by Adara (and friends)
“You can’t go home again …
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile . . . back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again
I lined up on the docking tube, looking like a level 5 pilot as always, never able to master speed docking regardless of practice. It doesn’t feel right to dock without ISU tags. Someone should be here to tease me about a docking fee!
I take a deep breath as the door to the main hangar opens. It’s been a while since I was out and about recognizably.
There’s no one in sight, and things seem strangely silent. “Ridge? I’m back! Where you hiding?”
Looking around, it’s obvious that supplies everywhere are low. Let’s hope there’s not much fighting going on, or I might never get re-equipped when I get downed.
“Dart? Hela? Anyone?”
I can hear my voice echoing, and I look around. A sick, scared feeling rises in my stomach. Something is very wrong.
“Druuna’s Room. Enter at your own Risk.”
I almost laughed aloud, had I not been scared at how eerie the echos would sound. I remember writing that sign when Ridge pointed at the door. I had to cover up my own name when I took on Dru’s identity. Tearing it down, it felt good to see my true name. “Adara”
The door swung open as soon as my palm touched the lock. Good to know something’s still active here. Sitting down at my desk, I waited for my terminal to boot up and sighed.
The walls were lined with pictures. Formation flights… pre-battle group shots.. Kage, Hela, Ridge, Jarl.. Noct chasing flux.. Ares in his tow..Meep with his repair beams and the Premia of Justice. I could feel myself smiling.
And shots of training sessions in the Sim at Hyperial. God, how intimidating Ridgeway could be!! I was a better pilot for his lessons and for Kage’s, but what Kage taught with patience and sweetness, Ridgeway taught with fear.
Why couldn’t Ridge have been here for my return? I’d found what I was looking for, and so much more. A city.. a great, amazing city. And he was there.. the one I was looking for. Ridge would be excited to learn of my discoveries, if nothing more, though I knew he would argue that I should continue to fly, or simply take a sabbatical until I felt ready to fly again.
A shrill beep knocked me out of my reverie. Our messaging system indicated new mail from Ridge, Noct, Dart, Hela, and many others. I sat back and began to read, tears slowly making their way down my face.
I double-check my loadout before beginning the launch sequence from Outpost station. Ridge would kill me if he saw the Hitmen and Raks, but I’d never been able to master Kraken with lasers – at least not in an Octavian ship.
Once in the air, I set course for Arkan’s Cloud, the first sector on my journey to Lesser Arm, always a good spot to spawn mindless flux. I could lose myself there, and forget all that I had read at GBS.
Things just aren’t the same.,
Perhaps I will return..
Cannot bear to fly without everyone here..
Gone. So many were gone, perhaps never to return.
I jumped to Arkan’s, and headed toward Primus Point. Better focus on flying, or I’m gonna end up back at Outpost in a pod.
Checking comms, I realized why it was so quiet. I set channel for the global Octavian communications channel and sat back to watch.
Karash: Adara! Welcome back.
Adara: Hullo, Karash! I could say the same to you. It’s good to see you.
Karash: So now you’ll be joining us in OEC, right?
I paused a moment, about to type a response, and switched instead to private communications.
Adara: You’ve been gone a while, Karash, much happened while you were gone. Are you sure you want to make that offer?
Karash: What happened?
Adara: The long and short? I flew for SoIrain for a while, as condition of losing a duel, and Cobra and the boys helped rescue me, but I also shot down a number of other Octavians due to various conflicts. I just wasn’t sure you’d still want me in OEC…
Communications were sporadic, but we discussed various things, from the events while Karash was absent to recent wars being waged by OEC and other Octavians against the Solrain. The Quantar seemed to be a non-factor, from all I’d been able to gather.
Karash: I’m fighting, sorry, but you will always be welcome in OEC. Just let us know what you decide.
My head felt like it was going to explode. I climbed out of my pod and headed to a waiting room as my Nix was hauled in and repaired. How could I have been so careless? A few Kraken and a Manta should have provided no difficulty for me, yet here I was, back at OP.
I looked at the mini-terminal, and tuned to the help channel. Perhaps watching the wonderment of newly recruited pilots for TRI would help me gain perspective.
Liet ‘dara. you’re back.
Ah, a friend. We chatted for a while, sharing stories and recent tragedy with one another. It was good to know there were at least some old friends still flying in service for TRI.
Could I really fly for TRI again, after all that had transpired? I would be betraying all that ISU stood for; all that we tried to fight. More imortantly, could I fly for Octavius again? I had been betrayed, not only by the emperor, as everyone else had, but by fellow pilots calling me traitor. After all that had transpired, some accused me of helping Solrain aggressors! Sure, I had friends in Solrain – I had flown with them early in my TRI career, before realizing the greed and materialism of their faction was just not for me. That didn’t mean that I’d betray my fellow Octavians. Honor was above all what I tried to stand for, and yet they would accuse me of having none.
It was those Octavians, and others, who forced me into hiding – how could I fly with them again? Fight for them? Risk injury or death, for pilots who had lost trust in me and forced me to make hard decisions? I’d found solace and acceptance in ISU, and something worth fighting for.. could I betray all of that and return, fighting alongside Cobra, Karash, Splooshie and the others?
I slammed my fist on the control panel of the pod as I exited, fighting back the stinging in my eyes. What the hell was wrong with me??
This is the third loadout I’ve tried, and I still can’t seem to get anything to function the way I want it to when I’m in a battle. Hours in the sim, and I can barely hold my own against pilots I used to consider a challenge, but at least had a chance of defeating! ‘Your aim will return’, they keep saying, but it isn’t.
I’d spent days in a Tow, searching for artifacts, and found myself with far too much time to think of the past. I hadn’t even been in hiding a day when the leader of OSP began spouting his lies. And not one of my friends or wingmates had defended me from the accusations. Solrain sympathizer and traitor to Octavius?! It was beyond laughable, considering the way in which I’d left the Solrain faction so many months before. Once I could no longer defend myself, the useless slander had come on in force. Luckily, I’d be able to down them again when I was in a heavy fighter with Dru. But I could never undo the damage to my reputation or standing as ME.
I’d once been known as a pilot of honor. Honor above all else, and fighting for the good of Octavius, even when my actions were unpopular.
So, I hid, as Druuna, a young Quantar pilot in training, and member of ISU. Quant ships were so fun to fly! Even Ridgeway had to laugh when I took out a Kraken in my light fighter with help, and easily killed them in the MF alone to gain rank. I actually enjoyed the MF more than the Phoon, but it didn’t make sense to give up the added benefits when ISU was faced with a fight.
“Dara, can you hear me?”
I jumped a bit, and turned around.
“Azzy!” I hugged him tightly. “How’ve you been little one?”
“Not bad, but unfortunately on the run. Fleet was sighted on the way here. I got the reports you asked for though, from the last month. I promise we’ll talk more later, ‘dara.”
He was off and running before I could even reply, leaving me with a stack of papers inches thick. Good god, fighting had been thick! Tactical and Bounty reports for the last month; I never would have expected this much data.
Hours later, my eyes were sore from reading, and there were papers scattered about. War declarations, skirmish notes, battle reports, and bounty reports surrounded me. Briefings on how best to counter the ‘new’ tactics being practiced by pilots in both Octavius and Solrain – tactics that would never have been used before I left. And SO many bounty reports! Pilots were regularly downing each other with civilian tags – regardless of faction.
The most troubling to me, however, was news of Solrain and Quantar pilots being allowed to fly by the sides of Octavians into battle – the very same pilots who we battled previously! Where was the honor of the OCA’s policies if they were not only willing to ignore them, but to fight with the same people they’d previously turned back? OEC had maintained policies of old, and even been forced to fight to prove their point – not only against Quantar, but against Solrain as well. It was as if each day brought a new series of battles between Outpost and Wake station; neither side attempting to gain a military target, or to win a battle with a purpose, but merely a continuous battle being fought between the two stations. Intelligence said the Solrain were frustrated at the Octavian lack of willingness to travel into blue space, or make attacks on their station, so they perpetuated attacks into Octavian space, leaving us no choice but to protect ourselves.
What had happened? Why had things changed so much in such a short time? I didn’t understand, but I knew someone who might.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.
“.. minute, right there.”
The door swung open, and I turned to face him, a half smile upon my face. “Oh my god.. ‘daral”
We stared at one another for a what seemed to be an eternity, and he stepped back. “Come in, come in.”
I looked around his quarters; a room that had become so familiar in the past. Noting empty beer bottles and papers strewn about, I couldn’t help but laugh. “At least there are some things that never change.”
He looked at me. It was a look I’d seen a thousand times. Completely honest, without malice or hidden agenda – the sort of look that could bore a hole straight through you, or melt you where you stood.
“It’s good to see you again, ‘dara. You disappear well when you want to, but somehow, I’m sure you’re not here to explain that to me, or you’d have taken the time to before you left. What’s on your mind?” I could hear pain, but surprisingly, no anger.
“What’s happened, darlin? I came back, and everything was so different – so many people have left, so much has changed. I just don’t understand it.”
He looked thoughtfully into the distance for a moment. “Simple, really. Nothing at all and everything. People have changed. Pilots grew tired of lies and deception from TRI. They grew tired of fighting for honor, only to have some ‘undercover operative’ of their own faction turn coat and fight against them, without any pretense of honor. They grew tired of the endless cash streaming out of Solrain, and the pilots of all factions taking advantage of the economy to better their own financial position. Some tried to change things. Some didn’t care. But in the end, things changed.”
“Dara, let’s be real. You’ve never been able to understand people who don’t hold the same ethics you do. You fought with honor because you had to – because it is who you are. No one in their right mind would have accepted a duel like that from Jericho, and I think the information we found later about the set-up shows that YOU shouldn’t have accepted the duel. But you did, because you have to do things in the way you saw as honorable. You could have let anyone fly your ship that night, but wouldn’t. I offered to help you, and so did others. You refused. You declared war on an entire squad, knowing you couldn’t win, because you believed they’d damage the empire. And no matter how many people held that belief, they just stood by when you were called a traitor – hell, I did too. But there comes a time when you have to grow up and realize that this isn’t some Candy Cane Lane universe. People fight as they must, and do what they must to win – whatever the cost. If you’re not ready to deal with that, perhaps you should have stayed gone.”
His words were stinging, but even as tears formed, I knew he was right. I should not have returned. There is no longer anything here for me. With all my old friends gone, there is no reason to stay.
“I missed you. I never meant to hurt you when I left, but things just never could have been, and I had to remove myself from them, ya know? But one of the things I always loved about you is how honest you were with me. Thank you for being so again.”
I walked toward the door, and turned to see him turn away from me and go to staring out the window. “Things could have been different, you know.”
“No, they couldn’t have. We both know that. I made mistakes, too. I made bad choices, all in the name of some idealistic belief that just does not exist. And I paid a dear price for those choices – a price I’ll continue to pay when I walk out this door and return to the city. You know where to find me if you ever need something, but I will not fly again. I plan on giving all of my credits to the WI Trainers. 7 is an amazing lady, and I know that pilots she trains will be different than some of the corrupted and bruised pilots flying now.”
I walked out the door without looking back, and knew I would never return to service for Octavius, or for TRI.
Standing, looking at myself in the mirror, my hair was still wet from my first shower in 3 years. I am excited, I was to meet a lovely young woman by the name of Adara. I leave my room dressed to impress, wearing my new Leather Jacket I had imported from my homeworld.
Excited, I hop in my nix, crank up the in-flight music and activate the launch systems. Looking at my gauges, I see something wrong, low power, weapons offline, and I’m going horribly slow. I then realize that in my hurry to leave, I forgot to switch out the stock equipment that came with my nix. After re-docking and setting up my nix with all the best parts, I leave Outpost and head to Octavius Core station.
On my way, I see a shuttle struggling with a c3 Squid, looking down at my watch I find I have enough time to help him out. “Hail from battle cruiser ‘Tricky Bastage’, do you need help?” I send over public communications channels. Before I know it, the shuttle destroyed the squid and sent back a friendly hail.
Pulling up to OC station, I notice that for this time of day, there is no traffic. Flash firing towards the station, I flip over and stop in just the right spot, then landing in the tube at 99V. With a smile on my face, I hop out of my Nix and start walking from the hanger to the pub. But, something is wrong. I stop and look around, no other ships, no personnel, no other pilots, the whole place is deserted. I check my watch and confirm that it is the most popular time of the “day”. Confused, I walk over to the closest terminal and check station logs, to find that almost all of my friends were last noted as launched and no landing, some have been out as much as one year.
Disturbed by this latest development, I walk to the pub and look for Adara, what I find saddens me, a note on the counter. Opening the note, I read what Adara has said from her heart, and begin to feel a heavy weight on my chest. How can I lose another friend. I rush to the station terminal again and check Adara’s last flight log: Launched, no return.
Almost in tears, I get back in my nix and launch, not knowing where I am going to go, but knowing, SOMEONE will pay for the loss of my friends.
Pulling his Phoenix into the docking rings at OutPost, Azrael wonders alour whether or not Adara will still be there. He hopes she will.
“What was that?” netburnr had heard Az mumbling about to himself.
“Nothing man, you make it out of that furball ok?”
“OK? They didn’t even scrath the armor man.”
Heh. Battle, was the two minute thrill worth the lifelong loss of so many friends?
I suppose not.
It’s kinda like a drug though. Curiosity leads to addiction, and addicted I am.
Az walked around, he found the quarters after tipping some So!rain information broker. He tipped him with his las pistol.
A pity, the guy always had good information.
He walked down the corridor, and opened the door. Surprise!
No one to surprise though. Just a note.
“Went to the city. Meet me. ‘Dara”
City. Heh, I wonder if my thorns will matter much in the city. If my rips will count for anything, if my enemies will know me … hate me … like me … want to kill me … ready to be killed by me.
He felt bad about what he’d done. Why’d he been so selfish? Always she had been there to talk to, and when she might’ve needed someone, he was fighting.
The two minute thrill, the lifelong loss.