Chapter 33 – Uncoordinated Discovery
The Next Day
— Tuesday, November 8, 2129 AD —
…Alright, a 1% increase in shield runtime. That’s good, especially just from firmware tweaks, but it’s still so small… let’s see if I can get any more out of it…
Kirstin hunched over her laptop, her brow furrowed as she stared at the code on her screen. Hooked up to her laptop via a long cable was the chestplate unit of a set of Chaos Armor — powered armor that ran primarily off of Chaos Energy. SERRCom as an organization was incapable of producing powered armor that could stand up to models that already existed in the galaxy, so they settled for procuring sets from foreign vendors — and even then, SERRCom could only afford so many, especially when the organization preferred to prioritize its space fleet over its ground forces. Chaos Armor was particularly expensive, and only a handful of SERRCom teams had any; CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir were among this number.
The particular armor that Kirstin was working on now was one of CSF-1’s armors: a C-98 model, a cheap set of commercial Chaos Armor produced and sold by a Nimalian manufacturer. While Nimalian armors weren’t considered to be the best in the galaxy, they were still sturdy and reliable — yet even then, it was also commonly known that their commercial variants were tuned down compared to what the NSD was offered. As such, with a little tinkering, the armors could be made to perform better and last longer on a single battery charge than their official specs would suggest. Kirstin’s previous tinkerings had already improved the power efficiency of CSF-1’s armors by nearly 10 percent — more than what most people could manage, based on Relaynet searches — but she was now starting to run up against the ceiling of what she could get out of the armors.
I guess it’s better than nothing… she mused. But even now, Colonel Saito still managed to run his armor’s shielding down to near zero a couple times… he keeps cutting it so close. If I can get a little bit more improvement, it’ll help keep him and the others safe…
Thinking of the Colonel brought Kirstin’s thoughts back to their previous mission, and then to her work that had led to the mission in the first place. Encountering the Nanocreatures had been a frightening experience, but the information on the space station’s computers had also been highly interesting. Would the rest of the Dreadnought’s coordinates present the same mixture of risk and reward?
…I hope not, she mentally answered. It’s impossible to tell how risky the other coordinates are until we actually go there, though… at least the Homeworld coordinates shouldn’t be dangerous to investigate, whatever they are. Though, now that I’ve thought about that…
Taking a break from her armor tinkering, Kirstin switched tasks to begin looking over the Dreadnought coordinates — the ones corresponding to each of the galactic Homeworlds, in particular. Nimalia, Homeworld of the Nimalian Union; Siionleh, Homeworld of the United Siion Nations; Y’kisdral, Homeworld of the Dra’kis World Coalition; Citici, Homeworld of the Citan Republic; Tyrnaus, Capital World of the Syraus Protectorate; Turiax, Capital World of the Riaxen Federation; and Earth all appeared in the catalog of coordinates found on the Aldredian Dreadnought. Even Oriciid’kas, the Capital World of the Core Space Alliance, and Tzinck, the original Homeworld of the Syraus and Riaxen before their millenia-long civil war, featured on the list of coordinates. Kirstin was still uncertain as to whether or not these coordinates were significant; they were recorded on the Dreadnought’s computers long before the modern day, after all, so the fact that the coordinates lined up with Homeworlds could just be a coincidence. The potential intrigue was too great to ignore, however, so the Researcher found herself poring over these 9 coordinates.
Each coordinate came coupled with an additional, 2-dimensional coordinate, which Kirstin assumed were pointing to locations on the surface of the planets in question. Thanks to previous discoveries of Aldredas ruins in the galaxy, Kirstin knew what units the planetside coordinates were mostly likely in, as well as the fact that they were most likely polar. The only issue then was that she had no idea if the polar coordinates used the north or the south pole as their anchor point, or what direction corresponded to 0 degrees. To visualize this unknown factor, she had overlaid two circles over the global maps of each of the planets, one for if the polar coordinates used the north pole as an anchor point, and one for the south pole. In so doing, she hoped to see if one of the circles lined up with a significant location on one of the planets — if that happened, then she would be able to deduce whether all of the coordinates were north pole-anchored, or south.
Assuming the Aldredas were even consistent… she mused, and then frowned. …Let’s hope that they were, for now. Though I don’t even know if I’ll find anything… oh well. Let’s start with Earth first…
With a quick motion of her hands, Kirstin brought up a display of Earth on her laptop screen, with two longitudinal circles overlaid. They both laid at around 39 degrees lattitude — one north, one south. The northern circle passes over more land, Kirstin observed, there’s more land in the northern hemisphere than the southern, after all, so that’s no surprise. Even then, though… there’s very little land at 39 degrees South, compared to 39 degrees North. Does this mean the north pole is the anchor point I’m looking for…?
She quickly inspected the list of countries that the 39th parallel passed over in the northern hemisphere, ranging from Spain and Italy in Europe, to China and Japan in Asia, to the USA in North America — hey, wait a minute! She spun the image of the globe around to focus on the USA, and then zoomed into the part of Colorado that the line passed over. This… this is really close to where the Interstellar Gate was first found…
Kirstin quickly began digging through SERRCom’s research databases to confirm her suspicions. While Earth’s Interstellar Gate was currently located in New York City, it had originally been found in an underground cave in Colorado, somewhat close to the Rocky Mountains. As Kirstin understood it, the story went that the cave was exposed during the Chaos Energy Quake of 2088. The year long event coincided with a painfully long string of incredibly devastating natural disasters all across the globe, and among it all, a sinkhole had opened up the way to discovering Earth’s Interstellar Gate.
Ah… here we go. Kirstin pulled up the original location of the Gate, and overlaid it on the globe showing the Dreadnought coordinate circle. Wow… it’s a match! Not exactly, but it IS within the error margins… huh. Is that what these coordinates are pointing to, then? The location of each planet’s Interstellar Gate? That’s… actually disappointing. We already know where the Gates are. She frowned as she stared at the map on the screen in front of her. Can that really be it…? I should check the other Homeworlds—
The sound of approaching laughter ripped Kirstin out of her thoughts, prompting her to snap her attention to the entrance of the lab. Just as she did, the door opened, revealing Sarah and Scott as they stepped in with wide smiles upon their faces.
“And that was when I realized that I’d put the wires in the wrong way!” Scott remarked. “Just about fried myself! It was like I was in grad school all over again!”
Sarah laughed as she approached a tool cabinet near the entrance. “You’d better not be letting your age get to you already, Scott,” she replied with a grin as she rooted around inside, “keep making mistakes like those, and you’ll lose the Directorship in no time!”
“Maybe I should keep it up, then. I’d have more time for real work without all the baggage of being Director, ah ha ha ha!”
Kirstin eyed the two warily from her seat near the back of the lab. For a moment, her gaze lingered on Scott, watching as he dropped some kind of machine on a table to the side of the room and continued joking with Sarah. After a couple seconds of that, however, she glanced down, returning her attention to her laptop.
“Oh, Kirstin! I didn’t see ye there!”
She jumped at the sudden acknowledgment, and her attention snapped back to Scott, who was looking at her from across the room. “O-oh… uh… hi…”
“Dinnae expect tae find ye, here, lass,” Scott remarked as he rolled up the sleeves of his lab coat and picked up a screwdriver. “CSF-1 just got back from a mission yesterday, against the Nanocreatures, nae less! Lead even told ye tae take some time off!”
“Y-yes, well, uh…” Kirstin looked down again. “I was, uh… b-bored…”
“Ah. I know well what that feels like!” Scott replied with a grin. “I suppose ye take a little after me, in that regard. Sorry for that, ah ha ha!”
“Still, dinnae forget about rest,” Scott continued as he began tinkering with the device in front of him. He paused for a moment to glance over at Sarah, who was busy rearranging items on a shelf. “…I have tae tell Sarah here tae get some damn rest all the time, tae. Kirstin, dinnae be like her.”
“Is that really the best way to speak of your lovely assistant?” Sarah countered with a smirk.
“Lovely? Ah ha ha! You’re more of a workaholic than me, and I’m the one who worked sae much that I lost a marriage! —Ah…” He glanced toward Kirstin, his face frozen in unease. “…Sorry.”
Kirstin continued to work on her laptop, not once meeting eyes with Scott as she pretended to not have heard him.
Sarah glanced between the two as an awkward silence filled the room, only to shake her head and sigh. “Scott, you can really be a bloody dunce sometimes.”
“Cannae argue with that…” Scott responded with a sheepish smile.
“As for work, though…” Sarah looked over at Kirstin. “Kirstin, what are you working on? Anything interesting?”
“Uh…” Kirstin glanced over at Sarah. “J-just the, um, c-coordinates from the, uh, the Dreadnought…”
“Pretty important work,” Scott remarked. “Though I hope not all of the coordinates are as dangerous as that last one!”
“Some of the coordinates coincided with the current Homeworlds, right?” Sarah questioned. “Those ought to be less dangerous. Kirstin, do you know anything more about that?”
“W-well, actually…” Kirstin glanced down at her laptop again. “…Y-yes. Um, th-the Earth one… i-it might be pointing to, uh, where the, um, the I-Interstellar Gate used to be.”
“Really? Let me see.” Scott set down his screwdriver and crossed the room, to where Kirstin was sitting. She quickly moved her chair to the side to let Scott look at the laptop, waiting silently as he pored over the information and clicked through some of the computational analysis. “…That’s true,” he eventually commented, “it does look like that’s a good possibility.” He then stood up and crossed his arms, frowning as he continued to stare at the information on the laptop screen. “…That’s rather disappointin’. Does this just mean that the secondary coordinates for each of the Homeworlds point tae their Interstellar Gate…? If sae, that’s a shame. I was hopin’ tae find new technology tae study…”
“We at least know that not all of the coordinates from the Dreadnought point to Interstellar Gates,” Sarah pointed out from across the room. “The space station CSF-1 last visited didn’t have a Gate, after all.”
“True, true…” Scott nodded, and then glanced at Kirstin. “Ye should focus on the other coordinates for now, then, lass. There are plenty tae look through, after all, and ones that tell us things we already know arenae that useful. Findin’ the coordinate that leads tae that Nanocreature cure would be maest useful right nae.”
“Huh? B-but…” Kirstin frowned and looked down. “W-what about—”
“Dae nae worry about the Homeworld coordinates, Kirstin. I’ll take a look at ‘em,” Scott remarked as he left Kirstin’s side to return to his device. “At least we learned something from them. For some reason, the Homeworld Gates were important tae the Aldredas. That sounds like an interestin’ history discovery, but I doubt we’ll find any undiscovered tech on the Homeworlds — if we could even get access tae them, ah ha ha!”
“That is true,” Sarah acknowledged. “…It’s a shame, but oh well. Let’s get to work now, then, shall we?”
Kirstin eyed the two as they both began inspecting the odd device on the table in front of Scott. Eventually she returned her attention to her laptop, and to the armored chestplate that remained connected to it; with a sigh, she switched back to tinkering with the armor’s firmware, hoping to distract herself from the other work in the lab.
3 Hours Later
Kirstin released a deep sigh of relief as she swept her gaze over the research lab. Neither Scott, Sarah, nor the device they had been working on were anywhere to be seen; the two had recently split up to work on their own separate projects. Kirstin didn’t know exactly what, but she did know that she was now once again alone in the lab, free to work on her own.
…Maybe I could look at the coordinates some more, she thought to herself, returning her attention to her laptop. Dad wrote off the Homeworld coordinates really fast, even though I only showed him Earth’s… why did he do that? I didn’t even check if the others line up with their own Interstellar Gates…
A few seconds of silence passed as Kirstin contemplated Scott’s motivations, as well as the true purpose of the coordinates. She then sighed again and moved to continue working on the chestplate she had with her.
“Director MacTavish? You in there?”
With a startled jump, Kirstin snapped her attention to the lab entrance, just as Colonel Saito opened the door and peeked his head in. He quickly surveyed the lab before laying eyes on Kirstin, at which point he sighed and stepped fully into the lab.
“Hey there, MacTavish,” he commented, offering Kirstin a casual wave as he did. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the Director is, would you?”
“Uh…” Kirstin looked down. “…N-no…”
“Damn. I was told he’d be here…” Saito muttered in frustration, and then shrugged. “Oh well. What are you doing here, though? We’re supposed to have the day off!”
“I-I was, um… I was bored…”
“I should’ve known. Mote said the same thing, too, when I ran into him earlier. What am I going to do with you all?” He shook his head wearily. “Well, what’s so important that it’s worth working on on your day off, eh?”
“J-just the, uh, c-coordinates…”
“Huh. Okay, then. Find anything interesting?”
Kirstin passed Saito a brief glance before looking down at her laptop again. More interruptions… I wish I could work on these things outside of the lab, where no one could bother me. …Wait… She glanced at Saito again, who returned the look with a confused expression. …He’s been with SERRCom for a long time, right? Maybe he might know something…
“Uh, MacTavish?” Saito spoke up after several moments of silence, “…if I’m bothering you, I can leave.”
“N-no,” she quickly replied. “I-it’s… w-well, there is, uh, s-something interesting…”
“Oh? What is it?”
“The Earth coordinate, it, uh… i-it might point to, um, where the I-Interstellar Gate was, uh, originally found.”
“Is that so? Hmm… I think I remember you or Kate mentioning something about several of the Dreadnought coordinates pointing to the Homeworlds, huh. Do the others point to their own Gates, as well, then?”
Kirstin looked down. “W-well, uh, that’s the thing… I-I don’t know. Da— Director, um, the Director said n-not to bother… that he’d, um, look into them himself…”
“Director MacTavish?” Saito questioned, and then frowned when Kirstin nodded in response. “The busy Director wants to spend his own time going over these coordinates? Why?”
“I-I don’t know… I, um, I showed him the, uh, th-the Earth coordinate, a-and then… he just said to, uh, n-not bother with the rest…”
“Hmm…” The Colonel rubbed his chin in thought. “Well, the history of the Interstellar Gate here on Earth isn’t very clean — I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if the same applies to the other Homeworlds. Maybe Director MacTavish just doesn’t want to dig up unnecessary history…”
“…Really? The… Director…?”
“Yeah… you have a point. From what I hear, he’s never been the cautious type. Hmm…”
“…Wh-what do you know about, um, Earth’s Gate?”
“Are you talking about that history I mentioned?” Saito questioned with a smirk. “I suppose that was before your time. By quite a bit, in fact. You’re 20, right? That would make you… what, one year old in 2110?”
The Colonel shook his head in disbelief. “So young… anyways. As I’m sure you know, the United States first found the Interstellar Gate in a cave under the Rocky Mountains, back during the Chaos Energy Quake of 2088. They kept that discovery to themselves for ten years; in that time, they figured out that it was an Interstellar transportation device, and began running secret scouting expeditions until they stumbled upon a planet that was already colonized by the Nimalians. That was true first contact, though not the one that the public is familiar with. After that, the Nimalians alerted the CSA, and the CSA sent an envoy ship to Earth — that is the more widely known first contact, since that envoy is what revealed the existence of aliens to everyone on Earth. That was 30 years ago, in 2099… oof. Let me tell you, that was not a fun year.”
“Not at all. The CSA envoy demanded that Earth form a singular government entity to interact with the rest of the galaxy with, but to most of Earth, this was the very first time we’d even heard of aliens. An advanced alien race making demands of us on first contact? Didn’t really set the tone very well — not to mention the revelation that America was rooting around in the galaxy for ten years without the rest of Earth knowing. Let me tell you, the world really didn’t like that. SERRCom was formed shortly afterward, and the rest of the world decided that SERRCom should control the Interstellar Gate, not America… but the Gate was too large and heavy to remove from the caves, so it stayed there for a while.”
“Oh… sounds, um… bothersome…”
“It was. Leaving the Gate on American soil turned out to be a problem later on. I guess they found a way to keep using it under SERRCom’s nose, and they eventually recovered one of the Chaos Ayas on their own. That led directly into the US Government’s conflict with SERRCom in 2110 — I’m sure you’ve heard of that?”
“Y-yeah. Th-they tried to, um, t-to hijack the Genesis…”
“Yep. And they failed, thanks in part to the Nimalians. Hell, I think it was actually Hero Machina who helped…” Saito sighed and shook his head. “Anyways. It was a really stupid move on America’s part, but SERRCom managing to outmanuever the Americans gave them the political capital to start enacting wide-reaching effects across Earth. For the first ten years that SERRCom existed, it had tried to stay out of planetside politics, but ever since 2110, we’ve been a little bit more, ah, interventionist. For better or for worse.”
“W-when did you join?”
“In 2110, actually. Right after SERRCom kicked America’s ass. The Nanocreature War was just starting to get into full swing right around then, and I signed up to help… though in the end, SERRCom didn’t really fight the Nanocreatures all that much.”
“Ah… what about the, uh, the Gate?”
“Oh, right— the thing I was talking about originally. Heh.” Saito then frowned. “…Actually, this is where things get a little muddy. It was in 2110 that SERRCom seized the Interstellar Gate and used the Genesis’s beaming tech to remove the Gate from the caves. However… I remember there being a lot of, hmm… I’m not really sure what to call it.”
“Sorry, I’m being vague… well, I had just joined SERRCom at the time, but I do remember some odd rumors spreading about the Gate relocation — rumors that the move was taking far longer than expected, even though beaming tech should’ve made it easy. Those rumors were suppressed pretty quickly, which I always thought was a little suspicious. And on top of that… Earth’s Interstellar Gate coordinate didn’t become public knowledge until after it was placed in New York. As far as I know, we didn’t even share the coordinate with the rest of the galaxy until then. It was like America and SERRCom both had agreed to not say anything about the coordinate until they pulled the Gate out of the caves. I’d always thought it was odd, but now that I’m here, saying it to you… something sounds really fishy.”
“SERRCom and th-the US a-agreed on something…?”
“Heh. It really was weird. Our relationship with America nowadays is fine, for the most part — but 20 years ago, it was as rough as it gets. And now that I think about it, the rumors about the Gate’s relocation taking a long time were right. SERRCom declared full ownership of the Gate and an intention to move it in March of 2110, but the Gate wasn’t actually moved until several months later — several months after the end of the Nanocreature War, even. I could almost believe that it was the US that caused the delay, somehow, but if it was them, I’m certain SERRCom would’ve put them on blast. Our General at the time did not take any shit. So now I’m wondering what was going on, there…”
Kirstin glanced to the side, staring into space as she contemplated everything Saito had just told her. “…Is… i-is there, um, a secret there? Th-that, um… the Director wouldn’t want us, uh, t-to know?”
“SERRCom has always had secrets. But here… maybe.” Saito frowned. “Even if there is a dirty secret here, I’m not sure why it would make Director MacTavish tell you to ignore the Dreadnought coordinate. Hmm… …well, you are his daughter. If anyone can figure out what the secret might be, or if there even is one, it’s you.”
Kirstin looked down, a frown forming on her face. …So what if I’m his daughter? Why should that matter…
“Anyways, this has really piqued my interest,” Saito declared, drawing Kirstin’s attention back to him. “If you can find anything to explain those rumors 20 years ago, I’d love to hear it. And… maybe keep this out of the Director’s attention.”
“Good. Good work finding out what you have, MacTavish,” the Colonel commented, and then turned around to leave. “I do still need to find the Director, though, so I’ll leave you to your work. Have fun.”
Kirstin watched him leave before dropping her attention back to her laptop. Something fishy about Earth’s Interstellar Gate, huh? she mused as she returned to working, something that Dad doesn’t want me to know about… hmm. Just what could that possibly be…?