Zeroes Chapter 0 - Gotta Be
You gotta be, you gotta be bad
You gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser
You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together
All I know, all I know love will save the day
A ripple on the sensors indicated a ship had come out of hyperspace without using the stargate. Ensign Dooley made a quick sweep of the area and picked up what looked like a Knightsbridge A-Class Personal Transport without a transpoder signal. Opening up a radio chanel he said, “There’s an unidentified craft out here, looks like an A-Class transport with no transponder, it’s 1,500 klicks moonward from Lagrange point Beta, is there someone in position to intercept?”
A call came back, “This is the Milwaukee, we’re on the way. Unidentified spacecraft identify yourself and shut down your engines.”
The A-Class accelerated hard away from the closing frigate and another call came back, “He’s rabbiting, acceleration is way to hot for an A-Class. Must be a smuggler, get us some Valkyries.”
Dooley got on the radio again, “Smugglers spotted, moving past Lagrange point Beta, planetbound. Need immediate fighter support.”
Another call came back from a different source, “This Raptor Three Seven, we’ve spotted your bogey and are closing in. Raptor to Talon, looks like they’ll make atmosphere before we catch up are you in position to intercept.”
The other fighter group answered, “Negative, not even on our scopes yet.”
A second call came from the first fighter unit, “This is Raptor Three Seven requesting permission to pursue into atmosphere.”
Ensign Dooley hesitated, there was no commanding officer on deck and he didn’t want to make a bad call. Shaking his head he said, “Granted, just stay away from population centers.”
Raptor squadron called back, “Affirmative, moving in.”
The transport dove hard into the atmosphere and four fighters gave chase with the flight leader calling again, “We’re gaining, should have shooting solution soon, are we to engage the target.”
Dooley swallowed hard but shook his head, “Yes, shoot it down.”
The tone of the target lock came on and the flight leader called for a second confirmation, “Target locked, confirming fire order.”
Before Dooley could give the second kill order another fighter pilot came on yelling, “Break off, break off, it’s dumping something.”
A moment later the transport exploded and the flight leader called again, “It dumped the cargo and exploded, looked like a self destruct. Call the coast guard up, looks like 500 kilometers west of Maltese about 50 kilometers north of the equator.”
Dooley nodded and took note of the location, “Thanks guys, we’ll call it in.”
Ben popped up to the surface in the control pod that had ejected from the shuttle looking rather disappointed at the bits of floating wreckage. After such a hard impact there wasn’t going to be much salvageable for him or the local authorities. Still he had survived and maybe thrown the rangers off his tail for a little while. Maltese was such a huge metropolis it was easy to disappear in again, and even if it wasn’t the safest place for him to go it was home. Ben opened the cover window and began paddling to the south figuring the fastest responses would come from Norgrad and Maltese. Valencians were known for their casual attitudes.
On his way he managed to flag down a tall masted sailing ship headed for Maltese, it was a pleasant and inconspicuous way to travel and would give him time to think about what he wanted to do when he got back. It’s been nearly a decade since he had been around, but it wasn’t long enough for everyone to forget. He assured himself he just had to be cool, calm, and keep things together and it would be fine even if he wasn’t all that convinced.
Everything about Valence was beautiful and that was why he had spent so much time there in the past, it was also the reason it wouldn’t be a good place to spend time now. Navilla was a good option, the locals are friendly and there’s still plenty of space, so other than the close proximity to Valence it would be a good choice. Standing on the rolling deck of the ship Ben lit a cigarette and took a deep breath of the sea air musing to himself, “A nice little cabin in Navilla will do. I can always go north for work.”
Ben kept his head down as he walked off the gang plank and made his way down the old stone docks to a water taxi. He headed straight to Navilla figuring he could get a car and rent a cabin without raising too much suspicion.
The taxi operator was a native Valencian with bright yellow skin and emerald green eyes and hair. As they pulled up to the Navillan dock he said, “You’re pretty quiet. It must be sad whatever happened. You should try finding someone to love and will get better.”
Ben stepped off the boat and paid the man, “I love too many, that’s the problem. It’s not so sad for me, but can be for others.”
The Valencian smiled as he pulled his boat away, “Well then, keep up the good work.”
Ben started walking up the worn dirt path, it was a climb of fifty meters to reach the main plateau from the water where this particular dock was. At the top it looked like a simple walking trail through an old forest, although Ben knew only a hundred meters east he would reach modern looking city streets. The natives in Navilla often lived inside living plants they reshaped and other than the tourist areas along the main roads the district looked almost completely undeveloped.
Ben lit up a cigarette and started walking north, it was a long hike across Navilla and he wasn’t certain just where he was headed at the moment. A couple hours through the forest took Ben to a large pond with an abandoned looking cabin with a caved in roof. A ravine next to the cabin had waterfall running out of the pond into it. As Ben walked around the old building and found the original driveway he said, “This looks like it’ll do.”
As he walked around the building he could see there was considerable decay and it seemed the location hadn’t been visited by any sentients in quite some time. There was a quiet rustling inside and Ben looked through a broken window and could see a tiny silver dragon about the size of a cat. Ben motioned to the tiny dragon speaking softly, “Come on, I won’t hurt you.”
The dragon twisted its head around and puffed up to look larger. Ben beckoned again and it cautiously walked over. Ben began petting it on the head and it let out a raspy purr before climbing up onto his shoulder. Rubbing it on the belly Ben looked around some more and started up the driveway.
Walking up to the end of the drive Ben estimated it just over a kilometer and at the road he noted the address and started east toward the developed areas. As Ben continued down the road the forest gave way to sidewalks and tall buildings. Stopping at a network access terminal Ben called up a real estate site. After some browsing he found that the property he was interested in wasn’t listed. Going through the property records he found the owner was listed as Reyna Cortez. A little more checking turned up another address in Eseron and a reference to her work in the Norgrad Nautical Museum. Stroking the head of the little dragon Ben said, “Looks like we need to take a little trip.”
Walking along the main road Ben came to a Motor Works dealership and the little dragon trilled. Ben looked at the dragon and over to the cars, “You rather drive?”
Turning into the lot Ben walked around until he came to a blue Meteor with white racing stripes. Looking over the car which looked like an old Ford Cobra with a fast back hardtop. As he looked through the window the dragon trilled again and Ben nodded, “I agree, this should do nicely.”
Mariah, the saleswoman at the dealership walked over and asked, “Find something you like?”
Turning from the car to Mariah with a smile Ben said, “Yes, this one is perfect.”
Smiling Mariah looked at the Meteor and said, “It’s a wonderful car. You seem very decisive. Do you want to take it for a test drive just to be certain?”
Looking back at the car still smiling Ben said, “I think it would be a good idea.”
Mariah turned saying, “Let me get the keys, I’ll be right back.”