Planet Arkadia Storyline
The Storyline of Planet Arkadia
|Synopsis - The Story So Far…|
|1.1 Toán's Exile|
The excitement in the signal analyst’s voice caught Commodore Toán Harvir’s attention immediately. The ITRDU processed hundreds of transmissions daily, ranging from routine reports from the colonies to classified military communications. Only very rarely were they from any of the dozens of exploration probes that had been sent out into the galaxy. Celeste was one such probe. For the life of him Harvir could not remember seeing reference to it previously. He still struggled to come to grips with which probes had been sent out by the government over the years, even after the three years he’d been left to rot in this unit. For a moment his eyes lost focus as he once again heard the voice that had haunted his dreams - the cold, hard voice of the judge at his court martial, reading a verdict that found him guilty of insubordination. He had risked his entire battle group by lingering to recover wounded troops during a frenzied withdrawal from a battle against robots closing on human controlled space. Stripped of his command and removed from frontline service, he was effectively banished with little hope of redemption to this windowless room in the Navy’s Headquarters on Vigilant.
Realising he hadn’t been paying attention, Harvir quickly accessed the Unit’s archives, scanning the available information on Celeste. The probe had been sent towards a planet that scientists speculated held the potential for life or would at the very least be suitable for colonisation. It was one of the first such probes launched, after wormhole technology had been perfected, and had thus travelled a lot further than most probes previously launched. Fitted with an older communications system still limited to light speed, its initial transmission was only just reaching Earth.
It took Harvir a few moments to absorb these facts before he returned his attention to the recorded data from Celeste. Images swam into focus, giving him his first look at the planet. Even from thousands of kilometres away the planet looked stunning, with large oceans separating several huge continents. Clouds of various shades were spread across the planet. Dense patches of lush vegetation threatened to hide entire areas of the continents completely. The view of the planet slowly enlarged as Celeste travelled closer and the probe’s scanners began to record further details. It had a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere at levels very similar to Earth’s. Surely in the nursery of the stars, Harvir mused, this planet had been born Earth’s sister.
Spectroscopic emissions from dust clouds in the atmosphere hinted encouragingly at both known and unknown minerals. Harvir knew that large quantities of the basic minerals would be extremely helpful, ensuring this planet would kick start its own industrial economy and quickly be independent of substantial Federal Imperial aid. An added bonus was the presence of unique minerals that were sure to excite mining corporations throughout human controlled space, especially if discovered in abundance on the surface. Yes, Harvir thought to himself, definitely a promising prospect for colonisation.
‘Sir, could you take a look at this? There appears to be a large field of debris orbiting the planet. Some of it is made up of composites unknown to our databases.’
Harvir shifted his gaze away from the planet itself and looked at what the analyst was scrutinising. The excitement of seeing images of the planet had caused them to overlook the outer atmosphere. At first glance it looked like a normal planetary debris field, though at an unusually low orbit. From Celeste’s current range it resembled nothing more than a dust cloud, but as the view closed in he got some perspective on how big some of these pieces were. His first thought was that it would be hell flying a ship through it all. The debris ranged in size from space dust up to large pieces that would easily rival the size of the Navy’s smaller warships. The analysis of the debris field indicated that some of it consisted of regular asteroids. The rest, however, appeared to be a series of unusual metallic compounds that the data banks informed him could not form naturally. Harvir frowned and carefully studied the entire mess again. His attention was arrested by something that looked alarmingly familiar.
‘Focus on that section there’ he said.
The analyst zoomed in on the object indicated. Harvir could only stare for long seconds as his brain flew through multitudes of possibilities. He’d spent thirty years of service in the Navy, including five years commanding his own battle group, but he had seen nothing like this. It didn’t seem possible; his mind was already flashing through the implications of what it could mean. The object looked like a section of a destroyed ship but the design was unusual. Foreign. The piece was barely recognizable but too symmetrical and linear to be natural. Its composition was all wrong. Even without consulting the Unit’s database, he was sure that no human or robot built ships like that. He quickly turned to the duty watch keeper.
‘Notify the Fleet Admiral’s Office immediately and forward a copy of everything this probe transmits up the chain of command. Tell her it appears that we have found a derelict ship of unknown origin.’ Harvir ordered, before turning back to his analyst. ‘Focus your scan on the planet’s surface immediately. Look for any indication of sentient life. We need to know what we’re looking at here. Something must have created this mess.’
Harvir cast his eyes over the whole field of rocks and wreckage again. He sent a query to the network, to confirm what he already suspected: the unknown compounds in the wrecked ship he’d been studying were present throughout the entire debris field. He realised there must have been hundreds of wrecked ships around the planet. He wasn’t an easily worried man. He’d stood in the frontlines against robot assaults and commanded fleet actions, but the sheer size of what he was looking at made him nervous. Had they been robot ships, he wasn’t sure the entire Navy could have stood against them. He allowed a wry smile to play across his lips and he thought, maybe, just maybe this is my ticket back to the front lines, command and my troops.
Suddenly an alarm sounded, deafening and urgent, Harvir’s head whipped round.
‘What’s happening?’ he demanded.
‘Sir, it’s the unauthorised communication alarm.’
‘I know THAT! Tell me why is it sounding?’
‘Something is transmitting a signal. A signal to Celeste! Its signature doesn’t match human or robot…. Sir it’s…. It’s alien Sir?’
|1.2 Diary of Milton Lee|
4 WHOLE DAYS!
Apparently it took those meat-heads in the Military’s Science Division THAT LONG to realise that they had no chance to decrypt a new type of signal all by themselves and FINALLY work out that someone else would have to do it for them. And here I am, me, Milton Lee who holds doctorates in three separate fields of science. I, who as a boy was invited to commence higher education at an age when my peers were still struggling to read. I, the man who optimised the equations for the Advance Wormhole Jump Drive, allowing ships to travel 23% quicker along wormholes. Here I am, clearly the most brilliant scientist of the century, maybe the millennium. But do they ask me?
No, they release it to the entire world and offer a reward for the person who can crack it. Now I have to compete with people who can barely count without using their fingers and toes for my right to one of the greatest discoveries since mankind first learnt how to travel amongst the stars. It was released two days ago and this is the first time I’ve been home from the lab. Even then I had to walk since I’ve run out of mind essence. I’m sure I’m close to working this out.* If I’d been allowed to buy the gear I’d asked for years ago, or if the military had accepted my application, I’d have access to the right equipment and I would have cracked it by now. Ignorant recruitment psychologist!* What right did he have to say I was psychologically unsuited to the military and block my application? Well, despite their determination to stop me, I’ll show them. Then all those who have forgotten about me will come grovelling back.
The Military should have consulted me about the signal before releasing it to the world. Everyone knows that I am the leading expert in real and sub-space physics, so surely it doesn’t take that much brainpower to believe that I could help. I feel like I’m wasting time resting while some mud-brained excuse for a scientist could be about to stumble across a solution and take credit for what should rightfully be mine.
I can almost understand how those fools thought they might actually be able to decrypt the signal. To people with their ability it wouldn’t seem to be that different from the sort of technology that we currently use. But it’s obvious to me at a glance there’s nothing simple about it. It’s transmitted using energy variation technology similar to our communicators, which means that it should have been relatively easy to create a device to hone into the correct frequency and analyse the properties, and inevitably lead to a solution. However, it seems to work on some higher level of applied physics, so how any equipment not designed to receive it managed to do just that is beyond comprehension. Unless the device that transmitted the signal is somehow self-regulated to a level that it can adjust to Celeste’s unique protection codes, which definitely should be impossible. And yet, all the laws of physics seem to be preserved, working within the same restrictions that we ourselves observe.
Even stranger, the source of the transmission could not be derived. Perhaps it is shielded in some way, but I am beginning to suspect that the signal itself could be constantly changing, perhaps by some mathematical sequence unknown to humans or via some kind of self aware virus. But how is it possible to change recorded information without the transmitting or receiving object undergoing even a minute physical change? According to our current technology, that simply isn’t possible. Yet I’m looking at proof that it is. The signal seems to generate the command to change itself. I can understand why such a thing might be done but I still can’t understand how.
Obviously whoever created this Signal has a greater understanding of physics than humans or robots do. I am forced to admit that their understanding and obvious expertise is vastly superior even to my own. They work in a direction that we’re not used to, that we haven’t even thought of up until now. I wish I could get a hold of whatever was transmitting the signal. If I was able to see the technology that created it, I’m sure I could make huge advances in other fields as well. Whoever it is, they must be hugely advanced in other areas as well. Power generation? Communications? Weapons? Who knows what else?
I managed to get a copy of the military’s classified recordings and noticed their interest in the compounds of a debris field around the planet. Thinking that it might pertain in some way to The signal I had a look myself and grudgingly find I have to agree with the Military Science Division. They obviously haven’t gone far enough though.
There are definitely the remains of a lot of wrecked star ships circling that planet.* It doesn’t surprise me that the military haven’t noticed that the unusual compounds can be classified into two entirely different groups. The smaller of these groups contains traces of elements found in the planet’s atmosphere and are therefore likely native to this planet, while the larger group is almost certainly from elsewhere. There is only one plausible reason that I can think of for there being so many derelict ships: a battle of titanic proportions took place above this planet.
But none of that proves to be of any help in decrypting The signal. My head aches from trying to think of a solution and the lack of sleep over the past two days is certainly not helping.* But how can I relax knowing that each minute I sleep takes me away from such vital research? I think I should try to get a few hours sleep and get back to the labs. Hopefully I’ll wake up with some new insight that unravels this whole mystery.
|1.3 Finding Sundari|
When she had first heard their approach across the barren desert, she had hurriedly washed her face and arms of the dirt and grime of her morning’s work. By the time the men made their way toward her she was covered in dust again, with fresh trails of perspiration running down her face. No amount of dirt and sweat, however, could ever have masked her natural beauty. She smiled warmly at the men. The visit was unexpected, but she thought she could make a guess at the reason.
‘Miss Zhen?’ the man in the military uniform asked.
‘That’s me,’ Sundari replied.
‘You are a difficult woman to find”, he said, somewhat irritably. ‘We had to transit by air instead of teleporting to your …’
‘Miss Zhen,’ the civilian man broke in, ‘we need to talk to you about a matter of some urgency.’
She glanced between the two men, bemused. ‘Of course. Lets get out of this heat and you can tell me about it.’
They made their way inside the module and through the interior, where various benches were filled with an assortment of bones and artefacts. Even though each item was labelled, they didn’t seem to follow any sorting system that either of the men recognised. Sundari noticed them looking around at the mess as she guided them to a central table.
‘Sorry about this. The patterns help me think.’
The men shared a brief puzzled glance then just nodded politely, as she quickly cleared room on the table. They seated themselves as the civilian man cleared his throat.
‘Miss Zhen, would you be able to tell us how you came to be in this line of work?’
Sundari paused for a second to think. She was not shy despite the question coming from complete strangers, and likely influential ones at that. She knew that since they had come a long way to find her they probably knew her background better than she did. So she answered with more detail than she usually would, guessing that they were looking for something more specific from her.
‘When I was a little girl my parents would frequently have drawn out disputes. Both worked hard to maintain a basic standard of living for us and eventually the strain would show in periods of violence. During those times I would live with my Grandmother and she would fascinate me with tales from hundreds of years ago. I always yearned to learn more and would read every night on a wide range of topics, but usually history about ancient civilisations and cultures. I guess you could say that sparked my interest in archaeology, because I wanted to learn more than was already documented.* But to truly understand the history, I found I needed to understand people as well, how they thought and what drove them. Not just the people around me but everyone throughout history. I wanted to know how cultures had developed. That is why I also went on to study psychology and anthropology, which has become a passion for me.’
‘So you would consider yourself to be an expert on mapping the progression of civilisation?’
‘Not really,’ she laughed easily, ‘I’ve only explored a fraction of earth’s historical cultures. Even with old records I can’t be sure if I’m always on the right track. But I can make a decent educated guess.’
‘With your qualifications you could easily work within the government sector. Why do you choose to work out in remote locations?’
Because there are so many ancient civilisations on the streets of cities, Sundari thought, amused by the question. Seeing the serious expressions on their faces quickly strangled her sense of humour. It seemed important to these men to find out about her and her work.
‘I have to admit that I enjoy the challenge. I like proving that I can survive in the wild like our ancient ancestors did. Also, I like how quiet it is out here. There’s none of the bustle that you find in the populated centres. I like to get away from the attention when I can.’
The men were silent for a moment. From the way their eyes glazed briefly she could tell that they were communicating via their implants.
‘You recently sent a report to the Archaeological Society regarding the newly discovered planet by Celeste Space Probe. You postulated that it was inhabited by not only a sentient species but one that is quite possibly humanoid in nature. Do you still stand by your conclusions?’
She frowned, then stopped when she realised she’d done it. Her Grandmother had always said not to frown. It makes you age quicker, Gran would say. Sundari had extrapolated a little from what she had seen of the pictures released to the public, all of which were taken from space and not as detailed as she would have liked. Yet the placement, size and shape of the settlements across the world seemed to indicate these beings had similar needs and requirements to humans. The specifications of the planet even supported the likelihood of a biological evolution similar to Earth’s. Certainly, the ruins she had seen were different from Earth’s own cities and towns but there were enough similarities to suggest that this species could have physical characteristics that resemble those possessed by humans. None of this was concrete proof, but a large number of minor details had harmonised within her mind that she was certain.
‘Yes. Yes, I do stand by my conclusions.’
‘Your background brings a different perspective not shared by the Archaeological Society. Is there some way you can prove your conclusions?’ the civilian man pressed.
‘Not from here, no.’ Sundari paused, an idea taking shape in her mind. She added quickly, ‘I would need to go and see the ruins for myself and examine any relics and artefacts I can find to be sure. Unless, of course, the original inhabitants are still there.’
She had meant the last part as a joke, but the two men just stared straight at her for a long moment. Suddenly the uniformed man cast a triumphant sideways glance at his civilian counterpart and spoke for only the second time since they had met.
‘Miss Zhen, the Federal Empire itself cannot ignore the possibility of another sentient, intelligent species existing on another planet. We are here to request you be a part of the initial fleet sent to investigate this planet.’
Sundari’s breath caught. The possibilities were almost too much to contemplate. The fact that her report could result in such an offer being made hadn’t ever occurred to her.
‘You’d better pack your bags. We leave for Space Station Vigilant as soon as you are ready.’
|1.4 To Risk The World|
‘But you can’t connect The Signal to the global network!’ Milton Lee’s assistant repeated as he followed the professor around the laboratory, much to Lee’s annoyance. ‘We barely know anything about this signal,’ he continued. ‘Even the Military refer to it as just The Signal. For all we know it could be transmitting a virus. If we connect it to the network it could infect the whole planet! It would be the same as what the Robots did a few years ago.’
‘Don’t be such a coward!’ Lee snapped. ‘When have I ever been wrong? We both know I’ve successfully developed an algorithm that will decrypt The Signal, given time. We know it hasn’t harmed the laboratory’s internal systems. Even you agree this isn’t anything the Robots could’ve produced! Stop worrying.’ Lee returned his attention to his work.
‘But Professor, testing it within the laboratory is a completely different situation, with a lot less at stake than exposing it to the global network!’
Lee slammed the tool he was using onto the desk. He knew he was close and shouldn’t have to tolerate such questioning from a mere assistant. ‘Rubbish! We’ve already heard audio from The Signal thanks to the adapter I built. So we know that they’re trying to talk to someone, whoever they are. But we can’t understand it. We must assume it’s in their language.’ Distracted by this last thought, he continued to himself. ‘The problem is there’s no context, no key to unlock the meaning. How can we translate it? The Signal is so advanced — surely it can translate itself? Yes, I’m sure it can, if we give it the chance. And when I give it access to the global network, which contains all of our language, it will have its own decryption key.’ He glared back at his assistant. ‘It will work. It has to.’
‘Please, Professor Lee, listen to me,’ his assistant pleaded. ‘It could be disguised that way to invite us to translate it. What if The Signal was meant to be a weapon? Something designed to cripple enemy technology, and we’re the enemy? Even if it’s not, it could still damage our systems beyond repair, because it’s not compatible. We don’t understand the technology that produced it. We—’
‘You may not understand it, but I do.’ Lee cut him off. He had not stopped glaring at his assistant, and now his expression hardened further as he picked the tool up again. ‘The risks are acceptable considering what there is to gain. Imagine the technology I could develop,’ he said. ‘There, I’ve finished upgrading the adapter. Now we shall see what The Signal has to say.’
Before his assistant could interrupt further, Lee activated the adapter and connected it to the global network. He quickly turned his attention to the display to watch a detailed readout. It was hard to work out exactly what was going on, but it was clear that The Signal was spreading itself. Lee experienced a moment of panic, realising that maybe his assistant could have been right. If he was, it would destroy Lee’s reputation. But The Signal wasn’t doing anything malicious; it just seemed to be searching for something. Lee reassured himself that his assistant would have to be wrong as he would struggle to outthink a gerbil.
The laboratory systems began relaying information around the room, alerting Lee to any changes in the recording. Sounds that could only be an alien language emitted from the room’s audio projectors. Minutes dragged into hours without any noticeable change. Finally, Lee’s assistant spoke up, with relief in his voice.
‘Professor, it isn’t working. Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any harm to our systems or the global network. I told you this would be a monumental risk for no reward. It was just a long shot in the dark, a—’
‘QUIET!’ Lee shouted suddenly. ‘Listen! There! Do you hear that?’
Through the jumble of alien sounds, Lee had heard a word he understood. He leapt from his seat. His plan was working. He listened carefully and after a while recognised other words. Slowly but surely The Signal was translating itself.
Time seemed to pass quickly as Lee sat listening late into the night. Even his assistant was sitting in captivated silence. Small sections of The Signal were translated, enough that they could now understand some of its contents. The voice was musical with soft feminine tones. It was a voice neither were likely to forget.
The Signal was almost half translated before it abruptly stopped. The rest remained incoherent. Lee didn’t understand why yet, but for the moment he didn’t care. What he’d already heard was beyond his wildest dreams.
He was Milton Lee, the Greatest Scientist of all time. With pride, he listened again to the sections translated so far.
I exist as Sal’diresh, last remaining Knight of the world Arkadia. Hopeless is our chance of survival. Those that remain exist here at Artalia, both final bastion for hope and final despair for the people of Arkadia. Any beings to hear, we ask please. Help us.
From starting, the beings whose name they gave as Oratan, came to this world. Sought not they to trade or learn. They did seek only to steal and kill. We met with them above the skies. We met with them on the land. Limits numbers had they. But led by the Knights, with technology of Arkadia superior, the people did hope.
Lee reviewed and then transmitted the translated sections to the Military. After a moment of thought, he decided to defy the conditions of the Government’s reward and sent it to multiple media outlets as well. He sat back and marvelled at his work. He had done it. For centuries to come he’d be recognised for the genius he was; the man who’d connected humanity with this new sentient species. All that remained now was to investigate why the second half had not decrypted itself. That would surely be a breeze. After all he had achieved, nothing could stop him regaining the recognition that was rightfully his.
|1.5 Converging Paths|
‘Commodore Harvir?’ Milton Lee asked.
Harvir turned at the sound of the voice, expecting to see yet another clerk rushing to give him some final notes before the briefing. Instead he found himself facing the scientist who had decrypted The Signal. He was easily recognisable since the media had seen fit to broadcast his face at every available opportunity, along with the extract of the decrypted Signal. Harvir hadn’t realised Lee was on Vigilant, but he was almost certain there was no way that Lee could have arrived here uninvited.
‘I’m Milton Lee; I’m the one who cracked The Signal.’
‘Yes, I recognise you. How can I help you?’ Harvir asked, wanting to get to the point. There were only a few minutes before the briefing and he didn’t want to be late.
‘Congratulations on your new command.’ Harvir immediately tensed at Lee’s words; few people outside the Admiral’s office knew of his request to lead a fleet to the planet Arkadia. Fewer still knew that his request had been granted and his command reinstated. ‘Since you’re the Fleet commander, I’m sure you know that I’m going to be joining you on your journey, but I’ve—’
‘How do you know about this?’ Harvir said sharply.
‘—been led to believe that I’m going to be assigned to the IFNS Newton,’ Lee continued, ignoring the question. He smiled ingratiatingly. ‘I’m sure you will agree this arrangement just isn’t acceptable. How am I supposed to work surrounded by all the idiots on the scientific research vessel? I must be on the Flagship.’
Harvir stared incredulously at Lee, unable to believe what he was hearing. ‘Professor Lee, I don’t know how you found out what ship you’ve been assigned to or even how you got on this station. However, if you are to be a part of this Fleet, you’ll go on your assigned ship or you’ll go strapped to the hull. This is a military operation and all civilian scientists will be aboard Newton or one of her sister ships.’
‘Look, you need me on your ship, Commodore,’ Lee said, annoyed that Harvir had not instantly agreed. Didn’t Harvir understand how important he was? ‘I was the only one who was able to decrypt The Signal. I will be the only one able to understand any technology we discover there. We’re bound to make some advances in weapon technology, I’m sure I could see to it that you get one of the first prototypes?’ He offered, smiling unconvincingly.
‘I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you say that,’ Harvir growled with a dangerous glint in his eyes. At his look, even Lee realised that he had overstepped a boundary by trying to deal with the Commodore in such a way.
He opened his mouth to try and salvage something from the conversation but his attention was wrested away by the approach of two people. One was a junior officer, but the other was a remarkable looking woman dressed in civilian clothing. He dismissed any thoughts of Harvir from his mind. Noticing Lee’s distraction, Harvir turned just as the young officer stopped to introduce the woman to them both.
‘Commodore Harvir, Professor Lee, this is Doctor Sundari Zhen. She is an expert in the fields of archaeology and anthropology. She will be accompanying you on the Fleet,’ the officer said after saluting Harvir. Having completed his task, he turned and left, leaving the three alone.
‘And this mission was supposedly classified,’ Harvir mumbled under his breath.
There was a brief moment of awkward silence as nobody quite knew what to say. Sundari was the first to recover, flashing the two men a smile.
‘Hi,’ she said, offering her hand in greeting.
Harvir stepped forward to shake her hand but was beaten to it as Lee brushed past.
‘Good afternoon Miss, I’m Professor Milton Lee. I’m the one who decoded The Signal. I must say how glad I am to hear that such a beautiful and intelligent woman as yourself will be accompanying us,’ Lee said as he stepped forward and kissed Sundari’s extended hand. ‘Perhaps we will get a chance to discuss this new species during the journey? I do consider myself something of an expert.’
‘That would be interesting,’ Sundari said as she reclaimed her hand. ‘My colleagues and I would be keen to hear your thoughts on how technology could have altered the course of cultural development on Arkadia. It’s something that I’m sure we’d all like to hear.’
Harvir fought to stop himself from rolling his eyes at Lee’s poorly hidden attraction to Sundari, but couldn’t stop a wry smile of amusement forcing its way across his face at how subtly she was able to deflect Lee’s attention. No doubt such exchanges were nothing new to her. Hell, he thought, I can hardly blame Lee. But this woman has her head screwed on right.
He was still struggling to understand why these civilians were even on Vigilant, and apparently being included in the Fleet. It wasn’t his decision, but he felt he should have been informed since he would be responsible for these people once the Fleet launched. Harvir suspected the decision may be politically motivated, but there was little he could do if the Admiral had already approved it.
‘I don’t know how much research either of you are going to be able to do. This is a military mission; we’re not sure what we’re going to encounter when we get there.’ Harvir said with a sideways glance at Lee. ‘All Celeste has seen is ruins, so we’re not even sure if this message is current. If it is, we might be busy trying to save the Arkadians.’
‘Either way suits me fine,’ Sundari said easily, appearing equally happy with either prospect. ‘I’ve always enjoyed studying Earth’s various ancient cultures and ruins. I think that it’ll be even more exciting to study another species’ culture. And if the Arkadians are still there, I’d be happy to help them. From what I’ve surmised so far, they are a lot like us.’
‘One thing I’ve learnt from the front lines is that things are often not as they seem, Doctor Zhen,’ Harvir said, his natural instincts making him cautious. ‘That will be even truer when dealing with a species we’ve never encountered before.’
‘Ha, science can find the answer to anything.’ Lee said, seemingly annoyed at being left out of the conversation and determined to reassert himself.
Sundari nodded agreement at Lee before responding to Harvir. ‘Maybe so, but we’ll have to work that out when we get there,’ Sundari replied. ‘Whatever motivates us, we all agree the risks are acceptable or we wouldn’t be going. There is the possibility of it being dangerous, yes, but we believe what we will discover will make it worthwhile.’ Harvir held her eye a second before giving her a slight nod. She smiled inwardly; recognising that he also knew the risks involved but was willing to accept her assessment of the situation. She was relieved to find the man who would command the Fleet was prepared to listen to her and to respect her opinion.
Just as Lee opened his mouth to impose his thoughts, an announcement was broadcast throughout the space station, informing everyone they had only a few minutes to be seated for the media briefing. Harvir turned and led his two companions into the briefing theatre to hear what the Admiral would say.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have called this media conference in response to the request for help contained within The Signal we received from the planet known as Arkadia. Though we lack resources immediately to hand, the Government has decided to offer whatever support it can muster. Today I am announcing the formation of a new taskforce, called Liberation Fleet. When ready, this Fleet will launch for Planet Arkadia, to provide assistance where possible.’
The Admiral’s voice drifted into a low background buzz in Sundari’s ears as she became lost in her thoughts. There was one question she noticed that hadn’t been asked so far about the message; who, or what, were the Oratan?
[French] - [German] - [Polish] - [Dutch]
|1.6 Rolling the Dice|
Toán Harvir looked down at his display on the bridge of the IFNS Cutlass, Flagship of the newly formed Liberation Fleet. He had spent most of the day reviewing the Fleet’s composition. He couldn’t say that he was entirely happy with what he saw. Over half the ships were civilian, ranging from converted merchant transports to privately owned vessels supplied by the different groups interested in Arkadia. He didn’t know how he was supposed to co-ordinate a fleet with so many civilian ships in a potentially hostile zone, especially when many were unarmed. He had no problem with the supply or medical ships since they were vital to any military engagement, but it was a different story for the ships owned by mining companies, private entrepreneurs and scientific vessels. There was even a ship leased by the Archaeological society, a small but high tech cruiser.
Even though the civilian craft were under Harvir’s command, along with the rest of the task force, he knew that they were not trained to respond to his commands during battle. If they did encounter a hostile force around Arkadia, his first duty would be to protect the civilian ships. Some of humanity’s greatest war machines would therefore be reduced to acting as escorts. He’d always been proud of his ability to keep people under his command alive. But he found it irritating to be forced to protect civilian ships for the reason of ensuring public support for this operation remained unwavering. He’d already been subtly warned by the Admiral that it would be a bad idea to let any of the civilian ships or personnel come to harm. This warning had come directly after the Government had guaranteed their safety even though they had no idea what truly awaited Humanity on Arkadia. Now it was up to him to fulfil these promises.
‘Damn, I hate politics’ he mumbled to himself.
Despite all his worries and the many details that still required his attention, Harvir managed to find time to marvel at Earth, the planet of his birth. It was a sight that never failed to amaze him. He wondered if Arkadia would affect him in such a way.
He forced his mind back to the task at hand and checked the time. He had ordered all ships to be ready to launch fifteen minutes from now. So far the preparations had gone relatively smoothly, especially considering the speed at which the ships had been forced to assemble. He had been concerned the Fleet’s departure would be delayed by the assembly and loading of the civilian ships. But it seemed that when the various companies put their minds—and their money—to work, preparations went like clockwork. Harvir could only think that it was because they were able to pay the workers enough that they were willing to go without sleep.
The Fleet was equipped with everything the troops would need to conduct a campaign on a foreign world. All the usual equipment needed for an operation of this size was present, such as weapons, vehicles and support units. They also had the latest gadgets for establishing rapid-deployment Forward Operating Bases. The modularised forts and firebases that could be assembled by VTOL drop craft were particularly exciting. These forts included some serious ground based firepower, as well as the new upgraded automated gun turrets for remote sites. The military ships in the Fleet were at capacity transporting this volume of hardware, barely leaving enough room for the troops. Nowhere near enough troops in Harvir’s opinion. Especially for an undertaking of this size.
‘And with no backup,’ he murmured to himself.
His eyes strayed back to the civilian ships again, as if hoping they’d turned into destroyer class ships to support his troops. These merchant ships were also heavily loaded, carrying everything that the companies would need on Arkadia. Harvir had to admit that the converted transports were proving useful, since the Military’s warships were not designed to carry such cargos. Some ships were full of miners and their machinery. Others contained all the construction equipment and tools the engineers would need to expand their bases—or to help the Arkadian’s restore their shattered cities, should any remain to be saved. Most of the remaining ships were occupied by a range of scientists, from biologists to physicists and everything in between. Finally, there was the Archaeological Society’s cruiser.
Harvir exhaled slowly as he remembered that there was also Milton Lee, who was supposed to be on IFNS Newton, a ship commissioned by the scientific community. But of course he wasn’t. No one could explain how he’d managed it, but the Professor’s name had somehow found its way onto the crew manifest of the Cutlass. By itself, this was bad enough, but Lee had also had Sundari Zhen re-assigned to Cutlass as well. Harvir didn’t even want to imagine why. He’d only met Lee twice but it was already clear that he was going to cause difficulties. The man seemed almost proud of the fact that he’d broken regulations to get reassigned. If he could have, Harvir would have had Lee transferred to Newton where he was supposed to be, but the launch was so close that there wasn’t time. Holding up the entire launch would probably only serve to satisfy Lee’s ego, he thought.
Soon they would commence charging up the powerful wormhole drives that they would use to travel to Arkadia. Wormhole drives that are significantly more efficient thanks to the work of Milton Lee, Harvir reminded himself, almost feeling guilty at his previous thoughts about the Professor. He had to admit the man was good at what he did, even if he was incredibly annoying. Despite some resistance, Harvir had insisted on the Fleet emerging from the wormholes early to be sure they didn’t appear in the middle of an enemy armada. None of the civilians seemed to realise that such an encounter would quickly put an end to the entire expedition, not to mention their lives. Dropping out early would also give them a chance to observe the situation from a distance so they could work out the best approach.
Only minutes before they were expected to leave, the last ship signalled that all systems were green and the Fleet was ready to jump. Back on Earth the media had begun a countdown to the moment when the Fleet would launch. This many ships simultaneously engaging their wormhole drives would be visible from the surface. People on the other side of the world would be able to access data streams of the launch from the newly established Planet Arkadia News and Information broadcast. Harvir was not about to deprive Earth of such a spectacle. The captains all knew their orders and were just waiting on their Fleet Commander to initiate the countdown. After one final check, Harvir nodded his approval.
‘T minus ten seconds,’ the helmsman announced.
Harvir swept a look around the bridge, noting the distinct air of excitement among his crew.
‘Five.’ The drive reached a consistent pitch.
Harvir settled into his seat, hands gripping the rests. His return to command had been a long time coming, but now he savoured the moment.
Everyone held their breath with anticipation. Surely nothing could go wrong now.
‘Activating wormhole drive.’
Dozens of tongues of fire streaked the sky and then they were gone. The Fleet disappeared from orbit and Earth itself disappeared from the ships’ sensors. There was nothing more to be done, except await their fate on Arkadia. This entry was posted in Frontline News. Bookmark the permalink.
[French] - [German] - [Polish] - [Dutch]
|1.7 Approaching Destiny|
Some people have made translations for these stories, click on a language to see the translation:
|1.8 In The Balance|
He sat for a brief moment, absentmindedly drumming his fingers on the arm of his command seat. What could a change in The Signal mean for the Fleet?
‘Comms,’ he said, catching the attention of his Communication Watch Officer. ‘Get Milton Lee up here right away, I want him to hear this too.’
Several minutes passed before the doors slid open and Lee strode onto the bridge.
‘What’s so urgent that you needed to see me right away? I was in the middle of some important research into the nature of—’
‘Stop.’ Harvir held up his hand to cut off the Professor. ‘I just received this transmission from Newton. Some of your colleagues have been reviewing your decryption algorithm to aid in future translations. They tested what they came up with against your original translation of The Signal. They say yours might not be entirely correct. Let’s listen to their version shall we?’ Before Lee had a chance to interrupt, Harvir started playing the new message.
I exist as Sal’diresh, last remaining Knight of the world Arkadia. Hopeless is our chance of survival. Those that remain exist here at Artalia, both final bastion for hope and final despair for the people of Arkadia. Any beings to hear, we ask please. Help us.
From starting, the beings whose name they gave as Oratan, came to this world. Sought not they to trade or learn. They did seek only to steal and kill. We met with them above the skies. We met with them on the land. Unlimited numbers had they. But led by the Knights, with technology of Arkadia superior, the people did hope.
Sundari frowned. She couldn’t hear any difference, but as she glanced towards Harvir she noticed he had gone completely still, his gaze distant. ‘What is it Toán?’
‘Unlimited numbers had they,’ Harvir said in a hushed voice. ‘Not limited. Unlimited.’ His eyes swung slowly to look directly at Sundari, the rest of his body seemingly frozen in place. ‘This changes everything.’
‘That’s not true,’ Lee said, with suspicious calmness. ‘It changes nothing. If there really were unlimited numbers of Oratan down there we’d have seen something by now, but we haven’t.’
‘How could you have missed such an important detail? Was your device just not up to the job and these other scientists had to improve it?’ Harvir demanded of Lee, as he struggled to regain control of himself. Sundari was amazed; both men had quickly picked up on the implications but seemed more intent on assigning blame then working out what to do next.
‘Hardly,’ Lee said scornfully. ‘I’ll admit that the device I created was put together in some haste, but I assure you that the translation process worked smoothly and accurately…’ Lee trailed off, finally noticing the chasm opening beneath his feet.
‘You lying… dammit, you knew!’ Harvir said, his voice angrier than Sundari had ever heard. ‘You knew your initial decryption wasn’t perfect! That one small change means we could be facing a hell of a lot more hostile forces than we expected. And you said nothing! You let us jump into this system knowing we could be facing an enemy that vastly outnumbers us!’
‘I had my suspicions but nothing concrete! Besides, the risk was still acceptable considering what there is to gain.’ Lee said, his voice rising angrily at the accusation. Despite his loud conviction, he was unable to meet Harvir’s eyes and instead addressed his comments to Sundari, hoping for support.
‘You are not the judge of what risks are acceptable to this fleet!’ Harvir roared. ‘I’ve had enough of you. Comms! Get a security detail to the bridge at the double. I want this man confined immediately for deliberately placing this fleet at risk.’
‘Wait!’ Sundari said forcefully. She had sat silently through the exchange up to this point. Since she had spent a large part of her life studying human behaviour, she knew that she needed to now intervene for the sake of the mission. ‘Commodore, you must realise that Professor Lee would have told you if he knew for certain his translation was in error, if only because his own life is at risk. But he’s not to blame as much as you’re making out. Be thankful that the scientists aboard Newton brought it to our attention before it was too late.’ Out of the corner of her eye she saw Lee’s smirk, but she wasn’t letting him off the hook. ‘And you,’ she said, turning to face Lee, ‘have to realise the gravity of your actions. These are peoples’ lives you’re playing with when you withhold information! How many discoveries do you think you’d be able to make if everyone was killed? This isn’t your laboratory where you can wait until you have proof. If you even suspect something is wrong you have to report it!’
‘Too late for reporting once there’s blood on your hands,’ Harvir said. ‘We’ll have to totally reassess our strategy. If we’d known this before leaving Earth we might not have launched at all. I’m sure the Admiral wouldn’t have allowed so many civilians to join with barely enough troops for protection. We may even have to abort the mission and return to Earth, taking what information we have so far.’
‘Toán, I understand what you’re saying, Sundari said in a gentler tone. ‘But everyone knew when they agreed to launch with the Fleet that there was a significant risk involved. That hasn’t changed. We know you’re worried about trying to protect us all and we’re grateful for the concern. But Milton’s right, we haven’t seen any trace of the Oratan anywhere, so it’s possible they don’t have the numbers implied by the Arkadian signal. Or they’re not here in those numbers anymore. Our approach has always been cautious, and with this new information we’ll be able to respond quicker if a significant threat does arise. Surely we don’t need to turn back?’ Sundari asked.
‘I’ll admit that we might not have to,’ Harvir said, relaxing a little as he recognised the truth of what she had said. ‘As it stands, our troops are on a one hour notice to move and we could have a forward command established within one week.’ Harvir said. He continued before the others could begin asking questions. ‘I know that you both have a lot that you’d like to say, but there’s a lot to consider. This is not a decision that I’m going to rush.’
‘Come on,’ Sundari said to Lee, grabbing his sleeve and dragging him from the bridge. She looked back at Harvir, giving him a confident smile. ‘I’m sure the Commodore will inform us of his decision in good time,’ she added as Lee opened his mouth to speak.
As Harvir watched the bridge door close behind Sundari and Milton Lee, he sighed heavily. He needed to think clearly and consider all options without interruption. His thoughts continued to chase themselves in circles. ‘Comms, I’m going to try and get some rest. I’ll be in my staterooms. If anything changes to our situation, notify me immediately.’
Seven hours later Harvir was once again in his command seat. The bridge crew furtively watched him from the corner of their eyes as they went about their work. He didn’t notice as his attention was dominated by one simple problem. How could one single word make such a profound difference? What had previous been an easy decision had suddenly become a hard one. He looked over at the Captain of Cutlass.
‘Captain, have the latest scans revealed anything new on the planet’s surface?’ He asked.
‘No, Sir. Conditions are unchanged. The troops remain on a one hour notice to move.’
There was a pause as Harvir took a final deep breath.
‘Launch the drop ships, Captain. I think it’s time we had a look at this planet for ourselves.’
|2.1 Arkadia Rising|
Date: 11 DEC 3007 Time: 0723hrs Location: Main Base Planet Arkadia
A peal of thunder split the air as a dozen drop ships entered the atmosphere, each smashing through the sound barrier as it made its descent. Toán Harvir stood on a nearby hill accompanied by a single platoon, watching. The ships spread out in perfect formation as they flew along their designated vectors. As they arrived at their assigned release points they cut loose their enormous cargos. Once released, the huge assembly modules plummeted towards the surface and crashed into the ground with a shower of dirt and rock. Then the ships were gone, turning and climbing steeply along their individual flight paths back into space.
Before the dust had settled, another wave of drop ships approached along the same vector, this time carrying several hundred technicians and engineers as well as the platoons of troops assigned to protect them. With experience gained from hundreds of insertions into hostile territory, the pilots expertly landed and the troops rapidly deployed around the area. Thirty minutes later, with military precision, the next wave carrying construction equipment and tools descended towards the peninsula.
Harvir nodded with satisfaction. The initial deployment of troops a week earlier had gone just as smoothly. The scouts were the first to land, securing the landing zone, and they were soon followed by the main body of the Fleet’s troops. Harvir had been among them, choosing to command from the ground where he could respond quickly to changing circumstances. He’d always felt that a leader should lead from the front, and he would never order troops into danger that he wasn’t willing to face himself. Perhaps it wasn’t the safest or smartest course of action, but his attitude earned the respect of the troops, which he’d always considered a critical element of effective command.
Harvir had wanted to be sure the area was completely secure before he ordered the construction to begin on the main base. It had taken a week to satisfy him that the area was sufficiently under the control of his troops. He had first identified the area as a potential landing site when he had seen the original images sent back to Earth by the space probe Celeste. The view from orbit only confirmed his thinking; the peninsula was an ideal position to create a foothold on the surface. Its natural choke point was easily defendable and could be protected by a single fortified position.
The base itself was positioned on the side of a hill next to a spring that fed a cascading waterfall. This would ensure the base had a secure supply of fresh water and, once the enormous turbines were installed, would also provide them with all the power they would need. The elevation of the base gave them a good view of every possible approach. The drop ships had delivered the modules to create a Forward Operating Base a little higher up the peninsula, to be used as a fortified command post. VTOL aircraft had manipulated the modules into place with astounding accuracy. Harvir had witnessed it from the ground, eager to see the first real test of the newly designed deployment system. It was a remarkable sight and he had been highly impressed by what he had seen.
Several squads of scouts had reported sightings of some humanoid beings, but so far there had been no engagements. It had only been an hour since he ordered construction of the main base to begin, which had initiated this flurry of action on the surface. Already the technicians were scrambling over the giant modules like a swarm of ants. Following a complicated procedure they started the activation sequences, beginning the process of automating the deployment. Harvir knew that the next few days would be filled with the sound of tools and equipment. Once completely deployed, the modules would join together to create the skeleton of the buildings that would form the main base for all the Fleet’s surface activities. Local materials would be required to finish the buildings, but simple sheeting over the framework would provide ample shelter for his troops to begin with. The success of the initial phase of the operation had given Harvir the confidence to proceed to this current phase.
From his vantage point atop the nearby hill, Harvir took a moment to scan the surrounding landscape, eyes searching the gently forested slopes that rolled away from the base. The surrounding land was a patchwork of green and brown that contrasted sharply against the sparkling blue of the ocean in the distance. He could hear the constant dull roar of the waterfall below him, which couldn’t quite drown out the sounds of construction from the base. On the plains below a platoon was coming into view, returning from patrolling the area, every man alert as they approached the base.
To the North, he could make out the fortified command post’s heavy turrets. The weapons looked formidable even to his battle-hardened troops. Harvir realised he had conflicting feelings of wanting to see what such fearsome weapons were capable of, while at the same time hoping that the fort would never be threatened to the point where they were needed. No sooner had this realisation occurred to him when the sudden deep booming of those turrets carried clearly to him through the crisp morning air. Great, he thought, I launch the ground crews and immediately we have contact. Now we’re caught with our pants down.
‘Lieutenant Moshane,’ he said, turning to the platoon commander beside him, ‘I want a contact report from that fort immediately.’
A sudden cry from below interrupted the Lieutenant’s reply. Harvir’s head whipped around as he looked back down towards the returning platoon. They were surrounded by a small band of creatures that were closing in quickly. How did they get so close? Harvir wondered to himself.
‘Get some support down there!’ Harvir yelled to Moshane, even though he knew that one way or another, the engagement would be over by the time reinforcements arrived. Like all the troops with the Fleet, the patrol was well trained and had reacted instantly, moving into defensive positions. Weapon fire erupted from both parties at the same time. The ambush was so close that Harvir could hear the platoon’s Lieutenant bellowing orders between the bursts of gunfire. The skirmish was over almost before it had begun. Several of the creatures had fallen in the attack and the rest were retreating into the forest. Two men had been knocked off their feet but they were already getting up again, their armor having protected them from any real harm.
Although they had encountered these beings that Harvir assumed were Oratan, they had seen nothing this close to the base previously. It was disconcerting, and Harvir knew that he was going to have to increase the patrols in the area. If one band had managed to slip through unnoticed then there could be more. Even though the platoon had dealt with them easily, the Oratan would have done a lot more damage to an inexperienced or less prepared force. They seemed to have reasonably advanced firearms, but their body armor was far more primitive. If this attack was any indication, they didn’t have a good grasp of tactics either. The assault could have been so much more effective. Not seeking cover had been a suicidal move by the Oratan, throwing their lives away as if they meant nothing.
‘Lieutenant, I want this base so secure that a bug can’t get in unnoticed before the civilians arrive in a week’s time. It seems these Oratan want to play after all.’ Harvir said. He couldn’t help wondering, did they really have so little idea about tactics? Or were they merely testing the discipline and capability of his troops?
|2.2 The Hunted|
Date: 17 DEC 3007Time: 1357hrsLocation: Approaching Main BasePlanet Arkadia
|2.3 Before the Dawn|
Date: 24 DEC 3007
Location: Briefing Theatre
Main Base, Planet Arkadia
Her voice was clear and precise as she answered questions. She then directed some of her own questions at randomly selected officers, testing them to ensure everyone understood their orders correctly. Harvir sat in the front row, trying to gauge the response of the troops behind him, as Captain Chiharo concluded the brief. She had spent the last hour explaining the objectives of each company in detail. Harvir had devised the plan with his senior ground combat specialists over the last week and this morning he had made the decision to put it into action.
This phase of the operation was centred on the need to establish fortified positions throughout the mountainous area in the centre of the continent. These Firebases would be critical in maintaining control and security as the troops gradually expanded their influence through the region and would also provide the civilians with protection as they established their assorted camps. This was especially important, since the Government back on Earth had announced that it was assembling a new fleet to bring colonists to Arkadia. The Firebases would provide secure access to future sites useful for colonial growth.
They would also provide protection for strategic sites. Scans from orbit had hinted that the high mountain ranges to the west would likely contain rich mineral deposits. Mining this area would be essential to producing materials required for construction all across the planet. Just as importantly, the mission just briefed would open the door to establishing Archaeological Digs at many of the ruins. It was vital to learn as much about the Arkadian race as possible and discover what had happened to them.
Captain Chiharo paused once she’d finished, making sure that everything had been covered. ‘At this stage we will maintain only a light presence in the desert region in the south of the continent and the jungle areas in the north. We must first secure our primary objectives through the centre of the continent and ensure a solid infrastructure is in place. You have your orders; see that they’re carried out.’
As the men and women around Harvir rose to leave he was unable to suppress a small smile of pride. He knew the troops would follow orders perfectly; they were hastily assembled as the Fleet was prepared, but they represented the best Earth had to offer. The challenging thought crossed his mind that they might be even better than his previous command, something that until now he’d always considered impossible.
Harvir waited as the officers filed out of the theatre, nodding his approval to Chiharo as she left. He was glad for a moment of respite, even if it was only for a minute. Any spare time he should have had was taken up by meetings with representatives from the different civilian groups, all asking to be allowed to go into the wilderness to begin their projects. He’d explained to them countless times that it was in their best interests that the areas were secured first by the military, but the civilians seemed to be willing to ignore the potential dangers. Even Harvir found that he was beginning to feel more confident, as every indication so far suggested that the hostile forces they had encountered to date weren’t a serious threat.
He was getting ready to leave when someone slipped through the doors. He glanced around and sighed with relief when he recognised Dr Zhen. She constantly amazed him; she was incredibly resourceful, helping out in all kinds of ways and was fast becoming one of the better known faces around the base. Her ability to calm irate civilians had become invaluable to Harvir.
‘So, have you finally gotten sick of Professor Lee’s attention, or have the mining companies enlisted you to help them? They’re constantly trying to convince me to let them go digging holes all over the countryside,’ he said, smiling.
‘Well there was a group of miners and a couple of scientists waiting to ambush you as you left, but I flushed them out and sent them packing. I could fetch them back if you want, tell them you’re about to collapse under the pressure and will give in to their demands if they try once more?’ She replied, her mouth twitching into a smile that spoilt her attempt at a serious tone. Not many people talked to Harvir that way anymore. They saw him only as the Fleet Commander, which was necessary for the most part, but he found that he enjoyed having at least one person who talked to him normally.
‘Please no, anything but that!’ He said in mock horror. ‘I think I’d rather be attacked by enemy forces than face that lot again.’ His face screwed up. ‘Actually, if I make them wait much longer, there may be no difference.’
‘They understand your reasons, they are just frustrated,’ Sundari reassured him. ‘Have the scientists had any luck yet tracing the origination point of The Signal?’
‘No. It seems to just cycle around the planet, seemingly coming from nowhere and everywhere. We don’t even know if these hostile beings we’ve encountered are truly our enemies. But as my father would say, “there’s no such thing as friendly fire.” If they shoot at us, does it matter who they are?’ He sighed heavily. ‘Anyway, I’ve been meaning to speak to you, but first, what was it you wanted?’
‘Actually,’ Sundari said, looking apologetic, ‘I wanted to talk to you about when we are going to get access to the ruins. We want to get out there and start learning everything we can about the Arkadians. I’m asking on behalf of the miners and scientists too, I had to promise that I would to get them to leave. Everyone’s getting restless. I hope this briefing is a good sign?’
‘Yes. The troops will move out at dawn tomorrow, to establish Firebases across the continent. Assuming that everything goes to plan, you should start to have access to some of the ruins in a few days. We’re going to have a problem with transport though; all our VTOLs and ground vehicles are going to be used to support the troops, which is why I wanted to talk to you. You’ve been busy helping all the different groups that came with us on the Fleet, which has been very helpful. You have contacts within each group, so I think that you understand everybody’s needs better than anyone else. Dr Zhen—’
‘Toán, how many times do I have to tell you? Call me Sundari.’
‘—Sundari, I’d like your advice on the positioning and deployment of the teleporters we brought with us.’
‘I’d love to, but why me? Surely all the teleporters will be vital to your strategy?’
‘The larger models will be, yes, but they will be at the major sites and Firebases. I have decided to make the smaller model teleporters available to the civilians, particularly the Archaeological Society. We came here to help the Arkadians, so finding out what happened to them is a priority. You certainly know which ruins you need to focus on better than I do, so you’ll know where to place them to be most effective. And the other civilians will respond better to you. Why use a sword when a smile will do?’
Sundari laughed. ‘Another thing your father says?’
‘No actually, but I think he would have agreed,’ Harvir admitted, a fleeting look of sadness passing across his face.
‘My parents died a long time ago. They were killed.’
‘Oh no! What happened?’
‘They got caught in the middle of a gang war. They were killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Losing them is what eventually drove me to join the military. The men and women of the Navy are my family now.’
‘Oh Toán. I am so sorry.’ Sundari said, genuinely touched that he had chosen to confide in her.
‘Thank you, but that’s in the past. We have to focus here and now. Will you work with my staff to develop a deployment plan for the teleporters? The civilians seem to think that I’m doing everything I can to hinder them, but they’ll see you differently.’
‘Of course. I’ll be glad to help.’
‘Good. Thank you, it will make my work a lot easier. I will make sure you get all the necessary information about our inventory, the locations that need to be joined to the network and the requests I’ve had. There are also the plans that were generated by the scientists while in orbit, as well as your own report on priority areas.’ Harvir stood slowly and stretched.
‘Now, you’ll have to excuse me,’ he continued, ‘there’s a small mountain of paperwork that requires my attention. Our intelligence indicates that tomorrow should go well, but that doesn’t mean it can’t turn ugly in a hurry. I can’t shake a horrible feeling I’m missing something vital about these hostiles.’
|2.4 Progress In Ruins|
Location: Planet Arkadia
Sundari Zhen was having the time of her life. She was far to the north of the main base exploring one of the ancient ruins. She had chosen to set up Archaeological Digs only at all the smaller sites, which were clustered around the remains of three ruined cities, located in the corners of the continent not occupied by the Fleet’s main base. She’d decided to name each Dig after old, sometimes extinct, Earth animals that she had come across during her years as a student. She could still remember the exhilaration of learning about these animals and wanted to capture some of that excitement here on Arkadia. While the Digs’ names were yet to be approved, her teleporter deployment plan suggesting that every Dig should receive its own teleporter, had been quickly authorised. That was fine by her, since she considered the construction of the teleporters significantly more important at this early stage.
She had chosen to oversee the installation of the teleporters personally. Not one to let others work while she did nothing, she had joined the work crew and was now covered in dirt and grease just like all the other workers. She’d found the last few weeks stuck in space an uncomfortable experience and she’d found herself missing the outdoors, as most of her life had been spent working outside on one project or another. But since Commodore Harvir had deployed an entire platoon to secure each Dig, she was enjoying working under open skies once again.
She had hitched a ride with the troops as they’d departed the main base, so she’d arrived at the ruins some time before the construction crew, which gave her some time to explore without any interruptions. Her brief look around had already convinced her of one important detail: the ruin must have been abandoned for a lot longer than anyone had originally suspected, thousands of years at least, not just a few decades. What remained of the buildings themselves had aged remarkably well, though sadly not as much had survived as she had hoped. The fact that anything had survived at all showed how well the structures had been originally built. Until she had access to proper equipment and could begin excavating, it was impossible to tell how much of the ruin had been buried through the ages.
She hadn’t found anything so far that revealed any clues as to what had happened to the inhabitants, but she had a feeling that it would only be a matter of time. Experience told her that ruins this well preserved always had secrets waiting to be discovered. Judging by the vague outline of the ruin and the heavy fortifications of the outer walls, she determined that it had been built primarily for defence. This led her to speculate that this structure may have been built during the war with the Oratan, though it would be impossible to know for sure until she could compare the style and layout to the ruined cities. It was her theory that the city ruins predated the war, so they should have a very different layout to the Dig she had been exploring. The only problem was that there didn’t appear to be any evidence of violent destruction. Considering how hostile the invasion had been, according to The Signal, she found it odd that all structures hadn’t been completely wiped out.
Several other archaeologists had arrived with the construction crew to help set up the camp and start exploring the ruin. Among them were Jasmine and Kimi, two of the five junior members of the Archaeological Society who had volunteered for the mission to Arkadia. They were eager but inexperienced, so Sundari had agreed to take them on as her assistants and mentor them. The other three were helping set up camps at other ruins in the south. Jasmine and Kimi had already made an interesting discovery, finding a number of intricately designed pots in a hidden alcove at the base of an inner wall. How the pots had remained intact for so long she had no idea, but they would no doubt shed some light on the Arkadian culture once the team had a chance to study them properly. It was an incredible discovery to have been made so early. If there were such historical treasures hidden in other ruins then they were going to need a lot more archaeologists to hunt for them, not to mention help study each new discovery. Too few archaeologists had joined Liberation Fleet she reflected, but more could always be recruited when the next fleet arrived.
While Sundari helped out with the teleporter, the military engineers were busy fortifying the Dig, which included both the camp and the nearby ruin. By the end of the week, one of the imposing new gun turrets would be constructed in a position that allowed it to protect the entire Dig. She didn’t like the idea that the turret was necessary, but she wasn’t so naïve that she didn’t consider the possibility that they might need it. Besides confrontations with the hostile humanoids over the past weeks, strange and vicious native animals had also been reported attacking the troops. The automated turret could easily deal with either type of threat, at least in the small groups encountered so far. The very act of it firing would serve as a warning system, alerting everyone in the Dig and giving them time to respond. As the turret was constructed and until the area was deemed secure, a platoon of heavily armed expeditionary troops, equipped with special issue kit, would provide more than adequate protection.
There was a loud click as the technician completed his installation checks and activated the teleporter, allowing it to power up. These smaller teleporters were not as intricate as the larger teleporters installed at the Firebases, lacking the halo of bright inward facing lights or the solid integrity of the main support columns. Instead, more delicate columns surrounded a central platform, which was slightly raised and accessed via steps that circled the entire way around the device. Sundari beamed a smile at the other workers, proud at what they had achieved. Her smile faded quickly as the teleporter started humming as it began charging up. Someone’s using it already! She thought in shock. What kind of idiot would use it before we’ve had a chance to calibrate it with the network?
The humming grew louder, accompanied by an intense glow emitted from the centre of the machine. Suddenly, there was a bright flash and through the glare Sundari could just make out the outline of a human figure. Her vision cleared and she found herself facing Milton Lee, who was looking around the ruins in an appraising manner.
‘Is this it? I expected—’ Lee said, before cutting off what he’d been about to say with an abashed look at Sundari. She got the impression that he was a little disappointed in what he saw, but at least he didn’t say that outright as he usually would.
She took a moment to look around at the Dig, trying to picture how it would appear to someone who had no idea about archaeology and what it involved.
‘It might not be much to look at, but it’s an amazing find. I think this ruin is several thousand years old, making it much older than we thought. It’s certainly better preserved than any ruins of a similar age that I’ve seen on Earth,’ Sundari said, feeling slightly defensive.
‘Thousands you say? That would make the technology of The Signal even more amazing if it’s survived all that time. I wonder if there’s some way to work out exactly how old these ruins are. Shouldn’t be anything too hard for me to do,’ Lee said, trying to make up for his earlier gaffe.
‘That would be very helpful,’ Sundari said, gratefully. Then she remembered the manner of Lee’s arrival. ‘Milton, are you insane?! What are you even doing here? Surely you of all people would know better than to use an uncalibrated teleporter! You could have gotten yourself killed. Again!’
‘What? It wasn’t calibrated yet? But that would mean… my head could’ve…’ Lee paled as he considered the implications. ‘How was I to know? I was just on my way to convince the Commodore that I understand the situation better now and ask him to lift the restrictions that he’s imposed on me. Then I remembered that he made you liaison to represent all the civilians. So I decided to pay you a visit, and when I checked the status of the teleporter it was online, so I just came through.’
Sundari opened her mouth to rebuke him again, but decided not to say anything, realising that he did understand what could have happened. He wasn’t trying to do the wrong thing; he just didn’t always think things through first. A wry smile crept across her face as she began to understand why Harvir had been so eager to pass the liaison responsibility on to her.
‘Milton, what am I going to do with you?’ She sighed. ‘You always seem to find new ways to cause trouble for yourself. I can’t keep up. I think you’d better explain what you need from Toán, so I can talk to him for you.’
|2.5 Place In History|
Date: 7 JAN 3008
Source: Transcript of Milton Lee’s personal Voice log
I wish that she was around the camp more, but she’s always off somewhere, exploring one ruin or another. Then, when she returns, she always seems to be so busy. I rarely get a chance to talk to her for more than a few minutes, even about things relating to my research. I’ve never met anyone with the kind of work ethic that she displays; she would put a worker bee to shame. It makes it even more amazing that she finds the time to talk to the Commodore on my behalf whenever she can. To thank her for her help, I have begun looking at a method to accurately date the ruins she has been investigating. Since none of our current techniques seem to work, I will need to isolate specific isotopes of native elements used in the construction of the ruins. From there it will be a simple matter of studying the results until I have a definitive date for her.
|2.6 Report from Arkadia|
Date: 15 JAN 3008
Source: Transmitted from Arkadia
From: Commodore Harvir, Officer Commanding, Liberation Fleet, Arkadia.
10) Patrols have so far encountered two native creatures which they have had to destroy when attacked. Xenobiologists have studied and named these animals, which are reported to be both highly territorial and aggressive. The Kamaldon has armour plating as strong as steel protecting its head, a single large horn and a spiked tail. The Kiana resembles a large Earth tiger. Swift and silent when it moves, it is a creature built to kill with efficiency. Due to the threat that these and other creatures may pose to individuals, as well as ongoing attacks from hostile forces, it is highly recommended that the colonists of Fleet Arkadia are trained in survival and self defence skills prior to their arrival.
Liberation Fleet Arkadia
Area of Operations
|2.7 Permission or Forgiveness|
Date: 21 JAN 3008
Location: IFN Headquarters: Celeste Harbour
|2.8 A Fiery Awakening|
Date: 29 JAN 3008
Location: IFN Headquarters, Celeste Harbour
|3.1 Against the Tide|
Date: 5 FEB 3008
Location: Fearless Firebase
She stepped back from the wall and her spot was instantly filled by another trooper who immediately began firing down on the Oratan. Most of the remaining troops on Arkadia had been withdrawn to defend Resolute, Relentless or Fearless Firebases. Standing alongside the troops were many civilians who had hastily taken up arms to support the military. The injured troops and remaining civilians had retreated back to Celeste Harbour. Every defender was subjected to a punishing roster that barely allowed for a few desperately needed hours of sleep. Chiharo was even harder on herself, driving herself until only will alone kept her on her feet. This was definitely a time to stand with her troops. She would have had it no other way.
Commodore Harvir still commanded from the IFN Headquarters in Celeste Harbour, choosing to remain with the troops on the surface. On his orders, many civilians had been lifted back to the Fleet in orbit. The window for such evacuations had long since closed, with the drop ships needed to aid the defenders. Harvir maintained command of the defence of Celeste Harbour, and he’d ordered Chiharo to hold out at the Firebases as long as possible. It was what she was best at; under her command they had managed to hold off the Oratan as long as they had. It had been a slow withdrawal. The attackers had eventually enveloped the defences in crushing numbers, forcing Chiharo to abandon the outer Firebases in an effort to reinforce the remaining three. These guarded the main approach routes to Celeste Harbour and were vital in its defence. She’d be damned if she’d give them up easily.
The Oratan had continued to attack Fearless in one continuous, unrelenting swarm. She had managed to hold out by blunting the assault with a series of counter-attacks that stopped the Oratan from focussing all of their attention on the walls at any one time. At other times, she had lured small groups inside the defences to be slaughtered by ambushes. She knew Harvir was unable to aid Fearless’ garrison, as the few active troops he had were barely enough to secure the teleporter at Celeste Harbour itself. She would have been optimistic about their chances of success regardless, if reinforcements and survivors had been the only ones using the teleporters. True to Milton Lee’s last words, the Oratan had worked out how to use the devices and could teleport their way into any human encampment.
Headquarters had been caught unaware the first time the Oratan attacked through the teleporter to strike at Celeste Harbour, which had nearly been overwhelmed by the surprise attack. The troops had responded desperately and after an hour of hard fighting they had killed or driven all the Oratan from the base. Since then, they had been forced to keep an armed guard around the teleporters that remained in their control, as the Oratan continued to intermittently launch attacks through them. Fortunately, the teleporters could not instantly transport an overwhelming force, but it placed an additional strain on the defence, tying up even more troops and preventing them from being able to rest.
Enough troops had made it back during the withdrawal from the other Firebases that there was now a large garrison at Fearless, temporarily relieving some of the pressure. But for all Chiharo’s strategies, the battle had become a matter of attrition, which the Oratan seemed bound to win. They had killed thousands of the creatures, possibly tens of thousands, but there seemed to be no end to their numbers.
The Commodore had ordered the drop ships converted into temporary gunships by rigging a few unused turrets into their cargo cradles. It had proven an effective, though unusual, defence. There had been no respite for the gunships day or night, until they had consumed most of the fuel stores. Now the remaining Firebases were without any air support and Harvir had ordered the little fuel that remained to be saved for use only in emergency situations. Chiharo found herself wishing that they had somehow managed to gather more material for the fuel cells Professor Lee had developed. Initially, she had commanded enough troops to hold the walls, even without air support, but now that was slowly changing. The number of active troops was dwindling, worn down by casualties and fatigue. And the situation was only getting worse. Slowly but surely they were losing the battle for Arkadia.
She picked up some more ammunition from the stores, wincing at the sight of their rapidly shrinking stocks. Even if they survived the battle they were going to struggle to retake any ground because they were fast running out of vital military supplies. They still had food, water and building materials in abundance, but these were not going to be of any use in the short term. As she reloaded her magazines and weapon, she suddenly became aware that almost complete silence had fallen over the Firebase. She ran back up onto the walls to see what was going on, hoping that the Oratan were finally retreating. Her hopes were dashed as soon as she gazed out across the horde surrounding the Firebase. They had withdrawn out of range of the turret guns, abandoning the sustained assault that had failed to breach the defences, and were forming up for another attack.
Chiharo knew that such an assault would prove costly for the attackers, but so far the Oratan had not been concerned about throwing away their lives in an attempt to overwhelm the Firebases. She was out of options; her troops would cut the first few waves to shreds but the ones behind would get ever closer, eventually hitting the wall in a solid mass. She did not have enough defenders to repel the attack, as long as the Oratan remained focussed. If they gained a foothold on the walls, their superior numbers would win out and they would spread through the Firebase like a swarm of angry bees.
Chiharo ordered all the troops at rest, as well as the armed civilians, to the walls. Harvir had given her an emergency frequency for just such a situation as this. She activated it now and called Celeste Harbour.
‘Fuel up those drop ships and get them back in the air, we’re going to need them here at Fearless Firebase. Flank around the Oratan attack to the north before you arrive. Try to pin them against the Firebase and we’ll hit them from both sides,’ Chiharo yelled the order into her transmitter.
A deafening roar erupted from the horde as the Oratan bellowed their battle cries. The mass of creatures surged forward, like a tidal wave intent on smashing itself on the walls of Fearless Firebase. As they came within range, the turret guns began firing with deadly precision, tearing massive holes in the front ranks, but the Oratan kept on coming.
Chiharo raised her rifle and sighted down the barrel, tracking her target. As the enemy came within range of her weapon, she and everyone on the wall opened fire at the same time, cutting down dozens of creatures with each volley. But more were just behind, running through the hail of bullets and lasers, reaching ever closer before falling. Despite the constant fire from the defenders, the Oratan were soon at the base of the walls, raising makeshift tools to try and find a way to the top. Hundreds died but it was not enough to stop the unrelenting horde.
‘Where the hell are those drop ships?’ Chiharo muttered under her breath. As if she’d conjured them, they appeared from the north, a single line that descended upon the Oratan masses. Automatic cannons opened fire as they strafed over the Oratan swarm, leaving hundreds of dead and wounded in their wake.
The Oratan attack faltered briefly before surging forward once again, even more viciously than before, with dozens gaining the top of the walls before they were killed.
The drop ships swung around on another run, cannons firing until their barrels were red hot and smoking. The concentrated Oratan attack once again broke up into a confused, angry rabble. Many retreated back out of the defenders’ range while those that remained were quickly wiped out. They didn’t go far though and Chiharo knew they had won nothing more than a brief respite from the attacks.
If the Oratan wanted to drive her from this planet, she was determined they were going to have to wade through a sea of their own dead to do it.
Date: 8 FEB 3008
Location: Celeste Harbour
Ever aware of his responsibilities, he had considered risking his drop ships on another trip to evacuate the wounded back to the Fleet in orbit. He reluctantly discarded the idea since some casualties were in such a serious condition that they could not be moved and the Fleet was already overstretched. Out of habit he cast his eye over at the teleporter, noticing the tired figures of his sentries hunched over in the darkness. Then the teleporter activated and a small group of shapes appeared in the centre of the light. The sentries straightened briefly then slumped again. More wounded, Harvir thought, judging by the sentries’ reactions.
Blinking against the glare emitted by the teleporter, he wondered how many more troops had been injured. As the light began to dim, he noticed that the forms inside seemed odd, standing strangely even though they didn’t appear to be injured. Their posture was wrong and they looked too bulky. He took a step forward, then suddenly understood what he was seeing.
‘Oratan in the city! Stand to! Oratan in the city!’ Harvir bellowed. He slapped his personal communicator, opening a channel to the startled Watchkeeper in the Operations Room. ‘Sound the alarm! Oratan in the city.’
His personal escort reacted instantly, kneeling and firing into the Oratan who were attempting to run deeper into the city. The fatigued sentries finally reacted, firing their own lasers at the creatures. The Oratan continued to arrive through the teleporter, instantly returning fire against Harvir’s troops. Suddenly a round slammed through Harvir’s armour into his side and he doubled over, feeling like he’d been hit by a hammer. Despite the pain he heard the dull thud as the Corporal to his right collapsed, his head shattered by another shot. Harvir snatched up the fallen Corporal’s Herman LAW 202 and dove for cover. The alarm finally began to shriek, alerting the rest of his troops throughout the city that they were under attack.
He could feel a burning sensation in his side, as blood seeped down his leg. He knew that he was not in good shape, but there was no time to get treatment. More and more Oratan appeared through the teleporter until there were too many for his troops to contain. How many had already slipped past the sentries to spread through the city?
There was nothing he could do to stop them without turning off the teleporter network, which was not a course of action he wanted to consider. Designed for rapid deployment, the teleporters also carried the entire communication network; a quick and easy solution until a global network could be installed. For the thousandth time he cursed that the Fleet was unable to provide an effective bombardment from orbit to support any ground engagements. Their kinetic weapons were only useful for stationary targets because it took so long for the projectile to reach the ground from orbit and even slight atmospheric effects could cause disastrous deviations in their trajectory. If the Fleet used them, they would be just as likely to destroy their own fortifications as do any damage to the Oratan surrounding them. The ship’s high energy laser cannons had been firing constantly since the Oratan first attacked, but they were designed to shoot a thin beam of energy through another ship’s hull, so they could do little more than disintegrate one or two Oratan at a time. The laser cannons also took several minutes to recharge between each shot. Within Celeste Harbour the Fleet’s sensors would struggle to distinguish humans from Oratan, so not even that limited orbital firepower was an option. There were no good options left.
He sighted down his weapon, feeling as if time was moving strangely around him. The loss of blood was turning the battle into a vivid nightmarish experience from which he could not awaken. One moment the world would be moving in slow motion and he had time to take in every detail of the enemy he was aiming at, then suddenly the attackers seemed to be moving with unbelievable speed. Unbidden memories mixed with the present as he was swamped by visions of similar situations in his life long ago.
‘Captain Chiharo. Code Blue. I repeat, Code Blue. I’m shutting down the network.’ Harvir connected back to the Operations Room, to the now attentive Watchkeeper. Wracked with pain, with blood still leaking from his side he closed his eyes briefly and took a breath. May the lost souls forgive me, he thought before he gave the order.
‘Shut down the network, by my order. Do it now.’
As he watched the light of the teleporter wink out, a sudden blow to the side of his head knocked him to the ground. He fell, the wound in his side sending stabbing tendrils of pain throughout his entire body. He managed to roll over just enough to see the looming shadow of an Oratan as it stood over him, weapon pointed at his head. He glared into the barrel, struggling to reach the pistol at his waist. The Oratan’s finger tensed on the weapon’s trigger but was abruptly knocked sideways in a spray of blood. The weapon discharged above Harvir’s head with a deafening roar and he felt a fiery sensation across his face.
It took him a while to realise that he was still alive, his thoughts thick and sluggish. He gently felt his blood covered side. He tried to get up but the effort left him dizzy and he collapsed back onto the ground, pain blinding him to everything else.
Rough hands grabbed him and he briefly opened his eyes, finding himself looking into an indistinct human face shadowed with worry, before he drifted back into unconsciousness.
|3.3 Hunted by Death|
Date: 8 FEB 3008
Location: Northern Sentosa
Sundari wiped the sweat from her eyes. She was slowly excavating an artifact at Jaguar Dig in the far north west of the continent. The sun was high in the sky and her stomach rumbled periodically, reminding her that she needed to eat. Despite the attacks across the rest of the continent, many of the Digs were still unthreatened. She stood up, stretching when the automated turret suddenly kicked into life, deep booms rolling across the ruin as it fired round after round. Sundari reacted instantly, abandoning her work and ordering the nearby archaeologists to retreat to the teleporter. She raced off to find Lieutenant Moshane, whose platoon had been assigned to guard the Dig.
She heard weapons firing as she ran. Moshane had deployed his platoon around the Dig and they had opened fire shortly after the turret. Sundari had nearly reached Moshane’s position when she heard a scream off to the left. She changed direction and rounded a corner, only to find herself face to face with an Oratan standing over the archaeologist it had just killed. She drew her Herman ASI 30 but the creature moved like lightning, slapping the weapon from her hand and lunging forward to wrap its thick hands around her throat. As it lifted her from the ground, she pulled her blade from its sheath and stabbed hard at the Oratan, her blade skating across its armour before penetrating deep into the creature’s neck. She slipped out of its grip as it fell to the ground, gurgling as it released its last bloody breath.
Sundari was trembling with shock as she retrieved her handgun. She went to find Moshane as the humans slowly retreated back to the teleporter, the defensive circle of troops drawing inwards, shielding the civilians as they made their escape.
Sundari finally found Moshane as the last of the civilians stepped into the teleporter. She caught the Lieutenant’s arm as he began ordering his troops to evacuate.
‘Lieutenant, I can’t go back to Celeste Harbour yet. I have to make sure my assistants and the archaeologists at the other Digs are safe. They need to retreat too. We can’t leave them alone out here.’
‘What? You can’t mean to teleport around by yourself after what we’ve seen? I can’t let you do that, its madness.’ In a single smooth motion he calmly raised his weapon and killed an Oratan as it broke through the perimeter.
‘Then come with me,’ Sundari said. ‘Whether you come or not, I am going to do what I can before it’s too late.’
Moshane stared at her a second then swore under his breath as he realised she was serious.
‘I’ll bring a squad, but we’re not hanging around if we are engaged by the enemy.’
Most of the troops had now returned to the city and only a single squad remained, holding off the Oratan. No further conversation was possible as the Oratan closed in around them. Moshane deftly altered the teleporter’s destination coordinates and ordered the remaining troops inside. He activated the machine just before the Oratan swarmed over the defenders.
They appeared at Cheetah Dig to the west, and quickly discovered that they were too late. Hundreds of bodies lay strewn through the Dig, mostly Oratan but with a scattering of humans who hadn’t managed to escape. They moved on rapidly, travelling from teleporter to teleporter. Sometimes they reached a Dig in time to warn the people but, more often than not, they arrived to find the settlement abandoned, the inhabitants having escaped or been killed. Moshane had only once suggested returning to Celeste Harbour but Sundari had ignored him, grimly setting the teleporter for the next Dig.
At Mamba Dig, Moshane finally called a halt. The sun was low in the sky and long shadows stretched over the Dig as Sundari and the squad gathered together.
‘Dr Zhen, I don’t think we’re going to find anyone else. We’ve done all we can. We need to get back to the city.’
Reluctantly, Sundari nodded her head. Moshane signalled to his Sergeant, who moved to set the teleporter’s coordinates for Celeste Harbour.
‘Sir!’ The alarm in the Sergeant’s voice instantly caught Moshane’s attention. ‘The teleporter! It’s dead.’
‘What do you mean dead?’ Moshane demanded. ‘We just came through it two minutes ago.’
‘Sir, it still has power. It’s not a problem with this teleporter. It appears that the network’s control system has been shut down.’
Sundari gazed south towards Celeste Harbour, wondering why Harvir would shut down the network. She turned to Moshane and could see that he was thinking the same.
An Oratan war cry ripped through the silence and Sundari realised how vulnerable they were without a safe escape route. Moshane reacted immediately.
‘We go west,’ he ordered. ‘That cry came from the south, so we’re likely cut off from Implacable and Dependable Firebases, probably Formidable as well, and there’s no support in the other directions. If we go west we should be able to make it to Sanctuary Cove.’
They set off at a run but didn’t get far before the Oratan appeared behind them. The creatures gained ground quickly and it wasn’t long before the squad was involved in a running battle. Sundari ran and fought with them, her heart aching each time another of the troops was killed. She was already tiring and they had a long way to travel. A glance at Moshane confirmed his squad was faring no better.
‘We have to make a stand here,’ he told her as they reached a large rocky outcrop. ‘They’ll cut us down one by one if we keep running. We should be able to hold them here long enough to give you a good start. Head northwest from here and don’t stop for anything. Go, now. Run!’
‘I’m not going to leave you to die!’
‘If you stay you’ll die as well. Don’t let my troops throw their lives away in vain. Go!’
Sundari turned and ran, hot tears sliding down her cheeks, knowing that the troops would have been back at Celeste Harbour if it wasn’t for her. She looked back only once, catching sight of Moshane standing tall and proud amongst his troops. It was a sight she’d remember for the rest of her life.
She ran until every step became agony and the handgun at her belt felt as though it weighed a ton. She was on the verge of exhaustion and with Sanctuary Cove still a long way off she knew she had to find shelter. In the light of Arkadia’s triple moons she spotted a cave on a hillside. With the last of her energy she entered the cave; barely taking the time to check it was safe before collapsing into sleep.
She was woken by a noise from outside the cave. Realising she was trapped, she quietly raised her ASI 30. She didn’t have much ammo left but was determined to make it count.
A shadow crossed in front of the cave and she fired by reflex. The shadow disappeared, dropping out of sight.
‘Hold your fire!’
Recognising the voice, she bolted to the cave entrance and emerged into the night. A bloodied Moshane was climbing to his feet before her, flanked by the last member of his squad.
‘Moshane! I’m so sorry, I was sure you’d been killed. How did you get here?’
‘Not now,’ Moshane growled, ‘we have to move. They’re right behind us.’
‘Where’s your rifle? And the rest of your equipment?’
‘We ran out of ammo and the weight was slowing us down. We had to drop them.’
Sundari fell silent and they started running once again. She concentrated on following Moshane’s lead, trying to ignore the sounds of the Oratan gradually growing louder behind them.
She ran in a daze, losing track of time and how far they had run. As they crested a small rise, a faint blood-red tinge began to stain the sky as dawn approached.
‘There it is,’ Moshane said.
Sundari looked up, noticing the ocean for the first time. On the horizon she could just make out the island of Sanctuary Cove. They ran on, parallel to the beach so they remained in cover, until they could see the slim sandbar that connected the island to the mainland.
They broke cover, racing for the sandbar, but as soon as they emerged a gunshot echoed across the beach. The trooper behind Sundari collapsed onto the sand, dead before he hit the ground.
‘Run!’ She screamed at Moshane. They sprinted across the beach towards the water as shots kicked up sand all around them. The Oratan were quick, gaining ground alarmingly fast as she entered the water a step behind Moshane and dived deep. She swam as far as she could underwater with shots hissing through the water around her. When she surfaced, she looked around frantically for Moshane. He floated to the surface a moment later, the water around him clouded red with blood.
With a sob she rolled him over, his sightless eyes staring at the sky. It was too much for her. She swam forward until she could stand on the sandbar. Snarling, she drew her handgun and turned back towards the Oratan.
Soaking wet, standing in waist deep water with her hair plastered to her face, she took aim at the leading Oratan back on the beach. But before she could pull the trigger her target’s head exploded in a shower of blood and brains.
|3.4 Punching a Hole|
Date: 18 FEB 3008
Location: Steadfast Firebase
Date: 25 FEB 3008
Location: Sanctuary Cove
Date: 4 MARCH 3008
Source: Sergeant Jong's personal account
Date: 15 MARCH 3008
Source: Extract from partially destroyed personal log
Date: 26 MARCH 3008
Source: Repulse Firebase
|3.9 Chiharo's Gamble|
Date: 1 APR 3008
The ground rushed past beneath Lieutenant Tien, a blurred mass of bushes and trees, so close she felt like she could reach out and touch them. She began to make out faint signs of the enemy ahead just as the pilot nudged the drop ship up to attack speed. Her squad stood by the drop ship’s open hatches, ready to open fire.
‘We’re coming up on the Oratan, prepare to engage,’ Lieutenant Tien ordered her squad as they approached the enemy force.
In a matter of seconds they were above the Oratan and Tien smiled grimly as she saw them panicking when they finally caught sight of the drop ship. With the slightest pressure she squeezed her trigger and opened fire, strafing across the milling hordes. A sound like thunder filled the cabin as the ship’s cannon showered hundreds of rounds of death upon the creatures. Moments later the drop ship was beyond the Oratan and banking around for another run.
‘Look at them fall,’ cried one of her troops exuberantly. ‘It’s like shooting fish in a barrel!’
‘Settle down back there,’ Tien said, unable to keep the grin off her own face.
Once again they swept over the Oratan and scores more fell before the onslaught. The swarm was not as large as when the creatures had first attacked weeks ago, but they were packed so tightly together that Tien’s squad didn’t even need to aim. She thought that if the colony had more fuel, they could wipe the Oratan out without any problems; the creatures had no answer to the aerial attacks. A few more passes and surely the enemy would break. Abruptly, the drop ship turned to the east and began climbing away from the Oratan.
‘What the—’ Tien cursed. She changed the frequency on her transmitter to talk to the pilot. ‘What’s going on up there? Why are we breaking off?’
‘New orders, Lieutenant, direct from Captain Chiharo. We’re to fly to Dauntless Firebase with all possible speed and render assistance.’
‘But we’ve got the enemy panicked here! If we—’
‘We have our orders Lieutenant. The garrison at Dauntless is under attack and they don’t think they can repel the assault even though they have been reinforced.’
‘Roger that,’ Tien said, ashamed of herself for questioning the orders. She knew as well as anyone that Captain Chiharo wouldn’t issue such an order unless the danger to Dauntless was genuine. Yet something still bothered her about the situation.
Many had considered it a huge gamble by the Captain to strip the Firebases and hold so many companies in reserve. So far, the colony had relied on air power and the superior manoeuvrability that the teleporters gave them to defend the Firebases. The Fleet was also providing valuable support from orbit by using their sensors to keep track of the Oratan movements and firing limited orbital strikes at critical times. The plan was simple; a small garrison remained at each Firebase and if attacked could receive immediate reinforcement from up to four companies on standby at Celeste Harbour. It meant that nearly half the IFN’s remaining strength could be in reserve at any one time. Risky as it was, the tactic had worked well so far.
As they flew on, Tien had time to think about the situation. If Dauntless had already been reinforced and still couldn’t hold… Tien’s stomach tightened as she considered the implications. Her transmitter came to life and she heard the pilot’s voice again.
‘Lieutenant, we’ve been ordered by Dauntless’ Base Commander to use the ship’s cannons to target the larger Oratan, while you and your troops are to concentrate your fire on the smaller creatures.’
Smaller creatures? Tien wondered. What does that mean? ‘Confirm orders to target smaller creatures?’
‘Confirmed. Those were the Base Commander’s exact words, Lieutenant. Hold on tight back there, we’re going in hot.’
It wasn’t long before Dauntless came into view. Even from a distance it was easy to see that the Oratan force was relatively small compared to other attacks and should have barely troubled a properly defended Firebase. The pilot brought the drop ship in low and fast, trying to maintain some element of surprise. Tien and her squad opened fire and the creatures started to fall. However, some seemed to barely notice the shots raining down upon them. She looked closer and realised with a sinking feeling that some of the creatures were more heavily armoured than their brethren.
The pilot brought them around for a second pass. Once again, they came within range and her squad began shooting, but this time the Oratan answered in kind and shots began to rattle against the heavily armoured drop ship. Startled, Tien stepped back from the hatch just before a shot smashed into the space where her head had been. These were not ordinary Oratan; they were bigger and equipped with weapons that seemed to Tien as though they could damage even the thick hull of the drop ship.
Tien continued to shoot out of the hatch, though the pilot was flying more cautiously, jinking the ship around to randomly change their speed and heading. Despite her squad’s advantage of being able to attack from the skies, the creatures refused to give in and the larger enemies were proving much harder to take down than those they had fought up until now. If they didn’t kill the Oratan soon they were going to have to disengage and refuel.
As the drop ship pulled out of its attack run it was rocked by a heavy blow and shrapnel exploded through the open hatches, slicing through the interior of the cabin.
There was a pause before screams pierced through the sound of the rushing air. ‘Medic!’ Tien yelled as several of her squad were cut down before her eyes. ‘We’ve got troops down!’
‘Lieutenant, we need to reach medical facilities fast; we don’t have enough FAPs to treat them all,’ the medic said, after briefly surveying the injured.
Tien didn’t hesitate, unclipping her safety tether and racing forwards to the cockpit.
‘I heard,’ the pilot said before Tien could even open her mouth. ‘Get those hatches closed, we’re going into orbit. We’ve been cleared to rendezvous with Cutlass for emergency medivac.’
Tien passed the order on to her squad to close the outer hatches and strap themselves down. She threw herself into the vacant co-pilot’s seat as the pilot swung the drop ship’s nose into a sharp upwards pitch and began to climb.
It only took a few minutes to clear Arkadia’s atmosphere and commence their docking procedures with Cutlass, but to Tien it felt like hours. They were on final approach when alarms suddenly blasted through the cockpit, causing the pilot to swear and change course.
‘What in hell’s that?’ Cried Tien as the drop ship’s display in front of her lit up with hundreds of red dots centred around the system’s outer planets.
The pilot looked across at Tien, then back at the display. As they watched, the red dots turned to green one by one as the transponder codes of the new arrivals registered with the drop ship’s computer.
‘Fleet Arkadia,’ the pilot whispered. ‘They’ve arrived in the outer system.’
|3.10 The Last Stand|
Date: 8 APR 3008
Location: Valiant Firebase
Lieutenant Chan snarled as he slammed another clip into his weapon. He raised his rifle and fired from point blank range into the Oratan leaping at him. In one smooth motion, he shifted his aim and shot a second creature that was charging behind the first. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted another enemy taking aim at him and he quickly dived to the side. The Oratan’s shots whistled over his shoulder as Chan rolled onto one knee and shot it through the head before the creature could readjust its aim.
Quickly glancing around to check he wasn’t in any immediate danger, he continued on towards the Command Post as he’d been ordered. The fighting was different now, as the Oratan had stopped attacking in the numberless, uncoordinated hordes that had characterised their initial assaults. Instead, they attacked with smaller, better armed and more dangerous forces. It had become vital to pick targets carefully as some of the new creatures wore heavier armour and were noticeably harder to take down, shrugging off ordinary rifle fire with ease. They also carried lethal weapons capable of piercing most military armours. The defensive turrets were powerful enough to kill these tougher creatures, but their programming struggled to identify between deadly Oratan and their less dangerous brethren. They had been positioned to target outwards from the walls, leaving any enemies that made it inside the Firebase for the troops to deal with.
‘Lieutenant!’ Called a voice through his transmitter. ‘We have another wave incoming.’
Chan acknowledged the report as he sprinted the remaining distance to the Command Post, staying low. He found the Base Commander just outside, holding a hurried conversation with Ky Fung, leader of the Security Force from Sanctuary Cove. When the attack had begun hours earlier, a call had been made to Celeste Harbour requesting reinforcements, but IFN Headquarters had replied that Valiant’s garrison was on its own because all reserve forces had already been committed elsewhere. They had been preparing to evacuate when Fung and her force had arrived. Nobody had wanted to ask how she’d known that Valiant needed support.
‘Sir, there’s another wave of them about to hit us and the Oratan still control sections of the southern wall. With the defences compromised, more of them will make it inside the base this time,’ Chan reported.
‘Dammit! We won’t hold for long if they penetrate the base in force. I’m going to begin the withdrawal and save as many lives as we can,’ the Base Commander said.
‘Sir, with all due respect, if we leave now we may never recapture this Firebase. We need to hold.’
‘It’s not your decision, Lieutenant. I’m ordering—’
He was cut off as an Oratan burst around the corner of the Command Post and charged the group, firing as it ran. Several shots flew past Chan’s head, so close he could feel the wind of their passing. The Base Commander was not so lucky, his head exploding in a bloody spray of gore. Fung swore and leapt forward, executing a graceful pirouette that decapitated the creature with a precise slash of her blade.
‘Didn’t quite catch what those orders were,’ Fung said conversationally, as she wiped her blade clean. ‘You’re second in command of this circus, aren’t you Lieutenant? Do we stay and fight, or are we going to run away with our tails between our legs?’
Chan frowned at her for a second before activating his personal transmitter. ‘All units, this is Lieutenant Chan. The Base Commander is dead. I’m assuming command. Hold your positions. We must hold this base.’
He cut the transmission and looked at Fung. ‘That’s what you wanted to hear, wasn’t it?’ He challenged her, but Fung’s only answer was a feral grin.
He turned at a roar from the southern wall. Oratan were already forcing their way past the embattled defenders and storming into the base. Clenching his teeth, Chan ran to join the nearest squad of troops, firing as he moved. He was intercepted by an Oratan wielding a looted blade but he ducked under the creature’s wild swing and blew a hole through its chest before it could gut him. He shouted to the squad, ordering them to create a secondary perimeter facing south, to counter the Oratan that were streaming over the wall.
Chan lost track of time in the maelstrom of blood and bullets. The Oratan died in droves all around him, but slowly his troops fell as well, weakening the defences further. Screams coming from the enemy outside told him the turrets were still doing their deadly work, for which he was thankful. But they weren’t enough to stem the tide and if the turrets failed, the defenders wouldn’t stand a chance. Leaning out of cover, he snapped off a few quick shots before dodging back out of sight.
He waited a moment before repeating the manoeuvre, but as he did a large fist closed around his weapon, wrenching it from his grasp, and Chan suddenly found himself face to face with a huge armoured Oratan. It tossed Chan’s weapon aside and reached for him, but he dived low and rolled away, drawing his knife at the same time. Leaping close, he viciously slashed at the creature’s chest, grunting with surprise as his blade skidded off its armour.
Chan dodged to the side, adrenaline pumping through his veins, but couldn’t find an opportunity to get clear or land a killing blow. He evaded another massive blow and hacked at the creature’s elbow but still couldn’t do any damage. Step by step, he was driven backwards until he was forced against a wall. He waited, breathing hard, knowing that he would only get one chance to avoid the next swing and escape.
There was a blur of steel behind the Oratan and with lightning quick strikes, Fung’s flashing blade sliced through the creature’s unprotected heel and knee, hamstringing it. Then, with an almost contemptuous gesture, she drove the point of her blade deep into its neck, severing its spinal cord.
‘You had enough yet, Soldier Boy?’ She asked, taunting Chan as he leaned against the wall, panting as he caught his breath.
‘We’re not beaten yet,’ he growled, retrieving his weapon from the ground. A quick glance showed that the Oratan were wresting control of the walls. Worse, his remaining troops were now cut off from the teleporter. They were no longer fighting to hold the Firebase but merely to survive; there was no possibility of retreat now.
‘All units rally at the Command Post!’ He said into his transmitter, running to meet them. The defenders would be able to hold out there for a while, but the Firebase was effectively lost. It was a delaying tactic, but with so few troops remaining, it was their best hope of survival. He heard a sudden howl and snapped his head around to find an Oratan charging straight at him. He raised his weapon and pulled the trigger.
He froze as he heard a faint click.
He was out of ammunition.
Time seemed to slow as he looked into the Oratan’s wild eyes, knowing there was no escaping the shot about to burst forth from the creature’s weapon.
Suddenly, a laser beam pierced the air, hitting the charging Oratan full in the face. It took Chan a moment to register that he was still alive. As his exhausted mind tried to work out what had happened, it occurred to him that none of his troops had been issued with laser weapons. He spun around and found himself looking into the face of a girl he’d never seen before.
‘Where the hell did you come from?’ Chan blurted, shocked by the sight of her.
‘Where do you think, silly?’ The girl laughed at him, her voice sounding like silvery chimes. Before he could reply, a shot blasted through her chest.
‘No!’ He screamed, catching her falling body, even though he knew she was already dead.
As he gently lowered her to the ground and scrambled for cover, Chan realised he could hear lots of laser weapons discharging all around him. He looked around to see dozens of militia pouring through the teleporter.
‘Did you miss me?’ Asked a voice from behind him.
‘What?’ Chan turned and once again found himself facing the girl with the voice like chimes. ‘How is that possible? I just saw you die!’
‘Revival network, of course. Honestly, don’t you ever look up?’ The girl said, laughing at him. ‘The Commodore wouldn’t let us down until it was set up. We came down as soon as we could, but he says it will take even longer to get the interplanetary teleporter network set up.’
Chan stared at her, struggling to comprehend what she was saying, before slowly raising his eyes to the sky. There, hovering far above the Firebase, was the welcome shape of an IFN frigate.
Fleet Arkadia had arrived.
Date: 1 APR 3008
Title: Reset Date: 8 AUG 3008 Time: 0759hrs Source: Celeste Harbour IFN HQ
Toán Harvir walked briskly into the conference room of the IFN Headquarters at Celeste Harbour and took his seat at the head of the table.
|4.2 Desert Discovery|
‘What the hell were we thinking last night?’ He said to Kai Tero, who was working next to him. ‘I know it’s been twelve months since we got here and everything, but I haven’t stayed out that late in ages.’
‘We volunteered for this, remember?’ Tero said, ‘And we both know why we did. Sundari said this was one of the most promising sites she’s seen.’
Chambers couldn’t deny it but grumbled under his breath anyway, his head pounding incessantly from his hangover. He knelt back to work but overbalanced and fell forward, landing heavily on his knees. The ground rumbled beneath him and suddenly collapsed, sending him tumbling down a long, steep ramp, his curses turning into cries of pain.
He finally came to a stop, bruised and winded, on a flat surface. For a long moment he lay struggling to suck down a breath.
‘Chambers! Chambers, are you alright down there?’ Came Tero’s distant yell from the hole of light far above.
‘I’m alright.’ Chambers called up when he got his breath back. He sat up slowly and tried to work out where he had landed, but it was too dark to see a thing.
‘Hold on, we’re coming down. Just stay there.’
Chambers felt around blindly but there was nothing nearby. The floor where he sat was dusty but it only took moments for him to realise it was artificial. It was too uniform and smooth to be anything else. Was it possible that he had fallen into one of the Oratan’s underground lairs? The briefing before they had set out had said the closest camp was some distance to the north, but who knew how many more encampments were lying just under the colony’s feet? Hardly daring to breathe, he unclipped the light from his belt, expecting to hear the sounds of approaching Oratan at any moment.
He turned on the torch and the room was instantly bathed in light that reflected off a thousand different surfaces. A quick scan was enough to show that he was in a huge room with no apparent entrances other than the ramp. Reassured, he slowly released his pent up breath. Scanning the room again with the light, he tried to make out details of all the objects around him. Close by was a collection of pots similar to those he had been excavating at the surface but that wasn’t what drew his attention. All around the room he could see hundreds of indistinguishable shapes in stacks and piles, as well as various objects hanging from the walls.
‘Kai, get down here. You won’t believe what I’ve found.’
It wasn’t long before Tero reached Chambers, along with the rest of the dig team and half the troops sent to guard them. Within half an hour they had catalogued some of the most intriguing items and sent them back to the teleporter. The artefacts in the room were obviously of Arkadian design and the collection was made up of all kinds of equipment; ranging from a number of weapons and armours of several different designs, to the simplest of pots. To top it off, everything was in extremely good condition. There was even a device with a display that unbelievably had the faintest power charge remaining. Chambers wished that he could be the one to discover its secrets, but decoding devices was a foreign skill to him.
The greatest find so far had been what appeared to be the last stand of a squad of Arkadian soldiers. The team had found nearly a dozen complete sets of scorched and scarred battle gear strewn around the room, arranged in what the troops recognised as a defensive position. The Arkadian formation had been focussed around a cleverly designed door, which was sealed with a technology unlike anything they had encountered before. The armour sets had been immediately tagged and shipped back to Celeste Harbour for detailed analysis, but the door itself was an enigma. Chambers didn’t have a clue how to unravel its secrets, as there was no obvious locking mechanism and the team’s basic tools were useless against it. No doubt when the scientists got here they would be able to work out how to open it.
Chambers and Tero soon had the next collection of items topside and almost loaded for transport. These would be the last to go over land to the teleporters as the IFN were organising aerial transport for the rest. Chambers was trying to decide if the last spot should be filled with another suit of armour or a container of shortbladed weapons that emanated with cold, when he was interrupted by one of the troops still topside yelling down the ramp.
‘What is it?’ the Sergeant called back.
‘We’ve got Oratan incoming from the north! They’re still some distance down the hill but we’ve been spotted.’
‘Looks like nearly a hundred, Sarge, spreading out to surround us. Way more than we can handle.’
The Sergeant appeared out of the ramp and took one look at the enemy before shouting down to those remaining underground. ‘Alright, everyone up the ramp immediately, we’re heading back to the teleporter.’
‘No!’ Tero yelled. ‘We can’t just abandon what we’ve found here.’
‘We’ll be taking this load back to the teleporter and I’ll seal up the chamber as best I can. Gather your gear, we’re leaving.’
Chambers quickly tied the shortblades to the rest of the items as the last of the group came running up the ramp. As soon as they were clear, one of the troopers pulled some cover over the entrance. Chambers looked around and saw the Sergeant finish burying something in the loose sand a short way up the hill before sprinting back down to the group.
‘Alright, civilians around the transport,’ The Sergeant said. ‘Troops, form up around them. On my command, we’re going to hit the western flank while it’s still weak and punch through these bastards. Then we make for the teleporter as fast as we can.’
‘But what about the room?’ Chambers said.
‘I said I’d deal with it. They’re nearly on us. Everyone ready? Go!’ The troops opened fire on the Oratan rabble, creating a hole in the thin line that the group passed through in seconds.
‘Run, but stay in formation.’ The Sergeant yelled, and everyone obeyed, quickly opening a small lead on the Oratan. Chambers ran like he had never run before, too afraid to look back as he listened in terror to the gunfire and the cries of the fallen behind him. Suddenly, everything was drowned out by an explosion and he risked a quick glance over his shoulder. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of sand raining down the hill as a small landslide covered the dig site. I hope it’s enough, he thought to himself as he strained to keep up with the others.
They had only gone a few hundred metres before Chambers’ breaths began to rasp raggedly from his throat.
‘They’re gaining on us.’ He heard one of the troops cry.
‘Faster!’ The Sergeant yelled, but Chambers’ legs were already burning. Desperately fighting for more speed, he could hear the other archaeologists labouring just as hard. He could tell they weren’t going to make it. But even as that thought formed he noticed a new sound and looked up with relief to see a pair of IFN gunships appearing overhead.
The gunships fired as they came, buying the retreating group precious seconds, before circling to land in front of them. Before they could touch down, a rocket leapt out of the horde of Oratan and struck a gunship square in its side. With a deafening roar, the wounded craft rolled over and exploded into flames. Cursing, the Sergeant steered the group towards the remaining craft.
‘Civilians inside, quick.’ The Sergeant shouted. ‘Grab what you can carry and leave the rest; we’ll try to draw the Oratan away.’
Chambers scrambled in with the others and as soon as they were inside, the gunship took off towards Celeste Harbour as the troops continued on towards the teleporter. It hurt him to have to leave most of their newly discovered items behind, but there was no choice. As he watched, groups of Oratan chased the gunship and the remaining troops as they sprinted away, but some remained to swarm over the abandoned relics. He could only hope that they would not discover the cache in the hillside.
|4.3 Beyond the Golden Door|
Date: 6 MAR 3010 Time: 09:00hrs
Location: Arkadian Golden Door, Aakas
Alice O’Locklan stood at the edge of the broken balcony, looking at the pool far below. Water sprayed from cracks in the walls, casting shifting shadows across the giant statue. Even though scans showed that this chamber had not seen use for many years she felt uneasy. She didn’t fear an attack but had always hated being cut off from the sky. However, she was an IFN Commando and led the best scouts on Arkadia, so she was used to venturing into places that made her uncomfortable.
‘How’s the view, Granny?’ Sergeant Hieuro asked from where the squad waited behind her.
‘Prettier than you, that’s for sure.’ O’Locklan said. She turned to Hieuro with a dangerous glint in her eyes. ‘Granny?’
He smirked at her. ‘You’re all wrinkled and tanned. Maybe if you spent less time outside you’d look as good as I do.’
‘Call me Granny again and we’ll see who ends up looking worse. The rest of you, wipe those grins off. HQ has ordered us to scout the place and set up terminal, teleporter and network access for the Archaeological Society. Something is blocking our scans from penetrating beyond this main chamber but the scientists believe a terminal will be able to cut through any interference. Got that? Right, well it appears we finally get to meet our tech expert provided by the Archaeologists.’ She said, nodding towards the entrance as a small man appeared behind the squad.
‘Lieutenant O’Locklan? I’m Dr Reginald, your scientific and archaeological liaison for this mission. I’ve worked closely with both Professor Lee and Dr Zhen and have conducted extensive studies on the Aakas relics. I expect to be so busy examining everything down there that you’ll probably have to tie me up and drag me along. Or if we run into any trouble I should be able to find you the fastest route to the best hiding spot.’ Reginald said, raising a few laughs from the squad.
‘I like this one. Can we keep him, Lieutenant?’ Lefevre, the squad’s sniper, said with a smile.
‘You’d just be happy to have someone along who hides as well as you do.’ She replied. Turning to Reginald she said, ‘Once we’re down there you follow my orders and stay out of the way if things go bad. We aren’t babysitters.’
‘Don’t worry, Lieutenant, I’ve done this before. I know the drill; I was at Defiant Firebase when the Oratan attacked. I’m more than handy with the Hermans. So where’s the path down?’ Reginald asked.
‘There is no path. Something broke off this balcony and it smashed its way through the bridges below. Sergeant Hieuro, I believe you were volunteering earlier to lead our expedition. Why don’t you show the Doc how we’re getting down?’
‘At once, Ma’am.’ Hieuro saluted smartly, stepped forward and dove over the edge. A few seconds later they heard a splash. ‘All clear.’ Hieuro said over the transmitter. ‘Water is even deeper than it looks, which will make it hard for us to get to the lower levels. I’ll see if I can find the best way down.’
‘Uh, you know, I can think of several better ways of getting down there—’ Reginald began.
‘Better, but not quicker. It’s your turn Doc. Try not to get hit by the equipment when we throw it over. Take a deep breath.’ O’Locklan said as she gave him a sharp push that sent him tumbling over the edge. The rest of her squad dropped their equipment with special flotation devices attached and quickly followed them down.
While the squad was making their way down, Hieuro found a hole in the wall above the waterline caused by the falling debris. Once they passed through the makeshift passage they stood within a small, three sided room that looked as if it had remained undisturbed for centuries. While they assembled in the room Reginald paced impatiently as he fiddled with some of his equipment.
‘Lieutenant, I’m not getting any connection to my counterparts on the surface anymore.’ he said.
‘I have no link to HQ either,’ O’Locklan said, checking her own systems. ‘We’re cut off from the teleporter network, as we suspected might happen. Everyone stay on guard; we have no safety net now and we haven’t even begun to discover the mystery of this place. Reginald, one of those equipment packs has the terminal for a connection to the teleporter network. It should have enough power to link us back into the network and get our comms back online, so get that set up as quickly as you can. If we run into any surprises I want a route out of here. Sergeant, you and Lefevre stay here and keep him safe. Make sure we don’t get flanked by anything coming through the corridor leading towards the surface. The rest of us are going to continue the mission and scout ahead.’
O’Locklan ordered her squad around a bend that instantly opened up into a huge hall. Around the edges stood the tall warrior statues that could be found throughout Aakas. Even at a quick glance O’Locklan could see they were chipped and scarred.
‘Watch those statues; they look like the Sentries mentioned during the briefing.’ O’Locklan said as they entered the hall. There were too many entrances for her liking and there were small signs that it had seen recent use. She could see faint scuff marks in the layer of dust on the ground.
They hadn’t gone far into the hall when a sudden roar shattered the silence. ‘Defensive formation!’ O’Locklan yelled, her squad in motion before she’d finished the order. As the cry faded the Sentries erupted into action, assaulting the squad from every direction, brandishing swords that glowed red hot with every swing.
‘Take ‘em down.’ O’Locklan ordered. The scouts calmly opened fire, shattering the enemy in the hall one by one. As the last one crumbled and the sound of the guns faded another roar shook the chamber and more of the enemy appeared from every entrance.
‘Looks like these guys are serious. Fall back to the entrance,’ O’Locklan ordered. ‘Don’t let them get past and cut us off from the others. Sergeant Hieuro, what’s your status back there?’ She yelled as the Sentries continued to arrive in increasing numbers.
‘All clear here. No sign of a threat from the main chamber.’
‘Do we have a connection with the network yet?’
‘Not yet, should be online in a minute. Lieutenant, the ground is shaking in here.’ Hieuro said. As O’Locklan focused on the sensation, a giant Sentry crashed through the other entrance at the far end of the hall.
‘Reginald, get that network link up and running now! We need heavier weapons for this.’ O’Locklan said. ‘Lefevre, get up here. Your rifle might be the only thing that can slow this beast down.’
‘In position, Lieutenant.’ Lefevre said seconds later as he appeared by O’Locklan’s side.
‘Good. We’ll focus our fire on the rest; see if you can’t keep the big one off us until Reginald gets the teleporter online. Whatever’s down here must be valuable to have something that big guarding it.’
Lefevre sighted down his scope, breathing steadily. He tried his best to ignore the distractions of weapon fire and the thundering Sentries only metres from him as they continued their assault. Focusing his attention completely on the giant making its way across the hall, he released his breath in a slow stream, counting his heartbeats.