Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 197,466,050 Issue: 983 | 19th day of Hunting, Y25
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A Corsair Among the Stars


by zennistrad

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Fifteen years ago...

     Korzara coughed nervously. Ever since she had been called to the Resistance headquarters, she had felt an unscratched itch just beneath her scales. It was a subtle but irritating twinge of unease, one that ran down the length of her back and crawled to the end of her tail.

     Being hired as a privateer for the Resistance was the first big break she’d ever had. She could do what she was good at — robbing supply ships blind — and not risk getting in trouble with Kreludan or Space Station authorities. It was the most freedom she’d ever had, and it was all in the service of defeating the dread Doctor Sloth, who embodied the very antithesis of freedom.

     It also helped that the pay was good, too. Not that Korzara was doing it for the money, since Sloth could probably offer an even higher salary. But it certainly didn’t hurt.

     And that made it all the more worrying that Commander Valka was so upset with her, and made it clear when he demanded she reports to him in person. She wasn’t sure what it was that she had done wrong, but the anger in his voice was enough to pierce through even the sheer silence of space.

     Following the winding paths of secret corridors and walkways through the Space Station, eventually Korzara found her way to the well-concealed door to the Resistance headquarters. She had to fight to keep herself from wincing as the retinal scanner projected a beam of red light right into her eye. It was hard to explain why it bothered her so much, but the very concept behind a retinal scanner felt… invasive, for lack of a better word.

     The mechanical doors swung open, and Korzara was immediately faced with the sight of the Resistance headquarters, a metallic room bathed in green light and the hum of the computer monitors and holographic displays.

     A tall Green Ixi, dressed in shielded plasteel armour, turned to face her. If the Commander’s shouting voice transmission from earlier that day made him seem angry, the quiet wrinkle on his forehead now made him furious. It was a much more subtle anger, betrayed only by the hint of embers burning beneath his eyes, and the gentle twitch of his lips as they folded into a frown.

     When Valka spoke, his voice was steady. Like the still air in the eye of a hurricane.

     “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

     Korzara gulped. “Commander, I’m afraid I don’t know what—”

     “I did not say you could speak,” Valka interrupted. “Tell me, Privateer Korzara, do you recall what it is that I hired you to do?”

     Korzara hesitated. It felt like a trick question. “To raid Sloth’s cargo ships. To disrupt his supply lines, by any means necessary.” She paused again, her mind desperately trying to puzzle out what was happening. “Just what are you trying to get at here, Commander? That’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

     “No. It isn’t. We asked you specifically to raid Sloths’s cargo ships.” Valka’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “And at zero six hundred hours today, Scout gave us a report to the contrary. Your vessel, the Liberada, had been spotted raiding a civilian cargo ship.”

     Korzara bristled. On some level, she knew this might happen, yet she still found herself desperately grasping for any means to defend herself. “Now hold on just a minute here! Our deal was that you’d pardon me for any crimes of piracy I’d committed!”

     Valka pressed his fingertips to his temples and groaned. “No, I meant the crimes that you committed before you joined the Resistance.”

     “You gave me a license for space piracy!” Korzara shot back. “Why would you even give me permission to do something if you’re just going to chew me out for it anyway!?”

     “Because you’re missing the point!”

     Valka’s sudden shouting made Korzara’s heart jump, and she instinctively backed away.

     “We are fighting this war to protect the innocent! You can’t be robbing the very same innocents we are meant to protect!”

     Korzara felt her fists clench tightly, her arms held straight against her sides. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she sniped, “I thought we were fighting this war for freedom. My bad, turns out this whole time I've been fighting for the right to be a useless goody-two-shoes.”

     It was then that something behind Commander Valka’s eyes visibly snapped.

     “Out,” he spoke. His voice was calm, but it hit with the force of a falling star.

     “What?”

     “Turn in your license and get out,” Valka growled. “You’re through.”

     “Wait! Hold on, you can’t!”

     “There will be no arguments. Turn in your license or I’ll have you thrown in a holding cell. The Resistance is no place for a pirate.”

     ----------------

     “Alert. Alert. Approaching Asteroid Belt. Manual ship controls required to proceed.”

     The droning voice of her ship’s onboard computer system jolted Korzara awake, sending her dream of her past tumbling into oblivion. She had set the Liberada on autopilot while she took the time to sleep in the onboard bunk. As usual, it wasn’t anywhere close to a full night’s sleep — as much as a ‘night’ even meant anything in but space — but it did give her just enough rest to ensure she wouldn’t be falling asleep at the wheel.

     Korzara climbed out of her bed, then grabbed a canned energy drink from the small bedside desk. It had been left open from the morning prior, which was made readily apparent by its warm, flat taste as she chugged what remained of it.

     “Warning. Warning. Approaching Asteroid Belt. Autopilot thrusters disengaging. Assume manual control immediately.”

     “Yeah, yeah, I heard you,” Korzara complained. Silently grumbling to herself, she donned her armour and climbed up the ladder hanging to the side of her room. The hatch on the ceiling opened, and she wearily crawled through it, entering the flight deck of her ship.

     The ship’s autopilot thrusters slowed down, and eventually brought the Liberada to a halt as Korzara took her seat at the controls. There was a subtle whirr as a panel in the front of the flight deck slid open, and the ship’s steering yoke popped out and unfolded.

     With a yawn, Korzara rubbed her one good eye. Through the viewscreen, she could see a massive, dense field of asteroids in front of her. Passing through such a field would normally pose no issue, but the coordinates Gnib had given her indicated that the contact point was within the Asteroid Belt. That would require much more careful navigation, and a lesser pilot could easily be smashed upon the asteroid they were attempting to land on.

     Thankfully, Korzara was not a lesser pilot. After checking and re-checking her destination coordinates, and making sure that all of her navigation systems were properly calibrated, she grabbed the yoke and engaged the Liberada’s thrusters.

     What followed was a tense, but brief, excursion through the densest segment of the Asteroid Belt. After narrowly dodging one of the smaller obstacles, she was eventually brought face-to-face with her destination.

     To the undiscerning eye, it looked like no more than a large minor planet, with a mean radius of two hundred kilometres. But the sensor arrays on Korzara’s ship rapidly picked up on something else.

     It was an outpost located on the Asteroid’s surface, with a docking station for small and medium-sized spacecraft and a fully-functioning life support system. Notably, it also had a strange energy signature at its core... a constant magical radiation that Korzara could have sworn she had seen before.

     “Bingo,” Korzara muttered to herself. Carefully manoeuvring the Liberada, she eventually managed to land on the surface of the asteroid, the airlock slowly joining and locking in place with the outpost’s docking station.

     Who had built such an outpost, and for what purpose, she could only begin to imagine. But a job was a job, and Korzara was desperate. She grabbed her blaster, slung its energy pack across her back, and set out to disembark.

     As the doors of the airlock pulled open, Korzara stepped out, past the boundaries of her ship and into the outpost proper. Inside was a dark, dank, slimy corridor, deathly silent save for the sound of her own footsteps against the metallic floor, and the nearly-inaudible hum of some unknown machinery.

     A sharp tingle of dread ran up Korzara’s spine, her every single footstep measured and exact. She kept her hand close to the blaster barrel holstered in her backpack, ready to draw her weapon at a moment’s notice.

     Eventually, the corridor came to an end. What was there was a single room, filled with a number of monitors and sickly green holographic screen displays, though their presence did little to illuminate the chamber. At the end was a single desk, sparsely decorated, save for a single swivel chair on the other end. The chair was massive and imposing, with an angular black leather seat that stood imposingly high — meaning that whoever sat in such a grandiose seat must have been nearly two meters tall.

     Suddenly, Korzara had the sickening feeling that taking this job was a terrible, terrible idea. And her fears were instantly validated when the chair swivelled around to face her.

     At first, there appeared to be no one sitting on it, but then there was a sudden thrum, and instantly a holographic image appeared before her, showing an image that every spacefaring Neopian both knew and feared. Black cloak, piercing red eyes, yellow teeth, sickly green skin…

     “You! But… but how!?”

     The hologram grinned. “To borrow an old phrase,” said Doctor Sloth, “reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”

To be continued…

 
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