The War Machine.

When the gears of the war machine start to churn there’s some sort of an attraction generated, as if the grinding of the components create a magnetism that draws mankind; compels us, encourages us. I used think that it required fuel, a source of energy that powers the motors, such as a political or religious belief system, or simple greed. Then it needed a little something for upkeep, typically the blood of the participants and victims. Lately, though, I’m thinking that it’s a perpetual motion machine. Everything that it needs to run is already available within it. The war machine has always been running, and always will.

My second day back in Lugh and I already found myself laid up in the hospital at Drummond Enterprise, in the neighboring Sesuang system, tending to the sutures in my leg that caught a fragment of hull from the Asp. All of Lugh has embraced the machine, and just like tens of thousands of other suckers, I got drawn in, too.

I hadn’t even lifted off the deck to head out for some exploring when the comms chatter started to escalate. I’d started receiving messages from the Sons of Conn, a group of freedom fighters that I’d done some work for a few months ago. They’d been backing—or backed by, I never know—a faction in Lugh called the Crimson State Group in an attempt to get Lugh to secede from Federation rule. Not a completely unworthy cause, given that the Feds have a tendency to get a little pushy in how they spread and enforce their idea of democracy. So I turned the Asp in the direction of Lugh, thinking I’d just stop by for a peek before heading out into space, when messages from the Mercs of Mikuun started coming in as well. When you’ve worked for various groups, the in-box can get a little deep.

As soon as I jumped in on the main star, my comms lit up with queries from a passing CSG patrol asking me where my allegiances lay. I let them know that I’d been contacted by the Sons of Conn to do a little work for hire, and they let me on my way. Before I could get to a station an imperial special interest group, called Emporer’s Grace, asked me the same question, and Federation patrols interdicted me twice to scan me for illegal weapons or other cargo. Something was definitely getting started.

I landed at Knight Dock for a decent meal and a night’s rest, but the comms chatter wasn’t the only thing buzzing. The station practically vibrated with so much activity I thought it would disintegrate, making good sleep hard to come by.

The next morning at breakfast I ran into several pilots that I knew from Mikunn. Deathmagnet, The Count of Monte Fisto, Beausant, Exil, and a few others were sitting and eating with Lucifer Wolfgang, the merc who handles most of the coordination with the Dukes in Mikunn. While we ate, I checked the bulletin board on my tablet and made contact with a CSG liaison who offered me a little cash for a few combat bonds. I had just come from running weapons pretty hot on the Asp with the pirate situation in Falisci, so I wasn’t really all that interested in more combat. After all, the exploration itch had gotten under my skin, and I was eager to get out and away from the human mess for a little while, still, it was nice to get in a wing with the Mercs of Mikunn again.

Inside the war machine, confusion catches you with these periodic sprays; sometimes blinding, sometimes choking, always disorienting. As we tried to collect ourselves early on, things proved difficult. We formed a couple of wings, and kept comms open between the two wings to try and coordinate, then we set out to try and help CSG with patrol, but ended up woefully staggered across the system. Pretty soon, a screaming voice came across the line. One of the other Mercs, making his way to his wing, was interdicted and fired upon without warning by another allied group also on patrol. Deathmagnet yelled, “What the hell! It’s Emporer’s Grace. They’ve pulled me out of supercruise and opened up on me.”

Lucifer tried to help get things under control, “Open a channel to them, tell them you’re friendly to CSG!”

“Too late, my shields are gone! They’re not letting up!”

“I’ll try to contact their leader, tell him to pull them off you, hang on!” Lucifer shouted.

The comms crackled then screeched. The sound was deafening. Then we heard Deathmagnet, somehow calm, clear, “Ships gone, I’m ejecting.”

Dazed and frustrated, we flew back to Knight Dock while Lucifer got in touch with the EG commander organizing their wings to discuss the situation.

“They offered pay for the ship, Deathmagnet,” Lucifer explained when we found him in the allied barracks that had been setup in a cheap hotel.

“The money’s not the issue! It’s the principle of the thing!”

Everyone drifted apart that morning, each looking for some way to wipe the confusion off us. I laid down for an hour to try and catch up on a little sleep and clear my head.

Later that day I set out from the station to take a look around for myself. I dropped out of supercruise at what looked like a low intensity skirmish going on nearby, and immediately found myself under full assault by a Python. No questions asked, and I didn’t get a chance to see who flew it. Hell, I hadn’t even deployed weapons or checked my panels for contacts before the shields around the front of the asp lit up like a cloudless summer sky and I had to turn and run. Chaff didn’t help against the fixed weapons eating into my shields, so I tried burning a cell to keep their guns off my hull as long as possible. No use. The hull of the Asp was carved right out from under me in a matter of seconds, a piece of which blew across the cabin, and out the glass, but only after passing through my left leg. I threw myself into the escape pod and jettisoned. Applying a quickfoam tourniquet to my leg, the Asp ruptured beneath me in yellow and orange bubbles of gas and dust, as large pieces of debris spun outward, myself among them. The Python made a wide, happy turn back toward the battle, unconcerned as to whether I was friend or foe. To that pilot, in the free-for-all early days of the war over Lugh, I was a kill, and nothing more. Adrift, I found myself drifting in and out of consciousness, even my rage couldn’t keep me awake.

Someone scooped me up, because the next day I sat in the hospital at Drummond Enterprise, still seething. When the insurance for the totaled Asp cleared, I used it to buy one of the new Vultures that Core Dynamics released earlier that week. The next day of convalescence I contacted a few CSG pilots in order to find some decent outfitters nearby. I spent nearly every credit, save twice the insurance necessary to cover the new ship and expenses, and returned to Lugh. This time I came in on a weapon designed for the environment that had emerged there.

The layers of the war machine are not unlike the systems within the system of the galaxy. I had the Asp set for exploring for a while. I wanted to see what was out there. I envisioned the massive beauty of it all, turning slowly around a gravity so profound that it is capable of holding billions of masses together, each in itself another spinning system. All of these systems within a system, up every level and back down again. Coming back to Lugh I knew it through to my core, that sort of awareness that brings clarity, calm. The war machine is another system within the system, the Vulture a system within that, and myself in the cockpit yet another.

On my way back into Lugh, I found another conflict emerging near Hartsfield Market, and I dropped in. The Vulture moves as though on rails, it’s as if the thing is capable of manipulating space itself to suit its deadly purpose. The two large pulse lasers I’d equipped tore through the shields of most smaller ships within a dozen blasts. The power systems operate with such incredible efficiency that those big guns never ran out of juice.

I ripped through a few Eagles, Vipers, and Cobras, before a flash on my radar caught my attention. The turrets of an Anaconda, part of a wing whose smaller members I’d apparently been working on, had started catching my shields. I felt a rush; one third excitement, fear, and anger each. Previously, I’d give any Anaconda wanting to tussle a wide berth and leave them be. Typically they’re not worth the insurance claim, but I forced the fear down as I boosted toward it, distributing all power to systems and watched my forward shields shimmer with light as it put all its guns on me. As I dipped beneath the Anaconda, I toggled the flight assist computer off and slammed the thrust in reverse, then pitched hard. The Vulture flipped upside down, belly to belly with the Anaconda. Once I toggled the flight assist back on, and with a twitch of the stick, I flipped over and put full guns on that gigantic, vulnerable belly. Huge, beautiful ripples of shield energy spread along the surface of the Anaconda with each pulse blast I sent at it.

The monster tried a few turns and maneuvers, but I kept the Vulture in its wash, only ever drifting slightly above or below, keeping as close as possible in order to get full effect from my pulse weapons. As the shields went down I tapped through the targeting scanner’s list of subsystems on the Anaconda, and found its power plant nestled mid-rear. The Vulture’s incessant pulses sent jets of molten hull into space as they blasted with pinpoint accuracy into the surface of the Anaconda protecting its precious power source. Within seconds a crackling and pop occurred followed by an explosion that sounded as though a great, angry breath of relief had been released into the galaxy.

I banked a wide, happy turn around the debris, tapping through my scanner for a new target, committed now, another system within the machine.

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