By Jane Maree
I savor the moment as our cannons fire on the bustling trade ring. The void of space swallows any sound as red flashes shoot from our guns and streak for the alliance’s heart. The time for my vengeance has come at last.
The blast turns the huge ring-shaped trade station into space dust in mere seconds. The shockwave sends the Nebula’s deck reeling, and Cookie stumbles. I catch his shoulder before he falls.
Shrapnel shreds the skull flag at the masthead, and fragments shear through our oxygen bubble and scatter across the deck. A shard slices along my cheekbone, but I don’t flinch.
Instead, I wait—for the satisfaction, for the relief that will surely come any moment now. I’ve finally avenged my parent’s deaths. But…
Why does the familiar, gaping hole still tear my chest from the inside out?
I release Cookie to grab the railing as my knees threaten to buckle. This cannot have been worthless. Thousands of lives, now nothing but shattered rubble in the cold void—because of me.
No. No! Where is the victory?
“Pete, lad.” Cookie touches my shoulder, but I jerk away.
“It’s not enough,” I growl. I must have vengeance before the guilt tears my soul apart.
Turning from the weathered ship’s cook, I march onto the mid-deck. My heavy footsteps are the only sound in the eerie, inaudible destruction as I mount the stairs to the tiller.
“To your stations!” I grip the worn wheel, glaring at the spreading debris. Burnt stardust glows red against the darkness of space beyond.
Crewmen jump to the ropes, storing the harpoons on deck and the cannons below. Only the tattered flag at the mast betrays the Nebula’s identity.
I guide the ship away from the worst of the wreckage. The automatic sealing system won’t be able to stop a huge oxygen leak if one of these massive pieces of steel shrapnel collides with our hull.
Starlight gleams on a nearby slab of wreckage, a section of a wall from the trade station, emblazoned with the whirlpool symbol of the Nova Alliance. The emblem is barely recognizable—a ghostly reminder of what I’ve done to the agreement of peace the Nova were settling when our cannons sent them to oblivion.
But their idea of peace is a mere charade, though few seem to realize it. How can they speak of peace when they are responsible for the deaths of my parents?
“How long d’you think you can keep this up, lad?” Cookie leans against the rail halfway up the deck stairs. He peers at me over his thin-framed glasses, eyes glistening with sorrow. “It’s been ten years.”
I pick at the knot of my blood-red scarf, a shiver wracking my shoulders. “As long as it takes.”
His brow crinkles, and he lowers his voice, “I fear you drive yourself to madness.”
“I have no choice. I have to do this.” He doesn’t understand. How could he? He has never borne the blood of his parents on his own hands.
I can still feel it caked under my fingernails. See the red stain on my skin. See their bloody faces as they slip from my grasp and are claimed by the void.
The alliance has much to answer for.
A shout stops Cookie’s next words. “Captain Dolion!” A crewman gestures wildly. “Incoming!”
The warning comes none too soon. A smaller piece of drifting debris slips into our airlock and is caught by our artificial gravity. It tumbles to the mid-deck, and crewmen jump aside.
I brush past Cookie, approaching the main deck to survey the damage. Murmurs ripple through the crew, and they part, revealing what’s crash-landed on the Nebula.
It’s a body.
My gut churns. The young man lies face down on the stained boards, his once-fine clothing ragged. I stare down at the corpse, my pulse roaring.
This is just one of the countless, nameless victims of my vengeance, and still my raging grief is not satisfied. How many more must suffer because of the alliance? When will they see? Captain Dolion is their creation, and I will make them regret turning me into… this with their dying breaths.
I toe the man onto his back. His skin is gray in our starlight globes. My stomach heaves, but I can’t look away.
His eyes open.
The nearest crewmen shout and scramble backward as the man suddenly gasps for breath. Cookie hurries past and drops to his knees beside the stranger.
“He’s alive,” someone mutters.
Obvious, but no less wondrous. Anyone who survived the explosion should have been swiftly taken by the void of space.
A man who cheats death like this could prove useful.
I crouch, watching as Cookie checks the stranger’s pulse. The man’s eyes are wide, darting around the crew. Several men draw back as he looks their way. Already, his skin isn’t as gray—turning more tanned, or dirty, or perhaps both.
How did he survive? How did he foil my plan? I’m the ruler of this void.
“What’s your name?” I demand.
I cock one brow. “What do you do, Mister Kieffer?”
Cookie shoots me a disapproving glance, but Kieffer’s gasps steady. “Where am I?” He looks upward to the black skull flag and stiffens. “You killed them all.”
“What do you do?” I repeat, ignoring his words.
His jaw clenches. “I will kill you for what you’ve done.” There’s a daring in his eyes that I haven’t seen in a long time. Not when people are talking to me. Not when they’re faced with Captain Peter Dolion.
This man is different. He is my key. He possesses something I do not: the ability to survive the void. I need that.
I rise and turn back toward the helm. “Throw him in the brig.” Whether he wants to or not, this man will help me fulfill my vengeance. Together, we will find the last dregs of the alliance and make them pay.
Then finally, I can have peace.