You’re in a small frigate— almost a corvette— en route to Luna Colony. When you boarded this morning, you noticed that the ship didn’t have the Corporation standards on its outer hull, but everything on the interior— from the harness buckles to the water dispensaries— carry the Federated Colonies branch logo. So your seat-cushions and in-flight feeds were globally financed, at least. That gave you some clue as to what was going on, but you still didn’t have enough of the big picture to understand what.
A week ago you had been in Dallas— literally on top of the world as you received your mission briefing at Corporate headquarters. If you could even call it a briefing— you still had barely enough information to even begin to prepare. You were to command a ship on a mission to the Ringed Planet: Your ship would be carrying cargo, but Corporation cargo is always EYES ONLY, so you didn’t even know what it was yet, so that didn’t help. You were to talk to no one until safely docked and in the debriefing rooms on Luna. That’s it. That’s all you knew.
No— that’s not all you knew; that’s all they told you. You also knew that you were getting out to Luna Colony on an unmarked frigate, decked out by Federated branch, and that there were four other people on this flight: the pilot, an oldish woman whose face you recognized, but couldn’t remember why, and a pair of twins, presumably from the Southern Arm based on the way they were styled and dressed.
So you had pieces of a puzzle you didn’t understand. Clues you couldn’t place; bits of information that didn’t make sense yet. It was like trying to pinpoint the edges of a mosserfly’s nest.
One of the twins cracked their neck explosively, pulling you back to the here and now.
“You are from the Southern Arm of Homeworld, yes?” said the older woman whose face you couldn’t place, her voice younger and more vigorous than you had expected. She addressed the Left Twin,
but the Right responded, “Whhhhere we are ffffrom issss not ussssefffful to know.” The Twin’s arid voice cut through the ship, like a wind through a canyon.
“Not useful?” the woman said, “Why must it be useful? Can it not be polite? Can it not be a way to pass the remaining hours? A way to fill this metallic space between us with a more human with a more genial currency?”
“We arrre nnnot innnteressssted innn yourrr”
“hhhh— geeeenial currenccccy”
the Twins said.
“We arre hhhhere to”
“commmplete a missssionnnn.”
“and that is all.””And That Is All.”
The Other Twin— the one who did not crack their neck before— now cracked their knuckles violently before both crossed their arms and closed their eyes. They were done. You saw the woman’s silent harumph and decided to pick up the conversation—
“And you,” you said to her, “Your accent is difficult to place. Are you from the Southern Arm, also?” you knew she wasn’t, but you needed to test the waters, you still had so little information; you didn’t even know if the “misssssionnnn” the Twin had mentioned was the same as yours or not. Were these people your crew for the mission to Gabriel? Would they be your pilots? Would she be your XO?
“That is very funny,” she said, “you know I am not from the Southern Arm. Why would you ask that?”
You shrugged, hoping you didn’t blush; you had been caught in a lie and you— and she— knew it. Before you could fumble an excuse, she continued,
“You asked if I was Southern to see my reaction, to gauge how truthful I would be, perhaps to corner me in a lie, or worse, discover a truth I wasn’t ready to tell.” She smiled at you and began chuckling, and you chuckled back.
“Haha,” you chuckled, more earnestly than you had anticipated, “you’ve got me there. —but no malice, mind you; I guess I’m just getting a little antsy. I didn’t get many details about why we’re here,” at this, you saw suspicion in her eyes again, and decided to correct yourself, “I mean, I didn’t get many details about why I’m here; I didn’t get any details about yall at all.”
The woman’s face relaxed again, and you could see a genuine smile under her polite one. The Twins remained silent and unmoving, betraying their Southern training even if they wouldn’t confirm it.
“So, then,” she said to you, “if you didn’t get many details about why you’re here, then you did get some details— ”
At this you cut her off, “I did, yes, but I’m not allowed to say what they are.”
The corners of her smile fell, making you feel awkward— like you had just cut short a budding friendship. If she was to be your XO, you needed to trust her, but more importantly, you needed to like each other. A mission out to Gabriel without some kind of friendship among the Captain and the XO would be a hellish way to go. (The Southern pilots were another matter.)
You restarted the conversation— “But there’s more to talk about than that, isn’t there?” you said, “For example, I used to live on Luna Colony, one of the larger metros nearer the adret terminator. … Have you ever been to Luna before?” you asked her.
“Ha!” she slapped the empty seat beside her with a roil of laughter as her face suddenly became clear to you— you knew exactly who this woman was.
“Gasp!” you said, “That’s why you look familiar!”
“Hahahahah, yes,” her face now authentically joyful, “Yes, I suppose you could say that I have been to Luna once or twice before.”
The child in you burst back into the front of your brain— this woman had been your idol when you were a child— the Mayoral Commander of the original Luna Colony pioneertown—
“Madam Mayor!” you blurted out, “It’s an honor, ma’am!”
“Madam Mayor?” she said, “Hahaha, I had forgotten that was what I was called in the West. People in the Eastern Conglomerate called me only ‘Comrade’.”
“But—” you said, the child in you still talking faster than your adult self could contain, “but you look so young! Surely you must be at least—”
She cut you off, “The numbers don’t matter. Thank you. I look young because I feel young. Besides, what’s a few dozen dozenals when you make your home among the stars?”
“Even though I’m not allowed to say anything,” you say, leaning towards her, making a conspiracy of the cockpit, “I’m honored for the chance to work with you on this mission, Madam Mayor, I mean, Comrade Commander.” You blush one last time as you smile and retreat back into your seat; the secret you were supposed to talk about barely mentioned, you still feel the need to hedge, even as your smile winks of further knowing lies— “assuming you or I are on a mission, of course.”
You see a smile crawl across her entire body, her shoulders straighten proudly and she shimmies into the conspiracy you’ve forged. “Well,” she says, “I never was much for secrets, for corporate spies, for hidden words— and what are they going to do? Let me off at the next asteroid? I do not think they would do such a thing. So I will tell,”
At this, the Left Twin ticks an ear towards the two of you, the first sign they’ve shown of paying any attention. You notice, and you notice that she noticed, too, invigorating her story. It seems to you that the Comrade Commander’s eyes have taken over the duty of smirking so her mouth would be more free to talk, and she continues,
“I will not tell you everything, of course. There are some things known between a rocket commander and her Regional Manager that must remain secretive, of course. Matters of branch security, district security, Homeworld security— you understand. But—”
Both Twins now dropped the pretense of ignorance and were fully attuned to her… to Her— the first Madam Mayor of the pioneers of Luna Colony.
“—but my mission concerns The Rings.”
And here, she took a long pause.
Eastern Conglomerates were known to have a flair for the dramatic— flamboyant as the Rising Sol!— but you didn’t attribute any unnecessary histrionics to her speech. Instead, you felt her every right to command a room with whatever discursive mix she wanted. It’s no understatement to say that her impact on your career was of astronomical importance. But it’s more than your career— this is the woman responsible for the entire shape your life has taken, possibly including your conception at all! This woman’s foundational psychology for governing space pioneers allowed a colony to develop on Luna at all, allowed your family to transfer to San Antokyo metro, allowed you to come of age in a variable gravity environment that allowed you to command a ship as well as you did— the Madam Mayor’s basilectal HR Treaty is the very reason Luna exists today! It was even at a Founder’s Day Fete that you first met your partner—
Madam Mayor, Comrade Commander— the woman now sitting across from you in an un-imprinted frigate somewhere between Homeworld’s Exopause Elevator and Luna Colony Docking Bay— continued,
“Yes. My mission, what I can tell you of it right now, has me bound for Zroya in less than a gross’ moment.”
She sat back into her seat, proudly, the importance of her statement fully felt. You were about to speak, to welcome her as your XO and divulge your mission, when the Twins burst out—
“Yyoouuu mussst beee ourrr commmmpetiiton to Mmmmarrrru!”
“Hussssssh! Sssssaaaayyyy noo morrrrrrrre!”
“Wwwe will taake grrreat pleasssssurrre in defffeatinnnng the”
“founder of ten thousand lies.” “Founder of Ten Thousand Lies!”
— and abruptly returned to the stoic posture of before, leaving you with two more clues that only complicated your picture further. Competition? Defeat? Founder of lies? Madam Comrade was visibly shaken, her face looking old for the first time, her body looking tired, her chest heaving a winded breath.
“What are they talking about?” you asked, “What competition? What’s the founder of lies?”
“No! I shall not speak on this!” she said—
— “I don’t understand,” you tried to interrupt, failing,
“My work was not a lie! I will captain a mission to the Ringed Planet just as I captained the mission to Luna Colony! It is all true! And I deserve the praise! I deserve the accolades! It was me!”
After this, it was clear she had shut down; you knew there would be no reason to talk for the remainder of the flight. Still, your head swam, your thoughts unmoored and drifting in a Lagrangian headspace; you still didn’t have all the details for your mission, but it was clear that you were to captain the ship heading to Gabriel, cargo unknown. Why would the Twins, why would the woman across from you, talk as if they were captains as well? It was then that you made your first real assessment of your fellow passengers, and your place among them. An old woman, a Southern Twin Set, and you— a commander who had lost a partner, a commander who had accepted what you now fully understood to be a suicide mission… a flight of the damned to this new Morning Star that appeared in your skies all those years ago.
You turned your head to the porthole nearest you, allowing the void of space of enchant you one last time, as it had when the two of you last said goodbye; a week ago you had been in Dallas, where you two had first met, and now you were flying to Luna Colony, back to San Antokyo, back home.
[Keep reading: Chapter Seven]
[Or, go to: The Beginning]