Chapter 1

"Captain, you are now clear of civilian traffic you may precede on designated course out of system." The yardmaster said clearing us for departure out of my home system.

"Sir, systems read green across the board."

"Christine, please set course, heading 073 mark 2 at full impulse until system boundary, then proceed at warp 4 to the Tonash system. Wake me one hour and a half before arrival. I've had a long day and I'm ready for some rest. You have the bridge."

"Acknowledged Captain", I heard before the doors closed behind me. I followed the hall the short way to the captains quarters stripping before I even reached the bed. Allowing the artificial gravity to take hold I slowly fell to the bed at 1/6th G exhausted after a long ass day.

"So you ready to go little bro?" Marcus asked as he walked into my bedroom. He ruffled my hair which is something that I haven't liked since I was oh, I don't know, 1 day old. But he seemed to get a kick out of it so it wasn't that big of a deal. Marcus was the nicer of my two brothers. He was alright to be around but if money came into the picture he seemed to transform right before the eyes.

"Just about Marcus, just a few boxes left to be loaded."

"Why so much stuff? Didn't you get a replicator on board?"

"Yeah, these are all the books I have on my research."

"What? All these boxes are books? Why don't you scan them and put them on a data pad?"

"I enjoy reading the old fashion way. It's something to do with the smell of the paper. Well anyway this is all I have left. Wanna give me a hand?"

"Sure little bro," he said ruffling my hair again. "I want to see the inside of your boat."

"Ship, Marcus, ship. If it's not a military vessel it's a ship."

"What ever, I can never get those things right anyway. Lets hurry though, we have to get you packed up before dinner. Mom wants us all to eat together before you leave in the morning."

"Do you mean?"

"Yep. William is coming home as well."

I groaned audibly hearing those dreaded words. I hadn't seen my brother William for two years, and to say the least, they were the best two years of my life. My oldest brother was the thorn in my side since before I could walk. When he finally reached the age of consent and moved into the city to follow his own goals a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Now after what seemed like a lifetime he was returning to cast his shadow over my life again.

Marcus and I finished loading my left over boxes. I gave him what my great grandfather called the nickel tour, he got a quick but informative show. He was impressed with the main bridge. I don't think he really knew what actually happens on board a ship but the light that shone in his eyes as we walked down the ramp kind of made me glad he was my brother. With a quick hair ruffle he was off to freshen up for dinner and I decided I should as well.

After a quick shower and redressing, I entered our formal dinning room. The entire family was there. My great grandfather and my grandfather must have left really early that day to travel so far to be here this early. Their respective wives were here as well. My mother and father were standing across the room with my eldest brother all holding hands with smiles on their faces. When I made my entrance everyone slowly quietened and watched me as I walked over to take my seat, greeting my family as I went. Of everyone present, my grandfather was my favorite. He was a fellow scientist, working more in the medical field, where as I worked in the tech field. We had many discussions that went on for hours on how which one affects more of the population. Even though I think the medical advancements recently have been the most impressive, I couldn't let him know that, for conversations sake if nothing else.

Dinner was lengthy and brutal due to my brother's presence. As I expected, he dominated the conversation with his accomplishments over the last two years. I couldn't fault him really. He's made great strides in the military, bringing peace to three war torn systems. He used brute force and overwhelming numbers, but I may have chosen those same tactics if I had the resources he did. He and I didn't get along when he lived here and being on the other side of the planet didn't seem to bring us together either.

Dinner was finally over and the others gathered in my father's library while I disappeared off out to the back yard. Our private landing strip was crowded now. My grandfather and great grandfathers jaguars were parked and tied down to either side of my newer and larger craft. My brother's boat drew my eyes with great ease. He had actually come in a military craft. I knew this particular vehicle was the military's pride and joy. Fast, agile and can pack quite a punch. I also knew that there were probably over 100 people on board just waiting for my brother to finish eating. Though the power may be appealing to some, I just see the waste of people and resources. A smaller craft would've done the job of taxiing my dear older brother around but why not show the world you have power and how to take advantage of it. His ship was half again as long as mine and was much more powerfully armed but I knew that didn't make it better. I shook my head in disapproval.

"She's rather impressive isn't she?" I heard the familiar voice say behind me. Without flinching or straightening to obviously I managed to reply.

"She really is," I said referring to my own ship and not his.

"I have 154 people on board. She carries enough firepower to devastate a small planet."

I knew then he was probably right. The weapons replicator tech, that belonged solely to the military, made it possible to carry an endless supply of ammunition. Four dual mounted rail guns would allow for an unrelenting attack, causing shields to drain quickly. Once the shields were down missiles would be fired causing devastation upon the enemy ships. In my opinion the ships only drawback is it's need for such a large crew. To much space was wasted on comfort.

"She is beautiful but too much for me." I was referring to the ships needs, not it's abilities.

"She may be at that but she's perfect for me. I do have a gift for you though."

"What?" I asked confused at the alien words that just left my brothers lips. He'd never given me anything in my life and I'm not sure if this wasn't just another one of his tricks.

"I said I have a gift for you. I know you don't like me and I know I haven't done anything to change that but I want to start now. I do have a gift if you'll accept it?" The question was obvious in his voice. I'd never seen my brother like this and I could tell that this was important to him so I went along ready for the joke to blow up in my face.

"Ah ... sure. I'd appreciate that a lot." I said not sure if he even had the right notion for a worthwhile gift.

He taps the COM on his chest. "Could you bring down my brothers gift please?"

"Right away sir" is responded and before I could even ask a question the door opens and a woman in military uniform walks down the ramp carrying a large box. I figured it was a woman due to her small frame. I couldn't see much because the box obscured her face.

"Is she a bot?" I asked barely able to form the words. My brother had actually given me a gift. Even though I didn't know what it was, I figured this was a once and a lifetime occasion.

"Actually she is an android. Top of the line, and very life like I might add." He says nudging me in the side with his elbow staggering me with its force. I didn't understand what he meant but I grinned along with him to try and hurry this along.

"Sir, here it is." She said in a voice partially muffled by the box. It tickled something in the back of my memory but I couldn't quite place it.

"Please set it down."

"Yes sir," the android said sitting the box down effortlessly. She straightened, tossing her long brown hair over her shoulders, and I almost shit myself. Christine, how the hell? I was completely confused.

"Do you like little bro?"

How? When? What the hell is going on here? I couldn't get my mind to work. This was the face of my AI. Well, it's hologram I should say. The one I spent my life working on. Line for line, byte for byte my AI was my creation and mine alone and here she was right in front of me in the flesh so to speak.

"Surprised little bro? I knew you would be. She's got the top of the line hard ware and software. I'm honest enough to say I have no idea what versions those are, but I'm sure you do so you can appreciate it. I wasn't sure if you had a uniform for your ships crew so I took the liberty of putting her in the Federations' coverall."

I looked at my brother for the first time since dinner. I couldn't believe he'd done this for me. My life's work in the flesh. He actually did this for me and there wasn't a cruel remark in the entire thing. I did something I thought I'd never do and hugged him.

With his training he could've tossed me easily but he didn't, instead he wrapped an arm around me and hugged me back. We stayed that way for several moments before I was in control enough to step back and wipe the tears from my eyes. I noticed he did the same and we stood there in silence thinking of the display of affection we'd never shown each other before. And what it meant for the future.

My brother finally broke the silence then, "Now you still have to download your AI into your new android. Right now she's just running off the basic programs that allow her to follow a few basic commands but nothing else. I also have something else for you."

"What? There's more?" I asked confused at the continuing development. My brother had never been nice to me for as long as I can remember and to be so nice to me now made me wonder if he was an android himself.

"Well lets just say that being out there has shown me just how important family is. I've finally matured enough to know that I've treated you badly for many years, lets be truthful, your entire life. I also realized that I can't change that, but I can try to make up for some of it now. Now open the box before I have to suffer through another hug." he chuckled.

I chuckled with him. We had both expressed a lot of feeling in that hug and we were not really sure what those feelings were right now and didn't need to complicate things further. I did as ordered and opened the box my new android had brought. Inside I'd found a steel case with my name engraved on it. I picked it up and opened it and found a thing of pure beauty. Inside was a military issued hand held rail gun. This was something special, because they were DNA matched to one user and blew up at the first hint of tampering. I lifted it and marveled in its weight or lack there of. It couldn't weigh over 29oz. And it had to measure around 8" long. It was so compact that I wasn't even sure if it was real. I pointed it out into the distance, took it off safe and pulling the trigger not expecting anything to happen. Needless to say I was surprised at the light jerk it made, the only real clue that it had even fired. The whistle of the needle sized round could have easily been confused with the wind but I knew better.

"Careful, it's loaded." I heard my brother chuckle before I replaced it back into its case. I noticed that there was also a black military grade gun belt as well in the box.

"I don't know what to say," and I didn't either. I was a researcher, the android was one thing but the weapon was another. I had several on my ship but that was for safety. I wasn't a military person and he knew it. So why this gift.

"I know it's not your style bro but I want you to take it and practice. It's better if the only rounds you fire are at a target but in case trouble finds you I want to know that you'll be able to handle it. It took me awhile to get authorization for you to have it but the family name and the research you'll be doing finally convinced them you needed it."

He had a point and I knew it. Trouble was anywhere and everywhere and could find you as easily as you could find it. And it's always been my habit to be better prepared than the next man. I saw a lot of time on the simulator in my near future. "Thank you again," was all I could say.

"Please take the box on board and wait for further instructions," my brother said to the android. I watched as she lifted the box and proceeded to walk aboard my ship.

"Well little bro should we head back inside? It's getting late and I'm sure Grandfather and Great Grandfather would like to say goodbye before they have to leave." He said ruffling my hair as he headed toward the house.

Some things never change I said to myself as I followed.

"Sir, we are 1 hour and 30 minutes from the Tonash system." I heard announced over my cabins COM.

"Thank you, I'll be out in a moment. Stay on course and notify me of any changes."

"Aye sir." The AI's voice responded before cutting the connection. I arose feeling rested after my short nap. I went to the restroom and handled my duties then proceeded to put my uniform back on but changed my mind. I walked to the bridge and asked Christine to report.

"Nothing has changed as of yet, the systems clear and no traffic has been found on our scanners. Only one populated planet but the species has not reached interstellar travel and does not have equipment necessary to spot us. The systems star is the first on your list and is a spectral M-Class with a surface temperature is 3200K."

"Just to be sure, once we're in system activate the cloak and run silent until we are within optimal range for our tests. Raise shields and go to yellow alert, alarms off."

"Aye sir." My avatar responded. The lights dimmed and then flashed yellow momentarily.

"I'll be in the lab Christine, notify me when we're there." I said rising and leaving for my lab. The experiment wasn't all that inspiring to some but to me I thought it was revolutionary. The crystals that provided and focused power through our systems were created in a shielded room leaving them exposed to no outside forces. I was here to see what happened when a crystal was grown under different circumstances such as being exposed to different wavelengths and radiation released from various stars.

My first was a red star, relatively cool, I was working my way along until I reached a spectral B-Class. I'd try O-Class only after I proved that my shields could take the pounding from the B-Class star. 28000K was really, really hot.

I placed the first crystal which was only about a quarter of an inch long in the arm that would take it outside the ship and waited for confirmation that we'd arrived. I didn't have long to wait and I activated the unit I watched it leave through a small opening in the hull. The separate shield emitter located here protected the arm and the room from any radiation and also protected the atmosphere of the room. I'd hate to have to squeeze through that 6 x 6 inch hole.

The readings were instantaneous and I jotted a few notes by hand for quick reference and allowed the computer to store the rest. 20 minutes later we were on our way to our next destination. The crystal would remain inside a small orbital box that would maintain it's current position and still allow the various effects to reach the growing crystal. It would remain here for several months and then I would start my rounds all over again to pick them up. It wasn't a far jump only three hours away but far enough.

I stopped by my cabin grabbing myself something to eat before heading back to the bridge. With a cup of coffee in hand I settled in for the ride. We arrived without any problems and the tests were again underway. A class K at 3900K and a beautiful ginger color. The next was a yellow star like the one from my system located one 7-hour jump away. We proceeded and I turned in for some rest. Taking notes was tiring work. The next four stops went off without a hitch and I now found myself in the outer system of a blue star. The last star I visited managed to tax my shields about 30% but that was all. I'm glad that I doubled up on my shield emitters.

We proceeded deeper into system. This was the only blue star within a short jump range and I was glad. I felt the heat even with the shields at 90%. As we got closer the shields took even more of a pounding dropping them to 30%. Once in range I diverted all power from the engines to the shields raising them to a measly 45%. It was ridiculous how hot this thing was. The new crystal was placed into the arm and it was then extended into space.

A half hour later found me on my way out of system to my grandfather's home. I had spent the last two months placing crystals into orbits around the various class stars and there was nothing left to do now except wait. I'd stay at my grandfather's home for five months and then retrace my route and collect my experiments.

I soon find myself inside my grandfathers' hologram (holo for short) room. I'd been practicing with my sidearm for weeks now and I felt that I was very proficient. I had no problem hitting the mark now. Using humanoid figures I was able to place several shots neatly into the kill zones. I was slow on the quick draw but that type of skill only came with more practice than I was going to get here.

During the time spent traversing the star systems I'd copied and downloaded my AI's core programming into the android provided by my brother. Chris now stood as a stand-alone unit. Self sustaining and self-aware. She was in the test range's firing lane next to mine and it was obvious that practice wasn't necessary for her but it made me feel good to have someone there and I think she realized that. After finishing my last target of the day I holstered what I liked to call my nail gun and headed to a table located near the exit. One of my grandfather's bots was there with a warm towel that I used to wipe my face. I then unbuckled my belt handing it to her to take to my ship. Chris was soon at my side, she'd borrowed a rifle from the range and had already replaced it.

"You did very well today sir. A few more weeks and you'll be as good as any military officer."

"Thanks Chris I never realized exactly how hard it was to fire one of those things accurately. I really needed this time to practice. Come on, Grandfather wanted us to have dinner with him before we began our preparations for leaving."

Although I had downloaded the core AI programming into the android my brother had gifted me with, Chris still needed the rest of the modules installed. Until I took the time to do a complete install Chris would act exactly how you would think she should, like a robot instead of an android.

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