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Thread: Elite Dangerous November Novella Winners

  1. #1

    Elite Dangerous November Novella Winners

    If you missed the 24hr Charity Livestream with SpecialEffect, at 10am on Tuesday 12 December, then you will have missed the announce of the winners! Fear not, we have the recap of them right here right now for you!

    Before we get on to the winner, and the runners up, I wanted to firstly thank everyone for participating! There were over 120 valid entries that did not fall outside of the set rules. It was much bigger than the first writing contest I ran back in 2015 and it was a little unexpected. Suffice to say, there were a lot of words to read through and I read through all of them. I thoroughly enjoyed doing so and it easily consumed 2-3 full working days to get through all of them, so thank you for your contributions and entries. We have so many skilled writers within the community - I was surprised!

    This thread will, eventually, contain all of the valid entries (and maybe some of those that were outside of the word count rules) as an anthology of this year's contest.

    Note: I will be contacting those who won a prize in the next week to organise the prizes to be awarded.

    Now, without further ado, the winner and two runners up:

    Winner: CMDR OMNIGOD66 (Greg) - The Power of Will & Destiny
    Runner Up: Manticore2k - Pilot
    Runner Up: Colin (LaveRadio) - Intercept

    Additional Runners Up:
    Flyinzilla
    Coutts - Icarus
    Gluttony Fang - Voices of the Pleiades
    Kilvenny - Grandpa's Story
    Matthew - All That Was
    Andrew - The Job

  2. #2

    Greg - The Power of Will & Destiny

    My name is now Commander OMNIGOD66, but I was once known as James Prince, family calls me Jimmy, friends call me JP. But all that’s behind me now, as I reminisce the movement of the Cosmos that changed my fate, and I recall the moment when the clarity of what I was to become was forced upon me.

    You see I was born and raised in LHS 3447 within the Kremainn System, on Kremainn 2B. My family wasn’t rich, my Dad was a humble hard working Miner, and did all he could to save his credits, and moved from a simple Zorgon Hauler to a Type 7 by the time I was 18. Then the day came my Dad was most proud of, the day he finally got the Lakon Type 9. What a day! I stood next to him at Wohler Station as it was delivered.

    To save my Dad money, I took the time to learn all the “ins & outs” of the Type 9, and I kept studying any and all information I could find about the internal systems. I was his personal Engineer and Crew. After a few trips it was obvious that the poor maneuverability in the Asteroid Belts meant that I should really focus on optimizing the shield strength, which I worked on religiously. Then I found some wild new information, and I applied it to the ships system, though my Dad wasn’t overjoyed with me messing with the systems too much. But he was the type of Dad that showed his love for me through his actions, not so much with his words.

    Then on that fateful day, my Dad came to me so excited. He said, “Son, I’ve got info on one hell-of-a spot.” I didn’t ask a question, all the hard work and blood & sweat he put in deserved as much. I gave him a grin as we sat in our places in the Helm, and asked for the coordinates. He said, plug in the System of Wallites, with secondary coordinates to Wallites 11. It was the biggest clue he had ever received that might lead him to the mother-load that any and all Miners hope for.

    The ride there was as much of a grind as any, but it was justified, even if it only turned out to be one-fourth of what he was told about. Then we arrived, and found that our arrival to Wallites system was just the first leg of the trip, because Wallites 11 is the last planet in the damn system, a ridiculous 404K Ls. But, when we got there my stomach dropped, because I was looking at the most pristine and massive Icy rings I’ve ever seen in my life. “My Goodness, we may need another Type 9 for this haul.” I laughingly said to my Dad.

    As we were well into our dig, the cargo hold reflected our success, jammed with Low Temperature Diamonds. Damn, I’ve never seen pure money in the form or a Rock, yet here it was falling out the refinery like water. Just as I was about to walk away, a light blue crystal fell into the hopper, which I knew wasn’t a LTD. It was captivating, but to us useless. I felt it would make a nice ornament in my room back home, so I put it in my Backpack and headed back to the helm with my Dad.

    Then the floor shook, with a low thunderous boom. I held the wall to hold my balance. I heard my Dad yell over the comms, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m just a Miner.” I gathered my balance and began to run to the Helm. My Dad once again yell, “What the hell are you talking about, I’m just Mining. I have nothing like what you’re talking about!” When I got to the Helm I look out of the window, and see 5 Pirate ships, two were huge, and all were aimed right at us.

    My Dad turned to me and said, “We’re not giving them a Damn Thing! I know they want our haul. They’re making up excuses to attack us and take our cargo.” I wasn’t in position to ask questions, I just did whatever he said. Just as I turned to take my post, comms opened up and their Commander said, “Drop your Cargo if you want to live, you’ve got 5 seconds.” Dad turned to me and said, “I’ve got a few tricks they haven’t seen, we’re going to take a beating getting out of here, so buckle-up and do exactly as I say.” My knees were shaking and my hands were trembling, but all that mattered was the next words out of his mouth.

    Full Shields! That’s all I needed to hear. Done.
    Man the Guns, and force movement so we can split their group. Done.
    Launch Fighter, give them something to distract them. Done.

    As I felt the vibration of the firepower being blasted against our ship, I knew that everything hinged on if the shields could hold, and all I could repeat in my mind, was…”Don’t Fail, Don’t Fail, Don’t Fail.” But I did as I was told, I shot everything moving, and one of the Pirate ships broke off to take out our remote piloted fighter. Next thing you know we had a small crack in their formation. Dad told me new coordinates to put in and told me to switch to Hyper Drive instead of Super Cruise. Then he told me to punch it. Without question, I did.

    Somehow we made it. I checked the system and we were in the Palliep, nice play Dad. All his experience dropped on me in less than 2min. My Dad checked to ship only to find that the Shields somehow held up the entire time. Dad said, “Son, I don’t know what the hell you did to those shields, but that’s one hell-of-a job. But, it wasn’t over yet. The smashing sound of ships dropping out of Hyper Drive is unmistakable. As we looked out of the front window we see all five ships bearing down on us, knowing there won’t be any warnings this time.

    Quickly, we got back in our seats, and my Dad yelled out the next orders. “We’re jumping again, but we’re going BIG this time! So he yelled out the coordinates, and I entered them immediately. All I saw was the lights of each pirates ships weapons begin to glow as our engines began the hum louder and louder. Then the white blinding light all burst at one time, was it the jump or the weapons hitting us, next thing you know we’re dropping out of Hyper Drive. WOW! We Made it!

    My Dad stared out of the window, and his face said something is wrong. Why isn’t he celebrating his fantastic move to escape those Pirates? I didn’t understand. He said, “Son, check the system, where does it say we’re at?” So I did…and told him that it said, Aries Dark Region IN-S B4-0.

    Silence from my Dad, as he looked down at his feet and sat in his Captains seat. I asked what’s wrong?

    Dad replied as said, “I told you Arietis Sector FI-R B5-3.”

    My stomach dropped, as I knew whatever was about to happen was my fault.

    My Dad then said, “Son, we’re in big trouble, but don’t blame yourself, these new systems do spell check and auto-enter, so it must have changed your entry before you entered it, but you didn’t see it.”

    I didn’t understand. There we were sitting in the black, all we had to do was re-route and get back home. I checked the map, and there were a lot of stars in this System, but I didn’t understand why Dad was so down. I told him, I’m plotting a course home, and we’ll soon be out of here. He didn’t reply.

    Then he said, Son look out the window.

    When I looked out of the window a tear fell down my face. Because now I know why Dad knew we weren’t getting out of there this time.

    I turned to him and asked if he had anything in mind that could save us. He calmly said, no Son.

    He told me to gather my things, and get into the escape pod. I asked, what about you Dad? He said he had one more trick, but its only good to use once.

    Hurry up and get all you can into that pod, my Dad said. With tears in my eyes I did what I was told one last time. Then I heard the loudest sound that I could ever remember, and the ships systems began to fail, as the lights went on and off.

    My Dad passed me my Backpack with all the Food Cartridges I could get in the pod. Then he pushed the eject button, and then it all came into view through the port of the pod, and I knew why my Dad said there was no escape. I lost count of the Thargoids surrounding the ship. I could see three in front, four underneath, and I couldn’t count what was behind the ship. As my pod sped away from the ship I saw all the Thargoids begin to glow red, and turn towards my pod, and as they just began to move away from the ship, my Dad self-destructed, the blast was massive and took out so many I couldn’t count. I soon fell into cryo-sleep.

    My life began anew in the small system of Hyades Sector F1-R B5-3, where I did nothing but learn, train and prepare. All of them will pay.

    Now, I’m Strong, Ready, Prepared and Deadly. My focus is absolute. Protect the innocent hard working people of this Galaxy, and Death to All Pirates and All Thargoids. My mind & soul are prepared. Just as my father protected me with his life, so too shall I protect the people of this Galaxy with mine. I now await my new ship, the Chiefton, I know all too well the sacrifices of the many that make it possible for me to be where I am today. My destiny is written in the stars, and the stars are now my home.

  3. #3

    Manticore2k - Pilot

    The ship drifted through the quantum sea. All around infinite spectra spoke to the ship as it travelled.

    It was pleasing to feel the ship's life as they made their flowing progress through the everywhere of subspace, the holy ground of Witch Space. The void sang its song as wave functions crashed, collapsing on the shores of perception, vibrating against the senses of the pilot, and of the ship.

    It was a special song, heard so often but never wearing on the spirit. The pilot hummed along, excited by the progress they made.

    The fabric of spacetime blared in agony as the ship dropped down to be greeted by the majesty of a blue-white supergiant. Solar winds blasted against the ship's shields as the drives whined; tugging-of-war with the intense forces of the gravity well as they shot a transit across the face of the stellar deity. The ship's frame groaned and creaked, the hiss and sigh of plasmatic hydrogen collecting filled the cockpit as they refueled. All around them solar flares peaked into high purples and violets, uncountable radio frequencies shattering and penetrating, passing through and then out into the vastness of the universe.

    They were making good progress.

    The pilot scanned the ocean of space where island nebulae glowed, rich with colour and radiation. The ship raced out of stellar orbit and made ready the next jump, a ritual they had undertaken time and time again. Exploration was the life-force for the pilot and discovery its engine, alone in the void but for the ship out here. It had always seemed to matter little that they were far from home. Space was seemingly endless and the galaxy waited to be revealed, just to the star beyond and then out, to those unnumbered.

    It will be good to go home……………
    They had been away a long time, long enough to realise how long a life could be, alone and out in the black. They had gone to the ends of this spiral galaxy. It was not only a task; it was a quest and a dedication to their faction.

    All of those who chose to go in order to preserve their faction's mission of exploration, discovery and science had scattered to the voids and abyssal realms of the deep black. They had chosen the lonely path, the path that may have no ending except for the end they would all, someday, face.

    As explorers they were shunned, only returning to civilisation when the need to arose. And when they did return it was only to far-flung outposts where they remained unknown, and nobody cared about their faction or their mission.

    These outposts were places of little worth, where the outcasts gathered, or hid. Places where no one cared to remember and where pasts, sometimes violent pasts, were still being acted out; or trying to be be forgotten.

    Explorers were just crazy loners and their faction, their disparate family, was no different in the eyes of others. They weren't off the grid; for them there was no grid, and no outpost, no faction of disreputable drifters, cared to remember them coming, or going.

    And what about this civilisation that allowed us all to be thrown down?

    No one cared to know of them because their civilisation, all the superpowers and other factions, were too busy holding station; perpetually mired in cycles of civil unrest, war and the social horrors of medical emergencies, plague and famine. After all they had suffered through as a civilisation faction heads still argued and warred, politicians mouthed empty words and no-one was listening anymore or trusting of any of them. No one cared because they were too self-interested, or too sick of self-interest, to listen anymore, or because the march of their greed had replaced the reason of forward thinking and evolutionary advancement; perhaps of their very survival. The explorers returned to civilisation's edge but then they left again, and quickly, the black beckoning to them; spirits in the deep.

    But now it was time to go home.

    It was not pre-ordained. They didn't know if a time would ever come when the call would bring them to this action. They had been prepared to run this mission into the oblivion of old age and death; sharing some hope that a new generation would arise to continue their work, far out in the currents of the many billion stars.
    When and where would this new generation come from?

    Inertia kicked at the pilot as they boosted away from the frigid illumination of a brown dwarf, drives whined as particles accelerated, subsumed slaves to fusion. The universe cracked open and they careered down another subspace tunnel, freefalling once more in the quantum sea.

    They had continued their mission, their work, but then the call had been made.

    Navigation data uploaded at outposts had returned encrypted drop boxes, the time was coming soon. And the time was coming because civilisation had a greater enemy to face and, in the realisation of this, they had come together as one. Superpowers had stopped arguing, factions had stopped warring; medical science had caught up with evolution's puzzle-game of outbreak and plague and civilisation had begun to grow again.

    The pilot worked the controls of the ship, electrified at the thought of returning home, as they made ready for the ultimate jump.

    And then they arrived.

    A white giant star opened up the volume of space, its harsh light a majestic illumination as they dropped down. Some of the others were already there; the family of their quest, at last in their place of belonging.

    As the pilot called out to them others arrived, dropping down on rails of shining, luminal purity. And as the call went out so it was answered as more vessels dropped down to join them.

    The pilot knew this space as the returning explorers all called out to each other. All around deep, rich blues fell away into carbon-black silhouettes, gargantuan clouds occluding the light of supergiant suns. Space hummed in waves of cobalt and indigo, pierced by the pearl-white luminescence of nearby stars. They called out to each other as the nebula, their home, glowed around them, singing radiation in the high-band.

    In knowing, a fury arose in the pilot as the memories of countless stars and endless years in exile flooded back and, as the fury arose in the pilot, the others kept arriving.

    And still they kept arriving. But it was no longer just their expedition fleet; it was an armada becoming multitude.
    The pilot felt the fury burn all around as he watched vessels gather, the veins of their petals vibrating through the rainbow to settle in a violent red. Everywhere space was filled with sensors and probes being deployed, scattering as seeds on a divine cosmic wind to the light years of their spiral home; always turning back in the depths to pay homage to the one those others named "Maia".

    But at the light seconds, in this system, on a moon captured in the mighty grip of a ringed gas giant's gravity and in a place entrusted to perpetual night, their family's home waited. Their presence had been sensed and their home was becoming awake. The pilot hooted and wailed the greeting to the eternal heavens, his faction and family's song, at the thought of once more worshipping in their own central map room; their family's story within now to be rewritten, now that they were finally returning from the great without.

    And the family answered back. Colour patterns in their petals moved through the sequences of their faction's song, they wailed and bellowed their mourning to each other, to the multitude and to the endless void.

    The pilot fed upon the excitement of their anger and the heat and colour of the vast gathering, and joined in their calls for revenge.

    We have returned………….. and now we will take back what is ours.

  4. #4

    Colin (LaveRadio) - Intercept

    Mooka stared at the readouts on the console in front of her, re-reading the values again and again in an effort to distract herself. The readouts told her that the Asp Explorer ‘Sanctimonious’ was running at the most efficient she’d ever seen it. However, those reassuring figures on the screens did nothing to ease the dry taste in her mouth or the knot in her stomach.

    ‘Any contacts?’ asked Commander Duncan ‘Mac’ MacTaggart.

    ‘I’ve got nothing,’ replied David ‘Davie’ Thornton, yelling up from the lower bridge section.

    ‘Scopes are clear here too,’ Mooka replied.

    Of course, it was Mac who had suggested that they sign up for rescue operations out of Oracle Station. Even though the Sanctimonious’ crew had managed to avoid having any contact with these new alien ships so far, they all agreed that, this was a way they could help.

    The mysterious Thargoids had been attacking convoys in the Pleiades sector for at least a month now. Reports of escape pods being taken by these alien ships had been widely circulated and were beginning to make the population close to or in the Pleiades, panic.

    From what Mooka had seen from the recordings made by other commanders, the Sanctimonious would not be able to take on a Thargoid vessel in a one on one dogfight. However, she guessed, with all its recent modifications, they should be able to evade long enough to get any escape pods. Hopefully, they’d get out before they took significant damage.

    Sanctimonious was almost unrecognisable from when she first came aboard, rescued from a slave transport, almost two years ago. Since then the ASP had gained top of the line shields and weapons, Professor Palin had upgraded their engines and Farseer had updated their Frameshift drive. They’d spent a fortune on weapons and equipment from these mysterious AEGIS people.

    Even though, it didn’t reassure her. They had a plan, or more likely a vague idea, of how they were going to do this. Mac was flying and would be responsible for evading and picking up pods. Davie would be creating covering fire using the newly installed flack cannon and missiles. All she had to do was monitor the situation and fire the EMP countermeasure if they needed it.

    Thargoid vessels could fire off an EMP pulse which would disable any ships within range. This included the capital ships of the superpowers. Mooka shuddered at the memory of when the Sanctimonious was involved in recovering the beacon which had revealed proof of the Thargoids return. The image of two burning federal battlecruisers, with alien weapons eating the huge ships from the inside out, had seared itself into her mind.

    AEGIS had developed an EMP countermeasure but it’s range was so limited, only smaller ships could use it. It was the fact that she would have to time it just right, so that the countermeasure would cancel out the EMP pulse. That had her worried. If she got it wrong then the Sanctimonious would suffer the same fate as those battlecruisers.

    ‘I have a contact!’ Davie cried out. ‘Bearing 160 by 25.’

    ‘Locked in,’ confirmed Mac.

    Mooka focused the scanners, feeling that knot in her stomach kick when the results came back.

    ‘We have a Non-Human contact,’ she announced. ‘The computer estimates a level 5 threat level.’

    ‘Wow!’ said Davie, “What was the highest we had before?’

    ‘That would have been the threat level 4,’ Mac sarcastically replied. ‘When you thought it was a good idea to fly between an Imperial interdictor and a Federal Battlecruiser.’

    ‘Ah,’ Davie sounded sheepish. ‘I hoped you would have forgotten that.’

    ‘Don’t think the port engine has forgotten either.’

    ’25 light seconds,’ Mooka declared. ‘ETA 7 seconds.’

    Not being in the mood to handle the usual bantering between her two adoptive fathers, she started to call out the distance.

    ’20.’

    ’10.’

    As the Asp Explorer approached the target, the Frameshift drive decelerated the ship, keeping the time to target at a constant 7 seconds. The irony was not lost on Mooka. One of the quirks of how the Frameshift Drive, metaphorically, takes the laws of physics and breaks them over the head of Albert Einstein while yelling ‘I told you so!’

    The familiar blue navigation lock appeared on everyone’s Head’s up Display.

    ‘Ready?’ called Mac.

    ‘Aye Aye,’ Replied Davie in a Jovial tone.

    ‘Yes,’ Mooka found herself saying in a flat tone.

    The Sanctimonious shuddered as the frameshift switched back to standard drive. Mooka looked out past Mac in the pilot’s seat. Four large Imperial Cutters hung in what looked like a cloud of green vapor. Their sleek white hulls had been broken by green puncture wounds as they burned like the battle cruisers. Then she noticed the large spiral of a Thargoid ship. It was squatting in the middle of the vapor, like a spider in the centre of its web. Her hand darted over to the countermeasure control.

    ‘Not yet,’ Mac whispered. ‘It will fly over to us first to scan us. Are there any escape pods?’

    Mooka checked the scanners

    ‘Yes,’ she whispered back. ‘Looks like four intact pods and one damaged one.’

    ‘Guys?’ They both heard Davie joining in their quiet conversation over the comms.

    ‘What?’ Mac hissed back at him.

    ‘Why are we whispering?’ Dave said a lot louder. ‘It’s Space. They can’t fluxing hear us!’

    Any sarcastic reply Mac could have made was lost when the sensors let out a loud bass sound. Mooka felt her throat tighten as the alien ship seemed to glow green and turned towards them. It had eight glowing leaves wrapped around a central eye, which is why AEGIS had designated them as Cyclops interceptors. Other commanders just called them flower ships.

    As the Thargoid got closer, Mooka could make out more detail on it. Were those veins or blood vessels of some kind pulsing though the petals? She couldn’t tell. Maybe flower was not a bad comparison, this thing looked as if had been grown not built. It stopped, approximately 200 meters in front of the ASP.

    ‘Here comes the scan,’ Davie announced.

    ‘Let’s hope it’s just a scan,’ Mac muttered.

    Mooka looked at him in surprise; there was a catch in his voice. She’d never seen him this nervous before. Yellow and green light jumped out from the central eye of the Alien Ship, making the sensors scream in various high pitch sounds.

    ‘Now!’ Mac yelled, firing the Sanctimonious’ boosters.

    Mooka felt herself pressed into her chair as the ASP burnt past the Thargoid. She called up the external camera, to see the alien ship spin and start to come after them. It’s petals starting to flash red as it shrank into the distance. The sensors let out another roar of sound, it almost sounded angry.

    ‘I guess they think we’re rude if we run away when they’re trying to talk to us,’ yelled Davie above the noise.

    A bleep from the scanner demanded Mooka’s attention. It was showing that the alien was launching something, or rather somethings.

    ‘It’s launched Thargons,’ she yelled.

    Small little drones which could act as either missiles or mini fighters. Her hands shook as she tried to focus the scanners again. She’d seen records of swarms of these things practically eat ships they were fired at.

    ‘I’m on it.’ Davie shouted back from the gunnery chair.

    ‘Davie, only use that flak cannon,’ ordered Mac. ‘We’ll keep the missiles for the Cyclops. Mooka, highlight the closest escape pod.’

    Mooka quickly searched the contact list and highlighted the nearest escape pod. It had been damaged quite badly and she didn’t know if its occupants were still alive. She returned to the external view to check the on Thargoids, keeping her hand hovering over the countermeasure button.

    The Sanctimonious shuddered as Davie fired the flack cannon at the Thargon swarm. It was a simple enough weapon. Pull the trigger and hold to launch a shell; release the trigger and the shell explodes. It did significant damage to everything in the blast radius. Davie must have timed it right because the first shell exploded right in the middle of the swarm, knocking down their numbers substantially.

    ‘Flip and Burn in 5.’ warned Mac.

    A ‘Flip and Burn’ was a trick that Mac used to rapidly slow the ship down. Instead of pulling the throttle back and let the fly by wire system slow the ship down; he would disable the fly by wire system and manually flip the ship 180 degrees. Then, while flying backwards, fire the boosters again to bring the ship to a dead stop.

    She counted down, bracing herself again. The starfield shifted rapidly while the G-forces of the manoeuvre made it feel as if an elephant was tapdancing on her chest. Darkness crept in around her peripheral vision for a couple of seconds then it stopped. She shook her head to clear it and took in the scanner readings, breathing heavily.

    The Thargoid was 6 km away, the swarm about 4km. Davie fired the flak again, while the Sanctimonious lined up with the first escape pod. The rest of the swarm disappeared from the scanner.

    ‘Easy, Easy, Easy!’ Davie was chanting.

    The Asp moved in on the capsule, opened the cargo scoop and swallowed it whole.

    ‘Get me the next one.’ Ordered Mac.

    Mooka selected the next capsule, which was only a couple of hundred meters away, and watched as Mac expertly scooped it and moved onto the next. She was trying to ignore the fact that the Thargoid was closing fast. The scanner blipped again and she had to force down whatever her frightened stomach had kicked up into her throat.

    ‘It’s launched another swarm.’ She yelled, while her throat was on fire.

    Sanctimonious shuddered again, as both the flack cannon fired and another escape pod was brought on board. The Thargoids had closed to weapon’s range. Yellow lights blossomed from the little ships in the swarm while red lights stabbed out from the central eye of their flower-like mothership.

    She was thrown back into her seat as Mac fired the lateral thrusters in an attempt to evade. The Asp shuddered as the alien weapons hit. Mooka cried out in alarm. She saw the shield indicator turn completely red. Even worse, there was something hitting the hull. Some of the Thargoid weapons were bypassing the shields.

    ‘Shields at about 30 percent,’ She reported. ‘Hull integrity down to about 80.’

    ‘Think we can get the last pod?’ asked Mac, who was constantly firing the boosters to increase the distance.

    ‘As long as we don’t get hit like that again.’ She said.

    ‘Good Plan,’ agreed Davie.

    There was another flash and a second Thargoid vessel appeared less than a kilometre from the Sanctimonious.

    ‘Bad Plan!!’’ Davie cried out.

    ‘Prepare for jump!’ Mac ordered.

    Mooka noticed this new Thargoid ship was displaying a different colour pattern. She quickly hit the EMP countermeasure button, just as a green wave of energy was emitted from the Alien ship. A similar pulse emanated from the Sanctimonious, which seemed to cancel each other out.

    ‘Jump in 5, 4, 3…’ the shipboard computer counted down.

    Seconds later they saw the familiar tunnel of hyperspace and Mooka sagged back into her seat. Her hands shaking as she tried to place them on the arm rests. Mac had slumped forward in relief in the pilot’s chair. There was a long pause.

    ‘Well,’ Davie interrupted the awkward silence. ‘I suppose 4 out of 5 isn’t too bad.’

    ‘Where are the escape pods from?’ asked Mac.

    Mooka examined the records stored on the escape pods.

    ‘They were passengers on those ships.’ reported Mooka. ‘The convoy was hired by Cowell and Mgrath.’

    There was another awkward pause.

    ‘You mean,’ said Mac with an exasperated tone ‘We just risked our lives for some Lawyers?’

    ‘We could always give them back?’ Mooka said with a slight smile.

    ‘Hell! No,’ said Davie. ‘I think the Thargoids are angry enough with us already.’

  5. #5
    Oxygen depleted in 7:30


    Here I am, Commander Flynzilla, a “vet” (still not totally convinced that messing about in Hazardous Resource sites more times than comfortable counts as being a vet) took to the skies in 3302, learned my lesson at the School of Hard Knocks, graduated from my trusty Sidey to the Maple Leaf (a Cobra Mk3 bedecked in my families birthplace on Earth) a bit of smuggling in my Diamondback Explorer, finally ended up in the Imperial Clipper, gave some big hits, took a lot more bigger hits back. Grinning inanely as targets “pancaked” (a slow barrel roll to bring guns into play) laughing as the bounty credits rolled in.


    It was around this time I thought “I fancy a drink at Beagle Point and get the mug as well” plotted the routes, dialled Radio Sidewinder in and away I went, and ironically this is where my story starts.


    Oxygen depleted in 7:20


    I have a fuel scoop…it isn’t the biggest; however she’s seen me right on many occasions…I remember the advice what an old spacer, in some backwater drinking hole once gave me, “scoop from KGBFOAM” and has been my mantra and kept me right for hundreds of jumps.


    What the hell happened?


    Oxygen depleted in 6:50


    And here I am... stranded next to a brown dwarf... no fuel remaining. The onboard computer is doing its job and regularly advising me of the oxygen levels mental note…if I live, buy a better life support...


    Well it’s been fun, technically no family to speak of, however 24years service in an Armoured Planetary Defence Force, I have made bonds and brothers from complete strangers, made some good friends that I would follow into a black hole without a question, lost good friends that I would call brothers. To nobody in particular, and in a point of melancholy, “well guys, I’ll be seeing you soon, keep the Ole Janx Spirit cold”


    Oxygen depleted in 6:30


    Why? Are you so quick to give up? The voice that has saved my skin too many times to mention, the voice that tells you to grab a drink from the bottom of the turret as outside, a mortar explodes The voice that tells you to look right instead of left as you see the out of control car heading for you and your date”


    The voice that pulls forth a long buried memory…


    The cold light in the classroom is almost oppressive, 36 new flight recruits, sat at desks, immobile, statues, buttons polished uniforms starched within an inch of their lives, the only movement is the chronograph ticking the seconds away. In walks a man, to call him old would do him a disservice, if a person was to exude every good trait that a pilot should, he was “IT”. A voice so deep,quiet, and sonorous instantly captivated and drew his audience in. Pilots, good morning, Lesson one, remember The Fuel Rats


    Oxygen depleted in 6:30


    With renewed vigour, look again at the status menu, back out of the function sub-menu, tab across back to status, there at the very bottom, with a yell of victory stabbing at the button like a desperate man.


    Nothing


    I look about, watching the chronograph ticking down. Asphyxiation, slow, painful agonising, and reserved for me when I run out of oxygen


    ... wait...


    Space madness must be encroaching; I could’ve sworn that I just heard a voice on the sub-ether radio…must be static....


    Cmdr Flynzilla, can you read me? This is Cmdr Noduf of the Fuel Rats, we currently have your position as Piscuim Sector EX-JA9-0. Can you confirm that the system is correct and the oxygen timer showing? Voices!!! Someone has heard me!! I looked out the window, expectantly to see a ship, or at least tried to. Unfortunately, the cold of space had inscribed a beautiful patina of ice over my frozen... floating ship.


    “Commander can you hear me, can you confirm your sector and if the oxygen timer is showing”?


    Quick look left at the galactic map, “aahh hello Noduf, reading you 5 by5, my system is confirmed as Piscuim Sector EX-JA9-0” quick glance up and right “ship chrono showing as 6:20 bingo for o2”


    The sleek deadly lines of Rat-Wolf, a purpose built Anaconda, death incarnate. all running lights off, sitting there like a silent dart, watching, waiting.


    Commander Noduf clicks to an alternative sub-ether frequency, “Ok, Rats, we have a Code Red at Piscuim Sector EX-JA9-0, Cmdr Flynzilla, Clipper showing 6:20, call your jumps” “Computer inject CR, 6:20, #6” without waiting for confirmation of this on the screen, he looks at Galmap. Superimposed is a green dot for every Fuel Rat on call


    The sub-ether radio sputters into life, commanders start calling jumps: Shadowlight 2j #6, zephyr 4J #6, HungryBear 9j #6, Willits 7j#6, Lifless_Lion 10j #6...


    Noduf cuts across the net, “GO Shadowrunner, Mulehead Willits”


    “Computer auto squeak friend request protocol to Flynzilla”


    I am twiddling my thumbs…hopefully someone heard my sos, the sub-ether blurts out in a mechanical voice: “Flynzilla, please drop from supercruise, come to a complete stop and disable all modules except life support” “uhh ok, modules disabled” but the link is closed, i now feel foolish for calling the Fuel rats


    “Computer auto squeak wing request protocol to Flynzilla”


    “Flynzilla Please add the following rat(s) to your wing, Shadowrunner, Mulehead Willits”


    I knew that the response wasn’t necessary.


    Done, the wing icons light up, showing various systems my saviours are jumping through


    “Dispatch, this is Shadowrunner, sitrep #6 sys+, fr+, wr+, (the computer dutifully ticked these off on Noduf’s screen) dropping in on client, wait out”


    What seemed like an eternity, staring at the chrono, tolling my death, in reality, moments since pressing the button. Suddenly a bright light blinded my cabin, my radar jups into life, 1 contact, the voice in my head...”i am dead” then another then a third. The monotone voice of my computer nonchalantly reporting: Fuel Limpet Incoming. I was saved! Someone had heard the SOS... Tears of joy sprang unbidden. I was starting to grow desperate. Within moments the engine booted itself back online, the frost slowly dissipating from the canopy as my ship was generating heat again and i saw my saviour."


    “Dispatch, this is Shadowrunner, fuel+”

  6. #6

    Icarus

    Romulus stood gazing in awe at the sleek Imperial Eagle poised in front of him, he’d waited a long time for this ship to finally be his and finally the day had come. He ran a hand over the deep laser scoring that ran down her flank, the “Icarus” was an almost legendary ship amongst those in the know, those in the Imperial know. He smiled as he recalled the tales of old, then caught himself, he was going to write tomorrows history in this ship, and he had little time for memories.


    He turned to face his father and looked into his cold eyes. “You disappoint me old man” he began “Running from those sub human federal scum. What of honour, what of courage you used to be brave when did you become such a coward?” He looked at the Eagle again and shook his head sadly. “You know I always wanted to follow you in the glorious service of our Emperor. But now…” He paused searching for the words that would shame his father “I see you for what you are, weak, pathetic and not fit to serve the glorious Empire”.

    The docking bay door opened and a group of technicians ambled in and then froze, staring at the two men before them. Romulus turned his head and stared haughtily at them “Get this ship cleaned up and ready for flight” He commanded “Repair the damage to the armour but leave any superficial scarring, I want the history of this ship left intact.”

    “S..S..Sir” stammered the Chief technician “Respectfully, this is a heavily engineered ship we can only do so much…” his voice trailed off and his eyes dropped to the floor as he saw the venom rising in Romulus’s face.

    Romulus covered the ground between them in seconds and smashed his laser pistol into the man’s face, almost knocking him from his feet. “You dare question me peasant!” he raged “You would do well to remember your place!” Romulus’s finger twitched on the trigger of his pistol and the technician’s eyes darted to Romulus’s father in sheer terror. “GET THIS SHIP READY TO FLY!”

    The group of technicians scattered like ants and busied themselves repairing the worst of the damage, casting nervous glances in Romulus’s direction as he continued to rage against his father.

    “Fleeing like a dog before the mighty Federation” he spat at his Father “you bring the ultimate disgrace on the family. You should have stayed and died like the rest of the fleet rather than this, this,” he struggled to find the words “Anything but this father, anything. What am I to do now, how can I repair the name of our family that you have so badly besmirched!”

    Romulus stalked around the Icarus, running his hand down the sleek black paint and admiring the sliver slashes where lasers had burned her skin. “Look how she bears the wounds of glorious war” he said to his Father “Unlike you, you pathetic scum, you who would lecture me on honour and behave in this way? Hypocrite!”

    The technicians worked nervously, fearing that the all-consuming rage tearing through Romulus would consume them all. They gathered in a nervous group chattering quietly amongst themselves and compiling a list of damage that their talents could not repair. Eventually and somewhat reluctantly the chief technician approached Romulus.

    “Sir, we have fully assessed the damage and it is partially superficial” he began, eyes fixed to the ground “However there is some serious internal damage, the main issue is with the engineered thrusters and power distributor, they have been upgraded with a technology beyond our knowledge. At present the thrusters will operate but on 45% of full power only, the power distributor is completely non-operational and jammed on the current settings. Unfortunately they will require more specialist repairs from the Engineers who carried out the original installations”

    “Can’t you just fit standard parts in the place of these components?” Queried Romulus.

    “Sir, the alterations are so radical we can no longer retrofit the original components easily, it would require a complete re-build of the Icarus which will take time and credits and you will end up with a ship that is a shadow of the present one” Replied the engineer with what might have been a small smile playing on his lips, this jumped up little fool was getting some form of payback at long last.

    “How am I to find these Engineers you talk of? As long as the ship can fly I can get her to them and repaired” questioned Romulus.
    The Chief hesitated before saying slowly, “These are incredibly secretive people Sir and work on recommendations and trust to respected pilots only…I believe your Father would have known the co-ordinates of their bases…”

    Romulus stared first at the technician, then at the pistol he held in his hand and then into the unblinking eyes of his dead Father who lay in a pool of blood in front of the Icarus. Romulus had reacted badly when his Father had told him of his escape from the battle, the disgraceful nature of his retreat had been too much for him to stand and he had blasted him in a sheer unthinking rage. “Look what you have made me do you old fool! You have ruined my ship, my glorious Eagle…”

    Romulus once again smashed his pistol into the Chief’s face who this time collapsed to the ground as if he had drunk 20 Lavian Brandies. His furious temper was taking over again. “I will find these Engineers and I will have my ship back!” He raged approaching the ship. “Is she ready for flight?” he asked the remaining technicians.

    “Yes Sir” snapped one of the technicians “But I…”

    “Silence imbecile, unless you want to end up alongside my Father!” Roared Romulus as he started aboard the Icarus. “And clean up this rubbish!” He kicked his Fathers dead body as he passed it. The technicians scuttled forward and some dragged the body of Romulus’s father away whilst others helped the Chief to his feet and they hastily left the hanger before the Eagle’s engines started up and vaporised them all.

    “Did anyone tell him about the other Engineer’s alterations” groaned the semi-conscious Chief.

    “Didn’t get the chance” Replied on of the other workers “Damn fool has lost his mind, he’ll get what he deserves in the next life” he added grimly.


    Romulus calmly contacted the control centre, his rage subsiding once more “Flight control, this is the Imperial Eagle Icarus. Confirming outward course bound for Achenar. Requesting immediate launch clearance”.

    “Imperial Eagle Icarus this is control, launch confirmed, follow all Imperial protocols during departure Commander, fly safe for the glory of the Empire”

    The ship glided up through the rock and onto the surface of the lifeless cursed moon on the smooth mechanical lift. Romulus carried out the final pre-flight checks and prepared for lift off. He wondered how the ship would respond with the reduced thruster capacity and damaged power distributor. His father had never let him fly the Icarus before, saying it was too dangerous. What utter nonsense he thought to himself, he was a skilled pilot more than the equal of his father at least in his own mind.

    “Landing couplings released” the automated robotic voice informed. Romulus eased the ship upwards and retracted the landing gear. The ship flew faultlessly if a little slowly but that didn’t concern Romulus, he had time on his side. A rough plan had formed in his head, get to Achenar and start asking questions about these engineers, after that it would be easy to “persuade” them to help him” he smiled to himself, sometimes his temper was distinctly advantageous.

    As the ship drew clear of the planet’s surface he punched the Hyper drive activation button. Nothing happened, no countdown, no error message. “Damn those technicians, utter fools” he cursed “They said the ship was flightworthy!”

    Suddenly the ships autopilot kicked in and lurched the Icarus onto a new course pointing directly at the systems sun. Romulus started to frantically try and regain control of the ship but it was useless nothing would respond to his touch. Suddenly a holo-me appeared in front of him, it was the unmistakable figure of his father.

    “Greetings Commander, it appears that for some reason you thought it would be a good idea to steal my ship” The ghostly figure began to say “That is very unfortunate for you. I am a faithful Imperial servant and as such I believe in honour above all else, this act of treachery will not be tolerated. Thanks to my Engineering friends this ship has been fitted with the ultimate anti-theft device and can only be piloted by myself. You have been allowed to pilot the ship beyond the planet surface to ensure that no innocents are hurt. I couldn’t be doing with something as uncouth as a self-destruct mechanism, no that would never do, the dishonour of hurting innocents would be too great a cross for me to bear. Instead you will have some time to consider your options and choices during what was no doubt a pitiful life as the ship effortlessly guides you into the main star in the system” at this the Holo-me flickered and died

    “For the love of the Emperor!” shrieked Romulus, he wrenched at the controls, hammered buttons and tried desperately to force the escape capsule to power up and eject him to safety.

    The holo-me flickered back into life “My apologies” said the projection “I forgot to say that the escape capsule has of course been disabled. Die well you thieving scum. For the Empire!”

    Romulus slumped into the pilots seat, all anger suddenly flushed from his system by the realisation that he was doomed, doomed by honour, the very honour that had driven him to kill his father. The ships computer was schizophrenically screeching at him about the rising temperature whilst flying him smoothly onward towards the burning globe.

    No-one would ever know the sheer feeling of terror that flooded his system before he passed out and the ship exploded into a burning corpse. No-one heard him beg for his life and wish for a miracle to save him. In the end his death was the very opposite of honourable, a murdering thief sent to meet his maker, not in the glorious service of his Empire but as the ultimate punishment for his hatred.

  7. #7

    Voices of the Pleiades

    “And where do you think you’re going?” A static-filled voice echoes.

    Angling the sole of my foot against edge of the last step before boarding my Imperial Cutter, I
    wrangle my command of motion back from space. The crimson coat of my vessel gleams from the
    glances of its interior lights, reflected clearly against my helmet. “I think you already know.”

    “How could you still go out there after what it did?!” My crew protests with exacerbated
    breathing, planting her feet firmly on the makeshift landing pad.

    The persistent humming of my ship resonates with the suffusing silence, meandering to every
    dark corner of this hidden asteriod dock adjacent to the Sisters’ Refuge asteriod station.

    Chuckling quietly with a bitter grin, I wave my hand casually. “Aaron and Conner would give
    anything to see you panic the way you do, Turner.”

    “They’re dead, they’re dead because you insisted that we—”

    “I know,” interposing while turning away from my fighter pilot at the bottom of the stairs, I
    haggardly ascend to the top of the boarding platform of my vessel. My gloved fingers brush against the
    printed ship’s name on the panel to my right. Private Pir— Vessel Akane. The second word has faded
    due to wear and tear, fortunately.

    Turner crosses her arms in front of her chest. “This is suicide, wait for reinforcements.”

    “I need to do this,” I retort.

    “Bloody hell,” snapping back, the woman leans forward as she sprints up the stairs after me.

    “Since when did you care about anyone else but yourself, you’re a pirate for god’s sake!”

    “Was,” I grit my teeth, emphasizing as I stare into the helmet of my crew. “Do not pretend you
    joined my crew for anything but the pay.”

    “Nowhere in the description said anything about pirating when I applied,” throwing her arms
    into the air, she rolls her eyes.

    Raising an eyebrow, I point out. “You did not leave.”

    That seems to shut her up, or perhaps she’s at a loss of words. Regardless, I have no time for
    petty chatter, so I point to the bottom of the stairs instead. “Get off my ship then, I do not have time for
    this.”

    Grunting at her indecision, I slam the “retract” button for the boarding stairs. Turner stumbles a
    little before showing me the finger, hopping in just in time with a rushed leap. “Hell’s empty and
    you’re here.”

    Sneering, I head toward the central elevator to reach the bridge with a shake of my head. “Get
    FCS online, and spool up the FSD.”

    “If I make it out of this alive, I’m quitting,” Turner exits the central elevator before me, entering
    the bridge and taking the auxiliary seat.

    I kick against the back of the elevator, propelling myself against the roof. I push against the
    ceiling with two fingers, orienting myself to land in the pilot’s seat. My hand trembles as they reach the
    throttle lever, as if shocked. My lips move on their own to form a low whisper. “Sorry.”
    I’m unsure if Turner refused to reply or simply did not hear me, but it matters not.

    “Engines online,” Turner announces as she runs her fingers fluidly across the controls before
    her, glowing in a light blue hue.

    The howling of the modified engine rumbles throughout the ship. Every dark corner of this
    hidden dock glows with the decorative scarlet engine fume.

    I close my eyes for a short prayer before giving my command, as if any god would bring
    salvation to someone who abandoned his home world, betrayed his navy, and forsaken his crew.

    “Let us bring the Thargoid down,” my eyes open once more, greeted by the marvelous colors of
    the hyperspace. Myriad stars flash before me, I feel as if an arbiter yet insignificant.

    However, the spectrum of colors shifts into a curious, but sinister green as the frame of my ship
    groans under pressure.

    “Hyperspace conduit is unstable, we’re being hyperdicted,” Turner waves the countless critical
    warnings popping into view aside, focusing on stabilizing the conduit. “I guess we didn’t need to go
    looking for them after all.”

    The cry of my Imperial Cutter softens as we come tumbling out of hyperspace. Before the
    rotating ship, a dark green, flower-shaped entity drifts by the ship’s canopy, missing contact by mere
    inches. Panels resembling heat vents glow green within each of the eight organic petals, centering on a
    black, transparent eye. The propulsion system of the entity leaves behind shimmering thin threads of
    red specter, blurring space as if desert’s heat haze.

    A terrifying, low-pitched shriek bounces between the walls of this ship, reproduced by the
    ship’s system.

    Not before long, the ship warns. “Energy surge detected.”

    The once green glowing fiend now sparkles cyan as it prepares to deploy the shutdown field. A
    wave of cyan web explodes outward in a sphere, quickly engulfing the space around itself.
    “Shutdown field neutralized,” Turner reports, along with a sigh of relief from me. “System
    capacity low, recharging now.”

    “I will take over ship control, get into the fighter,” I motion with a hand before deploying the
    xeno scanner.

    Destroying the first heart brings a wail, in pain and misery. Even without learning Thargoid
    language, I am fully aware by instinct. But my moment of hesitation comes with a cost. Enraged and
    flashing bright yellow, the interceptor’s energy focuses itself into a stream of lightning as it smites
    down on my shields. Sparks bounce both on the exterior and interior of the ship.

    The engines have been disabled temporarily due to the interceptor’s wrath. I can hear the
    Thargon swarm zooming in with their barrage. The hull of the Cutter trembles as I hear organic oozing
    and movement all around, the damage certainly sounds corrosive.

    The second the engines stutter back to life, I floor the boosters. A few Thargon swarm fighters
    meet their end by colliding against my hull. They sound like the crack of an egg, life taken before
    granted fulfillment. Whirling the ship into position again, it drifts in reverse while I assess the damage
    suffered. While the shield remains active with the help of shield cell banks, the hull suffered quite
    heavily. The same mistake must not be made.

    Remote flak detonation comes only 500 meters away from my canopy view, the simultaneous
    combustion of the flak rounds light up as they devour the Thargon swarm. Lunging through a cloud of
    orange and green from the explosions and Thargon remains, I manage to exert another heart of the
    Interceptor with a volley of missiles. However I navigate beneath its nose as it utilizes its lightning, and
    misses. I can hear the lightning crackle chases the ship’s engines, licking its trail.

    The only unit of time I can still use to measure is my remaining ammunition and the operational

    Thargoid hearts. After the last has been destroyed, an energy surge appears imminent. My system
    capacity is dangerously low from shield recharge and the need of charging the neutralizer. Before I can
    make a proper decision, I hear the expansion of the field, to which I engage the neutralizer.

    A bead of sweat drips from my eyebrow as I gawk at the vanishing last pip of my system
    capacity, right as the shutdown field passes through.

    A flurry of critical warning messages expand throughout the flickering hologram before me.
    Half of the ship is paralyzed, literally, even half of the engines.

    “Caustic missile incoming,” The ship warns with flashing red alerts in the darkened bridge. I
    have no proper aiming assistance from the hologram interface.

    “Hull integrity at twenty-five percent.”

    “The ship—ship’s malfunctioning,” I stammer. “Shoot down the organic missile or we’re done
    for!”

    Instead of aiming for the missile, Turner throws the ship around after getting ahead of it,
    guarding the ship with her fighter as they both explode right before my canopy. I cover my eyes with a
    hand as I watch the green substance splatter across the ship’s shield.

    “There’s no way I could’ve shot that down in time,” Turner defends herself the moment she
    returns from telepresence, to which I do not complain. Yet, worse news awaits. “The fighter bay
    module is malfunctioning, too.”

    I turn to her with a horrified gaze, away from the pressuring Thargoids. “Then we’re done for.”
    “Ugh,” bouncing out from her seat, Turner drifts toward the elevator as she kicks the back of
    her chair.

    “Where do you think you’re going?!” I try to maneuver with the remaining thrusts to avoid the
    Thargoids, but I can hear projectiles scraping by.

    Turner opens the central elevator before narrowing her eyes at me. “I think you already know.”
    “You think you can get away in an escape pod?” I jump out of my seat as well, angered by the
    desertion of my crew, to which I have no right to be.

    With an almost meek smile, she shakes her head at my vehement outcry. “No.”

    My realization comes too late, but my hand thrusts forth before calling out her name
    desperately. “Angelica!”

    A starboard explosion throws me off my feet and the elevator closes. I crawl back into my
    pilot’s seat before cursing under my breath. “Son of a—”

    “Take care of the Thargon swarm, I really don’t want to be shot down before launching,” Turner
    transmits her voice through the same static, again.

    My eyes are dark in the shadows, but my fingers stopped trembling. “Make sure you come
    back, alive.”

    “Roger.”

    Maneuvering the ship becomes a chore, with half of its thrusters offline. However, I manage to
    line up a shot for the incoming Thargon swarm. Without the predictive hologram, I can only eye it.
    Nevertheless I launched the last of my flak rounds. They catch the tail ends of the swarm, reducing the
    number down to four.

    “Launching,” Turner whispers, launching without a catapult, nor telepresence.

    The Cutter’s shielding has finally collapsed after a sizzling tear, to which the interceptor
    exploits. On the other hand, the swarm targets the freshly launched fighter, nicking it in one of its main
    thrusters.

    “Turner!” I call out.

    “I’m fine, just a scratch, what about the Thargoid’s hull integrity?”

    “Down to four percent, if I can just line up a shot, damn it!” My fist slams down on one of the
    disabled panels of the ship controls.

    “Hull integrity at ten percent.” The Cutter cries.

    The interceptor appears desperate, as well. It commands the swarm to launch themselves as
    missiles after the fighter. Turner outmaneuvers three of them, but the last one catches the belly of her
    fighter. A small explosion rips the fighter into halves, the cockpit unit floats freely away from the rest
    of the thrusters, coming into my view, and the Thargoid’s.

    “Angelica, respond. Angelica!” I scream as I try to hail Turner, over and over. The only thing
    echoing is static, and the only thing I see is the wounded Thargoid advancing toward the floating
    cockpit unit.

    “—fire straight ahead—in twenty seconds,” a voice drenched in agony and dry coughing. “My
    targeting computer—still works.”

    There is no visual feed from the fighter’s cockpit considering how damaged it is. But I know the
    voice of someone who has accepted death, it’s raspy, solemn, and chilling.

    “Hold on, I can get into the other fighter and—” I shake my head in disbelief, a few beads of

    liquid swirl away from my eyes.

    “Do you want to die, too?” the voice mutters, then another cough follows, it’s wet this time.
    My thumb trembles as I observe the Thargoid extending its green beams of light toward the
    detached fighter cockpit, the trigger has never felt more immovable, even with both hands.

    “Th—three, two, one,” Turner counts down as I close my eyes completely, I refuse to believe
    what I am about to do. I refuse to see it. “Fir—”

    A heartful howl bursts forth, in space, and aboard.

  8. #8

    Grandpa’s Story

    Melanie or Mel as she was known looked across the room and watched as her beloved grandfather looked out through the triple glazed window of his penthouse suite, just above the mail box of the coriolis space station that had been his home for the last decade. The burble of engines hinting another anaconda had just moved into the toaster as it slowly departed the station. The lights of a small outpost on the planet beneath could be seen twinkling in the night sky. Grey haired and bald, he flexed his arthritic fingers. His eyes twinkled as he observed his beloved wife Miriam quietly feeding their other grandchild from a bottle. Twenty years had passed since they had first met and the passage of time had not dimmed his enjoyment of watching the woman he loved. Miriam, looked up and sensed his gaze, she was used to it and found comfort in it. She smiled, her sixty eight year old face lighting up with pleasure as she looked at her seventy four year old husband. Tall and stylish, her svelte figure was swathed in a bright red dress. She blew a kiss contentedly, life was good and had been for so long, in fact since the moment she had met the man opposite.

    The gesture was not lost on Mel as she watched, perched on the arm of her grandfather’s arm chair for him to return and to continue reading the story book in front of her. “Captain Jameson gets his Cobra”, told the story of one of the most famous men in recent history. Her blue eyes followed the interchange between her grandparents. “Grandma, you are putting Grandpa off, he’s already more interested in that big ship than my book.” She observed disgustedly and looked daggers at her grandpa. “Tell us again how you met and tell us the full story this time.” Her grandfather turned slowly around and walked back to his chair. He sat down and Mel slid on to his lap. He picked up the book again, looked carefully at the cover, then laid it down on the table beside him without opening it, lifted his granddaughter into his arms and carried her to the window. “Do you see the three stars that make a triangle?” He observed pointing with his left hand beyond the planet below them. Mel nodded. “Yes, I know that. Somewhere in there is the place where you met?” He nodded. “It was twenty years ago. I was flying an Eagle.” Mel laughed. “I know that, it’s a really fast ship. There is one in my book about space travel.” Her grandfather laughed. “Shall I tell the story or will you tell it?” Mel sighed. “I want to know why you were there?” Her grandpa looked at his wife; she looked menacingly at him and offered no encouragement. “When you are older I will tell you. I was working for bad people” Mel sighed. “How bad, were you bad?” He exhaled slowly. “Very bad. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I was flying their ship, so that makes me bad.”

    Mel frowned. “Why would you even consider going with bad people?” Her grandfather looked tolerantly at her and using his free hand ruffled her fair hair gently. “I loved to fly space ships. I had been made redundant. I had no one. A small flat, the only human I saw was the shopkeeper. I wanted to go back into space. I took the job. I knew it wasn’t right, but how bad I didn’t know. All I wanted was to fly again. If that makes me a bad man?” He sighed wearily. “My ship was pre-programmed and I literally jumped from system to system, fuel scooped until my tanks were full and then jumped again.” He grinned. “Jump, scoop, jump, scoop and jump again.” You could sleep through it. Very rarely was anyone around. It was deep space, lonely, black and silent. Then just about noon I jumped into a system, it had a beautiful purple planet, my radar started showing blips. Then I saw laser fire arcing through the blackness. There is nothing quite like it, painting the darkness of space. I felt the adrenaline kicked in. Automatically my eyes hunted for targets, trying to discern what was happening. Very quickly I realized there were three ships targeting a single ship. Bad odds, for anyone, even an ace pilot. The three aggressors were primed for the kill and very casual. No one turned to greet me as I slid in behind the closest one. I hate turkey shoots and this was the worst type, the single ship, a Cobra painted a ridiculous pink had no hard points deployed, it appeared it was weaponless, unusual for a Cobra, but not the first one I have ever seen.”

    He smiled. “I directed power to weapons, flicked the protector off my trigger, deployed hard points and unleashed on the unsuspecting Eagle.” He blew up. I saw the explosion out of the corner of my eye. I was already locked on the second Eagle. He tried to turn, but I had the advantage, he too exploded, I saw his escape capsule pop. I turned across the pink cobra and for a moment my heart stopped. The pink paint was scored by the lasers and was starting to show damage, but it was inside the canopy that threw me. The pilot was a woman and beside her crammed into a single seat were two children.” Mel nodded. “I know, grandma and mummy and daddy.” Her grandpa nodded. “Who is telling this story; you know it better than me?” Mel smiled. “So, why was Grandma there and why were mummy and daddy with her, you never told me, tell me about that part.” As her grandfather cogitated on what to say, Mel’s grandmother interposed. “Your daddy was an orphan and I looked after him. You have to understand that out there.” She waved her hand towards the window. “Out there is really dangerous. People died, there were wars going on. People did nasty things. Life was not certain. People learned to look after other people’s children in the hope someone would look after theirs.”

    Mel frowned. “So, where was your husband Grandma, why were you on your own?” Her grandma looked uneasy and observed quietly. “I have only been married once, to your grandpa. Your mother’s father wasn’t my husband. He was a very, very bad man. You wouldn’t understand now, but when you are older you will. Sometimes men and women have to do things they wouldn’t choose to do, to survive or to help someone else.” She smiled. “Your mother and father and I were trying to stop your mothers father from doing something really, really terrible.” She looked at her granddaughter. “Now , let your grandpa continue.”

    Mel snuggled up against her grandfather as he sat back in his chair. “I knew their ship wouldn’t take much more punishment. Suddenly the pink Cobra, shrieked through the void of space. I have never seen a Cobra go so fast, interestingly there were traces of purple in the exhaust. I have seen plenty of engineered Cobra’s, but this was something else. I couldn’t focus on the Cobra; the third Eagle was painting me. For two minutes we battled, juking for position and the first telling blow. I was on the limit and then just as I was concerned I would make a mistake he made one. He forgot my Eagle wasn’t a stock build. Foolishly he turned onto me. I had an instant to react. One tap on the fire button and a broadside of missiles sliced through his shields hitting the canopy. There was no time to react, no time to trigger the escape capsule. I breathed a sigh of relief. I scanned the scanner for wakes. Much to my surprise the pink cobra had remained in the system.”

    Carefully, Mel’s Grandma stood up and began pacing the room with the baby on her shoulder. “I stayed because I owed the cowboy. I mean your grandfather a thank you. Also I knew the ship was damaged and needed repair. Thirdly I knew I was alive because of his combat expertise, If I was to succeed I needed to trust someone, at least to check my ship over. The comms were out in my ship, but your grandfather signaled with his lights and we made our way carefully to the adjacent system and a small outpost with repair facilities.”

    Mel nodded. “So when did you start dating.” Her grandfather laughed. “We didn’t really date. Your grandmother politely thanked me and asked me to check over the ship. She was icy cool and haughty, like an ice princess, weren’t you princess?” He observed raising his eyebrows. Mel missed the glare that passed across her grandmothers features, as her husband in jest touched on a point that had more than a hint of reality to it.” Her husband smiled and continued. “I checked the Cobra over and made sure a few simple repairs were done then I noticed something. The paint was pink because it was red paint over painted with a single, thin coat of white. Further, where the laser had scorched some tell tale markings were revealed.” He paused. “I felt fear then, many years before there had been a pilot called the Red Baron, he flew a bright red Cobra and his squadron were known as the Death’s Head Squadron, the names came from the twentieth century. The Red Baron was a hideous man, who killed for fun, the pink Cobra was his ship. I also noticed the engine had a different power source that appeared to be self sustaining.”

    He smiled wryly and looked at his wife, observing her engagement ring and its unusual purple stone. “I decided to have some fun with your grandmother when I went back to tell her the ship was okay. I left it long enough so your mother and father were asleep. In those days you could hire small rooms with bunks in, just enough room to sleep in and change, but with communal showers and a shared lounge area.” Mel’s grandmother smiled and couldn’t resist jumping into the story. “I was nervous; I was worried about the ship, about carrying on my journey. The bigger problem was that I had seen the look of hunger in your grandfather’s eyes and I knew I had been less than generous in my thanks. I knew I had become mealy mouthed and likely there would be a reckoning. Your grandfather walked up behind me and mouthed in my ear. “We need to talk.” Then he added in a whisper. “About the Red Baron and dirty drives!” My heart stopped. I knew then I had to trust. Everything about your grandfather suggested he was inherently good. I stood up and was so nervous that I fell and your grandfather caught me, next moment he was kissing me and I was kissing him.”

    She paused and smiled contentedly, remembering the moment as if it was yesterday. That was how we met. The next day we got married. Life in space can be short, if things feel right you have to grab the moment.” Mel sighed. “So what did you do after that?” Her grandfather laughed. He looked at the top shelf, knowing that Mel’s grandmother was looking in the same place, to the book that told their story, “The Vet, the Blonde and her Story.” One day Mel would be the custodian of their story and its legacy, but today she was too young, for it was a story of brutal men, slavers, princesses and the underbelly of society. “That my dear is a story for a later day.” Her grandmother said firmly in a voice that dared her granddaughter to challenge it, sharing a look with her husband. Mel didn’t respond, merely nestled further into her grandfather’s chest.

  9. #9

    All That Was

    Before me lies the precipice, the untold doom of our time. Thunderously invasive, howling tones disrupt my rhythmic thought – eyes wide open in despair.


    We once explored the cosmos, taking our fill of the abundant brightness in the dark, reaping the hard-won toil of our endeavours with great smiles and joy, filling the spiral with our melody.
    Each world was a discovery and each creature a new world.


    Our expansion through the multi-verses knew no bounds. No star too distant, no rocky disc left ignored, no planet far from grasp.

    We tended the Spiral Garden. We took yet protected. We were… cruel… yet careful…

    Then there is the belief in The Dust.

    An idea, at first… Then later… a disaster…

    Many of us were swayed by their sweet, sweet serenity; songs of beauty that moved our hearts as we meddled with the children of our own intelligent design.

    They grew in belief and then in number, flourishing for more. When belief and number were not enough, however, they grew in strength and anger.

    Opposing forces, opposing wills… the Song of Discord came to a cry, for the Song of Calamity was now.

    From the Great Dark, they came, seeking and spreading to new ground, our ground, in their endless conquest to sate their hunger, lying through their inactions.

    It was said they claimed the Spiral Garden once before – arriving without notice, without warning, to claim back what we thought was ours.

    Despite our best intentions, it was now clear...

    All they had to do was wait; to study us; to pave way an aim to feed on us, the so-called caretakers of paradise.

    No song can conquer them… No force could subdue them; for they are natures’ wrath.

    We could manage them for a time, to study them, to learn about them, yet our grace is now outshone by their ominous glow across all our worlds during this grand melody.

    The Speakers of The Dust sung their worry of our dabbling, of our ego, our hubris, when all was well before the Song of Discord, before the Song of Calamity.

    They claimed prophecy, haunting us with grim worry...

    Dark times ahead, they chanted, for when it comes on that fateful day, and the last of our light is extinguished across our Spiral Garden, we will return to The Dust… a mythical heaven to sustain us with anthem for eternity.

    I stare upon the demise of ours; my demise… for the time has come, you see, for me, like it had for so many others that I once knew.

    Weeping, another blast of cacophonous howls pierced my mind, forcing my limp, petrified form to my knees in a swirling hurricane of air and light.

    The gamma light, I recall them saying, was so beautiful to behold if one could witness it with their own eyes.

    A great lie, it was, for what I saw before me was perfection… the colour was glorious as it was dazzling.

    Arms limp, I marvel upon the ultimate form of nature, and I despair…

    My Song will perish to The Dust, it would now seem, for my life and joys I have experienced have meant nothing in the face of what stares back at me, shrieking delightful tones at my hopeless, helpless mind, body, and soul.

    Beneath me, the ground trembles under the power of its roar and, little by little, pebble by pebble, the grains of dirt that surround me rise from the ground as if by arcane means.

    For a moment, I felt comfort, as if it, too, were lifting my heavy body and my burdens…

    My wispy, madly fluttering silken attire, adorned with the sacred symmetry of my people, singes, little by little, at frayed threads… an omen of yet what was to grace me.

    I barely note the flowing smoke, for all I can fixate on is the giant, brilliant eye from above, mixing my blurred vision with the burning, swirling embers emanating from my robes.

    It was then that I took heart, staring at the bleak, dark-grey clouds of my world far beyond the force of nature which imperils me, for that is when a crack in the heavens revealed a ray of starlight on the horizon as I remained, trembling, on my weary knees.

    There are many stars like it. It isn’t special, by any means. It is quite ordinary. But I think it is special.

    For millennia, it has cradled life on my planet, and so it shall forever continue to do so in the future… until, inevitably, that loving, mothering star will also return to The Dust.

    I knew that such a comforting thought was fleeting, however… for the Swarm that is of their kind blotted out that sole ray of hope parting the crying clouds, crushing the last vestiges of my whimpering mind and soul.

    They do not experience existence the same way as we do…

    They fail to understand our song and dance in this, our Spiral Garden… No… they do not even comprehend to entertain us with such alien thoughts, such ignorance…

    It was upon me now, my final breath, my final song.

    Petals rotating, the sweet, sweet hum heightened in strength, and in awe. The vibrant, green glow, emanating from its eye, grew many times in power, as if to paralyze any hope that dared to remain.

    My world came to a harrowing crawl… every detail gradual, yet purposeful, clamouring for freedom that has taken root throughout my fragile, mortal being.

    It was then that both I and the Perfection… screamed…

    Ablaze, my attire flitters and smokes, ravaging those long admired sacred symbols of my star-seeking people.

    I have accepted my place amongst the dust swirling about me, the ashen existence that awaits me…

    With one final litany, I agonizingly, atom by atom, succumb to the wondrous gamma light smothering my red skin, soothing my bubbling flesh to the heat of the phenomena that is The Swarm’s enlightenment.

    My name is Aluska… and I… was once all that was…

  10. #10

    The Job

    Rabakshany B - Besonders Plant Refinery

    I would not have recognized Haddie. Her blue-dyed hair was brown and long, and green contacts disguised her blue eyes. Dark patches under her eyes showed lack of sleep. A tightness in her gaze showed tension. The view ports on either side of the crowded passage revealed the dusky landscape surrounding the refinery. The facility was old by most standards. Haddie glanced at the spider cracks in the passage bulkheads and wondered how the station had not yet imploded.

    How many are going to die this time?
    Three-thousand full time workers. Should be able to save most of them.

    She pushed these thoughts down, lest they tear more holes in her soul. She arrived at the security checkpoint outside the power core. She assumed an air of bored confidence and walked up to the armed Imperials guarding the hatch. She held out her pass card.

    "Maintenance order for core section nine. Coolant pipe...classified small leak."

    One of the soldiers took the pass, scanned it with his data pad, then looked at a soldier sitting at a console beside the hatch.

    "Hanson, you show a work order for section nine?"

    Hanson stopped staring at Haddie and touched the screen in front of him. "Yeah. Two days ago. Small leak. Still open."

    The soldier looked at Haddie. "About time you got here, girl. Open the tool bag."

    Haddie unslung her backpack and held it open while the soldier looked in. He straightened and gestured to another soldier behind him. "Open the hatch." He nodded at Haddie. "Do you need someone to show you to section nine?"

    Haddie shook her head. "This is my third time in there this month. I know my way around."

    The soldier sitting at the console nodded. "I thought I recognized you. Best looking maintenance tech, by far."

    She bristled at once again being reduced to a flesh object, a frequent occurrence in the Empire. But she smiled and brushed past them. When the hatch closed behind her, she breathed a sigh of relief. She entered a lift and descended several stories beneath the surface. She passed a handful of full-time core engineers, who gave her maintenance uniform only a cursory glance. She reached section nine and located the leaking pipe. She put her backpack on the deck and looked up and down the passage for any sign of movement.

    She located the service valve for the pipe, and turned the knob to close the flow of coolant. After tapping a few commands on her pad, she heard the pipe purge its supply of coolant down a side shunt. She returned to the cracked section of pipe, pulled a can of solvent out, and sprayed the pipe's circumference in two separate locations about a foot apart. The pipe smoked where the solvent touched, and Haddie held out her gloved hands to catch the section that fell free.

    She reached into her bag and pulled out a large canister labeled "Sealant". She reached up and slid the canister inside the exposed pipe. She retrieved the section of pipe from the deck along with a canister of actual sealant. She held the pipe in place while spraying the seams. She only had to hold it for a few moments before the chemical weld set. She then sealed the cracked area of the pipe and marked it with bright yellow repair tape.
    She opened the service valve and heard the clank of the canister as it was pushed along inside the pipe. It would get lodged in the first elbow bend it found and await its destiny. The timer inside the device counted down from six hours.

    Haddie returned to the surface. She left her backpack in her assigned locker in the maintenance barracks and headed for the public transit section of the station. She entered a sleeping berth rented two days prior, a glorified closet with a bunk and a sink. She pulled a duffel from under the bunk and slipped out of her maintenance uniform and underwear.

    She looked in the mirror above the sink, cringing at the circles under her eyes. She looked at her body, the outline of ribs starting to show on her thin frame. Stress diet. With a sigh she reached up and removed the wig. Her actual black hair had grown out much of the old blue dye job. Only the tips were still blue. She removed the green contacts and washed them down the drain. She pulled a straight razor from the bag and leaned over to wet her short hair in the sink. She then shaved her hair off, wincing at the occasional cut left behind by the sharp blade. She grabbed a towel and took a small spray tube out of the bag. She pushed the towel against her mouth with one hand, and held the tube up to her scalp with the other. She stared at herself, blinking as a few tears rolled down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and sprayed the contents of the tube all over her scalp and down her left cheek. The Kalzian-Oxalanton solution, which cost more than a Keelback, went to work immediately. Her skin started to tingle, followed by a sizzling sound and a wave of burning agony. Haddie dropped the tube in the sink and pushed the towel into her face with both hands, her screams muffled. The skin touched by the chemical raised up in crooked lines of blisters, puckered an angry red. She fell to the floor, tears streaming down her cheeks into the towel. The spidery blisters turned purple, and the pain started to subside. Haddie removed the towel and took long, slow breaths, her sobs fading with the pain. A cold sweat covered her body.

    She stood and looked in the mirror. The purple scabbing was visually identical to Chlamydial-Pemphigus, a very contagious sexually-transmitted disease. She grabbed another towel and wiped the sweat off her body, then dressed in simple pants and a hooded shirt. She opened a bag and unfolded a bright orange medical skull cap, draping it over her head. She put on a matching medical mask. She grabbed her belongings, pulled up the hood, and left the room.
    At the public transit section, she bought a medical isolation card using forged credentials, then sat in the waiting area near two Imperial soldiers. One of them saw her mask and elbowed his companion. They both stood.
    The first soldier said, "Tough luck on the -stain, honey. I hope he was good, at least."

    Haddie said nothing and looked at the floor. The soldiers laughed and moved to sit farther away. When her flight was announced, she moved into the landing bay and saw a Dolphin transport. She approached the commander at the bottom of the boarding ramp and held out the isolation card. The woman scanned it with her data pad, careful not to touch Haddie's hand.
    "Miss, I'm sorry, but I have to see the infection before I can authorize the medical bay."

    Haddie removed her hood, mask, and skull cap. The commander looked at her scars and nodded, sympathy on her face. Behind Haddie a woman saw the scars and gasped, backing up into the passenger behind her.
    The commander said, "Please wait to one side while we board the other passengers. Then we'll get you inside."
    "Thank you, Commander," Haddie said.

    After a few minutes Haddie was led into the ship and shown to a small hatch near the boarding ramp. Inside was a bunk, a flight chair, and a few feet of space to stand. The commander closed and locked the hatch. Haddie reached into a pocket and pulled out a small transmitter. The screen lit up and connected to the cylinder device implanted in the core. It indicated a countdown of four hours and nine minutes. Haddie sat down in the chair, buckled the flight straps, and waited.

    A short while later the commander's voice announced station departure. Once the ship cleared the atmosphere, Haddie raised the transmitter and issued two commands. The first sent an encrypted packet down to the station’s network servers, activating a program she installed earlier. The second changed the device's countdown timer to thirty minutes.

    As the Dolphin was docking with Al Sufi Orbital station above the planet, down at Besonders Plant the emergency broadcast circuit activated. A masked and hooded figure appeared on public screens, holofacs, and private data pads all over the station. The figure's voice was distorted to make it impossible to identify gender.

    "Attention all citizens of Besonders Plant. I am the Reaper. The Rabakshany Guardians have declared war on Rabakshany Group. In nine minutes, the core of this station will explode. Seek emergency evacuation immediately. I repeat, evacuate the station. There will be no further transmissions."

    Inside the core, Haddie’s cylinder opened. Concentrated chemicals were released, spreading rapidly, bonding with the molecules of the coolant and heating it up. In the control room, a technician looked up from watching the Reaper on his data pad as alarms flashed across all of his monitors.

    The engineer punched the emergency comms channel, and his voice sounded throughout the station. "We have a system wide coolant failure! Repeat! System wide failure. A breach is imminent. All personnel evacuate. Evacuate now!"
    The corporate wing for the Rabakshany Group sprawled on one side of the settlement. A network packet from Haddie’s virus program arrived at the wing's servers. The facility entered emergency lockdown. All hatches exiting the facility locked, and power to the escape pods was disconnected. Throughout the wing, corporate workers tried to break out of the station without success.

    Screams and panic reigned throughout the refinery. Ships filled with people and lifted off. Ground vehicles raced down exit ramps onto the planet's surface. Emergency escape pods launched on a trajectory that landed them a hundred kilometers away. People who were able to find evac suits ran out of the station's airlocks. A little over two thousand people escaped.

    A few minutes later the core exploded, carving a crater in the planet's surface and destroying the surrounding facilities.

    #

    On the station, Haddie launched in a Sidewinder. She listened to the excited chatter on the comms as pilots raced down to rescue survivors. She activated supercruise. She removed her clothes and wriggled into an evac suit, leaving the helmet floating beside her seat. She pulled another spray canister from her bag and sprayed it on her scalp and face. The reversing chemicals would erase the purple lesions over the next few hours. She then relaxed as the ship flew several hundred thousand light seconds to her destination.

    She arrived at the coordinates and de-activated her FSD. Her dark Asp Scout waited for her a short distance away. She vented the Sidewinder and returned to her Scout using the tiny jets in her evac suit. She powered up the hardpoints and blasted the Sidewinder into tiny fragments.

    She sat in the pilot’s seat, her gaze unfocused, shivering as she waited for the cockpit heater to catch up with the frigid air. The Reaper was gaining infamy in many systems. Besonders was the fifth facility she had destroyed the past year. Her boss' mercenary organization was well-known in the Empire. Blood money. Thousands of deaths on my head, all because I’m too much of a coward to die. It was either work for Donniker or die. He had promised this was her last mission, but it was a lie. He would let her rest a week, then hire her out again.

    She looked at bookmarked systems on the map. Near the bottom of the list she saw Rhea. Her heart ached. Her fingers hovered over the name, wanting to fly to ITO Orbital. To me. She shook her head. Logan would want nothing to do with me if he knew what I've done. She plotted a course and engaged her FSD.

  11. #11

    A Mirror in the Dark by Barry D.

    Marie tapped impatiently on the status monitor, her feet hooked into the rail on the floor to keep from pushing herself away in null gravity. The lights in the access corridor were dimmed to conserve power, the panel rhythmically bathing her features in red as it flashed “NO SEAL” in large block letters. The din of hundreds of servos, armatures, and rollers filled the air around her. Given that they operated in the vacuum of the cargo bay, their report came only in the vibrations they channeled through the ship’s structure. It was still just loud enough for her to plausibly ignore the comm bell ringing in her earpiece, though.

    Then all at once, the corridor was silent. Her hearing readjusted quickly, and she was just barely able to make out the faded whine of large-scale hydraulics as “NO SEAL” faded into a warm yellow and steadied its blinking. This quiet was brief, another repetition of the comm bell shattering it before it had a chance to sink in. Marie tapped again at the panel, though this time with purpose, and used her free hand to activate her earpiece.

    “Marie,” Sam’s voice filled her one ear. “The autoloader reports all green, and it’s only a matter of time before those Crewers’ friends show up to finish what they started. I need you up here on navigation.” She had expected impatience, but instead all she could hear was urgency mixed with concern. The latter resonated in her tightening stomach. The panel animated and morphed under her touch to expose the atmospheric controls she wanted, and she jammed her thumb on a wide orange icon labelled “pressurize.”

    “You jerking my leash, Commander?” she bit back reflexively, regretting it immediately. Every time she felt the need to challenge Sam’s authority, she did so by reminding him he owned her. Holding the deed to an imperial slave had always made him uncomfortable. But she had come with the ship and one did not turn down the gift of an Imperial Clipper from a Duke. Since then, he had taken her on as a copilot and taught her much of what she now knew of ship operations. She painfully awaited his reply.

    “You’ve got five minutes,” he finally sighed into her ear, the resignation in his words twisting her gut into more knots. “If you’re not back up here by then, strap into something. I’m precharging the drive now, and I mean to cane it.”

    Her jaw was set firm by now, so she didn’t thank him. The hissing and whirring of the cargo bay air circulators was slowly becoming audible. For the first time in what seemed like forever, she tore her gaze from the display panel to glance at the bay access door. She carefully unhooked her feet from the retention rail on the floor, and gently glided herself to one of the vertical rails flanking the doorframe. Though the handle could be used to lever the cargo bay open if power failed, all it took was a few degrees of a twist to have the servo rail take over. With a short hiss and breeze of air it gaped open.

    The ship’s corridors were dim, but the cargo bay was downright foreboding. Gone were the smooth white plastics, soft metal surfaces, and spacious hallways that made Gutamaya a luxury brand. She was now in a dark, cramped world of bare metal and painted warnings illuminated with minimal, cream-colored spot lamps. Despite her core-world upbringing, she wasn’t the type to shy away from getting her hands dirty. But her belly continued to ratchet down in size the further she pushed onward.


    In front of her, not two meters from the access door, was a large block of metal that didn’t match the color of any of the structure supporting it. In fact, most of it didn’t match itself. Score marks, uneven patches, and occasional rough graffiti adorned the otherwise standardized cargo container that hadn’t been there some ten minutes before. The bay itself only had a four-container capacity, but in the darkness just the one was enough to dwarf her. Its chamfered edges were well outside her arm-span, and in the forced proximity she could see frost already collecting on the surface, as if consuming it. She didn’t know if it was thermodynamics or knowledge of what was inside that chilled her, but she suppressed a shiver.

    Using rails welded to the cargo bay’s back wall, it didn’t take long to reach where two of the containers sat side-by-side. The space between them was a black sliver of empty air to narrow to fit a person. But the railings split above and below to give access to the triangular spaces left near the ceiling and floor by the fact that they weren’t square in cross-section. Normally, there would be maintenance access ports on all four of these chamfers, but given the state of disrepair the cargo container was in she wasn’t confident she’d find a working one on the first try. Pirates weren’t known for handling their cargo with a gentle touch.

    They had been raiding Kumo Crew transports on their home turf on and off for months. Usually, they just focused a pair of beam lasers on their quarry until they dumped their cargo, arranging to have the “salvage” picked up by someone else. They had managed to cause a lot of economic damage along the borders of pirate-held space, costing the Crew and their benefactors hundreds of millions of credits in a three-month period.

    This week’s salvage fleet was a pair of Lakon Type-9’s flying Utopian colors, and one of them had been half-laden when the ambush came. No one knew how the Crew had found them hiding in normal space between planets. The Hookshot had shown up in time to melt the three smaller ships down, but not before they had crippled one of the transports. These four containers she was gliding between were all they could take on before the Utopians bugged out for repairs. They likely wouldn’t be coming back; the operation was over for now.

    Time was running short, so when Marie came to the isosceles gap near the top of the bay she didn’t pause before swinging her feet out and nudging herself down between the containers, moving as quickly as she dared. The darkness was thicker in this makeshift crawlspace, but there was a spot lamp illuminating a portion of each container where there was expected to be a maintenance panel. If both panels were carelessly damaged, she wouldn’t have time to slide all the way out to the back of the bay and check the other side. Despite her need for haste, she caught herself hoping.

    Whether luck was with her or against her she couldn’t tell. Pulling hard on a railing about halfway down the length off the containers, she could see at a glance that the panel to her left had been welded shut to accommodate a rough patch. The one to her right, however, was dented once but otherwise pristine. This hatch was bare metal with a short handle, and was about the third of the size that would accommodate a person.

    For a moment, her hand refused to teach out to the lever that would expose the container’s maintenance panel, her belly cringing painfully and her teeth grinding. Her eyes shut hard, and with and exhale she forced her fingers to action. As the hatch opened, the screen beneath sparked to life, bathing the dark crawlspace in a dull orange glow not unlike the holographic displays in the cockpit.


    Unlike the fancy control interfaces on the Hookshot, the monitor here was controlled by a keyboard and touchpad arranged beneath it. A red error message at the bottom of the display told her what she already knew, that the manifest and diagnostics system had been disconnected from the container’s transponder array. Like many things the pirates considered standard procedure, this was the quickest and cheapest way to keep secrets. She didn’t bother trying to repair the connection. The cargo container would tell her all she needed to know, the Utopians had made sure of that.

    Her hesitation had by now finally surrendered, and was now content to simply vice-grip her intestines as she worked at the keypad. All that was left was to go through the motions.

    The pirate economy flowed on rivers of flesh. The twelve “lots” the manifest reported were stored here weren’t volunteers or debtors with rights protected by their government like Marie. They were men and women taken from their families to—the manifest reported matter-of-factly—serve in a lithium mine deeper in pirate space until the work, disease, or violence ended them. If each of the containers the ship carried were filled like this one, there were another thirty-six souls aboard, which is what truly drove Sam to want to beat a hasty retreat without further confrontation.

    Digging through the manifest some more, she found one of them that matched the profile she was looking for. Much worse, she found three. She pulled up the monitor for the first stasis pod with a few quickly typed commands, and on the display glowed a monochrome image of the bust of a man. He looked to be in his mid-twenties with a dark complexion and eyes closed as if asleep. His left cheek was marred by the black brand of the Kumo Crew, what they called “the mark.” The telemetry of his pod reported he was in good health. Whatever other corners the Crewers cut, they did in service of making sure the life-support pods were in working order. This man was money to them, as she had been to some anonymous broker years before.

    He still had his standard identification chip. Most every citizen in the civilized galaxy had one under their skin somewhere. The Federation liked to place them in the forearm, but this man had his pushed in where his neck met his right shoulder. She wanted to feel surprised, desperately craving the numbness of shock. Her own neck suddenly throbbed where her imperial ident chip rested.

    Her fingers had stopped moving, but this time because they had completed their work. On the monitor now was all the information the man’s ident chip had to offer. It had been tampered with, of course, but she could see his given name was Romus. Age, twenty-seven. Weight, forty-one kilograms…

    Occupation, Regulated Imperial Slave. His owner’s identification tag had been replaced with a single asterix character. His transaction history had been deliberately corrupted. Had he completed the Kumo Crews’ processing, the chip would have been removed entirely, like most everyone else sleeping in the cargo bay. This one had been the first she had even checked. The first of three with working ident chips. The first of four containers. The first time in several months of raids that she had had direct access to the cargo they had liberated.

    And every last one of them could have been her.

    “Sam?” her voice echoed out into the dark. She barely remembered to tap her earpiece to make it work.

    “I’m here.” He sounded crestfallen. “You find what you were looking for?”

    “It’s not your fault, Sam,” she responded to his tone instead of his words.


    “What do you want to do, Marie?” he asked in her ear, some of the previous urgency returning to his voice. Only now had she become aware of the tell-tale hum of charged frameshift drive capacitors.

    “Let’s take them home,” she said as she grasped the utility rail above her and started pulling herself back toward the corridor from whence she came. The spartan cargo bay lights shut off in sequence behind her, leaving only the still-open container maintenance panel for illumination.

    The orange glow wrapped around a single spherical ball of moisture suspended in the air where her eye had been.

  12. #12

    The Pirate King by Adamantium

    "...the hydroponic process is state of the art,” Furieux said reverently. “After the middle run they analyse it by advanced gas chromatography, and that is why this drink” - he paused, raised the glass to his lips and took a mouthful - "is the finest in the galaxy."


    Adamantium didn't particularly care for gin, but since Furieux's return to Coney Gateway he was enjoying the customary lectures that followed half a bottle of Centauri. Adamantium's beer was taking effect, and he found the subtle glow from the glass to be somewhat hypnotic as began another tale of gin-themed adventure.


    The first flicker of the lights went almost unnoticed. The second lasted longer, and the bar became hushed. Distant booms echoed around the station and the Star and Garter was suddenly bathed in the green glow of emergency lighting. While patrons gathered against the viewing windows, gazing out in search of some clue as to the source of the power failure, the darkness was cut by bright, blue light that washed the very colour from their surroundings. The station defences were firing. Two unauthorized Vipers disintegrated as they boosted into the docking port, setting the debris into a gentle, tumbling drift across the station interior. The thunderous sound of their destruction resonated throughout the structure. More ships were shredded as they attempted to boost into Coney Gateway and avoid the defences, but now the laser blasts were quickly becoming ineffective. The apparent damage to the station's power plants reduced the power to their internal batteries and their usual blinding luminance dimmed even as they fired. Soon, they would do little more than cause superficial damage to the flickering, pulsing shields of the invading ships.


    An ever-growing cluster of scrap remaining around the Orbis docking port was suddenly and violently dispersed. A crippled Python burst through the cloud of wreckage, its core modules exposed through the lacerated hull, sparking and spitting flames as it crashed down unceremoniously onto a landing pad at the furthest side of the station. Adamantium recognised the markings instantly. The crowd in the Star and Garter rushed, looking for an escape, and swarmed around the emergency exit that suddenly crashed down blocking their path. The two Dragon pilots at the bar eyed the shadowy horde as it grew, the sounds of panicked cries and shouts forming a dark chorus. From the other side a voice suddenly boomed and the crowd hushed.


    "Get away from the door! Move away! Get away from the door!”


    The following explosion sent the mob tumbling to the floor, but it was controlled, deliberate. A cloud of smoke swept through the space that used to be the bulkhead door, and an imposing silhouette approached.

    "DowCow!” quipped Adamantium, recognising the figure. “You look like crap! Have you been out at Hutton again? We thought Archon had turned you into a burger and fed you to the pirates!"

    "I should have known you'd be drunk,” replied Dowcow, breathlessly. “I've sent several comms messages, trying to warn you. He's here."

    Furieux grinned at DowCow. “Who's here?”

    It was the sort of grin he employed when his bar tab was due and had no means to pay it. DowCow looked uneasy and seemed to be stalling for time. The swift, heavy-footed arrival of fellow Dragons, Erbaran and DragonxFangz was a welcome distraction from the awkward silence.

    "Guys, we ought to get to our ships," urged Erbaran. "The station is running on 40% power, defences are offline, security has been compromised. The best chance we have is to defend from outside the station."

    DragonxFangz, observing the destruction within Coney Gateway's interior, turned back from the viewing window. "I don't think that is an option."

    Furieux and Adamantium moved to look. A squadron of Fer-De-Lance and Viper ships now occupied the station. The few vessels that had tried to run had seen their shields decimated in seconds and their ships disabled before launch. This invasion force displayed the infamous arachnid skull logo on their hulls. The Kumo Crew. Amongst the hush and confusion a dark shadow loomed at the station entrance. An Anaconda drifted regally into Coney Gateway, crushing and splintering the stray, dismembered husks of destroyed ships as it set down on the landing pad.


    Within moments of its docking, the announcement system buzzed and crackled. The sound resonated throughout all occupied areas of the station.

    "I am Archon Delaine. Who is in charge of this 'Dragon Squadron'?"

    All four members of the 8th exchanged glances.

    "Judging from that elaborate entrance,” Adamantium said, “I think I need to see what he wants.”

    Furieux nodded. “Agreed, brother. This joker sure seems eager for a chinwag.” He snatched the quarter full bottle of gin from the table-top and snuck it into a leg pocket of his flight suit. “But if, gentlemen, we are about to head to meet our collective demise, I'm taking this bloody bottle with me.”

    ***


    The pilots of the 8th Dragon Squadron waited on the surface of landing pad 40. As Delaine and his entourage descended from the huge Anaconda the two groups appraised one another warily. Archon stood out among his men; an imposing figure, broad shouldered and tall with coarse blond locks that framed a craggy, simian face. He looked dangerous and cunning and held an unchanging expression that displayed a mixture of cynicism, suspicion and superiority. He, like his companions who were obviously keen to emulate their leader, were dressed in garb befitting Imperial nobility rather than the pirates they were. The Kumo Crew were not just some small criminal empire like so many others scattered across the bubble; they had real power, influence and, evidently, excellent taste in clothing. The station had become unnaturally quiet after the defences had finally failed, until Furieux finally broke the silence.

    “Greetings!” he said chirpily. “To what do we owe the pleasure of such a melodramatic visit to our humble system, friends?”

    The question was met with hostile stares from the invaders.

    Furieux scratched the back of his head. “You know, we generally prefer that visitors, however magnanimous, follow correct docking procedures. Saves all that tedious tidying up, see? I mean, just look at that nasty stain on pad two!”


    He threw his head back theatrically and slapped a hand on his forehead. “Oh sweet Mother! The cleaners are going to be ing about this for-”

    “Who is in charge?” one of Delaine’s retainers interrupted. “Mr Delaine wants to talk.” He was nearly as large as the boss himself but as wide as he was tall. A long grey beard tied in elaborate knots hung from his chin.

    Furieux gave Adamantium a sideways glance. “Looks like you're up, brother.”

    “Since when was I in charge?” he replied.

    “Well, you are, aren't you?”

    “Was it ever made official? Fangz here has just as much clout as I do.”

    “I’m pretty sure it’s not me,” Fangz answered.

    The Dragon pilots mumbled amongst themselves, ignoring the increasingly threatening glares from the opposing side.

    “...No. I’ve never held that position....left for over a year…certainly not me."
    "...but Fangz does the orders and mission briefings."
    "...you sure you didn’t accept the role last month?"
    "...I just do the system influence...isn’t it Mohizz?"
    "...Where is Mohizz anyway?”

    “Enough!” boomed Delaine. His voice echoed through the station. “You,” he pointed at Adamantium. “With the scar. Come. Bring your lunatic and his bottle with you.”

    ***

    The ready room of Delaine's Anaconda was surprisingly modest. Almost stock. Adamantium expected it to contain the common trappings of a modern pirate vessel, perhaps human skulls or other trophies taken from their victims, personal weaponry, litter even. But it was clear, clean and pristine.

    He and Furieux were shoved roughly into the room by Delaine’s men. Delaine himself moved around the desk and sat down heavily. He leaned back into the chair put his feet up on the table and began the staring game again.

    “Nice boots. Have you had them long?” chuckled Furieux.

    “Shut up.” Delaine grunted, turning his attention to Adamantium. “Why are you here?”

    Adamantium frowned. “Shouldn't we be asking you that question? You come into our system with guns blazing and-”

    “It is not your system. It is ours now. What exactly is it that you pathetic drunks do here?”


    “Actually,” Furieux said, “It's a common misconception that Dragons are drunk all the time. Like everyone else we occasionally have to sleep-”,

    “I told you to shut up.”

    “Well, excuse me!” Furieux retorted.

    “We’re mercs,” Adamantium said. “Based right here at Coney Gateway. We offer military and logistical services to factions across the bubble.”

    “Then why are you causing political and economic upset in the systems surrounding Patocuda?”

    “A condition of well supplied and efficiently run stations and planetary bases. But we have no direct control of businesses and ventures held by the citizens. Nor do we wish to.”

    “You are suggesting that your people continue to push forward into outlying star systems without your say so?”

    “They don't need our permission or our blessing. As I said, we do not govern directly. That is left to the civilian population. We never meant to become a political party in our own right, we simply evolved into one.”

    “The peons keep our bars supplied in return for protection,” Furieux piped up. “It’s a very lucrative and symbiotic relationship.”

    “Protection? Your tiny outfit did not offer much protection an hour ago. Destroying your defences was easy.”

    “It’s not over yet, Mr Delaine,” Adamantium said quietly with just a hint of menace.

    Delaine’s eyes narrowed and he looked dubious for a moment before sitting upright in his seat, “While I admire your audacity, I don’t think you are in any position to be making threats. We have Coney Gateway under lockdown and there is nothing stopping me from having you killed right here, right now.”

    “What you say is true. But you and your team would never make it out of here alive.”

    Delaine laughed out loud. A booming, animalistic sound that ricocheted off the very walls of the ship. His bodyguards joined him in his reverie.

    Nonplussed, Adamantium further explained. “Station security has recently been overhauled with some new tech. Its design allows us to keep unwanted vessels out but it can also serve to keep ships in.”

    “A giant cat flap, if you will.” Furieux added, helpfully.

    Adamantium, stifling a childish giggle, continued. “The docking bay is already sealed. Ask your men. If we do not return to our HQ-”

    “The bar,” interrupted Furieux.


    “-within one standard hour, the entire docking cylinder will be purged, killing everyone in it.”

    “Including you.” Delaine pointed out.

    “Including us. This is why we must now discuss our options. Perhaps there is some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement we can come to?”

    Delaine stood up. “A clever trick. Even if is only forestalling the inevitable. The systems in the surrounding sector are important to us and must be maintained specifically to further our goals. We will return and you will be destroyed.”

    Furieux made a rasping sound. “That's not exactly the kind of ‘mutually beneficial agreement’ we had in mind! Listen, we have a better idea…”

    ***

    Thirty minutes later the last of the Kumo Crew ships departed Coney Gateway.

    Back in the Star & Garter, Adamantium set about informing the rest of the Dragon Squadron of the events that transpired aboard Delaine’s vessel. The mercenary group had settled an agreement that would see Patocuda safe from further attacks but in return, they had consented to fulfil a contract for the so-called Pirate King of Harma. The campaign details, Delaine had told them, would be sent securely at a later date.

    At the bar, Furieux ordered drinks for the entire crew.

    “Cause for celebration, my fine, liquid refreshment bearing friend!” he said, gleefully rubbing his hands together.

    The bartender shook his head defiantly. “Not this time, Deu. You still haven't paid your last tab. Would you like an invoice now or later?”

    “Well, hell,” Furieux sighed. “You see sir, it’s like this…