StarCrossed Chapter 15
Mystician Empire. Iron Sector. Space.
Year: 323 A.A. Month: 6. Day: 21. Time: 3:22 P.M., Facinaturu Mean Time.
A hole opened in reality, and out came the Endless. It still looked as if it had been jury-rigged from spare parts, but now those parts included two energy cannons set on each side of the ship, one, in the rear, and a larger one set above the cockpit. The energy shield was not currently visible, but it was fully active. And this was just as well, since the Endless had appeared in the middle of a space dogfight.
Thyme immediately ordered Tiamat to take evasive maneuvers, but the ship had no time to move before sudden shudders rocked the cockpit. A quick glance at the controls told Thyme that the shields had taken a hit near the rear of the ship. "Masan!" he shouted over another ship-rocking collision. "Take over maneuvers while I handle the weaponry. Tiamat, scan for Freespace transmissions; we won't be very helpful unless we can get some orders." With that, he pulled a visor from the control panel and placed it over his eyes.
For a moment he was greeted with blankness. Then the ship's sensors began to feed into the visor, and he found himself looking out at the battle as if he were floating in space without the aid of a space. In fact, he felt as if he was the ship... to an extent. He could aim the cannons as necessary, and he could sense every minor contact that made the shields flare, but control of the ship's movement was out of his hands. Candy had told him that the visor could be used to take control of the ship's engines, but that he would need practice... and attempting to control both the engines and weapons on the first try would have been disastrous.
"Thyme," said Masan nervously as Thyme adjusted to the visor, "maybe you should take the engines and I should handle the weaponry. You always were the better pilot."
"Sorry, Masan," replied Thyme, "but we need effective cannon fire right now just to keep the Imperial Ships away. Besides, the visor's calibrated for me right now."
"You just want to blow stuff up."
"Damn straight," Thyme agreed, and took a good look at what the scanner told him.
They were in space, within the effective gravitational pull of the nearest planet. The battle seemed to be split into two halves. First was the group of Imperial craft. The sensors took a look at the ships and told him that they were mostly Eagles, designed primarily for speed, but with passable weapons. The second half, comprised of Freespace craft, was stationed between the Imperial forces and the nearby planet. Though the Freespace craft were numerous, the sensors indicated that they were spread thinly. Not knowing the entire situation, Thyme concluded that the Movement was attempting to defend the planet, and thus had spread themselves all around the surrounding space. The Endless had appeared in the middle of what seemed to be an attempt to breach the defenses.
Unfortunately, the chaos of ships flying around him was too much for him to follow. So, mentally, he asked Tiamat for help. The computer obliged by placing targeting reticles over each Imperial ship. Thyme thanked it, focused his own senses through the ship's sensors, and fired all four cannons at once.
Even without control of the ship's movements, the feeling of battle using the visor was almost like swordplay, with which he was quite familiar. True, he couldn't dodge or chase after an enemy until he gained more experience, but he could fire in four directions nearly simultaneously and redirect shield power at a moment's notice. With Tiamat's help, it felt like he was the ship. Not for the first time, Thyme was glad that his partner was such a complex machine.
Thyme allowed himself to be lost in the battle.
This was why he was surprised to find himself firing at ships that were miles away and still running. He took a glance around and suddenly realized that there were no Imperial Ships within a mile. The Endless was surrounded by Freespace craft, many of which had their weapons targeted on him. He took off the visor.
"-wake up!" shouted Masan.
Thyme flinched away. "What?"
Masan sighed in relief. "I was wondering when you'd take that visor off. Couldn't you hear me calling you?"
"No," replied Thyme, surprised.
"You didn't feel me shake your shoulder?"
Thyme shook his head. "No... All I could see and feel was the battle. Next time, have Tiamat call me. I should be able to hear him through the visor."
Masan nodded, an expression of concern clearly visible. "Alright. Anyway, these ships have asked to speak to the Captain. In fact, they've been asking pretty insistently."
Thyme nodded back. "Put them through."
A window appeared on the cockpit screen, with a face in it. It was a young face, with blond hair and a mustache. But it held a tired expression... a Captain's expression. "Please state your name," he ordered, his voice tired.
The man raised an eyebrow. "I had heard rumors of Thyme Oregano returning, though I imagined you'd look a little more... well, alive. But that is unimportant. I will have to ask you to leave."
"But he just helped fight off the Empire forces!" Masan exclaimed indignantly.
"More importantly," Thyme said calmly, "I have orders from the Freespace Movement headquarters on Hyg."
The blond captain looked mildly surprised. "Please transmit your orders." The captain vanished from the window a moment, then reappeared. "These seem to be in order. A ship will be detaching from my group. Please follow it down to the surface of the planet." When Thyme agreed, the captain continued, "And I must say it is an honor and a pleasure." He vanished.
Ferrite. Iron City.
The guideship never actually landed onworld; it hovered near the spaceport momentarily, then went back up into space. The Endless landed as smoothly as it did everything else, and its crew disembarked, after specific instructions to do so from the Ferrite Freespace HQ. Upon exiting the craft, the crew were met by a Private, who led them to an ATV.
As they drove through the city, it became clear why such a tough vehicle had been used; much of the city was reduced to rubble. It was impossible to tell what the city had once been like. It was now completely subsumed by war. Spacecraft were strewn about the city, all in various states of disrepair. Some which looked like they should be taken apart for scrap were taking off even as he watched. Apparently, every ship was needed aboveworld.
They pulled up to a tent which resembled all of the others spread throughout the city. The private went in before them, cautioning them to wait outside. After a moment, he exited and gestured for them to go inside.
They entered to find a lone man, sitting at a desk. Had he been standing, he would have been seen to be shorter than average. Apparently too busy to bother with his uniform, he was wearing a white sleeveless shirt, which showed his lean body. This was not what caught the attention of all present, however. What surprised everyone were his bald head, large eyes, pointed ears, and yellow skin.
He looked up from a sheet of paper he had been examining. "Mr. Oregano, I presume?"
Thyme stood still, shocked. Finally, he managed, "Y... yes. Yes sir, I am Thyme Oregano."
The man nodded. "Good. I am General Rimune. The troops will be glad to have you around. If nothing else, you should provide a serious morale boost."
"I'm hoping to be able to do more, sir," replied Thyme. "I've brought a new type of ship, just developed by the Empire. It might come in handy."
Rimune nodded, as if he had expected nothing less. "I want you to report the specifications of your ship to the head technician. He should be able to figure out how to best use the technology, and repair any damage the ship receives. Normally, I'd ask you not to risk your life in battle, but under present circumstances, we need every ship we can get."
"What present circumstances? What's the Movement after out here?"
"The Iron Sector earned its name because of the high iron content present in nearly all of the planets, especially this world, Ferrite. This planet is almost fifty percent iron. This sector alone accounts for half of the Empire's steel production. The Freespace Movement has been trying to liberate the sector from the Empire's control for two years now."
"Liberate?" Tartingill muttered.
Rimune smiled, tiredly. "Your Mystic friend is observant. We use euphemisms to disguise the fact that the Iron Sector could bolster the Movement's strength enormously. Unfortunately, we haven't managed to begin any mining yet; all of our effort is going into keeping this sector. We originally took several planets with the element of surprise, but it didn't take the Empire long to retaliate. Since then, they've been taking back worlds one by one. Ferrite's the only one left."
Thyme considered this. "You realize you have no chance of keeping this planet. The Empire will just keep sending wave after wave of ships. You may be keeping them from the iron on this planet, but they still have more than enough to resources to outlast you. Plus, if I'm not mistaken, they have you blocked from escaping via Greyspace, so you can't even get supplies. If the Movement persists in trying to keep this world, we will all die."
"I see you have a passable knowledge of tactics," Rimune replied. "Though I would appreciate it if your insights stayed out of the men's ears. Some of them know this is hopeless and stay anyway, but we need the help of those who have yet to see the truth. You must understand that it is vital that we keep this going as long as possible. As you said, we can't receive any supplies from Hyg, but that also means that we are self-sufficient. We can remain a thorn in the Empire's side without using up the Movement's supplies. Besides, as long as we keep up this futile battle, we give the impression that the Empire is weak. That illusion is more than important enough to warrant the sacrifice of my life."
"And the lives of all the men under your command?" Masan suddenly demanded, breaking his silence of shock at seeing the general.
Rimune looked at Masan, but he didn't show the slightest surprise that the young man seemed to be of the same species. "The men and women under my command are well aware that they may die in the service of the Freespace Movement. If you're not willing to do the same, you can go back to Hyg."
"That won't be necessary," Thyme put in quickly, before an upset Masan could retort. "We'll report to the head technician, as you requested, General. Come on, everyone."
"Wait," Rimune said quietly. "I would like you to stay behind for a moment." He was pointing at Masan.
The others exited the tent, leaving Masan alone with the General. Masan's hands began to wander, as if he was uncertain where to put them. He finally settled on putting them in the pockets of the silvery jumpsuit that he'd never bothered to replace. He didn't know what to say, so he simply waited uncertainly.
"What's your name?" Rimune asked abruptly.
Rimune nodded. "Ah, yes. Thyme Oregano's accomplice, if I remember my history correctly. It was said that you were a Mystic child back then."
Masan blinked, surprised. He had expected a rebuke for questioning the General's tactics. "Well... we just said that 'cuz we didn't know what I was."
Rimune raised a hairless eyebrow. "You didn't know what you were?"
Masan fidgeted. "Well... no. I couldn't remember. But... a man said I was a Finori." He looked up at the General. "Is... is that right? Is that what I am?"
Rimune leaned back in his chair. "A Finori, you say?"
"Is that right?"
"I don't know," Rimune replied. He leaned forward. "I've never heard the word before."
"You don't know?"
"Twenty years ago, as a child, I found myself in the middle of a clash between Empire and Freespace forces. I don't know how I got there, or where I was from. I've been in the Movement ever since."
Masan was stunned. "Just like me..."
"This man, the one that called you a Finori. Did he tell you anything about Finori... about us?"
"Well, he said we could use magic. He said I must have forgotten how."
"Strange." Rimune lifted a hand and a miniature cyclone appeared above his palm. "I can use magic quite well. More easily than most Mystics, in fact. Did he say anything else?"
"He said he knew me before I lost my memory. But that was 300 years ago, and he was Human. I don't know how much to believe."
"I see," Rimune considered this. "Well, thank you, Masan. You've given me much to think about. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other quite often." He stood from his chair, and reached his hand across the desk. Masan took it.
Something happened, then, that neither of them expected nor were able to explain afterwards. An electric shock seemed to course through the contact of their hands. They both experienced flashes of memory, saw faces, heard names. The sword came back to them, a fond memory of a longtime home. A green amphibian face appeared, overlayed with the face of a man with green hair. In an instant, the lost centuries of their lives returned.
"Big brother," Mune whispered, dropping back to his chair.
Masa shook his head, dazed. "It's finally back... My memory. So many years. It's like living in a glass of water and then being dumped into the ocean. I can't believe I didn't recognize Christina or Thanatos." He flexed his fingers, and they flashed with sparks of electricity. "I can even use magic again." He looked at Mune. "You've grown, little brother."
The grown man looked back at his teenage brother. "I suppose I have, Masa. But we're still brothers. After all, with your strength..."
"And your wisdom..." Masa continued, smiling.
They touched hands, and felt a familiar warmth flash through their arms... but that was all. They could no longer merge as they once had; they had grown too far apart, too different. The creature known as Masamune could never again be created. Their hands drew apart.
Mune shook his head. "Perhaps it's for the best. We've been independent for so long. We should stay that way."
"You're right," Masa replied with a smile. "As usual. Now if you'll excuse me, little brother, I must go find Thyme. I've got things to talk to him about."
Mune let him go and sighed, letting the memories flow.
He called in a soldier. "I want a ship," he said. "No more desk work for me."
He dismissed the soldier and stood to look out through the tent flap at the ruined city around him. He smiled to himself. He would become the wind.
Mystician Empire. Mysticia. Facinaturu.
Day: 22. Time: 10:54 A.M., Facinaturu Mean Time.
"New orders," Zade said, walking unannounced into Rakin's room.
Rakin was not surprised at her entrance; he could feel her presence whenever she was in the apartment, could tell where she was. He didn't bother to reprimand her for her unannounced entrance, either, as she wouldn't care. "What's up?" he asked.
"The MIA received word from a trusted source yesterday. We have a lead on Rastaban."
Rakin mentally reviewed his history lessons. "Rastaban? He was one of Asellus' supporters, right? Wasn't he executed for treason?"
"No," replied Zade briskly, but without her usual acerbity. "He disappeared. But when the Freespace Movement began a century ago, rumors began to surface that Rastaban was working for them as a smuggler. Only the MIA knows that it's more than a rumor, though we've never been able to pin down his location."
"And now someone has pinned him down for us?"
"He's supposed to deliver a package to the planet Uvidas."
"Where on the planet?"
"There's only one city, which is also called Uvidas. And we also know the building where he's supposed to make the drop. All we have to do is wait there for him."
"Four days from now, on the twenty-sixth. At noon, local time. That translates to 4:30 P.M. Mean time."
Rakin considered. "Any complications?"
"Well, Rastaban is a high level Mystic. Since you don't have any magic or a T-Blade, I'll have to deal with him. He also has two bodyguards, a Human woman and a Bug. Think you can handle them?"
"I suppose we'll see," Rakin replied, ignoring her deprecating name for Dashor Sal. "Question, though. Why us?"
Zade shrugged. "Hell if I know. Just get ready to go, alright?"
She left his room, not mentioning the truth. She knew exactly why they had been sent on this mission: it was a chance to see Ransom in action. And if she found him to be a possible danger to the Empire... she had authorization to do what was necessary.
As she walked into her own room, she punched the door, hurting her hand. She couldn't help wondering why she was suddenly so upset.
Mystician Empire. Space.
Time: 3:42 P.M.
A small child, no larger than a ten-year old, strolled the promenade of the Orphanage. It was a wide space, the size of a town square, large enough for in excess of two thousand people. Three such promenades adorned the huge space station referred to as the Orphanage... not that so much space was necessary. Worlds were not destroyed very often, and the survivors usually did not realize that Lavoids were to blame for the loss of their homes. Thus, only a few survivors of these lost worlds came to the Orphanage. Further, at least half of all Orphans were away from the Orphanage at any one time, on a mission of some sort.
So the child did not feel crowded here, as he would were he surrounded by Orphans. He often felt crowded these days. Though he appreciated the Orphans, and saw them almost as his own children, he felt ill at ease among Humans. He was different from Humans, he knew, and the more time he spent with them, the more keenly he felt that difference. There had been a time when he'd thought he might come to feel like one of them, but he now suspected that such a thing was impossible.
He came to a stop at a wide window which, in its sweeping curve, defined one wall of the promenade. He stared out into the emptiness of space, at the pinpricks of light off in the distance. He resisted the urge to place his hand against the window; space called to him, as it would call to any Lavoid that had been in one place for too long.
"This is a dark sector," a voice announced from behind the child, forcing him to hide a flinch. A reflection appeared faintly in the window, the image of a tall, gorgeous woman. "So many nebulae hide the stars."
"I assume you have something important to say, Schala," said the child, testily. "You know I prefer to remain alone during my constitutionals."
The woman did not react to the child's tone. "Of course, Vagabond. However, I thought you should know that I recently received a message from my uncle."
The child raised a red eyebrow, his strange eyes glancing upward sharply. "The Magus?" His feelings about the man were... uncertain. There was a kinship between them, but there was also a rivalry, a need to prove he was better. He only wondered if the man felt it too.
Schala nodded. "He is requesting that we send some of our own to assist him."
The child laughed. "Most of our Orphans are out on scouting missions. You know that. The ones that are still here would likely simply get in the way."
"He claims that he can handle the Lavoid alone. He simply wants some warriors with experience fighting Farilii. This Lavoid has apparently made quite an army for itself, and my uncle would prefer to reduce civilian casualties if possible."
"He's worried about another Gelidus." The child considered. "How long before he strikes?"
"Uvidas. Middle of nowhere. Mostly water."
"Perfect place for a Lavoid. Do we know its name?"
"He says that he believes it to be Shade."
The child closed his eyes. "One of my children. Can we reach it?"
"The Orphanage is not fast enough. But one ship..."
"Understood. Prepare my ship for travel."
"I do not believe that to be wise."
The boy looked up, anger in his eyes. "Two of my children are dead now, their power returned to me. I will not hold you back. Besides, I want to see it dead."
The woman was silent for a moment. "Very well. However, I have found something that I believe you should see before we leave."
Time: 4: 17 P.M.
" 'Tis much better," Rana said, examining herself in the mirror. She turned slightly, scrutinizing herself. The sleeves of her black uniform lay on the floor, baring her arms from leather glove to shoulder. Her pants remained intact, thanks to Newton's insistence, but there was no guarantee on that lasting for long. She seemed pleased enough with the cloak which finished the ensemble.
Newton shook his head. "Well... as long as you're wearing the uniform, I suppose. It's hardly regulation. Still, you also dyed your hair. That should be good enough."
Reminded of the hair dye, Rana tugged on a lock of blue hair. Only one strand had been dyed, but she had resisted the tradition, agreeing only because Newton insisted. He himself had renewed the blue dye on the tips of his spiked hair while she had hers dyed, just to show her that all Orphans did it.
"If such be the price for revenge," she said, indicating the uniform and hair, "Then so shall I pay."
Newton suppressed a shiver. Lately, she'd been speaking of revenge almost as if it were a religion. He had seen some Orphans go mad that way, and he didn't want to see it happen to her, too. When she wasn't thinking of Lavoids, he found her very pleasant to be around. Her resistance to donning a uniform at once amused Newton and attracted him. She was a very singular woman, and Newton was glad to be her friend.
A ring caught their attention. Newton pointed to Rana's intercom, and (after a bit of fumbling) she pressed the correct button. "The Vagabond would like to see you," said a voice without really waiting for her to indicate her presence, or to respond to the order.
Rana and Newton looked at eachother in surprise. "The Vagabond?" asked Rana. "Be he not the man that leads the Orphans? What doth he want with me?"
"I don't know," Newton replied, honestly. "But I'll take you to his quarters."
It was a long walk, thankfully lessened by the trams which ran throughout the Orphanage. Within fifteen minutes, they were in the center of the circular station, standing outside of the Vagabond's quarters. They were not marked very ornately; only the room number appeared on the door. However, the sheer emptiness of the surrounding halls indicated the truth. Higher ranking Orphans were housed closer to the Vagabond, but these same Orphans were almost always on a mission somewhere. Thus the Vagabond lived in eternal near-seclusion. Newton had only seen him once.
"I can wait out here," Newton said as they looked at the door. "So I can take you back after you're done."
"P'raps thou could come in with me... I could use a friend."
Newton smiled. "Of course."
Tentatively, Rana knocked. The door opened almost immediately, and the two entered. They found a woman sitting in a simple, uncomfortable-looking chair, wearing a stunning tight black dress (which looked uncomfortable as well). She had flowing, multicolored hair, and a beautiful face with cold, violet eyes. Newton recognized her as Schala, the Vagabond's second-in-command.
"I recall having sent for you," she said, pointing to Rana. "I do not recall mentioning you, Newton." Her voice was as cold as ice.
" 'Twas by my request that Newton comes before thee," Rana explained.
Schala nodded as if it made no difference to her. "The Vagabond shall be returning shortly." She gestured to two equally uncomfortable-looking chairs with the air of authority that said that they would sit. So they did.
In about five minutes, the door opened. In came a small child. His hair was a wild red mane, with a single streak of blue running back down the center from the sharp widow's peak. He wore a simple Orphan's uniform, though it had golden embroidery along the arms and down the back. His eyes were strange. Like Schala, his irises were a distinctive shade of violet. Unlike any human Newton had ever seen, the whites of his eyes were fiery red. They were the eyes of a demon.
Newton stood and bowed as soon as the child entered. Rana did so as well, though she seemed confused. Newton could not blame her; he had been surprised to find that the Vagabond was a child. Still, Rana was intelligent. She obviously did not understand, but she accepted that this child had to be the leader of the Orphans.
"Is this the girl?" the Vagabond asked.
"Yes," Schala replied. "She is the one with the sword."
"Mine blade?" Rana looked back and forth between the two. "Doth thou know of it?"
"Indeed," replied Schala. "I have tested the mettle of that blade and its wielder personally, long ago."
"It is a powerful sword," the Vagabond interrupted, as if trying to keep Schala from wasting time. "I doubt that you realize how powerful it is." He took a step closer. "It would be even more powerful in the hands of someone who knew how to use it effectively."
Rana drew herself up to her full height, so that she towered over the Vagabond. "This blade is mine. None shall part us whilst I live."
The Vagabond stared up at the tall, green-haired woman. Finally, he shrugged his small shoulders. "Very well. But we shall see if you can use it to its full potential. We leave in an hour on your first mission. I suggest you prepare."
"Might I bring Newton?"
The Vagabond glanced at Newton. "I suppose. As long as he does not slow us down."
Schala stood, followed by Newton. "In an hour, we leave for Uvidas," she stated. Her ice-cold voice held in it something else... something that made Newton shiver.
Mystician Empire. Uvidas. Uvidas.
Time: 5:00 P.M., Facinaturu Mean Time.
"Any luck hacking into the flight schedules?" asked Janus. He was idly chewing on a tatofry. A prince and a general, a paragon warrior, Janus had somehow become addicted to the taste of fried sticks cut from potatoes. He could not explain why, and actually tried to deny any such fixation when questioned. Meredith thought it was cute, and told him so quite often.
"Of course," replied Meredith, taking a sip of her tea and placing it on a saucer. "It wasn't any big challenge."
Janus didn't immediately reply, so she took the opportunity to examine the city around her. It was called Uvidas, just like the planet. After all, it was the planet's only city, an experimental colony.
Uvidas was a planet covered with water. At its most shallow, the omnipresent ocean was only a mile deep. And that was no exception, even here. The water formed a constant mile-high wall surrounding the city, held back by a forcefield. If the field were to waver even for a moment, the city would flood. If the field failed entirely, the city would quickly become an underwater ruin.
Meredith looked up at the hole in the water that opened into the sky. The sun was out of view now, but she could see its light filtered through the watery west wall of the city. It was, in a word, beautiful. She said so to Janus.
Janus grunted, dipping a tatofry in some new sauce they'd just run into on Uvidas. It was tangy, and he was attempting to compare it to ketchup, to see which he preferred. The seriousness with which he experimented with condiments never failed to bring a smile to Meredith's face. Janus rarely saw the humor.
"So," he said, "no delays? The Heart's definitely going to be here in four days?"
"Yup. The Blue Star is scheduled to make its landing right on time. All we have to do is wait, and it'll come to us."
"And then, the Lavoid." Janus showed no enthusiasm, simply determination.
Meredith nodded. "Meanwhile..."
Janus frowned. He recognized that tone of voice, and what was coming.
"Would you take me on the underwater tour?" Meredith asked, putting her pout on high-power. "There are supposed to be some really exotic fish."
Janus frowned, determined to go down fighting. "I have no desire to see any fish unless they're well-seasoned and soaked in butter."
"I did what you asked," Meredith replied sulkily. "I even hemmed your cape."
"Computers do what you ask," Janus grumbled.
"But computers don't do it as cheerfully as I do."
"My point exactly." Realizing that he had really won nothing at all, Janus nodded. "We'll go on the tour."
Meredith beamed. "I knew you'd agree, you softy."
Janus savagely bit into a fry, and inwardly lamented how far he had fallen.
Time: 5:08 P.M.
"Look there," Acid whispered.
Silence's gaze followed the Agent's finger and settled on a couple sitting at a café table. One was a pale, blue-haired Mystic man, and the other was a human woman. He looked back at Acid and shrugged.
"Go tell the Captain we've got criminals on hand," Acid rasped. His T-Blade began to glow, though he didn't seem to notice. "We need to make sure they don't escape."
Silence glanced at the couple again, and raised an eyebrow.
Acid growled. "Those two destroyed my planet."
"When the timestreams are in flux, lifelines tend to converge at a single
point in time and space. To simplify, coincidence is often far more important
than it would seem. To simplify further, stop thinking you know what the
hell is going on."
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