I. Blindsided
Two alliance cruisers, the Dreadnought and the Daedalus, approached the edge of the fourteenth sector. There hadn’t been a ship within range of their scanners for quite some time and both crews were anxious to return to Yord for a break from duty.
A bright, luminous cloud formed a short distance away from the ships. Numerous bullet-shaped, Weevil fighters, accompanied by a command ship, appeared and swarmed the two cruisers. The fighters quickly engaged the Dreadnought and inflicted severe damage on her. The Dreadnought exploded into a fiery mass and vanished. The fighters targeted the engines on the Daedalus and crippled the cruiser.
Saphoro, the lithe, oriental commander of the Daedalus, barged into the pilots’ cabin. The co-pilot, a young man in his early twenties, looked up at her nervously.
“Someone’s got a lock on us. They’re boarding!” he exclaimed.
“Send an SOS to headquarters immediately,” Saphoro ordered. “Tell them we’ve been ambushed by Weevil craft from an unknown portal.”
“Right away, ma’am.”
Saphoro exited the cabin and slammed the door. The co-pilot became wide-eyed with fear when he heard her desperate scream in the stairwell, then silence.

**********

Two months passed and Yord peacefully rebuilt itself into an economic dynasty. The alien alliance was in disarray since Will and his friends disrupted the fragile alien union by pitting its members against each other. Once weakened, they either joined Will’s own alliance or fled to other quadrants.
On Yord, Will and Shanna sat in the lush garden inside the palace walls with their young daughter, Marina. They wore regal white robes with gold trim, a crown and a tiara. Will’s dark hair was shoulder length and he sported a mustache with a goatee. Shanna’s golden blonde hair lay down across her shoulders. Her robe draped seductively low across her breasts. She held Marina, her tiny daughter, in one arm across her lap.
Keira, a priestess from the temple of Icarus joined them. She wore a long red robe and a golden amulet hung from her neck. Her fair skin belied the fact that she was in her middle forties in Earth years. Her dark brown hair was tied back in a ponytail.
“It’s so nice to enjoy life for a change without chasing our enemies all over the universe,” said Shanna.
Will recalled the thrills they had while outwitting the Boromeans and Attradeans. Things were fun back then for him.
“I never thought I’d hear that from you,” Keira teased Shanna.
“Let’s hope our good fortune continues.”
She glanced at Will and noticed his far away gaze. She knew he wasn’t happy living in a palace with civic duties instead of daring adventures. In some ways, neither was she.
A family of four walked past the palace gates and waved to them. Shanna waved back and Will acknowledged them with a smile.
Celine rushed into the courtyard and distracted them from their conversation.
“Uh-oh! Something’s wrong,” said Shanna uneasily.
Will stood up attentively as Celine breathed heavily.
“What’s wrong, Celine?”
“The Daedalus and the Dreadnought have been ambushed! The Dreadnought’s gone and we lost contact with the Daedalus.”
“But they’re out at the fourteenth sector. Nothing’s happened out there since the Attradeans and the Boromeans were ousted from the area.”
“The last message we received from the Daedalus mentioned an armada of Weevil.”
Will paced back and forth, pondering the incident.
“Where’s Maya right now?” he asked.
“She’s onboard the Dark Mistress. I’m sure she’s on her way already to investigate what happened.”
“An ambush; a squadron of Weevil fighters; and not a damn thing on the scanners to indicate their presence.”
“What are you thinking?” asked Shanna.
“There’s something very wrong about this.”
“Perhaps we should meet up with Maya and see what’s going on,” suggested Celine.
“I’m going out there on the Phantom. I’ll need Jack and Bastille as well.”
“What about me? Don’t I have a say in this?” demanded Shanna.
“Not right now, you don’t.”
“You’re being self-centered, Will.”
Will paused at the double glass doors and replied sternly, “I’m not in the mood to argue, Shanna. We’ll talk about it when I get back.”
“We’ll talk about it now!” she said angrily and glared at him.
“If this is a trap, I don’t want to risk all of our lives.”
“Why not bring out the Leviathan and take all of us with you?”
“I’m considering that, Celine.”
Bastille entered the garden, carrying a hat-sized box. He wore a brown kilt with a loose fitting white shirt. His head was shaved and his mustache was trimmed neatly.
“Bastille!” exclaimed Will. “Just the man I’m looking for.”
“I’m looking for you, too. This package was delivered a short while ago. One of your Gallian friends said it came under very suspicious circumstances. They scanned it for explosives but none were detected.”
Bastille handed the box to Will and watched curiously as he unwrapped it.
“Maybe it’s a bottle with a genie in it. I could use three wishes.”
“I just received word from one of Rethus’ commanders that a squadron of Weevil fighters has taken position near the Gallian Shipping Station. He’s awaiting your instructions.”
Will opened the box and looked mortified. Inside was the head of Saphoro, the commander of the Daedalus.
“What is it, Will?” Shanna asked as she handed the baby to Keira.
Will set the box down on the table and looked away disgustedly. His eyes filled with tears.
“You don’t want to see this, Shanna,” he said sadly.
Celine and Shanna peeked inside the box and were shocked when they saw their friend’s head.
Bastille picked up the box and examined the head. Saphoro’s bangs were matted against her face by dried blood. A note was stuffed inside her mouth.
“It was her first command,” Will said somberly.
“There must have been a host ship for the Weevil to board the Daedalus,” suggested Celine. “They couldn’t execute an attack like that with only fighters.”
Bastille removed the note from her mouth and opened it. He read it first and then gave it to Will.
“There’s your answer.”
Will reached nervously for the note and read it slowly.
“What’s it say?” asked Shanna.
“It’s from Thorus. He says ‘Let the games begin’.”
All of them were frightened as they recalled how Thorus ruthlessly destroyed the Luna C with Mynx and Neva on board.
“Celine, tell Maya to stay away from the area,” ordered Will. “This is my problem.”
“I’m going with you,” declared Shanna. “Take care of Marina for us, Keira.”
“Be careful and come back safe.”
“Thanks. We’ll certainly try.”
Will kissed Marina’s forehead.
“Thanks, Keira. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
Will, Shanna, Bastille and Celine entered the palace.
“Bastille, get Jack and meet us on board the Phantom. We’ll discuss our strategy there,” instructed Will.
“Are we taking the Leviathan out?”
“Yes, I think it’s time to give Thorus a taste of his own medicine.”
“Understood. We’ll be ready.”
Will and Shanna hurried up the stairs. Shanna noticed the tears on Will’s face.
“Are you alright?”
“No. I was sure that we killed Thorus.”
“We’ll take care of him this time.”
Will stopped and glared at her.
“And what about Saphoro? It’s too late for her.”
They resumed walking briskly down the golden-carpeted hallway.
“Sometimes shit happens, Will!” Shanna replied emphatically.
“I’m tired of losing friends to assholes like Thorus, so I’d really prefer you stay here.”
When they entered their bedroom, Shanna grabbed Will by the arms and faced him.
“I’m going with you so get over it,” she said adamantly.
“No you’re not. This is personal.”
“So was your business with Tenemon. You think everything is your business. I’m part of this, too.”
“Then you’ll go on the Leviathan.”
“Why can’t I go with you?”
“Because I need you to watch my back. I need you to make the right decisions if something goes wrong.”
Shanna’s head dropped sadly. She walked to the window and stared at the people in the streets. It did little to calm her.
Will tossed his crown and robe on the bed. He dressed in black pants and a loose-fitting, cream-colored shirt. He opened an oak chest and removed his sword and scabbard. He secured them around his waist.
Will noticed that Shanna stood silently by the window.
“Aren’t you changing?” he asked.
“Into what?”
“We’re going to war. What do you usually wear?”
“Why do you care?”
Will approached Shanna from behind.
“Come on, Shanna. I need you. I can’t do this alone.”
“Sure you can. You can do everything alone.”
Will turned Shanna around and hugged her.
“No, I can’t. I need you,” he replied humbly and kissed her on the cheek.
“Is that it – a kiss on the cheek?”
“We have work to do. Maybe later.”
“That’s brilliant, Will. I never thought you could make me feel so disappointed in you.”
“Look, Shanna, I have to get out there and see what’s going on.”
Will kissed her again and exited the room. Shanna bit her lip angrily and stormed after him.

**********

An hour later, Will sat in the main quarters of the Phantom.
“How in the world could they surprise two cruisers like that?” he questioned himself again and again.
Jack, Shanna, Bastille and Celine boarded the ship. When they sat down at the table, Jack said somberly, “We’re sorry about Saphoro. That really sucks.”
Will looked up with cold eyes and a stoic expression.
“Here’s the plan: Bastille takes the Leviathan and pursues the Weevil fighter group in the fourteenth sector. Jack, you and I will take the Phantom and investigate the Daedalus. Shanna and Celine, you’ll assist Bastille on the Leviathan. Any questions?”
“I think we should stay together on one ship,” Shanna suggested stubbornly.
“Who’s gonna’ back us up if we get into trouble.”
“Can’t Rethos handle the fighters?” inquired Jack.
“I suppose, but what if he can’t? A squadron is a lot of fighters.”
“We also know there’s a command ship somewhere nearby,” added Bastille.
“What if we have Rethos hold them in check – no battle? Just wait them out until we return,” suggested Will.
“That would work, assuming we don’t get ambushed ourselves,” countered Jack.
“Celine, contact Maya and tell her we’re on our way to investigate. Have her coordinate with Rethos to stalemate the fighter unit.”
Celine left the table and ascended the stairs.
Shanna glared at Will until he acknowledged her.
“Alright, Shanna, you’ll go with us. Now will you give it a rest, already?”
Shanna smirked at him.
“Bastille, see if you can find Kahlin. He and Celine will accompany you on the Leviathan. Can you operate with three people?” Will asked.
“With the automated firing system, I think we’ll be fine. I can get a few of Kahlin’s men to join us for support as well.”
“Jack, you check the ship out and get her ready for departure.”
“Roger.”
Jack left the table and ascended the stairs to the second level comm/nav section.
“What do you expect to find out there?” inquired Bastille.
“You really want to know?”
“I like to anticipate what kind of opposition we’re up against, unlike our Boromean experiences of the past. Hit me.”
“I’m afraid we’re going to find a hidden portal,” answered Will. “And on the other side of that portal is the Weevil invasion force that Asheroff warned us about. I fear this is the onset of the attack.”
“I thought we stalled their invasion.”
“Obviously not long enough,” replied Will grimly.
“Well, at least you’re honest with me this time. Good luck.”
When Bastille departed, Will covered his face and mumbled, “Why me? My life wasn’t supposed to be like this.”
“You wanted it, you got it,” chided Shanna.
“You don’t quit, do you?” Will replied irately and left the table.
“Where are you going?”
“The deck is yours. You run the show.”
As Will left the main quarters, Shanna shouted, “Don’t walk away from me, Will. We’re in this together.”
Shanna stamped her foot and uttered, “You arrogant son-of-a-bitch!”
Celine descended the stairs and asked, “Where’d Will go?”
“To hell, I hope. What’s the word from Maya?”
“She’s really pissed off about Saphoro.”
“What’s she doing about it?”
“She’s insistent on taking the Dark Mistress to the fourteenth sector to find out what happened.”
“I’ll inform his royal pain in the ass. You head over to the Leviathan. We’ll contact you later.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” warned Celine.
“I’m getting used to bad feelings.”
Celine exited the ship.
Jack descended the stairs and searched the main quarters.
“Hey, Shanna, where’s Will?”
“I wish everyone would stop asking me that.”
“The coordinates are programmed. I’ll do a once over on our supply situation and then we’ll be ready.”
“We’ll pull out as soon as possible.”
“Before you go, Shanna, can I ask you something?”
“Of course.”
“Are you and Will alright? Things seem pretty strained lately.”
Shanna’s eyes filled with tears.
Jack hugged her and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Jack, he’s moving further away from me every day.”
“Maybe it’s the responsibility. Perhaps he needs to delegate more of it.”
“He won’t. He has to do everything.”
“I’ll talk to him about it.”
“Thanks, Jack, but I have to deal with this myself.”
Shanna wiped the tears from her eyes and went to Will’s cabin. She knocked lightly on the door.
“Will, I want to talk.”
Shanna waited but got no answer. She became angry and shouted, “Will, if this is how it’s gonna’ be, then I think we need to talk about ending this relationship!”
Her eyes filled with tears again. She knocked harder but still got no response. She hung her head and walked away.

**********

The Leviathan and the Phantom departed Yord. Bastille’s face appeared on the monitor in the pilots’ cabin of the Phantom. Jack turned up the volume and asked, “How are you doing, Bastille?”
“So far, so good.”
“Did you get the coordinates for the portals?”
“Sure did. First one’s coming up.”
“Good. How about your firing system?”
“I programmed both our ships’ and the Dark Mistress’ signatures into the computer. Anything else will automatically be targeted.”
“I hope so,” replied Jack. “If we run into another Weevil fighter unit, we’re grossly outnumbered.”
“Both ships can cloak now. That’s a blessing we couldn’t be without.”
“You got that right. Stay in touch, buddy.”
“Will do.”
Jack’s monitor went blank.
Shanna entered the pilots’ cabin and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. Jack glanced over and felt pity for her. She was only seventeen; married with a child, and queen of a world she knew little of.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.
“No. Will’s a jackass and nothing will ever change that.”
“There’s a lot of pressure being in your shoes and his. I think he takes it personally that people are dying under his charge.”
“I feel for those people, too. I look at it as the lesser of the evils. Some will die so that many more can live.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Some people are born to make that sacrifice. Others are born to benefit from it.”
Jack considered what she said for a moment.
“What do you think about us?” he inquired.
“I think we were born for the sacrifice, but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy life along the way.”
“You know, Shanna, for a young girl, you’re pretty sharp.”
“Unfortunately, I’m not very good at love.”
“Don’t say that. Will cares about you and I know you care about him.”
“That’s what makes this whole mess so hard to handle. He doesn’t show it anymore.”
“Just give me a chance to talk with him.”
“How do you deal with Maya when she risks her life on another ship while you’re here?”
“It’s something I had to accept. She prefers military life versus the renegade style that I like.”
“So you’re good with this relationship?”
“It makes me appreciate her that much more when I see her.”
“When we get close enough to the Dark Mistress, can you transport me over?”
“Sure. Any particular reason?” asked Jack.
“I’d like to talk with Maya. You‘ve been very helpful, but I’d like to hear her point of view, too. Thank you so much.”
Jack received three beeps indicating a transmission. He pressed the ‘receive’ switch and Mariel’s face appeared on the monitor.
“Jack, what’s going on? I heard about Saphoro.”
“The Weevil moved a squadron within striking distance of Yord.”
“The Eye shows some me some very disturbing images. I need to speak with Shanna.”
Shanna leaned in front of the monitor and answered, “I’m here, Mariel.”
“Did you recognize any images from the Eye?”
“I wasn’t concentrating on it.”
Mariel looked distressed and asked, “Why not?”
“Because I’m having problems with Will.”
“Is he alright?”
“Oh, he’s just fine, as usual.”
“Young lady, you need to scan the Eye regularly. You’re wasting a valuable asset.”
“What’s the problem, Mariel?” Jack intervened.
“The Eye shows three ships. One of them is swallowed up and another is badly damaged during a battle with numerous enemy ships.”
“What of the third one?”
“The image was incomplete. I can’t say for sure.”
“Thanks, Mariel. I’ll pass that on to Will.”
The monitor went blank.
“Why is it that she never calls with good news?” remarked Shanna cynically.
“I think because there’s never any to speak of. Why don’t you try Will again? Tell him what Mariel said.”
“I will but I still want to meet with Maya when we get close to her ship.”
Shanna dejectedly exited the pilots’ cabin.

**********

Will slept soundly in his cabin when Shanna knocked on the door.
“Will, it would be nice if you answered one of these times.”
There was no response. Shanna became annoyed and returned to the main quarters. She opened a cabinet on the wall and took out a key.
“We’ll put an end to this game once and for all.”
She returned to Will’s door and placed the key in a hole at the top right corner of the door. The keypad blinked three times and the door slid open.
Shanna entered the room and found Will sleeping.
“Gee, I’m so glad he can sleep well through all this,” she thought sarcastically.
Shanna tossed the key on the dresser and knelt by the bed. When she gazed at Will, he looked so peaceful and happy.
Shanna blew in his ear several times. Will rubbed it subconsciously each time.
“Hey, this is like training a dog,” she thought amusingly.
Will opened an eye and said, “What dog?”
“You, you goofball.”
Will slid back toward the wall.
“There’s room. Come join me,” he requested.
“Not so fast, Romeo.”
“We could spend a little time together under the sheets.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Will propped his head up with his arm.
“Of course, I would. What better way to make up?”
Shanna disrobed in front of him. Her silken white robe dropped to the floor.
“You want some of this, don’t you?” she teased.
“Of course I do.”
“Beg.”
“Come on, Shanna, please come to me.”
“Beg harder.”
“Shanna, why do you do this to me? Come here.”
“I’m not convinced you want me bad enough.”
Will crawled toward the edge of the bed and reached for her. She backed away, grinning deviously.
“I want you bad – real bad,” pleaded Will.
Shanna picked up her robe and dressed.
“What are you doing?” asked Will. “I thought you wanted to play.”
“I guess you didn’t want me bad enough.”
Shanna left the cabin, beaming from ear to ear.
Will sat up, completely frustrated and muttered, “What the hell ails that woman?”
He put his boots on and exited his quarters.

**********

Maya sat in the co-pilot’s seat and redirected the long-range scanners. Next to her was a young male cadet, Ivan, who piloted the Dark Mistress.
“Notice anything peculiar, Ivan?”
“No, ma’am. All’s quiet.”
“Well, stay alert for anything unusual and I mean anything.”
“I can’t imagine that two ships could get ambushed in a wide open area like sector fourteen. It’s almost like the Weevil fighters were invisible.”
“You’d be surprised what’s happened out here through the use of portal technology. My former ship, the Luna C, was destroyed by a new weapon that struck from the other side of a portal.”
“So you think there’s a portal out here somewhere?”
“I sure do. I also know that the Weevil have been amassing for an invasion for quite some time. We’ve been fortunate enough to set them back each time by disrupting their plans.”
“But why don’t our sensors pick up the portals?”
“Because they only activate when a ship draws within close proximity. As soon as the ship passes through, it shrinks down to a small energy form.”
“How come we don’t hunt the Weevil down?”
“They’re in a very distant part of the universe –sector two. That’s why it’s been so difficult for them to get here.”
“So this could be another attempt?”
“Yes. I think our cruisers got too close and activated the portal. I don’t think their armada is in position yet to strike or they would have done so, already.”
“If they’re already on the other side, what are they waiting for?”
“Their ships have to travel through at least twenty-one portals to get here. They also have to travel in small groups and allow for each group to reach the selected destination first. If not, two things could happen: first, they could collide with each other. Secondly, ships can only handle so much stress in a given time interval before they become brittle. The bigger the portal, the more stress they endure.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
“How long before we reach the Daedalus?”
“Not much longer, ma’am.”
“Good. If you see any Weevil scout ships, target the bitches and fire. I want them to know we’re not playing.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
The transmitter beeped three times. Ivan pressed the ‘receive’ button and Jack’s face appeared on the monitor.
“Is Maya available?” Jack inquired.
“She’s right here, sir.”
Maya leaned in front of the monitor.
“Hi, Sweetheart. How are you doing?”
“So far, so good.”
“I know you didn’t call for mindless chatter.”
“No, Honey. I miss your sexy, black leather uniform. It does wonders for your shapely body.”
“Kindly keep it somewhat professional. We have company,” Maya chastised as she blushed.
“What’s the kid’s name?”
“Ivan, sir,” the young cadet replied.
“Watch out for her, Ivan,” Jack warned. “She’s been known to dish out a good spanking on occasion.”
Ivan looked up at Maya in surprise.
“Don’t listen to him, Ivan.”
“I can show you the welts. I still have them,” kidded Jack.
“May I be excused, ma’am? I need to take care of something.”
“Sure, Ivan.”
Ivan anxiously left the cabin. He didn’t want to know any more about Maya’s exploits with Jack. Maya switched seats and sat in front of the monitor.
“So, how are you, Jack?”
“Alright, I guess. I’m sorry about Saphoro.”
“Me, too. I feel so bad about it.”
“I have a request for you.”
“What is it?”
“Shanna wants to come aboard.”
“Really! What for?”
“She and Will are having some problems. I think she’s looking to you for advice.”
“Send her over. I’ll take care of her.”
“Oh, and one more thing.”
“What’s that?”
“I miss you.”
“Oh, I miss you too, Jack. I’ll see you soon.”
Maya’s monitor went blank. She got up and exited the pilots’ cabin. Ivan waited patiently outside the door, slightly embarrassed.
“Go ahead in. The ship is back in your hands, Ivan,” Maya informed him playfully.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“And don’t worry. I won’t beat you.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
Ivan entered the pilots’ cabin and took control of the ship again.
Maya giggled as she descended the stairs.

**********

“Shanna, can you pick up?” Jack requested over the intercom.
“Go ahead, Jack,” Shanna replied from her cabin.
“We’re close enough to transport you to Maya’s ship. She’s expecting you.”
“I’ll be ready in a minute.”
“I’ve entered the coordinates. Give me a signal and I’ll send you over.”
“Got it. Thanks, Jack.”
“Take care, Shanna.”
A minute later, Jack received a buzz from the intercom. He started the transporter and initiated the timer.
Shanna waited eagerly on the platform as the lights on the transporter panel flickered. Will walked into the main quarters and saw Shanna standing on the transporter platform. “Shanna, wait! Where are…?”
A bright flash lit up the platform and she was gone from the platform.
“What the hell is she up to now?” he complained.
Will hurried up the stairs to the pilots’ cabin on the third level. Jack received three beeps and acknowledged the monitor. Shanna and Maya appeared, smiling.
“I’m here, Jack. Thanks,” said Shanna cheerfully.
Will entered the cabin and demanded, “What’s going on, Shanna?”
Maya cut in, “Don’t worry, Will. She’ll be fine with me.”
The monitor went blank. Will grew angry and sat down in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Alright, Jack, what’s going on?”
“You know, Will, I’m your friend and I wouldn’t lie to you.”
“Of course.”
“Well, I think you need to get your head out of your ass and start paying that little girl some attention.”
“What’s she complaining about now?”
“See what I mean. She cares about you but you’re wearing thin on her.”
“Meaning?”
“If you don’t do something about this rift in your relationship, you’re going to lose her.”
“It’s not that big a deal.”
Jack stared at Will coldly and he became embarrassed.
“You mean it is that big a deal?”
“Yeah, it is. It’s not my business to comment on your relationship, but I don’t want to see either of you get hurt.”
“I guess I have been a bit of a jerk to her.”
“Why don’t you call her later? Maybe the two of you could get together and rekindle a little of the magic that brought you together.”
“Thanks, Jack.”
The monitor beeped again.
“Damn, that thing’s been busy today,” uttered Jack.
“It’s Shanna! I knew she’d miss me already,” said Will confidently.
Jack pressed the ‘receive’ button and Thorus’ face appeared on the monitor. Will and Jack were shocked.
“I hope you liked my little gift, Saris. That was in acknowledgement of the job you did in destroying my Tridents,” Thorus said mockingly.
“They weren’t your Tridents,” countered Will.
“As you humans say – finders, keepers.”
“And losers, weepers.”
“Ah, but who’s crying now?” mocked Thorus.
“If you had even a little bit more intelligence than your looks, you’d turn around and go the hell back to wherever you came from.”
“But, Will, the fun is just beginning.”
“Not for you it isn’t.”
Thorus smiled through his ugly disjointed mouth. He was like an insect that just happened to have the ability to think and walk upright.
“Have I got a surprise for you,” boasted Thorus.
“Don’t screw with me, Thorus. I’ve got enough problems right now and I’m not in the mood.”
“I can take care of that problem for you. You see, we’ve been monitoring your communications and we know that your woman just transported to another ship.”
“Now how the hell can you tell that unless you’re close by?”
“I’ll give you a hint. I’m closer than you think.”
Thorus erupted into laughter and the monitor went blank.
“This doesn’t sound encouraging,” said Jack somberly.
“No it doesn’t. What could he mean ‘closer than we think’?”
Jack studied the sensors and pondered.
“The only thing in range of the scanners is us, the Leviathan, the Dark Mistress and the Daedalus.”
“I think they left the Daedalus intact to bait us!” exclaimed Will. “Call Bastille and tell him to cloak and spread out. Whatever Thorus is planning, it’s going to happen fast.”
Will exited the cabin and hurried down to the comm/nav panel on the second level. He sat down and attempted to trace Thorus’ signal.
“Hmm, closer than we think?” Will mused. “He could contact us so he wouldn’t be on the other side of a portal, or would he?”
Will recalled what Jack said: “The only things in range of the scanners are us, the Leviathan, the Dark Mistress and the Daedalus.
Will focused the signal sensors on the Daedalus. Two lights blinked on the panel and the small screen showed a triangular pattern.
Will called on the intercom, “Jack, are you there? Pick up fast!”
“Go ahead, Will.”
“Thorus put a transmitter on the Daedalus. The signal is being relayed through a portal just beyond the ship.”
“If they’re monitoring our transmissions, we can’t tell the others without tipping Thorus off.”
“That’s right. Contact Maya and tell them to get the hell out of there. Cloak us and circle past the Daedalus.”
Will left the comm/nav section and hurried back to the pilots’ cabin. He entered and saw Maya’s face on the monitor.
“I can’t tell you why,” explained Jack. “Just do it, Maya.”
“Look, if this is one of Will’s tricks, tell him to forget it! We’ll handle this.”
Will stepped in front of the monitor and ordered, “Maya, this isn’t about me or Shanna or anyone else. Just follow my instructions: turn around and go back.”
“Sorry, Will. We’ve got everything under control.”
The monitor went blank.
Jack looked up at Will nervously.
“Maybe we should risk warning the girls to save their asses,” he suggested.
“We don’t have any choice. Get Maya back on and tell her what we think.”
Will directed the sensors past the Daedalus while Jack repeatedly beeped the Dark Mistress.
“They aren’t responding,” he complained.
“What is it with these damn women?” yelled Will.
One of the sensors beeped. Will looked at the coordinates of the sensor and hollered, “We’ve got him!”
Jack leaned over and looked at the screen.
“That’s the portal?”
“Sure is! It’s only open a little bit. That’s why we haven’t detected them but they can monitor our transmissions.”
Will turned off all other sensors.
“What about the girls?” asked Jack.
“Get us into position to cover them.”
Will activated the transmitter and contacted Bastille on the Leviathan:
“Bastille, are you there?”
Bastille’s face appeared on the monitor.
“Sure am. Go ahead.”
“Can you focus on my short-range sensor?”
“Done. I don’t see anything but…”
“Don’t speak. The Weevil are monitoring us. Keep an eye on things and do whatever you need to do. I trust you’ll know when. We’re going silent.”
“Roger.”
The monitor went blank.
“Will, why is it we can we reach them but not Maya’s ship?” asked Jack.
“They’ve jammed their communications.”
“So what do we do?”
“Full speed ahead. We’re crashing the portal.”
“Alright, but I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Me, too.”
They approached the portal and waited anxiously for something to happen.
“How do you know it will open?” inquired Jack.
“I think it senses when a ship approaches. How else could it function?”

**********

The Dark Mistress glided alongside the Daedalus.
Maya instructed Ivan, “If you see anything suspicious, let me know right away. We’re going on board.”
A large portal opened just past the two ships and a long string of fighters darted out. They circled around the Dark Mistress and fired repeatedly at her.
“You mean like this!” fretted Ivan.
The monitor showed a dozen Weevil fighters surrounding them.
“Where the hell did they come from?”
“They just appeared.
“Activate the firing system! Fire at will!”
Ivan urgently pressed several switches.
“What do we do, ma’am?”
“Get us the hell out of here as fast as you can!”

**********

Jack and Will watched in horror as Maya’s ship was pounded with cannon fire from the fighters.
“Turn around and shut off the cloaking system,” ordered Will. “We’ll distract some of the fighters away from them. I’ll man one of the cannons.”
“You’d better hurry.”
Will rushed out of the cabin.
The Phantom circled outside the ring of fighters and peppered them with cannonfire. The fighters split up into two groups.
Will instructed Jack over the page, “Now cloak and go for the portal.”
“Roger. We’re on our way.”
The Phantom became invisible and raced to the portal.
The cloaked Leviathan opened fire and methodically destroyed the remaining fighters.
Inside the pilots’ cabin, Maya and Ivan breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank goodness Jack was there,” uttered Ivan. “I guess he knew what he was talking about.”
“Ivan, shut up!”
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Go into the portal.”
“What! After what just happened?”
“Ivan, that’s an order.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
The monitor beeped three times. Ivan acknowledged the ‘receive’ button.
“Go ahead. This is the Dark Mistress.”
“Are you guys alright?” inquired Bastille from the speaker.
“Minor damage. Thanks for the help. You and Jack bailed us out,” said Ivan humbly.
“Not a problem. Is Maya there?”
Maya slid over in front of the monitor.
“Here I am Bastille.”
“Where are you going?”
“Into the portal.”
“What for? It could be a trap.”
“The Phantom went through. So can we.”
“I think you’re making a mistake but we’ll be here for you when you need us.”
“Roger.”
The monitor went blank.
The Dark Mistress entered the portal at half speed.
“What’s the problem, Ivan?” asked Maya irritably.
“I don’t know. The power modulator must be damaged. I can’t get over fifty percent speed.”
Ivan looked at the monitor and saw three fighters coming straight at them. An annunciator alarm sounded but Ivan was fixated on the monitor.
“Oh, shit, Maya!”
He veered the ship down then straightened out. The ship rocked violently.
“This is a really bad idea, Maya.”
“Just shut up and do what I tell you.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

**********

The Phantom emerged from the portal in ‘cloak’ mode and veered in a tight turn to the right.
A force of over five hundred fighters and thirty command ships were organized into groups a short distance from the portal. A large battle carrier was positioned in the middle of the group.
“Do you see what I see?” Will called Jack from the turret.
“I sure do. My pants were promptly soiled.”
“We don’t stand a chance if they get through the portal.”
“So what do we do?”
“I’m coming up. Turn the firing system on automatic but leave it in ‘safe’ mode. If they find out we’re here, it’s over for us.”
“Understood.”
Will climbed down from the turret and hurried through the main quarters to the stairs.
Jack studied the fighters’ formation on the monitor. The short-range sensor beeped, catching his attention. He switched channels on the monitor and recognized the Dark Mistress emerging from the portal. It was headed straight toward the Weevil formation.
“What the hell are they doing?” cried Jack frantically.
“What is it, Jack?” Will asked as he entered the cabin.
“The friggin’ Mistress just showed up in front of the Weevil fleet!”
“This can’t be happening!”
“They’re sitting ducks!”
“Activate the firing system and cover them,” ordered Will.
Will beeped Maya’s ship several times. He muttered aloud, “Please answer. Please answer.”
Maya and Ivan saw the invasion force ahead of them and screamed in unison, “Oh, no!”
Shanna entered the cabin and saw the Weevil fleet on the monitor.
“Look at them all! What did you do?”
“Not now, Shanna!” retorted Maya.
“There’s a nauseous smell at the rear of the ship by the storage compartment,” Shanna said nervously.
“That’s where our power went. We’re leaking coolant,” replied Ivan sarcastically.
“Turn us around, Ivan, and get us out of here!”
“Finally!”
Ivan heard the beeps and quickly pressed ‘receive’.
Will’s face appeared on the monitor.
“What the hell is wrong with you people? Get out of here now!”
“It was Maya’s orders,” Ivan replied defensively.
“We’re covering you. Get out of here now!”
Maya leaned in front of the monitor.
“What about you?” she asked worriedly.
“What about us? We’re as good as dead, thanks to you.”
“We’ll cover you until you get into the portal. Then we’re gonna’ blow it up,” explained Jack calmly.
“But that’s your only way out?”
“We don’t have a choice. You should have listened to Will. I love you, Maya.”
“Can you tell Shanna I love her, too?” requested Will.
Shanna pushed her way in front of the monitor. “I’m coming over, Will. I’ll help you.”
“It’s too late. Goodbye, Shanna,” said Will tearfully.
Jack turned off the monitor.
Will hung his head dejectedly.
“Good timing, Jack. I couldn’t face her reaction.”