Skylar begins a new life in the ranks of Gray Hunter.
15 July 2930
Gray Hunter Alpha Station
Far in uncharted space, a large unmarked space station floated by a small moon. The Drifa, Wilkes’ ship, had arrived out of hyperspace and made its approach to dock.
Wilkes sat in his pilots chair, speaking over his earpiece. “This is the Drifa. Requesting direct approach to base.”
“We see you Drifa. You’re cleared to come in at 24 and 18. Make vector to bay 2. Weapons and nose cold.” Responded the tower command.
“Hard copy. Weapons disengaged. Pushing 3 for auto-approach. She’s all yours.” Wilkes said.
“Welcome home, Drifa.”
Wilkes sighed. He removed his ear piece, sat back in his chair, and slouched as he leaned his head back. “You ready for this Skylar? You can’t turn back from this.”
“Yeah.” Skylar said, from the back wall.
The Drifa made a slow venture into one of the large cargo bays of the space station. It took a moment for the systems of the ship to shut down and the cargo door to open. Soon enough the crew exited the ship. Skylar followed Wilkes off the ship, keeping a close lead trying to appear as she belonged. The two passed by several security officers, but none gave Skylar a second glance seeing as she was with Wilkes despite her very civilian appearance. The station was vast, and in far better condition than the ship was, though not a terrible improvement. Skylar looked at the very barebones and industrial appearance of the station. There was no pipe coursing throughout the place that wasn’t exposed. The floors were plain metal panels. The windows were small, but thankfully were cleaned as Skylar spotted a janitor wiping them.
What Skylar really noticed was the lack of females in the station, particularly ones of her age. She was the only one. The women she spotted were at least 10-20 years passed her age. Above all this, there was an unmistakable hum coursing throughout the station. Engines, Skylar thought. The place needed power after all. She continued looking about, occasionally coming to places with mezzanine levels above, or stairways to lower floors. It was far bigger than it looked from the outside.
Wilkes nudged Skylar with his elbow, “Hey.” Skylar looked at him, not saying a word. Wilkes pointed to the left leading to a long narrow hallway. “This is you. 4th door on the right.” Wilkes patted Skylar on the shoulder, “Good luck kid.” Skylar stopped, but Wilkes kept on walking.
She followed his direction, walking down the long and fairly dark hallway. Many of the lights seemed as if they were dimmed or simply not getting enough power. She counted the doors she walked passed before coming to an open room, the light was brighter, but there was nothing but an elevated desk. No chairs. Skylar saw a pair of hands holding up a magazine.
“M-Mr. Finley?” Skylar said.
“Aye, that’s me.” The voice said. It was nasally, and more high-pitched than Skylar anticipated. The magazine, featuring a few scantily clad ladies on the cover lowered down, revealing a bald-headed man. His eyes peaked over the pages and stared at Skylar.
“I was told to come see you.”
The magazine fell. The man was gone. Skylar gasped at what was like magic to her. Around the back end of the desk walked Lukas Finley, a dwarf of a man, but confident of his image. He was bald, with a brown box-beard. He wore a small black sweater and matching pants and boots.
“Ah, ye must be the lassie Gat mentioned. Hm, he wasn’t lying.” Finley said, looked Skylar over.
Skylar raised a brow, “About what?”
Finley shook his head, “Nothin’, nothin’. Ah hear you’re in need o' some credentials, eh?”
Skylar gradually found his accent difficult to translate. “I need an ID. Captain Wilkes ki--”
“Ah know what happened. That’s what ye git fer hoppin’ aboard Gray Hunter’s ships.”
“I’m sorry… but what is Gray Hunter?”
Finley crossed his arms. “Probably one o' the biggest underground military contractors in the sector.” Finley locked the door to his office. “They’re a’right… shady… but a'right.” Finley shrugged. “Ta be honest, ah don’t trust ‘em, but ah realize if ye play yer cards right n' ye do what you’re told, ye come out okay.”
“I just want to go home!” Skylar pleaded.
Finley frowned and returned to his computer station. “Ah don’t think ye can… this is lawless space. Good luck findin’ a ship off this station. Th' coordinates to this place are a secret to many… 'n they don’t make casual trips if it's nae fer business. Sorry, but yer stuck 'ere. Only thing ah kin suggest. Get to work, save some credit, buy a ship 'n fly as far away from this place as ye can.”
“That sounds like a lot of work.” Skylar furrowed her brows. “How long would that take?”
“Couldn’t tell ya. Would’ve done it maself a while ago…” Finley chuckled and shrugged before typing away at his console. “...but ah got no place else to go. Besides, time ain’t nothin’ relevant. Ya prove yer worth ‘ere.”
Skylar sighed, “If I don’t have a choice… I’ll have to, right?”
Finley nodded. “Yeap, now… let’s get ye in th' system, aye?”
“O-okay.” Skylar fidgeted with her hands.
Finley looked at the girl. “Yer name?”
“Um… Skylar Connor.”
Finley voiced her name as he typed it. “Sky-lar Con-nor… a'right. Give a minute. I’ll get this out o' th' way.” Finley typed on his keyboard for a bit before clapping his hands, “A’riiiight… Skylar Connor. ID# M1ZE137-952d. Let me remind ye, that ID is invalid outdoors o' Gray Hunter. If th' day comes when ye make it out o' this doo dally, ye come back to me. I’ll set ye up wi' a civilian ID#. Got it?"
“Thanks…” Skylar looked down at her communicator. Finley had downloaded her ID to it. This was a new life she had to lead. This was far from the idea situation she wanted… but there was no helping it now. She had do what she could to get home. With a heavy sigh, Skylar frowned.
“A’right kid, don’t look so glum.” Finley leaned over his counter. “Wilkes could’ve jettisoned ye. Shoulda, anyway. Yer jammy to be alive. Make th' most o' it. Foremost thing ye wanna do is see Bard. Just Bard.” Finley pointed in Bard’s general direction. “You’ll find a lot o' folk ‘ere got a callsign. He runs a wee contracting group fer a mining operation. I’m only suggesting this to ye fer it's like like th' safest job ye can pick up. Bard holds tryouts fer his unit. So long as you’re fit enough, ye should be okay. He’s a bit o’ a hardass… and an asshole, but all ye gotta do is impress him 'n you’re in. Make some cash, 'n get th' hell outta Gray Hunter.”
“Why are you doing this?” Skylar asked looking down to the floor. “Why are you and Wilkes helping me? By the sound of it, Gray Hunter seems like a bunch of tough-skinned, apathetic, brutish mercenaries.”
"Not all o’ us, lassie. Some o’ us came seekin’ opportunity… not all o’ us got what we expected. Ah ain’t got folk or friend t’ go home ter. Ah make decent money ‘ere, so I stayed. As fer Wilkes… well… Ah know he’s got kin somewhere. We do what we can. Some o’ us still got a conscience. Ah ain’t gonna let some pup be fed to th’ wolves. Now, get outta ‘ere before Bard leaves! I’ll upload directions to yer datapad.”
Skylar made haste, only giving a small thanks to him before she left. She followed Finley’s directions to the letter. It was a longer walk than expected, proceeding down stairs and elevators before she came to a gymnasium. It was the only familiar thing she had seen since she arrived. Back on Earth, the gym was Skylar’s best friend aside from the dojo. It was the only place she could relax by exercising. But now it seemed like a place of trial. There was a long line of men, many of them disheveled, sickly, and dirty. Some seemed at least somewhat put together wearing worn space suits or armor.
Skylar crept into the room, listening to the echoing authoritative voice that was barking at the men. She stood at the end of the line, shorter than many of the men, though taller than a few. Many of the men in line turned to look at her. She was the only female there. As more heads turned, they began to whisper. Skylar looked at the man yelling at them or least raising his voice. He was a tall, brutish looking fellow with bulging muscles and face that saw its share of scars. Once he noticed the men were distracted, he followed their eyes and looked at Skylar. He marched over and bent down to her eye level. This was Bard, if Finley was right.
“What do you think you’re doing here, cup-cake?! You know where you are!?” Bard shouted.
“U-um… are you Bard?” Skylar squeaked.
Bard quieted and smiled politely. “Yes… and who are you, girly?”
“S-S-Skylar Connor, sir.”
Bard smirked behind his stubbly face, “Skylar Connor, eh? You crazy?”
Skylar furrowed her brows. “No?”
“No!?” Bard began to yell again. “I don’t think you understand how this operation works. You are what I say you are, girly! And I say, you ain’t fit to be here. Girls don’t belong here. You’re pathetic! Not one girl has made it through my program in the past 4 years!”
“Is there a problem, Bard?” said a smooth masculine voice. It spoke from the shadows. The echoes made it hard to tell its origin.
Bard froze, seeming fearful for once. “Sir, this girl came out of nowhere. Clearly she’s here for working in culinary or maintenance.”
“You know our policy.” said the man. HIs footsteps could be heard patrolling around the room.
The man’s voice became a bit agitated, “She stays.After all… she’s just a girl right? She fails, she leaves.”
“That’s an order, Bard.”
Bard nodded, “Yes sir.”
“Good… if there’s any problem, send her my way. Otherwise, treat her like any other.”
“Oh, and Miss Connor.” The man said. Skylar looked to where she thought he was, “Enjoy your stay.” Soon the man left, doors closed far down the gym.
Bard got into Skylar’s face again. “You best enjoy it, for your sake.” He began pacing around. “Now, I ain’t briefin’ you on what we do before I know you’re capable. I ain’t wasting my breath on you scum. You’re galaxy trash and that’s all you will be! Now, our first order of business will be eliminating the weak. You will all jog in place. At the sound of the buzzer you will drop and do push-ups. At the sound of two buzzers you will flip and do sit ups. Three buzzers you will jog again. Understood? The first 10 people in this group to stop will be kicked out of here. Go!”
Everyone began to jog in place. Skylar dropped her bag and followed as well. It was an easy enough exercise that everyone could do. Of course, it went on for about 5 minutes.
Skylar dropped to the floor and did her push-ups.
I can do this.
This was still nothing for Skylar. Despite being far from home, she spent years playing sports and martial arts. She won awards for her physical prowess. She could already hear some men beginning to cough. Just who were these men? They were not soldiers, that was certain.
Skylar flipped onto her back.
I can do this...
The breathing and groaning around her began to fade out. Skylar was in the zone. All of the competitions she participated in were not about the others. It was not about beating others. It was about doing the best she could until she couldn’t anymore.
I need to get back home.
Skylar leapt to her feet and began jogging. Her many layers were beginning to encumber her. She began to take off her jacket and sweater. Soon she was down to nothing but a tank top and pants.
Did I deserve this? Am I supposed to learn something?
I’m going to get out of this, no matter what anyone tells me… no matter what happens…
“Bard!” shouted the smooth voice again. The mysterious man appeared in the light, dressed in clean-cut business attire. His hair was beginning to gray, but he looked young still. The man snatched the buzzer from Bard’s hand and stared at Skylar along with Bard. Everyone was.
Bard begged, “B-but sir!”
“Miss Connor!” the man said.
Skylar gasped, and stopped immediately. Her breathing was controlled but fast. She was sweating profusely, her clothes clinging to her skin. She looked at the mysterious man, then Bard, then to the dozens of men who were either on the floor, or hunched over from exhaustion. Some were by the trash can, taking turns to vomit. They had all looked like they had been done for some time. Bard had simply been seeing how far Skylar would go.
The suited man looked at Bard, “Still, got a problem with women, Bard?”