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 Post subject: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 8:30 pm 
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The Systems Three

Part 1


Applause erupted throughout the room as David Redman stepped down from the podium to greet his fellow colleagues. People swarmed around him, passing on their words of congratulations, encouragement and joy, while others greeted him with a warm handshake or a clap on the back. The media crews made their closing remarks, then packed up their equipment and hastily merged with the crowd, mingling with the other guests. The room was alive with chatter, laughter and the distinct sound of the opening of spirits. The event had the air of celebration reminiscent of a New Year’s party.

But the people in the room had good reason to, for David had just made history that night. Over the past week, he, and representatives of four other systems, worked out an agreement in a significant step towards peace and order. Military assets from Tioranin and Atbevete would be used alongside local forces to purge the systems of piracy, rebels and other major threats. Once finished, the other three systems would dissolve their current system of rule and replace it with a confederacy. In the end, Tioranin and Atbevete would no longer need to worry about raids near their borders, and the people of Teraed, Aerater and Rigeti would finally have the opportunity to flourish. The whole area would become safer with the reduced hostile presence and was a win-win situation for all.

Well, except for those currently in charge, of course. Most of them had fought, bled or murdered their way to the top and weren’t keen on relinquishing their power. They were prepared to go to great lengths to preserve this, even vowing to take it to the grave. But after the populace heard the details of the arrangement, the vast majority loudly showed their support and the representatives had little choice but to reluctantly agree. Everybody was watching, on every planet, system and galaxy, waiting for the outcome of this little experiment. Despite affecting billions of lives, this was barely a fraction of the universe. And yet, as David officially announced it that night, this marked the beginning of a new era, one with a promise of peace, stability and unity.

He couldn’t help but think about this as he made his way through the sea of politicians, reporters and military officials. He caught glimpses of faces and overheard familiar voices he’d gotten to know over the last week. He silently marveled at how they were able to combine their efforts and that everyone here now stood together.

“This is ridiculous!” someone shouted. Not quite everyone, it seemed.

The sharp protest interrupted David’s thoughts and he made his way over to the source. The crowd continued their business, unfazed by the sudden outburst.

“I don’t need to be – stalked by you two shits anymore! I don’t want your sorry-ass excuses, I want you to go screw off somewhere else!”

“Representative Harmon,” David said, “is there a problem?”

The representative turned, scowling, and upon seeing David, began scowling further.

“Damn right there is. These two tin-heads have been buzzing around me like flies for a week, ever since I touched down here. They wouldn’t let us out of their sight, not for a single damn second. What am I, a participant or a prisoner?”

David glanced at the representative’s entourage. Two muscular figures flanked her side, both draped in ragged cloth and battle-worn armour and stood a full head above the other occupants in the room. David recognized them as her own ‘security team’ from their meetings. The two giants’ hands absently hovered around their holsters, searching for a sidearm that wasn’t there, as all weapons were confiscated from visitors upon arrival. Beside them stood the only two GalCop officers outfitted in full riot gear, their palms resting lazily on the handles of their retracted shock batons. The officers turned their heads to scan the room, but behind their opaque visors, their eyes never strayed from the representative and her personal guard.

David put on what he hoped was a warm smile. “Miss Harmon, This is standard procedure. Every planetary official is given a personal escort. Even I have one, see?” he said, gesturing towards the figure standing stiffly at his side.

She harrumphed, unsatisfied. “Then why do you only have one while I get two of these pricks?” At this, a thug sneered and leaned in towards one of the officers.

“The only reason is because you insisted on bringing a larger…uh…” David hesitated, glancing at the thugs, “…party aboard.”

“Bullshit. I would’ve gotten the extra security even without my two men and you know it.”

“That’s not true –” he started, but she cut him off.

“None of you act like you even want me here, of course it’s true. I thought this was supposed to be an alliance between systems. I’m not seeing any of that trust yet.” The fire in her eyes subsided and was replaced by a cool hard gaze. “Y’know, maybe I don’t want to be a part of this after all. You obviously don’t trust me, why should I trust any of you? My people have done well enough on their own and we certainly don’t need any filthy Cooperatives on our planet!”

“Tara, please don’t – “

“Don’t ‘Tara’ me. I don’t need any of your crap. Keep your fleet out of my airspace or I’ll blow them out of the sky. Aerater is out.”

David was at a loss for words. As the sole, undisputed leader of the Aerater system, Tara was definitely one to cling onto power. She was the most difficult to sway and it took everything David had to convince her. Even then, he had a feeling it was the pressure put on by the other systems that finally made her agree. It seemed she was looking for any way out.

“This isn’t part of the deal, Harmon. You’re in this whether you like it or not.” David didn’t notice the man approach his side. He looked over to see Jeremy Ross, the Tioranin representative. “There’s no backing out now.”

Tara’s eyes darted between the two men and sensed the situation falling against her. The trio stood there, silent for an uncomfortably long time. The noise in the room continued on, its occupants oblivious to the exchange.

“Humph. Fine.” she finally said. “Let’s go, this party sucks anyways.” She stormed off, thugs by her side and the officers following closely behind. “Hear that assholes? I said we’re leaving. Now will you stop following me!?”

Once the doors sealed behind Tara and her escorts, David turned and broke into a smile.

“Jeremy, how’ve you been?”

“I’m good, I’m good,” he replied, returning a grin of his own. “Actually, no, I’m not. Tell you the truth, I’m exhausted. It’s been a long week.”

“It has.” David nodded in agreement. “Been an intense couple days, hasn’t it? We haven’t gotten the chance to talk freely since we started.”

“Yup. Busy, busy, busy.” Jeremy’s eyes drifted around the room, finally settling on the bar. “Look, I need a drink. Come with me.”

The two manoeuvered through the mass of people, with their escorts trailing nearby.

“Thanks for backing me up over there.” said David.

“Ah, it was nothing. Believe me, after you’ve been governing for a while, you’ll have to deal with other people who make Tara look tame. Besides, now that she’s part of the agreement, her days of being supreme leader are numbered. She can say whatever she wants, but the power will soon be with the people and they’ll be calling the shots.”

It was true. The people wanted change and they expected their leader to deliver.

“Honestly, even without Tara, this is still history in the making. I can’t believe you actually managed to pull it off.”

“Well, I had lots of help. You gave me support, advice, taught me everything I know…”

“Look at you, you little suck-up.” Jeremy said jokingly. Arriving at the bar, they found two empty seats at the counter. “You give me too much credit.”

“It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Well, only a bit.” he said, waving down the bartender. “Alright, maybe some. I won’t take all the credit though, if that’s what you want. You’re on a roll.”

The bartender retuned with a bottle of liquor and placed it on the counter. Jeremy passed a couple credits to him and picked up the bottle.

“David Redman: the political rising star. You work your way up the top of Atbevete, negotiate away the local pirates, spearhead a five-system alliance and now started the largest joint operation in a huge leap towards peace. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but you have support from citizens across five entire systems.”

“Now, that,” replied David, “sounds like an awful lot of flattery.”

“But all this is definitely true. You’re a trailblazer. The youngest planetary leader and yet you’ve achieved more than any of us could possibly dream.” Jeremy took a sip. “I wonder what you’re going to do to top this one. Peace with the Thargoids? Ruler of the Universe?”

David chuckled. “No, nothing like that. I don’t have any plans for now, I just want to see this through first.”

“Fair enough. Here, let me get you something to drink.” He turned to flag the bartender down again.

“Ah, not this time, sorry.” David declined with a polite wave. “I should go. The first fleet jumps out tomorrow morning and I want to be there when it happens.”

“Next time then?”

“Next time, I promise.”

David got up to leave, escort in tow. Someone important looking immediately slid into his seat and began discussing with Jeremy what to do about a district’s aging public transport fleet. Baby stuff compared to the past week.

David moved briskly into the corridor, the sounds and noise of the festivities were muffled as the doors sealed shut behind them. The quiet, cool, dry air offered a stark contrast to the room they just left. He truly did feel drained and would like nothing more than to curl up on the floor to sleep right then and there. But around the hallway was the odd person hanging around the hall, some security patrols, and of course, his own guard.

“I almost forgot you were here.” David said aloud. He glanced back and saw the officer sizing up every single person in the hallway, checking for threats. They passed a GalCop security patrol and they stopped to salute at their passing officer.

“At ease, lieutenant,” said David, addressing his escort, “our work here is done. You can relax now.”

Lieutenant Taylor ignored him and kept scanning. “I appreciate the sentiment sir, but with all due respect, you’re not my superior. I don’t take orders from you.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to unwind? I can have something brought up for you.”

“Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m on duty. Your safety is my current priority. I won’t be able to ‘unwind’ until you leave the station.”

“You guys are pretty strict about this stuff, huh?”

“It’s standard procedure, you said so yourself.” Taylor replied.

They continued down the corridor, people thinning out rapidly the further they went from the party. This section was quiet and still, the only item mildly active was the flashing light on a security camera. They turned down into one of the branching hallways that lead towards the guest suites, but were immediately stopped by a blast door.

“What the hell…” Taylor muttered. She brought up her ComPad and began checking the status of their area. “There’s no hull breaches… no fires… sensors aren’t picking up any biohazards… they don’t even think the blast door is closed. It’s been flagged by someone though, so our crew should be looking at it.”

“Aren’t alarms supposed to be triggered when a blast door is activated?” asked David.

“Yes.” Taylor reached for her GalCop ID. “This has never happened before.”

She pressed her card against the scanner. A series of messages appeared on the interface.

LIEUTENANT TAYLOR, J.
SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVEL: 5
REQUESTING SYSTEM OVERRIDE – CLEARANCE LEVEL 3 REQUIRED
REQUEST CONFIRMED – SECURITY CLEARANCE ACCEPTED
VOICE IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED

“Lieutenant Taylor, J. Override blast door.”

ANALYZING…
VOICE ID MATCH
OVERRIDE SUCCESSFUL

The door was pulled back up like a thick, grey curtain and David and Lieutenant Taylor were left staring into inky blackness. The clean, white lights that illuminated the rest of the station were disabled beyond the blast door and the emergency lighting system was activated. Thin yellow strips outlined the corridor, highlighting the floor with a dull glow. Taylor turned on her flashlight and shone it into the darkness.

“I’m sure maintenance is working to sort this out. Stay close.” She walked into the dark corridor and David followed her lead. Something about this made Taylor uneasy. Station blackouts weren’t rare, in fact she’d even experienced a couple. But they were still fairly uncommon and she’d never been in an outage where blast doors were necessary. Something small was niggling at the back of her brain and her heartbeat rose to fill her ears. Her gut and mind was telling her to be on alert.

David absently followed her down the corridor. He felt intrigued at first, but the novelty wore off quick and now he was just bored. Taylor was very slowly probing the darkness, checking corners and checking them again. He was pretty confident that he knew how to get back to his quarters, but decided Taylor was the expert here and so let her, and her odd behaviour, continue. They stopped as Taylor crouched to examine something on the floor.

“Wait here.” she said, standing and breaking into a run.

“Lieutenant, what –” David stopped and noticed a puddle of thick gel. In the dim light, it looked like dark syrup. “…what is this?”

He dabbed two fingers in the puddle to try and identify what it was. It felt warm. Was it coolant? He didn’t know of any this dark. He rubbed it between his thumb and fingers and it was slightly sticky to the touch. It smeared his hand and he brought it up to his nose to smell. It had a faint metallic scent and immediately, he knew what it was. Even in the low light, he could see its reddish tinge.

Blood.

“Lieutenant Taylor!” David got up and sprinted too, trying to catch up to the officer.

Galactic Police! Freeze!” He heard her shout further down the hallway. “Hands in the air. Drop your weapon. I said DROP IT!

David ran as fast as he could, following the sound of lieutenant Taylor’s voice. He entered a junction in the corridor and noticed the other hallways were sealed by more doors. Lieutenant Taylor was engaged in a fistfight with an assassin who was armed with a knife and clad completely in black clothing. Her flashlight lay on the ground, its light reflecting off the smooth walls and illuminating the whole junction. David saw four large bodies crumpled on the floor, each lay in a pool of blood. At the dueling duo’s feet lay Taylor’s shock baton, snapped in two and occasionally sparking, and her sidearm, which was sliced in half at some haphazard angle.

The assassin was swiping wildly at the lieutenant with the blade, but so far, wasn’t able to connect. Taylor only had her GalCop uniform on, and the lightweight, unarmoured material meant she was agile and could react quickly to the incoming blade. Suddenly, she went on the offensive, punching and kicking, but the assailant seemed to block them all with ease. One final blow landed on the assassin’s helmeted head and he staggered backwards with a grunt, losing his grip on the knife. It sailed through the air, clattering at David’s feet. Lieutenant Taylor rushed in to continue her assault, but this time the assassin was ready. He grabbed her as she got close and spun around, using their combined momentum to slam Taylor head-first into the wall. She collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

Satisfied, the assassin turned to pick up the knife to finish the job, but instead he found its tip pointed at his face.

“Looking for this?” David asked.

The assassin didn’t say a word. He looked around, searching for a way to gain the advantage. David saw this and quickly lashed out, shallowly cutting into the assassin’s arm. It wasn’t fatal, but the man tried to cover the wound with a black-gloved hand.

“Who are you? What do you want?” David demanded.

The assassin said nothing.

David dropped the knife and tackled the assassin, pinning him to the floor under his knees. The assassin struggled and squirmed, but couldn’t escape.

Who are you?” David repeated, louder this time.

He reached out, removed the dark helmet and threw it aside. The assassin’s mess of hair puffed out, no longer confined by the helmet. David absently noticed the unkept mass as he reached for the Lieutenant’s torch and shone it at the attacker, who squinted in the bright light. He almost dropped it when he recognized the face before him.

Tara?!?

Suddenly the lights flickered back to life. The doors opened and a dozen GalCop officers burst into the room, weapons armed.

“Freeze! Get up, both of you. What’s going on here?”

Tara faced David and gave him a strong shove.

“What the hell are you doing, Redman? You crazy, murderous, son of a bitch!” She turned to the officer. “This bastard tried to kill me! He killed my escorts!”

David looked at the bodies once again. The two giants were motionless on the ground, and the two riot officers lay nearby in a similar position. All four of them were bleeding from thin slits from their armour, no doubt punctured by the knife. Taylor was being attended to by a couple officers.

“We have an officer down, two more KIA.” one of them said. “Send paramedics to my location.”

“She’s lying,” said David. “Lieutenant Taylor and I found everything like this.” He gestured around the room. Pointing to Tara, he stated, “She’s responsible.”

“Like hell I am. Don’t try to pin this on me.”

“Miss Harmon, calm yourself.” The officer said. “An officer will escort you to our facilities downstairs.”

“Well, at least now it’s official: I’m a prisoner on this godforsaken hunk of metal.” Tara followed the officers out of the area.

“She’s a handful, isn’t she?” The officer asked when she was gone.

“Oh, yes.”

“Dunno how you were able to work with her for a whole week. I just want to lock her up and be done with it already.”

“So you believe me?” David asked.

“Well, it’s your word against hers. But it doesn’t really matter what I think, we have everything we need. Surveillance footage too. We’ll sort this out soon enough.”

David saw a security camera tucked away in a corner, its light blinking steadily. The paramedics lifted Taylor onto a stretcher and sped to the hospital. The officers were busy surveying the junction. One of them picked up the knife with a gloved hand and dropped it in a bag labeled ‘EVIDENCE’, while others took scanning equipment and began analyzing blood samples, or taking snapshots of the scene. David followed the officer to a lift and descended into the depths of the station.


Part 2

David was awoken by a gentle shake on his shoulder.

“Hey, wake up.”

He looked up, dazed. Someone stood in front of him, ComPad tucked under one arm. David looked around and nearly panicked when he realized he wasn’t in his quarters, but his memories slowly returned. He remembered being brought down to one of the empty rooms and was left alone with the promise that someone would come by soon to talk about what just happened. The place was very empty, only a table, two chairs and a mirror provided any variation from the dull grey box. An hour passed, and with no sign that anyone was coming, he got comfortable and slept. David checked his ComPad. That was about 6 hours ago. He looked at the person in front of him and saw the name ‘Girard’ stitched onto the GalCop uniform.

“Sorry, I –” David yawned. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“That’s alright.” Girard grabbed the other chair and sat down opposite to David. He started swiping through his ComPad, searching for files. “So, how are you feeling? Ready to talk about last night?”

“I am. But – can we speed this up? There’s someplace I’d like to be.”

Girard looked up and put the device on the table.

“Alright. I’ll get straight to the point.” Girard chewed his lips, staring at David.

“Why did you try to murder Tara Harmon?”

David’s jaw went slack.

“I…what?”

Girard picked up the pad and quickly opened a file, then turned the screen towards David. “Here’s you and Lieutenant Taylor outside the corridor. We can’t see into the corridor from this angle, but we know what’s there. From where you stand, you have a direct line of sight on Harmon and her guards. We believe that this is when you decide to kill her. You walk into the corridor and…”

In the recording, David and Lieutenant Taylor disappeared into the corridor. Immediately after, everything went black.

“What? What happened?” asked David.

“I was hoping you could tell us.”

“I – I don’t know what happened to the camera. We didn’t know what was in the corridor because the blast door was down.”

“Mr. Redman, don’t treat us like fools, everyone knows blast doors sound an alarm when triggered.”

David didn’t say more, so Girard continued.

“Here, let me show you something else. These two recordings are aligned to the nanosecond.”

He played the previous recording beside a new one, this one showing Tara and company walking down the corridor. Unfortunately, the camera was angled down and didn’t capture the entire hallway, so there was no proof the blast doors were down behind them. They came to a stop in front of the camera and Tara turned, obviously agitated about something. She pointed at or past the GalCop guards and then both recordings simultaneously cut out to black.

“She saw you moving in. You disrupted the cameras and hoped to kill Tara Harmon. But, you overestimated yourself and couldn’t take on all of them at once. Then when the feeds came back, we caught you red-handed.”

“I never affected the cameras.” David stated weakly.

Girard walked over to his side.

“Hold up your arms.” he said and David stood in a ‘T’ pose.

Girard rifled through his pockets and found what he was looking for. He dropped the object noisily on the table.

“Electronics disruptor,” Girard explained, “untraceable, relatively simple to manufacture. After spending a week here, you definitely would’ve known which signals would affect our cameras.”

“That’s – I don’t know where that came from. It must’ve been planted on me!” David struggled to think. When could someone have done this? During the party, that would be the easiest time, when he was surrounded by people. But why?

Girard opened more files onto the screen and a 3D model of a knife slowly rotated around.

“This was the knife used in the attack. The blood samples we found on the blade and your fingers matches the DNA of the four victims and Tara Harmon. Here on the handle –” Girard tapped the virtual handle. “– are your fingerprints.”

“I…I picked it up when the attack – Tara dropped it. I wanted to protect myself.”

“Do you know what this is?” The officer asked, pointing at the blade. “This is a highly compounded, reinforced synthetic material, basically super-tough plastic. It goes by the name of Polymite and it’s illegal in Cooperative space. Polymite is five times stronger than steel and undetectable with conventional scanners. Put enough force behind it and it can carve through a ship’s hull. Just having a gram of this stuff is enough for an arrest, but you’ve gone ahead and crafted a knife with it.”

“No. No, no, no, it’s not mine. I told you, I picked it up from the ground.”

“Polymite is very expensive,” Girard continued, “due to being hard to manufacture and, well, illegal. It would be hard for a normal person to get their hands on some…but for someone with your resources, I’m sure it wasn’t too difficult.”

“This is wrong, it’s not mine, I promise! You have to believe me officer, I’m being framed.”

“Hmm. Okay. Maybe try a response I haven’t heard a gazillion times.”

David slumped back in his chair and cupped his face in his hands, racking his brain for an answer. There must’ve been something. Something they missed.

“The helmet!” blurted David. “There was a helmet on the floor. Tara was wearing it when she attacked her guards and I took it off. Look at the inside, I’m sure there’s a hair, or something you can analyze that’ll link it to her.”

Girard opened a list of items and slowly scrolled to the bottom. Reaching the end, he looped back to the top and scrolled to the bottom again. He shook his head.

“We never found a helmet at the scene.” He checked his list once more. “Even if we did, it’s just a helmet. There’s no proof Miss Harmon wore one last night.”

David had another piece of ammunition. He was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

“Talk to Lieutenant Taylor. Get her side of the story. She was there with me. She didn’t see Tara, but she can prove the blast doors were down and the guards were already dead before I arrived.”

Girard didn’t say anything, but he let out a long breath.

“Did you talk to her?” asked David.

“Lieutenant Taylor is…” he paused, searching for a word. “…unavailable…for questioning.”

“Why? What happened to her? Is she okay?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

Before David could respond, Girard spun around to face the mirror. He stared at it for several seconds, then returned to face David, scratching his earpiece.

“It seems you have the right to know.” Girard opened a new set of files on his ComPad and selected the one he was looking for.

“Last night, Lieutenant Taylor suffered a blunt force trauma to the head, rendering her unconscious. Paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after the injury and they delivered her to the station medical facility under critical condition. Doctors performed preliminary scans, which indicated to several fractured vertebrae, shattered skull and severe internal bleeding. She was transferred to ER shortly after.” Girard paused. “Five hours after her injury, Lieutenant Taylor’s vitals flatlined. Doctors began resuscitation, but, despite their best efforts, were unable to revive the patient.”

David slumped forward in his chair, letting it all sink in. Taylor died, she passed away barely an hour ago. He felt empty and defeated, but wasn’t sure why exactly. It was either because the lieutenant was dead, or the fact that the lieutenant was his last chance to clear his name and that was gone. He sat there, with a blank stare on his face. Worst of all, they probably thought he killed her too. He didn’t know what to do.

Girard pocketed his ComPad and stood to leave. “Well, if that’s all, then I’ve got to get going. An officer will be here shortly to escort you to your real cell.” He opened the door, but then stopped and faced David. “That place you wanted to be at, I hope it wasn’t too important. You’re going to be here for a long time.”

David was left alone with his thoughts. Somehow, he needed to fix this mess, set the record straight. But he had no idea how. Everything was stacked against him and only one person’s account would contradict all that. The truth, it seemed, had died along with Lieutenant Taylor.

***

“You’re lucky to be alive.”

Lieutenant Taylor stepped into her CO’s office, the door closing behind her.

“Or at least, that’s what the doctors tell me.” continued Commander Olson. “If you hit that wall at any other angle, your neck would’ve snapped like a twig.”

“Lucky me.” said Taylor. She walked slowly over to the desk, in fear of stumbling and causing another injury. Her head felt fuzzy, likely from the stimulants the doctors gave her to pull her out of unconsciousness. She was having trouble finding her balance too, a side effect of such a rude awakening and something the doctors promised would go away after an hour or so.

“Medical recommends twenty-four hours of rest before returning to active duty.” He put down the report. “I want to play this safe. Take the week off, lieutenant. I want you at your best.”

“I appreciate it sir. But I was hoping you could tell me how David Redman is doing.”

A pause. “And why is that?”

“Nobody else has, and you tasked his safety as my priority.”

“Well, I can assure you Mr. Redman is very safe. But he’s gotten himself in a rather uncomfortable position.”

“What happened?”

“Look, all you need to know is that Mr. Redman is no longer our responsibility. Pretend he was never here.”

Taylor thought about this, trying to imagine what sort of mess David could’ve gotten himself into.

“So is this why you called me here? Just to tell me to take a leave?”

“Well partly,” Olson admitted, “I also wanted to give you a heads-up. Internal Affairs requested that you to stop by their office.”

“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”

“We found four bodies in that hallway, lieutenant. You’re a very capable fighter and some people are starting to wonder if you were responsible for any of them.” He shifted to a lighter tone. “You know the drill, if an officer is suspected of murder, it’s off to IA. They’ll want to review your file, go over a few things, but your record is spotless, so I’m sure there won’t be any trouble. Until they’re finished though, your file is under evaluation and your status as a GalCop officer is being suspended.”

“So I guess that week off isn’t a choice.”

Olson shook his head.

“Does this have anything to do with Mr. Redman’s situation?”

He groaned. “I told you to forget about him, lieutenant.”

“My processing time is a whole week. It’s never been this bad since pre-space flight! What the hell has Redman done?”

“Lieutenant, stop it!” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Listen, I am trying to protect you. I don’t want to hear anything about Redman again. Keep all of it to yourself. Enjoy your week, see the sights, or don’t, I don’t care, but believe me when I say: it’s in your best interests to forget everything related to David Redman. Am I clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Taylor said, but her mind thought otherwise.

Commander Olson leaned back in his chair. He opened his mouth to speak but his ComPad rung, interrupting him. He picked it up and pressed it against his ear.

“Hello…yes, sir………I know…but this is my best…......……no, no I can’t guarantee that……okay…yes…I understand.”

He hung up and put his ComPad away, glancing at Taylor as he did. He walked over to the door.

“It’s time for you to go, lieutenant. This way.” The door slid open and two officers stood outside.

“Officers Jameson and King will accompany you to Internal Affairs.”

The two officers snapped to attention at the sight of their superior and saluted. “Ma’am.” they said in unison.

Taylor followed them out of the Commander’s office, already noticing walking was much easier. While her body readjusted, her mind started to work. That small, niggling feeling was back. There was something about David Redman’s situation, something her CO didn’t want her to find out.

Commander Olson watched them leave, then selected a contact from his ComPad.

“Hello, recruitment? Could you forward me that list of potential candidates? I have a feeling we’re going to have an open spot very soon.”

“Are you letting someone go?” the person asked, trying to make small talk.

“Something like that. It wasn’t my decision.”

“Alright, Commander. The list should be in your inbox shortly.”

Taylor and the guards entered the lift and King pressed the button labeled IA. She already had an idea of how the next week was going to pass. She’d sift through a mass of information, researching any related information from the past few hours. No digital stone left unturned. The lift began to descend and gradually picking up speed. Soon they were rapidly passing floors. She vowed to find whatever secret Commander Olson was hiding.

*click*

Taylor’s thoughts snapped back to the present, her mind still chugging away. She heard the noise of course, it was faint, but wasn’t drowned out by the ambient sounds from the elevator. She knew it wasn’t the machinery, because it wasn’t a steady, repetitive sound, and it hadn’t come from outside. In fact, it sounded like it was right behind her.

She spun around incredibly fast and her elbow connected with Jameson’s outstretched arms, knocking a pistol out of his surprised hands. King drew his own weapon on Taylor and squeezed the trigger twice with practiced ease. She was quicker though and grabbed Jameson, using his larger figure to shield herself. The two shots slammed into Jameson and Taylor pushed his limp body aside and closed the distance to the last guard, easily doing so in the confined space. With one hand she pinned King’s arms to the wall and kept the gun pointed harmlessly to the side. With the other, she balled it into a fist and wound it back, repeatedly landing blow after blow across his face. King struggled to free himself from the onslaught and was firing wildly, the shots harmlessly scorching the elevator walls.

He jerked his knee up, and while it hit Taylor in the stomach, it wasn’t filled with enough power or at the right angle to have the winding effect he was hoping for. Still, her grip loosened a little and that was all he needed. He pushed her away and brought his pistol around to point it squarely at Taylor. But she was back again, grabbing the gun and twisted it around, his finger still stuck in the trigger guard. He screamed and his body twisted in pain and he slowly sunk to the floor. Taylor put one foot behind his then rested a palm on his helmet. In one motion, she slid her foot back and pushed down with her hand, sweeping King off his feet and slamming him on the elevator floor. He didn’t move.

Taylor breathed heavily, looking around the lift. They tried to kill her. She didn’t understand any of this, but she knew something was terribly, terribly wrong, and she wanted answers. She had a pretty good guess as to what this might be about, but needed to take drastic measures to be sure.

“Arriving at: Internal Affairs offices.” said the cheerful elevator voice.

Before the doors had the chance to open, Taylor jabbed the button labelled GalCop Armouries. She took both handguns and their holsters and strapped them to her sides. Their ID cards were hers too and she slipped them in her pocket. Forget about waiting for later to begin a week of data-sifting. This needed a more direct approach, and there’s no better time to start than right now.

“David Redman, what have you done?” she wondered aloud.


Part 3

David heard another dull thump from behind the mirror. It started about a minute ago and showed no sign of stopping. It seemed that way anyways, it was hard to tell because the thuds were irregular and spread out along the length of the wall. He was still kicking himself for not realizing it was one-way until Giraud stared it down. He stood up and pressed an ear against it, listening for clues to the commotion in the adjacent room was about. It was no use. The walls were too thick and insulated, blocking out all noise except for the bass thumps.

And then it was over. He listened for five, ten and finally thirty seconds but silence filled the room.

“Huh.” he muttered.

The door to the room opened with a ‘whoosh’ and a heavily armed officer stood in its frame.

“I guess it’s time for me to go?” David asked. The officer walked into the room and was breathing heavily, as if just after a rigorous exercise. The door sealed afterwards.

He tried again. “Are you here to take me to my cell?”

“No,” the officer removed her helmet. “I’m here to get you out.” said Taylor.

David froze and his eyes widened in shock. He pointed at her.

“Wha – You…you’re supposed to be dead!” he finally blurted.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t remind me.”

“What happened to you? What’re you doing here, lieutenant?”

“It’s ex-lieutenant now. And it’s funny, I was about to ask you the exact same question.”

David slumped into the chair, the questioning with Girard rushing back.

“It’s Tara. She’s framing me for murders she committed, and so far, it looks like she’s about to get away with it too. She orchestrated this whole thing, I’m certain of it. Made evidence disappear and adjusted the other pieces to point towards me.” he sighed. “She really doesn’t want to let go of her rule. She’s going to let them lock me up and completely ruin my reputation.”

Taylor listened before saying, “What about the assassin? Who was that?”

“Tara. She killed her own guards and knocked you out in order to blame the whole thing on me.” he paused, trying to think. A hopeful expression spread on his face as he continued. “But now, I have a chance. Now that you’re here, you can tell them the truth, tell them what you saw. They wouldn’t believe me, but you carry authority and respect. I know they’ll listen to you.”

“Maybe they would’ve. But not anymore.” Taylor said vaguely.

“What do you mean? What happened?” he pressed.

“They tried to kill me, David. My own officers. I wanted to find out what happened last night, but nobody would tell me anything. So I kept asking, demanding answers from my doctors, friends and CO, but she must have ears in GalCop and knew that I wasn’t going to stop. They stripped me of my rank, my badge and nearly shot me in the back. I can’t trust anyone here.” she hesitated, curious. “What did they tell you? Did they say anything about me?”

“They…they said that you had broken bones and internal bleeding when they found you. And you succumbed to your injuries an hour ago.”

She nodded. “I had to ask. I couldn’t find anything myself, it looked like they pulled my file from the records.”

David’s head was reeling as he realized what this meant. “If she can order hit on an officer and bury the details, outside of her own system, then she’s much more powerful than I imagined.”

The room was filled with a grim silence.

“So, what now?” asked Taylor.

“I don’t know. There’s nothing we can do here. If we want to clear our names, then we need to get Tara to confess.”

“From what you’ve told me, I’d rather blow her brains out than try to squeeze a confession out of her.”

“Well, if we’re going to do either, we have to find her first.”

“Easy. News stations are buzzing about the deal you made last night and I saw an interview on my way here with her in it. Tara’s gone, back on Aerater where GalCop can’t touch her. Not officially.” Taylor walked over to the door. “Come on, let’s go. Unless you want to get thrown in prison, of course.”

He got up and followed her out, but she stopped.

“Wait.” Taylor took the helmet and put it on David’s head. “I’m sure everyone’s heard some kind of report about you. As far as they’re concerned, you’re a criminal, and if anyone recognizes you it’s all over.”

Satisfied, Taylor took the lead and the two of them left the GalCop facilities and navigated their way to the hangar. They moved quickly, up lifts, down hallways, through corridors and crowds. Taylor kept checking their surroundings, keeping an eye on anyone who might’ve been following them. She led them around patrols and avoided eye contact with the patrolling officers. She wasn’t sure if they knew about her, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.

David suddenly realized he was wearing an official GalCop helmet over his regular civilian clothes and he shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure if he stuck out more or less than if he wasn’t wearing it. Luckily, nobody seemed to notice as people’s faces were buried in their ComPads as they walked.

“We’re almost there.” They could see the open doors to the hangar at the end of the hallway.

Taylor swept the area, accidentally locking eyes with a passing officer. She immediately looked away. Curious, David looked back and saw the officer divert from his patrol route and proceeded to follow them. His hand flew to his earpiece and began speaking into it.

“Don’t look at him.” hissed Taylor.

They continued walking at a brisk pace.

“Hey!” said the officer. “You two, stop!”

The surrounding civilians looked around, flattening themselves against the wall to see who the officer was addressing. The ambient chatter came to an abrupt halt, leaving David and Taylor’s footsteps to echo throughout the corridor. At the end of the hall, three GalCop officers wielding rifles walked towards them, trying to cut them off. David turned to look and saw the first officer flanked by four more, and they too, cradled rifles.

“I said stop! Don’t go any further.”

On David’s visor, he saw an alert pop up. ‘Wanted: Redman, D. Status: Fugitive. Kill/Capture for 200 Cr.’ a picture of himself was below it. Seconds later, another filled his view. ‘Wanted: Taylor, J. Status: Fugitive. Kill/Capture for 750 Cr (200% bounty if captured). Warning: Subject is armed and should be treated as extremely dangerous at all times. Do not hesitate to terminate.’ It was accompanied with a mugshot-like image of her face.

Dozens of bounty hunters who carried GalCop bounty trackers received the same alerts and the walls shifted with activity. They murmured and whistled amongst themselves, staring and pointing at Taylor. Some reached behind their backs for smuggled weapons and others joined the officer’s ranks to back them up. The more cautious ones left the area completely, trying to avoid the imminent free-for-all.

“Taylor…” David started.

“Lieutenant Taylor!” shouted the officer, “Please, we don’t mean any harm. We just want to talk to you.”

“Shit.” muttered Taylor. “Shit, run.”

They broke into a sprint and Taylor reached behind her back, unclipping the weapon she ‘borrowed’ from the armoury. After making sure it was set to stun, she raised the Galactic Armaments ‘Enforcer’ submachine gun and jammed the stock into her shoulder. Her finger pulsed the trigger and she cut down the three officers ahead of them. There was a satisfying electric crackle as the shots hit her targets.

“Keep up.” she yelled at David.

The mass of officers and bounty hunters behind them followed in pursuit, firing at the two as they did. Rounds flew by, alarmingly close, impacting the floor and ceiling and showering David with sparks. Civilians panicked and screamed, running away in any direction to get away from the firefight. The helmet on David’s head was bouncing around with every step and he felt it was getting in the way, so he tore it off and dropped it mid-stride. A round hit Taylor and she almost face-planted into the ground. It was harmlessly absorbed by her stolen armour but tore through most of its layers. It couldn’t take many shots. She recovered quickly, continuing to run and turned to fire, blasting people in the crowd, but saw more join in from an adjacent hallway. The hangar was right in front of them now.

“Hit the blast doors!” ordered Taylor. She slid into the hangar first and dropped to the ground, facing the hallway she just came from. She fired at the approaching crowd and one by one they collapsed to the floor.

David ran in shortly after and rushed over to the control panel. He removed a plastic safety cover and smacked the button underneath, causing an alarm to wail and red lights flashed. The door made its way down at an agonizingly slow rate.

“Don’t let them escape!”

Everyone was focused on getting past the door, some hunters even attempting a cinema-esque action slide under it. But Taylor lay on the ground and had a perfect sight line under the narrowing gap. She shot in quick bursts and their pursuers were easily stopped in their tracks. Her SMG ejected its last round just as the blast doors closed with a thud. She picked herself up and tossed the weapon aside.

“Let’s go. That door won’t keep them forever.” She handed Jameson and King’s ID cards over to David. “Here. Find their Vipers and set the autopilot to launch them away, full speed in any direction.”

“Where are you going?” asked David.

“I’m getting us a real ride.” Taylor left to survey the rest of the hangar.

It didn’t take long for her to find a suitable spacecraft. Not far from the control panel, was a refurbished Cobra Mk I. Its new owner struggled to enter the craft, the short and stocky figure clumsily tried to open the access ramp as she approached.

“Hello. I’m taking your ship.” she said bluntly, reaching for the activation card. “I’m in a rush.”

“Nuh-uh.” came the reply. “I didn’t empty my account just so that some entitled bitch could take away my precious steed.”

Taylor lashed out, kicking the figure in the back of the legs. His knees buckled and he collapsed onto all fours.

“And I don’t get paid enough to keep idiots like you safe every day.” Taylor picked up the card off the ground.

The figure got back up on his feet. “You have made a terrible mistake today. Do you know who I am?”

“No, and I really don’t care.” The ramp lowered and she stepped inside.

“I am Captain Rispin, the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy!” he announced. “You will regret the moment you made me your enemy. For I, Captain Rispin, bounty hunter, will have my revenge!”

Taylor drew one of her pistols and fired directly at his feet.

“Ack! The ship’s yours! It’s all yours, take it! Please don’t hurt me.” He ran off screaming around the hangar.

David found the Cobra and walked inside. Taylor was at the controls, checking the systems.

“It’s done. The Vipers are set to launch.”

“Good.”

David looked around the tiny cockpit. “Not very spacious, is it?”

“Most ships aren’t built for comfort. If that’s what you want, you rent a shuttle, or buy your own frigate.”

The blast doors opened and GalCop officers poured into the hangar. The two Vipers shot forward, blasting off into space.

“Get down.” said Taylor, leaning back to hide from the officers. “Don’t let them see you.”

David lowered himself on the floor, not saying a word.

“Look, there they are!”

“After them!”

“Attention all GalCop personnel, we have unauthorized launch. Targets are Viper ships, occupants are considered hostile. Shoot to kill.”

They heard ships take off from the hangar, chasing after their decoys. After a while, Taylor peeked out of the windshield, examining the area.

“All clear.”

Taylor grabbed the controls and waited as the computer asked for launch permission. It was granted, and she eased the ship out of the hangar, pushing the ship forward to its maximum speed. David sat in the second seat and switched his camera to the rear view, watching the spinning Coriolis station as they sped away. Next to the station was his own personal frigate, still flanked by its escorts, and the planet Tioranin sat in the background, the dull pink sphere filling his view. His mind began to wander, thinking back to when this whole mess began. How much had he missed? Did the first fleet warp safely? And the second? Third? Did they even leave? He had more questions. What did the other planets think of him? That he was some murderous political schemer? What about Jeremy? He hadn’t seen his friend since last night, but so much had changed since then.

Everything he’d worked towards was in jeopardy and his future was uncertain. Because of Tara Harmon, his life was shattered and he had no idea if he could ever piece it back together. When they encountered Tara again, it’ll be for the last time, he promised. They had a score to settle.

“Prepare for witchspace jump.” announced Taylor, interrupting his thoughts. “Drive locked on to Aerater coordinates.”

Fifteen seconds later, the ship was surrounded by waves of turquoise light and they were gone, leaving nothing but a dark blue portal in their wake.


Part 4

David stretched his arms and legs, glad to be out of the cramped confines of the Cobra. Despite being equipped with a passenger berth, there was still no room to spread his arms inside. He inhaled deeply, taking in his first breath of fresh air in over a week. Looking up, he gaped at the alien trees that towered above, basking in the warm glow of the morning sun. They swayed gently back and forth in a light breeze.

Aerater was a fairly desolate place for the most part, but even the most dangerous place in the galaxy has at least one safe haven. Aerater was scattered with them, places forgotten or explored and then abandoned. The planet was in a constant state of turmoil as factions battled for enough power to challenge Tara’s rule. Unbound by countries or law, it was a chaotic tug-of-war that spanned the globe with no end in sight. Unfortunately, the lesser factions spent more time fighting each other than Tara’s forces and so she was able to rule with minimal resistance.

Every last centimetre of land was stripped of its resources long ago, forged into material to fuel the war machine. The people had no use for wood or non-agricultural plants, not when better supplies could be purchased without any of the effort. Because of this, the woods remained standing. But the path of war is a destructive one, and indiscriminate bombardments severely thinned out the forests. Toxins seeped their way into the soil and worked their way into the trees, slowly killing them from within. The only patches of forest left where far away from anything, without tactical advantage or above any precious materials.

Taylor exited the Cobra and looked around, getting her bearings.

“Uh, I don’t think you told me why we’re out here in the middle of nowhere.” said David.

“Harmon has most of the Eastern hemisphere under her control.” Taylor explained. “She rules from a citadel in the middle of her capital city, which was built around it. While it has spaceports, there’s a high chance someone will recognize us. I put the Cobra down here because it’s the nearest clearing I could find that can fit the ship. Security’s pretty beefy around the city walls and the entrances are always monitored, so if we’re going in, we can’t do it alone.”

She handed him a small remote with a single button as she passed.

“What’s this?” questioned David.

“It’s a transmitter to the ship’s autopilot. Press the button and the ship will fly to its positon. Where we’re going, things could get pretty hairy and we might need to leave at moment’s notice.” She walked off into the forest, swatting branches out of her path.

“Taylor, the city’s over there.” David pointed out into the wasteland.

“I know. But we’re going this way.”

David hesitated, but decided to follow Taylor into the wilderness.

***

“Their ship hasn’t moved at all. I think it’s safe to say they’re long gone.” The pilot stared at the display. It was dimly lit in the cockpit and the digital readouts were his main light source.

The Artemis’ Will was holding steady high above Aerater’s atmosphere. It had been staying like this for a few hours and was one of many hunter ships that were sent out through recent portals. They were hired immediately after scans of the GalCop Vipers showed no signs of life.

The man behind him nodded. “I just got word from the boss, we’re good to go.”

“Taking us in.” said the pilot.

The man left the cockpit and entered the main hold. “Alright ladies and gents, our operation’s been greenlit. Get ready for a manhunt!”

In the hold, a dozen figures reached for bags of equipment and picked up intimidating-looking rifles, coaxing as many clicks and sounds from them as possible.

***

David and Taylor trekked through the forest for what seemed like hours. The vegetation seemed to have little to no variation and the current surroundings mixed with David’s memories. It certainly didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere. They approached the edge a somewhat cleared out area, it was flat and wide, about a square kilometer of space, and was punctuated by trees. All around, there were what appeared to be ruins of a settlement, long since abandoned.

David was confused. “What is this place? Why are we here?”

Taylor looked around, searching the treetops and the abandoned buildings. She was looking for something and seemed disappointed when she couldn’t find it. She proceeded into the ruins and David followed closely. They spent a lot of time moving through the rows of abandoned structures. Most of them were falling apart, chunks from the houses lay on the ground and very few of them still had roofs. What was still standing took on a green complexion as moss grew on top of the forgotten buildings.

After a while, Taylor gave up, coming to a stop in the middle of the ruins.

“I don’t know.” she said, nearly throwing her arms up in the air. “It’s been so long… I’m not sure if they’re even –”

“Okay, that’s enough.” A voice boomed though the forest, amplified electronically. “I could watch you bumble around the forest for hours, but we’ve got other stuff to do. I don’t know who you are, or how you knew where to find us, but I’m giving you one chance to leave, right now.”

David and Taylor scanned the clearing, trying to pinpoint the location of the sound.

A bolt whizzed by, barely missing. “That was your only warning shot. If you don’t go away, the next one’ll be right between your eyes.”

“Wait!” said Taylor. “We need your help.”

“I don’t think so. I see who you are. A GalCop officer and a planetary representative. You make an odd pair, but you’re not welcome here.”

“Actually, I do know you.” The voice continued. “You’ve been charged with murder and you’re that dangerous fugitive psycho. There’s a large bounty on your heads and I’m tempted to collect it.”

“Don’t, please, we need your help to take down Tara Harmon.” Taylor pleaded.

“What is this, a trick? Are you spies? We’ll kill you before you reveal our position. How did you know where to find us?”

“I was here, seven years ago,” she confessed, “during the raids.”

The voice didn’t respond right away. “Oh, so you’re Navy. What do you think you’re doing here? Back for more?”

“You’re Navy?” echoed David, surprised.

“I was.” responded Taylor. Was. Just like everything else these days. “We were trying to clear out rebel positions in a different peace effort with neighbouring worlds. We were spread thin, but Intel told us we could take this one.” She swallowed. “They were wrong.”

The voice kept talking. “Well, isn’t this interesting. First you try to wipe us out, now you want our help. You took a big risk, but coming here was a mistake. And it’ll be the last one you ever make.”

Throughout the clearing, dozens of weapons rustled as they were aimed from unseen locations. They were surrounded. David’s thumb nervously brushed the autopilot transmitter. The situation was very bad and this was probably a good time to run away. But would the ship even arrive before they’d be shot? He wasn’t sure.

“Hold your fire.” The voice ordered. It was a different person this time. “If you’re really here for Tara Harmon, then we have no reason to kill you. But if you’re lying, you’ll be dead before your body hits the floor.”

Suddenly the surroundings began to crawl, tree bark shifted and the boulders and tree stumps rose into standing positions. The rebels were amazingly well camouflaged and they circled the intruders, weapons raised. Unarmed ones climbed out of hidden rooms under the ruins and in an instant, the clearing was filled with people. They were all watching David and Taylor as the guards led them away.

***

The tracker team approached the clearing and observed the rebel position. It was a simple task, tracing their prey’s trail through the forest. They left behind a narrow path, easily identified in the undisturbed woods. Thanks to their top-of-the-line equipment, they were able to detect the infrared sensors around the perimeter and bypassed it without triggering an alarm.

Once they were at the clearing, the leader turned to his team. “Okay people, fan out. Everyone knows the mission, so go and find a good line of sight. Get in, get out, and don’t let anyone see you.”

The team nodded in acknowledgement and spread out, sticking behind the tree line. The leader wanted to wish his team well before they started.

“Take good shots.” he said.

***

They were brought to what used to be the main building, but only the perimeter of the structure remained. ‘Inside’ the remnants was a small, square table with chairs on each side. A man was there, sitting on one. He surveyed them as they took a seat.

“I’m the leader of the resistance here. Call me Rex.” David recognized the man’s voice as the second speaker. “That’s not my real name of course, but you’ll forgive me if you don’t exactly have my full confidence.”

“How long have you been hiding?” asked David.

“We’ve been here for over a decade, trying to knock dictators out of power so we can establish a proper government. We haven’t given up. We’ve lasted through multiple tyrants and the Navy raids. After that though, we faked our disappearance when people thought we were becoming too much of a problem. We’re big supporters of your peace deal and were frustrated when Tara didn’t stick to it. So, you want our help. I’m not against it, but you’ve come quite a ways from Tioranin and I want to know why you’re going after Tara. I heard broadcasts and reports, but I’ve come to learn there’s always two sides to a story. We can work something out, after, you explain to me what exactly is going on.”

And so they did. They told him everything that happened over the past day. Starting from the party to the argument, the assassin, David’s framing, Taylor’s betrayal and finally their escape.

When they finished, he took a long time to mull it over and said at last, “I’ll help you, because if you’re telling the truth, then this’ll be another angle we can use against Tara. At the very least, your story’s one more reason why she needs to be taken out of power. Not that we really needed another. However, you’ve come at a bad time. Recently we launched an attack against Tara’s citadel, trying to bring her rule to an end. Our forces were decimated. I lost a lot of good men and we still haven’t recovered, so I can’t help you with what you want right now. But I do know another way you can get it.”

David leaned forward, intrigued.

“Tara might have far-reaching tendrils, but in order to send commands of that magnitude through to another system, she’d have to go through some official channels. Every habited planet has a communications relay in orbit which keeps a record of all incoming and outgoing information. Your situation must’ve needed a lot of planning and coordination to pull off, so if she really is behind this, you’ll find a document about it in the relay’s database.”

“Thank you for your help.” said David.

Rex nodded. “Once you get the file, upload it to the galactic network. Put it everywhere you can, then once people know the truth, your names will be cleared and everyone will turn against Tara Harmon. She’ll be right where we want her.”


Last edited by my ammo crate on Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 8:31 pm 
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Rex left David and Taylor to go find some spare troops and a ship to send up to the relay with them. They were left on their own for a bit, but a makeshift firing range caught Taylor’s eye. She rushed over and David, with little else to do, reluctantly followed her. She approached the range’s supervisor and pointed at the shelves of weapons.

“Do you mind?” she asked.

“Not at all, go ahead.”

Taylor picked up the nearest rifle, weighing it in her arms. “This is heavier than an Enforcer.”

The supervisor chuckled. “Oh, you poor GalCoppers, I feel for you guys, never having the chance to fire a real weapon. Yes, it’s heavier than an Enforcer. GA does some alright work, though they specialize in arming police forces. Their Enforcer line is fine for that sort environment, not so much anything else. They try to be as non-lethal as possible, but they’re lightweight and versatile, good things to have in spatial combat. Down here though, we don’t need non-lethal; there’s a war we’re trying to win. So if you want firepower…you get a Renegade.” He pointed at the gun. “That’s the RAR, or Renegade Assault Rifle. It’s their stock platform, a popular choice among us lawless types who can afford it. Have you ever fired one?”

“No. I’ve seen plenty though. They’re classed as illegal goods so I can’t touch them.”

“Would you like to?”

The corners of her mouth lifted into a smile. “Hell yes.”

Taylor carried the weapon to a booth and targeted a bullseye at the end of the range. Once her sights were aligned, she fired, but wasn’t prepared for its sudden recoil and she almost fell backwards. The shot hit dead centre of the wooden circle and the target shattered like glass. It continued through the air and finally was stopped by a distant tree, and Taylor could see the bark splinter from where she stood.

“Wow,” she breathed. “I think I’m in love. Can I keep it?”

The supervisor let out a hearty laugh. “Maybe, but after you’ve learned to control the kick. Here’s where Enforcers have spoiled you: there’re no recoil dampeners in this rifle.”

As the two conversed about weaponry, David walked past rows and rows of guns and munitions. He paused in front of what appeared to be a missile launcher and shook his head. Such a great potential to kill was held in a tiny payload. It was this kind of bloodshed he was hoping to stop, before Tara started mucking things up. He paused in front of a table of handguns and absently traced his finger through the grooves of one of the pistols. What was he going to do when he saw her? He picked up the weapon and aimed at a tree, imagining it was Tara who stood in front of him.

“You ruined everything,” he muttered, “and you ruined me. Now, you’re going to pay.” He imitated the recoil of the gun and pointed the tip upwards. He saw the round collide with her skull, pass through her brain and exit in a violent spray of blood.

“Hey, do you want to try a couple shots?” the supervisor asked, waking David from his daydream.

Taylor was beside him, brandishing her new favourite rifle. “I think you should. If we’re about to go against Tara and her legion of troops, you should know how to defend yourself.”

David walked over to another booth and raised the handgun.

“Don’t lock your arms straight, it’ll help to control the recoil.”

“Put your feet shoulder-width apart.”

“Take deep, slow breaths to help steady your aim.”

He listened to their advice and squeezed the trigger. It sailed past the target and flew past every tree.

“Well, I’ll admit I’m impressed.” the supervisor stated. “I’ve never seen anyone miss that badly before.”

David took a deep breath and felt his heartbeat slow. He lined up his sights and fired again. He hit the edge of the target and it wobbled on its stand.

“Alright, not bad.”

Encouraged, he repeated the process, this time hitting closer to the center. Again and again he fired, peppering the target with shots. Several minutes of practice later, David finally managed to land his first bull’s eye.

“Nice. You’re a fast learner.” complimented the supervisor.

“Good work, Redman. It’s a lot tougher than politics, huh?” asked Taylor.

“No, politics is harder.” David stared at the target. “You need to think about other people, how they tick, what they think, how they’ll respond and you need to make doubly sure not to piss anyone off. It’s a huge web of possibilities, but one misstep and there’s no telling what kind of mess you’ll fall into. In combat, there’s only one, simple way to deal with an opponent.”

“And that is?”

“A bullet to the head.” He fired again and the target crumbled under the impact.

***

“Finished?”

“Yup. We have everything we need.”

“Excellent. Give it to me, I’ll begin the upload now.”

The trackers were huddled together as the files were sent away on a secure, private line. Shortly afterwards, the leader received their next set of orders.

“And now the real fun begins.” He turned to his team. “Alright, back to the Artemis, we’re now in phase two. Lock ‘n load, we’re about to go loud.”


Part 5

No matter how hard he tried, the earpiece kept falling out.

“Taylor, it’s no use. I can’t keep it in.”

She turned and grabbed the dangling wire. She pinched the synthetic bud and jammed it into David’s ear.

“Ouch.”

“Better?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

They were sitting in the cargo bay of a rebel Adder as it climbed skywards, the only craft Rex was willing to spare. The rebels were poorly equipped for a war on the orbital front, as they only had a handful of Adders and Transporters in their possession. The idea was that they would only be used if they needed to leave in a hurry, or for some other urgent exception. They had a couple Asps, but only to cover the other ships in the case of an evacuation, something Rex was adamant about.

“I’m sorry, but it’s all I can spare.” he’d said before they left. “My people need the resources, and all I can do is get you there and back. The rest is up to you.”

Still, he had five of his soldiers accompany them to the station, just as a precaution. The relays were empty ninety-nine percent of the time, occupied only when it was undergoing maintenance. Nobody bothered to target a relay because there was no point. Its outer hull was specially reinforced and shielded so it could withstand the arsenal of a standard ship. Besides, the relays were the property of GalCop and assaulting one, like any other station, was considered to be the equivalent of declaring war against the entire Cooperative. That was a target nobody wanted on their backs.

The relay was close, and David could see it through the Adder’s windshield. It looked like a large detached satellite dish, and slowly spun clockwise around its centre. It housed countless data banks and trillions of bytes of information and somewhere, inside, was a file that could set everything right. At the edges were three massive prongs that pointed into space and converged together. They didn’t actually touch, but the gap they left open lined up perfectly with the station’s dock. Their pilot took the fastest route into the station by flying under the three appendages, turning inwards at the centre and swiftly pulled into the hangar.

David, Taylor and four rebels filed out of the Adder. Taylor turned back to the pilot and told him to stay with the ship. It was eerily quiet in the station, but even though it should’ve been, they wanted to get back out as fast as possible. The six of them were heavily armed, toting a mixed array of weapon makes and shapes. Taylor’s RAR was clipped to the back of her body armour, and she still carried the two pistols from before. David wondered if she was waiting for some excuse to use them akimbo. He carried his own weapon too, the pistol he’d been practicing with earlier.

They approached a terminal near the docking bay and a rebel began typing away at the controls. He brought up the station’s map and pointed to a room above the dock.

“That’s where the main control room is. We can access the entire database from there.”

“Okay, let’s go.” ordered Taylor.

They walked to the elevator shaft where two lifts were waiting. Taylor split them in half, telling three of the rebels to check the rest of the station. The rebel team went down to another floor, and David, Taylor and the remaining soldier went up to the control room. It was a circular room with several counters in the middle and a giant interface on the wall opposite to the elevator. Nearly every surface was covered in electronic displays and readouts. Once there, David sat at the main interface, and started looking for the file. He began with keywords.

“David Redman…Tara Harmon…framed.”

A massive list of items appeared in two columns labelled ‘incoming’ and ‘outgoing’. The items that appeared were all official broadcasts about the investigation against him. Frowning, he decided there were too many results. He needed to adjust his search.

In the hangar, the pilot sat in the cockpit, twiddling his thumbs. He already turned the ship around and was facing out of the hangar, so they could leave the moment they were finished. He stared out into space, looking at the constellations. There were countless stars, and he traced patterns from his view, connecting the brightest ones…until they disappeared. He leaned forwards staring at the missing patch of stars. The patch was moving, and he realized the stars were being blocked by a ship, a black, sleek ship, but he couldn’t see any identifying markings. It was cone shaped, so it was either a Boa or Anaconda. He watched as it lined up with the hangar and opened fire.

“I’m under attack!” he yelled into the radio. Shots landed on the ship and his shields flared, then gave out. The pilot pushed the throttle to its limit, launching the Adder out of the hangar and swerving away, avoiding more incoming blasts. The Artemis’ Will made no move to pursue, and continued its beeline into the dock.

“I had to bail, this bucket isn’t built to fight. I’ll try and circle around, but you guys are about to have company.”

“Understood.” said Taylor. “Play it safe. Don’t fight it if you can help it.” She glanced over at David. “Hurry up, Redman.”

“I’m trying.” he said, flustered.

Behind them, the lift opened, and the other rebels walked in. They looked very pale, something Taylor noticed right away.

“What is it? Did you find something?”

“Someone was here recently.” The rebel wanted to say more, but he was struggling.

“How do you know?” Taylor questioned.

“We…we found these downstairs.” he handed over a detonator and Taylor raised an eyebrow. Detonators meant explosives, but it was nothing to sweat over, especially on a station this large. The two behind him dropped the second item, and when Taylor saw it, she turned pale too.

A Quirium Cascade Mine. It looked custom-rigged to blow after it accepted a signal from the detonator.

“Oh, shit.” she whispered. “Can you disarm it?”

“Maybe with some time, proper tools and a bit of luck. We don’t have any of those right now.”

“I think I’ve got it!” David announced, unaware of the bomb that lay meters away. He’d managed to refine the search to data only between Tioranin and Aerater, around the week his peace negotiations were taking place and filtered it to only items broadcast from unofficial sources. There were only twelve results but only one of them got his attention. It was named oddly, just a random string of words: Tau Uniform Carina, and when he opened it, the screen filled with random letters, numbers and symbols. It made no sense on its own, until David recognized that it was probably encrypted. It made sense, only someone else with the same encryption key could read it, and due to the random mix of characters, it was undetected by regular searches. He copied the papers from the ‘incoming’ list and onto his ComPad.

“I’ve got it.” He repeated. “It’s encrypted, so we still need to find the key to decipher it before we put it up on the network. Hey, why do you guys look so scared?”

Suddenly the elevator opened and five dark figures burst into the room, guns blazing. They cut down a rebel before they could react. Instinctively, David dropped to the floor while Taylor and the remaining rebels drew their own weapons to return fire. A shot from Taylor’s RAR slammed into one of the trackers, shredding through his body and sprayed out a puff of red mist. The body was flung back from the impact, sailing back into the elevator with a thud. The trackers had the element of surprise, but were slowly losing the advantage. Another tracker fell, then a third. The remaining two retreated into the elevator and the door closed in front of them. Taylor examined the room and saw a second rebel crumpled on the floor, unmoving. David picked himself up, brushing dust off his clothes.

“Next time, you could try to help us out.” said Taylor.

“Oh.” He looked disappointed. “Sorry, I – this is still pretty new for me.”

“It’s alright, we got what we need.” She spoke into the radio next. “How are you doing?”

The pilot jerked back on the controls, swerving away from another barrage.

“Not good.” he said through clenched teeth.

Earlier, he tried to help out by clearing the hangar. He mimicked the hostile ship’s approach, attacking from far away and closing in, but the Adder only had a pulse laser mounted under its nose. The blasts were little more than an annoyance to the enemy ship, who responded by swiftly leaving the hangar and chasing after the ill-equipped Adder. The tracker ship was faster and stronger, so it easily matched the pilot’s movements.

A volley was fired into his craft’s shields, and the pilot heard a shot slam into the hull. “I’ve lost shields.”

WHOOP-WHOOP

“Incoming missile!” he turned one-eighty degrees and tracked the missile in his sights. More shots peppered the Adder, never missing as both ships approached, and damaging what few systems he had. The lasers would get him eventually but the missile would rapidly overtake him, and if he didn’t destroy it now, then it was all over.

He fired, but the shot went wide. He cursed.

He fired again but was still off. His thumb hovered over the trigger, waiting for the gun to cool down. It was the longest half a second of his life. More shots rammed into the hull.

He squeezed. He swore he’d connected. But the missile approached closer and he could see its thin, needle-like profile. One more time, he thought, his sweaty palms rested on the triggers.

He never got the chance. The missile collided with the Adder and both were ripped apart, engulfed by a large fireball. Static filled the rebels’ headsets.

“We’re stranded!” one of them said.

“Are we going to die?”

“Nobody’s dying here.” said Taylor, thinking of a way to take control of the situation. “We need to get back to the hangar. David has an autopilot transmitter, he can call our ship so we can get out.”
The four of them filed into the elevator and descended back to the dock. Once the door opened, they were greeted with heavy gunfire. They flattened themselves against the sides of the lift as the wall in front of the door became dotted with scorch marks.

“Damn it, I should’ve expected something like this.” cursed Taylor. “We need a distraction.”

The two rebels looked at each other and nodded, both filling up with steely resolve. Without warning, they darted out of the lift and ran down the hall, away from the hangar. They ran screaming and shooting wildly, and the trackers followed in pursuit. When the noise died down, David entered the hangar and pressed the button on the transmitter, then tossed it in the middle of the dock. Would it work? He hoped it did and prayed it moved quickly, or else there would be no one for it to rescue.

Down on the surface, the Cobra Mk I warmed up its engines. Its thrusters fired downwards, setting the surrounding vegetation ablaze. It rose up, pointing into the sky and blasted towards the relay.

“Taylor, come on, let’s go!”

She stopped at the hangar doors. The sounds of battle echoed behind her. She shook her head.

“Wait for me. Someone has to save their asses. Prep the ship when she comes, we need to get out of here quick.”

She ran after the rebels and trackers, her assault rifle clenched tightly in her arms. She followed the noise up a flight of stairs and saw the two rebels cornered in a dead end. Around the hallway were about ten trackers who kept them pinned under an unrelenting barrage of gunfire. They didn’t see her approach behind them. She tapped the trigger, dropping two before they realized she was there. Now under fire at two flanks, the trackers moved back out of the hallway, giving the rebels a chance to escape.

One of the rebels was injured, slowly limping away from the battle. Taylor fired at the retreating forces to try and cover the wounded man, but he was too slow, and several rounds crashed into his back. He fell over, dead. The trackers ran off, falling back to another section of the station and the gunfire stopped.

“You alright?” she asked the survivor. He nodded, sweat dripping down his brow.

David was at the Cobra’s controls. It approached in record time and all his doubts were swept away when he saw it pull into the hangar. All the systems were ready and the engines hummed idly. He just needed to press one button and the ship would launch into space. He looked at the hangar’s entrance and saw eight dark figures blocking the passageway. It was the trackers, but they hadn’t seen him. He knew Taylor was going to have trouble against all of them, and decided he needed to do something. He pulled his pistol out of his holster and took careful aim, lining his sights up with a tracker’s head.

He brought the advice Taylor and the supervisor told him to the front of his mind and he readied himself to fire. It wasn’t much further than the wooden target he used at the range. His aim swayed left and right, and he knew he wouldn’t hit anything like this. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath to steady himself. He aligned his sights again, but his hands were trembling. His heart was racing and a bead of sweat slowly made its way down his forehead, in time with his rapid pulse.

Finally he lowered the gun. He couldn’t do it. The weapon clattered on the floor of the ship and he collapsed onto a wall, cupping his head in his hands. He couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. He was no killer. If he took that person’s life, no matter how evil or twisted they were, it would haunt him. He just hoped Taylor could carry him through.

Meanwhile, Taylor looked down the long hallway leading back into the hangar. The Cobra was there, ready to fly like she’d asked. In between them though, was a line of armed trackers. She and the survivor charged ahead at full speed, zigzagging to dodge the incoming fire. She was firing wildly and took one of them down. Seven more to go.

She targeted the next one, expecting another gory mess of flesh as she pulled the trigger, but instead there was a loud click as she noticed the rifle’s magazine was empty. No longer under fire, the trackers took careful aim, placing their shots into the last rebel and Taylor. The rebel never stood a chance and collapsed in a heap, but Taylor’s stolen GalCop armour took the brunt of the damage. She let out a cry as the impact knocked her off her feet, and was forced to get up and fall back, retreating away from the hangar.

“Taylor? Taylor, are you alright?” David asked through her earpiece.

“Don’t talk.” she mustered between ragged breaths. “Not now.”

She took a quick peek and saw them slowly approaching. Her armour was in ruins, so she took it off to maximize her mobility.

“David, forget about what I said earlier.” Taylor drew her pistols. “Don’t wait for me.”

He didn’t say anything at first. “Oh, you crazy…” she heard him through the radio. “You’re not going to do it. I won’t do it.”

She sidestepped across the hallway, firing her pistols. She staggered the trigger pulls, launching rounds forward in a deadly, steady beat. Another fell, and they responded with a hail of fire.

“Get out of here Redman.” She spoke calmly into the mike. “You have the data. That’s all that matters. You have all you need to bring Tara to justice.”

“Taylor…”

She reached the other side of the hallway and ran off, leading the trackers away from the hangar. “Go. Now. Take that bitch down. Do it for me.”

It took a while, but eventually she heard the Cobra’s engines raise in pitch and trail off as he left the station. She couldn’t see where David was, but she knew he was still too close. He needs more time, she thought. She dove into the elevator and returned up to the control room, the only part of the station she was most familiar with. She ran into the room and vaulted behind a counter, using it as cover. She could hear the second elevator open and the trackers enter the room as they began to sweep the area, searching for her. Their footsteps echoed around whenever their boots hit the floor. One of them looked down behind the counter, saw her, and opened his mouth to shout. She was expecting it, waiting for someone to pass by. She fired a pistol at his face, then stood and took aim at the remaining trackers.

The last five instinctively spun to the source of the gunshot and opened fire, where Taylor stood right in the path of the oncoming barrage. She was unable to move out of the way as rounds landed all over the counter area and Taylor was riddled with holes. She staggered back every time one connected until she slammed into the wall behind her and sunk to the floor, hanging on to consciousness by a thread. She watched as her opponents closed in and her hand reached into her pocket, fingers curling around the detonator.

She felt cold. The colour was gone from her face and red saliva dribbled out of the corner of her mouth. Her legs felt a growing sensation of wetness as she sat in an expanding pool of her own blood.

“Well, well, well. Hello lieutenant.” The leader of the trackers approached, grabbing a handgun from his hip. “I’ve been waiting all day, just to find you. I was hoping to collect one of the single largest bounties in history by bringing you in, but I’m afraid it doesn’t look like you’re going to last that long.” He pressed the barrel into her forehead. “Still, it’s quite the bounty, and I’d hate to see it go to waste.”

“Taylor? Taylor? Are you still there?” David’s voice was small and quiet. She barely heard him.

“David…” she rasped, “I hope you made it out. If you didn’t…I’m so sorry…”

The leader fired his pistol, point-blank. Her head jerked back and hit the wall behind her. Taylor’s body instinctively tensed and her fingers squeezed the detonator.

The button was pressed and it triggered the Quirium Cascade Mine to blow. The explosion ripped through the station and tore it apart by the seams. It was truly a testament to GalCop engineering that the station’s frame remained mostly in shape, despite the power of the bomb. The energy travelled the path of least resistance and ejected fire, debris and blue light out of the hangar at thousands of kilometers per second, far into the depths of space. While the interior was vaporized, the station’s outer hull slowly drifted apart in large chunks, circling the planet in uncontrolled orbits.

The Artemis’ Will instantly left the scene, jumping into some other system. The pulsing blue dot appeared on the Cobra’s radar, but it never registered in David’s mind. He sat there for minutes, and could’ve stayed for hours in silence, staring at the wreckage but the Navy warped into the system, responding to the station’s destruction. He entered witchspace before they could catch him.


Part 6

The Cobra Mk I was parked next to the witchspace beacon. It hadn’t moved for over an hour, and incoming traffic was doing their best to show their frustration. They broadcast dozens of rude messages to the craft after warping in and nearly ramming into its rear, but the ship didn’t move. David’s eyes saw all this, but his mind never knew it happened. He stared blankly off into space, sitting silently at the controls.

She’s gone. Taylor’s gone. These two thoughts echoed over and over in his mind. I’m the only one left.

He repeated this new thought over and over until it took on a new meaning. I’m the only one left. Nobody else knows what I do. I need to finish this.

He snapped out of his trance and reached for his ComPad. He knew he needed help, and exactly who to call. He was back in the Tioranin system, where he started, so a small part of his brain must’ve been thinking when he planned the jump. The person on the other end picked up after a few seconds.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Jeremy.” said David. He tried to sound casual but he was still emotionally drained from the relay.

“Who is this?”

“It’s me. You know…um…me.” He wasn’t sure if GalCop were tracking calls and didn’t want to drop his name.

“Who…oh…hang on, I’ll call you back.” and he hung up. Not too long after, David got another call and he answered it.

“We’re on a secure line now. David, is that you?”

“Yeah.”

Jeremy instantly lashed out. “Dude, what the hell?! Goddammit, have you gone insane?”

“Look, hear me out. I don’t know what people told you, but none of it is true.”

“Do you know what I’ve heard? Have you been reading the reports? What the hell is wrong with you? I got up yesterday and first thing I head was that you tried to assassinate Tara Harmon. I knew you two had issues, but really? Murder? You were going to prison. Then you managed to corrupt a GalCop officer and you escaped, stole a ship then travelled to Aerater and were working with rebels to attack Tara directly.”

“Wait, how did you know I was with rebels?”

“So you admit it!” Jeremy was hysterical. “There’s photographic evidence, David! You were there, talking, planning and, hell, training with them. You bombed the communications relay with a Q-mine! Dozens of ships were flattened by the debris, and the blast narrowly missed the atmosphere. Have you any idea how many more people could’ve died if the relay was a few kilometres lower? Navy ships had to make a blockade around the planet so nobody would attack them while they were vulnerable. You just committed an act of war!

“Things just got worse from there.” He sighed. “The agreement we made is in ruins. Tara openly shamed us after you attacked her planet and withdrew herself from the alliance. Rigeti’s following her example and local forces in both systems are suffering from hate attacks. Without you, Atbevete backed off. They’re too embarrassed about the whole thing and are trying to distance themselves as much as possible. They haven’t said too much. Teraed’s on the fence, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be staying in either with all the other systems dropping out.”

David was in shock. He had no clue any of this happened. Things were spiralling further and further out of his grasp, and he couldn’t pull it all back together.

“I don’t know David. I shouldn’t be talking to you. You’re a murderer, and a terrorist.”

“Wait, none of this is true. I know how I can fix this.”

“How? How could this possibly be fixed?” Jeremy demanded.

“Tara’s behind all this and I can prove it.”

“You’re still picking on her?” he spat, disgusted. “You’ve brought her world to its knees, and all you can say is that you’re the victim?”

“Listen to me Jeremy, I have proof. A document that says how she engineered my downfall. She’s to blame. We can still salvage this.”

There was a pause as Jeremy realized what he said. “Can I see it?”

“It’s encrypted.” David admitted. “I need your help to crack it.”

A rush of static filled the call as Jeremy let out a breath. “So you have nothing. Great.”

“I’m certain that’s what this is. Please, this is my last chance. Help me out.”

“Well, if that’s the case...wait, how do I know this isn’t a trap? That you’re not going to attack me too?”

“Because I trust you, Jeremy. You’re the only one left I that I can trust.” David’s mind began to drift back to the relay.

Another sigh. “Alright. When can you meet me?”

“I’m in the system, I can be there in a couple hours.”

“Okay, meet me in my office tower, on the surface. I have my own hangar you can use.” David heard Jeremy snap his fingers over the call. His voice was quieter, no longer talking into the phone. “Hey, you know my schedule for today? Clear it, I’m going to be busy.”

“Thank you.” said David.

“You better be right about this. For both of our sakes.” He ended the call.

***

If there was one thing this whole ordeal had taught him, was that it paid off to be cautious. And so on his way to Tioranin’s surface, David made copies of the papers. He uploaded one onto the galactic network and another which he hid on a drive in the ship. If something happened, he had backups, which he planned to tell Jeremy about if he had to.

The Cobra descended to Tioranin’s capital city and David noticed its landscape greatly contrasted everywhere else he’d travelled to in the past day. It was a busy place, bustling with activity and traffic. The city of glass, metal and concrete spanned hundreds of kilometres in every direction, outwards from a single colossal building that towered out of the ground. This was the centre of government, where the officials came to work, and on top, was the office of their elected leader, currently in use by Jeremy Ross.

He approached the massive building and landed in Jeremy’s hangar, a few floors below his office. Once the Cobra touched down, David exited the craft and noticed a squad of troops outside the ship. Jeremy stood in front of them.

“David. It’s good to see you’re all right.”

“Uh…what are they doing here?” David gestured at the troops.

“Don’t worry, they’re not with GalCop. This is Tioranin’s own security, hand-picked by our government. They listen to me, and I trust them all with my life.”

“Mr. Ross,” said one of the troops to Jeremy, “the building is now under lockdown as per your request. Nobody’s coming in here.”

“Okay David, you’re safe. Let’s take a look at this file.”

They took an elevator up to Jeremy’s office and he asked David for his side of the story. He told him, repeating the same things he told Rex when he asked, but added in the part with the relay. He found it hard to explain exactly what happened, and felt the weight of the event come crushing back down on his shoulders.

“Crap, that sounds awful.” said Jeremy. “I’m sorry about what happened to Lieutenant Taylor.”

David looked down solemnly.

The doors opened and they walked into Jeremy’s office. David noticed there was no ceiling above their heads, but instead there was a large glass dome and he could see the sun and traffic as it passed overhead. He walked over to a couch and took a seat. Jeremy picked up a ComPad from a drawer in his desk, then returned over to David.

“Here. I’ve got several encryption keys on it, see if you can find one that works.”

David took the pad, mildly surprised. “You just keep a pad lying around with encryption keys?”

“Well, no. One of my engineers gave it to me when I told him you were coming.” Jeremy stood up again, walking over to a cabinet and pouring himself a glass of alcohol. David opened his mouth to ask why an engineer needed to know something like that, when a key deciphered the papers.

“It worked. Let’s see what it says…” muttered David.

“Let’s hear it.”

David looked at it for a long time. “This is it. This is the truth.” he said at last. It was a detailed set of instructions and outcomes that would guarantee how to dissolve the alliance and how David would take the blame for it. There were branching lists of instructions, all based on how he could’ve reacted to the situation.

“Wow, according to this, she started planning way before the talks started. Organizing evidence, which systems to tamper, pulling strings to manipulate GalCop…it’s all here.”

Jeremy was interested now, and he walked over. “Let me see.”

“Wait…she has her own list of instructions to follow in here. Tara wasn’t responsible, she’s only an actor, a participant. Who’s behind this then? Who did this to me?”

“I think I have a pretty good guess.” Jeremy said as sat next to David and looked at the decrypted file. He casually reached behind his back and drew a handgun, buried it in David’s gut and fired.

***

David slowly came to, surprised to be alive. He felt groggy, but other than that he was fine. Looking around, he noticed he was still in Jeremy’s office. He was sitting on a chair on the other side of the large desk, and Jeremy sat on the other side, looking at the document on a screen.

“Oh, you’re up.”

David wanted to stand up, run across to the other side of the desk and begin beating the tar out of his ‘friend’, but his hands were stuck, tied to the chair. Two guards stood next to him, both watching David carefully.

“You know, I’m surprised you were able to get your hands on this.” He pointed at the document. “I seriously had my doubts there. Bravo.” He grinned and did a slow clap, the sound echoing around the silent office.

“You see,” Jeremy began, “I’ve been trying to get hold of this for some time. The only proof that you were innocent. I knew sending instructions through official channels was a risk, but it was the fastest way to get it across. And it turned out alright, with my encryptions and precautions. They went through undetected, but there was still the chance that someone would go up to the relays and snoop around, like you did, and somehow stumble into the correct encryption key, then spill the truth out to the galaxy. I knew I needed to get rid of it. This had to be done quietly of course, so I wanted to go up there myself and sift through the information, but I never had the time. So I figured, if I can’t be precise about this, then I’ll just have to do the complete opposite.”

“You…you put the Q-mine on the station?” David whispered.

“Well, I didn’t, but yes, I ordered the Q-mines. I was going to use them as a last resort to blow up the relays and bury the information about our plan, but then you come along, collected it and brought it right into my lap.” He picked up the pad and passed it to a guard, who took it into the elevator and left. “With that, I can engineer a self-deleting virus, tailored specifically for that file. I can send it out in a galactic broadcast and get rid of the document, leaving no trace it was ever there. I wanted to do it sooner, but the relays store a compressed version of the file and I knew it wouldn’t work for the original. So, I’ve got to hand it to you, you’ve saved me a lot of trouble. Though I’ve really been itching to detonate a few more mines.”

David’s head was spinning. This was all too much, though there was one simple question he wanted answered. “How am I still alive?”

Jeremy reached back and showed off his pistol. “Enforcers are great. I can switch between stun and lethal depending on what I need.” To prove his point, he flicked the setting from stun to lethal, then took aim with it, so David was staring down its barrel. He closed his eyes, waiting for the shot. Jeremy laughed. “Oh, don’t look like that, I’m not going to kill you.” He put the gun on the desk. “Do you want to know why you lasted as long as you did?”

“What? What’re you talking about?”

Jeremy leaned forwards to David, ignoring his question. “Because I let you.”

David was silent, uncomprehending.

“You thought you were lucky? Spending all this time running around and never got shot, hurt or killed? What, did you think you were some kind of superstar? The hero in some sad little tale? No. Tara didn’t kill you in the hallway because I told her not to. The officers who chased you were under orders not to hurt you. The tracker team I sent after you were instructed to ignore you. I wanted to see how far you’d go, what you’d do and how much of a fool you’d make of yourself. And it worked. I couldn’t’ve asked for anything more.

“But there was a complication. There always is. We knew something like this might happen and tried to adjust for every outcome, so we’d know exactly what to do. In the end, I knew Lieutenant Taylor was a wildcard, an unexpected variable, and she needed to go. It was going to be quick, and simple. Tara would kill her, and if that didn’t work, I sent instructions to administer a poison while she was at the hospital. She never would’ve known. I thought that’s what happened, but then I found out her idiot of a CO saved her, believing she could keep quiet. We had psych profiles on both of you and I knew Taylor wouldn’t do it.

“So I arranged an alternative.” Jeremy shaped his hand into the form of a gun and brought it to his head, imitating a gunshot. “A bit messier than I’d like, but it would’ve gotten the job done. Then she escaped. I kicked myself for underestimating her, and so I made precautions to ensure it didn’t happen again, like placing the bounty to make sure the galaxy would turn against her. Perhaps if they noticed the massive reward just came out of the blue it wouldn’t’ve worked, but nobody checks this stuff. I was hoping they’d bring her here, then I could kill her myself and be sure she was dead.

“But then again, she took you to a rebel base and that was an unexpected surprise. I planned for you to just rot in prison, but we collected more information and pictures that looked like you were working with rebels so now we could say you were a traitor. And she took you up to the relay to find the data and blew the station. We prepared for that, in case you did manage to get that far, and now we were back on track. Maybe I was wrong to hunt her down the way I did. After all, she was incredibly useful. Helped you bring the file to me and advance our goals, so I guess I owe her some thanks. Looking back, she’s probably the only reason you got as far as you did.”

David’s gut was broiling. Hatred made his stomach churn and he struggled against his restraints. “How could you? I trusted you, and you did all this!?” David screamed obscenities at Jeremy’s face until he calmed down somewhat. “Why work with Tara? And you keep saying we, who else knew?”

“After all this, you still think we’re partners. I thought I made it pretty clear I was in charge, I’m sure there were some hints to that. At least, hints that indicated to not Tara. You seriously think she had that much pull in my system, a democracy, when she can barely keep her own planet together? That she was able to arrange this all on her own? Yeah, right. Also, the papers you found on the station, that was in the ‘incoming’ list, wasn’t it?” David nodded slowly. “Didn’t you wonder why that would be there instead of outgoing? Why would she need to send orders to herself? The facts were there, David. You were just too stupid to see it.

“As for any others, it was just three people. The leaders of Tioranin, Aerater and Rigeti, us three systems were in on it. We spent a long time working out the details. You should’ve seen the look on Tara’s face when she read her finalized instructions, she couldn’t wait to start and found it hilarious she got to play villain. While you were planning out your arrangement, our second one was made in private, and would prevail when yours turned to ash. A ‘phoenix’ deal. You were hoping for an alliance, and we made one – the Systems Three Alliance. It just wasn’t the one you wanted.

“Now that it looks like we’ve completely fallen out with each other, it’s time to kick it up a notch. The hate attacks are going to rise in Aerater and Rigeti and once it becomes too much, I’ll have to withdraw the GalCop presence from the area.” Jeremy said this in mock disappointment. “Because of the ongoing attacks, I’ll order a bolstered defensive line around Tioranin to keep radicals and outlaws away, preserving my system’s safety. With the increased security, criminals will be forced to flee elsewhere, and what better place than to one of two nearby systems, where GalCop virtually doesn’t exist? Their planets will become a cesspool of pirates, rebels, and the like, now that they have a haven festering with the galaxy’s most wanted. Rigeti and Aerater will welcome them with open arms of course, they think they can use them as some kind of renegade army.”

David couldn’t accept what he was hearing. “What about the regular citizens? The ones who haven’t done anything wrong? Not everyone on those planets are evil.”

Jeremy shrugged. “Oh well. A necessary sacrifice. There aren’t too many people like that, so I won’t be losing much sleep over it.”

David was still reeling in disbelief. “Why did you even need to do this? Any of it?”

“Because of you. While you were out there, thinking you were some hotshot about to save billions of lives, you forgot about your own people. But I didn’t. I couldn’t drop my support for you without losing power because Tioranin shared your delusional visions, but they couldn’t see what I did. We tried something like this seven years ago, and while we were forced to send thousands of ships for some second-class worlds, my people were hurting. Crime rates rose, piracy increased and Tioranin lost millions of people in a matter of days. Not only that, but our fleet suffered heavy losses and was barely enough left for policing when they returned. It took years for us to recover. When you approached me weeks ago to help you make this deal, I knew it was going to happen all over again. So I did what I had to, making an arrangement with the systems and crippling your efforts in secret. Now, my citizens are going to thrive for decades to come.”

Jeremy signalled the guard and he walked over to David. The guard grabbed the restraints and removed them.

“What is this?” said David suspiciously.

“You’re free to go.” said the guard.

“You have nothing.” Jeremy explained. “No proof, no allies, no resources. You can wander around and try to convince people all you want, but nobody will believe you. There’s a GalCop cell out there with your name on it and you’ll wind up there sooner or later.”

David stood, and glanced at the Enforcer pistol still on the desk. His emotions took over and he picked up the gun, flicked the setting to stun, spun around and shot the guard in one fluid motion. He changed the setting back to lethal and pointed the gun at Jeremy. He didn’t flinch.

“Go ahead.” Jeremy leaned back in his chair. “Shoot me. It’ll just be another murder on your hands, then we can officially add assassination on your list of crimes.”

“I never killed anyone. I never committed any crimes.” David declared.

“Sure, but only we know that. To everyone else, it’ll just be another tick on your ever-growing body count.”

David stood for a long time, weapon aimed, considering what he could do. At last he spoke.

“I never killed anyone,” he repeated, “and I never will.”

He switched the setting again and let loose four stun rounds into Jeremy. Still bitter, he fired two more. “That was for Taylor.”

He walked over to the desk and took the ComPad filled with encryption keys. Then, he turned and ran to the elevator, descending towards the hangar.


Part 7

Jeremy dismissed another syringe of stimulant.

“I’m fine.” he insisted.

He studied the city below from his office, which was now filled with his troops. He looked out the glass dome, waiting for updates on David’s position. A guard turned to speak.

“Mr. Ross, he’s made it to his ship. He’s launching now.”

They watched through the window, tracking the Cobra Mk I as it flew up into space.

“Shall we pursue?”

“No, get in contact with the bounty hunters, tell them he’s coming. Oh, don’t bother with the Artemis’ Will. They’re still hunting for crew.”

The guard nodded and began to make the calls.

“You’re trying to run? You won’t get far.” Jeremy said to himself.

***

David pointed the Cobra skyward and, satisfied with the ship’s current course, left to find the drive that held a copy of the document. He entered the bathroom and opened a bottle of shampoo, his fingers searching through the container. He pulled the drive out of the bottle and then he wiped it clean from the gel. Returning to the cockpit, he interfaced with the ship’s computer. The copy he uploaded was already gone, consumed by Jeremy’s virus. He decoded the remaining copy with the stolen keys and prepared to post it on the galactic network.

He stopped. What was keeping Jeremy from sending out the virus again? He needed to change something, but wasn’t sure what. If he changed the content, people might think it was fabricated, and he’d lose his chance to clear his name. That left the title. Would it be enough to dodge the virus? David hoped it would. He needed to keep its title unrelated to its contents, or Jeremy might find it before it spread. He deleted the word ‘Uniform’ as the official sense attached to it made him think back to Taylor’s death. He looked at the new title, wanting to add something else.

The ship’s radar detected a hostile formation of ships approaching. David stared as their radar blips pulsed red. Hell, that’ll do. He typed the word ‘Green’ at the end and read the title to himself. Tau Carina Green. That’s mysterious enough. He uploaded the file, then took the controls as the ships closed in. The four hunter ships opened fire, blasting the Cobra with pulse and beam lasers. David changed his ship's course and dodged the incoming shots. A few of them collided with his shields, but they held. The ships followed him on his new trajectory and David awkwardly manoeuvered the Cobra as he tried to dodge the incoming lasers. He was fairly successful as most of the beams whizzed past the ship.

The hunters fired until their beam lasers overheated, significantly lowering the volume of shots fired. David noticed this and he spun the ship around, chipping away at their shields with the Cobra’s pulse laser. The pilots of the hunter ships let out chuckles of amusement. Did this guy really expect to beat them with a pulse laser? Once their weapons cooled down enough, they continued their assault.

David jerked the Cobra to the side, narrowly evading the barrage of laser fire. They resumed their chase, closely tailing the Cobra and firing at its shields. David did his best to dive and roll, but their blasts of energy still managed to hit the ship’s failing shields. He turned around again, trying to save his rear shields from completely collapsing. He caught them by surprise, streaking through their formation and landing a couple hits of his own.

David switched to the rear view and saw the ships circle around and kept pace, mirroring his ship’s movements. Looking forward again, he grimaced. They were far better equipped and there was no way he could take them all on his own. He opened the sector map and began searching for a system to jump towards. The hunters fired at the Cobra as it travelled in a straight line, an easy target. David swore as his shields gave out and shots began to pepper the hull.

He closed the map and swung the controls wildly around. At these random movements, the overconfident hunters struggled to land a blast and eventually their weapons overheated once more. He turned and focused his fire on one of the hunter ships. His shots repeatedly hammered its shields and he continued to fire at its hull until it began to spark. It broke off from its formation and flew off in the other direction, blasting into the distance as it injected fuel into the engine.

David saw a Cobra Mk III approach, not a hunter as it didn’t join the other ships in combat. It looked like help arrived. Some passerby noticed the commotion and was about to pull him out of the fire. His luck was finally turning, he thought, and watched as the incoming ship readied itself to attack. It fired its pulse laser and the volley collided with David’s shields.

“Good work.” A bounty hunter spoke to the newcomer through the open channel. “We can split the bounty.”

David’s stomach dropped in despair as the outsider followed him to continue its attack. He realized he still carried his fugitive status so it probably looked like he was the attacker. He angled the ship away again, trying to lose the other Cobra while the hunters paused their chase to let their shields return and weapons cool. The Cobra followed him easily, David’s simple manoeuvers were unable to lose the attacker. It continued to shoot, lasers dropping his shields and then colliding with the hull.

He didn’t want to attack this person, he wasn’t involved. He was innocent and had no idea what he was jumping into, he thought as more shots rammed into the hull and systems were damaged. Innocent or not, David needed to do something before the stranger tore apart his ship. He turned on his radio, now broadcasting over the open frequency. He hesitated, unsure of what to say. Where to start? What could defuse this situation? Another group of lasers collided with his hull, and an alarm started flashing.

“I'm not your enemy!” he said, panic seeping into his voice. “Read about the Tau Carina Green papers! Read about the Tau Carina Green papers…”

It probably wasn’t the best piece of information he could’ve used to save himself, but the attack stopped nonetheless. David let out a sigh of relief. He looked out the rear view and saw the Cobra following hesitantly, swaying left, right, up and down as it considered peeling off and engaging the resting bounty hunters. He leaned into the microphone to thank the other ship for listening, while the Cobra Mk III realigned itself and fired another burst of lasers. David’s ship collapsed from the fatal shots and was engulfed by fire and flames, spraying debris into space. The Cobra turned around, avoiding the cloud of shrapnel and resuming its course to the station.


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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2015 12:06 pm 
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nice story... right on commander! Any chance the cobbie1 bore an escape capsule? ;-)

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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:25 pm 
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Thanks, it's my first crack at some fiction. I don't think I'm very good at it yet.
Quote:
Any chance the cobbie1 bore an escape capsule? :wink:
Well this was based on a quick run-in that happened a while ago. I don't recall seeing one, so this is the end of David's story :(. If it makes you feel better though, I did turn around and shoot down the other ships afterwards, just to be safe. :mrgreen:


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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 1:33 am 
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I don't think I'm very good at it yet.
It's pretty good, as it happens - and it's cool to turn an in-game incident into something more than just a straight tale.

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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 9:58 am 
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Very nice fiction! I placed a link into Oolite stories in the wiki.
I can imagine an alternate and somewhat more happy ending where the green papers finally reach publicity.

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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 1:54 pm 
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Thanks, it's my first crack at some fiction. I don't think I'm very good at it yet.
Quote:
Any chance the cobbie1 bore an escape capsule? :wink:
Well this was based on a quick run-in that happened a while ago. I don't recall seeing one, so this is the end of David's story :(. If it makes you feel better though, I did turn around and shoot down the other ships afterwards, just to be safe. :mrgreen:
nah, it's your story and I just wondered myself if the destruction was some kind of cliffhanger and there's a sequel...
Again, right on, I enjoyed your story while currently docked at Zaleriza/G1, Lvl: 5 anarchic agri, Commander.


Amah,
Rigel IV - Ophidian class trading vessel, on route to Ceedra Lvl8 Confed, delivering 1495g Gemstones.

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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 10:50 pm 
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Thanks for the compliments, I had my doubts about it when I was typing it up. I'm just glad I could help kill a bit of time.

I know the ending is kind of a downer, and so if I decide to write again it'll probably try to be a little more uplifting. As for a sequels, when I was thinking this up, I didn't really have one in mind. Although because of the way it abruptly ends, I suppose there's a possibility for a second installment. I haven't put any thought into it though, so I don't know where it could go. But for the moment, it's not really high on my priority list (I've spent more time writing this story than I should've :P ).

Anyway, I don't want to guarantee anything. I'd hate to promise and then not deliver.


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 Post subject: Re: The Systems Three
PostPosted: Fri Oct 30, 2015 10:54 pm 
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As for a sequels, when I was thinking this up, I didn't really have one in mind. Although because of the way it abruptly ends, I suppose there's a possibility for a second installment.
<chortles> Been there, done that - enjoy! Nothing wrong with a downbeat ending, btw - done that too!

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