(Adrift Part I)

BREACH

As shoulders shoved past him, Graham shut his eyes and recalled the sensation of waking up to that cool metallic platform compressing his neck awkwardly. Of all the days to wake up halfway on the floor and halfway in the Basic Training Simulator capsule, graduation day had to be the worst.

An older woman’s voice blared from the intercom, “Fifteen minutes left until Commander Sanders delivers his speech in the hangar bay. Make sure to stop by any appointed security officer for your own ceremony leaflet, just 5 credits for Sector Three homeowners!”

The rushing crowd seemed nearly impossible to navigate. At points the corridor would bottleneck and a few hefty servicemen would end up sandwiching him. It didn’t take much to trip the eighteen-year-old with his dirt-caked boots nearly devoid of soles.

While the floor may have been polished granite once, the walls and ceiling of the hangar bay gate passage always seemed crude to Graham. Titanium beams with steel cages welded between each one, and beyond that was little more than mysterious blinking panels. Perhaps this section of the Station was never intended for individuals to pass through, he mused.

Graham began to consider donning his trademark scarf and wrapping it around his mouth to cut down on the palpable body funk. It was passed down from his late great-grandfather and had served him for many years. Finally, his digital passport fetched him entry to the grand hall of Station One’s revered hangar bay. A particularly tall security guard gave Graham a menacing look behind his visor, but his stun baton would have to wait for a slightly less innocuous bystander.

Graham’s Humanity Essentials class depicted ceremonies as typically colorful things with paint, songs, signs and most importantly, food. His stomach grumbled at the lack of the food, though the Council typically adds red and gold ribbons - Station colors -  to the launch pad in order to honor the graduates.

Graham felt weightless.

The floor greeted his cheek.

“Aah! I’m so sorry! I’m in a real hurry-” A soft voice shrieked and then fell flat behind him. Graham propped himself up on a newly scraped wrist with ruby red slivers of stinging flesh. The ceiling caught him off guard. Did this place always have so many windows and monitors? He figured since he was still able to breathe that the facility wasn’t really full of holes, though it was quite a sight.

“Hey, Abby! Didn’t see you there. I thought you’d be down there already, you know, doing your thing.” Graham snapped back to his feet after declining her hand and dusted off the mauve jacket tied around his waist.

Abigail Strauss shared a Core Piloting and Basic SMART Machine Operation class with Graham and a few other mutual friends. It was the last class they shared before she passed to the next level with the rest and he failed to.

She was fully decked out in a champagne gold skin-tight suit - for mobility, if Graham remembered correctly - with all sorts of added bits that a member of an emergency team could need. He anticipated that Abigail wouldn’t be the star of the show and he felt bad for her, if only for the fact that in all actuality she wouldn’t appreciate pity.

“Unfortunately not. I didn’t realize it would be so much harder to get here this year. Heck, it seems like when we were little this place was a carnival. I guess they’re souping up security since our vessels are so much more advanced now. Did you know we’re on the fourth iteration of that Navigation Assistant?”

“Yeah-”

“Plus, like, we have these crazy war suit things now. It’s all ridiculous. I thought we were celebrating science and exploration.”

“Um, I guess it makes sense if-”

“Sorry, I’m rambling. I gotta go. Sorry I… Yeah.”

Abigail turned completely red in the face and sprinted towards one of the many staircases leading to that red and gold decorated launch pad. Graham wanted to tell her that he liked listening to her ramble, but he tore himself away from that train of thought.

Several minutes later he met up with his parents. ‘I should have known it was the guy obnoxiously reading the pamphlet and the woman pointing out everything everyone was wearing,’ he thought.

“Grahammy, I told you to put your jacket on. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Graham pinched the bridge of his nose, ignoring the nickname. Graham’s mother tugged at the mauve jacket tied around his work pants. He attempted to silently negotiate with her but ultimately yielded, pulling on the mysterious fabric blend with the less than subtle advertising on the back: Station One Mining Crew: Service Your Sector Today!  Immediately he tugged the zipper up and past his oily dirt-stained tee. Graham glanced back at his father who was still preoccupied with the schedule. Graham could never take it seriously. “It’s the same every year, Dad. All you need to know is that we sit here, we watch some idiots fly around the outside of the Station and they come back.”

Both his father and mother noticed the tinge of venom in his words, so he glanced down at his feet. He felt his dad well up with generic fatherly sternness and turned his head away, hoping that Commander would hurry up. However, Graham never found his father’s voice threatening in general.

“You know, Graham, these pilots and technicians,”

“We call those operators these days, Dad.” At this point Graham was tempting the bull and a particular throbbing from his neck up to the crown of his skull wasn’t helping his judgment.

“Fine. But just because the Station takes their lifeline so seriously that they couldn’t get you into their program doesn’t mean you should just mock everyone.”

Graham sighed and adjusted himself. He knew his dad was right, and his mother silently supported that, but it didn’t matter anymore. They’d reached some empty spots at a bench in front of a gigantic, brand new panel. Then the microphone feedback momentarily deafened everyone.

With gusto this time, the Commander spoke,  “Greetings, colony of Station One and our lovely new graduates. My name is Commander Durant. Today is a significant event in the lives of all; those who have lived on the Station, those who do live on the station currently and those who will live in, in the future. We benefit greatly from these intrepid young men and women as they are the key to advancing ourselves, our machinery and, in the process, any other colonies out there in that ocean of stars.”

Three powerful spotlights lit up the launch pad with brilliant red, gold and orange beams. It looked as if a star was being projected over the four prepared vessels, then some slightly smaller extra ships were scattered around it. Four figures stood staunch, elbow to elbow. Their shadows extended to the audience in increasingly elevated seating like dark fingers. Graham glanced around to see if anyone else was enamored by this aside from his parents who were watching intently. It seemed that everyone took it as seriously as they possibly could except for the children.

The Commander cleared his throat and continued, “Before all of you stands the ninety-second elite squadron. These pilots and operators will serve us and investigate every end of space. They will establish connections with other civilizations and protect the Station. Most importantly, they will sacrifice themselves for the good of the colony if deemed necessary.”

A ship the size of those police vans which haul citizens away to prison sectors but with the added bulk of armor and light blue decals came to life. “RECON” is written on the side of it, and Abigail stood in front of it.

“Humans simply cannot thrive without aiding each other, especially in such harsh conditions as interstellar travel or unexplored planetoids. This is why Abigail Strauss is one of the most vital members of the squad. She has taken countless medical courses and knows her way around every kind of life support system. Give her a hand.”

The crowd promptly clapped a booming applause. Graham instead tried to get Abigail’s attention. Maybe with a thumbs up. It didn’t work.

Next, a similarly armored vessel lit up, except this one had a few weapons attached.

“Ramone Simmons is our newly officiated soldier. He has mastered the SMART suit courses our academy has to offer and has quite the talent when it comes to target practice.” A burly armored fellow stood proud, and considering the strange shapes and glowing lights on him, he was wearing a SMART suit.

Applause.

Graham mulled over his interactions with this one. What was he like? He couldn’t remember, but something about that thirst for blood in his facial expression seems off putting.

Next, a thinner, sleeker, faster looking ship started up. It seemed to have a grid over the cockpit.

“Of course, where would we be without our interstellar cartographers? Holder Sarka may not have a huge reputation around here, but he mastered our mapping and navigation courses expertly. We cannot thank him more for applying.”

I know this guy,’ thought Graham. He didn’t know the extent, but he remembered something bizarre about him. He was awful with directions. Graham nearly fell out of his seat while attempting to get a closer look at Holder who seemed to be fidgeting like mad. Could he blame him for being nervous? Probably not.

Applause.

“Now, we are sending these graduates off with a trained guide just in case. Everybody, meet Second Class pilot, Lilian Hasenkamp. She’s been through more systems than some of us will see in our collective lives.”

Graham could feel an instant flow of respect for this woman. She seemed calm and collected and was the only person not wearing a silly looking suit, but more of a standard uniform.

The applause finally died down. The giant panels and high-tech monitors lowered. Meanwhile, a dozen large tunnels open up behind the vessels, each with a tremendously long chute and magnetic track inside. Warning lights and sounds dot the massive domed chamber which only makes the audience more excited. One by one the pilots step into their crafts and the cockpit seals.

“Fifteen,”

Commander Sanders counts down, like usual.

Graham’s parents make a few comments to each other and nod about it.

“Fourteen,”

White lights blink on inside of the tunnels by the launch pad, barely visible from Graham’s seat.

“Thirteen,”

It seems the guards would like to get cozy with the back rows of the seated citizens.

“Twelve,”

Magnetic locks underneath each lit vessel spin them so that they have a clear shot down their respective tunnel.

“Eleven,”

Each panel starts off with a fuzzy image, but then it becomes apparent that many camera angles were installed just for these next few hours.

“Ten,”

The vessels are towed towards the tunnel entrances.

“Ni-”

A loud pop and a whirring down sound. The room floods with red light and the windows seem to grow sheets of mesh and a strange looking sliding hatch. Someone runs up to the commander to deliver a message, but he forgets about the microphone for a second.

“What? No, we’re not abandoning the ceremony. Just launch them!” He takes a glance at the terrified audience, orders them to wait and flees the scene.

Rattling with nerves and other feelings he can’t seem to get a grasp on, Graham takes several steps to the aisle and away from his protesting parents.

“Graham, what the hell are you doing!”
“No honey, come back here, we can wait. It’ll be fine. They’ll be back.”

In a way it was almost like their voices dissolved in the back of his mind, and something else began to guide him.

Boom.

Something massive slams into the side of the hangar bay, it’s surprising that nothing cracked. Graham tumbled down the aisle. As he looked behind him, he noticed a peculiar arcing light floating towards him.

“Oh yeah,” he mumbled to himself. Heel behind heel he backed away from the lumbering security guard, an almost robotic entity with zero flesh showing. His parents kept screaming his name and now even strangers picked up on it, too afraid of disorder to let this one dirty miner ruin it for everyone.

Over the intercom, the older woman spoke again: “Please remain calm. An unknown fleet of ships has entered the territory. They are believed to be pirates. Try not to trample your neighbor. Follow the security personnel-”

Crack, boom, shatter. Shots of some kind rained down from the left now. Some of the giant screens cracked while others fell completely, though the rest seemed to be operational still. Graham tried to avoid thinking about the fate of those directly beneath the fallen screens.

What are you doing, Graham? He trotted towards the launch pad. What kind of hole are you trying to fill here? Lo and behold, they had a ship that seemed just right for him, on track, with 85% of the tunnel still open. Perhaps they severed a pipe somewhere. I don’t really care what they did. He reached for the red and white striped handle attached to the top of the hull near the cockpit and lifted. The hydraulic hinges helped out, plus they have a cool whooshing sound too.

By now the entire hangar bay was yelling for him to come back. As he acquainted himself with the interior, he took one last glossy look at his parents and said “This is what I can do, so I have to do it.”

The roof scraped along that stuck hatch as Graham’s ship ventured further through the somewhat demonic-looking tunnel. His hands firmly grasped the two semicircles in front of him and his foot found what he believed to be one of the thrust pedals. He took a deep breath, feeling dizzy.

“Hello Graham.”

Graham couldn’t decide if he was happy to hear the Navigation Assistant’s voice.

“I’ll help you. You seem to be struggling. My name is Ivan. Do you know why they call me that?”

He banged his forehead on his arm.

“I’m the fourth iteration of an Assistant Navigator. So, it seems you’re in an excavation vessel which is good, because that’s all you’re cleared for.”

“I got it.” Graham wiped the sweat off of his temple with his sleeve.

He had to apply power now. No magnetic guiding at this point. Luckily, the ship’s watchlight automatically flipped on, but Graham could really only see dark walls move past him rapidly.

“They’ve sealed the exit, by the way.”

Graham’s heart beat tripled. “I’m just going to crash? This is the end for me?” He began to get choked up.

“Of course not. For your information, this ship shuts off if your vital signs become dangerous. There’s a second path, but you need to switch the track manually. Did you ever get to the unit about the railroad in your textbook? That would be helpful at the moment.”

It was a simple dial, though unfortunately it would require Graham lose his sight of the tunnel for a few seconds.

“Ivan, I can’t do this.” He didn’t quite know if it was a confession or an excuse.

“You’ve done more dangerous, more complicated things. You succeeded then. I still have your flight log from entry exam for Navigation courses. Other pilots in that squad: Strauss, Simmons, Sarka, Williams, Brown…” Then, Graham knew it.

Like a light bulb exploding in your face, the divider appeared for a split second beneath the watchlight. The ship lurched right, scraping first the right wing’s paint and then a tiny amount of the left side’s solar shield. He succeeded.

“Isn’t cruising through space just… Weird?” Graham spoke somewhat dazedly, but more confidently.

Ivan responded with a simple “Stay on track.” He gave Graham an agenda:

Locate Strauss

Locate Simmons

Locate Sarka

Locate Hasenkamp

Return

Graham gave him a thumbs up.

Twenty minutes later Graham received a video call from the Station with the subject “Mom and Dad.”

What the subject didn’t include was the Commander standing behind them and the guards rushing around them. He felt as if his parents held it together well, at the very least.

Commander Sanders let Melinda and Jack Severen speak first, referring to them as ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ respectively.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, I just want you to come back in one piece. We can talk about it, okay?”
“Look, Graham, I know you’re disappointed that there are things you’ve wanted to do or have happen and they just didn’t work out. We gotta talk about it first. You’re like a wet coffee filter out there.”

The Commander stepped in front of them in order to address the boy directly.

“See? Your parents are worried sick. Just return the vessel and we’ll handle your friends. This can all be sorted out.”

Graham felt like saying a lot of things to him, but for now, “You don’t really understand my intentions then,” would have to do.

An inky, starry landscape. The view took his breath away, both literally and figuratively. Miles and miles of nothing, yet it’s all there, energy and dust and planets and asteroids

and more asteroids

A lot of asteroids

A red alarming message scrawled in front of him: System interference: Automatic Navigation disabled remotely by third party. ID: Station One Council

“They’re right behind me, they must be.” Graham spoke to no one in particular. More importantly, an asteroid field was about to shred him into scrap and IVAN was forced offline.

‘The cliche would be to tell myself to remember my training. The only thing I remember is the list of things they will never train us on, this and black holes...’

First, he tucked the wings back. Then, he reduced his thrust by ninety-nine percent. Finally, he waited for a Council Guard ship.

The guard was coming up behind him fast. Those were most certainly weapons, but Graham had an inkling that they wouldn’t be using them. He couldn’t be confident about it, though. Graham punched it, and without wings and extra thrusting power he just sort of floats up and away like a balloon. It was enough to get on top of the guard ship, and he proceeded to nose dive, gritting his teeth, squinting hard. The two ships awkwardly clashed like blades during a French duel, then Graham revealed his Coup de Grace. His landing gear dug into the unsuspecting guard ship, piggybacking on the skilled authority figure who presumably didn’t want to lose his life.

He tried to shake Graham off. It got rocky, one component of the landing gear snapped off and the hull was beaten lightly. The guard tried loops, he tried rolling left - which mostly left Graham extremely nauseous - and he tried to scare Graham by using his extra thrusters.

As soon as Graham could see the end of the asteroid field, he pulled the crank again and the wings deployed. He turned the speed back on and rocketed off of the guard ship, albeit now lacking landing gear.

Systems reinitialized: Escaped third party

“Alright Ivan, let’s find the pirates. This thing has a scanner, doesn’t it?”

“It’s not very strong, let me warn you that much. I think I have an idea though. Let me show you how to use your probes.”

Graham was glad for Ivan’s quick responses, otherwise he would have too much time to think and would begin to experience derealization.

Graham waved him dismissively. “I don’t need help with that. Why do you think they’d help?”

“It pisses them off.”

Graham stroked his chin. “Sure, I guess.” Who was he to argue with an artificial intelligence? He found the trigger beneath one of the semicircles, except it was a sort of cannon with three axes to worry about. Thankfully the ship comes with fancy graphic aids.

“Hm, I see pretty big ship. Wouldn’t it be better to go for the source?”
“No, Graham, don’t-”

What looked like a completely black bullet the size of a missile soared across space to wherever the scanner says that huge ship is.

“You aren’t always super helpful. Don’t be so judgmental of my decisions, IVAN!” The venom was back again. He paused, then apologized.

A red and black alert tried desperately to get his attention. Graham swore loudly and darted off in another direction as a missile whizzed by.

“No, this is good. Keep going towards them.”

Graham rubbed his face while giggling nervously, “You want me to kill myself now.”

“Shut up. I want you to trace back the trajectory.”

Within minutes Graham was at uncomfortable speeds, to the point where the cabin shook and the controls felt like they’d snap back into the console and surely make them nosedive again. A red hot object came into view and Graham’s only instinct was to roll the ship to the right, nearly giving himself whiplash. His eyes widened, both with surprise and fright.

“I can see it!”

A rust tinged vessel the size of the hangar bay’s interior. For some reason he was expecting more red paint and skulls, though the ship had a shabby look to it as if it is being constantly repaired with subpar materials. There were also a few small ones circling it, the ones with the cannons. Three missiles this time.

The first one arced over Graham’s ship. The second clipped a wing and sent debris shooting in every direction. Finally, a missile hit the cockpit. The ship began to spin uncontrollably and Graham began hyperventilating. His cockpit was intact but the display shattered in a few places. It would be hard to navigate anywhere.

“Graham, I don’t want you to panic more, but you have about three minutes left of use if your vitals don’t drop”

“No, I, wha? I don’t want, I don’t want, I DON’T WANNA BE HERE!” Graham slammed both fists on both semicircles, grasped and tugged at his harness and pumped the thrust pedal like mad.

“Graham, you’re losing yourself here! We’re about to crash!”

Hazard lights blinked on and a pre-recorded message informing Graham of the distress signal sent to the Council is played. He dry heaved before shoving his fingers to his temples

This is a weird scene

I can’t tell what is and what isn’t because everything is black and white and red and angry

I feel like I’ve faked human contact this entire time

I just wish I could talk to Abigail

Abigail?

Where was she again?
I don’t remember the last time I saw her. I don’t think that was her today. I don’t know what I’m looking at.
I hear a voice.

PROGNOSIS: DEREALIZATION
PATIENT TO BE RETURNED TO STATION ONE HOSPITAL
SENDING REPORT . . .

“No!” Graham slams the cancel button, unsure of how the system is still running but determined to right his wrongs. “I don’t need you,” He disconnects IVAN from the cockpit. “I don’t need this goddamn mining job, I don’t need the council, I don’t need another soulless voice!”

The ship begins spinning in order to gain momentum. Apparently Graham lost all of his fuel during that black out. At least he didn’t die, he figured. ‘All I need is to be looking up at them, I don’t care that I’m below them.’ Beneath the left handle is a trigger to initialize the second tool of the mining trade: the titanium harpoon. At least, that’s what he called it. He aimed his left harpoon at a mid sized pirate ship and fired. It went through the wing, but if he reels it in he might be able to drag them down with him.

Graham realized that he was just about to add weight to himself without solving anything, so he disengaged that and fired the second one through a small ship and into the big one. He reeled it in as fast as possible, smashing his ship with the unarmed vessel. Now, he has a few moments to make a decision.

I’m still too far away from the main carrier to do anything, but…

Graham punched in a few codes in the console. It showed him his equipment.

A SMART Suit hidden in the back.

As quickly as he could he ripped off his harness, rolled back and swapped pieces of his clothing with the computer guided thin armor. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that the small vessel wasn’t unarmed, their laser cannon was just out of view. Depressurized. ‘Surely Mom and Dad are going to hear about my ship being blown up,’ he thought darkly.

His helmet was less protective than what the guards get, but it would keep him from suffocating. Graham inspected the empty cabinet and found a pocket sized welding torch. He snatched it.

As he turned back to the console, the flames blinded him and he instinctively raised an arm in front of his eyes. Despite the fire one lone part of the console kept flickering and Graham suddenly realized what the module slot is for on his suit. “Well, I hope he forgives me,” he muttered to himself.

“So I see you’re in a SMART suit.”

Graham surveyed the area, decided it was safe to cross and began tip toeing across the steel cable. “Yep.” His visor fogged up a bit which worried him. “Sorry about before, but I really just need you to do computer stuff for me and keep me alive.”

“Roger.”

Graham swore under his breath. No way around the small ship he pierced. He looked for a way in and found an emergency handle. Squeezing and lifting it, he regretted doing that.

Another SMART suit user with a rabid look in his eyes started clawing at Graham, potentially ripping a hole in the nearly skin-tight armor. Graham yelled back, attempting to punch him but failing. The crazed suit user pulled out an electrified knife which sunk deep into Graham’s abdomen. He didn’t have time to marvel at the genius of it. The voltage completely bypassed the armor and the sharp metal did its work. Graham shoved the man back toward the fiery wreck, causing him to slip and catch on the steel cable.

Graham squirreled back into the crazed man’s now open vessel and took out his torch. Sweat dripped around his eye sockets as he snuck glances at the man who was climbing back to Graham as if he were an animal to be eaten. He flicked the torch on, keeping it on the steel cable until it bubbled and turned orange-white. The cable snapped and the man’s frantic attempts to grab on proved fruitless. It felt like slow motion when Graham turned to face the two ships in front of him while the only other human being around drifted off into the abyss of space.

With the mass distribution dismantled, Graham’s only choice would be to clamber the interior of the crazed man’s ship and walk up the steel cable to the huge pirate ship. Unfortunately, the harpoon stuck in a wall that led to nowhere. Graham had one idea.

It was possible nothing would happen, but it was entirely possible that the crazed man’s buddy would come zooming over. It was unlikely that Graham could jump on. It was highly unlikely that he could turn himself in.

He succeeded.

Fans and vents which did nothing to circulate the musty air. Rust patches in corners from what Graham could only imagine is years of layered bodily fluids. Grunting workers off in one section where it sounds like they either build weapons, box up scrap for selling or craft tea sets. Prisoners weeping off in the distance. Are those my prisoners? It was a nasty, dank, depressing and ostensibly chaotic place.

Graham was being led by the arm to his friends, though he wouldn’t be able to hug them due to the chains. His guide was a scarred woman with half of her hair crudely shaved off, plus a messy rubber apron. Do all of these people wear SMART suits? “Most of them,” Ivan said to his cranium. You could speak to my brain directly all this time?

“No, just in SMART suits.” Graham sighed loudly. The apron pirate confiscated his welding torch and also the knife. That part hurt. Graham watched as burgundy formed an outline for the slit in his stomach.

The pirate escorting Graham shoved him into the dimly lit room and slammed the door, presumably wandering back to more important duties. A large collection of guffaws, gasps and mutters filled the room as Graham was walked in. He smiled at them. Simmons was half naked with a black eye, but he was also the first to question the situation. “Wuzzat?”

The escort shoved Graham ahead and told him not to do anything stupid. Abigail sat in the corner holding her knees, Hasenkamp was unconscious and Holder was sobbing by a couple of drippy pipes. Abigail’s face lit up, then fell. “What’s wrong with you?” she seemed more concerned about Graham’s well being than she was about being captured. “Well, I’m not great.” Graham chuckled dryly.

Simmons simply wasn’t having small talk. “So does anyone have a plan? So we can LEAVE?”

“What happened to you, Simmons?” Graham raised an eyebrow at him. In the same breath he suggested someone should carry Hasenkamp and that the group should attempt to recover their supplies.

“Our stuff is either locked away or destroyed. I think we should wait until the Council arrives.” Abigail continued to hug herself despite standing.

“The Council can screw itself,” Graham turned back to the door, thinking. He imagined that wasn’t a very popular opinion, but he didn’t hear anything. “Actually,” he continued, “I think I can take the brunt. If we wait they’ll just kill us or something.”

“Graham, you can’t just go out there and do whatever! These are dangerous people!” Abigail pleaded.

Simmons shook his head. “If it’s the only plan we got, we gotta do it”

Ten minutes later he was clutching a pale Graham in his arms, even bloodier around the stomach. He explained to the pirate that Graham went crazy and started digging at his wound, that he needs to see the captain immediately so they can negotiate something. Instead of a stockpile of weapons, booze or scrap, the captain’s quarter was filled with books and a small workshop with a disassembled navigation unit on it. The captain seemed to be a scruffy thirty year old, military style clothing and glasses.

Simmons explains that the Council is going to want Graham first since he broke the rules and that he needed medical attention.

“So, what do you think you’ll get out of telling me this?” The captain’s slick voice set Simmons back. “I can tell you right now that you’re misjudging our motives.”

“Then, you tell me.” Simmons’s tone grew harsher.

“Why in the world would we ever pillage a station such as yours when there are hundreds to choose from in this sector alone?” The captain adjusted his glasses nonchalantly.

Graham rolled off of Simmons and jumped at the captain. “You keep giving us the runaround and I’ll leave you to the wolves, just like your friend.”Simmons seemed taken aback by this but the captain shrugged it off.

“It’s okay, I know a dead kid when I see one. You didn’t fool me. You know, you don’t really strike me as a Station One graduate. More like a maniac who doesn’t know how to discipline himself.” Graham swung and missed, knuckles whiter than ivory. Simmons grabbed his left arm but he just kept punching with his right. The captain countered with a hook directly to the helmet, imploding the viser. “We have the same enemy here, jackass!” Graham choked and spat out glass.

Ivan whispered to his spine, “Mental state destabilizing. Watch out, Graham.”

Graham stayed on his knees. “Then explain it to us! Today my only home was attacked by you. I stole a ship. I killed a man. You tell me what’s going on here, you get a pat on the back. How about that?” His voice tended to break once in a while. “Round everyone up, Simmons.”

Hasenkamp was barely awake for the discussion. Abigail sat next to Graham and Simmons sat on his other side. Holder was absent.

“There’s not much to tell. Your ‘Station’ that you love so much is incredibly corrupt. Why would it ration out food when it has access to so much of it? Why are you people so isolated from all the other civilizations? I’ve seen your security up close, they’re not serving nor protecting. Well, maybe The Council.” He pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. “And who are these people, anyway? The Council sounds like a treehouse club for people who just enjoy making others suffer.”

No responses, until Hasenkamp chimed in. “So where’s your proof?” The captain gestured to the wall of books, some of which were stuffed with papers.

Abigail seemed nervous but asked, “Why do you care about us like that? You don’t live anywhere. You’re a pirate.”

The captain pointed at her. “Bingo. I was born in Station One and I escaped. I was a graduate once. You know why you never see the ‘elite squad’ anywhere until the next ceremony? They don’t live long. They don’t have lives to live. In fact,” he smirked at the doorway, “One of your own hired me. You know that Holder guy? Poor kid, couldn’t pay for graduate classes but wanted to prove himself to his father and brother anyway. Came to us for some cash, his debt was a grudge over a decade old. Didn’t know what hit him.”

Graham sat and soaked this in while Abigail started to cry. Hasenkamp seemed to be deep in thought. Now Simmons was absent too. Hasenkamp’s eyes shot open and she sprinted down the hallway.

Graham dropped back to his feet, perky as ever. Ivan would call this a ‘eureka moment.’ “Abigail, I’ve got it. I know how to solve this whole thing.” She raised her head just enough to stare at him.

“We’re making our own Council. Think of all the people who thought they lived at Station One, who think they are living, who will think they’re living a life. It’s not fair. We’re going to rival Station One and,” he swiveled his head back to a blank face captain, “We’re going to get rid of these pirates.”

Screaming. Hasenkamp stumbled back into the room, pale and out of breath. “Th-they’re in…” Abigail ran out of the door, then the captain and finally Graham.

The captive room. When Graham first saw the room he noticed Holder crying by the drippy pipes. Come to think of it, Graham wondered how many things Holder has said since the ceremony. There was a cluster of people by the doorway that Graham had to shove past.

The musty chamber felt more or less the same as before, except instead of Holder crying by the pipes he laid curled up…

...Dead.

It was Simmons.

Graham looked down at his sticky fingers, silent. Is it a privilege or a right to enforce order?

“I can’t solve moral dilemmas for you, Graham,” Ivan echoed in his spinal fluid.