1 Month Later
– Grudia, Winth 30, 8034 –
Christeané stopped where he stood and gave Davídrius a disapproving stare. “Really?”
“I answered your question,” the Tresédian quipped, “it’s your own damn fault if you don’t like the answer.”
Christeané smirked and sat down across the table from Davídrius, dropping his lunch tray on the tabletop as he did so.
“Early lunch?” Davídrius drawled.
“You’re here early, too.”
“I was here for a mid-morning snack, not so I could draw out my lunch break by an extra hour.”
“And how long have you been here for?”
“Mm hmm.” Christeané chuckled as he began eating. “So you’ve pretty much done the same thing.”
Davídrius scowled. “Tch. As if I’m actually needed. Leave the desk jobs to those who actually know what they’re doin’.”
“It’s part of being an officer,” the Master Lieutenant replied between bites, “and guess what you are now?”
Davídrius’s scowl deepened as Christeané glanced at the new nameplate sewn into the Tresédian’s uniform, just above his left jacket pocket. It read “Lieutenant Wrikax.”
“I didn’t ask for this bullshit.”
“Hey, you jumped straight to Lieutenant! You’re lucky.”
“Lucky my ass. The Commander’s just trying to nationalize me — apparently she ‘pulled some strings’ and now I’m a Nimaliakian citizen.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?…”
“Considerin’ it was all done without even askin’ me first?” Davídrius replied flatly.
Christeané frowned. “I thought you didn’t like Treséd.”
“I also don’t like bein’ told what to do.”
“Oh believe me, we all know that.”
Christeané smirked in response to the Tresédian’s retort. “It can’t be that bad. At least now we don’t have to go through any bullshit every time we go off-world now… like with Chiníka.”
Davídrius snorted as he recalled Hero Machina’s brief visit to the planet a couple weeks ago. The Tier 3 Nimalian world known as “Chiníka” was one of the first planets they looked into after beginning their investigation into shipments over the Hazard Islands; Kevérin had hoped to find more information about the metallic infection, but Hero Machina ultimately returned from the planet empty-handed.
“I’ll bet Chiníka was what inspired the Commander to do all this,” Davídrius eventually muttered, turning his attention back to the conversation. “Nice planet, but I ain’t even met any Homeworld Nimalians with such a stick up their ass about Tresédians.”
“You know, it’d help if you weren’t so impatient.”
“Look, that bastard was askin’ for a rapier down his throat. I would’ve been doin’ Chiníka a favor if you guys hadn’t stopped me.”
Christeané rolled his eyes. “We stopped you because you would’ve gotten your ass handed to you. How the fuck did you expect to beat a Velocitechnic ten years your senior?”
Davídrius grunted and glanced away. “…I’m faster than him.”
“And he’s had way more experience with Sword Boxes and fighting in general. Which I guess is why you convinced Rebehka to start teaching you how to actually use a sword.” Christeané pulled a face, as if he were disappointed. “Why didn’t you ask me for help?”
“Tch. You know just as well as I do,” Davídrius retorted, “we’re both Introtechnics, sure, but the weapons we use are completely different. You use a damn hammer in battle — do you really think you could teach me swordplay?”
“I could try.”
“Could you do as well as a fencin’ hobbyist?”
“I used to fence.”
“Key words: used to.”
“Besides, fencing isn’t applicable to real battles at all!”
“It’s gotta be better than nothin’ though, right?”
“…Mm, maybe,” Christeané admitted before taking another big bite of his meal. Davídrius sat in stubborn silence as the Master Lieutenant finished chewing and swallowed. “Now, if only there were more battles to actually fight in.”
Davídrius sighed. “I’m with ya there. Three separate trips in the past month, two of them off-world, and we got nothin’ out of it. Don’t even have any real leads.”
“Maybe, if we’re lucky, one of the others will have found a lead by the time we get back to the office.”
The two Chaotics glanced at each other and then shook their heads simultaneously.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Well, a guy can hope…”
“Hey, Si— …wait, where’d everybody go?”
“Hmm? Oh, Kevérin.” Rebehka glanced up from her work as she acknowledged the captain. “Kaoné and Kevken left to go check something at the Downtown office. I don’t know where Davídrius and Christeané are, though…”
“They’re probably off taking an early lunch.” Siyuakén rolled her eyes as she turned around in her chair, stood up, and stepped closer to Rebehka and Kevérin, who were both near the entrance to the office space set aside for Hero Machina. It was a sizable room — large enough to house seven desks, with three on one side, three on the other, and one in the back. Each desk hosted a computer monitor, interface, and some extra space to store physical papers and files; Rebehka’s desk was the front left, the closest to the entrance door, while Siyuakén’s was directly to her right.
Kevérin sighed impatiently. “Argh, again? Do they ever work?”
“Says the guy who plays AR games all day,” Rebehka quipped.
“Hey, I’m the one who came up with the Bowiisen lead. …Even though it didn’t go anywhere…” The Transfer Captain shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Anyways, that’s not what I’m here for. I just realized that it’s been a whole month since we started looking for leads on this metallic infection business, but the two of you haven’t even explained everything you know.”
“There’s not really much else for us to even say, aside from the more technical aspects…” Rebehka responded.
“Then that’s what I want to know.” Kevérin crossed his arms as he glanced between the two women. “We’ve already had to fight creatures infected by the metallic infection, so if there’s anything that can help in that regard…”
“In that regard, you know just as much as we do.” Siyuakén shrugged. “I mean, I guess you wouldn’t know that electricity or magnetics aren’t as effective against the infection as you’d think, it being metal and all, but otherwise there’s not a lot to take advantage of in a fight.”
“Well, what about infection breakouts on other planets? Where’d they happen, when did they happen, how were they handled?”
Rebehka and Siyuakén glanced at each other wearily. “There have been a lot of incidents, both officially and unofficially recorded,” Rebehka stated. “There’s too many to list now, and there’s no reason to do so, anyways. Most incidents were handled either by totally eradicating the infected animals, or by capturing and studying them, like what we do back in Relédiaka. Most organizations tend to at least make a token effort to figure out what’s going on, but before Sunova, I’d never heard of the infection leading to a massive breakout and forcing a full planetary evacuation…”
“Do you think it’s possible that a breakout did happen, but you didn’t hear about it?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Siyuakén responded, “an infection outbreak like what happened on Sunova is a major galactic security issue. I doubt any government would be willing to publicly disclose a breakout incident… especially the CSA.”
“They’re afraid that we’re Drakkar agents, you see.” Rebehka rolled her eyes, and then added seriously, “I’m actually surprised that they were so willing to let us onto a Transpace World.”
“What, you mean Bowiisen?” Kevérin snorted. “It’s right next to Nimalian territory. Nimalians visit it all the time, of course they’d let us go. I’d be more surprised if they allowed us as deep into their territory as the Origin Transpace. On military business, that is.”
“Not with a Tresédian in our group, they won’t…” Rebehka frowned warily. “I know the Commander got him Nimaliakian citizenship so we won’t run into those kind of problems, but—”
“But Davídrius himself is enough reason to not let us go anywhere?”
“He’s… gotten better,” Siyuakén admitted, “as much as it hurts to say.”
“Has he, though?” Kevérin questioned, “I guess having Christeané around helps a little, but he’s still hard on Kaoné, what with her pacifism.”
“I meant to ask about that at some point,” Rebehka commented, “did something happen between Davídrius and Kaoné?”
“Not really,” Siyuakén replied, “he’s just… I don’t know if it’s possible for Davídrius and Kaoné to see eye to eye. He has an… unfortunate background, but Kaoné seems pretty sheltered and inexperienced…”
“What? That’s not true,” Kevérin refuted, “she’s had plenty of experience. How else did she reach Lieutenant?”
“Huh…?” Siyuakén stared at the Pyrotechnic in confusion. “She… wasn’t conscripted as a Lieutenant?”
“Well, no. I mean, some Materiatechnics are conscripted as Lieutenants, but she’s not a native Nimaliakian, so she had to start out at the rank of ‘Chaotic.’”
“I don’t know why that’s surprising?” Kevérin cocked his head in confusion. “…I guess, now that I think about it… she’s a Materiatechnic, but she’s not a native. There’s no way one of the other nations would’ve let go of a Materiatechnic unless she was part of an exchange program, but she would’ve had to have been exchanged with someone in her year, which means one of us, but to trade away a Materiatechnic must mean the nation had two Chaotics, I’d think, and the only nation that fits that description is… Relédiaka…” He stared at Siyuakén for a moment. “Wait, are you—?”
“Yes, I am,” the Electrotechnic replied flatly.
“Then… wouldn’t you two have, I don’t know, kept tabs on each other or something—?”
“Wow, we’ve really strayed from the original topic, haven’t we,” Rebehka observed, “what was the last thing — right, about the CSA not letting us go anywhere.”
“Uh… right,” Kevérin responded slowly, oblivious to the quick glance that the two women exchanged. “…Well, it could present an issue if we come across information leading us deeper into CSA space.”
“If it’s a world accessible only by ship, at least,” Rebehka pointed out, “I think they should be more lenient about Interstellar Gate travel. But, even then, getting through their security will be annoying, since they’re in a perpetual war state.”
“With the Drakkars, right…” Kevérin nodded. “The Drakkars and the CSA have been at war for ages, and neither of them have gained any real ground… I doubt that will change anytime soon. But — I just had a thought, have you heard anything about the metallic infection from non-CSA space? Drakkars? The Taizen races? The unsettled arm between Dra’kis and Taizen space, maybe?”
“We barely have any information from the CSA, who — despite their jockeying — are still our allies, and heavily document everything that happens in their space. Do you really think we’d have any information from any other area?” Siyuakén retorted. “The Drakkars are super-advanced, but they’re our enemies. Of course we wouldn’t hear anything from them. And unsettled territory is exactly that: unsettled. We can’t learn anything from people who aren’t there. And the Taizen races? They’re too busy with their own thousand-year war to bother telling us about something as seemingly trivial as the metallic infection.”
“You don’t have to snap…” Kevérin muttered, “but I guess you’re right. The Riaxen destroyed all of their Gates anyways, and nothing gets past their Transpaces, so I don’t think the infection could have spread or come from their space. And the Syraus aren’t much different…”
“Their space might become even more dangerous soon, though,” Rebehka pointed out.
“Huh? Why’s that?”
“From what I’ve heard, the current Riaxen leader has fallen ill… or something like that. Which means they’ll probably have a new leader soon, which means they’ll suddenly be way more aggressive.”
“Here’s hoping we don’t get sucked into that,” Siyuakén commented.
Kevérin sighed. “There’s war everywhere… why does the rest of the galaxy have to be so hostile?”
“The Earthians aren’t,” Rebehka offered.
“Yeah, they aren’t hostile, they’re just really quick to shy away from any kind of attention or responsibility,” Kevérin retorted.
“It’s not a completely terrible idea,” Siyuakén refuted, “they’re not as advanced as the rest of the galaxy, and they have no Transpaces, so as long as they lay low they shouldn’t have any trouble. Nimalian territory, on the other hand, is sandwiched between war-torn allies. If either one falls, we’re as good as gone…”
“Hey, at least we got the Master Ayas from the Earthians, right?” Rebehka commented in a much lighter tone.
“Which makes me wonder where the other eight Ayas are,” Kevérin replied, “the Master Ayas, found first? No way.”
“Well what do you want us to do, look for the Ayas, too?” Rebehka questioned, “how would we even do that? We have Chaos Energy sensors, sure, but none that work on a galactic scale, or that would even be able to pinpoint something as small as the Chaos Ayas.”
“We might come across some of them during our investigation into the metallic infection,” Kevérin stated, “…which brings us back to the original topic.”
“…We’ve talked about pretty much everything that’s not the infection, huh.” Rebehka smirked in self-amusement.
“So you two really don’t know anything else?” Kevérin scratched his head, confused.
“We don’t, sorry,” Siyuakén replied, “nothing that will be too useful at least. We know rough timestamps, like ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty… but without anything more specific…”
“Yeah, it’s not much help…” Kevérin sighed, and then glanced at the time. “Oh, well what do you know. It’s almost time for lunch!”
“Oh, good,” Siyuakén responded as Rebehka stood up next to her and the three Chaotics made for the exit, “I could really use a break…”
“Just gimme a few more minutes,” the Chaostechnic replied nonchalantly, “I think I’m onto something here.”
“That’s what you said half an hour ago,” Kaoné pouted, “but it’s time for lunch now!”
“Just— just hold on,” he responded without looking up from the console he was working at. “Er, go on without me, actually.”
The Materiatechnic sighed impatiently before walking around the console and staring at the screen. “What are you looking at?”
“I managed to get some RPF espionage data on the SFC, and some of it points to information we might be interested in…”
“Uh… what? SFC?”
“The Stealth and Force Corps,” Kievkenalis replied, “they’re the second largest private military in Riverana, behind the RPF — the Riverana Protection Force. They’re a little sketchier though, so the RPF likes to keep tabs on them by spying… er.” He passed Kaoné a worried glance. “…You’re not supposed to know that.”
“Right…” Kaoné nodded patronizingly. “I’m surprised that you even have the authority to access that kind of information.”
“Oh, well that’s easy. I’m a Chaostechnic — a tier three Chaostechnic, at that. They let me do almost whatever I want.” He glanced up when Kaoné didn’t respond, only to catch her staring at him incredulously. “…You don’t get to do whatever you want?”
“I’m not a Chaostechnic,” Kaoné deadpanned.
“Yeah, but you’re a Materiatechnic. That’s one of the big three, right?” Kievkenalis questioned. “Chaostechnism, Materiatechnism, Navitastechnism?”
Kaoné shook her head wearily. “Never mind. What have you found?”
“Oh, right.” He turned back toward the console. “Well, the SFC usually sends and receives shipments by sending ships up over the Continental Glacier and then taking off into space from there, where the planet’s magnetic field makes it a little harder to scan down ships. This puts most of the shipping over or near the Hazard Islands, you know? So I decided to look into that.”
“What did you find?”
“A shipment from the Black Suns,” Kievkenalis replied as he turned to face Kaoné again. “And not just a general shipment — it was under the name of the former Sector 2 Master General, Temlar Sakthye.”
“That… does sound a little suspicious, I guess,” Kaoné mused, “but Nimalian militaries commission things from the Black Suns all the time.”
“Well, yeah, but never directly from a Master General,” Kievkenalis refuted, “and that’s not the only suspicious thing — according to the logs, the transport ship ran into an RPF blockade over the Kardé Ocean and covertly dropped some of its cargo to pass the mass check. That was about 200 kilometers east of the Hazard Islands.”
“Yeah, that does sound pretty fishy,” Kaoné agreed, “but for it to actually be what we want, it has to be over ten years ago, right? Since the first metallic infection reports on Nimalia were from around ten years ago.”
“And that’s the thing — this shipment went through almost exactly ten years ago, in the spring of 8024 — just in time for the decennial ocean event that sweeps debris from the eastern Kardé Ocean toward the Hazard Islands!”
“…Wow,” Kaoné remarked, “that sounds exactly like what we’re looking for! Where did the shipment come from?”
“Hmm… well, I think this might be where the problem is.” Kievkenalis frowned warily. “The shipment origin is in CSA space — an abandoned Tier 5 Citan World, named Teghica.”