Copyright (c) 2006 Thomas J. Capps. This story is a work of fiction, based on characters created and copyrighted by Stephen J. Cannell.

PROLOGUE - THE EDGE OF THE GALAXY

It was happening all over again, and there was nothing they could do about it.

In the main ship of the Wanderers, the Speaker stood alone at the viewport. As in times past, he (recently he had come to think of himself as a "he", although gender was really unimportant to them, wasn't it?) had become the sole decision-maker for the Wanderers. When things were relatively peaceful (not less than 10 orbits, that was), they had tried to go back to their original way of life, including a tri-head council. But that was no longer possible. Now they could ill afford the time it took to discuss trivial matters, much less the items that might save countless alien lives.

The Speaker was about to press a button, without even realizing that the decision was already made, when the Assistant came hovering in. Not unlike the Wanderers themselves, the Assistant was the last of its kind. Perhaps that is why it chose to stay, though it really had few options. They had no ships to spare anyway, and it certainly had no wish to be dropped off on some isolated planet to live out the rest of its long, long life.

The Assistant, quite young for its race, waited with a reserved patience which was so unlike its earlier self. Obviously its thoughts ran parallel to the Speaker's own. If the Speaker had an umbilical sensor on his head it would probably be constantly drooping too.

The Speaker made a hand motion signaling acquiecense, and the Assistant tapped in some codes on an adjacent console. He understood what the resulting data would show, but was glad for the interruption anyway. He may be the sole decision-maker at the moment, but the others on this ship wanted him to know he was not alone. Obviously the Assistant could have input its information at its own station near the tranport rooms, but the message it was sending was more of a subliminal nature: We feel your pain, but we must endure.

The port changed to show a schematic of the galaxy in question. Any routes that were originally available to them, ANY routes, including the most secret, were secrets no more. There was absolutely no way to get there in time to save their Defender. The Assistant knew it, the others on the ship knew it, surely even the other member ships knew it, though they would not have had the resources to make it out this far anyway.

And if the Defender was lost, how long before the planet was also lost?

The Assistant trilled a few concilitory phrases at the Speaker, and then left him to his thoughts again. Unfortunately, the Speaker's mind turned to the past, instead of what could be done in the present. And why not? things were near hopeless now anyway.

The Wanderers came from a garden planet, now so much barren wasteland. Their race was now at its end, confined mainly to this ship, with a few Ambassadors assisting the other member ships. Without enough natural genetic material to keep their race going, when the last of the Wanderers died, who would continue? Oh, they could certainly synthesize some genetic material, but their offspring would quickly degrade with each new generation, so what would be the point? Would the other member races be able to continue the resistance? Especially now, when the menace was strong again?

Now, another garden planet was at risk. Chances were that it would be gone in a few rotations, and if not, then certainly in a quarter orbit or so. A few "days" or a few "months", to use the local vernacular.

And by the end of "today", the garden planet "Earth" will have lost its Defender, its "hero".

The Speaker began the sequence that would bring the ship away from the galaxy with the doomed green planet. The Wanderers would return, if only to record the devastation. In the meantime, they would hide, as they usually did. Perhaps the ships could find a place to meet, where they could all try to outguess the menace. When they had their fun on Earth, where would they turn next? What other green planets were within their reach? There were so few left...

A black leak of fluid began to trickle out of the side of the Speaker's eye, and down his green cheek. The loss of Earth would be almost as painful as the loss of his own planet. He felt as though he had adopted these people, these Humans, because they were so like his race, even though they were nowhere near as advanced. They were the ones who needed a Defender worst of all, because if they succeeded in destroying themselves, they had no ships that could leave their own orbit to save even a portion of their race. They were still trying to destroy themselves, but they'll never know now that it will be an alien force that finally ends the human race.

The Speaker adjusted the course slightly. The change was minimal, so perhaps his former tri-head council members wouldn't notice, in their current defense-planning duties. The Assistant would notice; the Assistant noticed everything; but the Speaker didn't think he would mind. Perhaps that was his ultimate reason for updating the Speaker in person. This new course would come much closer to the edge of the galaxy than they should dare, but at least they would now be able to monitor -

Yes, the Assistant's sensor board lit up remotely. Of course it would be watching. Directed toward a green planet, third planet out from its star. Patiently waiting to see if there was a chance, a small chance, that the initial wave was simply there to undo what the Wanderers did 20 orbits ago. And again 10 orbits ago. If that happened, perhaps there would be time to pick up the body of their Defender, and maybe even choose another. Of course, this new Defender would not have the luxury of a ten-orbit span to save their planet. They'd be lucky to have ten rotations.

The Speaker left the viewport after returning it to its forward view of space. He certainly wouldn't need the schematic to find the one route it would use if the chance arose. He left the viewing room, and headed for the former council chamber, to find a seat to rest for a while, and await word on Earth's hero. Of course, he couldn't help but morbidly wonder:

Was she already dead?