As Christine and Steve went to their quarters and Dot decided to go for a stroll with Nelson, Ace made his way towards one of the claw shaped high rises. Behind him, flying pods zoomed through the city. In just ten hours, the fleet would leave on a month-long journey deep into Rexx territory. Everything had to be checked and rechecked, fueled, loaded, and tested. Everyone was preparing for war and so was Ace.
He stopped in front of a black door with a lock on it. Under the red lock was a sign in Shadow runes which said “restricted area.” As Ace looked at the lock, his eyes and the runes on his cheeks ignited. The door opened with a click, recognizing him. He stepped into the restricted room and the heavy metal door slammed shut behind him with a savage clank, as if to reiterate that no one without proper clearance would be getting into the long, winding hallway leading to a top secret room. In contrast to the thick, armored door to the building, the door to the restricted chamber slid open almost silently.
The secret room wasn’t especially big. Its walls were barren and finely polished. The black marble floor was inscribed with a series of chrome rings. Rising out of each chrome ring was a short podium of black stone. There were two rows of four podiums which created a wide path towards the back of the room where a holographic screen almost ten feet across floated less than an inch away from the wall.
In the first pair of podiums was a holographic compendium of ships used by the Rexx and the Nation with their armaments, strengths and other vital statistics displayed in complex graphs. Each military had its own podium. In the next six podiums, the holographic projections fought six very different battles, the small, floating graphs under the ships and ground units registering every hit, every change. The huge screen in the back of the room displayed a complex statistical tally of each simulation’s final results.
Running these simulations was a Child named Rie. She sat at a desk perpendicular to the podiums and worked with a computer that projected its keyboard and monitor as holograms. The computer itself was actually a small, sleek, black device that could fit in the palm of an adult’s hand. She wore a pair of thin, wire frame glasses and a white lab coat over a uniform very similar to Dot’s.
Ace walked up behind Rie and gently put his hands on her tense shoulders. She jumped at first but as she looked at Ace’s hands, she relaxed.
“Ace! Don’t sneak up on me,” she said. “Next time make a noise or something, would you?”
“I don’t sneak up Rie,” replied Ace. “That’s just how I move. So how goes the analysis?”
“Not good,” frowned Rie. “We keep on winning.”
“In every situation?”
“The data I have suggests that unless we just throw ourselves at the mercy of the Rexx fleet, we should be able to beat anything they can throw at us. Oh and by the way, thanks for that Rexx brain.”
Ace walked around the podiums, looking at every battle. In all of them, the Rexx were doomed. Their fleets were collapsing under the onslaught of the Nation’s armada. Rie was right. The Rexx were too weak to withstand full scale attacks.
“Is their hive-based structure helping them out in any way?” he asked.
“Depends on the attack pattern,” replied Rie typing away on her holographic keyboard. “What do you think Ace?”
“It’s the same trick we used on Xi 77Q.”
“Tactical data gathering?”
“Yeah. Just like we let the Rexx destroy a small base to get data for simulations, the Dark Gods are letting us pound on the Rexx so they could get an accurate estimate of our capabilities. I bet you that every Rexx ship is sending data back to a central computer core back in the Dark God’s capital world and to combat simulators like this one. They probably sent them straight to Earth so we’re get as mean and defensive as we can get.”
“So we’re going to exterminate a species for nothing,” she noted. “Just so the Dark Gods can get some stats.”
“No. We’re just going to clear enough out of the way so I can get to the main target,” disagreed Ace. “But we have to be merciless and hack our way through the Rexx. We’ve got a reputation to keep.”
“And to confuse the Dark Gods, we’ll use current units?”
“Exactly. Let the project on Abydos simmer for a bit.”
“Well, then I have the code ready.”
“Great. Let’s compile and execute.”
Rie entered a short command and with a beep, every simulation ended and the holographic monitor in the back of the room as well as the computer Rie was using, brought up a screen which kept track of the upload process.
She brought up another screen and started typing something else. Ace walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders again. His left hand gently, and playfully slid down to cup Rie’s breast. She giggled and blushed with a faint white patch of gel that appeared across her nose, then promptly hit Ace’s lower ribs with her elbow.
“Ow…” groaned Ace. “I train you too damn well.”
“Wouldn’t that be your fault?” asked Rie.
“Yes, I suppose so,” he furrowed his brow.
Rie punched in a final command, stretched her hands and stood up from her chair. She pulled back the sleeve of her lab coat to look at the face of her watch which was on her inner wrist. The watch was a strange, analog-like display of triangles, curves, and notches to any human who looked at it, but this complex timepiece was designed to tell time all around the galaxy, detecting even the most minute changes in the flow of time which depended on gravity and the shape of space itself.
“Ah what the hell,” she relented. “You should have some fun tonight Ace. Come over here.”
She placed her hands on Ace’s cheeks and softly kissed his lips. It was their running gag. He’d try to excite her, she’d tease for a little while, but then relent. When Ace and Dot were apart they often found temporary substitutes for each other. Missions that lasted for many months, if not several years, took their toll on any relationship and on any mind. Their sexual surrogates helped them keep their sanity and satisfy their basic urges. For Dot, the primary surrogate was Leo. For Ace, it was one of the Nation’s top scientists, Rie.
About half an hour later, the secret lab was in twilight, all the screens and computers were in sleep mode. Ace in only his short boxers was laying on Rie’s desk as she sat on top of him, running her fingers across his abdomen. She gently brushed her index finger across a long, jagged, diagonal scar on his stomach.
“Must’ve been a hell of a fight,” she said softly. “It takes an awful lot of energy to burn a carbon shell like that.”
“I like this scar,” replied Ace. “It makes me stand out.”
Ace’s hand massaged her bare breast as his other hand glided down her abdomen to her thin panties.
“Hey Ace?” she started.
“Isn’t Dot going to kill you for this?”
“She’ll kill me for something eventually.”
Ace started to pull down Rie’s panties. She stood up to help him, then pushed him back on the desk and after untying a few strings on his boxers straddled him with a smirk. Finally, she allowed herself to descend onto Ace with a moan as she felt him slip inside her…
Earlier, Steve and Christine had an extremely serious problem. You see, the bathroom of a cyborg was used for only two things. Baths or showers. They had no intestines or kidneys and any indigestible organics left by their stomachs were simply destroyed. Unfortunately for the humans, their bodies still had the above mentioned organs and so they spent a long, frustrating hour trying to program the nanobots to create the needed facilities. Ordinarily, it should’ve taken them only a few minutes, just like it did for Ace to program the destroyer’s nanities, but they were just beginning to learn the written language and their programs confused the nanobots, which refused to work without a clear blueprint.
An hour later, relieved, refreshed and washed, they slipped under the thin sheets of their beds and turned down the lights. Their room was very similar to the bedrooms in Ace’s destroyer, but instead of a holographic wall, this room had a real window made from a tough plastic. In the soft light of the gas giant, they looked out at the alien landscape.
“Looks kinda like Neptune, doesn’t it?” asked Steve.
“It’s made of similar gases,” replied Christine.
They paused having nothing to really say to each other. Outside their door they heard quiet whispering, a nervous, anxious giggle and the unmistakable sound of kissing before a metal door slid shut.
“I hear it’s a tradition,” said Christine. “You know, before you’re going to risk your life in battle…”
“Oh,” responded Steve. “I guess it makes sense.”
“The ritual pre-battle screw,” laughed Christine.
“Eh… why not? Might as well have some fun while you’re still alive. Before I was deployed with the Nation, my friends threw a big party. You know, the good old jolly sendoff.”
“Same here. Say Steve…”
“Did you leave anyone on Earth? You know what I mean…”
“No. Not really. You?”
“I see. Any specific reason you wanted to ask me about whether anyone’s waiting for me on Earth? Does it have anything to do with the pre-battle ritual we were just talking about?”
Steve playfully stuck out his tongue. Christine threw a pillow at him, hitting him square in the face.
“Oh come on Christine, I was just kidding.”
“I know. I’m just reminding you to keep it in joke context. We’re a professional team.”
Steve frowned and demonstratively eyed the gas giant as if it challenged him to a staring contest.
“You’re no fun,” he scoffed.
“On the contrary,” she replied. “I’m tons of fun. I’m just cruel.”
“No, you’re right, that was totally inappropriate.”
Steve ducked under his covers and tried to get to sleep. Until his body stretched out under the sheets, he didn’t feel all that tired, but in a comfortable position he realized just how worn out he was from the last few days of running on adrenaline. A deep, heavy sleep overtook him until he was shaken awake by his partner. She was already back in her uniform.
“Steve, get up. Time to get ready,” she said.
Steve looked outside. The sky was still dark since this moon was always locked in twilight. It, and the gas giant around which it spun, were just too far from their parent star.
“When are we supposed to launch?” he asked.
“We have three hours to get ready and get something to eat. Get going. Ace and Dot will be here in half an hour.”
Steve got up and pressed a tiny button above the bed. The sheets sprung to life and the bed made itself as special fibers woven into the fabric stiffened, straightening out the thin sheets and folding them in an aesthetically pleasing way. He jumped into the shower and came out dressed and ready just as Ace and Dot rang the doorbell.
After a quick breakfast, Ace, Dot and the humans were joined by Nelson, who just finished signing the paperwork necessary to approve the mission. Together, they boarded a transport ship which roared to life and shot itself into orbit the second it was on the launch pad. After reconnecting with Ace’s destroyer and merging with the immense armada gathering around the small moon, Steve leaned back in his seat and stretched.
“So now we’re just going to cruise for a month?” he asked.
“About,” confirmed Dot. “We could go much faster, but the bigger ships can’t keep up.”
“So what do we do for a month?” asked Christine.
“Whatever you want,” replied Ace.
“Not to complain, but we have somewhat limited options on this ship,” noted Steve.
“Oh no, we’re not going to be living on this ship,” protested Ace. “Why should we get stuck in a cramped destroyer for more than two or three days if we don’t have a mission?”
“In what are we going to be traveling then?” asked Christine.
“In a Shogun,” replied Ace pointing at the holographic wall.
Christine turned to see another space city floating on a piece of a dense, dark asteroid. From the rear of the asteroid piece, a cluster of huge, powerful engines protruded from the dense rock.
“XMOC 6-3,” announced Nelson. “The third mobile operations center for the Sixth Expeditionary Fleet. Houses up to 35,000 and has pretty much everything you need to keep yourself occupied and entertained while flying through the galaxy. All we had to do is swap docking bays to make sure the right ships are with the right fleet.”
A few minutes after Ace’s destroyer docked in one of the mobile space city’s massive bays, the Fifth and Sixth Expeditionary Fleets of the Nation took off for the Rexx domain at full speed, vanishing from sight as their engines pushed them to superluminal speeds.