This one needs a title...

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DervMan
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This one needs a title...

Post by DervMan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:38 am

This novella needs a title. No excuses ;) and all comments welcome... :D
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DervMan
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Re: This one needs a title...

Post by DervMan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:42 am

Untitled

I stepped into the travel agency, taking a moment to adjust to the dimmer light of the building, illuminated by the display screens built into each wall. Before I continued, I tucked my Officers’ hat under my arm then walked past the aquatic pursuits display to the mountain climbing section, enjoying the cooler air in the shop. After a few seconds, the lady looked up at me and smiled. She motioned me across to her desk, reaching down for a customer datapad.

“Die bona! You’ve lost weight.” Maya said as her green eyes glanced over parts of my face, smiling. “Nodespace has been kind to you.” She handed me the datapad, which activated as soon as I touched it. It was true that my SolForce uniform did feel a little bit big, but I was not sure Nodespace could be kind to anybody. Maya sat back a little for a moment, waiting for the datapad to synchronise with my details from her database. She smiled again and reached across the desk to activate her keyboard.

“When was the last time?” I asked as I looked up from the datapad straight into her eyes. “Three or four weeks?” Maya’s eyes sparkled and I felt a rise of colour in my cheeks. She tilted her head to the side for a moment, rolled her eyes and I remember looking down and scrolling through her personalised activity holiday recommendations.

“Five weeks.” Maya murmured, staring into her display. I contented myself studying how her dark curls dropped to the side of her cheek, bobbing as she moved her head. I saw the screen scrolling through a number of images in the reflection of her eyes.

“About a stone then.” I reply, resorting to classic Imperial weights. “The medical officer was on my case about it. She said that I needed to lose it.” The travel agents’ systems were old; Maya did not have a holographic projector at her desk.

“When aren’t medics?” Maya quipped, rotating her flatscreen monitor around so that I could see it. “It’s given as the excuse for everything.” Her voice sounded exasperated.

“Quite.” I agreed with her, although I understood that SolForce doctors were entitled to be keener than civilian doctors as it was their responsibility to ensure that the armed forces were fighting fit.

“I would have disagreed with her; I never thought you needed to lose it. You never did.” Maya smiled across at me. “But you’ve toned up and look great for it now.” Her voice was low and she tilted her head to the side. I felt my heart rate increase and heard blood thundering in my ears. Maya’s voice returned to normal. “You have details of our standard packages on the datapad, but these are the specials. Most of these are based on two people so are you taking somebody with you?”

“Hmmm.” It’s all I managed to say as my fingers paused on the datapad. I was contemplating the compliment and the question that Maya had just asked. After another moment I looked up and said, “That mountain is still there to climb.”

I’d been coming into the travel agents at every shore leave, originally as I wanted to discover the fourth continent of the colony, but for the last few visits this was simply the cover for seeing Maya even if only a very limited and professional capacity.

And that was all I could say?

“You’re welcome.” Maya said, tilting her head to the other side and narrowing her eyes ever so slightly. After a moment she smiled again. “The mountains, then?”

“At the moment it’ll be just me. But you know, I keep on threatening to tackle those mountains. I’ve not yet invited somebody, but I will.” I paused for a moment, studying Maya’s eyes. “Unfortunately, it’ll have to wait for the next shore leave. The old man is pulling us out again. What with the Hivers and all.” I frowned; the Hivers. Talks were ongoing with this alien species, but the last diplomatic summary I’d seen was not optimistic in tone. “I wanted to see you before I was shipped out. And I think I’ve decided what I want to do when I get back.”

“About time sir.” Maya said in a mocking tone, beaming at me. “In that case, now might be a good time to give you this.” She pulled a small piece of paper from her pocket and placed it in front of me. “I think you should enjoy a real coffee, better than that gel funk SolForce provides. Coffee is best shared, so, consider this an incentive to come back and see me.” She put her fingers onto the paper and pushed it towards me, holding my stare. I looked down to read it; it was a receipt for a large coffee at the local coffee shop, written in Latin. The paper had been cut by a mechanical blade as the classic tills did, rather than the modern electric blade, which left a straight edge.

“Maya?”

“As a thank you for all the help you’ve given me and of course for the Empire.” She smiled, deliberately placing the paper in my hand, letting her fingers linger on mine for just a moment too long. “I do want to see you again when you’re next back.” I thought I could detect a glimmer of disappointment in her voice.

“Th-thank you.” I stammered, my mind bubbling with things to say. Three years of SolForce Officer training and I wasn’t prepared for this, the simplest of things; how to talk with a beautiful lady.

“You can collect it any day.” She tilted her head to the side again and her eyes invited me to say what I had not yet dared, then she looked past me at the next customer. “When is your shuttle? I finish in twenty minutes.” Maya looked into my eyes and held the stare for a moment.

“Very early tomorrow morning.” I took a deep breath, “Would you like me to wait for you here? You’ve bought me a coffee, but all I really want is your company.” And held my breath, still looking into her eyes.

“I would like that, but I will have to meet you there. I can’t be seen to socialise at work.” Maya said, almost immediately. Her eyes were saying so much more, but she dropped the stare to look back at her desk. “It takes me ten minutes to get there. Would you like to meet me in half an hour?”

“Yes.” I agreed. “Yes of course I would!” I exclaimed and then I regretted sounding so keen.

“So that’s settled then.” Maya smiled, looking to another customer. “Vos video.”

*

I decided to walk to the coffee shop, shunning the tram connection as it was only half a mile. The afternoon air felt warm, still and heavy with moisture after the artificially conditioned environment of the travel agents. Onboard the ship, I took every opportunity to exercise and it felt strange to use Tau Ceti’s public transport system for such a short trip. It also felt strange to be wearing my number two uniform, hat on. Still, it was good to walk and by the time I arrived, I’d promised myself that the next time I had shore leave, I’d explore the fourth continent and I would climb that mountain. I also realised that I only had a few hours before I had to get back to the ship and I wanted to spend some of those with Maya.

The coffee shop was modelled on early twenty first century contemporary Earth establishments, complete with stainless steel mugs and authentic wooden stirrers. The sign proudly proclaimed the coffee to be both authentic and freshly brewed at the shop, with either locally grown or imported beans available. What had always struck me was less the idea of fresh coffee and always the smell of ground coffee beans; this was something that the hot gel packs onboard SFS Anerley 080 never managed.

I reached the coffee shop, climbed the two steps to the door, which required a push to enter. The building was dimly lit and slightly warmer than outside, the decor even included several ceiling fans, quietly rotating to circulate the air. I stood in the entrance, removed my hat and took a deep breath to inhale the exciting aromas of coffee blends from all over the galaxy. To the far right hand side, the coffee bar stood. It looked a jumble of pipework and stainless steel mugs with a crudely handwritten board behind displaying the available coffees and their prices. I stepped closer and smiled at the barista; she asked me for my order so I presented her with my chit. She smiled at me and told me to wait at the other end of the stand as my coffee would be there shortly. I did as she asked, standing and able to watch as the staff prepared the drink. Before too long, I was handed a tall, elegant stainless steel mug filled close to the brim with hot, frothy coffee. I carefully stepped away from the bar to find a table.

I sat, studied the froth and continued to appreciate the rich scent of coffee. Around me, there were a number of hushed conversations taking place. A few tables away, a couple were deliberating their son’s decision to join SolForce, speaking English with a few words of broken Latin. A little distance away, a group of young men, probably grunts from their physique, were joking about their exploits at the hyperbowl alley. Another group of young men had just entered the coffee shop, hotly debating the decision to buy an imported or Tau Ceti blend.

I sipped again at the coffee, letting the hot liquid spill into my mouth and checked the time. Maya’s shift had just finished; I knew I’d soon know if she were serious about seeing me again. Meanwhile, I was savouring the coffee: she was right, this was good coffee.

I felt my SolForce datapad vibrate. I reached down to retrieve it from my trouser pocket but paused, leaving it where it was. It was probably a communication from SolForce command and seeing as I was on leave for the next few hours, it would wait until I’d spent some time with Maya. I’d check it in a few hours on the shuttle to the Anerley; for now, I would leave it alone.

I let my thoughts drift through to current affairs. Diplomatic relations with the first alien species SolForce encountered, the Hivers, appeared to be breaking down. We had enjoyed many years of relative peace; some of the frontier worlds were now actively trading with the Hivers. I’d seen rumours of new military activity in the south side of the galaxy and of renewed diplomatic relations. I already knew about the long range scouts tracking several Hiver fleets in the northern side of the galaxy. Whatever the Hivers were brewing, it didn’t sound like good news. Anything that cuts shore leave down isn’t good news, I told myself.

Maya arrived a few minutes later, returning my thoughts to the colony at Tau Ceti and to her. As she entered the building, I stood to greet her. She had already seen me, but stepped to the counter to order her own drink. Awkwardly, I remained standing, smiling at Maya when she gave me a sideways look as she waited for her own stainless steel cup. She motioned for me to sit down and wait for her. Maya had changed from her uniform and was now wearing an outfit that I was sure would have been fitting with the coffee shop when it was considered contemporary: a green jacket covering a dark top, a green and very short skirt but over near-black leggings, which disappeared into elegant boots with wide heels.

Maya approached my table, stopping to collect a wooden stirrer, stumbling slightly on her heels as she stepped down to the floor level. She did not look very comfortable.

“I didn’t know if you’d really come.” I said quietly. Maya looked up at me and then extended her arms for a hug. Our hug was a little awkward, despite Maya’s affectionate kiss on the side of my neck. Or perhaps because of the kiss.

“You’re probably not supposed to hug in your uniform?” Maya whispered into my ear, enjoying her four inches of extra height thanks to the boots.

“No, it isn’t that.” I replied quietly. “It’s more that I’m just not a very comfortable hugger.”

“I think I should be the judge of that.” She replied, squeezing me a little in her arms before slipping further back, her hands resting under mine, looking at me straight in the eyes. “It’s hard to imagine you being uncomfortable in your uniform. Surely your uniform and SolForce badge is your shield? It’s a mark of respect.”

“And perhaps of fear.” I whisper back, looking across outside of the window to the SolForce recruitment poster. Maya released me from her arms, a puzzled look on her face. “My SolForce training didn’t help me ask you for a coffee.” I continued. My datapad had just buzzed again in my pocket but I decided to ignore it. “Are those heels comfortable?”

“May I call you Liam?” She asked. I nodded my head. “Liam, I need to tell you something. I’m really uncomfortable in this outfit. I thought I’d try it, see how it felt, but really... I’m not so sure. These boots are hard to walk in. The skirt barely covers me!”

“Maya, you look great. You look fantastic!” I replied, smiling. And she did, if not because of her outfit. “You’re saved from any indiscretion by the leggings. And the coffee is delicious. Shall we sit down, then?” I grinned.

“I’m amazed the species survived, if the ladies wore this.” She said, nearly spilling her coffee again as she sat down.

We sat opposite one another, huddling over a small round table and taking deliberate sips of coffee as we talked about things in general, about anything and everything. It didn’t take me long to finish my coffee and Maya told me that if I wanted another, it was already bought and paid for. It was just the little encouragement that I needed, so I stood to return to the till.

There was a short queue so as I waited, I reached for my datapad, which had been buzzing with new messages for the last ten minutes as though somebody was desperately trying to get hold of me. I pushed my thumb print to the screen to activate it. As the screen powered up, I looked across at Maya. She was checking her makeup in a small pocket mirror, but looked over it straight at me and smiled. I realised how little I knew Maya, how much I wanted to get to know her.

A noise in the distance made me pause. “Did you hear that?” I asked the barista as she was about to take my order. I concentrated on what I could hear: the ceiling fan motor whirring, the gurgling of one of the coffee machine and the sound of water dripping into a shallow dish in the sink. The sound of conversation in the room, mostly muted. Outside, the sound of excited tones, voices raised in pitch. And that certain something else.

“Hear what?” The barista asked.

“That.” I repeated. I had just heard a second muffled thumping noise, this one a little louder than the first. After a moment I heard another distant bang, this one louder. I tilted my head to the side, straining to hear anything. I quickly stepped away from the till towards Maya, who looked up and was about to ask me a question when I said, “If I didn’t know better, that sounds like planetfall.”

“Planetfall? I don’t understand.” Maya said. “Do you mean somethi-” Another thumping noise and the ground shuddered, interrupting her.

“That was closer.” I said, reaching for her hand and encouraging her to stand up.

“Liam?”

“The sound of something breaking through the atmosphere and falling to earth. It’s the sound barrier being broken.” I looked outside, where a crowd of people were staring towards the sky. “I think I need to take a look at this.” I said, standing and stepping to the window of the coffee shop, straining to see what the people were looking at and listening to what they were hearing.

To the north, there were several greasy, oily smudges in the sky, as though something had entered the colony’s atmosphere and made planetfall. As I watched, another smoky trail appeared high in Tau Ceti Prime’s atmosphere, rapidly descending. The shape was rapidly growing in size; I became aware that Maya was now standing beside me.

“That looks very close.” She whispered. I turned to face her, pulling her into my arms and then roughly pushed her back against the wall, before squeezing myself close to her so as to protect her from the impact, her forehead pressed up against my cheek.

The impact was terrific. The ground heaved, windows shattered and lights flickered. Moment laters, myriad sirens started wailing, most quickly subdued apart from the air raid alert. I stepped away from the wall and from Maya, who had started sobbing. I looked down upon her to ask if she was okay, the tears spilling from her eyes. I was just about to tell her something reassuring when there was another impact, some distance from us. She looked up at me with fear echoed in her eyes, but this impact was not so severe.

“What was that?” She asked.

“I don’t know.” I stepped back for a moment, looking through the shattered window of the coffee house. “I really don’t know.” I answered honestly. My datapad was still in my hand and it vibrated again, so I pushed my thumb back up to the sensor.

After a moment it powered up and I started reading the SolForce messages.

“Maya, where’s your place?” I asked without looking up. My heart was pounding, my hands trembling for a moment until my SolForce training took over.

“Two blocks to the south, one to the west. It doesn’t take long by tram.”

“Do you know how to get there by foot?”

“Foot? Oh. Sure, well I’ve never... It can’t be too hard? But in these boots...” She said, looking at me, her eyes ringed with fear. “What’s wrong?”

“Close to the shuttle port. Okay.” I muttered, more to myself. “You need to get indoors and I need to get back to my ship. I’ll take you home.” I pushed the confirm button on my datapad. The closest shuttle dock was a little way past Maya’s place so she was almost en route. It didn’t matter about my belongings, they would be collected later. “Maya, come with me.” I extended my hand and it was not a request. The datapad vibrated again as another message arrived.

Maya took my hand and I led her out of the smashed coffee shop to the main street, picking over broken windows and the plasteel frames. People were stood around, looking up to the sky or picking their way through debris. Some distance away, I heard the muffled shriek as something else pierced the atmosphere, then a different noise; the sound of planet-based missiles being launched. I stopped in my tracks, turning my head around to see several colony defence missiles launching from their silos several clicks away.

People were now staring at the missiles, each spewing a white, billowing cloud behind, as they accelerated towards unseen targets high above the colony. It had been many years since the last time the colony defence missiles were used but SolForce diligently maintained the systems.

There was a murmur through the crowd as people started to realise the implications of the colony defence missile launch. A moment later, another wave of missiles was launched, lazily rolling as the guidance system aimed it towards a distant target.

“Come on!” I said to Maya as I pulled her hand again. We reached the main walkway and turned towards the direction of her apartment. I took a moment to look upon Maya, her face streaked with dust and tears, her leggings ripped and torn, hobbling along in her heels.

“Liam, what was that?” Maya repeated, looking up at the smoky trail falling through the sky. “It looks planned.” She observed. “The power plant is that way.”

“I don’t know.” I replied, looking along the path. In the distance I could hear the warning blasts from the shuttle launch bay siren. The SolForce message on my datapad was an emergency recall of all personnel. That probably meant an identified threat, but I didn’t need to tell Maya that. The media would be speculating soon enough. “Are we far?” I asked. There were several bright flashes high up in the atmosphere, probably colony defence missiles detonating.

“No, not far.” Maya shook her head, leading the way. She was trembling. “Almost there.”

It took a moment longer for us to get to Maya’s apartment. This was on the third floor of a typical single female accommodation block, the second generation type of building erected on the colony. We took the stairs: if the power station were under threat, I did not want to be stuck in the lift. We reached her door, both slightly out of breath, and she tapped in her access code and the door clicked open. Her apartment was sparsely furnished, which did not surprise me; here and there small tokens of Maya’s life; ornaments from her university days, a large collection of antique books, but little else. Maya pulled her boots off and then went through into her bedroom. I heard the sounds of drawers and cupboards opening.

“Maya, what are you doing?” I asked, walking into the living room of the apartment. The wall opposite the door consisted of glass. I stepped closer to look out; this wall faced the shuttle port.

“Finding shoes.”

“No, really?” I sounded incredulous.

“Shoes. And packing!” She exclaimed. “You can’t leave me here.”

“You should stay put.” I said quietly. “My orders are to leave civilians in their homes.” I added so that she could not hear.

We were around two kilometres from the shuttle dock, but from here I could see that it was a hive of activity. As I watched, a single shuttle started the launch procedures, lifting clear from the round pad at the opposite side of the base. Something glinted in the sky several kilometres away, then a few seconds later it glinted again, this time much larger. It was a ship, approaching at high velocity, leaving behind it a telltale plume of grey smoke. This ship had very recently dropped into the atmosphere and was considerably larger than the SolForce shuttle.

The shuttle appeared aware of the approaching contact and had started accelerating towards Maya’s apartment block, away from the ship.

“Liam, I’m asking if you will take me with you.” Maya said from behind. She had walked into the room and dropped a bag onto her sofa.

“Take you with me?” I turned around to look at her. She had wiped her eyes, but they were still red from tears.

“I know what the Hive do to females.” Maya’s posture straightened. “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

“Oh Maya.” I replied, not knowing what to say. The Hiver’s social structure was based on following their Queen and her daughters, the princesses. This meant that all Hiver warriors considered enemy females to be a priority target: destroy the queen, destroy the nest. “It isn’t that simple.”

“Get down!” Maya shouted, taking a running step closer, grasping me by the arm and pulling me to the side of the room. I turned my head to see the shuttle making a steep banked turn between apartment buildings, pursued by bright green bolts and brilliant explosions. The shuttle disappeared from sight, still being chased by the weapon fire. A green bolt tore through one of the buildings, then another and another. Just as suddenly, the firing stopped.

The ship appeared from the far side of the building, slowly curving towards the main apartment block. It was a twisted mass of weaponry and components, several different engines of different sizes glowing and a mass of antenna protruding from the nose section. I couldn’t see any badges or identification, portholes or a canopy.

As we watched, one of the damaged apartment buildings collapsed, the weakened lower levels disintegrating after the laser fire.

“You really want to leave me here?” Maya whispered, her hands reaching for my shoulders. She pulled herself closer behind me so that her head was pressed up against my back. “You would be leaving me behind to die.”

“No I don’t want to leave you here.” I replied. “But now I don’t see a way of getting off world.”

“Perhaps the other shuttles will get through?”

“Perhaps.” I shook my head, then we cautiously stepped closer to the large window overlooking the shuttle port and the alien ship. It had started circling back towards the collapsed apartment block, moving slowly now, having descended. As we watched, several figures appeared to drop from the ship and disappear into the rubble.

“What’s that?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t think they’re friendly.” As we watched, several shapes darted across the rubble in eerie silence. “I don’t have my sidearm.” I muttered, “It’s back at my place. Seems like nowhere is safe.” I reached down for my datapad and thumbed it on again, seeking inspiration. After a moment the list refreshed. “I don’t recognise that ship. It looks like part of a Hiver drive, but the rest of it... I don’t know it.” I looked down to reading from the screen. “SolForce intel reports several small ships have broken free of the main group in orbit and have reached planetfall. The main group are bombarding the surface.” I looked across to Maya.

“This is as safe as it can be.” Maya replied, her voice low. “We have heat, light, water and now I know, toughened glass.”

“We do.” I felt trapped. The enemy ship was slowly moving off, heading towards the shuttle port. Sure, their primary target would be the shuttle port, but if they were bugs, finding themselves right next to a female residential block would be a very tempting target.

“You’re not on your warship. The best thing to do in the event of a raid is stay indoors. Stay calm, stay out of sight and await support. Those are your orders, right?”

“Yes.” I nodded, deliberately taking a deep breath. It didn’t look like a usual Hiver assault shuttle, so maybe they weren’t usual Hivers and wouldn’t prioritise females? I could see tiny flashes from the shuttle port, likely to be small arms fire on the alien ship. It had picked up speed, approaching low and fast.

“Then jump to it Officer!”

“You’re right.” I agreed. The alien ship had started to climb, presumably stretching for the upper atmosphere or perhaps back to orbit. I looked down to my datapad, then pressed my thumb up to the screen. “Let me send my location now.” I slid my finger across, transmitting my encrypted co-ordinates to SolForce Command. The datapad screen showed that the message was in the transmit queue.

“Now we wait, then?”

“And hope they can’t break the encryption.” I momentarily held up the datapad for effect.

“I’m sure you’ve been through worse scrapes.” She smiled. “I know, I know; it’s different onboard. Bit isolated, bit remote. Death waits around every corridor of that warship, but SolForce sees it through. I’ve seen the bill boards.” Maya’s smile broadened.

“Not exactly. And sure, I’ve had years of training, but aside from basic survival and avoidance training and a refresher a couple of years back, avoiding the enemy planetside isn’t something I’m prepared for.” I offered Maya a faint smile back. “SolForce doesn’t expect crews to survive planetfall. And I’m not exactly well equipped, either.” I placed my hand where my sidearm would normally be.

“It’s mostly in the mind; isn’t that something SolForce drill into you? You don’t need your gun to want to survive.” Maya shook her head, “Reactor! I sound like a SolForce poster.”

“We should keep a look out.”

“For what? When SolForce arrive for the pick up, you’ll be notified by your datapad. Watching enemy soldiers picking their way through the rubble of the destroyed building and assaulting the shuttle port isn’t going to help. You might get their attention.” She took a deep breath. “Liam, their first targets will be military. Munitions, supply depots, shuttle ports. Male civilians in the way, that’s something else; just workers. Not a target.” Maya slumped up against the wall and sighed.

“I don’t want to just wait for them!” I retorted. At the time it didn’t strike me as unusual that Maya had thought about what the Hivers might prioritise.

“Do you have a realistic choice?”

“I do see your point.” I said after a pause for reflection. Maya’s logic was sound. Far better to wait in my location for rescue, than try to find a serviceable shuttle and escape ourselves.

“I always thought the first time you were here, things would be a little different.” She smiled, changing the subject.

“I think that was a compliment.” I slipped back from the window, the atmosphere calming in Maya’s apartment. “You’ve never invited me here. May I sit down?”

“I was hoping you’d invite yourself really and you did, but it took an alien invasion first. I suppose it doesn’t matter any more. And please do sit down.” Maya realised I was awkwardly waiting for her permission to sit. “It’ll be dark in about an hour, I’m going to get some candles if you don’t mind. But make yourself comfortable. There’s not much else we can do.”

“Candles?” I hesitated for a moment, trawling through my memory until I remembered what they were. “Oh I see! Yes.” I sat at one end of her fake leather sofa, which creaked and murmured as I settled.

“How long until you get picked up?” Maya said from the other room. I thought I heard the sound of running water for a moment. “How long do I have you for?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t say.” I stood up again and stepped closer to her window, looking across for the control for the blinds. It would make sense to draw them now rather than later on, but not seeing a control unit I decided I would wait and ask her about it when she came back through. “They’ll no doubt prioritise according to rank, so I expect it won’t be for a few hours yet.”

“Here. These will help.” Maya walked back into her living room and set down a handful of plain white candles. “The blinds are voice controlled, but it doesn’t know your voice.” She offered, noticing that I was looking at the spot on the wall where one might find the control unit. “Here, let me. Blinds; close.” She said. A moment later, two blinds started lowering from the top of the window unit.

“Thank you.”

“Are you hungry?”

“No. Not right now.” I whispered as the blinds reached the floor and rotated shut, putting the room into semi-darkness. “I mean, it’s been an exciting day, I’ve not really thought about food.”

“Me neither.” Maya shuffled to the sofa and slumped down at one end. After a moment, she curled her feet up. “So Liam, are you ever going to climb the mountains of the fourth continent.” She changed the subject again.

“Yes, one day.” I sat at the other end of the sofa. “Am I that transparent?” At the time, I was amazed that our conversation was that nonchalant and so assuming that life would go on.

“I didn’t think so.” Maya smiled. “But my colleagues do! You kept coming back and you only wanted me to see you. But you didn’t formally invite me out, so I decided, well maybe you were a little shy. And that’s why I threw you the rope.” She was talking about the invite for a coffee.

“Thank you. It was kind.” I shifted on the leather.

“But really, I didn’t know what to think. You might have taken it as an insult, me buying you coffee.”

“An insult?”

“SolForce pride!” She smiled. “Maybe your ego too. What exactly does SolForce teach you?”

“For me, personally, how to push a sequence of buttons in the right order so that the ship’s weapons do what the Captain orders.” I grinned. “Actually, no, how to tell my crew what to do, so that the guns do what the Captain says. A few other things here and there, but basically, that’s it.”

“It isn’t as though I have many dashing young SolForce Officers waiting to see me.”

“You know, I didn’t know if you liked me enough for me to ask you.” I managed half a smile. “I’ve never been any good at judging stuff like that. I’ve never had the practice.”

“I’m sure that some of the recruitment posters for SolForce invite civilians to join up to the galaxy’s largest dating service.” Maya giggled. “So many young guns come into the shop, brimming with overconfidence and uniform decor.”

“Maybe. The ratings boast about their exploits. Officers are expected to be somewhat more discrete.”

“Liam, I do need to ask you if you engineered this invasion just to get invited back to my place?” Maya’s musical giggle started again.

“Oh!” I laughed. “Are you impressed?” I beamed across the sofa.

“That you went to all this trouble just to get me alone in my flat?” Maya smiled. “When you could have just asked me. Perhaps less a genius really.”
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DervMan
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Re: This one needs a title...

Post by DervMan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:43 am

Maya and I talked as the day grew late. Occasionally, I would step up to the window and look upon the city and the shuttle dock. In the distance, several fires were burning, the orange flickering crazily against neighbouring buildings. And in the sky, the occasional flashes of weapon fire in orbit, sometimes followed by yellow and green clouds showing a ship being destroyed. My SolForce datapad stopped sending me updates after a few hours and all civilian commercial or information stations appeared to be offline.

“Liam, I’m glad I’m with you tonight.”

“Oh.” I shifted position on the sofa, turning to face Maya, “Why’s that?”

“This might be my last night on Tau Ceti Prime. I’d be glad to spend it with you.”

“Oh Maya. Last reports showed that this is a local thing. Just this city and I’m sure it will be easily contained. We just have to hold up until then.”

“That isn’t what I meant.” Maya added, then her voice tailed off. I went to speak, but could not think of the right words to say. I liked her, I had thought of ways to talk to her, or ask her if she wanted to spend time with me, but things had always gotten in the way. And now we were alone with no immediate chance of getting away from the conflict, I am thinking more about escape and less about spending the time with Maya.

“You’re right. I’ve wanted to spend time with you since the first time we met, but now I have the time, I’m concentrating on how to not be here, how to be back in the fleet.”

“And then you’ll be gone.” She murmured, looking down at the leather.

“Just for another tour.” I said quietly. “I’ll be back before you know it. Plus with hypermail, I’ll be able to keep in touch.”

“Okay flyboy.” Maya stood up, “I’m going to get some more water. I want you to think about what I’ve just told you.” She reached down and picked up one of the candles, carrying it through into the kitchen. I sat in semi-darkness for a moment as I considered what she had said, listening to the sounds from the other room.

After a moment, I decided to follow her. I stood up and padded through into the kitchen. Maya was reaching up, retrieving two glasses. I stood for a moment, admiring her curves, before offering to help. Maya looked over her shoulder at me.

“I think I have it.” She said, stretching up on her tip toes. She grimaced in pain after the walk in her boots as she inched the glasses closer to the edge of the cupboard.

“Let me help you.” I said, stepping close so that I was just behind and to the side. I reached up and reached for the first glass, my body very close to Maya. “I think I understand, it is one tour, maybe six weeks, probably four. Unless we’re at war, but if war breaks out, well...” My voice tailed off. I didn’t need to explain that if war breaks out, I could be gone a long time.

“I can manage, Liam!” Maya protested. She paused for a moment and shook her head. “It’s just such a long time. You’ve finally talked to me and you need to be somewhere else. Then what if your ship is posted elsewhere? I will need to manage!”

“I understand. And I don’t have the answers.” I moved my face closer to hers and I could feel the heat from her skin. I moved my head slightly, my lips brushing over her cheek and then her ear, planting a delicate kiss.

“Liam...” She purred, closing her eyes. I retreated for a moment and she turned to look at me. “You tell me you’re leaving and then you kiss me.”

“I’m sorry.” I mumbled, looking down.

“Don’t be sorry. I’m not complaining. Well, sort of.” Her voice was soothing and hushed but her eyes were glowing.

“You know, you’re kinda intimidating when you sort of complain.” I breathed.

“Fusion drives, Officer! You’ve seen plenty more action to be scared by half a kiss.”

“Only against the Hive.” I looked up, smiling.

“That isn’t what I meant. The action that you don’t have SolForce training and doctrine for.”

“You’re still wrong.” I said. “And you’re also right.”

“That’s not cryptic, then.” Maya’s lips reached my cheek and I felt them curl into a smile. “I’m not sure I care anymore.” I turned my face towards hers just a little bit, so that our lips would meet. We kissed.

It lasted just a few seconds before we parted our lips.

“That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Maya whispered. No it wasn’t so bad. Actually it was rather good. I allowed myself to smile for a moment and then I pressed my lips to hers again. Maya giggled after a moment, “Oh let me guess Officer, you’re not sure?”

“Something like that.” I grinned.

*

I woke up a few hours later, blinking in the darkness. Slowly, the room took shape. I was curled up with Maya, lying closest to the window. I lay there for a moment, feeling her hot breath on my chest, her legs next to mine. But a small flash from outside reflected off the ceiling, distracting me so I slipped out of her bed and padded across to the window.

The blinds were semi-retracted and I was able to look out without disturbing them.

Down below, the streets and buildings were dark, illuminated by emergency street lighting. As I watched, there were more flashes, which looked like firearm muzzles. These were some distance from us, close to the shuttle port. As my eyes adjusted to the scene, I could make out a small group of soldiers. They had taken up a defensive position between two buildings and were laying down fire along two corridors.

As I watched, several dark shapes moved swiftly across the rubble of the destroyed building, moving like a pack or herd. The shapes looked like wolves, bounding across the jumble of plasteel and broken pavement. The pack turned towards the soldiers, closing the distance very quickly. The soldiers’ fire cut down one, then two and then another of the approaching figures. Suddenly, the firing stopped.

“Liam?” I turned around. Maya was sitting on the edge of the bed, her skin pale in the dim light from outside.

“I didn’t mean to wake you. Sorry.” I turned away from the firefight below, grateful for the soundproof window.

“Is everything okay?”

“Outside? There’s sporadic fighting.” I took a step back towards her bed. “There are soldiers in the shuttle port.”

“Come here?” Maya asked. I looked over my shoulder at her again. “Liam come here, it isn’t morning yet.”

*

The next time I woke up, I was lying on my back, my head lying between a number of pillows. Maya was lying on top of me, her head on my chest, her feet resting on the top of mine. I moved, stirring; I was lying at a diagonal on the bed, my left foot dangling over the edge of the mattress and one of my hands resting on the small of her back. It was just before dawn and the first morning rays of light were just a few minutes from reaching the apartment.

Maya was asleep, her breath hot on my neck. I lifted my hand to stroke a stray curl from her face, but she woke with my movement.

“Liam...” She said, sleepily. “Is it morning yet?”

“It’s just about dawn.” I wrapped my arms around her.

“How can you tell?” She whispered.

“In space, there is no real dawn, so when I’m planet side, I try to appreciate it every morning.”

“Do you ever sleep..?” She asked sleepily, kissing my chin.

“It’s a bit different out there. I have to get sleep as and when I can. And... And in Nodespace, well let’s just say that the quality of sleep isn’t exactly guaranteed.”

“Guaranteed?” She stretched. “It’s so early.”

“Nightmares. Lots of nightmares. It’s a side effect of Nodespace. You can always tell a new spacer because after a few days, he or she looks dreadful!” I slipped out from under Maya and rolled to face her. “It means I don’t need so much sleep now, that’s all. I’m trained not to need sleep...” I didn’t need to tell her that nightmares made most spacers avoid sleep and others were slowly consumed by madness.

“I didn’t plan for this to happen.” Maya whispered, turning to face me. “And I’m not going to give you some radiation bull about being the last night alive or anything, but I don’t regret it. You. Us. I don’t regret it one bit.” Her hand traced the outline of my cheek and down to my chin, her nails scratching at my stubble.

“Me neither. There’s no going back, now. I think I should feel guilty about us, but I don’t. Instead I feel guilty because I don’t feel guilty.” I sighed as that just didn’t seem to make any sense whatsoever. “It isn’t even a real feeling, is it?”

“I’m glad it happened.” Maya pulled her arm up and rested her face on her hand. “And I’m glad you talk about it rather than bury it, then disappear off to your warship.”

“You’re welcome. This isn’t really all that complicated, is it? I like you a lot and you like me. Maybe we just skipped time, is all?” I slowly sat up, stretching myself, then stood and approached the window to look down upon the street. It had barely changed from last night, but in the distance there were more scored pieces of debris and rubble as evidence of the firefight last night.

“What might make it complicated?” Maya asked through partially closed eyes.

“Nothing does, nothing save my own thoughts.” I looked back towards the bed; Maya had pulled the sheet over her body and was watching me. “Does last night change anything?” I asked.

“Between us?” She rolled onto her back and laughed. “I was hoping it might, but, it doesn’t have to. You can still come in and pretend you want to climb a mountain, or whatever.” She rolled her eyes and then stared at me. “But you won’t, will you Officer Portland?” Maya sounded frustrated.

“No, that isn’t what I mean. It’s like, I mean, can you... Do you... Do you see a future with me?”

“Yes. You must too if you ask the question.”

“Yes.” I replied, then stopped myself from saying anything else. It was an awkward silence. I could see my datapad on the floor next to the door, so I stepped over to retrieve it, but when I activated it, I decided that I needed to continue. “Maya, I do, I want to see a future with you. I’ve been in to see you half a dozen times over the last few months and I was going to ask you for a coffee, but you beat me to it. I have to go and serve onboard a warship, but it’s only been in the last few months that I’ve had a reason to want to spend time planetside.”

“Liam, that’s very sweet, if you’re saying what I think you’re saying. I’m sorry about earlier. We assume that we’re safe, it’s been years since the Hivers have threatened the colony; things are established and secure in my life. This changes things.” Maya’s face brightened into a smile. “You change things, for the better, much better.”

“Likewise.” I whispered. “Maya, I do need to get back to my ship, see what’s happening, but I also want to come back to the colony.” I looked to my datapad, which was slowly updating.

“Thank you.” Maya replied quietly. She sighed something, sounded contented. I half smiled back, looking down at my datapad. “Anything new, Officer?” Maya asked. The datapad asked for security clearance, so I pushed my thumb up to the screen and then tapped in my access code. After a moment the message list updated and I started reading.

“We’re still in the queue for pick up.” I said quietly. “Maya, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t.” She relaxed her face into a smile. “Far from it!” She grinned. “But you’re in Officer mode rather than Liam mode and I respect that. I wish I were in travel agent mode: I probably don’t have to go to work today, I didn’t get much sleep last night, so why am I awake so early?” Maya added a giggle. It never ceased to amaze me how resilient the human species could be, how we still considered our daily routine and our future despite our world having changed, despite there being no certainty. The datapad screen started filling with information and I continued reading.

“It remains localised, at least, to this district.” I said, skimming through the information and comfortable talking about something I could better understand. “Several areas have been cleared of hostile ground forces during the night, with the Buck Port and commercial district one of the last.”

“That’s good, then.”

“We need to keep our heads down.” I continued, paraphrasing the next section. “I will be given the all clear when we’re good to go.”

“We?”

“We.” I fixed Maya with a stare. “I was hoping you’d come with me?” I looked at her neatly arranged apartment and her few belongings, of her ordered life. I didn’t know if I could add anything to this nor did I know how the nuke I’d explain Maya and I to the Captain.

“How will you get me off the colony?” She asked.

“I’ll worry about that when the time comes. Maya, I can’t promise that they’ll take you, but I figure if we both make it to the port, either this mess will be cleared up or-” My datapad vibrated again, the two LEDs illuminating on the top in a distinctive pattern. I unlocked the screen, signed in again and read the priority message. “We gotta go.”

“Go?”

“We have to go right now. Get dressed.” I retrieved my clothing from where we had dropped it the previous night. “We have eight minutes.”

“Eight?” Maya’s eyes widened. “What happens in eight minutes?”

“SolForce Marine squad sweep. They’re due to be dropped a block behind us, will be coming this way, meeting at the port. They’re to pick me up, then take us to the port.” The ground shook, Maya’s ornaments rattled. “C’mon.” I offered her my hand, which she took, still covering herself with the sheet. As we hurriedly dressed, I looked out of the window towards the shuttle port. There were several new fires the far side of the port, black smoke billowing.

*

I looked out of the main doorway of Maya’s apartment block, across the street. It was empty and deserted save for small pieces of debris shaken loose from yesterday. I checked my datapad again to make sure it was still sending the encrypted locator signal. All good.

“Sure wish I had my sidearm.” I looked over my shoulder to Maya and whispered. She nodded her head and shivered, but more because of nerves than the cool morning air, I was sure.

“Where are they?” She asked.

“They’ll be here, I’m sure of it.” The street was deserted, silent save for the distant sounds of battle. “I expect they’re-”

“Identify!” I was interrupted by the barrel of a SolForce assault rifle thrust into my face.

“SolForce Officer Liam Portland, SFS Anerley 080.” I replied, my attention on the firearm in my face rather than the soldier behind it.

“I’ll check his tags.” Another voice said. A large hand reached for my wrist and turned it over, being surprisingly gentle, but the assault rifle being pointed in my face still had my attention. It was being held very still. “Who’s the girl.”

“She’s with me.” I said. “Maya Bueno-Velasco, civilian.”

“Found yourself a pet, have we?” The assault rifle was lowered and a SolForce Officer stepped forward. “Louis, check her tags.” The Officer smiled at me, his eyes appraising my face as the soldier stepped to the side, then past towards Maya.

“Not exactly, sir.” I replied, my eyes searching the Officer’s face. His eyes were reddened, his skin streaked with dirt and sweat. He was wearing the standard infantry helmet, here and there were tufts of silvered hair. The soldiers I had seen all looked to be in their early twenties, but the Officer looked to be in his late thirties.

“Tags are good, sir.” The young soldier said. He stepped back in front of me, looking far more relaxed now.

“Very good. Officer Caig, SolForce Marine Corps.” The Officer extended his hand and gave me a firm handshake. “Well, Portland, you can argue with the shuttle pilot that you’re not married. It’s just my job to get you there in one piece.” The Officer murmured so that Maya could not hear. “Let’s go, people.”

Maya and I stepped out of the doorway. The rest of the unit had taken up positions along the street, numbering seven in total. Their armour was blackened and charred in parts, one grunt had a blood-soaked bandage across part of his face. Each member looked alert, smartly turning their heads as they surveyed the scene.

After a moment, Officer Caig gave me instructions: wait for the all clear to advance and do so in silence. He then gave orders to the squad over his comlink. We were pushed into the doorway to wait for the all clear signal; Maya moved a little closer behind me and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, but did not say anything. I looked back into her eyes, smiling so as to comfort her. Officer Caig darted forward, then set off towards the next doorway, crouching as he did so. It did not take him long to reach the doorway, then he motioned at us with his hand.

We stepped closer, ducking behind the wall he was stood at. Officer Caig told us to wait here until the squad had advanced, which they did after a brief moment. Again, we repeated the process but this time crossing a longer stretch and getting closer to the shuttle port.

As we were waiting for the next set of instructions, we heard two warning shouts followed by a burst of automatic weapon fire. The gun fire ceased, ending with the distinctive rattling noise of a heavy support weapon out of ammunition. Opposite, two of the soldiers were crouched behind a partially demolished wall, weapons at the ready. We heard nothing for a time, then more firing, this time the high pitched whining of laser rifle power packs recharging. As I watched, the two soldiers opposite took aim at an unseen foe, each firing several shots from their firearms. The Officer checked his tactical screen on his forearm, saying commands into his microphone. As we watched, a bright green blast demolished most of the wall opposite, showering the two soldiers with rubble. Another blast, this one wider of the mark, but it looked like a SolForce laser bolt. The firing stopped, the Officer was again speaking commands into his microphone before looking back at me.

“Portman, have you used one of these since basic training?” Caig asked, offering his sidearm. It was the newer generation laser pistol, lightweight and compact, but with enough energy for a dozen blasts, each powerful enough to kill a man. I nodded my head and he tossed me the weapon, then reached up to his shoulders and pulled a snub-nosed assault shotgun out; not a typical Officer weapon. Noticing the expression on my face, he shrugged his shoulders and told me that his specialty was ship to ship boarding operations, where the shotgun was the preferred weapon. I checked the laser pistol over, thanked Officer Caig, flicked the safety off and cycled the power cell. It was fully charged.

“Liam? What’s happening?” Maya asked quietly.

“Nothing to worry about.” Caig said, but before I could reply the firing started again. Across the street, the two SolForce soldiers were carefully looking over the rubble, aiming at an unseen enemy and firing. I counted a total of nine blasts between the two before one turned around, knelt and started firing in the opposite way.

“Trouble.” I whispered to Maya over my shoulder. “But I’m sure it’s nothing they can’t handle.”

“Go now!” Officer Caig barked, grasping me by my arm and pushing me out into the street. For a moment, I froze, assessing the street in front of me. There were two groups of SolForce soldiers crouched in rubble just two hundred metres in front. Maya was shoved next to me by the Officer; I looked to her, observing that her eyes were wide with fear. “Go now!” The Officer commanded again, bringing me to my senses.

The street in front of us erupted with dusty little explosions, sending tiny showers of debris up into the air. It took me a moment before I realised that these were blasts from behind and not in front. I grabbed Maya’s hand and pulled her, starting to sprint up the street and without looking behind to see what was shooting at us. I heard the high pitched charger whine from laser weaponry and then the rumble of the shotgun, but I kept on going and didn’t look back. In front of us, one of the soldiers looked back, raised his weapon, took aim and released a single blast of laser energy, seemingly over my shoulder. As I approached, he took aim a second time but did not fire.

We skidded into the doorway of the next building stumbling over larger pieces of debris littering the floor. The soldier there shouted at us to keep our heads down, but I didn’t need the encouragement. I pulled Maya closer to me; she looked up, panting and out of breath. The soldier was crouched, aiming his rifle at an unseen foe. I saw him carefully line up a shot and squeeze the trigger, which was followed by the whining noise of the recharger circuits squeezing energy back into the gun. I could hear the recharger whines from the soldiers opposite but after a moment, these too silenced.

Somebody else crept into the same space. I looked to see it was the Officer, his uniform and armour ripped and torn, but otherwise he appeared unharmed, the barrel of his shotgun smoking. He ignored Maya and I, produced a rugged datapad and tapped a couple of buttons on it, projecting a holographic map of the area onto the ground. The location of the rest of the unit was showing on the projection plus an ominous number of red shapes, which I presumed to be the enemy. A group was approaching from behind. He tapped his microphone and spoke a few words; as I watched, two green shapes started moving across the map. The red shapes on the map were becoming less distinct, as though they were melting away. After a moment, two soldiers arrived at our location, kneeling down to share a few words with the Officer. They spoke for a moment and then he turned to me.

“Looks like they’ve cleared out for now. There’s a major sweep happening not two blocks from here, looks like Johnny Alien has poked over that-a-way.” He grinned for a moment. “A small detachment ran into us as they headed that way. It looks like it’s your lucky day.”

“Lucky?”

“Sure.” Caig grinned. “Johnny is clearing out so we won’t have a firefight to get you offworld. And you’ve just been pushed up the collection queue. We’ll move out, but progress should be quicker.” I nodded my head and looked to Maya, who had been tugging at my shirt for my attention.

“Liam... Something’s here.” She said quietly.

“Something?” I asked, looking past her into the wrecked building. The SolForce Officer had stepped to his feet, which I took to be a sign of great confidence that the area was now clear of hostiles.

“I can feel it.” She whispered, turning to face me, her hands trembling. “The voice... I hear it, Liam. I hear him.” She said again, her eyes wide open with fear, her hands cold and shaking.

“Maya, what are you talking about?” I asked. Her eyes seemed to cloud over for a moment. I said her name again and she snapped out of it, looking into my eyes.

“That was...”

“Come now, we have to go.” I reached out and helped her up. She unsteadily held onto my arm. The Officer asked if she was okay, to which I nodded. “Bit shaken up by the firefight.” I said, hoping that he would take the explanation at face value. “Point the way.” I added.

“Same way we’ve been going.” He replied, pointing towards the shuttle port. I looked in the direction and could see two SolForce soldiers taking up position about a hundred yards in front. “You might want to keep her close. There are casualties. Not pretty.” He held his finger to his earpiece for a moment then looked back to me. “Okay, shuttle due here in two, you better move.”

“Two?” I questioned. We were too far away from the shuttle port to reach it in two minutes. We weren’t so much as moved up the queue but pushed to the top.

“Priority case.” He said quietly. “The shuttle rendezvous point is at the next junction. It’s too big an area to adequately defend, but Intel says that isn’t a problem. Still, the shuttle will run a combat drop, load and then go. You’d best be ready. I’ll have overwatch on the position.”

“Maya, we have to go. I need you to hold on to me, don’t let go and keep your eyes low.” I said, reaching across for her arm. She muttered something incoherent. “Maya?” I asked again, a little louder. She looked up, swallowed and nodded her head. I took her hand in mine and gently helped her stand, then stepped out of the doorway. Maya was unsteady on her feet for a moment, but then squeezed my hand with renewed purpose.

“Liam, let’s go; that shuttle is our way off this rock and into the fleet.” She started walking, pulling me in encouragement to keep up. We had not covered far when we came across a fresh corpse lying face down on the road, his limbs at an awkward angle. As we approached I could see that his body had been torn or ripped apart; it was one of the SolForce soldiers, he lay close to his assault weapon. Probably the support weapon I had heard earlier in the firefight. Maya’s grip tightened on my hand for the moment as she caught sight of the body but she kept on walking. I looked away. In the distance I could hear the sound of the approaching shuttle. We had almost reached the junction, just a couple of hundred metres closer and at every step I expected the enemy to open fire, but nothing.

We were almost at the junction when the shuttle swept into view from our right, skimming the top of the residential buildings and slowing to a hover in the centre of the junction. As we approached, it rotated to point the side door at us and descended until it was at head height. We were perhaps a hundred metres from the shuttle when the door opened and two SolForce Marines dropped out, immediately crouching, their weapons ready. A third figure appeared in the doorway gesturing for us to spring to the shuttle. We picked up the pace, sprinting the final distance but just at that moment a bright green blast shot in front of us, striking the ground just a few metres in front. We were both knocked back by the explosion, landing in a sprawled heap.

The two soldiers on the shuttle were already firing, their laser beams flashing overhead. I rolled over towards Maya, reaching for her arm. She was on her back, blinking, making no effort to get up. In the distance I could see the laser beams striking the first floor, so I tugged at Maya, half pulling and half pushing her up. She shook her head and then unsteadily rose to her knees. I grabbed her hand, pulling her up and then towards the shuttle.

I heard a dreadful growling and snarling, loud enough to be heard over the whine of weapon packs and the rumble of the shuttle drive. I looked over my shoulder to see what looked like a cross between a wolf and a bear leaping from the building. It landed on all four legs, skidding to a halt in little clouds of dust. It had two large eyes, glaring at me. Its mouth was large and curled into a snarl, showing large incisors. It pulled its head back, roared and started bounding towards Maya and I.

The shuttle crew had already seen it and their laser beams flickered close to the animal, but none reached the target. I screamed at Maya to run, bringing my laser pistol up to point towards the animal, taking a step backwards, then another. Thirty feet. Twenty five. Twenty! A laser beam struck the animal on the side, burning the grey fur and it howled with a mix of pain and rage, but kept going. I took another step backwards but tripped over something, falling. I lifted my head and the pistol. It was now really close. It jumped and I squeezed the trigger.

The laser beam struck the beast in the chest, vaporising flesh and punching a hole through it.

I rolled to the side, dropping the pistol and it narrowly missed me. I heard it wheeze and gurgle as I scrambled away from it. It did not move as I picked myself off the ground, looking back.

The animal was still, its lifeless eyes staring at me and a pool of dark red blood was forming under the grey fur. The closer front leg was stretched out in front of it, with two massive claws protruding from behind its foot, each tip a bloody mess.

Movement!

The fur on its belly was moving, as though something were trapped under the body and struggling to wriggle free.

I looked for the laser pistol, but it was nowhere to be seen. Probably under it. There was more movement from the corner of my eye and I turned my face to see the shuttle approaching, the pilot bringing it in sideways, the two Marines running in front, their weapons ready.

“Sir, we have to go. Let the grunts deal with it. Come on sir!” One of them shouted over the noise of the shuttle engine. I backed away from the fallen animal, then reached up to be pulled into the shuttle, landing in a sprawled mess next to Maya.

A moment later, both SolForce Marines hopped back into the shuttle. The roar of its engine deepened and it lifted off, the hatch still closing. It was slammed shut with a bang, plunging the interior into darkness until the red lights flicked on.

*

As the shuttle accelerated away from Buck Port and the surrounding district, I ensured that Maya was safely secured into the sky cradle. Before I attached my own harness, I stretched up to look out of the small window upon the city. There were only a few fires and other signs of damage from the window, but before long the shuttle entered the cloud base. One of the Marines asked me to put the harness on, which I did, sitting next to Maya. She looked to me, smiled and reached for my hand.

There were five other people in the shuttle, three SolForce Marines and two others. One wore the white overalls of a technician and the other, a junior Officer, wearing the patch from one of the new generation Bristol class scout Destroyers. As the shuttle reached the lower Tau Ceti orbit, I felt the familiar and comforting zero-gravity environment seemingly cause my limbs to float up. No conversation was offered until the shuttle pilot announced we were about to commence the approach to Tau Ceti Orbiting Dock Charlie Sigma, one of the oldest dry docks in orbit around the colony.

“Close to home.” The Bristol Officer muttered. He looked across to me and asked what ship I served on, as though he was addressing a senior. We were the same rank, but I realised that much of my uniform had been ripped and torn, including my ship badge.

“SFS Anerley 080. I’ll get a transfer, I’m sure.”

“Haven’t you heard, sir?” The Officer replied, quietly. I noticed that two of the Marines exchanged looks. “Anerley 080 has been destroyed.”

I felt Maya’s hand tighten around mine.

“Destroyed? When? How!” I exclaimed, my voice edged with disbelief. I knew my datapad had been playing up but I didn’t know it had stopped working.

“She was one of the first SolForce ships to engage the enemy, sir.” One of the Marines said. “When they attacked, Anerley 080 was conducting final trials before her next operation. She engaged several enemy warships.” He looked to his colleague for a moment. “All were lost in a heroic battle. She broke up in orbit, but before the rescue tugs could reach her, she dropped into the atmosphere.”

We heard a loud clang as the shuttle reached the SolForce dry dock. My mind was racing through my colleagues, my crew, the Captain and the lost warship. That I hadn’t been onboard to direct the aft weapons. Those faces that I would never see again. One of the Marines came across and released the sky cradle, unbuckling the harness from Maya and myself, then encouraging us to our feet. Maya immediately started floating up and out of the seat; this was her first zero gravity experience. She tried to suppress a giggle as she helplessly started to tumble, so I reached up and held her down.

Just a moment later, I heard the second clang of the umbilical connection being made between the dry dock and the shuttle. The three Marines were already approaching the hatch, their weapons ready. One reached across and unlocked the mechanism with a loud hiss. My ears popped as the pressure quickly dropped, matching the dry dock, before the hatch was opened.

-

Almost two days later, I was finally allowed to see Maya. It had been quite the debriefing. Three security teams had asked me similar questions, not quite the same, needing to know what had happened at Buck Port, the precise details of every engagement I had witnessed from Maya’s apartment and from street level. The last interview had been stood in front of two Captains and an Admiral, whose names now escape me. I was expecting to be grilled as to why I was not onboard SFS Anerley 080, but instead they were a SolForce Selection and Suitability Panel, or SSP. Too many SolForce survivors and not enough warships to go around, so the SSP wanted to discuss my alternatives within the service. Given my background of a Gunnery Officer and in light of my relationship with a surviving citizen, the SSP had posted me as a Duty Officer of the Tau Ceti Prime Defence Squadron.

The role lacked glamour, but it meant being based at a military site on the first continent of the colony and of course, being close to Maya. Maya; our illicit affair was not a true concern for SolForce, other than one of the Captains had strongly suggested that I marry her so that we could live in married quarters close to the base I was assigned to. I saw no reason to discuss this with her just yet other than to suggest she followed my move, which she agreed to with no hesitation whatsoever.

We were reunited and almost immediately placed onto a shuttle. It was great to see her again!

As the shuttle started the re-entry into Tau Ceti Prime’s atmosphere, the communicatons network shut down. We were in one of the SolForce Officers’ Shuttles, a smaller design, traditionally used to transfer high ranking Officers between warships, space stations or colony military installations.

The crew had been kind enough to allow Maya and I, the only passengers, to sit behind them in the cockpit. All they had to do was take the shuttle to Buck Port, wait around for Maya and I to collect the few belongings we wanted, then fly us part way across the first continent to SFS Chicago 001, my new post, so that we could start our new life together. As the co-pilot had so elegantly expressed, this was very much a milk run.

As the shuttle penetrated the upper atmosphere, communications should have been restored, but the system contained just white noise. The co-pilot heartily slapped the communications panel and announced that it was probably faulty. As the shuttle continued decelerating, the nose was progressively lowered so that I could now see the planet below.

Maya and I listened to the shuttle crew conversation during the deceleration and approach, then we were plunged into thick cloud. The co-pilot remarked that the communications system remained offline until as we cleared the cloud level, twenty clicks from Buck Port; we could see our familiar district.

It was not what we expected to see. There were several fires on the horizon, the streets were deserted but had not been cleared of debris, wrecked vehicles and trams. The shuttle continued to approach, the pilot keeping the altitude at three thousand metres or so, letting the speed bleed off.

“Nothing but static.” He said aloud. “The clean up hasn’t happened. This is not what was reported when we dropped into the atmosphere.”

“How could so much have changed in twenty minutes?” I asked. The co-pilot looked over his shoulder and shrugged his shoulders.

“Liam...” Maya said quietly. “Liam, the voice, the voices; they’re back.”
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balti knights
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Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2009 4:32 pm

Re: This one needs a title...

Post by balti knights » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:17 pm

Finally got round to finishing reading this Dervman...I love it, hope we get to hear more from Liam & Maya.
The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. Arthur C. Clarke.

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DervMan
Posts: 2774
Joined: Sat Jan 20, 2007 6:23 pm

Re: This one needs a title...

Post by DervMan » Mon Jan 23, 2012 9:23 pm

Aw cool. Yeah there's another story or two in there... :)

I was a little worried that it was perhaps a little bit too :love: adult :love: in parts, you know?
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The_Unificator
Posts: 119
Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2012 2:49 pm

Re: This one needs a title...

Post by The_Unificator » Thu Aug 09, 2012 5:03 pm

an awesome story!!, poor Maya, the zuul will make her a slave, i hope you can fix that derv :D , you can call the story Encounter at Tau Ceti, that sound nice
An Argentinian SolForce Captain awaiting new orders

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