Fractured Orbits Chapter 4
Fractured Orbits is book one in the Encoded Orbits Trilogy, It’s being released as a serial with chapters coming out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The first ten chapters are free, before requiring a paid subscription.
Hwicce stepped out of the command module and into the evening light. He paused and gazed up. Glinting reflections from the Protectorate’s armada flashed as they circled the planet. The only stationary object in orbit was Candy Cane Lane’s spaceport tethered above. He let out a sigh.
“Hey, sir. Coming out for some generations dice?” Baker asked. She’d already showered after the days’ mission and was back in her standard evening wear of a ratty, black tracksuit.
“Thanks, but not tonight. I’ve got to hit the showers, then I’m going to write my wife before hitting the rack,” he said.
Even though his commanding officer had chastised him for not capturing the super solder they encountered, he did receive praise for bringing in Rokan prisoners, so the day wasn’t a total loss. More importantly, none of his soldiers got injured in the day’s fighting, and he didn’t have to write anyone’s family tonight with bad news. He let out a long exhale.
Eighteen months of fighting had left him skeptical whether the war made any kind of sense. Yes, his homeworld had been bombed back to a pre-terraformed state, and only luck had kept his wife and daughter safe. But the enemy hadn’t struck first—they had. He’d arrived after bombs had dropped on at least five worlds now. Candy Cane Lane was unique in that it hadn’t been levelled with explosives before he’d arrived.
Unaware of his inner turmoil, Baker shrugged. “I’ll have to swindle you out of credits some other night then.” She strode off towards the mess hall.
Relief swept over him as she vanished out of view. He wouldn’t be forced to put on a happy face for the evening, but he didn’t want to let his troops know how worn out he felt. They deserved a focused leader—not one who’d begun questioning everything.
The hot water did wonders, leaving him feeling near human again. Looking forward to some time alone, he slid open the door to his pod and stepped inside. The glossy white walls of his tiny quarters greeted him. The pod followed him wherever he deployed, giving him a sense of normalcy. The room’s compact configuration left him barely enough space to move around, but he didn’t have to share.
After hanging up his towel, he sat on the built-in bunk and tucked his shower sandals away. Sleep tempted him, as he’d have to be up sooner than he liked—he hadn’t had a chance to sleep in since his last visit home. Leaning his elbows onto his knees, he buried his face in his hands. He knew sleep wouldn’t come easy.
The super soldier bothered him. She fought with a vacant expression, almost as though a puppet master pulled her strings, controlling her. He doubted she’d consented to being used that way.
When angry, Molly shook things without touching them. Would a skill like that grow into what he saw in the super soldier? He and Veena worked to keep Molly’s skills secret, but it was only a matter of time until she got angry and her parents couldn’t cover it up. He swallowed. Being away meant Veena had to deal with Molly on her own.
From the alcove at the head of his bed, he pulled out his datapad and projected his favourite hologram of Veena and Molly.
Molly’s grinning face appeared on the swing at the park near his home on New Haven. Her black hair shone under the bright sunlight; the curls bounced chaotically as the swing moved. Her dimples made his heart melt like they did every time.
“Higher, Mommy,” she said as she tightened her grip on the swing’s chains.
From out of the hologram, Veena laughed, her voice rich and almost musical. “Are you sure?” She stepped into view behind Molly. Her smile created the same dimples as Molly, and her curls were only slightly more contained.
Molly kicked her feet. “Higher, higher.”
Veena placed her hands on Molly’s back and gave a big push. Molly screeched as the swing accelerated.
“You’ll have to take a turn,” Veena said as she stepped to the side of the swing and came towards him.
“I want to capture this,” his own voice came from the recording. “I have to ship out in the morning.”
“A big tough army guy like you surely has the muscle to push her even higher.” Veena flashed him a mischievous smile. “Besides, I need to save some energy for later…”
The recording ended, and the smiling faces of his family blinked away. For a moment, he stared at the spot where they’d been.
“I miss you two.”
After taking a deep breath, Hwicce pulled out a thin comic and turned it over in his hands. A brightly coloured view of the interior of one of the old generation ships covered both the front and back. Splashes of pinks and blues marked the walls, contrasting the black view out a window. A little girl, her dark brown skin highlighted by a yellow dress, held a tentacle of an octopus-like alien in one hand. The alien’s tentacles undulated around its body like the old earthbound cephalopods, and purple dots covered its white skin. The girl’s name was Bubble, while the alien was Click.
He felt the pulp paper, studying the gaudy-over-the-top cover. The Bubble and Click comic was volume 21 second edition. It wasn’t his kind of thing, but Molly loved these comics, and she had the same edition with her.
Opening the comic to page 6, he put his finger on the text in the box in the bottom right corner. Veena had taught him the simple substitution cypher he was about to use. Easy to break if one had the key—in this case, the same edition of this comic—but pulp books were rare. Veena felt it was safe enough to use in passing messages back and forth.
He began transcribing the letters into a message for his wife, continuing to the point he felt he’d begun rambling. He signed off as Bear—her pet name for him—and sent the message to one of Veena’s secret accounts. This time, he’d said nothing secret, yet he liked keeping his personal thoughts out of the hands of the Overwatch AI censors. Besides, sometimes they had to discuss Molly, not a state secret, but one that had to be kept.
With a sigh, he put the comic away, then buried his face in his hands. His family needed him; he needed to reunite with them soon.
A sharp crack sounded outside his pod. His heart began to race as he shoved his bare feet into his boots. More cracks sounded like a volley. Were they under attack? With laces flopping around his ankles, he grabbed his rifle out of its rack and sprinted outside. Two paces from the door, he stopped, and his jaw dropped.
Glittering lights bust in the sky above him. As each pinpoint of light descended in a plume of sparks, new lights burst above them. Fireworks. Cheering erupted from the mess hall, and soldiers began pouring outside.
Hwicce let out the breath he’d been holding and lowered his weapon.
“Did you hear?” Baker stopped beside him. “Sir?”
“Command finally called it,” he said, watching the cascading lights above. “The Protectorate declared victory over the Nader Alliance.”
“Fuck yeah! We’ve won.” She let out a cheer of her own, then darted off into the mass of celebrating soldiers.
A weight lifted off Hwicce’s shoulders. The war was officially over. He’d be able to go home. Soon, he’d be back with Veena and Molly, and they could be a family again. A slow smile spread across his face.
Things were finally looking up.
continued in Chapter 5
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