Chapter 1 – "Negativity"
"I don't suppose I'm that important on the whole of it. I'm just a Kushan of the Kiith Somtaaw. My name is Anna. Anna Noreena Niieli-Somtaaw. My family name is Niieli. I have a pretty big family – a big sister, Mai, who is about twenty-eight, an even older sister called Dava who is about thirty-one, and a little sister, Shania, who's only six. She's so cute and sweet. It's a pity I won't see mum and dad until the Mothership returns. I'll miss them. Luckily, Mai's in Fleet Intelligence, so she's Bridge Crew, so I'll get one family member.
" My father is one of the leading mining experts within our Kiith, and our family helped partly to design and build the Khar-Selim, but really… I'm probably the only pilot in the Kiith that actually flies an interceptor. Hell, I'm probably the only warrior too. We've never been warriors, our Kiith. We're all miners; it's in our blood. But resource collecting isn't for me, so I chose to be a fighter pilot.
"I suppose my story will properly start on the day that we leave Kharak. We've all been hugely excited, even though our Kiith hasn't had that many members frozen in cold sleep in the cryotrays, and even less actually being in the crew of the Mothership. That's where I am now. It's mind boggling how huge this thing is. I've done flybys. She's beautiful, though. Even if she does look like a banana. *chuckle*
"I'm… twenty-two by Kharakian years, but I don't know how old I am by Hiigaran standards... Well, I know I'm Kushan, not Hiigaran. At least not yet. When –and if- we arrive, and land. Then, and only then, will I be Hiigaran. If Hiigara is still there…
"Anyway, *cough* I'm about five foot six, with straight black hair down to my back, almost to my hips. I've been thinking of getting it cut recently – it's started getting in the way. I have blue eyes, and people say I'm pretty, but I can't judge my own prettiness by myself, nor do I particularly care. I'm pretty thin, but I eat properly so it's not much of a problem. I can't really think why people would starve themselves to get a thin figure; it's what's inside that counts. And from what I've seen, most of the people who do that are absolute bitches... Anyway *cough*, other than my profession I'm pretty much a normal Somtaaw girl, strong in mind and body. I'd say my entire measurements, but again it doesn't really matter. Well, I do have pretty small feet… Um, back on track.
"I'm a pilot – Lieutenant, class A. I graduated about two years or so ago, having specialised in Strike Craft and minoring in Space Boarding and Hostile Takeover. I suppose it's an odd mix, but it's kept me on edge these last few years and in the peak of condition to fulfil my duties. I love G-forces though, so being a pilot over a marine was an obvious choice. I suppose it means I am potentially a backup marine… Bah.
"I'm writing this log to keep a hold of what sanity I have left. This place… it's just crazy. Things come and go so fast you'll have no idea what hit you. I've just worked three consecutive twelve hour shifts prepping for the test of the new Blade II Interceptors…and I am absolutely knackered. Whatever they said about life as a pilot in the academy, it was wrong. There's so much paperwork, you'd never believe… Maybe it's because I'm in charge of a strike team. *sigh*
"Anyway *cough*, I'm leaving this here as proof of my existence, at least someone will think that Anna Somtaaw was present at the launching of the Mothership. Better than dying and being forgotten about as if you'd never existed. I'm going to be putting all my logs into a container over time and if everything goes arse up, at least something of me will survive.
"Life's not that bad here, though. It's pretty hectic, but I can cope with it. Mind you, Ifrit's looking a little peaky –he's my bunk mate. He's a little younger than me (probably lied about his age to get on board), but he's funny and has a wit sharper than a Kraak-beast's claw, though he has definitely got one of those dirty minds that are constantly thinking about sex. He's a pretty good pilot, though. He runs a resource collector, mostly, and some of the things he gets up to are insane. He's a bit of a headcase, really. Once, I saw him drive it full pelt, PDA the resources, and come back with a full hold in less than an hour. He's a qwaardamned Genius sometimes. I later found he'd been told off for putting a fighter class booster on the back of the collector, so he's probably suicidal, too.
"My other bunk mates are okay, too. There's Karan S'jet –she's not the REAL Karan. She's waaaaay above us. It's kinda funny to have someone with the exact same name as Fleet Command in my room. She's pretty nice, as they go, though. There's Kiir Nabaal, too. That man is a bloody genius, I don't know what he's doing piloting an interceptor, but he should be up there in the ranks of scientists like the real Karan S'jet. I suppose he's happy, though.
"On the note of those two, I'm sure there's something going on between them. They keep giving each other the eye, and sometimes I hear funny noises when I'm trying to sleep. I might be wrong, but hey. I have a suspicious mind.
"*sigh* I miss my other family, and though they weren't chosen for cryosleep, I'm sure I'll see them when the Mothership makes its second trip to the Homeworld from Kharak, to take more of us home. By then we'll have settled in, and perhaps Tel'im can come, and we can have a little plot of land with a field. Maybe a child or two... *sighs wistfully*
"Oh… Tel'im. Tel'im is my boyfriend... Well, fiancée. We've been going out for about five years now. I love him a lot, He's funny and he likes cuddling. I like cuddling too… I miss him more than anyone, I guess. He came to visit me the other day. He proposed! With real sand-silver bands! He found them whilst sandsailing… But… we'll not be able to be married until he comes along on the second voyage. The last night we shared together (about two weeks ago…) he held me in his arms and promised me he'd never let go, even if it was physically letting go, he'd never let go of me in his heart. That made me feel… so happy. *sniffles*. I suppose there is such a thing as real love… It took a while to find it.
"I'd say how much I loved him, but that would be impossible, so I'll just say that he's the best thing that ever happened to me. I'd be honoured to be his wife.
"Anyway, the Mothership is about a day and a half off launching for the Hyperdrive Test, and then the meeting with the Khar-Selim. I'm about to go on duty, got to report to the hangar to get in my interceptor for the combat trial and final testing of the Blade Interceptors. It'll be a weight on my shoulders, since I'm in charge of the first squadron.
"I've sent a letter to my family, with a special message in it for each one of them, and a special message for Tel'im with some messages of love. I have to go now… Wish me luck.
"Lieutenant Anna Noreena Niieli-Somtaaw, signing off at T-minus thirty-seven hours mission time."
Anna swivelled off her chair and logged off the computer, taking her personal log disk out and filing it in the locker with the rest. Most people didn't tend to keep logs, but Anna always did. She sighed and turned around; scanning the bunkroom she was in. It was a bit of a mess. At this time none of them had time, nor the energy to really clean it up properly. Hopefully it would be done before inspection. Anna reached to her bunk and pulled out a holo of her and Tel'im, looking wistfully at it.
Ifrit was lounging on his bunk – he'd come in just before she'd started her log. "I hope you're not going to get too emotional on me, Anna, 'specially seein' as I've just done an entire twenty hour, non-stop shift on the repair corvettes" Anna looked at him; he was idly cleaning his nails with a penknife, and she shot him a venomous glance.
"You probably spent most of that time relaxing with your feet up, a cup of pazaar in your hands and the dirtiest magazine you could find in the locker. Repair corvette jobs are boring as hell. Set the RPDA off and you can relax. While the autopilot is on you haven't to do anything, unless you're in a warzone. I don't know about you, Ifrit, but there doesn't seem to be anyone other than us up here." She retorted
"Ooh, we have a tetchy Anna!"Ifrit whooped gleefully. Anna narrowed her eyes.
"Watch it, boy; I'm not particularly happy right now. I have to finally prove to the sand-silver that there's nothing wrong with the new Blades today."
Anna waggled her finger at Ifrit and he rolled his eyes.
"Oh come off it calling me Boy; I'm obviously almost old enough to be your Sajuuk-damned father!"
"Only if there was some messed-up time paradox. And then, only if my mother was ridiculously drunk and couldn't see your ugly face." Anna smirked and stuck her tongue out at Ifrit, who sighed, beaten. He kept a tally of their verbal fencing, and was annoyed to realise he was just coming down from a winning streak.
Anna looked at the chronometer and made a face, pulling her hair into a ponytail and tying it up. "Gotta go. If I'm late, Nafiir will flay me. You know what he's like." She walked out of the room, giving Ifrit a wave. "Later."
"Have fun!" Ifrit quipped after her. He settled back into his bunk, and carried on paring his nails. Karan walked into the room, sighing and dropped her satchel on her bunk.
"I swear by Qwaar-Jet, if that idiot doesn't stop hitting on me I'm gonna break his fingers slowly." She muttered darkly, and Ifrit waved lazily.
"Evening sexy." Ifrit said, just loud enough so that Anna could hear.
Walking down the corridor, Anna chuckled. Ifrit was a funny guy, if only he wasn't always thinking about sex, he'd be far funnier. He'd learn sooner or later that not every girl he met would want to do it with him. Hopefully, with a red slap mark across his cheek. She hoped she'd be there when it happened; if only for a good laugh. The only reason Anna didn't report him for a thorough hormone balancing session was because his teenage hormonal levels were just perfect for suicidal resourcing runs. And with the Mothership's launch so very close, resources were in short supply. Kharak had few resources left – The Kushan had all but stripped the desert planet bare to get the Mothership built these last sixty years. The entire race had given all to make this journey, and it was all they had left.
A tall, grinning woman with curly dark brown hair ran up the corridor towards her and Anna shook herself out of her reverie, smiling at her sister, who meanwhile had grabbed her in a hug. The bubbly, bouncy twenty-eight year old was even bubblier than usual; so Anna guessed something good had happened.
"Heya Mai. How's it going?" Anna asked, once she could breathe.
Mai was Anna's closest older sister. She was in Fleet Intelligence; and had been working in the various sensor pits and generally being somewhat of a runner about the ship and the Scaffold, taking notes, holopads and other administrative things to various offices about the great ship, right up to the point of Karan S'jet's insertion into the Bridge. She was pretty dedicated to her career.
Anna's other sister Dava, who had stayed on Kharak to raise a family, awaiting the return of the Mothership, wasn't quite the 'big-sister' that Mai was, probably due to the shorter age gap between the two of them. Even five years older than Anna and about three younger than Dava, Mai had a pretty bouncy personality to add to her pretty bouncy hair. You could never keep Mai down for long. She was almost like a little sister in comparison to Anna's somewhat brooding and moody nature.
"I'm fantastic, Anna. Are you okay?" That was another thing about Mai- she never stopped looking after her family and making sure they were fine. Anna was prone to dark moods and long times of brooding, which Mai tried, and usually succeeded, fighting off.
"I'm fine sis. Really. Where are you headed in such a hurry?"
"Main Bridge! Guess what I got?" Mai almost squealed.
"Promotion? Finally." Anna shook her head. Mai just bounced more.
"Got it in one! I get to work in the same room as Karan S'jet and the Core! I'm now First Class Fleet Intelligence! Commander Mai Somtaaw! Awesome, no?"
Anna blinked, before throwing her arms around Mai in a hug. Mai tried, and failed to look modestly embarrassed and grinned widely.
"Yeah… finally… It's only because Aliisa Paktu got mauled by a Kraak on her weekend visit home. She's alive, but she'll be out of commission for a few months yet." She grimaced. Still, promotion is promotion." Mai rubbed the back of her head. "I guess I was a bit of an afterthought to the Bridge, though."
"Ouch. I'm sorry sis. I know you wouldn't want to have been promoted like that. But still… Mum and Dad will be so pleased to see you on the Bridge!" Anna ventured. Mai shrugged.
"I sent them a message bee already. I expect Mum will fawn and coo when we return from the Hyperdrive Test, and Dad will just grunt a well done behind his beard. Business as usual." Mai looked nervous again. "I've just had a tour of the Bridge and seen my station. It's pretty impressive. Then there's Karan S'jet…"
"Yeah." Mai looked perturbed. "It's so weird being in the same room. Well, she's in a tank… thing, but she looks really serene in there. Except when she talks to you..." She sighed. "She told me off for staring. So I asked her who designed her tanksuit, and she chuckled and just responded 'men'. I didn't expect such wit from a S'jeti, I have to say."
"You haven't met my bunkmate, have you?" Anna mumbled. "Ah, never mind." She added at Mai's curious look.
Mai raised an eyebrow, but said nothing more until she smacked her head. "Oh... Nearly forgot; Tel sent you a package via the shuttles. It should have been transferred to your quarters by now."
She thrust a transfer confirmation chit into Anna's hands.
"I dunno what's in it, but I bet it's pretty expensive, 'cause it's sand-cursedly heavy. And Anna…" She grabbed Anna's arms, looking positively furious. "Why didn't you tell me he proposed? Hmm?"
"…Slipped my mind." Mumbled Anna, going red. Mai laughed and let go.
"I'm happy for you. I'd never get married until I'm well past twenty-nine. The Spectacularly Single Mai Somtaaw falls for no one's charms!"
She grinned and fell into step with Anna.
"So where are you off to?"
"Hangar. I'm I get to play in my new Blade today. And I also get to prove for the scientists to the Bridge that the new Blade II's aren't dangerous like previous incarnations of their design."
"Oh… I think I'll be helping out on that one for my training on that one. Good luck! I'll do my best on my end!"
"Thanks, Mai. I'll see you later. Perhaps we could go for a drink in the bar later?" Anna gave her sister a hug and walked on. "Bye."
"Sure. I'll see you then sis. Good luck!" Mai shouted as she turned off at the next corridor.
Walking into the hangar always made Anna feel a rush of vertigo. It wasn't the drop to the floor from the catwalks; nor was it the massive open space of the exit. It was more the sheer scale of the thing. It was as if someone had carved an enormous cavern out of metal, and set it adrift. Considering it took up a large chunk of the Mothership, which was by no means small, it was impressive. It never failed to make Anna realise how small she was.
Running down the catwalk to her personal Blade II, she gave it a once over checkup. All seemed to be in order and she patted it affectionately.
"Get to prove your wings today. Good luck to both of us." Anna mumbled. She left it be, and wandered down the catwalk, grabbing a bottle of water along the way from a dispenser and swigging it down as she walked towards a small briefing room.
Commander Nafiir S'jet eyed Anna as she entered, with time to spare. He smiled. "Glad to see you made it with your customary earliness, Anna." He said. Ever since they'd first met, in the training academy, the two had been firm friends. Nafiir had been her instructor, and had supported her with especial regard to the new Blades. They remained good friends, even aboard the Mothership, although they could only really show it in the bar or when they were off duty, as being on duty meant that Nafiir outranked her.
"Lieutenant Anna Niieli-Somtaaw reporting for duty, sir" was Anna's reply. She grinned, getting an idea into her head about Mai.
"Please, don't grin at me like that Anna. It creeps me out, because I know you're planning something. The last time you grinned at me like that I got covered in paint."
"It was only a prank, sir! Me and Catiie were cadets then!" Anna replied indignantly. She stopped when she heard Nafiir chuckling.
"You always fall for it, Anna!" he laughed. "Every time I bring that incident up! Haha, oh, I'll never get tired of baiting you. Consider it repaying me for my cleaning bill that day."
Anna sighed. Nafiir went serious after a few more moments' worth of laughter.
"I hope you're going to give a good performance, Anna. My career could take a hit, and so could yours if there's a balls up. I know they're safe, I've tested them out extensively myself, but it depends a lot on the performance of your squadron. Which depends on you."
"Just make sure you fly tightly, obey all orders and execute all the movements smoothly. Sajuuk willing, it'll be fine."
"Yes, sir." Anna saluted. "I'll do my best."
"Good. Anything you'd like to say before?"
"Yes, sir. Permission to speak freely?"
"Granted." Nafiir nodded. Anna frowned.
"Why is an idiot like Zainal on my squadron? The rest of them fly well, and cohesively. Zainal breaks the rules, doesn't listen and is generally a cocky little sandrat." Nafiir raised an eyebrow.
"Not like you to be that scathing about a teammate, Anna." He shrugged. "Not many people were willing to help pilot the new Blades, in all honesty. Given the track record of all previous models, even the proof that the new ones are reliable and safe isn't enough. We're lucky we have enough people willing to try them out. Perhaps he'll learn when he has proper combat."
"Yes, sir." Anna nodded. "It's just annoying." She sighed. "I'll try to keep him in check."
"See that you do, Lieutenant. I'll be behind you all the way. If he does get out of check, I give you full permission to rake him over the coals."
"Thank you, sir." Anna replied, and at Nafiir's wave, took a seat nearby.
"I want you to do the briefing today, once I've had my say."
"Yes. They're your squadron, Anna. Once I'm done roasting them for being late, it's your call. Get thinking." He punched her lightly on the arm. "I think you'll do us proud."
A chime from the door announced the arrival of the rest of the squadron, interrupting anything else Nafiir would have said.
Anna was stood next to Nafiir in the briefing room and feeling thoroughly uncomfortable. Most of the pilots had arrived a few minutes late, citing small time excuses that hadn't sat well with their superior. To be fair; they hadn't sat well with Anna, either, but Nafiir had first dibs. She wished he'd hurry up, though, because her nose was starting to itch and standing to attention sucked, especially when you needed, really needed to scratch it because it was driving you nuts. She fidgeted, and breathed a sigh of relief when Nafiir said "At ease.", scratching that itch with a vengeance.
Nafiir motioned to Anna, who moved into the fore and regarded her squadron intently, one at a time. She cleared her throat, and spoke up.
"All right, listen up. Each of your flying records is pretty damn good, so I expect one hundred per cent flying out there. You'll be flying your Blade II's today, so no funny stuff. These aren't scouts, people. You're not rookies anymore. You're Bomb Jockeys. My bomb jockeys." There was a small rippled of mirth which disappeared quickly. "If there're any screw ups I'll let Nafiir deal with you after I've had my way. Only rookies screw up."
Anna grinned faintly, and looked over at the scout bays. Rookies were always chosen to pilot scouts, and they always looked a little too emaciated for Anna's liking. Except for a few pros who liked the Arrow class scout, they were generally inexperienced and not brilliant pilots. The next logical step up was an interceptor. The old Blades were well and good; but the Blade II's could run rings around them. Anna knew they could.
The title of "Bomb Jockey" was derived from the original concepts of the Blade II. Because of the immense amount of functions required by the original concept, most of the prototypes blew up due to stresses, but the latest models were far safer. Mostly because they were designed with just space combat and manoeuvrability in mind.
Anna cleared her throat again. "All right people; I want flight suits on and ready to launch in five minutes! Dismissed!"
Anna saluted, as did her squadron, and they got up, heading towards their fighters.
Anna saluted Nafiir, who nodded and clapped her on the arm. "Good luck Lieutenant. I'll be watching from the Bridge."
Anna nodded again, and then made her way to her Blade class Interceptor. She closed the door, and pulled off her jacket and trousers, pulling on a flight suit and zipping it up. She crossed the small space to her seat after stowing the clothes in the locker, and sat down flicking switches and starting the boot-up sequence of the engines. Her computer began to flicker and whine, but Anna put a stop to it by hitting it hard with her fist.
"Stupid bloody computers. Brand new and already they crash." She muttered as she ran through the engine warm ups and initiated the plasma drive, setting it to idle. She sat back and closed her eyes as the ship powered up around her. Sitting in the pilot's chair with nothing but your thoughts and the warmth of the engine ducts was truly relaxing. She sighed dreamily. This was life. Well, she amended, slightly guiltily, this, serious g-forces and being with Tel.
Nafiir's voice came over the comms, drawing her out of her reverie, and a pinging noise showed her the ship was ready for launch.
"Okay pilots; listen up. The Scaffold is deploying target drones. I want you to form up at the designated Military Parade point outside the Mothership and await orders from Commander Mai Somtaaw. Those of you familiar with Anna will know that her sister is very similar, and will not take any bullshit from any of you. Squadron command will be Anna herself, as you already know. You all know her and how she-"
"I'm sure we all remember the barfights, commander." Anna cut in. Nafiir and the rest of her squadron chuckled, and Anna blushed slightly.
"Hey! I never called that Sobani an asshole who couldn't handle his drink! He's the one that punched me, not the other way round!"
"I'm sure we'd all love to hear your bar stories, Lieutenant, but for now, let's concentrate at the mission at hand."
"Roger, Sir." Anna said, flicking her cockpit's HUD to the active position. Checking that drive plasma was sufficient and her armour levels were okay, she began to activate the control systems to full manual, and started prepping for release from the clamps.
"Before you move out, Lieutenant, you need to name your squadron." Nafiir chuckled. "Your honour."
Anna thought for a moment and then grinned. "Easy. Kuun-Lan. Purifying Flame. We're not to be messed with."
"Aye. Seems only fitting. Your fellow pilots may change, but as long as you're the squadron leader, that'll be your namesake. Good luck, Kuun-Lan 01st. You have clearance to launch."
"Roger sir." Anna replied and signalled her entire squadron. "Kuun-Lan squadron : Launch and form up!"
"Acknowledged, lieutenant." Was the reply from her squad, and the blades began to launch from the Mothership's main docking bay. Anna toggled her controls, and set the clamps off, marvelling at the smoothness with which the interceptor dealt with the commands.
The docking field took a hold of the ship and dragged it out to the edge of the hangar.
"All systems nominal." Anna reported. "Dock control, I am clear of docking field in three… two… one… clear!" Anna took a hold of the controls and began moving her interceptor to the designated formation.
"All systems green, command. This is the 01st Kuun-Lan Blade II squadron reporting for final test runs." Anna sent and grinned.
Time to show the sand-silver what these babies can do. she thought.