Rear Admiral Colley hesitates in the entryway to Commander George Owens’s observation cubicle. He glanced around the dim room only illuminated by the Black itself. Starlight glimmered across the glossy surface of the half-moon conference table. After a moment, he stepped further into the room, glancing uneasily at the strange sculpture on the wall. Commander Owens is on the other side of the room, his back turned, silhouetted in the light from the huge observation windows. His hands folded casually behind his back. He was dressed comfortably in mufti, rather than his uniform.
“It is Roman, Rear Admiral.” Owens turned to face Colley with a smile. The Admiral drew a sudden breath, realizing he was staring wide-eyed at the artwork. He stood attention, and nodded to his Commander. “Of course, sir.” His voice cracked ever so slightly. “My apologies.”
Commander Owens took two steps towards the Admiral. He sniggered softly. “Legend attributes the founding of Rome to Romulus and Remus, a set of twin brothers that were the sons of the god Mars. They were abandoned in the wild and raised by a she-wolf. When they were old enough, they decided to build a new city; Romulus wanted to build the city on the Palatine Hill, while Remus favored the Aventine Hill.”
The Admiral cleared his throat nervously. He was unsure why this story was necessary.
Owens continued. “This disagreement led to a fight between the twins, resulting in the death of Remus by the hand of his twin brother. Romulus went on to build the city, and named it Rome, after himself.”
Colley nodded. “Yes, sir.” He wasn’t much of a scholar of history. He knew very little of Earth-That-Was. Honestly, he could care less. Colley was a simple man. Courage. Honor. Duty. Money. He lived for these things.
Owens took two more steps, and narrowed his eyes as he gazed at the sculpture on the wall. “The city of Rome reflects the ambitions of a powerful empire through the continuous construction and development of monumental sculpture, Rear Admiral.” He looked at Colley with a very slight cock to his head. “That’s why I keep it here. It reminds me of the strides that must be taken to support our Unified Empire.”
Colley nodded again, still feeling uncomfortable. “Yes, sir.” He paused, and when he saw that the Commander continued to stare, he spoke again. “Commander, we have located the Firefly Transport Ship you were looking for on Persephone.”
Owens remained still, like a lion waiting for the precise moment to pounce upon her prey. “Yes. Admiral?” His lips curved up slightly.
“We contacted officers at Eavesdown Docks and issued Order 37. Local law enforcement and Tong Enforcers were also notified. Although the Order was issued, several civilians remained in the streets of Eavesdown. The target was located, but not contained. He managed to escape.”
Commander Owens walked to the table and put his hands on its glossy surface. He narrowed his eyes again, staring at the reflection in the starlight. He sneered as he focused on his crooked nose.
“According to Order 37, we have suppressed media for the next 48 hours. The Cortex will be down, and a reasonable explanation will be provided. The civilians arrested during the operation will be detained for 24 hours, and then released. Casualties have been disposed of according to policy.” Colley took a short breath. “There will be no link to Alliance involvement. The official stance will be to blame Clemson and his crew for the disturbance. They are already labeled as terrorists so it will make sense.”
“And what of THE LIBERATION?” Owen’s voice was a hiss.
“The freighter landed in the Barrens outside of town. The bounty hunter vessel THE HARD BURN engaged but failed to destroy the ship. As best we can tell, the bounty hunters are out of commission. Their ship appears to be a burning wreckage.”
Owens clenched his fist, and then thrust his finger out at Colley. “Get a tech in here, now. I want to send a wave!” Owens turned, looking out the huge windows at Persephone. He wished at that moment that he had the firepower to simply blast the planet out of orbit.
Within moments, Colley returned with a young woman wearing the insignia of a communications technologist. She smiled, and began setting up the hardware to allow the Commander to send a wave to LIBERATION. She jabbed buttons, establishing coordinates and signal arrays. “I’m bringing AT&T Fed Net Global Communications on line now, sir.”
The holoscreen flared to life. It flickered blue, and then adjusted to gray static. Commander Owens watched as the tech continued adjust the communications link to sync with the satellites on Persephone. Within mere seconds, the feed was live. Owens adjusted his uniform. Although there was no video yet, he was hearing the chaos on the tramp freighter. No order. No discipline. How did they ever survive this long? It had to be a matter of sheer luck.
“What do you mean its coming from an Alliance ship off world?” said a female voice. “Can they do that?” The woman seemed honestly surprised. Owens grinned simpered in amusement.
“Alliance has a lot of tricks up their sleeves,” answered a second woman. “Captain, got a wave for you on Fed Net. I’m bouncing it back.”
Owens shook his head slightly. He continued to watch the screen. It now was frozen on a screenshot of the FEDERAL NETWORK logo which faded slowly from black and white to color. Suddenly the screen flared to life, and Owens saw the image of Benjamin Clemson framed to the waist. He looked winded as if he’d been exercising. Sweat was beading down his left temple. His hair was mussed and wet. Owens could see that Clemson was somewhat surprised to be getting a one-to-one wave from him. However, the smuggler did an excellent job of trying to hide it.
“Good afternoon, Mister Clemson.” Said Owens with a sarcastic tone. He smirked slightly. “I hope I haven’t caught you at a difficult time.”
Clemson looked off screen and chuckled. “Small talk.” He smiled back at Owens. “Seems you should be tellin’ me what you want unless your plan is just to waste my time.”
“Very well, Captain.” The last word dripped with extra sarcasm. “You are hereby bound by law. You will power down your ship, and surrender at once. Otherwise, I will dispatch gunships to intervene and hunt you down. You have five seconds to comply.” His tone, as always, was ruthless.
“Whoa, there.” Clemson sighed, and pulled out a cigarette. He placed it in the corner of his mouth, and flicked open a lighter. The plasma flared blue. Clemson took a long drag, and blew the smoke out towards the screen. “I’m tired of running. I’ll surrender.”
Owens raised an eyebrow. He was genuinely surprised. He paused, and then nodded his head. “Excellent choice. I will send out two ships to escort you out of atmo to our location.” He paused. “No tricks, Captain. I’m tired of this chase too. Any sign of deception and my men will blast you out of the sky.”
Benjamin withdrew the smoldering cigarette from his mouth. He held it between two fingers, and leaned in towards the screen. “Thing is I’m the one you really want. We both know that my crew hasn’t committed any acts of terrorism or bullshit like that. So here’s the deal. I surrender. My crew goes free.”
“How quaint,” commented Owens. He glanced off screen with a grin and then looked back to Clemson. “You want to protect your crew.”
Benjamin shrugged. He took another long drag from the cigarette. “That’s the deal.” He withdrew slightly from the screen, apparently leaning back in a chair. “Take it or leave it.”
Owens glowered into the screen, took a short breath through his nose, and nodded. “Agreed.”