Out there in the sea of stars a lone ship flew in the dark.
Her captain sat in the command seat looking over the small crew, 1 active pilot, 2 active gunners. Her captain wore a large body covering cloak and an old military cap. He looked silently at the large optical displays and radar scopes. They were all clear for now. In a few weeks they’d be running near an Affini station but their documentation should clear just fine. He turned his head to admire his crew. One of ship’s gunners, Dagger, seemed to be slowly nodding off at his seat, the exhaustion reaching him. It was near a shift change anyways. Her pilot, Knife, on the other hand was alert as always, she didn't like those spinal implants some pilots used so this ship flew manual. Some would argue it was a handicap but the 13 bright red tallies on the side of the gunship said otherwise. Meanwhile the second gunner, Glaive, scanned the consoles and sensors incessantly. Nothing would get by him if he could help it.
The hum of electronics filled the otherwise silent room, though it was broken by the sound of an alert on the Captain’s console. It was simply a message, “Picked up a passing communication, come by to check it out when you can.” Axe didn’t emphasize it was anything of note so the Captain dismissed the message and would go check it out in a few hours. Thankfully the entire mission was almost over and the Captain could rest. It will finally be over......
8 Good Years, 2 putting down roots, 3 under a warzone, 3 under pacification, enough time to finish his work. He looked over the ship's command deck, it was cramped and decaying, but it was filled with life. 35 ship patches lined the ceiling, and 13 lined the floor, little knick knacks here and there. Dagger’s classic bobble head collection, slightly open from the floor storage. Knife’s collection of trophies, 9 metal shards and 2 femurs, morbid, but ultimately a show of comedy considering they were all pulled from her body. Glaive’s own book collection and his stupid posters. One could never go far without seeing some scantily clad woman holding a sword over a barren landscape. He made sure none of it was algorithmic too, all hand made posters from a bygone era. This was all not to mention the extensive modifications the crew had made over the years. Extra handholds, padding, new screens, hidden weapons, armor, the works. Though it did have the funny counter effect of making the ship even more cramped than it was, the command deck was the shared living room of the entire crew. It was where they existed all these years. Where they ate dinner and celebrated birthdays. The rest of the gunship was fine, but this was home. The captain rested easily into his chair, it needed a few replacement parts but much of it was fully functional. It was a high G chair meant to accommodate the hardest maneuvers a ship could pull outside most fighters. The strain also tended to be worse as a result.
The captain looked down at his hand, cracked steel whirring and twisting. He could have gotten one of the new models but he preferred the dull sensors and limited feeling at this point. He could feel the motors as though they were real muscles, though he hadn't had real muscles since the Academy. He grit his teeth as the motors suddenly seized up for a moment. A quick slam into the side of his chair got it working again. He was met by the gaze of his bodyguard, the crew knew her as Brass, short for Brass Knuckles, but she was always Elizabeth to the captain. They knew each other from their childhood and he had never stopped himself from indulging this one vice. Operational security didn't matter much anyways since the fall of the Accord. No more OCNI, just rebels and over zealous gods. Regardless, Elizabeth’s name was never really treated as a secret, she had many names to the crew just as he did. Beth, Betty, BG, Liza, Queen Bee, etc etc. Pretty much everyone knew her by their own nickname. The captain’s main indulgence was sometimes calling her Liz but that was only when they were truly alone together, and well, that hadn’t been for a long time. It must have been out at the Gerrenium ring, a terrible little station, abandoned by the Affini and Accord alike, but it was the perfect base for his band of scoundrels to hole up for a few weeks on “shore” leave. He sighed, as much as he hid from the Compact, he did miss some of the simple decadence they had. He hadn’t had ice cream since he was a child, he wondered if it would still taste as good. He got lost in thought for a moment before being snapped back to attention by Liz. “Hey Cap’ you alright there?”
“Oh yes of course Elizabeth, reminiscing on older days”
“Ah, like that time we beat the shit out of the Redrago Gang on New Cali?”
“No no, something else, thinking about before the academy”
Liz went silent before standing at attention next to him. The three replacement crew began to stream in at this point, some laughs were exchanged as Dagger was woken up, Knife scolded him but Glaive simply asked what he was dreaming so intently about. Dagger had also apparently been drooling. Glaive prodded that he was thinking about some big Affini lady pining after him. Dumb pun. The captain smirked slightly. He loved these small rituals.
The Captain did not leave with the changing of the shift, he stayed here for 18 hours every day only moving when he needed to sleep or check another crew compartment. Liz stood by his side the entire time. He thought about giving out his cabin to the others who had to double up on the bunks, but they had always insisted he needed it. He barely used it anyways. It was comforting to have time to himself, but it also was where he dreamed. Dreams only brought trouble, at least he had good sleep meds. He only had to resort to the Class Z’s they stole on the worst nights. Xenodrugs were like magic, strange incredibly advanced things that always seemed to get the trick done. Only a handful of side effects. He didn't believe that he had touch sensitivity but he made sure to stay clear of the Class A’s in the stash regardless. The rest of the crew liked them at least. He laughed in his own head, a group of “rebels'' all getting doped up on Compact drugs from a dwindling stolen stash when they could just get one from an Affini. But that wasn't the point. Fighting the Affini was pointless, so why not reap in their bounties for themselves even if they had their own agenda. None of the crew here believed in “Free Terra”; it wasn't the point, the mission was. The mission he spent his whole life preparing for. He hadn’t gone through the same culture shock that his grandparents had when they discovered humanity wasn't alone anymore. But he had grown up on ancient books and stories. The Rinians simply opened the floodgates and humanity was now doomed. He knew it 15 years ago as a child.
We were wandering through a dark forest.
Regardless, the changing of the guard was complete now, Sword, Spear and Seax were here. It was a stupid codename joke. These three had supposedly chosen their codenames separately but they ended up all with the letter S. He wouldn't be surprised if they were closer together then they let on. He didn't mind relationships in his crew, it made them closer and he knew none of them would betray him. But he did worry their own collective anxiety might outweigh the mission. It was always an option to get domesticated, he made that very clear to them when this all started to go downhill. Well, less of an option and more of a guarantee after the treaty. The work was nowhere near finished then, but they were too far along to stop. He knew some of his operatives had pledged to stay with him to the end, but he also knew that many were just waiting to go into the arms of the Compact. He didn't complain, it was pointless to truly resist them. They were Gods amongst mortals, and yet that is exactly what the captain sought out to do. It was something so primal he felt vindicated that his ancestors would smile down at him. I will bloody the gods’ noses. Not with a blade, but with plans that cut out their fundamental ideology. Something that would haunt them, and something he would laugh about to the end of his days even if he was high out of his mind. He hoped he wasn't so that he could savor his victory.
He looked over his crew, their ship, their victories and battle scars. Nearly every one of them carried a permanent wound, one they all wore with pride. Liz’s body was nearly entirely metal and chrome at this point. She had the whole works, synthetic muscles, subdermal implants, even an improved circulatory system. One might not notice it looking at her but she was chromed up. Meanwhile all of the Captain’s original limbs were gone, Sword’s eyes had to be replaced, Spear lost a leg and hand, Seax, well... her scars ran deep. Her skin was the price from a torpedo detonation. First burned, then frozen in the void. Frankly she should have died, but she did everything right. Exhale, leave no oxygen in your lungs so they wouldn’t pop, hold yourself as still as possible, weather the pain of boiling oxygen and water on your eyes and skin, pray for someone to grab you. We did, but she nearly didn't make it. That was 2 years ago, at the height of the rebel fight. Seax was clearly traumatized; she couldn't do spacewalks anymore, no one blamed her. Frankly it was at that point the captain thought he should send her to an owner himself. He told her as much. But she refused, she wanted to finish this. He was happy to see the loyalty but also tinged with disappointment.
These were his people and he pushed them to the breaking point every battle. People died, he killed so many. But this crew was what he cared most about, the deaths of others were irrelevant to them and the mission. He stood up, his covering cloak moved slowly through the zero-g, they had been on the float for almost a year at this point. His body could handle hard-g’s in battle, but he feared when they finally had to return to permanent gravity. He liked gravity, it was comforting, but it made his whole body ache, the motors scream in pain and the bolts and binding agents tear. He rubbed his arms, shivering. Liz spoke again
“Where off to captain?”
“I want to check on Miss Axe and Falchion. Can never be too careful.”
“Of course captain”
The two floated through the halls, the ship was so silent, the quiet talking which occupied the sleeping quarters was gone, and the ship had nothing but the occasional creak of the hull. The halls here were in silent running mode, with red lights to preserve energy and reduce thermal signature. The ship was always cold. He liked the cold, but he preferred heat. He was raised in it, even in the climate controlled home the heat was always there and he loved it. Cold was a slow embrace, a dying embrace. It didn't help that cold was the one thing his limbs felt most. Regardless he had powered through it every time they were like this. Even the simple cargo ship facade never truly provided the safety of a black ship against the black void with a cold husk inside. What a lovely ghost.
The captain first arrived at Axe’s quarters, the first of the last 2 people who made up the final remains of the gunship. Axe sat in a small room more akin to a closet. Axe sat there intently with large headphones encompassing her entire head for the most part. Sound canceling headphones, even in the void here sometimes things where too loud. She looked over a cacophony of interfaces and computer screens. The captain floated there silently before Liz tapped Axe on the shoulder, she turned to look at them and gave a nod before removing the headphones. “Karrington...what brings you down to my lovely home”
“I wanted to check if there was anything worth noting, comms or otherwise”
“Well my stomach aches for real food but I suppose I’ll have to settle for block C rations”
“Soon Axe, I promise, just this last run and we’re done.”
“Karrington, you know I don’t care how long we’re out here. I’m done when it's done sir” The captain never liked being called Sir, but it was a formality just like Captain or Commander.
“Of course Axe, I’ll treat you to a steak and brandy the next port we head to”
“Compact or Terran steak?”
“Why don't I leave you in suspense about it”
Axe chuckled softly before speaking again. “One thing did come in Karrington.”
The captain’s eyes narrowed.
“Affini ship got redirected, it's gonna be near our area, supposedly rebel activity has been reported.”
“What do our reports say”
“Unlikely to have any rebel presence sir. Maybe Terran Liberation Militia, but our last report said they got grabbed up 3 months ago here. Maybe there's a hold out on some asteroid station. Maybe a rockhopper gunboat.”
“A lot of maybes”
“Well we are running as silently as possible, that's just off skimming some Affini transmissions that passed us by, of course my Affini is quite rough”
“Skimming off Affini transmissions?”
“Yeah, shot right past us, within a few hundred klicks”
The captain nodded. This was a bad sign, Affini transmissions tended to be direct to direct when within the same system. There was something tailing them and it didn't want to be seen. Or at least something far too close for comfort.
“Let me know if anything changes Axe, keep this quiet, but trouble might be coming.”
“Well, maybe I'll get that steak sooner than we thought.''
Axe laughed, but frankly both of them knew it was hard to say what would happen to them when captured. They might not be lucid enough to remember the promise. Axe might not be directly responsible, but she had lured in far too many rebel ships to their demise with careful signals. The captain could be entirely shot for the simple fact of killing terrans enmasse in skirmishes. The casualty count must at least be a thousand, probably more since a lot of those ships were brimming with crews early on. The early days were roughest. Too many bodies out on the float, and nothing to do for them. Axe shuddered and put on her head phones before the captain said anything, it was too much to think about now. The time would come when she had to worry about it.
The captain simply nodded and before Axe turned away did a simple gesture revealing his hand and tapping his heart twice. This ship’s salute. Heart of the end, beat of the beginning.
The captain passed by the hangar bay, two large Type- G 75 Combat Chassis sat idle, the black and red heads sat looking down at the floor. It was a shame he wouldn't get to use his lovely Delilah again, it was so wonderful to use it at the beginning, but now Affini ships made sure she would never fly or fight again.
Please don't take her apart, let me at least see her again before she’s scrapped. Please!
He mulled over the thought of destroying them on his own terms, but Mercator was Glaive’s armor, he wouldnt take that away from him. The two would go down with the Geist in the same manor, perhaps he might see all three of them again if he gets to be lucid one last time.
The captain floated down with Liz to the engine room and jump drive. Falchion hurriedly moved between the numerous panels and tubes. The engine room was cramped even by normal standards. They had fitted it with as much fuel, drive material and extra maneuvering gear they could get. Falchion wore a heavy winter cloak, teeth occasionally chattering as he moved between the instruments, while most drive rooms ran at cold temperature, this room ran freezing, it helped counteract rapid heating. Falchion’s face was almost entirely invisible, large goggles and padded mask covered it. It was for when the steam hit. It came at random and if you weren't careful it’d boil you alive. But Falchion had always never minded. The captain though had never seen him without the coat, he shuddered at the thought of how many burns and bruises there must have been from the 8-10 G-Burns and the superheating maneuvering thrusters. Falchion also probably had too many head injuries to count, he was told to stay in his burn seat, but he never listened as the engines would break in combat, and someone had to fix it. Never ordered to...simply did. This was the captain’s crew, loyal, motivated and far too willing to sacrifice themselves. The captain sighed loud enough for falchion to turn his head.
“Oh! Commander Karrington! What brings you here?” He lowered his mask and raised the goggles, a clear burn seam was evident from where the two met each other.
“Nothing much Falchion, just checking how she’s looking.”
“Don't worry a thing Commander, Geist will run just fine, won't you girl” He patted the tubing affectionately. Ice cracked and floated off. “She’s ready for her next fight commander! We expecting any trouble?”
Not for now is what the captain wanted to say, but he could never lie to Falchion, he felt too much guilt over his injuries and likely permanent brain damage. The rest of the crew took injuries to their bodies, rarely to their identity and with mental degradation. Sure the fights took a toll on their minds, but to crack and break down the neurons that made us...us. He felt terrible, he hoped an Affini medtech could do something, but he had heard of florets with brain damage, it was...not promising.
“Falchion, I think we may have to spin her up soon. Do you have that letter I gave you?” “Of course commander! I keep it in my underlayer just like you said, itches sometimes”
“Make sure you keep it, and don't open it. The Compact might ask you about it, but it's simply for your own protection not to know.”
“Yes sir!!” He said emphatically.
Falchion’s energy and optimism had never faded, but he worried what might lurk beneath the surface. Falchion returned to working on the engines and running tests for rapid spin up. “Good work Falchion, see you on the other side” “On the other side!” He sang it back, like an old worker song.
As the two returned back to the command deck, Liz grabbed the captain's arm through the cloak.
“Is it time Cap’?”
“I fear it might be, give them 4 hours, let them rest, I think it may be the last time any of us see each other. At least sober”
“Well I always did enjoy it when we got drunk.” Liz smiled.
The captain looked up at her and mustered a wide grin. “Let's show them one last great trick.” “You got it Cap’! Want me to grab the gauss rifle?”
“Let's stick to heated blades, and las rifles, I know you like a challenge Liz”.
“Oh you think I'd win otherwise?” Liz boasted, puffing her chest out.
“Well, if it comes to that I’m sure you'll give them quite a run. Remember what we talked about though.”
“Right right, not until you give the word Cap’, always got a shot to escape.”
He wanted to indulge Liz, but he knew a fight would only make things worse, it wasn't what was gonna happen. A peaceful surrender gave him the best chance to talk with his would-be owner. Of course, a detonator and a nuclear warhead was quite the way to go out if he got scared. So long as they did not have a firebreak. He'd read about them, nasty things for fighting back.
Liz smiled at the Captain, but as he turned away she gently patted her thigh, while everyone had 1 letter, she had two, one of her own make. She might not be the strategic and tactical genius the Captain was, she still had a trick or two up her sleeve.
This was the end.
The captain as he passed by Axe gave a tap and then mouthed the word, Rapture. Axe nodded, the ship’s comms whirred to life and signals were beamed out like an onslaught on the stars themselves. A silent string of numbers and letters. 6. E. Q. U. J. 5. Rolled out into the void. This was it. It was done. The signals would take some time before they reached their destinations across not just this system, but 5 others. Using even the Affini net against itself after a certain point. Hundreds of millions of receivers and destinations, but only so many real destinations.
Laugh in the face of god and he can do nothing to you.
The captain sat back in his command chair, and after 2 hours he donned combat gear, helmet carefully placed at his side. The void would kiss him one last time. After another hour, general alert. All crew to combat readiness. One more hour, and even the reserve crew were ready. All crew had dawned their suits, the ship vented all atmosphere. While the Affini would never use kinetic or energy weapons which would threaten atmosphere integrity this was the Geist. This was standard, not to mention necessary for what was to come.
The hours ticked by, after 5 more tense hours two ships emerged from the void into sensor range, two Affini vessels which dwarfed the gunship in size. The captain laughed, so much for little ole me? The vessels might not be warships, but it was rare almost never that two Affini ships were needed for mop up this late in the game. The resistance was all but gone, terran ships were spent, and running out of places to hide, “traitors” everywhere. Perhaps someone in his crew sold them out, but it was too late now, and even then he didn’t judge them. This was terrible work, their names would never be put to history, but their actions would be immortal.
“All crew to ready positions, prepare T.S.S. Helmador for disintegration. Geist to CODE MAGENTA.” The crew all looked at him and nodded. This was it, we shall all make our peace with our gods and makers. The stars look brightly on them and give them one last shot to make it out.
The void embraced all equally, even gods and slaves.