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Rough draft of chapter 2.

The harsh fluorescent lights of the Planetary Security Headquarters reflect off the polished steel walls, assaulting my eyes as Ruby and I step through the sliding doors. The Warden's hulking frame looms ahead, arms crossed, face set in the same dour expression I remember from my youth. He sits behind the desk in his office.

The office is orderly and sterile, the picture of efficiency. The desk is made of dark oak and is impeccably organized, with stacks of files and papers neatly arranged. The walls are lined with shelves full of thick binders and a few tastefully framed awards and certificates.

The air carries a faint scent of disinfectant and stale coffee. The scent of paperwork and bureaucracy fills the room, a reminder of the never-ending paperwork and protocol of Planetary Security.

"Captain Asher, newest AND youngest red ranked member of the Freeblades. And Ruby Ryujin," he rumbles with a curt nod. I meet his stony gaze and hand over the credit chip without hesitation. This is it. The reckoning all of us have waited years for.

The Warden scans the chip, bushy eyebrows rising slightly. "Payment received in full. Have to say I'm surprised, but I'm a man of my word."

I stand firm, ignoring the nervous flutter in my chest. "There will be no more trouble from them. I have no intention of returning to this gods-forsaken rock. Ruby will be leaving with me as part of my crew, and I plan on sending the other three Raynar's way. He has a bit of a knack for making something out of troubled youths."

The Warden's eyes narrow, but he remains silent. We came to an understanding long ago. I've upheld my end of the bargain, and now he will uphold his.

"Very well," the Warden mutters, pocketing the chip. "I'll process the release immediately."

I let out a slow breath as we exit the building, the first rays of Neptune's violet sun washing over me. It's done. Whatever comes next, I'm finally free from this place. From the corner of my eye, I catch Ruby's grin. I know how much this means to her. How long she must have worked and waited for this moment.

I glance out the windows as we board the tram, taking in the pale blue expanse of the great ocean the resort city Neptune's Mirage is built by. Its churning waters seem to echo the maelstrom of emotions within me—excitement, fear, hope. But one feeling rises above all others. Determination.

I'm the master of my fate now. My destiny is out there among the stars, not confined to the shadows of this grim city. And I intend to seize it with both hands.

The tram glides smoothly along the tracks as we make our way to the detention center. I steel myself, ready to face Onyx, Emerald, and Cylus one last time. Onyx was a tall and bulky Rogadlon. Tough warrior's by nature, but the entire culture had a deep reverence for Honor and nobility. Emerald was the shortest among us five, being a Salafell will do that. They are like a mix between dwarves and gnomes from something like those old Pathfinder games.

Cylus was the only other human in the group apart from myself.

As the doors hiss open, the three of them stare at me warily. I hold their gazes, unflinching. "You're free to go. But there's somewhere you need to be first." I tell them sternly.

I outline the plan as we walk, telling them about my former mentor, Captain Raynar, and my experiences while on his crew and what he did for me. At first they bristle, but my tone leaves no room for argument. I make it clear - this is the only way forward if they want a second chance.

Reluctantly, they nod. The fight has gone out of them after years stuck in this hole. As long as they get off Neptune's Mirage, they'll take what they can get.

I feel Ruby's eyes on me as I talk, her expression unreadable. She stays silent, hanging back while I deal with my former "family." I'm grateful for the space. This may be her mess, but I wanted a clean break from this place. There will be nothing dogging my steps from this world.

The moment we step outside, Ruby and I split off towards the hangars. I glance back once at Onyx, Emerald and Cylus as they shuffle towards the public transports. A faint twinge of guilt goes through me - I can't help but feel responsible for where they ended up. I was in a way, the leader of this little squad of ours, But it's out of my hands now. Time to focus on the future.

Ruby and I make our way briskly to the hangar, the Enterprise waiting for us just beyond those doors. As they slide open, I feel energy coursing through me at the sight of her sleek hull. This is really happening. Ruby wore a rather shocked expression as she looked at the ship I had been given. "Is that what I think it is? How did you manage to score a Freedom-Class? Aren't those supposed to be like, the best for anyone not part of one of the great power navies?" She asked. I nodded as we stepped up the ramp on the landing bay. "Captain Raynar won this in a card game, and then somehow managed to convince the rest of the crew to let me have it." I replied as we entered the ship proper and made our way to the bridge. "So, she have a name?" Ruby asked. The door to the bridge whooshed open as we approached. "Yes, welcome to the Enterprise." I said. We went to our respective stations and methodically checked each system, stocked the supplies, and primed the Gravitic-warp core. I sink into the pilot's chair, splaying my fingers over the controls. The ship thrums with power, eager for flight. Staring out through the viewport at the interior of the hangar, I feel purpose flooding my veins. Our journey begins tomorrow.

The morning arrives, and I'm up before the dawn, triple-checking everything. Can't be too prepared. Ruby joins me in the mess hall, hair tousled but eyes bright. She offers me a wry smile. After breakfast and finishing up getting ready, we leave the ship.

"Big day, Captain. You ready for this?" She asks with her signature playful grin once again adorning her features. She may not admit it, but she seems rather happy about being here.

I nod, adrenaline already pumping through me. "As ready as I'll ever be."

Right on time, the guardian robot Titan trundles up. His optic sensors blink, and he emits a series of affirmative beeps.

"Well aren't you two a bundle of excitement," Ruby drawls, though I can tell she's just as keyed up.

I glance between my two companions, gratitude welling up inside. "Let's do this."

We exit the hangar, the gravity feeling suddenly heavier. There's a charge in the air as we wait in the arrival zone. My heart pounds, eyes fixed on the near by tram station.

The tram stops and the doors part as the Imperial Envoy exits. Resplendent in his dark uniform, he cuts an imposing figure. I snap to attention automatically and Ruby looks at my with an odd look but stands at my side nonetheless.

The Envoy's gaze sweeps over us, inscrutable. He gives a single nod.

"At ease. You appear prepared." His voice rings with authority. "I expect nothing less for this mission. Lead the way."

I release a breath I didn't realize I was holding. We did it - passed inspection. No going back now. I turn on my heel and march toward the Enterprise, hyper aware of the Envoy following close behind.

After this mission, It will be time to find some answers.

Inside the Enterprise, I slide into the pilot's seat, Titan was linked to the defense systems via a network hub in the robotics lab. The controls are intimately familiar under my hands as I initiate the startup sequence. One by one, the displays blink to life. Ruby took up position at the Engineering console to the right of the pilot's seat and linked in the cyber warfare suite to it.

"Control, this is Enterprise requesting departure clearance," I state into the comm, amazed at how steady my voice sounds.

"Enterprise, you are cleared for departure. Safe travels." The hangar bay doors part open at the reply of the on duty traffic controller.

"Acknowledged, Control. Enterprise out." The hangar doors are fully open and the ship lifts off the landing pad and the landing gear retracts.

I grasp the throttle and ease it forward. With a deep thrum of the ion engines, we fly out of the hangar bay. The horizon tilts as I pitch the nose skyward. Looking out the viewport, Neptune's Mirage shrinks below us, the resort station and its neon-lit casinos giving way to inky blackness.

We cruise past the Horizon's Hope on the way to the designated warp zone. It was almost as if Raynar had his ship waiting here for a send off. I tilt the ship slightly in deference to my former CO as I make for the warp out point. "Course is set for the Nexus Enclave System." I say.

"Preparing for warp jump on your mark," Ruby announces from the navigator station.

With a steady hand, I align our heading and watch the warp drive capacitors charge to 100%, their hum growing louder and more urgent. "Time to fly!," I growl, adrenaline coursing through my veins as I push the throttle forward, hurtling us into the depths of space at breakneck speed. We are unstoppable, fueled by determination and a thirst for adventure that cannot be quenched.

Space blurs, stars streaking past in brilliant white lines. In an instant, the familiar starscape of the Non-Aligned Rim is gone.

The Enterprise soars through the void between systems. An infinite sea of possibilities stretches before us. I take a deep breath, flexing my fingers.

No going back now. Our journey has begun.

Hours later, the sensors beep, interrupting my thoughts. Ruby's fingers fly across her console. The ship drops out of warp at the edge of the Nexus Enclave System.

"Distress signal detected, bearing 214 mark 18. It's a luxury passenger liner under attack by two pirate vessels."

My eyes narrow. "Set intercept course, maximum thrust. Combat stations!" An alarm claxon sounds as the shields raise and weapons systems charge.

The engines rumble as Ruby complies. On the main viewer, the distant flashes of laser fire come into focus. The sleek, predatory shapes of the pirate ships circle the bulky liner like sharks.

"Weapons hot. Target the lead ship's propulsion and disable it." I pilot the Enterprise down through the pirate ship's sensor blind spots.

Ruby works her magic, slipping through the pirate's firewalls. "Firing disruptor!"

A bright blue beam lances out from our ship, striking the pirate vessel amidships. Flames erupt from its thrusters as they overload. It drifts, dead in space. "Where did that come from!?" a voice cries over open comms.

The second ship breaks off its attack, turning to face us. Ruby targets its shield generator and triggers an ion blast. The pirate's defenses fizzle and die.

"Their shield systems are down but they still have maneuvering ability," Ruby reports.

"Open a direct channel." I pause as Ruby nods. "Pirate vessel, this is the PSV Enterprise. Stand down and surrender or you will be destroyed."

For a moment, silence. Then the pirate ship turns towards us and opens fire. "Okay, hard way then!" As I bank the ship starboard and the enemy fire only glances off our shields. Speeding past the Pirate corvette, I trigger a barrage of rear facing torpedo launchers. Those slam into the side of the pirate corvette as it begins to list. I bring the ship around in a loop and fly over the ventral side of the cruise liner and line up a target lock on the pirate ship. "This is your ending!" I fire the main energy cannons and the pirate ship is shredded under it's barrage. "Stand down from combat stations." The weapons' systems power down and shields return to their in-transit settings.

The liner captain's relieved voice crackles over the comm. "Thank you, Enterprise. You saved many innocent lives today."

I nod, allowing myself a small smile. "Just doing our duty."

Our first combat encounter is complete. But out here, who knows what's coming next? I grip the helm, eyes forward. We're ready.

The pirate threat neutralized, I'm about to set course for the nearest port when Ruby alerts me to an incoming ship.

"It's an Alliance vessel - a Medium Cruiser type. They're hailing us." The Frigate looms large on the viewscreen, its sleek design promising speed and agility. The hull is a crisp white, adorned with the signature blue and gold markings of the Alliance.

I straighten in my seat. "Onscreen."

The viewscreen flickers to life, displaying the interior of the Frigate's bridge. The interior of the bridge is brightly lit, with glowing screens and control panels lining the walls. The captain, a young blonde woman with an air of regality appears on the main viewer.

"Unidentified vessel, this is Lt.Cdr Rebecca Anderson of the USS Ballantine. On behalf of the Alliance, I wanted to extend my gratitude for your assistance with those pirates." She says.

I nod respectfully. "Lt.Cdr Anderson. I'm Captain Asher of the PSV Enterprise. We're glad we could help." I reply cordially.

"It was damned fine piloting, Captain. If you require an escort, the Ballantine can accompany you to the nearest port as soon as we verify the area is secure." I consider briefly. The offer of safe passage is welcome after the chaos of battle. "We'd be honored to have you along, Captain, but we would like to salvage what we can from those pirate hulks, not to mention the black boxes." I said. Anderson nodded her head. Seems she has dealt with some of us private Captains before. With courtesies exchanged, I maneuver our ship into formation beside the stately Frigate. Before jumping to warp, I send Ruby to salvage anything of value from the adrift pirates. No sense letting it go to waste. We pull in to our cargo bays intact cargo and fittings. We can't scrape the hulls because we don't have the equipment. I can probably drop the info off at the guild so they can send a salvager ship out.

As the stars blur into streaks of light around us, I feel a swell of accomplishment. It's gratifying to know I protected the innocent today. Out here on the edge of known space, upholding justice isn't always easy.

But with my crew at my side, I'm determined to try.

The Ballantine escorts us safely to the embassy starstation orbiting New Dublin Colony. The embassy starstation looms in front of us, its sleek metal exterior catching the light of the stars in a dazzling display. Its sleek exterior is marked with various insignias and emblems, indicating its purpose as a diplomatic hub. As we dock, I'm struck by the station's imposing silhouette against the planet's emerald curve. The ship is docked and I send a payment for refueling and replacement of the torpedos used in combat with the pirates.

I leave Ruby and Titan to handle offloading our salvaged cargo and collecting the bounties while I escort the Envoy to the Imperial Embassy on the station. It's a quick tram ride to the proper sector of the station. It was in one of the many habitat domes that surrounded the main body of the station. The embassy's marble columns and waving banners project imperial might, but do little to intimidate me.

I nod to the guards as Thalmas and I pass through ornate doors into the embassy's receiving hall. We're greeted by a protocol droid who whisks the Envoy away, leaving me standing alone. My fingers drift to the data slate I've always kept close. It's encoded, displaying only my name and birth year. Just one clue to my mysterious past. No one on Vorromir could crack the thing, but there was always the possibility it was specific to either the Alliance or the Empire.

When Thalmas returns, I explain the slate and ask if he can find someone to decode it. He studies me for a long moment before agreeing to help. I copy the data to a crystal and hand it to him gratefully.

"I appreciate anything you can discover about my history," I tell him earnestly.

He nods. "Consider it done. Safe travels, Captain." He smiles at me. "I was very impressed by how you handled those pirates. Not many would jump into danger for the sake of strangers."

I shake his hand. "Likewise, Envoy. It's not in my nature to ignore people in need of help."

As I make my way back to the tram station, hope kindles within me. Each day brings me closer to the truth.

I leave the imposing embassy behind and make my way through the bustling starport back towards my ship. The crowds jostle around me, consumed in their own lives and agendas. I weave amongst them steadily, focused on returning to my crew.

Then a disturbance catches my attention - raised voices and sounds of a scuffle from a nearby alleyway. I don't hesitate and dart down the narrow passage, one hand dropping to the blaster at my hip.

In the shadows, three brutish figures have cornered a young woman against the alley wall. She tries to dodge their grasping hands, her face tight with fear.

"Back off," I bark out, blaster leveled at the thugs.

They whirl, hands going for their own weapons, but I'm faster. Three precise bolts send their pistols skittering across the ground as they yelp in pain, clutching scorched hands. "Beat it," I snarl. The cowards scramble away down the alley.

The woman sags back against the wall, relief washing over her delicate features. "Are you alright?" I ask gently, holstering my blaster as I approach.

She nods, catching her breath. "Yes, thanks to you. I'm Amy."

"Asher," I reply. Up close, I note her striking blue eyes and the hint of power simmering beneath the surface. There's more to this woman than meets the eye. She also has short cut vibrant blue hair that frames her face in a very pleasing way. I felt a bit of a blush creep on to my face.

"What brings you to this dangerous port, Amy?"

She bites her lip. "It's complicated. Let's just say I'm looking for a new start."

I consider her words. My own quest still lies before me, but fate keeps putting opportunities in my path.

"Well, Amy, my ship could use someone of your...abilities. If you want a fresh beginning, we launch for the stars tomorrow. I'm a Captain in the Starbound Freeblades." I show her my red guild card. Speaking of which, I needed to stop by the guild to submit the completion report for the escort mission. I could also register Amy as part of my crew. Two birds with one stone.

Her eyes widen in surprise. After a moment, she nods slowly. "A new crew, a new life...I accept."

I clasp her shoulder and steer us out of the alley. "Then welcome aboard the Enterprise."

"The Enterprise. I really like how that sounds. It has the ring of greatness to it." Amy said with a smile.

Amy smiles up at me, hope and anticipation in her gaze. Our meeting was no accident - I know securing passage for her is the right thing to do.

Something tells me she'll be a stabilizing influence with the likes of Ruby and myself on board. "Let's stop by the guild hall. I have to turn in a mission report and get you registered as part of my crew." I held out my hand to her. She took it and we walked back to the tram station and made for the sector were the guild hall was. The inside of this guild hall was identical to the one back at Neptune's Mirage, but United Systems Alliance banners were hung up in places. The two of us approached the central check-in desk and I presented my Guild Card and completed mission slate to the receptionist. "Wow, you are young for a Red-ranker. Let's just confirm your information" The blonde receptionist said and scanned my card. My information popped up on her terminal. "Hmm, that explains it. Registered at Neptune's Mirage, endorsed by Silver-Rank Captain Raynar. Impressive chops. Let's get that cleared mission in your record." I said nothing as the slate was submitted to the system and my info was up dated and the credits hit my account. "Seems the client was impressed with you, included a bonus for 'A display of refreshing heroism'" The total amount came out to about Two hundred thousand credits. I sent the required five percent over to Ruby for her cut. "Yeah. We intercepted a distress call on the way here. Couple of pirates attacking a passenger liner. I don't suppose I could drop the black boxes from those here? If I remember right the guild does have bounty processing services, right?" The receptionist nodded. "That we do. Hand them over and we can check the registry against active bounties and see if anything hits." I tuned over the black box data slates we got from salvaging the pirate wrecks. Both turned up active bounties. "Looks like these were a couple of nasty ones. Thanks for getting rid of them. It's rather impressive. We'll have the bounty reward to you within the day." She said. "One more thing. My friend here would like to register as part of my crew." The receptionist turned to my blue haired companion. "Is that so?" Amy nodded in the affirmative.

"Well then," the receptionist said, her eyes flickering to Amy and back. "We'll need to get some information. Full name?"

"Amy Ray," she replied, managing a smile despite the tension still quaking in her frame.

"Any applicable skills? Affiliations?" the receptionist continued, her fingers dancing on the keyboard before her.

"I was... trained in the use of Force Skills. And I'm affiliated with... " Amy trailed off, biting her lip. She glanced at me, uncertainty blooming in her eyes before she finished, "The deceased Senator Ray."

Recognition flashed across the receptionist's face before it quickly hardened into a professional mask. "Alright. That's all we need for now." She typed something else into her terminal and then turned to me. “You might want to establish a safe word for your crew members… you know, just in case.”

Her words were laced with concern, something that wasn’t lost on me—nor Amy I wagered. the receptionist printed out Amy's guild card and handed it to her.

Amy takes the card, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth. It's the first real sign of happiness I've seen from her, and it strengthens my resolve. Whatever demons are chasing Amy, they won't find her aboard the Enterprise.

 We left the guild hall soon after, both lost in our thoughts.

Titan is waiting for us at the docking bay, his chrome body gleaming under the port lights.

"Welcome back, Captain," he greets me, his optic sensors glowing blue. "And who is this?"

"This is Amy," I introduce them. "She'll be joining our crew."

The robot tilts his head in what could be interpreted as curiosity. After a brief moment of silent assessment, he extends a hand towards Amy. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ray."

Amy shakes his hand politely and gives him a gentle smile which seems to lighten up the entire dockyard. As we board the ship together

Once aboard the Enterprise again, I took a moment to look over our home. Ruby was seated at one of the control panels, fiddling around with what looked like a holographic blueprint. As soon as she saw us entering, she stood up and walked over, looking Amy up and down with an appraising gaze.

"Who's this?" Ruby asked casually, crossing her arms over her chest.

I turned to Amy who gave me a small nod before speaking up herself, "I'm Amy Ray."

Ruby's eyebrows shot up at that but she covered her surprise quickly with a welcoming smile. “Well then, welcome to the Enterprise,” she said extending her hand towards Amy.

Amy reached out and shook it gratefully as Ruby turned to me and added in lowered voice that hinted at something deeper than it let on “just remember to stay true to your gut, Captain,” she said looking at me in the eye. “And also remember, we don't leave anyone behind.”

I nodded, and bit my tongue on the retort that threatened to slip out. Seems the two of us still had a lot to work out to make this arrangement work. I sighed. "Ruby, if you would be so kind as to show Amy the crew quarters. Let her pick out a room, we've still got plenty of open ones. We can all get some rest after that seeing as it's been an exciting day for everyone. Tomorrow we can have a crew meeting and go over some role assignments and get Amy up to speed. we made enough from the mission, bounties and selling of salvage to take a few days off to get adjusted, then we can see what the guild has in the way of missions available. I'm looking forward to working around Alliance space for the time being." Ruby nodded and almost dragged Amy away to the crew area, probably happy there was another girl on board to hang out with, and someone that wasn't me.

I found myself suddenly alone in the command center, a wave of exhaustion washing over me. I sank into the pilot’s chair, the worn leather cradling my body with familiar comfort. My mind was a whirlwind of thoughts, memories of the past few days running like a holo-film on fast forward. I ran a hand through my hair, the silver strands catching the minimal light in the room. The silence was broken by Titan padding silently into the command center. I looked over at his approach.

"She will make an excellent addition to our crew," the robot observed from his station, seemingly engrossed in some kind of diagnostic. "Amy possesses a unique energy - one I haven't encountered before."

I glanced at him, eyebrows raised in surprise. "You can sense energy now?"

Titan turned to me, his optic sensors glowing. "It's not so much 'sensing' as it is... registering fluctuations in my programming when near certain entities. She is not the only human with odd energy I have encountered." He said while his optics were trained on me. I could make of what he meant with the last part of his statement.

"Interesting," I muttered, steepling my fingers and leaning back in my chair. It was clear that there was more to this robot than meets the eye.

The thought weighed on my mind as I lay down for sleep later that night, retiring to the Captain's cabin that was located at the top of the ship, above and aft of the bridge. I washed up and changed and then crawled into the surprisingly comfortable sleeping rack. My dreams were plagued with thoughts of unknown dangers and uncertainties lurking in the shadows, a restless sleep filled with a strange sense of foreboding. Morning came all too soon. I rolled out of my rack and got ready for the day.

I stumbled groggily from my room to find Ruby and Amy already up and about, both seated at the kitchenette engaged in lively conversation over cups of steaming coffee. Their voices echoed down the narrow hallway leading to their rooms, laughter punctuating their conversation creating an atmosphere of warmth and camaraderie.

I stood there for a moment taking it all in; Ruby with her fiery hair and equally fiery spirit and Amy with her dark mysterious gaze and quiet confidence. They seemed like polar opposites but there was an underlying bond beginning to form between them. A twinge of relief washed over me. Maybe having Amy on board wasn’t going to be as complicated as I had initially feared.

“Morning sleepyhead,” called Ruby as I came into view, a teasing glint in her eyes. “Glad you could join us.”

"Couldn't resist the smell of freshly brewed coffee,” I replied, taking a seat across from them and pouring myself a generous serving.

We gathered in the common area for our first crew meeting; Ruby with her red-streaked hair flowing freely over her shoulders, Titan towering over us all and Amy looking apprehensive but eager. We're an oddball group alright; a misfit crew cobbled together by fate and circumstance.

"We have some breathing room," I began, casting my gaze around the table. "But we can't afford to rest on our laurels. We need to brainstorm ideas about what our next moves should be."

There was no immediate response from the group as they pondered on my words. It was Ruby who broke the silence first. "Well, we definitely need to work out how to best utilize Amy's skills, especially if we're going into any dangerous situations."

"And we should make sure the Enterprise is in top shape for whatever comes our way," Titan added, his optic sensors flickering with what I could only interpret as determination.

"Amy, you have any ideas about what you want to do aboard this ship?" I asked, turning toward her.

She hesitated for a moment before speaking up. "Well...I can't shoot or fight like you guys but...I can help heal. My Force Skills are more attuned towards that."

A healer. Of course. It was a lifeline we'd been missing all along. I nodded at her and looked at my crew - muddled together from different corners of the universe, but possessing a collective spirit stronger than steel. "Alright then, that works for boots on ground operations. Hmm, I think maybe you could take over some of the Operations responsibilities. simple things like handling comms between the ship and outside entities like the docking control tower and maybe handling the ship schedule." I stated firmly, feeling a new surge of hope invade my veins. "Let's get to work."

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