Hello, my name is Jack.  I remember the first day I met Ken.  He was in uniform of course, just like me, buzz cut hair and all of that.  The proper American military look.  But the background on his pad had Buckaroo Banno hanging ten on some massive wave.  Took me a while to figure out it was him in the flesh, in my squadron.  Never woulda guessed.  The hippy surfer dude act was…actually a real good act.  Sure fooled me.  But there was way more to him than met the eye. Thank God that.





Captain Ken’ichi Banno sat in his chair, breathing in and out in a calming rhythm.  He reached into the barberry bush, careful to avoid the sharp spines, and gently pruned the dying limb that offended his senses.  A quick flick of the hand pruners caught it before it could fall and hurt any living branches.  He breathed deeply and then carefully extracted the limb from the bush, careful not to damage the rest of it.

Then he leaned back and examined the bush to make certain it looked exactly the way he wanted it to.  Once satisfied, the captain came back to his feet and scanned the rest of the small garden, looking for anything out of place.  He even had a small stone garden, but it was very small.  Starships had neither the space nor the mass to spare on anything that didn’t support the crew.  But he had gardened stone since before Contact, and next to that even a twenty-year long War was merely an extended walk on the beach.  A terrifying, storm-wracked beach that even he would usually have been smart enough to avoid, but that was beside the point.

Ken’ichi smiled at the rings spreading out across the sand from the stones, caused by the slight vibration of the engines that few humans could sense.  But the sands betrayed them, and even now he could see the garden thrumming with life.  He reached for another stone, considered the small plot of sand before him for several seconds, and then placed it on the left side.  If anyone had asked him why, he simply would have said, “It felt like the stone wanted to be there.”  As always, that was good enough for him.

Ken’ichi stepped further out from the garden and scanned it again.  All was good and a calm smile transformed the look of concentration on his face.  Proper gardening was an art form after all, and should be pursued as such.  That it grew the food he ate only heightened the necessity of good grooming.  For happy plants grew more healthily than unhappy ones.

Motion caught his attention and he turned to see Sara walking into the room.  Ken’ichi turned from the garden and took in the rest of the open living deck stretching back to the end of the ship.  Some captains separated the living deck into individual kitchen, exercise, entertainment, and other compartments, but he preferred an open plan.  It wasn’t like he had to worry about keeping down the noise of other crewmembers.  He was the only genetically human crewmember after all, and he liked the open living plan.  It was peaceful.  Calming.

But the look on Sara’s face suggested that the ship’s cybernetic mind had news for him that would disturb that peace.  He breathed in deep, breathed out, and the man that friends called Ken smiled at the holographic form of his partner.  “What’s wrong, Sara?”

She examined the garden for a moment before answering his question.  “We’ve got a rogue grav wave forming around us.”  She brought her eyes up to look at him.

Ken frowned at her.  They shouldn’t be seeing rogue waves in this of all places.  “So close to Earth?”

Sara pursed her lips in worry.  “I know.  But it’s here.”

“I see.”  Ken pursed his lips and a hand came up to rub his chin in thought.  “Can we go dive under it?”

“I don’t think so.”  Sara gave him a disappointed shake of her head.  “Depth probes show it growing as deep as they can go without losing communication links.  It appears the only way out is to surface.”

“I see.”  Ken frowned this time.  “I don’t like this.  It’s not right.”  There hadn’t been a rogue grav wave so close to Earth in over fifty years, and nothing on the Earth-New Earth Run for twenty years before that.  There were ships who ran that run constantly, search for hyperspace eddies and making certain they didn’t develop into full waves.  It was their only reason for living, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard of them failing in their task.  Of course, he’d been involved in a War lately.  That tended to focus one’s attention on other matters.

“Me neither.”  Sara bit her lip and appeared to let out a long breath.  “But it’s building power rapidly now.  We couldn’t stop it even if we had the right equipment.  We can’t move around it or under it.  We only have one choice.”

“I know.”  Ken sighed in resignation.  They had to leave before it hurt the ship.  But a dark suspicion told him that something…bad was waiting for them.  “Go to battle stations, launch all fighters, and prepare for surface action,” He ordered and began walking towards the front of the ship.

Sara jerked in confusion but followed him, questions running through her face.  “Ken?”

Ken answered her with a grim smile.  “I don’t like this.  Something doesn’t feel right.”

Her face cleared at his answer, and she nodded in understanding.  “Sending more probes now.”

Ken smiled at her prompt reaction to his feelings and stopped at the small ring in the deck, raising an eyebrow at Sara.  She nodded and the deck irised open.  He stepped into the opening and fell, waves of gravity guiding him down to a soft landing on the small launch deck for his personal fighter.

“Do we know what’s waiting for us?” Ken asked and walked over to the open cockpit waiting for him.  He paused, watching Sara for a moment before stepping down into it.

Sara kept pace with him, shaking her head in annoyance.  “Probes show nothing in normalspace.  Launching fighters now.”

“Understood,” Ken whispered and sat down.  Quick motions locked the five-point harness in place around him and he frowned at his off-duty uniform.  But no one else would see him as long as nothing went wrong.  “Are we ready?” he asked and scanned the displays.

“All systems green,” Sara reported and stepped onto the fighter’s console, shrinking down to her twenty-centimeter tall form.  She wore the appropriate Marine uniform as she sat down on the console with a smile and Ken grimaced.  “Grav wave is approaching terminal strength.  For us,” she noted with a wry smile.  “I suggest surfacing…soon.”

“How soon?” Ken asked and scanned the multicolored gravity waves flowing into hyperspace in all directions.  There was a haze over everything that wasn’t usual, a feeling of sluggishness that he didn’t like, and a deep roaring more felt than seen.  The rogue wave was taking over.

“Five seconds.”

Ken nodded, studying the darkening haze and knowing it was now or never.  “Do it.”  He just hoped it wasn’t a trap.

Sara smiled and began the countdown.  “Four…three…two…one…”

The ship shuddered, the cockpit went black, and when it flashed back to life it showed the blackness of normal space, stars strewn across it.  One looked brighter than the others, and he focused on it.  The single name of “Sol” flashed onto the screen, with a distance next to it, and he smiled.  They were only a few lighthours from Earth.  That made even a normalspace run the rest of the way home possible.  He just didn’t want to spend so many hours in the cramped cockpit.

Alarms blared and Sara jerked in surprise.  Ken didn’t.  The displays filled with information showing scores of small objects accelerating towards them from spots in space where absolutely nothing existed.  “Incoming missile traces!”

Ken’s eyes flicked over the displays almost as quickly as the old mark one cameras scattered across the hull focused on the empty spots in space where someone had been lying doggo in wait for them.  The cameras found one old Farragut-class destroyer and three Knox-class frigates moments before they disappeared behind walls of twisted gravity so powerful that even light bent out of all ability to comprehend without knowing the exact frequency.  But the deflection grids always churned up and down the ships in the closest thing they could replicate to true randomness, making it impossible for any other ship to see through.  Or to shoot through with a well-aimed laser.

The cameras returned to scanning space around them, and the displays flickered to showing standard renders of the enemy warships from internal records.  They were all American Pre-War designs, but they’d been good designs for their time.  They were even acceptable now, though Ken had heard rumblings that the Navy was selling them off since The War was over.  Whoever these four ships belonged to, they had fired without warning, which should have given them the edge against a single unsuspecting target.  Ken set his jaw.

“Return fire and launch,” Ken ordered and his F-12C Avenger split away from the CF-5 Privateer-class starship.  He looked up to see the embossed golden crane on her hull fading into the distance above him before he even finished the last word.  Sara was a real fast girl.

Point defense lasers and missiles streaked out from the Blue Blaze, intercepting missiles by the scores as they fell down on the unsuspecting target they’d obviously expected.  Ken smiled and brought the Avenger around to link up with the formation of the other twelve Avengers in space.  One of Sara’s cybernetic shards, copies of her core identity that could operate on their own initiative, piloted each fighter.  She’d told him once it was like having multiple personalities, each one with subtly different memories that continued to diverge the longer they were active.  That was why she merged them back into her core program are regular intervals, incorporated their memories into her own, and then split them off again to continue their work.  In this case, that work was to fly the fighters that flew with him, and the cybernetic brains had the supreme reaction times of light speed communication.

Ken breathed in and out in a long, calming manner as they began their attack run, seeking to improve his own reaction times.  He didn’t think about what to do, for that would have taken too much time, delayed his actions too much.  Instead, as Sara spun them through a series of evasive maneuvers as random as any electronic being of ones and zeros could perform, Ken relaxed and flicked the controls whenever his subconscious had any feeling at all that he wanted to be somewhere else.  He didn’t think.  He moved.

The Avenger around him evaded the incoming anti-fighter turrets spewing death at him from the frigate they’d come to kill.  The cybernetic Avengers took their random evasions from him, adding them to their own random maneuvers, and the thirteen fighters accelerated towards the frigate in a randomly-chaotic formation that no entity, whether flesh and blood or circuits and electrons, could have projected.  But the frigate was designed specifically to escort larger warships, to keep them safe from exactly this kind of attack, and she filled space with grav beams and missiles.  Ken twitched the controls as missiles flashed by him, trying to claw him out of space.  And around him, Avengers exploded despite every maneuver in their books.

Ken winced as point defense lasers reached out to meet missiles, exploding them in space all around him, and twitched to the side again as Sara fired three grav cannons into the frigate’s flank.  They twisted gravity, tearing and ripping at the frigate’s control over the grav wall around her, and the focused fire of an entire squadron of Avengers completely overloaded her deflection grid generators.  Ken’s Avenger shuddered as her missiles streaked out, joining dozens of others from the other fighters, and salvoed into the frigate’s flank, ripping at her with the power of miniature black holes.  The frigate came apart, unable to hold together under weapons designed to attack capital ships.  Ken let out a breath that he must have been holding for hours, but a glance at the displays showed it was only seconds.

He spun the fighter to watch the hammer-headed destroyer opening up with a much, much larger gravitic cannon that ripped through the Blaze’s deflection grid and sliced the hanger section wide open.  The Farraguts had been designed by the American Navy a century ago with state of the art weapons for their time, and had been upgraded with newer missiles, lasers, and sensor arrays every five to ten years since.  But they’d never been able to suitably upgrade the spinal-gravitic cannon the design was built around.  Too much of her structure depended on that mass of metal to change it.  And based on her electronic emissions, this particular destroyer hadn’t received the last three or four upgrade packages.

She was still a powerful warship, but Ken’s lips twisted in a predator’s smile as the Blaze maneuvered to bring her own grav cannon to bear on the most powerful warship facing her.  Cyberdyne Industries had brought the Blue Blaze to life during The War, and she was younger than the destroyer’s last upgrade.  Furthermore, she was designed with full access to Peloran technology, by cybernetic minds older than Western Civilization itself.  Even though she was at best a scout by Peloran standards, the Farragut was simply out of her league.

The Blue Blaze fired, linking her and the Farragut with a three-meter tunnel of twisting gravity that ripped and sundered her target.  Half of the Farragut’s armored hammerhead sheered away, along with half her forward weapons, and debris and atmosphere spilled into space.  Well that would teach them.  Whoever they were.

Ken frowned as something felt wrong and twitched the controls to the side, sending the Avenger far to port.  A second later, a salvo of missiles careened past, trying desperately to reach them.  “Where’d that come from?” he asked as he spun the fighter around to look.

The screens filled with data and a dozen new blips appeared.  “Hellcats lying doggo,” Sara answered and Ken watched the old fighters accelerate into the battle.  Twenty years ago, they’d been state of the art.  Now they were obsolete, but with the warships they had the force advantage now.  Still, he had an idea.

“Who’s piloting them?”

Sara snorted derisively.  “AIs from the way they move.”

“Good,” Ken nodded in approval.  His eyes flicked over the displays and he smiled.  They just might make it out of this after all.  “Send Six, Eight, and Nine to hack them.  All other fighters, focus on frigate number two,” he ordered and pulled their Avenger away from the incoming Hellcats.

The Blaze shuddered as another gravitic beam smashed into her, this time hitting her forward wedge and wiping out one of the golden crane’s painted on the hull that proclaimed her identity as his ship.  Ken winced as debris and atmosphere belched out of the Privateer’s flank, taking nearly a quarter of her weapons with them.  A missile swarm threaded through the new opening in her point defense and exploded up and down her flank, from the tip of her nose to the engines in the rear.  More debris and atmosphere ripped away, but the Blaze returned fire.

Her grav cannon hit the destroyer dead on this time, and a three-meter wide beam of twisting gravity bored down the throat of the spinal gravitic cannon.  It ripped the internal armor protecting the ship from the weapon first, sucking its elemental particles away.  With the armor gone, the gravity beam dug in further, ripping all the way down the throat of the weapon until it found the ship beyond.  Three meters of destruction advanced through the destroyer, from nose to engines, in an unrelenting advance that literally tore her heart out.

The cannon finally shut down again, forced to release its hold on gravity before overheating, and the link between the two ships disappeared.  Normally, that would have been it.  The destroyer was mortally wounded, with nearly a quarter of her crew and her most powerful weapon killed in that single hit.  She would have survived on emergency power, and many Farraguts had continued to fight with their remaining weaponry after taking similar damage during The War.  But she never would have fought again.  No yard would have rebuilt such an old hull with such catastrophic damage.

But the gravitic beam hadn’t simply shattered her structural core, or only her main weapon.  It had also destroyed the regulators of the gravitic generator designed to power the cannon itself, built deep inside the ship to reduce the chances of taking the exact damage it had just taken.  The generator had been patterned after the Peloran gravity generators that powered their own gravitic cannons, but the Peloran placed them outside their ships because they expected them to take damage.

The generator overloaded and went mad, whipping waves of gravity all around it in an orgy of destruction that ripped itself apart.  Those whips of gravity sliced through internal systems, crewmembers, weapons, and even the Farragut’s outer hull.  The destroyer literally came apart under the internal assault she had no defense against.

Ken looked away from the disintegrating destroyer and twitched his fighter up as he and the six Avengers still with him turned to flank the remaining two frigates.  The warships poured missile fire into the Blue Blaze, but she’d turned to take it on her undamaged port side, and her point defense clawed them out of space.  Her weakened deflection grid still wavered under the assault of those that got through though, and Ken’s surviving force dove in to see about reducing that weapons fire.

Gravitic cannons reached out to tear their target’s deflection grid apart.  Missile pods fired into the gravitic chaos, and some of the warheads detonated early in confusion.  Others lost their target, flew off in the wrong direction after hitting a grav wave, or were shot down by defending point defense lasers.  But the majority found their target and the missiles detonated, generating miniature black holes that tore and ripped at the frigate’s surviving deflection grid or the hull beneath it.

The savaged warship’s return fire streaked back out at the Avengers and one of the fighters came apart without warning as a small grav cannon ripped through it.  Another ran into a salvo of missiles and Ken winced as one third of his remaining escort drones died.  He flicked the controls to the left, and his fighter slid to port a second before another missile swarm flickered by on another failed mission to kill him.

Ken glanced at the displays showing the battle with the Hellcats behind him and winced.  Only one of the Avengers remained, and her datacodes showed heavy damage as she accelerated back into the fight.  Six of the Hellcats held formation around her, bright green blips on the screen showing they were friendly now.

“Good job,” Ken said and returned his focus to the frigates ahead of him as he and his remaining close escorts continued firing on the wounded ship.  Six Hellcats weren’t worth two Avengers in his mind, but it was better than letting them continue to fire on him from behind.

“Those AIs were better than they should have been at resisting the hacking attempts,” Sara reported with a frown as the Blue Blaze brought her grav cannon to bear on the damaged frigate.  “I almost lost them all.”

“Smarter?” Ken asked and smiled at the sight of gravity itself twisting between the two starships.

“No,” Sara said with a confused shake of her head.  “Just…they feel like Chinese from the inside.”

Ken frowned, wondering why an American fighter would feel Chinese to her.  And then a missile swarm from the undamaged frigate swept in and exploded all over the Blue Blaze, tiny black holes slipping through her tattered deflection grid and ripping her outer hull apart.  Ken watched the missiles tearing at his home and gritted his teeth at the sight.  Then, without warning, the gravitic cannon flashed bright and exploded, taking the Blaze’s nose with it.

Ken turned away from the flash, even as the cockpit darkened to protect his sight, and that was why he saw the last missile salvoes erupting from the frigates.  He followed them back to the ship that had become his home, now wreathed in debris and streaming atmosphere, thrusters flaring around the tattered golden crane on her hull as she tried to turn away.  There was no time though, and the missiles swooped in to rip the wounded scout ship apart before his eyes.

Ken watched for only a second before tearing his eyes away again.  He didn’t have time for anything else.  With the Blaze gone, those frigates were about to start concentrating on his fighters, and he didn’t like those odds.  They were designed to kill fighters after all, and he’d already lost more than half of his force.  The Hellcats brought the numbers back up, but they were space superiority fighters, not anti-ship fighters like the Avengers.  Ken made his decision.

“All fighters, scatter and retreat!” he ordered and pulled the Avenger around.  He slammed the throttle forward and they accelerated away from the undamaged frigate even before she began to pull up and around her wounded sister.

“No,” Sara answered with a sad smile and he blinked at her in confusion.  “You retreat,” she added with a shrug.  “The rest of us are doing exactly what we’re born to do.”

Ken glanced at the sensors to see the other fighters swarming the frigate as he flew away, buying him time as they ripped at the larger ship with gravitic cannons, missiles, and even lasers.  Debris and atmosphere exploded from the frigate, spilling out into space, but her answering missiles and lasers burned the fighters out of space one by one.  And then her wounded sister finally managed to bring an undamaged flank to bear and more weapons fire smashed into the cybernetically-piloted fighters.

Explosions wreathed the fighters, ripping more of them apart, and the last Hellcat dove towards the wounded frigate at maximum thrust, weapons firing hot enough to melt their housings.  She never should have made it through the point defense grid, and wouldn’t have if the frigate had been operating at full capability.  But the Avengers and the Blue Blaze had hammered her, and her systems were simply running too slow, her point defense too damaged.  The Avenger cut through the remaining defense grid and detonated all of her remaining missiles, generating a rippling mass of tiny black holes that shred them both to the consistency of confetti.

The last frigate finished her turn, deflection grid wavering, and pulled away from the wreckage of four starships and two entire squadrons of fighters.  Ken pulled in a deep breath, let it out, and promised to remember that ship as he continued to pull away.  On the console, Sara shook her head sadly.

“She was a good home,” the last operating shard of Sara whispered.

“Yes.  She was.” Ken answered and relaxed back into his chair, striving hard to regain the calm he’d enjoyed mere minutes before.  On the displays, missiles clawed through space after him and lasers picked them off one by one as they ran for Earth.