And while the original version of this evolved into TGG... it has little in common with it besides a basic foundation point and some characters names. TGG is a serious setting that examines socio-political ramifications of an existing Multiverse and the resulting astropolitical issues. This.... this is going to be a fun romp with the rule of "If I can make it work, then by God it's going in!".
A large fallow field stretched out as far as the eye could see from the two story house that stood in its midst. Once the grains of the Midwest had swayed in the wind here. Once the barn had been full of the sounds and smells of animals, pigs and chickens that could complement the income of the farm. There had been laughter, cries of joy and irritation, and everything else that told of it being the home of a family.
Now there were only memories.
A lone figure stood in the summer sun. Habits of a lifetime urged him to get to work, to find chores to do, but the emptiness in his heart threatened to overwhelm him just as the paper in his hand made it all moot.
The barechested young man stepped back up to the porch and put the paper down on the table. He stared into a mirror that his mother had put up years ago. Stubble was forming on his jawline and chin. His green eyes looked hazy and unfocused, red from nights of crying in his sleep. His athletic build was starting to decay from lack of exercise and proper eating.
The light on the answering machine for the house's landline was on. There were five messages waiting for him.
"Mister Robert Dale, this is Adam Miller from the Kansas Farmer's Bank. We understand the tough times you are currently going through and you again have condolences from the Bank. We would like you to come in to discuss the remaining balance on your family's property and to arrange a new payment schedule or sale that would best benefit you..."
An angry hand smacked the skip button. "Hello, Mister Dale, this is Herb from Johnson Farming. We went over the list you sent and, well, I'm afraid the price you asked for is just too high. I...."
Another smack on the skip button. This time he only allowed the caller to get as far as "Mister" before he hit it again. "Oh Robbbb... It's Zack, buddy. C'mon, pick up man," the voice pleaded, its tone and sound comfortably familiar. The barest hint of a smile crossed the young man's face. "Tom and I are going to come and drag your ass out of that house if we have to, Rob. I know it hurts, but you've got to have a life and moping around your empty family house isn't going to cut it. We're your friends, man... we're worried about you."
The message ended. This time it was a female voice that came in, an alto that was just as familiar. "Robert, this is Angel. Julie and I have talked about it and we're coming over soon to check up on you. We can and will kick your ass if we need to, Robert. Don't you doubt it. I mean it. You're shutting us all out and it isn't right. We're all here for you, so stop being a hermit already!" There was a sigh. "Okay, like I said, we're coming over, and we're not taking 'no' for an answer."
The machine beeped again and went dead. Robert just continued to stare at the mirror until he forced himself to look away.
His eyes settled on a picture. It was ten years old, at a harvest festival. An old man with a balding head of white hair sat in the center, a wide smile on his face. On the one side was a man just shy of his 40s and a brown-haired woman in his arm. On the other was Robert, so much younger, and a little girl who shared the same hue of dark hair as his clutching his hand and smiling at the camera. The memory made him smile; his family, his closest family...
And now they were all gone.
Robert shook his head. He had to leave the room, before the memories drove him mad with grief again. Over and over the phone call from the county sheriffs replayed in his mind. The accident. The long-haul trucker with the heart attack. A sedan versus an eighteen wheeler.... his family never stood a chance. His parents and sister all died at the hospital. His grandfather... they'd lost him years ago. And his grandmother even before that photo.
He found himself walking the property, along the path leading to the mound. It was an aberration to say the least; their region of Kansas didn't have hills or mountains or anything of the sort, but the mound had always been on the family land. His grandfather had reluctantly allowed people to use ground-penetrating radar on it once, looking to see if it was some ancient Native burial mound or the like, but there had been nothing of the sort within. It was just a fun little mystery here, barely thought about, barely considered.
Robert clambered to the top of it. He looked out at the farm he'd grown up on, the place he knew as home, the fields where he'd led his little sister on so many chases.... and he simply fell to his knees. With tears streaming down his face, he felt like his heart was about to implode, like there was nothing to keep it going, nothing....
Then came the flash of light.
The roar of an engine reached the walls of the Dale home. The motorbike that came up was adorned with red and blue coloring, a sport competition model with a lone rider wearing a blue helmet. The bike came to a stop near the family car and the rider stood from the bike, a young woman in a light black rider's jacket and blue jeans that were flattering on her. When the helmet came off, blond hair cascaded down past her neck. Her green eyes looked toward the house. All she could do was sigh heavily. She went up to the door and knocked. "Robert?" When there was no answer she reached for the door handle and found it open. She walked in and looked around at the living room. She glanced toward the mirror for a moment and then to the family pictures. She was in a few of them, from the time she was little to a picture of her and Robert side by side, holding awards from school.
Looking around she spotted a piece of paper. Curiosity prompted her to pick it up even as she overheard the crunching of gravel down the road. The text of the paper made her draw in a pained breath and close her eyes, setting the paper back down. Tears were starting to form when the door opened. "Hey, Julie, I see you beat us."
Julia Andreys looked up and into the hazel eyes of Angel Delgado. Angel's light bronze complexion was a few shades darker than Julia's tanned Caucasian, an indication of her Latin descent. As was fitting Angel, she was in a green sleeveless shirt that was almost a tank top, baring finely muscled arms, and the insignia of the county's only martial arts gym emblazoned on the front. While Julia had full blue jeans, Angel had jean-material shorts that ended above the knee, showing part of her muscled thighs as well. She looked around the empty house. "So, where's Rob?"
"Probably out on the farm somewhere." Julia looked past Angel to a figure standing in the doorway. "You brought Cat?"
Angel looked back and smiled. "Yeah."
Caterina Delgado waved at Julia with more than a touch of the shyness Julia knew her for. The slight smile of greeting made dimples form on the corners of her mouth; considering the eyeglasses over her hazel eyes, being barely past one hundred pounds even when soaking wet, and being about five foot four to her sister's five nine and Julia's five eleven, it made her look like a cute geek girl.... which, of course, she was, as proven by her dark blue shirt and the decal on it of a lab-coated silhouette holding a bubbling beaker with the caption: "Stand back! I'm using SCIENCE!"
Before anything more could be said the sound of a vehicle backfiring resounded through the air. They all looked out to see another vehicle, a beat-up sedan, pulling up behind the smaller coupe that Angel had driven. A well-built, brown-haired young man jumped out of the driver seat, looking at the rising smoke coming from the hood. "Oh God dammit!", he shouted angrily, kicking the wheel.
The other doors opened. In the front seat a thinly-built figure jumped out, his red hair cut to the nape of his neck. He gestured wildly to the driver. "Well, open the damn hood already! I told you I heard...."
Angel broke out laughing. "I see Zack's car is finally giving up the ghost. Do you think Tom can get it working again?"
"Bet you ten dollars he does," Julia replied with a smirk. "But only after someone goads his ego. Otherwise he'll just gripe that he's an engineer, not a mechanic."
"Engineering student, I thought?", Caterina asked quietly.
"Try telling him that," Angel said.
By this point the third occupant of the broken down car had gotten out. He was closer to Zack in build, wearing a plain T-shirt with a medical school logo on it and long shorts to the knee, his dark hair cut close to his scalp. Unlike the fair complexions of Julia, Zack, and Tom, or the tanned bronze of Angel and Caterina, his dark complexion spoke of his African ancestry, not a common sight in the Midwest. "Leo?", Julia asked, walking out toward them. "My God, Leo, you're back already?"
Leo Gillan looked over and grinned at them. He accepted a hug from Julia. "Yeah, my classes are out. Three years down, five to go."
"'Doctor Gillan' has a good ring to it." Julia stepped back and let Angel have a hug as well.
"Hey Cat." Zack looked over to Caterina, who was standing further back. "It's been a while."
"Uh, yeah," Caterina answered.
Zachary Carrey gave the young girl a smile and stepped up to her. "You're looking good. Still the brainiest, cutest girl in the county."
Angel crossed her arms. "Zack, I know you can't help yourself around girls..."
Zack looked back to her, a gesture of surrender. "Hey, just saying 'hi'."
Their exchange was interrupted with a hoarse, "Your belt is shredding and you've got an oil leak, why the hell are you still driving this thing you dumbass?!" Thomas Barnes pulled his head away from the hood of Zack's car.
"Well, because I usually have a best buddy and wingman who fixes it for me," Zack answered, smirking.
"Oh, yeah. Because you seem to think 'engineer' means 'mechanic'", Barnes retorted angrily.
While that exchange continued, Leo shook his head. "Some things never change, do they?"
"Unfortunately, sometimes they do." Julia looked back at the empty Dale house.
Leo saw where her eyes went and nodded. "I heard. I... I just can't believe it. Rob's family were great people, I can't imagine how much pain he's in."
"I can," Julia sighed. "But what's important is finding where he walked off to and...." She saw Leo look past the house and looked that way as well.
Soon everyone was, as they watched Robert run up to them. He was almost breathless when he reached them, an almost wild look in his eyes. "Jeez, man, are you alright?", Zack asked.
As Robert leaned against Angel's car, catching his breath, Leo moved up to him and examined him. "Robert, look at me," he commanded. When he did so, Leo checked his pulse. "Okay..."
"Come with me," he wheezed. "I need to show you something."
Julia stepped up. "What? What is it, Robert?"
"I don't know. I... I just need to know I'm not losing my mind," he answered.
The others all looked at each other. There was sympathy in their expressions as they each gave a nod. "After you've had some water," Leo said. "I don't want you dehydrating."
Caterina ran ahead of them into the house, coming back a moment later with a water bottle from the fridge. Robert drank so greedily from it that streams of water went around his lips and ran down his neck and chest. Leo pulled the bottle away after a couple of moments. "Okay, show us whatever this is," Julia said to him.
Everyone followed him across the farm. Everyone knew what it should look like at this time of year; the fact that it was mostly fallow was just another indication of how terrible things had become. There were no words to be had.
They were all familiar with the mound. Robert led them to the very top of it, from which they could see the entire farm and adjoining properties. He got on the ground and looked like he was looking for something. "It's here. I know it. I... I triggered it."
"Rob?" Julia was the first to go up to him. She knelt beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "What are you looking for?"
"I don't know what it is. But I know it's here."
She got closer and gripped his arm. "Robby, please..." He looked up at her at the use of his childhood nickname. "Talk to me. I know what you're going through, but you're starting to scare us."
Robert stared at her for a moment and looked down at his dirty hands. "I... I think I might be going crazy, Julie."
"What did you think you'd find up here?"
"I... I don't know what it was. But...." He reached a hand over and adjusted his knee. "It was...."
His weight shifted onto the knee he just moved.
Light erupted from the ground at the base of the mound. Everyone cried out in shock as the light formed a ring around them. Energy seemed to surround them all....
And suddenly they were somewhere else. Lights came on around them, showing a sterile gray chamber and a sliding door at the far end. Everyone was looking around with astonishment. "Okay.... that was crazy," Zack muttered.
"It's like some kind of... teleporter, like in sci-fi shows," Caterina murmured. She was the first to step outside the circle. "We must be deep underground, too deep for ground-penetrating radar. Maybe even under the Aquifer."
"Well, I've got good news Robert." Leo patted him on the shoulder. "You're not crazy."
"Or we all are," Angel murmured.
Robert gave a nod and a smile to Leo and walked past the others toward the door. As he walked up to it a pair of green lights converged on him, running over his body. There was a series of chirping and beeping noises from a module above the door. They ended with a loud tone and the door light turned blue. He looked back to his astounded friends. "So, want to come in with me?"
A couple of eyes glanced back toward the ring in the chamber. Julia kept her eyes on Robert. He'd been almost wild-eyed before, but now there was a calm sense in his eyes. A cool confidence, a realization that he was not insane and that there was something wonderous inside. "Let's go," she said firmly.
"This is already beyond awesome," Caterina said, stepping forward beside Julia. Amazement had removed all of her habitual shyness.
"Hell, I want to know what else is down here too," Thomas insisted, stepping forward.
"I'm behind you." Angel stepped up between her sister and Julia.
Zack and Leo each gave a nod and a grin. They stepped up too. "Let's see where this rabbit hole takes us," Leo remarked.
"Hopefully to something that won't eat us," Zack added.
Robert grinned widely. "Well everyone, let's see what's in there." He stepped up to the door and it slid open without a sound. After a quick collective breath to gather their courage, the seven friends stepped into the unknown.....
Big Steve Presents....
"A Time For Heroes"
The chamber had been a closet compared to where they were now. The space inside was enormous, with pathways and catwalks criss-crossing everywhere. Tubes containing lifts met every major crosswalk and ladders were placed along the walls. "No damned way," Barnes muttered. "This... this isn't possible."
They walked along the path before them and found a stairway up to what looked to be a central command station. Chairs had been bolted into place at the major stations, each of which was covered in characters from some unknown language. Multiple monitors adorned the walls as well, showing various empty chambers. Some looked to be living quarters or storage rooms for equipment. Others were just empty.
But one wasn't. Inside was a structure. Not just a structure, but something that made everyone present think "ship" from the size. It looked to be the length of a naval warship and wider and even taller than such, with a hull of dark blue coloring and swept-back wings that made it look like a hawk or eagle diving. "Okay, either I'm crazy, or that's some kind of spaceship," Angel remarked.
"It is one," Robert said softly. "It's a spaceship."
"But, if it's supposed to be in space, why is it underground?", Angel asked. "What, does it fly through tunnels or something to get to the surface? Wouldn't something like that be easy to find?"
Robert gave a shrug and walked up. He set a hand on the controls. "I just wish I could understand these...."
Suddenly all of the control surfaces seemed to shift. Where alien characters had once confronted them they now saw them in English. Above the center of the room an image blurred into existence, a bipedal form with deep orange coloring and a high skull that was clearly non-human. It appeared for only a moment before being replaced by a well-kept Human in a nice suit. "Central systems are now online. I.... well well..." The image looked around at them. "I didn't expect this. I figured our people had come to man the station again. Are you Aterrans? Wait, no.... your language has too many differences. You're... you're native to this world aren't you?"
"Who are you?", Robert asked.
"I am the Control System for Emergency Facility A Universe Designation H1E4, created by the Darglan, native to Universe Designation E5B1 . Before you ask, my appearance is tailored to fit certain mental imagery found in the mind of the one who activated me. In this case, you." He looked to Robert. "You seem to have genetic structures that my sensors saw as Aterran. That would explain how you triggered the surface entrance and activated me."
"How does this place fit underground? There's no damned way something like this would be missed...."
The hologram turned to Barnes. "You are an interesting one.... oh, a mechanical mind, I think you'll enjoy the data you can be provided with. To answer your question, young Terran, the Darglan made many allies in their time exploring the universes of creation, and with those allies came technologies. A friendly alien in one of those universes demonstrated the use of dimensionally transcendental objects that the Darglan replicated in these facilities. This facility, as large as it is on the inside, on the outside occupies barely ten percent the space of the command center."
Caterina clapped her hands together. "So... it's literally a pocket dimension? Your people could make pocket dimensions?!"
"Not easily, mind you. And I cannot. These facilities were meant for emergency use. And I...." The hologram stopped. "Oh... oh dear. I...."
It was Leo who asked, "What?"
"I...." The holographic figure seemed stricken. "I just found a queued message in my receivers. It's.... oh my dear." The figure ran a hand on his head. "It appears my creators are... extinct. Destroyed. This is terrible, so simply terrible." He looked to them. "My young Terrans... please. I would ask your help. Please don't leave me here alone. If you man the facility, I can fulfill my purpose."
Everyone was looking around in wonderment as Control's pleading words reached them. "Well... I kind of understand what you mean and all... but what would we do with it?", Zack asked. "I mean... maybe we should have our authorities come and work with you instead?"
"Yeah, Zack, I'm sure that we'll find someone who believes us about the teleporter built into the mound that leads to the magic supertech underground base," Angel said, smirking in amusement. "And even if we did... they're just as likely to lock us up somewhere so they can keep it a secret."
"That's a bit paranoid of you, Angel."
"But she's right," Robert pointed out. Besides..." He inhaled slowly. "I've got nowhere else to go. I'm losing the farm."
Julia lowered her head, the only one not surprised by the news. "What?", Barnes asked increduously.
"They still call and talk about arranging a voluntary sale, but they've already started the foreclosure," Robert answered. "Dad had been keeping things afloat, barely. Now he's gone. And losing my family cost so much. " He sighed and blinked back tears. "Too much. I can't save it. I'm even going to lose the house."
Angel set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Rob."
"Maybe it's for the better," he continued. "The house is so empty now. Everywhere I look I think of Dad and Mom and Susan. So.... yeah, I've got nothing better to do."
"Aside from take care of yourself," Leo remarked. "Have you looked in a mirror lately, Rob?"
Robert smiled thinly. "Yeah, I have." He turned to the control system hologram. "So, just what do I do? I mean, besides living here. And I hope you have a way for me to get food..."
"I do have a supply of raw food material that our systems can produce into food items for your benefit," Control answered. "As for the more pertinent question... I am programmed to assist the personnel of this facility within the confines of rather broad ethical restraints."
Robert gave a nod. "What would they be?"
"Don't use this facility to embark on conquest and enslavement of other sapient species," Control answered matter-of-factly. "Do not commit genocide or xenocide. Do not use me to inflict harm outside of necessary defense of yourself and others."
"So don't be a murdering asshole," Angel answered, summing things up.
"Yes, a crude summation I suppose," Control conceded.
"Okay, that's cool." Zack stepped up to the hologram. "But just what is all this for? What will you have Rob doing? Sweeping the floors?"
"Oh, not at all. I have maintenance drones for that. Rather.... you could resume the Darglans' work. Recommence studying the Multiverse. That is what the ship is for; it is a specialized scout and combat vessel," Control explained. "Though I would recommend not getting into trouble without the full trained crew of forty sentients."
"Plus we don't know the first thing about how these ships operate," Caterina pointed out. "I mean, we don't know how to fly a spaceship, or how stuff in space works. I... I can theorize a bit..."
"Ah, no worries there. You Terrans, given the bioscans I'm getting, should be compatible with the data infusion system. The necessary data can be installed into your minds. I don't recommend trying to understand all of it, mind you. Too much data infusion has been recorded as causing mental trauma, even unbalance. Specializing may be a more sound approach. And training afterward of course." The control hologram put his hands together. "Shall we?" He seemed to step off the viewer, though the flicker made it clear that the internal hologram systems were simply changing projectors. "Follow me."
After a sight-filled trip down a transport tube and a contained deck, they were shown to a large room with a multitude of beds, each with a device hanging over it. "So, Robert is it? Please sit and I will give you a basic information download as a test."
"Are you so sure about this, Rob?", Zack asked. "All that stuff about mental trauma...."
"I'll risk it," Caterina suddenly declared, stepping forward. "I mean, I want to know more about this place. And the science. And all the astrophysics these Darglan must have known...!"
"Cat!", Angel called out with concern.
Robert smiled at the girl. "Thanks for offering, Cat, but I'm the one who volunteered. You'll need that big brain of your's for college if this doesn't work." He got onto the table, ignoring the sensation of cold on hia bare back and arms.
Julia leaned over him. "Robby, are you sure about this?", she whispered.
He looked back to her. "I am. Trust me." He reached for her hand and gripped it. "Thanks for being here for me, Julie." He stared up at the device and watched it begin to glow.
Suddenly he was tired. "Your brain is being coaxed into a sleep state," Control explained. "This will permit you to more easily process the new information."
"Been having trouble sleeping as it is," Robert yawned. "A little sleep might..."
His eyes fluttered close while a beam of light came from the device above, shining on his forehead. "This is ridiculous," Leo said. "You can't just download knowledge into someone. Knowledge comes from experience."
The heat in his voice made Zack look to him. "Are you okay?"
That led to a chuckle. "Oh, swell. I'm just being told that after thousands of dollars and my parents working themselves to death to make sure I could get through school, I can just get a light beam flashed over my head and be an instant doctor. I've apparently wasted three years of my life."
"No," Julia answered. "It actually gives you an edge over us. We're still going to have to train, you've already got some of it."
"Julie... when did we decide we were all going to do this?", Zack asked pointedly. "I mean, we do have lives to go to."
"Are you dense?" Caterina glared at him. "There's.... would you really turn this down?! I know I'm not."
"You're supposed to go to school," Angel insisted, jumping into the conversation. "You promised Mama."
"Angel, seriously? This.... look around you!" Caterina raised her arms. "This is beyond anything we could have imagined when we talked about our future. This... this is something far beyond what Mama had in mind when she asked me to go to school. She'd be with me on this!"
"Woh, time out!" Julia raised her arms. "Listen.... we all have to decide what we're going to do. Let's see what happens with Robert first."
Everyone was quiet until he started to stir. Leo was the first by his side, barely beating Julia to it, and was looking intently at him as Robert sat up and opened his eyes. "Sounds like you're breathing well," Leo said. "So... how do you feel?"
Robert blinked sleep out of his eyes. "No different. I'm not about to start laughing like a comic book villain." He rubbed his eyes. "And I think I can fly and fight with spaceships now."
"As stated, it was a basic packet that was not too taxing. The information necessary to understand starships and this facility's basic operation. It will be useful." Control put his hands together. "I am pleased that you were so compatible with the system. I would recommend against more than two more infusions over the next year. It's best if you use the baseline of your current knowledge for more conventional training. If I might inquire as to if any of your friends are interested?"
"I want one!", Caterina called out. "I want to understand the basics of your science!"
"Cat!", Angel growled.
Robert slid off the table and raised his hands. "Listen, this is my choice, it doesn't have to be your's."
"I want this though!", Caterina protested. She stared her sister right in the eye, even if it looked almost comical given their physical differences. "Angel, this is so much more than just going to university and studying a science field. This... this is light years beyond us. Literally! And I want to do it!"
Angel looked down at her little sister for several moments before setting her hands on her hips and breathing in a sigh. "Fine, fine. I'll be doing this though, then. Someone has to keep you and Robert from hurting yourselves."
Robert let out a low chuckle. "I'm reminded that you've hurt me quite a few times...."
The look on Angel's face turned mischievous. "Yeah, but sometimes you enjoyed it."
At that Zack snickered while a bemused smirk crossed Julia's face. Robert allowed himself a grin and looked up to Julia. "You're not the only one. There are times I think you used to invite me to your gym just to put me in my place."
"Maaaaybe," Julia joked. "Though I think Zack needs it more often." She took in a breath and looked to be thinking of what to say. "I shouldn't have to say I'll be going with you wherever you go."
"Getting to work on starship engines sounds a lot more fun than having to fix Zack's crappy car all the time," Barnes added.
This left Leo and Zack. The latter looked to be deep in thought while Leo was staring at the tables. "You're all serious about this. Really?" When he received nods, Leo drew in a sigh and ran a hand through his hair. "God, I must be crazy.... okay, fine. You're going to need me, and I admit I'm curious about just how crazy this is going to be." He looked to the hologram. "I'm going to need to know how your medical technology works."
"I'll prepare a data infusion package immediately. Ah, there." Control nodded. "It is ready. I will welcome any more requests for specialized information..."
Zack sighed. "So you guys are all really going to do this? Really? The lives we have now aren't good enough, you're going to just jump into... whatever this leads us to?"
"Zack, it's your choice, if you want to go back..."
There was a look of consternation on his face, like he was seriously considering that offer but couldn't bring himself to be the one who walked away. "I just... I just want a normal life sometimes, you know? But if you guys want to do this... I'm not going to let you do it alone. We do it together."
Robert stepped up and put his hand on Zack's shoulder. "Whatever comes, we're going to need each other. I don't think we could go without you, Zack."
"Oh, I'm sure you could." Zack smirked and patted him on the shoulder. "I'm just the skirt-chasing jock of our group."
"That's where Angel and I come in. We keep you in line." Julia looked to the tables. "So, if we're all doing this, we should decide just what we want to learn."
"I await your decisions," Control answered.
Among them Caterina was the first to get into a table and the first to awaken again. Robert started toward her as she sat up, wide-eyed. "Cat, are you okay?", he asked.
She stared at him for a moment. "I know four different ways to break the lightspeed barrier!" she said, her mouth spreading to a wide grin. "Maybe five! Not sure how the gravitic slips will work.... Oh, and quantum mechanics! I know quantum mechanics! I know subquantum mechanics! And subspace physics!"
Caterina's enthusiasm was infectious. "That's awesome, Cat," Robert said. "It'll come in handy, I'm sure."
The others began to wake up as well. "It's kind of... tingly," Zack remarked. "So what next oh fearless leader?"
"Well... he did say that spaceship was around to fly..."
After a quick return by Robert to his home for, of all things, a red polo shirt, they followed Control to a transporter room. The transport was slightly different this time, a tingly sensation with the transporter room disappearing and the bridge of the ship appearing around them. The control systems were already displaying in English, the stations arrayed around a center chair for the commander. Robert stepped to the station in front and found it to be the helm. "I recommend a short flight only," Control said over the comm system. "Without a full crew you will be unable to deal with emergencies."
"It's just a quick spin," Robert assured Control. He settled into the helm. "So, Julie, want to be the Captain?"
She smiled at him. "Sure, but I think I'll be needed at ops. Zack is going to have to help Tom in Engineering."
"Come on, wrench wrangler," Barnes called out as he headed to a door in the left rear of the bridge. "I'll be needing that second set of hands."
"Coming," Zack sighed.
"I'll check out the ship's infirmary," Leo offered. "I want to double-check things."
Caterina was already at the ship's main sensor station taking a seat. "Sensors ready for SCIENCE!", she giggled happily.
"That leaves weapons for you, Angel," Robert remarked as he checked the helm. "I've got helm control on standby. Just waiting for Tom and Zack to get the engines going."
"It shouldn't take them too long." Julia went over the controls. "Ship systems all good. What are we going to name the ship anyway?"
"Control, does it have a name?", Robert asked.
"No. The Darglan left it no designation."
"I see." Robert seemed to think a moment. "Okay.... how about the Kelley?"
"Just where did you get that from?", Angel asked.
"Just popped in my head. My parents knew someone with that name I think. Besides, it's nice and unpretentious."
"I've got no objections," Julia said.
When there were none, Control's voice returned over the intercom. "Kelley it is, then. I shall mark this in the data."
"Aren't you coming?", Caterina asked.
"Oh, I'm afraid not. My program is too large, to keep more than a few bare scraps of my code would be to take up crucial data space in your ship's library systems."
"I'll have to work on that," Caterina said sadly.
"You'll get your chance," Robert assured her. He saw indicators on his system confirming that Zack and Barnes had the ship's main reactors on. "Okay, we have main power. Preparing to initiate drives. Releasing all moorings."
"I'm linking our jump drive to the facility gate, space jump set for the dark side of the moon." Julia looked up. "We wouldn't want to be seen by the Hubble, I'm guessing."
"Oh, the Hubble isn't our worry, it's the many telescopes on Earth that would see us," Caterina corrected.
"Well, either way, she's right." Robert keyed the engines to pre-launch readiness. "Don't we have some kind of invisibility or stealth system?"
"The data infusion makes me want to call it a cloaking device." Julia tapped her control. "I'll cloak when we're through and secure. Jump gate activating now."
A circular shape in front of them flashed to life, creating a field of blue and green. Robert turned on the thrusters and the craft lurched as it came to life, moving forward into the swirling gate. There was a brief feeling of cold and dislocation and they were through, the silhouette of the moon's dark side on their viewer.
They were in space.
"This is so cool," Caterina murmured. Her fingers were running quickly over her controls. "And the sensors on this ship are awesome. I can read the surface composition of the moon! Actually, even here I can detect some of the stuff in Earth orbit!"
"Settle down, Cat," Angel urged, though it sounded more like she was just responding by habit. Even she was staring at the moon in disbelief.
Julia turned away from the screen long enough to operate her board. "Cloak operational. Nobody on Earth will see us."
"Then let's see what she can do." With a grin, Robert turned on the newly-christened Kelley's main drive. The moon disappeared quickly, replaced by open space as they began their maiden flight.
After a few hours, and everyone getting their chance at the helm, the Kelley's jump drive connected to the facility and they returned to their dock. Robert maneuvered the ship back into launch position before allowing the facility's umbilicals to reconnect. When all was done a touch of a button alerted Barnes to power down the main reactor. "Well, that was fun."
"We should have tried out the space-warp engines," Caterina sighed, looking as mopey as she sounded.
"We need a proper engineering crew for that," Julia remarked. "Not that I'm sure where we'll get one."
"We'll think of something," Robert remarked, standing from the station. "I'm guessing everyone wants to run home?"
"Well, some of us have jobs," Leo pointed out. "I've been doing volunteer work at the local clinic, just because we're flying spaceships doesn't mean I'm going to back out."
"Hey, I'm alright with that."
When they all emerged from the ship dock, taking that route this time, Control's hologram was waiting. "I hope you enjoyed yourselves," he said. "I believe I overheard something about work?"
"Some of my friends have obligations that mean going to their homes and getting rest," Robert remarked.
"Ah. Well, if you need to I believe we can arrange a beaming...."
"Oh no, my car is back at Rob's place," Zack said. "And..."
"....and it was smoking when you were last running it," Julia pointed out. "I doubt you'll be getting home in that thing."
"Crap. Alright. I guess Leo, Tom, and I need beaming then."
"I will program coordinates based on the maps I have found on your public networks."
Control led them off, leaving Robert with the girls. "I'd better get started in moving my stuff in here," he said. "That way there won't be anything left in the house."
"It's not too late yet, we'll help you pack," Julia said. Angel and Caterina gave nods.
As it turned out, Robert wasn't interested in the furnishings so much as the family keepsakes. His paternal grandfather's military papers, pictures, and medals, the gifts of books he had gotten from his mother's family, things that had strong connections to what had been.
After several boxes were accumulated and the sun had disappeared over the horizon, Angel reached over for her car keys. "Come on, Cat, it's time to go home."
"I'd rather stay," she said. "That place is so big, it'll take forever to explore."
"Hey, I'm not hauling your stuff too, so if you don't come none of your books or clothes will be coming back with me," Angel warned.
With a face in full-on pout mode, Caterina waved goodbye to the others and followed her sister out the door.
This left Robert and Julia alone in the kitchen, going over photos from his family pile while the local news played for background noise. "Hey, look at this." He brought up a picture from the county fair when they were kids, his grandfather sitting between them and joining them in eating cotton candy. "Grandpa always had a soft spot for you."
"I know." She let out a little chuckle. "He asked me to take care of you when I saw him last."
"He asked me to care for you too."
"'Just be ready for when Robby finally works up the nerve to get on his knees and show you the ring,'" Julia quoted, mimicking the late Grandpa Dale's voice as best as she could.
Robert chuckled. "Granddad is why you call me that sometimes, I swear."
"That and the fact I've known you long enough to remember when everyone called you 'Robby'. And a few even called you 'Bob', even if you hated it." She giggled at the pained look that came to his face. "So... you're just going to live down there? Alone?"
"I don't have anywhere else to go. I'm losing the house anyway. So why not?" Robert shrugged and put the picture in a box. "I've got nothing better to do. What about you? School is off-semester, there's no work around here anymore. You could join me."
"You and me, alone, in that place?" Julia raised an eyebrow. "That's a lot of space."
"Assuming the others don't move in full-time," Robert said. "Anyway...." He reached for the box and looked toward the TV. And froze.
It was a local report, showing a suited man emerging from a courthouse smiling. The caption read "Local Landowner Released: Charges Dropped". "Oh, there's a surprise," Julia sighed. "Old Duffy got away with it again. Angel's probably wailing away at her punching bag."
"Dad always said he had half the County Commission and the Sheriff in his pocket." Robert became quiet to hear Mr. Duffy's statement, asserting the case as a continued effort from "Washington liberals" in the Justice Department to attack his successful business. "There's not a farmer in this county who looks at his prices and doesn't know he's using illegals as slave labor."
"No proof." Julia shrugged. "And there's nothing we can do..." The look in her eyes made it clear that a thought had interrupted the habitual lament of helplessness in the face of something wrong.
Her eyes met Robert's. The thought passed among them silently, but it was Robert who spoke it aloud. "The hell I can't do anything about it, I have a starship buried under my house."