Wednesday, January 2

Three of A Kind

The Morningstar's engines hummed especially loudly down in the cargo bay where Chalk, Davin and myself were gearing up to assault, basically, the mining ship which looked like a massive time stained monolith when I last laid eyes on it on the bridge. Here the cargo hold was where, among all the strapped down crates of supplies, large fabrication equipment Jan used for maintaining the ship, and other detritus Davin and I would make our exit.

Aside from other portions of the ship, the cargo bay was a bare bones cavern of a space where the superstructure of the ship was visible along the walls and ceiling. Bright xenon lamps glazed everything in a pure neon white glow. The rest of the ship was like a dank cave by comparison. Jan liked having everything absolutely visible for work purposes. That was good, I suppose; it made putting on this cumbersome EV-suit a little easier. I had just about finished and had only my helmet left to fasten while Davin was fussing about with the dorsal locks on his waist.

God damn suits,” he groaned while trying to fasten the locks in place. His arms flailed about but the bulk of the suit impeded his range of motion. “We can make ships that travel faster than light, engineer custom biology and chemistry, but we can't make a stream lined suit.”

Chalk took the matter into his own hands and completed the fastening of the last lock for Davin. He gave a nod of appreciation to our Ibzaan crewmate.

The both of us together- Davin and myself I mean- looked like two hulking robots with faceted geometic planes forming the shape of our equipment. The gear was a little chipped around the corners, obviously used, but all the systems checked out. This was standard EVA gear excluding one small detail that our allied pirate friends added.

These suits usually came in either a crème color or blue but the pirates had the factory paint stripped and reapplied their own. It was dark violet and accented with black in a digital pattern. This made us harder to see in the backdrop of space.

Chalk looked like a damned commando from some testosterone injected action cinema. He was wearing a cloth bodysuit that was coupled to an anti-kinetic carbon-nano weave armor. That shit would stop almost any small arms gauss-ballistic weapon. On top of that he was wearing a tactical vest that, while didn't exactly fit him, held extra magazines, grenades of varying flavors, and an extra armor plate in the back made from sollitide and titanium.

He had dual 'Vaas-5' machine pistols on each thigh, a BREN-12 semi-auto shotgun holstered behind his neck across his shoulders and a Mark-9 'Raptor' assault rifle slung over his shoulder. This was one Ibzaan who was not fucking around. On top of all that, he had a case of four autonomous 'Reaper' sentry guns augmented with military grade AI. Chalk bent over and grabbed the last of his gear, a pair of goggles that allowed for multi-spectral vision. He had to play with the straps a little bit to get the goggles to conform to his non-Belkuri skull but it worked out well enough.

I'm ready to begin this operation, men.”

Davin picked up his helmet and cradled it in his arms. “You sure you will be able to flank the crew long enough for us to find the data? I mean, it's a big ship and we only have a few suspect places where it would be stored. It could be a while.”

I know what I'm doing, thank you, Davin,” Chalk retorted calmly through his translator. He craned his head over to myself. “We should begin.” He tapped a thin, portable console on the underside of his forearm. Jan promptly responded. “Jan, this is Chalk, how close is the ship to contact with the mining vessel?”

I'm in the final vector now; shouldn't be more than another two minutes.” Chalk cut the signal, straightened up his gear and equipment and picked up the cases containing the sentry guns. “Let's go.”

Davin and I stepped out of the way to let Chalk pass and exit the cargo bay and head for the airlock. Davin and I turned our heads and looked at each other at the same moment and broke out in sarcastic laughter at the seemingly insane thing were were about to partake. We fastened the last notches on our helmets and activated the seals and stood a few meters away from the hulking bay doors in the rear of the ship. I lifted my wrist and tapped my console giving Jan the go to shunt the atmosphere in the bay and open the doors.

The bright white lights dimmed considerably and the magenta cautions lights glazed everything in an reddish pink glow. As the caution lights spun the cargo bay looked like some late night club except for the heavy bass of the dance floor music, only the heavy handed silence of the vacuum of space rang in our ears. The doors to the bay lurched open slowly at first, and as the first minute fissures in between the metal slabs appeared the last vestages of atmosphere sprinted into space as concentrated white wispy ribbons. As the doors opened even further, we could make out the hull of the mining vessel to our left as it seemingly stretched forever away from us and the ebony darkness of space lay just beyond.

The gravity well on the Morningstar was still intact and we made our last few steps to the edge of the ship and leaped into the void.

That strange sinking feeling you get in your gut when you're falling enveloped us as we moved further away from the gravity well of the Morningstar.

Gahhh,” Davin groaned as the full force of zero gravity grabbed hold of him.

Yeah, I've never been one for null grav either, man,” I said.

We floated out and adjusted our on-board maneuvering thrusters to gently guide us toward the mining vessel. It was riddled with notches and piping along it's surface which gave us the ability to pull ourselves along as well as the power of the thrusters; this allowed more ground to be covered in less time.

Jan's voice popped onto the secure feed we had established, “I've secured the docking bay and I'm patching Chalk's signal into our feed. Chalk, you there?”

Of course. I've cleared the Morningstar's gantry and I'm now aboard the mining vessel. Forward looking telemetry indicates an optimal location to – standby!” Suddenly the sounds commotion and grunting filled our earpieces.

Chalk!” Davin shouted, “Chalk, everything alright?”

Chalk's feed was silent sans the droning of static and soft noise of the signal. Davin and I couldn't stop; it was too late for that now. We continued to creep along the hull of the large vessel to the secondary airlock that shown as only twenty meters ahead on our HUD.

...Chalk?” Jan asked softly.

Still nothing.

His feed is still active,” she replied again.

I looked over at Davin who was a meter or so ahead of me, “If he's been made, we're all screwed.”

There's no need for worry; I'm fine.” Chalk's translator chirped over the feed.

Holy shit, man, what happened?” Davin retorted worriedly.

I encountered an unanticipated crewman in the corridor before I could reach my attack position. I don't believe the rest of the crew is aware and I've procured his communications codes. We will now be able to access their shipboard signal feeds.”

Great!” I replied, “We'll need all the advantage we can get.”

Davin and I arrived at the airlock and interfaced with its console to hack the lock. Bypassing it was a trivial matter. The hatch slid open and we crawled inside.

You know, it's a little weird that miners would grow a pair so suddenly,” Davin quipped as he shut the outer doors and cycled the atmosphere.

I know; I'm way ahead of you.” I unfastened my helmet and collapsed it down using it's on-board storage feature. It's made of a smart material that when signaled, is capable of becoming malleable in certain axis', allowing for the helm to compress down as if it were like folding a thick sheet of paper. I stowed it on it's holster on my thigh. Davin did the same.
I think we're dealing with pirates instead of the run-of-the-mill miner.”

I agree,” Davin said.

This is Chalk. I've readied the sentries and fortified my position. Surveillance on their chatter says they are sending a team down to check on their crewman and meet the boarding party- they think I'm you, Jack.”

I took a breath, knowing this was it. Shit was about to get real. “Alright, Chalk; keep 'em busy as long as you can.”

Davin accessed is terminal on the bottom of his wrist. An envelope of the ship's telemetry appeared on his screen. “Alright, they probably have the data stored in the computer core and the nearest terminal access point to us is here,” he said as he pointed to an icon on his screen. “We should head there first.”

I nodded and drew my pistol.

We crept through the dingy corridors of the mining ship keeping alert for anyone who may cross our path or for any sensor arrays that could tip them off to our presence. The interior of the ship was, of course, dirty and bulkheads showed signs of corrosion at their hardpoints. Some of the floor panels creaked as we stepped over them and the amber lights in the corner of the ceiling and walls draped us in the slight fog of the atmosphere which only showed that their environmental systems needed maintenance. The air had a recycled tinge to it and was accented by the familiar chemical odors that I encountered on Evah's ship, but it wasn't as strong there.

It was eerie, creeping around, not hearing or seeing anyone. It gave me the creeps. A ship this size should have one helluva population but it was like an empty shell. We knew that there were people aboard; Chalk told us that. But perhaps we didn't see anyone because that crazy Ibzaan was doing his job and luring them away.

I followed Davin as I tried to cover as much area as possible with my pistol. The ship was like a maze; we never would have known where we were going without the telemetry sensors on our suits. All the hallways and hatches looked the same with only a slight varying of wear and tear on some places than others.

The channel was silent for quite some time and then it suddenly exploded in noise and chatter from Chalk's end. It sound like all hell was breaking loose down there.

I've made contact. Engaging.”

We could hear the rapping sound of automatic gunfire from both sides.

Finally we found the door that led to the room with the computer core access array. I held watch while Davin hacked the console. The door promptly opened with a hydraulic thud and we whisked ourselves inside.

The room was definitely an access point. A single computer terminal dominated the space with a plethora of subterminals surrounding its perimeter. A large, green holographic projection floated a couple inches from the emitter plate. Davin's fingers danced across the control interface and he then used the terminal on his forearm to bypass certain security firewalls and expedite our search. I locked the door to the outside and lowered my guard momentarily.

There wasn't anything I could do at the moment and I decided to network with Chalk's telemetry data to see what he was up against. I wish I hadn't looked. The choke point he'd made his stand led to a junction where four other corridors met. There were so many life signs in the vicinity I could barely make out anything else.

Shit, it's wall to wall in there,” I gasped.

Which is why we have to find that data as quickly as possible; Chalk's got a good kill box going but he's got finite ammo,” Davin added.

No shit.”

The holographic screen flickered and all kinds of data jumped about. Davin installed a data mining AI to quickly sift through the enormous data that a computer core contained. The terminal chirped and the screen stopped on a specific window. “Here it is,” Davin said assuredly, “It's four decks above us.”

Alright let's go.” I started to make my way towards the door when I noticed Davin was still at the terminal. “What's going on; we have the location.”

Davin furrowed his brow. “This doesn't look right.”

What do you mean?”

Four decks above us is the crew barracks. That's what it says right here. Why would sensitive data be there?”

I threw my arms out, obviously in a rush because I was worried about Chalk, “who cares? Let's get there!”

Davin reluctantly disengaged himself and the AI from the terminal and logged out. We unlocked the door and made our way to a maintenance ladder that was a direct shot to the deck we need to go. Besides, taking the lifts would attract attention.

As we climbed the ladder it seemed like every rung we passed three more took it's place. It was also cramped and difficult to move wearing these EV suits.

Chalk here. One sentry is nearly dry of ammo, another has taken damage but still operational. I am one third through my ammo stores,” His channel was blasting gunfire and all kinds of mayhem.

Hang in there Chalk! We've located the data and are on our way to grab it!” I replied hastily.

Excellent,” Chalk replied as he muted his channel.

Finally, we arrived at the deck that was four above our previous location and Davin, who was above me, accessed the hatch and slowly opened it. “Telemetry says this deck is clear for thirty meters.” He pulled himself over to the hatch and crawled out. I followed afterward.

We followed the bread crumbs on Davin's terminal until we reached the barracks door. It opened swiftly and there it all was. Or there they all were I should say.

Oh man.” Davin's voice stuttered for a moment.

I didn't blame him. “Oh shit,” I said bewilderingly.

Before us in the barracks was what must have been at least a third of the mining crew. They were all dead. It looked like they were tossed in here with little care and just piled upon one another like refuse. Some were stripped of their gear, only wearing the barest of clothing. There was a lot of blood on the floor too.

They're wearing their uniforms and gear.” Davin muttered. “Can't say I'm surprised at this; pirates can be inhuman assholes.”

We broke out of our momentary shock and remembered what we were here to do. We cautiously stepped over the bodies and tried to narrow down where the data was by interfacing our terminals with the ship's computer network.

One of the crew must have the data on them. That's why we were pointed here,” I said as I tried to move the bodies with a compromise of care and haste.

I don't think the pirates knew where the data was; or they didn't care,” Davin retorted.

I checked my terminal again and was able to zero in on the body that held the data packet. After pulling away some bodies with Davin's help we uncovered the man who had a terminal on his wrist.

The data's there,” Davin said.

I kneeled down to begin a transfer bridge from the dead crewman's terminal to the Morningstar's computer core by using my own terminal. “I'm accessing his data. Ok I'm bypassed; searching for the packets.”

Our communications channel was once again filled with the fury of combat- Chalk was on the air. “I'm listening in on the enemy chatter. They are aware of our strategy. Combat intensity has diminished here; expect company, Jack!”

Well that's great,” Davin quipped while rolling his eyes.

We're transferring the data now. Jan! Are you receiving?”

Yes. Yes, I'm getting it. Full download should be complete in a few moments. Jack... Davin, get back her now.”

Chalk interceded on the conversation, “ I'll keep them busy here until you two have left the ship.”

Davin and I were already out of the barracks and on our way down the corridor to the ladder access.

Chalk, how are you on ammo? What's your sentry status?” I quietly shouted into the feed.

I'm... I'm fine. Go.”

A solitary man appeared from around the corner up ahead between us and the ladder access. It was a pirate! “Hey! There they are!” He raised his weapon and opened fire. A hail of automatic gauss fire ripped down the corridor tearing through panels and whizzing past us.

Davin and I dove behind nearby bulkheads and returned fire. I managed to quickly dispatch the pirate and he teetered backwards from the weight of the rounds hitting his torso and landed square on his back with a clanky thud on the grated flooring.

Fuck! Let's go!” Davin yelled.

I was right behind him and as we stepped over the dead pirate something caught my eye. I paused as Davin was practically throwing himself into the maintenance hatch. I stepped back to the body and knelt down. We could hear the sounds of more men running down the corridor to the side where the pirate had appeared. Davin looked up at me, “WHAT THE FUCK, JACK!? MOVE IT!!”

Wait!” I yelled back. I pulled back the bloodied miner overalls that the pirate was wearing to reveal what was below. I saw a chain around this guy's neck and did I find? Dog tags. My mouth dropped. “Davin, these guys aren't pirates, they're fucking marines!”

Davin shot me a contorted confused look but the urgency of the situation called for something else. “What? Fuck it, man, let's go!!”

What the hell is going on here!?


Sunday, October 28

Into The Deep

So, the three of us sat there in the quiet hum of the oxygen being pumped through the vents in the bridge. The communication light for the mining ship just outside was silently blinking and waiting for me to turn the mute off and give them their reply. They wanted us to come aboard to obtain the data packet that would reveal the coordinates to Captain Riarstadt's last known position in the DMZ. The only problem was that coming aboard their ship was never agreed to in the original deal- something that Nirov had arranged.

I had locked weapons onto them in an attempt to intimidate these gas miners into relinquishing the data but they remained unnervingly calm through the whole ordeal. My gut was telling me that if we went aboard that ship it would be the last thing I ever did, but I was quickly running out of options.

Davin wasn't much help; he just slouched back in his chair behind me and surrendered any advice he had with his quick exhale. I suppose he wanted to see what I was going to do? I mean I did get us into this, but he chose to go along afterall. Maybe he was busy thinking about Jan. They did just have a bit of a fight and she was a little pissed off at him.

I spun my chair around to face Chalk and Davin behind me. “Guys, we have to think of something! We can't go on board that ship.”

Davin shrugged and smirked a little bit, resigning to whatever option we agreed upon. I glanced over at Chalk just before he spoke.

It appears that going aboard is the only option left, Jack,” he said through his translator, “but perhaps we can build something out of this avenue of thought.” The Ibzaan scratched the broad pallete of his nose as his buggy eyes blinked a for a few moments. “I will come aboard the ship, the crew will be aware of my pressence. You and Davin will exit the ship after we make birth and travel via exosuit along the hull of the mining vessel and enter through a different hatch on the opposite side of the ship's hull.”

Knowing that we were going to be outside in space suddenly caught Davin's attention. He craned his head over in Chalk's direction with an expression of mild surprise.

While you two enter the ship in a clandestine manner I will keep the crew busy in a fire fight. They will likely be lightly armed and easy for me to handle given I can find an area of the ship advantageous for me.”

Davin waved a curious finger in the air, “so when did you decided to get all gung-ho, Chalk? You were an engineer on your father's ship before you joined us.”

I had to agree with Davin on this one. Chalk was tall and, while I didn't know much about Izaan physiology, he didn't look very strong. This idea of his seemed a little crazy. Actually more like suicide. “Chalk,” I said in an unconvinced tone, “your plan sounds rather, what's the word I'm looking for, Davin?”

Insane is the word I believe you're looking for,” he added.

Yes, thanks, insane is what I'd use. How do you plan on doing all this stuff?” I stared at Chalk and he gave me this expression that I couldn't really read. His face is roughly humanoid but I couldn't read him at all this time. If I were to guess it'd be confidence?

I have military training. I simply need to maneuver myself into a position on the ship where I have the crew at a choke point. This will give me tactical leverage against a force of superior numbers. I noticed that when the pirates outfitted this ship they supplied a small cache of small arms and automated sentry equipment. I will be able to use them to great effect during the engagement; provided you two can locate the data packet in the ship's computer core quickly.”

Alright, I'll admit wasn't expecting that from this guy. Davin and I looked at each other and then turned our perplexed expressions back at our alien friend. “How, in the hell did you learn how to do all that?” Davin quipped. “Yeah,” I added.

Ibzaan society requires compulsory tours in the armed services for no less than ten standard years. I completed two tours.”

My mouth fell open involuntarily when this new information was divulged to me. I had literally no idea Chalk was capable of all this, and it made me think back to the escape Jan and I made from Rugburn's ship, given that every Ibzaan crewman was a trained soldier. Had I known that then I probably never would have tried that balls-out escape.

Chalk looked back and forth between myself and Davin. “I am not completely experienced with your species but my instincts tell me that both of your expressions indicate you did not know this about me.”

No. Nooo.” I said rather flatly.

Davin noticed the blinking light on my console. “Jack you better give those guys an answer or they're going to leave.”

I turned around and flipped the mute switch on the communications panel before me. The short chirp of the signal going live again fill the bridge.

What's your decision. Are you coming aboard or what?” The miner's voice was still calm but a bit annoyed now.

I swiveled my head over my shoulder to Chalk, “I hope you know what you're doing,” I whispered.

Yes, we're coming aboard standby.” I flipped the swtich and killed the transmission.

I guess we're committed now,” Davin said as he stood up to leave the bridge. “We're going to need Jan up here to pilot the girl while we're on that ship trying not to die.”

Chalk turned to his console and plied some switches, “I will summon her to the bridge.”

I pulled on the controls for the Morningstar's thrusters and started us toward the large, lumbering mining ship ahead of us. I disarmed the weapons and retracted them back inside the hull of the ship.

As the Morningstar rocked gently as we passed through the mining vessel's magnetic field my mind was still stuck on the eerie calmness of the miner's voice. Why would miners want to change a deal? My time spent with Evah tells me that gas miners aren't the types to do ballsy shit like these guys were pulling. I don't know, I mean everyone is different and there's always the exception to the rule but it just nagged at me for some reason. I knew gas miners were a hardy lot and not ones to pussy about but this almost sounds like the demeanor of... ah shit.



Wednesday, May 30

Ten Years Old

Yesterday I learned some things about Davin that I wasn't sure I wanted to know. Apparently he's got his cross hairs locked on someone and seems pretty dead set on accomplishing that goal at some point. I'd never seen him so intent on anything before; usually he is rather reserved or even cheery, but it was different this time. I wouldn't call what I saw in his eyes as blood thirst but something I might venture at calling revenge. I didn't press the matter any harder, hell I was a little creeped out when he said he wanted to kill someone, but it looked as if revenge was the closest thing I could use to describe is facial demeanor.

As long as I'd known Davin, and that's only been around a year in so far, he'd never shown the kind of personality that fit with the line of work he had . A thief? Smuggler? Assassin even? These things didn't feel like him at all. He was a friendly, if not a silent and intimidating, kind of guy. At first I misconstrued his silent routine as something to be wary of; like a he was some sort of shady career criminal who'd divorced himself from his moral compass long ago. Jan took a liking to him right away and I thought it was just her youthful niavety clouding her judgement, but I suppose I underestimated her. The girl had definitely seen something in Davin that I had missed. Maybe I was just being over protective of Jan; she's my only “family” I have anymore.

I found an old picture of my parents in a directory file buried in one of my old data cans in the bottom of a box of junk brought over from the my old ship. I wasn't looking for it directly, just browsing through old stuff for memory's sake since I had some free time and Davin and Chalk were on the bridge taking care of things. When I loaded the picture up on my screen I was pleasantly surprised and a little sad. It was an old photo from a trip to a colony world in the Freemont system. I was in there too, just a kid about nine or ten. I was leaning against my mom with a big stupid grin on my face. Her hand rested on the side of my head while my Dad had is arm around her waist. I could see from the background that it was at the old Sovereign War Memorial there. They had a big museum of old war machines from back in the day and I had incessantly begged my folks to take me.

As I stared at the image those memories started to flood back. The tickling sweet smell of the Buller bushes that were all over the place and the warm orange-yellow sunlight that kissed our skin. I was so thrilled to be there, it was the most fun I'd ever had. God, we looked so happy in that picture. I was wearing a reproduction of an old G.I. shirt over the one I put on that morning. My Dad bought it for me when we got to the museum. Ha, I wore the shit out of that shirt for years to come.

I stared at the picture for a long damn time. A hull breach couldn't break me out of my revere. As I stared I longed for those memories again. Being with my folks; watching the races with my Dad in his den while my mom cooked up some steaks and talked on the galnet with her girlfriends.

Then, nothing. Blackness. “They're dead,” I thought to myself flatly. Suddenly I wasn't nine anymore and I wasn't happy either. I blinked a few times and reluctantly broke my gaze from the photo and a melancholy sigh crawled from between my lips. My feelings didn't take long to go from remorse to anger. I looked up and stared out my window. I wanted nothing more than to find those who were responsible for my parent's death. I was so pissed off at them. How dare they do that to me! Goddamned Sprykon. Like Davin, part of me wanted revenge and as much as I wanted that I couldn't; my Mother and Father didn't raise me to be that kind of person. And the last thing I wanted to do was go against their memory by doing something they'd have frowned upon.

A chirp of the ship's computer grabbed my attention and then Chalk's voice filled the air. “Jack, we're nearing the MacCKee system. Our contacts have responded to the challenge signal and they're ready for rendezvous.”

Thanks, I'll be up there in a moment.” I started to leave my desk but the picture of me and parents made me stop for a second. I sat back down and set the computer to print the image out. I decided I was going to frame that memory. It was important and something I needed. The doors to the bridge whisked open and I stepped onto the bridge just as Davin had surfaced from metaspace.

The Morningstar spilled out of the ocean and into truespace, blue and violet energetic ribbons of energy blossomed around the hull like white water and then fizzled into nothing. Just beyond us I could make out the speck of the gas miner's ship in the distance.

As we closed to six thousand meters Davin brought the ship to a stop. The miner's vessel looked like a cross between a seaborne container ship and and an industrial complex. It was long and nearly a kilometer. It was a gun metal gray color with a big green and white strip that went around the side of the hull. Like most mining ships it looked like its best days were long behind it. There were dents, blast marks, industrial corrosion everywhere on the hull.

Davin stood up from the command chair and let me take the reigns. He took the seat just behind me to the left at an auxiliary console. While I took stock of the current readings on the multitude of screens before me, Davin began a passive sensor sweep of the surrounding thousand kilometers for any signatures that looked strange. It helped having a military grade sensor suite and a smuggler who knew all the tricks using them. “It appears we're clear,” Davin said, “I can't find anything that would give away a veiled ship.”

Alright, great.”

I plied some of the controls meant for the communications channel that the miners were being held on. The signal popped alive with a chirping quip when I flipped the final switch. “Mining vessel, we've verified your response to the challenge signal and are ready to continue.” I waited for a moment for one of the crew to respond.

There was some nondescript noise on the other end of the signal and then one of the crew sounded off. “Vessel, we have the data package on site,” there was a pause in the man's voice. “You'll need to dock with us.”

Davin groaned quietly but loud enough for me to hear him. I knew why. Docking with them wasn't part of the deal, and why would it be? We just need spacial coordinates and that could be transmitted over.

What?” I asked Davin after I spun my head around to him.

Caracas ran his hand through his frizzled hair slowly, “in my experience, when someone alters the deal in the middle of everything, the outcome is probably not going to be favorable for us.”

I agree.” I said with a subtle nod and unmuted the communication channel. “Meeting in person was not what was arranged. Transmit the data now.” I tried to sound as badass as possible.

The data packet is too large to transmit.”

What the hell? How could coordinates be too large?” I quipped aloud while I threw an incredulous hand in the air.

Chalk spun his chair around. He sat behind me to the right at the engineering station. “That sounds like a bad excuse,” He said through his translator. “Yes, it does.”

We're not going over there; fuck those guys,” I hummed while working the controls before me. Davin cocked his head over to his station and noticed that I had powered the Morningstar's weapons and locked onto the mining ship. “You're locking weapons?” He spat out in mild disbelief. “They're a mining ship, they have no weapons, and before now they didn't think we did either.” Hell would freeze over before I stepped foot on that ship. A smirk snuck onto Davin's face, “Heh, nice. You're thinking like a pirate now.”

I was not fucking around anymore. “Mining vessel, transmit the data now or I will open fire.”

You will forfeit ownership of said data if you do that.” They chipped back. The miner's voice sounded calm and without any sign of stress.

Davin leaned forward and placed his hand on my shoulder, “He's challenging you; he thinks you don't have the guts fire on them.”

Why would they change things?”

Does it matter? They have what we need and now they're being assholes,” Davin retorted.

What if I shoot and they still don't surrender the data?”

Davin's brow furrowed a little bit and he threw his hand around as if he were out of ideas, “I guess you'll have to board their ship and take it by force.”

By force? Do you think I've got a platoon of marines in my cargo hold?” I motioned over my console to the mining ship outside, “they must have at least a crew of a hundred over there and there's four of us.”

Hey, it's your show, man.” Davin resigned to the depths of his seat

I turned my head slowly back to the view of the ship outside that was being so difficult. Suddenly, I wished I could be that ten year old kid in the photo on my wall. I had to make a decision and soon.

Come aboard to receive the packet, this is your last invitation.” The miner's voice crackled through while I had the outbound signal on mute at our end.


Wednesday, April 25

Davin, oh boy...

While on long trips there were two places I spent the most time in the Morningstar: the bridge and my quarters. I did the same thing whether I was in one or the other and that was sleep. Well, I usually slept a little heavier in my quarters because it has, you know, a bed and all, but my chair on the bridge was pretty well broken in and damn comfy, which, by the way, this new chair is not.

This new iteration of my old girl is definitely a step up but there's a few creature comforts that she's missing, my chair being one of them. I wish I knew that Nirov had planned to have my ship replaced because then I could have had some of those comforts transplanted to this new girl. It's not that big of a deal; I'll break in this chair before I know it and this ship will have the same old charm as her younger, skrawnier self.

I had mentioned earlier that this new morningstar came with a medical bay, but that wasn't all she had. There was a new computer core on the first deck that put my old one to shame. It was using the newest hardware from the Commonwealth coreworlds and, like everything else here, was heavily moddified to exceed all of the tollerance parameters of it's of-the-shelf counterparts. To keep this beast of a calculator cool, a 'frost-breath' cooling system was installed. These babies use Owlnuran coolant, the best in the galaxy as I far as I know, which is better than perfect for me.

On the same deck but further down the primary corridor, near the bow of the ship, was a new room too. This looked to be a commons room. It had no door or hatch of any kind so the hallway just spilled into it. This room was outfitted with the usual entertainment accessories. A video display about sixty inches wide that was set in the wall. It didn't look belkuri as it's aesthetics and apparent manner of displaying the picture wasn't standard to anything I'd been accustomed to using.

This thing's sixty inch screen was depressed into the unit about four or five inches and the inner frame had a strip of laser emitters that sat inside that. When I turned it on to see how it worked, the emitters resolved a two dimensional hologram of a screen inside that depression; almost like a card of sorts. It was an effective but interesting means of doing what it was designed to do.
The picture could be turned off and just the sound would play too. There were no speakers or anything noticeable so I figured that when Ashaar's technicians installed all this stuff, they must've used those nano-scale speakers that are imbedded in the lining of the walls.

In the center of the room, whose floor was a step or two below that of the hallway, was a large cushy sofa that had a gentle bend that faced the video display. There were some shelves built into the walls around the parimeter and also some chairs of the same cushy design as the sofa. On every bulkhead there was a light that was flush with the surface whose soft amber glow gently filled the room with a sense of calm.

Those crafty technicians also had the creative idea of gutting one one of the housings for the escape pods and installing- get this- torpedoes. Fucking torpedoes! There were six total of low yield Glazer Mark Eights. Not exactly enough to scare a capital ship, but definitely had the punch to bloody the nose of a destoryer and definitely ruin the day of anything with a smaller hull than that. There was also a magazine of another six built into the superstructure of the ship adjacent to the launcher modual inside the old escape pod housing.

Speaking of weapons, there were four more military grade cannons buried discreetly within the forward hull in this baby. Two were Bransom-Twelve gauss cannons that fire a twelve inch flechette made of a Vallourcarbide blend. Vallourite is very rare but highly saught after because of it's incredibly pourous but extremely strong molecular makeup. Plus Vallourite's other unique property gives it the ability to completely negate anti-kinetic fields; making armor a ship's only defense against it. The stuff is massively expensive on the rare occasion it shows up on the black market, so I better make every shot count.

The other two cannons were directed energy platforms that were a chemical-fusion hybrid partical beam weapon. After some diagnostics, Chalk informed me they could easily match any destroyer nose to nose at full output, but at a cost of maxing out it's dynamos and stressing the ship's drive core after only a few dozen volleys. I'll have to keep that mind. I'd hate to overheat the core because I was trigger happy.

It seriously helps to have pirates on your side, holy shit.
A lot of the ship's lighting was designed to be unobtrusive, at least in the common parts of the ship. In one's quarters the brightness could be adjusted to whatever, but in the hallways, a chilly lavender-blue hue gave everything a frosty, mysterious feeling. I liked it. There was definitely more attitude going on and I was starting to like how these Ashaar guys rolled.

On the other hand I pondered what would compell them to modify this ship with such state-of-the-art weapons and support tech. I'd be stupid to think they didn't have their own motives for this but to expend such funds into this ship must mean they expected a big pay off of some sort. What would that be? And did Nirov know what that was?

I stood outside my quarters, which were moved to the other side of the ship I'm told, to fit the massive gauss cannons. I was trying figuring out some small ideas of what I'd plan next after we arrived at rally point purple, the point in space just outside the old demilitarized zone, or DMZ. Currently we were on schedule to rendezvous with another ship that Nirov told us would transmit the next set of coordinates we'd need to start our search for Captain Riardstedt. Nirov mentioned that our contact was a crew of gas miners; people he'd mentioned a while back when I was on Teague's Doorstop with the gang.

I looked at my tRib and noticed the time left to the waypoint and started for the lift that would take me to the bridge. Wow, a lift. On my ship. I felt so fancy, but I wondered if my ass would start getting fat now that I didn't have those stairs to climb on my old girl. Whatever.

As I got closer to the lift I could hear arguing further down the hall, near Jan's quarters. She didn't sound all that thrilled. Then Davin's voice thundered down the hall like it was a bullet in a barrel. I slowed my pace and decided to eavesdrop a little near the enterance to the lift.

I have told you, many times, that I don't want to talk about that, but you keep bringing it up like you've got selective amnesia!” Davin bellowed.

Because you're important to me! I want to know more about you! I don't care what it is you've done; it's not going to bias me at all. I love you!”

You hang that over me like it means you're entitled to know every bit of minutia about who I am!” Davin shouted.

Their voices started to move into the hallway and I didn't know if I wanted to be caught in the open listening on them. Aw fuck it.

Davin and Jan spilled out into the long corridor at the opposite end of myself. Davin appeared rather red in the face and visibily annoyed and steamrolling himself my way with Jan shuffling behind with a look that emoted frustration and sadness.

I'm not doing that! I've never meant to make you feel guilt; not once! But part of being a couple means we have to trust each other!”

Ohh nice! So, we're moving from the love card to the trust one now? Pullin' out all the stops on this aren't we!” Davin stormed right up to me and rammed his fist on the console for the lift. He didn't even acknowledge my presence. Before I knew I was right in the middle of the maelstrom.

Jan paused just next to him and briefly eyed me before turning her attention back to Davin. I'd known Jan long enough that that glance was of embarassment. She'd never been one to have her personal dealings spill out into the public. Suddenly the lift couldn't come fast enough.

Davin, please!” Jan pleaded; her voice cracked just a bit.

Davin didn't answer. He didn't even look at her; he just stared into the doors of the lift.

Jan withdrew a bit and her demeanor softened. She nodded hastely and folded her arms. “So... you're just gonna shuttup then? Like you always do?” The shallow dimples in her chin appeared and quivered as she began to cry. “Well. Fine,” she said as she turned around and walked back to her quarters. It was no secret that she was starting to sob.

I was tense. Only moments before I decided to be a dickhead and listen in on their drama and now I was feeling like a dickhead. The air in the corridor felt like it'd gotten heavier. It was difficult to speak. Davin briefly watched her walk away and then huffed; still, he seemed to be ignoring my pressence.

The doors to the lift opened after what felt like the ship had as many decks as a battleship. Davin stepped in and slapped his hand and on the button to the deck he wanted. He glanced over in my direction waiting expectantly for me to enter. He appeared calm but had that fire in his eye.

I motioned with my hand that'd wait for the next one, “You can go, I-”, Davin interrupted me, “Get in.” “Ok, sure.”

I gingerly tapped my finger on the button for the bridge but found Davin had already pushed it. The doors wisked shut and the subtle whir of the lift engaged.

I felt a little awkward, needless to say.

I hate it when she does that,” Davin said with the gusto of a missile.

I haven't really been privy to that kind of behavior,” I retorted.

Oh, you're missing out on so much fun!” Davin put his hands on his hips and staired at the lights in the ceiling.

The lift reached the bridge deck and the doors opened. I stepped out first. And made a direct heading to my chair at the front of the bridge. Davin trailed behind me and leaned on the starboard console and staired out the window at the blue energetic void of the ocean, metaspace.

Sometimes I swear I can't stand her,” Davin growled. “That is something I'm definitely privy to,” I added.

She can be so... insistant. It pisses me off!” Davin said. He turned around and sat on the ledge of the console and folded his arms. “But other times, she's fucking amazing.”

Well, I'm not a guru or anything but some people would call that a relationship.”

I wish she'd just stop asking about my past. If I wanted her to know, I'd have told her. You'd think after this many attempts she'd get the idea.”

I turned in my chair a little to face Davin. “Well, that's just Jan. She's stubborn. And she loves you, so she's going to put that extra one percent of effort into cracking you open.”

I'm not comfortable telling her the things she wants to know. And when I decline she thinks I'm being insolent, so then she gets upset, and I don't like seeing her sad. Then we're both upset.”

I was actually just as curous as Jan about Davin's past but I would never have thought that he wouldn't even tell her. He was venting to me right now, though, so maybe I could use this bonding opportunity to get a peek inside. “Is it really that big of an issue? Your past, I mean? I know Jan, she's not going to suddenly toss you in the emotional airlock if you divulge some nasty secret.”

Davin decided to take a seat in the chair next to him and fell into it. “I know she's not that way, but this is about me; it's about my sense of control in life.”

It was quiet on the bridge as I waited for Davin to spill something. Only the purr of the drivecore and subtle hiss of the environmental systems filled the air. “I've lost a lot of control in my life. And having a sense of control is important to me.” Davin said as he looked me in the eye. I nodded gently. “I'm not, I'm not going to never tell her. I will, I just need time.”

How much time?” I asked.

Davin stared out the window again. “Enough time to kill someone.”

Shit. Just. Got. Real.


Thursday, March 22

What Now?

Here we sat. In the galley of my ship. The gang. And by gang I mean myself, Jan, Davin, and Chalk. Nirov would have been with us but he's not the type who 'works the field'; preferring to direct things from Teague's Doorstop than risk life and liberty out here with us. We stopped off at a stellar remnant to let the ship's FTL drive take a breather. The hissing noise of the stellar corpse we put the Morningstar into orbit is providing a good shield from detection by wandering ISF patrols or anyone else.

Kind of a strange journey to the DMZ so far. Things have been rather normal on the ship and given all the shit that's been happening I find normalcy a little unnerving. Jan has been glowing a like a nuclear fuel rod ever since Davin returned and Chalk, I've discovered, is a bit of a loner; off doing his own thing in his quarters most of the time. Maybe he just can't relate to a species whose eyes don't have tiny stalks behind them.

We sat at the table in the galley sharing some beer reveling in small talk really. It's weird, frankly, that everyone is so 'ho-hum' given we're heading into a war zone to find a woman who might or might not be dead. I guess pretending to ignore the ineventable is this group's way of dealing with stress or fear. Maybe both.

I hadn't written much. That's obvious. Mostly because there wasn't really anything to go on about- well and that Nirov insisted on a communications blackout. I guess the only thing worth mentioning is that the old Morningstar- my Morningstar- is gone. She had encured too much damage and was under equiped to deal with the demands that were required of my life of late.

Back at Teague's we stripped as much as we could from her super structure before he sold her corpse for scrap to a local salvage barge that came by to pick her up. It sucked seeing her now naked shell being towed into the belly of the barge. We had a lot of history together, but as things go in life nothing is forever- or certain.

The weird part is that my new ship is still called the Morningstar and she even looks just like my old Morningstar. But I don't own this one- the Ashaar Pirate clan does. That's because this current iteration of my ship is an XT model Quasar cruiser. Basically the same model but one teir higher in badassness than mine.

She's the exact same proporsions but now forty percent larger- with an extra deck, and thirty percent faster- if you can believe that. My old ride was one fast ship. There's also some other aftermarket features that the pirates took the liberty of adding to this vessel. Namely military grade weapons and sensor suites and electronic warfare packages. She's had her original factory plating stripped and replaced with armor. They added the original pearl-white paint scheme except for some orange graphics on the perimeter of the hull. I guess the boys who modified this girl wanted to give her a little flair. I like it.

I asked Nirov why the Ashaar were so willing to expend so much financial resources into this ship and then hand it over to me. The only thing he said to me was that the pirates have their own interests in Nirov's vision for the Commonwealth and that that was as much as he could tell me. Sooo now Nirov's colluding with pirates? See, this is why I don't like hanging around Nirov so much. It also made me wonder what side I was really helping.

Nirov had stressed his dislike the direction the Commonwealth was going and that he wanted to wring out the contempt and distrust the government had been festering; returning it to an open government that didn't keep it's citizens in the dark; to have a government with no secrets. But pirates? How are they going to help achieve that? And surely there a cost- there's always a cost when it comes to pirates. It sounds like Nirov's trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.

Like I said earlier, Jan was like a little kid in candy store when the new Morningstar rolled into dock. She'd been pouring over every bulkhead and computer system and basically drooling at everything. Something like this would definitely distract a girl like her from the approaching warzone.

Chalk was impressed with the modifications of the ship but not in such a passionate way as Jan. I've learned over the time he's been with us that he's a fairly reserved person and really only speaks when he feels it's necessary. I don't really think engineering is something that he is all that inerested in but does it because it's what he knows. After all, he was basically conscripted by his father to work on his ship. Now he spends his free time in his quarters with the door closed. I'm not really sure what he does in there. All I know is he's quiet. Unlike Jan, who blasts her music so loud I'm sure the Ry-Q can hear it on the other side of the Galaxy.

I've had a few moments during the trip to chat with Davin. He's an interesting guy. I had him figured wrong when we first met. The man is quite charismatic and very intelligent, but seems to always divert conversation away from matters of family which has me rather curious. What happened that makes him so reluctant to talk about it? Out of all of us the only person who has any chance of knowing anything would be Jan, but Davin can have a tough shell when necessary.

While Jan and Davin small talked Chalk stood up and returned to his quarters to do whatever it is he does, leaving me to be the third wheel in the couple's convestation on post war plans.

Jan took a sip of her drink and her eyes glared up at the ceiling as she thought about what the future could hold for her. “I'm not sure, really.” She puckered her lips to the righ of her mought as she continued to think about it. “I think I'll probably be doing the same thing; being Jack's engineer I guess.” She pivoted her head over to me and asked the same question. At this point, I was just a passive observer but I guess now that I was on the spot I had better think of something. “Not in jail,” was all I could think at the time. Jan frowned a little now that I'd brought everyone back to reality. It was unintentional but that's honestly all that I could think about at the moment.

I've been in jail before, Jack. Don't worry about it; you won't end up there.” Davin reassured from across the table.

I half grinned and decided that since I'd just tanked the mood I'd take my leave and wander back to my bed and relax.


Monday, January 24

Three Months and A Trip To Hell.

A lot of time has passed. In that time there were near misses and direct hits among all the events that transpired and even some time for love and solace. But inside all of that I learned a lot about that stealth fleet. It seems the hole I'm falling down seems to get deeper and deeper with every revelation.

I've been getting used to my new ship pretty easily and Jan loves everything about it. It doesn't have the charm of the Morningstar but I think those things come with age.

I like my quarters. About the same as before but this one has that factory smell in the air. It'll pass over time as well.

Right now, we're headed to the Demilitarized Zone, the front line of the war with the Sprykon Empire. From the news reels it doesn't look pretty. It's been a war of attrition for the last six months. I've never seen the Sprykon put up this kind of fight before- I don't think anyone in the Commonwealth has. It made me wonder if Jan's Grandfather saw this type of thing in the first Border War fifty years ago.

Jan rapped a couple knuckles on the bulkhead between my room and the hall outside as she poked her head in. “You free? Chalk, Davin and I are gonna dinner soon.”

You go on,” I said, “I've got to update this entry. It's been a while.”

You haven't written in that thing since Teague's Doorstop, Jack.”

Ugh I know; don't remind me.”

Jan grinned and disappeared from the entryway.

Teague's Doorstop seems like forever ago but it's only been a few months. Funny how time seems to be so fluid like that- one moment it speeds by and next minutes seem like hours. I suppose I had my fair share of adventure to keep me distracted and it was the doing of Nirov that provided it.

I never became comfortable being around Nirov. He kind of creeped me out; like he was always holding an extra card up his sleeve. His calculating nature seemed to warrant such behavior but nevertheless, I wasn't a fan and made my contact with him as brief as possible. It was a real balancing act, though. He was a powerful man and had a lot of influence in different sectors of politics and industry. I had to admit I was a bit impressed with network he'd built for himself even though he wasn't that high an officer in the military.

The time that I did spend with him I tried to meet as many people as possible. Nirov didn't seem to mind too much but his cohorts mostly entertained me for Nirov's sake. Despite my efforts I ultimately felt like that guy in the bar hitting on the girl way out of his league and she giving me her 'name'. I'm not sure these contacts would ever pan out and I will likely put them on the plan 'D' list.

Although one person I didn't mind hanging around was my friend Evah. During my time operating off Teague's Doorstop she routinely made port and even worked out a nice trade deal with one of Nirov's industrial contacts for some 'back room' trading.

There was one time she and I took a trip out to a remote location in Outspace. Jan kept refering to it as a date, but I wouldn't think of it like that. Anyways, it was this beautiful white dwarf star nestled deep inside it's blown off outer layer of constituent gases. Over time it had gathered interstellar debris to create this jagged necklace of asteroids and half sheared dwarf planets.

Everything gave had this icy blue glow with wisps of green gas filaments that leisurely wrapped around the star like ribbons.

The pirate's call it The Devil's Pearl,” Evah added after a few moments of soaking up the view from the observation deck of the Gossamer Willow.

That name doesn't really seem to fit what I'm looking at,” I retorted.

Oh it's an old pirate name. Back before astrometric algorithms were improved to make adjustments to filter magnetic noise from K1 type white dwarfs, pirates would often try to use the cloud debris surrounding the star to hide from rivals or whoever. The problem was that the computers at the time couldn't parse all the noise from the magnetic field to lay in a correct course trajectory. Pirates would find themselves in deep shit.”

So why did they go in here in the first place? Wouldn't they know it was a dangerous star?” I asked.

In that time the subtle differences of K1 and K types white dwarfs hadn't been clarified. And on top of the fact that K1's are quite rare to begin with.”

So have you ever had to hide here?” I said with a smirk.

Evah grinned slightly, “No. But I sometimes come here when I want to be alone.”

I put my arm around her waist and held her near me. “I hate to break it to you, Evah but you're not alone this time.”

Evah coyly gazed up at me and gave me the look and I softly held her cheek with my other hand and pressed my lips to her's. We spent some more time in the lounge with her in my arms. We exchanged some stories and more kisses before we retired to her room for the night.

I'm sure I'll see her again. The matter is when given how long we'll be in the DMZ. It sounds crazy to be going there – where open fighting is the new norm in an eighteen thousand lightyear strip of space- but our current objective lies in that direction.

While in Nirov's base of operations inside Teague's Doorstop we learned of a certain individual in the DMZ that could be the nail in the coffin for the Commonwealth government. And Nirov was excited at that prospect.

His 'war room' as he noted it, was really just a converted cargo bay they lay deep inside Teague's. It was shielded from eavesdropping technology because of the cocktail of different ores in the sediment and only had two ways in or out.

As like all the rest of the station the lighting was dim and red. Only desk lamps really emitted the light worth seeing with. The chamber was scattered with computer equipment, military in origin, that had been jury rigged to the stations primary power generators. Many of Nirov's loyalist 'ex-pats', as they referred to themselves, commanded the myriad of consoles doing I don't know what.

Off to one corner of the bay was a large circular table that projected holographic consoles and other imagery where Nirov could conduct wide scale plans or network with other people friendly to his cause. This section of the room was also equipped with an anti-vocal amplifier that could cancel out the noise outside of the field and vice verse.

I remember clearly standing at that table many times with Nirov and Davin working out ideas and plans for the immediate future. It was the same spot where I learned I'd be going to the DMZ.

Given the intelligence I have on hand. I would have to conclude that that chances of us finding this person aren't good,” Nirov spoke aloud as he studied the streaming information floating above the table before him.

It's still very possible. It's not like we're looking at one in a thousand odds here,” Davin through back as he leaned against a power conduit across from Nirov.

Nirov nodded vigorously. “I know that. But we have to go into this with the attitude that we may not find her at all. The DMZ is very big.”

I leaned on the table with my hands and I admit, I was a little dubious of this whole thing. “Nirov, the intel is based on the merit of a few gas miners and a faint signal, so yeah, I wouldn't say the odds aren't one in a thousand but more like one in a million. Are we really gonna risk sticking our asses out in the wind for this?”

My lead analyst confirms that the signal will strengthen as we near it's source and the information from the gas miners appears legitimate enough to make an operation worthwhile.” Nirov replied while he manipulated some information before him.

Everyone thinks she's dead, Nirov.” I said flatly. I had to make sure that Nirov knew what he- what we were getting ourselves into. This place we are going to is a war zone for God's sake. “It's been over a year since the news came out; what makes you think Captain Riarstedt is still alive?”

Davin quietly looked over at Nirov waiting for his answer. His safety was at risk just as much as anyone else's at the table, not to mention he's already a wanted criminal.

Nirov paused for a moment and thought. “A gut feeling. I know that sounds horrible, but I've always followed my instincts and they've never let me down before. And the manner and timing which she vanished just doesn't feel right. This whole war doesn't feel right. If Captain Riarstedlt is a piece of this whole puzzle then we have to take that risk.”

I remained silent and I peered over at Davin to see his reaction but he looked to be less thrilled than before.

Nirov promptly accessed the a news archive of the SCNA, the news conglomerate that covered the story. “Look at this. She disappeared while patrolling the DMZ in response to the fleet build up by the Sprykons. Not to mention that she's missing not dead. Even if you look up the casualty roster from the war she's not listed on the death lists.”

She went missing before the war officially started, though. And how does she connect to what we learned about the stealth fleet?” Davin asked.

Nirov threw out an irritated wrinkle on his forehead, “when she went miss is irrelevant, the point it's very possible she's alive.”

Okay, but what makes her relevant to the stealth fleet?” I repeated.

That's why we have to find her. It's the manner she vanished and the time that it happened that is giving me this instinct she could be connected.”

Think about it, guys. We've all seen first hand how the government will lie to it's people to meet it's own ends. That's not the Commonwealth I swore an oath to when I joined up. That's why all the people who follow me expatriated themselves. It's why you're wanted and looking for justice for your family,” Nirov turned to Davin, “and why you're living the life you live.”

Davin sighed, “well, fuck it.”

I guess we're going to look for Ashli.”