Chapter 3 — Hoping against Hope
“Great Venture Belt…So many lives lost over that stretch of property,” thought Faith to herself as she flew from Amananth to the rendezvous with her squadmate. “Why would Iwakura choose to meet me there of all places? Something doesn’t feel right…”
En route, she was hailed by several passing pilots who had received her bulletin, and were oh so willing to sell their ‘useless’ PC-DSSes to her. She hailed the pilots back and made offers that were better than what TRI was currently offering for reward on the lost data disks. Acquiring nearly two dozen data disks, (three of which were in perfect condition) Faith returned to her voyage to meet up with her friend.
“I need to quit following and start thinking for myself. That has to be what this is about….Iwakura wouldn’t–.” Faith cut her engines and her thought off where it was. Something was definitely troubling her, something she couldn’t quite place it. Her ship drifted casually through the Hyperion Gate and towards the Great Venture Belt jumpgate, but for once in the past three days, she wasn’t in a hurry to be there. “Iwakura…wouldn’t…” Her mind desperately searched for any memories she had of Iwakura, meeting him, forming the squad, but nothing revealed itself to her. As long as she could remember being in TRI (which was the full extent of what she could remember), she was with squad Fallen, and Iwakura had been her friend. “I– I don’t …know him, I mean…I know how he acts, what he does…but nothing….”
She had to cut her thought short again as the jumpgate loomed closer. She re-angled her ship and thrusted forward slightly before making the leap into the Great Venture Belt. Asteroids lay strewn about everywhere. This was the home of bloodshed and a miner’s dream. Scanning through the scattered asteroids on radar, she caught sight of Iwakura’s ship, the “Wired II.” She approached him, carefully avoiding the numerous asteroids that lay strewn like toys in a child’s bedroom.
The “Wired II” was a collection of ships, essential parts taken from every faction. While not exactly a work of art, it was a technological marvel. Solrain flat paneled screens lay around the outside of the ship, visually displaying the surrounding area, and making the ship nearly invisible. She could still pick him up on radar, but seeing him amidst the numerous asteroids, was a hard task at best. As she drew closer, one of the screens displayed:
Hello Faith. Glad you could make it.
Faith laughed over the comm. “Still doing things the old fashioned way I see. How’ve you been?”
In response, the screens displayed:
Better honestly. I had a run in with an Octavian who thought I’d make a good before breakfast kill. He’s currently taking a pod-ride home.
“Okay, this is bothering me. When we’re in person you talk. Why won’t you use the comms?”
They are listening.
Faith started to grow sore. She didn’t circle the five systems for this. “Who is listening? And why have you brought me here of all places? What in the peace is going on?”
Just be calm. Relax, everything will be explained shortly.
Faith was not about to sit idly by and let this nonsense continue. She tapped the firing control of her featherfires, sending the blue energy streaking into his ship. The artifact shields she’d found for him quickly flared up to defend the ship. “You’re not listening Iwakura. I want answers. I need a friend right now, not a cryptic ass. Start explaining.”
Feisty. Okay I’ll quit playing with you. I wanted to meet you out here, because this is your heritage.
The rest of the screens displayed big pink arrows pointing in all directions.
“I’m not sure I understand.”
The screens displayed:
This is what your people fought for and died. This is your heritage. I brought you here to remind you why people fight, and what it is they are willing to die for.
Faith paused for a moment, looking at all the mineral wealth that lay around her. A glance back at the “Wired II” gave her the answer she was looking for.
Money, Faith. Money and power. All you are, and all you’ll ever be, is a slave to that fact. You must accept this if you are to uncover anything more of yourself.
“That still doesn’t explain why you dragged me all around the five systems. I need to talk to you about the PC-DSSes. They’re giving me memories of life before the Collapse…and memories of being a fighter pilot,” Faith’s voice wavered slightly. She was beginning to feel very uncomfortable having the one sided conversation over the comm. “I don’t understand Iwakura…I’m scared.”
The nearby jumpgate flashed with the approach of another ship…and then another…and then another. Faith glanced over at her radar. Three TRI heavy fighters had just jumped into system. ‘Odd,’ she thought, ‘Wonder what they’re up to.’ From the Zealots Refuge, three more ships appeared, and likewise from the Main Gate jumpgate. Several of the disks in the cargo hold began to whir and churn with anticipation. Her head turned back to Iwakura’s ship, confusion filling her mind.
Be calm Faith. It is as we feared. Hyperial has been planting false messages in your mind through the data disks. These gentlemen simply need to extract some of that data.
Lies! They were lies! There’s no way this was simply some Hyperial plot to brainwash her. It couldn’t be…it wasn’t possible…was it? She didn’t have much time to think about it, because the disks clicked back on, filling her mind with images of life before the Great Collapse. She struggled to keep them out, to maintain her grip on reality, but everything boiled away. She found herself engaged by twelve Uirio Spiders. Each of the round jet black vessels had eight arms that pointed forward. Each arm could fire some sort of disintegration laser. One Spider was bad news…but twelve…running twelve was tantamount to suicide.
And that’s just what Faith was intending to do. She turned the Dervish towards the nearest one and began closing. Her knuckles turned white as she tensed her hands over controls. ‘At least I’ll die fighting for my homeworld,’ she thought as she began spinning the Dervish evasively high above the lush green planet that was now the Great Venture Belt…Erzan. The girl known as Faith’s home.
Faith dodged deftly around the shots from the nearest three Uirio Spiders. The Dervish wound through the streams of fire like a leadfoot planet-sider sewing canvas. The graviton trail of her triple engines entwined with the Uirio beams, knitting the sky over Erzan with an elaborate green and blue tapestry. Faith’s shields flared up as one of the shots hit home. ‘There’s too many to dodge!’ she desperately thought to herself as the ship’s shields were again buffeted against. ‘Time to cut the odds.’ Her hands went into a whir of action.
She hit the inertial dampeners, cutting her acceleration long enough to whip the front of the ship around in a crescent arc. With trained and expert timing, she released a pulse from the Yuria and sent it hurtling towards the nearest of the three nearby spiders. Her thrusters then kicked back on, full acceleration, sending the ship into an arched joust on the next closest. She hoped the first blast would be enough to at least stun the closest Spider. She charged the laser again, and began sending the Dervish spinning, hopefully making it harder for them to hit.
No luck. Two more shots from the third Spider and her shields were down, with a slight hit to the ship’s armor. The nine other spiders began closing in as well, and the reinforcements that Faith expected, had not yet arrived. Faith hurriedly closed on the second Spider and began firing. She payed little heed to the overheating warnings and ship alarms that were going off. She would take at least one of them down with her. Just before she would’ve hit the monstrosity, the sixth blast across the hull of the Uirio Spider shattered it, rocking her ship in a wave of the dissapating nothingness. She bucked the ship around, preparing for one last assault on the first Spider. By this time, the fire she was taking was too heavy to avoid, and she concentrated on sending everything she had into downing another of them. She cut engines and drifted backward as the Yuria threatened to overload. The final pulse from the overheated cannon tore the barrel from the Dervish, and scored its hull. As Faith’s ship gave way under the Uirio shots, that final blast from her favorite weapon did indeed hit home, and destroy another of the cursed Null creatures.
Having nothing left now, but to die, Faith let the ship just drift, hammered by the Spider beams, and almost to the point of a breach. Her armor hit 7% just as the rest of the defense fleet arrived. The other 9 Spiders turned to engage them, leaving just the one attacker on her. Faith let out a small chuckle. ‘And me without a weapon,’ she thought, ‘Well, at least Erzan will be safe now.’ She tapped the ejection button, sending her escape pod hurtling out of the dying Dervish. Practically out of spite, the Spider quit shooting and just nudged the drifting Dervish, knocking it towards the atmosphere of the planet before turning the eight arms on the escape pod and opening fire. Faith laughed dryly again at the predictable tactics of the Uirio and just watched with delight as the pod exploded into a brilliant nova of energy, engulfing the Spider and sending it back to oblivion. The Dervish, with her inside, plummeted towards the planet below. ‘On the upside, I got the third kill,’ were her final thoughts on the matter as the nearly armorless ship began its burning descent into Faith’s homeworld below. Faith turned around and looked out the back view port to watch the fight going on in the night sky. That was her true home. Faith closed her violet eyes and wiped a tear from her cheek. It was time to die.
Faith sat up quickly, a nervous sweat on her forehead. Where was she? She wiped her hand across her brow and tried to relax. ‘My hand is too small’, she thought, ‘almost-child-like.’ A look down her body repeated the same thought. Her small violet eyes trailed around the room, taking in her location in hopes of some sort of recognition.
She was in a small room, in a simple bed. There was one primitive door with an L-shaped handle covering the exit. A large Beriakia brand console sat on a metal desk in the far corner of the room. Clothes, none of which Faith recognized lined the closet. A few plush toys sat at the foot of her bed. Simple red curtains kept the morning light out of the room. She pulled the tan Airbithi fleece comforter aside and threw her legs over the side of the bed and hopped out. She was wearing a very simple cloth nightgown, that hung down to her shins.
‘Okay…where…I’m home. This is…my room?’ Faith tried her best to piece together what was going on. ‘Judging by my height and…proportions, I’m …maybe twelve? It’s morning…and…’ She went over to the window and threw open the curtains before flinching for a moment at the brightness. Her eyes met a small town, built into a side of a hill. Lush green jungle surrounded the town and blocked her view of anything else. “Erzan?” she breathed, amazed by the sights. “I’ve never seen anything so…”
A deep male voice interrupted her from behind. “Good morning Darling, why, you’re up early.” She turned around quickly to face a tall man, looking to be in his early forties. His face was weathered and worn, a dark tan from working outside for days. He stood inside the doorway, with a proud smile on his face and an amused glint in his eye.
“Daddy!” she blurted out before she even knew what she was saying. She turned fully and ran towards him, wrapping her arms around his midsection and giving him a hug.
“Hehe, nice to see you as well, Aia,” he said, patting her on the head. Faith blinked in surprise and stepped away. Her brow furrowed with confusion and she stepped away from the stranger. She knew no father…was this a memory?
“Aia! Come on!” came a young male’s voice from behind her. She turned around and reality turned with her. No longer in her room, she was now standing on the edge of a grassy clearing in a vined forest. Three guys and two other girls were running away from her. No. They were running towards a metallic building in the center of the clearing. It was partially sunken into the ground. “The bunker?” she asked herself, recognizing it, but not knowing why she’d have any reason to follow these other teenagers. Her height had increased too, as had her feminine proportions. No longer a child, she was now a young woman, presumably the same age as the others running towards the bunker.
“Aia! What’re you waiting for?” the closest boy yelled, running back to take her hand and drag her towards the bunker. Her eyes widened and she shook her head, pulling away faintly. “What’s going on?” she yelled, now aware of the explosions she could hear from behind her in the forest.
“The Uirio! They’re attacking, come on!” he yelled again and forcefully grabbed her arm and drug her towards the Barracks. She looked once more back behind her to the burning jungle and hillside village as the void monsters dropped anti-matter bombs, ripping the mining community to shreds…
…Meanwhile, in the Great Venture Belt…
The comm crackled to life. “Iwakura,” it said, “report.” He really hated the comm. On the keypad at his side he typed out a quick response.
Two fighters lost. Faith disappeared into the asteroid field. Searching now.
There was a brief pause, and then the comm again: “This is sloppy work, my friend. Might be unfortunate for a certain brother of yours, eh?”
Angrily he typed back:
Was only ordered to bring her here and read that pretentious script you whipped up to her. Searching now. Out. Then he killed power to the comm system.
On the external screens, he sent his message to the others to move into the asteroid field. They had far too much leverage on him for there to be any open defiance now. Subtle defiance was another matter. Searching an asteroid field could be dangerous, after all. Accidents had been known to happen.
The seven remaining fighters moved in. Their pilots certainly were good. They moved with precision. They would make no mistakes. If the opportunity presented itself, he’d have to help them with that.
It was a shame he kind of liked Faith. Considering her just a part of the job, not a friend, would make this all so much less complicated. Though no one would ever see it, he shrugged. Gotta do what ya gotta do. And right now what he had to do was search an asteroid field. With that slight recklessness that characterized his flying he fired the engines, moving just faster than was safe. It was a dense field. They might just be unable to find her. He chuckled. Wouldn’t that just be too bad.
The remaining seven TRI ships blasted nearby asteroids with their hitmen, trying to scare Faith out of her hiding spot. The Persona sat motionless up against the backside of an asteroid, with Faith inside, very unconscious. Iwakura’s ship grew dangerously close, but if she was found, there was little she could do, still trapped inside the reality created for her by the disks…
“Aia! What are you waiting for? We have to get inside the shelter!” the young man yelled at her as he drug Faith towards the metallic building set into the ground. Faith struggled faintly, still confused by the events around her.
“Dyar?” she queried, wondering if she remembered his name right.
He stopped dragging and turned back towards her, “Aia. It’ll be alright. We have to get inside. Come on.” He took her hands gently and tried to get her to follow willingly.
Faith looked back at the the village once more. She said, her voice nervous and unsure, “But…my parents, my sister….”
Dyar pulled Faith on despite her perpetual willingness to watch the destruction. “They’re dead Aia, and we will be too if we don’t get inside the shelter now!”
Faith’s eyes widened, “Dead?!” she voiced, terrified at the concept. She tore her hands away and turned back to Dyar, only to be staring up at a blue eyed man in his early fifties.
“Yes, I’m sorry Private Saelily. I understand Private Rees’han was your friend, and he was a great asset to the squad.”
Faith stared up into the steely blue eyes of Captain Driyl, a cloud of anger swirling through her despair. He was easily thirty years her senior, but with the weight in her heart, she felt as though she was talking to a child. “You will NEVER understood what he meant to me. Dyar and I grew up together. He saved me at Erzan! We– We were lovers…sir. And…now he…he’s dead?” Tears overwhelmed the anger she tried to bring up to defend herself. Unashamed, they cascaded down her cheeks and plummeted to the floor.
Driyl stood with his hands behind his back, motionless; almost a fixture in his office. “Yes Private. But we need you now. I need you to fly. Erzan needs you to fly. The galaxy does. Please.”
It was the ‘please’ that stopped her tears. She had a job to do. Tears could be saved until after the battle. The time to mourn was not at hand. Faith touched her cheek with her fingertips and wiped the remaining tears away. She nodded once and silently turned to leave the Captain’s office. She opened the door and readied herself to fly again against the Uirio.
Stepping out into the hallway, she found herself once again in her home on Erzan. She was twelve again, and walking down the stairs to the kitchen, hand in hand with her father. “Daddy?” she asked, her voice quiet and squeeky, “Why are you a miner?”
“Oh, that’s a silly question. Because I can be. It is what I am good at. I think a person should always do what they can do best,” came his reply.
“Oh,” Faith mouthed quietly and separated her hand from her father’s as they walked into the kitchen. She eased herself into her chair at the table and placed her hands face up in front of her. She looked at her proportions again, still somewhat mystified at the concept of being twelve again. Not that Faith could even remember what being twelve was like to begin with. She looked up at her father and blurted out, “Well I wanna be a pilot then. Cause I’m really good on the simulator. I wanna know what it’s like to really blow stuff up.”
Her father laughed deeply, finding amusement in his daughter’s aggressive attitude. “And what exactly will you be blowing up Aia? Asteroids?” He laughed again as Faith blushed, looking down into her lap with embarrassment. He walked over to the food preparation station and tapped a few buttons before turning back to her to ask, “What would you like for breakfast? Mother and Ioa are at Tessius today, finding her a wedding dress.”
‘Tessius,’ Faith thought, trying to jog her memory. ‘Must be some big city or another planet by reference,’ she concluded. “I bet Ioa will be extra pretty for her wedding. She got the looks and I got the brains!”
“You’re more beautiful than your sister ever was, Aia.” The chair Faith sat on grew to be a stool at a counter. Sitting with her were the five others that she had taken refuge with when the Uirio first attacked. Her body grew as well, turning back into the form she recognized to be her teenage self. Faith looked up into Dyar’s eyes, searching them for the truth behind his words. He indeed looked to believe everything he said. He flinched, realizing the poor timing of his statement. “I’m sorry, Aia, I know she was close to you. I didn’t mean to–”
She looked past him at the other four who appeared to be coupled up and sharing intimate words of their own. She giggled quietly and looked back to Dyar. Faith’s lips turned up into a soft smile, and one fairly relaxed considering what she was going through. “I see, did Johanis put you up to this?”
Dyar’s face turned a bright shade of red and he looked down at his drink. “Er, yeah…kind of. He and Kita were together, Pari and Valeu have been engaged for a year, and he sort of thought it was about time that we…”
Faith cut him off with a quick kiss, lasting just long enough for him to lose his train of thought and shut up. She giggled quietly and raised an eyebrow at him, awaiting his response. He blushed impossibly brighter, which only drew another giggle from her lips. “Let’s survive this war together, if you can promise me that, I’ll promise you my hand.”
“And how do I know that you won’t meet some ace while you’re out defending us from the Uirio and I’m grounded in a station?”
Faith let her giggle grow to a full laugh. Dyar had been grounded so to speak because he didn’t have the reflexes required to be a pilot for the Galaxy Defense Force. “Oh, have a little faith,” she said, trying to set him at ease.
—FAITH!” Iwakura whispered hoarsely into the comm, trying to rouse her from her unconscious state. Her eyes fluttered open and she found herself back in the Persona, still hidden up against the side of a radioactive asteroid. She glanced at her controls nervously, trying to figure out what was happening. ‘Were those memories? or…,’ her thoughts could never complete themselves, for there was never enough time. The TRI sweep of the asteroids was growing closer to her, and in minutes they’d be upon her. Her radar picked up Iwakura’s “Wired II” a few thousand clicks off and increasing distance.
“Faith, if you can hear me…I’m going to try to buy you some time. Use it well.” She glanced at the comm system and confirmed it to be a private channel. A twitch of a smile flashed across her panicked features for half a second. Perhaps Iwakura wasn’t so bad.
“Roger…thanks,” she whispered into the comm. She watched as his ship flew over to them, relaying some sort of message with the screens. Soon the 7 remaining TRI vessels and the “Wired II” were taking off towards the Klatches Hold jumpgate. Faith gave one look around at the asteroids and with a heavy heart, clicked her engines back on and flew away from the scattered rocks that were all that remained of her home.
“Goodbye Erzan, I hope my dreams bring me back to you,” she murmured as her ship drifted towards the nearest jumpgate. Her mind clouded with a myriad of thoughts, and it was all Faith could do to keep focused on the flying. ‘Are these memories? Are they even real? Is it true what Iwakura said about it being a plot by Hyperial? Am I losing my mind?’ She’d have to wait until the disks blessed/cursed her with more insight before she’d know for sure…
Faith’s ship, the Persona, drifted silently along, gently pitching forward like a thrown saucepan in slow motion. The pilot had set it there, adrift deep in unreg space, far from any pursuing TRI officials. Faith needed time to think, time to register everything that had been happening, and time to piece the puzzle together. The vast reaches of unregulated space lay about her, and presented the time and solitude she needed.
‘First thing’s first,’ she thought to herself. Her hands gripped the sides of her head, in a gesture symbolic of concentration. ‘I have to come to some decision about these waking dreams. Now, they feel real, almost like flashbacks, or memories….but I’ve changed events in them. Said things I wouldn’t…no couldn’t have said. Thoughts that are unique to me now. …”my hands are too small”… a child wouldn’t think that. I can’t remember thinking that then…can I?’
‘Iwakura said that Hyperial was relaying messages to me, trying to brainwash me. In light of recent politics, I can understand why they would do that, just not why they would do that to me. After all, before all of this started, I was just a miner…’
‘In one of the, dreams, I was fighting along side Hyperial ships against the Uirio, but in another, I was fighting against them. Civil war perhaps? Amidst the Uirio assult? Even the Hyperials aren’t foolish enough to try so-‘
Faith took off her flight mask and pulled back the green hood, letting her black curly hair spill out. She idly twisted a few strands into a braid as she continued her reconstruction of events. Faith’s violet eyes stared across at the HUD screen, catching themselves in the reflection.
‘There is no Hyperial. It’s all the same. We may have grown apart and changed. But by the peace, we are the same. I don’t know why I was fighting them, but I hope to find out.’
‘These can’t be false images, they’re too true. They feel true, they almost have to be. But….’ Uncertainty gripped Faith’s thoughts. What she was thinking of was the impossible. ‘If they are true, than I’m eons old. I’ve been around since before the collapse, well before.’
Faith reasoned, ‘If I abandon the dreams as imaginary, or an outside influence, then I have nothing. No past, no present, and certainly no future. I’m a puppet. I won’t accept that. They are real. They have to be, for sanity’s sake.’
It seemed that every time Faith reached a conclusion, a contradiction came up. ‘But what possible reason would the ancients have of placing my memories on the DSS? Why not the semi-sentient A.I. Icons? Or detailed schematics of technology? Why just me on them?’ Faith let out a heavy sigh and buried her head in her hands. The Persona continued to tumble, almost symbolic of the thoughts in Faith’s head. Continually tumbling, but getting nowhere.
‘My name is not Faith. I am is Aia Saelily. I think. It feels right anyway. I still have no explanation how I ended up here, but…I know that I am from then. I am from Erzan. Lost to the Uirio first, and then lost to the Great Collapse. Dyar…’
The name rang in her head like a broken bell, and the world at once seemed as if it were to cave in on her. Just the name brought back intense feelings of loss within her. Her mind had forgotten him, but her heart clearly had not. Thinking about her true past would have to wait, she didn’t have the strength for it currently.
‘TRI must want me for whatever I know about Pre-Collapse era. That can’t be so bad…I probably shouldn’t have shot down two of their ships. That will only make things worse on me. Maybe they just want to talk?’
‘I’ve got no future certainly if I turn my back on TRI now. I doubt the EEA would take me in, and I’ll find little solace from a pirate group. Amananth seems to like me, but I couldn’t chance running there for fear of TRI.’
Faith sat upright and pulled her visor back up and tucked her hair back under the hood. “Looks like I’m off to Wake,” she said aloud as she re-oriented the Persona and brought her engines up to full throttle.
It was time to see what TRI wanted with her…