Tales, Poems and Short Stories from the Exterior

I made a promise long ago to my subscribers.

When I released the Surrender Game, I declared I would provide its short story companion novella for free. Amazon doesn’t support the “free” I was hoping for, so the companion story is currently listed at $.99. Because I like to stay true to my promises, I have included it here as a forever free read.

The companion book for the Surrender Game is available below. A compilation of short stories, poems, historical time-lines, featuring familiar characters and back stories (a peek behind the curtain) for those who have read the Surrender Game. Enjoy reading.

Narrated by, Curator Garen Arkinn at the Jericho City Library

“Of all the jobs offered in my youth, I wish I had chosen librarian.” —Captain Kalmid Joss

“Galactic trucking is hard. Damn hard. It’s expensive to maintain a decent rig. The food sucks. Sleep is a luxury we can’t afford. Regardless of the shipping lane, we deal with hostile work environments every minute of every day: pirates, smugglers, gravity wakes, ship malfunctions with fuel and energy complications, lengthy harvester recharges between galaxies, radiation, solar flares… It’s always been difficult, scouring the cosmos for supplies. Every day we fight as hard as we can for our profit, and to provide people with what they need to survive, but despite all the stress and danger, as far as I’m concerned… it’s the greatest job in the universe.” —Tiran Belle

“If we follow this path and maintain this course, we’ll have successfully placed the first corner stone for universal repopulation. We are obligated to do everything we can. Even if it takes a billion years that should always be our primary goal, at all costs.”—Brokon Ambassador, Kina Thoomas

“I’ve found freedom in exile. I can be whatever I want. One day I could be a pirate, disguised as a freelance trucker. The next day, I might be a runner thief, posing as a truckstop deckhand. I can become a crew member of a harvester. I can spend my life as a farmer, or a miner, an arms dealer, a smuggler, or a vapor peddler. I can be all the above, all at the same time. I can be the hero, or the villain. I can become the harbinger of chaos. It’s a gift to become one of the banished. The rules don’t apply us. We can do whatever we want.” —Felix Brawn

***

Librarian? Me? Who would have thought?

If Uncle Natthia ever sat me down for a serious conversation and said, “Garen, someday you’ll have one of the most important positions in all of the Vega Grid,” I would’ve thought he was drunk, and out of his mind.       

The position was never on my radar. I didn’t even know the job existed, to be honest. In fact, when I first heard the proposal from the young politician, I laughed until I wept. The last thing an exiled soldier becomes is a librarian.

Exiles. We have to learn to fend for ourselves, or we die.

Most exiles, or what some of the population have named, the Banished, live on the fringes of civilization. Days are mostly spent cutting deals for a couple of coppers for a hearty meal. Long nights at truckstop gaming tables, hoping for a favorable roll of the dice to make enough coin to cap off the fuel tanks. Traveling the region seeking out a profitable contract from anyone looking for help, and investigating hospitable worlds for potential employment. Sleeping alone in a small cot at the back of a rundown rig. Always on the move and “moon hopping,” searching for temporary respite to idle and recharge a ship’s drive tanks for the short jump to next moon along the navigational network. Struggling just to maintain, and most of us are fighting to survive.

I wasn’t going out like that. I refused to spend my life in exile wandering the Exterior, jumping from sector to sector, moon to moon, dead world to dead world, and desperately searching for the next job or opportunity to barely sustain me.

Instead, I broke every law in the database, retreated to my home system twelve jumps away from Sector Seven, and landed my rig on Mino’Vah undetected.

And I disappeared.

I had a handful of choices. I could have gone elsewhere and tried to make a new life for myself: Sector One has the Trenni System with their beautiful coastlines, small intimate colonies built near the water’s edge where everyone knows each other well, with abundant marketplaces and job prospects. Truckstop One is a quick jump away on Jerra for refueling.

But, exiles are not typically welcomed on the shores of Trenni.

Sectors Two through Four have the farming districts; with produce, fruit, and raising and selling cattle and other livestock, with plenty of chances for honest work. Woodcarvers, steel shapers, trade academies, designers, builders, inventors, machinists, gem specialists and coin pressers, with a constant stream of delivery pilots coming and going; providing the population and our local businesses with needed supplies and goods. However, unless an exile knows a member of a specific guild, it’s difficult to find permanency in the farming districts.

The far end of the Exterior, Sectors Six through Nine have their daily struggles with the scrap yard on Andro Prime, the Wasteland, and the Outer Wall, where rival scavengers appear from the void beyond our perimeter line, and try to steal from our civilization. The Xorren, a new ally of Jericho City, have inhabited Sector Nine since long before we first colonized the Vega Grid, but over the years we’ve left them alone, and they willfully ignore us. We mix and mingle when the situation warrants, with minimal social interactions.

Small factions battle each other for moons, dying planets, shantytowns, and territory. Struggling worlds and broken systems are scattered throughout, where wild game is hunted, miners toil underground for precious gems and coal, and materials are harvested depending on the seasons.

Sector Five, the centralized system, what we call Exterior Deep (the Deep, to some), are where the elite reside; with the Home-World and Jericho City, its diverse council, the shipyard, the Central Vault, and the library. The Red Hall is two jumps away on Kallar, Brokon is one jump away, and Sector Five is where our military branches and warships are stationed and operate.

Exterior Deep is where the wealthy take residence.

Having been marked and coded as an exile, my presence is not allowed in Sectors Four, Five and Six. My rig marker was altered and scrubbed from the public network and if the local authorities ever caught my signal in transit within those specific sectors, I’d be snatched up and deposited in a penal colony, to be subjected to hard manual labor.

If I ever attempted to leave Mino’Vah, I’d probably be detected. A chance I wasn’t willing to take.

I was given two options at the time of judgment. My crime constituted life in a labor camp but because of my military record, I had a choice: toiling myself to death inside the Cliffside Colony, or permanent exile. I chose the latter. Those of us, who’ve had the opportunity to choose, always opt for exile. An exile has a better chance of starting over with a new life and better odds at finding honest work.

My ship was escorted by a group of authority vessels to the outer perimeter line of Sector Six, and we landed on the smallest moon circling Andro Prime. Andro’s moons are small, inhospitable, desolate bodies replete with high winds and storms; impossible to set up a shelter, or start a fire. If I had remained, I would have been forced to live inside my ship. I’d have been dead in a matter of months.

My rig and my utility belt were stripped of weaponry leaving me defenseless. My ship’s codes were scrubbed and replaced with exile codes, the tattoo was stamped into the skin below my thumbnail, and all my supplies were confiscated. My pockets were turned inside out for the few coins I had stashed away. I was allowed my personal items inside my trunk such as books, clothing, and trinkets but I was abandoned and left with nothing but my training, my resilience, my clothes, and my ship.

I jumped around the system, scraping together odd jobs until I had enough saved up for a rail pistol, a food and water resupply, and my tanks capped off from refueling at Truckstop Seven. I developed a long term strategy, and then plotted my path back home.

Two long weeks alone, navigating the system, dodging, waiting, and remaining hidden.

Siluu Primora resides along the inner line of Sector Five, but I knew my way around the region well enough, so I could avoid anyone who might catch a glimpse of my signal. Having expertise in deep space radar tracking, signal scattering, and frequency modulations, I knew I could make it to Mino’Vah unseen; it would just take some time to get there.

It was better for me to just vanish without a trace, and that’s what I decided was best for my new adventure.

And at that point of my life, I couldn’t recall a time in our history when the banished were ever brought back from exile.

For thirty-one years, I lived alone on that small Siluu moon. I allowed my graying beard to grow long and thick, and I trimmed it only during the hot season. My hair was tied off behind me hanging to my lower back, and my gut was much larger than I believed it could ever become. It’s safe to say I’d let myself go.

I had no one to impress.

Mino’Vah has just fewer than thirty-nine thousand citizens across its surface and exiles don’t typically associate well with others. I avoided the other settlements and kept to myself. It was safer that way, for everyone. My cabin was off the beaten trail at the base of a mountain range, near a clean running stream, far from civilization, and my closest neighbor was a week’s walk to a tiny, nearby village. My rig was always ready to fly, but I had no need to travel. Mino’Vah provided all my requirements.

I tended a garden and fruit bushes, collected mountain water from a homemade piping system; I fished every day of the week and shot Munksters roaming the tall grass at the edges of my property line.

I never had guests. Between chores and meals I sat on my porch in a rocking chair, soaking up the sun, playing my hand-carved four-string Charma, singing songs to the stars and birds, sipping my home-brew, walking naked whenever I pleased, and whispered to family members and friends long since passed. I may have lived alone, but I was never truly alone. I had the company of friendly voices, helping me with my daily duties.

When the visitor introduced himself during my gardening that morning, I already had two mugs of fresh brewed mushroom trale resting deep in my belly and was half-way through a third. Startled at first, staring eyes wide at the small wingless ship silently descending through the clouds towards me, I believed I had had one too many drinks during breakfast and was seeing things.

The stranger landed on my front lawn in a small rig. I still can’t believe he found me. He must have been scanning the moon for at least a week before stumbling across my signature.

Upon touching down on the field grass, the door to the craft slid to the side, and alone he exited his ship.

Watching his approach from behind the safety of my fence, I dashed inside the cabin, slipped my robe over my naked frame and tied it tight around my waist. Before exiting, I checked the impact charge along the black handle of my rail pistol and tucked the weapon into my pocket, in the event that I needed to defend myself.

His billowing black cloak and flight suit indicated he was a Jericho City senator, but at first glance he appeared to be too young for the position. Most of the council members and senators I remembered had traces of old age and stress lines marking their faces; dark bags under the eyes, sagging skin, melting jowls– but not the stranger sauntering down the path beside my row of melon trees.

Shining, unblemished skin, high forehead, thick dark hair, and he had a spring in his step. As though he was on vacation, and touring Mino’Vah at his leisure. Brokons are known for having a heightened sense of smell to balance poor eyesight, and he sniffed the air as he closed the distance. If I could see up close the gold pin clipped to his collar, I’d know for certain his rank and level within the hierarchy.

His sleek silver transport runner was a T12 Class, Solo Rig, which told me the youngster had a ton of coin at his disposal, and was paid well for his services. T12 has the quickest recharge time of all the available personal runners at the shipyard.

Walking down the porch stairs, I approached him with cautious steps.

Slowing his stride on the walking trail he tipped his head to the side, came to a stop, and asked, “Are you, Garen Arkinn?” He looked me up and down.

“That all depends on who you are.” I countered.

I pivoted to the side when he took a step forward. My fingers wriggled into the pocket reaching for the railer, and sensing my mistrust, the stranger swallowed hard, and turned his palms outward to show he was unarmed and empty handed.

With a twirl of my finger, I gestured him to spin in a circle. “While you’re at it, lift up the cloak, let me see the back. Lose the utility belt.”

Click.

 I pointed to his right. “At arm’s length, hold it out beside you. Good. Just drop it there and walk toward me.” The belt clattered to the grass.

After my cursory inspection and a quick pat-down around his waist and legs, he furrowed his brow and stared into my eyes. “Are you the same Captain Arkinn who flew in the Droll interceptor mission during Yeetree’s Second? Please, please, tell me it’s you.”

The pleading in his voice calmed my distrust, and I relaxed my fingers from the pistol handle. “Last I knew, stranger, all involvement in Yeetree’s Second was deemed classified. And, who are you again? Last chance.”

He smiled. “It is you. There were rumors you were dead. I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I refused. Then, there was mention of your exile on Mino’Vah from a pilot passing through at Truckstop Eight. The reason for exile is none of my business, and to be honest, I don’t want to know. I’ve never had access to the exile records, but Director Tomlin suggested if I wanted proof, I needed to look into it myself, on my own coin, on my own time. I’ve been searching for you for over a year, Captain Arkinn. I’m Senator Mikk Pollis, and I’d like to offer you a job.”

I cupped my fingers around my ear, leaned toward him and asked. “I’m sorry… A job you say?” I threw my head back and laughed at the sky. Waving my hands to the scenery I spun in a slow circle. “Senator Pollis, do I look like I need a job? I’m in paradise. Exile was the best thing the directors ever did for me. Thank you for the offer but my answer is no.” I turned away from him and strolled to the cabin. “Offer me a job.” I shook my head in disbelief. “You want a fresh karratt before you go? I pulled a few out of the ground this morning. They taste best straight from the soil.”

He scurried to my side and walked beside me. “I’d like to bring you out of exile. By law, each council member has one chance to return a banished into the fold if the reasons are valid enough. Will you hear me out for a brief moment of your time? I promise it won’t take long, and then I’ll leave.” He wriggled a bulky leather purse from his flight suit breast pocket and held the tan pouch in both hands.

I shuffled through the tall grass to the garden, curious to the contents of the bag, and muttered, “I don’t get much company around here, and today I’m feeling generous. I attribute that to the trale, so you have five minutes.” I dropped to my knees and drove my fingers into the garden dirt.

“First, I’d like to ask a question, if you don’t mind.”

Avoiding eye contact, I nodded, and worked the soil.

“During Yeetree’s final campaign, you were responsible for all enemy communication decoding, and relaying those deciphered messages to our infantry and warships, simultaneously. It still boggles my mind. How many different worlds would you say participated in the Droll conflict, total?”

“That was a long time ago, Pollis. How many, you ask? Let me think… Worlds or species?”

“Species, Captain. How many different languages were you responsible for communicating to our allies, ground troops, and the pilots during Yeetree’s Second?”

I counted them off on my fingers and looked to the clouds to jog my memory. “Brokon, Quellik, Kallarian, Old Vol, Siluuian, Fakelor, Xorren, Calfan, the Clan of Dykora’s native tongue… Andro, Trenni–to name a few from the top of my memory. And rapid, real time continuous updates to the Jericho Flagship and the Xorren’s Flying Fortress. At least eleven if I remember correctly. Twelve, if we include the Agents of Sar.”

He lowered to my height. “All at once. From a single location at the heart of the front line, using multiple frequencies, interacting with a dozen species at once, with perfect synchronization… how was it you were able to accomplish such an undertaking under all that stress?”

I shrugged and rooted around my vegetables. “It was a joint effort. I never acted alone. The computers did most of the work. I used to be good at hearing messages, decoding them, and learning languages during war time. Is that what you want to hear, Mikk Pollis? Is that the answer you seek? Did you come all this way…?” My blood boiled with the recollection of past battles and I slipped into the darkness of old memories. I threw the trowel to the ground, plunging the tip into the dirt like a blade into a cutting board, and lurched to my feet.

“If it wasn’t for those cruisers protecting MY ship… those pilots, whom I called FRIENDS…, my FAMILY… sacrificing their lives for MINE so I could do MY JOB…!” Wiping the froth from the corners of my mouth with the robe sleeve, I lowered my finger from his chest, stepped back, and looked away; taking in the warmth of the rising sun to help calm me down. “Enough of that, enough of that, my apologies.” Regaining my composure, I shook the recollections from my mind and deescalated with a long sigh. “I can pick up on languages faster than some, and happen to be good with my hands, I suppose. For the record, after the war, I was also responsible for the Exterior’s current language unification program. Or, has that been forgotten already? You seem to know it well.”

“The Exterior Codex, fascinating curriculum. I learned it at the academy. You discovered common unifiers from all our languages, and combined similar sounds into a single vernacular. You created a language we can all learn with ease. It’s made great strides over the years and each of the nine sectors is teaching it as the Exterior’s preferred communication method.”

Dropping to my knees again, I snatched up my trowel and returned to work. “It seemed like the right idea after the war. If the nine sectors claim to be unified, we should be able to communicate effectively with each other, especially during combat operations. Translating Droll, to the Clan of Dykora, was something I care not to repeat.” l watched him stare at me from the corner of my eye. “So… you’re looking for a translator, I presume? If I don’t comply, should I be expecting you to tell the directors where I am? Is this how everything plays out? Is this yet another no-win situation I’m facing?” I yanked two thick karratts from the ground and brushed off the loose earth.

He lowered to his haunches and plucked up a blade of grass. “No, Captain. I have no intention of telling them where you are, and even if I did, I don’t think they’d invest in the resources to come all this way and snatch up an elder just to drop him off at Cliffside. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve paid your dues and your secret is safe with me. The position I’m offering has nothing to do with combat, secret missions, or covert operations but I do need someone with experience, wisdom, and expertise to lead an important team. Don’t think about the directors, and the council–this is you and me right now. No one else.”

Gulping down the remainder of my drink I strolled to the porch with the vegetables dangling from my fist. I climbed the stairs and slunk into my rocking chair. “Lead an important team.”

Pollis followed me and stood at the first riser. “Captain Arkinn, I know this may sound like a joke to someone of your stature and background, yet with all sincerity, I need you at the Jericho City Library. I want you to be our head librarian, and senator-appointed curator for the historical wing. You’d have the highest level of clearance in the Preservation Council. You’d have a respected voice at the chamber gatherings.”

I was stunned at first, but then I couldn’t hold it back a second longer. I laughed so hard; I dropped my cup, and fell out of my chair.

Pollis crossed his arms. “I’m serious, Captain.”

Crawling the floor, red faced, stifling laughter, I retrieved the empty mug clattering across the wood and grasped the handrail to regain my balance. I slumped against the wall, and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. “I can tell you’re serious. Librarian? You want me to be the head of… your library? I think you have the wrong captain, Mikk Pollis.” I swiped tears from the bridge of my nose, and chortled at the lunacy of the proposal.

His back straightened. “No, I believe I have the right one. The same captain who was responsible for our success in the Droll war, and the reclamation of Yeetree and all its moons. One of the Saviors of Sector Four. Only three names stand out as war heroes when stories are told of the Droll occupation: Captain Gethar Willow, Officer Ellim Maddox of the Fifth Link, and Captain Garen Arkinn. Willow and Maddox conquered the ground, and you ruled the sky. The Savior of the Sky, they exclaim. You’re the same captain who led us to victory, kept us from enslavement, and if not for you…”

Scrambling to my feet, I lurched forward with my arms outstretched and leapt off the porch. When my feet hit the ground I grabbed the front of the senator’s pricey cape, spun him, and slammed him into a post forcing the air from his lungs. Lifting him to his tip-toes I growled, “Now, listen here, Son, I know what I did. I was there, remember?” I looked him up and down and touched my nose to his. “I don’t need some child coming to my house, digging up ancient history, and rehashing the grand old days like we’ve been friends for years, and the last thing I need in my life is a good ego stroking. Say what you came to say, RIGHT NOW, or get off my property.”

He held his hands up, surrendering to me. The terrified politician couldn’t make eye contact.

I released him with a grunt, and then returned to my chair.

Wiping my spittle from his skin, he sighed, “I’m truly sorry for offending you, Captain. Perhaps this was a mistake.”

Rocking the chair I said. “If I was as important as you claim I am, this big war hero they all talk about, the Savior of Whatever, I wouldn’t be out here on Mino’Vah, all alone, and considered a threat to citizen safety. I’d probably be living out my retirement in a Brokon settlement. Tell the directors I said fuck off when you get back to Jericho City, and feel free to take a few karratts from the basket for your journey home. I have more than enough.” I waved him away as though I was shooing a pesky insect.

A long pause hung between us until he nodded his defeat, and shuffled along the path toward his ship. Coming to a stop on the trail he snatched up his utility belt and glimpsed around my property. Looking above the tree line to the rising Siluu sun he said, “Nice place you have here. Great view, Captain.” He spun back to me. “Just out of curiosity, how long has it been since you’ve had company, or spoken to another settler?”

I rocked the chair and thought about the exact time frame. “You’re the first in almost fourteen years.”

He snapped the belt around his waist and adjusted his flight suit. “Do you miss it? Do you miss making a difference? Do you miss having a voice?”

I half shrugged, “Sometimes I do. But most times, not really. What’s in the pouch?” My curiosity got the better of me, and I had to ask.

“This?” He held the bag in his palm, and twirled the drawstrings around his fingers. “If you said yes, this was to be your first payment, and there’s plenty more where that came from. Director Tomlin wishes to personally pay your wages directly from his Central Vault account and ensure you’re well cared for.”

On the verge of more laughter, I raised an eyebrow, and stared him down.

“Yes, you heard me correctly. Director Tomlin. I understand your suspicion, it’s justified, but I’m telling you the truth. He wants to pay you out of his personal account into a new account I had set up in your name. Our leaders have changed at Jericho City, and Exterior Deep is not as you remember it. The wages will supersede anything you ever made as captain of a warship and a trucker combined. You’d have seniority over a small team, and you can pretty much have, and do, whatever you want.”

My old life as an Exterior Deep citizen raced through my memory. “The Exterior has changed. How so?”

“Mostly small changes, but the bigger stories are now that the Xorren control all of Sector Nine; we’ve had discussions on merging Sectors Four and Five together into one system, and removing Sector Nine from the database altogether. Establishing and reinforcing a strong perimeter along Sector Eight to remain guarded, but not so strong that the Xorren feel threatened. We still have solid diplomatic ties with our Xorren friends for the moment, and they’ve allowed us warship occupation to help guard the Outer Wall, but the Xorren have become more reclusive over the years.”

“Did we rub them the wrong way? Why such a level of inclusivity?”

“The delegations have withdrawn from Xorren, and Trenni diplomats are now working on reestablishing ties, but long term plans don’t appear to be in the Xorren’s list of goals or best interests. Thoomas has been working on new agendas in the event something happens in the future.”

“Ambassador Thoomas is still on the council?”

“Part time. He and Senator Romeo had introduced new plans to reroute trucking lanes around Sector Nine until the fourth gate is built, but the Warden of Xorren says it won’t benefit the Mighty Chain, therefore the offers were ignored.”

“Senator Romeo must be getting old.”

“Romeo died in a convoy collision two years ago. His transport rig malfunctioned and collided with another ship traveling within a supply caravan.”

I looked to the floor and shook my head. “Damn shame. Romeo was one of the good ones.” I glimpsed to the sky. “Are the truckstops still hosting harvest events? I haven’t been to a harvest since I was a young pilot.”

“Twice a year. Business is booming again at most truckstops. New truckers are hitting the lanes every week. Volunteers are joining the military. The shipping routes are better monitored. Farm worlds are producing at steady rates again. We have multiple relief teams still working on fixing what the Droll broke, but the Exterior is finally at a point where we can do things we wouldn’t have considered before. The shipyard is growing. The ambassadors are traveling sector to sector and helping keep the peace. We still struggle with our numbers. Some years we notice a drastic decline in population, then years later, a surge. It’s been a steady balance the past twenty years or so, based on the numbers I’ve seen.”

The karratt crunched between my teeth and loose bits dribbled down my chest. I draped one leg over the arm of my chair, brushed the crumbs off, and said, “It would take a miracle to get me to leave. As you can see, I’m already well cared for, I don’t require currency, and if I get desperate to trade or seek medical help, the village is a quick flight and my ship is programmed to take me there.”

I waved the half eaten vegetable at him and squeezed one eye closed. “But let’s say for a moment that I am interested in why a young senator has been searching for me for over a year. That’s a lot of invested coin, time, and energy on a hunt for an old exile thought to be dead. It must be important to you, personally, to go through all that trouble. Investing a year of your life scouring the outer territories, looking for a ghost, and listening to tavern stories from old truckers. Speaking of which, I’m busy this morning and you’re about to cut into my drinking time.” I snapped my fingers. “Let’s cut right to the chase. What are you asking of me which appears to be so vitally important to you? You’ve offered the post, now let’s hear the duties. The suspense is killing me.”

He walked to the porch. “I was able to sway the Preservation Council to begin expansion on the historical wing at the Jericho City Library. We have a growing number of artifacts, communication devices, and old books found by our truckers, harvested from more ancient worlds than we can keep up with, or properly catalogue at this rate. It seems every day recently, something new is delivered to the clerics and they’re at a point where the library is understaffed and the relics, novels, manuscripts, trinkets, ancient devices, and ship parts are mounting up in the storehouse. It’s out of control. I need to find some semblance of order, and organization again. I need to regain that control I’ve lost. I allowed the project to get ahead of me. I need someone who is quick at learning and teaching languages, understanding and translating them, deciphering data, has a fast hand, is meticulous and unafraid of a challenge. I require a leader who can transcribe and multitask under pressure, gather and cross-reference material as needed, learn ancient texts from lost worlds, and can effectively manage a team. I thought of you the moment the council gave me approval and funding. In fact, you were the only name that came to mind. I can’t think of anyone else in the Exterior who could do it. As we speak, construction has begun on the historical wing and it’s designed to be the fourth largest structure in all of Exterior Deep. Multiple stories, tens of thousands of square feet and hundreds of laborers working around the clock.”

“In other words, you want me to fix what you broke.”

“Not exactly, Captain. I need someone who is better… and vastly smarter than I.”

I tossed the karratt’s green stem over the handrail. “Why would you think some old books written in other galaxies, and antique communication devices found by scavengers, would have any sway over my thinking, and make me want to abandon this paradise I’ve created for myself?”

He stepped onto the first stair. “Because she told me you had a hobby. Long ago, in an old life, you had a passion for working with old transmitters, recorders, and communication devices, during the days of your childhood and early trucking years. That was your dream. The love of your life. You could hear through static, distortions, interference, white noise, and pick up on tones, and pulses, which most of us can’t hear.”

I stopped rocking the chair, and I couldn’t blink.

He cradled the small pouch in his palm. “As a child you invented a crude but effective receiver dish on your front lawn, which could pin-point communication signals along the shipping lanes, far, far away, triangulating, and piggy-backing the relay stations, from sector-to-sector, quadrant-to-quadrant, and you listened in on rig-to-rig conversations between passing truckers on their way to a harvesting mission. That’s where the infatuation for trucking originated and that’s why you became a pilot.”

My face reddened. “Who told you that? What ‘she’ are you referring to?” I wiggled to the edge of my seat ready to pounce again.

He stepped onto the second stair. “Your cousin, Sarron… she’s still alive, Captain. Your Uncle Natthia has long since passed away, but Sarron is in good health. Look. I can prove it.” He drove his fingers into a compartment on his belt and withdrew a photo of the Preservation Council sitting at a table during a meeting. I saw Pollis in a chair beside my cousin. She had aged, and looked different than I remembered, but I knew it was her, right away.

He tucked the picture back into his belt. “Before moving to Exterior Deep and taking residence at Jericho City, she was on Yeetree, off grid, in the Old District. After the war, she was tasked with working with our relief teams who were dispatched from Narroo. The settlements were rebuilt and she helped resurrect Yeetree to its original glory.”

My heart raced at the sound of her name. Sarron was my closest friend in my youth. After my father had passed, Uncle Natthia took me in and raised me as one of his own. My space lust and the ache to escape the confines of home and become a trucker had separated us in our early years. Sarron was the only family I had left.

He placed a boot on the third stair. “She’s living well and she’s a respected member of the Preservation Council. I met her for the first time a little over a year ago. When I discovered the connection, I told her I’d heard stories from old mission briefings, and found your skills to be extraordinary, and we spoke for quite some time. I eventually inquired to where your exile might be, after all these years. She told me she didn’t know your whereabouts and believed the rumors of your death to be true. If I ever found you, Garen, she told me to tell you… I hope I have this right… She still has the board set up. Yellow can’t advance… until green passes through. The pieces haven’t moved, and she believes it’s still your turn. She said you’d know what it meant.”

I turned my face to the treetops and broke into silent tears.

“If I can convince you to come home, Garen, she volunteered to be a member of your team, along with five disgruntled clerics who are on the cusp of quitting and are in desperate need of some sound leadership. The trucker codes have changed, again. The T.S. Union has rewritten their bi-laws and because of those new codes and enforced trucker statutes now in place, pieces of derelict ships and old dashboards, recorders, and personal items found in the galaxy network along the shipping lanes are being dropped off at the library for study and translation faster than we can keep up. The truckers believe, in their own way, they’re contributing to the greater good of historical preservation by delivering these lost recordings and broken hard drives, with hopes we find something of use. They could easily try to turn a profit with the material found if they so desired: everything has a price, but they don’t, and we need to do something with our current inventory, to create some order from chaos, and time is not on our side.”

“What are my wages?” I wiped my cheek with my sleeve and Pollis handed me the bag. I wiggled open the drawstrings, pulled open the fabric, and my heart skipped a beat. I whipped my eyes to his. “This… these… you must be joking… this is more than I ever…”

“Like I said, Captain, you can pretty much have, and do, whatever you want. Holding the first of your wages and spending budget, you can understand the importance now, and you can see how serious I am.”

Through my emotions I managed a smile at the idea of seeing my family again. My eyes returned to the contents of the pouch and I muttered, “You have five more minutes.”

“I believe I’ll need less than that. Most of the literature found has a relatively normal process of cataloguing. Unknown, or indecipherable ones, have their own space in the east branch. All the rewritten and cleric translated material occupies a chamber beneath the central dome. We can work the books at a leisurely pace as the clerics are quite adept at transcribing; it’s the communication devices, and recorders stacked to the ceiling in our warehouse which are giving us problems and we’re running out of room. The clerics can’t translate the voices, or they don’t have the ability to cut through the static, or make sense of the distortions, but they know something is there. The messages are in there, Captain, but just out of reach. I proposed to Director Tomlin I find someone who can cut through all the static, interference, and garbled messages and make sense of the nonsense. Tomlin told me I was on my own. I thought of you, but I just didn’t know your whereabouts. I made it my mission in life to find you. The account I created for you has been in your name for over nine months.

“Captain Arkinn, the job is simple, but in my opinion it’s one of the most important positions we have available in Exterior Deep. Some of these preserved communication devices have been dated as over two thousand years old. By stripping down the conduits to their cores, we’ve discovered markers and I.D. tags and managed to trace and date multiple vessels back to the first model “A” Class harvester rig. These ship pieces and recorders are being found all across the galaxy wastelands. The clerics can focus on the books, but I need a professional to decode, decipher, extract the trapped voices and translate what’s being discovered in these devices and anything else the clerics can’t work with, or figure out on their own. It’s that simple. To someone like you, it may sound foolish, but our history, Captain, our past, and those sounds trapped in there, those lost voices, are so very vital to our future. I need the best of the best to get the job done. I need you, Sir.” He clasped his hands together and pleaded with his eyes.

I looked up from the bag. “You mentioned spending budget. If all I’m doing is deciphering and transcribing words, why would I have a spending budget?”

Finally comfortable in my presence, he sat cross-legged on the floor of the porch and leaned his back against a post. “Since you’ll be appointed head curator and have command over the entire facility, you’ll incur some expenses. You’ll be provided enough for the best amenities, the best food and drink delivered twice a week to your own private storehouse, ample space for Sarron, plenty of profit, trale and smokes if that’s your thing, a docking port for your rig in the shipyard, and you’ll still have more than enough left over to pay for extra staff if requested. The additional funds are to arrange a pickup and delivery schedule with a contracted trucker crew. Spend the budget as you see fit for the removal of the leftover ship parts and steel scraps from the library warehouse that serve no purpose. Send away the material to Andro and pay a team to drop off whatever isn’t usable directly to the Scrappers for recycling. You’d translate data, transcribe your findings to paper, and discard the ship components when done. Like I said, simple, but it will be time consuming, could be stressful, and will more than likely require all your skills.”

Eyes fluttering closed, listening to the bird songs of the morning, feeling the warm wind brushing against my skin, I knew how much I’d miss the natural experiences of the wilderness. I needed a moment to mull over the proposal, and digest his words. I purposefully changed the subject to give myself some time to think, “I don’t want any part of the service. As far as combat operations and covert missions are concerned, I’m out. Let’s get that straight right now, and I want it in writing, signed by an ambassador.”

He plucked up a leaf from the porch floor and twirled it between his fingers. “Your position as curator is based on a provisional license for the moment. The post is brand new to the Jericho City Council, and in order to get the paperwork in order and all the details ironed out and have everything documented accordingly, I introduced a provisional section which was unanimously agreed upon by all the Directors. The license is documented to be in effect for no less than eight years of service, as a trial run. Once eight years is up, and it’s time to sit at the table and revisit the position again, the curator post will no longer be considered provisional and the wages will double. To make a long explanation short, you’ll be as far away from the military as possible, protected by common law. The military shouldn’t ever be on your radar. No drafts. No secret documents. You’ll never be asked, coerced, or forced to join. You’ll have that signature before we dock in the shipyard. My personal guarantee.”

I looked to the floor between us and focused on the casual conversation. I pondered the offer and continued asking questions to clear my cluttered mind. “In your travels looking for me, did you happen to stop by Truckstop Six?”

“I have.” He tipped his head back and looked to the ceiling. “Great Koloka soup over there. Just the right amount of heat and spice. Have you tried it? Great with a mug of stout trale.”

“A long, long time ago, when my unit was on shore leave. Too long ago to be exact.” I caught his stare and I smiled at him. “I’d love to have a taste again and visit the old stomping grounds for an afternoon. Catch up on some of the old stories.”

“That can easily be arranged.” He nodded his agreement.

I scratched at an open wound on the top of my hand, hesitant to commit. “Intendant Jessup. How’s that old son of a bitch doing?”

“He appears to be well. He’s no longer at Truckstop Three, though. He moved sectors, and operates Truckstop Four, now. Do you need another minute, Captain? I have all the time in the universe.”

I did need another minute. “Old Gull… is he still running the show over there at Truckstop One? It’d be great to catch up with him again soon.”

Pollis frowned and rolled his eyes. “Unfortunately, no. Old Gull retired and gave his truckstop away to a young Narroo named Liberty Bell. Intendant Gull dropped the truckstop deed on the gambling table and let the luck of the dice determine the future. Can you believe that? We’re hearing some interesting things about our young, newly appointed Intendant over there, and paying close attention to the gossip. Traffic and business has increased since she took over, but rumors say the leadership is lacking.”

I said, “Well then, I guess I’ll steer clear of Truckstop One in the future. Mikk, when I’m done with the assignment… can I return to Mino’Vah?” My eyes wandered the property.

He shook his head and sighed. “I’m afraid not, Captain. This is a permanent position and housing placement. You’d reside in lavish quarters at the heart of the library complex. Curator is a post of permanency, not unlike Director, or High Intendant. After eight years of service is over and you wish to walk away, you’d have common Jericho City citizenship like everyone else, and the rest of your life can be spent how you desire. No sector restrictions.

“We believe these parts and pieces from discovered vessels and dead worlds will continue to pile in. Once delivered to you, and indexed, they become public documents and available to everyone in the Exterior to inspect, hear, and read, protected by Jericho City law. We’ll need someone like you there to help enforce that law at all times. The library doors never close.”

“What becomes of my cabin?”

“You have a choice. You can either leave it as is and it will forever be abandoned, by your consent, and slowly taken over by the elements and nature, or, allow us to place two families here looking for a new settlement. Three transport rigs are fueled and ready to fly. The occupants are currently taking refuge at Truckstop Seven until a location opens up which suits their needs. Calfa is on the brink of geologic catastrophe and all of the Calfan population has begun migration elsewhere, scattered to the Exterior.

“Two expecting mothers. A large family including cousins, aunts and uncles. Four young children, three strong sons looking to work the land, six family friends with young ones, and a blind father wishing to retire, and locate a good stream to fish from. They banded together and evacuated from the same village after a ground quake ravaged their district. If you say yes to the job offer, you’ll have your voice back, Captain. You’ll be making a difference again, not just for a sizeable family in need, but for all the inhabitants of the Exterior. However,” Pollis held his finger up and offered me more incentive. “If you agree to the position, you can return to Mino’Vah twice per month, on your own coin, to visit the family living on the property. You could teach them some wilderness tricks and survival tactics and assist them in skill building so they continue to thrive in their new environment. Perhaps help them with a shelter or two. You know this land better than anyone alive. Survival is what we do best, right? And between you and me,” he looked over each shoulder and licked his lips, “If you miscalculate your flight path, accidentally make a detour, and stumble across a truckstop in transit, how would anyone know? I wouldn’t know.”

I grinned at the mounting offers he was providing to sweeten the pot and sway my decision.

“What do you say, Curator Arkinn? You want to make a difference again?”

Curator Arkinn did have a nice ring to it.

I pushed out of the chair, descended the stairs, and Pollis rose. Pacing across the grass, I asked him, “I’d have full control, and my own team?”

“The only one you answer to is me. I answer to Director Tomlin. You’ll see my face…” He thought it over. “… perhaps once a month depending on my duties. Maybe less. I don’t believe you’ll need any micromanaging.”

“Jericho City wants me to write books, from messages found in old recording devices, and ship transmitters? Bottom line.”

Pollis walked slowly down the porch stairs. “The general concern, Captain, is these ancient communication devices and recorders will soon run out of power, having been cut off from their original energy supplies long ago. I’m convinced some are already lost to us, having sat untouched in the historical wing in a dark corner for so long, covered in cobwebs and dust. Once the power is depleted, the devices are useless. Just scrap metal, casings, and wires. Many components still have residual power in reserves, keeping the voice recorded data stored in the buffers. It’s literally a race against time. Out of everyone in the known universe, I know you’re the one who can get it done. I can supply whatever tools or equipment you would require, at no cost to you.”

“All I have to do is hear words, and write them down.”

“Transcribing and documenting exactly as heard. No guess work and no personal interpretation. There are some allowances and leniency and I’ll allow you to make those decisions at your own discretion, but because of the law, honesty is vital for accurate historical preservation. Complete transparency. During the idle times, you’ll continue with library organization as needed. You’ll be responsible for maintaining the flow of trucker deliveries, sending out your supply requests, and transmitting budget updates. You’ll ensure the clerics are working to your standards, keep the shelves arranged, answer questions from visitors and children on field trips and for tourists as they pass through, attend the council meetings, spend time with Sarron, and yes… that’s it.”

I looked to my rig, covered in vines and moss at the edge of the property. “What about my access codes? If I attempt to leave the sector, my signal will be discovered.”

Pollis reached into his utility belt and withdrew a crude and outdated scrambler. The thin box had a short antennae and colored buttons, and he pointed the device at my ship. “Give it a moment, Curator, and the codes will change. One more second… it’s establishing a public network link… right… now… There, all done.” The box flashed a white light and he collapsed the antennae. “Your exile markers have been scrubbed from the network and replaced with Jericho City codes. You are now free to fly anywhere in the Exterior and you’re safe to enter any truckstop or land on any world.”

“When do we leave?”

“The moment you’ve gathered your possessions, and you feel ready to commit. Take your time, Curator. My rig will deposit a beacon for the new settlers to follow and once we’re airborne, I’ll send my messages and updates. I’ll escort you personally to your new quarters. First stop, Truckstop Six? The Koloka is on me.”

I withdrew the largest Baker diamond from the pouch, held it up to the sunlight and smiled. “I think the drinks are on me.”

***

And that’s how I became head librarian and curator for the Jericho City Library. I arrived on Mino’Vah with practically nothing, and I left with barely more than that. I was less than ten minutes packing my personal items and throwing them into my rig. Pollis waited patiently for me, while munching on a karratt, and he helped clear the vines and overgrowth blanketing my ship.

Before leaving the property, I wrote a note for the incoming settlers. When I was finished jotting down my words, I set the parchment on the wooden floor of the porch and placed the rail pistol on top as a paper weight. I then walked away without looking back. The note read, “This railer is perfect for Munksters and they taste best over an open flame. Pistol rechargers are on the top shelf in the bedroom.”

Since beginning this library project, I’ve returned some order to the warehouse, have translated numerous recordings, and had the scrap and useless parts removed. As a team, we’ve raised the library to a new standard. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but the historical wing is growing. It’ll be a museum when finished.

When I first arrived and was given the tour, I told Senator Pollis I wanted to name my first installment, “Lost Voices.”

He told me I could do whatever I want.

***

Lost Voices Vol. One

We believe these findings to have been originally recorded after 3130 A.t.E. (After the Event).

Little is known of that mysterious ancient event. What is widely accepted is five thousand years ago, a major catastrophe occurred, and that a widespread cosmic cataclysm was the downfall of most life in the universe. We can’t be certain of the exact number, but many of our Brokon historians estimate roughly a ninety percent loss, if not more.

After the Event, what few remained of the living had gathered in small groups, found others wandering the stars, and collectively sought refuge. The groups became clusters and caravans. The caravans eventually found suitable locations, far from the galactic wastelands along the outskirts of the explored universe. Over time, the populations intermixed, became tribes, and colonies and new societies were created. Transmissions were projected into space, seeking other survivors of the Event, and for two thousand years after the cataclysm, travelers from all across the cosmos migrated to these small, populated settlements, to begin life anew.

Planets once abandoned by their indigenous species were resettled later by new ones, and the collective population grew; adapted to their alien environments, and gradually expanded to other life-sustaining star systems within the region named the Vega Grid. Over time, this new stretch of populated space was given the name of “the Exterior”.

In 3136. In order to maintain their survival in the Exterior and continue exploration beyond the established nine sectors, an experimental transportation gate was constructed at the outer perimeter of Sector One. This gate became a doorway for explorers and scavengers to traverse great distances in search of materials and goods littered among the wastelands on the other side of the universe.

Gate travel was limited. It only provided access to a handful of locations to scavenge, and the navigational information was loosely based on ancient exploration missions provided by the Brokons. The gate system became a resource used by all pilots flying rigs programmed with an Omega Access Code, and without the gate, the population would have never survived.

Before 3130, most of the Exterior’s history was based primarily on tales passed down through generations of survivors. An accurate census of our diverse population wasn’t properly arranged until the year 3564, and the undertaking lasted nine years. Before that time, recording historical events was never in the interests of the population. There was too much to do in those times to worry about policy, structure, and order.

Bartering, trading, scavenging, farming, harvesting, laboring, transporting goods and services; surviving was the only way of life.

Stories of history were relegated to word of mouth, and the vague narratives told within family units. It was determined not too long ago, at one monumental moment of expansion and an overwhelming surge in population, that an on-going historical database was necessary to store information and maintain a proper telling of events.

The following content was discovered in captain’s hand-written journals, letters to family found in tattered pockets, messages recorded from the times of early settlement and exploration, and in sonnets written by artists who were lucky enough (and had the coin to back the journey) to attend a harvesting mission.

Included are the vocal documentations of assault pilots, truckers, soldiers, politicians, priests, thieves and old messages found in the public relay stations, as well as personal recording instruments. Most of what was delivered to us is now classified as important ancient history and the devices which are still in operation are stored under glass in the Jericho City Library, on public display in the historical wing for all to access.

Through my own research, I’ve been able to cross-reference most of these discoveries with archived data stored at Jericho City, accompanied by varied historical documents from the libraries at Trenni, Brokon, Siluu and Vol. I’ve engaged in interviews with our Siluu ambassadors and had numerous conversations with senators at Exterior Deep who have access to information from our early days of colonization.

I, Curator Arkinn, was commissioned through Jericho City to compile these historical moments for ongoing posterity and to protect these relics of our fractured past with ink and parchment.

***

In 3136, over two hundred pilots volunteered for the very first gate jump to another galaxy. The resources of the Exterior were slowly diminishing and those sitting in the power positions were convinced that if the population didn’t find a solution in less than eighty years, those who’d found a home and safety within the Exterior would need to migrate elsewhere. The Vega Grid was on the brink of collapse after nearly three thousand years of occupation. The resources to sustain the struggling population were disappearing, or dangerously limited.

With help from the Brokons, the Omega Gate was constructed as a solution to overcome these increasing challenges. In order to test the gate’s functionality, and see what was beyond the Vega Grid, a pilot needed to risk everything and make a first attempt to travel through it.

Captain Marsh of the Siluu was chosen for the mission. He was a prime candidate: No mate, no children or extended family, in sound physical and mental health, in possession of a sturdy ship with a large energy reserve tank. Plenty of logged-in flight experience. Known to be a gold scavenger of the perimeter lines, and accustomed to being alone. Not opposed to having his ship experimented on, and used as a test subject.

The brave pilot left the Exterior in his small rig, knowing he might never return.

His ship is currently in the Jericho City shipyard as a monument and a tourist attraction.

Omega Gate Test #1

“Red lights across the board. Jerra Control Station, I’m ready to fly. Coordinates are plotted and locked, and my first stop after crossing the threshold is the Variffar Galaxy. Do I have permission to enter the door?”

“We’re double checking branch calibration again, Captain. Stand by.”

“Standing by… All I need is the final red light, Jerra, and I’m good to fly.”

“Orientation is aligned and confirmed, Captain Marsh. Jump tunnel branch calibration is a go. Double check your stabilizers on drive tank two, purge the line one more time on the primary, and after that, one more simulation. You’ll be ready to enter the gate in less than twenty seconds. Purge line one.”

“Check. Purge complete.”

“Stabilizers?”

“Red across the board.”

“Simulations in progress…

“… Simulations complete. You have the final red light and our blessing, Captain Marsh. I expect a detailed report upon your arrival home. Don’t forget to chart your findings and be as detailed as the instruments will allow and confirm the original Brokon expedition data for future navigational plotting. Best of luck. The doorway is yours.”

“Thank you, Jerra Station. Firing up the jump engines as we speak. When I get home, I want the tallest mug of trale you can find. Entering the Omega Gate in 6-5-4-3-2-1.

“First of three jumps completed. I’m waiting for the energy recharge for the second jump, to reach the galactic visual. Upon immediate inspection I appear to be drifting in empty space in a black starless void. It’s a damn good thing my tanks are modified. I’d hate to have to wait a long time to recharge out here. The Brokons warned me the first jump would be a massive drain on the energy reserves and I’ll have to wait to recharge the conduits, which may take a few minutes.

“The modified tanks are replenishing energy at a rapid-fire pace now, and I’ll have enough in the reserves for my second jump… in five seconds.

“Jump two is complete. I’m situated on the outskirts of an elliptical galaxy. I’ve never seen anything like it, Jerra Station. This is quite the view.

“Our Brokon friend’s long range scanners show multiple systems, worlds, moons, suns, and gas giants. Comparing new information, with Brokon early exploration data and the information is… 91% confirmed at time of scan. Plotting branch coordinates and locking the data into my network… plenty of opportunities to venture out and begin subsequent missions. Variffar may be rich with resources. We’ll need to send more pilots and explore the region.

“Recalibrating my alignment to jump to Andromeda. That area is the next available galaxy along the Omega network and I’ll do a quick scan of the system upon arrival. If I’m lucky, if I have enough energy in the tanks, I’ll attempt a flyby of the Milky Way. Once I’ve plotted the navigational coordinates into my system, I’ll wait for the tanks to recharge to maximum, minimizing the strain on the drive engines, and then I’ll return home.

“My rig has full access to the Andromeda Galaxy. Same scans show an abundance of possibilities. Many, many systems to explore. All instruments still in the red line. New jump tunnel coordinates are locked in. I’m pushing my reserve capacitors to the limit, but I believe the rig can handle it. Jumping to Milky Way… now.

“I have successfully plotted navigational coordinates for three galaxies along the Omega slipstream network. We have more worlds to explore than we could possibly count or visit in each of our lifetimes. Each jump was without fail. No anomalies. No indicators of ship malfunctions, and all my readings and instruments are red across the board. Plenty of energy in the tanks for the final trip home to Jerra. Speaking openly, I would like to thank the Brokons for the gift of the gate, the provided data from the early days of their galactic travels, and I’d like to confidentially state for the record, and for the future of the Exterior: mission success. I anticipate getting to work as soon as possible. Captain Marsh, signing off.”

***

In 3138, a Volian engineer was monitoring the Omega Gate from the control station built on the northern continent of Jerra. Jerra is a small moon orbiting a dead world, circling twin suns at the outskirts of the Trenni System. The control station was constructed as a launch point to enter the gate, and help novice truckers program spatial coordinates into a rig’s navigational array.

Through a random discovery within the computer system during a diagnostic check, the engineer stumbled upon a unique power supply far below the surface of the moon. Jerra was abundant with a natural energy resource.

Pilots had been curious as to why their reserve tanks had a quicker recharge when orbiting Jerra, but no one had ever explored the cause. When at a distance from the moon, a standard energy tank would replenish naturally in two weeks or longer. In proximity to Jerra, the recharge was half that time. For smaller delivery rigs or solo class runners, a tank would recharge in a few days. Jerra became an orbital trucker hot-spot for proximity refueling.

Through a filtration and separation process, the energy found below ground was later refined, converted to clean energy, and that fuel now powers most rigs, harvesters, personal craft, military craft, and delivery ships used throughout the nine sectors. A standard tank recharge, when connected into a fueling station, averages eight hours. For some of the older rigs, capping off the tanks might be an overnight wait.

Around those energy rich resources found littered around the Vega Grid, the truckstops were constructed to tap into, and harvest that fuel. Truckstop One was the first structure built over Jerra’s preexisting control station to provide energy to ships passing through the sector.

The truckstop became a resupply station, a lodging facility, a surplus storehouse, a gateway to the Exterior, and it was exclusively operated by a High Intendant. In 3149, Linus Moggs moved out of his colony in Exterior Deep and accepted the first High Intendant position and overseer of daily truckstop operations. Trucking became the cornerstone to Exterior living. Everyone wanted a piece of the action, and the profits a truckstop could potentially supply.

All harvested material entering the Vega Grid arrived first at a truckstop for examination. During inspection, a rig would dock and refuel, and the trucking crew would rest and relax in between their missions, or engage in recreational activities before flying the shipping lanes to their receivers in nearby sectors.

A High Intendant of a truckstop is a position of power. Intendant Moggs took that power a little too far, and he wanted a little more.

Many believed Moggs was ill, and never consulted the truckstop doctor. Some thought isolation, and a lust for riches forced his hand. Some say he was just a greedy drunkard on a power trip.

Intendant Moggs ran Truckstop One professionally for one hundred years and was respected by his colleagues, but, in 3249, on his one-hundredth anniversary as truckstop operator, he was alone.

All rigs had departed for their scheduled galactic destinations. All delivery pilots were en route to their receivers along the shipping lanes, and no one was slated to arrive at Truckstop One for two weeks, or longer.

Other than a handful of employees working far below on the lower deck, Moggs was all by himself.

The High Intendant entered his office that anniversary afternoon, and there he remained for eleven days behind a locked steel door.

On the morning of the twelfth day of isolation, he activated the public relay station and contacted Exterior Deep. He aggressively repeated his message until he finally heard the voice he wanted on the other end. Moggs demanded to talk to Director Bishop and wouldn’t stop transmitting until he heard Bishop speak.

The transmission was received, and Moggs made a list of demands.

Director Tomlin discovered the conversation between Moggs and Bishop while scanning through the council’s archives during a routine audit. Not understanding either language, he had a trucker team deliver the data to me at the library.

***

“This is Director Bishop.”

“Hello, Director Bishop, this is High Intendant Linus Moggs at Truckstop One, how are you today?”

“What can I help you with, Intendant?”

“I have an issue over here, Director, a big one, and I believe you can help me solve it.”

“What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m having a crisis, and I’m not—quite—sure how to deal with it yet.”

“What’s wrong? Is something wrong with the truckstop?”

 “You fucking politicians. What’s wrong with the truckstop? What’s wrong?! Let me tell you what’s wrong! Truckstop One is a prison, that’s what’s wrong! What was I thinking letting you talk me into this?! One hundred years I’ve been out here, Director Bishop! One hundred fucking years! Walking the same halls, eating the same shit, drinking the same piss-warm water, looking at the same people day in, day out, day in, day out, and right now while I have you on the line and your full attention, I’m liable to shoot EVERYBODY at Truckstop One IN THE FACE, for no other reason than a change of scenery around here, and to paint a little color on these walls and force you to replace all these boring, worthless FUCKS you’ve surrounded me with!”

“Easy, Intendant Moggs, easy. You and your team are doing commendable work over there. It does not go unnoticed. What can I do to make things better for you and your crew?”

“You’re going to sit there, far away, in the heart of luxury and safety in your cushy quarters, living the high life, eating thick, juicy mink steaks, drinking the best trale, and then tell ME to be EASY?! Why don’t you come over here for a little while and spend a week walking these narrow halls in my boots and THEN tell me to take it easy! What’s next, are you going to tell me to calm down? ‘Relax, Intendant, relax, nothing to get worked up over.’ One hundred years, Bishop!”

“Do you want a different post, Intendant? I can reach out and find you…”

“No, I don’t want a new post. I want this post to be better. Truckstop One needs an upgrade and I demand some changes around here.”

“How can I make that happen for you?”

“I’ve thought about this long and hard for eleven days and I’ve made some notes, Bishop, and there’s only one solution. What I want is Truckstop One to be bigger. Higher ceilings. More rooms. Two floors are not enough anymore. I want a knife board for target practice and to take out some of this boiling aggression. I want windows. A sky light to see the suns. I want a dice table. I need travelers to come here because they want to, and then stay for a visit. I want conversations. Staff rotations. Bring me books. I want better food. I’m tired of the same old slop slung on a plate. I want cigars. I want a steady stream of clients, and I want Truckstop One occupied every hour, of every day, so this facility is never an empty shell. I want a barrel of the finest Mushroom Trale you can find, and I want it hand delivered by three of the best-looking Drakers the Exterior has to offer.”

 “I’m sorry, Intendant, I don’t think I can do that for you. That’s quite a tall order.”

“Don’t give me apologies and tell me what you can’t do, Bishop! Give me results!”

“This is quite a list.”

“Did you write it all down? You’d better hope you wrote this all down. If I get what I want, I’ll maintain this post until I’m dead or unable. Best of luck trying to find someone else to take my place.”

“I’m making notes as we speak.”

“You make this happen for me, Bishop, or I’m going to start hurting people around here, I swear—on—my—life! I want everything on my list by the end of the month, or I’m going to shoot someone in the face. Of this, I promise you.”

“… It may take more than a month to rebuild Truckstop One and establish a rotation. We have to place orders with the scrappers. Arrange a supply line. Reconnect with our sub-contractors and steel transporters. Gather up all the best welders we can find. You may be asking the impossible…”

“I don’t want it rebuilt, you halfwit; just add some more floors and rooms in this shit hole! I don’t care what it looks like, just build it up, skyward. The taller, the better. The bigger, the better. I want Truckstop One to be a testament to our success in this little corner of space. I want travelers to see my truckstop from orbit. I want it taller than Jerra’s mountain peaks. We need more room around here. With more room, we’ll have more truckers. More ships, more visitors. I want Truckstop One to touch the sky. That’s what I want, and you’re going to help me get it! Do you understand me? By the end of the month, Bishop, or I promise I’ll start blowing heads off around here until I’m the last one left standing. Their blood will be on your hands. Better yet, to provide a little more incentive and show you I’m not fucking around, I just happen to be holding the key that terminates all fuel production on Jerra. If you don’t act fast, Bishop, starting today, I’ll turn this little master key, and every trucker on the way for a refuel, will be fucked, and your precious fueling station will be worthless. How many lives are you willing to risk and ruin over some good food and a little recreation? You have one month. I believe I can keep my insanity at bay until then. Moggs out.”

Director Bishop came through for Intendant Moggs. At the end of the month, with one day to spare, Moggs was provided everything on his first list of demands. Bishop redirected all sector-wide construction to Jerra, and relocated all laborers across the Exterior into Truckstop One upgrades.

Truckstop One had six floors added above the ground level parking structure and an expanded fueling complex beneath the moon’s surface. Bishop had a team of engineers follow Moggs’ every desire, listen to his every word, and Truckstop One was outfitted with an eatery operated by three cooks providing local cuisine, a small bar providing fresh Mushroom Trale, two recreational rooms with card and dice tables and boards to throw blades at, and new faces started appearing, asking for lodging.

Director Bishop rearranged the scavenging flights and the delivery schedule for incoming and outgoing truckers in that sector so never at any point was Truckstop One devoid of clients. A daily flight itinerary was created, and followed, until the onset of the Smuggler Wars. When Bishop was done with Moggs’ demands, the truckers maintained their new flow of business based on the trucking codes put into effect, and Moggs always had someone to interact with and have conversations with. Truckstop One was never an empty shell again.

On the night of his one hundred and eightieth birthday, while having a spirited and laughter filled conversation in the docking ring, Intendant Moggs withdrew a railer from his waistband, placed the barrel of the pistol inside his smiling mouth and blew the back of his head out across the cockpit window of a Vol’s delivery rig.

Many believed Moggs changed the Exterior for the better through his actions, and to this day, he is considered a local hero for what he accomplished. All truckstops across the Exterior were outfitted with the same amenities. Today, each one is sixteen stories tall, so towering and large they can be seen from low orbit, are protected by an invisible barrier, and the rooms are never empty.

It is widely believed if Moggs hadn’t made his demands for change, the Exterior would not be what it is today.

***

Daily, mandated, captain’s log-book entry. Day twenty-four. Copper mission in the Milky Way Galaxy-

A well-known and respected pilot from Siluu Primora, and his small crew of inter-galactic scavengers, was the seventy-ninth successful Omega Gate jump, from Sector One, since the inception of long-range galactic trucking.

Captain Borris Luka, in his rig, orbiting Vonkra.

***

“Vonkra, night twenty-four. I hate it out here. I’m tired. I miss my son. The crew is irritated, and doubtful. Sleepless, restless, pacing nights. Low morale. Deep core scanners show us vast copper deposits not far below the surface, but we’re coming up empty for the twentieth day in a row. It’s still no less than four days before my rig has enough energy in the tanks to jump through Omega again, so we may as well keep searching while we wait for the recharge. I’ve been pushing the capacitors to their limits and recharging is now taking longer. Not much else to do at this point. Waiting and searching. If we hit the southern line hard enough, and push the limits of our drillers, there’s a chance we might find something of value. At least… I’m trying to be hopeful. Rations and water stores are running low, so once the ship is ready, even if we return empty handed, I may have to make the call to return to Truckstop One for a quick resupply. We may not have a choice. I don’t want to spend the coin, but I’m sure the crew will need some down time. If we venture out to Vonkra again, we won’t be able to come home without a sizeable payday or something to show for our labors. We’ll have to stay in the Milky Way until we harvest enough to ensure a profit. That could prove to be a real challenge. These damn contracts. Sometimes they want the impossible from us.

I don’t believe Tiran Belle will stay with the team much longer. She keeps blabbering about some young pilot she met at the shipyard. Apparently, he invited her to take a harvesting run with him, instead of crawling through space with a bunch of old moon hoppers in a rundown rig. Every time she talks about him, her forehead shines and she stumbles over her words. I’m convinced she’ll seek her adventures elsewhere once we’re home for a break. I’d even put a wager on it. I’ll miss her. The crew will miss her.

I can’t say I’ll blame her for leaving us. Harvesting and long range trucking can be a tough job. The ones who’ve traveled the wastelands before us told tales about how mesmerizing and beautiful the universe was. That’s the lure. That’s how they get you hooked. We’re tempted with a promise of wonder and excitement and limitless opportunities for steady profit. I have to admit, I’ve seen some strange and mysterious things in my time out here, and to be honest, not everything has been miserable and bleak, but I don’t see beauty anymore and I’m no longer awestruck. Space is boring. Space is dark, and endless. Too quiet. Maybe it’s time to retire.

I told my son during our last visit, months ago, I didn’t want him to follow in my footsteps. I know that goes against the code, and there’s a chance he’ll ignore me and follow the trucker creed regardless, but this job takes its toll on us. I want him to be happy. I want him to have that sense of wonder and curiosity I used to have before discovering exactly what this employment demanded. He’ll never find happiness scavenging among the stars and exploring dead worlds.

Captain Borris Luka, signing off. Transmitting log-book digital file to Director Bishop, upon arrival in Sector One.”

***

Deep soil mission on Earth.

The soil was always difficult to find upon the desolate wasteland, but with the right tools and equipment, the nutrient rich dirt was worth its weight in gold.

Many farmers across the Exterior prefer the Human earth soil for growing the best crops. Senator Klone was sent by Jericho City as an observer aboard the soil harvester rig, Reeva, on the celebrated one hundredth jump through the Sector One Omega Gate.

Captain Ferrell of the Reeva voiced his concerns aggressively several times, with having an extra mouth to feed and an additional body to keep safe. The Reeva pilot was generously compensated by Director Hollis for the last minute decision to transport the senator, and Captain Ferrell hesitated, but eventually agreed.

Klone could accompany the team on each ground mission, interacting with the crew during times of resting and meals, but was instructed to remain a quiet observer and allow the scavengers to do their work uninterrupted. The senator’s job was to document the operation in a manner he found suitable, and report back to his superiors.

Klone kept a journal to record his adventures on the Reeva, and the tattered and weathered remains of his written pages were found in a cave, among the bodies of the deceased crew, long after the team was declared missing. Most of the book was destroyed and lost to the elements, but one folded section of weathered parchment was tucked away in a pocket, and discovered inside was a letter to Klone’s family who were waiting patiently for him to return home. The clerics were unable to translate Klone’s native language.

***

Gray sky above, dead earth below, a quiet harmony. In awe we walk, side-by-side, and approach the lonely tree.

Its cast shadow swallow us. I stop, and I stand and stare. Two gnarled and crooked limbs point east, and its girth I can’t compare.

The howling, sandy wind blows through. Bark flakes from its base. This weathered ancient tree, the only survivor of its race.

It exists alone, a forlorn life among a sea of sand. Roots dug deep, it moans and groans and fights to make a stand.

The crew, ecstatic, race to the trunk and leave me in the dust. I fight the impulse to draw my gun – their cause seems so unjust.

Their equipment, tools, the saws, the axe, their vials and chemistry. They hammer and drill and slice and test the dying lonely tree.

Beneath my mask I hold it back, and battle a welling tear. ‘The tree has life,’ with pride she states. The crew celebrates with cheer.

Tunneler rolls in, and I withdraw, this life is not for me. The roots are snapped, the wood falls down. The end of the lonely tree.

Now they’ll labor, work, and dig, experiment, and toil. The profit is close, must burrow down, and seek that nutrient soil.

I return to the Reeva and settle in, my thoughts drift to my wife. I think of home, a simpler place, and our easy-going life.

I made a mistake in coming here. I know that now. I see. When I ponder adventure, I’ll take a pause, and remember that lonely tree.

Layann, I miss you. I have no idea when this will be over, but I’m ready to come home. The crew believes there’s more nutrient rich soil to the west of our position and after we’re finished here, we’ll be traveling again to parts unknown. They have an uncanny knack for sniffing out dirt. I’ve never seen anything like it. Watching them tear down the last known tree on Earth’s surface struck me harder than I could have anticipated. It stood mighty and taller than any other tree I have ever seen in my travels. It was a testament to resilience. It defied all odds. Once uprooted and felled, snapped free from its roots, shaking the ground with its massive weight, I felt a small piece of me was destroyed. I can’t explain it. As if we were connected somehow. I felt its pain. I saw its sadness. I heard its plea for help. I wanted to do something, but as I’m nothing more than an observer, I shall not step on the captain’s toes. He has his job, and I have mine. My afternoon meal calls to me, and I believe I’ll lie down for a while. I’ll write again to you tomorrow. I anticipate our return home.”

***

In the Variffar Galaxy, a traveler can explore the mystical world of Maji. It’s one of the only planets at the heart of the universal devastation not transformed to dust and debris as a result of the mysterious cataclysmic event of the ancient past. Maji still flourishes with plant life, animals continue to roam the countryside, creatures swim in the oceans, and birds soar high through the sky. Yet, to this day, there are no signs of its indigenous people, only that which was left behind by the Majians. A law has been in place for nine hundred years allowing only researchers, priests, clerics and mystics of the Exterior to occupy Maji.

Brokon and Siluu scientists had spent years on the Majian world, theorizing, exploring, excavating, and researching the mighty structures, energy readings, and colossal temples carved into mountainsides. Many ancient Majian secrets found are now kept under lock and key by the clerics and priests of the Exterior in a special vault. Only a handful of citizens (myself included) from three planets in the Vega Grid can read the ancient Majian language.

Found beneath the Pyramid of the Night in what has been named the Philosopher’s Dream Room, was a verse written on parchment by a Majian priest, entitled, “Time is the Enemy.”

***

“The only enemy is time. The only enemy worthy of fear. The seer shows us the way of the light, and sees the end of time, and the re-set of the great beyond. We fight against those who use time as a weapon. Warriors of darkness rise up against the false promises and deceptions of the light.”

***

In 3755 a rig was stolen from a truckstop, filled with valuable cargo.

A small, secret faction was emerging from the shadows and making their presence known throughout the nine sectors. The population of the Exterior came to know them as Runner Thieves.

It started with an individual. A single thief roamed the truckstops seeking a vulnerable rig or transport runner to steal. When not wandering the fueling stations and investigating her options, she was hiding within the lesser traveled areas of the surrounding shipping lanes, avoiding authority vessels patrolling the regions.

She’d hitch a ride on public transport, hack into a truckstop system, and manage to extract a single access code before security protocols locked her out. She’d then find the ship in the docking ring, pose as the pilot with all the credentials, enter the departure codes into the network, and leave the truckstop with a stolen rig or harvester craft.

The ship was either sold on the smuggler’s market, or stripped down into untraceable parts and sold piecemeal to the highest bidders of the Exterior’s underworld. When she discovered she could make a lucrative living off these heists, and the ships she had stolen only increased in number over the years, she then gathered followers, maintained a devoted crew, and as truckstop security adapted to the thieves and their methods, she modified her technologies and tactics and had multiple truckstop targets to access at her leisure.

After many years, and many thefts from each of the truckstops, she wanted more. At any one time, a truckstop docking ring could have thirty-five or up to fifty ships. And she was guaranteed at least one stolen vessel with each visit. That wasn’t enough. Her habit had become a hunger. An addiction. She changed her methods, took risks, and pursued helpless, recharging rigs idling and resting along the shipping lanes, and then her inventory expanded even further.

Her small teams were then released into Exterior Deep for the bigger, better, and stronger rigs, cruisers, and warships. After multiple heists at Jericho City and the military barracks, she had amassed a small fleet, and the authorities could never find her hidden location.

The exiles and outcasts rallied to her cause. The displaced, the banished, and the ones existing on the fringes found solace in her ideologies and with the growing power of numbers, and a collective belief, she organized an armada.

She then proceeded to set course for Jericho City.

Upon word of the threat, Exterior Deep rallied their forces, and met her battle fleet along the outskirts of Sector Five.

The self-proclaimed queen of the Runner Thieves, Trillia Vay, had a proclamation to make. She hijacked the public communications system and broadcasted her message to receiving stations across all nine sectors.

Commander Hamlin Boze, leader of the Jericho Assault Fleet, was the first to open communications with Trillia Vay.

***

“This is Commander Hamlin Boze of the Jericho warship, Avalon. Please identify yourself.”

“I choose not to identify myself, Commander Boze. Who I am is not really important.”

“I disagree.”

“You disagree? What are you? Are you a negotiator? You’re going to have to do better than that, Boze. Are you out here to talk me down off my ledge and save my life? Is that what you’re instructed to do? Is this what you’re trained for?”

“No. I’m ordered to destroy each and every one of you if you step a quadrant closer to Jericho City. I am not a negotiator.”

“… Jericho City, Exterior Deep. Allow me to ask you a question, Hamlin Boze. How, is what I’m doing any different than what the mighty directors and senators are doing, every single day?”

“Why don’t we start there? What is it you’re doing? I don’t even know your name? How should I address you?”

“… Trillia Vay. Queen of the Runner Thieves.”

“Queen, you say? Should I address you as Queen Vay? Trillia? Queen Trillia? Miss Vay… Her Majesty?

“Trillia is acceptable for the moment, Commander.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere, and the only thing I’m missing is the reason you’re out here. Why are you here, Trillia? Our radar systems and transmitters are screaming invasion. Are you invading Jericho City? Are you attacking Exterior Deep? What do you hope to accomplish? You have thirty ships. I have seventy and another two-hundred and fifty at the shipyard just ready and waiting to fly. Let’s talk this through, before anyone does anything they might regret. Are you open to having a talk with an old pilot on the verge of retirement?”

“The time for idle chat is over. I’m not in a talkative mood.”

“I have to be honest, Trillia, retirement in a Brokon settlement sounds fairly cozy right about now, don’t you think? And, if I play my cards right, I may even get a nice spot on a lake. The future looks good. How about you, Trillia? What does your future look like? What do you see after today? Is the future glorious and worth pursuing?”

“I refuse to look that far ahead, Commander. I live in the moment. It’s the only way to stay alive out here.”

“Trillia, if you don’t rethink all of this, we’re going to have to do things we’ll both regret. Let’s find a quiet place to fly away to, and talk. Just you and–”

“Jericho City did this to us! They gave us hope, and then they ABANDONED us! This isn’t our fault, Commander Boze. It’s their fault. It’s the Director’s fault. And it’s your fault for protecting them, and listening to their vile words. Jericho City calling all the shots. Telling us what to do. Making laws… We do one little thing wrong that goes against–”

“We have order and laws for a reason, Trillia. You can’t invent them on the go. You can’t just do whatever you want.”

“I disagree, Commander. As queen of these abandoned miscreants, I’ve been making the rules and laws since day one. I make my rules, and those rules are followed. The Directors make their laws, and they are followed. So the question then becomes, whose laws are better? Whose laws are stronger and worth following? Whose laws are right? I know I’m right. I don’t believe I’m right, I KNOW IT! I WILL get what was stolen from us. I WILL have my dignity restored. My people will have their lives back to normal again, and we’ll return to living within the Exterior the way it was meant to be before our exile.”

“What way is that, Trillia? How is the Exterior supposed to be? What is Trillia Vay’s vision?”

“Every queen needs a throne, Commander Boze. But, in order to have an empire and a throne to sit upon, we first need people, and then we require currency. I have the people. I have the firepower. Now I want the currency. All empires are financed in one way or another.”

“I see. You’re going after the Central Vault. Trillia… I hate to tell you this, but robbing the Central Vault will solve nothing. And I hate to be the bearer of unfortunate news, all empires fall.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“You’re not getting anywhere close to Jericho City, or the Central Vault. If I even catch a flicker of a jump charge in any of your ships, I’ll have my fleet open fire immediately.”

“This is the part where you’re wrong.”

“Trillia… you don’t…”

“Let me interrupt for a moment. I’ve been doing this a long time. A lot longer than you know. I’m familiar with all the tricks. I know all your ships inside and out. I know your weaknesses, strengths, blind spots, battle plans and… oh, look at that, your shield harmonics. So before you start pressing buttons and getting your pilots all up in a frenzy and trigger happy, they must hear something first. Listen up! I need every sector’s undivided attention! All truckers who can hear me, this one is especially for you!

“For years you’ve been doing all the work. For years you’ve risked your lives, sacrificed precious time with your families, time you’ll never get back, and all you’ve accomplished through your labors is making the Directors and Jericho City supremely wealthy and powerful. They’re nothing without you! You have all the control!

“They don’t care about you! They only want their profit, their gold plated dishes, and their fancy food. They want their lavish homes, the best ships, and to horde all the diamonds, gold, copper, silver, steel, soil, seeds, and coins you’ve fought so hard to provide.

“Today, all that ends! Today, the Runner Thieves will take back what was stolen from each of us, and from all of you. Our livelihoods. Our namesakes. Our dignity. We may not be welcomed into the fold, but today I don’t want to be welcome. To make things right again, sometimes force is required.

“To all pilots in the region, and all you scumbags at Jericho City, I have installed a series of devices in each of your assault cruisers. At the shipyard, I have charges placed all across the main deck. Stand down, Commander Boze, or lose your entire fleet and half the shipyard in the next forty-five seconds. Clock’s ticking… forty-three seconds.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Your radar should be spiking with more signatures… right about… now. I believe the rest of my team has finally decided to join us. Took them long enough. That brings my total to, what now? Hold on… my math isn’t all that great… carry the one… two hundred and four, Commander. See how quickly and unexpectedly the power shifts? Twenty-five seconds.”

“Wing’s two and three, move into position and load up…”

“You don’t want to do this, Boze. You’re completely surrounded, outgunned, and I have your shield codes.”

“Disperse your units and stand down, Trillia. If you…”

“If YOU don’t back the fuck off, Commander, I’ll have a captain on my side of the line press a button on his dashboard, and we’ll all sit comfortably over here watching one of your ships explode on your side of the line. It’s that easy. I won’t even fire a single shot. Just random cruisers all around you, blowing up left and right, until that precise moment when the right button is pushed, and Boze is officially retired a little ahead of schedule. You can’t stop me, Commander. Jericho City will crumble into ruin and I’ll get everything I came for and fought so hard to accomplish. Why dream of the lake, when you can have an ocean? Time’s up.”

“Power up and lock…”

“Captain Domma. Three and eight.”

(Static)

***

The conflict lasted one year. The Runner Thieves eventually disbanded, and most of those who survived, moved onto other employment opportunities. Some retreated deep into the smuggler’s territory and lived their lives far away from civilization. Many Runner Thieves still fly the shipping lanes in search of vulnerable rigs, but are considered more of a nuisance now than a serious threat. The lane authorities are more vigilant, and the truckstop security systems and check-in methods have changed radically. It’s more difficult to steal a ship of any kind now since the conflict with the thieves.

Some believe the Smuggler Wars were started by Trillia Vay. She was reported to have died during the conflict but no evidence could be provided to validate that.

While visiting a truckstop tavern and mingling with the regular patrons, a young Brokon delivery pilot heard a story about a self-proclaimed queen. This ruler of the underworld was rumored to be constructing a secret network for weapon smuggling, experimental devices, and performing covert operations. The queen was only spoken about in shadowed corners, dark rooms, and hushed circles.

Trillia Vay became a trucker myth, and local legend. The queen was the leader of a secret territory, a hidden land, and her motivations were fueled by vengeance. The legend says that one day, the queen of the underground will have the power she’s always desired. When the moment is right, she will emerge with her followers from her secret location and try to once again claim that which was stolen from her.

The Droll War

In 3726, when the Jericho City Political Sector at Exterior Deep was established, a large, circular chamber was constructed at the heart of the central complex. A meeting place, where a delegate from each species could gather once per solar year to discuss areas of interest, laws, policies, problems, and the future.

In 4855, at the height of the Droll’s occupation of Yeetree, the Jericho City committee arranged an emergency session. Called back from assignment and asked to join the assembly were Captain Gethar Willow from Vol, Commander Tess Luna from Trenni, Captain Rex Day from Siluu Primora, and Siluuian special operative Agent Killian Sar.

The growing spread of Droll forces was cause for concern, and with one centralized planetary system under full control by the Droll, the powers that be felt it was time to address the problem and possibly take action.

At first, the Droll were given access to Yeetree and its resources as a safe harbor. The Droll’s home world could no longer sustain life, and the Exterior was the closest region along their travels in which to find refuge and avoid endless hardship and potential extinction. The Directors agreed and allowed them temporary respite within Sector Four for the Droll to repair their ships, resupply with Yeetree resources, and regain their strength to continue their migration. After years of caravanning among the stars, losing numbers, and ultimately seeking a place of safety to start over again, the Droll took full advantage of Jericho City’s kindness.

The Droll captured Yeetree’s public relay station, sent a message to their allies and all the displaced Droll in the system of their new location, and as their numbers grew, they decided to stay. Then, they wanted to expand. When their numbers had reached into the tens of millions, three hundred and fifty-three colonists were killed by the hands of the Droll on Yeetree’s largest moon. The Political Sector then took notice and gathered the council.

The recording from the Jericho City council chamber is still deemed to this day as controversial: grounds for treason and exile for all parties involved, and the contents of the recording have divided many citizens and worlds within the Exterior.

The digital artifact was once thought to have been smuggled out of the political archive, and anonymously submitted to the library clerics, purposefully creating a public document, protected by common law and open to scrutiny, to ultimately discredit the power positions residing in Jericho City. Many believe it to be a fabrication, and intentional deceit. Others don’t have any opinion on the topic.

Director Falcoom went on public record to state, “If our people want to believe the recording, they may. If they wish to ignore what they hear in the recording, they may do that also. The Xorren have heard the recording, and refuse to believe its validity. All of us at Jericho City wish to be as transparent as we can and as honest as possible, so to address this growing controversy, I say to you: In times of great crisis, many words are spoken. Many actions taken. This does not mean actions will always follow the words spoken. To speak on a touchy subject, and to have an open discussion on a serious topic of concern, exchanging ideas, is one thing. To commit to action is another thing altogether. Thank you and that will be all the questions I’ll take today.”

The following is a recorded transcript of the minutes of that meeting.

***

“Call to order! Call to order! ENOUGH!! Sit down, both of you! Captain Day, listen up, I demand silence! Let him go NOW, and listen up, I say! I strongly suggest you hold your tongue! Back off, back off! This is a place for solutions, not added undue controversy! Whatever qualms you two may have can be revisited later. This is not the time or the place for your petty squabbles. Get it together! If all you have to provide is childish outbursts and if you have nothing positive to contribute, I suggest leaving these chambers at once! Sit down, Captain!”

“My apologies, Director Gage. You will have no more outbursts from me. I would like it to be noted for the record, however, that had I known Killian Sar would be sitting at the table today, I may have made different arrangements for my morning.”

“Duly noted, and based on what I know, I assume he feels the same about you, so get over it. Now, does everyone have it out of their system? Is this mindless bickering over? Can we proceed? Is everyone settled in? Good, now that we’re done with that nonsense…

“Let me begin by saying, it shall be recorded for the private archive that I, Director Gage, will sit at the head of the table and be the city council’s representative during this gathering. By law, I have invoked the One Voice Clause for these proceedings. The sitting directors, ambassadors, and senators at the table are mandated to attend, and will listen to the statements of the assembly and take notes as needed, answering questions when asked, but will attend as silent observers only, and I will be the one voice on their behalf. Let it be noted that the invocation of the One Voice Clause has not been used in the council chamber for ten years. All those in attendance not under the One Voice Clause, will use the speaking stones if they wish to be addressed. The stones will provide order and maintain relevancy. To ignore the stones will result in immediate expulsion from the table. Are we in agreement? Good. All invitees: senators, directors, and the special advisor from the Brokon System, Ambassador Thoomas, are in attendance. Where are we with the numbers, Senator Wells? Let’s start there and get it over with. You have the stone.”

“Which numbers are you referring to, Director? My charts have many numbers.”

“Numbers, Senator, numbers. What are our operatives and analysts saying? How long do we have until we lose Sector Four?”

“At their current rate of growth, Director Gage, the Droll will take over the Yeetree System, all of Sector Four, and then push into Sector Five sooner than we believed. We’ve intercepted communications between the Droll and their allies performing reconnaissance operations. They’ve taken interest with a distant Volian moon at the Sector Five perimeter line. With the ongoing chatter, and the build-up of numbers over a short time, our specialists estimate a surge of Droll forces into adjacent sectors within six months. I am making an assumption on an exact date, but within six months, to be safe.”

“This is the point where you provide me with options. Based on the assumptions, or based on the numbers and data, we need to find a solution to this mess we’ve created. The Droll can’t be allowed to occupy all of Sector Four. There’s too much at stake. Commander Luna, you have the stone.”

“Director, shouldn’t we consider Yeetree a permanent placement for the Droll, now? Perhaps revisit some of those broken treaties, reestablish the sector perimeter lines and see if we can renegotiate? In the meantime, to avoid further loss of life, should we move what’s left of our people out of the region and relocate them elsewhere to err on the side of caution?”

“Killian?”

“We gave them Yeetree, Director Gage, willingly, and that’s not something we can just undo with a simple treaty meeting. The Droll were never planning to leave the system and we shouldn’t fool ourselves. They stopped caravanning supplies to Truckstops Four and Five over thirty years ago and broke all our original settlement treaties and we never addressed it then. We just brushed it aside, and shrugged it off. Their blatant disregard for our supply needs is a violation of the non-aggression statutes. We have supplies which can only be distributed to the population, provided by Yeetree. They’ve severed all contact with Jericho City and all attempts to now cross into Yeetree space is met with threats and promises of action. We gave them an opportunity and they took it, Director. My agents say the Droll are working with secret weaponry deep underground, in bases constructed by worker slaves and cave miners, an experimental cloning facility, and Droll diplomats are working their way into Xorren territory as we speak. If the Droll can provide what the Xorren want, or need, we may lose a potentially powerful ally in the Xorren and then the numbers will expand even more. We could see a conflict brewing on two fronts. Our relationship with the Xorren is tenuous at best but we need Sector Nine to hold the Outer Wall.”

“Captain Willow, you placed your stone down. Is there anything you wish to add? Don’t be shy, Captain. We invited you here because we need you in the conversation today and if you have anything to say, now is the time.”

“… Director… they killed three hundred and fifty-three of our people for territory. Unprepared, unsuspecting, peaceful colonists, all slaughtered in their sleep. Mothers. Children. Throats slit, bodies burned. The Droll could’ve done the right thing and provided the colony advance notice to initiate their exodus protocols, and save their lives. I’m afraid the time for negotiating is over. It’s almost as though they want a conflict with someone. Captain Day has been on recon patrols around that sector for the past four months and if not for Rex, we never would’ve known about the attack on the settlement… Captain… if you had to estimate, how large is their fleet? How many soldiers?”

“Senator Wells was accurate. Once they have that opportune moment, they’ll venture out from Yeetree and then take the other sectors at their leisure. Once the Yeetree System is conquered, they’ll essentially have a beachhead and an open door to invade any region within their reach, and Vol would be first on their list. They’ve already established three outposts along the Sector Four perimeter line and at least one shipyard construction in orbit around Yeetree Primora.”

“Gethar, you have the stone.”

“We can’t allow them to reach Vol, Director.”

“I understand your concern, Gethar. Vol is no different than any other colony or settled world in the Exterior. Let’s not make this personal, Captain.”

“THEY MADE IT PERSONAL BY EXECUTING OUR PEOPLE!”

“Captain Willow… please sit before I excuse you from the chambers.”

“… My apologies to the council, it’s been a long week.”

“For all of us, Captain. It’s been a long week for everyone. Based on the information at hand, we have two possible options: Evacuate everyone from Sector Four, disperse them wherever we can find room and allow the Droll to gain more strength in Yeetree’s system untouched and we sit back and watch it all unfold while they try and recruit the Xorren into their ranks, or we take action. Yes, Captain Day, you have something to contribute?”

“Our objective is to save lives and grow our numbers. We’re not in any position to pick a fight of any kind, whether they want one or not. A war with the Droll will lead to a great many deaths. Their numbers are vast and we are indeed outmatched. Senator, including the newest shipyard orbiting Brokon, if we were to compare our fleet numbers to theirs, what are we looking at overall? Rough estimate.”

“We estimate we’d be outnumbered at least five to one with warships and soldiers. The numbers are not on our side, Director. I will have to agree with Captain Day on this one. Our combat vessels are far outgunned compared to the Droll. The Exterior specializes in trade, labor, and peace and we’re spread thin over multiple systems across vast distances. The Droll specialize in firepower and strength and are now sitting comfortably within proximity to a handful of our populated regions. If we declare war against them, it’ll change the face of the Exterior forever.”

“Commander Luna, you have the stone.”

“The Droll see us as nothing more than farmers and simpletons. We’re considered a melting pot of pacifists with little power on our side struggling to survive. We’re not built for conflict and the Droll know this. That’s why they push so hard to claim territory now. It’s only a matter of time before they become so large in numbers, we’ll never be able to recover. They know they have an upper hand. They knew they had the upper hand the day their first ship landed on Yeetree. They’ve been in Sector Four for over two hundred years now, slowly building their forces, preparing and experimenting, planning, searching for their lost brothers and sisters among the stars. We can no longer question their motives. They want dominance and we should evacuate the Yeetree system at once before they attack our other settlements on the outer moons. If they gain eventual control of the Omega Gate network, they’ll then have access to all our shipping lanes, all our resources, our truckstops and fuel supply, our harvesters, our galactic data. Then, Jericho City will fall. Is this what we want for our civilization? We’ve fought too hard to get to this point just to have it jerked away by guests who have long overstayed their welcome.”

“Killian, the stone is yours.”

“Off topic, but I have a question for the ambassador, regarding the gates. Ambassador Thoomas, is it possible to redirect the Omega Gate… to connect to another gate within the territories of the Exterior? They were designed to transport our rigs away from the Vega Grid, over long distances to other galaxies, but can one gate be connected to another? At one end of the Exterior, we have the Sector One gate. At the opposite end we have Sector Eight in construction. Can the two gates be connected, to travel between them? Calibrate the tunnel to enter a gate and be dropped off within a sector of choice? Reduce the number of jumps? Shorten the distance between sectors?”

“It would take some research, and the fuel tanks will need to be modified for each ship, but I believe it is possible. Why do you ask?”

“We’ll need every advantage at this point and the gates may serve a purpose. We have three operational gates now, and a fourth in construction. We allow the gate to continue business uninterrupted through Truckstop One. While Truckstop One provides us with a frequent stream of supplies, we connect the gate in Sector Five, directly to the Jericho Gate, and our nearby shipyard. Our problem is, and always has been, distance. If we can somehow shorten the travel time between regions, give our ships an exit and entry point within proximity to the Droll, they’ll never see it coming. We’d have the element of continual surprise. The one single advantage we have over them is access to the Omega Gate technology. Only our vessels are programmed to travel the Omega network. If the Droll conquer Sector Four, and then capture the Sector Five gate, and then push from there into the neighboring regions, and make contact with Jericho City, we’ll lose the gate advantage and never get it back. Then it’s only a matter of time before they figure out our access codes and gain control of the entire gate network. The Sector Five gate puts us within striking distance of Yeetree. We launch our warships through the Jericho Gate and we’ll be face to face with their armadas with our weapons firing, tanks recharging, and with enough left over energy for a quick jump back to Jericho City. We could bombard the Droll with quick attacks, do some damage, and then disappear before they could fire a shot off. Very little resources used and within proximity to Truckstop Five for emergency refueling and ship repairs as needed.”

“Gethar, you have the stone.”

“Thank you, Director. We need advantages, like Killian said, and we should explore all possible options. I believe I may have thought of one… but the council may not like it and I’m hesitant to share.”

“The stone is yours.”

 “Before I continue, Director, I would ask one small favor from the head of the table.”

“Proceed.”

“At this time, with the exception of yourself, please excuse all senators and directors from the chamber.”

(Incoherent cross-conversation and escalated voices)

“THAT’S ENOUGH! Silence at once! SIT DOWN! QUIET I SAY…

“… Thank you! Gethar, the stone is still yours, please continue.”

“The council members are well informed of the situation at hand and the threat we’re facing with their numbers, and charts, the chatter and data, but the less details they’re privy to, regarding what I’m about to propose, the better for the strength of the council long term, and the future of the Exterior.”

“Captain Willow, you know I can’t permit such a request.”

“Director Gage, with all due respect to you, and everyone else, the less we have in attendance, the better. You can bring them back in when we’re finished, place your vote how you see fit, and we’ll move on based on that vote. Director Gage… You are the one voice today, and my request is covered by the law of the council. You must trust me on this. If any of our people are captured, or compromised, weak enough to ever give away…”

“I’ve heard enough, Captain Willow. You’ve made your point. Would all directors and senators under the One Voice Clause please take a ten minute recess? I need the room. Thank you…

(Footsteps, murmuring, and closing doors)

“… Gethar, the stone is still yours.”

“Thank you… I know this may sound… unethical, but perhaps we might have some influence over the Xorren we’ve never considered. If we can get the Xorren involved, and utilize our gates effectively, it could tip the scales in our favor.”

“How do you propose we do that?”

“Captain Day says the Droll are sending diplomats regularly to Xorren. We have to assume those ongoing dialogues have generated some loose bonds between them. If the Xorren and Droll continue communications and negotiations with each other, those bonds will only become stronger. The Droll will offer territory and supplies to the Xorren’s Mighty Chain, in exchange for allegiance. We need to sever that bond as soon as possible. If we have a six month window to work with, we’ll need to address this in a series of calculated strikes. I’ll propose the following and then I’ll relinquish my stone for the remainder of the session and allow for alternate proposals from the others: Execute Killian’s idea and connect the Sector Five gate directly to the Jericho City gate. Shorten our travel distance and minimize our resources. In the meantime build up our fleet at Exterior Deep, in secret, as fast as possible. Recruit and train more soldiers. Redirect all resources from Truckstop One into warship construction, and transport vessels to ferry in our ground forces. We’ll need adept pilots and weapons manufacturing. Bring back everyone from retirement; recall all decommissioned ships from the graveyards and employ each truckstop crew to ship repairs. During the Smuggler Wars rig captains installed jamming technology into their communications array to stave off radar, and to keep profit-hungry pirates off their trail. We track down all ships with specialized jamming tech, and we may have to rely on a series of unorthodox tactics. We don’t have a lot of time, so we must focus on specific objectives in order, as quickly as we’re able. Once we get our numbers up, our warships constructed, the gates connected, and our fighters trained and armed, we take it to the next step. We draw the Xorren into the conflict at the eleventh hour.”

“I’m still waiting to hear how you propose we do that, Captain Willow.”

“Director… essentially we take something vital from the Xorren… and we ensure the blame is dropped squarely on the Droll with well-placed evidence, and no clues leading any trails back to anyone at this table. We’ll force the Xorren to take action against the Droll, and then we’ll have that edge. We attack the Droll, at the same time the Xorren attack. The Xorren will be on our side even if they don’t know it. We’ll attack from Jericho City through the gate, emerge at the edge of Sector Four, and the Xorren will advance from Sector Nine. And if the timing is perfect, we can pinch them off from their supply routes, which, I might add, Captain Day is in possession of, and the Droll will have no choice but to surrender to us. Yeetree will be ours once again, and then we can focus on a treaty and arrange some bonds with the Xorren, and put these fucking conflicts to rest once and for all.”

“Even if the council was to humor such an idea, what do you suggest we take from them?”

“Something important, Director Gage. Something the Xorren require to maintain their balance and governance in Sector Nine. Remove that balance, and the Xorren will have no choice but to retaliate.”

“Killian, you have the stone.”

“If I’m not mistaken I believe that’s where I come in, Director Gage, and it won’t be easy. If I’m following Captain Willow’s train of thought, and I believe I am, we remove Warden Brillim from the link. With the removal of the Warden from the Mighty Chain, the Xorren military commander will then have the top authority in all of Xorren space. If Master Slack controls Xorren in the Warden’s absence, he undoubtedly will seek vengeance for the loss of their peacekeeper. He will be forced by heritage to avenge his father until the Xorren council places Slack into the position of Warden. That could take months, and in the meantime, Slack will remain as military commander. The Xorren people will rally around their military leader just as much as they would the Warden.”

“Killian… are you suggesting we assassinate the Warden of Xorren, just to start a war with the Droll?”

“I don’t believe I’m the only one suggesting this course of action, Director Gage, and considering my areas of expertise, I was assuming that this is what would be asked of me by Captain Willow.”

“Gethar, are you in agreement with Killian? Assassination of the Xorren peacekeeper? Are we stepping over a line? You have the stone.”

“To be honest, Director, I was suggesting we physically remove Warden Brillim from the Mighty Chain, keep him under lock and key somewhere far away from Xorren space, then, when the conflict is over, we discretely return him to reclaim his link in the Chain. Master Slack will be forced to step down, and the one thing we’ll have needed to accomplish, will have been done. We can wipe our hands of it all and move forward.”

“Commander Luna?”

“Captain Willow, how would the Xorren respond if they discovered the Exterior had a hand in the Warden’s removal?”

“That’s what we can’t allow, Commander. Discretion is absolutely paramount. A plan of this magnitude requires proper execution and complete secrecy. If the Xorren ever caught wind of this, it would be the annihilation of everything and everyone we know and love in this universe. We wouldn’t stand a chance. The Xorren would wipe us out to extinction. We need the Xorren; they need us, and that’s why their involvement is so crucial to our cause. Considering the alternative, that, being a slow and painful Droll takeover, I’m trying to guess which is the lesser of two evils right now? Do we bow to the Droll in the next few years, or do we take a risk and temporarily bend some rules? If we all know negotiations with the Droll is a waste of time, that ongoing dialogue with the Xorren has been a pointless exercise, and the Droll’s invasion is not a matter of if, but when, we should consider all alternate ideas which could lead to our victory and maintain our self-preservation. Warden Brillim will not be harmed, and each of us will have to take the oath to guarantee his safety. Violation of that oath will result in immediate exile. If the evidence is strong enough, it won’t matter how the Droll respond to the accusation, if Slack even bothers to accuse them at all. Slack won’t believe the Droll, and will consider the Droll’s outright denial of their involvement to be a weakness. Once we retake Yeetree and drive the Droll out of the system, the Warden will be returned, and he’ll be under the assumption he’s been in a Droll prison cell for the entire conflict. In fact… he might even pin a medal to Slack’s chest in the coliseum for his son’s bravery in rescuing him from the clutches of the Droll. We’d just have to be convincing.”

“The stone is yours, Commander Luna.”

“Captain Willow, why don’t we just take the other path and ask the Xorren for their help? Why not use our ambassadors and diplomats and establish stronger ties with the Xorren and beat the Droll to the punch.”

“The Xorren consider the population of the Exterior as being below them, Commander, and they openly admit that. Power lies in numbers and the Exterior may have many numbers, with many diverse species, but we’re spread out so thin over vast distances that we’re seen as fractured. No large numbers. No power. No real strength. No need to align. That’s why the treaties have been near impossible for all these years. The Droll are more akin to the Xorren on many levels. Both are warrior races. Do not play well with others. Their weapon systems have similar traits. Many of their ideologies are similar. Their appetites are similar. If the Xorren were to consider becoming allies with anyone in the nine sectors, the Droll would be the number one choice.”

“Can’t we convince the Xorren that once done with the Exterior, the Droll would come after them next? The only way the Xorren can survive long term is if they align with us.”

“If the Droll are offering up land, gems dug from under Yeetree, moons for future bases, truckstops, laborers, easily conquerable worlds for the Xorren to occupy, the Warden will see that as an act of peace and friendship and the bond between the two will only grow. Military action would only be considered in the event of a betrayal of any kind. And that military action would be immediate. The disappearance of the Warden, and the Droll’s denial of such an act of blatant and obvious betrayal, reinforced by the concrete evidence pointing all the fingers towards the Droll, would be more than a valid reason for the broken Mighty Chain to declare war. The bonds between the Xorren and the Droll need to be severed and we have less than six months to pull it off. Does anyone have a better idea?

“… Judging from the collective silence, I’m guessing you’re either trying to think of something better, or have nothing to offer up to the table. So, if my idea is sound, and the council votes in favor for war with the Droll through the removal of the Warden, I’d like to request five Chameleon Cowls, one for myself and my three colleagues and one Cowl large enough to hide Warden Brillim. I’m certain Ambassador Thoomas can provide us with what we need. In fact, Ambassador, put in the request for a retrofitted Cowl and spend some time in research and development to see if it can be modified to shroud a small rig. A cloaked vessel will indeed provide an advantage. You have three months to give me an answer on whether or not it can be done. It’s one thing to sneak into the Xorren coliseum unseen with a Chameleon Cowl, but to land nearby, off radar tracking, hiding under the cover of night just outside the Xorren Barracks in an invisible ship, is even better. Once the evidence is placed and we’re safely aboard our cloaked rig, we bring the unharmed Warden somewhere safe; keep him in the dark, off grid, and completely unaware of what’s happening. Keep him well fed, keep him comfortable, and all he has to know throughout the entire ordeal from beginning to end… is that his captors are Droll.”

“This is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard, Captain Willow.”

“With all due respect, Director Gage, you wouldn’t have invited us here if you didn’t believe we could pull something off. I don’t see any other way. Just get us the Chameleon Cowls, find a way to cloak my ship, and we’ll extract Warden Brillim from Xorren. If the council votes no for war… give me a cloaking system, and I’ll do it all by myself. I’m fairly certain my colleagues are on board with the assignment, and I’m hoping I won’t have to go it alone, but I will if I must.”

“Quite brave of you, Captain Willow, but a bit irresponsible wouldn’t you agree?”

“No, Director, I don’t agree. Have you ever lost something you’ve loved?”

“… I have.”

“If we don’t do something extreme, with or without the council’s approval, we’ll lose everything we love in a little over six months from now, guaranteed. We’ll lose the Exterior and everyone who has made this region of space what it is today. Since Hatham’s passing, I’ve fought to find something to love again. My children are grown and living their own lives in other sectors far away, and we have very little contact. I joined the military, learned from the best, and became who I am now because after she was gone, I needed something to fight for again. Now, Director, today, I have that something I was missing in my life. I have something to love and defend. The Exterior is my home. Vol is my home. I will fight for what I love. I will defend my children no matter where they are, and your children, our friends and families, their friends and families, and I’ll do it with or without your help. Ambassador Thoomas, can you get us what we need so we can continue to fight for what we love, or are you going to just sit there? Director, the worst case scenario which could befall us, is if the Xorren ever find out about our involvement.”

“Many Xorren will die.”

“I am aware, Director, and it’s an unfortunate circumstance of war. However, it’ll save their race from eventual extinction, or becoming conquered by the Droll. We’re doing them a favor by getting them involved. At least, that’s how I see it.

(Silence. A throat clears.)

“I will continue to speak if no one raises their stone.”

(Silence)

“Director Gage, I suggest bringing in the rest of the council now so you can put this matter to a vote. Quite possibly the most important vote this chamber will ever cast. I suggest casting the vote based exclusively on the council’s numbers, charts, chatter, and data to make your decision and not include this conversation when making the final call. Commander Luna and I have a history in the field together, and I would like to request she be on my strike team after the conflict begins. With her consent, of course.”

“You have the stone, Commander Luna.”

“You’re one crazy son of a bitch, Gethar. You are indeed out of your mind.”

“Will you help me with a battle plan, Commander? Please? You’re the best at what you do and I can’t do this without you.”

“I never said I wasn’t in, just that you’re fucking crazy. Of course I’m in. Better yet, who isn’t in? Killian, you in? Yes? Rex? Yes? Director Gage, do we have the head of the table’s support on this? Once everything is in motion, there’s no turning back and trying again.”

“Of course you have the support, Commander. We see no other way. In fact, for full disclosure, the council voted in a secret session three days ago with Ambassador Thoomas and two other Brokon representatives and it was unanimous among all attendees that a fight with the Droll is imminent, and we should do everything within our power to rectify our mistakes of the past. Even if that means making a few more and taking some risks. We just didn’t know how to proceed. That’s the reason you’re all sitting before me today. You have our full support and the resources of the Exterior at your disposal. Jericho City is in favor of war to reclaim what was once ours, and it was noted in a written proclamation yesterday morning and sealed in the archive. We are now at war with the Droll, people, and I can’t think of a better group to lead the charge to the Exteriors’ victory. Do what you all have to do, and do it quickly. Get us Yeetree back.”

-End recording-

***

Curator notation– Documented public historical records: Warden Brillim vanished from the Xorren coliseum in 4855. Three days after Brillim’s disappearance, and a planet wide search for the Xorren peacekeeper, Master Slack launched an all-out assault against the Droll.

With help from the Exterior, the war with the Droll lasted fourteen years. The council members were wrong with their estimates. Deep underground, a small strike team had located a cloning facility in which the Droll were breeding soldiers.

Six hundred and eighteen million lives were lost across all nine sectors, including the life of Warden Brillim, and Captain Day.

When the Droll achieved access to the Jericho City gate, the war then pushed into Exterior Deep. It was a war which touched the surface of every world within the Vega Grid and which affected the lives of everyone. Prison camps and penal colonies were built. Settlements and villages were wiped off the face of their worlds. Many species retreated into caves and deep underground to hide from constant raids. Resources became scarce, trucking slowed, and great migrations to other sectors were commonplace for survival.

After Yeetree’s second ground war, and the eventual reclamation of the world and its surrounding moons, Gethar Willow asked to stand before the Jericho City council with five Xorren representatives in attendance, to make the first attempt at serious dialogue with the dignitaries of Xorren and the Mighty Chain’s newly linked Warden. Gethar walked off the podium to the audience’s standing ovation. The Exterior eventually rebuilt, trucking returned to a normal flow of business, new ships were constructed at the shipyard, and the Xorren were brought into the Exterior as full citizens.

The following is a recording of Captain Willow addressing the Jericho City council.

***

“My name is, Gethar. Most of you know me as Captain Willow.

“I stand before you today with Ellim Maddox. He’s a highly decorated Xorren soldier in the Fifth Link of the Mighty Chain. I met Ellim shortly after I crash-landed in the rainforest south of Yeetree’s capital.

“I encountered Officer Maddox for the first time in a cave. He was injured, boiling water for Harka Rice, and he, too, was disconnected from his unit, after being shot down two days earlier. We were both alone and on foot. Ellim was injured from the crash, and we had at least a two week’s journey before us, navigating the jungle and mountainous terrain, with little food, little water, few supplies, and every day armed only with our wits, and a desperate need to stay alive.         

“Ellim and I started a journey in the wilderness together, and we were determined to finish it together. Our mission was to return to the front-line and rejoin our ranks at the capital. Nothing was going to stop us. We were forced to fight and evade Droll search parties and scout ships on a daily basis as we battled the elements, the enemy, and at times, each other.

“Our attack units in the capital had been ordered to remain on Yeetree for four weeks, so we had plenty of time to return to the battlefield and meet up with our squads before the next campaign, but when we reached the outskirts of Yeetree’s capital city, the Xorren were regrouping and our Jericho flagship was leading its small armada back to Exterior Deep for resupply. We were late. Our pilots abandoned the campaign and evacuated Yeetree, thinking their foothold at the capital was strong. However, the intelligence was faulty. Ellim and I were then trapped on Yeetree with no communication with our people. He and I were forced to work together and fight for our continued survival.

“And the odds were never in our favor. Our personalities clashed, we had contradictory opinions, food preferences, and we proposed tactics the other didn’t agree with, but despite those differences, side by side we battled the Droll. Together, we fought through the conflicts. For seventy-nine days, Ellim and I stood at each other’s side within the capital city, deep behind enemy lines. Our only choices were to leave the city and fight for survival in the wilderness, or battle the enemy in the capital.

“We vowed to each other to live our days fighting to see the next one. Staying alive was our common bond. In order to survive, we had to do it together. In the city we remained.

“Over time, Ellim and I severed the Droll’s communications within their supply networks. Together, we destroyed their warehouses, food transports, storerooms, their satellite tracking stations and manufacturing facilities, and we collapsed their cave systems and rescued our prisoners of war. Together we changed the tides of battle into our favor. We reconstructed small rebellions with our rescued troops. We stitched each other’s wounds, and removed shrapnel from each other’s flesh. We fed each other when we were too weak to move, and we protected each other during the firefights.

“Together we crawled through the shit tunnels below the city, slept in abandoned mines, attics, and basements, and watched each other’s back during the restless nights, and when one canteen was empty, the other was shared. We did some horrible things together that I will never be able to erase from memory, but we did it all side by side. We stand here before you, together, to inform all those in attendance today that we can work through our problems, if we give each other a chance.

“Warden Slack… Ellim is my best friend and not just a battle brother. I know more about this son of a bitch than I do my own family. I know what the inside of his home looks like and all the details, the colors of each wall, the antiques, the art, and the sculptures, and I’ve never set foot in his house. I know what his children look like as clearly as I know my own, and I have never met his two young ones. I’ve envisioned your training barracks, your gardens, the marketplaces, the enormity of the coliseum and I have never stepped foot on Xorren. I’ve seen the Iron Tower in my dreams and would very much like to someday compare the image of what I have conjured in my mind to the real thing.

“Including our journey through the Yeetree wilderness, we were together almost one hundred days. That’s a long time to spend alone with a species that has never cared much for the other. From day one, we both knew it would be a challenge to even communicate, but in the end we walked away from Yeetree and the horrors we witnessed along the way, and we have yet to leave each other’s side. I would very much like to spend some time on Xorren in the Iron Tower and learn what I can about your culture. To see your libraries, walk the marketplaces, and explore your history. I’ll sleep in my ship if I must. In fact, if I may be so bold, and I don’t do this for everyone, Warden, but this is a special occasion. I would like to exchange three of my pregnant cows and two bulls for a one month stay at the Iron Tower and have access to the Great Coliseum. I would very much like to participate in recreational arena combat with your warriors, given the chance, in front of an audience. That idea has been a splinter in my mind since Ellim first mentioned it.

“In your subtropical regions, Mink Cows would reproduce quickly and before you know it, you’ll have a consistent alternate food supply. In three years, if well cared for by your farmers, the entire southern continent could be abundant with breeding cows and one day in the future, I may be purchasing them from you. All I request in exchange for this gift is a month of experience at the tower and the Xorren Barracks. I will deliver the cows myself. My delivery rig is small and wouldn’t take up much room at your shipyard. I would very much enjoy a visit and to continue learning and having experiences with you, and your people. But… I digress.

“The enemy pushed us, my friends, and we pushed them back, and at the end of the day, it took two of us to bring what remained of the Droll occupying Yeetree’s capital crumbling to their knees.

“Two of us.

“A lumbering giant with a limp and a speech impediment, and a short, blue, barefooted potato farmer who raises Mink Cows for side profit. Together, Ellim and I laid the cornerstones to this moment which we are gathered for today, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together. The events which led us all into battle with the Droll are now events of the past. We cannot change or fix the past. Time moves forward. All we can do is look to our futures. It amazes me and fills me with promise, thinking about what we are potentially capable of, together, in the future.

“During the war, during the worst of times, all across the Exterior, we stayed in each other’s homes. We ate at each other’s tables, we sang songs and told stories to each other’s children, and our engineers and laborers worked on each other’s damaged ships. Xorren, Siluu, Brokon and all the others who fought in this war: we were all equals. Who we were, or where we came from, was irrelevant. It was the common goal that allowed us to reach victory.

“We don’t need to sleep in each other’s beds anymore, or be attached at the hip, or eat at the same tables together, but we can co-exist, all of us, and come to solutions, together. I am convinced of this.

“If Ellim and I can do it, than I don’t see why all of us can’t. Officer Maddox and I both believe that the people of the Xorren and us tiny occupants spread out across the vast territory of the Exterior can together make a difference. We’ve proven that anything is possible. We can all be part of something greater, and I believe all that starts today.

“The Xorren are a proven race of warriors, battle tested, fearless, respected, and powerful. The Xorren have strength and a size which I envy. Ellim was a shield for me on Yeetree, Warden Slack. Literally. Ellim took a bullet in the shoulder for me, and guarded us from superior Droll firepower through the abilities of his glove shield. In a lot of cases, even though I can hold my own quite well, he was my protector. I was the brains, with a little brawn, and he was the brawn, with little brains… Don’t push me; you know I’m telling the truth. Whose idea was it to take down the secondary power grid? Oh, that’s right, it was mine. Get back in your spot, Ellim. It’ll be your turn in a second.

“The Xorren are a shield for the Exterior. The Xorren are our protectors.

“I submit to the council, that the Xorren be allowed all of Sector Nine. All the useable territory in that system, and whatever resources they can access, are theirs to do as they see fit. Warden Slack, all I ask of the Mighty Chain in return is a small placement of our warships at the outer fringes of the Wasteland to monitor potential threats. Our other perimeter lines are secured but the outer wall of Sector Nine has been left unguarded for over three hundred years. We just need a small contingent on site to contact the Xorren and Jericho City in the event that we ever have more unexpected guests showing up on radar seeking respite, or looking to pick a fight. That’s the region the Droll arrived from and that area should be guarded at all times. It’s our only blind spot.

“As Gethar, a new friend to the Xorren, this is all I request from the Mighty Chain and the Jericho City council. I openly share my humble submission for unification between the population of the Exterior and the Xorren system. I believe if the Xorren was to join the Exterior and establish trade with us, we will only better ourselves as a collective. Warden Slack, will you accept our request for further dialogue? If not with the council, then perhaps you can start with me?”

“Gethar Willow, just before my father died he said something to me I will never forget. ‘Son, trust only in the strength of the Mighty Chain. No weaknesses allowed in the links.’ I hear that voice repeating in my mind each day I awaken. I believe my father was trying to say it’s only the Xorren that matter, and anything that does not benefit the Mighty Chain is not worthy of our attention. I believe him. No weaknesses allowed. Strength is the only thing that matters to survive during these trying times.

“Because I believe him, and I wish to hold true to his philosophies, I accept further dialogue with the representatives of the Exterior. You, Captain Willow, will be that bridge between us which strengthens the Mighty Chain, Jericho City, and the future of the Vega Grid. And, in addition, I will gladly accept your cows in exchange for time visiting our coliseum. That’s seems to be a fair trade and your cows will be well cared for. Perhaps, Officer Maddox can find suitable lodging for you close by, since he’s on a mandatory and well-earned six-week leave of absence. Officer Maddox… can you make this a possibility?”

“Gethar can stay with us on the b-barracks, Warden Slack. Our guest room is ready. It may be small, but it’s a perfect f-fit for someone his size. I jest of course. My ch-children are quite excited to m-meet him.”

“Captain Willow, do you accept those arrangements?”

“Only if Ellim has figured out a way to get his snoring under control. Coming after my size again, Ellim? Weak, my friend. So weak. Have you told your Warden I’m deaf too? Why don’t you say something about my hearing while you’re at it? I thought the Xorren were stronger than that.”

“Have you learned to ch-chew with your mouth closed yet, Gethar? I know you c-can’t hear it, b-but I swear to…”

“I’m sorry; Ellim, but your snoring led the enemy to our position, how many times? I lost count…”

“And who was always there first to defend that p-position?”

“You had a shield Ellim. I would have been there first, if I had a shield… Warden Slack, if it’s not too much to ask, I would love to be in possession of one of those glove shields someday. What a piece of technology that is. It may help someone of my stature if I’m ever in battle again. And while I may not have a defense shield, Ellim, my old friend… at least I can say confidently… my cannon is bigger than yours.”

“My ch-children are t-taller than you, Gethar.”

“Call to order, call to order. Thank you, Captain Willow, Officer Maddox, and to all those sitting in these chambers today. We’re scheduled to begin having conversations before the end of the week. Gethar, I believe it’s safe to say you have a new official title. But only if you’re willing to accept this temporary responsibility.  If Ambassador Willow is through with his speech and making his point, we have transportation ready for you to return to Vol. Take a few days to make some preparations for a lengthy absence, get your affairs in order on the farm with your staff, and to spend some much needed time on Xorren. What say you, Ambassador? Are you ready to depart?”

“I’ve never been more ready, Director Cain. Thank you for allowing me to speak today. Ellim, I’ll contact you when I’m packed.”

***

The Song of the Scrappers. Also known as, the Shanty of the Andro Scrap Yard.

“The siren blares when their ships fly by, and steel rains from the sky.

The scrap piles up, just another day on rusty Andro Prime.

We Scrappers don’t enjoy our job; we do it out of need.

Like each world in the Exterior, we have our mouths to feed.

With each new day, a siren blares, and steel drops from the sky.

Whether a hull, or a wall, or a truckstop hall, steelwork is our life.”

***

In the desert region of Siluu Primora, a Droll recording, never transmitted, was found in a crashed assault ship. In order to deliver the transmitter to the clerics, almost the entire dashboard was dismantled and wheeled into the warehouse and then dropped on the floor in pieces. The pilot delivering the transmitter said the device activated when he stumbled across it, and since that first day of delivery, we have only been able to decipher a small portion of the Droll pilot’s recording.

Translated, was a folk ballad. A children’s song about a Droll supernatural entity named, Barnabus Barn. Our scholars have theorized Barnabus Barn is a corporeal entity which manifests into a physical form when a Droll is near death and Barnabus then guides the Droll’s spirit to other lands in their afterlife mythology. The Droll believe at the time of their inevitable passing, a blue and white light approaches, and observes them during their final moments. Barnabus Barn will withdraw the last of the Droll’s life and spirit, the body dies, and the remaining extracted energy is then dispersed into the next of kin.

Only the Ballad of Barnabus Barn has been retrieved from the Droll transmitter thus far and it was whispered into the recorder in an older dialect. Perhaps the Droll find comfort reciting the tale. Perhaps speaking the words is part of their culture.

The Droll skeleton was buried on Siluu Primora by the pilot, and co-pilot, who discovered the ship in the sand.

We hope to have more of the Droll transmission deciphered in the months to come.

The Ballad of Barnabus Barn

“In death, we stand before his glory. A new world to stake our claim.

Bathed in radiance. Fills the eyes with delight.

Power once bestowed to me shall return from whence it came.

Home again, to the ancient souls of the night.

Barnabus Barn approaches. He calls from those other lands.

Living spirit takes to flight.

He is the last I shall see, and I take his hand.

Awash in sky-blue and white.

My legacy continues while my body becomes dust.

Free from all my plights.

Return my essence to my kin. In Barnabus we trust.

***

Only the names of the greatest bounty hunters have a name engraved in gold on the Kallarian Sacred Wall.

The Kallar entered the Exterior populace in 3781 and from the leftover pieces and parts from their crashed mother ship, they constructed the Red Hall.

The Kallar are well respected among the nine sectors. They established trade routes to supply deliveries to those in need, and worked well within the Jericho City system.

The Kallar have their own personalized currency, their own set of laws dictated by their elders in power, and, while they maintain steady friendships, personal relationships, and abide by the common laws set forth by the politicians of the nine sectors, the Kallar have their own way of life.

Born and raised to become bounty hunters, the Kallarian youth train with skilled warriors before leaving home at a young age to pursue their very first hunt with a high profile target. The Initiation Week is a rite of passage within their culture. A young Kall does not receive a proper hunting name until successfully completing their first capture, or kill, within a week’s time. The Red Hall elders post a bounty memo, and the hunters are then released into the Exterior to collect.

Kallarian culture has been woven into the Exterior, and the Red Hall holds just as much importance to the population as Jericho City.

To provide job opportunities to the varying residents of the Exterior, the Red Hall began offering hunting licenses to anyone who was able to pay the hefty fee to possess one. Soon, everyone who was hoarding extra profit began trading diamonds, gems, coins and gold nuggets to the elders for bounty hunting licenses. When in possession of a license, one could collect from the elders. Only a licensed hunter could access the crimson steel doors of the Red Hall.

The Red Hall expanded their business services by providing loans to those in need. If one was to borrow from the elders, that individual was contracted to pay it back within an allotted time-frame. Failure to do so, constituted a place on the newest bounty memo. At any one time, a truckstop could have three or more hunters waiting for a target to make a move. Bounty hunters were everywhere.

From the bottom of Jerra’s ocean was found a submerged craft with Kallarian markings. Inside the ship was a lockbox with a bounty memo inside written by Elder Collector Hark.

***

Wanted

Memo issued from the Red Hall, and authorized by Elder Collector, Hark. Hunters beware. All known suspects on this list are considered armed, unstable, and extremely dangerous. Proceed with the hunt with utmost caution.

Three Baker Diamonds for the capture of Norrom Kluff, from Trenni. Kluff borrowed from the Red Hall and the contract has expired. Reward increases if the target is returned unharmed.

Issued by Jericho City to the Red Hall by, Senator Yarkin. Eighteen pressed Siluuian gold pieces for the capture and delivery of Brokon engineer, Allaren Cann. Wanted for aiding a prisoner escape from the Cliffside Penal Colony. Upon capture of target, deliver to Exterior Deep and request an audience with Director Trowley for payment.

The Agents of Sar have reported a Vapor Distillery in operation on Quellik. The Vapor smuggler, Farrion Kayl, is rumored to have found a new base of operations and the High Intendant of Truckstop Four has confiscated multiple crates of Vapor Vials during random inspections. While vapor is not illegal to possess, mass shipping, smuggling, and distribution of the addictive substance, is. Any hunter who captures a smuggler or mass quantity distributor, whether docked or in transit, will receive two Baker diamonds.

A new updated memo will be released to the public in the days to come.

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