* Seven *
Robert Jackson stirred from his dream state as he sat in his overstuffed chair while watching television on a nice and quiet Wednesday evening in Milwaukee Wisconsin on the twenty sixth day of March in the year two thousand and three. A video communications system that had been installed into the wall of his living room was chirping and had the noise awaken him. It was the first time that it had audibly chirped in thirteen years. He shut the television off with the remote and arose up and out of his chair to walk over and sit down the desk that sat below the chirping unit. He then activated the vid-com screen above him. Sleep, if not the dreams,would evade him one more time.
"Jackson here." he said yawning, as a visual of his long time friend, Donald April appeared on the viewer.
"Jay, I really do hate to bother you this evening, but as you can see I'm back aboard the Orion, in the orbit of Mars." April informed him.
"Alright Donald, I can see that." Jackson said, yawning again. "Why are you there?"
"A very old friend of ours has decided to repay us a visit. A Zaleen battle cruiser destroyer has crossed the Uorexuan-Zaleen neutral zone and is en-route to the Glammadren star system." April answered.
"There should be enough ships in the fleet to take care of things and make it change its course. I'm watching---
"Jay, it's Valakadria Tawn's flag ship, the Kalaketvia Tawn." April said, cutting Jackson off before he could finish.
"Okay. What does she want other than to make a social call after all these years?" Jackson asked.
"Well Jay, for starters, Empress Kalaketvia has just recently passed away. And secondly and most importantly, there has been a shift in power, if you catch my drift." April replied, as Jackson watched Donald's eyebrows raise.
"What's Valakadria's reason for not wanting to meet with us in Martian orbit?" Jackson asked as he reached over to grab a cup of hot steaming coffee that he had just poured.
"There ah ... wasn't one, Jay." April answered.
"Donald, can't you handle this problem? There's a real good television show on right now."
"We, and that includes you Jay, have got to go meet with her in the orbit of the planet Glammadren, Captain sir." April replied as his face loomed larger on the viewer.
"I would rather that she was en-route to Mars, Commander!" Jackson said, heatedly.
"Get yourself ready for immediate transport, First Officer April out." he said, and seconds later the screen turned pitch black.
"What a minute!" Jackson thundered. "Shit! Damned it Donald!" he yelled as he stood and nearly spilled coffee on himself, while the deafening noise of the engines on his transport shuttle rattled and broke windows throughout the house and caused lamps to slide off of tables and books to shake from shelves, along with everything else that wasn't glued or nailed down. The thirty foot long silver gray and lavender shuttle craft was attempting to land in his driveway, it's forward floods filled his living room with their ultra bright blinding light. When Jackson saw the first of these shuttles seventeen years ago they reminded him of a lava lamp turned on its side with lava lamp engine nacelles.
"Well there goes my house, the neighborhood, and my sleep." he said to himself as he headed for the front door while covering his eyes
"Kill those damn lights!" he yelled. "And the pilot too!"
Dogs barked from one neighborhood to the other and cats meowed and hissed as they ran for cover anywhere that they were able to find it, along with a few of their owners as well.
"Son of a bitch, Jackson!" yelled one of his next door neighbors. "Why can't you go to the airport like the rest of us?"
"What the Sam hell is that thing that just landed in your driveway?" yelled another.
"Somebody is paying for these broken windows!" yelled yet another one of his neighbors.
"Your windows any better than mine!" Robert Jackson yelled back. "Like yours was the only damn---
"Hurry up Bro, before they call the Air Force on us! We don't have all night you know!" yelled the voice of David Jackson as he motioned for his older and practically blinded brother to hurry up and board the shuttle, while at the same time a police car tore down the street and squealed to a stop in front of his house.
"Gotta go officer. I'll explain later!" Jackson yelled as the officer and her passenger got out of the still running car and made haste up the driveway and onto the shuttles ramp.
"Not without us your not!" Amber Jackson yelled as she and her brother Eric raced to enter the shuttle before David closed the hatches to deaden the sound of the noisy engines.
"Sis, shouldn't you have at least killed the motor on the patrol car?" Eric yelled as he picked out their seats.
"Backup can take care of it!" Amber yelled as she dropped down into the vacant seat beside her brother. "There goes my career with the Milwaukee police."
"Come on every body, take your seats, so we can get under way!" yelled Steven Davis, from the front of the shuttle.
"Alright, we can all stop yelling at one another!" Robert Jackson yelled as he dropped into a seat across from his children.
"Are you sober this time Steve?" Candice Jackson Simmons asked as they all began buckling up.
"He had better be. I'm not going into space with a drunken shuttle pilot." Amber Jackson said as she tried to strap herself in.
"Amber, we'll throw him in the brig if he's been drinking." her father told her as the shuttle lifted off and away from the not so nice and quiet neighborhood. "I should throw him in the brig any way for wreaking my house."
"If we should just happen by chance to make it that far." David Jackson said, having put in his two cents worth.
"For your information, I haven't been drinking," Davis told them.
"However after tonight, that's liable to change. But for now, you'll all make it to the mama ship safe and sound." he said as he gently nudged the shuttle forward and upwards into the evening sky while Amber desperately struggled to strap herself in.
"Hello to the Jackson family." Jim Jackson said as he leaned back in his seat.
"Donald was able to reach us us on our vid-com systems, Dad." Eric Jackson said as he gazed over at his father.
"The whole cotton picking crew was contacted by our illustrious Commander April!" David Jackson stormed aloud from his seat behind Robert's.
"I'm one of those that didn't want to make this---
"The Consortium went through the trouble of locating the entire ships complement from all over the Earth, and every one of us are on our way to the Orion, like it or not." Davis cut in to inform us.
"Why couldn't Davadra and Donald go meet Valakadria and call it a day?" Robert Jackson asked.
"I'm just a lowly helmsman and shuttle pilot, how the heck should I know." Davis said as the shuttle made its quick departure for Earth orbit. "You're an agent for the government, so, you tell me?"
"The United States Government, Davis." Jackson replied. "Not the United Galactic Consortium of---
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, can it you two!" Candice Simmons yelled from her seat.
"Will somebody help me buckle my seat belts, pleeeeeease!" Amber screamed.
"Holy crap!" David uttered nervously, as he watched his niece struggle with her harness from across the isle.
"Will she be ready to make the trip to Glammadren?" Robert Jackson asked as he watched, unable to help Amber with her straps because everyone was pinned back into their seats by the tremendous g-forces as the shuttle accelerated into space.
"She can't even get secured in her seat," David Jackson thundered. "How the hell can she be ready---
"Oh she's ready alright, Captain," Davis informed every one as within minutes the g-forces slowly began subsiding. "The Consortium has overseen the Orion's refit in Martian orbit from start to finish." he added.
"They won't like turning the reigns back over to---
"They don't have to turn anything back over to us if they don't want to David." Jackson said, cutting his brother off as the shuttle's view port and starboard windows began opening after they had made it safely into orbit.
"Davis, I know that this shuttle has stabilizers, artificial gravity and all that!" he blasted as he hurriedly unstrapped and darted across the aisle in order to help his niece with her safety harness.
"Course set and locked in for planet Mars." Steven Davis said, paying David Jackson little if no attention at all as he made preparations to leave Earth orbit.
Other shuttles took off from different countries on the planet's surface, making their ascent into Earth orbit, following the captain's personal shuttle now on its way to the Orion.
"Activating phase drive." Davis said and the shuttle began accelerating in speed, leaving their home world behind them.
"I'm not exactly sure as to how we're going to successfully, and once again, explained to the rest of humanity, about this mass exodus off the planet." Robert Jackson said, breathing a little easier now that his daughter was securely strapped in. "Everyone's going to be teed off like they were seventeen years ago when this happened." he stated.
"Like I am right now!"James Jackson thundered. "Davis, either you, or April, is going to pay for all the damages done to my---
"A lot of people, including myself, are teed off for having been dragged back up here after thirteen years of shore leave." David Jackson said, now strapping himself back in just in time as we watched the view port and starboard windows close.
"--- house."Jim Jackson finished saying.
"He wreak yours too?" his brother Robert asked.
"I know I'm teed." Darla Jackson said from her seat next to her husband Jim.
"Yes, he did." Jim Jackson answered.
"I'm teed too." Summer Dawn echoed.
"They had better have some Delindrian coffee waiting for me when I get there, or I'm gonna be teed off at somebody big time." said Candy Simmons, Robert's, David's, and Jim Jackson's baby sister.
"I don't know about the rest of you but I think I've wet my pants." Amber Jackson said as they whisked pass the moon.
"Going to phase zero point six. Phase zero point seven. Phase zero point eight. Phase zero point nine. Phase one. Phase one point one. Phase one point two. Phase one point three. Phase one point---
'Has it been thirteen years?" Robert Jackson asked.
"Just get us the hell to Mars, Stephus! And count to yourself, will you! I for one don't want to know how fast we're going!" David Jackson yelled to the front of the shuttle. "And yes dear brother, for your information, it's been thirteen years." he added.
"Phase one point five." Steve finished the count aloud anyway.
"I'd say that we're going pretty fast. Wouldn't you say so, Mister Davy Crockett Jackson?" Steve asked aloud.
"If you weren't flying this heap, I'd be thumping your head, just as fast as we're going, too!" David yelled back. "You house wrecker!"
"That ought to about do it. Killing phase drive on behalf of David Jackson!" Steve yelled back as he took us out of phase drive.
"You just wait!" David replied.
"Alright you two!" Candy yelled at the top of her lungs. "Settle it! And I mean right now!"
"Some things will never change." Jim Jackson said as Darla and Summer both agreed while they waited for the red planet to appear out the view port windows once they had reopened.
"Just a slight course correction and we should be seeing Mars at about any time." Steven said as the shuttle's speed continued to decelerate.
"This is Lieutenant Steven Davis, aboard the captain's shuttle, Patricia Gayle. Orion, do you acknowledge, over?" Davis asked, turning in his seat to face Robert Jackson who had a stunned look on his face from the mention of his late wife, Patricia's name.
"They've renamed a few of the shuttles after our deceased loved ones and crew mates, as a memorial to them." He told us as we sat there in our moment of silence.
"Patricia Gayle, this is Commander April aboard the Orion. The captain's shuttle can dock when ready." said the voice of Donald April over the vid-com system.
"Steve, do you think that you can safely dock this shuttle without crashing us into one of the engine nacelles and killing us?" David asked as the Orion appeared in the orbit of Mars.
"Just like riding a bicycle," Steve answered as we neared the mother ship. "You never forget."
True to Steve's word, the United Galactic Consortium of Inhabited Worlds had made some major improvements to the outside of the three mile long ship from bow to stern as she rotated in her titanium steel girdered dry dock that their shuttle slipped easily enough through. There were no port or starboard sides of the ship because for the most part, the Orion was cylindrical. An aft and forward gangway tunnel connected the Orion to the four-mile long bay via the Orion's central core air lock entry ports.
The Patricia Gayle along with many other shuttles slowed to match the speed of the Orion's rotation and looked as if they seemed to hover magically over their oval shaped docking bay doors, all along the three mile long star ship's hull, between the twelve engine nacelle view deck pylons. Steve then rolled his shuttle over, or turned it upside down, and the huge solar paneled covered oval door slowly opened above them.
Shuttles from everywhere on the planet Earth now hovered over and under their individual docking bay doors all about the Orion's outer hull, and were either rolling over or turning upside down so that their bay doors were above them before being pulled up and into the ship.
Steven Davis held their shuttle steadily in place until a grappler arm attached itself to the top of their small craft and pulled it upwards and into the first of two air locks.
During this moment in time Davis began his shut down procedures.
The outer doors slowly closed and they continued upward into the second air lock. They hung suspended inside the lock until the middle set of doors slid shut beneath them before they ascended to the main shuttle deck.
While still hanging suspended, the last set of doors slid shut beneath their shuttle before the re-tractor arm settled them gently down onto the door itself, which then doubled as the deck flooring beneath their feet.
Unstrapping, David hurriedly opened the hatches while the others unstrapped from their seats and made their way down the shuttle's ramp. He waited up for Steven Davis so that he could thump his head.
Robert Jackson walked slowly down the ramp to stand alongside his family members and friends that had gathered about in the docking bay as they departed the shuttle. His eyes riveted on three people that stood at about six or so feet in front of the ramp that he had just stepped off of as other shuttles began settling down in the bays that were forward, aft and on either side of their own.
Davrina Adriakar who slightly favored Catherine Zeta Jones stood to the left side of the person in the middle and Sathrana Celane who slightly favored Sandra Bullock stood to the right side of the person in the middle who slightly favored Jane Seymour. It was the person in the middle, now handing him a language aid translator that he inserted into his left ear, who would speak with him first.
"Well, this had better be good," Robert Jackson said as his eyes gazed around the shuttle bay for the first time in thirteen years. "Now that everyone on Earth has been thrown into a worldwide panic, again." he said as the others came to semi attention.