It was a requirement for every fiction novel ever written to contain an out-of-the- way stopover for shady characters — be it a bar, downtown slum apartment, or dark alley. Somewhere to do business . . . collect money . . . “Influence” certain undesirables.
. . . And somewhere to call home.
For Nathan “Rix” Ward and the members of the Evening’s End Alliance, it was a backwater station on the edge of explored space. Devoid of planets or nearby stars, Evening’s End was once little more than a desolate stopover used as a conflux hunting outpost. Now it was a bustling station on the edge of Octavian space. Loaded cargo tows, fighter wings, and scout packs were a common sight entering and leaving the station like a hive of bees.
During his Tour of Duty with the Quantar, Rix had seen it all: faction defense, raids, preemptive attacks, deep strikes. He was primarily a combat pilot, as was the remainder of the EEA. His first of many great battles had been with JADE, the pride of the Quantar fleet and composed of some of the best fighter pilots ever seen.
When JADE disbanded, the squad decided not to return to Quantar, but to strike out on their own in Unregulated space. Looking back, Rix decided, the EEA was not dissimilar to his old memories of GBS — though far better executed and supplied.
The opportunity of EEA would never have presented itself to him if he had never met the mastermind of it all, a wily vet named Ixholla and his squad “Madji”…
A chorus of laughs rang out at the round table Rix was sitting at, deep inside the pub at Evening’s End, and he let a smile cross his face to hide the fact his mind had been wandering. Fishing around for his pack of cigarettes — Solboro Blue’s — he pulled one from the carton and lit it with a laser-tipped lighter, then leaned back in his chair and reached for an Octavian Lite. Off duty hours were always a blast.
Ixholla, who sat across from him, motioned at the bottle. “That’s good stuff, Rixie! I managed to liberate a few flats from Oct Core this morning. Freshly brewed planetside on Ares Prime, not that pre-condensed crap you can pick up at the distillery in orbit. I think Venom kept a case for himself, though…”
Rix took a long pull from the bottle, then nodded in satisfaction. “This is good beer. Remind me to take this world.” Another laugh. “Should I ask where these smokes came from?”
Ixholla winked and shook his head. A sign not to ask. Probably stolen from Wake station during an early morning raid.
Rix grinned. “Gotcha.”
Two seats to his left, RazorX, also of Madji, piped up. “Ix, you didn’t manage to pick up any more missiles from Hyperial yet, did you? I swear, we’re going through Morning Stars like a fat kid goes through candy…”
“I’ll make a note to put some on our supply list for tomorrow,” replied a fourth pilot, Crymson of squad PHOENIX. “I bet we’ve still got some non-combatants docking and rearming for a fight in Dark Crossroads. What a waste of missiles.”
Ixholla sipped his drink. “Don’t worry about it, we still have more than enough to use on the Solrain.”
Rix snorted in disgust. “We’re still missing too much. The Sols go through flashfires as fast as we go through MS. I’m telling you, take away their flashfires and you take away their ability to fight.”
“Probably,” replied Ix, “but it’s a distraction more than anything. Besides, we have a lot more targets to use them on now, what with OEC throwing their hands in with the Solrain.”
Random swears echoed around the table at this point — and even at nearby ones. “Who said OEC?” called out a couple of voices over by the pool table. NatGun brandished his pool cue like a weapon, seemingly ready to break it over the head of any Octavian ‘loyalist’ within arm’s reach.
His pool opponent, Tesrend, merely grinned at Nat’s outburst, then lined up a shot at the eight ball, tapping it lightly and sinking his final shot. “Game over, Nat. Good one,” Tes smiled, grabbed his own bottle of Oct Lite, and pulled up a chair at Rix’s table.
Rix threw a question out to the gathering. “What about OEC, anyway? Any chance you can get them to back down, Ixxie?”
“I doubt it. They’ve been tight with the Sol Supremacy Squads for way too long. They won’t change their minds now.”
“So what do we do?”
Ix shrugged. “If they shoot you, shoot back. Same goes with their pals in OSP and Santa’s Helpers…”
There were a few snickers at this. “Hey,” started Tesrend, “ever think Santas will come back to get their squaddie Daedalus7? He’s been down in lockup for days now.”
“Doubt it”, Rix replied. “They tried to prove something by taking our gear, too bad they lost so much cash. Daed is stuck with a bounty, so now TRI won’t give him insurance.. .if, by chance, he breaks out and tries to make a run for it, we just shoot him down and he’s back at Evening’s End again. And since he has sixty thousand creds to his name.. .he’s pretty much screwed.”
“What about their OSP friends? Does Tyke even care?”
“Again, doubt it. Tyke’s got an agenda, he can’t be bothered with helping a lone pilot. Which is kind of counter-productive to his propaganda, since he’s supposed to speak for all of Octavia, right?”
Tes took a drink and nodded. “Mhm. They’re defying us utterly, when we’re trying to help. It just sounds like suicide to me. I mean, EEA was formed to fight SoIs, right? Why aren’t the Octs helping us?”
RazorX laughed. “Because they’re led by OEC, and OEC loves being lapdogs to Solrains? I don’t know, I’m not an OEC!”
“But you’re an Octavian.”
Ixholla came to Razor’s aid. “Yeah, he’s an Oct, but minus the ‘dont shoot us sols, we’ll be good!’ attitude.”
Rix added his own thoughts. “One man’s terrorist is another man’s patriot. Don’t forget, those of us in Gargamel have experience both sides of the fence now. As JADE, we were disliked by Quantar, though we defended them. Madji is doing the same thing now. You’re defending Octavia from the greater threat, though at the cost of losing face in your homeland. It’s a tough call, and alot of your own don’t recognize it for what it is yet. Remember, everyone still IN Oct stations sees convoy after convoy of Sol ships dropping of equipment. That’s propaganda. What EEA is doing is a little less intangible. Maybe no one remembers the fleet of Solrain that attacked Outpost nightly. I don’t know. It’s just not . . . logical.”
There was a moment of silence around the table as everyone took a drink and puzzled over Rix’s words. Finally, Tesrend started again. “I think it’s faith. Or lack of faith. I mean, we have Hamalzah to guide us.”
Another moment of silence as all the Quantars at the table lowered their eyes and touched their foreheads in reverence.
“The Solrain have the almighty c-bill. Anything for a credit, right? Not much of a role model. I hear young Solrains are taught extortion in grade school, even. Okay, not extortion, but ruthless business practice. And the Octavians have less. A wing commander to look up to, maybe? It’s well known that Octavians have a lone-wolf outlook at life. That makes them easy to pick off a few at a time. In this case, it’s only a few squads — OEC, OSP, and Redawgs. But who will the Solrains go after next, once they’ve pacified those three?”
More silence as the assembly mulled over the discussion while nursing their beer.
Ixholla broke the quiet with a laugh. “Well either way you look at it, we’re still looking good, so let’s not dwell over something we can’t control for now. Things will fall into place.” He checked his watch, then set down his bottle on the table. “Well, the third shift is about to come online. I’d better head down to CNC and make sure everything’s running smoothly. Get some rest, guys. If tomorrow is anything like the past few days, we’re in for some more heavy fighting.”
. . . continues