Ghosts

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Chapter 25– “Peace comes at a price”.

‘Did someone say they needed a Hail Mary?’ the gruff voice of Marco Koivu lazily requested scowling within the colossus ship, his face appearing on a vid-call within the Faith Space Station’s control room.

A shocked Commander Zylinski stared blankly back at the man, not sure if he was being wound up by the Neon One pirate faction. For a second, thoughts of Neon One and the Dead being allies flittered in his mind as he struggled for an answer. Before he could spin out a reply, Marco Koivu grinned chaotically, and then spoke first.

‘Listen, you know this is Georgi Balev’s doing? He played his cards pretty well, as expected. Those new yellow ships are his. Believe me or not, it won’t change anything, and we got plenty of our own spare all-new fighters in here.’

The words sounded like a threat, a warning of further destruction to the Faith Space Station. As fear turned his stomach, Zylinski looked down at the readings showing his fleet status. He knew the battle was lost. Ready to surrender, Commander Zylinski waited for Marco Koivu to finish talking before committing the words, knowing he had no other option, broken on the inside. Another ship’s readings bled into the hull, shield strength killed by a fast volley of laser bolts.

‘We are here to help. You’ve got a brief moment to dock the nearest ships with us before we need your pilots to evacuate the area around the new ship,’ Marco Koivu stated dispassionately.

The words “help” stunned Zylinski. Thoughts of betrayal soon occurred to him as he considered quickly another spoken word.

‘Evacuate? We cannot do that. We are at war,’ replied Zylinski with bemusement, looking down at the war status. Covering his mouth he asked a nearby crew-member to check how many ships he had left. The response stung him inside, the number hitting home stronger than the visual readings.

‘You asked for help. I ask you for trust. You got better plans, Zylinski?’ Marco Koivu said casually aware of the savage battle outside.

Commander Zylinski ran a finger across the pips decorating his uniform, sadness erupting inside of him as he did so. He turned away from Marco’s face as the Neon One man gazed calmly at him. Zylinski looked down at a tactical map on a holo-screen to one side of him.

‘Do it. Get Angelo and the others docked at that God-damn ship. They are the closest ships and have taken a lot of damage. All the others can move closer to home. Do it!’ demanded a stressed Zylinski, trusting against all analytical thoughts, fingers still running across the pips.

‘If it’s a trap, I’m ready to surrender anyway,’ with a silent mumble he breathed out the words, uncaring who heard them, knowing that his last choice may well be the surrender of the military’s will and consequently the Faith Space Station for the good of the people.

Orders were given out, time passed as the confused battlefield tried to fathom whose odds had improved, and whose side the ship was on. The Dead toiled against the station’s fleeing ships ignoring the behemoth as it waited patiently. Angelo, listened to the orders, charged to the new warship, wary, knowing that being a prisoner of war may be worse than a quick death at the hands of the chasing pack of battleships. Experience had told him such. His tormented ship had already reached breaking point. Hunted still, his safety was anything but certain. He docked up just in time.

‘All ships docked up that are docking. Faith, keep your ships away from us, within a two hundred kilometre range,’ Marco Koivu ordered impolitely.

‘Will do,’ Zylinski replied issuing orders out to his command crew with fast hands.
A silent minute passed.

‘Activate the orb.’ The calmness of Marco Koivu’s voice belied the power of the weapon he controlled.

The colossus stayed dormant, sleeping for thirty seconds more before erupting like a volcano. The circle midriff of the ship issued forth a cloud of smoke amidst a flurry of hunter friend or foe cruise missiles, a target painter having already analysed the targets. Packed with lethality, they thundered out by the hundreds all around the circle.

The unleashed thunderstorm of hell screamed out of the metal structure like tormented demons chasing their prey. Dead heavy fighters exploded with baneful fury, ripped apart by the wicked malice of the violent volleys of the colossus.

‘Holy… Remind me to add that to my list,’ Zylinski spoke forgetting his normal manners.

‘Sir, the radar says twenty-five Dead are gone.’

‘That’s a game-changer right there,’ Zylinski gulped back his emotions, a private prayer for his pilots followed.

Angelo da Silva looked around the docking port. The interior was new, pristinely laid out and barely showed a trace of oil spills and wear and tear. Little was said to him by any of the staff busily working around him as he slowly ambled out of his bruised fighter.

He inspected the damage to his ship. The repairs Peter Lund’s team had done had been quickly undone by the battleships. The pounding of missiles onto steel was evident, the drumming onto his shields eventually breaking through the protection just prior to his docking up.

Angelo assumed a mechanic would appear next to him but everybody seemed uninterested in him and his newly docked wingmen who he barely knew until this moment.

Several more military fighters arrived, leaving the pilots to greet each other with hugs. Little positivity showed through, little enthusiasm to return to the battle shrouded the pilots. Unaware of the latest events externally and drained mentally and physically the women and men looked around for a welcoming party. Once all the military ships had docked the party arrived in the form of one man dressed in a green and orange jumpsuit, initials tagged on his right chest.

‘Chaps, can you follow me?’ the mechanic stated.

The pilots followed him down a corridor, the man’s lack of urgency worrying them. Leaving the docking port they were led down a twisting corridor and then into a second docking bay, lined with electric blue and turquoise individually painted ships. The fighters alternated their colours, a line of blue then turquoise war-machines. Their faces watched as much further down the line, docking bay shields dropped one by one and fighters roared out of the colossus Neon One ship.
Directed one by one to a vessel the only advice the man gave them was a codename, followed by “standard controls, and it’s fast.” The pilots nodded confirmation as they entered the cockpits of the ships via the side doors.

Following the standard checks, guided by the docking bay control room, the pilots were soon ready to leave, bay shields rising and dropping, the ships one by one roared their engines into life within the docking bay.

The military pilots were directed en-mass to activate their thrusters to the sound of their codename.

Angelo’s front bay shields dropped followed by the call of “Animal”. He keyed the thrusters to life. G-force hit the ship slamming it forwards and out of the wide station docking bay into the fray of battle beyond.

A smile gripped him as a boy inside of him awoke, long since dormant. With swiftness the colossus sent out Angelo da Silva’s colleagues, at a speed unknown to the military’s current ship standards.

A female voice in his comm-system spoke eagerly, fuelled by a rich adrenaline.

‘This is military pilot, Sarah-Jane Clegg and apparently I’m code-named “Buzzkill”. And, all I got to say is…’ Silence hit the airwaves to be broken seconds later by a bellow.

‘I feel like lightning!’ the female roar hit Angelo da Silva’s eardrums like a battleship torpedo.

‘These things are fast!’ Another voice spoke breathlessly.

‘This ship’s better than my old Police fighter, that’s for sure.’

‘This is Anim… Angelo da Silva. Fast means nothing. Let’s see how it handles those battleships. They seem content to target me, so I’m returning the favour,’ da Silva advised cautiously aware that the war still threatened death no matter the ship he flew.

Recognising Angelo’s name from military college stories told of the Devil’s Militia battles confidence grew amongst his new wingmen.

‘They’re still targeting me,’ he added a minute later with confusion.

‘Me too?’ the female voice spoke suddenly.

‘Are they not done yet?’ a third voice queried.

‘Nope… Sensors keep telling me that I’m being locked but it’s not locked in yet.’

‘This is Neon One control, shame they can’t lock you. By the way, you’re welcome.’

Angelo realised that the targeting systems of the Dead ships were being blocked. A quizzical look hit his face.

‘That’s some serious logistics ship, you got there.’

‘It sure is. As long as they stay within jamming distance it’ll continue. Anyway, Marco Koivu says, “less talk, more fight”, please. He wants his tea.’

‘These ships can sure move. But can they fire?’ Sarah-Jane Clegg enquired eagerly.

‘Let’s see. Target-lock the battleship in front. Three of us against him will even the odds.’

‘They can’t fire, Angelo. The odds are uneven, one vs. one, in our favour.’

‘Quicker deaths means less to worry about, Buzzkill.’ Angelo dragged the last word out with sarcasm before turning his attention to the yellow camouflage ship in front of him. The turquoise light fighter blistered closer before Angelo pressed the trigger. A hail of laser projectiles ripped out of the ship, blue and sharp shimmering as they moved. They rang deep onto the shields of the prone battleship.

‘I’m calling this enemy “dinosaur,” guys,’ the female voice declared.

‘Nicknaming it?’

‘If I gotta be “buzzkill”, then this is gonna be a “dinosaur”. I’ll see to it!’ the words coincided with the issuing forth of two sets of twin high-propulsion torpedoes, both twisting around themselves. They closed in on the battleship. From close range the ship had little chance to move out of the way of the assault. The torpedoes hammered home hard-shredding the shields down five percent.

From distance, Angelo activated his own torpedoes, sending four more out of his own fighter. Twisting, spiralling onwards the torpedoes closed to within fifteen kilometres of the enemy vessel. Without warning, they broke in half, analysis chips reading the movement of the vessel.
Two missiles slammed into the port-side of the ship, the other two looped around before hitting the starboard side. Angelo raised an eyebrow slowly, before hitting the trigger button again and sending more laser fire and torpedoes onwards.

Still struggling to find a lock the battleship’s shields dropped to halfway under repeated fire. Calling for backup, the radio silence failed to relieve its concerns.

Plummeting downwards then left and right the battleship tried in vain to avoid the superior speed of the fighters. Furious torpedoes left it defenceless, its shields dropping before laser fire ripped into the hull.

The battleship left jamming range just as the final torpedo hit the rear of the ship, half crushing an engine and the port side of its body, the latter causing the ship’s final moments. Yellow and brown metal ripped apart under dominant outer forces, a blur of electric blue and turquoise swept past as three Neon One fighters made a finishing pass.

‘Are you naming the next one, Buzzzzzkill?’ Angelo teased once more.

‘Pitied!’

‘That sucks!’

‘How about “doomed”, then?’

‘It’ll do!’ Angelo da Silva replied targeting the nearby craft.

With the connection to HQ finally arriving, Lynette de Cesare smiled. The news feed was delayed back to Lynette de Cesare as she waited for a response.

‘The battle outside is brutal. People have fled the area in droves, taking whatever ships they could use to get away from the Faith Space Station and the sudden warzone outside.’
Lynette waited for a reply.

‘What has started this danger, Lynette?’

‘We do not know exactly. What we do know at this point in time is that we have two factions at war. One we know to be the Military Police protecting the station, and the other we believe to be the Dead, a non-political pirate faction whose sole agenda is to cause chaos and destruction. The pirate faction seems to be supported by an unknown force, or using new war vessels, something they have not previously been known to possess.’

‘How long has the battle been raging?’

‘The battle’s taken far over an hour. The war-time of the conflict is not surprising, considering the numbers of those fighting. We know from military advisers that one on one fights can take from ten minutes and up to an hour. A battle as large as this, with so many pilots, can take unexpected twists and turns. One pilot can stay alive for the whole fight, and others, as we have sadly seen, can lose their lives quickly in a short burst from clusters of rival gunfire, regardless of skills.’

Lynette took a deep breath, as events sunk in once more. Tension formed in her shoulders and chest.

‘The people left aboard, by choice, necessity or enforced by lack of escape routes have been flung into a nightmare of the Dead’s making. Around us stunned faces watch on, prayers long since said, hoping for a quick, positive resolution to the chaos. Occasionally missiles and ship debris thump into the station, and this causes more terror on-board as the battle becomes more personal. With the station’s turrets actively propelling defensive fire, few currently expect to lose the battle, despite their fearful prayers, however information released to me from my sources state that the battle is not going in the military’s favour and that they have far fewer numbers fighting, and those with greater numbers certainly have the advantage in this kind of conflict.’

‘How have the numbers faired?’

‘I have been told that the military started at a disadvantage and this has shown through. Tactically, by staying out of firing range of the station’s turrets, the strongest defensive line of the military is sitting idle until the Dead stray or encroaches directly to tactically assault the station, aiming for communication relays, satellites or power cores. The fact we can still communicate with you is testament to how well the relays have held up during the skirmish.’ Amir caught Lynette’s attention, making hand gestures advising her of a statement to make. Lynette mentally kicked herself for not mentioning it earlier.

‘We have news in the last few minutes of a new large ship having arrived in the sector. Far larger than a battleship, the monstrous craft however cannot be identified to ourselves. We do not know whose side it is on. It is something that is causing even more concern to those left out of the loop, the public whose fear is even-more justified now that the odds may have worsened. The military refuse to comment during this time and my sources have not released any further statements.’

‘This unexpected ship, how would its appearance affect the battle?’

‘As such, it’s going to advantage, one can only pray that it may save Commander Zylinski and his military forces. If however, the ship fights against them, the battle is as good as over. Only then, and I and everyone aboard the Faith Space Station dreads this, we then will find out the Dead’s or other faction’s true agenda.’ The words sunk in to Lynette as she spoke them. Her face changed as her heart dropped. She gulped quickly remembering how the Dead had destroyed other smaller stations, before ending the news report, her hand shaking.

Staring around at the battle raging outside Lynette de Cesare waited silent for several minutes, Amir by her side.

Five minutes later, she broke the silence. ‘Get Zylinski, or anyone to tell us who that God-damn ship fights for. I can let the people know, reassure them, raise moral, if, when, things go bad. People are going to riot, if they panic, and that report, the way it ended, that’s going to cause havoc on-board this station. Zylinski needs to know, he has two fights that need winning. Amir, I handled it badly.’

‘You handled it like a human being, Lynette,’ Amir spoke softly putting a hand on her shoulder, turning it into a hug.

Yellow steel drove forwards determinedly, eager to take out Angelo da Silva’s ship. Outside of the range of the Neon One target-jammers the pilot sent forth a fury of laser fire at the Neon One fighter. Angelo da Silva spun his ship clockwise, barrel-rolling out of the range of the laser fire.

A second stream of fire caught his fighter along its aft, knocking his ship’s shields downwards. With a wider turning circle, the battleship attempted to track the movement of the fighter, predicting the flight-path prior to issuing out more turret fire.

Angelo sent out a cluster of missiles, determined not to let the heavier armoured, harder-hitting and more ferocious pirate ship have the advantage.

The explosions rocked the battleship pushing it slightly out of its flight-path. In doing so, and despite the tracking computers hard-processing, the movement caused the turret fire to pulse angrily into empty space, leaving Angelo da Silva clear for a second burst of missiles.

Shields dipped further before rising steadily, much to Angelo’s chagrin. The battleship sent over another wave of turret bursts, skimming the tip of Angelo’s ship as he dived it downwards. Unable to lure the ship towards the Neon One behemoth, he failed to drag it within target-jamming range. Cursing his luck, he continued his one man battle against the camouflaged battleship. Around him, the other Neon One fighters toiled against other pirate faction ships, leaving him fighting alone.

Resolute in his fight, and knowing that the enemy was between him and survival, Angelo spiralled upwards edging his craft closer to the battleship. Within firing range, Angelo da Silva’s fingers rested on the control screen, ready to fire.

As he reached five kilometres of the front of the vessel, he sent over a mixture of missiles and laser pulses, slamming home from close range against the battleship. Hitting deep and strong, the shields took the full force of the blows. Pulling upwards, turning and diving back down from the rear, Angelo hit home once more from close range, his ammo colliding with the ship’s hull as the latest wave sent the shields offline.

Angelo smiled, turning his ship around one more. The battleship’s tracking computer caught up with his fighter as it tore past the cockpit. Turrets locked on before slicing their laser fire outwards at Angelo’s ship, some of which glanced off the front shields of his cockpit view-screen, flashing in front of his eyes, causing a shocked Angelo da Silva to take a deep breath, knowing his shields had just kept him alive.

Thinking swiftly, he keyed his own tracking computer to target the battleship’s turrets knowing that the fallen battleship shields would leave them vulnerable. Within seconds they were tracked and attacked, missiles and pulses blistering the ten guns that occupied the battleship.
The explosions onto the hull’s surface sent seven of the guns offline, as their last fire caught Angelo’s shields knocking them offline.

Angelo da Silva reacted instantly targeting the last three guns terminating the battleship’s threat as the three guns issued off their final punch towards his hull. Surprising da Silva, his steel held firm as the guns hit home, the light fighter’s steel stronger than anticipated.

Angelo scanned the local area as the battleship slowly moved closer to his division. Deciding he had time and the means, Angelo plummeted his ship downwards, targeting the engines of the warship. Soon to be left defenceless and motionless, the battleship pilot would have a choice to make; hold out for support amidst the battle and risk implosion or pre-empt defeat and eject.

Out of the lower hull of Angelo’s ship missiles rocketed outwards, powering towards the battleship. The weakened structure buckled, and creaked internally. As da Silva waited to re-fire, the pilot took his chance to escape knowing the battle was lost and seeing that his best chance was one of a plea for mercy from the Military Police.

With the battlefield evening up gradually, the speed of the Neon One ships tore through the blackness targeting a ship at a time. Realising that they needed to steer themselves away from the behemoth that was target-jamming them, the Dead ships drifted to a safer distance, half-way between the station and the Neon One warship.

Tempted to shoot down both the escaping life pod and the stricken battleship, Angelo pushed the thought to the back of his mind and headed off to battle a new enemy.

Minutes later and as he moved closer to a group of Dead ships he realised that some of the enemy were running, chancing their arm at escape. Cursed’s black shape shimmered briefly in his eye line as he watched on.

Angelo da Silva led his wingmen onwards bravely, mercilessly, orbiting around the battleships, and chipping away at the shields. The sluggish battleships one by one fell to their fate and were soon taking critical damage first to engines at Angelo’s orders and then steel bodyworks. Nearby a final battleship exploded.

Once the last battleship had fallen, the smaller Dead ships fell victim to a fear of their own. The yellow camouflage patterns headed off one by one towards jumpgates, in an unspoken agreement to retreat.

The older Dead ships, flown by less-wise, or less caring pilots, continued their fight until death arrived. Refusing to use their escape pods, their death-wish was granted as the Military Police pilots sent waves of laser pulses their way.

Seeing the battle was ending, Zylinski ordered the ships to withhold drones and missiles, items which if lost would be expensive to replace, trusting in the costless laser pulses being sufficient en-masse to strip through the enemy defences.

‘How many Dead are left?’ Commander Zylinski asked peering over his staff’s shoulder.

‘They have ten ships at the most. Most are heading for the jumpgates, fleeing by the look of it.’

Zylinski weighed up the odds of catching up with the escaping Dead ships.

‘Get Angelo and those in the faster Neon One ships to hunt them down, if they are not too damaged. It doesn’t look like it from here. The rest of ours, we can let them dock up. We would be wiser using that time for repairs in case of a second wave of Dead attacks.’

‘Are we expecting one, Commander?’

‘We weren’t expecting the first,’ Zylinski replied bluntly, before speaking to a communications officer.

‘Put me through to all of our pilots, and the Neon One ships.’

‘Aye Commander… I’ve got through to everybody, but the Neon One carrier is not responding.’

‘Typical of Marco Koivu it seems,’ the Commander breathed out quietly.

‘That’s fine,’ I will speak to the pilots.’ The Commander reached for a microphone.

‘This is Commander Zylinski, those ships in need of repair please be aware that we will soon ask you to return to Faith. All pilots whose ships are able to stay out flying please remain vigilant for any return of force. On behalf of the people and I aboard this station, we offer our sincerest thanks. You have served the people proudly with courage and dignity. We owe you and those who have fallen today our lives.’

The Commander turned to walk out of the room back to his quarters, ready to prepare medals to all who had earned them internally and externally of the station. Before he left he advised his team to warn him of any further problems, before making a last comment as he left.

‘Pass my thanks on to Peter Lund. I will speak to Lund’s team face to face as and when they are able to be separated into manageable groups. We have much to do and so many ships to repair. I fear their work has only just begun.’

Peter Lund looked around at the docking bay, alarm bells still sounding out, drowning out the sirens of incoming ships. Conscious of the moment, he sat down on a black steel, cargo container, drained, taking a brief moment to rest. Seconds of sitting with his eyes shut later, he was interrupted by a crew member wanting his attention.

‘Give us a minute, mate. Let me get my breath back.’ His words spoken were followed by a tired wave of his right hand.

He watched on as a group of animated pilots greeted each other with relieved hugs and high-fives, grateful to not be one of the fallen. Their actions brought a second wind of energy to him, and a smile to his face.

He stood up and walked over, signed in at a computer terminal mid-height up on a wall, and fired off an email to the mechanics giving them full authority to repair the military and civilian ships caught up in the storm of war.

Amidst sadness he watched on as a life pod was brought in, its containing steel damaged. Prior to the pod being opened, Peter Lund dashed over to a nearby idle medical doctor, and informed him to go to the pod, knowing that whoever was inside may already be doomed.

Peter Lund keyed in the universal escape pod access keycode, opening the pod. He stepped back to allow the medic into the pod to inspect the pilot. The medic spent several seconds before, stepping out of the pod with sorrow.

As the body was taken out of the pod, a nearby woman dashed over anxiously spotting the face of a much-loved husband. Emotion consumed the woman as the pilot was pronounced dead. Unable to watch her pain, Lund bit his lip causing it to bleed, holding back his own sudden tears, as the moment and stress hit home. Rubbing his right hand across his chin he walked away slowly as the medic attempted to console the weeping widow.

In contrast, a surviving pilot in the distance ran over to his family, before clutching his daughter and lifting her high in to the air, a hug soon embraced him from daughter and wife. The sight was not the only happy return home for pilots, despite the numerous deaths, and bodies to be recovered from pods and floating debris.

Lund shook himself out of his emotional sorrow, and looked over at his team of a hundred plus mechanics as they started repairs to the station docking ports and ships.

A continual stream of ships leaving and docking continued to follow, as Zylinski ordered the last escaping ships to head home with the battle now over and the space lanes clear of danger. Still unwilling to drop his guard, Zylinski had declared to Lund that he would keep the sirens running for several hours more.

Turning around Lund witnessed another body being gently eased out of its broken life-pod. Unable to look away, Lund watched as a medic softly closed over the eyes of the deceased. The medic had little time before another mechanic demanded his urgent attention, a pilot stepping out of his heavy fighter injured, blood scarring his uniform.

Yellow and brown camouflaged escape pods were deposited into the station one by one, their engines driving them to the nearest station. Inside the pilots waited knowing that forgiveness from those opening the pods would not be forth-coming.

As a pod was opened, soldiers directed their guns at the pilot inside, too drained, too uncaring to argue, or fight for their freedom, submitting to the will of those with the weapons. Dragged away to one corner of the room, they were handcuffed and left waiting for the judicial system to decide their fate. Guards watched them, knowing the pilots would attempt to run if given a chance, even though there was very little for them to run too.

A pilot was dragged out of yet another yellow pod, grinning as the soldiers waved guns. Mocking devilishly, the actions were too much for a nearby mechanic to take. Having watched pilots, good souls, and now deceased souls, taken out of ships and pods, the mechanic’s mind snapped.

Calmly walking up to the soldiers, ignoring them as if they were not there, the man swung his wrench at the still-mocking pilot, blindsiding him across the forehead. Blood poured out as the mechanic swung once more. Two soldiers dragged the mechanic off the pilot, who dropped to the floor heavily.

Lund, upon witnessing it, dashed over again to a nearby medic sending him over. Peter Lund put a re-assuring hand on the mechanic’s back as the man’s actions sunk in internally. The mechanic dropped the wrench, and looked around at the guards, then down to the man he had hit. He looked back at Lund, still shocked. The soldiers prepared to lead him away from the docking bays, knowing that duty meant they would be required to charge him.

Before they walked away, Lund looked into the soldiers’ eyes. The looks back assured him the mechanic would not be charged, be damned the protocol.

As both men were taken away, Lund spun around to see what else might be happening within his bays. He spotted several camera crews recording the events. Lynette de Cesare’s team seemed to have the camera pointed directly at where he was standing. He approached her.

‘Did you get that?’

‘We did.’

‘You can’t share that. It’ll condemn a good man.’

‘He will be charged no matter what?’

‘Off the record?’

‘Okay,’ Lynette de Cesare replied casually.

‘These men have been pushed to the brink down here. Scared for their lives, scared they may not see their families. The Military Police will not report it. It’s my guess, of course. If you do show it, you’ll condemn a good man. It could have been any of us. It could have been me, you, any of us. Do what you will, but Lynette, you’re better than that. Is that who you want to be? Is that the type of reporter you want to be remembered as?’ Peter Lund asked driven to protect his staff from further unjustified harm, pushed still by fiery adrenaline. The look in the reporter’s eyes reassured him.

‘Don’t worry, I won’t be using it. I haven’t exactly enjoyed this myself, you know. He isn’t the enemy. This... this has broken me too. It is a human interest story, and it’s something that we may use should Zylinski need to raise the incident to the courts, but I’m more interested in other people’s emotions. Anger is fine and I can get video of angry words that will do the job. There is enough angst on-board this station. I want to see how we all fair now it seems to have ended. Have no fear, Peter. I see us as friends now. You can trust me. I’m not soulless… Talking of soulless, I see Henry Poole. Excuse me, Peter.’

The visibly weary and drained Zylinski spotted a hooded Marco Koivu leaning against Cursed’s doorway. Steam and scars showed signs of battle.

Taking lethargic steps he approached the man. With a lack of enthusiasm his words were spoken awkwardly, unsure why he sought answers from someone he barely knew.

‘You saved us out there. I will forever be in your debt. You have our thanks.’

‘You assume you will be asked to repay the debt?’

‘I hadn’t got that far. I’ve been too busy.’ Commander Zylinski offered back a polite yet tired, weak smile.

‘I understand that, Zylinski.’

‘How did you know? About helping us out, I mean?’

‘I know more than you can imagine. We too are a busy bunch of people.’

‘Did Angelo contact you?’

‘He contacted Alison Wessex approximately half-way through the fight. It was late by then. We were on our way, alas without our primary weaponry being completed.’ Marco Koivu’s words surprised the Commander. Marco Koivu ignored the surprise.

‘If we had just known at the time your pilot had contacted Alison, Zylinski, we’d never have made it in time. You do know that much?’

‘Will there be more trouble?’ Commander Zylinski asked, already expecting the answer.

Marco Koivu replied cautiously, ‘Maybe.’

‘Why?’ questioned back the saddened older man.

A long pause answered the question. Koivu looked away from Zylinski. The pause in the conversation continued for several long seconds frustrating the already frustrated Zylinski. Marco Koivu finally looked back slowly.

‘Greed and power,’ Marco Koivu’s words were soft, quiet in the noisy hangars, his words repeating in the drained mind of the Commander. Marco Koivu patted Zylinski reassuringly on his right upper arm, pulled his hood back up, before walking slowly back inside Cursed.

As the Commander looked back around the hanger a sight caught his eye, and a spoken conversation sent a fury through his bones.

Zylinski glared over at Henry Poole who was casually having an interview with the now busy Lynette de Cesare, glorifying the battle. Zylinski overheard the politician’s words talking of bravery, whilst saying “all would be done to repair the base for a better future”. The fury at the man’s words sent an adrenaline shot through the Commander’s drained system.

With speed belying his age, he charged over to Poole, already condemned to his desire, his actions decided. With hate, Zylinski swung his right arm out with force, punching Poole sending the politician falling to the ground, shocked. The politician slowly picked himself up, Lynette de Cesare staring at both men, Amir still filming the event.

‘Commander Zylinski, I will have your job for this!’ Poole spoke spitefully, clearing blood off his broken nose.

The reply from Zylinski was stated loud and clearly across the whole docking bay, the camera still filming. Zylinski’s voice was still angry, dominant and roared with fearsome venom not normally seen from the reserved, professional military man.

‘This station is still under martial law. I want Henry Poole confined to his home until the day I find something, anything that ties him to this attack. And, dammit, I will find out what you and Balev did, Henry Poole, if it’s the last thing I ever do. Even if it costs me my job, I will have you trialled for this.’

The incensed Henry Poole was marched off by two armed soldiers, his words lost in the sudden shock at Zylinski’s orders. Zylinski turned around and walked over to several more military pilot bodies that had just been taken off another badly damaged ship.

Lynette de Cesare awoke fresh the next day, happy to have been able to sleep with freedom from the previous day’s stress. Showering then dressing, she lazily walked out of her bedroom aboard the news-station’s ship, before meeting up with Amir in the kitchen.

‘It’s quiet in here without the rest of the crew, Lynette,’ Amir offered up with a smile.

‘I had to send them away, you know that Amir. I’m sorry I had to ask you to stay.’

‘You could only ask. I might moan but I chose to stay, despite everything. I could have said no.’

‘I’m glad you didn’t.’

‘Breakfast, Lynette?’

‘God no, I think, today we deserve better than ship food. Have you eaten?’

‘Nope, I was just about to.’

‘Let’s go use the company credits. We can go somewhere incredibly damn expensive, assuming anywhere is open. HQ owes us that,’ Lynette waved her hand, asking Amir to follow her. Grabbing the small travel bags and a camera that they knew deep down would be needed, they left the ship and entered the docking bays.

Outside Peter Lund was busy escorting a few reporters back to their ship, keen to confirm the repairs were sufficient. He smiled as he saw Lynette de Cesare and waved kindly to her.
Lynette dropped a travel bag next to Amir, apologised swiftly before going over to talk to Peter Lund who had by now left his guests to roam around their ship prior to agreeing the repairs had been done.

‘Hello sweetie. I see there is no rest for the wicked down here?’

‘Never has been, and I’m sure I won’t be getting any today,’ replied Lund.

‘Has Zylinski made a statement about the attacks? Off the record of course.’

‘Off, on, it won’t matter. I have no news yet. He’s still as shocked as we are. We all got the standard statement last night, and that’s all I know. Contact the Commander. He might give you something. He’s going to have to at some point. Just be gentle. It’s been even rougher on him. He lost some good pilots out there. He has a heavy heart right about now.’

‘And a short fuse if yesterday is an example to use.’

‘Can you blame him?’

‘Poole may have deserved it, but with no proof of any wrong-doing? That’s going to be tough for him to defend legally.’

‘Court cases will be due.’

‘Sweetie, like you, I want Zylinski to be the victor. I always found Poole deceitful.’ Lund held her gaze after she spoke, his eyes moving upwards, her bee-stung lips easy to lip-read.

‘What happens now then, from someone with an education’s perspective?’

‘My education knows the same as yours. We all wait, repair the station, rebuild confidence and pray everything stays quiet out there.’

‘That’s also my assessment, from my own, ahem, education!’ jested Lund with a smile. Lynette de Cesare laughed.

‘It’s been a strange visit to Faith. I’m not often here.’

‘I’m glad you are, Lynette.’ Lund’s words surprised the reporter. She looked at the man’s face, taking in the years of wrinkles slowly drawing him into his forties.

‘Thanks! It’s been a pleasure dealing with you. It’s just a shame the Dead interrupted our fun.’

‘What will you do now?’

‘I’ve been asked to stay a week. You can imagine my first thoughts. It’s expected I guess. I might stay longer depending on how boring it gets here.’

‘You think it’ll get noisy again?’

‘Under the stars that twinkle like your eyes? Peter Lund, I think the vast blackness will always be noisy, no matter what scientists tell us. More importantly, I expect the, as mentioned, likely-court proceedings against Poole, and counter-actions against Commander Zylinski will be loud enough. The elections are due. We can safely assume Poole has lost that, but he will now resign regardless. It’ll be a walk-over. Benedict Valon is your new Prime Minister. Nobody will vote against his tax now. Who would?’

‘Georgi Balev?’

‘And then there is Balev. I’ve been wanting to do a report on him for a while. I may get my way now the election has gone wrong for Poole. My sources have said he’s gone missing. His main home, at the plush hotel on Halcyon has been left, and nobody knows where he is. He has several owned homes, and nobody has seen him at any of them as far as we hear. I assume the information is right.’

‘Is he hiding?’

‘Why would he hide? Unless Zylinski was correct, CEOL hasn’t done anything.’

‘CEOL or Balev?’

‘I wouldn’t trust Balev. I will get my reporting skills on this, I’m sure of that. I think he is hiding. Is that because he has lost out with Poole’s expected political demise? Or something else?’

‘The Commander is the man to speak to. I’m just a man working for the man.’

‘Will you be working out of the ship or will you get a hotel room?’

‘They’d put us up in a hotel. That option has always been there for me. I just choose not to use it. I have my reasons. A hotel is not home.’

‘Is the ship?’

‘It’s become my home. Have you seen the inside of the ship? It’s nice and posh. As good as any hotel!’

‘I assume it’s earned over the years?’

‘No day’s ever been worse than yesterday. I expected to die. I will have my crew looked after though. If they return! One thing is for certain, my lovely Peter, is that I will be happy to have a place to stay attached to for a while. I float around systems too much. I could be here for weeks. You had better get used to seeing my face.’

‘I see it on the show.’

‘It’s not the same, surely?’

‘I know; you’re way prettier close up. Lynette, I’m sure I’ll see you around, if the docking bay is your home for a while. I’ll keep an eye out for you and the ship. I’ll see you about. Sadly, I have to go speak to another reporter, who is glaring at me. She’s not nearly as much fun as you are!’ Lund declared warmly before marching off offering up apologies to his waiting guests.

Outside of the Faith Space Station normal activity had resumed. Returning inhabitants journeyed back to the station, the danger having subsided temporarily.

Those having completed business or still wary of the threat ventured out to the depths beyond ready to settle down elsewhere. Incoming trading vessels were directed through docking lanes ready to be welcomed into the station. Pilots, tired from long travels, waited to leave their ships, and for some it would be the first time in weeks.

Cursed eased out of the station’s bay, boosters shifting the vessel onwards towards a jumpgate. Zylinski watched it leave from the control room, still unsure of its destination. The steel behind it laid dominant and docile, lights illuminating outwards as the inhabitants occupied themselves with jobs waiting to be done.

The reflective black steel of Cursed reflected the stars vibrantly as Marco Koivu set the auto-pilot to active, before putting on a navy woollen hat.

With light-fingers he keyed through data-screens. A large holo-screen opened up in the middle of the cockpit, six feet by eight. Ambling patiently to the screen, he stared in depth at the icons showing on the terminal.

Scrolling through the data files, Marco Koivu reached the file he wanted. A label appeared in bold letters above him followed by a percentage number. The file, named “Kingmaker”, caused Marco Koivu to smile a quick smile before he bit at a nail on his left index finger.

Stopping swiftly, Marco Koivu closed the file, switched to a new dossier and opened up a video-feed. A row of yellow camouflage-hued ships lined up next to a busy shipyard, drones actively attaching steel plating to unfinished produce. Koivu sighed a deep sigh.

The label for the video-feed changed as Marco Koivu turned through a list of video-feeds. He stopped on a file that listed the orbital map that simply read, “Shipyard Fifteen”.

The pilot made a call, turning his back on the video.

‘Wessex, it is Marco Koivu, Project Kingmaker is almost complete. Ready the project and the teams for execution.’

Alison Wessex responded politely, nodding confirmation. Running her fingers through her hair, she let it fall gently onto her white silk blouse. There was a pause in the conversation. After a minute of silence, Wessex spoke out aloud the question that had been playing on her mind ever since the battle at Halcyon.

‘What is it that you truly want, Marco?’ Wessex asked bluntly looking straight forwards.
For once, the man failed to look away, but spoke with tiredness, a sad yawn pre-empting his words.

‘Hope.’

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