Chapter 14 – Tests of Power
6 Years Ago
“Shit… they’re attacking the settlement.”
“What?!” Six individuals standing just behind a man with a pair of binoculars turned their attention in the direction he was looking. Down a steep hill, nearly half a kilometer away, was a small town of foreign appearance — and within the town were several small bursts of light, indicating some kind of fight.
“We have to help,” exclaimed a tall young boy, his skin tan and his hair dark. He began moving toward the town, but was stopped by another young boy of similar appearance.
“We can’t, Mark,” the boy commented. “You know this.”
“Mote’s right…” replied a pale-skinned, blond-haired man with a sniper rifle. “We’re on a Nimalian planet right now. Can you imagine the kind of shit storm we could kick up by goin’ down there and involvin’ ourselves in this fight?”
“That’s no reason to sit idly by and watch innocent people be injured, or killed!” Mark shot back.
“Listen to Travis,” said a tall woman with dark skin. “His point is sound. Our mission, right now, is reconnaissance. Capturing the criminals is a bonus, not a mandate.”
“And revealing our presence to the Nimalians goes directly against the Director’s orders,” Mote added.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” a blond-haired girl replied irately, her arms crossed. “We’ve been tracking these assholes for almost a week! This is our chance! We can get them, right fucking now!”
“No,” Mote countered. “Kate, listen to your superior officers. Both Lieutenant Travis and Captain Hackett have explained why we can’t do anything right now.”
“It’s true that getting involved could be a headache for the Director,” Mark responded, “but that has to be worth it if we’re saving lives! Won’t the Nimalians overlook that?”
“Only until they realize we’re on a Nimalian planet without their permission,” Hackett replied. “Besides, capturing the criminals will be even harder in the middle of a town brawl. Those bastards have raided three SERRCom outposts, we can’t afford to give them the slip here. Best to at least wait until they tire themselves out before we move in.”
“…What about you, Saito?” A young girl, the same age as the other three teenagers, turned toward the man with the binoculars. “What do you think about this…?”
Saito remained silent as he continued to survey the scene with his binoculars. Then, a moment later, he put the binoculars down and turned toward the group.
“Sir?” Hackett questioned.
He took a deep breath before rolling his shoulders and grabbing his gun. “Ready up. We’re moving out.”
“What?” Mote stared at him incredulously. “But, sir—!”
“Listen, Mote,” Saito interjected as he turned back toward the town. “The Director doesn’t always know best. Sometimes, your orders are crap, and they’re worth ignoring.”
“Travis.” Saito glanced toward the man with the sniper rifle. “Stay here and cover us. If you get a clean shot, take it, as soon as you can! Prioritize saving the civilians, even if it means killing our targets.”
“But, sir—!” Hackett began to object.
“No buts,” Saito countered. “Didn’t you hear what I just told Mote? We’re moving out, full speed!” He then grasped his gun tightly and began descending the hill at a rapid pace. “CSF-1, Eximius Vir, on me! Move! Move! Move!…”
* * *
— Sunday, October 9, AD 2129 —
Flames rolled across the ground of the training room, roaring around Mote as he ducked around Spike’s fist and launched himself backwards. He was met by a wave of water as it crashed down on him from above, rushing into the incoming flames and exploding into a cloud of steam. Mote faltered momentarily, but immediately snapped his attention to the side as Austin lunged toward him through the steam, borrowing Spike’s hardened durability to improve his own resistance to the heat. But the recruit still missed his mark as Mote deftly evaded his hand and jumped toward the ceiling, where he clung with his magnetic powers and looked down at the steam cloud below him.
They’re doing better than yesterday… Mote thought to himself as he kept an eye on the four recruits by sensing their bodies’ electric fields. I suppose they may have actually learned a thing or two from Mark while I was away… His thoughts then shifted to the previous day’s events that had dragged him away from the training session, as well as the resulting aftermath — or rather, the apparent lack of it. The morning news had credited Mote, Danielle, and Kate with putting a stop to EA’s attack on San Francisco, but none of the news reports made any mention of the actual confrontation in the skies over the Bay. It seemed to Mote that SERRCom had appropriated the rumors of EA’s robots being defeated by an “unknown force”, by claiming that the Eximius Vir were ultimately responsible — all while keeping quiet about Mote’s brief skirmish with the flying robots. The fight had occurred just after sunset and was almost entirely over the bay instead of the surrounding metropolitan area, so Mote could almost believe that no one had seen it happen, though he had a somewhat harder time believing that people would believe SERRCom’s other claims. This wasn’t the first time that the organization had withheld or manipulated the information they presented to the public, of this Mote was well aware; he had no qualms with this simple fact. But the way SERRCom was going about it seemed ineffective.
A whirling column of fire appeared around Mote, yanking his attention back to the environment around him as the steam cloud rapidly dispersed. Despite wearing no armor or energy shielding of any kind, Mote took no damage from the attack, though he could feel his uniform heating up as the flames licked away at him. Tch… well, I did tell them to bring everything that they have. Still, all of Sky’s attacks have been huge, sweeping affairs without an ounce of subtlety… Did she learn nothing from her close call yesterday? Not to mention we need to work on her precision. But for now… Mote looked down just as Spike leaped up at him from within the spinning pillar of fire. His bravado impressed Mote, but it wasn’t enough to stop him; the Electrotechnic disengaged his magnetic lock with the ceiling before summoning his giant battlehammer and blocking Spike’s fist with the long pole. Spike reacted with surprise, allowing Mote to knock him away with the pole of the hammer and then fall to the ground without issue. The moment he touched down he lunged backward out of the pillar of fire and then ducked to the side as Austin attempted to smack him upside the head; the flames promptly fizzled out as Austin tried to press the attack, but two more whiffs later, Mote simply rolled backwards and then launched himself through the air to the far side of the room.
As he landed with a roll and turned toward the four recruits, Mote’s thoughts were drawn back to the unknown Chaotic he had encountered yesterday, and to his similar escape attempt on top of the dam. Due to his mask and clothing, Mote had no idea what the mystery Chaotic truly looked like or how old he was, but he spoke like an area native — and as far as Mote could tell, his Real-Time Audio translation implants hadn’t been active at all that night, so the man had to have been speaking plain English. For all intents and purposes, this eliminated the possibility that the man was an alien invader; he had to have simply been another Earthian Chaotic. Which was a confusing conclusion all on its own — it had long been thought that Earthians simply couldn’t be Chaotics, and that the Eximius Vir were anomalies. But now, between the four recruits and this mysterious Chaotic encountered in California, Mote wasn’t sure if that was true anymore. Clearly, Earthians could be Chaotics; either that, or something else suspicious was going on.
Mote instinctively dodged left as a tendril of water shot out toward him, but momentarily stumbled as he was forced to abandon his thoughts and return his attention to the fight. Sky and Spike both quickly seized the new opening and practically threw themselves at Mote, Spike from ground level and Sky from above; Mote responded by catapulting himself forward, startling the two as he sailed just over Spike’s head and just under Sky. As he prepared to land, he noticed Austin and Twy attempting to corner him just as Spike and Sky had, but he was ready this time — with a small burst of electricity, Mote launched himself at the ceiling and then back down to the ground in the center of the training room.
They do seem to be getting better at cooperating, Mote observed with an inward smirk. I knew they’d get the hang of this eventually. Give them enough time, and they might even be able to work with us and CSF-1… At this, Mote frowned. He didn’t like being left behind while CSF-1 was off on a mission, particularly one inspired by his own actions. His frown then deepened into a scowl as his mind drifted to the Aldredian artifacts that SERRCom had discovered. First a tiny device, then a suit of armor, both discoveries kickstarted by a mysterious vision of his — and both items seemed to only respond to him. He was loathe to admit it, but it didn’t seem likely to be a mere coincidence that he was the one to have the vision that he did, or that the vision corresponded with a mysterious new Chaos Energy Quake that also seemed to create new Earthian Chaotics. If these events were truly all connected, then that could explain the recent appearance of all these new Earthian Chaotics… the only question then, was how were they connected? Mote briefly thought of the Aldredian armor again; he wasn’t fond of its appearance, but maybe it was the key to all of these mysteries. If only he could tag along with CSF-1 on their mission to explore the next coordinate, but it was in Dead Space. And Chaotics are useless in Dead Space.
His attention once again returned to the battle as Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy all attempted to close in on him at once — Austin, Spike, and Twy along the ground, and Sky from the air. Twy and Sky both were readying to hit Mote with elemental attacks, and Austin seemed to be trying to gather up a bubble of water on his own while Spike simply charged forward from the center. Mote smirked; the pincer attack was a classic, and if executed properly, it was incredibly difficult to escape from. With that in mind, Mote simply magnetically launched himself toward the side wall and then rebounded around the recruits toward the end of the room, easily escaping their grasp. Good that they tried, but they’ve seen me use my abilities and should know that a simple straight-on attack won’t work. Especially not on flat, neutral terrain like this. Might have to deduct points for that… but at least they aren’t blasting each other and forcing me to turn on the CENT fields.
Mote’s gaze momentarily snapped to the CENT field activation switch on the side of the room, next to where Mark was watching over the battle. CENT fields were the primary method of neutralizing Chaotics and their abilities throughout the entire galaxy, yet Mote and the other members of the Eximius Vir had always been able to use their abilities inside of CENT fields anyways. This was no secret to anyone in SERRCom, and Mote had never questioned it; he just assumed that he and the others were able to overpower CENT fields while other Chaotics simply weren’t strong or skilled enough. Yet, twice yesterday he had encountered CENT fields and seen how immediately and completely they shut down the powers of other Chaotics. Mote knew he was powerful, but he couldn’t be that powerful, could he? Something else must be afoot, some other reason that he can use his powers in a CENT field… and if there was, then that might mean that he could use his abilities in Dead Space, as well.
Three tendrils of water entered Mote’s vision, prompting him to dodge out of the way. Just as he did so, Spike and Sky were upon him, similar to how they had pressed the attack barely a minute ago. Mote wasn’t sure if this was an intentional repeat on their part, but just in case it was, he opted to react differently and launched himself off to the side. Just as he moved out of reach of Spike and Sky, however, two water tendrils grabbed his ankles from behind and whipped him through the air. He quickly traced the tendrils to see their origin — and scowled when he noticed that they were two of the same tendrils that he had dodged initially. Damn it, can’t believe I fell for that…! He then snapped his attention toward where he was being dragged, and noticed that Austin was standing ready for him. The ten meters between them rapidly closed to seven, and then four — at which point Mote summoned his battlehammer again and slammed it down on the water tendrils, severing them. The water around his ankles loosened, but still maintained part of its grip as he tumbled along the ground and into Austin’s legs, toppling him. Mote managed to twist himself around so as to avoid coming into contact with any of Austin’s skin and thereby triggering his Imperator ability, but he was still barely able to recover as Twy rushed toward his location.
Mote glanced toward Mark as he dropped his hand through the air — just as Twy slapped him on the shoulder. The Electrotechnic glanced down at her hand and then up at her eyes, an unamused expression on his face.
“Oh c’mon, that totally counts!” Austin exclaimed as he approached. He then threw Mark an annoyed glance. “I bet you called the time a second early on purpose!”
“Don’t doubt Mark’s judgment,” Mote immediately replied and offered a small shock toward Austin. He then jumped to his feet and crossed his arms. “For questioning the referee’s judgment, that’s a reduction in points.”
“Austin…” Twy sighed and shook her head. “Give it up. There’s no use arguing.”
“If anything, we should be proud that we got so close,” Spike remarked. He then looked over at Mote with a questioning look on his face. “…You weren’t goin’ easy on us, were you?”
“Going easy on you?” Mote echoed incredulously, “what makes you say that?”
“You seemed distracted, kinda. Like your mind wasn’t fully in it.”
Mote stared at Spike for a moment, and then glanced over at Mark. …He’s not wrong. But if it’s that obvious… “Alright. I’m calling today’s practice session early.”
“Again?” Sky scowled. “C’mon, I thought you said you wanted us to get better!”
“And I do. But there’s something I need to take care of,” Mote replied as he turned toward the exit and gestured for Mark to follow. “Consider the rest of today to be self-study. But if I come back and anyone’s hurt, then there will be hell to pay!”
“Wait! Aren’t you going to tell us how well we did?!” Twy exclaimed.
“You should all reflect on the round and see what conclusions you come to on your own. Then we’ll compare that to my own assessment later. Consider it a test of your self-evaluation skills.” Mote stopped in the doorway of the room, Mark just behind him, and offered a quick salute toward the recruits. “Behave yourselves!”
Once outside the room, Mark glanced between the door and Mote in confusion. “Uh… what was that all about? What are we doing?”
“We’re going to go join CSF-1 on their mission.”
“What? Mote, you know we can’t. The mission’s in Dead Space.”
“And that’s what I aim to address.” Mote took a deep breath before spinning on his heel and marching down the hallway. “Now hurry up. Let’s go.”
* * *
2 Hours Later
“What?!” Kate slammed her hands down on the desk as she leaned forward. “Well why the hell not?!”
“You should watch your tone,” a middle-aged woman countered, sitting calmly behind her desk as she stared back at Kate with a polite — yet strained — smile. “I’ve already been gracious enough to hear you out after you so brashly charged into my office. I would advise you not to push your luck.”
Mote pursed his lips as he looked between Kate and Director Akane Hamasaki, the woman in charge of the EIIC. He then glanced over at Mark and Danielle, who both wore apprehensive expressions that mirrored Mote’s own feelings on the situation. Whereas Colonel Saito was on good terms with General Lead and could go directly to him for independent mission approval, Mote and the rest of the Eximius Vir had to go through Director Hamasaki instead. Both CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir were officially part of SERRCom’s main military branch — known as the Earthian Space Force Command, or ESFC for short — but that was just for the sake of public appearances. Both teams were still considered special ops at their core, and as such their missions were largely handled and approved by the Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command (also known as the EIIC), which Director Akane Hamasaki presided over. Mote wasn’t a fan of the vague chain of command, both for the vagueness itself as well as the fact that it forced him to get approval from Hamasaki to act independently of CSF-1. On the outside, with her short height, pale skin, black bob cut, and perpetual polite smile, Hamasaki hardly appeared to be a threat — but under her benign facade was a shrewd mind who commanded the most powerful intelligence agency in Earthian space, and readily applied the duplicity and intelligence gathering skills of her role to all aspects of her life. Mote, on the other hand, greatly preferred things to be straight-forward; as such, he generally preferred not to interact with the Director.
However, he had little choice in the matter now. If he wanted to help CSF-1 on their current Dead Space mission, then he and the other members of the Eximius Vir would have to convince Hamasaki to let them.
“With respect, ma’am,” Mark spoke up, addressing the Director. “Would you mind explaining to us why we can’t go?”
“I believe you’ve already had this explained to you. Multiple times, in fact.” Hamasaki cast an aside glance at Kate before turning back to Mark. “CSF-1’s current mission is on a planet located in Dead Space. Dead Space completely nullifies Chaotic abilities, meaning that the four of you would be next to useless.”
Kate’s brow scrounged up in fury. “Useless—?!”
“Respectfully, ma’am, I disagree with your assessment,” Mote cut in. “We’ve all received training in the use of small arms. I believe that, even without our powers, we could be of at least minimal aid to Colonel Saito and the others.”
“I appreciate your opinion, Lieutenant Emerson,” Hamasaki replied coldly, “but we have already provided reinforcements a mere few hours ago. Your assistance in that regard is unnecessary.”
“Well, what about the other parts of CSF-1’s mission?” Danielle questioned, and then glanced over at Mote. “Hasn’t Mote been the one to activate the relics we found on both of CSF-1’s previous missions? If they’re still looking into Aldredian artifacts, then I think Mote’s presence could help a lot!”
“If CSF-1 has indeed found more relics, then they can simply return them to Earth, as they did on their first mission,” Hamasaki responded. “There is no pressing need for you to be there for the items’ discovery.”
“And if the Drakkars attack?” Mote pressed, “the Drakkars appeared during both of CSF-1’s previous missions. It’s clear that they’re after the artifacts as well, and if they are, then CSF-1 could use all the help they can get!”
“The Drakkars are unlikely to appear for the same reason that I am forbidding you from going. Their ‘Ciei Theft’, as I understand it, is just as reliant on Chaos Energy as any other Chaotic ability. Their defenses will be weakened as well, just as ours are, so even if they do show up, I have the utmost confidence that Saito and his team can handle them.” The Director then looked over all four members of the Eximius Vir, her polite smile replaced with a frown of disapproval. “Is this really all you have come to say to me? I’m disappointed, Lieutenants. Everything I’ve told you now should have been made abundantly clear to you already.”
“Oh no, that ain’t it! We got a couple more things,” Kate replied with an irritated smirk. “For one, I know Saito’s team missed their scheduled check-in half an hour ago.”
“What?!” Mote, Mark, and Danielle all stared at Kate incredulously. Mote then glanced over at the Director, only to notice that her lips had pursed in what looked like frustration — rather than incredulity. “…She’s right?”
“I see you’ve been sticking your nose in places it doesn’t belong,” Hamasaki replied icily.
Kate grinned spitefully. “It’s what I do best. But clearly, we’re on a time crunch here. CSF-1 needs help; you know that, I know that. Which brings me to thing two.” She nodded toward Mote. “Mister special over there made a good point to us earlier today: we can use our powers in CENT fields. So what’s to say that we can’t also use our powers in Dead Space?”
“Lieutenant, I believe we’ve already been over your requests for ‘Dead Space testing’ before. Don’t make me waste my time by formally rejecting you again.”
“Bullshit! You always blocked those tests because you said they’d just be a waste of time, and not relevant to anything that SERRCom does. Well guess what kind of mission CSF-1 is on now, bit—?”
“What she means to say,” Mote quickly cut in, “is that we think your reasoning for blocking our, er, Dead Space testing should be reconsidered. And quickly, if CSF-1 is truly in danger.”
“We still do not know why we cannot contact them,” Hamasaki countered. “We don’t know if they are actually under attack. We don’t know if it’s the Drakkars. It could be that they’re in hiding, and haven’t yet actually been discovered. And if that is the case, then the four of you traipsing through the Interstellar Gate will merely alert any attacking forces that there is something there of value. And if it turns out that your powers actually do not work in Dead Space, as with every other Chaotic in the galaxy, then all you will have managed to achieve is sabotaging the mission and throwing away your own lives.”
“Those are some weird assumptions…” Danielle commented.
“But even so, let’s assume that your initial assumptions are correct,” Mark spoke up. “We don’t have to go straight to the planet CSF-1 is on. We could Gate to a different Dead Space planet, one that isn’t under attack, and test our powers there. If they work, then we can go on to aid CSF-1; if they don’t, then we can just return here.”
Mote nodded and turned toward the Director. “Sounds reasonable enough to me, ma’am. I don’t see much reason to not try this.”
“It is still a rather arrogant assumption on your part to think that you might be able to use your abilities in Dead Space,” Hamasaki responded. “There is little doubt that, as the Eximius Vir, you are unique. But I hope you haven’t let that get to your heads.”
“That’s…” Mote trailed off uneasily. The Director made a good point — it was rather arrogant to assume that he was so special that all known rules of Chaotic abilities didn’t apply to him. Shit… maybe Kate’s been rubbing off on me too much…
Just as he prepared to turn and address the other members of the Eximius Vir, however, Kate slammed her fists into the desk again and glared at Hamasaki. “This is about the fucking Black Suns, isn’t it?”
“Kate,” Mote cut in sharply, “don’t harass the Director—”
“I’m right, aren’t I?” Kate pressed. “This isn’t about wasting time, or being a danger to CSF-1. You want those fucking Aldredian artifacts just as much as we do, and, hell, I know you’d love to have Chaotics on hand who can do shit that no other Chaotic in the galaxy can do. You just want to keep us and the artifacts as aces up your sleeve, though, don’t you? You’d rather risk letting CSF-1 fucking die than let the Black Suns know that we can use our powers in Dead Space!”
“Katherine! Stand down!” Mote snapped. “What did I just say about harassing the Director?”
“Tch…” Kate stepped back from Hamasaki’s desk and crossed her arms in a huff. “…I’m not wrong, though. I’m stickin’ to my guns on this one!”
“…Is she right?” Mark questioned, his attention on Hamasaki.
Mote glanced warily at Mark. He was always prepared to shut Kate down if she got out of hand, but Mark was the level-headed member of the group. If even he thought that Kate had a valid point… Mote turned to face the Director again. She simply stared at Kate, her arms crossed and lips pursed.
After several tense moments, Hamasaki eventually looked to the rest of the group. “Why is it that you want to run to Saito’s aid so badly? Why now?” she questioned, “aside from Lieutenant Faulkner, none of you knew that CSF-1 was potentially in danger. So what, exactly, was the purpose of your intrusion here?”
Mark, Danielle, and Kate all turned toward Mote, who shifted uncomfortably.
“You’re the one who came up with this,” Kate stated.
“Yes, but…” Mote frowned uneasily as he addressed the Director. “It was just a… a gut feeling, I suppose. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about trying my abilities in Dead Space, but…” He paused. A star map location, a large subterranean cavern, a field of battle, a woman with red hair wearing regal armor bearing the insignia of a sword — the images of his vision momentarily flashed through his mind. “…Well, ma’am, this whole mission chain began because of me,” he eventually continued. “I’m the one who had the vision that sent CSF-1 and Fireteam Alpha off on their first mission, and ended up with Captain Feng losing his Ciei… and now, I’m the one who activated that armor and found the coordinate that led CSF-1 to their current mission. If they’re in trouble now, it’s because of me, and I can’t stand the thought of more people getting hurt or killed because I wasn’t there to help on a mission that wouldn’t exist without me in the first place.”
“…I just kinda thought you wanted to see Dead Space,” Danielle responded quietly as she stared wide-eyed at Mote. “That other stuff didn’t really occur to me…”
“Leave it to Mote to think too much about shit,” Kate retorted.
“I’m being serious, here,” Mote countered with a scowl. “We should be with CSF-1, even if we can only help them a little bit. It’s our job to work together with them, after all.”
Hamasaki simply stared at Mote, her legs crossed and her hand held to her face in thought. The Electrotechnic couldn’t see her mouth behind her hand, so he couldn’t tell what kind of expression she was making — but he felt uncomfortable under her gaze, regardless.
“…I must say, I’m surprised, Emerson,” the Director commented. “It’s not often that I hear about you acting on your gut.”
Mote frowned. “Ah… sorry, ma’am.”
“No, don’t apologize. Acting on hunches is half of gathering intelligence, and I’m sure the military types have plenty of their own pithy quotes about the value of gut feelings.” Hamasaki leaned forward and clasped her hands on top of her desk. “Very well. I will approve of this mission, but only because of the presumed imminent danger to CSF-1.” She glanced pointedly at Kate before addressing the entire group. “There is only one condition on this mission: minimize the exposure of your powers and active Aldredian artifacts to the Black Suns — assuming your powers actually work, that is. The Suns have already threatened not to play nice once; we cannot allow them to gather more intel to use against us.”
“Ha, I was right—!”
“Understood,” Mote interrupted Kate as he nodded curtly. “Thank you, Director.”
“Yes… and one more thing.” Hamasaki turned toward Kate again, her previous frustration wiped clean by a polite smile. “When you return from your mission, you and I are going to have a… discussion.”
“Huh?!” Kate drew back and grimaced. She made to retort, but paused as she noticed Mote’s intense glare on her; instead, she simply responded with a forced smile. “…Understood.”
“Good!” Hamasaki nodded toward the door, still smiling. “Now, as you noted yourselves: CSF-1 might be in danger. You have permission to leave immediately. Dismissed!”