This was…some kind of draft I was doing years and years ago. I still like it, actually. Lots of evocative prose here. As I post more, you’ll probably notice that I keep returning to the themes and characters in this draft no matter where I am or what I’m doing. That’s good. It’s how I know I’m doing my Will that was given by him who sent me.
2499: Late galactic fall. The last galactic months of the last year of normalcy, peace, and general contentedness with its current state that the Terran Empire will ever know.
The splinter faction known as the Human Federation sits quietly in its sector of isolated space, fueling man’s fire of rage, prejudice and hate for anything different from itself, blaming Terra’s alliance with the only alien species in human space, the Chlanii, for causing the current set of problems befalling the Empire. These problems would be familiar to any empire throughout history – a feeling of complacency, decadence, overconfidence, all at once and conflicting with each other, mixing together to create a scene that the ancient Romans would have recognized all too well. An empire is about to fall like an old, dead tree that has stood for four hundred years too long, its branches spread too far from the roots, the roots themselves decayed to the core, and this insidious rot spreading to the farthest leaf quicker than the greatest minds in the Empire can even realize, let alone keep in check….
These, then, are the players in the last epic saga of humanity’s Golden Age.
An old, proud empire, ruled by humans – resourceful, lucky beings, who may one day be remembered for pushing that luck too far, running their resources too thin. Full of elder statesmen in name only, who have no real solutions. Wallowing in their own riches, throwing the pearls of a thousand stars before the swine of a thousand worlds, while the blue topaz at the center of the empire melts away, her skies turning black with thick, unbreathable smog, her soil taking on contagion of a thousand sickly colors, and her seas turning to bitter poison – the eldest children ruling harshly over their younger brothers and sisters, from literal ivory towers miles in the sky, as their beautiful, fertile, wild mother burns…
A new faction, young, hot blood, yet drawn from the same tired human stock – and showing it. Hateful, prejudiced. Despite its genetic newness and the appeal of ideas that seem novel and better than the old guard’s, unoriginal to the extreme. Blind marchers down a dead-end road worn thin by human feet since the first tribes with a different skin color or different customs encountered one another in Terra’s distant past. A symptom of humanity’s long, slow death, rather than its cure…
A wonderful, strange, violent confederation of near-human, yet utterly alien tribes, more amazing than anything Terra’s colorful old pulp magazines and comic books could ever imagine, where the warrior women rule over the breeder-slave men, organic technology is as ubiquitous as silicon and metal in human space – and the peace is kept by either the threat or constant reality of war. Perhaps too imbalanced, both politically and culturally, to save Terra’s children on its own, but old enough, wise enough, and skilled enough in the arts of war to offer her true saviors a chance – if they are willing to accept an alien way along with the old human traditions.
And what of these true saviors? Who are they? Which of the Imperium’s many worlds do they call home? Or will they come from outside…or perhaps Above, as in mythic stories of old? More importantly, can they keep Terra from falling into eternal night at the hands of her own children? This is still unclear…but one fact is certain – written in burning runes on the mind and heart of any son or daughter of Terra with eyes to see, and a mind to think:
The Empire is dying. It is late fall…despite how good things look to the average Imperial citizen, Winter is coming. And the human race may not survive to see the spring….
In the depths of space, somewhere between Sirius and Beta Antares IV, on a small insignificant branch of the Imperial Spaceway, a long, sleek, space freighter moved silently at the legal cruising speed, on its way to a routine cargo drop-off at a minor starport on the world of Delvis III.
The freighter was coated in a visually arresting coat of reflective crimson paint, and bedecked in a patriotic fashion with an even more noticeable, highly stylized, angular representation of the Imperial Eagle, complete with bolts of white lightning clutched in its talons. The Eagle adorned the forward portion of the ship’s fuselage, taking up 5 meters of space between the somewhat isolated, pronounced cockpit to the fore, and the more homogeneous, comfortable main crew compartment towards the aft. Large block letters along the middle portion of the fuselage gave the ship’s Imperial Starship Registry number, and identified her by an equally patriotic name – the Crimson Eagle.
It should have been obvious, theoretically, to any good citizen of the Empire, that the pilot, captain, and crew of the Crimson Eagle were good citizens themselves, paying their yearly taxes, obeying all laws, and sure to offer their vessel in service of the Empire at the drop of a Centurion’s ultrasteel helmet. Perhaps this was true of most citizens, especially those who didn’t understand the ways in which a ship’s crew would advertise services that were less than patriotic, perhaps even criminal. Another piece of art adorned the aft side of the ship, above her sublight engine block.
A black dragon, its claws clutching a hoard of coins, and jewels piled about its haunches. This art was more realistic, and very beautiful. The ship’s captain, or perhaps a previous owner, obviously loved art, or dragons, or possibly both. This was the intended impression anyway, and actually quite true – a trained eye, however, would note the dragon’s eyes, which were actually red running lights, placed in a configuration not compliant with Imperial regulations. The left one flashed every two minutes and twenty-five seconds, staying on for exactly eight seconds when it lit up, and the right one pulsed regularly and quickly every seven seconds. What a person versed in spacer culture, specifically the ways of the so-called Free Traders, would likely know was that a dragon of any kind near the aft engine block meant the ship’s owners engaged in illegal, or at best questionable activity for profit. Dragons of various types and colors meant different things – for example, a dragon with jewels and gold meant that the ship was involved in economic misbehavior, while one breathing fire or in some other form of combat meant that lives were at stake wherever the ship traveled. The color identified the level of offense the ship’s captain was willing to commit for the right price – white dragons meant that the crew’s morals where relatively intact. The colors went up through green, yellow, blue, and red, finally coming to black. Black meant that no job was too small, no law unbreakable, no stain too dirty, of course given the proper profit. And the running lights in the dragon’s eyes were an elaborate blink code – in this case they signaled that the Crimson Eagle was a smuggling vessel specifically. She was in some unspecified stage of a job, and therefore unavailable to prospective employers.
It was this job that Free Trader Captain Robin Conley was attempting to complete, unaware that within nine lightyears, trained eyes awaited, watching her carefully. She had always been told by her companions in the business, and rightly so, that it was not illegal to have a dragon of any color or disposition on one’s aft engine block, and that running light violations were not very high on the Imperial Space Patrol’s list of problems plaguing the spaceways. It was only if you were boarded with a dragon on your back, as the spacers said, and a cargo bay full of illicit goods, that you were in danger. After all, anyone could put art of any kind on their ship – the Space Patrol couldn’t just stop and search someone because of their preference in hull decorations. This was all true, but the Delvis III patrol had received a tip from a local concerned citizen, concerned about a local abandoned warehouse, and the fact that lately it had not been so abandoned, with ships landing at its old, dilapidated, yet still-functional landing pad at all hours of the night, and all sorts of odd things going on after these landings took place. Therefore Delvis III’s finest trained eyes were scanning the planet’s vicinity to a range of fifty lightyears, searching for dragons of any type, but particularly those hoarding gold and jewels. If they found any dragons breathing fire, so much the better – and they were prepared to hold their own against a black fire dragon or two. No chances were being taken.
Blissfully unaware of all this, Robin Conley held down the night shift in the Crimson Eagle‘s cockpit, hard, fast, pulsating music threatening to tear the sound system to shreds. She was beautiful despite her somewhat tired state – brown hair disheveled from loading the pallets onto her ship, yet still managing to fall around her shoulders and down her back in quite an attractive manner, ocean-blue eyes a bit dim from watching the starry expanse before her one minute, and the Eagle‘s control consoles the next, yet still defiant and full of youthful life, her frame sagging, in need of rest, yet still visibly vital and strong. She belonged at the helm of an Imperial starfighter, or perhaps behind the stick of a racing hoverjet, not running cargo from lonely star to lonely star, through the even lonelier blackness of deep space. Those who didn’t know her might say she belonged dancing before Emperor Telvanus himself, she was so beautiful. These people would have been repaid for their intended compliments with a feisty right hook to the jaw – Robin Conley was no one’s plaything. Nor was her beauty skin deep…it came from someplace inside her soul, and had nothing to do with her physical appearance. This was what she’d always been told by her parents, back on Aran until four years ago, and it was what she made a habit of telling herself, despite the temptation a Free Trading woman often felt to use her outward talents to get ahead – to score the right cargo at the right time.
She was a woman of morals, principles, honor. This was the true Robin Conley – others saw a woman in search of a fast credit, black dragon sinking its claws deep into her back, but those close to her knew that she was committing a form of civil disobedience. The Empire had let Aran’s capital city burn at the hands of the Human Federation, during the last incursion into Terran space, four years ago. Actelion had been a smoking ruin within hours, and Robin’s mother, father, and little sister dead likely before that. The Empire would get up off its hind end and avenge their deaths, or Robin would take every last credit she could get from smuggling all manner of goods under Terra’s sleeping nose. In a way, she felt, it was good for the Empire – she was being a true patriot. Because somebody had to teach the fools who ran things back at Terra, and the regional seat at Sirius too, that the children of the Earth needed a better future. She couldn’t create it at age twenty-four – but she could make a scene until someone decided to help her create it. Robin was young and headstrong – she was oblivious to how immature this was, and likely it was fueled by her grief.
The young pilot remembered the last day on Aran like she’d taken a holovid of it. She’d come home from the library with her brother in a real hurry when the air raid alert sounded, intending to get her parents and sister and run for safety. But as they rounded a corner going eighty miles an hour down a deserted street in their small hovercar, home in sight, they’d heard the sounds of screaming engines overhead. Robin had wanted so badly to try to outrun the attack fighters, but then she’d heard the sound of rockets deploying, and turned the hovercar around as fast as she could, almost flipping over as tears filled her eyes. Her right arm had wrapped around her brother instinctively as she’d whispered comfort into his ears. But you couldn’t comfort a ten-year-old boy, not one as smart as Jay. He knew his family had been blown to bits within three hundred yards of him – what the hell could you say to that? They’d hid from the bombs, holding each other tight, then when their senses returned, brother and sister had made a run for the spaceport, and taken flight in the family’s pleasure craft, leaving memories behind as ground control fired at them. At their own people! Maybe the Feds had taken over the turrets…that seemed likely. But it still stung – they had wanted freedom, if not from pain and grief, than from their dying planet’s confining wreckage. Now they had it, and a great ship to enjoy it with, at least compared to the family yacht they’d traded in as soon as they got the chance – but with the cargo Robin was carrying more and more lately, how long would it last?
Anyways, she mused as the ship neared Delvis III, she had Jay. He was here in the cockpit with her – sleeping through the loud music, fourteen-year-old head and heart unworried at the moment by either the possibility that his sister would get them both in really serious trouble, or the grief that they still both felt from time to time, remembering their family and home. He was a great kid, and she was glad to have him acting as her co-pilot. He actually had a stake in their operation – his share was thirty-five percent of whatever they had left after the bills were paid, plus a monthly allowance, provided he behaved, got his education on the Imperial Computer Network (rather than playing games all the time) and most importantly at the moment, learned what was now the family business. In her weird, criminal way, Robin thought, she really cared for her bro. She couldn’t imagine the kind of trouble she might get him into just by having him on board during a cargo run, much less what would happen if someone found out he was her smuggling partner, and this was likely for the best. They were happy in the moment, and they were a close enough team that they could handle any consequences that occurred as a result of her misbehavior. It was just a matter of the effort they put into it – but this was far from Robin’s mind right now, as far as the thought that somewhere nearby, someone was tracking them on a scanner, waiting for the moment to stop watching and start chasing.
She was bopping her head to the music and singing along, checking her own scanner every so often, and checking a few I-Net portals for updates on an upcoming holofilm she and Jay planned to see with the proceeds from their next run. It was in the final stages of production – recording was basically done, and the myriad special effects that made the film so much fun to watch were being added. It looked like a real fun film to see…
As Robin wrapped her right arm around Jay’s sleeping form, hugging her best friend lovingly, a trio of Space Patrol fighters detached from their positions underneath their mothership in orbit around Delvis III, and headed for the Crimson Eagle‘s last position on the Patrol’s scanners. Their time to target was five minutes almost exactly – orders were to incapacitate for boarding. The weird thing was that ten years from now, when Robin remembered this moment, she actually wouldn’t regret checking the film’s portal more than her short-range scanner….