Black Horizon – The Ominous Birds of Yore

“Mining installation Banks Prospect located, sir,” announced  Dillon Reade, navigation officer aboard the Federal Corvette, Nevermore.

With a length of over one hundred and fifty metres, these spearhead shaped vessels were built primarily as escort warships, designed with the defense of much larger Farragut class battle cruisers in mind. A formidable craft in its own right, the Nevermore was heavily armed, and equally well armoured. It currently sat in the orbit of Paipai 1,  in a system merely one hundred or so light years distant from the Federation capital of Sol, hanging in the night sky over the drab and featureless planet. She was not, however, on a mission of war at this time.

“Thank you Mr. Reade. I’m taking us in towards your co-ordinates. Keep your eyes open for any unresolved blips. I have a feeling it wont be long before someone begins to asks questions.” replied Fleet Commander Ginova who sat at the helm.

Reade acknowledged Ginova’s order and began deep scans of the surface. As the ship began to accelerate towards the planet, data feedback filled Reade’s holographic screen. Paipai 1 was a small terrestrial rock with a circumference of little more than three thousand kilometres. High concentrations of iron oxide among other common and valuable elements gave it the distinctive reddish brown colour shared by countless other celestial bodies throughout the galaxy. The surface and the area of orbit belonged to the Coalition of Paipai, a Federally backed group with a major interest in making credits from the abundant minerals found below the surface. Banks Prospect was the sole mining facility on Paipai 1 and had been constructed to do exactly that.

Arkan Ginova slowly maneuvered the nose of the Nevermore towards the ground, setting a flight path directly towards the building. Stars filled the area above the horizon, twinkling like gemstones frozen in a sea of black. To anyone else, the sight might have been jaw dropping, but Arkan had been flying for so long, the novelty had worn off. Eighty years of piloting ships for the Ravens had rendered him numb to the beauty of space. He was however, despite his age, still one of the most skilled star ship commanders among their ranks and there were no signs of these abilities diminishing. Ginova was not a highly decorated man, nor were his past endeavours celebrated on galactic news channels. He was not among the many almost celebrity military officers among the Federal, Imperial or Alliance fleets. Arkan Ginova was a Raven, and the Ravens appraised their own.

Shizuko Vangelos, weapons specialist and Ginova’s second in command sat to the left of him in the cockpit of the Nevermore. Another long standing and highly ranked member of the Raven’s Scouts, Vangelos had become both a trusted comrade and personal friend of Ginova. The two had served together under the Raven banner for more than five decades, and Vangelos was highly respected by the more junior pilots. Her appearance defied her age; perhaps to a stranger she might have looked to be in her mid forties,. She was fit, healthy and not unattractive.  She brushed a few strands of dark hair from her eyes before turning to face Ginova.

“Are you sure about this, Arkan? she inquired, “Don’t you think we are a little premature in our intel gathering? The last thing we want is to have the Coalition’s back up before we even have a foothold in Paipai.”

Ginova spun around to face her. A shaft of golden light from the sun illuminated her face in the darkness of the cockpit,  and Arkan noted how anxious his comrade was. Not only about their current position, but what the future held for the Ravens.

“We can never be sure about anything, Shizuko,” he said, “but the quicker we learn about this system, the parties that lay claim to it and the possible acquisitions in store for us the better. The expansion plans have already begun. It is too late to turn back now and time is of the essence. Thank you for your consultation though, it is good that you still question my decisions.”

Shizuko had been against expanding beyond their home turf since Ginova had first brought up the idea. The Ravens had never been an openly aggressive group and for many years kept themselves to themselves. They were opportunists; watching and observing the actions of other parties in and around local sectors whilst artfully manipulating every favourable circumstance in order to increase their power and influence within their home system. In the beginning, the Ravens formed by the Federation as a salvaging and exploratory crew to scout locations near Sol that held high volumes of what were known as ‘ship graveyards’.  During the early human expansion from Sol, many pilots lost their vessels through various encounters with pirates or were destroyed in dire ship malfunctions. Some of these spacecraft still contained valuable commodities as well as data packets containing secrets that were perhaps considered gone forever.  Later events led to group splintering away from their roots and becoming a small independent faction in their own right, eventually laying claim to their own system in which they quickly set up commercial stations and mining outposts while sustaining themselves with their own agricultural endeavours on the surface of their adopted home planet. The Ravens were not a war like or expansionist party. Until now.

“You should know me well enough by now to know that I would never question your orders, Arkan. I just think we may be getting ahead of ourselves here. Our presence in Paipai has only just reached the news networks and though we have stated that our intentions are in no way hostile and well within the law, there may be some who wont see it that way. In many ways, citizens of the galaxy still have that frontier mentality. People are territorial and doubly so when one of the superpowers are involved. I am simply suggesting that we be careful.”

“Your concern is duly noted Shizuko. A quick flyover of Banks Prospect to allow Reade’s mapping software to gather data and we will move further into the system. The other planets also look particularly interesting,” answered Ginova, turning to peer out of the forward port. The facility grew as the Nevermore vectored down towards it and filled the viewport. At around five hundred kilometres above the installation, Arkan cut the engines and allowed the ship to glide directly over Bank’s Prospect before finally coming to a full stop. Ground vehicles could be seen clearly around the perimeter on their routine patrols and Arkan counted at least ten surface to air missile emplacements dotted about in strategic locations surrounding the building. He wondered why a mining outpost this small would place such high importance on its defence. “Please commence your scans, Reade. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we leave. I’ll keep the Nevermore above the customary restriction zone, though I have no doubt that the ground based personnel already know we are here.”

“Yes, sir. Initialising cartographic sweep now.” said Dillon, swiping his fingers over the terminal with practiced dexterity. The computer began to record the location of every building and outpost within a five kilometre radius of the base. “Complete scan of the area should take no longer than five standard minutes.”

“Thank you, Mr Reade. Let me know as soon as you’re done. This place is depressing. Kind of reminds me of…”

“Sir, receiving transmission from Banks Prospect. They are requesting ID protocols,” interjected Shizuko.

“Open comms with the base,” said Ginova, straightening in his chair.

“Corvette FVU-65, identify yourself,” came the message.

“This is Commander Arkan Ginova of the Corvette, Nevermore. If we are trespassing, we apologize.”

“This is a secure facility, Nevermore. State your business.”

Arkan figured that Reade would only require another two or three minutes to finish the sweep of the area. The data had to be collected therefore he made the decision to stall for time. The installation was defended well enough to damage the Corvette if they were not careful. Despite the Nevermore’s superior firepower, Ginova didn’t want to risk the substantial repair bill nor the political ramifications that may arise from open conflict with the Coalition of Paipai and it’s Federation allies.

“We are conducting research into the geological features of planets in this system,” he lied. We assure you that your operations here are of no concern to us, and we once again apologize for any infringement…”

“You have sixty seconds to leave this jurisdiction Commander.  We will open fire upon your vessel should you choose not to comply. Be aware that this facility is owned by the Federal Coalition of Paipai. Your ID does not match any of the ships in our company records. Defense systems are now activated. Leave now. “

Arkan squinted and wondered what exactly the Coalition were up to here on Paipai 1. The amount of missile silos that were trained on the Nevermore were disproportionate to the needs of a simple mining colony. There was something going on within Banks Prospect that the Coalition wanted to keep under wraps.

As he stroked his greying beard in contemplation, Dillon interrupted, “Sir, we have a missile alert! We are under attack!”

“Acknowledged, Reade. Shizuko, deploy all hardpoints. Rerouting power to shields and weapons. Fire on all hostiles.” said Ginova, calmly.

Shizuko, surprised at this order, turned her seat around towards the forward flight seat where Ginova was, but he remained focused on the viewport. “I hope you know what you are doing, Arkan,” she said, “We shouldnt be firing on civilians. They don’t have a chance against us.”

“These are not civilians and we are simply defending ourselves. Do not make me repeat my order.” Ginova replied sternly.

Shizuko sighed heavily but carried out the instructions nonetheless.

“Both plasma accelerators deployed,” she reported. “Targets acquired.  Forward multi-cannons deployed and firing on moving hostiles. Beam lasers tracking the Sentries.” she reported.

Suddenly the ship rocked as an several explosions erupted beneath it. The lower hull was under fire. Arkan glanced at the shielding levels. The first two impacts had reduced them by at least thirty percent. Something was hitting them, and hitting them hard.

“Shizuko. Can you find the source of that missile barrage? We can’t keep taking hits like this.”

“Goliath dead ahead. It’s reloading as we speak.” she responded quickly.

The Core Dynamics Goliath S9 was a ground skimmer particularly well suited to defense against airborne enemies. It’s surface to air missile turrets and well armoured hull made it a minor threat to the Corvette. Fortunately for Ginova, the Nevermore was well equipped to deal with it. Bringing the ship about, he deftly positioned the nose so that the skimmer was central on the HUD. The twin plasma accelerators were fully charged and Ginova clenched his teeth as he pulled the triggers. Two giant pulses of purple light flew from the cannons and reached the Goliath in less than three seconds. The skimmer exploded in a shower of sparks and pieces of it rained down in flames around the base.

“Target destroyed,” he said, “Seems it was the only one. Concentrate fire on the Sentries. For some reason the defense turrets are not firing on us. Perhaps they have malfunctioned.”

Within five minutes Banks Prospect was deathly quiet. All mobile targets had been annihilated by the heavy guns of the Corvette. The three Ravens in the cockpit sat in silence for a moment or two before the quiet was broken.

“Scans complete, sir. Data collected.” said Reade.

“Acknowledged, Dillon. Nice work.  Time to fly back to the nest for repairs,” answered  Ginova.

Damage to the Nevermore’s hull was minimal and would be quickly and easily repaired, but the consequences of what just occurred on the surface of the small rock would be much longer lasting. Arkan wasn’t sure why the base itself didn’t open fire on the ship, but the job was complete. Further casualties would not be necessary. Something wasn’t right here on Paipai 1, but Arkan knew that it would not be long before the Coalition of Paipai discovered that the Ravens had landed.

How they would respond was anyone’s guess.

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