Chapter 20 – Rising Importance

3 Days Later

“Sorry for getting off on the wrong foot the other day. I’m Rebehka Tchiréon.”

“Eh?” Davídrius glanced up at her, and then swiveled his chair around to face her as he crossed his arms. “’Wrong foot,’ you say?”

“She’s trying to be nice,” Christeané cut in from across the table, “don’t start a fight.”

The Tresédian shot the Master Lieutenant a glare before turning back to Rebehka. “…Hi,” he responded begrudgingly, “I’m Davídrius Wrikax.”

“I’m Kaoné Densalin,” Kaoné volunteered from further down the table.

“And I’m Kievkenalis Yumach!” the Chaostechnic added.

“Glad to actually meet you all outside of battle.” Rebehka smiled as she walked around the table to sit in between Siyuakén and Christeané.

Silence momentarily befell the room as the Chaotics awaited their debriefing with Commander Nikéyin. The team had arrived in Nimaliaka Central two days ago, but between ensuring that the Hazard Island issue had truly been taken care of and making long-term arrangements for Hero Machina’s newest members, the team had yet to gather for an official debriefing — until now.

Rebehka’s attention slowly drifted back to Davídrius as she mused over his standoffish attitude. Eventually she spoke up, “if you don’t mind me asking—”

“It’s because you’re a Cryotechnic,” the Velocitechnic preemptively replied, as though he had anticipated her question. “You make ice. Ice is frictionless. I can’t run on frictionless stuff. Thus ice is annoying, and so are you by proxy.”

“Davídrius, really?” Christeané sighed of annoyance and shook his head. “Don’t be so petty.”

“I’m not—!”

“Yes you are. I’m an Introtechnic too, but you don’t see me complaining about ice. Now stop bitching.”

Davídrius scowled, but spoke no more.

More silence followed. Several moments later, Kaoné decided to start conversation anew. “So how was everyone’s weekends?” she asked amiably.

“Good,” Siyuakén answered. “It was nice to take a break after two weeks of running around.”

“Would’ve been better if Nimaliaka had any decent alcohol,” Christeané quipped.

“Oh be quiet,” Kevérin retorted, “you haven’t been as busy as the rest of us.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I can’t drink,” the Master Lieutenant replied. “I don’t think you guys understand how East Nimaliakians work.”

“Oh, Rebehka and I know all too well…” Siyuakén sighed.

Christeané smirked. “Come on, you had fun, admit it.”

Kievkenalis glanced between the two in confusion. “You already know each other?”

“Siyuakén and I spent some time in East Nimaliaka a year ago, looking into a metallic infection report,” Rebehka explained. “Christeané was there with us.”

“Probably the best five days of the month,” the Forcetechnic added.

Kievkenalis frowned warily. “Speaking of the metallic infection, how are we going to deal with that thing back on the Hazard Islands? We can’t just leave it in the ice, can we?”

“That’s what we’re here to figure out, isn’t it?” Kaoné replied, “only, the Commander is late…”

“I sent her a quick advisory shortly after we got back, apart from the mission report,” Kevérin commented. “Hopefully the islands will have been glassed by now. The Battleship Kunaria is currently in orbit, after all…”

Davídrius crossed his arms. “Will glassin’ the islands really stop the… whatever-it-is?”

“If it doesn’t, then what else can we do?” Kevérin shrugged. “We don’t even know what it is we’re up against, exactly.”

“I’m sure Rebehka can tell us,” Christeané suggested as he passed the Cryotechnic a glance.

“I know some things,” she quickly qualified, “but I’ll wait to explain until the Commander gets here, so I don’t have to repeat myself. I already sent a copy of the data back to Relédiaka, so hopefully they’ll be able to analyze it and figure out even more while we’re here.”

“Oh, so you’re from Relédiaka…?” Kievkenalis asked.

Rebehka nodded. “Yep. And you are…?”

“I’m from Riverana,” the Chaostechnic replied. “…In fact, I had to spend my weekend debriefing my RPF CO about the Hazard Islands, and now I have to do it again…”

I spent my weekend writing a mission report,” Kevérin grumbled, “I wish I could go back home. I haven’t been there in months…”

I’m perfectly fine with never goin’ back to Treséd,” Davídrius interjected, “with the Bleeder Chaotics gone, the lot can take care of themselves just fine.”

“Surely there’s someone you cared for,” Rebehka insisted. “Friends? Family?”

“Family?” Davídrius echoed. “…Mm. Guess that’d be nice. Don’t suppose you have a time machine, though.”

“Why would you need a—? Oh…” the Cryotechnic trailed off sheepishly. “Ah… sorry?”

The Tresédian shook his head. “Not your fault. If there’s one thing I’ll give you credit for, it’s your friend-pickin’ sense. Siyuakén took care of the bastard responsible.”

“Wait, really?” The Electrotechnic’s eyes widened in surprise. “If I had known the situation with the Bleeders was like that, then I would’ve understood you better…”

“Oh really now?” Davídrius drawled, “did you really think the Bleeders drag around fucking artillery everywhere and don’t score a few hits every now and then?” He chuckled derisively when his question was met with silence. “Exactly.” He sat back in his chair and sighed before adding, “but what’s done is done. I don’t need nor want your pity; in fact I’d appreciate it if you all forgot this whole conversation ever happened.”

“Done,” Kevérin immediately responded, “this is depressing. Let’s talk about something… not depressing.”

“Well I certainly hope this debriefing qualifies.”

Kevérin and Kaoné quickly stood up and at attention as Commander Nikéyin entered the room. She looked over the seven members of Hero Machina before bidding the Transfer Captain and Lieutenant to sit down as she did so herself. She then dropped the folder she was carrying on the table and opened it, leafing through it as she began to address the Chaotics sitting around her. “Did I miss anything just now?”

“No, not at all,” Davídrius replied flatly.

Nikéyin glanced at him curiously. “I see,” she responded as she turned her attention back to the papers in the folder, causing the Velocitechnic to shift in his chair uncomfortably.

“So you have new faces now,” the Commander eventually continued, looking up at Christeané, Kievkenalis, and Rebehka. “That makes all seven of you. Good… I admit, Tyrion, I’m surprised that you pulled the group together so quickly. Three weeks is a very short period of time for forming a group like this, especially considering the short notice I gave each of your superiors.”

“Thank you,” Kevérin replied.

“And now to business…” Nikéyin commented, “Master Lieutenant Kolstén, Lieutenant Tchiréon, Captain Yumach, I hope you’ll forgive me for not formally welcoming you to Hero Machina and the Nimalian Systems Defense, but I’m sure you all recognize the immediate danger of the situation before us, given that you were, well, there.”

Kevérin frowned warily. “Was the island not glassed…?”

“I don’t think you understand how much thought actually goes into a glassing,” Nikéyin countered, “it’s an irreversible, highly destructive process. I understand your urgency, given the result of your expedition to Sunova, but this isn’t a snap-and-it-happens process.”

Davídrius snorted. “It’s just the Hazard Islands. Does anyone actually care about them?” He then froze as the Commander gave him the stink eye. “Er… sorry.”

“…You are right, though,” Nikéyin conceded, “but you could say that lack of care is actually the problem. I’ve already put in a request to glass the islands, but the Kunaria and the Tekdecénian High Command don’t consider the situation to be worth the ammunition.”

“We may have frozen the creature, but I don’t know how long that ice will hold,” Rebehka commented, “the first time I trapped it in an ice prison, it broke out after only two days. Granted, we damaged it significantly before I froze it again, but there’s still the possibility it could break out again.”

“And then there’s the possibility of the same thing that happened on Sunova happening here!” Siyuakén exclaimed, “do we really want to risk that?”

“Their justification is that the Kardé Ocean will contain any break-outs to the islands,” Nikéyin responded. “Look, I’m on your side here. But you were the only Nimalians to witness the disaster that was Sunova — and only half of you, at that. I may be the NSD’s prospective commander, but I’m not in charge of the fleets yet. My word can only go so far.”

“What can we do, then?” Kaoné questioned.

The Commander turned to Rebehka. “…I understand you were recently part of a research expedition to the Continental Glacier. If you know anything else, please tell. I may be able to use the information to convince the Captain of the Kunaria to spend his precious bombardment rounds.”

“Well…” Rebehka started, “the… expedition itself didn’t learn very much. It’s not the first time I’ve been up to the Continental Glacier, and just like every other time… we couldn’t find out anything. The metallic infection appears to be not even that — the research team couldn’t find any pathogens in the infected animals’ bodies. Except this time, the animals were much rowdier than usual; there were more break-outs than the past three years combined. So the team leader decided to release an infected animal — native to the Glacier, so it could survive on its own — and monitor what it did. Well, it went on a completely straight path toward the Hazard Islands before trying to swim and then drowning in the Kardé Ocean.”

“Oh, so that’s why you flew over the Hazard Islands on the way back…” Kevérin commented.

Rebehka nodded. “Yes, that’s right. The team leader wanted to see how the infected animals would react if we brought them closer to the islands.”

“That sounds like a terrible idea!” Christeané exclaimed.

“I’m well aware that it was,” the Cryotechnic retorted, “how do you think we crashed?”

“…Well, yeah. My point.”

“Believe me, not everyone was on board with the idea, myself included,” Rebehka explained, “but the team leader was adamant, and she had enough of the researchers on her side to convince the transport pilot to fly over the islands. It was a big mistake — all of the animals reacted wildly and broke out of their cages with far more strength than anyone expected. We were all caught by surprise, and…” She paused momentarily, her lips pursed. “…The ship was already damaged and crashing before I was able to start re-capturing the animals.”

“And the rest of the research team?” Nikéyin questioned.

Rebehka looked down. “…They didn’t make it.”

“…I see,” the Commander responded. “What happened next?”

“I started the distress signal. The ship had managed to crash on the edge of a crevice, so I quickly subdued the rest of the animals that hadn’t died and then left the ship to see if I could find safer shelter… not even a half hour later, though, the ship was suddenly attacked by a giant… metal… worm-like thing.”

“The same one that attacked us?” Kevérin asked.

“Maybe? Probably.” Rebehka shrugged. “It was the thing that I trapped in the ice. But, before that — it… so, I said ‘attacked,’ but I’m not sure if that’s really the right word. It just came up to the ship and… seemed to melt through it.”

“…It what,” Davídrius deadpanned.

“That’s what it looked like,” the Cryotechnic affirmed with a frown. “Almost like a liquid. And it absolutely cleaned out the inside of the wreck — I could tell because it melted all of the ice I had created inside. So I immediately flipped the wreck into the crevice with a slab of ice and then froze the entire area… then I ran off to find some place to hide, because I started getting attacked by infected native animals. Fast forward two days, I run into all of you, and then, well… here we are.”

“So… we have the metallic infection… a bunch of rowdy, infected animals that were attracted to the Hazard Islands… and a giant, shape-shifting, liquid metal worm.” Kevérin glanced around the room wearily. “What does this mean?”

“I’m not completely sure, but it could be that something was starting to reach critical mass on the islands…” Rebehka suggested.

“I checked with the researchers back in Relédiaka, and they said that they experienced increased aggression with their trapped animals as well,” Siyuakén added. “They also said that the animals suddenly calmed down three days ago… just after we disabled and froze that big creature.”

“Maybe we came even closer to disaster than we thought,” Kaoné muttered quietly.

“This is all speculative, but it is most definitely worrying,” Nikéyin declared. “I’m not certain I can convince the Kunaria with this, but I’m even more sold now that something needs to be done about the islands. Worst-case scenario, I merely have to wait until the NSD is formally recognized to order for a glassing… and hope that nothing happens until then.”

“There’s no way we can just sit around now that we know this,” Christeané insisted, “there’s gotta be something we can do.”

“We could check out infection incidents on other planets,” Siyuakén suggested, “this problem isn’t just limited to Nimalia, after all.”

“Actually…” Nikéyin leaned forward, a hand on her chin in thought. “…You raise a good point. Infection incidents have been occurring on other worlds before they started on Nimalia, correct?”

Rebehka nodded. “Yes, the first recorded incident on Nimalia was ten years ago, but there have been recorded incidents in the galaxy as many as fifteen years ago. I’ve even heard of several incidents from up to twenty years ago, but those were all on CSA planets, and unofficial reports.”

“Alright then. Let’s suppose the infection didn’t start on Nimalia — it would’ve had to spread here somehow, either through the Interstellar Gate or spacecraft. And to get to the Hazard Islands — something must have brought it there. So here’s what we can do: go through all the global shipping records and find ships that have passed by the Hazard Islands, and trace both their destination and source. Additionally, look for any natural migration patterns that might take animals over the Hazard Islands. With any luck, we can trace the infection back to the Gate or a spaceship and then continue on from there.”

“But that’s… that’s ten years’ worth of data to look through!” Kevérin exclaimed, “that could take… weeks! Months!”

“If you come up with a better idea, Transfer Captain, I’d be glad to hear it,” Nikéyin replied, “but this will be far more efficient that randomly investigating infection reports out in the rest of the galaxy. Your Chaos Quake investigation will have to wait — this infection issue is far more important.”

“Question: how are we going to get all of the data in the first place?”

“I have the authority to at least obtain shipping information,” the Commander responded. “Wrestling manifests from the RPF or SFC might be troublesome, but I’ll have data to process by the end of the week, I’m certain. Until then, take a break. I understand that this past weekend wasn’t a very good break for some of you…” She shot Christeané a knowing glance. “I’m afraid you’ll have to make do without ‘decent alcohol,’ however.”

“Uh.” The Master Lieutenant froze, his eyes wide. “…You heard that? Wait… if you heard that, then—?”

The Commander offered a knowing smirk. “Just because I’m not in the briefing room doesn’t mean I can’t hear what’s said in the briefing room.”

“…Oh,” Davídrius responded quietly.

“None of you said anything worth reprimanding today, but watch your words in the future.” Nikéyin stood up, prompting the members of Hero Machina to do the same. “You are all now on leave for the next three days. Dismissed!”

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