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Chapter One - Corsair

Rockwell lay back on the lower bunk and watched a show on the screen. After years in prison, it was still a luxury to have media. It kept the restlessness at bay. Restlessness wasn’t the right word. Life seemed to have taken him for a ride and he’d had no control over any of it. The disease, being taken from Harvest Rising, everything that had happened here. It was still taking him for a ride, and he had no idea what would happen next. Prison had made him very ordered, finding comfort in routines that didn’t require him to think. Funny how one got used to not thinking.

But now, it was as though he was having to merge with an old version of himself, the part that had been a productive member of society. That part, he hadn’t figured out yet. Unlike Jaon, he hadn’t found his niche, his purpose here. He did whatever was asked of him, but there wasn’t a specific task that was his. This all felt like more free time than he knew what to do with, and unlike the others, he didn’t want to get together and bitch about everything.

The ones who were willing to act on their grievances or ambitions were gone—either dead or… Actually, they were all dead. Now they just had the ones that grumbled and did nothing. Which in and off itself seemed madness. Would these guys prefer to be back on Harvest Rising? In the end, they’d been given a reprieve, because they weren’t prisoners anymore. There was still some stigma amongst the other people, but they weren’t treated any different. They also got to choose what they were in this society. But some people couldn’t do anything other than complain.

Leaning back against the wall, he tried to get absorbed into the story. Some kind of spy thing in some planetary adversarial setup. It was a little ridiculous in places, but the story had twists and turns, action, betrayal, hopelessness, but the hero always prevailed.

Honestly, he was a little jealous of Jaon, who got down from the top bunk every morning and went to work. Sometimes he left during the night too, when some alarm would set off through the screen. They weren’t close, but they were cordial, and in terms of roommates, it could be much worse. Jaon wasn’t out to prove some pointless hierarchy, or prove he was something. The guy just got on with his shit and Rockwell appreciated it.

There weren’t a whole lot of people that Rockwell liked. Mostly the ones who just left him alone. That’s all he wanted really, to be left alone. It was how he operated in prison, but things were different now, and he was struggling to get out of his old patterns of behavior.

The door opened and Jaon entered. Rockwell gave him a quick nod as acknowledgment and ignored him as the guy took off his boots and climbed up on his bunk. That was how they engaged, just an acknowledgment and then ignored each other. However, Rockwell recognized that he needed to improve, to emerge out of this isolation he surrounded himself with. It had been a survival mechanism, but he needed to come out of it. His life had changed and in order to flow with it, he needed to shed the old patterns.

“Have they managed to fix the damage?” Rockwell asked.

“They’re still working on some of the electrical systems. Some of the hold rooms are still without power,” Jaon answered. That had to suck. Although Rockwell wasn’t sure he’d mind a dark room. It wouldn’t freak him out. “They won’t do any more structural work until we’re in better space.”

Falk had been called to use his welding skills, had done a spacewalk. It wasn’t that Rockwell was jealous, but there were parts of him that had been envious, and he hadn’t realized until afterward. That desire to be useful had emerged, and it was a welcome change.

Now he’d run out of ideas on how to keep the conversation going. “I’m gonna get a coffee. Do you want one?”

“Naw,” Jaon replied.

Jaon was younger, so they didn’t naturally have much in common. Their backgrounds were different. Jaon was local, Rockwell wasn’t. Well, had been. Most of the people working in the mining sectors had been foreign. They weren’t jobs the Ewinians wanted. Even though that was how Ewin had started, but as the planet had grown wealthy from it, the people didn’t want the hard, dirty work anymore. Those roles paid well enough to draw people, though.

Shifting out of his bunk, he left the room and walked down the hallway. A woman came from the other direction and he saw that momentary hesitation in her step when she saw him. Some of the women were still wary of them, which was fair, as some of the prisoners were far from model citizens. There had been a moment when the prisoners had been more emboldened, and had acted more in character, but that had been shut down with the quelling of the mutiny.

Now there was an underlying tension about their behavior, and those past actions. People found it hard to forgive and were wary. It was fair, even though some lamented it. The problem with some people was that they just couldn’t handle the consequences of their actions. Although they feared it now, even as they complained it was unfair. It wasn’t.

There was still a small brig that had now reverted back to a storage room, but that was temporary. The people here could get angry and push for action against someone they felt was harmful to the community, but Rockwell had realized it was the captain they really needed to be wary of—a military man who wouldn’t mind meting out discipline. Most people didn’t see it, but Rockwell did. His absence didn’t suggest weakness that some presumed. There was no bleeding heart in that man’s chest.

Rockwell wasn’t sure what exactly made him wary of the captain. It was just an air, an energy you got off the man. But he was also a drunk, who didn’t care. However, Rockwell’s guess was that if the captain got mad enough, he would act, and probably decisively. He’d met those kinds of people before. He recognized the trait. This guy would send people out to die, and do so knowingly. That took a certain kind of person. There was always something questionable about military people—especially those who’d done it for a long time. You got people like those on the Hesco ship, who had no problem firing on innocent civilians. To them, it was a repugnant act for the higher good—therefore justified.

The mess hall was typical, with people sitting around and chatting. This space was used for that outside of mealtime hours. A place for people to hang out. They tended to ignore him and he didn’t invite anyone to chat with him. Usually, he took a seat on the edge of the room somewhere, with his back to the room. Well not entirely. Prison had taught him to always be aware of his surroundings. But today, he was in the mood to observe. At times, it was the only entertainment going.

Vee was there, flirting with a girl. If there ever was someone greasy, it was him, but he didn’t step out of line—didn’t get pushy. He was smart enough to know there would be heavy consequences if he stepped out of line. However he was perfectly within his limits if he charmed someone out of line. Didn’t look like he was succeeding, though.

Luckily they’d lost the guys who had vicious natures. They were all dead now, and he hadn’t mourned a single one of them. And that was something that had now started to concern him. He had no friends. He’d been shut down. Those were the words the prison psychiatrist had used. Emotionally shut down. A functional strategy for prison, but he recognized that it wasn’t a suitable strategy here. But how did one become ‘not’ shut down?

The coffee tasted alright. Of sufficiently good quality, and it was warm.

Rigso walked in and Rockwell watched him. Number two in command, and effectively the guy who ran the ship. He wasn’t a guy on a power trip, and Rockwell respected that. A lot to do, and he got on with it. Not exactly a stellar personality, but the guy held his own. Rigso would get that look, a disappointed look anytime anyone spoke to him, but he listened.

The leaders in the community had emerged. Eustace, the engineer, and Hylana, the doc. Partly it was personality, but more importantly, they had skills—needed skills. Mining skills had little purpose here. Although being on the run from authorities was another of his skills, and that was essentially what they were doing now. They were on the run. Funny how that happened. His whole life rejigged, but he ended up doing the same thing, running from people who didn’t mean him well. How was it that his life kept returning to the same concept? What would the Confucians say about that?

Rigso yawned as he listened to whatever this person was saying, with crossed arms, standing with his legs apart. The ‘I’m immensely bored, but giving you my time’ look. He nodded, then said something, and finally walked away.

Meanwhile, Vee was still trying it on with this girl, who was listening, but not intently. She didn’t trust what he was saying. Body language told you everything. It told you about people’s intentions, their motives, their reactions.

Pulm entered, carrying a heavy pot, and Herre followed. Herre was like a neurotic dog, constantly looking to better his position. And if he couldn’t do that, he wanted people to think he was better than he was. Pulm didn’t give a shit. Pulm was also someone who just got on with it, and didn’t care about much outside of his job. Rockwell bet there was military in his background too. He and the cap knew each other. Rockwell felt it in his gut. They knew who each other were. Herre had no idea.

What the fuck was he going to do? It felt wrong just existing—eating the food, watching media. The Confucians said people had inherent value, but Rockwell couldn’t feel it. How could you have value if you didn’t contribute something? Maybe his confusion came from his experiences, which was typically that he was unwanted in the world. He’d had to fight just for a place, for sustenance, for existing.

There was opportunity here, more than he’d ever had before. This was also something he felt in his gut. There was kindness and there was value placed on human life in this community. Not everyone saw it. Hesco, for one. Rockwell wanted to nurture it, to support and protect it, but he didn’t know how. Right now, all he could do was eat the food and breathe the air. It wasn’t enough.

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