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Son of a Sun


Son of a Sun

By Tom Wells



Lieutenant Colonel Craig Daniels stood with his arms crossed while he marveled at the spectacle of his home system. He had climbed out onto the hull of his small lifeless ship as it drifted on the galaxy’s outermost edge with the stars of the Milky Way splashed behind him like a bright white artist’s brush stroke on the black canvas of space. His feet were magnetically held fast to his small spacecraft as it glided powerlessly towards the red dwarf sun that now threatened to accept him into its furnace. He started to shiver as the heat was being drawn from his suit by the vacuum of space. He had put the suit into survival mode to conserve the batteries for as long as possible in a desperate attempt to find a way to make it home before the air filters failed.

His home planet was in the most unique solar system in the charted galaxy, Archipelago Atascadero. The archipelago was the holy grail of habitable systems with a grouping of thirty nine small planets that orbit together at the same distance from their common sun on opposing planes like multiple electrons orbiting an atom’s nucleolus.

If the Corps of Exploration frigate, the Housini, had been at the rendezvous point and if he hadn’t been ambushed instead, Colonel Daniels could have arrived on time for the annual Founder’s reception ball taking place on Cuomos Planet at this very moment. He sat down and curled his knees up to his chin and wondered if his Scylla would be at the reception now, dancing with the man she had stayed in the archipelago for.

He could clearly see the shining blue atmospheres of the three closest planets now but he knew that Cumos Planet was not one of them. His self-imposed three decade exile from his birthplace would likely end with him so close to home yet unable to stand on his native soil and feel the warmth of the red dwarf on his bare skin ever again. Instead that sun was taking lead over the galactic gravitational tug of war on his ship and without power, that sun would eventually pull his ship in to its fiery warm embrace.


Scylla was also a rare “native” of the Archipelago Atascadero. There were no true sentient natives in the system, but Scylla had been born here as a descendant of the discoverers of Atascadero, who were now known as Founders. The things she loved about the system, the tropical beaches on all of the planets, the steady and temperate climates, and so much more, made it the most popular vacation destination in the charted galaxy. Those tourists almost sullied her otherwise unconditional love of the system that made her abandon her plans to leave with the man now returning after a long absence.

Three decades ago she changed her mind at the last moment and broke the boy’s heart along with her own when she stayed. She knew he would have abandoned his dreams of adventure if she hadn’t convinced him that she was staying for someone else. She often thought of her near escape at times like now, when a particularly rude tourist was berating her for something she couldn’t possibly control.

“It’s scandalous that we should have traveled from the core for a month on the promise that the ocean would be as warm as a pool when we arrived,” was today’s rant from a woman who at first glance was an attractive young tourist. However on closer inspection the woman was clearly a grafter. The subtle patchwork of New Skin was distracting to Scylla while the grafter continued to admonish her with the petty complaints that the tourists brought from the galaxy core. Their ostentatious fashions, bizarre food preferences and other cultural biases clashed with the simpler lives of the archipelago residents.

Scylla was pleasantly surprised by a handsome young man who came to her rescue saying, “Come along, Grandma, this nice young lady is not here to listen to you rattle on with your nonsense.” He gently guided the woman aside where she could be distracted by the buffet table.

Pleased with himself, the stranger said, “I’m sure she would have been a completely different woman if she knew she was meeting royalty.”

Blushing, Scylla replied, “Yes, our visitors from the core worlds seem to be fascinated by our Founder status, but I assure you that it’s a title that only exists to attract sightseers these days. I’m afraid that the corporations and the Atascaderan Magistrate have all of the authority in these parts. We descended Founders haven’t had a direct role in governing the archipelago since the Regency has taken an interest in our little system. It’s too bad the Regency believes that monarchies have no place in their union though. The system just isn’t the same since the Magistrate started running things by committee.”

“Well, where I come from, you would be a princess if ever I saw one.”

Normally this is where Scylla would have politely accepted the flattery and moved on to the next guest. However, just before arriving at the reception, Scylla had received a message she needed to forget. The boy whom she abandoned on his quest to strike out into the universe was about to return and she did not want to be found alone by him. So she graciously accepted the flattery and drew up the young man as a shield.

Dearest Scylla:
I know I have no right to burst back into your life like this after thirty years. I have been to all corners of the Regency and beyond, but in all my wanderings, I have realized that my home is in Atascadero. That is why I am resigning my commission with the Corps of Exploration and am returning to our home. I don’t expect that you will be there to welcome me with open arms. I suppose that you and your true love have had a good life together since we last said goodbye. I would be very happy to meet you nevertheless, to see that my absence has not fully obscured the friendship I hope remains. I will be at the Founder’s Reception of the next cycle. It will be strange to attend the reception more as an outsider and not as a host. I hope you will be there to welcome me back.


From his slowing approach, Colonel Daniels’ trained eye could see a majority of the planets as they orbited gracefully about their little sun. The leftover momentum of his ship slowed from interstellar speed would now send the darter directly into the same sun that the Spiderman drive had been pulling on to get him here. Colonel Daniels wasn’t worried about burning up in the sun in roughly three hours though. The batteries in his suit would stop cleaning the recycled air in less than two hours and he would drift into an endless sleep before the Atascadero sun had him.

Feeling humbled by the thought, he focused his attention to the nearest planet as he drifted closer. He was glad his home planet was in an orbit where he could see it one last time. With a little luck, he might be able to glimpse down on his boyhood home as he drifted by the planet for the last time. He imagined that his father might be outside their family home looking up into space right now. Selectman Perry Daniels had groomed Craig to be his successor in the House of Founders before Craig left to see the galaxy.

It is theorized that other archipelagos probably exist along the galaxy edge where the gravity of the galaxy core does not have the same planar effect on the orbiting planets. However, even the Spiderman drive has its limits. Unless you know the precise location of a suitable mass object, a pilot must be within sight of a large enough gravity source to cast a beam at it for pulling on. Exploring the outer edge means carefully crisscrossing the distant outer systems of the galaxy looking for something that might be just outside of the charted regions. This remoteness is the natural breeding ground for pirate activity and it makes it difficult to chart new worlds.

The Archipelago Atascadero was accidentally discovered by three merchant astronauts just after the Great War. They had been driven off course by pirates. It probably happened in the same way the bandits had put the Colonel in his current predicament. The discoverers of Atascadero were ambushed by pirates who had formed up to prevent their escape back to the inner planets. The merchants threw out gravity beams blindly until they were able to lock onto the strongest gravity body they could find in the few choices they had from their position, which turned out to be the system that they would go on to claim as their own. It was the first uncharted system to be discovered under the post Extinction age and rules for governance hadn’t been developed yet.

Colonel Daniels would not have been as lucky as his forefathers if he hadn’t grown up in Atascadero. He knew the coordinates to this system, which is why he knew that a Spiderman beam would be able to lock onto this small sun that his sensors couldn’t detect from the position of their attack thousands of light years away. He had purposely taken a route out of the defended trade routes to Atascadero trying to avoid being tracked on his return home to Atascadero. The one Regent ship that he could trust was supposed to be at the place where he slowed from interstellar speed to rendezvous and refuel. Bandits were there instead and in the deep of space, this was no coincidence.

With his escape he had hoped he would have sufficient charge to keep a beam on the Atascaderan sun long enough to make a controlled entry to the system. He hadn’t planned on being part of the experiment his reason for returning entailed. A remote probe was supposed to be sent at the archipelago’s sun while he was to have waited for the results from the safety of his home world. He had no idea if his father would welcome back into their home after his betrayal, but he had friends he hoped he would still be there to hide him on his home planet while he tried to prove the archipelago system’s fantastic truth. Now however he would silently drift past his planet unseen and if the truth was discovered, no one would bear witness to it.

Half an hour passed as the Atascaderan sun’s gravity started to accelerate the darter from its approach momentum. The Spiderman drive had first pulled the ship to the Archipelago Atascadero at hundreds of times the speed of light. Then as the ship reached the Atascaderan system’s heliosphere, the Spiderman drive worked in reverse to pull on the stars in the Milky Way to slow its approach to the red dwarf. The Colonel had used every bypass he could to keep the Spiderman drive active long enough to slow to the point where he would not enter the system too fast. He had to slow enough to keep from passing by the planets in seconds before impacting the sun in a relative instant. His efforts had worked to slow him from interstellar speeds to interplanetary speed, but he no longer had power to do anything but drift through the system faster than a wandering comet.

The ship was gaining speed as the Colonel slipped by his home world. He was close enough to receive broadcasts from the system, but his helmet’s small personal communicator didn’t have enough power to send a distress signal that could be received planet side. He had drained every other battery on the spacecraft to get here, including the flight recorder and emergency beacon batteries.

Colonel Daniels moved to the back of his ship where he was watched his home world shrink away from him. He could feel the heat of the sun now radiating through the back his suit’s insulation. He relaxed as the heat stopped the shivering. He traced the coastline on the shrinking view of Daniels Planet to the peninsula that pointed to the island where he grew up. He should have been sad for his mother who might never know the fate of her son, or for his sister who was the last family member he had contact with a decade ago when she tried offering the honor of being the best man at her wedding as an enticement for his return home. But it was his father who he couldn’t forget now.

He wondered if his dad might remember his warnings about the Regency now that the galactic government was poised to swallow the Archipelago Atascadero into the thousands of systems it governed. Atascadero had remained an independent system since its discovery but even as a youth, Craig Daniels had instinctively known that the Regency would someday turn its expansive gaze out to the edges of the Milky Way. He wished he could push the image of his disappointed father’s face out of his mind as Daniels Planet shrunk from view.

Sarcastically he said out loud to no one, “It’s good to be home.”

As Daniels Planet shrank into a bright spot in the background of space, Craig Daniels was wishing he had come back to his home earlier. It seemed foolish that the secret which had brought him back to the archipelago would now die with him. No one would be there to monitor the progress of his lifeless body as he hopefully charted the true purpose of the Archipelago Atascadero. Craig was lost in his self-pity when his space suit alerted him to another nearby object drifting towards the sun. He studied the head’s up information displayed on the inside of his face shield with a renewed hope.

The ship was on a direct path towards the Atascaderan sun but it was not going there as fast as the momentum carrying his ship. The mass of the object was thirty metric tons and Daniels realized this could be the break he was hoping for. He adjusted his incoming com frequency and immediately heard what he had hoped for.


The signal confirmed that the object Daniels was approaching was a garbage barge headed for incineration into the sun.

Daniels knew that if he could get himself on that barge, it would then be just a simple matter of patience. The shunt module on the back of the barge would automatically detach when the garbage barge was near enough to the sun to not be sent off course. Daniels could hitch a ride on the shunt module and avoid incineration.

The large flaw in the plan was that his ship would be no closer than a hundred meters away from the barge at its closest approach, and he would have to jump well before then because his momentum was carrying him too fast to jump at the last moment when he would be closest. He’d have to jump nearly half a kilometer away from the barge and he would not be able to jump straight at the slower moving spacecraft. His training in the Corps of Exploration’s Special Forces meant hundreds of hours of spacewalk training for this kind of maneuver. While he had a better than average chance of succeeding, it was only an improvement on the average chance of jumping onto the barge being nearly zero.

As he approached the barge he said out loud, “Five, four, three, two, one, here I go!”

The Colonel jumped out away from his lifeless ship. In the weightlessness of deep space, it looked as if he had only moved out slowly from the drifting ship in parallel. He had jumped from the darter’s center of mass behind the cockpit, but his thrust was enough to put a warble in the darter’s trajectory now. Both Daniels and the ship he was moving away from drifted closer to the now fast approaching barge.

At first he worried that he had jumped too late and that he was going to hit garbage scowl too fast. Then he feared he had jumped to soon and about to miss the scowl. He had to rely on his training and concentrated on his approach to the garbage skiff. He was closing the gap with the barge, but it was hard to tell if the timing had been right. It felt like the meters between the two were meeting faster the closer he got. He knew this was just the illusion created by the growing scale of the barge as he approached, but it was hard to not see it that way.

In another moment the barge was so large in his view that he couldn’t see around it. He was still approaching, but it was sliding by fast. The Colonel stretched out his hands and seconds later his fingertips were scraping the compacted mass dislodging smaller bits of garbage as his feet swung around ahead of his hands and slammed into the garbage. In an instant it no longer felt like he was in deep space. Now it felt like he was sliding down a steep incline. It wasn’t gravity, it was momentum alone was pulling him along the side of the barge. He tried desperately to get a grip on something that wouldn’t fly out and he was slowing down as the end of the barge was approaching fast, but it felt like he might keep sliding off. The Colonel was lost in the cloud of debris that he pulled free as he tried to get hold of something that would stop his slide.

Then it was over. Colonel Daniels did slow enough to find something that did not pull free and was able to jerk to a stop twenty meters from the lead end of the barge. The debris cloud quickly slid away. The Colonel turned and watched as his fighter continued tumbling away from the garbage skiff. It quickly slipped too far away to see the detail of the craft that had seen him through countless combat missions. He almost regretted not having the courage to accept his fate with the ship. It would go into the sun without him for now.

He had made it to the garbage skiff, but was more to do to save himself. It was time to find his way to the shunt module at the rear of the barge where he could hopefully tap into the powered of the module to recharge his suit filters and possibly even signal for help.



The reception on Cuomos was as much of a disaster as Scylla had feared. Craig never showed up and her human shield was an insufferable pompous ass. Worse yet, he turned out to be an Associate of the Regency who was in the archipelago for more than a tan.

“So tell me,” the Associate said pleased with the sound of his own voice, “you’re a very attractive young Founder, why is it you’re not here under the escort of an adoring partner?”

“If that is your attempt at asking if I’m married, I am not. I was once, long ago, but we agreed to let the marriage dissolve after our second five year contract expired.”

“Truthfully, I know more about you, Ms. Scylla Cuomos than you may realize,” her dance partner said setting off alarms in Scylla’s mind. “You see, in the core I have a title myself. I am Associate Niles Raytheon of the Regency. I’m here as part of the due diligence the Regency requires before Atascadero can become a part of our government.”

Scylla released herself from his hold and awkwardly stepped away into the other dancers on the floor as she said, “Why you conniving politician shit! Have you only been flattering yourself with my presence to spy on us? Is this the way you plan to operate when you accept the archipelago into your union?”

The nearby dancers had stopped to watch the exchange. The Associate nodded with as much dignity as he could manage before locking an arm around Scylla’s and forcefully guiding her out of the crowd. She protested but he was surprisingly firm for a politician. He quickly led her out onto a balcony beyond the eyes and ears of the reception attendants. He released her once they were clear. The air outside was much warmer than it was inside the air conditioned dance hall. With a sickening sense, Scylla realized this balcony was the place where she broke the heart of Craig Daniels thirty years ago. That memory filled her with a shiver that the warm air was affectless to overcome. Scylla intended to flee back into the crowd before the Associate said something that stopped her retreat.

“Craig Daniels is about to put this system’s bid to enter the Regency in serious danger of failing. If he succeeds, the Regency may not only deny your entry, we may declare your system off limits to our citizenry. Where would that leave your precious system’s economy when the tourists stop coming?”

Defiantly Scylla replied, “It would leave us as happy as we were before your Regency started invading our quiet little system with all those cruise ships.” She was pointing into the night sky where bulbous forms hung like translucent ghost balloons high above the atmosphere. The most vulgar of the ships even had the lack of decency to flash advertisements at the planet.

“Scylla my dear, I’m not here to provoke you. I’m here to protect your system from something that Colonel Daniels must not bring upon the archipelago. It may jeopardize your system’s future in the Regency.”

“If your behavior is any indication, joining the Regency may not be the right move for the archipelago.” She turned and dashed back inside the ballroom.

As she started to disappear into the crowd the Associate took a few steps inside and called after her, “Please, Scylla, see reason here. Colonel Daniels doesn’t know what he’s into. You’ve got to let me see him.”

Scylla wasn’t listening. She had disappeared from the Associate’s view, but he knew where she was going. He went back out on the balcony and watched as Scylla appeared below moments later. She stormed across the front courtyard on her way to the valet kiosk. The attendant at the kiosk had recognized her from the moment she had burst out of the reception hall.

His family had settled in the archipelago several generations before, but he could never be a Founder, and the Founder now storming her way to him was a particularly well known member of the patriarchs of Atascadero. She was outspoken in her opposition to joining the Regency and a hero to people like himself who questioned the Regency’s sudden interest in Atascadero.

He wasted no time keying in the command that would bring the Founder her shuttle as quickly as he could manage. Her shuttle rose from the tarmac crowded with other dignitary shuttles and cruise line busses, and floated down to the valet kiosk.

Scylla stopped long enough to key in a generous tip for the attendant in appreciation for his quick action before she hiked up her ridiculously long dress and stepped inside her shuttle. The Founder’s shuttle rose up from the landing court and sped up to her yacht in low orbit above.

Watching from the balcony, the Associate had been prepared for the Founder’s reaction. He signaled his own shuttle to come while he casually exited the party. He knew she would be going to Daniels Planet. It was the only place Colonel Daniels would be if he hadn’t made it to the Founder’s Reception. It was time for him to play his trump card. He just hoped the captain of the Housini hadn’t caught on to his ruse.


Colonel Daniels had been able to recharge his spacesuit’s air recycle system with power from the garbage skiff’s shunt module. Once he had another few hours of breathing time built back up, he set upon the task of reconfiguring the radio to send out a call for help. He moved to the shunt module’s communication panel and removed the face plate.

The Colonel sighed as he looked at all of the tiny circuits inside the shunt module’s radio cabinet. He pulled tweezers out of a utility pouch on the leg of his spacesuit and held them up to his face shield. He was used to having a young tech-corporal for this kind of task in combat. He knew the mechanics of what he needed to do, but he was not as deft at making the cross connections with his sleeve computer as a tech would be.

It was almost an hour before he was close to hacking his way into the skiff’s radio. He was slowly plodding though the steps with a growing spaghetti of fiber optics connecting his sleeve to the shunt module panel when his suit’s proximity sensors alerted him that a ship was approaching from the far side of the star.

Colonel Daniels had to fight his urge look away from what he was doing. He finished his connections and quickly typed, “MAYDAY TRAPD ON GARBG BRG ND HLP NOW.” He never had the time or skill needed to make a voice or video interactive connection with the transmitter.

He set the message on repeat and looked hopefully towards the sun while trying hard to not disconnect from the control panel. He knew looking too hard would be futile. Any ship would be lost in the distance unless it was within a few hundred kilometers, but he scanned the horizon regardless.

Five agonizing minutes passed by in silence.

Then a woman’s voice filled the Colonel’s helmet saying, “I am in no mood for jokes tonight. This had better the real thing.”

Looking around wildly for the source of the transmission Colonel Daniels said to himself, “Son of a bitch, that ship must be close for me to be catching her broadcast in my helmet so strong.”

In an amused tone the woman replied, “I’ve had some wild ideas of how we would end up meeting each other again over the years, but I have to admit that I never imagined finding you clinging to a garbage barge.”

Colonel Daniels had just a moment to realize whose voice he was hearing before the tightly packed garbage exploded and flew away from the shunt module in all directions.

“Whoa! I didn’t think you would be that mad at me for missing the Founder’s Reception!”

Panicked, Scylla replied, “I didn’t shoot. It came from a Regent warship.”

“What the hell,” the Colonel asked before calling out, “Stand down, you are firing on a Colonel of the Regency Corps of Exploration!”

The Regency ship replied, “That was a warning Colonel Daniels. Prepare for boarding and surrender. You will not be harmed.”

No longer caring about the delicate connections between his arm and the module’s communication panel, Daniels ripped free and climbed his way up to see over the edge of what was left of the barge. The two ships were much closer than he expected. He could clearly see that Scylla’s yacht was on a course to ram the Regency ship. The Regency frigate was nearly equal in mass to Scylla’s yacht. It had apparently not realized the threat in time. Missiles were fired but they only succeeded in breaking the yacht up into three large mass objects whose momentum still inflicted heavy damage on the frigate’s hull. Smoke and debris cast a shadow over the nearby star. The frigate was veering uncontrollably off course, but the Colonel knew the crippling effects of the impact would soon be overcome by the ship’s damage control teams. He knew that frigate. The betrayal seemed complete.

Then it dawned on him that he might have just witnessed the demise of his friend just before he could see her again. Before that thought could consume him, a bright reflector from behind unnaturally lit up his position on the barge. He turned to be surprised by Scylla’s shuttle gliding up with the belly hatch opened. He expertly jumped to his rescuing ship. He pulled the lower hatch shut as the shuttle banked hard away from what was left of the garbage barge.

“Can this thing take us back to the Founder’s Reception,” He asked while he took his pressure suit off in the airlock. His flight suit was soaked with sweat from being contained in the pressure suit for so long. He zipped open the front and peeled the wet suit away from his skin and flapped the fabric without removing the jumpsuit.

Replying over the intercom Scylla said, “I hate to go back by that ship. Wouldn’t Daniels Planet be a more logical place to run to?”

Climbing out of the below deck airlock onto the shuttle cabin floor Daniels said, “I’m betting that the captain of the frigate knows you sacrificed your yacht as a diversion and he’s probably ordering his gunners to shoot at anything that flies towards my planet. You must have managed to do a number on the targeting array or we’d already be in pieces. Besides, assuming we did make it back to my planet, it would be where they expect me to go so they’d come knocking the moment they have their ship back in order.”

“I don’t like it but you’re the Colonel so this is your call, for now,” Scylla replied as she banked the shuttle and headed back towards the sun.

As they flew away missiles were shot at larger pieces of barge debris that had been blown out towards Daniels Planet with the first shot fired. Then a bolt of energy was discharged from the frigate’s main lightning gun, finishing off the remains of the garbage barge and shunt module. By this time the shuttle was at its closest approach to the Atascaderan star when Colonel Daniels realized the frigate captain’s strategy. By silencing the garbage barge’s warning signal, the Regency ship could now sweep the area for any remaining electromagnetic echoes. The shuttle’s gravity drive was like a beacon to the warship now.

A single projectile was fired at the escaping shuttle. It was expertly targeted at the gravity drive signature and it knocked out the engine in one clean glancing impact. The shuttle had been pulling itself towards the star to gain a slingshot around. Without the gravity drive, it was now on a collision course with the star.

Alarms were sounding on the shuttle’s control panels while Scylla helplessly tried to stop the inevitable. When nothing worked she turned back and was astonished to see Craig Daniels still causally sitting on the shuttle floor.

When her eyes met his he asked, “What in the hell were you thinking when you attacked a Regency warship like that?”

“Well I certainly didn’t mean to crash my yacht into their ship. I was just trying to fly a distraction across their bow. Besides, I thought I was saving an old friend. I had no way of knowing that you wanted to kill yourself.”

The cabin was starting to brighten as the Atascaderan sun’s charged particles began lighting up the view ports. The heat in the cabin was also rising fast.

Scylla couldn’t believe how calm her former love was right then. It looked like the older version of the same Craig Daniels she had expected him to be after this many years, but he just sat there facing death like a man on a holiday. He was looking at the lights outside the view ports while he calmly said, “Hopefully the aurora will hide our disappearing act.”

Scylla cocked her head in confusion and then couldn’t help turning to look out at the front glass herself. The green and yellow lights were beautiful and just as she was realizing how entrancing they were there was a flash of bright white light and she knew this would be the last thing she would ever see.


Thankfully Scylla had been wrong. The bright flash had stunned her vision but she went on feeling like she was alive. When her eyes started to recover she was looking at the dark starry night of space. She turned but Craig was not there anymore. He had gone to the back of the shuttle where he was looking out at the star as it was shrinking away from their shuttle.

She got up and had to steady her weakened legs a moment before going to join him. She couldn’t have explained how just then, but she realized that she wasn’t looking at the Atascaderan star anymore. Atascaderan natives grew up on planets that orbited much closer to their red dwarf stars than most other inhabited planets elsewhere. The star hung large in Atascaderan planet skies more like a moon than the center of the system. This new star had a slightly deeper red shift than their home star.

Scylla stumbled over to Craig’s side. She managed to get over her astonishment enough to ask two words, “Where,,, how?”

The Colonel put a firm arm around the swaying woman. His first contact with her in three decades was electrifying. He didn’t want to interrupt his wonder in the moment to explain, but he knew she deserved it.

“Two years ago a General in the Corps of Exploration introduced me to a corporal navigator with a very unusual theory about what our home system had been built for.”

“What do you mean built,” Scylla asked unable to keep herself from interrupting. “Nobody just builds a solar system.”

“Somebody built the Atascadero system and god knows how many other solar systems like it,” the Colonel patiently answered.

Scylla was starting to see that there were planets erratically orbiting this strange new star like the planets of her home system. “Well we know there’s at least one more,” she observed.

“Yes, well the navigator had figured this out too when he was on holiday in Atascadero. As a navigator, his idea of a holiday was to watch ships flying by the planets he visited. Somewhere along the way he watched a garbage barge as it was being sent to the sun. He had seen other ships being scuttled into other stars before. He knew that ships take a lot longer to fully burn up in the sun’s outer chromosphere. That got him to wondering about everything that was out of place in the Atascaderan system.”

The Colonel paused his story and led Scylla over to the pilot chairs. While he used the docking thrusters to point the ship in the direction it was going he went on saying, “The corporal must have been a naturally self-doubting person because he didn’t say anything about his idea to anyone. It wasn’t until a captain was going over the corporal’s logs that anyone saw a hint of what the navigator had been theorizing over. The matter was referred up to General Price who is in charge of new astronomical observations for the Corps.

“The general and I go way back in the Corps together and he knew I was a Founder so he put the two of us together so I could help the Corporal fill in the blanks of what he was working on.”

“So you two came up with this wild idea to fly into our star and see what happens?” Scylla asked.

“Come on, you know me better than that,” Colonel Daniels said hurt.

“I know the boy who left Atascadero thirty years ago wouldn’t do that,” Scylla answered smartly, “but the man who was sitting over there so sure this hare-brained idea was going to work seems crazy enough to follow that plan.”

“Well the corporal was crazy enough to sneak out and try his theory alone. We tracked his ship’s signature right up until it disappeared into the Atascaderan sun. There was a chance that he had just burned up like we all assumed the garbage barges had been doing for decades, but his tracking signature ended a fraction of a millisecond too soon.

“Most of the Corps assumed this was just a sensor anomaly. But the general and I weren’t so sure. That was when the General agreed to issue orders for my return to Atascadero.”

“So if you were here on orders, why did the Regent ship shoot at you?”

Colonel Daniels started adjusting the shuttle’s scanner console. He had been wondering why he had been shot at too. The scanner’s clumsy lack of calibration was frustrating to a military man who was used to being able to track anything the size of a basketball inside a whole solar system. This civilian scanner’s active search was only good enough for large asteroid avoidance and it relied more on transponders for finding nearby ships. He would have to work hard to find what he was looking for.

Thinking out loud he said, “Officially there was an order to suppress the Corporal’s experiment from the rest of the Corps. The word to us in the know was that they didn’t want others to try and fail like the Corporal. That’s why I needed a special assignment to come to Atascadero which was supposed to be off limits to the rest of the Corps of Exploration for now.”

“Except for a certain armed ship that destroyed my family yacht,” Scylla pointed out. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that Associate from the Regency was the one pulling the trigger.”

The Colonel pulled his attention away from the scanner and asked, “There’s an Associate from the Regency in Atascadero?” He paused and drummed his fingers in a way that reminded Scylla of the boy she first met in school where he had drummed the desk in the same way when taking math tests. “So that must be whose behind all of this. Tell me about this associate of yours.”

Scylla didn’t like talking about the man again. “Niles Raytheon, an insufferable bore who was at the Founder’s Reception looking for you.”

“We need to get back,” the Colonel said stating the obvious.

Scylla rolled her eyes and a pointed out the equally obvious, “In case you forgot, out Spiderman drive is out. We can’t fly ourselves to the nearest planet. Forget flying back at that sun.”

Pointing at a blip on the shuttle’s scanner console the Colonel said, “This ship can’t, but mine can.”

“You sent your ship into the sun while you sat there on the garbage barge?” Scylla asked getting confused.

“It’s a long story but the short version is that I ran out of power getting to Atascadero. I would have asphyxiated if I hadn’t jumped on the garbage barge and recharged my suit. My ship kept going though so here it is.”

The Colonel’s darter had gone through under the Atascaderan sun’s gravity pull only. Scylla’s shuttle had been pulling on the sun until the drive was knocked out, so it had come through the star with more momentum and it was now catching up with the slower craft. The shuttle had enough maneuvering thruster power to align its drift with the Colonel’s darter. The Colonel expertly slowed the shuttle to match the darter’s drift velocity within arm’s reach of the second craft.

Scylla took one look at the darter and said, “You can’t expect the two of us to cross the galaxy crammed in that thing can you”

The Colonel answered, “No I don’t expect us to travel across the galaxy in both of these ships. I’m hoping we’ll be flying back together through the sun tunnel or whatever you want to call it.”

“I’m listening,” Scylla said relieved, “and a sun tunnel is good enough for me for now.”

“I’m hoping I can recharge my ship from your shuttle’s power and that I can fix your ship while we wait for mine to recharge.”

“What if you can’t fix my ship?”

If he had come through on his own, the Colonel would have had no problem with flying back without a second thought. But he had more than himself to consider now. Would he have them both go back anyway? Would he try flying on his own, and if he did that and failed, did he want to leave Scylla stranded here alone? It was a problem with too many more questions than answers.

“Let’s tackle that problem after it presents itself,” he answered.

His clothes were just starting to feel loose again. He wasn’t looking forward to putting on his pressure suit again so soon after escaping it.

“Time to go back outside,” he said glumly as he got up and went to the airlock hatch. He knelt down and pulled his pressure suit out of the floor hatch and started pulling the suit back on. It had been a few years since he had been in a situation like this where he was forced to put on a clammy pressure suit. He would have put it on without a thought before. Now he realized just how soft he had let himself become as a Lieutenant Colonel.

“Can I go with,” Scylla offered hopefully. “It’s been a few years since I’ve spacewalked.”

Colonel Daniels turned with his suit over his legs and one shoulder. He sighed and said, “Normally I’d say yes, but we’re in a combat situation. You stay and monitor our surroundings. We don’t know where we are yet or if there are any unfriendly aliens nearby.”

“Aliens?” Scylla asked horrified. “I thought there were no more aliens since the Extinction.”

“Maybe not in the charted part of the galaxy we inherited, but who knows how far out this place is. My ship is dead out of power and this one can’t fly to the nearest planet. Even if there aren’t any hostiles nearby, were going nowhere until I get one or both of these ships moving again.” He glanced at his sleeve computer and explained, “It’s been about twenty minutes since we disappeared into the sun. We have about a day’s worth of power to recycle our air. I hope to not cut it that close by being ready to go back to Atascadero within a couple hours. Hopefully the Frigate with your trigger happy Associate will have gone by then.”

Colonel put his helmet over his head. The heads up was green. The charge on the suit was still good from his recharge on the garbage shunt module. The air was fresher now, but there was still the musky smell of a suit that was in need of a cleaning. He opened the hatch and climbed down into the airlock. Outside he started setting up an umbilical connection between the ships. While he worked he asked, “So are you married?”

Scylla had been half watching him work and half monitoring the shuttle radar. She hadn’t been ready to answer such a direct question. The boy she knew would have danced around the subject a bit before finding a not so clever way to ask the question.

“I was,” she answered. She was afraid to volunteer more. “How about you?”

“Only to the Corps,” Daniels answered.

“So would I have been destined to be a lonely military wife if I had followed you into the Regency when we were kids?”

“I don’t know,” the Colonel replied finishing his connection to between ships. He keyed in some codes and the display showed a charge in progress. The Colonel watched to make sure the transfer was steady while he continued saying, “I remember us planning to join up with the Rising Star cruise line. Maybe I would have ended up as a bar tender and you could have been the ship’s entertainment director or something.”

“A soldier seems to fit you better than bartender,” Scylla answered playfully. She was now observing more details about the solar system they had arrived in.

It was another archipelago system. Thirty nine planets orbiting another red dwarf star. This star was slightly larger so the planets orbited at a longer distance from the sun, but she imagined they would turn out to be tropical paradises just like the planets of her home system. Watching those planets orbit like her home system comforted her. She had visited planets in the Regency many years ago. The solar systems deeper inside the galaxy seemed so, flat.

Scylla’s heart raced as she realized she was one of only two or three humans to look upon this system. Her imagination raced as she thought back to her lessons on the Milky Way in school. One professor had floated a holographic image of the galaxy above her head and then highlighted how small the charted portion of the galaxy really was. Humanity had inherited a close grouping of systems out on one spiral swath of systems in the Milky Way. The gravity beam ships of today could cover unimaginable distances between stars, but there were limits to how far anyone could go out beyond that small charted area of the immense galaxy.

Picturing that hologram in her head, she thought of how far away from that little slice of the galaxy she was now. Billions upon billions of star systems were between her and the Archipelago Atascadero now. And god only knew how many undiscovered species and civilizations existed in that divide between her and her home. Was she in one of the most technically advanced ships in that distance, or was she a relative primitive in these parts? The possibilities were overwhelming so she concentrated on watching the man from her past who had finally managed to drag her out into the galaxy after all.

With a full charge the Colonel spared some power as he used his suit’s magnetic field to move him above the shuttle’s gravity drive. The shot from the frigate had pierced the outer hull. He removed the panel and sent it floating away. In this part of the ship the panel had been installed for aesthetics only. He surveyed the damage and then enthusiastically announced, “We at least have the Corpsman Gunner on our side aboard the Housini.”

It was a relief for Scylla. She had been afraid that the whole Regency was against them. “How do we know we have the gunner on our side?”

“We were shot with a nibbler,” Colonel Daniels answered.

“You’ll have to fill me in on why that is good news,” Scylla replied.

“A nibbler is a programmed projectile that can be aimed to destroy or it can be set to disable. The lowest damage setting will set the bullet’s guidance to hone in on a piece of equipment that can be repaired or replaced easily. The bullet has only severed a conduit. With a little work I can strip back the fiber optics housing and patch things back together and restore your Spiderman drive.”

“Do you think the gunner programmed the low setting on his own or do would he have done that under orders?”

“The Housini usually operates on interdiction missions. It would be standard procedure to use a lower setting on a smuggler’s vessel. But the first shot at the garbage barge damn near blew me to pieces. I’m guessing that Associate of yours had been more specific about how hard he wanted the barge hit. If I’m right about that, then he must have been too rattled by your ramming maneuver to order a stronger hit on your shuttle. Relying on procedure, the gunner could have decided to fire on us as if we were a flight risk only, but procedure would have allowed him to use the same force as the last ordered shots fired. We’d be lucky to be alive if he had hit us any harder.”

“Great we were spared by this gunner,” Scylla observed. “Will we be spared if we fly back into Atascadero when you fix my ship?”

The Colonel floated back to his ship and checked on the charge progress before moving to a service hatch where he pulled out his combat repair kit as he answered, “We have to assume that there is some doubt about whether or not we’ve survived our plunge into the Atascaderan sun. I get the feeling your Associate is reckless enough to follow us here if he was relatively certain we survived.”

“Would you stop referring to that vermin as mine,” Scylla snapped back. “Maybe your gunner and his shipmates have stopped taking orders from the jerk.”

“Well I sure do hope so because the captain of the Housini is the one who brought this whole mess to our attention.”

The Colonel went back to the damaged conduit on the shuttle where he started stripping back the outer housings one colored pair at a time. The kit from his ship had a handy gun like device that clamped on to the ends of the optic wires and both pulled them together and sealed them back into one unit again.

“I’m hoping you’re right,” he said absentmindedly while he concentrated on pairing the matching wire ends, “but in a combat situation like this, I have to plan for the worst scenario, which would have included the frigate following us and then scooping us up by now. Since it hasn’t come through, I still assume the Associate is in control and that all guns are trained on the place we disappeared into.”

“How long would he wait for us like that,” Scylla asked aghast.

“That’s a dilemma for him. He could wait as long as he likes, except he’s going to be worried that he’s wasting his time playing cat and mouse with us when he could be back on Cuomos planet hastening the acceptance of Atascadero into the Regency.”

The Colonel reconnected the last of the wires and restored the power.

“Why would he bother now,” Scylla asked. “Won’t you be able to lay claim to this system if you’re the one who proves this conduit between solar systems works?”

Colonel Daniels answered, “Neither of us can personally lay claim to the system. According to the modern laws of the Regency, if there aren’t any indigenous sentient species in the system, the ownership reverts to the government that the explorer is a citizen of. It was a refinement the Regency added after our forefathers snagged up Atascadero from them.”

“So does that make this a Regent system,” Scylla asked disappointed.

“No, that’s the only reason I’m still a Lieutenant Colonel. I was in boot camp with the General I was telling you about. I couldn’t go higher in the ranks without renouncing my citizenry with Atascadero. Remaining an Atascaderan means more to me than a promotion. But with Atascadero applying for membership in the Regency, there was talk of me making General. In hindsight that was probably just a carrot to keep me from doing what I’ve done here.”

“So that makes this an Atascadero claim then,” Scylla said hopefully.

“Yes but if we don’t get ourselves back to Atascadero immediately the Regency will hurry up the process of accepting the archipelago into the union and then this becomes their system anyway.”

Scylla needed to think though the implications, but Craig Daniels had reasoned the scenarios through for weeks now. He knew that the Regency had only become serious about accepting the archipelago into their government after the corporal’s theories were considered plausible by the politicians who didn’t understand how improbable the theory was. He didn’t have a resentment towards the Regency, but the government was too large and overly bureaucratic for his liking. The bureaucracy of the Regency had crossed the invisible barrier into a self-serving interest of itself. The citizens who created the government to act on their behalf had now become servants to the government. This wasn’t the result of an evil conspiracy. It was the inevitable evolution of civil services being allowed to break the bonds of individual control. The Regency was now run by policies and processes to the frustration of the individuals who pretended to be in charge of it. And a bureaucracy made for terrible explorers. Putting them in charge of this new discovery would be a disaster as far as Craig Daniels was concerned.

If this was the first of who knows how many more archipelago connections that might exist in the galaxy, and if Atascadero could lay claim to each discovery, they could quickly become a balancing force to the Regency’s unchecked growth of government.

Scylla hadn’t made so many connections yet, but instinctively she realized that Atascadero would be a more responsible steward of this new discovery. “How long until we’re ready to go back then,” she blurted out with her heart racing.

“We don’t go back until I have a plan in place,” Daniels answered.

He went over to his ship and checked on the charging progress. The combat vehicle was built to be more efficient than the luxury shuttle he was drawing from. The darter was at three-quarters capacity. The shuttle would still have enough left to have the same charged range his ship now had. He could operate for weeks in this system without another boosting charge or he could make it to another star system using the Spiderman drive if he could figure out where he was in relation to the nearest known occupied system if such a thing existed close by. This possibility was doubtful however because this system had the same distant view of the Milky Way as Atascadero. The Milky Way shone like a long bright white cloud in space and there was no way to easily figure out where they were in relation to the charted region of the Regency.

“Do you have an idea for a plan,” Scylla asked hopefully.

Looking into their home galaxy the stars were bunched tight and bright. Looking out to the universe in the opposite direction was a much darker view into space. The majority of the points of light seen in that direction were the very distant galaxies beyond.

Daniels disconnected the umbilical and let it retract into the shuttle. The cockpit canopy was still open from when the ship was powerless. While he climbed in he explained, “I’m assuming the garbage barges that the Atascaderan Waste Management have been sending into the sun have ended up here. I plan to send one of them back through first. In the meantime, try your ship out and see if you can fly now.”

Scylla was relieved to have full control of her ship again. She flew out and whipped around and parked herself nearly nose to nose with Craig’s darter. He was busy scanning for garbage barges when she eased her shuttle up close to his ship. Craig had closed the darter canopy and he had retracted the helmet face shield. He glanced up briefly to wave hello in a way that made him look thirty years younger. Then he went back to his work.

A priority distress call lit up her control glass. Her heart felt as if it has fully stopped before she realized it was coming from the ship she was floating nose to nose with. “What do you suppose happened to that corporal of yours,” she asked realizing who the colonel was trying to signal.

“The way I see it there are only four answers to that question,” he answered. “One, he is here in this system somewhere. Two, he tried to return but burned up in the sun on the attempt. That is why I want to send a garbage barge through first, to see if it shows a lingering sign of fully burning or to see if the mass of it simply disappears from my tracker. The third and fourth possibilities are more problematic.”

“You wouldn’t classify burning up in the sun more problematic than anything else?” Scylla asked astonished.

“No, hopefully I can test for the burning up part and if confirmed, we will be marooned but still alive.”

“And what then would be the bigger problem than that?”

“Think about it, there has been no word from the corporal since he disappeared,” Daniels explained. “If he’s not here, then where is he if he did not burn up trying to go back? Did he return to Atascadero? Why hasn’t he contacted anyone if he made it back? If he’s not here, and he is alive, and he did not make it back to Atascadero, will we make it back to Atascadero when we try?”

The question rang in Scylla’s ears while she imagined the possibilities. It was too hard to come up with a logical reason why a man who had traveled through a sun and back wouldn’t have immediately been trumpeting his discovery from the moment of his return. It was however quite easy to imagine that if there was a link between the Atascadero Archipelago and this new system, then there were probably more connections. If the corporal tried going right back the way he came and ended up who knows where, what chance did she and Craig Daniels have at starting their own bouncing tour of the outer rim of the Milky Way?

“Shouldn’t we try going to look for the corporal before we try jumping back through the star?”

“No time. If he’s here he’s not answering my call. We would be wasting time searching for a needle in a solar system while the Regency finalizes the deal with Atascadero.”

A green light flashed on the console glass. There were a number of barges nearby drifting away from the new sun. It was time to see if he could send some of them back in the direction they had come from. “Wait here while I grab a few of those garbage barges with my Spiderman drive. Be ready to follow me into the sun when I come flying back by.”

She was really starting to not like the way the older Craig Daniels seemed to constantly be on the move. She wondered if this was why she let him go thirty years ago. Just like today, three decades ago he was always bouncing around the Atascaderan system. For her, being on the move was unsettling. At least it had seemed so back then. But then she had experienced three decades of a steady home life and all it got her was a failed marriage and boredom.

At least her homeland wasn’t in danger when she was bored. Besides, having been whisked to some unknown corner of the galaxy was not what she would have dreamed up for putting excitement into her life. Yet here she was, poised to fly directly into a strange star and if she survived the return, she was going back to face down a Regent takeover of her home system. It was almost too much for her to contemplate.

Thankfully, the new Colonel Daniels didn’t give her much time to contemplate anything. Three garbage barges flew past her in quick succession followed by Craig pushing them along with his little fighter ship’s gravity drive. Her own shuttle could never have pulled this little juggling trick off, but the military ship’s drive could do much more than reaching out to pull on nearby mass objects. The gravity drive was also the weapon that had left humans the sole survivors of the Extinction.

“Get in line,” Daniels cheerfully said as he flew by. “If the warship is there, I expect it to shoot at these barges as they come through first. Hopefully the garbage will scatter and create enough confusion for us to get through without getting shot ourselves.”

While the Colonel’s warship was fully occupied juggling the barges with its gravity drive, it missed detecting an incoming object from the nearest planet. Scylla was too busy straining to watch the Colonel’s show pass by to notice the object on her scanner. When the thing was close to the shuttle, a black suited figure peeled away and floated up to the belly of the shuttle. The hitchhiker quickly crawled up into the forgotten open airlock hatch.

Happy to be going home Scylla engaged her Spiderman drive and fell in line. As a Founder she had been in many parades but this was the craziest parade she had ever participated in. “Do we make a break for Cuomos Planet when we get back?”

“Not unless you want to arrive there in pieces,” Daniels gravely answered. “If that frigate is there when we come back through, I want you to lock your gravity drive on its mass and pull yourself to it as fast and as hard as that drive will pull.”

“Are you mad,” Scylla asked astonished.

“Don’t worry, I’m not crazy, but I am hoping the Madden move won’t be expected. I’ll be right by you and we’ll be pulling to their ship faster than it can lock onto us for a shot. Then just before we hit, I’ll push on your ship with my gravity drive and that will send the two of us out and around the frigate, flying by faster than a speeding bullet. We should be half way to Daniel’s Planet before that Regency Associate realizes what’s happened.”

Colonel Daniels was building up speed as they few at the sun when he radioed back to Scylla, “I’m going to be slowing down soon to let the barges drift into the sun a little ahead of us.”

Shaking Scylla called back, “Is this going to work?”

“Of course it will,” Craig answered mustering his best poker voice. He adjusted the gravity drive controls and let the garbage barges continue forward under their own momentum while he eased back on his pull at the sun. He waited for a short moment before pulling on the sun again to match the barge’s drift speed from a few hundred kilometers behind. The barges drifted up to the sun and disappeared into a brilliant light show. Colonel Daniels had to fight the instinct to pull up and away.

Thinking the same thing Scylla nervously said, “Now we know why the Regent ship didn’t follow us into the sun. I’m convinced the barges didn’t make it.”

“Not according to my radar,” the colonel cheerfully announced. They disappeared from the scope too fast. They couldn’t have burned up.”

The light show was much more brilliant in the cockpit of the Colonel’s ship than it had been in Scylla’s shuttle. The face shield on his helmet was nearly at its maximum auto dim already in the close proximity to the sun’s chromosphere. Then came the flash of brighter light as he entered the chromosphere. In another instant it was over.


An Atascaderan salvage crew was gathering the pieces of Scylla’s destroyed yacht when bright flashes turned their attention to the sun. The six salvage workers were flying individually in their small shuttle sized utility ships using magnetic fields generated by the black conduit spaghetti looking hulls of their craft. These little ships were purpose built to herd salvage debris into a growing ball of collected parts. Each had stopped concentrating on what they were doing and turned their ships to see what was happening nearby.

“Where the hell did those things come from,” one of the salvage crew radioed in astonishment when she realized garbage barges were drifting away from the sun.

The foreman was about to order the group back to work when there was another flash of light and two spaceships appeared instead of more garbage skiffs. This time they were looking in the direction of the flash. The ships clearly emerged directly from the Atascaderan sun.

The newbie from the Old System squawked, “Oyie, did I just see those bloom’in ships come out of the bloody sun.”

“Sure, Mickey, that sort of thing happens all the time out here on the edge,” the first woman snarked back. “Wait till you see where our sewage reappears from.”

Colonel Daniels let out a sigh of relief when the transmissions broke out in laughter. “Looks like shooting us out of the picture is no longer the Regency strategy,” he said turning towards the Atascaderan capital on Cumos Planet.

The foreman radioed, “Are you the ones that Regent ship was gunning for?”

“We were,” Daniels admitted not seeing any harm in it. “Where’d they go?”

“The Rangers have escorted them to Cumos. I’m told they’re in some big trouble for blowing up this Founder’s Yacht. Damn shame too. This one belongs to that good looking founder I was hoping would help stop us from joining the Regency and she wasn’t anywhere to be found in the wreckage.”

“Well I’m alive and flattered,” Scylla said joining in.

“How’s about dat, Boss?” another voice joined in.

“The Rangers are going to be glad to know you’re alive,” the foreman added. “Is that a Regent darter with you?”

“It is, but he’s with me,” Scylla answered.

“This is Colonel Craig Daniels with the Regent Corps of Exploration. Do you know if there are any more Regent ships inbound from the core?”

“Depends Colonel,” the foreman said.

“On what?” Daniels asked.

“Depends on if you’re a Daniels who comes from that planet over here.”

“I am.”

“Then I can tell you, no. There’s no more Regent ships we know of coming to Atascadero right now, should there be?”

“It’s not so much that there should be more, but if that frigate is the only Regent ship here still, there’s a chance Atascadero can still come out of this on top.”

“On top of what?” the foreman asked.

He didn’t get an answer. Daniels aimed a gravity beam at Walkers planet and pulled his ship away with Scylla following close behind. A weaker gravity beam held onto the Atascaderan sun sending the two ships on an arcing track around the sun on their way to Cumos planet. Half way around, Daniels re-aimed his main gravity beam at Cumos planet and started pulling himself there when a warning came over the radio.

“Cumos planet is under a temporary restriction to incoming traffic. Release your gravity beam and identify yourself.”

Daniels and Scylla released their beams from Cumos. The few seconds of acceleration left their ships with enough momentum to keep them speeding towards the planet at several hundreds of kilometers a second.

“This is Founder Scylla Lilian Cumos. Stand down Ranger because I am landing, restriction or no.”

“Founder Cumos! Thank goodness you’re alive. I’ll signal ahead that you are in route to the hearing happening right now at the Civic Center.”

As Scylla said, “Thanks,” Daniels was already sending out a gravity beam to accelerate to Cumos planet when a pulse from the lead Ranger’s lightning gun stopped him.

“That invitation was not extended to you Regency,” the Ranger growled.

“Not even for a Founder who used to swim circles around you in school,” Daniels asked grinning, “Thirty years has not improved that bit of a lisp you get when you’re mad Jimbo.

“That would be, Captain Walker to you, Daniels. But I’m afraid that Regent ship you’re sporting isn’t doing you any favors.”

Daniels was glad to see Scylla still had the sensible streak he loved three decades ago when she abandoned the conversation and accelerated away to Cuomos planet. He turned around and flew at his old friend Jimbo. The other rangers fired their projectile weapons at the darter, but they were no match for the Colonel’s military grade Spiderman drive that gently directed the ammunition harmlessly around his ship. He came up nose to nose with his old friend and raised his face shield to show his sincerity.

“Captain Walker, you and your rangers only have the illusion of control over that Regency frigate right now. Believe me that they are only playing along with your show of force so they can quietly take your government away from you.”

The other rangers were flying formations around the Colonel. At first they occasionally tried a shot at Daniel’s ship but quickly gave up smartly realizing that they may force the Regent’s Spiderman drive to deflect a bullet at their own ship. Jimbo had tried to pull himself away but Daniel’s gravity beam held him fast while using the sun to hold them both locked tight.

“I’m just a little darter and I could have crashed your ships into each other like a pair of symbols. I haven’t because I want to stop the takeover of our home as much as you do. The only way to do that is to stop this and clear the way for me into the Civic Center. Do we understand each other?”


Scylla was allowed to land at the front steps of the Civic Center Judiciary. She had been here before for the swearing in of judges and other ceremonial occasions, but she had never arrived like this. All of the other spacecraft that had arrived before had been landed in the proper fields.

It was still dark on the Civic Center side of Cuomos planet. All of the planets of Atascadero were equal in size and mass and had the same day/night cycles. Again this had been assumed to be the result of distance from the center of the galaxy, but now it was clear to Scylla that it was by design. While the land masses on these planets varied greatly, every planet’s main continent was on one side of each planet so the residents of the entire system experienced daylight at the same time in the whole system. Arriving now in the dark meant that not only were the inhabitants of her home world asleep, it meant that most of the people in the entire system would be home and in bed as well.

The rangers who had escorted her down from orbit had diverted at the last moment after receiving a message from Captain Walker. They guided her shuttle right to the Judiciary steps. Once landed she exited the main doors where an armed detachment was ready to take her right up to the main arbitration chambers using the judge’s lift. The shuttle was left behind unguarded and the dark figure that had hitched a ride in the airlock slipped out and followed the entourage into the building.

Her arrival was well timed at the commotion in the change of experts prompted by the news that Scylla and the Colonel had re-emerged from the sun. Before then the debate in the chamber had centered on accepting Atascadero into the Regency on notion that the Corps of Exploration was needed to protect others from committing suicide by following the unproven theory that the star could do more. Finding out that the theory might be fact was forcing the Regent Representative to switch to a new expert in a last ditch attempt to hold a claim to the discovery.

Scylla was impressed to find a surprisingly filled room considering the time of night in Atascadero. Her arrival went unnoticed because the room was in the state of disorder after the Atascaderan Magistrate’s round of testimonials. Founder representatives, such as Gavin Daniels, had spoke out against the notion that a claim of ownership of the opposite star system could be granted to the Regency. Other Magistrates had lobbied in favor of granting rights to the Regency hoping it would hasten the annexation of Atascadero. The split in opinions had done nothing to help decide the matter. The judge had allowed the Regent Associate to introduce scientific experts in an attempt to further the discussion.

An adjournment in the proceedings had been called moments before Scylla’s arrival in the room. Participants and observers alike were moving around to talk about what they had seen so far while many of the occupants were entering and exiting the room to use the lavatory. Scylla hadn’t realized that her hitchhiker from the other side of the galaxy had eased in from the stairwell and blended into the crowd as well. He had shed his dark suit and was dressed in Bermuda shorts and looked like a number of the other people present who were visiting from the Regency.

As the commotion of the break settled down, Scylla took a standing place in the general audience amongst the tourists who hopefully wouldn’t recognize who she was. The room was arranged to let opposing sides negotiate a settlement to a dispute. Dominant in the room was the long table that was narrower at one side and wider at the head where the judge or arbitrator sat with everyone at the table naturally facing the judge’s way almost as much as they were facing each other across the table.

The judge’s chair looked out across the table to a three meter tall plate glass window which had a commanding view over the rooftops of the Civic Center buildings between there and the sea. It was the right time of the night to see the dramatic concentration of the Milky Way stars through the plate glass. This is why the seat of government was located on Cumos Planet, because it had the best year round view of the Milky Way.

All of the seats were filled at the table and a considerable number more people filled the empty floor at the narrowest ends of the table. She was relieved when Craig slipped in and joined her before the judge was finished going through his well-rehearsed reminder of the next witness’s responsibility to stick to the facts and the graveness of bearing false witness to the Regency.

When the Judge completed his brief, he nodded to the Regent Associate, indicating that the witness was his to question.

He stood and waved over the room and said, “Explain to us like we’re not astronomers, what is the Atascaderan sun capable of?”

Associate Raytheon had everything to do with an astronomer’s fortuitous presence in Atascadero. A man of the astronomer’s caliber would seem fair but the Associate had selected this witness based on his record of loyalty towards the Regency. Like the judge, the astronomer had been vacationing in Atascadero when they were summoned to rule on a problem that would not end with a determination today, but precedence was going to be set in motion with the judge’s decision so it was of vital importance that the Associate help lean things his way. While the Associate had arranged to have the astronomer here on the fortunes of the Regent lottery, he hadn’t anticipated that the astronomer would be too far out of his element to deliver his opinion efficiently.

The witness stood in front of the gathered litigants on thin wobbly legs that stuck out like the stems of mushrooms from the oversized Bermuda shorts pant legs. Like his arms, each leg was pale white when the astronomer faced the Associate and the backs were a bright pink when he faced away.

The astronomer started to say something but stopped himself realizing he was going to launch into technical jargon. It was hard for him to stop and think about how to say the things that were so easy to explain with the scientific terms that he knew most people had a hard time following. It was like being a foreigner in a strange land struggling to clumsily translate his native tongue into the local language he had only just learned.

“As near as I can tell, it has to do with the size of red dwarf suns. They are one ten-thousandth the size of the more commonly habited stars. They use only a fraction of the fuel of larger stars. In the larger and brighter suns a photon of light can take more than one-hundred thousand years to move from the core out into space. In a red dwarf like the Atascaderan sun, light photons can move out from the center in only a few days.” The astronomer then couldn’t help falling into his usual script for a lecture on this subject saying, “The light visible on my home planet today started its journey from the sun’s core ninety thousand years before our ancestors stepped foot on another world.”

The Associate rolled his eyes and said, “The point is?”

The astronomer whipped around and apologized to the Associate before explaining, “If you are going to use gravity to bend the space around a ship enough to pop it on the other side of the universe, it makes sense that you would start with a red dwarf because of this.”

The astronomer seemed pleased with himself, as if he had just made everything crystal clear.

The Associate replied, “No, sir, it does not make sense.”

The astronomer had no clue of how patronizing he sounded as he answered, “Don’t feel bad if that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. This is an astounding discovery and there are very few people like myself who could begin to understand how such a thing might exist. However, if you want to create a solar system that can do what we now know Atascadero can do, you would want to start with a red dwarf because they last for billions of years longer than anything larger. There’s no point expending the astronomical resources something like this would require to create unless you were sure it would effectively last forever.”

The Associate was finished listening to what he now realized would be considered tangential to the point of the proceedings. Addressing the Judge, he said, “If you will forgive my impatience, your honor, but the mechanics of the Atascaderan sun is not at issue here. Can we please move on to the matter of who may lay claim to the system at the other end of this portal?”

The astronomer had been bemused at the interruption from the Associate, but he took exception to the apparent dismissal. “Well, that is just it, Sir,” he said forcing himself to stand steady on legs that willed him to sit. “There is no effective access to this new system without the Atascadero Archipelago. So it wouldn’t matter if you were leaning to rule that Colonel Daniels’ enrolment in the Corps of Exploration meant ownership of the new system goes to the Regency. The citizens of the Archipelago Atascadero will still have the right to refuse anyone passage through their star. If the testimony from the Atascaderan Magistrates is to be believed, the Regency will not be allowed access to the new system if even if it is granted to them. Without the Atascaderan sun, the Regency will have rights to a system that would take more than a century to reach at current best speed. The Regency will be just as unwilling to allow anyone from Atascadero to enter the new system to make landfall on any of the planets therein. Humanity as a whole loses. There is a whole new half of the Milky Way to be discovered and no one here will likely be allowed to learn from it.”

The boardroom erupted into an animated utterance of approval at the astronomer’s conclusion. He looked at the Associate who had sat back down and silently scowled at the astronomer. The astronomer didn’t mind, he never did care for the bureaucrats. He sat down reluctantly, not wanting the moment to end. The Judge clapped his hand on the table and room quickly quieted.

Without getting up the Associate noted, “All of this remains an academic debate as long as the fate of everyone who has flown into the Atascaderan sun remains a mystery. Shouldn’t we allow the Regency to send our ship through the portal without the question of ownership answered? There may be people in need on the other side of that sun.”

The Judge rolled his gaze over to the others of the Atascaderan Council seated at the table. The five of them did not need to consult. Each folded their arms and nodded, “No.”

“It appears that we have reached an impasse,” the judge declared relieved that he might be allowed to end the proceedings without having to declare a ruling that would be debated for centuries to come. He had no wish to be a part of history. He was about to gable his hand on the desk to end the proceeding when a voice spoke up from the audience in the room.

“There are two of us who don’t need rescuing,” Scylla spoke out.

The boardroom fell silent as all eyes sought out the one who spoke. Scylla grabbed Craig Daniels’ hand for support and said, “Yup, we have been there and made it back just fine. No need for rescue here.”

“And where did you come from,” the judge asked astonished.

Colonel Daniels answered, “We slipped in apparently just in time.”

Frustrated, the Associate stood and declared, “Where they came from is irrelevant. Neither of them are the first people to enter the Atascaderan sun.” Pointing out the window at the sun rising on the horizon, he continued, “Corporal Baily is still out there and if these two have made it to the other side of the sun and back, then the corporal is still alive and the true discoverer of the new system.”

“Is it too late to point out that Corporal Baily never actually flew into the Atascaderan Sun?”

Everyone quickly spun to see who had dropped that bombshell. Of the people present, only one person could identify the new voice right away. Colonel Daniels hadn’t seen Corporal Baily for nearly a year, but it was him, looking much tanner with longer sun bleached hair then he remembered. Before, Baily’s physique betrayed his fondness of ice-cream, but now the boy was trim and sporting a rough few days unshaven look that the Corporal would not have been allowed to keep while serving the Corps.

“Are you going to tell me that you are Corporal Baily,” the Associate sighed already having predicted the answer.

“I am,” Corporal Baily said stepping forward.

Sitting a little taller in his chair, the Associate asked, “And can you explain why you have waited until now to come forward?”

Looking down and shuffling his feet, the Corporal answered, “Technically, sir, I am AWOL. I was kind of hoping that a decision could be made that would take the focus away from my disappearance so I could quietly make my way back into the Regency without notice.” He looked out of the windows up to the sky and pointing to the sun as it rose and he continued, “Regardless of who the declared claimant becomes for the new archipelago on the other side of that star, there is going to be a rush of people coming and going from this system in the wake of the discovery and I might have gone home forgotten where I had hoped to wait out the statues of limitations on my desertion. But if this is going to end without a ruling, I am not only going to not be allowed to quietly avoid my due, I am going to become more highlighted with the question on if I ever did go to the other side of the star.”

The Associate shot up and triumphantly declared, “So you are the first one to travel to the new archipelago system and back. That means the new system is now Regent space!”

Looking down again the Corporal quietly said, “Not exactly.”

The room was dead silent waiting for the corporal to say more. As the seconds past, the excitement drained from the Associate’s stance.

“What do you mean, not exactly,” Colonel Daniels gently prompted.

The corporal snapped his head up and found Daniels in the group. He locked his eyes on the colonel for strength and said, “Because I never went into the Atascaderan sun. I lost the nerve.”

“But we have the surveillance video that shows you going in,” the Associate blurted out.

Without taking his eyes away from the steadying gaze of the colonel, the corporal answered, “I set that shuttle on a automatic course. I thought I would be able to tell if the shuttle made it through safely and try myself later. After it went through I monitored the Regent Corps frequencies while I tried to find another available shuttle and plan for a real trip into the sun. But while I prepared I learned about how much chaos my discovery was having before someone in the corps classified the whole affair and shut down all communications. I figured that I was a wanted man then and I was afraid of becoming party to the whole fight over who has the rights to the discovery.”

“So you stayed underground here in Atascadero then?” Daniels stated as much as he asked.

Baily nodded yes and the room erupted into a chaotic debate. The Judge beat his hand red on the table top before the room quieted. All eyes turned back to him.

He sighed. That was it then. He was going to be forced to render his ruling and he knew for better or worse, his life would never be the same. The Judge stood and looked over the crowded room.

The Associate had sat back down. He looked confident things would go his way.

The astronomer was looking in wonder at Corporal Baily. He probably realized better than anyone present, how significant Baily’s original observations had been in bringing this moment on. The corporal must have felt the astronomer’s strong gaze because he finally broke his concentration on Colonel Daniels to look the man’s way.

The Judge straightened his robes and said, “The matter is settled then. Colonel Craig Daniels and Founder Scylla Cumos are officially the first citizens to cross from the Archipelago Atascadero into the newly discovered system. Since they are the first through, they then claim that system for their government.

“Seeing as Founder Cumos’ citizenry is unrefuted, it then falls upon me to rule who has the claim of governance over Colonel Daniels. It is my opinion then that because the Regency has denied the Lieutenant Colonel’s promotion beyond that rank based on their admitted acknowledgement that the Colonel is not a citizen of the Regency of Worlds, I declare the discovery to be claimed by the Archipelago Atascadero government.”

The room exploded into half cheering and half excited babble about ways to get back the Regency in an attempt to be the first to break the news. Craig Daniels and Scylla Cumos embraced and kissed under cover of the commotion. The Associate quickly closed the distance between himself and the Judge. He tried to forcefully argue that it was a Regent shuttle that first crossed the barrier, but the Judge was quick to point out that Atascaderan garbage ships had already made the passage for over a century. He asked the Associate if he would like his objection officially noted. Associate Raytheon realized how that would only strengthen the ruling and wisely stormed out of the room.

Others soon followed until it was a flood of people leaving, eager to spread the news.

While the remaining people in the boardroom prattled on excitedly about the future of Atascadero, the sun rising on the horizon outside drew Daniels onto the roof deck. It was a stark transition to step out of the commotion inside into the relative silence of the outdoors. It took a moment to start hearing the outdoor sounds of the morning breeze and the distant ocean. It was hard to fight the urge to stare into the sun in wonder. He closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth on his face. He had now been to hundreds of other solar systems and had never given a second thought to the way they all felt different from one another. Now he realized that this was because none were his home star. Subconsciously each star had been a different degree of variance from the star he had always known to be home.

Only now there was another thing that set this sun apart from all of the systems he had visited. Those stars were nothing more than a destination. They were coordinates on a star chart. Atascadero was more. It was a new way to reach destinations waiting to be discovered. The heated air that followed the sun up from the horizon blew a warm breeze over Craig Daniels as he began fully understand his home for the first time.

He had spent the last three decades feeling as if he had run away and abandoned his home. Now he knew that he had been on the first leg of a journey to find his home. He now felt a connection with the founders who discovered the Archipelago Atascadero that he never felt before. Those merchants were some of the first explorers from the post Extinction age of human history. Craig Daniels understood now that the warmth of the sun he was soaking in was really a magnetic force pulling him to fly into its portal to explore a side of the galaxy that the Archipelago Atascadero was built to take him to.

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