7 Days Later
Aboard RPF Frigate Krosus
“I still can’t believe how quickly the RPF was ready to move out…”
“We’ve had eyes on Kotak for several years now,” Kievkenalis explained, “the SFC are a really shady group. The moment we catch wind of anything suspicious, we move in and shut them down, if appropriate. It’s all we can do to keep them from getting out of hand.”
“It’s one thing to ‘have eyes’ on them,” Rebehka responded incredulously, “it’s another to have two fully-armed Cruisers sitting a half-week jump away!”
The Chaostechnic shrugged. “This is how the RPF does things. There’s at least one Cruiser in range of every SFC outpost we know of, for situations exactly like this.”
“And because of that, we’re already almost at Kotak!” Christeané exclaimed, “come on, why are we complaining about this? We’re about to see some action!”
“Eh, probably not,” Kievkenalis refuted, “the SFC is usually pretty compliant with RPF ‘raids.’ Usually we just barge in, do a quick investigation, and then pull out just as quickly if we don’t find anything suspicious. Keeps the peace.”
Kaoné sighed of relief. “Oh, that’s good to know.”
Davídrius glanced over at her. “You—”
“Not here,” Kevérin cut in, “we’re minutes from dropping out of FTL, and planetfall is shortly after that.”
“If you wanted to argue, you should’ve done it two hours ago, before suiting up and sitting in the damn shuttle,” Kevérin cut Davídrius off again. “We’re lucky enough that both Commander Nikéyin and General Rantéin allowed us to participate in this raid, so don’t botch it up. Our track record for screwing up off-world missions is two for four at this point; let’s try to keep that number down.”
Shortly after Kevérin had finished speaking, a small door at the front of the passenger compartment of the shuttle opened up. A young Nimalian man stuck his head around the doorway. “Five minutes ‘til FTL drop out,” he declared. “Assuming the SFC don’t have a significant space presence, we’ll launch as soon as the Cruiser decelerates. Planetfall should be in about ten minutes.”
“Thanks.” Kievkenalis nodded toward the pilot in acknowledgment. “We’ll be ready.”
The pilot nodded back and returned his attention to the shuttle controls, shutting and locking the door behind him.
“Alright, this is it,” Kevérin began, “you all know the drill. We’re Chaotics, so we’re part of the vanguard force. The moment we reach disembarkation altitude, we all jump. Rebehka, Kotak isn’t a desert planet, so you shouldn’t have any trouble creating an ice platform; you can take care of descent for yourself and Siyuakén. Kaoné, you’re with Kevken. Davídrius, Christeané, I’m sure you two can handle a short fall.”
“I’d hardly call five hundred meters a short fall,” Davídrius deadpanned.
“If you can survive being hit by my hammers then you should be fine,” Christeané remarked.
“Exactly,” Kevérin affirmed, “now, once we’re ground-side, the goal is to secure the compound. Stick together, and follow the orders of the nearest RPF Colonel if we find one. Otherwise, Kevken and I have authority to lead Hero Machina on our own. And, lastly — don’t attack anyone unless they attack you first. We’re not here to destroy the SFC, we’re here to see if there’s any connections or hints about the metallic infection.”
“Sure thing, dad,” Davídrius retorted as he rolled his eyes. “Anything else you want to warn us about?”
“…Yes, actually.” Kevérin passed the Velocitechnic an irate glance. “We’re all wearing the new prototype Chaos Armor. Now, they are prototypes, but they have been tested. They should stand up fine in battle. But if we come across a CENT field, we’re withdrawing immediately. Don’t overestimate your strength.”
Kevérin stared at Davídrius, and then looked down at the satchel he was wearing. Inside was Hastryth — the dark blue Ayas. “Yes, even you,” the Transfer Captain eventually asserted. “I don’t care that you can operate in CENT fields, you stick with the group unless ordered otherwise. Understood?”
Davídrius scowled and made to retort, but the entire shuttle jolted, distracting him from his thoughts.
“That’s the FTL drop out,” the Transfer Captain declared. “We’re here. Get ready.”
The seven members of Hero Machina quickly fastened themselves to the shuttle’s safety harnesses in preparation for launch. Kevérin and Kievkenalis, as the only two present to have ever spent time on spacecraft before, braced themselves for the second jolt of the docking clamps releasing the shuttle… but the jolt never came.
“…So, uh,” Davídrius spoke up impatiently, “what’re we waitin’ for—?”
He was cut off as the entire shuttle rocked violently, the safety harnesses only barely keeping the seven Chaotics in place.
“What was that?!” Rebehka exclaimed.
“That was not the docking clamps releasing.” Kevérin scowled. “…Were we fired on?!”
“Looks like we were.” The pilot’s voice came out over a small speaker near the door to the cockpit. “There’s a single SFC Cruiser in orbit. The Syndisus. Somehow they think they can fend off both the Krosus and Naetolus at the same time… ha! This’ll only be a short delay. We’ll launch soon, but expect a bumpy ride down.” The shuttle suddenly jolted again, but in a much more subdued and controlled manner. “There it is. We’re clear of the docking clamps. Engaging inertial dampeners… launching! Planetfall in five!”
“W-wait, already?!” Kaoné exclaimed, “is— is this safe?!”
“We’ll be fine,” Kievkenalis waved her off, “like their name says, the SFC usually relies on stealth. They don’t have a chance in a straightforward battle against two RPF Cruisers.”
“Don’t they also have the word ‘force’ in their name?” Christeané countered.
“…Well, yes, but that part of their name is basically a relic from over a hundred years ago.”
“Which makes you wonder why they attacked us in the first place,” Kevérin muttered.
Davídrius smirked. “Well I guess this does away with that ‘wait ‘til you’re attacked to attack’ thing, huh?”
The Transfer Captain glanced at the Velocitechnic and then admitted begrudgingly, “I suppose so… but don’t get carried away.” He turned to fully face Davídrius and stated pointedly, “don’t kill if you don’t have to.”
“…Everyone always assumes I’m just gonna go off and kill someone,” Davídrius lamented with a scowl, “I haven’t killed anyone since, like… over two months ago.”
“Your attitude is exactly why we’re all wary,” Kaoné countered.
“Shut it, Ms. Useless,” Davídrius snapped.
“You too, Davídrius,” Kevérin ordered.
“…Tch,” the Velocitechnic snorted, but didn’t reply further.
The following several minutes passed in silence. The shuttle began to shake gently as they entered the atmosphere, and then jolted again as it switched to air-breathing engines.
“Planetfall in t-minus ten seconds,” the pilot’s voice appeared a minute later. The seven Chaotics quickly began undoing the safety harnesses as the pilot counted down. When he reached zero, two hatches slid open, one on either side of the shuttle, allowing the rushing winds to enter the shuttle and begin whipping around hair and Chaos Robes alike.
“Here we go!” Kevérin shouted over the wind, “see you ground-side!” He flung himself from the shuttle, taking a moment to observe his surroundings before pointing himself in a ground-ward dive.
“…You know, I said this would be easy…” Kaoné looked down at the ground below apprehensively after Christeané, Rebehka, and Siyuakén had all followed Kevérin. “But, uh… now that I’m actually here…”
“Something else that you’re scared of, eh?” Davídrius crossed his arms as he stood behind her.
“Well, sort of— uagh!!” Kaoné yelped as she was suddenly shoved out the hatch.
“Oops! Sorry, I think I slipped!” Davídrius shouted after her. He smirked and then glanced over at Kievkenalis just in time to catch the Chaostechnic shaking his head in disapproval. He promptly leaped after Kaoné, leaving Davídrius alone in the shuttle.
“…Hardasses, the lot of ‘em,” the Velocitechnic grumbled before throwing himself out the hatch.
Farther down, Kevérin was already meeting the first signs of resistance in the form of anti-air rounds. He barely avoided being hit by one before bathing the entire aerospace around him in fire, following up with launching fireballs at every anti-air platform he could reasonably identify from hundreds of meters in the air. As he rapidly approached the ground, he was able to recognize more and more of the compound’s weaponry — including a laser cannon that had just unpacked itself and was now aiming in his direction. He had no time to react before it fired — he instead instinctively flinched, before realizing that a massive ice shield had formed around him just in time to block the laser blast.
“You’re welcome!” Rebehka shouted as she fell past, Siyuakén on her tail. The Cryotechnic then spun herself around and created an ice platform midair, controlling the ice itself to catch herself and Siyuakén and gradually slow their descent. At that point, Kevérin fell past them again, confident in his abilities to catch himself with flame jets as he continued launching fireballs at the various military hardware.
That is, until he realized that his fireballs were dissipating prematurely.
“…CENT fields,” he muttered to himself, “it would figure…!” He immediately blasted himself to the side, changing his trajectory to land some distance outside of the compound instead of directly in it. “Watch yourselves!!” he shouted upward as he activated his wireless communicator, “they have CENT fields!!”
“Of course they do…” Christeané’s irritation was evident even over the audio-only connection. The Transfer Captain watched as the rest of Hero Machina slowly changed their falling trajectory to match his own before turning his attention back to the ground and initiating his flame jets to slow his descent. He landed softly on the dirt nearly a hundred meters from the compound’s outermost wall and set up a flame barrier to incinerate any incoming projectiles as the rest of Hero Machina began landing around him.
“Rebehka… Siyuakén… Christeané…” Kevérin acknowledged each as they landed on the ground. “Kaoné, Kevken… …where’s Davídrius?”
His question was answered by an explosion in the distance, somewhere around the area that they had originally been aiming for.
“He went directly for the compound?” Siyuakén facepalmed. “Even after the CENT field warning?”
“I tried to catch him, but he told me to go away…” Kaoné commented.
“…It would figure,” Kevérin growled. “He has the Ayas. He ignored my explicit orders because he’s too damn confident in the thing… damn it!”
“What do we do?” Kaoné questioned warily.
“…We go after him,” the Transfer Captain replied begrudgingly, “if he at least knows what he’s doing, he’ll disable the CENT fields. We can take advantage of that opening.” He began running toward the compound, gesturing for the rest of Hero Machina to follow. “Christeané, you’re with me! We’ll try to catch up with Davídrius. The rest of you, watch our backs! Try not to get separated!”
Davídrius flung the blade end of Hastryth forwards, piercing a steel door clean through. He then tossed the handle into the air and flipped, snatching the handle with his foot and yanking hard enough to rip the door off its hinges. He dismissed the Ayas weapon to detach it from the door and then re-summoned it just in time to rapidly block a bullet barrage. The moment an opening appeared he dashed forward with amazing speed, obliterating the turret with a single kick and then flooring the two soldiers behind it with Hastryth’s tether. One of them launched a blast of fire in his direction, but his armor’s energy shielding deflected the hit. The Velocitechnic grinned and launched himself forward, cutting down the two soldiers before either could offer further resistance.
Without offering the two new corpses so much as a glance, Davídrius bounded forwards and rounded a corner, maintaining his speed as he barreled through two small security mechs and another three SFC soldiers. He drew his sword — a side-arm, for if he somehow lost the Ayas — and held it in one hand and Hastryth’s handle in the other before spinning around in a tight circle just as he passed the barricade, ripping all of the defenders to shreds. He paused momentarily at the next hallway intersection and was about to launch himself to the right before he noticed dark red discolorings all over the lower areas of his armor’s robing.
“Aw, what the hell?” he muttered irately, “blood stains already? The shielding doesn’t even shield the robes? Damn prototype.” He then prepared to dash off, but was interrupted again — this time by a voice over the compound’s intercom.
“…’Quakeborn?’” he echoed incredulously as he looked up at the intercom speaker. “Who’s there? Can you hear me?”
“YES. THIS BASE’S INTERCOM SYSTEM HAS BI-DIRECTIONAL CAPABILITY, SO I CAN INDEED HEAR YOU,” the booming, slightly robotic voice replied.
“Keh, alright. So, who are you? What d’ya want? I’m kinda busy, here.”
“SHOULD YOU DISREGARD MY WORDS, YOU SHALL SOON BE FAR BUSIER.”
The Velocitechnic crossed his arms impatiently. “The fuck are you on about?”
“YOU HAVE ARRIVED ON THIS PLANET WITH EXCELLENT TIMING. THIS SFC GROUP CANNOT BE TRUSTED WITH AN AYAS, YET IF IT IS NOT RETRIEVED SOON, IT WILL BE LOST TO A FAR WORSE ENTITY…”
“An Ayas? What? Where? …Why should I even trust you? You ain’t even told me who you are yet!”
“MY IDENTITY BESTOWS TRUST. FOR NOW, I AM TRAPPED AS THIS BASE’S PRIMARY COMPUTER SYSTEM, BUT BEFORE I WAS MUCH GREATER. I AM AN AEGIS PRIOR. MY NAME IS ARCÁN.”