Pairing: UsUk, CanPru, and other assorted pairings.
Genre: UsUk LJ Com's Spring Ficathon
Summary: Federation of United Planetary Nations is the order of things now. After a bitter twenty year war - the War of Re-Conciliation - the Federation has defeated the opposing factions, made up mostly of various systems and planets along the outer system clusters. After the outer system cluster alliance had been roundly defeated at the Battle of Brussia, and one of the last Brain Stations wiped out, the Alliance had sued for Peace. Nearly every Planet signed the treaty within a year of the Battle. Only the Rus-1 System Cluster has yet to sign the treaty binding every planet, system cluster and station to one united entity.
Chapter 2: Meeting at Dawn
I wrote this as not a scholarly work, nor of an investigative piece. I wrote this to tell the horrors of war, and of what we have given up to gain the freedoms enjoyed by the following generation. I say this: We bled for you, so you would not. Do not disappoint us.
I will never forget the sounds she made, the E1BH, as she fell. The sounds of the twisted metal of Ellie's skeleton, the ringing of the sires, and the cries of the damned all combined into a hellish cacophony that threatened to deafen us all. We could hear it from where our emergency capsule had landed on that damned planet. She looked like a phoenix, I remember thinking, ribbons of fire trailing behind her. I knew the engineers must be working desperately to save her, but nothing can be done to save a ship when the core goes. Ellie exploded in the atmosphere, taking with her the Merc ship who'd caught us.
It was then I realized my childhood was over, and that I would never forgive the bodiless, nameless beings who directed us to war then.
“Infinity Before Us” Captain Arthur Kirkland, ret. The Federation United Planetary Nations, Survey Division. Scholastic Books, 5062
Alfred normally was not given to stare at strange people, but in this case he'd make an exception. Striding across the expanses of the Iso B3 was the most striking man he'd ever seen in his life. He wore the distinctive olive-green uniform of one of the Survey crews, but had three black cuffs around each wrist. Despite the distance, he could see the messy blond hair – like he'd just taken off a helmet- and sharp green eyes that looked a little like those funky lasers his techie friend Kiku liked to play with.
Those lasers were incredibly dangerous, and he sort of hoped that the man was equally dangerous, and that maybe if luck held he'd have a chance to go try and pick him up.
“Alfred!” He blinked and came back to himself, as his twin grabbed his ear with one hand. He turned slightly to look at his twin, losing the man in the crowds. Matthew glared at him. “Or would you like to be late to the first meeting with our new crew?”
“Right, right,” Alfred muttered, casting one last look back. The mystery man had vanished without trace into the swirling crowd on the promenade, vanishing into the whirling colors and sounds like he'd never been there. There'd be no one last chance for some stress relief before being locked into the dull-drums of ship life now, he thought to himself, following his brother. Matthew slipped in between the crowds, while Alfred strode through the controlled chaos.
Despite looking almost identical, the two brothers couldn't have been more different. Matthew was the quiet one, the one most over looked while Alfred took the attention and kept people busy with his over the top attitude. The brothers had been separated by their parents shortly after their eighth birthday. Their father, a military scientist, had been transferred to the Noram cluster, to work on an unnamed, secretive project. Their mother had been one of the Diplomatic Service's wet-work agents, traveling often and rarely at home. Neither Alfred nor Matthew knew why their parents had separated – just they had and that it had not been a pleasant or gentle separation. Their parents had chosen not to divorce, just to separate and live apart.
Margaret Williams had been of House Williams however minor, and she'd declared Matthew her body-heir at age 9. Calvin Jones, in response, had Alfred brought up to his house and declared to be his own body-heir. For years the two had played Alfred and Matthew off each other, using them as weapons in their subtle game of chess. They'd been eighteen before they'd been reunited under a mission gone haywire in their first year of service.
That mission had gone down in the books and was taught to Diplomatic students in all the clusters. The Williams-Jones team had in under three years become one of the most sought after teams available to the Service. Alfred was bold and outgoing, able to keep everyone's attention on himself, allowing Matthew to gather information without great risk. Diplomatic Service both loved and hated them with equal passion. The immediate commander for the sector intelligence had labeled them as 'equal parts trouble makers and equal parts brilliant tacticians' right before he sent them as far away as he could manage it.
Alfred shook his head. Now was not the time to think about the past. They had a mission to start and this one was going to take all of his and Matthew's combined cunning to pull it off.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Not much later Alfred regretted thinking anything about his mystery man – sorry, Survey Captain Arthur Kirkland – as the captain fixed him with a glare that could have burned skin off a lesser man. Alfred however, refused to acknowledge such a thing – he was a hero, on three planets! And hero's didn't sweat glares. Between them, floating in midair, was a hologram of Kirkland's ship, the E3BH. Frankly, Alfred had seen burned out skeletons that looked less pathetic then that ship. And they expected this rust bucket to carry him and Matthew into the Rus cluster?
“I assure you Major Jones,” Kirkland forced out between clenched teeth, “appearances can be deceiving. Especially when it comes to Bess.”
Beside him, Matthew groaned softly. Alfred charged onwards. “We're going into the Rus Cluster. Not too long ago they liked to use Federation ships as target practice, and we're going into the heart of the place.”
“So?” Kirkland smirked at him, the light from the hologram lighting his face up like a man too long gone from the firm land of a planet.
“So, your rust-bucket...”
“What Alfred's saying is that there is some concern as to the ability of the E3BH to handle a mission a Ship of the Line can't.” Matthew leaned forward, cutting Alfred off. “After all, the we've sent how many ships in the RUS cluster now?”
Antonio Carrideo leaned forwards, propping his head in his hands, eyes half-closed. “Close to twenty now.”
Kirkland shrugged. “So you sent a bunch of wet behind the ears children into a war zone, and are confused as to why they're all missing?” He leaned back, letting the light half-hide his face. Alfred dearly wanted to wipe the look off his face. He didn't have to look at his side to know that Mattie was grinding his teeth. His brother's lover had been on one of those ships, and no one, not even this raggedy, undisciplined all-but-pirate, survey captain couldn't say that Gilbert had been a wet behind the ears child. Before either of them could say anything, or in Mattie's case, do something, the station captain broke in.
“Arthur, just listen to the briefing.” Antonio Carrideo was the station manager for the ISO B3, and despite living most of his life in space, was a tan, fit man. “The last crew we sent in, well, look for yourself,” he finished, gesturing to the holo floating between them.
Alfred did his best to not twitch when the faces of the twelve person crew of the EU2 FRD, floated on the table. Out of the twelve faces, two were marked with a red x and the rest in yellow; two dead, ten unaccounted for and missing in action. Next to him, Mattie sucked in a breath at the picture of Gilbert. “We're not sure why these 2 were killed, and the other ten missing.”
Kirkland glanced slightly and then shrugged again. “Rus is known for creating new identities for people who want to vanish. Who's to say they didn't do it themselves?”
Mattie made an abortive movement towards the survery-captain, but it was Alfred who spoke, “So everyone who vanishes has something to hide? Pretty amazing you can draw that conclusion from just looking at a picture.”
“It's happen before.”
“Not to us,” Carrideo said firmly. “And not on eighteen seperate ships, Federation and Alliance crews, and mixed.”
Silence echoed a bit after that pronouncement. Finally the survey captain spoke up, “What mixed crew went?”
Carrideo leaned forward and tapped on the display. A new crew, this time of a mid-ranged ship came up. “The EU3 PRT.”
Alfred stared at the face of the other man, as emotions ran across his face – disbelief, grief and surprise. He must have known someone on that crew, someone close to him. “They sent the Portia?”
Carrideo nodded. Almost all of the names displayed were marked in red. A few, perhaps five at most, were marked in yellow. “I had hoped that perhaps you would be more willing to keep an open min regarding this than others given the situation at hand.”
“For the Portia,” he finally said, “ I will.”
Alfred couldn't help his outburts, “So what, now you'll listen to us? Never mind all the other crews, it's this one that makes you stop and listen?”
“Lt Jones,” Carrideo snapped, “mind your mouth.” Alfred jerked back and stared at the station captain. His eyes were narrowed and he was standing stiffly, as if expecting some sort of pain to hit. “You don't know the history of the Portia.”
It was later, after formalizing the transfer of himself and his brother to the E3 BH, that Alfred had a chance to do some research on the mysterious ship that had convinced Captain Kirkland to accept the mission.
The Portia was a mid-ranged diplomatic vessel. She had medium armaments, and a heavy shielding that had made his brows rise. He'd only seen that sort of shielding on the battle-cruisers before. She ran light on her crew, with only a crew of around a hundred and fifty. Standard issue crew for her size was close to two hundred, two hundred fifty. She'd been commissioned by the Federation, but shortly before she could be launched off the NORAM ship docks, the Alliance had stolen her.
“That explains the shielding,” he muttered. The Alliance vessels tended to have better shielding then the Federation, but were usually vastly underpowered and outmaneuvered by the Federation ships.
The Portia had a varied history. She was used at first as a Medical ship, evacuating the sick and injured, while the Alliance built up her shielding. She first saw combat under the command of a ISO Alliance commander, and had been under her command until her death. The commander had died off her ship, trying to rescue a group of escape pods. The next captain had used the Portia as a primarily battle ship, logging kill after kill.
From there, when her captain moved up to a different ship (the lack of information telling Alfred it was likely a spook ship), and her new commander took over. The Portia thrived under the command of one Michelle Carriedo, older sister to one Antonio Carrideo. She made a name for herself as a sort of jack of all trades. She was a rescue and medical evac ship, but also a forward battle ship, holding her own against the Federation ships of a similar size. The Portia was known for being a fair ship, offering fair terms of surrender and treating prisoners well.
And then one day, the Portia rescued a group of stranded Alliance rebels from the E1B3, that had been destroyed in a pitched battle with a group of mercs. Most of the stranded survivors were absorbed into the Portia's crew, and stayed there. However, one survivor of the E1B3, did not, and after recovering and went on to the crew of the E2B3, quickly climbing the ranks until becoming a captain in his own right.
Nothing was written of the relationship between the captain of the Portia and Kirkland, beyond that Captain Carriedo offered her opponents the chance to surrender, and so fairly, and Kirkland rarely extended terms of surrender. In fact, the only thing written was that they had often butted heads over treatment of prisoners and captured ships, specifically the Mercs.
Alfred leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, brooding over the information. There had to be something to explain why the Portia was so important to Kirkland, something he was missing. Matthew had sent him a message earlier, saying only that their normal contacts in the Survey corps had nothing on the Portia, and he'd been refused access to the Portia's files on the Diplomatic side.
The knock on the door of his temporary quarters startled him into jerking upright. “Come in, door's open!”
The last person he expected to see walked in – Station Captain Antonio Carriedo. Alfred snapped to his feet, hand flying to salute the officer. “Do you have a moment, Lt?”
Carriedo rolled his eyes and told him, “Relax, this is informal and off the books.”
Alfred hesitated and then gestured towards the lone chair in the room. “Please, have a seat sir.”
“I don't want to take much time, but I assume you have some questions.” Carriedo nodded towards the bed, motioning for Alfred to sit. “I can try to answer what I can for you.”
Somehow, by force of will, Alfred kept himself from jumping up and cheering. Normally it was Matthew who came across all the breaks like this, not Alfred. This was a chance he couldn't pass up, not if he wanted to better understand his new commanding officer. “ Sir, why did Kirkland react that way when you mentioned the Portia?”
“First off Jones,” Carriedo said, “it's Captain Kirkland – and you'd do well to remember that. He's earned it several times over and is proud of it.” He sighed and continued, “no matter my own feelings on him, he's earned his captaincy.”
Alfred nodded, hoping he hadn't just ruined his one chance at getting some information.
“The Portia as you probably know by now was my sister's ship. Michelle was a newly made captain when she pulled Kirkland off that rock, and made her choice on how to deal with prisoners.” Here, he paused to meet Alfred's eyes. “I don't deny it hurt she choose to fight for the Alliance, but she was my sister and I loved her dearly.”
“Sir, most of the record says nothing of Kirkland.”
He nodded, “It won't. That was my condition when I agreed to open Isobelle up to everyone, that the Federation clean her record of anything to do with Kirkland.”
“Sir?” Alfred was genuinely confused now.
“They had an affair that lasted years, Jones,” he said quietly. “And when Michelle refused to turn her prisoners over to Kirkland when he'd made captain, he swore to never help her again, if she refused him help in getting revenge on the Mercs who'd killed his first ship.”
“I don't understand, sir.” Alfred knew what power a love affair had over people. He had taken advantage of it a few times in the course of his career. He'd seen what love had done to his parents, and then what love did to Matthew. It didn't sound like the kinds of love he'd seen at least.
Carriedo leaned back and nodded. “What do you know of the history of the EU1 cluster?”
“EU1 was settled primarily by a group of settlers from Old Earth that is, mostly made up by the former nations of the United Kingdom. Their royal family was the predecessor to the current family in power. The major families are almost always descended from the various nobility of that time. It's a mostly shipping cluster, with a few factories, but is known for creating some of the faster ships on the market,” Alfred said. “I haven't spent a lot of time in the EU1 cluster since my childhood.”
“What about the Kirkland clan?”
Alfred frowned. “The Kirkland clan was a sub-clan from the current Windsors, who fell from grace shortly before the Alliance-Federation war broke out. They supported the Alliance, and the Windsors, the Federation, didn't they?”
The station captain nodded again. “That's right.”
Wheels started turning in Alfred's head. Arthur Kirkland – he was obviously a member of the Kirklands, and the Kirklands were a subclan from the Windsors. Ergo, he was a part of one of the more pampered and privileged Families. However, Kirkland was a survey captain, on a mid-ranged ship – he worked for a living, ergo he obviously didn't have access to the wealth the rest of the extended Windsor clan had.
“Got a question?”
Alfred nodded. “Why is he,” he trailed off uncomfortably. While Alfred was his father's body heir, and one of three possible candidates for the position of body-heir to the extended Jones family, it was still the height of rudeness for him to ask why Arthur Kirkland was cut off from the rest of his family.
“Pride,” Carrideo said. “Well, pride on both parts. The Windors were less then thrilled when Kirkland's father went off to join the Alliance, taking his family with him. And Arthur is the only member of the immediate Kirkland clan left, minus his youngest brother.”
He couldn't help perking up at that bit of information. “Younger brother?”
“Peter Kirkland, formally adopted by the head of Swede family.”
Adoption wasn't unheard of, but adoption of one of two possible heirs to a clan was. Leaving a clan with only one possible heir was unheard of. When the system of clans and families had been formalized centuries ago, the possibility of having a less then sane choice had been addressed. No one had wanted to see the problems of Old Earth that is come about again. Old Earth that is had been plagued by problems brought about with how it viewed heirs. Old Earth that was held that only the first born male could really inherit, female heirs had been rare, and few, and often shoved aside as soon as possible. It had led to issues, with many believing that they were owed the power they inherited and that they were infallible.
The way things were today was meant to address that. Body-heirs inherited from the parent or sibling that selected them. Families selected the next head by means of choosing the single most capable body-heir available, encouraging the various generations to work hard, better themselves and become the best they could be. It was very much a system of great power and even greater responsibility. An body-heir was protected from harm, but also pushed beyond their limits. From birth a child would be raised with the knowledge that they were to become all they could be, using their gifts and talents to increase the wealth, both material and non-material of their family. Having a large pool of candidates to choose from increased the chance of picking the best choice. No sane family wanted to have one single choice.
Clans had been ripped apart by not having a choice.
Carriedo continued on, ignoring the way Alfred had blanched, “My family wanted to tie themselves closer to the Windsors, and frankly it was a good idea. The Windsor family was rich, and well off, but needed new trade routes to keep from stagnating. My family needed money, but had trade routes and ships that could go places theirs couldn't.”
Again, Alfred nodded. It wasn't uncommon for families to contract various body-heirs together to increase profits. Most families would contract for a few years at a time, with full details of what the contract meant for both sides to prevent any conflict. “So they contracted Captain Kirkland and your sister,” Alfred guessed, taking what he knew and extrapolating.
To his surprise, Carriedo laughed. “No, no they didn't.”
“They contracted a Windsor, Jonah, to contract with her for ten standard cycles, with a possibility of more should they make a good pair, not that anyone expected it to last. Jonah you see,” he said dryly, “was a Merc.”
“Something happened,” Alfred said flatly.
“Arthur went after Jonah's ship, finally catching up to him before the contract was to be signed. He'd found out where Jonah was going to be by looking at Michelle's records. Arthur went to deliver the coupe de gra and Michelle stopped him, saving the contract, and Jonah. She swore afterwords, that if he couldn't be trusted to respect her choices, then she never wanted to see or speak with him again,” the other man finished. “As far as I know they haven't spoken or seen each other since.”
Alfred whistled. No wonder Kirkland was still a survey-captain, and worked the way he did. They couldn't remove him as an heir to the Kirkland clan, because he was the only real heir, but they could cut him off from as much as they could in punishment.
The other man nodded. “Be careful. After that, Kirkland began to toe the line. He's the picture perfect body-heir for the Kirkland clan now, but he keeps his honor around him like a shield between him and the world. He won't let anyone harm that.”
At that he frowned. The secondary mission, the one Captain Kirkland didn't know about, would possibly be at risk if Kirkland was as honor bound now as Alfred was being told he was now. As far as Kirkland knew, they were going in to discover why the ships and crews were vanishing. The mission Alfred and Matthew were carrying out required them to rescue the survivors and prevent any more Federation ships from ever being harmed in the Rus cluster again. Push come to shove, there was a chance they would have to use Captain Kirkland in ways he wasn't going to like.
“I know. If it helps, Lt, you are not being set up to fail,” Carriedo said. “If anything, the general consensus is that you and Lt Williams-Jones are the only two who are capable of carrying this out with minimal loss of life.”
“If we're not being set-up, is Captain Kirkland,” he asked carefully wording his question.
“You know I can't answer that.” Carriedo nodded nonetheless. “Alls I can tell you is someone decided Kirkland was the best choice for this, and pushed it through.”
“I see sir.” Alfred did see – someone wanted Kirkland to take the fall if something went wrong. And given his private history, Alfred could see where it would be advantageous to have someone like that be his fall man.
Carriedo stood up abruptly and clapped him on the shoulder. “Either way, be safe out there. No one knows what's going on in the Rus cluster, and no one wants to lose either of you.”
Alfred stood and saluted as the station captain moved to leave. “Yes, sir.”