USD: A week later

Location: Nu Crateris, Fifth Planet High Orbit, Nucrateri Station, Concourse


Information was for sale in droves on ‘Nucrateri’ Station. The problem was, Alex didn’t need any of it. Nameless had already developed and built multiple probes on their flight from Dedia IV to the fifth planet’s orbital.

She had already launched them to the other system bodies, and the telemetry they provided was of better quality and reliability than anything the station offered. The miners and independents that sold that information to other prospective miners and entrepreneurs would have been horrified to know that their decades of effort were so easily duplicated in a few days by advanced technology.

Alex didn’t plan to reveal that the Tears had that capability by selling any of the data they gathered.

The corporation’s bank balance was already quite healthy from their courier mission and the combat contract. The issue was the things she wanted to buy were simply not available, or in small quantities… or of suspect quality.

She could have bought a few of the tramp and broken down mining ships the miners used, but the only ones available were probably worth more as scrap than for any real use. That’s why they were for sale. Their owners had used them until they weren’t able to run any longer.

One thing she had been able to purchase was a few CEC credit accounts. The need had become obvious as a continuous stream of negative balance adjustments came with each packet boat from 92 Pegasi.

A-3123Y was going to have some explaining to do.

She’d told it to make money, not spend it constantly!

With the separate credit accounts, she planned to give one to each subcore, one to Elis, one for the Tears, one for herself, and one for the Starlight Revolution corporation as a whole. Everyone would be restricted to access of their own account, and approval would be required by herself or Elis for access to the company funds.

It was something that should have been done at the beginning, but 92 Pegasi didn’t have a CEC office and the special chip that Portmaster Whitely had sold them wasn’t capable of being divided up like that.

Other than the credit account chips, Alex had been most interested in purchasing robotics and anything that could be used to easily put together more drones.

The tech in the system had obviously devolved from what the Federation had enjoyed, but automation was still used extensively. It just wasn’t as… clean.

That was obvious as she looked up at the rack of two dozen station maintenance bots that had been decommissioned. Their locomotion abilities were a mis-matched mix of bipedal, tracked, thruster-driven, and spider legged.

As she walked down the line examining them, her HUD chimed and highlighted failed parts and issues, ranging from rust to missing hydraulic fluids and lubricating oils.

The smell of ‘old metal’ was something she was becoming familiar with.

The junk dealer followed her around as Alex made her examinations, but she wasn’t truly listening to his sale’s pitch.

She was waiting for Nameless to calculate how much time having to repair and refurbish them would save over processing and building from scratch.

The answer was: a lot of time.

Twenty-four more construction/combat bots would be very useful, considering they were down to just a bare handful after giving almost all of them away to A-3123Y and H-3233L.

That had been necessary, but it left Alex and Elis with fewer capabilities themselves, and she wanted to correct that.

“None of them are operational, actually most of them look like scrap.”

The last one she came to was a spider-legged mobile chassis, complete with a seat and mounting for an old artillery gun. It was an odd-one out and looked like it had been in combat at some point, metal divots and gouges lining the metal.

“Captain, while that’s true, all of them are still in condition to be renewed, or even taken apart for parts that could repair other units. They are still of good value.”

That was almost a lie. Alex doubted that anyone in the system would have been able to refurbish a single one of the machines. They might have been able to get a few spare parts out of them, but those parts would hardly be very useful when the parts weren’t standardized and didn’t fit in any other unit.

That’s why they were all sitting in the hangar collecting dust.

The dealer had to know that.

What she didn’t want to let him know was that it didn’t apply to her and the Tear’s nanite enhanced workshop.

“They are worth melting down, maybe.”

She named a cheap price, much less than what he was asking for, but still more than what he’d ever get out of one of the industrial units on the station for the metal.

He appeared to be considering her offer seriously, and after a bit of back and forth haggling that favored him, she threw in a small bone.

“We’ll handle the pickup and cleanup of the hangar.”

“Very well, Captain, we have a deal.”

Alex reached out and shook the scrapper’s hand.


USD: Several days later

Location: Nu Crateris, Sixth Planet, Moon 5 Orbit, Tears of Fire, Engineering


The Tears took refuge behind the blue gas giant’s fifth moon. While small, the gas giant still produced a lot of radiation from interactions with the solar wind, and the quiet spot behind the second largest moon in the chaotic system allowed the ship to relax its energy expenditure on its anti-radiation I-field.

It did cut them off from communication with Dedia IV. Alex had intended that as a test run to see how well H-3233L could operate on its own. If everything went fine, they would fly back to Dedia IV, drop off more supplies and its personal credit chit via their shuttle before moving to return to 92 Pegasi.

Alex felt a bit of anticipation for that. A growing curiosity of what A-3123Y was up to had slowly replaced her indignation at its wild spending sprees.

She just hoped the warrior-poet hadn’t opened a gambling den and was losing all their money needlessly. She’d seen that happen in one of the plots on a holovid Elis and she had watched the night before.

Alex studied the latest readout from a nearby probe, and was pleased with the data they had received.

“There are a lot of different materials here. And they are easily accessible! The low gravity moons, especially.”

Her eyes tracked over to the bodies that were marked in red, showing a decaying orbit.

“What caused all that, though?”

[Informative: Analysis has determined that at some point in the last few millennia, a massive gravitational body entered the system. Its progress through the region disrupted the orbital eco-system of the Gas Giant.]

“Something that big, huh? Where did it go?”

[Notice: Correlative analysis cannot project possible courses or specific timeframe for the event.]

A sudden weight pressed down on Alex’s shoulder’s and she looked up to see Elis looking down at her.

“What’cha looking at?”

Alex looked back down at the monitor. “I was talking to Nameless about how weird the gas giant’s decaying moons were. He says that something big passed through in the last thousand years and messed them up. Any idea what caused it? Maybe ‘The Entity’ went through here?”

Elis looked at the screen herself. “Hmm. It was certainly big enough to be a moon, so it had its own gravity, but this system is newly explored. I don’t think it was on the Federation charts back then. Plus, this looks like something bigger than a moon.”

“I wonder what it was.”

Elis didn’t seem too intrigued. “We’ll probably never know. Strange things happen all the time.”

“Yeah, sure. But this seems like it happened recently, which is strange.” Alex pressed a few more keys on the console to zoom out the display, and rotated the view around the gas giant, all the larger moon’s projected orbits highlighted.

“Well, I don’t know what the odds of finding it are, but if you look in enough places, you’ll probably find something like it.”

“That’s true. Look at this moon.”

Alex highlighted the best find so far. It was the sixth moon. Relatively small with only .15 earth grav, it was a mix of rock and ice. Tidal movement of the core produced tectonics and the war between the fire and ice waged constantly, producing a diffuse atmosphere that was constantly streaming behind it. The entire orbit was a diffuse cloud.

“This is one of the moons that is going to burn up. It has an incredible mix of materials, including a large amount of radioactives in the core, gases and ferrites and the like on the surface. There’s ice, oxygen, methane… The geothermal sources would allow for a large amount of free power. I think we could make a base here, eventually.”

Elis raised her eyebrow. “But… this says in the next few hundred years it’ll impact the gas giant.”

“It’s worse than that. As it decays more the planet will eventually break up into pieces as the tidal forces cause the core to rupture. So maybe one hundred years at best. It wouldn’t be a permanent base, but mostly a mining operation.”

“You and your mining operations,” Elis paused, a frown creasing her face, “You should be careful, Alex. Don’t get too greedy that you end up eating entire moons and becoming like that… thing that destroyed the Federation.”

Alex looked up in surprise, the sentiment causing a little hurt in her chest. “I wouldn’t do that.”

“You know, I appreciate you telling the colonists off and threatening them to save me. I’m glad to know you care that much… but Alex, I wouldn’t want you to do something like that. A lot of those people wouldn’t have deserved to die because of someone’s decision to discard a single expendable marine.”

Alex frowned, looking back up at Elis, who was still perched above her.

“There is no universe where you are expendable.”


USD: Several days later

Location: Nu Crateris, Sixth Planet, Moon 5 Orbit, Tears of Fire, CIC


Alex finished settling into her seat before accepting the comms request on the main screen. Governor Tyler Johnson appeared.


“Captain. We detected your ship en route to the planet.”

Alex didn’t respond immediately. When she did, she couldn’t help but take a passive aggressive tack.

“We detected that the troops in Tifara haven’t been evacuated like you have continued to do with the other settlements. It seemed like you were pressing Captain-Major Thraker quite hard with his small airlift capacity, while your government units made several fresh supply runs to Tifara.”

“The town is the largest settlement outside of the city, and in an important location, Captain. It’s also the nearest base to a hive that presents a danger to the colony itself.” He frowned, and Alex figured the direction of the conversation had not been what he had wanted, but she didn’t care.

“We have had plenty of time to perform a planetary analysis on the planet, Governor. The entire surface, other than a few islands, is covered in Rexxor hives. There are several hundred on the continent alone, and there are many that rival the one that was destroyed as well. This one hive should be the least of your concerns.”

Alex tapped her console in agitation, her frown deepening.

“Or is it that this specific nest is the site of our ongoing communication attempts? We’ve also noticed the new orbital defense platforms. I approve, although I must warn you that the laser defenses at the Tifara Hive site have anti-kinetic and missile munition capabilities.”

The Governor’s face darkened, but she didn’t let up. She absolutely hated these conversations.

“You will not win an arms race against us, Governor. At least not before the IFRB gets involved. If you didn’t notice, we have a fully equipped Federation warship with industrial capacities.”

“I have not authorized nor do I plan to permit a conflict, Captain. There have already been too many lives lost, and I fear there will still be many more before this is over.”

Alex leaned back in her seat. “Then why did you comm me?”

“Our stores of food are enough to last for several months, and losing this year’s crops will be a heavy blow. We are already expanding our hydroponics on the ground and in orbit, but we are projecting major shortfalls. As you said, you have Federation Technology that still works. I was hoping to enlist your help in solving, or at least relieving that issue somewhat.”

Alex let out a tense breath. “Yes. I had already noticed that. We were planning on returning to 92 Pegasi and our operations there soon. If they have developed as I hope, then we will probably be able to bring into operation several large vat processing plants that could eventually replace the loss in food production on the surface.”

She frowned. “I foresee that shortage lasting for a long time from our projections on the planetary climate.”

Governor Tyler’s expression fell even further. “Captain, if you could send me your findings, I would appreciate it. While we’ve been conducting our own studies, there has been major disagreement in our scientific circles about the exact duration and intensity of the fallout will be.”

Alex nodded, making a note to have Nameless send the data over later. “It will be at least several years before crops will grow in a full season again around the equator. There is likely to be a new ice age that covers most of the planet as the average temperature will drop nearly 4 degrees Celsius for a period of at least 50 to 80 USD years.”

The Governor grimaced and made a fist before replying, “That’s worse than our worst predictions.”

“Unfortunately, the planet seems to be more susceptible to these types of cooling events. If there was more volcanic activity, the planet would likely be much cooler. Unfortunately, the deployment of such a high yield weapon mimics some of the worst volcanic eruptions, and their climate cooling effects.”


USD: Several days later

Location: Nu Crateris, en route to 92 Pegasi Jump point, Tears of Fire, Crew Berth


Elis’s hand trembled as she read the news article that had come from Sol. She had been reading as much as she could lately in her downtime on the ship, and the more recent news had filtered its way to the top of her list.

“Her Imperial Majesty Psi shifted orbit last week, causing several poorly maintained megalopolises to experience dangerous flooding. Many casualties were reported to the Imperial Census Bureau. The Barons of House Shen and Tennyson have both been detained and are waiting trial at the Imperial Court for their failure to maintain their demesnes. Imperial relief funding has been dispatched and the Imperial Guard has been sent to assist in relief efforts.”

A single image of Luna appeared with the article, but Elis recognized it as something else. It was not the moon she remembered, but a massive construction that resembled The Entity.

Her Imperial Majesty Psi.

Elis let the datapad fall to her side as she leaned back into her pillow, a whirl of painful emotions filling her chest. The question of what all her friends had died for burned at her. Was everything they had done for nothing?

A note from Erios909

Thanks for reading!

If you are enjoying the story, please leave a comment, rating, or review! They help the story out!

Alex and Elis appreciate them!

AI Fan Art time! Might even be a decent hand or two in there...




Next time: Chapter 49 – Return

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