The following story is not to be reproduced in any way, shape or form without the consent of the author. The characters from the TV series- "Space: Above and Beyond" are the property of Glenn Morgan, James Wong, Hard Eight Pictures and Fox Broadcasting. No infringement of copyright is intended or implied. All other characters are property of the author and cannot be used unless permission is secured from her.

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Rated 'R' for graphic language and adult situations.

This story is set immediately after the events of "Regeneration".

From the Ashes - Cloak Of Stars


Robin Burchardt

U.S.S. Saratoga- Luna Spacedocks [October, 2065]

Repairs were near complete but there were areas of the engine room that were closed off on the 'Saratoga'. Only authorized personnel were allowed in or out. Mainly it was AeroTech scientists, researchers and engineers doing the coming and going. At least at first.

Glen Ross watched the vermin about and couldn't help the revulsion at seeing them. Civilians swarming the most intimate areas of his ship. The only thing that had given him any comfort is that the overwhelming majority had gotten sent packing when Colonel Strasser returned to overtake the repairs to the new 'cloaking device' the 'Toga was to receive.

He hadn't been quite sure how to address her when Ty and her returned from Earth. The information from Admiral Martens was overwhelming but it filled in gaps that Ross had wondered about. He wasn't quite sure how to take her now. He certainly hadn't had a chance to really speak with her since she arrived two days ago.

He watched three AeroTech scientists file out of the engine room. Col. Strasser was not following, or leading, them. They looked very irritated and were shooting comments back and forth that Ross couldn't hear over the noise of repairs.

Engine Room

Maria inspected then began to undo the supposed installation the AeroTech geeks started. McQueen hovered nearby, handing equipment or tools, as she required. They both had gotten fed up with the scientists and their asinine questions. Some of them had tried to pry more information from her.

Ty McQueen had seen the small boxes that were micro-recorders in their white coat pockets. All he gave Maria was a look and she hadn't spoken to the white coats since getting in the engine room except with direct questions about what they had done.

Compared to the uneventful trip from Earth, the 'Saratoga' was far more dangerous with all the damn AeroTech geeks around.

He watched as she hooked up wires to a panel. The only person close enough to hear her if she spoke.

Maria put the panel back in place. While the 'Saratoga' relied on conventional reactors, she knew that auronium was going to prove to be the future of space propulsion. Provided the intense radiation could be overcome.

The agreement of the late-20th Century that barred all nuclear power in space had been sent to the scrap heap. It was the same where she'd come from. An impractical agreement to ban the only reliable source of power for space-going vessels.

McQueen watched her closely.

Maria looked at him and stood up. "We just have the bridge links to connect and we are done."

A female scientist stepped up. Seemingly from the shadows. Totally disregarding McQueen. Dr. Claire Underwood saw the glare McQueen gave to her.

Fucking Tank, she thought. The look of disgust simmered across her refined features. She'd hoped she wouldn't have to sully herself by being around 'IT'. In her mind, Tanks weren't deserving of being dignified with a gender.

Underwood then concentrated on Maria as she stood up. Her brown hair was tied back professionally, white lab coat nearly pristine. Looked about 35 or so. Near Maria's age looks-wise but had a superior air that made both Colonels bristle. Her grey eyes cool and calculating. She extended her hand to the person she'd heard so much about.

" Dr. Claire Underwood, nuclear physicist. I have a few questions about the 'auronium' you have mentioned in your report."

Strasser regarded her before shaking the woman's hand. Another mere formality that did not permit any further discussion if Maria wasn't interested in it. How many more of the bastards were on the 'Saratoga'? Her rueful thought must have been echoed in her features. Still, she responded dryly to the woman's query.

"Ask them." Maria snapped coldly and stared the smirking woman down.

"I am curious about an element being mentioned that is not to be found in any periodic table."

Jesus Christ! Typical scientist.

"Auronium is found on only a few planets in the known universe. I'm not keen on divulging where for fear of its being misused and the danger of even being near it. You wonder if it exists and yes, it does."

"In your dimension?"

McQueen watched the olive green eyes go dark and found himself ready to intervene if necessary. They held even more coldness than when he seen something of the same back in Arizona.

"It exists even here, madam. I'm sure you and the rest of AeroTech will pounce on it once it is found." She wanted to turn and storm out of this damn place but kept her hold on Underwood's eyes like an angered snake.

Underwood pressed forward. "You have stated that this..auronium is 5,000 times more powerful than even weapons-grade plutonium. That its lethality can be measured in mere minutes."

"Yes, it is that lethal. Even with the heaviest shielding your time has available. Perhaps when you read the reports of your comrades who have been killed by it you will understand."

"If it is ever discovered."

Now Maria did begin to walk before her temper got the better of her.

Too bad this woman hadn't worked with Oppenheimer and other notable scientists as Maria had in her past. Even so, she'd been the first of any of them to even get near shielded auronium. It had taken over 150 years after them to do so.

Perhaps never a peer to them, Maria did honestly try to learn beside them. Normally not one to teach absolute beginners, J. Robert Oppenheimer appreciated Maria's quest for knowledge about nuclear fission, fusion and materials. He openly taught her many things about it before he died. After he knew that Maria had the same position on the use of nuclear weapons as he except when dire circumstance dictated use. Seemingly wanted to assure himself that a military leader like her knew the consequences of using such weapons. The only way he could do that was by teaching her.

He certainly was never an asshole like this woman was trying to be. So long as those he worked with and taught treated him with respect.

"One last question, Colonel Strasser. May I ask where you studied?" Underwood called out to her.

Wouldn't you like to know, cunt. Maria turned slowly to face the woman again.

"My experience and education is very comparable to yours, madam. However, if you require more- I received my Masters at MIT and my doctorate at UC-Berkeley. I worked at Los Alamos with J. Robert Oppenheimer before he retired. Have also worked at and helped build the Hanford Reservation."

Maria responded curtly. Oppenheimer hadn't been the only nuclear scientist. Of her time she'd studied with Fulks, Dennison, and Tcheyev to name a few. Names that this woman would never recognize because time streams changed. Who Maria had known to be notable in where she'd come from was not the same here.

Underwood looked at her with disbelief but could not outwardly shoot this woman down. At least until the testing to be done on these systems flopped and she could cackle at this upstart's stupidity. No way in hell the grunt soldier could match her. Even if Strasser had truly done as stated.

"I see."

Sure you do. Maria thought sourly and turned to McQueen.

"Let's try to get these systems up before supper." She nodded to the doctor and left with McQueen to do the hookups. With luck, test runs could begin in the morning. If all went well, the 'Saratoga' would be LIDAR invisible, perhaps even cloakable, by tomorrow.

Then the crew could return and they could all get away from the civilians that now plagued the 'Saratoga'. Get back to the business they were made for.

The Commodore's Office- 1730 hours

"When can I expect my ship to be back out there?" Commodore Ross looked at Maria as she sat in his office, alone. Finally, this was his chance to be able to speak with her.

"Provided the tests go well tomorrow, we should be able to leave by the day after."

Ross nodded as he went over to a side table for some of the whiskey he drank. Grabbing the decanter and two shot glasses, he brought them back to his desk. A drink to the geeks leaving his ship!

"That is the first good news I've heard the whole damn time I've been here."

"Were you able to see your family?"

"Only for three days before I got yanked back up here." Ross said, pouring the shots and set one before her. It wasn't her fault that AeroTech thought they had brains where they didn't.

"They are fine."

He really didn't have much time to think while down there. Only enjoy the brief time. He had many sweet memories in that respect.

Maria nodded and picked up her shot. Once Ross acknowledged with a nod, they both slammed them down.

The drink cut like fire through her throat but it was good stuff. Perhaps well aged Jack Daniels by the taste of it. Setting her glass down softly she watched Ross give her a look.

"I wanted to discuss what I've heard from Admiral Martens with you. I've received quite a bit about you from him."

Ross sighed but said the next words anyway. "Regardless of who you might be, the 'Saratoga' is my ship, Colonel. You will not find me deferring to you."

"Nor do I want you to give up your ship OR defer to me, Commodore. In this time and place I am only the colonel commanding the 58th Squadron. Nothing else. I rather like the way things are now."

She saw the look of question and elaborated. "My duties were heavy where I came from. Since I've been away from them for going on a year now, I have no real desire to resurrect my old status. Except if badly needed by my Country."

Ross leaned back in his chair. "What are your plans for when things get straightened out?"

"At this time, to remain a colonel in the Marines." Maria felt like she was back in Washington being grilled.

"From this point forward, I would like you to inform me if there are things, places or planets that might be helpful for the safety and security of this ship. Admiral Martens has stated that you have an extensive knowledge of space. If the rest of the military can't accept you at your previous rank you will find that I will defer to your knowledge."

Ross rose to pour another shot for her and him. "Now, on a personal level. Why is Col. McQueen assisting you?"

Maria took the shot. Looked at the amber liquid in it. "The Admiral requested Col. McQueen to help me get the cloaking system up. The Admiral's distaste of AeroTech is equivalent to mine and he felt that Col. McQueen was preferable to them."

"I've known Ty a long time. I've seldom seen him take such an interest in a person. He's very attentive in your direction."

The news caught her off-guard but she went forward with her question. Certainly she got along well with the man but could not see any real signs of attraction.

"Are you insinuating an intimate relationship between Colonel McQueen and myself, sir?"

"I just don't want him burned. He's had too much of it in his life and I won't have it aboard my ship."

"There won't be anybody 'burning' anyone aboard your ship. I have enough years in uniform to know how to be professional, Commodore. Col. McQueen and myself are nothing less than professional in our dealings with each other."

Maria slammed the second shot and looked at him straight on. She hadn't wanted her eyes to bore like lasers but they did. It was a defense of her honor and it was required.

All the Commodore could do was nod. His eyes found it hard to meet hers. After a moment he smiled.

"I hadn't wanted to bring it up. You do know my reasons now for my asking it. From now on, I'd appreciate being referred to as Glen. The other terms are a bit much when we are talking in private."

"He is a close friend of yours. Of course I understand." Maria couldn't help but think of Steve. She felt the same about the man as Ross did about McQueen. Had stood at his weddings and been there when things happened- good and bad. They had both stood by each other and there wasn't a thing that could change it now.

Even the light years of distance couldn't break it.

Tun Tavern- 2134 Hours

The white coats gathered in the near-deserted Tun Tavern to go over notes and findings.

Underwood and her colleagues were presently discussing Maria in some detail and the auronium material she'd described. She had pressed the point about her belief that the material did not exist. It brought and uncomfortable silence about the table. It made her look around until Dr. Flemming spoke up.

"There is a planet where we found the material described by Col. Strasser. It has been kept quiet and I expect all of you to do the same." As head of the scientists, Flemming was stunned by how rapidly the woman colonel had worked on the systems. Doing changes he never even thought of before she did them. She most definitely knew the systems and how they had been modified for a ship like the 'Saratoga'.

Underwood abruptly looked down. Flemming continued.

"2065V is the source planet. We have had a none too easy time of even getting samples back to Earth for analysis. Four top colleagues of ours have already have been 'lost'. The material kills within minutes. Even with the heaviest protection against exposure that we are able to provide. I believe Col. Strasser has an incredible knowledge and it would do well for ALL of us to treat her accordingly. Despite any prejudices we may harbor against her."

Flemming enjoyed watching the priss Underwood squirm at his words.

Dr. Underwood couldn't help but see Col. McQueen come into the bar and sit at the counter to have a drink. She, as result of it, couldn't help the next thought that came to her.

It would have to wait until the meeting was adjourned.

Next Morning- 0615 Hours

The engine room was quiet now as Maria checked the systems a last time.

McQueen wasn't here ghosting her as he had the past few mornings. He had been attentive. More than she had expected since the shore leave in Arizona.


Her thought was interrupted by the arrival of the AeroTech people. A sideways glance told her that they had finally agreed to watch and not talk to her.

As part of her repairs, the 'Saratoga' had received new plutonium cores for the reactors. For that, Maria was glad. There would be no ugly, unanticipated 'uncloakings' with the new material feeding the system. She moved over to a tight area of panels where the geeks couldn't watch and pulled panel 14. Pulling down the magna-goggles she scrutinized the wires. Her nose perked.

He's here.

McQueen never overused or cologne or flat out smelled rank. Why her nose was tuned in to him was something she couldn't put a finger on. It had been that way since the Ixen incident.

Now he was here. A little late. Late night? Overslept?

Pushing up the goggles, she turned to look at him. Troubled. The blue eyes said it all.


"I need to speak with you." McQueen said quietly.

Maria nodded, pushed the panel back in and gestured to the engineer's room just a ways off from the rest of the place. Far from the white coats that now talked between themselves. She knew why he wanted to be out-of-sight of the scientists staring at them both. More like had a hunch. Usually those turned-out correct.

Once in, she shut the door and removed the goggles off her head. Her eyes looked him over once more.

"Who got to you?"

Shocked, he looked at her. His eyes flared but cooled. No hinting, just a statement of fact.

"Doctor Underwood. Essentially she tried to.."

"Get into your pants to get dirt about me?" Maria saw his surprised look after she'd finished his sentence for him. Bingo.

"I didn't give her the satisfaction of either."

McQueen saw a chuckle make its way to her lips. Watched her turn her head away to hide it. He found himself entranced by her reaction and it gave him a curious feeling of familiarity. She knew. Even before his last sentence just now. She KNEW he was telling the truth.

"The older I get the more things seem repeats. I knew one of them would try it. Still, I thought one of the eggheads might make a pass on me. I'm not surprised the wench tried it on you."

She smiled at him. Though she doubted a bitch like Underwood would have gotten any truly serious pleasure from forced, manipulative sex with an In-Vitro. Gods, concerned that I might think he would have actually gone to the sack with that slut? Ty, if only you knew how many times people have tried this route before to try and get info about or to get near me. Even dared to try it on Sherman.

The thought of her first, Civil War-era husband was a pleasant one. The general she'd married after his wife Ellen died of Denver Flu brought in by Soviet agents. Married, only after the Civil War and years of living alone in Alaska's interior to escape from the public eye.

"Don't concern yourself about it. I knew she wasn't your type. Not with her ingrained hatred towards In-Vitros. I know you have a lot more class anyway."

Maria didn't go near the sexual-superman BS she'd heard about male In-Vitros that natural-born females supposedly found so alluring. A load of shit. All of it. McQueen was a man. No doubt in that department. He had, unlike the BS, a mature restraint that any human male would have for his environment.

She found him looking at her and wanted to change the subject. To broach it before the words she knew were in his mind found a voice. The gaze in his eyes said volumes. Ross had been correct on that one.

"I'd like you to fly a Hammerhead out this morning to monitor the test-run from out in space. About 15,000 meters should be adequate. I'd like you to transmit visual reports back. If the systems check out here, you'll see a very remarkable sight out there."

The Bridge

Commodore Ross watched the plot of the lone Hammerhead as it sped out to its predetermined observation point. Bet that Ty hadn't expected to be put back into a Hammerhead for even this. Seldom had he seen a man so happy with that prospect. Ty had always loved to fly. Had given the man clearance. The prosthetic leg be damned.

He checked that everyone was ready and gave the go-ahead to Col. Strasser in the engine room.

"We are ready up here, Colonel."

Ty watched the sight of the 'Saratoga' through his front window as he kept the Hammerhead hovering.

The ship had been taken out of dry-dock and well away from all other crafts and orbiting buildings.

He kept the 15,000-meter distance and added a touch more. Now he waited as the Hammerhead hung poised facing the ship that carried it.

"All systems green."

Maria's voice stated firmly over the comm. link to the ship. "Engaging cloak now."

Ty watched intently and saw nothing. A blink on his LIDAR made him look down. A wave of the grid and then it was blank. There was no spot of the 'Saratoga' at all.

He looked up and saw only stars where once the 'Saratoga' had floated. No distortion, no waves of the stars. The 'Saratoga' looked as if she were truly gone.

"Cloaking in place." Maria stated.

Broke the silence of the moment over the comm. link.

The test was not at all like the previous one. Ty had heard about how the systems had begun to fry out and the dense smoke that choked some areas of the ship. The burning of hundreds of wiring boards. The effect on the reactors had never been discussed. Now, it was orderly and quiet. Almost routine. A relief.

"Colonel McQueen, what do you see and what is there on your LIDAR?"

"LIDAR shows no blip whatsoever. There was only a momentary grid wave when the cloak fell into place."

He kept looking at the stars the ship used for its cover now.

"Visually, I can discern not one trace of the 'Saratoga' even being in front of me. No outlines or distortions are detectable."

"Cloak dropping."

McQueen saw the huge carrier reappear among the stars and float majestically. As if the cloak had been flung off. A cloak of stars.

"Colonel, you can return now." Ross sounded pleased. Likely because the geeks had no purpose on his ship anymore.

"Roger that." He still couldn't believe that it had happened. It was one of the greatest leaps that technology could have made to protect ships as this.

A leap brought from another time and place.

ISSAPC docks- 1445 Hours

Dr. Flemming saw her standing by the hold's entrance as he and his colleagues cleared the corner. He knew he would never get close enough to really talk to her and regretted he didn't shake off the deadweight around him to do so.

He watched her look at him, ignoring the rest. Finally stepped towards him and flicked out a mini-disc between two fingers for him.

"Schematics of all the changes I made to the systems. For you to take back to your superiors on Earth." Maria's voice was as terse as her manner.

"Thank you." The disc slid into an interior pocket of his coat.

He gave a look at his colleagues and they walked on towards the hold as Flemming stayed with her. Underwood couldn't even bring herself to look at Maria for all she'd tried to do. Walked on without a word.

"You are more than welcome at AeroTech if you would ever really want to leave the military. There is always a place there for people like you."

"I can't handle the greed exhibited by their executives, Dr. Flemming."

"They don't bother us with it, greed and all. My regret is that they tried to strong-arm you when you were down there. It is my understanding that they were already well-started on that when you got called back."

Marten's contact? Was this he? Maria nodded. Watched Flemming half-turn but turned back to ask her one more question.

"Who was it that originally taught you about nuclear materials and physics? I just want to know for my own curiosity."

" Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. Taught me after the Manhattan Project. He never got accused of being a Communist in the world I came from."

"I would like to hear about him sometime." Flemming said as they both shook hands. He took it very well though he'd be itchy to get the chance to talk to her at any time he could get in the future.

"Take care, Colonel."

"You as well, Doctor." Maria turned to leave the decks as the hold's door closed and everything got ready for it to be raised to the rest of the ISSAPC.

Towards the Hera Sector- two days later

The 58th lounged in the Tun Tavern after a busy day of briefings for when they would arrive to assist the Earth Fleet engaged in battle in the Icarus system.

Capt. Shane Vansen listened half-heartedly to Nathan's ongoing saga of what he and Kylen did while he was down on leave. Couldn't fault Nathan for loving the girl. Would likely marry her one day. She'd heard all of the tales from everyone. Since coming back she felt distinctly uneasy. Perhaps it was seeing her niece for the first time or the thoughts about her biological clock ticking away.

Since the briefings of the past day or two, it was made abundantly clear that the new technology about the 'Saratoga' would have the ship and the 58th flying into the hottest zones in the war. She'd noted a distinct change in Col. Strasser as well. The Colonel had tried to be at ease with them but there was the underlying look of concern and burden in her eyes. Shane had to agree with her C.O. that where they were going would change them all from now on.

She looked up to see the Colonel step through the doors and take a seat at the far-end of the bar. Dressed in her normal flightsuit like they all wore when formalities didn't call. Watched the bottle of Maker's Mark come out for the first time since they'd had the party for her after the Ixen rescue. The bartender left that and a glass and left her alone.

Shane grabbed her martini and left Nathan's rambling to sit beside her C.O.. If anything, just to prove they still cared.

"Sir, is this seat taken?"

"Of course not, Captain." Maria looked up and smiled. Her eye shot over to West. "He still droning on about his fair lady-love?"

"Has spoken of nothing else since getting back." Shane's eyes saw Maria's and she had to ask.

"Sir, the Captain has noticed that you seem..preoccupied as of late. The Captain wants to ask if the Colonel has need for an ear."

She could see that Vansen was trying to be polite and appreciated the bravery it took to ask her superior if something was wrong.

"No matter how long one is in, the prospect of going into hot areas always preoccupies my mind. You all know where that is after the briefing this morning. Otherwise, I'm fine."

Maria took a sip of the liquor. Eyes glanced over at some of the empty space in the bar's confines.

"Wish the hell they had a pool table or dart board in this place."

"You play pool?" Vansen asked, surprised. She hadn't known.

"Been awhile but yes, I play pool. I'm a fiend for darts though. Just would like one or the other in here to break up the monotony of drinking my brains into a buzz." She reflected Shane's smile.

"My sister got me hooked on cigarettes down there." Vansen muttered. She loved the way they calmed her jitters. She hated to mention it.

Maria drained the last of her shot. That explained Shane's jitters.

"If you'd care to come to the smoking deck, I'll loan you one. They are menthol, though."

"What I was smoking down there." Vansen said before slamming her martini and got off the stool to follow the Colonel to the smoking deck on the ass-end of creation.

Smoking Deck

"The Army used to give out cigarettes in C-rations until the anti-smoking freaks and the Surgeon General caused the royal stink that got them taken out. Applied to all branches but I always heard tales of the black market among the soldiers when they had them."

Maria lit up and blew out a cloud of smoke. She lived through the black market trade in cigs back then. Enlisteds would blow nearly their whole month's pay on a good pack or two at some times.

"No black market but the craving for soldiers to have them is still around."

She watched Vansen light up and blew out her own cloud. "You seem to need to talk, Captain. You are welcome to."

After a moment of thought, Shane looked out at the stars. Then, the words began to spill from her lips before she could give any real thought to whether or not the Colonel wanted to hear them.

"I couldn't help but notice how much had changed when I was back on Earth. On the one hand- my sister was waving my niece in front of my face. On the other, she was almost jealous of my being a Captain in the Marines like our parents were. I felt ..torn. I wished I could be like her but I knew I wouldn't be happy like her. Until I finish my duty here. It is hard, though, to see her so happy with her baby."

Shane sat down as Maria leaned against the bulkhead.

"You don't have very long to get started on that matter, Captain. If that is truly what you want. I've seen many women bust all out on their military careers only to one day stop and realize they were past childbearing. They nearly were always blaming the military for their own shortsightedness about their finite time for being able to have children."

"Sir, don't you want children?"

Maria looked at Shane's questioning face. Unlike the Commodore and McQueen, the 58th and the rest of the Marines knew absolutely nothing about her real past. Still, she would not sugarcoat why she couldn't procreate. There were no others in the smoking area anyway.

"I was gang-raped at 19. I lost my reproductive tract as result of the infection from it. I have no choice except adoption. Where I am at now, I can't have a family. I have to fight for my Country until peace is secured for all of humanity. I have had a thought or two, every now and then. Sort of a sad reminder when I see young couples with their young ones and wonder 'what if'. I try not to think on it much."

It was a half-truth. She had an adopted daughter. Angela had grown up to become a lieutenant-general in her own right, had children and died naturally because she came through on a different warp-matrix than her adopted mother. Maria first recalled her as a raped, frightened little girl huddled in the corner of a basement in a gutted-out house. A little girl with flowing blonde hair not too unlike her own. Angela had been dead over 200 years now.

Vansen looked to the floor. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"How could you have? Anyway, it is the past and I can't go back and change it." She looked at Vansen hard, " You need to make your mind up about what you want, Shane."

Vansen seemed shocked that the Colonel had actually mentioned her given name. Still, it was a comfort to know that she could talk to her Colonel woman-to-woman as they had just done. All she could do was nod.

They smoked their cigarettes in quiet peace after that.

Icarus Sector- three days later

The 'Saratoga' dropped out of light speed to enter a place filled with floating debris. Once, the carriers 'Truman', 'Halsey' and the battleship 'Rickover' had been here. Now they weren't.

This was all that remained of them and the over 4,000 lives they'd carried. Six squadrons had bit the dust here too. The 'Saratoga' came in under cloak to witness the aftermath.

Glen Ross invisibly shook at what he was seeing. He was not about to release his squadrons out into this field of the dead. Feeling Ty at his side, Ross sighed. Too late. Too damn late. All they could do now was home in on beacons once it was safe to remove the cloak. Try to find survivors amidst all of this. They would not be able to stay for days or even half a day. Only a mere hour.

Hell, if those ships had the cloaking device, this might not have happened. Would have had the ease to kill the Chigs at leisure.

"Sir, LIDAR is reporting enemy bogies at our eight o'clock but are moving away rapidly. I don't think they see us, sir."

Ross gritted his teeth. Oh yes. The cloak would remain up as long as necessary. "How long until we reach Dalion?"

"Ten hours at full speed." The navigator responded.

Yes, there were orders to proceed to Dalion. Once there, Ross was told that further orders would be issued. This part of the Icarus Sector was only the tip of the iceberg. They were nowhere near the hottest part of the war yet. Canis was damn near the hottest. Why it was that way when it was so far from the Chig homeworld was still a mystery.

Ross had a gut feeling. He was hoping it wouldn't prove true.

16 Hours Later- In orbit around Dalion, Canis System

It wasn't a chore in the slightest to turn the Asp in the swarm of x-winged Sirius/Majorian fighters and blow one of them from the stars. That was the beauty of thought-control. All courtesy of a metal nub that poked through her skull to connect with the receiver in her headset.

The laser tracking followed her eyes for the target to hit. Pulse guns on starboard-FIRE!

Maria watched the bolts connect to the x-wing and sent it into a spinning explosion. Her immobile hands were gloved up to her elbows to control the AeroDyne I-58's flight. It took getting used to, but a pilot could throw the Asp into turns, dives and arcs impossible with conventional endo/exo Terran-built spacecraft. All that and the pilot did not have to contend with the horrendous G's of force whapping them to putty. Or making them spew their whole cockpit with vomit.

They were all named as colored dragons in her old squadron. A quaint throwback to medieval times in the use of the fire-breathing creatures? Asps breathed fire. At least this version did.

Then again, the 257th 'Draco' Squadron was anything but quaint. Fighting spiders was not work taken lightly.

Maria looked out to see the spiders' x-wings bug out and the 257th reform off her wing. The sleek, black wings of the Asps making a smooth line with hers.

"Alright folks, homeward bound." She called into the throat mike.

"How many you bag, black drac?"

"Only got five. Why, Henderson? You got one of your damn pools going again?"

Maria could only smile at 'gold' drac's wanting to know such a thing. If Will Henderson didn't have a bet going the Earth would implode in a minute. Sonofabitch made a handsome profit in many ways.

"Who? Me? Have a pool going?"

It took a mere moment for Maria to realize she was not in the sleek gracefulness of an Asp but in the greatly slower confines of a Hammerhead. Certainly, she could have drawn up the plans for the Asp but the technology would have to be overhauled to make them feasible to this time's fighter jocks. That and all current pilots would have to agree to the nub being implanted. Lord knows, a few pilots never were able to agree to it and gracefully exited service.

The place where her metal nub was itched under her helmet. She wanted to give it a slight scratch but paused to make sure that the 58th was in formation with her as Dalion's triple moons sailed past them. Their cratered faces turned up to them in frozen starkness. Their cores long since dead and never would generate gasses or life. Like 90 percent of all the rocks Maria had seen in space.

The briefing had been a switch from the ones in Icarus sector. Here everyone was uptight and jumpy. Boss Ross had been perhaps the worst of them all. The comm links were flooded with the skirmishes taking place elsewhere in Canis. Like it had been preplanned, the 58th had dropped the hook, line and sinker and so far wasn't getting shit for a bite.

Maria consulted her LIDAR once the effects of the flashback were totally gone. In an Asp, she could have brought up a system-wide scan and been able to pinpoint all bogies, hostile and friendly, that were out there. Here she had to rely on her own gut, eyes and the eyes of the rest of the 58th. An Asp took off some burdens but replaced them with others.

She shook off the last vestiges and glanced over at Hawkes who stayed at her wing. He was keeping tight and silent today. Knew he was worried about something. Normally, he was humming away with some song in his head.

She didn't need to chide them about keeping eyes on the LIDAR and the stars outside their cockpits for tri-wings. They were certainly a tighter squadron with all the sorties they'd done since she'd come on as their leader.

The suggestion to head home was just about to hit her lips when she saw the furious tangle a distance away. Disbelief at its sudden appearance echoed in West's muttered "Holy shit!"

Why the fuck hadn't they called or given some indication?

Maria saw the huge Chig mothership that hovered above the mess as she gunned her Hammerhead into an attack clip.

"Here we go, folks!"

The 58th streaked to join the fray.

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