Docking bay 25 – Hiram’s Anchorage, Prism System.
Baiju looked utterly bemused. To be fair, it’s not a look that you often see from my young first officer. He was standing next to the port nacelle of the Imperial Clipper, The Daedalion Falcon, gently stroking the immaculate white paint work. “Sir… er?” was all he could manage to say, his mouth almost agape.
“Long story Baiju. Come on, let’s get everything loaded.” I grabbed one of the equipment bags by Baiju’s feet and threw it over my shoulder. “Did you get hold of Commander Washburne?” I asked as we made our way up the loading ramp into the rear living quarters of the Falcon.
“Sir, message sent. No reply from commander Mal yet sir.” Baiju’s head was moving about in all directions, his eyes soaking up every last detail. He was clearly impressed. Hell, I was impressed! Texas, although much larger than our new clipper, is a far more function vessel. Decoration and trimmings are at a minimum. Bare steel and duranium dominate, save for the odd creature comfort.
If Texas was a late 20th century aircraft carrier, then the Daedalion Falcon was a Maserati. Carbon fiber and Alcantara trim. Polished duranium. Sleek flowing lines with function as well as form. A testament to the engineers at Gutamaya and a reflection of the lavish and flamboyant design influences of the Empire. It was stunning ship.
“I take it you approve?” I laughed as he wondered around touching and feeling everything in sight. He turned and grinned at me before heading up to the bridge. He was like a 5 year old on Christmas morning, giddy with excitement. “Get her ready for flight Baiju, I want us off the pad in 30 minutes” I called up toward the bridge. “Oookay sir!” came the enthusiastic reply.
Exactly 28 minutes later we lifted off the pad and slipped through the letter box of Hiram’s Anchorage into the inky black unforgiving void. “All systems nominal sir” Baiju said, still grinning like an idiot.
“OK, set course for Laiawa and spool up the drive as soon as we’re clear of the no fire zone. You have the bridge number one, I’ll be in my, er.. new cabin.” I said floating out of the bridge toward the living accommodation area.
I had filled Baiju in on the details of my encounter with the mysterious, and rather alluring Lorentia, while we were prepping for departure. The only thing that seemed to confuse him was what he was supposed to call me now? I replied, that ‘sir’ was fine and that he wasn’t to refer to me as ‘Baron Torkalar’ under any circumstances, unless otherwise instructed. I still didn’t completely trust this Lorentia. But I did like my new ship!
We arrived in Laiawa on schedule and I was just about to return to the bridge when Baiju called me on the ships coms system. “Sir, incoming message from commander Plate sir”. I reached over and pressed the coms button on the communication panel at the side of my bunk “I’ll be there in 2 minutes Baiju” I replied, unbuckling the straps that keep you securely in place while in zero G environments.
Back on the bridge I could see we were in a high orbit around the main star and that we had company. It was Celestia, commander Plate’s Clipper. He sure didn’t waste any time getting here! I climbed into the command chair and put on my Remlock helmet before opening a coms link to the Celestia.
“Good to see you commander” Came the familiar voice of Plate over the coms. A rising star in Na’ama Wing, commander Plate is our man in, and expert on, the Empire. He has many connections and I hoped he might be able to shed some light on this mysterious Lorentia
“Likewise Commander Plate.”
“Although I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure it was you until I spoke to your Mr Baiju there. So, I take it there’s an awfully good story behind this sudden turn to the dark side?”. Commander Plate chortled, obviously amused.
“Go to secure channel alpha 1” I replied.
“Roger that…” there as a brief silence before communications were restored. “So, what’s all this about commander?” he asked. I explained the whole thing, from beginning to end as our ships silently drifted around the burning ball of super-heated plasma for the next 30 minutes. Plate listened quietly.
“Wow, you’re not lying either.” he finally said after I’d finished. “A quick check of the low level Imperial Security database and sure enough, you’re listed as ‘Baron Darius Torkalar’ Very difficult to fake that. Interestingly though, I can’t find anything on a ‘Lorentia’. Does she have a surname? Or a title?”
“None that she told me. Just Lorentia.” I said, shaking my head. “Strange. Try looking under Senator Kahina Loren?”
“You think she works for Senator Loren?”
“Maybe. I saw the Senatorial seal of the House of Loren in her office.” Laiawa ‘A’ reflected off the brilliant white nose of the Falcon, bathing the bridge in soft warm light as we continued our celestial ballet.
The Celestia orbiting Laiawa A
“Nope. Nothing. Your ship is registered in the Prism system though. Imperial Clipper, RFID number EB-P 12613 – The Daedalion Falcon. Good name! It’s legit Darius. The ship I mean. I’ll check in with some other sources I have and see if I can’t find out anything about this Lorentia.” Well, at least I wasn’t going to be pulled up for flying a stolen ship!
“Thanks Plate. Any news from Mal?” I asked while gesturing at Baiju to get me a bag of tea.
“Haven’t heard from Mal in about a week. Hey, so is it true? Pepper is Elite?”
“That doesn’t surprise me, he’s probably lying on the floor of a bar somewhere, drooling and trying to remember his name. And yes, it looks that way. I’m still not convinced about this whole plan of Lorentia’s to lure Lefors out though.”
I stared blankly out the main cockpit window, watching the light from the star dance across the elegant lines of the Celestia as a hot bag of Ethgreze tea floated past. “Oh, thanks Baiju!”
“Well, there has been a hell of a lot of Federation activity in this system for the past few days” said Plate “I’ve seen convoys carrying all kinds of things. Seriously well defended convoys too.”
“What kind of things?” I asked, navigating the straw in my bag of tea toward my mouth.
“The usual. Weapons. Precious metals. I did come across something a little out of the ordinary though, just 2 days ago. A Type 9, flanked by 3 Anacondas, 4 Vultures and a pair of Drop Ships. Didn’t think much of it at first. Till I scanned it’s hold. Hafnium 178. One can of it.”
“That’s a lot of firepower to protect a single can of hafnium!” I thought out loud.
“It sure is. Ok, so what’s the plan then Darius?”
“I’m not convinced that we are going to be able to convince Lefors that we have one of these things by making a covert recording of one in the cargo bay of a Federal Type 9.”
“Agreed” replied Plate.
“No… there’s more to this than Lorentia is letting on. I think what we need to do is try and figure out where Viscount Alcart got his hands on one then see if we can’t get do the same.”
“So we’re not going to be holding up any Federal convoys then, or dropping in and saying ‘hey guys, don’t mind us while we record the unknown artifact in your hold’!” Plate sounded relieved.
“Too risky. Though I’m sure Mal would happily have a crack. No, we have to figure out where the Feds are getting these things from. I thought it might be somewhere out near the California Nebula, but I checked and nothing unusual came up. The report that Lefors, who I thought at the time was Pepper, gave me is true though. That Type 7 was carrying one and it did come from the direction of the California nebula.” My head began to ache again thinking about all this.
“You know the Feds are not the only ones carrying these things Darius? They’ve been showing up in Imperial convoys as well.”
“You don’t say?” A thought suddenly hit me. “Hmmm. Do you remember back at the pilots academy, during history class with er, what was that professors name?”
“Professor Carrington” Plate laughed. “That bitch hated me so bad!”
“Yeah, she hated everybody. But she really new her stuff. I don’t know if you remember during her lectures on Galcop and the Thargoid wars, she was always going on about a conspiracy between the Federation, Galcop and the Empire?” I typed away at my keyboard, searching for any information on joint Federation and Imperial initiatives or missions.
“She had lots of wacky theories Darius, but yeah, I remember that one. Something about them all working together to hide something from humanity or some such nonsense. Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.”
My screen went blank for a few seconds while the computer searched. About half a dozen results came back. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. Galcop. The Thargoid wars. The AI threat. The last one caught my attention though.
Destination Zulu – possible location of the Formidine Rift?
It was titled ‘The Formidine Rift’ and was accompanied by a photo of a petite woman in old fashioned traders overalls. I swiped left while holding open the coms button, sharing the file with Plate “Here, what do you make of this?”
“The Formidine Rift?” Plate read from the report “Federal status: Classified. Imperial Status: Classified. Glacop status: Unknown. Location: Unknown. That really doesn’t tell us much Darius.” sighed Plate.
“No, but do you remember Professor Carrington mentioning a ‘treacherous expanse of uncharted stars’ she referred to as ‘The Formidine Rift’ that ‘lead to horrors the likes of which you cannot imagine’?”
“Your memory is better than mine Darius.”
“What else do you notice Plate? Look at the photo!”
There was silence for about 5 seconds. “No way! It can’t be!” he gasped. “She must be in her early thirties there.”
“Perhaps she wasn’t so crazy after all.” I pulled up my nav screen and typed in a new search. NGC 2467. “Here you go” I swiped the screen over to Plate.
“The skull and crossbones nebula? What’s this?” he asked after a brief moment.
“That, my friend, is the entrance to the Formidine Rift!” Baiju drifted over head, gracefully catching my empty bag of tea before pushing off against the ceiling and back toward the rear of the bridge.
“What makes you think that?”
“Because she was always going on about it. A vast uncharted region connecting the Orion Spur to the Perseus Arm at it furthest end. The crossing point, she said, lay just south of the Skull and Cross Bones nebula!”
“Look, she may not be as crazy as we once thought, but I’m beginning to have my doubts about you commander!” Plate laughed.
“Fair enough. But I’m telling you, there is a connection between these things and that rift” I said, slightly unsure of myself. “I’m going to check it out. But I’m going to need Texas. That old girl can jump over 40 light years which is 15 more than this, as pretty as she is.” Baiju looked at me worried from the co-pilots seat.
“You really think that the Feds and the Empire and carting these unknown artifacts all the way from the Skull and Cross Bones Nebula?” The sound of Plate’s laughter really quite loud in my headset.
“No, I think they are finding their own way here. But I think they originate there, yes.”
“Washburne said you were crazy.” There was a pause. “Ok commander. I shall continue to follow up any leads on the possible whereabouts of Pepper and uncover what I can about ‘Lorentia'” he said finally.
“Thank you commander. Oh, and see if you can get hold of Mal… we’ve been trying all morning.”
“Will do. Fly safe commander. Plate out.” The huge Gutamaya engines roared into life as the Celestia lurched forward, her engines glowing brighter as the distance between her and the Falcon increased, before she disappeared in a flash of brilliant white light into super cruise. I starred ahead blankly for a while, thinking about everything.
“Sir!” bellowed Baiju, destroying the tranquil quiet “Contact, 5.7 km of the port stern”
“Roger that Baiju!” I quickly throttled up the Falcon, spinning her through 180 degrees using a combination of forward thrust from the huge main engines, and the ventral direction thrusters.
The target panel showed a single, un-resolved contact, moving at high speed away from us. “Whoever they are, they know we’re on to them. All power to engines” I shouted as the G forces pinned us into our seats, the Falcon surging forward.
“Target 3 km sir… high energy frame shift wake!” shouted Bauji over the deafening roar of the engines.
“Looks like we just missed them. Damn… we don’t have a frame shift wake scanner. OK. Somebody is following us. Plot us an indirect route back to Alioth Baiju. Take us through as many uninhabited systems as you can. Spool when ready.”
“Ooookay sir” replied my first officer, typing away at his navigation panel. “Course laid in sir.”
“Ok Baiju. Engage!”
Heading back to Alioth.