Chapter 1

The Dizyntk Imperial Strike Cruiser Amber Lightning was leading seven other warships, four cruisers and three destroyers, on a high speed run around the flank of the Protectorate fleet they were fighting. Their translight drives would not propel them at faster than light speeds this deep in a star system, but they were still moving at a quarter the speed of light right now. On his tactical display, Captain Lefarsa could see that the Humans were reacting to his move. After only two seconds he smiled. They had not reacted fast enough. He was going to have a clear shot at the Human flagship. The only choices the Human commander had was to fight a battle against unfavorable odds or retreat.

"They should retreat." Lefarsa thought to himself. "Up till last week, they would retreat."

The fight for the Tau Epsilon system had been underway for almost six months. The fighting had been intense, but sporadic, until last week. Last week the Protectorate battle style had changed dramatically. Whereas the Humans had fought hard, but logically, before, now they were fighting almost insanely. Although Lefarsa and his fellow Dizyntk had not understood the reason for the change at first, they knew the reason all too well now.

Their Human allies on Tau Epsilon had informed the Dizyntk that the new tactics were due to a new fleet. The initial battles had been with the regular Protectorate fleet. The more recent ones had been against what the Humans called Purification Forces. These were ships manned by Human religious fanatics that served the Protectorate. The ships were commanded by Priests of the State religion. There were no tactics that were considered too extreme for the Purification Forces.

Lefarsa could only shake his head at the thought. He knew that his own people had done such things in their history. The last time was during the civil strife that had swept the Imperium one hundred cyankas ago. The atrocities committed by those zealots during the wars of unification were what had led to the current laws in the Imperium. Priestesses were forbidden from receiving any type of military training now. The only position they could hold in the Dizyntk military was that of healer and even then they were not permitted to carry weapons.

Apparently, the humans had not learned this lesson yet. Lefarsa's weapons techs had to pay much closer attention to Human fighter craft now. The fanatics piloting them thought nothing at all of driving their craft right into a ship. Despite these problems, Lefarsa actually preferred fighting these Purification Forces as opposed to the regular Protectorate Fleet. They were not as professional at fighting as the regular Human forces and that was fine with Lefarsa. He could see that the Flagship he was closing on was turning to fight. The battle was already as good as won, even if these Humans did not realize it yet.

Admiral Elianala was studying a strategic map of the Second Star Cluster. So far it seemed that the Protectorate was content with trying to take back Tau Epsilon. They had not made any incursions into Dizyntk space, other than near the disputed system. Perhaps their military commanders were hoping to avoid a general war. That was good as far as Elianala was concerned. While she had no misgivings about a large scale conflict, she would prefer to avoid it. The Humans were still keeping a large group of forces on the border near the Protectorate colony system of Kursk. This forced Elianala to maintain large numbers of her own ships in the area as well.

As it stood now, the Dizyntk forces defending Tau Epsilon had an advantage. Admiral Elianala could base reinforcements out of the Trellken system, which was only four days from Tau Epsilon. The nearest Human system was a small colony system named Amazonia. It lay nearly six days away from the disputed region. From what she had learned, this Amazonia was not as well developed as Trellken and large numbers of ships would be difficult to stage there. That left the Davon system, the homeport for the Human fleets in the region. It was even farther away from Tau Epsilon, almost twelve days distant. Admiral Elianala was thus assured that she held a substantial logistical advantage.

The tactical advantage was also on her side. The Humans in the disputed area were her allies and were providing excellent reconnaissance and intelligence for Dizyntk forces in the region. Soon they would be providing even more help. She had no doubt that the Protectorate would be unable to retake the three systems that had rebelled against it. The only question was how long it would take for the Protectorate political leadership to reach that conclusion and what would they do when they did.

Fleet Commodore Stephen Phelps was trying out his new ship. It was the first time that he, or any other Human for that matter, had commanded a Dizyntk vessel. The small shipyards on Tau Epsilon were churning out destroyers and frigates as fast as they could but they did not have the facilities to build anything larger. So far, they had built ten destroyers and fifteen frigates. That was all well and good, but Phelps knew that his fleet needed cruisers and battleships as well. Other than a few smaller warships, he had only four cruisers and his command ship left from his original fleet and two of the cruisers and his command ship were in desperate need of repair. Up until now, his remaining fleet destroyers and frigates had been acting as pickets and scouts for the Dizyntk.

Two months ago, he had mentioned this in passing to the Dizyntk Admiral in charge of their fleet in the system. He did not expect that the Dizyntk would send ships to be manned by Human crews. They had done exactly that however. Two weeks ago, a group of twelve Dizyntk cruisers arrived, led by what the Dizyntk called a Strike Cruiser. Phelps was informed by the Dizyntk Admiral, Telayinda, that the ships were for Phelps' use, if he had enough people to man them.

It took some doing, including recalling retired personnel living in all three systems, but Phelps had managed to scrape together enough trained people to man the ships. With those that were already on the new destroyers and frigates, Phelps knew that this was all the ships he could crew until more people were trained. Still, it was not a bad start. With the fourteen undamaged ships left from his original fleet, this gave him fifty-two warships. Not a massive force, he knew, but enough to begin giving serious help to the Dizyntk fleet protecting his planet.

As for the Strike Cruiser that was his new flagship, Phelps really liked it. It was not as large as his old battleship and possessed only two-thirds the firepower. That still gave it double the firepower of a regular cruiser. In addition, it was nearly twice as fast and maneuverable as his old command ship. He could take that trade. Moreover, he had to admit that he liked the Dizyntk way of building a warship. It may have been powerful, but it was also pleasant to look at. This was especially true of the interior. Overall, Phelps thought that he could get used to this kind of ship.

One position that Phelps had not had to worry about was that of Captain for one of the Dizyntk cruisers. Kristine Gerhardt had, once upon a time, been a Captain in the Protectorate fleet. She had commanded a destroyer for three years. Now, after leading a group of refugees running from the Protectorate into Dizyntk space, she had command of a cruiser that was going to fight against the fleet that she had once been a part of.

Her crew consisted of a mix of new recruits and formerly retired veterans. She was grateful for the older crew. They meant that she had experienced people in charge of all her departments. Her head pilot, in particular, was a godsend. Hiroshi Watanabe, Lt. Commander (retired), was fifty years old. Despite this, he was still a very good pilot. He was also something of a daredevil behind the controls. This was a good thing for evading incoming fire. When he was practicing evasive maneuvers, Kristine was happy that her command chair had restraints.

She would need them right now. Her sensor operator had just alerted her that six Protectorate warships were inbound. Captain Gerhardt had command of a small group of ships. There was one other human manned Dizyntk cruiser plus two human destroyers and three frigates. She ordered them all to orient to the incoming attack. As she watched the enemy ships on her tactical display, she could only hope that the two weeks of practice that her ships had had together would be enough.

She keyed a channel to her ships. "Execute plan beta. All ships are weapons free, repeat, weapons free."

Michelle Kirtland was getting her things packed for her trip. She had been on the Dizyntk world of Elishen for almost two months. She could scarcely believe that she had talked more with the Dizyntk in just these last few months than the Protectorate had in fifty years. The highlight of her diplomatic career had been to have a personal meeting with Crown Princess Feyalisa. At least that was what she had thought at the time. That was before the invitation had arrived three days ago.

Michelle had been working on her understanding of Dizyntilin for months now. Because of this, she had been able to read the message that was delivered to her. She had been invited to be the representative for Tau Epsilon at the Court of the Empress on Dizyn. She was actually going to meet the Empress of the Dizyntk Grand Imperium. She was going to actually stand on the homeworld of the Dizyntk. Never in her wildest fantasies had she imagined that her initial meeting with Michael Christopher six months ago would lead her to this moment. In just three weeks, she would become Humanity's first official ambassador to the Dizyntk. Her only regret was that the Protectorate could not see its way clear to do the same.

Feyalisa was going over the casualty reports from the battle of Tau Epsilon. She did not like doing this, but she felt that it was her responsibility as Princess to do so. The Dizyntk fleet had lost forty-three warships and thirty scout vessels so far. These were of little consequence as they could be easily replaced. It was the loss of almost eight thousand Dizyntk lives that mattered to her.

She was sad at the losses but not overly so. They had fallen in battle and Dizyntk viewed this as the second best way to go. The only one better was dying in your sleep at the ripe age of sixty cyankas. Actually, there were those of the traditional warrior families, and there were many of them, who would think dying in combat was the better of the two.

Feya's sadness was mostly for the children that many of them left behind. The feeling of this loss was a personal one for her. She had lost her own parents in this way after all. These thoughts caused her to tear up a little. She was so lost in her thoughts that she did not hear her mate walk up behind her.

Velakari wrapped her arms around Feya. She knew exactly why her mate was sad. "It is alright, my love. The children will be taken care of. They always are."

Feya leaned back against her mate. "I know; it is just that I know what they will go through."

Kari smiled and said, "They will have family and friends to help them. All you had was a strange alien and you seem to have managed."

Even in her sad state, this last comment made Feya laugh a little.

She wrapped her hands around Kari's arms. "A strange alien? Strange? An odd way to refer to the father of our children."

Kari nodded. "Yes, it is. But it made you smile and that was all I wanted."

Kari then turned Feya around and looked at her face. "When is the last time you slept?" she asked.

"I do not know." Feya replied. "I am too busy right now and I..."

Kari put two fingers to Feya's lips and said, "That will not do. You are busy because you try to do all this yourself. I will help you AFTER you get some sleep."

Kari then pulled Feya to her feet and led her to their bed. She then lay down with Feya on top of her. Kari hugged Feya gently and pulled her head down against her breasts.

Feya could feel Kari's warmth soaking into her tired body. She nuzzled softly against Kari's breasts and felt herself drifting off.

Michael Christopher had just finished two weeks of negotiations to finalize the terms of Tau Epsilon becoming part of the Dizyntk Imperium. He was currently relaxing in the bar on board Control One, the main space station orbiting Tau Epsilon. There were several Dizyntk in the bar in addition to the normal human crewmembers. There were Dizyntk aboard both to help coordinate Dizyntk ship movements as well as crew from Dizyntk vessels that were docked at the station. Because of this, Michael took little notice when a small group of Dizyntk entered the room.

"MICHAEL!" a familiar voice shouted across the room at him.

He was startled by the sudden interruption of his thoughts. He smiled as he looked over and immediately recognized the Dizyntk walking quickly over to him. Michael stood to greet his friend.

"Heratala. How long has it been? Two years?" he asked the small Dizyntk that had stopped in front of him.

She nodded. "About that long, yes."

She then jumped up and wrapped her arms around his neck. Michael returned the hug. He had missed Heratala.

After he let her down, he looked her over. She had a new uniform and a new rank. She was now a Lt. Commander in the transport force.

"Is your family here with you?" she asked.

Michael shook his head. "No, they are still on Elishen."

He looked at her wrist and noticed the silver bracelet that now adorned it. "I see that someone went and got herself bonded since the last time I saw her."

She smiled brightly and replied, "Yes, I did. Do you remember Nadalsen from when you last visited?"

Michael thought for several moments. "The young engineer that was working on your mother's transport?"

She nodded. "Yes, that is him. I tried to get a message to you to invite you to the ceremony, but you were very busy eight months ago."

Michael nodded in agreement. "I was unbelievably busy at the time. When I get back to Sapphire with Feya and Kari, you will have to bring him to the palace so they can meet him. Feya will be overjoyed that you have gotten bonded."

"Of course I will." she replied.

Changing subjects, Michael asked, "So what brings you to Tau Epsilon?"

"My ship is transporting the first company of troops that will be training to work with human forces here." she answered.

Michael nodded. "Yes, I remember hearing that they would be arriving. I do not envy either them or the human unit working with them. It will take some hard work to get them functioning as a team."

"Your people and mine have been enemies for so long that it will take time for them to fully trust each other." Heratala agreed.

Just then, an announcement over the intercom called for Heratala to return to her ship.

"I must be leaving." she sighed. "We were just here long enough to drop off the soldiers. It was very nice to see you again. Give my greetings to your mates."

Michael smiled and replied, "It was nice to see you as well. Do not forget to come by the palace the next time we are all back home."

The two friends then stood and hugged their goodbyes. Michael watched as Heratala walked out of the room.

Captain Zeranfelen Torsheld was uneasy. He had been ever since receiving the orders that had brought him and his company to Tau Epsilon. He was not sure if his soldiers would be able to integrate with human troops. It was a difficult assignment to say the least.

"If it was an easy task then we would not have been asked to do it." he thought to himself.

Zeranfelen's unit was from the Dizyntk Zyrestrim, or Special Forces. They were highly trained and exceptional warriors. They were, therefore, usually given only the most difficult tasks.

Trying to work together with an alien race that had been viewed for over forty cyankas as an enemy certainly qualified as being a difficult task. He knew that his warriors held strong feelings about this. He also knew that they were well disciplined and would do their level best to accomplish the mission they had been given.

As the shuttle they were riding in began to descend, Captain Zeranfelen looked out and saw the small group of human soldiers waiting for them.

Major Anatoly Chapayev watched stoically as the ship landed. Although he had no way of knowing it, his thoughts at that moment mirrored those of the Dizyntk officer he was about to meet. Major Chapayev had served in the elite Ranger battalions f0r most of his fifteen years in military service. He had been assigned his new company only three months ago and this only after a two month selection and qualification process. He had been dubious about the reason for forming the company in the first place. He had not changed his mind about this in the intervening months.

He closed his eyes as he took a deep breath and shrugged to himself. "We will just have to make the best of things." he thought.

The only good thing about this meeting would be that Chapayev would get to practice his newly acquired skill in Dizyntilin with a native speaker. Language skills; that had been the most important criteria in the selection of all of the soldiers in his company. The majority of his troops were either Asian or at least spoke an Asian language fluently. He himself had learned Mandarin as a child. This was because Dizyntilin, like many Asian languages, was a tonal language. Slight differences in pronunciation could drastically change a words meaning.

Dizyntilin was very tricky for most humans to pick up. Three hundred forty soldiers had been selected for the crash course of learning Dizyntilin five months ago. Two hundred had washed out for the simple reason of not being able to learn the alien language well enough. Even of the remaining 140, only about thirty of them were anything close to being fluent in it. Major Chapayev was not necessarily one of these. He could speak it well enough to be polite, but was under no illusions that another several months were needed before he, or most of his men, would be able to converse comfortably in it.

Be that as it may, the Major was ready to greet the Dizyntk officer that was now going to be his XO for this ad-hoc unit. As the ship landed, the back drop door fell open even before the ship settled on its landing skids. The Dizyntk troops filed out rapidly and formed up next to the transport. Then, just as the engines began spooling down, Captain Zeranfelen walked out and approached Major Chapayev.

Major Chapayev was a short man at only five foot eight inches, not unusual for a soldier with a paratroop background. Even so he still had to look down to meet the eyes of Captain Zeranfelen, who was only five foot one.

Zeranfelen brought his right hand to his heart and flexed the fingers as if to extend his claws. He then bowed his head just slightly. This was the standard method of saluting a superior officer among the Dizyntk.

He then said in English, "Greetings, Major Chapayev. I am Captain Zeranfelen. By the order of the Empress, I and my warriors are at your disposal for the next half cyanka."

In fact, all of Zeranfelen's troops spoke the human language that was the native tongue of their ambassador. That had been one of the key qualifications for being selected for this unit. It had originally been formed as an infiltration unit. No one at the high command thought it would ever be used for something like this. To be perfectly honest, Zeranfelen knew that he had not imagined it either.

Anatoly returned the salute with his own, more human one.

"I look forward to working with you, Captain." he said in English.

They would continue their conversation in this language. Chapayev had no illusions that this Dizyntk's command of English was far greater than his own ability in Dizyntilin.

Zeranfelen nodded and said, "I as well, Major. Let us retire to your quarters and plan our training schedule. Meanwhile, our soldiers can get to know each other for a short while before their training begins." He then said in a voice just loud enough to be heard by the assembled troops, "Training to begin at first light I think."

Major Chapayev smiled at this. "I think that would be an excellent idea, Captain." he said in a similar, just loud enough, voice.

As they walked together towards the Major's quarters, Chapayev and Zeranfelen were already comfortably discussing what the training routine for the next day would entail. Chapayev quickly realized that, alien though he might be, Zeranfelen was a professional soldier not that different from himself. He began to get a sneaking suspicion that the two of them would get along just fine. Captain Zeranfelen was thinking exactly the same thing.

Feyalisa and Velakari were very excited, although they both hid it well. Their children were not doing even a tenth as well. Their excitement was discernable from a hundred meters away. Michael was returning from Tau Epsilon. His family had not seen him for three months. Ariarisha, in particular, was eager for her father to return.

What had started out as a simple trip with her father to meet with a small group of human refugees had ended up as much more than that. At most she should have been away from Sapphire for three months. Aria had now been on Elishen for over half a cyanka and, while she was happy that her family was here with her, she wanted to go home to Sapphire. The rest of her family was in agreement on this she knew.

As Michael exited the ship, he was prepared for the assault that was surely going to be headed his way. Sure enough, it came. Kalenderen and Asinalani were the first to meet him at the very door of the shuttle. Aria was immediately behind her younger siblings. After they were all finished hugging and nuzzling their father, Feya and Kari took turns kissing their hellos to their bonded mate. This had been the longest that he had ever been separated from them and neither of his Dizyntk mates were the least bit happy about it.

Feya was licking and kissing on his neck as she whispered to him. "I will allow you two hours to eat and rest. After that, I will have you inside of me until you pass out."

Kari was kissing on his other ear and whispering, "I want to feel your seed inside of me every day until we get back home."

"I understand my loves." he said as he listened to them. "I have missed both of you as well. I have missed your touch and your scent."

It was difficult walking with an amorous Dizyntk on each arm but Michael managed as they all went into the Royal Residence.

Two kilometers away, an unseen pair tracked the human through their rifle scopes. They could probably kill this alien right now but that was not what they were here to do.

"Better to let them think themselves safe for a bit longer." one of them thought.

"How much longer till we are ready to rid ourselves of these stains on Dizyntk honor?" the other asked his superior.

"Not much longer now. We are almost ready to take back what is rightfully ours." the older one replied.

He then smiled a most unpleasant smile. "That which you once stole from us will be ours again." he said under his breath.

Soon, he knew, all the forces his Duchess would need would be in place. The war with the humans had slowed things but not stopped them. Soon they would overthrow those upstarts, the Zerleens and most of all the Asarazyntks.

It had been a long time ago, this theft. This just meant that the Empress would not see them coming when they took it back.

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