Chapter 25 – Return

«Nanocreatures? Are you serious?»

«Y-yes!» Researcher MacTavish replied over the comms, «it, it mentions Morcii right— right here! A-and a s-silver rash, and, and everything!»

«‘Silver rash’ on its own is damning, but finding a mention of Morcii does seal the deal,» Saito commented as he passed a wary glance toward Mote. «This really doesn’t sound good.»

«Who’s Morcii?» Danielle questioned over the connection, «the name sounds familiar…»

«Morcii was the one who led the Nanocreatures against the rest of the galaxy during the big war 20 years ago,» Hackett explained. «In just a month, he and the Nanocreatures managed to capture nearly half of the CSA’s Transpace worlds. It took literally destroying a planet to stop him — if the Nanocreatures had been given just one more month, the CSA would’ve fallen for sure. And it wouldn’t have taken the Nanocreatures even half as long to take over the Nimalians, or Earth.»

«And even after all that, the Nanocreatures managed to come back for a day,» Saito stated. «It was those Nimalians, Hero Machina, that put Morcii down for good — or so the Nimalian Union claims, at least.»

«Hero Machina?» Danielle echoed, «wait, aren’t those the guys that Twy and Sky and everybody went to study under?»

«The very same,» Saito replied.

«What’s the story with them? Like, I know about the Nanocreature War and stuff, but how’re they involved?»

«Well, that’s a somewhat longer story… but it does seems relevant right about now,» Saito mused. «The official story actually begins around 40 years ago, with the Chaos Energy Quake of 2088. Aside from making Chaos Energy all across the galaxy unusable, the Quake also made all of the Chaos Ayas disappear.»

«Disappear?» Danielle questioned.

«Yeah. All nine Ayas just disappeared into the ether, with no traces at all,» Saito remarked. «Ten years after that was the first official report of the ‘metallic infection’ in the galaxy — the first official time anyone had seen the Nanocreatures. Of course, given how the infection spreads, I’d bet that it was around for some time before then…

«Ten years after that, in 2109, is where Hero Machina enters the picture. The six of them were, as the story goes, unique — normally, many Nimalians born in any given year would go on to become Chaotics, but of all the people born on Nimalia during the original Chaos Quake… only the six members of Hero Machina developed Chaotic abilities. Now, Hero Machina aren’t the only Nimalian ‘quakeborn’ Chaotics, but they are the only ones from Nimalia itself, which is pretty weird when there would usually be orders of magnitude more. I guess someone on Nimalia thought there was some significance to it all, and decided to put together Hero Machina as a team.

«According to the official story, Hero Machina’s main mission was to look into the Chaos Quake and the metallic infection. Along the way, they ended up discovering many of the Ayas that had disappeared twenty years prior. They also got involved in the Riaxen-Syraus battle at Tyrnaus, and a little bit in the United Drakkar Offensive; one of the planets the Drakkars attacked was a Siion Fortress World by the name of Maasen, and Hero Machina was sent there to recover one of the Ayas before the Drakkars could get their hands on it.

«And that’s when Morcii first showed up. He single-handedly scared off both Exdominor and Surdeus — the two most powerful Drakkar Faction Leaders — and then beat Hero Machina in a fight, even crippling one of them. Following that, he declared war on the galaxy, and, well… I think we all know what happened at that point. Many of the CSA’s Transpace Worlds fell to the Nanocreatures over the course of a single month, some of them falling within mere days of being attacked. The Nanocreatures didn’t suffer a single loss until the famous Battle of Neticen, where Christeané Kolstén — one of the members of Hero Machina — used the allied forces’ collected Ayas to fight Morcii. They destroyed the planet of Neticen during their fight, but Christeané beat Morcii in the end, and was able to claim all nine of the Ayas for the allied forces of the galaxy.

«With Morcii… apparently gone, the rest of the Nanocreatures significantly dwindled in strength, allowing the CSA to push back and recapture their lost Transpace Worlds. It wasn’t pretty, I can tell you that, but a month and a half later, the CSA had all of their territory back and was starting to recover. …Only for Morcii to show up again another month and a half after that. He and the Nanocreatures attacked all of the locations that were safe-guarding the Ayas, and successfully captured them, too — at which point Morcii fucked off to who knows where. This is where the official story gets a little hazy… but supposedly, Hero Machina found where Morcii was hiding, stole the Ayas from him, and then killed him again. Except this time, when they killed him, the vast majority of the Nanocreatures throughout the galaxy instantly dissolved. That was the true end of the Nanocreature War; Morcii hasn’t been seen or heard from since.»

«If killing him the second time worked, then why not the first time?» Mote questioned.

«No idea,» replied Saito. «I guess, since Morcii was using the Ayas himself during the Battle of Neticen, his ‘death’ there wasn’t as, um… permanent. Though, I really have to wonder if we can be sure if his second death was permanent… either way, that’s the official story of how Hero Machina got involved in the Nanocreature War, and how they beat the Nanocreatures. Considering that it took a bunch of Ayas to stop the Nanocreatures — both times — I’m sure you can see that they’re an incredibly dangerous threat.»

«Sure sounds like it, if someone had to destroy a planet to stop them!» Danielle exclaimed.

«I’m surprised you could rattle off the detailed story off of the top of your head like that, though, sir,» Hackett remarked.

«The Nanocreature War had a very significant impact on the galaxy, and we’re still feeling its effects — even today,» Saito replied. «I’ve spent a lot of time studying the official reports from the war. It’s the only way to understand everything that happened, and the kind of dangers our galaxy can face.»

«The war was 20 years ago, though,» Mote pointed out. «To go back to the original point — if Kirstin is right, and there were Nanocreatures on this station until recently, then would they not have all left 20 years ago to join Morcii?»

«That does sound likely,» Hackett agreed. «The Nanocreature War was a full-out assault. I don’t think the Nanocreatures were holding anything back.»

«On the contrary, Major,» Saito interjected. «During the battle for Tau’cen Kii, the allied forces detonated a Drive Bomb against the Nanocreature fleet — only for the Nanocreatures to immediately retaliate with their own. You can see the evidence of that today, since the Nanocreature bomb took out a chunk of the local Fortress World. The fact is, the Nanocreatures undoubtedly had the power to fabricate Subspace Drives at will and obliterate any planet they wanted to, they just… didn’t.»

«That sounds… bad,» Danielle said.

«Yes…» Saito responded, his mouth reflexively turning down into a frown. «The Nanocreatures can also consume and take control of other matter to create more of themselves. And they can spread stealthily, as well — not only are they nanites, but they can spread through living creatures like a regular infection. Before we knew what Nanocreatures really were, they were known as the ‘metallic infection’, due to the metal-like rashes that would form on infected creatures — and that infection spread through the entire galaxy for over 10 years prior to the Nanocreature War. I wouldn’t be surprised if Morcii left a small number of them laying around somewhere, so that they could start that whole process over again…»

«You’re suggesting that he would’ve left the Nanocreatures on this station, then?» Mote questioned. «Is there a way to verify that?»

«I’m not sure… MacTavish, do the computers say anything about this? Are there any kind of sensors that could tell us if the Nanocreatures are still here?»

«Uh… n-not that, um, I can see…» MacTavish responded, as though she were partially distracted with reading something. «Th-those systems, uh, d-don’t seem to be active…»

«Is it possible to reactivate them?»

«If the Nanocreatures were loose on this station at some point, then I’d be willing to bet that they disabled those sensors, sir,» Hackett commented. «They’ve had plenty of time, after all.»

«It’s still worth a shot,» Saito declared. «MacTavish, do you know?»

«Uh… w-well…» The Researcher fell silent for a few moments, during which Saito and Mote exchanged glances. «D-don’t know about the, uh, sensors,» she eventually spoke up again, «but, um… th-there’s something else in-interesting, here…»

«What is it?»

«The docs m-mention some kind of, uh… a project to, um, m-make a machine that can undo, uh, c-corruption.»

«A machine that can undo Nanocreature corruption?» Hackett repeated incredulously, «if that actually exists, then it could be very useful.»

«I agree,» Saito stated, «but MacTavish only said that the Aldredas had a project for this going. Do the documents say anything about a completed, working machine?»

«Uh… th-there’s a prototype,» MacTavish replied.

«Oh, fantastic. Where is it?»

«…N-not on this, uh, station…»

«Well that’s just great,» Mote muttered.

«It figures that our job wouldn’t be easy… but then again, is it ever?» Saito responded cheekily, and then returned to a serious tone. «MacTavish, are there at least any directions to where this prototype could be? Anything to help us find it?»

«Um, w-well… sort of…»

«‘Sort of’? What the hell does that mean?»

«There’s a, um, tip, but… it’s, uh… w-well, I’ll read it: ‘the key to this, uh, m-machine is found through, um, Ry-Rynisaren.’»

«How unhelpfully cryptic,» Hackett deadpanned.

«Leave it to the Aldredas to make things convoluted,» Saito replied, and then released an impatient sigh. «…Then again, this might just be precautions against the Nanocreatures getting their hands on the machine. If this station recorded an exact coordinate, and the Nanocreatures took it over, then they’d be able to get their hands on the machine, as well. Obviously, the Aldredas would want to put a stop to that.»

«I suppose that makes some level of sense,» Mote commented, «but hiding the location of an important machine behind a riddle seems like a horrifically naive attempt at OpSec.»

«When the Nanocreatures can seize direct control of the hardware you store all your data on, then figurative speech might actually be the way to go,» Saito countered. «It sure doesn’t make our job any easier, though.»

«Yeah, what does ‘Rynisaren’ even mean?» Danielle questioned, «without that, we don’t know anything!»

«I-it says here, actually…» MacTavish stated, «Rynisaren Raen was, um, a-an old leader of the, uh, Aldredas. He’s the one who, uh, m-made Raen technology — the, uh, th-the stuff that only Mote can use.»

«Is that so…» Mote muttered.

«N-not only that. The, um, th-the Dreadnought we found… w-was named after him.»

«Now that you mention that, I do recall Kate saying that the Dreadnought’s name was Rynisaren,» Saito mused. «Is the riddle saying that the anti-Nanocreature machine was on the Dreadnought? Or that one of the Dreadnought’s coordinates points to the machine?»

«I, uh, d-don’t know…»

«Fair enough. I suppose we shouldn’t expect all of the answers just yet… though it’s nice to have a lead. Let’s just hope that the machine wasn’t actually on the Dreadnought, since we had to scuttle it…»

«A lead it might be, but didn’t the Dreadnought have hundreds or thousands of coordinates to sort through?» Hackett questioned, «there has to be a way to figure out which is the right one, surely?»

«Hopefully there is, but unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll find that out here.» Saito took a deep breath before continuing, «anyways, MacTavish, see if you can find a way to tell if there really are Nanocreatures still on this station or not. Everyone else, be careful, and watch out. The energy shielding of our armor should protect us against them, if we run into them, but only for a short time — so if you see any signs of the Nanocreatures, then get the hell out immediately. Understood?»

«Yes sir,» Hackett replied.

«Good. In the meantime, I’ll contact Krick and let him know what we’ve discovered. Saito, out.»

«…Do you really think the Nanocreatures could still be here, sir?» Mote questioned as the two dropped out of the group-wide comms call.

«I think the chance of them being here is too great to ignore,» the Colonel replied. «You were barely alive when the Nanocreature War happened, so you wouldn’t know what it was like. And to be honest, even I don’t know that well — Earth’s only direct contribution was to send the Genesis, so most people who were in SERRCom at the time were no better than bystanders. But the news reports about the war were horrific… and to make matters worse, the galaxy had over 10 years’ worth of warning, through the spread of the ‘metallic infection’, as it was called. If that infection had been taken more seriously, then the Nanocreature War might never have happened. So you can bet your ass that I’m going to take it seriously now.»

«…I see,» Mote responded. «I apologize if it seems like I wasn’t giving the danger its due respect.»

«Yeah… the Nanocreatures sure seem like the kind of threat that people are incapable of taking seriously until they see things go wrong with their own eyes,» Saito commented bitterly.

«What is it that makes them so dangerous, though? Surely modern technology should be able to handle a few nanomachines.»

«Military hardware, maybe, due to how everyone uses energy shielding. But civvies don’t, and that makes it much easier for Nanocreature nanites to infect them. Hell, even soldiers and military hardware aren’t always protected by energy shielding. Everything becomes vulnerable at some point.»

«Sure, but nanites are made out of metal, are they not, sir? A Metallitechnic or an Electrotechnic ought to make short work of them.»

«And that’s where you’d be wrong, I’m afraid— though I’m surprised you didn’t know this. Nanocreatures are immune to direct manipulation from Chaotics.»

«…I suppose that does make them considerably more dangerous…»

«Exactly.»

«But if that’s the case, then how did a group of Chaotics defeat the Nanocreatures, and Morcii?»

«You’d have to ask the Nimalians about that one. The official story claims that Hero Machina simply defeated him in combat, with the aid of the Chaos Ayas. Though I’ve always thought that the official story was a little light on the details of Morcii’s defeat…»

«Is that not suspicious? Maybe the Nimalians have a way to deal with the Nanocreatures, and just wanted to hide it from the rest of the galaxy.»

«Maybe, but we’re starting to enter into the realm of conspiracy theories,» Saito countered, and then took a deep breath. «We’ve wasted enough time talking about this, anyways; I have a call to make. Colonel Saito to Genesis, Colonel Saito to Genesis. Captain Krick, do you read me?»

The Colonel waited patiently for a response, eager to alert Krick and Genesis about everything they’ve learned. Several seconds passed by in silence, however, with no response from Krick at all.

«…Colonel Saito, to Genesis,» he repeated, this time a little slower and more clear. Out the corner of his eye, Saito noticed Mote snap his attention to him, as if in alarm. «…Krick? Do you read?» Saito tried again, though still he received no response.

«I can’t contact them, either, sir…» Mote stated a second later. «I can’t even establish a connection. It’s like my armor can’t see any signals outside of the station…»

The two glanced at each other, and then Saito quickly brought his gun to bear as they both began scanning their surroundings.

«Why can’t things ever be easy,» the Colonel muttered. «Just once, I’d like a mission to go down exactly as planned…»

«Yes…» Mote responded in kind, and then glanced back at Saito. «Wait… Colonel, you said that the Nanocreatures can seize control of any matter they touch, right?»

«I did… what of it?»

«Do they learn from what they absorb, as well?»

«I’m not sure on that one, but I wouldn’t be willing to bet against it. At a very minimum, they’re capable of using anything they’ve corrupted to the full extent of the original owners.»

«I see… then if, if the Nanocreatures really are here, it would be bad if they got a hold of the Raenaros, wouldn’t it?»

There was a brief moment of silence as Saito turned to stare at Mote, followed by the Colonel whipping around and pushing off of the surrounding bulkheads to propel himself down the hallway. «We’re heading back to the Corvette,» he ordered to Mote. «This situation has gotten far too dire, especially with the sudden loss of comms. Nanocreatures or no, we’re—»

«Uh, sir, I just got an alert from the Raenaros,» Mote interjected. «It just locked itself down, due to… detecting nearby ‘Morenal’.»

«Damn, I fucking knew it—»

«Colonel!» Major Hackett’s voice sliced into their conversation. «Colonel, do you read me?!»

«I hear you, Major,» Saito replied. «The Raenaros just detected Morenal — that is, Nanocreatures — on the station. The risk has gotten too big—»

«Sir, the risk is here!» Hackett insisted, «Danielle and I are under attack by metal bugs. It’s the Nanocreatures!»