Chapter 8 + Epilogue
Later, when their missions were done, when everything was dark and quiet and the danger was, for the moment, over, Soul held her tight in his arms and stroked lazy fingers up her delicate spine, trying absently to think of a song he'd forgotten long ago. "What about the innocents?"
"What?" she murmured, tired to the bones and still trembling occasionally from the after-effects of a stray stunner-blast she'd caught in the back during her mission.
"I mean… not all the people tied to Imperium are these evil monsters, you know. A lot of them are just people trying to feed their families, clerks or whatever. They're pretty much forced to work for Imperium, it's the only employer out there. What about those people?"
She sighed, wriggling closer, and he shivered when her breath gusted across his throat. "War always takes innocents. It always has and it always will, but my people here know to save lives whenever possible. You've heardme tell them that, you watched Tsubaki teach all those classes on where to shoot someone without it being fatal, you- why are you bringing this up now?"
He put his lips against her forehead for a moment, like a benediction. "I don't know. I know it's no good at this point, but I just… What we're doing is right. Mostly, anyway. I know that. But I can't shake this bad feeling."
She said quietly, "If you didn't love me so much, you'd ask me to stop, wouldn't you? To run from all this?"
Soul stared into the darkness. She knew him so damn well. She knew that he'd follow where she led, but that he'd never wanted all this. Soul had no problem with heroism, but he'd be just as happy with only a little ship, the open sky, and Maka; but those things would never satisfy her, as painful as it was to admit. If she weren't ablaze, she was slowly dying. "If I didn't love you so much, yes. I'd be selfish. But I do."
The next morning over a scant breakfast, with the distant sound of heavy-footed patrols audible even through the walls, he stared at the news for a long time, until when he closed his eyes he could still see the glowing letters. They hadn't made the front headline, but they weren't far from it, either.
'Fletcher Criminals Grow Bolder' was the main text, and below that, next to a crisp holophoto of the most of the current fifty-one council members, all looking dour and well-fed, 'How Much Have They Already Cost Our City? Fear Widespread In the Streets. Imperium Council Swears to Protect Citizens.' What bullshit propaganda, but then all public media was in Imperium's pocket somehow, and they had been for a very long time.
Maka noticed it then, probably because he'd practically stopped breathing, and looked up from her watery fake oatmeal with raised eyebrows to read the projected headline. "Oh, wow." The bruise on her cheek- courtesy of the same soldier who'd hit her last night with the stunner blast- looked lurid in the hologram's gently pulsing glow.
They stared at each other for a long moment, both thinking about the twenty-two Fletchers who hadn't come home last night, and then he gritted his teeth and switched off the news projector.
Mira's eyes were glinting electrically and sparks still skittered across her skin from the bowels of the spaceship in her shop that she'd just come in from working on. "Maka," was all she said.
It was enough. "You found me a ship," Maka said, shocked, nearly dropping the crate of seedlings she was lugging.
Mira gave a little half-smile and wiped some grease off her face, adding more to her cheek in the process. "Yup. It's only available for a short time, though. The seller's black market, and he's a greedy old bastard, but he's trustworthy enough."
"Yeah. I've worked with him before, and he'll skin you alive and sell it for leather before you even realize it, but he hates Imperium as much as anybody. Doesn't like to be taxed, heh. I think we can make it work."
"Sunspots… Mira, you're a queen," Maka said breathlessly, doing a shuffling sort of dance under the weight of the crate and grinning madly. "I know exactly what planet I'm going to first!" Patti and Liz were undoubtedly up to trouble where she'd left them; by now those two smiling troublemakers would undoubtedly know all Orcus' weak points.
"I know," Mira said modestly, lips twitching.
Soul, who'd been out since the early morning helping Stein administer medicine to the poorer parts of town- which meant it was pain medication to gentle the miserable end, since death came swift and relentless in the rodent-infested slums- came shambling in an hour later looking dark.
Maka flew at him. "We're going to get the ship tonight! It's tonight! We're leaving tonight, Soul, oh god, stars and spirits, we're getting off this planet! And quite a few volunteers want to come, so we're taking just a bit under full capacity, after cargo weight, of course, but we'll be free!"
He actually stepped back, sharp teeth glinting. "What? Already?"
"Yes!" she crowed, hopping around and being uncharacteristically quite careless of the virus sample she still had in one hand. He took it from her and set it gently down on the wobbly workbench, then gripped her by the upper arms. The little apartment was empty but for them now, Mira back in her workshop next door and everyone else out doing something or other, and she stilled as his overloud breathing filled the room. "Soul? You wanted this, didn't you? After I got the other ship taken-"
"You silly woman. You never owed me anything," he muttered, rather pale. "We're in this together, remember, that means the crappy bits too. But Maka- Maka-"
He couldn't get anything else out. She read fear in his face, but before she could say anything else, he yanked her close and kissed her hard, almost frantically.
It tasted like desperation, but it still made her shiver and burn. One of his teeth pricked her lip, and she retaliated by breaking the kiss to put her own teeth on his hot neck, their hands everywhere. He groaned and ripped her lab coat open hard enough to send a button flying, and she ripped his shirt off just as roughly.
He shoved her trousers down her thighs and put a hand between her legs, crooning heated nothings between kisses; Maka leaned back shakily against the work table, spreading her legs further for him and lifting one hand to pinch her nipple.
Soul caught the extra note in her whimpering and lifted his face out of her hair in an instant, smacking her hand away and bending to her breast, breath hot and tongue hotter. The microscopes behind her rattled and the table creaked dangerously; neither noticed in the slightest.
She didn't even try to be quiet. On the contrary, she closed her eyes and buried her face against his neck, clutching his broad shoulders when it felt like she might implode, and whispered everything and anything to him, let him hear exactly what he did to her. She came crying his name.
They eventually regained enough presence of mind to retreat to their closet-slash-bedroom, and they lay together in a sweaty, languid tangle beneath her lab coat. She didn't say anything, didn't ask what had prompted such a sudden fit of passion.
"I'm gonna come with you tonight," he said after a while. "Bad feelin's back."
She smiled and was glad the room was too dark for him to see her damp eyes. "It's not the end, silly, but fine, come along and help us load it up. We'll buy it, fill it up, and be safe out of the atmosphere by nightfall."
The ship had a few more new parts than the Bullseye'd had, but they were internal, and you'd never guess from looking at it. The hull was dangerously battered, but it would last at least a few more blazing descents through an atmosphere before it really needed repairs, and the rust was ugly, but not yet a functional problem.
"Well, it'll fly," was Black Star's surprisingly diplomatic final assessment. He had what Tsubaki had dubbed his 'war face' on, that stern clench-jawed look of steel. Funnily enough, Tsubaki's expression was much the same as she carefully inspected the ship by his side, though she didn't seem to notice.
"You didn't mention the tanks are so small," Mira pointed out, arms crossed. Somewhere behind her came a dank dripping sound; these docks were ancient, practically abandoned, and the city had grown up around them like an enthusiastic fungus, until the only route to the sky was an awkward and unsafe tunnel straight upwards. Of course that was why the ship'd been stashed here, but still. It probably explained the rust.
The man selling them the ship snorted and spat out what sounded like a fair bit of his lung. "Look, lady, do you want it or not? Because Imp'll take it for parts and get it off my hands just as well."
Maka sighed, drew Mira aside, and they conferred for a few minutes. All the while, Maka was aware of Soul's stare. Finally they went back and shook hands with the man, who oozed away happily counting his cash and trying to find some friends to help him carry away the engine parts Mira had traded, and an unfortunately large portion of Maka's cargo- but it had been unavoidable, and all the cargo in the world was no good if they couldn't get it to the colonies.
"Well, let's load her up," Maka proclaimed happily, fists on her hips and finally feeling like a captain again; it was ruined when a drop of icy water from the busted pipe waterfalling ten stories above them slipped down the back of her shirt and made her yelp.
It took the rest of the day to get the new ship loaded up. They had to carry rations for the twenty-odd Fletchers who'd volunteered to come along, and even with those people all helping, three thousand pounds of cargo was nothing that could be moved in a few minutes, especially since most of it was stashed back at Mira's shop or in the tiny storage unit Maka'd managed to get when they lost the Bullseye.
Not to mention to usual collateral damage courtesy of Black Star, but he tempered himself a tad when he noticed Piccadilly's trembling hands.
They couldn't simply walk through the streets carrying crates of foodstuffs and illegal contraband, either, so they had to transport everything on three very old hoverlifts that Mira usually kept in her mechanic shop for moving heavier ship's parts. The things were temperamental and constantly complaining via puffs of toxic black smoke and ominous creaking noises as Maka and her new crew guided them through the back streets, but it worked; they simply looked like merchants, and nobody bothered them, though a few Kuipers did follow them for three tense blocks. They probably could have come up with some excuse if caught, but they needed to stay absolutely secret until the moment of their takeoff; Imperium was patrolling the streets in higher numbers than ever, and the old ship probably wasn't spry enough to outrun a brand-new Imperium ship. They'd need to launch quickly, to get a headstart, so for now they kept everything carefully quiet.
But when darkness fell over Junction City, they were ready.
The stars were sparkling and white in the void above them as they embraced Mira, back at her shop, for the last time, and the gracious moon was full enough to give them plenty of light as they crept along grimy alleys to the old docks and their new ship. It painted Soul's hair glowing starlight white, and brought out the warlike light in Tsubaki's eyes as they slipped all together through the city.
Black Star lifted his boot out of an unidentifiable puddle, grimaced, and said in a low voice, "Captain. What're you gonna name this one?"
"I'm not sure yet," she said honestly, trying yet again not to miss the Bullseye. "It'll come to me, though. It always does."
"Can I name it-"
He scowled, flipped her off, dodged her answering cuff, and nearly fell in the mysterious puddle.
The docks were quiet, blessedly, and they filed into the ship without discovery. Maka checked her Fletcher troops, patted a swooning and sweating Piccadilly fondly on the head, reassured everybody else, and went to join Soul in the cockpit.
He was sitting on a wadded-up towel; the bucket seat had very little seat left. She smothered a laugh at his disgruntled expression and, watching him idly flick switches here and there, familiarizing himself with the older model, asked, "So?"
"It's a literal bucket of bolts," he muttered, brows drawn. "But it'll do."
They looked at each other for a long moment; then she smiled at him and said, "All right, then. No time like the present, pilot mine."
He touched a warm finger to the tender inside of her wrist, his searching scarlet eyes very wide and reflecting all the multicolored rainbow dials, then he got down to business and began to boot up the ship in earnest. It came to life with a surprisingly enthusiastic rumble; he laughed.
"Guess the old gal's got some life in her yet."
"You keep talking like that, you'll be patting the dash and calling her 'Ol Bessie' before you know it," she warned, chuckling. Still, she triple-checked the radio on her hip, making sure it was on; Black Star and Tsubaki had the others, and they were posted by the cargo hold door and the other external cam's viewscreens, respectively, ready to warn her if trouble came calling.
Ten taut minutes later, in which Maka nearly dehydrated herself via nervous sweating, Soul swiveled to face her and said, "Ready for takeoff, captain."
She bent to peer at the sky scanner again. "Imperium scout ships?"
"They'll be out of the way in twenty-eight minutes, forty-eight seconds. To slip through without collision we've got to take off in about twelve."
"All right." She puffed out a tense breath and reached for his hand, the one that wasn't white-knuckling the wheel, and together they watched the timer he'd set count down on the screen, big blue numbers whirring away as the engines roared and shook.
Stein's voice crackled from the radio; probably he'd tackled Black Star for possession. "All right, kiddos! Here we go!"
Soul laughed wildly, barely blinking as he stared at the timer. "Yeah, just about."
She looked at him, then lifted his hand to kiss the back of it. "Thank you."
He tore his eyes away from his screens long enough to raise an eyebrow. "For what?"
"For everything, you idiot," she teased, lips twitching. "I love you."
"You too," he said, rolling his eyes dramatically; she snorted and squeezed his hand until she felt the bones rub.
She was about ready to buckle safely into the copilot's chair for takeoff when the radio sounded again. "Maka," said Tsubaki, sounding breathless. "We've got Imp cruisers on the docks. We're surrounded."
"Fuck!" Maka tore her hand from Soul's grip and sprinted through the ship, until the metal catwalks rattled and rang, echoing in a frantic clamor all around her.
She blew past Tsubaki and out the smaller cargo hold hatch just in time to see the shining blue Imperium mini-cruisers hovering above and around, blocking out the patch of night sky above, each only an eighth of the size of her ship but more than enough to provide a very serious blockade. A damaged ship meant sure death in the merciless vacuum of space.
Her ship was flaming and ready, spitting super-heated licks of red and white within the dock's carbon shell that cupped its thrusters. Soul was keeping it faithfully ready to go, then, but she'd have to make this damned quick or they'd burn through too much of their limited fuel.
She slammed the door in Tsubaki's face, keeping her inside and safe, and put her hands up, gritting her teeth as a searchlight burned her eyes. "What's all this about?" she shouted above the roar of the cruisers.
A ring of Imperium soldiers stepped closer, emerging from the shadows, all of them with raised blasters trained directly on her. There were at least two score of them, and her mouth went dry. Their commander was a rather short man, carrying his blaster gun with deadly ease, and he raked his tired dark eyes across her when he stepped forward as if he'd never cared about anything at all.
She opened her mouth to say something, to scare them off or just threaten them, anything to get their goddamn cruisers out of her way, but then she recognized him and breathed in disbelief, "Westing."
He froze completely, gaze snapping back to her face, and then he went pale beneath his beautiful golden skin. "Maka?" He hadn't recognized her until she spoke.
The cruisers were overpowered, and the screaming wind of them was whipping her hair all about, into her face, but she didn't seem to be able to move either. "Wes," she said brokenly, stuck on his name, on the sheer improbability of seeing him now, after so many years, wearing blue. His jaw had dropped as he stared at her, and the teeth she glimpsed were white and even. His hair was a pale blonde-brown now too, it was wrong, and his face haunted, so much older, written with so much pain that she nearly doubled over. "Oh, Wes, you joined Imperium? This is why you left us? Your family?"
It was the wrong thing to say. He stiffened. "You took my ship," he snarled, taking a step closer, blaster gun shining in the roving spotlights. "We were fa- we survived alone in space as children, I was the one who took care of you and Soul when Stein couldn't! I didn't leave, you fucking drove me away! Hell, I'm the one who dragged your rotting fucking parents off the ship before we all got sick, and you- you all made me leave! I never wanted to! I was trying to help! How could you do this? How could you be the one behind all this goddamn Fletcher nonsense?"
By the end he was screaming at her, and she'd given up any pretense of cooperative amiability to drop one hand to her own blaster. "Who told you we'd be here?" she hissed, enraged beyond all belief, bristling like an angry cat. "And it was never your ship, asshole, it was mine!"
He laughed bitterly, uncaring of the uneasy shifting of his soldiers behind him. One dark-haired, slender man with keen yellowish eyes had actually let his gun fall and was shaking his head. "Does it matter? There are millions of people in Junction City, did you really think they'd all support you? Imperium helps a lot of people. You always were naive, though." When she bared her teeth at him, he added sharply, "Why d'you think I wanted to sell that damn ship? So we'd have a proper home, but no, you and my brother had to go roaming around the stars!"
She was clenching her jaw so hard that it hurt. In her wildest dreams she'd never imagined her Westing, who'd given her piggy-back rides and stroked her hair when she was sick, who'd sung while he made dinner and who'd held Stein down with gentle hands while he raved in the throes of a healing fever, would have ended up like this. "Get the fuck out of my way or I swear to god I'll tell Soul to run your men down," she snapped, hand tightening on her gun. The odds were that the soldiers in those cruisers would give in and get out of the way when faced with a sure, fiery death thundering up at them.
Probably. If they didn't, though… and there were so many lives on that ship right now.
Wes took another step towards her, hair flying madly in the whipping winds, and she saw with agonizing shock that his cheeks were damp. "I can't! I can't, Maka, I can't, I- you're fighting destiny, Maka, and why? Imperium runs things as smoothly as we can, and it's not perfect, but it's necessary. Happy daydreams of equality and justices don't hold up when it comes to actually having billions of mouths to feed. There's no other way."
"You could refrain from sending colonists to the moons until the damn places can actually support long-term life!" she spat, shaking, nearly blind with fury. "Do you really think that never occurred to the Council? But they want the income colonists provide and they don't give a shit if it means people die young! And the way you've fucked up alien relations, all for profit!"
He looked genuinely appalled. "It's not like that! Imperium wants to unite the solar system under peaceful rule, and that means we need the right resources."
She shook her head and discreetly thumbed her blaster from 'kill' to 'stun'. "You're fighting an enemy that doesn't even exist and ruining countless lives doing so. They're not numbers, Wes, they're real people with family and friends and pain-"
Her radio crackled, and Soul's smooth voice poured into her ears. "Wes! Wes, you fucking- Wes! Let me talk to him, Maka!"
She bent her head a little toward the radio, distantly aware of Wes' strained face at hearing his brother. "That's probably not a great idea right now."
Soul hissed loudly enough to be heard quite clearly, and it sounded like he might be hitting the dashboard too. "Can you hurry this up? I've got less than nine minutes burntime left before we have to take off, or we'll run out of fuel end up fucking stranded between planets!"
Maka looked at Wes, and all the soldiers fanned out behind him in their armor the color of sorrow, and said grimly into the radio, "Take off at eight minutes exactly, Soul. Head to the place we left Pattie and Liz. Got it?"
A beat, then, "What about you? What are you going to do?"
There were bitter tears in her eyes. "To the end, remember? Trust me."
He said uneasily, "Fine. Hurry up with whatever you've got planned, though." The engines kept burning, throwing off waves of shimmering heat that made the stars above look underwater.
Maka looked at Wes again now, and she raised her voice even as she slid her right foot ever-so-slowly forward. "What good do you think this'll do, anyway? It's not like I'm the leader. The Fletchers are fighting for something bigger than me, and they'll keep fighting. You'd never believe how many of us there are, or how angry we are." She'd managed two steps forward now, and a few more of the soldiers behind Wes looked hesitant. "This isn't a fight you can win, and we might not win either, not right away, but even the littlest victories for our side help people. We save lives-" Another step, she was so breathless she could barely speak, and her hands were trembling- "And all you do is take them, Wes! How many people have you murdered because you got an order to?"
He flinched, just for a second, but she was close now, and she'd always been fast. She sprang forward, knocked his loosely held blaster out of his hand, and shoved the mouth of her own gun into his temple, looping an arm around his neck.
It was surprisingly quiet in the aftermath; besides the engines and the panicked shuffling of the soldiers, there was only Wes' strained breathing in her ear. How many seconds till Soul had to take off? She gulped air and said sternly, "Move your cruisers out of the way."
"This won't work. They won't-"
"Move them!" She clicked her gun back to 'kill' and watched his eyes widen at the familiar sound, so close to his sensitive ears- those weren't so easy to modify.
"Six minutes forty five seconds," came Soul's panicked voice. "Maka-"
"Working on it," she bit off. She was a heartbeat away from starting in on Wes again when a low murmur came from the soldiers, a loud noise, and then the mouthwatering smell of cooked meat.
It took her a second to realize she'd been hit by a stunner blast, and Wes quite competently disarmed and handcuffed her in another moment. He frogmarched her, or rather dragged her, since her legs weren't quite working yet, towards the front curve of the ship, hands soft on her arms.
She was nearly blind, and every nerve in her body was screaming. He said something to his soldiers, and then, quietly into her ear, "It'll be okay. I'll try and get you two light sentences. I have some pull in the City, I can help-"
Maka worked up enough control to toss her head back and smack him in the nose; he only grunted and shoved her forward again, spitting out her hair as it blew every which way in the wailing wind that rose as, confident in their victory, the first cruiser began to lift up and out of the way. What she saw when they rounded the front of her ship sent her sinking to her numb knees, gripped by Wes or not. A slender Imperium war megacruiser had descended, unnoticed in the chaos, to rest beside her ship.
They'd extended all their grappling equipment, and the two ships were bound tight with shimmering blue carbon-fiber ties, nearly unbreakable; what's more, the megacruiser was dark, all the lights off, which meant its crew had abandoned ship, which meant only one thing. The council was serious about stopping the 'Fletcher threat', it seemed.
She shook her head wildly, staggered to her feet and wheeled on Wes, screaming, "Disconnect the ships! Disconnect them! You'll blow this whole city quadrant to pieces if you let them explode that cruiser! Do you know how many people live here? Do you know the kind of cargo I have on that ship? It'll save lives! You can't, you can't!" Then, on a mad whim born of desperation, "What about all your soldiers? You'll all die too if you set off those bombs!"
Discontented mutterings rose from the armored men and women flanking them, but Wes only shook his head. "It was a bluff," he murmured. "Just in case. He won't take off. Not without you. It's over."
Soul- listening on the radio, no doubt, waiting faithfully, keeping the engines alight and ready, waiting for her to come up with a last-minute plan and save the day- fresh tears burned her stinging eyes. Soul was listening, she knew he was, so she said brokenly, "He will take off, though. He knows some things are more important. Some things have to run their course to the end."
She said the words, but inside she was only endless screaming, because in truth she had no idea how to get out of this mess. The cruisers were leaving, but now the ship would blow up an unimaginable area of packed city if they took off-
Then she looked up and saw gleaming yellow eyespots in one of the alleys snaking away from the docks, and shimmering, crystalline alien skin; the Kuipers and the Glieseans had come to investigate, it seemed.
Maka had never had an ear for music, in fact she didn't speak a word of Kuiper, but she'd grown up with two aliens who sang like they breathed, and when she screamed, "Help me! Please!" it was in the grumbling, shattered clamor of the Gliesean language, just as the brothers had taught her.
A beat passed, one precious, precious second, and then the Kuiper came barreling out of the shadows, eyespots glowing orange as it leapt for Wes' throat.
She wrenched free of his grip as he fell, and then she bolted for the two linked ships, zigzagging away from the soldier's blasts and skirting dangerously close to the flames at the bottom of her own, feeling the heat scorch her numbed face. She knew the megacruiser, she'd studied the damn blueprints for the thing over and over after stealing them herself not a month ago, and all she needed to do was climb up the side, reach the main entrance door, and find the lever just beside it, the emergency disconnect system that would free her ship and her family.
There were screams from the ground as she clambered up the megacruiser's ladder, handcuffed hands awkwardly in front of her, and she felt the Kuiper's bloodthirsty bellows in her chest as she went. Peering down, she saw the heavy Gliesean had finally managed to work its way out of the alley too, and it was quite mercilessly rolling over and over the screaming soldiers, a runaway juggernaut with impermeable mineralized skin.
There was someone near the base of the ladder, though, and she realized with a sinking feeling that she was still unarmed- but it was the dark-haired, slim soldier, and he glanced up at her. "I've got your back," he shouted, seemingly unaffected by the vicious flames not fifteen feet from him.
She was speechless, but there was no time to talk anyway, so she kept climbing, trying to count the seconds, frantic and panting. Shouts rang out below as soldiers finally reached the ladder, and blaster shots, but she had no time; heart pounding, she scrambled aboard the thin metal catwalk that linked the two ships, useless in this case but a standard part of the connecting system. And yes, there it was, the button; she stumbled over, lifted the plastic cover, and smacked her cuffed hands against it with a metallic jingle. The blue ties detached and began to whirr softly back into the ship, drawn in by gears deep inside, and she collapsed with a sigh onto the metal, warmed by the flames below.
Her radio was missing, lost in the scramble, but Soul would know what to do. He'd find a way to rescue her. Indeed, the new ship was already shaking, an inch away from liftoff. She got wearily to her feet again as the catwalk she was on rattled and began to automatically retract into the megacruiser, shuffling to the door; she knew all the codes, and one of another of them would open it before she fell.
"I did it," she whispered to no one, muscles jumping still from the stunner shot, chest aching from the force of her heartbeat, lungs burning. The first code didn't work, but the second did, and she'd lifted her foot to step inside the ship when the door abruptly slid closed again. "What?" Next to her, her ship sputtered more flames as Soul gunned the engine, and it shuddered violently into the slightest of upward motions.
The catwalk was still retracting, she'd be standing on thin air when it was done, and the code failed to work a second time. She looked down, clinging to the door, taking desperate steps backward to maintain her footing on the moving metal, and there beside the flames was Wes, snarling and screaming over the still form of the dark-haired man, but too far away to hear.
She knew, of course, that megacruisers also usually had a few forms of remote control, one of which involved total lockdown of all exterior doors. She'd just forgotten. But the city all around was safe, now. The bombs would not go off.
The catwalk finished retracting with a soft thump, just as the Fletcher ship finally attained liftoff, an impossibly huge ark sliding up past her towards the starlit sky and leaving dancing flames behind.
Maka clawed and clung to the warm side of the megacruiser for just a desperate moment, watching her last ship take off, bearing all her hopes and love, and then her fingertips slipped on the smooth door and she fell down into the fire.
August 5, 2497, The Daily Sun: 'Fletcher Rebellion Spreading Like Virus. Council Declares Bounty on the Bullseye II'
August 31, 2497, Venusian Times: 'Imperium Fleet En-route to Junction City Ambushed, Suffers Unprecedented Losses'
September 23, 2497, The Daily Sun: 'The Fletcher With White Hair: Who is He, and Why Does He Fight?'
November 19, 2497, Orcus Weekly: 'Gliesean Ambassador Gains Ground for Alien Rights, Protects Home Planet with Majority Vote. Council Has No Comment.'
December 29, 2497, The Tethys Insider: 'New Colonial Terraforming Regulations Pass With Flying Colors; Council Expresses Disappointment'
February 14, 2498, Junction City Scoop: 'Two New Planets Opened to Colonists Under New 'Forming Regulations; Twelve Ships Offer Free Passage to Colonists in Need'
April 28, 2498, Mars Daily: 'Junction City Opens 'Albarn Public Terraforming Academy', Funded by Anonymous Donation'
September 3, 2498, The Daily Sun: 'White Haired Fletcher Seen Again; His Imperium Bounty Raised, to Public Protests'
January 30, 2499, Venusian Times: 'Colonial Protests Heat Up. Imperium Under Scrutiny for Human Rights Violations'
March 2, 2499, Orcus Weekly: 'Blonde Fletcher Sisters Continue Reign of Terror'
April 2, 2499, Mars Daily: 'REVOLUTION ON FIRE ACROSS SOLAR SYSTEM!'
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