Four years after the end of the war that destroyed the Earth, Captain Gal Idim and his crew are thrust into a complicated life of crime when the Central Army's Poet Laureate revolts to save his sister...

This is something I've been working on on-and-off for a while now just as a little bit of fun, but I thought I may as well share it since I think the idea is really fun... Let me know what you think, I could be easily persuaded to make this a permanent thing.

This chapter is mainly here to provide some history about the war and set up the atmosphere of the thing. It's written entirely from Gal's point of view but we'll look into everyone else's psyches later on ... it really gets going in Chapter 2!

One: The War

The war hurt us all.

I am the Earth.
Long spinning, revolving.

I have felt the cannons roll overhead,
Gunfire splay across my skin.
The movement of battalions,
Faster than revolution around the sun.

The echoes of lives past resound within me.
The men, the women, the children,
Those who have died upon my plains,
Buried within my belly.

Right side versus left, and then darkness,
And left side into the light.
Friend is foe, and friend again.
Depending whose blood flows in my veins.

War is never ending,
But I can hold only so many bodies.

The poem struck a chord; the last laments of a failing and dying Earth. It was our home, the birthplace of humanity.

The author of that poem had lived on that planet before it was destroyed. I myself had been there once or twice in the good times, but I mostly recalled it for the war. I was a soldier with the United Earth's Central Army.

By the end of the war, I had made Commander. I was given the Golden Compass, the Nations' Cross, and a host of other medals that don't mean much more now than they did then. Then they made me an Admiral.

It was a glamorous life: policy making and meetings, travelling to the interstellar corners, and the women. Gods, the women! Paid to be so sweet, to make a man feel so good, regardless. But it wasn't the life for me; I guess I proved that well enough. Now, I run freight.

After my demotion, they gave me the Ishash'tor, and I run the long haul. We're on our way to Selousa right now. It's about a four week trip from Etar I, even with the coils at full burn.

Etar was the habitable planet closest to Old Earth, just beyond the reach of the Sol system. It was one of the first planets we colonized when humanity first started reaching out into space, and the first place the Central Army landed when we were forced off the Earth. It was forested richly once, but the Central Army's compound covers at least half the world in slate.

Radiating outward, colonies sprang up on tens of different planets in a little over a year. Selousa was one of the more desecrate, and a little more out of the way than most. I've been there before, but I don't like to think about it much. People have a darker nature than most would care to admit, but the outer rim brings it out.

Our cargo bay is holding a year's worth of medical supplies, and about a dozen missionaries. The Missionaria Protectiva still sends its peace-soldiers against the 50-50 odds they'll all be slain for the meat off their bones in the first week after they step out of the Army's stronghold. The missionaries look kind of young, but that's hardly my concern.

So, that's what we're bringing to Selousa, that, and The Poet. It's been a week, and all he does is stare at me. There's something different about The Poet. He's either off or profound, somewhere in between. I can't place him, but some deep part of my brain tells me to watch him. And so I do.

"Gal, where is it you were born? You don't look like Old Earth stock."

It's him – had I been thinking out loud? I turn around slowly from the medi-tainer I was about to move, just to double check that it is The Poet. I sit down on the box, feigning familiarity, but my insides are filled with the fear of ending, in a way not like since the war.

"Indaer." I answer.

"Oh." He chuckles softly, "It's been a long time since I've heard it called that."

"Yeah," I say, rubbing my chin, "There's a lot's changed since the UECs came in."

"Yes, I suppose there have been a number of changes." He pauses, and looks directly at me for the first time. "You fought in the war, did you not, Gal?"

"Yeah." I nod, crossing my arms over my chest, defensively squaring up my shoulders, "Front lines." I turn back to my medi-tainer, I don't like where the conversation is going.

"War is an awful thing." he continues, despite my efforts to ignore him, "But it is also great for the changes it brings."

Does Lucifer taunt? I turn on him quickly, drawing myself right up so he knows I mean business. "Next time, you can be at the front," I spit, "not writing about it." I don't bother to check the reactions of the other passengers as I storm out of the bay; the war is still a sore spot with me.

Yes, the war, it was an odd thing, difficult. It started with the Red Plague only about twenty-five years ago. The Plague was relentless, affecting men and women of all ages, all over the Old Earth. But it was strange; the children weren't affected, not at first.

In the adults, it could cause whole body hyperplasia. In the best cases, lesions and boils showed across the face and hands, and a couple people even survived it, but I don't envy them. The disease spread to the organs, and the result was worse.

It was about five years later they learned what it was: a transgene, a retrovirus. It changed the growth of cells – some proteins were gained, some were lost, entirely new products started showing up. They never figured out where it came from, but there was no doubt it was engineered.

Soon they started to realize the effect it had on children. It didn't just insert into their genome, it changed it in ways no one could ever predict. The children became, for lack of a better word, augmented, genetically enhanced. They became something else; they were stronger, their dexterity increased to almost incomprehensible levels, they were smarter too. I was told they never forgot, even when no one told them a thing, they could know it. I don't know how much of that was propaganda, but they were certainly tough beggars on a battlefield.

Yes, they were the ones the Central Army fought the war against – the augmented children – but you never would have expected it in the beginning. The government offered to help the infected adults and children, and they submitted willingly. Of course, the medical trials weren't always successful, but no one blamed the government – they were doing more than anyone else. A couple of them were cured, but it was more by chance than anything else. They lost so many more.

The disease receded, but the children were still in the government compounds. No one could say what happened in there for certain. Some said the children were being experimented on, and a couple people went so far as to say that the government was trying to figure out how to augment its soldiers without subjecting them to the disease.

When I joined the army, I learned three things about the children: They were trained as soldiers, to fight and kill, and to take orders, all without question. I know they were schooled to operate any weapon in existence at the time, physical or psychological. And, I know some of them were outfitted with mechanical devices under the skin tied in with their neural circuitry. I know they were trained killing machines, and they rebelled.

It was kept very hush, but a group of people broke into the government compound and let them free. The children fled, most of them teens by that time. I was told they blinked in the light, and their clothes were rags, but they were fit, and they ran.

The Central Army gave chase, more than a few good men were wasted on that endeavour. When it became evident the children weren't coming back, after they'd shot down a platoon with a measly -64V, the government attacked.

The war lasted three years. The government kept developing new weapons, up to the manic 200MV laz-cannon. My regiment didn't have much to do with that, but were there in the North when it was deployed.

The augments had accessed the Earth's core, and they were using its energy to build a strong hold. I thought it was spread-mad when my superiors told me they were using it to build a weapon to destroy the planet. But, we went to destroy it all the same.

It didn't take very long. We approached across the frozen earth. Their numbers had dwindled after so much fighting, so they watched but didn't try to stop us.

Alpha-regiment fired the cannon.

The area around the augments' stronghold was surrounded in a kind of force-shield. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. It didn't flicker at all, not like the ones the government had been developing; you couldn't tell it was there.

So, I guess it was our fault, though they did try to stop it when they saw. The force-shield took as much of the power as it could, but it started to buckle, and flared up all manner of colour from green to blue to black. Then the surge started to come back to the cannon.

Turning it off might have been the mistake. As soon as that happened, stored up energy in the force-shield dissipated like a thousand lighting storms in all directions. Bright light shot out of the top and the bottom. It burned a hold straight to the very core of the Earth.

I don't even know what manner of energy was stored down there, but it burned hot, right back up the centre where the settlement had been. And it kept burning.

We had a little more than 20 hours before the underground lava had seeped out and the Earth started to collapse on itself. As many as we could fit, in all of our starships, left the Earth for the last time. Then we watched it implode.

So why did I fight with the C. A.? I guess all I can say is at the time I didn't know most of the truth, and what I had heard was second- or third-hand accounts of what might be going on. And for sure, the Army had its pretty propaganda, and proof of what these kids could do, and I bought into a lot of the things they said could happen.

After the war, I suppose I found myself pretty comfortable. When I found out a little more, I guess I had to weigh my career against some old stories that hardly mattered, now that they were in the past. A government job was a lot easier to get through than disappearing off the grid. There was the incident, of course, when I couldn't take it much more, but they stuck me out here, and I'm as close to independent as a man can get with a paid salary.

Rayne knew me well enough to not upset me at dinner. Kieran, unfortunately, did not.

"So, whaddya know 'bout The Poet." He says to me, his mouth half-full with the resequenced protein they were calling potatoes.

I shove some of the glop into my own mouth, making a point to chew it all the way down. We weren't usually much for manners out this deep, but I could be a real stickler when the time was right.

"Get your damn feet off the table, Kieran." I bark at him. I still have that old Commander's throaty growl in my reserves.

He jumps, I'm glad to see, but his feet are still on the table.

"I know he annoys me only half as much as you do." I say to him. I have to glare at him over the rim of my banged-tin chalice while I take a drink, but they finally slip down. "I know he's getting off at Selousa, and that's all I need to know."

"It's not our concern who we transport." Rayne says sternly to Kieran, and he seems to take a moment's pause.

Oh, Rayne, where would I be without her? I met her on the same ship I left the crushed Earth with. She was part of the ship's crew, hardly involved with what happened, and she was just as devastated and remorseful as I was.

Somehow, she just kept showing up wherever I was in the next couple years. I even pulled a few missions with her. I swear, she even saved my life once when one turned sour, but she would never admit it.

To say the least, I trust her with my life – it's probably the only reason I can get any sleep at night. And she tells me Kieran is a good guy, young as he is, and a damn good Engineer. She trusts him, and I trust her, and so I keep him around.

"All's I'm sayin' is, he's kinda strange." Kieran flashes his hands around his head as if we'll derive some kind of cryptic meaning from them. "I was down in the cargo bay today, an' he was doin' one of 'em old Old Earth martial arts. So, I just flashed him a 'howdy', an' he just looked at me. Didn't say nothin', just watchin' me the whole time."

"It's Tai-Chi." Rayne tells him calmly, "All the Laureates do it. It's supposed to focus them. You probably disturbed him."

Kieran sits back in his chair, crossing his arms. His face looks like he might be ready to argue, but not too sure how yet.

"No, he's right." I say to Rayne, and then I turn to Kieran, "First time he talked to me was today, asking about the war. Other times he just watches, no shame even in that he's following you."

"Yeah. It's like he's tryin' ta read yer mind or summat."

Rayne tries to calm us down: "I wouldn't go that far, Kieran."

"Yeah." I ignore her, nodding, "I had that same thought in the cargo bay today. Like he knew exactly what I was thinking."

"How d'ya think he does it?" Kieran leans over his plate toward me, and we're intense in the conversation.

"I don't know. He can't actually read minds, I'm sure, there's no way."

"Whatdd'ya think he's doin' down on Selousa?"

"They didn't tell me." I sat up, rubbing my chin in thought, "You don't think he's an agent of sorts? Naw, he's a Poet."

"You're both spread." Rayne said, getting up from the table. "He's not in espionage, he writes poetry. Don't even start this talk."

I look at Kieran, and it's the one time we'll ever agree on anything.

"Yeah, but there ain't nothin' wrong with watchin'im. That's just the same as he's doin' ta' us."