The Wakefield Shipyard was beaming with life, very hectic life. There wasn't any civilian traffic at the moment, which was rare, but this was also exactly why the shipyard had descended into a sort of organized chaos. From Upper-Management all the way down to the lower dock workers, everyone was busting their asses for the final preparations. Colonel Ryker's fleet will be making their final light-jump soon, it was crunch time.
All the workers were freshly shaved with their uniforms freshly pressed, fully presentable for their esteemed guest. Even Mayor Harland was there with the Wakefield City-Council and the top Security heads. To say nothing of what Wakefield's Elite in the Upper-Station had planned for him at their banquet later that evening. Everyone big and small was ready to give Basileus Ryker the royal treatment when he finally arrived.
'All except for one.' Francis Harcrow thought to himself as he walked through the worker's corridors with his little brother's uniform in hand. He knew exactly where Denys was, hiding out in the Salvage Docks again. The Salvage Docks were where old ships were taken to be decommissioned. Denys loved sneaking aboard the ships, salvaging some parts for his little contraptions, and even tinkering with the ships themselves. There was one ship in particular that Denys had taken an interest in recently and Frank knew exactly where it was.
Frank swiped his card and scanned his handprint at an automatic security door to exit the main administrative area of the shipyard and enter the Salvage Docks. The Salvage Docks were basically abandoned during Rhea-Day weekend, none of the ships were scheduled for decommissioning until late next week. A well-earned vacation for those who worked on the Salvage Docks. Frank had spent some time here when he was first interning at the shipyard, it was a difficult, hands-on job. He had suggested to Denys, the auto-phobe that he was, to working salvage full time when he was done with school. But Denys didn't have any love for destroying things, only building them.
Frank reached the dock where an old cargo ship was stationed. This was the ship that Denys had taken a liking to in recent months, though Frank certainly didn't understand why. it was a rather ugly ship, it's hull was worn out and discolored by the radiation of space. It was decent in size though for what seemed to originally be a private cargo transport. About the size of a corvette-class ship, it had a rather bulky, blocky design to its hull and had two large thrusters fixed into the back. It was an old ship but it was also, quite clearly, a ship built long after the Death of Earth. It didn't seem to be designed to enter any planet's atmosphere.
After walking up to the loading tunnel to swipe his security card and scan his hand, Frank saw that Denys had left the door to the tunnel open. He chuckled and said to himself. "Of course, don't want anyone to see where your hiding in the security logs."
Frank strolled down the tunnel and through the airlock of the ship, which was also open. "Denys!"
The interior of the ship wasn't any prettier than the exteriors. The halls were in shambles, panels had been taken off the walls and ceiling with wiring hanging from above. The Salvage crew had started to go to work on the ship. The process of decommissioning a ship was a rather disorganized one. Many ships would sit in the docks for decades, only having parts taken out of them if they were needed for newer ships. Most old vessels, with their hulls ruined by extended exposure to waves of space radiation, are left as withered husks until it came time for humanity to move on to another region of space. Before making the coordinated, long-range light-jump, the City-Stations would jettison all the decommissioned ships and leave them behind. After that, the pirates of the 'Rogue Sectors' would move in and attempt to salvage what they could. As humanity moved from region to region, the Rogue Sectors grew larger. But they never grew particularly stronger. They certainly weren't able to become a serious threat to the Union.
"Denys!' Frank yelled again. He checked the various storage-rooms, the cargo hold, and crew-quarters. Denys was definitely staying on the ship. one of the beds had sheets on them. Frank then moved down to the engineering deck. "Denys!"
"What!?" His younger brother responded with a groan. He was on the ground tinkering with the Jump-Engine, the engine that would allow the ship to make Light-Jumps through space.
"Can I have my security card back?"
"You came all the way down here for that? You have a spare, don't you? Oh, wait...you're already down here so, you do."
"Very funny." Frank said dryly. "How did you get by the hand-scanners? Or the retinal scanner at the entrance of the shipyard?"
"I didn't." Denys explained as he sat upright and looked at his older brother. "Once the system clears you at one checkpoint, your card is good for the rest of the shipyard...or, at least, the parts of the shipyard you have access to. The extra hand and eye scanners are completely redundant. All I had to do is wait for you to scan in first and I was all good."
"Well, that's not how the system is supposed to work."
"I know, that's why no one notices it. S-Sure I was stuck here after you signed off yesterday, but I have a bed here. And don't act like you didn't already know about that glitch. Tell me, how did you get a duplicate security-badge? More importantly, why do you have a duplicate security-badge? Could it be so a certain someone can visit you while you're working the night shift?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Frank answered with a big smile on his face.
Denys laughed. "Yeah, good answer. How is Karen, by the way?"
"I'll let you know if she ever messages me back."
Denys stood himself up, wiping the grease from his hands as he did. He was shirtless and sweating from working on the engine. Denys didn't spend enough time under the UV lights, he was as white as a ghost as the sweat dripped down from his red hair. Frank wasn't tan by any stretch, but he wasn't nearly as pale as his younger brother who spent so much hidden away with his tools and gadgets. He was certainly fitter than he was though, his love of heavy lifting gave him much more muscle than the leaner Frank and he did take his vitamin-D pills to compensate for the lack of sunlight. He also stuttered a lot less when it was just the two of them.
"Were you sent here to give me my lashings?" Denys asked while putting on his shirt.
"You did skip school yesterday."
"Oh, we're not learning anything right now. Not with Rhea Day coming up."
"Dad's still pissed."
Denys shrugged, "He pissed at me most days. It's good for me to give him a reason every once and a while. Besides, I'd rather be here."
"On this pile of junk planning you're big dramatic 'run away from home' moment?"
"This pile of junk has a name." Denys corrected. "It's 'Maid Marian.'"
"That's what you called it?"
"No, that's what the person built this ship called her. Respect the artist, Frank."
Frank glanced around the deck. "I have no idea who Marian was but I'm sure she was prettier than this tin can."
"Maybe she was named for an ex-wife or something. Besides, doesn't matter how she looks. It only matters how she flies."
"No way this thing is space-worthy."
"She is." Denys assured. "I guarantee it. She'll fly."
Frank saw the enthusiasm in his brother for the ship. "I can assure you, she won't. But you can. If you enlist."
Denys scoffed at that. "Enlist?"
"Why not?" Frank argued. "You clearly have no love for Shipyard-Management."
"Not that it matters to Dad."
"So, enlist with Union-Security. Work your way up to chief engineer on one of those new battlecruisers they're building. I'm sure that'll matter to the old man."
Denys shook his head. "I don't want to just throw myself into military life for the sake of the 'old man'."
"What do you want then?" Frank asked. "Look, I've done my best my to encourage this. I've even kept my mouth shut about this little project you have going on here."
"And I appreciate that."
"But, at some point, you're going to have to decide what you want to do with this interest of yours. You're 18 years old now. This hiding in the corner tinkering with junk shtick isn't cute anymore."
"I know, I know." Denys conceded. "Maybe I can look into getting an engineering job on one of those civilian transports or something."
"Hey, I'll support whatever decision you make, provided that you make one." Frank tossed Denys' uniform on the workbench at the aft side of the deck. "Now, get dressed. Dad wants the entire family their when the Colonel comes is, which should be very soon."
Frank left the ship as Denys got himself cleaned up. He showered in the ship's crew-deck, wondering if Frank knew that he had secretly restocked the ship's water supply. Once he was clean and freshly shaven, Denys got himself dressed in the uniform that he was apparently supposed to wear. It was a Union-Security Uniform, the shipyard was generally considered a military facility but the people working on it weren't enlisted members of Union-Security. Denys couldn't think of a single time that he had seen any of the shipyard workers wear military uniforms. Though that was about that to change.
With his dark-grey uniform on, Denys left the Maid Marian and began to make his way to the Shipyard's command center. Along the way, he would see that just about everyone was dressed in the same uniform as him. Dark-Grey with no distinguishing features, they were clearly private-uniforms. The Wakefield-Council clearly wanted to give the Colonel a grand military reception but didn't want to seem disrespectful by dressing nonsecurity personnel as officers regardless of their rank on the shipyard. Denys didn't quite understand why management couldn't just where their suits or why the dockworkers couldn't wear their overalls. Perhaps it was to make everyone seem beneath the Security-Officers, or maybe Denys was just overthinking it.
Denys got up to the elevator door that would take him up to the Command-Center. It wouldn't be a good idea to use Frank's duplicate card here, so he just pressed the buzzer and looked up at the camera. After a moment the doors opened up and Denys stepped in. It didn't take long for the elevator to get up to the Command-Center. A large square room that gave a bird's eye view of the entire Wakefield Shipyard. Denys could see the stars, all the ships that docked by boarding tunnel, and all the men scrambling on the platforms, It was quite the view.
"Denys." Elliot Harcrow said under breath signaling his son to come over. Denys didn't respond, he just walked over as father quietly asked. "Where the hell have you been?"
He shrugged. "Oh, you know...around."
"Don't be a smart ass. Just stand next to Frank and don't say or do anything disrespectful."
Denys did as he was told. He stood over next to Frank as their father walked over to his boss, Chief Victor Thorn. And next to Thorn was the Joseph Connor, the Commander of Wakefield's Union-Security forces. Chief Thorn and Elliot were dressed in lieutenant's uniforms, presumably with the Commander's permission, to give them rank over the rest of the shipyard. And then, of course, it was the Wakefield City-Council. Headed up by Mayor Xavier Harland. They were all dressed in suits and ties, obviously meant to distinguish them from the Wakefield workers.
Some of the families were here as well. In addition to Frank and Denys, the wives and children of Chief Thorn and Mayor Harland were in the room. Commander Connor's family was probably waiting elsewhere on the shipyard. All the women in the room weren't in military uniform but in dresses that, while not as extravagant as the ones Denys was bound to see at the Gala, were badly out of place with what Mayor Harland was clearly going for with the welcoming ceremony.
There was one notable exception and that Mayor Harland's daughter, Josephine Harland. She stood there in a lieutenant's uniform with her light-brown hair shaved along the sides with the center done in a short military cut. Denys had heard stories about the fierce daughter of Wakefield's Mayor. She spent her time, not at the galas of the Upper-Station elites, but at the training facilities of Union-Security. She fancied herself the future of the Union Military as opposed to a future wife to be given to one of the other elite families of Wakefield. The 'Princess of Wakefield' is what people called her but, from what Denys had heard, she didn't like being called 'Princess'...or even 'her' for that matter.
The wealthy 'welcoming committee' all chatted amongst themselves until they received the alert from one of the men at the radar station. "Commander, multiple ships incoming."
The room fell silent as several simmering lights flashed out in space amongst the stars. It took a while for Denys to make out the shapes of the ships now approaching the shipyard. Three of the ships were frigates obviously sent to escort the large battlecruiser that was presumably transporting the Colonel. The Cruiser was huge and seemed very advanced. The 'Battlecruiser' was the newest ship-model in the Union Fleet, designed and built-in direct response to the Madralen threat. Only five of them were currently in service, though Wakefield was about to launch the sixth one.
A voice came on over the radio speaker. "City of Wakefield, this is the S.S Nottingham requesting permission to dock."
Commander Connor grabbed a radio from a console at the front of the command center. "We copy, Nottingham. Request granted. You may begin docking at Security Platform 1."
Connor then led the welcoming committee out of the Command-Center and down to Security-Platform 1. Located in the area reserved for Union-Security use only, SP-1 was the largest platform in the Wakefield Shipyard. It was usually filled to the brim of large shipping containers but today it was empty. The platform had been cleared out to make way for the welcoming committee which was much larger than just the people from the command center. Dozens upon dozens of dockworkers had lined up in neat rows behind the Wakefield Council, Upper management, and their families. And they all watched through the large overhead window as the Colonel's battlecruiser slowly rotated to bring its starboard side horizontal with the platform. Several support beams extended from the platform to anchor the ship to the city, then came the docking tunnel to connect the platform's airlock to the ship's. The lights on the airlock changed from Red to Green as an announcement came over the intercom.
"The S.S Nottingham has successfully docked."
"Everyone at attention." Commander Connor declared to the room. Everyone stood straight with their chests pumped out as the airlock doors opened.
Several Union-Security soldiers marched out of the airlock from the Battlecruiser and formed a single file line before the Wakefield welcoming committee. They were followed by a man in an officer's uniform, it wasn't the same as the uniforms upper management were wearing but Denys recognized that it wasn't a Colonel's uniform. Probably a Major. The Colonel's uniform came into sight behind the major, it's long black military coat with a chest adorned with several medals and shoulders given the strips of the man's rank.
"Mayor Harland of Wakefield." The Major stated as the Colonel stood behind him. "May I present the Commander of Nottingham and the Direc-"
Colonel Basileus Ryker walked up from behind and placed his hand on the man's shoulder. "At ease, Major."
The Major nodded and took a more relaxed stance as the Colonel took a glance around the room. He smirked, apparently amused by the militaristic display the Mayor had organized. "That goes for all of you. At Ease!"
Everyone in the room dropped their stern military poses as Colonel Ryker removed one of his black gloves from his right hand. "There is no need to stand on such ceremony here. There will be plenty of opportunity for that on this solemn weekend."
Denys was surprised by the Colonel's candor but Mayor Harland wasn't. He walked up to Ryker and shook his hand. "Basileus, it's good to see you. Welcome to Wakefield."
"The feeling is mutual, Xavier." Ryker smiled. "And I can assure you it is a pleasure to be in your city."
Harland sensed Ryker's sarcasm. "Oh, I'm sure you'll find this place much more enjoyable than Rome."
Denys could see what all hype was about with Ryker. Standing a little over six-feet-tall with his strong chin, pronounced chest, and sharp blue eyes, the Colonel looked handcrafted by the recruiting agency of Union-Security. And, even with his relaxed demeanor, Ryker was still an imposing figure who absolutely commanded the room as he shook hands and charmed the Wakefield Council without breaking a sweat. And they all hanged on his every word. To them, he was truly 'Captain Humanity.'
"Chief." Ryker said to Thorn. "I would like to thank for clearing out space in your shipyard for me."
"It was an honor, Colonel."
"I assume those ships are well staffed." Commander Connor chimed in.
"Only with what the Chancellor deems appropriate for his Director of Special Operations." Ryker answered.
Connor sighed. "So a small army then."
"I'm afraid so, but don't worry. We brought our own supplies." Ryker turned and pointed to the man who attempted to announce his arrival earlier. "And Major Martius will be sure to keep the men in line. Isn't that right, Major?"
Major Martius saluted the Colonel, "Yes, sir."
Denys' father gave a few orders to some of the dockworkers to assist the Colonel's men with unloading the Nottingham and docking the rest of the ships. Ryker took notice of Elliot Harcrow. "Thorn, you've gotten yourself a new deputy since I've last seen you."
Thorn nodded. "Yes, sir. Allow me to introduce you."
"No need, Chief." Elliot stepped forward and shook the Colonel's hand. "We've met."
Ryker seemed confused. "Have we?"
"Yes, sir." Elliot reaffirmed. "Many years ago when you were last on Wakefield. It was before you became Director-"
"Oh, yes." Ryker interrupted. "I remember now. You had red hair then."
Elliot laughed as he stroked his now grey head. "Yes, I did. I wouldn't recognize me either."
"I wouldn't judge too harshly, Basileus." Mayor Harland teased. "I see some grey mixed in with your brown hair."
"Old age, Xavier. It comes to us all eventually." Ryker turned back to Denys' father. "I received updated files on the staff here before leaving Rome. They mentioned your wife. My condolences."
Denys' mother had died just over a year ago. His father just nodded and said. "Thank you, Colonel."
The Colonel exchanged a few more pleasantries with the welcoming committee before the Mayor decided it was time to move. "Alright, let's get out of the dockworker's way. I imagine your ships need refueling."
"Indeed." Ryker walked along with his new fawning entourage. Denys heard only a few more bits of their conversation.
"Alright, let's hear it." Harland elbowed the Colonel. "What did you do get sent out here?"
"You know our Chancellor." Ryker answered. "Sometimes he has a sense of humor and sometimes he doesn't."
"He sent away one of his top men because of a bad joke?" Commander Connor asked in disbelief.
"Does that surprise anyone here?"
"Well now, you must tell us this joke." Harland stated.
"I'll explain it in excruciating detail...in a more private setting."
Elliot turned back to Denys and whispered. "You go back home and stay there until I get back."
Denys didn't say anything in response. He just turned and walked away from the welcoming committee. Frank had gone off to assist Major Martius, so there was no one to monitor Denys' journey back home. It would be hours before his father came home anyway, nothing wrong with taking a pit stop by the Wakefield Factory.
It didn't take too long to make his way from the Shipyard to the Factory, but Denys decided to be quick with checking the salvage boats for spare parts. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be a lot of good parts today. Denys was disappointed but he still managed to fill his bag up with a few good bits. He thanked the factory worker who let him in today and began to make his way to the Transit-Terminal when someone suddenly grabbed his shoulder from behind. "Hey, Denys."
Denys turned and suddenly saw Mara standing there.