Table of Contents . . .



" ... If you fight dragons long enough, you become a dragon; if you stare
into the Abyss, the Abyss will stare back into you..."
- Frederich Nietzsche

TCS Zenith; Operations Planning Center
The Zeta Orionis System, Petrov Quadrant, Gemini Sector
JAN 11 2684/2684.011; 2200 Hours (CST)

Status report...?”

“Status remains unchanged, and the eve of what has been planned is still where Albrecht’s boys originally projected.”

The bald-headed Space Marshal Johan Voight, while not CO of the ConFleet Armada’s numerous fleets was CO of all Fleet Action within Sol Sector (which essentially put in his possession the First, Fourteenth, and Ninth fleets), folded his hands atop the OPC’s oval-shaped conference table. “This is good, my friend, yes... but can you tell me also that all the necessary steps have indeed been taken that I have gone over with you and the others? Every nuance, to the letter?”

Space Marshal Vriess Weyland, CO of Epsilon Sector ConFleet Action, nodded his head in dutiful response to his compatriot’s query. “Yes, Johan, though it may soon prove trying in our attempt to stir the subject out of his... well, state of self-exile, if that’s what you want to call it.”

“Call it whatever meets your fancy, Vriess... just see to it that the steps are taken, as we’ve discussed.” For their own sake as well as what they were working for, he didn’t need to say at that moment, though he felt the need to point out regardless, “Our long-term strategy cannot be afforded jeopardy by short-term fuck ups... though we can take measured comfort that even our short-term strategy’s plan is just short of fool-proof, let us not ‘count our chickens,’ as it is said.”

“Oh, absolutely, Johan. After that isolated incident with the snooping Western Earth Times journalist we’ve redoubled our defenses 200% from both within and outside—you and I dare not wake the sleeping giant of the Black Projects Division if there were not... failsafes, as I’m sure you’re well aware.”

As it was known throughout their closely-nit circle of ConFleet officers under the Y-12 banner, one wrong step could be the curtain call for all of their combined efforts and their martyrdom to a cause that would be lost to carelessness and ill-preparation... a cause that would then be written off by history likely as little more than a new maniacal Black Lance or fanatically treasonous Society of Mandarins at best. A single journalist nearly revealing the truth behind the Gemini Alliance of the Secession Wars had come too close to risking that, an incident that had and would continue to serve as an example for Voight’s compatriots.

“Of course.” Voight found he grew tired of this increasingly meaningless bickering between himself and Weyland. As their hour grew nigh, he was growing impatient with the continuing reports back and forth... it was results he wanted to hear; to see, not everyone involved patting themselves on the back to let themselves know they were still doing the right thing.

Voight himself held no doubts, lingering or otherwise—in his mind he knew he was doing the right thing, his conscience vindicated by the sheer clarity of his purpose, his people’s mission and shared goal. For the name and future of the Terran Confederation, for honor, and for the good of mankind.

“The 2674-75 archive files and reports on Project Gemini Alliance... they have been reviewed by yourself and the others thoroughly enough...?”

“Read, digested, and studied with a fine-toothed comb... but now I have to ask, Johan...”


“The original actor to whom we used the personality overlay... is there anything known yet of a suitable successor?”

“I suggested early on we consider the possibility of employing the available use of our readily available cloning technology, but there seemed a less tedious option when word was received that the original actor had an understudy. Albrecht’s boys tracked him down and have already adapted him to suit our grandiose plan, mind and body alike.” Voight sighed after a pause that was one decidedly of satisfaction, at least on Weyland’s part. “There is something of a story behind this understudy’s connection to the original actor, something that Albrecht and I agree will stand to make this attempt at the personality overlay all the more stable of a procedure and the patient all the more susceptible—allegedly, the original actor had a relationship at some point in time with the understudy, one that ended badly to such a degree that the understudy transmitted this into a classic misplaced aggression psychoses. When Albrecht did find and tender the services of this understudy, Albrecht said the understudy was already more than willing to go out pretending to be the man his lover was pretending to be with or without the personality overlay.”

“But the overlay... is not vital?”

“Of course. Already carried out.”

Weyland smiled. “Good news indeed... very good news, indeed.”

“Unless there’s something more, Vriess... I do believe that should be all for this meeting, Weyland,” he then dismissed the other space marshal. Albrecht would be expecting him to join in a subspace conference at 2330 Hours, possibly with new news to report back to the group of the fruit of their efforts so far. “We will be in touch, I’m sure.”

“And soon, my friend. Soon.”

And so it began, for the gathering within Confed that once called themselves the Y-12 Belisarius Group but no longer had any need for a name or label the vicious circle at last beginning to turn again...

Absinthe Starbase; Residential Section, 2E Green, Apartment #0017
The Junction System, Humboldt Quadrant, Gemini Sector
MAR 9 2684/2684.068; 0700 Hours (CST)

“Great job, Casey—now get the hell out of here before you’re caught in the big bang! Blair out.”

Commodore Christopher Blair keyed off his comlink PPC, then began starting back to the Marine LC he’d taken aboard, his hand hovering over his M-42 Machine Pistol sidearm. The TCS Midway, the Confederation—all of them had been counting on him to get Stabilizing Tower #7’s shields down so Casey and the others in their F-109A Vampires could destroy it and destroy the Nephilim aliens’ artificial wormhole gateway into the Kilrah System. Both he and Casey had been successful in their respective tasks—now he just had to make it back to the LC and hopefully back to the Midway before the whole superstructure lit up. The LC was already in sight.

It was dark in the dying Nephilim structure—dark and cold. As Blair moved on out of the tower’s control room he spotted a dead Marine lying face down on the organic-like floor. One of Colonel John “Gash” Dekker’s men in Team Two. He started backing toward the body, watching with a mixture of wary fascination and horror as the “door” of the structure that led to the command center rotated shut like some kind of pulsating valve—the whole place seemed alive. 

Kneeling beside the body, he checked the soldier’s pulse just to be sure. Nothing. Feeling a ping on the comlink PPC at his hip, he keyed it on.

“Hey, boss, this place is coming apart at the seams!” shouted Colonel Dekker. “We’re picking up the last of our boys and bugging out. You get to your ship, and I’ll see you back at the Midway.”

“Understood.” Blair then brought up the comlink PPC’s AI, inquiring, “Computer, how long before this place self-destructs? Give me a running count.”

“One minute, forty seconds,” the feminine voice of his comlink’s AI replied. It continued to supply him with the countdown afterward at ten second intervals.

Commodore Blair stood and started on his way. The LC wasn’t far. Just to be sure, he reached for the Marine’s M-58A1 Laser Assault Rifle when...

“Blair!” thundered an inhuman voice. It was inhuman, for no human vocal chords could have possibly produced such a deep, resounding, almost mechanically-toned voice. 

One of the creatures appeared directly in his path—one of the Nephilim. It was a fearsome, praying mantis-like alien—eight feet tall, a mix of the insectoid and crustacean worlds, with long, spidery limbs, thoracic wing-like appendages, and clenched mandibles. It raised its wing-like appendages as it reared down on him after a short leap, shaking them several feet above its mass.

No sooner did it do so than Tower #7 shook violently, only a little over a minute left on the countdown to the wormhole gateway’s annihilation. Blair lost his footing and was thrown from the corridor’s walkway. Catching himself on the walkway’s precipice, his feet dangling over a fall that would lead to certain death, he pulled himself up when the shaking subsided. 

He looked around—no sight of the Nephilim. Shrugging, he picked up the fallen Marine’s M-58 Assault Rifle, brought it to readiness, and started back for his LC—he didn’t have time to play hide and seek with the damned bug. 

“Situation critical,” droned his comlink PPC. “Estimated overload in under one minute.”

Only a few seconds now...

The Commodore got two steps before he noticed a gelatinous goo dripping on the laser scope of his assault rifle. Slowly and warily, he looked up just in time to see the Nephilim that had confronted him moments ago dropping down from its place of hiding directly above him, limbs retracted and ready to scoop him up for the kill.

In the fraction of a second, Commodore Blair’s life flashed before his eyes. All of his triumphs; all of his tragedies; all of his regrets. He then thought of young 2nd Lt. Lance “Frosty” Casey, the son of the Iceman, and took comfort in the knowledge that things would continue on just fine without him, sans Confed’s aging “living legend.” Blair had known from the start this would be a mission he wouldn’t be returning from.

Angel... je t’aime, Angel... I’m coming to you at last...

Blair raised his assault rifle, teeth gritted and finger already poised on the trigger, aimed it at the leering cranium of the creature rapidly descending on him, and— 

“Nuh... no!” Blair shouted distractedly in his state of half-unconsciousness. He was only temporarily jarred from his involuntary, alcohol-induced trip down memory lane.

I... I remember it too well... damn if it didn’t end there, his thoughts rang out in his head. No, not like that... although, now I must think... perhaps it might as well have...

Memory lane continued...

Alone. Isolated, trapped in a splintered fragment of the Alien enemy’s decimated gateway superstructure. Save for the bodies of some of Colonel Dekker’s finest Marines and the faint hissing that could only mean a worsening microfracture in what was left of the hull, only the sound of his own thoughts was there to comfort him now. Commodore Chris Blair had been sitting in silence against an alien enough-looking wall in the piece of hull that had quickly set itself to become his tomb for close to four hours now. Cradling his wounded arm from where his now-late would-be Alien attacker had lacerated him somewhat badly, time had been the only thing he seemed to have an abundance of... but now even that seemed to be slipping.

Blair peered out at the stars outside the Alien equivalent to a viewport. Those were the stars of the Kilrah System he was seeing, just as that was the blasted remnants of Kilrah’s core to starboard he recognized all to well.

“Damn it...”

He had tried to be a hero once more... fight one more—or if nothing else, at least one last—battle as he had done in his younger years. In the end, he had succeeded, but if he did not survive his present predicament his “legacy” would end not with a bang, but a muted whisper... the great “Heart of the Tiger” struck down not in battle in the cockpit as he should have, but taken out like a sick dog by a pack of animal-like Aliens, his corpse even obliterated with its component atoms and molecules scattered across the star system of his once-sworn enemy, the Kilrathi—what the hell did he think he was, after all, some kind of Marine helping Dekker’s jarheads out? Not even a muted whisper, it was an all-out farce, a cop-out, and an otherwise laughable end to a lifelong career in the Space Force.

Over. Even if he lived, it was over.

Then the thought crossed Blair’s mind, for the first time since he’d lived the illusion of retirement on Nephele II ever so briefly with Rachel: “Would that be so bad...?”

Blair had no answer, but he saw little alternative. A normal life... even after his retirement on Neph II after the First Kilrathi War and after his later partial-retirement in nurturing the Armed Forces Committee’s Midway Project for Paladin, since enlisting he had never truly given living a normal, civilian life a fair shake.

Could he do it? Could Maverick, the Heart of the Tiger himself pull off the civvie act? Stranger things had happened...

Though he barely noticed or paid it much notice, Blair’s PPC suddenly cackled to life, “... tion, this is Search-And-Rescue shuttle Midway-Alpha-Nine to any Confederation officers out there on this frequency... please come in, repeat, to any Confed officers that can hear this, please respond...”

Some legends never die. As Blair’s finger danced over the “send” button on his PPC, he pondered if his was a living legend that should die. His index finger closing on the button, he all at once realized that this was a question that he did have the answer to... which brought him to an impasse.

A favor... yes, Blair decided, ... need to call in a favor... from an old friend.

Blair began speaking, “Midway-Alpha-Nine, this is...” he stopped, clearing his throat as he leaned over, squinting at the ID tag on the nearest slain Marine’s chest, “... this is Corporal John Turvello, alive and awaiting retrieval. Over.”

Some legends never die, yes... but sooner or later, all legends do end.

“N-no, I said! Enough of this!”

The Kilrathi. The Black Lance. The Nephilim.

Before he took the cockpit for the first time, before he was the idealistic youth that signed up for the Academy against his dead parents’ wishes, before he was even born, his enemies had already been lined up in front of him. That was just it.

Now, after decades of strife and a lifetime of war, the enemies of Commodore (Ret.) Christopher “Maverick” Blair were dead, buried, and gone. And going with them... perhaps his place in the galaxy went as well. The truth hurt, but pain was a thing he had learned to deal with well enough to keep on going.

Tolwyn had been only partially right. The price of freedom—or even the freedom of a man’s spirit—was eternal vigilance, yes. But, as Blair had found with age and the relentless passing of time, it was more.

So much more.

Nowhere else to go; no battles left to fight.

Unshaven for two weeks, dressed in the same, unwashed civvie clothes he’d worn a month ago, Blair reclined in his comfortable leather easy chair as he recovered from the recurring “daydream” that had haunted him again only moments ago. He sat there, as he had for the last seven or eight hours, staring at the medals and regalia won and worn from a lifetime of battle that adorned the walls of his new home on Absinthe Station. In his hand was meaningfully clenched a bottle of whiskey—but one of the many empty ones strewn about his quarters. The TCN veteran took a long swig, his gaze not shifting a centimeter from where it remained glued.

He’d wondered at the answer a thousand times from a thousand angles, but still he had to ask himself: what was left for Blair now?

“The Confederation has been respectfully keeping the truth of your continued life a secret as you requested, Commodore Blair, but I have been instructed by the Admiralty Court to advise you that there is still a place for you in the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee if you want it.”

That bastard representative, a voice from the past he could do without. Had he any measure of respect at allany understanding of duty or honor? After everything he had been through in the name of king and countrythe Confederationthey expected him to be content sitting behind a desk?

A snippet of an old conversation resurfaced in his mind :

“You sound almost... envious.”

“Maybe I am, Casey. Maybe I am.”

Since the day he was born all he had known was the peril, glory, and splendor of space combat. After the Kilrah mission, he thought he could retire to a quiet farming life on Nephele II, where he had lived as a child with his uncle and aunt after his parents died. He was wrong. After the Black Lance incident, he thought he could exchange the cockpit for a flight instructor position in the Academy. Wrong again. Even as he took Paladin’s offer to head the TCS Midway design team, he was making plans to retire on Earth as a lecturer at the Academy. As if it would be that easy...

Nowhere else to go; no battles left to fight.

Yeah, a damned lecturer, Blair mused. In his arrogance he had thought he could be content to spend the rest of his days idly spouting his words of wisdom while he watched others do what he had in his primethe moving up of the ranks, the fighting of the Enemy, the honor and glory all wrought in the process.

Lance... Lance Casey... the name of his former protégé surfaced in his mind. My pupil, successor... so much like his father; like Iceman. Yet so different. All those missions the kid flew, all those battles he won... all the while I was telling myself it was me in his place. Jesus, I was helping create my own replacement!

No, he scolded himself. Don’t blame it on the kid. Not his fault you saw too much of yourself in him.

It was all over now. He’d reached and passed the twilight of his career. The powers that be could not even grant him a warrior’s death on the battlefield. Consigned to a lonely, hopeless existence, perhaps the last descendant of the Pilgrims, was he now destined to aimlessly wander the stars?

He found himself remembering Daimon Karnes, the Confed war hero celebrated in countless films and serials of his youth, a man once touted by media propaganda as “The Last Hero” whom he and Maniac had met on the planet “Tortuga” in their Academy days on the Tiger’s Claw in 2653.

“Sometimes being the best isn’t enough,” Karnes had told them over dinner. “One day I realized I no longer cared who won the war. I had no hatred for the Kilrathi... and no love for the Confederation. I had no feelings at all. Space has that effect on some people. When you... look too long into emptiness the emptiness gets inside ya. So one day I went out on patrol... and I just kept on going.”

He and Maniac had found Daimon Karnes, AWOL and thought dead since 2633 by Confed, living as a privateer with a ragtag group of renegades and outcasts in a fringe system known only as System M421A. 

Blair finally understood.

Instead of continuing his laughable existence as the laughable commodore, Blair had seen to it that the “Heart of Tiger” legacy died fighting the Nephilim. It was better that way. A few conversations with the right people upstairs, a few deals made on the side, an old favor called up.

In short, he arranged his own heroic, sacrificial death. He had found a way out, but not a happy one.

Nowhere else to go; no battles left to fight.

Damn it, he scorned himself. Why is this happening to me?

The door chimed. Then it chimed again. After the fourth chime, Blair finally grumbled an acknowledgment.

“Thought I’d find you here, old timer. It’s good to see you again, Chris.”

Blair half-heartedly turned in his chair. His spinning vision slowly came into focus over the tall figure standing in his doorway.

It was a woman he had known a lifetime ago. A woman he knew to be dead. Blair was too intoxicated to feel any measure of surprise, but he felt as though he should.

Robin “Flint” Peters, one of the pilots from Eisen’s old TCS Victory. The Locandan woman still had the vibrant, brown, shoulder-length hair he remembered, though she was dressed in casual-looking civilian clothes.

“It’s me, Chris.”

Blair waved his almost-empty bottle in her general direction. “Aren’t you supposed to be... dead or something?”

Flint made a face. She didn’t care for his question, probably because he hadn’t been the first to ask—if this was a continuance of his daydreaming, it was a convincing recreation of the woman he’d known. “Funny, I thought I could ask the same of you.” She put a hand on her hip. “I knew better and I figured you would, too.”

Blair gave a dismissive grunt. “Tell me about it.”

“I ejected,” she plainly replied. She referred to the Kilrah mission fifteen years past, in which Blair had watched her F-103A Excalibur fighter explode in his rearview. “My pod was recovered, but not by Confed.”

Blair knew the only other alternative. “Then...”

“The Kilrathi took me. Like you, I was sent back to Confed space without incident before the signing of the Treaty of Torgo, their ‘Ko-Bar Yagar.’”

“You didn’t go back to Confed—I checked. You’re listed as dead.”

She shook her head. There was no trace of regret on her face. “No, actually if you checked close enough you’ll notice it’s still ‘MIA’ to this day, granted it’s also noted as ‘presumed dead.’ Regardless of all that, though, my days in Confed were over. Since the end of the ‘Nephilim’ War, I’ve been helping to build up a sizable military in the Epsilon Sector—some of us InSys militia from Firekka, some of us privateers on contract, some of us defecting officers from Confed and the Union of Border Worlds.”


“The Firekkans want to leave the Confederation, Chris. They want to secede.”

The connotation of a second Secession War sent a shiver down Blair’s spine. “What?”

“Oh, I’m sorry... haven’t you heard? It’s been all over the news.”

Blair shuffled in his chair. On his face was displayed a mixture of conflicting emotions, all of which the by-product of a tormented past. “I-I... I’ve been busy.”

“Let me show you.” Flint gave him a disappointed look, then moved to the side of his quarters. He saw her fiddling with the controls, then watched as a Tri-D holoprojection vid appeared between the two of them. A classic science fiction holofilm holographically enhanced some odd number of decades ago appeared. Star Wars, Episode IX, he remembered offhandedly. As he began to watch a classic lightsaber duel unfold between two characters he’d once been fond of, Flint switched channels on the Tri-D projector, keying over to the TNC (Terran News Channel) station.

It wasn’t the image of the attractive Barbara Miles that he saw being projected, but a nervous man holding a sonic mike before a scene of dismal destruction. An overlaying red banner bearing the words “Recorded Earlier” appeared below the anchor.

“We interrupt this program to bring you an emergency news bulletin,” the anchor spoke. It seemed to be taking all he had to stay calm and in control. “The TNC network has just received confirmation that a serious situation has erupted in the Antares Quadrant of the Epsilon Sector.

“Since the announcement of Space Marshal Vriess Weyland nearly five weeks ago to take the key industries of the Firekka and T’kirsa systems into inter-sector control via the Wartime Emergency Act, there has been civil unrest in every major planet in the sector. Especially serious is the general labor strike that has shut down those crucial industries. Despite repeated attempts by the labor unions to initiate negotiation, the space marshal’s office stood firm to its decision to take the control of the key industries into inter-sector control.

”In his speech on Tuesday, Space Marshal Weyland swears to bring the strike to an end using all means necessary.’ Meanwhile, BAI affiliates in the Sol Sector protest Weyland’s gesture, proclaiming it to be in blatant disregard for our longtime Firekkan allies.’ The comparison has already been made between Weyland and Governor Devika Subramanian, whose actions instigated the Andorran secession a decade ago and the bleak five-year Secession War itself. Yesterday, elements of the Sixth Fleet along with the various divisions of the Second and Fifth Marine Corps moved into position on the major planets of the Epsilon Sector.

“Today, following a heated exchange between the negotiators on the quadrant capital, Firekka, a confrontation between the labor union and the government forces erupted.”

Blair could see Tri-D images being shown behind the anchor. Riot police fired into unarmed crowds of Firekkans, who flapped their wings helplessly as they were cut down near one of their Fire Temples. There were explosions and screams. Smoke clouded the scene. The mob dispersed in terror, with more than a few Firekkans trampled to the ground. A few of them threw rocks at the riot police, both from the ground and the air.

Not all Firekkans were unarmed, as there were sudden bursts of laser and plasma fire against the riot police. A tall, dignified Firekkan rallied the mob and they turned and dove forth against the riot police.

“An angry mob has successfully stormed the garrison building. At the latest estimate, at least seven thousand civilian demonstrators are dead. The Space Marshal and his key officials have evacuated Firekka.

“A formal announcement has been made by the formal Sector Administrative Secretary for secession from the Confederation and the creation of the independent Firekkan Commonwealth, from what was formerly the Firekkan Planetary Alliance. Following his announcement, the Firekka, T’kirsa, and Antares systems have declared their secession from the Confederation in the formation of the Commonwealth. The situation on Firekka itself is...”

The anchor turned around suddenly in surprise, his face paled suddenly, then he turned around.

“This just in, we have just received report that T’kironas, the regional capital of Firekka has been bombarded by Weyland’s orbiting Midway-class megacarrier, the TCS Sibuyan Sea.” The view cut to a wide-angle shot of space, panning over the stern of the heavy carrier, its bold “CV-88” emblazoned over what had been “CVX-09.” “Preliminary report indicates that planetary casualties are at least twenty million.”

The anchor paused again before continuing, “We have just received the report that the a faction of the Sixteenth Fleet and the local Epsilon Sector Fleet, the Second, as well as sympathetic divisions of the TCMC Second and Fifth Marine Corps as well as InSys troops have mutinied! Commanders of these forces—almost all of which human—have announced their allegiance to the fledgling Firekkan Commonwealth less than an hour ago.

“The reason given for the mutiny is the direct order from Earth, through High Command as well as Space Marshal Weyland to begin planetary bombardment of Firekka as well as other secessionist planets in order to cut our losses now.’ Senator Diego, while disowning Weyland’s extreme measures, rationalizes this by citing that with the near defeat Confed suffered with the Nephilim, internal dissidence must be dispersed at all costs.

“The Confederation High Command has issued an emergency order to seal off the Epsilon Prima jump point into the Antares System, which is the only non-Kilrathi jump point into the Firekkan territories of the Epsilon Sector’s Antares Quadrant. Rumors has it that an increasingly large fraction of the Firekkan officers in the Confed fleet have also mutinied. An unconfirmed report indicated that the Confederation High Command has issued an emergency order to place all Firekkan officers under arrest.”

Flint touched a button and the Tri-D projector went dead.

“My god...” Blair finally spoke, “...they’re starting another war. Another Secession War.”

“At this point it looks unavoidable.”

The light in Blair’s face dimmed as reality set in. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I’m through. I made that decision when we destroyed the Nephilim wormhole.”

“For several years now the Firekkan peoples have been looking for a way to liberate themselves from Confed. First having to contend with the Kilrathi’s attempted Sivar-Eshrad ceremony in 2655, and then the recent Nephilim invasion, in which more than two thousand innocent Firekkans were lost due to insufficient patrols. When Space Marshal Weyland—something of racist against anyone or anything alien within or outside the Confed from what I gather—replaced Space Marshal Drake as the sector commander, the Firekkans had enough. They’re through being the galaxy’s underdogs.”

Blair had heard varying views on the Firekkan race, but when the TCS Tiger’s Claw made its run to stop the Sivar-Eshrad ceremony and break Kilrathi morale, he’d been enamored by the splendor of their people, and their world. He remembered Hunter, particularly, had been taken by the Firekkans, having participated in a rescue mission with one of the natives. “And now they’re seceding, and Confed’s not allowing it. Even after the Secession War.”

“Yes. I’ve been working toward the Firekkan Commonwealth with them ever since the Kilrathi released me.”

“Then what do you want with me? I’m assuming you’re here for a reason.”

“The Firekkan Commonwealth needs a leader, Chris, and not just any leader. I’m just one of the nameless pilots who flew in the First Kilrathi War... one whose career ended in having to eject on their final mission. But you... you’re a living legend. Recluse these days or not. They know you were one of the pilots from the Claw that stopped the Sivar-Eshrad on their homeworld all those years ago. With you leading the Firekkan Commonwealth, our victory is almost assured.”

“You want me to lead a revolt against the Confederation? Go turncoat?” Blair grunted. “I did it once for the Border Worlds when I thought Confed was being corrupted. I don’t care what friendly face from the past those damned birds want to send my way—I’m not going to do it again.”


Blair gave his best harrumph. “You must be confusing me with that Blair fellow that journalist guy was writing about... the ‘Blair’ that joined the Gemini Alliance in ’74, fought in the Secession Wars, went crazy, and then killed himself in ’75 or something like that—yeah, isn’t that the one? Can’t say I remember that story too clearly, but I know I found it amusing, myself. Good reading material.”

“I must have missed that flick, but you can’t be looking at what I’m saying like that. Chris... bottom line, I’m giving you something to fight for again.”

Suddenly, like a glint of a shooting star, the light came back to Blair’s face. That comment, those words... they struck close to home.

Flint could see it. “Don’t lie to me now... and stop lying to yourself. Isn’t that what you’ve wanted all these years, what you’ve almost given up hope for?”

Blair looked away from her. She was right. He knew it, but what was worse, she knew it, too.

“Will you help us, Chris?” she asked at last. “Will you join our Firekkan Commonwealth?”

Blair met her gaze once more, fixing his eyes on hers.

Nowhere else to go; no battles left to fight.

Not anymore.