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Chapter 1 - Arcadia

Captain Dana Cortez was sitting on the left seat of the flight cabin. To her side was her pilot Rorlthar, a yarifug with the personality of a friendly uncle that usually drinks a little too much in family reunions, and always has an exaggerated tale to tell. A friendly guy, if a little irresponsible, but an excellent pilot nevertheless.

Dana was the captain of Arcadia. It was a light Vespucci-class exploration frigate from the Circinus Legion, one of the many interstellar legions from the Galactic Confederal Republic (though by now it was more an empire than an actual confederacy). The frigate served in the Legio Circinus, also known as the the "Explorers Legion". Aboard were also the weapon systems specialist, N25, also known as "Nov", the medical specialist Jeanette, the electronics specialist Jamal, and the engineering specialist Len'Nar. They had been traversing metaspace for a little over 15 hours, and without a direct connection to the quantumnet, they had no communication with the rest of the Legion. Every now and then quantum and gravitational perturbations would make the frigate bump a little, as when a sea craft traverses choppy sea at high speeds. There was nothing to worry about, as they were using a well known and map-marked civil hyperway, so most of the trip had been smooth and uneventful.

Rorlthar was Arcadia's pilot. A friendly yarifug and an excellent pilot. He was a noble caste yarifug who joined the Legion to flee from justice back on his home planet, Job (read "Hob"), after crashing a racing craft against a museum.

"Ten minutes, boss." Rorlthar said.

"Ten minutes, copy." Replied the captain.

She repeated the instruction again, this time through the ship's intercom. Her voice rumbled through the frigate's cold, grey (yet clean) hallways. It was an old vessel, at least a decade old, but this was no excuse to not keep it clean. Even irregular legions like Circinus had some standards.

Dana put the mic close to her mouth again.

"Oh and Jamal," she said, trying to contain her laughter "Remember not to set your magboots to max..."

Dana and Rorlthar smirked at each other, while she unbuckled and stood up from her seat. The last time that they were in battle, Jamal accidentally turned his magboots on max level, and when the ship lost the gravity generator, he ended up with two broken ankles after a sharp evasive maneuver. Broken ankles was so common among inexperienced legionnaires that it was practically a joke.

"Ready, Rorlthar?"

"As ready as cognitively possible, boss."

"A'right then, I'll go put my armor on."

Dana got on her way to her room quickly, the only vestige of privacy in the whole ship, besides the bathrooms. Even though it was an officer's room, it left a lot to be desired. It wasn't too different from the rest of the ship, but it had a certain homelike feeling to it. It had a big bed, TV, and a bathtub with a shower head(this wasn't standard though, Arcadia was a former VIP transport ship), though it was a little too small for a human her size. A part of her room was also her office, because frigates were not really big ships at all, hence everything was a little more "compressed" to suit available space. Separating her desk from the rest of her room was a glass pane, the kind that turns opaque by pressing a button, to prevent peepers and give it some sense of division.

She quickly undressed, folding her legionnaire officer uniform and storing it as carefully as possible. She took her combat armor. It was a medium officer's armor, designed specially for her, as she was the first nova human in Circinus, and novi were not exactly average-sized. Being the first generation uniform, it wasn't all that comfortable, but it got the job done just right.

Even though stuff like this made here resent her condition as nova every now and then, it was precisely this what allowed her to pass the officers course so easily. Physical tests for officer's candidate school were hard, and very few average human women were able to overcome them. Minimum requirements were the same for all members of the same species, hence average women would mostly fail. But not at all for a nova.

Novus humans (nova used for females), were an "experimental generation", quite controversial by the way, designed by growth engineers to create the "perfect human". They were far from achieving their quite aggressive objective, but novus were definitely a leap in the right direction. While an average female human would measure a little over 1,70 meters, an average nova like Dana could easily get to 1,90. And it was even more drastic on men, some of them achieving 2 meters with no physical complications.

To achieve this, the government selected newborn kids from volunteering parents to conduct a series of tests to determine their genetic traits, looking for specific "favorable" ones. If the kid then had enough of these desired traits, then their parents could become part of the program, which basically subsidized their kid's entire education, in exchange for submitting them to their strict methods until reaching adulthood. Many criticized this as being a eugenics program, which the government didn't really try to deny.

Novus (or novi, a seldom used plural form) received better education, would only eat special nutritious food, engage in physical development activities from an early age. They would "cultivate" mind and body (and the government also took the chance to instill patriotic sentiments on them) throughout their development into adulthood. This gave them a huge advantage over average humans, and naturally this caused great controversy in modern republican society, as a novus would raze their competition easily. They were the best of their class in college, would take all olympic medals, and were natural leaders. As a consequence, instead of admiration they would occasionally experience rejection from their "average" peers.

Dana Cortez was 26 years old. She had server in Legio Circinus for almost a year. She was a nova from planet Terra, and with a height of 1,89 meters, she was considered an average nova.

"Two minutes, boss" her pilot said through the intercom.

Dana finished adjusting her combat armor and went back to the flight cabin. She put her forearm close to her mouth, where her arm computer was.

"Everyone to position, we are about to enter hostile space".

A sweat drop crawled down her forehead. She had done this process multiple times before, so many times her crew had gone from "spoils worth of an irregular legion" to "operationally efficient" in the almost 12 months they had been operating in Circinus. Still, she would feel a little nervous every time she had to jump into hostile space directly.

She dropped back on her seat, while buckling up her pilot made one of his usual tension-breaking comments.

"Boss, I completely forgot what the plan is".

Dana laughed nervously. These (not particularly funny) jokes would at least release a little bit of tension before a battle.

"You know, flight casual." She replied with a smile.

"Aye, boss" blurted the alien.

Dana bent forward instinctively as they approached the "T-minus zero" mark.

"Alright everybody, we are ten seconds away from entering the combat zone, we will deploy shields immediately after, so don't do anything stupid"

"You heard her Jamal!" exclaimed a grave voice through the intercom, "Don't fuck up again!"

That was N25 "Nov". He and Jamal would usually argue a lot, but despite that they worked fine as a team. Jamal was the immature and inexperienced teenager, who ended up here a victim of the circumstances. N25 was the unwilling master with an attitude, a veteran of a hundred battles. Neither would admit it out loud, but in a certain way they had developed an emotional link, albeit one based on sarcasm and insults.

The frigate started decelerating quickly, they were finally coming out of metaspace.

"Blinds up!" exclaimed the captain, while pressing a button.

The metallic reinforced blinds that covered the windshield during metaspace jumps retracted. The frigate had come out and was floating in the middle of the peaceful, cold void. But that peace was an illusion, for if the jump had been successful (and it most certainly was), they were inside a combat zone, and as soon as the enemy realized they were there, the dark sky would light with fire; there was no time to lose.

"There!" she said, pointing at a greyish rock floating peacefully, faintly lit by the red-giant it orbited.

Rorlthar assented, he had probably seen it even before his captain, as his species photoreceptors allowed him to see a broader light spectrum than a human.

A voice came in through radio. "Gunslinger, gunslinger..." it said.

"Blondie, blondie." Dana replied. She pushed a lever and a dim blue bubble inflated around the spaceship. Shortly after, other voices replied the same thing; it was the designated countersign for the operation. It meant that the frigate had come out of metaspace, deployed successfully, and was ready to move forward. It was extremely important during stealth operations, as this eliminated the need for more explicit communication, which in turn reduced the chance of radio detection.

This naturally didn't always work, the system was not perfect and it simply reduced the chances of detection, it didn't eliminate it completely. Indeed, 20 seconds later, the greyish rock suddenly lit up with color, shooting all its guns into the general direction of the frigate. It resembled fireworks in a way; orange, green and red rays scanned the dark sky looking for a hit. white smoke plumes raised from torpedo tubes and white comets flied at high speeds towards the Legion's ships. The operations group had been detected by the enemy, and they were certainly not happy about them showing uninvited.

"Contact!" shouted someone through radio.

Immediately after, the front of Arcadia lit with a bright-blue neon glow. Rorlthar pulled the yoke and hit the thruster handle forward. The dim buzz coming from the engines turned into an angry growl.

"Fucking shit!" shouted Dana.

Because of the speed of the enemy shot they had probably been hit by an overload ray, designed to inject energy into the shield in an attempt to overload it's overflow capacitors. While counterintuitive, one of the many ways to "break" a bubble shield, was by putting in more energy into it than it could contain, causing an overload in the generator. The blue glow was the shield reacting to the impact.

The sudden acceleration pushed them towards their seats.

"Just a scare, boss" stated the pilot, "It's all good, all good."

"Len'Nar!" exclaimed Dana, "Generator status!"

"Heated up, commander!" replied the engineer "A little bit outside green but nothing too bad, careful with energy rays..."

The captain muttered something angrily while she pressed a few buttons. A holographic sphere appeared between her and Rorlthar. A big red dot blinked in the middle, and a little far from them a bunch of green dots.

"Eight it, Rorlthar" commanded the Captain.

"Aye boss, eight maneuver!" he responded.

Rorlthar started drawing a horizontal 8 with the frigate's nose. A basic maneuver used when approaching a hostile target. The ship kept it's momentum and direction, but the nose moved around pointing at multiple directions, ready to hit the boosters in case a shot was detected, allowing it to quickly change it's vector. It confused targeting systems, both manual or AI-assisted, as the gun operator wasn't sure when or if the target would suddenly change directions. Worked awesome at long distances.

Even though captains received extensive training as pilots, it was nowhere as intensive as that of a pilot legionnaire. Dana would rather have her pilot do it himself, as he not only had the training, but the natural ability. Dana preferred to command, which was her job anyways, and it allowed her to fire the frontal heavy laser cannon.

"Temperature nominal again" stated Len'Nar, the engineer, through the intercomm.

"Good, shields to max" replied her.

She pushed a small lever forward, the dim blue color of the shield intensified.

A strong, severe voice flooded the radio. "Begin envelope maneuver" it commanded. "You already know what to do!"

The structure ahead was the objective of the Gunslinger task force. It was a starbase embedded inside an asteroid, a common design due to how fast, easy, and cheap it was to build on them. At the present time, it was a pirate station with a VIP held captive, though according to intelligence it was a junker base before. The prisoner was inside waiting for ransom, but the Legion did not enjoy negotiating with pirates, and even less the Special Operations Unit, which was in charge of the rescue operation. The two primary objectives were to take over the station and to extract the VIP along with any other prisoner.

A little tweeter speaker beeped twice, followed by a feminine computerized voice.

"Telemetry completed" it said.

Dana placed her thumb and index fingers together over the red dot. Then, she spread them quickly and the red dot expanded into a big sphere. The holographic red ball rendered into a 3D shape of the station.