Aftermath – Part I

by Nocturnus

Hey, yeah, it’s me. I’m not sure why I’m recording all this, I lived it, you might not have. Anyway, this recorder was a gift from a friend. She always said I was a good storyteller, and that I should record stuff. Well, here goes.

It had been many decades since TRI first started repopulating space, attempting to unify the factions but ultimately failing. The rebel groups swelled and dwindled in a cyclic pattern, swatting at various TRI initiatives, then falling away again as people lost hope. ISU was hardly the first, but it was the one my late father was part of, until it too died. The ways of TRI are truly mysterious. We were pushed to the brink of extinction by the conflux, if not for the efforts of the few brave pilots in squads such as New Dawn, Fatal Shadows, and so on. TRI did nothing, despite having superior technology in their ‘enforcer’ class ships. It was only when we were truly desperate, all the gates infested, that they acted. The dregs of ISU released some of their propitiatory technology to the flux hunters stationed in GBS, who managed to adapt their weapons to be vastly effective against the flux. TRI, not to be outdone, handed out a pair of enforcer ships, to a pair of New Dawn pilots. For hours they fought, in the Solrain Core sector, picking off the conflux while the remainder of the fleet battled their way from GBS. Eventually, they fought back the conflux, but at a very great cost.

We lost a lot that day. The conflux demolished most of our space assets, including the majority of the jumpgate system. Octavian space was cut off for months, while the remnants of the pilots worked to rebuild the shattered gates. The regular conflux raids against us often set us back, but still we carried on, finally reaching what was left of the Outpost station. There was nothing but wreckage, and a massive asteroid field where Cinatus once was. The same story was found true for the other Octavian planets, and their stations. The magnificent Great Pillars, in ruin. It was with much sadness that day that the few remaining Octavians returned to Solrain Core, now homeless.

The Quantar fared little better, Corridor falling early to the conflux attacks, then Quantar Core. The explosion of the station’s reactors going hypercritical were seen weeks later, in far away sectors. Tripoint was saved only by what they called the grace of Hamalzah – the few pilots who were able to fly were given Typhoons, regardless of rank, and managed somehow to hold off the hordes. My father fell trying to hold Q Core, ejecting and returning to the station just as it blew. My mother and I were saved as we jumped into Quanus Crossing in a Cyclone light fighter each. We weren’t combat pilots, but it mattered not to the conflux.

The Solrain stations held up well, despite sustaining massive damage. The engineers in them shut down the reactors as the station fell, then evacuated. Falling back to Sol Core, they were eventually infested in and yeah, I told you what happened.

When the dust settled, we were in a bad way. Real bad.

Fast forward five years now. I’m a certified combat pilot, not out of skill or desire, but out of necessity. Our modified weaponry works well against the conflux, and we’ve managed to push them back to their own galaxy now. TRI walked in and claimed anything they could from  the ruined remains that was left, and now we stand at two operational stations – Solrain Core and Tripoint. Hundreds of thousands of billions of credits worth of pilot’s assets gone. Hundreds of skilled pilots, dead. Like I said, brink of ruin stuff. Now, we’re rebuilding, again. The Octavians are breeding, slowly rebuilding their kind. The handful that were left are too small to prevent inbreeding, so they have been forced to take partners from other factions. This diluted their blood, but made them bitter, at the conflux who exterminated so many of them, and at the TRI government who let it happen. Most of them you find nowadays running one of the few super carriers, like the one I’m on now, collecting resources from the wreckage, scavenging for technology, searching for hope. Hope that some of them escaped alive.

I signed on because the pay is good, and they offered to certify me for some of the heavier ships. It used to be easy, shoot some flux, deliver some cargo, go up in rank, get new ships. Now it’s all certification based. Want a heavy fighter? Prove you can fly it. Cargo superhauler? Better show us your log book of runs in a smaller ship. I’m sure you get the idea. Me? Well, I’m certified for a light fighter, and a light miner. The miner doubles as a cargo carrier at times, but otherwise I’m just a little fish in the big ocean.
The supercarrier “Nicolette IV” started to slow, almost imperceptibly. A siren blared. “All hands, prepare for deceleration turn and burn” came across the PA, and instinctively I grabbed for the bar on my room. A slight jolt as the ship began to spin, then almost two minutes later another as it stopped it’s spin. A deep throbbing pulsated through the deck beneath me as the gigantic engines strained against momentum. More minutes passed, the throbbing still there, until it finally stopped. I hit a button on the terminal, and looked at the map.

“Target: ROTACOL d41 eta 0h0m0s at 0v.”

We had arrived. Radar scans showed no conflux activity, and a large concentration of asteroids and wreckage. I fingered the jewel around my neck, a single red gem created from a strand of my fathers hair. “We’re home, Dad.” I said quietly, looking out across the void at where Perasca once was.

The PA blared again, snapping me out of my thoughts. “All salvage teams, prepare to scan the station remains. All mining crews, prepare to acquire resources. All engineering teams, prep all ships for immediate launch.” I pressed a button on the screen to see what I had been assigned. Salvage duty. I set the mainframe to reconstruct the planet, hoping to locate the asteroid which had once been his home, left the jewel in my drawer, and raced for the launch bay.

Days had passed and we had salvaged much from the remains of the station. I managed to find a cache of “Haven” ship shields, which were mostly undamaged. There were a few ship hulls as well, but too damaged for anything but scrap. One was a Khamsim, a proud sight, sadly smashed in at the top. The massive gun mount still held a Financier Mk II mining beam though, although it almost felt like sacrilege to remove it. A pair of Typhoons were stripped of their weapons, while one was recovered whole and intact. We spent a few days recovering the commodities from the destroyed marketplace after that, while the science teams inspected the remains of the factories to try and gain some knowledge from it. Then finally, it was over. The station was bare, and we were all back on mining duty, save the science team who had moved onto the shipyard wrecks.

The computer had located the roid that my father had buried his first wife, on his property, and I managed to fly to it and leave the jewel behind. He always wanted to be buried with his family, and with Mom’s vaporization, this was all he had left. I noted the location in my will for when I was to be buried as well, and that was it. The captain knew of my plans, and although annoyed at me “wasting time”, had everyone leave me alone for the duration.

As I flew out in my light miner, the comms crackled into life. “Jede, you done yet?” It was the captain, no doubt threatening to dock my pay because I took too long. I sighed, and replied.

“Yeah, I’m done. Orders update please?”

“Good. I’ll upload some rotacol co-ords to your ship, get over there and have a look. It reads as a cluster of roids, tightly packed, so it might be worth looking at. Take semifluxors over anything else though, we really need some of that stuff. I was hoping to get some Germanium from the station, but there was none.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. I’ll report in when I get there, ETA twelve minutes.”

“Twelve minutes? Bah, what a friggin slow piece of junk you fly.”

“Well, if you’d certify me for a bigger ship, it might take less time, yaknow…”

“Just shut up and get going. You know I can’t certify you without the required amount of flight time.”

“Yeah, I know. Jede out.”

Pushing on the throttles as if they could go past 100%, I sighed again and settled back in my seat for the trip. One day, I’d get a bigger ship. I knew that there were two Khamsin chassis on board, and no-one to fly them. I mused to myself what I would call them once I got my certification, and before I knew it, I had arrived.

“Roid field my ass” I cursed, looking at the wreckage of the massive pilot station. It looked relatively intact, but seemed to be powered down. I stabbed at the comms switch. “Uhhh, captain? Jede here.”

“Yes, what did you find?”

“Looks like a pilot owned station. Big one too. Looks mostly intact, too.”

“Are you for real? You better be or I’ll have you in a Storm for the rest of the trip!”

“I’m serious. You could probably dock with it if it had power.”

“Then do it.”

Oops. I probably shouldn’t have said that.

“In this piece of junk?”

“Yes, in that piece of junk. Or do you need to go back to basic training to learn to dock again?”

“Uhhh, no sir. I’m on it.” Docking training sucked, so I’d do almost anything to avoid being forced to recertify. Lining up the tube really carefully, I inched forwards hoping the door would open for me. It didn’t.

“Uhh, captain, I need to go outside and manually open the door.”

“Then do it. Be careful though.”

“Will do.”

Be careful indeed. Like he cared about anything other than his bottom line. I flipped open the cockpit glass, and giggled as something my father told me came to mind, about a pilot who kept stealing them. I floated to the control panel and pushed it open. Dead. I found the auxiliary power/data port and ran the cable back to the ship, plugging it into side. I just hoped that the pitiful excuse for a power generator they gave me would do the job. I patched into the station computer just in time to see a boot up sequence.

“How you going kid?”

“Jump-starting it right now. The station computer is alive so far, not sure what I’ve got yet. Wait, wow. You’re going to love this.”

“What is it?”

“I see five market modules, 2444 space used, 156 free. Refuel and repair off-line, but one hangar, fully stocked. Market contains… Oh my god…”

“WHAT?”

“Sir, we’ve discovered an artifact market.”

Artifacts were in even more demand now than they were when first discovered. If TRI knew about this, we’d be forced to hand it over to them, without compensation.

“Can we dock there?”

“Sure can, if my reactor can hold up running the station.”

“OK, I’m sending in the salvage teams. ETA 3 hours. You get in and see what you can find.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Jede?”

“Yes?”

“You better think about what you intend to name your Khamsin.”
Once inside, I managed to get the majority of the station on-line. The auto repair was unable to do anything about the repair and refuel modules, but got the main reactor on-line again. I docked my ship, and loaded it with a heap of light items. The Condors showed up a bit before the three hours were up, loaded up and left, taking a large part of the inventory with them. Four members of the science team docked, hacked the controls on the ships in the hangar, and left with them, also fully loaded. A Thunder tow, another Khamsin, a Typhoon (complete with a full kit of artifact equipment!) and a storm shuttle. Six hours later, they returned, with a disassembly crew, and started to pull the station down and bring the parts back with the remains of the market. I was ordered to come back with the second lot, the final parts were to follow soon enough. In my ship, despite being light, it still took 4 hours to get back. At least I didn’t have to wait in line to dock, the others having passed me a while ago.

The gravlift brought my ship up to the launch bay level, and I unclipped my harness. Climbing out, I met the captain.

“Good find. Your hours are barely enough for your certification, but I signed it anyway.”

“Thanks, Captain.”

“Get some food, then we need you in a Cyclone. Our long range radars are picking up something, we’re not sure what though.”

“Oh? How far?”

“Pretty far. I hope it’s not TRI, if they suspect we found a station, they’ll confiscate all our materials. We’re going to fight them for it, if need be.”

I stared at him blankly. He saw my stare and glared back.

“Yes, fight them. Those are your orders.”

“Ye… Yes, sir.”

“Good, now get to the mess and get some grub.”

I nodded and ran off.

I’d just finished my meal when the PA blared again. “All combat crews to the launch bays. This is not a drill.” I pushed my plate aside and ran for the door. Practically flying down the stairwell, the sirens started wailing, and a red warning light began to spin. “Impact warning, all hand brace.” I stopped and held on, feeling the thud then shudder of the impact. Pausing briefly, I wondered what it was we hit, or were hit by, then resumed running. I hit the flight deck still running, crossing the distance to the Cyclone in a matter of moments. I climbed in, strapped myself down, then punched the activation sequence.

“What the?” I swore, as the equipment grid activated. Antagonizer power plant, Impeller engines. Chime radar and a Spore Cap. A Haven shield! I flipped to the MODx page, and was greeted with a trio of Flash fires. Flash fires! Those were rarer than most of the artifact parts you could find. A quad of purgatory missiles and some heavy duty lasers rounded out the ship. I was loaded for bear.

“Cap?” I called across the comms.

“Yes Jede?”

“I’m ready, I suppose it’s pretty hot out there?”

“We wouldn’t have given you that stuff if it wasn’t. Get back in one piece. You’re going out with a pair of Dragons, so cover them well.”

Dragons! Big guns indeed. I launched into space, the familiar shove of the tube pinning me momentarily to the seat, then I cycled the radar looking for targets. TRI Enforcers. Two of them. Damn.

“Jede, we’ll shoot them up, you chase them as they run.”

“Gotcha.”

The enforcers turned to face the new threat, heading directly for one dragon. The Dragon pilots opened up, rail gun rounds flying towards the small ship, impacting on it, stripping it’s shields in seconds.

“Now Jede!” One called, and I slammed the throttles to full, kicking in the afterburners. The Enforcer turned and accelerated away, but I was on him, pelting his ship with laser fire. A purple trail extended from his engine trails and he sped away even faster, and as I was about to activate my own flash fire, someone yelled at me to stop.

“The other one now, save those eff-effs boy!”

I spun to find the other Enforcer, watching it run with sparks trailing behind. It was too far to chase, so I came back to the pair of dragons. Again, the Enforcers came at us, only to be chased off. I managed to down one as I engaged a flash fire, staying in range and finally scoring a hit on its engines, destroying them, then the ship. The Dragons pilots cheered.

“One left, Jede. He’s pretty banged up at that.”

I smiled and turned to face the second Enforcer. It was limping away as best it could, sparks flying out of the back.

“He’s banged up all right, I think a harsh glare would finish that thing off.” I let loose with the lasers, the first few shots going wide, but then they hit, spinning it on its axis as internal explosions tore it apart.

“OK boys, good work. Now dock and refuel, we’re not out of trouble yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“They took out our engines. We’re stuck here until we can repair them.”

“No spares?”

“You know as well as I do that the only place that makes engines for this thing is Amananth. Does it look like we’re in Amananth? No.”

I swore quietly as I docked. The man had a point.
Well, things were looking pretty grim. The pair of engines was the first targets of the Enforcers, destroyed by a salvo or torpedoes – standard operating procedure in fact. We were drifting in space near the wreckage of Corridor station, unable to move. TRI would be rather upset by the lost of their Enforcers, so reinforcements would be coming soon. Luckily, the captain had a plan.

A pair of Condor hulls, cargo pods removed, slowly throttled up, taking in the slack on the massive super-alloy rope. The gravitic distortion of their engines barely visible from the thrust nozzles, then a small burst of the braking thrusters. They turned slightly, synchronizing direction, then strained once more as the pilots heaved on the massive carrier. I was watching from the cockpit of my Cyclone, covering them from the occasional squid that attacked. I looked again, squinting slightly, then realized that it had moved a bit. Targeting it, I read off the display – “Target: Nicolette IV d 2243 2v”.

We were moving again.

I bounced in my seat in celebration, when the communicator blared at me. “Jede, you there?”

I replied affirmative to the captain.

“We’re picking up some flux about 80 thou above us, closing in at 400v. Move in to intercept if you can, but don’t stray too far. We’ll keep you posted as to what we see once it gets closer.”

“Gotcha.”

I flew into an escort position slightly above the carrier, peering at my limited radar. Flux at 400v? I scratched my head wondering what it could be, but nothing sprang to mind. Two and a half minutes later, I had my answer. “Target: C0 Jellyfish d 23844 400v”

What… the… heck?

Almost on cue the Captain was onto me. “Jede, you see it too now, I expect. We’re launching extras to help you out. Play it cool, keep it busy, and don’t get hurt. It must die, ok?”

I replied as I hit the throttles, setting an intercept course towards it. Something was really wrong here, Jellies don’t do 400v, they do 100v, at best. As I closed with it, I tensed, expecting… well not sure what to expect. It flew past silently, not even appearing to notice me. Almost 10k behind me, a pair of Dragons and a trio of Phoenixes had launched, and were madly ABing towards me. I settled in 800m behind it, lined it up, and gently squeezed the trigger. The trio of lasers lit up patches of the flux, and it spun wildly, before accelerating at a ninety-degree angle away from me. I tried to keep up, but it kept turning just as I caught up, forcing me to slide wide each time. Eventually, the familiar trail of slugs from the Octavian ships was flying, and the Jellyfish was diving and dodging like nothing we’d ever seen before. Suddenly, it disappeared, jumping out of the sector as only conflux do.

“That was odd,” remarked one of the pilots.

“Yeah, not even a scratch on it, and it ran away,” commented another.

“Guys,” I began, flipping my ship and heading for the carrier, “I think it’s a trap. We better get back right now.”

I hoped I was wrong, I hoped I was wasting AB fuel in my mad dash back, I hoped that the jellyfish leading us 45km away from the carrier was coincidence, not strategy.

I was unsurprised to hear from the others that my hopes were in vain. Their larger radars picked up the attacks a lot sooner than I would have in my ship, but I was closer by a few thousand meters. Several C7 class Manta were strafing the Condors as a C10 Eel was pounding the hull of the carrier with plasma rounds. I dropped my purgatory missiles on two of the Manta, and gave a third a tickle. The third turned and fired at me. It missed by a fair distance, and then attempting to run as I continued to blast it. Further out, the two others were madly fleeing from the missiles on their tails. I was about to place the final shots on this one, when my missile warning lit up.

“Uh, guys, check your targets!” I complained, changing radar modes so I could evade.

“What are you talking about?” one of them replied.

I finally found the missiles, and they weren’t what I expected.

“Be careful out there, I have conflux missiles on me.”

The other pilots swore. Octavian ships were renowned for their susceptibility to missiles. I dodged a little late, two of the conflux missiles missing but two of them clipped my wing, exploding in a pink mess, arcing against my shields. The shield failure light changed to amber, warning me that I was in trouble. A quick glance at the readout showed me at 2% shields.

“I have to withdraw and recharge, can someone cover me?”

No one answered; they were all too busy with various conflux that had been constantly appearing, harassing the defenders. The missiles flew past again, missing me. Third time was usually the charm, if they missed then they would run out of juice and die on their own. They came around for the last time, and I dodged. Something hit me, hard, and I bounced into my harness. One of the wings tore off with a huge shudder, and I flicked my head to see what I hit and saw the remains of the wing embedded into one of the manta as it exploded. The first missile flew past where the wing was, exploding off in the distance harmlessly. The other smacked me fair up the back end, shoving me hard into my seat. Warning lights went red across the dash as I wrestled for control back, but eventually had to agree with the computers report of engine failure.

“Jede, you ok?” called someone. I tried to answer, but they couldn’t hear me. I sat there, drifting away at speed, watching the firefight in the distance get further and further away.

“Jede, just hang tight, we’ll send a rescue crew for you once we’re in control here. Don’t eject unless you have to, that hull is too valuable to just discard, ok?”

Again, I couldn’t respond. Before too long, I couldn’t make out the other fighters, and the carrier was starting to look like a smudge on the cockpit. I was well and truly out of radar range, had been for a while. Some of my retro thrusters sort of worked, others were dead. I used the last of my thrusters fuel to stop. Weapons were out, but the shield was slowly recharging. Life support was good, thankfully, but then again it always the last thing to go on these ships. I suddenly tensed up, noticing a pink dot, coming towards me. I sat there, wishing I had some kind of weapon, tracking it on my radar. “Target: C0 Jellyfish d 22171 400v”

Damn. Less than a minute until it was on top of me, and I had no way of defending myself, or calling for help. This was looking really bad. It wasn’t too long before I could see the jellyfish with my own eyes, and almost exactly a minute later, it had stopped right in front of me, as if gloating. Moments passed as I stared at it, and I guess it was staring at me. It drifted a little closer, reaching out to my ship, only to recoil suddenly as the shield arced across its tentacle. It started shooting at me, laser fire being absorbed by the shield, slowly lowering them. This would be embarrassing, taken down by a jellyfish, but what could I do? The shield warning light went amber, then red, as the shields dropped. The jellyfish reached for the ship, grabbing hold of it, trying to drag it… somewhere. At the same time, it reached into the ship via some of the holes, and then suddenly the shield warning light went out completely. No shields. It didn’t stop there, another tentacle snaking to a rip in the hull and going inside, this time near the cockpit. I felt something moving beneath me, and when I looked at the screen, I felt the blood drain from my face.

“Ejection pod malfunction.”
“Jede…” The voice taunted me. I stirred a little, recognising it.

“F…Father?” Silence greeted me. I looked around, nothing at all. My ship, gone. The universe, not there. Just an unending blackness. I called out a little louder, “Father!” The final syllable echoed around off invisible walls.

“Your father is dead, Hamalzah has taken him, my child.” The priest. He told me nothing I didn’t already know. My mother, she took it badly, collapsing on the floor of the docking bay, crying. “He ejected back to the station just before it was destroyed.” The priest explained, helping my mother to her feet. I knew this. I’m not sure how, but I knew this. I knew also that he did it to save us, and that he did not regret a thing.

“Jede…” His voice again. I spun around, looking for where it came from, finding only the absolute blackness. I could still hear the sobs of my mother as the medical team sedated her, taking her away for healing and counseling. The sound of the sirens as the conflux began to descend upon this station, the desperate pleas for all pilots to help.

“Jede!” I turned, startled. This time I saw him, haggard looking, the wrinkles on his face pronounced as he smiled at me. A few locks of red hair stood out against the grey, his blue eyes almost the color of the Sorian oceans. He walked over to me, still smiling.

“Father?” I said, questioningly.

He shook his head sadly. “I’m dissapointed in you Jede.”

“Why? Why are you dissapointed in me?”

“Because you need to wake up right now!”

Before I could react, he had slapped me hard across the face, the pain instantly returning me to consciousness.

“Hey, kid, you alive in there?”

I blinked, fighting the urge to cry. I put a hand towards my face and felt the warmth from where I had just been slapped. “Yeah, must be. That f**king hurt. Now where the hell am I?”

Laughter. Two voices. Both female. I blinked some more to clear my eyes and looked around. I was still in my ship, conflux gore smeared over part of it. The roof resembled a carrier, not the “Nicolette IV”, but someone else’s. I looked at the woman, and was instantly drawn to the eyes. Green … like a pair of Emeralds. Eventually I took in the rest of the face, dirty blonde hair, half smile, average everything else.

“Welcome aboard the New Dawn Carrier ‘Kissed by Fate’. We were doing a raid on a conflux hive and picked up your ship being brought in. I’m Fate, the captain.” She extended her hand, and I took it, shaking it briefly before she yanked me clean out of the cockpit. I stood up carefully, trying to balance on my own legs, looking around. My ship was little more than a broken wreck, barely recognizable as a Cyclone. Already, techs were waiting for my permission (and payment) to repair and rebuild it.

“So, Fate, where are we?”

“We’re in Callow Passage, heading back to TriPoint. We found you in Outer Third. Now, where did you come from?”

“I was part of a salvage/mining crew operating out of the ‘Nicolette IV’ near the Perasca roid field. Do you know what happened to them?”

Fate paused, thinking. “No, I haven’t seen any other carriers, or even pilots. You’re the only person not of my crew I’ve seen since we left Wake. Where did you see them last? Perasca?”

I nodded. “Under attack by sentient conflux.”

Fate stared at me. “Sentients attacked a salvage and mining team? How… odd. Usually they pick targets of higher value, unless you had something on-board of value?”

I thought for a few moments, then shook my head. “I don’t know. Possibly. TRI Enforcers attacked us earlier that day, but we fought them off.”

Fate’s stare became a lot colder. “You… FOUGHT OFF the TRI Enforcers?”

I nodded, trying to not wither beneath her stare.

“Did you destroy their ships?”

I nodded again, and her stare became almost lethal.

“HAVE YOU ANY IDEA HOW VALUABLE THOSE SHIPS ARE TO US? AND YOU JUST DESTROYED A FEW OF THEM? HUH?”

Her face was red with anger, and I retreated back a step.

“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? IT’S NOT LIKE WE REALLY HAVE THE RESOURCES TO BE FIGHTING AMONGST OURSELVES, LET ALONE WITH TRI! DAMNIT, THERE’S ONLY ONE TO FIGHT, THE CONFLUX WAR!”

I took another step back, tripping on the wreckage of my Cyclone. Instinctively, I put my arms out to grab at something, managing only to brush against a sharp edge, tearing a long wound in my left arm.

Fate glared at me some more, then turned away. “MEDIC!” She yelled as she walked off. A few moments later a med team came to patch me up and haul me away to the sick bay.

>>> — <<<

The New Dawn techs refused to help me once they learned I had destroyed two Enforcers, leaving me stuck with an unspaceworthy ship. They took a few scrapings of the Conflux gore off the hull, but otherwise left it alone. Once we moored at TriPoint, I hitched a lift with one of the cargo pilots who was resupplying the carrier. I managed to beg some of the launch techs to load the remains of my Cyclone into the cargo bay of the Roc freighter, at least. The short trip was very uneventful, and before too long, I was standing on one of the flight decks in the station. My mother was waiting for me. She saw me, and ran over, wrapping her arms around me and crying on my shoulder. I hugged her back, asking why she was crying. In between sobs, she replied, “I nearly lost you, that’s why. I’ve already lost Dylos, I don’t want to lose you as well.”

They unloaded my wreck and her eyes went wide with fright. “You… were in… that?” I nodded. She started shaking in my arms, and I held her tight.

“It’s ok, I’m alive, and I’m here.” That seemed to calm her down, so I let her go. I walked over to the wreck, as some of the local scavengers were already eyeing it off.

“Hey, man, I’ll give you 600k for it, ok?” One of them asked.

I shook my head at him, and another chimed in “How about a mil?”

Again, I shook my head, before telling them it wasn’t for sale. They seemed disappointed about that and wandered off to harass other pilots as they docked. I hired one of the repair droids and it began the long process of rebuilding the ship. I had it remove the equipment from the ship so I could inspect it for damage, leaving it in a pile.

“You’ve been busy.” Commented my mother, checking out the premium equipment.

I nodded, not quite ready to tell her the whole truth. The Antagonizer power plant was intact, but little else was. The shield was a shattered mess from where the conflux had smashed it, the engine ducts warped and twisted from the missile impact. The cap looked like it had been smashed inwards; it’s usual round shape more resembling a crumpled oval. The weapons were surprisingly intact, and the remaining two flashfires I had were still in perfect condition.

One of the scavengers saw the pair of flashfires and came racing over. “Holy crap! You have flashfires? I’ll give you 5 mil each!” I glared at him, and told him to get lost.

We managed to purchase a replacement shield, as well as a new cap. The engines could be repaired, assuming I had the money for them. The few engineering labs were asking two mil each for repairs, but the captain of the ‘Nicolette IV’ had deposited my mission pay. I guess they had escaped. The pay wasn’t much, 83 mil for a months work, but it was more than enough for the time being. It would take at least two days for them to repair my engines, so for now, I was station-bound. It suited me, for I had things I wanted to do.

My mother and I lived out of her small living quarters. It was strange, I had more space on my own when on a carrier than we did in the station, but we managed. I spent a bit of time around the bars, looking for hints of work, hoping to run into friends, trying to pick up some company for the night. I failed on all three accounts the first night, but managed to find a willing bed partner the second. Still no sign of work, though. I ended up taking a job flipping the local areas beacons, real slave labor work, but at least it was a paying job.

As I re-mounted the engines to my Cyclone, and a Quantar BCU, I was thinking about the strange dream I’d had. I wasn’t sure what it meant, if anything, or even why I’d had it. Jumping into the cockpit, I resolved to seek the advice of one of the priests, when I returned. Launching, I turned towards the gate, dodged the roids near it, and engaged my jumpdrive.

It took me a little over an hour to flip all the sectors I had been tasked with. I shot down 38 conflux in that time, mostly squid and snails. I docked, collected my (pathetic) pay, and headed for the bar.
Posted by Nocturnus on 12-18-2003 03:22 AM:

“Orus’ bar’n’grill” was packed with people, as usual. I sat myself in a corner seat, ordered something to eat, and sat back watching what was going on. A throng of teenagers were in the corner, dancing together, almost as a singular mass of sweaty bodies. I thought about joining them. Maybe later, if there was no work to be found.

A couple of older people sat by the bar, content with their drinking. My food arrived, and I ate it quietly. This place was always good for a decent meal, the drink flowed freely, and all manner of shady characters were known to hang around. I opened my napkin to clean my face, and noticed it had writing on it. “They’re after you. Order a jug of water and if you want to know more.”

The waitress walked over to clean my plate away, and I asked her for a jug of water. She nodded, and then took everything away. I sat, waiting. She returned with the jug as requested, but no one else came. I had a glass, partly because I was thirsty, partly because I didn’t want to act too suspicious. As I put my glass down, one of the scavengers sat down across from me. I looked at him, and he winked at me. “Look, I know I tried to rip you off with that flashfire deal,” he said quietly, “but how about you give me some cash and I’ll give you some important advice.”

I smiled at him, half expecting the con. “What kind of advice?”

“Oh, could make us some real money. Could keep you alive, or at least out of prison. I’d give you time to think on it, but you’re running out of that fast.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

“They’re here already, looking for you. Your mother is safe, the priests have her in the sanctuary – they won’t let them touch her. I took the liberty of swapping your ship with someone else’s. You can thank me later.”

“Let me guess, one of yours?”

He smiled. “Like I said, you can thank me later. They impounded ‘your’ ship already. Now … you ready to listen?”

I nodded, not sure what to believe yet.

“OK, gimme 10 mil, call it a spotters fee, plus a bonus for looking out for you, ok?”

“Sure. I’ll authorize it to happen in three days. If you’re scamming me, that’s plenty of time to hunt you down and kill you.”

He seemed a little taken back by that, but eventually agreed. I set up the transaction on my personal terminal, then sat back.

“OK, it’s like this. Word is you killed an enforcer. Two of them docked about an hour ago. They went straight to your quarters, and trashed it pretty thoroughly. Someone tipped off your mother; she went to the temple seeking sanctuary. You, well, you’re here. You must be pretty good if you downed an enforcer in a Cyclone. I know someone who needs some good combat pilots for an escort run. Your cut will be 2.5% of the profits, plus a 5 mil signup bonus. Plus no doubt whatever you can haul in your cargo hold as well, I imagine you’ll be bringing flashfires back of your own. I’ll buy them off you for 10 mil each, if you’re interested.”

“They’re going to Amananth?!”

“Got it in one, kiddo. Two super-freighters, seven freighters, and a handful of cargo tows. Twenty combat craft, including you. They’ve allocated half the profit to pay them.”

A man in combat armor stood at the end of the table, pointing a rifle at me. “Are you Jede…” he started to ask, before slumping to the floor. The scavenger grinned, bringing up a stungun from under the table. “I’m earning my money already, wouldn’t you say? Here, help me drag him out of sight.”

We grabbed an arm each and pulled the limp body of the enforcer into the corner, sitting him up at the table. The scavenger handed me the rifle, then stripped the body armor from him. “Makes him look less conspicuous, ya see.” He explained.

“Plus it sells well, no doubt?”

“Yeah, well, waste not, want not. You know what it’s like.” He threw me the stungun and continued. “Your ship is on flight deck alpha, section seven. Remember, this one has a friend roaming the station still, so be careful. Meet the others outside; they’re waiting for you. Safe travels.”

I nodded, and left. I wanted to go to the temple and check in on my mother, but didn’t think I’d have the time. I still hadn’t seen the priests about my dream either, that would just have to wait. I found my ship just where he said it would be, the BCU missing and in it’s place a counter-mass artefact. I chuckled at this, then jumped in. I launched without incident, only to find the other enforcer waiting for me.

The rest of the fleet was beside the jumpgate, and hailed me on a private channel, explaining that there was a shield-disrupting field in Tictac’s hook. The enforcer hailed me, ordering me to dock. Ignoring him, I headed towards the gate. The enforcer accelerated after me, firing at me. The slugs from his Flail cannons went wide as I dove wildly, and he skidded past me trying to re-acquire me. I got some distance and headed back towards the gate. Once again, he lined me up and started firing, missing most of his shots. I pulled a sudden 90-degree turn and headed back to the station. He followed eventually, the heavy guns making his ship difficult to fly. My shields we looking rather unhealthy by this point, and he lit a flashfire to come in for the kill. I flipped off to a side as he came into range, dodging around the station. He tried to do the same, but his momentum carried him straight into the side of the station at 700v, destroying his ship instantly.

Cheers erupted across the void, as the convoy participants celebrated my victory.

“That’s the most awesome thing I’ve seen!” Exclaimed one of them, while another chanted, “Go Cyclone, Go Cyclone!”

“Thanks, but I don’t feel very proud of myself.”

“He ejected. You didn’t kill him.” Said someone. This made me feel a little better, and I flew to the convoy to assume my part in the formation.

We jumped out, and then flew slowly across the sector. It wouldn’t be too long before we would be in unregulated space, then Amananthii space. These were dangerous areas to go – the flux were vicious in unreg, and the constant attacks on Amananth station made shipping a hazard. Then there were pirates, often looking for cargo ships.

It took us almost an hour to get to Quantar Gate, the final sector before unreg. We had taken in several loads of materials to trade with, the massive super-freighters barely able to reach 150v. A peregrine jumped in first, scouting with its larger radar. The all clear was given, and one at a time the convoy started to travel.

We were greeted by several conflux, the majority of them Manta and Kraken. It took us only a few moments to decimate each one; our combined firepower was awesome when focused. The same pattern repeated several times until we got to the Inner Gyre sector. There, several Eels greeted us, with some Phocacea flying with them. The battle raged on for a while, the more nimble conflux able to escape time and time again when we had hurt them enough, but eventually, they too were defeated.

We jumped into Amananth space, and the flux ferocity lessened slightly. Again, we were fighting Manta and Kraken, with the occasional Eel. Easy pickings. We had some trouble in The Dark, the death roids forcing the heavy ships to take a wide route, lengthening the travel time. Once home to Manta, apparently, now all manner of nasties lived in here. I took down several Phocs, and a handful of Nautiloids. Two Stingrays appeared when the cargo fleet was at its apogee, and managed to almost send one poor pilot home in his pod. Another Cyclone flew up behind it and started blasting it with some kind of beam weapon, I almost went after it to attack until I realized that it had repair beams mounted.

“Guys, stay cool out there. We have reports of a swarm in the Aman Leap sector, and sentient conflux are seen several times a day. Now’s the time to earn your pay.” A chorus of agreements filled the comms channel. We made it to Amananth without further incident; the swarm had departed back into conflux space. The super freighters docked, then the freighters, then the tows, and then finally, us combat pilots.
Amananth station was nothing like I had ever seen. It reminded me of the inside of the hospital, everything was spotless, and it smelled sterile. As I finished docking, the repair and refuel droids hurried towards my ship, completing their tasks quickly. I climbed out; my footsteps echoing across the near empty launch deck. Behind me, the sound of another ship being brought in broke the silence. The two droids sprang into life again, once more completing their tasks. The pilot behind me jumped out, landing on his feet and straightening up. He looked over at me and smiled, extending his hand. “Hiya, I’m Mahk.”

I took his hand and shook it. “Jede, nice to see a fellow Quantar out there.”

He nodded, “Yup. Not much use in combat though, RBs don’t tend to help much on the pink things, and the others get a tad annoyed when you repair damaged pirates.”

I chuckled at that, “Yeah, I can see what you mean.”

“So, what’s your story?”

I paused, not sure if I should trust this person.

“Never mind, it’s not my business. I’m sorry to have asked.”

“It’s ok, I’d tell you if I could, but I’m not too sure.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot like that nowadays. No-one really can trust anyone. Sad, really. Anyway, I imagine you want to take some flashfires back with you?”

I nodded.

“Same here. They come in useful, both as a light valuable item, but in combat as well.”

“Yeah, they’re a rush, for sure.”

He pressed a few buttons on his personal terminal and two droids sprang into action, disappearing onto the cargo lift. A few minutes later, they reappeared and started loading flashfires onto our ships.

“Uhh… How much do I owe you?”

He laughed. “These things cost, at worst, four thou each. It’s not like you have a tow full, so don’t stress. You can buy me dinner and a few drinks back at TriPoint, if it still weighs on your conscience.”

I smiled at this, thanking him. “Insane, isn’t it. The cost of these things is fairly tiny compared to what they usually sell for. No-one is really brave enough to make the journey here any more. We got real lucky this run, the run out will probably be a lot harder, even if there’s no swarms or sentients.”

I nodded, contemplating the trip ahead. “When to do we head back?”

“Well, the others usually like an hour’s break or so, to get out of their ships and move around. Sometimes it’s a bit longer, depending on what materials are here and what they are waiting on to be manufactured.” He fiddled with his personal terminal and within moments had his answer. “Yeah, we leave in two hours, twelve minutes. Hmmmmm… There’s an mission here to scan the anomaly in Amananth Hook, wanna wing with me for it?”

“We’ll have it done in two hours?”

“Hell yeah, it’s only a five minute flight each way.”

“What about conflux?”

“Well, it is a known hot-spot, then again, so are most anomaly sectors. Why else would there be a mission to scan it? Manta, Kraken, maybe Eels. Easy prey though, with antiflux weaponry.”

“OK, sounds good. I’ll cover you, you do your thing?”

“Yup, lemme procure a scanner…”

A cargo droid sprang into life, disappearing into the depths of the station, returning a few minutes later with a dusty old scanner module, and handing it to the flight droid, which installed it. It was all very efficient and orderly. Mahk grunted and climbed into his ship. “Let’s do this!” he said with a grin.

I jumped into mine and launched right on his heels. We flew through the Gyre, blasting the squid that came to investigate us. We entered Amanath Hook, and sat in the gate, waiting to see what showed up. “I’m seeing three manta, ammo type. Nothing else. I’m going to do the scanning runs, you want to take care of them?”

I replied and headed towards them, taking them in turn and destroying them rapidly.

“OK, scanning now, this thing is pretty wild, I’ve got readings consistent with a conflux gate. No wonder they’re worried about it, eh?”

I nodded, looking at the wondrous light show that most anomalies are. Deep reds blended into pinks, and into pale greens, blues, and whites, which in turn blended back into deeper colors. “Hey, wake up!” I blinked, snapping back to reality. “You done already?”

“Yep. Lets get out of here.”

We turned and raced back to Amananth station, killing a few more squid in the Gyre, and docking. This time we were placed next to the rest of the convoy participants, and they welcomed us back. This deck was a mass of activity, droids loading and unloading cargo, people crawling over ship hulls, equipment being traded amongst each other. I thought I spotted a rare countermass artifact, similar to the one on my ship, only gold in color.

“Pretty insane, isn’t it?” Mahk interrupted my gawking again.

“Yeah, this is the convoy?”

“Pretty much, plus a few artifact merchants. Ever since TRI cracked down on this stuff and demanded pilots hand over all the pre-collapse stuff, a massive black market sprang up. Amananth and Hyperial are the only stations where you can openly trade items.”

“What about the unregulated stations?”

Mahk laughed. “Lothars Landing and Evenings end were destroyed by the conflux. Klatsches Hold was taken over by the Sols when they re-annexed Zealots refuge. GBS, well, you’re as likely to have everything taken off you just from docking there, let alone trying to sell it. The remnants of the rebels still operate out of there, and I’m not sure if they’re any better than TRI is.”

A hand grabbed me from behind and dragged me back a few feet. “Hey, Jede! Good to see you!” came a familiar voice. I turned to see the captain of the ‘Nicolette IV’.

“Hey! Captain, how are things?”

“I’ll go sort some stuff out, see you soon, Jede.” Mahk said, leaving the captain and I alone.

“Well,” started the captain, “the carrier is still drifting in space. We realized we lost you after the battle finished, TRI sent more enforcers just after we beat off the flux, so it took us a while to get to the point where we could do anything to help you. I was finalizing your pay to go to your next of kin when I saw you had docked at Tripoint, so I went ahead and paid you for it, minus the cost of the equipment and hull you have. I’m here in a Condor to get spares for the carrier, thankfully there are plenty.”

I nodded, taking in all this. “Why did TRI attack again? They were after me at Tripoint as well.”

“Yeah, I figured they might. TRI gets really annoyed when we down their ships. Enforcers cost a fortune to make, and they are fighting hard to keep the technology out of rebel hands. The old ISU had one ship they managed to rebuild from various wrecks after many skirmishes with them. You know that story though. Plus I think we have a mole on the carrier, someone who tipped them off as to what we found in that station. You know the law as well as I do, and you probably have the same opinion of it. I sold most of the stuff here today, you’ll get your cut when I finalize all the sales, by the way.”

I nodded, then smiled. More money was always welcome.

“The fable of how ISU terrorized TRI is mostly crap.” Mahk had returned and was standing behind me, with a half smile on his face. I spun around, and asked him what he meant.

“The true parts of it are that they recovered enough wreckage to get one workable ship. One of their best pilots took it, and used it to cause untold amounts of grief, but not to TRI. Despite common belief, they had a standard IFF unit in it, not the TRI one, so anyone who targeted them saw who it was. TRI eventually got sick of the complaints from ISUs enemies, and send out Enforcers of their own to attack it. It took eleven of them to down it, for what it’s worth.”

The captain stared at Mahk. “How do you know this?”

Mahk grinned back, then lifted his cloak off his flight suit, revealing a bright patch where a squad badge once was. “Easy, I was there.”

The captain nodded. “Fair enough, but you’ll have to excuse my not fully believing you. You know how it is, three sides to every story. Your side, their side, and the truth.” Mahk nodded, and the captain continued, “But we’re preparing to leave soon, so this will have to be continued at a later time.” We walked back to our ships and prepared for the upcoming flight.

We launched into a swarm, conflux streaming from the Aman Leap gate. The battle was over in a matter of minutes though, our own swarm of escort pilots tearing up the conflux. We headed back the way we came, with much the same results. Stingrays tried to jump us at the apogee in the Dark, but we were expecting them this time and fought them off without taking a scratch. A few lone pirates hung back in the unregulated sectors, looking for a straggler or weakness, but were unable to do anything, earning nothing for their trouble. Quantar gate came and went, followed by the rest of the Quantar sectors, and then, finally, we were docking at Tripoint again.

One of the junior priests was waiting for me, with a message. “Ceran wishes to see you.”

“Who?” I thought hard, trying to work out who he meant.

“Your step mother.”

I stopped for a moment, frowning at the priest. “I don’t care that she isn’t my biological mother, she raised me, protected me, and taught me as if I was her biological son. I refuse to use the term step-mother when referring to her.”

The priest frowned, then bowed his head. “My apologies, I meant not to offend you. Please, follow me and I will take you to her.”

I followed the priest, checking on my finances with my personal terminal as I walked. Money was coming in slowly. A little here, a little there, a dribble more from there. The merchants were paying me as they sold their wares. A massive sum appeared – almost eighty million – as the captain deposited my cut of the artefact sales. All up, that run had earned me just over a hundred million, plus the flashfires.

I put the terminal away as we approached the temple, bowing my head in respect as I entered it. We passed through a few secret doors, into the depths of the temple. We came to what appeared to be a block of cells, and the priest stopped outside one. I looked inside and saw my mother asleep. The priest pressed his hand against a panel, and the door opened. He motioned for me to enter, pointed out the door controls on the inside, handed me a button pager, and left us.

I walked in and closed the door behind me. Quietly, I sat by my mom’s side, leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “Wake up, mom.” I said, gently shaking her. She stirred, and then opened her eyes, looking up at me sleepily.

“Jede, honey.” She yawned, “I’m so happy to see you.”

“I’m happy to see you. What’s up?”

“We need to go from here. They’re looking for us. They want me to get to you, and I don’t want them to get either of us.” She sat up a bit, stretching. I nodded at this, before moving aside to let her climb out of the bed. “I’ve made some discreet enquiries, and have been welcomed back to GBS – you as well.”

“So, what, you’ll go back to your labs there?”

“Our labs. Remember, your real mother left you her half.”

I cringed at that though. My real mother was a clone of someone who ISU needed badly enough to break rules and trample morals for. A one-of-a-kind clone, she was – a brilliant scientist, but just not with it fully. Without her, ISU would never have developed the anti-conflux technologies that we now took for granted. She was killed in an assassination attempt. TRI was going for the leaders, but couldn’t get close enough. I was seven at the time.

“No, your labs. I have no use for them, I have no skills, no training, they are worthless to me.”

Mom nodded in understanding. “I had my Cyclone prepared for flight days ago, I had been just waiting for you to return, to see what you would do.”

I thought about it. I was fairly rich, not enough I could retire, but enough to support ourselves for many years. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

“Can I decide when we get there?”

“Of course.”

I pressed the button, summoning the priest. He led us out through the maze of doors and corridors, through the maintenance tunnels, to the flight deck. Our Cyclones were sitting there, side by side, prepared for flight. “TRI has some people here looking for you both, so be careful.” That explained the path through the less pleasant parts of the station. He continued, “I checked over your ships personally. I equipped some of your flashfires onto your st… I mean, your mothers ship, please forgive my forwardness, but I assumed you would have done it anyway.”

I nodded, glad for his foresight. “Thank you. May Hamalzah watch over you.”

The priest bowed, “All his children are welcome. May Hamalzah watch over us all.” He turned and left, and we walked to our ships. Everything checked out, so we launched, setting a route to GBS, taking the Outer Storm route. The jumpgates came and went, like so many before and soon we were in Outskirts, almost to our destination.

Have I mentioned how much I hate pirates? We were flying through Outskirts when a Phoenix fell in beside us demanding fifty million or he’d rip us both a new one. No sooner had he finished demanding it, when a small fleet of rebel Intensitys appeared from the gates on either side. He tried to flee, but I kept on him, forcing him to deal with me. I dodged most of his shots, the few that did hit hardly worried my shield, returning fire and pounding him hard. His shields failed just as the Intensitys came into range, demanding he surrender. A few crude words were his reply, and his ship disintegrated under our onslaught. He didn’t eject. The gene pool got a little more chlorine that day.

The Intensitys fell in with us, escorting us to GBS. Several Nautiloids and Phocenia conflux appeared, attracted to us jumping into Sarons Shoulder, but our escorts made short work of them. We jumped into GBS sector, pausing to have a look at the derelict station. It was just how I remembered it, all those years ago, leaving with my father in his Typhoon. This place was part of our family history, like it or not. We’ve always been on the fine line between rogue and criminal, ever since Dylos left his teaching job, welcomed into the ISU family. He learned to fight like a warrior, to command like a leader, and to rip off the TRI stations with massive commodity movements. The last ended up being the downfall for a lot of TRI, the pilots working the system as quickly as they could, before TRI applied another band-aid fix.

GBS apparently used to have a TRI credit-printing machine, which some savvy people used to generate billions before anyone woke up to it. The inflation was insane, the manufacturers locked into fixed prices by TRI contracts, and unable to escape them. No wonder it all collapsed.

I flew a quick lap around the station, pausing only to allow my mother to dock. Ridgeway, the leader of what was left of ISU, met us on the flight deck. He gave mom a hug and myself a handshake.

“Welcome back, you pair. I was as sorry as anyone to learn of Dylos’ fate, and apologize for not being able to help you at the time.”

My mother scowled at him, and I glared at him. She spoke first. “Ridge, that is in the past now, it no longer matters. We left, knowing that you wouldn’t be watching over us, and that we would be on our own. It was our choice, and I bear you no ill because of how things turned out.”

He nodded slowly, frowning. “As you wish. It is good to see you Ceran, and you Jede. Have you both decided yet?”

Always the businessman, I thought to myself. “I go where my mother goes, if she needs me.” I said.

She looked at me, “You are your own person, and you may go wherever you wish, Jede.”

“I know, and I wish to be with what remains of my family, if they will have me.”

“You’re all welcome as family here.” Ridgeway interjected.

“We know”, both of us said in unison. I looked at my mom, to find she was looking back at me, smiling.

“What?” I asked her, curious as to why.

“I’ll tell you later.” She took a step toward me and gave me a quick hug. Ridgeway looked up from his terminal. “I’ve set the labs to reactivate. There are some damaged systems from the conflux attacks over the years, but it is habitable once activated. It will take about half a day before you could go there though; it takes time for the reactor to come up to full power and the oxygen generators to fill something of that size. In the meantime, your living quarters here are right where you left them, nothing has been touched.”

He turned, leading the way. We fell in behind him, a little concerned as to what we would find. We left the flight deck, and went into the elevator. Ascending 27 floors took a few moments, but the doors opened into a corridor. We walked down it, pausing at the first door. Dusting off the sign on it, Ridgeway nodded and left us alone, taking the elevator back down. Mom stifled a sob, and I looked at the sign, before understanding why. It had my fathers name on it. I closed my eyes, spending a moment in remembrance for him, then thumbed the fingerprint reader. The light behind it went green, and the door slid open.
Well, they say there is no place like home, and these few rooms had been our family home for twenty years — mine for eleven of those. It wasn’t much, just a pair of bedrooms connected to the lounge room. Space was always at a premium in space, but somehow we managed to get decently large rooms. I turned the terminal on, dusting it lightly as it booted up. The logon screen listed our three names as valid users, and I quickly logged on and hid my father’s so as to not upset mom. I spent a few minutes flipping through the local network, examining stuff, then logged off.

My room was exactly how I had left it. A single bed, with a dark green blanket and two pillows, was against one wall. Sitting on the bed was a pink stuffed toy, something my father picked up for me. I picked up the plush manta, and squeezed a corner, smiling as it squeaked. I put it back on the bed and sat down beside it. My terminal was sitting in the corner, next to some plastic models of various TRI craft. A poster was on the wall behind the desk – a semi-famous Solrain band smiling vacantly. Above that was a shelf, several books piled on it. Mom stuck her head in through the doorway and told me she was going to go to sleep. I nodded, suddenly realizing how tired I was.

I slept for hours, the kind of deep sleep that comes easily to those who are too exhausted to realize they need it. I woke up feeling refreshed, and grabbed my spare flight suit, and headed down the corridor to the communal bathrooms for a shower. Mindful of how precious water was in space, I double-checked that the recycler was working. Finding that it was, I turned the shower on, and stepped into the warm water. I lathered up, washing all the sweat and dirt from my skin, thoroughly and methodically. You learned in space to enjoy a shower whenever you could, because you never knew when you could get another one. The flight suits worked well to keep odor under control, but going a few days without a shower made me feel “yuck.” Once clean, I sat down on the floor of the cubicle, closing my eyes and just enjoying the feel of the warm water falling onto my body. Those who came from the planets often spoke of rain, but being born in space, I’d never been on a planet. I could try, but the results were most likely not going to be very healthy for me.

I sat there, partially meditating, partially thinking of the future. TRI seemed to want me pretty bad, so avoiding regulated stations was probably a good idea. With those choices gone, that left Amananth, Hyperial, and here. Amananth was too sterile, and didn’t appear to have any real living space. Hyperial, well, there were always rumors, and Quantar never felt right in that place anyway. I had enough money for my own small station, but that would be a lonely existence. Resolutely, I decided that there was only one real place I was safe, for the time being. While I could go back to TriPoint, living in the sanctuary did not look to be much of an existence, either. I got to my feet, turning the water off. Activating the dry function, I shivered as the warm air blew across my skin. It took only a few moments to dry off, then I put my clean flight suit on, and got out.

The mess hall was empty, so I walked into the kitchen looking for food. I settled on synthetic foods, artificial bacon and egg, with some toasted bread. I ate it there, cleaned up after myself, and then went looking for the other people in the station.

I wandered through the halls of the station, looking around at the various squad’s office doors. New Dawn was probably the oldest one still active, ISU not too far behind, although not really active. Many other squads had moved to GBS as well, trying to escape TRI. Not one of them had a sign of life inside. It was a little eerie, feeling like I was the only person in the station, so I pulled up the station mainframe on my terminal and searched for other people. Turns out I was right – there was no one else on the station. I found my mothers Cyclone docked at the research lab, so I jumped into mine and flew over. I met mom in the hangar bay, she looked like she had come to see who was here.

“Hello Jede. It’s good to see you’re awake. I thought you were going to sleep the day away.” She greeted me.

“You could have woken me, you know.” I replied.

“Probably, but I thought if you were sleeping that much, then you probably needed it. So I left you alone.”

“Fair enough. So, where is everyone?”

“Some of the rebels are doing a trip to Solrain Core, we need supplies and that’s the best place to go. The rest are doing their own things.”

I nodded, and looked around the hangar bay at the other ships. There were our Cyclones, and off to a side was a pair of Intensities, parked on each side of a Pioneer. Mom saw me looking at them and sighed. “Yes, they were hers. The tow for sure, but one of the Intensities is loaded out with a full scanner package, no weapons. The other I’m not sure on who owns it, but finders keepers.”

I nodded. I felt odd, like I should shed a tear or something, but my real mom and I were always distant, she was too busy to spend a lot of time with me. Always trying to keep a step ahead of the conflux, slowly losing herself to them, before we all lost her to the TRI assassin.

Ceran was her assistant for a while, helping her with her work and stuff at home. In a sense she really was my mother, having raised me. My father was shattered with the death of mom, blaming himself for not protecting her enough, for being involved with the rebels, for all sorts of reasons. Ceran helped keep him together, and us together, as a family. Somewhere there she ended up part of it as well, and things started looking up for us.

I continued looking around. There was a pair of ISU dragons, the mainstay of the fleet for a long time. It looked like they hadn’t been flown in a long time, either. A Khamsin, a Typhoon, and a Chinook rounded out the hangar space. “Who’s are those?” I asked, pointing to them.

“Who do you think? I certainly can’t fly them, legally anyway.”

I chuckled at that. “Do we still follow that law, even outside TRI’s influence?”

“More from necessity than because it’s right. I can’t fly heavy ships very well; I’d be more likely to park it in the docking tube than to actually dock it. The Typhoon I could fly, but have no reason to.”

“Can I take the Khamsin?”

She paused, looking at me for a while, before finally answering with a question, “Why?”

“I want to do something. I saw that we were low on stocks at GBS, so I thought perhaps I could pull my weight and bring some ore back.”

“If you insist. Don’t break it, those hulls are rare to find now. And that one, well, you know what I mean.”

I nodded. Of course I knew what she meant.

“I have work to get back to. Be careful.” She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

“I will.” I kissed her on the cheek in return. She turned and walked back inside, and I walked to the heavy miner. Climbing up the ladder into it, I checked it out. The power plant was still fine, and the rest of it looked like a hybrid of ISU and TRI technology, with a few of dad’s tweaks thrown in. The engines read as a pair of Dreams, something that shouldn’t have fitted in the chassis. The PCS4 shield stumped me for a bit, until I realized it was an artifact unit. The ISU-C cap, the original prototype, was fitted. An Amananth antiflux mk 2 unit slotted into the ECM space, alongside the Ghost radar-masking device. The dual ECM unit was another ISU innovation.

More Amananth tech was present in the form of the Nubbler radar. Smiling at how well equipped the ship was, I flipped to the weapons computer. A pair of Fluxfire ion beams sat in the gun slots, while the massive underbelly gun mount held a modified Financier Mk2. Sure enough, dad had been playing with it, extending it’s range and increasing it’s efficiency. I mounted a few flashfires in the MODx slots, alongside the already existing Duellist targeting computer and scanner.

Shaking slightly, I started the launch sequence. Armor and thrusters fuel were both at 100%, and then I was outside. Running the ship through a few test laps around the station revealed no problems, so I jumped into Sarons Shoulder. I sat in the gate for a few minutes, waiting to see if anything came to investigate, but the Antiflux appeared to work well. Smiling, I got to work.

The next few weeks went much the same. I clocked heaps of hours flying my father’s ship, mined tens of thousands of units of ore, and generally helped out where I could. The other rebels were thankful for someone doing that hard work, no one else really wanted to mine, and there was no other real source of income. My ore, when refined, became a useful commodity to trade. I had my place, Mom had hers, and we fit in well out here. I’m sure my father would be happy with me, if he were still alive. Hamalzah may be smiling down on me, but I like to think my father is there, by his side, smiling as well.

Of course, it wasn’t to last. But that, my friends, is a tale for another time.

~continues~
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s