Chapter 23 – Derelict Mysteries
«Big place, isn’t it?»
«Is it…?» Mote passed Colonel Saito a questioning glance, though the expression was lost behind the helmet of his armor. «The sensors said that the station is half a kilometer long in every dimension. That makes it shorter than the Genesis.»
«Sure, but the Genesis is a Battlecruiser that’s meant to travel the galaxy and fight in wars. It has a lot of systems that this presumably research station wouldn’t need.»
«I guess we’ll find out soon though, hmm?» Saito replied as the two continued floating down the dark, zero-gravity passageways of the derelict space station. Already, they had had to force their way past a handful of closed bullheads; neither Saito nor Mote knew if the bulkheads were closed for a reason or just by default, but still they forged ahead toward the station’s main generator.
«Hmm?» Saito turned his flashlight beam on Mote. «You thinking about what that could be, too?»
«Yes, sir…» Mote nodded slowly. «Whatever it is, it must be rare enough that it never shows up in Aldredian records, or it would get translated. But it was also enough of a threat for the station to specifically warn us about it…»
«Yeah, it’s a real mystery, isn’t it,» Saito replied. «I’d like to know what it is, as well, just so we can figure out how to deal with it if we come across it. Our armor and shielding will protect us, at least, but… I don’t like being in the dark like this. And I don’t mean literally.»
Mote released a mildly amused snort as he glanced around at their surroundings, bathed in pitch-black darkness as they were. A moment later, however, he perked up his head — just as the duo encountered another closed bulkhead.
«Sense something?» Saito questioned as he eyed the Electrotechnic.
«Yes… there’s a subtle electric field originating from behind this bulkhead. It’s stronger than elsewhere on the station.»
«Is it the generators?»
«Possibly…» Mote moved up to the bulkhead and placed his hand on it. «Only one way to find out, sir.»
The Electrotechnic applied a gentle current to the metal bulkhead, quickly figuring out the alignment of the door’s circuitry and directing electricity through it to release the lock. Eerie silence accompanied the bulkheads as they slid open, any sounds they might have made being negated by the vacuum environment.
«…Looks like something, alright,» Saito commented as he used the beam of his flashlight to cut through the darkness beyond the bulkhead. The room appeared to be quite large, and somewhat circular in construction; in the center was a tall, thick column, that extended upwards for a couple dozen meters. «According to that map MacTavish got us, we’re nearly in the center of the station. I’d bet that this is the main power generator.»
«I agree, sir,» Mote remarked as he pushed off of the nearby bulkhead to begin floating into the room. «This subtle field coming from the column here… it’s definitely a dormant generator. But something about it seems… off.»
«I can tell that there are electrical wires and circuitry coming off of the generator, so it clearly makes electricity. But… the sense I’m getting is that it isn’t like a normal electrical generator. I think it’s Chaos Energy-based.»
«Well, we are dealing with Aldredas technology, here. They loved Chaos Energy.»
«True…» Mote grabbed a handlebar attached to the center column as he floated by, thereby stopping his aimless trajectory through the room. «Either way, if it generates electricity, then I can replace it. It’ll take a few minutes for me to nail down the proper voltage output, however.»
«That’s fine, take your time. The last thing we want is to fry a bunch of fancy tech before we even get a chance to look at it.»
Mote nodded once in response before turning his attention to the central pillar. Several seconds passed in silence as the Electrotechnic began feeding electricity through the generator and all its connected wires, slowly ramping up the voltage as he did. As Saito watched, nothing seemed to happen at first; then, nearly ten seconds later, lights in the room began to flicker on, and a handful of screens began to populate their displays with information. Curious, the Colonel pushed off of a nearby bulkhead to float toward one of the displays — though as he read it, he realized that it was only giving readings of the generator’s power flow.
«We are in the generator room…» he muttered to himself. «At least this should help the others…»
Saito turned around to direct his flashlight beam at Mote, only to find that the Electrotechnic was already looking directly at him. «What is it?» the Colonel asked.
«As soon as I began feeding enough voltage to power things outside of this room, I noticed that most of the power is being directed to a room nearby,» Mote replied. «It’s on the level of what you would expect from energy shielding.»
«Sounds promising. How close is the room?»
«…Basically next door. I’d still be able to power the generator from there.»
«Let’s check it out, then. Lead the way.»
«Yes sir,» Mote replied as he pushed off of the central pillar toward the doorway they had used to enter the room. Saito readily followed as Mote led him down the passageway, past one closed door, and then stopping at the next one. The Electrotechnic placed his hand on the doorway and opened it in the same manner as the last, revealing a dim corridor, with massive glass-like panels on either side. And behind those panels…
«…You’re kidding me…» Saito muttered as he floated up to one of the panels and shone his flashlight through it. «Bodies?!»
«Looks like it, sir…» Mote responded uneasily as he looked around at the other panels. Behind each one appeared to be a human body — though impeccably preserved. Their silver and crimson clothing appeared pristine and undisturbed, and their skin bore no signs of rot nor decay. Each body appeared merely to be sleeping, suspended vertically in individual transparent cylinders; cylinders that seemed to number several dozen, as they lined the corridor into the distance.
«Are these… stasis pods?» Saito questioned as he inspected another body with his flashlight. «Are they alive?»
«Unfortunately not, sir,» Mote replied. «They don’t give off the faint electric field that a live person does. Furthermore… if these are stasis pods, then they’ve been without power for some time. They only just started up when I began feeding power to the station.»
«Figures. Well, even dead Aldredas could be a valuable find—»
«Hmm?» The Colonel turned toward Mote. «What is it?»
«Several of the pods have broken glass. Like something broke into them…» Mote slowly turned toward Saito. «…and there aren’t any bodies inside.»
«Empty stasis pods?»
«Not just empty, broken into. Something is definitely amiss.»
«Are you sure you aren’t just letting the dark atmosphere get to you, sir?» Hackett questioned cheekily.
«There isn’t even any atmosphere here, Major,» came Saito’s equally cheeky response over the comms. Hackett simply smirked to herself as she continued sweeping the beam of her flashlight over the surrounding bulkheads, with Danielle in tow.
«…But, to be serious,» the Colonel continued, «Mote and I have found a few dozen stasis pods. Most of them still have the bodies inside, it’s just a handful that look like they were broken into.»
«Th-the bodies could be, um, u-useful,» MacTavish replied, also over the comms. «I d-don’t think anyone has, uh, e-ever recovered an in-intact Aldredian body before…»
«Interested in the bodies, eh? Don’t tell me you’re a necrophiliac, MacTavish.»
«Wh-what?! Th-that, I-I, th-that’s not—»
«Relax, I’m just teasing you. I do agree that the bodies could be useful. However… these broken pods aren’t a good sign.»
«Do you think it has something to do with this ‘Morenal’ thing, sir?» Hackett questioned.
«It might. Hell, that might even be good for us; whatever broke those stasis pods likely died in the hundred thousand years that this place has been floating around. But keep a look out, Major, Danielle, MacTavish. And let me know if you find anything interesting.»
«Good. Saito, out.»
«…Well.» Hackett glanced back at Danielle, who was maintaining a close distance as they slowly navigated the dark, empty corridors. «Let’s hurry up and see what these labs have.»
«Yeah…» Danielle responded over the comms, even though her un-helmeted and unmasked mouth didn’t move. The Major’s gaze lingered on her for just a moment; seeing Danielle unarmored as she floated through the empty, zero-g hallways was something that Hackett just couldn’t get used to, even though she knew that the Transtechnic’s current form was entirely robotic — and thus didn’t need air to breath.
«…You really do have some useful abilities,» Hackett eventually commented as she turned forward once more.
«Yeah, it really is pretty neat!» Danielle replied cheerfully. «When I tell people I’m a Transtechnic, they always ask about the biggest, or the smallest, or the craziest thing I ever turned into… but no one seems to realize the more subtle stuff. I haven’t had to eat or sleep in, like, over a decade!»
«That sounds useful, but… what do you do when everyone else is sleeping? Or eating?»
«I mean, I can still eat or sleep if I want to. I just don’t do the thing where I turn into a version of myself that just slept or ate. Sometimes, if I have a lot of time to burn, I’ll even purposefully turn into a version of myself that’s really tired, and just sleep through it all.»
«…If you say so. Still… the subtleness of your transformations seems very powerful.»
«Eh, not as powerful as Mote. Or Kate. Or Mark…»
«I disagree. You might not have quite the offensive output of Mote or Kate, but the utility of your shapeshifting can’t be understated. Even just the ability to have a Frigate on demand is arguably more useful than what Mote or Kate can do.»
«Of course. Chaotics like Mote or Kate can single-handedly win battles, but proper logistics is what wins wars, and your abilities provide some useful shortcuts in that department.»
«Yeah, I guess that’s true, huh… I guess it’s just hard to see since there’s no war to win, huh?»
«You don’t have to take the quote so literally,» Hackett commented as the two arrived at a door in the wall, and an alert briefly popped up on her AR HUD. «But that’s enough chat for now. We’re here.»
«Oh, right. Let me get that…» Danielle floated over to the closed door and transformed her right arm into a plasma torch, which she then used to delicately cut through the bulkhead. The metal door stood no chance under the heat of her torch, and before long, she had carved out an opening large enough for her and Hackett to enter through.
«No shields on the door,» the Major observed as she carefully maneuvered through the new opening, cautious to not accidentally touch the red-hot edges of the metal. «All that power must be going to something else, then.»
«Well it certainly isn’t going to the computers,» Danielle remarked as she looked around at the room’s interior. The pitch black space wasn’t much larger than an average living room, with a handful of counter tops in the center. All along the walls were dark, inactive displays and interface devices — nothing in the room appeared to be active.
«…This is supposed to be the place,» Hackett muttered as she slowly swept her flashlight beam across the inactive devices. «Were the map coordinates recorded incorrectly…?»
«Hey, there’s something back here!»
Hackett quickly looked around the room in search of Danielle, only to find her at the back of the room, near a door that she had just opened — a door through which dim blue light shone. Danielle briefly glanced back at Hackett before the two women moved to investigate, with Danielle forcing the door completely open and Hackett drifting through. On the other side of the door was a distinctly different setup: lining every wall, and on a couple of shelves in the center, were solid metal cages, not unlike an animal pound. The cages were all completely solid metal on all but one side, which was covered in the familiar metal grating of a cage — and over several of the metal grates, there would briefly flicker a plane of blue light, as though an energy shield was rapidly turning on and off.
«…I think we found it,» Danielle commented as Hackett drifted further into the room.
«Yeah… and whatever’s here, is apparently worth the station trying to maintain the shielding,» the Major muttered, eventually bringing her flashlight to bear on one of the cages in the back. The metal grating on that one appeared to have been partially dissolved, and it didn’t feature the flickering energy shields of the other cages.
«…Uh oh,» Danielle said as she approached Hackett and laid eyes on the broken cage. «That… doesn’t look good.»
«Agreed,» Hackett replied grimly. «Something was here. Something that seems to have broken out…» She then glanced over at the other cages with the flickering energy shielding. «The only question, is what?»
10 Minutes Later
Oh… oh no… why did the Colonel leave me all alone? It’s so dark here…!
Kirstin nervously glanced down at the ground level of the main control room. Ever since Mote had found and begun powering the station through the main generator, the room’s backup lights and some of the computers had fully booted up, but much of the room remained dimly lit and inactive. At first, Kirstin had been more than happy to begin diving into whatever information she could find on the computers — but then Major Hackett alerted everyone else about the broken cages and the failing energy shielding. Nearly 10 minutes had passed since then, and Kirstin’s nerves were beginning to get the best of her.
Oh… c’mon, Kirstin, it’s safe, right? You have energy shields and everything, she thought to herself as she tentatively returned her attention to the screen in front of her. Nothing should be able to hurt me. Should. I mean, energy shields DO have a limit, and atmosphereless armor has worse shielding than normal armor, since it has to use the battery power for other stuff, like the air recycler… and on top of that, this armor is electrical, not Chaos Energy-based, so it’s even worse… so basically, one good attack would completely shut down my shields! Oh, why am I all alone?! I should call the Colonel and ask him to— well, no, he’s busy doing important stuff, I can’t bother him… he and Mote got the generator up, just so I can do my work, so I should be doing that. Right. Work.
Kirstin paused for a moment to take several deep breaths, all in an attempt to calm herself. She then shook her head vigorously and slapped her face — or at least, she tried, only to accidentally slam her palms into her helmet. “Ack!” she yelped, and froze for a second. …Oh, Kirstin, you idiot! Just… oh… let’s hurry up and get to work, so I can get out of here faster…
With a sigh, she began again to sift through the data on the Aldredian computer systems. Currently, she had open a normal laptop that was connected to one of the Aldredian interfaces through a long cable adapter — the same sort that she had used to access the Dreadnought’s computer systems in the Aldredian shipyard. On that laptop’s tiny screen were a variety of open command terminals as she searched through hundreds of data entries and directories for anything useful. She had already set up a few programs to automatically search through the station’s databanks for specific keywords so that she wouldn’t have to look through everything manually, but even that required a set of human eyes to make sure that whatever the programs found was truly valuable.
I hope I can find something on this ‘Morenal’ thing… but it seems like nothing’s come up in the search yet. That’s weird… She frowned warily. I hope that doesn’t mean that someone wiped the data. That would be bad. Who would even want to wipe that data? Maybe the Morenal itself did it?! That’s— oh, Kirstin, get a grip already! Alright. Let’s see what else has come up, in the meantime…
She switched over to one of the terminals and began looking through the list of files, and then selected the first one to begin skimming. This one… is this some kind of history record? It reads a lot like the ‘motivations’ section of a research paper… maybe it’s some kind of write-up about what they were researching here. Let’s see… oh! It mentions Raen Technology! Didn’t Mote say that that Drakkar lady claimed his armor was Raen Technology? That sounds important! What does this say about it… hmm, so Raen Technology was introduced by a man named Rynisaren Raen. That’s a little less helpful than I had hoped. ‘Rynisaren’ sounds familiar, though. Wasn’t that the Dreadnought’s name? Was it named after this man? Is he that important?…
A couple more minutes passed in silence as Kirstin speed read the document, mentally absorbing everything that it had to say. Well, okay, then…she thought as she sat back in the elevated chair to begin processing what she had just read. So the Aldredas’s nation used to be known as the Aldredas Federation, but this Rynisaren person led a revolution that replaced the Federation with the Raen Empire. That sounds really not cool. The paper doesn’t say what his reasons were, but I wonder… it also said that he was a Chaos Conduit, which means that he could use every single Chaostechnic ability. I think there’s only two of those in the galaxy, right now? So Rynisaren was definitely unique. If he’s this important, though, then he should appear in tons of other Aldredian records, too, right? I’ll have to check for that when we get back to Earth…
She glanced down at the floor of the room again, involuntarily shivering as she did so. …Oh, I can’t wait to get back home, but until then… the paper only talked about Rynisaren as background for this Raen Technology, which was apparently some super-advanced stuff that Rynisaren introduced. The paper didn’t say much about how the technology worked, though it did at least confirm that Raen Technology doesn’t work for everyone by design, and that it’s activation has a genetic component. It also said something about the researchers trying to use ‘Priors’ or some ‘Memory of Chaos’ to allow more people to use Raen Technology, but I have no idea what any of that means. Was this tech really THAT powerful, anyways? And what does it have to do with this station…?
A small alert appeared in the corner of the laptop’s screen, prompting Kirstin to lean forward and take a look. …Oh! A hit for ‘Morenal’! Perfect! Let’s see what it says… Just a few keystrokes later, Kirstin had opened the document in question, and began reading it in earnest. ‘Using Raen Technology to Combat the Morenal’. This sounds like exactly what I was looking for! Good! But this reads like a research proposal… that would mean that this Morenal stuff was important enough to be actively researching. And not just any research, they wanted to use their most advanced stuff! And to ‘combat’ it! What even is it?! Oh, no, I hope it’s not still around…
With renewed haste, Kirstin’s eyes began flicking to and fro as she speedily read through every word the proposal had to offer. Okay, here we go. It starts explaining what Morenal actually is. …According to what’s written here… Morenal is some kind of… malicious entity? And it’s… somehow asserting control over foreign matter, and spreading like an infection. Its key distinguishing feature is… silver rashes. Why does that sound familiar? Infectious, silver rashes that take control of other things… wait, don’t tell me…! The Researcher then began skimming the proposal with increased urgency, hoping to find some kind of confirmation or denial of her suspicions, only to find neither — until another notification popped up on the laptop. Kirstin’s fingers nearly stumbled over each other as she tried to open the new document, and upon doing so, her heart rate jumped, and panic crossed her features.
«‘D-due to recent attacks b-by the leader of the Morenal… Morcii!’» she read aloud. Morcii! He’s the one who attacked the galaxy 20 years ago, during the Nanocreature War! So ‘Morenal’ is just the Aldredian word for the Nanocreatures, then? Oh no, oh no…!
While too young to remember the Nanocreatures or the Nanocreature War herself, Kirstin still knew well what they were. The Nanocreatures consisted of tiny nanomachines that were capable of replicating themselves to replace the constituent matter of large objects, allowing them to seize control of the object. Anything that was constructed of matter could be taken over by Nanocreatures, ranging from weapons, to food, to people, to even spacecraft. For 20 years prior to the Nanocreature war, the Nanocreatures had spread aimlessly throughout the galaxy under the guise of the ‘metallic infection’, manifesting as silvery scars and rashes that would drive the host creature mad. It was only when Morcii — the leader of the Nanocreatures — appeared that the disparate nanomachines all across the galaxy suddenly began to act under a collective will and strategy, a will that ravaged dozens of worlds and nearly took over the entire galaxy.
Ultimately, Morcii was defeated in battle, and with his disappearance, the Nanocreatures were severely reduced in threat. But the fact still remained that the Nanocreatures were by far the greatest threat the galaxy had ever seen.
As Kirstin quickly filed through all her knowledge of the Nanocreatures, however, a question crossed her mind. Wait, why didn’t Morenal translate? Everyone knows about the Nanocreatures nowadays. Why wouldn’t it be part of the common Aldredian cipher, then? Is it just because 20 years wasn’t long enough for anyone to make this connection…? Ah, no, I don’t have time to worry about that! I just learned that this station was used to research the Nanocreatures! Does that mean—? Quickly, she switched back to the first document that mentioned “Morenal”, and skimmed through it once more. Oh no! They had Nanocreatures ON THE STATION! They were using energy shields to contain them, but, oh, oh no! The Colonel found empty stasis pods, and the Major found empty cages! Oh no! This could— this could be really bad!
With increasing panic, Kirstin made to activate her comms system, immediately calling out, «Colonel! C-colonel, are you there?!»
A second passed. Just as she opened her mouth to make another hail, however, Saito eventually replied. «I’m here. Is something wrong? Did you find something?»
«Y-yes! S-something really, um, r-really, really bad! Th-this is, oh… oh no…»
«What? MacTavish, relax. What did you find?»
«Did you figure out what ‘Morenal’ is supposed to mean?» Hackett questioned as she joined the line.
«Uh, y-yes!» Kirstin took a quick breath before finishing, «th-the Morenal are the Nanocreatures! A-and if the Major is right about b-broken cages, th-then they might be loose on the station, r-right now!»