Anthony Feld fiddled with the little doll placed next to his throne. It was an old man sitting on a stool. His neck had been fashioned from a spring and he held his little hands up in a shrug. The expression on his bobbing head was some poor attempt at surprise.
“How long did it take you to get that uniform on by yourself?” The voice belonged to an inter-fleet communication panel positioned at the foot of the dais which held his command control relay unit and captains override modules. He felt like a child up here above the rest of the crew. On the panel a woman’s face, long and framed with amber hair smirked at him. The little bobbing man belonged to her.
“No time at all, could have used some help on the hike to the chair though.” He was only half joking there. The ORE issue Orca was a slab of steel from any port window in the galaxy but things seemed bigger on the inside. He had traversed small passageways and thick bulkhead brace ways to enter onto gantries overlooked vast chasms of storage space. Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia warred as his perception was repeatedly shrank and expanded from one turn to another. It would take him time to get used to the new normal. He flicked the little man’s head again.
The man, along with the girl had been won on a coin toss. An old flirtatious advance that had earned him a date and a lifetime with the woman he loved. That was all of the story he would tell people who bothered to ask. The late-night working, the two restaurants they had argued over, the quiet confusion that followed. Those were for him and her.
The coin, now back in its box at their station quarters had won him the chair he was in now as well. They had flipped for the Orca when He had told them He was expanding the operation. Anthony felt much the same about Capsuleers as he did about suns or planets. They were simply too big to conceive. They were beyond time and the gods of space. He had always wanted to be in space. Something that would keep him out of the hell of lower-level hive or station work. So, he had taken to crewing a mining ship. He went for a safe contract, no low/null jobs. No J space teams where the majority of men inside were criminals serving time chained to their stations. A small job running a day miner. He had met her there and he had met Him.
They had done well for themselves. Starting in that small Venture the three of them had worked into larger vessels and from belts to moon operations. They picked crew together. Anthony was the captain his now wife Sara lieutenant and He, well He did what all stars do, allowed them to stand in his light. Then the moon belts went away. Anthony never got conformation as to why. Market shifts, material availability, the ore just wasn’t there. It was a scary time for anyone who fed their children on rocks and both Anthony and Sara had long nights dreaming of doing exactly that.
He had gone then. They didn’t know where. It had worried them but He never decommissioned them. The checks came every month and they maintained the hardware. When He did come back, He had a partner. They looked like fractured images of each other. Different but with the same beginnings it seemed. Their mannerism where like that too but if commented on both would deny it and a rage would burn in Their eyes.
At first Anthony had thought They were coming to liquidate the small store of ships and materials He had left behind. He was shocked when They said They were restarting the operation. More mining He had said and more ships. That’s when they showed Anthony and Sara the Orca. Anthony remembered the four of them standing at one of the viewing pavilions along the interior station walkway. It was massive, beyond massive when only a few 100 meters away from it.
They had asked about efficiency and cost concerns but the other one had spoke up then.
“We will be running two ships for this.” He then pointed to an upper docking bay where the nose of another vessel could be seen. It was another ORE vessel and from the looks brand new as well. It was a Covetor.
The two of them had gone back out to the bay that night. After talking He had assured them that their cut was going to be equal and that He wanted each of them to pick a ship to captain. He said He trusted them. So, they had gone out together and they had brought the little coin. The flip had been bitter. He had said he wanted the Covetor. She had called him a liar. She had smiled when he said he’d take the Orca. She had laughed when he offered to let her captain it for sexual favors.
So, they had set out. They had laughed that belts were too small to support them. Shot fireworks at the tiny Venture crews that buzzed about them and remembered the past. They saw before them a lifetime of wealth and prosperity.
“Not gonna lie to ya baby, feels pretty good sitting up here.” He rubbed the armrests of the captain’s throne. He smiled as she rolled her eyes at him. The bridge of the Orca stretched before him and some 20 meters from where he was setting was a long wall of windows that gave view to a field of asteroids and his wife’s own vessel.
“You won’t be setting for long. I’ll have that big beast full in a few hours.” She said smiling to herself as she looked off screen. The Covetor was an extremely fast miner, filling vast portions of its ore hold with huge power units and cooling arrays which pushed its mining lasers far past their standard operating parameters. It required attention though and she was giving it her all. She frowned.
There was a thump followed by two more in rapid succession as the atmosphere inside the Orca pulsed in response to warp dilation in close proximity. She looked back at him, eyes wide and terrified.
“Catalysts.” was all she said
He saw the lights through the bridge window draw tracers from the long hulls of the three new ships towards the Coveter. Where they touched it, insanity ensued. From his vantage the profile of the Coveter did not change at first but it was haloed by fire and ejectorate from the far side of the vessel. When he looked back at the screen his wife was gone. He saw hell through the screen as sparks and smoke began to fill the Coveters bridge. He heard screams.
“Drop drone control! Launch ewar drones. Break those locks!” He was screaming, he had tried to stand to give the commands but his knees gave out. Then he heard it. The negative overrides coming from drone controller stations below him.
“Sir, drone disconnect has been countermanded by Capsule command.”
He wasn’t paying attention. His hands were shaking as he fiddled with the nobs and buttons surrounding his command throne. Another wink of light. He didn’t see it. He would grow old regretting that he did not see it. But he had to save her. Every input he tried returned the same response “Negative, command override.” He took to punching the panels. That didn’t work either.
“Anthony?” He turned to the voice. Outside he could see the Coveter taking fire. Flames were shooting from its exhaust stacks higher than the vessel was long and it looked as though the coolant housings lining the center of the vessel had all frozen. Without them the internal temperature of the ships holding bays would begin to heat. He had no doubt that everyone inside of those chambers were burning by now.
“Anthony?” He looked down. He looked at his wife. She was holding on to the screen now. Her face was ravaged, her right eye socket looked to be broken, blood covered her chin.
Another flash of light from his periphery and the ship gave birth to a lifetime of lose. It bloomed in reds and oranges and large pieces of it, super-heated, screamed into the void trailing sparks. There was nothing left. Not to say, not to do. The Catalysts hung silently in the void looking at him. A further chain of thumps entered the Orcas bridge as more vessels warped to the field. He didn’t check the ship info. The newly arrived fleet unloaded on the Catalysts. As they ripped apart he imagined he could see bodies flying from them.
Once the flashes cleared, he could see the ID lights of small pods glinting in space before zipping off. He still hadn’t moved. The bridge was full of noise some directed at him some at each other some at god. He looked down at his finger that was still idly pressing the drone disconnect command. The little input monitor repeating line after line “Negative, command override.” He stopped pressing the button.
Someone was trying to contact the wreckage. Hoping anyone was still alive. No one answered. He tried to stand again. His knees, ever rebellious, again quite him. He fell to the floor in front of his throne. Before him, static displayed on the fleet comm panel before fading to black. The systems AI turned off dead communications lines, as to not be a bother.
“Sir, there is another signature coming in!” It was a fresh-faced boy. The boy had told him he felt lucky to be selected for capitol command when he had offered the contract. Anthony had told him he was lucky and regaled stories of the “tough days” when him and Sara had first started. He had liked the boy.
The screen in front of him came on again and for a split second the face it held was his wife. Then it resolved. Not his Sara, some other woman. Older with a stern jaw.
“Captain Feld, Captain Johanna Hart. I understand you all have had an eventful morning. Hopefully we can make up the lost mining time together.” She smiled. He’d never met her. Her ship, a gleaming Procurer sat off the bridge some 1600 meters and had already started up its mining lasers. He sat in front of the little screen on the floor like a child watching cartoons.
“Captain, could you please release access to your fleet hanger? I’d like to let my crew start setting up the transfer protocols.”
Something had worked its way into his hand. The little doll that had fell to the floor with him. He looked down at the little man. His head bobbing back and forth with his little hands raised to either side. He didn’t think it looked like surprise anymore. It looked like horror.
He heard the Capsuleer command override transferring hanger information to the other ship. He didn’t do anything.