Kane's Field: Celestial Graveyard
Somewhere in the darkness of space, a buoy floated gently. Most buoys of its kind were mere signal relays, receiving information and passing it on. This particular buoy, though, also served as a place marker, a sort of road mark showing you where you are. In this case, in the middle of nowhere, a patch of nothing, a mere speck of empty space.
If you were to sit inside a small globe a couple of thousand kilometres away, you wouldn't even see the buoy. But you would see those who used it. You would see three, four, five heavily armed battleships suddenly appearing, blinking into existence out of nowhere. You would see the ships slowly, almost carefully, arrange themselves into a circle formation, the bows of the ships pointing outwards, much like wagon trains on the great would thousands of years ago when the travellers wanted to defend themselves against attacks from outside the circle. And then you would wait. The ships would stay like this for nearly an hour. Then, the crews apparently satisfied that there was no one around (except you, that is), they would arrange themselves into a more conventional formation for a battle group and start their patrol.
And then it would happen. Dropping out of cloak, eight battleships identical to those who had arrived earlier would start firing. Missiles, torpedoes, fighters and bombers would swoop down on the ambushed ships that, without any time to prepare, would quickly be destroyed. Crewmembers abandoned the burning wrecks slowly turning and spiralling out of control. Fighters picked off the escape pods. No mercy. Not for anyone.
After the brief battle—no, slaughter—several of the cloaked ships would fly in among the wreckages, looking for electronic or biological signatures of anyone still alive and able to fight or tell the tale of what had happened. One of them found a couple of escape pods hiding inside a massive, destroyed engine. They too were swiftly eliminated.
The only ship not to search for survivors was the leading ship, the one that had come out of hiding first. The one that was captained by the ruthless man who had ordered the destruction and murder of any survivors, the man who would not hesitate to kill anyone who stood in his way toward his goal, the man who had once vowed to destroy a civilization in a completely different galaxy. The man who, upon finding travellers from the other galaxy, immediately had half of them eliminated.
At this point, your globe would be found, and you would be executed for espionage.
Aren't you glad you're not out there?
Isaac Autia smiled. Yet another Imperial patrol had fallen victim to an ambush, proving their lack of attention in this particular area. To them, it was unthinkable that they could be attacked so close to the capital system, the very centre of the Empire. True, it was fairly close to a rather nasty asteroid belt that had claimed an incalculable number of ships, but this was valuable information. There weren't even any gun platforms out here. It was an easily exploitable piece of space that, if used at the right time, could lead them directly to the planet Rydan and the throne of The Emperor.
"Report," he said quietly when he heard the tiny footsteps of his second. He ran a tight, quiet ship.
"Complete victory, sir," said his second happily. "We jammed their signals right before we dropped out of cloak, preventing them from telling their HQ what was going on. No one knows they were attacked."
"Survivors?" asked Isaac, staring at the still burning hulks.
"Good. Radio the other ships and tell them we're to meet at the usual coordinates. Take us away from here."
"Yes sir." The second turned to walk away, but stopped after a couple of steps, hesitant.
Isaac picked up on this and sighed. "What is it, lieutenant?"
"Sir, with all due respect, this doesn't feel right," said the lieutenant with a downcast face, his voice barely above a whisper. "Fighting our own countrymen…"
"Lieutenant, we've been betrayed," said Isaac, putting his hand on his second's shoulder in a kind gesture. "The traitors are so far up the command chain that there is no other way for us to root them out than to actively fight back until we find a path Home. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they reached as far up as The Emperor. It is unfortunate that we must fight our own to do so, but we're doing it for the greater good. The traitors must be eliminated. And, to be fair, two years ago we were still fighting our own countrymen."
"Excuse me, sir?" asked the lieutenant.
"You think the rebels are from some alien galaxy, lieutenant?" asked Isaac. "In some form or another, all the rebels originated from our fair planet."
"Then why aren't we joining forces with them, sir? They have far more ships, personnel and weapons."
"Because they are misguided in their struggle, lieutenant, and they have different goals than we do. A disagreement in doctrine and ultimate target is dangerous between allies, and something we should avoid. Besides, when we are done with the traitors, we must turn our attention to rooting the rebels out as well. We cannot have them running around and causing trouble while we remove the rot that has settled deep in our government." He looked at his second, who seemed to be deep in thought. "Did that help, lieutenant?"
His second looked up, steeled his face and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Isaac nodded as well. "Good. Now, get us out of here. I don't like lingering in one place for too long."
The second stalked off, leaving the elderly captain alone in front of the large glass window. He always felt so peaceful when he looked upon battlefields in the aftermath. Broken ships, weapons and bodies floating all around, sometimes bouncing into each other. Very calming. He was beginning to worry about his second, though. The lieutenant was the kind that questioned his superior officer's orders, a dangerous breed if they were of the confident kind—which is basically an attribute one needs to have in order to rise among the ranks in the navy.
Isaac made a note to keep the officer under watch. If he vented his doubts to as much as a single person, an infection was already taking place. The opinions would spread, causing a schism between the loyal crewmembers and the new, traitorous rebels. It had happened to one of his precious few ships already, and Isaac would not lose another ship to differing opinions. It was a pity; the officer had showed such promise.
"Ah, the burden of command," he muttered.
Jas had never seen anything like it. Fair enough, he had never been in space before, so pretty much everything he saw was new to him, but this was truly amazing. The orbital shipyard, currently framed by the gigantic blue gas giant behind it, glistened, the shiny metal creating many sparkling lights that dazzled Jas with the glow of a thousand stars.
"Amazing, isn't it?" asked a voice suddenly. Jas spun around quickly, coming face to face with Zean. He fought his beating heart down and nodded.
"I couldn't even imagine this stuff in my dreams." He turned around again and gazed at the cruiser that was docking. "How many ships are there?"
Zean stepped closer to the window, doing quick calculations in his head. "A couple hundred, I guess. Most of them are useless right now since they're too damaged or unarmed."
"Then what's protecting them from attacks?"
"Apart from the fact that this place doesn't exist yet on the Empire's charts?" asked Zean. "This station, for example," he said and motioned around him. "It's got the firepower of…well, I'm not exactly sure, but it's pretty damn powerful. Also, there are a couple dozen cruisers standing by in the hangar in case of trouble."
They stood in silence for a while. There was something utterly peaceful about staring into space…especially if an armada capable of wiping out a couple of solar systems were berthed right in front of them.
"Where's your escort?" asked Zean suddenly.
"Don't have any. I've been declared psychologically healthy by the doctors," said Jas. He turned around and faced Zean again. "I've been given quarters with others from Sonna who has been cleared as well."
"Oh, that's good," said Zean. "Long-term hospital stays are the worst."
"Listen, I never really had a chance to thank you for coming to talk to me the other day. I really needed that talk…and…well, thank you." He held out a hand, which Zean shook gladly.
"You're welcome," said the captain. "Truth to be told, I…well, it's been a while since I've been able to talk to that to anyone. A friend of mine, the aforementioned Captain Asshole, hasn't been available lately."
"That reminds me," said Jas suddenly and looked at Zean with a pleading expression. "You never told me the rest of the story."
Zean smiled. "Well, I'll gladly finish it, but not here. I've been standing around all day, and my feet are aching for a sit. Let's go to the bar."
Along the way, Jas could feel stares directed both at him and the kind captain. Most of the stares directed at Jas were those of sympathy and pity, which he could do without. If he could get over the death of his parents and a large part of the population on the planet he had lived one once, the so could they. To his surprise though, many of the stares directed at Zean were those of mistrust and suspicion, some barely suppressed hate.
Zean noticed it too, as well as Jas' confused expression. "They hate me for getting so many people killed," he murmured.
"But…you're one of the most respected people here," said Jas quietly. "I heard so on the P.A. systems, that your glorious struggle—"
"Propaganda, kid," said Zean. "It's one of the greatest weapons there is, but it's rapidly getting antiquated. Most of the officers stand behind me, most of them feeling they would have done the same as I did, but most of the people on this level are engineers, soldiers and so on. They don't quite see eye to eye with the commanding staff." Zean looked bothered for a second. "The worst part is that I'm not allowed to make any statements so I can at least try to explain what happened and why I did what I did."
"That's so unfair!" exclaimed Jas. He covered his mouth with his hand, his eyes wide. He hadn't meant to shout it.
Zean looked at him with a gaze filled with unsaid gratefulness. "That's the way the world works, Jas. It's unfair, always against you. The best we can do is endure the lows and appreciate the highs while we can." He punched a button on the wall, and a door slid open, revealing a noisy, smoke-filled bar. They headed inside.
Zean told Jas to find an unoccupied table while he ordered drinks. He found a small table for two in the back, close to the restrooms. He eyed the mucky floor with distaste. Someone hadn't washed the place for years, it seemed. He observed the place. Most of the patrons were drunk. Very drunk. So drunk that, if one of them was asked to place their foot against their knee, they wouldn't find it. Some were also looking at Zean with ill-concealed disgust. The captain didn't seem to mind as he wandered through the crowds, looking for Jas. He spotted him and dumped two large glasses filled with some kind of frothy drink on the table.
"They're running out of the good stuff, but being a captain has its perks," Zean said happily. "This is some of their best stuff." He picked up the glass and downed almost half of it in one sip.
Jas looked at his own glass wearily. He didn't have much experience with alcohol, the most having been the home-brewed stuff in the pathetic excuses for pubs back on Sonna, which tasted of ground glass dirt. He carefully picked up the glass and smelled the liquid. It was sweet, with a hint of something sour. Zean was looking at him with an expectant look, to which Jas shrugged and took a large mouthful. The drink went down quickly.
"This isn't alcohol," he stated when he put the glass down.
"Of course not," snorted Zean. "I'm still technically on duty, so I'm not allowed to drink."
"What is it, then?"
"My god, you don't know what a lemon is?" Zean looked positively offended at the thought.
"No…" said Jas hesitantly.
"Well, it's a kind of fruit, and it…"
Okin woke up with a start. He searched with his arm around the covers, finding them empty…and cold. He sighed. It wasn't his fault, Okin knew, he had duties to attend to, duties that Okin himself didn't even know what were anymore.
He swung his legs over the edge of his bed, wincing when his feet came into contact with the cold floor. He could already see what had awoken him. A tiny, blue light was flickering on and off on the wall, the little speaker underneath playing a highly annoying tone. He ignored it as he turned on the light, took all the time in the world to have a quick shower and spent even longer getting dressed. Finally, after inspecting himself in the mirror for a while to smooth out any wrinkles on his uniform and—he shuddered—having a quick shave, he went over to the wall panel and silenced the infernal alarm. A message appeared on a small screen that came to life beneath the speaker.
Your presence is required at mission briefing 0700 hours. Room 01.
He sighed. "Trust Abel to make it short and terse," he said to himself and made to exit his quarters. He spotted something. A sock. Okin smiled. Somewhere on Freepoint 1, a junior officer was walking around missing a sock. It was a humorous picture. He looked at the watch and realised he was five minutes late. Okin cursed loudly and ran.
To be continued…
Happy new year, everybody! I'm taking down the poll, since Foolish Chimera (More like Genius Chimera, m i rite?) has suggested a title I simply can't part with, so I apologise to those who voted (all two of them…). The new title for Kane's Folly is from here on out: Kane's Field: Celestial Graveyard. Anyway, please read and review, they are my life's blood!