2 Weeks Later
– Mondia, Solith 20, 8034 –
“We’ve almost arrived at Rossindon.”
“About time,” Kevérin muttered as he stepped forward to stand next to Captain Krost of the RPF Frigate Frasis. “I had no idea how boring it would be to be trapped on a Frigate for two weeks.”
“Trapped, you say?” The Captain glanced toward the Pyrotechnic incredulously.
“Er… nothing against your ship, sir,” the Transfer Captain immediately backpedaled.
“Ha, it’s fine,” Krost remarked with a smirk. “You planetsiders always say the same thing when you travel through space. I’ve come to expect it.”
“I can at least appreciate Nimalian design,” a Siion woman remarked as she stepped next to Krost, across from Kevérin. “Black Suns ships are far more cramped. And generally not ventilated as well, either.”
Krost nodded in acknowledgment. “Glad to know you approve, Commander.” He glanced back to Kevérin before taking a seat in the captain’s chair and looking up at the Frigate’s bridge display. “I take it you two know the drill once we exit FTL, Tyrion, Krydonin?”
“I get us clearance to land, we land, then we investigate,” the Siion, Krydonin, responded as she stretched her two-jointed legs. “There’s not much to it.”
“I agree, it seems simple enough,” Kevérin replied, “this isn’t like the raid on Kotak. Did we really need to come here with two Frigates and a Cruiser?”
“The Frasis, Phendris, and Jevnorus go everywhere together,” Krost declared. “It’s precaution. You’ll have to forgive me for assuming, Commander, but given the galactic circumstances at the moment, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to assume that Sector 2 would try to bully us if we brought only a Frigate.”
“…You speak the truth,” Krydonin admitted, “all eyes are on Tyrnaus and the Syraus. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rossindon outpost tried to take advantage of the diverted attention to shrug off our investigation.”
Kevérin passed the Commander a wary glance as he considered her words. The Syraus Protectorate and the Riaxen Federation were two highly advanced war-locked nations located in one of the galaxy’s outer arms, isolated from most of the galaxy by Dead Space, which inhibited faster than light travel. Tyrnaus was the home of the Transpace on the near border of Syraus space, serving as the primary link between the Syraus and the rest of the galaxy. This link was incredibly important to the Syraus, as they were the only entity standing in between the Riaxen and their expansionist dreams of conquering and colonizing the galaxy — and the Syraus often found themselves requesting aid from the CSA or the Nimalians to help fend off Riaxen attacks. Therefore, maintaining control of the Tyrnaus system was a practical necessity, but few considered it likely to fall anytime soon. For the Riaxen to stage an attack on Tyrnaus, they would either have to push through and conquer the entirety of Syraus space, or sit through two months of FTL travel and then stage a siege with no supply lines, which was considered by all to be impractical… and then three and a half weeks ago, a huge fleet of Riaxen spacecraft did exactly that. They forced their way into Syraus territory by means of Transpace and then jumped into FTL in the direction of Tyrnaus. The apparent disregard for logistics seemed incredibly short-sighted and irresponsible, but the Syraus were forced to assume that the Riaxen had some kind of plan — and so immediately began to fortify the Tyrnaus system in preparation for a siege. When Hero Machina left to investigate Rossindon, the fortification process was still ongoing, and the Syraus had officially requested aid from the CSA, Nimalians, and the Black Suns. And now…
“We’ve been in FTL for two weeks, so we haven’t heard anything about the situation at Tyrnaus,” Kevérin mused. “…What do you think has happened?”
Captain Krost sighed apprehensively. “Given their level of tech, the Riaxen fleet will probably arrive at Tyrnaus in the next day or two. Then they’ll battle it out with the Syraus and the allied fleet. Hopefully, the Syraus will be able to hold Tyrnaus, because if they don’t…”
“Then the Riaxen will be only one Transpace jump from Nimalia…” Kevérin frowned.
“And more importantly, it means that they’ll have access to the rest of the galaxy,” Krydonin pointed out. “The Syraus have been the only thing standing between the Riaxen and their expansionist goals for millennia. If the Riaxen manage to break through the Syraus, then not only Nimalia, but the CSA itself might as well be doomed. Having to fight off the Drakkars on one side and the Riaxen on the other would break them.”
“Here’s to hoping we won’t have to worry about that,” Krost remarked. “…Alright, back to the mission. Here we go. Dropping out of FTL in five… four… three… two…”
The ship lurched, and almost immediately afterward the bridge display lit up with a wealth of information accompanied by a holographic display of the planet of Rossindon.
“Frasis to Phendris, Jevnorus,” Krost spoke after flipping on the ship’s comms, “everything clear?”
“Everything’s clear, Krost,” came the reply, “no ships on scan. Orbit’s clean.”
“Alright.” The Captain nodded before turning to one of the officers on the bridge. “Connect us to the Rossindon outpost.”
“Yes sir, connecting to the Rossindon outpost.”
“Well, Commander…” Krost glanced back to the Siion woman. “You’re up.”
Krydonin acknowledged the Captain with a curt nod before moving up to the comms console and leaning down over the mic. “Sector 2 Outpost Rossindon, this is Sector 1 Commander Sinstis Krydonin, report. Repeat, this is Sector 1 Commander Sinstis Krydonin. Report.”
“Outpost Rossindon reporting in. Requesting ID confirmation.”
“Submitting.” Krydonin tapped a couple keys on the console in front of her. “…Sent.”
“…ID confirmed. What do you want, Commander?”
“I request outpost ground access for the RPF Frigates Frasis and Phendris.”
The Commander paused momentarily, her lips pursed. “…Excuse me?”
“Your request has been denied, Commander.”
“We carry the authority of Master General Brennon Greant, outpost. The order was sent before we arrived.”
“The statute Greant used to override General Regek’s visitation block affords you access to the planet as a whole, but does not state that we are forced to allow you access to the outpost. You have been warned: any attempts to land within a hundred kilometers of our base will be interpreted as an act of aggression, and we will respond accordingly. We carry the authority of Master General Sike Regek. Transmission over.”
“…Damn it,” Krydonin growled. “Leave it to Sector 2 to get pedantic.”
“Well… what are we supposed to do now?” Kevérin questioned, “there’s supposed to be an Ayas here.”
“If they haven’t found it already, then I guarantee they’re looking for it,” Krydonin responded. “They’ve had at least two weeks’ forewarning. It’s likely that they’ve forbade us from landing within a hundred kilometers of the outpost because that’s where they’ve narrowed down the location of the Ayas to.”
“Hmm…” Krost stood up from his captain’s chair and stepped forward, hands clasped behind his back as he stared up at the bridge display. “…Start a planet scan,” he ordered, “coordinate scanners with the Phendris and Jevnorus. Initial focal point: the outpost. Filter results using the retrofitted Ayas scanner.”
“Wait, we have the Ayas scanner on board?” Kevérin balked. “Why not just scan down the Ayas?”
“It was designed for scanning the entire galaxy, not single planets,” the Captain replied, “it won’t return an accurate result on its own. We can only use it to better guess where the Ayas is, hopefully before Sector 2 finds it.” A nearby console beeped twice, drawing Krost’s attention back to the bridge display where the image of Rossindon had been rotated so that the outpost was in the center of the display. Two flashing dots appeared on opposite sides of the outpost, marking locations of interest on the planet’s surface. “…Looks like you’re right, Commander. Both locations of interest are roughly eighty kilometers from the outpost.”
“One is a mountain peak… the other seems to be below ground…” Krydonin observed.
“In caves?” Kevérin glanced between the two. “…It’s definitely the caves. We should look there.”
“How are you so sure?”
“Both the Master Ayas and the Black Ayas were found in caves, and the Black Ayas even had a pedestal, as if it belonged there,” Kevérin answered. “I think it’s reasonable that another Ayas would be in caves. Besides, a cave network next to a clearing is far more easily searched than a mountain peak. We should at least check there first.”
Krost nodded. “He has a point. Hmm… Commander, do the Black Suns have grade three or higher sensor equipment?”
“We have the technology, but it’s doubtful that a small outpost like Rossindon would be equipped with it,” Krydonin remarked. “…So, you intend to defy their warning?”
“It’s clear they never intended to cooperate in the first place.” Krost returned to his captain’s chair. “And if they don’t even have grade three sensor equipment, then the Frasis and Phendris can easily slip through. If we’re fast enough, they won’t even know we were there.”
“And if they somehow manage to detect you?”
“We didn’t bring along a Cruiser for nothing, Commander.”
“…Reasonable.” Krydonin nodded. “So be it. I will support your decision. If you intend to make planetfall, do so soon. I’ll gather my team.”
“Ah, so will I,” Kevérin added.
“Good,” Krost responded, “gather in the landing bays when you’re ready. We should be ground-side within the hour. Good luck, Commander, Transfer Captain.”
4 Hours Later
“There’s nothing here.”
“You can’t say that until we’ve mapped the caves completely,” Kevérin countered.
“As if we’re actually gonna explore the entire damn cave network,” Davídrius drawled. “You don’t know how big this place is. That could take weeks! Months! Years, even!”
“We’re not going to search the entirety of the cave network.” Rebehka rolled her eyes. “We only need to look around the area where the scanners picked up an Ayas signature.”
“Though I’m surprised we haven’t found anything by now…” Kievkenalis mused as Hero Machina slowly walked through the cave, Kevérin leading with a flashlight in hand to illuminate the way. “We’ve been in this cave for close to an hour, and it hasn’t forked yet.”
“The caves on Sunova and Kotak were just as linear,” Siyuakén remarked. “There weren’t many forks. I guess that further suggests that the Ayas is here?”
“We won’t actually know ‘til we find somethin’. Which we haven’t,” Davídrius deadpanned. “Y’all are jumpin’ to conclusions pretty quick.”
“We’re not jumping to conclusions, we’re… spotting patterns,” Kevérin replied cheekily before stopping suddenly. “…Well, huh. It’s a fork.”
Kaoné frowned as she glanced between the diverging caves. “What now?…”
Kevérin looked back at the group. “…Only two of us can produce light on our own… alright, we’ll split into two groups. Two of you will follow me, and we’ll check out one of the paths. Siyuakén and the other three will stay here and wait for the Black Suns to catch up while they lay down the cave lighting and comm system. Who’s with me?”
“I am,” Davídrius immediately volunteered. “I ain’t gonna waste my time just standin’ around.”
“Guess I’ll go too, then.” Christeané stepped forward.
Siyuakén nodded in acknowledgment. “We’ll stick around here. Once the Black Suns have caught up, we’ll check out the path that you don’t.”
“Sounds good,” Kevérin replied, and then turned to the right as Siyuakén held her hands close together and began arcing enough electricity across them to create light. The Pyrotechnic and two Introtechnics proceeded down the cave, leaving the rest of Hero Machina behind.
“…I really hope the Ayas is here,” Davídrius grumbled after several minutes of silent walking. “Otherwise we’ll have wasted four damn hours…”
“Keep in mind we’re not only here for the Ayas,” Kevérin commented, “the main reason we’re here is actually to investigate the Chaos Quake. The Ayas is just a bonus.”
“And how are we supposed to do that, exactly?” Christeané questioned.
“Nice to know you thought this through,” Davídrius deadpanned.
“Look, I thought that we were going to be able to visit the actual outpost,” Kevérin countered. “I didn’t expect this bureaucratic bullshit from the Black Suns, so the Ayas ended up becoming a priority instead. And it’s significant in its own right, yeah, but we should still try to learn something about the Quake.”
“I’ll be sure to get right on that. I’m sure inspectin’ the rock make-up of these caves will provide invaluable information.”
“Nice to know you’re being as helpful as ever.”
“I try my best.”
“…But actually, Kevérin, what did you expect to find?” Christeané asked again, “did you just expect the Black Suns to admit to causing the Quake?”
“No,” the Pyrotechnic snorted. “But they could have important information or leads. Small as the Rossindon outpost is, it’s been here since before the Quake. They must have seen or heard something.”
“Assuming that the fact we’re at the ‘hypocenter’ of the Chaos Quake actually means anything,” Christeané pointed out.
“Also assumin’ that the hypocenter is actually within this solar system and that you weren’t off by a few light years,” Davídrius added.
“Yeah, yeah, I get your point.” Kevérin waved their concerns away. “Let’s just look for the Ayas. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll stumble across something that will give us the answers we want.”
“What, like another AI?” Davídrius snorted. “Because the one from Kotak sure helped a lot.”
“Actually… that may be it.”
“Oh no,” Davídrius deadpanned, “we did not just stumble across another computer. No way.”
“We might just have…” Kevérin commented as the three stepped into a mid-sized stone room. Two more cave pathways left the room, splitting the circular wall into thirds; in the center of the room stood a thick metallic column. As the Transfer Captain stepped closer to it, a holographic display popped up; a few seconds later, a full holographic Nimalian interface appeared as well.
“NEWCOMER SCAN COMPLETE. IDENTIFIED AS ALDREDAS-ADJACENT RACE. INTENTIONS… LIKELY NON-MALEVOLENT.”
“You’re kidding…” Christeané let his arms drop in awe. “We actually found another AI?”
“…AI, HMM. THAT IS NOT QUITE A PROPER DESCRIPTION. MY TRUE DESIGNATION IS MYSTRYTH, A VIGILEM PRIOR.”
“…Wow,” Davídrius remarked, “…well ain’t this really fuckin’ convenient?”