"Father, why do we have to move again?"
"It's not safe here anymore," the boy's father said as he packed two large bags with a mix of essentials and a few family heirlooms.
"But you said it was," the 8 year old insisted.
"It was," he said, taking a moment away from packing and placing his hands on his son's shoulders, realizing the need to make him understand before they boarded yet another evacuation ship. "But now it's not. Our enemy didn't know about this star system, which was why it was safe two years ago. Now is different. They found us again, so now we have to move…stay one step ahead of them."
"But I like it here," the boy said, his head sagging.
"So do I, but we like being alive even more. Right?"
"I wish Mom was here."
"Me too, kiddo. Me too," he said, returning to packing so that his son wouldn't see the tear creeping into his left eye. "Do me a favor, sport? Go grab that yellow shirt you like."
"Ok," the boy said, trodding off into the other room in their small quarters onboard the space station. They only had three rooms, but it was spacious enough that they'd never felt claustrophobic. And with all the refugees from Earth flooding the Canderian station he was glad they'd gotten a slot at all.
The father hesitantly grabbed a tiny portrait of his deceased wife, fearing the tears would well up again, but to his relief they didn't. He felt the stab of loneliness that jarred him to the bone every morning he woke up in an empty bed, but that had become almost routine by now, and part of him was glad that he hadn't become numb to her passing.
"Here," the boy said, reaching up to hand him the shirt.
"Thanks," he said, taking it and rolling it up tightly before sliding it into one of the bags.
"Where will we go?"
"Away from here. The Archons will know some place safe to send us. We just need to follow the other refugees."
"It means somebody that lost their home," the father said, stuffing a small box holding emergency foodstuffs inside. The Star Force packets were so concentrated that he and his son could live off the contents for a month if they had to…assuming they still had access to water.
"Did they lose their mommies too?"
This time the tears didn't hold back.
"A lot of them did," he answered, sniffling. "For every one of us that made it off Earth, ten more were killed. I think everyone has lost someone by now."
"Did Brad make it?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen any familiar faces since we left. Maybe we will at the next place. Grab your toothbrush."
"And the toothpaste?"
"Yes, that too. My bad," he said, forcing a smile
As the youngster trotted off to the small bathroom the father checked his watch. He'd set the countdown function to match the time they had to get to the evac ship…exactly 21 minutes and 7 seconds remaining before they'd be left behind. He figured it'd take them five minutes to walk over, meaning they had another 10 minutes to pack. He didn't want to risk cutting it any closer than that.
His heart was racing, but he didn't want to let his worry work its way into his voice for his son's sake, so he kept packing methodically. He'd had a lot of practice during his US military service, which he'd left behind when his son was born so he could spend more time with him and his wife, taking an accounting job for Star Force in Atlantis, the heart of the space corporation's empire situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on Earth.
Fortunately the city's population, and Star Force personnel in general, had been evacuated first, but he knew that evac ships had made multiple trips to the planet's surface continents to pick up as many people as they could, even as the invasion was overwhelming the planetary defense forces.
The Canderian station that they'd made their new home on was a mix of colonists and thousands of refugees, originating from all over Earth and the other worlds being reclaimed by the V'kit'no'sat. Star Force was so outmatched that people were being shuffled about to any facility that hadn't been hit, heedless of where they'd come from. The politics of Earth had been abandoned as the evacuation had become a chaotic bonding experience, with ships grabbing up whoever they could find before running as fast and as far away from the enemy as they could.
"You want yours too?" his son asked, coming back out with two toothbrushes in his little hands.
"Yes, put them both in here," he said, holding up a small open cylinder. "Paste on top."
The boy did as he was told and the father secured the lid, then slid it into the growing bag. There wasn't going to be much more they could take with them.
"Put your heavy shoes on…and give me those to pack."
The boy sat down on the floor and pulled off his sandals, handed them up to his father, then ran off to grab his other shoes.
"Don't forget socks!"
"I know!" he yelled back.
The father looked around the room one last time, searching for any essentials he'd missed. They didn't have a lot of possessions, but what they did have they were going to have to leave behind. It was a shame, he'd finally started to think of this station as home.
He grabbed a few more sentimental items then sealed up the second bag before grabbing his sidearm out of a locked box in a drawer near his bed. Typing in the access code, he unlocked the container and pulled out the pistol and harness. He slid the flexible band around his neck and pulled his left arm back in through his shirt, then tucked it through as well, attaching the hidden holster underneath his left armpit.
He loaded up the mag and slid it into the small weapon, then secured it beneath his loose shirt before his son returned. He doubted it would do much good on a starship, but he'd rather have it with him than not.
"Let's go," he said when his son came back out. "Stick close to me, just like last time, alright?"
"Ok," the boy said as the father picked up both duffles with one hand and slung them over his shoulder. He took one last glance at the room then turned and opened the door, seeing several people hurrying by in the hallway.
The two of them walked out and melded into the flow, with the boy holding the father's left hand as they walked as quickly as his two little legs could carry him. Luckily their quarters weren't far from one of the hangar bays.
After a couple of minutes they came to the back of the boarding lines, which were stretched out into the station's corridors, but to his relief the lines were moving well and it wasn't but a few minutes more before they set foot on the bay floor, seeing the line split into three spurs, two of which led to large shuttles, while the third and largest was being filed into an umbilical line attached to the station, which they were now being diverted into.
When they got to the entrance they passed through an airlock overridden to open both doors, allowing the boarders no delay in passing through, but also posing a decompression hazard should the umbilical breach from torque or puncture.
"Here we go," the father said as they watched the three people in front of them walk across a white line on the floor and suddenly bounce upward, grabbing handholds on the ceiling and walls as they floated down the long, well lit tunnel to the starship attached on the other end.
"Lean forward and keep walking," he urged as they stepped out of the artificial gravity zone. "Grab my shoulder," he said, pulling his son up near his head as they floated forward.
"Yep," the boy answered, seemingly unafraid.
With his left hand now free, the father grabbed the side rails and propelled them down the umbilical faster and faster…until they caught up to the feet of the others in front of them. The tunnel seemed to stretch out further than he'd expected, making the father curious as to what type of ship was attached to the station. He knew that the larger ships had to connect via a longer umbilical, else the small gravitational pull from the station could cause a collision if the navigational thrusters couldn't keep up, but this particular connecting tunnel had to be well more than half a kilometer long.
When they finally reached the far side another white line appeared on the floor and the father stepped down in sync just as the gravity returned. His son slid off his back and caught himself well on the floor, then grabbed his father's hand again as they were escorted into the ship by several Star Force personnel in dark blue uniforms…which the father knew was the color of their personnel relations division.
The one other woman present wore a different uniform, a mixture of gold/white, which in addition to the pistol she wore on her hip indicated that she was Star Force security. The father offered her a nod of respect as they passed, but she barely noticed, her eyes scanning each and every person that came aboard, ready to deal with any trouble.
The father and son followed the line of refugees as it wound its way through several turns down long corridors within the starship until they arrived in a large gathering area with banks of seats, half of which were already filled…and suddenly the father realized they weren't on a starship. They'd boarded directly onto a Star Force jumpship.
Those never docked with a station, rather they'd dock with starships coming to them in clear space, either to exchange cargos or to become the cargo. Jumpships were rare, due to their sheer size. A ship designed to ferry other starships between star systems necessarily had to be huge, and the fact that they'd brought the ship in to dock with the station directly meant the enemy was closer than he'd realized.
The Canderian station they'd just left housed more than 50,000 people, half of which were refugees. Bringing the jumpship in so close was probably the only chance they had of evacuating everyone in time.
The line of people they were following didn't stop in the nearby seats, which the father recognized as a boarding 'lounge' for the jumpship's docking bays where the starships that would piggyback a ride on the behemoth would connect, with the lounge functioning as a waiting area for crews or passengers passing between the two.
Instead of being deposited there they were led further into the ship and the small city that it contained, with every internal 'building' being repurposed as living quarters. By the time the father and boy arrived at the end of the line, two more dark blue uniformed handlers showed them to a clothing shop with an old storekeeper welcoming them in.
"Come here, come here young one," the elderly man said, pleasant as if nothing at all was wrong. "Plenty of seats here…or lie down on the floor and take a nap if you like. Make yourself comfortable."
"Thank you," the father said, pulling a pair of portable chairs off to one side. The handlers admitted seven more people before closing off the shop and depositing those next in line in another area. He looked around and did a quick head count…about 30 people in total, not crammed in per se, but definitely crowded together, with adequate walking space between them and the racks of clothing.
"Let's get those moved around, shall we?" the shop keep urged. "Over there, along wall. Give us all some more room."
"Does that work?" one of the other refugees asked, pointing up at a video screen in a nook along the ceiling.
"Why yes it does…a good suggestion," he said, pointing a finger to the sky in emphasis. "Let's have a look at what's on the grid."
"Do you have an external view," the father suggested. He knew it was better to keep people distracted, but he hated not knowing what was going on outside.
"Yes…yes, I think that's an excellent idea. We should all be witness to this moment. I imagine we'll be telling stories of this day for years to come. Might as well have as much information as possible," he said, adjusting the feed via a small remote behind the walkup sales counter.
The screen split into five feeds, the largest of which was dead center and took up more than half the view. An image of the side of the station appeared on one, with two more being empty starfield with the remainder images along the top of the jumpship hull.
"Let's see…there, that's better," the old man said, finding a view from the station's cameras, showing the elongated mass of the jumpship tucked up next to the curved station's hull…except that it was hundreds of meters apart, belying the true size of both constructs.
"Is that the ship we're on?" his son asked, pointing up at the grey monster.
"Yes, that's us."
"Wow…this ship is big! Can we look around later?"
"Maybe. We can ask once everyone gets onboard," he said as a tiny flash of light on a side screen caught his attention. He felt a chill run down his spine as more followed.
"Can you adjust that?" he asked/demanded.
"Yes," the shop keep said, losing a bit of his pseudo-merriment. He flipped through several more camera views until one caught the ongoing space battle nearby. Two small Star Force warships were firing on what looked to be enemy fighters…which meant they had to have a larger ship in the system, probably bearing down on them right now.
As if the captain of the jumpship heard his thoughts, the tiny speck of the umbilical attaching ship to station retracted, now on one of the smaller screens, and the jumpship began to move off far faster than a ship of its size looked to be capable of.
The shop keep kept switching modes on the smaller screens, keeping what he thought was most relevant on the main, until an aft view of the spherical Canderian station began lighting up with weapons fire as one of the V'kit'no'sat's smaller ships came within range of its defensive weaponry. The father blanched with horror, realizing that there had to still be at least a skeleton crew onboard to be manning those guns.
The station that looked for all the world like a small moon began to shrink as the jumpship picked up speed, heading out to a proper jumppoint and leaving the escalating battle behind. Within an hour they were safely out of the system, enroute to where nobody knew, but all were happy to have cheated death…for some of them, a second time.
With the ship safely out of danger the refugee population began to mill about, with Star Force personnel bringing food, water, and other supplies around, passing them out while security guards circulated, making sure nobody got out of hand and keeping things as passive as possible considering the abrupt boarding. The father and son kept close to the shop, given as that was their designated 'quarters' for the trip between stars, and were sharing a meal of prepackaged meal bars and bottled water when the boy finally asked a question that was not easy to answer.
"Why are they doing this?"
"Who do you mean?"
"The enemy. Why are they trying to kill us? Why did they kill mommy?"
The father's voice caught in his throat, a mixture of hesitation and emotion, but before he could figure out what to say the shop keep's hand pressed down gently on his shoulder from behind.
"That's a very long story," he told the boy. "It would take a lot of sitting and listening to tell."
"I'm a good listener. Really. Tell me the story!"
The shop keep exchanged glances with the father, getting a subtle nod of thanks, then pulled up a nearby chair and lowered his voice to an inviting whisper.
"Well, it all began way back on Earth during the 2040s with a very important man called Davis…"
The story of STAR FORCE begins with
"Star Force: Inception (SF1)"
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