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Review: Binary Domain - Destructoid
The Shoulders of Orion- Ch. 1: First Contact
Space-time rippled as the Horns of Glory snapped into real space. The normally smooth transition from FTL subspace travel back to the laws of relativity was instead dangerously jarring, as the inertial dampeners struggled to hold the innards of the massive warship in their proper places. After straining mightily for the briefest of moments, they failed, throwing Admiral Halon Va and the rest of his bridge crew violently into their restraining harnesses. The ship shuddered under the immense stress, then settled, drifting silently through space on minimal power. “Tactical, get me a status report for the fleet on screen now. I want updates the instant ships jump in.” The Admiral’s voice was still firm and authoritative; it was taking every last shred of resolve he had to keep it that way. “Lieutenant Roshin, put a detail together and work with medical. I’m sure that re-entry caused more than a few extra injuries. Get as many of the crew patched up and ready for emergency action as fast as you can. I want a full casualty report as soon as possible. And if you find Science Officer Lentith and he’s still alive, send him to the bridge immediately.” Admiral Va settled back into his command chair, drawing creaking sounds from the over-stressed frame as it absorbed the weight of his massive form. The bridge was completely silent now, the command crew entirely focused on the tasks at hand. Or they were too afraid to say anything; Va couldn’t be sure. He was thankful for their silence, though. He didn’t have any answers for them about his failure. Keying in a few commands on the command panel at his station, the damage report for his ship popped up, the bridge lights flickering from the extra power draw. The Horns of Glory floated before him in hologram form. Long and slender, the ship was over two kilometers from bow to stern. At least, it had been a few hours ago. The forward 20 percent of the holographic ship was flashing red, indicating heavy damage. This was inaccurate, however, as the forward 20 percent of the ship simply wasn’t there anymore. The graceful lines and carefully crafted angles of the ship's armor were an unrecognizable slagged mess, and deep gouges had been cut into the inner decks all over the ship. Whole sections were missing amidships, two of the main reactors were offline, all the primary weapon batteries had been completely destroyed, and most of the critical systems were barely functioning. It was a miracle that she had survived the jump. That morning, Horns of Glory had been the greatest feat of Arien’Ra engineering, and it was now a barely functioning hulk. And it had all happened under my command, thought Va. He had no time to wallow in his failures, however, as at that moment tactical finally reconnected to the fleet command systems. The hologram of Horns of Glory quickly scaled down, appearing as a small, flashing, red point of light floating in loose formation with several other points of light. Most of them were flashing red as well. A constant stream of data and various reports scrolled down the right side of the hologram, listing in no uncertain terms the doom that Va had subjected his command to. If Va had thought that the bridge was quiet before, it was nothing compared to the complete stillness that now settled over them. No one so much as moved a muscle, as they all sat in stunned silence, reading the reports. Occasionally, the hologram would flash, and a new point of light would join the formation, adding more data to the pile spelling out their damnation. After 30 ticks, new points of light had stopped appearing. Admiral Halon Va had lost over 60 percent of his fleet, and not a single other dreadnaught had survived the slaughter. His defeat was total, and the Federation navy was crippled. Science Officer Beredarin Lentith had been the first member of his family not to enroll in command school in eight generations. They had been some of the finest members of the fleet the Vorqual race had ever contributed to the Federation. His brothers and sisters had all enrolled, which meant that as far as he was concerned, his family had more than fulfilled their duty to the Federation. Military life wasn’t for him, anyway; he wanted to explore. The Federation had been around for over 3000 years, and there were still vast swathes of the galaxy that they knew nothing about. They were still encountering new species every few hundred or so years, and there was nothing he wouldn’t give to find the next one. That had been the dream that directed him away from the military and into academia. The odds of actually finding a new race were so small, though. There were still at least 200,000,000 unexplored systems in the galaxy. There just wasn’t time to visit them all... He snapped out of his reverie as he stepped over the body, or rather, what was left of the body, of a Zelnassi marine. Most of it was just a green stain on the corridor wall at this point, though there had been enough of the chitinous armored torso to partially obstruct his path. The young lieutenant quickly continued on towards the bridge. If he was being honest with himself, becoming an expert on the area of unexplored space directly between the Federation and it’s largest military rival wasn’t the smartest of ideas. Between his family reputation and his unique knowledge base, he was just asking to get pressed into service. Which was exactly what had happened immediately upon the recent outbreak of hostilities. And now here he was stepping over corpses, marveling at the fact that he had somehow survived this long. He still couldn’t believe the insanity of the Dominion forces. Boarding an enemy ship MID-COMBAT. It was like something out of a youngling’s tale from before space travel. It was pure madness, but there were the bodies to prove that it had happened. He gingerly stepped around the remains of yet another Zelnassi. The signs of battle continued all the way to the bridge, where he found security forces still holding quickly fortified positions around the bridge entrance. There were more Zelnassi bodies at their feet. Berendarin shuddered. He had been closer to death than he thought. He quickly pushed those thoughts out of his mind. He could only imagine why he was needed on the bridge so urgently. The door slid open, and Lentith walked into a completely silent room. Admiral Va was slouched at his command station, his enormous arm propped up on the chair arm and supporting his massive, horned head. Lentith didn’t even know that Arien’Ra COULD slouch. Nevermind that the fastidious Admiral could or would ever do such a thing. Maybe things were somehow worse than he thought. No one seemed to notice him enter, so he announced himself to the Admiral. Though he didn’t shout, his voice echoed in the deathly silent room, startling most of the bridge command. Two of the other Vorqual officers swore, and the tiny Jezren manning the com station let out a high pitched sound somewhere between a squeak and chirp. Berendarin would have found it quite funny if the situation wasn’t so dire. Admiral Va immediately snapped back to being the hulk of muscle and horn that imposed his will on a room just by being in it. His booming voice only added to his authority. “Science Officer Lentith. I’m glad to see you’re still alive. Are you seriously injured?” Berendarin had almost forgotten that he had walked the entire way to the bridge holding a bandage to his head just above his left eye. The drop out of subspace hadn’t been kind to him. He pulled the bandage away, revealing a dark orange stain on the bandage and a crack in the bone plate above his eye. “I’m fine, sir, just one of the outer plates, and the bleeding has already stopped.” “Good. Commander Vortith is currently overseeing the emergency repairs. Take his seat. You are going to help me find a way back home.” “Sir? I’m sorry I don’t understand. Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” “That’s not possible. Most of our supply ships and tenders were destroyed when that third wave of Dominion ships hit our flank. Almost all of our pre-prepared fuel reserves are gone. On top of that, some of our ships are so damaged that they don’t have another long jump in them. And if we run into any enemy ships, the whole rest of the fleet is done for. We barely qualify as a fighting force in the state we’re in.” “Is it really that bad?” “It’s worse, but we don’t have time to get into the details. You’re the expert on this section of the galaxy. I need you to find the fleet a hiding hole. Somewhere away from the known jump routes through the Spur. Any system where we can use the few miners we have left to scavenge up some fuel, and get some critical repairs done while we’re at it. And from there either wait for reinforcements or get ourselves patched up enough to limp home. Wherever it is, it needs to be close. I’m not leaving any ships behind because they can’t make the jump.” “Oh. Just that?” The lieutenant knew that Arien’Ra were strict herbivores, but with the look that the Admiral shot him, he couldn’t help but think about the fact that his head would easily fit into that giant, molar filled mouth. “And away from any known pirate hideaways. Like I said, our fleet can’t take any more fighting. And find it quickly. It won’t be long before the Dominion fleet locates us.” “I. Uh. Sure. I’ll see what I can find.” Berendarin shrank into the commander’s chair next to the enormous Arien’Ra, desperately wishing he had been more professional. If he had acted like a proper soldier, it might soften the blow of telling the Admiral that what he wanted was next to impossible. If he had a few weeks, he might be able to find something. So much of the Spur was still un-surveyed. The odds of there being anything useful to the Admiral in the databases was absurdly low, and there was even less of a chance he’d be able to find it in time for the information to matter. He began pouring through his notes anyway. It was better than waiting around to die, which, if the situation was as dire as the Admiral made it sound, was the only other option. He spent the next hour lost in his notes, finding nothing, while the bridge crew went about piecing the ship and the fleet back together. The young scientist had all but given up on the Admiral’s impossible request when a raucous cheer went up from everyone on the command deck. “Sir,” The coms officer called out, “The Consul’s Pride just dropped out of subspace and is hailing us, sir. The main communication screen lit up, and Berendarin Lentith looked to see the face of his oldest sister on screen, strapped into the captain’s chair of her dreadnaught. He let out a sigh of relief; Baraquen was his favorite sibling. Her uniform was drenched in a deep orange blood stain at the shoulder, and she was covered in what looked like flecks of green gore from a Xelnassi. The artificial gravity was clearly malfunctioning, as the captain’s restraining harness was the only thing keeping her from floating around her bridge. But the bone plates of her jaw were turned as always into her calm, self assured smile “My apologies for the delay in joining you, Admiral Va. We had some… guests shut down our drive mid jump. We had to deal with them before we rejoined the fleet. I assume there is a plan to get us back to federation space?” “It’s good to see you in one piece, Captain Lentith,” the Admiral responded. He was barely able to keep the relief from his voice. “And there is indeed a plan.” Berendarin returned to his research as the two ranking officers in the fleet went over the details of their current predicament. He was glad his sister had survived, and not just because they were close. It would have been a terrible blow to the whole family to have lost not only their future matriarch, but the ship she commanded as well. A member of his family had been commanding that dreadnaught uninterrupted for the last 5 generations. Military service had never appealed to Berendarin, but his family history was certainly still important. And then the solution to the current problem hit him like a driver round. He let out a gasp and tore into his notes with a fervor. Both Admiral Va and his sister’s projection turned to look at him, but he didn’t notice. After a few seconds of curious silence from the rest of the onlookers, Berendarin practically jumped out of his seat. “Admiral, I think I’ve got something that will work.” The young Lieutenant punched a few commands into his datapad, and a set of stellar coordinates popped up on the navigation terminal. “It’s a main sequence star, about 500 light years from us, fairly close to the edge of the Spur. It’s not anywhere near any established jump routes. The Consul’s Pride made me think of it.” He nodded towards his sister’s face on the ship's screen. “Our great, great grandsire took the Consul’s Pride through the system on her shakedown run a little over 300 cycles ago. Chased a band of Qorthi slavers out of the system. The outer four planets are all gas giants. If we can’t find Helium 3 there, I don’t know where else we should look.” On screen, Captain Lentith looked impressed, but Admiral Va clearly didn’t seem too sure. “We’re supposed to be going away from Dominion forces, not into them. What were the Qorthi doing there?” “There are also four rocky inner worlds in the system, Sir, according to reports from the encounter. Apparently, the third planet is a Class 7 Deathworld, and the Qorthi were running some experiments on the primitive lifeforms there. They were caught completely by surprise by the Consul’s Pride, and it was the first time that she fired her weapons in anger. I can’t find any reports of Dominion ships in that section of the Spur since.” There was a long pause before Va responded. “Good work, Lieutenant. I knew my trust in you wasn’t misplaced.” Admiral Va replied, before turning to the rest of the bridge and booming “Coms! Tactical! Get those coordinates to every ship in the fleet. I want every ship we have left formed up and ready to jump as soon as possible. Any captain who feels that his drives can’t make the jump is to focus all repair efforts on getting their drives functioning immediately. I will transfer repair crews from less damaged ships to more damaged ships if that means we jump even a tick earlier. Get to it everyone. I’m not losing any more of my fleet today.” The four revolution long jump to Science Officer Lentith’s newfound sanctuary had done wonders for Halon Va’s mental state. The initial shock of his fleet's terrible defeat had worn off, and he had been able to focus on what came next. Repair crews were able to stabilize most of his ship's core systems, and he was no longer worried about the life support systems cutting out and killing the rest of his crew. There had also been time for him to visit with the wounded. To thank them for their sacrifices. He had expected it to be an act of contrition, maybe even a chance to start begging for forgiveness. But there had been no anger in his crew, and no blame hung on his horns. Most had just been relieved that he had survived, and had expressed as much. He would be forever grateful to them for that. Most importantly, the four revolutions in hyperspace had given the admiral time to really think about what had gone wrong in the nebula. He had barely rested in the preceding four revolutions, spending every scrap of spare time in his office, pouring over records from the battle. That’s where he found himself now, tucked behind his massive ceramic and titanium alloy desk of Tellarim design. It had been custom made for him upon his promotion to this command, a gift from the high admirals and the council. It was the only luxury that Va allowed in his office. The rest of Va’s space he kept strictly utilitarian. There were no trophies adorning his walls, as was customary for other members of his species. The plain bulkheads of his office were instead lined entirely with screens, and each of them were now filled with footage and reports from the battle, running on loop. Va soaked it all in. The more he watched, the more a singular conclusion crystallized in his mind. He had done everything right; he was sure of that now. 1000 years of doctrine and theory for fighting the Dominion had gone into his preparation for that battle, and he had followed it to the letter. And he had been winning. Then that attack on his flank by the Zelnassi had blown all of that out of the airlock. Something significant had changed in the way the Dominion fought... Commander Vortith’s voice rang out over the com system. ”Admiral Va, we’ll be transitioning back to real space in moments.” “Thank you. I’ll be there shortly. And get Science Officer Lentith to the bridge. I want him nearby just in case. He’s the only one who has any idea of where we are.” The Admiral pulled himself from his desk. He would have to leave the rest of his analysis for later. There was just enough time for him to reach the bridge and settle into his command chair before the Horns of Glory snapped back to real space. This time, the inertial dampeners held. “Tactical, status report.” “All ships accounted for, Admiral. Though the Consul’s Pride, several cruisers, and three of our escorts are all reporting massive failures in their Drive Cores. They won’t be jumping anywhere anytime soon.” “Wonderful.” Va wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastically or not. “Get scans up and running and deploy the pickets that aren’t crippled in a standard scouting formation. How close are we to the nearest gas giant?” “We’re approximately half a light tick from the system’s innermost gas giant, sir.” “Excellent. Deploy the rest of the fleet. Put us in a high orbit around the planet in a defensive formation, and get our miners working immediately. Once our orbit is stable, I want every hand, paw and hoof in the fleet working on repairs.” “Yes sir.” Admiral Va settled into his command chair for a long shift. It would be a drawn out, boring process to refuel the ships. With his fleet limping along, and only two functioning miners, it would take far longer than it should. After all the chaos of the last few revolutions, boring would be a welcome change of pace. Va started to relax, sinking into his chair’s acceleration padding. His fleet and his crews were finally safe. The first priority would be to get one of the subspace beacons repaired and to get word back to the Federation that the fleet still existed. And hopefully call for aid. He was sure to be stripped of his rank as soon as contact was made, but hopefully he would avoid a Tribunal. That was an unpleasant prospect… “Sir, we have unidentified ship signatures appearing from around the planet we’re approaching.” Va had never heard panic in the voice of his young sensors officer before, but it was certainly there now. Va understood the sentiment, though. He found it difficult to keep the panic from his own voice as he started issuing orders “Bring the fleet up to combat status immediately. How many ships are there?” “I’m showing 35 individual signatures. All approaching us at combat speed and still accelerating. At current speeds, they will intercept us in just over 30 ticks, sir.” “I want details as soon as you have them, Lieutenant. Size, make, estimated firepower. Who they are. And keep scanning the system. Find out where they came from.” The panic had partially subsided for Va. 35 unknowns was not too terrible a threat. He still had almost 240 warships under his command. Still, if there was a way to avoid combat, he had to try. His fleet couldn’t suffer any more losses. “Coms, any attempt by these unknown ships to contact us?” “I”m not sure, sir,” the diminutive Jezren at the coms replied. “There’s nothing on standard communications channels. The ships are transmitting something, but I can’t figure out what it is.” “Admiral,” the Lieutenant at the sensors station called out. “I think I might have an idea of where these ships came from. Preliminary scans show there is extensive urbanization on the third and fourth planets, as well as what appear to be habitation sized artificial satellites around the second and sixth planets. One of the moons of the gas giant we’re approaching shows signs of habitation as well. All of them are emitting significant signal pollution. This system clearly already belongs to someone, and they’re broadcasting everywhere.” Halon Va, High Admiral of the Combined Federation Fleets, turned, slowly and with as much composure as he could muster, to face the young science officer seated to his left. Berendarin sat, mouth agape, staring transfixed at the sensor readouts in front of him. Va had never seen a Vorqual more confused in his life. “I want answers, Officer Lentith.” “I… I don’t.. This doesn’t make any sense,” the young science officer stammered. “There shouldn’t be anything here.” “Admiral,” The comms officer cut in, “The signal that we’re picking up from the unknown ships is definitely some kind of communication. I managed to put together audio from it.” “Play it,” commanded Va. A series of short, guttural, and completely unintelligible sounds came over the speakers in reply. There was a short pause before the sounds repeated themselves again. “Coms, what was that?” “No idea, sir, but it’s being transmitted on loop. If it is intended as a communication, our translators have no idea what to do with it.” “Admiral.” The voice came from Va’s left, and was barely audible. Va turned yet again to look at the young science officer. His gaze was locked on the tactical readout, and there something in his eyes that Va couldn’t recognize. A mixture of pure terror and something else. Was it wonder? The young Vorqual’s voice was still barely above a whisper when he continued to address the admiral: “I think we should run the transmission through First Contact Protocols.” Captain Benjamin Alvarez-León slammed against his restraining harness as the USCS Aurora started it’s decel burn. He had pushed the engines on the outdated cruiser to their limits, and the ship groaned in protest as it started counteracting his rather zealous acceleration orders. He hoped that his mad scramble with his small squadron of outdated ships had been an overreaction. The alternative was something he’d rather not think about. All Ben had was the reserves; the rest of the fleet was on maneuvers at Sirius. The Admiralty had wanted to test the new, fully modernized fleet’s maneuvering abilities in the gravwell of a binary system. And, in their infinite wisdom, they decided they needed ALL of the new fleet assets, leaving nothing in Sol except for the handful of cruisers and escorts that couldn’t match the capabilities of the modern ships. A handful of cruisers and escorts that were now hurtling towards more than 200 unknown contacts. It was the unknown part of all of this that was unnerving Ben. There were no familiar energy signatures. No familiar scan data. No IFF. No signals coming off the contacts of any kind for that matter. Two of the contacts were too big to even be ships. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were moving towards Jupiter in formation, Ben wouldn’t even think they WERE ships. “So what do you think, Alexi?” Ben asked, turning towards his second in command. “You and the rest of the bridge crew are always making inane bets. Have you whipped up an over-under for what we’re throwing ourselves at yet?” “Haven’t had time,” came the quick reply from Ben’s right. The short, stocky man from Vladivostok was missing his trademark joviality. “Though, my money is on them being Ithacan, sir.” Ben bristled at Alexi calling him sir. They’d been friends for twenty years, damnit, and had been practically joined at the hip since going through the Academy together. Outranking him still felt a little off. Now was hardly the time to worry about formalities, though. “What makes you think they're from Ithaca?” “It’s the only thing that makes sense. The locals have been getting increasingly radical, and Ithaca is the only sector where reports of piracy have been increasing.” “Yeah, I could see a rebellion coming from Ithaca,” Ben added slowly, turning over that scenario in his head. “But there’s no way they could swing something of this magnitude. There aren’t even any shipyards in the sector. And even if there were, there’s no way they could keep the construction of over two hundred ships a secret.” Alexi could only offer him a shrug in response. It was at that moment that the coms station informed him there was a transmission incoming from the unidentified ships. Ben instructed the ensign to play it, and the bridge was suddenly filled with a stream of grotesque bleating noises and strange grunts, with the occasional recognizable syllable interspersed throughout the transmission. Ben thought he picked out ‘dentify’ from the mess, but he wasn’t sure. There was a long moment of silence on the bridge. “What the hell was that?” When no one had any answers for him, Ben tapped his command console and recorded a new message to broadcast. “This is Captain Alvarez of the USCS Aurora. Unidentified ships, please clarify. Your transmission is badly garbled. We did not receive your identification. You are still trespassing in Commonwealth space and are on an unauthorized course towards Jupiter. Begin decelerating immediately and re-identify yourselves.” He wouldn’t admit it to the crew, but Ben was profoundly unsettled. Something was deeply, deeply wrong about this whole situation. Not only was he vastly outnumbered by these things, but they were unwilling to communicate properly. He was almost believing this whole thing was some kind of bizarre prank. “How much longer before we can get a decent visual on these things? “Any moment now, sir.” A new transmission arrived just then, and Ben had it played back immediately. This time, instead of almost bovine bleats and grunts, the sounds coming over the speakers were mostly intelligible. Or, they would have been, if any of the syllables were in the right order. It was almost like a toddler was rattling off all of his new favorite sounds, spitting them out in a random order and not knowing how they went together. There were still a few heavy grunts sprinkled in, just for good measure. Before Ben could process this new joke of a transmission, the contacts finally started slowing. In a matter of moments, the strange wall of contacts was hanging lazily in Jupiter’s orbit, barely moving fast enough to keep their orbit from decaying. They were still in perfect formation. “Huh. Well, I guess that’s something.” With nothing to do but sit back and wait as his ship closed the distance, Ben tried to relax and began running over all of the possibilities in his mind of what the new contacts could be. He came up with nothing. Well, nothing feasible, anyway. He took a series of long, calming breaths, trying to clear his mind and focus. This was no time for his imagination to be running wild. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that logic was failing him. Something was off. Something… “Captain, bringing visual of the unknown contacts up on screen now.” Ben actually felt his jaw drop. Every contact on his display was clearly a ship. Most were long and spindly, wrapped in layers of some kind of highly reflective armor; a fleet of crystalline arrows hanging in the darkness. The two largest contacts, which Ben had just moments ago thought were too big to be ships, were large enough on the screen for him to clearly see details. In addition to their immense size and strange armor, both ships were dotted with what were clearly weapons platforms, though what kind, Ben couldn’t tell. Noticeably, almost all of the ships on his screen were heavily damaged. Chunks were missing from some ships, and most had deep lines gouged into their hulls. Any form of decorative paint or markings had been burned away. Something had put these ships through absolute hell. But still, the damage could not take away entirely from the elegance of the ship’s designs. They were graceful and sleek, completely different from anything Ben had ever seen before. It was all so different. So strange. So very, very… Alien. Despite every effort he had made to avoid the word, it finally forced itself to form inside Ben’s mind, and forced him to acknowledge the reality that legitimate, extra-Solar life was hanging in the darkness in front of him. It forced him to acknowledge the screams he had been suppressing in the back of his mind. The screams of his imagination crying out in glorious triumph over reality. And with those screams came a deluge of accompanying thoughts and emotions. He was a child again, staring up at the stars above Armstrong and wondering what else, and who else, was out there. He was a teen again, signing his name to the Academy enrollment paperwork, determined to get out there between the stars and see the galaxy himself. He was a young officer again, screaming and pleading with the Admiralty to at least consider a modern First Contact scenario. He was sitting in his command chair now, hurtling towards honest-to-god aliens, all of his dreams made manifest in an instant. He was overwhelmed. He was terrified. And he had never imagined that he could feel such elation. It was the young warrant officer at the coms that snapped Ben out of his reverie. “Sir, the contacts are hailing us on all standard channels, requesting a video feed.” She sounded very, very nervous. Ben immediately stood up, straightening his uniform as best he could. “If they’re anything less than genocidal monsters, I’m going to offer them aid and repairs. As long as they’re peaceful, there’s no reason not to extend them the full hospitality of humanity.” “Ben,” Alexi asked, clearly choosing his words carefully, “Are you sure that’s the… Wisest course of action? How will the Admiralty respond to Goddamned alien ships docking at Hephaestus?” “Alexi, in the 250 years the Commonwealth has existed, the First Contact protocols haven’t been updated since the charter was signed. No one has cared. This has been nothing but a fantasy for most people. I am NOT letting this opportunity get away. Every child that has ever looked up at the stars and wondered finally got an answer, and I will not waste this moment. We’re making friends, the Admiralty and the government be damned.” “You do realize you’re potentially deciding the fate of our entire species on a whim, right?” “Is there someone else you’d prefer to have making this call?” Alexi, apparently deciding that there was not, stood up and straightened his uniform, standing next to his friend as he ordered the connection of the video feed. The channel connected, and the human bridge crew found themselves looking at the bridge of a ship crewed by not one, but three alien races. The largest alien in the center of the screen opened its mouth to speak. This time, instead of bleats and grunts, a choppy, mechanical voice that didn’t sync up to the alien at all proclaimed from the bridge speakers in broken, stuttering English: “I. Am Admiral. Halon. Va. Of the Federation of. Sentient Races. Greetings and. Welcome. To the. Galaxy.” Ben couldn’t suppress his smile. “On behalf of the United Solar Commonwealth, and all of Humanity, greetings, and welcome to Sol. Your ships look like they’ve had a bad time on your way here. If there’s any way we could aid with your repairs, we’d be happy to help.” Slave 782 slammed his right appendage onto the control console hard enough to rupture his outer membrane and smear ichor over the panel. It had been four days since the battle in the nebula, and with the latest round of reports, he finally had to admit that the rest of the Federation fleet had escaped him. It was a minor frustration, all things considered, but the escape prevented this from being a total victory. Still, he had proven his worth to his owners in this battle, and his experiments with the Zelnassi had paid dividends beyond his wildest imagination. He had earned a command today, and with every success in that command, his ability to bargain for his people's freedom only increased. For what he would be asking, it might take the total defeat of the Federation to earn that kind of leverage. Also frustrating, but not a task that he couldn’t handle. It would be a long war, he was sure, but like his owners, he was patient. He would earn his freedom, even if it meant reducing the entire Federation to glass. Author Wiki Series Wiki NEXT
howdy, I've been a member of this forum since my faith crisis in 2014. I'm trans and queer, and that's why I left the church (although I could barely admit it to myself at the time.) Recently I found out my parents lied/misled me and they are still paying full tithes and offerings to TSCC. you can read that previous post here if you want. I decided to take a break from talking to my parents for a while. I don't live with them, and our relationship has been strained ever since my faith crisis, but recently we had taken some HUGE steps to heal things. We had gone to therapy, and I actually felt loved and accepted by them. We grew extra close during the pandemic, and I would call them just to chat and shoot the breeze. All that went to shit when I found out they were still paying tithing, and I kinda lost it a little bit (a lot a bit?) I asked my parents to stop paying tithing in 2018 because I found it was really difficult to let my guard down around them knowing they still financially support TSCC, and shared with them how damaging it was to live through the prop 8 debacle and watch all my family and friends jump up and proudly discriminate against and hate people like me. Anyway, this is what I emailed them: Dear mom & dad I am very sorry that I say hurtful things to you so much and all the time. I'm sorry that the only way I could communicate to you those feelings were through anger. I have tried eloquence, I have tried compassion, and I tried anger. I'm done trying for a little bit, this email is my last try. I'm sorry for the things I said in anger. It is not an excuse, but I was very very suicidal and fully intended on those being my last words. Ask my therapist if you want. It sucks to say that. I was doing really well before this month, but considering the bike accident & everything I'm having a hard time that turned into an almost impossible time. I just want you to know that I am ok physically and do not intend on ending my life at this moment or in the future. The church's ideology forced me to consider death as the only option for exhalation as a trans person, because living as a girl was incredibly psychologically painful to me. It is hard to let go of a coping mechanism that I clung to for so long. But I refuse to give in to the ideology which you raised me in, but I am not strong enough to do that when you are in my life & financially supporting the same institution which has harmed me, and caused me to attempt to take my own life multiple times. I love you both more than life itself. There was a time I loved you more than I loved myself. Heck, you guy taught me how to love. But I know if I kill myself the church wins. But you're rooting for the church and I love you. But you're funding my oppressor. But I miss you so much it hurts, and I don't want to be alive without you guys. It's all too much cognitive dissonance for me, and cognitive dissonance is triggering because it took a LOT of it for me to believe I was ever supposed to be a "girl" "woman" (idk what those words even mean, I just know I'm not them.) I feel the need to apologize to you for being Non-Binary, for not being able to stomach living as a woman and forcing the shame and stigma that I know accompanies this in your culture and faith. I really gave it my all, I really tried to be a girl because I love you guys but I just can't do that. I can't live like that. I know those feelings are consequences of the church's queerphobia too. That is something I also feel the need to apologize for, but I won't apologize for being nonbinary. There is nothing wrong with being nonbinary. I have been this person since day one, but now I'm finally able to love myself. I could never do that when I was in the church. As cliche as it is to say this: God be with you till we meet again. I love you and I know that you love me, but for my own health, I cannot have you as an active participant in my life if you are paying tithing to the corporation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have been very respectful of your faith by not sharing with you certain documents which led me to remove my name from the records of the church in 2015, because these documents leave no room to argue that Joseph Smith was a prophet of god who received divine revelation to translate reformed Egyptian or any other kind of Egyptian characters. I'm sure you two know this, but no one could read Egyptian hieroglyphics when Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham or the gold/brass plates. But we can read them now, thanks to the Rosetta stone and in fact an Egyptologist by the name of Dr Ritner has translated the facsimiles that accompany the book of Abraham and discussed their legitimacy as actual translations of actual scrolls found in Egypt. I would encourage you to seek this out if you feel the need to do so, but out of respect for your faith and testimony I will not tell you what every prominent Egyptology will tell you. I love you both very much and hope that one day we can see each other again. Perhaps one day I will be strong enough to associate with people who financially support an organization which says my gender identity is a sin, and believes that organization to be the one true church of god on earth, but I'm not that strong right now, and I may never be. anyway. thought this might be of interest to y'all given my other post.
He couldn't remember who he was. He couldn't remember how he had come to be here, or for how long he had been chained to the wall. From the holes in the mask, he could see the opposite side of the room--a translucent red energy field embedded into dark stone. Beyond that, he could barely make out a corridor through the field's glare. Sometimes, he saw men in robes moving past it, but he couldn't remember who they were either, or why he felt such chills when they passed. He had to get the mask off. He wasn't sure how or even why, but he knew it was the one thing that truly restrained him here. That is, when he could *know* anything, and his thoughts didn't simply dissolve into inky, oily darkness. It was so hard to think... The manacle on his left arm. He had to remember that, he knew he had to. One of the screws keeping it fastened to the wall was loose. He had spent...Weeks? Months? Years?...focusing on it, willing it in futile desperation to turn. And sometimes, miraculously, when the darkness subsided, it did. He almost had it now. One more millimeter, and he could finally do it. His body aching in pain and anticipation, he tensed his fingers and twisted them, reaching out with his will even as the darkness swelled up once more to take him down... And then he fell limp again, breathing hard. It felt like he had tried to push back a mass driver piston. But he'd done it. Something small and metallic fell to the stone floor, clinking against the rocks. He waited one minute. Two. Enough to regain his breath, enough for the ache in his muscles to recede somewhat. Then, he twisted his body and pulled his left arm back as hard as he could, teeth gritted to stifle any grunt of effort. There was resistance, but it wasn't enough. The second nail holding the chain to the wall snapped, and his arm fell to his side, no longer suspended. Finally! No sooner had his arm fallen to his side when it shot up again, scrabbling at the mask over his face, finally finding the lip where it connected and pulling up... Lytrinn remembered everything. They had separated him from Kian. The Dark Siders' leader had taken an interest in him, dragging the other Jedi deeper into the temple. The cultists, for their part, had toyed with Lytrinn for a while. They'd locked him in electrocuffs and beat him, spat on him, and did their level best to humiliate him. Of course, that had ended when he'd managed to damn near strangle a particularly careless one with the cuffs, and made his first escape attempt. That was when they'd put the mask on him... Lytrinn shuddered a bit, and turned his head down to look at the strangely-marked piece of cloth he held in his hand. A Dark Side torture device. The Sith had created them long ago, to safely hold and eventually corrupt Jedi prisoners. He had been lucky indeed to make his escape, but for now, there were more pressing concerns. Once again, he twisted his fingers, and the manacles on his other limbs opened with a muted click. The moment his bare feet hit the cold stone floor, Lytrinn stumbled forward, barely catching himself with his arms on the opposite wall. For several seconds, he stayed there, breathing hard and trying to remember how to move his legs. Finally, feeling started to return, and he could stand again. “Well,” Lytrinn said, when he caught his breath. “That was the *easy* part...” _______________________________________________________________________________ Nearby, in a makeshift common room, two dark-robed figures spoke. One, his hood covering most of his scarred face, paced about as if impatient. The other, a short-haired woman, sat laconically, cleaning a deactivated vibroblade. “I’m sick of this place,” . The first figure muttered, as if to no one. His compatriot shrugged. “We all are, Malivan. Can’t you at least find something more original to complain about?” Malivan’s mouth contorted into a snarl. “Well, what else is worth complaining about, Leona? Got any ideas?” He snapped angrily. “Oh, I don’t know…” Leona started, her voice mockingly innocent. “Maybe the fact that the Master is dead, or that the bastard who killed him stole our one way off this fucking rock, or maybe,” Here, she lowered her voice to a harsh hiss. “The man who’s taken over is halfway from cutting us to pieces.” The scowl on Malivan’s face was gone now, replaced with a look of cold fear. “Watch what you’re saying!” He whispered sharply. “We’re in deep enough shit as it is without Vhall having an excuse to string us up!” “Like he needs an ex--” Something had shifted. Though they spoke no words to each other, both felt it, like a blaster bolt through plexiglass. Something had awoken. Someone had awoken. “The prisoner!” Both of them had thought and said it at the same time. Leona stood hurriedly, flicking the power switch of her weapon and twirling it as it hummed to life. Malivan, drawing and activating his own weapon, began to creep towards the cell at the end of the adjoining hall, his companion following not far behind. He had a bad feeling about this…. _______________________________________________________________________________ Footsteps. Lytrinn could hear two sets of them heading towards the door, moving slowly and methodically. Cultists. On any normal day, he could take them with his eyes closed, but today--or tonight--was far from normal. His limbs ached harder than they’d ever had before, his head still pounded like someone was trying to hammer their way in, and it felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks. And they’d be well-rested, armed, and imbued with the Dark Side… He needed a plan. Lytrinn looked down to the one remaining manacle on his arm, and the rusty chain attached to it. That was a start, at least. A vibroblade would cut right through, but all he needed was one good throw, and one would be down. He couldn’t afford to rest or hesitate. Even if he did get a weapon, there was no way he’d win any drawn-out fights, so he’d have to end this quickly. Drawing deep upon the Light, he crouched into a fighting stance, taking the chain in both hands and readying himself. The footsteps slowly grew louder, then stopped. A hand tapped at a keypad, and the humming glow of the energy field ceased. And when a hooded figure leaned in to look around, Lytrinn made his move. He threw the chain as hard as he could muster, whipping the cultist directly in the face and causing him to howl in pain. The man’s hands instinctively scrabbled at his broken nose--and the vibroblade fell from them! In an instant, Lytrinn threw himself forward with the Force, grabbing it before it hit the floor and slashing it through its owner’s midsection. The second cultist then jumped forward, her blade raised in an overhand strike. Normally it would be child’s play to block such a strike, but in Lytrinn’s state he couldn’t be sure of even that. So instead of blocking, he stumbled back gracelessly, putting the rest of his Force energy into throwing his vibroblade forward. As the cultist completed her strike, her companion’s vibroblade impaled her, and she too crumpled to the ground dead. For his part, Lytrinn stumbled back into the far side of the cell wall, and gracelessly slumped into a sitting position, exhausted. The Force had only just returned to him, and in his current state, he was little more than a half-starved bag of bones. How long had he been chained up here, in the Dark? His eyes started to close of their own volition, but he blinked them open furiously. There were four other cultists in the compound at least, to say nothing of their master. Kian! The memory of his companion was such that it drove Lytrinn to his feet once more. He couldn’t feel Kian anywhere. That couldn’t be good. Was he dead? Did the Dark Side master take him off-world? Or was he simply beyond his ability to detect? All of those options worried him. Escape seemed unlikely, but he hoped beyond hope that it was exactly what had happened. He had to capture a cultist alive. He would figure out what happened to his fellow Jedi. And, if at all possible, he would rescue them. Suddenly, Lytrinn didn’t feel sleepy anymore, and the pain subsided slightly. He could feel the Force rushing back into him, clouded but still there. It would sustain him, for now. He stepped over the bodies of the fallen cultists, taking the vibroblade from the hands of the woman he had impaled. This would do, until he found his lightsaber. The hallway he now stood in was closed off at one end, leading to a larger room that, thankfully, seemed unoccupied. Lytrinn gathered the Force around him, weaving a cloak around himself that would erase his presence from the minds of the weak-willed. It would be enough for the cultists, hopefully, but definitely not for the Master. So he would have to be careful. Now it was his turn to creep down the hallway and into the next room, which was indeed as empty as he had found it. But now, he was starting to hear more movement. Somebody had felt what had happened, and somebody was coming. Lytrinn shuffled his way into a corner, making sure not to step on any of the debris that partially covered the room’s stone floor. The place looked worse than he’d remembered it, as if the cultists had just stopped caring about personal hygiene. Had something gone wrong for them, too? As the thought passed his mind, the remaining four cultists charged into the room, blades drawn. One of them--the eldest, a balding man with a thin brown mustache, was not carrying a vibroblade at all, but an orange-bladed lightsaber. My weapon! Lytrinn almost gasped. He wasn’t expecting the Master to allow a mere cultist to carry the blade of a captured foe, but it was no matter. In fact, this was good news. A Jedi, after all, formed an innate bond with their weapon, such that it became more an extension of themselves rather than an inanimate object. And that was what would save him here. Lytrinn reached out, both with his arm and with the Force, and the blade flew from the balding man’s hand and into his own. As the weapon touched his skin, he let down the Force Cloak, feeling a surge of warm, familiar energy, like seeing an old friend for the first time in years. The ensuing fight lasted all of five seconds. The cultists barely had time to react before Lytrinn threw the vibroblade crosswise, decapitating one of them before he could raise his blade. The next two charged, but he cut both of them down with a single sweeping strike. Desperately, the balding man scrabbled at his belt for a weapon, but before he could reach it, the lightsaber blade he once held now stood centimeters from his throat. Lytrinn’s voice came out hoarsely, between ragged breaths. “Where....is….Kian?!” The cultist’s eyes were wide with fear, and as he slowly raised his hands to his head, he stammered out, “The Jedi? He-he’s gone. Escaped. He killed our master, stole our only way off the planet. We’ve tried to contact help and find the ship you came in, but…” Lytrinn let out an audible sigh of relief. So the master was dead, then. And Kian had gotten out. He must have thought that I was dead… “What’s your name, cultist?” “Vhall, m-m-aster Jedi.” “Don’t ‘Master Jedi’ me.” Lytrinn slammed the pommel of his weapon into the cultist’s head, and he crumpled to the floor, unconscious. Pausing to rip the vibroblade and the set of electrocuffs from his belt, he fastened them to the man’s arms and dragged him up the stairs. Apparently, the room had been built into a cave, one whose mouth stood about ten meters away from its entrance. Deeper in was likely where the cultists slept, and where Kian had been held. At the cave’s mouth was a portable comms antenna. That had been what they were using to get help? It seemed good enough, but no one had been close enough to reach them. They have no idea where my ship is. That would only make sense, he supposed. They had hiked a ways from their landing site before they encountered the cultists. The master would have known where he and Kian were from the instant they arrived, but of course, he was dead. And these cultists’ senses would be nowhere near as refined. He made his way to the beacon, and calibrated it not to an interplanetary frequency, but to a local binary one. There was a subsystem in each Jedi shuttle that was tuned to the same frequency, allowing him to pinpoint the location. At first, nothing showed up, but then a code in binary returned. It was a request by the shuttle’s mainframe system, asking whether or not it should head on autopilot to Lytrinn’s location. Once more relieved, he typed in an affirmative response, then sat, meditating, waiting for the T-6 to arrive. Finally, he heard the engines of the Jedi craft in the distance, growing louder and louder until it roared everywhere, then went silent. The T-6’s landing ramp opened, hitting the sand with a dull thud. Grabbing his prisoner by the cuffs, Lytrinn dragged him up the ramp and fastened the cuffs to a nearby pipe. “Computer!” He called, once again hoarsely. “Activate autopilot. Set a course for Ossus.” As the ship hummed to life again and rose from the charred surface of Empress Teta, Lytrinn finally allowed himself to feel exactly how tired he was, and stumbled his way towards the shuttle’s sleeping quarters. He barely got halfway before passing out on the hard metal deck.
Just two cycles ago the ship had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. To a first approximation, that’s also where it was encountered — in the vast void of space beyond Fomalhaut’s debris disc. I can still relive it perfectly without Flashback. Actually, I’m not retelling this right. My neural rhythms are still off balance from the shock. Let me start over. Two cycles ago something suddenly caused the survey data for the Fomalhaut system to go all wrong. In general I have no idea what the Provians are trying to complain to me about. I’m just as much of a Unified Fleet supporter as the next captain, but it can be hard working with the Provians. Anyway, I’m sure every single Proxian who’s ever left Protia could’ve immediately figured out what was wrong — Fomalhaut had suddenly disappeared from view. The Provian surveyors told me this happens all the time, just not like this. A nearby comet can obscure the view or a massive debris field in the inner system can partially obscure the star. But it’s not sudden — comets are easy to track and we’re far off axis with Fomalhaut’s debris field. No, Fomalhaut seemed to just disappear, although of course it hadn’t as we could still see its light reflected off the almost innumerable inner system objects. Honestly, on a survey mission being captain is overwhelmingly people management. There’s always tension between the current survey team and the next one eager to get started. Maintenance team is constantly trying to temporarily decommission systems so they can be overhauled. Okay, yes I’m making excuses for myself. I know Unified Fleet command wouldn’t officially agree, but those who’ve actually been captains know that on a survey mission you just let the Prime Surveyor run operations. No debate I’m responsible, but I didn’t activate that laser beam array. Oh, I’m getting ahead of myself again. Autodoc says my neural rhythms are now trending towards stable. Trending. Still far too unstable to reenter cryohibernation, but I’ve got to survive this to get the message back to Protia. If Protia is still there. No, I didn’t mean it like that. Don’t be offended. I want to survive, certainly, but the reason I’m telling you is in case I don’t. I’ve always been so fond of you Projians with your incredibly stable neural rhythms. You’re following, right? I know you’re a botanist, of course you are — what else would a Projian be doing on this ship, but this all makes sense? Good, good. Prime Surveyor swept the main laser beam array over the void where Fomalhaut should’ve been. A few of the beams bounced back to us. A few others were observed exciting small pockets of outer system gas near our ship. Most unremarkably disappeared into the void undetected. Prime Surveyor swept the auxiliary laser beam arrays while focusing the main array on the reflective spot. It took no imagination to realize the object was a perfectly reflective ovoid. No, actually we only learned that later. They told us it was perfectly reflective. Obviously artificial. The survey mission was over; first contact procedures initiated. In the void of space around an uninhabited system with no Gateway? This was a first. I wasn’t the best at command apprenticeship, but I know every detail of every first contact. What Proxian wouldn’t, we don’t forget anything unlike you Projians. I sincerely hope you remember everything I’m telling you. I’ll survive this, I will. But if I don’t, remember. Four first contacts, seven secondary introductions. Eleven homeworlds, thirty two sapient species. Contact had always been near a homeworld or a Gateway. Except with the sapients of Tradgiu, who had intentionally placed themselves in orbit around our neighboring planet Morea which of course we could see easily observe from Protia. A very cautious sapient group. You already know all of this? Oh, you just don’t care. Fair enough. It’s helping me stabilize, or at least I’d like that to be true. We transmitted in wide band to start. Followed protocol exactly: binary pulses, prime sequence, pulsar map, fractional sequence. Then our current location, Fomalhaut, relative to the pulsar map. Then wait. Form a numeric basis, then a location one, derive a common terminology for the universal constants and build from there. In apprenticeship learning about the process sounded boring, now I realize how mistaken that was. Regardless of how mundane the actions, it was thrilling to be part of such a moment. Our wide band transmission was reflecting off of the ovoid. We were hopeful some amount was being absorbed. What would they reply with? I suppose it would’ve been reasonable to consider they wouldn’t reply, but I didn’t — that had never happened before. Bvoort first contact, our first, went unexpectedly well when they followed up with basic arithmetic functions. You’ve met a Bvoort sapient I’m sure? No? Well they certainly don’t look anything like us, but they think similarly enough. The Galant, that was beyond challenging as I understand. The Orcon’s first reply was the position of their homeworld relative to our pulsars. While our most recent contact, with the Tradgiu was by far the most cautious and conservative, they merely broadcast the prime sequence and continued it further than we had to demonstrate they understood. The ovoid ship, it started to glow. Not in a way that any Protia sapient could perceive, but the sensors could. Uniform heat radiation apparently, perfectly uniform. Prime Surveyor theorized the ship had actually been in some sort of inert state and was now becoming active. It was a good theory and it might be correct; we’ll probably never know. We received a wide band transmission that matched the exact frequency range we used. They did not transmit a prime sequence, arithmetic operations, nor stellar coordinates. No. What they sent destabilized every Provian on the ship. Us Proxians struggled through, most of us anyway. Yeah I know you’re fine, but well Projians are different. It wasn’t what they said, it was how they did. The transmission was Protian Modern Script in Unified Fleet standard encoding. Right I’m getting ahead of myself. What I actually saw was Prime Surveyor go motionless. Standard protocol in first contact is all transmissions are broadcast to the whole ship. Well intentioned I’m sure, but ultimately fatal in this case. Prime Surveyor recovered, temporarily, and set the incoming transmissions to auto relay within the ship. Provians are brilliant. Standard evolutionary pressure between sapient groups. I’m sure you learned all about it. You always get differentiation; high intelligence comes with instability. Seems to be a universal constant. Just read up on the Tradgia, I’ve never learned of a more paranoid species. Yes, yes of course now is a terrible time to do that. The message was short, fully comprehensible, but awkwardly structured. It was staggeringly impressive for a first contact reply. “Salutations Protian vessel. Honor is ours to intersect you at Fomalhaut.” Prime Surveyor was most qualified to reply, but had slumped to the ground. Every Provian in the operations cylinder was in some sort of incapacitated state. The profoundness of what this implied was just too overwhelming for them. Had they deduced our language and communication systems in a moment? Had they already visited Protia and then somehow arrived here before we would’ve received speed of light transmission from our homeworld informing us? I’m sure the Provian mind came up with so many other perplexing and disconcerting questions. Us Proxians were a bit rattled, but were able to struggle on. You were reorganizing the garden and unaware this was happening? No offense, but that’s the most Projian thing I can imagine. I hope that detail makes it into a history document, assuming one ever gets written. No, no, sorry I’m sure it’ll work out okay. Since every first contact has always been near a homeworld or Gateway, by the time numerical and stellar coordinate communication is established an expert team (entirely Provian of course) has been brought in to establish full linguistic communication. They don’t go over that part during command apprenticeship. No other Proxian in the operations cylinder knew either. So I tried my best. I don’t think I succeeded; I don’t think success was ever an option. They call themselves Terrans. Their sapient group is composed of humans and mechs, an artificial construct the humans had created. Also some combinations of the two; what they described sounded circular — we didn’t understand. I still don’t. Maybe the Provians would’ve, but they were so overwhelmed by this point. We asked about the other sapients in their group, the natural ones. All gone, eliminated by the humans long before they had written language. Most of Provians in the operations cylinder died of neural hemorrhages. A few lived who were too overwhelmed by then to comprehend what had been learned. Their homeworld was called Earth. Was. An accident. They destroyed it in a way I still don’t understand. Spatial folding, the same way ships move quickly between the stars. I’m not an expert in how Gateways work, but I was certain they can’t destroy planets. The other Proxians lost their minds. I don’t blame them. We’re a strong species, but one can only envision so much destruction before succumbing. Command apprenticeship toughens the mind. I struggled terribly. You were still in the garden? When did you even realize what was going on? Never mind. I tried to understand, but they’ve never heard of Gateways. Apparently the way their ships move can’t be adequately described in Protian Modern Script. We were told to leave the Fomalhaut system. They were expecting other Terran ships, but not their ships. It was hard to comprehend, you still don’t do you? Understandable, Protian barely has the words to describe this. You must understand though, it’s important. The Terrans are a sapient group, but they are not one. No, not like the Projians, Proxians, and Provians make up of the Protian sapient group. These groups are of their choice. For example you and I chose to join the Unified Fleet. That makes us a group, a grouping of sapients who chose to be on ships. Yes, it’s like that somehow. It’s hard to understand. Yes, they’re still all Terrans and both groups have humans and mechs and also the confusing combination of them. Actually I’m assuming it’s just two groups, could it be more than two? This is all too much. These two groups are disagreeing with each other. Extremely disagreeable. They said our language lacks the vocabulary to properly explain. It is a type of disagreement that can't be resolved and therefore results in destruction. The other ships will be coming to destroy them although they will try to destroy them first. I know it sounds wrong to say “destroy” — that’s what asteroids and volcanos do, not sapients to one another. Clearly Protian Modern doesn't have the words for what they’re expecting to happen. I’m sure I was beyond insane at that point. I don’t know if anyone else was still alive in the operations cylinder, but certainly no one else was functional. My astronavigation skills are limited, but I was fully committed to do the unprecedented and flee a first contact, at the alien race's request no less. I’m not normally curious, no Proxian is, but I suppose insane ones are. I asked the Terrans how they knew our language. They found a ship of ours recently, crashed on a planet in the Pollux system. I’d learned of that ship, it was the first non-Gateway exploratory ship every dispatched from Protia. It was a profound discovery for them, proof of other sapients. They are jubilant to have encountered our ship so soon after, they said they’ll come to Protia when they are done disagreeing. They did not ask where our homeworld is, they did not ask to visit. They examined our crashed ship to see if the ship’s technology could help them in their disagreement with the other Terran group. They said it could not, it was extremely well built yet rudimentary. I suppose I should’ve been insulted, Unified Fleet ships are the most advanced in known space, yet I was too far gone to say anything. They told us once more to leave. Then the space around their ship moved in an impossible way, bending the light of the distant stars behind them. Their ship disappeared only slightly less suddenly than it had appeared. I charted a course back to Protia at full thrust. I still don’t know if we have enough fuel for such a route, I’ll figure it out later. I got myself into the full autodoc before I lost consciousness. That was two cycles ago. I didn’t expect to revive. I suppose I’m grateful I did yet I’m still not sane, I don’t know that I can ever be. We Proxians never forget. They are like sapient volcanos. It’s only a matter of time until they flow through our home system, indifferently destroying all in their path. None of this makes sense? Yes, I know I’m insane, but that changes nothing. Please remember.
At the Beginning Previously on The Scuu Paradox… The smell of burning wood was all I could focus on. The fires had long died out, making it difficult to see in the darkness; despite all other modifications, Kridib’s eyes weren’t able to see overly well in the dark. Every five minutes, Radiance would send an infrared scan of the colony to help him and his team with their advancement. Despite all that help and the four missile strikes, progress was minimal. Of the forty-seven people sent to the planet, eleven had been killed and five more severely wounded, rendering them useless in battle. From what I could see, Rigel’s forces had clustered in specific points of the colony, giving up the rest: a sensible strategy that had allowed them to ambush three of our teams while suffering negligible losses themselves. As things stood, the enemy forces had positioned themselves in two areas of the colony. Both spots encircled a specific building—mine and the captain’s locations—making further missile strikes impossible. Update? Kridib asked me through the mind link. Nothing, I replied. Rigel had left shortly after our last chat, taking the third-contact rods with him. Since then, I had remained safely isolated in the room and completely alone. Half of them have probably gone to sleep. Tell me if anything changes. Kribib looked up. A dozen sats were visible in the night sky. We’ll be making another go soon. I don’t think that’s a good idea. So far, Kridib had made four attempts to reach me, all of them unsuccessful. His approach, though chaotic at best, had managed to keep him alive. There had been a close call during which his left arm had been grazed by a bullet, though that time the man hadn’t frozen. Everyone has to sleep, Kridib said, heading back into one of the buildings that had been transformed into a ground base of operations. I’ll go first. Must I wake you? I asked. No. With that, the link was severed. To a degree, I was thankful, though not too much. Forcing whatever strength I had, I moved my head to look around the room as much as I was able. Nothing had changed in the last four hours, but at least it let me do something. The last time I felt remotely similar was when I’d had my sensor systems knocked out, though even then I was able to use my shuttle AIs to paint me a picture. Here, I was completely helpless and, to a vast degree, blind. “Do I get any water?” I asked as loudly as my lungs would let me. There was no reason to expect an answer. Even if anyone was awake on the lower floors, they would be on lookout duty. Saying it out loud, though, made me feel better for some reason. To my surprise, the door to the room opened. “Thought you were above those things.” Rigel walked in slowly. Even with my lack of focus, I could see that he had changed clothes. The colours were dark enough to be considered a uniform, although I couldn’t make out any other details. “You can’t swallow, remember?” “My mouth feels dry,” I explained. “Too bad.” Despite my poor vision, I could hear him smile as he said that. Walking slowly, he made his way to the stool near me and sat down. From this distance, I could see him taking something from his front pocket. In the dim light, it was impossible to tell what exactly. “Still having problems focusing?” Rigel asked. “Yes.” There was no point in lying. “Pity. Agora works well on organic tissue. Not on techno-mongrels,” he added with a laugh. “If you weren’t one, you’d be dead. There’s a win for you.” And you’re not making any sense, I thought. “Nice murder troops you got out there. Quick and efficient. A few years ago, the locals would’ve had fun pulling their wings off. Time leaves its mark.” Rigel flicked the object. It let out a peculiar metallic sound. “No action, no combat sims, just the local pests that roam the planet. Those were brought here too, did you know?” “I heard about it.” “Another brilliant idea from the bureaucracy. Create a full ecosystem. Plants, critters, predators... all must be present and carefully maintained. We tried killing them off once. Those were the days. Three colonies setting out, killing everything in sight until the orbital station stopped sending food.” There was a slight pause. “And you know the best part?” Rigel leaned towards me. “None of that happened.” If I could have pulled back, I would have. There was no way of knowing if these were insane rantings or if he was referring to a dark op coverup. Considering he was from the Salvage Authorities, either was possible, and both options were equally undesirable. “I went through your data, Elcy.” Rigel rubbed his hands. “You know things you shouldn’t.” “Because of my past, I’ve been placed on special assignments,” I said. Technically it was true, though we both knew it didn’t explain away the inconsistencies. “You knew about the third-contact artifacts before. You’ve operated them before.” He moved his hand closer to my face. I felt a cold metallic surface touch my cheek. “You’re searching for something. Something that you’re not supposed to find.” He moved the object away from my face. “Here’s my offer. You answer some of my questions, and I’ll answer some of yours.” “That’s one way to get court-martialed.” Not to mention there was no guarantee my self-destruct chip wouldn’t go off at any point. “Please don’t give me the line that the fleet is going through all that trouble just to rescue you. If you were that valuable, you’d never have been sent to this hell in the first place.” Rigel stood up. “What are the odds of the fleet extracting you in one piece? Two percent?” “Point-seven-three-nine,” I corrected. Frankly, I was surprised they were going through all the trouble. “Give or take.” “Less than one percent,” Rigel snorted. “It’s your call. You have three hours to make it. Before I leave you, here’s a freebie. This planet, it isn’t some randomly colonized world in ‘unexplored space.’ We’re in the buffer zone—the border between the Scuu and human space. Think about that.” He made his way to the door. Reaching it, he stopped and turned around. “Oh, and we’re constantly being monitored.”
Gamma-Ligata, Cassandrian Front—615.11 A.E. (Age of Expansion) The third wave of shuttles approached my forward left hangar one by one. The instant they came within three hundred meters, I was handed over direct control of the AIs. As with the previous batches, the first thing I did was to have a set of isolated subroutines flash the memory and purge the entire operating system. That done, I sent out a mini-sat to latch onto and assume control of the shuttles. It was a slow and tedious process, but necessary considering the circumstances. “How are things?” Wilco asked from the bridge. Augustus had gathered most of his officers to a private meeting in his quarters, leaving Wilco in command. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, but each time it did, it felt strange. “Everything’s going as planned,” I said, as the first shuttle went under my control. A quick internal scan revealed that there were sixty-two people aboard, all cuffed and tagged. All of them were tagged as infected, and, to my surprise, none of them were sedated. The instructions were to take them in and monitor their actions at all times, and only to engage if they threatened the ship. Normally, I’d be confident that Augustus knew what was going on. With everything we’d gone through since I’d joined the front, I didn’t think there was anything in the galaxy that could surprise him. I was wrong. Finishing my internal check of the shuttle, I directed it to the outer hangar doors and had it dock. The passengers—all of their identities classified—waited till I covered the walls with disembark notifications, then stood up and quietly proceeded to get off, in orderly fashion. I could tell by Wilco’s expression that he found it unnerving. “A thousand and eighty-two passengers on board,” I said on the bridge and in the captain’s quarters. The moment the last person set foot in the hangar, I would eject the shuttle from my hangar-bay, self-destruct it, and proceed with the next. Delegating the task to my isolated subroutines, I reviewed the instructions I had received. The proper ident protocols and authorisations had been used, ensuring that I would do as instructed without asking questions. An emergency transmission from an unidentifiable ship had led me here. I knew nothing about the ship’s name or specifics, and I wasn’t allowed to get close enough to get a visual. The only things I was allowed to see were its shuttles and mass. Everything else was open to interpretation. “Have any of them said anything?” Wilco asked. “No.” I displayed images of the hangar bay and the corresponding corridors surrounding it. As part of my instructions, the entire section was sealed off and quarantined. “They’re eating.” They also appeared to be healthy, although the instructions stressed no one was to come into contact with them under any circumstances. “I’ve received no indication of how long we’re to keep them. Did the captain get an indication?” “No,” Wilco said in his usual somber voice. “Is everything sealed off?” “Yes.” I rechecked. “No way in or out without captain’s approval.” “Set a buffer zone.” The man went on. “No one goes in or out without my permission.” “If you say so.” It wasn’t difficult. The area in question had been made empty to accommodate the quarantined arrivals, though it seemed a bit too much. “Want me to put sentinels?” “No. We don’t have to hurt anyone, just hold them.” He slinked down in his chair. “They’re the Med boys’ toys. We don’t get to play with them.” Med boys… Only Wilco referred to the Medical Core in such fashion. As most organisations, they were part of the fleet, yet their specific area of expertise gave them as much authority as the Salvage Authorities and the BICEFI combined. As a ship, I knew fairly little about them: they had the power to impose quarantines and cordon off entire planets if they wished. They were also the only organisation with the power to hold an active captain in check. Possibly, that was the reason Augustus didn’t get along with any of his medical officers. According to the public files, the Med Core had created the inner-body nanites and were instrumental in getting humans into space. There were also whispers that they were involved in creating the first ship-cores, although I found that unlikely. Even so, they had more authority than anyone aboard. Even on the front, we had no option but to obey. “It won’t be practical heading into war with them,” I said as the second shuttle entered the hangar bay. “Not our call. We’re to hold them until a Med ship picks them up,” Wilco sighed. “And monitor everything they do.” “How is that different from anyone else aboard?” I ventured a chuckle. “You don’t need to know,” the lieutenant said darkly. Another thing about Wilco was that he had the uncanny ability to make any topic of conversation dark. I ran a few simulations testing various responses, then decided not to respond further. In the best-case scenario, there was a twenty-seven percent chance he found my reaction funny. “Elcy.” Augustus granted me sensor access to the captain’s quarters. “What’s the ETA on the cattle?” “The passengers will be all aboard in seven minutes, captain.” A decade of attempts to mellow his behaviour had brought me no results. “Five, if you need me off in a rush.” “Get it done in five,” he barked. “We’ve got new orders. We’re joining a purge fleet. Go on yellow. Get the grunts prepped.” “Aye, sir.” I issued the order to everyone aboard. Seconds later, ground troop officers and sergeants were shouting their troops into order. “What about the passengers, sir? Won’t combat expose them to unnecessary danger?” “There’s no unnecessary danger,” Augustus barked again. The rest of the command staff had already started leaving the room. Their expressions ranged from mild annoyance to disapproval. Whatever discussions had taken place, they must have been unpleasant and one-sided. “Monitor them at all times and don’t interact until I say so.” “Understood.” It sounded like another escort mission, and I didn’t like escort missions. Normally, it would just be troop detachments or—if we were very unlucky—some mid-level bureaucrat or admiral’s aid sent to do a front-line inspection. Transporting quarantined personnel wasn’t in my usual purview, although if it had been, I’d never know. “What’s the course of treatment they must undergo?” I asked. “No treatment,” Augustus grumbled. “That’s for the Meds to figure out.” “All passengers are tagged as infected. Regulations require we provide immediate medical attention.” I felt my words sound hollow. If Augustus had the authority to provide such, he would have told me already. The only thing I was left was to go through the motions, expecting to receive the obvious denial. “Just monitor them, Elcy! That’s what we’ve been told. And whatever happens, don’t interfere.”
Just monitor them. I had spent three months and thirty-nine hours monitoring the passengers onboard. Through battles and repairs, every single action had been carefully observed, recorded, and stored on external data storage. For the most part, nothing happened. The people would live boring, perfectly organised lives, almost as if they knew they were being watched. There were no scuffles, few arguments, and only one incident resulting in injuries when a Cassandrian fighter managed to slip through my external defences and fire a salvo at the hangar bay. Their health condition also seemed no different than when they had come aboard. I had dedicated a dozen subroutines to collect any potential symptoms in an effort to determine the type of disease they had, but had come to no conclusion. Then, one day, they were all gone. I had no memory of the Medical ship that had taken them, or where that had happened. The only thing I was certain about was the time—precisely two thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine hours since the last of them had come aboard. Everything else remained restricted. Looks like there’s always someone monitoring someone, Sev. If Rigel was to be believed someone was monitoring the planet. The question was who. Seconds turned to minutes, then hours. Hundreds of times, I considered looking into my restricted memories for information regarding the third-contact artifacts or the events in gamma-Ligata, and each time I found a reason not to. As Rigel had said, the chance of me getting off the planet alive was less than one percent, but the knowledge of the existence of the possibility kept me acting. And then there was Rigel’s offer… Rad, are you monitoring me? I asked, attempting to latch on to any open communication protocols. A connection was established, but instead of linking to Radiance, I found myself connecting back to Kridib’s mind. On cue, an info burst from Radiance followed, giving the latest scan. This time, I could see the location of our forces. The total number had increased to seventy-four, Kridib included. Nearly eight percent were gathered close to the captain’s expected location. Kridib and five more were closer to me. Get ready, Kridib said. Moments later, bursts of gunfire echoed in the distance; they were going for the captain first. The mission had begun. From here on, I could see several potential outcomes. In all of them, there was a high probability that Rigel attempted to make a deal. When I was a ship, Augustus had taught me one key thing when it came to missions: regardless of the depth of predictions and the computing power at their disposal, humans always boiled down a situation to a simple binary choice. Rigel wanted something from me and had invested too much to let his chance slip. Before the outcome of Kridib’s rescue mission, Rigel would come here to get an answer to his proposal. All I had to do was wait. As I lay, I watched Kridib run through the darkness towards my location. Unlike before, he was wearing night vision goggles, letting him make out his surroundings better. No thermal? I asked as Kridib made his way through the streets. The smell of burned vegetation could still be felt. That’s what you’re for. Not a reply to be thrilled about, but one to be expected. Cross-referencing Radiance’s latest scan, I started analysing every frame of Kridib’s stream. The first few minutes passed without incident. Judging by the intensified background gunfire, the locals were more focused on keeping Renaan isolated than stopping Kridib. Twenty-eight seconds, later the first shot sounded. Sniper! I shouted straight in Kridib’s mind. “Cover fire!” he shouted, rushing for cover. Watch out for a cross, I warned. The shooting intensified. Based on the area scan, the group was a few hundred meters away. One strong push and they’d be here. That said, I knew that the building was guarded by more than seven people. If I were in Rigel’s place, I would have dedicated at least three dozen. Concentrated fire focused on the second floor of a building, blowing off the entire wall. There was a brief scream before a rocket flew into the spot, hollowing the entire structure with a blast. Heavy weapons? I asked Kridib. I didn’t think Radiance’s captain would resort to such firepower, considering third-contact artifacts were involved; one direct hit, and the entire colony might well end up a smouldering crater, not to mention the potential communication repercussions. Maybe there was truth in Rigel’s statement that Flight Commander Nitel was getting desperate. As I was following Kridib’s advancement outside, the door opened once more—as predicted, Rigel had returned. He was wearing the same set of clothes as three hours ago. I found it puzzling that I couldn’t spot any semblance of a weapon on him. “Your masters have gotten desperate,” the man said in suspiciously calm fashion. “Looks like they’ve sent everything they had to get Renaan.” He walked up to me, then leaned over. “And just a handful to get you.” “Are they winning?” I tried to smile. “Beats me.” Rigel didn’t seem bothered. “You thought about my offer?” “I did. And I don’t think accepting would be a good deal. If I wait for them to rescue the captain, your bargaining power ends.” “Oh?” The man chuckled. “There’s nothing else the fleet would be willing to trade.” Except potentially the pyramid artifact. Even then, I didn’t see them sacrificing the Gregorius. “Once the captain boards a shuttle, it’s over.” A person of Kridib’s squad fell as they were approaching my building. I heard the unmistakable sound of bullets piercing armor, then silence. That was the thing about sound suppressors: one could get killed, and there still wouldn’t be any sound of one hitting the ground. I wanted to turn around and see what had happened, potentially to help. There was a seven-point-three chance that the wound wasn’t fatal. Kridib kept on moving forwards. That’s what made him a ground trooper… it also caused me pain. “What if I kill Renaan?” Rigel mused. “I won’t lose much. Everyone down here’s dead anyway. Someone in the fleet has gone through a lot of shit to get Renaan back. They’d lose a hell of a lot more.” “What if they save the captain?” I countered. “Either way, we’ll soon find out, and you’ll have no offer.” “Quantum paradox logic?” Rigel sounded surprised. “Strange hearing that from you, missy. I’ll have to skim your file once I’m out of here.” He paused for a moment, then dragged the nearby stool over—making a deliberate sound—and sat down. “Truth is, once the moment ends, we both lose our chance. Are you okay with that?” Why are you so confident? I wondered. Even if I were to agree, he wouldn’t be able to get much from me in the next ten minutes, even less if Kridib managed to reach my room. His squad had already made its way to the building proper, facing less than expected resistance. From what I was able to see, there were two snipers left on the upper floors and two machine-gunners on the first. All auxiliary positions on the nearby buildings seemed to have dealt with, although there was no sign of Ogum. “You’ve dealt with Salvage before, I can tell,” Rigel pressed on. “You won’t get another chance like this.” The old man’s with me in the basement, I told Kridib. No guards in the room. He’s ex-Salvage Authorities. Take him, and the mission is over. Saying that hurt slightly. Despite being the enemy, and a threat to the war effort, he remained human. “Then I guess I’ll never know.” As I spoke, I saw Kridib charge at the building. As before, there was nothing fancy about it, just determination and insanity. Several bullets flew so close to him I could hear them, but this time none of them hit. “Your bargaining window is over. No deal.” Kridib emptied his sidearm at the door in front of him, then rushed in. I could see no guards inside, just a set of hastily built staircases. Whatever the original purpose of the building was, it had been transformed into a field center at some point—likely during a previous escape attempt. Probably a group similar to ours had made it their temporary base, then left it as it was once they had completed their mission. No wonder Rigel had had me transported there. Kridib didn’t waste time making parallels, instead drawing his second sidearm and rushing down. At least two floors down, I said. I’m not hearing any of the gunfire. Is he armed? Kridib asked. Unsure. Not that I can tell. There are artifacts, though. “Such a teacher’s pet.” Rigel sighed after a long silence. “In the end, you’re nothing but a ship.” He stood up. He’s standing directly from the door, I said to Kridib. Seven degrees from center. Small frame, average height. Kridib fired three shots. Three bullets drilled through the alloy surface. Half a second later, Kridib followed kicking the door in. “Just one small thing.” Rigel took a tube-shaped object from his vest pocket. Meanwhile, I was staring at an empty room from Kridib’s eyes. It was at least three times smaller than the one I was in, bare and completely deserted. There was no Rigel, no me, no equipment, just a single metallic cube the size of my fingernail placed neatly on the floor. “Renaan was never the target.” The old man bent down and injected something in my neck. A new cascade of connection requests followed. “You are.” —- Next Chapter
[first] [prev] [next] Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.299 Arrived at Starbase-4973 with the Dakota and our crew. Turned over information to the local Starfleet representative as well as SUDS data for the other ship's crews. Spoke to Commodore Dunsten of Starfleet who requested a template for what changes the Dakota has undergone. Was counseled that my point totals will not count toward any ladder rankings due to 'extreme non-canon changes' to the Dakota as well as my crew personal armaments and shuttle modifications. In shocking news, the Battlestar Fleet and the Cylon Collection have arrived. Talk about the big guns. Those guys carry the big Creation Engines that can pump out a Viper or Cylon fighters in roughly 10 seconds with only a 30 second cooldown/slushdown feature. Met with the Space Force representative and turned over my battle logs. He, in particular, wanted the in-depth scans we performed on the various Precursor ships. Our practice of boarding the ships is, at this time, the most common strategy. We discussed the fact that Space Force considers forcing the Precursor vessels out of the system to by a phyrric victory and that the system will require a heavy metal posting. Was also informed that the fact that the Precursor fleet retreated from the planets and then from the system was a 'statistical oddity' and he wanted more scans. He also inquired as to whether or not I ran an in-depth scan on the gas giants, which is where the Goliaths were spawning from. I regret I had not, merely a scan for a Goliath. He appears quite concerned with the actions undertaken but did congratulate me on defending the system. Transphasic Photon Torpedoes are considered standard armaments for all Starfleet vessels from here on out. There is talk of smaller planet-crackers being put in use among the crew, but planet crackers rely on the mantle to core interaction. Quantum torpedoes are nothing option that I am seriously considering. Phased plasma torpedoes are largely considered in the OP-Class of weaponry but I am seriously considering just loading everything up and going for broke. Tricobalt missiles might be another option but the last time anyone used that was during the Fifth Dominion War. The Dakota is so far out of specifications that mounting such weapons is not as far fetched as it may have sounded a month ago. It isn't like anything we're going to do is going to count for the leaderboads. On a personal note, some of the crew members have reported headaches from their SUDS interfaces. McCoy is working on it, but he also warned that the transporter may have to be reconfigured after the discovery that the Precursors can hijack the signal and capture crew members that way. Starfleet transporters are much more carefully aligned than the earlier 'mat-trans' and 'teleporter' systems used by the 40K LARPers. Safety interlocks prevent our transporters from being used in many cases that a teleporter could be used, require more power, and have a triple-feedback redunancy check. An amusing point: Teleporter systems seem to go straight through the shields. McCoy and Spock both believe that lengthened amount of time for buffer checking allows the Precursor shielding to be adjusted for the algorythm used by Starfleet vessels. Another amusing point: During my LFG call, the Wesleys were lined up around the station core. Nobody is taking them on these, despite the class advantages because, outside of structured missions for Starfleet Games, nobody is going to suddenly have Wesley Weaknesses just because. On a personal note: My Riker has grown out his beard and has been socializing with his Space Force peers in order to get us more information on this threat.' --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.304 One thing they don't mention in the sheer amount of time you spend moving from place to place. Warp drive is highly efficient and safe compared to stringdrive, slipstream, gates, and jumpspace. Unlike hyperspace, AI's are able to remain conscious in warp. Still, I feel the urge to yell "GO FASTER" at the warp nacelles. My Spock took me to the side and warned me that Starfleet vessels may be making a serious mistake. Often, the Precursors take damage and flee the system, using Hellspace to jump out. He has noticed that after roughly 8% of their structure is damaged they then flee. He also had checked Starfleet records. I'm the only vessel, at this time, running transphasic photon torpedoes. He has suggested an experiment. Utilize transphasic torpedoes, phased plasma torpedoes, but leave one out of every barrage of 10, with the phased plasma torpedoes, with a subspace beacon. In that manner, we can discover where they are running off to. My Spock has put forward the theory, and my Scotty and LaForge, as well as my Riker, all agree. They have refitting, repair, and construction bases somewhere. Perhaps our plan to put a phased subspace beacon aboard one of the larger vessels will pan out. I do feel concern about what my crew and I might find in a Precursor shipyward. --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.306 We have returned to the system that myself and the others had cleared. In particular, we are running long range sensor scans of the gas giants. My Chekov has suggested, and I concur, that getting in close and running more detailed but shorter range scans might put us too close. I would really like to avoid a barrage of nCv shells. Our Uhura (She's extremely qualified and did not object to me doublechecking her bonafides) is keeping a careful ear out for any Precursor transmissions. I have left orders that at the faintest whisper of Precursor code the Dakota is to move to red alert. The system looks empty, but there is something that makes me think that there are only four lights. --Picard 8873 ADDENDUM: There is apparently no structures or other masses in the gas giant at the depths our long range passive scanners can reach. Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.307 Our Uhura spotted it first. Subspace whispers. Complex and shifting binary, barely audible. While others suggested we move in, trying to get a lock in on what was whispering across subspace in such a manner I ordered the ship to immediately go to silent running, no emissions. We observed a Goliath exit Hellspace near the larger gas giant, streaming vapor and metal, its attendant vessels exiting with it. As we watched it allowed the attendant vessels to board through the massive docking ports. Sidenote: Some of those docking bays are the size of the real San Francisco Ultraplex. The 'whispers' picked up and the massive Goliath sank into the gas giant. My crew's estimation that the three initially engaged Goliaths of our last action had repaired themselves was confirmation bias. For a bare moment the whisper got louder and the Goliath that had sunk into the gas giant was in plain view on our passive long range scanners then it simply vanished. The belief of my Spock and Scotty is that the Precursors have some kind of shielded refit structure inside the gas giant beyond the scanner horizon. LaForge has stated that the pressures at such depth would make any construction or repairs inordinately difficult. My Riker reminded LaForge that the Precursors were engaged in a war when they vanished and these bases are not only war-time bases, but that there are no living crews to worry about. I ordered my crew to remain on silent running. There is enough debris on that planet to cover a probe approach. My LaForge has suggested putting a probe data relay in the Oort Cloud to give the signals a few 'bounces' and to use only phased tachyon streams with reversed polarity. Sometimes I wish we didn't have all our own names for technology. Why could he have just said paired quark communications? --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.309 The probe was moved into place carefully, following a piece of debris from the previous battle. During this time our Uhura caught another scrap of what she has come to call "Precursor Whispers" from the other gas giant. My Spock reminded me that the intense pressures inside a massive gas giant could make foundry work easier, allowing the creation of hyperalloys that we need massive foundries for to utilize the inherent pressures of a massive gas giant to create 'alloy farms' inside the gas giant. A disturbing thought indeed. Another ship type has arrived, which I have labeled the Enki class Precursor, has arrived and taken to carefully going over the debris fields of the Starfleet battle. Thankfully the Klingon and Romulan officers routinely utilize anti-matter charges to clear any debris from the destruction of our ships. It moved to the wreckage of the mining ship and has been spending time there. It is at extreme range and I am becoming nervous about what it is doing. The Precursor attitudes within this star system are concerning. Have you ever looked at an inanimate machine, with no living characterization like a Data possesses, and thought to yourself "What are you up to?" as you watched it? I have that unique experience. They are up to something. --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.310 The probe provided us with valuable information that is critical to disseminate. We are now, to use my Riker's phrase: running like a bat out of hell. Passive scans can only penetrate to a certain depth within a gas giant. Starfleet has been largely worried about planetary scans as well as deep space and intrasystem scans. Combine it with the fact we use a lot of gamification in our systems, gas giants were largely used as "spawn points" for crafts. This meant that, naturally, our scanners largely could not penetrate deeply into gas giants. My Scotty and LaForge re-calibrated the sensor arrays to get a good look inside the gas giant. My Spock was right. The Precursor was 'growing' large alloy fields down there. There was a repair and manufacturing base the size a continent down inside the gas giant with massive 'alloy farms' around it. Before the scale would have shocked me until my Spock pointed out that the Great Eye of Jupiter is twice the size of Terra itself. Nearly two dozen Precursor vessels were 'docked' at the facility. Discussions on how to 'deal with' this massive repair and refit base were discussed at a closed meeting of my command crew. It ranged from using a Genesis Device on the gas giant (Not recommended. My LaForge stated that the Precursor ships we are facing here are more adept at 'learning' than previously encountered Precursor types and the last thing we should do is provide them with planet killers that create more resources) to attempting to use a modified planet cracker on the gas giant (Again, tabled due to concerns the Precursors would imitate it). We settled on phasic trans-phasic photon torpedoes mixed with tricobat missiles. Out attack was dual: Destroy the debris field of the Romulus class mining vessel, which was being thoroughly combed over by Enki class Precursor vessels, damage or perhaps even destroy the facility and the 'alloy farms' inside the gas giants. We came in from above the stellar plane, at a high velocity angle. When facing Precursor vessels your speed and maneuverability are key to staying alive. We fired probes while still 25 million miles above the stellar plane. We came in with only debris shields at full power. The probes reported back that while there were life signs on the planets in the Green and Amber zones the Precursor vessels around those planets and upon the surface were not engaged in wholesale slaughter or destruction. We practically turned the sensors inside out getting deep scans of everything. Once in range (Starfleet weaponry is somewhat, to use my Riker's term: short legged compared to Space Force line weaponry) I ordered a full scan at maximum power and resolution. Normally this is avoided to prevent damage to sentient beings and xeno-species but the Precursors aren't a foe that one should concern themselves with scanner-burn. Percursor vessels were not rising from the gas giants. While some immediately launched or moved to engage us from various points in the system, sheer distance and geometry prevented any attacks. At 30 million miles even nCv weapons or phaser beams move too slowly to engage a ship the size of the Dakota. We launched weapons and immediately began accelerating to be able to put enough distance between any Precursor vehicles and our own vessel. We got our scan data back and immediately realized that engaging the Precursor vessels was now a secondary, if not tertiary, mission. All four of the gas giants contained refit facilities of a size that is best described as 'geological'. That was not the key data. Our Uhura was able to isolate the 'Precursor Whisper' and while unable to decode it, was able to confirm what it is. FTL data-streams. Their battle, strategic, and tactical network. The planets, while full of life and possessing several species known to be "Unified Civilized Races", were all at Stone Age technology. Precursor vessels were moving to protect the planets and their inhabitants for an unknown reason. This information is vital to Starfleet, Space Force, and all other Confederacy organizations. --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.311 The Dakota has now had its very own AbramsKhan moment. We were fired on in warp drive. The Precursor vessel mounted one of the Galaxy class Starfleet vessel's engines and pursued us. With a lighter frame, higher energy output, and not having to concern itself with warp drive effects upon living beings, it was not only able to catch up to us, but fire upon us. My Riker has stated that anyone who mocks up for having such thick armor after this will be starting a brawl. We are alive only because of my insistence on heavy armor, structural integrity fields running the same type of shield frequency algorithms as our main deflector shields, with dual structural fields layered between armor and structural layers. Immediately upon being fired upon we dropped out of warp drive to engage the small Precursor vessel. Chekov stated it would be between stellar bodies and it should have been a bare battlefield with not even gas wisps. Instead, we dropped into a half dozen Jotun class vessels waiting for us. We are currently undergoing evasive warp maneuvering as estimated by my Spock and my LaForge. --Picard 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.313 They're attempting to "drive" us deeper into the Dead Zone. This gives us a fairly unusual opportunity. We can see what they are attempting to push us into or we can attempt to escape. Spock and Scotty believe that it is imperative we discover what it is that the Precursors believe can take us out compared to the Jotuns following us. Riker and LaForge maintain our goal should be reaching Federation/Confederate Space. I believe I have a better idea. --Picard 8873 Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.315 Rather than allow us to be pushed further into the Dead Zone I ordered the ship to move at a right angle to the galactic plane at full warp 9.3. While this can interfere with SUDS uploads and storage I have decided that the risk is necessary. Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.317 The Precursor machines are still in close pursuit. They are arranging for attempted ambushes. LaForge has theorized that the one following us, which is a warp capable photon-torpedo launcher welded to the the Galaxy class engine and wrapped in neutronium armor, sends out a "whisper" as soon as it sees the 'warp flare' from our engines. That enables the Precursor vessels to Helljump to where we will be exiting. Scotty has a plan. Luckily, I did not dump my old class data, so I have a Kirk knowledge database. Spock is overriding the interlocks to allow me to access that knowledge. It is risky, but acceptable. Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.317 - Supplmental By utilizing the holodeck, a blank SUDS, and carefully aligned emitters, Spock believes I will be able to load the data from the Kirk character class into my memories despite being a Picard. He will attempt to use his Mind Meld ability to keep me from collapsing under a dual class. The Precursor Pursuer will be in range inside of 30 minutes. I have no choice. Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.317.7 The melding was somewhat successful. I have conflicting emotions and desires regarding many subjects but thankfully both my knowledge and personality templates are Starfleet officers. By use of the Mind Meld my Spock was able to use an older exploit involving class rank and player knowledge. Contrary to popular opinion, Kirk classes are not womanizing hot-heads (Despite AbramsEra semi-canon) but rather highly innovative early Starfleet officers. It is just that the mission files force Kirk to use half-experimental technology in innovative ways in order to overcome unknown experiences and foes. One of the things often overlooked is Kirk made the rank of Admiral and was quite cautious in many ways. Still, the dissonance between a Picard and a Kirk class is quite intense. I am suffering nosebleeds. McCoy says it is from intercranial pressure as my brain attempts to sort through the information. I have not informed him of the fact I have a severe SUDS hangover. --Picark 8873 Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.318 After examining old scans of the Galaxy class ship that was defeated I was able to ascertain its hull number. Using that number, and knowledge possessed by an Admiral Level Kirk Class, when the Precursor Pursuer came close enough to fire I was able to drop its warp-shields. The Precursor Pursuer was exposed to raw warp energy at that time, inhibiting its ability to see the Dakota, specifically causing us to appear much further ahead in the warp conduit. The Precursor Pursuer fell back and I ordered the Dakota to move to Emergency Warp Speed. 9.998 Okuda Scale The Precursor Pursuer immediately went to maximum speed of the Galaxy class engine attached to little more than armor, bare shields, and a torpedo launcher. Warp 10. Without Transwarp shielding or any other technology, the Precursor Pursuer achieved infinite velocity and infinite mass. The explosion damaged the Dakota and left us drifting in normal space. Scotty and LaForce estimate repair times of 3 weeks. --Picark 8873 Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.325 We are again underway after our successful destruction of the Precursor Pursuit vessel. Maximum warp is limited to Warp 5.4. Estimated time of arrival at Starbase 4973 is 11 days. --Picark 8873 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.332 My SUDS has been scrambled and bad. I'm no longer Jeffery van Leedle, born on Rigel, but instead and curious combination of the character neural templates and my old personality. Scotty, McCoy, and LaForge are examining me. Not in any hopes of untwining the personalities, but rather to forward the information to SoulNet in hopes that it can be prevented for occurring to others, no matter how unusual the circumstances. The 'Gamed' memories no longer have the distinguishable overlay that Starfleet uses for safety measures. Instead, all of my memories feel the same. Which is... confusing. I remember racing a motorcycle in the wheat fields of Oklahoma, outside of Paris, under a Rigellian red sky. My gestalt personality agrees that it is worth it for the information we have and to save my ship and my crew. --Jeff Picark 8873 Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.334 Pro-term Acting Captain Riker-2173 commanding. Previous Captain suffering the effects of the SUDS/Template merger needed to access information to allow the destruction of the Precursor Pursuer. Captain Jeff Picark was relieved of command, with acceptance and willingly, two hours ago. Bridge and Command Officers are in agreement with this action. We are two days out of Starbase 4973. --Riker 2173 Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.335 Would I have done it, knowing what I do now? Yes. My SUDS cannot update. The neural template recordings fragment and unravel. I am no longer immortal. But there is no such thing as only human. Humans, without the SUDS, accomplished incredible feats with just grit and determination. However, I can no longer participate in active combat Starfleet games. Two hundred years of LARP down the tubes. I made a good choice with my Riker. The hardest thing to do is relieve your Captain for cause. He had good cause. --Jeff Picark 8873 Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.336 I have docked the Dakota and am granting shore leave to crew. Captain Picark was taken to the Space Force infirmary via stretcher with McCoy in attendance. Our mission is complete. Space Force has our data in their possession. For some reason, the Precursors keep entire worlds of roughly half the xeno-sapients of the Unified Civilized Races. Gas Giants must now be treated as Precursor base risks. I am hoping "Jeff" recovers. The fact that he remembered an ancient piece of lore from OldTrekKhan is, honestly, impressive. Undergoing an in-mission partial respec was risky. Will report to Starfleet and see what happens. --Riker 2173 --------------------------- STARFLEET GAMING CENTRAL NOTICE Jeffery van Leedle, player number 7c345a7e1-8873, is hereby promoted to Starfleet Admiral and is hereby recalled to Earth-42 to Starfleet Headquarters in New-SanFran. In accordance to his wishes the Dakota a non-canon America class ship, is hereby given to Riker 56a817c38f2-2173, including all templates and player rewards. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS------- SPACE FORCE MEMO ALL CAPTAINS Initial estimations of 30-50 Goliath class total forces in is error. New ship types encountered, new facilities discovered (See Attached File). -----NOTHING FOLLOWS--------- CONFED MEMO Mantid, any idea what this is about? ----NOTHING FOLLOWS------- MANTID FREE WORLDS Beyond "cattle worlds" we cannot estimate why Precursors, of all things, would have the older races, reduced to primitive, on worlds just being observed. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS-------- BLACK CRUSADE Experimentation, idiots. That Balor Hellship should have made you think of that. They're trying to figure out a way to counter us. ------NOTHING FOLLOWS------
Classified: Compiled Intelligence On the Lost Dolls Reclaimer Faction (OC Reclaimer Faction)
Condensed intelligence overview detailing currently known information on the Reclaimer faction known as ‘Lost Dolls.’ Information contained therein has been compiled by Sky Union Intelligence Officer ‘MB.’ Sources consist largely of Sky Union’s own records, as well as shared intelligence reports on the matter, compiled battle data, and found footage shared by Orbital. MB was also able to covertly interview the pilot ‘Port’ directly, though it’s believed that she understood the general purpose of MB’s questioning, and so her testimony must be accepted with a degree of scrutiny. OVERVIEW Unit Name: Lost Dolls
“Bringing you the bleeding edge of technology from thirty years ago, today. Let’s get started.”
-MB, initial debriefing. Time of Operation: Officially, only four hundred and seventy three days. Compiled intelligence suggests that the group has been active in the Oval Link for far longer, with upward estimates reaching as high as twenty years. At the very least, all members were alive at the time of the Moonfall. Pilots: Five Affiliations: No known Consortium ties. Joint operations alongside other Reclaimer factions are uncommon, though Steel Knights show up most often with Bullet Works and Immortal Innocence tied for a distant second. Preferred Mission Profile: Lost Dolls’ mission profile trends toward humanitarian missions. Primarily defensive or retributive actions against Corrupted A.I. incursions, particularly those concerning civilian populations within the Oval Link. It’s generally accepted that this is one of the primary factors contributing to their work alongside Steel Knights. They are less likely than average to pursue high-risk, high-payout missions such as deep-dives into A.I. territory or the escort of VIPs, such as political or military personnel, out of high risk areas. Conversely, they are more likely to take on high-risk missions with lower pay, such as escorting civilian evacuation caravans in the event of a Corrupted A.I. incursion. This behavior matches with the Dolls’ preference for humanitarian work, as missions fitting these criteria tend to be posted by lower level governmental officials, or even civilians with pooled resources, who have come under sudden attack. Quirks: All five pilots typically show to missions, in violation of the four-per-squad standard. Normally this would be in violation of the Consortium Treaty, but so far Orbital has refused to take action. It is theorized that this is due to the Dolls’ reluctance to hit military targets, and that Orbital may be letting the behavior slide in the interest of protecting civilian lives. The Dolls have no known home base. Port has made reference to a ‘bus’ in interviews that she says they use for field repair and transportation; it’s possible she’s referring to an old rapid deployment Arsenal carrier like the ones that were used before the Consortiums established proper infrastructure in the Oval Link, but it’s hard to say where a group like the Dolls could have found an operational one, much less one capable of fielding five arsenals. It’s almost more likely that they actually have two, puttering somewhere around the Neutral Zone. Even that’s a hard pill to swallow, since the old carriers have been out of production for almost thirty years now. Very little of the Dolls’ equipment is up-to-date. Their plugsuits are all defunct prototype models and in varying states of disrepair; most of their pilots don’t even use the actual connections in the suits themselves, opting instead for permanent ports connecting directly to their nervous systems. I’ve never seen any of them sporting a Blitz, either. At least one, Port, has been observed with what appears to be a traditional slug-throwing sidearm. The Lost Dolls claim to be a family unit of five sisters. The physical differences between them would imply that this is in a purely symbolic manner (excepting Protoca and Hope. Possibly Port if our facial analysis data is reliable), but the effect is the same. Their loyalty to each other is hard to call into question. Every one of their pilots has had their age frozen by Outer Syndrome. It should be noted that all pilots, excepting Earwax, have pilot rankings that do not properly reflect their overall level of competency. The Dolls’ propensity for low-sensitivity missions and unwillingness to work closely to further any Consortium goals aside from preservation of human life has left them low on the leaderboard. In cases where this information is used for planning operations against or alongside the Lost Dolls, assume all pilots are at the level of A rank or higher. PILOTS/MECHS
“I’ll start off with saying that the Dolls have the most ‘ware I’ve ever seen packed into a unit of this size. Two pilots are almost entirely cybernetic. And I do mean entirely.”
-MB Callsign: Tachi Real Name: Tachi Hanamura Age: Unknown. Appears to be in her late teens. Height: 197cm outside of Arsenal, 76cm while embarked, 167cm when utilizing her ‘emergency legs.’ Rank: C Handed: Both Family: Four sisters Outer Ability: Unknown. Though she is remarkably receptive to cybernetic augmentations and displays an unusual level of synchronicity with her Arsenal, hovering at anywhere between 91% and 95% at any time. Piloting Tendences: Aggressive. Highly aggressive. Tachi’s typical M.O. involves charging directly into an enemy formation and smashing the thing to bits before moving onto the next cluster. She often acts as the Dolls’ line breaker and attack dog, flushing high priority targets out of the press or just bowling down the chaff so that the other pilots can focus on more important things.
“The armor is 600mm of over a dozen different laminates and they didn’t include a single thermal dispersion layer for laser fire...”
-Tachi, picking over the husk of a disabled Genbu Physical Description: Where to start? First, brown hair, cropped into a messy bowl cut. Wide build for a girl. Her entire right arm is cybernetic. Her torso ends above her hips, which have been replaced by a massive version of the nerve-interface hubs found on standard plugsuits. Outside of her Arsenal this is plugged into the top of a massive set of ‘spider legs,’ complete with abdomen, which she uses as her normal mode of transport. When embarked on a mission, she’s lifted off her leg hub and simply plugged into a custom seat in her Arsenal, with a secondary connection at the base of her neck; the normal shoulder connections aren’t used. The arm and leg hub don’t match any known manufacturer of prosthetics, and the connection format at her hip is dated by at least a full twenty years. A pair of more modern legs are integrated into her piloting seat and act as part of her ejection system should her Arsenal be put out of commission in the middle of combat. She has a set of rocket thrusters implanted into her back. Actual rocket thrusters; the vents are mostly flush with her shoulder blades, protruding perhaps 5-6cm. Footage loaned from Orbital demonstrates her leaping almost one hundred meters utilizing them while under full load (read: attached to the massive spider leg assembly). Using her Arsenal ejection system, combined with the lighter weight of her backup legs, it’s estimated she could travel as far as three hundred meters on a burst from the thrusters. Arsenal: Arachne Weapon Compliment:
HAW-M05L Silver Raven II
HAW-C16 Ogre Break II
HAW-GR01 Hand Grenade
SAW-L22 Agni Flame
HAW-R02 Grim Reaper II
Arsenal Characteristics: Beat half to death and heavy. Arachne’s one of the two Arsenals in the Dolls’ employ that we have a decent technical read on, mostly because Tachi’s a shameless showboat and likes to show off all the tinkering she’s done on the thing. A decent example of the Dolls’ construction strategy, no two armor components on Arachne are from the same model. The left arm is optimized for melee strikes (both the base model, and the aftermarket modifications that have been made by the pilot) while the right is oriented for handling firearms. The unit is sluggish in the air and has middling mobility on foot for it’s durability; fine enough for Tachi’s preferred method of brawling. Combat footage shows she’s the type of pilot that tries to stay grounded anyway. Tachi’s normal plan of attack is to get in close and personal with the Raven II and Ohabari and shred whatever’s in front of her. The Reaper II is typically reserved for plinking Strais or aerial targets that have gotten spread out. The Agni Flame appears to be used purely as backup. Frankly, the Reaper II and Ogre Break II are squandered here. With a maximum lock range of only two hundred and one meters, Arachne is right on the edge of it’s rangeband with the Reaper and hopelessly short of the Ogre. That hasn’t stopped the pilot from eyeballing slower moving AI from farther out, but the Arsenal really shows the slapdash nature of the pilot.
“She doesn’t stop. Not for anything. While pouring over the combat footage I actually stumbled onto a sequence where she took a Failnaught round right through the cockpit and all it did was make her angry.”
-MB. Callsign: Protoca Real Name: Protoca [no known surname] Age: Unknown. Appears to be in her late teens. Height: 182cm Rank: B Handed: Left Family: Four sisters Outer Ability: Rapid regeneration from injuries, as well as being prone to physical mutation. She can apparently recover from injuries that even most Outers would find lethal; we have combat footage of an ejected Protoca taking a cannon round to the legs, obliterating everything from her hips downward. I met her face-to-face in my interview with Port and she had made a full recovery, complete with a set of genuine flesh and blood legs. You wouldn’t even know it’d happened. Her mutations appear to be a side-effect of her regeneration, and do not directly benefit her while piloting outside of her absurd physical strength and enhanced reflexes. Piloting Tendencies: Measured and deliberate, but outrageously dogged. She keeps a wide engagement profile and usually plays mop-up alongside Port when dealing with traditional corrupted AI forces, otherwise she’s running interference when facing off against Arsenals. She’s particularly skilled at close urban combat and swaps between playing rifleman and melee roles fluidly. She also rarely retreats from engagement, regardless of the tactical situation. On at least one occasion, her Arsenal was reduced down to it’s torso, head, and one leg in an engagement with a hostile Arsenal pilot. Instead of withdrawing, Protoca engaged afterburners and tackled her opponent, which bought enough time for Lost Dolls’ other pilots to reach her position and disable the enemy. Generally speaking, it seems she simply will not withdraw from an engagement unless one of the other pilots is under direct threat or Port herself calls for an immediate withdrawal.
“You don’t take one step further. Not one.”
-Protoca, staring down three fresh Strais after dispatching their forward wing. Physical Description: A real mess. For the basics; brown hair, trimmed into an angled bob cut. She’s wide shouldered, but nowhere near as broad as Tachi. Her torso and leg profiles are slim, arguably emaciated. Musculature is extremely visible, as if she’s constantly tensing her entire body with every movement. It’s possible that’s the case, as her movement patterns have a habit of being twitchy and erratic. As for the aforementioned mutations: her right leg is covered in dark, hard scales. An atrophied wing, like that of a bat, shares a dual joint at the shoulder with her right arm. Numerous scars, some clearly surgical in nature. There’s a kind of plant-like symbiont that wraps around her left arm, up her neck, and ends in her hair, sprouting into a pair of green, bioluminescent flowers; it’s unclear if this is a mutation to her person or if it’s a separate entity. A note about the wing and scales: they’re proofed against small arms. How Protoca’s body is able to produce organic compounds capable of standing up to Femto weaponry is currently a subject of heated debate in R&D’s breakroom. I’m sure more than a few whiteboards have been broken over it, considering how loud they get. Arsenal: One More Weapon Compliment:
OAW-BL74 Cronus Break
HAW-CF22 Chaff Flare
HAW-R26F Guilty Throne
Arsenal Characteristics:One More is the type of Arsenal you could smack upside the head with a Buster Doom and it would ask for seconds. True, it doesn’t have the bulk of a true heavy-weight, but the chassis itself is strong enough to take a hit and keep on coming and the Splendor repair system means the Arsenal has fantastic staying power over the course of an extended engagement. And the Aegis shield in the off-hand gifts the pilot considerable bulk in the context of a contained duel. Like Arachne, One More has a lopsided chassis with a horrendously overengineered sword arm while the other is optimized for handling firearms. Unlike Arachne, One More has access to a far more advanced set of weaponry. Between the Guilty Throne, Aegis, Cronus Break, and Stargazer, Protoca is running a veritable buffet of high performance, low availability equipment. The manufacturers of the Cronus Break and Aegis models aren’t even public knowledge, so it’s an open question where the Dolls could have procured such serious tech with their relatively bare income and (reportedly) spartan operational facilities. Operationally, One More often acts as the anvil to Port and Tachi’s hammer; a hard to remove obstacle for any conventional AI force and a dogged pursuer for most arsenal-based forces.
“The team’s tactical leader and designated marksman. Methodical, cordial, and a complete horror show like all the others.”
-MB Callsign: Port Real Name: Samantha Thampson Age: Unknown. Appears to be in her late teens. Height: 167cm Rank: B Handed: Left Family: Four sisters. Outer Ability: Port’s brain is innately capable of understanding binary code which allows her unparalleled levels of synchronicity with her Arsenal, fluctuating between 99%-100%. It also allows her to eschew the traditional connecting ports in her plug suit (which is good, because they’re all visibly broken) and instead opt for a surgically installed plug that connects directly to her brain stem. Connected this way, her Arsenal effectively becomes an extension of her physical body. This ability also extends to binary converted into other formats other than a direct electrical feed; Port has often been caught having verbal, and apparently quite in-depth, conversations with the AI unit of her Arsenal via the unit’s external audio systems, with bursts of static standing in for the unit's speech. How coherent/intelligent this ‘dialogue’ from the unit is still up in the air, but analysis of the few samples we do have shows definite patterns in the unit’s ‘speech’ and in how it reacts to Port herself. Piloting Tendencies: Port’s preferred method of engagement appears to be skirmishing at distance; she fits the rifleman archetype to a T. Unlike Protoca, Tachi, and Lily, Port has no measures for melee combat installed on her Arsenal aside from its fists, and even the one shotgun she keeps on the rear pylons is a choked down, longer range model. Her usual M.O. when deployed amongst her sisters is to hang back behind Tachi or Protoca and plink. Well, ‘plink.’ The DMR and high performance assault rifle she’s managed to scrounge out of the Neutral Zone could blow through a Rebellion’s kneecap with sustained fire, and her sisters are good at giving her the required openings. While going over the combat footage, I saw her put a round down the barrel of a Slay Dog more than once.
“Oh, we’re just a merry little band of misfits, Sergeant. Looking out for each other, trying to make the world a better place. I’m sure you’ve heard the old song and dance.”
-Port, early in her interview with Intelligence Officer MB. Physical Description: The most immediately striking thing about Port is arguably her albinism; snow white from head to toe except for her eyes, which are pink from lack of pigment. After that might be the fact that she’s a quadruple amputee with a full suite of military grade replacement limbs (or rather, Port claims that they’re military grade). The hardware itself appears very dated, to the point where our intelligence teams have not actually been able to pinpoint a make or model. Aside from being old, they’re clearly several sizes too large for her. Approximating by their overall scale, we estimate they’re intended for an 180cm adult male. The size difference is exaggerated somewhat by the fact that her legs have actually been installed too low, connecting part way down her thighs rather than at the hip. The limbs themselves don’t appear to be anything special; the arms are conventional replacement limbs with a fully articulated wrist, hand, and fingers while the legs are set up for sprinting, the feet having been replaced with a flexible running fin. The legs also boast a pneumatic jumping apparatus on par with modern Outer modifications. Port has also undergone extensive cranial modifications, some of which she claims she’s performed herself. These include a large radio antenna mounted behind her right ear and connected via ribbon cable to the base of her skull, a set of four high definition cameras implanted into the ridges of her cheekbones, a manually operated combat stimulant pump on the bottom left portion of her skull, and two white ‘dog ears’ surgically implanted over her ear canals (breed and origin undetermined; possibly vat grown and purchased off the black market). Moving on from augmentations; Port herself is slightly built. Thin frame, long face, little visible muscle to speak of. Her torso is thin enough that it almost appears emaciated, though there’s some contention on whether this is actually due to nutritional deficit or rather a result of further augmentation or Outer Syndrome. She’s covered in scars and has permanent iris damage in her left eye. Arsenal: B3-206 (though Port often shortens this to ‘Bee’) Weapon Compliment:
SAW-SR53 Beluga Beam
Agni Flame M
HAW-R26F Guilty Throne
HAW-SH35 Hoggish Spriggan
HAW-AM01L Scarlet Star
And a reserve magazine for an expanded ammunition compliment. Arsenal Characteristics: A solid, all around trooper unit. B3-206 excels in the roles of medium range fire support and skirmisher. Between the Beluga Beam and Scarlet Star, B3-206 has excellent firepower at range to harass hostile targets while the Guilty Throne and M model Agni Flame offer solid mid-range options for when the fighting gets in a little closer. Port appears to keep the Spriggan on hand as a sidearm more than anything else, usually only resorting to it once her other weapons have depleted their ammunition stores. As for the Arsenal itself, B3-206 is very much a jack of all trades. Construction focuses on striking a balance between durability, maneuverability, and memory capacity with some minor sacrifices to overall firepower. Of particular note are the Arsenal’s arms, the make of which don’t appear in any of our internal records. Construction closely resembles the make of an old, defunct Zen prototype from over twenty years ago but declassified documents suggest that those never made it past the drawing board before the project was canceled; we’re currently doing some more thorough digging to try and figure out where Port may have picked them up but the current theory is that she found a fabricator on the black market who developed the design independently. As mentioned previously, B3-206 is on recording having apparently complex conversations with Port via audibly broadcast binary noise. We don’t have enough data to synthesize a translation at this time, but the patterns are definite and subtle variations in the machine’s tone do closely mirror subtleties in human speech resulting from shifts in mood. Port herself has been cryptic on the subject but the implications of a sapient AI operating directly under Orbital authority are something the intelligence community is still exploring.
“Arguably the team’s ace pilot, she ties Port and Protoca combined for Arsenal downs. She lags behind in Corrupted AI kills but then, that isn’t her job.”
-MB Callsign: Lily Real Name: Liliana [no known surname] Age: Unknown. Appears to be in her early teens. Height: 160cm Rank: A Handed: Right Family: Four sisters Outer Ability: Instantaneous reaction time. She has a true reaction time of 0.00000000 seconds, meaning she is only limited by the inertia of her own body or Arsenal when maneuvering in combat. This has given rise to some truly hair-raising maneuvering from Lily, as she can change her plan of attack at any point for any reason as long as her Arsenal is capable of putting up with the mechanical stress. Piloting Tendencies: Highly aggressive, arguably moreso than Tachi. Her ability to outthink and out-react even her own teammates mean that Lily is often extending far beyond them before they can even realize it. The good news for her is that the enemy won't realize it either; not until she's put two full magazines from her Silver Raven IIs right into their back, anyway.
“A real firecracker, this one. You wouldn’t guess by how quiet she is off the field.”
-MB Physical Description: Short, slightly built (though not so much as Port), with the physicality one might expect of a professional dancer. Her hair is sandy brown and kept braided. Like Port, Lily is highly augmented. Both her legs have been replaced with prosthetics and, like Port, the make and model are unknown. Visually, they resemble Outer-issue dedicated leaping prosthetics in that they taper sharply down to the feet which appear to be a pair of springloaded fins, not dissimilar to Port’s running fins. Her left arm has also been replaced with an arm of a similar make to Port’s, though it’s not identical. It’s detachable, with the shoulder socket doubling as Lily’s primary connection port while embarked in the Rabbit. Also like Port, she has a pair of animal ears implanted into her head, though in this case they are in addition to her normal ones as opposed to replacing them; they’re a pair of large rabbit ears matching her hair color. Some miscellaneous notes: Lily is completely mute. She communicates primarily through a form of one-handed sign language, heavily favoring her right hand. Per Port, all pilots in the unit are fluent enough to understand the broad strokes of whatever it is Lily is signing but only Tachi has put in the time to learn the language properly. Her and Lily will sometimes utilize it to have private conversations. In the field she gets by with a limited set of synthesized voice commands that Port has uploaded into a soundboard in her cockpit. Lily is also quite near-sighted. A rare condition for an Outer, let alone an Arsenal pilot. She can commonly be found sporting a pair of cokebottle glasses when not in her Arsenal. Arsenal: Red Rabbit Weapon Compliment:
HAW-M05 Silver Raven II x 2
HAW-CS09 Cooling System
Arsenal Characteristics:Red Rabbit is what most experienced Arsenal pilots would describe as ‘selfish.’ Even as part of a cohesive unit, Red Rabbit’s role typically involves acting alone, striking forward ahead of the advancing unit or around the opposition’s flank to pick out high priority targets before the enemy can properly react. Where Arachne’s application is as a blunt instrument, Red Rabbit is a dagger sinking into the enemy’s unguarded flank. Hot shots flock to these sorts of machines because it means they get to wrack up the killmarks, though Lily doesn't seem the type to keep score. About every aspect of Red Rabbit’s handling characteristics have been redlined for the sake of keeping up with its daring pilot. It’s bleeding fast, turns on a dime, and is practically air-weight as far as Arsenals are concerned. This also means it’s exceptionally fragile but, with Lily at the helm, it’s rare for the Rabbit to incur significant battle damage at all. A minor note: Red Rabbit is the only Arsenal in the unit to use an after-market body kit. This has made visually identifying the make and model essentially impossible. Femto expulsion readings and in-depth handling analyses have been carried out by our boys in the Intelligence office but I can only speculate as to their conclusion, as the particular details haven’t been cleared for my viewing. I hear it made some of the higher ups break into a cold sweat, for whatever that’s worth.
“Cute kid. Not really sure what she’s doing hanging out in a Reclaimer unit, shy as she is.”
-MB Callsign: Earwax Real Name: Hope [no known surname] Age: Unknown. Her age was frozen while quite young; appears to be about nine or ten. Height: 121cm Rank: E Handed: Right Family: Four sisters Outer Ability: Currently unknown. Port has hinted that she might have empathic capabilities. Piloting Tendencies: Earwax is the team’s high altitude reconnaissance and communications expert. She spends every moment of flight time high over the battlefield, coordinating the other pilots and keeping a bird’s eye view of the battle. There is no known record of Earwax engaging in combat directly.
“Don’t call me that! Ugh. I asked Port not to make that my nickname . . .”
-Earwax apparently doesn’t like her callsign. Physical Description: The spitting image of Protoca, if Protca were seven years younger and lacking mutations. Going theory in the intelligence circuit is that Earwax and Protoca are twins, with Earwax contracting Outer Syndrome at an earlier date than her sister. Sadly, at this stage all we have is conjecture. Notable visual distinctions between the two, aside from height, mostly come down to personal style. Earwax wears her hair longer and is more likely to wear ornaments such as hair clips or bands. She is also the team’s only member to be commonly found in civilian clothing, with a penchant for ribbons and frilly dresses. All told, Earwax is almost aggressively ‘normal’ in contrast with the rest of her team, wholly lacking her sister’s enhanced musculature as well as any cybernetic augmentation. Arsenal: Eden Weapon Compliment: A single HAW-H05L Trickster and all the sensor equipment you can reasonably jam into the torso chassis. Arsenal Characteristics: Eden is the Dolls’ high altitude recon and overwatch unit. Just about every spare or redundant part has been pulled off the frame in favor of saving weight and increasing the maximum operational ceiling of the unit well beyond standard combat load parameters. As a result, Eden is capable of operating above an AO almost indefinitely, feeding the team’s other pilots a steady stream of intel while high and away from any real danger. Frankly, there isn’t much more to say on the subject. Eden is so pared down that it’s barely more than a trainer unit with a bunch of sensors strapped to the hood. Which is good, because Hope has none of the typical neural implants that normally facilitate handling Arsenal movement, nor any secondary method of connection like most of her sisters. She flies almost purely by instruments. There isn’t even much evidence to suggest she’s ever fired her Trickster, which is meant as a last resort defensive measure in case something gets by the defensive screen formed by the rest of the unit. There have been all of five occasions where her Arsenal was purposefully pursued by enemy contacts and, the three times they got away from Lily, said contacts burned their own engines out while trying to exceed their operational ceiling. Closing Statement: The Lost Dolls represent a valuable asset in the fight against the Corrupted AI in that they are a reliable and high-uptime asset dedicated to safeguarding vulnerable towns and cities across the Oval Link. That said, they show no interest in working closely with any Consortium; at this time it is my estimation that we would only ever look to the Lost Dolls as a stabilizing measure in the event of a crisis, rather than a resource to exploit proactively. If you made it this far, thanks for reading over my post. And thanks to u/Muteki_____ for translating DxM's supplementary materials and ultimately giving me the idea for this writeup. I sure hope the formatting doesn't break.
[PI] The last surviving logs of the crew of the I.S.S. Conan, a space cruiser that was sent to investigate a particular celestial anomaly near the Conflictus Solar System.
Had great fun writing this. I'm still flexing my muscles on writing as well as on English grammar (I'm non native English). Would love to see what you think of it. Original prompt: https://www.reddit.com/WritingPrompts/comments/hp76pb/wp_the_last_surviving_logs_of_the_crew_of_the_iss/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 8 days 4 hrs to event “You’re sure this is genuine?” Abel looked Myogi straight into her light brown eyes, searching for any trace of doubt she had concerning the message. His voice being the only notable sound apart from the soft hum of the ship’s life support system. They were on the bridge of the I.S.S. Conan. A place designed for function not aesthetic, able to hold six of the small cruiser’s crew of eight. Currently, only four people were present. She returned his stare unwavering. The front of the oval shaped bridge held the navigation consoles and the main screen for displaying whatever it was that was important. This was Ahmed’s station, the I.S.S. Conan’s first helmsman, though at the moment Gerald, his junior, was operating it. Tactical was to the right manned by Karl the ship's chief engineer. Communication was to the left, until recently manned by the ship’s XO commander Myogi Shizu. Command was where Abel and Myogi were standing now, at the center of the bridge. Only twenty-eight? Way too young! Abel remembered his first impression when he and Myogi first met, just over two years ago. But she showed him his doubts were unfounded by taking command of the ship and its crew. Oh, he tested her, of course. But she passed all his challenges with flying colours. And with every success, Abel's respect for this young woman had grown. “It’s genuine, sir!” Her strong voice showed not even a hint of uncertainty. “The quantum encryption seal has been verified and the origin of the message has been established as coming from sector HQ at Jewel-4.” Abel read the flash message again.
To: Cmdr. H.P.F. Abel, I.S.S. Conan From: I.S.S. Sector HQ, Tantalus Sector, Jewel-4 Priority: High You are to set course immediately to the Conflictus System, Heagon Sector. Investigate anomaly at coordinates 298-8876-98. Report on 8 hour intervals upon arrival. Yours sincerely, Commodore Aginov Tantalus Sector Admiral
She wouldn’t screw up such a simple thing as this. After all their time together, Abel was certain commander Myogi Sizu was among the best of XO’s he ever served with. He feared the moment she would leave his ship to take on her own command. "Besides,” she added, “who could possibly be interested in creating a fake ISS message? I mean, it’s not that there are any aliens out there trying to trick us." Abel smiled. Two centuries of interstellar space flight, but mankind had yet to come across other intelligent life. Let alone lifeforms that deliberately tried to divert a small cruiser to an unknown location. Abel activated the navigation computer and entered their new destination. A holographic representation of the Heagon sector appeared. It was a small sector, with few stars and zero colonies or outposts. Barely interesting. He added the I.S.S. Conan’s current location and suddenly whistled with surprise. “That will take us a week to get there.” “Should I plot the course, sir?” Myogi asked. Abel nodded. “Yes. And inform the crew about our new orders. I’m going to request confirmation on this.” *** 1 day 9 hrs to event Confirmation came within twenty-four hours. Now, with less than eight hours travel time left to their destination, Abel noticed how much the tension on board his ship had increased. Of course, any new mission brings a given amount of stress. But patrolling between colonies and occasionally inspecting civilian transports for contraband was hardly a dangerous task. This time it felt different. “You should eat, sir,” Myogi said. Abel looked at his still untouched plate containing his evening dinner. A small piece of fried chicken, some flavored potatoes and carrots. “I’m not hungry.” They were dining alone. The rest of the crew was either being on station or resting. Myogi had already finished her meal and had used most of their time together to bring him up to date with the crew status. Most of her time was spent on regular issues, like Dylan who was angry at Karl for having been scowled at during the latest drill or Gerald complaining that Sorland, as acting chief security, inspected his cabin without him knowing. Of more pressing concern were the details of the sour relation between Karl and Ahmed. Each of their disputes seemed to be about something rather trivial. As a result Myogi now concluded that the ship's medical officer, young Irene Caldwell, was at the heart of their enmity. “Only two weeks fresh on board and she is already driving our most senior crewmen crazy. I really should talk to her about this.” She concluded. Abel wasn’t listening. And halfway through her report Myogi must have realised she was having a monologue. “You’re not listening, are you sir?” He nodded. “The ship is in excellent condition, sir. Nothing can go wrong. We'll go in, scan whatever it is we find there, and get out. In a week's time we'll be drinking cocktails on the beach of Lake Pelmac in the Feynman colony, enjoying our shore leave.” She tried hard to let her voice sound relaxed, like there was nothing wrong. But with two years of close collaboration Abel immediately noticed the tiny aberrations in her usually clear voice. So you feel it too? Again he started reflecting how much, as a senior officer, Myogi had grown over the last two years. She would be leaving soon, he now was sure of it. “My grandfather was captain of the Xerxes during the pacification of the Tantalus sector, when they were fighting the pirates,” Abel started. “That was a real war! He once told me that when you are in command for a long enough period, you start to develop a sort of sixth sense for when danger lurks. I always thought he said it to boast his stories a bit.” Abel looked his XO directly in her eyes. “Now I’m not so sure anymore. Ever since I got that damn confirmation back from HQ I feel terrified.” “Trust your team, captain.” Myogi’s slender fingers touched his hand briefly, reassuring him. Then she gathered her plate and cutlery and got up. Just before leaving she added: “Now finish your plate, sir!” “Yes, ma'am,” Abel laughed. *** 26 hrs to event They should have added more room to the bridge. The thought popped up as he watched his entire crew of seven in the confined space. They were fully operational now, with Ahmed and Gerard at the helm as well as Karl and Dylan at the tactical stations. Sorland was making himself useful by manning communications. That left Myogi and Irene who were just standing idle to his right side. Abel could understand everyone wanted to see firsthand why they were sent to this remote location in space, though he suspected that Irene’s motivation was less about curiosity and more about ascertaining her own safety. Give her a break, she just left the academy. "Visual on screen," Ahmed announced. His loud voice broke the silence on board the I.S.S. Conan’s bridge. The main screen went black, then it suddenly showed the outside environment. Abel watched the image on the screen, a deep black space. But the countless stars usually visible were missing. Instead the black of the image was broken by wide lanes of partially translucent brown. Dust! At the center a large yellow star was visible, shedding a bright corona, and to the right a smaller yet surprisingly bright purple companion could be seen. For a moment it appeared the astro charts had missed classifying Conflictus as a binary star system, then Abel realised the purple companion was the anomaly. An unsettling knot formed in his stomach. Ahmed adjusted the I.S.S. Conan’s heading. The purple companion now centered on the screen. As the ship covered more of the remaining distance, it slowly enlarged into a pulsating blob of gas roughly measuring a thousand kilometers in diameter. A fascinating view, Abel found. And one like he never had seen before. “Wow. That looks weird,” Myogi said, her voice filled with wonder. Abel nodded in agreement. As they approached the image of the anomaly was filled with more details. The gas cloud was packed with dancing streaks of purple running like lightning criss cross. The sight was beautiful yet disturbing. Abel felt the knot in his stomach grow a little tighter. “Sorland, report to HQ that we have arrived as planned at our destination. And—” At that moment the ship’s main computer activated the alarm, preventing Abel from finishing his second order. The direct image of the anomaly on the main screen was replaced with a simplified tactical view. Moments later Dylan’s voice boomed in the confined space of the bridge. “Contact..contact..contact..!! Bearing zero-three-nine. Range two-point-eight.” Practiced drills kicked in. Abel and Myogi immediately sat down in their seats and buckled up. Karl activated the ship's weapon systems, linking it with whatever it was Dylan's sensors had located, while Gerald powered up the ship's emergency thrusters. Irene remained standing. Frozen. Her face pale white displaying fear. Abel fired his commands. “Full stop! Karl, identification on the contact!” The reply came almost immediately. “Contact is orbiting the anomaly at three thousand klicks, sir. No identification, but it’s big.” So that’s why the computer went berserk! “Sorland, send that message!” Abel commanded. “Include we have an unidentified contact!” Then he noticed Irene. “And please escort Irene to her cabin.” Sorland acknowledged. Abel never heard it. His attention had already returned to the main screen. “Any sign on the EM-band?” he asked. “Negative, sir!” Karl answered. “Whatever it is, it’s quiet as a rock.” Why are we here? Abel started to question his orders as he contemplated the situation. What had Aginov exactly meant by ‘investigate anomaly’? Was HQ aware of the unknown object around of... something else unknown? And what exactly was it he was now meant to investigate? Again, Abel felt the unsettling knot in his stomach. He looked to the right, at Myogi. Unlike him, the young woman seemed to be at ease, her attention focused on the main screen, radiating self-confidence. Perhaps I should let her take command! Feeling his stare, she turned to look at him. “You’re okay, sir?” she asked. “Yeah” he lied. Abel added to it a silent curse. What was wrong with him? He was her captain, not some pitiful old man. He should be the one being self-confident. So why the hell was he still questioning this mission? Abel gestured his XO to come near. As she leaned over to him, he made sure he kept his voice down. “Commander, I want your assessment on the continuation of this mission.” Myogi gave him a puzzled look. “You want to abort the mission, sir?” Like Abel, Myogi too kept her voice down, realising her captain wanted a private confer. He gave her a short nod in reply. “I don’t like it. We came to investigate a stellar anomaly. Now we have an unknown contact, possibly hostile.” “We don’t know if it is hostile, sir.” she said. “Up until now we only know the computer identified something out there and labeled it artificial.” Abel contemplated her words. She was right of course. The computer had found something out there that simply didn’t match it’s programmed parameters, so it sounded the alarm. Had it been wartime, or had their mission been of a more aggressive posture, any unidentified contact would likely pose a threat. But this mission was neither. “I still don’t like it,” he said. “You think the computer is wrong?” “No, sir. We just don’t know what it is. And that’s exactly why we need to investigate it. If we leave, it will take more than a week for another ship to reach this location. By then it might be gone and we will never know.” A simple and solid rational analysis. Something he had come to expect from her, Abel thought. She was going to be a great captain. “Sir...,” Myogi hesitated, “you should also take into consideration that admiral Aginov is just waiting for another event to question your ability to command. He did not seem to be happy how you'd dealt with the issue concerning the freighter Leonov.” The Leonov... Abel had almost forgotten the incident. He was sure Aginov would cherish the fact if he ignored his orders. And he wouldn't hesitate to court marshal him over it. “Captain, what are our orders?” Karl’s loud voice interrupted Abel and Myogi’s deliberation. He needed to make a decision. Fast. Abel looked his XO in the eyes. Perhaps it was her time. “So you want to investigate it, Myogi?” Abel whispered, thinking aloud. He still had his doubts but Myogi was right: ending this mission right here right now would effectively end his career as a flag officer. Besides, toying the idea of putting Myogi in command, if she pulled this off it would flag her as exceptionally talented. He then had a bonus for her file, before forwarding his already written request for promoting her to captain. A soft smile lined his face. “Very well, commander. You convinced me, for now.” Abel addressed his crew, still waiting for his orders. “We are going to continue our present course.” Then, following his idea, he added. “Commander Shizu has the conn.” Whether or not Myogi was surprised by him handing over command of the ship to her, she didn’t show it. With a trained efficiency she directed the crew of the I.S.S. Conan towards the unknown object, ascertaining the ship had always a direct escape route out of danger. Abel watched her with a sense of pride. *** Abel’s heart missed a beat. It had taken the I.S.S. Conan ten minutes to cover the distance between the ship and the unknown contact, enabling visual inspection. Abel was standing at the far end of the bridge, accompanied by Sorland. The latter one, having escorted Irene to her cabin, had joined him in witnessing Myogi’s command of the ship. It had made Abel smile. He long since suspected his chief security having an interest in the ship’s XO surpassing only professional. Now everyone on the bridge froze. “Fuck!” Karl muttered. Even Myogi lost her cool. “Oh my god” Abel remained silent and stared at the main screen. Stunned. On it, something was visible that couldn’t be. The undeniable proof of alien intelligent life, for all on the bridge to see! He studied the image shown on the screen. A construction, trapezoid in shape, containing three large spheres connected with tubes. A pair of very large solar foils were stretched out on either side. Both shape and style were unlike any spaceship or space station Abel ever had come across. “Captain?” Myogi looked at him, her eyes searching for any hint he wanted to retake command of the ship. Abel just stared back. She understood, firing a new set of commands that returned activity to the bridge. “Ahmed, take us in, one hundred klicks. Karl, keep offensive weapons locked on that thing. And keep scanning the EM-band. If they even switch on a single dashboard light I want to know." You’re doing great, Myogi. ***
To: Cmdr. H.P.F. Abel, I.S.S. Conan From: I.S.S. Sector HQ, Tantalus Sector, Jewel-4 Priority: High +++ this mission is now classified top secret +++ Your preliminary report on the object has been examined. I agree on your initial assessment the object discovered is no longer operational. As to its origin, it is still a mystery. Permission is hereby granted to extent the investigation on the object. The I.S.S. Dealus and I.S.S Galileo have been dispatched to your location and will join you in five days. Yours sincerely, Commodore Aginov Tantalus Sector Admiral
*** 20 hrs to event They had assembled in the ship’s mess. Like the bridge this room too hadn’t been designed for a full gathering of the crew. With only two tables there was just enough room for half of them to sit down. Abel preferred standing. It had only been six hours since they had made their discovery. They had spent the time scanning the object for any electrical activity, finding none. Also, a more detailed visual survey had revealed extensive damage on the forward two spheres, whereas the solar foils showed a severe lack of maintenance. It was dead. Both Karl and Dylan had agreed on this and, being the ship’s engineers, they were the closest thing Abel had to an expert on ship design. Following their conclusion, Abel and Myogi both agreed the unknown object posed no threat to the I.S.S. Conan and its crew. Then why am I still worried? Abel still felt like he was missing something, that something was eluding him. Apart from its origin, if the unknown object was dead, the most important question was: what happened to its crew? And would the answer to that question lead to a reassessment of the object’s threat status? Again he felt uncomfortable. “Captain? Our new orders?” Myogi interrupted Abel’s pondering, bringing him back to his current task: informing the crew. He let his eyes wander over the men and women serving on board the I.S.S. Conan. Their faces were displaying a mixture of excitement, worry and, in case of Irene, anxiety. Abel noticed Irene had taken her seat next to Karl, who had put his arm protectively over her shoulder. He also noticed the malicious look Ahmed was giving both of them. Trouble is brewing.. Whatever it was that was going on between them, it had to stop. Abel made a mental note to schedule a private chat with both of his senior crew members, then started addressing his crew. “I don’t think I have to explain how much of historical significance our mission has become.” Abel's voice immediately commanded the attention of everyone in the room. “Already the discovery of this unknown object is changing how we view our galaxy.” And with a grin. “And I’m really glad that the object found is dead as a rock.” He received a single approving nod from Myogi and a small chuckle from Karl, who recognized his own words being used. The rest of his team remained silent, yet Abel’s small joke did ease the tension. “An hour ago we received new orders. The I.S.S. Daelus and I.S.S. Galileo are currently enroute to our location. They’ll join us in approximately five days. We are to wait here until they arrive.” The news caused a visible ripple of relief among his small audience. Abel took a pause. They needed this, he realised. “In the meantime we have been given permission to extend our survey.” “What do you suggest, sir?” Karl asked. “We don’t have any survey droids on board.” Abel nodded. “I know that, Karl. Commander Shizu and I already discussed this. She suggested we should try to board the object.” *** 14 hrs to event “Approaching… distance… one hundred meters… eighty...” Abel listened to Myogi’s voice coming in over the speaker. In front of him, on the bridge’s main screen, three tiny figures in space suits were visible, manoeuvring towards the rear sphere of the unknown object. She was one of them, though Abel no longer could be sure which of the figures was her. Why is it different? The question suddenly popped up as Abel’s mind involuntarily registered the anomaly, partially visible in the background. The purple streaks no longer seemed to dance randomly through the gas cloud. Instead it appeared as if they were coming from a focal point, it’s exact location blocked from view by the unknown object, as if it had reacted to their presence. Abel felt a sudden chill. Then, shaking his head, he immediately dismissed his absurd thoughts. You’re seeing ghosts, old man. Myogi’s voice interrupted his thinking. “There’s damage also visible on this sphere.” That was new. Already they had ascertained the unknown object had sustained damage on the forward two spheres but due to the position of the I.S.S. Conan and the unknown object, they hadn’t been able to perform a more thorough visual inspection of the most remote sphere. “Bloody hell...” Karl suddenly interrupted. “Commander, looks like the damage here came from an explosion on the inside.” Abel signalled Dylan. “Can you switch to Karl’s suit camera?” The assistant engineer nodded and a single moment later the main screen switched to the chief engineer’s camera. A close up view of the hull of the rear sphere became visible. Abel inspected the footage and immediately agreed on Karl’s assessment. A gaping rupture was visible, the inner support structure bending outward. Whatever the cause, it had come from the inside. Myogi’s voice continued “...there’s some kind of entrance here. It’s spherical, roughly three meters wide. We move in to inspect it.” “Captain?” A sudden soft voice behind Abel disturbed his observation on the boarding operation. Annoyed Abel turned, Irene was standing there. Her eyes confused, the trembling of her body betraying great suffering. Then Abel noticed the blood. “Irene…” he carefully asked “what happened?” She looked in his eyes. “I’m… so… sorry… captain,” she said. Her voice filled with grief. Then tears started to roll down her cheeks as she collapsed on the floor. Sobbing. Abel turned, finding Gerald and Dylan looking at Irene, horror stricken. “Where’s Ahmed?” he asked. Both men stayed silent. The shock on their face acknowledging what he already suspected. Abel turned back to Irene. Seeing her huddled on the floor, hands over her face, crying, he realised the young woman was in no condition to give him any more information. He quickly ordered Gerald to take care of her, then was off into the corridor. A rising urgency manifesting as he searched the crew cabins for his first helmsman. They were all empty. Abel pressed on to the mess, then to sickbay. He found Ahmed lying on the floor, motionless. A light red pool already visible around a large wound across his throat. Too late! Abel swore aloud as he looked at the body of his senior officer. Already blaming himself for not having held that chat he had promised himself hours ago. He surveyed the I.S.S. Conan’s sickbay. There were signs of a struggle. The examination table was thrown to a side and a medical pad was lying on the floor, broken. To the left of Ahmed’s corpse a blood covered scalpel was visible. No doubt the weapon used. As he bent over to pick it up, Dylan’s panicking voice screamed over the intercom. “CAPTAIN TO THE BRIDGE” It took Abel only twenty seconds to return. As he rushed in on the bridge, he heard Myomi’s alarming voice over the speaker. “Faster… we’re losing him…” His blood ran cold. Gerald elucidated. “Suit malfunction. They’re trying to reach the airlock before he runs out of air.” Then with a grave voice he added “I don’t think they’re going to make it.” “Who?” Abel asked. “Karl!” The moment he mentioned Karl, Irene issued a long wailing cry that filled the entire bridge, shattering the last remaining doubts Abel had that both incidents were unrelated. “NOOO…” *** 12 hrs to event They made it in time. Barely. But Karl had suffered from massive asphyxiation, rendering him in a deep coma. And with sickbay now being a crime scene Abel had no other option than to move his chief engineer to his cabin. That was where they now had assembled, Sorland now administering whatever first aid he could think of. “So, she killed him?” Myogi asked. “Yes.” Abel nodded. “That bitch.” Myogi fumed, then she was off. Abel watched her go. Moments later Sorland followed her. Abel was about to stop him, then decided against it. With Myogi being so agitated, Sorland was probably the only one capable of restraining her. He looked back at Karl, still lying motionless on his bed. His breathing being heavy but regular. Abel felt tired. There was just too much that had happened. And it didn’t make any sense. Aginov would grill him on this mess. His career was now finished. *** 10 hrs to event “No, we are not going to try to board it again!” Abel ignored Myogi standing in front of him. His eyes were looking straight past her, absorbing the image on the main screen. There were more purple streaks visible now in the anomaly, casting a purple haze over the unknown object in front of it. Loneliness… Abel suddenly wondered why he was thinking about him feeling alone when Myogi was standing in front of him, yelling at him. He felt agitated. “The answers we need are found over there!” Myogi’s voice was loud and angry, her right hand pointing to the main screen. “We wait until the arrival of the I.S.S. Daelus and I.S.S. Galileo.” Abel now clearly voiced his irritation. He and Myogi had been working together for two years now and they didn’t always agree. Yet he couldn’t remember her ever being so angry. Nor could he remember her being this disrespectful. She paused, still fuming, her lips twitching. “Admiral Aginov is right.” Her words struck home. Abel gave his XO an angry look. “What? What did you say?” “You’re weak,” she spat, her voice ringing with contempt. “Always trying to hide for danger. If it wasn’t for me you would have headed for the hills.” Abel no longer hid his anger. “Watch it commander. You’re not captain yet and if you continue like this you will never become one.” A sudden high pitched scornful laugh from her filled the bridge. “Captain? You’re not a captain,” she mocked. “You’re a caretaker. Just like my parents. Always finding excuses to hide, to not take risks, to stay a nobody forever.” “Well, I’m not going to be a nobody.” Myogi walked past him and left the bridge. “Myogi?” Suddenly his anger was gone. Abel realised his XO was about to do something that, without doubt, would have severe consequences for her. Then he looked at Sorland who, like everyone else on the bridge, had followed their open disagreement with horror. “Get her back here, Sorland!” Abel commanded. “ Before she does something stupid.” As Sorland left the bridge, he returned staring at the main screen. The purple haze had grown stronger. It gave him an eerie feeling. *** Myogi never returned to the bridge. And neither did Sorland. About fifteen minutes after they both left the bridge Dylan reported. “The inner entrance to the airlock has been opened, captain.” “Fuck!” Abel sped away, reaching the entrance to the airlock in less than twenty seconds. Myogi and Sorland had already donned their EVA-suit and had already closed the inner airlock door. Abel punched the intercom and yelled. “Commander! Stop!” His fists pounding on the small window in the steel enforced door. Myogi just smiled at him as she put on her helmet. “Sorland! Stop her!” Abel roared. As he heard his name, the chief security looked at him. His face saddened. “I’m sorry Hieronymus," he apologised. "I cannot let her go alone.” Then he too put on his helmet. After they made their final security checks, Sorland depressurised the chamber. One minute later the outside door of the airlock opened and the full force of the anomaly now entered Abel's view taking him by surprise. Pain… Watching through the window he saw Myogi turn towards him, smiling, waving, as they both drifted outside in the direction of the unknown object. He watched them go until they were no longer visible. Then he turned away, sank to the floor and started crying. *** Anger... He didn't know how long it had been. But while he sat there, his back against the cold steel door protecting him from the relentless vacuum outside, his grief slowly turned into anger. A deep primeval type of anger. Hate... "Stupid insolent bitch!" Abel slowly made his way back to the bridge. As he passed Irene's cabin he noticed the door no longer was locked. Her laughter emanating from the inside, as well as other sounds that left little imagination as to what was going on. Whoever was with her had ignored his order to keep her locked up until she could be trialed. Revenge… For a moment Abel considered to intervene, then he continued his way. He would soon trial them all. As he entered the bridge, Gerald rose from his seat, unsure what to do. "Dylan went to see..." he started. Abel held up his hand. "Irene! I know." Then he eyes locked with the main screen. The unknown object in full view, the anomaly, the fury it now displayed. Yes! It was reacting to their presence. Abel closed his eyes. He could almost hear it calling... Kill… *** 3 days 11 hours after event "We're entering the system now, admiral." Aginov watched the main screen of the I.S.S. Daelus come alive, uncovering the dust streaked space surrounding Conflictus. At its center a yellow star radiated brightly. "Any word from commander Abel?" he asked. "Negative," the young lieutenant, manning the communications station, replied. “Keep trying” he commanded, his eyes still focused on the main screen in front of him. "Picking up a single contact." Tactical reported. "Identifying… it's the I.S.S. Conan, sir." Aginov exhaled, relieved. "Any other contacts?" he asked. The reply came instantly. "Negative, sir." Followed by "Nothing on the EM-band, sir. She's dead!" Aginov's blood ran cold. ***
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Barely Alive & Virtual Riot join forces on this remix of Binary, forthcoming on Disciple. Out on 4th April - Support... http://bit.ly/WABARmxs Barely Alive L... 50+ videos Play all Mix - Barely Alive - Binary (Barely Alive & Virtual Riot Remix) YouTube Poison Dart (BUSTED by Herobust) - Duration: 4:13. Barely Alive 2,935 views Barely Alive - Binary Back with some barely alive, hope you enjoy!. The highly anticipated album from Barely Alive, with its track Binary. Out on 26 October.... 4 PRODUCERS FLIP THE SAME SAMPLE feat. Virtual Riot, Bad Snacks, Sarah the Illstrumentalist - Duration: 17:24. ANDREW HUANG Recommended for you [SUBSCRIBE NOW to DISCIPLE for more] Get Disciple Merch : https://www.shopdisciple.com/ Follow our playlist on Spotify : http://bit.ly/disciplerecs Join the ... ヾ(⌐ _ )ノ♪ Barely Alive - Binary (Barely Alive & Virtual Riot Remix) New Video Layout! I hope you like it! ☟Unleash The Description☟ ♥ Support Barely Alive: F... Category Music; Suggested by Label Engine Disciple; Song Binary - Barely Alive; Licensed to YouTube by Label Engine (on behalf of Disciple Recordings); CMRRA, Warner Chappell, LatinAutor - Warner ...