7.3.2k3

We sat down on the dusty cracked ground and watched the last vestiges of the sun sank below the distant mountains as cloudless sky turned a firey red and then dimmed quickly into a orange-pinkish before fading into deep purples and blues ad the blackness of the night descended upon us. Looking into the sky the stars became visible as the temprature took a sudden plummet without the warming radiation of the local star.

Our craft was badly damaged from the enagement hours before which seemed like an eternity ago as we made our emergency planetfall. Luckily the atmosphere is mostly breathable, albiet a bit thinner than what we are used to and definatly colder and arid, but the supplies on board should keep us going for the time being.

"We should go back inside" I said sounding defeated as a breeze began to pick up and the chill began to permeate my clothing.

We ascended the boarding ramp into the sleek scout-craft the "Learned equilibrium." What ships name themselves these days, but they're citizens and have full rights as well to be called such as they chose. Rachel sealed the lock behind us as the embarkation ramp folded neatly into place, and we walked in silence towards the front of the ship, our boots clanking on the bare deckplating.

"So what are we going to do now?" Rachel asked quizically, as we each grabbed a seat in the bridge area and the ship brought up the lighting to a level that allowed us to see a little better, and activated the external views on the holographic monitors.

"We wait." I said to her, they know we are in the system but not where we are, we destroyed their drone and nearly escaped with our lives in the process. "You're telling me!" the Learned Equlibrium chimed in, "Perhaps next time you will listen to my advice."

"Can it" I said to the ship, as I brought up a control console and brought up the long range sensory equimpent in passive mode. There wasn't anything detectible within near orbit of the planet, but interference from the ionosphere or a cloaking system could hide any vessels if need be. It was too risky to take off again despite the repairs to the ship being complete.

Rachel proper her head up with her arm against a nearby console and stared out of the viewscreens. "I think it was a bad idea to come here too, I'm sure they won't stop until they find us and I doubt that they will risk any more of the fleet to mount some sort of rescue or otherwise. Even if they did get our last transmission." She let out an exaspirated sigh and closed her eyes as if hoping to wake from a dream.

"I'm going to Turn in... you have first watch" Rachel murmered, and got up from her seat stretching, and walked out of the bridge area. "Don't say it!" I said aloud. "I wasn't going to say anything," the Learned Equilibrium interjected in what sounded like a half giggle, "If you wish to rest too I can keep watch."

"Naw, I'll be fine"...


"Ah! There we go." The Learned Equilibrium said in a satisfied tone. "What? What's going on" I queried, pouring over the displays to see what it could possibly have accomplished. "I found our friends, and they seem to be looking for us. Tsk Tsk, they're pretty careless not masking their emissions properly like that."

"Do you think they can spot us?" I said looking at the tracking diagram the Equlibrium had put up on the displays to showcase the Enemy vessel in orbit above us.

"Not likely. Our systems are 'cold' as far as they'd know were nothing but part of the background radaiation, they would have to pratically land on top of us to spot us."

"Good keep an eye on them, I'm going to go wake the commander I'm sure she'll be interested in this." I said exiting the bridge.

I walked through the short corridor and crossed the transverse bulkhead of the small scoutcraft. Crossing through the mini-galley and into the crew cabinn, Rachel was lying semi-clothed on the upper bunk, her arm stretched out over her head with a peaceful expression on her face.

I stared for a moment remembering when we first met many years ago just before the war started aboard the GSV "Holding Tight" She was in much the position she was now 'sunning' herself on a chaise-lounge chair next to one of the internal parks swimming ponds.

"Are you going to stare at me, or tell me why you're not on watch?" She murmered to me without even opening her eyes.

"The Equlibrium has spotted the enemy vessel, they're not on to us yet, but at least we know they're there now. I was thinking we could try a diversion to..."

"To what? Give away our position again?..." She said sitting up sternly squinting at me in the dim light of the cabin.

"To complete our mission!" I snaped back.

"We can't do that if we're dead you know, and that kind of failure is unacceptable."

"I would have to agree with the Commander on this one...." The Learned Equilibirum interjected, "The probability that we would be able to lift off from the planet undetected, and to safely make it into hyperspace and not be pursued is quite remote, and trust me I've worked the numbers quite well."

"Great!" I said throwing my hands up in remission, " So we just sit here whilst the intel we gathered becomes obsolete, and another billion of our people die somewhere."

Rachel looked at me darkly as if I'd stabbed her directly through the heart with some invisibile blade, her icey gaze forcing me back out of the cabin as I walked back towards the bridge sealing the bulkehead behind me.

"You know that was quite unnessescary." The Equilibrium said somberly, "You and I both know that we are doing what we can under the specific circumstances, it may not be too late to save lives."

Entering the bridge I noted on the screen that the Equilbrium had ploted the enemy crafts Orbital trajectory even though it had desceneded below the horizon and we could no longer track it directly.

"She's only doing what is best, her first responsibility me and you." The equilibrium continued, as I preteneded not to listen to it directly, "We all have suffered great losses in this conflict, and what happened at the Urielight Oribital was neither your fault hers or mine."

"But we could have warned them!" I said smashing my fist into the console, as the memories of those couple of days unfolded in my mind again.

"I hate them! They're barbaric, demons, and want to vaporize them all!"

"Who would be the demon then." The equilibrium said in a small voice and went seemingly quiet.


We knew the location of one of the Idrians Construction ships, a massive Shipyard that pumped out their Holy Dreadnaughts amongst other vessels, although this location could change there was still time to mount a strike force against it, to severely cripple and set back their frontline production so that our people could at least fall back a few lightyears to safetey before darkness fell on them once again.

That time was running out, as the nanoassemblers churned away, building devices meant only for destruction, to effectively cleanse the universe of a people such as ourselves, to fight a war we never wanted, a conflict we never started, and an enemy we never really knew.

I heard the door to the bridge slide open behind me I didn't turn around from the viewscreens to look at her. "I know how you feel, it kills me ever second to think that any lack of action on my part may be jeapordizing countless millions of lives. You know as much as I do if there is one chance that we can make it out of here with our intel and get it into the right hands, we have got to make sure that we are prepared to take it at the right time."

She put a hand on my shoulder and I melted somewhat to her warm touch, as the tension between us disappated a bit.

"Well get through this B." She whispered in my ear as she wrapped her arms around the seat hugging it and me at the same time. I closed my eyes and let the world slip away around me imagining happier times and that this whole thing were merely some sort of interactive dream we were both partaking in and would awake in the past without a care in the world and a funny story to tell about it all.

But this wasn't true, this was real, and time was slipping through our fingers. We could probably run away from it all but eventually the Idrians would find us, and the fate of an entire civilzation may weighted upon our consciousneses. We will win, eventually we're quite sure of it but at what cost?

Our superior technology against thier immortality and superior might. Our diversity against their religious zealot-like unity. Perhaps we were wrong and they were right, we could be the medlesome evil hertics that they paint us to be, but at least all of our citizens are free of their own will to pursue their beliefs and passions without restriction, it what the Culture is about... not the individual and not the whole but both.

The Enemy ship showed up again on the sensors as it crested the distant horizon and continued along the predicted orbital path.

"Seems to be a Fast Picket of the Mn'trah class" The Equilibrim stated bringing up a rough 3D schematic of the vessle, "We might be faster, but only marginally so, and their sensor systems if they're anything like we've encountered recently, could easily detect us anywhere within a half light year. As for the armarments they're minimal but more than enough to not even leave identifiable debris if they wanted."

"So tell us something we don't know." I shruged, as Rachel sat down at the other console studying our adversary her deep blue eyes scaning the target as if she were looking for something.

"I'm afraid I wouldn't know where to Start." The Learned Equilibrium said smugly, knowing full well that its mental capacity was far beyond that of any mere human on the scale of if you could write on both sides of a 3x5 card in sub microscopic print and put that card in a drawere multiplied by a thousand and have a cabinet with a few hundred draweres, and a thousands of cabinets that would cover the entire surface of a medium sized star.

You still wouldn't even get close to the mental capacity of the mind that controled the Learned Equilbrium and it wasn't even one of the more god like AI's that existed in the culture. Just merely a scoutship.

"Thats it! We're getting out of here ..." Rachel said in a determined tone and began entering data into a nearby console.

"What!?" Both I and the Equilibrium said at her statement both sounding a bit confused an amazed.

"Ah I see now!" The Learned Equlibrium stated, "If I may commander." I then took over the console she was working and began working through the calculations she'd begun and a second or two switched the viewscreens to show a view of the current solar system centered on the planet they were on, and a plotted escape trajectory, timings, and other minutae.

"But that will take us right through th..." I began.

"Local Star" Yes I know, but the ship can take it. Let's just hope the Idrians don't like it that hot. We won't get very far, but masking ourselves in the stars Corona will be enough of a diversion and frustration to our benefactors to give us this window of opprotinuty here." Rachel pointed to a sector on the screen.

"At the very least we could burst of a transmission to the fleet." The Limited Equilibrium stated, "Thusly accomplishing our mission, I find that to be an acceptable risk our three lives for those of many."

"Speak for yourself you ol' tin bucket" I continued, "Not all of us are made of hyper-dimensional material and can merely exist in multiple planes of existance at a whim to to escape the harsh effect of turning into the fourth state of matter in the middle of a star."

"I've already begun to modify our effectors to nullify the physical induction of the plasma to the skin of the ship and the radiation shielding should do the rest effetively." Learned Equilibrium began displaying all sorts of complex multidimensional equations that I couldn't hope to understand without years of field theory and hyper-quantum particle theory.

"Okay so say this, crazy bullshit mind you, works and we managed to ditch the Idrians or even better they try to follow us in what then?"

"Two things!" Rachel said, pointing to the screens. "Once we exit the star at this point here, we will be facing this Gas Giant in orbit furthest from the Idrians, We perform a micro-jump within the stars coronasphere to futher confuse, and drop Hyperspace decoys here, here and Here, and Here, and then Jump on a random vector out of the system."

"Okay this is all assuming we make it out to orbit and away from this cold little dustball"

Rachel stared at me for a moment and kind of smirked, "We fight our way out!" I sat there dumbfounded, my mouth must have dropped open, I knew as well as anyone that our craft was not even a match for the Fast picket much less a Mn'trah class. "What do you know about Idrian ship design?" She asked cooly as the Limited Equilibrium brought up the ship schematic.

"Well lesse, all Idrian ships seem to be built around the principle of redundancy and resiliancy, I've heard of craft being over 80% damaged and still operable and quite potent in battle. In some cases there are 4-6 redudant subsystems for most major systems aboard a craft that can dynamically reconstruct and rebuild themselves over short periods of time, a kind of self healing. It's also why many Idrian ships all looks so different even those of the same class"

"Right. And what else?" She asked as if I were missing the whole point completly.

"Er there's not much else I can think of, technologicall they're not as cappable of some of our vessels, Their stealth Technology isn't as good, none of their ships have sentient AI's as they believe AI to be blasphemous false gods and..."

"Ahem..." The Learned Equilibrium interupted, "If I may commander?"

"Please do, we don't have much time anyway." Rachel smiled enjoying this.

"Very well then. Due to the Idrians abhorance of supperior computational technology as you were so mentioning we have a slight advantage over them in this area. The commander suggested that we utilize a nano-virus of sorts to infect and disable the Enemy Ships systems if but for a moment it will be enough for us to deal a crippling blow to their systems and permit our escape. I've already manufactured enough micro missiles to do the Job."

"The trick will be to displace them close enough to the enemy to penetrate their defenses whilst they are unaware, and then as their system goes down to thward the virii they will have only moments to bring the backups online when we hit them sufficently hard enough to effectualize our departure unmolested."

"How long do we have?" Rachel asked staring at a screen mapping the orbital path of the enemy vessle. "Another 35minutes local time before they make their next orbital pass. I will prepair for an emergency ascent and suggest that both of you secure yourselves, the accleration might get a bit uncomfortable."

"If we don't make it B.. I'd like to say that..."

"No no no...don't talk like that.... we'll make it alright, after all the shit we've been through together this is just another thing. It's fucking crazy but what is it that we do that isn't?"

We both went and grabed a bite to eat from the galley, and consumed our rations in silence. I couldn't help having a funny feeling in the back of my mind, as if something was coming to an end, and that we may not see one another again after this. Perhaps I was just being too pessemistic but regardless I felt that way and it was rather hard to ignore.

7.8.2k3

Luthien stood looking over the precipice, the chill wind billowing all about him feeling as if it threatened to lift him off his feet and hurtle him down the sheer drop. He noticed a rather large but opaque skorpion crawling by the edge of the precipice seemingly perplexed by where the ground had gone off in the direction of the drop.

Luthien placed his hand down and allowed the skorpion to crawl onto the back of his hand and it proceeded to make his way up Luthiens arm. The sun was descending past the horizon in the sky and the temprature began to drop with it.

"So my little friend, neither you or I can continue my journey today" Luthien said to the arachnid as he scooped it up with his other hand and placed it gently on the ground again.

Luthien turned and returned to where the others were already begining to set up camp and the dinner fire was burning brightly as codespace proded it and grined in a way only pyromaniacs could. A kind of delight with having a toy like no other.

7.9.2k3

"How could you do this to me! How could you" She screamed, Luthien backing away with his hands up in a defensive posture as if waiting for a blow to strike but not willing return it. dani was furious about something he had the slightest clue about, and was reaching through his mind so that he could try to figure out what it could possibly be.

Dani broke down crying before Luthien and he was still stunned from the outburst as he had walked through the door earlier. "W..what?" Is all he could say in response to her crying, he tried to reach out a hand to her but she backed away as a wounded being would not wanting to be struck again by their assailant. "I.. don't... I don't understand... what's going on Dani?" Luthien finally managed, feeling guilty for something unknown.

So many things had happened to him today and only God knew which of them could have triggered this reaction, this day that he thought was coming to an end was merely the pinacle of disaster as everything came crumbling down about him. Somebody was out to get him, and get him good for somethinb but he never did anything to anybody. He just lived his life like any other average american, another drone-slave to the corporate machine.

Luthien sat on the armrest of the Sofa, and sank his head in defeat, he didn't know what he could say to her, she probably wouldn't believe him, nobody had belived him all day about anything. It all seemed to begin on the commute to work. He was running a few minutes late and there had been a traffic accident on the freeway.

He called Cameron on the phone to tell him that he was a running behind and would probably be a half hour late in, and Cameron stated that the boss wouldn't be pleased they were suposed to do a presentation first thing in the morning and their client was on a tight schedule, if they missed this contract it could mean 25 million in lost revenue if the decided to go with thier competitor.

"Fuck! Move you asshats, I need ... to get to fucking work!" He screamed the other commuters around him seemingly oblivious to his plight and probably as frustrated as he was.

Luthien saw an opening and attempted to get off the freeway with a dozen or so other motorists. He was cut off by a black SUV with tinted windows and a license plate that read VNGFL1 on it. He slamed his brakes heard a screech and then felt a bump from behind with an acompanying crumpling sound and that of broken glass. He had just bought this car a month earlier after he'd won his promotion, and his day was now completly ruined.

He pulled over to the shoulder of the road and was followed by the person whom had hit him, he waited till it was safe and clamored out of his car, to inspect the damage. The damage was superficial mostly cosmetic and had damaged one of his tailights and bent his license plate up a bit. "Oh my God! Are you alright.... I am sooooo sooo sorry, I just didn't..." A female voice called out over the traffic as she came to inspect the damage.

One headlight and the grille on her BMW was dammaged, and she had a concerned look on her face. Luthien didn't say anything at first and just stared at her. "My insurance will cover everything, Let's just exchange info... are you okay.... are you hurt?" She asked Luthien as he stared on in a daze. "I'm ... alright, look I need to make a call", he murmered to her pulling out his Cell and walking towards his car again.

7.10.2k3

Luthien stared blankly at the cellphone in his hand wondering why he was holding it and what he was going to do with it. He had completly forgotten for a moment spacing-out as it may seem why he was standing here on the offramp to the freeway holding this phone looking at his car and listening to this woman talk to him.

It all came back to him at once, the events of the past few minutes sweeping over him bringing him back to the present and he pressed the speed dial for work on the Phone. "Luthien? Where are you man? The Boss is..." The voice on the other end began. "Look I've been in an accident, I don't think I'll be able to make the meeting I've got to go call you back in a bit." Luthien murmered sullenly.

Luthien turned to the woman whom had a concerned but bewildered look on her face. He walked back over to her and began to speak, "Let's just exchange information, I'm sure that we've both got places to be." She nodded in agreement and went to fetch her paperwork from her car, and Luthien did the same.

They both exchanged insurance cards and Luthien copied her information into his day-planner, and handed her card back to her. "Thanks Andrea?" He said to her, as he gave the card back. "I'm so very sorry about this, I really wish that we..." Before she could finish Luthien merely took back his card and walked back to his car wordlessly and still in a daze.

Luthien closed the door on his vehicle and started down the ramp merging with existing traffic, and turned onto the surface streets. He was on automatic pilot of sorts and not really paying attention to his surroundings, he merely felt as if there were a great pressure on him pushing harder and harder at every moment and he couldn't escape.

He descended into the subterrainian parking garage where his office was located, He was nearly 20 minutes late as he glanced on the clock on his silent radio. Pulling into his reserved spot he gathered up his breifcase and laptop and headed for the elevators. The security guard nodded to him. "Good morning!" The guard chimed in a rehearsed cheery tone. 'If you only knew you bastard' Luthien thought to himself as he merely nodded to the guard.

Pressing button for his floor the Elevator doors slid closed infront of him, and he began to ascend into the building above him. The Elevator stoped a couple of floors short of where he was going to let on other passengers and continued the climb. He steppped off at his floor and the receptionist Elizabeth stood to greet him.

"Mr. Samuro, and Cameron are in with the others, they asked that I tell you to go right in." She said to him handing him some papers. "Thanks", Luthien sighed, " Could you put these on my desk." He handed her his briefcase and laptop." She grabbed them gingerly and walked down the hall to fullfil his request. Luthien turned to a nearby mirror to check his apperance before stepping into the conferance room.

Inside Mr. Samuro, Cameron and the clients representatives Mr. Meir and his assistant Ali, were seated at the conference table. They all looked up at him and stood up as he entered the room. "Sorry I am late, where are we?" Luthien began.

Cameron summariezed what they had covered in the meeting thus far, and Luthien picked up the presentation. He was still a shaken from the accident earlier and the feeling was simply not going away, and was having problems focusing. He had to stop to excuse himself as he caught himself staring out the window for a moment. He left the office and walked into the bathroom.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror, not actually seeing himself, entranced as if he were looking at another person he did not know. There was a flush in the stalls behind him, and Squid appeared from out of the stall, Luthein snapped back to reality, turning to look at his old friend.

"Hey man, what's up?" Squid chimed patting Luthien on the back, " I thought you had that big meeting today? Is it over already?"

"Uhm no? I had to get out of there, I was fucking it up. I'm fucking everything up today. I don't know what's going on I have to get outta here." Luthien said to squid, who's face turned to one of confusion and concern. "What's going on man? Are you alright? Is there something I can do?" Squid asked his tone a little softer now.

"Naw I have got to leave... I'll talk to you later." Luthien said, drying his hands and exiting the bathroom. He didn't even go back to the office and headed straight for the elevators. The door chimed, and slid open. He went pale for a second and felt his heart stop as he looked into the elevator, it was Andrea she looked almost as surprised as he did. "Uhm, Hi." She said, " You forgot this..." She handed him his Day planner, luthien looked at it too stunned to speak still.

"Thanks." He said, "What are you... I mean How did you find me ...er. here?" Sounding a bit surprised and perplexed. "She held up one of his buisness cards. "I hope you don't mind they were in your planner, I figured you would need it so I thought I would bring it to you, it was the least I could do after I...."

"You really didn't need to go out of your way like that." Luthien said feeling a bit more at ease.

"It was no problem, I was in the neighborhood anyway. I guess I should be going now... " Andrea said, looking at Luthien her eyes searching his face with her eyes for a moment and then turning back to the still open Elevator doors.

"Wait!" Luthien blurted out, and she stopped looking back, "I'm on my way out of here too, let me walk you down." She smiled and nodded slightly to him as he stepped into the elevator and pushed the Lobby button.

The doors closed and the began descending rapidly. "Thanks for bringing this back to me." Luthien said, "I'm sorry about leaving like that but I had this meeting and I..." "It's the least I could do, I feel horrible about this whole thing." Andrea began, as the elevator stopped and some more people clambored onto the Elevator carraige and the began to descend once again.

The descended in silence and everyone clambored out into the Office buildings lobby where more people were waiting to get on. The walked out in the atrium and past the security station. "I should really get going", Andrea said a little uneasily and offered a hand to Luthein, which he took and shook gingerly. "I'm sorry we didn't meet under better circumstances and thanks again." He called out as she walked through the revolving door and into the bright mid-morning.

Luthien stood like living statue in the lobby for a few moments watching her descend the buildings steps and turn onto the sidewalk and disappear from view. Business people wandered around him some stoping to glance at him as if he were in the way or some oddity and proceeded on their way.

Without thinking he walked out of the lobby on as if being controled by someone else, he had this feeling of panic wash over him, as if he had to find Andrea something was wrong and he had to catch up to her, He dashed down the stairs and looked down the sidewalk where she had went. He couldn't see her anywhere, the thin crowd of people offered no cover and he didn't see her car parked anywhere. He walked briskly in the direction she had gone.

When he reached the intersection he looked around again searching. 'Where was she? Why am I looking for her?' raced through his mind. "Sir?" a voice startled him from behind. He turned to see a young man standing behind him. "Do you have the time?" He asked looking a bit earnest. "Uhm?" Luthien peered at his rolex. "Ten-twelve" he said to the guy whom smiled and started to cross the street.

'Fuck!' Luthien thought to himself standing on the corner of the intersection. She was most likely long gone by now and he hadn't the clue as to where to find him, he walked across the street as the light changed and entered the Starbucks that was there and stood in the line.

He ordered a Venti mocha frappucino and after picking up his drink took a seat outside and stared at his day-planner. He was snapped out of it with the sound of his fone ringing and feeling it vibrate against his him.

"Where are you?" Camerons voice on the other end chimed, " Mr. Samuro is fucking pissed man, what happened in there?" "Look I had to get out of there, things are kinda fucked up right now, I can't explain..." Luthein began.

"You're damn right they are, I haven't seen Mr. Samuro this upset ever. I don't know what he's going to do, but I bet it's yours and my asses over this contract man. Fuck! Holly isn't going to believe this when I call her.. If I get fired I'm so screwed man.... what the fuck!"

Luthien listened to Cameron exclaim at him on the phone but stared off into the passing traffic. "Luthien!.... Luthien! .... Are you there? Hello? ... Hellooooooo?" Luthien hung up the phone and turned it off.

Luthien walked back to the office and took the elevator down into the parking garage and walked back to his car. He got in and pulled out of his spot and asscended back to street level. He didn't know where he was going, or much less care at this point, he had to find Andrea, He looked at his planner and flipped open the page where he'd coppied down her insurance information. He realized that was the key, and headed for the freeway.

7.14.2k3

Rick snuck up behind her wraping an arm around her waist an brushing her hair away from her neck where he planted a lingering kiss. She melted in his sudden embrace leaning back into him as he slid a hand across her stommach and followed the the smoth contour down to the elastic of her pajamas. She felt Ricks other hand gently cusp her right breast and she felt the breath leave hear as her heart fluttered and a delightful chill washed over her.

7.18.2k3

Luthien careened down the interstate 10, not really paying attention to where he was or where he was going as much as instinctively knowing where his destination was. If he was to find Andrea, this is where he had to go. He had questions about questions that have yet to be asked, and wanted answers to why those questions existed and to the questions themselves. It was a maddness within him that made the rest of the world seem unimportant and meaningless in relation to what he felt he must do.

He turned his cellphone back on, and it chimed showing that there were five new voicemails most undoubtedly from Cameron but he didn't bother to answer them. He scrolled through the phonebook and pulled up the number for someone he'd not talked to in a considerable amount of time. The phone rang through a couple of times, and then a voice on the other end answered groggily, "Hullo?"

"Hey, Jonothan! I need a favor, I'm on my way over to your place right now... are you going to be there?" Luthien said calmly.

"Do you know what time it is?" The voice creaked with minor annoyance.

"Getting close to 11, c'mon man, I really need this." Luthien said the anxiety welling up within him as traffic started to thin out a bit.

"Fuck! Alright... but this is going to cost you...."

"Thanks, put it on my tab, I'm about 10 minutes out... see you then." Luthein hung up as his cellphone rang again, the caller ID showed that it was Holly this time, probably calling on Camerons behalf, but he didn't want to and didn't have the time to speak with either of them right now and turned off the ringer to let the voicemail answer it.

Luthiens car pulled into the driveway of a newer non-descript cookie-cutter home that they always seem to be building in the new suburban subdivisions in the valley these days. He clambored out and had to reach back in as he'd forgotten his day-planner, and walked up to the front door. He knocked a couple of times, and finally a tired looking man in his mid-to-late twenties answered the door wearing only some pajama bottoms, and was squinting fiercly as the daylight struck in a visibly painful manner. He turned wordlessly leaving the door open and escapped back into the darker confines of the house. Luthien followed closing the door behind him.

"Thanks man, I know these aren't your normal 'operating hours' but I need a favor"

"Really? What kind of favor and how much trouble is it going to get me in this time?" Jonothan said raising an eyebrow and sitting in a recliner in the living room.

"I need to find somebody, or at least how to get into contact with them."

"Who is she?" Jonothan grinned smugly.

"Her name is Andrea, she ran into me today, after some jackass cut me off on my way to work, I have her insurance information here, and a license plate number but that's about it." He tore the page out of his dayplanner and handed it to Jonothan.

"Why do you need to find this chick? Is she hot or something? What about Dani what would she think man, don't go screwing up your life chasing after some skirt trust me on this one 'kay." Jonothan said reading over the note scrawled on the day planner stationary.

"I just need to find her, that's all ... if you don't want to help me then.." Luthien began to reach for the note but Jonothan moved it just out of his grasp.

"Whoa there wolfman, I didn't say I wouldn't help you I just like to know what I'm getting into, alright? Just give me a minute to finish waking up, I need something to drink, ya thirsty?" Jonothan sat up and stretched heading toward the kitchen scratching his bottom.

"Naw, I'm fine." Luthien said, watching Jonothan rummage through the refridgerator. "I just need this, like soon, if you get my drift."

"Consider it done, consider it already done my man." Jonothan pulled out a carton of orange juice and drank lustfuly out of the carton and the made a jesture toward Luthien to offer him some too, but Luthien shook his head to decline. The walked back through the living room and into Jonothans' Home office. There was a large executive corner desk with several flat-screen displays, that were showing a panoramic vista that spanned across all of the screens.

Jonothan took a seat in the chair and pulled out the keyboard tray and the vista disappeared replaced by terminal windows, and browsers and various other programs scatered about the panoramic virtual desktop. He studied the piece of paper for a few moments and looked over his screens and selected a terminal with a chat session on it.

"Ya know this is really going to cost you I've got to pull in some favors for some other people that owe me but it shouldn't take to long" he said typing away and talking to Luthien at the same time and he began to do a few other things Luthien didn't quite understand in some of the other windows on some of the other displays. Jonothan was going too fast for Luthien to really keep up so he didn't bother trying to watch anymore and focused on some of the Japanese Animation posters and Art that lined the office. He always liked that stuff but never really got into it enough to enjoy it throughly, always too busy working.

"Shit!" Jonothan exclaimed.

"What is it? Is something wrong?" Luthien tried to figure out what was going on himself but was even more lost than he was before.

"We can get the information you need, fuck we can get everything you ever wanted to know about her and all of her family if you wanted, but I've got to give up something in return for this, and this dick wants several of my 'accounts' so to speak."

"And...."

"And its fucking taken me weeks to get some of this shit. I knew I shouldn't have answered the fucking phone today. Dude, I tell you what, I do this for you, your ass is mine for whatever I say... 'till we're even terms again. Got it?" Luthien nodded his head and Jonothan went back to work. Luthien could hear him mumbling curses under his breath as he whacked away on the keyboard angrily. The color laser printer warmed up and spat out a few sheets of paper and Jonothan picked them up and examined them and passed them up to Luthien. It was a complete record on Andrea, it had an older looking photograph of her, with summary information including her current and past home addresses, social security number, criminal record, etc.

"Holy shit!" Luthien exclaimed, "Jono you are the man!"

"And don't you forget that, cause I sure won't..."

"I owe you more than you can know, I'd like to stay but I have to go." Lutien said clutching the papers and grabbing his day planner.

"Yeah whatever, just don't be surprised when you hear from me someday at 2am in the fuckin morning."

Luthien rushed back outside and hopped back into his car, he pulled the Streetmap from the back seat and flipped through it looking for the location of what Andreas current address pointed too. "Fuck should've had him print me a map." He said staring at the maps trying to piece together a route from his current location to where he needed to go. He needed to talk with her the anxiety building within him over this was dehabilitating at best, and the closer he seemed to get the worse the feeling became.

The phone flashed and vibrated to show it was ringing again, this time the caller-id showed that it was the office again, probably Mr. Samuro himself calling to fire him, but he didn't care at this point, Andrea was the answer, he knew it, he saw that she knew something in her eyes when they met the second time, and that is what was eating him from within.

7.23.2k3

Rick gently pushed her down into his office chair her deep blue eyes looking at him longingly after their passionate kiss. He knelt down before her and grabbed onto the armrests of the chair pulling her towards him the wheels of the chair squeeking a bit and she had to spread her legs a bit to keep from kneeing Rick in the chest. He urged her legs further appart as he then began kissing her inner thighs going further up with each kiss.

7.23.2k3

Luthien pulled into the entryway to the apartment complex and looked at the building map trying to find the apartment number he was looking for. "Building 8" he murmered to himself and quickly oriented himself with the map and where he needed to go. The gate for the complex seemed to be under repair at the moment as a couple of technicians fiddled with the Call-box and the automated gate control mechanisms. He proceeded into the complex and parked in a non-reserved spot near building eight.

His stomach gurgled as he realized that he'd not eaten anything all day and the hunger pains were becoming more evident, ignoring them he walked up the stairs to where Andrea's apartment was and double checking to see that he had the right place, he knocked on the door and swallowed in anticipation. There was no answer. He knocked again a little more insistantly thinking that someone may be home and just didn't hear the door. After waiting a couple of moments he heard the deadbolt slide open and the door opened up a crack.

Luthien and Andrea stared at one another in silence for what seemed like years passing in an instant. Andrea was wearing a robe and had a towel wrapped around her head and strands of her still wet hair clung to the side of her face. "W...what are you doing here. I mean how did you fi... Uh Luthien?" Andrea began to say obviously stunned to see Luthein standing before her, and then becoming vaguely aware that she was barely dressed and pulled the robe tighter about her.

"Look I'm sorry I didn't mean to startle you but I needed to talk to you." Luthien began, "I've been having these strange thoughts and feelings and feel that somehow you're part of them."

"Uhm, Okay? Strange how?" Andrea said nervously partialy hiding behind the door still.

"Strange as in there is something not quite right going on and that you are part of it. Can we talk."

"I.. uhm... I guess so." Andrea began, "Why don't you come in." She stepped back and swung the door open a bit so that Luthien could walk in. As he crossed the threshold of the doorway he felt a crashing blow to the side of his face, his vision blured and he felt himself crashing to the ground, the side of his face felt numb, and he thought he heard Andrea saying something before he lost consciousness.

Luthien awoke his body jerking as he came into full consciousness again and was immediatly beset with a dull throbbing pain in his head where he'd been struck. He probably would have screamed out if his mouth were not taped shut and his hands and legs bound. It was dark, with only a tiny bit of light showing from somewhere, and he couldn't get his eyes to focus properly. He was lying down on what felt like carpet, and he could hear faint noises coming from somewhere.

As his eyes came into focus somewhat in the gloom and he deemed that he must be in an empty closet. He tried to sit up but collapsed again on the to the floor with a dull thud. The door swung open and a man with long dirty blonde hair tied back in a pony tail looked him over.

"Looks like our 'guest' is awake. Don't worry you're not going anywhere yet." He grinned at Luthien and closed the closet door again. He could hear muffled voices as if someone were talking on a phone, as there only seemed to be one side of a conversation. There were the sounds of feet shuffling and papers rustling, followed by breif stints of silence. Luthien tried to sit up again and managed to prop himself up a bit. His head ached and it was hard to breathe with the tape covering his mouth and lying on his side.

The door opened again and Andea was there, she squatted down looking into Luthiens eyes for a moemnt and a somewhat distraught expression came over her. "I'm sorry about this Luthien but it has to be. 'Business' and all ya know." She touched the side of his face gently where he'd been hit and he winced as it stung from the pain and felt puffy and swollen. She stood and took another look at him, and then closed the door behind her again.

8.21.2k3

Luthien sat in the semi-darkness wondering what was happening to him. He couldn't think of anything so important about himself to attribute being held prisoner. Somehow he was involved and what it was that was going on was what was really eating at him. He could hear people moving around outside of the closet, a cell phone ringing somewhere, and muffled voices in semi-hushed tones. He had to go to the bathroom as well. He kicked at the door as best he could hoping to get someone's attention.

The door swung open and Luthien was met by an irritated face, "What is it?"

"I've got to pee!" He said as best as he could through the tape covering his mouth. The individual standing over him let out a defeated sigh and reach down and cut the bonds holding Luthiens feet with what looked like some sort of combat knife and made a point of flashing that they were armed as well to Luthien. He thought better than to try anything at this point, getting shot was not in his best interests at this point and going to the bathroom seemed like the best thing currently.

"What the hell, are you doing?" Andrea came in suddenly as Luthien was helped to his feet with a perplexed look on her face.

"Your guest has to use the little boys room, did you want to take him, or should I?"

Andrea looked almost flushed for a moment, "Whatever, hurry up, we've got work to do." Luthien looked around the room, there were were a few tables set up with all sorts of gear strewn about it, what looked like communications equipment, a couple of laptops, open fast food containers, a couple of protective vests and a few ominous looking firearms that he'd only seen used in movies, with accompanying clips loaded with ammunition. He was escorted into the adjoining bathroom and his hands were cut free as the other man stood of to the side and watched him. He rubbed his wrists a bit, as the circulation in them starting to come back again, and un-zipped his pants to use the washroom.

"Gimmie your hands" the man said after he'd finished, and Luthien cooperated as the man held his hands together and expertly zip-tied them together again and escorted him out of the bathroom and back to the closet. "Sit down." Luthien did, and the man bound his feet again as well, and looked Luthien over briefly and closed the door, returning Luthien into the darkness of the empty closet. Luthien sighed and closed his eyes unable to fathom why this was happening to him, feeling rather helpless to do anything but hope he made it out of this alive.

Luthien awoke with a start as the closet door opened again. He didn't even remember dozing off. Squinting his eyes and blinking, he tried to focus on who was at the door; it was Andrea. She knelt before him with something in her hand. "Look we're sorry about all this but it's for your own good right now, it'll be over soon enough though" she smiled, "You must be thirsty I brought you some water" she said holding up the bottle of water she had in her hand. She pulled the tape covering his mouth aside slowly it tugging at the stubble on his face a bit, and then held the bottle up to his lips and he drank thirstily. The water was cool and refreshing and some of it dribbled down the side of his face and Andrea wiped it for him with a handkerchief.

"Better?" She smiled at him.

Luthien cleared his throat after having not spoken for so long and said hoarsely, "Yes, thanks Andrea... if that's your real name."

"Yes that my real name, and that's all you really need to know..."

"What's going on? Why are you..." Luthien began to say sitting up a little.

"Nothing... nothing at all..." Andrea grinned knowingly and strung the tape across Luthiens face again before he could finish his statement. She then put her finger up to her lips and made a shushing sound, and closed the door behind her again. Luthien suddenly began to feel a little dizzy, his sense of balance went out from under him and he fell onto his side as the small closet spun around him. He began to panic as he realized that he'd been drugged, the world faded from him as he felt trapped within himself, paralysed - and then the darkness came crashing down on him.

Luthien awoke, his head was throbbing and he felt as if he were numb, but sensations in his body were returning and his vision cleared as he realized that he was sitting in his car, it was dark outside, he looked around and he was in front of his house. He groggily opened the door to his car and walked to his front door. As he was unlocking the door it flew open and he was met by his wife Dani, tears were streaming down her face and she was sobbing uncontrollably.

"How could you do this to me!" Dani screamed at him...

Dani ran up the stairs in shambles and Luthien was not sure of whatever was going on around him was real anymore. He spotted some pictures on the Coffee table and picked them up. They were of him and Andrea, one depicting Andrea kissing him, and it all started to make sense to him now. On the back of that picture was written, Remember honey, nothing.... nothing at all... Obviously they didn't want him saying anything, and this was merely a warning of some kind. Luthien was in way over his head this time, and if there were some way he could dig himself out of the hole he now found himself in, it wouldn't be easy to do. For right now he had a lot of explaining to do, and no matter what he said it was either his fault, or it seem that way.

8.24.2k3

The Learned Equilibrium sounded a klaxon signalling that it was preparing to fire the volley of micro-missiles. Rachel and I glanced at each other and then clamoured out of the galley discarding our barely eaten meals in the re-cycler and headed for the bridge. Here we go I thought to myself as I took my station, the various displays were showing targeting information and continuously adjusting the solution for the displacement beams and effectors. The Idiran craft was reaching the apex of it's orbital path above us and the Learned Equilibrium would displace the micro-missiles at a point where we could easily place the planet between us and them as we made our escape. The only thing we could hope for was that there weren't any others close by waiting for just such a thing, making our trip a short one as they would reduce us to just so much background radiation.

"Firing solution locked in, awaiting confirmation." The Learned Equilibrium stated.

Rachel looked over to me. After pausing briefly, she said, "Confirmed. Commence firing and begin with emergency ascent towards established flight-plan."

"Acknowledged. Does the second officer agree with confirmation?" The Learned Equilibrium queried. I felt dumbfounded for a moment like I was agreeing with my executioner to go ahead and terminate my life in some deranged suicidal way.

"Acknowledged, second officer agrees with order." I felt as if I were outside of myself when I was speaking the words and time around me dilated and distorted. I watched the ship take over all the functions involved as no human could possibly manage the amount of information in a timely manner much less handle the precision operations involved in the plan that they'd just begin to execute. The ship flash activated the displacement generators as well as adjusted the stealth subsystems to compensate for the energy spike and not give away our position too early.

"Firing now. Prepare for emergency ascent, I will try to compensate as much as possible for the acceleration but there will be some discomfort temporarily" the ship informed us as we saw on our displays that the micro-missiles were displaced into the proximity of the Mn'trah class Idiran vessel, also utilising the planets only rotational shift to allow the weapons to coast even closer into range before activating and beginning their attack on the enemy ships systems.

The external view on the main screen sank slowly at first as our vessel powered up to normal operational standards. The landing supports retracted and external port nanoseals were re-fitted into place. Then I was instantly pressed back into my seat as several G's of force came down on to me at once, my vision blurred but I saw the horizon sink suddenly below us on the main screen as the sky darkened and we lanced out towards space. Breathing was difficult but I focused on my training simulations back at the academy and remembered how to cope with the acceleration. Almost immediately it began to ease as the inertial compensation systems caught up. Rachel looked as relieved as I was that things seemed to be going well so far.

"Seventy-eight percent of the micro-missiles made it through their passive defences, it seems that they are adrift for the moment. I am detecting two more ships in the outer regions of the Solar system closing in on our position, beginning evasive maneuvers" the Learned Equilibrium updated us as we broke free of the planets gravity well and turned towards the inner solar system.

"How long have we got until we reach the communications point" Rachel queried, scanning the various displays and trying to take in the torrent of information flooding in from around us.

The ship replied, "Three minutes, twenty-five seconds. We will reach the stellar-corona-sphere in approximately eight minutes and forty-two seconds from now."

"Pursuers?" I interjected

"Two currently, they won't be able to catch us, we have too much of a head start on them and we are still accelerating. The ship we disabled, however, seems to have restored main power, and I am assuming will begin pursuit shortly." The diagrams on the displays shifted and changed to reflect what the ship was describing in illustrative real time holographic detail. Their own craft depicted on it's flight plan approaching the point where it would fire off the communications munitions that the enemy would not be able to block or disrupt.

"Make sure the communique contains the spatial quadrants of our recon area, and says something simple as to the Idiran being here" Rachel called out to the ship, as she flipped between several tactical displays trying to assess the situation. The ship reached the chosen communications point and fired off an entire volley of anti-matter warhead munitions arranged in a coded pattern that would explode, forming a pattern of expanding radiation that would display a four dimensional message both visible in real space and hyperspace for light-years around and would match, if not exceed the visible light emanating from the local star they were now descending towards. As an added benefit it would also, if even for a few millionths of a second, obscure them from the Idiran's sensors and effector weaponry, allowing the Learned Equilibrium to fire off decoys as well.

The communications burst went off behind us the radiating patterns of annihilating matter expanding in a great spherical shell as we crested it on it's wavefront easily keeping out of the path of the destruction behind us, specially chosen for the additional volume of stellar debris which served to increase the yield of the burst. "Decoy Deployed, the Mn'trah class vessel has assumed pursuit to this position. One of the other two vessels has broken off to pursue the decoy, but it won't take them long to realize the deception, and they still have us wildly outnumbered. Two minutes fifteen seconds until we enter the outer corona-sphere. I will have to reduce speed to make the appropriate course corrections for the orbital maneuver." The ship announced.

"So good so far, eh?" Rachel smiled, "At least they know where we are now, and hopefully the fleet will investigate before the Idirans can close down operations or worse yet, call in for reinforcements.

"We've been lucky." I said glancing at her and then back to the displays around us filled with an unfathomable amount of ever changing information. "This is just around the first turn we still have a lot of ground to cover and our opponents are not only aware of our lead and our intentions they are gaining on us and reacting to it. Let's just hope our bag of tricks hasn't run out."

"Not entirely." The Learned Equilibrium chimed in. "Activating field effectors and beginning descent into the stellar corona-sphere." The ships field effectors, basically acted as a sort of tunnelling device sweeping the highly charged particles in the stars corona around us allowing us to skirt through unscathed by the immense stelar temperatures. The stars orange-red glow filled up the entire view and seemed to stretch on in all directions around us forever as we descended further into the corona, the roiling mass of plasma of the star was so close that I felt as if I could just reach out a little ways and grab some of it.

"Standby" The Learned Equilibrium stated as it was obviously quite occupied with everything it was doing for a moment. There was a brilliant flash of light, and then a huge prominence erupted from the stars surface in front of us, the entire ship lurched and the inertial compensation system strained to keep up with the gravitational tides and sudden changes in acceleration. " Sorry about that, it seems our friend has taken a few random shots at us, but they're not following us into the corona." The ship commented explaining the sudden maneuver. "They're trying to spook us out, they don't seem to be able to effectively target us at this range. That won't be the case for long."

"How long 'till we reach the designated jump point?" Rachel queried the ship looking what was either flustered or annoyed after going through that last maneuver.

"Two minutes eleven seconds."

"And how long 'till they're in range?"

"One minute and six seconds." The ship responded highlighting the tactical diagram showing the rapidly closing picket vessel.

"Well that's just good news." I stated. "Please tell me we have a contingency..."

"Now that you mention it," The ship continued, "I have been thinking of some contingencies. I'm not as eager to be terminated as you may believe Bryan, and have every intention of making it out of this intact with both of you safe an..."

"Okay I get the point, what's the contingency." I interrupted.

"Hold on." The ship maneuvered violently again as more incoming weapon fire was tracked from the enemy vessel, further agitating the stellar bodies surface creating gravimetric disturbances, and rupturing the covalent bonds in the local stellar plasma destabilising the local magneto-sphere. "In a nutshell seeing how time is short: I figure we can buy some more time by taking a shortcut by going through."

"Through?" I said obviously disturbed, "Through what? The star! You've got to be kidding!"

"Do it!" Rachel said glancing at the tactical display as the enemy ship closed range with us, and its comrades not too far behind. Without further questioning the ship rotated on it's axis and dove straight for the surface of the star. I was in utter disbelief and unable to protest as the gravitation shear increased and shifted crushing me into my seat, my limbs went cold as the blood began to pool in my abdomen. I closed my eyes against the strain and had my body manufacture some additives to assist in blood-flow throughout my body as well as some comfort relief from the pain, the product of thousands of years of bio-manipulation and evolution.

The ship shook roughly - not in the way it had before during maneuvering, and my eyes snapped open as the warning klaxon sounded. "We've been hit, minor damage, I managed to deflect most of the fire, standby for surface penetration" the ship called out and seconds later we dove in, the plasma enveloping our tiny craft completely.

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