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Story - Silent Night

Story - Silent Night

In the cold and dark the young female fled through the streets, stumbling over debris hidden by the thickening layer of snow. She kept heading in the same direction though when the occasional light beamed came close she would enter a side street, crossing to a parallel empty road.

Clearly in the late stages of pregnancy, her arm was across her swollen abdomen though whether this was to protect the unborn or just to support some of the weight was uncertain. The expression on her face was one of terror and determination to keep going.

She was a few kilometres beyond the limit of the settlement when she finally collapsed. The lights of the colony were almost lost in the swirling snows.

Cheant, home of a typical stage one affair was little more than a few main roads, light industrial zone and scattered agriculture taking the form of fields and ponic processing plants. It had come under the control of the Flagritz and times had changed. On the surface everything appeared normal with traders going about their usual business but then rumours started to circulate regarding things happening beyond the port security. Initial promises of infrastructure and improved trade had steadily turned to veiled oppression with some people disappearing while others started waving around obscene amounts of money and buying themselves into positions of influence within the once fair councils.

Joe swerved nearly hitting her, skidding to a halt a further thirty metres along the track. He hadn't expected to encounter livestock this far from the gap. The storm had ripped down a few old root-thorns, taking down the perimeter fencing with them. He’d had doubts about the trees when he put up the fences back in summer but the shade they offered his animal stock against the burning glare of the F class star convinced him to leave them until the new foliage achieved a decent height. He was good at making mistakes.

It was only when he approached slowly so as not to spook the animal that he realised it was a coptuvian like himself. One of the minority species here on Cheant.



He thought for a while, though not too long, debating with himself vocally as was his habit from long years of only having himself and his cattle for company barring the occasional jaunt up Cheant Central. He still thought of it as Prefab as the first settlers dubbed the loose collection of converted cargo containers that formed the initial habitations.

'Right girly you can come back home and I will get some warmth and food into you. I doubt them critters will stray far from shelter in this storm. I can always come back when the storm blows itself out.' With that he gently picked her up. She weighed very little to someone that was used to carrying around animals. Once in the cab he turned up the heating, covered her in a fleece and set off back to his cabin. She mumbled a few things but didn’t wake.

She was well enough to be left alone by the third day, eating but not yet talking though she occasionally cried in her sleep. Joe had been able to not only fix the fencing but also make quick trip for supplies and hear the news. The latter was bad, very bad indeed. By the time he returned he was passed concerned and verging on scared having debated with himself all the way home on what it meant. Against his personal moral code he was beginning to think that he should have left her to freeze to death. Terms like missing 'breeding stock' and 'punishment for harbouring fugitives' from flagritz sources could only mean one thing.

A few more days later and he had progressed to terrified. He had been shouting at himself while in the barn only an hour before, finally coming to the decision to turn her over. Maybe they would believe he didn't know she was a fugitive or that he had only just found her in the hills. They might just issue him with a fine he kept convincing himself. He resolved to head straight into Prefab and made his way to the truck. She was looking through the window of the cabin as he passed and smiled for the first time. His resolve crumbled.

It was the next day when he heard the roar of engines, too loud for ground conveyance and too far from the flagritz base which meant only one thing, a trader coming down for civilian goods. That it was bypassing the base in favour of the sector gave him an idea. Ten minutes later he was heading cross country in the opposite direction of the contrails left by the descending ship.

Thasar was intent on getting the civvy deal tied up and off this backwater world before sundown. He hated these places with their hick mentality and stupid customs. He also hated the Flagritz and as captain of a small Privateer he was well aware of their attitude to him. Better to be out of orbit as fast as possible. He was only here because he had been tipped off that there was a consignment of local perishables for sale. Getting them back to Yank would put him in clear profit for once.

Late. Thasar was not happy. Did the bumpkin not hear the ship? With no world comms there was no way of messaging ahead. He’d have thought that they’d been eager to do business. How often does a starship come along and bring real stellars as well. The chance to get hands on stellars rather than chump guilders was not something to pass up lightly. He almost expected to have a band playing and a decent spread laid on.
The harassed little alien that approached was at best unimpressive, clearly not the local trade magnate though how could tell on a world like this.
'Er...' it stammered having come to a halt in front of Thasar.
Thasar stared down at him. At nearly two metres he tended to stare down on most people. Probably some starstruck idiot wanting to sign up despite having no training. He gave him his best veteran look.
'Er, is this your ship?' inspired observation, 'I mean are you the captain? Er, you are not working with the flagritz are you?...' ok, now that was intriguing. Thasar raised an eyebrow, though as this alien with its fixed ridges above its eyes couldn’t match the response it probably didn't understand the connotation.
'No,' he finally replied as the small alien started to look even more anxious, 'I don't work for flagritz, now unless you are here with a consignment of perishables...' he didn't think he needed to finish the sentence.
'Yes, yes I have them. I just bought them so, um, if you want them, you need to deal with me but there's a problem…’
‘Listen here bub,’ Thasar cut him off, ‘the price has already been agreed. You think you are gonna rip me off…’ the little alien threw up its arms in the universal placating gesture.
‘No, it’s not that, just that you will have to collect them.' Joe had paid over the odds for the goods but what other options did he have. He needed these off-worlders to come out to his farm.
Though suspicious, Thasar couldn’t work out the angle so the deal struck. The small alien retreated saying he would need to prepare and to meet him out at the farm. He would give them a call in a few hours time. Thasar hated waiting but at least it gave the opportunity for the rest of the crew to enjoy a little shore leave, not that there was much to do in this place short of get food poisoning or maybe trade a few beads for local goods. He supposed making some personal deals would keep the them sweet for a while though he warned them about getting into trouble with the flagritz sycophants of which there were always a few.

It was dark and many hours later when the message finally arrived. Fresh snow had fallen. They had managed to hire three haulers from the locals. He would pilot the first while Mel and Gaz had been assigned to the other two. Roads such as existed were only good in summer. There was a very real chance that one or all of the haulers could get stranded if they ventured away from the hard-packed ground.
'Gabby, I want you to take the airfoil and scan the ground. Keep low and paint us a path,' shouted Thasar.
'Sure thing captain.' Gabby was pretty good with the flyer and despite the gusting storm lit up the night guiding the three out towards the farm.

'Cap, you heard what the faggies are doing out here?' Mel liked to gossip.
'No and neither did you.'
'Reckon they got some sort of programme running here.' Gaz contributed.
'Not this again.'
'Serious captain, 'Mel continued, 'they are experimenting on people like Gaz says. Impregnating girls, using them as breeders. Governor Rodion is threatening to kill all the kids over something.'
'We're here for goods, nothing else. You need to wise up. Nothing to see, move along,' Captain Thasar started to have a bad feeling about coming here.
'They are doing searches, dragging people back to the base for interrogation and stuff.'
'That's enough, in few hours we will be on the other side of the system and by next week on the other side of the Periphery.' Thasar put an end to the conversation.

They found the farm a little after midnight. The airfoil positioned above the barn bathing the figure of the small alien in a white light.
They approached in their exotic clothing. The all in one suits were designed for exploring frozen moons and therefore more than up to the task of keeping them warm on a winter's night on Cheant even this close to the pole. Gaz's suit was open down to his stomach exposing just a loud purple shirt with flickering holo logo. The three of them looked about as out of place as it is possible to be.

'Please,' the alien said as they walked up, looking nervous again, 'you have to help us. They have been once but I managed to hide her out here. They will be back. She can't stay here and the baby has just come.'
Mel and Gaz looked at Thasar. He closed his eyes and sighed as his shoulders slumped.




The three men stood looking down at the woman and baby amongst the cattle and recently stacked crates of perishables.

The sun was coming up over Mobile Bay as the three of them descended down the ramp, mother, baby and ex-farmer. He couldn't work out why Joe had come along, he didn't strike Thasar as the sort of man, well alien, to give everything up for somebody he had just met and a child to some unknown father. There was no wisdom in it that he could see though admittedly nobody had accused him of being a wise man.

They had sort of got used to the small aliens and the goodbyes had been awkward. Mel had given them some of his stash of unique cosmetics he had picked up in Halo. They would be worth something locally he said. Gaz had handed over some pharmaceuticals. Useful for the baby especially on a new world. Thasar had even found himself slipping a few strips of precious mets into Joe's hand. He had responded by tilting his head in an approximation of Thasar's trademark raised eyebrow. Thasar had stopped thinking of Joe as an alien ‘it’. He couldn't remember when the transition to ‘he’ had occurred.

Gabby's contract was up and as she was staying on Mobile Bay for a while, said she would watch over them.

Profit was down that much was certain. Even so Thasar felt good about himself for the first time in as long as he could recall as he sat alone on the bridge. He would miss their company but not the baby's crying. It was nice to have a silent night.




 
News
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely “not cute or cuddly” Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it’s not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‘civilised’ norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, “What is this amateur b*llshit?” into an uncaring universe.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war “veteran” Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf’s buffoon-like response amounted to “Dewiek be Dewiek, let’s drink and forget about it.” Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

The Worm Turns

The FET have reduced relations with the IMP to neutral. Sneezy boss Cu Chulainn took the bold step of putting 1 and 1 together by linking recent mercenary attacks in their systems with the IMP scouts seen loitering for some time and refusing to move. Even bolder, hints that they believe “a certain Imperial citizen” is responsible for Edward Lowe’s entire underhand operation were voiced loudly enough that the handsome but hard of hearing Tiberius Crowe had to take note. He was seen grappling in trademark fashion with his skin tight jacket, pulling it down over his partially concealed middle-aged girth, as he sat to issue a terse public statement. Exactly who this citizen may be was left unnamed and no news channel subject to Imperial laws would dare unmask the villain. Luckily dear readers, we are not subject to phony Imperial laws. It’s Jack Jones everybody. Jack Jones, butcher of Naplians and fancier of silver long johns.


 

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic