You guys seemed to like the first part – the prologue – of my first attempts at a Sci-Fi story, so I figured I’d give you the first chapter too! If this does well, or if I get a lot of good feedback, I might consider writing a third part and continuing it to post here. I’m lazy, but hearing people like my stuff makes my small cat-brain motivated! Anyway – on with the story! I hope you enjoy!
Chapter One – Untitled
Mutterings echoed in the large auditorium as hundreds of men and women in impeccable blue uniforms stood side by side. Some shifted anxiously while others stood expressionless, staring ahead as they waited for whatever they had been gathered for. Suddenly, with the opening of two large double doors the front of the room, the chamber was silenced. The only sounds were boots on the concrete flooring as an aging man, dressed in a red uniform top, black slacks, and finely polished black boots made his way to the center of a raised platform at the front of the room.
The man stood behind a podium, eyes moving across the many faces before him, before nodding to himself. “Ladies and gentlemen; we are at war. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way we can move onto the important details – I want to know who, why, and how. Who attacked us? Why did they attack? And how did we not see this coming? Those are the three questions you will be tasked with answering for me.”
Slowly the room dissolve into mutterings as the men and women began to softly speak to one another, many brows were furled in confusion and thought. The man on the platform allowed this chatter to occur for a few moments before clearing his throat, drawing all attention back to himself. Pulling a small remote from his pocket, the lights dimmed, and holographic projection rose from the floor between himself and the audience. Gesturing to it, a world took shape, followed by the ruins of a space station and what looked to be debris from various sized starships.
“As you are likely aware, Dath was the first battleground of this conflict. Over a dozen smaller vessels, mostly corvettes and one or two light cruisers, were the first casualties of this unexpected war. Survivors of the Golden Eagle, Maiden’s Revenge, and Trast’s Fall were questioned, and all their stories seem to collaborate. A moderate fleet, numbering near 30 ships with a maximum tonnage of 750,000, appeared in the Dath system without warning. Contact was attempted but never successfully occurred. The Maiden’s Revenge was the first to fall to a hail of missiles – she was the largest vessel in system at 450,000 tons.” Pausing, making sure he had their attention, the man clicked the remote and the scene changed. A ship, dark grey with several blue lines cutting across it and rectangular in ship. On sides of the bow were the words Loriem’s Faith.
A single student flinched in the crowd, which the man took note of, but they quickly composed them self. Gesturing to the hologram the aging official continued. “The Loriem’s Faith, a simple scouting cruiser that had been given orders to replace the Golden Sword in the Dath system – Lord Admiral Garse was summoned back to Tanera – it was last seen engaging in an emergency Void Jump from the Dath system by survivors. It has been missing for nearly four Tanerian days and, according to witnesses, is likely in critical condition. Searches have been organized, but it is unlikely to be found.”
Clicking the remote again, the lights returned to full and the hologram faded. “Finding her is not your mission, nor is it a primary objective. Your main objective is the identity of these unknown forces and the motive. That is all. Questions may be given to your assignment leaders. Now go and do your duty!”
As one the hundreds of men and women snapped to attention, their boots clicking in near-perfect unity as their fist closed at the center of their chests. “For The Emperor and The Empire – we will not fail you!”
The aging man nodded in satisfaction, turning their salute before relaxing. “Dismissed. Ensign Rikard, stay behind.”
The name caught many of the departing audience’s attention, and they turned to see who had been singled out. Most of them had read the documents associated with the attack, as to be expected, and so were very familiar with who exactly captained the Loriem’s Faith during what were likely its last moments. However, a single glance towards the platform and the aging man standing there had them abandoning any ideas of questioning their comrade.
If the young man had noticed his peer’s attention, he didn’t show it. Facing straight ahead, grey eyes boring into the official on stage, he patiently waited for the room to clear. Once half of the group had cleared the room, the aging officer moved off the stage and beckoned the younger man over to his side, which he quickly complied with.
Making his way over to the official the ensign gave a quick salute and held his position, waiting for further instruction. Giving him a glance up and down, the senior officer nodded sharply and gave a dismissive wave of his hand. “At ease.”
Relaxing slightly, Ensign Rikard cleared his throat. “You called for me, Sir?”
“I’ll be straight with you, Ensign Rikard…Byron…High Command is concerned about having you onboard with this mission.” Holding up his hand, stopping the young man’s protest before it starts. “They’re concerned you won’t be able focus on the objective.”
This brought the young officer’s protests to a stop, and he stood silently as the older man paused, keeping his eyes on Byron. “Are they right to worry? You know the mission’s goal – Loriem’s Faith is not priority.”
“I’m aware, Commander. I know my duty.” Byron said, teeth clenched. “It’s like you said – unlikely to be found.”
“If you insist on going, I can pass my recommendation to Command that you be permitted – but are you sure that you’re capable of undergoing this mission? Just say the word and I’ll transfer you to another operation.” The Lieutenant offered, keeping his eyes on Byron.
The younger officer paused, considering for just a moment, but then nodded. His eyes hardening as he kept his gaze locked on his senior’s. “Write the recommendation, Sir. And put me on the first transport out.”
Holding Byron’s gaze for several minutes, the older man nodded sharply. “Don’t let me down, Ensign. It’ll be my reputation, and career, if you do.” Holding out his hand, he grasped the younger officer’s tightly and gave it a firm shake. “Get packing, then.”
Matching the Lieutenant’s grip and returning the firm shake, Byron gave a short nod before pulling back to deliver a sharp salute. “You can count on me, Sir! I’ll make the Empire proud.”
Returning the salute, the older man gave a half smile, then cleared his throat. “Dismissed, Ensign Rikard. For Emperor and Empire!”
“Thank you, Sir.” Turning on his heel, Byron exited the room swiftly. Exiting the large auditorium and turning a corner onto the path back to the dormitories he was stopped short by the sight of his roommate, a tall and athletically built man named Lormas, leaning against one of the build’s pillars.
“About time you got out of there. What did the old man want?” Lormas asked, pushing off the pillar and making his way over, sliding his holotablet into his pocket.
Byron glanced up at the other Ensign, who stood nearly a head taller than him, and shrugged. “He was going to remove me from the mission – I convinced him not to.”
“Conflict of interest, I’m guessing? Emotional interference with the objective.” Lormas ran a hand through his short-cut dirty blonde hair, idly pushing it from his face. “…Are they right to worry?”
“You know damn well that they’re not.” Byron said, brushing passed the other man and continuing his walk. Feeling a small bit of satisfaction when he heard Lormas quicken to catch up, even if his long legs made it easy.
“You can’t blame me for asking – chances are we’ll be assigned to the same ship and I’d rather not have my first embarking go south.” Any other soldier would have been insulted at the remark, but Byron had long since gotten used to Lormas’ bluntness. Nearly six months of training beside the man, living with him, eating with him, etc, had dulled his reactions considerably.
Something that annoys him greatly. Byron reached into his pocket, removing his own holotablet from where it had been placed before the emergency meeting. “Nothing will happen – patrols, scouting, maybe scavenging wrecks at most. We won’t be assigned to anything larger than a destroyer.”
“What if we are?” The question made Byron pause, his fingers hovering over the power button on his holotablet. “What if we’re assigned to one of the ships that go to pursue whatever, whoever, it was? What if…What if we’re the ones that find Loriem’s Faith? What then, Byron?”
There was a long pause after the question, filled with tension as the shorter soldier digested it slowly. Thoughts about what he would do, how he would feel, in that situation ate at him. Finally, after a minute or two of silence, Byron turned to look up and hold Lormas’ green-brown gaze.
“I guess we’ll see what happens, then, won’t we?” The answer made Lormas roll his eyes, but Byron could see the glint behind them. The knowledge and understanding. They were soldiers, loyal to their Empire and the Emperor that led it. But they were human first and foremost and some vows, some loyalties, were older and more powerful than that of a soldier’s to his officer.
I know my duty, Commander. Byron pocket his holotablet and continued his walk, Lormas following close behind.
“Hey, Byron? Since this is likely our last time planet side for a while – you want to celebrate?”
“Yeah. Let’s do that.” They took a left instead of a right at the corner, taking the path away from the complex and towards the rail station. “But you’re buying.”
The rail ride into the city proper was quick, a benefit of hover and magnetic technologies Bryon recalled hearing once, something that always disappointed him. The city of the city and its lights was one of the few benefits of being located at the military academy on Iliuem. Outside of its sizeable military training facilities, academies, and garrisons, Iliuem is also one of the few tourism and leisure-focused worlds inside the Empire. The capital city is well known for its massive crystal spires and the way the light shined through them or off them, depending on the whims of the city council.
The spires ranged in height with the tallest stretching miles into the sky, outclassing all but the massive space elevator located in the center of the city, and the shortest being only a few hundred feet in height. Each was pulled directly from the inner layers of the planet and placed in an assigned position by wealthy merchant-lords from the now fully integrated Avrian Stellar Republic. Byron could only imagine how much the entire procedure had cost.
Can’t complain about the view, though. At night, when the city shined artificial light through the crystals and illuminated the heavens, Byron thought it something out of the TeXTRA Net shows he’d watched as a child with his brother. The ones that had featured magical men and women, creatures as big as a starship flying through space and eating asteroids full of glinting crystals and precious metals.
It almost made up for the fact that, in the daylight, the crystals were a blinding eyesore. Or that the entire city was shielded in someway or another to prevent the reflecting light from causing a major accident or injury. No one had taken into consideration the other aspects of directing light through an entire city of giant, towering, focus crystals.
Stepping out of the rail car, Bryon nudged Lormas with his elbow and gestured down a city of stairs to their right. “Let’s head to that place on 114th Street. It serves food – If I’m going to be eating rations or what passes for grub out of the ship or station canteen, I want a good last meal.”
“They have great honeyroot ale, too. Good call, By!” Letting Lormas take the lead, largely due to his superior size and thus ability to push through the crowd, Byron quickly checked his holotab.
Checking to make sure his connection was secure, he opened the T.I.M.P application – standard security clearance, just to browse his various messages and communications. Byron immediately dismissed the notifications marked “condolences” and similar – until a body was presented, he didn’t believe it – and was disappointed to see no updates on his deployment.
“Anything from the Commander or High Command?” Lormas’ voice drew Bryon’s attention from his holo device. Seeing his friend’s head mid-turn from where he’d glanced over his shoulder, Byron quickly pocked it and shook his head.
“Nothing yet. I’ll check again later.” The answer made Lormas frown and shake his head, reaching back to wrap an arm around the other ensign and pull him up to stand side by side with him.
“Nope, that won’t do! Worry about it tomorrow – tonight we don’t think about assignments at all, got it?” Byron knew that, even if he’d indicated otherwise, he’d just be ignored so he gave his roommate a half-hearted glare and a nod. “Good man! Now, pull out that holotab again and invite some more people, yeah? A party has to have more than just two people!”
“You do it – you’re the one with half our year in your contacts, remember? Besides, you really think they’d believe it if I was the one to invite them?” Byron rolled his eyes and shoved the other man. “I’ll go find us some seats – just book the entire place under “Greyes,” yeah?”
“You’re right they wouldn’t believe you – wait, why my name?! This is our party, isn’t it? Shouldn’t we be splitting the bill?” Lormas already had his holotab in his hands and was adding numerous people to a contact group as he protested – Byron felt the notification go off in his pocket as he was added.
“Yeah, but remember when I said you’ll be buying? If you want to invite half the damn dorm, you’re making up the slack.” Byron was already moving into the building, a medium sized dive that offered great alcohol and food, before Lormas had the chance to retaliate. Acting quickly, he pulled out his holotab and sent a quick “Lormas is buying – bring friends!” to the group chat before heading up to the host’s table.
He didn’t need to check the chat to know that the message he just received in response wasn’t a child friendly one – he could hear the other ensign outside just fine. The half-shouted curses, angry buzzing in his pocket, and the confused faces of his host and waiter as he booked the largest table they had – and then some extra chairs in case – lifted his mood immensely.
Maybe this party thing is a great idea after all.
This party was a mistake. That was the only thought going through Byron’s head as he sipped his drink – honeyroot ale – and grimaced. He’d assumed that people would be working to take their minds off their upcoming assignment, not gossiping about it. He didn’t really care who was assigned where, or how the blue-blood son of Lord Admiral what’s-his-name used his connections to get cushy desk job in the capital, away from all the potential danger.
“Hey, Bry! Calm down a little, would you? That’s the fourth drink you’ve had in the last hour.” Lormas said, leaning against the bar next to Byron as the other man finished his ale. “You alright?”
Placing the mug down on the wood bar and nodding to the bartender who had already started the process of refilling it, Byron turned to his roommate. “Yeah, just taking a breather from the gossip. You know how Shriel gets.”
Lormas grimaced in understanding – Shriel had been one of the few members of their original trainee group that had been sent to Iliuem for officer training. A brilliant tactician and great with logistics, but a well-known gossiper. Without fail any non-critical information she heard found its way to the very edge of the empire by the end of the week.
An exaggeration, but she really is that bad. Byron had hoped officer training would have shattered that little habit of hers – and maybe their superiors had, too. But in the end, she’d just learned to keep her mouth shut when it came to important details. Everything else? That was fair game.
“Yeah, Shriel’s got a mouth like an ion drive – never stops, only varying speeds. But she’s not the only reason you’re over here sucking the joy out of us all like some anti-social black hole.” Lormas sipped his own drink – some new whiskey from one of the frontier worlds, made using a special type of cave fruit Byron overheard the bartender saying – and sighed. “It’s the stares, isn’t it?”
Byron felt his shoulders tense at his roommate’s statement – something the other man no doubt noticed – and cursed his perception. It was hard to remember that Lormas Greyes possessed a sharp mind underneath all the jokes and playfulness. “If I have to hear the word “sorry” again in the next hour I’ll hit something.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to get out of the way when you do! I remember our sparing matches back in basic – my jaw aches thinking about it!” Giving his chin a mock rub, wincing at the phantom pains, Lormas finished his whiskey in a single smooth motion. “Don’t pay them any mind, Byr. They mean well.”
“…A body wasn’t found, Lormas. He could be alive.” Byron toyed with the glass in his hands – crystal now that he had a good look at it. The material was cheap on Iliuem given the planets abundance of it beneath the surface, so it made sense.
“Byr…It was an unplanned, uncharted, emergency Void Jump with a damaged engine. Even if – and that’s a big if – they survived the jump they’re drifting in the dark out there. They could be anywhere. You might have to accept that there isn’t a body to retrieve.” Lormas said, and Byron wanted to hit him for it.
But he knew that the other man hated said it out of spite, or to hurt him – though it certainly stung – only to tell him the hard truth. No one came back from a Jump like that. Their derelict ships floated somewhere in the vast emptiness of space for the rest of time – the vessel and its crew perfectly preserved. Their destruction captured for all eternity for no one to view.
“I know, Lormas!” Byron said, the words moving through clenched teeth as he imagined his brother frozen there in the void of space, his face forever holding the horror he must have felt in his final moments. “I know.”
The thought made him sick to his stomach, but he couldn’t afford to lose it. Not when gossip-queen Shriel was here who would, undoubtably, spread it to the far corners of the planet by the end of the week. The Commander would know by the end of the next day and his recommendation would be revoked, leaving Byron to wallow in some desk job on Iliuem or sent on patrol to the frontiers at the opposite end of the Empire.
Lormas – Emperor damn his perception – seemed to understand this as he simply pulled the other man in with a laugh Byron almost thought was real. The sound echoed through the room, catching everyone’s attention “Who knew you had a sense of humor, Byr? Hey, guys, wanna here a joke? Come here!”
Byron played along with the ruse, “Why don’t you tell it, Lormas? You’re the master of mummery.”
The callout made a few of the others laugh – notably Shriel who had turned her attention from Byron to Lormas, as planned. Byron’s roommate, feigning hurt from the comment, placed the back of his hand to his head in anguish. “Your words pierce like the finest viroblade, Byron! Very well, I shall! So, a lieutenant, a captain, and an ensign find themselves lost in the woods when-“
Byron toned out his friend’s grandiose performance, turning his attention to his drink – still placed on the bar exactly where it’d been for the last ten or so minutes. He could feel the last four slowly starting to take their effect, finally, as his thoughts turned sluggish. Raising the new drink to his lips and sipping it slowly, he processed the discussion he had with Lormas – the fate of the Loriem’s Faith and its captain.
He’s not dead. Tanis is alive – I know it. Byron could feel it in his bones, though that might just be the ale. His brother was too stubborn, to persistent, to die just like that. If anyone could find a way to stay alive, to make it back to Imperial space, it would be Tanis Rikard. The gigantic ass is just milking it, is all.
Still, despite his conviction that his brother was alive somewhere out there in the vast emptiness of space, he couldn’t help but feel Lormas’ words press down on him. No one had ever returned from uncharted emergency jumps without a working engine – it was akin to being trapped in the middle of the ocean without propulsion or anyway of communicating with the rest of the world. Soon, supplies ran out and hunger, desperation, set in.
Byron lifted his drink with the rest, giving the best laugh false-laughter he could as Lormas finished his joke. If anyone noticed he doubted it’d matter too much – they wouldn’t remember at the rate the alcohol was kicking in. But no matter how hard he laughed, how much he smiled, it didn’t help the dread growing in his chest or the uncertainty at the back of his mind.
Tanis…Where are you?
To be Continued… (?)
READ MORE: A CAT WRITES FANTASY!
That’s all she wrote! If you like it, please like it! Comment with what you think could be better, or what you enjoyed, and be sure to check out the other works I have here in The Bin! As stated, if this does well I’ll be sure to write more! For now, I’ll catch you rummaging with me later!