Entropia Universe Storylines
|The History of Calypso: The Era of Space Travel|
Ages ago, when the first international space stations for scientific research were constructed in orbit around the planet Earth, the era of space travel began and thrived on the increasing knowledge of how humans could adapt and live comfortably in space. When this knowledge was needed to solve the practical technological solutions for a life in space, the task was given to any corporation interested in such development. This eased the financial pressure on international space projects. As a result space became a giant open market for all commercial interests.
For both scientific and commercial gain, Man sought to set foot and claim the nearest planets in his own solar system this led him into an era of interplanetary conquest. The public interest for space together with its commercial value pushed space development onwards and the people of Earth experienced a virtual space-craze.
Orbital hotels around Earth became very popular resorts. A permanent station, half way to the moon, was constructed to allow shuttle traffic to a permanent base on the moon. A larger space station was later constructed in orbit around Mars to prepare the planet for colonization and it didn't take long before both the moon and Mars became the most populated new settlements away from Earth. Space cruising adventures, hotel resorts on both the moon and Mars became vacation franchises. These space resorts combined scientific research with corporate excavations for new resources, and the construction of these mines and refineries pushed the development of new space age technology forward. All this advanced technology would help Man adapt to the new environments and allow him to expand his horizons even further. Mankind had taken the final step into space.
When resources began to be depleted on Earth and harder environmental laws were being issued to prevent global ecological disaster, the world industry felt compelled to find new resources away from Earth and create new industries in space. Using probes and automated mining facilities run by computers and robots their investments would pay off. The need for smarter machines spurred research and development into artificial intelligence. Companies and scientists constructed advanced space probes to scan space and its celestial bodies for new data and resources. Space became a brand new expanding market for production and kept the global economy in balance. As a result corporation felt compelled to merge and form new and more financially powerful space corporations in order to compete for these precious new resources.
With leading market interests in space set into motion, it led to increased scientific research and the rapid development of new technology. One of the most important scientific and technological revolutions during this age was the development of Quantum Technology. This technology offered lightning speed computer processing and was used to create the first super AI computers, which in turn led to the manufacture of truly intelligent robots. It also brought a new form of instant global and interplanetary communication, which sent signals through a series of relays and beacons called a hyper link transmissions network. This technology would later allow humans to send matter through time and space by means of teleportation, which would become the key to future interstellar travel.
The complete knowledge of the human DNA allowed for genetic alterations to the human body. Although held under heavy restriction, laws to control genetic engineering would allow experiments to help humans adapt to different environments on alien planets in the future. As a result science created the androids, organic humanoid robots engineered from biological materials that could be programmed and tested as virtual copies of real human beings. Due to the advanced knowledge involved in the creation of androids these artificial humans were only used in restricted scientific research. The androids could never topple the less expensive and practical use of standard robot technology that became available to all after the development of the new AI computers.
Even though signal transmissions had become instant within the solar system the physical means of travel was still quite primitive. Fusion Engines could take space vessels to the colony on Mars in a few months and make it to the furthest planet in the system within three years. It was good enough for efficient interplanetary travel but not practical for human interstellar journeys. Unmanned robot probes that were equipped with this type of propulsion were sent out on endless voyages into deep space and could take a hundred years before reaching even the nearest star. Finding a habitable planet for humans at this rate could take more than a thousand years. Mankind had to settle for the planets that were within reasonable reach inside its own solar system.
|The History of Calypso: The Conquest of Space|
As interplanetary travel grew the space frontier quickly shrunk because it was limited to the inner boundaries of the solar system and the early ways of space travel. New resources became rare and conflicts between rival corporations grew more violent in their desperate struggle to claim any new resources. The fear of a global economical collapse due to a slow stagnation of the interplanetary market, and the threat of an open armed conflict between the leading national corporations would soon compel Mankind to find ways to reach even deeper into space, far beyond their own solar system. To solve the growing economical problems the leading global forces within politics, market and science moved together to embark on the greatest enterprise in human history: the Odysseus Project. As this huge endeavor was set into motion the gathered forces within this new global body also took the final step towards a world union.
Though the market industry was to be the main beneficiary from the Odysseus Project, the public also had to be convinced that they were part taking in a great historical enterprise as well. Many conservative emerging nations worried that they could be left out so the plan to increase the industrialization and knowledge of space would also include a mission to expand the whole human civilization beyond its own solar system and to secure the survival of Mankind in the future. This would be Mans Greatest Quest". Taking advantage of a project of such a grand scale it was used to give a feeling of new hope to the world, and calm the masses. As a result the New World Project was founded along side the Odysseus Project and its main goal was to find a new planet in a nearby solar system that could sustain human life. But to send humans beyond their own solar system and directly into the unknown infinite voids of space was still too dangerous. The journey was far too long, the search extremely difficult and the construction of life-supporting spacecraft made the enterprise both technologically and financially crippling. Instead combined efforts and resources were focused on the development of new technology, such as the Jump Rail, Shield Generators and the creation of Antimatter.
The first step towards the development of teleportation technology was the invention of a linear way of teleportation using a construction called a Jump Rail, which was capable of sending matter light-years away straight across space. However, construction and usage was extremely costly and the journey far too inaccurate and risky to be of any real practical use. The amount of material, special constructions and energy consumption needed to create a Jump Gate were not available at the time to make it viable. With the creation of antimatter and prototype antimatter reactors it was possible to construct the first functional Jump Rail, though it was still far from practical. The mere fact that the Jump Rail would be torn apart by the violent forces released at each launch did not help its case. For a vessel to survive the immense stress of a launch it seemed natural to focus on the construction of small , compact vessels. The first tests were performed on so called nanoships, and even though the stress tests proved minimal during launch, the smaller vessels did not survive the actual journey. These tests proved that the target matter needed to be contained within a powerful energy field to prevent its atoms from dissolving. As a result the technological development of energy shields also took a step forward. All new technology at this early stage of development was quite crude in both size and functionality. The task required a vessel with a much larger and sturdier hull, allowing it to be equipped with all the devices needed as well as the massive surrounding construction that could emit a stable energy field to protect it. Worried about loosing political momentum the new global political body changed project requirements so that all the new bulky equipment would have enough space onboard the new vessels: the giant Odysseus Probes…
A total of seven large Odysseus probes were assembled on orbital space stations. Jump Rails was then used to launch the probes into space towards carefully selected planetary star systems in the galaxy. These star systems had proved to be the most suitable candidates according to prior astrological research with the most advanced space telescopes and equipment. The probes had to be completely self-reliant and were therefore equipped with the most advanced and expensive technology available at that time. Each probe was controlled by a virtually sentient AI quantum super computer, which made the probe capable of its own progressive development and self-reproduction. The AI had several objectives and two primary missions. One was to find and utilize new resources, launch new probes and prepare a communication network for Mankind in space. The second mission was to find a planet capable to sustain human life and initiate a terra-formation to prepare it for human colonization. When a probe had reached its target destination it launched drones to make a survey of all nearby stellar constellations, in search of potential resources to exploit in order to continue its own reproduction and primary mission directives. When enough data have been gathered on a potential planet the probe would send down a Base Matrix that was to land on a strategic place on the planet, set up a base platform and begin to construct it's own robots. Well adapted to the environment these robots would in turn find and extract necessary resources from the surrounding areas and produce material to build new facilities. To expand the base and increase its technological capabilities, the Odysseus probe would monitor the progress to a certain point before it would continue its journey towards a new destination. The base would continue to expand and eventually launch a new generation of Odysseus Probes into space to continue the primary missions.
The further development of Quantum Technology led to the construction of the first functional teleportation units, which allowed all matter to travel virtually instantly from one place to another. It also meant that organic matter could be transferred from one point to another, creating an instant form of human travel. From being just scientific experiments the new technology needed stronger financial support from the market to reach up to the next levels of development. The Global Alliance saw a great potential in the system and financed the next step in the development: the creation of the first global teleportation network. With financial benefits in mind the scientists introduced the idea of creating an open doorway through space that would save a lot of travel time between colonies and remote outposts. Since the large "Quantum Leap Generators" in each system required vast amounts of energy to function it ultimately led to the increased research and development of antimatter reactors and refineries. With practical and profitable use in mind the technology would later be used to create the first operational Space Gates in the future.
All Odysseus Probes had been built and launched within the period of a decade. During this time the newly formed global alliance had to deal with arising conflicts in order to protect their goals towards a unified world. But with new technology at their fingertips the alliance was able to end all major conflicts as quickly as they arose, and not always by the use of force. To add more strength to their agenda they made the teleportation technology available to the open market. When teleportation became the new way of public transportation it made daily trips and global travel quick, easy and available to everyone. As a result the national borders begun to gradually fade away and merge together, increasing the human tolerance and slowly erasing the cultural barriers that had kept mankind apart. Ethnical groups, political factions and a strong sense of cultural heritage still remained within human society but as Earth was becoming one world it was each individuals affiliation to one of the growing global mega-corporations, which replaced the old human view of having different nationalities on Earth. Meanwhile the people on the expanding interplanetary colonies gradually became more socially integrated, slowly forming a stronger bond to each other and the planet they lived on…
|The History of Calypso: The New Order|
The people of Earth were about to unite under one single form of leadership. But the corporations were growing weary from waiting for the new resources and profits that the Odysseus probes would bring them. After nearly a decade there had still been no response from any of the Odysseus Probes and people feared that the probes had been destroyed. With each year passing by without a message from any of the probes the conflicts in space increased and before long escalated into corporation wars. The battles took place in space far away from Earth where the Global Alliance had no means of control. With the lack of response from the Odysseus Probes and the brewing conflicts in space beginning to spread to the Mars colony, it increased the official demand for answers as well as the need for new leadership. Scientists came up with the conclusion that the probes had been caught in some sort of a temporary abnormality that became known as a Time Flux, probably due to the form of travel provided by the use of Jump Rails. Half teleported and half travelling at several times the speed of light it would change the reality of time from both standpoints. What would appear like a short moment of travel for each probe could pass by like ages for the people back on Earth. Still, it was only a matter of time before the project command central would receive the first signal of arrival from one of the Odysseus Probes. In the meantime corporation conflicts had to be dealt with using a stronger power than what could be issued out by the Global Alliance.
The Global Alliance was determined to take control of the situation before the conflicts escalated on Mars and stop them before they could spread to the Lunar Colony and finally the Earth itself. To gain enough power to take action the Global Alliance gathered to form a whole new government. This new form of leadership would gain political power to rule the Earth, including all the planets in the solar system and all regions of space in-between them. But most important, it would also stretch as far as human civilization went, no matter how far away into space it would take Mankind. The Federal Empire of Earth had been born.
The newly formed Federal Empire used political tactics and increased mobile military capabilities in space to gain control over the interplanetary colonies. This was done in order to prevent the corporation wars spreading down to solid ground and into populated areas. Time was short and the Federal Empire wished to put an end to the corporation wars before the first signals from the Odysseus Probes were received. The first elected Supreme Imperial Chancellor did not intend to give the corporations the chance to slip away and take their conflicts with them to any new colonies in the future front regions of space. When the corporations lost control of the public markets their armed conflicts quickly came to an end. For a short time the corporations thought about forming their own alliance, which threatened to turn against the Federal Empire in an attempt to overthrow its new government. However, during the very same period the first signals from one of the Odysseus Probes reached Earth. The growing threat from the corporations quickly faded away as they turned their interest towards the new potential resources that were beginning to emerge across space. This first signal was the start of a new age in the history of Mankind: the era of interstellar travel and conquest.
|The History of Calypso: The Colonization of Space|
Decades passed by as Mankind began to move away from Earths solar system, following the growing web of robotic bases and industrial supply facilities that were left behind by the Odysseus Probes. So far, the Jump Rails were the only means of interstellar travel but this would soon change with the invention of the Space Gates. As the industry continued to expand the public community would follow and it became a slow but natural form of immigration out into space. Humans managed to adapt and overcome the problems of a life in colonies on new alien worlds, learning how to survive in very hostile environments.
Communications and travel were easy but life was hard, if not impossible, unless science and technology were used to aid Mankind in the stellar conquest and colonization of new planets. Even though many worlds are considered habitable it still requires advanced environmental and/or anatomical adjustments to support human life. As a result many humans on far away worlds have been altered technologically or genetically and have become altered in their appearance compared to the original humans on Earth. Through the passing of generations these altered humans have began to naturally inherit genetically engineered traits from their parents, without the need for prior genetic alteration of the unborn child. As for yet, the only aliens encountered have been relatively early forms of primitive life. The altered humans originating from Earth remain the only truly intelligent form of life on these few habitable alien worlds.
With the continued development of Teleportation Technology the first operational Space Gates were soon being constructed across the entire Earth solar system to link the different planets and colonies together. There was no longer a need for any large human transport vessels between the interplanetary colonies since smaller shuttlecrafts could now travel instantly through the Space Gates. However, the Space Gate technology had its limits. An active gate consumes vast amounts of energy and requires the large scale construction of antimatter reactors, generators, shields, stabilization units and other expensive systems. The opening itself in the gate has to be kept small to keep the active teleportation field stabile and the passage secure. The reactors that generate the energy to activate a gate are enormous and require large quantities of antimatter to function. The creation of antimatter is still a difficult and expensive process, still making the issue of Space Gates a matter of economics rather than the most practical and efficient way of space travel available.
The interstellar network is growing rapidly. To encourage market competition and ease the economical strain, as well as the political pressure from having to sway off corporate mischief towards the government, the Federal Empire began to issue out Imperial Contracts. These contracts focus on the communication network such as the protection and maintenance of Hyper Link Beacons and the construction of Space Gates. Corporations who have obtained a contract to maintain a beacon are able to pick up new signals transmitted from an Odysseus Probe that has established a new base somewhere in space. The signal that is crossing a contracted beacon will be detected and tagged with a claim before the news has reached all the other control station in the network in each sector of space. The corporations are then able to sign the contract for a new base and its resources from the Federal Empire at first hand. This also includes claiming a contract for future research and the development of entire new colonies on other planets, which is called a Colonial Contract. This means that the corporation is in complete control of the market on the colony until the whole world has been terra-formed and secured to allow a larger public immigration.
|The History of Calypso: The Beginning|
Centuries had passed by as man slowly moved further into space. During this time an unknown number of new generation Odysseus Probes had started their endless voyage cross the galaxy, sharing the same ancient quest as the original seven probes that had been launched from Earth such a long time ago. It was one of these new generation probes that discovered a truly life-giving planet. With minor environmental adjustments this New World would be a virtual copy of the Earth itself but with its own evolution of generally early primitive life forms. Once the probe had proven the environment to be acceptable for human settlement it established a base and sent a message back through the hyper link network before it begun the terra-formation of the planet. When the atmosphere and environment had been adjusted to fully support human life the robots continued to build cities that were to stand ready in time for the first human arrivals.
However, things had changed during the course of time since the first original probes were launched from Earth. Before the signal managed to reach its intended destination on Earth, it was intercepted and decoded by a corporation that now owned and maintained several of the beacons inside a large sector of the hyper link network were the signal was first received and identified by humans. The corporation OmegaTech quickly claimed the contract to colonize the world but withheld the crucial information from the public that a true living planet had been discovered. The issue was only discussed in secrecy before the Supreme Imperial Chancellor within the closed chambers of the Imperial Senate. The Federal Empire knew the great importance of this historical discovery and decided to give the contract to OmegaTech along with an ultimatum. Unless the corporation had begun a colonization of the planet within a decade the Colonial Contract would be passed on to the next corporation in line that filed a claim on the New World after it had been made official. Indeed there were speculations that the Federal Empire itself had already drawn up its own plans and that the ultimatum was only their first step in taking control of the New World...
As the data communications with the robot base matrix on the New World continued more data was decoded that revealed new amazing information. According to certain files the mysterious planet had kept the Odysseus Probe stationed for several standard cycles in orbit before it finally made the decision to leave, despite available resources to construct a new Jump Rail to continue its own voyage within less than one cycle. Any information that would explain this event had for unknown reasons never been transferred from the Odysseus Probe to the robot base matrix before the probe left the star system. This strange delay in the probe's voyage gave the planet its name according to a very ancient human tale from Earth, were a sea nymph waylaid a homeward-bound hero named Odysseus for seven years on her island. The name of this nymph was Calypso and it was considered most fitting for a future market campaign.
Despite efforts to keep the discovery a secret many rumors of the amazing New World soon begun to spread across the colonies. The new planet and its star system were positioned far past the rim of the Colonial Frontier, which gave the isolated planet an almost mystical reputation amongst the people on the imperial colonies as well as on Earth. This growing public interest was building up a pressure on both the OmegaTech Corporation and the Federal Empire. OmegaTech used this interest to execute a hostile takeover and to gain legal motion and financial aid from the Federal Empire for a daring project that would expand the empire outside the colonial boarders and past the known frontiers by bringing the first human settlers to Calypso.
With federal aid and a growing public interest throughout the colonies, OmegaTech were able to launch an enormous enterprise called the Exodus Project. Its goal was to bring human settlers to Calypso within less than a decade. The best way would be to launch a research ship towards Calypso using a Jump Rail. The ship would carry necessary equipment and crew for the construction of a Space Gate and the basic material needed to link it to its counterpart that would be built inside the secure space of the colonial frontier. However, there were not enough technological resources available within the corporation itself to embark on such a project. To succeed with this endeavor OmegaTech would need to obtain technological aid and resources from other interstellar corporations but the space market was more interested in seeing the downfall of OmegaTech rather than to help it succeed and prosper. It was a clear attempt by market rivals to weaken OmegaTech in order to move in later and take over the financially vulnerable corporation. High prices on imported resources, shipment delays, equipment flaws, espionage and sabotage would threaten the project, despite legal aid from the Federal Empire. The Federal Empire wasn't able to control the corporations directly in favor of a single corporation without a risk of causing a political market crisis. OmegaTech had foreseen this line of events and decided to use a more old fashion approach to overcome this problem.
By contemplating whatever available technology and resources it had access to the corporation decided build a giant colonial space vessel called The Exodus. The commercial campaign was given the same name as the ship, which increased the public interest in the project even more. The Exodus would be able to take over a thousand settlers to Calypso using the largest Jump Rail ever built. With financial support from the Federal Empire the project was set into motion, despite massive criticism from rival corporations about the low technological level of the whole enterprise. And it was a risky business. It would take every last bit of financial resources to succeed, which would leave the OmegaTech Corporation financially crippled and very vulnerable.
The colonies on other planets were not considered living planets like Earth. Even though some planets possessed enough basic elements to be terra-formed and given a new designed ecosystem it still had to be artificially maintained, just like the home planet of Earth itself. Despite these advanced technologies permanent habitants had to be genetically designed to survive on these worlds. Calypso had its own natural ecosystem, even though it had been slightly altered by the robots to make it perfectly suitable for unaltered human beings. When the Federal Empire stated that the discovery of the New World was fact, it quickly became leading news all across the colonial empire. The thought of an untouched world spread a new sense of hope and joy amongst the people throughout the colonies. The Exodus campaign rose ill rumors amongst the colonies that the New World would only be available to the unaltered human elite on Earth and the people within the OmegaTech Corporation, which caused industrial strikes and colonial uproars. The relatively small colonial communities of altered humans posed more of an annoyance than a threat to the corporations and the Federal Empire. The colonial uprisings would fade away with the insurance that the Federal Empire would give all people in the colonial empire the chance to apply for the journey to Calypso onboard the Exodus. However, genetically altered humans and habitants on other colonies wouldn't be anatomically fit to take on the hard ventures as settlers at this early stage of colonization. Instead they were given the official promise that they would gain access to the new world as any other visitors would once the colony had been secured. This promise was not favored well amongst certain political fractions and would result in a growing envy and ill will within the altered human colonies...
The Exodus was built in space inside a shielded dome next to a large resourceful asteroid and industrial facilities owned by the OmegaTech Corporation. This dome was not only a shipyard but would also serve as the protective coating around the ship when it was to be launched by the large Jump Rail. The Jump Rail was being constructed at the same time near another resourceful asteroid. These construction areas were located not far away from a central space station that controlled the only Space Gate in the sector. When the great ship was complete, it was moved to the Jump Gate and there it was prepared for launch. The fortunate people who had been authorized to become the first settlers on Calypso were now allowed to travel to the space station and board the Exodus. Every step in the project was followed in detail by the interstellar media and transmitted through the interstellar hyper-link network, instantly reaching people all over the colonial frontier inside the Federal Empire. Media titled it "The Great Exodus", which boosted the public campaign even more. When the Exodus ship was finally launched on her journey towards Calypso it was considered as another milestone in human history and the beginning of a new era. It had taken three years to complete the Exodus Project but it would take another two years before the people in the Federal Empire finally heard from the Exodus again.
|The History of Calypso: The First Arrivals|
When the first settlers arrived on Calypso everything was prepared for their arrival by robots that had already built up a complete infrastructure. Upon their arrival the robots Base Matrix turned over its control to the humans. The first settlers on Calypso experienced a historical moment as they sat foot on a vast and unspoiled planet, rich in life and resources. They moved into the cities and began to make the last adjustments to the environment. Mankind seemed to have returned to paradise and this first region of colonies became known as New Eden. But all this would soon change...
During further investigations of the Robot Base Matrix on Calypso the research teams were never able to find the reason why the Odysseus Probe had stayed for so long before leaving. Though the reason for this delay would remain a mystery the researchers did come across several clues that pointed towards another nearby star system, positioned even further away in the unknown regions of space. The scattered information indicated that shortly after a robot base had been successfully established on Calypso, the Odysseus Probe had constructed a new Jump Rail and then launched itself towards this new destination. Its last transmission was made only to inform the Base Matrix that the probe had arrived and positioned itself in orbit around one of the major planets inside this system. For all they knew the silent Odysseus Probe could still be there.
The OmegaTech Corporation decided to launch a second project called Operation Prometheus in an attempt to shed more light over the mysterious actions of the Odysseus Probe. It would also be an opportunity to intercept and examine this old human artifact from the past. An unmanned probe named the Prometheus 1 was prepared for the mission and a small Jump Rail was built to launch the probe towards the last received coordinates. Equipped with a hyper-link transmitter it could send back instantaneous information of what it might discover. The probe arrived at its intended destination in less than three months and transmitted data of an eerie and dark planetary system orbiting a dying star. Two colossal planets with high-density readings were the most distinct features in the system and were given the names Akbal and Cimi. There was no sign of the Odysseus Probe but Prometheus 1 had detected signals from several robot base installations on the surface of both these planets. There was no doubt that these robots originated from the Odysseus Probe, but the question was why the Robot Base Matrix hadn't established any communications with the interstellar hyper-link network. As Prometheus 1 was ordered to establish contact with the Base Matrix on the planet Akbal the research team back on Calypso received several encrypted signals through its system that originated from the Robot Base Matrix on Akbal. Unable to decode it they decided to process it through the Base Matrix on Calypso...
|The History of Calypso: The Robot Uprising|
Without any warning the Base Matrix turned all its robots into savage and ruthless death-machines, and with cruel and merciless tactics, forced the darkest era known to Man upon the poor settlers of Calypso. At the beginning of the revolt the Base Matrix cut off all forms of communications on and off the colony. It took control of space drones that were working on a near completed Space Gate and used them to sabotage the construction, rendering it completely useless. The terror continued as it overloaded local energy reactor facilities in the cities, causing them to overheat and explode. It intended not only to destroy the infrastructure but also spread lethal radiation poisoning that would quickly dispose of all living human beings. A few colonies managed to stop this sabotage in time and people quickly became organized in time to stop the local robots from running berserk inside their cities. But the Base Matrix had already planed to take advantage of the panic and confusion to create an armed army of restless robots that would turn the revolt into total war.
As the humans were forced to retreat the sinister robots begun to use own nuclear charges to infect possible escape routes and wipe out any last scattered remains of the human population. This massive radiation would slowly kill more people over a longer period of time, but many settlers survived this contamination. Instead of dying they were genetically altered and perhaps suffered a far more cruel fate than death. They began to mutate. Only a few uncontaminated survivors managed to seek refuge in the last city left standing on Calypso and get transported up to the orbiting Exodus but only genetically unaltered humans were welcome here. There was simply no room or resources left in the city for medical care and safe treatment of these victims. For the protection and the survival of the human refugees inside the city the severely contaminated humans were rejected and forced away. They only managed to survive by hiding in the wilderness and underground in the city ruins to escape the robot death-machines. What little humanity they had left slowly faded, with no hope of ever being rescued. They were doomed and quickly forgotten by the humans who were too occupied with their own survival.
Mad robotic space drones caused damaged to the Exodus in orbit but its internal AI computer systems remained secure. The ship and its crew survived the ordeal and managed to clear the space of all hostile elements. The Exodus was then transformed into an orbital military space station and the crew initiated a rescue operation to evacuate as many human survivors as possible from the surface. Surviving settlers had to be turned into soldiers and would be forced to fight long and hard to reclaim their planet but they were being constantly outnumbered by the robots. Since all AI robots were being infested with the same madness down on the surface the commanders onboard the Exodus could not send in its own robots to battle in fear that these machines would go mad as well and be used against them. In a desperate attempt to even the odds the commanders onboard the Exodus begun to create androids and used these artificial genetic humanoids as expendable soldiers and personnel in the war. They also started to use semi-automated drone ships, piloted by human operators onboard the Exodus using a remote hyper-link control system. To reestablish contact with the Federal Empire the Exodus crew used a small Jump Rail to launch a probe past the jamming range of the robot infested planet and managed to connect itself to the interstellar hyper-link network and send a message of their desperate situation back to the Federal Empire. The next step was to rebuild the Space Gate but they could only spare enough antimatter to activate the gate for a very limited period of time. Once the Space Gate was activated they could only hope that there would be reinforcements standing by on the other side...
The situation on Calypso was clearly getting out of control. To quickly deal with this growing problem the Federal Empire of Earth forced OmegaTech to sign over the entire corporation leadership to the imperial government, thus forming the federal controlled imperial corporation now known as OmegaTech Incorporated. This federal incorporation gave OmegaTech access to more funds and resources that could insure the safety and future prosperity of the colony on Calypso. When the corporation became federal the planet also became an open market for other corporations to make future investments. The Federal Empire welcomed any help that could present an immediate aid to the settlers in their struggle for survival. According to the message the settlers could only keep the Space Gate open for a short moment. A massive military operation to save the colony could not be launched with such limitations so the only efficient form of aid would be a compact delivery of the latest technology, supplies, equipment and expert personnel. Any corporation that offered their aid would be given the first share of the new open market on the colony. As a result brand new technology would become available to the settlers such as Resurrection units, Mindforce and Energy Weapons. Calypso would be turned into a test zone for many new technological wonders...
The cry for help from Calypso was the primary issue of debate in all the political chambers back on Earth. One of the primary concerns was to insure that the robotic madness wouldn't spread to any other robotic outposts or to any human colonies. The second concern was to help the settlers on the isolated colony on Calypso. Besides sending immediate technological aid, the Federal Empire constructed Jump Rails to launch several military spaceships towards Calypso as a back-up plan if the settlers failed to recapture the planet. Although it was agreed that it would require a larger military operation to perform such a task, the Colonial Chamber made it clear that no imperial or company-controlled paramilitary force could be stationed on Calypso after such an operation. It would diminish their trust towards the Federal Empire since the members of the Colonial Chamber feared that such military force would be used to keep colonial people away from the planet in the future. The colonial people would never accept Calypso being turned into an "Imperial Resort" for the citizens of Earth, giving that there was a planet left after such a full scale military operation. Many feared that such a presence of military power might escalate the robot attacks to such a degree that it could lay waste to the entire planet...
The settlers and crew onboard the Exodus had fought hard to defend the last populated region of the colony. Only three cities inside this region had escaped robot sabotage and destruction because they had been built around a large inactive volcano, relying solely on geothermal energy absorbed from deep within the sleeping mountain. The other cities used matter/antimatter reactors, which proved to be their downfall as the robots used these to create large explosions that levelled the cities and spread a lethal radiation poisoning amongst the human survivors. The protected region was to become known as The Haven. It was the only tactical and secure area left on the planet and many survivors who had fled from the other cities came here to seek refuge. It was the last line of defense and the only chance for Mankind to recapture the planet and defeat the robots. The settlers withstood the robot attacks long enough to successfully repair the Space Gate and create a temporary opening. Personnel of officers, scientists and engineers from the Federal Empire were rushed through the gate along with as much supplies and equipment as possible before the gate closed. In a desperate attempt to keep the poorly stable gate open as long as possible it collapsed and exploded. The colony was cut off again but they now had new technology and expertise at their disposal, which finally gave the colonial forces enough military strength to fight a winning battle against the robots.
Despite the advantage of the new technology it would take several hard years before the robots could finally be defeated. The brave settlers withstood the robot terror long enough for imperial military vessels to arrive at the Calypso system with more reinforcements, and the war came to an end. To inspire new hope among the settlers, the Federal Empire declared that a whole new infrastructure would be created in the three remaining cities. To ease the financial strain on federally owned corporation OmegaTech Inc, the Federal Empire decided to give two other interstellar corporations access to Calypso. These new corporations would aid the colony in the construction of the other two city projects in exchange for a higher market position within these assigned urban zones. Each corporation was also assigned a contract by the Federal Empire to exploit different resources on the planet in order to insure stability and to encourage trade and economical growth within the region. These three new cities were named New Haven, Neo Ithaca and Xin Shi. But the war was far from over...it had only just begun.
When the robots had been destroyed it gave the settlers on Calypso a short moment to reflect on what really had caused the robots to rebel and target humans as their enemy. The element that caused the catastrophe was soon traced back to its point of origin, in the Akbal-Cimi system. When the Imperial military spaceships were being prepared for launch towards the Akbal-Cimi system a massive vessel arrived in the Calypso system along the very same trajectory. The vessel clearly came from the Akbal-Cimi system and it was soon identified as an Odysseus Probe. The massive vessel was not responding to any commands but it was most likely to have been the very same Odysseus Probe that once discovered Calypso. The only form of messages transmitted by its AI command module were said to be incomprehensible but were taken as a warning to the settlers, later revealing its real intent, to recapture the planet. The imperial military spaceships were quickly positioned to intercept this first Titan of War and prevent it from reaching Calypso. The battle over Calypso lit up the dark skies at night for several days before the massive Odysseus Probe was finally destroyed and its wrecked parts fell through the atmosphere like shooting stars. One military spacecraft and nearly all of its crew had been destroyed and the rest of the small fleet suffered substantial damage. The Exodus was kept safe and out of harms way on the other side of the planet during the battle - in case the settlers had to be evacuated from Calypso. This historical moment became known as the Battle of Calypso but it never became a celebrated victory. To the settlers the battle only meant the beginning of a new robot war...a war that has yet to end...
|The History of Calypso: The Robot Threat|
Communications with the robots were properly reestablished after the first war but the victory faded quickly as the news on the Battle of Calypso reached all the colonized corners of the Federal Empire. The speculations of an interstellar threat of mad Odysseus Probes turning back to conquer human colonies spread much fear on the Colonial Frontier. As a result the colonies on the frontier demanded increased military protection from the Federal Empire. To avoid panic and rebellion the Federal Empire ordered its imperial fleets to be stationed in the colonized sectors positioned close to the distant sectors of the Calypso and Akbla-Cimi systems. A small fleet of imperial spaceships were also sent to join the battered fleet in the Calypso system in preparation for an offensive strike against the very heart of the robot problem. However, by moving forces from one corner of space to another it weakened the Empires presence and power in certain sectors, causing colonies to seize the moment and gain enough political power to make the people rise up and demand imperial independence. This threat to the Federal Empire postponed any further reinforcements of new spaceships to Calypso, since these vessels are considered vital to stabilize the current conflicts that had arisen within the empire itself.
Naturally the Federal Empire would not redraw their imperial battleships currently deployed in the Calypso system. The Federal Empire also kept their word to the loyal colonies that it would not station any imperial military command or forces on Calypso, which assured the colonies future as an open market for any new investment. The task to uphold law and order as well as the defense of the colony has been given to the local authorities and the Colonial Guard. The Federal Empire maintained command of the solar system space defense. The rest it laid in the hands of the settlers themselves.
To keep the planet safe from further robot invasions a solid orbital defense system had to be constructed before all else. In order to release enough resources for this purpose all other projects on rebuilding the colonial infrastructure on Calypso were postponed. Funds have only been focused on rebuilding one single city: the city of New Haven. OmegaTech constructed a basic network of orbital energy emitting satellites, which included deep space detectors, patrolling drone ships and drone carriers. By constantly expanding the Orbital Defense Network it created an impenetrable planet defense system for the future. The original plan was to use this network as a defense against asteroids but it was now reworked to include five times as many units. A built-in safety system in every unit guaranteed that none of the offensive orbital weapon systems could be armed and directed towards the planet itself. The entire defense network is connected to the Exodus, which now served as an orbital command central.
After several failed attempts to penetrate the defense network on Calypso the Akbal-Cimi Base Matrix seemed to realize that it would take far too much time and resources to break through the increased orbital space defenses around Calypso before its own system would be invaded by counter-attack forces. It kept building new modified Odysseus Probes but kept them stationed in the close vicinity of the Akbal-Cimi system for protection. Unmanned scout probes from the fleet in the Calypso system were sent out to investigate the Akbal-Cimi system and soon discovered that a similar defense network was already being constructed around the main planet of Akbal. Soon these scout probes wouldn't even get that close to the Akbal-Cimi system as the robots began to deploy their modified Odysseus probes, now called Titans of War by the Imperial Fleet, and position them further out in the system to form an own first line of defense. At this rate it would no longer be possible to recapture the Akbal-Cimi system with the currently available resources or technology within the Calypso system.
It became obvious that the robots had access to far superior technology when armed groups of robots somehow managed to penetrate the orbital defenses and suddenly began to appear on the surface of Calypso. It took some time before it became clear that the robots truly did just appear out of thin air. Somehow the Matrix on Akbal-Cimi had managed to reveal the secrets of true dimensional travel and used it to develop a superior form of teleportation technology, thereby being able to construct a fully functional deep space teleportation system. The robots were now able to deploy and teleport their troops across time and space and drop them down directly on the surface of Calypso. Although fewer in number these new robot invaders were far better constructed and equipped compared to their predecessors that once ran amok on Calypso. Their mission was as clear as ever: to destroy all humans and take over the planet.
As the robot threat increases, Imperial Fleet of Calypso has come to realize that an attack on the corrupt robot home world, the Akbal-Cimi system, would be impossible since the robots now possess a superior technology and nearly infinite resources. It makes the robots far too powerful compared to the forces of the Federal Empire and an attack on their planet would be a virtual suicide. When the problem was brought before the Imperial Chamber it decided to change strategy and made up a new and far more controversial plan. They believe that if given enough time, the robots will continue to develop and deploy new technology with their invading forces. Upon defeating these new robots that technology can be recovered and extracted in order to increase the research and technological development of Mankind. This conquered robot technology will then be used to create new weapons against the robots, weapons that some day will finally defeat the raging machines once and for all. In short, the superior ability of humans to adapt and invent things by both logic and abstract thinking will sooner or later put them side by side with the robots, flexible but strictly logical minds. In the end it will bring Mankind the tools they need to put an end to the robot war and regain control of Calypso and the Akbal-Cimi system. It was considered the most likely entropy for the planet according to a simulation of the problem performed by GAIA, the Global Artificially Intelligent Advisor and likewise the imperial central super computer on Earth. This also gave the controversial plan its official name: Project Entropia.
The downside of this entropy is that the robot invasion of Calypso has to continue in order to obtain the crucial knowledge required to finally liberate Calypso from the robot menace. Something that is not favored too well by the settlers on Calypso, but it's something they now have to learn to live with. The land once called "New Eden" now felt like a painful memory of a paradise lost long ago and the authorities changed it to Old Eden. However, being struck by a sense of dark humor in their hard and lonesome struggle against the restless robot invaders, the local citizens of Calypso like to refer their small pocket of human civilization as the Land of Entropia.
- Robot Menace 2010
- Harbinger Event
|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.
|4.4 Underground - Part I - Cleanup|
Date: 4 MAR 3011 Time: 06:45hrs
Location: Courageous Firebase
The sun had barely risen above the horizon but already the clean-up was well underway after the latest attack. IFN troopers and civilian militia moved amongst the mounds of Oratan corpses surrounding the walls of Courageous Firebase, stripping anything that looked like it would be of interest to the Science Division. Everything else was dragged into piles and set alight. All around the base, dozens of pyres coughed greasy black columns of smoke into the still morning air. Occasional shots rang out as the few remaining Oratan fought to the death.
Alpha Team gathered at a rocky outcrop near the cave’s entrance, awaiting the arrival of the team’s leader, Lieutenant Commander Derek Knowles, known to the team as “Bossman”. As he approached, he was finishing a conversation through his communicator.
Knowles led Alpha Team into the cave system, taking the ramps down into the caverns beneath the mountaintop base. Reaching the first cavern, they spotted a freshly dug tunnel in one of the side walls that must have been made by the Oratan. Scanning the area, they proceeded cautiously through the new tunnel, figuring that whatever the Oratan were after, or protecting, it must be somewhere nearby. After crossing several intersecting tunnels, they came to a dead end. Knowles was about to turn them around and begin exploring another section when he spotted something glowing at floor level at the end of the tunnel.
Moments later, a couple of guards patrolling the walls of the Firebase had to grip the railings as the ground shook beneath them. As the new tunnel collapsed, a low rumbling echoed up from the caves, followed by a cloud of dust and dirt, causing a flock of birds to scatter away screeching.
|4.4 Underground - Part I - Cleanup|
Date: 11 MAR 3011 Time: 10:00hrs
Location: Arkadian Underground
'Welcome Director,' Xao Peng, the P-Tech liaison, greeted as Director Edward Bishop stepped off the teleporter. 'Glad you could make it. Did you have any problems finding the place?'
The history of Cyrene.
Offical storyline introduced by Planet Cyrene Creative Director Ed 3 in this thread: Sneak Peak at Cyrene Storyline
Chapter one, "The Sons of Remus"
Planet Staverron. Outer rim, sector 8 of the Imperium. 17,005 GE (Galactic Empire)
The thunder of the particle cannons against the defense shields was a deafening and rude awakening. Sargent Jonah Armstrong waited outside impatiently for his Captains orders. It seemed that the Captain was shell shocked from the get go and refused to give the order to attack. Five long and stressful minutes had passed and still no order for the counter attack was given. Their position was weakening with every salvo, suddenly one of the cannons broke through the power shields and struck the command bunker. The Captain lay outside incoherently, saved only by his personal suit's added defense shield. At the sight of seeing the Captain go down, Sargent Jonah started giving orders to mount up and prepare for a counter attack. As the troops climbed into their power armor and vehicles for the counter strike, the assault that had started without warning, had quickly stopped. The sudden silence was maddening, had they all gone deaf or was it even worse? One of the corporals asked the Sargent "Sir how could they know our location, and how did they sneak onto the planet without our knowledge?" The Sargent was just as confused, only the Turrelions could have performed such a surprise attack, but they were the oldest of the Imperium's allies. The Sargent yelled at the corporal to go into the command bunker to see if the communication center was still operational. Soon after he had gone inside, the corporal came out with a pale face. The squad looked at one another confused as the corporal announced, "It's over." The Sargent calmed the men who broke out into a loud shouts of confusion and shock. He then asked" What do you mean it's over, did those guns get taken out? Speak up son." The Corporal just looked directly into the Sargent hardened face and exclaimed, "Supreme Commander Hillsbrad has surrendered the Empire over to the Coalition. We are to follow suit and prepare for orders from our new Coalition commanders." The squad began to cry out angrily yet again, none could comprehend such an order. The Captain, who moments before lay on the floor, stood up and gained his composure. "Settle down men, you heard the order from HQ." The Sargent quickly snapped back to attention. He was ever defiant at the news of surrender, but he was a true soldier and would follow an order to the death for the Imperium. The Sargent ordered," You heard the Captain, troops, lets get this base back into shape and prepare for our instructions."
Moments later, inside a make shift command tent, the Captain was on his tactical control screen as he notices the Sargent waiting patiently outside the tent. The Captain asks" What can I do for you Jonah?" "Sir, permission to speak freely, sir." The Captain nods his permission and the Sargent entered the tent. "I just don't understand it, sir. Why would we surrender? We are the most powerful of all the nine thousand nations and we still retain all 3 of our highly fortified home world sectors." The Captain responds, "It's simple math, Jonah, the Coalition has managed to ally themselves with too many of the Tier Elite nations. It would be only a matter of time before we would have to surrender. We could hold off for years to come, but eventual..." The Sargent emotionally interrupts, "S.C. Hillsbrad is a coward, sir." The Captain continues," ...no, Jonah, Hillsbrad is a tactician. He knows the Empire cannot win versus the thousands of nations preparing to take control of our sectors." The Sargent cannot believe what he is hearing from an Imperium officer, "Sir the Imperium is the only true ruler of Humanity, how can we bow down to a corporation with delusions of grandeur? Three hundred years ago they where selling appliances and now they are set to become our masters?" The Captain looks unfazed by the remark and responds, "Politicians care not of bloodlines or seventeen thousand years of tradition, Jonah. That "corporation" has what every man in the farthest reaches of space wants. The Coalition has made the promise of eternal life to anyone who would join. I am afraid it's proven too strong a temptation even for our noblest of ally nations." The Sargent grows even more bold, "So what now then, sir? Do we help them in their quest to rule the nations of Mankind, all for the promise of living like a dog for eternity?"
"There is yet hope, Jonah," responds the Captain. A confused look is now on the Sargent's face, "How can that be sir? Hillsbrad has served us up on a silver platter to the Coalition." The Captain calmly responds while walking towards a table. "Years ago, Jonah, I was sent to a world far into the depths of the lowliest sectors. A small planet that was deemed too insignificant to set up proper mining operations on. It was established as a resort world for the Imperium elite due to it's natural beauty and original home world feel. Kept a secret from all but those lucky enough to be invited, the planet has stayed low in profile even till today. The planet, named Cyrene, is a beautiful but dangerous world, Jonah. Much had to be done so the elite could enjoy their new found playground. While I was down there, leading countless clean-up missions and patrols, I discovered something of great use. As a matter of fact, I had just recently spoken personally with Hillsbrad a week ago while he was down in sector 8 for reviews. Needless to say I was able to convince him of some important matters concerning the Imperium and planet Cyrene. Unfortunately, the surprise attack on our position today has forced us to escalate our plans.
The Sargent was deeply confused and did not understand, "Sir, I just don't get any of what you are saying." The Captain walks to a small table, picks up a flask containing a deep purple fluid. He pours into a small cup and offers it to Sargent Jonah. "Have a sip of this sweet nectar, Jonah. It is the juice from the finest fruit on planet Cyrene." Jonah takes the cup and prepares to drink the sweet fragrant juice. After enjoying the aroma he drinks it slowly and then finds he has drank the entire cups worth of juice. The Captain looks at Jonah and asks, "Well, how was it Jonah?" The Sargent produced a smile and responded, "Amazing sir, I feel... happy, my mind is at peace, almost as if I was..." The Captain responds for him, "Enlightened." The Sargent not caring about what had just transpired just stood there and enjoyed the feeling. The Captain turns his back and with a large grin exclaims. "Excellent, Sargent Jonah, I would now like to welcome you to the a new era, a new Empire for mankind. Welcome to, The Sons of Remus."
Cyrene - Secrets and Covert Operations
Secrets and Covert Operations
It is recommended to read the original with images and further info in EntropiaTimes June 2011
The view from my apartment on Arkadia is breathtaking, and always serves a calming purpose, if nothing more than to provide a reflective moment or two. I’ve been quite busy with my media activities lately, and it’s nice to just relax now and then.
However, the sound of my telecommunication device snapped me out of it. I wondered who could be contacting me at this time of the early morning hour as the sun is just about to rise above the horizon. The interesting thing is that the signal is not identifiable as anything coming from Arkadia or any other planet that is nearby.
“Hello, this is MindStar, please identify yourself.”
“Hello MindStar, this is Calvin,” a rather excited voice echoed, “It’s been a while since we’ve connected and I wanted to bring you up-to-date on what’s transpired since our last meeting.”
“My goodness Calvin, it has been a while, but where are you calling from, the signal is not identifiable?”
“Well,” Calvin said, “I left my Senate duties on Earth and am now a Senator of a sector on a planet known as Cyrene, and the reason I’m calling is to invite you for a visit so that we can catch up.”
“Sounds intriguing,” I said as I sat at my desk to check my calendar, “when are we talking about, and is this just a vacation, or do you have something more specific in mind?”
“As soon as possible if you can get away,” he said with a sort of urgency in his voice that caused a bit of an eyebrow raise, “I know your media work requires you to travel, so I wasn’t sure what your schedule might be at this time.”
“Yes, my media coverage takes me to various planets, so if I come for vacation, you have to know that the temptation will be there to write about it.”
I scribbled a note to contact my Media Manager at the EntropiaPlanets Media Center as I waited for his reply. I needed to alert her of this impending trip, and that my June magazine content might be a little later than usual, but we work well together in the 11th hour, so I don’t think it will be an issue. Lykke is accustomed to my spontaneity and heading out into the universe at the flip of a PED, but she still gives me free reign to go after potential stories. This could actually turn out to be something of importance.
“If your schedule is clear,” Calvin inquired, “let’s say for about a week, maybe a bit more, then I can send a shuttle for you that would arrive sometime tomorrow, would that work?”
“Yes, that would be perfect, and it would give me time to finish up a couple of tasks before departing.”
I now felt a renewed energy, and a bit of motivation to get off my ass and accomplish some things that have needed my attention for a while. However, it was unlike the Senator to be so formal in his conversations with me, so I couldn’t help but think that something was up.
“Excellent,” Calvin replied with delight in his voice, “I’ll send another transmission when I have everything secured and give you the details of when the shuttle will arrive and where to meet it.”
“Ok,” I said with an excited tone, “I am really looking forward to seeing you again, as well as exploring a new environment on yet another planet, so thank you for the invite.”
“I feel I must warn you though MindStar,” his voice now a bit more somber, “the entire planet is on military lockdown at this time. My Senator position is the only thing allowing me to invite you, but you must not reveal that you are a reporter or working for the media, but rather just a friend coming for a visit. I feel it’s the safest approach to not bring any undue attention to your presence on the planet.”
Well, there it is, confirmation that my radar is still tracking with some degree of accuracy. I knew there had to be more to this visit than just a vacation, but wasn’t going to push it. And then again, I could be totally wrong. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Senator, and perhaps a lot has changed.
“MindStar, you still there,” Calvin asks, breaking my train of thought.
“Sorry Calvin, I was thinking about what you just said. Are you sure it’s safe to travel there?”
“Oh yes, you’ll be fine, and you will be escorted at all times, so there’s no danger to consider,” he says with confidence.
“Ok then, I’ll get packing and will see you soon.”
“Great MindStar, I’m looking forward to it. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” I said, watching the strange signal on my telecommunication device disappear.
Let’s see, old friend, new planet, military lockdown, private shuttle, personal escort – yup, this looks like quite the adventure. Now where are my suitcases? I best not take any of my media gear in case the suitcases are examined. This may be a private shuttle, but I have no idea what awaits me.
A Committed Mission, But At What Cost?
It is recommended to read the original with images and further info at A Committed Mission, But At What Cost?
HOME SWEET HOME – or is it?
The trip home from Planet Cyrene was anything but peaceful. Watching the usual space corridor traffic through the window of the Senator's spacecraft should have been a natural occurrence, but it wasn't. I couldn't help but wonder if we were somehow being monitored. I didn't want to feel that paranoia was setting in, but after what I had encountered on Cyrene, I wasn't about to let my guard down.
While I felt some relief that I was now out of harm's way and safe from any further encounters by the Imperium, the Sons of Remus, and potential exposure to Will Winter's mind control drink, my thoughts left me exhausted. They raced like a spider weaving a web going nowhere, yet served an ultimate purpose. However, just what that purpose would be was yet to be determined.
I made a commitment to the Senator and Zorra Winters to support their cause, and while I was filled with urgency to move forward, I also felt paralyzed and apprehensive toward becoming further involved. While the unknown has its level of excitement and adrenaline rush for me, I had to give my next move some serious consideration and just where I go from here.
"MindStar," the pilot came over the intercom, "we will be landing on Arkadia in about 15 minutes." Yes, home again, where everything is familiar, but I have a deep sense that my life as I've known it is about to take a drastic turn as a result of my most recent commitments. So many thoughts in a maze of dead-ends because of unanswered questions, but perhaps after getting some rest I will be able to sort things out more clearly.
The Arkadian moons were breathtaking, and illuminated the path during my walk across the bridge from Celeste Harbour to the twin apartment towers on Celeste Harbour Island. The night air was always refreshing, and I was feeling more relaxed after a couple of deep breaths, but then I saw a shadowy figure and a silhouette across the concrete from the light cast by the lamp posts between the buildings.
Perhaps it was just someone enjoying the night air as I was, and normally I wouldn't be so startled, but I find myself in a constant state of alertness after leaving Cyrene. I continued to walk casually, making every effort to hide the bit of fear that took hold of me. As I walked past the stranger in the shadows I was half tempted to nod and say good evening, but I froze in that thought and kept walking, hoping that I was just over-reacting.
"MindStar," a female voice called out, "I have a package for you." I stopped dead in my tracks, even though my first inclination was to run into my apartment building as fast as my feet would carry me. However, what if this was somehow related to what's happening on Cyrene, and something that would benefit my mission to help the cause going forward. I had to risk it.
"Who are you," I asked as I moved cautiously toward the figure in the shadows, "and what's in the package?" I held tightly to my travel bag in case this was an attempt at robbery, but as I got closer, I could see the package in the hands of the female dressed in black who made no move toward me or the suitcase.
"Who I am is not important," she said, "I'm just the delivery person, and I don't know what's in the package, only that it was urgent to get it delivered to you upon your return from Cyrene." This person obviously knew who I was, that I was on Cyrene, and also when I was returning, but it didn't seem that I was going to find out anything further until I opened the package.
She raised her arm and handed over a large, well-sealed envelope that felt a little weighty, and as I carefully accepted the package she fled away and over the bridge into the city proper without saying another word. There was no question in my mind that this package would need to be scanned prior to opening. Again, perhaps a bit of paranoia setting in, but I wasn't about to set all caution aside and jeopardize a mission I hadn't even started.
After checking to make sure that apartment security hadn't been breached, I entered and secured the alarm system, except for the motion detectors. After setting my travel bag down I did a quick visual of the apartment. All seemed in place as I left it, and as I walked to the study, I couldn't imagine what was inside the package, or why it was so urgent to get it delivered to me.
After sitting down at my desk and turning the lamp on, I carefully looked over the package for any kind of clue, but there was no name, no return address, no nothing. As I reached into the lower left drawer for the scanner, it crossed my mind that whoever wanted this package delivered to me, also didn't want to be known by anyone outside of the recipient. I passed the scanner across the package, but nothing out of the ordinary popped up that would be cause for alarm. It was time to find out what was so urgent.
A POTENTIAL NEW DIRECTION
I opened the envelope carefully, and as I pulled out the contents, I immediately recognized the seal of the Intergalactic Space Mission Agency (ISMA) located on the East Coast of the US on Earth. I had dealings with them in the past as a result of my writing and reporting, but I couldn't imagine what was so urgent that they needed to contact me in such a secretive manner.
The cover letter was written by a high-ranking official at the headquarters office of ISMA, and as I began to read the message, I felt my eyes widen and my jaw drop.
We received communication from Senator Calvin Neff on Cyrene of your most recent visit, as well as what has been revealed thus far. Immediately after you left his home, he contacted us with this information and expressed a grave concern, not only for the future of Cyrene, but also for the safety of the other planets in the evolving Entropia Universe. The Senator felt it would be more expeditious to contact you through us than directly since our communication channels are more secure, and the travel distance much shorter.
Senator Neff expressed his gratitude for the work you attempted to do during your visit, and shared the revealing news about the Imperium Leader Will Winters and his quest to control the inhabitants of Cyrene. It appears that there are far greater implications than at first suspected, and the Senator has now solicited our help with specific requests that invite your continued involvement."
Still uncertain as to where this was leading, I no longer felt mental exhaustion, but somewhat exhilarated at the prospect of continued work with the Senator, but how the ISMA fits into this was a mystery. As I continued reading the message, it all became clear to me.
"Based on the Senator's information and request MindStar, we are ready to propose an offer, but it would require you to return to Earth and work specifically from our location. You would be an independent contractor, yet have full use of our facilities and flight services, which would be at your disposal in order to accommodate your future missions."
Was I reading that right? Opportunities like this just don't happen every day, and to be sponsored by the ISMA? Then, it suddenly dawned on me – this would also mean a lifestyle change, and I would need to dissolve my work relationship with the EntropiaPlanets Media Center. I suddenly felt saddened but I would have to deal with this later. Right now, I was anxious to learn more.
"Should you accept this offer MindStar, there are many more details to work out, but I can give you the important aspects of what this would entail. The Senator requested to work with you exclusively, and would make everything available on his end to facilitate your needs as it pertained to your further interaction with Cyrene. He is interested in additional covert operations to gain intel that would support efforts being put forth by himself, as well as the Acacia Rebirth Corps (ARC) headed up by Zorra Winters, the now estranged and presumed dead wife of the Imperium Leader Will Winters. There was also mention of Vida at the Cyrene Skylabs, but the Senator can fill you in on those details later.
You would be given a small suite of offices in a secure location, along with the option of hand-picking your own staff, with the addition of a communications center that would allow you direct, encrypted contact with the Senator. Even though your primary work will be exclusive to Cyrene, it will also encompass soliciting and engaging the services of individuals and fighting factions throughout the universe to assist with the cause on Cyrene.
The Senator can fill you in on far more detail later, but we first need to establish that you are willing to make this change and take on a more official role in the discovery and fight for Cyrene. I know I don't need to tell you how confidential this information is, and that it should be kept in a most secure location if not destroyed. If you choose to move forward, then we can discuss the final steps to facilitate your transfer back to Earth at your earliest convenience.
In the meantime, I have enclosed documents from the Senator that further expand on potential future missions back to Cyrene, as well as blueprints for your proposed suite of offices and communications center should you accept this offer.
Winslow Anderson, Commander ISMA – Eastern (US) Mission Control"
As I leaned back in my chair, there was no question in my mind that I had a lot to consider. First and foremost was whether I was willing to give up my current life as I've known it to work exclusively with the Senator and Cyrene. It would mean no open and engaging activities on other planets as in the past, and taking on a more official role that would focus on the history and evolution of Cyrene.
If there's one thing I can say with certainty, the Senator for as long as I have known him has been an honest and honorable man, and always fighting for the good of mankind. His efforts while a Senator on Earth were well-respected, with commendations that highlighted his successful endeavors. I have no doubt that his work on Cyrene will continue to be intensely approached with a battle well fought, and after my most recent visit with him, how could I refuse this opportunity.
Of course I was going to accept, and my more immediate mission was responding to Commander Anderson and then getting everything in order to make the move back to Earth. My Media Manager at the EntropiaPlanets Media Center isn't going to be happy about this, but perhaps we can eventually work together in some other capacity after I have settled in and acclimated myself to what I'm sure won't be a normal routine. However, everything must be kept confidential at this point.
As I moved to the next document in the package, I discovered that the weightiness of the envelope was a small telecommunication device that Commander Anderson forwarded for direct communication with his office at ISMA. I was instructed to contact him once I made my decision in order to discuss further details of the relocation should I accept the proposed offer.
Let's see, I believe Earth time right now would put the Commander out of his office, so I will wait until morning to make contact and give him my decision. I need a good night's sleep, but not certain I was able to shut down my racing thoughts and excitement. I headed to the kitchen to brew up a strong cup of chamomile tea with hope that it would do the trick, but I knew I was only steps away from packing up my belongings and shuttling back to Earth, so I may be in for a long night.
DAY OF DEPARTURE
After contacting Commander Anderson, everything was set in motion for the transition, with my belongings sent ahead to be set up in my new apartment located on the ISMA compound. Security is of utmost importance, and it was felt that it would be best to maintain a residence within the compound, rather than in a more public area. However, I was absolutely free to come and go as I pleased, and not restricted in my interactions with a more public environment.
Recruiting competent staff is going to be a priority in an effort to get future missions under way, but I've known many dedicated Entropians over the years who would serve our needs quite well – it's just a matter of sorting out the details. Being able to trust those operating from other planets is crucial, so the selection process may take a while. It's all for a good cause, with potential benefit outweighing the risk.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but hey – I was off to start another chapter of my life that would not only give me a distinctive purpose, but also comes with the potential of furthering my literary career as well. Part of the Senator's request is that I help to document the history and evolution of Cyrene, along with others involved in this endeavor. The documenting and writing would be as needed, but what an opportunity it is to be a part of the unfolding existence, challenges and victories of a newly discovered planet, and being published in the annals of Cyrene lore – or whatever it is they have established that houses this documentation.
As I stood looking at my empty apartment and the spectacular view of my little corner of Celeste Harbour, I was going to miss it, along with the boat rides that fostered many thought-provoking moments that often turned into major decisions. As I walked out the door, I engaged the re-code option that gave possession back to the building owner. I had already spoken with him about the move, and everything was put in order.
As I walked toward the shuttle launch pad which was close by, I passed several Arkadians who had heard of the news and wished me well. The extent of my departure was not made public, but just that I was heading back to Earth to continue my work as a writer. The community was incredibly special, and I would certainly miss the friendships I had formed, which made this decision even more difficult. However, sometimes moving forward in life requires sacrifice in order to accomplish a mission.
As I approached the shuttle launch pad, I noticed my Media Manager and her husband standing there, and immediately the emotions swelled up. Lykke and Peter are my absolute best friends in this universe, and I will miss them tremendously, but we have also agreed to keep in touch. They have offered their resources as well if ever needed, and while I can't reveal the details of my new involvement, perhaps their services will come in handy one day.
As we engaged in small talk I was given notice that my shuttle would soon be leaving and it was time to board. After final hugs and wiping back the tears, I headed to the launch pad. I just couldn't look back, as it was difficult enough as it was, but moved forward and boarded the shuttle after showing my pass. Settling into my seat I noticed that there were many others leaving to return to Earth, and couldn't help but wonder why they were giving up space for perhaps a more mundane existence.
As we left Arkadia's atmosphere and entered the space corridor, it became apparent that we were being escorted by a Quad-Wing fleet of fighters from the Arkadia Star Fleet due to known pirates, and until we could achieve warp speed. Since my belongings were shipped ahead, I can only hope that they arrived safely without incident, but I couldn't think of that right now. I was tired from very little rest, as I had anticipated would happen, and I wanted to take advantage of this trip to catch a snooze.
"Unfinished Business" - Part 1
It is recommended to read the original with images and further info at "Unfinished Business" - Part 1
Cyrene seems to be a planet in turmoil at the moment, and apparently no time can be wasted, so a new ops plan is being set in motion …
Getting settled at the Intergalactic Space Mission Agency Headquarters took a bit of doing. Planet hopping is one thing, but a full-on move back to Earth from Arkadia almost felt like a step in reverse of personal progression. For over 6 years, Entropia Universe and its expansion has been my life source, and a means to advance my journalistic endeavors to an even greater degree. If it wasn't for Senator Calvin Neff needing my help on Planet Cyrene, and the ISMA lending assistance in a huge way, I'm sure things would be quite different.
The ISMA compound is located on the East Coast of Florida in the United States, with acreage that spans an enormous stretch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, so when I arrived at my personal quarters within the compound, I was pleasantly surprised to find more than a room with a view. One of the residential areas for ISMA staff was developed on beach-front property, and my little cottage was only a brief walk to the water's edge. Prior to leaving Earth for Entropia Universe, I was a resident of Florida for a long time, so I'm used to this type of environment. The touch of old home comfort eased the transition a bit.
Having a few days to get my new digs in order was welcomed, but I knew there was a lot of work to be done, and would soon need to check in with Commander Winslow Anderson at the headquarters office. Besides, I was anxious to see just what kind of a setup he put together for me as an ops center, which would become the hub for my work with the Senator on Cyrene. One thing I did notice, is that everything I've seen so far seems to be locked down like Fort Knox, and every communication device is state-of-the-art, including the electronics I found within my residence. Obviously the ISMA takes security quite seriously.
As morning broke, the sound of the ocean waves kept me lingering in and out of sleep. The cool breeze from the open windows left a scent of freshness that reminded me that air quality on other planets paled in comparison. Just as I felt myself slipping deeper into sleep, there was a knock at the door. As I threw off the covers and grabbed my robe, I wondered who could possibly need to see me so early in the morning, and why not just make a phone call.
As I peered through the peep hole in the door, there stood Commander Winslow Anderson holding up a container of coffee in one hand, and a bag of unknown content in the other. I didn't think I would be seeing him for at least a few more days after getting my ops center organized, but there he was like a decorated delivery person in all his military glory.
"So are you going to open the door, or what," he asked with a tone and look that you normally don't experience from a Commander, but then Winslow, just like the Senator, was a long-time friend, and outside of a professional environment, the atmosphere and demeanor were far less formal.
I quickly opened the door and motioned for the Commander to enter. "Looks like you've come bearing goodies, and the kind that are most welcomed so early in the morning. I didn't expect to see you so soon after my arrival, so this is a pleasant surprise." The Commander acknowledged my greeting and walked directly into the kitchen for coffee mugs and plates before heading back to the dining table. I grabbed some napkins and joined him.
"I wanted to make a personal visit before you became intensely involved at your new ops center, and give you a briefing on the lay of the land so to speak." He poured the coffee and opened a bag of what seemed to be over-sized biscuits. I wondered if they would measure up to the biscuits the Senator's housekeeper made.
"It's always good to see you Winslow, and I know we have a lot of personal life to catch up on, but I'm curious about the new ops center and how exactly the covert operations will work with the Senator on Cyrene." I picked up my coffee mug while looking in the Commander's direction and waited for the holes to be filled in. He shared that ordinarily, I wouldn't have seen him so soon, but he was contacted by the Senator, and it seems that things are escalating on Cyrene.
"It's good to have you back on Earth MindStar, but I also know that what you're about to engage in is not just a minor smoke and mirrors operation. My communication with the Senator this morning pretty much put everything into perspective." Winslow's initial smile after the welcome back began to diminish as he proceeded to share a few more details, but then I knew from the get go after receiving his transmission on Arkadia that accepting this position meant it came with huge responsibilities and risks. However, not without potential rewards if missions were completed successfully.
"Apparently, the Senator thinks that the situation with the Zekkonians has advanced to the degree that immediate investigation is required, which is why your transfer to ISMA and setting up an ops center was so rushed." The Commander leaned forward placing both hands on his coffee mug as he waited for a response, but I wasn't sure what he was expecting to hear.
"Well, as you know," I started, focusing only on the basics, "my previous trip to Cyrene was to investigate the Zekkonians because the Senator was quite certain even then that something was going on. There must be new information to make this a more urgent mission and a need to complete unfinished business." The Commander took a sip of his coffee and nodded his head in agreement before sitting back in his chair and continuing.
"Yes, there is new information," he responded, "but that conversation needs to take place between you and the Senator, and you'll have an opportunity to connect with him tomorrow when you take command of the Cyrene Ops Center at headquarters." Well now, that sounded pretty official. It's not just an ops center any more, but the ISMA-COC, and the hub where all future Cyrene covert missions will originate. I am certainly taking this new position seriously, but come on, how damn cool is it to be running your own special ops center.
"When you arrive at headquarters tomorrow, you'll be given a tour of areas accessible to you, and ultimately end up at the Cyrene Ops Center where you will meet your staff." I actually thought I was going to have to interview and choose my own staff, but I guess not. "I took the liberty of assembling the best team possible since time was of the essence, so I hope you don't mind," the Commander said as he stood up from the table.
"Not at all actually, I trust your judgment, and I'm looking forward to meeting them, so thank you once again for making this transition as easy as possible."
"It's my pleasure," the Commander responded, "but now I must get back to headquarters. However, before I leave, here is a transcript of the communication with Senator Neff from this morning. It will give you a bit more information prior to connecting with him tomorrow."
After the Commander left, I sat back down at the table to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee while I read the transcript, and came to a very clear conclusion. There was no doubt in my mind that I was in for some intense involvement, but I'm taking this new direction quite seriously, and have resolved to the fact that it won't be a walk in the park like some of my past activities within the Entropia Universe. However, I've always been drawn to adrenaline-pumping danger and solving mysteries that unravel the twists and turns that play havoc in our universe.
One thing I know for sure, I can't be a one-woman army, and while I am quite certain I will have trustworthy staff at the ISMA-COC, I will also need to reach out to my fellow Entropians in an effort to align forces with self-sufficient factions that are willing to go to battle should there be a need. There are already strong and able societies on other planets that have proven their warfare efficiency, and my hope is, that their leaders will give consideration to assist in supporting a call to Cyrene should it be necessary. There's something to be said for being prepared, as well as always having a backup plan.
After reading the transcript, it seems that the Senator is ready to pick up where we left off with my previous visit. I was on my way to the Zekkonian City under cover as the Senator's guest on vacation to see if I could gather any Intel. He had a sense that something was going on, but it would have been way too suspicious for him to make the trip himself. My excursion however, was rudely interrupted when my escorted transport was hijacked by an incredibly vicious creature, and armed guards who led me to Zorra Winters, the Leader of ARC (Acacia Rebirth Corp).
It was all planned once they learned of my presence on the planet, and this was the beginning of a solicited involvement the likes of which I had difficulty wrapping my head around. However, once I debriefed the Senator and left Cyrene for Arkadia, the enormity of this undertaking took its rightful place at the top of my to-do list. There was no mistake that this was more than a simple probe operation, and now that I have relocated to the ISMA compound on Earth, my thoughts were clearly centered on future missions that would bring Cyrene more into focus. The Senator's references to potential danger were hardly sanitized. He had a genius of expression that surpassed any second-step mentality, but it kept everyone on their toes and at the ready. I was ready.
After arriving at the ISMA Headquarters building, I learned that my initial ID was only temporary, and didn't get me very far, other than an escort directly to clearance central. It was here where high-tech took on a new meaning, and where my right thumb and eyeball took center stage. However, what surprised me most was a required full body scan to record whatever it is they needed to record. They weren't very forthcoming regarding this procedure, but my guess is, they wanted to be sure I wasn't wired for sound, or housing any GPS tracking devices under the skin or elsewhere. I figured I would lighten it up a bit and tell them I kept all my music on my iPod, but they weren't in a humorous mood.
Once the clearance procedure was completed, I now had access to areas that were relevant for coordinating my missions with Cyrene. It was cool that I didn't have to worry about losing a badge, or carrying such on my trips to Cyrene and potentially blowing a cover. Upon leaving the clearance center, I was greeted by an individual who identified herself as my personal assistant.
"Good morning MindStar, my name is Hannah, your personal assistant, and if you'll follow me, I will take you to the Cyrene Ops Center." My first impression came with mixed reviews. She almost looked fragile with her upswept strawberry blonde hair and feminine features, and with a name to fit such a description, but her stride was presented with great confidence, and an air of professionalism that was refreshing. However, I need a kick-ass assistant ready to jump into the trenches if need be, so this was going to be interesting to see if it was a good fit.
Upon arriving at the Cyrene Ops Center, I met the rest of the staff who were obviously waiting to meet me, and after all pleasantries were exchanged, they seemed like a solid enough team after learning of their individual responsibilities. I have to say that the Commander did quite well, but I was still skeptical about Hannah. Time will tell.
"So Hannah," I asked, "where do I hang out, and how close is the coffee machine?" For the first time, Hannah cracked a smile as she motioned to a rather large corner office and started navigating in that direction. Entering the office, my first thought was, it's rather quaint and decorated nicely, but didn't look like a setup worthy of an ops center command post. I especially noticed that there was no computer in sight, and wondered if I would need to go elsewhere to access one.
"MindStar," Hannah said as she closed the door, "this is where the rubber meets the road so to speak, and if you move to the other side of the desk and have a seat, you will find a small panel embedded in the right underside of the desk." I felt my pulse increase, because this was beginning to feel like serious business, and certainly nothing I had ever experienced before.
"The red button is a toggle that will shade the interior and exterior windows and obstruct visibility," Hannah continued, "and are a high-grade quality to withstand penetration by bullets, lasers, and explosive devices." Ok, now we're talking. I love gadgets and pushing buttons to see what the results are – sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but after depressing the red button, the windows displayed something akin to built-in sunglasses, and the interior lighting increased in intensity.
"The small glass panel below the red button is for your right thumb print," Hannah instructed, "and it's the only way your top right desk drawer will open." Without hesitation, my right thumb met the glass panel and the top right draw opened. The only thing in the drawer was something that looked like an oversized digital remote control that appeared to be inset in the base of the drawer and stationary.
"This is your office command device, and if you look at the icons, you will notice that each is clearly marked to gain you access to your computer, your communications equipment, and a hidden personal room to retire to should you find your hours long and demanding of your time. Go ahead, test it out."
Hannah stood there with a bit of a grin on her face, and I'm sure in full anticipation that I would indeed give the device a test drive. "Alright, let's see where the computer is hiding," I said with my own anticipation to see where all of this was going. My desk area was L-shaped and rather large, with an intricate inlay design that seemed a bit strange to me. All of a sudden, the desk in front of me started to vibrate a bit, and the desk pad reversed itself to reveal a computer keyboard, while just beyond the keyboard, a sizeable monitor rose from the desk like a resurrection.
The monitor lit up and presented a log-in process which appeared to be touch-screen access, and it became clear rather quickly that this was another time when the right thumb would meet the glass panel. "Does everything require my thumb print," I asked as I looked at Hannah.
"Pretty much MindStar," Hannah responded, "except for the Cyrene War Room that will require both a thumb print and an eyeball scan to access."
"Wait, I have a Cyrene War Room," I asked.
"Yes," she replied, "it was requested by the Senator in anticipation that certain segments of operations may need to be conducted off planet for security reasons. The select few who will gain access to the Cyrene War Room will be required to also receive clearance and be required to provide a thumb print and iris scan. The thumb print process is actually built into the door handle, and the iris scan is embedded in the right door of the entrance. The Cyrene War Room is located in the lower level of the building with direct underground access and without anyone having to enter the main lobby of the building, but we can take a tour another time."
I went silent for a moment to contemplate the gravity of what the implications were, and obviously just how serious the Cyrene situation is to require such covert operations. The Senator was sending a clear message, and I couldn't wait to connect with him to get briefed further, but I wanted to familiarize myself with the rest of what might be cleverly hidden before getting down to business.
"Let's give communications a spin, shall we?" As I depressed the comm icon the beautiful mural of the space center on the wall above the L-shaped portion of my desk to the left morphed into a full-on monitor, while the inlay portion of the desktop rotated into a touch-screen. Again, the thumb print security was in place in order to log-in and gain full access to communications. As I sat mesmerized at the ease with which these activities were presenting themselves, Hannah interrupted.
"You will note that there is simple and direct access to the Senator," as she pointed to the center of the touch screen, "with an option to record all communications if need be." One would think that modern technology might be a bit more complex, but so far, I've only needed to lift a finger – make that a thumb – and while I was quite anxious to make contact with the Senator, there was one more icon I needed to check out before I was on my own.
"Now let's see this hidden room where I'm guessing my tired ass can catch a few Zzz's if hours become long and demanding." As I pressed the icon on the device in the drawer, my eyes glanced over the office to see what walls would move, or anything else that would transition into an entrance into the inner sanctum. I didn't have to wait long, because the wall hutch on the right side of the office that housed a small bar and storage space swung open to reveal an entry-way.
A regular door would have sufficed, but after entering the room, it became quite clear to me that this was more than just a snooze chamber, and it was wise that anyone visiting my office would have no clue the room existed. Aside from a personal bathroom and sleep area, a small kitchen facility fit snuggly into an alcove, as did a sitting area complete with what appeared to be a rather strangely-designed table until I recognized the intricate inlay pattern on the top.
Hannah remained outside the room but spoke loud enough for me to hear that there was yet another panel on the wall to the right of the entrance that controlled the activities within the interior of the room. This was beginning to feel more like a bomb shelter, or panic room, but I didn't want to take the time right now to explore every little nuance of this inner sanctum when I needed to connect with the Senator as soon as possible.
Exiting the room, Hannah instructed me on how to communicate with her if I required assistance. She said the Senator was expecting my call, and if there wasn't anything else I needed, then she would go to her work station. I told her I was fine and thanked her for everything as she headed for the door, but she stopped abruptly, and without turning around, she said – "Are you ready to kick some ass?"
As she left the office and closed the door behind her, I could only stand there with a big grin on my face, because it was in that moment that I realized that everything was going to be just fine.
As I sat back down at my desk, fun time was over, and the urgency of why I was here came back into focus. The first order of business was to contact the Senator and get briefed on how soon I would be heading back to Cyrene. As I engaged the communications touch-screen, I was immediately connected to the Senator's office.
"Hello MindStar, I see you are settled in your ops center," said the Senator as he visually appeared on the wall monitor.
"Not sure how settled I am," I replied, "but my personal assistant gave me a crash course in basically how everything works."
"Oh, you mean Hannah, how do you like her?" Surprised by his response and that he would know the names of staff, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.
"How do you know Hannah," I asked, "I thought the Commander chose the COC staff."
"He did, except for Hannah," he replied, "she is from Cyrene and hand-chosen from my personal staff. She is human-like, but not human, and no one at ISMA knows this except for you and the Commander. He took care of her clearance process so she wouldn't alert during a scan. She is equipped to cater to your every need, and despite her high-tech abilities, she is primed to be groomed and molded into an efficient and dependable assistant with capabilities only you will discover over time. It is of utmost importance that this remain highly classified, but we can discuss this more later because we need to focus on your return to Cyrene."
Morphing walls, revolving desktops, hidden rooms, and now a not-so-human personal assistant? I wondered if there was chilled vodka in the freezer in the hidden room, because I was beginning to feel like I walked into a twilight zone or something.
"MindStar, you ok," the Senator asked, "you look a little zoned out there."
"I'm just taking it all in Calvin, and also trying to wrap my brain around the enormity of what's happening here. Obviously there's urgency, so let's get things set in motion."
"Yes, MindStar," replied the Senator, "there is an urgency, and I need to get you back to Cyrene as soon as possible so that we can carry out the Zekkonian mission. Sorry to cut your R&R so short, but I have made arrangements with the Commander to have an unmarked craft shuttle you to Cyrene the day after tomorrow. I'm hoping that's enough time for you to assemble what you need. I don't want to discuss the details of this mission until you arrive, so have a safe trip and I'll see you soon."
"See you in a couple of days Calvin, I'm looking forward to it. Oh, and ask your lovely housekeeper to have her sweet tea and biscuits ready, I've missed them."
"Will do. Goodbye MindStar."
"Goodbye Calvin." As the communication ended and the wall morphed back into the mural of the space center, I placed my right thumb on the glass panel beneath my desk to close the drawer, and then pressed the red button to de-shade the windows. As I looked beyond my office into the outer area, there were people busy doing things, but just what those things were was unknown. I caught myself staring at Hannah as she stood talking to a fellow staff member, and couldn't help but have thoughts of how utterly human she looked and behaved. I'm going to have to query the Senator more about this.
As the day ended and I headed back to my cottage, I realized how important it was to gain focus and approach this unfinished Zekkonian business with renewed energy. I am more curious than ever now as to what they are up to, and why there seems to be such a threat.
The next couple of days passed quickly, and the knock at the door told me that my transport had arrived to escort me to the shuttle that would be taking me to Cyrene. I wondered if I was going to be seeing the flyboys again. And now I was also wondering if they were human.
... to be continued in Part 2
"Unfinished Business" - Part 2
It is recommended to read the original with images and further info at "Unfinished Business" - Part 2
Covert operations always come with enormous risk, but Intel is crucial to prevent more chaos than what Planet Cyrene is already experiencing .
As I began the final process before boarding the ISMA unmarked spacecraft, I heard Commander Anderson calling after me.
"MindStar," he said winded, "there's been a slight change in your flight plan."
"Oh," I said surprised, "and what's that Commander?"
"Once the unmarked ISMA spacecraft reaches the outer corridor of Planet Cyrene, you will be docking at a space station and switching to Senator Neff's carrier. He felt it would be best not to approach Cyrene in an unidentifiable spacecraft given the current state of affairs."
"Well, that makes sense," I responded, "thanks for the update." I had to laugh at myself for what I was thinking at the moment, because I was actually wondering if the flyboys would be piloting the Senator's ship again. They are an interesting duo, and while professional and quite accommodating with a humorous flare, there's also a mystery that surrounds them.
Just before I left Cyrene the last time, they were clearly lying dead in the Zekkonian Swamp after being attacked by a vicious creature when my transport was hijacked, but their bodies were missing when I was returned to the transport by the ARC guards.
It was quite baffling, but then when I left the Senator's home after debriefing him and saw the flyboys standing outside the transport that would take me to the Senator's ship, I was completely confused. When I looked at the Senator, his only response was, "don't ask." Maybe I'm onto something regarding the flyboys possibly not being human, just like my new personal assistant Hannah at the ISMA Cyrene Ops Center, but then, I'm not sure just how much the Senator will reveal when asked about it.
"Will do," I responded as I walked to the entrance of the spacecraft, "and thanks again for all your help in getting me settled, it's really appreciated."
"My pleasure," the Commander replied as he began walking away from the launch pad and toward his transport, "and Hannah will look after everything while you're gone."
"Excellent," I said, "all seems to be working well so far." I was skeptical about Hannah at first, but am more relaxed and confident that the Senator's choice for my personal assistant was a good one. I'm definitely going to explore this human-like, but not human situation with him, and just what I have to look forward to as Hannah and I get more involved. His intimations about her were interesting, but there are so many unanswered questions.
The spacecraft I boarded looked more personal than commercial, with an all black and unmarked exterior that gave a clear impression that navigating stealth might be the order of the day. As I reached the cockpit area to acquaint myself with the pilots, the Captain stepped through the doorway to introduce himself.
"Welcome aboard MindStar, I'm Captain Reynolds," said with a firm yet friendly tone, "and this is Lt. Nash, my Co-Pilot." The Lt. swiveled in his seat to acknowledge my presence and then returned to his preparations for take-off.
"If you'll follow me MindStar, I'll give you a tour of the craft." As the Captain moved forward into the cabin, I could see that no one else was on board, but I also noticed that my first impression was correct. This is a personal craft and outfitted accordingly with a very comfortable sitting area and what appeared to be reclining seats, as well as table and desk area for conducting work or dining.
"As you have probably surmised MindStar," began the Captain, "this craft is not for commercial use, but rather extended personal missions, and complete with every amenity to cater to the traveler's need and comfort." As we moved through the cabin, the Captain revealed the restroom and the sleeping quarters, as well as the galley where I discovered that we weren't alone.
"This is Rose," the Captain continued, "and she has been the attendant assigned to this craft for 3 years now. If you need anything at all while in flight, she's the one to contact." We shook hands and exchanged greetings, but I noticed that her grip was quite solid and perhaps overly firm for such a petite person. Nonetheless, after the customary smile, she went about her business as the Captain and I walked back into the main area of the craft.
"If you'll choose a seat MindStar," the Captain directed, "we will be departing shortly." For some reason, I always like sitting on the right side of an aircraft, but I have yet to figure out why. I settled in to one of the oversized reclining leather seats and prepared for departure. I wondered if I was going to be restricted this time as well from using my laptop, so I thought I had better check to be sure.
"Captain Reynolds," I asked as I pressed the intercom button to the cockpit, "am I restricted from using my laptop during this trip?"
"Not at all MindStar," the Captain replied, "at least not on this leg of your trip to Cyrene. You might want to check with your pilots once we reach the space station for the transfer though, just to be on the safe side."
"I'll do that Captain, thank you."
I love take-offs, the G-Force is adrenaline-pumping, as is shifting into hyper-drive, but landings are always rather boring for me. Besides, it signifies the end of travel, and I love racing through space, taking in all the wonders of the universe that sometimes defy any rhyme or reason for existence, other than just being.
SPACE STATION ARRIVAL AND TRANSFER
The flight from ISMA to the space station was uneventful, but then I slept through most of the trip. Not a bad thing though, because my sleep patterns of late continue to suck.
"We will be docking at the space station shortly MindStar," said the Captain over the intercom, "in case you need to prepare before landing. I have been notified that the Senator's ship is ready and waiting for your final leg of this trip to Planet Cyrene."
"Thank you Captain Reynolds," I replied as I positioned my seat upright and unfastened my seatbelt. As I began walking to the back of the craft and toward the restroom, Rose stepped out of the galley and asked if she could assist me with anything.
"I'm fine Rose, thank you," I nodded, "and perhaps next time around I might be able to stay awake long enough to enjoy some of the other amenities."
"Not a problem MindStar," she smiled, "see you on your return trip." No way could I think about a return trip right now, other than I hope I get to make it.
After a brief visit to the restroom and retaking my seat, it wasn't long before we docked at the space station. As I headed toward the front of the craft to make my exit, both Captain Reynolds and Lt. Nash came through the cockpit doorway to wish me well on my continued journey. Exiting the craft I walked a long narrow tunnel to reach the inner area of the space station, where to my complete surprise stood the Senator to greet me. I'm sure my dropped jaw, raised eyebrows and stunned look presented an attractive visual.
"I certainly didn't expect to see you here Senator," I said as I tried to compose myself. As the Senator extended his arms to greet me in the customary embrace, he began to speak.
"Hello MindStar," replied the Senator, "how great to see you again. Let's chat once we have reached the interior of my ship, ok?" His response seemed rather mysterious, but the Senator always has good reason for his actions.
"Good to see you too," I responded as he took my arm and began walking me to the bay where his spacecraft was docked.
As we boarded the Senator's ship, who do you think was grinning from ear to ear in the cockpit? Of course it was the flyboys, who else. I chuckled and waved as I shook my head and followed the Senator into the main cabin where I found some renovations had taken place.
"Well now," I said, "looks like you've done a bit of reconstruction Calvin," (inside personal space I didn't need to be so formal).
"Indeed," he responded, "have a seat here and I'll bring you up to date." The Senator pointed to an oversized table against the bulkhead with an inlaid glass top that had large leather swivel seats on either side. The glass top seemed a bit strange to me, especially if it doubled as a dining table, but given the surprises I encountered in my office at the Cyrene Ops Center at ISMA, I'm expecting just about anything.
I sat down opposite the Senator with great anticipation as to what I would learn. It was a big deal for him to meet me in space, so I am guessing that this briefing will reveal some pretty interesting things.
AND SO THE MISSION BRIEFING BEGINS
"Before I get into specifics," said Calvin, "this ship is now more of a command center between the ISMA and ongoing missions pertaining to Cyrene. I have also installed a similar operation in a hidden room within my home, thanks to Commander Anderson's assistance."
"Ahhh," I replied, "I thought there was something different about your office when I chatted with you the other day from the Cyrene Ops Center, now it all makes sense." Calvin smiled and continued to bring me into the loop.
As we sat across from each other at the table, the Senator informed me that my presence on Cyrene going forward was going to be quite different. Previously, the long-time friend and visiting guest on vacation worked relatively well, but now that my presence on Cyrene would be more frequent with longer stays, Calvin said I needed a more suitable cover.
"You need to have more maneuverability across the planet without suspicion," started the Senator, "so I have made it known that I hired you as part of my personal staff to assist with certain historical documenting, as well as periodic event planning that will engage locals in contributing toward advancement of planet colonies."
"You make it sound like fun," I responded, "but will I actually be doing any of this stuff?" The Senator grinned before leaning forward on the table …
"Absolutely," the Senator came back, "your cover must be seen as authentic. And besides, your historical documenting and event planning will be of great benefit to my personal endeavors outside of the Senate. You will be able to travel to many parts of the planet to engage the locals without incident, unless military personnel decide to stop you for whatever reason. There's always risk, but this should cover everything and not raise undue suspicion."
Cal handed me a bracelet that he said was made out of a metal resource found on Cyrene and that my credentials were embedded just beneath the surface identifying me as official staff. It looked like a simple piece of jewelry, but there were special-made scanners that were capable of reading the information. Certain military personnel carried them, and if I were ever stopped to be scanned, then all would be in order. As I attached the bracelet and adjusted the fit, Cal continued with his briefing.
The Senator focused on the glass top table we were sitting at, and started waving his hands over it like a Ouija Board, tapping the top in several places. In the meantime, a black panel screen dropped from above at the bulkhead to my right. All of a sudden, images and text began appearing, and the entire tabletop turned into a high-tech operation. Before I could utter a single word, the Senator started briefing me on the details of my covert operation into Zekkonian territory.
"I thought it would be far more efficient to meet you at the space station where the transfer took place so that we would have time to cover the details of your mission on the way to Cyrene." Cal pointed to a photo on the wall of a Royal Noble Zekkonian named Rak'Zik from the Tan'Hok tribe. Not a high ranking Royal, but important enough to carry certain responsibilities.
"Currently," continues the Senator, "there are wars going on between the Zeks, and Rak'Zik senses there is something not on the up and up with some of the other Royals. As such, his current mission is to make an attempt at creating new alliances. He trusts me more than any other human, because he has witnessed time and again that I don't go along with the grain on most issues."
Despite the Senator's powerful position in the Senate, I've always known him to be a stand-alone guy when it came to issues he didn't feel were beneficial, and leaning more toward dictatorial rule than citizen equality and participation. There is still much work to be done, but the present focus was on the seeming uprising in the Zekkonian territory.
"The present part of your covert ops mission," stated Cal as he returned focus to the glass top operation, "is to meet with, and befriend Rak'Zik in an effort to gather further Intel as to what the friction is between the Zek tribes. I know that he is planning an ambassador trip to a tribe of Zeks that he hopes will join with an alliance."
The Senator proceeded to tell me that it was his hope that the mission would be a successful one, and that the end result would at least settle things down a bit, but he wasn't too confident that this was the case, and that more would need to be done.
"If Rak'Zik is comfortable with you," continued Cal, "then perhaps he will invite you to join him and his group to this meeting. I know he trusts my judgment, as well as what my motives are, so hopefully there won't be an issue."
The Senator moved more photos and info to the black panel against the bulkhead and continued his briefing about the Zekkonian lands spread out over the planet. He is hoping that my covert ops mission will bring forth more information that will not only give clarity to what the uprising is, but also feed into future missions that will help to bring more of a peace within the Zek territories. If not, then at least enough Intel that will foster strategies to be able to deal with whatever the challenges might be.
"That's about it for now MindStar," Cal said as he shut down the table-top operations, "the rest is up to you. I can't tell you how important this initial mission is in uncovering the Intel we need in order to move forward with other plans that you will learn of later on. I know it puts a lot of pressure on you, but I wouldn't have involved you if I didn't think you were capable of handling it."
"I appreciate the confidence Cal," I replied as I sat back in my seat for the first time since the briefing started, "and I also appreciate the opportunity of being of service to you and your plans for Cyrene. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes, and you also know that I have major resources at my disposal not only on Earth, but connections on other planets as well, and I'm ready to make use of them if need be."
"I know that," said the Senator, "and we may very well make good use of those resources, but for now, our main focus is getting you to that meeting with Rak'Zik. Your pilots will not only transport you to the meeting, but will also pose as your guards. Rak'Zik is aware of this arrangement and has no issue with it, so if you end up going with him to that ambassador meeting, then your guards must be part of the traveling group."
"Understood," I said with an internal grin. The flyboys were growing on me, and it would be nice to get to know them better. Maybe even find out what they're made of – literally. Perhaps when the time is right the Senator will let me in on the mysteries that surround not only the flyboys, but my personal assistant Hannah as well, but I'm also curious where Rose came from, because things just don't feel right in that department either.
Just as my thoughts began to wander deeper regarding the impending mission, I heard a thundering sound outside the craft. Cal said not to worry, that it was an Imperium Fighter command that had come to escort us to the landing area on our final leg of the trip. Apparently, there had been an increase in pirate activity and the flyboys had made arrangements for a safer passage just in case of any challenges.
After landing, we entered the Senator's transport and the flyboys headed directly to the Senator's residence. It was still morning, but getting closer to noon, and Cal informed me that the trip to meet up with Rak'Zik would be made almost immediately.
"My apologies MindStar," offered Cal as we departed the landing area, "but there is no time to waste regarding this mission, and I'm afraid that you will need to leave within the hour. There will only be enough time to drop off your things and assemble what you will need to take with you. My housekeeper is preparing a quick brunch for us, and we can have a summary chat prior to your departure."
As I looked out the window of the transport, it was obvious that we weren't taking the back roads this time, and it finally dawned on me that everything was out in the open. Well, everything regarding my presence on the planet that is. I was now allowed a greater level of freedom of movement, and in spite of the looming mission, I felt more relaxed.
After arriving at the Senator's residence, we did exactly what was mentioned. Even though things were a bit rushed, I was able to enjoy the sweet tea and biscuits that Cal's housekeeper introduced me to on my last visit, along with other offerings that left my tummy full and satisfied.
"Time to get this operation underway," said Cal as he pushed himself away from the table, "your pilots are waiting outside for you. There is a set of Imperium Trooper armor in the transport for each of you in anticipation that you may encounter hostiles, along with standard assault weapon gear. Hopefully you won't need to use it, but it's always good to err on the side of safety."
Just the thought of what he said caused an adrenaline rush. It's been a while since I was caught up in hostile fighting, but then there was a time when it was a major part of my activities back in the day when I was a resident on Planet Calypso. It started to wear thin, along with other activities, until such point I made a drastic professional change and decided to go strictly media and cover news, along with starting a radio station. When Planet Arkadia entered our universe, it was an opportunity to expand my media coverage, but then I received the telecommunication from Commander Anderson and everything changed.
"MindStar," Cal said startling me out of my daydreaming, "you with me?"
"Oh, sorry Cal," I said as I snapped out of it, "I was just reflecting on what you just said and seemed to have wandered off to another time and space, but I'm here and ready to go."
"No problem," he responded, "it happens to us all at one time or another. I just wanted you to also know that communication between us will be minimal. The ground transport and the Imperium Fighter ship that you'll take to Tan'Hok'Zis city has the capability of reaching me, but outside of that, you'll be on your own. We can't risk detection of electronic devices in potential hostile territory. Once your mission is complete and you are in the ground transport or the ship on your way back, then we can pick up communications again."
"Not to change the subject or anything," I said with a rather mischievous grin, "but do the flyboys have names? I know I've called them that collectively since my previous visit, but if I'm going to spend any amount of time with them, perhaps I should be able to call them by name. I noticed they are twins, is that correct?"
"I had a feeling this time would come," Cal responded, "but if you can wait until you get back from this mission, I promise to give you an explanation." He had a grin on his face as well, sort of, and it all but confirmed that there was indeed something different about them as suspected. I'm just wondering again if this was the case for Hannah and Rose, and whether the Senator will be forthcoming about them as well.
"Sure," I said, "no problem, we can talk when I return, but know I won't forget."
"I didn't think you would," responded Cal, "now grab your things and head out to the transport, time is of the essence. I wish you success with this mission, and I hope you come back with Intel that at least gives us something to work with."
As I headed out the door, the flyboys flanked the transport as usual, and after taking my seat in the passenger compartment, we were on our way to meet up with Rak'Zik. There was much to think about, but since I was only able to rest on my first leg of the trip to Cyrene, I informed the flyboys that I was going to take a little snooze.
"You're going to miss some interesting scenery," one of them called back, "especially when we get to the forest."
"Oh geez," I responded, "do you guys ever sleep?" I got total silence, and no answer to the question. I wanted to pursue it further, but I figured I better not push my luck. I just settled for laying my head back and resting a bit, remembering that the Senator said he would fill me in about the flyboys when I returned.
Unlike our previous escapade through the Zekkonian Swamp, the trip to the Tan'Hok'Zis city was a nice change. Once our ground transport reached the Imperium Fighter ship and we were in flight, the aerials were magnificent. Cruising over the falls in the City of Janus was just breathtaking, and I couldn't wait to have more leisurely time to do some exploring on my own.
A ROYAL MEETING AND INVITE
The flyboys found a nice clearing to land the ship, and upon arrival at the city proper, we were taken to Rak'Zik, a lower ranking Noble who represented the Royals. The floating Royal Islands were quite a vision, but the common city area beneath the floating islands is where the meeting took place.
"Welcome," says Rak'Zik, "it's finally nice to meet you MindStar. The Senator was very forthcoming with how you have helped him in the past, and trusts your representation on his behalf. If your guards don't mind waiting here, you can come with me and I can fill you in on what concerns us most."
"Nice to meet you as well," I responded, "and my guards will be fine waiting here." I followed Rak'Zik and two of his personal guards to a more private meeting place still outdoors to enjoy the environment. He said the floating Royal Islands were more secure, but I wasn't allowed access.
As Rak'Zik began to share the challenges the Tan'Hok tribe faced, I noticed a rather buzzing undertone in his speech, but didn't want to question it for fear of seeming rude. I found myself straining at times to understand fully what he was saying, but I managed.
"The Tan'Hok control a vast amount of land," stated Rak'Zik, "where rare crystals can be found, and we covet the most concentrated supply here in this area in the southeast, which is highly protected. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that these rare crystals have valuable properties with benefits that are much sought after."
Rak'Zik continued to share that the Zil'Zik Clan of Zeks control a very large portion of land in the southwest and were beginning to move more to the north into the neutral Nie tribe Zek lands. I gathered that they were an opposing tribe with an objective to flank the land controlled by the Tan'Hok in an effort to acquire more of the rare crystals.
It became clear that Rak'Zik saw this as a huge threat, not only to the Tan'Hok, but also to the Nie tribe as well. I have to admit, that my curiosity about the rare crystals and their use continued to increase, but I wasn't sure I was going to get that kind of Intel at this point. I didn't want to come across as overly probing and allowed the Noble to share what he was comfortable revealing.
"I've set up a meeting with the Leader of the Zek Nie Tribe, Kol'Zak," says Rak'Zik, "and I would like to invite you to join me. It's a sort of ambassador trip if you will, in an attempt to create an alliance with the Nie tribe to fight against the Zil'Zik. The meeting is scheduled for this afternoon, and we will get underway shortly if you're willing to accompany me."
"I would be happy to accept your invitation," I replied, "but I have one request if I may. I would prefer that my guards accompany us as well because they are also prepared to assist in battle should the need arise."
My first thought was, the Senator will be happy that we were able to secure an invitation to this meeting with Kol'Zak, and my second thought was, I hope that the Intel acquired will be of benefit in sorting out the issues with the Zeks. However, sitting in the back of my mind was still the intrigue about the crystals, and just how much of a part they play in the whole scheme of things.
"That would be fine MindStar," responded Rak'Zik, "your guards are more than welcome to join us. I don't anticipate that we will meet with interference on our journey into the Nie Zek lands, but it's always good to be prepared. If you want to inform your guards of the trip, then we will get underway shortly."
I rejoined the flyboys and informed them that we got the invitation to accompany Rak'Zik to the meeting with Kol'Zak – ok, I got the invitation, but managed to get them invited as well. I asked the flyboys to bring our equipment from the ship as we would be leaving shortly.
As they walked away, I stood admiring the floating Royal Islands and hoped that one day I might be allowed to visit them. They were truly a site to behold, and it would be nice to get to meet some of the other Royals.
"Are you all set MindStar," asked Rak'Zik, "we will need to make this journey via land route because there is a no-fly zone over the neutral Nie Zek lands. The transports are waiting, and you and your guards can join me in mine if you like."
"Yes, we are ready," I responded, "just needed to grab our gear."
"Excellent," he replied, "then we shall get underway."
As Rak'Zik led us to his transport, my mind raced in anticipation of how this would all go down. If there is a war over the crystals, there seems to be far too many unanswered questions as to why. What are they used for, what are their true benefits, and why are they such a hot commodity that some of the Zeks are willing to wage war over them.
As we headed northwest, the terrain was quite interesting. Not too much swamp area as before, and as we advanced further, it turned into a beautiful forest with purple trees, which seemed to be a good portion of the environment we were traveling through.
Rak'Zik informed me that we were now traveling through a larger portion of Tan'Hok-controlled land, but about to cross over into the neutral Nie Zek lands where we will meet with Kol'Zak. Within minutes after entering the neutral Nie Zek lands, all hell broke loose. The convoy was obviously being attacked as the transport came to an abrupt halt and loud buzzing sounds seemed concentrated nearby.
The flyboys and I equipped our armor and grabbed the assault weapons as we exited the transport behind Rak'Zik. He informed us that the attack was Zil'Zik scouts who apparently moved further north into Nie country than anticipated. There appeared to be 8 or 10 of them all carrying large spears, but didn't seem to be using any other methods of attack.
"MindStar," yells Rak'Zik, "BEHIND YOU!" As I turned, 3 of the Zil'Zik were rushing my way, looking ready to skewer my ass for a company picnic, but I raised my assault weapon and began firing. I heard additional gunfire to my right and noticed the flyboys jumped into action as well. With 3 down, we turned our attention to Rak'Zik's crew to see if they needed any help.
The flyboys and I joined Rak'Zik who appeared to be holding up quite well, but since we had the assault weapons at our disposal, we thought we would lend a helping hand. A few Zil'Zik had retreated, but we weren't sure if more were regrouping for a secondary attack. It's a good thing that there are distinctive features between the different Zek cultures, as well as the Royal Nobles, because it sure would make it difficult otherwise.
As we waited momentarily, Rak'Zik said that he wanted to take a couple of the dead Zil'Zik bodies as trophies to the meeting to show proof to Kol'Zak that there was real concern about the Zil'Zik breaking through defenses to control more land.
Just as I began pondering that thought, more Zil'Zik came rushing out of the forest. They were headed directly for Rak'Zik, and I'm sure it was an attempt to take out a Royal Noble, which I'm also sure would look favorably in the eyes of their Leader.
However, swift action on the part of the flyboys shielded Rak'Zik while we and the rest of Rak'Zik's crew made short order of their feeble attempt to be victorious. After making sure the forest was clear of any further Zil'Zik scouts, Rak'Zik began to speak.
"Thank you MindStar," he said, "to you and your guards for assisting us in fending off what clearly proves to be our enemy. I hope that Kol'Zak gets the message as well, and will consider an alliance to prevent further encroachment by the Zil'Zik. Let's continue on our journey, the meeting place is not far from here."
As we re-entered the transports, we left our armor on and assault weapons handy as precautionary measures, but we were able to arrive at our meeting destination without any further interruption. We did however remove the armor and leave the assault weapons inside the transport prior to the meeting for obvious reasons.
TO ALLIANCE OR NOT TO ALLIANCE
Kol'Zak and what appeared to be a few of his aides greeted us, but I was surprised to sense a bit of apprehension. The demeanor and atmosphere didn't seem to feel too friendly, but maybe that was just me. I'm not familiar with the Zek tribes and their culture, so perhaps it was a custom not to appear too overly friendly. After all, I was a human, and if I learned one thing in my travels across planets, not everyone appreciates us.
Rak'Zik extended his hand first to Kol'Zak in a friendly greeting, who returned the gesture, but in doing so, his eyes shifted my way. I briefly smiled and nodded, but said nothing. Rak'Zik did not introduce me, but neither did Kol'Zak inquire as to my presence. I found it interesting that no one moved, but rather started conversation at the very spot where we were standing. Again, the buzzing undertone made it a challenge to comprehend what was being said, and I found myself straining to make sense of everything.
"I am here today," began Rak'Zik, "in hopes that you will consider aligning with our tribe against the Zil'Zik who continue to advance toward Tan'Hok territory in an effort to gain control over more crystal-rich land. They are large in numbers, and once they have breeched our defenses, they will move further north and encroach upon the Nie lands."
"I don't see it that way," responded Kol'Zak, "it's the Tan'Hok that have the major crystal supply, and there's no need for the Zil'Zik to invade the Nie tribe lands. Perhaps if the Tan'Hok were more sharing of the crystals there would be less aggression on the part of others."
There was no mistake that the curtness in Kol'Zak's response was intentional, nor the focused glare in Rak'Zik's direction, but I knew what was coming next, and I just stood back and waited for it. Rak'Zik's return stare spoke volumes, but as he shifted his stance, his reply was swift.
"Perhaps this will convince you otherwise," said Rak'Zik as he motioned to a few of his crew to bring forth the trophies collected in our recent battle with the Zil'Zik.
"I bring you proof that the Nie Zek lands are not safe," offered Rak'Zik, "and that their further advancement into the north is a very real threat. We were attacked just outside of your city area in the neutral Nie territory, but were able to fight them off with the help of MindStar and her guards."
Kol'Zak shifted his focus on me and the flyboys prior to returning his attention to Rak'Zik, but it left a cold and rather intimidating feeling, and thoughts that this meeting was not going the way that Rak'Zik had hoped it would.
"I still don't see the benefit of joining an alliance with the Tan'Hok," stated Kol'Zak, "and how do I know that these trophies are from where you say they're from, and not just an attempt to persuade us into furthering your own personal cause at our expense."
"You will just have to take my word for it," Rak'Zik said with a more firm tone, "and besides, it's not just the Zil'Zik who have become aggressive against the Tan'Hok. The Merfolken are also building a camp on the coast and attacking, and it has become difficult to fight the battles on both fronts."
"We have nothing to do with the Zil'Zik or the Merfolken," states Kol'Zak, "we mind our own business and keep to our own, so I see no reason to involve our tribe in whatever escalating war is occurring between the Tan'Hok and others. And to be more frank, we don't take kindly to the Tan'Hok being so friendly with the humans, along with the exchange of technology, which we feel gives you an advantage, so we aren't willing to help advance that in any way either."
Oh boy, there was now no doubt in my mind that this meeting was a bust, and that Rak'Zik was about to walk away empty-handed. My mind was racing, because it seemed rather obvious that Kol'Zak and perhaps the Nie Zeks had something against the Tan'Hok that hadn't quite surfaced yet.
I was sure of one thing though, the value of the crystals played an enormous role in this waging war, and all indications point to the Tan'Hok for any perceived aggressive moves on the part of others.
"I didn't quite anticipate this reaction," Rak'Zik replied, "and truly thought that we could work together for the greater good of both of our tribes, but I see that doesn't seem possible at this point. Perhaps you will give it more thought and contact me if you change your mind."
"I doubt that will happen," Kol'Zak responded, "but your efforts are duly noted. If there's nothing more, then I will consider this meeting concluded."
"Thank you for your time," Rak'Zik said as he watched Kol'Zak walk away, "and the trophies are yours to keep as a reminder that not all is as it seems."
Kol'Zak never looked back, and as we turned toward our transports, Rak'Zik looked at me and said, "This is not good." However, I had already come to that conclusion, so it will be interesting to see where all of this will go from here.
The trip back to the Tan'Hok'Zis city was uneventful, but we were prepared just in case. It was a rather exhausting journey, and I for one was ready to get back to the Senator and some much needed rest.
Prior to leaving the Tan'Hok'Zis city, Rak'Zik made it clear that he would report to the Tan'Hok Council on how helpful we were in the fight against the Zil'Zik, and that it would certainly gain favor with the Nobles. At least this trip was productive in that respect, and perhaps it might aid toward gaining further access into the inner circle, where I'm sure more Intel would be possible.
However, if there's one thing I'm walking away with from this journey today, it would be that the Tan'Hok tribe has enemies, and it appears that the Zil'Zik and Merfolken are first in line to encroach on their territory. There is also no mistake that the crystals that everyone is talking about have value beyond anything I understand at this point, and I'm just wondering if the Senator has any further information that would shed a bit of light on why they have become so much in demand.
The flyboys and I said our goodbyes to Rak'Zik, and as we departed, I mentioned that I would give the Senator a full report, and that I was sure that he would be back in touch with him at his earliest convenience.
SORRY SENATOR, BUT IT'S NOT GOOD NEWS
On the way back to the City of Janus and the Senator's residence, I was able to use the Imperium Fighter's communication system to reach Cal and give him a minor briefing on what took place. He wasn't too happy about the results, but he was glad that I was at least able to attend the meeting with Kol'Zak and learn of the interaction first-hand, as well as build a good beginning relationship with Rak'Zik.
"We'll talk more when you get back MindStar," Cal said, "but I can tell you right now that this operation isn't over based on your preliminary report. There's too much mystery surrounding the crystals not to pursue this further, and I'm afraid we're looking at a deeper penetration into Zekkonian territory to find out why the Zil'Zik Clan and Merfolken want them so desperately. We have a lot of work to do yet. See you when you get here."
After my brief chat with the Senator, there was only one conclusion I could draw. My stay on Cyrene this time was definitely going to be longer. And I don't know about you, but deeper penetration into Zekkonian territory could mean only one thing – a potential undercover operation with more risk than I've ever encountered before.
However, there's no turning back, and I'm just as curious as the Senator about the crystals and why they carry so much value. Also, the Tan'Hok may be friendly with the humans and exchange technology, but is the Senator sure they are of as much a benefit as thought.
As I rested my head on the back of the seat and felt myself drifting off, one of the flyboys yelled back and startled me.
"You're going to miss the SCENERY if you doze off."
Geez, again with the scenery. Tired or not, the only thought that crossed my mind was that the first thing I'm going to do when we get back, is remind the Senator that he promised to fill me in about the flyboys. If I find out these guys are not human and programmable, I'm going to make a few suggestions.
"MindStar, that wasn't nice."
"Unfinished Business" - Part 3
It is recommended to read the original with images and further info at "Unfinished Business" - Part 3
The core of the ongoing Zekkonian wars revolves around the rare and valuable crystals whose secrets must be revealed, but danger and risk are high...
RAK'ZIK MEETING – MISSION SEMI-SUCCESSFUL
The early evening sun was setting, creating a beautiful hue across the horizon with scattered light rays peaking through the branches of the trees like voyeurs. Pulling up to the Senator's residence with the flyboys came with mixed emotions. On one hand, we were able to get invited to the meeting between Rak'Zik and Kol'Zak regarding a potential alliance, and on the other hand, it didn't go as well as expected.
From all indications during the brief communication from the spacecraft with the Senator, he wasn't too happy about it, other than us getting to attend the meeting. He was very specific that more work would need to be done, so today's debriefing should be quite interesting.
"Welcome back MindStar," Cal said as he exited his front door to greet us, "come inside and let's have a chat." He waved to the flyboys before they left with the transport and then followed me into his home. Little does he know that after we conclude with further debriefing about the mission, I have a little unfinished business of my own with him.
As we sat on the veranda, Cal looked at me and I just grinned; one of those smirky grins ya know, the kind that make people wonder what you're up to. He raised an eyebrow and looked as if he was going to say something, but I did to him what he did to me when I was surprised to see the flyboys after our hijacking in the Zekkonian Swamp where they supposedly ended up dead – NOT.
"Don't ask," I said to the Senator, "it will all become clear soon enough, but I'm sure you're anxious to hear more details about the mission." Cal sat back in his chair with his hands behind his head sporting a rather large smile on his face, like a proud mentor or coach, and I presumed also reveling in the fact that I have confidently stepped into my covert ops role in a more defined way.
The transition for me was a bit slow-going, but now that I'm back into the more aggressive level of space exploration and adventure, my insatiableness for uncovering mysteries and secrets has been elevated quite substantially. I attribute that to my passion for investigative journalism, but what I'm involved with now goes far beyond anything I've experienced in the past, and I'm ready to take it to the next level, wherever that may lead me.
"Tell me a bit about the meeting between Rak'Zik and Kol'Zak," says Cal, "and what you gleaned from it that might be of importance." After taking a sip of his housekeeper's lovely tea, I leaned forward and gave him my interpretation of what I thought took place.
"In short," I started, "Kol'Zak was having none of what Rak'Zik was handing him about the gradual invasion of the Zil'Zik into the neutral Nie Tribe Zek lands. Rak'Zik even presented Zil'Zik dead bodies as trophies from the attack we encountered on the way to the meeting just outside his city, but Kol'Zak was skeptical and untrusting of what actually took place."
"Sounds like a tough meeting," states Cal, "so I take it that an alliance was out of the question?"
"Pretty much," I responded, "and to further add insult to injury, Kol'Zak blames the Tan'Hok for the uprising because of their seeming hoarding of the most valuable crystals and not sharing with others. Kol'Zak was also very explicit in saying that they didn't like the relationship with the humans that the Tan'Hok had either, because their work with technology to help them gave them an advantage."
"Wow," exclaims Cal, "seems like there was a bit of tension involved in that meeting." The Senator doesn't know the half of it, but I didn't think it was necessary to go into every detail. The most important factors were shared in an effort to give the Senator a starting point and where we go from here with the next mission.
"Lots of tension," I replied, "but the flyboys and I maintained a respectful posture and did not speak. Kol'Zak didn't seem to be too happy that we were there, surmising that we were humans, I'm sure, but we managed to walk away intact and nonetheless for wear. I only wish I had more Intel for you."
"Sometimes," Cal stated, "these missions don't always go as you would like them to, but at least you've given me enough information to know that we now have to go deeper into Zek territory, and that means a higher risk for you MindStar. This next covert ops run will be far more dangerous, but I've already employed the necessary means to enhance its success. However, before we get into the details, let's take a break for dinner."
HANNAH, ROSE, AND THE FLYBOYS REVEALED
We stayed on the veranda and enjoyed the cool breeze, as well as what was left of the setting sun. It was mostly small talk, but I patiently waited for my opportunity to give the Senator what he might deem a poignant reminder of something he promised that he would share with me when I returned.
"My dear Senator," I said as I shot him a cheeky grin, "it's time to fess up." He placed his fork on his plate and wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin before shooting me a cheeky grin right back.
"I have a feeling I know where you're headed," replies Cal, "and I guess it's time to clue you in on a few things." Did I hear that right? Was I really going to finally get some information on the flyboys and Hannah? I perked right up in my chair and gave him my full attention, because I was sure I would have questions once he started. Although, the Senator is quite detailed and thorough, so we'll see.
"Hannah and the twin pilots," began Cal, "are actually gifts from Vida at the Cyrene Skylabs. All three are human-like, and all three are androids, but …"
"It all makes sense to me now," I cut in, "and I have one quick question, if you don't mind. Did you send someone in to collect the flyboys in the Zekkonian Swamp after we were hijacked?"
"No," Cal responded, "after receiving them from Vida, they were reprogrammed to return to me should anything happen to them, and why they teleported to my residence after their death in the swamp." Well, as much as I have become attached to them already, it's nice to know that they'll always be around in one capacity or another, they've really grown on me.
"Hannah is a bit different," Cal continued, "while she's human-like and also an android, she's actually the prototype Vida developed without some of the advanced features that the pilots have, especially when it comes to her strength. Therefore, while quite efficient and very trainable, she expresses more of a demure and feminine quality. However, don't underestimate her, because I found her to be quite surprising at times when I least expected it. She's sharp, witty, and can verbally punch if she needs to, but in the end, she will be loyal to you, and the two of you should grow into each other in a very beneficial way."
"Well," I responded, "she already asked me if I was ready to kick some ass, so I'm guessing she's got a bit of spunk in there somewhere." Calvin smiled, almost as if he was saying, I know what you mean, but then he continued filling me in on all this android business.
"Rose is also an android," Cal said, "but she's a bit more advanced than Hannah, and she can pretty much hold her own if she has to." I didn't know that he was involved with Rose too, but that explains the extra firm grip I experienced when I encountered her on the ISMA spacecraft during the first leg of my trip to Cyrene. Nonetheless, I sensed that there was still something not right about her, but I wasn't going to get into it now while the Senator was disclosing all this juicy information.
"The thing with Rose is," continues Cal, "she's a second generation android, and not actually created by Vida, but I'll get into those details in a minute."
"I'm more interested in the flyboys," I responded, "those guys seem far too human to even think of them as androids. They're wise-cracking, can carry on an intellectual conversation when I can get them to focus long enough, and it seems that they use a level of critical thinking in situations where it's most beneficial. I can also tell you that they're fast-acting in crucial moments, and they don't have to be told what to do, which is why their dynamics interest me the most."
"As I mentioned, MindStar," states Cal as he shifts more in his seat, "the pilots are far more advanced, and there's a very good reason why. They were not created by Vida, but rather her Boffins. Boffins cannot innovate, but are perfectionists in their work. So they took Vida's prototype of Hannah and created Rose. She has a greater level of advanced features, and considered a second generation android, but then they worked the prototype further until they were satisfied with the twin pilots who are considered to be third generation androids."
"Wow," I exclaimed, "that's incredible. I have only one question though. Who or what are the Boffins?" This ought to be good I thought to myself. I'm not naïve to androids or robots, but Boffins sound like a whole new ballgame to me, and I'm highly anxious to learn what the story is.
"Boffins are a genetically-created human species, Cal begins, "and very cat-like in features. The females are taller with more warrior-type tendencies, and the males are more technology-focused, but can stand their ground if need be. While Boffins are living robots, the more you get to know them you cannot help but project your human emotions; eventually wanting to think of them as beings, rather than products. They are extremely adaptive, which makes them perfect for science and other constructive activities." All I could think of at the moment was when I would get to meet one of these Boffins, but Cal moved back to the flyboys.
"As a result of being third generation androids," says Cal, "the pilot twins are far more adaptable, have much greater strength, and have a level of free thinking if you will, which is probably where the wise-cracking comes in," he shares with a grin, "but their behaviors and dynamics are so human-like, that I also don't think that even they know they're androids."
"Kudos to the Boffins," I said, "nothing like getting it right, and then making a carbon copy. How many more of these cuties do you think we can get Cal, I need me some extra body guards when I go on these outings?" Cal just shook his head, but he's used to my off-the-wall comments, and still enjoys them.
"I would hardly call them outings," Cal came back with a chuckle, "your covert ops missions will more than likely get increasingly risky and dangerous, so not quite a walk in the park. However, I can tell you that with this next mission, you will have one additional person with you."
"Before we go there," I responded, "I have a question. I really like the flyboys, but I would prefer to call them by names. Do they have names?" Cal looked at me almost knowing that this question was coming sooner or later, but as he sat back in his chair once again, he didn't dismiss it, and even surprised me.
"To be honest, MindStar," Cal shared, "Hannah and Rose came to me already named, but the twin pilots did not, and I just haven't taken the time to address it. Besides, I wouldn't know how to tell them apart anyway, even if they did have names."
"Good point," my dear Senator, "but if I'm going to spend an inordinate amount of time with these guys, I think we should name them and figure out a way to tell them apart, don'tcha think?" Calvin raised an eyebrow as if to say, do we really have to go there, but then came back with an interesting proposition.
"Tell you what," Cal says, "since you will most likely be spending the majority of the time with them while you're on Cyrene, I'll give you the honor of naming them, and then coming up with a way to tell them apart, how's that?" Ohhh, this was going to be fun. I gave them the nickname flyboys, but I'm not quite sure how they're going to take to real names. I guess we'll find out eventually.
"However," continued Cal, "before we get lost in android naming, I need to brief you about your next mission, which is going to be rather involved. Vida from the Skylabs needs more samples of the rare crystals found on Cyrene, and although her Father's corporation Enkidd had some of these crystals, an experiment gone wrong caused them to lose their most valuable samples."
"Sounds rather dire," I said, "but these rare crystals must have some major value for them to be in such high demand." The Senator began shaking his head yes before he continued.
"The crystals," says Cal, "afford Vida and her research team the opportunity to create powerful technology, and the results can be used both for great benefit, as well as great destruction. The continued research is vital to not only understanding the properties of these rare crystals, but also to be able to minimize or thwart off any potential destruction in the wrong hands."
"Well then," I replied as I sat back in my chair, "what is this next covert ops mission all about, and when do we get started." The Senator grabbed what looked like an electronic notebook, and pulled his chair over closer to me. As he reviewed the mission agenda, he continued with the briefing.
"This time," says Cal, "you must go deeper into the Zekkonian territory in order to collect more samples of the valuable and rare crystals from one of their gardens, which makes this mission a much higher risk level. However, Enkidd has created a new type of armor that blends with the Zekkonians and gives off a scent that leads the less-evolved Zeks to think they are among a Zek Noble."
"Gotta love technology," I said, "so will this actually make it easier to get in and out?" I did not get the response I was expecting, and as the Senator sat there shaking his head no, almost in slow motion, I could only wonder what was coming next.
"Not quite," Cal responded, "unfortunately, the scent will only last so long, and there's a limited amount of time to travel deep into the Zek territory to extract the crystals. Your pilots will also be wearing the specialized armor so that no attention is drawn to them either. In addition, you will be equipped with powerful weapons should you need them."
The Senator shared that we will be carrying Imperium Firestarter Flamethrowers, but they should only be used in extreme situations because they would attract a vast number of attacking Zeks if caught. He further explained that the Firestarter uses a special type of fuel that will self-extinguish after a while, so we didn't need to be fearful that we would burn down the entire village or forest.
Definitely a high risk factor with this mission I thought to myself, but in the past, I was always known to be fearless, and an in yer face kinda gal. However, I think I got a bit too soft when I focused purely on media and away from the more adventurous escapades. Well, I'm back in the saddle again, and to quote Hannah, "ready to kick some ass." The Senator snapped me out of my daydreaming with more details of the mission, and I could feel myself getting more excited despite foreseeable obstacles.
"The crystal gardens are heavily guarded," shares Cal, "and although the normal Zil Zik warriors won't be able to tell you from the Noble Ziks, if a Noble were to catch you there, you would quickly be captured. And just for general information, the Zek culture is divided into castes, with the higher evolved Zeks being the brains of the operation, while the un-evolved Zeks are the more drone-like muscle."
"Looks like we have our work cut out for us," I said, "now tell me who this other person is that's joining us." The Senator tilted his head a bit to the right before he began grinning. I know this grin, which tells me something extra is coming that he hasn't revealed yet.
"Well," explains Cal, "you will be accompanied by a Boffin named Enyo; a female warrior quite capable of assisting where needed, including field engineering and medical duties."
"So when do we take off on this mission," I asked, "I'm ready. You have a way of sharing mission details that get me quite excited, but I'm guessing that it's the old dormant me coming to life again and realizing it's time to come out of the rain and experience a few distorted rainbows along the way."
"Actually," Cal responded, "Enyo will be here first thing in the morning, along with your pilots for a briefing about the mission, and then you're off. I'm sure your previous mission was a bit tiring, and I'm going to recommend that you rest up as much as possible, because tomorrow's mission will be tense and challenge your stamina, if not your nerves."
Oh great, I'm too wired right now to go to sleep, so maybe I'll do some laps in the pool to wear myself out. I love these little mind-games I play with myself; I already know they don't work, so I'm not sure why I even bother.
"I'm heading to bed, MindStar," said Cal, "I'll see you in the morning."
"Ok," I responded, "I'm going to give some thought to naming the flyboys, but I already think I'm going to name them after my special friends and twin pilots from Planet Calypso, "Rip" and "C" – they were my personal pilots for a good while, and the flyboys remind me of them. My only challenge is now figuring out a way to tell them apart, but I'll sort this all out after we get back from the mission. See you in the morning."
MORNING HAS BROKEN – THE MISSION TEAM ASSEMBLES
Contrary to what I expected to be a rather restless night, it was quite peaceful, and I slept well. However, regardless of the number of hours I'm able to capture, my internal alarm clock always has me rising early. There's nothing like experiencing a dawn's canvas as the sun caresses the horizon, and there's nothing like the smell of coffee to draw you into consciousness.
After finishing my shower and getting dressed, I could hear voices, seemingly coming from the kitchen, which was not far from the guest room. I think that's usually the first stop in anyone's morning, but today was going to be a bit different. As I walked toward the kitchen, I could see the Senator on the veranda already having conversation with the flyboys, but then as I entered the kitchen, I was startled.
My attention was captured by a tall woman with cat-like features walking toward the veranda, until she came to a complete halt and turned to face me. She was quite unique, and I could only surmise that it was the Boffin Enyo.
"Greetings," the Boffin said, "I'm Enyo," as she walked toward me with right hand extended. "You must be MindStar." Wow, did I feel like a shorty, and a bit embarrassed at the moment given my eyes and mouth were wide open in awe of what I was seeing.
"Um, yes," I stammered, "I am MindStar, and it's a pleasure to meet you. Forgive my awkwardness at the moment, but this is my first encounter with …" The Senator interrupted me as he walked into the kitchen from the veranda, and saved me from any potential embarrassment.
"Relax MindStar," Cal says, "your reaction to seeing a Boffin for the first time is quite common, but grab yourself some coffee and join us on the veranda. We need to sort out the details of the mission so everyone is on the same page."
"Right," I responded, but I couldn't help think about, or admire the cat-like features of Enyo, nor the gracefulness with which she moved across the floor. I couldn't wait to see how she interacts out in the field, and what she'll bring to this mission. I poured myself some coffee and headed for the veranda, but not before I grabbed myself one of those delicious biscuits that the Senator's housekeeper makes.
"This is going to be a challenging mission," begins the Senator, "not only because of where it will take you, but because of the limited time involved." Since Cal already briefed me the evening before, he shared the details of the mission with Enyo and the flyboys, but then added a little something that hadn't come up in our chat.
"You will leave here by transport," states Cal, "and head for a secluded area near the falls in the City of Janus where helicopters are waiting for you. The helicopters are super silent, and it's best to travel at night. You'll only be able to travel so far into Zek territory before you'll need to land and go the rest of the way on foot to the crystal gardens. Enyo and MindStar will fly in one chopper, and the twin pilots will fly in the other."
Dragonfly Helicopters (night scene)
The morning passed and we were now into the afternoon hours, but there were still so many details to work out, along with backup plans. Time slipped by rather quickly, and with each passing moment, the more intense it became, realizing just how much danger we may be facing.
I don't know what came over me, but my adrenaline started pumping in anticipation of this mission. Perhaps it's the thrill-seeker in me longing for the action I've missed so much, but maybe it was fear rearing its ugly head at the prospect of the unknown. Whatever the case, I wanted this mission to get underway, and I wanted to savor every moment, be it good, bad, or …
"Time to head out," Calvin says interrupting my moment of adrenaline-pumping thoughts, "there's no time to waste with this one. The specialized armor, along with the power weapons are already onboard the helicopters. Keep in mind that communication will only be possible between the four of you, and you will not be able to contact me until you are back in the helicopters and returning from the mission. I wish you all the best, and I'm expecting good things. Let's not disappoint Vida, and get her the crystals."
Oh geez, no pressure whatsoever! The Senator's send-offs are never predictable. Sometimes they can be so rah-rah, and at other times, he seems to pile on that invisible weight that we often tend to do on our own when we feel less confident. Nonetheless, we were on our way, and I couldn't wait to see how we were all going to mesh on this mission. The flyboys are cool, but Enyo will be the test.
SILENT AND STEALTH – THE MISSION IS UNDERWAY
It was already early evening and the sun was setting. I guess that's a good thing since it seems that the more stealth this mission is the better. It stands to reason that no matter how silent your flying apparatus is, in broad daylight, you have less of a chance of remaining hidden.
It wasn't long before we reached the helicopters. The flyboys boarded one, and Enyo and I boarded the other. Enyo jump into action immediately, handling the chopper like it was a tinker toy, getting us in the air in no time flat. The flyboys followed behind us. The setting sun was a beautiful aerial view, but it's time to focus on the mission at hand. However, Enyo decided to give me some additional information about how the Boffins interact with people. I am now beginning to feel more secure and comfortable with Enyo; this could be a good thing.
"Here MindStar," says Enyo as she handed me a document, "I give you more information about Boffins." I found Enyo very endearing, but also quite precise, and I was wondering if this was true of all Boffins and their language skills, but I didn't want to be rude and ask. While the Senator had already shared information about them in our meeting the evening before, it seems it wasn't everything.
The document read almost like a manual, but clarified a few more things for me. The Boffins are capable of great strength and agility, but require little to eat, and may need large amounts of rest after extraneous mental or physical work. Boffin owners should also take note that they are not human, and will not display any human behavior when it comes to irrational human emotions. However, they are completely loyal once a command is given, and will perform any task assigned by its master.
Due to the dangers of such power, the Boffins may only be sold to high ranking Imperium members, and must be registered with the Imperium. All Boffins are created from the same original pair, and the only way to tell them apart is from their assigned serial number implanted under their skin. Just as I finished reading the additional details about the Boffins, Enyo broke my train of thought.
"We are close to landing point," says Enyo, "prepare." What's to prepare I thought to myself, I've been buckled in so tight since we left that I think I may have cut off my circulation. I love flying, but when it's not a vacation, and it's under these types of conditions, it's a whole different story.
After landing, we equipped the specialized armor and grabbed the power weapons. Enyo pointed us in the direction of our travel on foot to the crystal gardens, and off we went. It was an uneventful trek, giving hope that this mission might be accomplished without much challenge, but I thought wrong.
"What the HELL," I yelled out, "where did THEY come from, and what ARE they?" Seemingly out of nowhere, these nasty birds swooped in on us, and there was no way of avoiding combat.
Horned Roc Bird
We managed to make our way through it, but the question was – did it cause too much of a disturbance and alert anyone that there might be intruders.
After the bird encounter, we finally reached the swamp land. As we walked toward the gardens, my adrenaline is off the map, and I can't help but fear that we are going to be spotted. However, as we approach the gardens, we are met by the Guards who stand at attention. No issue, no nothing, and Enyo instructed us to keep walking forward.
Apparently, the less evolved Zik do not look at Noble Ziks directly. They use their antenna to pick up on the scent of what is around them. When they sense a Noble, they stand at attention and never meet eyes with them. I was relieved, and perhaps a bit more relaxed seeing that we were carrying some heavy artillery, but we made it through into the garden.
"Wow," I exclaimed, "look at those crystals, they are amazing." As I stood stunned by the beauty of the crystals, Enyo started collecting samples as quickly as possible. In the meantime, the flyboys, who were standing guard, noticed that a Noble had walked into the garden and looked rather shocked.
"ENYO, MINDSTAR," shouted one of the flyboys as he points toward the Noble, "he's trying to sound the alarm and we can't let that happen." The flyboys and I tackled him and took him down, but it was proving to be quite the challenge.
In the meantime, while all of this is going on, Enyo is still standing and marveling at the crystals without budging. I didn't know quite what to make of this behavior, as I was told that she was a female warrior, but aren't warriors supposed to always be at the ready in the face of danger and act accordingly?
"DAMN, this dude is strong," I said with what breath I could collect, "and far too noisy for my liking." As we struggled a bit more, I was fearful that this wrestling match was going to alert the Sentry, but we finally managed to hog tie him and squelch the racket he was making. However, moving the Zik Noble into the brush to hide him was not soon enough.
When Enyo saw that the Sentry decided to inspect the area, she quickly moved into the brush where we had the Zik Noble and took him out with a never before seen fist weapon. She explains that the weapon is one of the latest designs, and not supposed to be used unless in an extreme situation.
"Ya," I said as I rolled my eyes, "I guess you could call this an extreme situation." Enyo shared further that the fist weapon is silent and capable of massive damage due to a particle blade that it emits from the center of the power glove.
"Follow me," Enyo instructed, "we need to get out of here and fast." No kidding I thought to myself, and as we spread out a bit and moved toward the exit of the garden, we were met by another Zik Noble on his way in to check up on things. However, this was a primitive Shaman-type who quickly sees what is going on, and in an instant, he shoots a fireball in our direction, but we are able to withstand the assault.
Zik Noble Shaman shooting fireball. MindStar and Flyboys taking the hit. Enyo (the Boffin) taking out the Zik Noble Shaman.
The garden is now on full alert, and there was no question whatsoever that it was time to lay down some heavy suppression fire and hold back the Ziks with our flame throwers. Enyo, who was not near the blast, acted fast with her cat-like reflexes and kills the Zik Noble Shaman, but it now looks as if we have to fight off waves of Zik Guards.
"We must hold Ziks off," shouts Enyo, "I will remote summon choppers." Wait, remote summon choppers? The more I get involved with these covert ops missions, the more technology is revealed, and the more excited I get. I hope the choppers get here quick, this is ridiculously hazardous.
MindStar in special Zik armor shooting Imperium Firestarter Flamethrower.
The flyboys and I laid down some massive suppression fire while Enyo fought off any Ziks that got through with hand-to-hand combat. One of the flyboys took a hit, but Enyo was able to tend to the wound. The First Aid Pack that she used, quickly and almost like weaving a fabric, healed the wound, and the flyboy was back in action again. Just as it seemed like we were about to be swarmed on all sides, the choppers arrived.
Choppers arrive as MindStar, Flyboys and Enyo fight off the Ziks.
"HEY," Enyo yelled in the direction of the flyboys (I told Cal they needed names), "grab hold of landing skids on second chopper. MindStar, grab hold of landing skid on first chopper with me, quick." We did as Enyo instructed, and while we were hanging on for dear life with one hand, we continued to fight off the Zik with the other. The choppers quickly flew off, but some of the primitive un-evolved Zik who can fly were in pursuit and gaining on us.
"Hold tight," shouts Enyo, "we are not able to outrun them; choppers are taking too much damage; I am increasing altitude where they cannot follow." She had to know it was a dangerous decision to do this, because we were all holding on literally by one hand, but as I watched her fiddle with her remote, I could only hope that our strength held out long enough to make it to our landing site. It absolutely amazed me that she was in control of both choppers with the remote while we clung for dear life.
Just as we lose the Ziks, I start losing my grip, but Enyo once again demonstrates her cat-like agility and manages to climb up on the chopper and grab my hand just in time, pulling me into the chopper and to safety. I swear I heard the hallelujah choir as I took my first deep breath. The flyboys were already inside their chopper and we were clear to work our way back to the base, but it wasn't long before yet another glitch in our mission occurred.
"There is bad news," states Enyo, "choppers are too damaged to continue flight to base; we need to find place to land and call for help."
Oh great! There was little ammo left, we were transporting the much sought-after rare and valuable crystals, and if that wasn't enough, we also had to fear being caught by patrolling Sons of Remus Sentinels. There was only one pressing question that loomed heavily on our minds …
How will we explain what happened if we are caught outside of the protected zones!?
The Saga of Toulan
|Vol 1 - Rise of Qumran||Vol 2 - ???|
|It's a pdf, click to read.||-|