CHAPTER ONE - SUNSET
THE ROYAL STAR
The salt breeze caressed the soft, pale skin of the woman standing on the bow of her ship. She’d waited three long years for this day. As the wind picked up, she removed the dark, tight glove from her hand. Standing on the deck, staring out into the sunset, she watched the waters break over the bow. The spray speckled her face and made her smile. She closed her eyes and savored the moment. Today was to be the day that everyone would remember. She was certain that people would be talking about this day for generations.
“Captain?” A man rose behind her. He moved quickly and with ease as he came up from below decks. He was thin, lithe and visibly muscular. It was her Engineer, Pops, the man who had saved her life on more than one occasion and so he was also a good friend. She did not turn around. She recognized his voice and had been waiting for his report.
“Pops, tell me about my ship” she said, her voice full of authority. “Tell me that we are ready.” Her own words filled her with renewed excitement.” The winds picked up as the sun settled onto the horizon. Her hair was pulled back, but now the wind whipped a small amount of her blue locks across her cheek. She turned her head and stared at him.
“We are ready.” he said. “All four engines are online and torqued for full burn. Missile bays are loaded and primed, and all hull guns are ready for targets. You’ve provided your crew well this last year, Lady Luck. The men are awaiting your command, Mam.” Pops’ voice was deep and rhythmic. His eyes stared at her blankly through unblinking diamond lenses. His real eyes had been replaced decades ago. It had been a highly welcome improvement.
“How much sol have we stored?” She looked up at the sails that protruded from the three great masts that lined the spine of her ship. All sails had followed the sun for the last eight days. The black and silver honeycombed disks that waved gently in the wind had been gathering electricity. Now that she’d asked the question, the masts clicked and the honeycombs folded in on themselves becoming smaller and smaller as they compacted and retracted for flight. Pop’s secure neuro-com had signaled for the ship to respond. The mast closest to Lucky pulled in its great arms and began submerging into the hull of the ship. The other two followed suit.
“Full capacity, Captain.” Pops smiled. “All cells have regenerated and are now in hibernation mode.” He stood a moment, unmoving while Lucky looked back toward the sun.
It’s time to go home, she mused. “Ready for space, old man. It’s payday.”
“Yes, Captain,” said Pops. And with that, the Engineer, her unofficial right hand, went back below decks.
The captain stood alone on the bow of the Pirate ship Ferryman, and took a deep breath. “Help me Daka. I need your strength today.” She closed her eyes and began to pray.
High above her, the stars were just beginning to show themselves as night came up behind the captain. A glimmer of light from a not so distant orbiting space station shined brightly on the horizon.
The darkness of space, a void full of mystery, glimmered with bright stars and distant planets. Suns twinkled in the void as red giants shouted before being extinguished. Like angry children, they inhaled in all within reach with their last breath. Black holes and Quasars roamed the galaxies picking up star dust and ruined civilizations from eons untold. All this mystery lay enshrouded in the heavens and all the while the residents of Talos Space Station went about their business, day in and day out, without ever giving thought to what lay beyond their own lives. But often mystery turns out to be no more than someone else's plan.
As the planet below rolled over into night, it revealed the lights of a dozen or so small attack ships that zoomed in from the far side of Mina IV. The space station barely had time to notice before the attack commenced.
Aboard the Talos space station, the traffic controller watched over the Royal Starr. It was about to disembark when several small attack ships approached.
“Royal Starr, we got some bogeys coming in. It looks like... pirates! Suspend launch and await further orders!” The alarm was triggered. Claxons and sirens reverberated throughout the interior of the space station, as well as throughout the intergalactic ship as the sirens rang out. Altogether, three groups of ships came in around the space station's underside.
Three security ships detached from their watch points under the Talos space station and sped out toward the oncoming pirates. The offensive attack ships scattered like cockroaches in the light. The security ships went into immediate pursuit. One of the security pilots, Angerille came over the comm. “I got 'em in me sights! I'll get the group on the right.”
Another pilot responded quickly, “I'll take the four on the left.”
“Well, looks like I get the sissy boys in the back!” Shigh-Ree yelled out. “Multiple targets are locking. I got missile lock... Firing wolf pack cluster. Stay clear!” The missiles launched and split into half a dozen warheads. Each took a target and exacted their toll.
Angerille shouted out,” Nice shot!”
“Aw go on...” came the reply.
Inside the Royal Starr, safely tucked behind the armored glass of the bows forward command center, the captain stood at the window and watched the dog fight.
“Don’t worry,” the captain said, as he nodded toward the young ensign in his office. “We pay the most and we get the best. It won’t be long now.” The captain then tapped his collar pin and spoke into its communications mic. “Fire at will, Ensign!”
Inside the defense room of the Royal Starr, red lights cast dark shadows on the men and women running the computers and other machinery. The young ensign, Calyssa McCabir answered, “Yes sir!” Looking at the targeting screen, she decisively locked onto her target. “Firing Tsaltek canon!” The bright blue blast illuminated the space station and the Royal Starr at once.
Direct hit. One of the pirate fighters immediately vaporized. Only periphery wing fragments remained. What was left drifted off into space. The remainder of the pirate threat suddenly retreated into the atmosphere of Mina IV. As fast as they came on, they were gone.
The harbor master surveyed the dark and littered void of space, then nodded to himself after rechecking the scanners,
“Royal Starr, You are now clear for disembarking.”
The enormous spaceliner dropped its last tethers from the outpost spaceport, Talus. The hulk turned slowly and silently away from its mooring and oriented away. From this point on, the ship was on its own. As the reactor cores all came on line a feint blue ripple of energy surrounded the ship with a soft glow, and the Royal Starr prepared to embark on its jump course into space.
First published Friday, December 10 2007