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Following The Path
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My second story. Sequel to Starting on the Path, I tried to go more in depth into the situations, more into the mind of each character.

This had to be the most boring job he had ever taken. Sure, the pay was good, more than good, excellent really, but the work was mind-numbingly

boring. The Liberty Navy was performing some sort of advanced combat testing, which, by the way, they refused to give any details on, and had hired Alex

McGugan and his partner, Dia Contez, to patrol the borders of Zone 21 for any potential spies. "Like its even nessecary," Alex grumbled to himself. Zone 21

was a veritable fortess, and any attempt to enter it was suicide. If a potential spy managed to avoid the sensors surrounding the area, which would call in

wings of Liberty Defenders if they detected as much as a stray rock, they would still have to get through the minefield which made even legitimate flights

into the Zone hazardous. Alex would have loved to see the casualty rate for people entering the field, but he that, like everything else to do with this

area, those would be classified. Secrecy. Humpf. In the two years since he started Freelancing, Alex had grown to hate secrecy. Many times, he had seen

deaths that could have been avoided had the LSF released sensitive information to the Freelancers it hired. Like Julie. Alex clenched his fists tightly, then

let them go, along with the anger. It had only been recently that he had discovered the extent of the LSF's information on Rogue movements in the Badlands.

As it turned out, they had known that the pirates had planned to attack the Liberty Navy's base in the badlands, and that had been the reason for the

frenzied and poorly organized freelancer convoy had been sent out. To its death. Alex found that the anger he had just let go had returned. The LSF knew they

were sending those freelancers to die. Julie to die. Alex had relived that moment time and time again in his dreams. The cut off scream, the ball of flame

that incinerated his childhood friend... Alex had fought hard to find justice, had cut down dozens of squadrons, surpassing most kill records of flyers that

had been in the business years longer than him. Other freelancers were shocked and impressed with the young man's skill, but they never understood. Unlike

them, Alex didn't fight for money. He fought for revenge. And now he wasn't certain who he needed to fight. The Rogues and Outcasts had always seemed a

likely target, but now, realizing that the LSF had sent them to their deaths, he wondered if they were the ones he should seek vengance from. Alex shook his

head, brushing his dark hair out of his eyes, and glanced out his viewscreen. He could see Dia's ship cruising along beside his own. Dia Contez had taken him

in after the ill-fated run to the badlands, and until recently, had supported his quest for revenge. But even she had told him to tone it down of late. "Let

her go" she had said. Perhaps she was right. Maybe justice had been served.

Only a dozen metres away, Dia's thoughts were also troubled. This place was unpenatrable, probably the safest place in Liberty, and yet the Liberty

Navy had seen it nessecary to have patrols running inside the clearing, in the centre of the minefield. What concerned her even more was that they had been

hired to do it. The duo were qualified, no doubt about that, but the Navy had their own fighters, probably with pilots equally skilled. Why wouldn't they get

their own people to patrol this area? As far as she could tell, this was the only section of Zone 21 that had Freelancers patrolling it, although she hadn't

gotten a good look at the other areas. This disturbed her. Dia had heard rumors of unrest out near the border worlds, and if the Liberty Navy was stretched

out so thin that Freelancers had to be hired to patrol Liberty's top-secret facilities, they could be inn serious trouble if that unrest spread closer to the

core systems. Perhaps whatever equipment was being tested today would help. Dia could only hope. Admitably, she wasn't exactly the shining example of a good

citizen, but Liberty had given her much over the years, and she would hate to see it collapse. Patriotism tended to run pretty high in Liberty, and Dia was

no exception. As long as the Liberty Navy would pay her, she'd patrol this patch of space.

"They haven't detected us?" The man who had spoken looked curiously at the sensors officer. The officer gulped. Kaspar Orillion was an impressive

looking man. Tall and muscular, he looked like he could crush a small man without effort, and yet he seemed to blend in with the group of soft office staff

around him. The communications officer supposed that Orillion could blend in well with any group. He had heard rumors of the man's exploits. Super-spy, man

with a hundred names - amongst them, the silent killer. Supressing a shiver was hard. If there was an impossible situation in Sirius, Orillion was the man

sent in. The tech pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind, and answered the question.

"If they have, sir, they haven't shown any sign of it." An admiral off to the side beamed.

"I told you Orillion, this ship is the pinnacle of technology. Impossible to detect." Orillion looked impressed. "This system could be invaluable for

covert operations. How many have you built so far?" The admiral let out a chuckle. "This is the only one. After a bit of combat testing, we'll commission

more. And speaking of combat testing, I think its time. We've tested the cloaking device enough, time to see how she handles a bit of a scrap." He nodded

towards one of the crew. "Initiate de-cloak."

Alex, being bored, began to tweak his ships systems. His custom modifications had saved his life more than once, and both his Tigershark and Dia's

Razor had enough tunings that made the circuits virtually unrecognizable. After fiddling with his sensors a moment, he noticed a hazy blob appearing on the

readout. A very large blob.

"Uh, Dia?" Alex's throat was suddenly dry. "Theres something out there. I have no clue what, but it's huge." Dia frowned. She had grown to trust

Alex's jury-rigged machinery, and instinctivly flicked on her shields.

"Does its size match anything we kno..." Her voice faltered mid-sentence. The space in front of her suddenly seemed to glow, shimmering in a way she

had never seen it before, lightning playing across...across what? Something that was there, but not there? She was about to suggest that Alex get some

distance, when the Osiris came fully out of cloak, a massive battleship, bristling with weaponry. It opened fire. Both FreeLancers, getting over their shock

rapidly, spun round, attempting to escape the massive vessel, only to see waves of Defenders uncloaking in a circle all around the three combatants. A voice

came over the com.

"You stay here, Freelancer." The voice dripped with contempt. "You get the honour of seeing the latest of Liberty's arsenal. Enjoy the show." On the

bridge of the Osiris, Orillion was stunned. "This is the combat test?!" The admiral who had been bragging earlier gave the spy an odd look. "Of course. What,

you thought we'd test this on our own troops?" "No! But at least on computer controlled ships! Not civilians!" The admiral shrugged. "This is far more

effective. Only the best." "But, but sir!" Orillion was stuttering, panicky. "You can't do this!" The admiral's look grew cold, and a strange pink light

seemed to glow from his eyes. "Your objection was been noted. Now, please sit and enjoy the display. Now." Orillion realized what was happening. He had heard

of this new threat, even reported it to his superiors. Now he saw why his report had been seemingly ignored. When the admiral looked away, Orillion's hand

went to his pocket, where he thumbed a small switch on a personal communicator. He hadn't become Liberty's top agent for nothing. Kaspar Orillion always had

a backup plan, and this one had been in place for weeks. He knew what he had to do. This new threat could not be allowed to continue, and certainly could not

be allowed to control this battleship. The hand shifted to the small of his back, drawing out a small pistol he had hidden there. All over the ship, crewman

loyal to Liberty, recruited by Orillion for a time such as this, sprung into action. Fighting burst out on all decks, and somewhere, a homing beacon was

activated. Across space, a light began to flash on the sensor board of a Lane Hackers ship.

Bile rose up in Dia's throat. Now she knew why they had been the only Freelancers here. Fewer witnesses. Advanced combat testing, she should have

known. She forced herself to remain calm. Logic. Against that monster, they had no chance. Against all of the fighters, well, they still had no chance, but

at least they could take some out with them. She keyed her communicator, about to tell Alex to attack the fighters, when she saw his Tigershark streak away

from her, pouring out laser fire into the ranks of the Liberty Defenders. She pulled about, and attacked.

Alex was furious. So the Navy decided that they would be perfect to use as target practice. They would learn that these targets fight back. Throwing

the throttle to full, he arced away from the battleship, straight into the waiting fighters. He shunted all of his shield energy forward, went into a spin

and held down on the trigger, spraying fire in a narrow cone through the enemy. Two patriots exploded, and Alex screamed through the hole, looping around to

attack the rest from behind. More exploded under his guns. Suddenly, Alex's cockpit was filled with the electronic squeal of target locks, dozens from every

angle. He swore, and rolled as hard to starboard as possible, lasers streaking through the spot he had occupied seconds before. Missles still following, he

pulled out of the loop, angling straight up, releasing a flurry of shots into the belly of a Defender, shredding it. Alex could hear pinging off his shields,

and felt himself being kicked around by the shrapnel as he passed through the wreckage. The two missles that were on his tail exploded when they hit the

shrapnel, buffeting Alex with shockwaves. He quickly evened out his damaged shields, then pulled a swift immelman, putting him into a head to head attack

with four defenders. He grimaced. Head to head, he could use his guns to their full potential, doing the most damage to his enemy, but so could they. And

four to one odds were not in his favour. The defenders split into a line, spread so all could get an angle on him at once, and giving them a shot even if he

manuevered. These weren't rookie pirates - these were skilled, trained killers. Alex smiled to himself. "I'm better." He snapped off a missle towards the one

on the far right, then pulled a roll that looked as if it would smash him into a LSF patriot, but with centimeters to spare, he flicked on his hovercoils,

kicking him away from the Liberty fighter faster than the enemy gunners could follow, and their shots burned through the doomed patriot. Alex swung his

sights back over the four ships, just in time to see his missle impact the side of one, sending it in a spin. The pilot managed to regain control of his

stricken craft, only to have it smash into his wingmate, killing both. Seeing this, the remaining two spread out a bit, clearly trying to avoid a similar

fate. Alex took advantage of the weakness, rocketing between the two, only to kill his engines and hit the side mounted thrusters he had mounted only days

earlier. The flying wing swung about it's axis, engines screaming, sweeping both defenders through the sights. Two missles took both ships. Alex grinned,

glanced down at his sensor board, and the grin melted. It was nearly solid red, with more arriving every second.

Dia pulled out of the cloud of enemy fighters, certain on having vaped at least 3, plus maybe killing the shields on another 4. Her own damage was

minimal, but there was no way this could continue. She considered making an escape run, and searched for a path through the minefield. There. A crooked,

narrow corridor wound its way through the minefield, so small that you would have to be insane to fly through it. Or desperate. She keyed the comm. "Alex! We

have to get out! I'm transmiting co-ords, go!" She highlighted the spot on her navmap, dragging it across the touchscreen to the icon that showed Alex's comm

signal. Having transmited, she swung around, dodging more fighters, aiming for the narrow corridor. But someone was already in it. Cursing, she slammed on

reverse thrusters, and nailed the rudder to swing about. Slammed into the seat by the G-forces, she only caught a glimpse of the shapes flowing out of the

hole in the minefield, and she felt cold. Stilettos. Those ships were only used by pirates, most notably Outcasts. The odds were already impossible, but with

squadron after squadron pouring from the gap, they could be trapped between the clashing of two powerful opponents. That was not a place she intended to be.

Screaming away from the field, she approached the warship. Strange, she noted. It wasn't firing anymore. Didn't matter, it just made it safer. She would use

it as a shield, keeping it between her and the fighting. Then the dormant guns blazed to life.

Back on the Orisis's bridge, Orillion wiped the sweat from his brow. All around, the bodies of the murderers, those who had pointlessly tried to kill

the Freelancers, lay dead. Several of the bridge crew, loyal to him, looked slightly worse for wear, but would survive. His comlink clicked.

"Sir! The ship is now under our control!" Orillion smiled.

"Excellent. Target those Liberty fighters. Fire."

Dia was stunned. She had prepared to be vaporised, but instead, the warship had opened fire on its own men! She wasn't going to argue. Whoever was in

control of that ship was clearly working with the pirates, working together to systematically destroy the Navy pilots. Alex's voice broke through the static

in her headphones.

"Dia! What the hell is going on?!" "I don't know, but whatever it is, I'd rather not get stuck in it! Go!" Dia saw Alex launching through the

minefield, following the course she had made out, Dia following. Whoever was flying those Stilettos didn't seem to be targeting them, but she didnt' want to

take chances. The goodwill of pirates can be fickle. She felt the scar that ran up her face aching, and a surge of hatred passed through her, tempting her to

turn around. She had never told Alex how she came to get that scar, and never intended on doing so. It was bad enough that he had his own vendetta, she

didn't need to give him any more incentive to attack superior forces. Those Stilettos might not even be Hessians, but the ship in itself brought back too

many memories. The pair didn't need to get any more mixed up in this battle.

Alex slowly left the minefield, Dia's Dagger right behind him. Off in the distance, flashes of light were the only indicator of the titanic battle

taking place. Slowly, he let his breath out, not even aware he had been holding it. Flying through minefields in scary business, and he promptly swore not to

do it again anytime soon. I flicked the comm.

"Finally, we're clear. I thought we'd be toast when that battleship started firing."

"We're not out of trouble yet. We took out a fair few military ships back there. I have no doubt that our names will appear on Liberty's wanted list,

if it isn't already."

"So what's the plan? Where'll we run?"

"I got a friend out in the sigma systems. Runs a bar, in a place called Freeport 7. It's remote, should be a good place to hide out, let things cool

down. I'm sending waypoint Co-ords now." Sigma huh? Alex smiled. Nothing like a bit of borderworld flying to have some fun. Should be a good place to tune up

my skills for when I return to civilization. He switched over power, saw the cruise charge to full, then hit the thrust.

"Freeport 7, here we come."

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