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The crystal tower finally came into view.

 When they were close enough to make out the design, Traci gasped in shock. Kendahl and Rutherford both stared at her with confused looks. Encrusted in the entryway were precious stones that made up a clear picture: it was an outline of a young woman wielding a sword. And not just any sword—a katana.

 Traci’s mind raced. Who could possibly know that her martial arts training included the use of weapons, especially this one? Certainly Rutherford could not know, and it was doubtful that Kendahl would have guessed. But someone did, and they had gone to great lengths to let her know. She began to feel uneasy about whatever powers had built this place.

 She reached out and touched the mural. It was strangely warm beneath her fingertips, as though there was some mechanism operating behind the wall. She was caught completely off guard when both sides of the wall detonated, sending rocks flying outward to reveal two recesses. From these recesses, two curved metal doors hissed out from either side of the wall and closed around her. Having reacted a second too late, Kendahl and Rutherford now pounded on the smooth doors from outside, to no avail.

 Traci was gone.

Glory and Empire

Chapter 1

Traci Ganner stood looking out at the stars from her ready room. Her resplendent uniform, the cream and bright royal blue of the Orion navy, was pressed and immaculate as always. Her jaw muscles twitched just enough to convey her agitation, a habit she only permitted herself in private. Not given to pacing, as that tended to suggest uncertainty to her staff, Traci instead stood at rigid attention and peered out of the specially made portal that gave her a full view of the stars. Of course, she could not see the starships that loomed outside in the vastness of the Valdi A star system. She could not even see the fiery portal they had come to investigate. But both were out there, waiting.

Taking a deep breath and willing herself to relax, she considered the orders that she had read aloud to her crew just hours before--her “official” orders. But her orders also included an element of subterfuge this time, an element that turned her blood to ice.

It seemed that when the council wanted the impossible done, they threw her right into the middle of it. Come on, Traci, you’re stalling, she chided herself. With a deep breath, she willed her fear into submission, turned, and walked through the door to the bridge once more.

Michael McKenzie instinctively stood to give up the command chair. Traci crossed over to where he stood and took her seat. She glanced at the tactical plot, and did not like what she saw any more now than she had seventeen hours ago.

When they had first arrived in this star system, they did not expect to find its only habitable planet destroyed. Shattered would have been a more accurate description, she thought. The planet’s moon was broken into several large fragments, which had been hurled by some stupendous force into the planet itself, killing all its inhabitants. In and of itself, that was enough to give her cause for alarm. But their mission concerned the large portal that had been constructed in this system, perilously close to its star. They were to get close enough to the portal to confirm its reality and then return to Orion space. At least, that was what the mission officially called for.

But that was where things got complicated. When they had arrived, the now-dead system was teeming with Terran warships. Most of them had retreated by now, back through the gateway where they had come from. It had been most unnerving to watch as they steadily fed themselves into one side and failed to emerge from the other. That had confirmed what the Orion science teams suspected the gate’s function was, but it was no less spectacular to watch.

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