A universe 350 years in our future.
A tale spanning 1,000 years.
Five teens, lost in space on a living starship.
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Tales of the Antares Rangers
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   ... Stiles opened the door and pulled out a large tray. He called it a Wasatti Marine, but again, she hardly listened. She was too preoccupied with seeing the beast. It was lying on top of the steel drawer wrapped within a white shroud. The thing looked huge. Stiles pulled the sheet away. "Ugly thing, isn't it?"
   Simi stared at the Demon.
​​   "You okay?"
   "What?" Simi tore her gaze away. "Yes, I'm fine." She tried to smile at Stiles. "I've never seen one up close before."
   "Neither did we; until we captured these two."
   "Ver-actual," she replied automatically. "That couldn't have been easy."
   Stiles shrugged. "Eh, all in a day's work."
   I'll say, Simi thought. She kept telling Mordan not to underestimate these Humans, but he just would not listen. The Demon was even taller than Sargassians. And those plates​​​ .... "Can I touch it?"
​   "Sure, be my guest."
   Simi reached down and pried at one of its armor plates. It gave a little to the pressure, but was firmly attached to some sort of underlying membrane.
   "Henrietta says that's his true skin."
   It took Simi a moment to take in what Stiles had just said. She poked at the skin. It felt a lot like her own, or even Stiles' skin. "Not much different." ...

... The plates were pieced together like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. She was impressed at how smooth each surface was. Like oil, but hard as anything I've seen. Each plate held all the colors of the rainbow and they shifted at different angles. She wanted to admit that they were attractive, but refused to do so.
   The upraised edges of the plates were sharp as knives. Some were serrated, too. "I bet they'd cut up a Sargassian pretty badly in a hand-to-hand fight."
"Yeah, I'm sure they would," Stiles agreed.
   Crap. Simi did not realize she was talking out loud. She bent over and carefully examined the eyes. They were huge, ugly oval things; black as the blackest night and multifaceted. Just like an insect. She reached down and poked at it. She wanted to smash it in with her bare hand, but restrained herself from damaging the specimen. "I hate this thing."​​​​​​​​​
   Stiles took her hand. "So do we."
   She looked up at Stiles with a tear forming in her eye. His eyes are so much like mine. Nothing like that beast. They shared so much in common.​​
   She pulled away. "I can't look at this anymore." She rushed out of the room in tears.
   Simi spent a moment with her back against the wall, trying to catch her breath. She blamed it on the cold. She tore out of her thermals and quickly got dressed in the corridor. Stiles joined her a moment later. Ver-actual. Just what I need right now!
   ​​​"It's hard to take, looking at that cockroach."
   Many things are hard to take, Stiles. If only you knew .... "Yeah, it is." She watched him slip out of his thermals in silence.​​
   Against her better judgment, Simi uttered​, "You know, Mordan's going to ask for your help soon."
   "Yeah, I figured."
   Stiles, true-born, you haven't figured out anything yet. Please, do what I say, she pleaded silently.
   ​​​"You gotta help us too, you know; you promised."
   "I know. We'll see what we can do."
   "When he asks to go down-under, you gotta---"​​
   "Yes. I know. I know," Stiles insisted. "You need to scope out trading opportunities on the planet. I get it."​
   Simi had wanted to say "be careful​" but he had stopped her short before the words could tumble out. She desperately wanted to warn him, but that would be treason. "Just do what he says." She looked away.
   Stiles---oh, so gently---turned Simi's chin toward him and searched into her eyes. No one had ever touched her so softly. "Are you afraid of him?"
   ​​"Mordan? No!" She laughed. "Of course not."
   "True." The automatic "born" could not pass her lips. "He's fine, really."
   "If you say so."​​​
​   She looked away from his eyes. She had to get away from him and sort out her feelings. "You know, speaking of Mordan, I gotta skip back to my ship."
   "Why?" Stiles asked perplexed.
   "Well, I got duties over there, too. Couple things I gotta finish off; brief Mordan. Not much. It shouldn't take long. Be back in a flash."​​
   Simi grimaced. "Oh, at least one day; maybe two."
   "Oh. Okay. If you say so."​​​
   He looks so hurt. She reached over and kissed his cheek. "Don't worry, everything will be okay."
   She needed to keep telling herself that.​​