I n f i n i t y
To The Edge and Beyond
More than anything else, it was always quiet. Noise and the sounds of living are often taking for granted as they are - wake up and go to work with various sounds signalling that you're still a breathing entity in reality. That's how it usually is all over the globe, no matter which part, hemisphere, or country you go to. This only applies to the boundaries of a mere planet however. In the totality of the universe, there isn't much noise to greet you. No sounds of life hovering around to let you know that you're alive, save for the dulled thump of your heartbeat. More than anything else, it was also quiet - the universe and its vastness. Except - more than any singular planet - life was much more abundant in the infinite reaches of the universe. All manner of star vehicles hovered to and fro, some carrying cargo and others carrying passengers to their destinations. Strategically placed law enforcement watched the flow of multiple traffic lines to ensure proper order and their safety before anything else. Star ports were bustling with activity and, despite the fact that noise wasn't very apparent in space itself, the state of living seemed much higher among the stars.
Warden Vice Mitchell gazed up at the beige clouds and sky of the prison planet, Arch Maximus. The entire planet itself was a beige color; most thought it to be caused by the fact that it almost purely composed of rocky formations and desert lands with underground rivers, lakes, and streams for water. Since it was a mostly windy planet, many figured that the dust from the dry rocks had melded with the atmosphere to create the sandpaper sky above. It had been dusty and windy for centuries after all. The color of the sky didn't concern the Warden however. As he rubbed his grey beard and swiveled back around to the metal desk, his thoughts went back to the events that had transpired a month prior. It had taken a year or two, but the Claustrum had finally found its criminal crew and had left Arch Maximus for a UIG sponsored space port near the edge of the Center World Star System. Mitchell shook his head disapprovingly at the thoughts. A guard entered the room at the same time, his steps echoing on the metal floor underneath. The Warden didn't turn around as the guard entered, saluted, and placed his plasma rifle down on the floor next to him in an "at ease" position.
"It's a fucking shame, you know that?" Mitchell said, still without turning.
"What's a shame, sir?" The guard replied in formal fashion. Mitchell raised a hand nonchalantly and the guard's posture immediately eased up.
"This whole... Suicide mission or business or whatever. It's a fucking disgrace. Why in the hell would the most organized government of our time formally back and allow this foolery?"
"I have no idea, sir,"
"Their criminals, right?"
Yes sir, they are indeed,"
"Exactly, their criminals. The scum of the earth, sent here to rot away or die from manual labor. Doesn't really matter how, as long as they do die. What the hell's this system coming to? And then the weapons; I had to specially sign off on forms allowing each and every one of those bastards to carry a fucking handgun. Custom installed security granted, but it's still a god damn disgrace. I hope they die out there,"
The guard remained silent.
"I know it's harsh boy, but this is real life after all - can't have dangerous assholes like these earning their freedom. That's why they decided that an entire planet should become a prison after all. Too many fucking lunatics in the galaxy as it is, we can't have them roaming around on government sanctioned missions, even if it is supposed to a 99% guaranteed chance of ship destruction and crew death. What did you come in here for again?"
The Arius spaceport was a rather large one. It was near the border of the Center Worlds Star System so it had every right to its massive size and depth. Cruisers frequently came in and out of docking dropping off all manner of cargo from passengers to crates and shipment freights. Besides that, it also served as a hub for the many citizens who wished to travel between systems. Mostly businessmen and the like did this, but there were always a few civilians who were traveling for vacations. The thing was, since this was the Center Worlds Star System, there were often people from outer worlds trying to get in. Arius was mostly a hub for these "refugees", as people called them although they didn't fit the technical definition of a refugee. The Center Worlds always seemed very appealing to those in the outer worlds because the UIG only operated within its borders. Only a select few outer worlds - like Samara for instance - ever even interacted with the UIG and that was usually because such planets harbored something of interest.
A warship labelled with The Claustrum on its massive hull sat docked in one of the private ports. A crowd of security stood all around it and even blocked Arius workers from performing normal maintenance duties. At the moment, the ship was getting refueled and something important was going on inside. Every worker who walked past could see it and wondered, but more people were concerned with the fact that there was an actual warship in the dock. Warships were thought to have been destroyed after the treaty was drawn up by the UIG many years prior. Whispers fluttered around the room as nervous Arius crew wandered by and were made even more nervous by the presence of a ship that was fabled to have enough firepower to take out a moon. Within the ship however - in the conference room to be exact - a variety of criminal individuals sat around large oval table. Their hands and feet were both shackled and security personnel stood all around the table at the walls of the large room. The head of security walked slowly around the table, hands behind his back and a stern expression on his face.
"I won't stoop down so low as to fill my words with belittlement and insults. I have no time for such in any case," The man took a breath and stopped at the head of the table. "As you all know, you're here to complete a single mission. That is to bring back a certain item from a planet called Novalis. Novalis is located at the far edge of the mega galaxy and is largely uncharted territory. We know a little about it, but nothing relevant that you'd need to know at this point. The point is, you've been chosen for this mission for the sole reason that you are beings who do not deserve to live. Therefore, the UIG has decided to spare the lives of good men and send worthless thugs on a mission with a ninety-nine percent chance of complete crew death and vessel destruction. You already know this information so let's move on to your Bonds," The man took another breath and a sip of water this time that had been placed at the table. One of the guards from the wall stepped up in a rigid position.
"Your bonds are special devices that allow your location to be tracked. They are also able to keep your behavior in line should you try to escape or get out of hand. They are programmed to dispatch a lethal mix of chemical that will exterminate your existence should you try and do one of the following things: Shooting or attacking your crew mates with any weapon, getting out of range of the Claustrum which constitutes an escape attempt, or tampering with the Bond itself in any way either physically or remotely through the use of technology. All these things will result in the injection which will kill you in thirty seconds." The guard said in a serious, monotone voice. The head of security nodded and the guard stepped back.
"You don't have to like each other, but we won't have you needlessly killing each other if there's even a sliver of a chance that this mission can succeed. However, if you want to kill yourselves, feel free to do us all a favor. Now then, onto to your weapons. Obviously you don't deserve anything due to your histories, but we need to provide you with a basic form of defense to increase chances of success. You'll all be provided with a basic MD-22 codenamed "Dominator". The Dominator is one of the few handguns without a Mass Driver. It was especially customized for you people and remains in a constant safe mode until it identifies a threat. It will scan the target you point it at and will decide if it's a threat in two seconds or less. It determines threat status based on a variety of factors - behavior of the target, body gestures, mannerisms, overall body language, etc. It fires energy shots that are generated within the weapon itself, so there is no need of ammunition. Obviously, you know what happens if you point it at each other... It may determine a status, but the Bond will react before then. Think carefully about your actions from here on out if you truly want to live,"
The head of security paused to let the information sink in.
"Finally, I'll give you your first objective. To get the far reaches of the galaxy, you'll have to reach the Drive Gate in the Cryxian Star System. However, in order to use it, you'll need a Drive Key. Unfortunately, this ship lost its Drive Key in ancient times. You'll have to retrieve one of the few we know exists on a planet called Fantasia. Once you've retrieved the Key, your mission will truly begin. That is all." The head of security nodded and all the personnel exited from the room. He scoffed one last time and exited himself, letting the automatic door whoosh closed behind him. A beeping noise began after that and ten seconds later, the shackles on the hands and feet of the criminals opened automatically and doors in the walls opened pushed out Dominator handgunds towards each chair of the oval table. As soon as each person touched the grip of one, an AI voice played out in their mind.
MD-22, Dominator active... Scanning... ID identified. No threat detected. Dominator will be locked and unable to fire.
As Kurt's message finished, he heaved a heavy sigh and rubbed his wrists where the shackles had been. He could still feel the weight and cold metal of the bond on his right ankle, but at least he could move freely now. Considering everything, he figured the group had been given very little information. They had been put through formal release procedures together for the last month and had gotten to know one another a little, but they had been promised more info throughout all of that and now that the time had come, Kurt honestly felt tricked. Of course, he couldn't complain about government officials lying to prisoners serving life sentences on Arch Maximus - what right did he have? Dismissing the thoughts for now, he placed his Dominator into the holster on his right side and stood from the table. It felt good to be in real clothing again.
Kurt wore a black shirt with a brown leather jacket, navy blue cargo pants with many pockets, and black combat boots. Even if the outfit was normal to him, he felt out of place amongst the different beings in the room. He had interacted with alien life for a pretty long time, but a lot of the different races appeared to be pretty menacing. He sighed again and rubbed the back of his neck as he stretched his legs a bit. "So uh... " Kurt stumbled. How did you break the ice in a group of like this? What was there to say? They had their first objective and they had been given everything they were going to get from the officials. The ship was probably finished refueling too. Kurt could feel that it was almost time to for takeoff and then he'd be able to chill in the cockpit and get to know the AI. That would be better than the awkward situation he now found himself in. He figured most people would retreat to their quarters for the time being, but he couldn't know for sure.
With that, he leaned against the wall and folded his arms. No matter how he looked at it, this was a shitty situation that only had the outcome of death. Not that he hadn't expected that when he was first offered anyway, but the reality was beginning to set in. He was actually "free" in a sense. At least, he was more free than he ever was on Arch Maximus. Just being able to breathe without dirt filling his lungs was a luxury to Kurt. He decided to make his way to the cockpit, but stopped at the door.
"I'm gonna head up to the cockpit... Get this ol' girl ready for liftoff and shit. They said before that the only areas of the ship open were the cockpit, our quarters, and the mess hall. Apparently, they stocked up on some food for uhh... For each of our kind too. The rest of the areas are supposed to unlock when we cross the system border... If anybody needs me, you know where to find me." Kurt awkwardly addressed the group as the door whooshed open and closed and he exited the room. Reality had hit home indeed. Kurt Dyson was finally getting away from Arch Maximus and travelling the galaxy as he'd always wanted to do. Of course, being a criminal wasn't part of the plan, but life rarely ever went they way we wanted it to go.