— Monday, September 26, AD 2129 —
“Aw, what?! C’mon! That was at least ‘C’ material!”
“Your ability to concentrate is still too abysmal for such a generous grade. You can’t even hold two spheres of water still for a minute!”
“Well yeah, ‘cause controllin’ water ain’t my actual power!”
“No, but your power is to copy the abilities of others, and if what you and your friends tell me is correct, then Twy has been able to do what I’m asking of you since the day after she discovered her powers. You have no excuse, being unable to do something so basic over two weeks since discovering your abilities, even if you’re only copying her powers.”
“Tch…” The tall, lanky, pale-skinned man glanced away in irritation. His disheveled black hair contrasted strongly with his military training uniform; when coupled with his clean-shaven face, save for a couple tufts of hair under his lip and on his chin, he appeared to be no older than 20. The patch sewn onto his left breast pocket identified him as Austin Travis.
Standing just across from him was an even taller man with a thin, yet still muscular build. His dark hair was long in front but short in back, partially obscuring his olive-skinned face; the rest of his body was covered by a thick green military uniform with black trim. He held the demeanor of an aged veteran, but the distinct lack of blemishes on his otherwise generic face made it clear that he was no older than 22 or 23. A large patch sewn onto a flap attached to a strap on his shoulder named him as 1st Lieutenant Mote Emerson, the leader of the Eximius Vir.
“It would seem that I’m going to have to take a different approach with you,” Mote muttered. He crossed his arms and pursed his lips as he looked down at his compatriot. “…I have no idea how you’re Captain Travis’s nephew.”
“Oh please, like he’s any better at pickin’ up new shit— ack!” Austin yelped as a tiny streak of lightning leaped from Mote’s fingers to his own.
“There will be no disrespect toward your superiors,” Mote declared, his stare unflinching as Austin recoiled away from him. “Understood?”
“…I can’t believe I’m stuck teaching you…”
“Ain’t like I wanna be here either, you know.” Austin glanced back and forth at the empty room. “…How’s about we just call it quits and pretend like we trained—?”
“Absolutely not!” Mote’s gaze narrowed into a glare as several sparks briefly wreathed his arms. “Like it or not, we have a duty here. You, to learn; I, to teach. And given your slow pace, I think I’m going to have to give you personal lessons. Otherwise you’ll just slow down the others. Or try to slack off.”
Austin scowled, but just as he made to respond, the door to the room slammed open.
“MOTE! You in here?”
Both men turned their heads to face the newcomer: a woman, with skin the same olive tone as Mote’s, and a height barely shorter than Austin’s six feet. She wore the same thick green military uniform as Mote, with the exception of two armored greaves that covered her entire lower legs and possessed extravagant red and golden designs, topped by a faintly glowing red orb inset just below the silver knee guard on each greave. She appeared to be Mote’s age, and sported messy blond hair tied back in a pony tail and covered by a red bandanna. Her wide stance gave off an aura of brazen confidence, and as she planted her hands on her hips and surveyed the training room, Mote could read the patch on her upper chest that named her: 2nd Lieutenant Katherine Faulkner, one of the four Chaotics of the Eximius Vir.
When she spotted Mote, she began to raise her hand to wave, but then her gaze switched to Austin and her face scrounged up in disgust. “Fuck, you’re hanging out with the trash again.”
Austin responded with an incredulous expression. “Uh, what?”
“Kate, what are you doing here?” Mote placed a hand on his brow in frustration. “I thought I told you to leave me alone when I’m training the recruits.”
“Yeah, but the General wants you for a debriefing, and his word is higher than yours, so.” Kate shrugged before pointing at Austin and then gesturing behind her. “You, get the fuck out, you’re done here.”
Mote put his arm out in front of Austin. “I decide when your training is over.” He then glanced back at Kate. “…The General wants me for a debriefing? What for?”
“Saito and the rest just got back from a mission, duh. You know, the wild goose chase based on your stupid little dream?” She cast a glare toward Austin. “Don’t fucking tell me that hanging out with the trash has given you brain damage already.”
“I am not trash,” Austin retorted.
“Oh please, I’ve heard plenty enough about your lack of ability. Having no Chaotics would be better than having you fuck-wits around.”
“Katherine,” Mote cut in harshly. Kate drew back slightly, as if startled, and then pursed her lips and cast her gaze to the side. “Now…” Mote turned back toward Austin. “…It would seem that I’m going to have to cut today’s one-on-one lesson short.”
Austin’s face brightened and he opened his mouth to speak, but Mote cut him off.
“Your training still isn’t over,” he continued. “Go join your friends with Mark, he’ll oversee the rest of your training for today.”
“Aw…” Austin heaved a sigh and turned toward the room’s exit. As he passed Kate, they exchanged a glare — and then Kate snapped her fingers in his face, causing him to flinch away. She promptly decked him in the face, sending him crumpling to the ground as she grinned in self-satisfaction.
“Ow! Fuck!” Austin exclaimed, tenderly holding his cheek with both hands. “The fuck was that for?!”
“You flinched!” Kate retorted, “you flinch, you get hit!”
“Damn it, Kate,” Mote responded in irritation as he rushed over to Austin’s side and helped him up. “We’ve been over this. You can’t just punch people for no damned reason.”
“I literally just gave the reason, dumbass. If it helps get your panties out of a bunch, then just think of it like part of his training!”
Austin and Mote both stared incredulously at Kate. Mote then shook his head before shooing Austin away. “I apologize on her behalf. Now get going.”
“With pleasure,” Austin remarked. He scurried out of the room, glanced over his shoulder to glare at Kate one last time, and then disappeared down the hallway to the left.
Mote shook his head again before turning to give Kate an admonishing look. “You can’t just assault people like that.”
Kate pulled a face. “Oh fuck off. Like I said, just think of it as part of his training. I didn’t even hit him that hard, he’ll be fine. And if he’s not, then we can just kick his baby ass outta here.”
“Do I really need to get the Colonel involved again?”
“Really? You’re gonna tattle on me?”
Mote let out a disgruntled sigh as he closed his eyes and held his hand to his forehead. “Just… don’t do it again.”
“I’ll try, but wimps like him just look so damn punchable, you know?”
“No, I don’t. And you should stop calling the recruits ‘wimps’ or ‘trash’. It’s unprofessional.”
“Fucking what?! You complain about having to deal with them all the damn time! Besides, it’s no secret that they’re a literal drain on resources. If not for them, you and Mark would be free to go on missions like normal! Hell, you probably could’ve handled CSF-1’s last mission all on your own, but noooo, the General wants to expand his precious little Chaotic force. As if we aren’t enough to handle any and all threats, already.”
Mote simply pursed his lips and shook his head. He then started toward the room’s exit. “Right. Anyways, you said that I’m wanted at a debriefing, right? I should get going.”
“We should get going, actually.” Kate rushed up and fell into step beside him as they began walking down the hallways of the base. “The General wanted me, too.”
“What? …Did CSF-1 and Fireteam Alpha actually find something?”
“Guess so. Why the hell else would the General call on me?” Kate rubbed her hands together eagerly. “I hope it’s some new tech. I’ve been getting bored in the lab with our own worthless shit.”
Mote frowned. “You should’ve just gone straight to the debriefing, then. You don’t need to find me in person when you can just send an alert.”
“Meh. Danielle and I just got back from some lame-ass relief mission, I would’ve been through this area anyways.”
“What…? Oh, you mean the dam collapse in China?”
“I thought it was in Japan.”
“The mission brief said China.”
“Oh… could’ve sworn we were in Japan. Ah, whatever, it’s all Asia anyways.”
Mote passed Kate a glance of disapproval. “I hope you don’t talk to civilians with that attitude. Or anyone, for that matter.”
“Lighten the hell up, would you? Who cares if I get two little nations mixed up.”
“Ah yes, China, the ‘little nation’ that contains well over ten percent of Earth’s population. And Japan, the ‘little’ nation that both our direct superior officer and the Director of the EIIC call home. And both ‘little nations’ are in the top ten worldwide by GDP,” Mote drawled. “But yes, clearly they’re both simply inconsequential ‘little’ nations.”
“Alright, alright, I get the fucking point…”
“Seriously, you need to watch what you say. Talk like that could easily piss off… well, most reasonable people I know.”
“Stop lecturing me already, damn. I let Danielle do all the talking in the field anyways, everyone loves her. I was just on the dam mission to blow shit up and clear debris.”
A momentary wave of unease washed over Mote. Kate was both an Intellitechnic and an Explosives Formtechnic — meaning that she possessed both supernatural intelligence and the ability to create explosives out of thin air. Mote knew well that her intelligence and experience made her extremely capable with her explosives, but her gung-ho ignore-the-details attitude — as so clearly demonstrated by their conversation just now — would often give him pause all the same. “I trust you ‘blew shit up’ responsibly?”
Kate made an exaggerated show of rolling her eyes. “Yes, dad. God. You ever think of pulling that stick outta your ass and using that as a weapon? Would probably do you better than that big-ass fucking hammer of yours.”
“And neither would be more effective against potential enemies than your lousy attitude.”
“Please. My rough edges are part of my charm.” She punched Mote playfully in the shoulder. “Admit it, you like my foul mouth.”
“I’d like it better if you kept it shut more often.”
“Tch! Well then fuck you, too! I guess someone’s Chaos Armor is only getting a half-assed tune-up.”
Mote simply shook his head and sighed in resignation as he and Kate continued down the base’s halls toward the briefing room.
* * *
10 Minutes Later
“Ah, Lieutenants. We’ve been waiting for you.”
“Apologies for our tardiness, sir!” Mote saluted stiffly as he entered the base’s briefing room. The room itself was modestly decorated, with generic office art on the walls and a long table in the center of the room. On the far side of the table, across from Mote, sat Colonel Saito and Kirstin MacTavish, the latter of which held some sort of rhomboid device in her hands; on the near side of the table sat Colonel Johnson, his arms crossed and expression sullen. And at the head of the table sat a large man with a wide build and light skin. His graying hair, dignified mustache, and spotless uniform rounded out the physical traits well known of General of the Space Forces Matthew Lead, the commander of the entirety of Space Exploration, Reconnaissance, and Response Command — otherwise known as SERRCom.
The General beckoned toward the table. “Apology accepted. Now take a seat, please.”
Mote quickly sat down in the chair next to Colonel Johnson, his posture stiff and his hands clasped in his lap as Kate lazily collapsed into the chair next to him, her right ankle resting on her left knee. Mote caught her gaze lingering on the device in Kirstin’s hands, but just as she began to reach toward it, the General spoke up.
“Now, Colonels…” Lead glanced between Saito and Johnson. “…From the start. Just what happened, out there?”
“The mission started as expected…” Saito leaned forward to clasp his hands over the table. “I led CSF-1 and Fireteam Alpha to the ruins, then sent off Captain Travis and Lieutenant Thatcher to keep watch and provide cover, if necessary. The Drakkars were there, just like we expected. We counted and confirmed fifteen of them, so I had Major Hackett take MacTavish here around the back. Then Miles, his team, and I opened fire on the Drakkars to draw them out from the ruins, allowing Hackett and MacTavish to sneak in and steal the device the research team was talking about.”
The General glanced toward the device in Kirstin’s hands. “I take it that’s the device?”
Kirstin nodded rapidly. “Y-yes, sir!”
Lead turned back to Saito. “Then it sounds like the mission was a success. What went wrong?”
“We got ambushed, sir,” Johnson replied with a scowl. “In the middle of our distraction, one of them damned Faction Leaders showed up!”
“A Faction Leader?!” Kate exclaimed, “you can’t be serious. Really? In the middle of fucking nowhere?”
“He’s right,” Saito commented warily. “He called himself Prosusicivious, the leader of the Prolatio Drakkars. His physical description lined up with what we know about the Prolatio Faction Leader, as well.”
“He could’ve been fucking with you.”
“He took a Railshot blast to the chest and a sniper round to the head and walked both off without any sign of injury.” Johnson spun his chair around to glare at Kate. “We know what we were up against. I don’t need you questioning my judgment, Lieutenant.”
Kate made a face and opened her mouth to retort, but Mote held up a hand to stop her. He then turned back to face Johnson. “Sorry, Colonel. Please continue.”
“Actually, I think Lieutenant Faulkner has a point,” General Lead spoke up. “How do you know that this was truly Prosusicivious that you encountered?”
“Well, like Miles said,” Saito reiterated, “he walked off all kinds of gunfire, including Railshot and sniper rounds. I know we hit him, too, because he staggered under the force of the bullets. And he wasn’t wearing any kind of armor, either. Not as far as I could tell, at least. He just… didn’t actually get injured.”
“Thank God there’s only six of the bastards…” Johnson muttered.
“Hmm…” The General nodded solemnly. “…I take it, then, that Prosusicivious is to blame for Captain Feng’s current condition?”
“Uh, what? The hell happened to Feng?” Kate questioned, “wait… did he get his Ciei stolen?”
Johnson held a hand to his forehead in frustration as Saito responded, “yes, he did.”
“Shit…” Mote muttered, and then raised his voice to address Lead. “General, permission to speak freely?”
Lead nodded once. “Granted.”
“I should’ve been on this mission, sir. If not for me, Saito and Johnson’s teams never would have encountered Prosusicivious in the first place.”
“Don’t remind me…” Johnson growled.
“But it’s true,” Mote insisted. “I’m the one who had a vague dream about some Aldredas ruins. I never would have even told anyone about it, if not for all of the nonsense around the recent Chaos Quake and the new recruits. And now it just resulted in a SERRCom officer getting injured…”
“I-I mean, we still got this d-device!” Kirstin spoke up warily. “Th-that’s, that’s worth something, r-right…?”
“It’s not worth the casualties,” Mote countered. “…Captain Feng may not be dead, but with his Ciei stolen — by a Faction Leader, no less — he might as well be.”
“Can’t we just hunt down the Drakkar bastard and kill him? After all, that’s how you get a person’s Ciei back, by killing the Drakkar that stole it,” Kate pointed out.
“I thought Faction Leaders were unkillable,” Saito commented. “That’s what the rest of the galaxy claims, at least.”
“Well the rest of the galaxy haven’t met the Eximius Vir, then!”
“No, Saito is correct,” General Lead interjected. “Faulkner, the other nations of this galaxy have been contending with the Drakkars for several millennia, and over that time countless attempts have been made on the lives of the Drakkar Faction Leaders. Chaotics, orbital strikes, glassing, spacing… from what I understand, every play in the book has been attempted, and still the Faction Leaders live. As powerful as you and the other members of the Eximius Vir may be, I doubt that you’ll find success where thousands of years of attempts have failed. If you or Emerson had gone on this mission, then for all we know, there could have been more casualties.”
Mote frowned. “I’m not sure I follow, sir.”
“Given what I know about the Faction Leaders, they tend to be incredibly sadistic. I think it’s highly likely that the only reason Prosusicivious let you all live is because he knew there was no chance you could hurt him, and he took a perverse pleasure out of watching your reactions to his treatment of Feng. However, if he was forced to face off with someone as powerful as Emerson, then I doubt he would have been so merciful.” Lead glanced at Saito, and then at Johnson. “Do you disagree, Colonels?”
Saito sighed in irritation. “No, sir. That sounds about right, given what he told us…”
“Damn…” Johnson scowled. “…I hate feeling this helpless. Is there really nothing we could have done for Feng?”
“Your encounter with a Drakkar Faction Leader was an unseen and highly unfortunate event, Colonel,” Lead responded. “Given the circumstances, I believe that you and Saito did about as well as you could have.”
“But, uh, s-something was odd about that…” Kirstin spoke up, and then shrunk against the back of her chair when everyone in the room turned their attention to her. “U-um, I-I mean, I-I could be, uh, wrong…”
“What are you talking about, MacTavish?” Saito questioned.
“…W-well… when th-the Drakkar stole, uh, st-stole the Captain’s Ciei, he… w-well, it just seemed like, um, like he got some, er, m-memories, too…”
The General frowned. “Memories?”
“Oh, that’s right…” Saito nodded. “I remember Prosusicivious referring to me and SERRCom by name after he took Feng’s Ciei, even though we never told him our names. It’s like he got Feng’s memories, along with his Ciei…”
“I thought Ciei didn’t include memories.”
“Normally, no,” Kate declared, “but I remember reading some reports that claimed that the Faction Leaders are better at Ciei theft than the normal cannon fodder Drakkars.” She shrugged. “Maybe they can take memories, too, in addition to all that emotions and imagination crap.”
“This has serious security implications,” the General commented, “if Prosusicivious truly did have access to Feng’s memories, then that means that he could know everything that Feng did, including SERRCom fortifications data, base locations, access keys… Director Hamasaki won’t be pleased to hear this at all.” He then glanced toward Kirstin and nodded toward the device in her hands. “Please tell me that all of this was at least worth something.”
“O-oh. W-well, uh…” Kirstin was momentarily distracted as Kate snatched the rhomboid device out of her hands, but eventually she returned her attention to the General. “Uh, it, w-well… i-it’s Aldredian, th-that much I can tell, but… uh…” She squirmed and cast her eyes down uneasily. “I-I h-haven’t been able to, uh, f-figure out much else.”
“Really?” Kate responded incredulously, “you seemed so sure that bringing back this piece of crap was worth what happened to Feng, and all you can tell is that it’s Aldredian?”
“I-I-I, I, w-well…”
“Kate, don’t antagonize her,” Saito admonished.
Kate simply rolled her eyes before returning her attention to the device. “Still, it’s an ancient Aldredian device, from a surface outpost, no less. Even if it’s only half as dead as it looks, there’s no fucking way we’re getting anything out of this thing. And that’s even assuming that it’s actually a device. For all we know it could just be some piece of shit art piece.”
“Aren’t the Aldredas over a hundred thousand years old?” Johnson questioned, “how the hell could an ‘art piece’ last that long?”
“Look, that was just an example, okay? I’m just saying, this is more likely to be worthless bullshit than anything of value. This is an artifact that we should toss over to some thirsty archaeologist, not waste time in the research lab on.”
“B-but,” Kirstin responded, “I haven’t had a, um, a p-proper chance to analyze it…”
“And I analyzed it just now. By looking at it. It’s fucking worthless.”
“N-no it’s not! Y-you can’t just d-decide that b-by looking at it…”
As Kate and Kirstin began exchanging shots about the value of the object, Mote found himself simply staring at it. The rhomboid object was about the size of a football, and looked to be made out of some kind of blackish silver metallic alloy. Its surface was clearly aged; any intricate designs it may have had were wiped away by time, leaving behind a blank slate of a rhomboid. But despite this, as Mote continued to look it over, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he recognized it from somewhere.
A series of images promptly flashed through his mind: a star map location, a large subterranean cavern, a field of battle, a woman with red hair.
A month ago, just before the week-long Chaos Energy Quake at the end of August, Mote had had a vision — and these four images were the only parts that remained in his memory. The first image, the star map location, was what had pointed SERRCom to the planet where the rhomboid device was recovered. Mote still had no idea what the other three images were. None of them featured the mystery device, but looking at it gave him a vague sense of nostalgia all the same. Maybe I just saw it in the parts of my vision I don’t remember?… That must be. There’s no other way I would recognize it…
“Uh, Earth to Mote? Hello?”
“What—?” Mote jerked back, startled, as Kate waved her hand in his face.
“Look, staring intently at weird new devices is my thing, not yours,” she retorted.
Mote simply responded with an unamused glance before gesturing at the object. “Let me see it.”
“Hmm? Do you recognize it, Emerson?” the General questioned.
“I… think so, sir.” He carefully grasped the rhomboid after Kate unceremoniously dropped it in his lap. “I think… I saw it in my vision—!”
He paused and drew back in surprise as the device began to glow. It pulsed a soft blue for a couple seconds before letting off a bright white flash, prompting everyone in the room to reflexively flinch away.
“The hell are you doing, Mote?!” Saito demanded, “warn us before you blind us!”
“That wasn’t me!” Mote exclaimed, “at least, not on purpose! All I did was touch the thing!”
“Well, whatever the hell you did,” Kate muttered, “…looks like you activated some kind of… message?”
Mote glanced down at the device in his hands. Sure enough, it was now projecting a series of symbols into the air, like a hologram. The symbols were completely foreign to Mote, and yet — much like the device itself — something about them seemed familiar.
“…I-it’s Aldredian n-numerals.”
“Huh?” Mote looked over at Kirstin, who herself was staring at the device in his hands. “…Numerals?”
Kirstin nodded. “Mm hmm. I-I can’t read them myself, but, uh… I-I rec-recognize them from some p-papers I’ve read…”
“Well, great.” Johnson scowled. “If we can’t read the damn thing, then it’s still as good as useless.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Kate countered. “The galaxy has been studying Aldredian ruins for countless years. A cipher for their language has existed since before we puny Earthians hit the middle ages. Translating these numerals will be easier than convincing Mote to have fun more than once a month!”
“And easier than convincing you to stop running your mouth, I’m sure,” Mote shot back. “Besides, you were the one complaining about how useless this thing was until I activated it. Maybe if you had focused more on the device instead of complaining, we’d be done with the debriefing by now!”
“Excuse me?! Don’t pin this on me, dumbass! You’re the one with the weird vision and everything, maybe it’s just attracted to stupid weirdos!”
“Lieutenants!” Lead spoke sharply, prompting both to immediately quiet down and turn to face him. “…Thank you. Now, that said, Faulkner may be on to something. It’s possible, Emerson, that you having a vision and then being the one to activate the device are connected.”
“Tch,” Johnson snorted. “First I had to deal with that bullshit Ciei nonsense, and now we got visions and ancient artifacts that favor one person over other people? You’re telling me Feng got fucked for this?”
“I understand how you feel, Colonel,” Lead commented, “but from what I understand of the Aldredas, they heavily based much of their technology around Chaos Energy and Chaotics. It doesn’t seem far-fetched for them to have created some sort of time capsule that would only respond to Chaotics.”
“Then why didn’t it respond to me?” Kate questioned.
“I don’t know. That’s for you and MacTavish to figure out.”
Kirstin glanced uneasily at Kate and then back at the General. “Uh, s-sir…?”
“You heard me,” Lead replied. “MacTavish, Faulkner, I want the two of you to study that device and figure out what those numerals mean. Bring Scott or Sarah in if you have to, but the moment you figure it out, I want a report in my inbox. Understood?”
“Ugh, I gotta work with Kirstin and Sarah?” Kate huffed. “They’ll just slow me down—”
“I said, understood?”
Kate sighed impatiently. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Lead glanced between Colonels Saito and Johnson, and then at Mote. “Well, I believe that’s everything. So unless anyone has anything to add…?” He paused momentarily, waiting for a reply; when he received none, he nodded and stood up, prompting everyone else to do the same. “Very well. Colonels, Lieutenants, Researcher. Dismissed!”