“How long are you going to tinker with that thing?” Father asks.
He’s one to talk. Ever since we entered this junk belt, all he’s done is tap on that console. This whole time he’s just sat there, eyes fixed on the radar, dirty fingers tapping the drum beat to some manic song with no structure or rhythm.
I ignore him and try to go back to work on the robot. Father’s tap-tap gets faster and more intense. Is he trying to get to me? I can’t concentrate.
“Tell me again why we don’t just approach at full speed from open space? Couldn’t we just slam into the Rail and punch?” I ask.
“Because that’s what we used to do.” He’s annoyed, but at this point I don’t care. Our convoy of transports has skulked through this junk belt for days, the viewscreen an endless parade of rocks and garbage.
“We could have been through that Rail a long time ago,” I say.
“Maybe,” he shrugs.
“And why can’t I ride in Umpal’s ship?”
“This again?” he snaps back. “You know why.”
Umpal is my best and only friend; there weren’t many young people in our group and Umpal is the only one close to my age. Truth be told, he was the only person my age I’d ever met. He was on another transport; they said it was for security reasons.
We are on a trade mission, my first time outside our node. These trips were dangerous, but Father said it was essential I learn the business. The whole convoy is loaded down with items we have scraped together through months of local trade. It was mostly salvage, with some ferrite spread between the different transports. Rumour was that Umpal’s transport might even have some rubedo in the hold. We are heading to another survivor colony a few nodes away. They had other rare resources, but more importantly, they were close enough to the Sun to grow food and that was what this mission was really about.
Before we left Umpal and I drew wires to see which one of us got to bring the robot we were building; I won. It was bits and pieces of scavenged Orokin tech slammed together but it was a robot and it could walk. Father didn’t think much of it, but I was proud. I hoped to trade it for some rare parts when we hit the colony, enough to build a bigger, second walker. Maybe even one that could carry a full-size cannon.
“Does this look anything like you remember from the Orokin days?” I ask in a futile attempt to break the tension.
“That thing, yeah, we had ones that walked on two legs like that, but…” his finger stops its tapping and he takes a long look at the robot before continuing, “but… they were different.”
“Don’t you miss it?” I ask.
“What?” he says.
“You know, the empire?”
“I don’t think about it.” He’s back to tapping on the nav console.
“What about your corpus, don’t you miss them? Your father?” I say.
“Orokin didn’t have parents like you do; it was done differently then.” He takes a deep breath and turns to look at me. “Listen, the corpus who raised me are dead. Do you know why they are dead?”
“Because of the plague?” I say.
“Because they couldn’t forget the past. I survived by worrying about two things: today and tomorrow. That is the only reason I’m alive. That is the only reason you exist. You want to remember something, remember that.”
“Yeah, okay.” I shrug. He’s given this speech before. I had learned the hard way not to push things when he got like this. I go back to working on the robot.
After a few minutes of silence I hear him exhale, “Look, we’re almost to the Rail. After the punch you can go over to Umpal’s transport, okay?”
I nod and smile, “Okay.”
The next few hours go by quickly. As we get closer to the Rail, the density of obstacles in the belt increases. The ship’s nav module calls out course correction after course correction as we dodge debris. I watch the other transports in our convoy do the same. Our progress is slowed to a crawl, but Father swears avoiding detection is worth it.
I am trying to splice a connection deep in the robot’s chest cavity when the alarms sound. The radar screen lights up. I look up to see one of the other transports veer off course; seconds later something crashes into their hull. There’s a blue flash of electricity and their ship goes dark. Then two more crashes and two more flashes. These are interceptor pods, a Grineer trap.
My father jumps up and begins yelling instructions to our nav system. “Full power, take us up and out of the belt.”
“That’s Umpal’s ship they’re boarding….”
His face collapses into a frown. “It is.”
“They’ll kill him. We have to do something.” I plead.
“We keep going. They can’t take us all.” I can barely hear him through his clenched teeth.
“Umpal is corpus to us! We can’t abandon him,” I shout.
“We have to, that’s how we survive.” His voice grows louder.
“What if it was us? Wouldn’t you want them to—”
His fist slams the nav console as he whips around to glare at me. “What are you going to do? Fight off those Grineer with your Moa?”
I look down at the robot, a mess of parts and wires that can barely walk, let alone shoot. Neither of us say another word. Out of the viewscreen I watch as Umpal’s crippled ship, now swarmed by Grineer, shrink into blackness.