Part 31: Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
What's the full extent of the damage from her attack?
It's slowed the Alliance down. But that was only one of six space stations the Alliance put up around the planet. Security has been stepped up in the other stations. Cosette won't be able to pull something like that again. Not for a long time.
Fine. The admiral is being very helpful to us.
But you're worried about something.
And it's not just Cosette on your mind, is it?
The Alliance has gotten awfully comfortable here. Those space stations in orbit around Ongess aren't temporary: theyre precursors to space elevators. They'll most likely drop tethers down from them to transport Ongessite ore to orbit. That way, they can refine the ore into liquid Ongessite on the stations for warships and to be transported deeper into the core worlds. The Alliance intends to establish a permanent foothold this deep in the Neutral Rim.
Why wouldn't they? The Battle of Ongess cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and many times more resources. Would any rational state actor just leave the Ongessite alone after committing that much resources to obtain it?
But this is hardly a liberation.
Eloquent debates and good feelings do not win wars, captain. Fuel and munitions do.
Its just Cera's not far from here, relatively speaking. We're fighting to liberate our home. Planting an Alliance flag right outside our door doesn't figure well into our liberation.
We have a long history of independent governance. Civil rights. Economic diversification. None of those exist on Ongess.
I hope you're right. Anything else?
Chigara is waiting outside, I believe.
Okay, send her in.
I like how Ava always plays devils advocate and pushes back at the captains assumptions to help him figure out his own thoughts. Shes a good XO. Not the one we deserve, but the one we need.
Is something the matter?
No, captain, not at all. In fact, things are going so well in engineering I decided to take a break. I was just wondering ... Would you like another round of tea? I made some extra pastries and I was thinking they would go well with it.
Sure thing. I always have time for tea with my chief.
Captain ... Please stop calling me that. It doesn't suit me.
I thought my command was just going to be routine patrols. All the Cera Space Force ever did was interdict smugglers and tangle with some local pirates. I was never trained for this. None of us were. All of our smartest and most experienced captains are dead. All that's left is us, the newest ship and greenest crew in the fleet. I've made some calls here I'm not so sure about.
Everything's so much easier in a simulator in officer school. When you actually have to make the call on the spot ... you never know what's going to happen next. You don't have time to think the consequences through. It's just a ... split second, twitch decision. It terrifies me to think that the lives of everyone on this ship depend on nothing more than my guesses.
Captain You've done an amazing job, so far. None of us would have made it this far if it wasn't for you.
But more ... We're all one family, captain. And it's because of you.
I'm just worried about the Solar Alliance. I hope I don't regret working with them.
We all trust you with our lives. I'm sure whatever you do, it'll be the right thing.
I better get going. My staff might need me.
Alright, I better get back to work too.
Of course, Chigara.
Weird Dutch angle aside, I also like when protagonists are just as unsure and second-guess themselves like the rest of us. Without being brooding. Anyway, time to wander the ship a bit.
I noticed you liked doing that.
Ha. My secret's been exposed.
Hey Asaga. A question.
What do you suppose an ideal starship captain is like?
Oh! Super handsome, with princely looks!
Aside from looks, you dork.
Well, I guess he'd be super good with navigation and all that, and be knowledgeable with weaponry .... Not to mention pretty smart with ryder operation too!
... That wasn't what I was asking. Ah, don't worry about it, it was my fault for even asking. Sorry.
Someone who's ... heroic. A captain who'll uphold the truth and fight not to win, but for the name of justice. Someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it means saving the lives of innocents. Someone ... who believes in the goodness of humanity. Who believes no matter what happens, everything will turn out alright in the end. A hero of justice.
I think we all try to see ourselves as that. But it's not so easy in real life.
But aren't all things worth having in life hard to get?
Heh. I guess that's true. Thanks Asaga, for that.
Lets see whats going on downstairs.
Something the matter, Sola?
I was having some difficulty with the Seraphim. It seems like some of the parts from the Alliance are not compatible with my systems.
That's definitely an issue. Im afraid that even though we might be able to perform repairs on the hull, a lot of the Seraphim's gadgetry is beyond our tech. I'll try to get Chigara to work on understanding more of the Seraphim's systems. Even if we don't understand how it works, we might still be able to start replicating parts at least.
I am sorry. I do not wish to cause trouble.
Trouble? The Seraphim's abilities are beyond anything we have right now. It's actually our low tech which is causing the trouble here.
Even though I am a stranger to this time, you have welcomed me as part of your crew.
It's the least we can do for our sharpshooter.
I still do not understand how I survived the Sharr'Lac's Final Tear, nor how I found myself millennia in the future. But ... I am relieved I survived. I no longer wish to return to the great nothingness, but to continue to live so that I may make new friends.
I'm glad to hear that. But you have yourself to thank for that. I didn't do anything.
The strongest form of determination is the kind which comes from your own heart, Sola. Not what comes from others.
I see ... I will remember that.
Lieutenant. Everything all right with the Paladin?
Yes, sir. I've been meaning to talk to you.
What's the matter?
I understand you've got some concerns about the Alliance.
Word spreads fast onboard a ship. All right, what do you have to say?
If you have time, I wanted to show you something.
We're still in the middle of resupplying right now. Ava's got everything under control. All right, what did you want to me see?
I've arranged to have a shuttle take us to one of the Ongessian orbital colonies. I've received clearance from the admiral to have you inspect our efforts on Ongess personally. Once you've seen what we're doing on Ongess, I'm sure you'll change your mind about the Alliance.
All right. Let me contact Ava and tell her that I'll be leaving for a few hours.
Thank you, captain. I'll be waiting here with the shuttle.
Oh, god. Are the life support systems defective?
We were all shocked when we first arrived here, too. This colony was built by the New Empire to accommodate 10,000 workers for their orbital refineries. As you can tell, the population expanded through the years, and now this station holds over half a million people.
Believe it or not, the smell was even worse when we first arrived. We've installed new air purifiers throughout the station's ventilation system, but even so I doubt this station can continue to hold so many people. Come this way. I've prepared an inspection of our relief efforts here for you.
What about food and medicine?
It's as you can imagine.
We have dozens of relief vessels coming and going around the clock. But even then, it's been a struggle. Decades of Ongessite refining has spread toxic chemicals throughout the station. Worse, there are diseases running rampant throughout the station which have been eliminated in civilized space for centuries. In just the few weeks since we've arrived, we've delivered over 50 metric tons of food to the station and twice as much clean water. We've docked a medical cruiser here to tend to the sick. Four more have been diverted from the front lines. We've also set up six water filtration stations throughout the station. Organized neighborhood patrols.
The Alliance is a force of good for the galaxy. We sent the tyrants responsible for this packing back home and brought change for the people of Ongess. Our compassion and technological knowhow will make the galaxy a better place. Beginning with Ongess.
You truly believe that?
Captain. Do you wish to know the truth? I was actually born outside of Alliance space. I saw firsthand what corruption can do to innocents. My family lived in constant fear of the government who demanded all of our livelihoods from us. The same government which never protected us from pirates, and yet always found money to spend on terrorizing the populace. The Alliance has stood for freedom and individual choice from the day of its birth.
Then, it was the New Empire which sought to rule all of mankind. We held them back, an Alliance formed not out of fear or oppression, but out of the universal truth that all of humankind has the right to freedom, equality, and opportunity. Every man, woman, and child throughout the galaxy deserves to forge their own destiny. That is the only universal truth.
You have a visitor. Hi there. What's your name?
I'm Kayto. And this is Kryska.
Kayto, Kyoko, and Kryska?
Hahaha. We make quite the trio.
My mommy says I shouldn't speak with strangers.
Your mommy's right. But don't worry, we're friends.
Okay. I was wonderin' ... Are you one of the star people?
The star people, huh. You could say that, Kyoko.
... I'm sorry. But your mommy would miss you too much if you left.
I don't care!
I know this place isn't as fun as a spaceship. But you see this lady here? Her friends are going to make this station a better place for you, all right? They'll bring you good food. Help you if you ever get sick. They'll plant trees. Maybe one day, they might even build you a playground here. It'll just take some time, all right? You have to be patient.
But remember, you should always stay with your family because once you lose them, you never get them back again.
Shall we continue on, captain?
No. I've seen enough already. Let's go back, lieutenant.
How long do you think it'll take to restore civil society to Ongess?
With the war going on, our efforts are limited. But once the war's finished, the Alliance will be able to dedicate more funding into reconstruction as well. Captain, I joined the Alliance Fleet to do good. Perhaps we are distrusted in the Neutral Rim, but our intentions for the galaxy have always been peaceful.
I appreciate the gesture of good will, I really do, lieutenant. But we in the Neutral Rim value our independence more than Alliance protection.
Kryska ... Some things are worth more than money.
Cosette. How'd you find us?
Our little friend pointed us in the right direction.
Good job, my little bird. You've earned this platinum.
Take our prisoners into custody, boys.
You're making a mistake, Cosette. You should never have brought children into this!
Oh no, captain. By the time I was her age, I had killed men. This isn't your cozy core world. This is Ongess! The pit of the galaxy, where the strong prey on the weak! Take them away, and show them our best!