Uluh Zin's heart began to race as he saw the commotion at the end of the hall. Servants bustled back and forth in and out of doorways near the main entrance, some carrying flowerpots and statues, while others laid the traditional blood-red floor mats in front of the massive stone doors. Uluh clutched his digipad to his chest as he awkwardly ran to catch up with the man in the dark suit.

"Elder Tollen," he gasped as he approached, pushing his glasses back up his nose. he received no answer. "Elder Tollen," he repeated as he caught up to the man's side.

"Hello, Uluh," said Tollen, a stocky, dark man, old enough to be Uluh's grandfather. The medals running down his sleeve rattled as he walked. His wrinkled face betrayed his true nature. Even at his age, Tollen was in perfect physical condition, and would his rank not prevent it, he would gladly pick up a sword and fight on the battlefield himself.

"Isn't she early?" Uluh asked the older man.

"Yes, Uluh." he abruptly replied.

Uluh pressed a button on his digipad, and waited for a response from the book-sized device. After a moment, it beeped, and displayed the week's schedule. He scanned the screen.

"A few days early, according to-" Uluh looked up at Tollen. The Elder was in no mood for such conversation. Uluh powered off his digipad. There was a pause, and Tollen sighed.

"Yes Uluh, it would seem so." The two spent the rest of the walk in silence.

By the time they reached the doors, the servants had finished their work. The mats were all in place, creating a walkway lined on either side with stands displaying the imperial standard, the silhouette of a horned woman. As the pair approached the doors, the doors let out a hydraulic hiss, and slowly began to open. Tollen and Uluh stepped out into the wind and darkness of the cliffside landing pad, just in time to see the black craft drop out of the clouds.



The black ship creaked and rattled as it broke through the atmosphere. The small, conical shuttle lay flat, like an arrow pointing off toward the horizon. The pilot punched the reverse-thrusters as gravity took hold, and slowed its descent. Up here, the sky was pure blue, but far below hung thick black clouds, amongst which a million silent forks of lightning danced.

The pilot sat in the tight cockpit, incognizant of the machinery's constant low hum, with knobs and switches as far as he could reach. He entered a series of commands into a terminal, and the began to turn upright to accomodate a faster drop through the clouds. A proximity alarm sounded as the ship's sensors detected the incredible electrical energy in the oncoming clouds. He pressed a button and silenced it. The cracks of the lightning below were now audible. Another series of commands, and a diagnostic screen flickered on, with a schematic of the ship. The pilot re-routed a portion of the ship's power to the shielding system, and the reverse-thrusters sputtered out. No ship this small could fit an energy cell strong enough to continue running full-function, and survive the electrical storm below.

The ship was engulfed in a loud buzz as the shields engaged, but soon the lightning became even louder. Another screen flashed, warning of the immense electrical energy within range, and the pilot continued to run his diagnostics. Everything was in order for descent. The ship dropped into the clouds with a deafening roar.



Uluh Zin hurried along the corridors of the Albada Palace, clipboard clutched tight to his chest. The south-east wing was in fact one giant room with a roof forty feet high, and massive pillars extending from floor to ceiling. Filled with art, sculptures, and antiquities of unimaginable value, the room was usually used for entertaining, and would often be filled wall to wall with political figures, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. But today the south-east wing was silent, save for the click of Uluh Zin’s boots echoing through the great emptiness, and his muttering under his breath as he ran.

“Shit shit shit shit…”

He crossed the room, and ran out into the near-blinding sunlight, continuing south across the large stone bridge that connected the Albada Palace to the Lord’s Fort, the bureaucratic heart of the Commonwealth.

When Uluh was a boy, he had once locked himself out onto the roof of his grandfather’s lighthouse. He spent two days in the cold and rain, with his only view the coast and sea two hundred feet below. Needless to say, he had developed a fear of heights. The bridge upon which he now ran stood four hundred feet above the valley below and normally put the fear of the Gods into him. Currently, however, this fear was greatly outweighed by another. Only a few hundred yards ahead, in the Lord’s Fort, this fear would be either validated or dispelled.

The Lord’s Fort was once, back in the days of the Old Kingdoms, home to the Kings and Queens of those ages, but centuries had come and gone, and the hulking edifice had taken on more of a political and military purpose. While the Albada Palace stood just as it did during the time of the ancient kings, Lord’s Fort, despite appearing to be an immense stone castle, had become a construct of the present.

The interior of the fort had been expanded downward, dug deep into the mountain upon which it rested, creating eight additional subterranean floors filled with offices, conference rooms, and quarters for the government employees whose sweat kept the Commonwealth alive. The original floors of the castle, those above ground were reserved for the offices of the high-ranking officials- Generals, political tacticians, advisors, and the like. There was one office in particular, however, that sat high in the main tower of the Fort, overlooking the entire valley, the rolling green hills, and the Oresme River below. That was the office of the Baroness herself, and to where Uluh ran.

“Shit shit shit…”



Saeera jumped up out of bed, and cried out into the dark. Her PDC beeped at her waist. She switched it off, and tried to catch her breath. It took her a moment to remember where she was. It felt strange, sleeping in a real bed, and the foreign feeling confused her at first.

She turned and sat at the edge of the bed. She could no longer hear the sounds of the Quetel working on her ship. She stood up, grabbed her bag, and walked out into the hall. The rest of the house was dark, but she found her way to the kitchen. Rix sat asleep on the sofa across the room. His head had fallen forward and the book he had been reading now lay on the floor by his feet. She stood looking at him for a minute, and then walked to the kitchen table. She pulled a wad of money out of one of her jacket pockets, and quickly counted it. It was the small remainder of the money she’d made on her last job, and what would take Rix two weeks to earn. She put the bills on the table, and on top, and empty glass to hold them down.

“Thanks for everything, Rix,” She said to herself. “I’ll see you soon.”

She opened the kitchen’s screen door, and walked out into a cold, windy night. It was dark, but from what she could see, her ship looked perfect. She opened the side hatch, and climbed aboard her small craft. The door hissed as it sealed behind her, and she took a seat at the control panel. The new parts looked weathered and questionable, but when she hooked her PDC in, the panel came to life.

Saeera set her course, and the engine started to whir. The jets fired, and a moment later, she saw a light turn on inside Rix’s house. Within a few seconds, she was up in the air, and on her way.

The screen door creaked as it closed behind Rix. He stood, holding the wad of bills she’d left. Dammit, Saeera, he thought, thumbing the bills with one hand. He looked down at the money. What the hell did you have to go and do that for?

He looked back up into the sky. He put the wad of bills into his shirt pocket.

“Thanks.” he said out loud. “And good luck…wherever you’re going.

He stood, looking up and following the lights of her ship, until he lost them, and she was gone, disappearing into the night sky.


She awoke to a shrill ringing. She felt as if she was suspended, upside down, hanging by her waist, but she could not open her eyes to see. The pain in her head was excruciating. She could make out far-off voices. Men’s voices, muffled. She could feel sweat running down her face and into her eyes. The voices became slightly clearer. She could make out four or five men’s voices. They sounded frantic, yelling, but in a language she could not understand. A violent wind blew the sound of a storm replacing the ringing in her ears. He hair flapped madly, pulling on her already throbbing head. Slowly, she began to open her eyes. The sweat she thought ran through her hair was blood, and for a few moments, she saw only red.

Saeera hung upside down, helld twenty feet above ground by the safety strap on her seat. All she could feel was pain. The strap dug into her lap, and her right leg hung, her foot hooked around the base of the seat in front of her. It took all of her strength to raise her head to look at her legs. Something during the crash had broken her left leg at the shin, and she could see the bone protrude out the side. She dropped her head again and vomited into the open wreckage of the ship twenty feet below. Her nostrils clogged and she began to cough.

She felt the metal of the ship groan and creak. She could now see, through a mix of blood and tears, the vague shapes of two of the men below, standing amongst the flaming wreckage of the ship. The pointed up at her, and yelled to others that she could not see. She reached up and touched the back of her head, the source of her pain. She felt the gash in the back of her head, and what was a dull throbbing suddenly set ablaze. She jerked her hand away and cried out from the pain. Her fingers dripped with her blood. The metal creaked, louder this time. She screamed again, despite the agony it brought, and she felt one side of her seat dislodge from the upturned floor. It hung sideways for a moment, and she could hear the men below, now screaming to each other. A moment later, the metal above her gave way, and the little girl, still strapped into her seat, fell screaming toward the earth.


When they had finished eating, Rix took the plates to the sink, and looked out the window to check on his workers’ progress.

“Thanks for dinner,” Saeera said.

“Sure. It’s gonna be a few more hours. You sure you don’t want to get some rest?” he asked, still looking out the window.

“Yeah, maybe that’s best.”

“You got a big day tomorrow,” he joked, and looked over to her. She was deep in thought, too deep to crack a smile. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll show you the spare room.”

Saeera followed Rix down the hall, and he led her into the bedroom that was once his son’s. His son had left abruptly one morning a few years before. Rix and his son had been in an argument the night before, and by the time Rix woke up, his son was gone. The room had been stripped, and now contained only the bed and a mirrored dresser along one wall.

“It’s not the best room in the galaxy, but I don’t get too many visitors anymore.” Rix said.

“It’s great, thanks.” She walked ino the room and put her backpack down on the floor. Rix still stood in the doorway.

“You know,” he began. “I’m awful sorryI was so hard on you before.” He paused. “I just-“

“It’s ok, Rix.” Saeera replied. “I know you didn’t mean anything bad by it.”

“I just feel like…ever since your daddy’s gone, there’s nobody there can look after you.”

Saeera sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at him.

“Thanks, Rix. Thanks for doing all this.”

“Sure thing, girl.” He said. “It’s just funny, you know, you’re that little girl I used to know.” He looked down at the floor. “It’s just funny.” Rix paused and put his hand on the doorknob. “You get some rest.” He closed the door.

That little girl I used to know. Those words stayed with her. She sat for a moment. She was tired. Best to get some rest, and focus on the job. She set the alarm on her PDC. She’d get a few hours of sleep, which would do her some good. She hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks. She laid down on the bed, fully-clothed, and within a matter of seconds, she was asleep.



Saeera looked down into the sand.

“Rix, you know I can’t-“

“Yeah, I know, I know.” Rix looked back toward Saeera’s beaten craft. “My guys’ll get right to work. I got the right parts in scrap, they’ll have no problem fixin’ it up.”

“Thanks, Rix. Really.”

“No problem girl, you’re family.”

Saeera looked back up at Rix. It had been a long time since anyone had ever done her a favor. It gave her a little faith in humanity. It had been years since she’d kept friends of any sort. She’d given up on the idea long ago. One way or another, they all screwed her over. It was just a matter of how long, and how bad. Family, she thought. Rix was the closest she had, and they weren’t even related. Once he was gone, she doubted she’d have any ever again. They were too much of a liability for her line of work. Still, it shook her up inside, him calling her family. Like it was something she wanted but could never have. She’d learned over the years to get by on her own How to be self-sufficient and never have to rely on anyone. She’d learned the hard way.

“It’ll be dark before they’re finished,” said Rix. “and I got a spare room if you want to spend the night.”

“Thanks, but I’m on a tight schedule,” She replied. “and this is a pretty big setback.”

“Well how about something to eat?” Rix asked.

She looked back to Rix and smiled.

“Your cooking? You tryin’ to kill me?” she joked.

“Come on, it’s not that bad, you pain in the ass.” Rix replied, and led her inside.

“So how’ya been?” Rix asked, as he lit his stove’s burner. Saeera sat at the small metal table in Rix’s mess of a kitchen.

“Alright, kind of all over the place, you know…traveling a lot.”

“Sight-seeing, I’m sure.” Rix looked over at her, and she down at the table to avoid his glance. Rix could see his words struck a chord. He opened the fridge. “Hope you don’t mind left-overs. All I got is soup and half an Encke.”

Rix pulled the bird and the metal pot from the fridge and placed them on the counter. “Same old shit here,” he said. “Finding scraps, fixing birds, nothing much changes around here. Every once in a while I got the time and the money to get off this rock for a while. You should see all the paperweights I got in my office.” He placed the pot on the stove and looked back at Saeera. She was looking out the window at the sun, now falling low in the sky.

“Yeah?” she asked him, snapping out of a daze. “I never get any souvenirs. I don’t have anywhere to put them.” She looked back at Rix as he put the bird into the oven. He closed the oven door and turned to Saeera.

“You alright girl?” He asked her. “All sudden, you’re actin’ different. What’s goin’ on with you?” Rix leaned back against the kitchen counter.

“I think…” Saeera started, and stopped. She looked back out the window, and then again to Rix. “I think you’re all I’ve got, Rix.”

“What the hell you talkin’ about?” he replied.

“You’re the only family I’ve got. You’re the only one who’s kind to me. It’s been so long since anyone’s cared about me.”

“Well shit, you’re the one who’s flyin’ around the galaxy all the time. You ever think to stop and settle down?” Rix immediately regretted his statement. “I’m sorry, Saeera. I didn’t mean it like-“

“No, it’s alright. You’re right. I’ve forced myself to be alone for so long.” She paused.

“You gotta take it easy.” Rix said. He re-adjusted his stance against the counter. “Maybe stay here a while, see how you-“ Saeera cut him off.

“I’m going to kill Reinard Junii tomorrow.”

The soup began to bubble.

It was a good fifteen seconds before Rix could think of anything to say. He drew a worried sigh.


He moved over the table and sat down with Saeera.

“I thought you…” he stumbled over his words. “I thought you just…you know…stole from the rich, type of thing. I didn’t think-“ Rix was in a state of shock over the confession.

“Yeah, it’s not what you expected, I know.” She replied.

“For the gods’ sake, Saeera, how did you get into all this?”

“It’s complicated. It’s very complicated, but I have to do it.” She said. “I’m far beyond backing out now.”

“I know,” said Rix. “I’m not trying to stop you. I hate the guy as much as anyone, but how the hell did you…I dunno.” Rix scratched his beard.

The two sat, saying nothing for a few moments more. The oven beeped. The bird was done. Rix stood up and opened the oven. He continued to prepare dinner in silence.

Saeera spoke. “I’m way too far into all of this to quit now. There’s people out there who would kill me if they had the chance.”

“Yeah…” Rix replied. He cut up the Encke and divided it onto the two plates. He dished out the soup and turned off the stove. “I just wonder what your father-“ He didn’t finish the sentence. He could almost sense Saeera’s heart skipping a beat. He took the plates and bowls to the table, and sat down with her.

“I’m doing this for my father.” She told him.

Little was said over dinner.



Rix Agelius was sat at his cluttered desk, amongst stacks of invoices and receipts when he heard his ship land. The air conditioner in the window of his cramped office did nothing more than bring the heat inside. Piles of papers lay all around his office, kept in place by paperweights from various amusement parks in the galaxy. The weights were the only saving grace to his office, keeping the only sort of order in Rix’s entire establishment.

He stood up when he heard the engines, and looked out the window. His wreck of a ship touched down in the central square of his salvage yard, and he walked out the door, into the blustery wind to greet it.

The main hatch of the ship hissed, and a ramp folded down from the main doorway. A few moments later, Saeera stepped out.

“Good to see you!” shouted Rix. “It’s a shame about the circumstances, but good to see you anyways.”

“Good to see you too, Rix.” Saeera replied.

“I trust the accommodations were to your liking?” Rix shouted back. Saeera made her way down the ramp towards the old man.

“Pilot wasn’t much company, but yeah, I guess it was alright.”

Rix chuckled out loud. The kind of chuckle one makes when he’s in not-too familiar company. Rix had met Saeera a few times, mostly when she was younger, and while her father had still been alive. “How’s things?” he asked out of formality, as the two had only ever made acquaintance through the now-deceased Bara.

“Doing alright Rix. On a tight schedule though. How’s everything with you?”

The salvage ship’s main hatch opened, and Rix took a glance at Saeera’s wrecked ship.

“Not too bad myself.” He replied. He could sense the formality in her tone. The two had never really become close. Rix was more her father’s friend, and now that her father was gone, it was a mostly superficial relationship. Especially since they hadn’t talked in so long.

“Shit, this is gonna need some work,” he said as he walked towards her craft.

“How long do you think?” Saeera looked worried.

“A few hours, four or five. They don’t make these ships much anymore.” Rix yelled in Quetel to a group of his workers attending to another ship in the yard. They stopped their work and came to inspect Saeera’s ship. One of them shouted back to Rix in the language Saeera could not understand. Rix replied, and they understood. The salvage craft unloaded the ship onto the sandy ground, and the crew began work. Saeera walked closer to Rix, but his gaze was still fixed upon her ship.

“What kinda shit are you into this time?” he asked her. For a moment, Saeera stumbled for the right words.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Rix looked into her eyes.

“You know what I mean.”



Saeera’s PDC started to beep, and she jerked up out of her nap, hand tight on her gun. After a moment, she remembered where she was, and she released her grip. All of the patrons she’d seen before had now cleared out, and now an elderly bearded man sat alone at the bar. He stared into his drink like most others she’d seen at the bars in this town. The bartender had been replaced by a young woman with short blonde hair. She stood behind the bar, cleaning glasses, and looked up at Saeera only when she left the bar.

Back outside, the lights had dimmed. The artifical day was coming to an end. Saeera crossed to A16, hooked the PDC into the console, and opened the door. Once inside, she unlocked the hangar doors and threw them open. Rix’s hulk of a ship was already waiting. It sat thirty-feet tall, a beat-up salvage craft, probably older than her father. She waved toward the front window, and she heard the hydraulic hiss as the main bay door opened. The ramp folded down at the front of the ship, and the large, metal, retrieval claws extended towards her ship. After it was loaded inside Rix’s craft, she shut the hangar doors and used the PDC to check out of the hangar.

The pilot nodded toward Saeera as she came aboard the ship. The Quetel were the dark-skinned desert-dwellers of Byrgius, the world on which Rix’s family had set up shop. The Quetel were well-suited to extreme heat, and thus were the only race that could withstand any sort of physical labor on the scorching world of Byrgius. They were a polite, but not particularly outgoing race. Even is Saeera and the pilot had spoken the same language, the ride back to Byrgius would have been silent.

The salvage craft lifted off, and headed toward the main exit to the north. They passed through the airlock at the edge of the domes, and out into the natural icy expanse of the planet. The rest of the world was as-yet uncolonized. It had an atmosphere and gravity, but was far too cold to support any form of life.

Saeera sat down in the co-pilot’s chair on the bridge. It would be a long two hours before they reached Byrgius.