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Orbital

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORBITAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BY BILL ZHAO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orbital

By Bill Zhao

Copyright 2017 Bill Zhao

 

 

Table of Contents

ACT ONE (EARTH)

1. Chaos 4

2. The Icarus 7

3. Fall 12

4. Nightmare 16 5. Contact 20

6. Answers 23

7. The Range 30

8. The War Room 34

9. Recoil 37

10. Departure 40

ACT TWO (LUNA)

11. Incoming 45

12. Havoc 49

13. Haven 53

14. Lonesome Road 56

15. Raid 60

16. Transit 64

ACT THREE (ABYSS)

17. Just a Talk 68

18. Executive 72

19. Lullaby 76

20. Halcyon 79

21. Clash 83

22. Delivery 87

23. Ignition 91

24. Pursuit 94

25. Fleet 97

ACT FOUR (HOME)

26. Arrival 102

27. Insertion 105

28. The Room 108

29. Pincer 113

30. Endgame 118

 

Writer’s Notes 122

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Chaos

Eight year old Derek stared out the port window. The cold emptiness of space consumed his vision. There was nothing to see. Small rocks and debris slowly floated aimlessly outside. The only light source outside was the sun. A good 165 million kilometres away. Derek turned his head downwards to catch a glimpse of the Earth below him. He could only just see the massive orange spot on its side. It was growing. Noise was all around him. The yelling and pushing of the crew. But Derek knew that he was safe. His dad promised. That he would never let anything happen to him.

A loud rumble came from his right. It shook his room. He turned. His door suddenly opened and an old injured man clutching his left shoulder came weakly in. He wore a dark formal suit with white gloves. There was gunfire and shouting behind him. The door closed behind him. “Derek…” he said weakly. “Your father… I…” He collapsed. Derek was uncertain what just happened and whatever was going on. The man on the floor looked up at him. Derek recognised him. It was Gerry. The chef. He liked him. But what had happened?

Derek stared helplessly as the man on the floor stared at him and says “Your father… he needs you…” The man collapsed and just as he did, the door opened once again. An armoured security guard stood at the door. He was dressed in a black and white uniform with a black set of body armour on his chest.

“Ah shit, Gerry… Damn it! Hey Kid, come here! You must be Derek” He smiled. “Come with me. I’ll take you to your dad. Don’t worry I’m a friend.” He held out his hand. “I’m Stan”. Derek quietly greeted him and took his hand. The two left the dark bedroom and out into the hallway. The hallway was a mess. It was loud. Not with talking but with gunfire. It was chaos. There were bloody bodies spread out across the floor and bullet holes and dents across the previously sleek and elegant furniture.

Thankfully, the chaos seemed far from them but Derek wasn’t scared. At least he tried not to be. The hallway was large and split into two separate but obvious lanes with gaps in between them. An explosion fired upon their right side. No shrapnel in their bodies so far. Stan drew out his sidearm. A small, sleek handgun. Its cold, dark steel plated sides shone in contrast to the complete white and grey of the hallways. The two kept walking ignoring the mass amounts of gunfire surrounding the two. They didn’t talk and both knew that the handgun was probably their only chance of survival. Surprised, Derek stood still when Stan stopped, bent down and held his handgun out towards him to take.

“Really?”

Stan looked back with an assuring look and Derek took the handgun. “Thanks” Stan bent down once again and picked up a large, grey assault rifle. It had a heavy looking stock, long barrel and curved magazine. It was fitted with a set of Holographic range sights. Derek always liked to play with them. They were a set of trapezium shaped metal objects which projected small reticules above them when turned on. This one in particular generated a chevron. “What are you waiting for?” Stan gently asked.

Derek replied “nothing” and the two continued onwards towards the captain’s deck.

2

The Icarus

The captain’s deck was just up ahead. Derek saw the shining grey steel tag on the hallway wall which read “Control” and pointed ahead. The two continued running. The more they ran, the more bodies lay on the floor and the more blood. A giant “Sector 01” was painted in light grey on the walls beside them and they knew they were there. “Help…” a small voice cried somewhere around them. Without even thinking about acknowledging the request, Stan swiftly turned, aimed his weapon at the source, paused for a second and then fired a burst of gunfire. Derek looked at the body. A uniformed United Space Order Control officer (USOC) – lay on the ground. Lifeless. Derek has absolutely no idea what was going on. Why had the USOC suddenly boarded and attacked the ship? Why was there suddenly a huge orange spot on Earth’s surface?

The two faced the door to the captain’s deck. Derek knew that all his questions would be answered through that door. “Come on” Stan said quietly and opened the door.

Derek slowly stepped in to the spherical room and saw his dad. He was standing over a control panel and was vigorously hitting the controls. He looked angry, frustrated and hopeless. He slowly turned and looked at his son. “Derek… my boy…” He said in a weak and noticeably damaged voice. He walked towards him with a limp, bleeding from his right leg. He wore a slightly torn tan coloured suit and dark grey trousers.

“Get to Jane, Derek… I’m sorry but you have to go to her. I’ll explain everything later.”

“But…”

“Go. Please.” Derek obeyed as his father faced Stan.

“Stanley… Thank god you’re alive. I need you to hold the Sector 8 entrance… by all costs”

“Yes, Mr Ragston” he replied and hurried off to do his job. A few ship security guards stood around the room. Some injured, some not. Derek who sat by Jane Davis, the Vice Captain, stared at his father.

“Look son, I’m sorry for this mess… for your mother. But you have to know what’s going on. That space police… The USOC are trying to get me but they’ve made a mistake. They are coming after the wrong person. You believe me, right? You know your daddy wouldn’t do anything bad… right?” Derek found himself speechless. He knows something’s wrong. He knows that he’s in danger.

“Don’t you worry. I’ll protect you. No matter what. They are boarding our ship, The Icarus to find me.” The gunfire echoed closer. “They want to take me to prison! Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere” Suddenly Stan’s yells interrupted the father son talk.

“SHIT! THEY’RE HERE! I’M HIT! GET OUTTA THERE! GO!” Derek’s dad stands. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to take care of this.” He draws his silver handgun. An antique relic from centuries past. He strides towards the door leading to Sector 8. Along his way ordering the idle guards to different directions. A few left, a few stayed. The gunfire was now right outside the Sector 8 door and just before his dad reached it, the door blew open – thrusting him back into the centre of the room.

“Derek! GET DOWN! HIDE!” Jane escorted Derek into a corner, behind a toppled bookshelf. The guards in the room began to open fire on the USOC troops entering the room. The sound of automatic gunfire engulfed the room. And his dad was right in the middle of it. Bullets whooshed past, hitting all of the security guards in the room. When the battle smoke cleared, Derek peeked through a hole in the bookshelf and saw his dad on his knees. Several USOC troops lay dead on the floor but several more surrounded his dad. A noticeably higher ranking troop walked past the others and stood in front of the father who looked up at him. And spat on his non-armoured coat. Derek could see the wounds his father had taken during the fight. His legs were filled with bullets and bleeding out. His arms were bloody and fell limp at his side, a crimson red dripping out of a large gash on his back.

The lieutenant uttered “Cameron James Ragston. You are under arrest for the crimes of murder, torture, arms dealing and mass genocide…” He leant closer towards him. “Personally, I’d like to just put a nice bullet into you right now…”

He stands back up. “But no… they want you alive… You have the right to-”

Cameron grabbed his arm. “I’m not going anywhere…” He pulled out a spherical object and rotated it. “… So why don’t you come WITH ME!” The lieutenant instantly backed away, pulled out his sidearm, and shot Cameron James Ragston in the head.

As his lifeless body fell to the floor with a thump, the USOC troops fled the room. An explosion spread across the centre of the room. Derek and Jane faced heads down behind the bookshelf, away from the explosion.

Derek moved his head to peek again but was stopped by Jane. “Derek… I’m sorry, but we must go.” She tried to pull Derek away from the battlefield but he wouldn’t move. Despite his efforts, Jane managed to carry the distraught boy to the escape wing. She entered a passcode. Rows of escape pods lined up the sides. Not a single one had been used. Nobody else had escaped. Jane brought Derek to the first one and placed him in there. There was only room for one in each. Jane looked back at Derek who was yelling and screaming both at her and for what just happened. Jane couldn’t hear him due to the sealed glass of the pods. Just as she was going to ready her own pod, the door blew open and USOC troops stormed in. Instantly, Jane decided to activate Derek’s pod but was opened fire upon by the troops who had now been given orders to kill all non-personnel aboard the ship. Just as she fell she was able to make her final action the activation of Derek’s pod which suddenly burst into life and detached itself from the ship. It fell. With a set of pre-determined coordinates and custom Earth traffic scan bypass module, the pod automatically thrusted itself towards its destination, away from the ship. Derek’s hands slammed at the heavily reinforced glass uselessly. Behind him, a screen lit up and displayed the latest newspaper.

15^th^ August 2482 4:28 PM

RAGSTON SHIP LOCATED, USOC ORDERS RAID TODAY

Private Military Company USOC (United Space Order Control) has recovered intel which has led to the uncovering of the decade long hidden space vessel, The Icarus commanded by criminal mastermind Cameron James Ragston. The man is known for infamous crimes such as the 2468 simultaneous bank robbery, the 2474 Portland Massacre and just a 12 hours ago at 4AM where he fired an unidentified nuclear weapon at Earth. Whether this was unintentional, intentional or provoked is unknown, but the rumour going around is that the warhead was a threat to USOC to stay back. This has obviously gone wrong. USOC is not responding to our questions nor have given us any sort of communication whatsoever towards the current situation. A boarding and raid of the ship is expected to take place today at approximately 5PM.

3

Fall

Derek couldn’t understand a few of the words said by the article but he saw enough. He stared at it in shock and disbelief. Was his dad really a criminal? Did he deserve to die? The fact that he had spent his entire life on the ship and knew his mother very little was supported by this very piece of evidence. So what now? That very thought had just crossed his mind for a second when he realised that he was flying through space. The on-board display showed 124 hours until destination reached. Luckily all the escape pods were equipped with more than enough for the pre designated journey. The small, cosy interior of the pod would probably seem dull after spending a couple of days in it but it was home. Derek stared at the Earth in the distance. What will he encounter?

5 Days later

The on-board display beeped once again, waking Derek up. On the screen showed: ETA 4 HOURS LEFT TO DESTINATION. Derek adjusted his focus towards the now large and intimidating Earth. The large orange spot was still there… only now Derek could see it in detail. He squinted. It was no longer just an orange spot. It was a massive cyclone of fire and destruction which spanned across (from the pods display) parts of Russia to China. He looked at the news:

ESTIMATED 8 MILLION DEAD FROM WARHEAD, RAGSTON DECEASED

Derek was in no way planned for this. He never could have expected this to happen. He was also excited. For Earth. What will he find there? What can he do when he gets there? The on-board display now accurately drew a virtual line showing their exact destination. Colorado, North America.

Derek stared at the planet’s atmosphere and surface. The soft blues and greens slowly started to engulf his vision. He wasn’t keeping track of how much time has passed. However long that may be, his heart started up again as suddenly, the exterior of the pod burst into flames. Derek hid back and watched as the only window turned red – orange. Horrid thoughts filled his mind such as burning to death or crashing in a fiery demise. These thoughts, however disappeared instantly when the screen cleared and all became clear. He could see the land and the sea. He saw the urban terrain which surrounded his destination. The pod couldn’t be more accurate as it came closer and closer to the river it was aimed at. As Derek didn’t know of any free flowing rivers, he braced for impact, just like anyone else would.

The sound of the crash was to him, muffled and distorted. The pod was smart. It opened its compartments and out came flotation devices. Derek knew how to swim. All that time spent of the ships pool. Was it training just for this? The pod’s screen displayed instructions on how to safely exit but Derek knew all this since he was taught when he was six. Slowly, he turned the red latch and the shuttle door swung open. He exited his carefully built home after taking a few essential items. He plopped into the water. Instantly, he jerked the second his body felt the coldness of the water. He was used to the warmth and heat of the ships pool too much. He knew that this couldn’t deter him. He swam towards the nearest patch of land he could find.

Gripping on to the mud and dirt with his fingers he crawled his way onto the land and lay down on his back with his wet ‘essentials pack’ sat beside him. He decided to stand up, walk around and explore. He flipped himself onto his front feeling extremely weak. He felt heavier and wobblier. He tried standing. He couldn’t. Looking around, all Derek saw were trees, bushes and water. He reached for his pack and took out a snack. Chewing it, he took his time to recover his energy, stretch and try to stand. To him, right now this seemed like an impossible task and was unmanageable in any way. So he lay there.

His track of time was lost. Not to be found. Derek found himself staring at a small fern not too far from him. He set himself a goal. To reach it. By any means possible. He couldn’t give up. Not now. Not just because gravity was too strong or that he gained a hundred kilograms aboard the pod. No. He had to persevere this otherwise what did his dad die for? Surprisingly when he tried, Derek could crawl fast. Maybe he got used to the gravity. Maybe now he could stand up. He tried. His legs shook more than the pod when it was entering the atmosphere. But he knew he had to do this. Right now it was his goal. To stand. And he knew that if he couldn’t even finish such a simple goal, how proud would his father have been? He stood up. Dizzy at how he could see further. He picked up his pack and took his first steps on planet Earth.

The first few steps were difficult, but he got used to it. The rest were a lot easier. Derek kept walking in one direction. Away from the pod he crashed in. He saw a triangular shape ahead. It was soon revealed to be a small house just out there. A humanoid figure was sat down on a chair on the porch. Derek hopes he can communicate with him. Peacefully. He kept walking. He felt dizzier and the house just didn’t seem to get any closer. He walked as fast as he could. His head was spinning and his vision was a blur. The house stood in the distance, mocking and laughing at his useless efforts to reach it. Before he knew it, a darkness engulfed the boy and he fell to the ground.

4

Nightmare

20 Years Later, Colorado

The year is 2102. Derek Simmons is out on his morning jog. His wrist display cycled through the songs and music he listened to whilst doing so. The audio transference was flawless today. Some days it’s jumpy, some days it’s not. This doesn’t matter though. He was on his way to get it fixed anyway. Derek never liked getting people to go to his house. He thought it troubled them too much. He walked through the entrance of the shop.

Derek’s Apartment, 2130 Hours

Derek Simmons set his bed up. The same as yesterday and the day before that. The same process, the same phone by the bedside and the same .45 ACP Colt M1911 under his pillow. He bought it at a USOC auction. No of course not. He stole it because it was rightfully his. It belonged to his father and no matter what kind of criminal he was, he was still family. Derek checked it one last time before going to sleep.

Derek’s Apartment, 0245 Hours

The same dream every night… the same memories. Nothing significant but what bothered him was why. 20^th^ August 2482. When he crashed to Earth. He was picked up… found by a couple of mountain hikers sleeping at a lodge for the night. They couldn’t take care of him of course let alone raise him, so they sent him off to an orphanage. Derek lied about his last name. The one smart thing he did there. Simmons was as far from Ragston as he could think of. The first couple of nights were rough. There was no control. Control was a thing of the past in that orphanage but luckily, adoption rates were high and two days later he was with a middle aged couple. They were mugged the next day. Costs were too great so he went back. For some reason, he stayed at the orphanage for the next seven years. Nobody wanted an older child anymore. All they cared about were the young ones. The babies. Some part of Derek was actually glad he never got adopted again even if the two nights which he was were the best nights on Earth he had.

April 12^th^ 2489

Fifteen now. And that’s the age when the orphanage gives you a small cupcake, says thanks for your time and kicks you out. And with doing so, they gave Derek a small apartment and 168 hours to pay his weekly rent. Nothing has changed since. A few robberies, a few phones, no companions. The only people he knew were his boss and the bosses ‘assistants’. The murdery-assassin type of assistants. They were the reason Derek never lost his job due to competition and for all he knows, he’s probably not working for the wrong people. Control was everything there. It meant wealth, power and not ending up like Derek. All he did was sit at his cubicle and type stuff for hours on end. Boring and pointless but it was his only source of income. Good income. And he wasn’t going to question it.

To him, the dream ended there but there was always that one last part which he wanted to forget. One last dire ending to an already horrible nightmare. This part he knew was fictional.

The shadows of the other orphans danced on the wall behind him. The dim glowing LED flickered inside a cage beside him. 10 year old Derek was half asleep when he saw the shadows stop moving and all plunged into silence. The shadows whispered in loud, adult, gruff voices. “Great… done for the night again. Personally, I think he should be put in prison just like the rest of them.” Another replied “What rest?” Hoarse laughter followed as the shadows moved out. Derek knew this didn’t happen. He just kept denying it. Over and over again. If they knew, he would have been taken already… right?

0500 Hours, Summer, 2502

Derek Simmons woke up drenched in sweat. Probably for the thousandth time. No. More than probably. He kept thinking to himself “What’s to worry about?” His wrist display lit up and the wake up alarm started. This always happens. Walking up just before his set alarm goes off. Maybe it was a phobia of loud noises. He always shrugs it off as not important. Today was a good day. A big day. One of his two days off from his executive position at work. He didn’t know how he got there. He just did. With enough time. Today he was going to try out that new pizza place around the corner and maybe check out a video game or two. He may be 28 years old but he never left what kept him occupied for his years at the orphanage. Derek got up. Out of his bed and into the kitchen, ignoring the dust covered dumbbells. Just like every other day. His apartment was small but that was all the space he needed. A kitchen/ lounge and his small bedroom connected to his toilet. He was already dressed for some reason. Last night was probably over his set bedtime. He got out a small microwave pie, heated it up, ate it and it was off to his local electronics store.

It wasn’t until he was halfway back from the store with a copy of “Clip Raid IX: Corporate Warfare” until he noticed the message on his phone. Unknown number. He doesn’t get a lot of those. It was a short message:

GORDUS BRIDGE

6PM

THE ICARUS INTERVENTION HAS NOT YET BEEN RESOLVED

ANSWERS AWAIT, RAGSTON. COME ALONE

Messages like these were very rare to him. He was always quite paranoid even though he was always yelling at himself to not be. Messages like these he would ignore… but this one knew about the Icarus. It seemed… unique. The messaged detailed about events he had buried in his past. And ‘alone’? That was a joke. Derek Simmons was always alone. But still. An invitation like this was quite out of the ordinary and for some random bizarre reason, he decided to obey it. He didn’t like change, but this could be a good one.

His life was very routine.

5

Contact

5:55 PM

Gordus Bridge

The very invitation set off alarms in his head but he just had an indescribable feeling and an urge to follow through. The sky was dark. The pink fading away rapidly, losing its former intensity. Gordus Bridge. Derek knew this bridge very well. It was a small one. Right in the middle of the local park which he jogged through on many occasions. Named after Terry Gordus; A man with a dream to build the perfect society (like everyone else), only that dream died with him all with a swift but brutal beating by an anonymous gang. This bridge symbolised what little he was able to change but also his only legacy – being well known for sacrificing his health for the city’s good (not that it did much but it was a start). Derek could barely see the city’s lights from here. With them being crowded by trees and all.

Before he realised it, it was six o’clock. So where was this mystery person? Derek started to look around when he saw a tall man dressed in a brown trench coat and black, formal trousers walk up to him. Derek spotted a 20th century long barrelled revolver holstered near his pocket. The man lowered his sunglasses and looked Derek in the eye. He uttered a single phrase “We know who you are, you are more than this.” The sunglasses shifted back towards their rightful position and the man gestured for Derek to follow him. The next thing he said really alarmed Derek. “Remember the Icarus? I… we have been watching you… we never left your side”. Derek had never heard anybody mention the horrid incident which made him who he was today ever since. “Let’s take a walk…”

The man led Derek into a darker part of the park. The trees grew thicker. The obvious question was “Who are you?” he replied “Nobody important” which was (to Derek) an obvious lie. “Derek Ragston… This was not meant to be your destiny.”

Derek, stunned by the fact that the man knew his real name questioned “Destiny?” “Look, Derek there was a reason why you had to live and it was not just because you were a little boy. It may have taken us many years to get the preparations on track and many more to plan exactly when we should meet you. This is that time. Your job, your apartment and your life is all behind you now” The man’s voice was rough and he sounded old. He lowered his voice. “I know this may seem like a lot right now… but you have to trust me. It’s for the better.”

Derek responded “I have no choice. Who would know so much about me? Something like this has never happened. I want answers.” The man glanced to him, the two still walking “And you will get them.”

They walked deeper yet into the park and soon it seemed like it was pitch black. It was only 6:15. The second the two of them started talking not too long ago, Derek had stopped keeping track of where they were going. Now, he didn’t recognise this part of the park even though he had been through it hundreds of times over. “Wait… where are we? I don’t believe I’ve been to this part of the park before.” The man replied “That’s right. Nobody has. Just you, me and my crew.” “Crew?” “Oh yeah. You’ll love ‘em.”

The surrounding was now completely foreign. Unrecognisable. It’s as if Derek had stepped into a completely different reality. The pitch black made him uneasy and the sound of the man’s voice was the only thing keeping him on track. They walked in a straight direction and suddenly a pair of lights flickered on at either sides of Derek’s feet. Bulbs. More pairs flickered on in a line. Each one by one. Derek could see that he was on a path of some sort. Dark grey pebbles lined up neatly on the path. He looked behind him. There were no lights there. Just darkness. The two continued onwards to what the lights revealed to be a door… in a cliff.

This was impossible. How in the world did Derek get here? Was he drugged? Knocked out and lead to this labyrinth? The man stopped. “Go in. I’m right behind you.” Derek slowly and cautiously walked and opened the door. It was pitch black in there. Nothing to be seen or heard. “Well, go on.” It was only when Derek realised that on the next step he took, there was nothing under his feet. He fell.

6

Answers

6:45 PM

Celestin Park Underground

The fall was long but painless. With a loud tuft, he landed on what the thought to be a pile of pillows. He wasn’t far off. As he expected, he was in complete darkness and the only light coming from a flashlight attached to the barrel of an assault rifle pointed straight at his head. Another one popped up and soon a couple of others. The sudden light temporarily blinded him and it was only when he heard the words “It’s alright, folks. Stand down” that he regained his sight. In front of him stood several men and women. Dressed in worn early 21st century militia uniforms. Not exactly matching but not exactly too different either. In their hands were various firearms ranging from a near vintage SaR P222 to a state of the art ARN-77 PPR Prototype (Pulse Plasma rifle)… And all of them were pointed right at his head.

This was probably the second most eventful day of his life but Derek knew that he had to keep calm. Derek was not one of those calm people. “What…the…HELL IS GOING ON!?” he blurted out. His last words before the stock of an AR40 Conservative munitions rifle (CMR) came crashing into his temple.

The white light wobbled like floating phosphorus. It danced around his vision before dimming into a less intense but still bright light bulb. It dangled carelessly above his head. Derek, regaining consciousness for the first time in what seemed like ages saw nothing but that and the cold stone beyond it. At least he could feel his arms and legs. They haven’t dismembered him. This was good… so far. He shifted his near frozen head stiffly to the side. A female in a white lab coat was sifting through a file binder with her back turned towards him. Who uses a file binder anymore? Derek knew that whoever captured him is not to be messed with. He was sensible and wouldn’t dare attack them or try to escape. He changed his mind when the female turned around with a bone saw. Still, he was in no condition to run, at least he felt that way. Derek knew that he didn’t want anything to do with that bone saw so he did the only thing he could have in such a situation. “W-wait! I’m alive! Don’t eviscerate me!” The surgeon looking female looked at him with cold eyes. She was in her late twenties, probably been down here for most of her life. Her sadistic, cruel expression changed when her face suddenly lit up into a smile. Derek was now very scared and very confused. The surgeon replied with a British accent “You’re awake. Good. I didn’t mean to scare you, it’s just that we didn’t want to take any chances. Were the good guys. Wait here, let me call Carter.”

About ten minutes of excruciating waiting later, a man walked in through the doorway. “Derek” he muttered. “How we have waited for this day…” That voice… It was the same person that took him through the park. Now without the dark coat and glasses. Derek could see him clearly now. A rough, wrinkled face. Hair in need of cutting and a bounty hunters beard. The still very shocked Derek replied “Okay. I don’t know how you guys know about my past and my parents but I would very much like to return to normal society. “This is bigger that you, Derek. And you are the final piece of a very large puzzle.” “What are you going to do to me?” The next words that came out of Carter’s mouth completely wiped all of Derek’s previous theories. “We… we are going to train you.”

“You see; your father was a good soldier. A good friend too. What happened to the Icarus… Despite the name, what happened to it shouldn’t have been. You see… we are your father’s legacy. Some of the last few people that still believe in his cause. And so are you.”

“ So am I?? What? A soldier?”

“We’d prefer not to call it that”

“So a Soldier?”

“Yes but what we’re doing is important and all is at risk. Earth is at risk. The United Space Order Control is heavily corrupt and they will do anything for the right price. Bounties, raids, your father…”

“What are you saying? And where the hell do I come into this?”

“You still don’t get it do you? The USOC didn’t finally track you father down. They were tipped off. And from what we know, it was someone on that ship. That person… is still alive. You weren’t the only person to escape.”

“So WHY drag me out here? Answer me!”

“Okay. This may sound a bit much… but the security doors on the Icarus were tuned so that they would only recognise approved entries. All approved personnel are all dead. Except for you. You especially. Since you are your father’s son, you have more access to the ship than even their top engineers, more than the traitor.”

“Alright then. What’s behind the security doors?”

“Proof”

“Proof? Proof of what? That my father was a deranged serial killer that murdered countless citizens and terrorised the cities of Earth for decades?”

“You’ll know it when you see it but for now, you must get ready. There is hope now that you are here. Amanda will escort you to Mr Samp for briefing. The female surgeon walked backed into the room and said “Come on. Let’s go.” “Wait! So all of a sudden I’m on some kind of mission to save the world?” “More or less” Amanda replied and she led him out of the room.

The corridors were confusing. Even if Derek had time to wander around, he would have no idea of how to get out. “So why are you guys hiding down here?” Amanda replied “We had many outposts long ago but ever since the USOC took the Icarus, we were hunted. One by one, our bases, field operators and eventually our headquarters were raided by the USOC and taken down.”

“The USOC? I didn’t think they had jurisdiction on Earth. The police would have done all that. Oh and ‘bases’, ‘headquarters’? How ‘big’ were you?

“Oh I’m afraid we had arrived. Mr Samp will answer all your questions” The two stood in front of a wooden door with a rough slab of translucent glass stuck in the middle with T. Samp stamped on it. Amanda opened the door and gestured for Derek to go in. He did as instructed. The place looked like an old waiting room for a health clinic. It smelled like one too. In the middle of it stood a bald man in a neat suit and trousers. His glasses made him look like some kind of psychiatrist. “Derek… we have waited long for this day. Why… you must be parched. Water?”

“Yes, please but I need to ask-”

“Questions. I know. Take a seat” Derek sat down on the closest wooden chair while Dr Samp sat in one opposite. “I am Tom Samp. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Now, I heard you were asking about us. This corporation. You see, we used to be a Private Military Company named Orbi-Sec. We operated on Earth and Space within our solar system. Now your father… he was a higher ranking official within our corporation before he left. And after the Icarus incident, we… Orbi-Sec were… how do you put it… blacklisted by the government. With a bit of convincing from the USOC. I know that they knew the truth but they were in it for the money. What does money buy? Power. Now the USOC is the sole government company patrolling space and they have expanded their operation across the solar system. They planned to take down any competing company and it worked. They now have control over the four solar sectors. The Sun to Venus, Earth, Mars to Saturn and Uranus to Neptune. They can do their dirty work while they themselves turn a blind eye. They’re their own bosses. Do you know what they plan to do next? They plan to take down the remaining government on Earth and shape the world to their liking. They just need a bit more control. A bit more power and they’ll do it. Do you see their propaganda? Those posters of them saving a cat with a space helmet out of a tree on Mars? This BULLSHIT is what’s winning the public over. Now… you… you need to go back to the Icarus, unlock that security door with your DNA, retrieve the evidence and save the solar system from a dictatorship.”

“Finally. This is making sense.”

“Now me… me and Carter… we started this group here. Us, a couple of scientists, operators and low level employees are here. We are what’s left. Those neat white office uniforms… Ditched. Long ago. Do you see what it’s come down to? We have to make runs into the city for food and water. At least we have contacts there. But do you see what we have sacrificed to prevent Earth from being taken over? Lives, families… gone! Now you… you are here and soon this will all be over. We have a ship waiting for you in an outpost not far from here. But you’re not ready. Not yet. The USOC will most definitely be guarding the Icarus, well what’s left of it. The never destroyed it. It would have been too costly. All the debris and bodies… …but I digress. You need to know how to defend yourself. Just like all of us here. You will be our highest priority but in the worst case scenario, you need to be prepared. This is the entire solar system we’re talking about. Go to Marcus. The armoury manager. He’ll teach you to shoot. To fight. To survive. Now go. I’ll talk to you later. Amanda!” Amanda opened the office door. “Take him to Marcus.”

“Will do.”

7

The Range

7:14 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

Once again, a dark corridor, an endless maze of Orbi-Sec employees trying to survive. A light shone brightly up ahead. Derek was able to make out some weapons in the background. Guns… ANS Pulse Rifles, KH4 Particle Projectors, CaL-N Automatic handguns, Vorshek Beam Accelerators and a T-80 Gauss Sabot Projectile Rifle. Derek played a lot of video games. There was no antique rifle here, but why would there be. It’s a PMC not a museum. A rough, muscular man stepped out from behind a barred counter. He had an uncared for beard, a ballistic vest on as well as an Orbi-Sec PMC cap. Amanda said “That would be Marcus” and left. Marcus leaned forward, intimidatingly. “So, you’re the VIP we’ve been waiting through hell for. Well there is no way in hell… I’m gonna let you die so let’s get you ready for battle! Have you had any prior firearm experience?”

“Well, I play a lot of Clip-Raid so-”

“Well your dinky little first person VR shooters ain’t gonna do you shit here so you better suit up and start learning how to really shoot… like a man.” Marcus sunk back into the darkness of the armoury depths. Almost instantaneously, he returned with what appeared to be an early 21st century handgun. “Now this… this is a Falk 23. Semi-automatic. Basic. Unlike the automatic FMJ pulse shit we got all over the place. This way you won’t hurt anybody.” Marcus slid a small vent open just under the bars and pushed the handgun towards Derek. “Take it, and walk to the range.” Derek took the handgun. It looked old. Dull grey now when it probably used to be a deep black. “Dude, stop staring at the damn thing and get to the range – we got lives to save and you’re not helping” “So far” Derek thought to himself to make him feel better about himself. Derek walked to the right which lead to a corridor with a basic shooting range at the facing the side. “Alright now, I’m gonna put up a target for you”

Derek heard a click as a small paper target popped down from the ceiling at the far end of the range. Derek felt somewhat confident due to his lengthy experience with Clip-Raid. All nine of them. And the several spin-offs. Derek aimed his ‘Falk’ down the range. Forgetting the correct stance, equipment and basic precautions of using a firearm. He pulled the trigger. The handgun uttered an empty click. “Hey, err… I think my guns broken”

“The safeties on, ya dipshit! And put on the damn ear protectors!”

“Oh.”

Derek clicked the safety off and looked around for the headgear. They were sitting in a large wooden crate. It seemed that they had a surplus of those. Derek took a random pair and put them on, still wondering why he needed them due to the fact that it was a handgun – not a multi barrelled Gatling rocket launcher.

Derek slinked back into his former position only to change it to the correct stance at the last minute. The paper target remained at the end of the range mocking him. Derek wasn’t going to take any of that. He pulled the trigger. ‘Click’. “Dude! I thought you knew guns! The slide!”

“Yeah, what about it?”

Marcus was so close to a faceplam that the only thing stopping him from doing so was that it would probably shatter what little remains of Derek’s tiny, tiny self-confidence. “Pull it back to load the first round into the chamber, dude”

“Oh.”

Derek pulled back the slide which finally readied the gun to be fired. The still mocking paper target stared at him, and he stared right back. Remembering all the skills, techniques and precautions learnt in the past few minutes, he pulled the trigger in a futile attempt to silence the haunting paper target.

“ That was one shot… you missed. By a lot. And I mean A LOT.” Said Marcus still behind the counter. I thought you played video games. Didn’t Clip-Raid teach you anything? Well, you’re not gonna have health regeneration in the midst of a gunfight…unless you have the vita-5 cell regen body module – but that’s too expensive. Keep shooting until you- [BAM] Derek lowered his gun while Marcus peeked in. The two smiled. “Right in the middle. Keep this up and you’ll make a damn fine soldier. Derek grinned with confidence. And kept firing.

8

The War Room

8:20 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

The shooting went on for a while longer. Derek showed off the ‘skills’ he had learnt from playing video games the whole time he wasn’t busy or working. He got too caught up in putting holes in targets that everything else seemed to fade out. That reminded him. Work.

‘My boss must be so pissed right now’ he thought. Derek was just about to move on from using the handgun when Carter walked in.

“I hope I’m not interrupting but this is urgent. Weapons and combat training will be put on hold for now. Derek, come with me. Marcus, you too. The rest are already there.

Marcus asked “Wait boss, what’s this for? You’ve never dragged me out of the armoury before. What on Earth could be so important?” Carter replied cleverly “It’s what’s not on Earth, mate. You’ll see.”

Another walk, another hallway. They seem to stretch on forever now. At the end of it was a moderately lit but large room with several monitors surrounding a centre table. “Alright. Sit down. We have a situation.” Said Carter.

“We’ve had a ‘situation’ for two fuckin’ decades! And nothing has happened since” replied Marcus. Tom Samp was at the back, probably checking paperwork while Carter led the others around the table. “We’ve had these meetings twice a week for the past four years – and we’ve done nothing to stop the situations you bring up!” said an annoyed Marcus while Carter responded by saying “Just quieten down and listen up. We have made our next great step in our journey. Derek Ragston is finally with us. After all those years searching and planning, now we have the key.”

“Wait, sorry to interrupt” said Derek, “But why did you ‘kidnap’ me the time that you did? Why then? Why not earlier?

“Good question, Derek. We had to wait because we… all of us are tagged as associates or members of Orbi-Sec. Except those who arrived after and weren’t tagged. Okay, so the situation is what we need to retrieve are documents. I know because Tom here has seen it first-hand and it’s got all the evidence we need to prove that the USOC was bribed to hit the ship and that they intend to overthrow the current government on Earth after taking down all other major private security/ military corporations. Now those files are behind a locked door on the Icarus which only Derek can unlock with his DNA. The Icarus was never destroyed as the mess would take too long to clean up so they have guards stationed all across it in shifts. Both inside and outside the ship. The Icarus is currently floating at a USOC operated ship graveyard just outside the orbit of Uranus. To get to the Icarus in the first place, we need to use our rocket which is nearly finished. The rocket won’t fit many of us inside and it is most definitely a one-way trip to our abandoned moon outpost. That outpost contains several light vessels which we can use to reach the Icarus. Now I know this sounds like a long shot… and kind of a suicide mission, but it’s our only chance to well ‘save the solar system from an evil corporation bent on taking over the galaxy’ any questions?”

Almost everybody raised their hand. “Okay… we won’t have enough time to go through all of your queries but we’ll figure something out. The rocket team will consist of 4 Operators, 2 Support Soldiers, An engineer, Me, Tom and Derek. The rest of you… all 23 of you left need to maintain this base and keep the USOC off our backs. Both of ours, actually. Stay safe. We’re leaving for the moon tomorrow.”

Derek looked at Carter, astonished. “So that’s your whole speech? I only just met you guys like yesterday and now I’m some vital part of a convoluted galaxy saving plan? I should be at work right now, typing documents using my fingers. Now everybody’s lives depend on me and you practically signed your own death wish without saying a proper goodbye”

“I’m sorry if this is hard to take in, Derek but we need you. And I never was good at speeches anyway. We’ll sort any problems you have tomorrow. You should go back to training with Marcus. You’ll need it.”

“So what – no strategy, no plans, no rules of engagement? You are completely unorganised and the fate of Earth and the solar system depends on what we do. We got a plan?”

9

Recoil

8:50 AM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

“Come on, Derek. Back to the armoury. We… are going to have some fun with assault rifles.” Said Marcus as he led Derek back to the Armoury. “More weapons training? You saw how good I was. I don’t need no training”

“Well I’m sure you do, for this anyway” The two had arrived back at the armoury and Marcus had just pulled out what looks like a steel unassembled tent package. “It’s called power shielding. State of the art. Hijacked it from the USOC a couple weeks back. It spreads the kinetic energy of the projectile you were hit with around, causing a bit more stopping power but little to no damage. Don’t worry. You’ll learn to control it. Eventually. Put it on.”

The instructions on the shield suit were basic. Derek was able to put it on with little effort. “Here” said Marcus as he tossed him a T0-RC Shotgun. “To the range!” The two stood in front of the same stall. “Hit this, mate” said Marcus and a large humanoid figure rose up at the middle of the range. “Well, don’t be scared. It’s a scarecrow for god’s sake! Derek pulled the trigger on the shotgun and was almost immediately propelled to the floor. “That had A LOT of recoil, Marcus. I don’t think I’ll be using that particular gun.”

“Alright then, toss it over here” Derek did as told but the instant he did so, he has hit by a tremendous force that propelled him to the other side of the room. “Dude, what… the…FUCK!? Was that? You don’t just shotgun someone at point blank range”

“Mate, calm down. I was just trying to see how you take it. Especially at that range. I mean you’ll be dealing with professionals. Trained soldiers. So learn to deal with it. And stop being such a whiny bitch.”

Derek picked himself back up and uttered a single word under his breath. “Douche”

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay… so from what I’ve observed, no more of the Torsec for you.”

“The what?”

“The shotgun. It’s what we call it. Now we move on to assault rifles then machine guns then directed energy weapons then…” Derek never would had thought that the first chance he got to shoot guns would also be when he got sick of them. Now he just wanted training to be over. And get on with his damn life. “So… um more shooting?”

“Yup. Then we’ll teach you close quarter’s combat and unarmed offence/ defence. We don’t have too much time. Our ride to the moon will be ready soon and we’ll take the first chance we get. The galaxy is at stake. And you are the key to saving it. So what’s the point if you’re not ready? What happens when all else fails and it’s all up to you? What happens when we die and you are the only one left? What happens then, huh? You just gonna give up and wait for death? No. You will fight because I will train you and you will never give up until your last breath for humanity gives. You will live and USOC will fall. If not, humanity will be pulled back into a time of slavery and corruption. Earth will become a prison world. USOC is the Nazi party of this decade. They just don’t know it yet. Now let’s shoot some fucking guns!”

Derek stood still and silent. Only just accepting how important he actually is. He didn’t even realise the carbine rifle in his hands as he slowly pointed it downrange and fired at the targets. Perfect accuracy. Heartrate rising. “You’re right. Train me.”

“Now that’s what I like to hear” replied Marcus. “Now take this machine gun and pretend those fuckin’ targets are soulless USOC motherfuckers.” Derek put down the carbine and took the machine gun, cocked it and aimed.

10

Departure

Two days later

10:22 PM

Orbi-Sec Remnants, Under Celestin Park

Carter stood at the front. All dressed up in combat armour and old military gear. So were the ten men about to enter the rocket and go to the moon. Derek who was the most valuable of the ten looked up at Carter. Unsure. Derek didn’t know if all that training was worth it or if it was just all for nothing. Carter cleared his throat. “Tonight is it. Tonight we go to our moon base. Prep for the assault on the Icarus and save the universe from complete enslavement. The night is not clear. That is good. USOC controls air traffic but we’ll sail into their blind spot and leave Earth without a scratch. This is what all our lives here have been leading up to. I’m sorry I haven’t prepared a proper speech even for such an important time as this. We will- we MUST triumph or Earth falls. We all fall. This is it. I thank you for being with me this whole time and knowing the truth. But most of all for helping me be able to get here. So far we have come. The journey is almost at its end. Thank you.”

Everyone at the base was here in this very room. Listening to Carters final words before him and the others departed for the moon. Tom sat at the back dressed in a formal officer’s outfit while the operators, support soldiers and engineer stood straight. Carter nodded towards Tom and the crew signalling that its time. They walked orderly in single file. The room was in silence. They knew how important this moment was. The ten crew members exited the war room and followed Carter down another hallway. Nobody spoke a word. This hallway was different it was slanted downwards and at the end of it was a large metal door stickered with caution and warning signs. A keypad was positioned on the right side of the door. Carter went towards it and typed in a short input of numbers. The door opened and went on to reveal something Derek had never seen right in front of him.

The room was circular in shape. A donut shaped circle grate provided ground. Derek stood in awe at what was in the middle. It was a rocket. But it was no ordinary rocket. The faded steel and rough bolting made it seem old and antique. It certainly looked like it was built from scrap then had someone paint over it to cover the cracks but it looked just a genuine as the real ones. Only rougher and more aggressive. Untrained. Untested. Unready. But Derek knew it will prevail as it looked more realistic than any rocket he had ever seen in his life. It took the shape of something out of the late twentieth century. Uncannily clichéd but also somewhat robust. Dangerous.

Carter stopped before he entered the chamber, looked back and said one of his final sentences on Earth. “Well gentlemen, shall we?”

One of the operatives replied with an Australian accent “Aye sir. Let’s finish this.”

Carter smiled, turned back and opened the hatch on the rocket. “Today we will make history. Not by going to the moon, but by something much greater.” Carter climbed in and the rest followed. Derek was shaky and obviously not too happy about being sent to the moon. Even though he knew exactly where to go, how to properly get seated and even defend himself, he still questioned this mission, their safety and even his own sanity. The Australian broke the silence “Buckle up, mates. This is gonna get rough.” Like they didn’t know that.

Derek got seated along with the others and clutched his harness. “Engine check – all systems go” echoed around the rocket. “Launch is ready – I repeat launch is ready. Initiating countdown”

Derek thought to himself “This is it. This is when I die. I’m gonna die in a handmade rocket being launched at the moon.”

“Five”

“I never should have gotten into this mess. I never should have let that guy lead me down into that damn base.”

“Four”

“I’ll never go back to my crappy job, I’ll never sit at my crappy desk, I’ll never work for my crappy boss…”

“Three”

“I’ll never take those long runs at the park, I’ll never see the people, the pets or even the tourists walk around the city”

“Two”

“I’ll never relax in my own home, play that crappy video game or even sleep in my own bed. Hell, I might not even see the city again”

“One”

“And I’ll never have a normal life”

The massive boom of the engines shook the rocket hard. It shook everywhere but Derek knew there was no turning back. No matter how dangerous it might seem or how hard it was to cope and in that moment Derek felt safe. He knew it was the right thing to do.

Now he couldn’t tell whether the rocket was taking off or not. He couldn’t trust his senses. Bright orange light and fire engulfed his vision while the immense roar of flames drowned his ears. Heat blanketed his body. Closing his eyes didn’t help. At this point he thought the launch failed but just as he was about to give up hope, the darkness of the night sky soon covered the small window panes. The noise was gone. The heat subsided.

“Holy shit… we did it” said one of the operators and the rest cheered. The engineer added “My god. I almost can’t believe we actually flew out in this trash can” Another operator asked “Boss, what about you?” to which Carter replied “well, I had my doubts but it all worked out so I can’t complain”

Derek sat silently in his seat. Feeling like he just had a near death experience.

The Australian asked “So what now, boss? To the moon?”

“Oh yeah…”

11

Incoming

12:01 AM

Just outside Earth, Solar System

Derek looked outside the small window. He looked at Earth. Déjà vu covered him. And not the good, happy memory type. This was more like the “My dad was an intergalactic supervillain who just shot an orbital ordnance strike at Earth” type. The once hectic and lively city, set ablaze. Now it’s nothing more than a dark, radioactive wasteland. Even after all those years. Derek’s dad was a good man. Why he would do something like that still pondered Derek’s mind every day. He kept driving his towards the fact that his dad was innocent like “It could have been an accident”, “He was forced to” or even “If he didn’t probably won’t be alive” but deep down Derek knew there was no proof or evidence of such theories. Maybe that’s part of the reason he was willing to go on this journey in the first place. Maybe. Derek dozed off.

12 Hours later

In The Moon’s Orbit, Solar System

“There” said the engineer, waking Derek. “That’s where we’re landing”. He pointed at a spot on the surface of the moon. It was quite far away but Derek could make out the general shape. It was white in colour. Like a hexagon in shape. And surrounded by what looked like black dots. Derek thought “Well if the USOC didn’t get us during travel, they would have surrounded the landing zone” The Black dots took the form of humans. With guns. “Shit! I think we’re screwed. USOC have that place surrounded”

Carter replied without turning his head “are you sure that’s USOC?” Derek looked closer. Not the same uniform. Looks like militia.

Tom interrupted from the back “Not USOC. Us. Secure landing. Dark zone.”

Derek started to calm down.

Every second felt like an hour. Terrible thoughts and ‘what ifs’ flew threw his mind. Derek liked hypotheticals. Just not the kind involving getting shot down and tortured. “Wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen” said Tom, startling Derek. “Huh?”

“Your thoughts are loud.”

“Oh. Sorry. I wasn’t try-”

“It’s fine. Normal in this kind of situation. Relax. We’ll be absolutely fine”

Derek wished that he could believe that.

The landing pad grew larger. They were closing in. Derek could see it in a lot more detail now. The large hexagonal, dimly lit pad had railings on the edges. A white walkway stood vertically waiting for the shuttle to land. Armed men covered the area. There was a large outpost station beside the pad. That was where the walkway led. What looked like all of the resistance fighters there gathered and cheered for they knew the conclusion was near. Derek, however was not so sure about that.

Out in the open space a red flash suddenly appeared. This was immediately followed by a loud boom and the shuttle being rocked. Derek knew that he wasn’t that lucky. Carter sat up straight. “What the hell was that?” A support soldier peered out the miniscule window and said “We got USOC. Lots of them” Derek replied “Fuck! So now they attack us?!”

The Australian spoke up “Well I’ll be damned If we let those moon hogging bastards ruin our fuckin’ victory lap. There’s EVA suits under your seats. The helmets are above. And the guns… there everywhere. Most of them are energy weapons for space use. Bullets or even Gauss just won’t quite cut it.” He whipped out an assault rifle and started putting on the suit. “You guys better follow suit” They did.

Derek pulled out and looked at his EVA suit. It was white, covered with straps, pockets and utilities he was never going to use. It looked like something from the 1960s but with a sleeker, slimmer design and a tighter helmet. Replacing the soft curves were semi flexible plates and shapes.

Carter said as he was preparing his suit “Of course they chose to attack now. All of our men are gathered at the landing pad and we have nowhere to run. Those bastards knew about this all along. Well I’m not going down without a fight.” He pulled out a handgun.

The second Derek put on his suit and secured his helmet, another red flash appeared outside the window followed by a massive boom and shockwave striking the side of the shuttle. The explosion tore open a hole, eviscerating the support soldier who was sitting there. The entire cabin decompressed, pulling out and likely suffocating an operator who hadn’t yet had his helmet put on. The rest of the crew held on to the tiny bars provided. The Australian shouted “Shit! That was too close. I don’t know about you but I’m going USOC hunting”

He jumped out of the shuttle. Guns blazing. “You like that you fucking bastards? You like trying to kill me an’ my mates? Well FUCK YOU” That one moment. With him in a dive position halfway between the shuttle and the moon and with an assault rifle in each hand was legendary. You can’t replicate something like that. Red and green beams darted either way. Yells, screams and muffled gunfire composed the scene. Along with a valley of bodies, bullets and blood. The blood lingered in the air, spread across before inevitably succumbing to gravity.

“We need to get you to safety!” yelled one of the remaining operators. Everyone in the shuttle had their suits ready. The shuttle was now just over a hundred metres from the landing pad. The remaining crew about the shuttle gathered around Derek but facing away from him, guns pointed through the jagged, open space in the side of the shuttle.

This was the last thing Derek saw before the shuttle was struck for one last time with the famous red lightning.

12

Havoc

12:52 AM

Orbi-Sec Moon Outpost, Luna, Solar System

There was nothing but ringing and debris. Derek lied on his chest, staring at the metal impaled body of yet another operator. Now the only one left was the Australian, wherever he was. Derek saw figures run past him. Men and women fighting for them. A young Orbi-Sec soldier stopped in front of Derek, stared at him for a second before yelling “He’s here!” She knelt down to pull Derek out. “Not here. Not now” she said “You will not let this battle be for nothing”, staring coldly into his eyes. An injured Carter ran up to Derek. “Come on! We are getting the fuck outta here.”

“Where’s Tom and the others?” “Not important right now. You are the only priority. Now go! We’ll make sure you get there safely.” The remaining Orbi-Sec forces were overwhelmed by the onslaught of the USOC army who had the better guns, soldiers and gear. Luckily for Derek, bodies lied on the ground along with their combat rifles. He picked one up and not realising how heavy it was, let it hang in his hand for a while before bringing it up to a firing position. Its Bullpup design and large carrying handle allowed Derek to identify it as a CAR-D4 ‘CARDA’ by short. He hated how he knew that. Its rugged and edged design paired with its short barrel and large stock made it seem like a weak assault weapon but Derek knew otherwise. It sure packed a punch. The two tone black and grey with cuts of dark orange screamed danger, making it seem like a formidable villain. Still, how could one combat rifle take down an army? But Derek sure felt confident. Clear, square cut, chevron shaped illuminated iron sights allowed Derek to have quick target acquisition and the hand shaped slanted grip gave him the edge although this was no match for the fully automatic Designated Marksman Rifles used by USOC troops.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STANDING HERE FOR? STOP STARING AT YOUR WEAPON AND FUCKING RUN OTHERWISE I’M GONNA CUT OFF YOUR USELESS LEGS, TOSS ‘EM ON A SHIP TO SATURN AND THROW YOU TO THE FUCKING ICARUS” yelled a rather impolite and impatient Sergeant, throwing Derek out of his trance. “R-right sir. Yeah.” And off he ran.

Orbi-Sec troops fell dead or wounded around him as he ran. Derek had the slightest temptation to take off his EVA suit and run for his life. To his immediate right he saw the circular landing pad they were supposed to touch down on and straight ahead was the bridge walkway that led to it. The Orbi-Sec troops on it were jumped at by the mass amount of USOC soldiers. One way or another, the defenders on the bridge were overrun and either killed or pushed off. Derek was getting closer. The distant light of the sun glistened on his helmet, distracting him for that one second. This was when he was attacked.

The USOC soldier vaulted off the bridge, landing perfectly in front of Derek and reached for his sidearm. The twos’ actions were equally quick. The soldier’s handgun aimed towards Derek at the same speed Derek’s combat rifle ascended to the soldier’s body. The two shot. Both triggers being squeezed as hard as possible. Accuracy wasn’t too big a factor in this deathmatch. This allowed the 600 RPM of the combat rifle to take advantage, shredding through the soldier’s light armour plating and through his flesh and vital organs. The exit wound was worse. Several holes opened up as the blood floated out and upward. Traditional ammunition probably would have even worked at that range but thanks to the hyper-velocity ammunition, the bullet went through the soldier like a 12.7mm round through a leaf. Blood ran from the soldier’s open mouth and started to fill the helmet. Both were shocked but only one was going to die for sure. Blood droplets floated in front of Derek’s face. It took him a second glance to realise that it was not coming from the now dead soldier. Looking at his arm, a small rupture in the EVA suit stared back at him. So that’s where the soldier’s handgun round went. Derek’s adrenaline must have blocked out the pain but now it was coming back.

Paralysed in a catatonic state, Derek was almost unable to accept the reality of the situation until the young soldier he met a few minutes ago ran up. Hardly able to have her face seen through the reflective helmet, she said “your suit is ruptured. We need to get you inside and out of this vacuum now.” She had to pull Derek to get him to move as the USOC forces closed in. To the left was the base of the bridge and the entrance to the Orbi-Sec moon station. A haven from the madness. But here, all havens would eventually be consumed by it.

13

Haven

12:58 AM

Orbi-Sec Moon Outpost, Luna, Solar System

The airlock to the outpost opened as the young soldier dragged Derek inside, abandoning the muffled gunfire and symphony of blood outside. The bright light blinded Derek who was feeling gradually fainter. Little did he know that this temporary haven would be destroyed within a matter of minutes. The young soldier was able to drag Derek to a table before giving up to exhaustion. She took off her helmet and looked around, scouring the brightly lit room for help.

Nobody was there to help. It was such a minor wound and yet Derek acted like his legs were dismembered. He’s no soldier, unlike the young woman fighting for his life. She looked around once more and found another EVA suit, although this was just for engineers; not soldiers. Perfect. She walked up to it but before she was able to take it, Carter and Tom burst into the room and locked the door behind them. Tom was injured and Carter was helping him walk over to Derek. “Derek. Good. You’re safe. What’s the problem?” asked Carter. Before Derek could reply however, the soldier spoke up and said “His arm’s cut and his suits ruptured.” “Corporal Rein, you will only speak when spoken too. Is that clear?”

“Yes sir.”

“Rein. So that’s her name” Derek wondered. He smiled and stood up. Carter looked at his injured arm and said “we have no time to heal it; not like it’s completely necessary, but we can patch that rupture. It won’t take as long as putting a new one on. Corporal Rein, hand me your rupture kit.”

“I had to use it on the field sir.” “Fine. He can use Tom’s then since I had to patch him up earlier with my own.”

Carter took Tom’s EVA Suit rupture kit and tore off the plastic wrapping. He unfolded the section, applied it to the tear on Derek’s suit and secured it. “That should do for now. You ought to be more of a man like Tom here. He gets shot right through the leg and still carries on. We’ll take a right up there. That’ll lead us to the vehicle bay.” The four ran there but stopped at the bay doors. They were locked shut. Carter peeked through the translucent panel only to see a lone engineer preparing gear. “Hey soldier!” Carter yelled. The engineer turned around and looked straight at Carter with a worried face. “Open the bay doors, man! We need a vehicle.” The engineer walked up to the doors and said “I’m sorry. Can’t do that. USOC is everywhere. They can hear our every word. If I open this door, we all die.”

“You bloody bastard. You have no idea how important we are. I ORDER YOU TO OPEN THESE DAMN DOORS OR-”

Before Carter was finished with his rant, the ceiling behind the engineer exploded and down came two USOC soldiers. They both fired at the engineer rapidly, almost tearing his body in two. Stunned by this, Carter was late to react to the ceiling two meters behind then blowing open. Air sucked out of the room and Rein quickly put on her helmet. All of them readied their weapons. USOC soldiers suddenly dropped into the room and the two factions fired at each other. The two USOC soldiers quickly backed into cover. Derek heard them whisper “Is that the high value target?” “He is. Execute mission directives.” In sync, the two turned out of cover and fired at the group only to see them escaping into the vehicle pool. “After them”

Carter had shot open the doors to get in so there was no way for them to close it on the pursuing soldiers. “Quick! Into the STN!”

Derek asked “STN?” to which Carter replied “Special Terrain Navigator or in other words moon car.” This was when Tom collapsed and fell to the floor. He had been shot by the soldiers chasing after them. Derek and Rein provided cover fire with their firearms as Tom said to Carter “That’s it. I’m done. I won’t make it. Just dead weight. Go. Or you will all die with me.” Carter nodded and opened the door of the STN. “Get in. Both of you!” More USOC soldier came rushing at them and sprayed automatic fire at them. Derek climbed in and Rein followed him but before she could get inside, blood splattered over Derek’s helmet. Rein gasped and fell to the ground. Carter hit the accelerator as Derek looked back in shock. “There was no time. What happens, happens, okay?” said Carter. Derek turned around to see Rein staring right back at him as a USOC soldier walked up behind her and shot her in the head.

14

Lonesome Road

2:14 AM

Luna, Solar System

Derek sat silently in the STN as Carter drove it. They were a long way from the base after travelling on the surface for over 45 minutes. Carter interrupted the silence and asked “You know what the Northern Coalition was?”

Derek replied “Yeah, the Russian-Chinese alliance that got dismantled by an ice age. Tens of millions of soldiers, forced to surrender to America to survive. They turned on their leader, tucked tail and ran.”

“Yeah” Carter replied “But that’s only half the story. A bulk of the force defected. Over to USOC. That’s how they got so much power so quickly. Back then USOC were smaller but they still operated everywhere, and being short of men was one phrase they never wanted to hear. We all label them power hungry. That’s more or less literally it. They’re consumed and grown all because of that huge force. The past century, they’re just been using it to take over our galaxy one planet at a time.”

“Fine, but what does that have to do with this?” asked Derek.

“Power, mate. If you let too much of yourself become made up of something else, are you still you? Besides, you’ll find out more soon enough.”

“Nice story but what the bloody fuck are we going to do now? The base is overrun and our only means of getting you the Icarus would have been seized by the damn galactic police. USOC sure have got nerve. A full on assault on our fucking base. They must have used all or their troops on the damn moon.”

“Wait… all of their troops… This could mean that their own moon headquarters are light on defences.” Carter slammed the brake and the STN slowed to a stop. He looked back at Derek and said “This is one of our field ready STNs so that means if the damn engineer didn’t touch it, it should have a couple of power shields and guns in the trunk. Hopefully the guys back home made enough replicas. Go look.”

Derek opened the door and stepped out. He went around the back of the STN and stared at the locked trunk. A labyrinth of steel plates and bars covered it. Derek had no idea how to open it. “Oh right. It opens when I press that button by the driver’s seat. I bloody forgot” shouted Carter. The trunk clicked open and sure enough, there were three sets of power shield plates and half a dozen firearms. “Yeah. They’re here all right” said Derek.

“Well then whaddaya waiting for? Slug one of those shields to me and bring some guns over here. Oh and don’t forget to get one for yourself.” Derek did as he was told and sat back in the backseat with the gear after taking it and closing the trunk. Carter took the guns he wanted and looked at Derek who asked “We’re not gonna do what I think we’re gonna do are we?”

“Well if what you’re thinking is that we put on our shields, go to the USOC moon headquarters, murder everybody and steal their shuttle, then yes. That is exactly what we are going to do.”

Carter grinned and sat back, holding an automatic rifle. He primed it and said to Derek “Now son, I know you won’t like this, but this is for the greater good. You’re gonna have to do this no matter what.” Derek, who had put his shield on nodded silently. They put the rest of their gear on, including pistols and knives and readied up. Carter turned the STN around and drove silently back.

Derek’s heartbeat didn’t slow down. Its pace climbed higher and higher the closer they got to the USOC moon headquarters. Derek stared out the window as he saw it in the distance. Carter saw it too and said “we’re gonna stop around here and you’re gonna take the bolt rifle out.” The STN slowed to a stop and Derek could see what he meant. There were two guards patrolling the outside. The RTG-40 Bolt Action Sniper System would be able to take them out with relative ease. Stanley looked at Derek and said “Look, if you don’t want to be the one that takes them out then-” “No. I have to do this.” Derek stepped out of the STN and carried the Bolt Rifle to the front of it. He set up the bipod on the hood and steadied the scope. It was a dark, rugged gun. Jagged shapes and rough panelling made it look menacing, and its colour scheme of black, white and sand made it look all the more professional. The rifle was ready to fire.

Derek looked through the scope and saw the guards. If the second one moved slightly to the left, he could probably take them both out at once, but at a range of 500 metres, he couldn’t risk it. This moon’s surface and absence of obstacles made the shot obvious and easy. With small shifts, he was able to line one shot up. A synced shot would have been better but with only one rifle, that was going to be pretty hard. Derek placed the crosshair right on the guard’s head. Range drop was not a factor with this gun. Designed for long range low gravity combat, it could land a perfect shot out to two kilometres on the moon. Derek hesitated but he didn’t want to, and so he pulled the trigger. With a half muzzled shot and a fast wiz, the guard dropped dead. Derek cycled the bolt to chamber the next shot and quickly lined the crosshairs up with the second guard. He was alerted. This had to be quick. Derek fired, perhaps too quickly, but as he looked through the scope he saw that both of them were dead. Carter laughed and congratulated Derek. This didn’t help him.

15

Raid

3:34 AM

USOC Moon HQ, Luna, Solar System

Carter walked up to the bodies with Derek who said “There would have been cameras, other guards, sensors… somebody must have noticed.” Carter replied “That’s very likely, but don’t worry. These shields will protect us.” This didn’t reassure Derek at all, who was staring coldly at the dead guards. He had made a clean headshot with the first one and a lethal heart shot with the other. The ammunition had made a small hole through the front of the skull of the first guard. The exit wound was much greater. Almost the whole of the back of the skull was gone. Derek felt disgusted. Carter looked at him and said “Believe me, we’re doing the right thing.”

Derek pulled out his assault rifle and so did Carter. They were going to walk straight up to the front door and say hello. And so they did. Carter walked with confidence while Derek was visibly shaking in his shield. They main entrance had been locked down, but Carter had a solution for that. He dragged one of the dead guards with him and placed his hand on the fingerprint scanner. The door opened and the two went in.

Breathing heavily and guns trained on whatever they deemed significant, the two walked quickly without ever letting down their guard. This first hallway was long, leading to different chambers and rooms. Carter had no intention to explore every single one of them, at least not now. The first guard inside was already alerted but quickly fell to a burst of bullets from Carter. Those three shots made sure that all civilian personnel ran away while all guards converged on their location, but they were ready for it. A thunderous, almost rhythmic pace of footsteps rushed at them. Basic sub-machine guns and handguns were all that the security forces had but still, they managed to stop Derek in his tracks. He never faced so much impact and stopping power all at once, and even with his shield on, he could feel the kinetic punch of the bullets push him back and tip his balance. Shooting them was the easy part, but even then Carter did most of the work in that area. It was over in less than ten seconds.

There was blood splashed across the floor and walls, and none of it was theirs. The shields did their jobs and Carter marched forward. Despite what Derek thought of him, Carter’s plan was basic and unlikely. Following everything he did, Derek joined Carter in his cleansing of the station. This USOC outpost was going to be theirs, and their security was no longer any match for the duo of destruction, at least that’s what Derek thought of himself and Carter. Straight down the hallway and onto the stairs. Carter strode quickly and with almost inhuman confidence, with the least concern for anything that might jump out at him. At the top of the stairs was yet another hallway with rooms lined up on either side. Just like the first floor, only at the end of this hallway was a completely sealed room. And Carter walked straight towards it.

A grim yet satisfied face showed that there might have been some personal objective Carter had yet to tell him. Guards who were brave or stupid enough to gather up the courage to roll out of the rooms and shoot at Carter were immediately gunned down by him, as if he knew that they were behind him. Effortlessly, Carter finished them off and continued to that door at the end. Derek never took him for a man of brute force, but he was proven wrong when Carter took out the explosives and placed them around the frame. He was going to destroy the wall, not the door and pop it right out of its socket. After placing all eight charges, he said to Derek “stay away” which he obviously followed. As calm as ever, Carter clicked the detonator and the door blew inside the room.

The two walked out of cover, guns up and marched into the room, increasingly soldier like. Derek looked around. The room was a dark grey colour in contrast to the metallic silver and white of the rest of the building. To the left were steel crates marked with some military code, while in the centre stood a large, framed device. Big enough to fit a large man, while right in front of Derek was the destroyed door and beneath it was the lower half of a security guard. The torso was found to the right of the room. Just as Derek stepped forward to investigate, a yell and a boom came from the crates and Carter was thrown right back out the doorway. Dazed, Derek immediately aimed his rifle at where he heard the boom come from and was pummelled in the face by a dozen steel balls. His shocked body was thrown onto the floor, extremely lucky that his neck wasn’t broken. Derek’s assault rifle was thrown to the far right corner, definitely out of reach. Was this it? No. Carter has to come and save him. He just has to.

The shooter walked out in front of the crates, revealing his T0-RC Shotgun. No wonder it felt like he just got hit by a train. Derek’s shield was taking damage, but not enough for it to fail. The shooter shot Derek, straight in the chest, twice more. Now the shield was struggling, and so were Derek’s ribs. At least two of them must have been broken. He suddenly remembered about his sidearm. Reaching for it, he was shot once more, and then he heard the click. That quiet click of hope. The smile from the shooter was quickly drained as Derek pulled out the B22 Semi-Automatic Handgun and unloaded the entire fifteen round magazine into his chest. But the bullets didn’t go in. Saved from a quick death thanks to his steel plated combat vest, the man scrambled back, looking for any weapon at all. The only weapon he could find however was the one in Derek’s hand. He had dropped the pistol and taken out his combat knife. Black steel and curved. It was perfect. Derek walked towards the cowering man and slit his throat. But not before after stabbing him forty times in any unarmoured area. Rage. That is what pushes him the most. With no regrets, Derek ran back to Carter and stopped suddenly at the sight of him.

16

Transit

3:41 AM

USOC Moon HQ, Luna, Solar System

The sight that Derek feared the most was laid out in front of him. His best hope of survival was lying there, with a large steel shard protruding out of him. The shotgun blast must have knocked him into a piece of the door he blew down. It was sticking out of his left ribcage and Derek could have almost sworn he was able to see a lung. Blood gushed out like a faucet on full. The power shield wasn’t able to stand such a large, sharp piece of metal. Carter was not dead yet, but he will be soon. Speaking the start of his dying words, he managed “Derek, I guess we can’t do the shuttle plan any longer. You can’t even fly. Find a way. Remember whatever means necessary” He forced himself to not struggle on his words.

Derek looked at him, showing fear more than ever before. The shuttle was useless to him now and getting to the Icarus from there would be near impossible. But now, more problems came from downstairs as Derek heard the thumping of footsteps. He went back into the room. Peering out the small window, he saw vehicles pulling up. USOC must have learnt. Derek doesn’t have much time, and then he took a longer glance at the device in the front of the room. Carter grunted and stared at the device “You know Derek, I think that might just be your magic ticket out of here.”

“What is it?” “All Orbi-Sec outposts have experimental matter transporter devices that go on a one-way trip to Geisen, the USOC Orbital Stronghold by Saturn. It’s your only way getting out of here. I’ll hold them off.”

Painfully, Carter tried to rotate and face the stairs but could only manage so much. The controls were relatively simple, a computer panel with a final activation switch. Derek picked up his assault rifle, loaded it and faced the panel. “Looks about right. Do it.” Said Carter as Derek stepped inside. He nodded and activated it. Carter’s final words “Remember – whatever means necessary” followed by chaotic automatic gunfire echoed in Derek’s mind as the white field enclosed him and his eyes closed shut. The loud swish of the machine and the high pitched whir drowned out the words and bullets as Derek’s body was transported over 300 million kilometres away.

Even with his eyes closed tight, the bright light still engulfed his vision with bloody red. A quick whir sound ended and just like that, it was over. He had escaped one hell only to arrive in another. His idea of a power hungry private military’s space base was thrown off by the well-lit and arguably well decorated interior of Geisen as he slowly opened his eyes. This was a brightness he could get used to.

Derek quickly tried to get a sense of his surroundings. He was in glass boxed room inside a two storey hall. Walkways composed the upper floor while artificial grass and waterfalls decorated his one. There were USOC employees everywhere, unarmed and a security guard standing behind a decontamination gate in front of Derek. Stunned by the scenery, it took him almost a full three seconds to raise his assault rifle and tensely walk towards the door. Suddenly, water sprayed down on him from above and around as lumbered towards the exit. He shot at the surprisingly bullet resistant glass with no effect. The security guard said some words into a radio and left the booth, leaving Derek trapped. They were prepared. They were always prepared. But nonetheless, Derek didn’t stop trying.

He pulled his assault rifle up to a bullet dent in the glass and fired full auto into it, creating a hole big enough for a bug to pass through. This however was only the beginning. Derek kept shooting around it, chipping the glass away bit by bit, but by the time he had made a fist sized hole, security officers had already surrounded him the glass chamber, and a rather well dressed man made his way to Derek, stepping right in front of the hole but Derek didn’t fire. He knew when he was outmatched. The man was in a commander outfit, decorated with USOC medals, likely rewarded for massacring towns and villages.

“Hey there.” He smiled and continued “I could have gassed you right then and there in your little room, but no. I decided that it would be worthwhile to meet me face to face. It’s a bit more dramatic, don’t you think? I would like to get to know you better and you-”

Derek shoved the barrel of his assault rifle through the hole and the forty security guards raised their weapons tensely and suddenly. The man continued “Okay. Perhaps I shall introduce myself first. I am Wyatt Nathanial, Commander of USOC Operations and my purpose is to lead the world into a better tomorrow. Through force or friendship.” The evil grin stuck to his face like tape.

17

Just a Talk

Geisen, Solar System

“A better tomorrow? A BETTER TOMORROW?!” yelled Derek as aimed the gun as close to Wyatt’s head as possible. “What about all those mass killings, those fucking concentration camps, what about your real purpose of world domination, huh?” Wyatt tilted his head ever so slightly and asked “tell me, Derek Simmons, or shall I say Derek Ragston, have you ever seen our so called acts of genocide or labour camps? Who told you about us trying to take over the world? It’s absurd. Insane! Look what those rebels have made you, the lies they have fed you. So why don’t you put your gun on the floor and treat me with some dignity. I assure you that these men will not barge through the door, tackle you to the ground and beat some sense into you. I promise that they’ll treat you with respect and take you up to my office where we will have a little talk. Just a talk.”

Derek dropped his rifle on the ground and put his hands up, facing the commander angrily. “That’s… a good boy” said the commander as he backed away. The guards moved towards the glass chamber’s entrance and unlocked the steel door with their weapons drawn on Derek the whole time. As soon as the first guard got close enough, Derek dropped to the ground, picked up his rifle and fired at them in a blur of bullets. The guards fell dead and Derek was unharmed thanks to his power shield. Quickly getting back up, Derek shoved the gun as far as he could through the glass and fired upon every man he saw. The commander had retreated to cover and yelled out “Use the V-cells, but I must have him alive!” Not knowing what he meant, Derek continued to fire at the guards as he made his way to the open door. He kicked it out and rushed to the nearest piece of cover he could find. The steel pillar he stood behind helped little. Guards rushed at him from both sides, now firing light blue projectiles out of their rifles. One of them yelled “you think you’re indestructible, don’t you” as the blue shots went right through Derek’s power shield and lodged themselves in his flesh. To make matters worse, the shots opened gaps in the shield, allowing the more traditional ballistic projectiles hit him. Hit after hit, Derek continued to fire. His torso was in agony and his legs followed, soon giving, but still not stopping him from shooting. The empty click filled him with dread as he threw the rifle at an incoming guard. Pulling out his sidearm, Derek staggered across the room, shooting and missing the guards. He fell as he succumbed to the shield-penetrating ammunition. The debilitating effect of the shots were overwhelming and Derek collapsed and the room finally went quiet.

Derek couldn’t tell how much time passed. A screaming blur descended down to his face. “I just wanted a talk, Derek. Are you so stubborn that you can’t even grant me that?” Wyatt looked down at half conscious Derek. “Wake the fuck up, man! You’ve destroyed my moon headquarters, killed a number of my staff and you even ruined my suit. WAKE THE FUCK UP!” he yelled as he punched Derek his chair. “You’ve been sleeping for fourteen hours, my medical staff have spent their precious time and resources patching you up and this is how you repay me?! I gotta say, either we are extremely stupid or you are extremely lucky. You think you can just waltz onto my ship, kill a bunch of my men and completely take down the United Space Order Control? You don’t understand, do you? You see how it says ‘United’? Which represents nations coming together to form us. Your whole life, those Orbi-Sec bastards have been lurking in the shadows, only letting you see what you want to see. Before you even met them, did you think you were free? No! Your job, your life, your dreams – all dictated by their manipulation. You. Know. Nothing.”

Derek, who finally regained full consciousness, looked back up at Wyatt and picked himself up off the floor. “You’re wrong” said Derek. Wyatt stared back at him in slight disbelief “Tell me, have you ever been outside of Colorado in your life? Who were your adoptive parents like? Lemme guess, very anti USOC?” This image they’ve planted into your head of us. Look at any other city, any other country and you can see all the good we do. Look at Earth. It’s thriving because of us. Because of our protection, and you think living underground with those mole people is the right way to go? Well, as a matter of fact why don’t you go ask them?” As Wyatt concluded his rant, he grabbed Derek by the arm and pulled him out of his office and towards the elevator at the opposite of an overly silver hallway.

Wyatt, Derek and two guards entered the elevator and they went down. “Those cave dwellers you call your friends, what remains of Orbi-Sec… all either captured or killed. You have been very uncooperative, Mr Ragston, and I’m going to show you what happens to uncooperative people. I tried to be nice. I tried and you tried to shoot me. Well, no more Mr Nice guy.” Wyatt smiled as the elevator dinged and opened. He walked out with his arms open in a grand gesture. This corridor was a prison. Cells filled with the innocent and guilty alike. “At the end of the hall, you’ll see the main attraction…” commented Wyatt as he waltzed down the corridor. He wasn’t lying. Derek was horrified to see the faces of those he had met down in the underground base, now trapped, and isolated. One by one he saw their faces. Amanda, Marcus and even Tom. They must have captured him instead of finishing him off. Alongside them were various other Orbi-Sec soldiers and staff. Derek saw them talking, even yelling, but he could not hear a word. He looked at them hopelessly, then down at the floor.

Wyatt stared back with a stern look “Look at them. LOOK AT THEM! This is what remains of your little rebellion. It’s over. It’s all over.”

18

Executive

Geisen, Solar System

Derek looked back up solemnly. It hurt him, seeing all those who tried so hard to help him be locked captive. A slight smile started to make its way across Wyatt’s face. It wasn’t that he was enjoying others suffer, it was because he had won. He had demonstrated his power to Derek and was enjoying that moment as much as he could. “You know, I had the chance to just leave them be. They posed little to no threat to us or the entire USOC military strength. It’s not that I didn’t want to take the risk, nor was it the fact that I’m a nice guy. I just wanted to show you the reality of your situation. How diminutive you and your little band of heroes are compared to us. And frankly, I think just finishing you off would be the smart thing to do. A quick end to a pointless war. Heck, I can’t even call this a war. That moon battle? Yeah, we outnumbered you ten to one. Even then, I had to admit that there were quite a lot of you. Were. The only prisoners we took are the ones around you.” Derek looked back down in hopelessness. “Look at them, Derek. Look at all those you have failed.”

Wyatt’s smile receded back and soon his face had reverted back to the grim, severe expression he always had. “There’s nothing you can do anymore. Accept it and I’ll ensure a fair punishment.” “There’s nothing fair about this.”

“Come on, Derek. I think I’ve tortured you quite enough. But to be honest, technically your friends were the ones that got you into this position.” The smile came crawling back.

Derek’s sorrow started to translate into anger. “This position? This position in which a group of less than a hundred took on and killed over four times their numbers. Your soldiers were the ones that really lost. It shows your weakness, your pathetic ability to command. Operations commander? That’s a fucking joke. You are a fucking j-”

Derek was abruptly interrupted by Wyatt slamming his head onto the steel wall beside them. “Come now, Derek. I think your little reunion time has expired. The boss wants to see you.”

“Oh good. Now I can punch him in person.”

The elevator lurched into motion yet again, only this time they just kept going up. It took them almost a full ten seconds to arrive at their destination. Wyatt didn’t lie very often. Derek observed the holographic sign in front of him as the door opened. The golden tinted glow of the sign had the words “Executive” popping out of it. “You’ve heard of the CEO of USOC, right? Martin Coves, not terribly good with a laser rifle, but he sure as hell is a good orator. Damn convincing if I say so myself. Like Hitler, only he’s actually helping to build society, not separate it.” He paused for a slight second before stopping to say “That was a bad comparison. The door’s at the end of that hall.” Wyatt pointed down a luxurious gold plastered corridor with seemingly timeless and no doubt priceless pieces of art. Some centuries old. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here. You don’t need me to hold your hand to talk to the boss man.”

Derek didn’t have much of a choice. He proceeded down the brightly lit hall and stopped in front of the door to knock. The door looked antique. Quality wood. Ancient wood. The only other thing on it was a gold plated name plate. ‘Martin Coves, CEO’. As Derek raised his hand to knock, the door suddenly opened and standing in the doorway was a smiling man with grey hair. He looked like a stereotypical CEO. He was nearing his seventies, but his access to increasingly advanced medical technology allowed him to look more or less in the middle of his fifties. “You must be Derek Ragston. Please, come on in.” He smiled and gestured for Derek to walk on through. As Derek entered the room, he was surprised to see how minimalistic it was in design. Nothing more than a wooden table, a few chairs and a Holo-monitor. The image being displayed between the two projector bars was of the Grand Canyon. A slideshow was being played.

“Take a seat, Derek.” They both did but Derek maintained his homicidal look at Martin. “Now I understand that you tried to overtake an official USOC military outpost. You killed four hundred of my men and destroyed tens of millions of dollars’ worth of technology. I just don’t understand.” Now it was Derek’s turn to speak.

“Your army targeted us, opened fire on us when we only arrived to collect equipment.”

“Equipment that you would have used to repair a defunct spacecraft, and what? Go flying around space terrorising civilians?”

“To clear my name. Our name. All we wanted to do was to reach the Icarus, and the fact that your men actively tried to stop us meant that there is something at our destination that you don’t want us to find.”

Martin retained his calm composure. “Well despite that, it’s still illegal to land an unlicensed, homemade rocket so close to a military installation. An installation that was overrun by your forces.”

“But that’s the thing. We didn’t land. You shot us down before we could do anything.”

“All I saw were reinforcements to an already dangerously growing amount of Orbi-Sec allies. And those allies of yours, what sort of lies have they filled your head with? The son of the great Cameron James Ragston, convinced that because of us, the earth is in chains. That’s cute. USOC has helped build cities across the world and beyond. We provided more security than any military, fed more children than any charity and have lowered poverty rates by forty percent. You want to see what’s really on that ship? I’ll take you there.”

19

Lullaby

Geisen, Solar System

Martin lead Derek back out where they came, and Wyatt joined back up. Martin continued “It’s all set, Derek. Just say the word. We’ll take you to back where it all began, where your father launched the warhead that killed eight million people, eight million civilians. Men, women and children just trying to live their lives.” Wyatt added “And you want to clear his fucking name. That’s sweet.” Wyatt continued to rub it in but that shifted naught in Derek’s course. “I’m sorry I keep rambling on like that, it’s just that your whole goal is so idiotic and futile, and there aren’t enough ways in the world to express it enough. But enough with that. Come with me. I’ll personally escort you back to the Icarus, still a terrible name by the way.” Wyatt lead a quiet Derek and slightly disapproving Martin to the central elevator.

What looked like half a centimetre of glass separated the inside of the elevator from cold, dead space. It looked just as dangerous as it was beautiful. Martin pointed out to the left. “I do believe we’re going that-a-way.” He smiled. “I do so enjoy these intergalactic trips we take so rarely. Gives us a chance to feel just how big the universe it, all the opportunities we have now.” He looked at Derek and uttered in a calmer but somewhat more threatening voice “space is larger than anything you could ever imagine, and it’s ours. It’s USOC’s. All of it. Be grateful that we’re not like the savages you are, that we don’t massacre hundreds of you to make a point.”

Derek stared at the seemingly hypocritical man. He was angry, but there was nothing he could do. “Don’t worry about the glass. It may look thin, but it’s stronger than whatever shit-alloy steel they used on your rocket” added Wyatt. Derek looked down at the sidearm holstered on him. Martin now changes his disapproving look to Derek, who notices and refrains from making a potentially stupid decision. The elevator screen read VEHICLE POOL as they slowed down to a stop. “We’ll be taking my own personal ship, along with my own personal guards” commented Martin. The doors opened and suddenly a mass of spaceships, planetcrawlers and hyperjets littered the view. It was almost as beautiful as the view outside, certainly less depressing.

Derek stared in awe at the mass number of ships there were, almost making him forget that he was still in captivity. Suddenly, elevators all across the vehicle pool opened up and USOC High Elite Soldiers flooded into the area. Covered in heavy black EVA armoured suits with white signal lights, they sure looked like formidable foes. “Captain Seller, I’ll take your squad. Yours too, Captain Igbinedion.” The respective captains obeyed and took their four man teams to the executive ship. “You like it? She’s called Lullaby, ‘cus the purr of her engine always puts me to sleep” It was the size of a small house A small, heavily armoured and jewel covered house. At the ship itself stood four soldiers who were seemed to intimidate even Wyatt. As the three made their way to the ship, Martin commentated “these are my aforementioned personal guards, ‘The Knights of the Cove’ we call them. Each have specialised skills, like Alexis here who has the fourth highest confirmed kill count in history, and Jeyne who excels at close-” “Cut the intros, doc. We don’t want to bore our guy to death before he even gets a chance to see the end for himself” interrupted Wyatt. Martin was displeased, but Wyatt was right. A pointless routine.

The Knights of the Cove wore the same armour as the High Elites, only theirs was painted light grey with dark gold details. They boarded the ship first, and as the other guards made their way in, Derek took one last opportunity to examine the executive ship. It looked like a two tier fighter craft, only with weapons and engines tuned to the max and the same paint scheme as the executive guards. “I know my ship is bloody beautiful, but I assure you, it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. Now come on in.” Derek took one final glance before stepping inside. Cold and hard on the outside, warm, soft and awfully expensive looking on the inside. “Well go on, sit down, enjoy yourself while it lasts!” exclaimed Martin. “I don’t want to break anything. It all looks so valuable” said Derek, breaking his silent streak. “The man speaks! Don’t go all bloody quiet on me for so long. It gives Wyatt here the creeps” Martin laughed. “Here we go then.” Martin held up a glass of wine. “To the Icarus!”

20

Halcyon

Lullaby, Solar System

The ship started to take off. Derek barely even noticed. Never before had he ever seen a fighter craft lift off with such grace, and as he peered out the window to look down, Martin commented with a new calmness “not used it are you, the sudden slight shift in verticality at such negligible effect to the hosts. You could’ve had it all. You still can. But afterwards. After we see.” Derek turned back to face him. He didn’t need to watch the emptiness outside to know that they had exited the station. Martin continued “this really is all new to you, isn’t it? Wherever you look there’s beauty, purity, perfection, whether it be the inside of my humble vessel or the infinite wonders and star littered galaxies beyond. Heck, this isn’t even my main ship. It’s just my private transporter” Derek tried to maintain his stern expression, but it was futile. He never liked showing weakness, but maybe it’s necessary. And so he too calmed down, sat down into his seat and tilted his head once more to the stars.

“That’s right” Martin added. “I’m no more a threat to you than you are to yourself. There’s nothing to fear from me, nothing to hate me for, but you’ll find out. You will. And when you do, I promise that I will let you, that I will let this… go.” Derek in his ever still pose, replied “I’ll always see you as a threat. You’re a murderer.”

“Ahh boy, you just fail to see what’s necessary. That’s why you and your comrades lack what it takes to defeat us, and don’t worry, I’m not gonna give another one of those ‘you have to be willing to take lives, act on demand’ speeches. Fail to see the threat, and you will fail your goal. In time boy, you will learn.”

Derek didn’t want to believe it. He knew that Martin made sense, but it defied everything he was brought up to believe. He stopped thinking about it. He had to, despite how much it dug at him from the inside.

The ship, it was much like the orphanage he grew up in. He felt alone despite being surrounded by people, but those people were strangers. Those ‘Knights of The Cove’ probably have their own stories to tell, but nobody speaks. Nobody can leave. Outside is death. Inevitable and ever-lingering. Stepping outside the orphanage would be opening the hatch on this fighter craft. Derek peeked back at the handle. Jeyne was standing right beside it. Wow. Suicide before he even got out the door. At the orphanage they told him that who they were didn’t matter to them. DNA tests were never performed and the kids got to make their own choices, who they wanted to be. Derek didn’t know if it was fate or fortune that lead to him turning out the way he did. After all he had to consider himself lucky. Most of the orphans there grew up to be criminals.

The stars were beautiful. The craft they sat in was luxurious. Everyone was clean and polished, especially the Knights. Martin abruptly commented “quality armour for a quality ship. Don’t wanna get my furniture dirty. Actually speaking of dirt, I shoulda made you change into something a bit more- well less… battle ravaged. Makes you look like a dirty old Earth peasant. Gonna have to get my maid to clean that quality white leather you’re sitting on afterwards, but don’t you worry about that. My maid has plenty of time. She’s a private maid actually, this ship only. Paid thrice as much as those vehicle pool cleaners for a fraction of the work. Why? Because she’s got a good temperament. I’ve known her from the days she cleaned that coffee stall back on Geisen years ago. I’d trust her with my life. You on the other hand are the complete damn opposite. You’d probably slit my throat without a second to spare, throwing all this damn monologuing out the damn window.”

Martin sighed. “It’ll be done soon. You shall see soon. The truth.” Derek continued to stare outside. “I’ll prove it” he said “I’ll find the truth, our truth and I’ll prove to you that you’re wrong. And then I’m going to kill you.”

Martin smiled. He always did to something like this. “In the end, you’ll come to know me as a very reasonable man and maybe even a friend. But not until you have seen the reality of your father’s web of deceit. Fuck. I’m doing it again aren’t I? My father had a knack for monologuing. It’s just that he-” Martin’s speech was interrupted by the deafening crack in the hull. It was followed by another. Derek got up and walked to the window opposite while Martin strode to the pilot’s cabin. From the cockpit he saw in the distance a small army of fighter ships. No less than one hundred. He could recognise that blue crest from anywhere. Orbi-Sec were here. And they wanted Derek back.

21

Clash

Lullaby, Solar System

“Impossible…” muttered Martin under his breath. “They don’t have the numbers. How could they amass such a force?” He peered out of the window as more and more vessels came into view.

“They’re ten kilometres away!” shouted the co-pilot as the Knights of the Cove came swarming to defend their leader.

“We were hit by one of their long range cannons. Soon we’ll be in range of their armour piercing rounds” said Alexis, striding into the room with weapons drawn. The ship shook more and the passengers could feel the vibrations. Martin was still sat cosily in his seat, not seeming overly worried.

“Enjoy this picturesque scene while it lasts, Derek. All of those ships will be either retreating or destroyed. They’re attacking us too close to Geisen. Reinforcements will be here in minutes with our light attack cruisers.” He turned towards the captain’s cabin. “Jeffrey, let’s turn and face these cockroaches, shall we?” The Lullaby started to rotate slowly and Derek’s broadside view of the Orbi-Sec fleet was obscured. “Now, activate the-”

Another loud crash rang through the ship. The body shook and the wine glass flew out of Martin’s hand, spilling much of it onto the white carpet. “Sorry, Jeyne” said Martin as his guard looked down at her wine stained leg armour. “It’s gonna take a fucking week to get this out! No-one messes with my damn carpet!” Martin looked genuinely mad. Another shell collided into the hull, shaking the ship violently. “Activate the fucking cannons now! Retaliate! I want my vengeance! Despite how utterly mad Martin started to sound, the captain activated the weapons systems accordingly. “Light those goddamn cockroaches up!” Coves yelled, and the ship vibrated yet again, only this time in retaliation. “And where the fuck are my escort ships?”

Derek look out through the back window. A massive destroyer vessel loomed in the background. Its twin about half a kilometre away. The proud logo in USOC yellow painted across its hull followed by the designation ‘Chorus’. Its buddy seemed to be named ‘Symphony’. Both of which sounded like names Martin would have chosen. Or perhaps someone with a very basic knowledge of music.

“Oh, there it is. Thank, Derek” uttered Martin before he turned to his radio built into his desk. “Chorus, advance and defend our right flank! Symphony can take everything else! The two destroyers advanced towards the Lullaby, readying their enormous cannons. As the massive ships came closer, they blocked out any light from the sides whilst looming over the gold filled ship. They were huge, filled with enough firepower to level a small country and then some. The ships, now on opposite side of the Lullaby, slowed to match its pace. “No!” cried Martin as he waved his arms out “Go ahead! Go ahead!”

“Perhaps they’re just trying to shield us” commented Jeyne. Martin growled then sighed, and sat back down, arms spread across the length of the couch.

“Or perhaps they’re boxing us in” added Derek.

It was at this moment that Martin truly looked perplexed. Looking over his shoulder, he commanded the pilot “get us out of here. Back. Now.” The ship slowed to a halt and started to turn back.

“Not even your state of the art engines can get you out of this mess” smiled Derek as he saw the cannon on the Destroyers turn on them from either side.

“Floor it! Now!” yelled Martin, but it was too late. A massive blast struck the ship, replicating an earthquake. The lights flashed off instantly and all the power was gone. The Knights took defensive positions by the shuttle airlock. Heavy plasma projectors and Laser pistols aimed right at it. Derek felt the floor leave his feet, and he saw Martin begin to levitate. The guards in their full heavy armour became weightless too. “There goes the artificial gravity” commented Coves before he collided softly with the ceiling. The spotlights from the destroyers turned on and Derek could see shadows moving. Soldiers. On the outside. They latched hooks onto the ship, stopping it from moving any further. Three Soldiers unlocked the outer airlock and moved inside. The inner airlock then blasted open and a spherical device was popped inside. A disorienting concussive force pushed all of the inhabitants back before soldiers moved in and the crossfire ensued.

Alexis and her Plasma Projector cycled their ammunition into the unfortunate invaders while Jeyne finished them off. The other Knights burnt through their magazines and filled the doorway with holes. “Hey! Careful!” yelled Coves with his back to the wall. This was no victory. The ship lurched to the side. The hooks weren’t for securing it in place. They were for pulling it into Symphony. Derek could see that its bay was open, and they were heading right for it.

The dead soldiers caught his eye however. They bore a different insignia. The Northern Coalition. The dated federation between the Russians and the Chinese, shattered and broken after a devastating ice age. Members either surrendered to the next big superpower or defected to the Paramilitary force USOC. Maybe they didn’t really defect after all. Carter’s story actually meant something. And now once again those bearing the red and white sigils turned on their parent force. After half a century of blending with the enemy it was surprising that they kept their ulterior motives. Either way, Derek felt more or less content with this.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if even the stubbornest of defectors were able to rise up the ranks of USOC and command even the biggest of ships, fleets even.

The incoming fleet of Orbi-Sec and Northern Coalition ships closed in while the Coalition controlled destroyer pulled Lullaby into its jaws.

22

Delivery

Symphony, Solar System

The cables tugged violently at the vessel, into the dimly lit vehicle bay of the Symphony. The darkness gave way and revealed to the helpless occupants of the Lullaby a bay of forklifts and warning lights. One by one, cargo containers revealed themselves and the extent of their new prison was shown. Catwalks crisscrossed above while even the biggest floodlights shone naught brighter than a bottled candle in the ocean.

Derek watched the specifics of the bay loom ahead and then the heavily armed soldiers marching to surround the landing area. The mechanism from whence the winch came from stood in the distance, pulling them ever so slightly towards it. And as what little lifting the bay offered washed over the Lullaby, Derek could make out more and more silhouettes. Snipers providing overwatch from the offices above and a small army flooding in from the centre lane. All of whom were wearing the same insignia Derek had thought was eradicated long ago, the symbol of a forgotten time in a futile war. Five white stars surrounding the infamous hammer and sickle on a red backdrop. A flag that once inspired both fear and respect. Well once again, it demands more or less just that.

The soldiers’ helmets struck Martin with a debilitating stroke of nostalgic trauma. A built in gas filtration system from the jaw of the helmet eerily conjured memories of the war before as well as ancient horror movies while a shielded cranium protector looked vastly similar to those worn by the Nazis. Eyepieces as dark as the emptiness outside. Their breathing was silent thanks to the heavily implemented stealth technology. Perhaps Martin should have reconsidered continuing the production line of such armour despite it being the only thing the Northern Coalition knew how to operate. It was ugly but damn effective nonetheless. Primitive in technological implentations compared to the light force shielded components of today and true space age alloys. Despite that, the Chinese still perfected stealth technology long before anyone else. A shame it was their only advantage.

A Coalition soldier planted a breaching charge on the outer airlock door, and the Knights inside the doomed vessel readied their weapons. The hangar door closed, and gravity returned fully. The charge detonated and the Knights fired blindly at the door in an attempt to save their leader. Another spherical device popped in. Only this one emitted a blinding light and a deafening boom. The Knights had sensory overwhelm protection built into their helmets (at least those that were wearing them) and mowed down a good few of the invading soldiers. Derek and Martin however were on the floor, still trying to regain their senses and cover themselves from the airlock. Only the airlock shouldn’t be what they worried about. The deafening flash from the grenade still rang through their ears, effectively muting the drilling of the window pane behind them. Under the cover of gunfire and an incapacitated Coves, Northern Coalition forces drilled a horizontal slit across the side window. Tall enough to fit the barrel of a rifle into. Three soldiers stuck their guns in and fired upon the distracted Knights from behind, where their armour was weakest. Jeyne fell first, then Alexis, then the rest.

Martin, still cowering on the ground with Derek started to regain his vision. Soldiers marched in right in front of them. Then suddenly from the right, the cabin door opened and yet another muzzle flash tore through the air. A single loud gunshot. It was the captain. He only managed to fire off a single shell before more NorthCo soldiers came in and replied to his threats. The Co-Pilot surrendered and the soldiers dragged him out, along with the two VIPs.

Martin looked up at his captors, then at a familiar face in the distance. Admiral Yen Cheng, and his son, Max Cheng, the captain of the Symphony. The admiral looked pleased and furious at the same time.

“You were nothing but a warrant officer when I came into the force” said the Admiral. He had a closely cut head of grey hair, dark, worn eyes and the battle hardened stance of a war veteran. Two times for him in particular.

“You mean when the force took you in, when I took you in” replied Coves resentfully. Cheng replied with nothing but a stern stare. Martin continued “Your capture of me will be short lived. This uprising within our ranks will not go unanswered for. Traitors. All of you! We brought you up to here! I brought you to where you are today! This ‘victory’ of yours ends now. You attacked too close to our base. Now prepare to face the entirety of the Geisen Military.” Martin panted, but the Admiral knew he was right. A thousand ships would soon be upon them, and that’s just the first wave.

23

Ignition

Symphony, Solar System

“Shields!” ordered Cheng. “Prepare to fire engines for the Icarus. Use whatever firepower you can to hold off the fleet. We leave now.” Martin could see Cheng’s dead seriousness even striking into his son. Max ran for the bridge in a hurry.

“That’s where we were going anyway, Cheng. You progress nowhere with this!” yelled the captive CEO.

Yen looked back at Coves, replying “Only this way he won’t be a prisoner there. Besides, they want him safe.”

“They?! I thought you were working with Orbi-Sec, not FOR them! Ha! Yet again you cowards kneel before the higher power! Martin tempted Cheng’s fury too much. The old but able Admiral took one of his soldier’s rifle’s and slammed the stock across Coves’ face with one swift strike. Martin fell to the ground, unconscious.

“I’ve heard too much filth from you” muttered Cheng at the man on the floor. He turned to Derek. “So you’re the VIP. You don’t look very important. And yet Coves would sooner see a thousand ships fall to oblivion in pursuit of you than to lose hold of you. I’ve known that man for the greater half of my life and now I know whatever is on the Icarus is worth uncovering.”

Derek looked up at the man. He would not be considered tall but the respect he commands showed that it more than made up for it. “Tom, Amanda, they’re still being held-”

“Don’t worry. We have a plan for them. Once we lure the majority of their fleet after us, which they will send, we will assault the Geisen base. My men know its workings, its intricacies. Your friends will be safe. Coves and his men wanted only one thing, to get you onto the Icarus and destroy the evidence after forcing you to open the safe room.The one thing I am concerned about is that volatile Operations Commander, Wyatt Nathanial. Thanks to his impulsivity, he’ll send his fastest ships onto us as well as most of the fleet. This is also why the most critical part of this mission is this getaway right now. The temporary commander of Orbi-Sec is Janet Arkin; she leads the hundred ships en route to Geisen. Chorus will divert and strike once the USOC fleet is after us.”

“So it’s just Symphony that will be flying to the Icarus?”

“Trust me. It is more than enough” finished the Admiral. The ship shook into motion and shifted forward. It seemed to pick speed up quick. “I had this ship in particular outfitted with the latest interceptor engine and afterburner units as well as Heavy Railgun Cannons mounted to the back. Any speeder that can catch up to us will be obliterated. Come, let’s get you into a seat.” The admiral held out his hand and helped Derek up. He led him down the main corridor and the army of NorthCo soldiers followed. “Destroyers such as these aren’t much in terms of accommodation, but I’m sure you’ll settle here just fine for this trip. Our rooms here are mostly filled since we had to cramp all our forces into two warships. It may be a big vessel, but we are a big army. Soon to be the biggest in the galaxy.” Cheng lead Derek to the barracks. They took up many hallways and probably across many more floors. “Here. 17A has yet to be filled. Last three bunks near the corner. There are rations of food and water in the tray as well as a rifle and sidearm in the footlocker. I trust you know how to shoot?”

Derek nodded. “Marcus.”

“I’ve heard about that gun nut. They told me he bred monkeys for war.”

Derek stepped into the chamber. “Oh yeah? How’d that turn out?”

“They slaughtered each other.” The Admiral turned and left with his company of soldiers. “Enjoy your stay.”

24

Pursuit

Symphony, Solar System

Admiral Cheng was right. A loud rumble shook the outer hull. Derek could still feel it resonate through the walls. They were being chased, and shot at. More shots rang through. Lighter ones, but not without impact. Shouting and orders came from the halls. There was no chaos however. Just orderly marching. A closer boom rang out and shook the ship with slight forward thrust. Must be the Railgun firing. More of the same followed, and Derek could do nothing but wait. This was still better compared to being out in open battle.

Derek walked over to the almost miniature window. Chorus hovered opposite them, similarly discharging its heavy weapons. Light cannons boomed from the side. Must be more or less an accurate representation of what the Symphony must be doing. The twin destroyers were relatively equal in size but had slightly different weapons and abilities made to match their purpose. Chorus was fitted with dozens of light automatic cannons and an oversized afterburner while symphony had bigger guns but weaker boosters. Search and destroy. The pair seemed to be made for this exact job. And at this moment, the latter of the purposes were being used extensively.

More shots rang through the hull. Derek wanted to see what was going on behind them. Peering through the edge of the window, he saw bright but short lived flashes. These were the explosions of the ships behind. Light chasers in pursuit of a goliath. Flak dinked the hull and a steady line of ballistic fire made shallow dents outside. Derek couldn’t see the enemy well, but he had a full and detailed view of the Chorus. Two heavy automatic target and track cannons moved and fired accordingly. The Symphony probably has four of those.

Outside the door, soldiers marched rapidly and into formation. They carried an assortment of weaponry, now better suited for their specialty. Those that ran towards the bow carried the multitude of guns and explosives while those that ran towards the stern had heavy launchers, specialised plasma and laser technology. Stuff that takes the most out of scientists.

Two guards were situated outside the door, and between them walked an officer dressed in white. “Derek Ragston, I’m Vice Admiral Faye Yeylun. Admiral Chang sent me to personally guard you…” She spoke without energy, the only life in her voice being one of irritation. She was young to be her rank. Early thirties. Derek was just getting used to that fact that everyone else was better than him until he was actually considered important. And even when he became important, everyone else still made him feel small. They controlled him. He was everyone’s puppet. Derek knew that, but then again, he didn’t know much else. Acting on someone else’s orders is better than acting on an uneducated one, one of instinct. A glint of jealousy appeared in his otherwise blank expression.

“You good? Grab your gear and let’s go” said the impatient Vice Admiral. Derek walked over to her, shaking off his trance of coming to terms with himself and his situation. Which, in any case was still damn absurd.

“Yeah, yeah…” replied Derek as he moved towards the footlocker. The latch unlocked with a heavy clink. There was no dust to be seen here at all. It might even sparkle in the sunlight. Enclosed the stainless steel box was a rifle and a handgun. In particular, an ANS Pulse Rifle and a Fourth Generation Falk 19 Semi-Automatic Handgun. Derek became familiar with guns like these back in the armoury of the Orbi-Sec base back on Earth. It must have been sacked and destroyed by now. He trained with the Falk before. And he was damn good with it. The same can’t be said for the pulse rifle but Derek liked trying new things. Derek grabbed the dark coloured vest sitting under the guns. It felt like some sort of hardened plastic and was smooth to the touch, the front and back panels were rigid and were attached to the shoulder pads surrounding the neck hole. He put it on and adjusted the straps. An ammo belt was also present. He swung it over his hip and fastened it.

“Leave the leg armour. There’s plenty of it at the bridge.” Derek nodded and stuffed his belt with Pulse Clips and Handgun Magazines. He holstered the handgun and slung the rifle over his shoulder. In this very moment, he felt just that little bit more powerful. That little bit more badass.

25

Fleet

Symphony, Solar System

Derek followed the Vice Admiral out the door. They turned left and faced a corridor of elevators. Yeylun pressed a button to their immediate left and the doors opened instantly. Above the steel frame was a sign, lettered in bold “Private” The fingerprint scanning button was a nice touch. The two stepped inside and the doors closed. As soon as they shut, the elevator whirred into motion. Sudden but smooth, and fast. Very fast.

The doors opened without a sound within seconds and there they were. At the bridge. They walked out and turned right. There, Derek saw the full view of the most breathtaking deck. It wasn’t so much the view outside, but the sheer scale of everything on the bridge. Rows and rows of consoles and computers, with their respective technicians and operators. The construction was all dark, smooth and grey. Repetitive, but nonetheless efficient. The pilots, captains and high ranking crew were stationed near the front. Indistinctive chatter came from all across the bridge. The view outside was seen through nine wide panels in a 3×3 formation.

“You like it?” asked the Admiral as he walked up to him. “Only the middle row is of glass. The rest? Screens. Live feed from the lens outside. Maximum protection.” Admiral Cheng seemed a bit less intense at this moment. It was noticeable.

“This place… its indescribable” commented Derek.

“I know. It’s the only place I feel at peace. The closest thing I have to a home.”

The Vice Admiral interrupted “that’s saying something, isn’t it?” Cheng made a face that almost resembled a smile before turning back to his station, gesturing Derek to come with.

“We’re going to be making the jump to hyperspeed soon. Our afterburners are ready to fire. We just need to make sure all the pursuit vessels in their fleet are destroyed. The ship’s cannons and my men are out there right now taking them out. It doesn’t matter how many of the other ships catch up to us. Most aren’t capable of speeds like ours. Certain vessels like the pursuit ships, destroyers and flagships may have similar functions but we got our best engineers on ours. They won’t be catching us.” Cheng walked over to his station. Three monitors were on his console. Each displaying what was probably vital information. He brought up a radar, showing what looked to be fifty enemy ships surrounding the Symphony. Derek looked up and indeed, out the window were USOC ships attacking the front. “Don’t worry. That pathetic light fire of theirs can’t pierce our hull.”

Derek looked back down at the display. A trail of red was behind the dot of white. Another white dot stood parallel to theirs. The Chorus, only not many red dots plagued that ship. They know which one Derek’s on.

A Captain stood and called to the Admiral “commencing afterburners in one minute!” Cheng nodded then turned back to his displays. After pressing a few keys, all the screens changed to black. But Derek soon realised that this wasn’t the cold blackness of turning a monitor off, but that of space. The stars came into view and there, Derek saw what seemed to be the outside of the ship.

“Those are helmet cam feeds of the demolition soldiers we sent out. They’re just finishing their job. The leftmost screen showed a shaky image of about a dozen soldiers retreating back into their airlocks while the centre monitor showed that all too familiar first person view of some soldier holding an overly big weapon.

Yeylun commented “Staff Sergeant… Blane here is holding one of our new additions. The XN-33 MSAM. Pure anti-aircraft plasma weaponry. I’ve been training to hold one of those properly and lemme tell you, it’s not the weight you gotta worry about in space. Models like this can leave plasma discharge. We’ve had dozens of burns in EVA suits because of this, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t blow the shit out of a fighter craft.”

Derek turned strangely to the Vice Admiral. It seems like her place is on the bridge too. Or with weapons.

The third screen’s entertainment was the soldier looking down at his wrist. A timer showed on the display. 18 Seconds.

“My men know that in situations like these, deadlines have to be met. We leave with or without them. One life is not worth that of a fleet.

Derek watched as the third man climbed the ladder down into the airlock and the hatch closed. He had just enough time to unhook his tether before the final countdown initiated. 3… 2… 1…

Derek felt the ship move noticeable faster, but at a smooth acceleration. He saw the fleet in pursuit inching further and further away except for a handful that were getting closer and closer. The rest of the pursuit vessels. “we shouldn’t be wasting ammunition at this point. At this speed we found that the mines are more effective…”

Admiral Cheng could not be more right. The screens changed and showed camera feeds from the rear of the ship. “Oh I love this part” commented the Vice Admiral as she cozied up between them. Derek watched as a black spherical device was ‘shot’ out. It gave off a faint glint of red light before fading into the distance. A massive explosion occurred in the following second, and more spheres followed as well as more explosions.

“The mines use a proximity detection and prediction system. It allows them to detonate at the exact moment.” Admiral Cheng seemed really into this as well. Perhaps everyone on the Symphony is a gun nut. More explosions occurred and the numbers of the pursuing ships dwindled as they faded out of view into the black. The Symphony was gaining speed massively. And for a split second the bridge was silent. Then the crew started to cheer and congratulate, in a contained manner. “This is a small victory for us Derek. We’ll be at the Icarus soon. And whatever’s behind that door will make both of our lives better.”

Derek didn’t know why, but Cheng’s statement made him feel just that little bit uneasy. But he thought to himself “I have no time to question. This is the way.”

Cheng continued “Now there is little in our path. Once we arrive at the Icarus, there is no doubt USOC will catch up too. They’ll be there soon enough, along with an old friend of mine. That hot-headed fucking Wyatt. Under his command, Geisen will be ours to take, but him and his flagship will assault us here.

“His Flagship?”

“The Matador. The second largest ship USOC has ever commissioned. Larger than the Chorus and Symphony combined along with all that firepower. Second only to Coves’ ‘Reckoning’, which thankfully won’t be in use.” This didn’t make Derek feel any easier.

26

Arrival

Symphony, Near Uranus, Solar System

Hours pass at breakneck speed, and yet the stars never seem to move. Uranus becomes a living giant as it fills up the window panes. In the distance, a miniature collection of grey dots comes into view. “You see those dots, Derek?” asked the Admiral. “That’s the USOC Ship Graveyard, where they keep the skeletons of the ships they’ve salvaged. We should be thankful they didn’t just slingshot your father’s ship into the sun. We’re expecting resistance.”

Admiral Cheng patted Derek on the shoulder before moving to the centre of the room. “Start targeting all the USOC personnel you see as they come into view, as well as all active ships they control. Avoid damage to the Icarus.”

The crew moved about quickly and soon on the nine displays, holographic crosshairs appeared. Tiny red markers, tracking targets hundreds of miles away. The Symphony advanced, inching closer into the gaunt green gaze of the gas giant. Despite being far from its pull, the ship graveyard just seems to be swallowed by the sheer mass of the planet.

“Our long range cannons have targeted and are tracking one-hundred and seven USOC personnel” shouted one of the captains. He continued “So far they can be eliminated in forty seconds with our current weaponry. I am seeing two active ships with light weaponry. Our railguns can take care of those.”

Admiral Cheng nodded, effectively giving the order to fire. The ship seemed to vibrate more than usual as the weapons were unleashed. The Symphony drew closer to the under attack graveyard. There were quick flashes of bright yellow in the distance as Cheng’s ship closed the gap. “Slow it down” he ordered as elements of the graveyard popped more and more into view. Shards of debris and EVA suits started to fly at the ship, and then there was the blood. The blood of one hundred and seven people. It floated as orbs towards the screen, but disappeared as soon as it got close.

“The glass panels and much of our bow has a shield in front of it. It ‘disintegrates’ light flak, and of course liquids. Admiral Cheng was unfazed by the sheer destruction, if anything he was happy about it.

A body with a massive hole right through its torso loomed towards the glass. Before it could collide, it burst into flame and not even ashes were left in its wake. More bodies followed, blood staining the inside of their helmets completely red. All of them were effectively cremated by the shield. Yeylun smirked “keeps the cleaning bill low” beside a petrified Derek.

“We have arrived!” announced the Admiral. “We planned for this, men. Now let’s get our men out there and secure this place!”

“Aye, Sir!” yelled various members of the crew before they scattered and started to command. The Symphony slowed down to a snail’s pace in front of the once familiar derelict ship. The Icarus. It stood still around half a mile away, surrounded by other destroyed wrecks. Many of which had a faded Orbi-Sec logo on it.

“Wyatt’s fleet will be here soon. Let’s get a move on” ordered the Admiral. He then turned to the captains. “Remember what we planned. As soon as our men are deployed, turn this ship around and give them hell!”

“Aye, Sir!” they once again shouted. Admiral Cheng and his company moved out. “We’ll take the airlock on this level. Let’s go. He and the Vice Admiral led Derek back to the elevators, only this time walking past them, towards the back. Sure enough, there were many airlocks around the side.

The Admiral put his hand on Yeylun’s shoulder. “You’re in charge now.” And she nodded. “Alright Derek, you know how to put on an EVA Suit, right?” Derek nodded while the Vice Admiral walked back to the bridge. “Good. Do it quick. My men are waiting outside.” Derek caught a glimpse outside the port windows. Sure enough, he saw at least twenty NorthCo soldiers armed and ready.

27

Insertion

Symphony, USOC Ship Graveyard, Solar System

The air flew outside in an instant as the hatch was opened. Derek in his EVA Suit slowly stepped out. Several white lights shone from his suit which bore the once intimidating red and white insignia. Admiral Cheng floated outside along with Derek into the company of NorthCo soldiers. For a second there, Derek thought they were going to form a Phalanx shield around him. Admiral Cheng grabbed Derek’s wrist and pointed at his glove, speaking “the thruster buttons are on your index finger” through the helmet radio. Derek looked down at his glove. Several techy looking buttons and function seemed to be built into the glove. A red button with ‘THRUSTER’ labelled underneath it was positioned on the right side of his index finger. He looked up and the soldiers started boosting away. The Admiral nodded and followed them. Derek pressed the button with his thumb and off he went. Upwards.

“You got to face flat, towards the Icarus” said the Admiral. “The thrusters thrust downwards.” Derek nodded as his helmet filled with the moisture of his breath. He pressed the button once again and caught up to the Admiral in no time. Thrusting forward, he tilted his head upwards to see the old wreck of a ship looming ahead of him. It looked completely different. A once shining angel in the skies reduced to the smoulder of debris he saw. The image he once had of the Icarus was probably overly exaggerated, and now he got to see the fabled ship at its lowest.

As Derek and his escort closed the gap to the ship, he realised that it was not as big as he once thought it was. The 25th century ship was barely the size of the Symphony. It may not have the polish it did decades ago but at the time it seemed bigger than Earth. The Icarus was about as long as the Symphony but fell short in terms of height.

“We’re almost there, Derek. That door is waiting for you. No more worry about triggering failsafes, traps or bombs. The last thing your father would hurt is you.” The Admiral’s squad caught up with the rest of the men. Half a thousand soldiers floated around the Icarus in squads. There was more gunfire. Told not to target the Icarus, NorthCo soldiers had to finish USOC soldiers guarding the ship at close range with their rifles. Five hundred NorthCo soldiers overwhelmed the security detail effortlessly and a path was soon cleared. Admiral Cheng and his men inserted into the ship through a large hole in the hull. The Icarus was still gigantic. And when Derek finally peered inside, he saw nothing but blacks and greys replacing what used to be white and silver. Dust and debris floated aimlessly around.

“Try not to cut yourself. These suits aren’t cheap” said the Admiral, looking around. “The room should be at the centre of the bridge.”

“Admiral” asked Derek “What do you know of the traitor? Back with Orbi-Sec, Carter told me of a man who tipped off USOC about my father’s location before the… incident.”

The Admiral paused and looked back at Derek. “You don’t know yet? I would have thought they told you already. It’s the same man that’s coming for us right now. It was that bastard Wyatt. He used to be a lieutenant there by your father’s side. But I suppose USOC had a better offer for him. He’s the worst of the worst. The dirtiest scum there is, but he’s a dangerously strong fighter and an even better commander. Which is why we need to hurry.” Derek stopped to catch his breath, and then he felt a hint of anger burn inside him. Wyatt wronged him, and his father. But it was out of his control.

Cheng’s wrist display flashed. He pressed it and started talking, presumably with another commander. “Good. Tell your men to push forward. Clean that base out. Okay. Godspeed, Commander.” The Admiral turned back to face Derek. “That was Commander Arkin. She and her one hundred ships, with the help of Chorus have destroyed Geisen’s defences and are now boarding it. Our ships have surrounded their precious base and it’ll soon be ours. With Geisen down, it’ll only be their headquarters on each planet we have to worry about. None of them come close to Geisen’s defences, except for Earths’ and perhaps Mars’. This is a stroke of luck, Derek. For once, everything is going our way.” Derek didn’t seem as ecstatic.

They carried on throughout the ruined carcass of the ship, floating past kitchens, barracks and the all too familiar lounge area. NorthCo soldiers took point ahead, eliminating any threats around them. “There it is, Derek” commented the Admiral as he looked up at a steel sign. ‘PRIVATE SAFE ROOM

28

The Room

Icarus, USOC Ship Graveyard, Solar System

Ice covered the heavy steel doorway. “My men will have this melted in no time” said the Admiral. “We’ll restore localised power to this area with a generator. NorthCo soldiers surrounded Derek and the Admiral, forming a circle of protection. The men got to work on the ice with complex plasma torches while an engineer set up a heat cube; a device that generates and regulates the temperature for a small area.

“You’re going to be thankful it is there when you open the door. I’m sorry but I’m afraid for this next part, you’ll have to take off one of your EVA Suit’s gloves. It will be cold, and it’s going to feel bad, but we have pressure regulators set up around here. They don’t have a long range but you don’t need to go far.” Derek nodded numbly at Admiral Cheng’s words.

Liquid droplets floated back and hit Derek’s helmet. The ice was melting away easily at the hands of the torch. The generator was set up to the right of the door and the engineer was playing around with the wires beneath the floor panels. Suddenly, the door’s display and scanner lit up, followed by all the lights and electronics in a ten metre radius.

Admiral Cheng’s wristpad blinked again. He answered the call but this time, it wasn’t good news. “Do everything you can” he replied before ending the call. Turning towards Derek yet again, he said “Wyatt has found us. The Matador has been spotted travelling towards us. Our time runs short. I’ll help you with the glove.” Derek nodded subtly as Cheng pressed the glove release and unscrewed it. Derek felt the cold immediately on his fingers. “Go to the scanner. Now.” Derek hurried to it. The device was rather self-explanatory. A shallow groove was carved out into the panel in the shape of a hand. Derek placed his there. He felt a prick in his index finger as he saw the display light up with details of his identity, DNA and heart rate. He saw his name appear on the display then suddenly, a light flashed in front of his eye. It scanned his head top to bottom within a fraction of a second. Derek felt like he’d just stared at the sun. The display lit up yet again, only this time with the single word ‘APPROVED’. And for the first time since meeting him, Derek saw Admiral Cheng smile. Truly smile. He laughed “that is it! The hard part is over now, Derek” he said as he put Derek’s glove back on. “Now the room only expects one of us to go in, it only expects you to go in. If we do, which it will find out, I don’t know what will happen.” He pointed into the unlocked room. “You see that grey trunk at the back? Bring that out along with anything of interest you find.” Cheng’s smile wasn’t fading, but the opposite expression started to arise on Derek’s face. But he had come this far. And he didn’t want to disappoint. Derek entered the modestly lit room. Various photos of him and his father were framed on shelves on either side. One particular photo stuck out to him. One of him with his father and presumably his mother. Out in a forest somewhere, having a picnic. That was a long time ago, but the photos were worth keeping. Derek took a few of them from their frames and slotted them into his suit’s pockets. Small wooden desks sat at either side of the small room, attached to the wall most likely. He opened the drawers and found various documents. If anything was supposed to prove his father’s innocence, this would be it. So then what was in the trunk? Regardless, Derek grabbed hold of it and pulled it out with him.

Cheng’s satisfied smile seemed to become increasingly evil by the second but Derek didn’t care. He just wanted this to be over. This whole ordeal was beyond what he thought he was capable of and he couldn’t take it. Derek pushed the trunk to Cheng. He didn’t know how much it weighed, but he could assume it wasn’t photos and documents. All those were already in his pockets.

“Cheng” he spoke through the radio. The Admiral looked up at Derek. “Whatever’s in that trunk won’t clear my father’s name, will it?” The Admiral looked back with a solemn face.

“No, it won’t” he replied. “I am sorry for misleading you, but I hope you have found closure with whatever else was in that room.”

“So what’s in the box then? You at least owe to know that.”

“In the box are plans, instructions and a journal of your father’s lightning bomb. The one he struck Earth with. A nuclear weapon small enough to be undetected by Anti-Aircraft lasers, and fast enough to evade everything else. Whoever holds the recipe will be the dominant military force. Wyatt brought it all down, and he will try to do so again soon. I am truly sorry, Derek, but a device with a speed of potentially Mach 40,000 is truly remarkable. I am assuming much of the contents of the box will revolve around the rail mechanism used to launch the bomb, rather than the device itself. The one on this ship was unfortunately destroyed. By your father, when he found out USOC was closing in. I’m afraid we don’t have much time. We need to leave before Wyatt reaches us.” Derek looked out through the sockets of what used to be windows and saw a multitude of bright flashes in the distance. Cheng was looking as well. “The Matador has reached us. The bull fights the bear. We need to move.” Derek couldn’t argue with that. The Admiral handed the container to two of his men before making his way back out where they came.

Using their thrusters, Derek, The Admiral and his men reached halfway to the exit before projectiles rained in through the weakened hull. The soldiers took point at the window holes and returned fire while Derek struggled with his ANS Pulse Rifle. The Admiral pulled out his QNZ-989, the pinnacle of Chinese handgun engineering. It looked like a revolver out of an action movie. But despite that, it didn’t look like they were doing so well in terms of the battle.

The Symphony lit up, and a bright light, brighter than anything Derek had ever seen pulsed in the distance, like a miniature sun. The destroyer blew apart in a bright flash and in its wake stood the Matador. Derek saw that they were doomed as soon as the light died down. The Matador was far away still, and Derek was more worried about the incoming debris, flung out by the explosion of a nuclear reactor. Millions of shards of steel and hardened alloys were being hurled straight at the Icarus. Thousands of people just lost their lives, and more will follow.

A twenty metre bar tore through the deck below them, leaving the floor with a wide and nasty gash. Derek wasn’t sure how he was going to get out of this one. NorthCo soldiers were being picked off one by one, and the Icarus was being torn to shreds by the ruins of an allied ship.

29

Pincer

Icarus, USOC Ship Graveyard, Solar System

An army of USOC forces were lined up outside. Floating and firing. The Symphony was in a billion pieces, all crew and soldiers there dead. That meant so was Martin Coves. Went down with one of his own ships. Plasma cartridges dented the hull of the Icarus, with many other shots decorating the walls. The USOC forces started to move in. Admiral Cheng shot frantically with a panicked look. His own forces were dwindling nonstop. USOC forces thrusted through where they came in while another team breached through to the right of them. They surrounded Derek and co. from both sides.

Derek finally got his rifle working and fired off a dozen shots into the invading attackers from the right. This EVA suit of his had no enhanced shielding and so a well-aimed bullet could end it for him, right then and there. He kept firing off at the soldiers. Those that were outside the window were the least of his worries. Suddenly, an image flashed into his mind, flashes of the battle he first saw on the Icarus. The same invading force, but under a different time and a different command. He remembered the chaos and the firefight that ensued, and the peace he found in the escape pod.

“Cheng!” he shouted. “We need to get to the escape pods! We cannot hold them off here!” The Admiral nodded swiftly and gestured for his men to follow.

“You lead! Let’s go!” commanded the Admiral. Surely USOC would have no regard for Derek’s life now that the container was out and about. The NorthCo soldiers dwindled down to just over a dozen men. And they were still getting constantly shot down. Derek boosted over to the elevator shaft and filled the doors with plasma bolts. The steel started to melt away, and Derek slipped through, hovering down. “We could have blown the doors!” said the Admiral, but Derek knew their time was limited. The Admiral and his company of surviving soldiers followed him down the shaft. Derek didn’t remember much, but the soldier housing deck with all the barracks would have had the most unused pods, seeing as how all the soldiers were busy dying to the USOC forces. History seems to repeat itself. Derek and the Admiral boosted out the shaft, into the new deck. It looked indifferent to the one above, retaining that same depressing colour palette.

The last NorthCo soldier through the shaft yelled out “they’re right on our tail!” as soon as orange spherical devices started to float down.

“Get down!” yelled the Admiral as the elevator shaft lit up in a ball of flame. The fire died as soon as it came, but by then it had already disintegrated two of the NorthCo soldiers and left the shaft with a gaping spherical hole still glowing orange.

“Corporal Higgins” ordered the Admiral “leave a surprise for them”

“Yes, sir!” the soldier replied as he went back to presumably set charges, or mines in anticipation of USOC’s speedy arrival.

Derek boosted through to the back of the deck, and sure enough there was a full row of escape pods. More than enough to evacuate the entirety of Derek and the Admiral’s remaining soldiers. They hurried over to the back. All nine of them. An explosion occurred not far behind them, it shook the ship. USOC were coming. The Admiral boosted over to the control panels and gestured for an engineer. “Power these up. Quickly.” Derek however, pressed down on the control panel and it lit up immediately.

“All pods are individually powered by stored solar energy as well as associated control objects” muttered Derek.

“Alright then” said the Admiral “let’s get out of here!”

The men took point, allowing Derek, the Admiral and the trunk to go in first. “You’ll have to load that box in separately!” ordered the Admiral. “It’s too big.” Just as he said that, USOC soldiers dropped into view and fired upon them. NorthCo defenders returned fire, picking off a good couple from cover. Footlockers and steel desks provided good cover from the fire, but it wouldn’t hold for long, not against the overwhelming USOC forces. “Keep shooting!” yelled the Admiral. “Or we lose everything!” Cheng proved to be a coward in the end, hitting release on his pod. It detached from its socket and started to boost away from the ship. Over the radio, he ordered “now launch the trunk and get out of there!” The NorthCo soldiers, in doing so were cut down reaching for the manual launch lever. All but two now survived. Derek didn’t care about that. He pushed his pod’s release button, and yet nothing happened. From the safety of his pod, he hammered at it. It was stuck.

Shot to pieces, the remaining NorthCo soldiers still tried to carry on. The last man standing fell on the lever with his dying breath, launching the box into space.

“No!” cried a voice from the back of the USOC army. Operations Commander Wyatt Nathaniel stepped out in front, along with four USOC Knights. Blood covered him like a cloak. His helmet was stained to the point of having his eyes barely visible underneath. Wyatt stepped up in front of the trapped Derek. He sighed but didn’t seem too frustrated. “No matter. Your friend and my box have nowhere to hide. And you will die with them.” Wyatt raised his rifle to the glass of Derek’s pod.

“Wait” said Derek. “First tell me why you betrayed my father.” Wyatt smirked, and looked down. “Everything you’ve heard is true” he replied. “USOC offered me well. Offered me better. I never cared much for your father anyway. I mean he did kill mine, but then again, who was he to remember each and every face he wiped off the face of the earth with every robbery, every heist, each act of arson and genocide. I’d feel no different killing him a thousand times over. And the same goes for you.” Wyatt raised his rifle back up, back to the glass and fired. It shattered the pod’s window right open and pierced right into Derek’s EVA helmet. But it didn’t hit him. And he was left with a hole in his helm, draining all the air out. He quickly put a hand over the hole but as soon as he did, Wyatt pulled the manual release for his pod.

Derek’s pod detached and went boosting away. Gasping for air, and holding on for dear life, Derek’s helmet comms came back to life. “Derek!” shouted Admiral Cheng through the earpiece, although he couldn’t see at all where the Admiral was. “They’ve found us! Orbi-Sec! They’ve stolen Coves’ Flagship and are picking us up! Just hold on a few more minutes!”

Further cracks started to develop in Derek’s helmet. The facepiece started to fall apart. Small chips of glass flew out into space, and Derek couldn’t block the gaps enough. The holographic display started to flicker, with the oxygen counter lowing drastically every second. A light shone in the distance while the Admiral’s voice crackled on. Derek gasped more, and started to feel a slight fizzing sensation…

30

Endgame

Reckoning, USOC Ship Graveyard, Solar System

“Derek! You made it!” laughed the Admiral. Bright lights and an overwhelming headache blinded his senses, but Derek tried to sit up. A room started to come into view. It was all white, with hints of gold. A silhouette stood in front of him. Cheng. “You’re safe. Orbi-Sec and my men control this ship now, and I must say it is the best ship I have ever stolen!” He laughed more as he continued. “The trunk is safe. The plans are safe and soon so will be the universe. We have control of the single greatest weapon of the 25th century. All the uncooperative nations can face the lightning!”

Derek, with his hand still caressing his headache and potential trauma, tried to look back up. Admiral Cheng faded into view. He looked unscathed. Although the same probably couldn’t be said for his EVA suit, wherever it was. He continued “you have helped us greatly. I am willing to offer you a ranking position in our military, although I can understand if you want to leave all of this behind. Either way, I can guarantee you a life unlike any other.”

Derek’s sight started to return to him. He looked around, seeing gold painted walls, floors and furniture, much like the Lullaby. He was sitting on a platform, a large semicircle shaped device sat to the left of him. “That would be the automatic medical procedure station. AMPS, they call them. We only have four back on the Symphony. I don’t even know how many Coves had installed on this ship. We found you floating around and brought you back.”

Starting to stand, Derek inquired “if this could heal me, then-”

“I’m sorry, but it would be far too late for your friends. The fallen men and women of both Orbi-Sec and the Northern Coalition died noble deaths, and will be remembered” stated the Admiral. “Regardless, it was an overwhelming victory for us.” Derek didn’t feel so victorious.

“So what happened then? What happens now?” he asked.

The Admiral replied gladly “Now we sit on the Reckoning, Martin Coves’ Flagship. The largest and fastest military vessel ever to be constructed. Although all the gold and polish may be a bit unnecessary. In addition to that, we fired upon the Icarus as soon as you were retrieved and safely on board. I was told that Wyatt showed up there in an attempt to capture the plans. Well I’m glad to say that he and everyone else on board has been completely and utterly destroyed. I am sorry about the Icarus. It lies in pieces, but I am confident we have cut off the heads of USOC. And now with the lightning bomb plans, their bases on Earth and the other colonies will be dealt with swiftly and easily. Their current leadership would fall to General Lax Cross. Strict fellow, but smart. Nonetheless, he will fall too. In chains or in pieces.”

Derek stood up and tried to move. It was slow and difficult. “I just want out. Take me back to Earth, as far as possible from anything USOC, NorthCo or Orbi-Sec. I will take you up on that offer. This is something I’d rather never have to deal with ever again.”

“I understand you perfectly” said the Admiral. I think you deserve a mansion or a villa for your contributions to our cause.”

“Fine” replied Derek, as long as I don’t have to hear about any of this again.

“That I can promise” smiled the Admiral. “We can start preparing right away. And again, I cannot thank you enough for what you have done.” He patted Derek on the back yet again. “I’ll show you to your room on this ship for now while we get things ready.”

“Sure” replied Derek as he followed the Admiral out.

And despite all that he had heard and experienced, he knew that he didn’t make the right choice. There was never a right choice. The time he spent at Geisen made USOC seem like the savoir, the answer to all of the galaxy’s problems, and that he was raised by a pirate, and a mass murderer. NorthCo’s intentions weren’t close to pure either. An end goal of complete USOC elimination and then controlling the galaxy to their liking. At least under USOC’s influence, the galaxy was stable. Derek believed that he was raised by his father, not a pirate, and to believe that, he had to believe in Orbi-Sec, and in turn, NorthCo. It was inevitable that there will be more conflicts to come, but at least this time he can live them out in peace. Mansions were always too big for him. A decent sized house with good security. He could seem to agree with that.

THE END

A note from the writer

I began writing this novel in 2014 when I was 15. It was a small project of mine I wanted to finish. At the time, I knew I was capable at writing by my grades never really reflected that. I aimed for about 30,000 words, but that was unrealistic. Soon I learnt that practicality is more important than a fixed word goal.

I like science fiction. I like guns and space battles, and lately the concept of power, greed and large military forces became ideas I really admired. Directions changed as I wrote this book but in the end, the endgame remains more or less the same. I did aim for an unhappy or bittersweet ending, but the more I wrote, the less appropriate it seemed.

I think I’m done with Orbital for now, but this story is open for a sequel, and if it is demanded enough, I might write it.

I am aware that the plot, characters and dialogue here is a complete mess, but this was never a huge focus for me which is why this novella took over two years to write. Perhaps even close to three. I can’t say for sure. I started off writing the first eight chapters in more or less a close time period. After that, it became incremental, slower, months could pass before I wrote again and by then I would have forgotten everything I had written before. And I was too lazy to read through it so I kept going with whatever knowledge I knew. I also felt that if I read my earlier chapters, the cringe would do much more damage to me than the story, so I kept it at that which (in retrospect) was a bad idea.

The whole midsection (act 2 and parts of act 3) might have been poorly structured with varying tones. The last ten chapters however, I pushed myself to write, close to each other especially. I still worked quickly, with little regard to specific plot details, but in the end I think I managed a product worthy of the internet. Heck, maybe a heavily edited copy might even make it onto shelves one day.

So in the end, I thank you for reading this and (enduring through) my work. Hopefully you enjoyed it. I know I did, writing this story (as much of an effort it sounds). Actually comparatively, I put very little effort into this (compared to actual authors) only with the odd minute of research here and there. So yeah. Thanks.


Orbital

Five hundred years in the future, the government is nothing more than a puppet by Private Military Corporations pulling the strings. Deadly interstellar ships and weapons are readily available. Derek Ragston, the son of a disgraced galactic pirate is forced to unravel the truth behind his ship (The Icarus), his military and goals. Interacting with the remnants of his father's forces, Derek is taken on a journey across the solar system to clear his father's name and learn the secrets of his past. The dominant military force in the solar system, USOC (United Space Order Control) however will stop at nothing to capture Derek and erase the secrets of The Icarus. Pulled into a secret mission to get to the Icarus, Derek is thrown around by the factions while slowly learning his situation.

  • Author: Bill Zhao
  • Published: 2017-02-17 09:35:23
  • Words: 28240
Orbital Orbital