CHAPTER II - "In Persuit"

New Space Ranger recruit Darren Hexaflouride was just finishing up his Space Breakfast (egg paste in a tube and a bowl of plastic orange-juice cubes) on board the Space Ranger Cruiser Vincennes when his cabin was filled with a brilliant white light. The sun had come up over the edge of the Moon, far below! It was the first sunrise that Darren had seen that wasn't of the Earth!

"Jeepers! I guess I'll get used to that soon enough, when I've got my 'space legs' under me. The sun still has to rise up here too!" Darren thought to himself. Up here in the vastness of space, you'd spend a lot of time thinking to yourself too.

Suddenly a flash zoomed by and everything in the Space Ranger Cruiser shook!

Darren was so surprised he didn't know what to think! But then the ship's alarm system came on, and Darren knew exactly what to do! Following normal Space Ranger procedures, Darren quickly ran up to the battle deck to report to Commander Bill Rogers.

"Space Ranger Darren Hexaflouride reporting for duty, sir!" Darren barked out.

Darren saw that he was the last to report, and the other eighteen Rangers in his troup were already standing at attention.

Commander Bill now started briefing them, on what was going to be their very first Space Mission!

"We've intercepted a spy ship from the empire of the Mind-Worms on its was back from the Earth. We don't know how they got past our defenses on the way in, but we have to make sure they don't get past us on their way home. It is absolutely imperative that they not complete this mission. The political implications on the neutral star systems if the Mind-Worms were seen flaunting our defences like this would be catastrophic. We have to catch that ship. We need to find out what they were doing, and what they accomplished. Most of all, we need to make sure that none of them survive."

The Commander's orders confused Darren. He was pretty sure that the Space Ranger Conduct Manual which he read every night before he went to bed said that a Space Ranger would only fight in self defence, and would never kill another sentient being unless their was absolutely no other way to save his own life, or that of another United Free Stellar Republic citizen.

"We're on a persuit course right now, and we should be close enough to attack in about fifteen minutes. So go get suited up and stand by at the main airlocks. Full combat gear, laser rifles, and nerve gas RPGs in case we can't vaporize them without actually boarding."

Darren was too occupied wondering about the Space Ranger Rules of Engagement to wonder about the order to use nerve gas, which everyone knew had been banned back in the barbaric days of the 20th century, and never manufactured since.

"Sir?" Darren timidly approached Commander Bill as the other Rangers scattered to their cabins.

"What? Hurry up, boy, this is combat!"

"Sir? The Space Ranger Conduct Manual says that as a Space Ranger I can only attack an alien being in a clear case of self-defense, if he...."

The Commander smiled, and pinched Darren's cheek.

"Always trying to live up to our High Moral Code, aren't ya boy? That's good. In a case like this, where the political ramifications of a perceived weakness in our tactical preparedness could have long-range economic repercussions, ie: a lifting of the Venusian embargo against Reptilian medical supplies, or a shift in public opinion on our veto block in the Galactic Council and the necessity of our continued enforcement of martial law in the Pleiades, or any of a number of other issues where our position is on somewhat shakey ideological grounds, or anything that in any way destabalizes our status quo or that of federation corporations, has been defined as being a direct physical attack on unarmed Stellar Republic citizens. That's how we got the authorization to use thermonuclear weapons against those printing houses that published 'The Galactic Times' last week."

Darren tried to smile. He was pleased as punch that his commander had an answer for his doubts, but he was a little bit intimidated by the answer, because he didn't understand it at all.

"You go suit up and get ready, you're about to see the Space Rangers' arch enemy face to face! We can talk about Code of Conduct regulations and standard procedures for bypassing them later."

The Commander gave Darren a big pat on the shoulder, and Darren ran back to his cabin. Maybe all of his teachers at the Space Ranger Academy had been right when they told him to never ever ever think about what he was ordered to do.

If all the Space Ranger officers were as smart as his Commander, Darren knew they'd win this war! Or 'Peace Settlement', or whatever the technical term for it was. He'd have to ask Commander Bill about that later. Right now he had to suit up and defend unarmed citizens back on Earth from these fleeing Mind-Worms!

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