Starlight Century Episode One
Brett P. S.
Copyright © 2016 Brett P. S.
All rights reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Botched Drop Off
“When OTO first made contact with the I’malarians, some small skirmishes did take place, but these quieted quickly. The species possessed powerfully advanced technology, despite the fact that their home world was nearly completely covered in water.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah Adamson, age 27, strode through the bustling crowds of tourists and marginally annoyed commuters that comprised Maiiar station. Maiiar floated noisily above the fourth planet in the Maiiar System, a somewhat habitable world in Gemini Sector. Violent crimes seldom took place in Gemini, but when they did, authorities managed them well enough. Maiiar was a towering titan of titanium, looming overhead in more than a handful of stories, each level of curved architecture containing its own economy. Transit and traffic flew below. Merchants and local sellers set up shop on the bottom stories. The embassies and GU government offices occupied the highest tiers of the station. He watched carefully and noted the expressions on faces he passed. If a disturbance occurred, he’d be the first to know and his head would be the first to roll.
How would one go about looking inconspicuous? He’d have asked the crew earlier if the thought hadn’t sounded ridiculous. Elijah did the best he could in an unfamiliar situation. He held his head high and walked with a sense of urgency but not too urgent. He needed to appear annoyed but not distraught. Damn the GU and its clogged transit routes. There weren’t enough Phantom Drives in Gemini to handle the constant influx of busy merchants, business executives and other commuters in transit. He ran his fingers over his head and slicked back his dirty blonde hair while shortening his stride. Elijah carried himself in a black business suit fitted to his specific dimensions, though he doubted he received anything more than a handed down article. The seams ran too tight, especially in the shoulders. The restrictive fabrics hardly breathed, and they allowed for minimal flexibility. He’d have to deal with it for now, but he’d have a talk with Miss Dubois before long.
“Nothing so far,” he said.
His concealed earpiece noticed his personal voice pattern and switched on communication. The discreet mechanics were virtually undetectable, and anyone who might have noticed would assume him hard of hearing. Many GU citizens donned implants, some detachable, like his earpiece, but Elijah was a Full Blood. He lacked a fundamental quality of connectedness to the networks and web feeds. He couldn’t shoot fast or hack terminals, but being a Full Blood held advantages in this crew, especially for those who specialized in his line of work. Elijah was virtually untraceable in this new technological age, leaving behind little more than his own biology. With the gaps between sectors and the fractured flow of information, incriminating him would require more resources than most divisions of the Galactic Union cared to muster. As a point man, he served his purpose with healthy anonymity. Even more, however, was the fact that his faculties were completely non-hackable, harmoniously functioning pieces of machinery, which made him far more valuable than a cyborg in the right situation.
“Keep your eyes open,” Miss Dubois said. “Your target will set down his briefcase near the south-east rest station. You remember the protocol?”
“You know I do. Rest easy.”
“Don’t get cocky,” she replied sternly. “This isn’t about you or our crew. This is bigger than all of us.”
Elijah gritted his teeth and kept his forward heading. Easy for her to say. She had to deal with the repercussions directly if things ever flew south. Concern for the greater good wasn’t exactly in his job description, despite attempts to encourage the mindset from Miss Dubois and the vast majority of the crew. The rest area loomed a short distance away, but unwanted traffic obstructed his view. A thought poked in the rear of his brain. Someone might up and walk away with the man’s discarded luggage, and that would earn him more than a ringing feeling in his ears for the next week. Elijah made a judgment call and pushed through the crowd. It wouldn’t make much of a difference at this point, or at least he told himself as much.
“Elijah, your heart rate is increasing. What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I’m just picking up the pace.”
“Slow down. There’s no rush. Don’t screw this up!”
“There’s no point,” Elijah said. “I’m almost …”
Elijah froze in mid step at the sight of a misty form rolling past him. He felt the accelerated particles of a once physical body brush up against his shoulders. The figure strode past him faster than he could blink, but it was definitely one of them. Elijah paused and kept walking. He didn’t dare turn to see where the figure now loomed. Keep it together, Elijah. He picked up his head and slowed his pace, but even he knew it would do little to fool a Ghost.
“What the hell, Elijah?” Miss Dubois shouted.
“I’m sorry. Got a little flustered.”
“What was it?”
“What do you think?”
“God no …” Miss Dubois said, trailing off.
“I have you in my sights,” Abigail chimed in. “If anything happens, I’ll send a few surprises his way.”
“Bullets don’t work on Ghosts,” Elijah said.
“No, they’re just largely ineffective,” Abigail replied. “Got to hit him when in between Phase Shifts.”
Miss Dubois took back control of the conversation. “We’re not doing something so stupid.”
“Come on. I always wanted to kill a Ghost,” Abigail said.
“Out of the question,” Miss Dubois said. “Elijah, do you have a visual on the drop off?”
His senses perked up. A gentleman in a burgundy suit strode over to the one of the benches and glanced down at the smart wear strapped to his wrist, presumably checking the time. He carried a sizable briefcase in his left hand, which he proceeded to gently lower on the floor, though even then it made a clank as the metal hit the smooth surface.
“I found him.”
Elijah waited for the man to move on, which he did and without his briefcase. Excellent. Casually, he walked toward the leftover package. From this point, he only needed to grab it and calmly walk the three hundred meter distance back to his departure craft, a privately sanctioned vessel in docking bay 12. Elijah smiled as he grabbed hold of the handle and picked up a surprisingly light container. From what little information he managed to gleam during his briefing, Miss Dubois made the contents sound much heavier than they currently appeared. Could he have mistaken his mark? No, the man matched the physical description. This was good enough. Elijah turned and walked away with the package in tow. He didn’t get more than a handful of steps away from the rest area when a hand solidified and gripped down hard on his wrist. Augmented strength crushed down, cutting off circulation and a misty figure jerked him back with a forceful pull.
“Thief, you will surrender your possession.”
Elijah’s face flushed red and millions of synapses fired in his brain to find the best course of action, but against a Ghost, no plan was completely solid.
“Phantom Drives don’t make interstellar travel possible. They make it efficient. While OTO ships were capable of travel between star systems, the process equated to years between worlds. Phantom technology allowed for nearly instantaneous travel between star systems, and it wasn’t long before OTO opted to upgrade their interstellar vessels with Phantom Drives, curtesy of I’malar.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Ghosts, wielders of miniature Phantom Drives. The same devices to proper scale enabled faster than light travel between star systems, but somehow the I’malarians managed to pint-size the sucker. Elijah turned slowly toward his captor, ignoring the pain and pressure cramping down on his right hand, the one with which he grabbed the briefcase. This one was no squid, a bit of a rare occurrence for a Ghost but not unheard of. They allowed humans to drink the nectar of gods from time to time. The Ghost stood high, at least seven feet tall as he hovered about two inches off the ground with a half ethereal body, but the hand felt solid enough.
“I’m sorry,” Elijah said. “I was going to give it to the man who misplaced it.”
A half thought out response if he ever heard one. He focused on tuning out the curses ringing through his earpiece, instead focusing on how he might evade capture. He couldn’t run. Ghosts practically moved supersonic compare to his poultry 30 kilometers per hour. On the other hand, he might lose him in a crowd. No, that wouldn’t work. His foe would go incorporeal to slip between spaces or fly above them altogether. Damn.
“You can let go of me, I’m …”
The Ghost cut him off. “You were headed in the opposite direction. Surrender it now, and I will forget I saw you. I have much to do.”
What was he doing right now? In any other situation, he’d take the offer in a heartbeat. Ghosts practically had free reign across the Core Systems, but this one saw himself too inconvenienced to deal with Elijah? The blackest pits of I’malar had frozen over.
Abigail blasted through his earpiece. “I can do this, Elijah. Duck when I say the word.”
“Dammit,” Miss Dubois cursed. “We can’t lose this drop off. Abigail, this one’s all yours. Elijah, you’re going to have to book it.”
Elijah swallowed the lump in his throat and attempted a serious expression of defiance. He maintained eye contact with a brute. The Ghost refused to let go, gradually losing patience with a common thief.
“You caught me,” he said with a smile. “Might as well hand it over. God knows what could be inside. I’m probably not losing much more than some pressed shirts and fifty odd credits.”
“Drop it,” the Ghost replied, insistently.
“One thing if I might ask, sir,” Elijah said. “What name do you go by? I ask because I’d like to express my deepest apologies to the I’malarian Consulate for inconveniencing one of their own.”
The man cracked a grin, all but unheard of for someone of his standing. Ghosts didn’t smile. They killed for practically no reason, but this one seemed unusually obliging, so he figured he might as well take his chances. If the fight took to his crew, they’d need as much dirt on him as possible, something they could use against him.
“Jaeger Jung,” he said. “Fifth seat in the Ethereal Cauldron.”
Elijah froze as the realization of who he was dealing with washed over him. Jaeger. He didn’t need a network connection to know holding a seat on the I’malarian special task force meant this man was a special human, possibly the most special. Squids all around and somehow, a human managed to barge in there. Elijah found himself both awed and terrified by his current predicament, so much so that he hated the next words that flew past his lips.
“Well, Jaeger, it was nice meeting you, but you should really look both ways before you cross me.”
He nodded at the sound of Abigail’s whistle through his earpiece and took a dive as a sharp bullet whisked through the air and planted a piece of metal deep inside the man’s skull. Jaeger’s grip dissolved as he Phase Shifted, and Elijah took the chance. He hoisted the briefcase over his shoulder and bolted.
“Phantom Drives affect molecules directly, via acceleration on an unprecedented scale prior to contact with I’malar. Applying a strong electrical current to Xarconium creates a reaction in nearby materials, speeding up the molecules. The process gives off an extraordinary amount of energy, similar to a miniature fusion reaction. Combined with a few kilograms of Xarconium, a piece of firewood could power the leap between planets.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah huffed through his mouth and nose as he raced through the crowds, knocking pedestrians flat on their faces, pushing the rest aside. If he didn’t put every ounce of his being into crossing the distance, he’d fail. Hell, the Ghost would catch up regardless of his efforts, but Elijah knew better than to look back. He ran in cold silence, waiting for the being to materialize before him. He spotted some of the Maiiar station patrols taking notice of his hurried pace. Hurried was an understatement, even pushing past lumbering bodies. No time to worry about them. Focus. 250 meters remaining. Even Ghosts couldn’t Phase Shift through physical objects, especially the hull of a spacecraft.
“Good show Elijah,” James said.
“Not … now … James!” Elijah replied, gasping for air.
“Don’t bother speaking. You keep up that bloody good legwork of yours. You might actually survive this encounter at your current pace.”
“Oh, he’s a grouch, but Abigail is showing him some tough love. You have about ten seconds. Care to beat your old record by two?”
Elijah squinted his eyes. 100 meters left maybe. He struggled to push forward, weighed down by the briefcase. Light as it was, it still weighed a couple kilos, which made the relatively short gap of two seconds off his best sprint appear as an incredibly deep divide. There was no way, not for a Full Blood. He’d need some serious cybernetic implants to beat a peak human time, but there really wasn’t any other choice. Elijah stared down the causeway of Maiiar station with blurred tunnel vision and kicked his body into high gear. He’d trained his mind for this sort of thing, focused on dulling the pain surging through his muscles. His insides were ready to burst, but he kept pushing forward. The docking bay carried lighter traffic, as most ships in bay 12 had released their passengers and crew, but not Elijah’s crew. He hoped so at any rate.
“Four seconds boy,” James rattled through his earpiece. “I’m opening the docking hatch now.”
Elijah eyed the ship a dozen or so meters ahead. James had delivered him the courtesy of numbing the station alert systems. The patrols were probably wondering why they couldn’t sound a station wide alarm by pressing a shiny button. James had created a disconnect between the mechanical interface and the subroutines necessary to achieve that end, but even robust hackers like James Chandler couldn’t keep up the divide for long. Maiiar station had similarly skilled hackers working round the clock. At best, James bought him a handful of seconds, though more than enough.
Elijah leapt over a raised garden and bulleted through lush greenery before he planted both feet on the solid flooring adjacent to the Gallant’s Docking Bay Hatch. The path led upward via a set of cycling stairs. Instead of using them in the proper manner, he hoisted himself over the railing and vaulted off through the bay doors. Elijah landed square on his rear against the titanium grated surface of the Gallant’s decontamination chamber. Mists flared around him, gasses set off by his entrance, but they lacked the lustrous glow of particles given off by a Ghost utilizing a Phantom Drive. Elijah glanced upward as the bay hatch closed in front of him and the engines ignited. A sliver of incandescent light peeked through the nearly closed hatch, and he briefly spotted a wisp of silver smoke breach the chamber before the hatch closed completely. He made it. Curses echoed from the outside as GU forces moved to cut off their departure, but he’d done it.
“Nice job, boy,” James said through his earpiece.
“What …” Elijah said, trailing off before he propped himself up against the inner wall of the chamber. “What about Abigail?”
“We’ll pick her up at extraction site B,” Miss Dubois said. “Good work, Elijah. You don’t know the gravity of what you’ve accomplished.”
“The hell I don’t!” Elijah stammered. “I outran a freaking Ghost.”
An awkward silence met his ears as he waited for a smart reply from either Miss Dubois or James, but he found himself waiting longer than he felt comfortable. Elijah knocked on the mechanical door behind him, a gesture to let him out of the tightly boxed prison. He received no such reply, however. The doors remained shut.
“Elijah,” Miss Dubois started. “What your little briefcase holds could render Ghosts obsolete.”
“One of the defining movements of this Century was OTO’s decision to abandon their current FTL technology in exchange for the Phantom Drives generously provided by the I’malarians. I’malar holds a monopoly on Xarconium, the element that makes Phantom Drives possible in the first place. Xarconium manifests only in the deepest oceans of I’malar and the kindly species refuses to allow OTO mining privileges.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah hastily hobbled past a set of sliding doors originally barring the way through to the inner levels of the Gallant. Of the three major compartments, the Bridge loomed overhead through layers of titanium. Below, he caught a whiff of the stench, food supplies and minerals for the trips between sectors. The Gallant wasn’t a particularly large ship and housed a crew of about fifty, but Miss Dubois and her contacts saw fit to arm it well. Comparable to a miniature battle group in terms of firepower and shields, Elijah surmised the Gallant might even survive an encounter with an OTO flotilla, though he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
He peered around the conference room and examined the faces of his fellow mates while the engines hummed in the background noise of piping and exhaust fans. The conference room seemed to have shrunk in size since his last encounter, though it was likely the tension. Miss Dubois hadn’t expected it to come to this. Engaging a Ghost who sat on the Special Task Force … whatever could prompt the executive decision in the first place? Elijah was the crazy one, but Miss Dubois was sweating bullets as she held her posture in a clean vest and suit. She’d groomed her raven hair into a bun, though he could tell she hastily compiled the form.
To Elijah’s right, James stood with a somber expression, his arms and legs crossed as he stood silently. James tapped his expensive shoes and ran his fingers through his white hair. He hadn’t dyed it, as Elijah thought when they first met. James selected the prosthesis when he selected the surgery. Not everyone opted in for net access via his or her own biological neurons. While the outpatient procedure was practically painless and left little scarring, most civilians were fine with their tablets and smart devices, but James took an inch and ran the whole 100-meter dash. One might scarcely call him human at this point. Even Miss Dubois admitted she didn’t know how much of him was cybernetic.
“You’re looking at me again, boy,” James said, eyeing him from higher stature.
Honestly, he could have fabricated his height as well. A simple procedure could add a handful of inches to his shins and thighs, and a good surgeon would seamlessly integrate the piece into a work indistinguishable from God’s own hands.
“Sorry, sir,” Elijah said. He kept his head down.
James was nice enough in idle banter, but he took his ego and wit to the extreme occasionally in the short time he served aboard the Gallant. It didn’t help matters either that he drifted between highs and lows from the cacophony of meds he ingested to treat ailments caused by his plethora of biomedical implants. There was a reason most cyborgs hadn’t gone as far as him. Pain flare-ups and migraines caused by overused or malfunctioning equipment comprised some of the simple issues, a small portion of a long list of complaints a man shouldn’t have until his twilight years.
“Our point man did his job well,” Miss Dubois said. “I wish things hadn’t gone so far, though I suppose I couldn’t realistically expect a gentle stroll through Maiiar Station.”
Miss Dubois sighed and nodded as the doors behind burst open.
“Looks to be I’m late,” Abigail said, striding forward. “Almost had him too.”
“An apology would have sufficed,” Miss Dubois said. “And did you have to bring that apparatus with you?”
Abigail hoisted her signature rifle, a carbine weapon she called Knight, over her shoulder. The wear on the barrel showed in scuffed steel and notches she carved into it for each life she’d taken. Abigail was also a cyborg, though compared to James, she might as well have been a Full Blood. Strength augmentations and firing stabilizers wove around the muscles in her forearms and shoulders. Combined with the training of a former OTO operative, she practically had to try to miss a mark.
“Knight travels with me,” Abigail said. “I should remind you of our contract.”
“I’m regretting said document already,” Miss Dubois said. “Regardless, we have other issues right now we must resolve prior to letting you all go your separate ways. GU forces raised the station to high alert, and we’ll have to lose them in pursuit before I am authorized to drop you off.”
“I don’t get it,” Abigail said. “Why not drum up them Phantom Drives and jump?”
Miss Dubois gently rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t work that way. A thousand Vector traps orbiting Maiiar station activated via digital uplink. If we activate a space fold now, we’ll end up ten thousand kilometers away with charred engines and a busted hull.”
James smiled. “So you’re saying slow and steady is the way to win this race?”
“Yes,” Miss Dubois said. “It’ll take a few minutes to for the GU to organize, but once they do, we’re in for serious trouble. Our shields can’t hold against their salvos for long.”
“Fair enough,” Elijah said. “What do you want us to do?”
“You can’t do anything,” she said, glaring down at him with a stern expression.
She was right though. He’d completed his part and outlived his usefulness for now. Cyborgs such as Abigail and James were far better suited to assisting with turret fire and GU communication disruptions. Elijah glanced down at his hand. The condition of uselessness came around with being a Full Blood, good enough to fill an oddly specific void and discarded shortly afterward. He shrugged his shoulders and nodded.
Plight of the Hunted
“Shortly after contact with I’malar, the Old Terrace Order created a joint government with the I’malarian Consulate (IC), known as the Galactic Union. Suspicions clashed strongly against OTO’s official reasoning for the venture and whether the agreement was mutual or coerced.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Charlotte Dubois, Field Commander of the SBG Gallant and liaison between the Starlight Brigade and OTO’s own Logan MacConnell. The SBG was a guerilla organization secretly backed by a handful of OTO officers, MacConnell holding the largest financial contribution by far. The man accrued his due share of wealth and he, the same as many other centralists within the Old Terrace Order, ill obliged the idea of economic dependence on I’malar. Charlotte agreed with the notion, a probable reason as to how she ended up commanding her current vessel, adrift in starlight as the Gallant flew past Vector Traps.
Charlotte flicked aside a lock of her hair as she examined the various video panels held aloft in the bridge, connected to the ceiling and walls via contractible mechanical mounts. Debris struck the hull as the Gallant raced through a slew of plasma fire zipping through space behind them. The bridge, an area about ten meters by ten meters, grew livid as technicians below her plotted course corrections with their mechanical fingers, little devices much faster than ordinary human hands.
“Chandler,” Charlotte shouted, “How many?”
“More than we can handle, ma’am,” he replied over comm. “It will take time to break through their encryption. OTO uses predictable algorithms though. I might have their ships shooting each other before long.”
“Spare me the overconfidence. I want real solutions, not fantasies.”
“As you wish, ma’am. In which case, we’re out of luck.”
“Hey I got a question, captain lady!” Abigail chimed in. “When do I get to shoot stuff?”
“Not yet,” Charlotte said. “Range on the Gallant’s weaponry is limited. The armaments were designed for close hit and run tactics.”
“Groan,” Abigail said.
“For now, keep an eye out for missiles. Shoot them down if they get too close.”
Communications fell silent. Charlotte gazed out into the quiet space overhead, a slice of nebula home to Orion Sector. Orion drifted near the borders of OTO space, a place thriving with thieves and vagrants to name a few. They’d be safe once they made the jump, but the Gallant needed to perform the maneuver outside the effective radius of a standard OTO vector trap, and that was being generous. Curse Terrace for many things, but they knew ingenuity. In all the years I’malarians possessed their advanced technology, it took Terrace ten years to invent a method of interrupting Phantom Drives.
The video screens flickered and vibrated as they filled with noise for a brief second before returning to normalcy. The Gallant shook with a tremendous rumbling groan as titanium bent and swayed under the pressure of a deep impact to the outer hull. How did it get past their shields unless …
“Damage report, Chandler!”
“The last hit scraped off a chunk of the hull, but I sealed off the bulkheads. We’re fine, but you’re going to want it looked at.”
“It bypassed our shields, didn’t it?”
“Yes,” Chandler replied. “Frightful things. I never thought we’d encounter them so soon.”
“What’s all this nonsense?” Abigail said.
Charlotte frowned. “Plasma weaponry hyper accelerated by specialized Phantom Drives. It’s beyond plasma and the material bypasses shields.”
“Well, that’s cheating,” Abigail said.
“And it ratchets up our time table,” Charlotte replied. “We need to move faster. Chandler, divert power from shields to engines.”
“Already halfway there, ma’am.”
The Gallant’s engines hummed in a soft loudness that permeated the bridge. Beads of sweat coalesced on her forehead, and the palms of her hands grew cold. She gripped the railing as she stood over the edge, staring down the slim odds of the crew’s survival. Charlotte came face to face with the unsettling reality that she’d done all she could. Like Elijah, she’d outlived her usefulness, if but for the moment. It was up to them now, though she remained alert regardless.
Curses and screams echoed through the static in her mind as plasma fire tore through the hull three more times, each a glancing blow slightly closer to fatality than the last. Their lives hung in a delicate balance. One stray shot could claim them completely. Charlotte held her head high and corrected her slouched posture as she waited patiently for the Gallant to exit the Vector Trap field.
The Gallant burned, molten metal tearing through the bulkheads and eating through the outer hull. How it even flew was beyond her. Luckily, no plasma fire had hit the thrusters in the rear of the craft, and the Gallant maintained its forward speed. Computer aided visuals plotted the field, and the moment they cleared the last Vector Trap, Charlotte yelled.
“Ghosts operate one stage above a Full Blood in terms of mechanical implants. They rely solely on the transformative properties of a portable Phantom Drive. The device is painstakingly difficult to create and users require a healthy mount of mental training to operate. Ghosts use their personal Phantom Drives to accelerate their own molecular structures, granting increased strength, speed and healing factor. A lucky few are capable of straddling the line between physical form and the gaseous incorporeal state Ghosts are famously known for in the GU.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah’s nerves faded hours after the incident. The feelings of helplessness that burned a hole in his heart quieted down, silent for a while. The SBG Gallant had arrived in Orion Sector, and Elijah stood in the decontamination chamber in which he hastily ended his flight away from the Ghost. Jaeger … now that was a name he wouldn’t soon forget. If he ever came face to face with the man again, he wouldn’t need to worry about retaining the memory for a second time.
“Pretty sweet ride, eh?” Elijah said.
James smiled and nodded. Abigail shrugged. Fair enough. She didn’t get to do much besides shoot down a missile or two, though she accomplished more than he did. Abigail held her own against a Ghost for a full twelve seconds without even one casualty. Her marksmanship definitely proved itself, but to calculate so quickly, she must have had some mental implants installed. It was normal for cyborgs to fib a little on their job applications, similar to the way people lie about their height or weight. There was a particular thing about cyborgs. Once a potential employer knew the brand and location of a particular implant, the power in the relationship tipped in favor of the other party, and that was something any good cyborg knew better than to allow.
“Quit staring,” Abigail said. She scoffed and tilted her head away.
He’d stared off twice now. Damn, if she wasn’t cute though. She appeared human enough. Long curly auburn hair, thick burgundy boots and a tattered old crimson OTO uniform with the insignias ripped off and replaced with her own signage. She still wore the metals and the tassels, though each piece of copper had a line carved into it. Abigail definitely wanted the world to know she hated everything about OTO.
“You’re clear,” Miss Dubois’s voice rang in through the intercom inside of the decontamination chamber.
The gasses and lasers subsided and the doors slid open, revealing the inner workings of the Starlight Brigade Headquarters. As some smoke billowed out, it crept along the ground and swept over Miss Dubois’s newly fitted shoes. She wore a loose navy blue uniform, an OTO military standard minus the crimson hues, though Elijah noted a couple design changes. OTO officers didn’t invest their time in pockets and zippers. Miss Dubois stood in perfectly retro attire with a stern expression on her face.
“Did we do something wrong?” Elijah asked.
“Follow me,” she said, gesturing deeper into the halls. “I’ll have your debriefing ahead.”
She didn’t seem happy to get rid of the crew. Usually that was how it went, though for some reason, Miss Dubois acted wholly different from Elijah’s previous employers. Guerilla organizations must not fit the mold, though they paid reasonably well compared to pirates and fractured militaries.
Elijah followed Miss Dubois and the crew though a series of halls in a station the size of a small town orbiting a dead proto planet in an Orion star system. Nothing but a pile of rocks and minerals looming below them in the dead of space, hardly worth the effort to establish an orbital station, though it worked well for the SBG HQ. They’d be safe from discovery for at least a decade, and they could move the station afterwards with a simple engine attachment.
It struck Elijah that the fact that she was showing the three of them their secret location meant something disastrous was about to take place. James must have realized it before the thought even poked into the back of his mind, and Abigail walked with a similar air of discomfort. This wasn’t a debriefing, not completely.
“I’ll debrief you all here,” Miss Dubois said.
She stopped in a compact chamber of a room with thick metallic walls all around. A video screen two meters across hung by an arm on the ceiling, operated by a console jutting out of the wall near Miss Dubois. Elijah tapped his knuckles against the material and sound came back weak, as if something thick backed the ordinary thin plating. He frowned.
“It’s lined with lead,” James said. “Best for keeping tidy secrets.”
“I don’t want any unauthorized communication,” Miss Dubois said. “It’s for everyone’s benefit.”
Abigail shrugged and set her rifle butt down on the floor, holding the dangerous end like the head of a walking cane. Elijah followed suit. It seemed the only one flustered by the predicament was James, but it made sense.
“The information in this debriefing is privileged, of course,” Miss Dubois said.
“Of course,” Abigail noted.
Miss Dubois turned and typed a few keystrokes into the console beside her. The video screen flashed as it powered on. A bright white flare faded to black and then slowly emerged into the optimized texture of the Starlight Brigade insignia.
“Logan, can you hear us?” Miss Dubois said.
“What’s this game?” Abigail said. “Where’s our debriefing?”
“I’m glad to know you all made it,” a voice boomed in through the video screen speakers. There must have been some filters running through it. “My presence for the initial portion of this debriefing is really more of a formality. Charlotte will secure all of you transports to the system of your choosing. You’ll find your pay has been credited to your individual accounts.”
“Glad to hear it,” Elijah said. “So what’s next on the agenda?”
Miss Dubois frowned. “It’s completely optional, but I want you to hear what our chief financial backer has to say.”
“The Core Systems are an amalgamation of the three colonized Terrace Sectors and the I’malar Collective. The former includes the Solus, Gemini and Orion Sectors while the latter contains a loose cluster of worlds few outside high-ranking officials of the OTO military have seen firsthand. Sparse photographs have leaked from proportionally infrequent encounters and pundits across the Sectors speculate on the true numbers of I’malar’s people.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Abigail Rothschild, age 26 and always hitting the mark. Abigail flicked back a lock of her cherry hair, the piece formerly hanging across her left eyebrow. She could do without the curls. Maybe another treatment was in order come next time she traveled to Gemini or Solus. She’d have to keep her head down for the latter, though few members of the OTO military could pick out her face at first glance. Her identity, for lack of a better phrase, no longer existed. Damn kingpins did more than that when they outed her.
“I should start by explaining what you stole,” Logan said.
Abigail nodded. The name sounded familiar, though the SBG would have used code names, so she paid it little mind. She eased her grip on Knight’s barrel and shifted more of her weight against the lead lined circular wall of the chamber.
The man continued. “I assume you are all aware of the squids’ monopoly on Xarconium?”
“It goes without saying,” James said. “Our neighbors don’t much favor sharing. Why would they, when they hold the best cards?”
“The SBG and several scientists I employ have been working on a Xarconium substitute.”
“The dreams of madmen!” Abigail said. “OTO’s been working on it for a century, and they’ve got nothing.”
“I’malar lines OTO’s pockets,” Logan replied. “What do you believe your Full Blood comrade stole, Abigail?”
She sunk back and tightened her grip. His less than formal means of addressing her did not sit well. She wished she could eye him and see the man in person, though she maintained her stare at the video screen regardless.
“How are you getting through lead walls?” Abigail asked. “Standard communications won’t work.”
“This is not a standard communication, Abigail,” Logan said. Dammit. He did it again. “This transmission comes from my personal quantum entanglement core in the heart of Solus Sector. One particle exists here. The other maintains its state directly below the room in which you stand.”
“Apologies,” Charlotte said. “I didn’t predict he would say so much. Yes, we make use of a few QE communication systems. Our financial backers demand a discreet, unblock able and untraceable form of communication. It takes a while to set up, but the wait is worth the effort.”
“Moving on,” Logan continued. “Suffice to say, we’ve succeeded in developing a sub-par, though functional Xarconium substitute. We needed to secure the material in SBG hands, but the situation has changed.”
“How has it changed?” Elijah asked. “I don’t get it.”
“Our science facility in Orion Sector, the one in charge of replicating the material … well, it no longer exists.”
“What Logan means to say,” Charlotte added, “is that the GU has forced our hand. Our lone private facility, the one we spent billions of credits to build and maintain, is a floating pile of debris. Now, in order to replicate more of the base material, it requires transport to our secondary facility.”
“That doesn’t sound awful,” Elijah said. “You need us to walk it down there?”
James grinned. “Wait for the punchline, boy.”
“Yes, where is this ‘secondary’ facility, boss lady?” Abigail said.
Charlotte sighed and tapped her shoes. The woman had been dreading this commentary since they docked at HQ, though Logan happened to pick up the ball in the end.
“If you three are up for the challenge, I need you to escort the package to my subordinates on Solus Station. I’m actually sending a small force on the way to pick it up. They should arrive in a couple of hours.”
“Let me get this straight,” Abigail said, stepping forward. “You want our motley crew to waltz right up into the heart of OTO’s empire and drop some dirt hotter than the sun on their doorstep?”
“We’re certain neither OTO nor the GU know about our research,” Logan said.
“Cut the crap,” Abigail shouted. “They destroyed your science station. It’s reason enough to worry. You’re sending us on a death run, and I refuse to be a part of it.”
Abigail swung around and banged her hands against the metal surface of the door with the strength aided to her by her implants. She couldn’t dent the metal, but she sure could make the surface sing. After a sound pounding, she stepped back and cocked her head toward Charlotte with a wicked sneer. It was the kind that seethed the words, ‘let me out.’ Charlotte began with a step toward the door, but Logan cut her off with more speech.
“I was afraid I would have to do this,” Logan said. “You’re forcing my hand as well.” Abigail ignored him and gestured toward Charlotte. “This run will not be as dangerous as you believe. I can move OTO’s patrol forces away from your pre-defined route.”
“A fascinating display of resources,” James said. “How could one man accomplish so much?”
Abigail paused. Logan. It wasn’t a code name.
“Major MacConnell!” she shouted. “You got some nerve opening that silver-tongued putrid mouth of yours!”
Charlotte froze and inched back while Abigail grabbed Knight by the butt and swung it into firing position, aimed at the video screen.
“It’s General now,” he said.
“Major … General … you’re still a pile of crap!”
“Please,” Charlotte begged, “Calm down before you put an eye out.”
“It’s all right,” Logan said. “I deserve more than an earful, considering my role in things.”
“I’m going to kill you someday,” Abigail said. “Just you wait.”
James grinned again. “You might get a front row seat if we make the trip.”
Abigail shot James a glare. She knew what he was doing, but she didn’t care. James had a point. She’d never obtain a better chance to pop some choice veterans in the skull, whether she survived the ordeal or not.
“I’ll triple your pay,” Logan added. “For each of you. And I’m willing to make a huge contribution to the Starlight Brigade if this escort mission proves successful.”
Abigail examined the dispositions of the other crew in the chamber. Elijah nodded, and James stroked back his hair as he leaned against the wall. Abigail set Knight down once more, loosening her hold as she also leaned back and smiled.
“I’ll take it.”
Personal Escort Party
“Terrace was the name mankind gave their world in the years after successful off-world Colonization Around the time the Terrace Order was formed. Their Solar system became Solus, eventually expanding into the cluster of systems now known as Solus Sector. In the new age of the Galactic Union, I’malarians still refer to Terrace people as humans for short from time to time. The old adage hasn’t faded, even after three hundred years of interstellar travel.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
The SBG Gallant accompanied a wing of three transport ships across the Core Systems with Elijah and crew in tow. He should have known better than to agree. He should have waltzed out promptly at their headquarters with a huge grin on his face, knowing he survived an encounter with perhaps the most deadly killer he’d ever set eyes upon. God knows he wouldn’t have regretted it. Even triple pay ill sufficed as a reason to risk his life a second time, but there was … well, he couldn’t put his finger on it. It was …
“This time, I don’t know what you’re staring at, boy.”
James laid a hand on Elijah’s shoulder, forcing a jittery jolt as a second nature reaction. James peered over Elijah’s shoulder and glanced forward in the same direction. The two of them stood in the silent innards of the Gallant, staring at an empty receptacle housing twin canisters. The setup looked similar to a science station, a resting desk that sat next to the wall of a small room beside the Gallant’s nurse station. The walls shimmered in the incandescent light and reflected a blue sheen onto the canisters embedded into a holding apparatus. One contained the fabled mythical element substitute while the other served as a decoy. Each escort ship carried a similar arrangement, though just for show.
“I’m thinking,” Elijah said. “There are too many variables for me to have confidence in Miss Dubois’s plan.”
“A little late now,” James said. “You’d better change your tune or think of something better in the next thirty minutes.”
“I was pondering that.”
Elijah strode over to the containment setup. Logan would divert his primary patrols, the ones he held sway over, to the outlying regions of Solus Sector, leaving their route relatively unguarded. However, approaching Solus and docking would be the easy part. Next, to ensure safe passage of the Xarconium substitute, Miss Dubois planned on diversion as the primary tactic.
“This one,” Elijah said, pointing to the left canister. “This is the fake.”
“I believe so,” James replied. “But Dubois trusted you with the real deal. You want to switch?”
Elijah smiled and snatched up the cold container.
“James, you’re good at keeping secrets, right?” he asked.
Elijah strained to unscrew the cap, which was stuck on tightly. After a red face and some good old finger strength, he popped the lid and carefully set it beside the resting station before he continued his investigation of the contents with his fingers. He spread his fingertips around the inside and felt against the rough rocky texture of tiny granular pebbles. Interestingly enough, all the years he’d traveled via starship, he’d never actually seen or felt Xarconium first hand.
“Is it supposed to have this texture?” Elijah asked.
“I shouldn’t have to be the one to say this,” James started, “but you probably shouldn’t do that. What’s this about?”
“I want to know how it’ll feel going down is all.”
James stared at him with a blank expression, the kind of face his friends gave him after they dared him to eat a spider and he didn’t back down. He recalled munching down on the little cretin and watching their bewildered faces. More of the same. He didn’t wait James’s answer, instead grabbing a small handful of the stuff and cramming it down his gullet. Damn, it had a good grit to it. He licked the back of his throat, the hard to reach spots, before he turned and grinned.
“You do know what you just did,” James said.
“Think of it as insurance,” Elijah said. “If the GU catches me with a can chock full of the stuff, they aren’t going to bother with a body scan. Even then, they’re not going to find the trace minerals amongst the hundreds of others in my digestive tract.”
“What else … did you ingest?”
“Let’s say I did my due diligence and leave it at that.”
“Xarconium, a rare and previously undiscovered element prior to contact with I’malar, grows exclusively in the depths of the oceans of I’malar. Xarconium is the Terrace nomenclature, actually pronounced x’arune in the aliens’ native tongue, roughly translating to ‘jewel of the deep waters’. I’malar consistently refuses the flood of requests from OTO to mine in its oceans.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
The docking hatch of the Gallant eased open and thick rays of incandescent artificial sunlight beamed in through the growing cracks between two massive doors of titanium. Elijah eyed the docking bay and the pedestrians making their way on and off base. Solus Station was a military installation, and he caught on quickly after a moment or two of observation. Each individual whom he might encounter could take him down without a second thought. Running wasn’t an option, no matter how quickly his legs could carry him, but it wouldn’t keep him from trying. He was going to be captured, despite Miss Dubois’s insistence in the matter. He’d made peace with the notion, hoping their contingency plan wouldn’t fall through the cracks.
“Be ready,” James said from behind him.
“You know it,” Elijah replied.
Abigail smiled and smacked Elijah across the shoulder. “Leave the stupid crap to me,” she said.
Elijah picked up his posture and focused to carry an air of calm irritation. He had things to do and places to be, though nothing quite as high of importance as meeting with a General. He began the journey down the docking ramp, lengthening his pace a bit and slouching slightly. There was a fine line between tired and aggravated and the type of person carrying illegal contraband. However, he’d spent years honing his ability to look inconspicuous, but he seriously doubted it would do him any good in the belly of the beast. Each step down the ramp brought him closer giving a second thought to his less than lucrative life choices.
Elijah disembarked down the ramp. The docking bay fluttered with high walls capable of holding military cruisers. An oxygen barrier separated the innards of the bay from the cold empty depths of outer space, a new technology OTO had been working on for some time. Looks as if they’d completed their work on the basic mechanics, though it would be some time before they implemented anywhere else around Gemini Sector or the numerous stations within Solus.
Still though, it felt nice to know I’malar wasn’t leaps ahead of the Terrace people, technologically speaking. OTO was catching up, and at a surprisingly good pace. With what he stuffed in his pack, their latest and arguably greatest achievement, times were sure to change. The balance of power was about to shift on a galactic scale. That was what worried him though. Powerful people with a stake in the continued order of things, Terrace and squids alike, would not allow this to happen. It seemed too easy, as if all he had to do was walk it down a handful of city blocks.
“Where are the ducks?” Elijah asked James, who followed half a meter behind him. “I don’t see anyone.”
“They went off ahead,” James said. “Don’t worry about it. Cameras all aboard the station, but nobody’s raised a silent alarm, at least none I can detect.”
“You can sense those?”
“Of course,” James said, tapping his noggin. “What bloody purpose would I serve if I couldn’t at least do that?”
“Sorry,” Elijah said. “I thought you had limits inside a high security military base.”
“I can’t do everything,” James replied with a smile. “However, my continued employment requires my betters to believe I can, so I crack a few magic tricks and do a belt tug. Everybody’s happy.”
“Sounds like lying,” Abigail said.
“Nonsense,” James said. “You’ve obviously never worked in IT.”
Abigail scoffed. “I don’t troubleshoot. I shoot trouble. Get moving, Goose.”
Fair enough. Elijah broke away from their group and paced past a handful of military personnel in his effort to clear the docking bay, an open area at least three hundred meters from end to end, not far off from his fearful run yesterday. James and Abigail would stay behind some distance and provide support if the situation called for them. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
The exit sat a handful of meters ahead, a set of double doors duplicated numerous times across the thick tall walls that lined the far end of the docking bay. He’d go through this particular set. He memorized the number of turns he’d barrel down prior to his arrival to Logan’s personal science wing. There was no guarantee, even after the drop off, that Logan’s personnel wouldn’t be caught in the act of their shady business practices, but it was as he said. The GU had forced his hand.
“Elijah,” Miss Dubois rang in through his earpiece. “Your job became more difficult.”
“I thought you said radio silence,” Elijah said. “Anyone could hear us with their tech.”
“I won’t say anything to compromise the mission, but I need you to know something first. Our informants received word that your friend is in town, and he’s not happy.”
Elijah trailed off as he scanned the facility. Nothing yet, but a heads up wouldn’t matter. OTO wouldn’t normally appreciate a Ghost on base, but they couldn’t say much to stop one from docking. Who could? Ghosts pretty well had free reign across the Core Systems. Elijah bet a Ghost could slaughter an OTO general, and his subordinates would apologize to the IC before anything else.
“He’s moving fast,” James chimed in. “Camera feeds don’t lie. This one’s a demon.”
“I don’t get it,” Elijah said. “What are we supposed to do?”
“On the ground,” Abigail said.
“On the what?” Elijah said, startled. “There’s nothing on the …”
“I said on the ground!” she shrieked.
Elijah slammed his body to the floor in time to catch a puff of smoke wisp through the doors ahead, followed by the crackle of gunshot ringing echoes across the stadium sized docking bay. Abigail fired a second time, and the Ghost shifted away from him. He picked up himself and bolted toward the doors but stopped at the sight of a violet cloud manifesting into solid form in front of him. It looked surprisingly human, then more so as the murky essence solidified all but completely.
“Phase Shifting refers to the process by which a Ghost accelerates his molecular structure via a portable Phantom Drive to the point at which his body is no longer solid. Phase Shifting is fluid, a process that never completely stops, meaning a Ghost can only hold his misty form for a set duration before the need to revert to a physical body. If left unchecked, his molecular structure would dissipate entirely. Currently, the official record is thirty-one seconds, set by the I’malarian Ghost Az’indre, third seat in the Ethereal Cauldron.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
“You will submit,” Jaeger spoke through ethereal lips.
The words billowed from his mouth in echoes of smoke as he stepped forward. Jaeger grabbed Elijah’s hand, and his form solidified for a brief moment right before a bullet whizzed past Elijah’s ears and clipped a lock of hair. He barely had time to contemplate the notion as Jaeger swerved to the left and the bullet tore clear through his eyeball. The mess of blood spattered across Elijah’s face and left him frozen. Eventually, he drummed up the courage to make his move.
It wouldn’t be long before security showed up. He had a handful of seconds to lose Jaeger in the noise. Elijah darted past him as the man gradually converted to ether. It wouldn’t be the last of him, not by a long shot. The door slid open and then shut briefly behind him and several more shots fired. A mixture of cursing, yelling and screaming flooded the bay, and the halls ahead as the base stepped up to high alert. Stupid! How could she have been so stupid? Abigail would be lucky to see another starlit sky in her current predicament.
He veered around a corner in the hall and swung his body back around once he caught sight of patrols heading his way, armed to the teeth with laser carbines, each with at least a quarter the penetrating power as Knight and that was saying something. He scanned for an exit strategy and focused his attention on a hall he passed up previously.
“Give me an out,” Elijah said through his mic, barreling up through the adjacent hallway behind him.
“Working on it,” Miss Dubois said. “You’ve got to lose them, especially Jaeger. Once you complete the drop off, we can worry about an extraction plan.”
“Guards I can deal with. I hope Abigail keeps the Ghost busy.”
“No promises,” she said. “Worry about yourself right now. I’ve already instructed our decoy men to create their disturbances, but that will buy you a few minutes at most.”
It wasn’t as if he could bring up a map of base, having no cybernetics augmenting his brain, not that a free public one existed at any rate. He did memorize the bulk of the blueprints, however. To the best of his knowledge, this route would suffice. Elijah sped toward a T juncture and crept toward the edge of the wall before he peered down both directions.
Haste would favor his exploits more than caution at this point. He would have to make use of his assets to the fullest. If he delivered the canister unscathed, maybe he could hide inside the lab itself while the heat boiled down. What would happen to James and Abigail then? He shook his head. They knew what they signed up for. One way or another, they weren’t about to the leave Solus.
“Full Blood!” A deep, bellowing voice echoed through the halls behind him.
“Elijah,” Miss Dubois said, “Our cyborgs are down. He’s coming for you.”
Elijah sighed. “Yeah, I kind of caught wind of it.”
No need to look back. He darted down a clean hall to his right with the blood still smeared across his face. Elijah turned a hard left and nearly fell down as his shoes slid on the floor. Lighter was better, but he could have used more traction. Too late now, though. He heaved and huffed until his lungs were ready to burst, and he kept on even after that, what little good it would do him in the end.
He caught himself in a frozen stance as a set of troops curved around the bend and raised their carbines at him with angry, disturbed blood lust in their eyes. Elijah took a step back and waited for the crackling sound of gunfire. Instead, however, the group of soldiers lowered their weapons. A smoky mist enveloped the space between Elijah and his self-proclaimed firing squad. It solidified into the form of a human being, Jaeger, the man whom he evaded not once, but twice now. Looks as if this was the last straw, though.
“I will not take your life today,” Jaeger said. “Not yet. You and your fellow thieves will live to regret your choices.”
“Awfully soft for a Ghost, aren’t we?” Elijah said with a smirk.
He half expected Jaeger to humor him with some witty comeback, but instead, all he received was a physically enhanced slap to the face that sent him flying and knocked his skull against something hard. Elijah’s world grew dark, and he shut his eyes in a blink.
“Pirates, vagrants and thieves flood Orion Sector. The region of space sits on the edge of the Core Systems, opposite of the I’malar Collective. Despite political promises and the bulk of public opinion, OTO refuses to police the sector. According to public statements, cleansing Orion Sector would carry a death toll in the hundreds of thousands and would cripple OTO financially.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah awoke within a blackened room. He collected himself and tried to stand, but his body rested at an angle, his wrists and ankles bound to a surface inclined at about 45 degrees. He tested the wrappings with some quick jerks, though he hardly expected them to break. They didn’t. He collected himself and glanced to his left and right. Dim lamps colored the dark ambience with a subtle white glow, like candlelight, though without the flickering.
He wouldn’t get far, even if he could break free, though he carefully observed what little he could make of his surroundings and plotted some numbers through his head. Either the Gallant’s crew sailed off the moment fate tipped against their favor or OTO impounded them shortly after the disturbance. Both scenarios boded poorly for his chances at escape and a much bigger problem overshadowed the thoughts racing through his head. Even if he could secure a suitable means of passage, he wasn’t about to escape from with arguably the largest OTO installation this side of Core Systems without a handout from God himself.
A bolt of pain shot through his head as a bright light flashed on a meter above his face, beams firing at his retinas. He flinched and squinted his eyes in a jerk reaction, eventually calming down before he opened them to their fullest again. His pupils adjusted to the new lighting, and he spotted a figure standing just inside the lit portion of the room. The man may only have been a silhouette, but Elijah recognized him by the way he carried himself as he strode over.
“I will make this quick,” Jaeger said. “Your Starlight Brigade lives for now. I will deal with them later, but I have an offer for you, Full Blood.”
Elijah rolled his eyes. “Please, call me Elijah.”
Jaeger cracked a grin. “You will die alone, years after I hand you and your terrorist group over to the I’malarian Consulate, Elijah. They will examine you in ways you can scarcely imagine.”
“Sounds swell,” Elijah said. “I assume there’s an alternative?”
“I have authority to take on an apprentice,” Jaeger continued. “You will train beneath me and eventually become a Ghost if you show promise. I will also exonerate you of your crimes.”
The request hit Elijah with the metaphorical force of a star cruiser. He’d heard of Ghosts picking apprentices off the streets before, but he hardly ever guessed it would happen to him. Granted, he fit the basic physical requirements. Cyborgs couldn’t make the transition. Mechanical implants didn’t mesh well with Phase Shifting, some kind of integral property of Phantom Drives and molecular acceleration.
“You like me that much, huh?” Elijah said, cracking a grin. “Let my crew walk on this one, and you’ve got a deal.”
Jaeger moved in closer, uncomfortably close. Elijah smelled his breath and felt the waves of air beating down on him as Jaeger spoke.
“This is not a negotiation,” he said. “You have my offer. Take it or join your fallen comrades in the blackest pits of I’malar.”
He stepped back into the middle ground between the dimly lit portion of the interrogation room and the utter absence of detail. Elijah didn’t exactly owe Miss Dubois or the Starlight Brigade anything in terms of loyalty and standing before him was an offer, the likes of which not more than a handful of people see in a given century. He tried to speak, to say yes, but each time he did, a knot tied itself up tightly in his stomach and a firm lump formed in the back of his throat.
“Can I weigh my options for a while?” Elijah asked.
Jaeger stepped back further, until his silhouette shifted out of sight completely. His voice grew soft as the source trailed off into the depths of the room.
“I will return in one hour. I expect your answer by then.”
“A Ghost’s healing factor is actually an unintended side effect from use of his personal Phantom Drive. Accelerating his molecular structure allows for rapid healing during his Phase Shift Interval as the molecules settle back into place. Because of this effect, Ghosts can survive crippling damage to most vital organs. A few whose healing factor goes beyond ordinary talents can survive a shot to the heart.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah contemplated for 20 minutes or so, tossing around the notion in his mind and dissecting the offer as it stood. He hardly held sway in the matter, and time was running out. He trusted Jaeger enough to believe the crew of the SBG Gallant were safe aboard Solus Station … somewhere. God knows what state the ship was in, though he tried not to think about it, better to imagine it ready for lift off somewhere in the corner of the docking bay reserved for confiscated property. If OTO hadn’t trashed it, they soon would.
As his thoughts drifted off, a door to his left on the far end of his makeshift interrogation chamber cracked open. A tall figure in a crimson OTO uniform walked in. He removed his cap and carefully crept forward. He moved haphazardly. The man hadn’t done this before. An assassin? He definitely wasn’t Jaeger.
“Did they send you to clean up?” Elijah asked. “You sneak with the grace of a turtle.”
“I’d watch that free spirited tongue of yours,” the man said. Sure enough, Elijah recognized the voice, though he hadn’t expected it.
“Logan?” he asked. “Boy, I wasn’t expecting the man in person, but you’re a godsend. What’s the extraction plan? Are Abigail and James all right? What shape is the Gallant …?”
“Stop,” Logan interrupted, his voice stern. “I’m not here to help you. I’m here to pay my respects, the same as I did to your cohorts.”
“You were on base?” Elijah said. “And you didn’t tell Miss Dubois? I don’t buy your act.”
“Truthfully,” Logan said with a pause, “I really didn’t believe your crew would pull through in the end. This was a calculated risk.”
“You have some gambling problem there,” Elijah exclaimed. “What’s your contingency plan? Don’t tell me you hadn’t thought of one.”
“My contingency plan involves decades of waiting and observation until I can funnel enough funds into a shell company to build a second research station in the middle of nowhere, hidden from the eyes of the Galactic Union. It’s hardly an easy task, but now it seems the last option I have left.”
“And what about us?” Elijah stammered, tightening his fists. “What about the SBG and the people you hired so you didn’t have to bloody your hands?”
Logan slammed a heavy arm against the wall. “Don’t speak to me with that tone of disrespect! One more snarky line and I will have you shot.”
“I won’t apologize. You Terrace Centralists only care about what serves your cause. You don’t give a damn about the people you hurt unless they’re of use to you.”
“I’m warning you,” Logan said. He took a step forward, the light beams hitting his face.
“I’m done,” Elijah said. “Do you even have any of it left?”
Logan nodded. “Of course. I instructed your commander to ferry a few samples to some choice rocks. I know the coordinates, though it scarcely matters. I can’t operate under the GU’s alerted level of scrutiny. I’ll be lucky if I’m not found out already, thanks to your blunder.”
“That sounds like an awfully complicated problem,” Elijah said, grinning. “What if I could simplify the hell out of things for you?”
Logan perked up his head and took a step back. “Go on.”
“I swallowed a handful of your substance, along with … other things I’m not proud of.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Logan exclaimed. “You’re serious?”
“As far as I know, your men didn’t even bother with a body scan. I was sorely disappointed to be an over achiever, but if you could draw some blood, that’d be real nice.”
Logan shook his head. “You’re insane, you know that?”
“And I could also do without these harnesses eating into my wrists.”
“Stay put,” Logan said. “I’ll send one of my scientists and afterwards, you get ten minutes. That’s all I can afford.”
Logan paused. “Of course … but I can’t protect you or them once you step into the furnace.”
“I understand,” Elijah said. “You have your reputation to uphold, after all.”
Deep Space Prison Break
“Of the Core Systems in the Old Terrace Order, Solus Sector remains the most orderly, containing the bulk of OTO’s military craft. Gemini Sector, however, serves as a hub for Merchants and bolsters the galactic Economy. Most Xarconium is sold in Gemini Sector.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah held up his chin and walked with authority. He widened his gait and puffed out his chest. Just a little, not too much. The red OTO uniform he wore appeared to house the medals of a second lieutenant and form fitting to boot. Miss Dubois could learn a thing from Logan and his resources. Never cross a man with the power and authority to damn near clear an entire section of the station for a drill. What did he call it again? It was some sort of space plague or something of the sort. Elijah found himself barely able to contain his awe in the face of the man he insulted minutes earlier.
“Fill me in, Miss Dubois,” Elijah said through his microphone.
Logan’s men had given him more than a suit and false rank. They’d outfitted him with new communication equipment and some standard weaponry as well. He’d have to thank them if he ever got the chance, though the thought of appearing before Logan caused a shiver up his neck.
“We’re prepping the Gallant for takeoff. The docking bay is clear, and I have the bay hatch open.”
“Anyone missing from the roster?” Elijah asked.
“None that I can tell,” Miss Dubois replied. “Abigail and Chandler are standing guard next to the ramp just in case. Elijah, what did you say to him?”
What could he say? He’d seen their exact scenario coming ahead of schedule, so he took it upon himself to meddle with Miss Dubois’s carefully laid plans. Ingesting the minerals that now flowed through his bloodstream paid off as a bargaining chip in the face of his captors, a risk nearly as shaky as Logan’s own gambit. It wasn’t over yet. No need to muddy the waters until after he received his payment.
“I reminded your employer of his assets and their usefulness. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“That’s a belt tug if I ever heard one,” James chimed in.
“Agreed,” Miss Dubois said. “Elijah, we can talk more about this later. For now, we need you to get moving. Preparations are nearly complete, and I don’t want to overstay our sudden stroke of luck.”
“There you go jinxing it!” Abigail shouted. “Knight can’t take another scuffle from the Full Blood’s new special friend.”
“You’re lucky Logan let you keep it,” Elijah said, chuckling.
“Don’t you joke!” Abigail scoffed. “I’ll plant a bullet through every skull on this station before I leave without Knight.”
Fair enough. He doubted she’d go so far, but he also couldn’t imagine Abigail without her signature rifle by her side. The trouble of conflicting hypothetical situations. Elijah stepped up to the docking bay entrance at the end of the same hallway he’d traveled down and the doors slid open with mechanical reflexes and precision. James and Abigail stood in full OTO regalia, dressed from head to boot in crimson suits and gold buttons. James waved at him, and Abigail hoisted Knight onto her shoulders and turned toward the docking ramp. Elijah carried himself toward them in a brisk jog. The worst was …
“The key to defeating a Ghost is understanding his Phase Shift interval. Phase Shifting is a fluid process, always changing. However, once a Ghost reverts to a solid form, he must maintain it until his molecular structure settles down to safe levels. This period of cooldown is known as a Phase Shift Interval, and a Ghost is most vulnerable during this time.” – Old Terrace Order (OTO) Archives
Elijah ducked and rolled as two succinct shots fired over his head. The sound of bullets tearing through the plasma of a Ghost mid-way through his Phase Shift funneled through his ears. He stood up and spun around to see a Ghost eyeing him, quickly recovered from the damage Abigail inflicted. He hovered in full mist form now, invulnerable to anything outside of Plasma weaponry, and they had nothing of the …
“Miss Dubois, the Gallant has mini Plasma cannons, right?”
“Say no more. Keep your heads low,” Miss Dubois said. “Chandler, can you assist the targeting systems?”
“Of course. Not even a Ghost can dodge my predictive probability …”
“Shut it,” Miss Dubois said. “Firing now!”
Twin bolts of blue plasma tore through the air and lit it on fire with streams of smoke and electricity as they barreled down toward Jaeger. The blue lasers screeched like one thousand birds gasping for breath in the blackest pits of I’malar. Jaeger swooped and swerved to dodge the brunt of them, but Elijah noticed … they were clipping him. Little by little, as blue fire ate holes in the titanium floor, Jaeger was slipping, losing his advantage in the fight.
Elijah broke his attention away from quiet contemplation. What was he doing? He bolted up the docking ramp and stopped, one foot past the open bay hatch doors. James strode up beside him and patted him on the back as he stepped inside.
“Full Blood!” Jaeger screamed. “Do you accept?”
Elijah paused. He cupped his hands and shouted. “I refuse!”
Jaeger sped up and lunged forward, but a blue bolt cut him off. James wouldn’t make this easy for him. Jaeger continued his leaps and bounds against the barrage levied at him as Abigail followed James though the hatch and the Gallant rose off the docking platform. Elijah stood within the decontamination chamber, his head poked outside. He eyed Jaeger’s mist form with a tired expression. This wasn’t over. One did not simply refuse a Ghost. One lived to regret it.
The Gallant drifted somewhere in the outer reaches of Gemini Sector, far enough apart from civilization to catch the wary gaze of the Galactic Union. Elijah heaved a heavy sigh as he stood next to his peers in the same briefing room they’d lumbered inside during their escape from the same Sector yesterday. Gemini glowed next to a vibrant green nebula. He assumed the visual appeared spectacular, but metallic walls and the hull of a heavy star ship obstructed his scenic view. While crew paced about the Gallant, Elijah watched as Miss Dubois made her way past sliding doors to stop and stand two meters in front of him.
“Congratulations,” she said with a muffled sigh. Miss Dubois briefly checked her hair, the raven locks put up in a bun. “Thanks to all of our efforts, unorthodox as they might have been,” she said, trailing off as she eyed Elijah, “OTO’s Terrace Centralists have total access to the Xarconium substitute. Logan estimates within ten years or so, they’ll have enough ready for distribution to go public. You three have single-handedly started a chain reaction with ripples that will alter the galactic economy for centuries. Most importantly, these changes will free Terrace civilization from the enthralling tentacles of I’malar.”
James nodded. Abigail rolled her eyes. Miss Dubois seemed more invested in Terrace’s stake than an ordinary privateer commander should have been. She believed in Logan’s cause, more or less. There was some merit in economic independence, but the squids hardly pushed their prices on Xarconium. Overall, I’malar seemed actually forthcoming and fair, despite their vice grip on the essential element.
This vie for independence, this plan to upset the balance of power; it grew from the fevered dreams of those who feared that one day, I’malar would do what Terrace Civilizations had done in the past. However, I’malar wasn’t Terrace. The squids operated on a wholly separate nature, or so he thought. Admittedly, the fear got to him as well from time to time. There was something primal, tangible in the way he knew they would turn on their little pets.