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Space War\vspace{2ex}\\
\large Food For Droid Thought
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\author{by William Stein}

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$Header: /home/was/papers/literature/droids/RCS/droids.tex,v 1.7 2001/09/04 03:49:29 was Exp was $

$Log: droids.tex,v $
Revision 1.7  2001/09/04 03:49:29  was
Beginning of second-to-last chapter.

Revision 1.6  2001/07/24 23:35:41  was
Added some plot ideas after walking around at Oberwolfach.

Revision 1.5  2001/07/20 23:46:41  was
Finished the Kelly Wong chapter.

Revision 1.4  2001/07/20 02:33:53  was
Wrote some more.

Revision 1.3  2001/07/20 02:24:11  was
wrote for a while.

Revision 1.2  2001/07/10 12:58:47  was
Checked into RCS.

}


\maketitle
\tableofcontents

%\setcounter{chapter}{-1}
\chapter*{Preface}
I wrote a first draft of a book called ``Danger of Droids'' when I was
ten years old.  The book you are looking at began as a project to
rewrite and expand the original, however the two books diverge in the
middle of chapter 3.   It's not quite done yet, though I know how it
will end. 

If you like this book, let me know.  

I give anyone the right to read and distribute this book unchanged and
for free in electronic form.  However, the copyright remains mine.
\vspace{5ex}

\noindent{}William Stein\\
{\sf http://modular.fas.harvard.edu}

\chapter{Droid Armies}
Crisp cold air sweeps across a gray sky.  A sturdy black building sits
in the middle of a huge red and rocky area on a freezing barren
planet.  Numerous other identical menacing buildings are stationed
across this dreadful landscape.  Each contains something that only the
recently appointed president, Columbo, and a few of his trusted
advisers knows about.

\threestars

Bill Stein recently celebrated his 25th birthday.  He is about five feet
ten inches tall, has black hair, and a medium build.  At the moment, he
is standing on a barren planet, near a dark precipice.  He thinks, then
looks at his watch, which, for a very brief moment, reads ``2485,
August 16, 1:25, 16 and 28/1000000 seconds.''  Upon seeing the time,
he pulls a gadget from his pocket and speaks ls
into it.  ``This is Captain
Bill Stein on Sector 4.  Bring me back from this scout mission.  It's getting
cold out here.''  In fact, the cold can't touch him in his heated
space suit.

Far away, floating in space, the beaming office replies: ``OK.  I'll
beam you aboard the ship.''  The beaming officer was quite unusual and
harbored a deeply veiled past.  In less than a second, Bill
materializes aboard the ship.  He removes his protective suit, exits
the beaming room, and enters a hallway where he is met by a 6 foot 2
inch tall man with fluffy brown hair and sharp features.  Together
they step into an elevating room and are pulled through an antigravity
tube.  As their journey ends and the tube opens, Thom steps onto the
bridge.

Thom is Bill's best friend, and like Bill he is 25 years old.  
He stands just over six feet tall in front of his monitoring
and communications array and in a few moments yells ``Bill, look at
the scanning display!''

``What exactly do you see?'' Bill inquires.

``A blip,'' Thom excitedly answers.  This is Thom's 6th mission. 

``There's something out there and I want to know what it is and where
it is going.  What is its present course?'' Bill asks carefully.

``It's on a direct course to intercept us.  I may be able to bring up
a visual of the blip using our ship's telescopes'', Thom suggests.

``Try,'' Bill agrees.  Several barely-visible specs appear in the
middle of a large black viewscreen.  They wiggle a little, indicating
rapid movement.  ``Thom, try to zoom in further and enhance.'' 

The view on the screen barely changes, as Thom studies his instruments.
``Bill, those are sophisticated space ships, and they do not look friendly.  
Their weapons are fully charged.''  Thom fixes a concerned eye on 
Bill, ``I suggest we arm our lasers as a safety precaution.''  The
mood on the bridge becomes tense.  Officers to the left and right
of Bill try to appear to relax as they study their consoles while
nervously glancing at the viewscreen.

``I agree.''  Bill pauses, then turns to an officer nearer the view
screen and adds, ``Dennis, arm our weapons array.''  Dennis is 24
years old and 5 feet 9 inches tall.  If anyone really knows Bill, it
is Dennis.  Though Bill is captain of the ship, and Dennis is
devastating in combat situations, without Dennis's financial wizardry,
the ship would never have been allowed just the right crew.

``Laser's armed'', Dennis replies as his hands dance in the air amongst
a forbiddingly colored hologram that hovers in front of his chair.

A flash of light appears on the viewscreen.  A single thought leaves
each officer's mind as rapidly as it arrives: Will I be incinerated in a
moment?  The bridge shakes enough to knock Bill and Thom to their
knees as a bolt of energy cuts into the ship's launch pad!

``Fire lasers!'' Bill yells.  The air vibrates slightly as Dennis 
releases laser cannon fire at ten approaching ships.  The viewscreen
shows three fighter ships explode, as the shields on the other seven
re-modulate in order to deflect Bill's lasers.

``I suggest I try to establish communication with them'', suggests Thom.

``Go ahead and try'', approves Bill.  Thom tries, but has no luck.  The
enemy ignores all hails.  Frustrated and worried as the remaining
seven ships speed closer, Bill orders ``Ready the ship to jump to
light speed.''   

``All right'' responds the lead cruise controller, a clever blonde
haired young man named Chris, who sits to Bill's left.  The controller
and three nearby officers move their hands carefully above a smooth
panel admists rotating holographic images.  The ship hums and vibrates
as the hyperdrive engines are activated.  Just as the ship begins to
jump to light speed, enemy laser fire storms all around damaging the
hyperdrive.  ``Captain, we're not going to be able to jump to light
speed for a while.  I will try to assess the damage caused by those
last blasts.''

``How long do you think it will take?'' Bill demands.

``It will probably take a few hours,'' replies the cruise controller
slowly, keenly aware that he might not live more than a few more
minutes.

``We'll just have to fight them off'' shouts Bill; ``keep firing
lasers Dennis, Thom, and Chris!''  He mentions manuever ``alpha
bravo'' to the cruise controller.

As the battle rages on, it rapidly becomes clear that Dennis is the
best shooter.  A total of six enemy ships fall by his hand.  After a
while, it seems that all of the enemy ships are gone, as the ship
speeds seemingly unpursued across the deeply empty reaches of space.

Bill congrulates his crew: ``Great shooting Dennis!''  ``Excellent
work repairing our light-speed hyperdrive, Chris.''  Then Bill thinks
fleetingly about his lover Tasha, who was far away doing research near
the Jash Stargate, and who he has not seen in six months.  Was she
safe?

A few tense hours pass, in which the crew carefully monitors for
attack craft, and does their best to hide the weakened ship behind
floating debri.  Finally, Chris announces ``The hyperdrive should
now be fully operational.''

``Great!'' replies Bill, and then adds solemly, ``Let's go home.''

``Just give the order, Bill'', Chris says excitedly.

``It's given.''  As the ship enters an open expanse of space, it hums
and vibrates, and the hyperdrive safely jumps the ship to near light
speed.  For a moment every living thing on the ship is mildly
disoriented, and the next moment the only change is that the view out
the window is bizarrely distorted.  Several hours pass, and then Chris
slows the ship down, as most of the crew's home world appears, as a
dot, on the viewscreen.

``It is fabulous to see Earth again,'' comments Thom, ``When we were
attacked we fought well; I don't think we can easily be captured.''

The ship rapidly approaches Earth, shooting through space at sublight
speeds that defy comprehension.  As the planet grows to encompass most
of the viewscreen, Bill thinks for a moment about his parents below,
and wishes that his lover Tasha were also below instead of on a
research mission at Dinesta.  As the ship breaks through the
automosphere and glides towards Earth, a landing area appears,
imprisoned on three sides by water.  Thom notices that the fourth side
is populated with an organized large number of people and asks, ``What
is going on down there?''

``I don't have the slightest idea'', Bill answers.  ``Chris, slow our
landing.  Thom, run a scan on the people who appeared armed with laser
cannons.''

Moments later, Thom yells in surprise: ``Those 'guys' are droids!''

``They must be somehow connected with the droids that I discovered in
the sheds on that planet's surface,'' realizes Bill.

The ship jerks, knocking Bill and Thom temporarily off balance.  
``What just caught us?'' asks Dennis.  

``Some kind of tractor beam'', responds Thom.

Before Bill can say ``ready lasers'', the ship is locked onto the
landing pad, and the weapons array is covered by special mirrors, that
are usually placed there to prevent accidents, but in this case make
the ships weapons all but useless. 

``Let's try to break free'', Bill cries.  Chris tries, but the ship
is held fast.   

``Let's try to shoot the droids'', suggests Dennis. 

``No -- with the safety deflectors over our lasers, we'll only harm
ourselves,'' warns Bill.   

Red lights flash as the ships goes into battle alert.  Droids break
through an entrance and begin boarding the huge ship.  Some are ripped
apart by laser fire from crew members, but soon the droids produce
shields which effectively protect them.  

Feeling betrayed by the security of their home world, eventually,
Bill, Thom, Dennis, and Chris all find themselves being forceably
escorted off their ship.  The rest of the crew is detained onboard by
ever patient and watchful droids.  

``Why are you here?'' inquires Bill as he and the others are moved
very quickly away from the ship in a carefully sealed rectangular
black vehicle.  The droids take no notice.  The vehicle connects
solidly with a featureless grey building, and unloads its human cargo.
The human-looking expressionless droids lock our space travelers up in
a medium size featureless cell.  The cell walls are smooth and grey,
there is a bench against a wall, and a small glowing force-field door,
through which nothing can be seen.

``Thom, just moments ago you said you didn't think we could be beaten
or even captured'', says Dennis in frustration.   

Thom stoically replies, ``we are not dead yet.''

``We are in a big mess,'' Chris notes. ``We have to escape and get help
from one of the allied planets.''

``We had better do so,'' agrees Bill, as a droid approached the
force-field door of their cell.

``Be silent'', says the guard in a monotone voice from behind the
door.  The sound of the guard's footsteps suggest that he walks
several yards directly away from the door.

``I have a great idea!'' announces Bill very quitely.  

``What is it?'' whispers Tom.

``Well, we could probably make it past several of the guards...'', he
lowers his voice even more, ``if we could re-program one of the other
droids.  We'll make a lot of noise to draw the guard's attention.  It
will come in here to shut us up, and then Dennis will take him out.
Dennis, I trust you were able to smuggle off of our ship something
that could be used as a weapon?''

``Of course.'' Dennis confirms, with a twinkle in his eye as he
taps an almost imperceptible bulge in the corner of his pantleg.

At Bill's signal, Chris, Thom, and Dennis begin talking, then
yelling loudly, and even appear to be fighting each other at one
point.  The guard droid, who had warned them before, appears stoically
at the door and says ``Be silent.''  A torrent of loud curses echo
back from the small prison.  The guard, devoid of fear, follows its
programming; it shuts down the force door.  It enters the room, then the
force door is re-activated by another guard.  

Dennis springs from behind at the guard, brandishing nothing but a
thin diamond wrench, and makes a quick incision from behind.  The
guard stops in midstep and falls to the ground.  Everyone is silent;
they must work quickly.

Thom whispers, ``Assuming Dennis hasn't damaged this droid too much,
I'll try to re-program it so that it will attack the other droids when
they least expect it.  It's too bad we don't have more time to study
these droids, so we could perhaps learn their purpose.''  Because the
droid looks so human, it is disconcerting to see Thom open various
panels and beginning hacking through, then reprogramming the mind of
the droid, using a holographic interface that he is able to produce.

``Hurry up'' Bill whispers in a concerned voice, ``I hear footsteps.
The other droids will soon become suspicious.''

The force door opens, revealing two droids, just as Thom's droid
stands tall and announces in a convincing monotone, spoken in the
droid's own encrypted language, that the prisoners are under control,
because he has just administered a sedative to each of them.  Thom
feigns to look tired, and Bill, Dennis, and Chris follow suit.  As the
droids turn and begin to leave, Thom's guard droid fires poinpoint red
lasers from each thumb, which land squarely in the backs of each of
the other two droids.  They stop moving, then fall to the ground.

``Amazing work'' congrulates Bill.  The four jump through the force
door and into a hallway of Building 7, a building they all got to know
well during their early years of training.  ``We're near what used to
be a weapons storage room; let's check to see if it still is.''  Bill
leads the way, followed by Chris, Dennis, and Thom and his droid.

They quickly find the storage room, while appearing to avoid
detection.  The storage room is locked by a black force shield.
Because he is on the outside of the force shield, Thom has little
difficulty breaking through it using a ``backdoor'' that he installed
while in training here a few years ago.  The force shield dissipates,
revealing stocks of weapons lined up against the walls and a
suspicious and heavily armed droid in the center of the room, who
immediately begins to fire as our four fighters jump away from the
door.  Last blasts darken and rip apart the side of the hallway
opposite the door.

``Surrender or die'' the attacking droid threatens as he emerges from
the weapons room.  Just as our fighters are about to run, Thom's droid
makes short order of the attacker with a quick small red laser blast
from his right thumb.  Moments later, our fighters are armed to the teeth.
They charge down a corridor, with hopes of amassing enough power
to retake their ship and escape.

``Watch out behind you, Bill! Duck and fire!'' screams Thom.  A laser
blast barely misses Bill, resulting in a mild burn on his arm, as he
fires back hitting nothing.  Shots from Thom hit the attacking droid,
causing it to explode.   

Eventually, a systematics search leads the crew to the droid's command
and control center, which is located in a small tower mounted on the
top of Building 7.  With some difficulty, they manage to take the
tower.  Though Thom doesn't understand the encrypted wireless protocol
used by the droids to communicate, he can send messages using it via
his loyal droid, who has managed to escape harm so far.  Thom sends
out a message using the droid's encrypted wireless frequency telling
all droids that they ``must go to landing strip 14 immediately!''
Even his own droid finds itself compelled to obey.

As Thom, Dennis, Chris, and Bill reboard their ship, they find their
crew mostly unharmed and in the process of mounting a rescue effort,
and have successfully disabled the ship landing constraints.  When
they reach the bridge, Chris says, ``The controls appear to be intact.
I think I can get us out of here. Just give the order, Bill.''

``It's given,'' says Bill, and the ship shoots quickly into the sky,
as their view of the base disappears behind clouds, and the whole
planet appears to them as little more than a dot.  As some
droid-controlled ships begin to fire on them, they engage their
hyperdrive and are gone.

``That was very close,'' comments Thom.  ``Let's drop out of
hyperwarp, then approach the nearest allied planet and explain to them
what has happened to Earth.''

``That's just what I had in mind,'' agrees Bill.  Chris slows the
ship down, as Thom determines their exact location in the astromap
database.  

After a few tense minutes, Thom announces ``The closest planet is
Drizzt.  Unfortunately Bill, my scans suggest that Drizzt is crawling
with droids, just like Earth was.''

Just then a squadron of small agile attack ships is detected by their
sensors.  The approaching ships are barely visible by the light of
Drizzt's sun.  They are mostly black with sharp streaks of silver
running from their front to back. Each ship carries several huge red
laser canons mounted on top and bottom.  These ships have one purpose,
to destroy.

Dennis yells, ``They're firing at us!!  Fortunately our shields are
fully charged, and have held so far.''  

``Return fire!'' Bill commands.

Two attacking ships explode moments after Dennis targets the attack
ships and causes his weapons to release a few blasts.

``What happened to the lights? Ouch!'' yells members of the crew.  The
remaining attack ships had simultaneously released a huge torrent of
lasers and struck a direct hit on the ship's primary power reactor.

Thom says in frustration, ``Our weapons likely won't be operational
for the next hour.''

``No! I won't give up so easily,'' responds Bill, ``Dennis, switch to
secondary power.  Are any of our weapons now at least partially
operational?''

``We still have two of our laser cannons'', replies Dennis, as he
prepares to fire one of them.  ``Bill, you may want to fire the other
cannon.''

A small explosion rocks the ship.  ``Damn!'', yells Dennis, ``I had an
enemy ship targeted and just as I fired my cannon failed!''  

``Use mine'', Bill replies.  The lights re-appear, but are dim. ``Thom
and Chris, how close are we to having enough power to engage our
hyperdrive?''

``Probably a few more minutes'', responds Chris as he puzzles over a
holographic image that floats before him.   

As three enemy ships close in for a final assault, the ship activates
its hyperdrive, and, as far as the three ships are concerned, is gone.
The droids who control the remaining attack ships fly back to planet
Drizzt.

\chapter{Sundance Galaxy}
Now that we survived the fast-paced present-tense first chapter, the
author has elected to switch to the past tense.

After the crew got some rest on board, and attended to their wounds,
they partially repaired the ship.  They then slowed from hyperspeed as
they entered the Sundance galaxy.  

Several of the ship's top officers gathered together in the strategy
room,  a cool expansive high-ceiling room constructed in the
ancient European style, with genuine stone floors and walls, and
detailed woodwork decorating the walls.  The holographic computer
terminals, which looked out of place mounted on the walls, gave off a
noticeable glow in the dim light.

When Dennis, Thom, Chris, and a few other officers had arrived, Bill
spoke up: ``We have lost all contact with the people or military
forces of Earth.  We don't know what happened to our people, if they
are alive, or if they are being held captive.  The worlds neighboring
Earth appear to have met a similar fate.  One thing is for
certain---we must retake the Earth!''

``We could try to convince some of the powers based at the planets in
Sundance to help us,'' Dennis suggested.  ``It would be in their
interest, because their worlds might be attacked by the droids next.''

Thom added, ``I made some preliminary scans, which suggest that perhaps 
the droids have not yet infiltrated Sundance.''

``Repairs on our ship are proceeding well,'' noted Chris. 

Bill turned to the chief engineer, a short and clever man, and said
``Good work on the repairs, Nathaniel.'' He paused, then said
``Dennis, Thom, and Chris, meet me on the bridge.'' The meeting ended.

``Thom, have you been able to establish communications with any
of the leaders of nearby planets?'' inquired Bill.

Thom responded affirmatively: ``Davitt, leader of an influential
nearby planet named Orbis, has agreed to speak with us in one hour.  In the
past, Orbisians have been sympathetic to human problems; moreover,
they have a historic distaste for droids.''  The hour passed
uneventfully as repairs on the ship continued, and the crew did its
best to review the place of Planet Orbis in recent Sundance Galaxy
history.  Finally, Davitt appeared on the viewscreen.  The ship and
Davitt communicated via a high-bandwidth encrypted link, which kept
Davitt's location quite vague.   

What they saw on the screen did not look anything like a human.
Daviss was quite a bit larger than a human, and wore a black and
mirrored suit that allowed him to hover gently above the rough floor.
His head hid behind a helmet that betrayed nothing of his facial
expression while keeping him extremely comfortable in almost any
atmosphere.  Davitt began, his words automatically being translated to
Earthlish, ``My secretary has informed me that an army of droids have
attacked Earth.  This is consistent with reports we've received from our
intelligence officers.''

``Orbis could be next,'' responded Bill, very much to the point.

``A droid army once attacked us, and almost managed to imprison and
slaughter much of our population.  Fortunately, most of the planets of
Sundance were united, and we were strong enough to repulse them.  They
must have retreated towards the Milky Way.  At the time, we were not
strong enough to follow them and destroy them completely.''  He paused
for a moment, ``I have to wear this suit at all times because I was
greviously injured when a spy droid attempted to assassinate me.
These machines are terrible; they're a virus.''

This recent-history lesson from Davitt served to chill Bill's crew, as
their thoughts turned once again towards their families and questionable
futures.

``I will send forces to rendevous with you,'' said Davitt to Bill, then
he terminated the communication.  Davitt, the absolute leader of Orbis,
contacted his favorite and most trusted general, ``Jerrisons, the time
has come for us to launch a counterstrike against the droid armies.  I
have strong evidence that the droids have taken Earth; if so, they once
again pose a supreme threat to us.  We must strike now.  Lead several
rapid-action squadrons of our best fighters and rendevous with the
Earth ship that you've no doubt detected by now.''

After a few hours of preparation, four elite squadrons take flight,
breaking through Orbis's gravitational pull, and begin flying towards
the Earth ship.  Half way into their journey, and without warning, the
two lead ships are attacked!!  ``Watch out fighter K713, there is an
unidentified fighter approaching you from behind!'', warns Masas, one
of the fighter pilots, ``I don't detect any life signs on board, so
maybe it's a droid scout ship.  Permission to destroy it?''

``Granted'', replies the occupant of K713, as he opens fire.
Div-div-div-div-div-boooom!!! yell the lasers of K713, as the
attacking ship is fragmented into millions of pieces.  ``Watch out
Masas!'' yells the occupant of K713.  But he is too late.  Masas's
ship is ripped apart under the assault of scorching merciless laser
blasts, which issue from a second droid scout ship.  The second ship
then fires on K713, which spins and jerks as a laser blast glances off
one of its stabilizer arrays.  ``I've been hit,'' shouts the occupant
of K713, as he sends out a distress signal.   The droid closes in
for termination.
$$*\hspace{1in}*\hspace{1in}*$$


Back on the ship, Bill was concerned.  ``I wonder why it is taking
Davitt's forces so long to reach us?''

``I just detected a distress signal!'' replied Thom, ``It appears
to be coming from one of Davitt's ships.''

``There's been recent laser fire,'' chimes in Dennis, ``it looks
like one of two point fighters have been destroyed, and the other,
K713, is disabled.  I recommend we beam the pilot of K713 out immediately.''

``Do it!'', shouted Bill; the ordered propogated to the mysterious
beaming officer, and, as a droid laser blast ripped apart K713, the
pilot materialized in the beaming room, pleasantly surprised to be
alive.

``Dennis, try to destroy the droid fighter, before it attacks any more
of Davitt's forces,'' commanded Bill.

``Yes, sir.'' Dennis launched an expensive unmanned craft, which,
within ten minutes, efficiently sought and destroyed the loan
droid scout in a kamakaze attack that resulted in its own destruction.

Within 20 minutes, Davitt's four squadrons came into view, illuminated
by the distant warm glow of Sundance's trio of suns.  The huge
recently-saved occupant of K713 stepped slowly onto the bridge.  ``I
am Jerrisons.  I owe you my life.''

``It is honor to meet you,'' shouted Bill.  Jerrisons's imposing
stature and thick black battle armor made it difficult to avoid
speaking loudly to him.  ``Let's discuss our plans to regain Earth.''
The two stepped off the bridge, followed by Thom and Dennis, and began
to discuss the possibility of using the ship's hyperfield to transfer
the Orbis fighter squadrons near Earth.  The Orbis military had not
successfully deployed hyperdrives, because they chose to keep focused
on their home world and neighboring planets, instead of scattering
their attention throughout the Universe.  Thus they were able to
temporarily stem off the droid invaders but were not able to arrest
their retreat.  Earth, on the other hand, had the exact opposite
focus, and had quickly fallen to the droids, as ship's such as Bill's
would sadly discover as they returned home from fantastic voyages and
were imprisoned by the droids.

$$*\hspace{1in}*\hspace{1in}*$$

``Position your fighters at the following coordinates ...''
commanded Colum, the supreme droid master whose thin stature towered
over 9 feet high.  He was the creator of the droid armies.  He looked
somewhat human, despite his height, and that his smooth hard skin was
perfectly black.

``Yes master,'' answered the droid in an encrypted transmission that
is best described as an obedient monotone by those who frequently
listen to such transmissions.  Colum, who was born several hundred
years ago in a distant ancient world, wanted to be present at this
supreme moment of victory.  Finally, Earth and any planet near enough
to matter, would be completely under the control of the
self-replicating droid army that he had built over a hundred years ago
to help him liberate a new place for his people.  All that remained
was to take care of the last of Earth's remaining annoying Space
Voyagers, the Stein Ship.  Being here was one of the greatest risks
Colum had ever taken, but he needed to be certain of success.  

Every so often a stroke of cosmicly bad luck visits a very powerful
being.  It would soon visit Colum.

Colum knew that Bill's ship must pass near here in order to return to
Earth, because this was the only safe stargate into the Milky Way.
(Bill's ship could activate its hyperdrive anywhere, but had to exit
at a stargate.)  Colum knew that Bill must come soon, as he had received
a signal from two of his droid scouts ship.  I will finally have them,
Colum thought to himself as he rubbed his perfectly black
four-fingered hands together.

Bus, Colum's officer and friend for hundreds of years, sent a signal:
``Colum, there's an asteroid storm heading straight for you!!!!''

``What??'' Colum's ship was impacted repeatedly by a flurry of huge
and pebble-sized ancient rocks which, billions of years ago, had started
on just the trajectory that would eventually lead to a surprise attack
on Colum's ship.  

Colum's ship was ripped apart as Colum let loose a last angry scream of
supreme anger and frustration.

Bus was unharmed, and realized this was his chance to take command of
the droid armies, which is something he had longed to do for many many
years.  Bus brought his eight finger tips together and smiled.  ``What
amazing luck.''  There was just this small matter of the renegade
human ship to take care of.

Bus opened a communication channel to the nearby droids, who had
stopped forming their trap when Colum's ship was destroyed: ``Colum
was terminated by an asteroid storm.  Droid tactical squads, resume
moving into ambush formation.''

``Yes, yes, yes, ...'', responded the countless droid fighters, in
a lifeless monotone. 

Bus extended his communication to all droids; his messages would
quickly propogate throughout the galaxy: ``Droids, in the last moment
before Colum terminated, he made me supreme leader of the droid
armies.''  The droids believed him, though what he said was a big fat
lusty lie.

\threestars

``We should exit the stargate very soon'', announced Chris, ``the
hyperdrive is functioning perfectly, and we can already begin to see
outside of the stargate.''

Bill turned to Thom, ``Jerrisons has told me some of what he knows
about how the droid army operates.  Using only a skeletal force, they
enter a galaxy and conquer a distant sparsely populated planet or
moon, then spend a few years creating a droid army manufacturing
facility that turns the raw resources of their base into droid
fighters.  They then have a constant supply of reinforcements.  The Orbisians
were lucky to detect this operation in Sundance Galaxy and head it off
before it was too late.''

Thom responed, ``We however, did not.  The droids must have established
such a base somewhere in our galaxy.  I'll immediately set a crew to search
for where the droids have hidden their operations base.  Perhaps they have
become lazy in hiding it, because they seem to have all but taken complete
control of our galaxy.''  

As the star gate drew closer, Bill said, ``Jerrisons, make sure your
squadrons are ready for battle.  It's likely that we will encounter
hostiles near the stargate.  All fighter squadron, red alert!''  On
the viewscreen Bill could see a huge field of slowly-moving asteroids
on the other side of the stargate, along with a mysterious shiny
silver planet called Josh.  Though many scout ships and probes had
landed on the planet, it was believed that none had ever returned nor
even sent back data.

The ship shook and vibrated firmly as Chris gently guided it out of
hyperspeed and through the stargate.  Bill's forces entered the Milky
Way.

Bus sent an encrypted signal to his forces, ``Droids, wait until the
humans are half way through the asteroid belt before attacking.  They
will fall into our red hot hands!''  

``We are ready,'' the droids replied obediently.

\chapter{Tai Stargate}
``Thom, what have you found?'' asked Bill, ``Have our scans picked up
any droid ships?''

``Oh yes,'' responded Thom in a deep voice.  ``They're everywhere,
though I can't get a visual on any of them.  They are hiding in the
asteroid field.''

Bill replied, ``So, they mean to ambush us.  I wonder if they expected us
to return with several squadrons of rapid-action Orbis fighters?''

From the bridge of Bill's ship, Jerrisons was in constant
communication with his squadrons, who had by now separated from the
ship and were carefully flying in tight formation very nearby.  Dennis
had errected a powerful force shield near the ship, which protected
both it and Jerrisons's fighters, but which would reflect any weapons
Dennis fired back.  They were relatively safe from laser fire as long
as the shield held out; unfortunately, the effect on their weapons was
like the effect of lodging a piece of lead in the chamber of a gun.

Bill tried to break the tension as he inquired, ``Thom, now that we
are a back in the Milky Way, has your team had any luck searching for
a droid manufacturing station.''

``Let me check.''  There was a pause.  ``Maybe'', responded Thom,
``there's a planet called Roxy near the Tai Stargate.  My team's
searches of Galaxynet suggests Roxy is the most likely home of a droid
manufacture point.  I think Chris will agree that we could re-enter
the stargate and make a jump to Tai.''

``Let's wait,'' responded Bill.  ``Dennis, raise shields around both
us and Jerrisons's forces. Thom, any sign of the exact location of our
'welcome party'?''

Bus sent the signal: ``Attack!!''   Laser bolts exploded from several
directions.

``Our shields are holding,'' reported Dennis.  

``I could hyperwarp us towards Tai Stargate in only a few
minutes,'' added Chris.

``Droid ship 6K7, kamakazi into the Stein Ship,'' commanded Bus, as
he began to test his enemy's defenses.

``Yes,'' replied the droid occupant of 6K7 obediently as his ship
dived towards Bill's ship.  Bus suspected correctly that Bill's ship's
shields would deflect energy bolts, but not a fighter ship.
Expendible pilots and a self-generating army provided a formidible
advantage against even the most cunning foe.

One of Jerrisons's fighters, the 7th Falcon, broke from formation, and
shot out from the shield, intercepted 6K7, and destroyed it, then took
heavy fire as he retreated.  The integrity of 7th Falcon began to fail,
as it re-entered Bill's shields.  The pilot ejected, then was beamed
aboard Bill's ship, just before the 7th Falcon imploded.  

``Bill, I think the droid leader's is part of this ambush,'' shouted
Thom.  ``And, I bet I've located it.  What a brilliant stroke of luck.
''

Bill responded, ``Or a brilliant trap?  I think not.  Chris maneuver
our ship towards the coordinates Thom gives you.  Dennis, prepare to
lower the shields and launch our photon disintegrators.''

The mood on the ship was tense.  Combat always made Bill uneasy.  His
crew's primary mission was exploration, not combat.  They would much
rather understand the universe than save it.  

``Fire!'' yelled Bill, as Dennis unleashed a torrent of photon
disintegrators at a nearby asteroid.  As the asteroid turned to dust,
Bill's crew saw a terrifying black and flourescent orange ship appear
before them.  It dwarfed Jerrisons's rapid fighter ships, but was in
turn dwarfed by the Stein Ship.  Then it vanished, as the Stein
Ship raised its shields.

Dennis summarized the situation, ``Bill, that ship's activated some
sort of alien cloaking device.  Even if we lower our shields, I
probably won't be able to lock any of our weapons onto it.  If
Jerrisons's fighters start shooting wildly for it, they'll be picked
off by the other droids.'' Dennis stood up from his chair to say
something, but then changed his mind.   

``Dennis, what is it?'' inquired Thom, concerned. 

``Oh, nothing,'' answered Dennis, as if he had just awoken from a deep
sleep. Dennis escaped Thom's scrutiny as he began manipulating the
rainbow of holograms that danced before him.

Chris interrupted, ``Several droid ships are launching kamikazi
attacks on us.''

``Jerrison, reattach your fighters to our ship.  Chris, get us out of
here!  Let's go to Tai Stargate as soon as possible.''  

The droid ships caused some damage as Chris piloted the ship towards
the stargate.  Two of Jerrisons's fighters and their pilots were destroyed
defending the strategic retreat.  ``I'm ready to activate hyperdrive,
Bill,'' said Chris, ``just give that sweet order.''

``It's has just been given,'' said Bill as the ship jerked then
fled through the stargate. 

Bus's ship frustratedly decloaked. ``That was good thinking,'' praised
one of the best-constructed droids.  This droid believed it also could
think.

``It was not good enough, I'm afraid,'' responded Bus in what might be
interpreted as a deep alien voice.  ``I should have never considered
your suggestions during the battle.  Perhaps droids can't be
programmed to really {\em want} victory.'' 

``What is the problem?'' inquired the droid.  

``These remaining humans are probably going to destroy our droid
manufacturing sheds.  If you would have monitored their Galaxynet
traffic you wouldn't have to ask.  I only hope we can stop them.  It
is a shame that Columbo's ship, which was destroyed, was equipped with
hyperdrive technology, but ours is not.''

\threestars

Chris broke the silence on board the bridge, ``We will arrive at Tai
Stargate very soon.''  The ship slowed as it approached the stargate
exit.  Every eye on the bridge was fixed on the viewscreen as the ship
exited the stargate and Planet Roxy came into view.  A redish planet
appeared on the view screen.  Chris kept the ship far from the planet,
in hopes that they cold avoid being detected.  Planet Roxy was not
pretty; she had a deadly atmosphere and her surface was as cold as
the glacier capped polar regions of Earth.

Bill wasted no time, ``This planet has ideal resources for a droid
manufacture plant, and our sensors seem to have found one.  Thom,
Dennis, and I will beam down and try to sabotage the manufacturing
facility.''  Bill turned and said, ``Dennis and Thom, meet me in the
transporter room after you put your life-support suits on.''

Bill left the bridge, and passed Nathaniel on the way.  Recalling
Nathaniel's facility in engineering destruction, he said ``Nathaniel,
you're going down to Roxy with us.''  Bill and Nathaniel both entered
the antigravity tube, dawned life-support suits and arrive at the
transporter room.  ``Is everybody's suit operational?'' asks Bill, who
added, ``Enter the life-support test chamber.''  Thom, Dennis,
Nathaniel, and Bill entered a special room that simulated conditions
on the planet.  It was imperative that if one of their sophisticated
bulky suits was not defective or not configured properly that the
mistake be discovered on the ship rather than under enemy fire on a
hostile planet.  Everbody's suits checked out, and each person
stepped, somewhat clumsily, to the transporter pads.

Thom said, ``We should now exchange maximally secure public encryption
keys so that we will be able to communicate during the mission with
minimal chance of being understood.''  He then clumsily turned his
helmet enclosed head towards the beaming officer and asked, ``Are you
ready to beam us down to the planet's surface?''

``I'll be ready soon,'' replied the beaming officer as he manipulated
the multi-colored holograms that floated above his control panel, ``I
don't want to beam any of you into something solid, you know.''

Bill, Thom, Dennis, and Nathaniel prepared themselves mentally for
their critical mission as the beaming officer made a few last minute
calculations.  Finally, all was ready.  The beaming officer slowly
moved has hand through the hologram which caused one spatial dimension
of Bill's team to change ever so slightly.  They vanished from view,
just as the square leaving Flatland vanished.  With that spatial
dimension adjusted, the bizarre curvature allowed their usual position
to be almost immediately altered.  It was good that the movement
occured so quickly, so that their bodies didn't begin to break down.
Transporting this way was OK for relatively small distances, but a
voyage across a galaxy would destroy the voyager.

The team soon appeared on Roxy's inhospitable surface.  ``This place
is creepy,'' said Nathaniel as he surveyed the rocky red landscape of
the windswept freezing planet.  The harsh expanse of scenery was
interupted by a large mostly featureless black buildings.

``Abe, can your hear me?'' inquired Bill, sending a signal back to 
his ship.  

Abe Burns, who was in charge of the ship in Bill's absense, replied
``Yes, your signal is very strong.  We'll try to keep the transporter
system locked on, and the ship ready to jump through Tai Stargate.''
Abe, who stood just under six feet tall, was the same age as Dennis,
and had studied with him many years ago on Earth.  A concerned look
swept across Abe's face.  He was more comfortable and happier while
engaged in his research than when commanding a space exploration ship.
Nonetheless, Abe was a superb and brilliant officer and Bill felt he
could rely on him.

Back on the planet's surface, the landing party planned their next
move.  Thom reported, ``My sensors suggest that the entire planet can
potentially activate a shield if danger is suspected.  Thus if we move
the ship near the planet and launch a volley of weapons, they will
probably have no effect.  Moreover, we'd be attacked by droid defense
ships, of which there must be many as this is where they are
manufactured.''

Nathaniel inquired, ``Why don't we simply beam a collection of
time-actived megabombs onto the surface of the planet?''

Dennis responded ``Extensive research has shown  that they would probably
explode the moment their other spatial dimension is modified, and our
ship would be destroyed.  Our equipment and bodies are able to stand a
slight bit of spatial distortion but it's far too risky to ask the
same of a megabomb.  I'd love such a weapon, but alas.''

Thom then suggested, ``Nathaniel, if we can get you safely into one of
these buildings, do you think you could cause it to self destruct?''

Nathaniel responded, ``Sure.  Not only that, but judging from the way
our scans suggest these buildings are connected, I might even be able
to start a carefully timed chain reaction, which would result in all
of the buildings exploding almost simultaneously.  That might even rip
this god-forsaken planet apart!''  This last sentence was pronounced
with an almost disturbing sense of glee.

Dennis, Thom, and Bill were stunned.  Bill asked, ``Do you think you
can really do that, Nathaniel?''

``Yes, I bet I can,'' affirmed Nathaniel, ``make sure our ship is
ready to get us off this planet quickly.''

Abe's studied some sensors on the bridge.  He didn't like what he
saw. ``Bill, you might be in trouble.  The planet's shield is
activating.''

``I'm surprised, but a few droids are headed our way.  Somehow they
must have detected us.  Try to keep our communications channel open,''
responded Bill.  Unfortunately, Abe's reply could not be heard because
of Planet Roxy's shield.  ``Take cover behind this ledge, which leads
to that building!''  commanded Bill.  ``We'll hold off these droids as
we approach the building, then try to get inside so that Nathaniel can
work his magic.  Thom, keep trying to contact our ship.  Dennis, take
out as many droids as you can.''

Bolts of energy flared by Dennis's head, as he peared through his
hand-held shield over the ledge, took aim, lowered the shield for a
moment, and fired.  A droid exploded in flames just as his shield
re-appeared in time to protect him from another volley.  ``That was a
little too close,'' whispered Dennis as he became more cautious in his
defense of the group and pulled from his pack his most advanced
weaponry systems.

Soon Nathaniel, Bill, and Thom arrived at an entrance to the large
black building, as Dennis continued to set up various high-tech
defenses to hold of the droids.  The entrance to the building was
guarded by a black force shield, which was similar to but much
stronger than the one that had imprisoned them on earth long ago.
Thom tried directly to open the door via the control panel but was
unsuccessful.  

``We're heavily armed.  Let's just blast the door away,'' suggested
Nathaniel, ``Thom, stand back.''  Nathaniel blasted away at the door
several times, then Bill and Thom both joined in for a moment.  The
dark entrance didn't appear to change, but Thom informed them that
its strength had diminished approximately 10 percent.  

Dennis noticed the situation and yelled ``Stand way back and raise
your body shields!''  For a moment he turned from systematically
picking of the droids, who were by now mostly pinned down in some
cracks in the ground, adjusted his angry black and silver rifle, and
fired one extended red bolt of energy which sailed slowly through the
scorched atmosphere and injected itself into the portal.  Dennis
turned back to continue laying down defenses as the portal disolved.
``I've got you guys covered out here.  You can enter the building.
I'll let you know if the situation changes or if the droids
send serious reforcements.''

``Let's move in,'' agreed Bill, as he led Thom and Nathaniel into the
mysterious building.  As the three passed through the door they
entered a very dark corridor whose lights had all broken because the
door had been ripped apart so badly that much of the atmosphere in the
building had violently escaped.  Fortunately their space suits were
euipped with various lights that their face shields enhanced. 
They turned left and proceeded down the corridor.  After walking for
several minutes, worried at every moment that they'll be attacked,
Thom says: ``This is strange.  My sensor suggests faint signs of 
life nearby.  Perhaps we are somehow throwing off the readings,
or there is a native life form on this planet that thrives in this
building.''  The corridor turns right and they continue to follow
it.  

As they pass two heavy black force doors, Nathaniel boasts quietly,
``After I get through with the control room we'll be able to catch a
glance in there on our way out.''  Finally, ahead on the right, they
spy what must be the control room.  Four tense droids are just visible
inside, and there is no door.
 
Thom says to Bill, ``Droids don't seem very intelligent.  Perhaps if
we make a noise they'll all come out and we can shoot them.  They're
expecting us anyways.'' As Thom speaks, his sounds are completely
muffled by his helmet.  The sounds are received by a small microphone,
encrypted, and broadcast via a weak signal that is usually lost to an
eavesdropper in the ambient radio waves.

Dennis's signal is a little stronger---``Bill, this is Dennis.  The
situation out here is becoming critical!  At first the droids were
easy to hold off, but they seem to be quickly adapting.  I've only
able to maintain our defense this long because of our superior weapons
technology.  You're team better hurry up.  Also, I've not been able to
re-establish communications with Abe.''

Bill had little time to consider other possibilities and decided to
follow Thom's plan.  They're shots exploded towards the control room.
As the smoked died down, there was no sign that the droids had
relinquished their position in the control room, which deeply puzzled
Thom.  Suddenly a searing laser bolt ripped through the air from
behind, and burned Nathaniel's right arm.  Thom and Bill returned fire
as the approaching Droid tossed itself through the air shooting two
laser pistols, an automated version of the Hong Kong action superstar
Chow Yun Fat.  A curse escaped Thom's lips as he dodged to the
ground.  Time slowed as laser fire exploded everwhere.  At last the
droid's shocking technique succumbed to Thom and Bill's superior
weapons.  It shut off.

A similar scene ensued as the three desperately fought for the control
room.  As droids jumped through the air firing, the droids were
eventually merciless ripped apart by Bill and Thom's scatter guns.
Nathaniel swore the droids fought for their ``life''.  ``Something is
wrong, very wrong,'' he commented, as he began his work on the master
control center.  Just as promised, even with his right arm badly
burned, he was able to shut down power to the droids in the building.
He worked further on engineering a chain reaction that would hopefully
destroy the planet while also allowing them to re-establish
communication with Abe and beam to safety.  After many very long tense
minutes, Nathaniel at last announced: ``I'm done.  Once I set the
reaction in motion there is no turning back.  Probably this will allow
us to contact Abe and get out of here.  Just give the order Bill.''

A worried look hung to Bill's face as he reassuringly spoke his
trademark: ``It's given.''  

Nathaniel moved his hands innocently, there was a warm buzz, and It
began.  ``This planet will be history within 15 minutes,'' said
Nathaniel solemly, ``let's hope that we aren't also.''

Just then, a pale but strong chinese woman stumbled out of the hallway
and into the control room.  She coughed and spasmed as she breathed
the thin air, then wrapped her arms around her slime-covered unclothed
blood dripping body.  Looks of astonishment and fear mixed with guilt
escaped the space suits of the three, as the single word ``help''
escaped her lips.

``Abe here.  The planet's breaking apart and its shield is gone.  We
have a fix on you.  Permission to beam you out of there?

Instead of hearing the expected ``It's already been given'', Abe
received a nervous reply, ``Five to beam back---we'll help you to get
a lock on the human near us.  Have our best medic there!''  In under a
minute, Bill, Thom, Nathaniel, Dennis, and the suffering woman
appeared in the transporter room.  The explosion on Planet Roxy below
grew exponentially in strength.

\chapter{Kelly Wong}
The ship leaped into the Tai stargate, barely escaping the shockwaves
set off by Planet Roxy, as she exploded.  Nathaniel was right, 
Roxy was history.

Bill and the others peered out from behind a circular force barrier,
which separated the transporter from the rest of the transport room.
Bill saw his chief medical officer, Dr.\ Chelly Manysuns, two of her
assistants, and several armed troopers, along with the mysterious  
beaming officer.  He looked around in the transporter, and
time slowed as memories of what had just happened flashed before him.
He forced himself into the present, where he saw Nathaniel nursing his
scorched arm. Next to Nathaniel stood Dennis, his eyes still burning
with the recent intensity of battle.  Bill's gaze next fell upon Thom,
whose arms were increasingly stained by blood as he supported a
miserable form that fought for her every breath.  The woman!  Bill
sprung into action: ``Steralization should be complete.  Lower the
transporter shielding.  Thom, she needs the doctor!''

Dr.\ Manysuns and her two assistants carefully hurried away with their
critical patient.  The troopers relaxed, and the four in space suits
began undressing.  When the suits were removed and put away, Thom said
wearily, ``We all desparately need rest.  I recommend we lay in a
course for Jash Stargate, where we can gather further intelligence
about the extent of the droid invasion.  In the meantime, we can get
some rest and perhaps learn something from the woman who returned with
us.''  Everyone concurred.  Nathaniel reported to the medic room to
have his left arm treated, while Dennis, Thom, and Bill returned to
their rooms for some much-needed sleep.

Sleep arrived easily, as did the nightmares.  Dennis found himself in
the recent battle, but this time each droid he shot suddenly looked
just like Dennis and died.  Thom wept in his sleep, thinking the woman
he rescued had died.  In his slumber, Bill sometimes thought that the
woman they had found on Roxy below was his lover Tasha.  Nathaniel,
who was under the influence of painkillers, slept like a digital
wristwatch with no batteries.


Exactly six hours after returning from the planet, Bill and the others
awoke almost simultaneously to their alarms.  Bill eye's opened and
peered out his window, which revealed black streaked
stargate-distorted space; he felt the cold window as it dimly hummed.
He quickly washed, dressed, and proceeded to the hospital.

``Hello Bill'' said Thom with a smile as he saw Bill step into the
hospital room.  

``You look good'' replied Bill.  ``Any news about our patient?''  

Dennis and Nathaniel stepped into the room as Thom answered.  ``She
has made a remarkable recovery.  According to Dr.\ Chelly, the
patient's name is Kelly Wong, and she is human.  Beyond that, we know
very little.''

Dr.\ Chelly majestically glided her inhuman form across the room as she
added, ``Kelly Wong is likely to fully recover her physical health.  I
didn't learn much more about her identity before we let her fall into
a comfortable sleep.  Her injuries and condition suggest that she was
connected to some sort of machine and that she had painfully ripped
herself out of it during your battle below.''

``How long until she can be safely awakened?'' inquired Bill as he
cast a glance on the brave slumbering figure of Kelly Wong. ``It is of
utmost importance that we learn what she knows!''  

``Give her at least five more hours,'' responded Dr.\ Chelly.  In
fact, the doctor recognized her patient, who she had met under dire
circumstances several years ago, but she decided it would be best for
the health of the crew if she not reveal this information just yet.
She wanted some extra time to speak with the patient alone.

Bill agreed.  ``Alright.  Thom, please stay with her.  If she wakes
up, let me know immediately.  Also make sure she doesn't leave.  Her
long fight for escape at all costs might not easily leave her mind.''
At this news, Thom smiled but Dr.\ Chelly's long pointed ears tensed a
little.

Bill, Nathaniel, and Dennis proceeded to the bridge.  Once they found
that everything was in order, they called a meeting in the strategy
room.  Jerrisons, Nathaniel, Bill, Dennis, and a few other officers
arrived.  As Bill began summarizing the recent battle, he receives an
urgent call from Dr.\ Chelly.   ``Excuse me, I'm receiving a call
from the doctor.''  

The doctor's distressed voice filled the hall: ``Bill, Kelly Wong has
vanished!''

Thom's voice added, ''I haven't even been able to locate her using the
ship's sensors, and the camera logs seem to have been modified.  She
was here one moment, I blinked, and she was gone the next.''

Bill's face contorted in frustration as a word invented by Homer
Simpson peirced his lips: ``Doh!  This is just what I was afraid of.
I can't believe this.  Argh!'' As frustration transformed itself into
arousal, he announced ``The meeting is over.  Nathaniel and Dennis
come with me.  It is absolutely imperative that we find Kelly Wong.''

Bill, Nathaniel, and Dennis entered the room, which was recently
occupied by Kelly.  Thom glanced up for a moment, then turned back to
his scans, still baffled by how an entire human being could vanish
from his sensors, and on his own ship nonetheless!  Maybe, he tried
not to think, he also missed her a little bit.

Meanwhile, Kelly Wong relaxed in front of a holographic computer
terminal in a forgotten storage area, learning about the Stein ship.
No scanners detected her, because she told them not to.  The ship's
scanners were old friends.  She helped design them while a security
apprentice in Hong Kong.  Putting backdoors in security systems is
irresponsible; so are some people.

Kelly discovered that the Stein ship was purchased by Dennis Stein
three years ago using funds from the Stein Foundation.  While at the
Star Officer academy, Dennis made investments as ``hobby'', and was so
successful that he was able to buy one of Earth's top space ships.
When Dennis and his class graduated, several formed a private
exploration crew on the Stein ship, instead of following the usual
route of joining the Space Corps.  Privately funded space ships were
quite rare, but these independent ships had made some of the most
important discoveries of the last few decades.  Kelly thought,
``Perhaps this is one reason this ship wasn't captured by the invading
droid armies along with Earth's Space Corps ships.''

Kelly convulsed as memories of the droid armies flooded her mind; her
recent injuries ached, and she bled a little.  She thougt back on what
had happened long ago.  Totally by surprise, huge numbers of droids
had descended on Hong Kong.  Massive droid ships hovered over Victoria
Harbor.  She remembered those last moments.  Guns were discharging
everywhere in a Tsim Tsha Tchoi (spelling?) high rise as she battled
the Diad Renegade Forces.  The battle was the culmination of a
carefully orchestrated covert operation.  Her right foot cracked a
nose as her left hand flew around and crushed a kidney.  Then, from
nowhere, massive numbers of droids cast a shadow over the city.

Though Kelly destroyed many droids, eventually she fell unconscious.
When she awoke, she felt like she was back in Hong Kong, and the
droids were gone.  In fact, she was lying on a table a vast distance
from Hong Kong, giving unwittingly helping the droids!  Eight hours
ago she figured this out.

Eight hours ago Kelly Wong was encased on a table with hundreds of
small wires connected to her body.  When Bill and his crew landed on
Planet Roxy, Kelly was being fed signals that convinced her that the
Diad were attacking her headquarters in Hong Kong.  When Bill, Thom,
and Nathaniel entered the control area, Kelly was convinced the Diad
had entered an important zone, and, in her dellusions, she did
everything she could to fight them off.  Her combat intelligence was
channelled into the droids.  Kelly had convulsed a little, while she
lay on that table; in her mind she was flipping through the air,
kicking, and punching.  She had thought she saw her enemy and fought
to destroy!  

While she was fighting, she thought, one of the droid wires must have
snapped.  When it had snapped, she conjectured, she must have
convulsed and jerked her body even more.  This must have snapped more
wires until finally she awoke.  She thought back to when she had
opened her eyes, lifted her head a little off the table, and saw small
golden threads protruding from all over her body.  She remembed how
she felt suffocated by the transparent cover over the table on which
she lay, and how, in the distance, she saw men in space suits.  She
also remembed seeing other tables with people on them like her, some
of them part of her team.  There was Chan Chai, who had often made her
laugh over tea before a dangerous mission.  And near him lay John
Kurst in droid wires, a huge tough Australian, who always understand
her.

When she saw her team members trapped, she knew what to do.  She had
jerked and ripped the wires away, taken a huge breath, then smashed
her arms at the cover.  But it didn't break.  She kicked and punched
it, but still it didn't break.  Finally, in desparation, she had
wrapped the wires around her hand and struck out, smashing her prison
wall.  She couldn't remember what happened next, except that she awoke
in a space ship.

Kelly Wong smiled, her hands danced around her holographic keyboard.
It's time to rescue my team, she thought with a smile.

Kelly turned again to the computer and searched for information about
the droids.  She learned that the Stein ship had been captured, but
then escaped, and she read about Jerrison's forces.  Then she learned
about the mission to destroy the droid manufacturing facility.  It had
been a success!  A success?  ``No, that can't be,'' she said.  A
minute later her fist struck the computer hologram terminal, causing
her knuckles to bleed.  ``No way.''  Great pain and anger caught fire
deep inside her.  ``There is no  way. This is not possible.''
For a few minutes she believed that her team was alive, still
imprisoned in the droid manufacture facility.  She smashed her other
hand into the terminal, hard, then curled up and cried like she hadn't
since when her boyfriend had killed himself 10 years ago.

``I found her,'' announced Thom.   ``She's in cargo bay six.'' Thom
moved his hand and a holographic display of cargo bay six appeared.
Kelly lay curled up in a distant corner.   The display zoomed in on
her.

``Let's go!'' shouted Bill, ``before it's too late.  Come with
us Doc.''

Moments later Bill, Thom, Dr. Shelly, and Dennis carefully entered the
cargo bay.  Bill's eyes scanned the smooth distant ceiling, then fell
on the pitiful girl, who now lay gasping on the floor.  He carefully
approached her and said, ``Kelly Wong, I'm Bill Stein, Captain of the
Stein ship.  We rescued you from a droid manufacturing facility.''

Slowly, Kelly became aware that she was not alone.  Bill's voice
sounded synthetic to her and she felt like droids were everywhere.
Weakened, nothing but her instincts supported her, so she fought.  She
sprung from the floor and flew into the air spinning, her green paper
gown barely remaining with her.  Her right heal extended and caught
Bill squarely in the head, knocking him senseless to the floor.  As
she landed, with lightning speed she surveyed the field, and saw three
figures, which she considered her enemies.  One of them,
Dennis, raised some kind of stun weapon and fired at her, but she
dodged it by flipping backward into the air and landing on a 3 meter
black cube that sat behind her.

Thom yelled, ``Dennis, look what she did to Bill.  We have to
neutralize her!  She's crazy!''  

Thom and Dennis spread out, as they heard Dr. Shelly shout at Kelly,
``Agent Wong, I'm Dr. Shelly Manysuns!  We were together during your
Mars assignment!  You saved my life!!''  Thom and Dennis looked at
each in surprise, then simultaneously they shot stun rays at Kelly,
who easily dodged them as she flipped through the air off of the cube
and landed a few meters from the doctor.  Kelly stared directly at the
doctor, and a glimmer of recognition appeared in her eyes, then Kelly
collapsed on the floor, her hands still bleading.

Dennis shot an energy net over Kelly, and Thom approached slowly.  The
doctor helped Bill, who was dizzy, confused, and had quite a headache.
Kelly was carried directly to the doctor's office, where she was
gently set on a table, which was surrounded by a force shield and
carefully guarded. 

The Stein ship hid in hyperwarp for several days, during which Kelly's
physical wounds healed, and, with Thom's help, her mind began to come
to grips with the horrors she had endured.  Meanwhile Bill, Thom,
Jerrisons and the others searched for a way to fight the droid
invaders.  

\chapter{Droid Space}
Fully two weeks had passed while Bill's crew and Jerrison's ships lay
hidden in hyperwarp.  Kelly, dawning a black and silver combat
officer's uniform, took her place as a member of the crew.  Thom spent
long hours knocking his head against many walls while he searched for
a way to successfully attack the droids.  Dennis frequently sat on the
bridge with a holographic array of weapons spread before him; he
searched his mind for a way to address the droid situation.
Occassionally, in frustration, he fired off a laser burst into the
void.  This was safe; Dennis knew what he was doing.  Jerrisons kept
his troops strong.  The rest of the crew went about its business,
though the monotony of waiting to do something about the droids slowly
extracted a toll.  Sometimes they very quietly suggested that their
leadership wasn't up to the challenge.  Though heavily armed, the
Stein ship was primarily an exploration vehicle, not a battle cruiser,
and the crew were correspondingly accustomed to frequent low level
excitement rather than long waits interrupted by brief life or death
situations.

Out of these long frustrating days and the input of many ship members,
a plan slowly formed.  When the plan crystallized, Bill gathered the
officers in the medieval strategy room.  He leaned against a wall of
cold granite, which had been excavated from the mountains of
northwestern America, and looked around at his officers, his ally
Jerrisons, and the dangerous Officer Wong.

Bill stepped forward and said, ``When we were detained on Earth, we
escaped because Thom was able to control, to some extent, a droid that
guarded us.''  He turned towards Thom, then looked around the room,
and continued, ``Thom believes that there is a vast network that links
the droids together.  This must be how they communicate and distribute
the intelligence they parasitically draw from their human and other
hosts.  This network, which Thom calls Droid Space, is the droid
consciousness, the droid reality.  Thom and I hope to gain access to
Droid Space, search its vast recesses for what is guiding the droids,
and reprogram it, so that the droids can be defeated.''

Bill shot a penetrating glance at Dennis, then Kelly, and finally
Jerrisons.  ``To access Droid Space, we'll have to leave hyperwarp and
fight our way into heavily occupied droid territory.  If Kelly's
experience is any guide, the droids will be smarter now than ever
before, as they have had more time to feed on their captives'
knowledge.  Thom and I will enter a capsule like Office Wong was
imprisoned in, and, using special equipment developed by the doctor,
we will enter their space and fight back.  Meanwhile, you must keep us
safe.  You will receive your orders shortly.'' The meeting ended; the
final battle had just begun.

Thom's thoughts represented those of the crew, as he shivered with
enthusiasm about the impending battle.  A mix of emptiness and anger
had grew inside him, feeding on the recent loss. Nothing had been
done, no real attack had been launched, and his friends and relatives
were likely ``food for droid thought'', just as Officer Wong had been!
Why had the droids attacked?  What had anyone done to provoke them?
And as they waited and planned, the droids only grew stronger as they
methodically crushed millions of years of progress.  He his stung as
he smashed his holographic controls.  The controls immediately sprang
back into existence.   Could he?

\threestars

A woman carefully placed a silvery leaf beneath a chromatic circular
instrument.  Satisfaction graced her face as a three-dimensional
rotating image of a tiny speck on the leaf appeared above her
instrument, magnified 100000 times.  She grined as she imagined that
the tiny organism smiled as it is was bathed in scanning particles.

Hours later Manir, chief of security, nodded his head at her. ``Tasha,
two years of hard search, and finally you've found your answer in one
of Dinesta's remotest rain forests.''  

The Universe is a dangerous place.  Scientists don't travel into the
interstellar field without a security force, though often the
scientists view security as nothing but a nuisance.  Not Tasha.  She
trusted Manir deeply; he was of her tribe.  Those who long ago thought
human tribes would vanish, as Earth's races melted in a pot, were
wrong.  As old grudges vanished, the inspirational and focusing power
of tribal chants returned, and certain tribes grew to dominate
planetary science, or planetary medicine as they liked to call it.

``Perhaps now we can return to our Earth?  I am deeply worried.  We
have received no transmissions from there recently...'' 

``And your incessant attempts to contact Earth have failed
misserably,'' quipped Tasha, ``as they must.  The Dinestian
Chriono-ellipsoid interrupts interstellar communication.''

Manir cocked his head as he received a signal from his nearby defense
monitoring station. ``Something is approaching.''

\threestars

Bus, the Supreme Droid Commander, strolled with vibrating confidence
towards the view portal in his ship.  Hundreds of years of hard work had
finally paid dividends.  A smile broke into his face, as he surveyed
the huge planet below.  He congratulated himself as he gazed upon
thousands of self-replicating droid-manufacture stations, which
visibly spread across the huge planet Peptune, feeding on the massive
energy supplies hidden under the surface.  He cringed as he
recalled the catostrophic failure that had destroyed Roxy, plainly
illustrating the danger of an overly connected power grid.
``Fortunately that explosion destroyed the Stein ship,'' he heard
himself say, but then added ``the absence of proof is not proof of
absence.''

A droid, this one so human looking that it could be mistaken for one,
strolled into his quarters, and said quite naturally ``It is time.''
Bus followed the droid into a hall way, down an elevator (down being
defined by the artifical gravity), and through another long hallway.
As he walked Bus let his mind fill with difficult millitary problems
that his droid army currently faced.  The Hartzones and Zartans were
currently mounting a combined resistance on a part of Peptune that
hadn't yet been ``liberated''.  Intelligence suggested that there
might be some powerful uncaptured Earth ships scattered through nearby
galaxies, like a few needles in an ocean, waiting to awaken and painfully
prick.  With anticipation, Bus entered a large room.

Before him were three tables, and atop each table a small clear
chamber like the one that had imprisoned Kelly Wong.  The first chamber
held a Hartzone leader, the second a prominent Zartan general,
and the third a famous human applied mathematician, each covered like
porcupines in wires.  Bus set a small device on his head, and the
Hartzone leader suddenly awakened and believed himself to be at
vigorous war with the Zartans.  Terrified of the prospects of a
horrible defeat, the Hartzone leader found a way out; he didn't hate
the Zartans, but he loved the Hartzones, and couldn't bare the
possibility of their destruction.  So he made a precise order to
exploit a Zartan weakness, recently discoverd by his intelligence
forces, which could be used to utterly destory the Zartans.  And as
the order was made, Bus listened to every detail.

Next, Bus awoke the Zartan general, and quickly learned how to
completely destroy the Hartzones.  Finally, his attention came to rest
on the Earth mathematician.  A flick of a finger, and the
mathematician awoke, and was plagued with the strongest curiosity to
know exactly where Earth's scientific exploration missions were.  But
wait, he mumbled to himself, why would I, Sol Levinson, care about
some nutty bioligists out in the field?  Maybe there is a pattern in
their locations, thought Sol.  He looked around, and found himself on
board a ship, wondering how to find the locations of the scientific
missions, then wondering why he was on a ship (he hated to fly), and
still wondered why he would care about science field trips, and what
went on in those missions anyways.  This reminded him of some work of
Tasha Bowarm (she's on a field trip to Dinestia...) on fluid flows at
the subatomic level that he had begun to generalize.  His ideas began
flooding his mind, and suddenly all went dim, as Bus ripped off his
helm and fainted to the floor.

After regaining his strength, which felt like recovering from the
worst possible nightmare, Bus recalled all that he had learned, and
shot back to his observation and command deck full of strength
and purpose.  He knew what had to be done.


\threestars



\bibliography{biblio}
\end{document}




NOTES:

[[Upcomming plot spoiler: Where are all of the humans?  Are they dead?
Why were Bill and the others captured and not killed the first time?
Why are the droids getting SMARTER?  Because they encase the humans
(and other life forms they've previously captured) in little prisons
nearby and use them to help make decisions, slowly getting smarter as
the expert system ``learns'' about its enemy with the help of the
human problem solvers.  Bill and the others discover this just before
the planet blows, but after it is too late to stop the explosion.  An
untold number of human slaves, who are encased in the droid
manufacturing stations, are destroyed in the explosion.  Chilling
thought---maybe the many droid ships that Dennis has destroyed so far
contained a human ``mind''.  Human shields.  The reason the humans
aren't all located on Earth is because of communications lag time.
This will make the rest of the book that much more difficult to write,
and the thought process of the enemy will become increasingly
chilling.]]



[ danger\_of\_droids\_033.jpg ??  goes for a bit, then resumes with 
danger\_of\_droids020.jpg, I think.  I'm changing details and 
order a lot at this point, so it makes more sense.]


\comment{ [[This is a new chapter that explains the droids method of
using their prey, and also life on board the starship.  Kelly Wong is
the name of the human that they found at the droid manufacturing
world.

Outline (sort of):
1) Doctor saves Kelly.
2) Bill decides not to exit Sundance Stargate -- too dangerous.
   Go to another exit... (which is set up for next chapter)
3) Kelly describes her background, and describes the evil
   droid methods of using their prey, Matrix style.
4) Kelly joins the Stein ship as ``Combat specialist.''
   Dr. Manysuns knows Kelly from long ago, and is concerned 
   that she might sabotage the Stein ship. 
]]
}

Some new plot ideas:

1) Bill and Thom will together have to go into ``The Droid
Cyberspace'' to fight off the droids.  Lots of difficulty in gaining
access to this cyberspace, danger in being there, and once there they
have to stay there without being destroyed.  Thus, on the outside,
Jerrisons, Dennis and Kelly fight off the droids.  Tasha will appear
at the last minute and do something important to save somebody.

Cyberspace will allow me to give some much more abstract mathematical
scenes.  Also, including Tasha (~Tish) in the action will let me play
with the device of multiple points of view on events, like Stephen
King uses so well.  

2) In the end, our people will only be able to save the lives of many
of the non-military Earth people.  The droids will retain absolute control
of, e.g., our solar system.  The Earthlings will run away, and the droids
will supercede the earthlings as the ``Next Stage of Evolution''.  It will
also turn out that the droid army was REALLY the result of Earth technology
from 2063, say, in which we sent some learning, replicating things like
them out across the universe.  They are back, partly because this is where
they came from in the first place!!!  We are superceded.  But we live with
Jerrisons's people...

* BETTER YET!  In the cyberspace battles with the droids, Bill and Thom
discover that the droids are of human construction.  They somehow change
the droids to learn to LOVE instead of learning to kill from their
human hosts.  The learning spreads throughout the galaxy.   The humans are
released, and the droids and humans live together happily... until...

Also, the Droids' interpretation of ``love'' will be a little
surprising, and it will reflect on the strange ways in which humans
love each other.  For example, the droids will try to keep military
power, so they can ``protect'' the humans that they profess to love.