Posted on Sun Sep 11th, 2022 @ 12:53pm by Katya
The Only Thing Left Was Hope
Location: Paradise Outpost
The war had raged on. Days upon days of unending conflict. The Alrakis forces - now predominantly controlled by the stubborn Breen - had not given up their attempt to squash this growing rebellion within the Expanse. They had laid claim to the entire Inconnu region in their once-sweeping declaration, but still the Expanse were fighting back. To lose this battle would surely shake their tenuous grip on the rest of the region. Others had already been inspired to defy the Pact, and their strained forces were facing multiple conflicts that they could not contain. To wipe out this sector and re-claim Paradise would send a chilling message to the rest of the region that the Pact *could* control them all.
For the Resistance, cobbled together from a loose agreement that their right to self-determination outweighed their previous years of disharmony, this was their moment to break free from the shackles so hastily placed upon them. They had no choice but to fight, and to fight together, or risk losing everything.
But motivation alone couldn’t win a battle. The Alrakis Pact were stronger, more advanced, more in sheer numbers. The Resistance had battle-ready ships and capable fighters; their beliefs were more resolute. However, the war of attrition had started to favor the aggressors. Even with the Kch'Tak Foundation's new Class A ships joining the fray, the Alrakis forces had continued to press against them. The Resistance had been forced to fall back and fall back and fall back again.
Eventually, they were able to create a wedge using Paradise Outpost’s shields as a barrier, and a rotating front line of fighters that would come up, unload their fury, then move back as the next line moved forwards. Doing so had stemmed the losses and drawn the battle to an almost-stalemate. For the past forty-eight hours, it had just been a cycle of the Alrakis Pact trying to make an offensive strike against Paradise, only to be repelled by a line of Resistance fighters.
Neither side was winning, they were both just fighting.
The doors to the transport cube opened and a beleaguered Katya strolled back onto her station with a frustrated grunt. Her mother, Malka, followed close behind. After another long stretch on the front lines, they had come back to Paradise to refuel the Fire Queen and themselves. The war continued on in the near-distance, visible from Paradise's many windows.
“We need a solution.” Malka insisted, removing her armaments with a relieved sigh. “This holding pattern will not hold forever.”
“I know.” Katya groaned, feeling the tension throughout her body. She looked around for one of her assistants; they were usually hovering around at the ready to tend to her needs. But now there was no one to greet them or offer any refreshments. It was another reminder that Mauricio was gone; he had run this place like a machine. “I need a moment to think.” She said distractedly.
“We must insist on negotiating peace with the Alrakis Pact.” Malka called out firmly, knowing this would gather her daughter's ire but feeling compelled to say it nonetheless. She was tired, too, the conflict was worn on all of their faces. She just needed Katya to see it. "Please." Malka added, "Consider it."
Katya turned to face her mother; eyes withered. “Peace? The Pact do not want peace. They want our servitude!”
“They only came to Paradise to find the Pandora, perhaps they will be amenable to a tactical withdrawal?” Malka suggested. “We must see if they have terms.”
“Their terms will be my neck!” Katya hissed back. “We cannot negotiate with tyrants.”
"If we do not consider the options available to us now, those options will soon be taken from us." Malka warned, "Consider them before they are gone!"
"We still have Ertha, and the remaining Kch'Tak." Katya reasoned, "Our Fire Birds still blaze across their ships. As long as we have a strong front line, the Pact will not breach Paradise." She started to look around for someone to serve her a drink, or a neck massage at least, feeling frustrated that no one was around at all.
"The Broot will fight until she dies." Malka nodded, "That is their way. There is a reason the Anh'Iran have always chosen peace with them; they are like a battering ram when properly motivated. But their anger cannot overwhelm the Pact. The Kch'Tak were, initially, very valuable assets, but those ships were made hurriedly, from enslaved peoples. They have proven to be unworthy of this battle, falling apart or malfunctioning. We have lost half their numbers already. Our options, my infant, are diminishing."
"The Expanse has heard our call for support." Katya turned to her mother with a desperate plea. "The Expanse will carry us to victory! Paradise will continue to rise against the Pact!"
At this, Malka frowned. "My infant, look around you. Paradise has been abandoned."
Katya blinked, stunned by her mother's words. At first, completely unbelieving such a statement could be true. It was only then that she noticed the eerie silence around them. Usually there would be workers, hordes rushing to their next activity; the hum of thousands of people on the entertainment deck enjoying themselves, the roaring of engines as the commercial docking ports saw a steady stream of visitors arriving and departing in coordinated schedules.
Now there was none of this.
She moved towards her viewscreen, a silver circle on the wall, and activated the security cameras. She looked around the station, hoping to see some signs of life. On the market level, all the shops were closed. The casino was empty. The deck corridors were deserted. It wasn't just the assistants that were missing. Malka was right, the people had left Paradise.
"Where have they gone?" Katya asked weakly, feeling the heat leaving her body.
"Those who could fight joined the cause. And likely have been destroyed," Malka explained, her tone softer now as she saw her daughter's anguish. "The rest had left when it became clear that this war would fight on, and Paradise was no longer the safe haven it once was. We lost our ability to keep them safe here, so they fled."
Katya moved away from the viewscreen, putting her hands to her face. "Then all of this has been for nothing?"
"No!" Malka said firmly, moving to her daughter's side and placing her hands over Katya's, "We have stood against the Pact, and encouraged many others to do so. We have allowed the Pandora to escape back to their territory. But now we must consider our position. Do we fight until there is nothing left, or do we try to salvage some piece of ourselves from within this mess? The more that we persist, the less we have to fight for."
Katya took in a deep breath, hearing her mother's words and trying to understand them. Her voice of rebellion, the one she had used to create this Resistance, still echoed loudly in her ears.
"It cannot end in surrender." Katya replied. "If we are to rebuild Paradise, we must have some sense of independence still."
"Then you have our first peace condition." Malka attempted a smile.
"And if the Pact will not consider this?" Katya asked, afraid of what the answer might be.
"Then we continue to fight." Malka shrugged, "Or we continue to negotiate. Either way, a pause in the fighting will help relieve our forces. Consider it, my infant, before it is too late."
The fatigued Anh'Iran lowered her hands but her eyes were closed. She silently nodded in agreement with her mother, giving Malka's hands a squeeze. Without saying a word, she silently slinked away to draw herself a bath and consider their position. The thought of asking the Pact for peace, or even a cessation of hostilities, made her skin tense up. But Malka was right, the more they fought, the more they potentially lost. And a free Expanse was meaningless if she could not operate Paradise as she once did; the protection of the station was the whole reason they started this mess. She would not be the queen of ashes and debris.
"I wish Mauricio was here." She whispered to herself as she entered her quarters.
If Malka had heard this, she didn't react. She leaned over and retrieved her chest armor, feeling its heavy weight in her hands. She ran her hand over the Anh'Iran crest on the armor, a frown on her lips.