Disclaimers: It's mine, don't steal.
Notes: CDs used,
Affirmation by Savage Garden
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Various
Various DDR songs
Karma Slave, from Titan AE
Author Notes: This is a little glimpse into backstory of two of my favorite character that I have written. This story is supposed to be a "romance without romance" between the two main characters. If you'd like to read more, I have a large amount of parts posted under the title Jove Station.
This can be viewed as a stand alone story, and is meant as such. This was written last summer, finished at the end of July 2001.
By Katie Eickhoff
Ari had grown used to being a partner in "crime" with Rila Tiller over the past year, but sometimes still preferred to fly on her own. So when a job came in while Rila was on a self-induced mental health break, which probably meant the minx was on a tropic beach on Earth, Ari took to the job. She never understood the need to vacation on Earth, but she was sure it had something to do with the easy access to whatever you wanted. As for Ari, she like hopping from place to place and this job could provide it.
First to Earth for refueling and supplies, then Mars for the first batch of cargo, heading towards a drop off at Ganymede, where she'd pick up a bunch of cargo supplies for the fledgling Jove Station. When she was there, she'd have a three day or so overlay to set up her new quarters-paid for by the Io Civil Defense Force, and somehow managed a deal for Rila, provided Ari start training new pilots. Jove Station was starting to thrive, and Ari needed a base of operations, anyway, and it would provide a place to run everything from. Rila had been adamant about that, and she was very impatient for a nineteen-year-old... Ari was 22, and only a trifle more patient. Barely.
On Earth, she sat in a pilots bar waiting for her employer to give her the finalized detailed itinerary, that she would ultimately ignore. Her main employers never bothered to give her a giant itinerary, instead a half sheet of paper with basic information.
A young woman walked in and asked the barkeep where Ari was, and he pointed to where the redhead was waiting.
"Ms. Cassidy?" The woman asked as she sat down.
"Call me Ari sweetie."
"Meagan Sparks, here's the itinerary." she started to chatter, "You are getting paid quit well for this, so we expect you to stick to it."
Ari looked over the sheet, and leaned in on the table, "I'll think about that. I'll tell you what, I'll have the cargo where it's supposed to be, when it's supposed to be."
"Your are supposed to stick to the itinerary, Ms. Cassidy."
"Meagan dear, I don't need hotels, unless your paying for them-"
"Of course not!" The woman interrupted, stuttering, "We don't have that kind of money."
"Then I sleep on my ship. Don't worry about your cargo, I'm the best." Ari flashed a confident smile that did nothing to calm the professional Meagan Sparks. "Now I best be going, got a lot of work to do."
"Yes...sure." Sparks muttered as Ari stood up and went to pay.
"Hey, give that girl who walked in a drink, on me. She looks as though she could use one."
Ari loaded and refueled the Star Stuff in the military bay, quietly. She hated drawing attention to herself in there, since Star Stuff wasn't exactly a military vessel.
"What are you doing her?" an effeminate voice shouted, as though Ari were committing a crime.
"Loading you idiot!" Ari turned around to see a lean corporal staring at her as though she had grown horns.
"You aren't military. You shouldn't be in this bay."
Ari rolled her eyes, and took out her id. "Io Civil Defense. You know, part-time military. Lt. Commander."
"Nice setup" he admitted and looked down sheepishly. He was rather young and probably wanted to impress the young female private at the other end of the bay.
"Don't you go and grab it, boy. Tell you what." Ari put on a disgusted expression, "You're telling me I have to get out of here now?"
The corporal at least had some sense of what was going on, "Yes ma'am, next time I'll be forced to use other methods, but if you just leave within fifteen minutes, I won't report it."
"Then I will, sir." Ari winked at the boy and closed her cargo hold. Walking over to the controls, she heard the boy go, "Yeah, I did that pretty well."
Ari smiled and ducked out.
"StarStuff to Mars 2-5 base. Landing, ready."
"Proceed Star Stuff to bay 9. Welcome to Mars."
As it turns out, in Ari's cargo this time was absolute essentials to Ganymede. Hydroponics supplies, that would then yield many supplies for Jove Station 1. Moreover, that would mean Ari would have to report to someone on the command staff.
As a rule, Ari tried to avoid the Jove Command Staff whenever possible. The Captain was capable enough, but was beginning a very intimate relationship with the Martian Ambassador, and was beginning signs of nymphomania. The second was an old coot, who was pretty much ready to leave. The only saving grace was the third, the only guy who really did anything, Lt. Commander James Nalko.
"Nice guy, but what a dome." Ari muttered usually after having to meet with him. He was very cute, but the sheer weight of his job made him too serious.
Ari expelled the thoughts out of her head and she unloaded and reloaded the Star Stuff again with the supplies and foodstuffs that Jove 1 needed.
The trip from Ganymede was short and sweet, less than a day. Ari had been on the road, so to speak, for over a week and she was feeling a little cranky. As she pulled into the cargo hold of the station, she was not surprised to see a tall, handsome man leaning against the door, waiting.
"Sir." She said
"Arianna. Good to see you again." The man smiled warmly. "You didn't keep me waiting. Better than most of the other people I have to meet with."
"That's certainly something Lt. Commander Nalko." Ari replied professionally, handing over the cargo list.
"Thank you, Arianna." He said in the same sort of tone. "Can we cut the formality?"
"Why sir, I'd thought you'd never ask. When you're done, want to get a drink?" Ari smiled, trying to flirt.
Nalko was shrewdly aware of her advances, but he simply did not have the time to involve himself with the younger girl. However, he politely smiled and accepted the offer for a drink. He'd drag another pilot or maybe the Captain to join them, provided he could drag the Captain away from ambassador's quarters. He didn't even have the time to ask Arianna about that before he found himself being dragged to a bar.
"Arianna, I do have work to do."
"You're such a dome, James Nalko. Lighten up, work isn't everything." The redhead half-scolded.
Nalko laughed. It was hard not to laugh, "But I am doing all the work."
Ari stopped dead in her tracks and grabbed both of the man's arms. "It's called delegating."
"That's the problem. Everyone delegates to me."
The tension was building. Ari still had her hands around Nalko's arms and was looking up with an amazed expression on her face. She stared up for a little while longer. Their eyes caught each other's and Ari shyly looked down and finished dragging the Lt. Commander to the bar.
The bar, as it turned out, was a happening place, as far as dark, musty and drunk men are concerned. Ari knew the place fairly well, since she had many male contacts here, since they preferred a sense of private in their illegal trades. Women were much more dignified and open, Ari had observed on several occasions. She wasn't about to tell Nalko about that. The man was much too naive sometimes for his own good. He almost looked at the murky place as if it didn't exist. The bar was nothing more than a piece of metal; the table he sat at, a cargo box; the half-naked girls on the counter-figments of his excited imagination.
"What are you taking me here for Arianna?" he strained running his hands through his dark hair, thinking it was time that he got it cut.
"A good drink. It's not the best place for entertainment, but it does make a good sunspot" Ari replied, "And it'll help you lighten up. Face it Nalko, you're not the same guy you were in high school."
"No one ever is." Nalko countered
"Not true, I am exactly the same." Ari tossed her hair.
Nalko laughed in spite of himself. "Then why do you come here?"
Ari froze, was she gonna have to explain about the deals she sometimes made with the wrong side of the law, but the handsome Lt. Commander was staring to stare. "Oh, just some business deals, and as I said, they make a good sunspot." She twirled a piece of hair, absently.
Nalko, for all of his naivetes, knew more than he let on. He had an idea of what Arianna, always Arianna-never Ari, did for a living, and he read the reports on the criminal past. She was a commercial trader and to be honest, an illegal dealer in almost anything she had the time to do. She awed him sometimes. She'd already done more and she was younger than he was, it almost wasn't fair.
"How would you know how people change. I remember you leaving before senior year."
" The school and I had some creative differences."
"If I recall, it was sometime after they told you they wouldn't give you a better ship to practice in." Nalko pointed in jest.
"Creative difference, not wanting me to blow up the colony, same difference. I'm gonna grab some drinks, kay?"
As the redhead commandeered drinks from a nearby waiter, and flirted with the nervous man outrageously, James stopped staring at Arianna, always Arianna, never Ari, and tried to find some other object to focus his sight on. The fact was, there wasn't anything else. "You know Arianna, I shouldn't really be in a place like this, I'm up for a promotion sometime soon, and if someone saw me here…"
"They wouldn't exactly be the type that a review board would be looking for as a reference? I've told you, lighten up!" Ari scolded again. "But if you really want to leave, we can. Wanna just take a walk somewhere? Or maybe I can make sense of my quarters. I don't know the residential areas of the station." She smiled, non-threateningly to the now squirming officer, and sighed.
Ari didn't really have a plan in mind when it came to the Lt. Commander, she winged the whole thing. Not expecting much to come of it, he helped her find her quarters and made an excuse to leave. Ari also decided that she had monopolized his time enough and let him go without a problem. She set up her quarters with lots of space to spare. IDF was certainly being nice to her, after all, she was the best pilot in the Jovian system, and that made her fallacies seem unimportant. If the council asked about Ari's qualifications they were met with just her scores and a tape from various battles and exercises, and all the illegal activities weren't mentioned. Nor her relationship with the crime boss Jack Madrid, who still roamed around the Sol System.
The next day was spent fixing the area IDF and trying to avoid James. It didn't always work as he came in to check how the new IDF officer was doing and was surprised to see Ari bringing boxes. "Just a favor" she explained, keeping her pseudo-military status a secret, an ace in the hole, from people. Especially Rila and James, and not to mention if she ever ran into Jack again. She looked around the room, and decided it was time for a nap, and put her feet up, and dozed off lightly. She didn't notice the cadets walking into the room.
They looked around puzzled, and sat down. They talked and chatted as young people are prone to do. After Ari had joined the IDF, they lowered the age to join to 18. Ari opened an eye cautiously, and promptly fell out of her chair, actually on purpose.
The two boys and the girl turned quickly, shocked that the sleeper and fallen, but more when she announced from the floor, "I'm sorry, I forgot my uniform today." She stood up, grinning, and pulled on a random flight jacket. "I'm Lt. Commander Arianna Cassidy, although your not allowed to tell anyone that I lead you all."
The cadets stared at her, the oldest looking straight at her with a look of both confidence and awe.
"Well now you know who I am, who are you?"
"Anna Jennifer Taylor." The blonde curls and green-eyed girl said, smiling.
"Keith Harrington." He looked the oldest, about 21, and a strikingly attractive man.
"Barret." The last simply said.
"Welcome to IDF on Jove Station, A.J., Keith, and Barret." Ari continued to talk about rules and regulations for a length until she sensed their frustrations at all the rules, "But I don't expect you to follow them all. What you need to know is that I'm your boss, use common sense and don't die. The paperwork's a bitch."
They all laughed and Ari dismissed them. She wrote down a few quick notes on the new pilots, as Keith came up to her.
"I've heard of you." He said as Ari filed things away.
"Really?" Ari sighed. "Not surprising."
"We were in the same school. I was a class behind you."
Keith was getting frustrated, "I was there when you scored your first 100 score. Your amazing. Our class admired you."
"Really?" Ari rolled her eyes, with his back to him.
"I admire you."
"Are you trying to say something, Keith?" Ari turned around and finally looked at him, and was taken aback, for a split second, thinking it was James looking back at her.
"Would you like to get a drink later?" on an impulse, Ari nodded.
"Well then, I have to meet my cousin for dinner, but how does 2000 hours sound?"
"So what are you doing here Keith?" Nalko asked his cousin
"IDF finally started a Jove branch. I thought it was high time for me to do something with my life." Keith answered
"Who's your commander?"
"I'd tell ya, but then I'd have to kill you." Keith laughed
"Let's see you've been on the station for a day, befriended many girls yet." Nalko laughed back and winked.
"I'm going out after dinner." He leaned back against his chair, "I've admired her for a long time, intensely since today."
James fist tensed up and he set his jaw.
"You know her?"
"She a regular here, a trader. I had drinks with her last night." He managed out in his tensed voice, "and if you as so much lay a hand on her, I'll..."
Keith looked him straight in the eye, "And you'll what? You're not her boyfriend. She free reign, to whoever wins her, coz." He got out of his seat, and left, leaving James to think.
"But I wish I could." He said lamely to himself.
Battle. War. A skirmish. Whatever you wished to call it, armed conflict is glory for one side, and a sad sequence to the other. Arianna often dreaded but loved the little conflicts that came from time to time that threatened the security of the Io colony. Today, however, she was apprehensive. An emergency had erupted, her date had to be canceled, and Ari was in the hot seat to figure out what to do with her group. They didn't know tactics, or military maneuvers of anything beyond flying straight. At least that's what it appeared to be as she tried to keep the troops flying. The enemy was a single ship, unknown origins, orders clear: disrupt the shipping lanes to Io.
"Zeta leader to the pack, go roundabout, the weak spot is the solar energy collectors. Hit those and the ship will fall."
"Aye, Zeta leader."
I pray to Goddess this works.
James Nalko wasn't called to help in the skirmish, it was out of the Jove area, but he watched it from the dome. Whoever was leader was real daring. The way the pilot did everything commanded respect. Especially skin dancing. It wasn't perfect, but the fighter was right on top of the D class ship. A well-placed missile from one of the other fighters hit the solar collectors' dead on, and whoever the leader was, must have issued the command to fire, because the small squad opened loose the focused laser beams.
"Fire at will, I repeat, Fire at will." The fires quickly overtook the normal operations of the ship and the people who had survived we're escaping.
"Jove Command, send a ship to collect the survivors for further questioning. Squad, back to base."
Arianna quickly ran out of the hanger. She hated being so secretive, and she was glad that she wasn't required to work under Jove Stations command. As soon as someone showed promise in the leadership area, she could train them and then get back to business and go back to being part-time. For awhile at least. When her trading business would take off she'd be here a lot more, at least for the required time she was supposed to be on her assigned station.
She sat in her quarters, still setting up a few various things, mostly stocking the food storage with much appreciated-not good for you-food. Chocolate and non-healthy food was fairly rare on the colonies where she spent most of her time, and having someplace with something yummy was a godsend.
"Through Hell and high-water, there must always be chocolate!" Rila always said. Ari always agreed.
Ari finished arranging her munchies and plopped audibly onto the bed. It was much softer than the one on the Starstuff. Real shame that weight restrictions wouldn't allow her to steal this bed onto her ship.
"DOOR OPEN!" Ari yelled and stood up.
"Damn, I could hear that all the way out here. Ari, you can change the door signal. I'll even show you how."
"The one and only."
Ari laughed, "Come in, Come in! Be careful around here though, kinda not messy for once. That'll change with time." She walked around the tiny corner, where Keith was pouring drinks.
"I figured that since we were interrupted before we could get drinks, I'd bring the drinks to us."
"Wonderful. Alcohol is a girls best friend." Ari grinned and took one of the glasses.
"How'd I look out there today." Keith smiled and sat down on the kitchen counter.
"Alright? Just alright?"
"Hey, that's my professional opinion. You guys are new to formation and battle tactics. You did good…for a beginner." She leaned against her counter a few feet away. "Except you did come rather close to that laser at one point. Be careful, hun, if they had fired, you would be gone. And I would have far too much paperwork to do." She looked away.
"Eh, I'm far too good for that."
"Whatever you say Keith." Arianna laughed and rolled her eyes. "It happens that we all run that chance."
"Except for you of course."
"That's because I'm gifted and special." She shrugged and felt his eyes on her. "Could you not stare, it's a little disturbing."
"Can't help it, darling." Keith smiled as cunningly as the Cheshire Cat; "You're gorgeous." He slid over closer to Ari.
"Keith…" Ari raised her hand to start to push him away, "I'm your superior, and this would just be inappropriate. Weren't you listening to the rules I had to read today?"
"Were you?" He accused and leaned in closer.
Ari closed her eyes and let out a little sigh, "I guess not." She said as she stopped pushing him away, and drew Keith closer.
Keith left the corridor, and as soon as he entered the lift he turned around and said, " I know you're following me James." Just as the door opened to reveal Nalko's concerned face.
"I'm not following you, we just keep running into each other."
"You're paranoid about it, James."
"About what?" Nalko sighed
"Ari…and before you ask. Yes we had our date, and no…we didn't." Keith pointed out, "I may be a likeable guy, but even I don't do that on a first date."
"Well I'm glad I got those two questions out of the way. You know she's not going to be here long-don't get your hopes up."
"Why because you haven't?"
"No James, I don't think you understand. I'm free to date who I please. So are you. I just got to the girl you wanted first. Accept that, James." He pushed against the officer and left the lift.
"Damn it, why does he have to win! Always." Nalko punched his fists against the closed lift door. "Better low-grav basketball player. Better with the girls. At least I have the higher piloting skills."
But what else can you expect. You can't be straightforward, you've got a career to worry about. You can't...and won't worry about that girl anymore.
The lift doors opened and in joined a familiar sight. Ari, wearing an Io defense uniform, which with one look at the occupants she ripped off the patch on the uniform, hoping it would be enough to not blow her cover.
"Good evening, Arianna." James said
"Evening, Lt. Commander." She replied
"You're being awfully formal."
"Just a mood, it should pass, eventually." She sighed, and rubbed her eyes. "Is there something you wanted to say?"
Nalko remained silent.
"I see. This is my stop." The lift stopped and Ari walked off as James leaned against the back of the lift with nowhere to go.
Ari ran to the office, to finish up the paperwork. Every battle brought with it another. The burden of paper, certainly, wasn't that she hated it, it was that it was time-consuming. Armies and governments loved to triple check. "And I have to work for both." She skimmed each paper and signed it, and within a few hours she was done…actually she fell asleep in the office but she was done with the paperwork.
"Good morning Ari." A young mans voice rang through the room.
"What? Huh? I'm…I'm awake." Ari jumped up, "Shit! What time is it?"
"Fifteen minutes until the meeting. Boy are you lucky that I wanted to get here early."
"Shut up Keith, and get me the aspirin from the drawer there."
"So in short, good job. In the long term, I don't want you guys to develop habits that will get you killed. Learn the basics before you try the advanced. Here's some techniques that won't kill you…"
"Oh god I hate this hallways. More pickpockets than the underground." Ari walked around after the Civil Defense meeting and gradually ended up around a band that had some sort of talent. Reminiscent of old-style singing, they were rather good, and avoided the far too slow style of the day.
"Run around, throughout the town
Find the one you seek, tie them in the bamboo tree
I've got a treat if you can do the trick.
But everything you say sounds so thick, don't frown.
But everything costs so much on the chit.
I'm going round to see, everything.
Happy in the new life.
I'm going round find what the finer things bring.
I'm finding no ones happy without their light.
So stop, and smile already.
Find out the joy in life alone, and up to this day
Find your own."
Beep da…Beep da! Ari's com gear went off, and she touched the button behind her ear.
"Cassidy here, go."
"We've got a situation. We could use you and your teams help." Came the call from her superior.
"My groups green."
"We need all the help we can get."
"Alright, sir. We'll be there."
"So just smile and say,
It's going to be such a day.
Leave your old life at the door.
When you're looking for something more.
But watch the steps you make.
Life can crash.
And no amount on chit, beats 'dat"
It wasn't such a difficult battle. The raiders were back in full force, and Ari had rounded up the troops in an astounding amount of time. The original minutemen could not have done it quicker. Ari's last day on Jove station
"Hey did dinner taste funny to anyone else?" Anna mentioned.
"Where did you eat?" Ari yelled over the com link. "You've got a fighter on your tail, duck out."
"Yes, ma'am." Anna turned her ship as to avoid the enemy fighter, "I went to the Outer Ring. I think it was the garlic, or maybe saffron. I dunno."
"Didn't know you were such a culinary expert A.J." Barret answered, "Zeta 2, watch it, you almost got clipped there."
"You think I didn't notice, Zeta 3?" Keith answered, "My flight controls are being a little crazy, a couple good sound hits should make it work." Keith slapped the side of the flight console, "Hey, yeah here it goes!"
"Keep us informed if it goes out, we'll give ya cover." Arianna said, calmly as she struck a raider fighter on the side.
It wasn't so much as a difficult battle as it was challenging for the new recruits. It was a breeze for Ari. The raiders had standard tactics, and never really strayed from them. But the were difficult to see if you were new.
"Zeta Leader, take your wing right, there's a ship ready to fall, we need someone to finish it off."
"Aye, Base Command. Zeta wing, you heard the gentleman, let's roll."
"Zeta Leader, I need cover, flight controls are failing, repeat, requesting cover." Keiths voice rang over
"Zeta 3 and 4, give 2 some cover. I'll get to the ship."
"Zeta Leader, my console is dead. I don't know what happened. Communications failing."
"Eject, and aim towards Jove."
"Controls….dead." The communications channel started to static out."
"Ari, can you hear me?" Keith asked between the static on a private channel.
"I'm dead meat, right?"
"Yeah. I'll cover for you as much as possible."
"Don't worry. Just wanted to say goodbye while I could."
A Raider fighter, noticing the drifting Zeta 2, took the easy target, and a few seconds later, shrapnel hit the fighter right back at him from that easy target.
They went on to finish the battle, and a day or so later, the recovered body was sent back to the custody of the Zeta Wing, now an official part of the Io Civil Defense, to commit. Ari yielded the right of the funeral service, and got a higher up to officiate, citing personal beliefs, but attended.
"From the stars we came, to the stars we will return."
"Why Nalko?" Ari asked, "You didn't do anything wrong. Why were you there anyways?"
"Keith was my cousin."
"I'm sorry, James."
"I wish I knew how the Zeta Leader is. I really wish I could find out who got him out there…"
Ari remained quiet for a few moments, "Everyone who flies has this risk. We all are going to die someday. Your cousin was honorable in his death. It's not the Zeta leaders fault."
"I guess so. We all want to blame it on someone else…"
"I'll see you around, James. I leave this evening, maybe we'll run into each other before then.
"Yeah, see you Arianna."
"Here's your report sit. You'll see that I've named my second. A.J. Taylor will serve best. She has a similar voice, and she'll be my rep."
"Cassidy, I don't know why you want to remain hidden…it is an…"
"Personal reasons sir. I prefer to keep undercover. I need to get my business in order. I'll be on Station a lot sir, so don't worry."
"I shouldn't let you order me around."
"I'm not ordering, I'm telling. You can either have me against you…or on your side. Care to choose?"
Ari grabbed her duffel and headed out towards the StarStuff, and consequently ran back into Nalko as she entered her hanger. Her hair was flowed behind her, freshly brushed and not tied back.
"Good Morning, James."
"I'm running late…my partner is supposed to meet me in 3 days on Mars. I've got to book it to make it in time."
"Then I'll see you after the next run."
"Probably." She continued walking towards her ship.
Ari quickly turned around, and flashed a big smile. "James, you can call me Ari."