Chapter 1Mature

A futuristic, dystopian sci-fi novel with a subtext of romance. Action based.

A Shadow Amongst Men

Authors Note

This is a collaborative piece. First time writing a story for this website, so comments are appreciated!

Romance/Lemon will MABYE be included in later chapters, though for now characters are just being introduced.

We hope to be making updates weekly if not earlier.

~DurzoBl/Globey

Prologue

Millenia ago, mankind finally discovered a feasible technology for interstellar travel; by harnessing the electromagnetic energy released by the sun and surrounding planets in a system, it was possible to accelerate spacecraft through a series of giant rings set one after another. The resulting exponential acceleration was enough to break the light-speed barrier, and so unleash a new era of colonization and expansion. As this technology was refined, the time it took to travel back and forth between systems shrunk from years to days.

Humanity colonized one planet; and then another. Where they went they constructed warp gates directed both onwards and backwards. It was only a matter of time before man's greed for planets and wealth led to the development of advanced terraforming technologies… and of course, the militarization of space. The first civil wars followed, each one bringing its own successive wave of destruction and military funding. Humanity took on a new name; the United Empire.

This pattern continued for thousands of years, leading to hundreds of billions of men and women living across hundreds of thousands of planets. The United Empire became lost in its bureaucratic inefficiencies, even minimal as they were with the aid of advanced supercomputers and millions of staff members. It wasn't uncommon for entire colonies to completely drop off the record for years at a time, only to reappear at a later date, a forgotten name suddenly popping up on a trade invoice.

Suddenly, a distant colony made contact with an advanced alien race; news and rumours spread across the Empire like wildfire, an air of fear and oppression beginning to spread. Although Earth sent out orders to remain peaceful, many colony administrators had different ideas in mind. Many outlying colonies continued to be visited by the strange beings, their vessels remaining far in the distance, apparently independent of any need for warp gates. They remained unresponsive to all attempts at communication, and merely observed the goings on of humanity. And yet the peace didn't last, as one xenophobic and fearful administrator ordered his planetary defense force to open fire, destroying the defenseless vessel.

Suddenly, the ships arriving in systems weren't peaceful anymore, and began opening fire on orbiting spacecraft with devastating weaponry. It was throughout this climate of fear and destruction that The Religion began to spread within the Empire, being proselytized aboard the millions refugee ships and evacuation craft traveling planet to planet. Billions died in the war against the attackers, just as billions were being converted to the seemingly omnipresent religion.

The loss of billions of trained, intelligent individuals, combined with the religion's extreme conservative message ultimately led to a stagnation in the development of all technology. Although the invaders eventually slowed the rate of their attacks, the damage to the soul of humanity was already done. Colonies became isolationist or expansive in turn, breaking away from the shattered Empire one after another in shorter and shorter civil wars. Colonies invaded one another, bickering among themselves and prioritizing their systems' needs above all others. It was only a matter of time before all recollection of humanity as a concept become all but extinct. As communication was cut off between systems, the religion mutated, generally becoming even more right wing, and leading to technology's gradual decay. The operation of machines were taught by rote; not understanding, and practicing researchers were attacked in the streets by angry mobs.

Cue forward some two millennia to the year 11,013: The eternal conflict continued, unabated by the passing years and generations. Though some colonies attempt to make their way in peace, far more struggle to keep ahead in the rat race. Alliances were formed, and then broken, as each colony acted entirely for its own short term interests. Technology only continued to decline, seemingly deadlocked in its own eternal entropy. Spacecraft were exceedingly rare, with only a few possessing the knowledge universally deemed sacred by all variations of the religion. To be a Shipmaster was to essentially be a god amongst the uneducated denizens of the colonies. As a result of this technological bottleneck, the colonies continually fought their wars in decrepit space hulks of days gone by, relics fighting relics in the game of free-for-all political chess.

In this corner of the galaxy, there are two major alliances; the Hadrax Federation and the Alant Coalition, although there are dozens of planets constantly dropping in and out and or otherwise staying out of both. This particular struggle has been going on for years, putting an especial strain upon the already war-weary crews.

Chapter One - The Dark Future

The great ship Leviathan was once the most powerful vessel in the entire United Empire fleet - Although admittedly, that was some thousand years earlier, and it showed. Orlando Hakkar paced down the steel gantry, a curious gleam in his eye as he inspected the surrounding machinery. As a junior engineer aboard the Leviathan, it was his job to inspect and lead repairs on the equipment based in the stern-port side. He reached up and flicked a lock of his long brown hair out of his eyes, annoyed; the list of things that needed repairs was massive, and the spare parts available were few. Many long years of warring with the heretical Hadrax federation had taken its toll.

"Mister Hakkar - What are you standing around for?"

Orlando snapped to attention, staring straight ahead as he identified the source of the noise; it was Lieutenant Jackson, the senior engineer.

An aging, surly man, Lieutenant Jackson had the most seniority of any lieutenant aboard the ship, although it was not to his credit. His performance perhaps being a bit lacklustre, he had watched hundreds of young officers surpass him in the ranks, going on to far outstrip him in wealth and influence. Permanently disgruntled, he made it his duty to torture those under his command as much as possible before they passed him by.

Standing in at six foot two and wide across the shoulders, Orlando was perhaps a bit tall by navy standards, and was certainly not a man to be taken lightly. Lacking a formal barber aboard the ship, his light brown hair was kept messy and long, matching the colour of his hazel eyes almost perfectly. This was in stark contrast to his decidedly well kept navy uniform, a rather flamboyant affair of many colours and epaulets. Well accustomed to working under the higher gravity present near the engine room, he had developed a somewhat cut figure over the years. The hazards of working aboard an active warship had of course given him a corresponding collection of scars; one of which, half faded, slashed across his right cheek at a fourty-five degree angle.

"Uh - Just taking stock of my list, sir!" Orlando replied, starting down the gantry at a brisk pace, frantically looking side to side as he attempted to make up time in his tight military schedule.

~~~ Natasha

Life aboard the Leviathan would be wonderful; a delightful opportunity to gather intelligence for the benefit of the home system. What complete and utter bullshit. Natasha sighs gently, trying to keep her contempt internal as she strides through the dull metallic interior of the ship. Apparently she was meant to feel honoured with this assignment, trusted with the delicate inner workings of the Hadrax counter-intelligence division. Dressed in a stolen Navy uniform that was arguably a tad small on her, she strides through the corridors leading to the stern-port side engineering bays.

Standing at just under six feet, Natasha was always considered tall amongst her people. Her planets gravity being slightly stronger than most others, leading them to have developed to become traditionally shorter people; Her height making her ideal for intelligence work. Her eyes an unnaturally icy blue, the work of a machine back on her planet that, to this day, she had no idea how it worked. Her hands, tough and calloused, worked at the decorative button on her right hip for what felt like the hundredth time. Of all the places she could have been sent to do reconnaissance, they had sent her to engineering. A lack of other options they said. Fuckers, she'd love to see them do something other than crowding behind desks drinking whisky. Absolutely ridiculous. She knew absolutely nothing about engineering. She was a scout-sniper. The leading marksman in her division and the only person to have enough mental control to use the latest cloaking modules, and yet they had sent her here. With nothing but contempt, she stepped into the steam-filled back rooms.

"Another rookie, you've got to be kidding me."

The deep surly voice took her by surprise. Fighting every instinct in her body, she managed to turn calmly to the tall, muscle-bound man instead of bringing an elbow around into his jaw. She nods once in greeting, restraining what had regularly been described as her 'smartass wit'

"Yes sir. Transfer." Good work, Natasha. You didn't insult the guy. First step complete.

A short grunt is returned before the man gives a rough gesture for her to follow, assigning her to a post before leaving her alone. Just like that, she had been welcomed into the crew. No need for elaborate sabotage or murder. It was the best thing that had happened to her all day. Though, watching him retreat into the steam and darkness, she couldn't feel anything but hopelessness. Not only had she found out absolutely nothing, she was sure to be found out after she demonstrated her complete and utter lack of knowledge in the field of engineering. She emits a slight growl of frustration, pushing her sleeves up as she begins looking over the wall of wires and machinery for anything that seems out of place… whatever that meant.

It was going to be a long year.

The End

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