Before the Storm

December 23, 2010
By Masked.Vampire SILVER, Warsaw, Kentucky
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Masked.Vampire SILVER, Warsaw, Kentucky
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Author's note: It's not edited completely yet, but I did want to get opinions on it - good and bad.

Chapter One

It had been a long day.

Amelia Reynolds leaned back in her seat aboard the transport airship, shutting her eyes for a moment as her assistant babbled something in her ear about the next day’s plans. However, all Amelia was concerned about was making it through the four-hour flight back to the Melenian, the warship where she’d spent the last three months living. She’d only gone down to Mele to see about important business matters that now didn’t seem so important. She was too tired to remember what most of the matters had been about. Hell, she was too tired to even function properly.

Stretching slightly, after cracking her fingers, Amelia took the glass of water one of the attendants had offered her. It was going to be a horrendously long four hours. She was just glad she wasn’t stuck with the other idiots who’d decided that going to a birthday party would be the highlight of their week.

Of course, she’d been invited to the president’s 53rd birthday bash aboard the Lynian, but they were nearly six hours away, above Lyn’s capital city, Petrius. All government officials - except her - were due to be there. She was close to the president, yes, but that didn’t matter. She’d send him a card or something later and use the excuse that she’d had too much work and simply couldn’t get away. That excuse usually worked anyway.

She shifted, resting her head against the cold metal of the bulkhead. It was welcoming - Mele was in the middle of one of its hottest summers yet, and it had been an oven down there that particular day. She’d already tugged off her suit jacket and tossed it into the seats across from where she sat and was now considering kicking off her heels.

“Ma’am?”

“Hm?” She glanced up to see the co-pilot of the small ship.

“CAG James McKinley is on the com, requesting to speak with you.”

She nodded, getting to her feet, the pinching pain of her heels coming back as she followed the man up the aisle, past the other civilians and passengers, toward the cockpit. It was considered a large ship, made of the same metal that all other ships were made of. It was generally used to carry passengers, crates of supplies, and smaller transport vessels back and forth between the planets and warships.

She had to duck down when she entered, the ceiling lower than she expected as she stepped down several steps. He reached over and handed her a wireless headset that she slipped on over her head, positioning the tiny, wire thin microphone near her mouth.


Melenian, this is Ambassador Reynolds. What can I do for you?” She said into the microphone, settling herself down into one of the seats behind the pilot himself, the seats usually reserved for the attendants if needed. In front of them out the wide view screen across the front of the ship was nothing but empty space dotted by a few distant stars that glittered like pinholes in a black sheet. Bright balls of space dust glowed as hot, if not hotter than the sun and provided heat and light to the planets Amelia called home.

“Airship 4309, this is CAG McKinley.” A familiar voice echoed back across her headset. “How far out are you?”

She glanced at the pilot, who could hear everything through his own headset.

“About three hours, sir.”

“Good. We’re on our way back to our usual coordinates after a supply run. We’ll meet you there right on schedule.”

“Affirmative, sir.”


"CAG, I was told you wished to speak with me?” Amelia asked. There was a moment’s pause, before both the pilot and co-pilot politely removed their headsets.

“We’ll leave you alone to your conversation.” The pilot said, flipping a switch that read ’autopilot’ before he unbuckled himself and got to his feet. “We need to double-check the straps holding down the ships in the hangar, anyway.”

Amelia nodded, waiting until both of them had left the cockpit, the door shutting quietly behind them.

“You may proceed, CAG.”

“It’s funny when you’re serious.” He said and she smiled to herself. “How was Mele?”

“Hot and boring. Meetings every hour for six hours about pulling strategies and such. The air conditioners were broke in the meeting hall at the government building, so they had these giant fans that we practically had to scream over to be heard.” She muttered. “I did manage to pick up my dress.” She added.

“I guess I’m not allowed to see?”

“Not until the wedding.”

“Stubborn.”

“Don’t start with me, James McKinley.” She warned and chuckling came from the other end. “Everything going okay back on the ship?”

“You mean to ask if Ian has whipped us all at cards yet or not?”

“I’m trying to be serious! You’re not supposed to be playing cards. You’re supposed to be protecting the Planets.”

“From what? Space dust? Come off it, Amy. There’s nothing to do up here anymore except run through practice drills that we’ve been over hundreds of times. The RACODS aren’t coming back.”

“Do you even know what RACOD stands for anymore?”

“Robotically armored . . . something. Something to do with the last names of the scientists that made them too, I think. I just know they’re not coming back.”

“You never know.” She said serenely. “And don’t call me Amy. You know I hate that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“James.”

“All right, I’ll tell them to stop playing cards and go pretend to be doing something important before you get here.”

She laughed, shaking her head. “Fine.”

“I’ve got to go so, I’ll see you when you get back. Love you.”

“Love you, too. Be safe, James.”

“Always.”

She removed the headset and hooked it on the back of the co-pilot’s seat, reaching for the door. She passed the pilots in the aisle as they came back from the hangar bay and she returned to her seat. Her assistant, Logan Garner, waited.

“Madame, they need you on Lyn in two days.”

“For what?” She nearly groaned.

“The president wants to go over some recent strategies that came up in the last meeting. And to attend his party that evening celebrating the anniversary of his term in office.”

Amelia frowned. All the President of the Planets did anymore was party. The least he could do was settle the workers’ labor union strikes on Demia. But no - every other day they had an excuse for some sort of party, wasting more government money. Eventually they were going to run out of ideas for parties.

“I will try to come, but I have plans already made for that day. Personal plans.” She stated before Logan could check her planner, which was opened in his lap. He nodded and scribbled something down in her planner a few days ahead. “Anything else? I need some sleep before we reach the Melenian.” She continued, looking around at the other passengers - most had already nodded off.

“You have a meeting with the Governors next week, and the ambassadors want to meet sometime to run several new ideas by you.”

“Oh, is that all?” She asked, not bothering to bite back the sarcasm. Logan’s lips twitched, almost as if he wanted to smile. Amelia had never liked politics, and yet she had stayed in them. Why, she would never guess. Probably because it was such a good paying job, and she didn’t know how to do anything else. “But all right, schedule the ambassadors to meet with me next Friday, before my lunch with the diplomats.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She shifted in her seat, kicking off her heels and pulling the blanket around her that had been provided. Her gaze drifted to the circular view port, watching space pass by, stars glittering in the distance. Things in the planets were much calmer than they had been twenty years ago. She’d been ten when the RACODS had come from nowhere, destroying every major city on all four of the planets and seriously injuring the warship Corinthian, which had been the only one close enough to put up a fight against them. She’d been on board that particular ship when the attack had happened, having lived on it with her family. She still remembered the horrified faces of her parents and the other crewmembers. It was a sight she would never forget.

Sighing, she tugged a hand through her pale blonde curls, pulling them out of her eyes. She shifted once more, trying to get comfortable. The leather seats were hard and weren’t exactly the best place to try and get some sleep.

The RACODS had disappeared after the attack - no one still had yet to figure out where they’d come from or where they’d gone. This was exactly why people were still on alert and afraid after twenty years - scared they might come back and destroy all of humanity. Most people believed their original attack had been a warning of some sort, and if the humans didn’t change their ways, they’d come back and kill them all. Problem was no one knew what to change about their ways to prevent them from coming back.

It seemed Amelia had just dozed off when the ship suddenly shook, throwing her out of her seat and onto the floor. Several confused people shrieked in shock and fear as they, too, were thrown. Awake and very alert now, Amelia picked herself up, stumbling down the aisle. Logan was attempting to get to his feet as well, grabbing the backs of the seats to help himself up. The ship pitched again and nearly threw Amelia to the ground once more, but she hung on to the back of a nearby seat, glad that she had thought to kick her heels off earlier - otherwise she would have already tripped on her face.

Finally, she made it to the front of the ship and entered the cockpit. The radar was beeping violently, and she knew by the looks on the pilots’ faces that there would be nothing but bad news.

“What’s going on?”

“A ship is firing on us.” The co-pilot said as the pilot swerved the ship again and Amelia fell into a flight attendant’s chair, gripping the sides. He was struggling to control the ship as something flashed outside the ship. “Oh God . . . .”

“What?”

“The ship is sending out RACOD signals!” He replied sharply, pressing his headset into his ear, his entire face as white as a sheet. Amelia was sure she looked about the same by the way her pale hand now contrasted on the dark wall of the cockpit and the way that her hand was shaking, making it rather hard to keep herself in an upright position. “I’m getting reports that they’re everywhere! Attacking the planets and the warships!”

Amelia inhaled, trying to calm herself. She was the highest official on the ship at that moment, which put her in charge. Thinking quickly, she leaned between the two pilot seats. “Is there anyone on here that can fly one of the Pegasus ships I saw in the hangar bay when I came on board?”

“Only myself.” The pilot replied.

“Go. Use a Pegasus and start jumping the others on this ship to the Melenian. We won’t make it there in three hours if RACODS are attacking. Quickly, please!”

“Who’s going to pilot?”

“He will.” She nodded toward the co-pilot. “I’ve only flown a double-seated Cobra ship, but these things can’t be too hard. We’ll try to shake the ship. You do have weapons on this thing, right?”

“A few, but . . . .”

“Then go do as I’ve ordered. He and I will take it from here.” She said, nodding to the co-pilot, who still looked pale. With some hesitation, the pilot left the cockpit. Amelia fought to take his spot, pulling the headset over her head and pulling the seatbelt across her lap. The ship shook again, the blip on the radar growing closer.

“Prepare weapons for launch. If you have any defensive grids on this ship, raise them to high level. I need you to tell me how to fly this thing, and attempt to fire up the jump drives.”

“Steering console, missile fire, and acceleration are here . . . .” He pointed quickly to the things in front of her, rattling off their names. “If you can handle those, I can get the rest.” He added. “But there’s a problem - we don’t have jump drives. They were taken out to be put in the newer models.” He said slowly. She could feel the muscle in her jaw jumping, suddenly rather angry because she remembered now, and knew the person who had ordered the jump drives be taken out.

Amelia said nothing, her palms sweating. RACODS were dangerous - she wasn’t even thinking about where they’d suddenly come from, just how they were going to get away from them. She’d seen the damage they could do and didn’t want to go through that again. Memories of the destroyed ship she’d almost died on flickered through her mind and she decided she definitely did not want to relive that experience.

“Warship Melenian, this is transport 4309, do you copy?” She spoke into the headset.

“Barely, 4309.” A crackling voice came through. “There’s some sort of interference with the coms.”


Melenian, we have a RACOD raider approaching. We need help straight away.” She said, glancing around. A button was flashing, signaling the hangar door was opening below.

“We have the same problems, 4309. We’ve got three flagships!”

“We’re trying to hold off this raider but more are sure to find us. We don’t have the equipment to gain a hold of the Corinthian, Lynian, or Demian. We’re going to try and reach you. We have civilians on board, and right now we’re using one of the Pegasus ships to jump them to you.”

“Copy, 4309. Be quick about it!”

“Roger that.”

Amelia glanced out the view screen. The pilot had gotten into one of the Pegasus ships, managed to launch, and was now flying beside them. She flipped frequencies on the com to local.

“Can you hear me, pilot?”

“Loud and clear, 4309. And the name is Andrew Danbury. Call-sign Solar.”

“Well then, Solar, be on the look out.” She replied, glancing at the radar. It appeared the blip had stopped and was just sitting there, waiting.

“Making that first jump now, ma’am.” Solar’s voice rang out. Amelia nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see her.


“All right. Proceed.”

There was a loud screech like a firework being set off and the ship beside them disappeared. The radar began to beep again. The raider was in motion.

“Make sure everyone is buckled in.” Amelia said to the co-pilot, who nodded, pressing a button to speak over the intercom.

“Attention passengers. Make sure you are buckled up and do not get up, unless the pilot comes and tells you to come with him. We are evacuating the ship, so remain calm and this will go smoothly.”

Her hands gripped the steering console. She’d been ten the last time, but had watched the commander and admiral give orders on what to do, and had listened. She’d always been an observer. She remembered bits and pieces, but not enough for this situation. If Solar could get all the passengers off the ship, including herself and the co-pilot, they’d be all right. If they could make it to the Melenian without dying, they’d be even better.

“This is Solar, back from the first jump.“ Jumps for small Pegasus ships only took a few seconds, thankfully.

“Loading passengers in the Pegasus now - looks like two more jumps ought to get it - one more load of civilians and then you two.” Solar’s voice came across the com.

“Affirmative, Solar. Be quick about it.” She repeated the earlier message from the warship. “The RACODS are almost here.” Amelia replied.

“Roger that, 4309.”

The raider was close enough on that radar that she knew she would have visual contact any moment.

“Solar making jump.”

“Proceed.” She murmured as the co-pilot tapped her shoulder. She looked over - he was pointing out the view screen on his side. Leaning over to look, Amelia paled.

The raider was coming right for them. The ship was silver, the shape of a round flying disc with markings all along the top, around the tiny view ports just barely visible from where Amelia sat. She assumed the markings were some ancient language that the RACODS spoke. Some people on the planets claimed to be able to decipher them, but she’d never personally met someone who could.

Well, Amelia thought. This is it.

“You ready?” The co-pilot asked. She took a deep breath and nodded. She’d never flown in her life except in the back of a double-seated Cobra, and even then the most she’d done was press a button to release a missile. These weren’t the exact conditions she would have chosen to actually learn to fly, but when you had to, you had to.

Amelia turned the ship so that it was facing the raider, pressing down on the button that fired what little ammo they had. The plasma bullets reflected off the silver shell of the ship and Amelia frowned. Well, that plan was blown to hell. Plasma bullets were made of material that could piece any substance - but apparently, RACODS had found a way to make sure their ships couldn’t even be dented by them.

“They’re missile locking on us.” The co-pilot said. “We need to dodge.”

“Er, okay.”

She suddenly turned, sending the ship sideways, attempting to dodge whatever missile lock the raider was doing. If the ship had been small, she probably would have sent it into a barrel roll.

“Please don’t do that again.” The co-pilot said weakly, going from pale to green. She ignored him.

“This is Solar, 4309. Are you all right?”

“Fine! Just hurry up with that last jump!”

“It’s in progress!”

Amelia forced her attention back to flying.


“They’ve still got a lock on us. We can’t shake them.” The co-pilot reported. A red light suddenly began to flash in the cockpit, an annoying beeping sound accompanying it.

“What does that mean?” Amelia asked, worry, at last, beginning to sink into her voice.

“I - I don’t know! That’s never happened before!” The co-pilot cried. Amelia shut her eyes for a brief second, her heart about to leap out of her chest. She looked over. The co-pilot seemed to be having problems controlling the ship as a silent prayer fell from his lips. “It’s shifting into automatic pilot mode!”

Amelia frowned as she tried to turn the console. It wouldn’t budge.

Perfect.

“Then I hope this thing holds up to missiles.” She said wryly, glancing at the radar. Another blip, this one smaller, had appeared - a missile. She paled again.

“Missile approaching. Fast.” The co-pilot confirmed. Amelia began to press buttons. Any button that looked like it might help she pressed while glancing at the radar every few seconds. The missile was growing closer.

“Brace for impact in fifty seconds.” She said, watching the radar. Her hands clenched into fists. They were going to die.

Suddenly, the door to the cockpit opened - there stood Solar, looking frantic.

“Let’s go!”

Amelia didn’t hesitate, running with Solar and the co-pilot through the now empty passenger area and down a set of stairs to the hangar where the Pegasus ship waited. She was counting in her head: forty seconds . . . thirty seconds . . . . They climbed in, Solar managing to make it to the pilot’s seat. He pressed a button as Amelia scrambled into a seat, strapping herself in as they zoomed out of the hangar bay.

“Jumping in 3 - 2 - 1!”

There was a flash of white and the same firework sound as the jumps before. For a moment there was nothing but a floating sensation that eventually evened out. She opened her eyes, realizing they’d made the jump. She sighed in relief, falling back into her chair. From where she sat, she could hear Solar and the co-pilot laughing, relieved.


"Melenian, this is Solar, formerly of Transport 4309. We’re coming in for a landing.”

Amelia leaned up, looking out the small view screen ahead as they began to make their descent onto the landing belt. Her stomach churned. The Melenian had reported flagships in the area. Flagships were the large, almost colony type ships that RACODS controlled. They were vessels that held hundreds upon hundreds of raiders for fighting and carried several nuclear bombs on board for any purpose the RACODS seemed fit to use them for.

The Pegasus ship hit the landing belt and the large metal doors shut behind them. Depressurizing the entire port side landing belt began before the platform they’d landed on began to lower into the hangar bay. Amelia was out first, glad to be safe on the familiar ship.

“Your presence is requested in Central Control, ma’am.” One of the marines approached her, speaking. She glanced back at Solar to make sure he and the co-pilot were in good hands. Assured, she followed the man in uniform from the hangar.

The Melenian was built like the Corinthian. All the warships were built alike, with only a few minor changes in the designs. There were always at least ten to thirty decks that made up a ship, sometimes even more. A maze of halls, two hangar bays, a landing belt, and hatch doors that led to various quarters, meeting rooms, observation decks, and ammunition storages made up most of the ship. There was at least one medical bay, but other areas such as cargo bays and hangar bays could be converted into a medical triage if needed, or a disaster shelter. Hydroponics sectors were down on the lower decks, as well as the water tanks and food storage areas. It was made for war, able to support a large crew for several months, perhaps even years if needed.

Central Control, or CC, as most referred to it, took up the entire front of the ship. Large arching view screens started at the lowest level and spread halfway around before coming to a peak at the top, allowing sight to the vast expanses of space ahead. It was dizzying, if one was unfamiliar with them. Radars and other machines she couldn’t even begin to describe lined the walls, officers manning each part of them in a daily routine. As always, there was a blur of a activity, the men and women rushing back and forth between the controls and consoles, checking this and that.

There were three levels of controls and on the lowest part in the center of the room were higher ranked officers gathered around a large round consol. A holographic map of the solar system was projected in the middle of the table. Amelia glanced at each of the men around it, but none were the face she wanted to see. Sighing, she took the set of spiral stairs in the corner down to the level they were on, finally speaking.

“I was told someone wanted to see me?” She announced and all three looked up at her, halting in their plans.

“Good evening , Miss. Reynolds. Am I to understand you piloted a transport airship while its pilot performed several jumps in a separate Pegasus in order to get civilians on board this ship safely?” The black haired one asked, gazing at her with such intense blue eyes that they probably could have bore a hole through her skull. Amelia frowned slightly.

“I did, Admiral Williams,” she replied. “It was on my orders that the civilians be transported here,” she continued.

Admiral Ian Williams looked at her with mild curiosity. He’d always been a rather good friend to James and herself, but she hadn’t spoken to him in ages. Nearly a year, it had been. The two behind Ian were watching her, too. Major Brian Allen and Commander Richard Flint.

“Well done then, Miss. Reynolds.” Major Allen said. “That will be all. I assume you’ll be heading to McKinley’s quarters now?”

Amelia nodded, turning, silently leaving CC, exiting up the stairs and down a long hallway. She knew her way around the ship like the back of her hand by now so, she let her mind wander as she walked.

When she reached her fiancé’s quarters he wasn’t waiting for her like she’d assumed he would be. Assuming he was probably getting some pilots in line, she flopped down on the couch in his room, propping her feet up on the coffee table after kicking off her shoes. It had been a long day. One that she wanted to forget, but somewhere deep down Amelia had a feeling there would be many days like the present to come. If the RACODS had truly returned then it was sure to be a long road ahead.

Letting out a deep sigh, she shifted, trying to fall asleep, the adrenaline from the earlier confrontation finally easing in her system.

There was a sharp knock on the hatch door.

“Come in.” She yawned, surprised when Admiral Ian Williams entered, looking rather ragged with his dark hair sticking out in every direction and prematurely streaked gray with unneeded stress at a young age. He could pass for someone nearing forty or fifty if he wanted, but in reality, he had just turned thirty-three. His face looked sullen, exhausted written all over it as he stepped toward her, running his fingers through his hair in a way that made it stick out even more. The jacket of his black uniform was unbuttoned, exposing the tanks he wore underneath. His dog tags reflected in the dim light of the quarters, but Amelia couldn’t quite make out what they said.

“Can I help you, Admiral?” She asked. He seemed to be hesitating about something.

“It’s about James.”

His tough exterior gone for the moment, Amelia could see the pain written across his face. Her chest constricted, stomach rolling.

No.

“What about him?” She asked carefully, voice wavering more than she would have liked.

“He was out taking the Cobra ships against the RACOD flagships in the first stream of attacks and his squadron did a rather good job at getting rid of raiders, except one.” He paused. “James took it upon himself to get rid of the last one - I’ll spare you the details, but he didn’t hit the raider.

“Knowing it would return to report our location to the flagships that were only a jump away, he crashed the Cobra he was flying into the raider.” He hesitated once more. “He’s dead.”

Somehow, Amelia had known it was coming - it still felt like a sharp slap in the face. Her stomach plummeted, heart feeling like someone had ripped it right down the center. The tears came before she could stop them, rolling down her cheeks. James was gone . A part of her instantly felt missing. Slowly, she got to her feet, rubbing her hands up and down her upper arms as a sudden chill overcame her.

Ian stood there awkwardly for a moment until another knock came at the door. He glanced at her and she nodded, turning away so that whoever it was would not see her crying. She heard the hatch open, followed by the quiet murmur of voices.

“Ma’am?” A familiar voice said and she quickly wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt and the palms of her hands. She turned, ignoring the odd look she was receiving from Logan at the door.

“What is it?” She asked. Her voice was thick as she forced her tears back.

“Uh, Commander Flint just gave me the listings of the headcount. None of the government officials above you made it out of the attacks alive.”

Amelia froze.

“What are you saying, Logan?” She inquired slowly, afraid of the answer she might receive.

“You’re the highest official left alive. You just became number one, Madame President.”

Her chest constricted even tighter and she stood there a long moment, trying to catch her breath.

Oh God. I’m President. I’m number one. I have to actually lead people. Oh God.

“Mr. Garner, please give Miss. Reynolds a moment. Inform the Commander that a conference room on deck thirteen is to be cleared out. See if you can find a priest or other official among the civilians we have on board as well and gather anyone you can find in the conference room.” Ian ordered quietly and he nodded, stepping out of the room. The hatch closed behind him and Amelia met Ian’s gaze.

“I can’t be president.” She whispered, voice thick as the tears began to roll down her face again. Today was easily the worst day of her life. The Planets were gone. Her fiancé was dead. Now she would be sworn in as President of the Planets, a job she never wanted. Her world was crashing down around her.

“You can.” Ian urged. “You will. You knew President Reed so, I’m sure he’d be glad to know that his civilians will be in capable hands.”

Amelia turned away from him, shaking her head, only one thought running through her mind.

Why me?

0 - 0 - 0

The civilians aboard the ship had been rounded up. A priest had been found. Everyone was gathered in one of the conference rooms, crew crammed around the edges. Higher-ranking officers stood on the stage behind the podium. All anyone had been told was the Lynian had been destroyed by RACODS and the next person in line was about to be sworn in.

Amelia paced in the hallway outside of the room, dressed in one of her old suits that she’d found, buried behind a bunch of James’s old clothes. She didn’t have the heart to get rid of his things. Not yet. Raking a shaking hand through her hair, her breath hitched in her throat as the door to the room was pushed open, voices spilling out into the hall.

“Are you ready, ma’am?” Major Allen asked, having been the one to open the door. Her body and mind protested, but she nodded.

“As I’ll ever be.”

When she walked in, the room hushed, all eyes on her. Everyone but the higher ranking officers looked surprised, including the priest on stage. Amelia suddenly felt sick, feeling as if this were a dream that she’d wake up from. She was living her worst nightmare in that very moment. However, it was real and she was about to become President. Everyone in power above her had been killed, having been aboard the Lynian at the party. All twenty-one ahead of her, and many people below her; from what she’d come to understand, the next person in line had previously been 54th. That just put into perspective how many people had been killed and that worried Amelia. She was probably going to get them all killed if she became President. She’d never led humanity before. And now it was such a small amount of humans left, there was an even heavier responsibility weighing on her shoulders.

She stepped up onto the stage, the priest snapping out of his surprise to move forward.

“Raise your right hand and place your left on the book.” He said and Amelia obeyed.

“Repeat after me.”


Amelia nodded.

“I, Amelia Jane Reynolds.”

Amelia intoned his words.

“Do so swear to protect the planets.”

“Do so . . . s-swear to protect the . . . Planets.” She stumbled and stuttered over her words, pausing as her mind tried to wrap itself around what was happening. It seemed like an odd nightmare and she refused the urge to pinch herself to make sure it wasn’t. Her mind was begging her to wake up.

“No matter the cost.”

“No matter the cost.” She repeated.

“And I do so swear to make the right decisions.”

She stumbled over the next part with less trouble, as she began to finally accept this was no nightmare.

“I accept this office with the promise to help the people.”

“I accept . . . this office with the promise to help the people.”

The priest nodded and Amelia lowered her hands, turning to the crowd who had already begun to applaud. She flashed a weak smile, her body trembling slightly.

“Thank you. I never expected this to happen, but it seems we have no choice. Almost every government official is dead, and three of the four planets have been destroyed. I suppose that makes me president of only one planet now. There is no going back. The only ships left are this one and the Corinthian, each carrying about 10,000 civilians. This is all that’s left of the human race except for the few straggler survivor ships out there. We will find them because our survival depends on it. A strategy is being formed by the men standing behind me. I promise we will protect all of you as best we are able to and I will do what I can to make sure our species survives this impending war.” She spoke quietly.

When she finished, were completely silent, and she understood why. Filled with dread, remorse, and loss, she didn’t blame them for being so quiet. They were all that was left of what had once been a flourishing society. Now they were stranded on ships with no way to tell if they would live to see the next day or not.

She felt sick. She wished James were beside her right then, just to hold her hand. Maybe tell her that everything was going to be all right. He wasn’t though and she’d never hear another word from him again. That thought made her feel even worse. If only she’d been a bit nicer to him when she’d spoken over the com with him those hours ago. If only she’d not gone down to Mele and instead spent the day in his company rather than a hot conference room.

If only he wasn’t dead.

She stared at a spot on the back wall of the room for the longest of moments, the silence finally beginning to get uncomfortable.

“I’ll take questions if you have any?” She offered, realizing this was a mistake as people began to shout senselessly at her. There were too many for her to take in, as the crowd that had crammed into the room was at least over fifty people. Press officials who had survived the attacks now shoved cameras and microphones toward her, as they were the loudest of the crowd gathered.

“What about the governors?”

“Are we leaving the Planets?”

“Are the RACODS going to kill us?”

“They are not going to kill us.” She cut across the noise firmly. “We have to leave the Planets and find a new home. As for the governors, I see no use since there are no more Planets. We’re all together now, so we should not be separated by who is from what Planet. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more things to get done before the day is out. Thank you.”

By nightfall, the Corinthian had picked up at least another one thousand people from other ships and escape pods from the destroyed ships and Planets. The Melenian had taken on another four hundred fifty six people as well. Things were becoming cramped around the ship, with people sharing quarters and setting up temporary camp in the old and hardly used hangar bay at the back of the ship, and in the empty storage compartments in the underbelly of the ship. However, as they traveled farther away from their home, the people and ships became fewer, until there were no more to pick up, and no more distress signals clouding the radar.

Amelia sat in James’ quarters - well, they would be hers now - curled up underneath his comforter, her head resting on the sofa of the couch. She still couldn’t believe he was gone. She’d retreated into these quarters after she’d escaped the questions, and had been in the same position since. She hadn’t even bothered to try to make it to the bed, or the rack, as it was called on the ships. Her legs were stiff, her muscles sore as she sat there, still trying to comprehend. It seemed surreal, that she had been shopping for her wedding gown and attending pointless meetings, only to be attacked, have her fiancé ripped away from her, and become President of the Planets, a position she wasn’t sure she was ready to handle. She didn’t honestly want the presidency - she’d only accepted office as 22nd in line because she never thought all twenty-one in front of her would be killed. Either way, it was now her duty and she was going to have to accept it.

Pulled from her thoughts by a knock at the door, she sighed.

“Come in.” She called out.

Ian entered, followed by Commander Flint. Amelia got to her feet, wincing slightly as she stretched, wrapping her blanket around her. Her legs burned in protest at the sudden movement.

“What can I help you with, gentlemen?” She asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“We’ve come up with plans - we thought you might want to hear them.” Commander Flint said quietly.

“Fire away.”

“We’ve thought it out. We have enough ammunition to last us a while, but not enough for an upcoming war. If Mele hasn’t been destroyed, we can attempt to retake it.” Commander Flint explained.

“While the Commander’s idea is a good one, I do believe the better choice is to leave.” Ian stated. “There’s nothing left. We’re all that’s left. Our species needs to survive. There’s nothing left here, or back where the Planets were. We can hit the old ammunitions station if it’s still there and split the people up into the older model ships there. Then I say we fire up the old jump systems on here and the Corinthian and go to a different solar system where we find another planet to live on. And hope those damned robots don’t find us.”

“And what if they do?” Amelia inquired.

“We keep running.” Ian replied.

Amelia pulled the blanket tighter around her. It was either fight a losing battle or run and hide. Apparently they wanted her to make the decision. Then again, she was President. It was her job.

“Commander, Admiral, with all due respect, shouldn’t you be deciding this?” She asked quietly, crossing the room and grabbing the bottle of liquor off the shelf, snatching up three glasses as well. She poured each of them one. “This is a military decision, after all. Not government.”

“Thank you, Madame President.” They murmured to the drink. It took Amelia a minute to realize they were addressing her, not fully used to the new title. She nodded, as Commander Flint continued.

“We feel this is your decision.” He said.

They exchanged a brief glance.

Amelia merely nodded, sipping at her drink as she sat back down, gesturing for them to have a seat as well. They did. The liquor burned her throat, but she ignored the feeling. It’d been a while since she drank, but that was her old self. She’d thrown that part of her out the airlock the moment she’d become President. Another Amelia had taken over - the politician part she had tried to keep hidden all these years.

“In my personal opinion, we should retreat. We have no idea if the last planet is still there and even if it is, it’s probably crawling with those bugger robots. They are aware two of our ships are still out here and they’ll be waiting. We can jump to the next system and search for a habitable planet.” She said finally, glancing between the two. The Admiral’s expression did not change, but the Commander’s flickered one of disappointment. It was easily reflected in the tone of his voice as well when he spoke. “If they so happen to find us, then we can put up a fight.”

“Are those your official orders, ma’am?” He asked.

“Make it so.” She seemed to hesitate for a moment before continuing. “Admiral, I’d like to speak with you. Alone.”

The Commander took this as a hint and set his empty glass down, silently leaving with a brief glance back toward Ian, who waved him out. Amelia looked at Ian.

“Is James’ Cobra still in the hangar?”

“Of course. He was flying a spare one because repairs were still being made on his own.” He replied.

“I’d like to see it, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course.” He repeated. “Is there anything else you needed?”

“So eager to jump the ship?” She asked, arching her eyebrow at him. He studied her for a long moment.

“Just following your orders, Madame President.”

“For the love of God, Ian, you were one of James’ closest friends. Call me Amelia.” She said, suddenly irritated. His face remained expressionless as she finished off her glass before placing it on the table.

“Madame President, I have to decline.”

She frowned at him.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” She asked quietly. “What happened to the Ian I used to know? Or was told of? I know James’ death was a hard loss to you too.”

“I am fine, Madame President. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a jump to prepare.”

Without another word he set his untouched glass down next to the Commander’s empty one, and left. Amelia frowned again, left alone to wonder just what had gotten into him.

Sighing, she began to pace, raking a hand through her hair. It was becoming a horrible habit. Deciding suddenly that she didn’t want to be in the quarters at that moment, she headed toward the door, slipping back into her heels as she went. She pushed against the heavy door, having to throw all her weight on it to get it open. When she finally did shove it open, she was suddenly aware of the two armed men standing outside her door on either side.

“Can I help you two?”

“We’re on orders to protect you, Madame President.”

“Oh, of course.” She murmured. She hadn’t thought about that. “I’ll just be heading to the hangar bay then.”

When she began walking, they followed only two steps behind her. She held back the urge to tell them to go away - she wasn’t used to having guards or being followed. It was only going to get worse though, so she’d have to suck it up and deal with it. Many things were going to be changing, whether she liked it or not.

She followed the long hallway to the opposite side of the ship, remembering her way around rather easily. Down a small flight of stairs and she was suddenly standing at the edge of the port hangar bay - despite the rather late hour crew members rushed around repairing Cobras and updating the information in the Pegasus ships, making sure everything was up and running properly in case the RACODS made an appearance. She glanced around finally spotting the long line of repaired and working Cobra ships on the edge of the bay in the little alcove specifically built for them. She headed in that direction, a woman on a mission.

Cobras were made for war and made for combat in the sky. Each was jet-black in color, made to blend in with the blackness of space. They were stealth planes, each one of them stamped with a number that was specific to the warship they were from. They were rather beautiful and sleek in design compared to the Pegasus ships.

Pegasus ships, which were on the other side of the hangar bay, were bulky and rather large. They were made for recon missions and to transport crew and supplies between ships. Each had their own radar, two pilot seats, and room enough to carry at least six passengers safely. They were practical and had their own uses during war, as they also had the ability to carry several nuclear missiles under the wings on each side; Cobras only had plasma bullets as their ammo, with the addition of two explosive missiles under their wings.

Amelia had always preferred Cobras.

At the nose of each Cobra was a silver nameplate with the call-sign of each pilot inscribed along it. Hydro, Speed, Black Cat, Hero, and Spider were among the familiar names, friends she’d had about the Melenian and known through James. Toward the end of the planes, she finally spotted the call-sign she was looking for. Firehawk. Amelia ran her hand along the name, smiling slightly. She’d ridden in his plane once. Cobras like these were only meant for one person, but you could squeeze two in if you tried. These were the ones that gave her a thrill. The double-seated planes were dull because only one person could fly at a time. They were the ones used for training so you could switch the controls back and forth, so only a single pilot had control at any one time. James had intended to teach her how to fly a Cobra after they were married, but she wasn’t getting that lesson anytime soon.

“Hey! You! Get away from those planes!”

Amelia turned, frowning. The man coming toward her halted, and when she spoke, he was quickly backpedaling. He wore a red jumpsuit of a deckhand with a pair of goggles resting on top of his sandy hair. His face was smudged with grease and oil. She assumed he was one of the deckhands in charge.

“Oh - sorry, Madame President. I thought you were a civilian.” He said, rather sheepishly. “What are you doing down here? Something I could help you with?”

“Quite all right, Mr . . . ?” She let the query trail off in question.

“Prewitt, ma’am. Chief Daniel Prewitt.”

“Chief, I apologize - I was simply admiring Firehawk’s ship. I was almost glad to hear he’d been flying another because his was being repaired. I can see that his is looking as good as new, however. Now that he’s . . . gone, what do you plan to do with it?”

“The name-plate will be stripped and the plane given to another pilot, ma’am. Why do you ask?”

“Curious, is all.” Amelia murmured, hiding the disappointment in her voice. She half wanted to keep the ship for herself or at least have them put it somewhere for safekeeping. James’ ship had been his life next to her. However, with something of a war about to happen, she figured it was selfish, considering they’d probably need any ship available.

“Thank you.” She said to Chief Prewitt before turning to the guards who still lurked behind her. “We’ll be off to Central Control.”

She headed back up the steps without another word and back down the corridor. She felt slightly sick as she walked as if everything had suddenly hit her then and there. Her entire body ached and felt suddenly heavier to the point where it made it hard to walk upright.

When she walked into CC no one seemed to notice her at first. Ian stood at the holographic map in the center of the room on the lowest level again, this time alone. Most of what she could see of the map was marked in gray.

“Gray means the area hasn’t been explored.” A voice said to her left suddenly.

She jumped, looking over to see Logan, her assistant, standing there. She hadn’t seen him since the attack, but smiled nonetheless.

“Something you wanted, Madame President?” He continued, grinning when he addressed her by title.

“Not yet, thank you.” She replied with a slight shake of the head, taking the spiral stairs to her left down to the lowest level of CC. She crept up behind Ian silently, gazing at the map over his shoulder. All of it was marked in gray except for the tiny red dot in the center.

“What’s that?” She questioned coming to stand beside him. He didn’t seem too bothered by her sudden appearance.

“Our jump coordinates for later. We have to make two jumps to get to the ammunitions station which means heading out past the red line.” He replied. “You may want to return to your quarters. The jump can be quite startling.”

“I jumped over here. I’m fine with them.” She said.

“This ship is bigger than a Pegasus ship so it’s a lot rougher than what you think. You were never aboard this thing when we’ve had to jump before.”

“Duly noted, Admiral.” Amelia responded, moving to stand across from him on the other side of the projected map. His startling gaze locked on her for a moment before he looked away, pressing a button that made the map flatten into a 2-D image on the table. It appeared to glow from beneath. There was still a dim gray color over everything, the red dot still in the center.

“Ready for jump, sir.” One of the other officers said, standing at a nearby console.

“Initiate then.” He ordered, grabbing one of the headsets hanging from the side of the tactical board and putting it on, speaking into it. When he did, his voice sounded across the Melenian and, Amelia imagined, across the Corinthian, too.

“Jump coordinates Alpha commencing. Prepare for jump in five . . . four . . . three . . . .”

Amelia gripped the end of the table as he counted down. Her gaze met his again.

“. . . two . . . one . . . jump!”

The entire ship shook nearly pitching Amelia to the floor as she held tight to the table. The familiar firework screeching sounded as the feeling of floating overcame her, before everything righted itself. She blinked, a bit disoriented as others picked themselves up off the ground, obviously having not been prepared for it. A jump of those proportions hadn’t happened in a while, so many people didn’t know how to react to it or they hadn’t been trained to act in such a situation.

Across from her, Ian was glancing around, rubbing his head.

“Location!” He barked. There was a pause.

“Sensors indicate we are past the red line. Right where we wanted to be. One more jump and we should be at the station. The jump drives are charging back up, and we should be ready to leave within the next two minutes.” The same man as before said and Ian nodded in confirmation.

There was a loud cheer and Amelia smiled. However, the victory was short-lived as something began to beep furiously.

“Peterson!” Ian shouted and a stout blonde man ran to the radar.

“Sir! RACOD raiders and a flagship have appeared on the radar!” The man that had been referred to as Peterson called out.

Amelia paled.

“God, help us.”



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