Dave Cooper, ex-guardsman, walked through the empty hulk of the hunter/destroyer “Empire’s Wraith,” and thought. Is it true, can a ship impose its personality on the crew? A few months ago, if you’d asked me, I would have said no. But, after only a few days on here, things happened which made me think. Did she want us dead?
Dave had been raised in the days after the fall of the Baalite Empire. For the people on Baal life had become intolerable; they had become refugees on their own planet. It wasn’t only the victorious Commonwealth of Frieland troops who imprisoned the people; the planet itself appeared to have risen up against them. There were numerous reports of volcanic activity – unheard of in recent times – and the Ferrnix at the core had been destabilized and started to fill the air with poisonous gasses. Much of the planet was covered in ash, and debris; the land was so polluted it couldn’t be used again for at least twenty years.
It was under these conditions that young David Cooper began his life on the run. Always one step ahead of the law, and two from service in the Army fighting a futile last stand on the outer edges of a deserted planet, in a far off quadrant of the galaxy. Food was unattainable for the survivors on Baal. The prices were pushed so high by the governing bodies of the Commonwealth; very few Baalites could afford more than a meal or two a week.
Forced to fend for themselves, Dave and some friends fled to the lands beyond the Sulphur plains. Their goal was to reach a town called Gertoria. They hoped to join a resistance group heading off world. Gertoria was a three day march, but the men thought it was better to go there, than stay home and be forced to work like mules. The volatile Fermix caused the super-heated Sulphur to rise through the pocked ground, this made walking both hard, and tiring. The men had to travel by the lights of the burning cities, travel by day was too dangerous with the heat, and gasses; it was only marginally safer at night, but the group head to reach Gertoria.
The endless plains stretched out before them as the men set off on the first steps, to a new life. They never expected to find what lay ahead; it wasn’t the fighting they were to do which worried them, but not knowing what they were to fight. The first night’s travel was the hardest, the men were required to get used to walking in a mix of half light, and shadows cast by the raging fires behind them.
Timmy Crossman took a look over his shoulder as they reached a peak, and said “I don’t suppose we’ll be going back, Dave.”
Dave glanced to where Timmy was staring and replied “Not unless you want to die of hunger, picking up leftovers. I’d rather die out here, trying to reach Gertoria, than back there waiting to starve to death.”
The third member of the group was Reggie Connors. He was usually a shy man, but respected for his thinking. Reggie stood still, taking in all the sights, and sounds of the night; as he turned to face Dave, he called out, “Dive for cover!”
Without thinking the three friends dived into a ditch, not before time; overhead a jet of Sulphur had ignited in the air sending molten sparks everywhere; one touch from the Sulphur, and you’d burn for days.