USD: A few days later
Location: Nu Crateris, Dedia IV Orbit, Tears of Fire, CIC
The situation remained tense, to say the least.
The Brigadier had called back his bombers in response to her ultimatum quickly, but he was quite angry at the threats she had made.
She was quite angry at his failure to clear the action with her.
There had been some voices raised. She was afraid she had cursed at him a bit too vividly.
The Governor had intervened. It was not a good idea to piss off someone who had WMDs on speed dial. The colony was poorly protected from threats in orbit. She wouldn’t have been surprised if even the IHMC and Thraker were capable of ‘taking over’ with his older, less capable ship.
Planets were fragile things, and there was little defense in place on the frontier compared to what she had read about the core worlds.
The blame had fallen on the local militia commander, Lieutenant Colonel Wesley, who had claimed that Elis’s unit had been taken out in the scouting mission and requested immediate support from a higher command. Then, seeing a critical threat of another hive near Tifara, Brigadier Taverson had acted immediately to destroy it.
Alex wasn’t sure how much she accepted that. Elis had mentioned that Wesley hadn’t been happy with her, but sending her on the seemingly very dangerous mission… seemed like poor judgement. The Governor had sacked him from command.
At the very least, she had wanted Taverson punished as well, but a reprimand for not consulting with her had been his only punishment. She didn’t really have any choice but to accept that unless she wanted to use violence. She could have, in a fit of anger, if they had not immediately backed off, but it wouldn’t have been a great idea unless absolutely necessary.
The Frontier wasn’t that large. Doing something like that carried the danger of being hunted down, and traveling to other less inhabited regions where you might not be considered a pirate required going through more populated systems, some of which even had active fortresses guarding the jump points.
None of which had mattered when they had launched bombers to blow up the nest without even confirming Elis’s status.
Alex had a few things that were truly important to her, and Elis was high on that list.
Probably even higher than kebabs. Probably.
She had moved the Tears to a new orbit away from the elevator and above the Hive’s nest. From there, she could use a high-powered comm beam to punch through the ashen sky to establish a secure comm channel.
Nameless had insisted that the Rexxor Queen was trying to communicate via some sort of quasi-high band signal. Translation had not been accomplished, however, and the colonists, even the Governor, insisted that the aliens be destroyed.
Captain-Major Thraker’s words about the Octanis accords were foremost in her mind, and explained that deadly desire, but she would not be party to some genocide.
When she had read the stipulations of the treaty, the reason for their position became clear.
It stipulated the complete removal of the colonists, enforced by all signatories against whatever violator had attempted to ‘colonize’ the indigenous people’s world.
It didn’t prohibit cohabitation per se, but it required a consent by the world’s population, apparently in accordance with the same ratifications that had occurred in the Draconis sector between the Drakarians and the human colonists there.
Unfortunately, it seemed like the Colonists had just blown up the biggest polity, or whatever the Rexxor had. With her help.
Underlining the issue was that the Rexxor had ceased their attacks other than the natural ones that had occurred previously which had been ascribed to their predatory nature as local ‘fauna’ but now the colonists outlined them as outright attacks that demanded retribution.
A chime in her ear indicated it was time for the ‘meeting’ to start. Alex was not enthused, and she had rejected any more attempts to get her to appear in person, so she attended via video conference.
Well, it was time to hammer them. The only person who knew her plan was the Captain-Major who had, while not endorsing it, confirmed that it might be effective. At least she had someone on her side other than Elis… maybe.
Accessing the comms, the CIC’s main screen lit up with a square video feed of each member of the meeting’s face. The Brigadiers were there, the Governor, Captain-Major Thraker, and several civilians that she did not recognize.
“Thank for you joining us, Captain Alex. Now that we are all present, I will convene this meeting.” Governor Tyler announced.
“The first order of business is the classification of the Rexxor and the need to ter—”
Alex didn’t have the patience to not interrupt, talking over top of him and turning her volume obnoxiously loud until he shut up.
“Before we get into that, I would like to inform you of several facts pertaining to recent events. First, my crew and our analysis has confirmed with no reasonable doubt that the Rexxor are controlled by sapient leaders. While we could not establish communication, a very basic litmus test was conducted by Master-Sergeant Elis Myers at the Tifara nest, and the ‘queen’ there passed it easily. I have translators working around the clock now in order to establish a dialogue with her.”
Alex paused and took in all the glares and angry looks at her. Yes, this was not what they had been planning, and she felt a cold sort of satisfaction that she had thrown a spanner in their gears.
One of the scientist-looking civilians started to challenge her, but Alex raised her hand and continued.
“As the Rexxor population predates the Dedia Prime colony by centuries at the very least, we can confirm that the Solarian occupation of Dedia IV is in violation of the Octanis Concordat. As such, yesterday I dispatched several missives to the Interstellar Forum of Ruling Bodies, detailing events that have occurred as well as our findings. A copy of all missives has also been individually dispatched to the capitals of Drakar, The Holy Ertan Republic, The Sol Imperium, The Corporate Systems, and the Solarian Federation, and all their nearest embassies.”
Alex smiled, “That packet boat crossed the system jump point… four hours ago.”
The faces of all the colonists paled in growing alarm.
“My ship’s support contract ended today; I do not intend to renew it. I plan to leave an operational base at the site of the Tifara nest to continue to conduct research and attempt to establish relations with the hive queen there. The earlier negotiations about purchasing the islands north of the colony are shelved.”
The resources on the islands would have been of marginal use without access to the space elevator to lift cargo to orbit, and she didn’t think the colonists would be very cooperative or friendly to her or Starlight Revolution after this meeting.
“What have you done?” Brigadier Desersa whispered into the silence.
“What you should have done when it became clear that the Rexxor were an intelligent, indigenous species? I find it very hard to believe that no one knew of this before. The attempts to discredit the idea I encountered were all much too convenient.”
A scowl erupted on Taverson’s face. “Are you accusing us of purposefully concealing alien life on the planet? Who do you think you are, Captain?”
“The only conclusion I can come up with is your administration has been keeping it under wraps or you and your predecessors have been completely incompetent. The latter is not impossible from what I’ve seen.”
Brigadier Desersa glared at her. “The Solarian Federation won’t tolerate your actions and you will be branded an enemy of the people, Captain.”
“I am starting to believe the Solarian Federation doesn’t give a rock’s ass about what goes on out here. Either way, I think they are going to have bigger problems when the IFRB gets word of the events here. Do you want me to remind you about the Drakarian Jihad?”
Wasn’t that the crux of it? Even if the other powers weren’t interested in enforcing the Octanis Concordat, the Drakar would. The star-nation wasn’t the biggest and was less populated than the other stellar powers, but its population was wholly mixed between Drakarians and Humans.
Drakarians who had been enslaved by the Federation and the successor states that had kept them in thrall. Until the local population had revolted against the Imperium, supplying their fellow Drakarians with arms and weapons and granting them an equal status.
The end to the ‘holy’ war the Drakarians had waged against the rest of the human nations had only been brought to a halt by the Octanis Concordat, which was supposed to ensure nothing of the like ever occurred again.
Alex was still digging into the specifics of the war and those events, but they were contained in literal tomes of historical data, and she could only read so much a day without burning out her attention span.
But it was clear that the Octanis Concordat had been wholly meant to stop the events that had happened on Dedia.
The Governor lifted his hand, “There’s no need for that. We all know our basic history.”
“I trust the colony will not interfere with my operations, nor take any hostile actions against the Rexxor themselves, except for self-defense. We plan to continue recording all your actions to be presented to the court. I’ll remind you if you try to harass my people or threaten them in any way, I will respond in kind.”
“Captain, please. We’ve been over this many times. Lieutenant-Colonel—”
“Enough. I am claiming geo-stationary slot 36 trailing the elevator. I will be placing a listening satellite there and observing from that position, and I expect it to remain clear of traffic.”
“What type of operations do you plan to—”
“You can’t just seize a geostat slot! Those are val—”
“This is outrageous!”
Alex shook her head as the talking heads devolved into chaos. “Thank you for your time.”
Then she pressed the kill comm button and let out an exasperated breath.
The only thing that was going well was that she was finally going to get to see Elis soon.
USD: Thirty minutes after entering Szizsielia’s Hive
Location: Nu Crateris System, Dedia IV, Near Tifara, Szizsielia’s Hive Landing Pad
The Tears was never meant to land on its main drive, but Nameless had been busy making the needed modifications in orbit.
They had plummeted through the atmosphere drive first, burning the entire way down in order to reduce the friction of entering the atmosphere. It was expensive in terms of delta-v, but the drones on the ground had already gone to work preparing fresh propellant for them.
Alex swore she heard creaking from the ship’s structure as they punched through the air toward the makeshift landing pad that was little more than a flattened square that had all the flammables removed for a half kilometer.
That was necessary, because the Linear Drive’s torch was going to char the area heavily.
If she had a choice, Alex would have left the Tears in orbit. But she only had the one computronic module that Nameless had finished and she had decided to set up a permanent base and deploy a new-subcore to run the operations. The module was too large to fly down with a shuttle. She had debated with Nameless for an entire day before making the decision.
Nameless had not been wrong about the benefits to having an orbital sub-core in the system instead of a planet bound one, but there were also benefits of having a ground base, even if they didn’t have a space elevator to easily lift resources to orbit.
A subcore on the ground could continue attempts to establish communication in real time. Another big one was that they needed it to run the defenses for the Hive. There was some worry that the colonists would still attack, even if they were being monitored. If the Solarians appeared and tried to wipe all traces of evidence…
Alex took a deep breath as the Tears came entered its final landing sequence just above the ground. Rock and gravel blew away from the center point of the Linear Drive’s cone, and RCS thrusters burned hard to maintain the ship’s orientation on its most structurally sound axis: pointing straight up.
Four massive landing gear extended and lowered themselves, massive hydraulic arms that could support the starship and prevent it from toppling over.
The entire process was fully automated and over so quickly that Alex almost missed it.
[Notice: A-Grav power drain is utilizing 33% of reactor capacity due to planetary gravity interference. Sustained use is not advised. Recommend expediting deployment mission.]
“Yeah. Go ahead. The elevator works properly?”
[Informative: Elevator design for achieving proper orientation and usage in a non-standard axis of movement is trivial for this unit.]
“Sure, sure. You know you don’t have to be smug about everything, right? We all know you do a good job.”
[Notice: Avatar's effectiveness is suspect. Already it has caused a planetwide catastrophe, nearly incited an interstellar war, and recklessly engaged in a needless fleet engagement.]
“That’s not nice. I don’t think everything is my fault. No one actually taught me how to run a warship, mercenary company, or a corporation, ok? Just consider it on-the-job training.”
Alex’s comm buzzed as she stood up. She accepted it remotely through her HUD.
“Elis to Alex. Are you alive? Looks like the entire hillside is on fire.”
“Sorry! Once the Tears is fixed, it should be less... devastating with RCS only.”
“I’m kidding.” Elis could almost produce an eye-roll through the voice comm.
“Oh. Uhm. Nameless is dropping the first group of bots and supplies. I think he is restless to get the ground-side units a mini-forge and smelter.”
“Yeah, they’ve been digging rooms and piling up raw materials. I’m not sure how much the bug-lizards like it, but they don’t seem that upset. Mainly they keep staring at Booper.”
“Did you get him repaired?”
“Mostly. He needs a new side mount.”
“I’ll be down with the second load; I’ll see you in a bit!” Alex stood up.
She was already dressed in a weird combination of naval uniform and her favorite hoodie she had bought on Ackman Station.
Alex crossed from the CIC to the cargo hold and then through the new structural ramp to the loading gantry on the outer hull. It was a strange type of disorientation when she walked down the curved floor that aligned her with the planet’s natural gravity.
[Notice: This is the most effective transition from ship A-Grav to planetary gravity. Excess resources were not available to enclose the space.]
“Yeah, ok. It’s just a little weird, not actually a problem.”
Alex winced as the ground pulled at her. Dedia only had .83 Earth Grav, and yet it was nearly twice as much as she was used to on the ship. Just standing felt like it took an effort, and she could feel her body warming up in response as her nanites worked overtime, adjusting her body to the new stimulus.
The gravity would not hinder her, it just felt… tiring. Was this why Elis had always bothered to turn up the gravity plates to maximum when she was training alone? Alex wasn’t quite enthused at the notion but made a note that she should probably ask about the effectiveness.
The elevator groaned as Alex and the cargo descended. A warm breeze blew into the open elevator as soon as it passed outside the ship’s hull, and a layer of ash and dust stung her eyes and lungs.
She had forgotten to pull up her scarf. Elis had warned her she’d need some protection, but this was something else! She should have brought her skinsuit and EVA helmet.
The loose cloth of her hoodie flapped in the intermittent gusts of wind, each time adding another layer of ash to the fabric. The smell and taste of something burned bit at her. She’d experienced the smell and grime of Ackman Station, but this was something wholly different.
She had helped cause this.
Nearing the ground, Alex spotted Booper with its floodlights illuminating the area with light that slowly tapered off into the falling ash.
The faint glow from the sky highlighted peaks from the mountain range in the distance, but the light from the sun was feeble under the black clouds above. Alex felt a bit of awe at the sight. Being on the ground felt… incredibly different from being in space. Like she was standing on a giant asteroid, but it was so big it stretched underneath her feet in every direction and never ended.
A jolt shook Alex and she had to put a hand on the railing to steady herself as the elevator came to a stop. A newly developed, tracked drone meant for ferrying heavy loads on the surface rolled off the platform with a large container that contained the nanite computronics module, while smaller drones came and assisted with carrying smaller parcels.
Elis’s power-armored form waved to her.
Hurrying over, Alex’s first instinct was to give her a massive hug, but it faltered in the ash-covered environment, plus the bulky power armor somewhat nullified the effect.
Alex spoke first, “It’s horrible out here. Is it better inside?”
“It’s a different type of horrible. I’m surprised you didn’t wear a MK4A or your EVA skinsuit.”
“I… uh, yeah, that would have been a good idea. Are you going to take me down to meet her? What about that breakthrough you talked about…?”
USD: A short time later
Location: Nu Crateris System, Dedia IV, Near Tifara, Szizsielia’s Hive
Szizsielia had watched the soft-skin and her metal puppets make their small cuttings on the peripheral of the hive. A few had even dug deeper, finding different types of rocks and collecting them. The hive had little need for such things, but the sudden intrusion of others in her home felt… alien.
She would never have permitted one of her sisters’ workers access to her tunnels, not without fighting tooth and claw.
Szizsielia had concluded that the hard-shelled soft-skin was not in fact a queen, although she did sense that it was female, which was confusing. The thought tendrils only existed for short periods of time, although when it visited the birth chamber, it often sang in the strange clipped on and off tones.
None of the soft-skin things caused any harm to the nest or her children, and Szizsielia found herself having to manage her children’s instincts to rend and tear at them. The concept of ‘neutral’ or ‘friend’ did not exist for them. The metal creatures that communicated with the thought waves were not-hive, not-enemy, not-food.
It bothered her as well, but not-fighting and not-competing were better than starfire coming from the heavens.
When the metal sky-carapace fell from the sky, Szizsielia had felt a moment of panic. Did it come to destroy her hive like her mother's?
When it settled on the flat ground that had been cleared on the surface, she felt relief. It divulged more metal worker spawn and things she did not understand, but there was no star-poison.
Szizsielia watched through her children’s eyes as the hard-shelled soft-skin lead another soft-skin into the hive toward the nesting chamber.
But what riveted her attention was the blazingly loud thought-tendril that stretched between the metal sky-carapace and the new soft-skin.
She had the revelation that the metal sky-carapace was a spawn. More amazingly, the thought tendrils went both ways. It spoke back. The metal sky ships were alive with their own thought minds.
Szizsielia felt incredible anticipation for the new soft-skin’s arrival.
She was not disappointed. As the soft-skin entered the birthing chamber, Szizsielia’s thought-sight could see in much more detail. The soft-skin absolutely glowed in thought tendrils, so small that she could not even make all of them out individually.
The soft-skin absolutely sparkled to Szizsielia’s sight. She was certain that this, this was a soft-skin queen. She resembled the sky-gods, but not quite—she was much too small. Too limited. Why would a sky-god give Szizsielia any attention? Their will and songs were writ across the cosmos.
Willing herself to composure, Szizsielia emerged from her birthing chamber like she had done for each of the hard-shelled soft-skin’s visits. She reached out with her thought tendrils, gently probing at her new visitor, trying to greet her. The foreign feeling clicks of on and off-ness remained a mystery.
Szizsielia’s optical vision was quite poor, but she could see the soft-skin’s facial movements, although they conveyed little meaning. Clittering forward carefully, she extended a feeler toward the soft-skin. It copied the gesture, and Szizsielia inhaled as she could feel all the tiny thought-tendrils in minute detail.
The soft-skin queen lowered her appendage, then the hard-shelled soft-skin approached with the game-stone. It was difficult for Szizsielia to see, so she summoned one of her eye-spawns to come examine for her. It was the same as before, with alternating-colored squares on the large stone. Familiar small circles of red and black were also brought forth from a pouch.
Szizsielia found the game too easy, but she felt a mounting excitement as the soft-skin queen perched herself on a stone seat and placed the stones and made the first move. Even if they could not yet communicate, Szizsielia felt confident they could at least converse with the simple game.