Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Prologue: The Curtain of Space

There was a time in the Twentieth Century when the world was divided between two competing ideologies. For forty years, in a time known as the Cold War, the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization faced the client states of the Soviet Union, with the ever-present threat of nuclear war hanging over both sides. The European continent was split in two, and the boundary that ran between the two rival alliances from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea was known as the Iron Curtain.

Five hundred years later, the ideologies that spawned the Cold War were lost in the depths of history. Mankind had spread out among the stars, and the United Worlds of the Solar System maintained the peace in humanity's home system. Across the depths of interstellar space, however, were the worlds of the Ophiuchius Group, centered on the 70 Ophiuchi star system. Settlers from Earth had reached the 70 Ophiuchi system, and found the remnants of an alien race. The Ophiuchians had died out millenia before, but scattered throughout the system were the technological relics of what was once a mighty interplanetary civilization. The settlers had discovered Ophiuchian science texts, and used them to decipher the aliens' language. Discovery after amazing discovery had been made, and the 70 Ophiuchi system had quickly grown in power.

By the Twenty-fifth Century, the people of the 70 Ophiuchi system had come to see themselves as the heirs of the lost alien race. They adopted the Ophiuchian language, and created an ideology that proclaimed them the next stage in human evolution. Across a distance of sixteen light years, the Ophiuchius Group and the United Worlds of the Solar System faced each other in an interstellar standoff. The people of the Twenty-fifth Century looked back into the past, and named the border between the two powers the Curtain of Space.

Chapter One: Return to Earth

From the infinite reaches of interstellar space, a silvery needle fell into the Solar System. Its presence was detected by a string of automated sentinals standing guard among the frozen worldlets in the system's far outer reaches. Signals were sent out from beacons, skimming through realms of reality far removed from the familiar geometries of Einsteinian spacetime, crossing the light-hours to the silvery object in fractions of time too brief to be detected by any known instrumentality.

Seconds later, one of the beacons received a reply transmitted from the object at a precise frequency. The reply was automatically shunted through the beacon to a receiving station spinning around the Earth in geosynchronous orbit. From there, the signal was sent on a tightbeam transmission to the Department of Space Affairs in the sprawling Armstrong Building, where a string of characters embedded within it allowed it to bypass multiple levels of bureaucracy to arrive at the office of the Secretary of Space Affairs, Ronald Drake.

Drake's chief aide, Marcus Griffin, heard a chime from the communicator on his desk indicating an incoming astrophone message. A viseograph on the wall above the desk lit to reveal the pilot room of an XV-class patrol ship. Seated at the controls were two men Griffin knew well: Rockwell Stapleton Jones IV, invariably known by his nickname Rocky, and Antonio DelPonte, even more invariably known by his nickname Winky. Both wore standard shipboard duty attire: soft caps and pale gold short-sleeved shirts bearing the winged-planet emblem of the Space Rangers. DelPonte was tall and thin, with dark hair and brown eyes, while Jones was more compact, with light brown hair and blue eyes .

"XV-2 calling Office of Space Affairs," Jones' voice echoed from the speaker grill, "come in, please. This is the XV-2 calling the Office of Space Affairs. Come in."

Griffin strode over to the desk and activated the comm system's response key. "Come in, XV-2," he responded. "State celestial position."

"This is Rocky Jones of the Space Rangers reporting," came the reply. "Celestial meridian fifty-eight degrees, parallel one four six degrees. We're now in second braking ellipse of Earth, requesting landing clearance at approximately sixteen hundred."

Peering at a navigational display on his desk, Griffin reported, "You're dead center on Baker Flight Path, Rocky. Ride her in, we're all clear and waiting for you." The door to the outside corridor opened, and Drake entered at a sedate pace. "Hold it, here's Secretary Drake." Griffin knew that Drake would want to speak with Jones personally. The two were old friends, dating from Jones' time as Drake's co-pilot on one of the Space Rangers' old NXR-class cruisers. Smiling at his superior, Griffin handed over the microphone.

Drake had retired from the Space Rangers ten years before to take the post of Secretary of Space Affairs, and age might have thinned and whitened his hair, but it had not robbed him of his keen intellect, nor softened his physique. His brown eyes were still sharp, and his voice and carriage were still those of a man of thirty. "Welcome home, Rocky," he said warmly as he smiled into the viseograph.

"Thank you, sir," Jones replied. "It's certainly good to be back." Although Drake was no longer Jones' commanding officer, the younger man still sounded like a junior officer reporting at the end of his duty shift. He was not a man who could easily unbend before a superior, even one as close as Ronald Drake. Jones' own copilot, on the other hand, gave Drake an answering smile. Winky DelPonte could be just as serious as any other member of the Space Rangers, but he was more informal by nature than Jones.

"Was it a rough trip?" Drake continued.

"More or less routine, sir," said Jones, though DelPonte's expression spoke volumes about his own opinion of their flight. Leaning over to Jones' microphone, he added, "Much more 'more' than less 'less', Mr. Secretary, believe me."

"I can believe you, Winky," Drake chuckled. "Come in the office when you land, boys. I'll have your leave papers ready."

"Thank you, Mr. Secretary," said a grinning DelPonte.

Jones confined himself to a simple, "Thank you, sir. Out."

* * *

Officially, Rocky Jones' patrol ship was known as the XV-2. Unofficially, and more popularly, it was called the Orbit Jet. As its braking ellipse brought it into the Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific, the ground crew at Tsiolkovsky Spaceport sprang into action. Landing pad 17 became the site of a carefully rehearsed mechanical ballet as the spaceport's public address system barked out orders, emergency vehicles positioned themselves, and the gantry was readied for use.

A brilliant light appeared in the western sky, like a tiny second sun, as the Orbit Jet's retrothrusters fired and its speed began to drop. Men and women in the spaceport's control tower compared the Orbit Jet's passage through the atmosphere with its assigned flight path, and found them to be in perfect alignment. As Griffin had told Jones, the ship was dead center on Flight Path Baker.

Ronald Drake emerged from the entrance of the Armstrong Building to watch the Orbit Jet's final descent. As many times as he had seen a ship come in, he still found it hard to resist the urge to drop everything and rush out to see with his own eyes as it landed. When it was Rocky Jones' ship, "hard to resist" became "impossible to resist". He felt as much as heard the sonic concussion that washed over the neighborhood of the spaceport as the Orbit Jet fell below the speed of sound and its wake caught up with it. The light of the ship's retrothrusters grew until it rivalled the westering sun, and the sound was like a thousand thunderstorms all at once. As Drake and the other observers on the ground, in the control tower, and in the Armstrong Building watched, Jones and DelPonte brought the Orbit Jet down to a perfect landing in the center of landing pad 17. The retrothrusters died, and the silence felt louder than the thunderous roar of the landing had. The Orbit Jet stood like a vast silver tower as the ground crew manning the gantry drove it across the blackened concrete of landing pad 17 until it nestled against the ship's side.

Griffin emerged from the entrance to stand by Drake's side. "Pardon me, sir," he reported, "but a car just drove through number three gate without stopping for identification." At once, Drake's elation was replaced by worry. The government was still reeling from the news that Professor Dominic Newton, the most renowned scientist in the Solar System, had defected to the Ophiuchians. If a saboteur or terrorist penetrated the grounds of the spaceport and carried out an attack under the very nose of the Secretary of Space Affairs, the backlash might bring about its fall.

Chapter Two: The Newton Declaration

With the Orbit Jet safely landed and its systems shut down, Rocky Jones and Winky DelPonte had changed into their groundside duty uniforms of navy blue and white tunics and peaked caps. At the foot of the gantry, DelPonte glanced up at the ground crew and called, "Okay, lock her up in the barn, boys!" Joining Jones on the ground, he continued their conversation on one of his favorite topics: where to spend their leave. "Hey, what about the seashore, Rocky? I know a place called Paradise Isle." His voice waxed lyrical as he described its manifold delights. "Balmy nights and soft music under a big tropical moon! White sands washed by an emerald sea! How's it sound?"

As usual, Jones refused to allow himself to be swayed by DelPonte's florid speech. "Let's see what Drake has to say about that, hmm?"

DelPonte refused to allow his parade to be rained upon. "But he's already said, leave papers!"

The discussion between the two men continued as they walked the half mile between landing pad 17 and the Armstrong Building. They could of course have taken some form of motorized transport, but the two had been in space for four months, and by unspoken mutual consent, they felt the need to stretch their legs under the familiar tug of natural gravity and feel the afternoon sun warm their faces. DelPonte, still trying to sway Jones' opinion in favor of Paradise Isle, was describing a previous leave he had taken there, which involved an improbable number of beautiful women vying for his attention.

As they neared the Armstrong Building's main entrance, however, DelPonte's description of an accommodating Hungarian beauty on a glass-bottomed tour boat was interrupted when the two of them barely escaped being run down by a speeding ground car. The driver, DelPonte noted automatically, was blonde, and from his brief glimpse of her, very pretty. As the two followed the ground car to the entrance, DelPonte couldn't resist motioning toward the sky and saying, "Hey, you know something? It's safer up there."

Both men watched as the driver left the ground car and hurried up the steps into the Armstrong Building. DelPonte felt that his initial analysis of the situation was confirmed: definitely blonde, and definitely pretty. She was dressed in a fashionable ensemble of a light blue minidress and short burgundy cape, with calf-high black boots. DelPonte, who of necessity was as much a connoisseur of women's fashions as of women themselves, could tell that they were the product of some high-toned boutique in Paris, or Tokyo, or Quito.

Grinning, DelPonte added, "But who wants to be up there? Come on, Skipper!"

* * *

Back in his office, Ronald Drake had watched in stunned amazement as the unidentified ground car and its fashionably-dressed occupant braved one hair-pin curve after another as it barrelled up the twisting mountain road ascending the Andes to the alpine plateau holding Tsiolkovsky Spaceport. Aircars of course were forbidden within the grounds of the spaceport due to the danger of collision with arriving or departing spacecraft.

Griffin stood by the controls of the spaceport's defence grid, with the car and its driver centered on the viseograph. Every square foot of the spaceport grounds was covered by the most advanced energy weapons available to the Department of Space Affairs. His hand hovered over the button that would destroy the vehicle. "Shall I fire, sir?" Griffin asked.

Drake shook his head. He could tell that the driver was neither saboteur nor terrorist, but simply an impatient -- and reckless -- young woman. Like DelPonte, he had noted her expensive clothing, which was well-matched by her ground car, a centuries-old antique that had been carefully preserved -- presumably by someone else, since the woman's driving suggested that she wasn't worried about maintaining its pristine condition.

The woman was making straight for the Armstrong Building -- straight for him, unless he missed his guess. He said to Griffin, "Meet her down in the lobby and escort her up to my office."
His aide had simply said, "Yes, sir," and left the office. In the few months Griffin had been working for him, he had learned to humor his superior's occasional peculiar notions.

Drake continued to monitor the woman's progress through the spaceport, smiling at her close encounter with Jones and DelPonte. It wasn't long before she entered his office with Griffin at her side.

Although he had been amused by the woman's behavior, it wouldn't do to let her know that. He gave her a severe look and greeted her with the words, "Do you know you're a trespasser? On any foot of that mountain road you could have been destroyed?"

"Yes, Mr. Secretary," the woman insisted, "but I had to take the chance." Reckless, and determined, Drake told himself.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Vena Ray," she answered simply, as though that explained everything. In fact, it explained much. The Ray family was one of the most prominent associated with the ongoing effort to terraform Venus. They had taken on what might well be the most formidable task in the Solar System, and were making a success of it. The Ray family was a large, wealthy one, and there were half a dozen Vena Rays in positions of power and influence throughout the United Worlds. This one, though, was too young to be one of them. He decided he needed more information.

"And your reason for being here?" he queried.

Again, her answer was simple but provocative. "Professor Newton."

"I have no interest in anything that concerns the Professor," Drake stated flatly.

Dominic Newton had been one of Earth's greatest resources in the struggle against the Ophiuchians. He had devoted his life and intellect to understanding the secrets of the ancient alien technology that served as the foundation of the Ophiuchius Group's power. For thirty-five years, as head of the Department of Advanced Studies at the University of Earth, Newton had been able to match the Ophiuchians advance for advance, discovery for discovery. Drake could point to half a dozen devices in his office and say with complete honesty, "If it weren't for Newton, this wouldn't exist". On a mountaintop on the outskirts of Quito, Newton had built an observatory that was unmatched elsewhere in the Solar System, and very possibly in the Ophiuchius Group as well. Using principles that were understood by perhaps half a dozen other humans in the universe, Newton was able to peer into the depths of space and bring back crucial information. More than one of the Ophiuchian plots that had been foiled by the Space Rangers had been uncovered by the Newton Observatory.

Thirty-five years of honored service to the UWSS had ended the month before. Newton had joined a team of other scientists from the Solar System in a cultural exchange program that brought them to the Ophiuchian homeworld for an interstellar scientific conference. The conference had ended in disarray when Newton announced his intention to remain on Ophiuchius Prime and become an Ophiuchian citizen. The reverberations from that announcement were still being felt within the halls of power on Earth, and Drake knew that Newton's actions might yet cause the fall of the Torres administration and the loss of his own position as Secretary of Space Affairs.

"I know," Vena Ray answered. "I know. You believe he's a traitor to the United Worlds of the Solar System."

"Yes," he said with finality. "His own words prove it."

"But, Mr. Secretary," she pleaded, "during our exchange of scientists with the Ophiuchius Group, I was an interpreter. When the rest of us left, I shook hands with the Professor. His eyes tried to tell me something. He gave me this." She held out her hand to him.

Drake shook his head in sadness. It was a medal he himself had awarded to Newton five years before. He read the inscription, "To Professor Newton from Secretary Drake, with profound gratitude and eternal friendship."

Vena Ray's eyes were shining as she appealed to him. "But, Mr. Secretary, why did he leave the medal in my hand? He must have wanted me to bring it to you."

"I don't know." Drake understood what Ray was trying to tell him. By giving her his medal from the Department of Space Affairs, she thought that Newton was sending a message that his defection hadn't been genuine, that he was somehow being coerced by the Ophiuchians. Drake himself wanted with all his heart to believe she was right. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to explain to her: "Professor Newton recorded his decision on film. The Ophiuchians left it at our outpost on Secinnus to be delivered to me. It is proof positive." He turned to Griffin. "Griff, project the Newton Declaration."

"Yes, sir," said Griffin, moving off to operate the library console in Drake's office.

Looking back at Ray, Drake noticed that Rocky Jones and Winky DelPonte had entered the office, and he felt his heart lifting at the sight of them. The problems of interstellar politics receded from his mind, as they always did when Rocky and Winky returned from another successful mission. He excused himself to Ray and joined them. "Mission complete and job well done, boys," he said, beaming as he shook their hands. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, sir," they both answered.

"Now, I have new orders," he continued, picking up two documents from his desk. With a chuckle, he said, "Here are your leave papers. Relax. Stretch out and watch the stars as something mysterious and beautiful, not as places you've been to make friends or fight our enemies. Report back on the 20th."

DelPonte's eyes lit up. "Hey, Rocky, two months leave! How about that?"

"Ready with the Newton Declaration, Mr. Secretary," Griffin reported.

"Thank you, Griff." Turning back to Jones and DelPonte, Drake added, "Enjoy your time off, boys. You've earned it!"

"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed DelPonte. "Come on, Skipper, let's not waste a second of that two months! Paradise Island, here we come!"

Jones, however, didn't seem to share DelPonte's enthusiasm. "Wait a minute, Winky." He turned back to Drake and asked, "Sir, what does Griff mean by 'the Newton Declaration'? Has something happened to Professor Newton?"

With a heavy heart, Drake explained to Jones and DelPonte about Newton's trip to Ophiuchius Prime with the scientific exchange, and about his sudden announcement that he intended to remain among the Ophiuchians. He dreaded seeing their reactions. The younger men of the Space Rangers idolized Professor Newton. Although he had never worn the uniform of the Space Rangers, he was considered as much a part of the organization as they themselves were. He was like the fixed center around which their universe revolved. Hearing that he had defected was like hearing that the Sun had defected.

"I don't believe it, Mr. Secretary!" DelPonte declared. "There's just no way Professor Newton would have joined up with the Ophiuchians! It must be a set-up!"

As Drake had expected, Jones' reaction was less impulsive than his co-pilot's; his first instinct was to find out as much as possible before making up his mind. "As long as we're here," he said to DelPonte, "let's see the Newton Declaration too, huh?"

Drake escorted Ray into his office and seated himself beside her in a chair facing the output screen from the library console. "Whenever you're ready, Griff," he told his aide.

Jones and DelPonte followed him in. "Mind if we join you, Mr. Secretary?" Jones asked.

"Please do, Rocky."

As DelPonte closed the door to the outer office, the lights dimmed, and the library screen lit up. There was a legend in the bottom left corner marked, RECEIVED AT SECINNUS STATION 17 APRIL 2454. That disappeared, to be replaced by another legend marked PROFESSOR NEWTON'S DECLARATION. The screen darkened, then lit to show six men standing in a well-equipped laboratory. In the forefront stood Professor Dominic Newton, dressed as usual in a white lab coat and the antiquated clothing he affected. Flanking him were two high-ranking members of the Ophiuchian government that Drake recognized: Darganto and Atlasande, both wearing the elaborate uniforms that were the mark of power among the Ophiuchians. Behind them stood three more Ophiuchian men in plainer uniforms. Newton, who was not a tall man, seemed dwarfed by the towering, uniformed Ophiuchians surrounding him.

For perhaps the sixth time in as many days, Drake listened to Dominic Newton saying the impossible: "Secretary Drake, may I first say this? The decision to remain on Ophiuchius is mine and mine alone. I have been influenced by neither word nor act. These people," and here Newton looked around at the five black-uniformed Ophiuchians surrounding him, "are my friends. Perhaps, thinking singularly, I would not have made such a drastic move, and severed the ties of a lifetime. But I must consider my young ward, Bobby. A long life stands before him, and not by heritage, but by my choice, he can now share in the triumph and the glory of Ophiuchius." Newton paused, and looked over to his left. "Come here, Bobby."

Bobby Matthews' parents, George and Deborah Matthews, had been scientists at the Department of Advanced Studies. Two years before, when Bobby was eight years old, both had died as a result of Ophiuchian sabotage while testing a newly-developed spaceship engine. It had been George Matthews' dying wish that Professor Newton become the boy's legal guardian, and Newton had agreed. Not a week went by without a visit to the Armstrong Building by Professor Newton and Bobby, and the boy had been adopted as a mascot by the Space Rangers. Seeing Bobby's serious face, Drake couldn't help but be reminded of Rocky Jones at that age.

Drake heard DelPonte whisper to Jones, "Newton wanted Bobby to become a Space Ranger! He said it a thousand times!" He might have continued in that vein had Jones not shushed him.

On the library screen, Newton had been joined by Bobby, who, despite his youth, was nearly as tall as his guardian. As he usually was, Bobby was dressed in a replica of a Space Ranger uniform; it seemed terribly out of place among the black-clad Ophiuchians. "Mr. Secretary," Newton continued, "you've heard my wish, my declaration." Turning to the boy, he said, "Bobby, say good-bye to our friends."

Bobby looked out of the library screen and said, "Good-bye, Mr. Secretary, and please, sir, say hello to Rocky Jones, to Winky, and to the rest of the Space Rangers."

The library screen went dark, and the lights came back up in Drake's office. Drake turned to Ray, Jones, and DelPonte and added, "A detailed letter made the breach complete. He surrendered all his property, even the Newton Observatory."

There was a long pause while the other three pondered what they had seen and heard. Finally, Jones said slowly, "I'm sorry, sir, but I just can't believe it. Professor Newton was either drugged or forced to make that declaration by a threat on Bobby's life."

"That's true, Mr. Secretary," Ray added, "he's their prisoner."

"With your permission, sir," said Jones, "I'd like to find out." He handed his leave papers to DelPonte, who solemnly tore up both sets.

"Oh well," said DelPonte, "another day, another moon, maybe."

Chapter Three: Flight Plan

As he stood near the door to Secretary Drake's office, Marcus Griffin listened as Drake discussed the defection of Professor Newton with Rocky Jones, Winky DelPonte, and Vena Ray. He grew increasingly alarmed at what he heard.

A few seconds' work by Jones at the library console brought up a star map of the region of space between the Solar System and 70 Ophiuchi. Joining him, Drake said, "After the scientific conference ended," (he tactfully avoided saying "after Newton's defection"), "they asked us to close our embassy. You won't be welcome, either."

"Yes, I understand, sir," Jones replied. "But it could happen that we were lost in space and forced to land, couldn't it?" Griffin was amused to see that Jones didn't so much as crack a smile as he calmly proposed his subterfuge. "I'm sure they're not prepared to invite open warfare by imprisoning a couple of Space Rangers."

"They will be soon," DelPonte pointed out, "with Professor Newton on their side, huh, Rocky?"

"It's a gamble," Drake declared.

"But worth the chance, sir," Jones insisted.

Griffin didn't wait to hear any more. Silently, he left Drake's office, closing the door behind him, then made his way across the outer office and activated the astrophone on his desk. With the ease of long practice, he shifted from the standard frequencies used by the Department of Space Affairs to one that was known only to himself. His desktop calculator hummed as it worked out a set of coordinates in extrasolar space, which he fed into the astrophone's directional antenna.

"Griff to W-O-X. Griff to W-O-X. Come in."

Six light years from the Sun, there was a red dwarf star known as Barnard's Star. There were no planets or moons worthy of the name orbiting Barnard's; instead, a few clouds of dust and a handful of comets made up the Barnard's system. Nevertheless, Barnard's was located in a strategic position: it was the place where the region of space claimed by the UWSS came closest to the region claimed by the Ophiuchians. Beyond Barnard's were the stars that made up the Ophiuchius Group: 61 Cygni, Ross 154, Wolf 1061, Altair, 36 Ophiuchi, and 70 Ophiuchi itself. It was the region beyond Barnard's Star that the people of Earth meant when they talked about the Curtain of Space.

Barnard's Star was host to Space Station RV-3, which served as Earth's eyes and ears beyond the Curtain of Space. Unknown to Earth's political and military leaders, Barnard's Star was also host to an Ophiuchian scout ship that Griffin knew only by the code designation W-O-X. W-O-X served as a necessary relay point between the Solar System and the Ophiuchius Group, since the two systems lay outside of astrophone range of each other.

There came an answer over the comm system, in Terran Standard but with an unmistakeable Ophiuchian accent. "W-O-X to Griff. Come in, Griff."

"Beam urgent message to Ophiuchius," Griffin said. "Drake now believes Professor Newton prisoner. Rocky Jones may attempt rescue flight."

"We'll get it through, Griff," said the Ophiuchian voice. "Any further orders, Griff?"

"Stand by," said Griffin. "If rescue flight is attempted by Rocky Jones, will inform you of blast-off time and refueling station. You are to destroy his Orbit Jet before it reaches your zone, and the blame placed on you. Out."

Replacing the microphone, Griffin reset the astrophone to standard frequencies, then hurried back to Secretary Drake's office, easing open the door a crack and listening. He could hear Drake remind the others, "This is the curtain that separates our league of planets from the Ophiuchius Group. From that point on, they're able to jam our messages. After you pass that point, you'll be without a communication link. You'll be on your own, Rocky. It'll be dangerous."

"I understand, sir," Jones replied. "We'll make it, though. Now, where will our refuel station be?"

"That's up to you," said Drake.

"May I suggest Space Station RV-5? That's stretching the first hop, and there'll be very little traffic there."

"Great," Drake agreed. "And in the interest of secrecy I'll declare the area out of bounds except to commercial craft. Now, for your crew."

"So that those on the other planet can't claim invasion," said Jones, "Winky and I should go it alone. We'll disable our ship, land, search for Professor Newton and Bobby, and try to bring them back with us."

Vena Ray spoke up. "Please, Mr. Secretary, can't I go?"

"Out of the question," Jones immediately declared.

"Why?" asked Ray. "Would that make it an invasion?"

"No," said Jones, "but it's not a picnic, either."

"That's fine with me," Ray responded. "I don't like picnics."

Frowning, Jones said, "What I mean is, a flight like this is no place for a girl."

"I am not a girl!" After a moment, Ray added, "Well, yes I am, but I'm not a girl in the way you mean I'm a girl. I can take care of myself, Rocky Jones. I can be a real help to you. Please, Mr. Secretary, I know these people. I speak their language, and I know their country. For your information, Mr. Rocky Jones, I'm also licensed as a navigator."

"Miss Ray would be extremely valuable as an interpreter," Drake pointed out. "We mustn't pass up any chance to make the mission a success."

Griffin found himself grinning. Earth's society had reacted to the matriarchal government of Ophiuchius by becoming rather suspicious of strong women, and Griffin knew that Jones had particularly strong objections to them. He could hear the lack of enthusiasm in Jones' voice as he said, "Planetary conditions will be ideal at 0230. If you'll state my crew, sir, I'll prepare for blast-off."

"Winky will go," said Drake, "and Vena Ray will be signed on as auxiliary Space Ranger."

"Very good, sir," said Jones, sounding even more unhappy. "Ranger Ray, prepare to stand inspection at 0200."

"Very good, sir," Ray said coolly, and Griffin didn't doubt that she had deliberately echoed Jones' response to Drake.

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Beyond the Curtain of Space

The adventures of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger: Beyond the Curtain of Space continue at