Chapter 1: Valeri

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Terris stood idly by the pilot chair, watching as the gleaming black fighters assumed escort positions above and beside his small freighter. He marveled at the flawless mirrored finish of their hulls, black tinted and reflecting the pinpoints of light that were massive suns and galaxies so far away human imagination could barely understand the distance. Here and there, he could see the faintest etching in the armor that indicated a view port or exhaust vent. Each ship held the insignia of the Angel's Wing emblazoned across the sweep of it's own wings. Terris shook his head. Wings in space. About as useful as a mop on an asteroid. Requirements for commercial production included provisions for atmospheric flight, he knew. But he also knew that with enough thrust, a man could pilot a brick. The twin Starfire engines equipped on the escort ships were overkill for both atmospheric and void flight and required the most adept pilots to properly utilize them. The Black Angels were one of the best squadrons in Terran space. They were the elite. The few.

How in hell they had intercepted him was a mystery. It's space, he thought, there was quite a lot of it. The odds of a random encounter with a flight of Angels was astronomical. That lead to only a few conclusions. Either the odds were staggered and fate was simply playing a game, or they had been out looking for him. The latter was the most obvious conclusion. He had technically broken the law when he traded favors with the Terran collector. The merchant had been looking for a rare ship, the prototype for a basic form of artificial intelligence designed to assist in the navigation of the outer Mars asteroid field. While the AI was limited to that specific function, it did a fine job at keeping pilots and miners alive while traversing the debris. That and the sheer amount of plate armor on the ship made it nearly indestructible. After a few trades, Terris acquired the ship and bartered it for unrestricted access to the privileged Terran Archives. As Terris was not a member of the Terran Academ, his access to those records was illegal. If he had chosen to, he could have altered or destroyed any data as he saw fit.

Still, such illegalities would not incur the attention of OnyxCorps or its ace wing of pilots. The corporation was the largest umbrella entity in Terran Space, manufacturing everything from foodstuff to medicine to weaponry. Terris was hard pressed to think of a reason they would be interested.

"Captain Valeri of the Black Angels addressing unknown freighter. Respond." Terris raised an eyebrow at the silken, obviously female voice. Her words were crystal in the silence of the cabin. The young man thought briefly about not answering, just to hear her voice again. He sighed.

With a motion practiced thousands of times, he rolled his thin frame between the navigation system and the pilots seat, sliding into well worn leather that had assumed the shape of his limbs and musculature over the course of daily use. He flicked an old toggle switch on the left arm rest. The same system that generated navigational arcmaps powered to life. Laser lights shifted into focus a meter to his right and he found himself staring into the face of Captain Valeri. Her features did not match her silky voice. She was pretty, no doubt, but not in the soft way of Terrans. Her chin, jawline, nose and eyes were sharp, giving her the air of a predatory animal. A lioness, perhaps. Or a falcon. Even though the lighting was hued with red, her ice blue eyes were shocking. Terris shook himself and forced his pulse to slow. He flipped another toggle on his left to send visual.

"Captain Valeri, sending identity credentials for freighter Lazarus running out of Octet 7."

A moment passed as he stared at her holographic image. Her brow never moved, never indicated any thought or emotion, but her eyes played over an invisible console before her.

"Credentials received, Lazarus. Why were you not broadcasting ID in Terran space?"

Terris cocked his head in question.

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