Shane Gooseman stood apprehensively outside Walsh's office. He took a deep breath and walked in.
Walsh, who was sorting through some papers on his desk looked up and gestured for Shane to sit down.
"Thanks for coming Goose. I called you here because I thought that you should know that all but one of the Supertroopers have been successfully apprehended and frozen. Darkstar is the remaining Supertrooper but we are not making it priority for you to capture her and bring her in. Your testimony after your last 'encounter' with her convinced the board of leaders that she was mentally stable."
"What does that mean?"
Walsh sighed heavily, "As far as the board of leaders is concerned, your job is done and there is no reason for you to remain in the galaxy rangers. There's going to be a hearing on Thursday about your future in the rangers."
"Is that all sir?" Walsh nodded and Shane left the room.
Shane was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, that he totally forgot that Niko was coming round to watch a film until he walked into his apartment. The heating was turned on and he could smell coffee being brewed in the kitchen.
"Sorry I'm late Niko, I was in a meeting with commander Walsh. I've just got to change I'll be out In a few moments."
Shane emerged from his bedroom wearing an old pair of jeans and a black shirt, Niko still wasn't in the sitting room so he walked into the kitchen to find out what was keeping her.
He took a startled step back and put his hand over his wildly beating heart. Niko was stood by the coffee maker talking to another woman who was perched on the edge of the counter snacking on crushed ice cubes.
"Darkstar?" he asked absolutely flummoxed. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh Shane, Stingray got captured and put in the cryocrypt. I need help and a place to stay."
"Of course, anything Darkstar. You can stay here as long as you want." He noticed what she was eating and added in a teasing voice, "As long as you don't eat all my ice cubes."
"I'm sorry Shane, I've just been getting all these strange cravings." Niko smirked, Shane looked worried.
"I wouldn't worry Goose, it's perfectly normal for her to be experiencing these cravings." Darkstar swung herself off the counter and stood facing Shane, for the second time since coming home, Shane did a double take.
Finally he said a bit weakly, "You've put on a bit of weight since I last saw you." Suddenly she put her arms around him and started to sob.
"I'm so scared Shane, I'm five months pregnant and in no position to raise a child, Stingray's as good as dead and I have no one else to turn to." Shane looked at Niko desperately, in sympathy she handed him a tissue, which he in turn handed to Darkstar.
"I'm sorry, I'm not normally like this," she said more to Niko than anyone else, "It must be the extra hormones."
"Nonsense." Replied Niko leading her into the lounge, "After what's happened to you, you're entitled to be upset."
Niko walked back into the kitchen, "She was sat outside your door when I got here. She said that she had to see you, she was in quite a state so I sat her down and gave her some coffee. What are you going to do about her?"
"What do you mean, she can stay here."
"She's a wanted criminal, some one will tell Walsh that she's here."
"I won't tell anyone that she's here and you won't either, will you Niko?"
Niko let out a small sigh, "Look Niko, the father, Stingray had been with Darkstar before the mass breakout at Wolf Den, he's gone and the other Supertroopers didn't like them much either, I'm the only person that she can turn to now. She has no one else."
"I won't tell him Shane. I've got to go home now. I'll come round tomorrow morning, I said I'd take Darkstar shopping." She walked out of the kitchen and said good bye to Darkstar. Shane sat down on the sofa next her, "Niko's nice." She stated, "I think so." Shane replied a little wistfully, "You're shopping with Niko tomorrow, have you got enough money?"
"I've got a couple hundred credits, I'm going to look for a job tomorrow. Are you coming with us?" Shane shook his head, "No, I'm meeting a friend. But I can meet up with you and Niko for lunch."
"Hey, my Gooseman!" Doc exuberantly greeted his friend with one of his familiar grins.
"Doc, I am in seriously deep shit." Doc seemed to be expecting an explanation,
"Have you dealt with many pregnant women Doc?" He burst into a huge grin and then started laughing, "I'm sorry Goose, but you don't strike me as the 'fatherly' sort."
"It's not mine!"
"Then how come you ended up with the pregnant woman." Goose sighed heavily and sat down on a rather overstuffed sofa.
"The 'woman' is a very old friend of mine, the father is dead, she's turned to me for help and I have no idea how to help her, I've never even known a pregnant woman." He looked up at Doc helplessly.
"Honestly my Gooseman, I'm not the one you should be talking to. Zachary has had a LOT more experience than me." Behind Doc's characteristically cheerful voice, Goose thought that he detected a hint of something he couldn't quite place, regret possibly.
"I can't go to Zach."
"The 'woman' is the last remaining Supertrooper, if Zach was to find out that she was here, he wouldn't hesitate in reporting us to Walsh and then we'd both end up being frozen."
"You should have more faith in Zach, he knows what it's like to lose a loved one. He wouldn't report you."
"Maybe Doc, I just don't want to risk it." He checked his watch, "I have to meet Darkstar and Niko for lunch, why don't you come along?"
"Don't mind if I do." Doc grabbed his jacket from a stand by the door, and the two made their way to the centre of the mountain and the shopping complex.
Niko and Darkstar were already in a booth by the time Goose and Doc got there. The two men slid into the booth. A waiter soon approached them and they all placed their orders.
"So what did you get Darkstar?" Shane asked.
"Some new clothes for me mainly, I got a few clothes for the baby too. Niko opened me a bank account but I haven't got a job yet."
"Don't worry about that," Doc cut in. "I have a friend who works for a haulage company, his secretary just left him and he needs another. Do you think you can handle that? It'll only be for a few weeks."
"Yes, Of course. It's money that I need, besides I don't think I'd be allowed to work more than a few weeks. I haven't had much experience though."
"Doesn't matter, as long as you can type. I'll give him a call this evening."
"Thanks, you two have been really good to me and you hardly even know me, I don't understand why you're doing this."
"You need our help and you're a friend of Goose's, we're happy to help. Besides, it'd be nice to have someone else to hang out with other than the guys." Niko smiled at Darkstar.
"Well, knowing Shane I'd say it's not surprising." Darkstar gave him a devilish grin.
Niko looked down at her watch.
"Don't forget we've got a briefing Doc."
"Damn." Doc looked at his own watch. "If we don't leave now, we'll be late." He waited for Niko to get her jacket.
"I'm sorry about rushing off like this." She apologised,
"It's okay Niko, I know what Walsh is like about punctuality. I'll see you later." The two women smiled at each other, then Niko and Doc left the restaurant.
"Doc what's eating you?" Niko asked as they walked towards Walsh's office.
"Nothing, what makes you think that something is?"
"I don't know, could be something to do with the total absence of sarcasm at lunch. Seriously, something's bugging you."
"It's just all this business with Goose and Darkstar, it brings back a lot of memories I'd rather forget. Before I applied to the Ranger academy, I was involved with a girl called Maria. A week before I got my 'summons' to BETA mountain, she told me she was pregnant. My parents found out and refused to have anything to do with me, I had no money and I was so scared. We decided that I would go to the academy and qualify as a ranger and when I had a steady income, Maria would come and live with me at BETA Mountain, we'd be a nice happy family unit. I guess Goose's situation brought back all the old memories." Niko was shocked.
"What happened?" she asked,
"Nearly four years ago, she just disappeared, I still get the occasional letter but she won't tell me where she is. I could have found them but Walsh set up the S5 rangers and I had no time left, I just didn't think about them after that."
"I'm sorry Doc, I had no idea."
"Do me a favour and forget I said anything." Niko nodded and the two turned into Walsh's office.
"Are you sure that you want to do this Darkstar?" Goose asked with some concern in his voice.
"Yes, it's something that I have to do. Like closure I guess." Goose slid his card through the slot by the door and placed his hand on the screen.
"Welcome to the cryocrypt Ranger Gooseman." He gestured for Darkstar to follow him down the corridor until they reached the end.
"It's this one." He said tenderly as indicated a capsule to her right. Darkstar looked at the capsule. A tear slowly rolled down her cheek. "I knew it was a bad idea to bring you here."
"No you were right to do it. I needed to see Stingray one last time. Thank you Shane."
A few months later
Darkstar looked at the mass of chocolate wrappers on the floor, she tried to reach down to pick some up. She didn't get very far. She hadn't been able to bend over for ages now and she hated all this sitting around doing nothing. She wanted to start kick boxing classes and do some exercise or do something. Anything would be better than watching television all day.
Her ears picked up a sound by the door, she turned the television down and listened,
"Captain Zachary Foxx."
"Granted." The door slid open, a tall, well-muscled man stood in the doorway looking at her in shock.
"Can I help you?" she asked politely. He shook his head as if to clear an image and looked at her again.
"Who are you and where is Gooseman?"
"Right behind you Zach." Shane stepped past Zach, "Can you move out of the doorway please." He carried the plastic bag into the kitchen and came out a few seconds later carrying a box of cereal which he tossed to Darkstar, "The chocolate cornflakes you wanted." He turned to face Zach who was turning an interesting shade of red.
"What did you want Zach?" Zach ushered Goose into the kitchen.
"Why have you got a very heavily pregnant woman in your apartment against regulations?" Goose sighed very deeply.
"Darkstar's an old friend of mine, I'm NOT the father, the father is dead, she's here because she needs my help." Goose scowled at the captain, as if daring him to report him to Walsh.
"It's Darkstar?" he said in surprise. "I thought she was still at large."
"She is, no one knows she's here and I am still on very thin ice after the hearing. If Walsh was to find out that she was here, all three of us would be frozen before you could say 'Ice-cream'."
"Three?" Zach questioned, Goose answered by patting his stomach. "Don't worry, I won't tell Walsh, Gooseman." He looked at the kitchen door, "Is she taking pre-natal?" Goose nodded. "I've got a load of baby stuff at home if you want it, you know, cot, bottles, washable nappies. That sort of thing."
"Thanks Zach, ask Darkstar if she wants them." Zach gave a short nod and walked back into Goose's living room. Goose breathed a sigh of relief, 'that went a lot better than expected' he mused, and went to join them.
"WHERE THE HELL ARE THE SERIES FIVE RANGERS!" Walsh yelled at a frazzled looking young man, "I don't know sir. We've tried every possible location."
"THEN TRY EVERY IMPOSSIBLE LOCATION!" the young man beat a hasty retreat. A few minutes later a chime sounded in the Commanders office, followed by a voice.
"Sir, Ranger Niko checked into the hospital about fifteen minutes ago."
"Well what's the problem. Go and get them."
"Um, Sir, Niko was admitted into the maternity ward, she appears to have been giving birth." Walsh cut the communications link and stormed out of his office in the direction of the hospital.
"It's all right Darkstar, scream all you want." Shane soothed, over his shoulder he gave his team mates the thumbs up sign. They all grinned at him in return.
"That's easy for you to say, you're not the one… ARRRGGGGGHHHH." Darkstar stopped and caught her breath back, "You're not the one giving birth."
"Mr. Gooseman." A young nurse appeared behind him, "I'm afraid you'll have to leave now sir."
"Okay, I'll see you later Darkstar, you'll make it through, you were born to fight like me. You won't let a silly thing like giving birth get in your way will you?" Darkstar shook her head. Shane leaned over and kissed her cheek. He left the room.
"Guess what Zachary." Doc asked with a worried note creeping into his humour.
"You don't want to know." Zach turned to face the same way as Doc and cursed.
"What the hell is he doing here?"
"I don't know but we'd better come up with a good reason for why WE are here."
"Busted." Doc muttered.
"What the hell are you two doing here, I try to find you when you are over an hour late for a briefing and during the search my aide informs me that Ranger Niko is giving birth. Which she obviously isn't." he added as Niko walked into the room closely followed by Goose. "I want an explanation NOW!" A nurse entered the room pushing Darkstar in a wheelchair, she was holding a small baby.
"Shane, it's a baby girl, would you like to hold her." Darkstar didn't even notice Walsh standing to one side of the rangers. Shane tenderly took the baby from her and cradled it in his arms. He felt as though his heart had swollen to ten times its normal size and there was a choking lump in his throat, totally taking away his ability to speak. The little person in his arms was the only person in the world to him at that point in time. Finally he looked up,
"She's beautiful." He whispered hoarsely. Doc and Niko were looking over his shoulder, "She's going to look just like you Darkstar." Niko told her. Shane kissed the baby's forehead and gave her back to Darkstar. Everyone suddenly remembered Commander Walsh and turned to face him. "Can I have an explanation for this." The rangers all looked uneasily at each other. Niko's wrist com beeped.
"The ship you requested is ready Ranger Niko."
"Give us a few hours." She closed the com unit and looked at Darkstar.
"That was the shuttle port. You can leave for Xanadau any time.
"All you need to do is get your bags."
"They're waiting by Shane's front door." Walsh cleared his throat and all eyes turned on him.
"Rangers Niko, Hartford, Foxx and Gooseman, report to my office in two hours." He turned round and left the room.
"Come on Doc, let's go and get Darkstar's bags, we'll meet you back here in ten minutes."
"Okay Zach." Niko replied, the two men left the room.
"What's Xanadau like Niko?"
"Lovely, the perfect place for a child, besides you and your child both have psychic abilities which my people will help you to train. I will come and see you often and my mentor Ariel will help you once you get there." There was a moment of silence, "I think I'll just go and get a drink." Niko left the room leaving Darkstar alone with Shane.
"You don't have to go. Don't go, please."
"No Shane, I really want to stay here, I really do but I can't, I'm putting you and your team in danger and now that Walsh knows, it's worse."
"I'll visit you lots. Don't think you can escape me that easily." He said in a weak attempt at humour. "Have you decided on a name yet?"
"Yes, Lodestar. I can just tell that she's going to be the centre of attention." She smiled up at him. "Thanks Shane, for everything. I know that Stingray would thank you too if he was here."
"If he was here, I wouldn't be." Shane looked guilty for a few seconds.
"I'm going to miss you so much, the apartment is going to feel so empty and who'll eat all my ice cubes?" Darkstar gave him a small smile. "Do yourself a favour Shane. Don't beat yourself up over the Supertroopers being frozen, I know you blame yourself but you shouldn't."
Doc waved to Goose through the window to indicate that they were ready to leave. Shane bent down and kissed Darkstar.
"Lodestar is going to be just as beautiful as you some day." He said wistfully, "Shame she doesn't have a father, we grew up without parents but she'll at least have one." Darkstar reached up and took his hand. A single tear sliding down her cheek.
"Has Darkstar left for Xanadau?"
"Then I never saw her, she was never here."
"Is that all sir?" Zach asked.
"You're dismissed, except Gooseman, I want a quick word with you." The three other rangers filed out of the room, "I'll call you later tonight." Niko whispered to him as she walked past. When they'd all gone, Walsh gestured to Goose to take a seat. "Shane, how long had Darkstar been living with you?"
"So the baby isn't…"
"No, it's not mine. It was Stingray's." Walsh let out his breath in a sigh of relief.
"Darkstar's very lucky to have a friend like you." He looked troubled for an instance. "You know Shane, I would let this slide if I could. But it's just not possible. Supertroopers were not supposed to breed with each other, We could never be certain what the mixed DNA would produce. I have to make a report to Dr. Nagata. We'd have to send him to Xanadau every month or so to monitor the child's progress." At this point Shane stood up.
"Don't you think that Darkstar's been through enough already, she knows how to reach me, if there's a problem with Lodestar then she can contact me. Just leave her in peace."
"I'll still have to make the report, but I'll advise that we only send him out to Xanadau if Darkstar requests our help. It's out of my hands." "With all due respect, sir, I don't think it is." Shane walked straight out of Walsh's office, slamming the door behind him.
Walsh sighed into the empty office, Gooseman was right. It wasn't out of his hands, he could forget this incident. But all the same, if something went wrong, he would be the first to be blamed. He pressed a few buttons on his com unit.
"Computer, send Nagata to my office."