When we arrived in the Paradiso system our ship made directly for the second moon, Satori. After docking in one of the StateEmpire Navy Orbitals my team, Crane Liu Fe, and I transited down to the Huang Bao (Yellow Fortress) military complex.
Solely Yu Jing territory, the moon acts as a staging post for Yu Jing interests in the system. Apart from the Yellow Fortress Satori is home to a scatter of mining facilities, industrial factories, and research centres. Lesser publicised is that Satori is also home to one of the most important ALEPH nodes in the system (and several lesser) and the infamous Imperial Service ‘Invisible Prisons’.
On arrival we were greeted by a huge and sedately busy processing hall. Long lines of incoming soldiers standing, sitting, or in some cases sleeping on their kit as they waited to be cleared and admitted to the base.
Liu Fe turned to me and gave a curt “stay ready”. I tried to ask what for but it was already too late as he swept straight past the long queues to one of the desks. Several soldiers began to raise their voices in complaint but were quickly shushed by their pals who recognised an Imperial Agent’s uniform. The corporal at the desk looked up with a smug expression and opened his mouth to hit Liu Fe with the full weight of the StateEmpire’s bureaucracy. I was granted the entertainment of watching the words die in the corporal’s mouth and his face drain of colour as he focused on the Imperial Seal Liu Fe shoved in his face. Barely waiting for the corporal to acknowledge his authority, Liu Fe strode past the desk and disappeared down the labyrinthine corridors of the base.
Feng Bo whistled appreciatively, “Wish I had one of them badges. Never have to wait in a queue again in my damn life.”
“Would have been real nice eh if that stuck up jackass coulda got us through as well,” Xu Heng spat, his loud comment and the 14K tattoo on his cheek drawing glances.
“Shut up Heng. You wanna shout that any louder?” Feng Bo blithely retorted in his own booming voice.
I ignored the bickering and found an unoccupied corner of the reception hall. I lay down with my bag as a pillow and pulled my cap down over my eyes as I heard the others settle down around me, arguing over the best people at queuing.
“Sergeant, let me know when it’s time to move,” I mumbled through my cap. Not getting a response I tipped my cap up with a finger and peered out at Tai Sheng. An unexpected and unusual sight greeted my eyes: Sergeant First Class Tai Sheng, Paladin of the StateEmpire and best NCO I’ve ever met, stood mouth agape in horror with a face flushed bright red in embarrassment. I followed her gaze and saw the cause of her discomfort; against one of the walls a holoprojector was displaying an image of Tai Sheng in full parade dress 5m tall against one of the walls.
“Join the fight! For the People! For the Party! For Yu Jing!” The text scrolled across the holo-poster.
“I can’t believe I ever agreed to that,” an aghast Tai Sheng mumbled. She threw herself down into one of the cheap metal chairs, pulling her cap down low and hunching in on herself as if she wished she could disappear. Already I spotted a few soldiers around us noticing her and making the connection.
I pulled my cap back down over my eyes with a small grin as I heard the first unfortunate approach for an autograph.
Some time and sore neck later I finally found myself in front of the processing desk. As the corporal was going through my documents I inquired how long it would take to find a shuttle to take us down to the surface.
“Ha! You’d be lucky sir.” The corporal forced a fake laugh as he continued scanning passes. “This current alien offensive has most of the Human Sphere and High Command scrabbling. They’ve slowed the alien advance but we’ve lost a lot of territory. There are still a bunch of units MIA in occupied territory and High Command are struggling to regain some semblance of control. The bastards’ surface-to-orbit weaponry and the E/M microsats are making it a nightmare to get a shuttle through.”
He looked up from his passes and I noticed the artificial eye and scarring previously hidden by his hair. “Trust me sir, you don’t want to rush down there. Enjoy the quiet up here while you can.”
With an unsettled thank you to the corporal I returned to the team. We’d been allocated transit accommodation in the Fortress while we waited for a shuttle. I explained the situation and told the team to get some rest but warned them to stay ready.
“That means no boozing Feng Bo!” I called to their backs as they headed into their shared dorm.
“Sure Cap. You know me,” Feng Bo waved soothingly from the bunk he’d deposited his huge frame onto. I sighed, knowing Feng Bo far too well to be relieved by his response. Tai Sheng gave me a nod to say she’d watch the team as I stepped out and headed to my cabin.
I had just showered and settled down for a sleep when I heard my door slide open. I rolled off my bunk and grabbed the pistol from the bedside cabinet, coming up in a kneeling position aiming at the doorway.
Liu Fe gave a slight chuckle as he turned the light on and closed the door behind him. “For love of the Emperor, Tao Ji, please put that thing away and put on a robe. Get the team, you’ve got a mission.”