Chapter 29 – Renewed Research
3 Days Later
— Monday, November 7, 2129 AD —
“Fucking hell, what is it now…”
Kate scowled as she stomped through the hallways of the space station Opportunity, SERRCom’s secondary headquarters in space. In each hallway, one of the walls displayed a holographic feed of Earth below, projecting the vastness of space alongside the stretches of green and blue of the planet’s surface onto whoever had business in the station. Most considered the sight serene, and it featured the most advanced hologram technology that SERRCom had access to… but on this early Monday morning, Kate was having none of it.
“Fucking Director…” she muttered to herself, glaring forward as she walked and pointedly ignored everyone she passed. “Pulls me off most research projects, so I can’t do shit. Doesn’t let me go on a fucking mission. And now she wants to talk to me at fucking 8 in the morning, what the fuck?! Damn it…”
After turning a corner, Kate took a few more steps and then stopped at the end of the short hallway. In front of her was an unassuming metal door, not unlike the rest of the doors in the station — but on the name plaque next to this door read out “Director Akane Hamasaki, EIIC”. With a petulant scowl, Kate kicked the door once to signal her presence; a moment later, it slid open, revealing the modest office behind it. A circular blue rug with gold trimming occupied most of the floor, with a large desk standing near the back, and a couple of wooden chairs between the desk and the door. On the front of the desk was the signature shield insignia of SERRCom, featuring Earth, the moon above and slightly behind, and then three four-pointed stars above and beyond the moon.
As Kate stepped inside and the door closed behind her, she glanced between the other two individuals in the room. Sitting in one of the wooden chairs was Scott MacTavish, the Director of the Earthian Technological Advancement Agency, dressed in his typical black shirt, pants, and white lab coat. And sitting behind the desk, with her elbows on top of it and her fingers steepled in front of her mouth, was Director Hamasaki, of the Earthian Interstellar Intelligence Command. Her appearance was impeccable, with silky, cleanly cut shoulder-length hair and a slick navy blue pantsuit. Compared to that, Kate seemed downright dirty; her loose ponytail and red bandana did little to hide the disheveled mess that was her blond hair, and she wore her typical green with black trimming uniform, with the sleeves rolled up. Combined with the red and golden greaves that she always wore, Kate’s appearance was in an odd in-between of casual and military attire, serving as a stark contrast to the professional business dress of Hamasaki.
“Welcome, Lieutenant,” Hamasaki said, slowly moving her hands down to rest them on her desk, revealing her ever-present, perpetually polite smile. “Please, have a seat.”
Kate eyed the Director warily as she moved over to the empty chair and slowly lowered herself into it. She then passed a glance toward Scott, who offered a brief smile in response.
“Director MacTavish and I were just discussing certain matters,” Hamasaki commented, drawing Kate’s attention back to her. “…You being one of them.”
“Are you about to start lecturing me about my fucking behavior, again?” Kate questioned irately.
“That depends entirely on how this meeting goes,” Hamasaki countered. “It’s been three weeks since I put you on probation. At MacTavish’s urging…” She passed him a glance before continuing, “…I thought that now would be a good time to review your behavior.”
“Really,” Kate drawled, and then crossed her arms.
Hamasaki nodded slowly, her steely gaze never once leaving Kate. The latter simply returned the gaze with a glare, though Kate couldn’t help but feel uneasy as Hamasaki’s smile had yet to diminish. “…Now,” the Director eventually spoke again, “…I’m sure you understand why you’re in this position, yes?”
Kate opened her mouth to speak, and then stopped herself, as she fought the impulse to respond with snark. Fucking… hold it in, Kate, she mentally told herself. Damn it. I hate these games, but if this is what it takes to get me back on real research, then… fuck it. Here we go. “…Yeah,” she responded tensely after a couple seconds.
“And why might that be, hmm?”
“I… broke the rules… apparently,” Kate answered, her teeth nearly clenched. “Because, you know… helping CSF-1 live is a bad thing, I guess.”
Hamasaki shook her head. “This isn’t about you intervening on CSF-1’s behalf. If you’ll remember, I did give approval to that mission. I ultimately agreed with you. It is your methods, Lieutenant Faulkner, that I object to.”
Oh that’s rich, coming from the head of the fucking space CIA, Kate thought bitterly.
“You admitted yourself to hacking into the EIIC’s communications and records, after all,” the Director continued. “Surely you can’t have expected that to go unpunished.”
“…Alright,” Kate replied. “Is that it?”
“It is not, and I know you know that. Don’t play coy with me.” Hamasaki’s smile finally collapsed into a disapproving frown as she said, “it is your attitude toward your superiors that I object to. Treating the chain of command with such irreverence is what leads to disasters in emergencies, and other situations where it is needed most.”
“I say what needs to be said. So what?” Kate shot back, “if you look at the records, which I’m sure you have, then you’d see that I haven’t ever actually disobeyed an order. I’ve done everything right.”
“With the exception of your little hacking endeavor, that is technically correct, yes. Which is why I am willing to have this meeting as soon as I am. However, if your hacking turns out to be more than just a one-time misstep, then your next punishment will be far more severe than a three week probation.”
“Does this mean you’re lifting my research and mission restrictions?”
“Only if you agree to the following condition: watch your behavior when speaking with superior officers and Director-level staff. I have been willing to overlook your brash attitude up to this point, due to the things you have been able to accomplish to date — but I am not willing to tolerate it any further.”
Kate scowled. Why does everyone around here have such a big fucking stick up their asses? Come the fuck on…
“Well, Lieutenant Faulkner? Do you agree?”
“…Fine,” Kate eventually replied.
“Good.” Hamasaki’s frown was wiped clean by a polite smile as she steepled her fingers. “I will hold you to that, Lieutenant. You are a valuable member of SERRCom and the ETAA, and I would hate to have to remove you — but I will if you force my hand. Don’t think that you are above reproach.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Kate grumbled. “…Is that it?”
“I will also say that I expect to never again hear about you hacking SERRCom systems. Otherwise, yes, that is it.” The Director turned toward Scott and offered him a curt nod. “You are free to reinstate the Lieutenant’s research and engineering privileges.”
“Thank ye, Director,” Scott replied, offering a nod back.
“And that is everything I need from you, Director, Lieutenant.” Hamasaki gestured toward the door to her office as it automatically slid open. “Now, I have work to do, and I’m sure you both have projects to get to, as well.”
“That we dae!” Scott remarked as he readily stood up and turned toward the door. “C’mon, Kate!”
“Ngh…” Kate grunted in response as she followed his lead, more than ready to leave Hamasaki and her office behind. Before long, she and Scott were outside of the office and walking down the hallways toward the research labs. Scott strode steadily along, his chin up and shoulders squared, while Kate slouched sullenly with her hands in her pockets.
“Meetin’ with the Director never is fun, is it?”
Kate glanced over at Scott, finding that he was already looking at her. “…Hmph,” she snorted in response.
“I realize ye mean well, Kate, but Hamasaki daes have a point. For the maest part.”
“Are you going to lecture me, too?”
“Ha! Ah nae nae nae, I’ve never been fond of lectures — well, nae that kind of lecture, at least. But I dae have one more thing to say before I drop the topic.”
“And that is?”
Scott smiled. “I have tae thank ye for holdin’ back, in there. Ye showed a lot of restraint.”
Kate scowled in response. “I fucking what?”
“Ah ha ha! Dinnae think I dinnae notice, Kate. Normally ye swear like a sailor! I think Captain Krick is the only person I knae with a mouth like yours — and he is a sailor, of sorts. But during that meetin’, ye managed to pack it in. Hamasaki might nae have mentioned it, but I’m sure she noticed, as well.”
“Tch…” Kate snorted and diverted her annoyed gaze. “Whatever you say…”
“And with that out of the way, it’s time tae start talking research! There’s a lot tae discuss on that front.”
“Fucking finally, a conversation I can get behind. I can work on the Aldredian shipyard stuff, now, right?”
“I’d ask ye tae even if ye dinnae want it!” Scott remarked as he directed Kate down an adjacent corridor. “Your team and CSF-1 recovered sae many interesting items and data last month, I just cannae wait tae see what we can learn from it all!”
“So impatient you even talked the fuckin’ Director into letting me work on it, huh?”
“Ha ha, I suppose ye could say that. The ETAA has a lot of researchers and technicians, but only a handful of people with the skill — and security clearance — tae handle Aldredas technology.”
“The fuck do we need security clearance for?”
“Hamasaki and Lead both want tae keep as much of the Aldredian tech within SERRCom as they can. Hamasaki particularly wasnae pleased tae learn that the Black Suns were privvy to the shipyard discovery, but, ah well.”
“Who the hell is gonna let the tech leak to the other nations?”
“It’s nae about willingness, it’s about data security. You already know that our Earthian technology is incredibly primitive compared tae the Nimalians or the CSA; it isnae quite trivial for them to hack our systems, but they can certainly dae it far more easily than I’d like. Security through obscurity, while unideal, is one of our best bets at keeping all of this new tech tae ourselves.”
“Or we can just track down any would-be hackers and blow them to hell.”
“Now, now, I knae ye like blowing things up, lass, but that isnae always a viable solution tae a problem. In fact, it maest often isnae.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you were in the field as much as me,” Kate countered, and then stopped to look up at the massive double doors that she and Scott now stood in front of. “…The hell are we doing at the fucking research bays? All of the Dreadnought data is on the computers already.”
“Yes, that’s trae,” Scott replied as he approached the double doors and flashed his wrist at a sensor. “But if ye’ll recall, the data from the Dreadnought wasn’t the only thing ye recovered from the ship yard.”
Kate stared at him incredulously for a moment, and then snapped her attention — eyes wide with excitement — to the double doors as they began to slide open. “Oh! The mechs! Yes! Fucking finally, I get to check out those sweet-ass mechs!”
“I knew ye’d be—” Scott started, only to stop speaking as Kate squeezed through the still-opening doors and sprinted into the bay. A fairly expansive space laid beyond the doors, a few dozen meters wide and nearly a hundred meters long, with all kinds of berths and large machinery strewn about for the sake of maintaining mech- and fightercraft-sized vehicles. The room looked much like a typical fighter bay, in fact; the only difference was that this bay contained only prototypes, experimental vehicles, and large devices that were under study rather than active use. Bright white lights illuminated the entirety of the space and all of the items contained within: on the right were a couple of space-worthy fightercraft, while on the left stood two massive humanoid machines.
The taller of the two machines stood at around 10 meters tall despite having no head unit, with bulky black armor around its legs and arms. Gold, geometric trimming adorned the mech’s torso, while long gun barrels extended down both of its forearms. Standing to that mech’s side was another, this one slightly shorter, even with its head unit. The second mech featured a similar palette and paint scheme to Raenaros: predominantly crimson, with elaborate gold and black geometric trimming, as well as an insignia of a blue longsword on top of a circle on its chest and face. While obviously armored, the second mech possessed a significantly more lithe appearance than the first, and no obvious weapons.
“Alright!!” Kate exclaimed as she ran up to the pair and stared up at them in wonder. She looked them up and down, head to toe, and whistled in admiration. “Now this is some Aldredas tech I can get behind! But, damn, the Aldredas really liked their fucking straight lines and triangles and other polygons…”
“That certainly seems tae be the case,” Scott remarked as he walked up alongside Kate and looked up at the mechs. “Though the fact that even the paint jobs survived a hundred thousand years intact is quite the marvel!”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll put checking out the magic fucking paint on my list of things to do,” Kate snarked as she moved over to the scaffolding placed over the mechs and began climbing up to get a closer look.
“Before ye get started,” Scott quickly called out as she began inspecting the torso of the bulkier mech, “ye should probably knae what we’ve been able tae figure out sae far. Particularly, the smaller one seems tae have the same kind of ‘locking’ systems as the Aldredas Powered Armor, or Raenaros.”
“You mean only Mote will be able to turn it on? Go fucking figure,” Kate muttered, and then knocked loudly on the bulky chestplate of the larger mech. “What about this one?”
“That one seems fine, and actually nae locked at all, though somewhat more rundown than the other. Interestingly, though, despite the cannons on its arms, it seems tae be designed with a focus on its CCS — that is, the Chaotic Channeling System.”
“Just like the Raenaros, then, huh?”
“Aye, that seems tae be the case. It alsae has a truly incredible neural-dive control system — more advanced and intuitive than any other I’ve ever seen! Furthermore, according tae Sarah, the smaller one has a lot of similar internals as the larger one, so it might have a CCS or neural-dive system as well.”
“Figures that Sarah would figure out all the interesting stuff first…”
“She was only able tae tell that the systems existed. We still dinnae knae how they work; that’s where ye come in.”
“You want to retro-engineer this shit, huh?” Kate glanced down at Scott, and then up at the mech as she grinned and rubbed her hands together. “You said this one has a CCS, but none of that locking bullshit, right? Ah ha ha ha! Finally, a chance to try out that fucking Chaotic stuff all on my own! Ooooh, this is gonna be fun!”
“Try not tae damage or blow anything up, please…” Scott replied with a nervous smile. “Especially dinnae damage the CCS. It’s a Chaos Energy-based system, after all, sae Sarah will still want tae look at it in depth herself.”
“Yeah yeah…” Kate responded dismissively as she began searching the mech for a way into the cockpit. “Doesn’t she have tons of other shit to work on, though?”
“True. Aside from her other projects, she’ll be helping with the study of the Aldredas Powered Armor. Studying the CCS of Raenaros and these mechs will be her job, tae. Though I’ll be taking over the general study of Raenaros personally.”
“That eager to get a look at a new spaceship, huh?”
“Ah ha ha, ye could say that! It’s been quite some time since I was last able tae work on a spacecraft of foreign construction, after all.”
“Well, good luck with that. So long as Mote doesn’t get it fucking blown up on whatever fucking mission they’re on, anyways.”
“That would be a problem…” Scott replied, and then glanced to the side, as a notification appeared on his AR display. “…Oh, speak of the devil! Genesis and CSF-1 have just returned!”
“Well good for them,” Kate deadpanned, and then grinned as she finally managed to open the mech’s cockpit and jump inside. “You go talk to them, I’ve got some sweet-ass tech to check out!”
“I suspected ye would say that,” Scott responded, and then turned around to begin leaving the research bay. “Let me knae if ye find anythin’. In the meantime, I’m going tae see if CSF-1 recovered any new data or technologies! This truly is an exciting time for SERRCom…!”