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​​​​Twenty-Three

 It takes time for the ground crew to fuel up your shuttle and restock the ammunition. When you protest that you're not going to shoot anything, Commander Vesta reminds you that there's a Titan ship out there somewhere with stars knew how many fighters aboard, all ready to shoot you down simply for being Human. Part of your mission is to come back, after all.

You nod, though you want to shake your head. It's doing your head in, all the precautions you have to take because you're at war.

What you wouldn't give to just shuttle freight around like before…

Idly, you wonder if they'll need pilots or skippers in that city down there. Maybe you should have taken a moment to redo your resume.

Finally, you find yourself strapped into the pilot's seat, trying to calm your breathing as the flight deck doors yawn open to let you out.

You don't hurry. You've done all your preflight checks, but you concentrate on the hum of the thrusters and the deeper growl of the engine, to confirm that everything is running right. The familiarity is almost soothing, calming your nerves enough to lift off the deck and proceed smoothly into space.

Out there in the black, you force yourself to take another deep breath as the Genesis disappears behind its cloaking field again.

There might be a Titan ship out there somewhere, but they're as well hidden as the Genesis, if they haven't already left out of sheer boredom.

It's just you and Omega, you tell yourself. A planet with a shimmering city you're going to get the first good look at. Maybe they'll even let you take a landing party down there if you play your cards right.

The coordinates are already in your nav computer. You could use autopilot, but it doesn't feel right for something this important. This is your mission, and you'll fly it for as long as you're capable of doing so.

You open the throttle to full, wishing you could feel the speed like when you'd done this in your boat on the Coral Sea.

If you survive this, you're going to take a boat out on Theta's oceans one day.

"Approaching the coordinates," you say into the comm, unconsciously echoing Brand.

And there it is! A perfectly curved dome, ringed round by a torus like the one they'd started building on Elysium before the war began.

"Are you receiving this, Genesis?" you ask.

"Every frame. Can you get in closer, fly all the way around it?"

You nod, firing your thrusters to circle the city. It's bigger than Sunshine City – easily two or even three times the diameter. Easily big enough for all the Human survivors, with space to spare. If there was space inside to spare…

After all, something in that city fired on Brand, blowing him up. It wasn't empty.

A chill runs down your spine at the thought. What if they think you're going to attack them like Brand did?

"Shuttle Six, can you do a second circuit, only closer this time? We're looking for potential entry points."

You'd give almost anything to refuse – the city will shoot you down for sure – but you know you can't. You want to find a way in as much as anyone, but not at the cost of your life.

"If I die doing this, you'd better name the planet after me," you say as you angle your shuttle closer.

If Omega had any atmosphere to speak of, this would be a lot harder, but it's almost like flying freight around the Genesis construction site again. This city appears to be finished, but somehow you get the impression that it's just a shell. That inside there's more work to be done, but the outside walls are there to protect the workers while they finish the city and make it ready for habitation.

As if someone inside is reading your mind, a lighted path appears on the ground beneath you, pointing the way to what appears to be an aerobridge extending from the torus wall.

"Omega Tower, requesting permission to land," you mutter to yourself, as you can't help staring at this Earth-style airport, out here in space. Well, a spaceport, really, but on the ground.

"Shuttle Six, hold position. Another craft, possibly Titan fighter, has appeared outside the city. Approaching your coordinates."

Your heart feels like it's jumped into your throat. You can't land now, not if a Titan fighter is coming. They'd shoot you down like a sitting duck, for that's exactly what you'd be.

Stars, you haven't even turned on the weapons systems. They'll take precious seconds to start up – seconds that might be your last. Feverishly, you flick switches, praying you'll have access to your weapons by the time the Titan fighter is within range. Because if you don't…

You let out a breath you hadn't known you'd been holding as the targeting screen lights up. You could still fire without it, but whether you'd be able to hit anything is another matter entirely.

"Shuttle Six, Titan fighter will be within range in five…four…three…"

You count with her in your head until the fighter rounds the dome. You fumble for the firing controls.

Music blares through the cockpit, as images and words flash across your targeting screen.

It looks like Sunshine City, you think, but on a much vaster scale, before the screen goes black and words appear.

"Don't you deserve to live in paradise?"

You hit the reset button, but the video continues to play.

"We're building a better world for you."

The pictures look familiar, though you know in your gut you've never visited the place where they were taken. This was the kind of paradise you couldn't forget.

"Shuttle Six, please respond."

You tear your eyes away from the targeting computer and toward the forward viewscreen. The Titan fighter has stopped, just outside of firing range.

"Shuttle Six!"

You moisten your dry mouth. "There's some sort of advertisement taking over my targeting system."

"Building a better world for you?"

The Genesis must be seeing this, too.

"Yes."

 "It's playing on every viewscreen on the ship. Over and over…saying how we should claim our place in the Colony, end the war, because there's room for everyone…"

You watch the video again. "That bit's new. The first time I saw it, it ended with the bit about claiming your place. I didn't see the end the war bit before. Do you think…"

The comm cuts you off. "Shuttle Six, you're ordered to return to the Genesis."

The video continues to play as you head back to the Genesis. The Titan fighter doesn't follow, to your great relief.

Then a heart-stopping thought hits you.

What if the Titan fighter, and its mothership, received the same transmission? Were the Titans also being invited to the Colony?

Titans and Humans couldn't live together on the same planet. There wouldn't be harmony – there'd be chaos.

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