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  1. #1
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Children of Raxxla Fan Fiction

    Replies in this thread are for submissions only!

    This thread is for submitting and collecting fan fiction written by the members of the Children of Raxxla. The stories are organised by author in alphabetical order with submission title and link to the submission post.

    This collection differs from The Children of Raxxla Chronicles in two ways:
    1. It is unmoderated. Any submission is accepted as long as it is not offensive in some way.
    2. The stories written do not need to be consistent with Elite lore nor stories written by others.

    How to submit
    Reply to this thread with your submission. The submission should include a title and the contents. The contents may be posted as text in the post itself or as a link to someplace that contains the text. However, the links collected here will only point to your reply in this thread. If you decide to directly put the text in your post, you can use multiple posts if you hit the character limit.

    Collection

    Aleithian
    Part 1 – The End
    Part 2: Twilight of Purpose
    Part 3 – A Light in the Darkness
    Salomé's Capture
    Part 4: The Beginning

    doomsd4ysmile
    The Pursuit
    Closure

    Jellicoe
    An Unknown Rendevous
    Of Mysteries and Children Pt 1
    Of Mysteries and Children Pt 2
    The Tangled Web
    The Tangled Web Part II
    The Tangled Web Part III
    The Tangled Web Part IV
    The Tangled Web Part V
    The Tangled Web Part VI
    The MetaDrives Mystery
    The MetaDrives Mystery Part II
    The MetaDrives Mystery Part III
    The MetaDrives Mystery Part IV
    The MetaDrives Mystery Part V
    The Eight Petelled Flower
    Last edited by Hayate Yagami; 01-17-2017 at 18:07.

  2. #2
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Reserved...

  3. #3
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jellicoe on May 17, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    An Unknown Rendevous

    In the great void of space a ship hung motionless, lights off and all systems save life support powered down leaving it almost undetectable to scanners and effectively invisible to any prying eyes. On the flight deck of the craft a young man and a young woman sat silently watching the space station that slowly rotated fifteen kilometres distant. The young man looked across at his companion and broke the silence “You sure about this place?” he asked in a voice laden with doubt.
    Yes it’s perfect,” she replied in the immaculately accented and enunciated tones of a high born imperial lady “a well equipped station far enough away from the major powers to avoid attracting attention but close enough for us to keep an eye on them, plus all the resources we could want in the ring systems. Luko did well finding this.”
    “That’s all true,” the man replied “but the locals are a pretty bunch, some of them’d give Octavia a run for her money!”</p>
    The young woman involuntarily shuddered at the mention of the long dead pirate queen, but quickly composed herself before answering “That will help keep prying eyes away and our pilots can handle themselves. We will bring law to this place one day, but for now the pirates and smugglers will serve our purpose well.”
    The man took a long look at his companion, her transformation from a confused, frightened girl with no memories of her old life into a woman who had headed a rebellion and now a leader of men in such a short time still amazed him “We’ll need combateers then, good ones as well.”
    “We will,” she answered with a slight smile “and we’re off to meet one of them right now. Set a course for Epsilon Serpentis.”

    A short while later on the other side of inhabited space a cobalt blue Fer de Lance thundered through the void en-route to a pre-arranged rendezvous in deep space, the man in the pilots chair checked his scanner again and looked over at his co-pilot. “Nothing on my scope, have you got anything?”
    “Nope, all clear. If anybody was following us it looks like we’ve lost them, now are you going to tell me what this is all about and who we’re meeting?”
    The pilot smiled slightly. “I’ve no idea who we’re meeting, it’s a woman but I’ve not got a name or any information,” he began, ignoring his first mates knowing smile at the news they were meeting a woman, “It’s to do with my uncle. She might be able to help”
    “You trying to get us all killed again?”
    “I’m touched by your faith in me.” The pilot replied with a grim smile.
    “Look skipper, whatever happened to your uncle somebody has gone to a lot of trouble to stop anyone finding out. Now if it’s the Alliance or whoever’s clearing up INRA’s mess do we really want them coming for us? and if it’s ‘them’ well…” he left the thought unspoken, he didn’t need to articulate it.
    “I know it’s a risk, but I have to know. My mother never got over it and someone has to know something. If you don’t want to chance it I’ll understand”
    The co-pilot exhaled in a mixture of resignation and exasperation, “Don’t be ridiculous skipper, God knows why but I do trust you, and we’ve been a team too long for me to abandon you now, let’s get it done.”
    “Thanks Claude.” The pilot said with genuine gratitude breaking his demeanor of carefully affected coolness. “It means a lot. Right we’re nearly there, I’m going to drop out of supercruise and travel the rest of the way in normal space just in case anyone is still following.” He turned to the third member of his bridge crew behind him “Full pips into shields Vik, the rest into engines. If this is a trap I want to make sure we get out of it.” The commander cut his throttle to zero and dropped the ship out of supercruise, waited for his instruments to adjust to the jump back to normal space and headed for the meeting point. “Let me know as soon as you get anything on the scope.” He grunted.
    Claude smiled “will do.” He replied as the ship ploughed through the hundred kilometres to the meeting point and the journey continued in a tense quiet. “Got something skipper, contact just coming into range.” Claude eventually broke the silence.
    “I’ve got it, big but not too big. Can you see what it is?” The commander replied.
    “Just be a momen..” The co pilot stopped abruptly and then gave a low whistle. “My God I never thought I’d see one of those!” He exclaimed sounding a mixture of nervous and excited all at once. The pilot looked questioningly at his first mate. “Old school Imperial Courier skipper, much bigger than the new ones. They’ve not made them like that for almost forty years, the ones that are left are pretty much all owned by top dollar imperials, usually senators and the like. So what would an Imperial senator know about your uncle?”
    “More to the point what would one want with us given what we’ve got up to in the Empire in the past?” The commander replied with a frown.
    “Shall I deploy hard points skipper?” Vikash asked from his console at the back of the bridge.
    The pilot thought for a moment before making up his mind. “No. If they want to talk I don’t want to spook them by pointing a laser at them but if not we’ll be able to get away safely enough and I’d really rather not blast an important imp to Kingdom come, it only upsets the others. Open a channel will you Claude?” Claude worked his coms panel before gesturing to his skipper that the link was established and the hologram of a woman appeared. She was clad in a long, cowled robe of white fabric with a sword belted to her hip in the style of a senior Imperial aristocrat. Despite the hood enough could be seen of her face to know she was very young, no more than twenty five at most Claude reckoned, he saw his skipper draw breath to speak when the woman preempted him.
    “Commander Jellicoe.” She spoke softly but clearly. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
    “Pleasure’s all mine miss,” Jellicoe answered, his eye moving appreciatively over the woman’s shapely form.
    “Please commander, call me Salomé. I’ve travelled a long way to find you.”
    “I’m flattered Miss Salomé.” He began.
    The woman laughed warmly. “Just Salomé commander, please.” She smiled again. “I much prefer to talk face to face I find it helps me get a persons measure, and as we may be some time can I invite you to my ship for some refreshment to help us discuss or business?”
    “You’ll forgive me if I’m reluctant, I’ve not always been on the best of terms with senior imps.” Jellicoe found the young woman’s confidence and apparent self-assurance remarkable.
    “If that is the way you address them I’m not at all surprised.” She said icily. “Good manners cost nothing Commander.”
    “Sorry miss,” Jellicoe replied, trying his best to ignore Claude convulsing with laughter to his left “No offence but Imperial aristocrats aren’t common in my line of work, usually it’s their pilots trying to shoot me that I run into, and crossing to an unknown ship owned by a woman I know nothing about is not an appealing prospect.”
    “You’re a very suspicious man commander.” Salomé replied acidly.
    “I find I stay alive longer that way.” Jellicoe answered deadpan.
    Salomé laughed again, instantly breaking the tension. “I assure you commander that I no longer have any position or standing within the Empire, I’m here because I think we might be able to help each other, but I can understand your reluctance to trust me. If while you’re aboard my ship We lower our shields and” at this point the hologram raised her hand, clearly to stifle a protest from a crew mate “and take our frame-shift drive offline would that reassure you?”
    Jellicoe muted the audio link and looked questioningly at Claude. “Should be okay skipper, if they do try anything we can take them down before they can get away.” He grinned. “It might not do you any good but you’d at least die knowing you’d be avenged.” Jellicoe grinned back. “One more thing, I’m sure I recognize that woman from somewhere, just can’t place where. Try and feed back pictures from your implant and I’ll get on to it.” Jellicoe nodded before turning back to the hologram.
    “Very well, if you’ll you put a docking tube over I’ll come across in five minutes.” He cut the link and turned to his crew. “Claude come with me, Vik take the helm and just hold her steady, if they try anything before I’m over there just get us out of here, after that hit them with everything we’ve got.”
    “Aye skipper.” The young man replied looking nervous.
    “Don’t worry Claude won’t be gone long.” Jellicoe said with a reassuring pat on the lads back. “Come on then,” he turned to Claude, “let’s get it done. The two disengaged their magboots and, pulling themselves along via the ships handrails floated to the airlock.
    “You sure about this skipper?” Claude looked worried. “Take your pistol at least.”
    “No point. If they’re genuine I won’t need it and if there’s a platoon on marines waiting for me one pistol won’t make a heap of a difference. Let’s be fair if they were up to something they’d hardly make themselves a sitting duck, with their shields down you’d atomise them long before they could jump.”
    “Okay just be careful, there’s something strange here and I’m not sure I like it.”
    “Embrace the madness!” Jellicoe grinned, then more seriously. “And find out who she is.” He put his helmet on and stepped into the airlock, waiting as it depressurized before exiting the ship and entering the docking tube. He crossed to the Courier with the practiced speed of a veteran, entered the airlock, waited as it pressurized and stepped through into a reception room that took his breath away. The room was genuinely breathtaking, every fixture and fitting designed to impress and, yes, awe the visitor. Jellicoe was accustomed to luxury, this was the main reason he preferred travelling in his Fer de Lance to his Anaconda but it was the sheer grandeur of this ship that was spectacular, if the Fer de Lance could be likened to a luxury hotel then this was a spacefaring palace, every curve and corner of which underlined the wealth and power of its owner. In the centre of the room stood a young man and a young woman, the woman was Salomé, the man a dark youth in an expensive flight suit and presumably the pilot, they appeared at ease in each other’s company and clearly not employer and employee, good friends? It seemed so, but something seemed missing.
    Salomé smiled and gave a barely perceptible nod of the head. “Welcome Commander Jellicoe and thank you for trusting us. Allow me to introduce Hassan, the man who is trying to teach me to fly!” She said with a smile.
    “She’s joking chief!” The young man laughed. “She’s better than I am!” Jellicoe tried unsuccessfully to place his accent, it was rough though, certainly not an aristocrat, possibly not even imperial. He wondered how in the rigidly stratified world of Imperial society a high born lady had come to be close companion to a lowly space pilot? This day piled mystery upon mystery. He shook Hassans’ hand, the young man looked slightly nervous but then Jellicoe imagined he might look the same, only Salome appeared at ease.
    “Would you like a drink?” She asked. “I believe Lavian brandy and Scotch whiskey are your favourites.”
    My god this woman has done her homework he thought, what did she want from him? “Thank you no, I never drink when I’m flying.”
    “Very wise.” she laughed giving Hassan a look of amused disapproval “Some tea then perhaps?”
    “Please.” Jellicoe replied, he was not fond of tea in zero gravity, it never really tasted right but it seemed churlish to refuse again, Salomé touched a console and a server drone brought him a sealed cup.
    “Please sit commander.” Salomé said gesturing to a lavish couch before sitting herself in a throne like armchair, Hassan sat in a second chair looking pensive.
    “Right, now I’m here would you mind telling me what this is about? You know something about my uncle?” Jellicoe began.
    “I probably know less than you do.” Salomé replied. ” But I think I can help you find the answers, or rather we can.”
    “We?” Jellicoe asked dubiously. “You two?”
    “Not just the two of us, we have many associates and many resources but that can wait, first tell me what you do know about your uncle.”
    Jellicoe exhaled and began. “It’s no secret, he was a pilot trading between Sol and Barnards Star back in the fifties, made himself quite rich I think, anyway he somehow got himself involved in the Alliance attempts to make contact with the Thargoids. I don’t know how important he was or what he did, mum said he piloted a ship but she was only small and may have got it wrong. Then a few years later he vanished without trace in high sec space – no distress signal, no wreckage, no black box ever found, okay it could have been a miss jump they did happen back then but no jump of any kind was registered during the timeframe, so I decided to dig about a bit and guess what? Every single person he was recorded as working with on the project was either dead or had disappeared within five years of the expedition, so I tried his contacts and associates and nothing, all dead or untraceable. I’m a rich man and credits tend to open mouths, even if it’s only one or two but absolutely nothing, I even went for a poke around the systems he went to on the mission, nothing again and one is even drive locked so I couldn’t even get in. Now I’m no conspiracy nut, but that tells me that someone very important wants something keeping very secret.”
    Salomé looked very thoughtful. “I think you might actually be lucky to be alive commander! You’re quite right, almost everything we think we know about the Thargoids are either secrets or lies, and much more than just the Thargoids, there are other things out there of which we know nothing but the Empire, Federation and yes, even the oh so virtuous Alliance make sure we never find out.”
    “You know this how?” Jellicoe asked, starting to worry that he had wasted a lot of time and effort on a delusional conspiracy theorist.
    “Because I broke into the Imperial data core.” She answered quite calmly. “I didn’t find everything I wanted but I saw enough, and I want to know more. I fear the human race may be in grave danger and I want to do what I can to help.”
    It was at this point that Jellicoes’ implant received an urgent message from Claude. “Don’t reply skipper, they’ve got red hot monitoring gear, this is encrypted enough to get past it but anything back from you won’t be. This ‘Salomé’, I’ve got an ID. She’s Lady Kahina Tijani Loren, only surviving child of Senator Algreb Loren deceased. I’ll fill you in on the details later but she disappeared from Achenar six months ago and there’ve been no reliable sightings since. Whoever she’s working for though, it’s not the imps. Out.” Jellicoe hoped his face remained impassive as he heard the news, an Imperial Senator may indeed have gained access to the data core, on the other hand…
    “Forgive me but from my knowledge of history far too many of humanity’s self-styled saviours tended to feel the need to kill rather a lot of people to do the saving. Why should I trust you?” He asked bluntly.
    “Because I want to kill no one, quite the contrary I have seen far too much death already. I want to learn, I want to know, I want to find out what we are not being told, and I think you do too. I said I think you might be lucky to be alive and if you carry on digging sooner or later you will become enough of a nuisance for some very powerful people to act, and believe me you’re not nearly rich enough to stop them, which is where I can help you and you can help me in return.”
    “So how would you go about helping me?” Jellicoe asked, he could certainly imagine what a woman of Lady Kahinas’ wealth and undoubted connections would be able to do, but he wanted to know as much as possible about what he could be getting involved with.
    “I am part of a large organisation commander, we have many pairs of eyes and ears and we are exploring, digging into the mysteries of the galaxy and the secrets powerful men want kept hidden, sooner or later we will find something about the Alliance mission and your uncles part in it, but should you learn something of your uncles fate yourself, and should someone come after you, surely it is better to face them with allies? I’ve no doubt you can see the benefits.”
    “This sounds almost like the kids vid comics about the Dark Wheel!” Jellicoe said laughing, then noticed that neither Salomé or Hassan had even smiled. “Oh you have got to be joking me!” Salomé did not seem the least bit perturbed by his incredulity.
    “There are many spokes in the Dark Wheel commander, and whilst it does not exist in anything like the form you imagine it most certainly does exist, and I represent one such spoke in the wheel, a small one yes, but a growing one.”
    “And what would be expected of me in return for the help of the Dark Wheel?” Jellicoe asked, barely able to conceal his derision.
    “My spoke in the wheel needs combateers commander, we are new and we are establishing our headquarters in an anarchy system, we need pilots to protect our ships. You are an Elite pilot with several powerful vessels and as such you would be a great asset to us.”
    “So you want me to abandon my business interests and a comfortable life in the heart of civilised space, to move to the back of beyond and live amongst pirates and smugglers? The ones I don’t have to shoot anyway. This hardly sounds tempting, not all of us want to disappear Lady Kahina.” He dropped his bombshell and looked to see the effect it had, she smiled but it was hard to say whether it was surprise or not.
    “You are very good commander.” She said apparently unperturbed. “Did you recognise me or did that remarkable copilot of yours find a way past my coms scrambler? Either way it doesn’t matter, that is a name I left behind on Achenar, out here I am Salomé.” Jellicoe nodded, he understood, and she was right, to have kept her old name would be to invite a great deal of attention and with it trouble. “To answer your question, yes that is exactly what I would like you to do commander. As you yourself said you are a rich man, worth more than a billion credits, you could retire to Sol or Alioth or even Achenar and live in the lap of luxury for the rest of your days yet you still fly, you explore, you try to make the galaxy a better place for the innocent and you crave adventure; like mine your soul is touched by the void and you can never turn away from that. I am offering you all that you are looking for and much more.”
    Jellicoe was thoughtful, the Dark Wheel was the stuff of childrens stories, junk action holo vids and conspiracy nuts, but this woman was very convincing, she didn’t seem like a crazy and she’d clearly given up a lot for this. “It’s certainly interesting.” He replied. “But I’m not a charity and I like a certain standard of living, if I’m going to help you I won’t be doing it for free. You’re asking me to leave a very comfortable and profitable life here and put my ship and crew at considerable risk on your behalf, what do I stand to make out of it?”
    “A man of your talents with a powerful ship in an anarchic system? Come now commander, you must have worked that out for yourself; the bounties alone will pay you very, very well and my people will reward you handsomely for any work done on our behalf. You can stay here and count the credits until the day comes when you upset the wrong person, or you can come with me and make a difference, and a lot of money into the bargain.”
    The young woman was certainly confident and very convincing, and she was right Jellicoe had never wanted to be a delivery man or hired gun. His trading business had been the means to make the money he needed to see the galaxy in comfort and safety not to tie him down to a single region or system, and yet here he was established in Epsilon Serpentis with an office and house at Kimborough Orbital and a country estate on the terraformed sixth planet, dividing his time between trading runs to Mabe and hunting the pirates who infested the systems mining zones. He had sunk into an extremely comfortable and profitable rut, and here was a young woman reminding him that this had never been his plan, fate? But the Dark Wheel? It was surely too fantastical to be true? “What you offer is very tempting.” He began. “But it’s not something I’m going to agree to on the spur of the moment, I need to think and discuss the matter with my crew, I’m sure you can understand?”
    “Of course commander, should you decide to join me here is a data chip with where to find us, find Commander Thorn and make yourself known to him, he has charge of our operations. The chip will self destruct after one use so make sure you memorise the location.”
    Jellicoe took the chip and half rose to leave before checking himself. “One final question, why me? There are many good pilots out there, what made you approach me?” Salomé for the first time showed a slight look of surprise, as though this was the first question she had not anticipated, she recovered quickly but it was there for one fleeting moment.
    “We have considered many pilots commander, and will be approaching others, but you?” She paused for thought. “You were brought to my attention by a contact of a dear friend of mine I met on my visit to Sol earlier this year, why? Your skills certainly, we do need expert combateers but you are more than just a cold blooded killer, you collect bounties but you do not target the innocent, you do not kill traders or civilians to make a point for some mega corporation, you have a conscience and you do, though you try to hide it, seek to make the galaxy a better place. I want you for your skills, and also your decency. If my organisation is to mean anything it will need those qualities. We have studied you long and hard commander and I very much hope you will join us.”
    Jellicoe nodded and this time did rise to leave. “Well like I said I can’t decide this on a whim, I’ll need to think on it and speak to my crew. Thanks for the offer, we’ll see.” Salomé rose and with Hassan escorted him back to the airlock, after saying their goodbyes and with Jellicoe through the airlock she turned to her old friend.
    “Send and encrypted message to Commander Thorn to expect his first Elite pilot.”
    “You think he’ll go for it? Hassan asked, surprised.
    “I’m certain he will.” She replied with an enigmatic smile.

    Some days later an Anaconda class vessel approached a station on the other side of inhabited space. No freighter this, the ships space frame showed tell-tale bulges of the armour and weaponry of a fully equipped and heavily armed cruiser. “Is this it?” The co-pilot asked.
    “Yep.” The commander replied.
    “What a dive!”
    “Yep.” The commander answered again.
    “You still set on this?”
    “More so than ever.” The commander opened coms to the station. “Hello control, this is spaceship ‘Warspite’ requesting permission to dock.”

  4. #4
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jellicoe at June 28, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Of Mysteries and Children Pt 2

    Serabrov Terminal sits in a truly spectacular setting, orbiting a moon that orbits a blue gas giant so closely that it is effectively a part of its ring system. The approach is challenging for a pilot, but enjoyable and very worthwhile as both station and moon command stunning views of the great planet and its rings. The station itself alas did not do its setting justice; the tatty old Coriolis had long since seen better days, its paint was peeling, many of its shops stood empty and packs of youths roamed its public spaces giving them a distinctly menacing feel. As with everywhere if one has the credits there is a better world available and I had made sure we we all had rooms in ‘the fortress’, the small part of the station that was patrolled by black clad security guards, where the paint did not peel, shops were passably well stocked, open spaces could be enjoyed and the collection of pirate chieftains, criminal godfathers and wealthy bounty hunters who passed for high society in this system could escape the consequences their actions forced on everyone else. It was a world away from the cosmopolitan glamour of Cubeo, even the provincial quaintness of Ra but it was here that we were needed and our first job was to find out why. As soon as we had docked I retired to my cabin and put in a call to my contact, as always their face was obscured and their voice disguised, I had no idea if they were young or old, even male or female.

    “You’re alive then? We heard rumours.” The dehumanised voice asked.

    Yes. Near thing though, but for your message I wouldn’t be, can I presume I’m not the only one who’s been attacked?”

    “You’re not. Most of the others haven’t been so lucky.”

    We’re being targeted then?” I asked. I could never get used to talking like this to a machine human, I wondered who it was and if I knew them, it was an uncomfortable feeling.

    “Without question.”

    “Any leads?”

    “Yes, a name. Hors Firedrake, spends a lot of time in Jitabos, take him down and there’s 240,000 in it for you.”

    “What ship’s he in?”

    “we don’t know, but either it’s very powerful or he’s exceptionally good.”

    “Or both.” I mused.

    “Or both.” The voice agreed. “Most important of all is this, Lady Salomé herself will be here in four hours’ time to see off a very important and exceptionally sensitive exploration mission, if she is a target she must be protected at all costs so whether or not you’ve completed the mission by then get back here and provide extra security. We don’t know if this Firedrake is acting alone, we suspect not.”

    “Could the mission be the target?”

    “It could be.” The metallic voice confirmed.

    “Want me to escort them?”

    “No. You don’t have the jump range to keep up, there are security wings going along, you’re much more use here. Stop this ship and if he has accomplices stop them too.”

    “Understood. Anything else?”

    “Just bring this man down. I can’t give you any details but this mission is big, it’s the most important thing we’ve ever done make sure it isn’t stopped before it begins. Out.” I sat down, ordered routine maintenance and fuel after our voyage and opened ship wide comms.

    “Commander to all hands. We will be leaving in one hour, nobody is to leave the ship, other than that the time is yours. Senior officers to the briefing room.”



    Just over an hour later we slipped out of Serabrov Terminal and jumped to Jitabos. I was a little apprehensive, whatever it we hunted was dangerous and powerful, but I trusted my ship, my crew and my own abilities, I was an old hand at this business and I was still here. We emerged from the glare of the star and Claude began scanning.

    “Anything?” I asked

    “A Type 9, a Clipper, couple of haulers and a police Viper. Scanning the Clipper…nope, not him.”

    “Okay we’ll head for Finney Ring then on to the outer system, stay sharp.”

    “Do I ever not?” Claude answered with a chuckle. We continued in silence broken only by Claude reporting new contacts, Cobra’s, freighters, police vessels nothing that could be our quarry.

    “Interdiction detected.” The computer announced, I looked at Claude.

    “Could it be him?”

    “Doubt it.” He replied. “Not unless crack assassins are flying Diamondbacks out here.”

    “We won’t waste our time on him then.” I said wrestling with the stick as the resolution rode the wave of energy unleashed by the interdiction and gradually we loosened and finally broke free of the tether. The other pilot wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t very good either, most likely another young man seduced by dreams of easy riches who’d be dead before the year was out, probably sooner if he thought his ship was a match for a fully equipped Corvette. The interdiction had flung us deep into the system, I brought us about on to a heading for the Finney Ring Station when Claude spoke urgently.

    “Got something big on the scope skipper, Christ it’s another Corvette!” I locked onto the ship and lined us up for a full scan, the result took just a few seconds.

    Federal Corvette

    Hors Firedrake

    Deadly

    Wanted

    That’s our man then.” Claude confirmed. “How the hell has he got a Corvette?”

    “Not really the immediate priority right now.” I answered. “Tactical assessment please Mr Vikash.”

    “Twin plasma accelerators, burst laser, two multi cannons and pulse lasers, four shield boosters. Lasers are turreted from what I can make out.”

    “Those lasers will hurt our shields but as long as we stay away from the plasma cannons we should be okay, simple.” I grinned.

    “I don’t like this one bit.” Claude was worried. “How’s an assassin way out here got hold of a Corvette? Who’s he working for?”

    “Questions for another time.” I answered. “Interdicting now.” I triggered the interdictor and again wrestled with the with the surge or released power.

    “Interdiction tether established.” The computer confirmed as I fought to keep the target in my crosshairs. The pilot was good and I was struggling to hang on as the red blocks rose on my display, I was trying every trick in the book, flying by instinct. I was good, Elite in fact but this man was getting away from me.

    “I’m losing it.” I called unnecessarily. He was almost away now, I had used everything I had and he had bettered it just who was this man? With a boom we dropped out of supercruise, warning klaxons sounding and messages flashed on my display.

    “Warning. Interdiction failure.”

    “Warning FSD failure.”

    “Hull integrity compromised.” I fought the urge to pound my console in anger and frustration, all pilots hate losing an interdiction, anyone can lose a battle, an enemy can have a better ship, a more advantageous starting position, bigger guns or just plain good luck but to fail an interdiction gave no excuses, you had taken on another pilot on equal terms and you had been out flown, but I was the captain, I had to maintain my calm at all times even when I wanted to smash the whole bridge up.

    “Damage report.” I barked.

    “Minor damage across all systems, hull integrity at 99%, combat efficiency unimpaired.” Vikash replied tonelessly.

    Right then let’s have another go.” I announced with forced cheerfulness. “He can run, let’s see if he can fight.”

    “Do remember skipper.” Claude sounded ill at ease. “The exploration mission and Lady Salomé herself will be assembling outside Serabrov soon, if he gives us the slip and gets in amongst them…” he didn’t need to finish the thought.

    “Then we’d better make sure he doesn’t get the chance.” I said as confidently as I could. Back in supercruise we resumed our search, crossing and re-crossing the system, first by the usual shipping lanes then the less well used pathways and the outer system. Time ticked by and with it my concern rose that we had lost him, and if we had lost him what havoc could he be wreaking at Serabrov? I was beginning to actively consider abandoning the hunt until the explorers were safely away when we picked up his signal again, a long way distant in the outer system, I set an immediate pursuit course and waited for the interdictor to come into range. I pulled the trigger and once again felt the surge of barely controlled energy unleashed which my quarry and I struggled to exert greater mastery over than the other, our ships hurtled and tumbled through space engines roaring under barely conceivable stress. Again though as hard as I fought the red blocks rose inexorably until.

    “Interdiction failed.” I stared out into space in a blind fury, not trusting myself to speak.

    “I’ve never known anyone get the better of you twice.” Claude whispered in shock. “Maybe we’ve bitten off too much.”

    “All that proves is he’s good at running.” I hissed back, Claude nodded uncertainly.

    Again we found him, again we interdicted and again he escaped. He was better than me, there was no way to avoid the conclusion, the only hope we had was that that did not extend to combat. If we could ever force him into combat.”

    “Got an idea.” Claude said when my fury had subsided, his cheerfulness sounding very forced. “The way ha just appears on our scanners well inside range, he must be jumping in and out of normal space, so we just pick him up, follow him and when he drops from supercruise we follow him, saves having to interdict him.” He said sounding uncharacteristically tense.

    “Don’t know if you’ve already thought of this.” Vikash said. “But he’s an assassin in a very powerful ship targeting our members, but he’s not once turned to fight us, why not?”

    “Decoy! Claude and I exclaimed together.

    “Makes sense doesn’t it?” Vikash asked. “Keep one of the enemy’s most powerful ships tied up while someone else strikes elsewhere.” Claude and I looked at each other, it made perfect sense and both of us had been too wrapped up in the chase and the ability of our adversary to have considered it.

    “Sent a priority one message to our contact at Serabrov, highest level of encryption,” I said. “Message to read – Suspect serious possible threat to both the mission and Lady Salomé. Suggest maximum security precautions be taken, end of message. We’ll give it as long as we can then get back just in case.” Back in supercruise we picked up our target quickly this time, I kept our distance trying to look as though I had given up and was making for the station half hoping he would interdict us, instead he vanished from my scanner.

    “He’s low waked.” Claude said. “I’ve locked the cloud get after him. Following a ship out of supercruise is not easy, you must get there quickly before the cloud collapses but only a slight misjudgement of your speed means you overshoot and almost certainly lose the cloud before you can correct. Fortunately I judged it perfectly.

    “Everybody ready?” I asked, Claude and Vik both nodded. “Claude make sure we’ve got an emergency jump ready just in case.”

    “You’ve never given that order before.” He said grimly and I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring look.

    “Target his power plant Vik, full pips to weapons, I’ll try to outmanoeuvre him.” I punched us back into normal space and as we emerged I saw his signature on my scanner a few klicks off our port beam, I brought us about and boosted after him, he had clearly seen us and moved to get us in his forward arc. As the range hit two kilometres I fired all our lasers and multi cannons, boosted again pulling our nose up before switching off flight assist to flip us round so I could keep firing as we pulled away, hopefully avoiding his plasma accelerators. It was a trick that always worked, even against the very best pilots, except this time. Whether he anticipated my ploy, whether his reactions were genetically enhanced or whether he was just plain lucky I will never know but just as the Resolution was swinging into firing position two bolts of supercharged plasma slammed into our shields closely followed by the glittering cloud of a burst laser.

    “Shields at 70%” Vik called sounding concerned, I fired again, I knew it would take time for his plasma guns to recharge so I had around ten seconds of time on target, trying to keep my guns in firing position while keeping us out of his forward firing arc while he twisted and pivoted to do the opposite. Combat in space is often likened to a dance and I can see why, but in the dance one is working with ones partner knowing when and where they will move but in space the opposite is true, a pilot is trying to surprise his for with the unexpected, to impose himself on his adversary not cooperate with him, our battle epitomised that perfectly, I was trying to stay away from his big but slow firing guns while my smallr but rapid firing ones chewed through his shields, my antagonist was trying to line up his knockout punch. Every time I thought I had the advantage he would somehow roll, twist or flip to land a volley from his big guns. In all my time in space I do not believe I had ever faced a foe as skilled in such a powerful craft, our shields failed within seconds of each other’s but this crucially gave us the advantage, firstly the Resolution’s expensively up-armoured hull could take a lot more punishment than even a navy spec Corvette, and perhaps even more importantly I could now throw in my big guns; twin cannon, of little use against shields but devastating against hulls and vitally, much faster firing than the plasma weapons of the enemy. The battle whirled and flowed but with shields down the enemy’s lasers were of limited use against our heavily armoured hull while our cannon were devastating against his. A plasma volley hurt us but we had the armour to take it and under the concentrated bombardment his power plant failed and the great ship hung dead in space.

    “Open a channel Claude please.” I asked and he gestured to indicate it was done. “This is commander Jellicoe of the spaceship Resolution. My orders are to destroy your ship not to murder its crew, you have thirty seconds to abandon ship before we resume firing. My compliments on a superbly fought engagement.”

    “Very chivalrous.” Claude grunted. “Sure we won’t live to regret that?”

    “Maybe, but ten to one he’s working for someone and if we find out who I won’t be letting them go.” Claude nodded. “Right, lay in a course for Serabrov, our work today may not be done yet.”

    Serabrov Terminal is around 1500 light seconds from the jump in point and I spent the journey in a state of mounting concern, what if the assassin had not been acting alone? What if the hand that was raised against us knew about the mission and Salomé’s presence? Would security be adequate? Had our warning got through? I watched the distance decreasing as my fears rose. Another worry was clawing at my mind as well, if a serious attack was mounted how much use would we be? We had taken damage from the assassins’ ship, our ammunition was depleted and our cell banks empty. We were able to fight and fight well but we would be at a big disadvantage in a sustained engagement against serious opposition. I completed our approach, dropped out of supercruise and with full power to engines boosted hard for the station. I had been half expecting to see flashes of laser fire and the explosions of stricken ships but there was nothing, only a mass of blips on the scanner.

    It seemed as if every member of the Children of Raxxla was present at the station as an armarda of vessels gathered just outside the docking bay with more arriving all the time, fighting ships, explorers, traders all were present and at the centre of the gathering in a blood red Imperial Clipper was Lady Salomé herself. I worked my way through the assembled throng to her ship, if anyone was planning an attack I wanted to be able to get the Resolutions iron arse between them and Lady Salomé.

    “Keep your eyes skinned for anything suspicious, keep scanning everyone.” I barked anxiously. It would have taken someone exceptionally stupid or suicidal to have launched an attack amidst such a fleet and so close to the station and exceptional luck to destroy any of our ships, still it paid to be cautious.

    Salomé began to speak, she warned again of dark forces on the move dividing us against ourselves, of the dangers of the promise of wealth blinding too many to the truth.

    Why was that Anaconda moving towards us?

    Lady Salomé continued, why was Halsey amassing data? What truly lay behind it? Could she be trusted?

    Is it working its way into firing position?

    Why, Salomé asked had Patreus built a new capital ship at a time of supposed peace.

    He’s got a clear run if he boosts into her behind a full volley.

    Salomé was still speaking, telling us to continue to seek out the truth and trust nobody but each other.

    “Claude ask that Annie who he is and what he’s up to, I’m going to get us between him and Salomé.” I gently nudged the thrusters to block any potential line of attack. “All power to shields Vik.” I ordered as we inched into position.

    Lady Salomé was coming to the end of her speech, thanking us for our trust and support and speaking of the importance of the mission to the rift, then warned again that there were threats out in the deep of which we knew nothing. Did she know anything solid or was she really as in the dark as the rest of us?

    “Bloody oath Jellicoe!” A harsh voice came through on another channel. “Get your arse out of the bloody way so a bloke can get a look at that ship.” My tension instantly evaporated.

    “Oh it’s you Bruce.” I said in a voice full of relief.

    “Course it’s me you stupid bastard, how many other orange bloody Anaconda’s do you know of? Or did you think I was a bloody Thargoid in disguise?” Commander Bruce Kelly was not a man to mince his words, bounty hunter, explorer and occasional smuggler he had been one of us almost as long as I had. He had a loud mouth but a shrewd brain, he was also, unusually for a spacer completely tea total. “Now get out of the bloody way before I stick a plasma bolt up your arse.” I eased out of his path almost laughing out loud with relief.

  5. #5
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Aleithian on August 1, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    Part 1 – The End

    Duke Aleithian eased the control stick forward, pitching the deep range explorer ship INV Illumination into a dive, away from the burning blue intensity of the O-class star S171 46. The Duke grimaced. This just isn’t a Clipper, he thought. His Gutamaya Clipper, the Paras Rising, was even this minute berthed at his estate on Shambhala, its crystalline skin no doubt glistening like white waves in the sunlight. Where the Asp was efficient and utilitarian, the Clipper was elegant and exquisite. The Illumination responded quickly enough, to be sure. But the Paras Rising growled with barely restrained power, ready to roar at the twitch of the wrist and leap forward in a primal unleashing of potential.

    The Duke smiled, recalling his last deep range venture. It had been an abortive attempt to reach the Core, misguided in its intent and flawed in its execution. He had ordered the Paras Rising stripped down to its frame to extend its range, only to see the weakened ship damaged about 8000 lightyears from the Bubble. He had had much time to think while he and his crew limped back to Paras.

    His reverie was broken by a female voice on the ship’s comms channel.

    “System scan initiated, Commander,” she said.

    “Copy, Lieutenant Commander,” he replied.

    After four days of intense jumping, the INV Illumination had finally reached the NGC 7822 Nebula, their first waypoint on the way to the Formidine Rift. Back when he was trading around Sothis, Aleithian had noticed a red glow in the galactic southwest, a pinprick of ruddy light beckoning like an ancient lighthouse from the Perseus Arm. Aleithian had asked around about it and learned that it was the NGC 7822 Nebula, a great red expanse of gas illuminated by an arc of O-class blue stars running through it. Like a spine, he thought. The nebula was the stuff of legend in the sector around Sothis. It was the object of both fear and excitement among the explorers and wayfarers of the region. In addition to its bright stars and plentiful resources, the nebula housed a series of black holes, variously enticing pilots to skirt the nebula entirely or dive in to “hole surf” – a crazy sport in which the intense gravitational waves of black holes are used to propel ships at incredible speeds. Aleithian shuddered at the thought. He had never seen a black hole, but the thought of the singularity of gravitational might terrified him.

    I must see one.

    The voice came over the comms channel again.

    “Scan complete, Commander. The report shows a number of gas giants and rocky worlds, even some orbiting stars. We’ll be able to set down here for the night and enter the nebula tomorrow.”

    Lieutenant Commander Talena Kai was equal parts coldly efficient and fiercely passionate. Aleithian had recruited her shortly after the war in Paras, during a trade run from Marrallang. In an episode in which her more impassioned nature took charge, Kai had been seized by the Coggia Station garrison for assaulting her commanding officer, one Count Delaine (a man known to then-Baron Aleithian as a fool and a serial political hack), and then opening fire on his combat-rigged Python with her sidearm after he fled inside. Aleithian had investigated the matter and intervened, impressing upon the Count the wisdom of allowing him to deal with Kai’s transgression. Citing the name of Aleithian’s liege lord, then-Prince Elenar, had helped smooth the discussion. And thus, Talena Kai became Lieutenant Commander Talena Kai.

    “Plot a course to the nearest rock planet and take us in, Lieutenant Commander,” he said. “I’ll be inside.”

    I’ve had enough of flying this box for now.

    “Aye sir,” she replied.

    The Duke unclasped his harness and pushed himself out of his seat. Kai, who was seated in the secondary pilot’s cabin directly beneath him, was more than able to complete the landing. Aleithian floated to the cockpit door and compressed the release button. The door slide aside and Aleithian pushed himself into the interior. Though he wore maglock books, he enjoyed the occasional drift through his ships.

    A small command room lay on the other side of the door. Several doors led off on either side to crew compartments, nothing more than holes with bunks really. Another reason to miss the Paras Rising. A low room divide separated the command space from the mess hall and kitchen further back in the ship. Steps led down on the right to the lower deck. Three members of his crew sat at holofac consoles collating the system data or monitoring the ship’s functions as it made its approach for landing. A holoimage of the system crowned the room.

    No black holes.

    “Shep, what’s this planet we’re going to look like?”

    The nav officer, an older man who the Duke had recently hired on Shambhala, isolated the planet on the system display. “Small world, about .1 Earths. High gravity though. The system’s still computing the data, but it looks to be in the 3G range, Commander.”

    Aleithian groaned. “There isn’t a lower-G planet in the system?”

    “Sorry Commander, this is the lowest reading in the system.”

    I guess I’ll have to dea…

    There was a crash. Aleithian was thrown across the command room. He struck a wall hard and rebounded. He flailed, trying to grab a handhold on something, anything. The holofacs and ceiling lights flickered and shut down, plunging the room into darkness. Aleithian’s head struck something solid. Instantly he felt pressure in his head, and pain. His vision blurred and bright lights danced before his eyes, the HUD within his visor dimming as he felt the creep of unconsciousness. His back struck something and his hand somehow found a grip, stopping him. There was another crash. This time he heard the sound, faintly, beyond the pressure in his head.

    “Kai, what the hell’s going on!” he yelled over the sound of metal tearing, pushing through the enclosing pain.

    Kai’s voice came over the comms channel, broken and distorted amid the damage. “Someth….Lig….N….de….Canopy brea….Ca.…t….ld…G….ng….dow…”

    “Dammit, hold on! I’m coming forward!” he shouted back.

    Aleithian wrenched himself up, trying not to overbalance. His head rang from the crash and he could still feel the pressure behind his eyes, but his helmet and flight suit had absorbed most of the shock. He locked his boots to the swaying deck. The inertial dampeners must have been damaged: he could feel a slight G-force.

    “Shep! Get some lights on!”

    There was no response.

    Dammit!

    Aleithian blink-activated his helmet’s lights. Only one activated, casting the room in a white glow. He looked around, trying to determine where his crew were. Shep was leaning back in his chair, his head floating limply, rocking with the ship. His suit’s visor was smashed and his face was a bloody pulp. Gobbets of blood floated in a macabre dance above his head. The other two command crew were quiet, but Aleithian couldn’t see any obvious signs of injury. Who knew what state the slaves below would be in.

    Stepping gingerly, Aleithian moved as quickly as he dared down the steps to the lower deck. Fighting the ship’s motion, he made it across the rec room to the secondary pilot’s cockpit and opened the door.

    Lights.

    A mass of flickering lights of all colors flashed by outside the canopy. They glittered like little twinkling lamps set in a pattern, burning an intense contrail on his retinas. He blinked, trying to clear his vision. The lights disappeared.

    Then the reality of their situation struck.

    The planet was approaching fast. Kai held her flight stick with both hands, fighting to hold the ship steady and angle it away from the atmosphere, her whole body shaking as the Illumination rocked back and forth in the upper atmosphere. By the looks of things, she wasn’t having much luck.

    “Kai! What’s our situation?” he yelled.

    “I can’t control it! We’ve lost lateral thrusters and one of the primaries burned out. Your canopy’s blown and there’s damage to the dorsal vents. Systems are wrecked. Go back in and strap down!”

    He wanted to shout at her to come inside too, but he knew he couldn’t. Someone had to try to steer the ship, and if she opened her harness she’d be thrown from the seat. The ship lurched to the left as a lateral thruster activated briefly. Aleithian held onto the railing and felt something in his arm pop under the force of the blast.

    I have to go inside.

    Aleithian stepped back into the ship and sealed the cockpit. He pulled down a seat beside the door and strapped himself in. He compressed two buttons on the harness to release the impact absorption gel. There was a puff of cold air on either side of the seat and the gel-like semi-organic substance flowed around his body. Its various strata hardened to various degrees and secured him in place. Chemicals within the gel interacted with his flight suit, which acknowledged their presence and perforated to let them seep inside. Aleithian shivered briefly before the chemicals absorbed through his skin and entered his blood stream. Instantly his body relaxed and went limp, prepared for the coming impact. He could only hope the ship’s core was still operational and had responded to the emergency by sealing the rest of the occupants…assuming they’d all made it to chairs.

    The ship’s shaking intensified. Aleithian closed his eyes tightly, trying to blot out the pain in his head. He felt moisture around his eyes. Tears.

    Please…Not yet.

    Then everything went black.

  6. #6
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Aleithian on August 8, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Part 2: Twilight of Purpose

    Aleithian opened his eyes.

    Everything was dark. A beeping pounded in his ears incessantly, getting stronger and more painful with each new thump. As he awoke, Aleithian’s flight suit detected his return to consciousness and booted up the HUD display in his helmet. Data poured forth and blinked on the display. Aleithian squeezed his eyes shut to avoid the cacophony of information and flashing light.

    The beeping persisted, undaunted by his closed eyes, demanding attention. Aleithian reopened his eyes, slowly, almost groggily, and began to process the information scrolling by on the HUD. Red block letters flashed in the center of the display in sync with the beeping: OXYGEN LOW. His heart began to beat faster. He had to move, had to fight.

    I’m alive.

    The Duke tried to move. He was secured in place. Instinctively, he tried to tug and struggle against his bonds. Still plunged in darkness, he couldn’t see what restrained him. Then he remembered. The crash…the gel!

    Kai!

    He looked to the bottom right of his HUD and blink-clicked the gel-release trigger. The substance slid back and retracted into a series of pouches within the seat. Aleithian rotated his head, cracking his stiff neck and trying to stretch out his joints. He blink-clicked to the medical data analysis in his HUD and was happy to see that he had sustained no injuries in the crash. He sighed, releasing some of his tension.

    Releasing the clasps fixing the safety harness in place, Aleithian carefully stood up and steadied himself. The floor was at a slight gradient – to be expected after a crash. He looked around to take in the room, but the lights were still off. He blink-clicked his helmet lights. One flickered to life. The rec room was devastated. Furniture was cast around in heaps and some panels were hanging from the ceiling. He couldn’t see any of the slaves.

    The beeping still demanded his attention. Aleithian turned slowly to a panel on the wall and tapped it on. Thankfully, there still seemed to be power in the system. The plant is still active. Thank you Kai! He quickly tapped a series of buttons. Hull integrity: 34%. Major systems: drives offline, shields offline, weapons offline, cargo bay doors offline… He checked the oxygen levels within the ship: 0%. He frantically accessed the life support subsystem and rebooted it. There was a squealing hiss as the interior atmosphere was vented and fresh oxygen poured in. The HUD display in his helmet flashed a comforting green: OXYGEN REPLENISHED. Aleithian breathed deeply and sighed. That’s that dealt with. Now to find Kai.

    The likelihood that Kai was alive was slim. But he refused to acknowledge that. The fierce pilot had become one of his closest friends. She had to be alive. Aleithian turned from the panel and fought his own weight to get to the cockpit door. At 3gs, he felt closer to 600 pounds than 200. Each step was a challenge. He felt his muscles straining to move him. The floor inclined up toward the door due to the crash, so he was effectively pulling himself toward Kai, bracing himself with a railing on the wall. He tapped a button on the door’s control panel to activate the field to preserve the ship’s atmosphere: he couldn’t count on the canopy surviving the crash. Then he opened the door.

    The canopy was indeed shattered. The cockpit pointed toward the sky at about 30 degrees. The planet lacked an atmosphere so he could clearly see the stars – it was night, and the Perseus Arm shone crisply in the black sky. He wrenched himself forward into the cockpit and found Kai encased in gel, apparently unconscious. Hurriedly, Aleithian tapped a series of buttons on the chair’s control panel and the gel released. He rushed forward to look into her helmet, checking for any signs of breathing.

    She’s alive!

    Struggling the whole way, Aleithian managed to drag Kai into the ship and close the door. He deactivated the atmospheric field – they needed to preserve power. He laid Kai on the floor and logged into her flight suit computer. Vitals looked good, oxygen had replenished. Somehow, she’s landed the ship and activated her gel. He owed her his life. Pausing to let his heart beat slow, Aleithian looked around at remnants of the Illumination’s interior.

    Time to check on the rest.



    * * * * *



    Kai awoke a few hours later. A patina of foggy pain clouded her mind as she rose tenderly and took in the interior of the ship.

    So I survived, she thought.

    The rec room, in which she was now sitting, looked very different. The landing had been hard and the damage looked severe. A few lights were active and lit the space with a slightly wavering luminescent glow. Furniture was set around the room very differently than it had been before the crash. Kai heard a rustling from above, from the command room. Cursing the pain in her body, she rose by leveraging herself up with a railing and the arm of a couch, an electric jolt racing down her spine and into her right leg the cost. She limped carefully to the steps rising to the second floor, straining against the heavy gravity.

    At the top of the steps, Kai took in a scene of chaos. The command room was essentially destroyed, the consoles burned out and much of the paneling torn from the walls, leaving electronics bare to the touch. She heard noise on her right. Looking, she saw Commander Aleithian working with Bill and Coran, two of the nav officers, to fix up the mess room, their helmets set on a counter. Her heart leapt.

    I’m not alone!

    The Duke heard her rustling toward them and he shuffled as swiftly as he could toward her in the oppressive gravity. He grabbed Kai’s arm and helped her to a chair in the mess hall. She tore off her helmet and breathed, brushing back her long brown hair and smiling painfully at Bill and Coran, who smiled back and helped Aleithian get her comfortable.

    “How are you doing?” the Duke asked.

    Kai looked at the three of them, wincing under the effort of sitting down. “Better than I thought I’d be doing. Are we the only ones who made it?”

    “Yes,” he said, exchanging a look with the other two men. “Shep died in the initial incident and Andrea, Dana, and Kim all died sometime between that and the crash.”

    Dammit! she screamed in her head.

    Kai closed her eyes and teared up. Slavery in the Empire riled Kai, particularly given the treatment she had seen some slaves receive. But the three girls had been her friends, and the Duke treated his slaves like members of his family, legal status notwithstanding. Shep had been new to the crew and to the Duke’s estate, like her, and they had bonded quickly. He had become almost like a grandfather to her.

    Aleithian motioned for Bill and Coran to step back and give them some space. The pair busied themselves arranging the detritus cast around the mess hall into piles, so they could measure their supplies.

    “Kai, none of us would be alive if you hadn’t landed us. You saved us all.”

    “Goddammit I know, and I’m glad I could do it. But why did they have to die?” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I just wish this hadn’t happened.”

    Aleithian sighed. “I know. So do I.” He looked down, unsure what to say next.

    Kai wiped away her tears. I’ll remember them. She coughed and looked at Aleithian.

    “What condition are we in, Commander?”

    He sat on the floor beside her, looking around the room. “Well, none of us are injured. You were beaten up the most by the crash, but nothing serious according to your computer. The ship’s a wreck, so we have to hope someone detects our beacon. We have life support and a few other systems, but not much. And the SRVs are functional but currently jammed in the bay. We were gathering supplies when you came upstairs.”

    Kai watched Bill and Coran sorting packs of food and water for a second, then looked back at the Duke. “Well, you wanted something new and exciting, Commander. How’s this?”

    Aleithian looked around the wreckage of the flight deck and sighed. “Not quite what I had in mind.” He paused for a moment then looked back at Kai. “Honestly, I wanted something more. Not just breaking old habits and getting away from the Bubble. I was hoping to find something.”

    “What?” asked Kai, puzzled.

    “Myself.”



    * * * * *



    Two weeks before the crash, Aleithian sat within his study, looking out over Photian Bay in the last heavy pastels of twilight. His estate encompassed several hundred square miles of coastal land in Shambhala’s northern hemisphere, including the entirety of the Photian Bay and extending out into the sea and several island chains. The estate was largely unspoiled subtropical land and was centered on a town composed mostly of white limestone buildings wrapped around the bay, rising up to the Duke’s spacious palatial gardens. Atop the palace, a gold-topped tower of crystalline white stone housed his personal quarters and his study, a sprawling library overlooking the bay, the town, and the open plains and forests to the east.

    Sitting in his chair, taking in the encroaching darkness, Aleithian reflected on his rise to power. He had been raised by former Imperial citizens in the Federation but had grown dissatisfied with life as the Federation shaped it. His pedigree, his abilities, his vision of human possibility – these could only be recognized, praised, and given scope within the borders of the Empire. His future had been clear: he traded for awhile in Federation space, acquired a Cobra, and left. That had been three years ago. It seemed like a lifetime had gone by since then. During the intervening time, he had risen from obscurity to a Dukedom, now one of the most powerful citizens in Shambhala. He had a fleet spread across this system and those of his liege lord, King Elenar, in Paras, Kartamayana, and Liu Di. He had fought for the Emperor and invested millions in the defense of his lord’s estate and Her Highness Arissa’s domain. He had returned to the Federation only twice: once on a pilgrimage to Sol en route to the Core, and once in a covert operation to seize a naval corvette, which was now resting in Wilson Orbital in Paras, renamed the INV Achenar Rising.

    These and more have been my achievements, he mused poetically. But still I sit looking out a window at the sky, like I did as a boy.

    A faint noise broke this train of thought. Someone was approaching from the entrance of his study. He rested his head back and closed his eyes serenely. He amused himself for a moment trying to determine who was approaching. A light soft step. A woman wearing comfortable footwear. A quick and steady step. Not Kai – her stride is long. Not Vanya – she skips and runs. He smiled.

    Anri.

    He allowed his consort to approach in mutual silence. As she got closer he noted the faint wispy brushing of a wrap or skirt on the marble floor. Finally, Anri stood beside his chair. She was a short woman with long jet black hair, falling at the moment in a cascade over a white diaphanous garment wrapped loosely around her body. Where Vanya was abrupt, fast, effervescent, and without rule, Anri was steady, calm, serene, and measured. The woman stood quietly and observed the fading twilight with Aleithian for a moment, before turning her black eyes on him.

    “Quietude and withdrawal, my Duke? What troubles you?” she asked.

    How well you understand me, Anri.

    “Nothing as such,” he responded gently. “Something is lacking.”

    Anri paused before answering. She and Aleithian shared a vocabulary, a way of capturing experience – a rare pairing, particularly for a slave and a master.

    “Your wealth, your position, your consort aren’t enough, my Duke?” she asked, knowing he meant something deeper, but needing to begin the search with something tangible.

    “Life is more than these things, Anri.” I know what you’re doing, my sweet. “There’s a drive that I haven’t unleashed yet – haven’t known how to unleash.”

    How quickly he gets to the core of the issue today! I must move as fast. “My Duke, you have achieved much and have much to be happy in. But your soul stretches beyond these things.”

    Aleithian smiled. He paused before responding, watching as the last of the pastel purple-blue faded into a sharp blue-black, punctuated by the harsh electric glow of the town’s lights. She understands that these twilight reveries are a way of stretching beyond. But she is right – they are not enough.

    “Anri, I need to leave here. I need to see what the galaxy offers. I need to travel beyond the Frontier.”

    He needs to find something. This is not new – he has always sought. Why does this feel different now? “What has brought this on, my Duke. This drive has always been with you.”

    Aleithian’s voice caught in his throat. He knew the reason, but speaking it was not easy. Much had happened since then. Kai, Tun, the trip to Sol and toward the Core, his Dukedom. Yet it stood like a leaning, leering face, always behind or at the side, always seeing what he did, always there.

    “The war.”

    Anri paused. The war!

    “The war. The aftermath,” he said. “It is always there. But more than the war – what the war revealed, what it brought out. Alone it was bad enough. But it tore off a cover that had been laying over me since I left the Federation. I saw the truth of things: of me, of this,” he said, drawing his arm around, gesturing out to his estate. “It is merciless. It is always there, always seeing, always knowing.”

    Anri remained silent, watching the lights twinkle in the town, waiting for him to complete his thought. A fear gripped her heart, rising into her throat. The war. He has not been the same since.

    “It reveals the truth, Anri. It is me. It is a part of me, the scarred part that lives without the possibility of pretense or peace, which tears through the comfort of my achievements.”

    “What does it reveal, under the cover,” she asked, afraid to hear his answer.

    “That I don’t know myself as well as I thought. That I need to find myself.”

    Anri nodded, a tear falling from her face. She had wisdom enough to understand the magnitude of what he was saying, and foresight enough to know what was coming. What had to come.

    “Do you know what Shambhala means?” Aleithian asked, his eyes staring out of the window but looking like they were staring into the Core itself.

    “No.”

    “It was a kingdom, a pure land, a place where only those who saw reality as it was could enter. Many sought it as their salvation and as a place of healing.” He looked at Anri, her black eyes glistening and aware. “But imagine a place of absolute truth, of absolute reality, where you could no longer hide from yourself and could no longer take satisfaction and comfort in your current life. What can be more frightening than understanding yourself, fully and without escape?”

    Anri looked down.

    “I must go,” the Duke said. I am sorry, my sweet. “Shambhala has lived up to its name. Anri, please have Kai come here.”

    “Yes, my Duke.”

    Anri turned and walked to a desk. She turned on an intercom and asked for Kai to be sent to the Duke’s study. She then returned in silence to Aleithian’s side. Both silently watched the bay and the twinkling lights.

    After a few minutes, Lieutenant Commander Kai arrived in the study. She walked swiftly and smartly to the Duke’s side, her boots clicking heavily on the marble.

    “Commander, you asked for me,” she said, saluting.

    Aleithian stood. He turned to Kai and saluted in return. “Lieutenant Commander. Talena. Please acquire an Asp Explorer and fit her for long range exploration. She is to be named INV Illumination and made ready within the week. Ensure that Shep, Bill, and Coran are comfortable flying her, and take her around the system a few times yourself to get the feel for her.”

    Kai looked at Anri, who turned away and looked once more out of the wide windows. Something is out of place. “Yes Commander. May I ask why?”

    Aleithian smiled. “It’s time to break old habits. Trading, the Bubble – it’s time to see something new. We’re heading to Formidine.”

    Kai gasped. Formidine! What would possess him to go that far? And to such a dangerous place! She glanced back toward Anri, but the consort refused to turn from the window.

    “Formidine, Commander?” she asked hesitatingly.

    “Yes, Talena. Formidine. There’s a mystery there and I’d like to take a shot at it.”

    Kai saluted. “Yes sir. The ship will be ready.”

    “Thank you Lieutenant Commander. You’re dismissed.”

    Kai turned smartly and left. Aleithian watched her go. Long strides. He smiled. When she was gone, he turned back to Anri.

    “I will be back,” he said.

    Anri turned, fresh tears in her eyes.

    “You can’t promise that, my Duke. We both understand why you are leaving, what you are seeking. Who can say what you will find?”

    She’s right. I may never see this place again. May never see any of them again.

    “I must go,” he said.

    Anri nodded tearfully, shaking. “I know.”

    She fell forward into his waiting arms.



    * * * * *



    Kai turned away from Aleithian, processing what he had told her.

    “I think I understand.” She paused, considering what to say next. “We need to try to retrofit the ship with the parts from the damaged systems. We have supplies for months. Power and parts are the problem.”

    Aleithian nodded. Now we just need to survive.

  7. #7
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Aleithian on August 18, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Part 3 – A Light in the Darkness



    Three weeks had passed since the crash.

    They had been grueling. Though the power core was intact and enough supplies had survived the crash to last for several months, the futility of their situation coupled with the excessive gravity had worn the survivors down.

    Worse than their predicament and limited supplies, after they had made their initial assessment of the situation, the crew had decided that Andrea, Dana, Kim, and Shep’s bodies needed to be buried – which meant leaving the ship. The planet outside was no more than cold rock and space dust. They had dragged the four bodies outside – a difficult task in the heavy gravity – and buried them as best they could, marking the graves with their names and other such details as seemed appropriate using small lasers designed for cutting rock samples. Kai had been inconsolable throughout the procedure. The depth of Kai’s grief had shocked Aleithian: she was a passionate woman, but rarely showed any sign of grief or suffering in the time he’d known her.

    Aleithian had taken to sitting alone among the ruins of the nav consoles. Bill and Coran played cards in the rec room under the low half-light of the remaining halogens. Kai spent much of her time outside near the graves of her friends. The interminable creep of hopelessness clawed their hearts, approaching the strangulating tightness of panic. The nebula was not unknown among spacefarers, but trips this far were rare and those who ventured out this way typically bypassed the exterior systems and traveled straight through to the more interesting core.

    Though Aleithian spent most of his time alone, his thoughts were busy with people and places he had been, and with recrimination.

    We are here because I wasn’t content with peace, safety, abundance, and limitless possibility.

    He frequently clenched his fists and ground his teeth, shutting his eyes tight against the pain of their approaching death and the pointlessness of their being here. The moment of the crash came to him often in these moments of quiet.

    Please…not yet.

    The expectation of rescue of was nonexistent. Each had to accept, in their own way, their approaching death. Bill and Coran seemed to be weathering it reasonably well, at least for the moment. They did what they could – enjoyed their life as they could, while it remained. Kai was stoic. At first she had calculated, planned, arranged. With Bill and Coran, she had organized their survival. But, since the burial, passion had replaced logic, then melancholy had replaced passion, and now she seemed devoid of any emotion at all.

    What drew me out here?

    I had no goal, no purpose. I had the opposite.

    Whim! Reaction!

    Aleithian frequently sat watched the pulsing light marking the transmissions of the emergency beacon. The small red dot, alternating on and off, served to focus his mind and burn away the guilt and shame.

    Whim! Reaction!

    In the emptiness of the pulsing dot, he felt himself shedding layers of rationalization and ideology. All that remained when he looked at the dot was the simple act of awareness. An empty mind. Silence. He had heard about such clarity, read about it, even practiced peaceful emptiness with Anri at the height of his palace. But only now, after weeks of sitting in silence, fighting his own pain and facing his death, staring into the redness of the dot, did he feel like he could just let it all go and simply see.

    Whim! Reaction!

    This has been my life. From the Federation to the Empire. From a trader to a client lord. From a liege lord to this rock.

    Always whim. Always reaction. Never control. Never purpose.

    He had heard of a group that lived on the far side of the Empire, several hundred lightyears from Shambhala and Paras – a group of witches if the rumors of mindless citizens and slaves were to be believed. They tended to the education of the children of certain Senators and noble families, teaching them the ways of control and purpose. Certainly not without self-interest, he thought. He had met one of their students once, a baroness from one of the slaveless Imperial systems. He had not doubted the possibilities deriving from their teaching after that.



    Aleithian was sitting now in front of the red dot, three weeks after the crash, watching its repetitive on-off cycle. He heard a click as the airlock engaged below. After a minute, there was another click and the door noisily opened. There was a shout from downstairs. After another moment he heard heavy steps plodding up the stairs. Kai appeared, her eyes wild and hair in disarray.

    “There’s ships!”

    Aleithian blinked. “What?”

    “There’s three ships flying toward us!” She gestured furiously to the northeast.

    Aleithian reacted and rose swiftly, everything instantly clear. “Tell Bill and Coran to get their suits on. Start a scan, find out who they are. Arm yourself – we don’t know who they are yet. Why didn’t the scanner pick them up?”

    Kai acknowledged his orders and shouted them down to the first floor, then began typing into a console. “The passive scanner must have been damaged. The system didn’t detect them. Active scan initiated.” She looked at the Duke as he rushed over to the console, his flight suit half pulled on. “Scan shows a Python and two Asps, in formation. They’re definitely coming this way.” She paused and frowned. “The system can’t identify them.”

    “Their tags aren’t in the registry?”

    “No,” she said, shaking her head. “They don’t have any tags. I’m not picking up transponder signals either – that’s why the passive missed them.”

    “No tags and no transponders? Who the hell are they? Even pirates fly with transponders.”

    Aleithian hobbled downstairs, fighting his own weight, and grabbed a gun from Bill’s outstretched hand. He sealed the cockpit doors then they formed a line in the rec room facing the airlock on the starboard wall. Kai followed him down. Aleithian looked at each of them. “No one fires until I give the order or they shoot first.”

    They waited.

    After about 15 minutes, a light blinked beside the airlock. They activated the external door. There was a beep and, after another minute, the airlock door opened.

    Men rushed in, weapons leveled. Aleithian and his crew raised their own guns and stepped back. More men poured in until eight were formed up in the room, silently, weapons ready. One of them began accessing the ship’s computer through a console on a wall.

    The men were dressed in gear unlike Aleithian had ever seen on a ship’s crew. They wore flight suits, but unlike the standard tight-fitted padded material, or the various kinds of military suits, theirs were loose and a shimmering black, more reminiscent of a kaftan than flight gear. Unlike the standard visors, their headpieces almost resembled skulls – sharp lines and small sunken eyepieces.

    The men were silent, simply keeping their weapons trained on the crew. There was another beep and a hiss, and the airlock opened again. Another man stepped out. Like the others, he wore the strange flight suit, but unlike them he also wore a heavy overcoat. He was tall, and precise in his steps, seeming at once slow and measured as he entered the room. He looked around carefully, methodically, identifying the room’s condition and points of interest. He said nothing to the other men, who kept their weapons up. He paused calmly among the armed men, clearly a person of authority.

    Seemingly satisfied with the room, the man turned to face Aleithian, apparently having concluded that he was the Commander. He ignored the others, staring fixatedly at the Duke, his visor betraying nothing of his underlying expression.

    Kai gestured furiously toward the man. Her voice simmered with outrage and shattered hope. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” she yelled.

    The armed men remained still. Their leader turned his head slowly toward Kai, who didn’t repeat her demand. The man had heard her – it was his turn. He raised his hands and unclipped his headpiece, which he carefully removed and handed to his nearest subordinate.

    He appeared middle-aged. His face was square and deeply lined with weathering. A man accustomed to a harsh planet, Aleithian thought. His mouth was tightly closed. His eyes, however, spoke for him. They were deep and penetrating, aged yet driven by a powerful intensity. They remained fixated on Kai. The Lieutenant Commander held his stare, her own eyes challenging him vainly. The man held her gaze but did so without reaction – he merely examined her as a bored child would examine an exhibit in a museum.

    I have never seen such eyes!

    Aleithian gestured for Kai to relent. “Kai, hold on. Let them talk,” he said.

    They entered – they will speak.

    The man turned his uncompromising eyes from Kai to Aleithian. He held the Duke’s gaze now, but this time not without interest. He is not afraid and he isn’t resisting, the man thought. He is curious – even now! He watched Aleithian for a moment more, then spoke.

    “I am Cepheus. These are some of my crew. We detected your emergency beacon.” His voice was slow and measured, like his walk, a deep voice with an accent Aleithian couldn’t place. It was certainly not Imperial. Perhaps from one of the Alliance worlds: there was a hint of a dialect that suggested those regions.

    Aleithian didn’t respond. He could feel Kai burning to challenge the man again, but knew she would respect his command to step back. Aleithian kept his eyes firmly on Cepheus. They don’t know who we are and they held back who they are. Can I risk revealing my identity?

    Aleithian said nothing. Cepheus spoke again. “You have nothing to say?”

    “What is there to say, Cepheus? You’re armed and you outnumber us – you’re in charge here. You are hesitating. Why?”

    A curious man indeed! Cepheus thought. He sees this situation for what it is.

    “Indeed, you are correct,” said Cepheus. “I was waiting for you to speak in order to determine what lies behind your hope of rescue.” He looked at the four survivors. “Are you pirates? Looters? Thrill-seekers? Madmen pursuing dreams in the dark? I don’t know.” He paused, then spoke again. “Let me begin again. I am Cepheus. These are some of my men. We, and those of us who are not now present on this moon, are the Children of Raxxla.”

    The Children! That Senator – Kahina. Salomé!

    “Perhaps you have heard of us?” Cepheus mused. “We are here patrolling the edge of the Rift – a dangerous place for anyone, let alone a single Asp shining in Imperial white without escort or assistance.” His eyes fixated on Aleithian again. “Now, I believe, it is your turn.”

    Aleithian took a moment, considering Cepheus’ words. The Children. Raxxla. The Rift. Patrol. So many possible questions. The man spoke with a gravity Aleithian had rarely encountered, his words balanced but effortless.

    Aleithian looked at Kai, then back to Cepheus. He lowered his weapon.

    “Cepheus, I am Duke Aleithian, client of King Elenar of Paras,” he said, removing his headpiece. “This,” he said, pointing to Kai, “is Lieutenant Commander Talena Kai. And these are Officers William Clynn and Coran Abed.”

    Cepheus glanced over the crew and inclined his head slightly. They followed their Duke’s lead and lowered their weapons, removing their own headpieces. Aleithian resumed. “We are here exploring. We were making for the Rift when we encountered an unusual light phenomenon and crashed here. We have been here for three weeks. We lost some of our crew.” He paused again, noting how Kai’s throat had tensed at the mention of their dead. “I would like to request rescue and return to the Empire.”

    Cepheus returned his gaze to Aleithian. “What light phenomenon was this?” he asked, ignoring the request.

    “We don’t know. A series of lights, of various colors, in what looked to be a three-dimensional arrangement. They seemed to describe a shape, maybe seven or eight sides. I only saw it for a moment, but Kai’s description concurs with mine.” Aleithian looked over to Kai, who nodded her head in acknowledgement of his description.

    Cepheus nodded gravely. “I find it interesting that a prominent member of the Empire – a Duke no less – would be out here alone simply to explore.” He is hiding something, Cepheus thought. His true purpose.

    “That is, nevertheless, why we are here. I wished to see the Rift for myself,” Aleithian replied.

    “Indeed,” said Cepheus. “As you say.” He is driven by something more than curiosity. He doesn’t have the supplies for a settlement, so he isn’t fleeing a person or power. Perhaps he was fleeing something else. I see something in him – he wants something. Perhaps…Yes, I must try.

    Cepheus spoke again. “Duke, the Children will give you rescue. We will shortly be returning to the Bubble – our patrol is complete. We will bring you and your crew with us. Your ship, I fear, will not fly again.”

    Aleithian breathed and released a tension he didn’t know was there, his head feeling suddenly light. “Thank you, Cepheus. You can set us down anywhere in the Empire – we can make our own way back to Shambhala from there.”

    Cepheus smiled, his deep eyes twinkling for the first time. “Oh, I’m afraid we won’t be going to the Empire, Duke.”

  8. #8
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Jellicoe at June 22, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Of Mysteries and Children Pt 1

    “The Children need you.” The note read, a simple phrase loaded with hidden meaning for its intended recipient. I understood the message immediately but the reasons behind it were proving more difficult to devine. It was late and I was alone in my cabin aboard the Resolution, indeed I was the only man on the entire ship as the crew celebrated the completion of our last mission in the various bars of Leconte station. I had been with them, I should still have been with them but the folded paper pressed into my hand by the cowled stranger had changed everything, it was a summons to a place I knew but what would we be flying into? So far I had drawn a blank. I sighed, poured myself another brandy and began again.

    “Computer search all transmissions over the last month for anything containing the words ‘Salomé’, ‘Thorne’, ‘children’ or ‘Raxxla.’”

    “Search complete. No results found.”

    “Give me the current location of Commander Luko.”

    “Location of Commander Luko is presently unknown.”

    “Current location of Commander Salomé.” I tried a different tack.

    “Location of Commander Salomé is presently unknown.” I exhaled frustration mounting, my brain clouded by drink and exhaustion. I knew I should get some sleep but I couldn’t bring myself to let this go.

    “Give me the last know whereabouts of Commander Salomé.”

    “Last know whereabouts of Commander Salome Beagle Point, 7th April 3302.” I sat up, finally something.

    “Long shot I know but are there any recorded transmissions from Commander Salomé within two standard weeks of that date?”

    “There is one recorded transmission made at Beagle Point on 7th April 3302.” I leapt to my feet at that, something my drink befuddled head instantly regretted.

    “Play transmission.” I demanded excitedly.

    “Voice transmission from Commander Salomé to Children of Raxxla and Distant Worlds expedition. Transmitted in clear at Beagle Point 7th April 3301. Transmission begins…” Lady Salomé’s perfectly accented and enunciated tones filled the room as she began by thanking all those who had accompanied her on the great voyage. I sat down and lit a cigar as I listened, I had only met Salomé once and while she had made a big impression I was still surprised at the effect the sound of her voice had on me, I smiled at my own foolishness, Imperial senators, even ex senators did not get involved with spaceship captains. The message continued, Lady Salomé paid tribute to those lost during the expedition and the enormity of their achievement. I was beginning to fear there would be nothing of any use to me when she warned the explorers to guard the data they had collected carefully and that it may be more important than any of them knew, then she spoke of Raxxla itself, the rift and the other mysteries out in the black before warning of shadowy forces at work in the core worlds. It was vague and made no mention of any specific danger; what if anything did it have to do with me though? Lady Salomé had recruited me to the Children of Raxxla as a combater not an explorer, my uses were largely limited to the bubble not the deep, the reasons for my summons had to be closer to home, the question was were they linked?

    “Computer how long would it take Commander Salomé to get back to the bubble?”

    “Unknown. Insufficient data held on Commander Salomé’s ship.”

    “Okay, could an Asp Explorer class vessel be back in the bubble now if it had been at Beagle Point on 7th April?”

    “Confirmed. An Asp Explorer class vessel optimised for long range trav…”
    “Thanks silicon brain I don’t need chapter and verse, so she could be back in the bubble but the fact that there’s no known location suggests she isn’t.”

    “Unknown. Insufficient data.” I sat back down, took a long drag on my cigar and drained yet another brandy.

    “Computer has there been any increase in the incidence of attacks on ships known or suspected of having links to the Children of Raxxla in the following systems; HR6421, Jitabos, Bhottada and Daras?”

    “Available data suggests a 2.147% rise in attacks within search parameters. Search parameters leave a margin for error or around 10.842%” That appeared a dead end, an insignificant rise rendered irrelevant anyway by the large margin for error. I poured another brandy.

    “Repeat search but this time restrict it to the following ship types; Lakon Type 9, Faulcon de Lacey Python, Gutamaya Imperial Clipper, Zorgon Peterson Fer de Lance, Core Dynamics Federal Gunship and Faulcon de Lacey Anaconda.”

    “Available data suggests a 17.524% increase in attacks within search parameters. Search parameters leave a margin for error of around 6.429%” I sat up again, this was significant even with the margin for error. Too few attacks to be a pirate infestation but too many to be insignificant, it suggested a highly skilled assassin targeting important members.

    “Computer run the same search for the following organisations; L.O.S.P., HR^$”! Federal Network, Mob of Jitabos and the Daras Family. Have any of them had a rise in attacks above 5% in either category?

    Negative.” Could that be it? A skilled assassin targeting important people with links to the organisation? It would explain my summons, especially if Lady Salomé and other senior members were returning from the Distant Worlds mission imminently. I leaned back in my chair to think and immediately fell asleep.
    I was woken some time later by a frantic hammering on my cabin door and worried shouting from just outside.

    “Open.” I groggily told the computer and in rushed Claude and Lieutenant Soames, pistols in hand leading four armed policemen in full tactical body armour.

    “You’re alive thank God! Claude blurted out his voice breaking with relief.

    “Of course im alive I didn’t drink that much.” I said struggling with the residual effects of sleep and last nights alcohol.

    “Bomb went off in your hotel suite sir. If you’d been there they’d be swilling you off the walls, then we saw the ship had been accessed by your entry code and feared the worst.” Lieutenant Soames summarised the situation. “somebody’s out to get you, all the hallmarks of Imperial Intelligence trying to make it look like the Mob.”

    “It’s not the Imps or the Mob.” I replied remembering the previous night and feeling certain this was linked to what I had learned.
    “We need to leave immediately, Claude get the crew aboard and lock the ship down, we’ll give it twenty-four hours to sober them up then we go. Mr Soames I’ll have to release you and your men back to the Admiral, this isn’t Federation business.”

    “With respect sir I’m assigned to you personally, for some reason Craddock wants you keeping alive. Four of the men and I will be coming along.”

    “Okay but you stay out of uniform and if anyone asks you’re private security, where we’re going the Federal military aren’t popular.” He looked uncomfortable at that and I feared he would stick out like a sore thumb, on the other hand five marines could come in very handy in the wild.

    We left the following day, I saw us through the first few jumps before leaving Claude the bridge and retiring to my ready room, I had barely been there five minutes when Claude entered entirely unannounced and just as I had expected.”

    “I trust everything is in order number one?” I asked knowing exactly what the response would be.

    “Don’t come the Rear Admiral bollocks with me, I’ve known you too long. What the hell is going on?”

    Last night I had a message that I was needed at Serabrov, then somebody tried to kill me, I think the two are linked.”

    “Why?”

    “Because other members are being murdered. I think someone is out to get them and by extension me.”

    “I always thought they were trouble. What do we really know them even now?” I sat back in my chair and looked out of the window into the void, what were the Children of Raxxla? We were shadows in the black, whispers in the wind, flashes in the furnace. We were watchers and searchers, we were a net of shadows that spread across the Federation, Empire, Alliance and beyond. Rumours about u shad grown like flames from a spark, some said we were part of the Dark Wheel while others maintained we were their implacable foes, some claimed we would defend humanity from the Thargoids, others that we were in league with them, but nobody beyond our ranks knew the truth. The truth was that we were seeking without knowing what we sought, we knew there were things out there that our rulers had concealed or lied to us about, even the Thargoids had been propagandised and demonised to the point where the truth was so obscured as to be indescribable. That then was the Children of Raxxla, delvers of mysteries the mighty wanted hidden, it would be no surprise therefore if someone had decided to move against us. I looked back at Claude.

    “A flame of truth in a galaxy of lies.” I replied.

    “Worth getting us all killed for?”
    “I don’t plan on dying for a very long time yet old son.” I said with a smile.

  9. #9
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Aleithian on August 20, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Salomé's Capture

    Aleithian eased into his flight chair and gently set his mug of coffee down on the command console, its acrid scent filling the bridge with the soothing aroma of home. Outside the broad windows of the Anaconda’s bridge, a barren bluish-grey desolation of dust and craters spread in all directions, lit by the bright hue of the K-class star hovering above the horizon. After weeks in deep space it felt good to be back in standard gravity.

    “Ready for another day of jumping and scanning Commander,” Kai asked, a smirk playing across her face. The Lieutenant Commander sat in the chair on Aleithian’s right, filing through data reports on her holofac console.

    Aleithian grinned back. “Absolutely, Lieutenant Commander. 20 systems scanned yesterday, 399,980 left. Let’s see if we can make a dent in that today.”

    Like many of the Children, Aleithian was now deep within the Rift, searching in vain for anything unusual. He was among the first to arrive for the expedition, currently out on patrol about 800 lightyears from the Northwest Base, Haipeng Landing, where even now the official launch of the expedition was no doubt being held by the majority of the first search wing.

    The task before them was simply ridiculous: Track down anything unusual within the EAFOTS sector in the Rift. The directive had come down to the Children from Salomé herself and was met by not a little incredulity among the commanders of the Children.

    Yet here we all are, committed to our purpose and methodical in our execution.

    The Duke leaned forward and picked up his mug, taking a burning hot sip of coffee. He casually logged into his console then leaned back with a deep sigh, enjoying the moment of rest before the hardships of the day began. Status reports began to register on his holofac display, but he closed his eyes and ignored them.

    Kai broke his moment of quietude. “Commander, we have a priority message incoming.”

    Aleithian opened his eyes and rolled his head right, refusing to break his relaxation. “Who from?”

    “Consul Erimus, Commander. It’s tagged ultraviolet priority.”

    Ultraviolent? What could have happened?

    “What does it say, Lieutenant Commander?”

    Kai coughed, then began to read the message. “Early this morning, Salomé sent an emergency broadcast which was picked up by CoR Commander Cursoris. The message can be read in the attached file. The evidence suggests Salomé has fallen into Imperial hands. At the moment, we have no further information as to where they have taken her, or why, so all CoR commanders must remain vigilant. If you see her or receive any message from her, please mark her location immediately and report in. Commanders should try to reestablish communication with her directly if possible, bypassing all standard restrictions. CoR personnel in the Rift must continue their search, per Salomé’s instructions. Erimus out.”

    Aleithian was on his feet. “Feed the attachments to the comms terminal.” He turned and rushed to the wall-height holofac display set back in the ship’s expansive bridge. Files began to appear on the right. Aleithian quickly opened them and began to read. They included a copy of Salomé’s final transmission:

    “Forces unseen are making their moves. I fear I do not have long. The Formidine Rift expedition is of paramount importance. Please spread the word!

    Thank you, Commander. The situation is out of control, they do not want us to find…. oh, no… I have incoming ships… hostile…. they…. Hassan! Evasive! Before….

    Heavy fire…. mayday! Imperial markings! Traitors… shields are down, we’re taking damage…. it’s… I thought I sensed his arrogance! How dare…

    We’re being boarded. I only have moments. Please get word to the Children of Raxxla… tell them I have uncovered new information. “The Rift, Hawkin’s Gap and the Conflux are somehow connected with strange happenings in the Pleiades… they must find out before….”

    Aleithian leaned forward, bracing himself against the comms terminal. He punched the wall. Dammit! We knew forces within the Empire were planning a move. We should have prepared better! Dammit!

    Kai rose from her chair and joined Aleithian at the terminal, concern clear on her features. “Commander, do you know Cursoris? Is he trustworthy?”

    “I’ve never met him,” he said, pushing himself away from the wall. “He’s a member of the Inquisition, working with us, but I’ve only had tangential dealings with them. If Erimus is sending this out, the source can be trusted.” Aleithian paused and re-examined the files on the display. “Her transmission said that the ships had Imperial markings, but we have no record of what ships were present. Who’s to say they even were Imperial ships?”

    Kai considered his question for a moment. “This happened in Cemiess. Could a wing of non-Imperial ships breach the Imperial cordon that far? Patraeus’s fleet is based closeby – it would be a remarkable move for non-Imperial forces.”

    “Who knows?” He threw his arms up in the air. “It’s possible. Covert forces penetrate the cordons frequently enough. Hell, I did it once, in the Federation. This could be a setup. Or it could be the Empire after all. The Imperial Citizen’s been laying out enough propaganda lately.” He looked back over the files. “Damn…”

    “Commander, what are your orders?” asked Kai.

    Aleithian considered her question for a moment. “Erimus has directed us to continue our search. Salomé herself said this search is important.” He raised his hand and pointed to one of the files displayed on the holofac. “And apparently, this is somehow connected with the discoveries in the Pleiades and presumably with the war that’s broken out there. We need to discover whatever is out here before the powers begin extending their reach this far.”

    Kai nodded and saluted quickly, then returned to her console to prepare the ship for departure. Aleithian read over the files again while a powerful rotating hum spread through the body of the ship beneath his feet, the powerful engines warming up and preparing to catapult the vessel into orbit.

    Traitors… Traitors to whom? To the Empire? To Salomé? Was she attacked by enemies of the Emperor? Or even by members of CoR itself…? On my left the Empire, on my right the Children. Can I trust either…?

  10. #10
    Gone But Not Forgotten Hayate Yagami's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Aleithian on August 24, 2016 at 4:26 am

    Part 4: The Beginning

    “Please have a seat,” said Cepheus.

    Aleithian pulled the light metal chair out from under the desk. He sat. He ran his calloused hands over the surface of the metal table, feeling its cool hardness, almost tasting the aluminium as he did so.

    Cepheus remained standing on the other side of the table. The room was coated entirely in metal, with one door opening to a corridor on the far side of the room, ahead of Aleithian on the left, no electronic devices visible other than broad halogen lights in the ceiling. Cepheus was silent, waiting calmly.

    “Why am I here, Cepheus?” asked Aleithian, ire crackling like lightning on the edge of the question.

    Cepheus examined the Duke’s face for a moment. His eyes were clear, but softer than normal.

    Was I wrong, he thought.

    “Duke – Aleithian – I have come to know you, to a degree, during our transit here,” he said, slowly and without emphasis. “I see signs in you, portents of greatness beyond the scope of your current employment. I saw these signs, these portents, within you on the Illumination. Human greatness is rare, but when it exists it is a beacon outshining any star, awaiting only the sight of one watching for its aurora.”

    “And you see such greatness in me?” pressed Aleithian, unimpressed by Cepheus’ poetry.

    Cepheus nodded. “The Children are, among other things, watchers. We have each been reborn through a baptism of convergence – the convergence of such an inner light and, shall we say, opportunity.”

    “And this is my opportunity?”

    “Yes. I see the light in your eyes – what is to be offered to you is possibility.”

    He speaks of possibility. What do these Children want?

    “What is the nature of this possibility?” asked Aleithian, leaning over the desk and clasping his hands together.

    “Freedom.”

    He would buy me with platitudes?

    “Freedom?” asked Aleithian, laughing. “What freedom can this band offer me? What freedom can I find in this anarchy on the edge of Federation and Alliance space? Neither are free, nor have they ever been. What freedom does your budding democracy offer me, Cepheus? The freedom of taxation and the subordination of myself and my wealth to your majority? Only the Empire is free. There, each is free to live as he chooses, wherever and on whatever terms. They are free to pursue the life they are capable of achieving, whether material or spiritual, without interference or impediment. We lords may rule the Empire, but we and our people are free.”

    “There is another freedom, Duke.”

    Aleithian’s response was interrupted by the opening of the door. A woman stepped lightly into the room and closed the door. Her head was concealed with a dark red cowl drawn tightly around her features. She turned to Cepheus who bowed his head and stepped aside so that she could sit in the seat opposite Aleithian.

    The woman drew back her cowl and looked at Aleithian. Immediately she seemed out of place here, surrounded by the fabrications of industry. The woman was smiling. Her features were sharp, her nose a touch short and her lips open and suggestive of a slight underbite. Her skin was clear and tanned, naturally so with an olive tint. Her vibrant eyes shone in the artificial gleam of the overhead lights, a deep black-brown that glistened with life. Her hair was long and matt black, curly and falling around her face. She was thin, but not overly so – obviously strong.

    Such a woman should only exist in myth!

    The woman spoke. Her voice was accented, clearly marking this as her second language, her first aspirated with marks of gutturals. “Duke Aleithian, First Lord Emell of Shambhala. I am Gal.” She inclined her head slightly, still smiling.

    Aleithian returned the nod of respect. “Gal, a pleasure to meet you. I am Aleithian Emell, as you say.” He paused to allow her to speak, but she remained silent. “Where are my crew?” he asked.

    Gal watched him without answering.

    She is examining me.

    Aleithian continued to look at her, holding her gaze, not repeating his question. Her eyes were a lattice of crystalline intensity. His perception narrowed to encompass just her eyes. The room disappeared from his sight in a peripheral darkness which was punctuated only by her. He felt a warmth in his cheeks as they held each other’s gaze. His lower lip quivered momentarily and he felt his eyes glazing. His heartrate increased.

    She sees me!

    Gal broke contact. “Your crew are safe, but elsewhere. Rest assured, Duke, we intend them and you no harm. Quite the opposite.”

    Aleithian shook his mind clear. He unclasped his hands and leaned back in his chair. “Cepheus spoke of opportunity. I assume you are here to offer it to me.”

    Gal nodded. “Indeed I am, Duke. Do you know who we are?”

    “Yes. You are the Children of Raxxla.”

    Her smile widened. “Correct. And do you know our purpose?”

    “No,” he replied.

    “Good. Few do, and we prefer that it remain that way.” She hesitated a moment, then continued. “I believe I can speak clearly with you, Duke. And Cepheus speaks highly of you. I trust his judgment. The Children are a movement, we might say. We are not an organization, a hierarchy, or a faction. We are an omen of the potential of the human race. We are also, and more particularly, followers…followers of Salomé and of her dream.”

    “Indeed,” said Aleithian. “Tell me, Gal. Which is first for you: Salomé or her dream?”

    “Neither. Salomé and her dream are one. They are made possible by something more fundamental, and that is already in you. Salomé and her dream are the opportunity you are being offered.”

    “They are this freedom that Cepheus mentioned?”

    “Yes,” replied Gal.

    “Freedom for what?” asked Aleithian.

    Gal leaned forward. “For redemption, Duke.”

    Aleithian was silent. His heartrate increased again. She is serious, he thought. His voice caught in his throat. Unprompted, he again remembered the moment of his crash.

    Please…not yet.

    Why not yet? he thought. What is left?

    He remembered his words to Anri before he departed Shambhala. Something is lacking. He had gone to the Rift on a whim, seeking purpose and meaning. I was wrong to leave as I did – but my reason for leaving was true. Something is lacking.

    I don’t know myself as well as I thought. I need to find myself.

    I wanted a second chance. That’s why I left.

    A second chance for what?

    To correct my mistakes.

    Why?

    To redeem myself.

    For whom?

    For myself!

    “Gal,” Aleithian said, his voice serious. “What do the Children seek?”

    She smiled. “Truth. Answers. Ourselves. We seek whatever there is to seek.”

    “I can seek answers where I am. What do you – what does Salomé – offer that I don’t already have?”

    “You seek answers to questions, Duke. We seek the questions behind the questions, and thus the answers behind the answers. Such questions cannot be asked or answered amid the trappings of politics and power.”

    “You promise something other than politics?”

    “I have heard of how you conduct yourself on Shambhala, Duke. Your life resembles that of a monk, not a Duke. You see the truth of politics and politicians.”

    “You seem very sure of that,” he replied.

    “I am. You betray yourself, Duke. Your eyes. Your speech. The self-awareness that flows like an undercurrent beneath your every choice and inflection. You are an open book, awaiting only a reader.” Her eyes held him, demanding he deny the truth of what she had said.

    “And you are that reader?” he threw back, trying to deflect her.

    “Yes.”

    Aleithian paused before responding. An anger rose in him. It burned and grew upon itself in his chest and throat. The sorrow and withdrawal that had dominated for so long fell into its coruscating intensity and were burned up.

    “I’ll tell you what I’ve seen of politics. I’ve seen a war, unjustly initiated and waged across systems. I fought in this war. Intently, and at great cost. I saw friends die. I saw civilians die. And then it ended.”

    “A desirable conclusion, surely?”

    “Yes, better than more death. But then I saw the aftermath. The jostling for power in the new world. The reconstruction contracts. The favors and gifts. How quickly the deaths were forgotten. But more than that, I saw the leaders of both sides…I saw the betrayal of the dead and the exploitation of those who survived them.” He stopped, his hands once again running over the hard metallic surface of the table, an anchor to reality amid the storm of emotion. “I left. I traveled far, lost myself in wealth and the stars. A mix of power and excitement.” He stood, throwing back the light chair and punching the table. “I don’t need you and your religion to seek redemption!” he yelled. “I can redeem myself where I am!”

    Gal remained seated, her eyes holding him.

    “Then why haven’t you?”

    Aleithian’s voice caught. I don’t know what to say.

    Gal stood. Her deep red robe parted, its winey hue revealing a milky white dress beneath. She leaned over the table, still staring deep into his eyes. “You lack fellowship, Duke. You lack fellow sufferers. You lack the opportunity for redemption because you are still trapped by the demands and necessities of your current life. You lack true freedom, a freedom gained only in the presence of those who are like you. The freedom to grow, not just in yourself, but with others.” She lowered her head and look up into Aleithian’s eyes. “Aleithian, we see you, and we want you to join us.”

    A tear fell from Aleithian’s eye. He looked down, refusing to meet Gal’s eyes. He pressed his watery eyes shut against the pain. And against the longing. She is right, he thought. Dammit she is right! She has seen me!

    Gal stood straight again. “We don’t seek power, prestige, or your wealth. We don’t issue demands or requirements. We make this offer only to those who have the potential to grow. We have no grand solution to humanity’s problems nor do we seek the overthrow of the empires of ambition and weakness. We seek, and we watch. We seek answers, and we watch for fellow questioners. Join us.”

    Aleithian looked up, raising himself as he could from his prostration over the table. He refused to wipe his eyes clean. These tears are me, he thought. To wipe them away would be to wipe myself away.

    I have finally allowed myself to see me…or been forced to see me.

    “What must I do,” he asked.

    “Pause for a moment, Duke,” Gal said. “Do not choose in haste. The true light will reveal many things and free you of many burdens. But the true light also reveals many secrets, and many terrors. This is a weighty choice for any person. But for you, a Duke, a Client, a man of wealth, power, land, and slaves, this will require many changes. If your conversion becomes known, you will be as an enemy to many in your current life. They will be threatened by your choice to pursue yourself rather than the satisfaction of their needs. Those dependent on you may be endangered. This choice will not affect only you. We make no requirements of you, but your conversion cannot occur without changes.”

    Cepheus stepped forward. “Duke,” he said, his deep voice gravelly with intensity. “You have been led along a wooded path, sheltered for a moment from the glare, thereby to have this opportunity. You have seen glimpses and greatly prepared yourself before this. I saw this in you from the start…and I think that you were not unaware of the possibilities I might represent. You stand now at a threshold, Duke – Aleithian. You must cross it. We stand here, on the other side, but you must come to us. Do not delude yourself now as to what awaits you on the other side.”

    Aleithian nodded. He looked at each of them, the pain and longing etched in the lines of his face. “I have no doubts as to what this entails. And…I’ve seen what you describe, Cepheus. I’ve seen glimpses. But I’ve never had the chance to follow them.” He looked into Gal’s eyes. “I will have to be careful. Tens of thousands are dependent on me. I can’t reveal this. A war approaches and the Empire won’t look kindly on what it regards as weak links.”

    Gal nodded again. “You are right.” She leaned forward and grabbed him with her eyes. “Are you ready?”

    Yes.

    “Yes,” he said, nodding.

    Gal motioned to Cepheus. “Ask him.”

    Cepheus stepped forward. “We have no oath of allegiance. We are not an organization that you become a member of or adherent to. We are each here by our own reason and past. We are a congregation of individuals, and we are sealed one to another by the personal bonds we see in each other’s eyes.” He paused, then reached out his hand. Aleithian took it. “Aleithian Emell, I believed your tears. I believed the look I saw in your eyes in the darkness of Rift’s edge. Now I need to believe your words. Will you walk with us across the heavens, through the fire of the stars and the storms that are coming? Will you look with us into the darkness and seek out what no eyes have yet seen? Will you swear to me and to Gal, here and now, that you will protect us and Salomé, even against those you previously called friends?”

    Aleithian looked into Cepheus’ face. He speaks the truth. He is serious – perhaps the most serious man I have ever met. He looked at Gal, her eyes holding as if on a precipice, her face no longer smiling, gripped in the pain of anticipation.

    “I will.”

    “You have crossed,” said Cepheus. He grinned and grabbed Aleithian in a great bear hug, crushing the breath out of him. Aleithian pushed him back, fighting his own grin. Gal approached, her sharp features softened in joy. She leaned forward and kissed Aleithian on the cheek. “Welcome, Duke,” she said. “You must now prepare yourself.”

    Aleithian looked at both of them quizzically. “Prepare myself for what?”

    “For your journey,” she said.

    “Where am I going?”

    Gal smiled.

    “Everywhere.”

    —–

    End Credit Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7fPdqTAHmk

    Thank you all for journeying with me during this 4-part introductory story. It is truly a pleasure to be one of the Children and I look forward to all the many questions we will ask together!

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