Chapter One: Reunion

Chapter 1

Reunion

A tall, lizard-like alien, Pendragon, stood on the bridge of a space ship. He stared into a monitor and waited impatiently.
A small Archaenian alien, the size of a mouse, appeared on the screen.
Pendragon pressed a button on the monitor and glared irately.
“Well, Carthis, I hope you have good news for me,” he uttered impatiently.
The Archaenian looked uncomfortable.
“We’ve made some progress.”
“Is it ready?”
“Not yet.”
Pendragon became enraged and pounded his clawed fist against the panel.
“What do you mean ‘not yet’?” he bellowed.
“The bomb will detonate as designed but we can’t control the reaction,” explained Carthis nervously.
“What the hell good is that to me?”
“I told you we’ve never created anything like this before.”
“You had better figure it out fast or I’ll start killing your offspring, one at a time. I promise you, it will be slow and it will be painful.”
The Archaenian’s eyes filled with fear.
“Yes, Pendragon, I understand.”
Pendragon shut off the monitor switch and stormed away.

Billy and Penny exited the Greyhound bus station in Washington, D.C. Billy paced back and forth impatiently across the sidewalk as the wind blew briskly, sending chills down his spine. He glanced up at the gloomy, gray sky and grimaced.
“I can’t understand why we couldn’t wait another week,” complained Penny. “It’s not like Washington’s on the other side of the world.”
“I told you, Penny, something’s not right in Firenghia. I can feel it.”
“Here we go again – Billy and his gut feelings. When are you gonna’ get over this?”
Billy walked up to Penny and glared at her.
“Those gut feelings saved your ass many a time. Grow the hell up!”
“Look, Billy, I’m really messed up right now. My mother has only been dead a week and I’m hurting inside. I don’t need this.”
Billy looked away at the traffic and sighed. He turned back to her and hugged her.
“I’m sorry. I know you were close to her but it’s done. Nothing is going to bring her back.”
Penny threw her arms up in the air in frustration.
“You’re always so insensitive, Billy!”
Several people stared at them curiously as they passed.
“What are you talking about? I’m always sensitive to you,” replied Billy with a surprise expression.
“No matter how frightened I am or how much I need you to be there for me, you just march right on, with or without me.”
“What’s that have to do with your mother?”
“She suffered so much for three months. I’ll never forget it but I guess you have. You only worry about poor Billy!”
Penny’s depressed attitude was wearing on Billy. He searched the traffic, hoping their ride would come soon.
“Don’t you have anything to say?” she nagged at him.
A black limo stopped and backed toward them.
“Yeah, there’s our ride.”
Penny crossed her arms and grew red-faced.
“That’s your answer to every argument. Just move on to the next obstacle.”
Billy felt defeated by her constant bickering.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Penny, but I’m tired of being your whipping boy. Everything I do is wrong in your eyes.”
“Because it always has to be your way!”
Billy bit his lip and became silent.
The limousine slowed to a stop in front of them. The tinted window slid down and Doc Smith’s friendly face appeared from within.
“Looking for a ride, my friends?”
“I’m so glad to see you. I thought you’d never get here!” exclaimed Billy.
“Sorry for the delay. D.C. traffic is a mess at this time of day. Why didn’t you fly down?”
Penny frowned at Billy.
“It’s a long story,” he replied.
Doc chuckled as he realized that Billy and Penny hadn’t changed much since the last time they were together.
“Aren’t they all?” quipped Doc.
The driver stepped out of the limo and opened the door for them.
Penny entered first, followed by Billy.
Doc smiled at Penny and asked, “How are you doing, Penny?”
“I’m alright, I guess. My mom passed away and I’m going through a tough time. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to come down here.”
“Well we’re glad to have you.”
“I was surprised to hear from you, Billy. I thought you forgot about us.”
“No. It’s just that so many things happened when we got back. Things were finally getting back to normal but then Penny’s mom became ill and it’s been downhill ever since.”
“I informed Xerxes that you felt it necessary to visit Seneca. He said that so long as you have the orb, it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Billy reached under his coat and pulled out the small transparent orb on a silver chain for Doc to see.
“I put this little thing away and never expected to use it.”
“Why not?” kidded Doc. “It doesn’t bite.”
“Everything we experienced before seems like it was only a bad dream. I’ve tried to forget as much as I could.”
“Come now, Billy. There must be something you cherish from the old world.”
“Strangely enough, I feel an urge to carry my sword with me on the street.”
“I still have nightmares from those horrible Neanderthals, the giant spiders and that stupid lizard,” complained Penny.
“I know how you feel. Maggie took a while to get over them as well. She had many restless nights.”
“How about you, Doc?” she inquired.
“I still have a hard time accepting the magic part and the theories behind the new technologies. It was very difficult for me to break away from the teachings of the old school. There’s just no basis in my mind for a lot of this stuff.”
“Sometimes I feel like I had a dual personality,” explained Billy. “It’s difficult when the one starts to interfere with the other one.”
“What kind of problems are you having with it?”
“Sometimes I feel like a part of me is in the other world. I was really motivated when we were in danger. Then there’s times when my new behavior that I developed there affects me here. I sometimes become too outspoken at work. Everything seems unimportant and trivial. I don’t have the patience for stupid stuff after living on the edge for two months.”
“How about you, Penny? Are you okay with what happened?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I liked it too much. I think I’d like to go back to Firenghia and live with Seneca’s tribe.”
Doc was surprised by her response. “How come?”
“It’s so much simpler than the everyday chaos of this world. I could be free there. Now that my mother’s gone, I really think about it a lot.”
“Well that’s good that you’re facing it.”
“Not necessarily. I feel like walking away from it because it’s never been what I wanted.”
“What do you want?” Doc asked curiously.
“I want to lead a simple life where I can be free. I’d love to be like Seneca and be a free spirit.”
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Maggie feels that our experience in the other world has opened her eyes to things that she never considered before as well.”
“How is Maggie doing? She didn’t come with you.”
“Oh, she’s doing fine. She’s taking care of the lunch arrangements for us. She’s anxious to see you, Penny. She really missed you.”
“I should have called her. I’m sorry.”
“We understand. It was quite a traumatic experience for all of us.”
“The toughest part was coming back to our world a day before everything happened,” remarked Billy. “That makes it even harder to believe.”
The limousine stopped in front of a black, wrought iron gate, which stood about twelve feet tall. A tall security guard armed with a 9 mm. Glock approached them.
The driver handed the guard a red badge with his picture on it. After scrutinizing it for several seconds, the guard looked in.
“Hello, Dr. Smith. I didn’t realize it was you in the back. Have a nice day.”
“Thanks, George.”
The driver closed the window.
The guard entered his booth and seconds later, the gates opened. The limousine proceeded along a cement driveway.
Billy and Penny gazed in awe as they approached a large, tan building at the end of the driveway. It was surrounded by Crepe Myrtles, which looked a bit naked at this time of the year.
The black lettering on the upper part of the building immediately caught their eyes.
“Smith-Miller Research Center!” exclaimed Billy. “How did you get a facility like this named after you?”
“Why? Is there something wrong with it?” Doc asked playfully.
“No, but …”
“Well, Xerxes wanted no part of his name on the facility, so Joe and I decided ‘why not’?”
“Congratulations, Doc, but how could you afford such a large facility?”
“We have a lot of government sponsored projects. But then, there are a lot of private ventures we’re involved in that are sponsored by very wealthy organizations.”
“So you have money coming in from all over.”
“At least for now, we do. This facility has created an economic boon of sorts in a variety of fields, but we have to be careful. If we get careless, the results could be disastrous.”
Penny became curious with his reference to ‘fields’.
“What kind of research are you doing here, Doc?”
“Well, Xerxes has given us more than enough new technology to keep us busy for one lifetime. We’ve got new fuel sources, communication and transportation. He’s showed us how to recycle many of our byproducts; how to revitalize the lakes and oceans; he’s given us cures for treating some of our diseases, and many other things.”
“How long before we see this new technology in action?” inquired Billy.
“That’s the hard part. We have to integrate the new processes and devices carefully to prevent upsetting the world’s economies. We’ve enlisted some help from friends in London; otherwise we’d never get these new advances implemented.”
“Who do you know in London?” asked Penny.
“There’s a foundation that goes by the acronym LISA- the London Institute for Scientific Advancement. They are very interested in helping us integrate new technology into our societies. It’s really quite important to enlist responsible help because of how these new changes will affect companies, corporations and employment around the world. We really have to make these transitions carefully.”
“Wow, what a responsibility! I guess you have your hands full,” remarked Penny.
“Yes, and on top of that, we’re in the process of installing weapons systems on twenty of the Council’s spacecraft. That’s our biggest priority right now.”
“Why do they need weapons systems on their craft? Are they were expecting a war or something?” Billy asked with a note of surprise.
“No, nothing like that. Xerxes claims that there are space pirates in certain galaxies that prey upon their ships. They need defensive capabilities to protect them from these pirates.”
The limousine stopped in front of a large, tinted glass wall with three revolving doors.
The driver opened the doors for them.
When Penny stepped onto the sidewalk, Maggie exited the glass door from the lobby and rushed to greet her.
“Penny! How are you?”
“Maggie!”
The two women hugged.
“I’m okay. How about you?” asked Penny.
“I’m surviving in this new fantasy land as you can see.”
“Look at this place! It’s amazing,” she said as she looked up at the huge facility in awe.
“Yes it is. There is so much more on the inside than what meets the eye, too.
“Let’s go ladies. Lunch is waiting,” interrupted Doc.
He led them through the lobby and down a long, marble corridor. At the end were four stainless steel elevators, of which one took them to the third floor.
Billy couldn’t help noticing the vast number of buttons on the panel indicating various floors.
“Does this place really have all these floors?” asked Billy.
“Yes it does, but only ten are above ground. The other seventeen are below ground.”
“That’s incredible. What do you do with all those floors?”
“Each one is dedicated to its own field of research. The bottom level is the most impressive, though. That’s the transport bay. Our portals are positioned there. There’s a large duct that runs through the middle of the building so that any of our spacecraft can fly local as well. It’s an outside access more or less; otherwise, the spacecraft come and go through the portals. We aren’t anxious to advertise their existence yet.”
“That’s phenomenal!”
The elevator reached the third level without exhibiting any evidence of motion. The doors slid open with no sound whatsoever.
“Ronnie and Randy will be returning shortly with their sidekicks,” said Maggie. They were in London for a week.”
“I guess John and Seamus had to report for guard duty,” kidded Billy.
“The queen summoned them to meet with her to discuss their history,” explained Doc.
“I’ll bet that’s gonna’ be interesting.”
“Ronnie and Randy are still with John and Seamus?” asked Penny curiously.
“Yes they are.”
“What did they do to get invited to London?” Billy asked.
“It seems that our friends at LISA informed the queen of the boys’ background. I hear that she was quite interested in her ancestral history.”
“I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that discussion.”
“They’ll be joining us shortly and you can ask them about it.”
Doc led them into a large conference room where the caterers laid out a beautiful buffet. A friendly old woman removed the covers one by one and introduced with a Spanish accent what each entrée was.
Doc’s pager beeped, attracting everyone’s attention.
“Ah, Ronnie and Randy have returned with their beaus. They’ll be here shortly.”
“Did they fly back from England?” asked Billy.
“Oh, not at all. We’ve established a portal to link us directly to LISA. It saves a lot of time and money in addition to maintaining our security.”
“How about Jarret? Did he recover from his injury?” inquired Penny.
“Jarret had his arm amputated when he returned. He was lucky they were able to develop an antitoxin for the poison. It saved his life.”
“What’s he doing, now?”
“He’s working as a recruiter for the Marines. Colonel Jackson pulled some strings for him to stay active. Normally, they would discharge someone with a handicap like that.”
The door swung open, startling them. Randy, Seamus, John and Ronnie entered the room.
“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” exclaimed Randy. “It’s Billy and Penny!”
“Well, if it isn’t my worst nightmare! Have you come back to torment me?” he asked.
“No, I have Seamus to torture these days. Right, honey?” she said playfully as she squeezed his arm.
“Oh, yes. And do you ever.”
Everyone laughed.
Seamus extended a hand to Billy.
“It’s good to see you two again. How are you?”
“All right I guess. The question is ‘how are you doing’?”
Billy winked at Randy.
“Don’t make me kick your ass so soon, Brock,” she warned.
Everyone laughed again.
Randy grabbed Billy by the chin and kissed his lips, leaving him stunned.
“Wow! What was that for?”
Penny was shocked but ignored Randy’s act.
“Seamus doesn’t give me quite the same battle that you did.”
“Is that a complement?”
“No, just an acknowledgement. He is good at other things that would surprise you.”
“You devil,” teased Billy.
“Don’t listen to her. She’s insane,” replied Seamus.
John hugged Billy and Penny.
“It’s good to see you both.”
“Yeah, it’s been too long,” Billy said somberly.
“Things just aren’t the same after what we went through,” remarked Penny.
“How’s the queen mum?” asked Billy playfully.
Everyone looked at John and Seamus with amused expressions.
“She’s doing very well,” answered John. “We spent quite a bit of time exchanging history lessons.”
“It seems that the queen had someone do a little investigating into the royal past and found several documents pertaining to John and his deeds,” Seamus mentioned giddily.
“It was nothing special,” replied John humbly.
“Anything you saw or learned from the Queen of England has to be special,” remarked Penny.
John changed the subject and said, “So you finally came back to see us, Billy.”
“I didn’t think we’d see you again. It’s as if you dropped off the face of the earth,” joked Ronnie.
Ronnie hugged Billy and kissed his cheek.
“I always knew you cared for me.”
Ronnie groaned at him. She and Randy hugged Penny and Randy put her arm around Penny’s shoulder.
“How are you making out with Senor Jackass?” she asked playfully.
Penny smiled for the first time.
“It’s funny you should ask.”
Everyone chuckled.
“Women. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them,” complained Billy.
“You could have at least called,” chided Billy.
“I know. Things were hectic at home.”
“Well, we still missed you.”
“Things aren’t the same without you,” John ribbed Billy.
“I see you and Seamus can still smile after spending six months with the Sisters of Sin.”
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Billy,” warned Randy.
Ronnie laughed loudly.
“Where have I heard that line before?” he said deviously.
“Did I miss something here?” asked Penny defensively.
“It was a little joke when we were in the pub,” replied Billy nervously.
“Should I know about it?”
“No, it’s not a big deal.”
Randy elbowed Ronnie and said, “He’s not kidding.”
Penny grew irritated with the puns and what they might have alluded to.
Billy quickly changed the topic.
“John and Seamus, you look so different without the beards. They haven’t taken anything else away from you, have they?”
John laughed and tarried back, “Not yet, but I see you haven’t been as lucky.”
Everyone responded with “oohs” and “aahs”.
Randy and Ronnie offered Penny condolences for her mom.
The group split up for lunch. The women sat at one end of the table while the men sat together at the other. After an hour of conversation, Xerxes entered the room.
“Hello, my friends. It’s good to see you again,” he said cheerfully.
Billy and Penny approached Xerxes and shook hands.
“How’ve you been, Xerxes?” asked Billy.
“Very well, thank you.”
“Hey, I brought the orb with me. Can you help us get to Firenghia?”
“Sure. The orb is already programmed. I just have to activate it.”
“We’d like to visit Seneca and Cassius for a few days,” said Penny. “Then we’ll return and spend some time here.”
“I have a feeling that something’s wrong in Firenghia. I really need to check it out,” explained Billy.
“Hand me the orb and I’ll activate it.”
Billy took the orb from around his neck and handed it to Xerxes.
Xerxes studied it and took his portal control unit from under his long, white coat. He pushed several buttons, pointed the PCU at the orb and pressed two more buttons.
The orb illuminated a soft blue glow and then changed to an eerie green.
“That should do it. When you close your hand around the orb, it will take you there. Do the same in Firenghia and it will bring you back here? It toggles your destination based on where you are.”
“Boy, if I knew it was that easy, I might have used it sooner.”
“Enjoy your trip.”
“Thanks, Xerxes.”
Penny was a little more upbeat now and said, “Thanks so much, Xerxes.”
“Anytime, young lady.”
“It’s good to see everyone again. Unfortunately, we have to leave for a few days. We’re going to Firenghia, to visit Seneca and her baby,” announced Billy.
Ronnie couldn’t resist the urge to torment him.
“Does ‘said’ baby have anything to do with you, Billy?”
“You could say he has a vested interest in the situation,” replied Penny.
“Hey, Doc, can you store our luggage until we return?” asked Billy.
“Certainly. It’ll be in my office. Is there anything you need from your suitcase before you leave?”
“As a matter of fact there is. I’m glad you asked.”
“How about you, Penny?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Follow me. I’ll take you there.”

Billy followed Doc up to his office on the fourth floor.
When they entered the room, his luggage was already there. He anxiously opened his suitcase and poked through his belongings. He pulled out a brown leather sack with something the size of a large grapefruit inside.
“This is my security blanket, Doc.”
“Your what?”
“Remember the skull I took when we were in the cave?”
Doc’s eyes widened with surprise.
“You brought that thing back with you?”
“Of course. I didn’t know if I’d ever need it again and they’re hard to come by.”
“Oh, Billy, I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Don’t worry, Doc. I know how to use it, now.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“My sword and scabbard are in here. If anything happens to me and you come looking, bring it with you.”
“Hopefully, that won’t be necessary.”
“Thanks again, Doc, for everything.”
“When you return, I’ll show you around. Besides, I’m sure Sam McDermott wants to say hello.”
Billy’s eyes lit up with interest.
“Sam’s here, too?”
“He sure is. He works downstairs developing weapons and protective clothing.”
“I’ll have to see him when I get back. Tell him hello and I’d like to share one of his victory cigars with him when I get back.”
“I sure will. I’ll see him at dinner, tonight.”
“Well, I guess that’s all I need.”
They returned to the conference room.
Penny recognized the leather bag immediately.
“I hope that isn’t what I think it is.”
“Yeah, it’s my skull.”
“What’s it doing here? It gives me the creeps.”
“I thought I’d bring it for protection.”
“From who? Me?” she exclaimed angrily.
“You never know.”
Penny glared at Billy with a look as cold as steel. The others took notice but said nothing.
“See you all in a few days,” said Billy eagerly.
Penny waved and said, “Goodbye, everyone.”
Billy and Penny disappeared through the green portal.
“I don’t think all is well in paradise with those two,” Ronnie commented aloud.
“Penny was close to her mother. It’s going to be tough on her for a while,” replied Maggie.
“I know, but I still think there are bigger problems between them.”
“Maybe, but hopefully they’ll work through them.”
Xerxes moved to the end of the table and sat with the others. Doc and Maggie had so much to talk to him about.
“Do you have information on the space flights, Xerxes?” asked Doc.
“Oh, yes. You’re going to enjoy this.”
“Are we going to Alpha-17?” asked Maggie excitedly.
“Yes, you are. You’ll meet some new team members once you arrive there as well. They’re returning with you to help out here with the implementation of certain technologies. Randy and Ronnie will be joining you on the trip as well.”
“That’s great! When do we leave?”
“You’re flight will be departing later today.”
“Oh, I can’t wait.”
“You need to be at the transport bay at 19:30.”
The door opened and two men entered the conference room.
The first man was tall with a dark complexion and jet-black hair. He had a handlebar mustache and long sideburns. He stood much taller than the other man at over six feet tall.
The second man was a bit stout with bushy auburn colored hair and a short beard. He was only about five and a half feet tall. Both men appeared to be in their late forties.
“Good evening, sir. I hope we aren’t interrupting,” The tall man greeted Xerxes.
“No, not at all. Let me introduce you to some of your passengers. This is Doc Smith and his assistant/wife, Maggie. The two young ladies are Randy Timmins and Ronnie Vander Slice.”
“Hello, everyone. I’m Nazir Mustafo, the commander of the Excelsior. This is Tur Farrish, commander of the Starfire. I understand the four of you will be joining him.”
“We’re really looking forward to this flight. No one on our planet has ever traveled beyond the moon,” replied Doc.
“You’re going to Alpha-17 with me, although I’m sure you already knew that. We’ll meet with several scientists for starters. Then I’ll have one of my men take you on a tour of the metropolis. I’m sure you’ll find it unlike anything you’ve ever seen,” explained Tur.
“What about the flight?” asked Maggie. “Is there anything we need to be aware of? After all, this is new to us.”
“No, I don’t expect any problems, since we’ll travel through a secure zone. If anything arises, the CS-11s will warn the crew.”
“What’s a CS-11?” inquired Doc inquisitively.
“The CS-11 is a combat satellite. Several of them are strategically positioned in or near our space portals to protect our ships during entry and departure. They were made for us by the Dracorians a long time ago.”
“But why do you need them?”
“Pirates and renegade aliens. We need to defend ourselves from their random attacks.”
“I thought the Dracorians were the enemy.”
“The Dracorians are an intelligent species and we dealt with them a very long time ago. They tend to change from time to time, and their last morphosis was rather unusual. They’ve assumed a very hostile form and we tend to steer clear of them these days.”
“What do the CS-11s do?”
“They are armed with high density lasers, spotting lasers and infrared scanners. The infrareds are a bit primitive but still quite effective.”
“How often do these pirates come around?”
“Don’t worry about them. I’m sure you won’t see any of them on this trip.”
“For the gentlemen traveling with me, we can leave anytime,” Mustafo announced. “My communications officer has informed me that everything is ready, so we can move up our takeoff time if you like.”
“That’s fine with us,” replied John. “We can meet you in an hour at the transport bay.”
“Great, we’ll see you there.”
The two men departed the room with a sense of urgency.
“Gee, where’s the fire?” quipped Ronnie.
“They must check in with the Council prior to departure for any last minute instructions or changes,” explained Xerxes.
“We need to get going, too,” Maggie reminded Doc. “It’s getting late and we’ve got to pack a few things.”
“Yes, Dear. I’m ready when you are.”
The Smiths left the briefing room and went their way.
“This is fantastic!” exclaimed Seamus. “We’re actually going into space to another part of the universe by ship.”
“Yes you are and it will only take two days to get there and back using our technology,” replied Xerxes.
“Are we going to meet people like us?” asked Ronnie.
“Oh, yes. The people on Alpha-17 are your closest relatives. Your trip will take about five days to complete.”
“That’s awesome!”
“I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” remarked Randy cheerfully.
Xerxes checked his pager and frowned.
“I’ll leave you now. I must take care of a few things.”
Everyone thanked Xerxes and he left the room.
“You two boys better behave out there,” warned Randy. “I’d love to go with you too, but Xerxes asked us to accompany the doc and Maggie.”
“Don’t worry. It’s only target shooting. Besides, John and I have a little wager over who can shoot better,” said Seamus confidently.
“Xerxes tells me you both did fine in the simulators.”
“Simulators aren’t real. This test will be the real thing. Hopefully the new system will operate as it should. I’d hate to get all the way out there and it fails to fire properly.”
“You’ll do fine. I’ll pull Ronnie off of John and we’ll let the two of you get ready.”
“See you soon, honey.”
Randy tugged on Ronnie’s arm and teased, “Next time, get a room. Come on, they have to get ready.”
“And what if I don’t want one?”
“Stop whining and let the boys get ready.”
Ronnie waved.
“Good luck, fellas.”