Chapter 7 – New Opportunities
The Next Day
The clacking of keys on a keyboard being depressed filled a small office room, featuring just a handful of desks and computers. Clean, white flooring with silvery walls and ceiling tiles rounded out the office’s sterile appearance, offset only by a holographic view of the Earth below taking up the entirety of one of the walls. This magnificent view of blues, greens, and whites swirling together against a backdrop of star-speckled darkness appeared across many of the rooms of Opportunity, SERRCom’s Headquarters in space — yet it was not enough to distract the lone woman sitting behind a computer in the back of the office. Her pale skin and glasses were masked by her brown bangs as she hunched over in front of her monitor, with her messy ponytail draping down in front of her right shoulder. While the patch on her black jacket was currently hidden from view by the computer and desk in front of her, it nonetheless identified the woman as Researcher Kirstin MacTavish — one of the four members of CSF-1.
While not actively participating in a field mission, Kirstin would often spend her time in the massive office wing of the space station Opportunity, taking advantage of SERRCom’s Earthian Technological Advancement Agency’s computers to work on various research projects or tune up CSF-1’s armor and weaponry. She wasn’t technically a member of the ETAA — CSF-1 fell under the Earthian Space Force Command branch of SERRCom, rather than the Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command that was in charge of the ETAA — but her title as “Researcher” as well as her role as CSF-1’s “support technician” nonetheless allowed her access to the ETAA’s resources. The fact that her father was the head of the ETAA certainly didn’t hurt, either.
There’s… a lot here, she thought to herself as she scanned the screen in front of her. An assortment of text and files met her eyes, all originating from the massive cache of information that CSF-1 had managed to recover from the Aldredian Dreadnought a week ago. Kirstin had been hard at work that past week attempting to decipher the files and coalesce any galactic coordinates into a single list, yet even now, she had barely managed to even scrape the surface of what had been found.
How long is this going to take…? she wondered, there’s so much here… several terabytes of data that all needs to be translated, both linguistically and computationally speaking… and then any coordinates we find need to be mapped to the modern galaxy. Which shouldn’t be too hard, I suppose, but if we find any planetary coordinates, then I don’t know how we’d even begin deciphering those. Figuring out where on a planet’s surface to look would definitely require a lot of effort… oh, no, just thinking about it makes me antsy…
“Oh, well what do we have here?”
“Ack—!” Kirstin jumped, startled, and then snapped her attention toward the source of the remark: a somewhat scrawny, pale-skinned woman standing in the entrance to the office, with a coffee mug in hand. Her long, blond hair was tied back into a pony tail, and her outfit was rather plain, consisting of a white t-shirt, jeans, and a lab coat. From her stature and soft face, the woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties; but on her coat was a name patch naming her as Senior Researcher Sarah Tobias — one of the most skilled and influential researchers in the entirety of the ETAA, second only to the Director.
“O…oh… S-Sarah…” Kirstin muttered, quickly breaking eye contact and looking back at her screen as Sarah stepped into the office and let the door close behind her. “…D-don’t… don’t, uh, s-sneak up on me…”
“I wasn’t sneaking,” Sarah replied casually, her words carried by a soft English accent. “I think you just need to work on your nerves, Kirstin.”
“Still, you’re here even earlier than I am, and everyone already calls me an early bird!” Sarah glanced up at a digital clock on the wall, just over the entrance, that read out a time of 7:45 in the morning. She then turned back toward Kirstin and approached, taking a sip from her mug before questioning, “just what are you working on? This wouldn’t happen to be that data cache you brought back from that Aldredian shipyard, would it?”
“Mm… mmhmm.” Kirstin nodded timidly as Sarah finally rounded her desk and laid eyes on her screen. “The… there’s a lot of, um, d-data to sort through…”
“There sure is. How much did you manage to bring back, again? A hundred terabytes? Two hundred?”
“Uh… a-around, um, t-two hundred and, uh, thirty.”
Sarah whistled. “That’s a lot. Especially just sitting around on an abandoned Dreadnought in deep space!”
“If… if we h-had enough, uh, time… c-could’ve got more…”
“And that’s a bloody shame, but don’t blame yourself for it. Scott would’ve loved to get his hands on that Dreadnought, too, but keeping it away from the Drakkars was the right choice.” Sarah sighed wistfully. “Oh well. Do you know what’s in the information you managed to claim? How much of it is novel, compared to just backups or operating data that the galaxy already knows about?”
“T-to early to… to say…” Kirstin responded meekly, her eyes still glued to the screen in front of her.
“I suppose it has only been a week. Ah, well.” Sarah plopped down into one of the desk chairs, setting her mug off to the side and puttting her credentials into the computer in front of her before turning back to face Kirstin. “Say, what do you make of those new Chaotics SERRCom picked up? That’s an interesting subject, no?”
“I… I guess. I, uh… I dunno about that, um, Ora-Oraculm, thing, though…”
“Yes, ‘prophecies’ seem pretty silly to me, as well. But those weapons they were able to summon… those don’t look anything like what I’ve seen from a Formtechnic.”
For the first time since Sarah entered the room, Kirstin finally glanced her way, briefly making eye contact. “…Y-you think they’re, um, u-unique…?”
“I think there’s a good chance,” Sarah remarked. “I’ve studied Chaotics in general a lot, and the ability to summon weapons out of thin air like that is something that only Materiatechnics or Formtechnics can do. However, Formtechnism usually isn’t limited to just one, specific item. For example, Telregina is a Weapons-type Formtechnic who uses a massive variety of weapons when she attacks; I believe Mote can attest to that.”
“D-do you… do you think it’s, um, a n-new type of Chaotic?”
“Maybe… but a whole new type seems like a stretch, as well. Then again, the Eximius Vir have unique weapons, as well. It’s quite odd.”
“Hmm…” Kirstin looked down again. “…I… I h-heard that, um, that one of the n-new Chaotics, uh… used their powers d-during the, um, Quake…”
“Oh?” Sarah passed Kirstin a curious look. “From who?”
“F-from, uh… th-that, um, well…” Kirstin frowned as she took a moment to think. “I th-think his name was, um… Allan?”
“Do you mean Pallan? That Nimalian Archoné who’s hanging around?”
“Hmm… interesting. I’m not sure if I trust everything he’s said, but that’s an oddly specific claim to make without evidence. Hmm… if it’s true, though, then…”
“…I-it’s like the, um, th-the Eximius V-vir…”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking!” Sarah exclaimed, and then frowned. “Ah, but it’s still not quite the same. We know now, due to your recent mission, that the Eximius Vir can use their powers even in a void of Chaos Energy, but even they couldn’t use their powers during the Quake two months ago. With the new Chaotics, it’s reversed — assuming that Pallan is right, at least.”
“H-how… how do you know the r-recruits can’t, um, use th-their powers in a CENT field…?”
“I read the report that Mote filed a couple weeks ago about his fight with EA’s robots on Earth. They used a Chaotic as a hostage, and the Chaotic didn’t seem to be able to use their powers while inside the CENT field that was covering the robots. We know now that that hostage was one of the new Chaotics, the Velocitechnic, specifically. So they aren’t quite like the Eximius Vir.”
“O-oh… I see…”
“These past couple months have just been revealing mystery after mystery, haven’t they? Oooh, it’s all just so interesting! So much new material to look into!”
“Oh, don’t act like you aren’t looking forward to it, either!” Sarah remarked as she passed Kirstin a knowing grin. “You wouldn’t be working so early in the morning if you weren’t, would you?”
Kirstin passed her colleague a brief glance before hunching over even further and refocusing on her work.
“Heh… fair enough.” Sarah shrugged and swiveled her chair around to face the computer in front of her. “I suppose that’s enough chit-chat for now. Time to see what discoveries today holds—!”
Just as Sarah finished her sentence, the office door shot open, eliciting a startled yelp from Kirstin. Sarah simply gave the entrance a casual glance, spotting a tall young woman with olive skin standing in the doorway. She wore a thick green military uniform with black trimming, as well as a red bandana that covered her messy blond hair tied back in a pony tail. On her legs were 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. A patch on her upper chest named her as 2nd Lieutenant Katherine Faulkner, one of the four Chaotics of the Eximius Vir.
“Look who the storms blew in,” Sarah remarked as Kate stomped into the office, only for another young woman — this one dressed in the black jacket, pants, and boots that was the uniform of normal SERRCom soldiers in the Space Navy — to also appear in the doorway. “Well, now…” Sarah eyed the soldier with curiousity. “Just who is this?”
“Don’t mind me, ma’am,” the soldier replied as she saluted and then stood at attention just outside of the office. “I’ve just been ordered to watch the 2nd Lieutenant, is all.”
“Fucking chaperone…” Kate muttered as she dropped into one of the desk chairs and crossed her arms in a sulk. “This is what you get for speaking against power. Fucking bullshit…”
“…Ah, I see.” Sarah smirked as she watched Kate finally uncross her arms and input her own credentials into the computer in front of her. “This is about that argument you had with Hamasaki, isn’t it?”
Kate shot Sarah an annoyed glance. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“Word travels fast about the famed Eximius Vir. It’s hard not to know when one of you gets in trouble.”
“…Fuckin’ ridiculous…” Kate grumbled under her breath, and then whipped around to shove her finger in Kirstin’s direction. “If I hadn’t spoken out against the Director’s stupid-ass decision, you wouldn’t even fucking be here right now, you know?!”
“Wha—!?” Kirstin drew back, startled, and then stuttered out a reply. “Uh, uh, th… thanks…?!”
“Now, now, Kate, don’t lay into Kirstin for this,” Sarah admonished, “while I’m sure CSF-1 appreciates you coming to their aid, it nonetheless remains that it’s your attitude that’s getting you in trouble.”
“And how the fuck would you know that?” Kate shot back.
Sarah stared incredulously at Kate for several moments. “…Hmm, I do wonder.”
“Tch…” Kate grunted and turned back to her computer. “This whole ‘punishment’ doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, anyways. Like, what fucking good does it do to stop me from helping the ETAA’s own research projects, huh?! The Director might as well be shooting herself in the fucking foot just to ‘teach me a lesson’. Pah!”
“I’ve been barred from working on any of the new data from the Dreadnought, or anything else we got from that damn ship yard. It’s fucking stupid.”
“I’m sure Kirstin and I will manage just fine without you, for the time being.” Sarah glanced back at Kirstin. “Right?”
“Uh…” Kirstin stared at Sarah, wide-eyed, and then ducked her head down behind her monitor as Kate turned to look at her. “…Y…yes…?”
“…Like she can replace me,” Kate scoffed, and then pointed at her own head. “I’m literally supernaturally intelligent, you know!”
“Oh, is that so.” Sarah deadpanned. “For someone as smart as yourself, surely you must know that actions have consequences.”
“And what have I done to deserve this damned consequence?”
“…You really don’t know, do you.”
“You gonna keep being coy with me, or are you gonna actually answer my fucking question?”
“Me? Being coy? My, I don’t know what you could possibly mean.”
“Damn it, Sarah—”
“Now now, let’s not shout. You don’t want your research ban to be extended, do you?”
Kate glared at Sarah. “You’d fucking tattle on me? Seriously?”
“‘Tattle’ is such a strong word. Besides, we are dealing with Director Hamasaki, here. If she wants to know how you’re doing, I’m sure she’ll find a way.” Sarah then glanced upward, at a part of the ceiling. “It might not even be that difficult!”
Kirstin and Kate both glanced up at where Sarah was looking, where they found a small, dark half-sphere mounted on the ceiling. Oh, she’s talking about the cameras… Kirstin thought to herself.
“…Tch.” Kate snorted derisively and turned away from Sarah. “Fucking… whatever.”
“And with that out of the way, let’s all get to work, shall we?” Sarah declared, glancing between Kate and Kirstin.
“Ah… r-right…” Kirstin responded uneasily.
“I would, if I had access to the new data,” Kate replied.
“You have plenty of other things on your plate, don’t you?” Sarah questioned, “I recall you mentioning working on a new ship blueprint. Why don’t you work on that?”
“Well, sure, but it isn’t as interesting as the new data—”
“But it is, nonetheless, something you can work on.”
“…This is bullshit. I hate this.” Kate grumbled as she turned back to her computer, with Sarah and Kirstin eagerly doing the same. “What a load of fucking cock. Damned nonsense. I bet Danielle and Mark aren’t getting bossed around like this…”