8 Days Later
“They rejected our request.”
“Already?” Kevérin scowled with irritation as he sat back against his chair. “I only requested a visit last Watedia… at least the CSA pretends to think about things before rejecting visitation requests, but the Black Suns just instantly reject us?”
“You’d rather they waste our time?” Christeané questioned.
“Well… no…” the Transfer Captain admitted, “but… Rossindon’s just a Tier 4 world. It’s not even a Fortress World…”
“But it does belong to Sector 2 of the Black Suns,” Commander Nikéyin countered, “and if I remember a certain mission report correctly, you managed to irritate one of the Sector 2 Lieutenant Generals.” She glanced around at the seven members of Hero Machina, all of whom were sitting around a long table to Nikéyin’s left or right. Her gaze lingered on Davídrius for a moment, but neither expressly addressed the gesture. She then turned back to face Kevérin as she continued, “you do understand that, given the Black Suns hierarchy, you’ve nearly done the equivalent of walking up to the ruler of a nation and pissing them off?”
“Uh… well…” the Pyrotechnic stuttered, “…but… Rossindon’s the hypocenter of the Chaos Energy Quake…”
Nikéyin sighed and shook her head wearily. “Not everyone wants to get to the bottom of this as much as you do. The Black Suns probably don’t care, or they might even have their own investigation running. That could explain why they pulled down the CSA data on Quake outage times. And I have to say, given something as significant as the Chaos Quake… if the hypocenter was in Nimalian space and a group from the CSA or Black Suns requested access, we’d probably refuse them, too.”
“Bah, bureaucracy this, politics that…” Davídrius scowled. “Why block access to, uh, to this ‘hypercenter’ thing? What’s to gain from learning where the Quake started?”
“A lot, actually,” Rebehka replied, “if you know both when and where the Quake started, then it’s a lot easier to find out what started it, and why. We could learn if this was a natural phenomenon, or if someone caused it.”
“And don’t forget there’s a possibility that the Quake is linked to the metallic infection,” Siyuakén added, “if we can establish a firm link, then that would go a long way toward finding the cause of the infection, and possible ways of stopping it.”
“So… what, the Black Suns just don’t want us finding this stuff out?” Davídrius questioned.
“Possibly, but it could also just be that we’re dealing with Sector 2 here,” Nikéyin responded. “Even if you hadn’t managed to annoy General Bitincher, I doubt they would have agreed to let you visit. Sector 2 is by far the most secretive and paranoid of the Black Suns sectors, and the Sector 2 Master General, Sike Regek, isn’t exactly known for his welcoming attitude.” The Commander paused for a moment to massage her eyebrows before adding, “I agree that getting to the bottom of the Quake is a priority. I’ll look into this myself. Maybe I can pull some strings, start fleshing out the NSD’s connections…”
“Speaking of,” Christeané remarked, “what’s up with the NSD? We’re supposed to be part of it, right? But it’s not an actual organization yet…?”
“It’s turned political. There’s a surprising amount of opposition, especially from within the member militaries. General Acknos of the Tekdecénian military and General Rantéin of the RPF have already pledged their official support, at least, so effectively, we’re in business — as a defensive organization, at least. But the CSA and Black Suns won’t recognize us until we’re official.”
“What does that mean for us?” Kaoné questioned.
“Continue as you have been,” Nikéyin replied, “for now, Hero Machina is acting as part of the Nimaliakian military, with Tekdecénian and RPF access rights, thanks to Transfer Captain Tyrion and Captain Yumach.”
“So that’s why we pulled someone from every continent, eh?” Davídrius snorted. “Why’d you bother comin’ all the way to my shitty compound in Treséd to get me, though?”
“I have my reasons, and you’d do well not to question them,” Nikéyin responded. “Don’t think I can’t send you back to Treséd in a heartbeat, Wrikax.”
“…Tch.” The Velocitechnic scowled, but didn’t further the conversation.
“And with that…” Nikéyin stood up, prompting Hero Machina to do the same. “I think we’re done here. I’ll see what I can do as far as getting you onto Rossindon. In the meantime, continue to investigate any possible leads from the Hazard Island incident. And if you need me, as usual, I’ll be in my office. Dismissed!”
Hero Machina saluted Nikéyin and paused momentarily as the Commander left the room. The moment she did, they all relaxed, though Kievkenalis and Kaoné quickly made for the exit themselves.
“Hey, where are you going?” Kevérin questioned.
“Some more information from the RPF came in today,” Kievkenalis responded, “I think I might find another lead on the Hazard Islands infection.”
“Oh. Well… go do that, yeah,” the Transfer Captain replied as the two Chaotics left the room. He then turned toward Davídrius and Christeané and gestured for them to follow him. “C’mon, I need some help.”
“Eh?” Davídrius responded, “what for?”
The Transfer Captain glanced at the Velocitechnic with mild irritation. “Should it matter?”
Rebehka and Siyuakén exchanged apprehensive looks. “Here we go…” the Electrotechnic muttered.
“Hey, whoa, calm down.” Christeané stepped in between Davídrius and Kevérin, oblivious to Siyuakén’s comment. “I think it’s a valid question. You can’t just expect us to follow you because you said so.”
“What? Yes I can,” Kevérin insisted, “what’s it say on my uniform?”
“…You’re pullin’ rank?” Davídrius smirked spitefully.
“Yeah. I’m the CO of Hero Machina. You guys have to listen to me.”
“Not unquestioningly,” Christeané countered, “in battle, maybe, but I’m not just going to roll over and let you walk all over me because you’re a whole rank above me and have a fancy ‘Transfer’ designation.”
“Look, I don’t know how this works in East Nimaliaka, but here…”
“Let’s go,” Rebehka whispered as she placed a hand on Siyuakén’s shoulder and tugged slightly. The Electrotechnic quickly nodded and the two bowed out of the meeting room, their departure granted but a brief glance from Kevérin.
Once clear from the meeting room, the two women sighed wearily.
“Boys…” Rebehka shook her head.
“I knew this would happen sooner or later,” Siyuakén commented, “Davídrius and Christeané are too headstrong, and Kevérin…”
“Isn’t?” Rebehka finished.
“…Yeah. You could say that.”
“Kevérin actually brought this up almost a week ago… to be honest, I’m not sure if he’s ever actually been in charge before.”
“’Not sure?’” Siyuakén echoed incredulously. “Just goes to show how little we all know about each other.”
“Doesn’t help that it seems like everyone’s at each other’s throats…”
“Heh, like Davídrius and Kaoné?”
“To an extent, you, too.” Rebehka made pointed eye-contact with her friend. “I heard your comment back on Teghica, after Davídrius shouted down Kaoné, you know.”
“…So?” Siyuakén replied uneasily.
“Siyuakén, if there’s something wrong…”
“…It’s…” The Electrotechnic paused and sighed. “Okay, I guess… I dunno. Kaoné’s, just…”
“I… hate to ask, but does this have anything to do with the fact that you, um, that she was exchanged for you?”
Siyuakén paused, momentarily startled at the event being referenced out loud. Chaotic Exchanges were an old practice on Nimalia, wherein the five continent-nations would come together to redistribute newly-developed Chaotics around the globe, so as to keep the overall power of the nations in balance. Forcefully relocating ten-year-old children rarely resulted in positive experiences, however, and the spread of the Nimalians into space rendered the practice effectively obsolete anyways. For well over a hundred years, no Chaotic Exchanges had been made — but then the Chaos Energy Quake occurred, drastically lowering the Chaotic birthrate during that year. And on top of that, one of the Chaotics born during the Quake was a Materiatechnic, one of the most powerful types of Chaotic. When coupled with the fact that this Materiatechnic was born in the only continent-nation to have two Chaotic births in that year, the rest of the nations decided that they couldn’t let this stand. In response — as a one-time event — the practice of exchanging Chaotics was resurrected, thereby forcefully relocating two ten-year-olds across the world. One of those children was Kaoné, originally born in Relédiaka… and the other was Siyuakén, originally born in Nimaliaka.
Siyuakén glanced around warily, checking for any other presences in the hallway. Rebehka had been right on the mark when she broached the topic, and while Siyuakén was fine discussing the matter with her friend, she had no desire to share her past with unrelated third parties.
The Electrotechnic’s unease wasn’t lost on Rebehka. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to dig up bad memories. Let’s talk about something else—”
“No, it’s fine. Your guess was right, anyways, and I’d rather get this out of my system now.”
Rebehka frowned. “I thought you had gotten over the exchange.”
“That’s what I thought, too.” Siyuakén shrugged. “But that was before I actually met Kaoné. I mean… don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I ended up in Relédiaka and met you, but… she’s who I was exchanged for? She’s the reason I had to leave my entire life behind in Nimaliaka when I was ten?”
“Sorry, I’m not sure I follow? What’s wrong with Kaoné…?”
“You know how Kevérin said that she was conscripted as a Chaotic? And then had to get promoted to Lieutenant?”
“Back when we were getting Davídrius, on Treséd? She told me she was conscripted as a Lieutenant. She said it was the same for all Nimaliakian Chaotics, so it definitely wasn’t just a mistake.”
“Oh… well, maybe Kevérin’s the one who got it wrong?”
“I thought that too, so I checked. Turns out, he’s right. Kaoné had to get promoted, just like any other conscript. She lied to me.”
“And then she wouldn’t even help us fight the Bleeders. The Bleeders, Rebehka! If you had to pick one group in our solar cluster to fight, it’d be them! Not to mention all of the fights she’s sat out of because she ‘doesn’t want to hurt anyone.’”
“I think I see, then… you think she’s trivializing what you went through because of the exchange?”
“Pretty much, yeah. I mean… I don’t quite think shes doing it on purpose, but… there’s still the fact that she lied, and I have no idea why. I don’t know what to think of her, but she’s… just, argh!”
“Siyuakén…” Rebehka paused for a moment, and then leaned in to give her friend a hug.
“Thanks,” Siyuakén responded gratefully.
“You know… it might be worth it to bring this up with Kaoné,” Rebehka suggested after the two released each other. “I doubt you’re the only one who was upset by the exchange. She might have good reasons for her current beliefs and actions.”
“Yeah…” Siyuakén sighed. “…You’re probably right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Rebehka replied cheekily, “when have I ever been wrong?”
“Oho, so we’re going there?” Siyuakén smirked. “I distinctly remember there being this one trip to East Nimaliaka that you said wouldn’t take much longer than a day or two.”
“Hey, that wasn’t my fault. Besides, you have to admit, Christeané showed us some great places around the region. We should really go back to Deepsough at some point…”
The two women continued conversing as they began walking down the hall, the issues within Hero Machina temporarily behind them.
“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t realize how much data there’d be to look through…”
Kaoné sighed impatiently, but couldn’t bring herself to be truly irritated at Kievkenalis. “You’d think you’d know how much data you’re asking for when you request it.”
“Well, kinda.” Kievkenalis shrugged. “I just contacted the RPF intel department and requested a bunch of information related to shipping routes near the Hazard Islands.”
“You didn’t ask them to sort or process the information at all?”
“Well… no. I thought that’s what we were supposed to be doing?”
Kaoné shook her head in disbelief. “I thought you were supposed to be able to get almost anything you wanted.”
“Because I’m a Chaostechnic? Well yeah, but I’d burn a lot of bridges if I asked everyone else to do my work for me all the time.”
“Even though… even with what’s expected of you?”
“Huh?” Kievkenalis passed a confused glanced to Kaoné. “What do you mean?”
“You’re a Chaostechnic, so you’re basically expected to fight and, you know…”
“Kill?” Kievkenalis shrugged again. “Sure, but I’m usually used for defense. Support and Defensive abilities. I don’t do a lot of real fighting myself.”
“Yeah, but… when you have that expected of you, you don’t… you don’t care?”
“Fun fact: there’s been several studies that show a correlation between Chaostechnism and sociopathy.”
“That was a joke.” Kievkenalis grinned cheekily. “…At least, the part where I implied that I was a sociopath was a joke.”
Kaoné frowned. “Kevken…”
“I’m actually kinda curious why you have such a strong aversion to fighting,” the Chaostechnic replied as he turned his gaze back to the computer in front of him and began typing away. “You were perfectly fine fighting the security mechs back on Teghica, so it’s not fighting itself you don’t like. It’s fighting people, right?”
“Well, why’s that? Something big must’ve happened to you if you made it all the way through a Chaotic ‘education’ and still have a strong aversion to fighting people… especially as a Materiatechnic. You must’ve received one of the best educations in Nimaliaka.”
“That’s easy to say, but…”
Kaoné glanced over at Kievkenalis and then back to her computer. “…I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Huh?” Kievkenalis perked up and returned his attention to Kaoné. “Why not?”
“…Oh. Well, okay then.”
Kaoné watched Kievkenalis return his full attention to his computer, without showing any concern whatsoever for the conversation he had just dropped. “…How do you do it?”
“Do what?” he questioned without even looking up.
“You seem so carefree, but at the same time, so focused… I don’t know how you do it.”
“Eh, it’s not hard,” Kievkenalis replied airily, “I just kinda know what I need to do, and I do it. That’s all.”
“What?” The Chaostechnic glanced at Kaoné cluelessly.
She shook her head in response. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand you,” she commented amusedly.
“General Rantéin says that a lot, too,” Kievkenalis replied, “not sure why you think that, but whatever.” He then paused for a few moments. “Oh, hmm. I think I found something.”
“Already?!” Kaoné exclaimed, “what is it?”
“It’s another SFC lead… except this time it’s a shipment from one of their own bases, instead of from some other galactic organization. This one was about twelve years ago, too. No ocean events, though the flight path comes within a hundred kilometers of the main island in the Hazard Islands group… I guess that’s close enough?”
“That doesn’t sound as solid as back when you found the information on Teghica, and we didn’t even find anything there…”
“No, but the RPF has been wary of SFC outposts for a long time now, particularly this one. Only the RPF has the authority to found outposts outside the Nimalian Territories; I mean, the SFC can set up outposts too, if they want, but they aren’t recognized by any government.”
“What’s so bad about this outpost, then?”
“It’s two Transpace jumps and another half-week FTL jump down the unclaimed galactic arm. They’ve been doing suspicious things for many years now, but the RPF has never had a legitimate reason to launch a raid… but now, our infection investigation may be just the reason the RPF needs.”
“Wait, the SFC is setting up outposts that far outside of Nimalian space?… What is this outpost?”
“It’s actually a Tier 4 World, so not quite just an outpost. It’s more similar to an unofficial, low-key Fortress World… it’s SFC outpost 19, Kotak.”