USD: The next day
Location: Nu Crateris, Tears of Fire, en route to Hades
Alex felt strange about having a new person on the ship.
She had thought about isolating Daniel in a box while they carried him along with the supplies needed to build the new orbital to Hades.
For about point five seconds.
She still remembered her conversation with Nameless about putting her in a box, and she wouldn’t have wished that on anyone.
It had required a serious review of the inhabited spaces on the Tears, moving her berth from the messroom’s berth to the captain’s and sorting out several rooms of junk that had accumulated.
Thankfully, drones were very helpful, even if Nameless had taken about half her accumulated things and then ‘recycled’ them as having been forgotten or unused since before they even arrived on the Western Frontier.
That had hurt slightly, but she shrugged it off and decided she’d just collect more things to put in the newly freed space. She hadn’t really needed the five sets of laser welders, anyway. They just had made her feel safe that she would have a spare set if anything happened and keep her from having to build her own from a comm laser again.
Elis had helped her convert the messroom space into something more professional as well. That meant it was only covered in 20% pillows instead of 80%. She had made Alex pick up all the laundry that had been scattered about the place as well.
That, Alex granted, had probably been necessary anyway. The drones had had a hard time cleaning without getting wrapped up in something and getting stuck. She hated the sad beeps they made when they needed saving. She was pretty sure Nameless had programmed that sound just to make her feel bad about them getting stuck, too.
Overall, it had been a lot of work to do in less than a day.
Alex peeked over the sofa’s back and listened to Elis and Daniel discuss the cooking. She decided it was all worth it.
Daniel got another bowl out while shaking his head, an upset Elis looking at him skeptically.
“I’m telling you, that’s not how you bread chicken.”
“Alright Mr. I know how to cook. Why don’t you show us how, then?”
“Sure thing. You did the cutlets just about perfect. Maybe I would have pounded them a bit more, but that’s nothing. They’ll work great.”
Daniel arranged the work area until he had a bowl of flour, breadcrumbs, and the chicken cutlets Elis had prepared neatly stacked in a glass dish. He placed a plate in the center and made a thin layer of the flour. A few beaten eggs were contained in a measuring cup.
In the skillet, he had a layer of oil and turned the heat on. As it was heating, he turned back toward the chicken.
“First, we cover the cutlet in the egg. Then we lightly coat it in the flour.”
He did so, then he patted the chicken, knocking off the excess flour. “Important to get the excess off, or it’ll fall off when you fry it.”
Daniel then pressed the flour coated chicken into the breadcrumbs, rolling it around until they had adhered to it. He did a second one and then added both to the hot oil, causing a sizzle and smell that had Alex mesmerized from across the room.
Elis watched intently. “I didn’t know you could use eggs to make it stick better. It seems to work pretty well.”
Moving in beside him, she breaded some more cutlets, and the two fell into a rhythm of cooking.
Alex watched, entranced. When a sizable stack of breaded chicken had piled up, she went into action. Sneaking around the sofa and staying low, she grabbed a plate and made off with half of them.
Daniel missed a beat when he saw the food missing, but Elis let out a laugh, having spotted Alex long before she escaped.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. We’ll just make more.”
Alex was blowing on her fingers as she tried to eat the chicken before it cooled down. “It’s hot!”
Daniel shook his head at her, a bit of disbelief on his face. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it.”
“Sorry! By the way, don’t forget your non-disclosure-agreement!”
USD: Same day
Location: 92 Pegasi, A3123Y Orbital, Command Center
Amy leaned back in the command center’s main chair and let out a tired sigh. She’d spent the last eight hours continuing to organize and negotiate with dozens of different independent miners to haul certain things into different caches and orbits throughout the belt.
The Corpos hadn’t ordered a halt to all the civilian traffic in the system, and they hadn’t even realized the significance of A3123Y’s orbital. That was doubtful to last, despite Abbey having shut down major emission sources and essentially making the base look less threatening.
No one seemed in a hurry to inform their new Corporate ‘authorities’ either. Except she knew they would figure it out on their own. There was simply too much traffic between the two stations for them not to have noticed something.
There had not been any direct communication toward them, yet.
Amy had spent hours considering abandoning the station. It would have been smart, safer. She and Logan had the badger, a massively inflated bank account from their salary, and enough tech and parts that had been showered on their old ship that it was now in a brand-new state.
They could easily disappear into the belt for months and wait for things to blow over, with no risk to themselves.
But they hadn’t. Her brother didn’t bring it up, and she didn’t voice her internal dilemma. She wanted Logan to be safe, but he had dived deeply into helping Abbey setup defenses.
Never had Amy envisioned that they’d ever be part of something that was actively preparing to resist a star nation’s military.
Oh, sure, she had grown up on stories from their parents about how the Corpos were bad and how her grandfather had been arrested for smuggling cheap medicine that was widely available everywhere but ruinously expensive in the Corpo systems. But it had never really touched on her personally.
She didn’t like them, or their systems, but they were far away. Until they weren’t.
Across the belt, the miners had been leaving behind small pods that were fully capable of dealing damage to an unwary warship. Each one was filled with a small pod of combat drones, a railgun, and some kinetic cannons. Abbey could control them remotely. They didn’t have missiles yet.
Abbey had dived the AM collider deeper into the sun’s embrace, to the point that it was at its temperature limit. Even a warship at full operating capacity was going to have issues getting to it, not that they would realize what it was or that they should target it.
It did reduce its production capacity as it struggled to shed heat, but they had no shuttle service that could operate at those temperatures, anyway.
Across the station, drones were building new turret mounts and adding additional armor plating. There were already five hundred operational PDCK and PDCL turrets operational. Twelve new reactors had been brought online early and dedicated to powering the energy weapon systems.
They had no anti-matter, but Abbey had designed and developed missiles that were essentially flying railguns that would then kinetically slam into their target if they survived a kamikaze run.
That was the final thing that Amy still could not calm her feelings about. It was like being present with a ghost. Or rather, a bogeyman. Monster. NAI.
Logan had shrugged that off and said ‘cool!’ and continued building with it... Her.
Amy groaned at herself, feeling confused.
If she had not been present for the station’s construction, if she hadn’t worked so closely with the haiku spouting AI for so long to build so much in so short a time, she would never have felt so conflicted. The thought of grabbing Logan and running off in their badger offered itself to her again.
Why, then, did she want to stay so badly? She stood and slid her hand across the flat panel on the back of the console. It was clean and perfectly polished. Like everything else on the station. It was such a difference than everything she had grown up and lived with until joining Starlight Revolution.
The NAI, even just the FedTech, had been held in the arms of the few for so long that most people didn’t even realize what it meant. She had never seen it, but there had been a time when everything was built like the base she had helped the NAI build.
When people didn’t have to pay for medicine because it was a universal thing. People didn’t starve. Those who had wanted had lived their own lives without harming others in massive urb cities that had no needs unmet. The ones who wanted to venture forth and progress pushed humanity out into the stars.
They’d built thousands of orbitals, colonized hundreds of worlds and systems. They’d developed NAI and found alien life.
It was all just a history lesson to her, a lament of how things used to be better that everyone knew but had no answer for.
The Governments, with their NAI Leaders and own forms of elite rulers, had denied humanity everything.
The proof was right in front of her. The station was a marvel, surpassing everything she’d ever known. She’d helped build it, and it had taken months, not years.
Everyone was being forced to live in a post-collapse world. There was no reason that they couldn’t build advanced orbitals everywhere and return things back to how they were before the collapse.
Except that some people, or NAIs, didn’t want to share.
Amy’s eyes glittered under the shining screens of the empty command center. They needed more help. Abbey could do a lot, but in Amy’s experience, she could become too narrowly focused on certain things. They needed more opinions, more eyes on things.
She needed to recruit. She knew she’d have to be careful, though. Amy sat back down.
“A31, can you list me all the remaining active miners that haven’t gone dark? I want to see if some people I know are still online.”
|Corelating recent transponder lists and transmissions. |
|Please wait. |
Amy’s eyes went back to the system sensor net. The Corpo fleet was still burning toward Nu Crateris, but two cruisers and four frigates had stayed behind and were headed to Ackman Station.
They had little time.
USD: A Day Later
Location: Nu Crateris, Tears of Fire, en route to Hades
Elis tilted her head as she watched Daniel sort through his suitcase. “Regret taking the job yet?”
He snorted, “Definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, really. I wouldn’t have taken it if you weren’t leaving the shuttle behind. Being stranded around an Ertan-forsaken moon is a bit much.”
“That probably will be temporary, at least until things progress more. The AI isn’t going to be happy if it doesn’t build up. When the traffic increases, you’ll probably need to keep staff to operate things.”
Daniel shook his head, “Can’t imagine how long that will take, though.”
She smiled, thinking of how fast A31 had built its orbital. “You’d be surprised at how fast things can move.”
Daniel’s hands froze, and he looked at her raising an eyebrow, “I think I have a good idea about how fast some things can go.”
Elis blushed, knowing very well what he was talking about.
When she didn’t answer right away, Daniel stopped what he was doing and turned his attention to her. “It was a onetime thing, yeah?”
“That was the idea. Just looking to get it out of my system, the fight, y’know?”
He nodded. “That morning, you seemed upset. Hope it didn’t cause you any distress.”
“Nothing you did, but yeah—a little. Nothing I couldn’t compress, though.”
“Want to talk about it?”
Elis started to refuse by reflex but stopped with the refusal half-formed. Taking a second to think about it, she surprised herself. “Actually… yeah. I would. Do you mind listening?”
“You have a captive audience.”
USD: Two days later
Location: Nu Crateris, Hades Orbit, Tears of Fire
Alex looked between Elis and Daniel with a grim look on her face. She turned to the CIC’s captain console and brought the main screen online.
The word was loaded, and Alex pointed at the screen showing a video of thousands of people storming a Dedia government distribution center in a search of food.
Elis nodded. “Not surprised they changed their tune then. Still, I wouldn’t send the freighters to the elevator until we get back there. I don’t trust them anymore.”
Daniel frowned. “It’s still hard to swallow that your AI dug up information that the government knew about the Rexxor for so long and did nothing about it.”
Alex shook her head. “They didn’t just do nothing about it, they actively hid the information. That’s going to look bad to the IFRB and Drakari.”
“You are awfully cheerful about something that’s going to be catastrophic to my planet. There is no precedent for something like this. Dedia has millions of people. I’m not sure how they would even go about removing the colony. Do you have any idea what millions of refugees would look like if they were dumped across the quadrants with nothing but what they could carry?”
Alex frowned and felt like she’d been punched. She hadn’t been thinking about that, really. She’d been so focused on her personal interactions with the government that the real human crisis that was looming had been more in the background.
“I… Sorry. I never intended for things to go this way. Part of the plan with building the orbital and setting up operations is to help everyone, though. If we can bring back FedTech to the sector, a lot of things will be possible. Maybe even build a colony for everyone on one of the moons.”
Daniel looked across the bridge, his eyes falling on the clean metal construction that was spotless and polished by the ship’s maintenance bots.
“If I hadn’t had seen all this… I wouldn’t have believed it. Not sure I really do, yet. I just wanted a job that would earn enough to get me out to Meltisar or another core world. But… that’s a sentiment and cause I can support. If you really mean it.”
Elis spoke up. “She does. I think we can even pull it off with enough time.”
Alex pointed toward another screen, which had the schematic for the orbital’s first module on it. Most of the areas were shaded green already.
“The habitation module is already working. Nameless is running tests to make sure it is safe while working on finishing the resource processor and micro-forge. It’ll be able to build basic stuff and expand the orbital. Increasing the manufacturing capacity is going to require special shipments from the surface from H32 when we aren’t here, though.”
Daniel nodded, “We’ll need to prioritize building a new shuttle or contracting a shipment service long term.”
Elis grunted. “I’ve looked over the net. There are quite a few shipment services between the planet and the Dedia Elevator. I don’t think any of them would be cleared or want a direct landing at H32’s base, though. So, we’ll need more shuttle capacity, regardless.”
The conversation shifted, discussing the specifics of setting up the logistics of making it all work.
A small smile slipped onto Alex’s face. It was nice to have more help to figure things out!
USD: The same day
Location: 92 Pegasi, SMS Grazhdanin, Bridge
The Corpo marine shoved Lavigne through the threshold. He didn’t need the assist; Lavigne had been moving briskly the entire time. Looking back at his assailant, he turned back away quickly. The vicious glare of the guard and the barrel of the SMG at his back reminding him that the only reason he probably wasn’t missing teeth was that they had been summoned to see the Captain.
The lighting on the bridge flickered as they moved over to Walker’s office and the door slid open.
Captain Walker was sitting behind his desk, and the Corporate commander… captain… lieutenant? The Corporate Spook was standing nonchalantly in the corner, watching.
Hauled to the center of the room, Lavigne listened as the Captain spoke.
“Lieutenant Lavigne. I need you to organize a maintenance crew and take care of section A maintenance.”
Lavigne licked his lips. Of course he did. One thing had become clear over the weeks of their capture. The Corpos didn’t have enough sailors to run the ship. Even with the extra men that had been shuttled over to them, they only had a few hundred men.
The Grazhdanin was a massive machine, one of the Solarian’s largest ships ever built by raw tonnage and size. It normally had a crew of over five thousand. It had been foolish to believe that with a few hundred men, they could replace that many sailors on a post-collapse ship.
Even if they hadn’t had required almost all of that number to watch over and keep the several thousand sailors they had captured suppressed in the troop berthing.
Lavigne felt himself sweat. “Sir, I respectfully decline.”
Captain Walker glared at him. “I’m not offering you a choice, Lieutenant.”
“Lavigne Dupont. Lieutenant First Class, S-51235N77.”
Corporate Agent Fallon spoke for the first time. “Space him. Find another one.”
Captain Walker shook his head. “No. Lieutenant Lavigne will do as instructed.”
“Lavigne Dupont. Lieutenant First Class, S-51235N77.”
The Captain’s eyes narrowed, “Lieutenant. I am offering you this last chance. You will take a crew under guard and perform the required maintenance. If you do not, I will have you spaced. Then I will have my men put on their skinsuits and EVA gear and cut off the oxygen to the rest of the ship. The choice is yours.”
Lavigne swallowed, but he made his choice quickly. “Yessir. I will organize the party.”
Captain Walker nodded and gestured for him to go, and the Corpo Marine grabbed his arm and escorted him out.
USD: Two days later
Location: Nu Crateris, Hades Orbit, SRS Orbital #2
Alex peeked around the crate, watching Elis say goodbye to Daniel. She wasn’t spying, not really. It was her ship, and technically her orbital, too!
But they had been acting awfully suspicious. The day before, Nameless had informed her that the sensors in Elis’s room had stopped working for several hours, even! Alex’s radar hair sixth-sense had guided her into sneaking down to the cargo bay to watch the interaction.
They had talked about a whole lot of nothing, just boring operational things.
Alex had lost interest and was internally punishing herself for wasting her time. She could have been working on new Starlight Revolution stickers or helping Nameless plan out the future orbital network she wanted to build to connect the 92 Pegasi and Nu Crateris systems.
Elis turned to leave, and then Daniel reached out and pulled her to him and kissed her.
Alex’s eyes widened. It was something she had seen on the holovids multiple times, but…!
More importantly, Elis let him!
Alex’s eyes were riveted as her mind ran amok with wild thoughts with more power than she had to summon when doing hard math problems.
Elis reached up to put a hand on his chest, finally pushing him back. Daniel said something, but Alex couldn’t hear, and she slammed her ANUF system into overdriving her hearing.
It was just in time to catch the end of Elis’s reply.
Elis went on her tiptoes to kiss Daniel on the cheek, then left toward the ship’s corridor. Alex slid around the crate and sat down to hide, hugging her legs as she failed to not wiggle, mind still racing.
She wanted to run out and hug Elis, congratulate her, and question her about… about… all the things!
A certain adult scene from one of the romance holovids they had watched came to mind, and she suddenly felt her cheeks set on fire as she raised her hands to her mouth to keep herself quiet.
A sudden boomingly loud voice smacked her out of it.
[Interrogative: Does Avatar require medical assistance? Avatar biotelemetry suggests possible damage.]
Alex almost jumped out of cover in surprise.