[[[Within the Veil ]]]
> [[[Arcel Sector]]]
> [[[Sindrion System]]]
> [[[Sindrion III orbit]]]
> [[[Aboard RAL-port FJ-13]]]
Three centuries ago, the Sindrion system was first colonized. The Runora had pushed further and further outwards from their Birthworld until they reached the small neutron-star system on the very edge of Veil-covered void.
The hyper-dense corpse of a red giant doesn’t make for the most welcoming of suns: Instead of the infrared rays that warm so many worlds circling “normal” stars, the 14-kilometer wide marble spits out a lethal spectrum of X-rays that has long since scorched away anything that survived the star’s Supernova rebirth, but the Runora make do.
Thus Sindrion had become the 258th system the Runora may call their own. It wasn’t much of a homely home, mind you. The entire system more closely resembled an enormous industrial complex, employing some 70 billion laborers who just also happened to live there. Their task was simple: To strip the Sindrion system of every last sliver of her natural resources and turn them into all manner of technologies to feed the Runoran march of progress.
And of those resources, there were plenty. When fat ‘ole Sind blew her giant guts out a rough 150 million years ago, a significant amount of those innards was pulled right back in by the remaining gravity well, creating millions of asteroids consisting of nothing but valuable metals. Those asteroids that didn’t band together in belts had rained down on the three rocky planets that maintained a stable orbit, covering them in a metal-rich outer crust a few kilometers deep, ripe for the taking.
The system was a treasure trove no expanding species could hope to resist. Even now, with war on their doorstep, the Sindrionites diligently worked their shifts. The blueish engine flares from their mining and transport vessels were visible from the armorglass window, untold thousands of them breaking apart Sindrion III’s rings bit by bit.
At these distances, the ships’ torches outshone the star the very system was named after, rendering it virtually unfindable against the backdrop of endless shimmering specks that dotted the deep dark of the infinite void.
Cai watched them go about their work with wide eyes. He’d planned to act indifferent to the view; let the other Accies think he wasn’t like the usual Mole, but after catching just a glimpse of the grand inky expanse he had been hooked.
How long had he been staring already?
Five minutes? Ten, perhaps? And that was just this morning, he spent the better part of last night looking out into the abyss as well, entranced by both its unique beauty and its grim lack of hospitality.
Who cared if the others called him a bumpkin for it? Petty insults like that would usually get his anger up to a boil, sure, but that all seemed so insignificant now that he could finally witness the stars with his own eyes.
On his home planet, far below, they would be impossible to see. Always hidden from sight by the thick clouds of dust that perpetually shrouded the skies. It had taken him years of training to be allowed to see something so many others took for granted.
Well– he wasn’t quite detached from the planet yet, but being aboard a Ring Array Lift sure was the closest he’d ever gotten. He finally managed to tear his eyes away from the window and resumed the path he was on, following the curve of the Voidlift’s central structure with the soft thudding of his padded boots on the deck accompanying him. The port smelt like stale air –recycled a thousand times over– and the slightest undertones of oil, undoubtedly originating from the dry docks where dozens of vessels were currently being serviced.
He brought a thumb up to his temple and swiped it forwards, conjuring a small holographic display projected in front of his right eye.
He took one glance at his chronometer and swiftly accelerated from his relaxed stroll to a hurried stride; he had been looking out of the window for too long, after all.
His haste was hardly out of place on the station. Ever since full mobilization was announced three days ago there’d been a lasting air of urgency everywhere Cai went, but the voidport was the busiest of them all: Administrative workers with their faces buried in holographic spreadsheets scurried through the hallways, trying to sort out a hundred-and-one logistical issues while simultaneously evading the occasional power-tool wielding group of engineers, who were trying to get the well over 300 vessels docked with the RAL-port to combat-ready status in record time.
A deafening chime blared over the claxons throughout the lift: Three ascending notes, indicating new orders from high command. The orders likely weren’t meant for him, but Cai perked his ears nonetheless. The announcer’s voice was female and it was so clear, concise and cold that Cai would’ve sworn it was a rudimentary intelligence relaying the message.
“Attention all Academic Voidcrews: By the authority of the Systemary Bondsman the 6th and 11th Sindrion defense fleets will be redeployed to Sindrion I and II. Departure time is set for 3200 hours standard. Please refer to your SO for further details. Repeat—”
Cai didn’t listen to the repeated message, instead mulling over its content. The redeployment was unexpected, but he supposed it made sense: As the system’s main producer of warships Sindrion III was the most well-defended planet of the three. Sindrion I and Sindrion II especially could certainly use the extra vessels. A smirk formed on Cai’s face: The invaders had no idea what kind of fight they were picking. It made him proud to know he was now part of the well-oiled machine that was the Sindrion Defense Armada.
The repeated message finally faded away and was followed by a chime consisting of the same three notes, this time in descending order. To Cai, such announcements really sealed the experience of being on a true military installation, it made him feel giddy, a feeling that reminded him of the times when he witnessed Academic parades back when he was little. He always promised his father that some day, he’d also be keeping all of Sindrion safe, and look at him now:
The military lift he was on was far smaller than the mass-haulers used by the miners outside. Unlike those enormous metal-hoisting structures, lifts like these only had to ferry personnel, rations and other light cargoes between the surface and the void.
Fuel, ammunition, spare parts, all those heavy things were delivered from other voidborne installations. When travel between planets becomes easy enough, those things –and those people– that don’t necessarily need to go down a gravity well never do. Similarly, those that have no need to leave their planet have slim chances of ever getting off of it.
Cai still couldn’t quite fathom that some Runora spent their entire lives outside a natural gravity well while others would likely never leave one.
He used to be in that latter category, which was why his heart was pounding in his chest like it was going to explode, why his limbs seemed to be full enough of energy to let him bounce through this hallway, why his chest unconsciously swelled with pride as if the Bondsman himself had given him a medal: Merely being on such a station was a childhood dream come true.
Despite that, there were still some aspects of voidborne structures he had trouble adapting to, and one of those now came into his view.
“Crap…” He whispered under his breath. Up ahead there was a window built into the hallway floor, covering its entire 20 meter breadth and spanning over twice that in length. Nothing but a glass pane separating the Voidport’s interior from the cold vacuum outside.
Captivating as they were, Cai found it absolutely terrifying that the lift’s designers built windows into the metal box that was keeping its occupants alive. Looking out from a window in the wall was scary enough, now he was supposed to walk over one?
He’d been successful in avoiding these obvious deathtraps so far, though it had taken no small amount of detours. For most of his time here, Cai had steered clear of the lowest levels altogether purely so he wouldn’t have to entrust his life to a floor made out of clear sand, but this time he had no other choice. He paused and checked his surroundings, hoping to find another route, a safer one.
There was a junction in sight, leading deeper into the voidport, but the illuminated sign above it indicated that it just led to some sleeping quarters and the lifts.
As much as he loved to just wander and explore the station, he was already running late. He couldn’t afford to get lost right now.
After taking a deep breath, Cai walked up to the edge of the glass and dared a glance down, something he regretted almost instantly. His stomach turned on itself as he looked down at his planet’s surface, nearly 400 kilometers below. The electromagnetically locked rings that gave these lifts their name appeared smaller the further down he looked, shattering the illusion that the port was in a stable geosynchronous orbit, no. Magnetism was the only force keeping the entire structure from dropping like a brick.
He swallowed and looked up to the other side of the glass pane. Nearly 50 meters before he’d have solid metal under his feet again. Not for the first time, he wished for the weightlessness that usually came with being in up in the void, but the voidport wasn’t like a voidship, it wasn’t orbiting the planet: It was like a spindly, magnetic tower standing on the surface, resulting in a crisp 0,95 G at this altitude.
Two Voidsailors casually stood on the glass, discussing something amongst themselves.
One of them shot him a glance, his eyes fell on the cadet’s uniform and the spot he was hesitating at. A smirk crept onto his face as he poked his comrade and gestured at Cai. The other Voidsailor looked up in slight confusion, following the gesture. It took him a second but then he snorted as he saw what his friend had pointed out and Cai felt his face flush.
He wasn’t about to give them anything else to laugh about. He took a deep, determined breath and prepared to set foot on the transparent walkway.