2 Days Later
– Firdia, Skydiath 8, 8034 –
(Monday, February 10, 2110)
“Less than half an hour until arrival, sir!”
“This is it, Nimalians…” Chief Captain Peter Krick muttered, “I’d hoped that the first Nimalian trip to Earth would be under more peaceful circumstances, but, well…”
“This is a really bad time to be dealing with civil conflicts,” Kevérin responded, his arms crossed.
“That’s easy for you to say; you’ve been dealing on the galactic stage for centuries. We Earthians only started dipping our toes in interstellar travel fifteen years ago, and SERRCom itself is barely ten years old.” Krick glanced back at Kevérin and Kaoné wearily. “This was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s just our luck that it had to be sooner.”
“Um, if you don’t mind me asking,” Kaoné spoke up uneasily, “…exactly what are you talking about?”
The Earthian Captain sighed and stretched before fully swiveling his commanders’ chair around to face the two members of Hero Machina. “Basically, it’s a power struggle. One of the nations on Earth is throwing a fit that it doesn’t have the authority to do what SERRCom does — that is, pretty much everything that has anything to do with anything outside our solar system. So they’re waving their dick around and trying to get SERRCom to rise to the bait so they can beat us down and show the rest of the world that they can do our job better.”
“This sounds like it should be easy to deal with,” Kevérin replied. “You’re the ones with the spacecraft; I’d say it’s pretty clear who the boss is. Besides, I thought SERRCom started out as a joint international organization, surely there’s a better way of handling this than with force.”
“I wish there was, but the Americans aren’t really happy that their 150 years of power was abruptly cut short because some random alien races stepped in and decided that Earth needed a different organization to represent it.” Krick snorted. “At least, that’s how the government is behaving.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Alright… let’s back up to ten years ago. First encounter. I think we dialed a CSA planet… regardless, as soon as the CSA realized that we Earthians existed, they swooped in and demanded that we create a unified representative body to, well, represent us. They didn’t want to have to deal with over a hundred individual entities for a single planet — that’s what led to the creation of SERRCom. The thing is, the CSA forcing us to create SERRCom like they did was basically holding a gun to our heads. Everyone was running scared — out of nowhere, these super-advanced aliens who had already colonized a quarter of the galaxy were demanding things of us, so who were we to say ‘no?’ We didn’t want to risk bad first impressions or, worse, being attacked and wiped out. It wasn’t until a couple years later that we realized that the CSA wasn’t really hostile, and ever since then, the more powerful nations on Earth have been trying to lobby themselves into positions of interstellar power, all while SERRCom is trying to keep hold of the reins. Which wasn’t hard, since we’re the ones dealing with all you advanced races, but now…” Krick frowned. “…I don’t know how — probably because they have the Interstellar Gate, I guess — but the Americans got their hands on an Ayas.”
“You mean, the guys who’re upset that SERRCom is in power?” Kevérin questioned.
“Yeah. They must’ve found it some time ago, too, because they only just recently revealed a massive network of anti-orbital railguns that all hook into the Ayas for power. They almost took out one of our Frigates before it jumped away.”
“Wait, anti-orbital railguns?!” Kaoné exclaimed incredulously, “and you’re just going to exit FTL on top of them?!”
“Don’t worry; they’re of no threat to the Genesis. This Battlecruiser was created by the Master Ayas itself, after all, and it’s got all kinds of advanced tech. Plus its technical specifications have been classified; there’s no way the Americans could’ve accounted for it when designing their weapons.”
“Then why can’t you just bombard the shit out of the bastards?” Kevérin suggested.
“Because of politics.” Krick chuckled bitterly. “This is what I meant earlier when I said that ‘this was bound to happen.’ America is challenging SERRCom on its power. If we fuck this up, then they’ve got the support of the rest of the planet on their side, and at that point we’re screwed. There’s at least another ten years or so until SERRCom can be self-sufficient, so for now we have to rely on funding, personnel, and material support from Earth. So we can’t just fire on them. They’d play that up as us ‘declaring war on Earth’ or something, and they’d use that to kill SERRCom and take over themselves.”
The Pyrotechnic snorted. “That sounds ridiculous.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t, but it’s what they’d do, and the bad thing is, it’d probably work.” Krick sighed. “So we need to disable the anti-orbital gun network and extract the Ayas with as few casualties as possible. If we can do that, then it’d show the rest of the planet that we’re in control, and that America has nothing on us. We’d make them look like fools, and it’d give us enough support to remove the Interstellar Gate from American soil and move it to someplace safer, probably the SERRCom space station that’s slated for construction here soon. Which is another reason to disable the railguns…”
“So you’re saying that we’re here solely to help out in a petty power struggle.”
“Heh, sorry this isn’t something more glamorous, but that’s how it is.” Krick shrugged. “But I’m serious when I say that we do need you. More worrying than the development of the anti-orbital guns is the fact that the Americans also managed to develop some sort of technology that jams the Genesis’ beaming systems. Well, it’s more like they prevent us from getting a lock on anything, but it’s essentially the same, since if we can’t lock onto an object or location then using the beaming systems isn’t safe.”
“What does that have to do with us?”
“Because the entire gun network, especially the Ayas housing center, is covered by this jamming tech. In order to infiltrate it, we’d have to send in teams the conventional way, and ground combat isn’t exactly SERRCom’s forte. Especially not when it comes to power projection over a mountain range, which is where the Ayas is. This ship’s guns are too powerful for small-target bombardment, and while we can certainly absorb shots from the anti-orbital guns without issue, I’d prefer not to get so close that they can score guaranteed hits. We need someone who has enough power on their own to easily disable armor and aircraft… we need Chaotics.”
“…And no Earthian is a Chaotic, so you need our help.” Kevérin nodded understandingly. “Alright, so basically, you want to send us down some distance away from the Ayas and then we’ll blast our way to it and retrieve it, taking out any guns we see along the way.”
“With as few casualties as possible, yes.”
“Sounds like your Overdrive will come in handy, then,” Kevérin remarked as he passed a sidelong glance to Kaoné.
“Yeah, this mission doesn’t sound hard at all,” Kaoné agreed. “I don’t think this should take very long.”
“I hope it won’t,” Krick replied. “The sooner we get this done, the better.”
Kevérin nodded. “Definitely. We can barely afford to waste our time here. If we get the Ayas and access to this ship out of it, though, then it might just be worth it.”
“Remember that you don’t get to keep the Genesis,” Krick quickly pointed out, “and me and my crew will still be manning it. But yes, if you help out SERRCom here, then helping you back is the least we can do.”
“Sounds like a plan.” The Transfer Captain turned toward the bridge exit. “My team and I will suit up now. Once we’re ready, just beam us down and mark our maps; we’ll take care of the rest from there.”
“Understood, Captain. Good luck down there.”
“Ha,” Kevérin snorted. “Hopefully, we won’t need it.”
4 Hours Later
“It’s so cold…”
“Just stick with it,” Kevérin responded as he glanced back at Kaoné, “our armor has climate control, so you won’t get frostbite or anything.”
“You say that…” The Materiatechnic looked around herself at the snow-capped mountains surrounding the small cliff Hero Machina was currently standing on. “But… it’s below freezing out here.”
The Pyrotechnic shrugged. “It is the middle of Earth’s winter, and we are halfway up a mountain…”
“Of course it’s easy for you to shrug it off, you can create your own damned heat.” Vélunis scowled as he peered into the distance through the scope of a laser sniper. “You should make us a fire. That’ll warm us up.” He then glanced conspicuously at Kaoné. “…Better yet, set her on fire. She’ll probably burn longer than anything around here.”
“Hey!” she protested before grabbing some nearby rocks, transmuting them into firewood, and dumping them at Vélunis’s feet. “There! Firewood. There’s no need to try and burn me.”
“A little cold won’t hurt you,” Kevérin countered. “We can’t afford to start a fire here, anyways. We already don’t have arctic camouflage, so the last thing we need to do is create a free light and heat source for the Earthians to lock on to.”
“Implying that our armor doesn’t create heat,” Vélunis deadpanned.
Kevérin glanced back at the other members of Hero Machina. Kaoné, Kievkenalis, and himself were all wearing their normal Chaos Armor, but Vélunis and Wilkas were stuck with lower-grade electrical armor, due to the lack of fitted Chaos Armor.
“I know they create heat,” the Pyrotechnic replied as he turned back to the rock face in front of him and began cautiously searching for footholds. “But it’s a level of heat that I can mask. I could do the same for a fire, but then that’d defeat the whole purpose of creating a fire in the first place.”
“Shouldn’t we be focused on finding the base?” Kievkenalis interjected.
“What do you think we’re climbing this mountain for?”
“Why are we even climbing?” Wilkas questioned, and glanced at Kaoné. “You’re a Materiatechnic, right? Just make a platform or something.”
“We need to be as stealthy as possible until we actually find the base,” Kevérin refuted, “if they sound the alarm before we get too close then we’ll have to go through a lot more people, and Kaoné’s Overdrive will only help so much if there’s crowds of people and blast doors in our way.”
“Sounds reasonable enough…” Vélunis muttered, still peering through the sniper scope. “…If they hadn’t found us already, at least.”
“What—?” The Pyrotechnic’s eyes widened in alarm as Vélunis suddenly fired his laser sniper. A small burst of light could be seen in the distance before Wilkas jumped forward and punched a cannon shell out of the air, sending it flying into the cliffs to the bottom left.
“Where are they?” Kevérin demanded.
“Point defenses, over a kilometer northeast,” Vélunis reported before firing another shot.
“Chaos Assist,” Kievkenalis called. “Damn… they found us already?”
“No time to wonder how,” Kevérin muttered, and then gestured toward Kaoné. “Do it!”
She nodded once in acknowledgment before calling out, “Overdrive: Conflict’s Judge!”
Vélunis flinched back as the gun in his hands sparked and fell to pieces. He turned toward Kaoné, confused. “What just—?”
“It’s her Overdrive,” Kevérin cut in, “now, Kaoné, make us a platform and fly us over there!”
The Materiatechnic quickly complied, transforming the ground under the five Chaotics into steel and then lifting it up into the air. The Pyrotechnic stared out into the distance toward where the cannon shell originated while the remaining three Chaotics of Hero Machina clung to the platform, unprepared for the sudden airlift.
“We have no choice but to find the base as quickly as possible, now,” the Transfer Captain continued, “alright, Kaoné. Let’s go!”
“…Visual scans indicate that one of the anti-orbital railguns has been destroyed.”
“Already?” Krick frowned, shifting in his chair as he looked up at the holographic displays at the front of the bridge. “We beamed them down not even an hour ago… where was the gun?”
“It was on the southern inner emplacement perimeter, roughly around 44 degrees north and 109 degrees west.”
“They’ve barely moved at all, but I guess that’s to be expected in the mountains…” Krick grumbled to himself, “they’ve moved enough to enter the jamming fields, though, so we can’t contact them now… it’s do or die.” He then raised his voice to address the entire bridge. “Do the scans show anything else? Unit mobilization? Raised heat emission from activating defenses? Energy transfer?”
“…Sorry, sir,” one of the officers replied, “we aren’t picking up anything. The remaining anti-orbital guns have begun moving, presumably to target us, but they’re the largest emplacements we can track. The communications and lock-on jamming is interfering with our ability to detect heat emission, as well.”
“Then they’re really on their own… …Alright. Initiate the cloak and move us down to low orbit over the coordinates of the destroyed gun.”
“Wait— sir, we’re being hailed. …It’s President Zhou.”
“Oh?” Krick raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “What does he want?”
“There’s no info tag accompanying the request, except that it’s an audio-only line.”
“Ha. I’d bet this has something to do with his precious railguns.” The Captain snorted. “Alright, maintain our orbital position and hold the cloak order for now. Open a channel to my headset… let’s see what he has to say.”
Krick leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he waited for the communication connection. Mere moments later, he heard a couple beeps in his ear as the comms officer gave him a thumbs-up, indicating a successful connection. He waved back and then tapped his ear piece to open the line. “Greetings, Mr. President.”
“Good day to you as well, Chief Captain.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what brings you to contact me? I’m sure someone in a position such as yourself would find it more productive to get in touch with General Dowley instead—”
“Excuse me, Captain, but I’ve no time for your snide remarks,” the President cut in impatiently. “I’m sure we both know why I’m contacting you.”
“Do we?” Krick questioned innocently as he glanced up at the real-time scanner readings. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”
“You mean to tell me you have nothing to do with the destruction of one of my orbital defense platforms?”
“Well, now that you mention it…”
“I have no time for your games, Captain. Do you realize that this is an act of war?”
“And firing on one of our Frigates wasn’t?”
Krick smirked to himself when the President failed to immediately respond.
“…You must understand, Captain,” Zhou finally continued, “we did not intend to hit, or even fire on, one of SERRCom’s Frigates. That was merely a test of the defense platforms’ capability.”
“And you just happened to almost hit a Frigate sitting in stable middle Earth orbit?”
“You just happened to almost hit a 75-meter target sitting nearly ten thousand kilometers above the Earth’s surface?”
“I am aware of the size of Frigates and the altitude of MEO, Captain. I maintain that the incident was unintentional.”
“All due respect Mr. President, but cut the shit. We both know that you’re lying through your teeth. Now tell me what you want so I don’t have to talk to you anymore.”
“The nerve—! I can see to it that you never set foot on American soil again!”
“Do you think I care? I haven’t even set foot on Earth in the past year. I answer to General Dowley of SERRCom, not you.”
“Now, is that it? Surely you didn’t call just to threaten me.”
“…No, it’s— it’s not. …I must apologize, I did not mean to… anyways. About the defense platforms.”
Krick glanced up at the scanner readouts again just in time to see that a second railgun emplacement had been destroyed. The Nimalians are really moving now, he thought to himself, let’s hope they’re keeping the ‘minimal casualties’ objective in mind… He then turned his attention back to the communication. “Alright, what is it?”
“I’d like you to withdraw your ground team.”
“And what do we get out of that?”
“A… truce. And a public apology. We won’t try to get in SERRCom’s way again.”
“You want to trade your anti-orbital weapons for words?”
“I’m afraid it’s all I can offer at the moment.”
“How about handing over the gun emplacements to SERRCom?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? It’s SERRCom’s job to protect Earth from interstellar threats, and I’m fairly certain that anti-orbital weaponry follows that goal pretty well.”
“…I will consider it, if you withdraw your team immediately.”
“I would consider doing so as well, but as we both know…” Krick smirked. “…The entire area is blanketed in jamming fields. I can’t contact anyone down there. So if you want me to withdraw anything, you’re going to need to shut down the jamming.”
“That’s nonsense. How can I trust you won’t use the opportunity to bombard the whole area?”
“Sir, if it’s orbital bombardment that you’re worried about, you should know that a jamming field won’t stop us. The only reason I haven’t opened fire already is because there are innocent men and women down there risking their lives for a political dick-waving contest. And I will continue to withhold the Genesis’s orbital bombardment rounds for that very reason, unless you do something as egregious as opening fire on a SERRCom ship again.”
“Should I take that as a threat, Captain?”
“It’s a warning — and I’m sure Dowley would say the same. Now I’ve had enough of your pleading, so if that’s all you have to say, then I have work to get back to—”
“Wait, Captain! Surely there’s a way we can work this out?”
“It’s all up to you.” Krick shrugged, the indifference working its way into his voice. “SERRCom has little to lose from this situation.”
“You stand to lose the support of every civilized nation on this planet, and with it, all your funding and manufacturing power.”
“’All’ is an overstatement.”
“…Grant me an audience. Let’s work this out in person. I can even send my people to your ship, and we can negotiate on your ground.”
The Captain paused for a moment, surprised by the President’s sudden offer. “…You want to send a negotiation team onto the Genesis?”
“If it will work out the situation with the defense platforms, then yes, I am willing to do so.”
“…Hold that thought for a minute, please.” Krick quickly tapped his ear piece, muting the connection as he turned to look again at the scanner readouts. What does he want… the captain thought to himself, he must have ulterior motives. Why else would he contact me and not Dowley? How did he learn about the Nimalians so quickly, anyway? And why the hell did he suddenly offer to send a team to the Genesis? This smells fishier than the sea itself… Still, I suppose if I at least attempt to negotiate, it’ll make SERRCom look better… Several moments later he finally turned to one of the bridge officers. “Seal the bulkheads around receiving airlock 7A and send a suppression team down to guard the entrances.” As soon as the officer acknowledged his order, the Captain tapped his ear piece again to unmute the communication. “Sorry about that, Mr. President. I just had to check some things first.”
“Your answer, then?”
“I’ll do it. Assemble a team, and I’ll beam them up. But understand this, Mr. President — if they try anything fishy, I will not hesitate to stop them by any means necessary and report the incident to General Dowley.”
“Yes, of course, Captain. I would never dream of doing such a thing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I will go do exactly as you suggested. I will be back in under half an hour.”
“…’Never dream of it,’ he says,” Krick muttered to himself after the comm channel cut out, “we’ll have to see about that…”
The meter-thick steel door sealing the entrance to the mountain base was suddenly knocked inward, completely severed from the wall as it fell over. Wilkas immediately stepped in and began looking around at the base’s entrance bay as Kevérin stared on in disbelief.
“So much for being stealthy,” he lamented irately.
“What’s the point of bein’ stealthy?” Wilkas countered, turning to look back at the Transfer Captain. “We’ve already been detected.”
“Yeah, we just need to get the Ayas and get out,” Vélunis agreed.
“It would be better if we could find out the actual specifications behind the railguns,” Kevérin argued, “and if we could find out where they found this Ayas. I’d like to know how all this was put together under SERRCom’s nose.”
“Whatever we do, we should figure it out soon,” Kaoné urged as she glanced toward a small group of confused Earthians standing at the far end of the entrance bay. “My Overdrive will wear out soon, and if Cooldown doesn’t happen then, then it’ll definitely happen if I use it a fourth time.”
“Strictly speaking, we don’t need your powers beyond your Overdrive,” Kievkenalis pointed out, “the four of us can do just fine.”
“Way to make me feel useful…”
“She has a point, though; we need to act fast.” Kevérin paused for a moment to think before continuing, “alright, Kaoné, you’re with me. We’ll look for the control room and see what we can do from there. Kevken, Vélunis, Wilkas, I want the three of you to find the Ayas. Will you be able to sense it, Kevken?”
“Once we get close enough, probably.”
“Then that’s it,” the Pyrotechnic declared, narrowing his eyes as the Earthians in the room suddenly fled and alarms began to sound. “…We covered a lot of ground since the last time Kaoné used her Overdrive; there might still be intact weapons here, so be careful. Otherwise: split!”
“Chaos Assist! Chaos Detect!” Kievkenalis shouted as he dashed forward ahead of Vélunis and Wilkas. He waved to Kevérin and Kaoné as they burst through a wall in the opposite direction and then turned his attention down and to the left, tracking several distant silhouettes as they descended through space. “Over there!” He pointed at the wall. “There’s an elevator shaft! The Ayas is probably in the lower levels!”
Without wasting a moment, Wilkas thrust his fist forward, pulverizing the wall and opening a hole into the hallway behind it. Vélunis jumped through, summoning two pistols out of thin air before quickly scanning the hallway and firing on a defense turret before it could fire on him. As soon as he did so, several more alarms began blaring — and then the walls in the immediate vicinity unexpectedly exploded, showering the three Chaotics in smoke and hot debris. The three quickly stumbled out of the smoke, only to see several rocket turrets staring at them from down the hall. Wilkas immediately jumped forward as two rockets were fired, obliterating one of the rockets with his shoulder as Vélunis sniped the other out of the air. Kievkenalis fired several Chaos Cannon shots down the hall at the rocket turrets as Wilkas tore out a section of the steel wall and used it as a shield while rushing down the hallway, Vélunis and Kievkenalis in tow.
“…Here,” the Chaostechnic exclaimed as he slammed his fist against a large steel door. “The elevator’s here!”
“Got it.” Wilkas nodded before tearing into the door, ripping it open with ease. The three Chaotics paused to stare down the large, dark shaft — the bottom was too far down to be seen.
“This must be a freight elevator,” Vélunis observed, noting the width of the door Wilkas had torn down as well as the depth of the elevator shaft.
“If it is, then maybe it goes all the way down to the bottom of the base…” Kievkenalis squinted in an attempt to see through the darkness, but to no avail. “We’ll likely encounter less resistance if we go down the shaft, too.”
“Well sure, and I know I can survive that drop just fine…” Wilkas glanced back at the other two Chaotics. “But what about you guys?”
“We can climb down the elevator cables,” Kievkenalis suggested. “Worst case scenario, Vélunis and I both have abilities that can soften a landing. Our Armor’s shielding will help a lot, as well.”
“You’re not wrong, but I hate it all the same…” Vélunis muttered, and then sighed loftily. “Well… let’s get climbing.”
“Hands in the air!”
Kevérin burst through the wall after cutting his way through the steel with heat, two blades of flame extending from his hands as he held them threateningly in front of him. He then allowed the flames to dissipate and his hands to fall to his sides as he glanced around the room in confusion.
“…There’s no one here,” Kaoné observed quietly after entering behind Kevérin.
“This doesn’t make any sense…” The Transfer Captain scowled as he snapped his eyes from empty console to empty console, from vacant workstation to vacant workstation, and eventually to the massive window at the front of the room that allowed a wide view of the snowy mountains. He cautiously approached the nearest workstation before sitting himself in front of it and activating it. “…This seems like the control room, alright,” he muttered after fiddling with the computer for a short while, “so why is no one here?…”
“It’s a good thing, though, right?” Kaoné questioned. “We don’t have to worry about hurting anyone this way.”
“I don’t know about that,” Kevérin refuted. “These stations are clearly meant to be manned. This entire base should be manned, but we’ve only run into primitive security bots and defense turrets, aside from those Earthians back at the entrance. I don’t like this one bit…”
“Well, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“I’m not sure if there is anything we can do about it. Not without learning more…” The Transfer Captain glanced across the room before jumping up and seating himself at another console. “First things first, let’s disable the jamming fields and get in touch with the Genesis.”
“Can you do that?”
“Please. Earthian computers are far more primitive than 200-year-old Citan tech, and I hacked the Teghica computers with ease. I even got some interface tech from one of the technicians up on the Genesis; this’ll be a walk in the park. …There. See, I have access already.”
Kaoné watched the Transfer Captain work for a few moments before she turned her attention to the room’s window. Far in the distance she could see one of the anti-orbital railguns, mounted into the side of a mountain and pointing straight up into the sky. “Overdrive: Conflict’s Judge,” she muttered, only for nothing to happen. My powers are still on Cooldown… I guess that’s to be expected after using my Overdrive three times in a row…
“There, field’s down.”
The Materiatechnic glanced back at Kevérin and then approached his console. “Are you going to contact the Genesis?”
The Pyrotechnic nodded. “That’s the plan. Heh, good thing Earthian interface protocols are well-known. Their stuff is so primitive, trying to hack it from scratch might actually be more difficult than hacking Citan computers. Everything’s put together so… so…”
“I’d say haphazardly. Or ignorantly. Or just stupidly.” He shrugged. “Anyways, contacting the Genesis…”
Kaoné jumped in surprise as the sound of static suddenly filled the room before being replaced with a soft, dull tone. Moments later, the tone disappeared completely as Captain Krick’s voice boomed through the room. “Captain… …that you?”
“It is.” Kevérin nodded, though the gesture was lost on the audio-only connection. “I just disabled the jamming fields. We haven’t found the Ayas yet, though.” He paused for several moments in anticipation of a response, glancing at Kaoné in confusion when the Earthian Captain failed to reply. “Captain?”
“––gerous! We’ve been bo–– …Damn bastard couldn’t keep his word, they’v––”
“What?” Kevérin leaned forward tensely, surprised by the low quality of the audio connection. “Captain, the line’s cutting out, I can’t make out what you’re saying! Captain?!”
“––trap, the anti-orbital network–– get out of there!”
“The hell?” The Transfer Captain stared at the console in front of him with a mixture of confusion and irritation. “What do you mean, trap? What’s going on?!”
“Uh, Kevérin…” Kaoné spoke up warningly, warily pointing out the window. “The, the gun…”
“Huh?” The Pyrotechnic looked up just as the Railgun in the distance began to move, lowering its barrel toward the horizon before slowly swiveling toward the control room. “…Well, shit.”
“We need to get out of here—!”
“Way ahead of you!” Kevérin jumped out of his seat and turned toward the room’s entrance, but the two Chaotics were barely able to so much as exit the room before the entire structure suddenly collapsed, the entire control room and the area around it crumbling to the mountaintop below.