Fanfiction: Exile's Return I

(Kurtis Millette) #1

This is where I will be putting the reboot of my story, which is essentially a novelization of the game with my own characters. I will be attempting to stick to cannon as closely as possible this time around. The originals can be found in the Collection. Feel free to leave feedback, criticism makes for a better story.


Chapter One: Introduction

Kharak. Even the sound of it’s name foretells it’s harsh environment. This desert world has been our home for over four thousand years. The hot sands of the great deserts are all our people know or have known for generations upon generations. The polar regions beyond the seas harbor the only habitable land on this planet. Equatorial temperatures can rise above the boiling point of water. Even the oldest of our clans remember nothing more than here. Many ancient markings indicate that we did not originate from this world, and some believe Sajuuk, our god, banished us here for our sins. Faith aside, not until recent scientific discoveries were made did we uncover the inevitable truth: we are aliens to this world.

One hundred years ago, a satellite’s propulsion systems malfunctioned. Instead of scanning for orbital debris, it faced downward towards the Banded Desert discovering something in the sand. An expedition was sent. What they found was an ancient starship burred in the sands. Symbols of ancient times were written across it’s plating. Markings known only to the oldest texts still preserved in the libraries of Tiir. Deep inside the relic was a power plant that sent our technological advancement centuries ahead of our time. Farther in still, a single stone that would change the course of our history forever.

On the Guidestone was carved a galactic map, and a single word more ancient than the clans themselves, Hiigara. Our home.

The word united the clans as one. A massive colony ship was designed that would take two generations to complete. It demanded new technologies, new industries, and new sacrifices. The greatest of these was made by the young neuroscientist Karan Sjet. She had herself permanently integrated into the colony ship as its living core. She is now Fleet Command.

The promise of a new home united the entire Kushan race. Everyone’s mind became focused on a single question: Where do we come from? Every effort put into building the ship that would seek it out among the stars…


Chapter Two: Kharak

MARK

Beep … beep … beep … beep…

He woke to the sound of his alarm clock. He stirred and saw it was well into the morning. One more day, he thought. He got up and into the shower so to not fall back asleep. He had a long day ahead of him, the sendoff party.

There would be a gathering of notable people from around the globe the night before launch. Mark wasn’t part of the Mothership crew, his sole purpose for boarding was to test the new fighters’ systems. Being the lead pilot of his school and the son of a war hero requires him to fulfil certain social protocols. Much like attending parties like the sort planned for later in the evening. None of it interested him in the slightest.

His small house was like all the others outside the Walls, made from sandstone and clay. His furniture was minimal. A dresser for clothes, dishes enough for two, only because his girlfriend would stop by on occasion. A desk for the rest of his things. A picture of himself with his old pilot friend Jay. He grabbed his Sobani necklace from the desk and put it on. He wouldn’t be back for days and decided he needed all the luck he could get.

The phone rang as he was heading to the door. “Hi, it’s just me calling before you head out.” It was Valerie. She was away in the South visiting family for the past week.

“Just caught me, was on my way out! So how’s the trip going?” he asked.

“Not bad, I could do with less farm stench though. I wish I could see you before you go.”

“I’ll see you when I get back. We’ll have dinner somewhere fancy. I’m sure some place would be glad to have us,” he said. He wasn’t the type to flaunter his fame and she was embarrassed when he got recognized in public. He would much prefer dinner at home in his small mud-hut, but he wanted to treat her every now and then.

“Well, I won’t hold you up. Love you!”

“Love you too, bye.”

His eyes took time to adjust to the sunlight once outside. He put on shades and glanced at the time. He had to be in Tiir within the hour for preparations. He hopped on his motorbike and took off down the dirt road towards the shining speck in the distance.


Crossing the city walls was like entering a different world. He left the dusty sandscape that was in abundance on this world and entered a fortified oasis. He removed his shades and took a deep breath of the fresh filtered air. Structures towered above in front of him, but there were parks of all kinds in between. A river flowed through the city maintained by a dam on the farthest wall from him connecting to the northern sea to the other side.

Tiir was a monument to the perseverance of the Kushan. Refusing to allow their dying world to drag them to extinction, a walled city like only a few others allowed a climate to be controlled just enough to keep life flourishing while keeping the desert out. Tiir. The capital of Kharak. The pinnacle of technological advancement and the home of the Daiamid council, the governing body that has kept the clans in relative peace since the end of those centuries’ old wars whose aftermath is still felt with the Gaalsien extremists.

His bike, being the filthy dirt driver that it is, was put in storage by the wall. He paid for the week, and took the next bus into town only ten minutes after. The spaceport lie off to the east, downtown was ahead of him. To the west he saw a flock of gulls land on the river where gardeners kept up a decorative appearance on the shoreline. Poppies were in bloom and cast a red over most of the far shore.

Once within the skyline, he took notice of the tallest structures above him that had bridges between them. He had a hotel booked on an overhang and was trying to imagine the view. Whichever Naabal had thought up the architecture of these must have been either genius or insane. Most often, though, both end up being the case.

He hoped the ride would not be much longer. He had a few important meetings to attend and afterward would be forced to make appearance at a dinner of some sort. He didn’t make the plans, he only kept himself a public figure for his father’s sake. He had very little interest in aristocratic matters.


He sat alone at a table after the dinner party had ended. He grew tired of repeating himself every half hour to whichever new group of people happened to strike up a conversation. He saw his father, but the man was far too busy and bombarded with guests to talk. The man was a legend, after all. Best fighter pilot to ever live, they said. His greying beard was a signal to the rest that the next generation of heroes would come, and who do they lay eyes on other than he himself? Mark Soban, the seventeen-year-old son of Markus the Great, blood heir to Soban the Red as has been revealed since his father’s infancy. The Soban place little importance to lineage, but other kiith do and naturally fame comes along with it.

As he downed another glass of probably expensive wine, a girl dressed in grey approached him. “The shadow of the legend drinks alone at the edge of the gathering,” she said taking a seat with him.

“Well, you obviously know who I am, what’s your name?”

“Isabella Manaan, also partaking in testing the new space fighters up there,” she said pointing through the glass roof.

She twirled her dark brown hair as she recounted her own tales of danger in the cockpit. He listened intently. He wondered how old she was, probably no more than fifteen. They talked about how uneventful these parties were, how much neither of the two wished to be there.

“Personally, my favourite of your tales is crossing the desert alone at age twelve, should those rumours be true, that is." Her stare was more of a question than a statement, and having recounted the tale so many times before, it came naturally to him, as if rehearsed.

“True enough, yes. Honestly, I have no way of knowing how long I was out there. One day I was escaping rail robbers and the next I’m hopping from oasis to oasis unsure if I’ll see another sunset.” The experience wasn’t a memory he enjoyed revisiting, but she was enjoying him telling her of it.

“As a nomad of the Manaan, you have my respect as a sand rat of highest endurance,” she joked. He laughed with her to that. They kept conversation going for enough time that the few remaining guests were reduced to half.

“Wanna know a secret?" he said after another sip from his glass, "I really hate feeling special.”

“Well, Mark, don’t think I’ll shower you in glory. I’ll have to see you in action first.” She got up and walked away, but turned and winked.

“I have a girlfriend!” he half-shouted back to her. He could tell she was laughing.

He was refilling his glass at another table, having finished off the bottle at the last. His tolerance was as legendary as his father’s. A group approached him, he smiled back. “And who might you fine gentlemen be?” he asked.

“Son, please meet Huur Sjet,” his father said. He barely noticed he was among them.

“It’s not everyday I get to meet one of the Sas,” he said to a handshake.

“Oh, it is my pleasure, son. I have heard a great deal about you and your heroic survival a couple years ago alone on that island.” He remembered that one all too well also.

“Your daughter, is she already onboard?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, they have been doing calibrations for months. Everything must be perfect, after all.”

“I knew her, I believe. Before my trek up north, I mean. You had a summer home in the South.”

“Why, yes! Small world we live in, eh?”

“It’s about to get a whole lot bigger,” his father cut in. He put his arm around Mark’s shoulders and they walked away pretending to get caught up with each other. “Phew!” he said as the door closed behind them. “I’m getting way to old for this, eh kid?” he laughed.

“Yeah, it shows in your beard.”

“Hey, watch it, boy. This beard has a grey hair for every stressed out moment I’ve survived.”

“Then you’re one hell of a trooper.” He enjoyed the time he got to spend with his father. They didn’t talk nearly as much as he’d like.

“Saw you with the caravan leader’s daughter earlier, she’s a hell of a pilot too!”

“Yeah, glad to know someone won’t treat me as if my blood had gold in it up there.” They laughed to that.

“She’s cute, too!”

“She’s like fifteen. Valerie is still my girl, you know.”

“Oh, she’s not bad either! Good job, my boy!”

“You’re wasted, old man.” They drank in a comfortable silence walking the streets headed to the hotel they were booked in. “Dad?” he said.

“Yeah?”

He pulled out his necklace to show him, “Still got it.”

“That thing’s so old,” he said smiling. “She picked it out, you know.” He knew. A sombre thought; silence returned between them. They never talked about his mother, her death was something he never truly recovered from.

He walked with him up to his room after a couple elevator rides to the overhang hotel. His father grabbed him and pulled him in n embrace. “You have no idea how proud of you I am, son.” He couldn’t tell how drunk he was at that point, but it scarcely mattered. “Don’t let yourself believe my shadow is too far cast to overcome. You’ll eclipse me, and I’ll be happy to see it happen.”

“Go to bed, dad.” He couldn’t think of how else to reply. He sent him on his way. Mark’s room was a level above his, so he continued to walk through the halls peering out the long window looking out at the city lights below, and could feintly see the outline of Scaffold in orbit.

He thought back to his trip into the city and wondered how long it would be until Kharak could no longer sustain itself, how long before even the Majiirian would dry up and the southern farms produced no crops. Wherever this Hiigara was, he hoped the colonists could find it. He was not ready yet to leave behind the life he had, but some day all would have to leave this world.

He noticed he had been standing in front of his room’s door. Once he hit the mattress, he didn’t move until morning.


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FanFiction - Homeworld: Tales of the Vjel Amaj series / General Blog Thread
(Kurtis Millette) #2

Chapter Three: Scaffold

ERIC

The young Gaalsien was lying down anxious and sweating having woken himself from a dream. He had been aboard Scaffold for two weeks now, having come up on the fifth transport. The station had been alive and busy around the clock in this time to prepare the colony ship for launch. He had fairly little contact with anyone in this time, preferring a solitary lifestyle and knowing from experience that trusting others often ends him up worse off than where he started. His lineage played a part in that.

Regardless of his circumstances, he knew being from the clan he was would make him enemies whether he had any relation to the terrorist factions or not, and to his dismay, he did in fact formerly have ties with them as a child. At the time he didn’t know much about the world. Now, he holds on to that guilt. He seldom speaks of his past for that reason, the other being that nobody has gotten close enough to ask.

He decided there was no place for him on Kharak. His family had been killed many years ago in a bombing, he was barely scraping by on what work would accept him, and he had no connections left to his kiith, or any other for that matter. He took up a janitorial position on the Mothership hoping he could make a living elsewhere. He was lucky to have been given the position, only having it because of a minority quota. Even then, it was necessary to destroy all evidence of his past, which was not hard because of bad record keeping within the Gaalsien.

He stood up and prepared to pack his belongings. Owning very little, and most of what he did he would be willing to part with anyway, there was not much to take with him. All he really wanted to keep were the books and his notes on them. He thought of himself as a scholar of sorts though never having the privilege of actually being one due to his disposition and fascinated himself with Kushan history. He’d collected many historical works in the past few years and kept them for reference. Most originating from his kiith being the oldest clan known, widely believed to have lived in the original First City. Millennia took a toll on his people.

He stepped out the door of his small apartment once finished packing. Others doing the same crowded the halls ahead and behind. Men and women of all clans. Children of the crew were suspended in cryogenic sleep explaining the lack of anyone younger than fifteen or so. Scaffold housed the entire crew of the Mothership ahead of its launch, for some this orbital station has been their home for decades. Fifty thousand people were the sum total of the colony ship’s crew. All of which have either been living in Scaffold or the Mothership itself. A veritable city in space: the Last City.

He blended in with this crowd despite his background. The Gaalsien and Manaan are identical in appearance, and as their clan would suggest, many nomads were part of this expedition. It lessened the anxiety he usually felt when in a crowd, though he still kept his gaze low as he walked along.

The hall he walked into next had a long window overlooking the planet, but he was too lost in thought to pay it any mind. That is, until he walked into someone who had been stopped staring out.

“I apologize, I should be moving not standing around looking dumb, haha.” He was a cheerful character of northern accent.

“Nah it’s fine, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“Then I guess we’re both to blame, so there’s nothing too it. I’m Jasiid Nabaal, by the way, call me Jay,” he said continuing on alongside him. There was a certain aspect of this character that welcomed trust. Perhaps it was his smile or his attitude, either way he seemed to be a good person.

“Eric Gaalsien,” he said. He watched for what his reaction would be like, expecting some form of disrespectful remark but none came out of this man.

“It’s okay, since you’re wondering. I don’t care what clan you’re from. I’m here for a new beginning, why shouldn’t everyone have that chance?” He agreed. “Besides,” he said looking out, “all the conflict and hatred down there doesn’t seem to matter when seeing how beautiful it actually looks from out here.”


He parted ways with his new companion once onboard the colony ship. Jay being a corvette pilot had to attend a debriefing, while he had to find out where his new room would be. The boarding trams left him inside the hangar deck which was far brighter than he preferred. The nearest elevator would take him up to the pilot lobby and from there he knew where to walk. The further away from the hangar he got, the less crowded it was around him.

Coming up on his door, he entered the code he was given and it slid into the wall revealing the small quarters he would be spending most of the next year within. It was dark even with the lights on; he had no problem with this. he put his suitcase and bag down and lay on his bed already provided with a mattress, a pillow, and sheets.

“So this is the view now,” he said to himself looking at the ceiling. Grey metal without much texture to it. No window at all on the walls. There was a desk in the corner beside his bed with a chair and power connections for a computer. There was another door on the opposite wall that led to a shared bathroom between him and his neighbour. It was still larger than the one he had on Scaffold. He had no complaints about the physical bareness of it, he spent most of his time in his mind anyway, there was not much of a loss to him other than not having a view of the outside.

He made a list of necessary appliances and headed out to buy them. He had a small amount of money put aside for that. He needed a bookshelf above all else, considering most of his suitcase was exactly that. He also needed new clothes and personal care items. Shaving was against his clan’s culture, but all that was to change now. He would also need a few new notebooks. He had many ideas to write down, and his current ones were all full.

The last floor of the bridge section was a mini mall. He decided to look there first. He paid close attention to the varying regions of the ship as he moved closer inward. The metal became rusted and more aged, as these were the parts of the structure built first. It was hard to understand how old it was, twice his age and more. He was impressed at how sturdy it still seemed. The lighting, however, was visibly ancient. Orange and dim bands ran centred on the ceiling all the way down the halls.

He found an elevator shaft that ran upward to a terminal area with nicer floors and walls, possibly made more recently or has been refurbished. It was more crowded here than anywhere else on his walk, probably many new people figuring out where they’re going the same as he was. A clerk at her desk pointed him to another elevator that would take him to where to go. He made a note to add a map to his list.


A cart assistant brought his bookshelf back with him, being too big to carry and all. It was not hard to put together, it wasn’t wood, no, that was a luxury that nobody but the richest could afford, even less so out here in space. The metal structure was five shelves tall and fit all his books and had plenty of room for more.

He had little to do for the rest of the day, so he turned on his new desk lamp and opened the drawer where he put his new notebooks. He began to write. He had scribbles of ideas in his head. all the time. He sometimes wrote poems but most turned out more boring than sad. Fiction was his preference but inspiration came in short-lived bursts.

He had a half-completed novel that was a collection of short stories surrounding the first inhabitants of Khar-Toba. His fellow Gaalsien didn’t take kindly to his blasphemous imaginings of times long thought of as sacred legends. He had written a dozen chapters on a boy who grew up in a war zone but abandoned it deciding it was too autobiographical. He began a new project a short time ago. A story not about him, but about everyone. Not in the past but a story to be made out in the present. There would be a long journey ahead of him, the Kushan’s second great cosmic escapade, the Exile’s Return. He liked the ring to it.

He heard that the fighter testing would occur later in the day. He’s often dreamed of flying, but who would let him? He thought maybe that this journey would change people, including himself. He was not just a Gaalsien, but a Kushan–no, a Hiigaran. And he was proud of that fact. He hoped others would see it the same way.

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(Kurtis Millette) #3

Hi there! Apologies for the extended wait on new material to this. I actually have thirteen chapters mostly done but they require extensive editing (these two I essentially scrapped and rewrote) to make it less jumpy. No, I didn’t die, I had exams and then a full-time job immediately afterwards. Had no time. Oops. But anyway, here’s two more chapters with another two to come soon enough, just need to clean them up a bit. Enjoy!


Chapter Four: Fairly Local

MARK

The window overlooked the city with the walls taking up the horizon, the sun trapped in a long setting that would continue for fifty days. The great walls kept the sandstorms out and the climate within semi-controlled for comfort. There was once a time when the North flourished in life, but those times have long passed. The world was dying, and Tiir was a prime example of Kushan kind’s struggle to continue on it.

Before dealing with the problems of his withering planet, however, Mark had to deal with the ache in his head. Hungover on launch day, good job. Criticizing himself wasn’t going to help. He decided to grab some food. His father was nowhere to be seen when he entered the crowded lobby on the main floor which came as no surprise to him, but it would have been nice to see him before launch as he’d have no other opportunity to. He grabbed what he could and went back up to his room, carefully avoiding daylight. He wasn’t ready for that this many hours before noon.

Walking down the hall, he saw the girl from the night before waiting in front of his door. “Hi!” she squealed, making him flinch almost dropping the bowl of oatmeal he had balanced on a yogurt cup. He hadn’t thought this through. How was he gonna get the door open with no free hands?

She rolled her eyes and reached in his pocket for the keycard. “Morning to you too,” she said grinning. He groaned a response, and she opened the door. He put breakfast on the table as she dimmed out the windows. “One of those, huh?” She massaged his head a bit before sitting down.

“You’re lucky you’re cute because otherwise I’d probably kick you out. Any reason you’re here?” he asked.

“Meanie. Not really, I’m going alone up to Scaffold and was wondering if you’d like company. Annoying someone who’s hungover is a fun bonus, though.” Wincing, he picked up his spoon and continued eating.

“I guess putting up with you would be better than going alone considering I’ve got no idea where I should be going. You’ll find I’m not as likeable a person sober as last night, though, Isabella.”

“I never said you were likeable,” she joked, “and you can call me Isel. It’s a nickname my friends gave me, it kinda stuck. It’s weird but I like it.”

He tried to finish his food as they continued to banter. Her telling him he needs to shower to stop smelling like booze and get the grease and sand out of his hair, and him saying she shouldn’t be creeping on people waiting around their doors for them. “Why the interest in me, anyway? You’re accompanying the Mothership voyage, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but Maybe I like the idea of hanging out with a semi-celebrity with no negative consequences. Some bragging rights there,” she said.

“Nah, you don’t seem the type,” he replied. “Fangirls usually take advantage of the opportunity of being alone in a room with me to do creepy weird things.”

“I’m sure you have just so many of those among the general population,” she laughed.

“A man can dream, Izzy!”

“Yeah the name, that one is a no-go for me. Alright, I was hoping you’d, well, this is embarrassing but I was hoping I could get some pointers if we’ve got free time docked with Khar-Selim.” She took a deep breath and continued. “It’ll be hard to believe but I’m probably one of the senior-most pilots headed out with the voyage.”

“No way, how old even are you? Like fifteen?”

“And a half! Don’t laugh, that’s not important,” she threw back. “I’m class six, but class means nothing if you don’t have the skill to back it up. I feel like I was given my position without really deserving it.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “I don’t know, I hear all these stories from people who’ve done all these crazy stunts to deserve some kind of promotion, but here I am, haven’t done anything out of program to deserve my last two.”

“Not everyone does. Besides, the braggers are usually full of themselves among other things. There’s no more war, even the terrorists are nowhere near as aggressive as back in my dad’s day. Rank hardly means much anymore, if that makes you feel any better about it.”

“I guess. I’d still like to feel like I deserve it, though. And I don’t. It’s all handed to you for working hard to follow the program and what then if something does happen on the journey? How many of us high rankers, if rank does in fact mean very little, will stand any better a chance than newbies?”

“I know what you mean, and sure, we can go over a few things if you want but I’m sure you’re wrong about not being good enough.”

“How would you know?”

“Uh, hello? My father runs the air force. He said you were alright, more of a compliment than I got from him until I pulled my class seven granting stunt.” Hearing this seemed to cheer her up. “You don’t get this far without deserving it. Despite what people might say, I know I’m a good pilot. There’s no neotenic advantage. I’ve worked my ass off in the flight academy as I’m sure you have as well, maybe just don’t realize it looking back. Rank might not matter but that doesn’t mean you’re not up to the challenge. Rank seven is essentially an informal graduation, since rarely are there any who pass that point. You’re one step away and you’re only fifteen. Take pride in that. The hardest part, I think, will be the microgravity. Otherwise, just do what you normally do and be creative about it when the opportunity arrises.”

She looked up with a shrug and took some fruit. “I’ve made up my mind. You’re alright.” They quickly shared a smile before he stood up.

“Back to schedule, I have to shower and I don’t trust you to not walk in on me, so you’re gonna have to pack up and wait.” He rushed her out of the room before she could argue. He thought he heard giggling from outside the door.


He stayed in the running water longer than reasonable. It was decidedly necessary considering his state of mind. The end of the conversation brought back flashes of the incident two years before. There were reasons for his avoidance of the topic. He claims to forget the time on the island when asked. He remembered all too well.
However, there was much to do still and there wasn’t time to stand there reminiscing in the dripping water. Everything he had to bring fit in his backpack. She, on the other hand, had plenty more. And, as her travel guest, he was stuck with some of it. They called a cab and Mark arranged for his bike to be kept for when he got back. Isabella could not stop speaking the entire trip to the spaceport asking him questions of all sorts about his childhood, about his father, about his misadventures in flight academy; the only thing that would get her to stop speaking was when he was.

“So you knew Karan Sjet? Wow!” He decided his childhood was an easier tale to tell than much else of his life. “And these farmers, do you still talk to them?”

“No. I haven’t thought about it. I guess I created a new life for myself and decided to forget the old. I sometimes regret that, but it’s been so many years now and they’re on the other side of the planet. There’s not much to be done now.”

“Well, take it from someone who’s been raised by everyone but my parents, you should get in touch when you get back.” This made him wonder what her story was, but they were at the entrance gates to the spaceport.

“Passports, please.” Mark gave theirs, the man stamped them, and sent them on their way. He also handed them each a red and blue boarding pass. “The red one’s for the transport and the blue’s for the Mothership. You might wanna hurry, launch is in fifteen minutes.”

“Hurry!” he shouted at Isel grabbing her bags. They were taken once they got to the ship and stored for the ride. Getting onto the ship there were ticket collectors who took their red passes. They were guided to a nearly empty room going aft. They had barely time to sit down before a voice came on the speakers.

“Transport Seven, you are clear for launch.” Lights dimmed and machinery could be heard starting up.

“Talk about a close call,” she said.

“This is the captain speaking. We’ll be launching in thirty. Buckle up and enjoy your flight.” He then laughed, and Mark wasn’t sure if he should be comforted or uneasy by this last message. Isel looked calm, he decided to do the same. He hadn’t been off-world before. Many had, it wasn’t uncommon to take a luxury trip into orbit. Tourism helped fund the expenses for the rapid expansion of their space program the last two generations.

He listened intently to the countdown bracing himself for… he wasn’t quite sure. “Here comes the fun,” she said as the captain finished. What came next was a deafening roar unlike any he’d ever heard. There was a shudder and could feel himself being pushed down in his seat ever so slightly. He looked out the window. The spaceport faded into the rest of Tiir’s glimmering metalwork. The city itself was then swallowed in a never-ending sea of light brown sand. They passed through a cloud or two, and after that there was only a feint blue glow separating them and the blackness of the void. Gradually, the engine’s thunder grew quieter and quieter until it became little more than a background hum. He figured they were now in orbit. His necklace floated in front of his eyes before the artificial gravity kicked in. When it did, he threw his hands out in front of him. He barely made it to the trash bin. He could hear her laugh very clearly from a few rows back.

“We all have a first time,” the guy in the seat closest said. “You’ll get used to it by the time we reach Scaffold.”

“Hope so,” he replied wiping his mouth.

“The name’s Johan of the Nabaal. John works too.”

“Mark Soban.” He took the time to look back at the planet and didn’t regret it, the view was unforgettable. For millennia Kushan kind thought of Kharak as a hostile wasteland. A hell to endure for past sins. From where he stood he saw the true beauty it had to offer.

“That’s another thing we all get the first time around. It’s surprising, right?”

“An understatement.” Long white cloud bands covered the cream coloured deserts with the blue Majiirian to the South. Northern seas were visible as well, but not as magnificent. He captured it with his phone’s camera. He had to make it last.

There was a while before arrival, so John moved back to where they were sitting to get acquainted. He was a captain in rank, he would be commanding either a resource ship or any other support vessel assigned to him.

“Quite a few high-rankers on this transport,” he said.

“Cromell Soban a few rows ahead, head of security aboard the colony ship,” she pointed out.

“Leonard Nabaal is on an upper deck too,” John added. Strike command, their boss. “A test launch procedure was conducted a few days ago on-world. Essential bridge personnel are all on their way up now.”

“Why on-world? Wouldn’t it make more sense to do it in the actual bridge?”

“Couldn’t tell you, man. I’m sure they had their reasons.

His entire family was on the third Cryogenic tray. Mark explained that he wasn’t staying for the journey. He had a life back home he cared too much to give up.

“I understand that, the only way I would go along is if every member of my family could come too.”

“I thought candidates were chosen by lottery?” Isel said.

“Not all. I shouldn’t be saying this, but the Sleepers are specifically chosen candidates. The best and brightest of our people, all of them younger than thirty. In fact, most of Mothership crew members are under thirty too other than the senior officers of the bridge.

“I’m not sure if I should feel upset or flattered,” she replied. “Why hasn’t Mark been asked, then, if they bring your loved ones along for the ride?”

“I was. I declined.”


Chapter Five: Look Alive, Sunshine

ISABELLA

“We made it,” John said. The station was a monstrous structure kilometres long and tall, the Manaani found it hard to take in having lived most her life in small convoys. Silhouettes of people behind glass walls could be seen from where they were. As the ship turned in for docking, she took one last glance at Kharak. Not as stunning as earlier, a sandstorm blew in from the Southeast covering most of the northern seas.

The ship came to a halt. The engines went quiet and the captain spoke. “We have docked and will be opening the airlocks. Prepare to board. Best of luck, travellers.” Born a nomad, and would be one for the next year to come and then some.

They made their way off the ship onto metal floor. People rushed to get by. They made their way through the crowd to the docking arms. As it became less chaotic it was clear where they were supposed to go. They followed along easy enough with the mass of others headed to the same place.

They gave their blue tickets to the woman behind a desk and were let through to a long windowed walkway. “Whoa,” she said. Looking out, they could barely make out the top or bottom of the ship we were about to board. “It’s so big!”

“Mark!” someone yelled from the other end. They all looked, and he nearly tackled Mark to the floor in a hug. “It’s so good to see you! It’s been what, three years now?”

“Hi Jay,” he managed to say, “something like that, what’ve you been up to lately? There’s so much catching up to do!”

“Well, we’ll have plenty of time on the journey. Me, I have a job up here. Salvager pilot.”

“That’s nice to hear,” I said. “Thing is though, I’m not going. I’m only here to test out the fighters.” He looked disappointed hearing that, but seemed to understand. “And aren’t you packed a little light?”

“Nah, I already moved most of my things, I went back for the little that I forgot. Best not to leave anything behind. I even met someone new, a Gaalsien, in fact. Didn’t think any of ‘em would be coming along. We’ve all got our stories though, am I right? Well, it’s good to see you anyway.”

“Huh, odd.”

“Feel free to introduce us any time,” Isel said.

“Isabella Manaan, a real pain in the ass. She never shuts up.”

“If I recall, your words were: it’s a good thing you’re cute,” she added.

“Funny. Jay here is one of my oldest friends, known him since the month I got to the North.”

“We went to flight academy together. I moved on to larger crafts while he stuck with fighters. We eventually drifted farther apart than I would have liked, but sometimes that’s life for you.” Jay was an orphan. He had no known relatives except for one on the Khar-Selim who only contacted him halfway through its ten year journey.

“And call me John. I’ll be captaining a ship when it’s assigned to me. We’re all headed the same way, so let’s walk,” he said. “A busy day ahead, best not to lose any time.”

“So, you’re testing out the fighters too?” Jay asked her breaking the silence that came as they walked.

“Yeah, I’d like to see if space fighters are easier than jets. Some say it is but I wanna be the judge.”

“I wouldn’t say easier, definitely different. It’s an adjustment for sure. No aerodynamics to worry about, instead there’s maneuvering jets along the surfaces to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Some Sjeti explained it to me once, if something is moving in a vacuum there’s nothing to stop it so it’ll keep going forever.”

Mark said, “Makes sense, we learn all that air friction stuff at the academy, but that doesn’t help much when we’re not flying inside an air mass.”

The two of them continued talking as they walked. She barely knew Mark and had only just then met Jay, but she could clearly see how opposite their personalities were. Mark, moody and irritable, whereas Jay appeared to be a cheery amiable person. How they managed to be apparently the best of friends didn’t register to her. Then again, she considered how she herself was oddly drawn to him, mostly she found it amusing to annoy him to see how much he could tolerate, the other part of it was boredom. Though, he was staying behind and would probably never meet again, meaning there were no consequences for it anyway.

The buildup of people immediately ahead appeared to be from boarding the trams that took passengers aboard. After waiting in line with the rest for a good half hour, they were on the final leg of the boarding process. The pressurized tram moved along the rails leaving Scaffold and clearing onto a mess of rail work with the huge rectangular shape of Mothership’s hangar brightly aglow from within. A short one minute ride later, they were inside the bay.

“Go figure, all that waiting for not even a minute,” she said.

They were escorted to a lobby area where they could relax for a bit. “Just in time too, launch is in ten minutes,” Jay said. Couches lined the walls and Kharak could be seen outside the one large viewport. On the opposing side, a blue wing crest was painted taking up the whole wall. The crest of Hiigara.

“I would love to stay and chat, but I need to report in before I do anything,” John said.

“Oh, right! I have to go get the Porter ready for the test run,” Jay added. “I hope to see you before you leave, Mark. I’ll be sure to find you when there’s free time.”

“Sure thing.”

They waited there, until hearing a voice familiar to all. “This is Fleet Command reporting Mothership prelaunch status. Command online. Resourcing online. Construction online. Cryogenic subsections A through J online. K through S online. Scaffold control, standby for alignment.” Her voice echoed through the ship. She imagined thousands standing like her small group, anxious and awaiting the historic first step towards their interstellar mission. Mark was in awe, and had to be snapped out of it.

“Hey, we gotta head down below!” she said looking at her watch.

“Uh, right! Coming!”

The elevator brought them to an upper level. A blinding aqua light flooded the deck but their eyes soon adjusted. A row of fighters hung in docking racks ahead and a small group of people were gathered nearby; the other test pilots.

“Nice of you to finally join us,” said the older-looking man but still no more than his thirties. She began to see what John meant. “Mark Soban, I presume?”

“Yeah, I mean yes sir, reporting in for fighter testing.” She detested formalities, but saluted too.

“Knew it, you’re a younger version of your father, for sure. Captain Leonard Nabaal, to you.” His focus shifted back to the entire group. “I am Strike Command aboard this ship and thus the highest ranking officer as far as you’re all concerned. I take care of my pilots, be they Soban elite or Gaalsien strays. You’re all the same to me. Because I care so much, I’ll go over a few things before you get started. This isn’t the air force. Remember that.”

“The Mothership has cleared the Scaffold. We are away.” Karan’s voice chimed in over his but he continued immediately afterward.

“One, listen to fleet command. No questions asked. She’s a lot smarter than you are, and you’d better accept that early on because it’s her strategizing that keeps you alive. Two, only launch with a green light. If you don’t, the energy field keeping the air in will fry your equipment. Three, don’t wander off. We don’t have salvagers to spare to fetch your sorry ass if you go empty. Lastly, well, try not to get yourself killed. We have no way to know what we’ll be expecting on our journey.”

She nudged his shoulder and whispered, “I bet he rehearses that before bed.”

“And when I wake up, and again when I’m done brushing my pearly whites. Your name is?” She was immobilized, as was Mark. They were both sure he couldn’t have heard that.

“I-Isabella Manaan, sir. I must say, your hearing is flawless for someone of your—” she paused, unsure how to finish the sentence.

“What, age? I may be balding but I’m still in my prime, little girl.” The group chuckled.

“Well, I won’t be making that mistake again,” she said laughing nervously.

“Alright enough of this. Go find your ships. Flight suits are in the lockers beside the ladders. Gear up and get off my deck!” The two of them ran ahead of the group, primarily to get far from captain Leonard.

“That guy’s intense,” she said.

“I think you’d better get on his good side fast. That’s an order, maggot!” His imitation cracked her up again.

“Yessir!” She ran to the first fighter in line. He took the one beside hers.

The flight suits were easily put on, they vacuum sealed themselves fitting comfortably to any size. The helmets were simple jet fighter helmets, the kind she was used to. Climbing the ladder felt familiar enough, when unlocking the hatch and seeing the cockpit she smirked.

“I guess they decided to go old fashioned.”

“Sure did. This is ridiculous, it’ll be a blast!”

The controls were identical to the jet fighters she’d used before, the same technology that was used for centuries. The few differences were a couple small screens showing sensors information. Four coloured buttons were in place for aggressive, neutral, evasive and passive tactical presets. From what he could gather it routed power differently to weapons and engines. She started it up, and there began the differences. No engine she’d flown in front of sounded like the rough droning hum. The suit buckled into the seat automatically and the hatch closed. Like the newer fighter models, the head-up display was built into the windshield’s glass acting as a screen.

The light turned green, time to think was over. She pulled on the throttle and shot forward when the clamps released. She dove down the hangar and flew out the opening into the void. She took another quick glance at the planet. The southern hemisphere was now entirely covered in a sandstorm. “A shame,” she said to Mark, “it would look beautiful from here.

“Yeah… Anyone else here above rank six?” he asked. No one answered. “Alright then. Fall into delta formation. Isel, on my right.”

“Roger,” she said. The other five listened as well, being unsure who to take orders from.
Isel found she could rename specific ships on the HUD. She entered Mark’s name above his ship. She tinkered with the other controls for a bit while waiting for orders. They appeared on one of the two monitors in the dash. They were given orders to fire on target drones while in formation. “Well, we have our orders. Let’s test these babies out,” he said, other pilots chimed in sharing his enthusiasm. She had to admit, he took command pretty effortlessly.

The drones came into view. The HUD displayed red pentagons around them. When in firing range, the crosshairs lined up visibly easier with the tactical overlay than blind shooting at the tiny orange specs. He opened fire and within seconds it flashed out of existence, She did the same seeing three others die off too. He ordered to pull up to start the next pass. She followed suit easier than expected. “The fun thing about space is that up is wherever you want it to be,” Isel said doing a barrel roll.

“I guess they really do handle easier than jets, go figure.”

The other five took no time to take care of. After the last was finished off they were given new coordinates. She changed course for the blip on the sensors monitor. Intel gave new orders.

“Same as before but now set to aggressive tactics preset. Also, formation is optional. Have fun.” Three of them broke off in different directions. “Sixteen drones this round. I have centre left, first row. You take the one beside it.”

“Got it,” she replied. Isel stuck beside him. They both opened fire and took care of the targets. On their next pass they did the same but got two each.

He got a direct hit on another one and flew through its debris. “All done here, let’s go back to base.”

“What’s your count? I’m at four,” she said.

“Six, I think. Wasn’t keeping track.” He pulled up and twirled his ship around hers before coming up beside her.

“Show-off.”

As Mothership came into view she saw a salvager launch from the hangar. Jay said something about getting it ready for launch, she wondered if he was piloting it too. They were guided into the hangar towards one of the central decks two at a time. The two of them took the first entrance, landing as smooth as they could having never piloted a ship of that sort before. They got out and immediately after the ships were towed away to a conveyor belt on the wall.

“Oh, so that’s how they do it.” She wasn’t sure. The next two fighters landed rougher than they did. Getting out of there appeared to be a good idea, so they put their helmets and uniforms in a bin and headed for the elevator not wanting to risk being squashed.

Mark, realizing he didn’t own a room, was invited to Isel’s as she wandered to find her own. Her bags were already delivered for her as there wasn’t time for that before the testing procedure. On entering, she yawned and lied back.

“Long day so far,” he commented sitting on the chair by the desk. She checked her watch, it was now past three in the afternoon Tiir time.

“Hyperspace module fully charged. I am ready to initiate the quantum wave generator on your mark. Good luck everyone,” Command said.

“All sections have reported in. Trigger the hyperdrive at your discretion,” responded Scaffold control.

“Stop arguing over who goes first and jump us already,” she groaned. Moments later she felt an odd sensation pass through her body. It was hard to describe, but it was mildly unpleasant for sure. “That’ll take some getting used to.”

“Hey you, get up. I’m hungry.”

“But moving.”

“I don’t need to stick around you, you know. Jay’s surely around here somewhere.”

“Fine, gimme a minute. I haven’t pissed since the hotel,” she said.

“There’s something wrong with that one,” she heard him say to himself after closing the door.

Passing by a viewport after finishing up, Kharak was no longer in view. The journey had begun.

1 Like
(Not actually Jesus Christ) #4

A Bit late (many months) but could you put more chapters on here because this is good.

(Charvell) #5

I’d like to see more of this also :smiley:

(Not actually Jesus Christ) #6

I’ve read part 1 and 2 and some of 3 :smiley:

(Kurtis Millette) #7

That’s gross. But thanks. I promise I will try to get back into writing. There’s a bunch more chapters on fanfiction.net but I had more ideas I want to add and then I had a job and then school aaaand I’m making excuses I’ll go to my cave and put together another one in the next few days. AGAIN I APOLOGIZE. But thanks for tolerating the originals (that I wrote in high school and think are awful).

(Kurtis Millette) #8

AHEM. I forgot. I have no excuse. There’s a few more almost done, just struggling with the ending of the next one a bit. Shouldn’t take long but I’m notorious for lying that way, sooooooo stay tuned!


Chapter Six: Learn to Fly

MARK

The jump would not take long, but long enough for them to get something to eat. They ran into Jay on the way who was more than willing to join them. Most of the crew had places to be, and it left the halls empty, eerie almost. The background hum of the ship could be enough to drive some mad if listened to long enough.

“How long until arrival?” Isel asked.

“Three more minutes should do it, best to get going,” Jay answered. He parted ways with them near the elevators. He had no specific ship yet. He would be given the third salvage corvette to pilot whenever it was completed, meaning he hadn’t yet gone out.

The elevator door opened to the same blinding aqua as before. The group gathered again appeared to be waiting on them. “Took you long enough,” captain Leonard said. “You both scored highest on the target drone trials, therefore you’re both first picks for the new models.” In addition to the seven Arrow scouts, two larger ships were in the racks. “The Blade mark five interceptor. Not as fast as an Arrow but double the firepower and twice the fuel.”

“You say that like there’s an actual enemy to fight,” Isel said. The captain’s face didn’t lighten up. “Right?” She was uncertain now, as was he, same as the others.

“If you’d arrived here with the rest on schedule you’d have been briefed. The support ship hasn’t responded to any of our hails. Fleet Command thought it was a miscalculation in the jump, but we’re in the right spot. It’s not. At this point, we have no idea what to think. It could be off-course, they could think we’re early. It’s been a decade, after all. We’ll know for certain soon enough.” He felt uneasy about the news. The mission’s planning stretches back generations. It was hard to think it possible for there to be a miscalculation. “Enough, into your ships! I’ll see you when you get back so I can get a report on their handling.”

They all left for the ships. Once in the cockpit he noticed a few differences from the scout. Most noticeable was how cramped it felt. There were more controls on the dash and a third monitor. He didn’t bother learning all the extra systems just yet; most were useless for his purposes. There was also the inclusion of a red eject and destruct option, he noted to avoid that.

The light flashed green, he unclipped. When out the hangar he took a look around. The galactic band could be seen ahead, the sun behind. The asteroid belt was cluttered with boulders and dust clouds. They lined up in parade formation. Three scouts branched off to escort the resource collector.

“So what’s up, anyway? I missed something,” Isel said.

“We might be a light-minute off course, in which case we make a smaller jump—” the pilot was cut off by a blip on the sensors.

“We have picked up the Khar-Selim’s automated beacon,” was Intel’s interruption. A probe flew out the hangar door and it headed to investigate.

He opened a private channel up to Isel. “Hey, so it looks like your training might have to wait,” he said.

“Yeah, I figured.” Her voice wavered confirming the uneasiness he sensed.

“Listen, if anything does so happen to show up…”

“On your right, got it. Don’t have to tell me twice. I’m rash not stupid.”

They waited for the small green dot to reach the target area.

“The Khar-Selim has been destroyed.”

Destroyed. It took a few seconds to register what Intel meant.

“Is anyone else hearing this?” a pilot asked.

“I can’t believe it!”

“But how? What could destroy a ship that size?”

“An asteroid, maybe?” Isel added in.

“They’ve got weapons to deal with those and towing ships for the bigger ones,” Mark replied. The centre monitor displayed what they all refused to believe. A massive wreckage in the form of the support ship. A gas cloud was surrounding it and there were bullet holes in the sides as large as entire fighters.

“Incoming targets, fleet.” Leonard chimed in to the chatter.

He glanced at the sensors and sure enough small red dots appeared from the upper left.

“Keep it together, guys. Set to evasive tactics and get into delta formation behind me.” He took the lead with no trouble from the rest. Orders were to protect Mothership.

“S-so do we know who it is?” Isel asked.

“Doubt it. Curious, how many of you have been in actual combat?” Silence. He sighed, but it could be worse. “Alright, do as I do. Don’t break formation and get out of weapons trajectories. We’ll make it home alive.” He was in no position to make promises, but it kept them from panicking. They followed behind him, moving towards the targets.

He had too many questions, had too many thoughts to pick any one of them. If not for having something to focus on, it would be overwhelming. Many must have felt the same in that moment, the short but crucial interval of response to what was before them. Before he could think about anything else, there was an enemy to face.

“Our first encounter with an alien race and they turn out to be hostile. Great,” she complained.

The squadron gained speed until making contact. They were under heavy gunfire, but let off their own rounds in return. One scout exploded in a flash, but two enemy fighters were also taken out. Another was hit by the debris. They spread out and reformed for the next pass. “Fire on the the lead three only, it’ll break their formation.”

They did so, and got two more. Two then locked on to him, chasing him down. He spun around and set to aggressive opening fire. The first blew up but he took off before getting the second. He turned the ship so the bottom alone took damage. He could hear the light tick of the rounds hitting the hull. The noise stopped.”

“Yeah! Got ‘em!” Isel had his back.

“We’re getting too spread out,” someone said.

“Doesn’t help that they’re fighting dirty,” Isel replied.

“They’re slower but have heavier armour than we do. Use that to your advantage. Just keep focus, and you’ll be fine.”
“Roger, squad leader.” He wasn’t technically in charge, but why argue.

“Sending out two heavy corvettes to assist in crowd control,” Leonard answered. He’d been giving assistance to the pilots since the combat began. He had been quiet to him, assumed he was busy keeping the scouts alive and trusted his skill.

He ordered the damaged scouts to go dock with a nearby repair corvette that launched with the two Hammers. The corvettes rushed in and took aim. One by one the enemy ships exploded. These were not drones, he reminded himself. There were pilots in those ships. They had no idea what the enemy’s face looked like or why they were fighting. But that’s nothing new. Sometimes there isn’t a reason, just orders and a will to survive.

They were outnumbered ten to one even with the five interceptors that launched after the corvettes. He had doubt in their ability to counter this, but let that thought pass. It would end soon enough one way or another, and best to keep his focus on the immediate problem.

“Is it over?” Isel asked.

“I think they’re regrouping. We should take this chance to dock and refuel,” he suggested. The others followed. The refuel stations were on the deck immediately within the hangar. His ship got clamped in and deck teams got to work. The ship was fuelled and the armour sprayed with sealant to patch the holes. When the light was green to launch, the clamps fired my ship out the door on a magnetic rail. When out, he saw a salvager moving in on one of the enemy fighters but it self-destructed.

When the squadron joined him, now made up mostly of interceptors, they were given orders to guard a salvager as it made its approach to Khar-Selim. A second squadron joined his. It was vital to get the data.

“How are there so many of them?” a pilot asked.

“My guess is there’s a carrier hiding somewhere in the dust,” he replied. Their approach took five minutes but no enemies appeared. The corvette’s magnetic grapples hooked onto the wreckage. The airlock opened and an orange figure stepped out. He had a thruster pack on and used it to maneuver himself to an entrance. “Stay sharp,” he reminded. No contacts. Not long after, the man returned holding a box half his size. Once inside, the group turned back. Contacts began closing in two at a time. They made no attempt to fully engage. This went on for a minute.

“Enemy units closing in with Mothership,” Command alerted.

“Distractions,” Isel said. She was right. There were far more ships ahead than coming from behind.

“Thought so. Squad two, head on home. We’ll take care of this.”

“Roger.”

To the starboard our collector was guarded by a single scout. The enemy appeared to ignore the resourcing operations, which was some consolation. It meant a steady supply of resources for ship construction.

“They’re like pirates,” Isel said. He thought it was a ridiculous comparison until he paid attention to their behaviour. Their aim was poor even when in combat and when approaching they sometimes bumped into each other. Their formations were sloppy and some ships looked upon closer observation to be made out of parts from several different models.

“Pick them off until the corvette docks. After that we’ll give a hand to the guard around the research ship.”

Joining the main fight once the salvager was on its docking run, their remaining two wingmen were hit with a missile barrage. One ship was in critical condition and the other was worse off.

“Interceptor down!” The pilot didn’t eject in time.

“Are you alright?” he said to the other.

“I’m heading back to dock. ■■■■’s fried, I’m useless now.” The two of them were on their own.

“Mark, there’s too many,” she was afraid, he heard it in her voice. That was reasonable. He was sure if the adrenaline that comes with taking command was absent he would be too. Glancing at the sensors monitor was a sobering sight. Many red, few green. And the red were closing in on them.

“I know, we can still make it.”

“Mark, there’s a swarm heading your way,” Leonard said.

“I know, but if we dock they’ll pick off our research division. They’re more important than a couple of pilots,” he said.
There wasn’t a response to that. He wasn’t wrong. “I’ll get reinforcements out to you soon, hang in there.”
The swarm arrived. Evasive tactics were helping to avoid direct line of fire and he dodged their shots well enough for the time being. Isel was keeping up but was taking on more followers than him, they were aiming for the easiest target. They put up a fight and wouldn’t be taken out easily, but there were too many and the damage they were taking was concerning. “If you leave now one of us might make it,” she said.

“■■■■ that, I’m not leaving you here to die. Dirty bastards!” He set to aggressive, rolled back, and fired on the leader of the five following her. It exploded damaging the two behind. He took them out without a problem but began taking fire. He switched back into evasive and dodged a rain of bullets.

“Thanks,” she said. Speeding away from her startled pursuers.

“Any time. Hey Leo, any day now!” As he said this, three ships behind him were destroyed. Hammers arrived to help thin their ranks.

“You’re a couple of nut jobs, you know that?” the ship’s captain said. Moments later two Blade squadrons joined in taking care of the few stragglers the corvettes’ cannons couldn’t track.

“Let’s land these scraps.”

He agreed. He’d had enough for one day. The enemy ships were retreating realizing their ships weren’t fairing at all well now that the heavies joined the fight.

“Interceptor nine, back in formation!” Leo shouted over the intercom. Mark checked the screen and saw a lone dot moving far out of where it should have been.

“I see something. It’s a ship! Huge! Bigger than a Nabaal carrier!” He knew how big those were. He’d landed on several before. “Wait, it’s doing something. Danger! Beam weapons of some kind… Sajuuk have mer—” the voice cut out.

He saw what the pilot was talking about. A large light brown hulk. It fired blue beams of some sort out the front end. Despite this seemingly overpowered technology, the enemy continued retreating. The battle was over, at least for now.

Once the ship hit the deck and all systems shut down, he opened the hatch but didn’t climb out right away. “You saved me today,” he said thanking it. He relaxed into his seat and took a deep breath. Tears began welling up in his eyes as the rest of the thoughts came back. He was alive. His father would be proud, so would Valerie. Destroyed, he thought. The Khar-Selim was destroyed. Hundreds killed, having reached the end of a ten year voyage only to be met with death and destruction possibly only hours before.

After changing out of his uniform, he found Isel lying on the deck beside her ship. “You okay?” he asked.

“Solid ground is great. Don’t care that it’s metal and floating in space, it’s solid and I like it.”

“We’re lucky.” He held out his hand to help her up. When she stood she hugged him tight. She was shaking and wouldn’t ease up. “You’re alright now, we lived. You did great out there. It’s a shame about the others, though.” He could remember their faces, their voices. Gone now. He hardly knew them, and they were not prepared for this, none of them were.

“You saved me, thank you.” She let go and ran off down the hangar. She was a tough girl, but there were a dozen moments she could have died in the past hour and she knew that. He decided to let her be for now. He had his own thoughts to sort through.

On his way to the elevator, Captain Leonard stopped him. “Is your friend okay, she was crying when the elevator opened.”

“Well, she almost died a lot, she’s never been in combat, we encountered hostile aliens, and we have no idea what’s even happening so you tell me!”

“You did well out there, I’m not here to argue. I’ll get a report on the ships from her later. We fear there are more enemies in the system, we don’t know yet. We’re returning to Kharak immediately.”

“Or maybe the legends of the Gaalsien were true, the Khar-Selim was leaving the system so it was destroyed.” He liked that explanation more.

“Listen, Mark. Your father was an old friend of mine. I’m glad you were here today. You’ve got his blood in you, that’s certain.” He recognized him now, it had been bugging him earlier. He was one of the two men in a frame on his father’s living room wall. “Your bravery can get you promoted a rank, maybe two.”

“I did it for her,” he said. “She’s just a kid. I don’t give a damn about rank, it means nothing here. She’s a rank six and has never been in a single dogfight. If this convoy is to survive you’ll need to train them daily. I felt like I was leading a bunch of children into a slaughter!” The captain was silent.

“I know. I’m sorry. We didn’t expect this kind of confrontation, especially not here within our own star system.”

“That’s what you’re not seeing. It’s not our system, Hiigara is. I’m starting to think there’s truth to the legends now and it terrifies me. I’m asking you, captain, what kind of monstrous power can exile an entire world of people all the way across the galaxy? You really don’t want to be unprepared again.” He began to walk to the elevator.

“Mark,” he stopped him. “Just so you’re aware, my nephew was the wingman who got hit with missiles. Half our interceptors had faulty ejection wiring.” He couldn’t say anything more about it, Mark felt a cold chill run through him. He couldn’t look him in the eyes. “Dismissed.”

He wanted to be home. He wanted to go for a long drive on his bike, he wanted his sandstone hut and he wanted Valerie above all. The day had been too long. He felt Mothership slip into hyperspace, and felt himself slip out of his mind.

2 Likes
(Not actually Jesus Christ) #9

:wink: :wink:

(Charvell) #10

I’m glad to see you inputting again. I wait in anticipation for your next chapter(s).

1 Like
(Kurtis Millette) #11

There, everything up to the end of mission 3 is done. Enjoy. And with NaNo coming up for November, expect many an update on this, since I’ve determined this is my prime writing focus for now.


Chapter Seven: Sudden Life

ERIC

He hadn’t been able to think straight throughout the past hour; he assumed many felt the same. It was hard to believe in coincidence when his entire childhood he knew the tales. “Those who leave before the penance paid be punished by he who’s hand shapes what is.” He spent many days in Saju-ka’s libraries reading from morning to afternoon, the immersive stories surrounding the first city and it’s eventual downfall followed by the first people’s migration north.

The lobby’s screen flicked on, returning him to the moment. “A captured enemy corvette has given us insight into the alien menace we faced today. After careful interrogations, we discovered they are known as the Turanic Raiders. They were hired to patrol the edges of this system to ensure no craft leaves. They suspected these were the intentions of the Khar-Selim and destroyed it. When the corvette-class ship was opened, a liquid solution poured out. We assume it’s their natural environment. The creature survived for only twenty minutes before suffocating.” An image of the pilot appeared beside the reporter. Tall, pale white skin, black eyes, no hair and what he could compare to gills under the chin. She continued, “We will now show recordings recovered from the Khar-Selim’s black box. Playing last entry.”

The screen showed only an audio wave “What do you mean you detect a hyperspace entry? The Mothership isn’t due for—”

“Sir, I have multiple contacts on closing vectors. Unknown profiles. No recognition codes. Uh, they’re not ours.”
“Well, if they’re not ours, who the hell are they?”

“Sir, they’re coming in fast. Check. Incoming fire, we are under attack! They’re getting through! Breaches across all decks, hull integrity failing!”

Khar-Selim to Mothership! If you are receiving, abort hyperdrive test. Repeat: abort hyperdrive test!” Only static followed.

The reporter returned to the screen. “It appears we do have an enemy out there, it is no longer myth. With the support ship gone we will return to Scaffold for repairs and sub-light engine tuning. This is Natalia Kaalel signing off. Sajuuk have mercy on us all.”

He stood in silence as the screen flicked off. He was convinced these enemies controlling the pirates were the same as those of the legends. A great evil, one that drove them from paradise to the world of their penance. It was the last part, now, that he couldn’t help wondering about. The word was specific: a voluntary punishment. A punishment for what? That he did not know. Did it mean their ancestors had guilt for something long ago? What crime was so terrible to have an entire planet’s population put into exile?

His concentration was broken as a person ran into the room, a girl with short-cut brown hair. Her eyes reddened, she kept walking not noticing him. Crying, he thought. Not surprising given what’s come to light. Still, she looked familiar. Then remembered a list of pilots’ portraits from a news update during the battle. She was out there fighting for her life, fighting for his too.

He questioned the reasons for his decision to come. He felt helpless the entire time the battle was ongoing, but all he could do was watch from a distance and listen to the occasional interruptions from Intel or Command and watch the screen to see what new data was available. He wanted to help out, but knew not how.

Another stepped into the room, this one he recognized. Mark Soban, son of the Hellbringer, as his people called him. Supposedly he traversed the Great Desert alone at age twelve, then joined flight academy and made a name for himself there too under his father’s influence, of course. A man he had no respect for. A man who slaughtered thousands of Gaalsien and who led the assault on Saju-ka when his parents were killed. Out of the many pilots that died today, he survived. Part of him wished he hadn’t, callous though it might be.

“A girl came past here, right?” he asked.

He nodded, and the Soban ran off after her.

He did risk his life for her, he saw it himself. He was then torn between wanting to hate him for the pain his father had caused him and his people and giving him a chance to prove his worth. He decided to follow and find out more.

He approached the door Mark ran to and listened in.

“It changes everything now. I want to blame someone but there isn’t anyone,” he said.

“Look at you. I’m not the only one blaming myself. Mark, you did everything you possibly could. Our wingmen weren’t trained for this; none of us were and it’s a miracle we made it out alive.” There was a brief silence, then she continued: “I’m uneasy now, though. I mean, what if we’re in real trouble? Like, all of Kharak?”

“It’s best not to go there. We don’t know anything. And even if we did, what can we do? We’re fighter pilots.”

“I personally am scared shitless and I grew up in a scorching hot desert where people could die at any moment from too many ways to count.”

“I think when we dock with Scaffold there’s gonna be a change of plans. Trained pilots are gonna be needed if there’s combat to come. Which means my father and I along with many more will more than likely be tagging along. I don’t know. I’ll help out however I can either way.” He wasn’t excited about that thought. He heard a noise inside.

“Huh? They want us back in the hangar for briefing,” she said. “Great.”

“Well, let’s get this over with.”

He rushed off down the hall to avoid being seen. Though, curiosity overtook him, and he followed, making sure to keep a fair distance. He got into the elevator next to them along with a swarm of others, presumably other pilots being called to this briefing.

The mood of this crowd was noticeably somber from what they had just been through, or at least what some of them had just been through. There were more pilots than ships, currently. the doors opened and he moved with the group silently, trying not to be noticed. Ridiculous, he though, as it wasn’t like he had to hide.

Some faces he recognized, the two from earlier, Jay who he only met recently, and up on the podium were Fleet Intelligence, Leonard Nabaal who is strike command, Cromell Soban who is head of security, and a few others. It was Leonard who spoke first.

“In light of recent events, we are debriefing all pilots to the possibility of an attack on our home. You are our primary line of defence and we rely on your abilities to protect us. We do realize many of you are currently traumatized by what has come to pass. I lost my son today. Believe me when I say our thoughts go out to you. Fleet Command will take it from here.”

“What I am about to tell you is confidential information. Only the council of Sas and a few higher-ups in the private police force. Contact with the Khar-Selim was lost several months ago.” He paused as the crowd erupted in confused chatter. He signalled them to quiet down, and continued. “We had no knowledge of what had happened. The flight recordings revealed they did in fact attempt to communicate with us, however, we never received the message. We know very little at this time. What we do know is that there is an enemy out there, and we have successfully defended ourselves against them. Unfortunately, we were unable to salvage any of their crafts. Both attempts resulted in them scuttling as our salvagers were latching on, so we have no way to know more. We will dock with Scaffold and while the sub-light drives are being completed we will decide whether or not it is feasible to bring on more military forces. We have sent hypercomms to the station and Markus Soban and a number of others are on their way to be briefed on the situation. That is all I can tell you at this point.” He left the podium and escorted to the elevator by Cromell.

Leonard spoke again. “It is also worth mentioning that training will begin soon for new pilots who wish to join our ranks. There’s simply not enough trained professionals on the ship at the moment to face a larger threat than what we have come across. That being said, many non-essential crews will be gradually moved from their quarters near you and relocated elsewhere on the ship, so don’t be surprised if your neighbours are suddenly evicted. We urge you to push for those you think may qualify to enlist. We will not be forcing anyone to sign up, as there is a possibility of death, as we all know too well after today.” he took a moment of silence. “Thank you all for coming. Dismissed.” The man could barely utter the last sentence, and stormed off away from the group gathered around.

He tried to find out where Jay was to ask to let him know when he could sign up, and found him over with Mark and his wingman. He didn’t know they were acquainted, and changed his mind. He was sure it would be advertised well enough.


Chapter Eight: The Sand will Turn to Glass

MARK

It had been a few hours since they left for Kharak. When returning to the floor’s lounge his friends were talking among themselves but before he could join the conversation, Mothership dropped from hyperspace. He approached the window looking at a sight none of them could believe or understand. Immobile in a stunned quiet, unable to make sense of the scene before them. It was Karan who broke the silence surely spread throughout the ship for those at least who could see.

“No one’s left. Everything’s gone! Kharak is burning.” The last three words confirmed what none of them wanted to. Mark’s knees went weak. He fell to the floor.

The screen flashed on to update the fleet. “Kharak is being consumed by a firestorm. Scaffold station has been destroyed. All orbital facilities destroyed. There’s a significant debris ring in low Kharak orbit.” The reporter had to pause and wipe her eyes. She continued, but her voice wavered. “We are receiving no communications from anywhere in the system. Not even beacons. All crew members are to report to action stations.” Before the screen went black she began to cry.

As did Mark. Tears welled up in his eyes as he watched the horror. The other three ran for the elevators. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even blink.

“Mark, let’s go!” he heard Isel shout. The others went ahead as she ran back. He didn’t register her shaking him. His thoughts jumped from person to person, all the ones he knew and loved, dead. His father, Valerie, his fellow pilots, the friends he had in Tiir. All gone. All dead. “Mark!” She smacked his back hard. He looked at her but couldn’t focus past the tears. He opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t think of a thing to say. “Hey, we’ll have time to feel later. We have a job to do.”

“As a Soban I am obligated to say my job ended the moment we dropped from hyperspace. We fight until our contract has ended then we go home. I… I have no home to go back to.” Nausea came over him speaking those words.

“Sobani stubbornness, I know of it. Pilot! New orders. Defend the Mothership.” She held out her hand to help him up. There was no other option. His father would be ashamed of him if he crawled to a dark corner alone as he wanted to do so badly just then. “We all had families down there. I know you’re feeling this a bit more than the rest of us but we have to fight. We’re all that’s left.” He knew she was right. He was numb through his whole body, but he took her hand.

On the elevator ride up, he tried to calm himself. He needed to focus.

“Wait, on the maintenance frequency. I’m getting a signal from the Cryo Trays in orbit. One of them is suffering a major malfunction. The Trays are under attack.”

The elevator stopped and they ran out the doors to their ships. Less than a minute passed and they launched to join the others. The targets were larger crafts with heavier weapons. Frigate class. “This is Mark Soban reporting in. All fighters set to evasive tactics and swarm the enemy. Draw as much fire from the trays as possible.” Each tray was important, housing a hundred thousand people in stasis, now the last of their race. They passed a group of salvagers. He knew Jay would be piloting one but had no way of knowing which. The other pilots were following his orders and it was working. Only the one ship continued to fire on the Tray, the rest tried to defend themselves.

Two salvagers moved in for their approach on the first frigate guarded by repair corvettes. The enemy ships turned to fire on them but the swarm blocked most of the shots. They were too slow to lock on and were firing aimlessly into the storm.

“Ship disabled, bringing it in.” The tray was safe. The other salvage corvettes moved in to collect the Trays starting with the damaged one.

“Requesting salvage teams to collect the enemy ships before the intact trays. We’ll be low on fuel if we have to keep this up, and our weapons sure as hell aren’t strong enough to take them out,” he said.

“Sounds like a plan, Mark.” He changed the name of Jay’s corvette and watched as it made an approach with another on one of the enemy ships. They took hits but the repair ships countered what damage their cannons could make.

Another shot fired. A repair corvette exploded taking out an interceptor with it and damaging a few more. He had an idea. He broke formation and fired on a front cannon.

“Mark, get back in formation!” he heard Isel yell. The frigate fired, taking out its own weapons. “On second thought, do what he just did.” A few fighters did the same and it gave similar results. The ships were defenseless. The fighters could regroup without worrying about enemies damaging the trays.

They had won, and he kept his focus when only minutes before he thought there was no saving his mind from the devastating shock.

“We’re done here, head on home and let the vettes clean up strike teams,” Leonard said. He saw one of the enemy ships exiting the hangar and another move in to dock. The frigates were guided to the platform bridging the main hangar side with the large bay on the other out of the way from fighter docking pads. Upon his approach he could see a tray being loaded on the other side into the capital hangar. He also saw the security force moving people off the enemy craft at gunpoint.

He met up with Isel when landed. “How’re you holding up?” she asked.

He took a moment to think about an answer. “I’ll survive.”

A screen on the hangar wall lit up. The same reporter was back. “All hostile vessels captured successfully. Interrogations are underway this very moment. They appear identical to us physiologically. We are unsure as to the significance of this. We have also saved three stranded pilots in low orbit, none of which, however, are our hero Markus Soban. They reported him to have been leading the assault but are not ready emotionally to recount the details at this time.” Mark had to sit down. She joined him. “Intelligence has also released footage of the flight recordings to us. Be advised, the contents are graphical and involve the destruction of Kharak. Standby for playback.”

A small probe craft approached Scaffold station. Two salvagers launched but were destroyed. A group of nine yellow and red striped fighters flew by. A large carrier ship similar in size to the Turanic one encountered earlier was launching fighters. It was an entire fleet. The carrier was surrounded by other ships varying in size, some corvettes others larger than frigates. Missiles from the planet destroyed some frigates but left the larger ones only damaged. “Prepare for immediate surface bombardment.” He was unable to turn away. A squad of fighters then launched from Scaffold.

“Markus, watch out! Yeah, got ‘em.” The enemy must have tapped into their communications. A group of enemy fighters flew up the station’s interior firing on the fuel tanks. Scaffold then erupted into a flaming wreckage. An explosion blinded the camera and all that was left was charred debris. The video ended shortly after bombs hit the planet’s surface causing widespread destruction.

“Analysis of the flight recordings show that the Kharak missile defence systems heavily damaged the attacking fleet. However, we have concluded that at present, they can still easily defeat us. We have therefore plotted a course to a deep space asteroid belt. There we can hide and prepare our fleet for an assault. Our research division has finished analyzing the captured frigates. We have reverse engineered the drive technology and developed two new ships. Plans for a third are underway but will require further research. All Cryogenic Trays have been loaded and the jump will begin shortly.” The screen turned off.

He got up and walked to the elevators. Isel went after him. “He died defending his entire world.” She was talking about his father, of course, trying to console him.

“I know, It’s just… You saw that firepower. Our world’s best couldn’t beat them. We’re outmatched.” Their technology. It’s so…”

“This ship, it and it’s crew are the best our world had. Now we’re all there is and we’ll have to make due.”

“I’m not confident we can defeat them.”

“Neither am I, but there’s no other option. We beat them or we go extinct.” He couldn’t argue that.

The elevator ride was quiet. “You know, we’ve skipped out on debriefing twice now,” she noted.

“I don’t like it. You don’t need to avoid it with me if you don’t want.”

“I don’t like it either.” The elevator stopped at their floor’s lobby.

“Hyperspace module charged. There’s nothing left for us here. Let’s go.” The voice on the loudspeaker had the same emotion they were all feeling. One of sorrow and defeat, of numbing sadness and disbelief.

He looked out the window one last time. “All of us stardust,” he said.

“Burned into existence anew,” she finished. An old scripture spoken after battle.

“I guess that’s all.”

“I guess so.”

“Hyperspace initiated,” Karan announced.


He was given a room close to Isel’s. There were plenty of rooms to accommodate the few hundred new passengers that had not originally planned to be on the voyage. There were also many empty from the missing Khar-Selim crew. He laid in bed trying to sleep and trying not to think of what had happened. Hours passed and sleep wouldn’t come. He heard a light knock on his door. It was three in the morning. He figured not many would sleep well that night.

The door opened and she closed it behind her. “Can’t sleep?” he asked.

“Sleep? Hah. I can’t stop shaking, forget sleeping.” He sat up and turned on the desk lamp.

“Come on, sit.” She sat beside him. He put his hand on her shoulder, she was indeed shaking like she said.

“What’s up?”

“Anxiety, mostly. I forgot my medication back in Tiir and haven’t gone to the pharmacy yet.” She held onto his hand looking down at the floor. “You saved me today. I doubt if I was out there alone I’d have lived.”

“I owe you one too. When you ran back for me, well, I lost everything. I felt numb. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I ran off alone.” He met her eyes. A lighter hazel than his dark brown. Valerie’s were the same. He looked away out of guilt. He was not ready to let go of her memory.

“I lost my mother. Not that she ever cared for me, but it’s still sad. Another Manaan pilot that I knew was killed too.”

“I gave Leo a good shout down earlier. I think we’re gonna need to start teaching or something since they plan on hiring all these new pilots.

“Time to whip these rookies into shape,” she joked. He felt her head on his shoulder. He brushed his hand through her short brown hair.

“I’m terrified, Mark. I won’t show it but I am.” He rubbed her back as she continued. “Our enemy has the power to light a planet on fire. We’ve left our star system behind and are now going into hiding to prepare for what? A counterattack? How can we pull that off?”

“Like you said earlier. I don’t know, but we have to. There is no other option.” She kissed him on the cheek and got up to leave. “Thank you,” she said closing the door. Not after long did he feel himself falling asleep. He couldn’t tell if it was her clearing his mind or simply being close to someone. Either way, he was okay with the comfort this girl provided. He wanted nothing more than for the day to end.

(Kurtis Millette) #12

Chapter Nine: Bitter Taste

TRISTEN

She sat alone in a dark steel-walled cell block. Bars covered the other three sides of her, cold metal to her back, steel floors. Outside this room, more steel. She’d grown tired of steel long ago but it was all there was on the Gladiator. No others were locked up in her prison block and it had been a quiet past couple hours.

Her heart was heavy over what had happened, and she felt no guilt for her harmless crime. Not so much a crime as it was insubordination, but the solution was still to lock her up to think about it without disturbing everyone around. Her crime, refusing to participate in utter genocide.

The doors to the cell on the left opened and a man was thrown in next to her. “You’re lucky we still need information from you otherwise you’d be dead,” a guard said walking away, once the door on the far left closed, she was alone again. Well, except for this new stranger.

He laid down covered in his own blood, silent. She thought he might have passed out. She stood up to look over at him. “Who’s there?” he called out. He was an older man, balding, his beard greying. His skin was a dark tan and his rough tone was one of defeat. There were bandages covering his eyes.

“The sight will come back after a few days. I assume you’re one of the, uh…”

“Kushan,” he responded sitting up against the cell bars. He had bruises all over his near-naked body. Well built for his age, but that didn’t help here.

“I’m so sorry for what was done to your people,” she said hoping he wouldn’t think of her as an enemy. “It was barbaric.”

“Thank you. Do you have a name?”

“Tristen Alaikiir. I’m a fighter pilot, or at least I was. What’s yours?”

“I don’t need one anymore. Just call me old man,” he said. He attempted a laugh but coughed hard. “So why’re you in here?”

“I refused to take part in genocide.” She was not the only one who disagreed with the orders, but the only one willing to refuse and speak up about it. “And you, how’d you end up in here?”

“I saw Scaffold get destroyed. I figured if I was gonna do any damage I’d crash my ship into the carrier’s docking bay. My eject didn’t work. It’s for the best, I guess. Now I don’t have to suffocate watching my world burn.” The head bandages were wet from blood and tears.

“Did you have any family?”

“A son. He was on the Mothership, though. He’s a tough kid.”

“Well, good news for you is the Turanics failed destroying the fleet in the system’s outskirts.” She saw him smile.

“Think they’ll let me live if I ask nicely?” They both laughed.

“You should rest. They’ll be coming for you when you wake.” She felt sorry for this man. He lost his entire world and now couldn’t see the face of the enemy who did it. He climbed clumsily into the bed taking her advice.

It was silent for the next hour. She listened to his pained breathing and stared at the metal ceiling running through the past day over and over.

“Do any of you honestly want to take part in this?” she asked her fellow pilots. “It’s insane!”

“It’s also a direct order from the Emperor himself,” came the first reply.

“What, no cease and desist, no warnings of any kind?” Looking around the room, she saw others had the same expression, but remained silent. “Has the Emperor cleared such a thing with the Galactic Council? You’re talking about the extermination of an entire planet of people.”

“That isn’t for you to judge, you’re a pilot, a grunt. I suggest you follow orders and do what you’re told.”

“No,” she said. “I won’t take part in this. None of you should.”

“You’ll be disobeying a direct order.”

“So be it.”

She heard footsteps approaching again but only one set this time.

“Trix, what’ve you gotten yourself into this time?” It was her wingman. She had a love-hate kind of relationship with him, he always made dirty remarks, even after she kicked his ass for the third time. However, he was more attractive than most of the others on the ship, so it wasn’t a total loss that he kept following her around. He was also the only one there for her when she heard of her parents’ deaths. “You look like ■■■■ by the way.”

“What do you want? I’m not to be released for another few days.” He didn’t defend her position in the meeting. She wasn’t angry at him, really, but at the whole of the group.

“My uncle’s in charge of the prisons too, remember? I could get you out if you do me a small favour.” She knew the kind of favour he was asking, he often did so in front of others to embarrass her. She would still get together with him occasionally, due to him being the only remotely likeable member of the crew. She rolled her eyes.

“Jake, if I suck your dick will you leave me alone? I might bite, though. It’s been a bad day.”

'Hah!" Apparently the old man was awake.

“For you, blondie, it’d be worth it.”

“Pathetic. Go away pig,” she grinned.

“Fine. But in all seriousness, I actually came to tell you that you’ve been taken off the strike force until we get to Hiigara. Captain’s orders, nothing I could say to change his mind.”

“What? That bastard!” She shot to her feet. “You tell that ■■■■■■ I’ll fight him for it. I can take him, the lazy ■■■■ probably hasn’t worked out in a year, and ■■■■■■■ every woman on the ship doesn’t count.”

“Vicious, that’s why I like you. As much as you’re a bitch to me on a daily basis, given I deserve most of it, I do have to give it to you. You’re a far better pilot than I am. From what that guy’s been bragging,” he pointed to the old man, “I hope the captain reconsiders. I’d feel a lot more comfortable out there knowing my squad leader wasn’t gonna be Derek.”

She let out a groan lowering her head to the bars. “He’s worse than you are, what’s the captain on?”

“I don’t know, but when you see him next, please get him to reconsider.” He put his hand through to stroked her hair. “Look, I don’t agree with the ■■■■ they pulled either, but it’s out of your hands. Please try to get back on the captain’s good side. We need you out there.”

“How do you propose I do that?”

“Do you need me to answer that?” he smirked.

“I’m not sleeping with him.”

“Yeah, didn’t think so,” he laughed. “I’ll let you rest. I’ll be back to keep you up to speed when we know more.”

“Thanks, Jake.” She lied back down again once he left. Creaks could be heard in the walls. The ship had taken a real beating from the surface missile defences.

“I’m not sure if you’re into him or if you wanna kill him,” the old man chimed in after a few minutes.

“A little of both, I guess.”

“Reminds me of my wife. And don’t apologize, she’s been gone for years.”

She was glad to have met one of these Kushan. It made her decision feel more justified. It gave a face, even if only one, to the people they slaughtered. She closed her eyes and thought of home. She’d been away far too long. After a short while, she began to fall asleep putting an end to the worst day of her life.


She woke up hearing the guards throw him to the ground back in his cell. “You’ll break eventually,” the guard grunted. She then noticed the smell. She was still in her flight suit and was in serious need of a shower. “And you, glad you’re awake. The captain wants to see you. Get up.”

She listened, wanting more than anything to walk around for a while. She looked down at the old man, bloody and beaten. He had lash marks across his back. The cell door opened up and she was led out uncuffed.

“So listen. Cap’s in a pissy mood right now so I’d behave.”

“Oh, why’s that?”

“Apparently the imperial guard won’t send support to us. We’re low on rations since a missile hit one of the storage cells.” She heard a roar from a deck below and the room shook sending them both to the ground. “What the hell?” Another shake brought down part of the ceiling on his head knocking him unconscious.

When getting back on her feet, she looked back at her cell and to the man still locked up. She made a decision. She wasn’t going to let them torture until they had no more use for him. When she got closer, he was coughing.

She opened his cell with the guard’s keys. “What’s going on?” he asked stumbling along confused .

“I’m not sure, but you’re getting out of here. I know a secret. The walls have hidden maintenance access halls. Mostly it’s wiring and pipes, used for when the ship was being built.” She knocked on each panel until she came on the hollow one. It took effort but she managed to get it to pop open. It probably hadn’t been used for decades. She led him inside and put the panel back in place behind her.

After ten minutes of crawling along, they found a ladder that led to a larger chamber, about the size of a prison cell. It’d have to work as his den.

“It’s better than nothing. You’ll stay up here for now.” His wounds looked bad. “I’ll be back with food and bandages. Keep quiet and you should be fine, no one ever checks these anymore.”

“I’m a little exhausted, I think I’ll sleep.”

“Okay.”

“And kid, thanks.”

She snuck through the maintenance network to where she assumed was a medical supplies room. She lifted a ceiling tile and peeked in. Empty. She dropped to the floor being as quiet as she could. The cabinets, lucky for her, weren’t locked. It had to be quick so nobody would see. She only needed two bottles. After finding them, she decided next was food. That wouldn’t be as easy, as food was probably being guarded due to supply shortages. She jumped from the table up to the ceiling vent, but got caught pulling herself up. Her arm slipped and she fell to the floor tearing her flight suit at the leg. A cry of pain couldn’t be stopped and she hid once able to move. Her leg was torn and she was bleeding.

She held the gash trying to keep quiet. The door opened and footsteps were heard approaching. “Trix? I’ve been looking for you if you’re there.” It was Jake.

“Over here,” she replied. He ran over to her but was shocked by the blood.

“Hold on, I’ll find something.” He ransacked the drawers and cupboards to find some gauze and medical tape, he also found a suture gun. He grabbed a bottle of disinfectant and a roll of paper towels. “Just stay there, I’ll take care of it. Looks pretty bad.”

“It feels pretty bad,” she said.

He went to work cleaning up the wound. A five inch vertical cut. “This is gonna hurt, probably a lot considering we’re rushing it, so bite on this.” He handed her the gauze roll and poured and cleaned out the wound a final time then used the gun to seal it up. She passed through the pain after a minute. “At least you picked the right room for this, so mind me asking what’s going on? I was having breakfast with my uncle when he got a call that the hull buckled on your side of the ship a few floors below you, so I went off to see if you were alright. Found a guard unconscious but you weren’t there, so I didn’t report it in.”

She couldn’t lie to him after he’d possibly saved her from bleeding to death. “I’m hiding the Kushan in the maintenance crawls. There’s a large enough room not too far from here. I felt too guilty to leave him there.”

“So you are a traitor, then?” He looked a little shocked.

“Calm down, Jake. We’re the bad guys here not him. He’s already lost enough. I’d rather kill him myself than let him get tortured any more.”

“Alright, but if they find out, I know nothing of this. I guess we’ll make up an alibi for you.”

“Meet me back in your cell block, it hasn’t been too long so the guard’s probably still out cold.”

He handed her phone back, she wasn’t sure where he got it but remembered his uncle was head of security. She hugged him tight, grateful for helping her. He massaged her neck and kissed her forehead. “I rely on you too, you know. Who else would I pick on?”

She gave him a smile briefly before stepping back. “I’ll have to get food tomorrow, I can’t do much else today. Help me up.”

“Sure thing.”

Once in the ventilation duct, she told him that she’d call if anything was needed. He closed the grate behind her and she headed back to the old man.

He thanked her again for helping him, but she couldn’t stay long. He understood, and went back to sleep. Once returned to the cell block, the guard was indeed still out cold, and Jake was already there waiting.

“Guess we should wake him up,” she said. They nudged him, smacked his cheeks, anything they could think of. “Wonderful. Guess we’ll carry him out,” she said. They each picked a side, and carried him. It didn’t take too long to see an officer, and he rushed over to them.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” he asked.

“The hull breach threw us around a little, he knocked his head pretty hard, me not so much,” she said.

“I was able to wake her up, but not him,” Jake added.

“Listen,” she said, “Cap wants to see me, so if you can help take over for me, that’d be great.”

“Best not to keep him waiting then,” he said grabbing the unconscious guard’s arm.

“I’ll call you when I’m done. Gonna need quite a few drinks after all this crap,” she said. Jake nodded.


It took fifteen minutes to get over to the bridge sector. The ship was in hyperspace, so the captain would be in his office. She knocked. “Come on in,” he said.

“Tristen Alaikiir here on your request.” Captain Valan Corin, called simply Cap by the crew was a larger man who did nothing to maintain his body or hygiene. She smelled him before she opened the door. His teeth yellowed from the cigars he kept a personal stock of, and his beard full-grown and greasy, as was his light-brown hair.

“Right, the pilot. Take a seat,” he said. “Disobeying a direct order and attempting to get others to do the same is enough for a court martial, you know.”

“I am aware.”

“However, we’re currently in a bad way, as you might have guessed by all the damn banging and creaking around the ship. I’ve taken you off the strike force as punishment, however, you will remain on duty as a consultant and strategic planner.”

“With all due respect, I’m the best pilot you have. I think it’s a mistake to take me out of the field because of some personal disagreement we have,” she said, trying to keep as calm mannered as she could with him, any slip up and it could go very wrong.

“You didn’t only speak out against my orders, but against the Emperor’s as well.”

“Yes, but you’re short on staff and not getting any support from the Imperial Guard. At least that’s what I’ve heard.”

“This isn’t a negotiation. I’m a generous man, miss Alaikiir. I could make it so you never fly again in as little as five minutes. I won’t do that, because I do see your talent. It’s needed talent, I’ll give you that much. Which is why you’re allowed to remain on duty. I will not, however, accept any further insubordination from you. Do we have an understanding?”

It was better than nothing, she admitted. “I would still recommend Jake Tyral as my squadron’s new leader. He’s better than Derek at quick thinking.”

Impatiently, he repeated: “Do we have an understanding, miss Alaikiir?”

“Yes, I suppose we do.”


Once back in her room, Jake was there waiting for her. “How’d it go?” he asked.

“I’m off the force but remain on duty as a consultant, so you can still talk to me while out there, but I won’t be able to have your back. I recommended you be the new squad leader, but he didn’t say much about it. We’ll see, I guess.”

“Damn. Ah well, you tried at least.” he put his arms around her, and she buried her face into his chest.

“Damn him, I hope we don’t make too many pit stops before Hiigara, I’d be so pissed if it takes three years to get to fly again.”

“Let’s hope. Listen, you smell absolutely terrible, so how about a shower?” he said.

“Read my mind.”

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(Not actually Jesus Christ) #13

Good as always! :wink:

(Kurtis Millette) #14

I wish these forums had better text formatting options. No way to centre text, no way to justify text, no way to indent paragraphs so instead i’m stuck using ugly double space, etc. But It’s better than nothing, and besides, I have it posted on my website too, which I think I can format it to how I want. Either way, I’ll be uploading epub and pdf files when it’s done anyway after a final edit/check. I have one more chapter nearly done, so it’ll be posted probably tonight.

PS. yes, they did do what you think they did. But I refuse to turn this into ‘one of those’ fanfics. Because I still have a soul.

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(Not actually Jesus Christ) #15

The formatting is quite bad, but simple tools like center are replaced by color and this

(Kurtis Millette) #16

Whoa there’s a ‘spoilers tag’ equivalent? didn’t even know that. I’m sure Sparki will put that to more frequent use than I will, though.

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(Not actually Jesus Christ) #17

I was told by a mod. (Sorry about it but I like spoilers!

(Not actually Jesus Christ) #18

For future use, the tag is here:
[ s p o i l e r ] your text [ / s p o i l e r ] with no spaces.

(Kurtis Millette) #19

Chapter Ten: Mark the Graves

MARK

​It had been two days since the Kharak Genocide. Most of the fleet couldn’t sleep well. Medication was only now being distributed to help and the effects still didn’t show themselves in the faces of everyone in the mess hall that morning.

Jay thought it would be good to get everyone together for breakfast since they were all each other had now, and hadn’t spoken much since the incident. They had most trouble finding out where John was staying. Bridge section, apparently.

“I’ve tasted a lot of horrible ■■■■ in the desert but this is by far the worst tasting thing I’ve ever eaten,” said Isel.

“Right, you’re a Manaan. I’ve been looking at what the crew’s made up of. Many pilots from your clan on here,” John said. “Plenty of Nabaal and Sjet, of course.”

“I think I’m the only Soban pilot. I haven’t met any at the briefings the past couple days,” Mark added. After the first night following the disaster, Leonard called a gathering in the main hangar. It was later announced that training would begin the day after the funeral ceremony, which would be held tonight. He thought it best to allow grieving time. Mark was in command of these sessions and Isel was to be his assistant per his request.

“Do you have ideas for your speech?” Jay asked.

“None so far. I’ve barely started coming to terms with this and I’m supposed to make some inspirational speech. Hah, right.”

Jay hit him on the shoulder. “Think positive, buddy! The entire fleet’ll be listening.” Jay hadn’t talked much about how he was handling it. He had one chance to meet some part of his family and it was taken from him. Mark knew him enough to know that he was repressing whatever pain he felt, still always smiling as if nothing bad has ever happened to him.

“Besides, people already know you thanks to your father, now you can maybe earn their respect for yourself,” he said. That idea he did like.

They continued to eat and talk about how they were doing, find out what they had in common. John’s family had been in the attacked Tray. He was not sure what their status was, names weren’t released yet for the deceased. It was lucky they arrived when they did.

“I’ve also been commissioned to command the first support frigate when we arrive at the asteroid vein. I’m excited about that but it means I won’t see very much of you all on the trip.”

Isel congratulated him in her usual childish manner making the group laugh. It was good to hear people laughing. Mark was not quite there yet, but he enjoyed being around a somewhat cheerful crowd.

“I apologize, but I really have to get to writing that speech. I’ll see you guys before the ceremony.” He smiled and left them to continue their conversation. He did have to do his speech but he also wanted time alone to think over what he planned to do now that he didn’t have a home to go back to. Before going to his room he decided to wander the ship for a while.

The closer he got to the middle, the older everything looked. The walls were rusted and heavily bolted together instead of the sleek smooth walls on the outer sections where his room was. The lighting was a dim orange rather than fluorescent white. He imagined some areas had been built before his dad was born. Only days after launch and the ship was already a floating relic. He noticed a staleness in the air. He sighed and turned around to go back, figuring he’d have better luck planning things out at his desk than wandering the old lonely halls.


The blue lights of the hangar deck where now out save for a dim red glow from the resupply dock. A crowd gathered around a fire kept lit by fuel, as no wood was onboard, and they’d need far too much paper to keep it lit. There was a podium in front where speakers said their words of kindness and read passages from the books of old. Grim and sorrowful faces were seen in most of those attending in person, and there were sure to be many others watching from their rooms.

Mark, he stood alone with the other few Sobani of the crew, most of them high ranking officials working on the bridge levels. He crossed eyes once with Jay’s copilot but he looked away and paid him no further attention. Cromell, chief of security, was also present. He could not recognize any of the others, but many threw him glances of condolence. His father was a well known man and had been the Sa of the Soban following the passing of the previous in his old age.

His friends were all gathered with their respective clans. He saw Jay and John standing together with a crowd of Nabaali. Isel stood with some of the other Manaan pilots.

“Nervous?” a man behind him asked.

“Not much, I know what needs to be said. This crew needs spirit, they need a reason and hope to go with it.”

Mark was invited up to speak after captain Leo shared a few words. Staring out at the crowd felt less nerve racking than he’d expected. Then again, not all that many had their heads raised, or were otherwise watching the flames burn.

“I’m sure I need no introduction. You all know my name, mostly from my father’s. You all know of him, but it’s fair to say I’m the only one who really knew him.” He paused to see that he had the attention of many, confused looks came to him. “We’ve lost many, too many to name or even to count. Our families, our friends, the ones we loved dearly. We haven’t only lost our people. As I stand here and as I’ve seen throughout the halls in all the faces I’ve seen, we’ve lost our spirit.” He now had all the attention. "I lost my father, you lost your idol. A war hero, a man of unparalleled strength. But was he? The man you all know is little more than an image he chooses to show you. You see the victories while I see the sleepless nights, the bottle in hand, and tears in eyes. This is not to say he was a weak man, he was the strongest man I’ve ever met. But not for winning dogfights or securing peace, but for taking on the responsibility of all those lives he’d ended since no one else did, to bear the guilt’s weight for all the death and destruction.

"We’re now the only ones available to hold on this burden. We decide the future of our clans. This is not about some fanatics launching missile threats from desert camps in the middle of nowhere, we are on a long journey to reclaim our rightful home, our original world.

“We are no longer the clans of Kharak. We must move on from that and become greater. Kharak is destroyed and that’s something we will eventually learn to cope with. For now, we have one thing to give our focus, and that’s these new enemies ahead. These Taiidan. The task is a frightening one, possibly even impossible, but this is the only option. Don’t ask if that’s what Markus the Great would have done because he’s not here and won’t be coming back. To our fallen Kushan brothers and sisters, to those of us here today, and for whoever we encounter on our way. All of us stardust, burned into existence anew.” The pilots repeated the line and stomped the deck with each foot. The crowd applauded and he walked back to the other Sobani.

Each clan now proceeded with their own customs and rituals. His clan’s ritual required bloodletting. Each cut the clan crest into their palm and it was collected into a jar. “Mark, it isn’t traditional, but would you do the honours of lighting the blend?” Cromell, a thick bearded man said. Many others were nodding.

“But the Kiith’sa—”

“Was your father, the blood heir to Soban the Red. Lineage has not necessarily been of much importance, but we figured for this special occasion, having said such moving words, that you would be best fit.”

“I don’t know what to say, thank you.”

“Your father was only Soban’sa for a short time, but he had been our friend for many years. He took little pride in his work with us, he did however take pride in you. We can see why quite clearly now.” The group of ten of them bowed, and he did in return. He then noticed the faces were familiar. Possibly from pictures his father had around his house.

The ritual was simple enough. The blood of all friends and family of the deceased pooled their blood into one to signify their unity. After that they wash their hands with a healing solution and wrap the hand in cloth. The jar is topped off with an oil less dense than blood and then the fire from the cremation was used to catch it. It would burn for hours, and the ceremony would be finished when the flames went out. It was not necessary to stay to the end once the flame was lit.

He proceeded to the fire with a torch and lit it in the flames. He walked carefully back to the group gathered in a circle. A young woman held it out to him and nodded. He touched the flame to the liquid and it lit. He blew out the torch and returned it to Cromell.

“Oh flames of our past,” he began, “return our fallen to the air we breathe and send their soul into Sajuuk’s hands so he may shape the next. All of us stardust, burned into existence anew. We remain here as the seeds for all things to come.” The jar was brought over to the fire and placed on the surrounding bricks. Some came to give their own, adding to the pool.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Jay smiling. “Nabaal services are pretty brief so I figured I’d see how you’re doing.”

“I hope I said enough.”

“You said it well, kid.” Jay’s copilot said approaching us. “I picked you for a spoiled runt like your father, but you do have a way with words and with the people. Right now, it’s what they need. But don’t let it get to your head.”

“I’m not sure I’ve met you before but you look familiar for some reason.”

“I am Robert Soban.”

“No way, he thought you were killed,” Mark said in shock. Jay stood confused, wondering what either of them meant.

“I’m your uncle.”


His friends left them to talk alone. The hangar was beginning to clear out; only a few grievers remained. He was told that he had an uncle that died long ago. “Was my father aware?”

“No,” he replied. “I was glad to be out, to start my life over. Markus and I were never on the best terms. When your mother came into the picture it was the end for us. I loved her first but I bet he never mentioned that.” He hadn’t. “She broke my heart and stole my little brother for good. That’s about the last I remember of her.”

“I never met her, so I wouldn’t know. I know he loved her. He blamed himself for her death, never really got over it.”

"You have her eyes. Other than that you’re definitely his son. He pulled out Mark’s necklace. “Where’d you get this?” he asked.

“Not sure, it was the only thing they left me when leaving me to the Paktu couple who raised me.”

“It was hers, she was always wearing it. From her home city Ferin Sha. It’s been a lifetime,” he said. He knew their parents met in Ferin Sha. It was a communal Manaan town that boomed once a year for a festival that lasted weeks. He wasn’t too familiar with it, he’d have to ask Isabella.

“How’d you die? Or not die, I should say. He didn’t ever go into details.”

“I narrowly survived my last mission but was decidedly killed in action. Knowing that, I became someone new. I married, had children, and grew old. Now I’m here.”

“I have cousins?”

“Had. They were not among the ones chosen to leave. As for me, it’s a long story I don’t feel up to sharing.” The room was now the two of them. The fire would burn until the day change in an hour.

Mark hadn’t heard much of him. His father told stories of his mother and their friends, never his uncle. There was only one photograph from when they were in their teens. Maybe he chose to forget him after whatever split them apart, or perhaps he felt guilt about how it turned out. He would never know and now it didn’t matter. Mark said, “Sajuuk’s hand, or our long lost kin. These Taiidan they’ve captured. They look just like us.”

“I heard they didn’t survive the interrogation process,” his uncle said.

“Good. I want no mercy spared on the likes of them.” It was unlike him to hold a grudge, but understandably he made an exception. His life was stolen from him, his home, his family, his love, none of that remained but in memories. Gazing on the dimming light of the fire, he decided he would do what he could to ensure justice is paid and their exodus arrives home safe.

“I’ll see you around, kid. I suggest not to stick around too long. I hear there’s much to do tomorrow.” He didn’t forget. The pilots on the Mothership were for the most part low on combat experience, fresh out of the academy. They were not bad pilots, but the battle at Khar-Selim’s resting grounds showed that coaching was needed. They’ve already lost too many and if they were going to survive the journey a good strike force would he an excellent first step. The first group to train weren’t participating in the fight, having an insufficient number of fighters. That wouldn’t be the case next time, and he wanted to make sure everyone was competent.

He knew the Taiidan were a more sophisticated enemy than the Raiders. They haven’t gone up against their pilots and didn’t know what to expect. The pilots they rescued from low orbit stated they were a formidable opponent. If they weren’t prepared to face a militant and trained enemy attack force they would be in trouble. He took a last glance at the blood jar before turning to leave.

He saw Isel standing off in the dark watching him. Curious, he approached. “I’m exhausted but can’t get to sleep,” she said.

“Who can?” he replied. “No idea what I’m supposed to do tomorrow. I’m hoping we’ll get through the basics easy enough.”

“The fleet’s the best there is, after all.”

“The fleet’s all… Oh, funny.”

“Yet, true.” There was a morbid side to her humour that amused him. Best to joke about tragedy than grieve for the unchangeable. He learned that from seeing how dwelling on it affected his father; he wished he’d never have to contain that kind of sorrow.

“Let’s take a tour around the place,” he suggested. Neither could sleep and there were sure to be many halls left unexplored and many rooms yet unseen in their new home.

(Kurtis Millette) #20

I’m gonna try to get another one done on the 5 hour drive I have to go on tomorrow. It’s turning out rather well, I think. Let me know any criticisms or suggestions you might have, I got one of my friends to read it and pick out all the ‘stupid mistakes’ that I didn’t catch, like accidentally switching to first person in one paragraph, or saying ‘she said’ rather than ‘he said’ and all that crap I don’t have time for.

I’m kidding it’s just laziness


Chapter Eleven: Ruined Ends

ERIC

The night revealed to him many things. The first being he was the last Gaalsien in the fleet, having seen no group of them at the ceremony and knowing none became Sleepers. He instead stood with the Nabaal, the largest group. It was a somber thought despite his poor opinion of his kiith. All the history unknown to the archives, gone. All the tales of old, lost to the Genocide. Many tales he’d known as a child were only told orally. Not only had a people been lost, but a culture. A telling of history. The Gaalsien tales were by far the oldest of Kharak, some dating back to Khar Toba. Some myths date back before then, tales of their banishment and their sin.

He decided as the sole remaining member of the oldest clan in history to create a database of all that was lost that he could remember. Many of the more familiar stories he’d begun writing down. Others he had to approximate, and it pained him the original works were not with him to double check any mistakes he may have made, but he had to continue on anyway.

One of the longer ones was set around the first moments of arrival, titled Khar-Adama, the First Men. The next was a tale of the First Men’s departure from Khar Toba, the perils of trekking north through harsh sands and brutal heat. The others were for the most part non-written tales of their origins, ending in the tale of Hiigara, the lost promised land, their paradise, their home. One of the more known Gaalsien texts, being told in various forms from nearly all kiithid.

He wrote through the night having lost track of time. He’d completed a fifty page set of seventeen stories he remembered almost entirely. He then had to choose a title. He thought about it over a long shower. He came up with one that he decided fitting: Gaalsien Legacy: Vol. 1, and signed it only with his initials. He printed out ten copies to leave at various crowded areas. He would have to be quick about it, he wanted to attend the pilot training session later in the day.

The halls were empty, it was still early when he emerged from his tiny room. The lights were all on but nobody to be seen down any halls he came across. He held the copies, placing them in each of the lobby rooms he passed on his way to work. Most of his job involved wandering the halls ensuring the floor was clean and replacing trash bags in the lobbies. It was easy work for what little money he would require. It also gave him clearance to normally off-limits areas. There was not much interesting to see behind most locked doors, however.

He did get a good idea of the Mothership’s layout. Beneath the main body was entirely dedicated to the Trays and below that at the very base of the ship there were the long range sensors. The main body housed the hangars and pilot and maintenance quarters. Resource containment began at the stern drop off points and storage was along the main body’s hull as an extra armour layer. The prison was also in the aft section. To the bow of the main body was utility ship docking for collectors and research ships, up to a maximum of six each. Towards the top and bottom of the main body was the rest of the crew barracks. Above the main body, the bridge section located outside the main hull, purely an aesthetic decision as it left the entire control centre vulnerable. Inside the hull behind it housed Command and the hyperspace core. That section was highly off-limits, even to him. Just below towards the bow of the bridge was short range sensors and communications. The top housed the hydroponic farms and recycling systems for waste, air, and water.

He figured it was some unknown genius engineer’s design from generations ago, because everything fit perfectly in place. It was amazing.

He had dropped off all copies he had on him and was walking around the pilot housing having completed his morning run. He turned the corner to see the manaan girl leaving Mark’s room. He checked the time, it was still fairly early. He continued his route deciding it none of his business.


Once he returned to his room after his shift, he immediately began sorting out his desk that had become a mess. His computer stored the important files, so the paper scribblings he had for notes weren’t that important anymore. He opened the bottom drawer and dropped them all inside and closed it. None of them were important, as those stories had already been put in a book. He had folders filled with other scribblings, like a list of what to do next. Another folder held his various thoughts for his other project.

He checked the time again, still two hours to go before the pilot training began. “Great, I still have time,” he said to himself. Time to sit down and think.

The ceremony the night before had changed his opinion on Markus Soban. His son’s words spoke to him. He was no great man, but simply a man strong enough to carry a great burden. It does not change what he has done to the Gaalsien, but it does change how he perceived the killer. He now had a less guilty conscience about going to learn how to do exactly what he did from his son.

He gained a deal of respect for him as well. People were listening to his words of hope, and the mood of the ship today was changed. It may have simply been due to the ceremony as a whole, but he certainly had part in it. They needed it. People do not generally recover easily from death of loved ones in great amounts, he knows this from experience.

Not simply his own, but all those around him growing up. After Saju-Ka was destroyed, the survivors joined a Manaani convoy. He still knew who was there, and it took them years to recover, some never really did. Some had lost everything. Mothers, fathers, children, everyone had someone they lost that day. He could still remember it from start to finish.


He woke up one morning at age thirteen, had breakfast with his parents and baby sister at their kitchen table. Their small neighbourhood within the walls of Saju-Ka had about ten thousand people, a significant size for what was essentially a communal refuge town. It was the largest one, and the most significant to their people due to the temple’s importance to them.

“Off to the libraries again today, Eric?” his mother asked.

“Uh huh,” he replied.

“You know, I could use a hand fixing Percy’s roof,” his father said.

“Leaking again?” she said.

“Yup, third time this month. Floor’s turned to mud overnight. Real shame.”

“I haven’t any plans today, why don’t I go help instead. Not afraid of getting a bit dirty,” she laughed. “It’s good that he’s spending so much time there reading. I’m very proud of it, actually.” His mother winked, he smiled.

He finished eating, and was off. The cloth that acted as their front door gave way to a dusty carved tunnel that was their street. It led eastward to an open cavern where light was reflected in from outside in tunnels, and artificial lighting fixtures hung from the top. It was only a short jog until he came to the temple’s inner library building. The receptionists knew him by name at that point and didn’t stop and question him.

He had an uncommon fascination with the old. Every time, he tried to find the oldest-looking book in the section he was in that day, and read through all or most of it. The texts were not allowed to leave the building without permission, and he was too young for a pass anyway, so he read while inside. There were plenty of desks, but he preferred to sit on the washed floors leaning on the aisle shelves.

The day’s choice was Architecture of Sajuuk, and it contained beautiful descriptions of things otherworldly. Nebulas, galaxies, all kinds of things he struggled to understand. The heavens, it said, were filled with all kinds of wonders. Clouds rising extremely high and arching over, greens and pinks everywhere. He didn’t understand what it was all about, or that these things actually existed out in space. He did not even understand that the night sky was only so dark because of how far Kharak’s sun was from the centre of the galaxy, yet he read on anyway.

He was midway through when it happened.

A far off booming sound could be heard overhead, and a siren sounded. He knew what this meant, and put the book back where he got it, and ran. He moved his legs as fast as he could, picking up speed. He ran straight to where all were to go in this situation, the bunkers several stories under the main level.

Hundreds crowded the cavern around the elevator platforms.

“Mom? Dad? Hello?” he yelled, he looked around for them but couldn’t see them. He waited five minutes more and seven explosions later before he decided to check his home.

“Hey kid, stop running, it’s not safe!” someone called. He ignored and continued on.

He ran to his house, stopping to catch his breath before checking inside. Empty. He looked around everywhere, but it being a small carving out of stone, didn’t take longer than seconds to search the whole place. He then remembered they had gone to fix a roof at one of their friends’ house. He knew where it was, and started off towards it, ignoring the booming overhead.

He began crying out of panic, as the bombs became more frequent. He knew their defences would have been sent out at first signs of attack, but clearly missiles were getting through, which scared him. What if the lights go out? What if the ceiling collapses over the main cavern? He stopped thinking about that and kept on running until he no longer could.

The tunnel was caved in three houses before where he needed to be. He dropped to his knees in front of the wall of rocks and sand. He realized his parents and sister were dead. Percy’s roof was leaking, meaning it was probably the weak point of the collapse. His family was covered with the full force of the mountain they were cut into. He cried out this time. He cried out for a long time, he couldn’t tell how long. Tears and dust blurred his vision, and the lights went out.

When he woke up from passing out, he saw a feint light in the distance and followed it. He could not see his hands two feet in front of him, but he could see a dim flicker off ahead, and ran for it. Approaching, it got lighter. He turned the corner and saw that it was coming from the main cavern. He ran to it, and saw why he could see.

The cavern had collapsed, and the temple had been destroyed. The library, the altar, the gallery, all gone underneath several meters of rock. He looked up to the sky and saw it was clear and blue without a cloud to be seen. Awestruck at the sight, he forgot for a moment about the deaths and the destruction. He could see four mounds moving up, and then kept moving up carrying the pile with it.

The elevators were designed to push debris away from the holes before coming back down for everyone to escape. His eyes still red, he went over to them, as there was nothing else to do now.

When he got there, the first group of people had arrived. They were in tears, stunned, or expressionless as they all processed what happened: the temple was gone. Saju-Ka was destroyed, and their homes along with it.

The Gaalsien’sa spoke to all those remaining, roughly three thousand out of ten, and said they were once again forced to face the harshness of the surface. They could not remain in Saju-Ka. The aqueducts were all caved in, and their greenhouse farmland on the surface was all gone. They had no food and no water other than what was available in the shelter, which would only last them a week with rationing.

By the time night had fallen that day, all of them were on the move. Even if survivors remained, there were no tools to dig them out before they would run out of supplies. And he knew, he knew in his heart that his parents would have had quick deaths from the collapse. Others, however, may not have been so fortunate. He was happy to be alive, but he was filled with anger. An anger that seemed would never go away.

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