Chapter 54:


From Nowhere to Sender

"It's been decided, the surviving exiles will enter the inner sanctum between Crusaders C248 and C217. I want at least one deck officer from each Crusader supervising their entry into the convoy, the same deck officers will then keep them under watch until we reach Belveer."

"Do you want our sharpshooters among the officers tasked with watch duty or should we keep them positioned on the weak sides?"

"They'll both be in charge of the inner sanctum. Unarmed or not this is a lot of people we're going to be escorting to the station and it would be naive to assume all of them are onboard with abandoning their objective. One of them so much as looks at a platform too long and Scholz or Ayfer will handle them."

"Understood, we'll get things underway. Oh and before I forget, what should I tell the border patrol if they contact us on the other channel?"

"What's to tell? In another fifteen minutes or so they'll have their shipment of Cinnabark delivered, right on schedule might I add. Considering the kind of day it's been, they ought to thank that deity of theirs for bestowing a miracle."

"Tell them to fuck off, got it. See you at the station."

Heenan lowered the headset around his neck and sauntered over to the front of the bridge. Through the front window he could just barely make out the mortuary bag containing Quay's body on the front deck. A dead party leader, a dead vice party leader, and seventeen "terrorists." Probably best to leave these unexpected developments off the corrected bill of lading. Officially they'd already have to report a shortage of cargo, although the destroyed contents of C217's cargo bay hadn't actually been Cinnabark.

Instead it had been arranged to have a substitute loaded onto C217 when it was decided its position would be at the rear of the convoy and therefore the most likely initial target. Heenan was the only one made aware of this, or at least he should've been, but it seemed at least one other personnel member from the crew roster became informed through alternative means. He knew who it was and also knew they'd be upset by the decision to put it mildly. Thankfully this person's pedigree meant they knew better than to go discussing it publicly.

"Just think, if every window for arrival encompassed three hours we'd never be late with a shipment again."

Heenan turned towards the source of the comment and folded his arms.

"I don't make the rules Villard, I just follow them. Today those rules happened to be in our favor. You can thank the LCF higher ups and the over-accommodating New Kantler administration.

"Funny, I'd thought my appreciation for the church's ineptitude concerning shipping logistics was obvious."

"Then what is it exactly you take issue with?"

"I don't take issue with anything per se, just impressed by how quickly you struck a deal downstairs. Ever consider that you might be in the wrong line of work. Missed your calling as a negotiator."

"Maybe we'll send you down next time. Mouth like yours, they'd be in the LCF for life."

"Admittedly I do tend to hold a grudge against people who try to blow me up. Something to work on. We can't all be as magnanimous as you commander."

Vedmann couldn't help but chime from behind the controls.

"To think Cade gave up piloting duty today, his loss."

Esma rolled her eyes and placed both hands on her hips.

"Glad I have your approval."

Meanwhile Heenan moved over to one of the side windows, wanting to check the status of the LCF's newest recruits.

"So, how long? I'd expect you used our leverage to go above and beyond the usual service requirement."

"Five years. I almost made it eight."

"Magnanimous and sentimental, who would've thought."

"Please, they're a bunch of kids. Not unlike you, although you seem to think you've got things figured out."

"Figuring out things isn't so hard. It's executing them that's the tricky part."

"Executing huh. We did far more executing than I would've liked today."

Silence took hold of the bridge as the reality of those words set in.

"You'll feel it at some point after we arrive, like some great beast has settled on your conscience. Everyone's got different ways of managing it. For me it's piles of paperwork and something warm to drink."

Fresh ginger tea in particular tended to soothe him best.

"Can't say I appreciate the implication my conscience hasn't already been desecrated. Or that I don't have coping mechanisms in place to ward off such beasts."

Heenan turned around and locked eyes with the young communications officer then, searching for truth in her words. Brief as it was he didn't miss it, the way a flicker of grief scrambled to conceal itself behind those emerald shields. So he responded with a nod of understanding and returned his attention back to the window. Namely the other grief-stricken souls behind it.


Lux's eyes flittered between the various faction members gathered beneath her position on the back deck. Just as she'd heard they all looked very young. Mostly students from what she could recall. But being young didn't buy them the same amount of sympathy it would from others. For she too was young, probably younger than a third of the faction members present. Definitely the youngest person on the crew roster.

She couldn't help but think how things would've shaken out if the roles had been reversed. Then again the outcome would be dependent on whether she and the others still had their current training. Assuming they did it would honestly be a piece of cake. For this particular roster that is. The same couldn't be said for the convoy she rode prior. Funny enough such hypotheticals were common among those in field service.

After all, plenty of past crewmen and women had joined the ranks of raiding parties or gone on to start their own. Didn't mean they were inherently successful in their efforts to conduct raids. Meaning it was tad presumptuous to assume things would work out for them if they followed suit. Lux would definitely be a Hussard though. Cade? A Demen. Demens were basically the raider equivalent of engineers anyway. Everyone else could just be Volts because she was suddenly too fatigued to continue this line of thought.

Or maybe that was just general fatigue setting in now that Belveer was right there. Shit, at this rate Lux would need a power nap just to stay conscious for an entire night of celebratory food and drink.

Let's see...need to invite the other sharpshooter to pay them back, there was also the new girl. Esma. She'd been a trooper earlier, volunteering to go up on the bridge like that. Cade seemed to like her too. Crap, need to look vigilant. Don't want any of the captives thinking they can get one over on her. Unfortunately her attempt to regain focus fell short and Lux fell into a trance like state watching them.

"Bet they could use a drink right about now..."