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Chapter 1

The leaders of the Madkar Confederation had managed to scrape together the most ragtag fleet of starships ever seen among the undeveloped worlds that make up the Farnost region. The twenty planets they shared were home to around 500 million people who spread themselves thinly across them in small settlements. They had originally come from the more civilized nations that inhabit the inner core of the human worlds. They were refugees, explorers, fortune seekers, and people seeking the vast freedoms of colonizing new worlds. They had shaken off the reigns of their former governments to come here, and in doing so they had also left the protection of those mighty fleets of ships that guard the inner core.

It took a few years, but outlaw ships eventually began to take notice of the unprotected worlds. Fleets of pirate ships made raids throughout the colonies; plundering anything of value and enslaving the people. In desperation, the colonies joined under a single banner, calling themselves the Madkar Confederation, and assembled a fleet to defend themselves against the raiders.

That is where Cenric Aeshylus found himself now. He stood on the bridge of the Firefall, an outdated cruiser, but likely only battle-worthy ship in the assembled fleet. He had been a captain on a destroyer under the banner of Baegon and had been in the fleet that demolished the Kasamari armada after the Dressimer massacre. In the eyes of the politicians and the other ships captains, that made Cenric the the closest thing to a war hero they knew and the most fitting person to lead the defense against the pirate fleet. Frankly, Cenric didn't want to be leading anyone. However, the job promised a cruiser and the only available option he could see to get back at the people who had abducted his wife. He had no expectation to ever see her again. In all the vastness of the universe, she had probably long ago been sold in some miserable alien slave market, impossible to track or locate. Cenric had a thirst for retribution more than anything else when he agreed to the job; but if it happened to end the threat for everyone else, then that was just an added benefit.

The realistic side of him knew it was a lost cause, though. He had seen the pirate fleet once when it had attacked before. The flagship was a fairly modern Mandorian cruiser, pretty tough stuff for a band of outlaws. It bore the name Charon's Wake plastered across the hull. He had heard tales of infamy regarding that ship even before it had taken to raiding settlements on boondock worlds. The captain had had a reputation for ruthlessness even before he deserted the Mandorian fleet with the ship and crew. The rest of the fleet was made up of smaller warships, fighters, and a few armed civilian vessels. They had less numbers than the Confederation fleet, but they had actual warships; combat ready and with experienced crews. As Cenric observed his own fleet, he saw only broken down, scarred, and dilapidated vessels. The crews were almost entirely inexperienced with only a handful of veterans, most of even those had never even seen combat. Many of the ships only had weapons mounted just for this showdown. They were made up of mining vessels, transports, yachts, and anything else that could be scrounged for the occasion.

Cenric's own military experience prevented him from letting any sign of his own despair show. To his crew, he was the incarnation of confidence and control. He commanded with authority, and when he promised that they need only destroy the enemy flagship and the pirate fleet would route, they believed him. For all he knew, he was right too. That was how these kinds of battles often turned out, or so he had read. But, that was also where he looked to for his personal vendetta; to the flagship. If he was going down in a lost cause, he only knew that he would take that one ship with him; and with it the man responsible for his current state of affairs. Now they all waited for it. The raiding pattern had been easy enough to predict and they expected the enemy fleet to drop out of hyperspace at any moment to inflict their pillaging on the farming communities of Phanos. Here they would surprise them and, hopefully, defeat them.

The rustic fleet waited, and waited for what seemed an eternity until several blips appeared on the long range sensors. The pirate fleet was beginning to arrive, although, somewhat further away from the planet than expected. Cenric watched the sensor relays as an uneasy feeling began to creep up his spine. Something felt wrong about this, but he watched in silence and held to the plan. They would wait on the far side of the planet's moon where the approaching ships might confuse them with smaller satellites or not sense them at all until they were in weapons range.

The blips increased in quantity as more and more ships dropped from hyperspace. When numbers stopped increasing, the enemy fleet began moving toward the planet in unison.

"Do you think they expect something?" the sensory tech asked Cenric. He was watching his own screen excitedly. "They're moving in formation. That doesn't seem like a standard raid."

"Their leader is a former Mandorian officer." Cenric replied coolly. "He's following standard procedures."

The statements were both true, but Cenric was wondering the same thing himself. When he had seen the pirate fleet before, they had lacked the discipline to follow formations this consistently with good reason to suspect.

"Even if they HAVE picked us up," Cenric added, "we follow the same plan. Focus everything on the flagship and take it down first. Once we remove their leader, and with him their main firepower, they won't stick it out."

"Aye sir!" replied the tech and went back to watching his sensor relays with greater intentedness.

The approaching fleet was nearing range of the cruiser's guns and tension was growing on board. They seemed to be approaching right on target. Another blip appeared on the senor relay, this one much closer and behind the Firefall.

"Who is that?" Cenric demanded.

"Sir, that's one of our own." the sensory tech answered. "It appears the be the yacht Nightflyer. It's captained by Barrados, I believe. He's powering engines for a jump. Captain? He's leaving. Orders sir?"

"We've been betrayed." Cenric Aeschylus swore, then turning on the open communication to the other ships gave the command to attack.

In an instant, the sensor screens came alive with a blaze of lights as the ambushing fleet powered up and moved toward the approaching pirates. Smaller vessels darted ahead and began releasing missiles toward the larger targets. The Firefall targeted the incoming enemy missiles with its defensive turrets. The turrets fired precisely targeted bolts of energy that flashed like yellow lights and took out the incoming missiles with blinding explosions. Most of the defending ships completely lacked such defensive weapons and depended heavily on the cruiser to eliminate these threats as they closed the distance between them and the pirate fleet.

"Lock onto the Charon's Wake." Cenric bellowed over the bridge as they closed fully within range of the cruisers main battery.

"Sir, the Charon's Wake is not present. They appear to held back from the main body." one of the tactition officers informed him.

"Damn!" Cenric muttered just loud enough that those nearest could hear him. Then without hesitation, "Target all forward batteries on that frigate and anything else with orbital bombardment capabilities."

He could tell the battle was lost already, but some consolation could be taken knowing that a few less ships could target settlements from space. If the pirates took the day, and they certainly would, he hoped they would have to fight it out all they way to the dirt.

The two fleets converged until everything was blinding chaos and it became nearly impossible to tell friend from foe. The Firefall had taken out the frigate and several smaller vessels and was now maneuvering to take down a destroyer. It let loose a barrage from the forward battery in two short bursts, neatly cutting across the midsection of the pirate destroyer. The hit split the ship in two, sending each half in a different direction. The Firefall convulsed and the lights dimmed.

"We're taking heavy damage." someone on the bridge called out.

Another voice cut in from the sensory technician. "It's the Charon's Wake captain. She must have slipped in late."

Before Cenric could give an order there was another convulsion and the lights on the bridge went dark.

"We've lost main power. Our reactor is critically damaged and we're venting atmosphere. from the engine rooms." A voice called out from near one of the faint screens that relied on the backup power system. "Orders Captain?"

"Are any weapons online?" Cenric asked, though he knew they would not be.

"We have no weapons or shields Sir." the same voice replied.

"There's nothing more we can do," Cenric answered, "abandon ship."

The word felt more like "abandon hope" as they slipped from his lips. As a row of emergecy lighting finally came on, the crew on the bridge began to depart for the emergency lifeboats.

As duty proclaims, the captain maintained his post and stayed on the ship. He could no longer see the battle outside as the power loss had cut off both the sensors and the screens. In seconds, he was alone on the bridge. An indicator on the of the dimly light emergency screens indicated the last lifeboat had departed. Cenric hoped they would escape the battle. He hoped they would find their families who had hidden in case the defensive action failed. But more than anything he wished for a damn window. Not knowing seemed to be the worst thing now.

The vacuum of space kept any sound from piercing the Firefall's hull. He imagined countless explosions happening all around, but he couldn't hear anything exept the vibrations of his own ship whenever a shock-wave passed though it from something exploding nearby. He made his way off the bridge and toward the dining hall, where he knew there was an actual view-port. He crawled through dark hallways where the emergency lights had not turned on until he found the room he was seeking.

Flashes like lightning flickered occasionally from the window as he made his way to it and peered out at the continuing chaos. Most of the confederation fleet had been destroyed or fled the scene. A few loyal souls appeared to be either fighting to the bitter end, or oblivious that they had long since lost the battle. After another half hour of the remnants being chased around, the last confederation ship disappeared in a small flash as a missile struck it.

Cenric hunted down weapons locker to make his last stand. He picked the best weapons he could find and barricaded near the airlock, where he was sure pirates would break in to loot or salvage the Firefall. There, he sat in the darkness, cradling a large weapon with the words "Tank Hunter" etched along it's body. He hoped it would do the job when they broke through. He sat alone in the dark for hours that felt like days until sleep overtook him instead of pirates.

Cenric awoke to bright lights shining in his eyes. He reached for his weapon which had fallen to the floor beside him, only to have it kicked away before his fingers could touch it.

"Whoa there." a voice called out. "You won't be needing that just yet. You just might blast through the hull with a piece like that anyway. Seriously, who brings an anti-tank gun onto starship?"

Cenric was baffled at the unsettlingly candor voice. "I know you?" He asked slowly.

"I should think so. It's Grady."

"Grady? From Keras? Call yourself a 'merchant' if I recall?" Cenric quizzed.

"Captain Grady, now. But yeah, one and the same. I'd say you might be wanting a ride somewhere from the look of things; provided you don't try to shoot me again."

"Well," Cenric retorted, "you're not quite the boarding party I was expecting; that is unless you're captaining one of those pirate ships. You never seemed the type to me though. But if you are.." and he nodded toward the weapon that was just out of reach.

Grady chuckled. "You must have been sitting here in the dark for at least a whole day. They're long gone. They did a number on the planet though. I think someone might have pissed them off for sure." He masked his indignation with humor. "I don't suppose you'd know anything about that though."

"Damn," Cenric sighed. "Can't tell why they didn't try to steal this cruiser, through."

"Half a cruiser." Grady corrected him. "You seem to be missing the back half of your ship. Pirates don't deal in scrap metal too often. Pity, though, the stuffs worth quite a bit if you can fence it."

Cenric nodded knowingly, then got up. "Thank the gods of deep space that the doors still sealed," he mumbled then added "There's no point waiting around here. I believe you offered me a ride."
"And you shall have it." Grady stated. "Kal, check around for anything useful and let's go."

Another man stepped from behind Grady and went about scouring the derelict for scavengeable items. Grady and Cenric, went out the airlock.

"Welcome aboard the Red Star." Grady announced as they crossed the threshold of the airlock into the small vessel that was docked.

Cenric looked at his surroundings as they stepped into the hold. The Red Star looked pretty bad, like it had been pulled from a junkyard. The floor plating was ancient, discolored, and gouged deeply as if heavy objects were dragged in and out of the hold constantly; which they probably were. The walls had patches of rust and corrosion. Several battered crates were shoved into a corner with unlabeled contents and were mostly covering what looked conspicuously like blood stains on the floor. The whole ship hummed ominously, as if the power converters were about explode at any moment. "Nice place." he commented.

Grady eyed him judgingly.

"Moved from the markets at Keras to a roving tradeship, I'm guessing?" Cenric asked.

"We make our way around; which brings me to ask where it is that you might be looking to go. Just down to the surface?" Grady said.

"I'd like to find the Charon's Wake." Cenric said matter-of-factly. "Then I'd like to send a nuke right into it."

"Well," Grady came back in a practical voice, "that's not going happen from my ship. Aside from me not being interested in suicide missions, I fly an unarmed trading vessel."

"Yeah, I didn't think so." said Cenric.

Then Grady continued. "But I do know where to find someone who can."

His serious tone told Cenric that he was, in fact, quite serious when he said that. "And who would be willing to go to war on behalf of the Madkar Confederation?"

"The Black Sun would." Grady answered.

"We can't afford to pay mercenaries," Cenric responded, unhumored by the idea.

"Perhaps not," came Grady's reply, "but maybe we don't have to. The reward the Mandorians have out on that cruiser and her captain should be sufficient to entice the Black Sun to help us. I've a fair idea where they've gone to if they'll listen."

"They have a reward out on your head too, if I recall." Cenric countered. "Perhaps the Black Sun would just as willingly collect on that, too."

"But, not on your's," Grady boldly announced. "They never did identify you back on Altad. You seem to have a way of keeping your name clear. In fact, I hear you're something of a war hero these days. They might try to recruit you, but they'd never cross you."

Cenric sat in thought for a moment before answering. "I'm in," he finally said, "Let's contact the Black Sun."
This is the first installment of a short series of connected stories. They won't be in order though. Most likely, the next one will be the prequel to this.
:iconspace-commander:
space-commander Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
The prose was well executed and the pacing was just right. Black Sun was a big name in Star Wars tho so another name might be better, but at least you made them a merc group instead of a crime syndicate.
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:icondesuran:
desuran Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks for the input. I didn't realize there was another Black Sun out there, either. That kind of sucks, because I've been including it in my developing universe for years, but I'm sure that people would immediately associate it with the better known reference. Thanks for pointing that out; I'll be changing that.
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:iconspace-commander:
space-commander Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Most of the cool names are taken. When in doubt just keep experimenting with words until Google can't match up any results.
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August 20, 2014
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