The Sword and the Star
IN GAME: MULTIPLE
Heather crouched down behind the smoldering couch, clutching her plasma rifle. Waves of heat rippled off the end of the gun, and her skin glistened with sweat. She was a bit chubby, even after the grueling terror of these past five months. She could hear the revolutionaries marching past.
“H-Heather,” a weak voice came from behind her.
“Shh!” she hisses back. Stress and fear, like usual, creeped into her tone. She can’t help it. All the kids, and he was the last one left. Her thoughts briefly dwelled on happier days. She hadn’t followed politics. Why care? The Terran Mandate was countless light-years away, and she was doing good work on these peripheral frontier worlds where they didn’t have access to things like gene fixing, or even sometimes for good medical care. She was the caretaker of a dozen disabled kids. She loved each and every one of them, and one by one their parents came to take them away when the riots started, and then the bombings, and then the revolution in the streets. But Clyde didn’t have any parents, and Heather loved him all the more fiercely because of it, because he was hers and hers alone.
The news called people like Heather counter-revolutionaries. Heather just called herself a survivor.
The enemy eventually past, and Heather whirled around and crept behind the half-ruined wall where she’d put Clyde’s wheelchair. He’d been the oldest when the care center was still around, on account of the lack of parents or anywhere else to go. He hadn’t been very sociable until Heather came along, always tap-tap-tapping away on his computer, engrossed in and enamored by a world far larger than he could ever reach, and he dreamed of the stars above and inner systems where he could be fixed and walk and run like everybody else. But he was on a frontier world, far away, where people still drove ground cars and used manufactories, instead of hovercraft and psitech.
She pushed the wheelchair through the rubble. Clyde held on. They had to move on to a different part of the city; this one was overrun.
The years slid by, and the unrest just grew and grew. And then, things started to go …wrong. The revolutionaries had broken down into countless fractal groups of wildly differing ideologies. There wasn’t enough left of the government to take advantage of that. People were seen acting like wild animals, losing their words, turning feral, turning to cannibalism. Everyone became harder, gained a sharp, cynical edge. There was no central government, and hardly any organized settlements even. The rare and precious interstellar news that came through indicated this place, and other nearby frontier worlds, were the hardest hit. But the entire Terran Mandate was in disarray. Why? What was happening? Heather almost didn’t care anymore. She was a wraith on the ruined city streets, skipping between flickering shadows cast by hungry fires. She was gaunt now, and fondly remembered the days of plenty when she had fat to spare. But she scavenged through that ruined city, and gave the best of what she had to Clyde, and Clyde helped her break into the sealed vaults and security systems of a bygone age.
They made a hell of a team. Would’ve been better if Clyde could walk, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Heather always made sure to trade with the nearby Celestial Bank Settlement, settled in the abandoned building of its namesake. The people she and Clyde spoke to there kept them sane. You had to have a measure of civilization to balance it out.
And, occasionally, during her nighttime travels, she would see the Observer. This was one such night.
She was watching two hungry men—more animal, now—crouching over a fire. They were feasting on a third. Heather had a gun on her hip, but only three bullets left. She had a machete she retrieved ages past from a hardware store, but that was far riskier. On the other side of the barbarians was a grocery store. The exterior had been looted, but deep inside the storeroom was locked by computer controls. Most things would be spoiled by now, but if Clyde could break in, they could feast like kings on canned goods. But she had to do it tonight, because the Boschki Clan moved through here tomorrow at dawn, and would break in by force, and take everything like a swarm of locusts.
As she weighed her odds, carefully balancing that familiar equation of survival, she saw the Observer once again. He wore a bowler hat and a bowtie, like always, and, like always, looked so out of place in this city of liars and survivors. They were far enough away from the feral men to not be noticed. Curiouser and curiouser, Heather suddenly thought, dialogue from a pre-war world coming unbidden to her mind.
“Heather,” he said, approaching her and tipping his hat. Heather recoiled, suddenly afraid at this bizarre change of behavior. The Observer had never interacted with her before. Or anything. He observed. Heather wasn’t even sure if he was anything other than a bizarre hallucination. She didn’t want insanity to encroach upon her senses. What would happen to Clyde?
“As I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve been watching you for some time. I was sent to this region to find any salvageable survivors. Anyone who’s resisted the induced madness for this long has great value to us.”
Heather watched and waited.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to not live on the line between life and death any more, Heather? I’d like to make you an offer. You can even take along that kid of yours.”
Heather woke with a jolt from a centuries-long cold sleep. Fatigue clung to her limbs like she’d been awake for all these past years. But she’s alive, they promised her that much. They promised her eternal life, for as long as she wanted. She just felt so foggy right now…
She barely managed to lift her head and sees Clyde awakening next to her. That’s enough for the moment, and she collapsed and let the doctors come in and take care of the rest.
Some hours later, she was brought to a meeting-room. She felt a little better, but only barely. Both her and Clyde were put in wheelchairs. He smiled at her with grim humour, and the joke between them was comfortable, like home. Things are going to be okay. In the meeting-room, the Observer waited for them, in a different kind of suit. It had a small triangle path on the left shoulder, a tan pyramid-and-eye set on a green band set on a black military uniform.
“Welcome back to life, Heather. This cell has been inactive for almost 500 years, but is now being reactivated by central command due to the rise of interstellar nations in the region. Out of the list of potential agents, you and Clyde have been selected for your skills and your ability to cooperate as a team. You’ve already been told about the Scream. Well, this sector contains a central Empire that controls two systems, Alpha and Beta Draconis,” he said, pulling down a map of the region. “Its primary opponents are Astral Alacrity and Gate. There are numerous other minor system, but we can get into the specifics of that later. Our primary objective is to gather information and influence in the Draconis sector in preparation for the return of centralized administration. To this end, your first mission is to travel to Beta Draconis. Heather, your name has, regrettably, become unfashionable, which is paramount at this location. You’ll need to choose a new one. Clyde, we have an alternative solution for you…”
Bonnie looked at the familiar machine hulk next to her, and nodded. Clyde shot her a text via her HUD. [Lux Eterna, huh? You excited?] She looks at him and nods, feeling that familiar rush before the new mission. She’d not aged a day since she awoke from that cryochamber, and Clyde’s brain, safely ensconced in the machine, was just as lively. He was promised a quantum core and an Eidelon hull after 50 years of service. They were so close! Only 8 more years to go, and then retirement. They’d already picked out the resort on Beta-D, a perfect island home. The Observer would keep them on call for further missions if needed, but finally, Bonnie would be able to embrace Clyde again. Theirs was a peculiar sort of love, now decades hold, and steady through trial and fire. She didn’t know how she’d feel when Clyde was (mostly) human again, but it was hard to wait.
Bonnie strapped herself into the crash couch as the Frontier Panstellar vehicle descended, and flashed Clyde across the room a smile.