He materialized on one of the decks of the Andromeda Ascendant, no longer in the machine shop with Beka. Trance – the new one – was still by his side, however, her gaze serious and quite unlike the purple sparkly creature she used to be.
For some strange reason, Gaheris almost missed the cheerful purple creature she had replaced. To think, I actually grew fond of them.
That had not been the plan. To grow emotionally attached to Beka was also not part of the plan. All he had wanted was to undo the mistake he’d made in betraying the Commonwealth, to restore order to the chaos of the world.
He was vaguely aware of Trance leaning up to him – had he been so fond of them, he, Gaheris Rhade, that he allowed their touch without thinking twice? Yes, he knew it was so, and it did not shame him as it would have 300 years ago – to plant a chaste kiss on his cheek.
She disappeared, and he was alone to face his past.
To face his mistake.
"We thought you were the one," the pale creature – Trance, she claimed to be, and indeed, she bore a resemblance – told him, her face solemn. "…you are not the one."
"If I’m not the one, then who is?" he demanded, unwilling to admit defeat. But he already knew.
And she knew. "You already know whom," she said.
It was Dylan. It had always been Dylan.
Even when he first realized the consequences of his actions in betraying his best friend, Gaheris had known, deep inside, that no matter how much he attempted to correct things, nothing would ever be right again. The Nietzschean-ruled empire he had dreamed of had not come to pass – not because of the Commonwealth, but because the Nietzscheans had been too stubborn, inferior, to truly unite as one army. Instead, he learned exactly how inferior they were, how Nietzscheans had fought in wars against fellow Nietzscheans, how they battled between prides, killing each other off.
For this, he had betrayed Dylan.
For this, he had killed his best friend.
And Gaheris Rhade had felt an overwhelming wave of self-disgust and regret, the two emotions a Nietzschean almost never felt, especially for their actions against a human.
It hadn’t taken him long to go to Harper and ask him to build that Dylan hologram. It wasn’t the real thing, but it was better than nothing.
So he had survived, struggling to forge a new Commonwealth, to repent and rectify the mistakes he had made three centuries ago. Despite all that, despite his sincerity and well meaning, everything had gone wrong – everything would continue to go wrong, if he believed Trance.
Gaheris was given a chance to redeem himself – truly redeem himself, not the feeble attempts he had been making – and so he would take it.
I wonder, he thought as he stalked towards the bridge. What will happen to the crew? Would Beka and Rev Bem still leave? Tyr would be alive, of this I am sure. Dylan was never the one to kill anyone without more than justifiable reasons. Ten times what a Nietzschean would need.
Captain Gaheris Rhade caught sight of his quarry.
"Commander!" he barked, knowing his younger self would be confused by the similarity in their appearance and voice.
He was counting on it.
As if taken straight from the plan in his mind, Commander Gaheris Rhade paused in mid step, turning towards the familiar voice that had called him by rank. He peered into the shadows the dim lights of the deck cast, seeing fleeting images of… his face?
He had no more time to wonder, for it was at that moment Captain Gaheris Rhade fired.
It is strange, Captain Gaheris reflected, to see myself dead.
A Nietzschean’s worst nightmare. Well, after being permanently handicapped or sterile.
His lips curled into a slightly scornful smile as he knelt down next to his younger body. Emotionlessly, he began to strip the Commander - it was easier to think of him like that – of his uniform. If he was really going to go through with this, and he was, he would do it properly.
Gaheris stood, quickly changing from his Captain’s grieving uniform, which had become his everyday clothes, into the painfully familiar red and beige uniform. Then, he disposed of the body into the nearest escape pod, launching it into space, knowing full well that it would be sucked into the black hole.
It was done.
There was nothing he could do about the only physical difference between himself and his younger double – the permanent black scar from Tyr’s throwing star. Gaheris hoped that Dylan wouldn’t get a chance to look at him that closely.
With his superior Nietzschean senses, he heard a noise that ordinary humans couldn’t possibly hear. It was a sort of hissing, and he realized that it was the atmosphere being vented. He reached into the fold of cloth in which the breathing apparatus had been stored, then put it into his mouth.
On his way to the bridge, he heard Andromeda’s familiar voice, calling out not his rank, but his name, which hinted at how close the ship was to its officers. "Rhade?"
Almost two years of being the ship’s Captain made him wish to still his hand, but he knew what had to be done, and so shot the screen with a blast from his force lance.
He reached the doors leading to the bridge, which opened with a compliant hiss.
Refractions of Dawn turned the seat to look at who entered the bridge. "Commander?"
As he had before, Gaheris aimed and fired straight into the Than pilot’s chest. Unlike before, he paused a moment, to give Dylan time to prepare, and then began to fire at his best friend.
It was hard to do, because at least he had killed him with one blow the last time. Killed him before the implications could fully sink in. This Dylan would have time to realize that his best friend was a traitor; this Dylan would have time to know why.
"Rhade!" Dylan shouted as they exchanged fire.
His face remained a mask of stone; "I tried to warn you."
Dylan didn’t understand, "What are you doing?"
"Ensuring the survival of my people!" Gaheris shouted, knowing that it was not what would happen, knowing the disturbing future of the Nietzschean race. But it had been the reason why he had gone through with the betrayal, so long ago. Now. "The Commonwealth is weak. It bargains with its enemies, it compromises. My people are engineered to be perfect! And the Commonwealth is no place for the strong."
"So the Nietzscheans decided to destroy it."
"We spent years preparing, waiting, arguing," Gaheris told him. "For a long time, I opposed the destruction of the Systems Commonwealth. So did many others." Not enough. "The Treaty of Antares changed all that."
All the words were so familiar, though never said before, because they were his old ideals; he felt the old passion, but did not make the mistake of embracing it once more.
"The Magog," realized the Captain before sliding behind a console.
"Yes! The Magog. Savages. Predators. They eat sentient beings. They reproduce by rape. They killed over a billion people on Brandenburg Tor. They destroyed the Nietzschean colony on Hawking." He felt the old hatred stir in him, fueled by the near death encounter that he and his crew had experienced some time ago – 300 and some years in a different future. But he also remembered Rev Bem, the first gentle Magog he had ever seen, and pushed down the hatred and the anger. "And what did the Commonwealth do?"
"We made peace with them," Dylan protested.
"You compromised with monsters! The blood of over a billion people cried out for vengeance, and you made peace," Gaheris spit out, the memory and emotions clear. He used them. "You have sown the wind. You shall reap the whirlwind."
Then, Dylan responded again, but with more than just words. "You know what your problem is, Rhade? You talk too much."
A force lance slid across the floor in his direction. Gaheris recognized the beeping noise it emitted, and leaped away as quickly as he could. It almost wasn’t enough, and he felt the heat and force of the explosion propel him forward. Dylan rushed him, trying to take advantage, but Gaheris was already recovered from the momentary shock, and met him head on.
They traded blows, not getting anywhere, but Gaheris knew what would happen if he stalled long enough. What was meant to happen.
Although Gaheris had experienced the time distortion before, he was still caught off guard. He hadn’t realized that much time had passed.
It was enough for Dylan to knock him to the ground.
"What was that?" Dylan demanded of Andromeda.
"A temporal distortion. Our artificial gravity must be amplifying the time dilation effects of the black hole," came the prompt reply.
By this time, Gaheris had recovered, and leapt to attack once more. "Give up, you can’t win," he told Dylan, knowing that the true Captain of the Andromeda would never give up, and that in the end Dylan would be the victor. Gaheris would make it so.
But Dylan didn’t know this. "I told you before," the man said, spying a force lance. Gaheris noted the movement, saw his own force lance, and they both leapt away at the same time. "Pessimism is not a survival trait!" Dylan shouted as they both reached their respective force lances.
Time slowed again.
"Time dilation is increasing," Andromeda reported.
They leapt into the air again, firing at each other. Gaheris made sure to look as if he were truly aiming for the other man, and suppressed a wince when a shot grazed his side. If he had leapt into the air a few seconds earlier, that might have hit him full on.
It should have, he realized. If I don’t die soon, we’ll both be frozen in time.
Gaheris landed, ignoring the slight stinging from his side, and watched as Dylan landed as well. He saw the other man preparing to fire again, and waited, his decision already made.
Dylan’s brow furrowed in confusion, and he hesitated.
The Andromeda Ascendant had reached the event horizon of the black hole.
The Andromeda Ascendant was one of the most technologically advanced warships of its time; the High Guard had been powerful before, but with the addition of the Glorious Heritage Class ships such as the Andromeda, their power was multiplied a hundred-fold. However, even warships have limits, have rules to follow. The rules of time and space were a few of those rules, and the Universe made sure the ships followed the rules it imposed.
There could be no better teacher.
Or a harsher disciplinarian.
As the Eureka Maru and her crew cheered at their victory in pulling the large Commonwealth ship away from the event horizon, inside the Andromeda, another drama was unfolding.
Time resumed as if it had never before stopped.
Dylan Hunt was confused. Just a few moments ago, he had been fighting a battle to the death with his best friend, a traitor to the Commonwealth. Then, just as Dylan had been ready to kill him, just as he had worked up the resolve, something happened. His Nietzschean friend had waited, waited for Dylan to fire at him, instead of leaping away to safety, as he knew Gaheris could have.
It had struck him, then, He wants to die.
With that realization, Dylan had stayed his hand. He didn’t presume to know why Gaheris wanted to die – he hoped it was because the Nietzschean realized what a mistake he’d made by betraying the Commonwealth, by betraying their friendship.
If he only knew.
To Gaheris Rhade, the scene had not changed a bit – Dylan was still pointing at him with a force lance, ready to kill him at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t until Andromeda interrupted the standstill that he realized something had gone wrong in his plan.
Andromeda’s holograph form, which had flickered off during the battle with the Nietzschean fleet, now flickered back on, her form full of static and interruption. The connection was unstable. "Captain Hunt! Captain Hunt, are you all right?"
Realization struck Gaheris. It was the same question posed by the ship when the Eureka Maru had pulled it out of the event horizon. He had failed in his mission, and yet had succeeded all the same. He had planned for one of them to survive, that one being Dylan, but both of them had lived, suspended in time for 300 years.
Dylan saw some sort of comprehension dawn on his former Chief Officer’s face, and sensed that the other knew something that he himself did not. "I’ll live," he told Andromeda. He glanced at Gaheris and raised a brow, as if daring the other man to contradict the statement.
Gaheris said nothing, instead choosing to straighten from his awkwardly crouched position. Dylan’s arm seem to waver, debating on whether or not to use the force lance, but in the end lowered with a finality that shocked Gaheris.
"You shouldn’t let down your guard like that," he said, his face and voice seemingly impassive as always. However, to Dylan, who had known him for years, there was a scolding note in the Nietzschean’s tone. "Especially with someone who was just trying to kill you. You are much too trusting and naïve."
The reprimand was the final reason that caused Dylan to trust his First Officer once more. It might have seemed strange to others on how easily he accepted Gaheris back as his friend, but Dylan rather thought that someone who wanted to kill him wouldn’t give him pointers on how to defend himself. Especially a Nietzschean.
He was about to answer Gaheris when Andromeda spoke once more, "Captain Hunt, something's wrong." That caught Dylan’s attention, fast. Even Gaheris paid attention to what Andromeda was saying, despite having heard something similar before. "We're moving away from the singularity, but the Nietzschean fleet, our escape pods, they're all gone."
"That's impossible," Dylan replied immediately.
Gaheris corrected his friend – dare he hope? – with as much confidence left in him as he could, "Not impossible."
Dylan shot him an unreadable look, but before the Captain could say anything, Andromeda agreed with Gaheris. Her design was full of such subtleties and nuances that she was completely like a human, in personality ranges if not in physical form. She hadn’t missed a single exchange between the two men, and had interpreted the silent words as they were meant to be.
"Commander Rhade is correct," Andromeda stated, glancing briefly at the Nietzschean. He returned her stare levelly. They seemed to reach some agreement, and broke off the stare. "We may have experienced more severe time dilations as we approached the event horizon of the black hole."
Gaheris nodded; it was what had happened to him. Now it was what had happened to them. He wondered what Trance would say if she found out how severely his mission had gone wrong. Something was clear, though. He did not want to wait close to two years to go back in time, again, just so he could kill himself. Once was enough, twice was asking too much of a Nietzschean.
"How severe?" Dylan demanded, mentally noting his friend’s unusually quick acceptance of their fate.
Andromeda’s hologram shimmered slightly as she looked to be deep in thought. Suddenly, a shocked look appeared on her face. She hesitated.
Dylan, too impatient to wait, ordered, "Spit it out!"
Andromeda replied, somewhat reluctant to cause her Captain pain but unable to refuse orders, "According to my calculations, we have been frozen in time for over 300 years."
"Three hundred years?" Shock descended over the Captain. "Oh my God," he whispered. "Sarah? My folks? The rest of the crew?"
Gaheris Rhade couldn’t help but feel a stab of sympathy for his friend. He had long ago come to terms with the fact that he would never see his wives, or his children, ever again. It had been a horrifying loss, and Gaheris had struggled with his grief for a long time, longer than most species would expect from a Nietzschean, whom they considered incapable of love. Perhaps they were right, but Gaheris knew without a doubt that his species were capable of feeling something akin to love, for he had truly been deeply fond of his family.
However, this was the second time around for him, barely a shock. The fact that he was alive bothered him more than the fact that he might never see his wives or his sons and daughters again.
But Dylan…he was obviously having trouble with the concept. Gaheris could understand, could sympathize. One moment everyone had been alive, the world was familiar. Now everyone they ever knew was dead and the world was an uncertain place.
"I'm sorry, Dylan. Everyone we know – our entire world – is gone," Andromeda said softly.
In one of the main hangars of the Andromeda, the crew of the Eureka Maru was preparing to exit from their ship and enter the large warship.
Beka was in her cautious mode. "OK, so according to the stories, the crew of the Andromeda abandoned ship. But they did so during the middle of a battle, so God only knows what we can expect when we get over there."
"I wouldn't presume to speak for the Divine, but do watch out for unexploded munitions, anti-personnel nanobots, automated attack drones..." Rev Bem added, agreeing with his Captain.
"Not to mention radiation leaks, blown pressure seals, shrapnel..." Beka was about to go on, but Harper interrupted her.
"OK, OK...mom and dad," he said sarcastically. "We get the picture."
"We'll be careful," Trance reassured. "We promise."
"I don't want you to be careful. Trance, I want you to be paranoid," Beka corrected. In her experience, she had long learned that it was better to be safe than sorry. Sorry could get one killed.
Harper’s fountain of sarcasm hadn’t run dry yet, "Oh! Oh! Miss Valentine?"
"Yes, Harper," she said, ignoring the sarcasm.
"This isn't our first field trip," the engineer pointed out. Thinking twice, he gestured to Trance, "Purple company excluded, of course."
"That is my point," Beka said triumphantly. She had her opening. "I want you to treat every boarding just like your first one. I want you to double-check everything. Hell, triple-check it. I'd hate for any of you to end up like Vexpag."
"Vexpag?" Trance repeated the unfamiliar name.
Rev answered, "Your predecessor."
"Oh!" Trance exclaimed, remembering now. "He’s the guy who retired. Didn’t you say he bought a farm?"
Harper shook his head, "The farm. He bought the farm."
She was confused, "Well, what’s the difference?"
"Torn pressure suit and a bad emergency seal," Beka answered frankly.
Trance froze, "Oh. That is different."
"You’ll be fine," Rev said. "Keep your eyes open. Use your head."
"Or whatever it is you think with," Harper added helpfully.
They all stepped into the airlock. Beka and Harper put on their helmets. Rev Bem had no need for one, merely having a pair of goggles and an air mask.
There was a moment before Rev reminded, "Trance – your helmet?"
"Oh," the purple humanoid said. "Right."
She put on her helmet. They all stepped out into the Andromeda, and Beka checked her hand held scanner.
"Air’s breathable," she reported to everyone else. "What there’s left of it."
"We're at .6 atmospheres in here, but a lot of the ship is still exposed to vacuum," Trance told them.
"We'll have to re-pressurize it section by section," Rev Bem commented.
Harper was too busy gawking at the magnificent structure of the Andromeda. It had been impressive from the outside, yes, but inside… "I am in love!"
"With a machine," Trance said wryly. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Hey! It's not just a machine," Harper told his companion defensively. "It's a masterpiece. A work of art like, uh, a Durer etching or the Parthenon...or, a Harley-Davidson." Trance gave him a puzzled look. "A motorcycle," he explained. When it was obvious she still had no clue what that was, he finished, "It's an Earth thing."
The others were long used to Harper’s tendency to go off into a spiel about finely crafted machines. They barely blinked.
"I hate to interrupt such passion, but I smell blood," Rev Bem said. He growled, sniffing the air. "And burnt carbon. This ship has been through a fight."
"Or," Beka tried to look at the alternatives. "Or everyone on board got pancaked by the singularity."
"No life signs so far," Trance added.
"Good," Beka said, relieved. It made her job much easier. "Harper, patch into the ship's computer. Let's see if we can get this thing to fly again."
She left, handing her helmet to Rev Bem as she passed him. Harper trailed a bit behind her, pausing to hand his helmet to Rev as well.
"Thanks," Harper said.
"Three hundred years. I wonder if anyone even remembers what we were fighting for," Dylan said absently, still coming to terms with the situation.
"They died for what they believed in," Andromeda said, trying to comfort her Captain.
"That's the same speech I always give," Dylan said, with a bitterness never present before. "Except there's no one to give the speech to now, is there? Their children, Dawn's mating group…" He turned to his silent second in command. "Your wives…"
Gaheris didn’t even blink, gazing levelly at Dylan. He seemed the epitome of Nietzschean dignity and composure.
"They've all been dead for at least two hundred years, now," the Captain continued.
"We'll find someone. Their descendants. The Commonwealth will know where to find them," Andromeda said.
Gaheris almost laughed. The Andromeda had never tried to reassure him about anything, since he had killed her rightful Captain, and he had never treated the AI as a person as Dylan and some of the human crewmembers had. To Gaheris, the warship was just a thinking machine, unable to reproduce – the sign Nietzscheans recognized as the indications to a species. It was almost pathetic, laughable, at how far the ship was willing to go to please its Captain.
"The Commonwealth," Dylan realized. He turned to Gaheris for support, "We need to make contact, let them know we're still alive."
Gaheris simply continued to gaze at him, no indication of his feelings or opinion anywhere on his face or stance.
Dylan thought that it was his way of suppressing his feelings, his grief for the loss of his wives and children – in a way, he was right. Gaheris was trying to suppress the desire to take over; he knew exactly what would happen and what was going on, but he knew that he had to let Dylan figure everything out. So he did nothing in case he might do something ahead of time.
"I'm not picking up any local signals," Andromeda began. "We'll have to..." She paused. "Dylan? We have intruders on board!" Indignantly, she added, "They're trying to rewire me!"
At the possibility of some action, Dylan seemed to snap out of his depression. "Do they have full control?" he demanded.
Andromeda assessed the situation; "No, but they do have control over the doors."
"On screen!" he barked, heading for one of the consoles. Gaheris did the same.
The main viewscreen split into five smaller screens as Andromeda complied. "They seem to have split up to explore the ship. Two humans, one male and one female. One female humanoid. One male humanoid. One magog. That makes five."
"Humans working with the Magog," Dylan said, in disbelief. "Are they crazy?"
Gaheris said nothing, instead choosing to focus on the screen with the picture of Beka on it. She looked different, not as he remembered her, but that was to be expected. The way he remembered her was the way she would be in two years.
"Apparently," Andromeda answered. "Although their leader appears to be a Nightsider."
The image with the mole-like humanoid dressed as a cheap pimp was brought forth. It was then overlapped by the image with the purple female.
"And I haven’t a clue what she is," the warship said, then continued, "Another thing I don’t understand." She brought up a picture of the one human male, who was scratching at his neck. She zoomed in. "I’m pretty sure that’s Triangulum Measles."
"So he’s sick," Dylan said, already thinking of ways to gain an edge.
Sometimes, Gaheris reflected, with not a little bit of pride, I believe that Dylan would have made a magnificent Nietzschean.
"With a disease that was nearly extinct three hundred years ago," Andromeda commented. She was clearly disturbed. "Something any decent doctor could cure over night. I'm not sure I like the implications of this."
"Me either," her Captain replied. Dylan turned to Gaheris, "Well, what do you think?"
Gaheris paused, then looked back at the viewscreen as if he were calculating the possibilities. And he was, in a manner of speaking, just not the same possibilities they were calculating. On screen, Harper was whistling a tune that was vaguely familiar to Gaheris, simply because the eccentric human hummed it so much.
"Hey, guys," the engineer was saying. "I’m waiting."
"If he is waiting, we don’t want to be rude," Gaheris supplied.
Dylan smiled in something that resembled malice but wasn’t quite as nasty. It wasn’t nice, however. "Well, then, maybe it’s time we introduced ourselves to our guests."
Yes. An excellent Nietzschean, Gaheris thought, a hint of a smile flickering on his face.
Silently, Gaheris and his Captain sneaked up on the little human engineer, who was bent over a flexi – obviously the schematics he needed, from his pleased expression. Dylan gestured for Gaheris to go first, and, nodding graciously, Gaheris circled halfway around the still-ignorant Harper.
Ready when you are, Captain, Gaheris signed, in the familiar, brisk hand motions of the traditional Commonwealth code.
Dylan nodded, but waited for the right moment to enter; Gaheris sighed in an amused fashion at his companion’s wont for dramatics.
Meanwhile, Harper was muttering to himself, saying, "If you ant something done right…"
That was the invitation Dylan had been waiting for.
"…you have to do it yourself," the Captain of the ship finished.
From the side, Gaheris had a full view of the expression on the engineer’s face as the human whirled around, only to find Dylan standing menacingly behind him, holding a force lance. Even the Nietzschean had to admit that the expression on the Captain’s face was far from friendly. He didn’t blame the little man at all for being so frightened, though he couldn’t help but be contemptuous.
Dylan raised a brow. "You finding everything you need?"
Belying the friendly nature of his question, Dylan extended his force lance into close combat mode. The man was quite clumsy, he noted faintly as he watched the engineer scramble away.
Harper didn’t get far, as he immediately bumped into a waiting Gaheris, who pushed him harshly to the floor, though not as forcefully as he could have. "Whoa," Harper grunted in surprise and pain, then froze when he found himself staring at the blaster end of a force lance. "Who the hell are you two?"
"No," Dylan corrected, sternly. "It’s who the hell are you, and what are you doing on my ship?"
"Your ship?" the engineer repeated in disbelief and a little outrage. "No, no, no. This baby’s ours. We salvaged it fair and square. Finders keepers."
Dylan looked a little outraged himself, Gaheris noted in amusement. Then again, he himself had been angry at the sight of the little man who dared claim a Heavy Cruiser such as the Andromeda with such flippancy.
"This is a Commonwealth starship," Dylan scowled. "You can’t just come aboard and lay claim to it."
"Commonwealth?" Harper repeated again, this time in realization. "Wait a minute. You got stuck in that time thing. Let me guess, you and Mr. Talkative over there," here he jerked a thumb to point at Gaheris, who growled low in his throat. Gulping, Harper turned nervously back to Dylan, who was the only one that saw Gaheris smirk in amusement, "Uh, so, you two are part of the original crew of this ship, right?"
"I’m Captain Dylan Hunt of the High guard, Commander of this vessel," Dylan corrected. "And that is Commander Gaheris Rhade, the First Officer."
The engineer didn’t seem to be impressed.
"I got news for you, Captain Dylan Hunt," he said, then shot a nervous glance at Gaheris, who sneered maliciously at him, "uh, you’re not the commander of anything. There is no High Guard. Not anymore. There was a war. A big one, against the Nietzscheans."
Dylan’s gaze flickered to Gaheris for the briefest of moments; "I was there," he said quietly, reflectively.
"Well, I guess you kinda just missed the end, then," Harper shrugged. "I hate to break it to you, but you guys lost. The Commonwealth has been gone for over three hundred years."
Dylan gazed blankly down at the engineer, stunned. Quickly, Gaheris stepped forward, asking a question of his own, a similar question to the one he had asked before.
"Then it is a Nietzschean ruled empire?" he demanded.
The little man laughed, as Gaheris had known he would. "Ha! Stop it, you’re killing me!"
Thinning his lips, Gaheris dealt the human a sound cuff on the back of the head, with a little more force than the last hit he had given him.
"Ow, stop it, you’re killing me," Harper whined, putting up a hand to rub the back of his head.
Gaheris made as if to hit him again, watching with a little pleasure as the little man squirmed and crabbed backwards in fear. He might have gotten used to the Harper in his time, but that Harper was a bit more subdued, more respectful of him through fear. This one was insolent, annoying.
"Gaheris," Dylan commanded, sharply. "Let him go."
"What?" he asked, turning to face his friend.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one in disbelief, for Harper also repeated, "What?"
Without another word, Dylan turned and walked away, clearly expecting Gaheris to follow. The Nietzschean, after one last warning glance at the annoying Harper, followed; the two of them walked in silence until they reached Astrometrics. The moment they did, however, Dylan seemed to fall apart.
"It’s my fault," he moaned. "If I had made it to Slipstream, gotten a warning to the High Guard…"
Andromeda’s hologram form phased into view as she protested, "It still might not have made a difference. The Nietzscheans had a vast fleet."
"We’d been preparing for years, if you remember," Gaheris added. "And with had surprise on our side."
"By the time word had spread, it may have already been too late," Andromeda agreed.
"How could the High Guard let it happen?" Dylan asked, helplessly. "We had ten times as many ships, a hundred times as many men."
"And we haven’t fought a war – a real war – in over a thousand years," Andromeda reminded her Captain logically. "Whereas for the Nietzscheans, every day is a battle."
"Power and numbers aren’t the only things that matter, you should know this," Gaheris commented. "We had the determination, the advantage of surprise, the skills."
For a moment, there was silence.
Dylan spoke again; "It can’t be all gone. The Commonwealth spanned three galaxies! We had over a million member worlds, orbital habitats, asteroid colonies. Part of it must still exist somewhere."
Gaheris held his tongue to refrain from mentioning how quickly organized governments fell apart at the mere signs of a rebellion. With the size and formidable nature of the Nietzschean rebellion, all the alliances that held up the Commonwealth probably had fallen, one by one, as their planets and worlds had fallen.
"Then we have to find it," Andromeda replied comfortingly.
"We will," Dylan replied, with renewed vigor, and Gaheris mentally signed in relief. It was nothing less than what he expected from his friend, but for a moment he had been worried. "But first thing’s first."
Gaheris and Dylan moved unseen by the Andromeda’s new guests when they made their way to the bridge; on a ship the size of the Andromeda, one group of people were more than easily avoidable. They didn’t even have to make use of the various tunnels that created a labyrinth of back entryways to various weapon supplies in all parts of the ship.
Dylan took his position on the main console, saying, "Andromeda, ship-wide."
A bleep confirmed that Dylan was now on the comm., and that his voice would reach even the furthest corners of the vast ship.
With a moment’s reflection, Dylan spoke: "This is Captain Dylan Hunt, commander of the Systems Commonwealth Starship Andromeda Ascendant. With me is my First Officer, Commander Gaheris Rhade. We’ve recently been told that the Commonwealth has fallen. Maybe that’s true. But there’s still one place where the Commonwealth endures, and that’s on this ship. My ship. I understand you intend to loot the Andromeda and sell what’s left over. I promise you, that’s not going to happen. You have fifteen minutes to restore the Andromeda’s control capabilities and withdraw to your own vessel, or I will retake my ship by force. Hunt out."
At his own console, where he was monitoring the intruders, Gaheris acknowledged Dylan’s speech with a wry nod of his head. He remembered his own ship-wide communication, and his own speech had not been as friendly or as eloquent.
"You always were gifted with words," Gaheris commented. "They won’t take this lightly, you know." He brought up a close up of Beka, who had drawn her blaster and taken up a defense position. "She doesn’t seem to like threats."
"Hmm," Dylan shrugged. "More fun for us, right?"
"Fun, he says," Gaheris muttered, but grinned in a feral fashion. Fun indeed.
Anticipating what was coming next, Gaheris brought up an image of the hanger doors as the Nightsider sidled up. They therefore received a full image of the doors opening, mist leaking out, and hulking shadows.
"The Nightsider doesn’t seem to like your threat either," he reported, "and he has back up, five in total."
"They look like mercenaries," Dylan commented. "None too friendly. But their leader is Nietzschean."
Dylan gazed levelly at Gaheris, who returned the gaze unwaveringly.
"I’ve never heard of Nietzschean mercenaries," Dylan finished.
Gaheris chose his words with care, but spoke without hesitation, "There aren’t any. There weren’t any. The risk of life is – was – considered too great for my people."
Wordlessly, Dylan turned back to the image of the hulking figures on screen.
Gaheris pressed his lips together and did the same.
Andromeda chose wisely to remain silent.
...to be continued