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USD: The next day

Location: Nu Crateris, Tears of Fire, en route to Nucrateri Station

 

Elis pressed pause on the recording that Alex had made after listening to it for a second time. “It’s good enough, I think.”

Alex worried. “But will it even get to people?”

[Informative: Although our military access keys have been revoked, civilian communication networks allow for multiple paths of ingress.]

Elis blew a tuft of hair off her face. “Good thing there aren’t police around here. Hijacking transmission waves is pretty illegal.”

“It’s better than letting everyone starve… and the people can put more pressure on the government to accept the food shipment than we can.”

“That or they will start tightening the noose on people. Or shooting at us.”

“Most of their ‘force’ is the militia itself, which is mostly composed of civilians. I don’t think any of them want to be fighting with each other. It’s just the leaders who are bad. I don't think they are stupid enough to shoot at us... at least while H32 is in play.”

Elis shook her head. “I don’t even know that they are bad. Everyone’s been given a shit deal, Alex. You can’t blame them for everything that’s happened.”

Alex let out an exasperated breath. “I know. I’m just… upset. There are people dying right now and they don’t have to be. Nameless, go ahead and send it.”

[Affirmative: Transmitting message to civilian channels on Dedia IV.]

Alex nodded, “Right. That’s done. Do we have confirmation from Nucrateri that they’ll not have troubles transshipping the food we are bringing them?”

Elis leaned over Alex’s shoulder and punched some keys on the CIC’s console, bringing up several lists on the screen.

“The ones in yellow are the ones that confirmed they can carry the food in their regular shipments. The ones in green are going to dump their standard cargo and just bring food. All the flights that canceled trips to Dedia are red.

Alex scanned the list. Fifteen yellow, five green, most red. “Not much, and these shuttles aren’t able to carry that much.”

Elis nodded. “That’s why we only brought what the Tears could carry. They also aren’t giving it away for free, and we won’t see a penny of the sales.”

Alex rolled her head, stretching her neck. “Better than nothing, I guess. I mean that some of the food will get to them, not the sales. Was going to give it away for free, anyway. Hopefully, the transmission gains some traction.”

Elis noticed the movement and slipped her hands on Alex’s shoulders, beginning a massage with her thumbs, running them in little circles that sought out and attacked the tension she found. “What about the employee search? Did offering independent contract work turn out better than offering to take on full-time workers?”

Alex’s eyes were already closed, and she had a hard time phrasing the question in her mind. She had never received a massage before. The tingling and pleasant feeling of Elis’s fingers had already filled most of her headspace.

“Ahh… yes. We have several who are interested in a mining contract. But they don’t want to give up their independence. So, contract work.”

Elis moved her thumbs up to the back of Alex’s neck, massaging on either side of her spine. “What about the manager position for supporting operations around the Jovian moons for H32?”

Leaning into Elis’s hands, Alex answered, “Not very many applicants. I scheduled the interviews at a food place near the mooring arm.”

“Better get there early and eat before those then, or you won’t be paying any attention.”

Alex opened her eyes and looked up unhappily at Elis. “That’s not true.”

“I bet you already read the menu and planned what you were going to eat.”

“I… That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t pay attention!”

Elis laughed and leaned down to kiss Alex on the forehead before giving her a pat. “I’m going to go clear out the cargo bay. Don’t forget our planned sparring session.”

“I’m not going to lose this time!”

 


USD: The next day

Location: Nu Crateris, Nucrateri Station, Shipping Annex, Tifo’s Gyros

 

“But I wanted to try the souvlaki.”

Elis shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Gyros are great, too.”

Alex tilted her head back and forth, “But souvlaki is supposed to be the greatest!”

“Are you replacing kebabs before even trying it?”

“N..no.”

“What about cake?”

“I can have more than two foods that are the greatest!”

“I’m not sure it works that way.”

A chime on Alex’s HUD had her pull out her datapad. Seeing the reason, she frowned.

“The first applicant canceled.”

“Yikes. Well, better hope the second one is good or H32 will just have to deal with the time lag and management of contracts itself.”

Alex started to review their plan to build a relay and orbital around the decaying moon. It still didn’t have a name, but she decided she needed to solve that fast. NU-53253235 was much too hard to remember. Her memory was limited to three-digit numbers, unless she wanted to bother Nameless.

After weighing the benefits and cons of several orbital inclinations, she decided on a simple geostationary orbit around the equator. Maybe they’d develop their own space elevator, eventually.

It almost certainly would require its own dedicated manufactory. The one around Ackman would be ideal since it was already setup to make carbon nanotubes. If A31 didn’t modify it too much, anyway.

Now she just needed to decide on what type of security to leave in the system. She was leaning toward leaving both of the carbon hulled freighters. They had enough defenses that nothing local could really harass them, except the growing Dedia Prime defense net.

Thinking of that put her in a sour mood despite how nice lunch had been. Not for the first time, she considered gathering up all their assets and trying to sneak away somewhere.

Lost in thought, a chime pulled Alex’s attention out of her thoughts a second time.

Alex looked up. “Oh, he’s here.”

The young man had a head of dark brown hair and was clean cut. Shining light blue eyes landed on Alex and she waved at him. He was wearing an actual black suit with a tie. It seemed very professional.

As his eyes slid over to Elis, he froze for a second. Beside her, Alex felt Elis tense up for a moment as well.

Alex would have missed it, if she hadn’t had been so tuned in to Elis’s smallest actions.

She was still trying to figure out what was going on when he arrived at their seat. “Daniel Ashburn, nice to meet you, Captain. Hope I’m not overdressed.” He shook her hand, then nodded to Elis. “Master-Sergeant.”

Alex looked down at her favorite blue hoodie before looking over at Elis, who was also wearing her red jacket and black shirt. They were both on the casual side of business attire.

Elis nodded back to him. “Corporal.”

Alex realized they knew each other somehow. Maybe they had met on Dedia. Before she could ask, he shook his head and slid into the other side of the booth.

“Not anymore. Military is trimming a lot of the service down now that the Rexxor have stopped attacking.”

That seemed backwards to Alex. “I wouldn’t think they would reduce their strength right now, with all the unrest.”

“It’s better for them, really. Many people are unhappy with how things are, and a lot of the militia is sympathetic to that. They don’t need a lot of infantry to man the new defenses, anyway. Just sensor and weapon technicians.”

Elis spoke up. “So how’d you get to Nucrateri Station?”

“Read the writing on the wall. Took the government check for my home in Tifara and used it to bug out. Couldn’t afford anything going out-system, though. Been looking for something when I saw your ad.”

Alex frowned. “Not much interest in it. Even with the perks mentioned. I think our reputation killed all your competition. So, why’d you still come?”

Daniel nodded, then looked over to Elis, “Had some experience with your personnel. Didn’t think she was all that bad despite the rumors.”

Alex watched as a faint blush appeared on Elis's cheeks. The other girl tried to hide it by taking a drink from her smoothie’s straw.

She couldn't help but wiggle a little. Alex wanted to know what exactly had caused that reaction but managed to bring her focus back on the interview.

“Even if you have no competition, I still need to know you can handle the job, Mr. Ashburn. I appreciate you have some military experience as a junior enlisted, but what makes you think you are cut out to be a Starlight Revolution manager?”

“I’ve experience with running a small business. My family’s to be exact. We ran a delivery and transshipment depot for Tifara. I grew up helping and learning from my father, so I’ve experience with managing a small group of employees and running a warehouse. I understand that’s part of the job description.”

Alex nodded. “Also, we will need you to work with an AI and manage a group of independent contractors. You’ll be working closely with both. The AI will oversee the manufactory and expansion goals, while the contractors will assist in acquiring and delivering the needed resources. You’ll be the main go-between for both. You’ll also be in charge of assisting the AI in arranging sales and the main face of the company in the system at this stage.”

Daniel nodded slowly. “It’s a very important position.”

Alex looked over at Elis and frowned slightly, wondering why she wasn’t helping with the questions.

Looking back toward Daniel, she continued, “The AI will have more authority to make decisions than you. It’ll also have control over the finances, and you’ll need to work with it closely for authorizations. Can you handle that?”

“I’m not a Tannite. Not a problem.”

Alex wasn’t sure what a Tannite was but nodded, anyway. She’d look it up later.

“Elis, what do you think?”

Elis eyed Daniel warily before looking back at Alex. “Normally, you don’t discuss the interviewee in front of them. Anyway, I think it should be fine. Not many other choices.”

Alex wasn’t entirely happy with that, but she wasn’t going to argue with Elis in front of someone else. She was definitely going to ask questions when they got back to the ship.

Looking back to Daniel, she reached across the table. “Well, welcome aboard, Mr. Ashburn. We’ll take you as a trial manager. First job is to call H32 and figure out exactly what you’ll need to get its new fabricator working.”

“You have a fabricator on the station?”

“No, it’s on our ship. We’ll be flying you along with it out to Hades to set up your orbital. We’ll be leaving you a shuttle along with the module.”

“Hades? Sounds like you’re going to leave me alone in a nasty place.”

“NU-53253235. Person who found it didn’t name it, so first orbital’s rights to naming it are going to be ours.”

Daniel’s smile turned into a frown. “Isn’t that the moon that’s decaying?”

“Yep! We got to exploit it while we can. There are a lot of rare resources on it. Maybe we can build a thruster big enough and keep it from hitting the gas giant!”

Elis laughed as Daniel looked more distressed. “That’s my little sister. Welcome to the club.”

He looked between them in confusion, but Alex could only beam happily at Elis’s comment.

 


USD: One week later

Location: 92 Pegasi, A3123Y Orbital, Command Center

|GENERAL QUARTERS|

|THIS IS NOT A DRILL|

|ALL PERSONNEL REPORT TO CIC|

Amy ran to the station’s bridge as fast as she could. She had only been there once before and almost got lost amid the red flashing lights that had filled the station. She had been in the middle of negotiating an extra ore contract with a group of miners when the alert had cut off the transmission.

She had no idea what was going on. As the door to the CIC slid open, she spotted her brother already sitting at one of the command consoles, tapping at the keys. She hurried over.

“What’s going on?”

As soon as she crossed the threshold into the room, the booming alarm silenced itself. Amy thanked the stars that the station realized they were the only two people on board and that it was probably damaging their hearing with the klaxon.

“I don’t know. I don’t know how to work this thing! It’s a military sensor suite, and it’s anything but intuitive!”

Red lights blinked all over the monitors, but before Amy could try to decipher anything, an unfamiliar voice sent her spinning around.

“They are here.”

Amy and Logan both stared at the girl standing on the captain’s seat. She looked to be eleven or twelve years old, and Amy swore she looked almost exactly like Alex except for the age and shorter hair.

Amy and Logan both blurted out the same words simultaneously, “W..who are you!?”

The girl smiled at them, “I’m Abbey! Commander of this orbital station and Alex’s sister!”

Abbey waved her hand, and all the screens went blank, then rebooted to show the same picture. It was an orbital map.

“Five minutes ago, long range EM sensors picked up a 32-unit EM burst from the Theta Corvi jump point region. Optical has confirmed that the SMS Grazhdanin has returned to the system, along with what I am tentatively calling a post-collapse battleship, eight cruisers, and 20 smaller ships!”

Amy was still tying to get through her shock at the presence of Abbey when Logan spoke.

“The Solarians brought a fleet?”

Abbey hopped down off the captain’s chair and came over to them, smiling. “I’m so happy to be able to talk to you finally!”

Amy was about to ask a question when Abbey tilted her head and her eyes seemed to glaze over. A second later, she was back and frowning.

“I have intercepted a communication between Ackman Station and that fleet! Putting both screens up now! Note that there is a five-hour time lag for the communication from the fleet, but not so for the Portmaster’s reply… waiting for it…. Ah! Here we go!”

Abbey waved her hand again and a picture of Portmaster Whitely and an older naval officer in a black and gold uniform appeared. Abbey opened her palm toward the naval officer and his picture lit up while the Portmaster dimmed.

“Attention Port Authority of 92 Pegasi, Ackman Station. This is commodore Brigit of the Corporate Systems Navy. You are hereby ordered to surrender your authorization codes and submit to Corporate System Authority. Failure to comply will result in the destruction of your station.”

Abbey moved her hand to the picture of the Portmaster, the lighting focus going to him.

“Commodore Brigit. This is Portmaster Whitely. As per your ultimatum, Ackman Station, a fully independent and recognized system authority, acknowledges your command and surrenders. We will lodge a protest with the IFRB. We also wish to know what you intend to do about our mining operations and civilian transports.”

Abbey lowered her hand, and the screens went blank.

“There won’t be a reply for several hours! I’ve already started building more bullets!”

Amy and Logan looked at each other, then at Abbey, who was still beaming a smile at them.

"Tyger Tyger!"

|Burning Bright|

"I'm ready for the fight!”

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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:

NAI A3123-Y Avatar - Abbey:

 

Next time: Chapter 57 – Collision Course

There is a lot more interaction with me and other readers on the discord: Here

People like to post their theories in the #Crackpot-Theory-Place and ask questions about things in #Story-Questions, too!

There is also the Integrity Police which point out possible mistakes or problems!

Most importantly, there are a bunch of ShipCore stickers and extra arts. You can see all the failed attempts that don't get included! 

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Erios909

  • West Virginia, USA
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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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