The Star Core

Space always seemed a little too empty to him. As he stood facing what appeared to be large, reinforced glass that stared out into the abyss (it was, in truth, a series of large computer screens), he couldn’t help but wonder, if there was so much out there, where was it all? Why did it look so dark to him? There were twinkling stars in the expanse, and off in the distance one burned brighter than the others, large, fat, and red. Their star. Their home star. Silmas Utari.

It looked angry. Like a red, angry eye, staring him down from the far reaches of interplanetary space. He stared back and sneered. Out there was a planet. A home. This place was a home. And he was here to defile it.

“Navigation, where did we spit out at?” he said, his voice a low rumble like thunder through the bridge.

“On target Cap’. Just where we need to be,” a young man below, sitting at a terminal in his gel crash seat, said. He clicked at his keyboard for a moment, and examined the screen, before turning up to the captain’s seat at the back of the bridge and saying, “Timing’s right too.”

“Then the ship is?”

“Look up.”

Just then, overhead, a large black object shifted in the darkness, just barely overtaking the bridge screens. The massive freighter overhead was shaped like a long hourglass octagonal cylinder. In the light of the faraway sun one could see it’s gray plating, and even it’s name on the bottom, as this hulking beast came from the shadow. The ASF – F SunSong was a specially made freighter, capable of carrying very precious, very specific cargo, and would usually be surrounded by an armada of armed warships, not the few sliver scouts and singular dreadnought that were currently escorting it. But the war had made things tight, despite its ending, and so this beautiful, impressive freighter, decorated with blue paint and the flag of the Allied System Federation, and her valuable cargo, were mostly unguarded. And if one knew where to find them – though of course, that was the trick – they would find something akin to a lone doe and her buck, both ready for the hunt.

“And cloaking is?”

A woman to his right – his second in command, Alysia – also nestled in a crash seat, turned to him and said, “Active sir. The shielding you got from Artarus Four must’ve held it through the warp jump. Impressive.”

He grunted, and sat back in his seat. “Tell team one to get ready.”

“Already on it sir, they’re in the jump chutes and ready to go.”

“Once we launch them, we’re going to have a short period of time before the dreadnought notices. Alysia, I’m leaving the ship with you,” he said, unbuckling himself and stepping onto the grav plated floor. “I’m heading out with team one.”

She looked at him, but knew better than to question him when he got that glint in his eye. “Yes sir. Kick some ass.”

He ran a hand through his hair and planted another on her shoulder. “Get out of here if shit goes wrong.”

“Aye sir.”

He gave her shoulder a squeeze, and then departed the bridge. In moments, he was in the gear room, which had a small tube which one would step in and small robotic arms would place sections of armor onto special electromagnets on the body suit he wore. Each clamped down with force, and once the whole piece was together, and his black and gold armor was capped off by an angular helmet with a golden visor, and all systems were normalized, he stepped out of the tube, grabbed a rifle from the wall, and headed for the jump chutes.

There, Mikael, the captain of Team One, met him in the long hall with the doors to the chutes. “Sir, are you joining us?”

“I am Mikeal.”

“Are you sure sir?”

He clicked a button on his visor and turned it translucent, so that his piercing steel eyes could match Mikeal’s. “What’s on that ship is more valuable than a planet of five billion people. It’s worth a star system. This is my mission, understand? And I’ll see to it that it gets done.”

Mikeal stared at him for a second, with the silence of one who had been scolded, before nodding and saying, “Aye sir. This tube is free.”

“Good. Everything is ready?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then let’s launch.”

He clicked his visor button again and slipped into one of the cramped jump chutes. It was just big enough for him to lay down in, and so he did. Staring up at the black ceiling, with a row of red lights running up the chute on either side, he took a deep breath, in and out. A voice came over the speakers, feminine but robotic.


A hiss echoed through the chute, and he knew that on the other side of his armor was vacuum. Again, he took in a deep breath, and let it out. The voice came on again.

“Opening chute.”

The top of the chutes opened slowly, revealing the large, shadowy SunSong overhead, slowly drifting just barely faster than his ship. A small button on the wall appeared from behind a panel, large and red and easy and tempting to hit. He checked his HUD on his visor, flicked his eyes to comms, and connected with Mikeal.

“Are you ready Mikeal?”

“Yes sir, team’s ready.”

“Wait for my signal.”

The SunSong overhead started to slim, further and further it slimmed into an hourglass shape. “And…” He hesitated. “Now!”

He reached over and slammed the button down. The chute jerked, and then slammed forward, lurching up and shooting him out of the tube. Within moments he was in vacuum, hurtling toward the SunSong in zero g. Six in total shot out of the tubes, quietly, undetected, and through the blackness, surrounded by stars, under the eye of the distant star, they floated forward. He always found something peaceful in floating through the void. The emptiness seemed familiar, comforting. Though perhaps that was just him. But as he floated, his thoughts beginning to rev up, he couldn’t help but take it all in. The nothing around him. The void. Painted distantly, yet left sparse up close. Other than these ships, they were alone in the ocean of nothing. And something about that made him feel small. It was one of the only things that could anymore. Once they were near, they activated small jet backs on their armor that slowed them down, easing their approach on the massive gray hull of the freighter.

They touched down on its surface, enabled mag boots, and stood upright, looking around. Their approach had been silent. And looking up, they couldn’t even see the ship they’d just launched from. The cloaking was working perfectly, he thought approvingly. And they’d landed just where they needed to, right on top of a small vent. If he was right, then there should have been only hallways and service rooms in this section of the ship. “Alright Team One,” he said into his mic. “Who’s got the package?”

“Here sir!” called one man, who stomped up with a large black box.

“Good,” he said, taking it and setting it down on the hull, its magnets clicking. He opened it and pulled out several tubes with drills on their ends that would flatten out once through the hull and a thick tarp like sheet made of a material called konun fiber. Then, he and his team got to work establishing a dome around them all built out of the tubes and tarp on the surface of the hull, before cutting a small hole in the hull, and letting the dome around them pressurize.

Once sure that the depressurization sensors wouldn’t be alerted thanks to their air pocket, they began to cut with laser cutters, peeling away a square section of the hull on the vent. One that was peeled back, they started cutting the underhull and from there pushed in the metal, collapsing a small shaft into the vent. They each went in one by one, and he brought up the rear. Once they were in the vent, he checked the wrist computer on his armor and brought up a small sonar map of his surroundings. It was true then. This vent would lead just overhead a service corridor, where they could cut their way into and get to the center of the ship from there.

So they did. And within moments, they had popped into the empty steel corridors of a service hall in the SunSong. “Silencers on?” he asked his team.

One by one they checked in with their rifles, ensuring their silencers were on. Once satisfied, he said, “I’ll take point, Mikeal, you’re in the rear, the rest of you take mid.”

“Aye sir,” they said.

And so they formed up in a line and began working their way through the curved hallway, down further into the belly of this beast, rifles raised and trained on all angles. They snuck through the halls for a bit, as he routinely checked his sonar and the mental map he had from the schematics he’d stolen on Tarus Nine. A door should be near, he knew.

And it was.

“Alright,” he said, “All eyes back. Give me time.”

He pulled out a chord from his wrist computer and jacked it into the door control. A prompt came up, and he started injecting malware into the door’s systems, overriding its controls and booting it open. It hissed like a snake, but opened for him.

“Let’s go.”

They carefully kept to side corridors and halls, avoiding roaming civilians and soldiers alike, carefully taking vents and passages to stay hidden. And so, in time, they made their way to a set of double doors. Two guards were posted here, one at either side, both in the blue armor of the Federation. He raised his weapon, trained it at them, and silently shot both of them dead. They both collapsed, red painting the walls behind them.


Mikeal got on the comms. “Clear sir.”

They rushed forward, and he once more jacked into the terminal at the door, injecting it with very specific malware, crafted by their own cyber expert back on the ship, that prodded for weaknesses at the door’s security and subverted them.

Just then, as the malware was loading in, from a radio on one of the dead soldier’s chests, came a buzz. “Fifteen minute check in, over.”

“Shit,” he muttered.

The malware was still loading in.

The radio buzzed again. “Fifteen minutes, over.”

Mikeal stepped up and shot the radio with his rifle, a small, quiet thud ringing out as the round sunk into the circuitry. “Sir,” he said, “we’ve probably got five minutes before this place is swarmed.”

“I know.” He looked down at his screen. The malware was almost finished… and… done, it was in. “We’re green. Let’s go.”

The doors slid open, revealing a large room with tilted glass panels in the center that ringed a small chamber, overlooking it. They rushed in and he sealed the door behind him after the last member had entered. They trained their guns on all present, most of whom were in white lab coats and white jumpsuits. The few soldiers there raised their weapons, but were instantly gunned down by his team in a hail of quiet bullets. Red ran on the floor. The scientists screamed. He maintained composure and looked around.

“Everyone get down!” Mikeal shouted. “Now!”

And they did as they were told, sinking to the floor slowly, trembling, as guns trained their sights on them. The captain looked around, then rushed forward and examined the control panel. He jacked in his wrist computer, then flicked his eyes to his communications panel on his HUD and called back to Alysia.

“A? Can you hear me?”

“Can sir.”

“Need you to run that program Sylphi cooked up.”

“On it sir.”

His wrist computer lit up, and started running a program on the SunSong’s computers. There, in the central chamber below, was, surrounded by steel, an orb. It was the center point of the ship, surrounded by a containment unit that was thick, but was the only thing between it and space. The ship could be unhooked at either end of this unit and escape in case of a catastrophe, leaving behind only this room. The orb in the center shook, then a large piston came down from the ceiling, jacked into the top of the orb, and slowly lifted it. In it was a black, round item. A star core. The only thing to give new life to a star, more valuable than all the gold a singular world could produce. Perhaps even two worlds, or three. And it was on its way to give the fat, red sun so far away a new lease on life. If it ever made it, of course.

A set of stairs appeared in the ground, leading downward. “Mikeal,” he said, “Stay here, cover the door, make sure nobody gets ballsy.

“Yes sir.”

He headed for the stairs, but before he could descend, a familiar voice called out to him. “What do you think you’re doing?”

He couldn’t place its familiarity, but it was close. Right on the tip of his tongue. It reminded him of peace and tranquility and all manner of things he’d forgotten. For a moment, he questioned many things, but just for a moment, before turning to face this person. She was a scientist, laying on the ground, staring up at him with her black hair tied into a bun, her sharp features familiar, her eyes piercing.

“I’m taking this.”

With that, he turned and headed down the stairs. Once at the bottom of the chamber, there was one last door, which he hacked and entered as well. He was in. Here it was, this black orb, in this oddly heated room, was worth trillions of credits.

Billions of lives.

Millions of years.

And it was his. He reached out and stroked it with a hand, barely grazing it. It was warm to the touch. And it was his.

Just then, an explosion came from overhead. He jerked up and looked through the windows above that peered into this room, and heard gunfire crackling from above. “Mikeal, report!”

“They breached the doors sir! No warning, just a breach!”

More gunfire crackled, and a few bullets hit the windows above, cracking them but not breaking them. One of his team, he saw, was ripped to shreds and fell on the controls above, his blood splattering on the windows.

He cursed to himself and reached out to grab the star core, when a knocking on the glass wall behind him startled him. He spun around, and came face to face with that same scientist who had called to him before.

“What on earth are you doing?”

“What does it look like?”

“It looks like you’re making a mistake. Do you really think you can steal a star core?”

“I know that lever-” he pointed to a lever on the wall, “vents this chamber. I can take what’s mine and vent out of here, and it’ll be your loss.”

More gunfire crackled from overhead, and screams rang out. The woman grimaced. “I know that voice. Let me see your eyes.”

He glared at her for a moment, before recognition finally began to set in. Slowly, shaking, he reached up and pressed his visor button, removing the shielding from his cold, hard eyes, and glared at her.

She stepped backward, lips pursed, and swallowed harshly. “So… it is you.”

He frowned. “Jessa.”


They stared at each other for a moment, neither saying anything, before his comms lit up again with Mikeal. “Sir, there’s too many of them! We’ve got two down and one wounded, we need to leave!”

“Get over here Mikeal! We’re venting!” he called over his comms.
But Jessa shook her head. “You can’t open this door while that is open. And by the way, how hot is it in there Nick?”

For the first time, he noticed just how much the heat had increased. It was becoming warmer by the minute, and soon it would be insufferable. He sneered.

“After all this time, this is what happened to you,” Jessa said, putting her hand on the glass. “You’ve let your demons win. Look at you, stealing the hope for life for billions of people just for greed’s sake. It’s sad, Nick.”

“I know how things work. One life, one billion lives, don’t matter shit to the universe. I don’t, you don’t, they don’t, and you should know that.”

“You can’t hold them off forever,” Jessa said, looking up at the battle overhead. “And you can’t leave that room with that open. Close it and surrender Nick, c’mon, please. You don’t have to do this.”

“I’m leaving with this.”

Jessa frowned. “Did you know,” she said quietly, “when the war split us apart, I was with child?”

He froze. “What?”

“You have a daughter on that planet, Nick. A beautiful daughter,” she said, placing her hand on the glass and leaning forward, eyes downcast. “She’s an engineer, graduated and everything. She has a husband, and they’re talking about kids.”

He stared at her. “This… changes nothing.”

“It changes everything Nick,” she said. “You always spoke of how you felt disconnected from your humanity. But I always thought you to be perfectly human. And if you still feel that way, then you should know that there is something tying you to that. And it’s your daughter. Your happy, healthy, lovely daughter, Nick. If you only ever do things for yourself, at least do this for her. That star core needs to get where it’s going.”

He swallowed dryly, then looked back at the star core. This item worth trillions, billions, and millions, this item that would set him up for life… but, he thought, then what? The pursuit of wealth, at the cost of his daughter, her daughters, his progeny. She was right, there was little tying him to his own humanity. But some piece of him was out there, being human. And for a moment, he remembered all the comforting nights with Jessa. In fact, he was sure he remembered the very night she likely got pregnant from. And something in him shifted, just slightly, but enough, the foundations beneath his feet becoming like sand for a moment, slipping and shifting. Suddenly he was unsure. Suddenly he had regrets.

But he was too far in now.


“Nick,” she said. “Shut the core. Please.”

Mikeal came over the comms. “Sir! There’s too many, we can’t-”

And then there was silence. No more gunfire, no more screams, just silence.

“It’s over Nick. Please. For your daughter.”

He stared at her for a moment, then looked at the button to close the core. The heat was unbearable now, near cooking him in his armor. It was likely too much to touch the star core anyway now. So he reached over, and, hesitating, pressed the button. Only, it didn’t work.

“What? The button, it’s not working?”

“Oh, shit,” Jessa said. “There’s a small margin of error where the circuitry could be cooked due to its proximity with the core. Shit. You’re going to have to vent it before we can get in there and fix that. It needs the vacuum.”

“And that means…”

“You need to space yourself,” she said grimly. Her expression was flat and hard, but a tear appeared at her eye.

“We’ll send rescue for you,” she said as soldiers flooded the room around her.

“No need,” he said, reaching over and grabbing the lever. The heat was threatening to kill him now. “But Jessa?”


“What’s her name?”

There was a pause.


He smiled. “That’s a good name.”

With that, he yanked the lever down. It came down with a click, and all at once the floor and ceiling beneath him gave way to the vacuum of space, and he was sucked out into the void, hurtling down.

“Alysia?” he called over comms.

“Yes sir?”

“Pick me up, we’re getting out of here.”

“Have the core?”

“No. Now come get me.”

And as he fell through the vacuum of space, he realized that it wasn’t all that empty, if you thought about it. He supposed that people were still out there, building, creating. The universe was alive, it wasn’t just a painted scene in the background, with its lights and hues, it was real, living beings building and creating out there. And one of them was his daughter. And something about that made him realize something.

The universe doesn’t care about one’s life. And the star core was worth billions of lives. But he cared about one life, now. And that, he supposed, was worth more than the star core itself. And so he floated on, toward something new.


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