The Humble Home
Behraan was barely inhabitable, after a few millennia of humanoid species mistreating its ecosystem. For every tree that non-profit companies planted, two skyscrapers were built elsewhere on the world. Mining operations plumbed the depths of the crust and even tapped into the mantle, and much of the planet’s surface water was either polluted heavily by refuse, or shipped offworld to space stations or other, richer planets to consume.
The gravity of the world was slightly high, the atmosphere somewhat thin, which made for a world with lower vegetation levels and greater variations of temperature and climate from pole to pole.
Only the very poor and the very rich lived on Behraan, seeing as the rural life was nearly nonexistent, and the Dominion’s other worlds were far more attractive. The most attractive of these were the numerous Paradise worlds—such as in the angelic Kelvik system.
The near-inhospitability of Behraan was also part of the Imperator’s defensive measures to make the world difficult to capture, with little capital or strategic incentive. If the planet itself imposed upon invading armies, that was less work for Behraan’s own forces.
Only the insane would dare strike out at the false heart of Behraan.
On the western border of Graldica was Pier 1942, which was more like a colossal tower than a pier. It was several kilometres tall, a vertical spaceport designed to catch vessels from the ground to as high as low orbit. It also encased a long leapshaft that acted as a cannon to fire ships towards their destinations at post-leap speeds, many lightyears per hour.
The Skyreign was docked aboard a Carrier-Class ship, the B.N.S.S. Daunting, at the very top of the pier, and it required more than ten minutes of hyperelevators to get there--assuming it wasn’t a busy day.
At these heights, there were no balconies or windows that could be opened, for it did extend into space, where there was no air, no pressure, and only the thick Magnasteel walls to keep conditions liveable above the planet’s natural, if deteriorating, atmosphere.
Because of the deterioration of the building itself over decades of braving the harshest elements, no personnel were allowed into the upper levels of the building without, minimally, a standard Type-1 personal Shieldbelt--a simple particle deflector that also acted to sustain atmospheric levels in a radius appropriate to the wearer. That line started at three kilometres above sea level, as the first true danger of a breach was hypoxia.
One did not spend long in the Pier if one did not have to.
A small frigate, not dissimilar in size to the Skyreign, shared the open docks of the Daunting with them, along with a handful of Behraanese Interceptors.
Okaliun Motors Guild B.I.F. 45 “Alpha-wolf.” Long, needle-like vessels with the majority of their bulk around the sterns and short stubby wings to provide lift, they were almost entirely dependent on lifters in atmospheric conditions, and the engines often provided a lift component as well. They were loud, inefficient and didn’t have much more than four hours’ worth of combat endurance in the fusion battery to keep them running. They had four plasmar cannons jutting out from the underbelly, and a small salvo of self-constructing missiles on the left and right quarterpanels of the fuselage with the cockpit right in between.
Roselii knew these fighters well, having flown one or two in her training at the Academy.
But she never cared much for Behraanese-endorsed makes, and found herself quite content as she conducted a slow steady tour around the seemingly open deck of the Khrynthoss Ironwood-plated vessel.
The Skyreign was unique in her design, not appearing to have inspiration from any other existing starship types. Three arrays of streamlined golden Noregite solar blades detailed the top of the cabin and the port and starboard sides in an equilateral position. The open deck was protected by side railing, and was enveloped by titanglass windshielding—completely transparent from the inside, but slightly tinted to better match both golden and wooden hues from the outside. Three plasmar repeater turrets were fitted on port, starboard and bow, and two more were placed behind the cabin—again on port and starboard quarters. A pad dominated the frontal section of the deck, large enough for small fighters such as the Alpha-wolf to land aboard. The section of titanglass above it opened and closed like an iris, while the ship’s native field restraints held cabin pressure within and anything unwanted out.
The ship also had two snug decks underneath. The mid deck included eight crew quarters along the port and starboard sides, an engine room at the stern, a mess room in the middle for lounging and nourishment, and an emergency bridge at the bow end with munitions control for the torpedo array. The bottom deck was simply for cargo and provided a bay door in the stern end. Just above the bay were two mounted civilian-grade gravitic engines, built small and efficient and hardly noticeable.
The whole of the vessel, despite somewhat resembling waterborne, air-propelled vessels from ancient times, was sleek and sturdily-built. It resembled a dart with a ring and three wings around it.
“Nervous?” said one Ejjar Levee, a tall black-haired man, standing at the stairwell between the lounge and bridge. He held a cup of T’pauzi Dark coffee in a silvery mug, taking a sip every few seconds.
“I don’t like going onto dangerous worlds with so light an armament,” Rose shook her head as she holstered a microwrench on her belt, “this ship’s plasmars are two generations old. The torpedo banks are only working at fifty-five percent efficiency, so constructing munitions will take twice as long as it should. How old is this vessel anyway? Two decades?”
“At least three decades,” he hummed, “though most of the electrical and positronic systems are new. I tailored the protective fields to give an almost impermeable defence of the ship’s atmosphere, above and below deck. Even if someone puts a few holes in her, she should still be space-capable. Not a very efficient use of the ship’s power, but it works. Better than getting sucked out a hole the size of a pixie’s threading needle.”
“Thank Kabaiila she won’t have to be tested in space on this mission,” Rose sat on one of the couches, “Laura was worried about that, and I don’t blame her.”
“Well, this ship’s humble,” Ejjar shrugged, “but it’s a home.”
“Oh, she’s humble alright,” she smirked, “but she’ll do. It’ll be up to you, Ensign Walson, maybe Sentinel Olsein and myself, to keep her from falling apart.”
“That’s half the crew on maintenance,” he sipped on some more coffee, “Also not very efficient.”
“No,” Rose sighed, “but at least the Captain won’t be able to say we’re not doing our jobs.”
“She’s got a lot to learn,” Ejjar said quietly, “this isn’t some platoon of rookies that signed on to die.”
“I think she knows that,” Rose said, more casually than defensively—though she did in fact mean to defend her.
Ejjar shrugged, his only response.
“Well I have two more turrets to calibrate and I’ll be done,” Rose stood and made for the stairwell to the deck.
“Better have them done soon, Vinfield said she’ll be here in an hour,” he finished the last of his coffee and went his own way to the engine room.
Laura stood at the edge of the open bay door at lower deck, taking note of the other crewmen making their way aboard the Skyreign, checking in with their bundles of gear. Olsein clearly had one of the larger loads, including what appeared to be a large stack of carbines and rifles of varied makes.
While Laura specifically requested that the loads be kept light, she decided that perhaps, if the time came, the excessive number of weapons could come in handy, and so overlooked the silent act of insubordination. She wondered to herself, briefly, if she was too soft a Captain Even so, she had been quite stern, almost cruel, in the interviews with the new crewmates.
Grace Lafiere, a blonde-haired, pale-skinned female well into her thirties, assumed the role of the ship’s doctor. Yet, in stark contrast to Olsein, she had next to no equipment to bring aboard, barely more than herself and some extra clothing, with a single satchel. No medical equipment to speak of could be seen with what little she brought on board.
“Forgetting anything?” Laura inquired, while not actually motioning to stop her.
“I have everything I need,” Grace spoke softly, with a smile, “but thank you.”
Samuel Good boarded next. He landed on T’pauzi V the same day Laura did, and while she did not know of him, he knew of her. His hair was more brown than blonde, short and combed to the sides. His eyes, brown, were squinted slightly, making it appear as if he was always focusing on something. He was a jack-of-all-trades, a commando who could run almost any vehicle or turret, use almost any weapons or armour, and survive in almost any environment.
“Nice ship, Captain,” he said plainly, standing before her and saluting.
“You say that now,” Laura smirked only slightly, gesturing with her head that he may enter.
Miya Alvoa was next. While being the General’s granddaughter gave her no merit of any kind, Laura knew her personally. They had trained together in the Academy. While Miya and Rose openly did not get along, both were close friends to Laura, and capable Sentinels in their own right. Interestingly enough, Miya had much in common with Rose, physically as well as in personality, except for one fact. Miya was quiet. An introvert, some said. And that worked well with her admission into the Behraanese Spy Agency, or B.S.A.
“Welcome aboard,” Laura said evenly.
Miya gave Laura a faint smile as she carried her baggage in.
The last to approach the ramp aboard the Skyreign was, perhaps, the most interesting member of her crew, at least in her opinion.
He was a prison-worlder. His name was Darrick Walson. He was taller than Olsein and far better-built, appearing to be in his early thirties—which did not match the database, indicating that he had been from prison-world to prison-world for the last few decades, for an undisclosed crime. And while she, along with others of her kind, viewed such prisoners with disdain, she needed his abilities as a pilot—if they had not been dulled over time.
Still, Olsein recommended him. And he seemed at least half-decent.
He took a moment to have a good, long look at the ship. He crossed his arms, humphing in disappointment.
Laura raised a brow, “Something wrong, prisoner?”
“This ship won’t make one planetfall,” Darrick replied simply, “and it’s Ensign Walson, in case you needed another choice of words for me.”
Ignoring the talkback, Laura stepped out to see what Darrick was seeing, looking at her own ship. “Why do you say she won’t make planetfall?”
“The ring’s in bad shape,” Darrick pointed at the three joints where the sail masts met the ring, “most of the field emitters are cooked around the masts. If the ship gets too hot, the ring will snap right off at those points. That’s not too important, I hope?”
“The ship has its own core and engines,” Laura replied simply.
“I can tell,” Darrick sighed, “they’re new. And the workmanship is obviously Behraanese. Probably Okaliun mechanics too. Willing to bet the engines and core go before the ring does.”
“Those same mechanics promise me this ship is space-capable,” Laura shook her head, “but just the same, it won’t be a problem. The Daunting is carrying us down to the mission point.”
“The mission point being?”
Laura paused before speaking, “I’m about to brief the crew. Get aboard, pri—Ensign.”
Darrick nodded and ascended the ramp.
With Laura then being the last person to board, she tucked her hair behind an ear and followed, pressing the necessary button immediately right to the bay door. As she carried on towards the stairwell, the ramp then became the hatch, sealing and locking behind her.
Noting the new crew were stowing their things away, she ascended to the next deck, stopping to turn to those present. “Briefing on top deck in ten minutes,” she stated.
In those ten minutes, they didn’t talk much to each other as they minded their own wares, and their own businesses. They claimed their quarters, those that weren’t already taken by Rose and Edge, and made their way to the Bridge for the briefing.
As Laura appeared on deck from the topside cabin, she cleared her throat, as if to grab the attention of those around her.
Silently, they waited.
“First of all,” she stated, “I must apologize for the light-inventory rule. As you can see, this vessel can accommodate each of you with quarters of your own. However, this mission does require us to retrieve a particular person, who will no doubt have items of her own and will need her own space as we escort her back to Behraan territory.”
The crew stood silent.
“Next,” she continued, “I want you all to get to know each other as best as you can. Chances are, the Mission Point will have an array of dangers for us to be aware of, and you will have to put your lives in each other’s hands if we come across such dangers. I don’t want my whole crew disappearing on my first mission, and certainly, that doesn’t interest you either.”
Darrick smirked, though Laura wasn’t sure it was about the sense of humour he was smiling about, since Rose’s eyes were glancing his more than once, from the other end of the ship.
“Let us start with Walson,” Laura shot daggers with her eyes, “you’ll state your name, rank, role aboard and some secondary talent of yours, if any. Please, go ahead.”
“Fine,” he straightened out in his barely-fitting jacket, “I’m Darrick Walson. I’m a prisoner, so the rank of Ensign is honorary. I’m the ship’s pilot because someone has to be. And I just so happen to be a sensors expert. Oh, and I like clothes that fit properly.”
Laura sighed, “You and you alone may proceed aboard the Skyreign without the jacket portion of the uniform, until one can be made to fit you. I have half a mind to tell you to put your prison uniform back on; at least that fit you.”
The daggers came back.
“Sentinel Olsein, serv--”
“Last name or first name, that?” Laura looked at him inquisitively.
“Actually,” he crossed his arms, “it’s just Olsein. I serve as the ship’s security, so keep your hands to yourselves. Or not. Anyway. I’m also not bad at fixing things. Weapons, gadgets, that kind of thing. And I’m a good survival guide.”
“You really don’t have a last name?” Darrick whispered over.
“I really don’t.”
“And...where did you say you came from?”
Darrick then stared off to the floor, chewing it over.
“Engineer Ejjar Levee, or just Edge,” spoke the next male crewman, “I keep your boat afloat. I also like my coffee, and have a variety of brews from a number of worlds. Don’t catch me before I’ve had my coffee in the morning, and don’t go into my engine room without a bloody good reason, and we’ll be best friends.”
Laura thought to herself of just seeing what would happen if she did one of those don’ts.
Olsein eyed her curiously, almost as if hearing what she was thinking. It made her question whether she spoke her mind aloud, before dismissing that notion as utter nonsense.
“Roselii Khental, Sentinel,” said the shortest of the women, “usually I’d be a pilot, but today I’m the linguist, and the first officer. I’m also responsible for calibrating the weapons systems of the ship, the bit that Edge couldn’t quite do.”
“I think one of the stern guns just caught fire,” Miya remarked in her typical snarky fashion whenever Rose spoke.
“Shut up, Sentinel,” Laura barked.
“But isn’t it my turn?”
After a pause, and realizing she was after all beside Rose, she nodded, “fine, but for the future, your snide remarks don’t belong on my ship.”
“Won’t happen again, I promise,” she nodded more seriously, “I am Miya Alvoa. I’m your covert op. And all that goes with it. Not too many questions, please. It’s for your own protection, rest assured.”
The crew was particularly quiet.
And no questions were asked.
“Samuel Good!” Sam piped up optimistically, a little too chipper for some veteran on the verge of mid-age, “I’m a Sentinel, and I’m good at a lot of things...I think.”
“Well,” Laura sighed, “That’s--good, mister Good.”
“My name is Grace Lafiere,” Grace said quietly, “I am your medical officer. But I am also a good adviser. I do not, however, participate in any form of harm to others. I will simply ensure you will survive such dangerous encounters.”
“Very good, that’s everyone,” Laura nodded, crossing her arms as she allowed for a moment of silence—making sure she had the complete attention of our crew.
Once she had it, she took a deep breath and spoke aloud, “what I am about to say is extremely confidential. Do not breathe a word of this to anyone else, beyond this ship and crew, lest you forfeit your life, which by right as captain of a vessel I may decide to take at any time.”
The crew remained silent, knowing full-well that such a threat was far from idle. The Behraanese Navy regulations had a long list of actions and inactions which could constitute treason.
“Our destination is Suragaa Three,” Laura began, “It’s in the outskirts of our domain, with a small Behraanese patrol garrisoned in the outer space of the system. The planet itself is entirely desert—which is odd, since one of its properties is that there are two rings around it. One is of ice; the other is refuse and scrap from ancient vessels, orbital stations and the like. The amount of ice in orbit is estimated to be enough to cover at least seventy percent of the world’s surface. Some time in the past, it would seem the world suffered a catastrophe on a global scale.”
She looked about, ascertaining that her crew still had her full attention.
“The target, our personnel in question, was last seen near this system, fifty years ago, flying the B.N.S.S. Silverstar. The--” she stopped, looking to Olsein and reading the sheer disbelief in his face, “something wrong, Sentinel?”
“That ship was shot down,” Olsein replied lowly, “fell out of orbit around the fifth planet. A gas giant. Would have crushed that ship like a trash compactor.”
“So has been assumed,” Laura smirked, “so was the way I knew it—until just recently, when a patrol vessel passed by Suragaa Three. They picked up several automated distress beacons deployed by the downed Silverstar on that world. Some strange phenomenon within the atmosphere prevents pinning an exact location as to where they are, but it was estimated that the signals came from what used to be an ocean, between two continental land masses.”
“So we’re going to recover a downed ship?” Darrick asked.
Laura looked his way, “we’re going to recover its crew. And you all know of whom I speak.”
They did, indeed, know of whom she spoke. It was in basic history for almost all levels of education.
It was a crew of one.
Admiral Janeth Sehra.
“She can’t still be alive after fifty years,” Miya shook her head, “a world devoid of water? Never mind, what other dangers may lie there. Fifty years is a long time, and she was already into her sixties when she disappeared.”
“Actually,” Olsein hummed, “those beacons only ran for a year or so before the power supply runs dry. Even the new ones only run for two years.”
“Your point being?” Laura asked sharply.
“My point being,” Olsein cleared his throat, “someone has been maintaining them. Someone who keeps going back, year after year, knowing exactly where to find them. So--”
“Either the signals are falsified,” Laura concluded, “or our Admiral is still alive.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Olsein looked at her curiously, “verbatim.”
“We’re conducting this mission as if she is still alive,” Laura continued, “but it’s highly doubtful she’s simply waiting within the remains of her vessel, expecting us to show up any time. That wouldn’t be an Admiral’s mode of thinking. She likely found a safer place to stay. Water. Food. Shelter. Something to clothe herself with.”
“Probably found one of the tribes there,” Rose added, “not a lot of data on that world, but there are two small nations there—the Nywanese and the Pillarian.”
“How do you know this?” Laura asked.
“I did my homework,” Rose replied as quickly.
Laura then nodded, trying to think of anything that was missed. “The mission is simple,” she said at last, “we go to Suragaa. We find and retrieve Admiral Sehra. We go home. Questions?”
None were asked.
Laura cleared her throat before speaking again, “Good. The Daunting will be departing in roughly one half-hour, so I hope you’ve brought everything you’ll be needing; you won’t be permitted to leave the Carrier prior to takeoff.
“Now--I have to meet with Captain Maelek and go over our official mission with him,” Laura turned to leave, “Rose, you have the ship.”
“Yes, Captain,” Rose nodded, “alright, Ejjar, let’s do one more ship-wide diagnostic. I want to be completely sure there aren’t any holes in the fields.”
“Can’t be too careful,” he followed her below decks.
Darrick took the time to get to know the on-deck control console, running his hands along the displays and the analogue controls, adjusting the chair and easing back in it and readjusting the joysticks. He tested out every function of the ship aside from weapons or engines, from the field delegation to the solar array blades, seeing how far he could push everything one way or the other, so that he knew his ship.
But of course, he already did know this ship.
Olsein found himself unpacking in his room, though most of the unpacking consisted of setting up his gun racks. He had an array of weapons of Behraanese, Marioch, T’pauzi and even Noregaan makes, ranging from rifles to carbines to handheld artillery to melee weapons such as swords and staves.
He had twenty-nine unique weapons in total, and he knew how to use each and every one effectively from both training and combat experience. If there was to be a boarding, woe betided those who stepped in this grizzled Sentinel’s room. He almost wished for it.
He almost wished that the—whoever was attacking—would have taken out the leadership as well, that he might be free of his duties to her majesty.
But then what good would that have been, he pondered, if he intended to return to Behraan one day?
And besides—he promised.
The room itself was similar to the rest of the vessel’s innards, wood-furnished with a small window between a pair of bulkheads, planks for flooring and a dull golden sliding door that locked. Within the room were bed, desk and dresser, simple in design—but Olsein wouldn’t have furniture any other way. To him, the more valuable the furniture or other decorations, the more one valued them, and the more they could tie a man like him down. This ideal did not agree with his nomadic, inquisitive lifestyle.
Three knocks on the door snapped the old man out of his reminiscing, as he had been running his hand along all the contours of his many weapons.
Three more knocks compelled him to open the door, if hesitantly.
“Good afternoon Sentinel Olsein,” Samuel stood at the door saluting.
“Hi,” Olsein leaned in the door frame, “what do you want?”
“Well, I need some help with something,” he began, “I know you may not be happy to do much of anything right now, and I completely understand if you say no, but--”
Olsein made no noise, or emotional response of any kind. He simply waited for something useful or relevant to come out of the youth’s mouth.
“I can’t find my gun,” he sighed, “I’ve looked everywhere for it. One minute it was in my holster, and after the introductions, it was gone.”
“I keep my gun locked in its holster, in case I have to jump or tumble around,” he looked more sternly and disappointed, “so don’t go thinking I clumsily misplaced it somewhere. I think someone stole it.”
Olsein raised a brow.
“I think you stole it,” he crossed his arms, “those guns can’t be all yours.”
“I think that’s quite an accusation,” Olsein finally spoke, “do you have any proof?”
“I—well--” he scuffed his foot on the floor.
“Come inside, kid,” Olsein stepped out of the doorway, “have a look at my guns. If any of them are yours, feel free to take it.”
Sam did step inside, scanning the numerous weapons thoroughly but hardly fixating on any one. About a minute passed by before Sam gave up, “okay, so it’s not here. You could have hid it though--”
“Take a good solid look at me,” Olsein towered over him, “if I was the one who lifted your little pebble shooter, you’d know by me making a shadow behind you and by the less-than-stealthy footwork. And besides, what kind of motive would I have to pry a sidearm off someone when I can’t sell it anywhere, and my own weapons are in every way better?”
Sam stared back, considering the matter.
“Behraanese finger-pointing mentality, figures,” he shook his head, sitting at his desk, “don’t make a habit of accusing people for taking something you probably did misplace--”
“I’m telling you, someone stole it!” Sam said.
“I’m telling you, you need more evidence to back your claims,” Olsein shrugged. Sighing, he grabbed a pistol from one of the racks, an old Noregaan Thesium Shock pistol, rated at half a megawatt at forty metres, and tossed it his way, “look—here’s a loaner, until you find your own weapon. Stat switch is up top halfway down the barrel. It has fifty charges, so don’t go using them all. Chances are, you won’t have to. Better than those dinky plasmars the rest of the crew are toting about.”
“Well,” Sam studied the gun, “are you sure this works? It looks older than you are.”
“Do you need a demonstration on my effectiveness?” Olsein raised a brow.
“Oh, no,” Sam backed off, “thanks though. I’ll give it back once my own gun turns up.”
“Good man,” he closed the door behind the youth, sighing as he looked back, pondering, I’ll have to get another crystal for that pistol sometime. The boy’s bound to use it all up....
Shortly later, Laura returned, coming up from the stairwell. Nodding left and right, she ordered, “Turn on your shield belts. The carrier’s about to make leap, and apparently there’s a small meteor storm pelleting the pier. Better safe than sorry.”
While the Daunting was safer than the Pier that it docked in, Ejjar did share the sentiment. The last thing the crew needed was being vulnerable to any stray rocks smashing the ship while they were being dematerialized and rematerialized anywhere between twenty and fifty times a second. The ship would have probably handled it, but the sudden loss of cabin pressure was less than appealing to one who did not at least have their shield belt on to keep some of their air and prevent a bodily explosion.
“All hands to stations,” she next ordered, “Edge, to Engineering. Roselii, man the weapons array on deck 2. Walson on helm. The rest of you will grab a turret, with exception to Doctor Lafiere.”
<This is the Daunting hangar control to Skyreign. Are you prepared for leap?> came through the comm speakers at Darrick’s console.
“Walson, the anchors,” Laura ordered, then spoke up and aloud, “we’re about ready, just securing the ship in case of any turbulence.”
<Understood. We’ll be entering leap in one minute. Estimated time of arrival to High Orbit of Suragaa Three is two days and seventeen hours. Please remain aboard your vessel until we reach a sustained leap rate—we’ll let you know when it is safe to step aboard the Daunting.>
“Right, Vinfield out.”
“Anchors are laid out, powering down lifters,” Darrick announced as the four anchors, magnetic balls on chains, grappled the ship to the floor, and the lifters holding the ship up powered down slowly enough to gently land the ship.
“Everyone not sitting, have a seat,” she announced next, as she and Rose sat next to each other.
Darrick took this opportunity to lay back and look out the open bay door as the Daunting lifted off the Pier and out away from the planet. Other vessels audibly locked down as well for the leap.
<Edge here,> the intercom projected, <I have the field overclocked for now, just in case there are any disagreements between the Skyreign and the Daunting, in leap-state. There are some strange alloys in this ship, some of which might have some impact on how leaping affects us.>
“Right,” Laura noted, “inform me if it destabilizes.”
<If it destabilizes, believe me: you’ll know,> Edge said smugly, as the intercom cut out.