Updated: Feb 21, 2022
Darkness closed around the shuttle as it slowly entered the Pathfinder's stern ventral docking bay, but it wouldn't be long before the interior was illuminated by brilliant spotlights, casting the shadow of the tiny ship across the slowly closing exterior blast doors. Locking into position, the hiss of atmospheric seals filled the several-hundred-meter wide expanse of the battlecruiser's primary hangar - as the atmosphere hit the shuttle, Amiori could suddenly hear again; the silent abyss of space now replaced with the low pitched monotonous hum of the one and a half-kilometre long warship's powerplant, and the myriad sounds of docking equipment extending to capture the shuttle as it transitioned the zero-gravity zone into the flight deck.
Amiori looked around the cockpit at the interior of the hangar - not quite Imperial Navy standard, but it was well maintained and orderly - unlike the slum stations and derelict starships she had spent her last few cycles moving between. It was good to be back on a true warship. One thing she noticed as she gazed down to the illuminated landing pad the shuttle was heading for - glancing back to the dashboard to check the auto-docking sequence was on course - was an apparent lack of personnel in the landing bay. The decks were almost empty, the non-reflective matte deck panelling completely pristine, no signs of continued wear as you might expect from a warship's hangar facility.
The shuttle's lateral thrusters flared up as it cleared the Zero-gravity zone; entering the influence of the Pathfinder's gravimetric generator. Providing just enough vertical thrust to allow the small freighter to descend slowly towards the pad; its landing gear unfolding automatically moments before contacting the deck with a subtle 'clank' followed by a slight depression in the shock absorbers, finally levelling out as the magnetic clamps engaged the shuttle was fully secured.
Amiori unstrapped herself from the pilot's chair, rotating it around to face the rear of the cockpit. She took a deep breath from the stale air of the pre-fall atmosphere of the shuttle before standing and brushing herself down - some debris had collected on her clothing, wouldn't want her father to think her as some kind of slum dweller, right?
As she made her way to the shuttle's internal pressure door, she couldn't help but feel the gravity was 'different', a bit heavier than she's used to. Much better, almost a perfect Earth gravity if she could strike a guess - not like the slightly less than earth gravity of the Cerrivin-class platform. She reached out to the control console for the shuttle's pressure door, placing her finger on the panel, before moving it back again. She had to think.
What was she going to say? It's not like a simply family reunion after four hundred cycles, she had fought on the opposite side of the war. Just a decade ago they were enemies. Her actions as captain of the Imperial Dreadnought Nobilis Historia could have had catastrophic consequences for the small band of freedom fighters her father was leading. And all for what? - a misguided sense of 'duty' to the Aquarian people? Maybe it would have been better if she had just ended it back on the station, or was captured by the imperials. At least that way she wouldn't have to face her father's judgement, and her own ignorance and naivety for believing the Imperial lies for so long.
Ronin marched through the loading bay access corridor from the Pathfinder's central elevator with force, flanked on either side by two Semper Dragon Marines from the Pathfinder's own security forces. Their armoured boots absorbing most of the pressure of the several-hundred-kilogram soldiers moved with stark precision and grace unexpected of such heavily armoured personnel.
The Captain's long overcoat trailed behind him as he walked, only a few inches from the deck. Approaching the bulkhead to the flight deck access bay, Ronin came to a stop, placing his hand over the control interface - of which began analysing his DNA for biometric security purposes. The two Semper marines instinctively knew to give the captain some space; they slung their rifles over their shoulders in a neat display of uniform, taking up positions on either side of the access door, facing the way they had come before saluting sharply.
"At ease." Ronin spoke with his distinctively deep, CEG-era, Eridonia-Phoenix accent. "She was my daughter before she was an Imperial. And she will be my daughter long after the empire falls." He said, as the Semper Marines relieved their salutes, remaining in position on either side of the bulkhead.
The control console illuminated green as the biometric security system accepted the Captain's input. The bulkhead began to lift into the overhead port as the atmosphere pressure normalised between the compartments. "Return to your duties, gentlemen" He spoke, glancing back to the Semper marines as he continued on his march through the loading bay access - the corridors of the vast warship almost completely empty of personnel. If it was not for the well-lit and thoroughly well maintained condition of the facilities, one could be mistaken for thinking she was a ghost ship.
"Captain, might I suggest that you take a more... 'paternal' approach with your daughter? Given the circumstances, I believe it would be beneficial for both parties if this wasn't the detainment of an Imperial prisoner." CoRE's hologram spoke as it materialised next to the captain as he walked, the holoform gracefully floating along with him.
"I didn't intend to arrest her, CoRE, if that's what you were thinking." The captain replied, briefly glancing to the holoform before grunting as he approached the final bulkhead to the Pathfinder's main hangar. "We just need some time. To talk, about what has happened. To talk, a father to his daughter."
"Of course". CoRE acknowledged, taking the captain's hint that he wanted to be left alone - the C-AI's holoform dematerialising as quickly as it had arrived.
The shuttle's pressure door opened with a hiss and the sound of metal actuators retracting; pushing the external panel downwards, as a set of retractable stairs unfolded, contacting the deck with a metallic clank that echoed throughout the seemingly empty flight deck. Taking a look around, Ami slowly descended the stairs onto the deck, her eyes still adapting to the brightly lit hangar. Her shuttle was the only ship on this deck; five other landing pads stretched out a few hundred metres ahead of her, devoid of any craft or personnel. Her father was never the type to arrange a comforting reunion, much less one where she didn't have to exit her craft alone - like she had spent so long these last few cycles. Regardless, her father was a strange man, sometimes it's better not to question his motives.
The only movement in the hangar aside from Amiori, were a couple of automated drones patrolling the fifty or so metre high ceiling of the hangar, periodically scanning her direction. She stopped about a dozen metres from the shuttle and looked around.
"Amiori" came a voice from across the deck. She immediately recognised the voice - her father's. The cybernetically augmented, eight-foot tall man walked slowly towards her, removing his ear piece as he did so.
Ami simply looked at her father. It had been so long, she didn't even know what to say. But she didn't need to say anything at all, because before she could speak, her father embraced her, clutching her tightly to his chest and placing his augmented hand on the back of her head; her smooth hair filtering through his fingers before removing it and withdrawing momentarily.
"My daughter. It is good to see you after so long." He said, a tear forming under his blood-red eyes, slowly running down his cracked, scarred facial skin and forming a droplet upon the finely-shaped hair of his beard.
Ami remained speechless as the man before her placed his finger upon the droplet, lifting it off his face and examining it. "So I am not the soulless husk I thought I had become... My daughter, I must welcome you aboard Pathfinder; if you would find her as such, she is your home now as much as she is mine." Ronin spoke softly, turning to face the access bay from the hangar to the central elevator where he had arrived from.
"Do not worry for Kasake." He said, gesturing politely towards the door as they began walking. "We already have a plan to get him back, and a little leaving gift for your former comrades in the Imperial Navy. I think you will find it most pleasing, given the current circumstances."
Vai Kasake was a good man. Reliable, dedicated, passionate. He had been a friend of Ronin's for centuries, hell, millennia. A fellow Semper; like a brother to the Old Man. He knew Amiori since her birth, often stepping in to care for the young girl when her father was away on operations. He had become something of a 'step father' for Amiori, someone she knew she could trust. That was why she knew he would come to the meeting she had arranged in Felon's End, on the slum station. But it was that meeting that resulted in the Imperials tracking her - and him - down, ultimately leading to his capture. Amiori knew that if the worst came to be, Kasake's death would be on her conscience.
Amiori silently followed her father towards the Pathfinder's central elevator bay, which provided access to essentially all decks of the ship; revolving around a central magneto shaft running the entire length of the 1.5KM warship. As they approached the elevator access, Ronin stopped and faced his daughter, placing his hand on her arm and gripping it gently, but firmly.
"Amiori. Times have changed. People have changed, all of us have." He said lifting his hand and taking a step back, brushing his thick, jet-black hair behind his ear. "What happened then no longer matters - it is what happens now and what we make happen in the future that matters."
Ami's mind was overloaded with thoughts and emotion. Part of her was anxious for her father's forgiveness for her siding with the Empire during is formation, a mere twenty cycles ago. Part of her wanted to embrace her father and say sorry for the mistakes she had made... But part of her was angry, she harboured animosity for the man before her, for abandoning her when she needed him the most - during the Fall of the UTN. The Pathfinder had vanished all those years ago, on the fateful cycle of later 4040 A.D, when then-UTN president Marco Rennford authorised the Hammer of Aquarius deployment against the alien onslaught during the end of the Radacri Wars.
It was that moment, when humanity's very future in Aquarius was beginning to fade away, that she needed her father more than ever. A young Federal Navy officer at the time, Amiori served with the Old Federation's 4th Tempest Home Guard Fleet during the final moments of the Radacri Wars, seeing combat as the shadow of the alien invasion loomed over the worlds they had known as home. When the news of the Impact from beyond the Great Tempest Barrier reached her; the Aftershock was already devastating the Old Federation - reducing it to ruin at the cost of trillions of human lives. Though she had survived with her ship - a Farlease-class Light cruiser by the name of Belgrade IV, she - like so many others - had lost everything.
When the UTN Fleets returned to the Core Systems to find them ablaze, their very homes set alight and reduced to dereliction and ruin, there was nothing left to fight for. Many of the Old Federation Fleets disbanded, captains taking their ships and crews their separate ways in search of family or loved ones, in the slight hope of finding them alive. Belgrade IV served valiantly during the dark years after the fall, to the formation of the Terran Loyalist Alliance in 4042 A.D - where the young officer and her crew signed up to fight to restore what they had lost.
The last she knew of her father's fate was from an Old Federation Naval archive recovered by the TLA Navy some time in 4044 A.D in Lorentis - which had been spared much of the devastation by its strong magnetic field and had become the capitol world of the new transitionary state- the remnants of the old UTN government. The Naval archive contained data traces relating to the Pathfinder's deployment on a highly classified, covert operation in 4039 A.D, only a cycle before the Fall of the UTN. Details were scarce and the trail went cold in an unmapped system under the shadow of the Angel Hook Nebula - the last known location of Pathfinder, and with her, Amiori's father, Ronin Kociero.
She couldn't have known what happened out there in 4039 AD, or where the Pathfinder was during the Fall, but she knew her father had survived; eventually tracking down leads placing the elusive vessel somewhere in central Aquarius as the TLA fought to restore order in the cluster from the Tigershark cartels that had encroached from the Angel Nebula. When the leads dried up and the TLA formed the Unitied Aquarian Systems in 4299 A,D; Amiori had all but given up hope of ever seeing her father again.
Why had he not searched for her? Why had he not followed the trail of breadcrumbs that she had left? She was almost certain he had found them. And now, after any hope of restoring the old values of the Federation to Aquarius had withered and died with the formation of the Imperial States in 4401, it was only now that Ronin made any attempt to contact her. He may have saved her life, but it wasn't enough to answer for the nearly four hundred cycles of wasted time, time she had spent naively clinging to hope rebuilding the old UTN - all while her father saw through the lies of the New Governments.
She was well aware that Pathfinder was considered a terrorist warship by the UAS Navy. She didn't want to believe the things they had said about Ronin, the crimes they accused him of. But now it was clear it was all part of the Empire's plan to exile the once-legendary hero of the Federation - and his only lineage - and wipe the slate clean, purging away the liberal values of the Old Federation and replacing them with the harsh, draconian law of authoritarian dictatorship.
And he would have left her to her fate, had she not attempted to contact Kasake? She didn't want to know the answer to that question, but for now, she couldn't help but feel some comfort to be with her Father again, even if it was all just another lie.