Chapter 30 – Renewed Threats
“Finally, back at Earth…”
“We still aren’t standing on it, sir,” Major Hackett commented as she followed Colonel Saito through the hallways of the space station Opportunity.
Saito passed her an annoyed glance, and then swept his gaze over Researcher MacTavish, Mote, and Danielle, who were all following him as well. They had only just arrived back at Earth; Captain Krick had beamed the five of them aboard Opportunity so they could debrief as soon as possible, while Genesis went through her typical post-mission rundown. Three days had passed since they left the derelict Aldredas space station — three days that had passed with tense unease, as everyone aboard the Battlecruiser pondered what their recent findings could mean. But now that they had returned to Earth, things were moving much more quickly.
“Hmm?” Saito faced forward again, stopping in the middle of the hallway as Scott jogged up to him. “Director MacTavish? This is new. You don’t usually greet us when we return from a mission…”
“Only because I usually dinnae have a reason tae, Colonel,” Scott remarked with a smile. “But ye just went tae investigate one of the coordinates from the Aldredian Dreadnought’s computers! Given how your missions last month went, how could I nae be interested?”
“So what technological marvels did ye discover this time, hmm?” He glanced over at Mote. “Any new ye-locked technology? Anything Chaos Energy based?” He then turned his attention toward Kirstin. “What about the computers? Anything?”
“Uh… w-well…” Kirstin started uneasily, “th-there was—”
“So there was something! Wonderful!” Scott threw his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and began leading her off down the hallway. “Ye’ll have tae tell me everything ye saw, lass, everything ye found!”
“Th-that’s what I’m t-trying to—”
“Ye don’t find new Aldredas tech every day, after all. Though ye certainly returned quickly. Wasn’t the coordinate three days away? Ye’ve barely been gone for a week! What happened?”
“Right, of course, you’re probably exhausted after a long mission! Ye should rest. We’ll talk later—”
“Director,” Saito interjected, grabbing Scott by his shoulder and turning the Director toward him. “We found Nanocreatures.”
Scott stared at Saito, his eyes wide, as he stood — frozen — for a couple seconds. “…Ah.” He then looked down at Kirstin, at which point he released her and stepped back to hold a hand to his chin in thought. “…Nanocreatures, you say?”
“Yes.” Saito nodded in affirmation. “An abundance of them, in fact. We need to talk to the General, as soon as possible.”
“Yes… yes, of course,” Scott replied, quickly sweeping his gaze over the rest of the group and then marching off down the hallway. “If ye found Nanocreatures, then I would like tae be party tae this discussion, as well. Now, follow me. Tae the General’s office!”
30 Minutes Later
“Well… that was fast, sir.”
“You say that you ran into Nanocreatures, Saito,” General Lead replied. “A resurgence of such a significant threat must be dealt with with haste.”
“…Can’t argue with that,” Saito commented as he took a seat at the long meeting room table adjacent to Lead’s office. Sitting with Saito and Lead all around the table were Hackett, Mote, Danielle, Kirstin, and Scott, with Scott sitting across from Saito at the end of the table, nearest Lead’s seat at the head. Despite Genesis returning to Earth earlier than expected and unannounced, General Lead and Director Scott MacTavish had both managed to quickly clear their busy schedules in order to meet with CSF-1. The urgency of their actions wasn’t lost on Saito and his team; they already knew that the Nanocreatures were a dangerous threat, but Lead and Scott both taking the matter so seriously served to underscore the matter.
“Alright, now tell us everything,” Scott insisted once everyone was seated, “how did ye encounter the Nanocreatures? And in what capacity?”
“Starting from the top,” Saito commented, passing Kirstin a brief glance before looking back to the Director. “When the Genesis arrived at the coordinates, we found a space station. The five of us boarded with the Raenaros and began looking around. That’s when MacTavish— uh…” The Colonel glanced between Kirstin and Scott for a moment before amending, “that’s when Researcher MacTavish discovered that the station’s primary purpose was, in fact, to study the Nanocreatures.”
“Th-the Aldredas called them, uh, M-Morenal,” Kirstin quickly interjected.
“An entire space station, tae study the Nanocreatures?” Scott remarked as he placed a hand on his chin in thought. “Interesting…”
“Danielle and I found one of the labs where the Nanocreatures were presumably being kept,” Hackett stated. “The cages had energy shielding, I assume to keep the Nanocreatures in… but several of the cages were broken, despite that.”
“The Colonel and I also found stasis pods, with bodies in them,” Mote said. “Several of the pods were broken into, and the bodies gone…”
“Stasis pods? With bodies in them?!” Scott exclaimed, “did ye recover any of them?!”
“We didn’t have the time,” Saito replied. “Shortly after these discoveries, the Major and Danielle were attacked by Nanocreature bugs.”
“A full swarm of them,” Hackett affirmed.
“Yes… at that point, I called for a retreat,” the Colonel continued. “We had no way of knowing just how much of the station was under Nanocreature control, so we couldn’t risk staying any longer.”
“A perfectly understandable call, Saito,” Lead responded. “I would even go so far as to say that it was the only correct call. Did you destroy the station, as well?”
“Yes sir, the Genesis blew it to smithereens,” Saito replied. “…But not before we were attacked by a, uh… dragon.”
“A big, silver one!” Danielle declared. “I managed to hold it back, but it was still really weird, you know? Like, why a dragon?”
“There is actually precedent for this…” Scott commented, and then passed Lead a glance. “…Ye remember Sunova?”
“How could I not,” the General replied with a frown. “An entire outpost, lost to the Nanocreatures… and if I recall correctly, the Nimalians that were there at the time reported fighting a silver dragon, down in the caves.”
“Wait, hold on!” Danielle raised her hand, and then continued speaking after drawing Lead and Scott’s attention. “What’s Sunova? Was it a Nimalian outpost?”
“No, Sunova was a Tier 5 World that belonged to SERRCom,” Lead explained. “20 years ago, myself, as well as Director MacTavish here, and even Commander Shepherd — we were all stationed at Sunova.”
“That planet was the first place where the Ayas showed up after disappearing for almost 20 years!” Scott remarked. “Shepherd was the one who found it, I believe. And that was alsae the same moment that Genesis came tae exist. Quite a serendipitous series of events.”
“Yes… and we called in the Nimalians to help make sense of it all,” Lead continued. “While they were with us, they discovered a hostile silver dragon, hiding in a cavern under some nearby mountains. After killing that dragon, it purportedly exploded into a large swarm of silver bugs, that then overran the entire outpost. We only managed to escape due to Genesis being in orbit.”
“Quite lucky, indeed…” Scott said. “We knae now that they were Nanocreatures, of course, but at the time, we dinnae knae what those dastardly bugs were. However… I’ve read many reports regarding the Nanocreatures and the ‘metallic infection’ that preceded them, and this silver dragon shows up in many of them. At least twice in Nimalian space, in fact. According tae the Nimalians, the presence of a dragon seems to signal a sort of ‘critical infection’, wherein the Nanocreatures have reached a critical mass, and are about tae start spreading far more aggressively.”
“So you’re saying that the space station was host to a, uh, ‘critical infection’?” Mote questioned.
Scott nodded. “That’s certainly what it sounds like.”
“I suppose, in a way, it’s good that we found it when we did, then,” Saito commented. “If that infection had gotten any farther…”
“Eh, things might’ve been fine,” Scott mused. “There are nae any signs that the Nanocreatures are capable of forming spacecraft unless Morcii is around tae direct them…”
“Well, sir, are we certain that Morcii is actually gone?” Hackett questioned.
“That is the question, is it nae…”
“Is there a way to know for sure?” Danielle asked.
“I don’t knae,” Scott muttered, “…but I knae someone who might.”
“Would you be referring to Hero Machina, Director?” Lead questioned.
“That’s it exactly, General! As luck would have it, Hero Machina were the ones who were with us on Sunova, as well as the ones who fought and defeated Morcii — both times. And now, they’re the ones in charge of teaching our new Chaotic recruits!”
“How lucky, indeed,” Mote deadpanned.
“It truly is!” Scott replied with a grin. “Even better, one of them is the preeminent Nimalian researcher when it comes to the Nanocreatures — though I believe maest of the galaxy is euphemistically referring tae them as the ‘metallic infection’. Anyways, the researcher in question is named Rebehka… Tchiréon, I believe?”
“How easy would it be to get an audience with them?” Lead asked.
“Good question. She — well, the Nimalian Union in general has been trying tae keep all metallic infection research on the down-low, so tae speak. Very secretive. However, I dae knae that she’s been daeing a lot of work in that area, recently, which I always thought was suspicious if the threat was supposed tae have ended 20 years agae…”
“It isn’t necessarily suspicious. The vast, vast majority of Nanocreature nanites shut down immediately after Morcii’s second defeat, but a small amount remained active, mostly on some of the CSA worlds,” Lead pointed out. “The CSA is still undertaking clean-up efforts on those worlds, even today, 20 years later. Of course, they, too, are trying to be secretive about it — as much as they can be, at least. Orciid’kas and Tau’cen Kii were both rife with Nanocreature nanites when they were recaptured, after all, and the recovery efforts on those two planets are still very obvious and ongoing. Everyone thought that the nanites were largely dormant, however, including myself… until now. If CSF-1 ran into a critical infection, then the Nanocreatures may not be as dormant as everyone suspected…”
“I remember Archoné Culana saying that infection incidents are on the rise, too,” Saito stated. “I suppose that wasn’t just a bluff, huh? Ha…”
“…So what are you saying, sirs?” Hackett questioned as she glanced between Lead, Scott, and Saito. “Are the Nanocreatures an active threat, or not?”
Scott exhaled warily before replying, “there isnae really a way tae knae that, at present.”
“Best to assume that they are a threat for the time being, then,” Saito asserted.
“I agree, Colonel,” Lead declared. “The Nanocreatures are far too dangerous to underestimate. I’ll look into setting up a meeting or correspondence with Mrs. Tchiréon. Hopefully, she’ll be able to inform us about any new discoveries regarding the Nanocreatures. Captain Travis and Lieutenant Cox are already on Nimalia, so we may have an opening there…”
“Yes, and on top of that…” Scott glanced down the table, at his daughter. “Ye said that the primary purpose of the space station was tae study the Nanocreatures. Did ye find anything useful, in that regard?”
“Uh, y-yes…” Kirstin responded meekly, “uh, t-two things, really… one, uh, Raen Technology.”
“Raen Technology…?” Mote echoed. “…I didn’t make this connection until just now, but that’s what Telregina called my armor, back when we fought in the shipyard.”
Kirstin nodded. “Mm hmm. Apparently, uh, Raen Technology refers to, um, a b-bunch of advanced, uh… stuff. D-didn’t really specify, but, uh, it apparently has a, um, g-genetic component.”
“That would explain why Mote is the only one who can use all the stuff we’ve found, if it’s locked to a gene that only he has,” Hackett remarked.
“Locking advanced technology to certain genes is still incredibly foolish,” Mote declared. “What if someone else needs to use it? I fail to see the purpose.”
“Uh, w-well, the c-creator sounded, uh, k-kinda… arrogant,” Kirstin commented. “…P-probably why?”
“The station mentioned the creator of Raen Technology, tae? That’s interesting,” Scott remarked.
“Yes, but let’s save the history lessons for later,” Lead asserted, and then turned toward Kirstin. “How does this relate to the Nanocreatures?”
“Uh, uh, w-well…” The Researcher shrunk under the General’s gaze and averted her eyes. “Th-the, um, the c-computers m-mentioned, uh, some k-kind of, uh, um…”
“She said that the Aldredas were working on some kind of technology that could undo Nanocreature corruption,” Mote stated. “However, it wasn’t present on the station.”
“That certainly sounds useful!” Scott exclaimed. “Dae we knae where it is, or if it was actually finished?”
“No. Apparently, the computers contained only a cryptic hint.”
“‘The key to this machine is found through Rynisaren’,” Danielle recalled, and then shrugged. “Dunno what it means, though.”
“Ry-Rynisaren is, um, the one who in-invented Raen Technology,” Kirstin stammered out. “A-and also, uh, th-the name of the—”
“The Dreadnought that ye found in the shipyard, right, right…” Scott nodded knowingly. “Hmm. Perhaps it’s saying that one of the coordinates stored in the Dreadnought’s computers points tae the location of this anti-corruption technology?”
“It would certainly be nice if it was that easy,” Saito remarked.
“There are still hundreds of coordinates, sir,” Hackett pointed out. “Searching all of those will take quite some time.”
“And if the Nanocreatures truly are returning, then time is not something that we have,” Lead declared. “This anti-corruption technology does sound useful, but if that hint is all we have to go on, then we shouldn’t focus on it. Not until we know more.”
“Understood, sir,” Saito replied.
“As for the rest of what we’ve discussed here… as I mentioned, I’ll see about getting into contact with the Nimalian researcher. Otherwise…” The General slowly swept his gaze across the room, meeting eyes with everyone else sitting at the table. “For the time being… CSF-1, Lieutenants, none of you are to mention what we discussed here to anyone else, with the exception of Genesis’s crew or SERRCom leadership staff. Until we can determine if the Nanocreatures truly are a resurgent threat, I would very much like to minimize panic.”
“The Dreadnought coordinates are all classified, anyways, so that shouldn’t be too hard,” Saito commented.
“Is that… really a good idea, though, sir?” Hackett questioned uneasily. “If the ‘metallic infection’ truly behaves like an infection, then wouldn’t increased awareness help stop its spread?”
“If we knew exactly how it spread, then yes,” Lead answered. “Furthermore, normal infections don’t have a malicious, intelligent entity driving them. If Morcii is still around, and we clue him into the fact that we’re on to him too early, then he may decide to launch an open attack instead of resorting to subterfuge — and the galaxy saw just how that went 20 years ago. We must not give him the same chance today.”
“I… suppose, sir.”
“Good.” The General nodded. “Well, if that’s everything, then let’s be done. CSF-1, Lieutenants, take a few days to yourselves; I know that running into the Nanocreatures can be… harrowing. But in the moment, you are all dismissed.”