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Thread: THE STARSHIP - A Gossam Story

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    THE STARSHIP - A Gossam Story

    This story is based upon true events.

    After the election of Tell Cho, the new King of the Gossam outlined an ambitious goal for his people: freedom of all Gossam from slavery, everywhere in the galaxy.

    "For as long as our kin does not know freedom, neither shall we. Their laboured breaths are ours; their bent backs are ours. This is our penance."


    Cho had in secret commissioned Gossam to design a unique kind of starship.


    Two years into Cho's reign, the first three of these ships were built.


    They were called Huihù, Banjí, and Yànou — named for migratory birds.



    Miwù Shanmà, Ossus - Late Year 2 of the reign of King Cho


    “It almost reminds one of home, eh? To the Royal Caves.”


    Mazhen Lù grunted in assent as he and his second entered the skiff, which resembled nothing more than a small boat with a dirigible hull attached. The driver, an older Gossam with silver earrings trumpeted a laugh.

    “Ah,” the old one said in agreement. “My wife, rest her soul, and I lived in a dry canyon and range like this back when. Much more technology then, though.”

    He sighed, somewhat wistfully.

    “Didn’t get us nowhere good, but sometimes I do miss the luxuries.”

    The Misty Mountains where the Gossam in Exile had made themselves their headquarters was in the process of waking up. On the more distant mountain sides, the terraced pastures were already being opened up to huoyen by their herders. The street and plaza lamps began to dim, waiting for the mist-reflected sunlight to begin their charging cycles, and the food stands were lit and smelling heavenly in preparation for the morning when those who did not have the skill to cook or the good fortune to live with someone who did.


    “We weren’t hatchlings then, old one,” Xûi laughed. “Lù here fought a battle or two despite the fact he was too young for it. I was merely a little thing trying to earn a belt or two for a pretty one.”

    The old skiff drived hissed in amusement as he used his pole to push them from the mooring.

    “Hello!” he shouted, bragging, taunting, and warning all at once. “Hello! First fare! Away!”

    “Lucky bastard!” another driver on the other side of the canyon shouted back. Others joined in. “You’re clear!”

    “Going to meet with the King?” the driver asked, satisfaction in his tone. All drivers were incurable gossips. “Be careful; he has that magic the Jedi have. He could command your tongues to spill the truth and you’d still think that you were weaving lies!”

    It was a point of both fear and pride that their King could use the Force like Jedi could.

    “Yes, yes, we’ve heard this before,” Xûi yawned. “Give us another frightful tale for variety, please.”

    “We’re with the Fleet,” Lù said, a small smile on his face. “Suppose that we’re being called in to do some auditing, or being given another week on dirt. Like as not we’ll be speaking with Jong In.”

    “If only! Zhen would be ecstatic,” Xûi laughed. “She wants stability before the next eggs. I don’t think she understands that things are only going to get busier.”

    “What ship in the Fleet?”

    “Hu Che Er,” Xûi answered, waving to a child that was yawning on a bridge. “A repurposed Munificent.”

    “The signalmen!” the driver said. “You would get long cruises.”

    “You’re telling me? Ah, I’m almost forty five, and I want some dirt time as much as those in first spring! Zhen, my wife, she has aged as if she hasn’t. She is beautiful.”

    “You’ve started it now,” Lù grunted to the driver. “He won’t stop until we get there.”

    “He’s in love,” the driver said philosophically, with a smile and light shrug.



    It was still dawning when they arrived, and the caves were practically empty. The guards outside the caves saluted as they walked past; Lù nodded while Xûi lazily aped the gesture.

    “Ah, don’t look now, but the attendant is making eyes at you,” Xûi chirped in the amusement. “I wonder if Fù Li would appreciate that.”

    Lù ignored him.

    “Mazhen Lù,” he said. The attendant bobbed her head and gestured for another to take her place.

    “Everyone else has arrived,” she said brightly, standing and moving from behind her desk. She gestured and led them down to the conference caves. “I’m up early today, but thankfully I don’t have to keep such hours regularly. What could be so important to have wake up before the sun does?”

    He remained quiet as Xûi made conversation cheerily, asking after family and hobbies; and they went deeper into and then turned to follow the curve of the Mountain, only stopping finally at the mouth of a room with large, windows that showed the still brightening sky.

    King Cho was sitting on a wooden stool, looking tired and older than his fifty years. With him at the long table sat five other Gossam. Lù and Shûi stopped and gathered themselves for a moment, guaging the situation that had become more than they’d expected and was becoming more with each passing moment.

    “I recognise Chui Banme, and that's her second Ge Fulao. Is that Tser Jiù? I don’t recognize the bureaucrat.”

    “You wouldn’t. Admiral Tso Wan,” Lù breathed, “was just recently promoted. I read the updates they send us. You should too.”

    Xui clucked, laughing in slight apprehension, and with reason he had to admit. Tser Jiù was a legend of the Merchant Fleet; at forty-seven he was almost as old as King Cho and had just as much if not more fleet experience. He commanded a modified Recusant that had more action to its name than a third of the Fleet, and that was excluding his time serving with Cho in the CSA. And a new admiral on top of that?

    Jiù was known to be a good sort -- not the kind of commander to be too harsh or unsociable. But only two weeks ago he'd been heading out near Ansion, or as close to Ansion as he wanted to get to coordinate the Fleet and keep an eye out for scavengers and pirates. That sort of mission usually went for three months.

    A second broke off from the quietly murmuring group, stalking over to them gracefully and bowing.

    “Mazhen Lù. Xûi Danjo. Good to see you. How're the eggs?”

    “Hatched, I'm afraid. Seven years going now. Kan Dúojì, second of Fuchang?”

    She nodded, and Xui rolled his wrist at Lu's stubborn reserve in public. Dúojì bobbed her head in commiseration.

    “We docked with Dun two days ago. Had a rough stretch through the Neutral passage. It's worse than anyone predicted,” she said, watching Lu make his way to the others gathered around the fire pit. Xûi tilted his head in question.

    “Imperials,” she elaborated. “They are patrolling in larger convoys. It doesn't help that those Knights are becoming more numerous.”

    They drifted over to the table, their conversation kept low.

    “We are glad to see you all,” Cho said suddenly, interrupting the soft chirps and hums. “It is regrettable that you have been pulled from duties or relaxation, but you are needed.”

    The assembled Fleet officers stood straighter, their attention now focused. The Admiral stood, and looked at each of them.

    “Please, look at this.”

    A holoprojector whirred to life, and a grainy image appeared. A ship. The captains and their seconds stepped closer, looking at the rotating three dimensional image closely. It resembled a Mon Calamari vessel somewhat in the smoothness of its lines, though it was not uniformly so, notably on the points where antennae and various sensory and scanning arrays were mounted and what was likely the bridge, jutting from the dorsal hull with more antennae there as well.

    “This is the first Gossam designed vessel of the Merchant Fleet,” Wan said. “Huihù class. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the stealthiest and most elusive design in the galaxy. Almost nothing can be more hidden, save for cloaking devices.”

    “E-WAR,” Lù said, prompting the King and the other gathered to look at him. “From Novgorod.”

    The Admiral nodded.

    “That is part of what we used to base this off of; the ship is basically a platform for the various espionage elements necessary to hide itself. Sensors, jamming, network confusion. Even the paint and colouring scheme confuse scanners.”

    “It sounds like it will be an amazing vessel. But I remain unsure as to why we are here, Admiral,” Jiù growled.

    “Remain calm, Jiù,” Cho said from his seat. “All will be explained.”

    Jiù nodded in deference to the King and bowed to the Admiral to continue.

    “These are not capital ships. These are elusive shadows of support ships. Meant for espionage, reconnaissance, communication and support. Despite this they are not defenceless. Six fore missile tubes. Four rear, and space to hold an array of various missiles and chaff. It has mine-laying capabilities, and four heavy ion cannons, and laser cannons. With the proper armaments and tactics, as a surgical strike weapon these will work wonderfully.

    “And this is not a description of a ship that will be, but of a ship class that is. And we want you, and your chosen crews, to be their first operators for their dedicated mission.”

    The Admiral glanced over to King Cho, who remained impassive.

    “These ships are for the liberation and repatriation of Gossam in Imperial territory.”
    Last edited by Tell Cho; Sep 25th, 2020 at 05:09:11 AM.

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    Silence oppressed the room.


    “Apologies,” the admiral continued. “Two will be sent into Imperial space. The third will be sent into Hutt space and there will operate to disrupt their piracy and actions against the Merchant Fleet.”

    “The Alliance has agreed to help us then in more concrete ways?” Banme asked, lightly dragging her clawed fingertips on the table top.

    A pause.

    “No,” the admiral answered. “They have not. In fact, the Alliance has been quite firm that we are to respect the Treaty and to restrict ourselves to other methods that will not ‘threaten the stability and survival of galactic civilization as we know it.’”

    “So this is to be confidential then? Very well. But why now? These ships are just built. We need time to adapt to them. We’d be better off running them through Alliance patrols or sticking with Hutt interference,” Tser Jiù seemed almost dazed. Lù felt the same. “If we are caught, with this sort of technology, without Alliance backing —”

    “How long of a cruise are we estimating?” Ge Fulao pulled out a pipe and lit it, taking deep anxious puffs from the yantsǎ within.

    “How deep into Imperial space?”

    “Will we be teamed with a convoy or a squadron? What will be our support?”

    “Just give me a moment and I’ll answer your questions, just — give me a moment —”
    The King stood, and the room quieted.

    “There is another advantage to these ships,” Cho said. “Huihù, Banjí, and Yànou; their uses will not escape anyone who knows of them, especially as they do not use standard hyperspace technology for interstellar voyages. And if the Alliance learns of them, the Empire will learn of them. The Hutts will learn of them. We will be outstripped once more.

    “The Alliance will be sending a fleet to rendezvous with the Merchant Fleet around Xia Hou Dun Station, where we presently are keeping those ships hidden amongst our other public designs. Our ships must be away before then.”

    Silence descended on the room again.

    “They do not use standard hyperspace technology?”

    Jiù leaned forward; all the Captains in the room fixed the King with undivided attention. The King gestured to the Admiral.

    “It warps space around the ship in a specific direction, and the ship essentially sails, or perhaps rides would be a better term, on this distortion to the destination. An added benefit is that the ship is essentially cloaked by the distortion, such that it isn’t even there. It isn’t as fast as hyperspace travel: travelling to Dac with it will take three weeks. But it is quieter, requires less energy, and doesn’t leave an easily readable trail,” Wan explained. “Unlike cloaking, we will not be blind as well. We’ve codenamed it Húdié.”

    “The Alliance will want this drive,” Cho said. “And we cannot lose it.”

    “Butterfly drive,” Lù grunted. “Right.”

    “You were chosen as captains of vessels that all serve similar needs in the Fleet. Communications, reconnaissance, and interdiction, and most importantly, you have experience with this type of mission.”

    “In bulk freighters, perhaps!” Fulao burst out. “Not in these small frigates! Are they frigates? They could be corvettes, based on their dimensions. At least before we knew what we were doing, what our ships could do!”

    “You do not have to take this mission. However all the information here is beyond secret. You will be grounded and bound to Miwù Shanmà and lose communications with the Fleet.”

    “If we don’t take the offer, we’ll go to prison for knowing this,” Tser Jiù smiled wryly. “That important, Cho-zhu? Can’t you just use your magic to wipe our minds?”

    The King shook his head in response.

    “Fine then,” Jiù nodded. “I’ll do it.”

    Wan handed him a datapad.

    “Assemble your crew. Fifteen officers, twenty-five enlisted.”

    Banme leaned back and glanced at Lù.

    “I’ll do it,” Lù said. “Give me one of those.”

    Ge Fulao chirped insistently into Banme’s ear, until she honked in annoyance and pushed him to the side.

    “If you don’t want to come, I’ll just leave you behind Fulao!” she hissed, before swiping the last datapad.

    “Banjí,” Lù hummed as he stood, reading the datapad. He glanced over at Xûi apologetically. “A week to gather our crew and prepare. You don’t have to come.”

    Xûi grimaced. “I’m not happy, but I don’t think I could really relax knowing what you were doing out there, Captain. I’ll come.”

    “Gossam,” the admiral said. “Thank you.”

    The Captains and their Seconds stood and saluted the admiral, and bowed to the King.

    Cho bowed back and looked each of them in the eye.

    “Thank you,” he said, Lù could feel that he meant it.

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    “Only forty crew.”

    “Like a Recusant,” Lù sighed. Xûi nodded, brow furrowed.

    “But not automated or computer-run. They weren’t kidding when they said this was built as a tech platform. This is so specialized…”

    The Second stopped himself.

    “We need to pick our officers.”

    “Ma Yu, Qiling Fei, Hu Zhe,” Lù murmured. Xûi nodded, writing the names down in a small pad. Leaning back against the rail of the skiff, and taking glances up at the clouds when he could, he could pretend they were still on dirt time. The driver was far behind with his hand on the steering column at the very aft of the skiff, this one a larger and slower than the one they had taken in the morning. They weren’t alone on the craft, but given the time, they had adequate privacy to speak vaguely about their mission.

    “What about Guyong Ba? He’d be good as a helmsman.”

    “Fine. Guyong. For missiles, Fung, Jian, Maqua. Xijing, Chao, Dende. Pohua. Jijin.”

    “That should be good for technical systems. We also have astromechs and other droids.”

    Lù nodded, leaning forward.

    “We need Liqing.”

    “He’ll probably say no,” Xûi sighed.

    “Then tell him the particulars and ask him if he’d like to be arrested,” Lù grunted. “He’s got the experience and temperament most suited for a long voyage. We can’t go halfway, especially on the medical officer.”

    Xûi nodded. “I know, but still. He was looking forward to being on dirt.”

    “We all were. Let’s move on.”

    “True,” Danjo huffed a laugh while scribbling down the characters for Liqing Difung’s name. “Oh, he’ll be angry. Honestly, I’m looking forward to seeing the expression on his face.”

    Xûi narrowed his eyes and frowned deeply.

    “I’m this close to retiring from cruises! I’m too old!” he exclaimed in a scratchy old tone. “Get one of those young tongues in your fancy boat, because I —”



    Bei Hwang An Space Station, Headquarters of the Gossam Merchant Fleet, 3.364


    “—’ll have none of it!”

    A tray clattered to the ground at their feet. To their credit, the Captain and his second didn’t take their eyes off the fuming medical officer, nor did they reveal their amusement.

    “No, don’t you move, you have to let that set!” Liqing growled and pushed the young spacer on his table back onto his back. “Honestly, it’s like common sense is disappearing around me!”

    “Liqing, sir, we wouldn’t have asked if we had another candidate of the same skill,” Xûi tried to placate the healer.

    “Don’t you start with me! I’m older than even King Cho, yet here I am wandering around the galaxy into my old age like some scatterbrained fool trying to retain his youth. They don’t tell you about arthritis in the legends and stories!”

    “Difung!” Lù shouted, though he still sported a slight smile on his face. “If you don’t go, it’s prison. The information we told you, even as little as we did, is too secret to risk.”

    Difung stared at Lù, his chest heaving from shouting, his eyes catching the fluorescent lighting; he didn’t speak though until he was breathing normally.

    “What damn fool mission did you get me into?” he sighed, leaning back against the countertop.

    Lù stayed quiet for a moment.

    “Eh?” Difung asked, irritation rising again.

    “We’re going to be cutting it close if we’re meeting the other officers we’ve chosen that are on Ossus,” Lù said, his eyes on the clock flashing on the wall. “Hurry and pack. We’ll tell you on the way, but the short of it is, you’re on, and you have sixty days to choose your staff and requisition your supplies.”

    “WHAT?!”
    Last edited by Tell Cho; Sep 24th, 2020 at 03:51:55 AM.

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    Miwu Shanma, 4.004


    “You’ve been tapped, Xijing. A step up, and you’ll only see more, especially if you prove yourself.” Xui slurped politely at his tea, and glanced over to the main room’s fire, where Xijing Polu’s family croaked at each other quietly, before continuing. “I understand if you don’t want to accept. I can’t tell you anything right now. What ship, how long, where we’re going. I know, it sounds like a transport run, but I assure you, it’s much more than that. It’s too secret. But you will have time to get to know your post, choose your staff...”

    Xui trailed off, before smiling wryly.

    “A commission?” Xijing Polu smirked, and leaned forward. “Honored Second, just tell me where to sign.”



    4.007


    “Of course you wanted me,” the girl said, her date looking rather put out several dozen paces away. “It was either me or Huoyen Shit — excuse me, Huo Yenshi, and he’s not exactly top class. Uncharitable? Yes. Untrue? You wouldn’t be speaking with me if that were the case.”

    Xui laughed. Tser Zhe simply smiled.



    4.008

    “A Lieutenant’s commission? Me?” Fuwan Ni frowned. “That would be a demotion.”

    “Fuwan, how long will it take you to get promoted to the General Staff?” Lu asked idly, exhaling a thin stream of smoke. The preeminent astrogator in the entire Merchant Fleet tapped his chin in thought.


    “At my present rate, I’d expect another four years, maybe five,” Ni hummed, drawing on the hookah himself. The sun was setting over the mountains and he stopped, momentarily rendered speechless. He blinked and shook his head, gathering himself. “If I took this commission, I’d be taking a step down. Probably take another three years on top of that. A decade.”


    He scoffed and shook his head.

    “Fuwan,” Lu leaned forward and looked the astrogator in the eyes. “If you take this commission, I guarantee you’ll be getting a General Staff transfer within three years.”

    Fuwan Ni blinked rapidly, and a smile stretched over his lips.“Three years, you say? No exaggeration?” he asked. Lu nodded. Fuwan Ni settled back in his seat and looked back at the sunset. “I’ll miss the sunsets here. Beautiful.”

    He took a long draw from the hookah, and smiled wider.

    “Beautiful.”
    Last edited by Tell Cho; Sep 24th, 2020 at 03:56:58 AM.

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    Miwu Shanma Outskirts, Ossus, 4.012


    Fung Dao was a spry Gossam of 34 years. He had four children (with a fifth on the way), and a healthy wife with wide hips that made laying eggs less of a burden on her, and the temperament to handle such a hectic home life.

    He would find himself captivated by her, to be honest, watching as she glared at Xiaho, their eldest boy of ten years standard who’d inherited her fiery disposition, and corral him like he was a tame huoyen.

    “Dao, your son is making me furious!” she hissed, her glare full bore on him. He stared at her. Her glare lessened, but didn’t disappear. “Dao! Are you listening to me?”

    “Let’s have another child,” he said breathlessly, and Xiang goggled at him while he nuzzled her.

    “Stop, Dao,” she said, her anger gone. She laughed and wrapped her arms around him. “We’re already having another one! If you want another so badly, lay the egg yourself!”

    He looked her in the eye. “As long as it’s yours.”

    “Eh? Dao?” She goggled at him.

    “Thank you, Xiang,” he whispered, nuzzling her again. She melted against him. Neither of them heard their son make gagging noises and disappear back into the huoyen pasture. “Thank you. I want to make as many children as possible with you. The largest family. Make the neighbors move farther away to get some peace and quiet. I want to watch you nurse, I want to see our children grow up and make mistakes and make us disappointed and proud and angry. Let’s grow old together.”

    “Dao, you fool,” she said wetly, hiding tears.

    “Foolish for you, most obviously,” he laughed, and kissed her eyes.

    “Father! Father, come quick!” Xiaho shouted out in the pasture. He and Xiang rushed out to the green terraced acreage, and looked around. He saw nothing, and then noticed Xiaho was pointing up into the sky. A shuttle was making its way through the canyons to his terraced ranch.

    “Xiaho,” he said, watching it slowly fly over them, scattering the huoyen as it did so. Xiang kissed him and entered the stable-cave, from there to make her way to the main housing system where she’d greet their guests. “Stay here, with the herd. Clear out the overgrowth, make sure there’re no nests.”

    “Right, right,” the boy sighed.

    “You know what to do if one gets in?”

    “Toss it over,” the boy said with the bored tone of one who’d been drilled in this many times. “The huoyen won’t hold still long enough to get it out, and the risk of injury to yourself and spread to the rest of the herd means to just toss it over.”

    Dao smiled at his son. “Good. Now, if you can’t bring yourself to do it, just separate it into one of the smaller rings. I’ll take care of it after. Don’t forget, your staff is your best friend. Right?”

    The boy looked at him, suddenly unsure, and nodded once. “Right.”

    Dao placed his hand on his son’s head and patted it. The kid brushed it off in annoyance, but still smiled.

    Dao turned and made his way to the stable and from there up the stairs to the house. His wife had used the lift, but he had no excuse and energy to burn anyway.

    No one was in the main house by the time he made it. He opened the front door and saw his wife standing with two other Gossam by the docked shuttle. They wore blue jackets and grey head bands, and he recognized them when he drew closer.

    “Lu? Xui?” he smiled and laughed, and noticed his wife giving him a loaded look. “Welcome! You should have warned me you were coming! Come in, come in, let’s get some food into you, eh?”

    Lu nodded, a small smile on his own face. Xui, as usual, did the talking.

    “Fung, look at you!” he honked. “I grow a little more fearful every time I see you! Stop growing!”

    Dao smiled, but did not laugh. Xiang almost glared at Xui, but held off after glancing his way. She didn’t quite understand like they did, and she knew it. Their children toddled into the main hall, followed by her mother, who bowed to Lu and Xui. They bowed back.

    “Welcome, honored guests,” she said. “Forgive us our lack of a meal waiting for you.”

    “Thank you, honored Mother,” Lu answered. “We wish you blessings, plenty, and happiness upon you and yours.”

    She nodded, pleased at the Merchant Fleeter’s good manners. Xui had in the meantime started doing magic tricks for the little toddlers, who cooed and squeaked in excitement and begged him to do each one multiple times.

    “Xiang,” the Mother said, “Come, let’s get started on the meal.”

    Lu, Xui, and Dao sat by the oven to the side of the family room, enjoying the cool breeze wafting in from the window blunting the edge of the constant heat from the oven in the back where Xiang and her mother were teaching the little ones simple lessons about food preparation.

    “It is good to see you, Lu, Danjo,” Dao said. “Though I do not believe this is a simple social call.”

    “I am glad to see you as well, Dao,” Lu responded. “And it is not.”

    Fung Dao tilted his head in question.

    “I am calling in that favor you owe me, Fung Dao. We need you.”

    Dao leaned back, calmly regarding the older Gossam.

    “Xiang is with egg. She should be laying in a month. Two, at most.”

    “Another one?!” Xui gasped. “How many does that make?”

    “Five,” Dao answered with a smile. Lu smiled as well.

    “I am happy for you, Dao,” the Captain said. Dao nodded.

    “Yet you are unmoved, and still would call in that debt?” he asked. Lu nodded. Dao sighed.

    “You will be given a commission: Lieutenant Commander. You will be commanding Weapons. You will get to choose your subordinates and officers, and Dao, I know of no one better than you to start off this assignment. Train your replacement, and as soon as they’re ready, I’ll let you go. Until then, though, I need you and your unrivaled expertise.”

    “I will admit some reservations,” Dao said. “But I owe you more than my life. I would follow you to the Deep Core as an ensign. Let my wife and family have tonight. I’ll tell them tomorrow. I’ll be ready in a week.”

    Lu nodded. “Of course. Now I have an excuse to eat Xiang’s dumplings again. I swear, she does something to them, as I’ve not found their equal yet.”
    Last edited by Tell Cho; Sep 24th, 2020 at 04:01:06 AM.

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    Recusant Fushien, 4.016, Hydian Way


    “Mazhen Lu?” Guan Yu breathed loudly. The Chief Comms Officer, Wu Fu, nodded. His Second, a female named Hu Sanxi, hissed in response. All of them glanced over to the boy in question, who was looking at them curiously, and ducked his head back to the Helm Control panel.

    The rest of the bridge had gone quiet, everyone looking between the assembled commanders and the meek little pilot.

    Guan Yu frowned deeper and glared at CCO Wu.

    “I want a direct connection with Home Office, in the conference room. Now.”

    “Y-yes, Captain!”

    Both Guan and Hu marched off, leaving the bridge. Ma Yu gasped and looked away again when Wu’s own angry eyes landed on him, again.

    “Ma,” whispered the older Helmsman on deck with him, a wiry and lean old reptile named Lung Shu. “What did you do?

    The younger Gossam shook his head furiously and fixed Lung with a wide fearful gaze, but otherwise said nothing. He couldn’t say anything; he was afraid of what he’d sound like.

    “I guess you’ll find out. Nothing gets Mother Hu to hiss like that unless it riles her up fierce.”

    Ma Yu trembled in his seat so violently it looked like he was vibrating.In the end, it took almost half an hour, but the CCO called out his name and placed a hand on his shoulder when he presented himself.

    “Go to the bridge-level conference room and meet the Captain,” Wu said, sounding friendlier than Ma Yu had ever remembered him sounding. “You’ll be fine.”


    He distinctly doubted that statement when he saw the Captain was smoking in the small bridge conference room, a heady aromatic haze drifting around him while he sat glowering at the now unpowered holoprojector. Second Hu was there, pacing over by the viewport. And Chief Helmsman Reng was there as well, sitting further down from Guan.

    “Helmsman Ma Yu, reporting.”


    “Come in, Helmsman. Sit.”

    He did so, almost stumbling as he dropped into a seat.

    Captain Guan sat there, staring at him, puffing at his pipe, looking like a dragon breathing smoke. Finally, he held up a flimsy, and handed it to Second Hu. She walked to him and set the flimsy on the table in front of him.

    Guan Yu C/O
    FUSHIEN

    GSHO

    C: CO, SCO, CHO, Helmsman Ma Yu

    Helmsman Ma Yu is promoted to Lieutenant, and is to report to Bei Hwang An 2, level three, c-12:S for new posting 0500 4.025. CO Mazhen Lu, SCO Xui Danjo.

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    Yu blinked and read the flimsy again.

    “I... I don’t understand.”

    “You can turn it down, Ma,” Hu burst out. Everyone looked at her. She was leaning forward, her face low and close to him. “You can say no.”

    “It’s plain as day that he can’t,” the Captain said. “Don’t play dumb, Hu.”

    Ma Yu squeaked and ducked his head as Hu turned her furious expression to her Captain.

    “But why?” she hissed.

    “You know why,” Guan Yu growled lowly. “Speak, Lieutenant Ma Yu. What do you say to this?”

    “W-what is t-there to say?” he said. “I c-can’t turn it d-d-down. You s-said that.”

    “You can,” Guan Yu said. “But you shouldn’t.”

    He should!” Hu whistled.

    “No,” Reng said quietly, his first words of the meeting. “No, he shouldn’t.”

    “I don’t unders-s-stand!” Ma shouted. Everyone went silent.

    “You’re going to be assigned to Captain Mazhen Lu, where he’s most likely making you Chief Helmsman. Possibly one of the youngest Staff Officers in any fleet in history. This sort of opportunity only comes once in a lifetime, Lieutenant Ma,” Captain Guan Yu said.

    “A-a-and w-why does S-s-second Hu think I s-s-s-should decline?”

    Yu turned to her and waited.

    “Because,” Hu sighed. “Mazhen Lu is infamous in the Fleet, for having the highest casualty rate in his crew and having the most credits spent repairing his vessels.”

    Ma Yu gulped and sank down in his seat.

    “Another way of looking at it,” Reng said loudly, prompting Hu to glare at him (which he ignored with great aplomb), “is that Mazhen Lu has the highest return rate of any dedicated Transport Captain. No one has done nearly as many jumps as he has or freed as many Gossam, save for one or two. Every other Transport Captain either quit long before even thinking of reaching his record, or died trying. He’s the perfect Captain for you. Serve with him, and you’ll be commanding your own ship before you turn twenty-six.”

    “C-c-c-command?!” Ma gasped. “I c-c-can’t c-c-c-command!”

    “And that’s why you should say yes,” Guan Yu said, exhaling a cloud.

    “He’s too young!” Hu shrilled. “He’s still a child!”

    “That may have been true when he first joined, when he was what, thirteen, fourteen?” Reng responded. “He’s seventeen now. This sort of chance, Hu, think about it.”

    “I’ll d-d-do it,” Ma Yu chirped, keeping his eyes on the table. “It’s w-w-why I j-joined in the f-f-first place.”

    He looked up, and they all looked back at him. He couldn’t keep their gazes, but it felt like he’d grown a little in their eyes, and that felt good.

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    Bei Hwang An Station, 4.025

    He desperately tried to find that sense of maturity and confidence in himself while searching out the elusive c-hall. He’d assumed it meant Conference Hall, so there would be little trouble finding it, but he couldn’t for the life of himself find c-12:S!

    Bei Hwang An Station was much larger than it had been back when he’d first joined the Merchant Fleet. Then, it had only occupied maybe a quarter of the asteroid, if that. Now, however, there were three asteroids of at least a kilometer in length, linked together, and each had several levels of docking arms, some large enough to accommodate a Star Destroyer. And that was just the docking arms themselves; there were also several interior bays and docking pads for smaller ships of corvette-size and smaller in each asteroid.

    “No, no, no no,” he chittered to himself, wandering past c-12 again. He’d already checked inside, multiple times. It was not the room he was looking for.

    Was this how he would lose this chance? By not finding the stars-forsaken conference room?!

    “Excuse me, Lieutenant,” a voice calmly interceded into his unseemly panic attack, putting it on pause for a moment. He glanced up to see an Ensign, wearing a secretary’s cap, bowing in front of him. “I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed a bit lost. May I help you find your way?”

    “I, uh, yes,” he said, bowing himself. “I’m l-l-looking f-f-for c-c-c12:S.”

    “Ah, of course. You are looking for the Third Level, Corvette Docking Bay 12, Staff Room. General Conference rooms are indicated by a capital Aurebesh ‘C’ after the room number.”

    Yu shuddered and almost lost his footing. The secretary gasped and reached out for him, but stopped. He shook his head.

    “Please, allow me to lead you, Lieutenant. There is an entrance directly to the staff room from the hall that will significantly lessen your travel time.” The secretary waited for his response. All he had to do was answer. A simple ‘yes’ would suffice. He’d even make it on time if he managed to answer quickly enough.

    He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again.

    Ma Yu only arrived five minutes late.

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    Bei Hwang An Station, 4.025

    “Now that we have all arrived—”

    Ma Yu choked in the background. Xui cleared his throat, and waited for the quiet hums of laughter to subside. He took the time to enjoy the thick smell of Lu’s pipe smoke, somehow strengthened by the dimness of the lighting.

    “I am Second Officer Lieutenant Commander Xui Danjo, and this is First Officer Captain First Class Mazhen Lu. We have chosen you to be the command staff of Banji. Before you may see the vessel, we warn you, that most of you may yet decline the commission and leave now. Once you have seen the vessel, that privilege will not be taken away; however, you will be taken under guard to a cell within the station and there held until King Cho himself speaks with you and verifies that you will take any knowledge of this ship, its capabilities, and its crew to your deaths.”

    Silence.

    “Do you understand?”

    Scattered affirmations were given, and Xui waited until every officer present had answered verbally.

    “Good. Anyone who wishes to leave, leave now.”

    No one stood, though a few glanced over to Ma Yu, who was staring at the tabletop like it held the secrets to the galaxy.

    “Good,” Xui said. The lights in the room brightened, and the assembled officers looked at each other for the first time. “Some of you know each other. Most of you do not. Stand as I name you, and remember, you have all been chosen for a reason.”

    “Liqing Difung, Lieutenant Commander, Chief Medical Officer.” A wrinkled old Gossam, possibly sixty years old or more, stood and bowed.

    “Fung Dao, Lieutenant Commander, Chief Weapons Officer.” A Gossam, fit and muscled, stood, and seemed to continue rising for some time; he was tall for a Gossam.

    “Xijin Polu, Lieutenant Commander, Chief Systems Officer.” A Gossam with an easy smile stood and bowed.

    More stood. Fuwan Ni (Lieutenant), the Chief Astrogation Officer; Tser Zhe (Lieutenant), an aloof if friendly female, was named the Chief Communications Officer; Qiling Muli (Lieutenant), another female, was named Chief Sensor Officer. An older, grizzled looking Lieutenant Hu Zhe was introduced as the Chief Supply Officer. Finally, they turned to Ma Yu, Lieutenant, Chief Helmsman.

    “Ma Yu? The Ma Yu? The Ma Yu who joined at thirteen, and had his first assignment one year later?” Tser Zhe asked, looking at the seventeen year old with a sharp eye.

    Ma Yu, for his part, looked to be shrinking in on himself, and didn’t answer.

    “The same,” Lu answered. “Just as you are Tser Zhe, who at twenty took over for the dead Communications Officer on your Transport and translated for Captain Fulao in real time what four different ships were saying around you.”

    Tser Zhe bowed and leaned back, letting the Captain’s point stand.

    Mazhen Lu stood and bowed. The eight other officers stood and bowed to him.

    “I thank you for your continued service,” he said. “Let us now set eyes on Banji.”

    He turned to the lift and the nine of them followed him in. With a jolt, the lift slowly ascended, and the lift tube cleared, affording them their first look at Banji.

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    Miwu Shanma, Ossus, 4.044

    “Look at you,” his mother said. She wiped her eyes. “So handsome.”

    He smiled, unconsciously straightening his jacket with its red collar and cuffs, brushing off the jaunty little bird patch over his heart with Banji printed underneath it, and tossing the ear-pieces of his head band jauntily back and forth. She laughed and embraced him.

    “Oh my son,” she said breathlessly. “I am so proud of you. And I’m sure your father is too.”

    He blinked away a tear, and glanced over at the shrine in the shadows of the room, where a hologram of his father, wearing nearly the same cut of jacket, stood in a blue haze of light.

    He marched over to the shrine and bowed.

    “Father,” he said, kneeling. “I’ve done it. I’ve been chosen to join a transport ship’s crew, as a Helmsman. I’ll do my best to make you proud, and live up to your name and memory. Watch me, father, and watch over me.”

    “Jun! Chua is here! Come, come, let’s get a holo of you two! Chua, you look so handsome as well!”

    “Ah, Mother Matsu,” Ni Chua laughed, pulling at his own striped light green and violet cuff. “They make the jacket like that so us young men will be more drawn to the Fleet, you know. Nothing motivates us unmarried youngsters like the starry-eyed looks of pretty women!”

    He smiled widely when Jun appeared. “Ah, Jun, come on, help me with your mother, she’s making me blush! Here, stand here, let’s get a holo made.”

    They walked outside, where a veritable throng of Gossam stood, watching and waving small banners and streamers. They cheered loudly, voices ringing in the mountain passes. Chua smiled widely at him.

    “This must be what it feels like to be a hero,” Jun laughed and patted little Fu Din’s head. The tiny Gossam smiled back at him with wondering eyes. He stood next to Chua, and placed his hand on Din’s head, and felt the crowd of neighbors push up against him as they all tried to get into the holo.

    “Come on, no, you stand, you kneel,” his mother said, gesturing. Finally, she set the camera on its tripod, and scurried over between Jun and Chua, who threw their free arms around her and gave her kisses on her cheeks, while she tugged on the dangling ear pieces of their headbands, for the first holo.

    For the second, they stood with the crowd and smiled widely, enthusiastically accepting their titles as heroes from their friends and families.

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    Bei Hwang An Station, 4.045

    The wide hall leading the docks was bathed in light, even with the ports dimmed to lessen the glare of the nearby star. The two Gossam rounded the curve of the hall, bringing the large blast doors into view; they were open, and they could see Gossam within, wearing the standard uniform of the regular Merchant Fleet, a dark blue jacket, a stiff collared long sleeved white undershirt, tough black trousers tucked into standard spacer’s boots. While carrying the GMF standard olive duffel, they were easily distinguishable against the browns and greys of the station.

    They slowed when they reached the blast doors, smoothing the rumpled state of their jackets and adjusting their headbands. The group of Gossam within the docking bay barely paid them any attention.

    “Doesn’t look like we’re too late,” Chua said, panting. “Not that many here.”

    “What do you want to bet that our ship’s out there right now?” Jun said, nodding to the massive viewport just to the side of the room. They could see the rock of the asteroid through it, but nothing else. Jun was disappointed, at least hoping for a shadow; he knew it was a foolish hope, given how deep inside the asteroid they must be, given how long they’d waited for the tram to stop.

    “Not taking that bet,” Chua said. They walked forward, into and through the milling Gossam in their blue jackets and myriad accent colors, and stopped in front of the viewport.

    “There she is,” Jun breathed.

    BANJI was printed in Gossam on the outer hull in translucent lettering, and the only reason they could see the name at all on the dark paint scheme was the bright lights all glaring down on her.

    “A corvette, all right,” Chua hummed, looking the ship over. “One hundred forty meters, maybe a bit longer. Look at those engines! Eight mounted, and looks like a massive ninth central. She’s got to be as fast as a wildfire by Sanctuary.”

    “Reminds me of a CR-90 if it were designed by Mon Calamari,” Jun breathed, taking in the rounded lines of the ship, and the way the turrets weren’t jarring the ship’s silhouette.

    “That’s a fine assessment,” another voice joined them. An older Gossam, wearing a jacket with light green and violet accents, leaned against the viewport beside them. “Never would have occurred to me, but now that you’ve said it, I can’t help but see it. Don’t see too many 90s out in the black these days.”

    “The black?” Jun asked.

    The older Gossam blinked and looked at them in confusion for a moment, but then smiled.

    “Ah, thought you were younger, but still would have thought you’d have a couple years of experience before you’d be drawn for a transport assignment. Space. The vast black void between stars. The black.”

    “Ah, we just graduated from Fleet Preparatory this year,” Chua said, a wide smile on his face. “Didn’t get much practical time out there, and when we heard this was opening up, well, we jumped on it. Are you Reactor too?”

    “Ah, where are my manners, and to a superior! Crewman Wen Jisha, at your service, Junior Lieutenant.”

    “I don’t think I’m quite your superior until we’re all aboard, but I’m Ni Chua, and this here is Helmsman Matsu Jun.”

    Jisha glanced over with raised brows.

    “Matsu In’s son?”

    “You knew him?” Jun asked. Jisha shook his head.

    “Not at all, really. He saved my life with his heroics over by Tanaab; I was crewing one of the bulk freighters he slaved to his ship. I’ve been crewing freighters and transports ever since. My way of repaying him, of a kind.”

    “At attention!” a voice shouted, and the group as a whole snapped into an alert, firm stance, heads aloft on their long necks and shoulders squared turning to face the group. “Captain is present!”

    Three Gossam entered, one whose jacket had beige accents and a medical branch () patch on his right shoulder above the Lieutenant Commander four diamond patch (), and two with dark blue jackets, white accents, and the command branch’s bisected circle patches. The CMO left the commanders’ side and stood with the crew.

    “At ease. I am Mazhen Lu, and I will be your First Officer onboard Banji. This is Xui Danjo, and he is my Second,” the smaller of the two said, with a short wispy beard and an impassive set to his features. On his shoulders and wrists were intimidating First-class Captain dotted diamonds (there were only two Captains First-Class in the entire Merchant Fleet); on his right breast a simple ‘1’ denoted his command of the ship and everyone within. “I have commanded the Munificent Deng Xiyi for two years, as well as over thirty transport missions, in which two hundred Gossam were brought out of slavery. Before that I served with Cho-zhu aboard his ship.”

    He paused, allowing himself time to look over the crew.

    “We are performing trials for the first truly Gossam ship in over thirty years. The first design of the Merchant Fleet to be designed, built, and soon after this, commissioned. This is an historic day, good Gossam. Not only is this ship among the first Gossam designed, Gossam built, and Gossam crewed ships, but it is also the vanguard of the great mission given to us by King Cho. Freedom of our kin.

    Banjí can traverse the galaxy one and a half times before she needs to be refueled, carries enough supplies and has enough space to carry approximately sixty additional passengers and crew for a standard three month cruise. She can hide from scanners and evade even the most tenacious of hunters, as long as she has a crew.

    “You are that crew. You were, each of you, chosen personally for this mission. Do me, the Fleet, and your King proud.”

    The assembled Gossam shouted a throaty call of appreciation. Mazhen Lu smiled.

    “Board the ship, and prepare for dock departure.”

    “Extending docking arm. Docking arm extended and seal is good. Connection to shipside airlock established. Opening door. Clear for opening airlock!”

    The airlock opened with a hiss of quick hydraulics and the clatter of metal locks disengaged.

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    “The cargo bays are massive. How far back does it extend?”

    “Looks like half the ship, almost, but there have to be at least two decks above us,” Jun commented. Chua hummed, glancing up at the ceiling, and watched the Gossam filter into the open room.

    “Sixty or so,” he whispered. “Pretty cramped for a bulk freighter or transport, don’t you think?”

    Jun nodded.

    “But not for a transport meant for active conflict,” he murmured. “Most bulk freighters and transports skimp on crew and crew space to save money and maximize profits. They don’t go into active zones unless they’re modified and manned for combat or escape. Most go with escape, as it’s cheaper and more reliable than combat.”

    The Captain and Second had finally boarded, and were flanked by the Command Staff, the officers in charge of the various branches of service needed on this sort of ship.

    “So that’s why the Merchant Fleet’s muscling up all those bulks and modifying corvettes,” he continued, watching Mazhen confer with each officer. “We’re trying to corner the dangerous areas market. Neutral systems, C-Sec, even Wild Space. Corporations, systems, even the Alliance and Empire will pay good credits for reliable third party transport through active zones.”

    “Ah, right, I remember having to do an essay on that,” Chua said brightly, snapping his fingers. “Or I remember having someone do that essay for me. I had a reactor practical that week too, remember? You’d think they’d schedule those things a little more sensibly. A practical and a politics research essay in the same week?”

    He snorted and shook his head.

    “Attention, crew! Form up by branch!”

    “This is where we part ways for now, Jun,” Chua said, slapping Jun’s shoulder. “I’ll catch up with you later tonight.”

    “Right,” Jun answered. He pulled his duffel back over his shoulder and made his way over to the small Lieutenant whose jacket had a red collar and cuffs, and an identical patch on his right shoulder, only with two chevrons underneath . The Lieutenant said nothing, but glanced at him curiously.

    “Ah, Matsu Jun,” he offered. “Junior Lieutenant.”

    The Lieutenant’s eyes widened and he coughed, and kept coughing for far longer than Jun thought was necessary.

    “M-m-ma Y-yu,” he said finally. Jun’s eyes widened, but Lieutenant Ma turned to face another red accented Gossam coming up, and staggered back, finally burying his face in a thin book.

    “Not the best first impression,” the newcomer said. Jun shrugged. “Guyong Ba, Junior Lieutenant.”

    “Qiling Fei, Ensign,” a female introduced herself.

    “R-r-right,” the Lieutenant said, snapping his book shut. He took a deep breath, and then stopped, let it out, and took another. This continued for a few seconds.

    “Is he hyperventilating?” Qiling whispered. Jun couldn’t answer, watching his superior officer, a pilot of almost mythical status, almost pass out from breathing.

    “I-i-i-i I’m M-ma Y-y-yu,” the teenager finally managed to get out. “P-p-p-pleased t-t-t-to m-meet y-y-you.”

    Jun shared a long look with Ba and Fei.

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