Circle of Fate

From Star Frontiers Network

Jump to: navigation, search

Top:Star Frontiersman main page | Up: Star Frontiersman Issue 6 main index | Up: Star Frontiersman Fiction main index

by Auden Reiter

Editor’s Note: Last issue, I posted a request for prose writers who might be willing to put together a series of articles set in the Frontier... and am very pleased with the offer I received from Auden Reiter. I don’t know what sort of background he has in RPG writing, but I know he is listed as a co-author of Colony Book Two: Life on Utopia, A.K.A. The Waste World: Life on Utopia (a sourcebook for Heavy Gear, published by Dream Pod 9). His writing feels very Star Frontiers, and I for one am excited to see how this story evolves. At the end of the story, I will provide statistics for the crewmembers, and their fated ship as well. Enjoy the read!


The Dom Majesty shuddered again and her bulkheads groaned under the pull of the nearby star. Failing systems belched intermittent sparks, fires burned uncontrolled, the ship was dying. Lieutenant Nixon floated down one of the corridors in near zero gravity, peering through the acrid smoke, his eyes watering. Years of emergency drills had burned the layout of the heavy cruiser into Nixon's memory. He could find his way from stem to stern, smoke or not, but getting lost was not his concern.

The smoke cleared a little and he could see an intersecting corridor in the flickering lights. He double-checked his position against the bulkhead signage, confirming was right where he should be. He drew his laser pistol from its holster.

"Captain Gideon!" He yelled and pulled himself low. A harsh beam cut through the smoke and played across Nixon's albedo screen. Nixon cursed in pain pushing himself up and back behind the corner.

"You always go low, Lieutenant," Said a voice from beyond the intersection, "That's a gravity reflex. I thought you better."

"We don't have to do this!" Nixon shouted, hoping to cover the scuffing of his feet as he pushed off the ceiling. He frantically searched his memory for a way around the intersection.

"Yes we do, Lieutenant," came the voice, calm despite the surrounding chaos, "this is how I deal with mutineers."

The Captain was probably in the observation lounge just past the intersection. Nixon caught a wall handle with one hand and pulled hard. He shot into the intersection. The Captain's laser found him again, sizzling against the reflective field mere millimeters from Nixon's body. Nixon grimaced. The albedo screen reflected the laser, dissipating most of the energy, but hits still burned deep. The Captain was laying down long fire; the beam would continue as long as he held the trigger. A risky move but it was working. At this rate, Nixon's screen would give out faster than the Captain's SEU pack. And the Captain always carried a spare.

Nixon curled into a ball and flipped over catching another wall handle next to the lounge's kitchen access hatch. He punched his command code and the hatch snapped open with a loud hiss. Nixon moved to enter then stopped himself. He quickly pulled off his screen belt and tossed it into the hatch, then moved to the intersection and peered down the corridor. He could just see the captain moving away from the door to investigate the belt clattering from the kitchen.

Nixon went hand over hand, fast as he could, down the corridor turning at the last second to let his momentum carry him into the room, toward the floor. The Captain turned just as Nixon floated into the room. Their pistols flashed. The Captain's beam hit Nixon in the hand and lashed up his wrist, burning into his flesh. Nixon's shot missed and his pistol floated away from his ruined hand. Nixon clutched his arm to his chest and tried to keep focus through the searing pain. The Captain just stood there, pistol at the ready. He was wearing a space suit, but the helmet was floating next to him. A white dwarf star, Ceta Prax, shone cool white beyond the lounge windows throwing everything into stark contrast. The star was the whole reason they were there and it would soon devour the ship. Nixon had not missed the terrible poetry of their situation.

"Why," asked Gideon. Nixon was breathing heavy, trying to flex his wounded hand. He stood up slowly from his crouched position, angling his body to hide his left arm as he eased his hand up behind his back.

"I told you why, Captain."

"For them?"

"For all of us! For the ship..." Nixon trailed off.

"You don't sound so sure." Gideon's pistol wavered.

Nixon yanked a gyrojet pistol from under his jacket and pointed it at one of the exterior windows.

"Put the weapon down, Captain," said Nixon evenly, "even if you burn me, I'll get the shot off."

The Captain narrowed his eyes and his aim came back on line. Nixon could feel an itch where the beam would burn through into his forehead.

"You think I would just let you go?" Said the Captain, his voice an icy calm. His finger twitched on the trigger, but Nixon was already moving. Nixon leaped back toward the hallway, firing the gyrojet. There was a soft woosh as a small rocket left barrel of the gun and shot forward under its own power. Compared to the lasers, the rocket moved painfully slow, but the Captain was no fool. He tossed his pistol aside and grabbed his helmet just as the explosive tipped round blew out the window. The atmosphere rushed out of the lounge dragging the Captain into void. Automatic sensors closed the lounge doors with a snap, just centimeters from Nixon's nose.

An ominous creaking sounded from the surrounding walls and the decompression alarm sounded. The ship was coming apart. Nixon was starting to feel the star's gravity. He grabbed a wall handle with his good hand and began pulling himself along the walls in long jerks. The corridors flew by, each with a fading memory of the last four years. All ruined now. All for nothing.

Nixon made his way to the rescue hall, each side lined with empty escape pod hatches. He nearly laughed. All of his bravado was gone, he looked to the ceiling.

"Fine!" he shouted, "I'll go down with the-"

"Nixon!" shouted a voice at the end of the hall, "Move it, junior!"

Nixon crouched to the floor and sprang down the hall clumsily smacking himself into the half open hatch of the ship's only lifeboat. A brunette, female Lieutenant pulled him inside.

"Thanks, Bjan-"

"Tavor's scars, Nixon," said Bjan, "Hurry up!"

Nixon wedged himself into a seat and strapped in. The lifeboat was cramped, only more so with two of the Vrusk crew aboard, their eight legs folded this way and that, awkwardly trying to stay out of the way. Bjan yanked herself into the pilot's chair and slammed the disconnect switches. Nixon barely had time to throw reactive gauze over his arm before the lifeboat jerked then shuddered as Bjan poured on the acceleration. The lifeboat shot into the darkness. Soon the acceleration let up as they reached escape velocity and Bjan eased off the throttle. She looked back at Nixon.

"Did you find the Captain?"

Nixon nodded silently. He turned and stared out of the tinted lifeboat window, watching as the Dom Majesty slowly pinwheeled into the star.

Chapter One

Nixon popped his head through the escape hatch of his small freighter and glanced back and forth across the landing pad. The Hope on High was docked at Herson's Bay on Morgaine's World. The dim, early morning light made it difficult to see, but the landing pad appeared empty. Nixon pulled himself through the outside hatch, dropped on to the permacrete, and straightened his clothes. He had taken no more than three steps when a stocky, young Yazirian slammed him against one of the Hope's landing struts. Nixon winced in pain. The Yazirian was a head shorter than Nixon, but half again as wide, with a grip like a magnetic coupler. Another Yazirian stepped into view; this one was female, lithe where her partner was muscled.

"My brother wants to know where you're going, Captain."

Nixon struggled to pull his neck free of the brother's forearm.

"Breh... Breg...," he gasped a few times, finally rasping out:


The female chuckled and ran her hand over one of the weighty laser pistols slung low on her hip.

"Oh it's just breakfast? Then why're you sneaking out the emergency hatch? Planning on spending our money on food?"

"Wha... Wuk..." Nixon gasped again. The female tapped her brother on the shoulder.

"Let him speak, Pelot."

Pelot loosened his pin on Nixon's throat, but did not back away. Nixon took a few relieved breaths.

"What money?" he said hoarsely.

"We haven't been paid in three months."

"Yan Ci, I was sure it was only two," said Nixon, immediately regretting his argument. Yan Ci narrowed her eyes.

"Three, Captain, and expenses for the job on Anker."

"Expenses? We never agreed-" Nixon was cut short by Pelot's forearm.

"Fine, fine, expenses it is," Nixon said quickly, "But I can't pay you if I don't make this meeting."

"You have a meeting? For a job?"

"What other kind of meeting would I have?"

"I don't know," said Yan Ci, "do they have meetings for Garvian slugs?"

"If they did, I'd be the first to join," said Nixon lightly, "But since they don't, yes, this is a meeting about a job. A job that I will miss entirely if your... very elegant brother doesn't let me go."

Yan Ci shook her head, exasperated. Pelot glanced at her and she waved her hand.

"Pfa!" scoffed Pelot releasing his grip

Nixon straightened his clothes again.

"Thank you," said Nixon, "now if you don't mind-"

"Three hundred up front or we don't step on that ship again."

Nixon's eyes went wide.

"Three hund-" Pelot growled. Nixon put his hands up.

"Fine. Three hundred. Up front."

"It better happen this time," said Yan Ci.

"It will," said Nixon retreating slowly.

"It better."

Nixon turned away and picked up his pace. Pelot turned to his sister.

"We're never gonna get paid if we don't actually hurt him," he grumbled in Yazirian. Yan Ci shushed him, then narrowed her eyes at the emergency hatch. There should have been a four person escape pod locked to the outside of the ship.

"What happened to the escape pod?!" she shouted across the landing pad.

"Sold it for fuel this morning!" Nixon shouted back without turning then disappeared into the crowd beyond the landing wall. Yan Ci's threw up her hands.

"I can't believe-," she started, then growled, "If he doesn't bring the money, we gut him."

"Finally..." grunted Pelot.


Nixon walked slowly to the nearest monorail station lost in his own thoughts. He filed in line with the rest of the crowd and tumbled into the nearest train. He quickly grabbed a seat, beating out an elderly woman and her small, yipping reng. The woman glared then moved to the back of the car. Nixon settled in for the ride as the monorail pulled out of the station, rapidly picking up speed.

Herson's Bay flew by the windows. Nixon watched as the dirty, run down city blocks slowly brightened as they flew across the industrial section, through residences and toward the coast. The monorail shot out over water and Nixon could see the tall spires of Herson's Bay citycentral on the other side of the bay. He adjusted his clothes again and wished he had spent the credits on a new outfit as his crew had suggested. The monorail made several stops before winding up the central cluster of buildings. Outside several lanes of air traffic, vectored thrust carriers mostly, moved ceaselessly through the sky.

The monorail stopped at the Hurret Building, an angled, smoked-glass megatower with several huge walkways leading to the other buildings in the cluster. Nixon disembarked and made his way to the nearest media terminal for a map. Two human males, too big for the fancy suits they were wearing, blocked his way momentarily, but grunted and moved aside.

Precious minutes later, Nixon found himself in front of Simsome, a restaurant much too expensive for his taste or pocket book. The guards looked him up and down and Nixon flashed a color coded, plastic invitation badge. There was an echo of worry as the guards looked over the badge, but Nixon reminded himself that the invite was not a counterfeit. He was not used to belonging in a place like this. He had not belonged around the upper class for some time. The guards double-checked the security scanner, making sure Nixon was not armed and waved him in.

An Osakar host welcomed Nixon to Simsome, glanced at his invite badge, and bade him to follow. The host moved with graceful ease across the main floor of the restaurant, so smoothly on his multiple legs, he could have been floating. Nixon was guided to a table with a trio of well dressed humans that rose to greet him.

"Good morning Captain," said the eldest of the trio, "I am Matterly Wen, this is my associate Doctor Saiya Mave, and our, um... security man, Mikel." Nixon smiled his best smile at the dark skinned goddess of a doctor across the table. She was dressed in a long black dress made of light absorbing voidcloth, leaving her body from neck to wrist nothing but a silhouette. She held her head high as Nixon kissed her hand gently. They all sat.

"Have you been here before, Captain?" asked Doctor Wen. Doctor Mave chuckled into her tea. Nixon straightened up and shifted to his Spacefleet etiquette.

"No, sir I have not," he answered, "but the fair is similar to the Duvrum on Laco. I cannot imagine the morning cakes are as bad though." He winked at Mave, who did not seem to notice.

"Ah, well then," said Wen jovially, "I'll order for all of us. More efficient I think. Also, you won't make the same mistake with the morning cakes."

Nixon smiled genuinely at the man and relaxed a little. Doctor Wen ordered all of them the house special, a huge pile of elegantly arranged meat, breads, and fresh fruits. The table echoed with idle chit chat as Doctor Wen asked Nixon about his work. Nixon was politely vague, but entertained the elder Doctor with a story or two. Doctor Mave was silent throughout the conversation, despite Nixon's attempts to engage her. Once they had finished their first course, Doctor Wen launched right into the work.

"We represent Argos University," he began, "or rather elements thereof."

Nixon nodded. Argos was the second largest university in known space. This expedition would not be publicly sanctioned unless it was successful. Doctor Wen continued in a low voice:

"We believe that there is an alien artifact of great power on Ceta Prax four-"

"Ceta Prax?" Nixon interrupted, "That's in the Xygag nebula." Doctor Wen nodded. Doctor Mave stirred her remaining food with her fork.

"We were lead to believe that you are familiar with the region," she said nonchalantly.

Nixon sat back, narrowed his eyes. They had done their research, that was for sure, and Doctor Mave wanted him to know it. He had not been in the Xygag since his dismissal from Spacefleet. If they knew about the Ceta Prax expedition, they knew about his dismissal. His frown turned to an easy smile. He knew this game.

"I am," said Nixon, "it's a dangerous area of space." He mentally added costs to his fee.

"We know," said Wen, "That's why we wanted someone with professional experience."

Nixon mentally added another percentage as he wiped his mouth and pushed his plate away.

"What kind of artifact?"

"Something very, very old," said Wen. Mave cut him off.

"Something we'd like kept quiet, Captain."

"Fine," said Nixon, "I'll get you out there and back, with a month standard for digging up whatever it is you want... twenty-one thousand."

Mave looked to Doctor Wen who leaned back and massaged his beard.

"Eighteen-thousand, two months, and we supply the food."

Nixon glanced at the empty plates on the table. The old Doctor would provide something better than military rations. He was not happy with the figure, but work was work. Nixon nodded and extended a hand. Wen took it and shook firmly.

"We have an arrangement," said the elder Doctor.

"There is one more thing," said Nixon, "I'll need two thousand up front."

"How crass," said Mave.

"You're asking for crass work, Doctor," said Nixon glaring at her, "I already have expenses to cover."

Doctor Wen frowned. Nixon hated to disappoint the old man, but this was business now.

"We can offer you a thousand," said the elder, "But we leave in six hours." Nixon nodded easily. Wen was no fool, which was a nice change. Nixon handed the old doctor his temporary dock card as he left.

Mikal had remained silent the entire conversation. He had watched Nixon intently and continued to do so as he left. Once Nixon was out of sight, he turned to Doctor Mave and nodded. She frowned and pulled a small communicator from her handbag.


Nixon pushed his way through the crowd feeling a little light headed. He stopped and flexed his scarred hand. It had been six long years since Ceta Prax. Not long enough. He sighed heavily and looked to the sky. After a moment, a couple of mountain-sized shadows fell over him. Nixon looked up to see two human males, too big for the fancy suits they were wearing. This time they did not move. Nixon regarded them for a moment and regretted not being armed. He smiled and punched the first man square in the nose. There was a loud smack, but the man did not move. A small trickle of blood ran over his lip and his eyes glinted with metal. Nixon cursed:


He dodged the massive, sweeping arms of his attackers and bolted into the crowd as the two hulking men chased after him. Nixon searched his memory for some past sin that might explain their dogged pursuit, but came up empty. Which meant it was something recent. Something like breakfast. He knew he should have held out for more money. The heavy footfalls behind him told him the two 'borgs were gaining. Nixon took a guess and cut down a narrow passageway. The guess was wrong. The passageway emptied onto an open deck with no other exits, ninety some floors above ground. Nixon screeched to a halt and his shoulders dropped. He tapped his chronometer twice, turned, and put up his hands.

"I suppose a bribe is out of the question?"

The two men approached him slowly, silently, strange machinery twisting under their clothes.