Friday, 16 October 2009
The quad was quiet, a steady rain pattering down to flatten the straggly grass and form tepid puddles in the hollows. From the surrounding buildings, the chatter of conversation could be heard, muffled by the thick transparent panels which had been cannibalised for use as windows from the wrecked Apocalypse. Its golden bulk, rain-slicked and still shining despite generations of exposure to planetside elements, loomed in the centre of the village like a massive beached whale, half-submerged in the soft earth that had been ploughed up when it landed. Over time, the tailing furrow had filled with water, forming a long lake which was sustained by groundwater pumped up by the refurbished ship’s generators to irrigate the community’s agricultural works.
A Rifter bearing the sunburst logo of the Nova Elite arced through the sooty sky, rain streaming from its rust-coloured hull. An explosion of silt and mud rose as the ship crashed down into the damp soil, its engines spluttering as the craft settled into the muck. Splashing across the field, Komar hurried over and retrieved the painted wooden toy, peering into its clockwork mechanism and blowing the water out.
Wading back through the mud, the short, skinny boy returned to where Nikitta and Nareen sat under the portico outside the school building. Most of the other children had opted to remain indoors out of the damp weather during the midday break, but Niki had been troubled by the sudden appearance of his mother’s sister in the children’s favourite holo-serial. He’d spent most of the last week worrying over it, and his sudden pensiveness concerned his friends.
Nareen hunkered on the swept flagstones with her chin on her knees, absently chewing the end of one of her long dark braids. ‘I wonder what she wants Capt’n Starke to--hey!’ She and Nikitta both yelped as Komar landed feet-first in a large puddle at the edge of the overhang, splashing them.
‘’S easy! She’s gonna ask him to- to help blow up th’ Empress!’ he babbled excitedly. He pulled a key from his shirt pocket and began to wind the toy Rifter’s engine again.
‘Don’t be dumb,’ Nareen retorted, wiping murky water from her shins. ‘You remember how many guys she has?’ Footage from Jamyl Sarum’s coronation had been used in one of the last year’s episodes. The amassed ships of the Imperial Navy had made a grim impression on the children; some had since had occasional nightmares wherein that sea of deadly gold had arrived to reclaim their families.
‘I bet Capt’n Starke could do it—‘
Nikitta glanced up from the patternless whorls he’d been scratching on the flagstones with a twig he’d found. ‘He can’t. The entire R’public can’t kill all the bad guys. If that was really Aunt Tiia… Ma says it was. She must be planning something else.’
A mechanical judder caused the puddles to ripple and brought the children to their feet with alarm. The high-to-low sliding moan of something spinning down, followed by raised voices, drew them around the corner of the school-buildings to where they could see the workers scrambling over the pump-housing rigged up to the wrecked battleship. The constant low hum of the mechanisms and generators had ceased, and the specialists at work seemed calm. The children stood watching a moment, then Komar tugged Nareen’s elbow.
‘They shut the water off?’
The tall girl nodded. ‘I think so.’
‘But we… we need the water…’
Nikitta wrapped his arms around himself, feeling cold from something other than the raindrops trickling down the back of his neck. ‘Something’s going on.’
The scene opens on the office of THE GENERAL, unchanged from STARKE and AVION’s meeting. A holo-projector is flashing a loop of tactical information into the air above the desk; it is largely ignored by the two women standing on either side of the desk. THE GENERAL and TIIA EDGRIET are arguing fiercely, and from time to time their vehement gestures indicate one item or another in the projection.
There is no direct audio, and all the colours in the scene have been washed nearly to greys, indicating it is a flashback to an earlier event.
The day you arrived, Captain, I had a… disagreement with the General. Some intel arrived which… well, it’s kind of important to me. There’s a colony of sorts, just outside Republic space. It was started by a group of escaped slaves whose ship couldn’t go any further. The Amarr have finally noticed this colony and intend to reclaim the inhabitants.
The scene changes to show EDGRIET seated on a munitions crate in a hangar; from the paint-work on the Jaguar in the background, it’s clear the hangar has been allotted to SPACE CAPTAIN STARKE, who along with ALISTAIR AVION is seated on another long metal box labelled ‘Warrior II’. The Sebiestor woman is scowling fiercely.
The General has… made it clear… that she will not permit me to take a task force in to rescue the colonists. The planet lies in Ammatar territory, if you could call it that. You can imagine the fuss they’d kick up with the Republic if we dropped carriers into their space.
STARKE frowns thoughtfully and glances at AVION; the Amarrian looks back before closing his eyes under raised brows, lips pursed. The Brutor nods and turns back to EDGRIET.
We can understand why you would want to rescue these people, but why is it so important that you be the one to do it?
The woman looks down at her hands.
Because that colony is where I grew up, Captain. They aren’t just our people, they’re my family.
AVION leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped as he looks up at EDGRIET.
AVION: (appearing to already know the answer)
So… why not hire mercenaries to rescue your people, if the General won’t allow you to do it personally?
This is exactly why I’ve come to you. Your Elite are only marginally associated with the Republic. I want you to help me.
STARKE: (looking thoughtful)
Won’t the General be angry? Or the Thukkers, for that matter?
Do you think that matters, Captain? My people are in danger. What would you do?
She reaches up and removes the rank pins from the collar of her jacket, smiling at the stunned expressions on the men’s faces.
I’m resigning my commission in the militia. I’ve talked things over with my squadron, and they’re all with me, one-hundred percent. So what do you say, Captain? Will you help me out? Or do I have to hold you at gunpoint first?
STARKE and AVION look at each other, then share a slow grin.
The room was silent for a long, heavily-pregnant moment. Then, like an ocean tide, a roar of voices rose as people turned to one another, confused, worried, frightened.
Leaning back against the wall, Scall’s mind raced, torn between glee that her assessment had been right and numbing terror that it was too little and too late. This is Ammatar space? Why all the Thukker signals, then? The signs of moving caravans had been noticeable for as long as she’d been in charge of the communications setup. That they'd been living so close to a potential enemy without discovery was a miracle in itself; she was grateful that they'd been spared for so long.
Havah sat still, her eyes fixed on her sister’s face in the projection. Perhaps to viewers elsewhere, this was simply an exciting build-up to the end of the season, but to the refugees living on Ubtes VIII, the new development was a hidden message.
Prepare to run. We’re coming for you.
Up at the front of the room, Komar, Nareen and Nikitta knelt in silence, heedless of the commotion around them. They watched transfixed as Tiia presented her rank pins and all those of her pilots to the General with an impassioned resignation speech; as the Nova Elite and former TLF forces prepared for what might possibly be the fight of their lives. The usual drama happened: a hangar tech was caught sending a message to the Amarr warning them of the fleet’s preparations; he was imprisoned but managed to escape, leaving three security officers and a shuttle pilot badly injured.
Not until the final closing scene – where Starke, Avion, Tiia and her second, Imkara Vash, seated around a desk covered with tactical readouts, came to the realisation that they would need to move faster – did any of the three children say anything.
‘The slavers are coming,’ Komar said quietly. Nikitta nodded. The worst nightmare of any Matari child was coming to life.
Would Space Captain Starke arrive in time to save them all?
Tiia Edgriet was overseeing the refitting of her Tempest-class battleship when one of her hangar security officers approached and murmured something in her ear.
‘What? Of course. Let him in.’
The petite Sebiestor turned a minute later to see Alistair Avion crossing the open hangar floor, deftly sidestepping the techs and maintenance drones that scurried this way and that. The Amarrian was dressed, as he did for the show he helped produce, in traditional Brutor captain’s garb. Somehow, the Matari uniform failed to look awkward or out of place on its wearer; perhaps it was the way he carried himself.
‘Mister Avion. What can I do for you?’
He smiled warmly. ‘I was hoping I could ask you a bit about this colony. About how many people are we talking about?’
Tiia frowned and folded her arms, considering. ‘Could be as many as ten thousand by now. There are elderly and babies; they’re not starving down there, and the medical facilities have been maintained well.’
‘On the ship that brought your predecessors there?’
She nodded. ‘Our grandparents kept the ship functioning smoothly, so a lot of their technical skills have been passed down.’
Alistair smiled grimly, knowing all too well the uses of slave aboard Amarrian ships. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘If you don’t mind my asking…’
‘Go on, then.’
He pursed his lips momentarily. ‘If you and a few others left for the Republic—‘
‘They came and picked us up when we applied to the various universities. The Republic knows the colony is there.’
‘Right, right. But if you could leave, why is the rest of the colony still there? Why not request a full-on transport back to civilisation?’
Running her hands over her head to adjust the clips holding her hair back, Tiia frowned. ‘Good question. I think simply because it’s ours, you know? We were stuck there, but within the first two years they had a functioning agriculture setup and had adapted the ship’s working systems to their needs. It’s very backwards… you might call it primitive. But it’s ours, we worked hard for it. It’s something to be proud of.’ She shrugged. ‘We’re a hard, tenacious lot, Mister Avion.’
He chuckled. ‘You certainly are that. Will they know they’re in danger?’
The tiny woman nodded. ‘The kids watch your show, if the sensor array we put in stationary orbit hasn’t already picked up the recon operations. They’ll know.’
On the outskirts of the Ubtes star system, Nimambal gate flashed. The scout-ship decloaked, its bulky form vanishing almost immediately under a covert-ops cloak as it angled towards the eighth planet. Slipping her craft into orbit between the atmosphere layer and the closer of the two moons, the pilot frowned; the signals she’d been told to pinpoint weren’t there anymore.
It took her a solid half-hour’s work running multispectral scans to locate the faint electromagnetic signs of the wrecked Apocalypse’s generators.
‘Command, scout here. Location pinpointed, awaiting further instructions. …Acknowledged.’
The scout moved into a stationary orbit, aligning to provide the fleet with a good warp-in position, and settled in to wait. The Reclamation fleet would arrive soon, to fulfill their holy duty and return the Matari colonists to the Lord’s flock.
To Be Continued Next Week!
Same EVE Time, Same EVE Channel!
This article was first published on EVE-Mag.com – an independent EVE magazine (www.EVE-Mag.com). Reprinted with permission.
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