Updated: Feb 21, 2022
The elevator door sealed shut behind them, father and daughter, as the magneto clamps disengaged and the tram-like vehicle began accelerating along the spine of the ship; gravimetric stabilisers localised gravity fields in such a way that even though the elevator had rotated ninety degrees to accelerate, the occupants were still maintained in a comfortable, almost perfect replication of Earth Gravity. The translucent observation windows pulsed as access-port lights hurtled past, flashing in a repetitive fashion to the sound of air pressure changing as the elevator travelled towards the mid-ships section, where it would transition to the bridge-mast access corridor.
"Father." Amiori spoke, looking the man in his crimson-red eyes with a punishing stare. "I never truly believed I would see you alive again, after the Fall." She said, looking away as shadows cast by the elevator rapidly passing illuminated access ports cast along the interior of the elevator. "I don't think I wanted to see you alive again." She added, returning her gaze to her father's.
Ronin returned her gaze but remained silent, the Old Man knew his daughter would have conflicting feelings... For all these thousands of years, human emotions were just as fragile as they ever were. She needed time, the Old Man thought. Time to adjust to how things are, how things are going to be, in this new age.
"Look, I don't know what to think. I don't know what to feel. You can't just turn up and rescue me after god-knows how many cycles and pretend like nothing happened." Amiori raised her voice, looking her father in the eye once more. "Father, you abandoned us when we needed you. You abandoned everything we stood for, but you abandoned me. You abandoned me when I needed you the most."
It is how it is, the Old Man thought. She is angry, she is upset. You did things you weren't proud of, it will take time to heal those wounds, he thought. Let her say what she needs to say. Ronin remained silent, his face returning from a warm comforting expression to his more characteristically stern, almost expressionless demeanour.
"You fucking abandoned me, and what we were fighting for, and you fucked off to god-knows-where while we were fighting and dying for what you taught me to hold dear." She paused, a tear forming under her eyes; slowly running down her cheek. "No.", she added, "No, you can't just pull me out of that shit, back there, and pretend we're good. You can't do that, father."
Amiori looked away from her father as the elevator de-accelerated; only a minute or so had passed as it had travelled nearly a kilometre along the spine of the Pathfinder, arriving at the rail-interchange to access the bridge-mast and command deck; which distinctively protruded some several hundred metres off the warship's port-side.
"I understand". Ronin spoke softly as the elevator came to a halt, placing his hand on the door control.
"No, you don't." his daughter replied. "You don't understand, and never have done. I've always been just an experiment to you, you and that synth-minded 'brother' of yours. But it doesn't matter, father, because I am here on business and as you are almost certainly aware, we have quite a lot of important business to attend to." Amiori's voice was cold, almost scathing; a rejection of her father's attempt to embrace her.
You deserve it, Old Man, he thought. No time for emotions, no time for remorse - what is done is done, and if his daughter had made her decision then it must be respected - even if it broke the Old Man's heart into pieces, or would have, if he had any heart left after all these years. Perhaps there was still a chance to convince her to join the rebellion; even if he could not have his daughter back, he could at least have one of the most talented and brightest naval commanders in Aquarius fighting alongside him. Though, a small feeling grew in the back of the Old Man's mind; he'd throw it all away for a moment remembering the things that make us human - compassion and family. Human, or weakness, he thought.
Never mind. There is much to be done.
"The command deck is this way, daughter." Ronin stated, gesturing to a central stairway leading to a large bulkhead terminal, as the pair disembarked the elevator and onto the platform. The Bridge interchange deck was just as sparsely populated as the rest of the ship Amirori had seen so far, save for a few utility engineers in EFPF uniforms; who promptly saluted as the Captain passed them. Ronin gestured for the engineers to lower their salutes. A lot of the newer sign-ups from the EPF colony in Old Bastion's Star were convinced the Old Man was some form of living legend, fighting for freedom for thousands of years.
Hah, he thought. No, just a bitter old man.
Amiori remained silent as she followed her father up the steps to the elevated section before the Bridge access bulkhead. The interchange deck had multiple magneto-rail terminals arranged in a large, open 'H' shaped room; four high-speed elevator tramways leading off the to various parts of the ship. As the command-deck elevator access door opened with a mechanical whirr; retracting into the bulkhead, a pair of Semper marines gave brief salutes and nodded to the captain, slinging their weapons in a ceremonial position, their barrels pointing upwards. The Captain simply nodded as he lead his daughter through the access way and into the command deck elevator terminal.
One thing Amirori had noticed as she followed her father through this strangely sterile warship, was the lack of crew; save for a few engineers supervising automated machinery and heavily-armed exo-suit clad marines at major bulkhead and compartment intersections; the deck was almost empty. It reminded her of the newer Imperial-pattern warships in service with the Aquarian Imperial Navy; less reliance on human crew and more automation, the difference being the Pathfinder was clearly a pre-Imperial (and indeed, pre-fall) era warship and the interior decks were obviously built with a human crew in mind; where the decks of Imperial Warships were mostly little more than glorified maintenance shafts with automated tramways for movements of supplies between the main compartments; almost all of the crew were contained in a specialised environmental compartment towards the aft of the ship.
The ride to the bridge was an awkward minute or so of silence. The Old Man remained silent. He had spent most of the later years of his life on the move, travelling the stars with CoRE for company, always saving the day somewhere or risking life and limb somewhere else. The Old Man truly had forgotten what it meant to be a father. Indeed, he had forgotten what it meant to be human after all.
The elevator slowed to a halt as it arrived at the command deck; it had travelled perpendicular to the main superstructure, out some few hundred metres to the protruding command tower of the iconic battlecruiser. The exit terminal on the command deck consisted of a series of reinforced bulkheads a reasonable width; since the tram-ways to the tower-mast were capable of ferrying large objects such as container crates and other materials. The pair would have to pass through several of these bulkheads using specially offset personnel corridors along each side of the hangar-like access bay. From there, it was a short walk into the central elevator shaft up and down to the two primary compartments of the bridge tower.
Ronin stopped before the security door to the primary bridge deck; an EPF marine glanced over as the Captain gestured at ease. The Old Man looked at his daughter who looked somewhat irritated by the interruption.
"Amiori, I am placing a huge amount of trust on you allowing you onto my ship and into our fold, should you choose to remain. Given your recent history and former 'career' choice, this is not something I do lightly. I just wanted you to know that." He said firmly, dropping the welcoming demeanour he presented earlier with that of the Captain of Pathfinder; an EPF Battlecruiser.
"I didn't live on the run from Imperial agent-drones for ten cycles just to betray my estranged father to the very people that want to kill me." She replied, rolling her eyes. "Shall we?"
"Absolutely", Ronin replied coarsely, turning to face the marine guarding the bridge deck access bulkhead, to whom he simply nodded. The Marine gave a salute and turned to operate the bulkhead controls. With a mechanical hiss and the sound of atmospheric pressure normalisation, the telescopic bulkhead retracted into the overhead port in three stages as red-tinted hazard lights illuminated the 'gap' between the two compartments. Moisture condensing in the air created a light mist just over the floor, which was pulled promptly into a pair of exhaust vents on either side of the bulkhead terminal.
"Captain on Deck!" The marine exclaimed, saluting as Ronin guided Amiori onto the Pathfinder's primary command deck.
The few officers and staff on the bridge turned, saluting, to face the pair as they walked down the central path to the Captain's command elevation; where the entire command deck was observable. Beyond that, Pathfinder's mighty bow stretched just over a kilometre into the backdrop of space on the port side, her nanopolymer hull panels glistening and reflecting the red hues of the Great Crimson Barrier Nebula. While radiological shielding prevented high energy particles from penetrating the hardened panoramic observation windows, the crimson glow of the visible spectrum of the Barrier cast a blood-red tint on the deck that slowly phased into the distinct orange-tinted spot lights illuminating the central platform.
Amiori was no stranger to the standardised command deck of an Endeavour-class Battlecruiser; she had served on many during her time before the Fall of the UTN, indeed, serving on the executive staff of a Series 3B variant during the final stages of the Radacri Wars. Pathfinder's bridge was essentially the same as the Series 5A; which was narrower and longer than the earlier models and offset off the port-side midships, but still largely the same layout as most Old Federation-era capital ships, whose captains preferred large, open-plan command decks with excellent field of view.
"Captain. I see you are back, and you have company." CoRE's disembodied synthetic voice spoke as his holoform materialised next to Ronin and his daughter, walking with them as they walked up the platform stairs to the command chair in the centre of the bridge. Amiori didn't pay much attention to the C-AI's manifestation, glancing briefly at the holoform before looking back ahead as the trio reached the top of the shallow incline steps leading to the Captain's podium.
"What's our status?" Ronin asked, leaning with both hands on the holographic war-map table behind the podium as Amiori stood beside him, her arms folded.
"Straight to business, then." CoRE remarked, phasing out and then back in a few metres away as to manifest next to the war-map, to which he gestured with his 'hand'. The display on the war-map expanded into a three-dimensional interface of the space around the Pathfinder and her escort; whose locations were marked with small green pips with status readouts overlaid on them.
"We still have Long Range S-D-D contact with the Imperial carrier in the system. Its trajectory hasn't changed since we arrived. I assume they are still waiting to make contact with their away team." the C-AI added as the map zoomed out, re-focusing on another pip, this time red-tinted with a crosshair highlighting its approximate location - which flickered in and out in three-dimensional space since the Space Density Distortion sensor resolution was too low to triangulate an exact co-ordinate at such ranges.
"We are still rigged for silent running. I do not believe the Imperial Carrier has detected us, or our attendant fleet. However, I suggest we formulate our next move with haste as I do not expect the carrier to remain in the system for much longer, after they discover the fate of the corvette we neutralised upon arrival. " The AI's holoform turned to face Amiori, who's arms remained folded as she thought about the situation. After a few moments, she leaned forward onto the table and gestured to the carrier's rough location.
"This isn't a standard Navy unit" She said, looking back to Ronin, who had turned to view the bridge's observation window as Winter's Blossom's lateral thrusters flared up about twenty kilometres off the Pathfinder's bow; maintaining a tight holding pattern.
"It's an Imperial Special Service op" She spoke firmly as her father turned sharply to meet her gaze. "That carrier is Special Service, the Marines who took Kasake are special forces". She added.
"That would explain why a single carrier is so far from home this side of the Barrier," Ronin replied, glancing to CoRE's holoform. "Formulate an interception trajectory, given our astronomical proximity to the nebula, it's unlikely they have been able to contact Imperial Naval command yet. We cannot allow that carrier to escape Felon's End. "
"Understood, Captain." CoRE acknowledged, his holoform dematerialising as Pathfinder's Navigation Systems released confirmatory chimes.
"And how do you intend to intercept an Imperial H-Y Class Light Carrier without alerting it?" Amiori added, a slight sense disbelief in her tone. "You do realise they have almost certainly dispatched Q-E-C communications to the Core Systems already, do you not? If we do not leave immediately, an Imperial Task Force could turn up in half a local cycle."
Ronin smiled slightly, placing a hand on the railing guard of the ladder to the captain's podium, before hauling himself up onto the elevated section. "You didn't think we came all this way to rescue you by flying blind, did you, Amiori?" The Captain's chair rotated to face Ronin, who promptly took a seat, relaxing a bit as he adjusted the seat's cruise harness.
"You are going to tell me what is going on, aren't you?" She exclaimed, looking up at the captain's podium. "Dad?!"
"Might wanna strap yourself in, Little Star." The captain replied, forcefully rotating the chair to face the bridge observation window as the ship-board computer gave out a repetitive tone indicating the ship's Hyper Cruise engines were charged.
"Trajectory locked, ready to engage, Captain. Hope and Blossom are ready. Imervim is holding back." CoRE announced moments later as Amiori reluctantly took one of the seats behind the podium, next to the war-map table; the cruise harness lowering over her and locking into position.
"You know harnesses are old school, right?!" She shouted, as the low-pitched hum of the Pathfinder's drive capacitors rumbled into life. "Good to know you haven't changed a bit." She said under her breath as the Heads up interface in front of her flashed 'STANDBY FOR CRUISE'.
"Still flying this bucket by hand." she grunted, gripping the harness's handlebars. The hum of the capacitors below the deck plateaued in volume and eased off, a brief pause followed by a thunderous clap as Pathfinder's Hypercruise engine roared into life; sending kilometre-long plumes of super-heated helium drive plasma into space behind the one and a half kilometre long warship.
The deck jerked violently as inertia kicked in; the sounds of metallic structural stress and loose components clanking filled the command deck as lateral G-forces reached their peak and then slowly eased off as the ship's inertial-dampening systems kicked in, at which point the harness disengaged, retracting back over the seat. Amiori didn't get up, however, it had been a long day - a long few years - and it was nice to finally sit down and feel some form of safety from the clutches of the Imperial States and their henchmen.
Well, at least that's what she told herself. Either way, she couldn't help but feel some comfort in seeing her Old Man again, even if he was still his characteristically awkward self with almost no understanding of how human emotions worked.
Pathfinder accelerated to several tens of thousands of kilometres per seconds within a short period of time, disappearing from Imerivm's close-range sensors, replaced by a slowly expanding and cloud of reactive drive plasma arcing off into the depths of space; eventually cooling and disappearing into the backdrop as Pathfinder started on her several-minute journey across the million kilometre void of space to the rough location of the Imperial carrier.
Continued in Part 5.