PEN Atalante II, En route to Port Neolcus from Ioli, Pelasgia Standing upon the deck of a large oceanic cruise ship, Petros Sklavianos stared out into the pure, transparent night sky. Far from the lights and reflections of civilisation, the Black Straits, which stood between the Sea of Buto and the Southern Thaumatic, were one of the few and increasingly fewer places on Europe were one could gaze upon the night sky and tell apart the starts, the moon and the countless other features of the universe beyond humanity's small homeworld. From among all the many other constellations and features of the night sky, one stood out brightest and most clearly pronounced a series of four stars in the shape of a cross, with a long base and shorter crosspiece, along with a fifth star in the bottom right quadrant of the shape. Petros had learned the name of the constellation when he was but a young kid, courtesy of his uncle, an old mariner: the Southern Cross, or Crux. Behind him, Petros heard a door opening and a solitary pair of footsteps slowly approaching. The pace and rhythm of these he had come to recognise as belonging to one of the few other men who roamed the ship at night, unable to sleep: Alexios Tourmarchis, the young and aspiring Captain of a brand new company-sized formation of Private Military Contractors hired by the Pelasgian Southern Himyari Company to serve in its private army. Tourmarchis had become somewhat of a friend to Petros through their nightly walks on the deck of the large ship as it made its way southward all the way from the fertile lands of Lycaonia, carrying its five thousand or so passengers to a new life. Petros himself was the landless fourth son of a poor peasant family whose lands had been ruined in the National Schism; his eldest brother had inherited the family lands, the second son had managed to get a job at the State Electricity Company, and the third brother had gone to Kavos to join the Pelasgian Navy as a radioman. With no hope of finding a job or making a future in his home, Petros had chosen to take the long route south, in search of a new beginning. "The sky is beautiful tonight, Petros," Alexios said gazing at the stars in sheer amazement. The second son of a military family and a retired junior officer in the elite Mountain Raider Companies, Alexios had rarely been out to sea, so much so that his knowledge of the oceans and his swimming skills were downright shameful for a true-born Pelasgian. "What is that constellation over there? The one that looks like a cross. It's so bright.." "The Southern Cross," Petros responded; "My uncle used to tell me it was always his sign home when he would sail back from Toyou with shipments of soybeans." Petros smiled at this memory; the last time he sailed back from Toyou, his uncle had promised to bring him back a monkey, but the customs officer at the port had seized and euthanised the poor beast. To make up for this, he had brought him back a parrot from Southern Westernesse, whom he had nicknamed "Julius", after some sailor from those parts of the globe who had saved his life in a fight. "And it's our sign that we're heading to our new home," Alexios said. "They say the Far South was first settled by sailors and whalers. Do you think such a place could really become a home?" Petros pondered a the question for a few moments before answering. "I don't know. Sailors never truly have a home: they're miserable out at sea, and they long for the sea once on land. That's why I never liked port cities; they are more of a hostel than a home. But I've heard the Far South has beautiful, fertile land if you venture inland, fairer than anything in Old Pelasgia and more fertile too, having never been sown. It's why I came here after all: I saw a poster and a few advertisements documentaries on the internet, then one of those settler reality shows on Natflick, and I decided if there was one place for me to start a home, it would be here. And as for you, my friend, if there's one place were people love men with guns, it's the Far South. The Nethians and the scum of the world that pours there would have the locals' heads in a heartbeat if it wasn't for you lot." The sound of the ship cutting through calm waves, and the cold breeze of the summer night were the only things moving in the atmosphere for a few minutes after Petros' lengthy explanation. Alexios had always been a quiet man; Petros thought it was the death of his fiancée, Ioulia, that had caused this silence in an otherwise amicable man, though that was perhaps his nature all along. He had never known soldiers to be particularly talkative. In either case, it was that unfortunate death that had haunted Alexios and driven him from his home in the Dytikon Theme; that much Alexios had told Petros himself. The two men silently decided to sit down on top of one of the covered escape boats on the deck, resting their feet while still gazing up at the nighttime heavens. "My friend Savvas moved to Propontis a few years ago on an assignment and he met a halfbreed woman from Natal. He told me she was very beautiful, and I saw a picture and agreed. They got married a few years back, but I couldn't attend the marriage because I was deployed in L-, well somewhere Pelasgia supposedly never sent me anyway. I wonder if there are women like that down there. I'd like to meet one." Alexios' story sparked a jovial laughter in both men, nearly to the point of tears. "My God, Alexios, you'll be the death of me. I promise you you'll bed one. And if we can't find a hot one down there, we'll cross over to Natal for a few days and find one together." Petros half-serious promise renewed the laughter for a few more instants. "I have to go back inside, now, I guess," Alexios explained, as he stood up; "I like spending time with you, but not all the people on this ship are honest farmer lads seeking a bit of fertile land to graze cattle and harvest wheat on. Some of the people on the lower decks... well, let's just say I don't want to leave my men down there without guidance for too long." Petros was taken aback by this. "I always thought the penal exiles were non-violent offenders, mostly political exiles of the old regime," he said; "All the papers, Pelasgian and Far Southern alike said so." "Well, they aren't rapists and murders and terrorists, if that's what you mean by non-violent," Alexios explained, "but put enough minor smugglers, thiefs, and misfits on a deck chained up for a few days straight and you won't get the best results. Besides, it's not like those nonviolent offenders who get penal exile are the calmest or most functional of folks. As for the politicals... well, just because you don't like Absolutism doesn't mean what you preach is any better. Down there I heard someone defend the Kadikistani Concentration Camps while debating a supporter of the Human Commodity System the other day." Petros was too shocked to respond for a few moments. "Well I guess no place, not even the Far South is free of crazies and scum. At least we aren't forced to follow laws tailored to them or live next to them down there. Besides, that's why we pay folks like you with guns to keep us safe." "You might have to keep yourself safe down there," Alexios responded. "The Far South is a big place, and the policing is so sparse it makes Peramis look like a police state. Outside of the major cities, you'll need a gun and good relationships with your neighbours if you all want to stay safe. I think the Company only really wants us for the pirates and the Nethians, and anybody else who might threaten its rule. Though don't expect the cavalry to get there too soon if the Nethians decide your goats are straying on their burial grounds or something." For the first time, Petros begun to fully realise the full reality of his endeavour. He was settling a new frontier. There was no police to fall back on; no cushy welfare state, no established framework of laws. Out there, he would have to survive himself, along with those few who would form his new community, from any threat, natural or otherwise, that might arise. The Company, the closest thing to a state in the Far South, had neither the resources nor the mandate to babysit him. Sure, they'd give him a week's orientation course a few resources to start with, but beyond that he would be on his own. Such danger, such opportunity; such freedom.