After the events at Arboria, the Exile fleet lay in tatters. The majority of its ancient, ramshackle space-hulks were battered and crumbling. Provision stockpiles, always stretched thin, had dwindled to critical levels. Weathering another concerted attack would finish them. But not only was such conflict inevitable, it grew exponentially likelier with each passing jump.
Hour after tense hour slid by as sleep-deprived engineers toiled desperately to patch severe hull breaches and scrape the last dregs of fuel from the drums. Barely concealed despair haunted every corridor. Exile commanders anxiously awaited the return of scouts checking for enemy movements ahead. When half of them returned alive, it was considered cause for celebration.
The oldest and most respected of these was Dorian Walker. Since the start of the Long Flight, Walker had proven himself the luckiest, most tenacious pathfinder in the fleet. Despite this, none knew him well. After having lost his wife to Spacers Plague, he'd grown increasingly taciturn. But everyone knew that his true passion, second only to the welfare of his daughter Belle, was Nexus.
The legendary planet had been a family obsession for generations, even before its patriarch’s acquisition of the rare volume known as the Book of Dominus at the start of the Cassian Civil War. Alizar Walker had gone to his grave convinced that it held the clues to the planet’s location. One passage that particularly drew his attention had been a cryptic reference to “three celestial jewels” and “the river of green fire.” (Dorian had cherished Belle’s response to this divulgence at age twelve: “If they really wanted us to come, some actual coordinates would have been helpful.”)
For years, Dorian scoured ancient star charts and ships logs, combing them for any references, however obscure, to suggestive celestial anomalies. Ceaselessly he grilled smugglers for detailed reports of their most memorable sights. With trinary systems so commonplace and green nebulae nonexistent, it was arduous work.
Then one day he hit paydirt.
It came in the unlikely form of an old spacer named Klegg he found slouchedin a miserable watering-hole on the Gambler’s Ruin. His eyes lit up at Dorian’s diagram of the nebula that he had sketched himself from the Book.
Klegg hadn't recorded the nebulas coordinates—but another drink would likely help him recall the quadrant. Heart pounding, Dorian obliged.
The next day, after scrawling a hasty note to Belle (and a terser, apologetic one to his superiors), Dorian stole the Horizon and soared off into the unknown, certain in his heart that salvation was at hand.