Chapter 13 – Gated Discoveries
7 Years Ago
“…1st Lieutenant, huh?”
“Yessir, that’s me. 1st Lieutenant Luke Travis, at your service.”
“1st Lieutenant. Tch. Really scraping the bottom of the barrel, now, huh…”
“No, it’s not your fault. But do you know who I am?”
“Lieutenant Colonel Kaji Saito, right?”
“That’s right. And do you know what it is I’m doing here?”
“Somethin’ really important to SERRCom, if General Lead’s to be believed.”
“But he didn’t actually tell you what.”
“Alright… why did you agree to the position?”
“Well, it was either this, or head back to the ESFC. And between you and me, sir, I like the pay of the EIIC a lot better.”
“…Right. Hmm. I recall your file saying something about an… ‘overly lackadaisical attitude’.”
“Oh, they actually wrote that? I mean, I guess it’s not wrong. I’m pretty good with guns though, sir. I imagine that’s why they keep me around.”
“Every soldier thinks they’re good with a gun.”
“Yeah, but does every soldier have a ninety-nine percent accuracy rate with a Gauss-SR02 at four kilometers?”
“I’m pretty good with a Railrifle, too. I could hit a bullseye from just over five kilometers. I’m not quite as good with a regular Gauss-AR02, though.”
“That’s… impressive. Almost too much so to be believed.”
“Thank you, sir. I can demonstrate for you, if you’d like.”
“No no, that’s fine. But how did you get so good at shooting in the first place?”
“I like guns, sir. Of all kinds. Airsoft, paint ball, BB, real ones. I like to hunt and skeet shoot, too. Even a bit of archery every now and then.”
“I… see. I’m not sure how airsoft or paint ball guns would help with aiming a Gauss rifle, but okay. I suppose the team could use a sniper…”
“You weren’t aware of my skills, sir?”
“No, I was hoping for more of a disciplined babysitter type, not a marksman.”
“It’s my understanding that you’ve got a nephew that you’re close to, right?”
“Yes sir, he’s 13. He’s like my little brother! Not sure what that has to do with this, though.”
“Lieutenant, does the acronym ‘CSF’ mean anything to you?”
“Very funny, Lieutenant, but no. Tch. Damn it, Lead, why do you always leave me to do the explaining…”
“This sounds like an… unconventional job, sir.”
“You don’t even know. You better sit tight, this new posting is a lot to take in. But first…” Saito extended his hand, and exchanged a firm shake with Travis. “Welcome to Chaotic Support Fireteam 1, Lieutenant.”
* * *
Present Day, 1 Day Later
— Sunday, October 9, AD 2129 —
“Huh? Oh, Colonel!” Captain Travis turned to face Saito as he approached and saluted. “Didn’t expect you back so soon, sir.”
“It was just a routine check-in. Was never going to take that long,” Saito replied, and then glanced around at the sights developing around him. Ever since he had disabled the outpost’s command core the previous day, the SERRCom and Black Suns forces had been working to restore limited power to certain systems, explore the parts of the outpost that were still unknown, and set up defenses in case of another attack — be it from an internal or external force. Most prominent on the outside of the base were three large mechs and three tanks that Genesis and Origin had beamed down. The mechs were 9 meter-tall humanoid machines with armor plating all over, intended to perform mechanized missions through rough or uneven terrain; Saito recalled that the particular models in front of him were MA-02 Halberds, SERRCom’s designated assault mechs. Sitting idle some distance from the mechs were three tanks, each sporting significantly heavier armor and arms than the mechs. These were MBT-02 Rhinos, SERRCom’s designated main battle tank, and featured impressive double-barreled 60mm railguns as their primary armaments. Despite SERRCom’s technological disadvantage compared to the rest of the galaxy, the Rhino’s main guns were nearly on par with the main battle tanks of the other galactic militaries — though the Rhino required a larger frame and actual treads to support its weapons, as opposed to the anti-gravity hovering systems that most armored vehicles used in the galaxy.
SERRCom’s mechs and tanks were usually operated by non-commissioned officers, but as members of an in-field special ops team, Saito and the other members of CSF-1 had received general training in the operation of all SERRCom vehicles. The Colonel knew that Hackett, Travis, and even MacTavish were all rather decent at controlling mechs, and Travis even seemed to enjoy it, but Saito himself was ambivalent — and he hoped that their skills wouldn’t be needed, regardless.
“They’re pretty cool, ain’t they?”
Saito glanced over at Travis, who himself was staring at the mechs standing near the outpost entrance. “If you say so, Captain,” the Colonel replied.
“Oh come on, sir. This is science fiction made real! You can’t deny that it’s at least a little cool.”
The Colonel simply smirked and shook his head, prompting Travis to shrug in resignation.
“Check-in went fine, I take it?” Travis questioned.
“It did. We sent one of the dormant drones back to Earth for the lab techs to take a look at, and we also got a fresh team to shore up the defenses around the Gate.”
“Good. Right now the Gate is our only ticket home, it’d be pretty bad if we lost it.” The Captain then passed Saito a curious glance. “Uh, respectfully, sir… was it really a good idea to let the Genesis and Origin leave us here?”
Saito looked to his left, where two Black Suns soldiers were patrolling the area. He then gestured for Travis to follow him as he approached the outpost entrance; once out of earshot of the Black Suns, he answered, “Genesis-class Battlecruisers are heavily dependent on Chaos Energy. Hell, all SERRCom ships are, but the Genesis and her sister ships especially. The longer they remain in Dead Space, the more structural damage they’ll accrue.”
“Oh… I thought Captain Krick was just exaggeratin’.”
“I can certainly see why you might think that,” Saito replied with a smirk as he and Travis stepped into the outpost. Due to the power generators having been destroyed, the primary lights were out — but before leaving, the two Battlecruisers had beamed down a variety of portable power generators and lights, allowing the ground forces to set up at least some level of lighting throughout the base. The loud hum of an electrical motor dominated the outpost entryway as a generator provided power to a number of lights throughout the hallway and beyond; Saito reflexively covered his ears until he and Travis were some distance away. “I see you all have been hard at work while I was gone,” the Colonel remarked.
“Real pain in the ass haulin’ those things around,” Travis muttered. “I’d rather take the mind-numbness of guard duty over bein’ a moving guy.”
“Don’t give me ideas, Captain.”
“Ah ha… right, sir.”
“Is everything in place, then? The generators, the lights…?”
“Yes sir, as far as I know. Kirstin even got the beaming jammer set up in the command core. Push one button, and no one’s leavin’ or enterin’… though I’m not sure why we’d want that.”
“It’s an anti-Drakkar precaution. They have beaming tech too, you know.”
“Oh. Right. And I guess they have really been on our asses so far. Wouldn’t be surprised if they showed up here, huh?”
“No, but let’s hope that they don’t.” Saito casually glanced around the dim and barren hallways as he slowly made his way toward the command core. “What of the remaining drones?”
“We’ve destroyed most of them at this point,” Travis replied. “Commander Rabine sent a couple back with her guys to send back to wherever the Black Suns send stuff, I assume for the same reason we sent one back, probably. The rest’ve been dismantled, but we still aren’t quite sure where they even came from…”
“We’ll find out soon. But until we can be sure we’ve taken care of all of them, the command core has to stay disconnected from power.”
“Yeah, don’t worry about that, sir. Rabine made it abundantly clear to both her folks and our own not to muck around in there.”
“Good. And I take it MacTavish has been looking through the handful of computer systems we managed to bring back online?”
“She was, but then she found something, I think. Hackett said that she was being really insistent on checking out one area of the base. Didn’t say what part, though…”
“Well let’s hope she really did find something. I’m still not entirely sure what the purpose of this outpost is—”
«Colonel! Colonel, do you read?»
Saito paused, momentarily startled by the sudden transmission, but he promptly activated his communicator and responded, “Major? What is it?”
«Ah, you are back. Sir, you should make your way to two floors below the command core. You’ll really want to see this.»
Saito and Travis exchanged confused glances. “Want to see what?” the Colonel questioned.
«Well, sir…» Hackett paused; Saito couldn’t quite tell why, but it sounded as though she were taking a deep breath before continuing, «I think we’ve stumbled across one of the most advanced Aldredian relics in the history of the galaxy: a fully intact Frigate!»
* * *
30 Minutes Later
“Well I’ll be damned. It really is a ship!”
“Of course it is,” Rabine retorted. “Do you really mistrust your subordinates’ judgment that much?”
Saito passed her an unamused glance before returning his attention to the environment around him. He currently stood on what he assumed to be the bridge of the Frigate, due to the prominent single seat stationed in the center of the room and the wide viewport windows along the front. Through the windows, the Colonel saw the walls of the subterranean docking bay that contained the ship, which itself was rather small. SERRCom Frigates were often around 80 meters in length, making them comparable in size to large commercial airliners, but this Frigate couldn’t have been more than 35 or 40 meters bow to stern — leaving it in a sort of awkward half-way point between fightercraft and true Frigates. Furthermore, the Aldredian Frigate’s interior was fairly small; what space it did have was organized such that the craft felt far from cramped, but based on the size of the crew facilities and the bridge, Saito guesstimated that the ship was designed to be crewed by less than ten people, perhaps even less than five. The bridge itself only had three dedicated seats, including the captain’s chair.
The Frigate’s aesthetic also left an impression on Saito, with its exterior decorated in the same sort of regal crimson, gold, and black geometric designs with sharp, angled lines that covered the armor they had found on their previous mission. The craft itself had a top-down silhouette that vaguely resembled a longsword, with a long fore section that tapered off at the bow, where the bridge was located. Near the middle of the craft, though further back than forward, extended two thick, slightly forward-swept wing-like protrusions that contained two engines on each side of the craft. Another two engines jetted backward from the stern of the craft, though these two engines were aligned in a vertical pair as opposed to the horizontal pairing of the wing engines. Around the stern of the Frigate, slightly ahead of the rear engines but still behind the wing engines, were four aircraft-like stabilizers, arranged in a sort of flattened ‘X’. Printed on the upper two stabilizers — as well as on several other points along the hull, and on the floor of the bridge — was a blue insignia of a longsword, on top of a thick black circle. It was the same insignia that appeared on Mote’s armor, so Saito was quick to assume that they were somehow connected. The only question then, was how?
The Colonel turned his attention back to the present. On the bridge stood himself, who leaned on the back of the captain’s chair; Commander Rabine, who stood in front of the massive window; Researcher MacTavish, who sat at one of the two consoles situated behind the captain’s chair as she attempted to interface her laptop with the ship; and Captain Travis, who stood at the back of the bridge as he stared around at the entire ship in awe. Major Hackett was currently watching over the Black Suns techs in the outpost’s main control room. Not unlike Rabine here keeping an eye on MacTavish, Saito thought warily. He then made to address the Commander’s jab at his supposed distrust in his subordinates.
“Relax, Commander, I trust Hackett just fine. But you’ll have to forgive me for being a little incredulous when I hear that there’s an intact one hundred thousand year old Frigate just laying around.”
“Mm…” Rabine stared at Saito for a moment before turning toward the bridge window. “I suppose you have a point.”
“But seriously, though. This thing can’t actually be a hundred thousand goddamn years old, can it?!” Travis exclaimed. “I mean, this thing looks like it was built yesterday!”
“You’re not wrong,” Rabine replied, “which I find somewhat suspicious. About the age of the ship, that is. How is it in such pristine condition?”
Saito glanced over at MacTavish, who had momentarily stopped working on her laptop to look up at Saito and Rabine. “Stasis?” Saito echoed, confused.
“I, uh, th-think so…” The Researcher looked past Rabine out the bridge window before returning her attention to her laptop. “S-some pre-preliminary scans from the, um, th-the Origin show that, uh, th-the metals in the, uh, the base aren’t the same age as the, um, th-the f-forest around it.”
“That just sounds like the base was built recently,” Rabine countered. “How do you get ‘stasis’ from that?”
“W-well, when we got the, um, th-the base computers back online a-after the, uh, the attack, we f-found that, uh, th-the generators were running at, um, full load up un-until around a, uh, f-few weeks ago.”
“Few weeks ago…? You mean when the new Chaos Quake hit?” Travis questioned.
“Th-the logs weren’t f-fully in-intact, so it— it’s hard t-to say, but, um…” MacTavish nodded meekly. “…I-I think so…”
“So you think that the generators were being used to power some kind of stasis tech up until that point?”
“I-I th-think. Some of th-the teams exploring the, um, the base, th-they also found some tech th-that we don’t, uh, recognize, so th-those could be, um, th-the stasis field gener-generators.”
Rabine frowned. “Still sounds like a stretch to me.”
Saito passed her a questioning glance. “Do you have any better explanation?”
“Well… not at the moment. But even the best stasis technology we have at our disposal would never last more than a thousand years. A hundred thousand is absurd.”
“I thought it was already well-established that the Aldredas were more technologically advanced at the end of their civilization than we are now?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they could do anything.”
“We’re all just speculating right now, anyways.” The Colonel turned toward MacTavish again. “Are there any technologies around here that we actually have identified?”
The Researcher averted her eyes. “W-well… n-not really…”
“My teams haven’t found much, either,” Rabine responded.
“What?” Saito passed the Commander an incredulous glance. “It’s been a day. I know that’s not a lot of time, but how have we found out nothing?”
“I said we haven’t found much, not nothing,” Rabine shot back. “We had to destroy the main power generators to stop the drones, but we’ve been able to get a look at the tertiary generators that used to be connected to the command core. We might be able to pull out a few dynamo tech advances from that. Otherwise… well, we’re still exploring. If we can find out where all the drones came from, then we might get our hands on a few more to pick apart.”
“Or a few more that we’ll have to destroy,” Saito muttered under his breath. He then looked back to MacTavish. “You say we haven’t ID’d any tech, but is there anything else interesting you’ve found?”
She stared at him for a moment, her expression blank; Saito knew that this was just what she did when she was thinking hard, but it felt a little weird all the same. Just as he was about to move, however, her eyes lit up. “O-oh! Y-yeah! Uh, more proof that th-this base is older th-than it, um, looks!”
“…That being…?” Travis prompted after a few moments of silence.
“Er, um, right. Uh, w-well—”
“Can we get to the point, please?” Rabine cut in.
MacTavish stared at her, momentarily startled, before shrinking into her chair and averting her eyes. “S-sorry…”
“It’s fine, MacTavish,” Saito responded as he passed Rabine an irritated glance. The Commander returned the look, but simply pursed her lips instead of speaking further. Saito then turned back to the Researcher. “Now, what were you going to say?”
“U-uh, um…” She stared at the floor for a moment before continuing, “w-well, b-based on th-the, uh, lo-loca-location of th-this sy-system i-in the, uh, th-the g-galaxy, um, i-it wasn’t a-always in, uh, D-Dead Space.”
“…It wasn’t always in Dead Space?” Travis questioned cluelessly. “How’s that work?”
“Star systems move into and out of Dead Space as they revolve around the galactic core,” Rabine replied. “At least, that’s the current theory. No one’s been around for long enough to be sure, but it stands to reason: Dead Space is merely the area of lesser stellar density between the galactic arms, and solar systems move into and out of the arms periodically.”
“I thought Dead Space had to do with there being no Chaos Energy… what’s that got to do with the shape of the galaxy?”
“If I recall correctly, the current theory is that Chaos Energy is somehow affected by the density of regular matter, and will eventually clump around it. It’s the same reason that solar systems closer to the galactic core tend to have a higher concentration of Chaos Energy than those farther away, even if the difference is minimal.”
Saito glanced curiously at Rabine. “You sure know a lot about Dead Space, huh?”
Startled distress momentarily flashed across Rabine’s face before she regained her composure and returned to a neutral expression. “…I am a Chaotic. Knowing this information merely helps me perform my job to a better degree.”
“Hmm…” Saito nodded along to her response, though internally he was smirking. Sounds more like someone who was scared of something and did a bunch of research to try and allay their fears. She is a Chaotic, after all, it stands to reason that she wouldn’t like Dead Space. I bet that’s why she’s been so tense ever since we got here. He then shook his head to clear his thoughts before returning his attention to MacTavish. “Anyways, sorry for the interruption. You said something about this solar system not always being in Dead Space, right?”
“U-uh, r-right.” MacTavish nodded meekly. “When th-the Al-Aldredas were around, uh, th-this s-system w-would’ve had, um, Ch-Chaos Energy.”
“How does that show that the base is as old as the Aldredas?” Rabine questioned.
“W-well… i-if you look at th-the g-generators, a-and at p-parts of th-this ship, um… w-well, i-it looks like th-they were d-designed to, um, t-to use Chaos Energy.”
“Ah, I see…” Travis nodded. “And there’d be no point to do that if the system was already in Dead Space!”
“For how long has this system been in Dead Space?” Saito asked.
“Uh, w-well… o-over twenty th-thousand years, a-at least…”
“Sounds to me like this place was setup before any of the modern civilizations were around, then.” Saito passed Rabine a knowing glance. She pretended not to notice as she turned to look out the bridge window.
“That just leads to another question, though, doesn’t it?” Travis looked around at the other three in confusion. “Why would the Aldredas build an entire base with stasis generators, and then turn the things on? Plus, Kirstin, you said those generators were running up until a few weeks ago, right? Which means that they had to’ve been designed to work without Chaos Energy, as well… why the hell would the Aldredas do that?”
“Some kind of time capsule?” The Colonel shrugged. “Not really sure.”
“It’s well known that some kind of apocalypse befell the Aldredas, which caused their civilization to collapse,” Rabine commented. “The apocalypse also affected the Drakkars, which is why they didn’t manage to take over the entire galaxy in the time between the fall of the Aldredas and the modern age. Perhaps someone built this base to weather that storm, and meant to return to it eventually.”
“I thought you didn’t believe that this base was as old as the Aldredas.”
Commander Rabine responded with an irritated huff, prompting an amused smirk from Saito.
“Th-that idea a-actually m-makes sense… k-kinda…”
“Hmm?” Saito turned toward MacTavish. “How’s that?”
“W-well… none of th-the Frigate’s systems w-will activate, um, e-even though th-they seem in-intact. It, it’s like it’s w-waiting for some kind of, um, sp-special key or, uh, something…”
“So?” Travis shrugged. “Cars won’t start unless you have the key with you, either.”
“But spacecraft aren’t cars,” Saito countered. “You don’t need a key to start modern spacecraft.”
“R-right.” MacTavish nodded. “But, th-this ship is c-completely locked down with-without its, um, i-its key. But th-the location of this bay, a-as well as s-some of the, uh, active base systems, in-indicate that, um, th-this ship is the main reason for the, uh, th-the base to even exist…”
“Hmm…” Saito held a hand to his chin in thought. “…Well, it was that Aldredian armor that brought us here, after all. Maybe the armor is the key that you’re talking about.”
“Or maybe it’s Mote himself,” Travis suggested. “He has a knack for activatin’ old Aldredian devices that no one else can, right?”
“This is troublesome…” Rabine crossed her arms and glanced between Saito and Travis. “You Earthians took that armor with you. Can I assume that you haven’t ripped it to pieces, yet?”
“Relax, we have experience with reverse-engineering advanced tech,” Saito replied. “It was still in one piece the last I saw it. Convincing General Lead to let us take it here is another matter entirely, though…”
“Well, we can’t know unless we ask, right, sir?” Travis questioned.
“I suppose so. I’ll contact the teams at the Gate—”
“Well, speak of the devil.” Saito activated his communicator to respond to the call from the team guarding the Interstellar Gate. “This is Colonel Saito. What’s going on?”
«The Gate just activated, sir,» the soldier replied over the communicator. «We don’t know from where. We’ve attempted to communicate with the other side, but there’s no response.»
“An incoming connection…” The Colonel scowled and quickly switched himself over to the general broadcast channel. “Activate the beam jammer! Now!”
“Colonel?” Rabine gave Saito a suspicious glance. “What are you doing?”
Saito turned to respond, but just as he opened his mouth, the sounds of gunfire erupted over the general broadcast channel, such that everyone on the bridge heard the sounds over their communicators. As MacTavish’s eyes went wide and Travis grabbed his gun, Saito turned his attention to his communicator as he shouted, “who’s firing? Report! Who’s firing, and at what?!”
The response came quickly, and as it did, Saito’s scowl merely deepened. «Eastern patrol team! We are under attack by Drakkars, repeat, the Drakkars are attacking!!»