Grey steel orbited around the planet Halcyon. Steel arches and curves contoured around the Faith Space Station, separated by the long, heavily-tinted toughened glass and solar panels that stole the energy from the sun to give to mankind, an ever-present source of power.
Lost inside the station, pedestrians roamed through large open plazas and parks, and several levels of shopping malls and offices prepared for the influx of pilots, day-trippers, tourists, business travellers and the station’s own inhabitants.
A large hauler edged its way towards the docking bay, lights twinkling gloriously aboard the station as much as on the hauler. The tired pilot eased the vessel into the docking lane directed to him by the station’s control room.
Slowing down, the pilot set the auto-pilot into motion, sending the ship directly towards the hundred foot wide pressure sealed entrance to the station. The pressure shields soon dropped and rose again allowing the ship to land within a vacuum-sealed cage inside the station’s docking bay. The green shields stayed active as the safety levels rose again once more.
Engineers walked around outside the shields, preparing for when the inner walls dropped. The pilot waited sleepily inside his cabin, knowing that once he left the ship he still had to wait until it was inspected, checked for damage and finally, illegal cargo. Once completed, he could then leave, escaping for some time away from the interior of his ship.
Outside, more ships headed inwards and outwards, like waves on a beach, consistently there, flowing one way or another. Freighters passed by freighters, some escorted by fighter ships hired to protect prized cargo from piracy and theft, the contents of the ships outweighing the ship itself. Few words were spoken between pilots and the control room of the station, just requests to leave and dock and docking lane directions. Within the busy control room voices rang out aloud as the directions were given out to pilots and the docking bay maintenance crew.
‘We have got incoming into loading bay seventeen. The ship should be a merchant trader ID BW-Seven-XJV-Five-Nine, hailing out of Halcyon. Should be a food hauler from some fishery on the shores,’ a glum looking face muttered into a microphone.
‘Cheer up, Alex, Your shift is almost done and dusted.’
‘I wish. They have got me hanging back an extra hour. Some politician’s got himself into a stink and we’re expecting an influx of news crews any time now,’ Alex Morgan said looking at his system’s radar.
‘As we speak, two more inbound ships are running in for the docking bays. Some scrap-metal trader. Possible pirate ship. Other ship is a respected reporter’s craft. I’m sure if you ask nicely, you can grab an interview and time on TV. A pretty-boy like you could get some face time on the news with that super-hot reporter, what was her name, begins with an L?’
‘That doesn’t narrow it down much. Lynette de Cesare?’ guessed the docking bay worker.
‘Yes, that’s the one. Her ship’s ID picture shows the craft is emblazoned with the news network’s brand. Doubt that you’ll miss seeing that one.’
‘I don’t know, these loading bays are pretty messy, and busy too. Listen, I can now see the reporter’s ship. I best be off to work.’
‘We shall chat later. We have two more reporters coming in around fifteen minutes from now. Keep busy,’ Alex Morgan stated back.
‘Will do,’ the other man replied cheerfully leaving his office and whisking himself back to work. Steel walkways clanged under his feet as the man roamed from his office towards the docking bays.
In the noisy corridors and lost to everyone else the man, Peter Lund, muttered to himself before breaking out into a happy whistle.
He climbed down a nearby steel ladder, omitting the last five steps on the way down, checked the nearby hundred foot wide holo-screen above the loading bays as it floated up high. He sighed as he noticed the time, and then started to jog.
‘Late, late, late, as I always am!’ he muttered quietly under his breath as he jogged roughly as best as his limp allowed.
Clunking machinery banged, fighting against their own purpose, cogs and pistons frantically pulling boxes to and from cargo bays, and off the nearby docked trading vessels.
Peter Lund carried on walking past a scrap-metal ship, an angry pilot and its loading bay. As he passed a trio of Military Police he requested for them to search the vessel.
‘Are you expecting much?’ a senior Officer queried.
‘Other than a headache, possibly guns and drugs.’ Peter Lund smiled before patting him on the shoulder.
‘If they’re clean, I’ll be mighty peed off, ya hear?’ the Officer added.
‘Me too. I got to go, lads,’ Peter Lund replied, before moving off.
‘Why the rush?’ a voice chased after him.
‘Reporters; Lynette de Cesare, too!’ Lund teased back.
‘Lynette de Cesare? Trouble’s brewing,’ the senior Officer declared solemnly. The three Officers considered Lund’s gossip, left behind in his wake.
A vacuum shield, lime green in colour pulsed vibrantly enclosing a small fast vessel from the loading bays. A loud siren erupted all around alerting the station’s crew of a safety threat.
Peter Lund watched as a station-internal vacuum shield enclosed the ship, trapping the vessel inside the vacuum. The original shield finally disappeared downwards.
Peter Lund waited idly by. The siren stopped, but Lund knew it was only a brief break from the noise, new arrivals a constant threat deep down in the docking bays, the base protected from the vastness of space by the thick shields.
Underneath the vessel the floor shifted taking the ship a hundred feet forwards. The strong red light beaming down above the ship changed to a vibrant green signalling vacuum-safety checks had ended.
Lund strolled up to the ship scanning the ship ID computer lodged into the side of the vessel. The checks completed, he pressed a key on the terminal advising the ship’s crew that it was safe to exit the craft.
Sturdy metal steps spun out of the ship’s wall as a door slid calmly open. A pair of tall, toned legs stepped down the metal steps, heels clanging on the metal as they moved. The visitor took Peter Lund’s eyes off the ship and onto the woman in front of him.
Snapping out of his private thoughts, Lund dragged his eyes up the body of the woman, and eventually held her gaze.
‘Lynette de Cesare?’ he asked confidently still holding eye contact.
‘Yes,’ the woman replied before sending out a sharp yawn.
’Everything checks out. We will need to do a routine search of the ship, but I’m sure that you’re used to that by now. As you have media landing permissions, we’ll be brief and should be done in fifteen minutes. You can go through to the executive lounge where we’ll check your personal ID credentials for you and your crew.
‘Thank you. The sooner I can get reporting the better,’ the brunette reporter replied through thick, glossy lips.
‘Miss de Cesare, what exactly has brought you to the Faith Space Station?’
‘I am here for business, of course.’
‘Yer, sure, of course,’ Lund spoke slowly, still holding the gaze of the brown-eyed reporter.
‘But you rarely ever set foot over here. You’re too big for our boringly stable local story and the election politics. Is something wrong?’ he enquired softly.
‘Yes. Where there are reporters, there is always something wrong. Good things rarely hit the news. It will all come out in the wash, and I plan to be the one to reveal it,’ the woman breathed the words into the man’s right ear, her scent consuming his senses and her intimacy sent a shiver down his spine.
‘Politics is only exciting when there is a scandal,’ she whispered again, teasingly.
She drew herself away from Peter Lund, looked into his eyes, and smiled before speaking again.
‘You will have to watch our news to find out more, won’t you?’ her deep, husky, accented voice failed to stop the man’s instant attraction to the woman. With a further smile and a sweetly giggled goodbye, the reporter strolled up to her crew who were busy stacking up personal belongings and camera equipment, waiting for the items to be collected and taken to the executive lounge.
Peter Lund watched her walk away, took a deep sigh, inhaled, exhaled, shook his head and wandered off to the rear of the ship.
‘Keep me informed, you hear?’ he said to an engineer who was busily searching the ship.
‘If you need me I’ll be back at landing bay seventeen with the results of a scrap-metal dealer’s ship search,’ he added placing a hand on the engineer’s shoulder.
Lund marched off thinking the same sentence over and over, sounding the statement out in his head. ‘Politics and scandals?’
‘Who’s done what?’ He further thought, roaming back to docking bay seventeen.
The Faith Space Station resided within Halcyon, a region named after the newly terraformed planet the station orbited around, a tropical ocean planet. The planet’s main land masses were unexplored jungle islands, with the population being small birds and animals barely known by mankind.
The ocean covered ninety percent of the surface and the local Faith Space Station’s governing bodies had chosen to build floating bases on the ocean prior to investigating the harsh Halcyon jungles. The focal base of the planet was called the Eden Open Research Centre, however the base had unofficially been nicknamed the ‘Lillypad’ by visitors and staff.
A small, rotund man in a dark grey pinstripe suit sat down on a bench nestling within the Lillypad’s gardens. Fixing his tie into place once more, the man then opened up a briefcase, rustled through a stack of scruffy papers, before tucking them into his jacket pocket.
The garden surrounding him spread out for several hundred feet, a blend of trees and fauna both local and foreign rose up off the roof of the research base. Leading through the garden was a weaving white-stone pathway and down this road an angry man headed towards the bench.
‘You just had to blab didn’t you? You corrupt bastard prick!’ The angry man roared disturbing the garden’s calm.
’First of all, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black? We’re all corrupt little puppies in the Government, aren’t we? Secondly, you prick, I never blabbed, so you can find some other sap to pin your misguided blame on,’ the peaceful man on the bench replied passive-aggressively, crossing his legs and stretching his arms out across the bench’s back.
‘So, who screwed me over?’
‘If I knew, what makes you think that I would tell you, a man who is done with politics, a man who has fallen from grace. The press will tear you apart.’
‘You bastard, Henry Poole!’
‘You selfish prick. I can bring you down, all of you down with me, the whole lot of you!’
‘Maybe. We’re all perceived as being corrupt players in a corrupt game. Accept, accept the loss, resign, stay quiet, take your money and run. CEOL will look after you financially.’
‘You want me to trust in CEOL? That company caused all of this.’
‘And, I’m sure they’re sorry for their temptations, and will arrange something to help you along the way to your retirement.’
‘Calm down, keep the profanities out of this or I will head back home, CEOL will wave goodbye and you can sear and threaten everyone from afar,’ the calm man said ignoring his visitor’s mannerisms before adding, ‘You can’t threaten the Government. You have no powers, no allies, no proof and no answers. We have the power and the answers. And we need no proof, just like we no longer need you. If anyone is going to threaten anybody, it’ll be me. I’d watch your back. You remember Jack. Good ol’ Jack. Good Ol’ Jack. I liked Jack. Shame he took his life into his own hands. The pressure became too much for him, I assume.’
‘You… Wait, I got a family!’
‘Jack never did, so, it was easier for him that way. These events put so much strain on the mind, without our support, the pressure can be over-whelming for most. As I said, stay quiet and accept the offers that come along your way.’
‘So I have to resign?’
‘For the best, I think. Resign and move on. The media frenzy will be a circus, like piranhas’ lunchtime, to be honest. Resign, a few “no comments”, the investigation will be a guaranteed wash-over and you retire richer than when you entered local politics.’
‘I need to think. I can’t breathe, I…’
‘What? Out here in the middle of Halcyon, on the Lillypad, resting on the open waters, air as fresh as mankind has ever known? Stop being silly, you’re alive. You have the rest of your life ahead of you. Retire and live it. Politics is only a game to play when you have a chance of winning. You have none. Breathe. Breathe and make the obvious choice. Go home to Melanie; she will help you feel better. Tomorrow the media sharks need an answer. It will be, “I resign”, followed by no further comments”. For the best.’
‘I suppose,’ the broken, angry man said solemnly.
‘Now, go home,’ advised Henry Poole idly tapping his briefcase ignorantly.
‘Lund, just the man I was looking for,’ a strong, stern voice called out across the loading bay, catching the attention of all nearby staff.
‘Commander Zylinski, how can I help?’
‘Come on, it’s Filip to you. You’ve known me long enough, Peter.’
‘True, but you’ve known me long enough to know I won’t stop calling you Commander, Commander. You run the station and the military defences and all, and I have to show you the respect your title deserves, if only to lead by example to my own staff. Respect and responsibility, I got to drill it in to people nowadays.’
‘I have heard rumours of press visits.’
‘The bays are full of them. We have had to shift people in and out quicker than normal. Anyone just dropping people or goods off has been sent packing like bullets out of guns. Some press have had to slum it in the trader loading bays as both the normal docking bays and executive bays are full,’ Peter Lund scratched his head before continuing.
‘What’s going on, Commander?’
‘I can’t say, Peter.’
‘Come on, Filip. Don’t I need to know? Look at it down here, it’s bedlam. I’ve now got orders from you of all people about an enforced overtime for my staff, and they’re not too happy about that. I need to know.’
‘I agree. Something has been leaked to the press, legal arguments have stopped it hitting TV but that’s not going to last. The vultures are circling and they know that it’s only a matter of time. I have got my orders from Parliament, they said, “Watch out for the media fire-fight. Get the staff ready and stock up on headache pills”. I give you the same advice.’
‘Sure. That was enough. Parliament says trouble is brewing; we are not talking pistols at dawn. This is the tip of the iceberg, whatever this is,’ noted Commander Zylinski.
‘Let’s take a walk around the bays,’ he added taking his hands out of his pockets.
‘An inspection, hey?’ replied Lund.
‘Sure thing, an unofficial inspection, can’t have unhappy staff nor media, can we? I can meet and greet, welcome aboard etc. If anyone is upset I can deal with it before it makes news.’
‘I doubt we’re a priority to them, Commander.’
‘Still, it won’t harm anyone and I get to see what’s happening down in the dungeons of this station.’
Zylinski walked silently for a while. Lund knew he was contemplating something.
‘You know that I started off down here in the dungeons?’ Zylinski eventually asked.
‘I was a lowly security manager thirty-something years ago, straight out of the military academy. I was never trained for handling the media, nor politics.’
‘You’re doing fine, Commander.’
‘We’ll see, we’ll see.’
The pair chatted casually as they roamed around the docking bays, meeting old faces and new faces, freshly docked and eager to do their business or to spend their leisure time playing.
‘Don’t the sirens annoy you, Peter?’ Zylinski asked annoyed by the sound of alarms.
‘You get used to them after a while?’
‘Do you? I never did. I find it insufferable. Plenty of ships coming in and out though, as you said.’
‘Too busy, the normal trade is hectic as it is. It is peak holiday season for Halcyon and we get tourists galore day-visiting down there via the shuttles, as you already know,’ Lund replied confidently.
‘And now we have the media.’
‘Oh, I like the media,’ Peter Lund joked back.
‘Do you, Peter?’
‘Oh, yes, you should see the lady reporters. By the way, Lynette de Cesare was here before. No wonder she is on TV.’
‘More than you’d imagine. I had a brief chat with her. Man, is she something.’
‘Shame, I missed it.’
‘If she wants your attention she’ll ensure she gets it. Top reporters always find a way. So, you might still see her.’
‘Not so sure that I want to see her with regards to what’s going on. I am not open for an interview.’
A nearby wielding crew sent sparks flying like orange fireworks, burning the air as they soared. Metal casings lay waiting to be re-attached or repaired, all broken on a ship during travel. Screeching metal on metal sounds merged with pulsing lasers and welding equipment as the busy docking bay crews carried out their work.
Powerful machinery lugged crates to and from ships which themselves were busily preparing to leave, engines roaring, sending the base’s shield sirens into life as they did so.
Cheerful chatter was lost in the jumbled up roar of environmental noise. Peter Lund listened to his Commander as he discussed the technical aspects of the facilities. As Lund listened he looked at the man, noticing his face, weathered with age like the hide of an elephant.
Commander Zylinski was as strong as a soldier should be despite his maturing age, six foot two, his neck broad with muscle, his skin pale, yet his eyes showed his age and the stress of a deep responsibility.
Zylinski’s navy military uniform was smart yet failed to hide the man’s current fatigued demeanour. The markings on his shoulders were at odds with his silvery-white hair.
In contrast, Peter Lund was wrapped in a blue boiler-suit, stained and oiled, with an equally stained orange safety jacket over it. In his mid-forties, Peter Lund was a divorced man with two kids and a limp, the reasons, he joked, why he hadn’t yet jumped on any random ship off the station heading in any random direction. Regarded as a handsome man, his eyes of icy blue shone in the dull, gloomy, artificially lit workspace.
Lund generally enjoyed his work, and had been organising staff in the docking bays for ten years, and had become accustomed to the noise, and influx of ever-increasing spacecraft and his passion for his work had never waned.
He ran his left hand through long, scruffy brown hair, scowled to himself and followed Zylinski as he approached a newly landed ship. Steam rose out of the craft as the engines cooled slowly.
The fast ship was sleek and expensive, black metal structure low to the ground, and menacing on the eyes. Four huge gun turrets peeked out of each side of the ship, signs of usage showed on the two foot diameter, blistered turret rims.
Several laser pulse marks streaked across the left side of the ship, and warned of a story not yet told, a fight lost, or more likely won in the dark space. The craft, eighty foot long set an eerie atmosphere, a lonesome, brooding beast lost within the civilian docking bays.
A single name, gold and emblazoned on the doors of the craft said simply, “Cursed”. Zylinski ran his finger across the scar on the ship. The scar ran six feet or so, digging several inches deep into the metal base.
‘A well-tanked ship, Commander?’ noted Lund.
‘Yes, compared to other fighters, our fighters. Another inch or two and it’d be scrap-metal.’
‘Still looks good. Some repairs, but that metal is hard to come by. It’s laid up low for a week at least. CEOL deliveries are delayed due to the recent pirate attacks,’ stated Lund, his mechanical mind thinking the job through.
‘As I’ve heard, however, it’s not CEOL stock. Unless he has a private source, he will be a month if you ask me. Repairs like this, this metal; it’s rare and needs a specialist supplier. We haven’t got one on this station. Only once have I seen such steel, never here. It’s Copperhead steel, old school pirate technology and not available cheap. It is used by the super-rich or the most-hunted pirate leaders. The ships are built to order, assuming Copperhead still make it. Assuming they still exist. I believe them to be long-since gone.’
Both men looked at the scar, then the rest of the ship.
‘An old ship? It looks modern.’
‘That was Copperhead for you. Hated and respected at the same time. The blasts it took would have cut through our best shields like a hot knife through butter.’
‘Are you being serious?’
‘No, maybe, but whatever it was carrying it was important enough to risk the ship.’
‘Or important enough to necessitate using it?’
‘That is likely to be true.’
’Commander, are you saying that this is a ‘rat leader’s ship? Security showed it as clean.’
‘No, Peter, not exactly, it was made by pirates though, by Copperhead. Someone wealthy commissioned it, if it’s not Neon One or some other pirate group.’
‘Why do you say Neon One?’
‘Just a nagging concern that takes me back to a random military conversation I had several years ago,’ Zylinski announced distracted.
‘Will the owner pay for the repairs?’
‘Somebody’s got to pay up. This bird isn’t going to fly with a broken wing, so to speak.’
‘Cursed?’ Lund said patting the gold name tag.
‘Cursed to fight, you’ll find, torpedo launchers underneath the ship, no doubt.’
‘Commander, how do you know?’
‘Copperhead makes, or made, torp’s like no one else. Armour defence and torpedoes, the former as a protection when breaking through the barricades, the latter to bust a gap in the barricades. They rarely directly killed, rarely initiated combat.’
‘The media disagrees, Filip.’
‘They would, for various reasons. One day I’ll tell you how I know this much about Copperhead, and the myth of that ship.’
‘You should!’ Lund said crouching underneath the ship.
’Two, four, six, eight, nine torpedo bays, recently used, going by the last one’s markings. Someone targeted its weapons in the fight hoping to stop ‘em firing; looks half-jammed to me,’ Lund spoke crouching down and peering at the underbelly of the ship.
‘Right then, when that owner comes back I want to know if that torpedo’s still going to fire. It’d bash through here if it does. Rotate the ship to face the exit and slam double shields down in case it does. Next man in there will be the owner to stop that launcher firing. Spot red lights on this craft. I would like to see the owner too when he next appears.’
‘I want to know why a Copperhead warship is on our base, with a loaded torpedo, primed to fire, even if jammed. I’ll be back in two hours. I need to check on something, Peter.’
‘Okay, Commander. I’ll get your orders done. And I’ll find out how we never reported nor the owner declared the jammed torpedo.’
Both men departed company. Lund issued out the orders. As they were carried out Peter Lund starred at the fighter, black steel as dark as space, glistening under the base lights. Shaped like a dagger, the pointed, squared off edges looked as sharp as a blade. The boosters, in a triangular pattern, at the back of the craft, were burnt and aged showing the true age of the ship.
The three boosters were seven feet in diameter and were made to shift the craft faster than most other ships. Eighty foot by twenty foot, it looked as if it was just hovering, waiting for a moment to pounce on a new target.
The pilot’s quarters spread out across the top of the ship, a solid thirty feet long, revealed by the reinforced glass across the top of the ship’s steel, hinting of plush living space for the rich amidst a ship made to fight the Devil’s game, like a dark knight in his gleaming black armour.
‘Cursed?’ Lund stuttered, confused by the ship’s enigma.
‘The cursed fight alone,’ a voice, soft, monotone and dull spoke behind Peter Lund.