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Olympus was the name the TAU gave to the planet which served as their primary military base. The planet was also home to the largest human settlement outside of Earth.

When Kronos arrived in the system, K and I were still sitting on the observation deck. We emerged from slipspace to see the green and blue planet, and a large fleet of TAU ships. K and I both sat up at the same time, gazing out at the ships in wonder. There were two other Titan-class ships; one of them was grey with yellow stripes, and the word ASTERIA on its side. The other starship was black against the glow of the planet, and I could see the word HADES written in white on its hull. Blue energy faintly glowed from the engines of the ships, and the space in front of us was dotted with smaller ships and transports flying to and fro.

Kronos drifted close to the planet, in between Asteria and Hades. K and I trained our eyes on small TAU fighters which flew overhead in a blue streak, inspecting Kronos.

Wow,” said K. I forgot for a moment that she’d never left Voren before, so of course this was an amazing sight to her. I’d visited Olympus several times in my life, and even so it still filled me with wonder. The light of Olympus’ star reflected off each hull, igniting the edges of each craft in a warm orange glow.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it?” I mused.

K closed her mouth, which had been hanging open. “Yeah, it’s alright.” She smiled at me knowingly.

Come on,” I said, and stood up. “Are you ready to go?”

She flung herself out of the couch, and stretched. “Yeah, I’m ready. Not much time to relax though, huh?”

Unfortunately not. Any second that mothership is out there with those plans, the Shade Beam could get closer to manifestation.” I lowered my ears. “And the closer it is to manifesting, the closer our planets are to disintegrating. I don’t think I even believe it’s possible, honestly, but I think at the least we need more intel on that ship.”

K nodded. “Alright, sounds good. What about your wounds though, how are you holding up? You got kinda messed up back there.”

I touched my shoulder. “I’m healing well, it only hurts a little.”

I glanced up at the lush planet in front of us, and I felt a longing to land there and relax for a while. But then I thought about Joëlle, and how I failed to protect her team because I didn’t follow her orders. I thought about my mother, about Astraloth, about Earth. I thought about how the valicorr had come and killed so many on Voren, and I knew that was only the beginning.

But even thinking about all that didn’t quiet my mind. Forget about this, I thought. I came to Voren to research the loro ruins. That’s it. And I still haven’t even checked the transfer device to see if I got anything. I could just head back to Astraloth, say hello to my mother, rest for a while, and study anything the transfer device may have saved.

Uh, Osax? You sure you wanna do this?” asked K.

I…” I squinted.

There was another reason I did want to follow the mothership. Valicorr had never attacked in such a coordinated way until now, and certainly had never been seen with such an imposing starship. We didn’t know anything about how their government worked or how their military was organized, but this seemed like an emergence in their behavioural pattern. A new curiosity. A mystery. And the starship itself, the Shade Beam too, was enigmatic. I felt myself getting excited at the prospect of uncovering its mysteries. Was I more interested in learning about the Shade Beam than preventing its existence?

I shook my body, trying to reset my thoughts.

I’m fine,” I said, and lifted my ears. “You head to the hanger; I want to say goodbye to the admiral first.”

Alright,” said K. “I’ll see you there.”

 

I entered the admiral’s room once more. The window revealed Olympus and the TAU fleet.

So,” she said, looking up from her desk, “the prince is off again?”

I took a deep breath.

Yes, and I’m going to be helping Joëlle track the mothership.”

Fiona paused, and stared at me.

You know, Talcorosax, I’m going to be mentioning this to the Fleet Admiral. I’m going to do what I can to get the gears turning. If you just wait a bit, you won’t have to go.”

I sighed. “That’s not good enough.” I wasn’t even sure what I was saying… but I’d already decided I wanted to find that ship. I had to.

She scoffed. “Not good enough for a prince, maybe, but it’s the best I can do. I’m not sure how the higher ups are going to deal with this, especially considering the conspiratorial nature of the base on Voren. It’s got a lot of mystery surrounding it. But there’s a lot on the line if I push the Fleet Admiral too hard on this.” She paused. “To be honest, I’m worried. I’m worried they won’t like that I learned about the Shade Beam.”

I remained silent, and after a brief moment she continued.

I just don’t want you to get into any trouble, but I know that’s exactly your plan.”

I shook my head. “No, the plan is to prevent the valicorr from being able to do any more damage with that ship, or with the Shade Beam. Getting into trouble is avoidable.”

She sighed, and stood up. “I don’t think so. But, it’s your decision.” She reached out a hand to me. “You can contact me anytime. I might not be able to do much, but I can try.”

I shook her hand. “Thank you, Fiona. It was good to see you again.

She had a grave expression. “You too, Talcorosax. Don’t die.”

I turned to leave, but she called for me to wait.

I forgot to ask...”

What is it?”

I don’t mean to be rude, but where did that blue one come from?”

I tilted my head to the side. “You mean K?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Is she going with you?”

Yes, she is. So is Jonathan Wellsworth, a scientist. We’re all going to help Joëlle.”

K’s a bioweapon, isn’t she?”

I nodded slowly, my ears drooping. I still knew so little about her.

She is,” I said. “She was found by the TAU, broken free from her restraints in a secret lab somewhere, and then brought to Voren.”

The admiral raised an eyebrow. “Really? Where was she found?”

I don’t know. K doesn’t remember, and the Director, who seemed to know more, is now dead.”

I have a theory about what organization may have created her,” she said.

I perked up a bit. “Really?!” I asked. “Who do you think created her? I’ve been trying to figure that out.”

Well, to me, this has the Brotherhood written all over it.”

I was taken aback. “I thought the Brotherhood was just a hoax.”

Really?” She asked, looking surprised. “Well, it’s true they’re secretive. But unfortunately, they’re also real. Not enough is known about them, except that they want to bring down the TAU, and they don’t have a love of skythers either it seems.”

They’re a group of human terrorists, right?”

“They’d want you to think of themselves as revolutionaries, but they’re brutal, violent, and cold. The Brotherhood is the epitome of, ‘the ends justify the means’. Perhaps true in some cases, but not when you’re killing innocent people. The few times we’ve had encounters with them, they’ve been outfitted with some special kinds of beige armour. Often carrying spread-shot energy rifles, equipped with molecular bayonets.”

My eyes widened. “That sounds deadly; where are they getting this equipment?”

“If the TAU knew, we’d shut down the supply at the source. It’s unlikely they’re using conventional methods to acquire the gear. They have enough funds and resources to run research labs, and experiment with bioweapons, which is why I thought they might be behind K. It’s likely they’ve set up their own methods for manufacturing their gear.”

Hmm,” I said. I’d heard rumours about the Brotherhood over the past year or so, but hadn’t realized they were actually real. A group of humans, operating in secrecy with excessive resources, trying to bring down the TAU. I was not happy to hear that the rumours were true, especially not when the valicorr threat seemed to be more prominent now than ever with their new mothership. “Well, thank you for the information. I should probably get going.”

Before you do, there’s one more thing I wanted to say, and I hope I’m wrong about it.” She looked at me with concern in her eyes.

You’re worried that K is a sleeper agent, aren’t you?”

She exhaled. “Yes, I’m worried about that.” She put a hand on my shoulder. “Keep an eye on her, alright? Especially if you notice anything strange happening with her.”

Immediately, I thought about her unexplained blackouts. I cleared my throat. “I’ll keep an eye on her. Thank you.”

I turned to leave, but my thoughts were dark. I didn’t know what I’d do if K betrayed us, but so far I had no reason to think that would happen. Right?

 

The hangar was loud and busy, with many of the survivors from Voren boarding dropships. The dropships animated and whirred, and flew out of the hangar’s containment field, which was a mostly transparent wall of energy which kept the air and pressure of the hangar intact, while allowing ships to pass through. Over a crowd of crew members, I saw Jonathan and Joëlle standing, talking to each other. Jonathan’s orange eye flashed in the sunlight bleeding in through the containment field. I saw K just ahead of me, slowly approaching them as well.

I thought you’d be at the ship by now.” I said.

K turned to me. “Oh, hey.” She rubbed her head. “Guess I got a headache. Didn’t quite feel like bookin’ it down the halls.”

Fair enough,” I said, and my thoughts spiraled, thinking about her mysterious condition yet again.

We pushed through a crowd of people and made it up to Jonathan and Joëlle.

K!” said Jonathan, with a mischievous smirk. “I’m glad you decided to come.”

K shrugged. “Well, whatever.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow at her and sized her up, but said nothing.

Osax, thanks for offering to help.” Joëlle was looking up at me. She didn’t look happy, but she didn’t look angry either, which was good.

I said, “You’re welcome,” because I didn’t know what else to say.

K’s eyes lit up. “Holy crap, that’s your ship?”

Joëlle smiled at her, and I followed her gaze. Several meters away, docked on the floor of the hangar was a black gunship. It looked large enough for ten or so people to stay in, but no larger than necessary. It was rounded and smooth on the top, with two bulky wings on either side of the cockpit, which was front and center. Shallow fins traced the top of the ship like a spine. The windshield was wide and lined with a vibrant red colour, matching the detailing on the rest of the ship, which was otherwise black. The sunlight glinted off the hexagonal grid texture of the hull. Four large weapons of some kind stuck out from the front, two on either side.

Yeah,” said Joëlle, “It’s my ship. She’s called the Firebrand.”

So, I take it you’re a good pilot?” I asked.

Yes, I was the designated pilot for my team.” She frowned. “We all flew in this ship, when it made sense for us to, anyway. It’s a home away from home.”

If I’m not mistaken, that’s a Ranger-Class gunship, correct?” said Jonathan, his eyes flashing between us. “An all-purpose vehicle… fast, agile, resilient, and with decent storage.” He grinned. “A triple-redundant Tetryon-generator for energy; multiple bunk beds… a spacious interior with ample head-room. Oh, and it’s got a dedicated kitchen, doesn’t it? With cupboards and everything? Perfect for running away in, and living amongst the stars.”

Joëlle nodded, her lips spreading slowly to a smile. “That’s all true. Where’d you learn all that? Were you thinking of getting one yourself?”

I was considering it, actually,” he said. “Some time ago.”

Joëlle flicked some stray locks of hair from her eyes with a twist of her head, and smiled. “Well you’ve got good taste, Mr. Wellsworth.”

Jonathan’s cheeks flushed a little. “The colour palette absolutely agrees with me; that must have been custom painted. I think you’re the one with excellent taste.”

Joëlle smiled, and lowered her head slightly. I thought I could see some red in her cheeks as well. K stared at them impatiently.

Jonathan continued. “Well, I’d like to get shown inside, take a look at the scanners. I’m eager to see what I can do with them.” His lip twitched into a half smile, and Joëlle led us inside.

The ship was well lit on the inside, with multiple rooms and beds. The ceiling was, thankfully, around nine feet tall, giving me ample room to stand up straight. There were several rooms and amenities. Despite being a gunship, it was also designed for long excursions into space. It was clearly a multipurpose vessel.

We were led to the cockpit, which had five seats; three in an arrowhead at the front of the ship, and two more behind them, one on each side. Jonathan, Joëlle, and K all took seats at the front, one at a time. I stood, watching over their shoulders as Jonathan began to work.

Can you work on the scanners while we’re flying?” asked Joëlle.

Yes, of course.”

Then, everybody, this is your last chance to bail.” She looked at each of us for a few seconds. None of us said anything, or made a motion to leave.

At last K spoke up. “What, do you think we’d really just leave? We all saw what that mothership did. Shade Beam or not, I wanna get some vengeance.”

I nodded in agreement.

I think we all know the risks,” said Jonathan.

Getting blown up?” asked K.

Uh- yes.” said Jonathan, before turning back to the scanner. He ducked under the control console and began fiddling with things.

Alright, we’ll head back to Voren’s orbit. If Jonathan’s right, we can start tracking the ship from there.” said Joëlle. Her expression hardened as she gripped the controls from the central pilot’s seat. “Let’s go.”

The engine began to buzz and the ship lifted off the floor of the hanger smoothly. I wouldn’t have even noticed we were moving if I wasn’t looking outside the window. Slowly, the ship began to spin around, and I felt a pang of anxiety. For a moment, I was back on the snowy ledge, clutching K in my arms. The massive black ship was on top of us like an umbrella, humming deeply. It reached an arm of blood red energy to the AA cannon. Like cracking a whip, it lashed out, and the cannon shattered like glass. I shivered.

The Firebrand pointed out of the hangar, and started to accelerate, in sync with my heart rate. Silently, we passed through the containment field, into open space. We left Kronos behind, and slowly the planet Olympus, and the fleet too. A thousand stars stared back at us, unblinking in the blackness of space.

I sat down on the seat to the left, next to K, and gripped the armrests tightly. K and I exchanged glances. My heart was pounding. Are we really about to do this?

As if to answer, “Of course we are,” K flashed me a smile, and the stars ahead of us began to warp and shift as the Firebrand accelerated, and drifted into slipspace.

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About the author

Seb Woodland

Bio: I'm a writer, game developer, artist, and musician. Just a creative guy working on art and trying to make his way in the world.

-There is always hope-

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