He awoke with a start, almost injuring himself against his seat restraints. He took a deep breath, and could nearly taste how close he had come to death. He was alive, however, and he intended to stay that way. He glanced toward his nav computer, hoping he could make sense of his present position in his groggy state. Not good. Smoke lazily drifted from it’s twisted casing. Ok… next plan. He checked his comm systems. Thank the void, they were still functioning. He patched himself through to his personal ship’s comm, triangulated his position, then he and his damaged ship slowly limped toward their destination. As he had nothing better to do, considering his busted up ship, and on half thrust at that, he checked his personal comms. Message from Reamer thanking him for yet another completed contract, yada yada… Message from 03 about needed support in an upcoming battle, (yada yada again) Breaker00 asking for support in his plan to bring new leadership to the Devil’s Fist, and a list of demands… WHAT!? Scroll back. What in the void was he thinking? Reamer will have his hide, he thought.

He was wrong. Once safely back at DF HQ, he was assaulted with propositions from every newly formed faction, all with their own agenda, it seemed. This was ludicrous! “New Blood”, “Old ways are dead”, “Strong leadership”, “Back to what we were” – some of the slogans he encountered. Then the typical Devil’s Fist rhetoric (some people took this too seriously, he thought occasionally) – “They will drown in blood”. “Their screams will echo in the void for eternity”, “they will be as lambs at the slaughter”, and similar rubbish. By the end of his reading, three uneasy alliances had been formed. Breaker00 had initiated the splitup with his noisy public argument over policy with the other wingleaders. Who, in turn, themselves split into two groups. Longtime allies parted over how to discipline the upstart. He had to admit, Breaker00 was a likeable rogue. with a penchant for winning people over, despite his adopted evil persona. Oh, and there’s the message from IK outlining their support of the Breakers. Explains the attack a while ago. This could be a problem.

The Crushers, led by Reamer, were championing the decision to keep DF’s structure, goals, and operating principles essentially the same as they were before this fiasco. We had been decimated by recent LOA’s, public opinion reversals, and other besetting calamities recently, so this was a terrible time for this sort of thing to happen. The Breakers wanted a complete revamp of DF – top to bottom. With Breaker00 in charge of the “reconstruction”, probably. Then the young, impetuous Stealers and Cutters. They very nearly sounded as if they wanted nothing but anarchy. Wow. Quite a day. Of course, he sent a comm out to Reamer affirming his loyalty to the Crushers’ ideals, and explaining he needed a rest before doing anything. He wasn’t kidding, either. About the rest, or his ideals.

He slowly walked out to his ship, set the autopilot for an evasive route out of ther fog, and back to his patrol route. only five hours had passed since he left his barracks. Strange how so much could happen in so little time. Stranger things have been known to happen in the Fringe.

06 arrived at base only slightly late. Not late enough to engender suspicion, thankfully. He blamed his tardy arrival on a malfunction in his autopilot; easily explained by a purposeful failure to update the command protocols issued by the a/p manufacturer (de-updated by the concealed datadisk still hidden in his flightsuit cargo pocket). He reported no unusual activity in his patrol sector, and verified it with the faked data provided by the drone he had activated to mimic his patrol and his ident. Upon arriving home, he promptly collapsed in his bunk. He didn’t want to see what other messages he had waiting. Not surprisingly, he woke to see the message light blinking on his comm terminal. It seemed the Fringe was truly up in arms over this “internal disagreement”, as it was being called. There was gossip flying everywhere, stating everything from power struggles to petty bickering as the reason for this (too public by any account) dispute. Rumors flew over the tachband as to the true identities of the pilots that comprised the DF wings (more than usual…).Almost as bad as the rumor mill concerning supposed sightings of Susan’s elusive “Lance”. He hadn’t seen the comms so lively since the Bora/Galspan war, in fact.

He shook his head and walked out to the hangar. Under pretext of making a cargo run (an independent contract) to deliver goods to a (secretly) DF controlled cargo hauler, he set off (in an Archangel this time) for the hidden base once more. His circuitous route led him deep into the twilight, away from civilization, towards his second home.

To Be Continued…