Hello, my name is Malcolm.  Five years of planning and hard work.  I always knew there was a chance that the people funding the Wolfenheim Project would realize they were funding it and demand their money back.  I even planned for it.  I just never expected to actually have to use those plans.  And they picked a rather inconvenient time to get a clue.  Years of planning distilled into days and hours of action, all the time wondering if I even had hours at all.  It was a bloody hectic time.





Malcolm gazed out at the yard complex and Normandy, pieces of her still floating beside the ship.  Ideas and plans flashed through Malcolm’s mind as he tried to come to terms that they had to leave right bloody now instead of by the end of the week.  Normandy wasn’t ready.  The colonists weren’t ready.  They couldn’t leave.  But they had to.  He didn’t have a single plan to cover this.

He turned back to Dawn, part of him wanting to ask her if she had any idea.  But the stubborn streak that kept him from wanting to rely on anyone checked that inclination.  He growled in annoyance and Dawn’s grey eyes widened in response.  And then it clicked.  There was a plan in place that could be abused into the shape he needed.

Malcolm snorted, and felt the plan coming into place in his mind.  “Get me to the shuttlebay,” he ordered, his voice far more steady than the nerves under it.  But as he considered the plan more and more, he knew it could work.

Dawn stood still for a second, studying him very closely.  He returned her look and she nodded in grim approval.  “We’re two minutes from the nearest shuttlebay,” she said as she spun on her heals and stepped back into the corridor.  A quick turn later, she disappeared down it at a far more rapid clip than the leisurely stroll they’d taken earlier.

Malcolm followed her around the corner, leaving the view of Normandy far behind, and immediately began to struggle to keep up with her avatar.   “Order all ships to recall their crews form the surface,” he gasped between breaths.  “And round people up if they don’t answer.  We need everyone on the station yesterday.”

Dawn chuckled as she led him through the warren of corridors cut through the formerly Shang warships that made up the outer ring of the Peloran yard complex.  “I’ll tell Captain Wyatt to do her best,” she intoned with a shrug.  “But yesterday might be a bit hard,” she added with a turn of her head and a wink.

Then she turned into another rabbit run, and Malcolm had to grab a handrail to keep him from skidding as he followed her.  “And if Charles is right, yesterday might be too late, too,” Malcolm growled.  The Peloran refits incorporated massive cybernetic control systems that removed the need for the large crews most Terran-built ships required, but if even a tithe of their crews were on liberty, there would be hundreds of men and women to round up.  And they simply couldn’t sail with so many gone.

“Alan?” Malcolm nearly shouted, making certain that the station’s privacy filters would pass the words on its brain.

The station’s cyber flickered into existence beside Malcolm an instant later, long holographic legs matching Malcolm’s pace through the warrens of the former warship.  Alan was one of the oldest cybers Malcolm had ever met, a member of the original Peloran Contact contingent.  And unlike many cybers, he’d never changed his appearance to a more Terran standard that many had.  He still looked unambiguously Peloran.

He was human of course, like every other major alien race that made Contact, but unlike the short, nearly childlike, Shang, the Peloran averaged an impressive two meters in height.  Alan was tall and graceful, with long limbs that would have given him longer reach in a knife fight if he weren’t a hologram.  High cheekbones and a pronounced forehead shielded deep-set eyes from harsh light, while thick straight eyebrows redirected rain, snow, or other elemental attacks, which would probably be of use to his physical avatar.  An angular jaw cut hard, determined lines in his face, and long hair stretched down to his neck, covering the slightly elongated, pointed ears of a race literally designed to be super soldiers by their long dead creators.

“Yes, Mal?” the cyber asked in perfect imitation of the calm voice that all Peloran must have practiced very carefully in order to replicate.  Alan of course didn’t have to practice at all.  It was part of his code, and Malcolm actually felt it calming his nerves as well.  Which was probably good now that he thought about it.  The ability to sound and act calm no matter how chaotic the battle was a valuable trait in any soldier.  And being able to spread that calm by mere presence would be invaluable.

Malcolm sucked in a deep breath and willed the nerves away.  “Did you read Charles’ message?” he asked after letting the breath go, eyes on Alan.

Alan nodded with a no nonsense set to his jaw.  “He copied it to me.”

“Good.”  Malcolm followed Dawn around another corner, nearly bouncing off a bulkhead as he misjudged the width of the new corridor.  He corrected, pushing off with one hand, and shot after her with his best ground-eating strides.  “We need to expedite our launch window,” he said with a glance to the station cyber.

Alan shook his head as his hologram kept up with Malcolm with what appeared to be no effort at all.  Of course, he was the brain of the station.  He knew where everything was.  “I will do my best,” Alan answered, but his eyes looked troubled.  “My resources are stretched though.”

Malcolm let out a breath as he almost reached Dawn before she made another turn.  “Every resource we put into this project will be wasted if Charles’ family stops us,” he muttered, grabbed a handrail, and swung himself around the corner to find a hatch opening before him.  He smiled as he recognized the shuttlebay and shot through the hatch after Dawn with Alan in tow.  Alan made displeased sounds beside him, but Charles only had eyes for the small shuttle waiting for him.  “I’m serious, Alan.  Charles put a lot of work into this.  So did I.  So did Dawn.  So did you.  It’d be a real shame if it all came up to naught.”

“I Agree,” Alan said, his voice filled with manifest unhappiness as Dawn disappeared into the shuttle.  Malcolm slid to a stop at the foot of the ramp and turned to the face the cyber.  Alan looked out at the stars visible through the energy screen holding the air in the bay for a moment that must have been an eternity to his cybernetic mind.  “Very well,” he finally said, shaking his head.  “The Wolfenheim Project now has number one priority.  I am reassigning resources now.”

“Thank you,” Malcolm said with a nod and darted onto the shuttle.  He slid to a stop, looking at the double row of seats on either side of the main aisle running nearly the entire length of the shuttle.  It was a passenger shuttle, identical to those filling Wolfenheim.  “I’m afraid I’m going to have to take your shuttle too,” he added to the holoform that had followed him in.

Alan chuckled, projecting wry amusement as the shuttle’s hatch began to close.  “Of course you are.”

“Get up here and strap in!” Dawn ordered from the front of the ship.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Malcolm answered without hesitation and shot forward into the cockpit.  A second later, he dropped into the copilot’s seat and started snapping the five-point harness in place to secure him against extreme acceleration.

“Better,” she said from the pilot’s seat, eyebrows raised as she considered his progress.  Finally she turned to Alan who was leaning into the cockpit with a far more deferential look.  “Am I clear to launch?”

“Absolutely,” Alan answered with a smile.  “Bring her back in one piece and I think I can even forget to charge you rental fees.”

“I don’t care what the other girls say,” Dawn said with a mischievous grin and placed her hands on the controls.  “You’re a dear.”  She flitted her fingers and they streaked out of the shuttlebay into space.

“Really?” Alan asked, a disappointed tone to his voice.

“Oops,” Dawn whispered, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth.  She did a very good job of acting contrite when she wanted to.  “Forget I said a thing.”

Alan aimed a doubtful look at her.  “Right.”

Malcolm chuckled as the shuttle vibrated around them, but shook his head and got down to business.  “How long before you can get us ready to launch?”

Alan licked his lips and shrugged as he got back to business.  “Most of the ships are in finishing stages now.  I can have them done today.  Normandy is still open to space, but we should be able to button her up and launch by morning.  Hastings will take longer.”

Malcolm fought hard not to wince at the mention of that ship.  A part of him almost wished he hadn’t found her at all.  Almost.  “We may not have longer.”

“I know.”  Alan sighed.  “But we have had setbacks with her.”

Malcolm did wince this time.  All of the warships he’d found for the mission were first generation gravtech, old enough that any modern navy had retired them decades ago.  It had taken him years to find the handful he did, stored in mothballs or languishing in some planetary defense fleet.  But Hastings was by far the worst of them.  The problem was, where they were going, he was going to need every stray hull he’d found, which was why he’d paid far more than he should have to bring the old wreck here.

“Just…do what you can.  Please.”  Malcolm shook his head, not happy with the delay now that he knew Charles’ family knew something was up.  He wanted to be out before they thought to look his way.  Assuming they hadn’t already.

Alan smiled at him in understanding.  “I will do everything I can,” the cyber answered, his tone serious.  “Good luck, Mal.”

“Thanks,” Malcolm whispered and sucked in a long breath.  “I think I’m gonna need it.”

Alan nodded again and his holoform flickered out of existence as the shuttle continued to accelerate away from the yard complex.  Malcolm leaned back in his seat and looked at Dawn.

She smiled back at him.  “Course laid in for New Earth.  I even asked for a landing slot and a car.”

“Well then.”  Malcolm chuckled at the fresh realization that sometimes she was better than he was at knowing what he’d need.  He’d forgotten to think about the car.  “I suppose we should get going.”

“By your command,” she intoned, ran her hands across the controls to swing the shuttle around towards New Earth, and then tapped one final command in.  The shuttle’s main engines came to full power, kicking them forward and away from the station.  The acceleration slammed him back in his seat as the inertial compensators fought to catch up with the drive power, and Malcolm forced himself to breathe.  Dawn wasn’t worrying about fuel consumption, which considering the time constraints they were under now was a good thing.  He could use a good, short trip.




Malcolm walked down the shuttle’s ramp, hearing her hull popping as she radiated heat from their hypersonic reentry.  New Earth’s Landing Starport spread out around them, starships moving through the air above on nearly silent gravitic plating.  Only minor bursts of flame from maneuvering thrusters sent them up or down, further up into the air, or down onto the starport.  A massive freighter landed on a nearby landing pad, settling down onto her landing gear with a hydraulic hiss as they took the load.  Beyond it, a freighter clawed for space, and he wondered if it was another of the ships preparing to take the weekly convoy to the fleets at Sunnydale.

He looked down as a limousine floated down towards the landing pad next to their shuttle, and Malcolm focused on it.  A familiar face stuck his head out of the rear window and Malcolm stopped in surprise as he recognized the man that didn’t look a day over fifty.  The cue ball standing in for a head was new though.  The Reverend John Parker had been Charles’s steward when Malcolm and he were young.  He hadn’t been a man of God back then, but he’d been a nice old man.  They’d probably become too friendly, and maybe John had been too willing to let them have too much fun.  For some reason though Charles’ father fired the old man the better part of a century ago.  And now he was a pastor on New Earth, probably putting some space between him and Mister Hurst.  Malcolm had to admit he understood the idea.  Mister Hurst had a real imposing temper.

“Well, hello, Mal,” John said with an amused expression and waved them over.

Malcolm snorted and approached the vehicle with a wry smile.  “Hey, Baldy.”

John raised one hand in protest.  “Hey!  New Earth summers get hot.  It’s purely a defense mechanism.”

“Ah.  Right.  The weather.”  Malcolm stopped by the limo, scanning for the car that was supposed to be picking them up.  He didn’t see anything, which made him suspicious of John’s arrival.  “Of course you’re not losing your hair,” he added in a sly tone, refusing to voice those suspicions.

“You still need to learn respect for your elders I see.”  John chuckled and opened the door.  “Now get in.  We’ve got places to go, right?”

“Right,” Dawn whispered and flowed into the limousine gracefully, bending down to step in before sliding over.  She aimed a smile at Malcolm and patted the seat next to her.

Malcolm grumped as his suspicions were so quickly confirmed.  Then he shrugged and slipped into the limo to take the offered seat, facing John as the door automatically shut.  “Well, I know where I planned on going, but where are we going?”

John snorted as the limo shot up into the air.  “Always so suspicious of helping hands.”  The pastor sighed and placed both hands up as if showing he had nothing at all hiding in his sleeves.  And one could believe as much of that as one wanted.  “Well, I think we need to go talk to our mutual friends who don’t like commlinks.  Right?”

Malcolm froze for a split second, and turned to watch the landscape of Landing City flash by below and around them.  As one of the oldest interstellar cities, Landing City incorporated many old, historic buildings of a dozen or so floors in height, which the limo flew over with ease.  But newer gravtech towers less than a century old literally towered above the limo, gleaming flanks stretching up into the sky above him.  Some of them weren’t even proper buildings, floating in the air entirely on gravplating, anchored to the ground only for easy elevator access.

Malcolm wasn’t certain which he liked better.  He loved the charm of the historic districts, including the seaside boardwalk, but the towering business district were filled by an intense energy as New Earth struggled to match the ever-increasing demand for War supplies of all kinds.  He took in a long breath, wondering what John knew, and leaned back in his seat as the beautiful buildings of Landing City passed by.  Malcolm hadn’t told anybody who he was coming to talk to.  Even the people he was coming to talk to.  And one never advertised that one was talking to them.

“Excuse me?” he asked, his tone as innocent as he could manage.

“Please.”  John aimed a paternal look at Malcolm.  “I wasn’t born yesterday.  And you never did get that innocent act down as well as you thought,” he finished with a raised eyebrow.

“Fine.”  Malcolm shrugged and shook his head.  “You got me.  But what’s this about ‘our’ friends?  I thought you found religion.”

A hurt expression took over John’s face and wide, sorrowful eyes gazed back at Malcolm.  “I found religion.  I didn’t lose my mind.”

“Right,” Malcolm returned with a snort.  “So why do you still deal with them?”

John sighed and relaxed back in his seat.  “Well, Christ himself said that he came to walk with those who needed saving, not with those who were already righteous.”

Malcolm actually laughed at the pious statement.  “And you really think these guys are open to hearing the Word of God?”

“You’d be surprised actually.”  John aimed a sobering look at him.  “They’re not all cold blooded, hardened criminals.  And some of them take the Confessional very seriously.”

The limo began to drop down towards the ground again, and Malcolm felt a scowl coming on.  He knew the neighborhood.  John really had known exactly where he was going.  “One problem with that idea,” he growled.  “You’re no Catholic priest.”

John smiled as the limo slipped into the parking ramp, lights flooding on to fill the dim structure with light.  “But I was one of them long before I met you.  That makes up for a lot.  Even if I became a heathen Protestant,” he finished with a chuckle.

Malcolm laughed and watched the limo prowling towards the end of the parking ramp.  There’d been a time he knew when the difference between Protestant and Catholic had been death.  Literally.  But that was centuries ago.  After Contact, the differences between Catholics and Protestants had become…suddenly very minor indeed.  The limo came to a stop and the doors opened, letting in a breath of fresh morning air.

Malcolm slid out first and looked at the open door that led down into the bar.  Dawn followed and stepped up behind him with John on her heels, and Malcolm shared a look with each of them before walking towards the opening.

An alarm blared as they approached and a guard stepped out of a nearby alcove, hand rising to stop them.  He looked straight at Dawn.  “No electronics in the club.”

“She’s a cyber, not electronics,” Malcolm corrected with an upraised hand.

“Doesn’t matter.”  The guard shook his head, a mulish expression taking over his face.  “We don’t serve her kind here.”

A hot anger flashed through Malcolm, and he glared at the guard.  “Now just you see here,” he growled, but Dawn’s hand touched his shoulder and he turned to look at her.  She shook her head in a movement so slight that the guard probably hadn’t even noticed.  Malcolm suppressed a growl, but turned back to the guard in silence.

“We don’t want any trouble,” John said in a calm tone, arms raised in a pacifying gesture.  “So why don’t you go tell Mikey that Johnny and Mal are here to see him,” John continued, putting only the slightest of emphasis on the first name.

The guard’s eyes widened at the name, and John continued to simply smile at him.  Nobody used that name casually, unless of course they could use it casually.  Because if they couldn’t and they did anyways, they never did a second time.

“Go on,” John whispered, waving his hand towards the door.  “You don’t want to keep Mikey waiting, do you?” he added, and despite the casual words, his tone left no question as to whether or not it was an order.

The guard practically scampered off down the stairs, obviously not wanting to get between anyone who thought they could call his boss that name and said boss without someone who had a lot more seniority to take the flak for him.  The man disappeared into the heart of the club at the bottom of the stairs and Malcolm grunted in approval.

John sighed and gave him a long look.  “You really need to learn diplomacy.”

Malcolm glanced at Dawn and she cocked her head to the side, obviously waiting for his response.  “Not sure I want to deal diplomatically with idiots like that.”  She frowned at him and he stared right back at her for several seconds, making it clear that he wasn’t about to back down from that point.  Then he turned back to John, fresh determination to get his suspicions answered filling him.  “So, what are you really doing here?”

“What?” John asked, his eyes opening wide in an innocent expression that didn’t fool Malcolm for an instant.  “I can’t be here just to see an old friend off to the stars one last time?” John added in a plaintive tone.

Malcolm’s eyes narrowed.  They weren’t officially scheduled to launch for at least a few more days.  John knew far more than anyone outside the Wolfenheim Project was supposed to know.  “What do you know?”

John cleared his throat and waved a hand in a dismissive gesture.  “Oh, nothing really.”  John sobered when he saw Malcolm’s raised eyebrow.  “Fine.  The courier that arrived earlier today had a message for you, right?  That’s why you’re down here?”

Malcolm sighed and nodded.  He supposed it wouldn’t do any good to deny that fact at the moment.

“That’s what I figured,” John continued, his tone serious.  “Charles sent me a message too.  He said it might be best if I get off planet before certain people we all know come by with ill intent aimed at my person,” John chuckled then.  “Not that I’d have any idea as to why anyone would want to do anything to a simple Man of God of course,” he added with a wink.

“Right,” Malcolm returned in a doubtful tone and rolled his eyes at John.  “So you know nothing at all?”

“Not a blessed thing.”  John winked, and then gave Malcolm a helpful smile.  “But if you and Charles are conspiring here, and I know you are, it comes to mind that there may be others who would be…unhappy to find out what you’ve been doing.  Or maybe that they had some role in contributing to what you’ve been doing, even if they had no idea.”

Malcolm grunted.  He should have known that John at least would know enough about everyone involved to connect the dots even without being on the inside.  “So I suppose you want in on the project?”

“Well, if this is as big as I think it is, I don’t want to be close to Earth when Charles’ father finds out,” he said, his tone very serious again.  Then he smiled.  “Besides, you need all the adult supervision you can get.”

Malcolm snorted, but before he could respond the sound of feet on the stairs caught his attention.  An old man walked up into his view, grey hair and a wrinkled face telling the tale of a man that had lived nearly a century in one of the hardest businesses of all, even before Contact.  Several guards moved in his wake, scanning for threats, followed by the single guard they’d met already, moving gingerly as if afraid someone would take his head off.

“Johnny.”  The soft but firm voice came from the old man as he walked up and hugged the pastor, in the way that declared someone a member of the family, whether or not they shared actual blood relation.

“Mikey,” John answered, returning the old man’s hug carefully.

“And Mal,” old Mike Callahan said as he stepped over to hug him as well.

“Hey, Old Man,” Malcolm returned, hugging the frail old body back.  As he pulled back, he saw a necklace twinkling in the dim light of the parking garage and focused on it.  He recognized the face on the side of the coin facing him as Saint Connor, one of the Irish’s favorite saints.  The other side would be Murphy, Connor’s twin brother, and fellow enemy of all evildoers.  Malcolm smiled at the sight.  Maybe John was right about the whole religion thing when it came to working with them.

“And my dear Dawn,” Callahan said as he opened his arms towards her.  “How goes the mission?”

“He’s stubborn,” she answered and stepped into the old man’s arms.  He kissed her on both cheeks, marking her as a trusted member of the family for all to see.

“Good,” Callahan said with a smile and turned to the nervous guard.  “Get back to your post,” he ordered and the man scampered away, obviously happy to still have all of his digits attached, and Callahan returned his attention to Malcolm.

“Come in.  Come in.  If you came all this way, at this time of the morning, we must have something important to discuss,” the old man asked as he turned to walk down the stairs.  “Might it have something to do with the courier boat that just came in from Sunnydale?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Am I the last one to hear about that?” Malcolm grumbled, but followed the man down.  A red light began to blink on the cuff of his suit, telling him that they were in a jamming zone, designed to stop anybody from listening to them from a distance.  It was safe for them to talk.

“Not quite,” Callahan said with an elaborate shrug.  “You probably knew before I did in fact.  But electronics are notoriously easy to hack.  Hence our policy on them in this establishment.”

Malcolm studied the old man for over a second before responding with a simple “I see.”  Then he shook his head as another suspicion arose in his mind.  “Is that the only reason for your policy?”

Callahan met his gaze with calm eyes and shrugged.  “No.  I remember a time before AIs.  Back when humans did far more of the work that maintains our civilization.  We’ve become soft and lazy because we can rely on electronics to do our jobs.”  He turned to look at Dawn.  There was no malice in his eyes, but there was also no give in them.  “My policy forces my people to use their own minds.”

“You’re a smart man,” Dawn whispered.  “I wish more of your people were as motivated.”

Callahan’s eyes narrowed and studied her carefully.  “Do you?  Really?  Or do you wish we would just roll over like the Peloran?”

Dawn simply sighed and aimed a sad smile at Callahan.  “That…is a very serious charge.”

Callahan pursed his lips and shook his head.  “Yes it is.  But you’ve become family.  And sometimes family has to ask hard questions.”

Dawn returned his look for a moment, and then smiled.  “We don’t control them.  They do what they want.  But they were never meant to be another Race of Humanity.”  She sighed and looked away from them all.  “The Albion genetically engineered them to be super soldiers who wanted nothing more than to live in peace.  Tailored them to lack the wishes and dreams of other humans, so they would never consider rebelling.”  Dawn snorted and shook her head.  “The Albion gave them a purpose, and they embraced that as their entire meaning for being.  When the Albion died, most of them found the nearest planet and started grooming trees like they were programmed to.”

Malcolm actually recoiled at Dawn’s frank description.  The idea of programming human beings like that was wrong.  It violated every concept of free will he’d ever heard of.  And he’d never actually considered the Peloran to be victims of that before.  They always seemed so calm and collected.  Never victims of what Dawn made sound almost like mind rape.

“We did what we had to do,” Dawn continued as Malcolm’s mind raced through the idea.  “We worked with the oh so very rare number of Peloran who had the…drive that you take for granted and built a society they could all live in.  We gave the rest of them the peace they craved, literally on a genetic level.  Can you honestly tell me that you would want to live a life like that?  To have life itself provided for you?  To never see something and think that maybe you could do it better?  To never have the drive to try?”

“Some of us would love a world like that,” Callahan said in a hard tone, and Malcolm nodded in understanding of what the older man meant.

He’d read a book as a kid about a man who invented a time machine and went far into the future.  He found a world exactly like what Dawn described.  And the people of that time had been helpless.  They had no reason to fight, even to defend their lives.  Since everything was free, nothing had value.  None of the Peloran he’d met acted like that, but there weren’t many genetic Peloran in Terran space.  Maybe she was right that they were simply the few who rose above the rest of their kind.

Dawn met Callahan’s questioning gaze and answered it with a calm smile.  “And that is why we never choose to be the partners of such people.  We will never do to you what the Albion did to the Peloran,” she finished, her tone that of a woman making an unbreakable oath.

Malcolm considered her words, everything she’d said in answer to Callahan’s question, and wondered at the possibilities and ideas that they brought to mind.  He looked into Dawn’s wide-open eyes and saw her hesitation.  She’d never said anything like this before to him, and he’d never once considered any of it.  But now that he thought about it, he could see what she meant.

He saw the life he’d live in over a century, and the life he’d lived in the last five years.  He’d done so much more in the last five years than he’d ever imagined doing.  And he really had done it.  He saw many of the times she’d nagged him into doing it too.  Well, maybe nagging was unfair.  It just felt like it some mornings.  But for the first time, he saw what she meant with that oath, and recognized what she was doing.  He could live with that.  He smiled, and she let out a long, relieved breath.

“I see.”  Callahan’s words pulled Malcolm’s attention back to the older man as he started walking down the stairs again.  “Then it really would appear we have much business to discuss today,” Old Man Michael Callahan added and guided them into the bar he’d owned for nearly two hundred years.