to be stuck with me for the rest of your life.”

“I rather think I’d enjoy being ‘stuck’ with you.” He leaned in closer as though to kiss her, but stopped just a few inches away. His voice became barely more than a whisper. “Don’t leave me behind, Kathy. Say you’ll stay with us.”

She didn’t answer, her breath catching in her throat. Achilles took advantage of her indecision to press a gentle kiss against her lips, reserved and non-aggressive until she responded. He waited until she began to kiss him back before he brought his arms about her and pulled her close. He had always known that she would taste sweet and spicy at the same time, like her personality. He gave a soft growl and pulled her closer still, encouraging her to rest her legs on either side of him until they were separated by little more than their clothing.

It is strange, but the most terrifying sound a young Nietzchean male can hear while taking excessive liberties with a female not his wife, and not technically old enough to make an offer of marriage yet, is the one of bone blades being scraped against a wall. He and Kathleen sprang apart instantly, Kathy’s eyes going wide as she spied the figure in the doorway behind Achilles’ shoulder.

“Sir!” She pushed Achilles to the floor in her rush to get back on her feet. “Uhm… we were just talking.”

Achilles get up on his feet as Gaheris lowered his arm and took a few steps closer. “I may be married, but I am no so old that I have forgotten what it was like to be your age.” He leveled a stern gaze at Achilles. “Kathleen, they are attempting to round up the children for dinner. Go help them.”

“Yes, Sir.” She came around the chest and gave Achilles a soft, “Nice knowing you,” before she hurried past Gaheris and disappeared from view.

Achilles straightened his shoulders. “Sir, I am aware this looks…”

“At least she’s stopped threatening to kill you.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “I had thought, at one time, that I’d actually be able to wait until my eldest daughter was Kathleen’s age before I had to have this talk with anyone. I wasn’t prepared to face such matters this soon.”

“I am aware that you are Kathleen’s guardian, and as such have an interest in her well being. I assure you that I…”

“Are you under the impression that, since is not a Nietzchean, she is not entitled to the same respect and consideration as one of our own?”

The younger male blinked. “No! It’s not like that at all! Sir, I assure you that I am sincere in my intentions.”

Gaheris gave him the same appraising gaze that he used on the High Guard members of the Andromeda. It was the same look that had sent many young lancers scrambling away in terror. “I sincerely hope that you are. I do not wish to go through the trouble of coming up with a convincing accident to hide the truth behind your death.”

Achilles squared his shoulders, his discomfort quickly giving way to aggravation. “With all due respect, Sir, in another five months your approval or disapproval of me will be a moot point. Kathleen will be able to make her own decisions.”

“I never said I disapproved of you. On the contrary, I feel that it would be a fine match. I would caution you, however, to think carefully before accepting any offer of marriage from Kathleen. There are those among our people who will scorn you for taking a human wife. And you are correct, soon she will be a legal adult, but I would remind you that eighteen is still extremely young to marry, even for our people. If you truly hold affection for her, then you will have patience. If you are so anxious to begin your family, then I recommend you accept one of the offers you have received thus far.”

Achilles shook his head, but he seemed more relaxed. “No, that is the one thing I cannot do.”

“Why not?”

“Because Kathleen deserves nothing less than to be a first wife. I am willing to wait and see if she will have me.”

Gaheris shook his head, but he smiled. “Very un-Nietzchean of you, Achilles. If your father asks about that, it was all your idea.”


“What if I don’t want to wait?”

Gaheris looked up from the flexi he had been reading, his expression curious. “Wait for what?”

Kathleen set down the colored pencil she had been sketching with. “What if I don’t want to wait before marrying Achilles?”

Gaheris turned off the flexi, his expression contemplative. “I cannot stop you, if that is your choice. In a short while you will be a legal adult with the right to make your own decisions. I can only counsel you that I feel you are still too young. Right now you may believe that Achilles is what you want, but people change a great deal in their first years of adulthood. In another three of four years, you may outgrow him.”

“So you think it’s just a crush.”

“No. I think that there does not appear to be a great deal of attraction on your part. Achilles is quite taken with you, but I feel that you still just see him as your closest friend.”

“So I don’t love him enough?”

Gaheris smiled, recalling the conversation he’d had with Dylan not too long ago. “I feel that the biological need to reproduce is not that strong on your part. Love has every little to do with it.” He tilted his head to examine her a bit more closely. “What brought this about?”

Kathleen licked her lips and swallowed. “I know what you’re planning. I know that the Nietzcheans are plotting rebellion.”

Gaheris gave a solemn nod and set his flexi down. “This does not surprise me. The idea has been discussed among us for years, long enough for there to have been several deaths. And as we both know, there are few secrets that can be kept from you. The question is; what are you going to do with this knowledge?”

Kathleen sat up from where she had been lying on the floor, crossing her legs before her. “I don’t know. I understand why you’re doing it. Part of me even hopes you succeed. Another part of me, however, thinks you’re making a huge mistake.”

“How so?”

“You’re upset about the Magog. That I can understand. However, a full-scale war at this point in time will leave both sides severely depleted. What are you going to do if the Magog attack in greater numbers? You need the ships and the firepower that the Commonwealth and the High Guard can provide.”

Gaheris crossed one leg over the other, his expression thoughtful. “Perhaps, but the Magog, though voracious, are not so plentiful that the current, standing Nietzchean force could not beat them back.” He saw her frown. “You don’t agree.”

“I don’t know. I just can’t help but feel there’s a part of the puzzle that’s missing. Like there’s more.”

“But you can’t be for certain.” He folded his arms across his chest, studying her. “We both know that the Nietzcheans are not held in high esteem by your sources. Could it be that your judgment is influenced by their bigotry?”

Kathy shrugged. “That’s always a possibility. But there’s still something else. Whispers. Static.” She frowned and shook her head. “There’s more out there. I just haven’t found it yet.”

Gaheris gave her a slight smile, but inside he was wary. Kathleen was not a true Nietzchean, and if The Council was able to win her back to their side, he feared it was possible she may give away their plans. If the others even suspected that she might betray them, they would kill her, never realizing that death wouldn’t stop her. She would just tell David or one of her few remaining relations. He couldn’t be certain that David did not already know about the rebellion himself. “Do not let it trouble you. We have spent years preparing, and the Commonwealth has not had to fight a real war in centuries. It will be swift and decisive, and then we will build a stronger system from the ashes. The known galaxies will be the better for it.”

Kathy seemed doubtful. She gathered up her pencils and sketchpad before rising to her feet. “Perhaps. I’d better leave you alone. You should get some quiet time before the brats wake up from their nap.” She stopped by his chair on the way out and leaned down to place her customary kiss at his temple. “It’s good to have you home, Sir.”

Gaheris nodded and watched her leave the room. Her lips had been warm. He felt that was a positive sign.


Kathleen let her sketchpad and pencils fall to her bed before returning to her bedroom door and sliding the bolt home. She turned around and placed her back to the door before closing her eyes. She opened her mind to the white noise in the back of her thoughts, reaching out into the static that always surrounded her but could usually be ignored. There was a probing inquiry from Sir’s long dead relations, but she ‘skipped’ over them and threw her thoughts further. There were questions to be asked… but no one here had her answers.


“What about Artemis?”

“I said ‘no’.” Achilles gave his youngest brother a kick to his rear end. “If you keep hounding me about this, I’ll string you up by your britches and leave you hanging in the wind until dawn.”

Ajax laughed and skipped around his brother. At twelve, he was still in that time in-between youth and manhood; old enough to be allowed more freedom while still being young enough to get away with being a pest. “So, do I consider her my sister, yet?”

“Not yet. I have to convince her to marry me, first.”

“I thought you had.”

“Gaheris is pushing her to wait.”

“Are you?”

“Not if I have anything to say about it.” It was all well and good to tell Gaheris Rhade he would respect his request to wait until Kathleen was at least twenty. Achilles, however, was not willing to take the risk. What if she met some non-engineered human at the university on Tarn Vedra, or another Nietzchean male from a different pride? He worried that she might forget him or have her head turned by another. It would be better to get her to agree to ask for him before anyone else began a quest to win her.

“I think Father’s got it wrong. I like Kathleen.”

“You do, do you?” He twisted Ajax’s nose. “It’s late. Get home before Mother comes searching for us.”

The younger brother gave an impish grin. “Where are you going to be?”

“None of your concern. Now get home.” Achilles gave his little brother a shove in the direction of their home and waited until he had vanished from sight before turning off towards the Rhade home. He bent down in mid step to scoop up a few pebbles to throw at Kathy’s window, but slowed his pace when he spotted a silhouette in the light of the street lamps. “Kathleen?”

She jumped, as though her attention was elsewhere. When he got closer, he noted the pallor of her skin and the dilation of her pupils in spite of the overhead light. “Achilles. What… what are you doing out?”

“I was on my way to see you.” He got closer to her and saw that she was sweating. “Are you all right? Are you ill?” He reached out to check her for fever, and frowned. “You’re freezing.”

Kathleen took a half step back from him, her shoulders tight. “Why me, Achilles?”


“Why me? There are girls from good, strong bloodlines ready to tear out each other’s hearts for you, so why choose me?”

Why was she acting so oddly? He put his hands on her arms, rubbing them lightly. “Kathy, has something happened? We should get you home. You need a doctor.”

She reached up and gripped his wrists tightly. “Do you really want me to be your wife, Achilles?”

“Have I not been all but begging you for just that? Kathy, what’s wrong?”

Her eyes, usually such a pale and perfect shade of lavender, looked as though they had darkened into violet. “There’s something I need to show you. Something you really need to know about me… and then I’ll ask you that question again.” She tightened her grip on him. “You can’t make a sound. Not a word, not even a whisper. And for all that’s holy: Do. Not. Scream.” He was about to speak when she started to walk backwards, keeping hold of his wrists so that he was still holding her arms. “Please, don’t be afraid.”

Her voice sounded pleading, almost afraid. Before he could ask what it was he wasn’t supposed to be afraid of, she appeared to be stepping backwards into nothingness, and taking him with her. The neat, perfectly manicured street of the settlement was gone as they walked into a bright nothingness. He opened his mouth to shout in surprise, but one of her hands quickly moved to silence him.

‘Silence. Even thought has weight here.’ He heard her voice, but it seemed to be inside his head and all around him at once. ‘Think what you want to say, but try not to shout.’

Her voice was as serious as her expression. ‘What is this place?’

‘This is the continuum. Actually, we call it the Möbius Continuum, but he hated it when we called it that. He always said that he didn’t create it, he just discovered it.’

‘Who said?’

‘August Ferdinand Möbius, nineteenth century German mathematician and astronomer. A great mind. Accessing the continuum is a combination of mathematical equations he formulated and the right DNA sequence. Through it, there is nowhere in existence you can’t reach.’

He was stunned. There were strands of light, like threads, running everywhere. ‘What are those?’

‘People. Or at least living creatures. Look down. That’s your thread, running through you, as it should.’ He looked down and saw a golden strand of light running through his midsection, just like the one running through Kathleen. ‘Nietzcheans tend to be brighter than normal humans. Your life force is stronger.’

‘Yours is as bright as mine.’

She looked over at him, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. ‘Noticed that, did you?’ Her grip tightened with the hand still holding his wrist as she turned away to begin pulling him with her.

‘Where are we going?’

‘I’m looking for someone. I have it on good authority that he’s on Shore Leave at the moment.’ Her eyes darted over the threads until she found one as bright as their own. Achilles saw her reach out to it, her fingers hovering just over it before she started to travel forward, using the thread as a guide. The lights around them seemed to blur with the speed of their passage until they stepped out of nothingness and into someplace ordinary.

It was a hotel room, but the skyline outside the window was not his home world. Upon their entrance, however, the half-naked couple on the wide bed sprung apart. It occurred to Achilles that the sudden appearance of two people into real space had to make an audible report.

The man on the bed stared at them in shock for a moment, but quickly recovered. “Kathleen! Have you lost what’s left of your mind?!”

“Send her away, Daniel. This is important.” Kathy folded her arms about her chest, her eyes locked on the human male. Achilles saw ‘Daniel’ stare at him in horror.

“You brought one of the them through the Continuum? Isn’t it bad enough that you and your father blabbed as much as you have to that keeper of yours? Now you wish to give them all our secrets?”

Kathleen reached down and picked up a discarded dress of red silk from the floor, tossing it to the woman. “Unless motherhood appeals to you, you’d better leave. He only brought you here to leave you pregnant.”

The blond caught the dress. She looked from Daniel, to Kathleen and finally to Achilles. Quickly, she tugged her dress on, grabbed her shoes from the floor and ran out of the room in a hurry, leaving the door open in her flight. Kathleen walked over to the door and closed it at Daniel got out of the bed, claiming his tunic and pulling it over his head after shooting a nasty look in Achilles’ direction. “What has gotten into you, Kathleen? Haven’t you put us at risk enough?”

“Why aren’t you saying anything to the High Guard, Daniel?”

“What do you mean?”

“The planned Nietzchean rebellion, Daniel. You know about it. You have to know about it, and yet you haven’t warned them.”

Achilles felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. How did Kathy know about the attacks? The human male standing on the other side of the bed from her leveled a stern gaze in her direction. “It doesn’t concern us, Kathleen. Let them slaughter one another. You know as well as I that death is not an ending.”

“We’re not just talking about death here, Daniel. Sit down. Both of you. You need to hear this.”


Achilles was sitting on the extended ramp of the Reaper, his entire being numb from shock.

“Do I disgust you now? Do you hate me?”

He looked up. Kathleen was sitting on his toolbox, her eyes trained on the floor of the hangar bay. “Why would you think that?”

“Because that’s been the way in the past. People find out what we are… then they try to kill us. We’ve almost been wiped out a couple of times. We frighten them.”

Achilles reached out and pulled her to him. “Hey. You don’t frighten me.”

She didn’t seem to believe him. “Not even a little?”

“Not even a little. I know you better than anyone on this rock, including Gaheris Rhade and the Matriarch. And I always knew there was something unique and extraordinary about you.” He gave her a smile. “Now I have proof that I was right.” He wiped a tear way from her cheek with one, rough thumb. “But I am afraid for you.”

“Why? I can just pop away if I need to.”

“And what about when we’re parents? I’m guessing that it’ll be difficult to keep track of yourself and the children, even if they will one day have the ability to ‘pop away’.”

She blinked. “You still want me? Even after you know all of this?”

“Of course I do. Someone has to keep you safe, and I can’t imagine that anyone would be as good at it as I.”

She gave a surprised burst of laughter. “That is so… Nietzchean.”

“Well, in case you haven’t noticed; I am a Nietzchean.”

“Yeah, I think the bone blades give it away.” She swallowed, giving a little sniff because the tears had started her nose to running. “If they won’t listen… then I can’t stay here. You know that, right? If he can’t get them to listen then I will have to leave. We don’t have much time, not when you factor in all that needs to be done.”

Achilles had started to nod even before she was finished. “I know. And if they won’t listen, you won’t be staying. Neither of us will be.”

“What about Sir? Technically, I’m not on my own, yet.”

“You’re of age in five months, the attacks are planned in two. I believe Gaheris will be preoccupied with more pressing matters than chasing after a foster daughter he knows can outrun any trouble that comes her way.”

“Actually… he doesn’t know that part. I never told him about the continuum. I figured the whole ‘talking to the dead thing’ was hard enough. I’ve put him through some really bad scares.” She wiped away a tear, her expression one of sorrow.

“You love him.”

“Of course. He could have thrown me away, but he didn’t. He could have left me on the station where he found me, but he didn’t. Even when the reality of what I am was revealed to him, he stayed with me and kept me safe.” She managed a ghost of a smile. “He’s family. More family that Daniel could ever be.”

“Will Daniel go to the High Guard?”

She shook her head. “If he hasn’t gone by now, he won’t bother. He’s a lancer, but he’s not overly loyal. The High Guard was just something to make him look ‘normal’ so no one looked too close at his activities. His loyalties have never been with the living. He’s forgotten the most important thing.”

Achilles brushed a lock of hair from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. “What is the most important thing?”

“That death is forever. When we die; that’s it, we’re dead. You will be until the end of all things. But for a handful of decades, you’re alive. For this brief, wonderful moment, you’re bright and shining and glorious. Death is cold and dark, but life… life is laughter and tears and kisses and blows. It’s… playing peek-a-bye with a baby to make him laugh or fishing on a bank with a pack of little boys who are making so much noise they’ll never catch anything. It’s waking up and realizing that your best friend just may be the best thing that ever happened to you. You don’t get any of that when you’re dead, so we need to treasure those things when we’re still living, or we’ll regret that we never did.”

He smiled and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. “I am awake, and I know for certain that my best friend is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” He touched his forehead to hers. “And I am with you, whether you stay or go.”

“And the rebellion?”

“They have over ten thousand ships and billions of Nietzcheans. If they will not listen, then I hardly doubt that anyone will miss me if I’m gone.” He raised his head up to look into her eyes. “Besides, you’ll need me more. You’re right; we won’t have much time if all this falls on our descendants and us. We’ll need to get started on the beginnings of the Keogh Pride.”

“Keogh Pride? Wouldn’t we call it ‘Achilles’ or ‘Olympic’ or something?”

He raised an inquiring brow. “Something tells me that any children of ours will be Keogh first and Nietzchean second. We might as well be honest about the entire thing. First, however, we’ll need to get the codes for the Reaper. I believe Boromir Rhade still keeps them.”

Kathy gave a grimace. “Yeah. I’ll do that part. After all, of the two of us, I’m better equipped to be the thief.”


Achilles stowed the last of the trunks in the cargo hold. Officially, the Reaper was unable to fly at the moment, with a malfunctioning slipstream drive. It had been some time since he let anyone but himself work on her, so he was left to repair her himself. He heard the report of air being suddenly displaced out in the corridor. “Did you get them?”

“I got them. You’d think Boromir would have a better security system on his computer.” Kathleen came in holding a flexi with the codes needed to get the defensive perimeter around the docking platform to let them through. It was a system created to keep thieves from taking off with pride property and ships. Since they were stealing her ship, she didn’t feel too badly about it.

“Who’d be crazy enough to hack into the Alpha’s computers?” He paused and looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, right… you would.”

“You put me up to it, just like when you talked me into putting that dye in his shower foam.” She walked up to him and handed him the flexi.

“I thought orange was a very good color for him.” He put a free arm around her waist and walked with her out of the cargo hold and into the rest of the ship. “I’ve checked and double checked everything. Systems are optimal; we have enough fuel to take us just about anywhere and enough food and medical supplies to sustain us for some time. I replaced the filters on the water and air recyclers for good measure.”

She took in a nervous breath. “Sounds like you’ve thought of everything.”

“I tried to. There’s something else that I managed to get out of the house as well.” He motioned for her to enter the room that had been her father’s in his lifetime, and had become that of one of Gaheris’ younger cousins when he was given use of the ship for trading runs. Achilles had stripped and replaced the linens and removed all of the other Nietzchean’s belongings, stowing them to be found later in a cargo pod outside. Now the room was filled with his own things and many of the personal items Kathleen had held onto from her life before. On the bed, however, was a black lacquer box with silver trim. “Over there.”

Kathy frowned but went over to open the box. The set of Double Helix bands lay against the black velvet, the muted light gleaming over the silver metal. She looked back at Achilles before turning her attention to the box and its contents again. “So soon?”

“You’re still a few months out yet. As your husband, I would be considered something of your legal guardian for the time being.” He stepped up behind her, placing his hands on her arms and pulling her back to rest against him. “It will also grant you some protection during the upcoming conflict if your cousin fails to get Gaheris and the others to listen.” He looked down as she lifted the wife’s band from the box, running her thumb over the textured surface. “Second thoughts?”

She shook her head. “No, I know this is right. I know what must be done.”


“Second thoughts?”

Gaheris looked up from the flexi in his hands. His brother and Apollo were watching him. “No, I know this is right. I know what must be done.” He glanced back down at the flexi and sighed. “I had only thought we might wait a month longer, when Captain Hunt is away on his honey moon and I am in charge of the Andromeda. I’d be better able to deliver her with little resistance that way.”

Boromir placed a supportive hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. “I know that you are fond of that human, Gaheris, but Dylan Hunt has spent too much time in the company of Nietzcheans. He’s reported to almost think like us. We cannot risk a man like that being able to join the fight later on. We need him taken out of the equation.”

Gaheris took a breath, keeping his retorts behind his teeth. “You’re right, of course.” He squared his shoulders, his expression grim. Apollo set down his glass.

“Gaheris, this has not been easy for any of us, but the Commonwealth continues to prove its weakness. They bargain and compromise and weaken us all. If we are to survive, then new leadership must be put into place. It is obvious that the other sentient races are incapable of seeing to their own survival, so the Nietzcheans must do it for them.”

“I will do my part, Apollo. You can be certain of that.”

The other Nietzchean gave him a measuring look before granting him a ghost of a smile. “We know that you will, Gaheris.” The older man poured him another glass of ale, but Gaheris only held it. He liked to keep level headed when he was discussing serious business. “You are one of the greatest among us. We wouldn’t trust anyone else with this task.”

“And it helps that I am the First Officer.”

“Not as much as it helps that you are someone Hunt trusts.”

Yes, someone that Dylan trusts. Trusted enough to be the Best Man at his wedding. Trusted enough that Dylan would tell him his most secret concerns and fears. For example, no one else knew that Dylan had returned the engagement ring he had picked out to exchange it for a different style seven times, merely because he was afraid that what he had chosen wasn’t grand enough to please Sarah. It was foolishness, of course. Sarah hardly even noticed the ring; she had been too dazed that he had actually asked her to do him the honor of being his wife.

Trusted enough that he could get close enough to slip a knife between Dylan’s ribs.


Kathleen was gathering up her sketches and drawings of her… their creation. The flexi with the engine designs, the elaborate charcoal representations of the different levels, all of it had to go with her. She had just removed the oil painting of the exterior from its frame and was rolling up the canvas when the door to her room opened. Katherine came in, nose in the air as always.

“Kathleen, you’re needed to get the boys out of the house so…” She stopped, looking around the curiously bare room. “What is going on here?”

Kathy started rolling the canvas again. “I’m packing.”

“Packing to go where? You are still a member of this house until you are of age.” Kathleen did not respond, too busy slipping the rolled up canvas into a carrying case. Katherine crossed the room with three long strides and gripped her arm. She froze, her eyes going down to the cloth of the girl’s sleeve as her fingers wrapped around something familiar. She shifted her hand quickly and gripped the sleeve, tugging sharply to tear if free and revealing the metal band beneath. “How dare you? Who do you think that you are, to wear a Double Helix? You are unworthy of it!”

Kathleen looked down at the ripped sleeve of her blouse and then back up at Katherine. “Remove your hand.”

Katherine’s eyes narrowed. “Mind your tone, girl. I will no longer tolerate your impertinence.”

“And I will no longer tolerate your disdain for me.” Kathleen jerked her arm sharply, breaking the woman’s grip on her. “You should be thrilled, Katherine. I’m leaving.”

The woman watched the girl strap together three carrying cases and connect them to her shoulder pack. “So you finally managed to trick Achilles into accepting your proposal.”

“I did not trick Achilles into anything. As I have told all of you time and again, he was the one pursuing me, not the other way around. I gave in to him, he didn’t give in to me.”

Katherine gave a hollow laugh. “Of course, one of the finest breeding specimens of the generation chooses a worthless Kludge over dozens of respectable females. It makes perfect sense.”

Kathy stopped and turned on one heel. “What did you just call me?”

Katherine’s face was set in a sneer. “It sickens me, the way the other co-wives dote on you like some precious child. The way the Matriarch fawns over you like you were her own flesh and blood. They treat you like you are one of our own, ignoring that you are just a worthless, genetically inferior piece of sludge. It’s given you ideas above your station.”

Kathleen dropped her shoulder pack. “You’ll want to mind your tongue, Katherine. You’re making me angry.”

The Nietzchean woman lifted her chin up an inch. “Are threatening me, girl?”

“I’m warning you.”

Katherine glared at the female in front of her. “You dare to issue threats?”

“It’s only a threat if you can’t back it up. I can.”

Katherine gave an enraged snarl and stepped forward, bringing her arm across with bone blades extended. She paused, however, when Kathleen stepped sideways and vanished with a loud crack. The Nietzchean frowned at the now empty place before her, confused. Another loud crack sounded behind her, making her turn. She did not have time to react as Kathleen grabbed a fistful of her dress and pushed her backwards.

There was no report this time, but that did not matter. Katherine found herself floating in a cold, empty nothingness. She could not see Kathleen before her other than the hand holding onto her clothing and the forearm it was attached to. The woman gripped Kathleen’s wrist to keep from being let go and gave out a loud scream. The sound seemed to echo and grow in intensity until it felt as though spikes were being shoved into her ears, making her cry out in pain… which only increased the pain further.

Suddenly, she was pulled forward and was thrown, sprawling, onto the floor of Kathleen’s room. “Did that feel like a ‘threat’, Katherine? Next time I just might let you go, let you tumble, lost between space and time for all eternity.” Katherine’s ears were still aching, her heart hammering in her chest. She looked up at the girl standing over her. There was no pity, no warmth in those strange lavender eyes of hers. “It has been a very hard week for me, Katherine. I have seen things, terrifying things, and I have no patience left to deal with fools such as you. Sir never should have accepted your offer to be his wife, you were never worthy of him, but you are here now and I can only urge you to see to your children.”

“What are you?”

Kathleen gave a mirthless chuckle. “I find myself asking that same question more and more often these days.”

The door to Kathleen’s room flew open. Bodicea came flying in. “I heard shots of some kind. What is happening?” She blinked, spying Katherine sprawled on the floor, staring up at Kathleen with true fear in her eyes. “Kathy, what is going on…” Her eyes fell onto the torn sleeve of the girl’s blouse and the revealed band around her bicep. “Kathleen… what have you done?”

Kathy took a deep breath and turned her face to Bodicea. She pointed down at Katherine with a shaking hand. “If she comes near me again, I will kill her.” She turned away and picked up the pack from where she had set it down on the bed.

“Kathleen, where are you things? Where are you going?”

The new bride shouldered her pack and turned a sad expression towards the woman who had stood in as her mother for the past three years. “Good-bye, Bodie. I’ll miss you.”

“Kathy, wait!” Bodicea made a step towards her, but froze in shock as her foster daughter stepped into thin air and vanished. She didn’t see Katherine’s flinch at the loud crack made from air rushing in towards the now empty space.


Gaheris left his brother’s house, his mind deep in thought. It sickened him to think that he would soon betray a man he had grown to honor and respect, but he knew that it was for the best. His people must survive, even at the cost of Dylan Hunt.

A loud crack of sound from his left made him turn and crouch, ready to defend and to attack. He could not hide his surprise at the man standing before him. “Daniel Summers.”

“Commander.” Summers was wearing civilian clothing, his hair tossed lightly by the wind. “Might I have a word with you?”

Gaheris stood back up, tugging his tunic smooth. “How did you get here? I would have been notified if you had arrived at the docking stations. I made certain your profile was on record.”

Daniel smiled. “So Kathy didn’t tell you everything. I’m surprised. I thought she believed the known galaxies revolve around you.” He stepped closer to Gaheris, his hands clasped behind his back. “She came to me about a week ago with some rather disturbing news.”

Gaheris tensed. He did not believe that Kathleen would betray him, especially not to Daniel, but he couldn’t be certain. “What sort of news?”

“Would you like to hear the good or the bad first?”

“Summers, I am in no mood to play games.”

“Bad first, then. Very well. The Magog are coming, Commander.”

Gaheris paused. “Coming here?”

“Coming to the known galaxies, or rather, to the populated parts. You see, Kathleen went poking around, stretching out far and wide with her thoughts, until she came across Andromeda’s last crew, the one that went out on a black ops mission and got themselves killed. She found out what they had discovered, and it wasn’t pretty. A massive ship, made up of about twenty planets hooked together with an artificial sun in the center. Each world filled with Magog. They number in the trillions and they’re headed this way.”

Rhade frowned, his mind registering disbelief. “That’s insanity.”

“No, that’s the bad news. The good news is that their ship is too big to fit through slipstream. They have to travel the old fashioned way, which means you have about three to four hundred years before they get here.”

Gaheris watched the man closely, his eyes narrowed. “Even if I believed you, why are you telling me this? What’s more, why would Kathleen tell you and not me? She despises you.”

“Good question. The answer is that I am the same as she and can corroborate her story. As it is, the delay in my coming here is due to the fact that I wanted to speak with the old crew myself, see if what she was claiming could even be possible. To tell the truth, I was praying she was wrong.” Summers sighed, flexing his shoulders. “As for why I’m telling you; Kathy hoped that you would be more willing to listen to another member of the High Guard when I tell you that you should call off the Nietzchean rebellion.”

Rhade’s bone blades twitched. “Rebellion?”

“Come now, Commander. You know that there is no secret held by the dead that I cannot learn. I know about the plan to overthrow the Commonwealth.”

“If you are so certain that there will be rebellion, why not inform the High Guard?”

“To what purpose?” Daniel moved his hands from behind himself to fold his arms over his chest. “If I don’t tell the Commonwealth, then the Nietzcheans rebel, the High Guard is taken by surprise and the Nietzcheans will win. If I do tell the Commonwealth, they will confront the Nietzcheans about the planned rebellion, the Nietzcheans will attack and they will win. I have a good idea of how many ships you have, Gaheris, and your people are far more ready to face a full-scale war than the Commonwealth. They may have pretty ships, but they don’t have the backbone to use them effectively.”

Whatever answer he had expected, that had not been it. Rhade’s confusion was only growing. “So you feel the only way is to call off the rebellion completely. To what end?”

“To the end that you can spend the next three centuries preparing yourselves. The Magog are coming. If you tear down a government body this large, then the chances are that you will not be able to build up a new one, and bring it to order and equip it, by the time that they arrive. However, if the Nietzcheans can swallow their rage and their pride long enough to work with the Commonwealth, you can prepare.”

“Prepare? They made a treaty with the Magog! The Commonwealth doesn’t have the guts to prepare for anything.”

“They made a treaty with the advanced guard of the Magog who are cut off from the main force. That doesn’t mean that they will abide by the terms of that treaty. In fact, if you fracture the Commonwealth, I strongly doubt that they will. It will be like blood in the water near a pack of sharks.”

Rhade’s frown deepened. “The decision isn’t up to me. This has been a long time in planning and involves millions. This late in the plan few will stop to listen.”

Daniel nodded. “We know this, Kathleen and I both. We only hoped that you might be able to make the others see that this not the wisest course of action at this time. It would be better if you worked matters out in a more diplomatic fashion.”

“And if I cannot? Are you going to report us to the Commonwealth?”

Summers shook his head. “No. If you cannot, then I gather up my children and their mothers and we go someplace far from the action.”

Gaheris wasn’t all that surprised. “Desertion.” He nodded. “As a Commonwealth Officer, I should report you. However, considering that you are finally willing to take responsibility for your offspring, the Nietzchean in me is willing to look the other way.”

Daniel smile, amused. “Somehow, I thought you might see it that way. Still, it would be preferable if the Nietzcheans did not rebel.”

Rhade did not comment on this. If this news were coming from anyone else, he would think it ranting of a madman. Since it was coming from Daniel, he would ask Kathy for corroboration. “You still haven’t told me as to how you got on this planet without my knowing about it.”

Daniel shrugged. “Family secret.”

He was about to loose his temper when the com unit in his pocket chimed. With a frown, he pulled it out and turned it on. “This is Gaheris.”

“Gaheris! It’s Kathy! She’s disappeared!”

He felt his heart stop. “Bodicea, calm down. What do you mean she’s disappeared?”

“She was fighting with Katherine. I heard something that sounded like weapons fire and went to break them apart. She was standing there, and then she just vanished!”

Gaheris looked sharply over at Daniel, who just shrugged and mouthed ‘Family Secret’. “Did she say where she was going?”

“No, she just said ‘good-bye’. Gaheris, she was wearing a Double Helix. I saw it.”

“Damn!” Rhade looked over at Daniel in question. “That boy moves fast. I’d love to stay and chat, but it’s obvious you’re not going to listen to me and it looks like you have some family issues to take care of.” Summers gave him a mocking salute and took three steps to his left. On the third, he seemed to walk into an open, invisible doorway and vanish with a loud report. Gaheris found himself staring at the empty space before him in shock, but pulled himself out of it as Bodicea’s voice called out to him over the com.

“It’s all right. I’ll find Kathleen.” He shut off the com and broke into a run. He only knew of one place that Kathy was likely to be headed.

He skidded into the docking station to find the door to the Reaper’s bay closed and locked. The regular access codes didn’t work. He quickly punched in his own, personal code and the doors slid open with a hiss. The ship was still there, the boarding ramp down and the hatch door open. “Kathleen!” He ran to the ship, but Achilles came hurrying out of the hatch to meet him at the base of the ramp. Gaheris’ eyes fell to the wide Double Helix band around the younger male’s arm. His mouth twisted in a snarl as he swung his bone blades up to attack.

Achilles met him, blocking the attack with his forearm. “Gaheris, I do not wish to fight you over this!”

“You went against my wishes, involving a child of my house!”

“Kathleen is not a child! She is old enough to make her own choices.”

“She is a child until she is of age!” He used his leg to knock the younger male down and followed him to halt his bone blades over Achilles’ throat. “You had no right.”

“Sir!” Kathleen ran from the ship and gripped his arm. “Sir, please! Let him go! Let me explain!”

Gaheris did not move. He kept his eyes locked with Achilles’. Kathleen he could trust not to hurt him. Achilles he could not. “I’m listening.”

Kathleen hesitated, clearly having expected him to let her husband up. Gaheris heard her swallow before she spoke. “We knew that it was unlikely that the rebellion could be stopped, but that doesn’t stop the Magog from coming. If the Commonwealth is going to fall, then other preparations must be made.”

“Such as?”

“The Reavers have to be built, and there have to be Keogh to captain them. Finding bodies to fight won’t be a problem, but there have to be Keogh to guide them. It’s the only army that could possibly stop the Magog.”

Achilles was watching Gaheris closely; aware that if he made any sudden moves that the older male would likely kill him. “To do that, I have to remove Kathleen from the conflict. We need to go someplace where we can begin our family in peace.”

Rhade hesitated. “She’s told you?”

“She’s told me everything.”

“And you feel that you can accept her, as she is and without reservations.” He flexed his blades over Achilles’ throat. “You know what she is. Can you accept that?”

Achilles showed no fear as he looked up into Gaheris’ eyes. “I already have.”

Rhade studied Achilles closely, neither of them speaking. Finally, he stood up and offered an assist to Achilles. The younger male dusted himself off as Gaheris tugged his tunic smooth. “I still feel that she is too young, but after what Daniel has told me, I can see the reason behind this move.” He gave Achilles another appraising glance. “Protect her, treat her well, and I will not have to seek you out in order to make her a widow.”

Kathleen shifted her weight behind him. “Sir!”

Achilles smiled. “Understood, Gaheris.” Both males presented their arms to exchange the traditional Nietzchean salute. “I will protect her and the children we create together.”

“See that you do, Achilles. She does you a great honor by selecting you as her husband.” Gaheris lowered his arm, letting Achilles return to readying the ship for departure. Kathleen stood at the foot of the ramp, watching him. “You could have chosen far worse.”

She smiled. “Something tells me that I could have chosen the reincarnation of Drago Museveni, and he still wouldn’t be good enough for you.”

“Something like that.” Rhade ran his eyes over her. She had turned out so well, this accidental child of his. “I will send word to the Central Bank and let them know of the change in your status. They should release the full amount of your trust to you and Achilles. I would recommend changing it to tangible wealth that would be universally accepted. Once the government falls, the currency system will be worthless for a time.”

She nodded as she moved closer. “Thank you, Sir. For everything.” She wrapped her arms about him, laying her head on his shoulder. “I wish there were another way.”

He ran a hand over her hair. “So do I, but this may be the best way for you. War is ugly, and it wouldn’t do for strange prides to mistake you for something you are not. You and Achilles should try to keep a low profile, don’t let yourselves be seen any more than you have to be.”

“Yes, Sir.” Her shoulders started to shake and he knew that she was trying not to cry.

“Hush now, none of that. You’re a wife, not a little girl.”

She lifted her head back up and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t. It’s just… I’m afraid of never seeing you again. Of never seeing any of you again.”

“That’s what it means to grow up.” He stroked one of her cheeks with the backs of his fingers. “Achilles is an alpha. The two of you can form your own pride, and there is enough in your trust to give you a healthy start. Just remember to counsel your children to choose their mates as wisely as you have chosen yours. Don’t let them select anyone who cannot accept them for who they are.”

“What about the rebellion?”

“I’ll do what I can, but I do not have a lot of faith that the others will listen.” He gave her a sad sort of smile. “Trillions of Magog in a ship made of worlds? It sounds like something out of a holo novel. It will be difficult to believe. It’s strange, but your father told me that we needed you, people like you. It never occurred to me that it would be for something like this.”

Kathleen took a deep breath. “Don’t do it, Sir. Don’t turn against Dylan. You can warn him, tell him what’s going on.”

“And how will that help, Kathleen? I would be branded a traitor of my own people. My wives and children would be ostracized, if not killed outright. Even if I did, the rebellion would still begin and the Andromeda would still have to enter the conflict. If the others will not listen, then I must still fight.”

She sighed and nodded. “I know it. I was just hoping that I could make it all go away.” She laughed a bit. “Guess I’m letting the whole ‘knowledge of all’ get to me. Starting to think I’m more powerful than I really am.”

Achilles came to the open hatchway. “Kathleen, the ship is ready when you are.”

She looked over her shoulder and nodded. “I’ll be right there.” She looked back to Gaheris. “He really is a good man, Sir.”

“Are you starting to feel any strong attraction for him?”

She blushed a bit. “Not too sure on that part. I’m still having trouble with the whole male/female thing… but I have no end of advice. There are some really dirty-minded people in the past. Did you know this?”

Rhade couldn’t fight an amused chuckle. “The holographic pornography industry is proof of that. Just… don’t take all their advice. Some of them have some rather warped ideas.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “I am proud of you, Kathleen. I am honored to have been your guardian these past years, and I have loved you like a daughter. I wish you and Achilles many healthy children.”

She covered his hand with one of her own. “Thank you, Sir. We’ll do our best.”

“You must. Something tells me that when that ship arrives, the galaxies are going to need all the help your descendants can offer.” He lowered his hand to rub her shoulder. “You should get going. Your husband is waiting for you.” She nodded and turned away to start up the ramp. Something crossed his mind and he called out to her. “Kathleen, did they ever tell you what the connection between the Magog and the Keogh is?”

She stopped, her shoulders going a bit stiff before she turned around. “It’s… it’s how they reproduce, Sir. They lay eggs in a paralyzed host, but the host dies before the babies come out. Somehow… the dead should not feel pain, Sir. But when the babies eat their way out… the body feels it. It’s agony…and it’s wrong.” She shrugged. “I imagine it seems like a rather silly reason, to hate a species because they cause pain to the dead.”

Gaheris pondered this for a moment. “Not really. Not when it comes from you. The living have strength in numbers. All those that have passed on have is one family.” He gave her one last, faint smile, his throat tightening as he realized that the first of his children was truly leaving home. “Hurry along now. The sooner you leave, the further away you can get before the war starts.”

She turned back away and walked into the ship. Rhade watched as the ramp retracted and the hatch closed. He stepped away and reminded himself to be strong even as the engines whined to life and the ship rose up. He hadn’t realized how much it must have pained his parents to watch their children grow up and begin families of their own. He wondered if he would have strength enough to go through this for each of his own.

“Live well, Kathleen.”


He did try to warn his brother and the others. As he suspected, they did not believe him at first. When he did convince them about the Magog, they refused to believe that they could not be prepared to face the threat in three centuries. The rebellion happened as planned. He sabotaged the Andromeda as planned. The conflict between himself and Dylan, however, did not go as planned.

Death was as Kathleen had described it; cold and dark. He found himself within the darkness, pondering the things he had pondered in life. He replayed the battle between himself and Dylan over and over, noting the mistakes he had made. Dylan was right; he did talk too much. He played endless games of Go, trying to improve on his tactics, but he had no opponents against whom he could test his skills. He had no one.

That, perhaps, pained him. He knew that there should be at least one voice there with him, and yet Kathleen did not come. He did not feel the light and warmth that Simon had described as the presence of a Keogh to the dead. He was alone, and it saddened him. He did not know how much time had passed, but it seemed like an eternity before he heard the first, faint echoes of static at the edge of his lingering mind. He reached out, tentatively, and found the teaming minds of the Great Majority. They seemed surprise to note him there, among their number. They seemed to have been expecting him. It wasn’t long after that before a familiar voice approached him.


“Kathleen. You are here.”

“Yes, Sir. I’m here.”

“You are cold. I thought the living were to feel different.”

“I am not living, Sir. Not any longer. I have not been for some time.”

Gaheris let this announcement settle into his thoughts. “How much time?”

“You died within the event horizon of the singularity. It played some unexpected tricks with the Continuum. I could not reach you, no matter how hard I tried to do so.”

“How much time, Kathleen?”

“It’s been a little over three centuries, Sir.”

“So long! And the rebellion?”

He felt Kathleen hesitate. “Things did not go… entirely as you would have hoped, Sir, but they went a bit worse than I had feared.”

“How so?”

“I think it would be best if you spoke to one of the living, Sir. I learn what I can, but it is difficult, even for me.”

“One of the living? Who, Kathy?” She did not respond. He was about to ask again, but then he did feel warmth and he did sense light. It was glorious and comforting, surrounding him and comforting him. “Who is there?” The voice that responded was a rich, masculine baritone he had never heard before.

“Greetings, Sir. I am Simon, out of Keogh by Gaheris. We have heard so much about you.”

~***~ THE END ~***~

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