Ghosts of the Federation

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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby SmoothPapaJ » Fri May 01, 2015 2:34 am

Within an hour, they’d stripped the Cormorant of useful materials, coming away with quite a haul. At a glance of the inventory Kat and 78 had prepared, Brant thought they’d be able to boost their reactor by at least 30%, with weapons and plating enough to make the Kestrel a nasty little piece of work.

She wasn’t quite as sure how to feel about the other cargo they’d picked up.

She sat in her private quarters, sipping from a steaming polysteel mug of stimulant, watching a live video feed of the medbay. Their new guest was pacing back and forth in there. Kat had found him in a light stasis, a common practice for lifeforms intended for slave trade, and on Brant’s orders, he’d been brought aboard and placed in the medbay to ease back into consciousness. He was young, tall, and lanky, with a ruddy complexion and short, curly black hair. He’d grown scruffy in captivity but he seemed otherwise healthy, probably to keep up his sale value. Brant wondered what she’d think of his appearance if she’d seen any other human males in the last few weeks, but in present circumstances, he was very easy to look at.

Brant didn’t like it.

It had taken about an hour before he’d gotten up and begun cautiously examining his surroundings. He found the doors were locked shut when he tried them, and once or twice he called out to ask where he was, and to ask whether or not he was a prisoner. And that, thought Brant, was a good question. She sighed and pressed a button on her chair, opening an audio link to 78.

“Head on in,” Brant said. “Play it like we talked about.”

On the screen, she saw the door to the medbay open, letting in a dim green glow. 78 walked in with Ahab. 78 carried a tray of food, and Ahab strode with his hands clasped confidently behind his back. The man stopped pacing, standing cautiously still as he eyed the two newcomers.

“Salutations, friend!” said Ahab with a slight bow. “My name is Ahabzara, and this is my associate, Commander HR-XPC-78. Allow me first to apologize for the abominable accommodations you’ve had to abide so far, but you understand that certain security protocols are of course…”

“Are you pirates?” the man interrupted. “Because we can skip the whole ‘genteel Zoltan pirate’ shtick. I’ve heard it before, and I’d appreciate if you just skip to whatever you’re going to do to me.”

“What is…shtick?” Ahab looked back at 78 in confusion. “What is shtick?”

“Particular routine or gimmick in terms of performance, as associated with…” 78 began.

“Where am I?” the man demanded.

Brant leaned closer to the screen, watching his face. “Tell him,” she said. “He’ll figure it out eventually.”

“Aboard Federation vessel, Kestrel-1,” 78 said. “You were recovered from captivity and apparent slavery aboard Cormorant-class vessel under rogue Federation captain HT-XKP-145, now terminated.”

Brant stared at the screen, searching his face for any sign of a reaction to that news, anything that might tip her off to this new guy’s actual allegiance. His eyes widened a little, but that was hardly telling. Was he relieved to be free? Surprised they’d overcome such a vicious pirate?

Or was he a Rebel, realizing he had a unique position to undermine the enemy?

“Am I a prisoner?” the man asked.

“No. Please, sit. Eat,” 78 said, sitting down at a cramped table and setting the food tray down at the chair opposite him. Ahab walked up and sat beside 78. “Cannot give run of the ship yet, not without proper introduction.” 78 gestured at the tray, his face screen pulsing a cool blue.

The man walked forward warily and sat. He stared at the tray a moment, which had a generous slopping of spicy stew and a hunk of bread. After only a bit of hesitation, he dug in and ate ravenously. If he was concerned about poison or drugs in the food, hunger concerned him more.

“This isn’t bad,” the man said in between bites. “You have humans on board? I don’t imagine a synthetic and an ethereal would know much about decent human food.”

78’s face blinked orange, and he whirred in irritation. “Organics always think everything about organic experience is so special and unique,” 78 scoffed. “Food not hard to understand. Keep materials in storage, download preparation routines from public database, follow instructions. Like everything else organic: predictable, simple.”

The man glared at 78 with…annoyance? Brant stared closer, scrutinizing. “Poke him further,” she whispered.

“Now, commander, there is no cause for rudeness. He is our guest, after all,” Ahab chided gently. He turned back to the man and leaned in, smiling proudly. “Myself, I am quite fascinated by your digestive process. So much time and resources to produce a few centigrams of vegetable matter and protein and to prepare it to satisfy your fickle senses, and in hardly any time at all, your body will render the fruits of all this labor into mere excrement. Surely, it is a metaphor for us all.”

The man stopped eating, looking quizzically up at the two of them. “So do you have any humans on board? No offense, but…”

“We were selected for this interview because we are considered the two most genial members of the crew,” Ahab said. “We thought that, after being held captive by hostile aliens, it might be nice to see friendly faces. And we are rather friendly faces indeed, are we not?”

Ahab opened his toothless mouth into a broad, beaming rictus, his pupil-less eyes fixed on the stranger. 78’s face screen strobed green and blue, and he beeped a few times. The man looked at these friendly faces with growing unease.

“Now. Inform about yourself,” 78 said.

The man stared back at them for a second, then sighed and shrugged. “Name’s Karl. Karl Vossler. I…worked the engines on a trader. The Mackerel…no, no, it was the…” He paused, looking concerned. “The Dolphin. I think. I’m sorry, everything’s very fuzzy.”

“Amnesia common side effect of extended time in stasis. Temporary,” 78 said.

“And a fracking convenient excuse,” Brant muttered to herself. “Enough. 8, report to my quarters.”

“Apologies. Needed elsewhere. Glad we produced acceptable facsimile of human nourishment, Karl Vossler.” 78 took the food tray, which Vossler had still been working on, and walked to the medbay door. “Sending in next most genial crew member to continue introductions.” The door opened, and 78 walked.

Katarek walked in, carrying a large bottle of bright orange hot sauce. Karl started a little, but he kept himself composed as the mantis strode in

“Ah – it is awake. Excellent,” Kat said as she scuttled up to the table. “Hello, soft meat thing. I am Katarek, of the mantis race, and this is a bottle of Admiral Scorcho sauce. It tastes very good with soft meat things.”

“Tut, tut, Katarek. You mean ‘to.’ It tastes very good to soft meat things, and that is not a polite term either.”

“Ah – silly me. Prepositions are such slippery things.” Kat slid the hot sauce over to Karl. “A gift. Quite delectable.”

Karl didn’t take his eyes off Katarek.

“Now, Karl, we have some simple questions developed to gauge your personality,” Kat continued. “How would you describe your flavor profile, Karl-thing? Gamey, rich, sweet – what are we getting here?”

The door to Brant’s quarters chimed, and she lowered the volume on the video screen. “Come in,” she called.

78 entered, stopping just inside at attention.

Brant waved at the seat next to her. Her quarters were sparse, little more than a bed, some storage units, and a table with chairs by a wall-mounted vidscreen. She kept the place tidy, not that she had much stuff with which to make it untidy. 78 took the offered seat, and the two looked at each silently. She wasn’t sure if there was really tension between them, or if it was just her imagination.

“So what’s your read of him?” she asked, ignoring the feeling.

“Uncertain. Does not seem easily perturbed, but that attitude consistent with sailors in general, not military or rebellion. No strong sentiments against nonhuman lifeforms noticeable. Seemed eager to speak with a human, but that not itself unusual.”

“No, it’s not,” Brant said, looking back up at the screen. “My first impulse when I saw Kat’s feed of him chained up in their brig was to unchain him, bring him back to my quarters, and screw till I passed out.” She shook her head. “Sorry. A human term, referring to the act of sexual…”

“Familiar with concept and slang terminology. Give some credit, captain,” 78 said. “Dare I ask second impulse?”

“Same as the first, only leaving the chains on. It was…scary, the way those impulses just came. I’ve never been like that. It’s like I’m in starvation mode for human contact, and my body’s telling me I’ve got to connect with this guy since it’s been so long since I’ve even seen any others.” She sighed. “It passed, but still. I’m too eager to trust him, and he might be a live grenade. I shouldn’t be the one screening him.”

“Understandable. Though should note, in likely case this is simply unfortunate sailor, this likely somewhat traumatic experience.”

“Considering the Cormorant was a Rebel ship originally, the odds that he’s a Rebel aren’t that long. In the likely case that he’s an unfortunate Rebel, we have to know.”

“Agreed. Not questioning,” 78 said. “If he is Rebel, though, what do we do?”

Brant looked at Karl. “What would you do, commander?”

“Know what Andrews would do, at least: put him in brig, try to coax information out of him, use winning personality to turn him to Federation cause, set him loose in escape pod for Rebel fleet to pick up if unsuccessful,” 78 said. “Ethical and straightforward with room for great gains.”

“And that’s what you would do, too?”

78 crackled in disappointment. “I would take useful materials off him and throw him out airlock. Low risk. Some satisfaction.”

“Jesus, 8…”

“You would do different?”

Brant looked at 8. Why did he seem so relaxed with this conversation? After what she’d pulled earlier with the pirates, she’d been expecting disapproval at best, mutiny at worst.

“I don’t know. Having a Rebel on board under any kind of guard would be an unacceptable risk. It’s just…that’s not how he taught us, 8.”

“No?” 78 asked. “Damion Andrews, true exemplar of Federation values, yes. Outstanding officer, patient and wise teacher. Fought bravely, and with honor, and with spirit. Then died.” 78’s screen blinked with static, and his voice warbled slightly. “In death, he taught final lesson. Bravery, honor, spirit – useful. Necessary. But these times chew up, swallow the brave, honorable, spirited. Ruthless pragmatism is primary morality in times like these. Only just realizing that, myself. You, I think, already have learned.”

Brant could not disagree with a single word of this. Hearing it so plainly spoken still nearly brought her tears of shame and disgust.

“8, I want you to tell me plainly what you think of how I handled the pirates.”

“Bold. Distract enemy with surprising offer, convince him into thinking you possess almost heroic degree of mercy and forgiveness, that you will consider him comrade, then send in brutal border in close proximity when he least suspects it,” 78 said, not quite admiring but respectful. “Though, could also interpret situation to say you reinstated rogue captain into Federation, and so your actions constitute murder of fellow officer.”

“I think that’s how Toh sees it.”

“The ensign is entitled to his opinion. Allow me to express mine: Andrews is dead. Federation has faltered. Friends, mentors, leaders, hivemates, ideals – all have failed me.” 78 reached over gently and laid his claw on her forearm, squeezing slightly. He looked at her with unusual intensity. “All except for you, Charlotte. You, all I have left. Loyalty to you: unconditional. And do not misunderstand. Do not misinterpret as hyperbole. Unconditional. Will follow you, whichever path you walk, however dark. My opinion of how you handled Captain 145 is that you were devious and brutal. Had another acted so, would have found actions morally appalling. That you acted so instead indicates transition to new moral parameters.”

Brant put her hand on his claw and squeezed back. “That’s…terrifying, 8. You can’t act like that. If I step over the line…”

“If stepping over the line necessary to save Federation in last desperate hour, irresponsible to let personal conscience obstruct action. Will not stand in your way. Will not let you carry moral burden alone, either.” 78 whirred. “Apologies. Should not have interrupted.”

Brant laughed out loud. “You’ll walk hand in hand with me to damnation, but you still feel bad for interrupting?”

“Still such a thing as manners,” 78 insisted.

Smiling, Brant nodded. “Yeah. And I guess it’s time I meet our guest.”

A few minutes later, the medbay door slid open, and Brant and 78 strode in. Only Ahab noticed immediately. Kat and Karl were in spirited conversation.

“I’m sorry – I just didn’t like it,” Karl said, his arms crossed.

“Didn’t like it! ‘Deathsong of Chaka-Harakat’ was the definitive gladiator drama! The genre wouldn’t exist without it!” Kat cried back.

“I get that! But so many vids built on the concept so much that ‘Deathsong’ is just basic now. I’m glad it exists. I just don’t like watching it.”

Kat shoved her face within inches of Karl’s and screeched. Karl’s eyes went wide and he shrank back slightly, but he didn’t soil himself or tumble out of his chair; Kat would regard it as a respectable response to the challenge. Brant certainly did.

“Is that any way to treat our guest, Katarek?” Brant asked.

“Captain!” Ahab said, standing and bowing as he noticed her.

Kat and Karl looked up. The man met Brant’s eye for the first time, and his expression brightened. Brant hoped hers didn’t do the same.

“Captain, this one is promising. He shows reasonably good taste in media, albeit with some very serious lapses. ‘Deathsong’ is too flat basic, he says – pah!” Kat hissed.

“Thank you for that assessment, Katarek. You two are dismissed.”

Kat tapped her head in respect, Ahab bowed again, and the two left the medbay. Brant and 78 approached the table and sat. Brant took a calming breath, lightly clasped her hands in front of her, and held Karl’s gaze.

“I’m Captain Charlotte Brant of the Federation.”

The man held out his hand. “Karl Vossler, ma’am. Pleased to make your…”

Brant ignored his hand and kept going, keeping her tone flat. “I know. We’ve been monitoring your reactions to other crew, who were under instruction to act abrasive or unusual. Specifically, we were looking for signs of extreme pro-human or anti-xeno sentiment. Do I need to clarify why?”

“Uh…no, ma’am. I know the troubles you folks are having with the Rebels. I…well, did I pass?” He looked very nervous suddenly, but again, Brant couldn’t glean anything from that reaction. Of course he was nervous. She’d just suggested he could be an enemy.

“Yes. I apologize for all this pantomime, and I’m going to be straightforward with you now. If you are a Rebel, now’s the time to come clean. We couldn’t detect any strong antipathy for the other races, and we figure even a hardcore revolutionary would be inclined to show some gratitude to the folks who saved him from slavers. Whatever your past allegiance, you would be welcome to join the crew until we reach a suitable port to drop you off. Mr. 78 here moonlights in the engine room, but we have need of a dedicated engineer. So: are you a Rebel, Karl?”

“Really? That would be great! It’d be my pleasure to…”

“Answer question,” 78 said.

Karl swallowed a little. “I’m no Rebel, ma’am. I’ve just had some bad luck.”

She stared him down. Her gut was telling her this guy was on the up-and-up, but her gut was trained by millions of years of evolution to seek community and build relationships among others like her. This could jeopardize the whole mission. But, so could flying without a full crew

She put out her hand. Karl looked cautiously, then took her hand and shook firmly.

Brant smiled. “Welcome aboard the Kestrel, Mr. Vossler.”
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby stylesrj » Fri May 01, 2015 5:38 am

Yay! Another exciting chapter!

I envoy your character development, although in the future, before anything highly intimate starts between Brant and 78, please have a gunfight or a space battle interrupt them. :lol:
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby DarkPhoenix141 » Sat May 02, 2015 7:59 am

stylesrj wrote:I envoy your character development, although in the future, before anything highly intimate starts between Brant and 78, please have a gunfight or a space battle interrupt them. :lol:

Ignore this man, this is the closest thing to R34 I'll ever get.
This is no easy mission...


And remember:

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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby FSS-killemdead » Mon May 04, 2015 12:45 am

YES! finally another chapter. keep it up please! :D
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby SmoothPapaJ » Sun Jul 12, 2015 10:13 pm

Once, Brant might have thought it strange how quickly Karl took to his new lodgings, and how little he seemed to dwell on the ship he had allegedly been kidnapped from. Surely, she might once have thought, a man would want to know what had become of his former comrades and try to rejoin them, or at least get word to them. But that, she now knew, was not how the universe operated. Andrews had once told her about an aquatic animal on Earth called a shark, which had to always keep swimming to keep oxygenated water moving into its gills; if it ever stopped, it would suffocate. Spacefarers were all sharks, he’d said – always moving forward, no matter what happened, or else falling down dead. Certainly that comparison applied to Brant and her crew, if no one else.

He’d been aboard for a few days, working the engines through one uneventful jump and one encounter with a woefully outgunned AI scout. He hadn’t tried to steer the ship into a star on either occasion, and that was about all she could glean from recent events about how much she could really trust him, whether in skill or loyalty. Time would tell, she supposed.

She knocked on the door to his quarters. By the time he called “Come in,” she'd already opened the hatch and started striding in, hoping just a little bit that she'd see him talking to a hologram of a Rebel spymaster. Then at least she'd know where she stood with this guy. No such luck, though.

"Ah, captain!" Karl said quickly. He was sitting at a small table, a small box of booklets and magazines in front of him. He quickly rose and put his arms at his sides, looking a bit flustered.

"At ease," Brant said. She eyed the box, then looked back at Karl. "Have your quarters been comfortable?"

"Quite, captain. I was just looking through a box of, uh…I guess, thank you for the, uh…I mean, was this from you?"

"The box? No, everything in here belonged to the late Ensign Harlan Mickelson. I never discussed literature with him while he was with us – did he have good taste?"

"I won't speak ill of the dead, Captain Brant, much less one of your comrades. But…" Karl eyed the box again sheepishly. "Ensign Mickelson owned an alarming amount of pornography."

Ah. And here I thought he had some kind of hobby. "Yes, but did he have good taste in it?"

"Uh…I haven't fully inventoried his collection, ma'am."

"Well, make a note of your progress. We'll be leaving jump state in just under half an hour. You should report to your station. I just wanted to check on you and see how your introduction to the crew was going."

"Going well, thank you. I'm not sure whether the mantis girl wants to kill me or be best friends, but I reckon that's the way of it with mantis in general." He eyed her, thinking.

"Deciding whether to add 'women in general'? For the record, I don't want to kill you or be best friends."

"Thanks for the clarification, captain. All the same – thanks for letting me serve with you. I don't like to think about what the rest of my life would have been like if you hadn't come along."

"Probably much longer than it will be with us. Things are going to get pretty dicey as soon as we reach Rebel space, so you want to think long and hard about how far you want to extend this gratitude. You're free to go at the next port of call."

"Thank you, captain. If it's all the same to you, I think I'd like to stay. I want to tell you it has to do with my deep moral character, but really I just don't have anywhere better to be." He chuckled at this and she smirked. Smirked, and made a mental note that he was determined to stay aboard the Kestrel, just as a Rebel operative in his situation would be.

Brant got up and saw herself out. On her way to the bridge, she brought up a hologram of the ship's power allocations, double-checking one last time. The display shot out from the control unit on her wrist, and she liked what she saw. Damn, but the Kestrel was looking good.

Brant couldn’t remember the last time she’d really thought they had a chance at pulling this mission off, but as she sat in her chair on the bridge studying the readouts, things were looking up. Engines were running optimally, shields were dense and fully-powered, weapons were well-stocked, and every post was manned. They couldn’t face down a top-of-the-line battleship, but they could at least hold out long enough to run from one.

She nodded in satisfaction and flipped the display off. They would be transitioning out of jump state in a few minutes, and Brant gave them an 85% chance – hell, 90%! – of survival against whatever was waiting for them. It felt nice to have so much confidence.

“I know it’s my turn for prayer, ensign, but you go ahead if you like. The Shaper and Preserver did right by us last time,” Brant said to the hulking pilot sitting in front of her.

Toh didn’t respond. He checked some of his instruments, but he didn’t look back at her or say anything.

“Ensign Toh, did you hear me?”

“Yes, captain. I heard you,” Toh said flatly.

Brant nodded. She’d been expecting some sort of confrontation, but the ensign had pointedly avoided her during their hours jumping away from the Cormorant. She decided it was best to give him space since he hadn’t outright challenged her or anything, but now, heading into possible danger with a crew member who might question her command, she wasn’t so sure about that decision.

“Whatever you’ve got to say, Toh, now’s the time. Speak freely”

Toh didn’t react immediately, and Brant worried that he’d just ignore her. Then he slowly rose from his chair and turned to her, hands at his side.

“What you did with 145 was disgusting, captain. Shaper knows I’ve got no love for pirates or traitors, but you pardoned and reinstated him. By your own authority, you killed him for no reason.”

Yes, that’s what she’d figured was up. “I offered him a pardon and reinstatement, Toh. He didn’t accept.”

Toh groaned. He didn’t raise his voice or change his tone noticeably, but Brant knew enough about his people to know a level tone was not a sign of level emotion. “Captain, you known how you phrased it, and what you meant him to think. If I wanted to play tricks with words instead of just getting straight, honest talk, I’d have gone to work for the slugs.”

“I had to preoccupy an enemy to buy Kat an edge on a blind boarding action. I’ll always talk straight with you, Toh, and here’s some straight talk: if I have to break a rule or two to save my ship and my crew, I’m going to do it every single time. A traitor is dead and our ship is in better shape than ever, and I won’t apologize for that.”

“To strengthen the body at the cost of the spirit is to weaken the whole, captain.” That sounded like a quote, probably from the Preserver’s Covenant or some other scripture. “You killed a Federation officer who had been pardoned of all his crimes. I’m not an idiot and I realize the stakes, captain, but when this is all over, I have to report your actions to the admiralty.”

Brant bit her tongue hard and felt every muscle in her face stiffen with the effort to avoid laughing out loud, loud and rich and insanely. They were probably going to die before the mission was out, but if did they succeed and the intel they carried really did save the Federation, then High Command wouldn’t give a damn what she’d done. She could have been shoveling little Zoltan babies into the reactor for the past month just to boost their power output a smidge, and she’d still get every medal they had plus a few extra they made up just for her. Some of the Rebels' complaints about the Federation's morals were well-founded.

“When this is all over, ensign, I will submit to any investigation that High Command wishes to open. Until then, do we have a problem?”

“If you will agree to one condition, yeah.”

Brant exhaled – she didn’t even realize she’d been holding her breath until that breath came out in ragged frustration, almost a growl. Would just a plain old “yes” have been so hard?

“And that would be?”

“Your carpenter-god. You ought to pray to him more. It’s…lonely out here. It’s easy to get confused and untethered, and I don’t want you losing your way. This ain’t even a condition, really – yeah, I’ll follow orders, watch your back and all. It’s my ass too if we don’t make it. But…just once a day, at least. I want you to say you’ll talk to your god a little.”

Brant couldn't think of what to say for a moment. Besides the rocks and the humans, no spacefarers had held on to their religious roots; she did not have as long a history with the ensign as she did with 78, and she did not have quite the warriors' rapport with him that she did with Katarek, but he was the only person on the crew that she could talk about God with.

"I will make an effort, Toh," she said.

"Thank you, captain," he said. He eased back into his seat. "Exiting jump state in two minutes."

"Exiting jump state in two minutes," Brant said over the crew com frequency. "Weapons and shields, stand by."

The usual wave of vertigo flooded over her as the ship breached into physical reality again, and she had to admit to having an trigger finger. She pictured some simpering, baby-faced Rebel captain seeing them materialize at the jump beacon, recognizing her ship as a Kestrel and assuming they'd be easy prey, thinking all like "What a lucky dude I am, finding some crappy Federation craft out here that I can take without any effort at all, this'll be SOOOO fun. Oh, whoops! They're actually really well-armed! The Kestrel is blowing us up really easily! Oh, no, I'm bleeding out right on my nice Rebel bridge! That Kestrel must have one tough, sexy bitch at the helm, but I guess I'll never know because now I'm dead, bye!"

"No sign of active craft, captain," Toh said.

"Dang it. We get her all dressed up, and now no one'll dance with her," Brant said, studying the readouts herself. They were at the very edge of the nebula now, with the next jump set to finally take them out of the Cloud, but even with the nebula's interference it was obvious that no ships in the Kestrel's class were in the area, at least none that were operational. A few small derelicts were floating around the jump beacon, giving off no energy signatures at all…

Wait a second. "I'm picking something up. Very faint, but one of those wrecks has power. 78, look over the readings and see if you can…"

Gunfire resounded through the corridor.

Oh, frack.

"All hands, ready close quarters weaponry! Enemy troops have beamed aboard!"

She shot out of her chair, brandishing her sidearm in one hand and flourishing her power baton in the other, extending and igniting it. She faced the door to the bridge and listened over the com channel in her ear, but heard only static.

"I'm afraid they can't hear you," said a female voice, calm and thick with the accent of an inner sector city. "We've jammed all channels. This vessel is now under the command of the Rebel fleet. You are ordered to throw down your arms and stand down. Your mantis is badly wounded and needs medical attention, so I suggest you obey."

As much as they'd built up the ship and as much experience as they had at their posts, Brant suddenly felt naked. All the scrap and all the high-end weapon systems in the world amounted to nothing in a close-quarters scrap, and she did not believe the Rebel was bluffing about Kat. She couldn't communicate with her crew, and her best combatant was down. Kat might have taken a few down with her, but the fact that they'd taken her down at all meant these folks knew their business.

Even without com channels, the Kestrel had a standard procedure for these situations. Ahab and 78, who were generally not as capable in a fight, would dig into defensive positions in the medbay. Toh and Brant would engage with the enemy while Kat flanked them. Kat was really the killer there, striking with a ferocity that tended to break most opponents.

And there was also Karl, now. And like that, Brant started wondering if it was really a coincidence that a Rebel commando team had ambushed them so soon after they'd picked him up…

Brant brought up her holographic display of the ship. Karl was in engineering for the moment, no doubt getting ready to join the battle. But on whose side? Brant sighed. This could be the decision that killed them all, but that made it no different from most of her decisions as captain.

She flicked some switches on the display and ordered the doors to engineering shut and locked.

"Toh, you're with me!" Brant barked. "We've got to meet up with the others before they take us all down one by one."

The pilot was already lurching toward her. He had a pistol out, and considering the sheer mass his body had, he didn't need much more in the way of melee weapons. "Lead on."
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby SmoothPapaJ » Mon Jul 20, 2015 1:21 pm

Toh and Brant stalked out of the bridge together, weapons trained ahead of them. The corridors of the Kestrel offered almost no cover, so Brant crept behind Toh as he huffed along at a ponderous gait. The ensign was far from indestructible, but he could take a good bit more punishment than a human.

There was still nothing but static coming over the com link. 78 was probably working on that at the moment, as he'd reached the medbay and hadn't been murdered yet; if he got through, she was sure she'd hear from him. Still, at least the enemy was listening.

"You don't actually expect us to surrender, do you?" Brant said into her link.

"I figure I gotta' at least try," said the same Rebel she'd spoken to before. "Federation crew, hear this: the captain's got two minutes to come downa' the shields room and give up the ship's control codes, or we kill the mantis before goin' room by room and killin' every single one of ya'." Her voice lilted with that same obnoxious, sing-songy street accent, making the mockery somehow sting that much worse. "You lot've got some reputation, I'll give ya' that, but we've been gettin' ready for just this occasion. Give up, or you die."

The line went dead, and Brant scowled at Toh.

"It's an obvious trap," said Toh.

"That it is. But then the threat is credible, and surrender is suicide. Bad choices all around here, but only one of them maybe saves Katarek. We fight. Hopefully 8 and Ahab are on the same page. We'll need the backup."

Toh nodded and kept moving, muttering a prayer softly to himself. Brant crossed herself with her baton and gave the best prayer she had available at the moment:

"Lord, get us through today."

They reached a bend in the corridor, and she knew that around this corner they'd be able to see the hatch to the shield control room. This was the only approach to shields, and chances were they'd be under heavy fire as soon they got in line of sight with the hatch. She signaled Toh to pause, and they crouched just out of sight from shield control. She needed to plan this out, and fast.

OK, so…options. They could bum rush the door, Brant using Toh as cover; the ensign would be blown apart, but Brant would at least get close enough to join in close combat, where she'd be hopelessly outnumbered and promptly killed.

She could set her sidearm to catastrophically overload and lob it in to the control room as a grenade, just like they'd tried with Katarek all those weeks ago – had it only been weeks? It seemed so much longer – no, back on task, Charlotte. It would certainly kill Kat this time if it hadn't last, and it might not kill the…

Running footsteps, coming down the hall, from the control room, a lot of footsteps, frack frack frack.

Apparently, the other option was to wait until their arrival was noticed and the enemy brought the fight to them, and Brant did not like that option at all. She sprang to her feet, snapping her neck back to see if there was any cover nearby. The door to her quarters was fifty feet away behind them. She might be able to run for it, but Toh definitely couldn't, and if they separated they would be easy pickings.

Toh and Brant exchanged frowns.

"Well, then," said Brant.

She rounded the corner, leading with her pistol and firing blindly at first. In her mind's eye it was Ahab and 78 charging toward them, looking on with horror as their unwitting captain mowed them down, and so for a moment she actually felt relief to see the five grim strangers with familiar grey uniforms bearing down on her, shouting for her to surrender. One took a plasma round to the head and fell in a convulsing heap, another was staggered with a shot to the arm, but that was all the luck she got. In the next instant, the Rebels were on them.

She swung her power baton, knocking one in his chest so hard that she felt the impact in her teeth. When ignited, the tip of the baton pulsed with a tiny mass field, a heavily modified version of the same tech that powered the ship's jump drive; essentially, it felt like the stick weighed a few pounds to her, and felt like it weighed several hundred to whatever it struck. The Rebel's chest caved in with a thud, and he tumbled back toward the shield room hard enough to knock one of his comrades over. One Rebel, a male with horirble burn scars, swiped at her with a crackling powerknife; she hopped back to dodge, then brought the baton crunching into his head with her backswing.

Three down, two to go. She couldn't believe their luck. Toh had stepped in front of her, chunks of his thick dense epidermis flying off as the remaining two Rebels tried to double back, firing as they went. Brant couldn't believe her luck that they hadn't gotten any rounds off during their charge, but then she tried to lift her sidearm and realized she couldn't feel that arm. She looked, and saw a mess of red and charred black on her bicep. Ah. Not so lucky after all.

Well, best not to let the adrenaline wear off.

One of the two Rebels, a scruffy kid, yelped out as Toh grabbed his arm, pulling him forward and planting a stoney fist in his face. The kid didn't yelp any more after that. The remaining Rebel howled at the sight, blasting away at Toh with single-minded fury. It took him half a second to switch that focus to Brant as she dodged around Toh and dashed forward. It took Brant a little less than half a second to destroy his knees with a low swipe of the the baton. The man toppled onto his back, his gun clattering away from him. He raised a hand to Brant, his eyes wide with fear.

"Please, I surrender, I sur -"

Brant lifted the baton again and slammed it into his skull.

It got real quiet in the corridor. Brant was starting to feel the pain in her gun arm, which was good and bad; some of the nerve endings still worked, at least, so maybe it was salvageable. She looked herself over, and decided the arm was her only serious wound. Toh, on the other hand...

"Captain, I..." The ensign turned to her and fell to one knee. Molten blood was seeping out of a dozen wounds. None looked fatal on their own, but all together...

"You and Kat need the medbay, now," Brant said. She put the baton back in its holster and looked around for where she dropped her sidearm. That hand still wouldn't move, but the gun was probably a better choice if she could only have one weapon.

"Well...if you insist, captain," Toh said. "Your arm..."

"I'm fine," Brant said quickly. "There can't be too many left. Let's wait for the others and finish this."

She double-checked that logic. Standard transport beams could only send two folks at a time, four with more advanced models, but she'd heard of specialized models the Rebels had tested that could send as many as eight. All the fallen Rebels around her were male, so she had at least the woman she'd been talking to to contend with, and maybe two more. Even if Kat had taken one out with her, Brant didn't like the odds of her and Toh in an even fight.

The silence drew out. Where was 78? Where was Ahab?

"I don't like this," Toh grunted. "Something's wrong."

No, something didn't feel right at all. Brant edged closer to the shield room, listening closely. Toh limped behind her slowly. She heard the thrumming of her blood in her ears and a few random creaks of the starship around her, but nothing else.

A sinking feeling came over her.

"Where are you?" she growled into her com link.

"Can't figure it out?" asked the Rebel woman. Brant heard her over the link, but still heard nothing from the room a few feet away. "Here - I'll give you a hint."

An alert sounded in her ears. Her eye shot to her wrist display.

The medbay was offline.

"They're in the med bay!" Brant called.

78 and Ahab needed help.

They needed to hurry, and fight while they still had a numbers advantage.

Where was Katarek?

"Go - I'll only slow you down," Toh said, and it was very true. Brant nodded and started dashing off toward the medbay, but she stopped short.

Where was Kat?

Brant turned and charged into the room, gun raised, though she now expected the room to be empty. It almost was.

Kat was sprawled across the shield console. There were drops of red human blood on the ground, but they were hard to see amidst the growing puddles of dark green blood dripping out of Kat. The damage to the console and the wall behind her and the sheer devastation done to her body illustrated the scene for Brant. They'd teleported in behind Kat; she'd gotten a few swipes out, maybe seriously wounded one or two, but she'd never stood a chance. They'd shot her at least thirty times; five of them had stayed, and whoever else had come aboard had moved out.

Brant needed to hurry. 78 and Ahab were still alive, and they needed her.

"Oh, God," Brant whispered. She crossed herself. "Oh, Kat."

Toh lurched into the doorway. He swung himself around the door frame and sat just inside, ready to defend the doorway.

He looked intensely at Kat, then back at the captain.

"Stay with her," Brant said. "Say something for her."

And she was off down the corridor, toward the medbay.
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby SmoothPapaJ » Mon Aug 10, 2015 12:08 am

Brant stretched her arms and shook out her legs. She was in the ship's tiny rec area, which was little more than a vid screen, a table, and a punching bag. She'd put on a training outfit that left her feeling a little exposed, but then, who'd care about seeing her scantily dressed? It wasn't like there were any humans around anymore.

She didn't feel like crying. Was that a sign of strength or coldness?

The punching bag shook as she threw out a series of jabs. God, she hadn't done any boxing since her colony days - what the hell was she even doing right now? She should be looking over readouts, or reviewing old intel on this sector, or, God help them all, rereading some of those stupid books about leadership from her academy coursework. Anything that might help even a little bit, now that...

She gave the bag the hardest roundhouse she could muster and found the impact unsatisfying, so she followed up with a right hook. That stung her knuckles, but not good enough. Another punch, another kick, another, another. Her breath started speeding up and she heard clearly the ragged hitching of emotion in those breaths. But no - that would not do, not now. Maybe in her quarters later, but not now, not where anyone might walk in. Or would the stupid aliens even realize what water coming out the eyes meant?

Captain, she thought. Captain.

The hatch opened, and Katarek skittered in. She had a media stick in one pincer and a bag of dried meat in the other.

"Ah, lieutenant - I was not expecting you in here."

Brant wiped at her forehead and sighed. "Captain," she said. "It's captain now, Kat."

"Ah! I apologize. Old habits - it will not be a problem, captain," Kat said. She sounded sincere enough, but Katarek had poked and prodded at the limits of Andrews' authority enough that this was probably intentional. "I was going to watch some vids, but I can go to my quarters if you're..." The mantis eyed the punching bag. "...what is it you're doing, exactly?"

"This? We call it boxing. A sport of structured hand-to-hand combat," Brant said.

"You...don't expect it to be useful in the near future, do you?" Kat asked. She skittered into the room and placed the media stick and the bag of meat on the table, then skittered over to the punching bag, eying it quizzically. "Shooting at a dummy can make you a better shot, sure, but I don't see how fighting a bag will help you fight a live foe."

Katarek poked hard at the punching bag, her pincer piercing the tough exterior. A little tuft of stuffing poked out of the hole she left. Brant shut her eyes and breathed in. "Katarek,, I'm just trying to let off some steam."

Kat cocked her head at Brant, looking at her intensely for a moment. The mantis cocked her head and clicked a few times, and it was all Brant could do to avoid screaming at the insectoid to get out of her face and...

"Ah. Of course. I...I will leave," Kat said. She scrambled over to the table to collect her belongings. "I did not...I apologize, captain."

Great! Now Brant felt like a jerk, too. "Kat, it's fine! You can watch your..." But the mantis was already gone. She went through a few exercises on the punching bag, but she didn't feel much like boxing after all. It wasn't getting the feelings out like she'd hoped, and it was like Kat said: no matter how mean her right cross got, it was unlikely to make much difference against a mantis or an antipersonnel drone.

She was seriously considering taking out her pistol and blasting the bag into pulp when Kat returned, this time carrying a small satchel.

"Ah, good. I think I could stand to watch some mindless combat for a few hours," Brant said. She wiped her forehead with a towel, and sat back in one of the chairs.

"Thoughtless? That’s an outrage! The choreography, the artistry in those films, is…” Kat had puffed herself up to her full height, then made an effort to calm herself down. “No. That's not why I'm here. You just looked so pathetic punching this stuffed bag, and I was hoping to help you be less pathetic."

Brant's eyes bugged out a little, and she held her hands out around her head for an exasperated moment before she found words. "I wasn't really doing combat training, Kat. I just...I don't feel very good, and I was just trying to hit something until I felt better."

Kat giggled. "My entire life philosophy, captain. I knew I liked you." She approached Brant and dropped the satchel on the table with a thunk. There was something heavy and metallic in there. "Andrews picked a worthy successor."

If hitting the punching bag repeatedly for fifteen minutes hadn't made her feel better, it had at least tired her out somewhat. Some part of her howled WHAT WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT IT?! but she just nodded, frowned, and said "He'd better have."

Katarek nodded and clicked inscrutably. She seemed uncomfortable, hesitant.

"Out with it, Kat."

"Uh...yes. Are you familiar with the funerary traditions of the Katalpik?"

"I don't even know what that is."

"They're my people, a mantis ethnicity. We...believe that when a member of the war band dies, it creates a weakness in the band itself. Not just because we're down a member, either. More because everything that warrior brought to the group, every combat strength and every personality quirk, was part of what made the group function. We try to reduce this damage to the band by...recycling, we call it."

"If you are suggesting we eat Andrews' body..."

"Not unheard of, but that's not what I'm talking about. We keep our comrades' memory alive by taking on their behaviors, their tastes, their fighting style, whatever they bought to the group. We have never been good at saying words for the dead or building memorials. We remember the dead through our actions."

Brant looked at Katarek for a moment. That actually sounded like a good system, but Brant wasn't sure she liked where the mantis was going. "Yeah? Is there some trait of Andrews you were thinking of taking up?"

"I did not know the captain very well. It might be in poor taste to take from someone who was only briefly my comrade. I don't mention it for me." Katarek reached into the satchel and pulled out a solid metal cylinder, two inches wide and a foot long. Andrews' power baton. "I think you should learn how to use this, captain."

Brant raised her eyebrows. She'd seen him use this a few times, and it was a terrible thing in the right hands, a captain's weapon indeed.

"Not just because you looked truly pathetic punching the stuffed bag, either. I...I think this could help you to…not feel bad."

Brant reached out cautiously for the weapon. It was Brant's by right now, but she'd completely forgotten about it in the rush of new responsibilities. She extended it and held it up to her face, turning it over.

"It would be a shame to let it go to waste, if nothing else," Brant said. "I don't have any training in it, though. I hear these can be just as dangerous to the user, improperly handled."

"Ah - in that, I may be able to help." Kat slammed her pincers into the side of the table and heaved, flipping it away from them and advancing on the captain. Brant spilled out of her chair and rolled away, landing in a crouch as Kat bore down on her, bringing her right pincer down in a savage arc toward Brant's head. Brant threw the baton up to catch the blow, but Kat stopped short with a disapproving click.

"Oooh - we've got a lot to do. First lesson - don't ever parry like that," Kat said. "You're holding it in front of you. If I hit you hard enough like this, I’ll knock the tip of the baton right into you, and even at low speed it would cause damage." The mantis reached out and gently grasped Brant's hands, wiggling the baton back and forth. "Block like that. Focus on deflecting, not stopping."

Brant wanted to tell Kat that she was in no mood at all for combat instruction right now, and for God's sake didn't she understand that humans need space to grieve?

But really, this was better.

Without a word of warning, Brant leapt at Kat, sweeping back and forth with the baton. She didn't ignite it, so its full lethal force was kept dormant, but a strike landing home might still require a trip to the medbay. Kat laughed, dodging the strikes or deflecting them, then struck low and swept Brant's feet out. She fell on her back, her teeth clicking together, then leapt right back up.

"Not bad for a mammal, eh?"

"No, but that's setting the bar pretty low," Kat said. She pounced at Brant, who batted away Kat's slashes and rushed in to throw her shoulder into the mantis. Kat stumbled backward, surprised that the captain had closed with her, and only just sidestepped as Brant lashed out with the baton. The weapon grazed Kat on her pincer, and Kat laughed excitedly.

"Yes! That would have taken my arm off!" Kat cheered. "Your grief is yours, captain! Make it serve you! Make it a weapon! Come! Again!"

They didn't talk much more as they traded blows for the next half hour. By that time, Brant was a mess of blood, bruises, and cuts, and Kat's carapace had caved in in several places. And Brant couldn't stop smiling, even as she lay down in the medbay and finally, exhausted, started to cry.

They sparred at least half an hour a day from that point on, for the rest of Katarek's life.


Was she going the right way?

Brant could have made her way to the medbay blindfolded if she had to. This ship had been her whole life for months, and she'd had to navigate its corridors through low power, through billows of smoke, and more than once with the threat of hostile forces on board. On top of that, it wasn't a big ship. She knew she wasn't lost, but her mind rushed to come up with any other reason why it would be so quiet in here as she approached the medbay.

She stumbled on, awkwardly clutching her numb arm and her pistol in one hand. She dug around in the packs at her belt and took out a tiny vial of combat stimulant, jamming the microsyringe into her leg. She inhaled sharply, drug-induced clarity flooding her senses, her pain fading into the distant background. Her arm still refused to move.

The hatch to the medbay stood in the corridor just ahead of her, shut. The corridor remained quiet as the vacuum. Katarek was dead.

Brant stopped. She had to assume she was alone in the fight now, holding the emotions that came with that realization at arms' length. Katarek was dead, and with her they'd lost their berserker, their wild killer whose fury could break the enemy.

Your grief is yours. Make it a weapon.

She could be going in one against three, with the enemy dug in and expecting her, and she was badly wounded herself. She thought about Karl, and the more she thought about him, the more confident she felt in her decision to lock him up; the enemy knew their ship layout and their systems too well to chalk up to coincidence. So she holstered her pistol and, the stimulant still numbing the pain, grabbed at the awful wound on her arm. It was mostly cauterized, but she squeezed it enough to get her hand good and bloody. She smeared her face with red, and she ripped off her patch to expose the twisted scar tissue where her eye had been. She had no illusions about her odds of surviving the next few minutes, but she told herself that just one slight moment of shock in the enemy could mean the difference between her getting shot like a dog and killing one or two before getting shot like a dog.

She told herself this. Really, she was feeling sentimental, and she decided that if she was going to die, she'd like to die the way Katarek should have.

She took two pouches off her belt. One had a multitool in it and the other had some nuts in case she wanted a snack; she hefted them to check their weight, then nodded to herself.

Well, Charlotte, she thought. Time to make an exit.

She hurled herself at the medbay door, opening it remotely with her wrist unit as she approached, and she screamed low and brutal. Just as she approached the threshold, she threw the pouches into the middle of the medbay; as she'd hoped, she entered the room to see three human forms throwing themselves behind cover away from her supposed grenades. She charged on; she leapt up on top of an autodoc table and picked a target, a tall, bearded Rebel who'd crouched behind the table next to hers. He was alert and ready for her, raising his pistol just as she leapt into his sight; her opening shot grazed his shoulder, a spasm of pain rocking his body and making his own shot go wide. She pounced at him, firing down at him as she went, but he managed to roll away and compose himself just as Brant bore down on him.

On the one hand, closing with only a pistol out and only one working arm was a terrible idea, especially against a larger opponent. On the other hand, Katarek was dead. Brant threw herself on top of the Rebel hard enough to knock him flat. He grabbed both of her wrists, easily pushing away the gun. Katarek was dead. Brant snarled and slammed her forehead into his once, twice. This was a disciplined soldier, but she saw the onset of panic on his bloodied face, felt it in his tensing muscles. Still, his grip held fast, and she couldn't bring the gun down to finish him. Katarek was dead. Katarek was dead.

Brant snapped her jaws down on the man's throat and shook her head, and that did it. His grip gave just enough for her to wrench her pistol free and jam it into his armpit, pointing it right at his heart, pointe blank. She'd take him out, then she'd worry about the others, maybe take one more with her, but no. Something hit her in the side, and her every muscle went limp at once.

"Jesus, God," the Rebel under her said. He kicked her off and scrambled away from her. "She bit me! Crazy girl bit me!"

Brant tried to summon up an appropriate obscenity, but she was surprised just to realize she was still alive. She willed herself to move, but got only minimal response from her body, not enough to do anything as she felt someone grab her arms and lock her hands into restraints behind her back. She was kicked in the side hard enough to turn over, and she found herself face to face with a short, frail-looking woman with a shaved, tattooed head, hard eyes, and a pistol trained down at Brant's face.

"That was a stun round," the woman said, still in that same annoying sing-song accent, and still with reasonable good humor. "I think a full-power shot would rather improve that nasty cyclops face of yours, so you're gonna' want to listen real close if you want to keep breathin'."

Brant tried to speak, but her mouth felt full of cotton. She took stock of the situation in the room. The Rebel she'd attacked was stumbling over to guard the door, poking at the shallow yet ugly wound she'd left on his throat. There was one more Rebel standing against the far wall of the medbay, a pistol ready, his attention divided between Brant and his two prisoners, kneeling and restrained next to him. Ahab's fine coat was torn and his body shone only dimly, and 78 was dented and missing a leg, but they were both alive, and looking at her with surprise.

"Not your best look, captain," 78 said, his voice heavy with static. " make it work."

"The handcuffs are particularly objectionable," Ahab muttered. "You should lose them."

"I've got to say, you lot do live up to your reputation. Whatever you did to piss off Command, they want you something fierce. We'll be able to buy a resort world with what we'll get for bringing you in alive."

"Real fancy-like," said the man guarding Ahab and 78.

"So, introductions. That over there is Angel." She nodded over to the man who'd just spoken, who grinned. "The fellow over there that you chewed up is Grisham. And I'm Captain Lilian McRee. And judging by the intel we got on this crew, you’re Charlotte Brant."

Brant slowly got the use of her limbs back, only to find that her restraints were secure and that she didn't have anything nice to say.

"Burn in Hell," Brant said.

"Oh, dear, you're in a mood," McRee said. "I take it you found what was left of your shields engineer."

78's face flickered yellow, then went black. "Katarek is dead?"

"I promise you, before this is over, you will pay tenfold for killing her," Brant growled. She smirked joylessly. "And considering what we did to the guard you left, you're already halfway there."

78 whined loudly, his face shining red as he attempted to struggle to his feet. Angel slapped him back down and McCree kicked Brant back to the ground.

"Listen to yourself! How many wars have the mantis started, just in living memory? How many slaving operations are they running right now? And you're threatening a fellow human for taking one of those monsters out of circulation?"

McCree had hate in her eyes to match Brant's own. Brant breathed in and out, trying to calm down. She had to think. Toh might be following her in shortly, and...he was too bruised up to count for much. Karl...was locked up and very likely a rat. Katarek was dead.

78 struggled to get back up to a kneeling position, but with one leg gone it was in vain. Ahab sat serenely, his eyes closed and his aura still faint, apparently meditating.

"Ah...but I don't want to get on a rant. We've just about got what we came for, so let's wrap this up," McRee said. She touched her wrist unit, the hate replaced with a smug grin. "Let's get the man of the hour in here. Channels are open now. Tell him we've got you in the medbay, and to come on down so we can beam off and have done with it. And if you could possibly sound real pathetic when you do it, that'd be extra nice."

Brant thought she would have run out of anger by this point, but nope. On closer inspection, she found she had quite a reservoir of rage left.

"He sold us out..."

"What? Oh no, no, no, Charlotte. You have to see: you sold yourself out." McRee knelt down to eye level with Brant and put her hands on Brant's shoulders. She kept talking as if explaining something to a small child. Brant tried to fumble for her power baton, but with both hands tied up and only one hand working, it was not a thing she could do subtly. "You betrayed the heritage of Earth. You sacrificed humanity's destiny for...what, the company of xenos? You made the choice to abandon your race all on your own." McRee sighed and got back to her feet. "And if you thought what we did to the mantis was bad, then just wait 'til you see what we do with traitors like you. Now call him in."

Brant didn't move. What was there to do? The only avenue of rebellion still open to her was to resist this last insult to call her betrayer in, so she lay on the ground quietly.

Well...we always knew it was a longshot.

McRee rolled her eyes. "Fine, whatever. I'll call him myself. Come in, captain! Damion Andrews, wherever you are, I want to let you know that we've got your hussy captive in the medbay. Come to us with your hands over your head, or we will execute her in two minutes, with one of your aliens to follow two minutes after that. Better hustle, cap'n!"

"Wait," Brant said. "You're looking for Andrews?"

"Who'd you think I was talking about?" McRee asked, suspicious. "Grisham, keep alert. Sounds like there's..."

It all went to hell in the next two seconds. The air vent above Angel's head exploded, gobs of plasma fire streaking out of it. Ahab stood, turned his back on Angel, and projected a blast a brilliant green energy out of his hands into his captor's face. A round from the duct took Grisham in the abdomen, and the Rebel went down. And as McRee turned to deal with these disruptions, Brant finally teased the baton out of her belt; in the one working hand behind her back, she extended it and ignited it. Then she spun on her knees and brought the weapon slamming into McRee's calves.

And like that, it was over. Grisham was still alive, but he lay in the doorway, paralyzed with pain from his gut wound. Angel was similarly out of commission, staggering around blindly, clutching at his face. McRee alone seemed to have some fight left in her: her legs were a very painful-looking mess from the knees down and she'd dropped her pistol, but she was dragging herself over to it. Brant got to her feet, strode over to the gun, and kicked it away. She looked down with a blank expression at the Rebel captain.

"Andrews is dead," Brant said. "I'm the captain now."

Brant didn't feel very good at the moment. She kicked McRee in the face, in the gut, in the back, everywhere she could, and was thinking she'd just keep kicking until she felt better, though that'd probably be an awful lot of kicking.

A large, hard hand fell softly on her back and pulled her away from the Rebel captain.

"Captain..." Toh said. She turned to see him looking terrible, leaning heavily against a nearby table and much of his molten blood already cooling and hardening outside of his wounds.

Ahab had freed himself and 78 with Angel's keys, and 78 was busy reattaching his leg. Karl was trying to jimmy the air vent loose so he could get out.

"Sorry I'm late, ma'am," Karl said. "They must have hacked the door controls."

Toh's hand was still on Brant's shoulder. She returned his molten gaze. She tasted blood in her mouth, and didn't know if it was hers.

"I'll tell him," she said softly. "Not right now, though."

"Good thing I've got a narrow frame, I guess," Karl called out. The vent finally came loose and he slowly began to back out of the hole, his legs dangling above the floor.

Ahab came up with the restraint key and let Brant go; she immediately put the cuffs on McRee. "I'm going to go get us in jump. Toh, 78, I want the medbay operational in five minutes. Ahab, Karl, I want the prisoners stabilized and escorted to the brig. Ahab - how are you at interrogation?"

The zoltan flashed an upsetting smile. "Second to none, captain."

"Good. Prep them." Charlotte turned and hurried out of the room. She heard clunking metal steps following her and pretended not to.

"Captain!" 78 called. She kept walking, but she could only go so fast at this point and he quickly caught up. "Captain....Katarek..."1

Oh, to hell with it. Brant turned and grabbed the engi, pulling him against her and holding him. 78 shook and returned the embrace. She let out one sob, but she couldn't let that dam break yet. The ship was still vulnerable. Her crew still needed her.

"We'll be okay," she whispered. "Soon. There will be time to mourn soon."

"Katarek wouldn't want us to mourn," 78 whispered back, his voice warbling and breaking off. What he said next, though, was clear as a cold mountain lake. "Would want us to avenge."

"I know." Another tear fell from her eye, and she pulled 78 closer for one last moment. "There will be time for that, too."
Last edited by SmoothPapaJ on Mon Aug 10, 2015 3:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby stylesrj » Mon Aug 10, 2015 1:04 am

I take it now 78 is going to take up the Mantis style of fighting?
That'd be something to see.

Good work as always. I like how you have developed the story. And the best part is: They're still in the one sector and the ship has barely even jumped.
Most people would complain about that and ask "When are they getting to the fireworks factory?" but I think it works well here. A whole lot happens in one place rather than spread out across 8 sectors. You could take an idle beacon and make a whole story about the one stop in the massive journey that is FTL.

Although honestly I'm not exactly... connecting with Brant. I'm not sure if it's the character herself or that I want to see more of another character's perspective.
The way I see it, a Human in an alien setting is the audience surrogate while the readers look at these strange exotic beings and learn their story. But that's just me watching too many movies and games that did the same thing. Books, not so much though.

I'm quite interested in Ahab the (hopefully former) Zoltan Pirate. What drove a being of order and peace and stuff (at least that's the common perception of the Zoltan as a whole) to piracy and then convinced him to come off it and help the Feds out?
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby SmoothPapaJ » Mon Aug 10, 2015 4:30 am

stylesrj wrote:Good work as always. I like how you have developed the story. And the best part is: They're still in the one sector and the ship has barely even jumped.
Most people would complain about that and ask "When are they getting to the fireworks factory?" but I think it works well here. A whole lot happens in one place rather than spread out across 8 sectors. You could take an idle beacon and make a whole story about the one stop in the massive journey that is FTL.

I'm glad you said that. I've been worried about their marked lack of forward progress, so it's good to hear that hasn't put too big of a damper on things. And hey, they're finally at the end of the nebula they've been in this whole time. So...they're on their way.

Although honestly I'm not exactly... connecting with Brant. I'm not sure if it's the character herself or that I want to see more of another character's perspective.
The way I see it, a Human in an alien setting is the audience surrogate while the readers look at these strange exotic beings and learn their story. But that's just me watching too many movies and games that did the same thing. Books, not so much though.

I'll consider that. I doubt you're the only one experiencing this, and it might have to do with my shifting priorities from chapter to chapter. Sometimes I focus on action, sometimes on characters, sometimes fleshing out the FTL mythos, and sometimes on Brant's steady transformation into the sort of captain that we all inevitably become in the game (I for one rarely even consider accepting a surrender offer).

One of the things I like about the game was that humans aren't really special; they're just another bunch of aliens. Brant in particular has been on a ship with no humans for a while, and as we start to see here, she's had to take on some alien characteristics to survive. I think Karl will be a better audience surrogate moving on just because he's new to the ship and hasn't spent nearly as much time as her around all these weirdos.

I'm quite interested in Ahab the (hopefully former) Zoltan Pirate. What drove a being of order and peace and stuff (at least that's the common perception of the Zoltan as a whole) to piracy and then convinced him to come off it and help the Feds out?

Me too. This was a Brant-heavy episode. I think an Ahab-heavy installment is due.
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Re: Ghosts of the Federation

Postby Kieve » Tue Aug 11, 2015 4:26 am

I have zero criticism. This is absolutely my favorite thread in this subforum (possibly on the whole board) and I have a little joygasm every time I see you've updated it. The writing is outstanding.

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