Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Part of a multi-part series.
The living compartment bulkhead door opened with that distinctive 'hiss' as the actuators rotated the locking mechanism and the pressure evened out, moisture vapour clouds forming in the doorway as a masked figure stepped inside. It wasn't long before the door sealed shut again, actuators locking the reinforced tritanium plates shut, hermetically isolating the atmosphere contained within.
"You're here". A young female voice came from inside the dimly lit compartment; roughly in the direction of a dining table and integrated chairs. A single light illuminated the centre of the table, upon which sat a bottle with two crystal glasses. The bottle's distinctive hourglass shape and red tinted liquid within giving it away: an original Coronian Whiskey, not that imported crap from the outer sectors.
"Of course I am." another voice replied, this time a deep, course voice of a man. "You didn't think I would be a no-show did you? That would have been exceptionally rude". His voice rang with a sort of sternness, not aggressive, but commanding.
The metallic groaning of an old, Expansion Era deck chair reclining echoed through the room. A hand emerged from the shadows over the dining table, reaching for a crystal glass on the table; gently tapping it as the room's lighting slowly filled the compartment with a soft, warm glow.
"Well, take a seat then. We have much to discuss". The female voice spoke out again, this time her face was visible in the dim glow of the lighting; she was young, probably in her early fifties - modern human genetic engineering delaying the aging process sufficiently to the point she might have been mistaken for someone as young as 20 in a different time. Dark brown hair, shoulder length, neatly kept, green-tinted irises and a confident yet comforting look upon her distinctive Aquarian human facial structure. Not the sort of woman you would expect to find out here.
"That we do". The man replied, acknowledging the woman's request; as he removed his overcoat - a large, well-padded garment faintly reminiscent of an Old Federal Navy officer's jacket; but with insignia clearly removed, and exhibiting heavy wear and soiling. This man had been around for sure. Hanging his coat upon a hook near the compartment door, the man approached the table and placed his hand upon the back of the closest chair, looking at the woman sitting before him.
"I know what you're going to say, and I understand why you want to say it." He uttered, his deep, course voice laced with emotion, a subtle undertone of regret - maybe even remorse, finding its way into his speech. "What happened, happened. Nothing anyone could have done could have changed the outcome."
"Sit down." The woman said again, gesturing to the chair as she unscrewed the compression cap on the bottle of Coronian Whiskey, gently pouring a small serving of the red-tinted liquid into each glass. "I didn't ask you to come here to apologise, Kasake. If I wanted an apology I would have asked my father..." She paused slightly, taking a sip from the whiskey - tightening her face as the distinctive 'burning' taste kicked in, before exhaling and setting the glass down firmly. "Shame he was never the type to apologise by his own will".
The man took a seat, looking over his shoulder as he did so. Placing his arms in front of him on the dining table, he reached for the other glass of Whiskey. "Thanks for the drink". He muttered, taking a sip with largely the same reaction as the woman opposite him. "Been a while".
The woman leaned forward, further into the glow from the dining table's ceiling light, her face now clearly visible, a look of emptiness replaced the comforting expression prior, as she squinted slightly, before rubbing her brow and pushing her shoulder-length hair back behind her ears. "I just need you to tell me what happened. I have waited long enough these last few decades, piecing together what I know about Ronin and how..." She paused again, glancing over to a shelving unit across the room, next to a well-kept bunk bed. Upon the shelving unit was a uniform - with the distinct crimson accent of an Aquarian Imperial Officer's blazer.
"How this came to be. How I ended up so blind, so ignorant. So naïve." She spoke, her voice sounding distant as she glanced back to the man sitting in front of her.
"No one blamed you for what you did. For doing your duty to your people and for Aquarius." He replied, looking over to the neatly folded uniform. "I know your father would feel the same way. It's not your fault that it turned out this way, with the Imperials. You know that, do you not?"
"I don't know. But I do know it doesn't matter now. I saw the writing on the walls. They are coming for me. The Imperials are coming for me, and I don't know what to do." She paused, reclining on the chair for a moment before leaning back to face the man.
"I need you to tell me exactly what happened. I need you to tell me how they managed to pull this off. How did we let this happen? Where is my father now?" Her voice became filled with frustration and anxiety. "Kasake they will kill me if they find me, and they will find me. We both know that."
The man thought silently for a moment, glancing over his shoulder again. "You have to come with me. I can take you to your father". He replied, nodding at the woman opposite.
Before she could respond, the lights cut out; the sound of an ancient electrical breaker closing, isolating the circuits, echoed from the outside the room, dropping the compartment to complete darkness.
"It's too late..." The woman whispered, taking a deep breath in as she reached for a concealed sidearm on her thigh holster. "They're here."
"Who's here, Ami?" The man asked, producing a flashlight to which he placed on the table; illuminating the room. "It is likely an electrical failure. Shit is always breaking down out here, I'll see what happened." He got up from his chair, producing another flashlight from his belt. As he walked towards the door, holding the light with his right hand, he gently placed his left upon the grip of an old, Navy-issue FMX3 repeating pistol on his waist. "No need to take risks. Raiders operate from this station." He said, glancing back to the woman who had already retreated into the corner, clutching her own weapon.
Placing his hand on the actuator controls for the compartment door, the man slowly pulled the override lever and locked it into position; emergency power for the door engaged and the bulkhead began to retract with a hiss and vent of exhaust vapour. Shining the flashlight into the corridor, the man removed the pistol from his holster and held it forward with a military-style grip, checking the long access corridor for threats.
The flashlight beam swept across the metal deck, illuminating residual water vapour hanging in the air. Part way down the somewhat cramped access way to other residential compartments, an exposed electrical breaker box flickered, sending sparks bouncing to the ground. The man levelled his weapon and focused the flashlight beam, before lowering it and re-holstering the weapon.
"Electrical failure." He said under his breath, turning to face the compartment he had just come from. As he walked back, he felt a strange sensation on the back of his head, almost as if a cold rush of air was forced against him suddenly. Before he could react, it hit him.
Darkness. He fell to the deck into darkness. Paralysis. Helplessness. Moments before losing consciousness, through the ringing in his ears he heard the sounds of heavy, metallic footsteps behind him; a subtle red glow illuminated the deck where he lay, but his eyes were closing. A few short seconds before he slipped away, he moved his head to the side, groaning in pain as an armoured boot firmly impacted the deck beside him. "Sec-Com, this is Invader. Tango down". declared a modulated voice.
The sound of the commotion immediately alerted the woman to the danger, as such she began to make good her escape. This old station was filled with abandoned access ways and maintenance corridors, the perfect place to slip out unnoticed. One such access way was located behind the sanitisation unit in the residential compartment she had called home for the last few cycles.
She didn't have time to think about what just happened. Climbing into the cramped access shaft, she jumped a two metre drop and hit the maintenance shaft deck with force. No time to think. No time to stop, running through an abandoned maintenance access way, narrowly missing low-hanging piping and severed wiring as she frantically fled into the darkness.
"What happened to Kasake?" She thought, "Did they kill him?"; questions filled her mind as she spotted a dim orange glow about fifty metres ahead of her, marking an exit point to the access way. A slight incline for the last few sections of the cramped metal hallway indicated that she was approaching the end of the old pre-fall station's lower mast - hopefully she could find some way to escape.
She didn't have time to grab her belongings that she took with her from Aquarius, there was no time. "Don't think about that now, Amiori. Don't think about it". She said over and over in her head as a tear formed under her eye, visions of the ring her father gave her being lost forever, and with it, her only memory of him.
Arriving at the exit point, she clutched her sidearm, shouldering it with a two-handed grip with military precision, her Imperial Navy marine training paying off in the end. With the hallway clear both directions, she crouched into the exit point and holstered her weapon. Before her was a firmly sealed category C bulkhead; several centimetres of reinforced, blast-resistant metal separating two compartments on the station. This must be one of the 'piers' attached the lower mast of the Cerrivin-class shipping platform, there must be life pods here - her way out.
Thinking quickly, she traced the connections of the door controls along the metal walls to a small circuit box opposite the bulkhead. The reinforced shield covering the box was secured tightly, there would be no way to open this from here.
"Goddamnit." She said out loud, anxiety clearly present in her voice as she looked around the bulkhead port for ideas. Exhausting any potential leads, she slumped up against the wall, next to the sealed bulkhead, exhaling as she hit the ground. "Fuck you, Ronin!", she cursed loudly.
It wouldn't be long before her pursuers would find her, she knew it could only end one way, and that end would not be with her taken alive.
The soldier lowered his visor, exposing his stern jawline as he gestured to his men to stand guard near the compartment door. "Sec-Com, This is Invader. Neutralised and apprehended one terrorist, continuing to sweep for the second." He spoke, this time his voice wasn't modulated by the helmet. His accent clearly Lorentian; an Aquarian Imperial Marine.
A small team of four Imperial Navy Special Forces Marines had infiltrated the Cerrivin-class platform only hours before, entering the station via insertion from a marine boarding pod launched from a nearby Imperial Navy stealth corvette - this had been a calculated, planned operation.
"Understood, Invader. Concealer team is en route to bring the acquired terrorist to the staging point for extraction. Your orders remain as standing: locate and acquire the second at any cost. Sec-Com, out." The reply crackled over the encrypted short-wave electromagnetic radio.
The Marine captain surveyed the room as two of the other exo-suit clad marines pulled the main they had apprehended to his feet, and forcefully set him down upon a chair in the compartment, his hands bound with a magneto-cuff of a design typically used by law enforcement agencies.
Kasake struggled as he glared at the captain, the marines restrained him with force. "Fuck you Imperial Traitor". he exclaimed, spitting on the floor at the Captain's feet.
The captain simply smiled and gestured to the compartment door; the two other marines hauled the man into the hallway and pushed him to the ground, one of them placing his boot upon his back, with both aiming their FIMD Carbines at him. "You move, you die." one of the marines said in a course, modulated voice.
The captain and another marine began searching the compartment, violently moving the pre-fall era furniture and causing major damage with an apparent lack of respect.
"Captain." The other marine exclaimed from the bunk; gesturing to the marine captain, who dropped a photo-frame he was examining; it smashed and tore as it hit the metal deck. Upon the classic photoscan was a picture of the young woman, Amirori, and her father, Ronin Kociero, aboard the Pathfinder some four-hundred cycles ago.
Crushing personal belongings under his metal armoured boots, the marine captain approached the bunk to inspect it. The marine soldier had already searched the furnishings and containment units, and presented the Aquarian Imperial Officer's uniform to the captain; who forcefully grasped it and held it to the light for examination.
"And we are the traitors to the cause?" He said subtly, throwing the uniform to the ground, raising his visor. "Find the terrorist scum.", he ordered. It wasn't long before the two Imperial marines discovered the escape route the woman had taken; a small ventilation shaft had become dislodged, exposing a small gap, barely large enough for a human to enter. There was no way the fully armoured marines could enter.
The Marine captain frowned and grunted before raising his hand to engage the manual communication on his helmet. "Sec-Com, Invader. Second terrorist has escaped into the ventilation system near deck thirteen A, likely attempting to escape the station from the lower mast maintenance access". he reported, shining his infrared light down the ventilation shaft; the optics in his visor clearly revealing the nature of the hallways below. "We are unable to pursue, requesting external assistance."
Amiori clutched her head in thought, but she didn't have much time to collect her thoughts before hearing a tremendous crashing sound from further down the access way. The sound of metallic stress and super-structural groaning was all too familiar to the ex-navy captain. Pulling herself to her feet, she grabbed her pistol and turned to face the sealed bulkhead.
"Fuck!" She exclaimed, kicking the twenty-ton blast door with her light footwear, recoiling with pain as she did so.
So many thoughts rushed through her mind. About her father, about Kasake. About the lie she had been living for four hundred cycles. These thoughts didn't matter now, she told herself. She knew how this would end - there was only one way it could end. But it would damn-well be on her terms.
The woman looked at her pistol; an Imperial Navy issue UMX3C; an upgraded and enhanced model of the reliable F/MX3 series used by the human military for millennia. Upon the weapon was inscribed the insignia of the ATIS Aquarian Imperial Navy, under of which the words "Strength in Unity" were laser-etched into the low-metallic, nano-polymer construction of the weapon. She felt the trigger, it was a firm yet responsive trigger. A fine weapon, lightweight, easy to handle.
She thought about running further down the access way; perhaps there was another exit point towards the end of the mast, or perhaps an exposed bulkhead port, or some other means of escape. She thought about running, about the life she would lead, under the shadow of the Imperial States and its relentless persecution of anyone it deemed a traitor.
Looking back to her weapon, she shook her head as tears ran down her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, father."