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Rough draft of Vol1 Chapter 3

The bright orange glow of the Nexus Enclave System's star reflected off the sleek hull of the Enterprise as my crew and I prepared for our upcoming mission. The port bustled with activity; spacefaring vessels of varying sizes and shapes docked and undocked, while merchants haggled with customers over their exotic wares. We had spent a few days here getting everything in order, and it was finally time to return to the stars.

"Alright, team," I announced, my voice laced with excitement and determination. "We've got one last thing to take care of before we set out." My gaze fell on Amy, her deep blue eyes filled with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. "Ruby and Titan will accompany you to your house so you can retrieve your personal items. We won't let those thugs get anywhere near you."

"Thank you, Asher." Amy's voice trembled slightly, betraying her nerves. I couldn't blame her - after all she'd been through, returning to her home would undoubtedly stir up difficult memories.

"Hey, don't worry about it!" Ruby interjected, her emerald eyes sparkling with mischievous confidence. "Titan and I have got your back, right big guy?"

"Affirmative, Ruby," replied Titan, his robotic voice devoid of emotion but reassuring in its steadfastness.

As they departed, I watched them go, my thoughts racing. This mission was unlike anything we'd ever undertaken before - the stakes were higher, the challenges more daunting. But I knew that if anyone could pull it off, it was us. I had faith in my crew, and I trusted them with my life.

"I hope they'll be okay," I murmured to myself, knowing that Ruby and Titan were more than capable of handling any threats that might come their way. I turned back to grab my gear for my own outing. I had my own things to complete before our upcoming mission.

The starstation market buzzed with energy, its vibrant colors and exotic scents filling the air as I navigated through the crowded thoroughfare. It was a chaotic symphony of interstellar commerce, but I felt an odd sense of excitement at the prospect of what lay ahead.

"Captain Asher!" called out a familiar voice above the din. Turning, I spotted the merchant from whom I'd ordered the uniform jackets for my crew. He waved me over, his hands filled with the neatly folded garments. "Your order is ready!"

"Thanks." I hurried over, taking the pile of jackets from him. Their dark hued leather and embroidered Enterprise insignia were a symbol of unity and pride for us. The shoulders of the jackets had various colors. I had that pitched into the design to denote a kind of departmental separation of roles on the ship, but it wasn’t anything to formal. A small grin tugged at the corner of my mouth, knowing that these jackets would help solidify our bond as a team. I had already paid for them up front so all I had to do was pick them up from this shop. I placed them in a pack for ease of transport back to the ship.

"Make sure to tell your friends about my shop, Captain!" the merchant said cheerfully as I handed over the payment. With a nod, I promised I would before making my way back to the ship.

As I stepped aboard the Enterprise, my eyes immediately fell upon Ruby, who was hunched over her workstation, fingers flying across the holographic interface. Her long black hair with red streaks covered part of her face, but I could see the intense focus in her emerald eyes. It seemed the trio had gotten back from picking up Amy’s things well before I returned. I took that to mean there was no trouble on their end. That was something that put my mind at ease.

"Ruby, how's the integration system coming along?" I asked, setting the jackets down on a nearby table.

"Almost there, Asher," she replied without looking up. "My cyber runner daemons are enhancing the sensor pod's capabilities as we speak." A certain pride in her voice as she said that.

"Will it be ready for the mission?" I couldn't help but feel a mixture of awe and concern at the complexity of her work. Cyber-runners like Ruby were few and far between, their skills invaluable in this galaxy of ever-evolving technology.

"Absolutely," she assured me, finally glancing up with a mischievous grin. "The system will be able to detect and counteract enemy cyber-attacks before they even know what hit them."

"Good. We'll need every advantage we can get." I couldn't shake the feeling that danger was looming on the horizon, but I pushed it aside, choosing instead to focus on the present.

"Hey, Asher," Ruby said, her voice suddenly somber. "I've been thinking...This whole space mercenary thing, it don’t really seem like you. Why this?” She asked. It was a legitimate question. Mercenaries typically didn’t have a good rep, even those of us affiliated with the Freeblades, but it did give us a way to take on jobs and guarantee we got paid for them. “I’ve always wanted a ship of my own, and the ability to go wherever I wanted, but money still makes the universe go around, even with all the advanced technology we have. You have to do maintenance and upkeep on the ship, or you lose your wings. I’ll never uncover my past being stuck planet or station side. I NEED to be out in the stars. It’s where I’m supposed to be.” I explained as best I could.

Ruby nodded, seemingly satisfied with my answer. “I still say you are meant for something bigger than the rest of us, even if you don’t believe me, I know what I saw.” She said and continued with her work of upgrading the Sensor Pod with her cyber-warfare suite. I sighed. I honestly have no idea what it was she saw when she looked at me, particularly after that one incident. Her behavior almost seemed reverent at times, almost obsessive. It could be creepy to be honest. “Can we not talk about that, you get weird when we do.” She shot me a look. “What do you mean, weird!?” She said with an indigent edge to her words. I shrugged “I can’t describe it any other way. You don’t act like that towards anybody else.” I said and started to walk off toward the bridge.

"Keep up the good work, Ruby," I said with a pat on her shoulder. "I trust you completely with this stuff, strangely enough."

“Of course, Captain," she replied, her playful tone returning as she saluted me. "The Enterprise’s computers are in good hands."

The holographic star chart flickered before me, casting its eerie glow across the bridge. I traced the projected route with my finger, excitement and a twinge of resignation mingling within me. It had been some time since we embarked on a mission that was just about moving cargo – a simple task, yet one that couldn't be taken lightly.

"Captain," Amy said, pulling me from my thoughts as she approached me on the bridge. "We've received the mission details from the guild. We're to transport a shipment of medical supplies to Starstation Echo-5 in the Valence System."

"Sounds straightforward enough," I mused, feeling the familiar stirrings of anticipation for the journey ahead. "Contact docking control and request permission to get underway." I ordered.

"Understood," Amy replied, heading towards the comm system to relay the request.

"Ruby," I called out, glancing over at our Elvan cyber-runner, who had been tirelessly working on the ship's new sensor pod. "How's the progress on that upgrade coming along?"

"Almost done, Captain," she replied, her fingers dancing over the console as she guided her cyber runner daemons through the final steps. "This should give us an edge if we encounter any unfriendly sorts during our trip."

"Excellent work," I praised, watching as the last few lines of code streamed across the display. "Make sure to get some rest before we depart. This will be a long journey."

"Will do, Captain," Ruby said with a tired smile.

As the crew gathered on the bridge, we reviewed our mission responsibilities and set course for the Valence System. The hum of the engines was like music to my ears as the Enterprise slipped free from the Nexus Enclave's gravitational pull, leaving the familiar sights of the starstation behind. I flew the ship to the warp out point and started the Gravitic Warp Drive as the stars seemed to stretch

out before us as the subspace bubble surrounded the ship and propelled it to many times the speed of light. It was a sight I never got tired of seeing.

"Two days in FTL travel," Amy mused from her station, her eyes scanning the projected timeline. "It'll be a good opportunity for us to establish a routine for extended periods undocked."

"Not a bad idea." I said, feeling the weight of responsibility settle on my shoulders. "We'll need to maintain constant vigilance and ensure all systems are functioning at optimal levels."

The journey went smoother than anticipated, each crew member finding their own rhythm as they performed their assigned tasks. We even had the chance to use some of the ship’s facilities like the training room for exercise. I worked a bit in the robotics lab, tinkering with some devices I hopped to upgrade Titan with in the future, if I could ever get the things to work.

"Approaching Starstation Echo-5," Ruby announced after two days of uneventful travel. The Valence System loomed before us, its star casting a warm glow upon the starstation that stood out like a beacon in the void.

"Amy, contact docking control while I take us in." I ordered, my heart swelling with pride as the Enterprise glided towards the starstation with ease.

"Docking procedures loaded and initiated," she confirmed, her fingers dancing across the console.

As the cargo was unloaded and delivered into the waiting arms of the grateful starstation staff, I couldn't help but reflect on the efficiency and professionalism of my crew. We had come a long way since our first mission together, our bonds strengthening with each passing day.

"Mission complete," Ruby reported, offering me a firm nod of approval. "Cargo delivered and payment received."

"Good work, everyone," I praised, feeling the satisfaction of a job well done. It was moments like these that reminded me why we had chosen this path, venturing into the unknown to make a difference in the galaxy. I left Ruby in charge as I went to the Freeblades guild branch to turn in the mission report and complete the normal first time check-in for the area.

The hum of the starstation's bustling market filled my ears as I handed over the mission data slate to the guild representative. The weight of our success sat heavy in my chest, a mixture of contentment and anticipation for what lay ahead.

"Excellent work, Captain Asher," the representative said, examining the data with a scrutinizing eye. "The guild is pleased with your performance."

"Thank you. We aim to please," I replied with a hint of pride. My crew had become a well-oiled machine, ready for any challenge that came our way.

"Speaking of performance," the representative began, his tone suddenly taking on a more serious quality. "A guild-wide announcement just came through. The Alliance Navy is requesting assistance from civilian ships for an anti-piracy taskforce."

My eyes widened at the mention of piracy, memories of my past in the Non-Aligned Rim resurfacing like ghosts. This was a chance to make a real difference, to strike back against the lawlessness that plagued the galaxy. My crew and I were more than capable of handling the task.

"Sign us up," I declared, determination coursing through my veins.

"Very well, Captain Asher. You'll be attending a combined meeting over subspace transmission. Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Anderson will outline the plan for cooperative patrols between civilian and Navy ships." The representative entered the appropriate information into his console, finalizing my participation in the taskforce.

"Understood. When does the meeting take place?" I asked, eager to get started.

"Tomorrow at 1400 hours," he replied, handing me a small device with the necessary encryption codes for the transmission. "Don't be late."

"Of course not," I assured him, pocketing the device with a nod. "Thank you."

As I returned to the Enterprise, the anticipation for the upcoming mission grew within me, mingling with a sense of resolve. I knew firsthand the devastation that piracy could bring, and I was determined to do everything in my power to prevent others from suffering a similar fate.

"Attention, crew," I announced over the ship's comm system as soon as I stepped onto the bridge. "We've been invited to join an anti-piracy taskforce with the Alliance Navy. We'll be attending a subspace meeting tomorrow to discuss the details."

"Sounds like a worthy cause, Captain," Amy replied, her voice steady and unwavering. The last few days in space, she had taken on a very professional attitude. “Indeed. Pirates are terrible. We should spare no effort in defeating them” Titan said with his usual monotone, his optics briefly turning to the red of combat mode before shifting back to their cool blue. Seemed he disliked pirates as much as I did.

"Count me in too," Ruby added confidently. "Let's show those pirates what the Enterprise is made of."

"Then it's settled," I said, allowing a small smile to cross my lips. "Prepare yourselves, everyone. Tomorrow, we embark on a new mission – one that will test our skills and fortitude. But I have no doubt that we will rise to the challenge and prove that we are a force to be reckoned with." with that, the crew meeting, as much as it was with just the four of us.

The stars flickered like a thousand tiny fireflies against the inky black canvas of space, their shimmering light reflecting off the bridge's viewing window. As I watched, mesmerized by the celestial dance, my mind raced with ideas and strategies for our upcoming mission with the anti-piracy taskforce.

"Captain," Amy called out from her station, snapping me back to the present. "The subspace meeting is about to begin."

"Thank you, Amy." I took a deep breath, feeling a mix of resignation and excitement course through me, knowing that we were about to embark on a dangerous yet vital endeavor. I settled into my chair, eyes locked onto the viewscreen as Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Anderson appeared before us. This was of course the commander of the Ballantine that we had encountered our first day in Alliance space.

"Welcome, everyone," she began, her voice calm and collected. "As you know, piracy has become an increasing threat in recent months, and it's time we put a stop to it. Our goal is to establish cooperative patrols between civilian and Navy ships to protect trade routes and ensure the safety of our citizens."

As Anderson continued outlining the plan, my strategic instincts kicked in. I grabbed my datapad and began drafting a proposal for a more proactive approach – one that would allow us to actively hunt down pirates rather than merely defend against them.

"Ruby, Titan, keep an eye on the meeting while I work on this," I whispered, handing the datapad to Amy. "Send it to Lt. Cmdr. Anderson via the Ballantine's comms officer as soon as I'm finished."

Amy nodded, her fortitude kicking in to accomplish her task. I could sense her determination and eagerness to contribute to our cause.

"Done," I said after a few minutes of fervent typing. Amy quickly took the datapad and transmitted the proposal.

"Captain Asher," Anderson's voice suddenly cut through the meeting, drawing everyone's attention. "I've just received your proposal for 'Pirate Hunting.' I must say, it's an interesting and quite proactive concept. Let's discuss this further."

"Of course, ma'am." My heart raced as the meeting shifted focus to my proposal. It was a risk, but one that could potentially yield great results in our fight against piracy.

"Your plan has merit, Captain," Anderson continued. "However, there are concerns about your past in the Non-Aligned Rim. Can you address these issues and assure us of your loyalty to the taskforce?"

I felt the weight of my mysterious past bear down on me. Memories I couldn't quite place haunted me, leaving me both frustrated and determined to uncover the truth. But in that moment, I knew that I had to put those thoughts aside and focus on the mission at hand.

"Ma'am, I understand the concerns," I said evenly. "But I assure you, my loyalty lies with the Freeblades and we have a reputation of professionalism to uphold, not to mention I have a bit of personal history dealing with pirates. I don’t like them nor do any of my crew. My crew and I are committed to this cause and will do everything in our power to help bring an end to piracy."

"Very well, Captain," Anderson replied, her expression softening slightly. "Let's move forward with your proposal and see how we can integrate it into our overall strategy."

"Thank you, ma'am," I replied, feeling a renewed sense of purpose. As the meeting continued, I couldn't help but believe that the Enterprise and its crew were destined for greatness. Together, we would face the unknown, overcome every challenge, and carve our own path amongst the stars. The taskforce meeting broadcast ended after that.

The dim glow of the command console cast an eerie sheen across my face as I stared out into the vast expanse of space. At this hour, there was little for me to do but contemplate our mission and weigh the risks it entailed. The steady hum of the Enterprise's engines filled my ears, and a mixture of resignation and excitement coursed through my veins.

"Captain Asher," Amy's voice crackled over the comms, pulling me from my reverie. "The task force is almost ready to launch their first hunting attempt. Any thoughts on our role in the operation?"

"Actually, I do," I replied, my voice tinged with determination. "I think the Enterprise should volunteer to be the test bait for the first hunting attempt."

"Are you sure about that, Captain?" Titan interjected from the co-pilot's seat. "That's a dangerous position to put ourselves in."

"True," I conceded, feeling a familiar pang of worry for my crew. "But it also demonstrates our confidence in our ship and our capabilities. If we can pull this off, it'll show our allies that we're serious about this fight."

"Alright, Asher," Ruby chimed in. "If you're confident in our ability to handle it, then count me in. Let's make some pirate scum regret ever crossing paths with us."

Nodding, I opened the channel to Lt. Cmdr. Anderson and relayed our decision. "This is Captain Asher of the Enterprise. We volunteer to be the bait for the initial pirate hunting attempt."

"Very well, Captain Asher," Anderson replied, her tone professional but appreciative. "We will arrange the necessary tactical support. Good luck out there."

"Thank you, ma'am," I said before signing off.

The next morning arrived all too soon, and the Enterprise left the starstation early to rendezvous with the task force. As we approached our designated coordinates, my heart pounded in my chest, the adrenaline of anticipation coursing through me.

"Captain," Amy announced as the Ballantine appeared on our viewscreen, "we've received our assignment. We'll be working directly under the group led by the Ballantine."

"Excellent," I replied, feeling a surge of pride at our crucial role in the upcoming operation. "Let's show them what the Enterprise and her crew are made of."

"Roger that, Captain," Titan replied, his fingers dancing across the controls as he expertly maneuvered us into formation.

As we fell into line with the other ships, I felt a sense of camaraderie wash over me. We were united in this fight against piracy, and together, we would emerge victorious. The risks were great, but so too were the rewards. With each passing moment, our destiny drew nearer, and the adventure had only just begun.

A haze of smoke filled the bridge, illuminated by flickering red emergency lights. Alarms blared, creating an atmosphere of imminent danger. It was all an illusion, of course, but it had to be convincing.

"Damage simulation complete, Captain," Ruby reported, her fingers dancing across the control panel. "We should appear as a crippled ship to any nearby pirates."

"Excellent work, Ruby," I said, surveying the scene with a mixture of resignation and excitement. "Now we wait for our prey to take the bait."

As the minutes ticked by, I couldn't help but feel a thrill at the prospect of outwitting these criminals. This would be the first real test of our teamwork and combat skills, and I had every confidence in my crew's abilities.

"Captain, we've got incoming," Ruby announced, her voice tense but focused. "Five unidentified vessels on an intercept course."

"Confirm they're pirates before we call in the cavalry," I instructed, my heart pounding in anticipation.

"Confirmed, Captain," Amy chimed in, her eyes fixated on the sensor readouts. "They match known pirate signatures, and their weapons systems are online."

"Perfect. Signal the Ballantine and the others to warp in on my mark," I ordered, gripping the armrests of my chair. "All hands, prepare for battle!"

"Roger that, Captain," Amy replied from her station. She was a bit tense, but that was to be expected for her first time in combat.

"Three... two... one... Mark!" I barked, and the view outside the main viewport changed dramatically as the Ballantine and the rest of the task group warped into the fray, catching the pirates off-guard.

"Ruby, disengage the damage simulation," I commanded, and the smoke and alarms vanished as the Enterprise came back to life. "Titan, prep the weapons and shield boosters! Let's show them how the Enterprise fights."

"Understood, Captain," Titan responded, while I maneuvered us into striking distance of the pirate ships.

"Titan, target their weapons systems," I instructed, my fingers tapping an anxious rhythm on the piloting console as I flew the ship. "We want them disabled, not destroyed."

"Target locked and firing," Titan confirmed, the sound of our ship's weapons resonating throughout the bridge.

"Captain, the Ballantine is engaging the other pirate vessel," Amy reported, her voice a mixture of excitement and concern. "They'll need our support soon."

"Understood," I replied, watching as our shots impacted the pirate ship, crippling its offensive capabilities. I broke off from the disabled ship and piloted the ship toward the battlespace occupied by the Ballentine.

As we closed in on the second pirate ship, I couldn't help but feel a sense of satisfaction at our performance. Our crew had come together seamlessly, proving that the Enterprise was a force to be reckoned with. We opened fire on the occupied target as soon as we were in range. The attack was successful in knocking out some of their weapons.

"Captain Asher," Lt. Cmdr. Anderson's voice crackled through the comms system, "excellent work. Let's finish this together."

"Thank you, ma'am," I replied, my chest swelling with pride. "We won't let them get away."

"Of that, I have no doubt," she said with a note of admiration before signing off.

"Alright, team," I stated, determination filling my voice. "Let's end this."

The taste of victory was sweet, but there was still work to be done. As the last pirate ship's weapons systems were disabled, I could sense the relief and excitement coursing through my crew. We had done it together, as a team.

"Captain Asher, we're ready to board the captured vessel for interrogation," announced Lt. Cmdr. Anderson over the comms. "I trust your crew will join us?"

"Of course, ma'am," I replied, feeling a mixture of resignation and anticipation. The fight may have been won, but now the real challenge began – extracting information from our captives.

"Titan, prep boarding equipment," I instructed, watching as the hulking guardian robot nodded his assent. "Ruby, assist Amy in scanning the enemy ship for any hidden surprises."

"Understood, Captain," they both responded in unison, their voices filled with determination. “No additional surprises detected we can board and secure whenever we are ready.” Ruby replied after a few minutes. I had maneuvered the ship and extended a docking arm. Titan sent a signal from the armory that each of our kits had been prepped for the boarding. We locked our stations to prevent intrusion and headed for the armory. We grabbed our equipment and made our way to the docking arm. Titan took point as the airlock cycled and opened onto the wrecked pirate ship.

We stepped into the dark, debris-strewn corridor. The scent of burnt circuitry and scorched metal hung heavy in the air, a testament to the damage we had inflicted. The silence was eerie, broken only by the occasional creak of stressed bulkhead and our own hushed footsteps. Our breaths echoed dully in our helmets.

"Scan for life signs," I whispered into my comms, my voice sounding like an intrusive shout in the quiet space.

"On it, Captain," Amy murmured back, her hands moving deftly over her handheld scanner. Her lips were pressed into a thin line of concentration beneath her visor. "Two ahead at 50 yards, one further down on the left."

"All right, let's move out." I signaled to the crew and we advanced slowly, Titan's imposing frame leading the way. Ruby stayed close to his side, her slender hand hovering above her holstered weapon, ready to engage at a moment’s notice.

As we neared our first target, Amy gave me a sharp nod and I gestured for the crew to stop. My heart pounded against my ribs as I peered around the corner with my weapon drawn. A rogue pirate slumped against the wall - unconscious but alive.

"Titan, secure him," I ordered softly. The robot moved swiftly and silently to bind the pirate's arms behind his back before moving him aside and clearing the way for us to continue.

We found the rest of the pirates similarly incapacitated – a direct result of their ship’s systems failing under our assault. Each was promptly apprehended with minimal resistance.

After securing all threats, we ventured deeper into the bowels of the vessel. We needed to find any valuable intel that might aid us in quelling future piracy attempts in Alliance space.

Amy led us through winding corridors and down countless flights of industrial-grade steel grating steps towards what appeared to be the ship’s data center. Ruby moved ahead to interface with the pirate ship's computer system.

Her emerald eyes glowed behind her visor as she sifted through streams of complex data. The glow reflected off the glass and bathed her face in an eerie green light, casting long, spectral shadows down her cheeks.

"Captain," she finally broke the silence, "I think you'll want to see this."

As I leaned over her shoulder to look at the data screen, my own reflection stared back with a grim set to its lips. It seemed to be information about a base of some kind, IFF signatures, recent prizes taken by the pirates. Something that the Alliance would want to see. “Download it and hand it to the Alliance guys once they get here.” And get here they did, not moments later. We handed over the pirates and intel both. The boarding team chief walked over to speak with me. “Not a bad job for a few kids. The Commander would like to talk with you on the Ballentine once we finish up here” He said. I nodded and we went back to our respective ships. After disengaging the docking arm from the pirate ship we went over to the starboard side of the Ballantine since it’s portside docking clamp was occupied with the captured pirate ship. We requested permission to board and were then escorted to see the Commander.

"Welcome aboard, Captain Asher," greeted Lt. Cmdr. Anderson, her eyes filled with respect and admiration. "I look forward to working with you and your crew on this next phase of the operation."

"Thank you, ma'am," I replied, meeting her gaze with determination. "We're ready for whatever comes next." Hopefully the next part of this operation would be taking down the local pirate hub-station.

We sat down at the polished steel table, its surface reflecting the blinking lights overhead. With a flick of her wrist, Anderson sent a cluster of mapped stars spinning towards us.

"This is our target," she began, touching an unassuming spot on the map that amplified into a detailed hologram of a space station riddled with unknown oddities and secrets. "The hub-station you discovered during your operation."

My eyes followed her every movement as she pointed out key structures and defensive capacities. The weight of what was at stake making my heart pound faster.

"Now," she spoke up after outlining her proposed strategy for taking down the hub-station. "We need to decide our approach." A hush fell over the room as everyone's eyes turned to me.

I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts before responding: "Well ma'am," I began, lifting my gaze to meet hers, "we propose a two-pronged approach. A direct assault using the main fleet to draw the enemy’s attention, while a secondary team infiltrates via a less guarded route."

The room echoed with murmurs of agreement, heads nodding in approval. Anderson stood motionless for a moment, studying our faces in thoughtful silence before agreeing.

"Very well," she finally stated, her voice firm and resolute. "We move at 0800 hours tomorrow. All hands on deck."

With that, we were dismissed to our respective tasks: Ruby and Amy to fine-tune the ship's cyberwarfare defenses, Titan to maintain security measures aboard the Enterprise, and I to finalize our strategic plans.

As we drifted off into our separate directions, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of trepidation and exhilarating anticipation. The prospect of bringing down one of the most formidable pirate stations in Alliance space was daunting, yet the potential benefits for the Alliance far outweighed any risks.

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