Yep. Here's part two. Hope you enjoy it! :D
Now it's some time for some... ahem... 'diverted attention'. This story is related to the chakat universe, created by Mr. Bernard Doove. If you like it, head on over to www.chakatsden.com for more like it from many different authors!
Blaze of Glory
Chapter 2: The Cradle of Humanity
The Dying Breath slipped easily out of hyperspace at the edge of one of the most frequented systems in the known galaxy, its warp drives ticking in the void as they cooled and the sub-light thrusters lighting up in a prosperous blue and making the entire craft thrum with energy. Its weapons cowlings were closed, their seamless armoured plates hiding the fact that the craft had lethal teeth fit for the predator that it was from all but the most thorough scans. The engines were only activated to half of their standard operating levels, furthering the deception that it was nothing more than a retired military craft that had been refitted for use as a private yacht. The fact that it was now broadcasting a completely false transponder signal that named the craft as the Winter's Touch completed the guise.
Stacy stood proudly on the bridge, watching through the large armoured glass window that composed three of the bridge's four large walls. Her heart sang at the prospect of returning home even though they were still many thousands of kilometres away from their ultimate destination. It had been a long time, almost two whole years, since she had seen Terra in all of its beautiful glory. The circumstances for her return were vastly different from those of her last visit and she had to suppress the urge to forget about the Dying Breath and just stay on-planet for a few years. She was here on business, not blissful tidings.
Outside the confines of the ship, the space surrounding Terra was alive and teeming with life. The projected blue tags, each no larger than the head of a pin, that were being cast on the window by a complex system of holoprojectors and exterior sensors displayed the locations of the dozens of craft close enough to be detected by the Dying Breath's highly-customized and complex sensor suites. They flitted across the large viewport with what appeared to be random surges of speed and direction, but upon further examination, turned out to be an mildly-organized and controlled pattern. Stacy could make out several of the closest as boxy outlines that reflected the sun's light in shimmering bursts. Most of them bore the identity tags of freighters and personal transports, but a few were registered as belonging to either Star Fleet or Star Corps, those craft being given the right-of-way for the most part. Directly ahead of her was Titan, one of Saturn's plentiful moons, and its brown surface looked up at her longingly as she recalled the her favourite bar that was built on its far side. The planet itself was off to their right, its large rings spreading out below them in a beautiful halo. Turning away from the astonishing view, Stacy brought up a few data charts and records on her command console and nodded approvingly.
According to the readouts, they were so far being mistaken as completely innocent. The picket ships that Star Fleet insisted on bordering most of their colonies with were very concentrated and many in number here, and appropriately so. This was, after all, one of the few places in the known galaxy where life had taken shape and carved out an existence in the stars. As such, it was only fitting that it should boast a large military presence. Stacy grinned at the thought. Though it was a large presence, it was far from effective. The very fact that it was so extensive had worked in their favour many times in the past, the various ships and forces present more likely to get in the way of their colleagues than actually catch her in the act of something illegal. She had practically lost count of the number of times that she had played them against one another, misleading a ship or two to believe that they had been appropriately screened by another of their caste and leaving the Dying Breath to slip by in the ignorance presented by the 'I'm not going to do it again if it has already been done' attitude, or generally making use of the crowded spatial conditions to become lost in the cloud of traffic.
Only once had she been close to capture (in this system, anyways; the Caitians seemed to have a far more rigorous private defence forces around their worlds) when she had tried to wile her way past the wrong ship. The F.S.S. Chimera, if she recalled the name correctly (which she did, the name of the damned craft being etched into her mind and surrounded with 'watch for this ship' warnings) had gotten incredibly close to discovering their real identity as a rogue craft with more felonies and broken rules hanging about it than a dead horse has flies. They had came out of hyperspace practically under its immense bulk due to some freak happening of chance. The ship's captain had been curious enough, or incredibly stringent enough to the rules of Star Fleet, to issue a boarding party after an unfortunate sensor accident had accidentally let their real ship name slip for a half a second. She had met the incoming party in the Breath's main hangar, the captain instantly striking her as somebody best left either to his own devices or on the cold side of an airlock, and had given them an incredibly short and misleading tour of her precious ship. They had eventually left, but Stacy knew that she had not fully convinced the captain of their made-up identity. Since then, she had taken extra measures to ensure that she was never less than a hundred thousand kilometres from the large military cruiser. She knew being that cautious was bordering on paranoid, but she also knew that the Chimera would gladly rid the galaxy of the smaller craft's presence and that taking any unnecessary risks was an incredibly stupid thing for any captain worth their weight in dark matter.
This time though, it didn't look like that particular pain in her tail was in-system and she breathed a mental sigh of relief. That would make things more than a lot easier. "Zeke," she said lightly, "any flight plans coming in from the traffic controller yet?"
Ezekiel Sanders , a pale man native to the colony on Kaileith with a hawkish nose, sunken green eyes, and dark hair shook his head. "No," he replied, "Not yet, captain."
"Huh... I guess I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up; they are horrible at their jobs at the best of times." she sighed, striding over to and sitting back into her luxurious command chair that was in the dead-centre of the bridge, perched as it was on a slightly raised portion of the chamber so that it could preside over the rest of the crew stations. The dark leather creaked as she reclined and she kicked a booted foot that spun her chair to face her second in command. "Is the transponder still broadcasting our adopted identity?"
"Yes ma'am." replied Ashley Vintner, a red fox fur that many of her crew argued was basically Stacy's twin with a slightly different fur pattern. Though the resemblance in both their statures and mannerisms was astounding, there was absolutely no relation between the two of them. They had both checked. "Everything is in order and 'Fleet is completely blind to us."
"Very good... very good..." Stacy didn't claim to particularly care for most of those under her command, seeing them more as tools than people for the most part, but she couldn't help but admit that she had taken an interest in Ashley. Maybe it was the similarity between the two that made her think so, but Stacy saw her as the most likely to succeed her in the command of the Dying Breath should something happen to her. As a result, she had taken it upon herself to groom Ashley into the role. Stacy just hoped that a mutiny wasn't about to happen any time soon, least of all before she completed her latest 'quest'. It seemed unlikely given the... experiences (take from that what you will) that they had shared, but Stacy had known far weirder things to happen even in the relatively short time that she had been alive in comparison to the rest of time's incredibly long span.
"Ah!" exclaimed Ezekiel, his monotone voice making a mockery of the exclamation, "There we go. We have flight plan data coming in now." A series of coordinates flickered onto the glass screen that extended out from one of Stacy's chair's arms and came to a halt at a slant raised above her lap. Her tail flicked at the sight, the ebony tip brushing the metal side of the chair. She frowned. The final docking point was far from satisfactory. She wished that the traffic controller that had assigned her the berth in high orbit around her home planet stepped on a thumbtack for making it on the far side from where she wanted to get to.
"Damned pinheads..." she muttered under her breath. Looks like she'd have to do things the hard way again... she thought. "Kyle," she said in a less vehement tone, "could you please get me a channel to traffic control?"
Her communications officer, a redheaded human male, gave a non-verbal affirmative and tapped a few buttons on his console's touch-sensitive surface. A few seconds later a red icon popped up in front of her on the screen and she gave the order to remain silent as a beeping came over the bridge's speakers. The tone finally disappeared to be replaced by a woman's voice.
"This is Sol traffic control. How may I help you?"
"Yes, hello, this is Captain Amber Vaille of House Castellan, captain of the Winter's Touch." she said with the nasal inflection that she had come to associate with the upper crust of the social classes. The name she had given was the fake identity that she had fabricated to go along with the falsity that was the Winter's Touch. "I was wondering if I could receive a different berth, preferably directly above the GNA if at all possible." There was a pause as the lady at the other end undoubtedly looked up her credentials.
"And what seems to be the problem?" came the response, the vaguest hint of the barely-hidden annoyance showing through the forced cheeriness of her voice.
"Well," she began, thinking of a valid reason to want a different berth and going with what she thought was the most heart-tugging and therefore most likely to work, "it's my brother. I'm afraid he has fallen quite ill lately. I fear he hasn't much time to live, being afflicted with Rhyerson's disease that has, as of late, flared up to previously unprecedented levels. It is quite distressing for me, as you can well imagine. I was hoping that I could get a berth closer to his place of residence so that I could ferry him aboard and give him a final look out at space from this ship, which was once his. Of course, I do not require one per say, but I am worried about what a lengthy shuttle ride would do for both his spirits and health should he experience a flare-up halfway through and we need to return him to sufficient medical attention." The last bit she said with a fake sob that had been practised many times before on people far more clever and influential than the flight dispatcher.
"Oh..." There was a pause on the line before the lady got back to her. "I'll see what I can do."
The hold tone came over the audio comms and Stacy set it to mute with a flick of a finger. There was a mild round of applause from her bridge crew, punctuated by more than a few chuckles, and she gave a mocking bow while spreading her arms out from her sides in a seated curtsy. Stacy smiled and laughed lightly. It really was getting too easy. People were always suckers for the sob stories. The comms unit chimed and she gestured for the others to be quite while she resumed her talk with the traffic dispatcher.
"You're in luck," came the lady's voice. Stacy noted that it was lacking the previous annoyance, a hint of accomplishment filling the hole which it had left behind. She imagined that if the lady ever figured out that she had helped a notorious criminal instead of the heartbroken sibling to a dying man, she would have been far less content with her day. "It seems that one of the berths above North America has just opened up. I'll transfer the coordinates now, if you want them."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thankyou!" Stacy squealed with false joy, "That would be perfect! Thank you so much! I will never forget this! May I ask your name?"
"Carol. And you're welcome." came the joyous reply.
"Thank you a million times, Carol. You have been most kind." Stacy said, really working up the emotion in her vocalization with the ease of years of practice.
"Don't mention it. Just tell your brother I said hi." said Carol.
"Oh, I can assure you that I will. And thank you again, Carol." finalized Stacy, enjoying her little lie immensely. Several members of the crew were almost bursting at the seams in an effort not to laugh outright.
"Again, it's no trouble. Have a nice day."
"I will! And you too!" said Stacy as she closed the link to be greeted by another wave of mild applause which she waved of dismissively. She heaved a content sigh as she watched the new berth location pop up on her screen. That's better, she thought. Much less time on a shuttle that way. "Reese, set a course for the new anchor point. Half burn, as always."
"Aye ma'am." came the response from the German Shepherd fur that stood behind the main helm controls. He was dressed, quite sharply in Stacy's opinion, in his old 'Fleet uniform, even though the insignia had long since been removed. The well-kept lines were finely pressed and the dark material was immaculate. It was a far cry from what the rest of her bridge crew wore, Stacy never really caring what they dressed in so long as they reported in for their shifts sober and on time. This usually resulted in the crew wearing whatever the individuals that she commanded found to be the most comfortable. Ezekiel opted for a pair of jeans and a simple t-shirt, while Ashley was almost always wearing a spotless (and amazingly loose fur-free) button-up blouse of whatever colour struck her fancy that day, today it was a navy blue, and skirt that could range anywhere from knee to just-below-inappropriate length (something that Stacy was sure that at least half of the crew members saw as entertaining, to say the least).
Stacy herself liked to appear as 'in-command' as possible and wore a dark leather long-coat that fell down to her knees, undone of course, with a dashing red velvet interior, gold trim around the shoulders, a flared collar, and gold buttons layered down one side. Deep pockets were present on both the interior and exterior of the coat that held more than their size would openly suggest and were more than capable of hiding anything up to a mid-sized weapon, her highly-personalized pistol more often than not being the weapon in question when it wasn't in its holster at her hip. Not just for aesthetics, the coat also contained a network of energy-diffusion fibres sewn in beneath the outer layer that could nullify the effects of a glancing hit from an energy weapon, a component of which she had grown quite fond of over the years and numerous attempts on her life. Underneath that she wore a form-fitting pair of black pants supported by a utility belt laden with all of the necessities for her life as the Dying Breath's ill-renowned captain. Several tactical pouches containing miscellaneous equipment, a long-range caster, a small pocket medkit, her cherished knife, a small transporter disruptor (that she had, through years of experience, learned was one of the more important items to carry about with her), and her iconic pistol currently took up residence along the thick leather band. Her torso was covered by flattering dark grey top, her 'rogue' look finished off by a trio of gilded hoop earrings, two in her right ear halfway up and the last in the left level with the lowest on the right, and a burnished silver ring around her tail that peaked out from the tail-split that she had had custom fitted in the long-coat. Her white hair was undone, its full length left to drape about her shoulders and contrast with her black long-coat and grey eyes.
As they got underway, Stacy couldn't help but think of Salvatore Yarrick and what he was most likely doing at the moment. Probably sitting around in that miserable cargo container still waiting to be picked up. she reckoned.
After her disappointment at his outright refusal back in the Gorgon system, she had made arrangements through her web of contacts for a picket ship of the Renzar flotilla, the rabble that the ursine-esque species insisted halfheartedly was their navy, to pick him and his remaining crew up from where she had stashed them inside of an airtight cargo pod drifting lazily through the Frescoe Nebula. The crate had far more than adequate life support functions, obviously, and she had even given them a window so that they could watch their progress as they floundered about in the vast star-birthing cloud of dust and light. In all actuality, it was so Yarrick could watch his final chance as a member of Stacy's crew speed off with the Dying Breath's departure, but that was a personal matter that she had felt would be best kept to herself.
All of the crew would survive the interlude (those that hadn't died when she had blown up their ship's primary plasma conduit, anyways), Stacy having ensured that the wounded had received any attention that they needed to keep them alive long enough for her scheduled help to arrive and that they had enough food and water to wait the time out. She imagined that the conditions aboard the pod would be far from private, though. Oh well, she thought, it will be a bonding experience for them.
As the Dying Breath rounded the curve of Titan, the radiance of the sun made itself known to the bridge crew. Stacy blinked quickly to clear her vision of several light-specks as the glass of the bridge became a bit more opaque and filtering out the excess light. She made a mental note to have the light-sensors on the forward nose of the craft inspected when they made high-anchor. Some dust from the nebula had probably gotten into the receptors and made them a bit less sensitive to the light than usual. It was a common problem that would no doubt be fixed within the first few hours after they had come to a halt in geosynchronous orbit around Earth, but anything, no matter how slight, that was wrong with her ship she took as a personal offence to herself. It was common with ship captains; the time that most of them spent on the ship, was, after all, more often than not a good chunk of their lives. It was only normal, therefore, to develop a very close bond with the craft that they were in charge of.
The Dying Breath eased silently into orbit around Terra, and Stacy smiled again. Below her, the planet of her (and her species's) birth was spread out in a beautiful array of greens, greys, blues, and browns. Directly beneath her ship was the GNA, or Greater North America, that she had grown up in. Though more than a few spots still bore the scars from the Gene Wars many ages ago, there was still more than enough areas that life still survived and, more often than not, thrived to balance out the browns with verdant greens. Though not as populous as the eastern continents, the lights of several cities still reached her eyes and steady streams of cargo craft and shuttles drifted about like the dandelion seeds she had been so fond of scattering in her youth, fluttering to and fro from different land masses or the orbital stations that were spread out in space around the world. She could only really make out half of the beak, body, and wings of the 'bird' that she had been taught to recognize as the western continent when she was little due to the fact that it was currently caught in between the light and dark side of the globe and in the state of changing. That reminded her of something.
She rustled around in her coat for a while, going through a multitude of pockets, before she found what she had been looking for. She drew out a fine silver watch that she had obtained from one of the cargo pods that she had plundered from the wreck of the Sanctioned Deliverance and checked to see that it was set to the right time. The fine silver plating of its surface and band gleamed in the light cast by the lumen strips set into the ceiling above her as she gave it a thoughtful look. The small hands slowly moved about in their circular pattern. Behind the ticking hands, she could make out a platinum plate inscribed with some sort of runes (she guessed that they were Roman numerals, but wasn't all that sure) arranged in a circular pattern and the name of the watch brand across its centre. Not really caring what brand it was but recognizing its immediate expensiveness, she had taken claim of the timepiece before she had let the rest of her crew dig about the spoils of their latest endeavour. It wasn't just a fancy bauble for her to hoard away though, as she intended to give it to her brother as a gift. It had been four years since their last face-to-face meeting, and far be it from her, as a ship's captain no less, to show up without a gift. Besides, he had always been interested in that old-fashioned stuff and she held no doubt in her mind that he would be able to read and enjoy the costly curiosity far more than she ever could.
Stacy slipped the watch back into one of her pockets, making a careful note of which one she put it in this time, and deactivated her control screen. It whined as it retracted away from her before sliding back into the chair. She stretched languidly as she stood up and adjusted her coat's collar, the back having flipped upwards as she had reclined. With that done, she made her way across the expanse of stations and monitors before stopping just short of hitting the glass wall that made up the front of the bridge. She smiled to herself as she looked down at the planet, a feeling of nostalgia washing over her. Her tail must have wagged or something, because Amber spoke up.
"Good to be home, isn't it ma'am?" her second asked as she joined her at the vast window. Her luxuriant red tail swished as she came to a halt and the white tip swaying slightly. Apparently Stacy wasn't the only one glad to be back.
"Yes, Ms. Vintner," replied Stacy as she placed a white-furred hand against the thick glass, "it is."
One of the Dying Breath's shuttles was waiting for the ground party in the main hangar, its engines flaring with contained thrust and the pilot making last-minute checks on the canopy seals. The rear ramp leading into the slight Courier-class shuttle lowered to the hangar decking and settled with a slightly dulled thud as Stacy entered the large room, dressed now in the far less formal attire of simple khaki shorts, shoes, and a shirt. She was followed as always by the two massive figures that composed her personal bodyguard. They were also dressed-down, now in jeans and leather jackets, but it did little to diminish their presence. Their large bulk and threatening air screamed 'don't mess with us, or you find yourself seriously frakked up', but Stacy knew that there was no point in trying to convince them to stay behind. Both had sworn their lives to her and had showed unflinching loyalty for over five years, never being more than fifty feet away from her at all times. Besides, it never hurt to make sure that none of those moronic Humans First types saw her as easy prey.
Stacy had had several run-ins with the so called 'movement' and none of them had given her any shred of respect for the group. All previous meetings between her and the pro-human activists had shown that they were cowardly, barely organized, and composed of the worst that humanity had to offer. Of course, she had managed to surprise the xenophobic assholes on every occasion with a few dastardly, and more often than not, lethal, tricks of her own, so she knew that she was hardly being fair. If the news footage was to be believed, the group had somehow managed to screw up a transporter on one of the stations surrounding the planet that they now hung over; hardly a feat to be taken lightly. Add that the the mounting bodycount, and she could easily admit that she had merely gotten acquainted with the common rabble of their obviously-widespread ranks instead of the hardcore veterans. Despite herself, Stacy actually found herself hoping to be ambushed by them; she could use some combat practice.
"Ma'am?" asked Rhajir, the shorter of her two bodyguards. He was a sturdy Bengal tiger fur whose calm outside demeanour was totally at odds with his ferocity in a fight. His piercing green eyes gave a hint of concern and one corner of his mouth was pulled down slightly in a barely-discernible frown. It was then the Stacy noticed that she had wandered off of her intended path and over to the shimmering energy field that separated the pressurized hangar from the cold void outside. She had been staring down at Terra again, lost in thought, and looked up as she snapped out of her vague state of mind.
"Uh.. Sorry Rhaj, I must have been daydreaming." she coughed as she turned away and strode off in the direction of the shuttle's ramp.
"Very good, ma'am." replied Rhajir with a humble smile as he bowed shallowly in supplication and fell into step beside her. She knew that he wasn't trying to be snide; any such emotions seemed to be quite outside of her guards' various emotions (the full range of which she was sure was the following: completely indifferent, terribly unconcerned, clinically uncaring, terrifyingly remorseless, mildly aggravated, and characteristically phlegmatic). It was more a show of his promised confidentiality than anything else, and she nodded in silent thanks.
Trax, her other guard, was waiting at the foot of the ramp and straightened noticeably as she walked past him and into the passenger compartment. He was a prime example of a wolf fur, the almost god-like musculature of his body barely contained by the unzipped jacket and white muscle shirt that he wore underneath it. He towered over her, the tips of her ears only coming up to his broad shoulders. Though almost tragically stereotypically, he couldn't really be described as the sharpest tool in the shed and took everything painfully literally. Thus, it was up to Rhajir to make up the slack in the brainpower department. It was something that the tiger fur did astoundingly well. Stacy was certain that he had a photographic memory and knew firsthand how fast he was to understand concepts that were beyond even herself.
Stacy made it into the small passenger compartment of the shuttle past the bench seats that lined the side walls, ducked her head a little as she passed through the bulkhead that separated the cockpit from the rear compartment, and chucked her bag into an overhead tray behind the flight crew seating before finally sitting down into the copilot chair. It automatically adjusted to her shape and pulled backwards away from the control panel as the shuttle recognized the Dying Breath's captain and went about setting her pre-loaded settings. She checked to make sure that her guard had followed her (which she needn't have done; they knew the drill far to well to be caught slacking) and clicked the belt across her chest. She wasn't expecting to need it, but she had long-since noticed that it never hurt to be safe and secured it snugly. Out of the main viewing pane located directly to her front, Stacy saw the final fuel lines being unclasped from the hull and dragged away as the shuttle prepared for the short flight to the starport.
The Courier-class shuttle was one of the mid-range shuttle models to be created by Eclipse Transport Industries, but it still performed its allotted tasks with an amount of rugged durability and sound dependability that Stacy still admired despite its 15-year long service life. The Courier was composed of an aerodynamic fuselage supported by two stubby wings and a pair of thrusters located where they joined the main body on the rearmost end of the craft. The cargo hold was located directly below the cockpit and passenger compartment, running the entire length of the vessel. The cockpit itself was in the front of the craft and took up the first four metres of its full fifteen metre length with a nasal array full of sensory equipment. It was unarmed and mostly unarmoured, making them only useful for ferrying goods and people around from one spot to another. This one, christened Felicia by her sentimental pilot and painted in black and gold livery to mimic the Dying Breath's own colours, was one of the trio of such craft currently active on the Dying Breath.
Stacy took a moment to wonder if she should check into making the new Voyageur-class shuttle that they had taken from Captain Yarrick's cargo hold into her new personal transport. It was in mint condition, no doubt on delivery from the manufacturer, and had a far more spacious interior as well as stronger engines. However, that would decrease the already limited free hangar room on her ship.
The Dying Breath had two hangars. The primary hangar, which was the one that she was in currently, was located on the starboard side of the vessel. It was three times the size of the secondary hangar which was towards the aft end of the frigate on the other side. The primary hangar served as the berth for the trio of Courier shuttles and the Dying Breath's cargo hauler, an Atlas-class heavy lifter that was named the Helping Hand, while also providing an empty spot for incoming craft to land in. The secondary hangar was home to the two outdated multirole fighter craft that Stacy had managed to get her hands onto and which that now served (illegally) as support for the frigate. Now that the new shuttle had been procured, Stacy was currently lacking any open areas for a landing. Such a thing was counterproductive to maintaining a workable space vessel and she would need to figure out the predicament sooner or later. She could sell one of the Couriers, she supposed. A new craft would be a nice change as the older shuttles have been present since her ascendance to the ship's command throne.
"All ready to go?" asked Ben 'Flight plan' Erickson, the shuttle's pilot. She kicked herself mentally as she faked a smile. Why did HE have to be the one to be on duty? She thought. Though a highly competent pilot, she still couldn't stand him for anything more than a short flight. She knew that he had a bit of a crush on her and, as an unwanted result, he tried to impress her at every turn. She didn't know what she detested more; the fact that he flew dangerously in an attempt to woo her, or the fact that he just didn't ever shut up. Despite that, though, she hadn't the heart to tell the lad that she had absolutely no interest in him and tried to keep a protective bubble of blissful ignorance about her when she was in his presence.
"Whenever you are, Mr. Erickson." she said with a faint nod of her head. Stacy thought she heard Trax subdue a bark of laughter from the passenger compartment, but ignored it.
"Well, I'm ready. We can take off whenever you wish." said the dark-haired man still in his (very) early twenties. He was only five years younger than Stacy, she herself being a hair under 26, but she couldn't help but notice the difference that it seemed to have made.
"Let's go then." she smiled, "No use waiting."
"As you wish." he said as he pushed the throttle up and the engines' tone rose in pitch. Stacy settled further back into her chair. What's he going to do this time? Try and take out the port engine? Or scrape off our sensors? She sighed mentally.
The shuttle lifted off of the decking before surging forwards slowly. It breached the energy field that separated the well-lit hangar from the void of space and they were off. Ben took the shuttle to the right and rolled into the turn so that they were parallel to the side of the Dying Breath and heading towards the engines. Stacy looked out at her ship admiringly, the spacecraft passing by beside them in a slow fashion as Ben cut the throttle back from the initial rush from the hangar.
The Dying Breath, or currently the Winter's Touch, was an old Spatha-class frigate that had seen several years in service with Star Fleet. It had lived up to its class honourably before being refitted and sold as a private craft. A standard Spatha-class frigate was fashioned out of a long primary block that housed everything but the engine compartments. The engines themselves were located near the rear inside of two large housings that were placed at the aft of the ship. This design allowed for the engines to be dumped if they started to overload, simply disengaged from the rest of the craft in the event of an emergency to drift off away from the main hull. The chances of that happening were slim, the armour of the cowlings being enough to shrug off almost everything save a direct hit from a lance battery, but the designers hadn't believed in taking any chances. The primary armament ran the length of the vessel with a direct connection to the primary fusion core. It began underneath the primary bridge, that was nestled above the main hull and in between the engine nacelles, before following the entire run of the craft to emerge at the front of the ship directly above the secondary bridge. The vanes and antennae of the communications equipment jutted from the top of the primary bridge and the shield arrays and close-in defence turrets took up specialized slots along the hull, giving it a bulky, but somehow still sleek, look. Its full 200 metre length was shaped more or less like a short blade with the handle broken off, the shape being the reason why the ship class had been named after a type of sword.
However, Star Fleet had almost completely dismantled the ship to bring it down to the civilian level. They had removed many components of the ship, including the armaments, the military-grade comms system, the transporter and fabricator systems, and the AI core to do so. In short, they had nerfed the craft.
But that hadn't stopped its subsequent captains from re-installing some of the missing equipment and upgrading its many features. A primary weapons system that Stacy thought was far superior to the removed one had been placed into the open slot. Instead of the standard K-31F phaser system, there was now a MK-12; a phaser lance weapon that had been purchased for a small fortune on the black market. Instead of the single burst fired by its older kin, the MK-12A utilized a tight-beam ultraviolet-casting neodymium core to create a veritable continuous beam of energy that could be used to cut entire craft in half. The amount that it had cost dwarfed what had been payed for the ship by a factor of three, but Stacy could easily say that it was worth every cred and the slower firing rate. By her experience, nothing seemed to cut through one of those horrible living ships like the MK-12, and she was meticulous with its upkeep. It had been far easier to replace the close-in defences, the micro-turrets being a dime a dozen. Getting them to retract completely into the hull had been a trite more difficult, and the mods that needed to be installed for the main armament to do the same were many and varied. The technology also had the side-affect of almost halving the available room on board, but that wasn't that big of a deal; the number of crew currently on active duty on the Dying Breath was only about seventy-three, so room wasn't really a problem. It had all been completed in two months of dry dock and Stacy was more than pleased with the result. The guns were completely hidden from anything short of a thorough dismantling of the ship. Until Stacy decided to show them, that is, in which case the weapons could be bared and ready to fire in under three seconds.
The communications system had been simple to replace, the black market once again helping immeasurably. Yarrick, when he had been in command, had upgraded the standard sensor suite that Star Fleet had placed in it to keep it flyable with a more suitable one that could even listen in on the military channels. This had helped the crew immensely, allowing them to avoid patrols and even misdirect them off to somewhere where they would be of no threat to the Dying Breath.
The shields had cost almost as much as the guns, but they were completely legal. There was no rule against protecting one's craft with harmless energy fields, after all. The ones currently on the ship were adequate, but Stacy knew that they would be the next thing to be upgraded when she had the time. A ship that they had been attempting to get aboard a year back had attempted to transport her ship's life support away in an effort to cripple the Breath. Stacy thought such ploys were cowardly, not to mention extremely dangerous for both ships. The one losing the system would, of course, be in trouble, but the one with the transporter could be just as bad off if the system materialized inside it due to some mistake. Her shields had (barely) managed to shrug off the attempt and then Stacy had made them pay. She had crippled their entire ship other than the life support system and left them drifting in a stretch of deep space for a month. When she returned, the crew was much more... cooperative... and she had taken what she had sought without further retaliation. She had also transported the captain of the ship into the centre of a nearby solar storm, but that was just a bonus.
The Dying Breath was painted mainly in a black that matched the cold of the void. Golden traceries ran around the edges of the ship and glimmered with the sun's warming light. It had been painted many times before, of course, but this colour scheme had been Stacy's idea. She had thought for a long time what colours to coat her ship with in place of the dull grey that the previous commanders had left on since the ship's second captain had taken command. Stacy had finally decided on the colours after she had seen the very same ones on a ship she had raided two years ago. She had been so delighted at finding a paint job that she liked that she had hauled the craft around to the nearest dock so that the painters could get an idea of what she had wanted. It hadn't been nearly enough to stop her from blowing the small pleasure craft to piecemeal when she was underway again, though, but that was besides the point. Since then, the colour hadn't dimmed in the slightest. A few silver nicks and scratches showed where something had hit it, but it was otherwise as brilliant as it had been coming out of the station. She had gotten all of the service vessels painted in the same livery, and she knew that she had made the right choice. The colours were both dark and noble, something that she knew personified the ship with unerring accuracy.
The name, however, was almost brand-new. Before it had been the Dying Breath, the frigate had been called the Aquila Ascendent. The name had always rubbed her the wrong way and had been in place since before Yarrick had been in charge of the vessel. Stacy had only changed it three months ago. Having had enough of the, quote, "stupid friggin' name," she had held a vote. She had asked the entire crew to think of different names that they came up with and post them in the mess hall on the news board. She had then gotten each crew member to vote on the one that he/she found was the best choice. The Dying Breath was the clear winner afterwards, outdoing the Dreadclaw, the next in order, by about double the votes. As a result she had changed the transponder codes and the ship was to be henceforth known by its new, much darker, name. The name of the ship, for obvious reasons, was only painted in one location on the exterior of the vessel in flowing scripture. The exact location was only known to the senior crew, and it had become a sort of game for the younger crew members to try and guess at where it was.
Stacy's gaze wandered lovingly across the Dying Breath's sleek outline, taking in all of its many features. They were almost as familiar to her as her own body was, all the components positioned perfectly and working at peak efficiency. When she had set out on a normal vacation all those years ago to Chakona, she had never thought that she would end up being captured by pirates. And becoming one of their crew? It had never crossed her mind that it would, or even could, ever happen. But she had taken it in stride, quickly securing a low position before climbing up the command ladder until she was at the top. And now that ship, the Dying Breath, was hers. And she would be damned if anybody took it from her.
"She's quite the beauty, ain't she?" asked Ben from beside her.
Not wanting to get into a conversation that she knew would eventually hurt her ears, she merely nodded silently. Ben took the shuttle through a wide turn until they were once again facing Terra in all of its brilliant beauty. Then the view was hindered by a grotesque abomination that eked quickly across the viewport. The proximity alarm blared and Stacy snapped quickly out of her reverie.
"Hang on!" cried the pilot as he pulled up on the stick, bringing the shuttle into a steep curve up and over the obstruction. She was glad for the inertial dampers, otherwise she imagined that a lot of her blood would have went straight to her legs and made her dizzy. Another alarm was tripped, saying that somebody had a tractor beam locked onto them. The little shuttle shook, Stacy's hands gripped tight around her seat's armrests. She gave a curse and she heard Trax growl menacingly from the hold and flick the safety off on his weapon. Poor bastard, she thought, he has a weak stomach at the best of times...
The shuttle started drifting lazily upwards as the tractor beam shifted them away from the immense hulk of metal, the ship still shuddering slightly, much to Trax's disdain. Stacy tried to get a better look at the obstruction, moving her chair closer to the glass viewing pane.
It was a ship. At least, it was in name, as it was larger than most stations. To call it such took either the lack of sight or an extremely good sense of humour. It looked like somebody had taken several spacecraft and rammed them together at something just under warp three. That said, it was a ship that only the designer could love. The main bulk of it was composed of what appeared to be two freighter cargo spheres and the rest was mostly just an interlocked series of support galleries, docking ports, singular cargo bays, and engines mounted on the most curious-looking struts.
Stacy glowered out the viewport at it as they were pushed upwards along its surface, its every horrid plate and antennae blatantly obvious to her seasoned spacefarer's eyes. It was the kind of ship that she didn't think twice about blowing the complete crap out of whenever she got the chance. Whereas she saw the Dying Breath as a graceful creation born to slip between stars as if it was second nature, a predator at home in the void, the only thing she saw looking at this craft was a brutish monster that clawed its way through the warp, a bloated tick that would try to suck the life out of a galaxy better off without it.
The comms crackled as they were hailed. Stacy cut Ben off, slapping his hand out of the way with a growl of impatience as she flicked the toggle for the comms system. A child's voice came over the vox. From its high pitch, Stacy was guessing it was a girl of about eight or nine.
"Woah! You almost hit us!" The voice sounded excited and shaken up all at once, and was punctuated by a crackle of static. I almost hit YOU!? she thought angrily, You're just lucky we're not somewhere else, otherwise you're face would be looking just as bad as your ship does in a heartbeat! As much as she wanted to voice the audacious thought, she covered her anger quickly. She drew the line at children.
"Sorry about that," she said as she inflected a small bit of fear into her voice to ward her words from her rage, "just excited to see Earth again is all. I guess we got a little too anxious."
"No harm done." came the reply. "You might want to be more careful next time though. If Neal saw what had just happened..." Then another voice came on over the comm.
"He has not. Captain Neal is currently in the holodeck enjoying a nap." blurted a different voice before addressing Stacy, "You may wish to get your sensors checked. Though I am not picking up any signs of equipment failure on your shuttle, small problems may have been missed during the scan." The voice sounded like it belonged to a female and was remarkably calm, and Stacy thought it was even a bit monotone.
"Yeah...," she said, "I'll have it looked at." Okay, first a kid and now some sort of glorified computer? That hunk of junk sounds crazier than my own!
"You're lucky that we caught you," squeaked the kid, "you were getting pretty close."
"You've got that right. This tub of bolts can hardly make atmosphere anymore. I'd hate to imagine what would have happened if you hadn't shunted us away." That was far from true, of course, the shuttle was almost as perfect as the day it had come out of the factory. But the more she played the role of the helpless damsel, the more she knew she could get away with. Besides, how would a kid know?
"Well, I don't mean to brag, but even I could drive better than that." responded the kid, another rock of the shuttle accompanying her words.
"Yeah, I bet you could. If you ever want a job as a shuttle pilot, I'm sure there will be an opening soon." Stacy said in an 'almost joking' manner as she heard Trax finally lose his lunch behind her and Ben swallow heavily.
"See ya!" said voice as he clicked off the channel and the shuddering finally ceased.
Stacy looked over to Ben, who was trying his best not to look guilty. "You saw that coming, didn't you?" she asked. It wasn't a question, it was an accusation. There was no way even the shuttle's relatively tame sensors could have missed THAT. The dumbass had probably seen it as a chance to show off again. Actually, there was no other way that they could have gotten that close to something that big without noticing it; it dwarfed most ship sizes four times the Breath's tonnage for crying out loud! She knew what he had been trying to do, and frowned. It'll never work, Ben. Get that through your thick skull!
"Kind of..." he smiled sheepishly. Stacy shook her head and sat back into her chair.
"Just get us to Earth in one piece." she sighed. "And for the love of Mars, do it safely for once..."
For once Ben listened and proceeded to stick to a standard flightpath that would take them straight to the starport on the eastern edge of the GNA near to the Gulf of Mexico. Stacy managed to catch a few glimpses of other craft on the way down, none as ungainly as that awful freighter, and even saw a few that she recognized.
Across the horizon of the planet and near to one of the orbiting stations that circled around it was the Pride of Perlia, a freighter that was almost like kin to the Dying Breath. The name that showed up on the readouts was a falsehood, another pirate craft that was making use of a fake transponder to sneak past the 'Fleet patrols and into the system. It's real name was the Crimson Tear and it was wanted in at least two systems that Stacy knew of. She suppressed a smile as she noticed the trio of Star Fleet cruisers halted near to it. It seems as if Captain Quintus's luck has finally ran out. she thought, Serves him right for selling out Garro.
Closer and off to the left of the viewport was the Gallant, a short-haul cargo ship that she had once raided to get at the precious cache of weapons being shipped out to the eastern rim. She had made a fair profit out of that little sortie, if she remembered correctly. The money she had made had been more than enough to acquire a second holodeck on the Breath and to refit the cargo hauler with a new thruster package.In fact, some of the weapons were still in her armoury (which had been full to bursting even before she had raided the Gallant) and had come in handy over the last few months.
The last one that she knew was the Star Fleet cruiser F.S.S. Reliant. It was in low orbit over South America, its drives powered down and many of its lights were out. A large rent in the hull surrounded by a cloud of maintenance craft became visible as they drew closer and it was obvious that it wasn't from any phaser or energy weapon. The edges of the scar were sharp, gleaming, and free from scorch marks. No, that was from a collision. With what, Stacy could only imagine. The captain of that vessel, Luke Sanders, was a joke among the people commonly referred to as 'space pirates', his skills in command probably more suited to an office somewhere instead of a warship. His only redeeming quality was that he was always consistent; he always managed to screw up just enough to damage his craft, but never quite enough to warrant a dishonourable discharge. Stacy figured that he was a relative of some higher-up on the proverbial food chain with enough connections to keep him in active service despite his many mishaps.
Stacy knew that a fair number of marauder captains went out of their way to make his life hard, so it was hardly ALL his fault. Hell, even she had once tricked him into flying too close to a quasar that blew out the majority of his ship's electronic systems. She had reeled him out of harm's way from a safer distance, of course, but if what he said was the truth, he had spent the better part of a year at dry dock getting the Reliant back into working shape. That little prank had probably cost Star Fleet a hefty amount of credits and she had even felt bad for him afterwards, Sanders being put through a trial for her trick on the charge of negligence and insubordination. Stacy had pulled a few strings to get him loose, though, in the way of a mild apology. Nevertheless, she couldn't help but grin at this curious development and the captain's terrible fortune.
Soon the small shuttle began to vibrate as it entered the atmosphere and gained a small tail of heat residue as it dove towards the Niagara Falls Spaceport. Stacy sat back in her seat with a feeling of contentment that she knew was illusory. She wouldn't be truly happy until she was on the ground and away from any more attempts to show off on Ben's part. Behind her, Trax gagged as he tried to hold onto whatever was left in his stomach.
Eric Chandler had hated his job. It wasn't the dull monotony of it all, or even the occasional annoying traveller who refused to accept the fact that Star Corps frowned upon the use of comms in the immediate presence of the scanners. No, it wasn't that at all. What the jackal fur hated about his job was how there was never a lull in the action. Sure, it staved off boredom most of the time, but he found that he craved the time just to be able to relax for once.
So he had done something about it. He had requested a transfer out of the response unit and instead asked to be put behind the counter at one of the security terminals near the debarkation pads. Today was his first day with his new job, and he was already far happier than he had been yesterday.
Getting put near the private landing zone was easily one of the most fortuitous things that had ever happened to him in his seven years at working at the Niagara Falls Spaceport. It wasn't quite as good as the time when he had managed to get the number off of a pair of coyote fems (THAT was the best thing to ever happen) or the time when some old geezer had handed him a two-hundred credit tip for helping him with his bags (the full amount of which went straight to partying for three days straight with the fems), but it was definitely third on his list. The amount of foot traffic that came through was easily manageable, especially for someone who had worked at the main terminal for the better part of three years, and the customers were of a far nicer class.
Eric gave a curt wave to the elderly human couple that he had just cleared through from Mars, watching as they wound their way across the small, sunlit waiting area before disappearing around a bend to where the monorails were located. From there he knew they would ride the short monorail off to the main building before climbing into a rented PTV and heading for their nephew's house. They were talkative and had told him as such.
Whistling to himself, Eric tucked the ten creds he had been given into his pants pocket and turned up the air conditioner next to him on the counter. The tips here were better, too. He had only been working for two hours and already he had gained a nice lump of cash for later use. He tapped at the console in front of him, wincing as he made a wrong move. He'd never get that ace back to where it had been now...
A small chime caught his attention and perked up his brown ears. He quickly minimized the game he had been playing and looked out the window to landing pad four where the computer told him that a craft was inbound. A small shuttle painted in black and gold flew over the landing zone before doing a lazy turn and taking another pass. This time its speed slowed and the landing gear popped out from underneath as it came in for the final landing. The craft landed gracefully on the flat expanse of cement, the flanks of it's hull shimmering slightly in the afternoon sun. He could see that the starport's ground crew were already running from a nearby outbuilding to attach fuel lines and give it a quick once-over.
The rear hatch descended and settled to the pad with a muted clank. Eric squinted slightly as the passengers offloaded, grabbing kitbags from a side compartment before heading for the doors that lead into his little checkpoint. The pilot stayed behind, no doubt to take off again once the shuttle was refuelled, and started talking to the starport's crew chief.
Eric straightened his deep blue uniform a bit and checked the cuffs of his jacket. They had a nasty habit of retreating up his arms whenever he started getting warm. Sure that everything was in order, he turned to the screen. The shuttle's transponder signal said that it was from an orbiting ship, the Winter's Breath, if he was reading it right, and was ferrying one Captain Vaille to the ground. Hmm... he thought, another high roller...
The automatic glass door to his right whooshed open, admitting the shuttle's three passengers and a heady gust of warm air. Eric quickly assessed the trio.
The first through the door was a tiger fur of about his own height and who held intelligent green eyes set into an impassive face. He was wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans and carried both a leather jacket and a kitbag over one shoulder. The second one to emerge from outdoors was a wolf fur that, despite his intimidating posture and bulk, looked like he had seen better days. He was breathing deeply and dressed in a fashion almost identical to the tiger except he had necklace of some sort fashioned out of a large tooth draped around his neck. The last passenger was the one that got him interested.
She was an arctic fox morph that looked like she had just stepped off the cover of a Fur Fashion magazine. She was dressed in a simple pair of khaki shorts and a plain shirt that only helped to accentuate her lithe and, in his opinion, sexy, body that was a few inches shorter than he was. Golden hoop earrings hung from her ears and reflected the light coming from outside with sparks of honeyed light. Her long tail flitted out behind her, swaying lightly as she made her way over to the counter. Eric stood up a bit straighter to get a better view.
"Hello!" she said, "I'm Captain Amber Vaille of the Winter's Touch. This is Mark Durham and Ken Olieander, both members of my crew. I take it everything is in order?" He barely heard what she said, too busy looking at her deep blue eyes.
Eric coughed before answering. "Er- Yes, ma'am. All your credentials came through and you're good to go." He thumbed a few icons on his console. She's the captain? Wow, I'd take orders from her all day, every day...
"Uhh..." she asked after a slight pause, " Are you enjoying the view?"
Eric blinked. He had been staring at her tits! Damn! "Er- I ... I'm sorry, I usually only get old people through here." he stammered as he quickly made to avert his gaze.
"No harm done." laughed Amber. Her laugh was light and bouncy, echoing slightly off the walls of the empty waiting room. "You should have seen this one guy out on Fort Clark. As hard as it may seem, he was worse than you. I swear that I could feel him undressing me with his eyes."
"That's... good to hear." he smiled weakly as he landing pass 'chucked' out of the slot below the monitor. He tore it off and held it over the stone counter top. "And that's yours."
She leaned forwards over the counter, one hand flicking an errant strand of hair from her eyes, and cocked her head to one side. "Thank you...?" she let the words hang, waiting for his name.
"Eric." he offered. "Eric Chandler."
"Well, thank you, Eric. It was nice meeting you." she daintily plucked the piece of paper from his hand with her thumb and forefinger and tucked it into one of her pockets. "Maybe I'll see you again when I go back up."
"Yeah," he said as she walked away, the other two falling in behind her. He managed one more peek at her swaying tail as they rounded the bend towards the monorail. "Maybe."
His spirits lifted even more than they had been previously, Eric was about to turn back to his game when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It was her kitbag, a brown bag bristling with pouches and straps. It was leaned up against the counter where she had placed it when she went to talk to him. She had left it behind!
Eric practically lunged over the counter to grab it, shirking off his dress jacket and running a grooming hand across the tuft of fur that served as his hair. He grabbed the kitbag, which was surprisingly heavy for its size, and ran after her. He gave a small call for somebody to cover for him through the mic as he went, hoping to catch up to her before the monorail left.
Even if it does, he thought as he made his way to the far end of the waiting room, I could use a bit of a break to follow her. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get her number...
Stacy chuckled silently to herself as the doors to the monorail slid closed and the transport got underway. It was a good day today, almost hitting a freighter aside. The poor lad hadn't stood a chance. It may have been a mean trick, but it had cleared them through the security without even a single question as to where they were going to be staying, if there was any food or drink in the bags, and most important of all, if they were armed.
The monorail clattered and bumped along the raised rail, heading for the main terminal. The sun from outside streamed in through the windows that lined it, casting flickering shadows about the multitude of chairs and handrails that lined the interior as they passed the occasional strut. To one side of the monorail she saw the flat expanse of concrete that served as the landing zone for the incoming shuttles and lifters. It looked barren, but she could see the green of a distant treeline beyond the man-made clearing. On the other side was a wonderful, if distant, view of the Niagara falls. The mist was the most dominant feature from this distance, swirling up into the air and visible for kilometres in every direction on a good day.
It's good to be home...
"He didn't even ask about weapons!" grinned Trax as he leaned up against one side of the otherwise-empty tram. His kitbag was laying at his feet and he was starting to recover from the flight down. Good thing too, Stacy thought, otherwise I'd have to worry about getting him some food soon.
"How could he? He was far too busy checking out the Captain." laughed Rhajir as he shifted his pack to the other shoulder. "Everywhere we go, she's breaking hearts and taking names."
"Oh come now," she said as she turned away from the window, "would you want it any other way?" Then a thought hit her. Something wasn't quite right... "OH SHIT! My bag!"
"What, did you forget it on the shuttle?" asked Rhajir sceptically.
"No, I had it when we left the shuttle..." she said as she retraced her steps in her head, "It must be in the reception. Oh, this isn't good...."
"Why not?" asked Trax.
"Because I left that sphere in it!" she cried, slamming a fist against the wall in distress. The thud was muted by the relative soundness of the tram's construction, but the anger in the blow was easily apparent. The fur on her neck and tail had fluffed out, a sign that both of her bodyguards knew was a bad thing.
"Sphere?" asked Trax, still as oblivious as he'd ever been.
"That xenos artifact, Trax," said Rhajir gently in an effort to let him know what was going on. "The thing that we found in that tomb on Kihiri. The little thing that Don died for."
"The key to our current expedition." sighed Stacy, who was looking like she wanted to eat a baby at the moment to get the taste of blatant stupidity out of her mouth.
"Oh," said Trax, still not quite understanding. "That thing..."
"That little sphere is the whole reason why we're here, Trax..." said Stacy quietly. "We have to get it back."
"We'll take the next tram back to the reception." said Rhajir in a consoling tone. "If that jackal is half as smitten with you as I think he was, he would have held onto it."
Stacy thought that over for a second. It made sense. Her little play had made him quite oblivious to everything else in the room and he would more than likely keep it around until she came back. Unless he didn't notice it, being too busy looking at her to pay attention to anything else while somebody nabbed it. But then again, who would know what it was anyways? Even Stacy only had only the slightest clue as to its full value. Yes, they would take the next monorail back and retrieve her bag. Easy enough.
When the doors glided open and she saw what was waiting for her on the other side, she knew instantly that it would hardly be that simple.
Chakat Universe is © Bernard Doove and used with his permission.
Yes, that is a Folly reference. And yes, I asked for Allen's permission.
None of the characters or ships mentioned here (not otherwise mentioned above) are copyrighted, and if you're writing something feel free to use them. However, I would appreciate it if you told me what you were doing first.
This is purely a 'trial version' at this point, and in order to continue I would like some feedback to let me know that somebody is interested in reading. If none is received, I suppose I will sideline this idea and move on. There is already a plot line figured out, but I am open to suggestions, requests, criticisms, call-downs, and insults from anybody who wants to contact me.
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