Chapter 21 – Doubt
3 Hours Later
“The Aldredas certainly had some interesting design ideas, didn’t they?”
“Do you mean visually, sir?” Hackett questioned, “or are you talking about how only one person can activate everything?”
Saito glanced over at the Major before turning back to take in his surroundings. CSF-1, accompanied by Kate, currently stood within the bridge of the Aldredian Dreadnought, having located the room over an hour ago with Mote’s assistance. The bridge was circular in shape and fairly cramped, being smaller than Genesis’s bridge and featuring only half as many operators’ consoles, which were all situated in the back. In the center of the room was a single Captain’s chair, positioned two meters away from the consoles and four meters away from the rest of the walls. The chair appeared to be ergonomically designed to support the sitter’s back and neck, with cushions all around — it both looked and was exceedingly comfortable, a fact that Saito could easily attest to as he occupied the chair. A blue, glowing insignia of a sword on top of a circle adorned the chair’s headrest, both front and back; as far as Saito could tell, it was meant to be an indicator that the chair occupant was engaged in a neural dive, as the insignia had increased significantly in brightness when Mote had temporarily occupied the chair to activate the ship’s systems.
The fact that such a large craft still seemed to be designed around being controlled by a singular person seemed absurd to Saito, as was the small size of the bridge relative to the ship’s size — and the fact that the bridge had no physical viewport to the outside at all. The bridge was actually located in the very center of the Dreadnought, and a number of holographic projectors could display images of the world outside the ship; the neural dive system allowed the Captain to have a complete view of the Dreadnought’s exterior, as well. Saito could partially understand placing the bridge in the center of the ship — it was significantly more protected that way, but in the event of a power outage or some kind of technological malfunction, the ship’s Captain would be left completely in the dark as to what was going on around him. Modern space battles didn’t exactly occur within visual range anyways, but the Colonel couldn’t shake the unease he felt at not having a natural view of the outside space. Maybe that’s just because I’m not a spaceship captain. I suppose I wouldn’t know what’s best in that regard, but all the same…
Saito eventually turned the chair around to face Hackett. “I mean just in general,” he replied to her inquiry. “I like the aesthetics — it’s nice and aggressive, if a bit colorful for a warship. This bridge is just odd, though. You’d think we’re in a Frigate or a Cruiser, not a hulking Dreadnought. Hell, this bridge is barely larger than the bridge of Mote’s Corvette!”
“At least we don’t need Mote to stick around just to access the systems, right?” Travis glanced over at Kate and MacTavish, who were busy working with a couple of the consoles.
“Uh… sort… sort of…” MacTavish muttered in reply.
“The main computer is up, and the life support systems are active, obviously. But the rest of the ship is still fucking inactive. Even after mister useless sat his ass down in that goddamn chair.” Kate scowled. “Fucking worthless piece of shit.”
“Have you found anything interesting on the main computer?” Saito asked.
“W-we’re, um, we’re just downloading, uh… everything,” MacTavish responded, her head bowed as she remained focused on the console in front of her. “T-too much to, uh, to analyze right now.”
Travis nodded in understanding. “So you wanna take everything back to Earth and check it out there?”
MacTavish nodded back, not once looking up.
“How are we accessing the computers, anyways?” Saito questioned, “isn’t this old Aldredian tech? How are we already able to download everything onto our own hard drives?”
“This isn’t the first Aldredian discovery in the galaxy, you know,” Kate retorted. “Not the first intact piece of tech, either. Coming late to the galactic party means we get to benefit from over a thousand years of research into old Aldredian tech, including adapters to access their stupid computers. The only hard part is that this ship’s database is fucking massive! We’re talking petabytes of data here, and we have no fucking idea how much of it is actually important.”
Hackett frowned. “Do we have enough hard drives to take all of that information with us?”
“Not in one trip, no. The Genesis isn’t exactly built around the idea of randomly encountering petabyte-sized information caches in deep space.”
“So we don’t know what any of the information is?”
“W-we know, um, some…” MacTavish glanced up at Hackett for a moment. “Th-the first thing that, um, th-that appeared when Mote ac-activated the ship, uh, was a, um, a bunch of coordinates. H-hundreds of them…”
“Hundreds?!” Saito exclaimed, “do we know what they’re coordinates to?”
“Nope. That’s why we’re backing them up, so we can check them out later.” Kate passed the Colonel a glance as though her statement should have been obvious.
“Hmm. Right. Should I call Mote back, then? To activate the other systems? Maybe it could help you figure out what data is relevant.”
Kate’s expression darkened, her brow furrowed intensely, and her lips curled as she replied, “no, we don’t need that bastard. I can figure out how to access everything we need without his useless ass.”
“…Right,” Saito responded uneasily. Seems she’s still mad at him. If anything, she should be mad at me, and Hackett, and Travis… well, I suppose she is, given I hadn’t seen nor heard anything of her between our argument and the start of this mission. Mote seems to be the target of most of her fury, though. I hope this is something they can work out…
The Colonel’s thoughts then shifted to Mote for a moment. After Mote had sat down in the bridge and activated the Dreadnought’s computer systems, the massive ship seemed to have downloaded some data to Raenaros that allowed her to remotely activate the other craft in the shipyard. Saito promptly sent Mote off to activate as many ships as he could, so as to get their life support systems online and allow for boarding parties much sooner than otherwise. That had been a little under an hour ago.
“Oh, shit! I fucking found it!”
“Hmm?” Saito looked over at Kate, whose previous foul expression seemed to have been wiped clear by excitement. “…Found what?”
“The registry! Time to dig into all of this bitch’s secrets!” Kate’s hands began flying across the laptop keyboard in front of her, her eyes rapidly shifting to look at different parts of the console display. “Apparently this ship is a Regent-class Dreadnought, named Rynisaren. That’s fucking lame. This tech, though… holy shit! The shields on this bitch! They’re rated at several hundred petatons’ worth of TNT, with a recharge rate of almost a hundred teratons an hour! That’s fucking insane!”
Travis whistled in admiration. “This thing could take a lot of punishment, huh?”
“What about weapons?” Hackett questioned.
“Mostly Chaos Cannons, it looks like…” Kate paused for a few moments as she read through the information before her. “…Shit! A single volley from these cannons could obliterate the Genesis at full shield strength, and she’s one of the strongest ships in the SERRCom fleet!”
“If we can recover this ship and get it back to Earth, then that would be a huge win for SERRCom,” Saito mused. “…This thing does have an FTL drive, right?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s not like that pathetic trash heap of a Corvette. The Subspace Drive actually seems like it’s slower than what the Genesis has, but… the hell is this?” Kate’s face scrounged up in confusion. “The ship’s got a second Drive, some kind of weird-ass experimental thing. Some shit about Superspace? The hell even is that?”
“If you don’t know, I really doubt any of us would,” Travis commented.
“Tch. Damn right. …There’s lots of other crap on here, too. Antimatter railguns, anti-fightercraft lasers, beaming systems, nanite paste repair systems, shit, there’s even a mech and fightercraft fabrication facility on the lower deck! Maybe that’s why the computer has so much fucking data in it, it’s got a bunch of fucking blueprints for random bullshit.”
“Sounds like there’s a lot to sort through,” Hackett remarked.
“Hell yeah there is! A find like this, we could fucking take on the CSA with this ship!”
“Now now, let’s not start thinking like that,” Saito quickly interjected. “The CSA are our allies… nominally, at least. It’s in our best interests to remain on their good side.”
“So what, we’re gonna just tell them about this ship and then let them bully us into handing it over?”
“I never said that. But, unfortunately, we didn’t make this discovery on our own…” Saito sighed warily. “The Black Suns are here, after all. Luckily, they’re primarily an infantry PMC, so they may not be interested in the spacecraft tech. But we’ll have to be careful with how we handle this with them all the same, or they’ll rat on us to the CSA.”
“Commander Rabine seems reasonable enough,” Travis commented.
“Rabine isn’t who we’ll ultimately be dealing with,” Saito countered. “It’s her boss, and her boss’s boss, and all the rest that we’ll have to deal with. You should know well enough that reasonable officers don’t mean anything in the long run if their superiors are unreasonable.”
A brief moment of silence followed, during which Saito could feel Kate glaring at him through the corner of her eyes. He simply pretended not to notice and opened his mouth to continue speaking, but then his earpiece beeped thrice, indicating a request for a private communication line. Now what’s this about? Is it Krick…? The Colonel stood up from the Captain’s chair and made for the bridge exit as he said aloud, “I’ve got a call to take. The rest of you, hold the fort.”
“Yes, sir!” Hackett offered a quick salute.
Saito nodded her way just before stepping through the exit doorway. He took several more steps down the hallway, waiting for the door to close before reaching up to his earpiece and activating it. “Colonel Saito, here. Who’s calling?”
«It’s Krick,» came the response. «You got a moment?»
“Yeah. Is something wrong?”
«The hell do you mean, ‘is something wrong’? Of course something is goddamn wrong! You’re saying you don’t fucking think anything is suspicious about how we just fucking waltzed into a god damn Aldredian shipyard in the middle of god damn Drakkar space, unopposed? And all the ships are just fucking fine?»
“Are you suggesting that this is a trap?”
«…I don’t fucking know. It could be.»
“By who? It couldn’t be the Drakkars, there’s no way they’d let us actually access the Aldredian ships.”
«Maybe the Aldredas booby trapped their own goddamn ships then, I don’t know.»
“Booby traps? Really? Would they still be intact after a hundred thousand years?”
«Well the goddamn ships sure are. That alone should be suspicious! How the hell is fucking hundred thousand year old tech still functioning like it was built goddamn yesterday?»
“I won’t claim to know why or how, but this isn’t the first time we’ve discovered functioning Aldredian artifacts…”
«Yeah, all of which can only interface with that bastard kid.»
Saito reflexively frowned, even though he was alone in the hallway. “…Are you trying to say something about Mote?”
«I think something is suspicious about him. The only question I have is if you’re fucking in on it.»
“The hell does that mean?”
«No one knows the history of the Eximius Vir, it’s all fucking classified or unverified bullshit. Apparently they were orphans, but that sounds mighty convenient to me!»
“Captain, I don’t appreciate your insinuations here. I think you’re getting away from the point, anyways; what the hell do the Eximius Vir have to do with this shipyard?”
A brief moment of silence ensued, followed shortly by an irritated sigh from Krick. «…I don’t know. Well, clearly it’s got something to do with Lieutenant Emerson. But why the hell would the Aldredas leave an entire goddamn shipyard to a single person? It doesn’t fucking add up!»
The Colonel pursed his lips uneasily. Krick had a point; the discovery of the shipyard, and the apparent ease of interfacing with the ships within, seemed awfully suspicious. But even so… “…I’ll admit that this situation does seem odd,” Saito eventually replied, “but I don’t think we have the time to dwell on that right now. We are currently in Drakkar space, after all.”
«And who knows when those mouthless motherfuckers will show up. Still. When we get back to Earth with whatever we manage to fucking sneak out of here, we should think long and hard about how the hell all this tech is still good to go, or if it’s even Aldredian in the first place. And we should also figure out why it’s fucking locked to god damn Lieutenant Emerson, of all fucking people!»
“Is this really all you contacted me to say, Krick? You hardly needed a private line for any of that.”
«Alright, you snide motherfucker. No, that wasn’t all I had to say. …I don’t like that the Black Suns are here.»
“You’ve made that clear to me multiple times.”
«For good fucking reason! They’re gonna be able to lord this discovery over us for goddamn decades! If they tattle on us to the goddamn CSA, then what the hell are we going to do to keep them from stealing all this shit?»
“I know the CSA has a bad rep when it comes to seizing Aldredian artifacts, but I think you’re vastly overstating the threat, here. The CSA is far too busy rebuilding their worlds and fighting off the occasional Drakkar attack to commit any kind of serious resources to intimidating us.”
«Are you shitting me? That shit is exactly the reason they’d come and steal all our shit! Pristine Aldredian tech like what we’ve got right fucking here is exactly what they need right now.»
“Then maybe we should be good allies and help them out?”
«Good allies?! Ha! And what the hell has the CSA done for us?»
“If not for them, the Nanocreature War wouldn’t have even been a war. Neither us nor the Nimalians could possibly have stood up to the Nanocreatures as long as the CSA did.”
«Hmph… I guess you have a point.»
“As for the Black Suns, we’ll just have to be diplomatic with how we approach this. Mote might be our biggest trump card against them and the CSA; if only he can activate the tech, then it’s useless to everyone else.”
«…I guess. But the Aldredian tech isn’t the only tech here that the goddamn Black Suns could steal.»
“…You can’t seriously be talking about the Genesis?”
«Of course I’m talking about goddamn Genesis! What the hell else is there here, aside from my ship and the Aldredas crap?»
“What would they even do with it?”
«Seriously?! The beaming tech alone is goddamn priceless! Everyone fucking knows that the CSA and Black Suns both are ass-sore about us refusing to hand out the beaming tech. As if goddamn Subspace Drives weren’t enough! And on that subject, do you know how much of a goddamned cash cow Subspace Drives are for SERRCom? Every single one we’ve ever built is derived from Genesis’s Drive. Even if the Black Suns are an infantry PMC, they could still steal our goddamn Drive, and all of the profits that come from it! And since they’re all fucking Chaotics, there isn’t much any of us could do to stop them!»
“Aside from the Eximius Vir, you mean?”
«There aren’t any of those bastards on my ship! They’re all out there with the goddamn boarding teams!»
“So, what, are you asking me to send them back to the Genesis? Because you’re scared of a Black Suns mutiny?”
Several seconds of silence followed. Saito couldn’t help but smirk to himself; Krick must be having a difficult time swallowing enough of his ego to actually ask for aid from the Eximius Vir. Yet even so — as paranoid as Krick’s worries seemed to be, there was at least a kernel of legitimacy behind them. If the Black Suns really did want to seize control of Genesis, then doing so while the ship was on her own on a deep space mission in Drakkar territory was the best time to do so. And with the right combination of Chaotics, taking control of the ship from the inside would be trivial.
«Listen. Can you send the bastards back, or not?»
The Colonel sighed warily. “…Kate is too useful here. But I’ll send Mote and Mark to check on the Black Suns boarding team, and you can recall Danielle to the Genesis.”
«Great. And don’t fucking tell anyone I asked this of you.»
Saito rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t dream of it. Now, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
«No, that covers it. But keep a wary eye out, Colonel. Those Black Suns have been keeping to themselves since we got here… I don’t trust ‘em. Not one bit.»
“I’m well aware.”
«Hmph. Krick, out.»
The Colonel took a deep breath after the connection cut out. Conversation with Captain Krick was always exhausting, even more so when the man managed to bring up important and stressful points. Saito hoped that Krick was ultimately worrying about nothing, but it couldn’t hurt to be prepared. He turned back toward the Dreadnought’s bridge as he reactivated his ear piece to open a new connection. “Mote, you there? Listen, I have new orders for you…”