After the total loss of humanity's Home System, the crew of the interstellar salvage vessel Coprolite must find a way to survive, as opposing factions go to war over the final destiny of Terran Space. Outnumbered, outgunned, and out of fuel at the wrong end of the sky, the crew of the Coprolite find shelter in a decaying space colony filled with humanity's worst outcasts.

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Mission Briefing @ Broken Rock: 017-2313
The old Auditorium at Broken Rock seldom got filled to capacity these days. Its founders had preferred to speak with their followers in person rather than via augmented reality, a quaint custom which had fallen by the wayside along with the asteroid colony's original rulers. Both the Lacerta Syndicate and Special Projects knew full well how to make use of augmented reality, and the idea of gathering a bunch of people into one physical space for a meeting would seem pointless on most days.

But there were times when even the network security of Special Projects could not be trusted, and all concerned parties had to meet in the flesh. On this occasion, a number of starship crews from both the Lacerta Syndicate and the Omicron Defense Squadron had to be accommodated, and only the Auditorium had enough space for such a gathering.

Commodore Enderle stood behind the podium, awaiting verification that everyone was accounted for and all security measures were in place. Captain Fischer signaled him from the back of the room as she closed the last of the double doors and activated noise suppressors. Enderle called for quiet, and got it.

“I think by you're all aware that the New Dominion is on its way here, along with what's left of the Terran Home Fleet. What you may not be aware of is that we now have a plan to take her out when she arrives.” He paused as several members of the audience suppressed their incredulity.

“Before I get to that, I want everyone here to understand what we're up against. Commodore Wu Qing Shan of the Omicron Defense Squadron has considerable knowledge of the New Dominion, and he has prepared a briefing on her capabilities.” At this, Enderle yielded the podium to the pirate king of Zhen Zhi Long Station.

As Wu Qing Shan stepped up to address the assembled crews, a holographic display appeared above and behind him, portraying the New Dominion in miniature form, along with its specifications. Its light cast a long shadow before Commodore Wu as he spoke. “This is the most powerful starship ever built by humanity. She is over 1600 meters in length, masses 800 kilotons 'clean' and carries another 200 kilotons in ordinance, troops, equipment and most importantly, escort craft. New Dominion is designed using 'carrier doctrine' for reasons which will become quite clear.”

The audience became slightly uneasy at this... it looked worse than they expected.

“Her armaments are heavier than any other craft you have seen. She carries twelve heavy-weight particle accelerators in “janus mounts” with six fore and six aft. However, she is too big to bring them all to bear on one target. Her secondary armaments are 20 medium hex-mount coilguns, and 20 missile pods. Each of them can fire a salvo of 36, and carries five salvos. Typically she will load 1800 each of kinetic and nuclear missiles. For point defense, New Dominion is fitted with 200 hex mount light UV lasers, which will be our main problem if we aim to take her out with missiles. Finally, she is fully armored using the most advanced available fullerene laminate jacketed with carbon nitride, 4% thicker than the Celestial Guard's Durga class, the previous record-holder.”

The general murmur in the audience became more audible. Wu Qing Shan raised his voice above it and continued his litany of horrors.

“However, New Dominion's most formidable defense is her massive hyperdrive. As you know, the larger a starship's FTL drive, the greater its zone of interference with the drives of other starships. And this radius increases with the size of both ships. This is why New Dominion carries so many of her own escorts... it is impossible for any other spacecraft to enter or leave hyperspace anywhere near her.”

Captain Fischer raised a hand, and he acknowledged her. “How far out will we have to transit?”

The holograph of New Dominion shrank to a pinpoint surrounded by a bull's-eye of rings representing distances in space, and the numbers on each one were much too large for comfort.

“A small converted freighter such as your Black Swan could emerge at a range of 100,000 kilometers. But we will not require you to do anything so foolhardy, Captain.” He motioned at another ring farther from New Dominion. A Celestial Guard Man of War Intruder can emerge from FTL here, at 160,000 kilometers, which is technically within striking distance. But Admiral Ridpath knows this, and he will deploy his escorts here.”

A sphere of new symbols appeared at intervals 150,000 kilometers from New Dominion, their fields of fire overlapping with the mother ship and each other. The display made obvious that any strike craft making an attack run against New Dominion would be forced to run a formidable gauntlet.

“New Dominion comprises an entire fleet unto herself. At the time of the Terracide, our best available data indicate she carried eight Whirlwind class light cruisers and sixteen Naga class destroyers for escort duty. We have confirmed two of the cruisers lost in combat; we are not sure about the destroyers.”

“Our own destroyer class vessels, and the Omicron Squadron, can get within 320,000 kilometers. Note that this is close enough to engage the escorts, but far enough to avoid New Dominion's weaponry. Our mission will be to punch a hole in her escort screen for the strike craft. The rest of the Lacertae Syndicate, including you, Captain Fischer, will remain here to defend the inner system.”

“New Dominion also carries many smaller craft for strike missions: 30 strike craft each armed with two dozen nukes; and 25 assault craft, capable of carrying a brigade of troops to the inner system in minutes. These are just the vanguard; her total troop contingent numbers well over 30 thousand. If we are lucky, Admiral Ridpath will choose to conserve these resources for his intended assault on the Kruger 60 Complex, rather than use them here.”

Fischer crossed her arms and glowered. “You have no idea how comforting that is, Commodore.”

Enderle returned to the podium and thanked Wu Qing Shan. “Now, we've got some new ordinance....”

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Dinner at the Admiral's table: 359-2311 (Christmas Day at Winter Palace)
Ekaterina Petrova, newly appointed Admiral of the Defense Squadron for Omicron Free Station, stood at the head the long table, regarding the odd assortment of guests seated before her. Never one to be easily impressed, she nevertheless had to pause for a moment. Her days as an outlaw were over thanks to these people, who had come here from at least a dozen star systems. They came from Omicron; they came from Glass House. There were Captains from 61 Cygni and Epsilon Eridani, colonists from Tau Ceti and Epsilon Indi. Talitha Borealis came from the system of the same name, almost 50 light years away. A few of her guests acknowledged no home at all. And finally, there were survivors of the Terracide, whose continued perserverance after the death of their world slightly unnerved most of the others. The time had come to take back Omicron, and Ekaterina Petrova was going to help them do it. Or just get a lot of people killed in the attempt. But we will not receive another opportunity like this.

Petrova realized everyone was looking at her, expecting her to say something. She needed a moment to gather her thoughts. “I want to thank you all for coming here, and I should begin by reminding everyone why we are here; for every human being still alive in these dark times, the light of Sol once shone on a hundred. I'd like to ask for a moment of silence now, for all of them.” Petrova found she could barely speak as the words caught in her throat. A brief glance around the room told her the others felt the same; the Terracide was best not contemplated for too long. There were no words, no feelings, no actions... no meaningful way to respond to such absolute atrocity. Silence only made it worse. “Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.”

The spell broke, and Petrova realized that once again, all eyes were on her. “For many years I dreamed of returning to civilization, to wage a war of revenge on those who sent me and my crew into exile. But we waited. Wars are not begun out of spite, or hatred. For a civilized society, war is the last resort of defense, and we had no right to defend anyone... until now.

“All of you, gathered here tonight, represent the last people still free from the military government which has taken power in the core of Terran Space over the last four months. Freedom... that was only a word to most of us when we took our oaths and joined the Colonial Reserves. The people we protected did not know the meaning of the word, and neither did we. The Ridpath Junta, which rules in the name of safety and security but provides neither, still does not know its meaning... but they soon will.

“By calling on the Constantine's crew to defend Omicron, you have given us hope... of serving proudly as soldiers once again, rather than dying in obscurity as outlaws. For us, there is no honor greater than this... to return to active duty once again, and fight in the defense of a proud, civilized people who value our service, who will remember what we do in their name. I say again, there is no honor greater than this.

“And so tonight, we honor you.” She raised her immense stein. “Omicron Free Station!”
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Christmas Eve in Terran Space: 358-2311
Omicron Colony South, Hotel Bravo, mezzanine level: Dr. Leelavathi Rabindra contemplates the engraved plaque on her massive desk.

The best security for civilization is the dwelling, and upon properly appointed and becoming dwellings depends, more than anything else, the improvement of mankind.
- Benjamin Disreali

* * * * *

Former CRF vessel Constantine, in orbit around Winter Palace: Major Ekaterina Petrova carves words in the bulkhead above her bridge station.

In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers. - Herman Melville

* * * * *

Fast courier True Companion, in hyperspace and three weeks behind schedule: Captain Iris Quinlevan hangs a woodblock print from ancient Terra in her temporary cabin.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. - Lao Tzu

* * * * *

Solar Express Company Fast Clipper Sovereign, entering the Omicron Eridani system: the new Commodore examines a laser etching left behind in the former shipmaster's suite.

When you are the anvil, be patient. When you are the hammer, strike. - Arabian Proverb
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Omicron Colony 344-2311; Hotel Bravo lounge
Crew of the Free Trade League vessel Offshore Account

Captain Driscoll glanced at his cargo officer through the bottom of the glass he'd just drained, then lowered it to the table. “You go and see your boy, Martha?”

“Zachary.” She nodded. “His name's Zachary Brooks... he was a sleep, so I just left it there.”

“Waste of a good EVA suit if you ask me.”

“Well I'm not asking you, Captain – I'll remind you he took a bullet so we could dock here...”

“I know...”

“...and if it wasn't for him we'd still be out there...” she pointed vaguely towards the spaceport, “...running out of air. An EVA suit is the least we owe him, and he's an Aquila like me, so I wanted to make sure it fits....”

“I know, alright? Fine, your son's a hero.” Driscoll signaled for a new round of drinks. “So what happened to all those air-wasting refugees?”

“They're... adapting.” She shrugged.

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Things are different here... it scares them.

“Anarchy should scare anyone, Martha.”

“Just don't let the locals hear that word, okay, Cap? They don't like it.”

Driscoll considered the irony of an angry mob upset with him for using the word “anarchy” and decided it was a losing battle. “So, how are they getting on?”

“We identified everyone with technical skills. A local dealer sold them some old tools on credit and said 'Congratulations, you're all self-employed.' They have no idea what that means.”

Driscoll shook his head in disbelief. “How is that possible?”

“They're from the HiCoST habitat at Tau Ceti, Cap. You know how they are: 'Who do we report to? Where do we get our work assignments? What time is my coffee break?'”

“You tell 'em there's no coffee here?”

“I don't have a death-wish, Cap... I told 'em I'd take care of everything.” She crossed her arms and gave a single, sharp nod for emphasis.

“Oh, that's good. What are they gonna do when we ship out?”

Martha took hold of Driscoll's hand and lowered his drink to the table, to make sure she had his full attention. “Captain... listen to me very carefully. I'm the new Technical Coordinator here; I'm not gonna be shipping out with Offshore Account.”

“Technical Coordinator? You're giving up a position on a League Vessel to be a... bureaucrat? Who the hell's paying you?”

Martha smiled. “I'll take a small cut out of every work assignment, at least until they figure out how to find their own jobs. And I'm a technocrat, not a bureaucrat... there's no government here, remember. I'm just providing a needed service for a fee.”

Driscoll laughed. “Got it all figured out, do you?”

“No... but someone has to do it, Cap, or there really will be anarchy. That's how things work around here, in case you hadn't noticed.”

An insistent A/R alert interrupted their conversation. Announcement from Director of Omicron Project in 30 seconds... all A/R layers... please stand by.

“All layers? Can she do that?” Driscoll took off his interface and fiddled with it in irritation.

“No, she can't... but Mr. Xavier can.” Brooks adjusted her own interface. “My son took a bullet so she could make this announcement, so you might want to listen, Cap.”

“Never gonna let that go, are you?”

“As a matter of fact, I'm not. Now shush.”

Rabindra had arranged a fully immersive reality, using archived recordings from Omicron's early days; Brooks and Driscoll found their table and barstools transported to a wooded park, just a few feet from where Rabindra spoke to them. She stood in front of an artificial waterfall, under a canopy of shade trees, through which daylight shone down from solar mirrors and skylights undimmed by years of grime and smog. This was once a beautiful place, she seemed to say, but the lush scenery paled next to her own presence as she began to speak.

“My friends... I come to you in the aftermath of recent events to call on everyone here... it is time for us to find our way again. Our purpose here has become far more important than we knew... no longer a matter of company policies and labor disputes. Nor is it merely a matter of life and death: it is simply a matter of life; of living with each other, living with the decisions and the future we make for ourselves.

It begins here. Our numbers are few, our way forward unclear, and our assets meager... thus do great endeavors always begin. We all made a leap of faith when we came to Omicron... now fate calls on us to make another, much greater leap into an uncertain future. It is our duty to renew this colony, not for our corporate masters, but for the people who have come to depend on this place to survive... and for those who will come later, who have no place else to go.

They will come in greater numbers in the weeks and months ahead, looking for refuge, and it falls upon us to ensure that they find it here. We will be the saviours of this colony as it renews itself, as the children of Terra come back here, looking for a place where they can be safe. I have spoken with an outside security firm... they have defended Omicron before, and will return to defend it again, if we ask them to. You have my word that we will not be alone here in our hour of need.

For those who still wish to leave Omicron, you have my blessing, and when our ship departs, you may have my seat on it as well. I will not be leaving this place. I swear to everyone here, I shall remain until the end. In time, my children will begin work on a new Omicron Colony, larger and even more beautiful than the last... while their cousins, our brothers and sisters, continue their own great works, on the new worlds of Tierra Nueva, Stella Magna, and the War Garden in TGO space.

Our great-grandchildren will go to live there someday, when humanity's new worlds are ready. They will once again live under open skies, look toward distant horizons, and feel the gravity of solid ground beneath their feet. And when the time comes, their descendents will undertake the greatest work of all, to reclaim what was lost. They will return to Terra, and take back their true homeworld.

All of this will come to pass, in time, but it must begin here. I came back to Omicron to tell you all, that this is not the end of humanity, not the death of our species. This is the beginning of our rebirth. And this place is where it begins. Right here, right now, with all of us.”
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Return of the Sovereign
United Terran Press Q-Net feed; Epsilon Eridani HCST Colony; 326-2311

Return of the Sovereign. Braddock “Buster” Daley reporting.

Daley: The controversial “Score One For the Little Guys” rant penned by the the pseudonymous Crewman Jones got an unexpected boost in credibility two days ago when the Solar Express Company's fast clipper Sovereign arrived in the Epsilon Eridani system. Previously thought destroyed in the Terracide, the Sovereign's flight data confirmed it had been in the Omicron Eridani system. In order to shed more light on these events, I contacted the Solar Express Company. Their spokesman, Lucerna Sharif agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.

First of all, when will we be able to speak with the crew of Sovereign?

Sharif: They're in quarantine for the moment; standard operating procedure for Solar Express vessels returning from Omicron Colony. Its air filtration and systems are faulty and health care infrastructure there is non-existent. They could have brought back anything.

Daley: How did the Sovereign come to be on a mission to Omicron during the Terracide?

Sharif: The records are correct; Sovereign was due for a refit, but the refit was post-poned when our Public Relations department needed a vessel for a humanitarian mission to Omicron Colony, in cooperation with the Ganymede Institute and Doctors Without Limits. She transited away just a few days prior to the disaster.

Daley: What went wrong at Omicron? Crewman Jones made certain allegations about a young woman who jumped ship....

Sharif: Nothing of the kind occurred. Her name is Tonia Bonasera, her grandfather was Urban Bonasera, of the Solar Express Board of Directors... he was on one of the Terran Orbitals when they were destroyed. So were most of their families... she's one of our last links with the old Company. Mr. Bonasera wanted her to learn the business... including Public Relations, and he thought a humanitarian mission would be good for her. It's true, a mission to Omicron wasn't her idea of a good time, but she's a company woman, born and bred.

Daley: And what happened to her at Omicron?

Sharif: The Commodore only allowed her to enter Omicron Colony with an armed escort, but his precautions were... insufficient. A crew of salvage operators from the Esoteric Logistics vessel Coprolite seperated Tonia from her escorts and took her captive, with the intent of selling her to corsairs at Naysayers' Rock.

Daley: Is this sort of thing common out there?

Sharif: Yes, actually it is. But it's unusual for anyone from the Core to take part it in. I can only conclude the Coprolite's crew were tipped off as to the potential ransom value of Ms. Bonasera. Of course Commodore DeVilbiss had no choice but to go after them. Upon his arrival at Naysayers' Rock, all seemed well. The Captains of both vessels, the Coprolite and the Constantine, claimed to have uncovered their crews' crimes, and returned Ms. Bonasera to the Commodore, as well as turning over the offending crewmen in hibernation.

It was all a ruse, of course. Not content with the ransom she could get for Ms. Bonasera, the Captain of Constantine, a CRF deserter by the name of Ekaterina Petrova, decided they should hunt for larger prey: the Sovereign itself. The crewmen handed over to the Commodore awoke from hibernation and, using heavy weapons hidden inside their hibernation units, tried to take over the vessel. However, their attempted hijacking failed. They took Ms. Bonasera hostage once again, along with a medical tech named Jason Baker, and of course crewman Jones. The Commodore offered to trade himself for Ms. Bonasera, and they agreed to release her, but naturally they lied and took him as well – they needed his command codes to escape in a hyper-shuttle with their hostages, under covering fire from the Constantine.

Daley: Was the Sovereign badly damaged?

Sharif: Fortunately, no. Hijackers go to great lengths to avoid harming a potential prize vessel. I wish I could say the same thing for kidnappers. We're all extremely worried about the people they took. Whatever pathetic screeds you may have heard from “crewman Jones” or anyone else, I have no doubt they're being penned at gunpoint. Or worse.

Daley: Will Solar Express be returning to Omicron Colony?

Sharif: Our humanitarian efforts will continue. In the aftermath of the Terracide, restoration of that stricken habitat will take the highest priority, as does the recovery of our missing employees. We will not, of course, send Sovereign back there without an armed escort.

Daley: Good luck, then, Mrs. Sharif, and thank you for your time.

Tomorrow, I'll be speaking with Dr. Vernon Locklear of the Sirius Institute regarding the location of the mysterious Q-node from which "Crewman Jones" sent the previous press releases regarding Sovereign's alleged activities
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