A Coalition of the Compassionate: The Kindness of Strangers (Krinemonen III)
Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Aug 13 2015 11:55pm
Krinemonen System, 25 ABY
Krinemonen III, Union of the Seas
Following the Battle of Dac, Dragon-Coalition War

The Reborn Emperor once sought to unleash the most heinous of his terror weapons on the world, but he missed his mark. He missed his chance.

Once the third moon of a parent world, Krinemonen III still bore its historic moniker despite the fact that the planet Krinemonen no longer existed. The vast majority of the ever-expanding cloud of rock and dust that had once been Krinemonen was moving slowly out of the system under the force of the tremendous energies imparted to it by the Galaxy Gun's warhead. A tiny portion of the former world's mass would be swept up by the other planets in the system, and a greater fraction would be captured by the system's primary and drawn into its ceaseless nuclear furnace, touched once more by the primal forces that the Galaxy Gun's forbidden technologies had exploited to unmake Krinemonen.

There was a middle portion, though, that was not otherwise accounted for. A sum of mass insignificant in the terms used to discuss even single solar systems, but all too decisive from the perspectives of those it rained down upon as the near-missed wrath of a distant and dimming tyrant.

Before the Galaxy Gun, before the Emperor's Rebirth, before the great victories of an upstart New Republic, Krinemonen III had made itself a refuge for billions of aquatic beings fleeing the unfaltering march of the Emperor's New Order. It had stood in the midst of a Galactic Civil War as a symbol of more than simple defiance. It had stood as a symbol of hope.

And so it had been targeted. And so it had suffered.

The rain of artificial asteroids had pummeled Krinemonen III's oceans, generating tsunamis, earthquakes, and dust storms so thick they blocked out the sun. In a single instant, the fiercely defiant hope of Krinemonen III had been reduced to ruin. The world was all but dead, it's people broken and helpless.

But spirits are not so easily broken as bodies. Wounds heal. Terror fades. Hope, like life itself, springs anew. Buildings are replaced. Kelp forests recover. Seas calm. Skies clear.

The defiant remember who they are.

“We were brave once,” the yellow one with the finned hands and membranous neck frill said, looking out at the ocean filled with alien creatures.

“We are brave again,” the orange-and-red one with the prehensile feelers running down the sides of its worm-like body said, looking out at the ocean filled with boats and raft cities.

“We are more than our wounds,” the one with the translucent body and blue-black eyestalks said, looking out at the ocean filled with gentle waves and weathered islands.

“We evolve to greatness,” the one with the brown-green skin, bulbous eyes, and fin-like hands said, looking out at an ocean of stars all but blocked by the Krinemonen Relief Fleet. “To Dac!” the Mon Calamari shouted, and as one, his people set about their next great task, the first they had dared since the isolation imposed upon them by the rise of the Black Dragon Imperium.

* * *

Chalacta System, 26 ABY
Chalacta, Capital City
Following Coalition House Vote, Exodus of the East

“What if it's not enough?”

President Borosh looked up from his work to find his friend and political ally standing in the doorway, a grim look on his human features.

“What if all we've done here . . . what if the wounds just can't be healed?”

“Surely you don't believe that?” It really was a question. The Sneevel leader of the United Republic of Chalacta and Sneeve had never seen the man like this. “Not after all we've accomplished, together? Our people fought for this, together. We bled and died together, to put the sins of our past behind us.”

Brand sighed heavily, his burden plainly visible in the slumping of his shoulders. He ventured carefully into the office their war had won. “We've come a long way, Borosh, sure, but wartime atrocities, armed occupation, apartheid regimes . . . they don't just vanish with a public election and a staged photo op. We have a responsibility to our people to protect them from their own cruelty and malice, and we have to wall off every path that leads back to that dark history.”

“'Wall off every path'?” Borosh asked. “What are you talking about?” And then he got it. “Delaya? This is about Delaya?”

“We can't let the resettlement bill pass, Borosh.”

The President shook his head. They'd been over this too many times already. “I'm sorry, old friend, but on this we simply have to agree to disagree.”

“No,” the Chalactan man said, sliding into a chair on the opposite side of the President's desk. “I have a plan, now. A real plan, with real consequences. You can push, and push, and push for unity, for the 'oneness' of Chalacta and Sneeve, but all you will do is force people who are not ready, to live side by side with people they would rather throttle in their sleep.”

“Delaya is a symbol of the strife and division that drove our people to war,” Borosh said, reiterating the old line but with the same fire and passion as always. “We will remake it, together, into a symbol of our future prosperity. We will turn the scorched earth of our past into an Eden for the future, and anyone, anyone who says otherwise betrays all that we have achieved.”

Brand's head slumped slightly, his hands clenching the edge of the President's desk. Was he getting through to the man, finally after all of this time? “It's not ours. It's not for either of us. It's not for our children, or their children. Not for Chalacta, or Sneeve, together or apart. We don't deserve it. We haven't earned it,” he looked up, his eyes filled with remorse and pain, “and if any of us try to claim it again, it will be our destruction.”

“I have to try,” Borosh whispered, truly hurting for his friend, but knowing where his duty fell. “We cannot let this world lie, dead, between our two peoples. We cannot let this monument to our past evils stand. You have to know that. You have to.”

Brand nodded, sitting a little more upright, his hands sliding from the desk. “It has to be remade, yes, but by someone more deserving.”

* * *

Fwillsving System, 26 ABY
Fwillsving, Refugee and Evacuation Service Headquarters
special Executive Conference, Exodus of the East

President Howard Shan cleared his throat, diverting his eyes slightly. It wasn't the harsh light of the holograms, everyone who knew him understood. Howard Shan wasn't built for this kind of exchange. He was no warrior, and this, without a doubt, was a kind of war.

“Prime Minister Regrad, respectfully,” he worked up the courage to meet the central hologram's imposing glare, “I refuse.”

“Excuse me?” the leader of the Galactic Coalition said, taken aback.

“I will not evacuate Fwillsving,” he said flatly. “I will not betray the trust that it's people have placed in me, I will not destroy the lives I have restored by returning dignity and hope to billions of refugees. I will not abandon the faith and goodwill of our allies. Fwillsving will not be emptied. This world and it's people will not yield to you.”

He wasn't built for this, no, but that spine of his served just fine in this capacity.

“Then I take it your people have decided to withdraw from the Coalition.” It was not a question.

“No,” Howard said firmly, eyes darting to other Coalition officials represented. Before Regrad could respond, Howard pressed on. “Now that Delaya has been ceded to the Refugee and Relief Service, I will be calling on our allies throughout the Coalition to expand the authority of the Refugee Service and establish the Refugee and Evacuation Service as a federal agency with broad authority to manage refugee worlds and populations, and secure safe avenues of entry for those seeking political and humanitarian asylum.”

“Then you intend to ignore my evacuation order?” Regrad asked, clearly displeased.

“No,” Howard shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “I am defying you,” he opened his eyes and met the other man's gaze again, “Prime Minister. Openly and unapologetically, before the leaders of your administration and the Refugee Service's Oversight Committee. For the sake of the Coalition, for the sake of the billions yet beyond our borders who are desperate to find their way into our protection, I am defying you! I will not yield! Fwillsving will not yield!

“We will not!”

“I thought a man in your position would understand that it is easy to be brave when your enemy has not yet come for your own home.”

“I am as brave as I am made by those who follow me,” Howard said defiantly.

“I'm recalling the Eastern fleet to defend our new border,” Regrad threatened.

“What use is a border you keep redrawing to suit your enemy?” Howard spat. He was shaking now, not in rage, but in panic. This was not who he was. These were not his words. But they needed to be said. They had to be said. And the man who should be saying them was staring daggers at him from across the galaxy.

“You draw your line on the map, Prime Minister, I'll draw mine, and we'll see where the troops line up.”

Howard closed the lines and shuffled shakily to his desk in the corner of the room. He collapsed into the chair, trying to calm himself before looking over to the foreign delegates who had been watching. The Ryn simply nodded before heading to the door. The Sneevel grinned sheepishly, fully aware of how inappropriate it was, but unable to stop himself. The creature from Krinemonen III, whose people had continued to help ferry Dac refugees to long-term settlements on other Coalition worlds even after the initial evacuation to Teth was complete, slither-walked forward slightly.

The blue-and-orange creature looked more oversized snake than human, the lower two-thirds of its body a long, sinuous tail covered in fishy scales. Its two arms were vaguely humanoid, but thin and delicate in appearance, with extra joints, webbed fingers, and covered in a strange mix of fine scales on the outer arm and frail flesh on the inner arm. Its head was perhaps the most peculiar, with lizard-fish-man features framed by a fleshy, webbed frill that extended partway down its back.

It spoke with a voice as unusual as its form, melodic but not exactly feminine, with a kind of flowing quality that hinted at its aquatic origins. “Every day that my people choose to aid you, President Shan, we give cause to the Black Dragon Empire. And every day we choose to aid you, President Shan, because we know what men of war do not: for the Dragons, cause is pretense. If they come for you, they do so because they wish to come for you, not because you have offended them, not because you give them cause to fear you.

“My world is no less safe today than it was yesterday, because today as yesterday it is found within the proclaimed borders of the Black Dragon Empire. Today as yesterday, the dragons either desire it or they do not.

“The Dragons will come for Fwillsving or they will not, and your presence or absence will have no bearing on the matter. And if you leave this world for some new home, the Dragons will come for your new home or they will not, and your presence or absence will have no bearing on the matter.

“We will remain to aid you, President Shan, because it is right to remain, and the Dragons' coming or not has no bearing on the matter.”
 
Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Oct 18 2015 12:05am
Delaya System, 27 ABY
Delaya, Refugee Service Planetary HQ
Rise of the Reavers, Year of Cataclysm

President Shan's defiance, it turned out, had merely been the tip of the spear. The East, it seemed, had given up too much already, and they were not willing to give up more. In a grim sort of way, the Rise of the Reavers was one of the best things that could have happened for the East. The Dragons were gone now, vanished to parts unknown, and once-President of Fwillsving Howard Shan, now High Commissioner of the Coalition Refugee and Relief Service, had shaped his newly expanded agency into a tool of unimaginable political and economic power. When the tide of Reaver refugees crashed into the East, High Commissioner Shan and his international powerhouse of a Refugee Service met them head-on.

The whole of the East was rallying around this aspect of the Reaver crisis, desperate to save billions from the fate of displacement and despair that its own worlds had so recently been faced with. The work on Delaya had been changed, however, by intervention from powers beyond the Eastern Province.

“. . . so in three months' time, we'll have the Manufacturing District operational under Workers' Party control,” the Cooperative official finished the segment of his presentation, smiling broadly at his people's master plan come to fruition.

“Once that's done, we'll reassign the Ryn workforce to assist with orbital construction projects, the Salvation droid labor will be retasked to long-term housing development, and . . . and . . . is there a problem, Commissioner?”

Howard Shan was shaking his head, failing to suppress a smile. “Sorry.” He very clearly was not sorry. “It's just, well, no.”

“I'm sorry,” the young man mumbled, “I don't understand.” The next slide of his presentation was already on display, and he was eyeing it expectantly. The next part was so good!

“What we've accomplished here together is amazing, really amazing,” the Commissioner said, but it was clear that there was a “but . . .” on the way, and there it was.

“But?”

“URCS has submitted a plan of their own, and quite frankly, it's better suited to the East's interests and capabilities.”

“Chalacta and Sneeve?” the Cooperative official asked, confused.

“Don't get me wrong,” Commissioner Shan continued, ignoring the minor interruption, “when you first came to me with this Cooperative plan, to turn Delaya into the East's version of what you were doing on Selcaron and Amorris, I was impressed. I still am!” He smiled a little too big. “But these aren't Onyxians we're dealing with here. These aren't even Coalition citizens . . . yet.”

“Commissioner, I really must protest!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Howard nodded dismissively, glancing off to the side as if he found the wall paneling of more interest. “We're delaying the orbital work, doubling the city building, and distributing startup manufacturing and other industrial sectors more broadly. The Ryn will be running the bulk of the Salvation bots, retasked to infrastructure and factory construction, and you'll be heading up the housing and social services work.”

The Cooperative official scoffed. “You can't do that, though. I'm the head of Cooperative humanitarian efforts in-system, and I decide where my people go and what they do. Don't let your office go to your head, Commissioner: I don't answer to you.”

“Yeah yeah,” Howard said dismissively, gesturing at the Cooperative officer.

A young Bimm aide scurried forward and handed the man a datapad.

“What's this?”

“Clarification from the Ministry of Ethics on Section Something Or Other, Sub-Pragraph etc of the Refugee and Evacuation Service Expansion Act,” Howard said, pinning the Cooperative official in place with his withering stare. “Basically, it says I get to do what I want with you.”

“This . . that's not possible,” the man moaned, trying to sort out the dense language on the datapad in only a few seconds.

“The Cooperative could recall you, of course,” Howard admitted, “but what do you think the chances are of that happening?”

All of the young man's hopes and dreams crumbled to dust in that instance. So he wouldn't be making a name for himself here, after all. He'd been outmaneuvered by the older man. “But the Cooperative Workers' Party has -”

“I allowed the Workers' Party a presence on this world,” Howard cut him off, “and the Refugee Service will abide by its agreement with them. But it will do so with them, not with you. The Refugee Service writes the rules on Delaya, and we do it in accordance with Delaya's membership in the East. This is not a Cooperative world, these are not Cooperative refugees, and this is not a Cooperative project. You'd do well to remember that in the future.”

* * *

Delaya System, 27 ABY
Delaya, Charred Wastes Forward Command Post
Rise of the Reavers, Year of Cataclysm

Corporal Rebecca Cormier fought her way through the flap of the tent's entrance, the wind buffeting her and the partly sealed strip of fabric. Powdery ash continued to blow through the closing gap as she zipped the flap shut behind her, leaving her, eventually, sealed inside a small compartment coated in gray-black dust. She brushed off her uniform as best as she could, unwrapping and shaking out the heavy scarf wound around her breath mask.

Once she'd managed the debris as best she could, Rebecca unsealed the next flap and entered another, similar compartment. The walls and floors of this one, however, were only moderately coated in the ashen remains of the war-torn world's vibrant history. She stripped off the extra layer of protective military uniform, hanging the gear on a wall rack before moving through the final flap and into the temporary command post beyond.

The sounds of frantic and overtaxed soldiers and aid workers were amplified here, the volume of everything raised to be heard over the windswept walls and ceiling of the large tent. Rebecca deftly navigated the clustered teams and their bare-bones work stations, scanning the faces of those she passed until she found someone of use.

“Clark, Clark!” she shouted, waving for the grizzled old Ryn's attention.

She saw him sigh heavily before acknowledging her, as if she couldn't see him as long as he couldn't see her. “What do you need, Corporal?” He was still working some problem on a datapad.

The man was tired, they all were. It was understandable, so she tried her best to let it slip by without another thought. “I've got some kind of . . . cat-people in Zone 13, and not a one of them speaks Basic, or Bocce, or Taarja, or any other language anyone else in my squad can get by on reasonably well.”

“Well I can't help you there,” he said, handing the pad to a technician at a nearby computer terminal. “We're short on translator droids, and we won't be getting another shipment to lessen the strain for another couple of weeks.”

“I know,” Rebecca acknowledged.

“Things are spread thin everywhere right now,” he continued, looking past Rebecca even as he kept talking to her.

“I understand, Clark,” she said, his casual dismissal starting to wear on her.

“I can't keep pulling mission-critical assets every time your team runs into a problem.”

Team? Team? “Yeah, but here's the thing -”

“Is there a problem . . . Corporal?” a familiar voice asked from Rebecca's side.

She spun on a heel and offered the base commander a perfunctory salute. “To be honest, Sir, this storm's kicking our ass out there and I've got a lot of scared refugees looking to me for help, who I don't even know how to tell 'it'll be okay'.”

“Topside's working the weather forecasting problem,” the commander droned, “but it's not a priority. You should expect similar conditions for the foreseeable future.”

“Sir, I understand, but -”

“If you can't handle the heat, Corporal . . . well, you know how the saying goes.”

The commander turned to leave, and Rebecca grabbed his arm to stop him. “There are eight of us in Zone 13 patrolling and policing more than ten thousand refugees from dozens of worlds, speaking twice as many languages. The 'heat' is not the problem, Sir, they are. Ten thousand people without access to promised resources and services, shuffled off into one tiny corner of one half-forgotten camp of one world's overflow network.

“I'm a soldier, Sir. I have a mission, I have orders, and if we were fighting the Dragons right now, I would be out of bullets. That's the problem. Not the storm, not the delay on translators, not dumbass Command decision to put a refugee holding area in the middle of a gods-damned ashfield; I have a mission, and I don't have what is required to complete that mission.”

The commander sighed, looking down at the little woman in her toy soldier outfit. “Clark, get the soldier what she needs.”

“Thank you, Sir,” she said to his back as he walked away.

“So what is it this time?” Clark asked, pushing the technician aside and taking the seat at the terminal.

“Herglese,” Rebecca announced. “I think she was speaking Herglese.”

Clark cast her a dubious look. “This far out, really?”

Rebecca shrugged. “What can I say: these backwaters are crazy. Just find me a guy on one of your work crews who can speak Herglese, and I'll have him back to you as soon as possible.”

“So I'll never see him again,” Clark pronounced, searching records of Ryn work teams in the area. “Like the last nine people you 'borrowed' from work duties.”

She had a nice little quip ready to go when another familiar and unpleasant voice cut through the general bustle of the command post. “Becca!”

She spun around to find Sergeant Ishmael stomping toward her. “Sarge, whatever it is this time, I told Kik . . . wait, what's going on here?”

Up close, she could tell that this was his standard “grumpy” face, not an actual “I'm mad at you” face. Then the Mon Calamari's fishy features cracked into a rare smile and the short alien reached up with both hands to clip something onto her uniform. “Good news and bad news, Sergeant.”

Rebecca looked down at the familiar insignia, thoroughly confused. “Uhh, Sarge, I . . .”

“Transfer came through,” he said. “We're pulling out next week to join up with Panacka's core group and resume normal military operations.”

Rebecca met the gaze of Ishmael's huge, bottomless eyes. “But Sarge . . .”

“We're a combat unit, Becca; we've done fine by these people for a while now, thanks in no small part to you, but my boys and girls joined up to fight, and I mean wars, not hunger or fear or whatever folks try to spin when they get asked why soldiers are playing at police and humanitarians.”

“And I'm staying,” Rebecca said, looking down at the mark of her new rank.

“Eastern Parliament approved the Refugee Defense Force; you'll be leading the squad created to replace us. You've got a little time to snatch up volunteers from the company before we pull out, but I expect most of your squad will end up being fresh recruits or transfers from the Cooperative.”

“Sarg, I . . . this is a lot to take in.” The buffeting wind and shouting command post operators weren't helping things, either.

“Good news, though: I got you your number two.”

Rebecca's eyes widened in shock. “Sarge, no, please don't . . .”

“The Corporal says she looks forward to you putting my command to shame.”

Risha had been a mentor and confidant since Rebecca joined the Eastern Provincials. The woman was more like an actual big sister to her now than a sister-in-arms. This wasn't right. This just wasn't right.

“It's a new kind of war, Sergeant Cormier. Old timers like me gotta make way for a new breed of soldier.”

* * *

Fwillsving System, 27 ABY
Fwillsving, Refugee and Evacuation Service Headquarters
The Return to Dac, Year of Cataclysm

“So here's the thing,” Howard Shan, High Commissioner of Refugees, began bluntly. “I don't know why you're here. I appreciate all of the help you've given us the past couple of years, don't get me wrong, but what are you doing here? The Dragons are gone, as best we can tell. Their interdictor network is down. The path home is open for you. So . . . what are you doing here?”

The snake-fish-man stared across the simple and overloaded desk of the Coalition's highest ranking humanitarian official, and tried its best at a humanoid grin. “There is still work to do.”

Howard sank into his chair, elbows resting on his desk and head in hands. “I don't get it. I just don't get it. You broke your own isolation policy in defiance of the Dragons' closed borders, aligned yourselves with the East at the lowest point of a war we were losing, and then stayed here to ferry our own refugees for no more commitment from us than the resources needed to keep your fleet flying. You've accelerated the restoration of Delaya with terraforming biotechnology developed in your isolation, and you supported my defiance of Prime Minister Regrad's evacuation order.

“Why? Why would you do any of that?”

The creature's tail coiled underneath it slightly, its shoulders rolling back a little, taking a more upright posture. “Your people made us brave again. This Province's war against the Dragons was not yours alone to fight, but you fought it alone because no one else was brave enough to fight it with you. Even in the midst of total despair, when the world you'd fought so hard to protect was lost to you, you risked everything to safeguard the evacuation of its people. And you, personally, Commissioner Shan, risked your entire life's work in defiance of your superiors to protect the most vulnerable people in the galaxy. You made us brave again, and that is not a debt that is easily repaid.

“Now, if you would allow it, I would like to commit my fleet to the safe Return of Dac's natives to their world.”

Howard was visibly taken aback. He'd heard rumors the Krinemonens were leaving soon, thought they'd finally grown bored of their humanitarian expedition, but no, that wasn't it at all. They weren't going home to end their mission, they were going to their home sector to see it through.

Howard cracked a smile, reaching out an arm and pushing a stack of datapads into a waste bin. “Well, at least I don't have to sort the logistics of that program, anymore!” He stood and reached a hand across the table. “Whatever you think you owe us, the East is in your debt. Thank you. Truly, thank you.”
Posts: 826
  • Posted On: Oct 31 2015 5:36am
Delaya System, 28 ABY
Delaya, Shepherd's Landing (Provisional Capital)
Present Time

“Four years ago, I was a prisoner on my own home world, stranded there by the Dragon Imperium's mass interdiction network.” The voice was high and shrill, with a sing-song quality that was a few painful octaves too high. “When the war with the Coalition began, I believed it the duty of my people to stand with that alliance of worlds against our oppressors. Others disagreed.” The owner of the voice was turned away, facing a wall-spanning viewport that overlooked the city below, its head and shoulders draped in a dark cowl, its arms and hands hidden in matching sleeves of a robe. “Peace is not a thing easily won on my world. Freedom is not a value held by all, not even the freedom of conscience.”

The creature stirred visibly, but didn't turn. “I paid a dear price for daring suggest that there might be another way for our people to go, a path out of fear and capitulation, where we might stand proud and brave beneath the light of our own sun.”

She turned, a clawed hand pulling back her cowl to reveal a face covered in green and red feathers so fine they looked almost like fur, three long scars running down the left side of her face, one of them running through the closed and sunken eye socket. “A dear price, but not nearly so dear as those who stood with me.

“I did not leave my world by choice, Prefect Varga; I braved the Dragon's interdiction network with those of us yet living, a fate believed as good as death by my people, for the shadow's chance that my family would not be slain for my crime, the crime of speaking my mind, of thinking otherwise in the first place.”

She rounded the corner of her simple desk, hand dropping back to her side, predator's claws plainly visible. “I did not choose the Coalition as my port of safe harbor; it was simply the first place that I found where I wasn't certain to be killed for staying. I did choose, however, to be counted among its citizens the day that I knew my new countrymen would not punish my people for the doubts that I carry within myself.

“My question, Prefect Varga, is simple: how am I to lead this world, when one such as myself is expected to rely on you as my second?”

Oh, the layers to this onion . . . “Are you questioning my commitment to the Coalition, President Serasi?”

“I am questioning your courage; I didn't run away from my home.”

He stared into the working eye of his new leader for a long moment, the flitting commerce of their new home visible to either side through the viewport. This world and its people, going about their business, daring to hope as their newly elected leaders tested the limits of this fabricated society's endurance. “Better than three fifths of your new home is made up of people like me, Miss President; people who ran from the Reavers, abandoned all that they knew and understood, to protect their families and friends, to ensure that something of their societies survived this abomination of a plague. Every one of them, like me, chose not only to live beneath the banner of the Coalition, but to embrace it as our own.

“This world belongs to us, now. This Coalition belongs to us, now. How are you going to lead Delaya with me at your side? If you can't do it with me, then you don't deserve the job in the first place.”

There was a short, tense moment where she held his stare, then she looked down as she patted her chest and stomach with both hands. “And all of that without even shooting a hole in me!” she squawked, but when she looked back up there was something in that eye, a spark of light, a hope of things to come.

“Ours is not a union either of us would have preferred,” Varga ventured carefully.

“But it is the one our people have chosen,” she returned optimistically. “I will test you often, Prefect.”

“I will obstruct you as necessary,” he assured her.

“The path ahead will not be easy; we must set an example that this world can follow to safety.”

Varga nodded out of the window, prompting the President to turn and see the massive Coalition Resettlement and Integration Service freighter settling into the world's main starport. “We won't be alone.”

And indeed, Delaya and its new stewards were far from alone. Bioformed algal blooms had spread across the surface of the planet's tainted waters, stabilizing the atmosphere and hydrologic cycle thanks to Krinemonen specialists. The great ash fields left by other armies' wars were settling beneath the first blooms of a recovering ecology. The commitment of the Cooperative Workers' Party had ensured housing and employment for billions of once displaced souls who now found a new identity as citizens of the Coalition.

This was Delaya, the dead world remade for all those who dared do more than dream. These refugees-turned-citizens, these brave and bold from every race and world this side of the Core, fashioned here for themselves a life to be envied by those who had chosen otherwise, and to be defended with ferocity and unbreakable resolve against those who would see them outcast once more.

This was Delaya, not a perfect world by any stretch of the imagination, but a world deserved by its Coalition, filled with peoples destined to make that Coalition more deserving.

* * *

Fwillsving System, 28 ABY
Fwillsving, Refugee and Evacuation Service HQ
Present Time

“Copy that, Eggbert, transferring you to Bimmisaari Remote Network for exit vector assignment.”

“Copy,
CRIS Mother Load, you are clear for approach along standard corridor. Fwillsving Orbital Network will assign your berth once transfer is complete.”

“Please hold, Captain Irvine, while I query the Provincial Salvation Network for a solution . . .

“. . .

“. . . Oh! Uhh, have you tried turning it off and then back on?”


“Negative, Irridium Nine, you are not in an approved dumping zone. If you evacuate your vessel's waste, you will be subject to a fine of no less than one thousand and no more than ten thousand credits . . . and I will have the Squib cleanup captain on-station give you a very thorough talking-to. I'm sure you wouldn't want that now, would you?”

“Officially, I'm not privy to that sort of information, Ma'am, but unofficially? Yes; the High Commissioner definitely monitors these channels personally, usually while he's at lunch, I hear. Quality control is a cornerstone of his administration.”


Howard's eyebrows raised at the coincidental mention of his spying. He absentmindedly started chewing the bite of salad, then his jaw sprang back open as he bit down on the fork still in his mouth. A reflexive jerk of his arm sent the discarded fork clanging as it struck his bowl. Of all the thousands of manually-operated traffic control channels, what were the chances that at that very moment, that very operator would bring him up? Unless, of course, they all talked about him, all of the time . . .

Was it really that bad? Had he really become so obsessed with the minutia of the Service's daily operations that even low-tier traffic control operators and random starship captains knew to joke back and forth about his involvement?

His commlink chimed. “Ah, saved by the ding,” he muttered as he wiped his mouth and hands with a napkin, then fetched the commlink. “Commissioner Shan, go ahead.”

“How'd you do it?” a gruff voice asked, almost accused.

Howard smiled. “Admiral Panacka, it's so good to hear from you! You know, I was expecting -”

“You've really got the pull on Fwillsving to override a unanimous recommendation from Easern Defense Command?”

Howard chuckled, leaning back in his seat. “You've really got the pull in Eastern Command to make that recommendation unanimous?”

“No,” Panacka grumbled, “I sent two of my best and three of my worst out on bullshit perimeter inspections before I made my pitch, but that's not the point! My point is that you're in this too deep.”

Howard sighed heavily into the commlink. “We've been over this before, Admiral, and the Refugee Service isn't moving, not one millimeter, not on this.”

“Salvation isn't safe, Howard! You're leaning on it too hard, and when somebody finally knocks it out from under you, you're going to get a lot of people killed.”

“I am confident -”

“Balls, Howard!”

I am confident,” Howard began again, forcefully this time, “that our allies throughout the Coalition have provided the Eastern Network with the cybersecurity apparatus necessary to protect it from covert or immediate brute-force compromise. That is sufficient security to ensure the short-term care of tens of billions of individuals under my charge, and sufficient security to provide us both the warning and time needed to implement alternative systems in the event of a credible concern.”

“I'm not one of your damned political lackeys, Howard. I've got a whole Province full of people I'm sworn to protect – that includes your refugees, mind you – and I'm still waiting for you to tell me how I'm supposed to do that when you've got the whole damned thing running off of the liability I'm trying to protect it from! How are you going to do it, Howard! How are you going to do it?”

“It's not as simple as that, and you know it, Admiral. The Refugee Service is not the Eastern Parliament and -”

“Bullshit! That's bullshit and you know it!”

Other cafeteria goers were starting to give Howard a bit of a side-eye, and he realized perhaps this was a conversation best continued somewhere more private. He forked a last couple bites of salad into his mouth and then headed for a turbolift. “My only interest in Salvation is as a system to organize and streamline the movement of refugees and related materials throughout the East and the greater Coalition, Admiral. Now if you can't admit -”

“Admit what? Admit what, dammit!? Admit that your lackeys in the Cooperative Workers' Party are running Salvation too! Admit their Eastern clone, that half-assed Resettlement Service, are every bit as eager to jam Salvation into every droid and server they can get their hands on!”

“You might want the next one,” Howard warned a pair of workers who were about to step into the lift after him. “I hear you worked some of your magic on the Sneevels and got their Salvation expansion shut down, actually,” Howard said to his commlink as the door closed.

“Delayed, not canceled,” Panacka admitted bitterly. “And that's not the point.”

“No, it's not,” Howard said, now that he was alone. “The point is that you spent a long time fighting the Dragons and watching good Coalition boys and girls die, and all those deaths bought you a nice, clear, up-close look at all their shiny technology and dread horrors, and even though they're gone now we're not safe because the Dominion Phaged Coruscant, and if the Dominion has the Dragon's Phage, then what else do they have, and what sorts of other alien, unspeakable nightmare technology did they use to get it?

“I don't know, Panacka. I don't know! But Salvation is saving lives now, today, every hour, and if the Dominion wants to break us, then they're going to have to come over here and get their hands bloody doing it! I'm not going to lay down, give up, and stop looking for solutions because you're scared and you don't know what's coming tomorrow. I'm a humanitarian, Panacka. Every credit I save is a credit I can spend saving lives. Labor efficiency is up, logistics costs are down . . . hells, have you seen what the Verpine are doing with their proprietary code? It'd make even you proud.

“Here's the point, plain and simple, because I've got five seconds before the lift dings and I get back to work: you can't protect us from this, but I trust that Emanon, and the Synthoid Collective, and the Verpine can, and you don't.

“It's like this: I'm fighting for the future and you're fighting for the past.”

Ding.

Click.



* * *


Krinemonen System, 28 ABY
Krinemonen III, Union of the Seas
Present Time

After three years away, the Krinemonen Relief Fleet was finally home. It had not returned alone.

The Seas were churning, not simply with life, but with purpose. The oceans had been redistricted according to the “old system”, the ordering of the world from before the Reborn Emperor's wrath that had nearly destroyed it. The shipyards in orbit, dormant all these years, were reawakening. The Relief Fleet was taking on supplies and rotating out the majority of its crews, eager to fulfill its new mission.

And the newly assembled Krinemonen Defense Fleet stood guard over all these goings-on.

It was decided: the people of this world could not hide themselves from their great calling. Teth, Fwillsving, Delaya, Sneeve, Chalacta, Bimmisaari, and a host of other worlds throughout the Coalition had committed themselves to the protection of Reaver refugees and the shepherding of those lost people back to lives of hope and peace.

Now, Krinemonen III would be counted among them.

“We are brave now,” the yellow one with the finned hands and membranous neck frill said, looking out at the ocean filled with alien creatures.

“We will be braver still,” the orange-and-red one with the prehensile feelers running down the sides of its worm-like body said, looking out at the ocean filled with boats and raft cities.

“We have made ourselves more than our past glories,” the one with the translucent body and blue-black eyestalks said, looking out at the ocean filled with gentle waves and weathered islands.

“We will not turn away,” the one with the brown-green skin, bulbous eyes, and fin-like hands said, looking out at an ocean of alien faces shimmering in the twilight. The holographic projection of the Dac Council hovered over the choppy waves of Krinemonen's vast ocean, staring back at the tens of millions of creatures who had sworn themselves to the Coalition's future, and opened its seas once more to the billions of aquatic refugees whose greatest dreams were simple relief from the chaos and ruin of a galaxy at war.


* * *


Epilogue


“I'm home,” Rebecca announced, dropping her bag just inside the door and taking off her hat, tucking it under an arm.

Ryan poked his head out from around the corner of the hall.

“How do you like the new uniform?” she asked, smiling broadly. “'Captain Rebecca Cormier' . . . has a nice ring to it, don't you think?” He didn't seem impressed. Sighing, she rattled off what it'd taken to get this far. “Special Officer Training through the Provincial Army Expansion Act, a University of Teth accelerated graduate program, and the Refugee Defense Force's Advanced Officer Placement program, not to mention letters of recommendation from my former CO, the company commander, and my own sidekick, Risha!” She was doing her best to stay upbeat in the face of his unrelenting stoicism, but it was tough.

“How long this time?” There was something in his voice, something . . . bitter, almost mean.

“I'm shipping out in two weeks,” she said, smiling weakly.

He scowled, then disappeared back around the corner.

“This is what we've always talked about, Ryan,” she shouted, rushing after him. “We always said -”

“No!” he shouted back, reappearing right as she reached the corner. “You s-s-s said you wanted to teach philosophy, h-h-h-here, at the University of Teth! N-not-not fracking war games on Mon Calamari!”

“On Dac,” she corrected him, quietly.

He disappeared again.

“And it's not war games,” she continued, hurt but chasing after him again. “They're founding a Defense Force Academy, Ryan! I'm a part of something important!”

“This is s-something important!” he shouted, wheeling about to face her again. “This!” he pointed at the floor, at their home. “The life we're s-s-supposed to be b-building together, here.”

“I can't be here, Ryan. I have to go to Dac.”

“No,” he shook his head, “you chose to g-go, to leave me h-h-here, alone in o-o-o . . .” he paused, taking several quick, loud breaths, “in our house, alone with the market, and th-the Joneses watching me every morning I walk alone -”

“Hell's bells, Ryan, not the market again.” She threw her hands in the air, shifting her weight and leaning against the wall, suddenly finding herself unable to look at him.

“Yes, the market, 'Becca. Yes, the m-market! That I built w-with my own hands! That market!” He huffed, fidgeting with those very hands, his anger getting the better of him.

For all the compassion she had in her, in that moment she understood that she couldn't close this gap between them. He was a boy trapped in a man's body, and she was a soldier trapped in a school teacher's. He had no idea what it was like to have to make a grown up decision and then live with the scars they left. He had no idea what it took to stare suffering in the eye and choose not to slink away.

She could say it, right then. She had all the wordcraft she needed, and more than enough determination. She had too much heart though, too much to wound the man she loved with the truth of who he was.

Her voice shaking, still hard to look at him, she did the best she could manage under the circumstances. “I'll wait for you to understand, Ryan, but not forever.” Then she stood up straight, put her hat back on, and headed for the duties that awaited her beyond that door.