Fast and furious winds whipped dangerously at Lieutenant Rayna DuMont as she struggled towards the escape pod amidst a fury of evacuating air and flying debris. With all her might, Rayna pulled herself around the corner, knowing all the while that death was near. Finally, as she clawed herself along the wall, huge robotic arms reached out to her, lifting her up quickly, into the safety of an escape pod. Gasping for breath and terror clear on her face, she mashed her thumb down on the red blinking button in the pitch dark pod. "Goodbye Rayna," the disembodied voice of the computer spoke to her as the pod blasted free of the disintegrating base and hurled itself into deep space.

"Oh my god!"Rayna exhaled suddenly, bursting into tears as the pod finally righted itself and corrected course on attitude thrusters. A brilliant wave of light made the dark cabin of the pod bright as daylight and Rayna, tear soaked eyes seeking out the port window, catching the bases' scuttling charges immolate what was left of her temporary home.

With tears running down her face and the panic clearing, Rayna finally righted herself and belted her thin waist into the pod's cramped compartmental seats, hoping against hope that the Goog wouldn't spot her pod in the escaping debris....

Lieutenant Rayna, fourth daughter of Mikala and Michael, idly brushed bread crumbs from her green and gray Skywatch Command uniform as she sat in the command pod of Orbital Base Five. A stunning blonde, Rayna knew that her extraordinary good looks and her brains had gotten her this post on the edge of the Hammer System. A god-awful post, she thought as she sat up in her chair and looked around the small, cramped command space. Manned by half a dozen Beta-class combat robots, she sighed suddenly in apparent boredom. She hated being the only human onboard the fragile station, but her cycle ended in two more months and she was gratefully looking forward to spending time on Hyannis Station, the Hammer Systems' primary fleet yard. Spending time with other humans, she thought ruefully.

She was rudely jolted out of her self-examining reverie when she noticed movement next to her.

"What the hell are you doing Beta Four?!" Lieutenant Rayna DuMont yelled at the hulking android in the nearby command chair. She had briefly spotted the android's fingers flying quickly across the control panel in front of it, jolting her out of her musings. She had just been thinking of what to tell her bitch of a mother in the next communicate planetward when the gray humanoids' hands began to fly across its tactical panel.

Technically, the android wasn't even supposed to be at that station, but this base, which was guarding the second warp point out of the system, was seriously understaffed. The outbreak of brutal fighting all across the Pact of Humanity had taken everyone by surprise, even the system naval commander, Admiral Zan Kasuta, who was her ultimate superior. The System Governor, Ali Mahdi Yalahow(who was an absolute pig in her opinion), and the Admiral both were scrambling to man the construction yards, bases, and fleet units that the Hammer System desperately needed. Although Qasr Bani hadn't experienced any skirmishes amongst the human population of the Cluster, the alien worlds it ruthlessly dominated were agitating badly and while Thor's Hammer had a substantial 80 million population, it was insufficient for manning a system-wide defense, and thus the temporary condition aboard Orbital Base Five.

Although they were made up of trillions of individual nanites, Beta androids were much larger and faster than standard humans, and the base had a total compliment of fourteen of them.... and one human. Although Megaknox had links to the sensors and systems of the base, it was Rayna that had ultimate control of Base Five, for humans could never put their physical safety totally in the hands of its ever-smarter machines. Megaknox had of course faithfully protected Thor's Hammer from pirates and other alien attacks for thousands of years by utilizing every sensor from all over the system, and his dispersed intelligence, although much slower than traditional centralized AIs, had always been able to abort sabotage and other destructive attempts to shut him down during those aeons.

Rayna's angry glare increased when the android didn't instantly respond to her query. She outranked the beta android completely and hardwired controls within its nano-circuitry mandated compliance with human commands, but clearly the android was ignoring her. Mere seconds had passed since she had barked at the android and suddenly Rayna lunged forward in her seat, long blonde hair flying, as her own control panel beeped alarmingly at her.

Something is coming through the warp point, she thought and milliseconds later a ship did come through. The quantum flux and visual effects of warp point transit were spectacular to the naked eye, but humanity hadn't observed such phenomena in centuries since the utilization of technology had automated that task. Sensors within the base quested out, seeking information on the unknown intruder, and Rayna's fingers flew across her own panel trying to get more data on the vessel. No ships were scheduled from down the Alterra Chain today, from either Cordoba Colony or New Osaka, and frowning in confusion Rayna finally spoke, "Knox, identify intruder."

From her peripheral vision, Rayna could see Beta Four suddenly physically merge with its control panel, sending millions of nanites to hardwire into its station, and for a moment she was startled and puzzled. Then sudden panic shot through her as she realized that androids were only allowed to do that in absolutely desperate situations. Still looking at the android, its' face rapidly melted into a non-distinct grayish goo as the android lost concentration upon its form. Rayna gasped in surprise at the transformation but turned intently back to the screen in front of her. The drive field of the newly appeared warship had fully formed and it was unlike anything she had ever seen before. All Pact vessels, whether they be commercial or military, had a standard spherical drive field, but this drive field was different, with hundreds of spikes poking out from the field, like a hedge hog. Definitely not a Pact vessel, Rayna thought silently.

Finally, Megaknox answered her in his slow, sad baritone voice.

"It appears to be....a Goog vessel Lieutenant Rayna. Weapons systems are now activating, preparing to fire." Amber lights abruptly showered the command room in bright light as other Beta robots abruptly jacked into their posts. Cyberjacking was allowed not only to maintain physical contact between androids and the control panels around the room during combat but also to increase combat performance by decreasing communication lag between the mainframe and the robots manning the stations. Rayna's sensors also showed a bubble of force had instantly encased the base, protecting it from the coming battle.

In the back of her mind, Rayna knew that Megaknox was alerting the entire system to the presence of the enemy warship, and perhaps even passing that information on to Megagant, the Alterra Systems' dispersed AI as well. In fact, this whole region had once been a devastating battleground between the Goog and the ancient Goww race, before humanity's colonization of Alterra, a planet which by now had grown to two billion people.

Finally, Rayna blinked in disbelief. A Goog warship. That is not possible. The Goog Homeworld had been conquered thousands of years ago by the Pact Navy, and horror arose within her throat as she realized that this warship, clearly a destroyer, had come from down chain. Horror turned rapidly to anger as her fingers flew over the armament controls, anger at the certain death of every inhabitant of Shemida III, Cordoba Colony, and the very productive New Osaka system for the Goog were large luminescent green spider-like beings that were powerfully strong and very carnivorous. Every child in the Cluster grew up with the Goog as the fabled boogeymen....but every adult knew they were real, liked their prey live, and that humans were their favorite food.

As her control panel blinked back at her green lights across the board, she hammered her fingers down on the controls, angrily sending them into autofire mode. The base had been undermanned for months, with herself as the only human operator of the small post but she had used that time, and the energy of her Beta robots to increase the automation of the base, and the performance of its weapons systems.

The three plasma guns, small, powerful energy weapons of immense destructive power, lashed out in anger at the enemy warship which was just now clearing the energetic miasma of the warp point. Many of the Googs' warship systems were down, as Rayna could see with her sensors, and the plasma packets moving at nearly the speed of light brutally slammed home.

All three brilliant balls of light had homed in on the drive field of the enemy ship and instantly, energy spalled as the plasma hit against the Goog shields, with splinters of the superheated plasma impacting directly on the destroyers' armored hull. Under that intense temperature the armor rapidly melted, with the Goog vessel shuddering under the strain of the plasma bolts, but the enemy ship kept moving under its own power. There was a slight chance that the base would be able to outshoot the Goog warship for both were approximately the same size. Rayna's eyes were glued to the screen, desperately hoping for a miracle......but none came.

The Goog destroyer began to engage in evasive maneuvers as her weapons fire halted, and Rayna pounded the chair arms in frustration with her fists. The plasma guns required a cooling down period and clearly the destroyer would be able to fire on the base while the weapons were still cycling.

Slamming her shock frame into place and holding on for dear life, Rayna prepared for the imminent Goog attack. The attack came but its impact was strangely silent even as her sensors screamed in alarm at the incoming beam fire.

"That was primary beam fire," Beta Six said monotonously from his sensor station. Rayna shrugged mentally, Primary beam fire? No one had used primaries in centuries. Primaries were highly focused beam weapons that did damage mainly to electronic systems on a warship or base. And then her world shook apart as the Base came to grief at the hands of the Goog destroyers' much larger forcebeam weapons. Momentarily blackening out, Rayna came too, a familiar metallic taste in her mouth as blood flowed and she quickly swallowed it away. Wiping her mouth with her gray sleeve, she could see the Beta's had continued to operate with efficiency. Damage reports and repair team dispatches were scrawling across the screen in front of her as smoke began to fill the command pod.

Looking down at the damage, which was hideously extreme, it was then and there that Rayna decided it was time to leave. Although abandoning her post would most likely be seen as a grave error in judgment, with a possible court martial at the end, at least she would be alive. The androids would continue to do their jobs and fire the weapons without her presence so she leapt from her chair and sprinted for the access way that led down the hallway to escape pods.

I just hope I have enough time, Rayna thought relentlessly as she ran through the armored door in front of her. Time slowed, and for a brief moment reality stopped as flying debris and evacuating air smashed all around Rayna's tall lithe form. Running down the hall, the only she could think of at this last moment of her life was her mother, and how much she wanted to hit her......


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