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A collab by @Gardevoiran and myself


After Tib had left him alone in the cargo bay, Stryker hauled his armor kit out of the shuttle and onto a small luggage dolly. On his way up to the main deck, he stopped off on the crew deck and dropped the data drive with Sadaet, quickly explaining that he needed it decrypted, then headed off again.

He took a cursory glance around the crew lounge while he waited on the elevator, saw Val and nodded, quickly waving her over to explain that Sadaet was working on the drive, and maybe her skills could help.

“Once it’s done, can you push the files to my server? These Alliance black boxes have a built in safeguard that cause them to wipe the memory if its accessed by any unauthorized tech, even Alliance registered terminals need a high clearance level to safely get inside it. My server’s disconnected from the network, but proper clearance should still be hardwired in it.” She nodded affirmatively and Stryker offered his thanks before moving on.

Once his armor and everything else was safely packed away, he made his way up towards the cockpit, going slowly and lagging where he could to ‘check’ on things, because deep inside he was scared of the conversation he was about to have. He didn’t want Tibulass to think any different of him once she knew the truth, and with what he knew of his girlfriend, that seemed at least a little bit likely.
When he finally walked in, he found Taleste in the co-pilots chair, whittling. If the two girls had been talking, their mouths snapped shut the second the door slid open.
“Tal can we have the room? Thanks”
He waited until they were alone and locked the cockpit door to ensure they wouldn’t be interrupted, took his seat and jumped into action with the rest of the pre-flight checks.
“Babe?” He asked once they had taken off “once we clear the system, hit the autopilot on so we can talk with each other’s full attention? I decided that you were right, that being here with you now is more important than the drive…. Sadaet and Val are taking care of it anyway, so now's as good a time as any to tell you… everything.”

”You act like I can’t drive the ship while giving you my full attention.” Tib teased the resident bounty-hunter before reaching towards the autopilot switch. With a quick flick of the switch, the autopilot was turned on, and Tib turned to Stryker. ”Auto’s on, though I don’t wanna leave it on too long with recent events, so… ten minutes most?” She asked while gazing up and down the vast expanse of the space road they were on, returning her sight to Stryker immediately after.

“I’ll try to cover it in 10, but there’s a lot to tell. So if that’s not enough time, we’ll just have to flip to a full burn and keep going as we fly. Though now that we’re here….. I, I don’t even know where to start? Do I go to the beginning, do I start with Karn? I really don’t know.”

“Ok, fuck it, I’ll just go in. I was raised by the Alliance.”

”Hm?”

“It’s true. Years back they ran an experiment, highly classified of course. Orphan kids, and if the rumors were true, some that had been…. Let’s say ‘donated’ to the project. They raised us to be the perfect soldiers, injected us with stims to enhance our combat prowess, tactical aptitude, and physical abilities. They trained us to be anything a situation could have called for- frontline duty, battlefield commander, special ops, covert assassins and anything else that you could think of. Karn was the guy in charge of our training. He was hard on us, cruel even. A lot of the kids didn’t make it. He’d push just a little too hard and they’d break, either die of exhaustion, or on a training op without any safety measures enabled. Hell, some of them just straight up killed themselves rather than stay in the program. Eventually there were only 5 of us, then before you know it, just 2. Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing in the cause, the spell, the brainwashing they’d put us through over the years, telling us we were the galaxy’s saviors…. That faded away, and I just wanted to get out of there….. So I turned on them… killed my brother-in-arms, broke out of the facility, and hid out in the Deadzone for a while. I had no legal identity, so it was easy to get some false ID records, I earned my way into the Hunters Guild, got myself a ship, and became the Stryker you know now. I’ve been waiting for a chance to get back at the Alliance my whole life, and now….. Now we may finally have the means to do it”

As if on cue, his datapad dinged with the notification of the decrypted Alliance files arriving.

“Yeah, this is it” he said out loud as he scanned the files “We hit the jackpot, and more besides. Once we slip into the Expanse, instead of chartering deep into the Deadzone, hit one of the fringe stations like Raiza. We’ll re-stock and head out to the Persepholis system. I’ll gather everyone and tell them what’s what.”

Tib had returned to the space road ahead of her to process things. “I… uh… kinda relate to that, actually.” She looked over at the co-pilot beside her, turning off the autopilot as she kept driving. As Stryker stood back up to leave, a curt voice from Tib echoed in the cockpit. “Nah, sit. I can talk and fly, and those files need some time to finish decrypting anyway.”

“Ok, sure….. what’s up?”

”I figured that, since you let me know about you, I could stand to do the same,” Tib answered plainly, clearly in thought of where to begin. ”I guess… let me start by saying I was born in the mid 90s.”

Stryker blinked “You mean like, the mid 2290’s? I know Funganoids can have a long life, and you had a whole life previous to that, but-”

”1990s. I was a worker for one of the first burgeoning space stations for intergalactic travel.”

“Wait… are you being serious?” Stryker said incredulously. He thought his background was the stuff of fairy tales… once you included the couple of details he had decided to keep to himself....

Tib smiled to herself. ”Around… 2030 I’d say it was. I forget the specifics. Safety standards were shit and this whole war between the Feds and Alliance wasn’t a thing, since neither really was yet.”

“This is insane..” he could tell Tib had more to share “Go on…”

”Being an engineer pertaining to the concept of intergalactic space travel is great, and something that kids back then only dreamed of. Rigorously, I worked, getting my ass into good schools and eventually I got on a station and managed to make a good life there. That station was Lykor Alpha. The Lykor incident that happened about a decade ago, if I’m remembering properly, was Lykor Beta.” Tib explained everything as if she rehearsed it before, but it wasn’t a monotone lecture from a professor, rather a proud-told tale.

”I ran into a mushroom one day while I was working. Didn’t think much of it, since glowing shit appeared all the time on Lykor Alpha, but that mushroom left something with me on that faithful day, and within the week my wife and kids were noticing I was a bit different. Physically, anyway. Almost like I radiated static.”

”Then… Lykor exploded. Well, imploded, but the entire station was destroyed. I was caught in the resulting sonic boom after the implosion, leaving my bloodied corpse stranded on a piece of debris.” Tib paused, turning on autopilot so she could return her attention fully to Stryker.

”Guess how long I was on the debris, Stryker? The flying piece of metal shards, somehow retaining the artificial gravity device that kept a part of the station from being 0-G, how long was I on it?”

“I don’t know… a few weeks? A month?”

”Eighty. Seven. Years. Tib’s voice was venomous, like she hated the experience. ”At least, the first date I saw when I got off that hunk of junk told me it wasn’t 2041 anymore. Time flew, and it was 2128. But the other point was, Funganoids weren’t recorded to have existed before around 2075. I proved that wrong with the guy who picked me up - famous alien species researcher, Bartholomew Nan.” Tib glanced over. ”Odd fellow. Never was told his race, and couldn’t describe it since he always wore a helmet. Read any of his books?”

“Can’t say I have, to tell you the truth. What does he write?”

”Boring stuff. Mostly phylogeny and all that. His contributions were incredibly important to the expansion of Earth into space though, since he did a lot of the writing on different races and species throughout this. It’s what made him famous as an author originally, and hell, he was even the guys that got me onto Project Revenant, since I owed him a favor, but that’s a story for another day...”

”After I met Nan, he dropped me off at a new station. I wasn’t the old Jackson Rhodes I died as, but I took up a new name for the station. I can’t say I stayed a perfect child, since God cursed me with undeath, so I turned to wanting to make myself one of the most notorious crime lords in the land. New names everywhere, bribing the police, connections, everything. Became a great pilot while I was scamming the shit out of races. That turned into me needing to have a getaway ship, one thing led to another, and my past of being a simple worker on the first station left me. I was a crimelord, and I fit in quite nicely among the crew here.”

Tib chuckled to herself. ”Heh, if Rosa caught me now, she’d beat the hell out of me with a broom after sending the boys to their rooms.”

Stryker chuckled “And look at us now”

He continued after a pause to let the situation set in “I was Adam when I was born. Never knew my last name so they gave me one- Elias. When I broke free, I knew I couldn’t keep their name. So I became Jason Stryker.”

”Stryker as a last name. Totally not edgy.” Tib teased, offering a smirk. ”Eh, but Jacqui Rhodes isn’t much better, honestly.”

“I needed to think on the fly” he chuckled “When the registry guy needed a name there was an ad running on the vidscreens for a kid’s show ‘Striker Dawn’ or something like that.”

”I mean, you could’ve gone with ‘White’, or even ‘Dawn’ as a last name. Stryker just seems… a bit on the nose.” Tib stood up from her seat and stretched. ”I mean, I don’t very much care. I know you too well as Stryker already, so...”

Stryker shrugged Rising Dawn was the ship’s name, so I panicked a little on my own name. I was gonna go with something worse, but there was already a similar name on the registry- Elias T. Ryker”

”Pfft, Elias?” Tib chuckled. ”I’m totally calling you Eli at the next briefing.” She stepped towards the cockpit door, stopping just before it opened. ”Thanks for… uh… telling me about everything.”

“Ditto for you. Knew you’d be asking after everything Karn said down there, figured it was time for you to know why I hate the Alliance so much. I’ll tell the others when they need to know.”

He was about to turn back to the screen to see how the decryption was going, then finally realized Tib was walking out. “Hm? Where you off to babe?”

”The bathroom. That’s honestly the one thing I miss about being a true Funganoid. I can’t flow as well with time since I have to now sleep, eat, shit, all of that biological stuff.”

“It’s not all that bad” he said with a knowing wink “I’ll keep an eye on things up here ‘til you get back.”

”I’d hope so.” Tib offered a small smile before leaving the cockpit, leaving Stryker to the silence for just a little bit, whether it was to reflect on the pasts they shared or even if he wanted to review the data himself… though, there was a box that had shuffled below deck after a stray chunk of space-debris scratched the ship.

“Hm?” Stryker said, cocking his head to the side to peer down into the pilot’s den below the bridge. A small crate had fallen from its perch, the captain got up, walked down the 3 or 4 stairs and bent to pick it up. Before he put it back where it was, he couldn’t help but peek inside, since the top had become somewhat ajar in the fall. Inside were a few stray bits and pieces of a robotics kit, some clothes, and a single printed photograph. Stryker was intrigued, and against better judgment, pulled it out for a quick look. It was a close up of a family, a husband and wife (their rings were visible), each of them holding a small boy in their arms, they were virtually, if not completely identical in every way. He felt a pang of sadness and guilt, like he was intruding on a part of her life that he shouldn't be, so he put it back, fixed teh cover on the crate and put it back in it's place. Slowly after Tib returned, and Stryker decided it was time to fill everyone in on the plan.

"Everyone, report to the War Room... we got a job to plan for"
“It was yeah” Cole said between a couple of particularly delicious bites.
“I liked it, definitely wanna see more. It kinda reminded me of the tournament at the end of Karate Kid and I love that movie, so yeah, fun day”

He fell silent for a minute or two. Part of him was slightly worried over how Chelsea would react when he told her it was over. The whole tome they’d been sitting there, his phone had been vibrating, but he had kept his cool and tried not to tip Alex off to the fact that more messages were coming in. The other part of him was excitedly churning out ideas for their data. He looked up from his plate and realized that Alex was staring at him.

“Don’t mind me” he said “Just trying to think up a few things we can do. Like maybe we can head down by the beach and walk the pier? Or maybe the Kings have a game tonight at the big arena downtown? Or y’know if you want to keep it lowkey I’ve got some movies on my computer, could just sit back and watch some of those? Pretty much whatever you wanna do is fine by me.”
He flashed another smile, hiding how nervous he was getting over confronting Chelsea.
“I..... I have no defence. I’m just an idiot”

He just grinned, slightly nervously as he thought about all the obvious signals that he really, really should’ve picked up on. He thought she was just being friendly.

“Last thing I’ll say about her... I should probably go to Chelsea on my own, not that I don’t want you there, but well, you know how she is. Once I have that sorted though, wanna hang out?”
“We were drunk!” He said as his only defence “I didn’t know what was happening or what it meant afterwards. Maybe I’m just really bad with signals”

He laughed again at his own expense.

“I will say, I was startin’ to question things in the last couple days, I’m just glad we finally figured it out before things got too deep with... her.”
Cole ordered the same as Alex, then when the waitress left, he turned back to her.

“Superficial mostly, yeah. Character attacks, just real nasty stuff. I don’t know, I feel like such a fool for falling for it. I’ve known girls like her in the past, hanging around sports teams and latching on to the players, justtt in case they make it big, y’know? I should’ve picked up on it the second I realized she knew nothing about hockey, but enough about her.”

Who would’ve thought they’d end up here? Certainly not him. He just kind of chuckled to himself as it set in again- he was here, with Alex, on an actual date.
“Look at us, did you ever think this would happen?”
“You don’t wanna know” Cole said “she insulted your sport, claimed that you were the reason that you and your ex split. I didn’t even listen to most of what she said, I was really sick of her attitude. When she started attacking you personally, that was when I had enough and told her off”
He ordered a water of his own before answering.

“Right now” he clicked the phone’s power button and put it back in his pocket before reaching out and taking ahold of Alex’s hands on top of the table “I’m not gonna do anything but sit here and enjoy a lunch with you. Afterwards... yeah probably best to just rip that band-aid off ASAP, huh?”
“I love it, it’s beautiful and symbolic.”

The whole way over here, joking, laughing, kissing at random intervals, Cole couldn’t stop thinking about how he had nearly decided not to come to school. With every passing second, he was more and more happy that he took the plunge.

Ironically enough, the same waitress from the day they met sauntered up to lead them to a table. Her eyes shifted down, saw their hands clasped tightly together, and smirked. She placed them at the same table, or one close enough to it anyway, and winked as she passed them menus.

“Alright, let’s see... what to ord- oh, hang on”

He had his phone silenced ever since Chelsea had left. Now that he had sat down, he could feel the vibration against his leg. He dug it out and his jaw dropped. 25 notifications in the last hour. 4 or 5 were random apps, texts from friends, the usual..... the rest were texts or missed calls from Chelsea.

“Oh god” he said aloud as he turned the screen to show Alex “Yeahhh”
Cole cheered loudest of all as Alex's group were announced as winners. He clapped, hollered and kept a large smile pasted on his face. He felt so free now, a happiness that he hadn't felt in a long time. An older gentleman next to him was slightly taken aback by Cole's loud celebration. Once he noticed, he looked over apologetically.

"That girl over there?" he nodded in the direction of Alex, proudly standing by as her master accepted the trophy "that's my fr.. that's my girlfriend"
The older guy nodded approvingly, understandingly, then shortly after the crowd dispersed.

Once he saw Alex again and hugged her in congratulations he nodded at her query.
"Yeah, where ever you wanna go, just lead the way!"
"No, it's alright" he said with the slightest smirk "it's cute when you ramble"

They were still holding each other as if the dream would end if either of them let go or even a second. He rubbed her back slowly, gently.

"I've been such an imbecile, we could've been together this whole time. I was just so out of it when we met, there was so much on my mind, that somehow I convinced myself that you weren't interested based on that short chat about your ex.... But that doesn't matter anymore, we can be together now. I'll tell Chelsea that it's over, and go and see her later. I mean we haven't been dating long enough to really even call it dating, she should understand why it's not going to work. And then we can start making up for lost time."

With a small smile and reassuring nod, he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. Things were finally on the up for them, not only were they best friends again, but their connection could start to grow into something more.
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