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Asteroid CL-E4, (Season 1, Arc 1, Episode 1)

Starset RPG Asteroid CL-E4

A single bead of sweat rolled down a young woman’s nose as she hammered furiously on the keys of an old computer. Lights blinked lazily on the screen.

“What’s the verdict, Syzygy?” A fat man asked behind her. His nubby fingers twittered in a knot.

“The Sept gave you the verdict months ago,” another woman said. She was tall and strong. Scars like seams of a quilt covered her arms and chest over ripples of muscle. She was missing a few fingers – hallmark signs of a life of labor.

“Oh, the Sept always give their verdicts and calculations,” the fat man moaned, wiping perspiration from the rolls around his neck with a grimy rag. Each swipe left a streak of black grease on his face. “We don’t need their neo-religious, pseudo-intelligent, modo-centrist –”

“Will you shut. Up,” the woman at the screen roared. The two others fell silent. Their exchange was replaced by gentle clicking and the whooping of a distant siren.

“Maybe it’s better this way,” a fourth voice muttered from the corner. The low ceiling of the corridor shrouded their face, and they spoke softly. “Then the Marquis won’t be able to sell our souls as soon as we touch Martian space.”

“Thanks for the comforting silver lining, Matthias,” the fat man muttered, waddling around to look man in the corner.

“If you wanted silver, File, you shouldn’t have joined an asteroid mine.”

“What about ‘shut-up’ do you not understand?” Syzygy barked. “I need to focus.”

Three pairs of eyes drifted to the technical display on the wall above the computer equipment. It was a crude screen – nothing like the HD or holographic screens one might expect. But the hacky pixel shapes displayed an uneven rock in the center of the screen, the asteroid CL-E4. Or, rather, what was left of it after a decade of resource harvesting.

In the top left corner of the display was a single circle ring labeled simply “Martian Space,” with the solar coordinates in a strand of fifteen tiny digits. But between the pixels representing them and the pixels representing their destination was a third shape, a smaller asteroid. To an untrained eye, it might look like the third object would pass harmlessly by. But to the engineer, the mathematician, and the physicist in the command center, the trajectory was clear. They would collide with the small object almost directly.

File continued to mop at his neck with the grease-covered rag. Nerves, mixed with exhaust pipes struggling to maintain livable temperatures, created stale air everyone nevertheless held tightly.

Syzygy smashed her fists into the keyboard and shoved herself away. Her voice cracked in a sob. “I can’t. We don’t have enough fuel to adjust.” She covered her face and wiped the beads of tears and sweat off her face. “There’s nothing I can do.”

“How long do we have?” The other woman asked.

“Forty minutes.”

They sat, fidgeting. Vents pumped and coughed until the air around them shimmered. Something dripped. File dropped to the floor at some point, shaking the whole room. Eventually, the other two slid to the floor as well. Each felt the seconds tick by.

The silence abruptly broke by a single, shrill alert that droned on from their display.

“What the devil,” Matthias sputtered. “What is that racket?”

Syzygy pulled herself up to the computer and tapped several key commands. “A ship. It’s trying to adjust for a landing course.”

“We’re saved!” File exclaimed, tossing aside his rag.

“Not so fast,” the other woman murmured. The same words passed unspoken through all their heads. Everyone had heard stories. Stories of rural settlers attacked by raiders or animals, only to be rescued and sold into slavery. All it took was to save someone’s life to own it. Any person who saves the life of another receives an understood death writ to the person whose life was given. The infamous Rights of Man, one of the Supreme Republic’s scant edicts, would determine their fate.

Syzygy tapped a few more keys until the display showed a video feed of the exterior of the asteroid. A battered ship was descending, crudely maneuvering to match the hurtling pace of the rock. It bore an anvil and hammer of the Iron Guild.

She closed her eyes and tried to swallow, but her tongue rasped dryly and stuck in her throat. Slavers.

Asteroid CL-E4 in Mars

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