PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 8 of 28 )
Das Ende des Anfangs
("THE END OF THE BEGINNING")
Tanfen Sutari Branch
What would you think Keiko Gan's purpose would be to send her son out here to Sutari?" a tall man asked another shorter man, behind him, and to his right. The taller man had an aquiline nose, and sharp cheekbones, along with piercing eyes. His steel gray hair, and immaculate business suit painted him as a high-ranking officer in the Corporate hierarchy. The small lapel pin showed his Family loyalties, as well as identifying his position. His stance bespoke of power, authority, and pride. As he walked briskly, the shorter man followed him and kept pace. The shorter man was in a dull brown jumpsuit, far less immaculate, and apparently quite in a mess, as if he was called from his duties in the field, and had not had time to change. The shorter man looked younger, with his blue eyes and buzz cut, along with his smile.
"I don't know, milord. But your cousin certainly has a great say in Family matters."
"Of all the places Keiko could have sent her son for learning the Family business, she would have to send him to me. Doesn't she realize this place will become a warzone?"
"It was too late to recall him when our agents found out about the invasion."
"That courier from the Homeworlds certainly confirmed matters. How long until we manage to pack everything up for transport?"
The younger man consulted a datapad. "The sector fleet is here, except for one or two stragglers that are missing, but they are only light freighters. All remaining Homeguard units in the system are being refueled and repaired as much as we can even as we speak. However, some of those fighters are in really bad shape, and have to be abandoned. As we may have right now, we have more pilots than fighters, along with dozens of walking wounded trailing in from all over the system. All remaining assets are almost finished packing. Our primary nanite samples and manufacturing machines have already been disassembled, and packed and are in shipment upside to the Orerith. The techs tell me everything will be removed within two hours."
"What of our personnel?"
"All high priority personnel have already been ferried aboard to the transports. The only ones remaining planetside are the low grade techs, Homeguard troopers, med techs and administrative staff. Evacuation of remaining personnel will only take a few minutes at most."
"Good, and what of our perishable products and finished nano-chips?"
"Already frozen, and packed in cold storage, ready for transport to the heavy freighters. We've harvested all we can from our landfish farms, and have collected enough samples to breed a new batch, if necessary."
"Excellent. Everything appears to be on schedule."
"Milord, the local governor is raising concerns at the large number of our Homeguard units and merchant marine upside. I've informed him that it was a temporary logistics measure, but he is still raising concerns as to our intentions. Your further orders?"
"Do what you feel best. Delay him, offer him whatever he wishes, as long as it does not conflict with our goals. Once we are done here, we will abandon this rock."
The man stopped before a large blast door, emblazoned with a large red cross. He opened it with a wave of his hand. The stench of antibiotics and powerful cleansing agents assaulted his nostrils like ammonia. Inside, there were dozens of beds, though some were in disarray, some were empty, and some were clotted with blood. It was like some mortal version of pandemonium. People were moaning and screaming, and medics were running all over the place, trying to save lives, or ease the pain of leaving life. A triage of harried medics rushed to and fro. One of them came out from the pack to meet the tall man.
"Where is he?"
The medic nodded, and gestured for the tall man to follow him. They walked to the end of the ward, and he gestured to a small cot. The man there was in agony. Patches of him were scalded right off, and blood oozed from the exposed flesh in rhythmic spurts. The FastHeal patches on him were barely keeping up with stabilizing his condition until the medics had enough time to attend to his injuries. His jumpsuit, showing the Pegasus symbol of TASC, was ripped and torn. He seemed to be in a delirium, floating in and out of consciousness. The tall man went over to him. Immediately, the wounded man's eyes opened. One of them was milky white.
"What happened, at the research base?"
The man's eyes seemed to focus out, and then his pupils seemed to shrink in fear. "Monsters! Gigantic hideous monsters sir... our guns and missiles couldn't seem to hurt them... hundreds of them... millions! Too many! Too many! They killed them. Everyone! The whole base!"
"What happened on the base?"
"... Don't know... don't know... No ! No! No! Not again!" The man tried to get up, screaming all the way. Froth dribbled from his chin as he tried to get up. His one remaining eye had the crazed look of a man pushed beyond the edge.
The tall man gave a look that bordered on consternation and pity before he gestured at another medic. The medic jabbed something into the wounded man, causing his movements to slow, and then cease. The wounded man gave a sigh, then fell back to sleep, dosed to the gills with tranquilizers. Obviously, the pilot wasn't of much help. It was lucky he even managed to get here. His Recon Arrow was heavily damaged, parts of it were missing and the rest was charred black. It was so bad, he couldn't do reentry, and had to land at the scrapping yards before being brought here for treatment.
According to the snippets of intelligence gleaned from fragments of intercepted transmissions, the assault by these aliens was rapid, ruthless and well coordinated.
The reports from TISD correlated that, and the orders to AOYOI along with the report seemed to indicate that the alien threat wasn't solely directed at the Corp. It was happening all over, system wide, and advancing like Watson's disease. The Corp simply couldn't fight on such a level of intensity, thus his general order to abandon all facilities and carry all transportable assets here, to the main Sector base, before moving out to another Sector base, perhaps Akanataris, Medinah or Kohlingen to await further orders from the Board.
"I need to coordinate things here." He turned to look up as he saw the Starry Memory perform reentry maneuvers from a nearby status screen in the ward. "Ahh, our great prodigy has arrived. Are you sure it is him?"
"They've been challenged three times by our perimeter screens, milord. It definitely is Maximilian Gan."
"Go and fetch my nephew. I will be in the Comcen."
"Aye, milord. Will there be anything else?"
"No, you are excused."
The younger man nodded and gave a curt bow, then turned around and left. The door to the ward room hissed shut, shutting off the scenes of pain and suffering, and the moaning and screaming from the wounded.
The tall man regarded the exit of his aide thoughtfully before he continued to another part of the ward, this one more isolated from the rest, and soundproof. It was smaller than the main ward, and more private. Where the outside tried to prevent the loss of life, this one was helping to bring it into the world. Two Loyalist Marines from his own retinue stood silent vigil at the door leading to the ward. Both wore full body armour. One held a reg blade, and HV-SMG. The other clutched a heavy ion rifle. Their orders were simple. Intruders were to be shot on sight. No questions asked.
"How is she?" the tall man asked.
"She is well, milord. That much I know. You should ask the head nurse to know more," answered one of the Marines.
"Thank you, Mei Yin."
"Congratulations on the new Heir."
"Thank you, Yin. As you were." The tall man clapped her shoulder before continuing. The trooper nodded and continued back to scanning the corridor.
The tall man placed his hand on the door lock, the warmth of his hand and palmprint causing it to open. There was only one bed in this ward. Reserved only for Family members. And only one occupant - soon two of them, if everything worked out as it was supposed to. Three nurses were next door,in a small office, but within easy reach of the patient, should she require it.
"Elayne. Are you all right?"
The younger woman lied in bed, but tried propping herself up. The tall man rushed over, to stuff a pillow under her back. The young woman had a wan complexion, her gentle face beaded with sweat, and her raven locks were pasty. She tried to smile, but stifled a wince of pain and a gasp. Her pale lips seemed even paler in the light. Her doe brown eyes seemed to cross with the joy of an expectant mother, and the pain of being one.
"I'm all right, dear. But she will be coming soon. The nurse said it is only a matter of hours." She rubbed her belly without thinking, feeling the kicking of her child.
Carrying an expectant mother into space was dangerous, but he had little choice. He had tried to delay it for as long as possible, in the hope that his child would be born planetside. But it seemed that fate forced his hand. "I'm sorry, Elayne. I know it is dangerous. But it will be even more so if we stay here any longer than we have to. I will have you shuttled to the Melissa."
"Do you have to... you know the risk."
The tall man grunted and gave a grim look. "Your safety, and of our child is of the highest importance Elayne." The man paced the ward. "There is little we can do to buy time. We have almost tried everything. Nothing worked." The man went back to the side of the bed and held her hand. "Don't worry about it, I shouldn't even be bringing you bad news at all."
Elayne smiled. "I understand, dear. I know you'll do the best you can." She squeezed his hand tightly.
The man tried to smile. It wasn't a thing he did often. "It will be all right, Elayne. I'll get the slowest shuttle I can to ferry you up to the Melissa. You won't feel a thing."
Elayne gave another gasp, and gripped his hand even tighter. She held her swollen belly with her other hand. "Ah... I'll be all right. You have important business to attend to, dear."
The man parted her locks and kissed her once on the forehead. "I'll be back. I'll send the head nurse to arrange transfer. Please, relax." The tall man walked briskly out, his head held high, his mask of superiority once more on his face.
Landing pad 5
Tanfen Sutari Branch
The turbulence was over in a matter of minutes. Soon, he felt the ship level out, and begin to land. Beside the Galaxy, the escorts veered off in a sharp breakaway maneuver, beginning their own landing preparations at starfighter hangers off the main Sutari landing site.
He leaned over Richard to take in the panoramic view of Sutari branch. Like all sector divisions, Sutari was large and expansive. The grounds of the entire facility covered several square kilometers of the turgid brown expanse that was Sutari. Other than some spectacular looking canyons farther north, the whole damned landscape was an undulating sea of brown, broken only by expanses of a weird pink cactus looking shrub forest and the town serving the branch. The view of the base, and the town became larger and larger, until he heard a shudder throughout the ship, before the dull throbbing hum of the engines slowed, and finally died.
The pilots voice came over the comm. "We've landed. We can open the hatches now, milord."
Max nodded and confirmed the report through a comlink, "Thank you, pilot. Excellent flying."
"Thank you, milord!" enthused the pilot.
He had always been told to thank those under him, for you are to be grateful for even the smallest tasks. Encouragement brooked excellence as your followers sought to please you more to earn more recognition in your eyes. A basic part of human psychology, and one of the essential tenets of the Gan doctrine. The base of any power structure rested on the peons that held it up. Value them, for they are the foundation of everything above.
"I'll go first, Max," said Richard, as he gave a hefty pull of the airlock, causing a hiss of escaping air as both sides of the door equalized their pressure. Max and his retinue were immediately assaulted by the scent of the place. The dry desert air, along with some undetectable scent. Like a faint hint of lilac.
Richard went out first, taking a cautious look around before motioning for the rest to follow. He stood by the door, and waited while Max walked out and then gestured for the rest of his squad to form up and follow him.
Max took a look behind him at the ship that had brought him across the stars from the Homeworlds to this barren world. He could feel the heat from reentry emanating from its dull metallic hull. The hiss of escaping gas and dumped coolant from the engines caused small clouds of steam and dust devils to dance around it. The heavy gauge landing skids seemed to creak with the ponderous weight of the Galaxy.
It was only then he noticed how hot the place was. Based on the position of the planet's primary, it wasn't more than midday, yet he could feel the heat of the pavement underneath his boots. The wind itself was hot, causing sweat and drying it almost instantly. Dust devils seemed to dance farther away. He took a look around him. The starport was mostly quiet, except for a few Corp Unions in a cluster nearby undergoing maintenance. He also saw a Condor S&R shuttle as it lifted off and burned for high orbit, its white-hot engines causing his eyes to squint from the glare.
Corp personnel were clustered here and there, talking in silent quiet tones, looking at him. They appeared to be hushed and quiet. The tension in the air was evident. Those who were not repairing ships and fighters were busy loading cargo containers and apparently packing up what could be moved on the base onto shuttles and freighters. In the distance, on the base perimeter, he saw Homeguard troopers with stun lances and tear gas grenades along with a few holding HV-SMGs holding a tense watch on the perimeter of the base, their dull brown armor glittering in the sun. Their presence seemed reassuring, but only added more to the tension.
Then, all of a sudden, a voice interrupted him. "Impressive, isn't it, young master? This vast expansive emptiness. This monument to monotony."
"Um... beg your pardon?" He turned around.
A man stood before him, dressed in a dull brown jumpsuit, emblazoned with the symbol of the TSF. An Archer was at his side, along with a utility pouch. He was of the same height, and his severe buzz cut, and icy cold blue eyes gave him the impression that the man was all business. However, his seemingly self-amused smile softened that up. It made the newcomer seem to be perpetually amused at everything around him.
"I'm Caruno, aide to CEO John, of Tanfen Sutari Branch. And your business here." He paused and regarded the royal blue livery, and the Gan symbol, "scion of the Family Gan?"
Max nodded. "I am the new transfer here, as understudy to Lord John." He held out his hand. Caruno nodded and shook it. "I'm Maximilian Gan."
"Aye. If you will follow me please, young master."
"Caruno will do."
"Caruno, what is going on here? I am seeing signs of a complete evacuation of the branch. What is happening?"
Caruno stopped, and looked at him in an odd kind of way. He raised one eyebrow and gave an incredulous look "Don't you know?"
"No, I have spending all my time en route, traveling here."
"Young master, we are soon to be on the front lines of an invasion."
"An invasion? By who? The Kilrathi? The Confederation?"
"Not by any force as we know it." Caruno paused and turned his back to him. "It would be best if you were to speak with milord John concerning this. He will tell you more." At that, he continued walking, his footfalls sounding a hollow clipclop on the hardened pavement. Behind him, Max perceived through his peripheral vision as his eight strong bodyguard formed into two columns of four and followed him, Richard and Marle leading each line. The rhythmic marching behind him almost seemed like a heartbeat as each foot followed the other. Beads of sweat began forming on his forehead. God, was it hot here.
As he walked, he took in other details of the base The steel mesh that formed the outer perimeter, the tense look on almost every Homeguard troopers face, then, haphazardly piled, the refuse from the base, not far away from the perimeter of the fence. It seemed as if the Corp here simply chucked whatever they didn't want over the fence, to be collected later. Then, his gaze suddenly took in the figure nearby, seemingly scavenging from the refuse. The woman was quite obviously heavy with child, and she seemed to rummage through the plasti-crates as if she was looking for something. She seemed to be holding a few small items.
"Caruno, just what is that pile of garbage doing over there?"
"That is simply expired or overdue perishables, food, medical supplies and other items that we have no need anymore. The dumping ground is there, just outside of our base to make it easier for the local sanitation department to remove it."
"Then what is that," he peered closer, "woman doing there?"
Before Caruno could reply, he begun walking off the landing pad, away from the main base, towards the refuse dump. His walk turned into a run. Richard stood dumbstruck for about two seconds, before his senses kicked in at this sudden change of events and immediately ordered his men to follow him. Caruno did too, his face now a mixture of bewilderment, and amusement.
Outer Perimeter, North Wall
Felin gave a wheeze as she tried kneeling to better find what she sought. It grew more and more difficult, it seemed to walk out each day to try to find work, and to scavenge from the Corp dumping ground. The pain in her back grew more pronounced each day. Her frequent bouts of nausea, and trips to the bathroom only complicated matters. Nevertheless, she still had to find something to feed her family.
Even the free doctor she met regularly said that she shouldn't be working in her condition. If at all, but if she didn't she would go hungry, and so would her child and husband. She thought back to all those years. Since her husband was discharged from the Confederation Space Navy after the Kilrathi War, things had gone from bad to worse. His blindness, courtesy of a lack of proper protection in Confed fighter pilot visors at the time meant that he could never pilot again. With the inflation in the Inner Worlds, and with her husbands meager pension, they were forced to move here. Confed didn't seem to realize, even after five centuries of economics that pensions had to grow with inflation.
What her husband received for duty in the name of the flag amounted to a pittance now. Tyr VII was one of the few places left they could go to, and manage, barely to have a roof over their heads. Even so, it was still so hard. She had worked for two years in a local restaurant, but as soon as they found out she couldn't perform as efficiently because she was pregnant, and almost eight months into it, she was sacked. Her life savings were almost gone. So was her mother's necklace, pawned to buy food. Her husband, Apton, took care of her son at home while she tried earning bread. But it was so hard. So very hard. And she didn't have the heart to tell her husband her predicament. As far as he knew, she was still working.
A recent find looked promising. The pack was only recently expired. It would probably be still edible. Barely. "Tanfen Tasty Chicken" it read on the front, with the image of a fowl from Terra, suitably dressed. It seemed as good as any. She picked it up. Suddenly, she felt something odd.
She saw a man running towards her. So far, the Corp had ignored her scavenging. It seemed that they were now taking notice. The man running man in the distance raised his hand, as if asking her to stop. She didn't want to find out what was going to happen. Felin gathered up the few items she managed to scavenge and tried to run. Her heart was beating like some mad drum. Her senses and her whole being only wanted to flee, but her foot slipped on a plastic wrapping, causing her to skid, and then fall flat on her rump. Her few items flew around in a scattered heap.
One of the Homeguard troopers immediately leveled his shock lance at her, as if she was an enemy. His harsh voice rang in her ears. "Don't even move!"
"Forgive me, sir! I didn't steal anything! I'll give it back! Please! Don't hurt me, I won't come back again!"
She had heard terrible stories about Tanfen. Especially on the channels by Porhen Industries and other parties in league with them. How they were militaristic fanatics, madmen bent on domination. How they were cruel towards those that opposed them, betrayed them or stole from them. Like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car, she froze in fear.
The man that came was young, younger that her. The way he walked, the way he dressed, his ornate body armor, his royal blue tunic and beret, along with the finely worked pistol at his side, all bespoke authority. He finally reached the fence, and the guard. She tried to get up. To run. To flee. To hide. But she couldn't. Fear froze her legs. Her mind.
The man gave a gesture to the trooper, the ones she knew called themselves Tanfen Homeguard. It seemed to pass so slowly, as if in slow motion. As if time was thrown into a slow forward trot. His voice rang out in what her husband once called the Command Voice. The indisputable voice of authority. The one that said, I am master, follow me or face the consequences.
"Stow that weapon, trooper, and open the gate!"
The Homeguard trooper immediately had a change of tone, from being domineering to being abject and meek. "Yes, milord." The trooper lowered his shock lance. The gate crashed open.
"Please, let me go. I didn't do anything wrong. I promise I won't do it again!"
The young man smiled and held out his hand. "Please, let me help you up before we discuss anything." She took it dumbstruck. She had heard the Tanfenners were cruel psychopaths. Did this boy mean to torment her?
The man gently helped her up, then took in her features. The disheveled maternity dress, patched and stained. The simple hair she tied neat, the wary and weary look in her eyes. As if one was on their last knees with no one to turn to in an uncaring world ruled by faceless governments. And most apparent of all, the fear and surprise in her face.
The young man looked honest, and friendly. "I'm not going to hurt you ma'am. Please, relax."
She tried, but she could not. The sight of so many armed men near her still made her nervous.
"I'm Max. What is your name, ma'am?"
"F-F... Felin, sir."
He held out his hand. It hung there for a few seconds before she registered to shake it. "Pleased then to meet you, Mrs. Felin." His gaze took in her appearance, and the items on the floor. "What were you doing there?"
He looked down at the fallen items she had scavenged. Tanfen Corporation food rations, some reheatable gourmet food, a few expired antibiotics. The man picked up one of the food packs. It was pretty much like any other Tanfen food product, sealed and packaged. But it was obviously expired, and recently. The date on it was about yesterday.
She kept silent. Seeing the way the man with the blue eyes seemingly smiled at the young man's antics, and the eight silent bodyguards behind him. They were not like the local Homeguard troopers. They walked like panthers, their eyes, were fierce. They were like hunting hounds at a master's beck and call.
"I needed food, sir. I'll pay you back for all I've taken! I pro..."
He held up his hand. She stopped talking immediately. "What you have taken is not the issue here, Mrs. Felin. Please, tell me, what has forced you into such a predicament, that you have to scavenge what is obviously expired food."
He looked honest enough. It begun slowly, stuttering, and in pieces, before it all poured out. Her husband's disability. How they were forced to move here, to Tyr where the rent was all they could barely afford, how the Confederation treated their retired veterans, how she was forced to work day after grueling day in the restaurant and how she was forced to quit, supporting her other child and her husband. She begun sobbing. The weight of all those two years came crashing out.
Max comforted her, rocking her gently while sobs racked her tired frame. "Mrs. Felin, please, calm down. I can understand your distress. I understand the sacrifice, and the strain you are under. No woman should be forced to eke a living scavenging from dumps." Max smiled, and wiped away her tears.
"Please don't cry, Mrs. Felin. My mother told me that a tear of sadness causes another raindrop to fall from the sky. If you keep going on, we'd be having a storm."
She sniffled at the gentle joke. And her sobbing subsided to gentle sobs. "There, all better."
"I'd better be going, Mister Max."
"Wait please, Mrs. Felin."
He smiled, then turned to the Homeguard trooper. "Soldier, give me your rations. All of it."
"You heard me. All of it. Now." The trooper didn't even argue twice before he reached into his utility pouch and hauled out his daily rations, a nutri-bar, a vitamin pack and meat substitute. He then turned to the eight men behind him.
Soon, a small mountain of food was piled up in his arms. He kicked away the fallen goods she had picked up, then piled it all up in her arms.
"Here, its not much, but it'll hold out for now." He then reached into a utility pouch, then emptied it. Hundred credit coins rolled out, the Terran Confederation stamp on them on one side, their value on the other. There were so many there that she couldn't count it. Given the current exchange rate between the Union dollar and the Confed credit, the small mountain of coins was a small fortune. She had never seen so much in her life. He opened out her hand, then poured the small mountain into her hand.
"Please, take this. Don't tell your husband how it came by." Max gave a grin. "Say you've won the lottery."
Felin stood dumbstruck. Max was anything but an evil person.
"I... I can't take this"
He pushed her hand back. "No, please take it. You are in a difficult situation, and you need all the help you can get."
"Th... thank you"
"If you would like, Mrs. Felin, I can ask the local Tanfen employment officer whether there are any jobs available. In fact, I can do it right now." Max turned towards the blue eyed man. "Caruno?"
Caruno, the blue eyed man gave a deeper, self amused smile. "Of course, young master. There is a position available, in the clerical branch, if you require, that suits her condition. The position is still open... tomorrow, in fact."
"Can you start work tomorrow?"
"Y... yes, Mr. Max."
Max grinned, "Its settled then, please come for work in the morning. Now, if you'll excuse me, Mrs. Felin, I have a meeting with my own boss. Long life, and good fortune." He waved goodbye, before turning around, and walking back into the compound. The gate close back again. The trooper resumed his patrol. If it wasn't for the small mountain of credits in her hand, and the food, she would have believed it to be a dream. Apton and her child wouldn't go hungry tonight, and she had a job again. Her walk back home was light.
"The legendary Gan kindness is a fact, after all," Caruno commented.
Max walked with Caruno, both keeping step. "Caruno, why does this happen? Why do people like her are forced to do this?"
Caruno simply nodded. "The view in the streets below, young master, is far different from the ivory towers of the Homeworlds. Life is not easy here, nor anywhere else, even the famed Andorran Republic, where they say the streets are paved with gold. There are many that slip through the cracks, thus they end up where they are now. Destitute and lost."
"Did you see how sad her eyes were, how lost she was? How can we let this happen?"
"Another reality you must face young master. We cannot feed nor clothe all of humanity's poor, mega-corporation though we are. You must realize we all serve a higher power. And that power dictates that what does not bring profit, is not to be done at all."
"What about the governments benefit programs? They say so much of how they help the poor and the destitute?"
"Only those that have a use for them, young master. Those that cannot find work with the governments, or the mega-corporations have difficulty earning their bread. And if you are no use to them, you are dismissed. The cycle is vicious, and no matter what the governments say, they cannot feed and clothe all of humanity's poor, either."
Max kept silent. The facts hammered into his skull. These hard facts were never taught to him before.
Caruno smiled in approval. "But help when you can. What you gave her would probably amount to at least three months worth of food. A pittance to us, a gift worth the world to them. A few small acts of kindness will be repaid to you in the future." At that, Max gave a wan smile.
Caruno led them into the main complex proper, past two Homeguard troopers with Archer pistols guarding the blast door. They both saluted as they went past. The door closed with a resounding hiss and thud. Inside, it was more tolerable. The air conditioning of the base lent it a refreshing coolness, though the sterilized scent of atmosphere reprocessors was a sharp contrast to the air outside.
Inside, Max saw packed into the sides of corridors and walkways, as well as anywhere possible dozens of cargo crates. Blue, green and red in colour. Light powerloaders carried sets of them out to waiting transports. Personnel seemed to be hurrying all over the place.
"Yes, young master, it is indeed that bad. This is not some raid, nor even a skirmish. This is full-blown war. The Homeguard is not meant to fight that kind of battle. There is no other choice to save lives and assets other than to evacuate everything we can now," said Caruno, answering his unspoken question.
"What of the local residents of Tyr VII?"
Caruno continued, slowing down to match pace with Max. Behind him, Richard and his guard continued following them. "TISD has said that the Confed 3rd Fleet and the Union 1st Fleet have been assigned to eliminate the threat. That should be adequate. However, Lord John's priority is to evacuate our people first. That is why we pay the government taxes after all."
"Would the government be able to airlift the populace in time?"
Caruno shrugged. "I don't know, young master. But since they claim to be all powerful, I can't see why not. " He gave a smile, "the customer is always right after all, even if they are fundamentally wrong."
As they talked they walked deeper and deeper into the base. Wedges of the bedrock of the planet, dusty and bone dry poked through the metal walls and supports. The deeper they went, the more security there was. Caruno paused before a large blastdoor. On it, in Chinese script, as well as English was the word. "COM-HQ." The command center. The administrative heart of the base.
"We're here, young master" Caruno turned towards the guards. "Hello, gentlemen. We meet again." Caruno smiled. The guards didn't. He gestured towards Max. "This is Maximilian Gan... we are both to see milord John."
Like all guards, which looked the same as any other, one of the pair grunted in mono-syllables, "Scan first."
The two guards at the door glared at Caruno, and Max, as they both submitted their retinal scans and palm prints. Their fingers seemed to hover over the triggers of their Archers, as if expecting trouble, but relaxed when the door beeped a confirmation that they were who they said they were. "Pass," grunted the other guard. So much for native wit.
Richard and his men still kept the stiff upper lip and serious demeanor. An unusual contrast, to be sure. The way they were so relaxed off duty, and the way they acted now.
The outer blast door first opened, cycling through a heavy lock before the inner one unlocked itself, revealing the inside of the command center. Though modest in comparison to the head-quarters back on the Homeworld, Sutari ComCen was nothing, if not efficient.
A tall man, different from the rest turned and looked at the new arrivals. Caruno nodded, and bowed before taking his place at his side.
"Ah, the great representative of the Gans has arrived, in the nick of time," The tall man said scornfully as he gave a glance at him, before turning his gaze back to the gigantic wall screen, showing the events around the area. The command center for Sutari base was a nest of organized chaos. Every few minutes, a technician or lesser executive went up to the tall man to report, or ask something. Tanfen technicians and execs rushed about, delivering status reports and updating the gigantic viewscreen. On it were shown the integrity and status of all local assets. In a small subscreen were direct newsfeeds and local recon data.
One look at Lord John, and Max remembered why he stayed away from him, or for the matter, any gathering involving his generation in the Tan's. Especially those massive Family gatherings to celebrate the passing of Winter, or "Kor Tung" in Chinese. His uncle looked so unfriendly that if his face was on credit notes, the galactic economy would ground to a halt for people not using them.
Max walked up to John, holding out his hand. "Hello, Uncle..." John didn't reciprocate, but merely glared at Max. His hands were still behind his back, and his gaze turned more annoyed by the minute. Max looked dumbfounded, until he realized his mistake. Oops.
He took back his hand, then bowed. "Milord John, greetings. I am your nephew, Maximilian Gan, from the Homeworlds."
Only then did John give a stern nod of approval. "At least you did not forget your manners, boy."
"Thank you, milord."
Lord John then took in the rest of his retinue. "Impressive I see, a Gan with Family Tan Loyalist Marines. Your mother cares much for her son." His gaze then took in Richard. "Greetings Richard, how is the Grand Master?"
Richard gave a short bow and a smile. "Greetings, milord John. Grand Master Branford is well, and she sends her regards."
John nodded. "I would spend time to discuss matters with you, but another time, good Richard."
After that, he nodded or acknowledged the presence of each of Max's retinue. Until his gaze fell on Celes. Lord John stared at Celes long and hard before breaking his gaze. It was as if he knew something, but didn't want to tell. Celes didn't respond to his stare, but continued to stare straight ahead.
"I assume that you have become acquainted with your personal Guard, Nephew?"
Max nodded, "Yes, milord John. I have gotten to know them better over the journey here to Sutari branch."
John nodded and gestured at each one of his men in turn "Your men are quite capable, and loyal. Do not squander them, nephew." He then looked at Celes, "And some prove to be excellent soldiers and tacticians who have," and he paused, "Served our Family time and time again." Max raised his eyebrow at the strange choice of words and his singling out of Celes.
"You are here to learn to be a contributing member of the Families, are you not?"
"Yes, milord, but I have but a query to ask of you."
"Spare me the small talk. As you can see, we are in the middle of a crisis here."
"Forgive me for asking, milord, but what is the purpose of our evacuation of Sutari branch? All your men said to refer to you."
John gestured to a tech, who then proffered an optical ROM, which John took and then slapped into Max's hand. "A copy of the report by courier from TISD. I have not the time to brief you. Read it once, and understand. The disc will self delete after you are done reading it." Max took it, and thanked him.
"You came with a Command Galaxy, did you not?"
"Yes, milord, the Starry Memory."
"You can read the disc later. For now, I require you to be on a special task for me. My wife is to be escorted onto the medical frigate Melissa, fifteen minutes from now. You, and your retinue are to escort her, and ensure her safety. Once she is safely on board, you are to remain in orbit to join the Fleet to evacuate Sutari."
John then turned to Richard, "Ensure this boy gets the job done, Richard."
Richard nodded, then saluted. "Aye, your will be done."
"My lady is in Ward A-56, Eastern Wing." He then turned to his aide. "Caruno?"
"Go into the system, and authorize Maximilian to access the ward. Inform Mei Yin and Garulf that they are to escort Elayne to his ship."
He turned back to Max. "Maximilian, you may leave now."
At that, he turned from Max, and concentrated his attention on other tasks. Max gave another bow, before leaving. 'So much for being a nice guy' he muttered under his breath.
It took a few minutes, but he finally found the ward. Mei Yin and Garulf, the two Loyalist Marines on guard tensed as they saw Max enter. The two guards nodded in recognition at Richard and Marle and grinned, but still insisted for ID. Once that was confirmed, they relaxed and lowered their weapons.
"We'll wait outside here, Max, I haven't seen these two jokers in a long time" He heard a lot of back patting and rough jokes as the door to the private ward opened.
The only occupant inside the room was a woman, apparently soon to expect. Her raven locks seemed to cover the pillow she was on. The woman was simply resting, but turned up to look at her visitor.
Elayne tried to get up from bed, but flumped down back in exhaustion. "Oh, bother..."
Max smiled. "Aunt Elayne, it's been a long time! Hello."
Elayne squinted at the lead figure, dressed in Gan livery and with Walking Steel colors. Was it? "Maximilian, is that you?"
"Yes... it is Aunt Elayne. Yes it is..."
Elayne smiled and proffered her hand. Max touched his lips to it and stood back, grinning.
"Hello nephew. It has been some time. When was the last time I saw you? Back at the last New Year gathering, before you were sent on tour with the Walking Steel. You look handsomer now" She gestured at the uniform. "And dashing. I hazard some of the younger cousins may consider you a ripe catch." Elayne chuckled. Where John was a pillar of stone, Elayne was warm and friendly, and informal in every sense of the word.
Max grinned sheepishly and loosened his collar. "All in good time, Aunt Elayne."
"And Keiko, and your father, are they well?"
"Very. I didn't realize you were expecting, if not, I would have brought a present. Sorry about that, Aunt."
She shooed the thought away with her hand. "No, don't be. News is hard to send here on the edge. Your uncle thought about announcing it to the Homeworlds only after she was born."
Elayne smiled. "I was a bit hasty, and eager to find out. So I tested for gender. You are to be an uncle now, Maxim."
"I'm honored, but what is her name to be?"
"We are in a fix. It will either be Nina or Yuriko. We'll have to see her temperament when she comes."
"Ah... I see." He nodded in understanding.
"Enough about me, Max. Now, what brings you here?"
"I was supposed to be understudy to Lord John, and he's given me my first task. I am here to ferry you aboard my ship, the Galaxy Starry Memory, to the medical frigate Melissa."
"Is it time then?"
Max nodded. "Uncle John said so. I'll get the medical staff to pack your stuff."
"Already done. It's time to go, then."
The medics gently set her on a stretcher, which they then pushed.
"Can you be a dear and help me get my bag, Max?"
"Sure." He hefted a small carry case.
"Don't think badly of John. It's just that a lot is on his shoulders, and the Tan's never were good at expressing themselves, he really is a nice man."
"But I don't..."
"Then why that sour smirk when you heard his name?"
He held up his hands in surrender. "All right, all right. I do admit it. He seems so distant, and hostile."
Elayne smiled. "If he was, I would never have married him. He really is a good man. Just bear with him, he means well for all of the Families."
"I will, Aunt. I will. It's time to go."
When Elayne, Max and the medical staff assembled outside the ward, the Marines hushed up, harrumphed then formed up in equal lines, with Elayne and Max in the middle. They then marched off to the Memory. As they passed the emergency ward, it seemed strangely quiet. Max managed a peek as he gone by. All that was left were some soiled and turned over beds, and several IV drips. The rest of the occupants, and everything else that could be evacuated was already on the Melissa. As they walked down the corridor, bank after bank of overhead corridor lights dimmed, and finally shut down as the base slowly went to sleep. Behind them, nothing stirred.
Felin saw dozens of ships burn for high orbit. She went back to the starport, and the base, but to her surprise, nothing stirred. It was abandoned. Empty. There were no guards, no sign of life at all. As if a giant hand came down to sweep all life from the base, leaving it a barren and hollow shell.
She saw the last ship leave, and saw Max again, leading a band of men, and a woman like her, heavy with child. He didn't see her. She did not know what was happening, save that the entire base was silent. It had been too much to hope for. Her small hope that the world would finally give some small measure of happiness was dashed to the ground like broken glass. That job would never come. Without it, she couldn't pay off her mortgage. Her family would go hungry.
The world was a cruel place. A cruel place indeed. She turned around, tears in her eyes as she begun the tiring walk back home. It had been too good to be true anyway. She did not know how long the rations, or the money would last.
Max could only utter to the air around him as he saw the small figure of a woman, at the edge of the base, near the dumping grounds, watching the last ship leave Sutari. He caught sight of her as the ship was in flight.
In Orbit around Tyr VII
"Milord, the lady Elayne is onboard the Melissa and is well."
Lord John, of late CEO of Tanfen Sutari branch looked down and regarded the place he had come to call home these past two decades. It was now to be abandoned in the face of the enemy. Its white cirrus clouds and brown undulating landscape may have been dull, but it was home.
"Thank you, Caruno."
"One more thing, milord. Master Maximilian wishes to speak with you, on the Comm from the Memory."
"Patch him through."
Max image popped up on the screen next to the viewport, his image sharp and clear, since the distance between the two Galaxys was so short.
"Milord, I have read the report. What is to become of the people of Tyr? We could evacuate some of them..."
"That is not our concern, Nephew. That is for the governments to decide."
"What of our Homeguards? Shouldn't they be helping get these people out of there?"
John glared at Max, growing increasingly impatient with the boy.
"None of our," he emphasized the next word, "surviving TSF units are in a Homeguard capacity in the system at this time. Tyr has its own Militia."
"But, milord, what if they can't evacuate the system in time... we would be leaving these people to their doom!"
"Then it is the fault of the governments for not arming their own militia properly. Enough. Speak no more of this."
He raised his hand in a chopping gesture, ending the transmission. He then signaled Caruno. "Inform the fleet that we are to leave Tyr orbit and make for the jump point. Ensure our remaining Guard fighters have fresh pilots and armaments."
"Already done, milord."
As the last Tanfen ship lifted for orbit, the base seemed silent and empty. Where people once stood, on the expansive base, there was nothing but the silent howling of the wind, and dust devils dancing with glee. Crimson dust began blowing a thin red blanket over everything. Where there was the dull hum of machinery, computers, production facilities and machine shops, there was now only the silent susurrus of the Tyrran breeze. Tanfen Sutari Branch was in all aspects, abandoned. A landfish, freed from captivity, and abandoned in the rush regarded the long forgotten landscape it had never seen from the farms with its goggle eyes, and then begun the ponderous task of inching itself with its hooked fins over the baked tarmac to freedom. Its holding pen sat forgotten and turned over. It seemed even the wildlife knew when to leave.
Overhead, near the scrapping yards, the gathered sector fleet, consisting of dozens of freighters and merchant ships of all sizes began forming up. The last ships being repaired cut open their fuel and mooring lines, leaving the tubes floating aimlessly in space like weird metallic tentacles as they formed up on the fleet. In the centre was the medical frigate Melissa, containing all of the Corp's wounded, and infirm, along with the three Command Galaxys of the Homeguard -- the Starry Memory, the Undine, and Kaikuhur. Around them, in loose formation were dozens of freighters and tankers, each of them containing valuable personnel, equipment and everything else that could be evacuated, including, most important of all, the bases' datacore-the sum knowledge of years of research and sales figures and access codes to access Tanfennet. On the outer perimeter were the sad remnants of the system Homeguard, several fighter flights worth, though some of them remained in orbit around the scrapping yard, abandoned and salvaged for parts. A shattered Hellcat and several Arrows, their skeletal, charred hulls, stripped bare of parts floated around the scrapping yard in space, mute testament to the pressing need to abandon Tyr.
In minutes, the fleet was ready, and in formation. As one, their drives lighted up, and as one, they burned for the jump-point, leaving Tyr to its fate. Recon Arrows blazed ahead of the fleet like shooting stars to light the way for the rest of the fleet while Hellcats and Thunderbolts huddled protectively at the edges of the main body, like shepherd dogs guarding a flock.
Soon, Tyr VII was silent, save for the clamoring of those left behind.
Back on the
on New Maynah
A woman with purple haired locks sat in a darkened room, before a table, with the Tarot before her. She had already drawn one.
The Fool. A man walking off a cliff, unknowing of his fate. Or that of a man so blinded by duty, and pride that he walked into disaster.
She drew another, the Two of Swords. A squire with a sword in hand, and one planted into the earth. A soldier in tune with the elements, and of the heart. Or a man that knew the right way, but did not know how to go about it.
Then came Death. The grim reaper astride a horse with his scythe, with the fallen below him. Conflict was to come, along with great loss and sacrifice. But of what, she was not sure.
After that came the Lovers, showing a pair of entwined lovers under a full moon, though it was upside down. A broken heart, or many was soon to come, though there was promise of a lasting love.
The woman sighed tiredly, then blew out the candles, turning the room dark once more. The night was long, and it would last for much longer. She did not know how long until the dawn would come, if it ever did.