3 Days Later
“Gate activation in ten minutes. Outbound to Teghica.”
“Alright, quick review…” Kevérin turned toward the rest of Hero Machina shortly after the loudspeaker announcement. “We’re going to an abandoned Tier 5 Citan planet named Teghica to hunt down a possible connection to the metallic infection. Teghica’s Interstellar Gate is housed in a secondary outpost; I know that the primary outpost is somewhere eastward of the Gate, but the exact location is unknown. So we need to find it, search every last corner, and then get back to the Gate in time for the next window back here, to Damunin. Then we can get back to the comfort of Nimalia.”
“Speaking of comfort…” Christeané scowled as he glanced down at his clothing, and then at the outfits of the rest of the squad. Their normal uniforms were replaced by beige- and sand-colored desert gear that covered every inch of their bodies, save their faces. “Is there any particular reason we had to change out of our nice, fitted uniforms into these desert rags?”
“We’re goin’ to be on a desert planet for twenty-four hours at most and you’re already complainin’?” Davídrius snorted derisively. “You’ll live.”
“Says you, but you never had to change in the first place,” Christeané retorted before turning back to Kevérin. “I mean, I guess I understand needing to cover all your skin in a desert, but weren’t our uniforms just fine?”
“…That’s the part even I didn’t learn about until we got here.” The Transfer Captain sighed warily. “Teghica is an abandoned Citan colony, but it was still a Citan colony once, you know? The Commander said that Teghica isn’t a part of the Citan Observation Network anymore, but because we’re not sure if we have the time to wait for the months or years that it would take to formally request a visit, we’re going in unauthorized.”
“That’s, uh…” Kaoné frowned uneasily. “…That doesn’t sound good.”
“We’ll be fine,” Kievkenalis assured, “the Citans are long gone. I think it’s just the Black Suns who we’ll have to worry about.”
“And if we do meet any Black Suns mercenaries, don’t let on that we’re from Nimalia,” Kevérin quickly asserted. “Just, uh… try not to run into any?”
“And if we do?” Rebehka pressed.
“Sounds legit,” Davídrius deadpanned.
“Whatever you do, try not to start any fights,” Kevérin ordered, just as the platform the seven Chaotics were standing on jolted and began descending. “Looks like it’s almost time to go. But listen, we really can’t afford to piss off the Citans or the Black Suns, alright?”
“If its stealth and subterfuge that you want, I think you picked the wrong group,” Siyuakén pointed out.
“Well… we’re the only ones investigating the metallic infection, so…” The Transfer Captain paused as the platform suddenly stopped and two blast doors opened sideways, revealing the Interstellar Gate standing twenty meters away in the middle of a large, heavily fortified room.
“Fuckin’ Fortress World…” Davídrius muttered, “really, what’s the point of all this? Don’t Gates have a blockin’ mechanism?”
“It’s all precaution,” Rebehka replied, “militaries love caution, after all.”
“If that’s the case, then they wouldn’t be sending us to a random-ass backwater planet on a ‘stealth’ mission,” Christeané countered. “For better or for worse, ‘caution’ isn’t really our specialty.”
“…Fuck all y’all,” Davídrius growled when he noticed several of the others glance his way.
“C’mon.” Kevérin began walking toward the Gate as the emptiness within the ring rapidly filled with a pitch-black, opaque film. Hero Machina closed the distance between them and the Gate and, after receiving clearance from the control room, stepped through the event horizon. The next thing they knew, they were standing amongst the ruins of a small outpost. Everything was covered with a layer of dust and sand while the sun sat high in the sky and relentlessly beat down on the newcomers.
“Of course it’s stereotypical desert,” Christeané grumbled.
“And y’all say I like to complain a lot,” Davídrius retorted.
“Quit it,” Kevérin interjected. “Let’s not get sidetracked. There’s an outpost to find…”
3 Hours Later
“I can really see why the Citans decided to abandon this place…”
“I knew it was dry, but damn.” Davídrius frowned as he looked down into the metal tub Kaoné had created. The tub was easily a meter tall and in diameter, but water filled only a negligible volume. The Velocitechnic turned to stare at Rebehka incredulously. “Is that really all of the water in the nearby atmosphere?”
“We walked around the entire complex with Siyuakén while she was looking for the generator…” Rebehka replied, “this is all I could get.”
“And this is supposed to be how we stay hydrated?” Davídrius crossed his arms. “Did anyone actually think this through?”
“We can just have Kaoné transmute some water. That was always the plan, this tub thing was just to burn time,” Kevérin pointed out from his seat in front of a derelict computer console. “We found the primary outpost pretty quickly, too, so we at least have shade.”
Christeané scowled. “Don’t you complain about the temperature. We can’t all use our powers as temperature regulators.”
“You seem pretty pissy today,” Davídrius observed candidly.
“Well excuse me for not being from the desert,” the Forcetechnic countered. “Now, don’t get me wrong, deserts are great for trips of all kinds. But deserts this dry suck, especially when I’m forced to go and don’t have anything to do except sit around on my ass.”
“There aren’t even any relay points here,” Kaoné added.
“The Citans did abandon this place a couple centuries ago,” Rebehka mused, “any relay points they set up would be either massively outdated or defunct.”
“And even if they weren’t, we shouldn’t connect to them,” Kevérin cut in, “remember, no one’s supposed to know we’re here.”
Davídrius snorted. “We’re the only ones here. There’s no one to alert to our presence because the only ones within light-years of us is us!”
The conversation was interrupted as the room’s lights suddenly flickered on. The ventilation system quickly followed, sweeping up a large volume of dust and causing several coughing fits before Kaoné could force all of the dust into the exhaust vents.
“So, she got the generator running,” Rebehka commented, and then made for the room’s exit. “I’m going to check on Siyuakén.”
Kevérin glanced at the leaving Cryotechnic before turning his attention to the monitor in front of him as the respective computer booted up. “Huh… the computers still work?”
“Wow, really?” Christeané approached the console as well. “I’d heard that Citan tech was durable, but I didn’t know their computers could last two whole centuries without maintenance!”
“Well, that may not be entirely true,” Kevérin replied, “assuming Kievkenalis was right about that shipment coming from here, the Black Suns used Teghica as their own outpost for some amount of time. For all we know, they might’ve replaced all of the old computers with their own.” He turned to the rest of Hero Machina just as Kievkenalis arrived though the same doorway Rebehka had left through. “Anyways, we have a job to do. I’ll stay here and check out the computer; the rest of you, spread out and search the complex.”
“Why do you get to stay here?” Davídrius challenged.
“Because I’m the only one with an offline version of the visual translation patch.”
“Um, I’d be careful while looking around,” Kievkenalis spoke up, “there’s no one around — I checked — but the Chaos Energy in the area still feels… off. Like… it’s too dense. There’s more than there should be.”
“You can tell that?” Davídrius raised an incredulous eyebrow.
“Well, yeah. I’m a Chaostechnic after all; any half-decent Chaostechnic can sense Chaos Energy,” the Riveranian replied.
“Do you know what could cause something like that?” Kevérin questioned.
“Not really. But if we aren’t careful, I’m sure one of us could go berserk. I’d suggest searching the place in pairs, at least.”
The Pyrotechnic nodded. “Sounds reasonable. The four of you can split up and search in pairs. You guys can handle that on your own, right?”
“Yeah, we’re good,” Christeané replied before turning toward the doorway on the opposite side of the room from the one Kievkenalis and Rebehka had used. “C’mon, Davídrius, let’s go.”
“Eh? Who said—?” The Tresédian was about to argue the point, but stopped when he realized that Kaoné and Kievkenalis had already left on their own. “…Tch. Why am I always stuck with you?”
“Stuck with me? As if. You don’t really mean that.”
“That attitude is exactly why I do mean it.”
“Mm hmm. Now c’mon, we’ve got a base to check out.”
Kevérin watched the two leave before turning back to the computer, stretching, and finally getting down to inspecting the data stored within.
“Hey,” Rebehka greeted her friend as she stepped into the generator room. She then glanced around, puzzled, as Siyuakén was nowhere to be seen.
The Cryotechnic looked up to find the Electrotechnic hanging from the ceiling near the generator. “Uh… what are you doing?”
“Just checking out the generator…” Siyuakén replied before releasing her grappling hooks and landing in a roll next to Rebehka. “Something’s off about it.”
“Even if you consider that the Black Suns might’ve been maintaining it at some point, it works far too well for something that’s two hundred years old.” She crossed her arms. “I was able to jump start it.”
“Generators aren’t just huge batteries! You shouldn’t be able to simply ‘jump start’ it. Something must have stopped it during operation, or… I don’t know.”
“Is this something we should be concerned about?”
Siyuakén glanced back at the generator. “…It might be. According to what I know about Citan power sources — which isn’t really all that much — activating this generator should cause a feedback loop that’ll eventually start up the rest of the generators, including the primary reactor buried downstairs. And with the activation of the generators…”
“…All of the base’s defenses will power up, too,” Rebehka finished, and then shrugged. “We’re talking about two hundred-year-old tech, here. It’s nothing we can’t take care of, I’m sure.”
“I hope you’re right…” Siyuakén frowned. “I wish I could at least read the status displays though. Then we could know when the generator was last activated.”
“Siyuakén, we’ll be fine.” Rebehka placed a reassuring hand on her friend’s shoulder. “If you think it’s important enough, I can contact Kevérin and get him to come look at it, but—”
“No, no, it’s not that big of a deal,” the Electrotechnic quickly replied, “as long as we’re in and out, we should be fine. But if we’re here longer than the next window back to Damunin, then I’d prefer that someone look into this. Then again, if we’re here longer than the next window, then we’ve probably got more important issues to deal with…”
“Well… you’re probably right,” Rebehka admitted, “I don’t know what’s here to cause us trouble though. You were there when Kevken used Chaos Detect; there’s no one here but us.”
“Yeah, I know… I just have a bad feeling about this.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for anything suspicious, then… but once we get back to Nimalia, you and I are definitely spending the next day off downtown. You need a break.”
Siyuakén smirked uneasily. “…Heh, I guess I do. It’s really been non-stop work for the past few weeks, huh.”
“It’s interesting, but also really tiring. I mean, it’s nice that the Commander is actually trying to get to the bottom of the infection, but…”
“There’s a lot less downtime than back in Relédiaka, I know.”
“We’ve been in Nimaliaka Central — the interstellar transport hub of Nimalia! — for over a month, and we’ve still barely seen any of it. Talk about all work and no play…”
“You know, I heard there’s actually a lot of places that offer discounts for both military and Chaotics. Pubs and museums and the like.”
“Really? Hmm, I wonder what they’re like?…”
The two continued their idle conversation as the generator hummed quietly in the background, providing power to the lights, ventilation, and other systems unknown.
“You’re sure something’s here?”
Kievkenalis nodded firmly. “Somewhere in this area, yeah. This is where the Chaos Energy is most dense.”
“If you say so…” Kaoné frowned warily. “But I don’t know what we’re looking for. What could even cause Chaos Energy to, uh, ‘stick’ together like this?”
“That’s what I hope to find out,” the Chaostechnic replied as he rounded a corner and stopped. In his way sat a mountain of debris, filling in the hallway though the collapsed ceiling. Beyond the heap was open air; it appeared as though a corner of the building had collapsed on itself.
“I’m surprised more of the complex isn’t like this, considering how old it all is,” Kaoné mused. “Should we clear this out?”
“You go ahead. I’m a little wary of using my powers without knowing what’s causing the distortion.”
The Materiatechnic proceeded to mash all of the debris into one mass before shoving it out of the way, as she had done several times in the past hour. However, shortly after doing so, she paused quizzically and then began peeling thin layers off of the mass, discarding each to the side.
“What are you doing?…” Kievkenalis questioned.
“There’s something that I can’t actually manipulate buried in there…” she responded cautiously, “and so far there’s only been one thing like that.” A moment later she paused, astounded. “…Uh… make that two.”
The two Chaotics stared at the large, dark blue, diamond-shaped gemstone that Kaoné had just uncovered. After a moment the Materiatechnic commented, “well, I guess we know what was causing the ‘distortion’ then.”
“Yeah…” Kievkenalis responded warily, “…one of the Chaos Ayas…”