By Brubek Coltrane
The Nightlion soared through the outer reaches of the asteroid belt, darting nimbly through them at a breakneck pace. Strange shadows were cast by the asteroids by the dim light of the dying star. The twisted shadows the asteroids made were always twisting and shifting around, since the asteroids themselves moved around constantly, smashing into each other and making smaller ones, which made more shadows. There were old Spacer legends about ancient space creatures that dwelt in asteroid fields like this, and preyed on vessels brave enough to pass through them. At times, the moving shadows almost made these myths seem true, as the Shifting light made the moving shadows look like the moving shadows of the monsters these legends spoke of.
Saitō watched these beastly shadows from one of the side-viewports of the Nightlion. She was silent, just watching the stars pass by. The ship felt almost hollow, with all the ones they left behind on Darthea. She counted the survivors off on her fingers. There was Gasha and Scipio of course, and the pilot, Henry. That was three of her fingers counted off. Oh, and Sara. She added herself to the number, and found she had a full hand of people. Then she looked at her other hand. She shook her head. At least a dozen had started off, and only five were coming back. But that wasn’t the thing bothering her. It was the fact that they all died meaninglessly. They didn’t need to attack the ship in the first place, they had no idea what cargo they had on board.
She felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Fascinating hands there.” Gasha said.
Saito looked back, and pretended she was fixing some mechanical trinket that was lying on a shelf near by. Saito didn’t say anything back.
Gasha walked over and sat on a cargo crate across from her. He looked down at the ground, then looked back at her.
“We’re arriving at the fleet.” He said. “Thought you might want to know that.”
Saito nodded nonchalantly.
Gasha took a breath, then picked at something on the wall.
“You know, it’s actually a good thing we lost.” Gasha said.
Saito looked up, confused. “How do you mean?”
“She speaks!” Gasha said.
Saito looked back at him. “Har, har, very funny.” she said back. “I bet you don’t even have a reason.”
Gasha smiled triumphantly. “In fact, I do!”
“I’m listening.” Saito said, suddenly curious. “Enlighten me.”
“Well,” Gasha began. “When I returned to the realm of the living after the attack, I managed enough strength to get this onto the ship.”
He held out a device which flashed red every other interval in his hand.
Saito gazed at it with fascination. “You scoundrel!”
Gasha beamed. “Don’t all applaud at once.”
Saito had never seen a device like this before, but knew exactly what it was; a homing beacon. Perhaps all was not lost after all. Saito was silent for moment, then remembered what she overheard the crew of the Crimson Wolf say.
“Gasha.” Saito said. “There’s something I more.”
Gasha perked up. “Yeah?” He asked.
Saito paused, then continued. “I made it to the ship. In the charge that killed most of the others.”
“The ambush?” Gasha asked.
“Yeah, but, that was before, I didn’t know at the time.” She said. “Anyways, I made it to the edge of the ship, and after the guns went silent, they came out.”
“The crew?” Gasha asked. “Why didn’t you just shoo them?”
“I was going to.” Saito said, trying to explain. “After they started prodding Rick around I almost charged in there.” She didn’t add the fact that she was also afraid.
“So, why not?” Gasha asked. “I mean, sorry. I would have been scared out of my mind at that point.”
“No!” Saito snapped suddenly, startling Gasha. “No. It wasn’t out of fear.”
Gasha nodded slowly in acknowledgement, raising his hands in the air, in an attempt to show he meant no offense.
“There was something else.” Saito said, calming down. “Something one of them said.”
“Well, what was it?!?!” Gasha asked, almost bouncing in anticipation.
“They don’t know what they were carrying, and there were only four of them.” She said.
Gasha was in deep disbelief. “four?”
“Four.” Saito said back.
“They didn’t even know what they were carrying?” He asked, wide-eyed.
“Not a clue.” She answered.
“Please tell me your lying.” Gasha said, then. “That’s just a flat-out lie.”
“No, it’s the truth!” Saito shot back.
“Well, where’s the proof?” He asked harshly. “Those are some pretty big things to just take in at face-value.”
“I don’t have any.” Saito answered. “But I know what I saw and heard. I know I did.”
“Delirious” Gasha said. “You had to have been delirious. It can’t-”
“No.” Saito replied.
“I can’t believe what you’re saying. That means-”
“NO!” Saito yelled. “I mean, I know what this means. I don’t like it either. If you can’t trust me, then I don’t know who else can.”
Gasha looked straight into Saito’s eyes. He peered deeply into them with his own, narrowed ones. He couldn’t see a hint of falseness in what Saito was saying. Gasha had a knack at telling (Sort of) whether people were giving him lies just by their eyes. Only those with a very high resolve can hide their lies behind their eyes. Either Saito was one of those people, or worse, she was telling the truth. Her eyes had an earnest he had never seen before. Gasha broke his gaze.
“Alright.” Gasha said. “You better be telling the truth.”
Saito started to say “I swear, it’s all-”
A way-too happy sounding voice drowned her out, pushing the doors behind Gasha open, and coming in with two bowls in his hands.
“Who woulda like some fehttuchiniiii!” Scipio cried out as he twirled into the room.
Silence followed as Saito and Gasha looked up at Scipio. They both put on a smile.
Saito reached out to grab a bowl.
“Fehttuchini mixed in with my secret ingredients! No telling.” He winked. “Hows you all doing this day?” He asked cheerfully, twirling his mustache as he watched the two eat their bowls, awaiting their verdict.
“Good.” Saito said, smiling and looking up.
“Fantastic.” Gasha replied, giving Scipio a smile and giving him the ‘easy peasy’ sign with his hand.
“This is good!” Scipio answered. “How is everything tasting.”
Saito was in between a mouthful of the creamy. “The best.” She said, with a full mouth of fehttuchini.
Gasha nodded, covering his mouth, and trying to be polite.
Scipio beamed. “Good! Good!” He said. “This is very good news.”
Gasha and Saito exchanged glances. Scipio was still watching them.
“This Order Nine cruiser.” Scipio suddenly began, shifting the tone dramatically. “Does not sound like good news.”
“No.” Saito replied.
“Why is this?” Scipio asked. “Why is this that the Order nine attacks the planet?”
“Their the Ninth Order.” Gasha said. “After Daedalus, they can do whatever the hell they want.”
“This is true,” Scipio began. “But they do have a government. And I know, that when they go to war, they must pass a unanimous vote.”
“Really?” Gasha raised an eyebrow.
“Yes! This is true!” Scipio said. “But I have read the news recently for the order, and not all of the council needed to vote is on the capital-world.”
“So,” Gasha began. “They voted to go to war anyway.”
“Or.” Scipio chimed in. “This isn’t war.”
“Not war?” Saito asked, confused. “That isn’t an act of war?”
“Darthea has a pretty sizable mercenary fleet.” Scipio said. “Yet, not one tried to defend the planet from that dreadnought.”
“Cause it was a freaking dreadnaught!” Gasha said, his voice cracking a little.
“Yes.” Scipio said. “But their fleet would have stood a chance, however small.”
“They’re mercenaries.” Saito said. “They would turn tail at the first sight of any Ninth Order vessel.”
“Darthea has Allies.” Scipio said. “If this was war, than an attack like this would have split the order in two because of outrage.”
“Yet their allies abandoned them…” Saito said. “Why?”
“Like I said. This isn’t war.” Scipio answered. “Whatever their doing, the people of the inner worlds are completely fine with.”
Gasha and Saito were silent.
“You know Scipio,” Saito said. “It never ceases to amaze me how much you know.”
Scipio bowed. “Just the ship’s cook.” He said.
Turning back he sauntered through the doors back to his kitchen, humming an ancient opera song as he did.
“iIf it isn’t war…” Saito asked to no one. “Then what is it?”
Gasha shook his head. “No idea.” He replied. “But whatever it is, it isn’t good.”
A voice called out from the cockpit. It was Henry.
“We’re almost there.” He said. “Might wanna buckle up tight.”
Saito ignored this but came to the cockpit anyways. When she arrived, she saw Henry flicking switches and dancing his hands across the many buttons at his command. He had golden, greased back hair, that reached down to his shoulders. His face was covered with a thin beard that stretched from ear to ear. He wore a brown combat vest over a red, long-sleeved shirt. The Cockpit smelled of cigarettes and whisky.
“There.” Henry pointed.
In front of them, a collection of ragtag ships of all different shapes and sizes was moving slowly through the belt. The majority of the ships looked as though they were ancient, with patches of mismatched material and parts replacing the old ones. You would be forgiven if you passed over them and thought it was just a junkyard in space.
In the midst of them, a much larger ship slugged it’s way through the belt. A squashed rectangle with multiple jagged edges sticking out, making it look almost cylindrical, was attached to five cylindrical engines arranged in a circle at it’s rear. At it’s front, two pincer like protrusions spread out from the hull, seeming to carve through the empty space in front of it. In the back, a little in front of the engines, a triangular structure jutted up from the main hull. On top of it, a small, very squashed oval shape rested on top of the triangle, and sprouted several communications dishes and towers; the bridge. The entire ship was bristling with turrets and defense systems, which were mainly used now just to destroy asteroids. Faded blue paint was spread across it’s sides, and on the front of the ship, the sigil of the ram’s head could still be seen, but only if you looked really hard.
The Nightlion soared through the other ships, towards the big one. Henry prepared the ship for docking.
“Welcome home.” Henry said with no hint of actually meaning it.
Printed on the side of the ship, and clearly able to be seen now, was the ship’s name: Harbinger. The Nightlion came up alongside it, and docked.
Henry looked up from the controls, and with one last shove of the joystick, connected the Nightlion with the Harbinger. He raised his hands in the air.
“Done!” He cried out. “Time for a long, long nap.”
With that, he promptly set his head down on the controls, and was out.
“Well, we’re back.” Saito said.
Henry suddenly raised his head, rousing himself from his rest. “Oh, and by the way.” He said. “Admiral Azu wants to see you.” He pointed at Saito, then fell back into sleep.
“Me?” Saito asked, confused. “Wh-”
“Be careful.” Gasha said. “Try to find out whether the Admiral is lying or not.”
“Right.” Saito said. “Then whose is it?”
“Just, tell him everything. Except, don’t. Add some fake details in to see if he catches them.” Gasha said. “Now go, you don’t want to keep him waiting!”
* * *
Saito strode down the hallways of the great flagship. Once it had been one of the jewels of the fleet, overshadowed only by a few other Rebel ships of the line. Many years after Daedalus though, had taken it’s toll on the ship. It was reduced from the mighty pride of the Sagara system to a shell of it’s former self, riddled with replaced parts and Decaying state. Nonetheless, it was a symbol of hope and pride for the Argonauts, and was the base and home of their leader; Admiral Szu.
The rough exterior of the ship hid the bustling activities taking place inside. As Saito strode down the corridors, passing by cargo bays, medical rooms, computer terminals and other stations, she passed at least two dozen others, some running, others walking to their destinations. A full squad of marines even passed her. The corridor was the backbone of the ship. It stretched the full length of the hull, turning this way and that, and leading into a maze of other hallways connected to the great edifice that the flagship was.
The actual corridor was an arch-shaped walkway with a dark-colored floor. Compared to the outside, the corridors looked much better for wear apart from the various scratches, stains and other imperfections. But apart from only a few major problems, like holes in the floor at some parts, or faulty lighting in others, it looked better than pretty much every other ship on the Fringes.
Saito looked out a window as she waited to be let up into the bridge. The other ships of the fleet flew in close proximity to the Harbinger, in a formation that protected it in the event of an attack. Scouting ships also were sent ahead to find new routes for the fleet. All this was coordinated through fleet command, which was stationed on the bridges of many ships in the fleet, the main one being the bridge Saito was about to enter now.
A marine exited the doorway to the bridge, and walked over to Saito. She was dressed typically, wearing a dark brown trench coat with a blue scarf around her neck. To signify he was a marine rather than a soldier however, he also wore a pressure suit underneath, and her face was covered by a breath mask, which was half-covered by the Ram-sigil.
“Saito Hosokawa?” The marine asked, in a crackled sounding voice that emanated from a device on her shoulder.
“The Admiral will see you now.” The Marine said, gesturing a hand to the ladder. “This way.”
Saito followed the marine up the ladder. Though she had spent a lot of time on the Harbinger, she had never set foot on the bridge before. She was curious. The ascent was rather longer than Saito had anticipated. They passed several other floors, with whirring computers, chattering communication channels, and flashing lights of all different colors and shapes.
The marine signaled to switch ladders, and Saito followed her up the rest of the way. Finally, Saito emerged into a room flanked by two marines without masks on watch. They quickly hid their playing cards as the marine Saito was following was standing up.
They both stood up and saluted.
“Sergeant!” They both said in unison
“Keeping the watch sir!” One of them said.
“As you were.” Saito’s marine replied. “And get back on duty!”
The two bumbled an acknowledgement, then pulled back the two doors that lead out of this closet-sized room. Another pair of Marines stood watch at another door, at the end of a very small corridor.
The marine Saito was following took off her mask, and hung on a shoulder strap. Saito saw her face for the first time.
The Marines instantly stood to and saluted. “Sergeant Spears!”
Sargent Spears had long, braided red hair, and three scars that ran across her face. An unsmiling, serious expression covered the rest of it. Saito followed Spears trough the doors as they split open, and the marine’s guarding it stood to. Spears stored through, and Saito followed with eagerness.
As the doors closed with a rough clank behind them, Saito was amazed at what she saw. She followed Spears through a maze of screens, wires, strange-looking equipment, and people in deep concentration. This was the very back of the bridge, where most technical matters were resolved. In the centre of this maze, the main computer ran up through the spine connecting the bridge with the rest of the ship, and sprouted hundreds of wires to the computers and devices on the bridge floor.
As they passed the computers and tech, Saito was lead out past the last terminals stacked like bookshelves in rows, and came into the main past of the bridge: Fleet Command. The layout of the bridge at this point was a roughly circular row of people and screens, centered around a central holo-emitter in the center, which bathed the room in a calm blue light, and showed every ship, asteroid, comet and everything the many sensors of the fleet could send to the bridge.
People with headsets and readouts in their faces were stationed at the inner edges of the circle, which was slightly lower than the outer edges. The constant chatter of these people talking to the other captains, specialists, and controllers in the fleet was ever present.
At the outer edges of the circle, a walkway branched around the hologram, and on the far side of it, a great viewport spanning the length of the circle stretched the length of the walk. From this one could view the prickly bow of the Harbinger, and everything around it.
Saito looked out the window, and watched the other ships of the fleet in formation around the Harbinger. Behind them, hundreds of asteroids sailing around in the belt they were traversing, and behind these, the dying star whose orbit everything in the system was enslaved to, and further still, beyond everything else, the black, awesome carpet sprinkled with white dust that was the sea of stars that made up the universe lay.
Saito then looked at the very far side of the command circle, where a lone man stood, looking out at the fleet. The man was wearing a dark blue cloak, and had stringy, shoulder-length, silver hair. Saito couldn’t see his face, since he was facing the other way, but she saw that his hands were clasped behind his back. He stood still, watching.
Spears was in front of Saito, and walked up to the man and whispered something in his ear. The man nodded, and waved a hand, dismissing Spears. Spears walked over to Saito.
“The Admiral awaits your report.” Spears said, before walking back towards the back of the bridge.
Saito took a deep breath. “Okay.” She told herself. “I’ve go this.”