Originally just another writing exercise, just within the extensive Lore of Star Citizen. As is customary with anything I write, it was never finished.
I brushed it off and rewrote it for a community competition.
"... I cannot, and will not, accept your leaving Mr Carlisle. I simply find the prospect too grotesque."
"I assure you my Lady Adora, the idea disturbs me also. But my duty calls and I must heed it."
"But you must not, my love! Your duty to countrymen is a bond breakable by matters of the heart and with my heart the matter is all the more important."
"I may fall in battle; the cannon may cut me down. The sword may cut crimson and my blood may make ground fertile , but my heart remains with you my dear, as does my soul. Even death will not part us so long as you hold this truth."
The lengthy pause turned from dramatic to awkward. I piped up.
"It's your line."
"What? Oh, crap. Christ, um, sorry..." and with that the channel exploded with laughter. Through the torrent of hilarity I just about heard her line. It wasn't exactly perfect Robenson, but it was certainly entertaining.
The laughter died into conversations. It seemed we were pausing from our recital of Distance & Desire for a chat, which was fine by me. Talk was good; it kept us from feeling isolated. Out in the dark, especially on a moon-road, you needed the company, the people.
Whilst the talk moved to complimenting Cara's Lady Adora, I checked over the systems of the ship. I swung a screen towards me, the sharp blue tone the only illumination in the spacious cabin. All was quiet save the Starfarer's engines that thrummed behind; a reassuring sensation of movement within the vast, numberless scale of space.
Humanity gazed at the stars for as long as they could stand and wondered what it would be like to be out there. Now that we were, it seemed ironic that we couldn't handle the loneliness that came with reaching them.
"Got an issue here, Tom." It was Shane in one of the other tankers. He was on a private channel. I leaned over and picked up another mic from the co-pilot's chair and shut off the general channel.
"Got no response from my front-port thruster assembly. Nothing that serious but I'm about as manoeuvrable as a planet right now." I nodded in agreement. It wasn't major, but something needed to be done.
"I'll make an announcement to the convoy and move you." I leant over to another screen and brought up the convoy layout. "Right, move up my port side and take the middle, I'll drop in behind you. The 'lancers will make the space. Move on my mark."
Despite what they advertise, Nature came up with the idea of security long before the Advocacy. The herds of beasts that traversed the plains of Earth used to do it in times of attack: move the wounded to the middle and protect them. And when in convoy, you do the exact same.
One weak link breaks the chain.
I broke up the conversation and made the announcement. Half an hour later we had just about settled in the new locations. The lumbering mass of Shane's Starfarer slowly drifted into place ahead and slightly above me. The convoy reformed around our wounded.
We were eleven ships: Three Starfarers, five Freelancers and three Caterpillars. One of our 'Lancers however- Cara- was hired for security. She hadn't exactly the best combat ship, but I knew her name from a blockade she helped break around Tyrol a year back, and I knew she needed the credits.
Eleven ships made for fifteen people: fifteen strangers forced alongside one another on a long haul on the backroads. Fifteen travellers: anonymous in face, but friends in voice.
We desire the journey, but not the distance.
It was day two of a four day slow-burn into Kilian. This wasn't a speed run: it was a time specific order. I had done a few when times were good and I wanted to take a break from the rat race. UEE contracted consignment of liquid hydrogen, three tankers worth. I had picked up the job out of an orbital in Croshaw along with Shane- an acquaintance of mine from my days on the Stanton run- and a third tanker. We noticed another contract heading our way and built a convoy around it.
All was quiet. Nothing had tried to kill us yet, and so we had settled into convoy routine.
This consisted of building an observation rota, convoy structure and waypoint setting. Pairs would take it in turns to watch over the convoy during sleep periods: jacking into everyone's autopilots, allowing them to adjust the course as a whole, as well as connecting to Cara's superior scanners, meaning eyes and ears were always open. It was mutually assured trust.
In a world of crime, war and conflict, of mistrust and suspicion, it awed me still the faith people placed within a convoy. And that you never saw it broken.
To keep the loneliness at bay, there was always conversation. Always talk. Physically we could be kilometres from each other, across the empty void, but we were very much as one when we spoke to another person. The Robenson was my idea. The old Earth playwright seemed fitting- if pretentious- to keep us feeling human in an inhuman environment. So we had taken on roles and had started with the play a few hours ago. Until Cara got the line wrong, at least.
There was a flash from another screen. Cara had sent me a private text comm. I opened it up to discover a feed to her long range scanners. It was picking up a pack of ships heading towards us; the reading had them as Hornets. F7s. Five of them.
"Unknown convoy, please transmit identification and cargo content." Came a male voice across all channels. It was a UEE Naval patrol. Or at least someone was pretending to be. I shifted it into a private channel. This could go wrong very quick. I inhaled:
"Uh, yeah, convoy skipper here. UEE registered out of Croshaw..." I flicked through my glas to find our shipping information "... uh, number three-three-four-nine-C." I scrolled the page down.
"I'm gonna need your UEE-N code before I say anything more sir."
There was light-hearted laughter from the other end of the comm.
"Right you are skipper." There was a flash on a screen. A series of digits gleamed crisp in the dark cabin. I checked them against the list of codes I had been given when taking up the contract. They were legit.
"Yeah. You're the real deal. Liquid Hydrogen. We're hauling it into Kilian. Slow burn. Must be a Bengal launch, so they need it within a timeframe."
"Probably." came the smooth voice of the squadron leader, who was clearly experienced at talking without saying anything. "What about the freighters?"
"Medical supplies as far as I know. Plus one armed escort. If you want specifics then I recommend you talk to..." I drew up another file "Panser Yolk in the 'Lancer designated Horizons Voice."
There was a snort form the leader,
"You still get names like that?" I smiled in response.
"The military took all the fancy four digit id tags."
"I suppose so." he said, with a smile in his voice. "Listen, we picked you up from our carrier in the deep. We were hoping to use you as a fuelling point for an extended patrol. Any of your 'Farers have a fuel collar?"
I had one, so I told him.
In return they would provide escort for six hours whilst our routes overlapped. I wasn't going to complain; it was their fuel anyway. They took awhile to intercept, after which they moved to allotted positions in and around the convoy. I gave everyone warning.
As a Hornet drifted into position just below me for the first refuel, I spied his squadron colours.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the convoy-" I said, smiling "-Allow me to present the 137th Angels' Aces."
There response was somewhere between uncertain murmuring and congratulation. As the conversation started I flicked into a personal file on my glas and input the squadron to my eye-spy list. You had to do something in the black. Squadron spotting seemed a good idea.
"Weren't you guys nearby when the Vanduul carrier kamikazed towards Earth?" asked one of the convoy.
"We were, yeah." a female voice this time. Stern.
"So what? You sat and watched Cal Mason do all the work?" Laughter.
"We and the rest of 5th fleet took down all the fighters that made it out of the carrier before it blew." Stated the female pilot, clearly feeling she had something to prove. "It was five to one until the 32nd launched." There were mutters of admiration.
Our unexpected company fitted in well after that. It turned out the 137th had been out on the fringes for a spell, and so probed us for the latest out of the colonies: Murray qualifiers, Terran stocks, the new senator making bold claims. Cara got talking security for awhile whilst Shane received some mechanical advice on his thruster issue, not that he could act on it anytime soon.
For six hours the trader, the courier and the soldier shared jokes, told stories and swapped news. We were out here to profit; they were on the prowl. But both groups of people knew the relief of human contact. If anything they sounded lonelier than us...
They departed at their allotted waypoint with military precision, wishing us a safe journey in the process. We said our goodbyes to the 137th before they moved to their usual frequencies. After that the convoy resettled.
Shane piped up a few minutes later:
"We carrying on with the play?" people agreed and found their places once again.
"What's the next line?" asked Cara.
"My feet ache for the road, my dear, for the journey ahead and for the journey I left behind." I muttered to myself. The man playing Mr Carlisle found his place and continued.
"My feet ache for the road..."