Hello, my name is Malcolm.  I almost died in a fight when I was younger.  Due to that, I spent the next century trying to avoid conflict.  I became the man of value to everyone, the man who could find what you were looking for.  Yes.  You too.  In time, I convinced myself I didn’t miss the thrill of fighting.  Then The War came and I got to shoot a whole mess of Shang.  That was all kinds of fun.  Maybe one day I’ll get to thank them for that.  I promise to enjoy it immensely.






Malcolm scanned the displays as the small wing of fighters flew through space.  Most showed crimson codes denoting major or lesser damage, the cost of the battle he’d thrown them into.  Almost all were drones, controlled by cybers linked to the single manned fighter commanding their squadron.  One of the manned fighters signaled major damage to the one missile battery, the laser next to it, and the main engine above them.  Of course manned wasn’t entirely accurate.  No one would ever mistake Jackie White for a man, but the appropriate gender neutral terms just sounded stupid.

Malcolm quirked a smile at the thought and returned to scanning the displays.  Several of the fighters sported engine damage that kept them from accelerating on their own, and tow cables connected them to their squadron mates.  Other fighters had lost weapons, sensors, or even primary power plants.  Fully half of the fighters he’d assembled for this project were damaged, but they’d kicked the Shang good.  And they’d saved an entire squadron of American destroyers doing it.  That was cause for a good party, even if the redoubtable Commodore Murphy led the destroyers in question.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Dawn asked.

He pulled his eyes from the displays to look at her holographic form.  The size of a girl’s doll inside the cockpit, the fiery redhead sat atop the main console and peered at him with concerned eyes.  “We just kicked ass,” he said with a jaunty smile.  “I liked it.”

She smiled.  “Me too,” she whispered and the view on the main canopy shifted to show the forts defending Bosphorus.  Malcolm’s starfighters moved slowly by interplanetary standards, their fuel tanks running low after the fight, but they approached and passed through the forts in the blink of an eye before drifting on towards Bosphorus herself.  “More importantly though, they liked watching it.”

Malcolm blinked at the thought, realizing he should have considered that already.  “How so?” he asked, his mind starting to calculate the possibilities.

Dawn smiled.  “Well, they’re impressed that a bunch of century-old fighters just beat the Shang to within a centimeter of their lives.  Jealous too.”

Malcolm chuckled.  The Peloran upgrades had given them serious teeth, but he’d kept their original look for precisely that reaction.  The jealousy confused him though “Why jealous?”

“They wanted to jump the Shang first,” Dawn said with a wave towards one of her displays decrypted transmission.  “Seems the Shang have been getting pushy around here but the politicos are trying to hold onto neutrality.”

He frowned at her.  They’d only been in system for less than an hour.  How could she know all of that?  “That’s some pretty specific knowledge,” he said in a suspicious tone.

Dawn’s smile turned cherubic.  “Well, a friend of the family might have slipped me their encryption key.”

Malcolm sighed and rubbed his forehead.  “I’ve been a bad influence, haven’t I?”

“Horrible,” she answered, her tone bright and cheery.  “Of course you did balance that out by helping the people who came here to arrest you in front of a whole solar system full of witnesses.  They rather like you now.”

“Wait, they know that?” Malcolm asked, momentarily lost again.

Dawn chuckled and shook her head.  “She broadcasted the warrant for our detention the moment she arrived in system, before the Shang jumped her.  I doubt Bosphorus actually would have tried to arrest us.  They are neutral after all and we paid a pretty penny for resupply and safe passage,” she said with a shrug.  “But everybody knows why she’s here.  And they know you know why.  And they know that you helped her in spite of that.”

Malcolm watched Bosphorus go by on the main canopy, passing from light to dark side.  Lights of cities cast the pattern of human civilization across the world, and he was momentarily lost in the beauty of the moment.  This world was untouched by The War raging throughout the rest of human space.  He found himself torn between hoping that remained the same, and wishing the merchants of Constantinople would finally make a stand.  “Sounds like they know a lot of things,” he whispered in a wistful tone, eyes following the receding orb.

“Yup,” Dawn said in a very pleased tone.  “And now they’re just watching us fly our shapely derrières right back out of their space because of that.”

Malcolm laughed and rubbed his chin with one hand.  “Maybe your shapely derrière,” he joked.  “But I doubt they want to watch mine.”

“Was that a compliment?” Dawn asked, making a show of examining herself in a mirror that appeared in the air.

“Maybe,” he answered, waggling his eyebrows at her.

“That is so sweet,” she said with a wave of one hand.  “But don’t sell your tail short.  I have it on good authority that it is highly prized amongst certain demographics.”

Malcolm snorted.  “But I don’t plan on going to prison anytime soon, so they are all out of luck.”

“Oooh,” Dawn whispered with a wicked gleam in her eyes.  “Nice one.”

“I’ll be here all…well…”  Malcolm paused to check the displays.  “All hour?”

“I hope not.”  At Malcolm’s look, she assumed an innocent expression.  “They might get their boarding shuttles online by then.”

Intrigued, Malcolm gave her another questioning look.

“Oh, all right,” she said after a few seconds and a shake of her head.  “They are trying to maintain neutrality, so there’s this cover story about a virus in the inertial compensators of all the customs shuttles.”  Dawn aimed a forlorn look at him.  “Bosphorus Control has informed Murphy that even though they would love to help her with her warrant, the shuttles are totally unsafe to fly until that is fixed.”

“I bet that makes her happy,” Malcolm noted with a chuckle.

“Surprisingly, she seems very understanding,” Dawn said with a shrug.

Malcolm paused to take that in for a moment.  Murphy was probably playing politics and not wanting to offend Bosphorus.  People who offended them usually lived to regret that.  Still, her reaction impressed him.  “She’s good at this.”

Dawn aimed a sly smile at him.  “It does feel good to know that they sent someone actually good enough to be worthy of catching you doesn’t it?”

Malcolm chuckled and cleared his throat.  “Yeah, but I’d be just as happy not getting caught.”

“Oh, of course,” Dawn returned and raised one finger.  “Not getting caught is the foremost plan in my mind too.”

Malcolm nodded, but his eyes moved to the displays showing the receding planet.  He frowned as a thought came to mind.  “Is there really a virus?”

Dawn gave him a very earnest smile.  “Implanting a virus would be a hostile act on a neutral party, which I would have nothing to do with.”

“Of course,” Malcolm said with a quirk of his lip.  “Do you think you could pass along my thanks to all the people who had absolutely nothing at all to do with this?” he asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Dawn cocked her head to the side at his tone.  “Well, I might have some contacts who might know how to contact the individuals who first reported the presence of the virus,” she answered, her tone betraying not a care in the world.

“Thank you,” Malcolm said, trying to control another round of chuckles.

Dawn nodded towards him, her posture that of a perfectly attentive secretary.  “I’m here to serve.”

“If only,” Malcolm whispered under his breath.

She narrowed her eyes at him.  “What was that?”

“Nothing,” he answered quickly, and met her gaze with nervous eyes.  Would she be offended by his slip, thinking he meant something he didn’t?  Not that he had any idea what he meant by it to begin with, which just made it all the more confusing.

Dawn examined him for several seconds before waving one finger at him in a threatening gesture.  “You remember that.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said with complete sincerity.

“Better,” she returned, a crooked smile betraying amusement.

Then she waved a hand at another display and Malcolm eagerly focused on it.  The massive bulk of Wolfenheim dominated the display, an ungainly ship with massive cargo sections held together by an exposed exoskeleton of girders.  Engine pods the size of frigates glowed as they vented heat from the recent full burn.  A smaller ship held station off her port bow, looking almost as ramshackle and hard luck as the colony ship.  That didn’t fool Malcolm though.  The Privateer was designed to look like a cargo transport, but he’d seen the stats on her weapons and was supremely impressed.  That ship could take on modern destroyers alone and probably survive.

The destroyers and frigates arrayed around those ships in a globular formation were smooth and rounded by comparison, built in the century-old style of the first American gravtech starships.  Only Normandy approached the colony ship’s size, her shape as elegant as the other warships.  Broad and flat, with massive engines dominating her rear superstructure, her rounded bow betrayed the menace of a warship.  Large cylinders ran along the port and starboard sides of the carrier, rounded in the front and narrowing to points behind the main engine section.

As he watched, the central parts of the cylinders began to move.  They slid out a few meters to reveal massive hinges tens of meters wide and he could almost hear the clanging as they came to a stop.  Then they cracked open, and a puff of atmosphere escaped in the form of tiny flash-frozen crystals, reflecting glints of light as they spun away.  The cylinders continued to open wide like clamshells, revealing Normandy’s primary weapon.  The dozens of cradles designed to hold Blackhawk starfighters looked like a tiny peace of heaven to one Malcolm McDonnell.

Thrusters flared throughout the fighter formation, and engines came to life as they slowed to match speed with the much larger carrier.  Tow cables holding disable fighters vibrated with the tension of holding them in place, but the cybers performing the maneuvers knew exactly how much they could push.  Malcolm just relaxed back in his seat as Dawn finally detached tow cables from the fighters she commanded, spun them around, and backed them into their cradles on small puffs of maneuvering thruster.

A cradle locked around his fighter with several small clangs, and a final jerk brought them to a halt.  He scanned to either side, watching the last of the wounded fighters limping into position for their cradles to close around them as well.  And then the massive clamshell bay swung shut to block off the Pleiades Cluster’s light.  The bay doors boomed as they hit, the vibration flowing through the cradle and into his seat.  The doors pulled back into the ship, another clang reverberated through his fighter, and all was silent for a moment.

Then the steady thrum of Normandy’s engines returned and he looked at Dawn.  She just smiled, confirming that they were accelerating away from Bosphorus.  That was good.  He didn’t want to spend any more time in system than necessary.  Murphy and the Shang made things far too complicated for him to want to be anywhere near.  It seemed a certain Captain Olivia Wyatt thought the same thing.  He would have to thank her for that initiative.

A light turned from red to green and he examined it.  Air pressure.  Excellent.  With no more warning, the canopy retracted back into the fighter’s body and fresh air flowed into him.  It had the stale quality that all ship air did, but it was better than the recycled air inside his cockpit.  Happy with the improvement, he unlatched his five-point harness and waited for it to retract into his command chair.

That done, Malcolm pulled himself to his feet in time to see a gantry lock into place beside his fighter.  Dawn smiled once more and walked directly onto the gantry, hologram growing to full size by the time she left the fighter.  He scrambled up after her, pulling on a handrail to steady himself, and scanned the hangar bay.

Stretching out more than a football field length in either direction, it was full of damaged fighters and crewmembers already scrambling to begin repairing them.  He could see six empty cradles in the bay, but even they were busy as small carts or the crew began moving spare parts.  Even the undamaged fighters had been through the ringer of weapons fire that left them covered in scorch marks and carbon scoring.  And the smell of things burning wafted over him.  The hiss of firefighting foam caught his attention for a moment, but Dawn just shook her head to tell him that everything was under control.

One gantry over, two figures in flight jackets left their damaged fighter behind and jogged towards him, sporting colors bright enough to blind a bat.  The man whose real name could not possibly have been John Anderson was a hulking specimen of humanity from the Kingdom of Hawaii who loved honest-to-God Hawaiian shirts.  Today’s example peaking out from under the flight jacket was an eye assaulting combination of numerous shades of red.  The tiny cyber walking behind him wore a simple black shirt under her jacket, but her hair complemented the Hawaiian shirt with bright reds and blues of its own.

“Not bad for a first rodeo,” Anderson boomed with a voice so deep it had to come from somewhere under the deck.  Then he slugged Malcolm in the shoulder.  It was a playful slug.  If it hadn’t been, he’d have already flown into the nearest bulkhead.  Malcolm knew that, but bloody hell it hurt.

He tried not to wince in pain, and smiled back at the man who towered over him.  “Thanks,” he said through gritted teeth and meant every word of it.  It was actually high praise and he knew it.  He just wished it could come with a less painful accompaniment.  And that of course was another compliment of sorts.  Anderson was a powerful giant that had to use more control than even other ageless individuals.  The fact that he’d hit Malcolm hard enough to hurt meant he’d earned the man’s respect.  Once again, he wished that respect could be broadcast with a little less pain.

“We’ll make a proper pilot out of you yet,” the big Hawaiian boomed in amusement, wrapped one arm larger than most peoples’ legs around Malcolm, and very gently ushered him towards the hangar bay exit.  It was gentle because it didn’t hurt.  But Malcolm knew from experience that trying to go any other way would be about as effective as arguing with a boulder.  Anderson was truly the unstoppable force, and minor things like bulkheads and armored hatches needed to learn to stay out of his way.

Lucky for Malcolm, Dawn came to his rescue.  Unluckily for him, it was only after she shared an amused smile with the other cyber.  But she finally did step her hologram up to the hulking man.  “I’m sorry,” she began in an earnest tone, “but Captain Wyatt has requested Mal’s presence on the bridge.  We should hurry.”

At the captain’s name, Anderson looked down at Malcolm and began to laugh.  Malcolm imagined that ancient gods would have envied the thundering expression of amusement powerful enough to shake him in his boots.  And then Anderson punched him in the other shoulder.  “Well, we’d best not keep her waiting then,” the giant bellowed into the pain-filled silence and pushed Malcolm forward.

Somehow he kept his feet under him as he ran into the lift doors.  They opened to revealed Dawn’s true physical avatar waiting for him, and he had one split second to see her smile before she stepped smoothly out of the way.  The lift walls stopped him, expelling most of the air from his lungs in the course of their work.  He just stayed there for a bit, trying to breathe, as the lift doors closed and it began to move.

“How are you?” Dawn asked and stepped close enough he could feel her presence.

“Ow,” he answered and pushed himself away from the lift wall.  To his amazement, both arms still worked, despite the dull throb in them.  He worked them around, feeling twinges of pain, but nothing ripped.  He’d survived.

“He can be a bit exuberant,” Dawn said in amused tones.

“You think?” he asked with a glare.  Her simple smile, mere centimeters away, robbed his glare of any strength it might have had.  He turned away to look at the lift doors and laughed.  He’d survived a run in with an exuberant John Anderson.  And they were finally on the last leg of their trip to the Pleiades Cluster.  This was a truly amazing day.

Dawn leaned against the wall beside him, still close enough he could feel the way the energy in the small area flowed around her.  With nothing else to watch or examine, he realized just how intensely aware he was of everything around him.  The colors in the lift’s control display appeared sharper and more in focus.  He could see the imperfections in the machined weld lines linking plates.  Everything seemed more alive.  He was still running on adrenalin, and he liked it.

The lift came to a stop, the doors slid open to either side, and he stepped onto Normandy’s bridge, Dawn following mere centimeters behind.  Her presence was impossible to miss as she stepped up beside him.  But even following her every move, he was acutely aware of the uniformed crew on the bridge.  Every single one wore a white duty uniform he’d acquired from surplus stores over the years, and they held their attention on their displays.  Only one looked up as he walked in, and his eyes snapped to follow her progress.

“Malcolm,” Captain Olivia Wyatt said, her eyes examining him.

Malcolm aimed a broad smile at her and let his adrenalin speak for him.  “You wanted me?”

Olivia shook her head but smiled.  “I requested your presence,” she corrected.

“Potato, potato,” Malcolm repeated the age-old saying with a wave of one hand.

Olivia sighed and shared a long look with Dawn.  “Are you suffering from an adrenalin high?” she finally asked him.

“Oh, I’m not suffering at all.”  He shrugged.  “I’m enjoying it immensely.”

Olivia shook her head again.  “So I’m not going to talk you out of flying again?”

“No, Ma’am,” Malcolm said with gusto.

“You know it’s dangerous, right?” she asked, her tone full of caution.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered, looking straight ahead.

“Did you remember to wear your helmet?” she asked with a glare.

Malcolm blinked, realizing he’d never thought about that.  But his flight jacket could deploy a helmet from the collar at need, so he supposed he could say he had.  He opened his mouth to answer, but realized he was too late.

Olivia sighed and he saw her mouth one word out of the corner of his eye.  Men.

Dawn nodded in sympathy.

“Hey you two,” Malcolm said in a commanding tone.  “No deriding me behind my back.”

“We would never do that,” Olivia said in a dry tone.

“Right in front of you is another matter entirely,” Dawn added without a perceivable pause.

Malcolm chuckled.  “Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”

Dawn shook her head in mock sorrow.  “Not even the same book.  We’re reading Gone with the Wind and you’re reading John Carter.”

“Well, yeah,” Malcolm said with a shrug.  “It’s a good story.”

Olivia brought a hand up to rub her forehead.  “I swear you two argue more and more each day.”

“We don’t argue,” Malcolm protested, but Olivia just raised an eyebrow at him.

“We practice verbal sparring,” Dawn clarified with a helpful smile and Olivia turned the eyebrow on her.  Dawn met the eyebrow with total aplomb, and no sign of retreat.

Olivia finally shook her head and muttered something about deserving each other.

“What was that?” Malcolm asked, wondering if he’d heard right.

Olivia turned back to him with one of those expressions that suggested he shouldn’t ask that again.  “I was wondering if you’d like to watch as we dive into the Pleiades Cluster.”

That certainly wasn’t what she’d said, but Malcolm wasn’t about to challenge that look.  So instead he aimed a gregarious smile her way.  “Why, I would love to.”

Olivia nodded, congratulating him on his wise choice.  “Then if you’d like to stand back there,” she said, waving towards the rear of the bridge with a hand gesture that took the request out of the words.

Malcolm followed her order without protest, walked back, and leaned against the bridge’s rear bulkhead.  A quick glance at Dawn showed her amusement with the whole situation, and then he turned back to watch Olivia moving amongst her bridge crew.  At each station she paused to verify the systems it controlled were operating, and whispered a word or two to the man or woman before going on.  She finished her rounds in minutes, and gave the bridge another long look.

Once assured that nothing was going to fall apart in the next minute, Olivia walked back and leaned against the bulkhead next to him.  After a few seconds of scanning the bridge again, she leaned in close enough to override his mind with the smell of her last shampoo.  Strawberry.  “You know, that was a good speech out there,” she said very quietly.

Malcolm blinked as he pulled his mental attention from Olivia showering to speeches he’d made.  For a moment, his mind drew a complete blank.  Then it made the connection and he glanced at Dawn who just smiled at him.  It had been a secure communication channel between him and Murphy, and he didn’t like that anybody else had been listening in.

Olivia pursed her lips and examined him.  “Does it bother you that I was listening?”

“Well, no,” he answered, not wanting to say that his senior captain had no business listening in on fleet business.  But as he said it, he felt the untruth.  It shouldn’t bother him, but it did, and he didn’t know why.

Olivia crossed her arms, obviously not buying his evasion, but she didn’t call him on it.  “So what’s her story?”

Malcolm let out a long breath, wishing he could answer her.  “I don’t know,” he said with a shrug.  Olivia arched a disbelieving eyebrow at him.  “Honest,” he protested.  “I don’t know her.”

“Right.”  Olivia bore into his eyes for several seconds, and he felt like she was scanning his deepest secrets.  It was bloody intimidating.  “So you never met her?”

“Well, we both grew up with the Hurst family.”  Olivia cocked her head to the side in interest.  “It’s a large family,” Malcolm explained.  “Lots of branches that have business interests everywhere humanity has been.”  At her skeptical look, he shrugged again.  “Honest.  I don’t know of a single major colony that doesn’t have at least one person representing the family.  Often that’s someone who isn’t really part of the family but was raised from childhood with them.”

Olivia nodded in comprehension, and he saw something click into place behind her eyes.  “So that’s where you come in?”

Malcolm spread his arms out wide and smiled.  “Got it in one.”  Then he shrugged.  “She came in like that too I guess.”

“You guess?” Olivia asked, her tone skeptical.

Malcolm cleared his throat, acutely aware of how guilty that made him sound.  But he didn’t have anything to feel guilty about.  “She was younger than me by a lot.  Years.”  Olivia raised an eyebrow and he cleared his throat again.  “That’s a lot to a kid!” he protested and she relented.  “So anyways, I don’t remember her.  She was young enough, we didn’t hang out.”  Olivia didn’t speak, obviously picking up on the point that he wasn’t telling her everything, and he cleared his throat one more time.  If he didn’t stop that, she would know he was guilty of something.  “Her sister was another matter,” he finally admitted.

Olivia scowled at him.  “Oh.  You know you could have said that right away,” she noted, her tone stringent.  “What happened?”

Malcolm cleared his throat again, then sighed.  Now she really did know he was guilty of something.  “I was stupid,” he declared without reservation.

“Of course you were,” she said and he glowered at her.  She gave him the eyebrow again and he released his glare.  She was right.  He had been stupid.  “What happened?” she repeated.

Malcolm shook his head.  “In what had to have been a moment of total and complete insanity, I dumped her.”

“Had to have been?” Olivia asked, her expression doubtful.

“It was a century ago,” Malcolm tried to explain.  “I don’t remember everything I did back then.”

Olivia crossed her arms.  “You know, a girl could ask that you at least remember why you dumped her.”

“I’m sorry,” Malcolm answered and let out a long breath.  “I was drunk.  I honestly don’t remember what happened,” he explained, meeting her gaze without reservation.  “All I know is that I dumped her and she never spoke to me again.”

“And now her younger sister is chasing you?” Olivia asked in pointed tone.

“Yeah,” Malcolm whispered.  “And not in the happy funtime way,” he joke.

Olivia frowned at him.  “Are you sure you don’t know her?”

“Yes,” Malcolm said in exasperation.  “Scout’s honor.”

Olivia pursed her lips and met his gaze for several seconds.  “Say her name.”

Malcolm blinked, then frowned at the request.  “Why?”

“Just do it,” Olivia snapped.

“Caroline!” he hissed in instant response to her order.

Olivia sighed and shook her head.  “I’m sorry.  Say it like you’re talking to her, please?”

Malcolm sighed.  He couldn’t refuse when she asked that way.  Besides, if he did, she’d think he had something to hide.  He cleared his throat, shut his eyes, and brought the face that had charged into a Shang fleet back to his mind’s eye.  “Caroline” he whispered, wondering once again what had possessed her to do that.  When he opened his eyes, Olivia and Dawn were sharing an intense look.  “What?” he asked, feeling defensive.”

Olivia just smiled at him.  “Can you say her sister’s name like that?”  He frowned again and she waved a hand to dismiss his objection.  “Please,” she whispered and he relented.

Malcolm rubbed his temple.  The last time he’d seen her, she wouldn’t even acknowledge his presence.  He wondered again what he’d done that night.  “Dana,” he said, his voice filled with a sad finality.  There was nothing he could do now after all.  He shifted his gaze back to see shock on Olivia’s face.  “What?”

“Dana?” she hissed, her voice unnaturally high.

“Yes,” he answered in confusion.

Olivia licked her lips and shook her head to clear it.  “You dated Dana Murphy?”

“Yes,” Malcolm answered slowly, her reaction filling him with concern.

Olivia’s gaze turned very, very hard.  “Admiral Dana Murphy?”

A shiver ran down Malcolm’s spine and he turned to Dawn in a wordless question.  She cocked her head to the side, signaling that she was running through her databases.  Finally she shrugged, obviously coming up blank.  “I don’t know,” Malcolm returned to Olivia.

“Right,” the captain returned with a sigh.  “If it’s one thing you two didn’t break into, you had to choose the military personnel databases.”

Malcolm opened his mouth to protest that it wasn’t the only thing they’d declined to break into, but stopped at a warning look from Dawn.  She was right.  It wouldn’t help him at the moment.

The byplay was not lost on Olivia though, and she looked back and forth between the two like they were guilty children.  “Do you have a picture of her?” she finally asked.

Malcolm nodded towards Dawn and she smiled.  A holo of a young Dana Murphy from his high school yearbook hovered into being in the air between him and Olivia and her eyes narrowed.

“Damn it,” she swore and shook her head.  After a few seconds, she let out a long breath and gave him a look that demanded an answer.  “What happened between you two?”

“I don’t know,” Malcolm repeated with complete sincerity.  “I would tell you if I did, but just don’t remember,” he finished with a shrug.

Olivia pursed her lips, her eyes boring into his again.  After several seconds, she sucked in a long breath and nodded firmly.  “Well, I think we can assume that she remembers.  Now she’s an admiral and I’ll give you one guess who sent her sister on this little mission,” she finished in a pointed tone.

Malcolm shook his head, wondering if she was right.  No, she probably was right.  This wasn’t just about money.  It was personal, and this fleet was in danger now because of that.  “I’m sorry.”  It was all he could say to her.

Olivia nodded in acceptance.  “I’ll release all the information I have on them to you.  You study up on everything you have on her family.  And you get ready to talk your way out of her gun sights the next time we meet, because we will meet again.”

Malcolm licked his lips in worry.  “And if I can’t?”

Olivia’s jaw set and he saw the starship captain in her staring at the displays.  “I don’t want to fight anyone with the courage to charge a Shang task force like that.  Especially not one of our own.”  She met his gaze, her eyes pleading.  “Please talk yourself out of her gun sights again.”

Malcolm felt a lump in his throat and cleared it.  “I’ll do my best,” he promised.

“Thank you,” she whispered, leaned back against the bulkhead again, and watched the bridge flow around them.  Her shoulders shifted with her new attention, and he smiled at the sight of his senior captain surveying the world she commanded.  A minute later, her shoulders shifted again and she leaned in close to him.  “You know, a part of me always thought you were doing this because you like to thumb your nose at authority.”

Malcolm shrugged and gave her a jaunty smile, doing his best to lighten the mood.  “Well, maybe I do.”

Olivia eyed him carefully.  “Do you truly believe what you told her about this mission?  About the aliens?  Are we just some…random colony?  Or is this really something bigger to you?”

He met her gaze, wondering what she would think.  Would she think him crazy if he admitted the truth?  Would she agree with him?  The uncertainty warred within him for what felt like an eternity, as he considered how to answer.  He could crack a joke about things said at the heat of the moment.  He could say that no mere colony mission could ever meet such grand ideals.  He was the guy that found the little things people wanted.  A random colony in the far reaches of space was the best he could expect.  But Charles wanted something more.  Malcolm did too, and she deserved to know that.  He smiled and met her gaze.  “I told her the God’s honest truth.  Scout’s honor.”

Olivia turned back to her displays.  “Good,” she said with a smile.  “I can live with that.”

Malcolm let out a long relieved breath and remained next to Olivia as Normandy and her charges accelerated away from Bosphorus.  The lights of the Pleiades Cluster filled the sky ahead of them, pulsing with the promise of new vistas.  New stars.  New worlds, far beyond The War that waged throughout the stars they’d left behind.  Malcolm licked his lips, wondering if he truly had what it took to lead everyone into the unknown like that.

He glanced over at Dawn to see her smiling at him.  The cyber gave him a knowing look followed by the slightest of nods.

Malcolm pulled in a long breath, reassured by that small motion, and glanced at Olivia again.  He’d found good people for this mission.  Olivia turned a questioning look at him and he answered with a simple nod.  He had no doubt in her ability to keep them moving.  She seemed to read that faith in his action and turned back to the Pleiades Cluster, her shoulders set.

In that moment, Malcolm McDonnell, scion of an ancient and powerful family, realized that this place was the one place he wanted to be.  Earth was no longer his home.  New Earth never had been, but for a time he’d thought it could be.  Now he knew he’d been wrong.  This was his home.  Normandy.  The Wolfenheim Project.  He belonged here.

He was still standing there when the mass of colorful stars making up the Pleiades Cluster disappeared.  A moment later, hyperspace churned around them, a giant whirlpool of energy created by the sucking gravities of over one thousand stars.  A river of energy flowed into the maelstrom from the giant star behind them, and the fleet began to slide down into the rabbit hole it represented.  They had a very important date on the other side of the Pleiades Cluster, and he could not wait to get there.

Malcolm smiled.