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Alien: Tribulation

narayan

Explorer


Welcome Alien Fans! Alien: Tribulation is a play-by-post game using the Alien RPG books (Free League Publishing) set in the year 2183 (4 years after the events of Aliens & Alien 3)

Game Status: Cancelled (due to lack of interest)

Current Game Thread: (Will be posted here when the actual game begins. For now please read the Prologue below)

Players

EN World UsernameCharacter NameAgeSexRaceClassProfession
Reese Castle42MSpaceborn Human (Core Systems)PilotSpace Trucker
Open!
Open!
Open!
What to Expect?



Alien is very much in the horror scope of science fiction. In fact many would argue it set the bar for this genre and I share that opinion. Alien: Tribulation will explore many of the same themes as the movies. There will be intrigue, there will be violence, there will be gore (there will even be foul-language) but most importantly there will be fun and awesome roleplaying! After all, memorable characters are the essence of Alien just as much as the fearsome Xenomorph.

Character-building and immersion into the Alien universe is priority one for me as your Game Mother. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and be creative. Good writing skills are key, especially in the way you describe your actions, participate in dialogue and express your character's thoughts and feelings. I expect everyone to show respect for each other and the effort we all make to create a good story.

Usually I work very closely with new players to create new characters. After discussing whatever's relevant about their past, their motives and their plans during the character creation process I'll write an 'intro post' that describes who they are and what they are doing to set the scene for their appearance into the game. I do this to give a solid foundation for their own subsequent posts. (Or if the player themselves feels up to it they can write their own intro post.)

What is considered 'Canon' ?

There is a lot of EU (Extended Universe) material for the Alien setting. For the sake of this game I consider the following source material as cannon (for the most part).

Prometheus
Alien: Covenant
Alien
-Alien: Defiance (Comic)
-Alien: Isolation (Novel)
-Alien: The Cold Forge (Novel)
-Alien: River of Pain (Novel)
-Alien: Bug Hunt (Collected Short Stories)
Aliens
Alien 3


Post Frequency

Ideally I'd like to see posts from players within 48 hours of a prompt, on average. This may or may not work well for this game system (or this specific genre). It depends on how it goes, but I'd like to aim for this sort of pace to start.

Rules Adjustments for play-by-post.

As we cannot use playing cards in an online game to determine initiative, we will use a pick-a-number system instead. Each player will pick a number between one and ten. Whatever number you pick will correlate to another number on a secret list. (Example: Player picks the #5 for his initiative, but according to my list the #5 is actually the #1) This way the randomization of initiative is preserved the way the game rules intended.

Likely there may be other adjustments to the rules when needed. We'll figure that out as we go along.

Post Formatting

For this game we will be using the following format for posts in the game forum.

Players

Character Name
(in BOLD) followed by colon: is used at the start of any post for your character.
"Quotes" are for in-character speech. Italics, underlining and/or bold characters can be used for emphasis in speech. Choosing a specific color for your speech is recommended.
~thingies~ are for in-character thoughts in 1st person. Choosing a color for thoughts is also recommended, usually the same as you chose for speech.
(parenthesis) are used for out-of-character actions, thoughts, questions, dice rolls, etc.
- These - are used to declare the type of speech (and specific language) you are using or to whom you are speaking.
[brackets] are used when a player asks a question for the dm, or makes a note or comment about rules.

Game Mother

NPC Name
(in BOLD) followed by a colon is used at the start of any post for an NPC.
"Quotes" are for in-character NPC speech. Italics, underlining and/or bold characters can be used for emphasis in NPC speech.
~thingies~ are for in-character NPC thoughts in 1st person.
(parenthesis) are used for out of character questions, ideas, dice rolls etc
- These - are used to declare the type of speech they are using or to whom they are speaking.
are used for game notifications.
[brackets] are used when the GM needs a roll to be made by a player, asks a question for the player, or makes a note.
 
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narayan

Explorer
PROLOGUE: Part I

Torin Prime: Tartarus Sector
New Philadelphia Colony
05/29/2183


Rain rattled off cheap, pre-fab rooftops of New Philadelphia Colony. It is a calm night and a still darkness but things were not always so. Eighty years ago, a dangerous local rebel faction attempted succession from the newly formed United Americas. Their efforts resulted in much bloodshed, concentration camps and a full-fledged war in space. After two long years the United Americas Allied Command defeated the insurgents and restored order. Prosperity however, did not follow with it.

Few alive are old enough to remember the conflict. Recent generations only know Torin Prime as it has been; burdened by heavy sanctions and an even heavier police presence. Along the streets and alleys of the sprawling capitol colony nearly 300,000 souls live in dissatisfaction and poverty. Their homes and other structures are dilapidated and run down. Everywhere there is trash, graffiti and useless junk.

For all that, there are also many watering holes. Down beneath the muddied streets underneath a 24 hour Laundromat lies the Liberty Bell Cantina which hosts honest hard-working locals of every sort, as well as some less-honest. Ernest Hart wasn’t sure which sort he was, but he was glad he wasn’t a local in any case. Torin Prime wasn’t his idea of a holiday destination by any stretch. He’d be glad to leave tomorrow now that his business here was finished. For now he sat at the bar drinking a cold beer enjoying the ambiance, such as it was.

All told he’d spent the better part of a month here and he was fairly certain there wasn’t much else to see. Torin Prime was a mountainous world, semi-arid with a cool temperate climate. Outside the colonies high peaks and valleys stretched out to the horizons. People said the hiking and mountain-climbing were ‘epic’, but Ernest was long past an age for such things. Beneath an old tweed cap and a well-worn London Fog overcoat he was just an old man in his late 60’s, tan in complexion with a week’s worth of stubble on his cheeks.

Behind the bar, an especially dingy dust-smeared screen played network news nobody could hear over the old jukebox. As the camera zoomed in Ernest recognized the face of a tall, well-dressed man preparing to be interviewed. His hair was graying and his easy smile was gone, but there could be no mistake about who it was. A caption superimposed itself in the lower border as another camera feed took over, pulling back as the man and the interviewer sat down together. The caption read: Paul Van Leuwen, Chairman, Interstellar Commerce Commission.

Ernest shook his head and scoffed, “Fuckin guy has no idea!” he muttered.

“Hows that?” a flat voice asked to his left. Ernest turned his head to regard the stranger who slid unto the stool beside him. He was a thin man, plainly dressed in a long-sleeve shirt tucked into crease-less slacks with a black leather belt and steel-toed boots. It was the same attire most of the local ‘blue-collar’ workers wore who labored in the factories, quarries and mines. The fabric was made of a tight-weaved polyester/cotton blend which was hard to tear, difficult to stain, durable and clean-cut.

“I think it’s obvious. Just look at him,” Ernest answered smoothly though inwardly he was anything but calm.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked the new arrival with a bored expression.

“Scotch, neat,” the stranger replied crisply.

“That’s $50 a glass.”

The stranger just smiles so the bartender reaches for one of the few bottles of real liquor he had on offer.

Ernest took the chance to look around a bit more, glancing at the tables and booths behind him. It was a packed house, standing room only except for the bar. Nobody else seemed to be paying Ernest any mind. Still his heart wouldn’t stop racing. Any chance for a quick exit seemed unlikely. Ernest couldn’t shoulder his way through that crowd very easily. Perhaps there was a back door, but running blindly into the back storage area was just as likely to yield a dead end.

“You don’t look like you’re from around here?” the stranger asked making eye-contact with Ernest. His eyes were a dull brown, as was his hair, short and neatly trimmed; combed over his brow in such a well-manicured arch it might as well have been made of plastic. He looked to be mid-thirties, perfectly clean shaven with a posture as rigid as a mannequin.

“You’d be right about that,” Ernest answered with a false chuckle. “I’m a long, long way from home.”

Meanwhile, on the screen, Paul leaned forward in his chair holding his hands before him in the way you do when you’re either holding a big bowl or asking for patience and understanding. The cameras blinked back to the interviewer, an elegant woman with bright wholesome eyes and understated lipstick. She seemed to be unhappy with the interview and the way the conversation was going.

“What brings you here? Looks like you have a story to tell,” the stranger said feigning interest.

“I’ve got a few no doubt,” Ernest replied earnestly, “but if you don’t mind I’m just trying to watch this.”

As the bartender came over with two fingers of scotch Ernest gestured to the vid screen, “hey can you turn that up?”

“Won’t do much good,” the bartender grunts raising his voice to make a point.

“Humor me please,” Ernest says straining to the keep the panic out of the word please.

“Ok old-timer,” the bartender says snatching the remote attempting in vain to overcome the din. Meanwhile, the stranger slides a $50 bill unto the bar to pay for his drink. “Huh?” the bartender says reaching for it. “This is Weyland Yutani currency.”

“Is that a problem?” the stranger asks.

“Uh, I suppose not… if that’s all you’ve got?” he asks annoyed.

“It’s what I carry,” the stranger explains. The bartender puts it in his till without a fuss seemingly out of patience to discuss it further.

Just then another song starts playing on the juke box.

And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder. One of the four beasts saying, “Come and see.”

And I saw, and behold a white horse.

“You know you’re already too late,” Ernest says matter-of-factly, sliding his right hand off the bar through the slit in his overcoat at his side.

The stranger cocks his head over in the odd way a child might, “please explain?”

There’s a man going around taking names

“I’ve got nothing left to prove,” Ernest says leaning back from the bar and pulling out his Browning High Power automatic from its holster in one smooth motion firing from the hip at point-blank range.

And he decides who to free and who to blame

As the first bullet hit the stranger in his chest he was already moving, grasping towards Ernest, snatching for his throat quick as a vipers strike. Ernest was falling however, throwing himself backward off his stool. The stranger’s fingertips brushed against his collar, clawing at the fabric of the overcoat as he fell.

Everybody won’t be treated all the same

The CRACK, CRACK, CRACK of pistol shots erupted three times before Ernest hit the floor blowing holes into the strangers shoulder, throat and stomach. Each wound bled white, viscous lubricant.

There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down

The stranger hopped off his stool and reached down for Ernest unperturbed. His inhuman, synthetic innards were seemingly invulnerable to small arms fire.

When the man comes around

Ernest kicked and rolled away still firing as fast as he could pull the trigger. Around him people screamed and fell over themselves trying to flee. Ernest felt someone’s foot kick him in the ribs. Still he scrabbled away on the floor fighting to regain his feet.

The hairs on your arm will stand up

The strangers hand grabbed Ernest’s collar, yanking back with such force he felt a rush of blood pressure up in his skull making the room spin.

At the terror in each sip and in each sup

“FUCK YOU!” Ernest shouted attempting to twist his way out of his own coat.

Will you partake of that last offered cup

The stranger grabs Ernest’s right wrist turning him around and lifting him up like a rag doll.

Or disappear into the potter’s ground

“Tisk-tisk, that’s not a polite way to leave a conversation,” the stranger says placidly with an eerie bubbling sound as white lubricant squirts out of his neck all over Ernest’s chest and overcoat.

When the man comes around

Ernest feel’s the bones in his wrist ready to fracture like matchsticks as the synthetic begins to squeeze. His grip goes limp, the pistol falling to the floor. By reflex earnest grabs at the strangers other hand as it reaches for his throat. He might as well be arm-wrestling a gorilla. As the fingers clamp around his neck Ernest has the presence of mind to hear the music.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers

One hundred million angels singing

The synthetics head explodes in a fountain of ichor and plastics an instant after the loud BOOM of a shotguns report. Ernest feels the strangers fingers relax and manages to gasp in a ragged breath, falling to the floor in a heap.

Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum

Voices calling, voices crying


Some are born and some are dying

“Hey you ok old-timer?” the bartender asks leaning over the bar clutching a smoking pump-action.

“Never better!” Ernest hisses through gritted teeth. Around him, everyone else in the bar hovers and stares in a state of shock.

“Why was a synthetic trying to kill you?” someone shouts.

“It wasn’t...” Ernest says struggling back to his feet, picking up his pistol and holstering it in the process.

“It had its hand around your throat!” the bartender says.

“I am well aware,” Ernest agrees somewhat hoarsely rubbing at his neck, “It wanted to choke me until I passed out so it could carry me out of here and interrogate me elsewhere.”

“Jesus! What are you going to do?” someone else asked as the crowd started to press back in getting a closer look at the headless android. Most of these people have never seen one like this before.

Ernest stepped forward again to lean against the bar, careful not to slip on all the lubricant. His right hand and his ribs ached something terrible as adrenaline started to wear off. With his left hand he grabbed the glass of scotch and raised it up to the bartender. “To your health!” he says gulping it down before he turned to face the crowd with all seriousness. “I’ll tell you exactly what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna buy drinks for everyone here. I trust there are no objections?”
 
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narayan

Explorer
PROLOGUE: Part II

Ashkelon Station: In Orbit of GL382
07/21/2183




"Check!" Dasha Zhukova exclaimed slapping her hand on the side table startling Ze'ev Darkon who blinked with the realization he'd been lost in thought. A trend that was growing ever more common in his old age. Dasha on the other hand was youthful, rowdy, energetic and lighthearted. Much more so than most in their early 30's.

"Apologies," Ze'ev stated focusing again on the chess board. Check indeed, and worse yet, the outlook looked decidedly grim.

"Something must be bothering you. I can't remember the last time I was able to back you into a corner like this," Dasha said with a taunting smirk and a soft Russian accent.

Ze'ev shook his head looking over at the beautiful woman as he spoke with obvious sarcasm, "Nonsense! I don't believe for a second you'd forget something like that."

Dasha glanced up and away with a playful, dismissive air absently swallowing down half her cup of wine. Real spirits did not come cheap out here on the brink of the frontier but Ze'ev obliged her this indulgence whenever they had time for a game. It certainly didn't seem to affect her concentration.

Dasha could drink like a fish and curse like a soldier, qualities that led many to underestimate her. A fact she often used to her advantage. Deals made over drinks were just as lucrative as ones signed in boardrooms. Dasha had a talent for reading people. which when combined with a shrewd intellect and a keen sense of strategy made her one of his most valuable staff members. Ze'ev sacrificed a rook to capture the knight that put him in check.

Dasha raised a brow peering at the board. A rook was more valuable than a knight. Ze'ev was rarely this aggressive, something was off. She decided to press him and find out, "Are you and Eve holding up ok? The 4th anniversary of the tragedy at Hadley's Hope is coming up."

Ze'ev sighed despite himself. She was right, something was bothering him and she sensed exactly what it was. Still, part of him wished she would have been less direct and more tactful. Dasha always went for the jugular, even when meaning well.

"It is difficult," he admitted glancing at one of several portraits of his granddaughter spread around his study. “We decided not to host a memorial this year.”

Dasha held a sympathetic expression, “Eva was a lovely girl. I wish I would have known her better.”

“She liked you Dasha. Her father however…”

Dasha made a pained expression, “She was sixteen! That’s certainly old enough for a makeover and a party where I come from!”

Ze’ev held up his hands, “We are a Jewish family Dasha. Elijah in particular was very strict about traditions, or what we call ‘minhagim’.”

“Eve was not best pleased either I do recall,” Dasha admitted crestfallen.

“Maybe not but Eva had a great time. She told me about it, while she was grounded,” he added pointedly. “It was good for her. I expect she thought of you as a role model. These days that’s no small thing. “

Dasha took another drink of wine looking somewhat sad, “Do you think we’ll ever find out what really happened on LV-426?”

Ze’ev pursed his lips. The truth was he thought about LV-426 every day. What’s more, he put considerable effort and resources into finding answers. Elijah an Eva traveled there to visit Elijah’s sister and planned to depart a few days later.

Weyland Yutani’s claim the Union of Progressive People’s nuked the colony from orbit seemed preposterous. What would be the reason for that? The colonists were, by all accounts, innocent civilians. Nothing about the colony facilities warranted that sort of strike either. The only military presence on LV-426 was a small detachment of Colonial Marines stationed there for security, standard practice on any colony so far out on the frontier.

It seemed far more likely to Ze’ev that there was some sort of industrial accident or malfunction with the colony’s huge atmosphere processor. That explanation also accounted for motive for the Company to misdirect blame. Weyland Yutani was quite proud of those enormously expensive monuments of technology. It wouldn’t do for their slogan of ‘Building Better Worlds’ if their own terraforming equipment potentially killed everyone.

His daughter Eve of course didn’t much care about why or how. Her opinion of the Company was never rosy to begin with. Her grief convinced her Weyland-Yutani murdered Eva and her husband, one way or another. She would never again speak with or tolerate a representative of Weyland Yutani in her presence.

This was not much of a problem for her as a scientist and researcher for Technion Interstellar; one of two rival companies of Weyland Yutani with labs and offices on this very station. Ze’ev however could not afford such an attitude, at least not without proof. His responsibilities as the station administrator required frequent contact with Company reps, subsidiary contractors and spacer crews; few of whom ever had anything to do with LV-426.

That is not to say he was without outrage. Quite the contrary, but he refused to let those feelings jeopardize the safety of his family or Ashkelon Station. Instead he employed private investigators, data-collectors and informants with the utmost discretion.

“That depends on what you’re willing to believe,” Ze’ev answered moving his last knight forward. “I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors.”

“Some,” Dasha said. “The ICC launched an inquiry.”

Ze’ev nodded, “Which is still ongoing,” …and more of a farce than a real investigation he didn’t add. “It’ll take time to put that puzzle together.”

Dasha moved one of her pawns forwawrd, “Have you tried to call in any favors?”

Ze’ev frowned, “Towards what end?”

“For answers. For closure.”

“I have prayed,” Ze’ev said simply. “There is no hammer harder on the hearts of men than the honest and bitter truth. Eventually someone will talk. Truth rises to the top, like oil upon water.”

Dasha gave him a peculiar look. Either she knew he was spouting bullshit or simply did not know how to react. Religion made her uncomfortable. Ze’ev knew this since he first hired her over five years ago to be his Chief Commerce Officer.

Just then an insistent chime bleeted from Ze’ev’s comm terminal, across the study, on his desk. Whoever was calling had access to his private channel. All other communications went through his personal assistant or the chief station officer, neither of whom would disturb him without good reason at this hour. Most likely they would use the station intercom anyway, not his comm terminal.

“Please excuse me Dasha, we’ll have to finish this game another time,” Ze’ev stated apologetically rising smoothly to his feet.

“No problem. Goodnight Ze’ev,” she said kindly, moving over to press a familiar peck on his wrinkled cheek. An affection that just then reminded him of Eva. Suddenly uncomfortable he stiffened and pushed her back.

Dasha gasped and started to say something.

“Just leave!” Ze’ev snapped turning his back on her mortified expression. He felt bad for hurting her feelings so abruptly, but just now he was more concerned about what message might be coming through on his comm terminal. As he slid into the genuine leather chair before the antique mahogany desk the screen blinked -Priority Private Message-. Unlike a normal message neither the identity of the sender nor the point of origin are displayed until he enters his personal access code, which he does.

The name Ernest Hart and the words Torin Prime: Tartarus Sector appear, as well as the transmission date, 05/29/2183. Ze’ev presses the appropriate key to accept the message and associated long distance charges. A shadowy, grainy image appears of a man leaning close to a public terminal. His face is partially obscured by the high collar of his overcoat and the brim of an old-fashioned tweed cap pulled low over his eyes.

“Hello old friend” the voice crackles. Behind him shouts of other voices, laughter and the lyrics of Bob Dylan playing on an old jukebox almost overwhelm the poor voice quality. Ze’ev leans in closer straining his ears.

“It’s taken a while but I’ve finally tracked that lead we talked about. Turns out I was right. I found a survivor of Hadley’s Hope, an actual-fucking-eye-witness!” the man says with signs of a grin within old stubble and heavy wrinkles.

Ze’ev's breath caught in his throat. He could hardly believe his ears.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but she has proof in the form of video-evidence. She even let me see some of it, not all of it, but enough to back up her claim that she was there.”

Ze’ev’s heartbeat quickened in a rush as his mind raced. At last there was hope, real hope, for answers.

“She’s interested to speak to you and give you the whole story, the video, everything she’s got, but of course it’s gonna cost ya. No surprise there right? We talked about this and I advise you to play it straight with her. This is not someone you want to fuck with. Just sayin.”

Ze’ev released his breath slowly. Yes they had talked about this.

“She wants enough money to disappear properly for a long time. I know this because she nearly blew my head off just for trying to introduce myself. Lucky for you that she didn’t, but likely there were others not so fortunate. Just sayin, you owe me one!”

Ze’ev nodded his head unconsciously.

“Anyway she isn’t gonna stick around here any longer. She doesn’t trust me, you, or anyone else knowing what planet she’s on. I told her who you were and where she can find you. I also told her about Eva and Elijah so she’d know you have your reasons. After that I offered to make travel arrangements for her but she was having none of it. That was the extent of our conversation for the most part. The longer we spoke the more nervous she became.”

Ernest pauses quickly to look over his shoulder, one hand sliding under his coat. After a few moments he turns back.

“Fuck me now I’m getting nervous!” he curses. “On a hunch I kept tabs on any departing ships due to stop at Ashkelon Station and it paid off. She’s boarded an old Bison cargo freighter, the USCSS Casimir, registration number 7643039(04) under the alias ‘Marion Shelly’. I’d tell you what her real name is but it wouldn’t do you much good. All information about her has been scrubbed somehow from public records. ...I think we both know what that means... Besides that, I don’t trust The Network. Certain keywords might alert The Company to intercept my transmissions. This message should reach you before the freighter arrives just under two months from today. Take care old friend.”

-End of Transmission- appears on the screen, along with the itemized charges. Ze’ev leans back and intertwines his fingers before his chin thoughtfully. Watch your back Ernest, he whispers.
 
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narayan

Explorer
PROLOGUE: Part III

Ashkelon Station: In Orbit of GL382
07/22/2183



Deep within the bowels of Ashkelon Station Lead Engineer Storen Bull began his day walking his dog. Never a handsome man, nor energetic, Storen carried a look of perpetual disinterest with a slack rested facial expression and tired droopy blue/grey eyes that rarely seemed to focus on anything. Storen was in his mid-fifties, balding with thinning hair pulled back into a rough knot tied above his collar. A short beard peppered with grey was trimmed low along his jawline but thicker around his mouth and chin.

This early in the morning Storen moved with a sluggish pace holding the leash of his Black Norwegian Elkhound Spacer loosely in his grip. A handsome animal, the canine padded dutifully alongside him making no sound as Storens boots clomped and stomped along the metal grating of the lower engineering decks. Spacer had a squarely-built body, shiny short-haired coat, pointed ears and a firmly curled tail arched over his back. Generally good-natured with a headstrong stubbornness, the hound was much beloved around the station; more so than Storen himself there was no doubt.

Standing 6’2” Storen dressed in an engineering jumpsuit the same as other techs except for an old tan leather jacket tightly hugging his shoulders. Climate controls were constantly on the flux, especially in ‘low-priority’ areas of the station where none of the haughty corporate execs deigned to tread. Down here in the stations guts Storen was happy to have the added warmth. On each shoulder was a black-over-red patch of Ashkelon Station, with the added cluster of three dark-orange starbursts sewn above the heart on his left breast marking his rank as a Lead Engineer. On each collar was a golden pin bordered in silver. One was a spacecraft and the other was a space station indicating his broad level of expertise.

Storen had long since made a habit of taking a stroll around the lower levels looking for anything the station techs might have missed that might affect operations above. It wouldn’t be the first time he caught something and he had his reasons to be concerned. The station in orbit of GL382 was many times more massive than an M-Class freighter, but it was still much like a space craft in many senses of the word. Though not equipped with engines it had a towing platform so it could be hauled through space. it also had powerful maneuvering thrusters to maintain and modify its orbit.

Ashkelon was home to over sixteen hundred souls but there were only enough escape pods for for about a fifth of that number. Spacer paused mid-step as a slight rattle and the hiss of gas escaped a bundle of pipes and hoses above his head. The hound lifted his snout, swiveled his ears and sniffed curiously before huffing his throat slightly.

Storen peered up at the hoses slowly sniffing a few times himself. “Sounds like another leak,” he said absently hooking Spacer’s leash on his thumb while reaching for the engineering multi-tool clipped to his waist. The device was an older model designed for EVA use encased in a high density polymer shell with a low-definition back-lit LCD display and fat rubberized buttons. Storen waited a few moments for it to boot up selecting ‘sensor wand’ from a sub-menu. An instant later, a pen-like ancillary tool popped up through a port in the casing. Storen pulled it free the rest of the way holding it up above his head. Steady tones of blips and beeps confirmed the source, type and severity of the gas leak.

“Yep,” Storen murmured to himself glancing at the readout. It read pure nitrogen which wasn’t an absolute emergency insofar as the gas was neither toxic nor flammable. Spacer barked once. Storen reached down to pat the dog reassuringly replacing the multi-tool back on his belt. He would order a station repair tech to fix this as soon as he reached his office.

There was something of a professional rivalry between the station techs and the spacecraft techs. Whenever the groups happened to encounter each other at a bar or cafeteria some sort of insults, arguments or contests were soon to follow. Unfortunately the rivalry had very real consequences in budgetary terms as both groups pressed for a larger share of funds from station administration.

The debate was always the same. Spacecraft techs argued that a well-managed, well-supplied space dock was vital to both safety and commerce. Station techs argued the needs of the space dock were secondary to the wants of the corporate labs, the hospital and other vital systems for the stations six hundred residents. Neither group was happy with what they got and neither group felt like Storen was on their side, which was true, he wasn't.

Storen was one of the few members of middle-management who was truly impartial. He also didn’t blame a lack of funding for the daily woes of the engineers. Ashkelon Station was constructed in 2093, it was ninety years old. Older than the great majority of spacecraft that used it as a port of call and one of the oldest stations still in service anywhere in the Outer Veil.

Slightly smaller and less expensive than its lost sister-station, Sevastopol, Ashkelon was the first major attempt at exploration into the Frontier by the CSC (Central Space Consortium). The CSC was a cutthroat cabal of corporate giants and off-world colonies coming together to declare independence from earthbound governments to create their own laws and avoid paying taxes.

At the beginning, member corporations were all too eager to invest their fortunes into the station for the promise of future dividends. Though never faulted for their ambition, the CSC’s reach seemed to extend beyond their grasp. In subsequent decades little exploration actually occurred beyond the Tartarus Sector and no colonies beyond GL382 (also known as Temple) were actually founded by the CSC. Once its operating costs this far into the outer reaches of known space seemed to outweigh its usefulness to generate profits it didn’t take long for the station to lose support.

Besides that, the lawless and underhanded reputation of the CSC made the station a black spot along the space lanes for interstellar commerce. Ships registered in the UA (United Americas) and the 3WE (Three World Empire) strongly discouraged their crews from stopping at Ashkelon Station.

Storen had no illusions about what to expect when he took his job twelve years ago. Ashkelon was no one’s idea of a premier posting. Lack of ICC (Interstellar Commerce Commission) regulations and oversight made everything troublesome. Station equipment had no maintenance standards, spacecraft repairs were improper or outright negligent. Parts, fuel, tools and supplies were in short supply for one reason or another. Many things on the station had strings attached to unethical individuals. Storen didn’t put up with any of that.

Since those days many people tend to forget how bad things on the station used to be and fewer still give Storen his due credit for cleaning it up, not that most were even aware of how and what he actually did. Storen preferred it that way. Recent circumstances however, changed the station in ways no one anticipated. The evolution of the CSC into the ICSC (Independent Core Systems Colonies) created entirely new problems.

Ashkelon Station was never a legitimate port of call in the eyes of the old earth governments and for the better part of ninety years that looked like it would never change until the ICSC decided it should. In the spirit of free commerce and the desire to attract new colonies into their re-branded consortium the ICSC agreed for limited ICC oversight of Ashkelon Station and a few other way stops on the trade lanes back into the core systems. In addition to this, Colonial Marshals were also permitted postings in these locations to safeguard ICC personnel, visitors, and to uphold the laws of the Colonial Administration.

This agreement was hashed out after months of talks with the ICC under intense media scrutiny. Everyone in the galaxy seemed to have an opinion on whether or not this would work or should even be attempted. Merits of the agreement as a good idea were debated against arguments attesting it as a bad idea for quite some time.

Along with this drastic change in policy, the ICSC promised an overhaul of the station to meet ICC standards. Meanwhile on the station rumors of personnel changes, layoffs and new management ran rampant. Tensions between residents, techs and staff were higher than they’d ever been. Tempers grew short.

Those who believed the changes would be positive struggled to do their best and exceed their performance quotas. Those who feared change, the ICC, or the Colonial Marshals specifically strongly protested. Few could blame them. Many residents of Ashkelon Station had a past that would cause much grief if they ever ended up in the custody of a Colonial Marshal.

It had already been close to a month since the ICC and the Colonial Marshals started operating on the station. Initial reactions were harsh of course. Protests and acts of violence occurred as many predicted they would. One ICC officer and two deputies of the Colonial Marshals Office were seriously injured while undertaking their duties.

Storen wasn’t one to overreact too much of anything but he was genuinely worried about what might happen if things kept up this way. Accidents, Injuries, brawling and drinking were on an upswing among his people. No doubt that trend was true for the rest of the station as well.

By comparison a tiny nitrogen gas leak didn’t seem like a big problem in itself but it hinted at a greater problem station-wide. Storen knew he wasn’t the only tech moving through these corridors on a daily basis. The only reason he and Spacer happened to notice this leak at all was because he wasn’t in a hurry concentrating on something else.

What’s worse, he could easily imagine some other tech ignoring the leak altogether unless it was assigned to them on a work order. Such was the short-sightedness of priorities that led to the sorry state of Ashkelon station, Storen mused, tugging Spacer along as he kept walking.


__


A short while later Storen reached the dry dock proper approaching the personnel airlock which was flanked by two yawning ICSC security officers. Though early for him, these officers were nearing the end of their shift.

“Hey Bull,” one of them said in a low grunt. This one was the larger of the two, almost as tall as Storen but heavier and meaner in appearance. His square skull was trimmed in a buzz cut and beneath his collar were the hint of tattoos. His eyes met Storen’s only briefly before he shifted his gaze again down towards Spacer. The hound stopped panting and stared back unkindly.

“Don,” Storen stated flatly. The other officer glanced between the two sensing there was a history here. Storen didn’t know this one. He was younger, leaner and a few inches shorter standing more on the balls of his feet grasping his hands together behind his back. The black and red uniform he wore had the name J. Heisinger over his badge.

Don moved to open the airlock for Storen as the other officer held up his hand, “Hold on! Animals aren’t allowed in the dry dock. Where is your identification?” He asks Storen with an arrogant undertone. Don took in a breath and clenched his jaw. Storen could tell he was frustrated. The smaller man was clearly new to the station, another fresh graduate from the ICSC Security Officer’s Academy back in the core systems.

Don was an ASS (Ashkelon Station Security) for almost as long as Storen was a Lead Engineer. After the ICSC was formed orders came through to begin a 'restructuring' of Ashkelon Station Security. Don was forced into reassignment within the new ICSC security officers hierarchy. Don’s familiarity and experience with the station apparently didn’t matter so much as his lack of training and familiarity with the new regs. He was demoted down from assistant chief to a lowly guard and patrol posting.

“Jack, this is Storen Bull, one of the stations Lead Engineers,” Don said to his fellow officer trying to make it clear that Storen was free to go pretty much anywhere he wanted.

“I wasn’t asking you!” Jack shot back.

Storen locked eyes with Jack as Spacer started to growl. Jack put a hand on his sidearm. “You’ll want to keep that animal under control!” he warned. “Now where’s your ID?"

Storen reached up to his jacket and pulled it aside very slowly. There on his right breast was his nametag sewn on his jumpsuit. S. Bull. Beneath that was a plastic ID card in a clear plastic cover. The cover had push-snaps sewn into the corners that snapped unto the jumpsuit.

“That’s the old CSC ID Card,” Jack complained. “You’ll need to report to the ICSC security office for a replacement.”

“Sure, no problem,” Storen said calmly. “I’ll get around to it.”

Jack crosses his arms, “I can’t let you pass until you do. Take your mutt with you.”

Don slowly shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

Storen steps forward and Jack flinched, “Halt!”

“I don’t have time for this I have work to do,” Storen muttered stepping even closer.

Jack grabs for his sidearm as Spacer lunges snapping his jaws around the young mans calf pulling him off balance. Jack never even managed to un-holster his weapon before Storen slams his head back against the airlock frame with a solid thud. Jack makes a soft 'whuuuhhh' sound before he starts to collapse.

Don grabs him as he topples over and lays him down gently, “Shit! Sorry about this Bull. Jacks got his head up his ass.”

Storen pulls back on Spacers leash and the hound returns to his side obediently.

“It is what it is,” Storen says placing a hand on the bigger mans shoulder briefly. “Don’t report this to anyone. Make sure the kid understands to keep his mouth shut.”

Don nods as he frowns, “It makes no sense what they’re doing with station security. These new guys just want to make problems.”

“They didn’t grow up on Ashkelon like you did Don. You need to make them understand this is our home. They have no right to treat us like criminals or act like jailers.”

Don nods his head, “They don’t give a shit about us.”

“No they don’t. They just want to overhaul the station. Those of us who already live here are just in the way. It will get worse. This is just the first wave.”

Don spits, “They demoted me!”

“They made a mistake and it won’t be the last. We have to be smarter than that. I’ll put in a word for you with the old man Don. We'll see what we can do for you.”

“Ok, thanks Bull,” Don says appreciatively.

__


Storen presses the open button for the airlock, waiting while the stations AI samples the air pressures on either side of the bulkhead verifying it was safe to open. All the bulkheads, airlocks and viewing windows into the dry dock were as strong and secure as those of the outer hull. This was by design in case of an explosion or emergency venting. Thus nearly all sound outside the dry dock was muffled. Looking through the airlocks tiny portal made the dry dock look cavernous with a surreal laboratory-like quality.

Storen was pleased to see how cramped and busy it was on the other side. Ashkelon’s dry dock had the capacity to hold one M-Class freighter at any one time, along with three smaller G-class spacecraft, but it was rare to actually see the bay near full capacity. Everything else looked small and toy-like in comparison to the spacecraft.

However, walking inside was an entirely different experience. Most visitors felt small and vulnerable, at odds with the environment like they didn’t belong. Here the machines commanded attention as techs and maintenance personnel swarmed around them like so many devotees. Above all the spacecraft loomed high, as powerful and prominent as chariots of the gods.

As the airlock opened with a deep throbbing hum of heavy hydraulics a cacophonous rattle of power tools, the low frequency chugging of auxiliary fluid pumps, the loud whine of robotic gantry arms and the heavy thudding steps of power loaders washed over him like a wave of noise.

Storen stepped through the airlock and across the threshold. Beneath his boots the reinforced deck plates were layered with synthetic rubberized plastic tiles. Light grey in color, these tiles served three purposes. They provided a durable surface resistant to fuel and chemical spills, improved grip and traction as well as an electrical insulator. Storen felt many vibrations through the floor, as good an indicator as any of just how busy it was.

As he moved across the bay Storen let his eyes rove around, taking stock of the work being performed. When necessary the dry dock worked around the clock splitting the crew into three shifts, each with twelve techs and sixteen maintenance and loading personnel. ICC regulations wouldn’t allow more than that in a bay this size during any one shift, even at full capacity.

Working on spacecraft was a job like any other, except when it wasn’t. People trusted these ships with their lives and livelihoods. So far as Storen was concerned there was no excuse for mistakes. Storen expected a high degree of proficiency. He also demanded a modicum of professionalism and a safety-conscious attitude, but most of all he asked for pacing. A good rule of thumb with spacecraft was this. Working slow was working safe. No rush no fuss.

Suddenly there was shouting. One of the ICC Supervisors was yelling at the Senior Tech in charge. Storen steered himself towards the commotion but he was intercepted by Elsie Macgill, the manager of dry dock, shuffling towards him with the aid of two strong metal canes, one slipped over each forearm.

Storen frowned, he didn’t like to see her moving so strenuously. Her place was up in the control room taking charge of logistics, scheduling and supplies the same as she’d always done. Twenty five years she’d been in charge of this dock. Elsie was one of the few people on this station he respected completely.

“Don’t bother with that just yet,” Elsie said jerking her head towards the ICC Supervisor. “You’ve got a visitor waiting in your office.” She stated in that tone she used when she was more concerned about what she was talking about than what she was actually saying.

“Who?”

“It’s Ze’ev.”

Storen could only remember one other time when the station administrator came to his office personally, and that was about a week after he accepted this job just to check on how he was fitting in. Elsie knew the man much longer than he did but by the expression on her face she didn’t know what to make of this odd visit either.

This put Storen in an awkward position. The truth was he spoke to Ze’ev fairly often, always face-to-face, but in a completely different capacity than Lead Engineer and never in his office. Storen allowed the genuine look of bewilderment to come over him.

“He doesn’t look so good,” Elsie continued.

“Ok, let’s not keep him waiting,” Storen said walking with Elsie back towards the lifts at the rear of the dry dock. Normally he took the stairs with their terrific high climb but Elsie would never manage those. Elsie never spoke of her degenerative spinal disorder or let it slow her down in any way, but Storen believed she should have been able to do more with her life. She was smarter than he was and even more learned as an engineer. If she could walk and crawl around the spacecraft the way he did he had no doubt she would make a fine Lead Engineer. At least he convinced her to set up a classroom to instruct the techs whenever she had the time.

Spacer whined as the lift doors shut prior to its ascent. Spacer didn’t like lifts, trams, spacecraft, basically anything that gave the impression the whole room was moving.

“Ssshhh,” Elsie said soothingly. “I’ve got some bacon for you today Spacer!”

Spacer barked with excitement. Elsie kept bowls of food and water for him in the operations center along with a rug for him to lay on beside her terminal. She and the rest of the operations staff kept an eye on the hound whenever Storen was busy in the dry dock or elsewhere on the station.

“Come along Spacer,” Elsie said as the lift reached the landing twenty meters above the deck below.

Storen handed off Spacers leash to her before walking down the corridor towards his office. His door was open and there inside, Ze’ev was waiting for him just as Elsie said he was. The station administrator was sitting before his desk dressed in a freshly pressed suit. His grey eyes however, were baggy and tired, with little of the usual vitality that belied his seventy five years of age.

“What can I do for you sir?” Storen asked politely, keeping his voice professional. So far as anyone knew they had no relationship beyond his role here and he wasn’t comfortable breaking that secret by acting too familiar while the door was still open.

“Good morning Storen. Sorry to bother you like this but this couldn’t wait. I need to ask a favor,” Ze’ev said standing extending his hand. Storen glanced over his shoulder and down the corridor before he shut the door behind him. Ze’ev stood a good seven inches shorter than Storen and his handshake felt frail and weak. Storen also noted his hair was seemingly getting whiter every time they met.

Ze’ev sat down again and continued to speak as Storen moved around his desk, “There is a ship scheduled to dock here in the next few days, the USCSS Casimir. I need you to find out whatever you can about it and the crew as soon as possible.”

Storen looked puzzled, “I remember that ship. It's an older M-Class Bison cargo hauler, been stopping here fairly regularly, always needs something. It's almost as much of an old wreck as Ashkelon station itself. Why are you so interested?”

Ze'ev pursed his lips, “It's a long story, I'll explain later."

Storen shrugged, "Well I have access to all the records of service done here of course, and whatever flight plan and manifest was filed with the ICC. Public records about the crew should also be available.”

“That’s a start, but I want the whole story. I want to see all the ICC records with detailed personnel files on every crew member the ship ever had. I want to see every cargo manifest and transaction, every flight log, every captain’s log, you understand?”

Storen shook his head, “Risky! The ICC database is one of the hardest to pull records from without proper authorization. That’s a very serious federal offense. I am not entirely sure I can even manage it here on Ashkelon Station. You know our access to the Network is under strict management and observation.”

“There are back-channels the ICC and the Company don’t know about,” Ze’ev said in a low voice. “I can provide all the Network access you’ll require.”

“There is still the issue of authorization.”

“Any one of the ICC officers here should have authority to access to those records. The Casimir is scheduled to arrive soon, that should be reason enough for them to make an inquiry if you can come up with a legitimate reason for it."

Storen leaned back in his swivel chair prompting a loud squeak. He was starting to understand why this was more of a favor than an order. Ze'ev was asking him to put his neck on the line and the look on the old mans face told him this was likely only the beginning of what he was really after. Storen had as many doubts as he had questions, but that's how favors worked. Storen had to admit he still owed the man and Elsie was right, he didn't look well. Storen had never seen Ze'ev this desperate before.

"Ok Ze'ev," Storen said after a long pause. "I'll get you those records but I have a favor of my own I'd like to ask in return."

Ze'ev look surprised, clearly also uncomfortable with this new facet of their relationship, "What's that?"

"Don's been demoted. Can you pull some strings, get him back into a respectable role?"

Ze'ev blinked, "Don? Forgive me but I never thought you two were friends?"

"It's not about that. Ashkelon Station is under threat. We have to look after each other or the ICSC will have us all replaced."

Ze'ev looked hurt and clearly offended, "I would never allow that!"

Storen raised his hands in a unspoken statement of apology and doubt, "No offense boss, but the times-they-are-a-changin."
 
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narayan

Explorer
PROLOGUE: Part IV

Ashkelon Station: In Orbit of GL382
07/22/2183


Keren Ho-Stern walked slowly through the outer corridors of Ashkelon’s spaceport, elbows thrust out with attitude, hands stuffed into the pockets of a retro-punk black leather jacket. Beneath her skirt, fishnet stockings wrapped around long shapely legs with high-heeled flats pumping up her ankles.

At twenty two years of age Keren was still young enough to flaunt an attitude with aplomb. Her hair, wavy and black, was full of body and teased to fly about her shoulders wildly. Her eyes, dark and intelligent were accentuated by mascara, eye-liner and shimmering-purple eye shadow. These colors contrasted nicely against pale skin with blushed cheeks and cherry-red lips.

At five feet ten inches tall, even without the heels, Keren stood a few inches over others in the crowd. Though not exactly beautiful, Keren was pretty in her own way and well-proportioned. A ‘handsome girl’ was the phrase most commonly used by her relatives. Many of her features took after her Chinese father, especially her rounded chin and strong jawline. Her look of strength was matched by an excellent physique, worthy of an athlete or a soldier. Keren was neither exactly, but a bit of both. She was a fighter; more specifically, a brawler well-trained in the martial arts.

A few whistles and cat-calls of approval reached her ears as Keren entered her favorite spacers-club, Dizzy’s. Recognizing the voices as fellow spacecraft techs, Keren casually threw up a middle finger in their general direction and headed for the bar. Beneath her feet black floor tiles were outlined in squares of glowing white. Similarly, the surface of the two dozen tables and the bar itself were frosted synthetic crystal imbedded with fiber optic strands and pressure sensors. Each time an object touched them ripples of light spread across the surface.

At the center of the club was the dance floor, made up of luminous white tiles beneath elaborate laser light shows. Two levels of six tables each rose up on either side settled into half-booth-alcoves beneath dim spot lights. Around the dance floor was a broad handrail, suitable to lean against while observing the dancers. Anyone standing by this handrail was within the spread of lasers and spotlights circling above. By contrast the rest of the club was heavily shadowed. One could move around the place in relative obscurity, only revealing yourself once you decided to sit down or stand near the dance floor.

Patrons of every sort wandered in here from the spaceport attracted by the glitzy lighting, the music and the drinks. It was a fun place to loiter and observe others. Local residents from the station made up the bulk of the usual customers. Now things were changing. New visitors arrived to the station nearly every day and their numbers were growing. Keren didn’t mind. She enjoyed the attention of strangers. Her bold attire and makeup was her way to project herself as approachable and interesting. Every weekend was a different costume.

Once sat upon a stool at the bar Keren noted two other women dressed in similarly skimpy flashy outfits. They glared in her general direction and whispered something to each other. Keren ignored them. They were working girls no doubt. Ashkelon Station had its fair share but they needn’t worry. Keren had no interest in interfering in their business much as it might appear otherwise.

“…Wow sis,” a snarky voice admonished as a younger version of Keren strolled up holding a tray of empty glasses. Sheren was her sister, younger by four years. Shorter and sweeter she always said. Her hair was trimmed up above her shoulders with natural curls. It was not black, but rather a deep chestnut brown. Her face was cuter, more feminine, more like their mother.

Keren reacted to her comment with a curl at the edge of her lips intimating a smile. Slight as that expression might seem such an involuntary twitch felt like a total break of discipline for Keren. She loved it as much as she would never admit it.

“Something wrong with the way I look?” Keren asked with a sidelong glance across her shoulder.

Sheren’s eyebrows shot up as she grimaced, “No nothing at all, nothing that should bother you of course.” She coughed holding back a laugh.

“Whatever!” Keren snapped.

Undeterred Sheren slid her tray of glasses unto the bar puffing her breath out cheerfully. “Everyone’s looking at you,” Sheren smirked. “Imagine if mother could see you now…”

Keren refused to alter her expression. This was the game they played ever since they were little girls. It all started when Keren stood outside on the doorstep wearing mother’s clothes, jewelry and makeup. Neighbors laughed and strangers stared as little Sheren watched from the window, giggling, amused by her older sisters antics. Later it wasn’t so funny anymore.

Sheren remembered the hushed discussions between their parents, the counselors and therapists who tried to help. Keren never grew out of her need to dress up. Childhood on Temple, (the world marked on the star charts as GL382) was far from easy to begin with. Adding to the family stigma only made it worse. Keren’s decision to move up to Ashkelon Station with their father, Guo, after the divorce six years ago was something of a relief to Sheren.

A lean dark figure approached from behind the bar dressed in slacks, white wing-tip shoes and a burgundy/purple velvet shirt. At his wrists were genuine ivory cufflinks as he reached up to tip his tweed ivy cap.

“…my-my-my...” He spoke smoothly through a familiar grin, “You’ve outdone yourself this time Keren.”

“Thanks Dizzy,” Keren said gratefully to her old friend.

Sheren smirked, rolling her eyes, “At least make her buy a drink if she’s gonna sit here all night starting trouble.”

“I’m sure I don’t need you telling me who has to buy drinks in my own place,” Dizzy said firmly as he removed the empty glasses from her tray. “Looks like you have more work to do anyway, get to it!” He stated leaving no room for argument.

Sheren scowled, pursing her lips together testily as she whirled away again, tray in hand.

“Sorry she’s such a pain in the ass,” Keren remarked apologetically. Having Sheren living with her and working at her favorite place to relax wasn’t easy.

“I’d say she’s just jealous,” Dizzy winked.

“How about a Pomegranate Martini?” Keren asked, changing the subject.

“You’ve got it!”

Before the divorce, Guo would bring Keren up with him to the station for a few days at a time. After his shift working private security they’d sit here at the bar talking to Dizzy. Once or twice Dizzy bought her a dress for her birthday. His wardrobe connections back in the Core Systems were legendary.

“You look sad,” Dizzy said as he made her drink.

Keren nodded, “I’ve been thinking about Eva.”

“Yes I heard there won’t be a memorial this year. Is that what’s bothering you?”

“It’s not fair!” Keren snarled balling her hand into a fist.

“Easy!” Dizzy said handing her the martini disarmingly.

Keren drank it down in three gulps.

“Look I know you miss her.” Dizzy said consolingly, adding, “Guo’s been missing too. It’s hard to imagine loosing a best friend and a father within a year of each other.”

Keren stared at the empty martini glass, bitterness welling up inside her.

Dizzy poured her another as a waitress called out for him. “Just relax, I’ll be back to check on you soon,” he said, reaching over to give her shoulder a squeeze.

The mysteries of what happened to Eva and her father never ceased to haunt Keren. The fact Guo was something of a mercenary; a refugee from the Union of Progressive People’s caused no end of drama for the family. For starters, Keren’s mother, Haylia, came from an orthodox Jewish family. For someone like her to marry a foreigner (and a former communist at that) shocked the community.
 
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narayan

Explorer
By all accounts their wedding was very small and very cheap. Guo had no family and very few of Haylia’s kin could stomach the sight of him. What few mutual friends they had did their best to make it a festive affair, Dizzy being the best of them. Though he rarely spent much time outside his club since those days, Dizzy had a great memory and a talent for sharing stories. Keren learned more about her own parents from him than anyone else, including a few details about their early marriage. On the few occasions he described that period, before she and Sheren were born, Keren couldn’t help but notice he was usually itching to reach for bourbon. She also knew for a fact he wouldn’t dare speak about it if Guo was still here.

A warbling static sounded over speakers above the bar and elsewhere in the club followed by the haughty, imperious voice of Executor, the stations AI. …Attention, unclassified vessel approaching Ashkelon Station. Priority-Alpha docking status. Access to all decks. …and then the message repeated.

Executor only used the term, ‘unclassified’ to describe craft with confidential or classified registries. In the ICSC these could include any vessel carrying corporate executives, exceptionally high-value cargo haulers, survey and reconnaissance craft, expensive research vessels, prototype spacecraft, or any ship of their own military.

Whenever Executor pronounced arrivals as if rolling out a red carpet Keren visualized Elsie rolling her eyes back in spacedock. Executor’s aloof, matter-of-fact tone set the status-quo as clearly as its own programming. Executor was more than a mere functionary or facilitator; it was the gatekeeper to the whole station. It was even possible the announcement occurred before the station administrator was even aware of the arrival.

Straightening up in her posture Keren looked towards the large outer viewports hoping to catch a glimpse of this ‘unclassified’ vessel. It didn’t take long. It was at least twice the size of an M-Class freighter, bristling with long-range antennae and sensor arrays. The sight of it furrowed her brow and piqued her curiosity.

Her sense of melancholy forgotten Keren slipped off the stool and walked around the bar to get a closer look. A few others had the same idea. Past the thick synthetic quartz glass the warship drifted closer. There was no doubt it could be anything else, though the exact type and design was unfamiliar to her. The ICSC’s ‘Navy’ was little more than a ragged, disparate fleet of older mercenary destroyers, each employed by individual corporations within the CSC. Compared to those old wrecks, this was something else entirely.

Ashkelon Station may have been at the edge of known space but it was also near to Liberty Echo, main naval base of the United Americas Outer Rim Defense Fleet. Colonial Marine warships passed near the station fairly regularly, and Keren was more aware than most civilians about their armaments and capabilities. She was able to identify the difference between a laser or a rail gun turret, but there were only a few of those visible on the sleek hull. One very large, prominent cannon barrel of some sort extended out from the nose by at least twenty five meters.

“Looks like a Marlin!” A voice to her right commented with a slight drawl and half a chuckle.

Keren recognized the voice of Ross Henry Karnes before she even glanced over to confirm it. She was a tad bit surprised at how easily he moved up in her blind spot. Keren wasn’t usually caught off guard. The ICC inspector was dressed casually (of a fashion) in cowboy boots, denim jeans and a grey/green patterned long sleeve shirt. Around his waist was a genuine cow-hide belt with a broad steel buckle. Some of the other inspectors took to calling him ‘Red’ due to his ginger-colored hair.

“What’s a Marlin?” She asked.

“It’s a fish! Or should I say, was a fish before pollution and over-fishing killed them off,” he explained producing a pack of cigarettes tapping on the bottom in the highly ritualized and measured way a practiced smoker did. “They had great long spears jutting out from their skulls which meant you had better be careful pulling one unto your boat.”

Meanwhile the sleek warship drew close enough for an extended docking umbilical, carefully firing its thrusters to match the stations precise orbit above GL382. Upon its smooth charcoal-grey hull there was little in the way of identifying markings or insignia except for two things. Upon the tallest sail like structure amidships was a stylized orchid-flower, bright red-over-white with five petals. Most tellingly, near the bow, the words USCS Kowloon were stenciled boldly in white.

Keren found herself intrigued by this fish Ross spoke of as much as this new ship. She knew he was referring to the great oceans of Earth of course, not that she’d ever had the pleasure of visiting that blue planet. Out here there was almost nothing in the way of nature to learn about, much less see with her own eyes. “How large were they?” she asked.

Ross expertly flicked two cigarettes up out of his pack and gestured towards her politely. She noted the brand was one of the few still made from genuine earth-grown tobacco. Despite the fact she never particularly liked him she found herself reaching for one. Ross was arrogant and uptight most of the time. He cursed at her and the other techs in the loud, self-important way some men from Texas were known to do.

“They were plenty big!” he says with a slight grin. “The Atlantic Blue Marlin could reach over five meters in length and weigh over eight hundred kilograms. More impressive still, they were some of the fastest swimmers in the sea.”

Keren leaned close towards him as he lifted an old-fashioned zippo lighter towards her politely. The scent of booze was on his breath but she also noted he wasn’t stealing a glance down her low-cut blouse. In fact he wasn’t much looking at her at all, and not because he was embarrassed. She realized at that moment that he hadn’t yet recognized her. How funny.

“So they could easily kill a man?” she asked taking a puff of the flavorful smoke. Damn these are good cigarettes.

“Definitely!” Ross said lighting one for himself. “Swordfish could also injure you, think of those as the Marlin’s little cousins, but the Marlin was such a powerful swimmer it could leap out of the waves unto your boat before you were ready for it. In such a case, once it started thrashing and thrusting that spear-bill; the odds of survival, you might say, shifted slightly to its favor.”

Keren smiled. She liked this mental image.

Ross added, “I even read one account of a Marlin yanking a professional sport-fisherman overboard after his gloved hand got entangled in the wire leader attached to the hook. The fish didn’t even need to spear him dead. It just dragged him down into the depths to drown.”

“And ‘fishing’ was something people on Earth often did?” she asked raising a brow.

Ross grinned again, this time looking at her for a few moments as he exhaled before answering, “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?'”

Keren stared at Ross with a baffled look. She had no idea who Ernest Hemingway might have been, but what he said made a strange kind of sense to her, even if she couldn’t quite fathom why. Keren remembered her own mother once told her there was great truth in old literature. Perhaps she was right.

Ross took advantage of the pause to change the subject. “Any idea what kind of ship that is?” he asked in a half-bored conversational tone. His eyes however took far greater interest. Keren noted the way his gaze poured over every detail, same as hers. It was lucky coincidence she happened to be standing here in one of the best spots to observe a docking ship. She had a keen appreciation for all things spacecraft-related and something like this was a rare sight indeed.

“Looks to be a derivative of a Chun-ying class destroyer, highly modified. The central bridge superstructure is much larger and bulkier, likely in no small part because of all those added sensor arrays. No doubt there are more signals analysis computer banks and personnel on board. The main drive section is entirely new. Normally there are five fusion-rocket motors, this one has six spaced out around an even larger central rocket of some kind. Looks unusual, I am not familiar with its type, but you can see how distended it is from the central hull. They have tried to disguise it by extending the rearward armor apron further back but it’s still obvious how massively oversized that engine is.”

“I see… what else?” he prodded.

“Well there are less weapon turrets to speak of. Normally the Chun-ying has eight point-defense laser arrays, this one has only five.”

“What is the reason for that?”

“Well its common sense, those arrays are primarily defensive against enemy missiles or rail gun rounds. You place them everywhere you expect an angle of attack. Destroyers are faster and more maneuverable than the big ships. They zip around and through enemy lines, harrying the larger ships, drawing their fire away from their own support ships as much as possible. They expect to be fired on a lot from every angle. This ship only has a few on the bow and two on the stern because I expect it won't be engaging at close range or in large sorties.”

Ross nodded, “Because of that big cannon right?”

“Right, although I don’t know if it’s really a ‘cannon’ exactly, but it’s obviously a very big gun that isn’t mounted on a turret. This ship will have to aim itself at a target and won’t have the luxury of dodging while it does so. It may even be true that the weapon has such a range advantage it defeats the prospect of a counterattack.”

“I see you know your spacecraft,” he commented appreciatively.

“I know a lot more than you ever gave me credit for, …Ross,” she stated in as much of a neutral tone as she could manage. From the corner of her eye she watched him do something of a double-take as he tried to remember where he might have met her before? She decided to let him wonder as she walked back towards the bar.

Murmurs of commotion caught her attention as a dozen or so armed men, and women, entered the club. Through the flashing lights above the dance floor she glimpsed black uniforms and automatic rifles as they made around the dance floor. Though not held at the ready or otherwise brandished in a threatening manner, the sight of AK-4047 pulse assault rifles was still a sobering sight.

The soldiers, or naval commandos to be more accurate, split up into four groups, one of which approached the bar as the others went into a search pattern around the dance floor. Keren recognized their uniforms as ICSC Defense Fleet standard issue with the logo of the Jĭngtì Lóng Corporation; a stylized orchid-flower with five petals, bright red-over-white. She also noted one sailors’ cap read CSCS Kowloon.
 
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Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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