I sometime look upon the fading old suns that are the stars, stars that cast forth light even though they may be long dead when they reach our eyes, and I see them as old, tired friends. It is now, older and not wiser, that I look upon the vault of sapphire that is my sky, my roof, my cyanic prison, and wonder at the children bored by the stories of a tired old man and his Warhammer. The reporters and writers come. They want tales of glory. Stories of noble times, fables of the Voice War, legends of what it was to be the hunted, by both the now departed Devil's Fist or the Fringe Pirates, and I can only squint into the sun filled sky and try to make it all sound like it was not. I think they are polite to an old man. I tell them how God mocks me, how I can no longer fly, and all of the stars are lost to me, I only have this giant sun and it's blue paradise that promises so much, and leaves so little in it's wake, by night. Night is my friend. I can see space, then, the nebulas, the voice of galaxies and the rhymes of all those silver jewels, a vacuum hymn with the poetry of distant universes. But I am not mad at reporters, just like I am not mad at God. Old as I am, I have come to see the Deity as an old gambling partner, who wins often and drinks beer with me. He takes my money but at least I am not bored, and we can laugh at each other's jokes. I tell the reporters not what my head remembers, but what my heart recalls. I tell them of legends, of the academy, when I was but 17, in halls of shining admantium and faux consoles with HUD's gleaming like rubies. I paint it all with a varnish of nostalgia, I make it all sound so promising...and not frozen and black, with faces contorted from rad exposure, like the the ones we pulled out of Skarsik 10. Shall I tell you about it?
Wait, let me finish my first thought. I am old. My mind wanders. I do not mind that Old Gambler taking my life. I only wish he would leave me my memories and mental processes until I finally take that final jaunt. The long goodbye. My head lies. It is sad, I guess, and it filters all my memories to where even the worse bits are shiny and full of gold and glittering amaranthine stardust. I one time heard a reporter for TNN talk wistfully of living out of a Mako, selling all the money you have might have spent on food and instead putting it on a heavy laser or essential components, looking at a console like it was a rosary and praying to the Great Space God for one good run, one big pay off that will set you right. By the time I was 23 all of my old partners were dead. I look at old holos and wish... I listened to the reporter and looked upon a face who only remembers silver days of shining electrum dawns...of ships like Christmas ornaments against the promising jewels that are those long lost stars...those long lost stars that eclipse above me and tell me of wine and days of gossamer light. I drink sometimes and rage at them. I want to strangle them for all the dreams they promised me. I told the reporter...yes, it was just like that, but let me tell you... Here.
Look at this. It's a museum piece, now. See? The rivets upon it's aft? I took hits when I was in Phobos space...those laser burns criss crossing it's belly are from a run in near Madorian space. I was there, when Comerca fought Argentum at the Vault...or was it Phobos? Oh, the engines. I had those rebuilt fifteen times. Blood Pirates took my engines from me. I had named it the Reponse. Why, you ask? Those rails are old, now...as old as my pilot's suit. I should put my helmet in this museum. I should just sit there, on a small wooden stool, motionless, sipping my water and my scotch and not move, so young pilots can ignore me, like they do in the classroom...I laugh. Yes, this ship is mine. I donated it, one day, when I realized that space was not mine anymore, and than I was now consigned to this big grave called earth until I am ready for a smaller one. Here, let's sit inside. I can do that, you know. Rank has it's privileges. I see guards approach like mirthless vampires and I wave my IK Overlord Tags at them like it was a crucifix blessed by some pious archbishop and they flee, thanking me. The Hero. Shoo! Off with you! Ha ha. They leave.
I knew two people aboard Skarsik 10. Reponse and another man, who is revered, so I will give him another name. What is yours? Then that shall be his name. Milazzo. Italian. What is Italian? Never mind... I was 25. Skarsik 10 was the premier Rogue Trader vessel, Miles upon miles of admantium/derridium, of novacannon, Quasartz class missiles and flex shields. It was a Capitol Ship. Remember those? Of course, the micronization that technological advancement brings. Nothing is big, anymore. Well damn it, big ships have balls. Big iron balls. Not like those dainty Flinters I see so much of, shivering in space like chihuahas, quaking like greyhounds. Capitol Ships made you feel like Man could fold space up and put it in his pocket. I bought this Hammer there. They made it for me. How? How did I afford it? I killed a man. I was paid for killing him.
I found him in an asteroid field, chasing old radio communications. I opened with a laser
shot...I was in an Orion...you don't know what that is? It was a Galspan ship, pup, smaller
than this, like a Flinter...ha ha.
I had disguised my flight signals. It was illegal, Star Patrol would arrest you for that, but
you could do it with a screwdriver. Now you need a Ph.D and a micro particle accelerator. Ha
He was is a peg...a Pegasus...you know that? Good. He was a god. Like Hermes or Balder. I have
never seen such a display. We fought for a long time, three minutes...oh! You think it's
longer, like in those action vids! Your naivette make's me feel young, Milazzo.
I tried to circle him, to overwhelm him at close range, and he slipped free, his lasers were
burst of prismatic light, and if energy had been frozen solid and then burst into slender
spikes of destruction. There is a feeling in your bowels like frozen water when your shields
are gone...you expect the Rail shot at any moment.
He was good. Better than me. He should have lived. But God took his life instead. He killed the
artist and left the charlatan alive. The bastard.
He was a sliver of titanium in space, his engines thundering like neon green and silver burning
conflagrations, propelling him at speeds that only pilots know and civilians can only dream of.
He paced me, keeping up a constant hail, and I fired back, carefully, my mind on my blast
I imagine him in his cockpit, watching me flip and arc, a bullfrog flopping across the desert
that was the vacuum. He picked his shots carefully whilst I fired erratically, I had hit him
once, his shields a flash of lightning, a shade appearing and then whishping away, and he
transferred energy and hit me back, like a hammers shatters the crystalline shell of some shiny
princess's bauble, my shields torn away.
I may have hit him once, he was moving in for the kill, he had me, I was dead, my limbs frozen
as if my limbs were filled with formaldehyde-
-and he latted into an asteroid.
The Old Jokester put it there, millions of years ago. He impacted upon it, rolling, a steel peregrine above a cyanic sea, he still moved erratically, a poet with a pilot's instinct. But I had blast torpedoes and he did not. They floated upon him, like Furies, and he weaved and afterburned like a seraphim and they caught him.
I was paid enough to buy a Warhammer and ended up aboard Skarsik 10.
Reponse avoided pilots. She had skin like soap, pure and fresh...she didn't look fashionable or synthetic like girls look these days...artificial...generic.
She had skin like milk and I loved her hair. It was a golden red, like fire, like a solar flare arcing from some star, miles across space and back again. I met her and she told me of where she grew up. In New York. Her father, I knew from rumor, was a commander. On this ship. He was out on a mission of sorts.
I do not know why she loved me. My persistance? I still had fire in my blood. Emotion flames the veins and makes your heart a fist of radium when you are young, clenched and foreboding, like a Titan. Like Capitol Ships. It gives you big iron balls...ha ha! Skarsik 10 was close to Madorian space, before the truce, before the Vault Incursion. She was lonely, I suppose. A rich girl. brought out by a rich father and here, in space, tutored by private doctorates and given the finest in nanotechnological enhancement. She could drive a nail into a sheet of bedrock with her little finger. We talked about Weeger and Bach, about the Skashere and politics. I played her father's piano. It was a glossy white, constructed from clone wood. I took her out once in this ship. She sat where you do now. She had never been this far into space. I was a fool...the Madorians could have attacked us, after all, and she was a civilian. But the suns look different, out this far into the void. You are naked to them...you trust them. You stand before them, innocent and wide eyed, and they bask you in electrum rays and silver luminescence and reward you. Her features were laughing, I had made her laugh. That night, it had been a month...I had been with her for a month. I had to be stationed at the Vault, light years away. But we still had the night. We drank deep of each other, young man.
Then, she was naked, and she was talking on the comm. Then she was on the floor, crying, crying. Her father had died. They had found debris and identified it. She told me his name, and she quaked and I felt helpless and I heard the Old Gambler laugh, the bastard. She shook, helpless, and I could do nothing while my love suffered, while I suffered.
A week later the Vault was attacked, and we rode the corona of the Carpathian's Tach field into Phobos space.
My wing was killed quickly. They were refitted, armed and heavily shielded. I had come upon three. I remember long lines of swarms coming upon me. My shields battered by killing physics. A missile klaxon creates a sensation of morbid fear that no pilot shakes off. You are eating, and then the accursed Barghestian howl is heard and your stomach becomes a block of ice. Your spoon becomes dense matter, and your balls freeze. It is the sound of Death. I killed the one with quad torps. Pure luck. The other destroyed my power array with a volley of swarms and lasers. In my mind he is there, and I am flipping and turning, I am latting, my blood jackhammering. My torps catch his side and then I rail him. He becomes a steel corpse in space, bleeding torrents of fire...
The other raced about me. He was good, too. He kept his distance, hitting me twice for my once. He could have left me floundering, my shields gone, my grid array in tatters, my afterburner reserve long depleted. But he was a lion, the Madorian, a matador and I the bull. He waited patiently for his kill, heedless, and then my console went up in a coruscation of sparks and metal, almost took my left hand off, my blood hit the windshield, and like rampalago a line of light crossed upon him, like a bolt of scarlet and yellow, my railshot, and he died, no fire, no spark of explosion, just the sudden drifting, dead, the pilot inside spaced.
Skarsik 10 was destroyed shortly thereafter. Several Madorain Carrier/Interceptors set upon it, along with a few wings. They fought well, I am sure, but the carcass of the once proud Capitol Ship was found floating in the nearby asteroid field that I well recognized. I was permitted to go in my space suit and sift through the ruins. I insisted. I found her, in her room, in the griseous blackness. The light cut lines across the room, across the piano, floating weightless, the black blood spattered weightless across my suit. She was dead, all of her joy and life gone. She was frozen. It was a nightmare, a nightmare. She was like glass, like ice, delicate as her beauty, and stupidly I tried to hold her and weep pathetically and she broke to pieces and there was nothing left. She was a celebrated artist, I later heard. The only daughter of a fighter-ace and officer. He had been one of the greatest Pegasus pilots of all time, they told me. His name?
Milazzo, I must call him. Milazzo...