Author Topic: Sunrider: The Novelization (Family)  (Read 31928 times)

Offline Shirley

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #30 on: May 20, 2015, 04:11:58 am »
YAY! Applause!! Good chapter!!

...quit medical...go into writing...

...well, not really, but still.
IT'S A CONSPIRACY!! Because you all suck and need to lighten up  Me In a Nutshell
KomiTsuku [Sep 22, 2015, 03:43:44 PM]:But tentacle monsters are our friends. BITE ME UNIVERSE [Oct 16, 2016, 09:21:04 pm]:   because one type of forbidden love just isn't enough Afro-Kun [Facebook Nov 21, 2015, 22:40:01 PM]: "I WAS JUST HANDED TEA AND THEN; Friend: "I put the tea in "NTR"!" FRIEND PLS"

Offline Jynx

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #31 on: May 19, 2015, 08:38:38 pm »
Great as all this work :D

One question... I'm not an English speaker, so I'll probably be wrong, but:
Quote
Although holodramas frequently portrayed asteroid fields as death traps filled with rapidly moving, colliding rocks the size of mountains, the truth far more mundane.
Doesn't this sentence (6th line or so) lack a verb? "The truth was far more mundane"?

Offline Void

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #32 on: May 20, 2015, 05:17:44 am »
This has turned into an official project? NICE WORK!!! 8)

This looks great! Keep it up! ;D
The only way to truly hurt a man, is to take everything that he valued and degrade it and remind him of it everyday of his life. But by doing this, you also create a monster, and you will regret ever harming that man, because he will be your greatest horror.

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #33 on: May 19, 2015, 09:17:30 pm »
Great as all this work :D

One question... I'm not an English speaker, so I'll probably be wrong, but:
Quote
Although holodramas frequently portrayed asteroid fields as death traps filled with rapidly moving, colliding rocks the size of mountains, the truth far more mundane.
Doesn't this sentence (6th line or so) lack a verb? "The truth was far more mundane"?

Thanks!  You're absolutely right.  I type at about 90 words per minute, so sometimes stuff gets left out.  Really appreciate the catch!

YAY! Applause!! Good chapter!!

...quit medical...go into writing...

...well, not really, but still.

With all the patient charting for medical legal reasons now, medicine is pretty much writing.  Sadly enough.  On a good day, I see my patients two to three times, about 5 minutes for each encounter.  The rest of my day is spent writing orders or patient charts.
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline Shirley

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #34 on: May 20, 2015, 07:04:54 am »
Great as all this work :D

One question... I'm not an English speaker, so I'll probably be wrong, but:
Quote
Although holodramas frequently portrayed asteroid fields as death traps filled with rapidly moving, colliding rocks the size of mountains, the truth far more mundane.
Doesn't this sentence (6th line or so) lack a verb? "The truth was far more mundane"?

Thanks!  You're absolutely right.  I type at about 90 words per minute, so sometimes stuff gets left out.  Really appreciate the catch!

YAY! Applause!! Good chapter!!

...quit medical...go into writing...

...well, not really, but still.

With all the patient charting for medical legal reasons now, medicine is pretty much writing.  Sadly enough.  On a good day, I see my patients two to three times, about 5 minutes for each encounter.  The rest of my day is spent writing orders or patient charts.

#1) I think faster than Ic an type...so typos happen all the time if I'm not writing a novel/report...LOL!

#2) Yeah, same goes for photography! Except we're in front of a computer messing with what our eyes see....

Spoiler
IT'S A CONSPIRACY!! Because you all suck and need to lighten up  Me In a Nutshell
KomiTsuku [Sep 22, 2015, 03:43:44 PM]:But tentacle monsters are our friends. BITE ME UNIVERSE [Oct 16, 2016, 09:21:04 pm]:   because one type of forbidden love just isn't enough Afro-Kun [Facebook Nov 21, 2015, 22:40:01 PM]: "I WAS JUST HANDED TEA AND THEN; Friend: "I put the tea in "NTR"!" FRIEND PLS"

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #35 on: May 21, 2015, 01:28:14 am »

#1) I think faster than Ic an type...so typos happen all the time if I'm not writing a novel/report...LOL!

#2) Yeah, same goes for photography! Except we're in front of a computer messing with what our eyes see....

Spoiler

At the risk of derailing the purpose of this thread:

Spoiler
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline Shirley

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 5 Up)
« Reply #36 on: May 21, 2015, 06:55:33 am »

#1) I think faster than Ic an type...so typos happen all the time if I'm not writing a novel/report...LOL!

#2) Yeah, same goes for photography! Except we're in front of a computer messing with what our eyes see....

Spoiler

At the risk of derailing the purpose of this thread:

Spoiler

LOL! LOVE IT!!

and yes, you are a ture forum lurker to know how badly these can get derailed! LOL! Alright, lets keep this one on topic!
IT'S A CONSPIRACY!! Because you all suck and need to lighten up  Me In a Nutshell
KomiTsuku [Sep 22, 2015, 03:43:44 PM]:But tentacle monsters are our friends. BITE ME UNIVERSE [Oct 16, 2016, 09:21:04 pm]:   because one type of forbidden love just isn't enough Afro-Kun [Facebook Nov 21, 2015, 22:40:01 PM]: "I WAS JUST HANDED TEA AND THEN; Friend: "I put the tea in "NTR"!" FRIEND PLS"

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 6 Up)
« Reply #37 on: May 22, 2015, 05:33:50 pm »
Friday update!  Have a good weekend everyone.  As always, I'd be grateful for any typos caught, opinions, etc.  Critical review also welcome.

FanFiction

Chapter 6- The Alliance Job



Spoiler
Kayto sat at his office, glumly considering the growing mountain of paperwork that had been accumulating on his holo.  For the last two weeks, Sunrider and her crew had been wandering between some of the less traveled paths in the Neutral Rim, chasing after minor criminal gangs for bounties and launching hit-and-run attacks on the PACT's overstretched supply lines.  Neither entailed particularly exciting or glorious work, although it was, on occasion, dangerous.  Primarily, the missions served to keep the crew focused and alert while awaiting another opportunity, either to deal a decisive strike to the PACT like Ava's assault on the communications spire, or to make contact with some new recruits or other independent elements. 

Unfortunately, no such opportunities had presented themselves; the PACT continued their encroachment on the Neutral Rim, having accepted the voluntary surrender of six additional major Neutral Rim planets and forcibly conquered two others, utilizing the same, barbaric orbital bombardment techniques they had visited upon Cera.  In the span of just two weeks, millions of additional civilian and military deaths had been added to the grim toll of the PACT's war against the Neutral Rim; testimony to the fact that their occupation fleet had completely embraced indiscriminate slaughter, drawing no distinction between combatants or unarmed civilians.  Although Sunrider had yet to witness such an atrocity, whispers of PACT attacks on any vessel, up to and including refugee ships, filled any ear that cared to listen.  Grimly, Kayto scanned the news holos each standard day, fearing that the end of the Neutral Rim's independence was fast approaching in the wake of the PACT war machine.

Bing Bing; Kayto's door chimed.

“Come in,” he said, grateful for the distraction from the monotony of paperwork.

Ava entered his office, all business as usual.  Unfortunately, despite Kayto's hopes otherwise, the thaw in her personality over the slaves' rescue had been temporary.  Except for the brief moment they had shared in the immediate aftermath of the rescue, Ava had returned to her usual cold exterior.  Some aboard the ship were even starting to joke about her rigid adherence to regulations, referring to her as Sunrider's “seventh Savior,” for her unerring accuracy in nailing and obliterating any regulation offense or offender.  At least Kayto hoped it was a joke; nobody seemed to be laughing.  For the last two weeks, she had been completely in her element, enforcing day to day routines aboard the ship.  Whereas Kayto found himself increasingly mired and frustrated with the lack of change, Ava seemed to take comfort in the predictability of the last two weeks. 

“Captain, incoming transmission for you on the FTL beacon.  It's the Solar Alliance; Admiral Harold Grey wants to speak with you,” she said without so much as a greeting.

Kayto's mind did a double take at the name; even out in the Neutral Rim, the Grey family name commanded renown and respect.  “An audience with the Admiral?  I didn't realize we were so important.  Looks like we're moving up in the galaxy, Ava,” he joked.

Ava's face remained impassive.  “Feel free to answer the call anytime you like; I'm sure he'll hold,” she bit back, turning to leave.

“Ava,” he called out, “Stay.  Let's hear what Admiral Grey wants with us.”

Keying the FTL transponder, he accepted the call, Admiral Grey's image coalescing from a hundred motes of light.  Tall and classically handsome, the Admiral had aged gracefully.  Although his hair and short, neat beard were white, and his face lined, he looked remarkably fit with sharp, penetrating eyes.  One look at the Admiral and Kayto knew the other man was not someone to be taken lightly.  Dressed in the white and green colors favored by the Alliance Navy, his uniform was perfectly pressed and stiffly starched, emblazoned with a plethora of medals and awards, as well as an insignia of his rank as an Alliance Admiral.

“Greetings, Sunrider.  This is Admiral Grey of the Alliance Space Force,” said the Admiral in a deep, clear voice, inclining his head politely.

“A pleasure to meet you, Admiral.  I'm Kayto Shields, Captain of the Sunrider; Cera Space Force, and this is my First Officer, Commander Ava Crescentia,” introduced Kayto. 

“You must accept my condolences for the tragedy that has befallen your great planet,” offered Grey, “It pains me each time I hear a Neutral Rim world's sovereignty has been crushed underfoot by the PACT war machine.”

Although the Admiral's tone was sincere, Kayto and Ava both accepted the condolences with a grain of suspicion, true Neutral Rim citizens to the core.  Although the Solar Alliance had never pointed guns at the worlds of the Neutral Rim, the citizens of the neutral worlds harbored no less suspicion towards the Solar Alliance than they did the PACT.  More than one neutral world had been “invited” to join the Alliance under almost coercive terms in exchange for economic bail out or humanitarian aid.  To both Ava and Kayto, the Solar Alliance walked around the galaxy with a stick almost as big as the one the PACT used; they just insisted it was a walking cane.

“Thank you, Admiral.  The PACT must be stopped at all costs, of this, I'm sure,” said Kayto, choosing his words carefully.

“I understand your ship has been operating as a freelance vessel since the fall of your government,” said Grey, lacing his hands in front of him and leaning forward towards Kayto and Ava.  “It should be unsurprising, then, that I'm calling you regarding a proposal for work.”

Kayto nodded; being Captain of an assault carrier, without a doubt, made finding work a fairly easy affair.  “Go ahead, you've got our attention.”

“Our government dispatched an envoy of diplomats to the neutral world of Versta quite some time ago to discuss the possibility of their joining the Alliance,” explained the Admiral, conjuring up a wireframe model of the planet complete with details and coordinates scrolling down an information window.  “Unfortunately, it would seem that negotiations did not prove fruitful and Versta is now directly in the path of the advancing PACT invasion fleet.  My government would like to contract your vessel for the safe extraction and return of our diplomatic mission before the PACT invasion fleet arrives and executes them.  We are, of course, prepared to reward your crew handsomely for the service.”

Kayto chewed on the story for a moment.  “Surely the Alliance has any number of starships available for duty,” he pointed out.  “Why even bother hiring us?”

“Because the Alliance is not in the business of violating the sovereignty or neutrality of the Neutral Rim worlds,” replied the Admiral smoothly.  “Versta has declined to negotiate for free passage of Alliance military vessels and we believe the situation is too dangerous for our diplomats to leave Versta without an armed escort.  We are, therefore, obliged to contract the services of a neutral third party,” he concluded, inclining his head towards Kayto and Ava once more.

“You'd think that the Verstans would be more flexible in this regard,” pressed Kayto, smelling something fishy.  Despite the Admiral's impression of reason and transparency, Kayto could not shake the specter of suspicion that hung over his shoulder.

“Unfortunately, with the imminent arrival of the PACT fleet, the Verstans have become... agitated.”  The Admiral sighed wearily.  “They've taken to blaming the Alliance for involving them in the conflict; unfairly, I might add.  Suffice it to say, the last thing the Verstans wish to see at this point is a heavily armed Alliance patrol in orbit over their world.”

“These diplomats must be important; your government seems to be going to lengths to secure their safe return,” observed Ava, equally suspicious.

“Not per se, they occupy relatively minor government posts from what I understand.”  The Admiral's voice grew more serious.  “The reason why the Solar Alliance is so insistent in this instance is due to the current political climate.  As you know, our Senate is deadlocked with indecision with regards to a proper response towards the PACT's aggression towards the Neutral Rim.  If, however, these government officials were to be captured and executed by the PACT, my government will view the incident as a declaration of war.  The Solar Alliance will have no choice but to declare war on the PACT if that should come to pass.  These orders come from the honorable President Alythe, himself, who has made it clear to my office that intergalactic war with the PACT over a, forgive me, minor Neutral Rim world would be an unacceptable outcome.”

“A war between the PACT and the Solar Alliance would end up claiming billions of lives, at the very least,” mused Kayto.  “I can appreciate it's not a decision one rushes into; perhaps there will be a better time and place for the Alliance to provide leverage against the PACT.”

“A matter for our fearless politicians to decide, I'm afraid, hmph.”  The Admiral let loose with a derisive snort, revealing for a moment his personal feelings on the matter.  “At any rate, those are your directives; straight from the Presidential Office.”

“You've got a deal, Admiral,” agreed Kayto, coming to an executive decision.  Regardless of what wasn't being said in the briefing, the job was too good of an opportunity to pass up.  If things went well, the entire affair would be a milk run; a very well paid milk run.  Ava nodded her assent beside him.  “An operation against the PACT is a good operation in my books.”

“Excellent.  My staff will forward the relevant details to your First Officer, Captain.  Your services and capacities to... judge the situation come highly recommended; I expect results.  Grey out.”

 The Admiral's hologram dissolved and Kayto turned to Ava, “A job from the Solar Alliance; I wasn't expecting that when I woke up today.”

Ava shrugged, “With all the chaos the Neutral Rim's been in, everyone wants a hired gun these days. It helps that Sunrider is one Big gun.  We could be seeing a new golden age of privateering out here.”

“We might want to swap out your uniform for something more eye catching then,” suggested Kayto in a serious voice, squinting one eye and miming several measuring gestures over Ava as she sat with her limbs crossed, unimpressed.  “I'm thinking something with a bit more skin...  And heels.  High heels.”

“No.” Ava's voice was humorless as she glared at him, suggesting he was on extremely thin ice.  “Idiot,” she muttered under her breath.

Giving a theatrical sigh, Kayto continued the conversation.  “What's the political situation between the Alliance and the PACT these days anyways?”

“Remind me again how they let you captain the Sunrider without passing modern history?” nipped Ava, still nettled over his previous comment.

“Ouch, ouch...”

Rolling her eyes, Ava launched into a succinct summary, her voice switching to lecture mode.

“The Solar Alliance is widely recognized to be one of the major powerhouses in galactic politics.  It's a military, economic, and research alliance between Solaris and over a hundred other worlds, some big, some small.  They're structured as a galactic democracy, each world nominating representatives based on population to the Solar Senate on Solaris to lobby on and vote on issues affecting the entire Alliance.  Of course, since each senator represents close to a billion constituents, whether the Alliance is an actual democracy depends on your definition.  Recently, the Solar Senate's been paralyzed by debate and infighting, just like the Admiral said.  The United Universalists are pushing for a military response to the PACT incursion on the Neutral Rim; they believe war is inevitable and that the Alliance needs to act before allied worlds can be threatened directly.  On the other hand, the Progress Party believes it can negotiate a political solution with the PACT, in essence, trading the Neutral Rim for peace between the two powers.  With all the debate, practically nothing is getting done in the Solar Alliance, leaving President Alythe as a lame duck.  So far though, he doesn't seem like he has any stomach for war; without the support of the Senate, he's been trying to avoid war with the PACT at all costs and has been keeping the Alliance Navy from getting involved in border disputes by withdrawing them from the frontiers of Alliance space.”

“I grew up hearing some not-so-great things about the Alliance,” reflected Kayto.  “Most of it from you, mind.”

“Not every world wants to join, as much as the Alliance would want you to believe,” said Ava.  “Some worlds are too far away to benefit, others, like Cera, just want to be left alone because they're doing fine as it is.  When the Alliance sets its sights on something, it usually tries to buy what it wants, but that doesn't mean every world has joined their ranks completely voluntarily.  Either way, being a part of the Solar Alliance comes with benefits and downsides.  For Cera, the advantages simply never outweighed the disadvantages, what with the encroachment upon our political freedoms and planetary industry.”

“What about the PACT?” inquired Kayto, impressed at Ava's substantial political knowledge.  Sometimes he wondered if she wouldn't have made a better career out of politics; Foreign Minister, perhaps.  If Cera had any government to speak of left...

“The People's Alliance for Common Treatment, which we call PACT for short, started as an independence movement within the New Empire.  When the New Empire was still around, they ruled numerous star systems from New Eden, defeating the remnants of the Holy Ryuvian Empire and taking the galaxy for themselves.  Although they portrayed themselves as enlightened demi-gods, carrying the torch of civilization to the worlds lost in the dark age after the fall of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, the truth was that the New Empire was a brutal, imperialistic dictatorship.  Even though New Eden was practically a paradise in of itself, the Imperial navies wrested the treasure, resources, and labor of a hundred worlds to empower and enrich New Eden, building their so-called “Golden Age” from the suffering of their citizenry and forcing the masses to live in poverty.  Eventually, they reached a tipping point in their distribution of wealth and resources and the masses revolted, ending the New Empire after years of civil war and bloodshed, establishing the PACT in their stead, a system where all the worlds would share their wealth and resources equally and strive for economic independence and sustainability,” instructed Ava, clearly enjoying herself.

“They sound like the good guys when you put it that way; what the hell are they doing in our backyard?” asked Kayto, playing right into her history lesson.

“The independence movement went horribly wrong shortly after the PACT revolution took New Eden and toppled the New Empire for good.  During the revolution, the masses were led by a visionary who they called 'Veniczar Arcadius.'  Nobody knows who Veniczar Arcadius was before the PACT revolution, but he quickly became a symbol for the people to rally behind.  He always wore a mask and spoke through a computer, giving up his identity to represent an idea.  The people grew to love him and elevated him to the level of a messiah figure during the revolution. After overthrowing the New Empire, they clamored for Veniczar Arcadius to lead them to a new way of life; creating a government where his word is as much law as that of the emperors they used to serve.” 

Ava shook her head, continuing, “The power must have changed him, because the Veniczar became a different man from the one who had inspired his people to break their chains and live their own lives.  He cultivated a sense of paranoia and extreme nationalism, urging the PACT worlds to annex their neighbors to secure the 'everlasting endurance of the Revolution.'  Today, the PACT's entire economy is devoted towards the pursuit of 'the Enduring Revolution,' and the 'liberation' of worlds that border their space.  That's exactly what you see going on right now in the Neutral Rim; they're annexing us one planet at a time to bring us under the PACT banner, fueling their revolution farther and farther.  The men and women who crew the invasion fleets are true believers, borderline fanatics who won't hesitate to sacrifice resources, ships, or even their own lives to carry on the revolution.  Where, when, and how the revolution stops is anyone's guess at this point.”

“Hard to imagine there's any way around another galactic conflict,” observed Kayto, absorbing the facts Ava had laid out.

“Exactly; most people think it's only a matter of time before the Solar Alliance and the PACT square off against each other.  Personally, I think it'll happen as soon as the Neutral Rim's completely conquered.”  Ava's tone was bleak, “You can't just end decades of expansion suddenly, and once the PACT's done with the Neutral Rim, there will be nowhere to turn but Alliance space.”

“That would explain the Admiral's opinions about the Alliance and PACT,” said Kayto, connecting the dots in his mind.

“He probably thinks it's inevitable as well.  So far, President Alythe has been bending over backwards to avoid open conflict with the PACT, but my sense is that the Alliance Navy is gearing up for the day he falls over,” confirmed Ava grimly.

“Well,” said Kayto, rising and stretching, “It won't be tomorrow if we have anything to say about it.  Thanks for the history lesson, Ava; let's chart a course for Versta and get underway before Alythe falls on his butt in this ridiculous game of limbo.”

“What's limbo?” asked Ava, confused by his metaphor. 

“How could you be so smart and not know what limbo is?”

******

“Arriving at planet Versta,” declared Ava as Sunrider dropped out of warp over the blue-green planet. 

Rich with breathable atmosphere, ocean, and land, Versta was a prototypical Terran planet.  Likely settled during the ancient expansion and colonization efforts of early humanity, Versta had originally owed allegiance to the Holy Ryuvian Empire, like so many other worlds at the time.  Following the decline and eventual defeat of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, Versta's return to independence had been marred by a series of long, bloody civil conflicts which had embroiled the planet, leaving blood stains splashed across their modern history.  The people of Versta were fiercely independent, having fended for themselves for generations, too involved with their own civil conflict to play a greater role in galactic politics and too far removed to be of interest to any other powers.  In the last two decades, however, Versta had known a relative peace under the leadership of President Zefiris, the world's first global leader since the days of the Ryuvians.  Through sweeping economic and political reform, Versta was in the midst of an industrial and population boom, seemingly destined to become a prosperous, productive world in the near future. Such success, however, had resulted in unwanted attention from both the Solar Alliance and the PACT, both of whom had proven to be a tremendous headache for the struggling world.  Now, however, with a full PACT occupation fleet bearing down upon them and little orbital military presence save for rudimentary orbiting observation habitats, Versta's fate to join the PACT seemed virtually sealed. 

Proximity alerts blared through the CIC almost immediately, startling the crew. 

“Alert!  Drop point is hot!” yelled Ava in shock, “Multiple PACT signatures detected in orbit over Versta; moving to intercept!”

“Red Alert, all hands to battle stations!  Scramble our Ryders this instant!” barked Kayto as the CIC dropped into red.  With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Kayto suddenly realized the job offered to Sunrider came with some pretty significant fine print.  What had initially promised to be a simple retrieval and delivery mission was quickly spiraling into something far more dangerous.

“Black Jack and Liberty launching,” panted Asaga through the comms, clearly sprinting for her Ryder lift. 

“One hell of an entrance,” muttered Kayto.  “Charge all weapons, prepare to fire on PACT forces!”

******

Asaga and Chigara raced towards the hanger deck, breath ragged as they struggled against the weight of the Ryder suits they wore. 

“Next time, we should quit before we drop out of warp!” admonished Chigara as the two of them threw themselves onto the main lift.

“All right, all right,” grumbled Asaga, humbled.

Together, the two Ryder pilots piled out of the lift, running all out to their respective bays.

“Launching now!” reported Asaga over the comms as she overrode all the pre-flight checks and activated Black Jack's thrusters.

On the other side of Sunrider, Chigara opted to take the thirty seconds she needed to be sure Liberty wouldn't blow up the moment it was turned on prior to igniting her thrusters and pushing out of the docking tube, hard on Asaga's trail. 

The two Ryders popped out of Sunrider's launch tubes, Black Jack on her port side and Liberty on her starboard side. 

“Ryders in position,” confirmed Chigara, activating Liberty's long range scanners and uplinking to the Sunrider.  “Looks like we've got a small detachment moving to intercept; four PACT infantry class Ryders and two cruisers.  Sunrider, I'm feeding additional information to your targeting computers now.”

Inheriting the factories and technology of their defeated masters, PACT Ryders continued to betray traces of their origin.  Though an order of magnitude more advanced than the old surplus Imperial Ryders the pirates operated, PACT Ryders were ever bit as standardized and mass produced, even retaining the rough original shapes of their predecessor Ryders.  Originally conceived as a scouting unit, the PACT infantry Ryder quickly became the staple of their Ryder forces due to their versatility and low cost.  The PACT infantry Ryder carried heavier weapons, a fusion reactor with increased operational capacity, and improved thrusters in comparison to the Imperial Ryders they were based off of; a step up in terms of firepower and maneuverability, although they continued to sacrifice the protection of armor or shields in exchange.  Instead, PACT infantry Ryder pilots were trained to engage in squad tactics, taking down larger targets with coordinated attack patterns, and to depend on their support and capital ships for protection in the form of flak and shields.  Their swarm tactics and general disregard for self-preservation had resulted in the crew taking to nicknaming the PACT infantry Ryders as “Mooks.”  Given the extremely limited maintenance needs of the Ryder, almost all PACT ships larger than a frigate carried at least one or two of the Ryders for reconnaissance and fire-support.

Behind the Ryders, two PACT cruisers provided escort for their lighter forces.  PACT ship design differed tremendously from the ship architecture employed by the Solar Alliance or Cera, opting for a uniquely home-grown design that had since become iconic for the PACT navy.  With a knife-shaped, asymmetric prow, the PACT cruisers were a collection of odd angles and flaring modules, giving the entire ship the geometry of a particularly unusual crystal shard.  At the ship's aft section, the massive spools of their warp drives ringed their main engines, adding to the PACT cruiser's distinctive profile.  As its primary armaments, the PACT cruiser sported a respectably dangerous series of laser embankments along its lateral sides and numerous assault auto and flak cannons.  At the “top” of the ship, spinally mounted kinetic cannons topped off the cruiser's offensive capabilities, making them dangerous opponents if they were allowed to close distance with their enemies.
 
Like the other parts of the PACT navy, the PACT cruiser had been designed for maximum production value, suffering in terms of individual specifications, but overcoming any inherent weaknesses through coordination and superior numbers.  Employing the very latest in shield technology and mounting heavier than normal armor for the ship class, PACT cruisers made for extremely durable targets when encountered in number.  Operating under the PACT doctrines of group tactics, each ship supported its neighbor with a series of overlapping shields and flak like an ancient infantry phalanx.  Together, PACT cruisers could advance under the cover of missile frigate and Ryders, impervious to long range assault until they had closed enough distance to engage in ship-to-ship combat at knife range.  The one underlying weakness of the PACT cruiser design was its general sluggishness; the shield systems and heavy armor putting a heavy strain on their reactors and engines and making it difficult for the PACT cruisers to close large distance gaps quickly or engage in any rapid evasive maneuvers.  Like everything the PACT navy operated, the cruisers and the Ryders were all painted the same shade of sanguine to represent the sacrifice borne by their people.

At the present distance, the PACT Ryders made for difficult, if not impossible targets, even with the Liberty's targeting assist.  The PACT cruisers, however, were an entirely different story as they lumbered towards the Sunrider ponderously.

“Engines ahead at full, fire Saviors!” ordered Kayto, bringing the Sunrider just close enough launch a long-range salvo against the PACT ships.  With the funds from their previous job against the slavers, Kayto had instructed Chigara to make improvements to the Sunrider's reactor and Saviors, boosting their accuracy and lowering their power consumption.  Thanks to the recent upgrades, Sunrider now had the option of moving ahead at full power and firing simultaneously or firing two salvos in rapid succession, diverting all power from engines to speed the cooling and reloading of the main deck guns.

Luck appeared to be with the Sunrider's crew as the long range shots landed on target despite roughly equal chances of missing at that range.  Undaunted, however, the PACT cruiser shrugged off the impact, heedless of the new gaping holes in its thick armor and continuing its steady advance forward.  Kayto made a mental note for caution; although sub-par to Sunrider's specifications, the PACT cruisers were a far cry from the fragile pirate destroyers they had faced earlier.  With their substantial armor and heavily redundant systems, the PACT cruisers would take more than a single salvo to bring down.

Pushing their engines to the maximum, the two PACT cruisers met, bearing down on the Sunrider side by side, sending their four Ryders forward in a tightly knit squad in front.  Giving up the chance to launch long-range laser strikes, the PACT Ryders came alarmingly close to Sunrider and her two escorts, apparently intent on settling things up close.

“Overconfident bastards,” muttered Kayto grimly, “Let's give them-”

“Captain!  New warp signature detected!” interrupted Ava.  “Unidentified Ryder has just entered our AO!”

“A... Ryder?” asked Kayto, thrown and unsure if he had heard correctly.

A shockingly yellow Ryder dropped out of warp, space-time twisting and flashing around it as it disengaged its warp drive.  Attached to its back, the Ryder seemed to be carrying a ring shaped weapons platform, answering the question of its warp capabilities.

“It appears to be some kind of booster pack...” observed Ava, interested in the unusual Ryder.

“Flag?”

“No matches in our database, Captain,” said Ava, shaking her head. 

“W-whoa!” shouted Asaga over the comms as the booster module on the back of the yellow Ryder suddenly let loose with a barrage of laser fire in her direction.  Putting Black Jack into a wild spin and diving suddenly, she managed to dodge the unexpected fire.  “Whatever it its, I don't think it's friendly!”

“Damn it,” Kayto muttered.  If the PACT was bringing in special forces, things at Versta were about to get significantly more complicated.  “Take it down with the rest of them,” he ordered grimly, “Weapons free, you have permission to engage if it gets any closer.”  Special Ryder aside, something still needed to be done about the immediate threat the regular PACT forces represented as they stared down the Sunrider, practically nose-to-nose with them.  “Asaga, get these mooks off us; we're going to try to take one of those cruisers down!”

“Roger that, Capt'n!” shouted Asaga, throwing the Black Jack towards the four oncoming Ryders.  Guns blazing, Black Jack took down one of the mooks, shredding its unarmored hull apart and damaging its neighbor before blasting past their formation and leading the remaining Ryders on a chase.

“Fire Saviors!” ordered Kayto, indicating the wounded cruiser on his tactical screen.  At that range, Sunrider's gunners couldn't miss if they tried, emptying the deck guns straight into the PACT cruiser's already strained hull.  It was testament to the PACT's engineering prowess that the ship remained intact, lights flickering, but still determined to come at them.  “Fire autocannons, aim for the holes in their hull!  Use any remaining rounds to provide cover for Black Jack.”

Sunrider's autocannons roared to life, tearing apart the exposed decks of the PACT cruiser, finally managing to inflict enough damage to dispatch it from the battle for good.  Turning their guns from the gutted hull of the dead cruiser, Sunrider's gunners managed to nail the damaged PACT Ryder trailing behind its comrades, struggling to compensate for its damaged systems.  Unable to dodge, it rammed into the wall of bullets from the Sunrider, spinning uncontrollably until it blew up spectacularly.

Unfortunately, the remaining PACT cruiser and Ryders had Sunrider and her two Ryders right where they wanted them; at close range and dead in their crosshairs. 

“Liberty, see what you can do about the cruiser,” ordered Kayto, resigned to the fact that the PACT was about to exact payback for the damage he had dealt to their comrades.  At this point, the best he could hope for was to minimize the damage they could inflict, and the PACT cruiser's deck guns represented the single greatest threat in their present situation.

“I'm trying, Captain!” Chigara's nervous voice chirped over the comms.  “Breaking firewalls... overriding safeties...”

As the PACT cruiser's deck guns swiveled and locked onto the Sunrider's open profile, Kayto gritted his teeth.  “All hands, brace for impact!”

A second passed, then another.  Although the cruiser's guns remained pointed at Sunrider, no muzzle flash ever came to herald the kinetic impacts Kayto had expected.  Slowly, the running lights on the outside of the cruiser flickered and turned off and her engines cut out, leaving the ship dead in space.

“Captain, I'm detecting no shields from the remaining PACT cruiser, looks like Chigara managed to take their entire electrical system down,” reported Ava, impressed.  “Incoming fire from PACT Ryders!”

Both PACT infantry Ryders opened fire with their laser rifles, having given up on Black Jack and closing in to target the Sunrider.  Laser fire splashed over her hull, diminished by the Liberty's shielding, but still powerful enough to carve deep lines through Sunrider's armor.

“No hull breaches detected, Captain.  Watch that other Ryder,” cautioned Ava as the mysterious yellow Ryder roared past the PACT cruiser straight towards Sunrider with impressive speed, even by Ryder standards.  Whoever was piloting the Ryder, they were undoubtedly an expert; flying at those speeds would be suicidal for anyone less qualified.

“Don't waste the chance Chigara gave us; fire the Saviors, maximum cycling rate, get them while they're down!”  ordered Kayto.  Unlike a fistfight or brawl, there was no such etiquette about kicking a man while down in space naval warfare where a single misstep could result in your crew's not-instant-enough and grisly death in vacuum. 

Sunrider's Saviors fired twice in rapid succession, their barrels glowing red with the heat of the discharges as the new cooling systems strained to keep them in operational parameters.  Satisfied with the havoc she had inflicted on the PACT cruiser's electronic systems, Chigara fired with her laser rifle as well, adding to the grievous injuries inflicted on the cruiser by Sunrider's Saviors.  Unable to cope from the onslaught, the cruiser broke apart, shattering from the impacts.

Throwing the Black Jack into a tight 180 degree turn, Asaga tailed the two PACT Ryders, hard on their thrust trails as she cut loose with all of Black Jack's weaponry, missiles included.  The two PACT Ryders were helpless as bullets, laser pulses, and guided missiles rained down around them, one detonating immediately while the other barely pulled through, trailing smoke and fire as it came around for what the pilot likely knew would be the final pass of his or her life.  Opening fire, the PACT Ryder scored a direct hit on Sunrider's weakened armor, cutting through her hull and setting off alarms in the CIC.  To make matters worse, the yellow Ryder arrived as well, bringing its weapons to bear and adding fuel to the fire.  Blue lasers discharged from the ringed module on its back, inflicting damage to Sunrider's hull equivalent to something a destroyer class ship might have mounted.

“Alert!  Multiple hull breaches on decks zero and two!  Initiating damage control measures now!” said Ava frantically, her fingers a flurry over her command station's controls.

Outside, the PACT Ryder vectored towards the Sunrider, pushing its crippled engines as hard as it could, clearly intent on impacting the ship.  “I don't think so,” roared Asaga, taking aim with the Black Jack's machine guns before firing a burst at the Ryder's left engine.  The engine exploded, blasting the Ryder off its trajectory.  Unable to balance thrust, the Ryder spiraled off into space before detonating.  “That's the last mook, Capt'n!  Targeting Yellow!” she reported, letting loose at the unknown custom Ryder with her shoulder laser cannons.

“Fire assault cannons!” ordered Kayto, using the Sunrider's smaller guns blast away at the nimble, but lightly armored yellow Ryder's position. 

Swerving wildly, the yellow Ryder dodged and weaved, shaking an impressive amount of laser and autocannon fire before sustaining damage.  Unable to withstand the barrage, the yellow Ryder was engulfed in an explosion. 

“Did we get 'em?” demanded Asaga.

“Negative!” reported Ava, “Detonation was from the Ryder's booster pack, Captain.  It appears the Ryder was damaged, but survived the blast; it's dead in the water, Sir.”

Kayto tapped his lips thoughtfully.  Judging from the state of the Ryder, it was very likely the pilot had survived, even though the Ryder itself no longer presented a threat, stunned by the explosion.  With any luck, the pilot aboard the Ryder would know a thing or two of interest with regards to the Sunrider's mission, at Versta or otherwise.  “Black Jack, hold fire and provide cover for Liberty.  Liberty, tow the PACT special Ryder to Sunrider and prepare to dock.  If either of you detect anything suggesting reactivation, use your discretion.”

“Copy that,” Asaga and Chigara said together as their Ryders burned cautiously towards the yellow one.

“Ava, alert the marines and get a full security detail down to the hanger.  Let them know we're taking a prisoner.”

“Roger that.  Captain...” Ava's tone was cautionary.  “That PACT fleet was too small to be their invasion fleet.”

“I know,” sighed Kayto, “You're right, they're probably just a recon flotilla.”

“And now they know we're here,” Ava said, crossing her arms unhappily.

“One thing at a time, Ava,” he said with resignation.  “Let's see what our prisoner has to say first.”

******

“Looks like we got ourselves a prisoner, huh, Capt'n?” asked Asaga smugly as Kayto and Ava exited the lift to Sunrider's hanger deck.

In docking bay 03, Liberty had just finished maneuvering the captured Ryder into the docking apparatus, which configured itself quickly before locking onto the Ryder.  The security team Kayto  requested had already arrived, fully equipped with armored suits and pointing all the manner of machine guns and laser rifles at bay 03's lift, from which the Ryder pilot would have no choice but to exit.  Although it was extremely doubtful that a single Ryder pilot would require six marines with enough weapons to subdue the entire crew, Kayto appreciated their initiative and enthusiasm in dealing with this unknown variable.  At any rate, as the marines had little to do since the extradition of the slavers; it was probably just their way of blowing off a bit of stir-crazy.

“Looks that way,” answered Kayto, amused that Asaga found the whole situation so exciting.

“So...” Asaga grinned eagerly.  “You gonna interrogate the pilot?  Toss 'em into the airlock until they spill their guts?”

“Uhh... not exactly,” said Kayto, somewhat put off by Asaga's idea of appropriate POW treatment.  “We'll probably ask some questions ourselves and turn them over to the Alliance once we finish the mission.”

“Aww...” Asaga's face was crestfallen.  “So much for how they do it on holovision...  Can't we scare 'em just a little?  There was this great scene in Solar Surfer Academy where...”

“Isn't that an eroge game?” asked Kayto, interrupting before he could stop himself.

“Capt'n!” Asaga practically squealed as Ava's teeth ground loudly, pretending not to hear them.  “I could tell you were a gamer, but I didn't know you were into that pervy stuff.”

Kayto coughed loudly, cringing inwardly at the reminder of his sad, squandered youth.  “I uhh... it was for a friend.”

“We're secure here, Sir,” reported the squad leader, her voice coming from somewhere just below her chin from a speaker on the outside of the helmet as Kayto walked to bay 03's lift without encouraging Asaga any further.

Keying the intercom, Kayto addressed the Ryder pilot, his voice on the hanger loudspeakers overhead and being transmitted directly into the Ryder through its hull.  Even if the Ryder's external sensors were completely down, his voice would still sound like he was standing next to them.  “Unidentified Ryder pilot, we are docked to your external hatch.  Exit your Ryder and enter the lift with your hands in the air.  We will not shoot if you comply with our instructions.”

Everyone shifted nervously as the lift hummed to life after several seconds of silence and hissed open, revealing the unidentified Ryder's pilot.  Wearing a yellow set of Ryder armor that matched the color of her Ryder, the pilot stepped from the lift with an air of reticence, her head held high and her arms only halfheartedly raised.  Her long black hair was held back in a ponytail which reached down to the small of her back, the Ryder pilot's emerald eyes raked over the welcoming party from underneath her bangs, unimpressed.  “Kind of an unusual look for a PACT vessel,” she sniffed, eyeing her surroundings with suspicion.  Her face was young, but the hard look behind her eyes immediately betrayed a life not unaccustomed to hardship.

“This is Sunrider; she's a vessel of the Cera Space Force.  I'm Captain Kayto Shields, welcome aboard,” replied Kayto, figuring common courtesy wouldn't go amiss.  The pilot's question appeared to be genuine, suddenly making the likelihood that she was PACT special forces a good deal less likely.

“Cera?” the pilot's tone was surprised although she relaxed almost imperceptibly.  “I thought you guys got conquered by the PACT.”

“Not all of us; clearly,” said Kayto coolly.  “Who are you?”

“Icari Isidolde, private mercenary.”

“Hired by the PACT?” probed Kayto.

“Nothing of the sort,” shot back the pilot, crossing her arms.  “I was on a job, can't tell you any more than that,” she said, giving a wry smile.

“See, that kind of attitude isn't going to work here.  Security; relieve our guest of any weapons and take her to the brig.  We'll continue our conversation there,” said Kayto sternly, snapping his fingers at the marine team.  As four of them kept the pilot dead in their crosshairs, the other two began to pat her down, pulling an impressive array of weaponry off the woman's armor, hidden in just about every imaginable nook of her Ryder suit.  Having removed the most obvious threats, the marines gestured her forward with the barrels of their guns, escorting her to the waiting lift.  As they departed, Kayto frowned.  The mercenary's presence complicated the situation, implying some other faction interested in the outcome of the Versta situation, if her word could be trusted.  The truth was that the pilot could very well make up any story she wanted to and they would have a difficult time validating it without any collateral information. 

“Let her stew for an hour or ten,” advised Ava.  “Once she's had a chance to think things over, we'll try to get down to the bottom of things with her.”

Kayto nodded, it was a solid plan.  The only way they'd be able to test the authenticity of her word was by talking at length, trying to catch her out and doing their best to gauge her body language and cues.  Far from a science, but if there was something else at play at Versta, the mercenary was their quickest way of finding out.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 02:57:44 am by woolyshambler »
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline Jynx

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 6 Up)
« Reply #38 on: May 22, 2015, 08:59:11 pm »
Your work, sir, is truly a pleasure to read.

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 7 Up)
« Reply #39 on: May 25, 2015, 03:05:27 pm »
Memorial Day update.  Also would like to take the moment to thank Samu-kun for the gift of Sunrider Academy.  Medical school loan sharks keep breaking my kneecaps every time I try to buy new videogames and on hearing my plight, the Infinite Emperor granted me a boon.  *Sheds a tear*  So thoughtful...

Your work, sir, is truly a pleasure to read.

Thanks Jynx; it's nice of you to say so.  Comments like that keep me writing.

FanFiction

Chapter 7- Icari



Spoiler
Sunrider's brig was located on deck 1 with the ship's security command station and armory, guarded by the ship's marines on the few occasions when it was occupied.  Although it was a part of the ship Kayto would have rather not existed, the brig was undeniably a necessity for incidents like this one.  The brig was divided up into four sparsely furnished cylindrical cells, completely unused since the slavers had been packed into them for the short ride back to Tydaria.  Brightly lit with a large transparent one-way view secure door and wall, the cell offered zero privacy or modesty for its occupants. 

Kayto met with Ava at the brig twelve hours after pulling the pilot out of her Ryder, deciding the interrogation could wait no longer as the rendezvous deadline with the diplomats on Versta fast approached.  “How's our guest holding up?” he asked Ava as the two of them eyed the cell's languishing occupant.

“Hasn't said a word since she arrived according to the guards,” said Ava.  “Per protocol, we've performed a thorough search for weapons and contraband.”  Gesturing at a table set to the corner of the brig, she indicated an impressive collection of weapons and devices the marines had missed on their first pass.  “There's enough there to topple a small government.  I'd say we caught ourselves a professional assassin, judging from her toolkit.”

“Looks nasty,” observed Kayto, looking over the evidence with interest.  Hacking modules, explosives, two concealed firearms, at least a dozen knives of various shapes and sizes, and...  “A keychain?” inquired Kayto, examining a little whale-shaped trinket.

“Sonic grenade according to our scans,” cautioned Ava as Kayto quickly put the innocuous appearing device down.

“But nothing to identify her employer, I'm guessing.”

“We've scanned her profile, Ryder, even her equipment through the major databases; nothing.  They're all custom built without any evidence trail,”  Ava glared at Icari through the glass.  “Whoever she is, she's no amateur.”

“Looks like we're not going to learn anything else from just watching her,” remarked Kayto as the mercenary gave a large yawn and stretched out on the bed like a cat.  “Let's go talk to her.”

Kayto punched in the door's security code, entering with Ava once the door slid open silently.  As soon as they had entered, the door whisked close behind them quickly, immediately shutting off the outside world.  The room seemed deaden all sound, cutting off almost everything except the sound of their own breathing; furthermore, bright lighting and tight confines gave the room a nerve wracking and claustrophobic feel; undoubtedly intentional on the part of the designers.  Sniffing, Kayto fancied that the stench of the slavers lingered on just at the edge of conscious perception.

Hearing their entrance, Icari turned to eye them, remaining supine on the cell's cot and regarding them with a studied, bored expression on her face.  “Let me guess... good cop, bitchy cop,” she said, pointing to each of them in turn.

Ava crossed her arms angrily and stalked over to the far corner of the prison cell, flanking Icari with Kayto.

“At the risk of sounding cliché, you're in a heap of trouble,” he said sternly.  “Why don't you save us all a lot of pain and start talking to us?”

The assassin rolled her eyes, all the answer he needed; clearly, the half a day she had spent locked up had done nothing to loosen her tongue.  “First Officer Crescentia, what are Cera Space Force protocols regarding the search and seizure of contraband?” asked Kayto, deciding to play dirty.

“Page fifty-eight paragraph four clearly states that Cera Space Force vessels have the authority to perform search and seizure operations on any vessel deemed reasonably suspicious at the discretion of the commanding officer,” answered Ava, pinning the mercenary with her glare.

“Well... since our guest here isn't giving us anything to work with, have our crew power up the cutting torches.  You never know what's hidden behind all those panels on a custom Ryder like that,” shrugged Kayto, turning to leave.

Icari turned pale, sitting up finally and giving Kayto her full attention.  “Keep your paws off my Ryder!” she growled dangerously at his back.

“Give me a reason not to chop it to pieces then,” offered Kayto, pausing and turning his head around.

“Heh,” Icari chuckled softly, fixing him with her piercing gaze, amused at the game of hardball.  Sizing him up, she decided to play the game.  “What do you want to know?”

“Why did you attack us and are you working for the PACT?” asked Kayto, starting at the top, turning around to face her properly.

“I already told you, I don't work for those fanatics,” said Icari with a grimace.  “Weren't you even listening?”  Brushing something off her knee, she continued.  “I attacked your ship because I thought you were PACT freelancers.  Can't really blame me, can you?  Last anyone heard, the entire Cera Space Force had either been sunk, gone pirate, or gotten themselves pressed into service for the PACT.”

“Yeah, the PACT's subtle paint jobs can be hard to miss,” shrugged Kayto sarcastically.

“Look,” Icari snapped.  “The entire Neutral Rim's practically in anarchy now.  Plenty of guns for hire running around, selling their services and throwing their lot in with the PACT thinking that's the way the galaxy's going to spin.  You don't need to fly their flag or colors to be working for them anymore.  Not that it stops me from shooting anyways.”

“Seems like you're no friend of the PACT,” said Kayto.

“Well spotted, Captain,” Icari bit back acidly.  “I hate 'em.  Would've burned down their whole fleet if your crew hadn't gotten in the way and smashed up my booster.”

As she clenched her fists bitterly, Kayto decided that she was telling the truth about the PACT, if nothing else.  The look of hatred in her eyes was the genuine article; not too different from the flicker behind the eyes he saw in the mirror each morning.  “I guess we're on the same side as far as that goes then,” he said.

“What about you guys?” asked Icari.  “What's a renegade starship from the Cera Space Force doing all the way out here?”

“We're asking the questions here, not you,” pushed back Ava with one of the most classic law enforcement lines in history, glaring at Icari and playing the bad cop role admirably. 

“Relax,” said Icari, giving Ava a cold smile.  “We were just getting friendly.  Listen, Captain,” she said, turning back to Kayto, “Give me something to go on here.  Weren't we going to figure a way to work this out?  I answered your questions, don't you think you could answer one or two of mine?”

Kayto paused deliberately, drawing the moment out as long as possible.  “Fine, maybe we can talk this out.  We're here doing a bit of freelancing ourselves; Alliance business.”

“Interesting,” said Icari, a twinkle in her eye that hadn't been there a second ago. 

“You're going to have to explain to me why.”

Icari looked at him sideways, clearly thinking hard.  “Look... I'm a professional.  I'm not in the habit of ratting out my employers; bad for business and retirement planning.  But I could make an exception in this case for you, Captain.  You don't seem like a half-bad guy.  Give me your word that no one lays a finger on my Phoenix.”  Icari's face split into a mischievous grin as she cocked her thumb towards Ava.  “And tell your damned housewife to get her scowl out of my face.”

“You-!” started Ava, her temper flaring up around the cracks in her composure.

“That's fine, Commander,” restrained Kayto, although he worked hard to keep his face straight.  Icari's brashness had a certain charm he found likable.  “You've got my word, Icari.”

“Don't make me regret it, Captain,” she warned.  “Now... you guys wouldn't happen to have been hired by some Admiral, would you?  Tall, dry, kind of looks like a gray statue?”

“Well he certainly was gray.” answered Kayto, deciding to test the waters with a little play on words.  “In more ways than one.”

Ava groaned, burying her face into her hands, but Icari gave a predatory smile.

“That bastard,” she said almost as a compliment.  “He hasn't changed a bit.  I should know; worked for him for ages,” laughed Icari humorlessly.

“Public relations?”

“You could call it that,” smirked Icari.  “Oh it's nothing too terrible; Admiral Grey is a pretty principled guy, all things considered.  Escaped criminal outside of Alliance jurisdiction?  Still within mine.  Sleazy dictator getting out of hand?  I can fix that too.  Ongessite prices too high?  I carry the stick while the Admiral holds out a carrot.  You catch my drift.”

“Right... a principled man who hires the services of a contract assassin,” commented Kayto, although he wasn't entirely surprised.  People in power like the Admiral had always required the more unsavory services provided by Icari's type.

“You guys are here about the Alliance diplomats on Versta, right?” Icari went out on a limb and took an educated guess.  “It's not like there's any other reason to be sailing to this backwater planet.”

“That's why we're here,” answered Kayto, figuring the cat was out of the bag already and emphasizing the pronoun.  “But that doesn't tell us why you're here.  Versta's a rescue mission; nobody needs to get shot by a contract assassin here.”

“Is that what the Admiral told you...” Icari's smirk deepened.  “Rescue mission, I like that old son-of-a-bitch.”

“If you know something, you'd better spill it,” snapped Ava, growing tired of the assassin's roundabout game and smugness.

“Not so fast,” Icari waggled an armored finger at them.  “That information's going to cost you more than just a promise.  Nothing big, mind you.”

“This is a jail cell, not a spa,” growled Ava.  “You can't just pick and choose options you want.”

“Hey, all I'm asking for is a little security in exchange for client information.  Confidential client information.  And trust me, Captain, that I think you'll need my help if you poor sods still think this is a rescue mission.”  Icari's arms crossed as she dug in her heels.  “I'll clue you guys in and level with you if you let me out of here and give me my Ryder back.”

“How do we know you'll deliver?” asked Kayto.  “You're already going back on your previous word; not the best way to earn trust around here, Icari.”

“I'm simply renegotiating our terms,” sniffed Icari.  “I might be an assassin, but I'm no scoundrel.  You can count on my word, Captain.”

“Level with us and I'll do the best I can; you have my word on that,” proposed Kayto.  “Final offer.”

“Ugh,” grumbled Icari.  “I guess that's as good as it gets.  Fine.  Listen, war between the Alliance and the PACT is pretty much inevitable.  Everyone with half a brain knows it, but nobody wants to say it out loud.  This galaxy's just waiting to break out into all out galactic war, the kind and scale we haven't seen in a hundred years.  The politicians in the Solar Alliance are too comfortable on their fat asses to admit reality, but not everyone has their heads stuck in the sand like they do.  There's a faction that understands that war will break out sooner or later between the PACT and the Alliance and they want to intervene before the entire Neutral Rim becomes PACT's back yard.”

“Frankly,” Icari continued, her verdant eyes flashing, daring either of them to contradict her.  “I'd rather not bow to some Veniczar, so I think they've got it right.  The only problem is that President Alythe is too big of a pussy to have a spine; that man would have a hard time fighting an angry duck if his life depended on it, never mind  rally the Alliance to take on the PACT.  The Alliance needs a push in the right direction and this crisis is the opportunity everyone's been waiting for to get the Alliance serious about the PACT.”

Kayto and Ava listened to Icari, disbelief and surprise etched on their faces.  “So... you're telling us that someone in the Alliance hired you to hover over Versta and make sure the PACT captures those diplomats.  All in the name of sparking the biggest galactic war in over a century,” summarized Ava, her interest in Icari's story thawing her demeanor slightly.

“Now you're catching on,” nodded the assassin gravely.  “You let me out of this cell and back to my Ryder, and I can promise you those diplomats will never make it out of Versta's gravity well before the PACT gets their hands on them.  After that, well, it shouldn't be long before you have the Alliance's full backing in your fight against the PACT.  Think what that means for worlds like Cera.”

“It's really not that simple,” frowned Kayto with crossed arms.

“Sure it is,” rebutted Icari.  “I take off, you hang around until you're satisfied, this diplomats get captured, and you go running back to Admiral Grey to tell him the news.  Once it's all over, they'll probably pin some damn, shiny medal to your chest for saving the whole Neutral Rim too.

As disturbing as the mercenary's allegations were, her agenda against the PACT appeared genuine; in all likelihood, the woman was telling the truth.  Kayto's thoughts churned unhappily; the Versta situation had suddenly become much more complicated than the Sunrider's crew had bargained for.  “Alright, you've held up your end of the bargain, but we'll have to perform our own investigation of the situation once we reach orbit over Versta.  You'll get your Ryder back, that's a promise, but for now, you're going to have to stay on the ship.”  Looking around at the cell's unpleasant interior, Kayto made an executive decision.  “You'll be confined to one of our Ryder pilot quarters for now.  Don't complain,” he warned, seeing Icari's expression sour.  “It's one hell of an upgrade from your current rooming situation.  Besides, you're not going anywhere without your Ryder's booster pack unless you were planning on setting up shop on, what did you call it?  That 'backwater planet?'  Just enjoy the warm bed.”

“Tch, fine,” agreed Icari reluctantly.  “Just get me outta here.  And bring me something to eat; I'm starving!” she snapped at Ava, whose temple started throbbing again.

******

Back in the CIC, Kayto roused himself from thought as Ava returned from escorting Icari to her improved accommodations.  “Everything go alright with Icari?” he asked.

“Other than the fact she grabbed all the pudding she could carry from the mess hall?  I imagine she's making herself comfortable as we speak,” Ava grumbled, clearly having taken a disliking to their involuntary guest.  “Captain, about what she said...”

Kayto shook his head, “Even if we trusted her completely, which we don't, I don't think we can just twiddle our thumbs and wait here to see how it plays out.  We're going to finish our mission and save those diplomats.”

“Captain; I agree we should be careful with her, but, given the situation, we should consider what she said seriously,” advised Ava.  “Something's been off with this mission since we got here; the Alliance Navy sitting on its hands, the hot drop zone, a freelance assassin... I'm starting to think we were never meant to complete this mission.  Besides, what she said was true, this really could be the Alliance's wake up call to intervene in the Neutral Rim before it's too late.”

“I won't have the blood of civilians on my hands, Ava, no matter how convenient it is,” said Kayto firmly.  “We're not going to just sit back and watch those diplomats die for our own gain.”

Ava ground her teeth, staring at him for a moment before dropping her gaze and shaking her head.  “Noble of you, Captain; but war between the Alliance and PACT is inevitable.  It's not that we're sparking a war between the two; we're just not going to put this particular flame out.  Every day the PACT gets away with their aggression, another Neutral Rim planet falls and the death toll rises.  The PACT grows stronger, which is only going to lead to a bigger war when it does break out.  How many lives do you think we could save in the end by staying our hand today?”

Kayto closed his eyes, rubbing his temples firmly with the tips of his fingers.  As cold as Ava's assessment was, she was, as usual, right.  Even if the PACT and the Alliance didn't go to war today, the possibility of peace seemed more remote than ever.  The Neutral Rim's chances of surviving the oncoming storm intact seemed like an even more distant possibility, particularly if the PACT managed to completely occupy it before open conflict against the Solar Alliance.  “We'll keep our options open for now; keep the Sunrider on course to make orbit over Versta as quickly as our engines can manage,” ordered Kayto, unwilling to commit to a particular course of action just yet.  “What's the situation on the ground?”

“We've made contact with the Alliance diplomats on the frequency the Admiral's staff gave us.  They're getting ready to make a break for it as soon as they can.  Estimated time of departure in 3 hours; they'll be departing on the civilian liner Agamemnon.  She's a civilian liner affiliated with the Alliance.” reported Ava.  “We're going to have to provide escort in case things get hairy while they escape Versta's gravity well and prep for a jump back to Alliance space.”

“A civilian liner?” asked Kayto, thrown by the sudden change in plans.  “I thought the diplomats were going to take an HALO shuttle and dock with us for extraction.”

Ava shook her head unhappily.  “Apparently Alliance international law forbids their officials from coming aboard a foreign military vessel in any openly contested conflict zones.  They've insisted that we provide escort for the liner instead.”

Kayto's headache grew more pressing with the latest wrinkle to their plan for extraction.  “And why didn't the Admiral's office mention this little thing?”

“Like I said, Captain; I don't think they ever intended for us to complete the mission.”

Kayto sighed deeply, “This job just keeps on getting more interesting... Well, we'll just have to roll with the punches, I guess.  Let me know right away if something else comes up,” he requested as Ava saluted.  “I'm going to go weigh our options.  You have the CIC, Commander.”

“Aye Sir, I have the CIC,” confirmed Ava, settling into her command station without another glace at Kayto.  “Don't take too long, Sir.  The Agamemnon will be lifting off as soon as she's ready.”

******

Almost immediately after exiting the CIC, Kayto stood aimlessly in the ship's corridor, unsure where he had planned to go in the first place.  Forcing himself to walk somewhere, anywhere, it wasn't long before his feet had taken him full circle on Deck 1 and then some.  Coming to outside Engineering, as though he were in a fugue for the last ten minutes, he decided to walk in and pay Chigara a visit; clearly, walking around stewing with his own thoughts was not going to be the solution to their current predicament. 

Ever since Chigara had taken charge of Engineering, the ship's functioning had never been better.  Her reactor giving off an almost purring hum, it seemed that the ship itself wholeheartedly agreed.  Buried deep behind armor and reinforced bulkheads, engineering was a sprawling jungle of conduits, pipes, and feedlines, all of which carried some aspect of the ship's most essential lifelines.  Even Kayto, who had studied the ship's systems and designs over his four year training period, had difficulty keeping everything straight, but Chigara seemed to have dived head first into her position as Chief Engineer, showing an almost intuitive grasp of the ship's underlying architecture. 

Picking his way towards the back, where Research and Development was located, he spied Chigara's distinctive hair and hairband through a tangle of pipes as she consulted a hand-held unit's screen, undoubtedly checking one of Sunrider's hundreds of system maintenance points.  As he walked up behind her and cleared his throat, Chigara gave a huge jump, wheeling around and inexplicably grabbing the hairband off her head again.

“E-eah!!!  O-oh...”  Chigara flushed crimson as she saw Kayto's amused expression.  “I'm sorry Captain, I didn't see you coming...”

“Sorry I keep startling you like that,” grinned Kayto, looking her up and down; the girl looked good in one of Sunrider's uniforms. 

“Ehh...” Chigara gave a small, good humored smile, still pink at the cheeks.  “It's not your fault, I do that every time someone finds me when I'm in the middle of something.  I-it's good to see you here; did you need something?”

“Actually... yes,” said Kayto, launching into an explanation of what Icari had revealed to them.  Chigara listened seriously and thoughtfully through his monologue, her aqua eyes fixed on his.  “So... what's your take on the situation?” he finished.

Chigara played with her fingers nervously, clearly put on the spot by the question.  “Oh, ummm...  Well... I'm not very good with these kinds of decisions, Captain.  I think you're much better suited to thinking about this sort of thing than I am,” she said apologetically.  “Whatever you decide, I know it'll be the right decision.”

Kayto felt his spirits lift slightly at her confidence, even if it felt misplaced.  “Don't sell yourself short, Chigara.  You're the smartest person I've ever met.”

“Oh!” Chigara turned pink again, looking extremely pleased by the compliment.  “I don't know, Captain.  I'm good with machines and technology, but when it comes to people... I feel like I don't really understand them like everyone else does.”

“Well, we've all got strengths and weaknesses; but you do just fine,” said Kayto reassuringly.  “Thanks for lending me your ear; I feel a bit better now.”

“It was my pleasure, Captain,” smiled Chigara happily, “Feel free to come by anytime.  Just... maybe call out my name next time.”

******

Taking the lift up to deck 0, Kayto walked to his quarters for a moment of quiet reflection, Chigara's thoughtful listening having soothed one or two frayed nerves, but still leaving him no closer to a decision. 

“What do you mean you ran out!?!” demanded a loud, recognizable voice from the ship's mess hall as he passed by.

“I'm sorry, ma'am,” apologized the robotic voice of the mess hall's dispensary.  “All pudding supplies have been exhausted at the moment.  It will be approximately eight hours and eleven minutes before I am ready to serve another batch.”

Kayto walked over to Asaga as she continued to bicker and plead with dispensary interface, which was completely unmoved by her plight.  “Uhh... Asaga?  I don't think it's programmed to care if you throw a temper tantrum at it.”

“Darn it!”  Asaga stuck her tongue out at the fish eye lens of the dispensary.  “Fine... I guess I'll just have to eat a slice of strawberry cake.”

“Coming right up, ma'am,” said the machine obligingly.

“This is your fault Captain!” said Asaga, rounding on him as machinery hummed behind the mess hall walls and her cake appeared from a slot beside the machine.  “What kind of Captain would send his Ryder pilots out for a fight without proper food and nutrition?”

“I didn't realize vitamin D stood for desert,” joked Kayto.  “Besides, the person you're looking to blame isn't here right now.  I think Icari might have taken the last of the pudding before we confined her to one of the open Ryder pilot quarters.”

The two sat down at one of the tables, the mess hall almost entirely deserted during between-meals hours.  As Asaga dug into her strawberry cake, she continued the conversation thickly around a mouth full of pastry.  “So, what's the deal?  Did she crack?”

Kayto nodded and told Icari's story for the second time while Asaga polished off the cake remorselessly.  Wiping a stray smudge of icing off the side of her face and licking her fingers, Asaga didn't seem remotely bothered by the dilemma.  “So we're going to rescue those diplomats anyways and beat up anyone stupid enough to try to stop us, right?”

“I don't think we're going to be able to beat an entire PACT invasion fleet by ourselves, Asaga,” argued Kayto, smiling in spite of himself at the pilot's unsinkable attitude and clear-cut morals.

“Ah, pshhh,” Asaga waved at him dismissively.  “Leave it to me and mah Black Jack; We'll have that invasion fleet in full retreat before you know it.”

“So you think we should go ahead and try to complete the mission anyways?” he clarified.

“Well... duh!” Asaga's tone was disbelieving.  “Don't tell me you were even thinkin' about doing anything else!”  Kayto's facial expression must have given him away as Asaga balled her fists on the table and stood up, towering over him.  Almost nose to nose, she stared him down with her large eyes.  “No, no, no, no!  Captain!  You can't just let those innocent people die!  You gotta stand for what's right!  We're going to win this fight no matter what, even if it's the hard way, we gotta do it the right way!”

Kayto smiled at the passionate, hard look etched on Asaga's face.  Looking into her eyes, he could see the woman harbored zero doubt about what the right call for the situation was.  “Don't worry, Asaga,” he said, making up his mind. “You're right.  We're going to win this war with our principles intact; otherwise we'd be no better than the PACT in the first place.”

“Hell yeah, Capt'n!” Asaga pounded the table.  “Now I'm pumped!  I'm gonna tear those PACT ships a new exhaust port, if you know what I mean!”

“Uh yeah... thanks.  I'll keep that in mind,” said Kayto as Asaga abandoned her dishes in her excitement and charging out of the mess hall with a jaunty wave.  Sighing and carrying her plate to the return slot, Kayto ordered himself a coffee before making his way back to his office like he originally intended.

Once inside, he had no sooner sat down to start a brief Captain's log than the power suddenly cut out, leaving the entire room in pitch darkness.  “What the-?”

“Boo,” came a voice next to his ear.

Kayto almost jumped out of his skin as a hand landed gently on his shoulder, firmly pushing him back into his seat.  With a sinking feeling, he took note of the yellow gauntlet.

“Sorry, Captain,” Icari's voice continued softly next to his ear.  “Since your security systems were so lax, I couldn't help but to hack my way out of that room once I was done with all the pudding.  Looks like you and your crew need to upgrade your systems, unfortunately for you.”

“I don't suppose there's any use in calling security,” remarked Kayto as he consulted his bracelet and the dead controls at his desk. 

Slinking around the desk like a tiger, Icari plopped herself into a chair opposite to him, putting her armored boots up on the desk.  “Give me a little credit, Captain, I'm a professional.”

“Well I'm still alive,” Kayto said, stating the obvious.  “That means you came here for something.  Looks like I can't do much except listen.”

“Smart man,” smiled Icari.  “Most people I know... knew... would have pissed themselves about now.  But you're right, I'm not here to slit your throat or anything gory like that, I just wanted to chat.”

“I think a phone call might have sufficed.”

“Last ship standing, huh?” said Icari, ignoring the jab.  “I never imagined I'd find myself aboard a Cera naval vessel, one still flying its original flag anyways.  Must be hard.”

“We've got each other,” shrugged Kayto.  “It's not the end for us yet, so we get by, one day at a time.”

“How many people do you supposed died at Cera on that day?” asked Icari, twirling a lock of hair idly.

“Too many.”  Kayto's tone was blunt.  The assassin's play to appeal towards his emotions was obvious, but the truth was the truth.

“I couldn't help but notice while I was waiting for you here; who's the cutie in that portrait on your shelf?” she asked gesturing to a holo still of a young girl with long, platinum hair tied by two blue ribbons into pigtails, holding a raccoon from Cera's petting zoo.

“None of your business,” Kayto said pointedly, warning in his voice.

“The family resemblance is obvious,” continued Icari, apparently enjoying his reaction.  “You don't seem like the fatherly type, so I'm guessing she's your sister.”

“You're walking on thin ice, mercenary,” snapped Kayto.  “I suggest you drop the topic.  Now.”

“What's the matter, Captain?” demanded Icari, smiling viciously.  Putting her feet down and leaning in towards him, she continued, tightening the vise.  “Did I hit a soft spot?  Are you scared for her?  Scared for what the PACT did or is going to do to her?”

Kayto's fists clenched on the desk, but he refused to back down from Icari's intense stare. 

“Listen,” her tone and eyes softened.  “I know what it's like to lose family... the PACT took mine from me, the same as they probably did to you.  I swore, years ago, that I'd get back at them for what they did to me that day and now... I'm so close... Captain, you seem like good man, but that's why there are people like me in the galaxy to do the jobs you don't want to touch, but know that have to get done.  We can work together, bring the Alliance into the war against the PACT, avenge the ones we've lost.  I wasn't kidding when I said you seem like a decent guy.  Once this job is done, I'll even sign up with your ship and fly the Phoenix as one of your pilots, now that my warp booster's busted.  So long as you're still planning on getting even with the PACT.”

“You're presuming a lot of trust for someone who's got me in the dark on the wrong end of a lot of weapons,” pointed out Kayto, playing for time.

“How about I tell you a secret?”  Icari leaned in even closer, her scent surprisingly warm and soft.  “I'll tell you about who hired me in the first place.”

“I thought that was bad for business and lifestyle.”

“I'll make an exception... just for you.”  Icari's lips parted as she whispered into his ear, her long hair brushing his face gently.  “The man who hired me to take out those diplomats?  Harold Grey, Admiral, Solar Alliance Navy.”

“That's funny, because he also sent us out here to extract those same diplomats,” said Kayto as Icari drew back, smiling unkindly.

“The only thing funny about it is that you still think this is a rescue op.”  Icari's expression hardened. “Grey might have contracted your ship to extract the diplomats, but that's only because he still answers to President Alythe, who insisted that war be avoided at any cost.  As soon as he was done contracting your services through the official channels, he also hired me through... less official channels.

“Sounds like he's halfway down the path for a coup d'etat.”

“Maybe,” Icari shrugged, uninterested.  “It won't happen today or tomorrow, but if the Sollar Alliance's Senate continues to remain locked in inaction while the PACT swallows up the entire Neutral Rim, who can tell what lengths the military will go to to protect the common citizen, with or without the support of the civilian government.”

“Doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence, does it?” asked Kayto with distaste.  “The Alliance always plays the democracy and enlightenment card, but when push comes to shove, the sham falls apart and the people with the most guns end up deciding what happens.”

 “Get with the program, Captain.”  Icari laughed mirthlessly.  “Everyone, especially the Alliance military, knows that war is inevitable.  Sure, you can save those diplomats today, but the PACT's going to just keep on conquering world after world.  Millions will die, millions like your sister.  Keep on delaying, and the PACT is just going to get stronger when the war does break out.  When that happens, they'll just use the resources and the people of the Neutral Rim as fuel for the fire.  Or... you could let the Alliance intervene now, while the PACT is still mustering its strength.  You could end up saving millions of lives, just by sacrificing a few low level diplomats.”  Checking a digital timer display on her wrist armor, she fixed Kayto with an intense stare.  “Time's up, Captain, we're probably pulling into Versta orbit right now.  What's it going to be?  Are you going to bow down to the Veniczar?  Or are you going to take a stand and draw a line in the sand today?”

Kayto sighed deeply.  He understood all of Icari's motivations and felt the same pain she carried with her.  Everything she said made sense, but he couldn't let the temptation of an easy way out compromise the principles which differentiated his crew from the PACT, pirates, and even the Alliance.  If he doomed those men and women aboard the Agamemnon to die, he would lose the only things that kept his humanity through the last month.  Whatever the consequence, he knew Sunrider could not idly stand by on the potential of lives saved, rather than act and save the lives immediately in front of them.  Regardless how the assassin would take it, the orders to turn ship would never come from his lips.

“I hate the PACT,” he told her, his gaze burning into hers. For a moment, triumph flashed behind her green eyes.  “I hate the way they don't hesitate to pull the trigger, no matter how many innocent lives are lost, just to accomplish their goals that much faster.  We have a duty to humanity aboard this ship, not just ourselves and I'll be damned before I give an order to slaughter civilians in cold blood.  Now, get back to the brig, Icari, before you make a mistake you'll regret for the rest of your life.”

Icari's expression was hard, although a flicker of sadness entered her eyes, if only for a moment.  “You just don't get it, Captain.  The PACT is evil.  They'll never stop hurting innocents; we have to intervene before it's too late.  I can't let you interfere with my mission any longer.  I'm sorry, Captain.  I think I would have liked to get to know you better.” 

Before he could even blink, Icari drew a lethal looking sidearm, cleverly folded up under one of her armor plates.  The weapon charged with a soft whine as she pointed it between his eyes, hand steady.

“KAYTO!” Ava's voice startled both of them as she burst in through the door, the bright lights of the hallway blinding them momentarily.  Eyes widening in surprise at Kayto's predicament, Ava sprang into action.  Scrambling, Ava dropped her hand to her own pistol, snapping the weapon clear of its holster as Kayto took advantage of the distraction to dive out of his chair and behind his desk.

Bang

The report of Icari's gun thundered in the room, ricocheting off the door frame an inch from Ava's head before shattering Kayto's mug of coffee on the desk.  As Ava dove for cover, Icari cursed and sprinted out of his quarters, her black hair whipping around the corner after her as she disappeared.

“Kayto!  Are you alright!?” Ava practically screamed as she threw her gun aside and scrambled under his desk, cupping his cheek with one hand and patting his torso down with the other.

“I'm fine” said Kayto, surprised by her break in composure, catching the hand that feeling his chest with one of his own and looking into her worried eyes.  “You're not hurt, are you?”

“No,” Ava pulled back quickly, wrenching herself free of his grasp and avoiding his eyes as she got up and brushed herself off, trying to calm down.  “I ran up here as soon as I realized the mercenary escaped; looks like I was almost too late.”

“Tell me about it,” said Kayto, trying to hide his rattled nerves.  “Get security; stop that mercenary before she causes more trouble!”

“She's done something to our systems, Captain.” Ava said, shaking her head, “Security's down everywhere on the ship.  We're trying to bypass it, but we'll have to go down to the CIC before we can do anything.”

“Well, let's not waste time,” said Kayto as Ava nodded, the two of them hurrying back to Sunrider's CIC.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 02:57:57 am by woolyshambler »
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline Samu-kun

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 7 Up)
« Reply #40 on: May 26, 2015, 10:32:39 am »
*gets out the vuvuzela*

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 8 Up)
« Reply #41 on: May 28, 2015, 02:26:43 pm »
Had a lot of fun writing this chapter; I think I'm happiest with the way the character development turned out here to date.  I'll look forward to any thoughts any of you have with how I handled Icari and Kayto.

For your consideration:

FanFiction

Chapter 8- Agamemnon's Flight



Spoiler
“Status report,” demanded Kayto as he and Ava entered into the CIC.  “What's going on with the Phoenix?”

“Hanger bay safeties are being overridden!” called out a crewman, tapping furiously at his console.  “We've lost all controls over docking mechanisms and doors!”

On the main screen, the Phoenix blasted out of Sunrider's disabled hanger, taking off into the night sky and dropping out of view.

“Damn it!” Kayto jumped into the Captain's station.

“Scramble all Ryders,” ordered Ava.  “Pursue and intercept the Phoenix!”

Moments later, Asaga's and Chigara's voices came up in the CIC as they patched into their communications. 

“Chigara, did you save?” asked Asaga as they ran to the hanger deck.

“Is now really the time?”

“Great, just great.  Now we'll have to start from the beginning!”

“What the hell's going on down there!?” yelled Ava.

“Yikes!  We're on open comms, Chigara!” yelped Asaga.

“Sorry, Sorry!” Chigara apologized profusely.

“Uhh... I guess they were on break,” said Kayto suppressing a laugh despite the situation.

“Unbelievable...” muttered Ava, rubbing her brow.  “Just... get out there ASAP, pilots.”

Alarms blared out suddenly throughout the CIC.

“Alert!  Massive energy spike detected!  Multiple PACT signatures dropping out of warp, Captain!” yelled Ava over the proximity klaxon.  “Looks like the PACT invasion fleet got here early!”

“More good news,” grumbled Kayto, having the sense that the mission had gone awry in just about every way possible.  “Red Alert, all hands to battle stations!  Asaga, come in,”

“Black Jack here, whatdaya' need Capt'n?” Asaga's hologram appeared in the CIC, slightly flattened as Black Jack's acceleration crushed her into the crash seat in her cockpit.

“Change of plans,” announced Kayto.  “Abandon pursuit of rogue Ryder for now and focus on protecting the Agamemnon.  We've got multiple PACT signatures inbound.  Keep your eyes peeled for her though, I have a feeling she might be back to interfere with the mission.”

“Roger that, Capt'n!”

“Where the hell is the Agamemnon?” he demanded.  Calling up his tactical display, Kayto watched as multiple red contacts lit up; ships dropping out of warp all around and practically on top of the Sunrider.

“They've just made it into orbit,” Ava replied, “Incoming hail from the Agamemnon.”

“Put her through.”

The Agamemnon's captain, a thin, balding middle age man materialized on deck, giving Kayto a nervous salute.  “I wish there were more time to chat Captain, but it looks like the PACT is going to try to complicate our evacuation.  We're glad to have you with us, Sunrider.”

“Likewise, Agamemnon.  Leave the fighting to us and stay in our shadow.  Sunrider will provide cover for the Agamemnon.  Do not break cover unless we specifically instruct you otherwise.  Once we're out of Versta's gravity well, spool up your drives and get out of here as fast as you can, with or without us.  Do we have an understanding?”  asked Kayto, his tone leaving no room for discussion.

Sweating, the man moped the shining top of his head and nodded.  “Of course, Captain; we defer to your orders entirely.”

“Is that big ship going to protect us?” asked a young girl's high pitched voice over the channel as the Agamemnon's captain turned around in shock. 

“Who let her on the bridge?  Take her back to the passenger section, now!” he demanded, clearly agitated.

Feedback blared through the comms and Kayto reeled back and winced, his world blurring suddenly.  Through the din, he heard a voice; an impossible voice.

Kayto! Kayto!

Heart pounding, Kayto blinked and shook his head, a cold sweat breaking out over his body all of a sudden.  The feedback washed away and the ringing in his ears cleared.  Shaken, he looked around quickly, but everyone else was busy at their stations, paying him no heed.  Raising a hand to mop the sweat from his brow, Kayto shifted uncomfortably; had he really imagined the whole thing?

“Agamemnon, what the hell was that?!  You have children aboard?!” demanded Kayto, his training overriding the surrealism and grounding him in the here and now of the mission, steeling his nerves.

“We... didn't want to trouble you with that information, Sunrider.”  Agamemnon's captain's tone was pleading.  “We didn't have space for all the refugees trying to flee the PACT invasion, but we couldn't say no to their children! 

The new information suddenly made it clear why the Alliance diplomats and ship crew had declined to leave via shuttle so vehemently.  “Copy that, Agamemnon.  How many do you have aboard?”

“Just a little over six hundred, Sunrider.  We're over full capacity, but it was the only way to get them off Versta before the PACT arrived.  Please, we had to do what was right!”

Kayto nodded, “Of course.  Do whatever it takes to protect them, even if it means leaving us behind.  Sunrider out.”

“Thank you, Captain,” said Agamemnon's captain as he bowed gratefully and cut the communications.

“Attention all Ryders and crew,” barked Kayto, keying shipwide transmissions.  “Sunrider will provide cover for the Agamemnon and the six hundred children aboard her.  I repeat, six hundred civilian children refugees.  Defend her at all costs, don't let the PACT take a single open shot at her; those kids are depending on you.  Shields out.”

The CIC erupted into a cacophony of cheers, applause, and roars as crew from all over the ship yelled their approval through their speakers in a spontaneous, protocol-bending show of solidarity.  Kayto felt his heart lift and his resolve solidify; his crew was depending on him to make the right decisions now.

Ava pinched the bridge of her nose, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, unmoved by the display.  “What a nightmare...”

“Bring us alongside the Agamemnon, put us between her and the PACT” he instructed her, ignoring the pessimism.  The civilian craft's engines were far more modest than the Sunrider's, which forced Kayto to use his own ship as a shield as the Agamemnon slowly pulled away from Versta.  “A civilian liner won't last thirty seconds against them without cover.  Weapons free as soon as the PACT enters laser range.”

“Aye, Sir, Sunrider coming about, moving at flank speed,” confirmed Ava.

Outside, four PACT infantry Ryders deployed from the two nearest cruisers, picket and recon forces for the larger PACT invasion fleet undoubtedly preparing to exit warp.  The Ryders rocketed off ahead towards Sunrider, forming a line against them.  Black Jack and Sunrider both fired their lasers into their ranks, Liberty providing a targeting uplink to Sunrider.  The PACT Ryders spun and dodged, their small profiles and superior speed granting them protection at range.  One of the Ryders took a full blast by chance alone, injured, but still fully capable of continuing onward with the rest of its pack.

Together, three of the PACT Ryders took ranging shots of their own, landing a hit on Black Jack's frame.  Under the cover of his comrades' fire, the squad leader of the PACT Ryders burned in to engage the Black Jack in close quarters combat.

“Give Black Jack some cover fire!” ordered Kayto.

“Aye, Sir.  Firing all assault cannons!” confirmed Ava.  On screen, Sunrider's assault cannons swept across the enemy line, destroying the wounded Ryder and the one next to it.  “Multiple impacts; two enemy Ryders down, Sir!” 

“Black Jack, holding steady,” reported Asaga, confirming that the Black Jack's armor had kept its vital systems safe.  “Leave the closest mook to me!”

“Copy that,” agreed Kayto, “Liberty, provide aim assist to Black Jack.”

Black Jack's lasers discharged with extreme prejudice at close range, searing the squad leader's Ryder.  Without missing a beat, Asaga thumbed her autocannon controls, dispatching the Ryder with a hailstorm of bullets.

“Additional PACT reinforcements!” cried Ava as three additional PACT infantry Ryders dropped in from their more distant carrier group.  Slightly behind them, two slower Ryders with bulkier silhouettes accompanied the sortie.  “Scanners read two additional PACT bomber Ryders behind them.” 

Kayto grunted his acknowledgment unhappily.  The PACT bombers were essentially larger, better equipped infantry models with additional armor that mounted missile and rocket pods at the expense of mobility and maneuverability.  Abandoning their short range assault cannon for a body shield, the PACT bomber represented a significant threat, especially when coupled with other missile launching PACT ships and units and when facing fleets without overwhelming flak defenses.  Furthermore, their presence at Versta signified the arrival of the PACT's main invasion fleet, as the larger, more complicated Ryders were almost exclusively deployed from carriers, as opposed to cruisers. 

As he weighed his options of engaging the new Ryder wing versus opening fire on the closing cruisers, Black Jack and Liberty penned in the final PACT Ryder, dispatching the unfortunate pilot with a coordinated pincer attack.  “Liberty, Black Jack, stand by to fire on nearest PACT cruiser,” he decided.  “Discharge your lasers after the Sunrider takes out their armor.  Fire Saviors, give them all we've got!”

Sunrider's Saviors fired two salvos, emptying their payloads directly into the oncoming PACT cruiser.  It was a testament to the focus of the Sunrider's crew defending the Agamemnon that not a single projectile missed at that range, punching devastating craters into the PACT cruiser's hull.  Not moments after, Liberty and Black Jack discharged their laser weapons, lancing the stricken ship, which shuddered and exploded, tearing itself apart deck by deck.

“Slew the ship forty degrees to port; give them our lateral side.  All hands, brace for impact,” warned Kayto.  Having decided to concentrate their fire on the lead cruiser, missile salvos from the PACT bombers were all but certain; they would have to rely upon their flak defenses and the Sunrider herself to keep the Agamemnon safe.  On screen, the remaining cruiser continued driving forward with the three new infantry Ryders, apparently intending to overwhelm Sunrider's position.

As predicted, the bomber Ryders let loose with their missiles as soon as they drew into range, dozens of white vapor trails streaking from their frames.  Explosions dotted the sky as Sunrider and Black Jack opened fire, their overlapping fields of fire shredding the oncoming missiles.  Even so, the sheer number in the volley allowed five missiles to weave their way past the flak guns, their targeting micro-computers adjusting their trajectory with telemetry from destroyed missiles to avoid the oncoming fire.  Slamming into Sunrider's hull, they blasted craters into her armor, spraying molten metal away from the ship.  To Kayto's relief, none of the missiles found their way past to the Agamemnon.  Because of the Ryder's relatively small frame and capacity compared to a PACT missile frigate, their missile capacity was fairly limited, necessitating that the Ryder either withdraw from the fight to reload or switch to its secondary laser rifle, dramatically reducing its threat.

“Sections 32, 16, and 2 breached!” reported Ava as the CIC rocked with the impacts.  “Sealing emergency bulkheads!”

“Damn it, always the same sections; we should get them reinforced or something... Fire Saviors again!” ordered Kayto as soon as the guns had cooled and reloaded.  On screen, Black Jack took after the lead PACT infantry Ryder, closely pursued by the remaining two.  Firing her guns, Asaga nailed the lead Ryder, tearing it asunder and flying through the cloud of flame and debris as she tried to shake the other two Ryders on her tail.  Diving over then under the Sunrider's prow, she clipped one of the pursuing Ryders with a burst from her machine gun as the Saviors discharged over their heads, narrowly missing them as they targeted the remaining PACT cruiser.  With Liberty's added laser fire, the oncoming PACT cruiser paid dearly for its enthusiasm, crumpling on impact and splitting down her prow as she took slug after slug head on.

“Cruiser neutralized, Captain,” reported Ava.  “I'm detecting two additional cruisers and a missile frigate on intercept!”

Kayto gritted his teeth as the remaining Ryders took two potshots at Sunrider, scoring direct hits against her armor and setting off alarms in the CIC as additional external sections were breached.  “Black Jack, we need you to keep those mooks off us!”

“I got mah hands full over here, Capt'n!” came Asaga's strained voice as the Black Jack pulled into a severe arc, trying to shake a second barrage of missiles launched at her as the bomber Ryders emptied the last of their missiles.  Sunrider and Black Jack did their best to intercept with flak cannon fire as Asaga led the missiles on a chase, but ultimately fell short of downing them all.  “Frame integrity starting to weaken...” Asaga's voice was slightly more concerned than it had been a second ago as Black Jack suffered several missile impacts to its rear.

“Fire pulse lasers, take them out!” ordered Kayto, the Sunrider bringing her lasers to bear and torching the remaining infantry Ryders.  “Liberty, sabotage their flak network, we're going to take out that missile boat before it gets a chance to launch!”

“Virus uploaded,” confirmed Chigara.  “PACT cruiser flak neutralized.”

As neither the remaining bomber Ryders nor the missile frigate itself carried any point defense weapons, Black Jack and Sunrider were free to let loose with missiles of their own.

“Missile pods running hot, fire all Hell Dart missiles,” ordered Ava to the crew.

A dozen ports on the Sunrider's hull opened in sequence, letting loose with her full complement of anti-ship missiles, quickly joined by their smaller counterparts from the Black Jack.  Unimpeded, the missiles streaked forward and detonated on the missile frigate's lightly armored frame, setting off additional internal explosions and sinking the ship as a lucky missile flew straight into their armory.  Likely stung, but undaunted, the PACT commanding officer threw both cruisers forward at maximum engine output.  The two remaining bomber Ryders, closed distance slightly, firing their laser rifles and scoring a lucky hit on the increasingly battered Black Jack.

“Uhh... Captain... I've got a lot of red lights turning on here,” warned Asaga.  “What the-?”

Icari's voice burst over their communication frequency as she hacked into their secure channel, startling Asaga.  “Sunrider, get out of my way!  This is your last warning!” her voice sounded frustrated.

“Triangulate her signal, now!” ordered Kayto, muting their end of the comm channel.

“Oy!” Asaga yelled indignantly back at the mercenary.  “Don't you see what's going on here?  There are children aboard that ship; six hundred of them.  If you go through with this, those kids are goin' to die!”

“If I don't go through with it, a million other children will die as the PACT conquers their planets, one at a time!” Icari's voice trembled slightly as she retorted.

“You don't even know if that's true!” yelled Asaga, pounding her console with a solid thud.  “Letting them die right now doesn't guarantee anyone's survival in the future.  Screw thinkin' about what might happen tomorrow!  'Cause you got innocents to protect right here, right now!”

“You're naive.” Icari's voice stiffened with resolve.  “It's ugly and maybe no one wants to admit it, but war's always involved sacrifice.  You're just blind to reality and passing it off as righteousness.  I've made up my mind... if you won't stand aside... I'll just have to take matters into my own hands.”

“Y-you're crazy!” shouted Asaga as Icari's hacked signal cut off abruptly.

“Captain, we have a fix on the Phoenix,” reported Ava, “The mercenary is behind PACT lines, likely just outside their sensor range.  Advise we mop up what's left of their advance forces before she gets a chance to engage.”

Kayto nodded, accepting Ava's plan.  “Make it happen, Commander.”

“All Saviors fire!  Take them out!” barked Ava. 

Sunrider's Saviors fired again, landing devastating blow after blow on the closest PACT cruiser, breaking the ship's spine and gutting her straight down the mid-line in some of the finest shooting Kayto had seen Sunrider's crew let loose with yet.  As she detonated, Black Jack and Liberty poured laser fire at the now lame PACT bombers, cutting one to pieces and leaving the other one struggling to continue.  The remaining PACT cruiser and Ryder returned fire, Sunrider shuddering angrily as their lasers cut through to her internal sections, causing them to depressurize explosively.

“Rerouting systems and sealing emergency bulkheads!” cried Ava, “Don't let them get another shot in; fire Saviors as soon as they're ready!”

“Watch the Phoenix,” warned Kayto as the yellow Ryder came into visual range, streaking towards the Sunrider from behind the PACT cruiser at alarming speeds.  The PACT ship's turrets strained to track her yellow frame as it flashed over them to no avail.  “Damn, that girl's got guts...” he muttered, admiring the mercenary's impressive piloting skills.  For speed like that, the Phoenix undoubtedly mounted some of the galaxy's most powerful thrusters on what probably was the lightest Ryder frame Icari could get away with.  Studded along the Ryder's rear for main propulsion and arrayed outwards from its back like a pair of angel wings, the Phoenix's thrusters boasted an unprecedented speed and maneuverability specs, even by Ryder standards, approaching the near suicidal limit of Ryder technology.  The fact that she was still alive piloting an unbalanced Ryder like that was a mark of her extraordinary piloting abilities.

Sunrider let loose once again with her powerful deck guns, slugging the PACT cruiser into submission before a final kinetic slug knocked out enough ship-critical systems to leave the vessel dark and dead.  Taking exception to the threat the Phoenix posed to the Agamemnon, Asaga took off towards her in the Black Jack, firing her pulse lasers as fast as the weapon would cycle and leaving the wounded bomber to Liberty.  As Liberty delivered the finishing touches the the PACT Ryder, Asaga and Icari played a dangerous game of chase.  The Phoenix's speed made it a tricky target as it pulled a number of hair-raising maneuvers, dodging Black Jack's fire from the rear with inhuman ability. 

Kayto gripped the arms of his chair with sweaty palms; if the Phoenix managed to dodge past the Sunrider, there would be no way to protect that Agamemnon from a direct shot.  Already, Icari had ducked under the firing arcs of the Sunrider's flak cannons, rendering the larger ship unable to provide assistance for the Black Jack's pursuit.

Flying at reckless speeds, the yellow Ryder's only disadvantage was that Black Jack knew exactly where it was headed; towards the Agamemnon.  Choosing a more direct path to avoid Sunrider and minimize the time Black Jack had on her tail, Icari unfortunately opened up the Phoenix's rear to the possibility of a crippling, well placed shot from the Black Jack in an all-or-nothing bet for the fate of the Agamemnon.

“Come on, come on...” ground out Asaga as she mashed her weapon controls repeatedly, pouring all her concentration into scoring a hit on the flighty Phoenix.  Sweat dripped down her brow, stinging her eyes as the distance counter towards the Agamemnon dwindled down insanely fast.  Laser light flashed in her eyes from the Black Jack's main monitors as her weapons flared repeatedly and the entire frame groaned as Black Jack struggled to keep up with Phoenix.

“AAARRRGGGHHH!” Asaga screamed as she slammed her thumbs down, exhausting the last of her laser weapon's reserve.  The laser pulses streaked forward, miraculously scoring hits on Phoenix's delicate frame and exposed engines.  “HHAAHAAAA!!!!” her scream seamlessly transitioned to whoop of exhilaration as she watched the Phoenix's engines short out, sending the slim Ryder into a desperate tumble as it desperately tried to correct with its damaged “wings.”  Blasting past the damaged Ryder at top speed, the Black Jack slowly began to arc back, unable to overcome its inertia the same way as Phoenix could.

******

From inside the Phoenix, Icari's jaw clenched and her eyes flashed as she wrestled with her Ryder's controls, its uncontrolled spin putting an almost unreal amount of centripetal force on her body, threatening to black her out.  Detecting unacceptable gee-forces, her Ryder suit's internal fabric automatically tightened like a vise, clamping down on her legs to prevent blood from pooling away from her head.

Shaking violently, the Phoenix screamed out in protest with a dozen shrill alarms.  Fighting the darkness creeping into her vision and barely able to breathe, Icari lifted a struggling hand, every effort feeling ten times normal, tapping a series of flashing red symbols on the touch panel to her left.  What was left of the Phoenix's thruster capacity flickered to life as her computer did its best to compensate and protect its pilot with the limited resources and damaged systems at its disposal.  Gradually, the strain and pressure on her body lifted as the Phoenix's retrothrusters engaged, allowing her to breath deeply again as the Ryder righted itself and stopped its uneven spin. 

Utterly exhausted, Icari rebooted her systems, face long with the number of damaged functions the computer read out to her with a cracked, glowing red screen.  Aside from the most limited of engine and thruster capacity, the only remaining intact systems were the autocannons mounted into each of the Phoenix's armatures.  Everything else, including life support, had essentially ceased to function.  As her breath panted out, beginning to condense in front of her as the cabin cooled dramatically, Icari gritted her teeth.  Hair shielding her eyes, face down with grim determination, she put her hands on Phoenix's controls one more time.

“-enix... -ome in... Phoenix!” Asaga's voice burst through the static of her crippled communications array.  “Surrender now, it's over!”

Icari's breath quickened, “You haven't won yet... All that you've accomplished here today is letting the PACT have their way with the Neutral Rim and its people... I won't allow that!”  Icari yelled the last bit with conviction.  “With my own hands... I'll rid the galaxy of the PACT... I'll do whatever it takes, for everyone they've murdered!!!”

“-cari, stop!” Kayto's voice burst over the static of the channel as well.

Pointing the Phoenix's autocannons directly at the hull of the Agamemnon, nothing could stop her in time from completing her mission.  One push of her firing controls and her autocannon rounds would tear through the civilian liner's thin hull without any measure of difficulty.  “This... this is for everyone I lost...”

As she dropped the targeting reticle over the Agamemnon, her hands froze as her screen automatically zoomed in on her target.  A child, brown haired and no older than 8, peered out the liner's large viewport, mouth agape at the starships and Ryders chasing after one another during the battle.  Tear tracks from her large brown eyes showed clearly on her face, evidence of the fear and apprehension the passengers of the liner had felt while Sunrider and her Ryders fought against wave after wave of PACT intercept forces.  As the child looked out at her Ryder, Icari felt her eyes drill into her, even though it was impossible that the girl could know she was directly in between the Ryder's crosshairs.  Slowly, the child raised a hand to the window, pressing it against the transparent hull, refusing to look away from the barrels of the guns pointed at her. 

Icari's thumbs trembled over the firing studs as a tear of her own slid down her cheek.  “D-damn...” she whispered through gritted teeth.  For a second, the girl's hair turned black and her eyes green.  Flames devoured the Agamemnon's hull as the girl pulled away, hands pressed against her view port in horror, screaming and crying, alone and adrift.  The view turned blurry as additional tears pooled in Icari's eyes, streaming down her face and splashing down on her armor and controls.  “W-why...?”  Icari dropped her controls, allowing the Phoenix to stand down, before pounding the console with her fists, inadvertently triggering her microphone.  “WHY!?”

“Because you're nothing like the PACT, Icari.”

Kayto's serious voice crackled over the communications array, somewhat garbled, but filled with kindness and warmth despite everything she had done.  Clutching onto the sound of his voice as a lifeline thrown to her in the storm of despair welling up in her chest, she grabbed on and hung to it, drowning in the sea of conflict and sorrow within her.

“Don't ever forget that.”

“I-I... damn it...” sobbed Icari, switching off her comms before letting loose with the torrent of emotion.  Tears streaming and gasping for breath, she cried for an entire minute before steadying herself, trying to calm down before checking her Ryder controls to confirm that her end of the channel remained muted.  Gulping, she wiped tears from her face and chin before opening the channel, speaking wetly, but as close to normal as she could manage.  “...So uncool...”

“Captain, we've escaped Versta's gravity well.”  Ava's voice was tiny in the background.  “Agamemnon is warping out, Sir.”

In front of the Phoenix, space and time twisted apart before the civilian liner as her warp drives spooled up at emergency speed.  With a pulse of her engines, the Agamemnon eased into the tear, disappearing in the blink of an eye and carrying its passengers towards the promise of safety.

“Mission accomplished, people,” Kayto's voice announced.  “Spool up our own drive, get us out of here before the rest of that invasion fleet comes around Versta.  All Ryders, come back home.”

Icari slumped in her seat and drew her legs up, shivering suddenly as she realized how cold and dark the Phoenix's cockpit had become.  Alone, only the beating of her heart and the sound of her crystallizing breath kept her company as the Phoenix drifted.  With a small, sad smile, she pressed her forehead against the cold metal of her Ryder suit's thigh plates, curled up against the harshness of the universe.  After the life she had, after all the close calls and suicidal risks... dying in the peace and quiet of interstellar space, adrift in her prized Ryder, didn't seem so bad.

“That means you too, Icari.  Bay 03 is ready and waiting for the Phoenix.”

Icari jumped at Kayto's order, almost certain she had misheard him.  An unwelcome flush in her cheeks crept to the surface.

“Do you need a tow or do you still have enough functionality to dock?” asked Ava.

“I... Understood; Phoenix returning to base,” called in Icari, a warmth rising in her chest against the cold.  Ignoring the smug note in Ava's voice, Icari resolved to use the Phoenix's own engines, even if it killed her in the process; anything to avoid the humiliation of being towed back in addition to having to face the First Officer again.

Grabbing Phoenix's controls, she dumped ever last watt of power the Phoenix had left into the thrusters to push the Ryder towards the Sunrider pitifully slowly compared to its usual flight speed, limping towards the warm lights and safe harbor of the ship's Ryder bays. 

******

As soon as the Ryders had safely landed in Sunrider's hanger bay, the assault carrier warped, jumping away from Versta and the PACT fleet bearing down on their coordinates, eager to avenge their comrade's deaths.  Confirming that Sunrider had successfully evaded pursuit, Kayto left the CIC with Ava in tow.

“HaHa!  That's two for two, Capt'n” hooted Asaga, flashing a “V” sign with her fingers in his face as she charged out of bay 01's lift.

Kayto met her high-five as she bounced past, wincing slightly as her armored gauntlet slapped into his hand unforgivingly.

“Ah... I've come back too, Captain,” Chigara's quiet voice drifted towards them as she walked closer from 02's lift, smiling nervously and holding a hand up awkwardly.

“You two did great out there,” affirmed Kayto as the two pilots beamed at him.

“Captain.” Ava's tone was serious as she nodded towards bay 03's lift, from which Icari had emerged, lingering uncertainly by the door frame as she watched the reunion in front of her.  As she took a step in their direction, Ava set a hand on her pistol's butt.

Kayto ignored Ava, taking a few steps forward towards the yellow-clad pilot as she eyed them warily.  “Well...” his tone was light.  “Feels better to be one of the good guys, huh, Icari?”

Icari crossed her arms and stood akimbo, looking somewhere to the left of her boot.  “I-it's not like I was helping you or anything... I just... felt bad about those kids, that's all.”

Kayto said nothing, watching her face soften as she took a deep breath.

“...But I guess... I guess I was wrong.  For a moment, it felt like I was really ready to do it.  I would have killed all those kids, every last one, just to get even with the PACT.”  Icari shuddered slightly as she forced herself to look up into the eyes of everyone watching her. 

“The PACT killed my whole family when I was twelve.  We were just space explorers, pushing out where no one had ever gone before.  We had no money, no treasures... just our ship and each other.  But they came aboard anyways, demanded charts and information we knew nothing about.  I... watched their leader shoot my mother between the eyes. Just because we couldn't give them what they wanted.  I ran, ran past them killing the rest of my family.  When it was over, I barely made it to an escape pod before they blasted the ship.  Drifted in space for five days, no food, water, or heat until an Alliance patrol picked my signal up and brought me aboard, half dead.”  Icari's face crumpled as the memories surfaced, driving unwilling tears down her face as her shoulders shook.  Bowing her head and hiding her shame from the others, she finished her story. 

“Just me.  No one else made it.  After that, I traveled the galaxy, ran with some of the wrong people for a while, trying to get even with the PACT and avenge my family.  I've never done anything else with my life and... I'm not about to stop now.”

Icari's story finished, leaving the hanger catwalk silent as Asaga and Chigara stared at her, wide-eyed.  Even Ava seemed a little sympathetic, frowning and slowly dropping her hand from her sidearm.

“But... something stayed your hand out there,” said Kayto as he took a step closer to Icari.  “Something told you that murdering those children wouldn't avenge your family.  If you did that, you'd be no better than the men who came aboard your family's ship that day.”

Icari kept silent, tears continuing to rain down from her chin.  Although she had no words, her silence assented to Kayto's sentiment.

“I know a better way,” suggested Kayto gently.  Icari gave a twitch and looked up, meeting his gaze.  “Our hanger bay's awfully empty and we're looking for skilled pilots.  Play by our rules and bay 03 will always be waiting for you to come home.”

Icari's clouded green eyes cleared as she reached out to him through the conflict and turmoil within her, wanting desperately to believe in his words, even if she couldn't admit it.

“We'll get even with the PACT and kick them out of the Neutral Rim, but we're going to defeat them the right way, without hurting any civilians or innocents.  That's going to make the mission a hell of a lot harder, maybe even deadlier, but that's the cost... I guess I'd rather be dead than forget about who we're fighting to protect or why we're doing it in the first place,” said Kayto, shrugging and clasping his hands behind his back.

“You... you'd still have me on the crew?  Even after everything I've done?” asked Icari, almost fearfully.

Kayto smiled sadly, “We've all lost family to the PACT on this ship, Icari.  Don't think for a second that you're alone.”

“I-, Captain...”  Icari gave a wet smile.  “I'm... ashamed... of what I did.  Of the kindness you're showing me... but, maybe you're right.  Maybe we can win this war without using the methods the PACT relies on.”  Straightening her back, she drew herself up as the flow of tears staunched on her face.  “I'll help you defeat the PACT... and I'll play by your rules.”

“Don't think that being part of the crew means I won't have my eyes on you, mercenary,” growled Ava from behind Kayto as he smiled.  “You may have won the Captain's sympathies, but give me a reason, and I'll be the one throwing you in the brig.”

“Oy!” Asaga chimed in too.  “Capt'n!  Don't you think she's tried to slit our throats one too many times to be crew?”

Kayto turned to them as Icari flinched as though slapped.  “We all make mistakes, Asaga.  Icari could have killed any of us if she wanted to, but she was better than that.  We all want to defeat the PACT, and that means forgiving, forgetting, and trusting each other first.”  Turning to back to Icari, he continued.  “Looks like you've got a lot of patching up to do before folks stop locking up at night; are you up to the challenge?”

Icari saluted emotionally.  “Sir!  I swear I'll use this chance to make things right.”  Looking past Kayto, she looked at Asaga, Chigara, and Ava in turn.  “I'll win your trust.  We'll fight together from now on.”

Asaga looked embarrassed as she rubbed her neck, “Fine, fine, I guess an extra wing-mate is fine, so long as you keep your guns on the PACT!”

Chigara smiled timidly with hunched shoulders.  “Ah... w-welcome to the team, Icari! Heh... let's all get along now, ok?  No more fighting.”

“Hmph,” Ava tried to put on a strong front.  “I'll make sure we get you some fresh uniforms and set you up with the pilot quarters you stayed in last time.  What are you, a size two?”

“Thanks everyone...” Icari said quietly with a smile.

“Alright, alright, enough mushy stuff!” declared Asaga loudly.  “I'm starving!  Let's grab some grub!”

“Unbelievable...”

“Everyone's coming, no buts about it!  That means you too, Capt'n!” demanded Asaga.  “We've got to talk, catch up, laugh, cry, and bond like a team!”

Kayto grinned, “Looks like you've got me.  Alright team, let's head on up.”

“S-seriously...” Icari grumbled halfheartedly without malice.  “I guess I don't have a choice then...”

******

As the evening hours dragged on, Sunrider's mess hall became a scene of complete chaos and abandonment of the usually strict Ava-enforced military protocols aboard the ship.  Not two hours earlier, Kayto had used his Captain's codes to release the alcohol lockouts on the mess hall dispensary to thunderous applause and wild cheering.  Now, nursing a vodka and tonic, his second one, he eyed his crew fondly as they spilled their drinks, laughing and singing in the first real victory celebration they had had since the Sunrider had launched. 

Across the table, Ava leaned in, practically shouting over the din of the room around them.  “Captain, I'm not certain this was the best idea; protocol regarding on-duty alcohol consumption-”

“Relax, Ava,” interrupted Kayto, noting that his First Officer had conspicuously remained abstinent of drink through the evening.  “Ship morale isn't something that we can afford to ignore.  Our crew just saved the lives of over six hundred child refugees and gave the PACT a damned good black eye to boot.  They deserve this.”

“Hmph,” Ava waved a hand, irritated.  “I suppose... but things are starting to get a little out of hand,” she said, nodding towards Icari and Asaga.

The two were surrounded by a dozen cheering crew members as Chigara hovered nervously over the two, locked in a drunk arm wrestling match. 

“SKILL!” bellowed Asaga, her face flushed the same color as her hair.

“LUCK!” roared back Icari, grimacing as she pushed back against Asaga's arm.

The match continued for a good ten seconds before Asaga's arm collapsed; the crowd cheered gleefully and began chanting as Asaga pulled a long drink straight from the pitcher next to her, liquor splashing all over the table.  Slamming the drink down, she shook her head and put her arm back on the table, challenging Icari to an umpteenth round.

Seeing Ava's eyebrow arch critically, Kayto felt himself inclined to agree.  The crew had clearly reached the point of maximum benefit from the celebration and it was, perhaps, time to put a close to things before any brawls erupted.  “I suppose it would be better for morale if they remembered at least part of tonight,” grinned Kayto to Ava's relief.  Standing up, he felt a pleasant buzz in his lips and fingertips as he headed over to the dispensary.  “Computer,” he said, flashing his identity chip to the device.  “Limit all crew members to one final alcoholic beverage; rescind all unused privileges at 0300.”

Taking one last look around at the crew of the Sunrider, Kayto turned to leave the mess hall.  As he walked towards the exit, he caught Ava's eye one more time.  Perhaps it was the two vodkas swirling in him that put the thought in his head, but, on an impulse, he changed his route and returned to their table. 

“Ava...”

“Captain.” Ava's tone was open, but unimpressed.

“Come up to my quarters tomorrow,” he offered casually.

Ava arched her eyebrow at him appraisingly, waiting for him to continue.

“Just to talk and catch up over a cup of tea,” said Kayto quickly.  “It'll only take a few minutes, come on.”

“I- ...Alright then,” agreed Ava, the merest hints of a smile at the corner of her lips.  “Tomorrow, 0800.”

“Perfect.”  Kayto got up happily.  “Good evening, Commander.”

“Good evening, Captain,” Ava threw him a lazy salute, not even bothering to rise, perhaps lulled from her usual ramrod attention by the party's atmosphere.

******

Leaving the noise and dark of the mess hall, Sunrider's corridors seemed a little too bright for comfort as he retired to his quarters, ears ringing from the noise of the celebration.  Upon entering his quarters, Kayto undid the remaining fasteners on his uniform, breathing out with relief and watching the soothing night sky from the quarter's simulated window.  As the stars outside twinkled welcomingly, he allowed himself a private smile.  Whatever the consequence, Sunrider and her crew had taken a stand for all that was right, besting the PACT and garnering them a new ally.  Although the path to victory had been difficult, everything that had happened afterwards made the whole thing worth it. 

Halfway undressed, he caught sight of his sister's picture on the shelf behind the desk.  Sadness entered into his features as he picked the holo up, Icari's words echoing in his mind.  Are you scared for her?  Scared for what the PACT did or is going to do to her? 

He flashed back to the day he'd watched Cera City burn, blasted into ash and molten metal by the Legion's merciless strike.  It seemed insane to continue to hold onto the shred of hope that his sister had survived, yet, the abyss of sorrow and fear that churned behind his denial was too much to bear.  Kayto felt a sickening swoop of abject terror run through his mind, leaving the corrupting stain of despair behind to eat into his foundation.  Hands trembling, Kayto felt a sudden urge to smash the holo, to scream out loud in a primal expression of his pain. 

Gasping, he stumbled back from the holo, dropping it on his desk, suddenly feeling nauseous.  Staggering to his quarter's lavatory, he splashed cold water onto his face, over and over again until his breath slowed and the cold sweat stopped.

Get a grip, Kayto... the crew... think about the crew. 

Looking up into the mirror, Kayto watched the color flit back to his face.  For the sake of the Sunrider, he could not afford to have any self-doubt.  Their mission, to return to Cera and liberate it from the PACT, hinged on his unswerving dedication to see it done.  That, in turn, required him to hope; even if it was a hope against any reason.  Swallowing hard, Kayto felt his world steady.

Hope.  The one thing he had left.  The reason the Sunrider had saved the lives of six hundred children that day.  Wherever she was, Kayto knew his sister would be proud of what had transpired above Versta today.

This one was for you, Maray.  This one was for you.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 02:58:11 am by woolyshambler »
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline woolyshambler

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 9 Up)
« Reply #42 on: June 01, 2015, 10:08:23 pm »
Apparently no one thinks anything...

I-it's not like I even care, b-baka!

FanFiction

Chapter 9- Tea and Royalty



Spoiler
“Captain...” Admiral Grey's tone was clipped but superficially polite.  “My staff said you wanted to speak with me.  Was there a problem with the funds forwarded to your account?”

“Not at all,” Kayto's fingers drummed his chair's armrest as the Admiral's avatar gave him a cool look.  “I merely wished to offer the courtesy of giving you a report of the events at Versta personally.  It's not every day our humble ship receives a contract from the mighty Alliance Space Force.”

Grey gave him a forced, hollow smile.  “I already read the reports; you give yourselves far too little credit, Captain.  Four PACT cruisers and an entire wing of Ryders eliminated by your Sunrider and two Ryders while defending a civilian ship.  Miraculous, some would say.”

“My crew just did what they needed to do to keep those kids safe, Admiral,” Kayto's voice could have frozen helium as he leaned forward.  “I shudder to think what kind of tragedy would have resulted if we had been too late... six hundred children, nothing could possibly have been worth it.”

“The PACT are monsters, Captain, never forget that.”  The Admiral chose his words carefully, loading them with as much meaning as Kayto's.  “Every day this war in the Neutral Rim drags on is another tragedy for those who fall to their machinations.”

Kayto nodded, “I'm with you on that Admiral.  The PACT's disregard for human life borders inhumanity itself, how fortunate the Alliance places greater value on the lives of civilians and children.”

“They'll be seen to with the best the Alliance can offer them in their time of need,” the Admiral tersely replied, his jaw clenching with barely suppressed anger.  “We'll make sure they're taken care of until the day they can return to Versta and their parents.  Now... Captain, I'm sure you can appreciate that I'm a busy man, was there anything else you wanted to trouble me for?”

“Nothing at all,” smiled Kayto.  “Pleasure doing business with the Alliance.”

******

Ava sat on one of the sofas in Kayto's quarter's lower personal section, trying to relax as he puttered about making tea.  As she watched his back, he turned around suddenly, giving her a smile. Quickly looking away, she cast about her mind for a casual conversation piece, failing miserably.  Fortunately, Kayto returned to his tea set, giving her the dubious luxury of sitting in awkward silence.

Finally, he brought the set to the table, handing her a steaming china cup and saucer before taking a seat opposite to her.  Bringing the cup to her lips, she blew gently before sipping the tea, hot and strong, and nodded appreciatively at the fine china and brew.

“I've been meaning to use this set at some point,”  started Kayto, taking a sip himself and breaking the silence.  “It's fresh out of the box; what do you think?”

“I didn't know you were into tea,” remarked Ava.  “That time I gave you an Alliance made tea set for your birthday seemed to have gone over your head.”

“I'm still not nearly sophisticated enough,” said Kayto with an embarrassed smile and shrug.  “This one was a gift from my family for this commission.  I'm afraid I left your set back on Cera...”

“It's been a while since we could just talk like this,” offered Ava, even though in all honestly, very little talking had been had yet.  She settled deeper into the sofa, a fraction more at ease.

“Reminds me of old times, like how we used to play cards in the student council office.”

Ava's lips curled in a small smile, “I'm honestly surprised you even remember.  It's been so many years since we last did that.”

Kayto looked even more embarrassed, turning slightly pink.  “I guess seeing you again made me all nostalgic.  You know, you really haven't changed much since then.”

“Things are different now, Captain,” Ava sounded equal parts stern and nostalgic.  “Back then, you were the one following me.”

“It was only natural, I suppose,” said Kayto, pensive.  “How long have we known each other?  We practically grew up as family... I guess I just wanted to be closer to you and see you in action.”

Ava arched an eyebrow over her cup of tea.

“I mean, you were always in motion back then, getting things done... Honestly, I guess I was a bit awed.  I guess I just wanted to be with you and to learn from the best.”

“That's odd,” Ava's tone was light.  “You'd have think I'd have taught you better than this...”  She sighed softly, “It's funny hearing you say that now.”

“Do you...” Kayto hesitated before finishing his question.  “Do you ever think about what it'd be like if you were sitting in the Captain's seat instead?”  The thought had been on his mind since he stepped aboard Sunrider but he had never had the occasion or courage to ask her directly.

“No,” Ava's tone was flat.  “I'm your First Officer now, Captain, there's nothing more to it than that.  I'll execute and relay your orders to the crew, and that's all there is to it...”  Ava sipped her tea thoughtfully.  “Honestly... I'm not sure how it would have worked out.  Deciding to go after those slavers, rescuing the Agamemnon... you made the decision to do those things without knowing any of the details or knowing what repercussions your decision would have.  All I can say is that if I were Captain, Sunrider might have made some very different decisions.”

“Maybe you would have felt differently if you were Captain,” refuted Kayto, trying to cheer Ava up.

Ava laughed, suddenly much more girlish than he had seen since coming aboard.

“I'm sorry... it's just... I was still thinking about high school.  Back then, it felt like I had so many problems.  Some days it felt like they were insurmountable.  But now, looking back... how to deal with the principle who wouldn't even look at our budgets, what clothes to wear for the student assembly address, planning for the winter festival... it was nothing compared to the kinds of decisions we have to make out here, a one ship army against the whole of the PACT empire.  Kind of makes high school seem like a joke, right?”  Ava's tone took on a note of bitterness.

“Well we were just kids,” dismissed Kayto with a grin.  “Back then, the principle was almost as bad as the Veniczar, himself.  Probably just as pig-headed and fat too.”

Ava laughed out loud, her eyes bright.  Looking at Kayto with surprising fondness, she shook her head.  “You're too kind Kayto...”  Sighing, she continued, a little sad.  “Considering the situation... I wonder if it's time for you to drop the optimism and make some of the hard calls.” 

Taking another sip of tea, Ava continued, growing serious again and fixing Kayto with her cherry eyes.  “This isn't high school anymore, Kayto, no matter how much we want it to be.  There's a war going on out there and compassion on the battlefield can mean death.  As Captain, you have the responsibility to  put everything, including our lives, in danger to fulfill our duty.  Personal feelings don't come into it; you have to do what has to be done.”

“I have a duty to keep all of you safe as well,” said Kayto, meeting her deadly serious gaze.  “If I didn't consider my personal feelings, I wouldn't be able to do that.

“It's your ship,” answered Ava, deflecting his rebuttal.  “It's just something to keep in mind, that's all.” 

Pausing for a moment and swirling her tea, Ava stared at the amber contents of her cup before voicing a thought that had been weighing heavily on her since Kayto had stepped off the shuttle onto Sunrider for the first time.  “Kayto, those days when we were in high school are gone... and we can't ever go back to them.  It's time to move on.”

Kayto was silent as he dropped his gaze into his own cup of tea, a pit of disappointment forming in his stomach.  Everything about the way Ava had been behaving since their reunion had suggested, without much subtlety at times, that such was the case, but hearing it in words from her own mouth drove the message home.

“Everything's different now,” insisted Ava.  “Even our home is gone; Cera's nothing more than a PACT colony now.”

“They'll pay for what they've done to our home, Ava,” Kayto said softly, the pain and suffering of his planet overshadowing his own personal conflict for the moment. 

“To be honest, I'd rather not think about it.”  Ava's tone flattened again.  “All the people lost... All the memories destroyed... It's too much to think about and stay functional at the same time.” 

Kayto said nothing, not trusting himself to speak after last night's lapse, but his silence was all the agreement Ava needed.

“I'm sorry, it's hard to talk about.  Pretty much everyone in the crew's lost someone close to them.”  Ava looked at what remained of her tea morosely. 

Like him, Ava likely feared the worse for her own family, although the odds for her were likely even more bleak than his own; her father had been serving as the XO of the Gallant before she went down with all hands at the Fall of Cera.  Was it more painful to know that your loved one had departed with no hope of return or to hope against all odds of their survival?  Kayto could find no answer, although he doubted Ava's torment was any less raw than his own.  “We have to stop the PACT.  So that what happened on Cera never happens again,” he declared, as much to Ava as to himself.

“Understood, Sir,” answered Ava crisply, coming back to the present and nodding her approval.  “I'll be right behind you every step of the way.”

Their spirits rising, Kayto refilled their cups, pouring the last of the tea from the pot.  “Give me your thoughts on our pilots,” he asked Ava, curious as to her opinion on the latest additions to the Sunrider's crew.

“A motley bunch, that much I'll say,” answered Ava with a facial expression that couldn't be sure whether it wanted to be a smile or frown.  “Asaga's been stirring up just about any sort of trouble you can imagine with the rest of the crew.  Just the other day, I caught her gambling with a few of the others.”

“I can't imagine it's a regular occurrence, we keep her too busy for that,” shrugged Kayto.  “Besides, it's not like a wager for chores or dessert ever hurt anyone.”

“Captain,” Ava's tone was cross.  “Cera naval protocol mandates that gambling be strictly forbidden.”

“Everyone needs to blow off steam once in a while, Ava.  Don't be so strict,” Kayto urged.

“If that's your order, Sir.”

“No,” Kayto shook his head firmly.  “What I'm trying to say, Ava, is that protocol means less now that Cera's been overrun by the PACT.  We're in a situation which no protocol ever trained us to handle.  We need to stay flexible and think about what makes sense and what doesn't anymore.”

“That's all fine and well for you,” shot back Ava.  “You get to play nice-guy if you want, but someone has to enforce discipline on this ship, especially because there's no protocol for our situation.”

“Alright, alright,” acquiesced Kayto, taking her point.  Even though her policies were heavy handed, her frustration was real; he needed to support his First Officer, even if it meant a slight dip in popularity, to make sure balance aboard the Sunrider was maintained and conflicts minimized.  If the two of them met halfway, everything would probably work itself out.  “Just... don't push yourself or the crew too hard OK?  Take a break and relax every now and then.  I'll do my part to keep this ship together too, deal?”

“Deal,” agreed Ava, although Kayto was still unsure whether she had fully accepted his point of view.

“How's Chigara doing?” he inquired, continuing their discussion about the Ryder pilots.

“Things are much better with that one,” Ava's tone was approving.  “I'm really impressed with her; she totally turned Engineering around.  Sunrider's never been smoother and the entire engineering crew seems to really respect her.  I'm glad we brought her aboard.”

“Me too,” agreed Kayto.  “Sunrider wouldn't be the same without her.  How about Icari?  Did everything go smoothly with her moving in and joining the crew?”

“As smoothly as possible,” sighed Ava, still clearly holding onto some reservations about her character.  “Still, I can't complain; she's just started with the crew, but she was up at 0600 sharp to start patching holes in our security systems and to get started on fixing up her Phoenix with Chigara.  If she keeps it up... well, maybe I was wrong to judge her so harshly.”

“Great, keep me posted,” said Kayto, satisfied.

The conversation having wound down, both Ava and Kayto set down their cups, neither sure how to end the sit-down chat.

“I... should get to the CIC,” muttered Ava.

Kayto nodded, “I should get back to work too.  Thanks for the chat, Ava.  You should come by more often; I could put this tea set to good use.”

Ava half-smiled, half grimaced, rising from the couch and saluting.  “We'll see, Captain.  Maybe next time we have a free moment.”  With a swish of her long chestnut hair, Ava turned and ascended the staircase, showing herself out of Kayto's quarters as he stood and took the tea set away to be cleaned.

******

Ava splashed water on her face at the basin of her sink back in her XO's quarters.  Although not as large as the Captain's quarters, her room was large enough for a bathroom, small study, and personal space.  Most importantly, it was, thankfully, private.

Staring at her reflection, Ava breathed deeply, suddenly developing a pounding headache.  Tea with Kayto had brought up all manner of unwelcome thoughts and feelings in her chest, first and foremost, her father's passing.  Ava held no doubt the man had perished aboard the Gallant as she went down before her very eyes.  Even if her fusion core had not detonated and blown the ship apart, Ava knew her own father too well to ever imagine the man crawling to an escape pod.  If there was anyone whose pride and duty demanded that he go down with the ship, it would be her father.

A strange feeling welled up in her breast.  Honestly, she had been so busy making sure the ship didn't fall apart physically or into anarchy that she had never given herself any time to grieve for her father, although... now that she thought of it, what she found in her chest was nothing like the grief she expected.  It should hurt, shouldn't it?  Losing your only family?  But as Ava stared into her reflection, she saw no remorse behind her cherry eyes, no sadness or grief on her face. 

Curling a hand into a fist and slamming it down on the cold porcelain of her sink, she gasped and tried to force a tear out for her father, not out of sentiment, but because she felt that she ought to as his daughter. 

'What the hell is wrong with me?!'  Ava thought, wanting to scream at her reflection. 

Her father had been a hard man, but a good one.  He had taught her the meaning of responsibility, duty, and honor.  He had made her strong enough to stand on her own and hold herself to higher standards than the mediocrity she was forced to endure from the softer, weaker individuals around her.  It was because of him that she had left everything and everyone behind to join the Cera Space Force; it was for him that she had devoted the last four years of her life singlemindedly to her duty and training, to live up to the family name Crescentia.

And now?  Ava gritted her teeth, wondering what her father would have thought of her if he were still alive.  Frittering away time and discipline on a drunken celebration of what amounted to a minor, insignificant moral victory against yet another PACT occupation of a Neutral Rim territory?  Taking tea with her superior officer and attending to something as insipid and selfish as her personal life and relationship? 

Ava unconsciously touched the fabric on the back of her uniform, running her hand down her back.  She could almost see his glare in the mirror, reflecting behind her own eyes.  Tearing a towel off the rack on the wall, she patted her face dry forcefully, chiding herself mentally.

Her face hardening, she tossed the towel back onto the rack and spun on her heel, sweeping out of her quarters and back to her duties without another look back, afraid of what she might find.

******

“Ughhh...” Asaga glared at the robotic dispensary through a groggy slit, trying to avoid the bright lights of the mess hall.  “What's do you have for for headaches?”

“If you require medical attention, please report to the sickbay,” suggested the machine cheerfully.

“No ship doctor, remember?” growled Asaga.

“I'm sorry, please repeat your query.”  The programming governing the dispensary was not designed to hold extended conversation no immediately related to the menu on hand.

“Forget it, just give me some food.”

“Coming right up, ma'am.” 

The dispensary's slot ejected out a the standard crew breakfast tray, having defaulted to general settings in the absence of additional instructions.  Reconstituted eggs and ersatz sausages steamed on a plate, along with a small serving of preserved fruit, an unbelievably dark roast coffee, and a nutrition supplement. 

“Ugh... I think I'm going to puke,” grumbled Asaga as she held the tray at arms length, trying to avoid the smell.  Sitting down at a table, she gulped the coffee as fast as the scalding liquid would go down her throat.  After a minute, the world swam back into focus and she took stock of her surroundings fully for the first time that morning.  “C-Capt'n!”

“Rough morning, Asaga?” Kayto asked serenely, smiling as she recoiled in horror.

“N-no!  But keep your voice down... please.”  Asaga did her best to straighten up, draining the last of her coffee before turning to poke at the rest of the breakfast unenthusiastically.  “Did you need me for somethin' Capt'n?”

“Just making the rounds,” he answered breezily.  “Looked to me like you and Icari buried the hatchet last night.”

“Ah, just 'cause we were drinking doesn't mean we're buddies!”  Asaga stuck her nose in the air.  “I'm glad we got those kids out, but I'm still not sure keeping Icari on board was the best thing to do.  I don't want someone on my team who won't think twice about shooting at civilians.”

“Give it a rest, Asaga,” said Kayto, rolling his eyes.  “The only reason those kids got out in one piece was because she gave it a second thought.  Icari had her reasons for doing what she did, even if it was misguided.  The universe isn't always black and white, Asaga; we have to remember that.”

“Well, shooting kids seems pretty darn black to me, Capt'n,” said Asaga, not letting the issue drop.  “After what she almost did, I'm not sure she deserves to call herself one of the good guys anymore.”

“You're on the same crew now, Asaga,” admonished Kayto.  Cranking up the volume deliberately, he insisted.  “You two are to work together.  That's an Order!”

Asaga winced, pale, and cupped her ears, “Alright, alright!  Jeez.  No need to play hardball, Capt'n.  She's a good pilot, I'll give her that, so we'll fly just fine.  Just don't order us to hold hands or be best friends, OK?”

“Done,” agreed Kayto.

“Ugh,” Asaga sighed in relief as his voice returned to a subdued level.  “What happened to those kids anyways?

“We got a brief update from the Admiral's office this morning.  They've reached Alliance space.  Since Versta's been occupied by the PACT, those kids are going to be set up in Alliance custody.  With all the press surrounding the orphans, you can bet they'll be well taken care of,” shared Kayto with a smile. 

Asaga gave a genuine smile through her hangover.  “All right!  I guess that's for the best right now.  Let's hurry up and kick the PACT outta the Neutral Rim so those kids can go home!”

“Slow down champ,” laughed Kayto.  “You might want to sober up a bit first.  Anything else you need?”

“Nope,” Asaga shook her head and immediately regretted it.  “Sunrider's got it all, Capt'n.  I got a warm bed and good food and this ship's a whole lot cleaner and nicer than Chigara's workshop, no offense.  I just wish the Commander would lay off my case a bit.”

“Ah...”

“So I tried hooking up my GameMaster to the holovision in the crew lounge, right?  No big deal, but all of a sudden, she shows up and starts yelling about 'unsanctioned electronics' and 'security breaches.'  You should've seen how red her face got Capt'n!” Asaga whined.  “Then!  Chigara and I go back with some folks to play some Duel Creatures, and she's back again!  No cards, she says.  Man...”

Asaga looked put out to the extreme.

“Listen, Ava needs to keep the Sunrider working at tip-top.  She's a military ship and we need the crew to be focused,” started Kayto.

“I know!” interrupted Asaga.  “But doesn't that mean we should make the most of our downtime?”

“That's right,” nodded Kayto.  “Which is why I asked Ava to turn a little blind eye to the smaller things, so... just keep it low-key and in your rooms, alright?  And give Ava a break, she's got a hundred things to do without playing babysitter.”

“You got it, Capt'n!” grinned Asaga.  “The Commander won't hear a peep!”

“Great, stay out of trouble,” winked Kayto as he rose from the table and continued on his tour of the ship.

******

“E-eah!  Captain!”

Kayto froze as he walked past Engineering, apparently having inadvertently surprised Chigara once again.

“Uhh... just passing through,” he said, bemused by her strong reaction.

Chigara sighed deeply, giving him an embarrassed smile.  “I'm sorry; I didn't see you behind me.  What is this, the third time?”

 “You really get focused with your work, don't you?” asked Kayto warmly.

Chigara nodded, “When I work with machines, I just kind of get lost.  Everything else fades away and I don't really notice anything anymore.”

“Maybe having a mercenary on board put you on edge,” Kayto said half-teasingly. 

“Mmm... I don't think so,” Chigara gave a bright smile.  “I haven't spoken to her much since Versta, but I think she regrets what she did.  We're on the same side now, so I don't think it will be a problem.  I'm just glad those kids got way safely...”

Kayto nodded approvingly; apparently Chigara was a more forgiving spirit than Asaga.  “I was actually going to go down to the hanger to see how she was doing; do you need anything?”

“Oh no,” Chigara beamed.  “I've got everything I need and the Sunrider's been a wonderful vessel.  I don't think I've been on anything this advanced since I left Diode.  In fact, I was running some energy conversion models yesterday,” Chigara's voice grew quicker and more excited as she pulled out her datapad, showing Kayto a mind-boggling series of scrolling numbers and wiggling lines.  “I can definitely say that Sunrider's core drive is one of the most efficient in the galaxy!  Even better, she's powered by a fusion core, so we don't have to worry about radiation emission.  If we were to upgrade our fuel feeders with-”  Chigara's blue eyes danced with energy as she looked up at Kayto before quickly being chased away by a look of panic.  “O-oh!  I'm sorry!  I didn't mean to bother you with all the techno-babble,” she said quickly, kicking herself for the slip.  “You already said you were busy and... I... what were we talking about again?  C-can you repeat the question?”

“Paraxium?”

“Huh?” Chigara looked stunned and bewildered.

“You wanted to upgrade the fuel feeders with a paraxium coating to reduce Ongessite reflux right?  That would boost our engine speeds significantly.  I like it!  Next time we're at port, we'll look into it together,” said Kayto, nodding decisively.

“Y-you know about the Mark II designs?” stuttered Chigara, her confusion giving way to delight.  “I- I had no idea you were a gearhead like me!” her cheeks turned pink as she looked at him with interest.

Kayto laughed, rubbing the back of his neck.  “Always the tone of surprise... Well... I suppose I had to know a thing or two before they gave me the keys to the ship.”  Handing back her datapad, he gave her a nod, “Keep up the good work, Chigara!  We're counting on you.”

“Yes Captain!” Chigara's face split into a wide smile.  “Please come back sometime!”

******

Arriving at Sunrider's hangers, Kayto did not have to look far before he found Icari on the ground floor of bay 03, wrestling with a burned out servomotor on the Phoenix's “foot.”

“Captain.” Icari gave up on the slagged machinery, wiping her brow and leaning up against the Ryder's sloped foot, barely taller than the foot itself.  Unlike Asaga, she seemed entirely unaffected by the evening before.

“You look pretty good in that uniform,” Kayto commented, “Especially for someone who downed that many shots last night.”

“Oh,” Icari's eyebrows arched with the compliment as she looked somewhat self-conscious.  “Heh... it'll take more than that to put me down for the next morning.  Your crew could learn a thing or two about how to really throw a party, Captain.  Those drinks last night were like water compared to some of the stuff I've had on the outskirts of the Rim.  Next time we pass by a good bar, I'll let you know.”

“Only if you're buying,” warned Kayto.

“Hah, it's a deal,” Icari gave him a cocky smile.  “I'd pay good money to see you drink yourself under the table.”

“Looks pretty smashed up,” commented Kayto, talking a look at the Phoenix's battered frame and deciding to switch topics.  “You sure it's safe for you to fly this thing again?”

Icari smirked, “She's seen worse, Captain, and I'd sooner die than scrap the Phoenix.  She'll need more than a few repairs though; Asaga was pretty thorough with taking the hatchet to her.”

“You're lucky you didn't get spaced,” remarked Kayto.  “Asaga might seem like a loose cannon, but she knows how to fly a Ryder.”

“Maybe so,” admitted Icari.  “I'd give myself pretty good odds on a rematch though... on a simulator of course...”  Sighing, she looked up at the Phoenix wistfully.  “It's actually not as bad as it looks.  Most of the damage is superficial now; your girl in engineering came down here and helped me patch up the important bits.  I've never seen anyone as talented as her.  What would've taken me days to fix took her less than three hours, and I've been doing my own repairs and upgrades on the Phoenix since the day I got her.”

“Chigara's probably one of the best engineers in the galaxy.  She built the Black Jack and Liberty from scratch.  We're lucky to have her on this ship,” said Kayto.

Icari nodded, blurting before she could stop herself,  “You've got a pretty good crew here, Captain.”  Eyes widening, she crossed her arms furiously and looked away.  “Tsch... I can't believe I said that out loud... This is your fault, Captain!”

“You've just been working alone for too long,” jabbed Kayto as Icari's cheeks flushed even redder.  “Admit it, you like being part of a bigger crew.”

“Did you come down here just to embarrass me?  Or did you want something in particular?” demanded Icari, pointing an accusing finger at him. 

“Just wanted to check in,” he said, moving on to placate her.  “How are you adjusting to the Sunrider?”

“I'm satisfied.  Sunrider's much nicer than the accommodations I'm accustomed to, thanks for the concern,” answered Icari perfunctorily, shuffling uneasily, clearly uncomfortable with the attention.

“Tell me about your Ryder,” queried Kayto, deciding to switch to a topic she might be more apt to opening up to.  “What's the deal with the swords?”

“Phoenix is a stealth Ryder, a custom job,” said Icari proudly, “This armor actually uses active electronic camouflage to help me evade enemy targeting systems so that I can get in close with my engines.  Once I'm there...” Icari left the rest unsaid.

“You seem to like swords; when we first pulled you on board, you had a whole collection of knives with you,” observed Kayto. 

Icari nodded, “You don't see a lot of them; they say the advent of firearms long before we came to the stars ended the days when we used swords as weapons, but personal shielding technology brought them back.  Now, it makes more sense, at least for me, to kill someone with a sword rather than plug away at their shields with lasers.”

“Hmm...” Kayto wasn't entirely sure he agreed.

“I get it,” Icari cut in, already ahead of him.  “You, like most of the civilized galaxy, think it's barbaric don't you?  Well... real life's way different than the clean theory of officer school.  Out on the Outer Rim, the person who draws their weapon fastest wins.  I don't have to mess around with pulling triggers or anything when I use a knife or sword.  Plus, I have to look everyone I kill in the eye before I do it; to me, that's a hell of a lot less barbaric than pulling a trigger and blowing away some poor Joe you've never met.”

“Huh...” Kayto was taken aback by her argument.  “I guess I never really thought about it that way...  Sounds like you've lead a colorful life out there.  What was being a mercenary like?”

“Well I wasn't just some goon for hire,” she sniffed.  “I only took contracts against the PACT.  Mostly blowing up refueling stations, sank a few stranded PACT ships before help could arrive.  Hit and run, deep cover stuff.  Even impersonated a low level Veniczar once.”

“This I have to hear,” prompted Kayto, intrigued.  “You don't exactly have the look for one.”

Icari snorted, “I had to order a custom latex suit that made me look about eighty pounds fatter.  I've got some holos stored on Phoenix's database; I'll crack 'em out the day we go drinking.”

“Wow,” snickered Kayto.  “I'm guessing it wasn't for cosplay.  What were you doing with all that?”

“Slave sale bust,” answered Icari, sticking her tongue out at him.  “The Alliance hired me to bust a deal that was going down between these slavers and this Veniczar.  The PACT was trying out a policy of 'liberating' slaves, see?  They'd pay the slavers and the men and women they bought ended up serving on their ships, whether they wanted to or not.  Anyways, this was one of the biggest deals that had ever gone down between the PACT and the pirates, around 200 adults.  The Alliance got involved when one of their citizens was picked up by the slavers and was included in the sale.”

“So... you impersonated the Veniczar, bought 200 slaves, and came home?” asked Kayto skeptically.

“Tsch, wasn't that simple,” grunted Icari.  “The Alliance got all cheapskate on me saying they 'couldn't fund piracy,' ended up paying for their citizen only.  Anyways, it didn't matter in the end because the slavers were planning on a double cross and were going to try to slit the Veniczar's throat anyways.”

“I'm guessing you found that out firsthand.”

“Sure.”  Icari's tone was casual as she gave him a sideways smile.  “A couple of their shots even ended up grazing my suit.  That was a sight to see, a fat Veniczar running and dodging... melting.”

“Nice... how'd you get out of that?”

“Switched places with the real Veniczar when she came out of the airlock.  You should have seen her face when they grabbed her... priceless.  Anyways, the whole point of coming aboard their ship was to override their internal security.  By the time I ditched the suit, all the slaves had broken loose already and were rampaging throughout the ship.  It was complete pandemonium.  I tracked down my mark's implanted ID chip, grabbed him, and hauled ass off that ship.”  Icari's eyes were distant as she recalled the rest of her tail.  “Good thing too, the PACT and the slavers started shooting at each other's ships almost as soon as we had undocked, blew each other to hell.”

“The other slaves?” asked Kayto, pointing out the elephant in the room.

Icari shook her head.  “My stories aren't pretty ones, Captain.  But I got the job done and the galaxy was one PACT Veniczar and ship fewer than when I had started.  That was enough for me,” Icari shrugged.  “That's pretty much what being a mercenary was like.  The work was dangerous, but exciting and it paid the bar tab... kept me from thinking too much about anything else...”

“Icari...”

Icari shook her head, pushing away Kayto's sympathy.  “It's alright, Captain. I don't regret a moment of it, but... who knows, maybe my luck will change with you calling the shots.  This could be good for me.”

“Count on it,” promised Kayto, although Icari seemed to be talking more to herself at that point than him. 

Chirp Chirp.  Kayto's bracelet signaled for his attention.

“Captain, incoming transmission in the CIC; we've got more work,” came Ava's voice.

“I'll be right there,” Kayto said, cutting the call.  As he looked back to Icari, the woman was gone, having taken the opportunity to silently slink off.  “Good talk, Icari,.  Let me know if there's anything else you need,” he said out loud, certain she would hear him, before turning and making his way to the CIC.

******

“Incoming transmission from Ryuvia, Captain,” reported Ava as he stepped into the CIC.

“Ryuvia?” Kayto didn't bother to hide his surprise.  “First an Alliance Admiral, now royalty?  We are talking about the same Ryuvia right?” he joked.

“You mean the Ryuvia of the ancient Holy Ryuvian Empire?  A culture with a history spanning over ten thousand years, possibly the birthplace of humanity itself?  Yeah, that one,” Ava bit back, rolling her eyes.

“Alright, alright,” Kayto grinned; Ava did not suffer fools lightly.  “Just making sure; let's hear what they have to say.”

A hunched elderly man materialized on the bridge, his royal finery flowing down to the floor.  Even through the hologram, the dazzling jewel encrusted robe, scepter, and crown on his person made Kayto squint.  “Hail, Sunrider.”  The Ryuvian monarch's voice carried an unmistakable air of superiority, carefully cultivated through years of diplomacy, not so much as addressing him as deigning to speak.  “You are in the presence of King Jalor di Ryuvia, sole monarch of the Ryuvian Empire, keeper of the proud traditions of our fathers a hundred generations before us, guardian of their legacy and treasures.  I am pleased to hold audience with you.”

Once the mightiest human empire ever documented in known history, the Holy Ryuvian Empire stretched from one arm of the galaxy to the other, encompassing countless worlds and subjects.  Some said that it was during this time that humanity flourished in a golden age of technology and culture, advancing to dizzying heights of power and accomplishment and surpassing any of the wildest dreams of man.  Such was the truth on certain planets, at least.  At it's core, the Ryuvian royal family held absolute power, the right to dispense technology to entire worlds theirs and theirs alone.  The favor of the Ryuvian Lords could bring wealth and comfort to your people, while their scorn brought fire and destruction.  Commanding such power, the Infinite Emperor of Ryuvia ascended being a mere mortal and rising to the level of a God, worshiped across the galaxy at Ryuvian shrines on every single world.  The shrines remained to this day, a reminder to the galaxy of the power the Ryuvians once held, preserving the legacy of a distant time long since past.

Despite their absolute dominion over the galaxy, the Holy Ryuvian Empire eventually fractured under the weight of internal strife and a series of selfish, greedy, and shortsighted emperors, plunging the galaxy into a new dark age for centuries to come.  Records of this period were scant, majority of the Ryuvian's technology having been lost to the anarchy and chaos that followed the dissolution of the Empire into a hundred warring clans and small time alliances.  In the end, the Holy Ryuvian Empire survived in the form of the modern Ryuvian Empire, weakened, but still reigning over a respectable number of worlds and territories surrounding Ryuvia Prime, the capitol of their once great holdings. 

Ryuvia would continue to play a major role in galactic politics as they and other powers struggled to reclaim a shadow of their previous accomplishments.  Ultimately, what remained of the Ryuvian Empire was eclipsed by the New Empire.  Made strong by the discovery of the paradise planet of New Eden and the unification of all nearby worlds, the New Empire soon set its sights on reclaiming the seat of Ryuvia's ancient power, thereby affirming their status as the inheritors of their legacy.  The New Empire and Ryuvia fought bitterly, but the decaying and stagnant Ryuvian Empire proved to be no match for the New Empire's onslaught; one by one, their territories were surrendered and Ryuvia found its existence threatened for the first time in remembered history.

Were it not for the intervention of the Solar Alliance, Ryuvia would have likely been overrun as well.  The Solar-Imperial War and the internal strife from the PACT revolution saved Ryuvia from conquest, leaving the dying embers of their civilization alight against all odds.  The price of survival, however, had been steep; Ryuvia lost its final territory, forced to cede Far Port, a tactical and commercial stronghold that remained Ryuvia's last shred of dignity as an Empire, to the Solar Alliance.  Cheated and humiliated as such, Ryuvia could do nothing but accept the circumstance, having no fleets or power of its own to challenge the Solar Alliance's demand.

With nothing left but their pride and traditions, the Ryuvian Empire was a “power” in name only, although their history still commanded a degree of awe and respect in spite of their current situation.

“Greetings, your Highness,” Kayto inclined his head courteously.  “I am Captain Kayto Shields of the Sunrider.  This is my First Officer, Commander Ava Crescentia.  How can our ship be of service to Ryuvia?”

“Word of your deeds have spread through the Neutral Rim, Captain,” King Jalor said solemnly.  “The Ryuvian Empire has taken note of your accomplishments and believes your ship may be of service in a matter we hold very dear to our hearts.  We seek the return of the Crown Jewel of Ryuvia to its rightful owners.  You will track and find this jewel in the Nomodorm Corridor.  Perform this service for Ryuvia and I shall see that you are granted an appropriately generous boon.”

“We might need more to go on than that, your Highness,” said Kayto, frowning slightly at the unusual mission.  “Can you tell us anything else about your crown jewel?”

“The Ancient Empire of Ryuvia holds many secrets dear to its chest, Captain.  Understand that we are paying not only for your service, but also for your cooperation in this regard,” King Jalor said sternly.  “You have our request; I look forward to hearing news of your success.”

The king's avatar faded as the audience was concluded, leaving Kayto with not so much as a mission as the suggestion of a mission.  “Not a lot to go on...” he mused as Ava consulted the ship database. 

“Captain, look,” Ava pulled a display around from her station to show him.  On the screen, a tapered crystal with a description of the artifact was displayed.  Apparently Kayto had misunderstood the nature of the Crown Jewel entirely; it wasn't particular gemstone as much as a technological artifact from the ancient Holy Ryuvian Empire itself.  “It appears the Crown Jewel wasn't a decorative gemstone, it was the name given to a crystalline device with which the ancient Ryuvians used to pinpoint those of royal descent across astronomical distances.  In legends, it features prominently as the means by which dynastic succession was established and as a way of distinguishing imposters from the rightful heirs of the throne.”

“So it's real then?” inquired Kayto, reluctant to send the Sunrider on a wild goose chase on the word of childhood stories.

“Apparently the Ryuvian King things so...” Ava looked thoughtful.  “It makes sense... word on the holonet is that the Ryuvian Princess is actually missing; she hasn't been seen in public for years now.  The Ryuvian royal family hasn't commented on the matter, but if they're sending ships after this artifact, it would make sense.  Maybe it can help them find the missing princess.”

“It's a stretch...” Kayto thought about the proposal for a moment.  “But it's not like we've got any other job waiting and we could definitely use the money.  Set a course for the Nomodorm Corridor... we'll take a look around and see if we can pick up any leads once we're there.”

“Aye, Captain.  Coordinates locked in, spooling up our drives.”
« Last Edit: August 08, 2015, 02:58:26 am by woolyshambler »
[May 13, 2016, 02:26:28 pm]:   Elvis Strunk will do his best to shoot Eli with a full load.
Elvis Strunk [May 13, 2016, 02:26:45 pm]:   of bullets
Elvis Strunk [May 15, 2016, 03:31:49 pm]:   Knat's the best part of the harem, and the shortest lasting.
Jynx [May 15, 2016, 03:33:36 pm]:   Stop foreshadowing Knat's death
woolyshambler [May 15, 2016, 03:34:13 pm]:   foreshadowing death!? elvis wasn't foreshadowing knat's premature ejaculation problem?

Offline Samu-kun

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 9 Up)
« Reply #43 on: June 01, 2015, 11:42:55 pm »
The space whales appreciate your service. *salute*

Offline Jynx

Re: Sunrider: The Novelization (Chapter 9 Up)
« Reply #44 on: June 02, 2015, 08:56:38 am »
It's not like I don't think anything, it's just the fact I'd repeat myself over and over congratulating on your work  ;D