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Zeroth
Chapter 1: Out of the frying pan...


Horizon Point Station, Cerol
Cerol System, UEE Controlled Space



Horizon Point Station, part imperial shipyard, part frontier trading post, throw in a few 'navy' bars, and a sprinkle of rustic charm and you had a recipe for... whatever this was. While it wasn't quite a backwater but one could hardly call Horizon Point a thriving center of commerce. While technically a civilian station, since it was seated above the only inhabited planet in the Cerol system, Horizon Point served as one of the UEE's forward operating bases, set a few systems deep into the FEZ/No man's land that the UEE and Coalition were currently fighting over, a point of egress between the frontlines and the UEE's more fortified colonial systems.

As a result, it saw plenty of UEE traffic, and the station's economy ended up growing to suit its military centric clientele. A hodgepodge of services both legal and illicit to provide for the tired and ailing soldier quickly cropped up, and it was often said that an enterprising soldier could find most anything he could need here. Shuttles and freighters laden with supplies zipped back and forth between the station and the surface, bringing supplies to ships docked to its shipyard arms, as wings of fighters and MAS units flew on regular patrols. Several fleets floated in close proximity to the planet, some preparing to leave, others returning from the front lines for much needed repairs.

Among the returning fleets was the Fifth Imperial Expeditionary Fleet, or the 'Fighting Fifths' as the men and women of the fleet often called themselves. Having just returned two weeks prior from heavy conflict within the Ilyan System, fending off a Coalition attempt to establish yet another foothold into UEE space, the majority of the Fifth fleet was undergoing repairs, with several smaller ships being built from the ground up to replace fleet losses. Transports shuttled back and forth through the ships of the Fifth Fleet, delivering supplies and transporting personnel. Shuttles bearing the black and gold stripes of the 101st Legion flew from the the surface of Cerol to several of the fleet's capital ships, as they dropped off new pilots and MAS's to replace the fleet's losses during its previous operations. The majority of the Fifth Fleet and its crew were set to be rotated off the frontlines- moving into a reserve and training role as new pilots and crew needed to be inducted into their specific roles and brought up to speed.


Horizon Point Station
Communications Hub

From view on Horizon Point, the planet below looked blue and peaceful, beautiful even. The thick layer of fluffy white clouds almost managed to cover the cratered, scarred, and war torn surface of the planet below. Cerol had been fought over and nearly destroyed half a dozen times over the course of the war, its resources raided and razed, but from up here, one could almost ignore the destruction down below.

"Lieutenant Barret!" called out a voice, young, clear and bright. Looking up, Barret saw a fresh faced young man- almost a boy- approaching him. His face was full of youthful enthusiasm and his dress uniform crisp and freshly pressed, the shiny silver bar on his shoulder marking him as an Ensign in the Imperial Navy. The nametag on his chest denoted him as a man named Sika.

"Did you hear anything about our orders?" Sika asked.

"Nope, nothing's changed since the last time you asked, 15 minutes ago." Barret replied with a shrug as he began walking off, motioning for the young ensign to follow him.

"Its a relief though, this has been a long time coming." Barret said with a relaxed sigh, as the two made their down well populated halls of Horizon Point. "We won't get another chance like this, not for a long time."

A pair of Imperial soldiers met the two officers at the airlock door that led them into the station's UEE branch of the communication hub, the Empire's own personal communications center for military use on the otherwise civilian station.

"C'mon Sika, keep up." Barret called out towards the lagging Ensign. "We're still on the clock."



Onboard the INS Roanoke
Ares-Class Light Carrier
Universal Earth Calendar Date: November 1, 2723
Local time: 0730


The hangar bay of INS Roanoke was abuzz with a quiet commotion. Just outside the ship, the muffled rumble of heavy duty torches could be heard as whole plates of damaged armor was repaired or replaced. Inside, engineers and technicians were walking around making repairs and adjustments to the MAS's and the interior of the ship, working in seemingly tireless shifts as they brought the Roanoke back to full strength. Despite this, the attitude within the hangar was light, lax even, as crew chatted about, eager to finish up shift and cash in their leave passes for a trip to Horizon Point station proper.

The presence of the full engineering team out in force didn't make conditions of the already crampt hangar any more comfortable for the pilots of the 7th MAS Squadron, but they had managed to eke themselves a little circle in one of the emptied MAS bays in the hangar. Sectioned off with a small collection of spare crates the remaining pilots of the 7th Squadron were idling away their last few moments of an admittedly relaxed morning drill. The Roanoke was set to have a new shipment of crew and pilots to restock the ship's losses, and the 7th were standing by to roll out the welcome mat before they began training and orientation. Brit and Sokolov sat cross legged in the center of their little circle playing cards with a few others- gambling for spare rations, trinkets, passes, favors, and whatever else they felt had some sort of tangible value.

Ingram sat on a crate towards the edge of their little gathering, nursing a steel thermos of coffee in his hands. It tasted like shit, and whoever had brewed the coffee this time around had put too much water into the pot, watering down the already piss poor tasting roast. At the very least it was warm, he could feel the heat radiating through his work gloves. The 7th squadron had been pulling rough assignments for the past few months, so the idea of finally being shifted off the front lines had Ingram in a rather celebratory mood. At least for the moment, he relaxed the regulations on pretty much anything the squadron did- not that it was entirely unexpected. Damn near everyone, Ingram included was itching to get off the fucking Roanoke and onto solid, dry land- or at the very least solid, stable orbiting, station steel. The squadron had an easy schedule for the day, and Ingram didn't feel like being the one to rock the boat. At least not this time anyway.

"'Ay Boss." called Brit, in his characteristic cockney drawl, finally taking his eyes off his card game as Sokolov threw his head back and grabbed at his hair in defeat. "If we're calling drill early, what do ya say about letting us off the hook for orientations too?"

Ingram shook his head in response, "As much as I'd love to, unfortunately that's a no-can-do." he replied. "We've got new pilots being flown in, so everyone needs to know what's what."

"Ah Come on boss, that's no fun. We're here for a whole 'nother week, what's waiting a day or five on orientation going to do?" Brit pestered on, winning another trinket from Sokolov, who seemed to be growing increasingly short on goods and increasingly high in desperation.

"Exactly, we'll be here all week" Ingram agreed, "So you'll have plenty of time to get sloshed with the rest of the crew. After, orientation. Besides, orientation takes all of half an hour, how much are you really missing on that station?"

Brit rolled his eyes and groaned, but didn't protest further, instead settling on scamming Sokoklov out of yet another leave pass.
Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Yam I Am
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Yam I Am Gorgenmast Did Nothing Wrong

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She looked over at the holophone, just waiting for the tone to return to that familiar voice. Her feet were kicked back up on the table, relaxed in tandem with her leaned-back frame as she lazed about the commons chair. Just behind her, the pulsating, infectiously catchy beats of electro-funk hummed through the vicinity. Lucina couldn't really stand the stuff normally. But, she cracked open the second can of grapefruit seltzer, nestling the can open with only one hand, and popped it open with just a switch of her finger. She even caught the tab on the nail of her middle finger, and flung it before her as she watched it whistle like a fighter in takeoff.

The redhead narrowed her eyes as the resonantly ringing circle of the call rung and rung, each time her brow crunching a bit harder after every spin, until her emerald eyes squinted themselves out of existence and right into a sigh of annoyance. Her head was thrown back, her whole mass of hair flinging up like a blast of wind in photographs, until it fell right unto the back of her chair, and Lucina's proper face was left uninterrupted: That natural face was her throwing back more than a sip, more than a swig, and plenty more than a swash of her drink, but was her swaying half the can in one gulp.

But finally, interruption came, and Lucina glued her eyes back unto the screen. The patient ring was cut off by the two-bit chime of the phone's answering jingle, and only mere moments after came the sound Lucina came to hear.


"Heyyyy bitch." Ah, and there it was, impeccable in her diction, as always.

"'Sup gorgeous." Lucina chimed. She cracked a smile, taking another sip from her seltzer.

There was a noticeable pause in the response. Just a beat, but too long to be interference. Lucina knew from just the few moments in between that Tori was giving one of her signature half-hearted, half-shoulder shrugs just over the other side of the phone.


"Just on that grind." Even the apathy was dripping from her voice.

"I feel that." She took another sip, just as she heard giggling over the other end of the phone, and Lucina couldn't help but smile in turn.

"Are you throwing one back already?"

Lucina's grin only got deeper.

"You fuckin' know it."

"Livin' the real CO experience!" Tori chuckled back, "You're not a real pilot until you're always drinkin' on the job."

"Yeah, I got an Aquaback I fill up with cranny vodka for PT rucks, too."

"That's my girl."

Another call rung through over the holophone. Lucina's emeralds glared over, checking the tiny status message in the corner of the screen as it flashed and hummed over their conversation. And with equally impeccable timing, it was her mother. Always the first one to call, and always the last person that Lucina wanted to talk to.

"Ugh, fuck...Can I take this?"

"Oh, another call on the line?" Tori inquired. Lucina tapped a few of the holo-buttons, bringing up the all-so-familiar profile up again. Her unbemused eyebrows barely raised - certainly not in any display of impression.

"Yeah, it's my mom again." she groaned. The pilot could almost feel the heaving groan Tori produced a system over.

"Yeah, better take that one..." Tori agreed. A beat passed, a tiny breath all that could be heard amidst the residual ringing of a held call.

"Hey, we still on for leave?"

"Yeah, def." Lucina confirmed.

"Awesomesauce. I still got those vouchers for Vancey's."

"Poggers~." she chirped back. Lucina had been wanting to see Skylar's Skybox live for years now. They fit the angsty, noxiously teenage pop-punk niche from the N all the way through to the E.

A flip of her hair back once more signaled the start of her mental preparation, a small ceremony she needed for every time she talked. The next course of action, of course, was another sip of her seltzer.


"Alright, cool. Can I call you back a bit later?"

"Yeah, that's ok. I gotta go do PT soon, anyway...guess i'll catch you later, Lucy." Tori knew how much she hated the name "Lucy". Lucina could picture her shit-eating grin she'd produce proudly upon her physiognamy over the phone, that one with the mile-wide grin and the toothy smile. Her only regret was that the ship didn't have the bandwidth to turn on holocall so she could meet it with her own wide-toothed grin. The transaction would have to suffice with Lucina's heavy sigh.

"Talk to you later, gorgeous."

"Seeeya!" A one-tone click confirmed the end of Tori's line. Lucina rigorously tapped on her holoscreen, preemptively tapping the exact location she was expecting the pop-up box to appear. It zoomed right into being after Lucina's barrage of flurried taps, and where would have been a grating survey on rating call quality was just as annoyingly dismissed.

Each time her mother called, Lucina had to shake around her head, just to ensure that she would remain awake and alert enough to, bar anything else, at least present herself as in some reasonably sober state. Judging from her mother's continued insistence upon calling her whenever a seemingly spare moment cropped up, the act had either worked like a charm...or - if Lucina's hunch was right - the truth of the matter was that she frankly no longer cared enough about her daughter's sobriety whenever the two talked. Even so, the act of effort might be a good enough one to provide some mascara of decorum between the two, no matter Lucina's wish to cast most of it off. She swung the holo-switch right, flashing the screen green as the telephone icon popped to life.


"Allo?" The whole time, Lucina sprung upright, keeping her voice straight as she adjusted her posture. She had to do her best "sober voice" for mother dearest, after all. This was a modest improvement, at least. Lucina did the math, actually: On average, she had a BAC of 0.14% whenever she was talking to her mom over the phone.

"Bună, Lucina!" (Hi, Lucina!)

"Bună, mama..." (Hi, mom...) At least in Romanian, Lucina could pretend to hide her clear distaste just a tiny bit better. Just a bit better. Maybe not enough for anyone who had been listening to her the whole time, but perhaps just enough to muddle her annoyance with just tiredness.

"Cum ai fost? Este totul în regulă?" (How have you been? Is everything okay?)

"Da, lucrurile stau bine, cred." (Yeah, things have been okay, I guess.) Lucina grudged along.

"Când te vei întoarce la facultate?" (When are you going back to college?) she pestered.

"Destul de curând..." (Pretty soon...) Lucina lied. Truth be told, Lucina wasn't sure if there was a college left in the galaxy who would take her after she flunked out of Intro to Communication three times in a row. And that was the class you took when you wanted to broadcast the fact that you went to college to party.

"Când lucrurile arată bine. Am ajuns destul de departe în programul din MAS, așa că vreau să văd unde merge acest lucru. De fapt, sunt pregătit pentru o promoție." (When things look good. I've come pretty far in the MAS program, so I kinda wanna see how this turns out. I'm up for a promotion soon, actually.)

Oh, that had done it. Bitter. That's what the silence was: Just bitter, emboldened defiance against all that she had said and done. She'd lived with her for years, and everywhere you go, with everyone you talk to, one will quickly learn the ancient wisdom that Latin momthers were always the same: There were just certain things you just never told your mom, whether you were Italian, Hispanic, French, Romanian, whatever, whenever. One simply never doubted the authority and infinite wisdom of their own mother.

"Dar nu poți face asta pentru totdeauna!" (But you can't do that forever!)

"Oh, iată-ne din nou..." And, she was off...

"Ce crezi că vei face când vei fi bătrân și nu mai poți pilota?" (What do you think you're going to do when you get old and you can't pilot anymore?)

Lucina groaned in response. Her eyes rolled to the side.

"Haide, Lucina ... te rog să nu fii ca tatăl tău. Trebuie să te gândești la viitorul tău." (Come on, Lucina...please, don't be like your father. You have to think about your future.)

An eye roll was the hard-earned reward of her mother's lecture. The former brunette had the entire routine down to a side show at the circus with the sheer frequency at which she had heard this exact comparison by this point. Bar no circumstance, the tirade always began with college, or education in that capacity, at which it would inevitably boil down to some manner of comparison with someone else. Her dad or her friends from high school - none of whom she could remember and all of whom she had miraculously spent the past three years scrubbing all memories of which from her immediate mind - were always favorite topics. If her mother had felt particularly poignant that day, she might bring up one of her too-many half-brothers or half-sisters, whom she would never refuse to comment on their most recent successes by which Lucina didn't care to know of. There were three parts to her mom guilt-tripping Lucina: And none of them worked.

"I mean, yeah. I went to college for three semesters to basically tell everybody that i'm a dumb bitch. But my future's lookin' good."

Lucina sighed back. Her hair fell right back into its natural, obscuring spot as she shook her head.

"Look, i'll send over some more money tonight." she answered, the wary acridness in her voice clear that she was no longer content to avoid the reason her mother called.

"Nu mai încerca să schimbi conversația, știi că nu este vorba de bani. Și de ce vorbești engleza?" (Stop trying to change the conversation, you know this isn't about money. And why are you speaking English?)

She felt her mother's long, wary sigh through the minute pause over the phone coursing through her like a gust of wind across an empty summer field. It wasn't even embarrassing or guilty. It was just awkward. Awkward and really weird. Lucina fumblingly rolled her eyes around the common room, as if scanning over for a hidden message written along the walls, even if she had suspected such an epistle was likely to read, "Be nice" or, "Do good", or some equally cryptic-and-not-at-all-helpful fortune cookie.

"Știi că vreau doar ce e mai bun pentru tine." (You know I just want to see you happy.)

"Da...stiu." (Yeah...I know.)

Truth be told, Lucina was never sure if she was living her very best life here, or if she was just so used to living a life of perpetual suck that there were never any cherished, "Good Old Days": Just times when things sucked just a little bit less. For whatever it may have been worth with Lucina's plethora of sorority girl wisdom, her time in the 101st had been the least terrible things had been in years. But, she digressed.

"Eu, uh...cred că trebuie să merg la PT." (I, uh...think I have to go to drill.) the pilot excused. In her other hand, she gently whirled around the near-weightless can, feeling for any vibration or reverberation. Just a tiny slosh clinked against the side, the gentle pulse ringing through her fingertips. Barely even enough left for a sip.

"Ok. Te sun mai târziu." (Okay. I'll call you again later.)

"Eu te iubesc, Lucina." (I love you, Lucina.)

"Te iubesc, mama." (Love you too, mom.)

Lucina neatly plinked the now-empty seltzer can onto the table, forming its neat trifecta with the other empty cans as the familiar "Call Ended" message cropped up on the screen. There wasn't much action this time around, Lucina simply responding to the call quality survey with an annoyed glower. Returning from a relaxed posture, Lucina at long last sat up in the chair as it was intended, slowly coming to with the empty commons. At least, anytime she needed a good sobering, she could count on her mom to kill her buzz.

Her head tilted over at the clock display, faintly glowing a muted neon green from her datapad. Drill wouldn't start for another few minutes, yet Lucina wasn't going to jeopardize drill too much by killing another can within the hour. Rising from her chair, the pilot lazily put on her signature earphones - the gigantic ones, with the insulated earmuffs that could block out the noise from point-blank gunshots and puffed out from your ears like they were enormous alien antennae from corny old sci-fi movies. A swipe and two across her datapad shuffled her playlist, and as she began the march down to daily drill, she drowned out the thoughts of her mother with the contagiously catchy tunes of Skylar's Skybox.
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Stitches
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Stitches

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«You ffffucking ape! You absolute idiot!»

Two of the three Savionians of the Seventh were out on Horizon Point, truly living up to the prestigious expectations of their squad's reputation; a ratty little blonde thing in a rapidly dampening jumpsuit had her hand over the pressurised jet of water bursting out of a drinking fountain that was partially bent away from the wall. As she clumsily tried to alleviate the situation, a bulky behemoth of a man stood silently a few paces away from the splash zone and watched. They spoke in Savonian; a difficult language to master at the best of times, were it not spoken by a foreigner and a northerner with strong and vastly different dialects between them. «I know your speciality is property damage but you're supposed to do this to the Coalition water fountains! Not the--ackpphfhphphf--the fucking pit stop on our way home!» the girl shouted and reared back as a more powerful stream of water clocked her square in the jaw, soaking her hair.

The bulkier man was at a loss. He stared at the water fountain in disbelief as he tried to figure out how to stop the endless stream of drinking water from soaking up more of the tiles. «Just leave it! Ever heard of walking away?»

«Even if I did humour the notion, don't you think there's security cameras in every possible inch of the station? We made the mess, we clean it up! Simple as!» Abigail snapped back as she used her shoulder to shunt the water fountain upright against the wall. The water burbled out of the edges. «Maybe... maybe we grab an engineer? Maybe we should go grab Dieuseul? Can Dieuseul fix a water fountain?»

«This is their fault in the first place! You think they know how to fix this if they can’t even get it to work?!» he grunted as he finally helped her with the heavy lifting, stuffing the busted water fountain back into whatever socket he had 'accidentally' ripped it out of.
«There! Now leave it for the janitors to mop up!»

«If you just used the button like a normal person, then...» Abigail sighed. She was sopping wet. «Let's just…get something warm in us before we head back,» she suggested.

Horizon Point didn't have the most luxurious of gastronomic venues out in its food court but a diner called Tommy's had become a regular haunt for their generous portion sizes and simple but delicious recipes. There was also an air of discretion in the diner. They respected the stripes of the 101st to the point where they didn't ask questions, not even when Abigail squelched as she crossed the threshold and sat down. She ordered herself a coffee and a burger with extra fries. Jakunta only ordered a coffee.

«What will you do with your time off?» Jakunta asked, gently cupping his mug as he stared at the girl.

«The usual! Victory tour, talking with kids, celebrating...» Abigail flashed a hollow smile and leant back in her chair. «Ain't easy being a hero, after all.»

«If it ain’t the job it’s going to be you that does you in.»

«And what do you mean by that?» Abigail was half listening; the food arrived but the burger had enough stopping power to keep her quiet, for now.

«Means you need to find a better way of utilising your holidays. You ever heard of R n’ R?»

«I thought that counts as R & R,» Abigail responded blandly. Her expression was blank and not at all excited at the prospect of going home but she hid her discomfort behind a burger.

«Learn to breathe, would you?» he raised his mug, slurping it. «Come to the cabin on one of these breaks. Nice change of pace.»

«You sure? It's... your place. Y'know. Not for other people.» Abigail squirmed, looking sheepishly at the pile of cooling fries as she guzzled her coffee.

«I’m offering it to you. Not your troupé.» he took another sip of his coffee, licking at his moustache right after with both hands still clasping the mug.

Abigail picked at her fries. «So...I can go now, then? We could just go as soon as we're on leave? And you don't care about it getting untidy with me around?»

«There’s some basic rules you’d have to follow.» he nodded, lowering his mug and resting the back of his palm on the table, counting starting with his thumb: «One. No talk between the hours of five and eight in the morning. Two. We hunt our own food.»

Abigail snickered. «Why five and eight in particular?»

«Because usually there’s zero talking. It’s the only compromise I can think of for someone like you.» he raised to stroke some of his whiskers out of the way for another sip of his coffee.

Abigail smiled at her plate. «Okay. Yeah. I'd... I'd like that. Let's do that.»

It was quiet for a little while. Only the sound of cutlery and general murmur of chatter interspersed the silence.

«Okay no but we definitely need to get that fountain fixed.»

«Will you quit talking about the fountain?»

«I am - quite literally - walking around red-handed here.»

Jakunta rubbed his face with his hand wearily.

In around ten minutes, the west wing of the station had a large puddle and the two Savionians walked (or, in Abigail's case, squelched) back to the Roanoke and peeked their heads into the hangar bay. Jakunta had left to get a drink of water, Abigail followed, and now they came back after a significant amount of time and Abigail was still unpleasantly damp with wet hair. Her eyes lighted upon Dieuseul and a familiar, awful, chipper gaptooth grin crept on her face. "Bobbert," she greeted him. Jakunta loomed behind her like a big hairy shadow. "Out of curiosity, what's your take on...general maintenance of infrastructure? Specifically, there's -" she gesticulated vaguely with her hands, "- a slight leak in the west wing that may, or may not, be attributed to the Seventh."

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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Hawthorne
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Hawthorne Mageknight

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Sweat dripped from Robert's brow as he held his arm steady, the plasmacutter docked in his prosthetic shining bright as he used its low-power mode to help weld some hull plates back onto the ship proper. Light bounced off his welding mask as he did his work. Strictly speaking, as a member of the 101st, he wasn't a part of the noncombatant engineering crew. And yet, here he was, lending them a hand.

In both a literal and figurative sense.

The INS Roanoke and some of the mechs within needed repairs, and the engineering crew was always short-staffed. Dieuseul was a boon in that regard, and it didn't take much to convince the mechanic to lend them a hand. In exchange for an extra leave pass, and the promise of a cold bottle of beer at the end of the day, Bob got to work.

Still. Orientation would come sooner rather than later, and he would be expected to have been there. As he finished off his repair job, the man took off his welding mask and gave the hull a once-over. Satisfied, he stepped away from the ship, dusted off his gloves, and prepared to clock out and take a break. His engineers watched as he left, giving him a nod and a few words of thanks.

"Im ta nating." (It was nothing.) He lifted his right fist in a friendly gesture of acknowledgment as he made his way through the hangar. He knew the Intergalactic Standard Language, but sometimes he'd slip into the strange Creole language that was common in the Free-Enterprise Zone.

Of course, he didn't expect to be ambushed by a pair of Savionians as he walked.

Not that he minds.

"Oye." (Hey.) He greeted both of them, a grin on his face. Abigail gave him a smile as Jakunta stood behind her. Robert couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at her words.

"A leak? You two bust a pipe or something? How 'slight' are we talking?" He asked, a little exasperated to have his well-earned break taken away from him. It almost seemed as if he was used to these sort of antics already.

Almost.
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