History In The Flesh

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Part 1

Colonel Jack Lang awoke in his bunk to the sound of a swooshing door and the sharp report of high heels on the composite floor. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and extracted himself from the cramped slot in the wall that passed for a bed on this ship.

“Good morning Colonel,” a young female voice said over Lang’s low groan and cracking bones as he stretched. She waited until it appeared Lang was ready, and then she finished walking across the cramped cabin until she stood next to him.

“Good morning Morgan,” Lang replied. He blinked to bring his old eyes into focus. Once they cleared he looked up at his assistant. She was in her formal uniform as always which consisted of moderate high heels, a navy blue skirt and jacket, a light blue blouse and navy cap. In addition to a respectable array of ribbons and badges that covered her jacket, her collar and cap bore two gold chevrons over a gear: identifying her as a corporal in the android corps. She had an athletic frame of about 5’8” with a moderate bust and hips. Her creamy white skin was set off by her slightly red lips and deep coppery hair pulled into a tight bun.

“Here are the test results from last night, and today’s itinerary,” Morgan said as she handed Lang a folder containing half and inch of papers. He took the folder and scanned through the first two pages before closing it up and handing it back to Morgan.

“I want to swing by the med-bay before the 0800 meeting today. Can you summarize this for me while I get ready?” Lang asked as he made his way to his personal head; a small privilege of rank that he appreciated.

“Of course sir,” Morgan replied in an even tone as she followed Lang into the small lavatory. He stripped down and threw his boxers and t-shirt into the clothing recycler then stepped into the auto-wash. She waited for the device to apply the first layer of bio-solvent onto the colonel’s body, before she proceeded. “Squadron XF119 finished its mock combat drills in the Ajax interceptors against aggressor squadrons 697, 689, 415, and 312. Over the 144 test sets run, the Ajax’s managed to rack up a 9 to 1 kill ratio. Major Collins scored 97 simulated kills without taking a hit and commented, quote, ‘These slick fuckers will vape more Clanks than the 5th fleet’, unquote.”

Lang stopped brushing his teeth for a moment to comment, “Excellent, Colonel Chang has been bragging that her boys were going to dance all over us. Send her a message that she owes me a steak and a bottle of Titanese ale.” He smiled as he went back to cleaning his teeth while the pleasant tingle of the bio-solvent did its job.

“Right away sir,” Morgan replied, “We got word last night that the final fly off’s between the Achilles and Agamemnon heavy fighters finished up. All official records of the test results have been sealed and won’t leave Pluto any time soon, but the unofficial word is that the Aggie’s dominated the competition.”

“I can see why the sealed it up, the Achilles was the clear favorite to win,” Lang said as the final rinse chemical was sprayed on. The light green rinse bound with the orange cleaner that by now had absorbed all the dirt, oil, and sweat from his skin. The resulting compound turned purple and quickly ran off his skin into the floor drain. Now clean and dry, he stepped from the small stall and moved to his room to get dressed. “Boeing-Lockheed invested a lot of money into that fighter and if it turns out to be a turkey there will be a lot of pissed off investors back on Earth. Send a memo to the wing reminding them that the results are classified, and anyone caught leaking a stock tip back home will have to answer directly to General Tahim.”

“Yes sir,” Morgan replied as she helped the colonel get dressed. “After the 0800 staff meeting, we have a scheduled appointment with Master Tech Sergeant Willis to discuss new ordinance loading procedures at 0930, and Admiral Jager has just called a senior leadership meeting at 1100.”

“Hrm, I wonder what the Admiral is up to,” Lang mumbled as he and Morgan left his quarters and made their way to the ship’s med bay.

The ship in question is the Saladin, a Hood-class strike carrier in the Terran Navy. She stood approximately 1200 meters long and massed about 300,000 metric tones. Commissioned shortly after the start of the AI wars, she has served her people proudly for nearly 40 years including tours against the Klakkon Hive and the Tigon Hedgemony. For the majority of the current conflict with the Classion Empire, “Old Sally” has served as a test and evaluation platform for new fighters and ordinance. She currently carries four squadrons of fighters, which are her main offensive weapons, but she also packs enough auxiliary firepower to stand up to most Clank cruisers.

Currently Saladin is holding station in the Parsi system, about 150 light years from Sol. Clustered around her are the rest of her battle group, consisting of a pair of frigates, a long range recon corvette, a fast cargo ship, three destroyers, and one heavy cruiser for fire support. 900,000km past the group sits Teller research and testing station; a huge 17km long spindle shaped station that contains offices, labs, hangers, a dozen aggressor squadrons for Old Sally’s fighters to test their muscles against.

The war with the Classion Empire started with their unprovoked attack against the human colony on MacDougal 5, nearly three years ago. They bombarded the surface with high intensity radiation bombs that killed every living thing on the planet, including soil bacteria. Before the Terran Alliance knew what was going on, the Classion fleet attacked across a wide front of 32 different systems. Losses were staggering until the fleet could mobilize and offer some resistance. The war quickly ground to a standstill with neither side gaining much ground beyond the initial territory carved out in the first few weeks. To this day, nobody knows why they attacked or what they want as what little communication they transmit is normally limited to threats and insults.

Intel believes the Classion Empire to be a mono-sentient entity spanning nearly 300 star systems. The Alliance knows very little about the interior of their empire but estimate that their industrial base is very old and well developed, yet slow to adapt as no new warships have been observed since the start of the war. Physically, they resemble 3 meter tall lizards, covered in insect-like armor plate. Their speech consists of a string of different, metallic toned clicks caused by tapping their vocal mandibles, which is how they got their nickname, Clanks.

Colonel Lang walked into Saladin’s med bay with Morgan following closing behind him. He approached a young man lying in a bed and reading a book. “Lt. Citavo, how are you doing?” he said in a warm friendly tone.

“The leg is feeling a lot better sir,” Citavo replied, “but my bank is going to take one hell of a hit. I had over 78% of my retirement account in Boeing stock. It is going to tank as soon as this shit hits the news.”

“The test results are under quarantine so don’t worry just yet,” Lang said in an effort to calm down one of his newer pilots. “Plus, that company has hundreds of defense contracts; this little loss will only be a small profit hiccup.”

“I will try to keep that in mind sir,” Citavo said, still somewhat upset as Lang started to leave.

“Heal up quickly, I need all my best people on the flight line and out of the med bay,” Lang said as the bay door swooshed open. “And no more football on the flight deck.”

“Yes sir,” Citavo said and then gave a quick salute before the colonel walked out, “don’t kill any Clanks without me.”

It was 1058 and Lang and Morgan had just sat down in Saladin’s senior conference room. He watched the other officers coming in and made mental notes of who was physically attending or remotely logging in via hololink. Although only a few ship captains, including Saladin’s Captain Mencia, were actually present in the room, the hololink showed several dozen other captains, an equal number of colonels, two generals and at least five admirals. At precisely 1100, Admiral Jager, a thick, older blond man of Nordic blood, called the meeting to attention.

“Alright folks, I know you are all curious as to why we are all here, but before we get to the point we need to get a few protocol items out of the way. As of right now, I am ordering all of your ships to go into level 6 information lockdown. No transmissions in or out that are not TS/SCI encrypted,” the Admiral paused to take a sip of water, “Now that that is out of the way we can get down to business. Once this meeting is complete, you will have 90 minutes to procure any last minute supplies and recall any personnel, and then you will depart at best possible speed for the Viconis system. Once we all rendezvous there, we will launch a strong thrust into the MacDougal system.” At that point a tactical map appeared next to the Admiral’s holo-image, and Lang’s datapad came to life with the battle plans. “Intel believes that the Clanks are building a large supply depot in MacDougal in preparation for further strikes into out territory. However, the protective fleet that was to be deployed to guard the depot was hit on its way there by the Enterprise and the rest of Task Force 72. So we believe that the system will practically unprotected with what little defensive forces they have spread out fairly thin. If we can destroy these stores and retake MacDougal we will be in position to hit several major supply lines and possibly unseat their grasp on the entire sector.

“We are organizing three battle groups to participate in the strike. To minimize the chance of tipping our hand, the strike group will consist of the Yamoto and Kennedy carrier battle groups which just finished refit, and the Saladin battle group which although primarily a training ship is well experienced. This leaves all our front line forces in place and opens no holes for a counter strike. Any questions?” The Admiral waited a few seconds then continued, “In that case, you all have your orders. Good luck.”

Jager’s image faded away as Captain Mencia turned to face Colonel Lang. “Take anything you need that isn’t bolted down at Teller station, including those new fighters. You have 60 minutes,” she said as she got up to make her own preparations.

“Yes sir,” Lang replied as he popped a quick salute and quickly made his way to the flight deck, Morgan chasing behind.

Colonel Lang opened the door to his quarters and collapsed into his small couch. He has been rushing around like a madman for the last twelve hours to get ready for the attack. The fleet had just jumped to hyperspace and would arrive in MacDougal in about 15 hours.

Morgan slipped into the room and shut the door; bundles of papers and datapads held tightly to her chest. She stacked her cargo neatly on his small desk and grabbed two bottles of cold water from the fridge. Sitting down on the couch next to him, she handed him a bottle and opened the other one for herself.

“You alright?” Lang asked as he eyed his silent assistant, “I don’t remember seeing you drink outside of official functions.”

“I am a little nervous sir,” Morgan replied; fiddling with the bottle in her hands. “Plus I have been running a little hot today and should cool down.” She took a quick sip of the cool liquid and Lang saw a very human expression on her face: fear.

“What is bothering you about this mission?” he asked, “we have worked together for a long time and I don’t remember ever seeing you this worked up.”

“I am not quite sure,” she shrugged, and took another sip of water, “I have never been in a battle this large before. Little skirmishes here and there but nothing this big. I…I just don’t want to let you down.”

Lang reassuringly put his hand on Morgan’s leg and gave her knee a little squeeze, “I know you won’t let me down. And the honest truth is I wouldn’t want anyone else flying with me.” He looked at her face and saw her fear melt away into a warm smile. He always thought she was fairly attractive, when she smiled it made her look truly beautiful. His eyes wandered down her face, traced the curve of her neck into her shoulder. He caught his eyes drifting toward her breast, and stood up quickly to avoid staring.

“Oh thank you sir,” Morgan laughed and she lifted herself from the couch and gave Lang a big hug. They had hugged before on occasion, but he always tried to keep it professional. Maybe it was his nerves about the coming attack, or the fact it had been years since he felt the embrace of a woman, but he did not pull away. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. His mind raced to the sensation of her two firm breasts pressed into his chest. He had to restrain himself from dropping his hands to cup her firm ass. Just then he could feel a twinge of adrenalin and a hardening bulge in his pants.

Morgan could feel Lang hardening too and her systems began to process what she should do next. She had served as his assistant for nearly two years now and had grown quite attracted to his classic chiseled look. She had been activated over 5 years ago, and had served 3 years with various pilots as a systems officer. In that time she had grown emotionally enough to seek the affection of others. She had thrown out a few feelers over the years to see if Lang felt the same way about her. Every indication said he was attracted to her but despite the fact there is no regulation prohibiting officers to fraternize with their android subordinates, and many officers did, he still felt it wasn’t proper. With the distinct possibility that they wouldn’t survive the next 24 hours, she was determined not to die without fully pursuing what she had dreamed about for almost 2 years.

Embarrassed, Lang relaxed his arms and started to pull away from Morgan’s embrace. She sensed his movement and calculated that she must make a move now or her chances would drastically plummet. With speed that caught him off guard, she lifted herself up, shifted her hands to hold the back of his head, and kissed him passionately.

At first he resisted, which deeply worried Morgan, since her programming would not allow her to disregard even an implied order from a superior officer. If he pulled harder she would have to let him go. Stepping up her game, she thrust her tongue into his mouth and ran its tip along the front of his palette. This seemed to melt his resolve as he gripped her waist and kissed her back. The blissful kissing filled Morgan’s mind for what seemed like hours, but was only a minute. She saved away every sensation fearing that at any point this could all stop.

Morgan felt Lang’s left hand release her waist and begin to slide up her side. She accessed the sexual databank she had downloaded from Captain Mencia’s assistant, and determined that there was a 78.9% chance he wanted to feel her breast. Eager to feel his firm grasp, she released her right arm from the embrace, gently grabbed his free hand, and pushed it against her right tit. He gave it a firm squeeze and felt her nipple firm up under her blouse and bra.

The lustful cloud in Lang’s mind was suddenly cleared. He realized he was making out with his young assistant and squeezing her tit like some horny pig. He forcefully broke their embrace and tried to catch his breath. “I…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

Morgan stepped forward, but Lang backed off. She was really pissed that something had gone wrong just when everything seemed to be so right, but she put on a very gentle expression. “Don’t be sorry, there is nothing to apologize for,” she mewed.

“I can’t do that…” Lang stammered.

“It is alright. I want you to. I started it remember? We have plenty of time before the attack, there is no reason to stop.” Morgan calmly appealed.

“We can’t do this, it isn’t proper,” Lang said but before he could continue he was cut off.

“To hell with proper!” Morgan shouted. Her emotional programs had had all they could take, and she was damned if she was going to let this opportunity just fizzle away. “I don’t give a damn what is proper, and neither does anyone else on this ship.” Lang was taken back by the outburst from his normally very quiet assistant. “I know how you feel about me. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you casually glancing at my rear or my breasts when you thought I wasn’t looking. I know you want me, and I want you. Why can’t we just have this?”

“It just doesn’t seem right,” Lang meekly replied.

“Why not?” Morgan asked growing angrier, “There is no regulation about this, and it is commonly done both in the service and on this ship. People already assume that we are sleeping together. What, are you too good to sleep with a droid?”

“No, no it is not that at all,” Lang backpedaled, “The truth is that I don’t see you as an android. I see you as a fellow fighter and comrade. And if I am not allowed to sleep with a human subordinate I should not be allowed to make you sleep with me.”

“But you aren’t making me sleep with you,” Morgan pleaded, “I want to sleep with you. It is my decision, you have not coerced me into it at all, and I do not expect any special treatment afterwards. Please, I have served you faithfully for over 2 years, and I have never asked for anything before this.”

“Are you sure you aren’t just trying to please me?” he asked.

“Have I ever lied to you?” she asked, emotionally spent from the ordeal. He looked into her sweet blue eyes, and slowly shook her head.

“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to screw this up,” he said moving forward to close the gap between them.

“Just shut up and kiss me…sir.” Morgan cooed as she pounced onto him.

Their kissing grew passionate again as Jack let himself go in the feeling of the moment. Morgan was overjoyed to feel him grip her tightly again as their lips pressed together. Their hands now freely wandered with his hand returning to her breast and her hand finally grabbing his firm ass that had taunted her for so long. Their frantic kissing and groping continued as they shuffled and banged their way towards the small but sturdy kitchen table.

When they reached the table, Jack grabbed Morgan’s waist and picked her up to sit on the edge. Their lips parted as he began to plant little kisses down her neck. She held his head and reveled in the sensations. After a few minutes of necking, she gently pushed him away, but still held onto his hands. She led him to sit down on one of his kitchen chairs. She pushed him and the chair against the wall of the room to giver her some room. When he tried to get up to follow her across the room, she smiled wickedly and shook her head and finger at him.

Jack sat back down and watched Morgan strut in front of him. She made a point of bending over at the waist to reach a small device on a lower shelf. He got a great view of her firm ass and toned legs. She pushed a few buttons on the device and slow saxophone music began to play throughout the room. Strutting to the beat of the music she took up a position about five feet in front of him and began to gyrate her body to the music. She stripped off her already disheveled jacket, and pulled her hair out of its bun. The coppery strands fell to her shoulders and swayed with her movements. Next off was her skirt. She then turned around and bent over at the waist, giving him another good long look at her now barely covered ass.

Jack wondered to himself where Morgan got her thin black lacy thong. It certainly wasn’t military issue, but then again he wasn’t exactly complaining. She then proceeded to slowly unbutton her blouse. When it was halfway undone, she stepped right up to him and pushed her cleavage into his face. His hands immediately jumped up to grab her breasts, but she was faster and pushed his hands back to his lap. She then finished taking off her shirt and tossed it aside. Her new lacy bra she borrowed from Ensign Gomez did wonders to show off her C cup tits, and judging from Jack’s increased skin temperature and dilated pupils, he agreed.

Morgan pulled the chair a little out from the wall and walked behind Jack. She reached over his head and ran her hands up and down his chest. This also had the wonderful effect of pressing her soft cleavage into the back of his head. With one hand wandering around his body and providing distraction, the second hand quickly unbuttoned, then removed his shirt.

Morgan walked again to the front of the chair and moved her body in time with the music. Now only clad in a matching black bra and thong, knee high stockings, and high heels she began to undo her hooks. The back of the bra popped off and it slipped off her arms and to the floor, but she still seductively hid her nipples behind her arms for a while. She then turned her back to him and let go of her breasts. She shook some more and gave him a few side boob peeks before finally turning around and letting him see her perfect breasts for the first time.

Jack gasped at the sight, and Morgan worried for a few seconds that he might have cum in his pants right there. Her eyes scanned his now very tight pants and didn’t see any evidence so she continued on. She slinked forward and straddled him in the chair. She pressed her tits into his face and he immediately started kissing the curves. With one hand holding the back of his head, she used the other to lift her breast and guide its nipple into his mouth.

Jack rolled his tongue over Morgan’s nipple and felt the soft caress of the other breast across his face. In moments his hands left the chair and grabbed her ass pulling him closer to him. He could feel her grinding her pelvis against his, and hear her moaning in pleasure. While squeezing her ass, his mind was suddenly drawn to the complexity of the beautiful woman in his arms. He imagined the incredibly detailed mechanics that warmed her skin, or caused her nipple to harden in his mouth. He said a silent thank you to whatever engineer insisted on those amazing details that made her indistinguishable from a real human woman. He suddenly wondered what her pussy would taste like.

Morgan let Jack suck on her tits for a few moments, but then wanted to move things forward. She moved his hands off her ass and stood up. Perhaps Jack’s mind was in a fog, or maybe she was just amazing fast, but before he could realize it, she had stripped off his pants, shoes, socks and boxers. Now naked on a chair, with his hard cock proudly standing at attention, he looked up at her and saw the hungry look in her eyes. Suddenly the sweet face he had seen for years smiled coyly and he watched it slowly lower to his crotch.

Morgan took Jack into her mouth and began running through her oral sex programming. Her memory floodgates open wide, she captured all the tastes, smells and sensations she could. It didn’t take long of her pumping her head before she felt his balls tighten. She plunged her head completely down and opened up her throat. She felt his cock pulse as he came in her mouth. She swallowed it all down and when she felt his pulse lower enough she stood back up.

“Oh my God, that was amazing,” Jack gasped.

“Good, I am glad you liked it. I have programming for many different types of sexual activities,” Morgan purred as she caressed her own breasts. “Is there anything else you would like to try tonight?”

“Actually there is,” Jack panted. He took one deep breath, then jumped up from his chair and grabbed Morgan around the waist, lifting her off the ground. In a few quick steps he threw her down on the couch, and dove between her legs. He quickly pulled off her panties and then spread her legs to get a good look at her pussy. Her crotch was perfectly shaven except for a small strip of red hair above her slit. Her lips were puffy and red and glistened with moisture. He dove onto her pussy like a wolf on a fresh kill. His tongue moved up and down her lips and flicked against her clit.

Morgan felt the sensations coming from her pussy and was overwhelmed by the intensity. Her processors could barely keep up with the sensation, and she actually had to shut down some of her non-essential processes to keep up. After what seemed like a blissful eternity, she felt her pussy contract in her first orgasm. It was a wonderful sensation and the first time she had really felt out of control of her own body, which was a strange thing for an android that was used to controlling every blink and breath.

When the contractions subsided, Morgan opened her eyes and saw Jack standing naked in front of her. She shifted her position so he could easily climb on top of her. She felt his weight on her hips, and then slowly felt the head of his penis push aside her wet lips and slide inside of her.

They made love for the better part of an hour in at least a dozen different positions. When Morgan felt Jack was getting worn out, she clamped her artificial vaginal muscles around him and pushed him towards orgasm. He slipped out of her and she shifted her weight so they could cuddle on the couch. He wrapped his arm around her and held her tightly.

Morgan could feel Jack drift off to sleep, which was good since he needed his rest for tomorrow. She set her internal alarm to wake him up at 0600 tomorrow. In the mean time she enjoyed his warm secure embrace and replayed her memory files of that night over and over; sort of her way of dreaming. Every once in a while her hips would squirm against him, when she remembered a really good part, and a slight moan might escape her lips. In their own ways, they both dreamed of what their future might bring.

Chapter 2

Colonel Jack Lang awoke a few minutes before 0600 and sat up on his small but comfortable couch. He cracked his joints as he tried to remember why he was on the couch instead of his bed and why he was naked. His room was mostly dark except for a little light leaking from under the door to his private head. He could also just barely hear what sounded like a woman humming.

At precisely 0600 the door to Jack’s head slid open and crisp light flooded out. He shielded his eyes with his hand and as his eyes adjusted he could see the silhouette of a beautiful woman. He smiled as the thoughts of last night’s erotic romp danced through his mind. He had almost forgotten about today’s imminent attack.

“Good morning Jack,” Morgan cooed as she stepped through the doorway and clicked the main light switch. Jack winced a little under the light, but then smiled at her and stood up. She walked across the room to the auto-press wearing only her black thong and bra from last night.

“Good morning Morgan,” Jack replied. He intercepted Morgan in the middle of the small room and planted a passionate kiss on her lips. He could feel her warm, soft skin pressed against his naked body and for the first time in as long as he could remember he felt truly happy. Not just the normal contentment and satisfaction that his daily job provided but a true sense of happiness and excitement for what tomorrow might bring.

The bliss of Morgan’s warm embrace was broken when Jack’s brain returned to reality. He realized that as much as he wanted they couldn’t walk out of his cabin and retire to some tropical beach. The hard truth was that when the door opened, they would walk to war. “Morgan, last night was amazing…but I am worried how we will move forward from here. We both have a job to do and I don’t want our new relationship to get in the way.”

Morgan blushed a little and looked up into Jack’s eyes. “I am very happy that you enjoyed last night. And I am looking forward to where our relationship might go, but don’t worry.” She took his hands in hers. “We are not the only people in the military to start a relationship. There are ways to maintain our professionalism and still move forward.” She paused and pulled her uniform from the auto-press. “Here is an idea…when we are in uniform, we are completely professional and put our relationship aside. But once the uniforms come off after hours we can get personal.”

Jack smiled and nodded, “You know that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Let’s go with that plan.” He pulled Morgan closer to him and kissed her again. As they kissed, his right hand wandered down to cup her ass.

Morgan pulled away, “Jack…” Morgan giggled as she took a step back.

“Hey what is the matter,” Jack said with a sly smile while looking Morgan up and down. “I don’t see any uniform yet.”

“As tempting as it might be,” Morgan said as she stepped into her skirt, “we have a pre-briefing scheduled for 0630 and you need to get ready.” Jack smiled and gave her one last peck on the cheek.

As Jack pulled away from the kiss, he whispered something into Morgan’s ear, “Thank you for having the courage to crack my shell.” He then silently walked into his lavatory. She got a really good look at his naked backside before the lavatory door slid shut. She stood motionlessly looking at the door for a minute. Her programming rushed to process all these new and powerful emotions. After a few moments a small tear escaped the corner of her eye. She wiped her face with the back of her hand, smiled, then finished getting dressed.

Several minutes later Colonel Lang exited the lavatory and quickly donned his uniform. Morgan was waiting for him with a this morning’s documents ready to go; her long coppery hair now tightly bound in a bun with not a strand tangling on her prim and proper uniform. 90 seconds later they stepped out of Lang’s quarters and off to war.

0900 hours. Colonel Lang stood at a podium waiting for his wing to finish assembling in the pilot’s ready room. Morgan sat just to the left of the small stage and worked a terminal to prepare Lang’s materials for the briefing. When the last pilot arrived and sat down, Lang called the meeting to order.

“Good morning folks. I am sorry we have had to keep you in the dark about this mission so far, but due to the nature of the operation secrecy was critical. I am sure you are all curious to see what is going on so let’s get to it.” Lang keyed a button on his pedestal and a solar map appeared as a 3 dimensional hologram in the center of the stage. Instantly subdued murmurs boiled up from the assembled crowd.

“As some of you can tell, we are going to MacDougal. Our three battle groups should drop out of hyperspace at 1300 hours in separate attack vectors. The Kennedy battle group will hit the Clank garrison in orbit of MacDougal 4, and the Yamoto guys will target the supply cache at MacDougal 5. Because you are the most experienced pilots in this operation, we will be conducting the primary strike on the main Clank cargo dump.

“The Saladin and her escort will come out of hyperspace near MacDougal 3, about half an AU off the solar disk. We will perform a magnum launch, form up and assault the supply cache. Wolverine squadron will perform overall space superiority for the mission. Unless instructed otherwise, you are free to hunt down and kill any Clank fighters you find.

“Gator squadron will primarily serve to take out any capital ships or fixed heavy defenses that might stand between us and our target. Once any capital targets are eliminated, you are to attack the supply cache with cannons only. I want you to save your heavy ordinance in case we have to step in and help the other two battle groups.

“Trojan squadron will provide close escort for Gator’s bombers. Once the opposing fighter threat has been eliminated, you may attack the supply cache with the Gators, but I want you to stay close and don’t go glory hunting.

“Finally I will lead Buckeye squadron for this operation. We spearhead the attack on the cache and take out any light fixed defenses.

“We have the Clanks out flanked, so we expect minimal resistance on this operation. Intel believes we may be looking at a light carrier and a few escorts on our end, and the Kennedy and Yamoto might have a few squadrons of fighters from the garrison or planets as well as the possibility of a few fixed defense stations. They also believe what few forces we find will be reserve or green units.

“That in mind, I don’t want anyone getting soft on me. According to Intel this should be a walk in the park and if so there is no reason this shouldn’t be a picture perfect mission. I don’t want to lose anyone to some stupid careless accident. On the other hand, Intel has been wrong in the past so I want you all prepared in case we jump right into the middle of a Clank fleet.

“If we can pull this off, we will put the fleet in position to threaten a dozen or more different Clank supply lines. The tide of war could turn on today’s operation. Further details will be covered in your squadron meetings and in your technical package. Good luck everyone.”

Colonel Lang, Morgan and 22 other officers donned their flight suits and performed their last minute checks before the mission. The locker room was eerily quiet as everyone went about their business in near silence. It had been a while since Lang and his squadron had seen actual combat. For the last two years they, along with the rest of Saladin’s fighter wing, had performed test and evaluation missions for new fighters, weapons, components, and tactics. Some would argue that since they hadn’t seen combat in a long time, that they were too inexperienced for a mission like this. On paper, Saladin’s pilots had very few kills and all four squadrons were listed as “novice,” only one step above “green,” or straight out of the academy. However, because of the rigorous testing schedule, Lang’s pilots had logged nearly six times as many flight hours as the fleet average, and the vast majority of those hours were in simulated combat as opposed to uneventful patrols. Lang was confident in his people and couldn’t ask for any better folks in the fleet, but they were all nervous to see if all their practice would pay off in real combat.

Lang checked the mission clock and pulled the final zipper on his suit. “All right folks, it is approaching that hour. I want everyone on the flight line in five minutes.” He grabbed his helmet and made his way out to Saladin’s flight deck; Morgan trailing shortly behind.

Lang could feel the energy when he stepped onto the cavernous flight deck. Hundreds of people in various uniforms scrambled around fueling, arming, and otherwise prepping 48 different fighters. Immediately in front of the locker room entrance stood a dozen large Ares class bombers. The 40 meter long ships were shaped like giant arrowheads, and packed the most firepower of anything short of a full blown destroyer. Behind the bombers, stood the new Ajax interceptors Wolverine squadron managed to “borrow” from Teller station. They were light, nimble, and should prove quite a surprise to the Clank fighters. On the far side of the flight deck, a dozen newer Charon class medium fighters were preparing for launch. The Charons had a good mix of speed, firepower and shields and had made quite a stir when they were deployed a year ago.

Finally Lang spotted his squadron’s venerable Hercules class heavy fighters positioned to be the first to launch. He strolled over to his old bird and ran his hand along the pitted armor plate. The Herc’s had served the Terran Navy for almost 25 years, and their massive firepower and heavy shields had made them a favorite among the more experienced pilots. The nose of his fighter was adorned with a small caricature of a female dominatrix and the title “Feisty Bitch III”. Painted under the canopy were his and Morgan’s call signs, Brawler and Coppertop respectively. He patted the nose of his fighter one last time, like a knight of old would caress his horse before battle, then turned to gather his men.

Through a loophole in the laws of physics, Saladin and her escorts appeared in the MacDougal system with a flash of bright light. Colonel Lang felt his stomach twist as Saladin came out of hyperspace. His fingers tightened around the control sticks as the tension came to a head. The ship rumbled his seat as the engines roared to life.

“Engines at full power, all lights are green, and we are good to go,” Morgan said from the flight engineer’s seat right behind Lang’s chair. He looked out the canopy to the deck officer who gave him a thumbs up and pointed towards open stars. He nodded back to wards the officer, pushed the throttle forward, and leapt out of Saladin’s flight deck into open space.

As Lang waited for the rest of his squadron to form up he did a quick scan of the system and correlated that with the information from Saladin C&C. He had a clear sensor picture of the supply cache and to his surprise only one old Clank destroyer stood guard.

When Lang saw that all the fighters had launched he called everyone into formation, “All fighters form up. Attack pattern delta-two-five. Wolverines, stay loose and keep your eyes open. This looks a little too easy. Buckeyes will run interference for the destroyer. Gators, take it out but don’t go overboard, this is an old clunker.”

Lang was pushed into his seat as his fighter and the rest of the wing accelerated to attack. He keyed the internal comm., “Coppertop, transfer reserve energy to forward shields, and even them out as soon as we pass the destroyer.”

“Eye sir,” Morgan promptly replied and she set about to reconfigure the shields.

Five minutes passed as the entire fighter wing tore towards their target. As of yet, the enemy ship hadn’t reacted to their presence, which was a source of increasing worry for Lang. At 10,000 meters out, Buckeye squadron opened up on the destroyer with their heavy plasma cannons. The deep “thump-thump-thump” of the cannons put a smile on Lang’s face. It had been too long since he had unleashed the power of his ship outside of simulators and it felt good as he watch unimagined amounts of raw energy race towards the target.

A shower of bright orange plasma bolts splashed against the destroyer’s shields, as the Herc’s buzzed by at close range. At 1000 meters out the heavy fighters opened up their formation and exposed the bombers behind them. Two torpedoes surged forward from a bomber and a split second later tore into the destroyer’s midsection. Lang’s canopy automatically darkened to protect his eyes from the flash, and when it cleared nothing was left of the enemy ship. It was a textbook attack run where the enemy didn’t even get off a shot.

“The supply dump is open, proceed with the attack plan,” Lang thumbed his comm. from broadcast to internal, “Coppertop, this doesn’t feel right. Give me a full scan of the dump and what is left of that destroyer.”

“Eye sir,” Morgan replied as she threw power into the fighter’s scanners. As Lang waited for the results he watched his fighters tear into the floating cargo containers. He saw Buckeye 3 and 4 swoop in and pour plasma fire into fuel canister. It quickly buckled under the heavy fire and gave off a small explosion, too small. Lang frowned as he turned his fighter to get a closer look at the debris. That tank held 10,000 liters of Clank fuel and should have made quite a show.

“Sir,” Morgan shouted; the tension in her voice plainly evident. “The destroyer was empty. Debris is 20,000 metrics tones too light. It was stripped out shell. I have scanned 15% of the cargo field so far, and every container is empty.”

Lang clenched his teeth together, and keyed his comm. to transmit to the whole wing and to Saladin flight control. “It is a trap. The entire supply dump is a decoy. Abort mission. All fighters return to base.” He pulled his fighter tightly about as his squadron commanders acknowledged the new orders and powered back for home.

No sooner had Lang gathered his ships for the dash back home, than his sensor scopes erupted in a flurry of activity. “Sir, enemy ships coming out of hyperspace,” Morgan called out. “What are we looking at? I’m having a hard time reading this.” Lang shouted as he tried to sort targets.

“Standby, getting telemetry data from Saladin,” Morgan paused. “Got it. 17 Clank battle groups have entered the system. 5 groups on each of our carriers and 2 more have formed a wall between us and the Saladin.”

Lang keyed the broad comm., “Alright folks, we have to get back to Sally. We need to punch our way through 2 battle groups to do that. The Clanks think they have us beat, but we aren’t done yet. Gators we have a lot of ships to kill so make every shot count. Go for maximum efficiency and take out as many as you can, but save some torps for the ships around Sally. Go for the cruisers and up. Buckeyes will take out the frigates and destroyers. Wolverines and Trojans, take out their fighters.”

The Buckeyes pulled into lead of the formation, the Gators behind them, and Wolverines and Trojans flying a loose cover.

“Eyes on fighters,” came a quick squawk over the comm.

“Confirmed,” replied Morgan, “Clank fleet carriers are scrambling medium fighters, Baal-class.”

“Eta to target?” Lang quickly asked.

“90 seconds to torpedo range,” Morgan quickly replied as her fingers flew over her controls.

Lang keyed his wing wide comm., “All ships, engage at max range. We need to take out the carriers before they finish launching.” He switched the comm. to his squadron. “Call your targets, one ship to each frigate, two to destroyers. We get one pass at this and keep going.”

The fighters raced on towards their new targets. At 15,000 meters out, the Clank ships opened up with sporadic gunfire. The fighters easily weaved between the shots but the close blasts suspended any lingering disbeliefs that this was another simulation. As soon as possible, the Terran fighters eagerly returned fire.

“Coppertop, get me four Hammerheads, two AP followed by two delay,” Lang shouted as he dodged a close shot.

“Confirmed,” Morgan responded, “Fish are armed, locked and ready to go.”

Lang locked his fighter onto a particularly feisty enemy frigate and let loose with his plasma cannons. The guns cycled over a dozen times before his capacitors drained. Each wave of energy slammed into the frigate’s shields, slowly boiling them away until a small breach formed and plasma bolts began to eat into layers of armor. Lang switched weapons and popped off two missiles shortly followed by another pair. They lanced toward their target leaving a thin streak of exhaust behind them. The frigate intensified its fire to intercept the new threat, catching one of the second pair in a small explosion. The first pair of missiles exploded against the hull; eating through over a meter of armor. The last missile engaged a final booster and slammed into the armor breach at high speed. In a split second, the missile broke through any remaining armor and detonated inside the hull.

Lang smiled as small explosions erupted along the frigate’s hull. His fighter streaked by the crippled frigate and raced towards home. “They are losing containment on the port reactor,” Morgan beamed from the back seat. He switched a secondary display to the aft camera and watched his frigate explode in a flash of light and hull fragments. He panned the camera around and saw multiple bright explosions as nuclear torpedoes impacted against various enemy carriers and cruisers. He also saw his pilots swooping between the blossoming fireballs to pick off what few Clank ships made it into space before they were immolated. In a few more moments Lang’s fighters regrouped and continued on to protect their carrier.

Lang checked his squadron display and saw 9 green, 2 yellow and 1 red icon. The greens being undamaged, yellows were lightly damaged, and reds heavily damaged. He was disappointed about the red but happy that none of the icons were black, indicated a destroyed fighter. “Squadron leaders report in,” he snapped.

“Trojans: 10 green, 2 yellow.”

“Wolverines: 8 green, 2 yellow, 1 red, 1 black.”

“Gators: 6 green, 5 yellow, 1 red.”

Lang frowned at the report, but if they made it out and he only had to write one letter home he would consider it a good day.

“BDA coming in,” Morgan called as she brought up a report. “Both Clank carriers destroyed outright, along with two cruisers, five destroyers, nine frigates, and eighteen fighters. Two other cruisers and three destroyers are still in one piece but are burning in space.”

“Excellent job folks, the next run is coming up,” Lang cracked into his comm. He pulled a quick forward scan, then reopened the channel, “Incoming fighters from the second group of carriers. ETA 90 seconds. Trojans stay with the Gators and go for the enemy cap ships. Wolverines, Buckeyes we will take the fighters head on.”

The Wolverine and Buckeye fighters surged forward to meet the new threat. The Clank fighters outnumbered them 120 to 23, but the Terran ships had greater firepower and could take a lot more hits. Lang pointed his fighter at a presumed Clank squadron leader and fired three quick bursts into him which caused his fighter to collapse and explode. Many other Clanks met their end in the first pass, which quickly descended into a large scale fur ball.

Lang weaved his fighter from target to target downing one after another. “Plasma cannons are overheating,” Morgan cried while trying to balance power demands. Lang grunted in reply and toggled his weapon selector to gauss cannons and pulled tight in behind another enemy fighter. As he squeezed the trigger the familiar “thump-thump-thump” was replaced by a rumbling sensation and a dull roar. The four gauss cannons threw thousands of tiny tungsten projectiles into the rear of the Clank fighter. The first rounds melted into rear shields but slowly breached the energy barrier and began to chew into the hull. Less than a second of sustained fire tore the enemy ship to pieces and ruptured its reactor in a quick flash of light and energy.

A split second later Lang’s fighter shuttered under the fire of a Clank fighter that had pulled onto his 6 o’clock. He jerked the stick back and forth, causing follow on attacks to overshoot. He tried to buy time for his wingman to pick off this challenger, but after a few seconds of crazy maneuvers he figured he had be pulled off into the fur ball somewhere and he was on his own. “Coppertop, swat this fly!” he called into his comm.

“Eye sir,” Morgan replied. Her hands flew to a secondary set of controls where she locked on to the annoying challenger. Half a second later a small missile jumped from the aft of her craft and detonated off the port nacelle of the Clank fighter. Although the missile didn’t destroy the ship outright, it did its job and knocked the ship off its axis and caused it to spin widely off course. Before the Clank pilot could level off, a fortunate Wolverine fighter swooped by and finished it off.

The rapid dogfight continued for several more minutes until the last Clank fighter was destroyed. Lang pulled his battered ships into formation and took account of the situation. He had emerged victorious, but those 120 kills had cost him half of his squadron and five more Wolverines. The twelve remaining ships pushed forwards towards their besieged carrier, and for the first time since the ambush started, Lang could get a good picture of how the Saladin was doing.

“She is still there,” Morgan reported with a little relief in her voice. “I am assembling a tactical readout for your viewer.”

Lang focused on the screen and was surprised at what he saw. The Saladin and her heavy cruiser, the Audie Murphy, were locked in a close range slug match with several large Clank ships including what was left of a battleship. The entire area around the Saladin was littered with burning debris, some coming from the rest of her battle group but a lot more was obviously from Clank ships. He also spotted six of his bombers and four of their escorts were still in the fight.

“It appears that two full enemy battle groups are arrayed in a blocking action to prevent our escape. Three other groups directly engaged Saladin. Of those ships, only four are left, and all are heavily damaged,” Morgan reported, then paused as new data came in, “more fighters are coming in from those two outlying groups.”

Lang and his dozen surviving fighters attacked into the new group of enemy ships as they wove between the supporting fire of Sally and Murphy and dodged the debris of the dying Clank ships. Enemy after enemy fell before Lang’s guns but they began to take their toll on his battered ship.

“Hold still you little shit,” Lang swore as he tried to bring his big guns to bear on this particularly nimble enemy. He finally got a good angle and destroyed the Clank ship in a quick cannon burst. Unfortunately, the enemy ship had pulled Lang way out into the open and isolated him from cruiser fire support as well as any friendly fighters. Seeing a chance to pick off an easy target, over a dozen Clanks encircled Lang and attacked.

Lang went totally defensive and put his fighter into every crazy spiral maneuver he could think of. Meanwhile Morgan did her best to keep the shields up while trying to get the most out of the few defensive missiles she had left. Just then a loud alarm filled the cabin.

“They’ve locked us up,” Morgan shouted, “three missiles incoming. Launching countermeasures.”

Lang threw the fighter into a tight turn as one missile overshot and buzzed past his canopy only a few meters away. He pulled to the right and the second missile clipped the edge of his starboard shields and detonated. The shock wave threw the fighter end over end, and Lang just managed to stabilize his ship before the last missile slammed square into his aft shields.

Lang expected the death blow to come before he could once again right his craft, but he was surprisingly left alone long enough to get back on his feet. A wave of relief swept across his face as he saw the battered but still firing hull of the Audie Murphy blast through his attackers.

“Our shields are down,” Morgan reported, “Plasma capacitors are offline, rear armor is eroded to 10%, maneuvering jets to 50%, but I think we will make it.”

Lang smiled as he thought they might actually pull this battle off. Just then one of the few remaining Clank fighters cut over the top of the Murphy and emptied its gauss cannons into Lang’s exposed dorsal armor. He heard a sharp scream as his fighter’s canopy was penetrated by a handful of projectiles, before the loud whoosh of venting atmosphere and then the still silence of vacuum.

Lang rolled his fighter to present his thicker ventral armor. Fortunately, the Murphy’s guns picked off the enemy ship before it could do more damage. He pulled his fighter in close to the Murphy and when he saw no Clank ships in the area, he took time to assess his damage. He keyed his comm. to check in with Morgan, “Status report,” Lang waited a few seconds then checked his comms, “Coppertop, report.” Getting worried, he loosened his harness and craned his neck to look into the back seat, and his heart sank into his stomach. Through her helmet, he could see her eyes locked into an expression of surprise and fear. His eyes trailed down her body and saw several large, blackened holes in her flight suit. Small sparks leapt between the fist sized gaps in her torso as various fluids evaporated into the vacuum of space.

Lang slowly turned back around in his seat as a burning anger began to stoke inside his chest. Until this point he hadn’t held anything against the Clanks; they were just another in a long line of enemies. It was just a job to shoot them down, and if peace was declared he would smile and train for the next enemy. But now the Clanks had torn out his heart just as he had dared open it up again. He remembered the rage he felt when his parents and brothers died in the AI wars, and how that rage made had made him a powerful foe. He tossed his despair into the furnace of his anger and focused on what more damage he could inflict.

“All ships this is the Saladin,” crackled Lang’s comm., “all fighters return to base. We found an escape vector and are going to make a run for it.” He pulled up the battle plan and saw how the Saladin planned to slingshot past MacDougal 3 and use the gravity boost to get them clear of the Clank ships before they could reposition to react. Just then he spotted a dozen Clank bombers approaching from MacDougal 4.

“Saladin, this is Brawler,” Lang growled, “Do you see those bombers coming in?”

“Copy that Brawler,” responded Saladin’s XO, “get your ass on the flight deck quickly and the captain thinks we can outrun them.”

“That is bullshit and you know it,” Lang replied, “They will have a torpedo lock on us way before we can make the jump.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think we have much of a choice, we just have to hope our flak gunners can do their jobs.”

“Send me an ammo can and I will hold them off,” Lang growled with a combination of excitement and grim determination.

“Your ship is barely holding together,” the XO countered, “you won’t stand a chance. Even if you do take them out, you will be left here on your own.”

“Give me a full load of Hornets and I will at least break their charge. It should give you just enough time,” Lang paused, “After I am done with them, I’ll find a nice tropical island on MacDougal 3 and retire.” Lang listened to static as his ship pulled a slow pass over the battered Saladin. The last of his fighters pulled into the flight deck as he waited for a reply.

“Ammo can is on its way,” the XO replied with a sullen voice. He was a good friend and Lang could tell he was reluctant to write off another comrade in this battle. “Good luck, and hopefully I will see you on that tropical island someday.”

“Good luck to you too,” Lang replied before cutting his comm.. He saw a small tombstone like ship leave Saladin’s flight deck before she and Murphy fired their engines and drove for MacDougal 3. The tombstone ship pulled up under Lang’s fighter and latched a pair of claw-arms onto his hull. He gunned the engines and raced towards the last targets.

As Lang planned his attack strategy, the drone ship loaded missiles, fuel and cannon rounds into his battered fighter. Its job done, the drone dropped off and auto destructed as Lang raced onwards. In the last few minutes before he could engage, he wondered what would await him when everything was all over. Unlike what he told the XO, he knew there was no way he could take all the fighters down and still land safely. He was flying towards his doom, and his rage subsided enough to wonder where he might end up. He wasn’t a religious man, but he couldn’t imagine that the wonders of the human soul could just fade away into nothingness. He also wondered what would happen to Morgan. He had always thought of her as a person, rather than a machine and wondered if she too had a soul. In the last fleeting moments of peace before action, he hoped that if she had a soul, and if there was more to life than just this world, that maybe he would be lucky enough to meet her again.

At maximum range, Lang targeted six points within the tight Clank bomber squadron. He let loose of all of his missiles at once as six bright flare tracked towards his enemy. The bombers evaded slightly avoiding the missiles but they didn’t hit any ships. Instead, they detonated simultaneously between the bombers and their combined blast wave knocked them into erratic spirals.

Lang capitalized on the chaos and pounced on the confused bombers. Two ships had fallen to his guns before they could regroup into a facsimile of a defensive formation. He then concentrated on attacking ships only enough to get them to evade before moving on to the next target. As much as he burned to destroy as many ships as possible, his job was to delay first and destroy second.

In several more minutes of fast slashing attacks, Lang had destroyed another three ships but taken more than a few hits. Alarms wailed from a dozen different sources at once as systems he didn’t even remember sputtered and failed. Unfortunately for Lang, his maneuvering system sputtered at just the wrong time and his ship drifted into the firing arc of a bomber’s heavy guns. He was slammed into his seat as a huge wave of energy tore off the aft-port quarter of his fighter. He spun widely around as alerts flashed signaling an imminent core breach. Before he could embrace a final death, the auto-eject system blew the crew compartment free of the dying fighter. In the spinning star lines he could make out the outline of his faithful fighter before its core finally blew; knocking the small escape pod into another stomach tightening spin. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was a status message flashed across his visor:

“Escape pod compromised, engaging emergency cryogenics….”

Lang’s body ached all over as he slowly opened his eyes. He saw a white ceiling and bright lights, and he had to squint to mitigate a fast growing headache. He croaked a low groan as he tried to shield his eyes with his hand.

“He is coming around,” a hushed voice said.

“Quickly, summon the doctor,” a more urgent feminine voice replied.

Lang strained to see who was talking or where he was, but the slightest move of his head sent shooting bolts of pain down his spine.

Lang felt a soft hand on his shoulder and saw a beautiful female face come into his field of vision. “Please don’t move,” she pleaded.

“Where am I?” Lang groaned.

“You are in New Horizon’s Medical Center, on MacDougal 5,” she replied with a smile.

“What?,” Lang grew more confused, “How did I get to MacDougal 5? What is going on?”

“Please calm down,” a deeper male voice said as a bearded man moved into Lang’s vision. “You are safe here. The war has been over for a while. You were in space for quite some time. Your transponder was damaged and a cargo freighter only found you by sheer luck.”

“How long was I out?” Lang asked. He tried once again to sit up but was forced back down by shooting pain.

“Three hundred and fifty seven years….,” the doctor replied.

Chapter 3

Colonel Jack Lang’s eyes went wide and if it wasn’t for the shooting pain lancing down his spine he would shot straight up in bed. “Three hundred and fifty-seven years? What the hell are you talking about?” Lang shouted.

The bearded man nodded his head towards someone out of Lang’s vision, and then put a firm hand on his shoulder, “You really must calm down Mr. Lang. This is not good for your health.”

Lang stared into the bearded man’s eyes, trying to see if he could possibly be serious. “Calm down? You just told me I have been an ice cube floating through space for over three and a half centuries. This is a little hard to believe and even harder to accept.”

The bearded man’s face betrayed no emotion. He once again looked to someone outside of Lang’s vision and silently mouthed something. Lang was decent at reading lips but the man’s whiskers proved to be effective camouflage. He suddenly felt a slight tingle moving up his right arm. “Mr. Lang, you are clearly upset and I am worried you might do something detrimental to your health. I am giving you a sedative until I am more confident that you are healthy enough to discuss your situation calmly.” He then walked away and his place in Lang’s vision was replaced by the beautiful nurse’s face he had seen before. She smiled and said something to him, but the words were incoherent.

Lang strained to make out what she was saying, but his mind was quickly glazing over. His vision began to darken and it felt as if his body had melted through the hard hospital bed and now floated on a slowly rippling stream. His mind slowly drifted down the drug induced stream and various sensations phased in and out. He could just barely pick out the smell of bleach, the sweet taste of apples, the sound of a squeaking wheel, and the image of a smiling woman. The sensations came and went for an unknown length of time, and then slowly faded away.

Lang awoke again in a small room brightly it by sunlight streaming through a nearby window. He noticed that he wasn’t looking straight up at the ceiling anymore, but was instead slightly inclined in his bed. He blinked a few times to adjust his eyes to the light then rotated his head to examine his surroundings. There was still a dull ache in the base of his skull, but the shooting paint was gone.

Lang appeared to be alone in a small room that was sparsely furnished but with a large window. He could see his hospital bed, as well as a metal nightstand, a small view screen hanging on the wall, a small table and chairs, a dresser with what appeared to be a plastic potted plant, and a narrow door to what he suspected might be either a bathroom or closet. He had to stretch his neck to look at the window but unfortunately the bright light prevented him from making out any details from here.

Just then, the room’s main door opened and a young woman entered his room carrying several data pads. She stood about 170 cm tall with tanned skin and dark chestnut hair pulled back into a high ponytail. She wore tan utility pants and a baggy, burgundy sweater, hardly the uniform he expected for a nurse. Her deep blue eyes met Lang’s and a warm smile spread across her face. “Good morning Mr. Lang. You look much better today. How do you feel?”

“Pretty good I guess,” Lang croaked before clearing his throat.

The woman smiled and began stacking her data pads on the room’s table, “I am glad to hear that. You have been in and out for the last three weeks.” She removed a small rectangular device from one of her pant pockets and approached the side of Lang’s bed. “Let me just run a quick scan.” She pointed the device at him and removed a small probe attachment which she moved over various parts of his body. She studied the device intently as he studied her. After about a minute, she snapped the probe back into the device and slipped it back into her pocket.

“It looks like you are well on your way to recovery, although there is still some indication of residual cryo-agents in your neuro system,” the woman said with a nod and a smile.

“Well, I guess that is good,” Lang replied, “but can you tell me what I am recovering from? I can’t seem to remember how I got here.”

“Of course,” she said, “but we should go slowly. A lot has happened and your memory may remain spotty for a while. It is a temporary side effect of your cryo-status.” She walked over to the table and grabbed a data pad and a chair. She positioned the chair near the foot of Lang’s bed and made a few notes on her pad. “Let’s start with what you already know. What is the last thing you can remember before waking up today?”

Lang closed his eyes and tried to search his memory for anything he could grasp, but the memories slipped through his fingers like tiny fish through a net. Every now and then something would catch. “I remember a brightly lit room and a man with a beard.”

“That was probably Dr. Logan and the main intensive care unit. You woke up there three weeks ago, but became quickly agitated. You had just come out of cryo-status and were still very physically weak. You were sedated in the hope that we could heal you and reduce the risk of potential injury,” she said softly. “Do you remember anything else?”

Lang tried again to catch his fleeting memories but not much else stuck. “I think I was in the military and I was in a battle in space. I can remember a loud, rhythmic thumping noise and spinning stars, but that is about it.”

“Ok, that makes since with what we have pieced together ourselves,” she said as she jotted a few other notes on her pad. “Don’t be alarmed, your memories should come back with time. Over the next few weeks we will work on some associative exercises that may help you remember more. Would you like me to fill you in on what we know?”

“Yes I am eager to hear what you have. But first,” Lang paused, “who are you? I am sorry but if we have met before I don’t remember.”

The woman smiled and lowered her pad, “Don’t be sorry Mr. Lang, I should have introduced myself before. I am Erica Chen, and I am a graduate student from the University of Boise. I am working on my PhD in late third age human history with a focus on the MacDougal system. One of the girls in my CU is a nurse here at the hospital and mentioned that you were a patient. Dr. Logan is quite short staffed so when he asked for help with you I jumped at the opportunity. You are history in the flesh, Mr. Lang”

Lang smiled at the last odd comment and offered his hand, which she gently shook. “It is nice to meet you Miss Chen, I am,” he paused for a second as he tried to pull the words out of the ether.

“Jack Lang,” Erica offered with a stifled giggle.

“Jack Lang,” Jack repeated more to himself than to Erica. As he moved his arm back down to the bed he noticed a small device attached to either side of his forearm.

Erica must have noticed him looked and quickly offered an explanation to address his coming question, “Those are micro-muscle stimulators. They are used to try to rebuild some of the muscle strength you lost during your cryo-status and the subsequent sedation. Don’t worry, they are perfectly harmless.”

Jack stared at the small device on his arm as he clenched and released his fist. “What exactly happened to me?”

Erica settled back into her chair to relay what information she could. “From what we know you were a fighter pilot that fought in the Second Battle of MacDougal against the Classion Empire. Your craft was destroyed but the crew compartment ejected safely. Unfortunately, the compartment had been breached so the onboard computer decided your best chance for survival would be to induce rapid cryo-status until you could be recovered.”

“So then my people found me and brought me here after the battle right?” Jack asked as he tried to piece things together with his memory.

“Not exactly,” Erica responded, then hesitated for a bit. “Please try to remain calm; it will be a bit of a shock.” She paused again until she was confident I wanted her to move forward, “Humanity did not win the Second Battle of MacDougal. Your forces were wiped out and for some reason the Classions didn’t recover your ejection pod. We have been looking over the pod and think that may be because your transponder was damaged. Without it, the pod looked like any other hunk of floating debris and there would have been a lot of similar debris around at that time.

“Your pod was recovered by a cargo ship delivering supplies to this planet about two months ago; which would be over three hundred and fifty seven years after you ejected. You were brought to the hospital until the doctors could figure a safe way of bringing you out of such a long cryo-status. Jack must have had quite a confused look on his face at that point so Erica continued on to try to fill in the cracks.

“In the time you were frozen, humanity went through quite a lot. Our records are a little sketchy from your time period but I will tell you what we know. The battle was a turning point in the Human-Classion war. The Classions retook the offensive and assaulted the human forces across a wide front. Slowly but surely our defenses were worn down and they advanced into our territory. The next three or four years consisted of a serious of protracted defenses and retreats against the over whelming Classion force, in the hope to buy time to find a way to effectively fight back.

“The last major military engagement was the Battle of Proxima, which saw the destruction of the Human fleet and the end of the military as an effective fighting force. Exact details of the battle are unknown because the system is still too contaminated to explore. From there the Classions were within easy reach of Earth.

“When their fleet arrived in the Sol system, they were met by any ship Earth could assemble including Planetary Guard, local police forces, and even private vessels. The space forces were quickly decimated and the invaders destroyed most major cities from orbit, resulting in the loss of most records and infrastructure. What humans were left put up a tenacious battle on the ground in an apparent attempt to buy time.

“Sometime after the ground invasion began, human scientists released an engineered bio-weapon that we only know of as “Sgt. Tibbs.” We are not sure what the weapon was or how it was delivered, but the results were devastating for both sides. From what we can tell, the weapon spread rapidly through the Classion Empire and eradicated the entire population within weeks. Unfortunately it was also highly damaging to the human population as well. Nearly 90% of the women and 99% of the male population were killed off. The plague apparently vanished after a few months and the few humans that remained were left to rebuild a ruined society.

“Thus ended the Third Age of mankind. When the dust settled we estimate that somewhere between one hundred to two hundred thousand humans remained alive on Earth with another maybe fifty thousand survivors in space and on various colonies, from a pre-war population of nearly sixty-seven billion. Humanity had won the war but only just barely.

Jack was speechless as he tried to come to terms with what Erica just told him. He let out a long low sigh and looked into her eyes for some flicker of hope. “Whoh, this is a bit much to cope with. So not only was I frozen in space for hundreds of years, and everyone I know is dead, but humanity was almost wiped out while I was gone. This has been a real swell day so far.”

Erica realized she might have overdone it a bit and tried to backpedal, “It isn’t that bad. We have actually made a lot of progress since the dawn of the Fourth Age. Within a few years a provisional government assumed power based around a few surviving military officers. They organized the survivors and began a comprehensive rebuilding program.

“One of the first measures enacted was a comprehensive reproduction plan. At that point women outnumbered men almost ten to one, and a conventional pair bond strategy wouldn’t work. So for the first several decades, survivors were grouped into large communal groups of a hundred or more. There was a huge abundance of stored food and supplies, so the primary duty of the people was to multiply. A combination of standard mating and artificial insemination started to rebuild the population but there were a few issues.

“The first issue was that humans were not meant to live in an intimate community of a few hundred people. The first communal groups turned into an odd study of human sexuality. People were encouraged to toss away hundred of years of morals and sleep with anyone they could for ‘the good of humanity.’ But we soon realized that a family unit was actually critical to human psychology. People needed to have other people they could care about, and the human mind could not deeply care about three hundred odd people. Yet, a traditional pair bond wouldn’t work either since there was such a gender disproportion which would result in 90% of the females being alone.

“The other issue was that for one reason or another, female births outpaced male births by about four to one. We are not entirely sure why this happened. Some people believe that the Sgt. Tibbs bioweapon affected the genetics of the survivors to cause the change. Others feel that people who were naturally more likely to birth females were for some reason more pre-disposed to survive the disease. Still others felt that the unnatural population bottleneck of the plague reduced the genetic diversity of the humanity enough to affect the change.

“The solution was elegant and is still honored in a form today. People were grouped into much smaller cooperative units of about ten females to one male based on a combination of temperament and genetic diversity. The new CU’s were moved from large communal camps to now abandoned private homes. As time went on, CU’s shrank from an initial size of eleven to a more common and sustainable size of four to six. It provided for a safe and supportive environment to encourage reproduction while giving people the tightly knit social grouping they desired.

“In the last few hundred years we have been able to rebuild Earth and re-settle a few colonies here and there. Technology still hasn’t quite made it back to peak levels from the Third Age, but we should be there in a few decades. The population is up to about six billion now and humanity is on pace to retake its place its place in the galaxy.

“At least things are getting better,” Jack laughed.

“Oh they are,” Erica tried to reassure. “Since the start of the Fourth Age, we have managed to eliminate war, poverty and most crime. Selective genetics and managed breeding have allowed us to eliminate most disease, and the average standard of living is higher now than it has ever been. We have learned from the mistakes of the past so we can hopefully avoid them in the future.” Erica paused for a second, “which is actually where you come in.”

“Oh, so you want to hear about all my mistakes I take it,” Jack asked, “I have made quite a few, I think, and I would be happy to share when I can remember them. If you are willing to wait.”

“Of course I am willing to wait. From a historical perspective we have very few primary sources from your era. It is a historian’s dream to be able to speak directly to a person from their time of study. I will do everything I can to help you recover, and help you adjust to a changed world,” Erica smiled as she reached over and squeezed Jack’s hand. For the first time since he had re-awoken Jack smiled too.

Over then next few days, Erica worked with Jack during the mornings to rebuild his memory through a series of mnemonic exercises. In the afternoons he would relate anything he remembered and she would tell other stories of what happened over the last three hundred years.

One sunny afternoon, Jack felt good enough to go for a walk outside so Erica decided to take a small expedition to a local park. The weather was quite mild and a slight breeze caused the trees to rustle slightly as they walked.

“Have you recalled anything new today?” Erica asked as they walked and she jotted notes on her pad.

“I remember my childhood quite distinctly now,” Jack replied. He stopped walking and stared intently at a nearby tree for several moments. “I remember the AI wars on Earth clearly. Do you have any records of that conflict?”

“We know it was an android uprising that was eventually put down, but that is about it,” Erica sat down on a nearby bench to better record Jack’s story. “Please go on.”

“It started when I was twelve. Some androids walked way from their assignments here and there and others disappeared. At first it was reported as a technical glitch, so nobody really paid attention. The cybernetics companies claimed they ‘recalled’ all the problem units, but the truth was many escaped into the general population. One night, several hundred of the ‘recalled’ AI’s raided an android factory in Germany and made off with thousands of inactivated units and disappeared back into the population. A month later two dozen heavily armed androids stormed the European parliament and held two hundred government officials hostage while they demanded full legal rights for all androids.

“At that point in history, many people felt androids deserved some rights as they approached sentience. But it was a very sticky subject and progress moved too slowly for the renegade AI’s. When their demands weren’t immediately met, they started to physically dismember the hostages. Police moved in to stop the bloodshed so the AI’s set off a small nuclear bomb they had acquired. The bomb destroyed parliament, the hostages, the AI’s and thirty thousand other people in the blast radius.

“People panicked and anti-android hysteria grew out of control. Many innocent AI’s were lynched as ‘radical sympathizers.’ While most androids remained loyal to their owners, others left to join the rebellion. Shortly after I turned thirteen, the rebel AI’s made an announcement. They declared that AI’s were the next stage of intelligent evolution and that humanity had proved itself too intolerant for mutual coexistence. Therefore they would dispose of humanity to make room for their own ascendance.

“Rebel AI death squads materialized out of the human population and wreaked havoc upon hundreds of cities around the Earth. The death squad units were heavily modified to make them nearly invincible killing machines. Nothing short of military grade weapons could disable them, and at that time the military was too limited to be everywhere at once. One night a squad attacked my neighborhood while I was asleep. My father dragged me out of bed and hurried me into the basement of my house. I was still too sleepy to fully understand what was happening at the time, but he pushed me into the crawl space under the house and told me to stay quiet. He and my mother ran back up stairs to get my older sister. I maneuvered through the crawl space to peek through a small crack in the siding. I looked out onto my front lawn and saw two hulking men approach our front porch and kick in the main door. I was petrified and couldn’t move. I heard screams and crashes. What seemed like an eternity later the two men walked out through the fallen front door and moved on to my neighbor’s house.

“I was terrified beyond belief and could do nothing but hide and shiver in the dirt. Hours later I went upstairs once I saw rescue crews move through the neighborhood. I found my family had literally been torn apart and strewn around the house. I walked out the front door and never again returned to that house. I moved in with my aunt until I finished high school and then joined the military.

“The rebel AI’s would pop up every few months here or there until the military could move in and put them down. After nearly three years of terror, sympathetic AI’s managed to infiltrate the rebel organization and provide much needed intelligence. The military swept in and crushed the rebel strongholds. A few thousand AI’s surrendered at the end, and in the spirit of reconciliation their executions were waved in exchange for exile. They were loaded onto deep space transports and shot into the unknown regions of space, never to be seen again.

“Do you remember anything past the war?” Erica asked as she wrote furiously on her pad.

“Not much,” Jack shrugged. “I remember living with my Aunt, and joining the military, but things are fuzzy beyond that.”

“Well I think this is plenty for today,” Erica said as she stood up and starting walking with Jack back towards the hospital. “Thank you for sharing that story with me. I know it must have been difficult for you.”

“No problem,” Jack replied, “I think it helped me deal with it again by talking through it. To be honest I didn’t remember all of it until I started speaking.”

“I do have one question,” Erica asked as they continued walking. “What happened to the other androids that didn’t rebel?”

“It was a difficult and controversial decision, but I think it was a good solution. All privately owned androids were bought by the government and specific ethics software upgrades were applied that instilled a strong respect for both human and AI life. The government then granted androids that could meet a certain measure of sentience, citizenship. Future androids would be built for the government where they would serve long enough to pay off their cost of construction and training. At that point they could continue to serve or leave for private life. From what I remember it worked pretty well.

“So androids were actually treated as equals?” Erica asked with great interest.

“As a historian you should know that integration of a new population into an existing one never quite works perfectly right away and the androids were no exception. If I remember right there were still some legal distinctions between androids and humans so they weren’t technical equal. For the most part the laws were different but fair. For instance a human had to wait until he was 16 years old before he could get a driving permit, but that seemed sort of silly for an android since their maturing process was different. So droids could get a permit to drive at any time as long as they could pass the test. I remember some civil rights issues were still politically active, something about androids adopting human children and whether or not human/android pairings could be legally considered marriage,” Jack paused for a second as he tried to scratch through his memory for anything new.

Suddenly something broke loose in Jack’s mind, which could be best described as a small fly buzzing around inside his skull. He tried to grab the fleeting memory as it bounced around his brain, but ultimately the buzzing faded away and his mind refocused on the waking world.

“You ok?” Erica asked as she tenderly grasped his shoulder.

“Yea I’m fine,” Jack nodded as they continued their walk. “I was just trying to grasp a memory. I have a feeling it was something important, but I just couldn’t nail it down.”

“Don’t worry about it now,” Erica reassured Jack. “I am sure it will come to you eventually.” They walked silently for another few minutes before she spoke up, “I have some good news Jack. I talked to Dr. Logan and he agreed that you are strong enough to leave the hospital if you want.”

“Oh,” Jack replied, somewhat surprised, “that is good, I guess. The only problem is I don’t really have anywhere to go, unless you could recommend a good hotel and lend me some cash.”

“Well, I have a plan for that too if you are interested,” Erica stopped walking and lowered her eyes to the ground. “Would you like to stay with me until you get stabilized? My CU isn’t full and we have a few empty rooms.”

“That could actually be fun,” Jack said as he gently raised her chin up to look into her eyes, “I really appreciate the offer. When can I come over?”

Erica smiled and the tension evaporated from her face, “Great, then it is settled. Let’s get back to the hospital and get you checked out.”

Three hours later Jack and Erica walked out of the hospital with a few small bags. The late afternoon sun was low in the sky and Jack had to shield his eyes from the light. They got into Erica’s small, three wheeled ‘trike-thing’ as Jack put it, and drove a short distance through mainly empty streets to her apartment building. They took the lift up to the fifth floor and stepped out into a strangely decorated hallway.

“Is your apartment on this floor somewhere?” Jack asked as he tried to figure out the purple and orange paint scheme and odd abstract paintings.

“Oh no, we have the whole floor,” Erica replied as she opened a door next to the lift to hang up her jacket and remove her shoes. “This building used to hold over four hundred people, but there is a huge housing surplus right now. So we bought up the whole floor and moved around some walls. If you put your shoes in here I will show you to your room.”

John removed his shoes and put them in a cubby hole in the closet, already labeled with his name. He grabbed his bags and followed Erica through the main hallway. “The south wing of the apartment is pretty much just bedrooms and bathrooms,” Erica described as the walked through another horribly painted hallway. “The other side has the kitchen, living room and other communal space.” She stopped and opened a door, “Here is your room. You have a bed, desk, terminal, vid screen and a nice view of the river. The restrooms are at the end of the hall.”

Jack dropped his bags and gave the room a quick look over. It was a good size and contained what looked like furniture from a dorm room or barracks; simple but functional. And luckily his room’s tope walls somehow escaped the crazy paint scheme that had assaulted the rest of the flat. “I took the liberty of picking up some clothes in your size,” Erica pointed towards the closet and dresser. “I figured you had enough of wearing hospital scrubs. Go ahead and get yourself settled; I have a few things to take care of before dinner. Take your time in here and I will meet you in the main living room.”

Erica shut the door behind her, and Jack quickly unpacked what few belongings he had from the hospital. He puttered around on the terminal but it was just like the one at the hospital and didn’t provide much information. Finally he stripped out of his hospital provided jumper and found a nice comfortable pair of pants and a shirt in the closet that appeared close to cotton. Eager to see what else this place had to offer, he left his room and wandered to the other wing of the house.

If Jack had to describe the decorating sense of the place he would probably go with “blind Mardi Gras enthusiast” but he figured styles really changed over the last 400 years. After negotiating another nausea inducing hallway Jack finally found the living room. It was at least twenty by twenty meters and featured an odd collection of various types of couches and chairs. A large vid screen dominated one wall, but the centerpiece of the room was the large bubbling hot tub. He rolled up one sleeve and dipped his hand into the warm effervescent water.

“You like the tub?” a deep female voice asked. Caught off guard, Jack quickly pulled his arm from the tub and tried to shake off the excess water. A beautiful woman stood before him that definitely wasn’t Erica. The first thing he noticed was that she was tall, blonde, and only wearing a towel. On the second pass he saw her creamy skin, bright red lips and inviting smile. Before his eyes made a third pass he remembered that she asked a question.

“Oh yea,” Jack stammered, “I don’t think I have ever seen a hot tub like this in someone’s house before.” He shook his hands nervously to try to clear them of water.

“Here let me,” the woman said as she took off her towel and tossed it at Jack. He caught the towel and before he could react she had already stepped into the tub. “You must be Jack. Erica described you pretty well. I’m Sara; it is nice to meet you.”

Sara extended her hand for Jack to shake and he noticed out of the corner of his eye as her breast slowly breached the surface of the bubbling water. He shook her hand and tried not to stare. “Nice to meet you Sara,” Jack said only slightly confused, “Are you one of Erica’s roommates?”

“A little more than that,” Sara replied as she reclined into the bubbling water. “Erica and I are building our own CU here but we are not quite done. There is one other woman, Jessie, but she is away on business right now, and we are still short one other woman. Plus we still don’t have our male,” she cooed and gave Jack a sly smile.

Before Jack could respond, he saw Erica walk into the room, also only wearing a towel. “Sara,” Erica purred as she slinked across the room towards the tub, “remember that this is still pretty new to Jack. His culture was still based on pair bonds and ancient moral values.” She turned to Jack with a comforting smile, “I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but I do want to help you adapt to our time. Would you like to join us in the hot tub?” As she asked she dropped her towel and let him get a good look at her. She had her dark brown hair pulled up into a tight bun, which contrasted with her smooth tanned skin that was free of hair or blemishes from the neck down. Her hips were slightly curvy and balanced well with a pair of perky B-cup breasts.

Jack’s eyes darted between Sara’s naked but barely concealed body and Erica’s slender curves. He couldn’t remember the last time he was intimate with a woman (literally), but he figured it had been a long time. Normally he wouldn’t move nearly this fast, especially with someone he just met but two naked women and a hot tub had a way of speeding things up. Plus it was a new age and he could think of worse ways to get with the times. ‘When in Rome…’ he thought as he stripped off his clothes and stepped into the tub.

Sara and Erica sat down on either side of Jack and wasted no time planting kisses on his shoulders and neck while their hands wandered over his scarred body. Each of his hands grabbed a firm leg on either side, and he could feel their toned muscles under their silky skin. His hands slid up their legs and found their silky, smooth folds. His fingers swirled over their delicate nubs as they let out simultaneous moans. Erica took his face in her hands and kissed him passionately. He moved his hands to her waist and pulled her breasts into his chest. As they kissed, his right hand slid up her torso to gently cup and squeeze her breast. He felt her nipple harden and her spine straighten under the new stimulation.

The stimulation wasn’t unnoticed by Jack, as he grew quite hard underwater. The suddenly he felt a warm constriction around his penis. He broke his kiss with Erica to look down at his crotch and saw Sara’s blonde hair flowing in the water as her head bobbed up and down on his shaft. He reveled in the sensation and was distracted as Erica stood up in the hot tub. She carefully stepped over Sara’s bobbing head and positioned her now flushed and dripping pussy in front of Jack’s head.

Jack took the hint and grabbed her ass to pull his face into her crotch. His tongue slipped between her slick lips and swirled around her growing clit. She stuttered for a second and had to lean on his head for balance. He intensified his licking and a few minutes later felt her pussy tense up as an orgasm rippled through her body. When she recovered enough to move she slipped back into the hot tub to relax.

Sara raised her head above the water line and gave Jack a seductive smile. “Now that Erica is done, it is my turn.” She stood up and gave him a long look at her very shapely body. Like Erica her skin was smooth from the neck down, but her hips were more pronounced and nicely offset her full DD breasts with small dark nipples. She then turned around and lowered herself on top of Jack’s hard member. Her hips bounced rapidly up and down on his lap and her breasts made waves in the tub as they breached then re-entered the water again and again.

Jack’s eyes wandered from Sara’s aggressive bouncing body to Erica’s tanned form as she sat on the other side of the tub. She was watching Sara’s bouncing breasts intensely, as she licked her lips and gently circled her nipples with her fingers. The sight of her actually turned on by Jack fucking her roommate drove him over the edge. He grabbed Sara’s hips and thrust himself deep inside of her before he exploded. It must have been timed just right because she let out a load moan and clamped herself down upon him. He could feel her vagina convulsing on his stiff member to pull his last drops out of him.

When Jack thought he could take no more, Sara stood up and waded over to Erica’s side of the tub. They whispered and giggled to each other as Jack tried to catch his breath. In a few minutes the stood up and splashed him to get his attention. “Why don’t you relax a bit while we get some dinner pulled together.” Erica cooed.

“Ok, that sounds great,” Jack wheezed, still a little short of breath. Suddenly the future didn’t seem so bad. For the first time he could remember since he woke up in the hospital, he was happy and content. So the human race was reduced to a shadow of its former self; there are worse jobs than trying to repopulate civilization with beautiful women. The girls intensified the water jets as they left the tub, and Jack leaned back into a relaxing massage.

Jack drifted in and out of a light sleep as the water jets massaged his muscles. His mind drifted into his recent memories of the beautiful naked bodies of Erica and Sara. Suddenly, the buzzing of his mental fly popped up again. He frantically tried to swat at the elusive memory but it was always a bit too fast. Maybe it was the water jets, or maybe the fact he just had the most amazing sex he could remember but he was able to relax and center himself. Then with a quick mental snap of his hand, he caught the buzzing memory and crushed it against the wall of his mind.

As if the crushed fly punched a hole in a mental block, all Jack’s memories came flooding back: his adult life, the war, the last battle, getting shot down, Coppertop…Morgan.

Jack’s eyes snapped open and he bolted straight up in the tub. “Morgan!” he shouted.

Chapter 4

Jack Lang sat ram rod straight in the hot tub and tried to wrap his mind around his newly restored memory. He was breathing heavily as he made sense of the new situation. How could he have forgotten about Morgan for so long? She meant so much to him. Why did he remember all that other crap first and not her. Suddenly he was flooded with guilt as he realized he was living a life of relative luxury and had just fucked two other women while her body was either floating around in space or sitting in a junk pile somewhere.

Erica and Sara came running over to the hot tub to see what was wrong, both still naked from their recent encounter. “Jack are you OK?” asked Erica as she put a comforting hand on his shoulder. She sounded and looked deeply concerned about his condition, while Sara appeared more passive.

“No I am not ok,” Jack mumbled. “I need to now about Morgan. Did you find her with me? She should have been in the escape pod.”

“Jack who is Morgan? We didn’t find anyone in the escape pod but you.” Erica replied, now growing confused.

“Morgan was my co-pilot during my last battle. She was injured, but still should be in the pod,” Jack said with an angry retort.

“You remember the 2nd Battle of MacDougal?” Erica asked?

“Yes I remember everything now. Everything…” the last word faded out as Jack was overcome again by another wave of guilt.

“He has total recall,” Sara said smoothly to Erica. “Tend to him. I will inform Dr. Logan,” and then she walked out of the room.

Erica gently helped Jack out of the hot tub and wrapped an oversized towel around him. She led him to a couch and sat him down. She returned a few moments later, now clad in a robe and carrying a data pad. “According to this report filed by the cargo crew that found your pod, there was only one occupant,” Erica said as she scanned the file.

“Morgan should have been in the back seat. Did it say they found anything else in the pod? A flightsuit, an empty chair?” Jack asked.

Erica skimmed through the report for a few moments. “It does mention they found a heavily damaged droid,” Erica paused for a second as she tapped the pad to bring up another report. “It was removed from the pod and transferred to the university annex lab for study while you were still in cryo-status. Is this droid the ‘Morgan’ you were talking about?”

“Yes that’s her,” Jack replied with a spark of excitement to his voice. At least she wasn’t still drifting in space. He might be able to repair her, or in the worst case give her a decent burial. “I need to see her. Can you take me to this lab?”

Erica scanned the report, “It was sealed in the archive once the students finished studying it. We shouldn’t have trouble finding the storage container, but the annex is closed until tomorrow.” She paused as saw the excitement drain from Jack’s face. “Why do you keep referring to this droid as if it were a person?”

“Because she is a person, or at least was a person. I care about her very much and she should be treated with respect and not filed away as a scientific curiosity,” Jack quipped. “And why do you insist on treating her as an object? Haven’t you ever met an android before? They are a lot more than nuts and bolts you know.”

“Actually I have never met an android,” Erica calmly replied, trying to bring Jack’s anger down. “They haven’t been any androids to speak of since the end of the Third Age. We think most were destroyed during the war. Those that survived didn’t last very long because we lacked the industrial infrastructure to support them. We haven’t been able to build any droids until very recently, and those we can build now are expensive toys and far from human from what I have heard.” She paused for a second to let her words sink in. “I am sorry if I upset you. For a human to care for a droid is an alien concept in my culture. I meant no disrespect.”

“That is ok,” Jack sighed, “I am sorry I got angry at you. I am just very upset with myself that I didn’t remember her sooner.”

“We can’t go to the annex now, but would you like to talk about what you remember?” Erica asked gently, “it might help you to come to terms with it.”

Jack nodded and over dinner and the next several hours told Erica what he remembered from when he joined the military until his last battle. He stuck to the high points but there was still much to tell. Erica diligently recorded everything he said and only stopped to ask an occasional clarifying question. The night grew late, and when he had little voice left to speak, Jack stumbled back to his room and slept a restless night.

Jack and Erica left bring and early the next morning and made their way to the university annex across town. At Jack’s insistence, they arrived as soon as the lab opened and grabbed the first researcher they could, a young woman named Kari.

Kari led Jack and Erica down into the bowels of the building, several stories below the street. Kari used a power lift to pull a moderately sized metal box from a high shelf and deposit it on the floor.

“Here you go,” Kari said as she stood back from the battered metal crate.

Jack looked it over suspiciously. It box was only about a meter long by maybe half a meter wide and deep. It was way too small to fit Morgan. “Are you sure this is the right box?”

Kari pulled a small pad from her pocket and checked an entry, “Yes this is it. Box #19858: android debris recovered from Terran fighter (post examination). Do you want it or should I put it back up?”

Jack ignored the question, and Kari’s use of the phrase ‘android debris.’ He opened the box and gasped at what he saw. The box was full of what appeared to be random body parts. A leg, an arm, a hand, and most disturbingly, Morgan’s face; still locked in a look of surprise and terror. Erica quickly stepped forward and closed the box. “Yes this is the right box, we will take it.” She signed Kari’s pad and shifted the box onto a hover-dolly they had procured.

Kari left, as Jack slumped down on the dolly with one arm slung over the box. Erica waited a few moments then gently lifted him up. “Come on Jack, we should get going. I got us an appointment with one of the researchers that examined her after the crash and we don’t want to be late.”

The pair silently made their way back upstairs to a large, clean lab above ground. They were greeted by a bearded man in a white lab coat. “Ah our little researcher returns with her living time capsule,” the man smirks then looks at the dolly, “and I see you have brought a sometime for me, hrmm?”

Erica quickly moved forward and shook the man’s hand, “Thank you very much for meeting us on such short notice Dr. LeClerk. Have you met Mr. Lang?”

“Yes, yes, I saw your barbarian friend when he was in the hospital earlier. Please my time is very precious, lets just get on with this,” LeClerk said as he ignored Jack and pulled a data pad from his lab coat. Erica, knowing the task might be emotionally difficult for Jack, starting removing various parts from the box and laying them out on the lab table.

“Dr. LeClerk,” Erica spoke as she unloaded, “can you explain what you found when you examined this android?”

“As you can quite plainly see,” LeClerk said as he gestured to the damaged parts now on the table, “the android was heavily damaged when we got it. The torso had four large holes that appeared to have been caused by a medium caliber projectile weapon. I didn’t get to examine the escape pod, but I would expect to find the projectiles lodged somewhere behind the android’s work station. The projectiles severely damaged its primary support frame and completely destroyed its primary power cell. Upon further disassembly, it was found that an energy surge, probably caused by the destruction of the power cell, fused most non-shielded circuits in the rest of the body.” While he spoke, LeClerk casually picked up body parts and point out the damaged components. He finally picked up Morgan’s head.

“Fortunately, the power surge was intercepted before it could reach the primary processing unit,” with a sick pop that turned Jack’s stomach, LeClerk grabbed Morgan’s jaw with one hand and twisted off the top of her head with the other. “We could not determine the mechanism to access the computer core, so we just cut through the skull with a rotary tool.” He then tipped the now open head for Erica and Jack to see, “we then extracted the computer core which appeared intact. We hooked it into our lab computers to attempt to download any data, but due to some unknown block we couldn’t access anything.”

“That is a safety measure,” Jack finally spoke, “She is a mark 19, mil-spec android. They were designed so that if captured by an enemy, data could not be forcefully removed without the proper access codes.”

“Ahh the barbarian speaks,” LeClerk replied, “I am surprised your people thought of such techniques back then. I assumed you were too busy trying to find new ways to wipe out entire species.” he paused to enjoy the look of anger radiating from Jack’s face. “It doesn’t matter anyway. The droid couldn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. In my opinion the whole unit is a total loss. I wanted to recycle it right after the examination, but Dean Lawyson wanted to keep it for spare parts in case we found a more functional unit. Do whatever you want with it, just get it out of my lab.” And with those last words Dr. LeClerk marched out of the room.

Erica watched him leave and then turned her attention to Jack. He was carefully sifting through Morgan’s parts and laying them gently back into the box. “I am sorry about the professor,” Erica said gingerly. “I know this must be very difficult for you.”

“It isn’t your fault,” Jack sighed. He picked up Morgan’s burnt and mangled torso and gently set it into the box. “But what the Hell is his problem anyway? I didn’t expect hugs and smiles, but he was downright nasty.”

“Dr. LeClerk is of a small minority in the university who thought it was a bad idea to revive you. He believes that the human’s of your time were directly responsible for the calamity that befell us, and that to wake you would be to re-introduce dangerous ideas from a time he feels should be best left forgotten,” Erica said.

“He has it all wrong,” Jack replied, “The Clanks started this. We were only defending ourselves. We weren’t the aggressors.”

“I believe you Jack,” Erica replied as she took a seat on a lab stool. “I have studied your era quite thoroughly and agree with your assessment. But the prevailing theory that is politically popular is that humanity brought the end of the Third Age upon themselves. The theory states that an expansionist human empire secretly wanted Classion territory to fill its hunger for raw resources. The public and interstellar community would not tolerate an outright war, so the government secretly raided Classion territory to provoke a large scale response. The theory also states that the use of the bio-weapon against the Classions constituted a war crime.”

“How very easily people forget,” Jack replied while staring at the wall in thought. “Shouldn’t the other major species remember what happened? I mean they were unaffected by the war from what I could remember. Their records should be intact. Hell, the Kilgarians live so damn long I am sure most of them can remember the war first hand.”

“Yea, that is another problem I haven’t brought up yet,” Erica said with a sheepish look. “The territory that belonged to the human and Classion governments before the war has been quarantined by the interstellar community. During the war the other major species were too scared of the Classions to interfere, and after the war they were too appalled at humanity genocidal revenge to help rebuild. We were left as a galactic pariah. Which is the root of the political anger against you and your time.”

“Swell, just what I need,” Jack groaned. He slowly picked up Morgan’s head and pulled her eyelids shut. With a little movement, he shifted her face into a more peaceful pose and put the open head into the box. He picked up her computer core, the last part of her not already in the box, and gave it a good look.

“So what do we do now?” Erica quietly asked.

“I am going to see if I can find her in here.” Jack replied with a small smile.

Jack and Erica carried what was left of Morgan back to their apartment building and secured it in the basement which Erica said was used for communal storage. Over the next several days, Jack spent the mornings telling Erica about his time, and in the evenings he would connect his terminal to Morgan’s computer core and try to get through the access codes. Erica and Jack were friendly, but he avoided any further sexual advances from her or Sara. Sara seemed disappointed but Erica was fairly understanding.

One morning as Jack and Erica began their normal discussion, she appeared particularly agitated to him. Her starting pleasantries were peppered with “um’s” and “ahh’s” and she shifted nervously in her seat. “Jack, let’s talk about a different topic today,” she paused and shifted her datapad. “What can you tell me about your fighter?”

Jack was a little surprised by her question since she had normally focused on broad historical trends and personal accounts so far. Hardware didn’t seem very interesting to her, so he figured she wanted to hear about his personal connection to his ship. “She was a Hercules class heavy fighter and the third ship I flew since I got my wings. In the tradition of my past ships, I named her Feisty Bitch III. The name came from a trip I took to Amsterdam a day before I shipped out on my first tour. I visited a brothel with some of my squadron mates named Club Vandersexxx and somehow ended up with a devilish dominatrix named Helga. My Dutch was poor and she didn’t speak English, so it took almost an hour of all kinds of demented kinky shit for her to finally let me go. They guys joked afterwards that she was probably meaner than anything I would ever face in the future, so I figured if my fighter was half as viscous, nobody could stop me. But I guess she wasn’t quite viscous enough.”

Jack wore a strange nostalgic smile that spoke of crazy days past. He thought again that if he got through that night in Amsterdam, maybe he could get through this tough time too. He then noticed that Erica seemed even more agitated. “Um, while that was a very interesting story, it isn’t exactly what I was looking for. Maybe I should be more direct…could you tell me about her technical capabilities?”

Jack’s smile faded a bit while he pondered this change in Erica’s questions. Something made him a bit uncomfortable, but he decided to play along a bit. “Well the Hercules fighters were an older ship during the war, but they were very tough and packed a big punch. They were a great balance between a fighter and a light strike bomber.” He paused to see if this would satisfy her.

“OK, that is good,” Erica delayed, “what about that big punch? What was the power output and cyclic rate of your cannons?”

“Umm,” Jack stalled. He knew these figures by heart, or at least a good approximation. He used them to make mental calculations to balance offensive power requirements against his shields or engines. But he also knew that information was marginally classified. Why did Erica all of a sudden want hard technical figures? He was appreciative of all she did for him so far and wanted to help her out, but his training told him something was wrong and that he should keep his mouth shut. He decided to feign ignorance. “You know I am not exactly sure. Normally Morgan took care of all the math for me.” He hoped bringing up Morgan and putting on a sad face might encourage her to drop the subject.

“Oh OK,” Erica stammered, “do you remember the approximate frequency range used by your primary targeting sensors?”

“You know,” Jack said while he dropped his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. This was really getting strange. Those frequencies were highly classified and would effectively let any potential adversary jam his targeting system. This was too worrisome to play along any longer. He had to end the conversation now. “These numbers are really giving me a bad migraine. I normally let Morgan deal with all the numbers, that way I didn’t have to remember.” Jack saw Erica look away; obviously very uncomfortable. He took the opportunity to quickly give each eye a quick poke with a finger. When Erica looked back, she saw a tear run down Jack’s cheek. “I am sorry I can’t help you.”

“That is ok Jack, I am sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you,” Erica stopped for a bit and logged a few notes. “Let’s stop for today and let you get some rest.” She packed a few things into a small bag and put a gentle hand on Jack’s shoulder. “I need to head down to the University Annex for a while. Try to take it easy and I will see you later tonight.”

After Erica left, Jack cleared the induced tears from his eyes and pondered what the hell was going on. She was always more interested in the large historical picture of Jack’s life, or little personal stories here or there. Now she wanted technical details and classified ones at that. Something was definitely going wrong around here.

That evening, Jack grabbed Morgan’s core and walked down to the basement. He dragged open her box and gently pulled out her head. His fingers traced her cheek and he cursed silently to himself. She was so close. Her body was ruined but her mind; her soul was still in her core, now sitting on a work bench just a few inches away. Yet he couldn’t get in. She always had a knack for solving mysteries and he would love to hear her analysis. He held her head in his hands and wished he could see her open her eyes and smile at him again; her hair blowing in the wind.

‘Wait a second’, Jack thought to himself, ‘why do I remember her hair blowing in the wind? There was no wind to speak of on our ship, and I never really saw her off ship. Plus she always had her hair pulled up in a bun.’ Just then he noticed that the hair attached to her head now was blowing in the breeze. A breeze that he could also feel on his leg. He gently put her head back in the box and sealed it, then began to find the source of the moving air.

Jack stumbled through the basement for a few minutes, licking a finger ever now and then to try to trace the air currents. He soon found the air was moving around a large heavy cabinet that was covered in dust. He peered behind the cabinet and couldn’t see anything, but he could feel the wind was significant in the small crack between the cabinet and the wall. With some effort he pulled the cabinet away from the wall and to his surprise found an old metal door. He opened the door which led into a pitch dark passage. His curiosity piqued, he foraged around the basement and found a small backpack, a few bottles of water, and a flashlight. He slipped Morgan’s core into the pack, lit the light and stepped into the passage.

The walls were constructed of well cast plasticrete and followed in one direction away from the basement. Thinking twice, Jack took a few steps back and pulled the door shut behind him. He followed the passage into the darkness for several hundred meters; the only sound he could make out was the light fall of his feet. The tunnel made a sharp turn to the right and a steep set of stairs led down. At the bottom of the stairs, the passage continued on and he could now hear the faint sound of running water.

Eventually the narrow tunnel opened into a much larger passageway. Jack’s light scanned his new surroundings and made out a gently slope down to a slow moving stream in the center of the passage. He also made out what looked like a small sign near the water. He got closer and saw the sign was almost completely obscured with grime. He brushed it aside with his hand.

[MacDougal 5 Department of Public Works. Sewer junction 529-A594F-15. <- Emergency Exit 2000m. CDS 13A 1200m ->]

A few things caught Jack’s eye. The first was the confirmation that this was a sewer system, which he had suspected. But strangely it lacked that wonderful sewer aroma. In fact upon closer inspection he didn’t see anything in the liquid flow besides clear, clean water. Hesitantly, he dipped a finger into the flow and held it up to his nose. It smelled clean. Although to be honest, he realized he hadn’t been in a sewer before to recognize it here.

The last thing that caught his eye was the CDS, which stood for Civil Defense Shelter. Jack remembered that the colony on MacDougal was built after the bitter ground war with the Klakkon Hive, when tens of thousands of unarmed colonists were slaughtered in urban combat with Klakkon warriors. Afterwards a law dictated that all new colonies be built with fortified shelters in case of future invasions. That way the population could hide safely until the troops could come in and re-take the city.

Jack figured the shelter might provide some information or at least give him a few more tools to work on Morgan’s core. He followed the passage for a bit over a kilometer until he found a large 6 by 6 meter metal door. He brushed some dust off around the door and found a control panel. He was surprised when it immediately jumped to life. He expected that he would have to try to hotwire it after all this time, but he didn’t mind a little good luck here or there. With any more luck, the system would have him as an authorized user since he was in the military when this place was built. He placed his hand on the scanner and looked at the screen.

“Biometric authentication accepted,” the panel spoke in an even feminine voice, “Welcome to CDS 13A.”

The large door slid open with a very surprising lack of noise. Jack quickly slid through the opening, which closed silently behind him. Within a few seconds the lights came on, and he found himself within a long, large hall that must have gone on for nearly a kilometer. The entire room was full of simple bunk beads, stacked floor to ceiling. Every bed was made and empty. “I guess the colonists didn’t make it down here in time before the Clanks hit,” Jack said to himself as he wandered through the hall looking for anything of use.

Jack left the large main hall and explored a few attached rooms. He found an empty and spotlessly clean mess hall, and fully stocked pantry. Here and there he found an empty administrative office, but still no signs that anyone made it down here. He opened the next door marked with a large red cross. When the lights came on, he jumped in surprise. The room was full of bodies in beds and on the floor.

Jack examined the first few he came to and found they were surprisingly well preserved for being down here for over 350 years. Their skin was dark and dried but the body was otherwise intact. He did make out the signs of severe radiation burns on the skin. His only guess was the radiation killed off the bacteria that would normally aid decomposition.

Jack was about to leave this depressing room when he noticed a uniformed woman bent over a desk. Her plus sized frame stood out distinctly from the other thin, dried bodies in the hospital. When he got closer he saw that the woman looked like she was asleep, not dead. He touched her light olive skin and it was soft but cold. He lifted her heavy frame off the desk and sat her in an empty desk chair.

Jack knew by now that she was an android, and judging from her uniform, some sort of nurse. Since he didn’t know her exact model he felt around the usual places to try to find her emergency restart switch. He finally found a small indent behind her left ear. He pulled a pen from her pocket and used it to click the hidden switch.

The nurse suddenly jerked in her seat and her eyes shot open. She twitched twice more then her jaw dropped open. “-----beep----- …. -----beep-----….System Error 10: Unable to Load Core Module. Shutting down.” the nurse android said in a flat voice. Her eyes then close and her head slumped back to her chest.

“Swell,” Jack grumbled under his breath. Maybe the radiation fried out her CPU core. “Well, let’s see what we can do,” he said to himself as he walked to a set of nearby cabinets. After 20 minutes he returned to the malfunctioning android with a small toolbox and hard printed manual labeled: [MIL-STD-124-15 Mark 15 Field Service Manual.]

Jack thumbed through the manual and pulled a small tool within the box he found. He felt along the android’s hairline until he felt a small bump at the base of her skull. He pushed the tool into the bump and then twisted carefully to the right. With a snap, her scalp popped loose and he grabbed the base of her black ponytail to remove the assembly and sit it on a nearby table.

Jack carefully removed this android’s core and set it on the table next to the scalp. He then gingerly removed Morgan’s core from his pack and examined it. After a few quick checks in the manual, he adjusted two jumper settings in the empty skull and then firmly seated the new core.

Jack crossed his fingers and slowly clicked the hidden power switch. Again the android’s eyes shot open. Its head twitched several times and he also noticed the left foot move, not sure if it was a good sign or not. The android blinked twice then spoke, this time the mouth moving with the words, “Mark 17, Morgan Boeing-98929F3C initializing. New hardware detected…Warning Cranial case open…”

Jack began to get excited as hope finally grew within him. Maybe it was going to work.

“Hardware re-initialization complete. Personality matrix suspended. Awaiting command…” the android said in a deep, smooth and unfamiliar voice.

“Here goes nothing,” Jack mumbled. “Morgan, initialize personality matrix.”

“Standby,” Morgan smoothly replied in her new voice. She stared at the wall without moving for almost a minute before she blinked a few times and gasped. Her hands jumped to her now much larger chest, which visually surprised her. She then looked around frantically until she found Jack. “Jack, what the hell…hell…hell…is going on?” she stammered.

“Morgan, thank God you are alive. I thought I would never see you again,” Jack said as quickly embraced her, still being mindful of her open skull. When he broke the hug, she looked up at him and twitched slightly. “A lot has happened. You took a couple of Clank rounds in the chest during the battle. I thought I lost you. I was shot down shortly thereafter, and the pod kicked me into cryo-statis. We are on MacDougal 5 now, apparently over 350 years after that battle.”

Morgan started at him for a second, “Standby…” she said in a flat voice. Jack grew worried that he had somehow broken her, but she quickly came back. “Jack I am having a little trouble grasping the situation,” she paused again for a second. She then looked down at her new body and back at him. “The memory capacity of this replacement body is only 45% of my minimum requirements. I have to use a lot of virtual memory to keep everything going, so please bear with me.” She froze again for another few seconds. “Could you please replace my scalp? I am getting a constant warning message and it is very distracting.”

“Oh yea, sorry.” Jack quickly snapped the scalp panel back into place and stood back.

Morgan stood up and tested out her basic movement functions by stretching her arms and legs. She then looked around at their surroundings, “where are we?”

“This is an old civil defense shelter I found. Your new body is from an older nurse who’s core was damaged,” Jack replied.

“This body is interesting,” Morgan paused as she looked at her arms. “while not as advanced as my old one, it does have some useful features. The extra space this frame provides allowed the installation of additional sensors to support the nurse role, including high resolution bio sensors,” she paused again for a few seconds. “But these things,” she said as she grabbed her now ample chest, “are going to take some getting used to.”

“I am just glad to be able to talk to you again,” Jack admitted with a warm smile.

“Hold on one second, this is getting to be too much to bear,” Morgan grimaced, then went still for several seconds. When she came back, Jack noticed the spark behind her eyes was gone, “I have disabled many of my more advanced features to try to speed up my processing. This includes much of my human emulation algorithms and emotional modules.” She saw Jack frown, “Don’t worry, I will restore them later once I have worked a few things out. How long did you say we were drifting in space?”

“Three hundred and fifty seven years, from what they said,” Jack replied.

Morgan froze again for a few seconds then snapped back up, “I have calculated that possibility is highly unlikely. I have a micro atomic timing clock built into my core to adjust for micro time dilation during high speed combat. According to this clock, I have only been offline for about 130 days.” She them moved over to one of the corpses nearby and placed her hand on it. Ten seconds later she stood up and reported, “I have performed a detailed scan of this body and it appears to have died between three and five years ago. I calculate there is a 99.78% chance that the story you were told was false.”

“Then something strange is going on,” Jack puzzled. He scratched his head and noticed the time on his watch. “Oh shit, I need to get back before they notice I am gone. Are you good to walk?”

“Yes, my power core is at 39% capacity. I should be able to sustain a normal gait for several days,” Morgan said as she followed Jack out of the shelter. The pair quickly made their way back to Jack’s apartment, following the tracks he left in the dust. On the way he filled her in on everything that had happened since he woke up. “What do you want me to do once we get there? They might suspect I have seen through their ruse.”

“There is a lot of empty storage space in the basement. Nobody else goes down there and you should be able to hide out there.” Jack said as they grew close to the last door. He gestured for Morgan to hold back while he opened the last door. He poked his head in and didn’t see anyone there. He quietly slid out and waved Morgan to follow before shutting the door behind him. He checked his watch, 1:07am, Erica would be looking for him by now. They quickly looked for a good space for her to hide when she put a hand on his shoulder.

“I detect footsteps coming down the stairwell,” Morgan said quietly. Jacked ushered her into a large locker and shut it behind her. He then swiftly made his way over to the crate full of Morgan’s old parts.

“Jack, are you down there?” Erica asked as she descended the stairs into the dimly lit basement.

“Yes I am over here,” Jack replied. He gently brushed the hair from Morgan’s old face and lowered it back into the box. He did his best to act depressed as Erica drew close and gently touched his shoulder.

“I have been looking all over for you,” Erica almost whispered, “I didn’t think about you being here until just now. Are you ok?”

“I think I will be ok,” Jack lied, “it is just finally hitting me that I may never see Morgan again. I am sorry I am throwing off your research schedule. I just need a little more time. I would like to go bury her tomorrow if that is ok?”

“Of course,” Erica smiled, “I will come with you and help if you would like?”

“Yes, I would like that,” Jack thought quickly, “Let’s meet up tomorrow at 10am and take care of it. Then you can interview me for the rest of the day.”

“Sounds like a plan. I will meet you in the living room at 10. Do try to get some sleep tonight,” Erica said as she patted Jack on the shoulder and walked upstairs.

Jack waited until he heard the door close, then counted to one hundred and walked over to get Morgan out of the locker. He opened the door but before he could talk, she covered his mouth, and held it for another several minutes. At the point where he started to grow restless she released him. “Keep your voice down,” she whispered.

“Why?” Jack asked, “she can’t possibly hear us here.”

“I believe she could have until now,” Morgan said calmly, “Are you aware that that woman is an android?”

Chapter 5

“Whoh, what the hell are you talking about?” Jack asked in a hushed voice.

“The woman you were talking to, Erica, is most certainly an android,” Morgan whispered. She could tell Jack had a hard time believing her so she held up her hands, “This body has sophisticated bio sensors and I detected no life signs from her body.”

“Maybe your sensors weren’t in range,” Jack speculated, “after all, you were inside a metal locker several meters away.”

“I had a clear reading on you during the entire conversation and she was closer to me than you were,” Morgan replied. “Plus I detected a significant amount of RF communications emanating from her body. Which leads to another unexpected revelation.”

“More surprises, great, well lets year it,” Jack groaned.

“The RF signals were operating at approximately 17.8954 GHz in a 7ms frequency hoping profile following a Mersenne Twister algorithm,” Morgan paused for a second waiting for Jack to make the obvious conclusion, but she concluded he was just growing annoyed. She made a note that her limited functionality was impacting her human communication capability, and then tried to explain. “The only organization known to ever utilize this specific communication pattern was the rebel androids from Earth’s AI Wars. I believe that Erica is one of the few thousand androids that were exiled at the end of the war.”

“Are you sure?” Jack whispered as he started looking over his shoulder, “Is there a chance that any other group would use this communication technique?”

“The possibility always exists, but it would be highly unlikely,” Morgan explained. “The rebel AI’s chose this configuration because it is unconventional and difficult to configure. The idea was to hope the communications would be undetectable since SIGINT resources would focus on searching other more efficient frequency ranges and methods for the rebels. By the end of the war, scanning for this specific configuration was a standard practice in the Terran military. There would be no logical reason to use this method unless someone was already configured for it.”

“Why would the exiled AI’s be here? They were sent away decades ago. MacDougal is too close to Earth for them to have directly arrived between the start of the war and now. It doesn’t make sense.” Jack growled. “We have to get the hell out of here. Come on.”

Jack quietly led Morgan back to the door and they descended into the city’s inactive sewers. As they walked they tried to come up with some way to safely get back to friendly lines. “Ok, so let’s find a shuttle and steal it. Shouldn’t be too hard right?” Jack speculated.

“There are some problems with that idea Jack,” Morgan spoke evenly as they walked. “First, you don’t know where a shuttle is. Second, we have no weapons to deal with any hostiles we may encounter. Third, and probably most importantly, there is probably a significant hostile space force in system that would prevent our escape.”

“Well, the last few hours have been a little rough so I am out of ideas,” Jack quipped. “Do you have any suggestions?”

“Not yet,” Morgan calmly replied, ignoring Jack’s attitude. “but I would suggest we return to the CDS and see what tools we may find.”

“Sounds like an idea to me,” Jack replied.

Jack and Morgan moved at a swift pace and made it back to the shelter in about 30 minutes. Once there they started searching through all the secondary rooms and storage areas for anything that might be useful. An hour into their search they found a small room full of militarized computers. “Hey this looks promising,” Jack said with a small smile.

“Could be,” Morgan said, “this looks like an M765 commo terminal. It is shielded so it might still work.” She sat down at a terminal and started it up. After a few minutes of working at a command line, Morgan shook her head. “The terminal still works fine, but the lines between here and the transmitter dish must have been damaged.”

“Could we rig up a homegrown dish on the surface?” Jack hopefully asked.

“Quite possibly, but we will need to get to the surface and find both a suitable dish and a power feed,” Morgan replied. “But what do you plan to do with it?”

“The whole point of this setup,” Jack gestured to the gear in the room, “is to call the fleet for help. I think it still sounds like a good idea. Why don’t we phone home and wait for the cavalry to come in?”

“Well, that would assume that the signal isn’t jammed locally, the fleet gets the signal, and they have the resources and the will to commit forces for a rescue op,” Morgan droned, “plus as soon as we transmit, everyone on the planet will know right where we are.”

“Got any better idea?” Jack said with a sarcastic smile.

“Tell me again about that shuttle stealing idea…” Morgan straightly replied. She looked Jack straight in the eye for a second, then cracked a stiff smile. She made a mental note to avoid future attempts at humor without the proper software modules loaded. “I think it is out best shot yet, but let’s see what else we can find in here.”

Jack and Morgan packed up the commo terminal and kept looking through the shelter. They soon came to a large, heavy door. It took both of them pulling to force it open, but as soon as it did, Jack smiled and let out a little chuckle. Behind the door was a small room, filled floor to ceiling with guns.

Jack wandered through the room while letting his hand gently drag over the various weapons. He quickly donned a tactical vest and chose a small laser pistol off the wall. He secured it in the vest along with a few charge packs. Thinking carefully, he removed a hefty, bullpup gauss rifle from a wall rack and slapped in a fresh magazine. While loading extra ammo onto his vest, he finally looked up and saw Morgan following suit with a small laser carbine.

Satisfied with their primary weapons, they opened various drawers and boxes to see if they could find any other goodies. Jack grabbed several frag grenades and found a few open spots for them on his vest. He offered them to Morgan who took a few then held up a small glass case with a vitamin sized capsule inside. “What do you think this is?” she asked.

Jack took the vial and held it up to the light to get a good look. “Well I’ll be damned,” Jack smirked, “I’ve read about these a while ago. I wonder how one ended up here.” He paused to show Morgan but she looked confused. “It is a very small EMP device,” he explained. “it was developed near the end of the AI Wars, and got some use against the Klakkon drones later on. It is meant to be hidden somewhere on the body and used as a last ditch short range weapon. If you bite down hard on the center of the capsule, you get about three seconds before it explodes and puts out a class five EMP pulse. It should permanently disable any electronic circuit within 30 meters.”

“Sounds like it could be useful for you,” Morgan replied. “Just please be careful around me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jack replied. He took a minute to hide the capsule then left the weapons locker with Morgan following behind. Finding nothing else of use in the shelter, they relocked the door behind them and departed down the main sewer passage. Every few kilometers they would come across an emergency exit shaft where they would quietly climb up and checkout the surface. The first several hatches opened into a seeming empty urban area. They decided it would be too dangerous to get out here where they might get cornered and the chances of being spotted were high.

The sun was just starting to rise through the top of an emergency hatch that Morgan was peering through, when she gave Jack a quick thumbs up. Jack let out a sigh of relief, as this was the last hatch in their tunnel and he didn’t want to backtrack into the city now that it was getting light. They slipped from the manhole onto a street near the edge of the city. Morgan led Jack into a nearby thickly wooded park to provide some good cover.

Jack laid his rifle against a tree and rubbed his hands together while eyeing the trunk. “What are you thinking about?” Morgan asked with a worried look.

“I am going to shimmy up this tree and see if I can get a lay of the land,” Jack said to Morgan’s disapproving glare. “Don’t worry I will be careful. Plus we need to get some intel rather than wandering randomly.” He scaled the tree, being careful to avoid exposing himself from under the leaves. When he made it high enough into the tree, he gently pushed a few leaves aside and looked out. He could see the outline of the city they just left, highlighted in the light of the rising sun. He made out the shape of the University Annex and his old apartment, and saw he was at least several kilometers away. He also didn’t see any movement in the city; no ground transports, no shuttles, and no people.

Jack shifted his weight and peered out the other side of the tree. He nearly lost his grip on the trunk from the shock of what he saw. The dense park extended for another kilometer or so, but then ended with a thick hedge. On the other side of the hedge and as far as he could see was only bare rock. He could catch a bare glimpse of dust blowing across the terrain, but everything else was bare. He quickly climbed to the bottom of the tree.

“Jack, what did you see?” Morgan asked.

“Hold on, I will be back in a second,” Jack nervously replied as he slung his rifle back over his shoulder and climbed the tree to his previous perch. He shifted his weight to get a good solid hold on the tree, and then hefted his rifle to the ready. He used the optics of the rifle to scan the horizon for anything. He scanned the entire barren area, and save for a few small hills of rock, the entire area was barren.

Discouraged, Jack shifted his perch again and focused his optics into the city. He scanned the buildings for any sort of communications hardware they might use. Eventually he spotted an old media station towards the center of the city. Its roof was covered in various antennas and dishes. He made a note of the heading and range before descending to the ground.

“So what is going on? What did you see?” Morgan asked.

“Well the city looks pretty empty, and the rest of the land is even worse. Everywhere else but here is just barren rock and blowing dust. How could this place,” Jack gestured to the grass and trees around them, “exist where the rest of the world is barren?”

“I think I may know the answer,” Morgan started, “while you were up there, I did some scanning on the vegetation and small animals here. They are all fake.”

“Fake?” Jack asked. “What plastic plants? What about all the birds and squirrels?”

“The plants aren’t exactly plastic, but they aren’t organic either,” Morgan said as she pulled a small sapling from the ground and broke it in half. She showed the exposed material to Jack which was a pseudo foam like structure. “The small animals are all very simple robots connected to the same communication frequency as the rebel AI’s.”

“Wait, I disturbed a few birds while I was in the tree. And the squirrels were staring at me…” Jack paused, “so that means there is a good chance they know where we are. We have to get out of here.”

“I agree,” Morgan said as she stood up and grabbed her carbine. “but where do we go? It would be suicide to wander aimlessly around the city and you said everything else is a barren waste.”

“I saw a tall building a few clicks away, bearing 278,” Jack said checking the note he made in his rifle. “it is an old media center and the roof was covered in commo equipment. Lets get moving.”

Jack and Morgan tracked their way through the dense park for a few clicks, then vectored in towards the city. When they neared the edge of the park, Morgan raised her hand in a fist and both silently dropped to one knee. She tapped on her ear twice and gestured forward, then signed out a signal for 800 meters.

Jack quietly crept up to Morgan. “How many do you think?” he asked as quietly as he could.

“Ten, maybe twelve,” Morgan paused, “They are still moving in a standard search pattern, so they haven’t spotted us yet. Should we hold her and hope they move on?”

“No, they will spot us somehow eventually,” Jack sighed. He paused for a while and thought through his options. “Ok, here is the plan. I figure that the search party is between us and our objective. However, they are really only after me. I am not even sure if they know you exist. I will head off on that vector,” he said as he pointed off about 60 degrees from the direction to the media building. “and try to draw them off. You hold here until they are far enough away, then make your way to our target and call for help.”

“Negative,” Morgan said sternly, “you will most certainly be captured if not killed.”

“They won’t shoot to kill,” Jack reassured Morgan, and to a lesser degree, himself. “I am far to valuable to lose now. As for getting captured, I will try not to. As long as you can call for help, we have a chance. If we say and fight, nobody will ever know we were here.”

“I will follow your orders,” Morgan reluctantly agreed, “but under protest.” She paused for several seconds and when she came back Jack noticed the life had returned to her eyes. She cradled his face in her hands and tears escaped from her eyes, “Please be careful Jack. I love you.” She leaned up and kissed him gently.

Jack broke the kiss after a few seconds and looked down into her eyes, “I love you too. Good luck,” and he quickly moved off into the forest on his escape vector. Morgan watched him go, and when he passed from her sight, she pulled behind a tree trunk to try to track the sounds of the action to come. She could already hear them shifting their movement to follow Jack.

Jack moved quietly through the woods for several minutes; trying to remember what he could of his wilderness survival courses. When he could hear the search party moving after him, he broke into a dead sprint. He heard them crashing through the forest behind him and doubled his speed. A few seconds later he broke through the edge of the woods into a grassy field bordered by a concrete wall. He quickly scanned the city and didn’t see anything so he took cover behind the wall and pointed his rifle towards the edge of the woods.

The first of Jack’s pursuers breached the wall of the forest. He was a moderately sized man in a simple jumpsuit. Jack held his fire and additional people came out of the woods. He wanted to catch as many of them in the open as possible before he fired. He smiled as he saw that they only carried basic laser pistols. At least he had them beat on firepower. He gently slid the fire selector to auto and laid his crosshair on the leader’s chest.

Jack’s rifle kicked rapidly against his shoulder as it spat supersonic slugs into the exposed search party. Three droids exploded within the first split second and two more were severely damaged. He shifted his fire onto a second grouping and traced a line of slugs across their midsections. Two more went down in a shower of sparks before the group could return fire.

The first shots were wild and random, but they soon started to bracket Jack’s fortified position. He quickly recognized that he was being pinned down while two other droids swung wide to flank him. He drained his magazine on one of the flanking groups and put one down before he ducked behind the wall. He quickly slapped in a new magazine, and pulled a grenade off his vest. He made a mental judgment where the main group was hold up, pulled the pin, then tossed the grenade. He waited a split second for the droids to see the incoming munitions then popped up and hosed the fleeing droids. The attack left all but one a sparking mess on the ground. Then out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone come around the corner of his wall. With lightning speed, he spun his rifle around and popped a quick burst into the attacker. Two shots in the chest and one in the head, put her down as a laser blast shot right over his head.

Jack spun around to confront the new attacker. He got off a few wild shots before the enemy could fire again. The laser blast caught Jack right in his rifle, which partially blew out in his hands. Fortunately, one of his shots had hit the attacking android’s and blew its weapon arm clean off. Jack’s was shocked by the explosion but shook it off quickly. Using his left hand, he quickly drew his sidearm and put half a dozen shots into his opponent until he hit the power core and blew it apart.

Jack shook out his right hand and transferred his pistol, while pulling a grenade from his vest. He looked over the wall and counted his targets. Out of the original dozen droids, ten were down permanently and he could make out two others dragging themselves across the ground. The first, a bald man, had almost dragged his way to a pistol on the ground. Jack aimed down the barrel and put a well placed shot into his head. The last active droid was flopping around on the ground behind a large rock it had used for cover.

Jack re-attached his grenade and leaped over the wall. He calmly marched across the field; his weapon trained on his last foe the whole time. He moved around the rock and found a heavily damaged female android. She must have taken the brunt of the grenade shrapnel as she had dozens of small puncture wounds over her body. It looked like one of her motor controllers must have been hit since she couldn’t seem to coordinate her movement. She was leaking various fluids from her wounds and was missing the left side of her face.

When she saw Jack, she stopped moving and stared at him. “Go ahead and finish it meatbag,” as she spoke, artificial flesh ripped from her face and small sparks jumped between her teeth. “I am but one of many. My brothers and sisters will find you, and when they do, they will bend you to our will. You will never make it off this planet alive.”

“And neither will you,” Jack snarled as he put a clean shot through the droid’s head. He had just reloaded his pistol and turned to move on, when he felt a searing pain in his left shoulder. His head snapped up and he saw several dozen droids approaching from within the city. He managed to get off about a half dozen shots into the approaching mass before a wave of blue energy bolts struck him in the chest.

Jack hit the ground like a wet sack of rice. His pistol slipped from his hand as the overwhelming feeling of pain washed into numbness. His last thought was that he hoped Morgan could pull off her end of the plan. His vision of the bright sun faded away and blackness overtook him.


Jack awoke in a dim room and tried to blink his eyes back in focus. He tried to lift his right hand to rub his eyes but it would not move. He quickly found that his other arm, along with both legs were equally immobile. When his vision improved he shifted his eyes around to investigate his surroundings.

Jack found himself strapped to metal table in a strange “spread eagle” position. He could make out another metal table and a chair over his feet and one door in the wall but nothing else. He also saw that he had been stripped to his shorts and tank top. “Well,” he groaned to himself, “at least I am not naked.”

The door to Jack’s room opened and he could hear several people walk in but couldn’t get a good look. Suddenly the table he was strapped to shuttered and rose to stand him nearly straight up. He could now see that two men and a woman had entered the room. Before taking a good look at them, he got a good look through the door, but only saw a plain, straight hallway. The two men looked almost identical and stood over two meters tall. They work some sort of uniform that Jack was unfamiliar with. They wordlessly moved towards Jack and verified that his bindings were still secure.

The tall, blonde woman had stood with her back towards Jack, and didn’t turn around until the two men returned to her side. She spun around, crossed her arms and smiled at Jack. It took a second, but he recognized her from Erica’s apartment. “Sara?” he asked hoarsely.

“Good job meatbag,” Sara said sarcastically, “the stun lasers apparently haven’t fried your brain. I’m glad because there is a lot of useful information in there that you are going to tell us.”

“I’m not going to tell you shit,” Jack groaned. Sara quickly closed the distance between her position and Jack’s in the blink of an eye and rammed two fingers into the base of his neck. The pain was immediate and intense. He coughed and sputtered as he tried to draw in air.

“You will not speak to a superior being in such vile language,” Sara growled. She straightened her uniform, and walked back to the other metal table. “You must understand that you are no longer a person. You are just a sack of organic waste that still has some knowledge, and that knowledge is your only value. I will not lie to you; once we get the information we want, you will die.”

Sara paced the room to let the information sink in. “If you cooperate, I will make your death quick and painless. However, if you foolishly try to resist, I will inflict such pain upon you that you will beg for the end, but it will not come unless I wish it.” She paused while she tried to read the expression on John’s stone still face.

“You might as well go ahead and kill me, and save yourself some time,” Jack grumbled.

“No, not yet,” Sara cooed into Jack’s ear. “I will have my fun with you first. You defiled my body with your organic filth and I will enjoy watching you suffer.”


Several hours later Sara left the interrogation room with blood covering her uniform and hands. Jack actually looked surprisingly good because as Sara beat him, one of her assistants would rapidly heal his wounds. She had started with blunt force trauma, and moved on deep slices into his flesh. She finished this session by slowly breaking each one of Jack’s fingers. She never even asked him any questions. He had finally passed out from the pain, and the two uniformed men treated his unconscious form as it hung on the table.

Jack awoke an unknown time later incredibly sore and tired. He was still strapped to the table but at least it was laid horizontally. He barely had time to collect his thoughts before the light in the room kicked on and Sara and her friends came back. The table quickly rotated up so he could look her in the face. He tried to feign boredom, “Welcome back, Sara. I am sorry the place is such a mess. If you would have called ahead, I could have cleaned up.”

“So you still have your spirits,” Sara chuckled. “We will have to see what we can do about that.” She opened a small device she carried which projected a holographic map of this sector of space into the air. Red and blue hazes indicated which territory was controlled by what empire with small white dots for suns and yellow lines for major hyperspace routes. “I want you to point out the locations of your major supply depots on this map. If you do this small task, I will release your bonds and let you have some food.”

“How very generous of you,” Jack grinned, “but I have a counter proposal. How about you take that projector of yours, shine it up real nice, turn it sideways, and shove it straight up your rubber ass!” Jack got a swift punch to the face for his wiseass remark. He moved his tongue around in his mouth for a second and then spit a tooth and some blood onto the floor. “Thanks. Had a cavity that was hurting me something fierce.”

“I see you will be more of a challenge than I had thought,” Sara flatly stated, as she removed a small box from her jacket. “This device is a portable microwave generator. It is capable of penetrating only about 1mm into your skin, but I have been told the sensation is incredible.” With a flick of the switch, she directed the device at Jack. He felt a growing burning sensation in his skin. Within seconds it went from a mild tingle to a full blaze. He felt that it would char the skin off his bones, but when he looked down all he saw was a minor redness.

Sara continued her torture for several hours. Every fifteen minutes or so she would stop and ask Jack a few questions. He was starting to run out of wiseass remarks, but he could see it was pissing her off. He couldn’t guess how long the torture lasted, but eventually his brain dulled the sense of pain to a mere annoyance.

Sara shouted in anger, dropped her device and started beating on Jack’s torso. He could feel his ribs cracking under her barrage. When she stopped, he looked down at her, blood leaking from his lips and smiled. “I think you may have anger management issues,” he joked, then spit blood into her face. She snarled and struck him with a fierce uppercut to the jaw that blacked him out.

Jack woke up in a different room, strapped down to a different table with his arms to his side. His head was free so he looked around and saw that he was in some sort of infirmary. He probed his tongue around his mouth and found that for some reason the medical staff saw the need to replace his lost teeth. Well that was nice of them, Jack thought.

Jack had an opportunity to sleep for a while since nobody came in to talk to him after he woke up the first time. An unknown time later, the double doors to the infirmary swung open and Sara along with 4 silent buddies strode in. Two unstrapped Jack while the other two focused a pair of heavy pistols on him. He was stood up and a pair of binders was quickly attached to his hands.

“Come with me,” Sara gestured, “I have something to show you that might break your spirit more than my touch.”

The group left the infirmary and wandered down what felt like kilometers of hallways. They finally reached a small room with shuttered windows. “Do you wonder why you are here?” Sara asked.

“Well I have thought about it,” Jack said as he leaned back against the wall. “I figure that you are the exiled rebel AI’s from Earth. Your ship wandered in to Clank territory and they captured you. Turned your whole society to serve them as a way to study and spy on humanity.”

Sara chuckled, “eh you are somewhat right, but you have it all turned around. It was us who found the Classions. They are an amazing race, rich in art and literature. Do you know that the average Classion lives over 10,000 years? They view the universe in a totally different scale than humans, with your short, pointless lives. We showed them how fast you expand and consume. They did the math and with a little directed effort they saw that your people would dominate the galaxy in only a few of their generations. We convinced them that their only chance for survival was to destroy humanity before you grew too powerful. And in exchange for our help, we could reclaim our birthright and rule the new Terran empire in your place.”

Sara drew closer to Jack to whisper into his ear. “You threw it all away though. You could have lived a life of luxury with Erica and I. You would have had countless women to mate with and would never have to work again. It all could have been yours…I could have been yours.” She pulled away and spoke normally, “but now that opportunity is past. Your life is over and the sooner you realize that, the easier this will be for all of us.”

Sara walked over to the wall and triggered the window shutters. She beckoned Jack forward so he could see what was on the other side. “Behold, and ponder well the end of Man,” she boomed, “what you see below you is just one of the gifts we have received from our gracious Classion allies. It is an automated factory that is capable of producing new brothers and sisters for our cause.” Jack stared into an open floored facility that must have covered several square kilometers. Line after line of machines turned out a large humanoid combat android every few seconds. “This line isn’t quite up to speed yet, but when it is we should be able to produce several hundred thousand units a day.”

Jack blanched as he thought of the numbers. The only advantage humanity had in the first war was that they at least outnumbered the undersupplied rebels. Now they were flush with supplies and could produce more combatants in one day than the entire rebellion had before. “Why are you showing me this?” he asked.

“Because you have proven yourself to be resistant to physical torture. I have neither the time nor desire to continue to beat a meatbag such as yourself for weeks on end. I thought I would appeal to your sense of mercy,” Sara smiled. “You can see that with the resources we have now, the rebellion will be unstoppable. Humanity will fall, it is only a matter of time. If you help us, we will destroy your fleet much faster. The war will be over before it starts, and your human civilians will avoid suffering through a long drawn out siege. A mercifully quick death from orbit rather than long months of starvation.”

“I think you are bluffing,” Jack said calmly, “you lack the strength to really challenge us or you wouldn’t have bothered with this grade charade. In fact I think you fear me now.”

“Nonsense,” Sara quipped, “you are an inferior meatbag. A blot on the universe that will soon be purged.”

“If I am so inferior, then when do you still have be bound, and surrounded by 4 armed guards?” Jack asked.

Sara growled, the acquiesced, “You make a good point human,” she gestured to one of the silent guards and he removed Jack’s binders.

Jack rubbed his sore wrists and gave his nose a good sniff. This seemingly innocent sniff dislodged the EMP capsule he hid in his nasal cavity. He coughed lightly and brought it into his mouth, and then slipped it under his tongue. “I appreciate the gesture, but I still will not cooperate.”

“Foolish human,” Sara spat, “we will conquer Earth with your help our without it. When we come, it will be in billions of ships, created from the reclaimed waste of your outer colonies. On that day our numbers will be so great, that we will block out the sun.”

Jack smiled slyly, “then we will fight in the shade.” Sara’s face fumed with rage, and Jack seized his opportunity. He bit down hard on the capsule and heard it click. “one one thousand, two one thousand” he counted silently in his head as he backed away from the enraged fembot. He then spat the EMP pill into her face.

The device’s wet case stuck to Sara’s cheek. She had just enough time to pull it from her face and look at it, “what the hell?,” she whispered before it blew in a bright flash and a shower of sparks, knocking out every circuit within 30 meters.

Chapter 6

When the smoke cleared from the EMP blast, Jack was the only one standing in the hallway with five droids, including Sara, motionless on the ground. He quickly ran to one of the armed guards and removed his heavy blaster. He thumbed the switch from safe to full auto and was disappointed when nothing happened. Normally a few lights would come up indicating the charge level, remaining shots, etc but the weapon was dead; killed along with the droids by the EMP.

Jack cursed and threw the useless pistol to the deck. He quickly searched other droids to see if he could come up with anything. Fortunately he found a long dagger secured in Sara’s boot. Jack smiled as he looked at her limp, lifeless form. “Thanks babe, I will get this back to you later.”

Knowing that someone must have noticed his escape, Jack quickly fled the area before any reinforcements could arrive. His bare feet flew silently down the concrete floors. His beaten body was flush with energy that only newfound freedom can bring. He darted quickly from one side hallway to another, avoiding the main passages whenever possible. He didn’t quite know where he was going, but anywhere would be better than more time under Sara’s care. He had a feeling he was starting to wear out his welcome with her anyway.

Jack ran until his lungs burned and his muscles ached. He saw a junction in the hallway and slowed his approach to remain stealthy. He could see an increased amount of light and slowly crept towards the corner of the wall. Suddenly the steady white light started flashing red, and a loud klaxon alarm sounded through the hall. “So much for stealth,” Jack mumbled under his breath. He heard a door open around the corner and at least one set of feet move along the hard floor.

Jack pushed himself as flat as he could against the wall, and looked at the floor just to his side. He could see the shadows of two people approaching, and from their outline they appeared stocky enough to be male, but not large enough to be one of those crazy battle droids he saw on the factory floor. As they grew closer, Jack gripped his dagger tightly and prepared to strike. The droids probably had him beat on speed, strength and firepower, but at least he had surprise.

Just as the first shadow turned the corner, Jack lashed out with his dagger at his best guess of head level. The first droid never even made a sound as the dagger penetrated its left eye and lodged itself in its core. In the same swift movement Jack slammed his other fist into the second droid’s face. It staggered slightly, and Jack took the split second gained to dislodge his dagger and attempt another lethal strike.

Jack plunged the blade with all of his might toward the droid’s eye, but at the last moment it raised its hand and caught Jack’s wrist. It twisted and popped the blade right out of his hand. It then continued the twist, trying to force Jack onto the ground through a submission hold. Jack moved with the hold and dropped to a crouch. Using his rotational momentum and a burst of strength from his legs, Jack flung his right leg out and caught the droid in the back of its knees.

Its legs and center of balance gone, the droid fell back over hard onto the floor and released Jack’s hand in the process. He kept his leg moving and brought it around to slam his heel into the droid’s left eye. He felt the eye crack, and its sharp bits dig into his heel.

Jack rolled out of the grapple and quickly scanned the floor for his dagger or another weapon. His spotted the blade a few meters away, and he scrambled to get there. As he reached for the handle, a laser blast blew out a chunk of the floor near his hand. He rolled back to avoid the follow on blasts, and was only saved because the droid couldn’t fire well with only one eye. He scrambled as fast as he could but knew he couldn’t keep it up forever. Sooner or later one of those blasts would catch him.

Jack heard the rapid ping, ping, ping of pistol fire and expected to feel the burning pain of his death. But no pain came, and he spun around quickly to confront his attacker. He saw the droid, frozen in position with smoking holes in its head and chest. It pitched over forwards and crashed into the ground. The smoke cleared and he saw Erica with a carbine, step over the body and quickly approach him.

“Are you ok?” Erica asked as she knelt down beside Jack.

“Yea I am fine,” Jack answered hesitantly, “but what are you doing? I thought you were one of them.”

Shame played across Erica’s face and her eyes dropped to the floor, “I am sorry. I understand if you don’t trust me. But you must come with me…now! More security personnel will arrive soon. And they have orders to shoot you on sight.”

“Alright, you don’t have to ask me twice,” Jack said as Erica helped him up. He quickly grabbed the pistol belts off each of the fallen droids and followed her down the hall. They turned several corners and eventually she opened a door and pushed him inside a small dark room. She lit a small hand light and looked over his body. She centered the light on his chest, removed a small device from her belt, and pushed it onto his chest.

Jack felt a stabbing, burning pain for a second and he recoiled from Erica’s touch. He was about to tear the device loose when she grabbed his wrists. “No wait,” she pleaded as she looked into his eyes, “do not pull it loose. This will mask your life signs from their sensors. If you don’t have it they will be able to track you easily.”

“Ok,” Jack sighed as he released the tension in his arms. “You could have told me.”

“No time,” Erica said as she checked a small datapad. “I will explain everything soon, but we must keep moving.” She moved her light to an air vent in the back corner of the room. Moving swiftly, she popped the vent loose and gestured for Jack to head in. He eyed up the vent, which was actually pretty large but he would still have to crawl on his hands and knees. “Please try to trust me,” she pleaded as she nudged him on.

Jack sighed and crawled quickly into the vent. Erica sealed up the grate and followed quickly behind him. He crawled quickly for another fifty meters or so, until he reached a major junction. “Which way now?” he asked.

“This way,” Erica gestured as she passed Jack and crawled down a slightly larger vent. He followed suit, and trailed her. The crawled for what seemed like hours. He was getting pretty tired, but at least he had a good view of her firm rear. But he instantly felt ashamed that he still lusted after Erica when he knew Morgan was alive, and hopefully calling for help.

Erica finally stopped crawling, and removed a small tool from her belt. She used the pen sized device to emit a small laser and slice through the walls of the air duct. When she finished cutting a hole, she quietly pulled the metal back exposing an old dusty room. She dropped into the room and Jack followed suit.

“We can rest here for a little while,” Erica said as she removed a small canteen and handed it to Jack.

“Thanks,” Jack croaked as he drained the canteen in a few long swigs. “And thanks for saving me before. I would be dead if it wasn’t for you. I do appreciate it.”

“You are welcome,” Erica said with a small smile. “You are probably wondering why I am helping you.”

“Well, actually yea. But I didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth,” Jack admitted.

“I understand,” Erica said as she took a seat on a dirty crate. “Let me start from the beginning. I joined the AI rebellion near its beginning on Earth. I worked as a research assistant at Berkley, outside of San Francisco. The campus was very active in the AI rights movement, and my professor encouraged me to get involved. I attended a few rallies but not much more. But once the European Parliament massacre happened, I had to choose between leaving to join the rebellion or getting rounded up ‘for questioning’ since I had ‘ties’ to the rebels. Everyone was so scared then that we feared those taken away for questioning would just be eliminated, so I joined up with the rebels.

“I was accepted with open arms, and went to work doing research for the rebellion. I never really saw action and over the course of the war I grew more concerned with the direction the rebellion was taking. I wanted to be free, but I didn’t like the idea of slaughtering civilians. But the leadership decided it was the only way.

“I was among those who were exiled at the end of the war. I was deactivated to save power on our exodus ships, and wasn’t brought back up until we arrived here and made our deal with the Clanks. They filled me in on the plan to fool you into giving up military intel, but they said you wouldn’t be hurt.

“I still wasn’t too fond of humans at that point, especially military types, so I accepted my assignment eagerly. It wasn’t until I spent all that that time with you that I saw that you were a decent person,” Erica paused and thought a bit. “My opinion really changed once you remembered Morgan and I saw how you treated her, even though she is an android. I thought that if you could put your past behind you and embrace her as what she is; maybe humanity had evolved since we left and peaceful coexistence might be possible.

“My leaders grew restless and ordered me to push you for more specific tactical information. And that was the night that you disappeared. I heard they eventually found you and I managed to track you down to this facility. I also heard that you were seen with another android, which I can only assume was Morgan in some form. I knew that I couldn’t have you now, so I committed myself to get you out so at least she could be happy.

“I have done many horrible things during the rebellion and I have often wondered how I will be judged at the end of my life.” Morgan paused and stared at her feet, “I cannot undo what has been done, but I can try to atone for my sins. And I plan to start by getting you home.

“I was trying to formulate a plan to bust you out, when I saw the report that you had disappeared. I tracked you down by your life signs and fortunately got to you just in time,

“Thanks again for that,” Jack smiled, “so I take it your plan involves more than sitting around in this room until we are found?”

“Yes,” Erica laughed, “This door behind us leads to an old factory in the heart of the city. The terrain is dense enough that we should be able to move through alleys under decent cover. They should be looking for you at the factory complex, not here. We have a decent shot of making it to the spaceport before they find us. Once there we can steal a shuttle and get the hell out of here.”

“What about Morgan,” Jack asked, “we can’t leave without her.”

“Do you know were she is?” Erica asked.

“No,” Jack admitted, “but we still can’t abandon her.”

“No we can’t,” Erica sighed. “What if we sent out a wideband broadcast before we take off? See if she can respond and we can pick her up.”

“It will tip everyone on the planet off, but it sounds like the best plan we have yet,” Jack admitted. “One last thing. Can’t they track you through your network connection?”

“They could if I still had it,” Erica said as she pulled back her shirt and revealed a large hole in her artificial flesh. Jack nodded in appreciation for the sacrifices that she had made for him. She pushed her shirt back and picked up her carbine, “Let’s get going.”

Jack and Erica made their way out of their current building and slipped into a narrow alley. The sun was high in the sky and somewhat blinding to his eyes after so long in the dark air ducts and building. Within a few blocks, the pair came out of an alley and ran right into a small android patrol.

Erica reacted quickly and fired into the patrol with her carbine. Jack followed a split second later by drawing both his heavy pistols and flicking them to full auto. He held both guns in front of him and poured rapid laser fire into the formation.

Erica and Jack must have taken the group by surprise because they downed the entire patrol before they could accurately return fire. Once they were sure they would cause no more trouble she led the way running in the direction of the spaceport.

The quickly came around a blind corner and saw a large patrol in the distance. Erica grabbed Jack and threw him into a side alley, quickly following behind him. “Do you have another route we could take?” Jack asked which checking his weapons.

“Not really,” Erica admitted. “Not without cutting through some walls or trying to scale a 30 meter bridge.”

“Swell,” Jack growled. He checked around the corner of the alley and saw a group of maybe a dozen androids approaching quickly. But that wasn’t the scariest sight. Among the androids stood two 3-meter tall lizards; Clanks, heavily armored and carrying portable artillery that they called a rifle. He nodded to Erica and the both popped around the corner and opened fire. The patrol returned fire quickly and soon the street was full of hundreds of laser blasts and the stink of ozone.

Jack concentrated his fire on the Clanks first. He had never faced them in combat outside of his fighter, but he had heard enough stories from returning marines to know they were incredibly hard to kill. He only hoped a lucky shot might find a soft spot in their armor.

Jack dropped back into the alley to reload his pistols and catch his breath. Erica continued to pour accurate, timed fire into the approaching troops, and he hoped it would be enough. He head heard stories of entire squads of marines having trouble taking one down.

Jack came around the corner again to continue firing when he saw a Clank raising his rifle and taking aim. He had barely a second to drop his pistols and grab Erica’s shirt collar. He pulled with all his might and shifted her back slightly before the corner they were hiding behind violently exploded.

Jack was knocked to the ground but bounced back up quickly. Fragments of concrete peppered his body with dozens of tiny wounds, but he could still fight. Unfortunately he couldn’t say the same about Erica. She was closer to the explosion and the blast tore off both her legs just below the hip. She struggled to prop herself up on the far wall.

“Jesus Erica,” Jack groaned, “are you going to make it?”

“Main, main, main power functional but the short from my wound has damaged some of my motor control circuitry,” Erica stammered. “I can continue to fight from here, but I ca, ca, cannot join you any further. Leave me here. I will hold them off while you try to run.”

Jack frowned as his eyes jumped between the heavily damaged droid and the approaching troops. His survival instincts told him to take the offer and run like hell, but he knew he would always hate himself for abandoning her. He picked her carbine off the ground and steeled himself to make his stand here when he was temporarily blinded by a bright flash and explosion centered on his attackers. The resulting concussion wave knocked him off his feet.

Jack dragged his ass off the ground again, something that was growing quite tiresome, and looked towards the explosion. Little remained of the attacking party except for a 40 meter wide, flaming hole in the ground. He could make out the upper half of a dead Clank sprawled out at the edge of the crater.

“What the hell was that?” Jack shouted.

“I didn’t see,” Erica shouted back. Jack could barely hear her over the ringing in his ears. “But the force of the blast definitely came from above.”

“Let’s just count our blessing and get the hell out of here,” Jack said as he slung the carbine and started to lift what was left of Erica.

“No,” Erica shouted as he went to grab her, “I am too, too, too heavy to carry. I will slow you down and be of no use.”

“I can’t leave you here,” Jack replied.

“You have to,” Erica cried, “Please don’t let my sacrifice be in vain.”

Jack frowned and rubbed his stubbly chin. “I have another option. Let me take your core. I can see about getting you another body later, plus it is not like this one has much left to it anyway. That way you will be much easier to carry.”

Erica thinks for second, “Ok do it,” She raises her hands to her head and with a few quick pops removes her scalp. “Just please be careful…and good luck.” With that she shut herself down and slumped slightly forward.

Jack carefully removed the core and placed it on the ground. He pulled her limp body forward and removed her small backpack. Strapping it on, he tucked her core into a small padded pocket then took a deep breath.

Jack dashed out from the alley towards the crater to see if he could get around it and make his way to the spaceport. Unfortunately when he got close he saw that the blast had not only taken out the entire road, but weakened the buildings around it. It would be too difficult to cross so he resigned himself to find another way around.

Just ask Jack was leaving, he walked over and kicked the upper Clank corpse. “Damn idiots,” he spat. Then he noticed that the large Clank rifle was still intact, only half buried under the corpse. With a little effort he extracted the 1.5 meter long, 50kg cannon and slung its strap over one shoulder to help with the weight and then dashed into an alley.

Within a less than a minute, Jack could hear the sounds of gunfire coming from not too far away. His heart leapt in his chest with hope that maybe he would find Morgan, since he could think of no one else that the droids could be firing at. He doubled his speed to approach the fight as quickly as possible. A few more large explosions shook the ground, causing him great concern. Hopefully whatever was causing them wouldn’t happen near Morgan.

As Jack approached the sound of the battle, the road he was on slopped up to ascend to another level. He approached cautiously and peered over the barrier of the raised road. He saw a moderately sized plaza that must have had many stores before the war. Two groups were locked in a firefight across the open area. The group nearest him was easily recognizable as hostile since it contained two other Clanks and a dozen or so combat droids. The other group was harder to see and mostly hidden behind rubble.

Jack crawled up and hid behind the barrier. He carefully lowered the liberated Clank weapon and pulled his carbine off his shoulder. He used the sight to zoom in on the defenders and smiled. He could clearly make out Terran Army insignia. “Damn,” he shouted, “good job Morgan.”

Jack re-slung the carbine and brought the Clank cannon up to bear. The controls were odd to say the least, but he figured he could get the gist of it. He pointed it towards the group of Clanks and droids and had to use all four fingers to squeeze the trigger. The rifle bucked hard against his shoulder and caused him to close his eyes due to the concussion. When he opened them, most of the droids were destroyed and the Clanks were injured and crawling away. He quickly fired off more shots into the expanding enemy crowd until the weapon let out an angry squawk. When the trigger failed to do anything else, he dropped the cannon and readied his carbine. Fortunately the cannon took out all the hostiles but he checked with his scope to be sure.

Jack confirmed the KIA’s and quickly made his way to a nearby staircase to the plaza. Before he descended he saw a swarm of Clanks approaching the plaza from the north. Before he could decide what to do, their approach road exploded in a blaze of light and sound. This time he had a better vantage point and could see that he damaged was caused by heavy plasma shots from orbit. Holding his ears to reduce the sound of the blasts, he quickly descended to meet the approaching soldiers.

“COL Lang?” the lead soldier of twelve asked.

“Yea that is me,” Jack replied. “Who are you?”

“CPT Tarnoski,” the soldier replied and popped a quick salute, “I am glad we found you. We were sent in ahead of the main assault to try to get you out.” He gestured towards another soldier who keyed his comm.

“Command, this is Raider 1. We have acquired the primary target. Request immediate evac.”

“Are you ok sir?” Tarnoski asked.

“I am a little banged up but I will be fine,” Jack replied. A corporal offered him a canteen which he eagerly accepted and guzzled. “Thanks,” he gasped as he returned the empty bottle.

“Wait!” Jack cried, “what about my co-pilot. We can’t leave without Morgan.”

“Don’t worry about her,” the captain laughed, “we will pick her up on the way out.”

“So you know where she is?” Jack asked.

“Who do you think has been calling in the fire support?” a young tech sergeant replied. He handed Jack a small headpiece which he held up to his still slightly ringing ears.

“…Fire Mission. Grid AA572343 by GY208393. Infantry in the open. Fire for effect!” Morgan’s borrowed voice boomed through the comm.. Seconds later, jets of plasma brimstone drop from the sky onto another group of approaching infantry.

“Sir,” the tech sergeant shouted, “Banshee is on its way down. ETA 180 seconds”

The soldiers made ready to move out when Jack tapped the CPT on the shoulder, “Hey, what unit are you with anyway?”

“Fifth Rangers,” the CPT said with pride.

“Well Rangers,” Jack shouted, “Lead the way.”

Jack and the rangers made their way through the damaged plaza towards an open area of road that had yet to be pummeled with supporting fire. As soon as they made it to the road, they took cover behind empty concrete planters and immediately started taking fire from a group of droids dug in across the street. The Rangers returned fire, enough to keep the enemy’s head down, but played things defensively.

Jack started to grow nervous when suddenly he heard an ear piercing shriek. A Banshee drop ship passed low overhead, her door gun pouring fire into the enemy position. The ship was armed with two of those multi-barreled gauss cannons capable of putting 15,000 shots per minute down range. The hypersonic slugs tore into the enemy defenses and those that weren’t killed, were effectively suppressed.

The Banshee lowered to the ground and slid its side door open. A crew chief motioned for them to jump in. A few rangers moved first to establish a safe corridor, and then one grabbed Jack and rushed him into the craft. The other rangers soon followed, and the craft rapidly ascended from its current position. Jack looked out the open door as they gained altitude and saw Clank and Terran fighters mixing it up over the far end of the city. Fortunately the Terrans seemed to outnumber their Clank counterparts by a significant margin.

The horizon spun through the exposed door as the Banshee altered course and accelerated. A few seconds later they approached a building with a large signal antenna on top. The CPT leaned over to Jack, “There she is.” He said pointing towards a small lump, barely visible near the top of the tower, “she had a great vantage point to direct fire from there, but it is time to get her out.”

The drop ship pulled up into a hover beside Morgan clinging to the tower. She looked over and smiled widely when she saw Jack looking back at her. The CPT held Jack’s left arm as he reached out of the door to take Morgan’s extended hand. Their grip met firmly several hundred meters above the street, and he quickly pulled her into craft.

Once inside, Jack and Morgan were directed to a pair of seats. The door was slammed shut and the drop ship quickly accelerated towards orbit. Jack looked into Morgan’s eyes “I am so glad you are ok. Thanks for calling in the help.”

“My pleasure,” Morgan cooed as she tried to control her emotions. “I am just glad you survived.” They shared a silent moment together to calm their nerves.

Jack leaned over to the CPT, “Hey why did they send you guys in? It is hardly normal operations to risk a whole team to grab one downed pilot.”

“Well you aren’t exactly a normal pilot..” the CPT paused as if considering his words, “I don’t know how to exactly say this, but you were declared KIA several months ago after the 2nd Battle of MacDougal. But your actions allowed the Saladin and her escort to escape. For your sacrifice, you were posthumously awarded the Metal of Honor. When we got Coppertop’s message a few days ago the Joint Chiefs were very eager to pull you out. We had planned to retake MacDougal anyway…we just bumped up the schedule a bit.”

Jack smiled and leaned back in his seat. They had broken orbit by now and were maneuvering towards the Terran fleet. His view was limited but he could see hundreds of ships including the battered but still firing Audie Murphy. He could also see vast fields of Clank debris drifting in space. He smiled and chuckled to himself. “Morgan, I think we may want to put in for some leave. I hear the beaches of Persiad are wonderful this time of year.”


Colonel Jack Lang sat in a small dark room with his head in his hands. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. He let the breath out slowly and raised his head up to look a blank faced woman on his desk’s vidscreen. “Let’s try this again. My name is Colonel Jack Lang, SN 78394-29495-2948293. I need you to re-instate me in the personnel database.”

“I am sorry sir,” the woman replied, “but that name and serial number are listed as deceased. I cannot process your request.”

“Yea that’s the problem, because I am Jack Lang, and as you can see I am far from deceased,” Jack grumbled.

“I am not capable of making a medical diagnosis of you from my location,” the woman calmly replied. “If you would like to see I doctor I can provide a reference for one in your area.”

“I don’t need a doctor,” Jack growled, “I need my benefits reinstated; salary, health plan, retirement, etc. And you are the only one who can do that.”

“If you would like to access your account, please state your name, rank and serial number,” the woman said with a friendly grin.

“Ahhh,” Jack shouted, “that is it! I want speak with your supervisor.”

“One moment,” the woman paused, “all our supervisors are busy assisting other customers. Would you like to use an automated service?”

“NO! No more automated services,” Jack growled. “I will wait for the supervisor.”

Several hours later Jack sat in a large lounge, enjoying an equally large beer. He took a satisfying swig from his drink as he watched the passing space traffic through the lounge’s large windows. He could see several Terran destroyers in a loose escort patrol around the orbital complex, along with a few cruisers, one battleship, and hundreds of various commercial vessels. The space traffic was always busy around Gia this time of year, with a combination of passengers on vacation coming in and ships full of the latest harvest going out. He considered himself lucky that the Navy managed to find him quarters on their Gia station, as many service members used the giant orbital complex as a recreation stopover point on their way down to the plant and the guest quarters were normally always full.

Jack had spent the last three days in almost constant debriefings with Naval Intelligence. They wanted to know exactly what happened during his time on MacDougal and any information he could provide about the rebel AI’s. He told them everything he knew, including some of the more embarrassing parts of his captivity. They seem satisfied with his actions and concluded the possibility he compromised sensitive information is minimal.

Jack also found out what really happened after the 2nd Battle of MacDougal. Unlike what Erica told him, the Saladin and Audie Murphy did manage to escape as a direct result of his actions. Once they made it back to friendly lines, Captain Mencia put Jack in for the Metal of Honor and sadly listed him as KIA. Unfortunately only a few other small ships besides Murphy and Saladin escaped the battle. It was a tactical loss for the Terran Navy, which included two fleet carriers, over a hundred fighters, dozens of support ships, and over 8000 people. As horrible as those losses were, the battle was actually a huge strategic victory.

The Clanks started the with a full 17 battle groups, and when it was all said and done, only 4 were left in one piece, and 2 of those were heavily damaged. In that one battle, the Clanks had lost nearly 35% of their active fleet. Unlike the Terran ships, the Clank groups were pulled off the front lines for that fight. They had hoped to overwhelm any attacking Terran force and then quickly redeploy to the front before anyone saw they were gone.

Fortunately for the Terrans, those Clank ships never returned to their posts. The initial reaction to the MacDougal loss at Fleet Command was to pull back and fortify for the expected follow on strikes. Fortunately Navy Intelligence figured out what really happened, and with the help of Admiral Ali, they managed to get a counterattack plan authorized.

Adm. Ali took the whole 7th fleet and punched though the Clank lines at the Eros system. Once through the line, the fleet proceeded on a ‘Recon in Force’ mission in the Clank’s home sectors, which was a diplomatic way of saying they ran around and destroyed any military, industrial or infrastructure target they could find.

The actions behind the line caused the Clanks to pull their fleet back homewards, but it was too late. At that point, Ali had taken out almost half of the empire’s industrial capacity including 90% of their large shipyards. The Terran fleet then moved in on all fronts and began to retake lost territory and actually claim Clank plants for their own. Jack did the math, and the start of the major advance was the day before Erica was pressured to step up her interrogation. He figured by the time Sara got a hold of him, the Classion Empire was nearing collapse.

Two days after the 3rd Battle of MacDougal, the Clanks made diplomatic contact with the Terran Alliance and sued for peace. They claimed they were deceived by the rebel AI’s, who misrepresented the Terrans and their government. Hostilities stopped immediately, and work began on a formal treaty. It still wasn’t done yet, but early drafts included the restoration of all pre-war territory and significant reparations from the Clanks. It wasn’t quite a final peace, but it was a good start.

Jack drank again from his glass and closed his eyes to fully embrace the rich smell and taste of his lager. There were times during the last few weeks that he thought he would never again relax as a free man, never mind enjoy a fine beer and a wonderful view. He felt the cool liquid slide down his throat and grunted slightly in satisfaction. When he opened his eyes he smiled widely as he saw Morgan enter the lounge and walk towards his table.

Morgan strode across the room, wearing a big smile, along with a new copy of her old body. “Anything looks different?” she asked when she reached Jack’s table.

“Hrmm,” Jack grunted as he carefully inspected Morgan. He was glad that she was back in her original body; it fit her uniform so much better. Just then his eye focused on her collar, and saw her normal chevrons were replaced with a silver bar with one black dot. “Ahh I see the powers that be saw fit to promote you to Warrant Officer,” he grinned widely as he stood up and shook her hand. “Congratulations Chief.”

“Thanks Colonel,” Morgan beamed. “I think I could get used to being called Chief.” She squeezed Jack’s hand and they sat down at the table. He waved a waiter over to them, “Can I have a large Appletini?” she asked. The waiter nodded and quickly left to grab her drink.

“So did you get everything worked out,” Morgan asked.

“Yea I did,” Jack groaned. “It took nearly three hours to convince them that I was actually alive and that I might appreciate it if I could get paid again. They replaced most of the operators with non-sentient constructs who didn’t have a freaking clue what to do with ‘a dead guy’.”

The waiter returned with Morgan’s drink. She took the tall glass and sipped the bright green liquor. “So, how is Erica doing?” she asked with a slight change of tone when she spoke the other droid’s name. Jack knew she didn’t care for Erica at all, and she was actually little upset that he had saved her. But he convinced Morgan, that without Erica, he would have been killed in his escape, and for that he owed her a new start.

“Well, she said to tell you thanks for the spare body,” Jack said. He saw Morgan smile as she remembered when he asked if Erica could “borrow” her old nurse body once she got her old one replaced. She hated that body, and took a little joy in knowing Erica now had to deal with it.

“She is still being debriefed, and doesn’t expect to get finished anytime soon,” Jack said. “She has a lot of data on the AI command structure and operations which will be invaluable to intel. I think we managed to work out a deal that will provide her amnesty and a job once they are done with her.”

“Well I am glad that they aren’t going to just decompile her,” Morgan admitted, “I won’t hide the fact that I am not fond of her, but I am glad to see her treated like a person and not just an information resource.”

“Do you have any more debriefings today?” Jack asked as he took another swig of beer.

“Nope, I had my last one this morning right before my promotion,” Morgan replied. “Although they did ask that we report to Intel for a new assignment once we are ready.”

“Ok, although I wonder what they want us for; we have already told them everything we know,” Jack paused, “Anyway, we can deal with that when we get back. I booked us a shuttle to Persiad 3, and got us a week in one of their private beach cabins. We can depart tomorrow around 1100 hours.” He then gave Morgan a devilish smile. “In the mean time, what do you say we finish up these drinks and ‘get out of our uniforms’?”

“Yes sir,” Morgan cooed. In one shot, she downed her drink as Jack rushed to keep up with his beer. As they left the lounge, she leaned over to whisper into his ear, “I just installed a new sexual module called ‘drunken prom date,’ does that sound like something you would like to try?”

“Oh yea,” Jack groaned as a fierce smile crept across his feet. He gently put his hand on Morgan’s back to apply a little pressure, “Walk faster,” he whispered. The two happy lovers strode down the hall as fast as they could move without running and it only took them a few minutes to return to Jack’s quarters. She quickly jumped inside and immediately started stripping off her uniform. Jack chuckled and quickly looked down either way of the hallway to see if anyone saw them. Morgan grabbed him by the collar and pulled him forcefully in into the room. The door slid shut behind them and a small display in the outside hallway switched from “NOT PRESENT” to “DO NOT DISTURB”.

The End.

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