Aftermath (Part 19)

by Simon Challands

an Élite story
     There followed several days of recuperation. After three of them Marchero rejoined the group, although she was clearly in some discomfort and stayed much quieter than normal. Apart from the problems associated with tedium in a group forced together in the same place there were no further incidents. The doctors eventually raised screens around each bed to provide a little privacy.
     The fate of the Constrictor was of only mild interest to most of them, but Kirrik was understandably concerned. He moaned about it on occasion to the others, but since the only crew of the ship they saw were the doctors he didn't raise the point with them.
     During this time the vessel stayed apparently motionless. Not even the most sensitive-eyed amongst them could see any illumination on the other nearby vessels that could not be attributed to artificial lights from the small fleet, and the only ships they saw were the ones that had fled the post at Wolf 1421.
     At last a crewman appeared, asking them all to follow him. They formed into a ragged group, with Kirrik supporting Marchero, and with the soldiers who had been guarding the door escorting them they were led through the ship.
     The room they were shown to was spacious, with cushioned chairs and sofas scattered around in an informal circle. The far wall was entirely transparent, although all it looked out on were stars. A low table had been placed in the centre of the room, and a small selection of food and drink was laid out on it.
     The alien commander was already there, standing across from the door. When everyone had entered the soldiers left, and he sat down.
     "Help yourselves," he said, gesturing to the food. Some, but not all, of them did.
     "Some of my officers have persuaded me that it is unfair to leave you uninformed. I think that giving you information you can do nothing about is a pointless exercise. Nevertheless. There are certain things that do need to be discussed."
     "What's going to happen to us?" Mychov asked, rather predictably.
     "That is one of the things to discuss. So far you have not attempted to cause us any serious trouble, and you have provided assistance. Your occasional outbursts are not unexpected, given the situation, and therefore I do not take them into account. You are not prisoners, but I need to know what you wish to do next."
     "Return home," shrugged Kirrik. "Although I can't speak for everyone else."
     "Home?" asked the alien. "In what sense?" He stood up, and walked to the massive window. At a quick command the lights in the room dimmed. "One of those stars is the original home of the human race." He pointed, although against the galactic backdrop it was impossible to tell precisely which sparkle of light he was indicating. "Arrangements can be made for any of you to visit. If you so desire, permanent habitation might be possible."
     "That's rather generous," Mu said suspiciously.
     "The likelihood of being able to return you to the place you came from is unknown. There is no civilised alternative. There is a price, however."
     "We observed you using an advanced anti-missile device during the fight. We want it. If you give it to us then we will also assist in repairing your ship and returning those who wish to go through your 'gateway'."
     "Fine by me," Kirrik replied after a moment's thought.
     "You surprise me," Marchero noted.
     Kirrik sighed. "It's common technology back home, and the version in that ship is a standard one. I doubt you could slip an invasion fleet through that gate, and we'll be watching it from now on."
     "If you get back," Silsi reminded him.
     "The only way any threat is going to get to us," he continued, ignoring Silsi, "is through the Thargoids, and anyone who can manage that would probably end up with an ECM anyway. As well as impossibly strong ships."
     "Thargoids?" the commander interrupted.
     "The ECM anti-missile system was originally a Thargoid device that the Navy copied from captured ships."
     "You're all forgetting something," Marchero pointed out smugly.
     "The Constrictor is obviously still around, and intact, otherwise he wouldn't be able to ask for bits of it."
     "Correct," the alien informed her. "We grappled onto it and jumped here. That is why we are here. With the extra mass and the additional distortion to the Witchspace geometry we could not do more than make it a short way out of the area. Our hyperdrive burned out, which is why we are still here. A repair vessel has been summoned. Your ship is badly damaged, but not beyond repair, although it is of unusual technology and the quality of the repairs cannot be guaranteed."
     They continued to discuss plans for some time. Some of them clearly wanted to stay, probably for the chance of having a clean criminal record. Kirrik, having no connections whatsoever with Sol and the surrounding area, and with a nagging sense of duty, wanted to return to the Galactic CoOperative as soon as possible. Others decided to wait a little and see what the place was like.
     The repair dock was part of a huge station complex that could have accommodated a Dodo-type space station somewhere in its midst. The dull brown sphere of the third planet of Psi5 Aurigae lurked below, its small asteroid-sized moon a dark blob racing across the surface.
     Somewhere in the tangle of station modules and docking arms the Constrictor was docked, with swarms of robots and living mechanics working on it around the clock. Its ECM system had been removed immediately upon arrival and quickly whisked away elsewhere. Kirrik attempted to supervise the work, but aside from clearing up the odd confusion about various basic aspects of the vessel's design he was unable to provide much help.
     The station was primarily a naval facility, but it appeared that private ships made use of its services from time to time, and there was an area set aside for their crews' use. The Constrictor crew had been quartered here, and had not been given access to anywhere else except for passage to the repair bay. In this area were a variety of shops, restaurants, bars, libraries, and so on. There was also a large park area whose day and night illumination seemed to be out of sync with the rest of the station's twenty-six hour system.
     To the fascination of some, and the complete disinterest of others, they soon discovered that this was because it was lit on a twenty-four cycle for the benefit of its flora and fauna, which notices claimed to be exclusively from Earth. A cynical Arrachachak claimed they were no more interesting than the lifeforms from many other worlds, although even he turned to glance at a particularly exotic-looking bird.
     After so long spent in the confines of spacecraft and the untidy cave on their asteroid most of them took to spending long hours in the park, often in the cafes and bars that lined the side of it. In payment for their assistance and the ECM they had all been provided with a generous credit to spend during their stay.
     If the timing was right and the station facing the right direction the coverings over the park's roof were opened, allowing the natural sunlight of Psi5 Aurigae to stream in. Despite the background noise of the station and the shadows of the latticework of thick reinforcing beams in the ceiling a person with imagination, standing at the right place and looking in the right direction, could almost pretend they were on a world's surface. Earth's surface.
     All of them appeared recovered now, although some people had been advised to take things easy for a while. Silsi, Marchero, Arrachachak, and Mu were following that advice at a cafe in the park.
     "Made up your minds, yet?" Arrachachak asked them, sipping coffee from a mug that was almost lost in his huge hands.
     "About staying?" Mu asked. "I think Mychov wants to."
     Silsi shook her head. "What are they going to want to keep scum like us for?"
     "Scum?" Arrachachak replied, his tone amused.
     "Pirates aren't generally held in very high regard," Marchero pointed out.
     "And most of them would kill you there and then for a remark like that," Mu warned.
     Marchero shrugged. "Most people I meet don't seem to think I'm much better, anyway."
     "Come along!" Arrachachak exclaimed. "Why's everyone doing their best to put themselves down at the moment?"
     "Look, let's face it. Pirates are vicious-minded killers who don't give a damn about anything or anyone other than themselves," Silsi sighed. "And we've all done it. You see a Boa explode, and it never crosses your mind that maybe twenty people have just died. No, there's a cargo canister, quick, grab it!"
     "Our own survival," Mu said.
     "What?" Marchero asked, confused.
     "Why the hell do you think I ended up in that game?" he retorted. "Kill or be killed, probably in some gutter in a wreck of a city on a hole like Isveve."
     "Are you saying pirates are basically decent people who are just a little too concerned with their own problems?" Marchero replied incredulously.
     "How have you managed to survive this long with that mouth?" Silsi asked. She continued, ignoring the flash of anger on Marchero's face. "Not decent, but we, at least, aren't psychos."
     "Zarenda was," Mu muttered.
     "Who?" Marchero queried.
     "Just some guy who used to work with us. The type of person who kicks the crap out of people for the entertainment of it. He would attack small shuttles with no cargo capacity if there wasn't anyone around to get him for it."
     "Ended up being vapourised shortly after storming out of a station at Isinor after a Cobra pilot he claimed had given him a funny look in the bar," Arrachachak smirked.
     "Is there a point to all this self-justification?"
     Arrachachak finished off his coffee, and twiddling the mug on the table said, "Some people become pirates because they are violent yobs. Some because they are just hopeless, or desperate, or insane. Most of our lot could make it in a more acceptable life, given the chance."
     The sceptical expression Marchero had been wearing had not vanished. "I've known plenty of desperate or down on their luck people who didn't resort to robbery and murder."
     "Like you did?" Mu pointed out.
     "Kirrik's told us how you ended up in prison, then with the Navy," he reminded.
     Marchero's face darkened into its usual scowl. "If he's staying here then I'm going back, and vice versa."
     Arrachachak was gazing out through the trees of the park.
     "You can ask him now," he noted.
     When Marchero twisted round on her chair she could just see Kirrik's dark form threading its way through a cluster of pines. "What's he want now?" she muttered, turning back around and sipping her drink, deliberately ignoring the approaching Disian.
     When Kirrik reached them he dropped a notepad onto their table. "The ship's ready," he told them. "I'm leaving in the morning." He gestured towards the notepad. "Can you put your names to the list of who's staying or going?" he asked.
     "I think that's a decision we should all make together," Arrachachak pointed out. "Has anyone else made their minds up yet?"
     "No," Kirrik shrugged. "Suit yourself, anyway, as long as you get it back to me within the next few hours. I need to organise supplies. Oh, if you do return, I'll get you all clean legal records. And you," he said to Marchero, who was still concentrating solely on her coffee, "Our offer still stands, if you want to return. Whatever I may think of you personally, I can't deny that you haven't been useful on this little escapade." He walked off the way he had come from.


If you're a genuine original Elite player you can imagine yourself to be the Cobra pilot mentioned in this chapter if you wish.
Part 20 - The Finale
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