Chapter 45 – Against the Clock
Colonel Saito groaned in discomfort as he slowly regained his bearings. A loud clunk, the screeching of metal-on-metal, and then a deafening crash; these were the last sounds he recalled hearing, and he wasn’t certain what had happened afterward. Dim light emanated from above, but it wasn’t bright nor close enough to illuminate the darkness Saito now found himself in — though as he tried to move his body, he realized that a sheet of metal was pinning his legs down. He immediately set to moving the piece of metal, muttering to himself, “must have fallen… good thing I have this armor…”
A few seconds later, he was successfully able to free himself from the debris. Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet and then turned on his gun’s flashlight attachment, using it to look around the small space he now found himself in. He could hear the sounds of movement, indicating that the others were probably fine — but he thought to check anyways. “Major? Lieutenants?” he called out, slowly sweeping his flashlight beam across the dark space. “Is everyone alright—?”
A furious shout, followed immediately by a small explosion, interrupted the Colonel’s question. Chunks of metal from the far side of the room blasted across and peppered Saito’s armor, knocking him backwards and briefly flaring up his energy shields. By the time he was able to look back at the origin of the explosion, he found Kate standing there, with a furious expression upon her face.
“What the fuck just happened?!” she exclaimed irately.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Mote retorted as he gently pushed aside some debris that was covering him. “The elevator collapsed.”
“It might be obvious, but it’s still surprising,” Hackett remarked, slowly coming to stand next to Saito as she engaged her gun’s flashlight attachment, just in time to see Danielle easily extricate herself from a nearby pile of debris. “Every other Aldredian outpost we found was in near-perfect working condition. The fact that this one isn’t doesn’t bode well.”
“Those fucking Drakkars ruined it, didn’t they?” Kate scowled. “If the treasure that’s down here is all fucked up, then I’m taking out my righteous anger on all of those faceless fuckwits upstairs!”
“Something is intact, at least,” Mote declared as he moved toward what appeared to be an open doorway. Beyond, dim lights were flickering on, revealing a short hallway. “…The systems are responding to my armor.”
“So you finally admit it’s your armor, eh?” Saito questioned cheekily.
Mote passed the Colonel an annoyed glance before turning his attention back to his surroundings. “…Regardless. The systems are trying to boot up, but there’s not enough power. I might be able to fix that. Give me a moment…”
He then began slowly moving through the hallway, sparks briefly jumping off of his body as he attempted to calibrate his electrical output to match the needs of the surrounding systems. Saito followed behind, with Kate immediately behind him as she stared around at the flickering lights. Danielle and Hackett held the rear, with the Major keeping an eye on the now-defunct elevator just in case any intruders appeared.
“Ah… here we go.”
Saito glanced over at Mote just as the hallway lights snapped to full brightness, blinding everyone present for a brief second. Once the Colonel’s eyes adjusted, he looked around and found another door, which opened into the ceiling as soon as Mote approached. The group quickly proceeded through the doorway, finding on the other side a small space with a handful of computer consoles that all began booting up. On the other side of the room from the door was a massive window, as though looking out of an observation room. Initially only darkness could be seen through the window, but before long, lights began to dispel the darkness, revealing a massive interior space the size of an aircraft hangar. The space was mostly empty, save for one object laying on the ground in the center, shaped like a cylinder on its side with tapered ends. It was vaguely similar to a jet engine in appearance, though it was easily the size of an entire passenger aircraft.
“I guess that’s what we’re supposed to find here, huh?” Hackett remarked from the back of the room.
“I suppose it is,” Saito commented as he walked up to the observation window to look down on the large device. “But… what is it? It doesn’t look like a ship…”
“It looks a lot like an FTL Drive,” Kate declared as she beheld the object, only to then move over to one of the computer consoles and begin fiddling with it. “Might be a Subspace Drive, but that would be fucking disappointing…”
“Why’s that?” Danielle questioned, “aren’t Subspace Drives really valuable?”
“Well, yes,” Kate replied, “but the Genesis’s special-ass Drive seems to be the fastest they come. Even the specs on those ships we found in the damned Aldredian shipyard didn’t hold up to the fucking 500 light years an hour that the Genesis can manage.”
“Sure, but we still haven’t figured out how to make Drives that can move as fast as the Genesis’s,” Saito pointed out, and then looked down at the device before them. “If this is a Subspace Drive, and it’s faster than anything we’ve built — then, even if it isn’t as fast as the Genesis’s Drive, it would still be useful.”
“Useful, yes,” Mote stated, “but would it be so useful that the Drakkars would fight over it?”
“…Good question. Maybe the Drakkars just don’t know what’s down here? We didn’t. Hell, we still don’t,” the Colonel remarked, and then looked over at Kate as she continued to interact with the consoles. “Have you found out anything about what this device actually is?”
“…Yes…” Kate replied slowly, her brow furrowed. “But it’s fucking ridiculous! I don’t think I trust this…”
“What does it say?”
“It claims that the device is a prototype Superspace Drive.”
“Superspace?” Hackett echoed cluelessly.
“I don’t fucking know,” Kate retorted with a scowl. “That’s just what it says.”
“Does it have something to do with Subspace?” Danielle questioned.
“I don’t fucking know! I’ve never even heard of this stupid ‘Superspace’ before— wait!” Kate’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Yes I have! That fucking Dreadnought in the shipyard had something about Superspace in its registry!”
“That at least confirms that the Aldredas were looking into the technology,” Saito commented, “but I don’t see how any of this is, quote, ‘fucking ridiculous’.”
“That’s because I didn’t get to that part yet,” Kate countered. “…According to this, that Drive is supposed to be able to instantly travel to literally anywhere in the fucking universe. The whole fucking universe! Doesn’t that sound ridiculous to you?!”
“…Why would it?” Hackett questioned.
“The universe is a big fucking place! Literally infinite in size!” Kate exclaimed. “I don’t believe for a second that this thing could do that! That would require immense amounts of energy, or the ability to warp spacetime itself! Which, I mean, Subspace and Chaos Drives already kind of do that… but still! This is an entirely different scale!”
“What if it is possible, though?” Mote said, “we do already have means of instantaneous travel from one point to another, after all. Just look at the Interstellar Gates, or the Transpaces.”
“How do those work?” Danielle questioned. “…Also, what’s a Transpace?”
“Transpaces are massive constructs out in the galaxy, kind of like giant space stations,” Saito answered. “There’s only a few dozen of them, anchored in space throughout the galactic arms. Spacecraft can use Transpaces to instantly move to another nearby Transpace, kind of like Interstellar Gates.”
“With more limitations, though,” Kate interjected. “Even if two Transpaces are in range, if there’s Dead Space between them, then they can’t connect. Still, for any losers who don’t have access to Subspace Drives — which is still most of the galaxy, outside of SERRCom — the Transpaces are pretty useful. Normal ships with Chaos Drives can only move around 21 light years an hour, so a single Transpace jump can shave off an entire fucking month of travel.”
“I guess that’s why I’m not too familiar with them? ‘Cause SERRCom doesn’t use them…?” Danielle asked.
“That’d be correct,” Saito replied. “Not to mention that the nearest Transpace to Earth is in the Nimalia solar system. It’s faster for us to just ignore the Transpaces entirely than it is to detour to that one… not to mention the politics of negotiating with the Nimalian Union to let us pass our military ships through their Homeworld solar system. We might be allies, but even that can be a bit much.”
“I see…” Danielle nodded absentmindedly, and then looked back to Kate. “Well, if instantaneous-transportation technology already exists, then maybe this Drive works the same way!”
“Maybe, but even now, no one knows exactly how the fucking Interstellar Gates or Transpaces work,” Kate pointed out. “Though I guess if they also use this stupid ‘Superspace’ concept, then studying this Drive could maybe lead to us making our own fucking Gates and Transpaces!” She clapped her hands together as a gleeful grin spread across her face. “Oh, hot damn! Now that’s an idea!”
“Aren’t the Gates Aldredian tech?” Mote questioned. “If the galaxy, with well over a thousand years, still hasn’t been able to crack the secret of how Gates work, then what makes you think that you can figure out how this mysterious Drive works?”
“Don’t doubt my intelligence, asshole. Besides, this Drive could give us alternate insights into this kind of tech, that could let us better understand the Gates! The only way to know is to actually take a fucking look!”
“Indeed. And if this Drive really is capable of what you say, then it would also explain why the Drakkars were fighting over it, and even why EA showed up,” Saito stated. “However… this Drive is almost as big as the Once In a Blue Moon. Getting it out of here would be difficult, even if there wasn’t a battle raging overhead.”
“It’s also a prototype, right?” Mote commented. “There’s no guarantee that it even does what it claims to do. Given the circumstances, and the fact that we aren’t even sure that it works, I vote we scuttle it.”
“What?!” Kate exclaimed in fury. “You fucking what?! Do you have any idea what a find like this could mean for us?!”
“I have no doubt that it’s valuable, but if it’s that valuable, then it’s even more important to keep it out of the hands of our enemies,” Mote declared.
“I hate to say it, but Mote’s right,” Saito commented.
“Are you fucking serious? Did we just come all the fucking way here just to blow something up?!” Kate replied incredulously.
“I was hoping that what we found would be more… portable,” Saito responded. “But if this Drive really does have the potential to let people teleport around to anywhere in the galaxy, instantly, then we can’t let the Drakkars get it.”
“Fucking… fuck!” Kate pounded her fist on the console in front of her and glared through the window at the large device. “…Fuck. I hate it when I have to blow up an object of study… why can’t I just blow up all of the fucking Drakkars, instead—?!”
A loud crashing noise interrupted Kate, drawing everyone’s attention to the room’s single entrance. Just as Saito and Hackett exchanged wary glances and began to raise their weapons, a large object barreled through the doorway, knocking Hackett to the ground and crashing through the observation window.
“What the hell?!” Saito exclaimed, snapping his attention back to the large Drive. Hovering just above it was now a lithe, humanoid silhouette, nearly two meters tall and possessing slate blue armor plating, no head, and a silver-tinted glass orb planted on its upper chest. Around the orb was EA’s ring-and-crossbars insignia, and below that was the lowercase greek letter zeta: ζ. From the robot’s back protruded four mechanical wings that slowly flapped in the air as the robot lowered down to the device.
“Shit!” Mote scowled as he jumped forward to stand where the room’s massive window had once been. “EA’s robot!”
“Damn it, take it out!” Saito shouted as he opened fire on the robot. Its shields flared up a bright blue under the incoming gunfire, but the robot ignored the hail of bullets as it raised its hands, revealing a massive scythe wreathed in magnificent silver, gold, black, and white designs. Brandishing the weapon, it then swung it down at the Superspace Drive — the moment the scythe’s blade touched the device, it began to rapidly dissolve into millions of blue particles that all converged on and disappeared into the weapon’s blade.
“What the hell is it doing?!” Hackett questioned in disbelief. “Where’d the Drive go?”
“Fucking robot!” Kate swore as she leaped forward, smashing through what remained of the observation window and dropping to the ground of the hangar that had once contained the Drive. Mote and Danielle quickly followed as Kate fabricated a rocket launcher into her hands, but just as she took aim, the robot swung its scythe through the air once again. Along the blade’s path appeared six masses of blue particles that, an instant later, coalesced into another six flying robots — though these robots had only one set of wings each, and seemed to only be two thirds the size of the robot with the scythe.
“Whether there’s one or seven doesn’t matter. Destroy them!” Mote ordered, just as he let loose a powerful lightning blast at the nearest robot. Its shields flared as it staggered under the blow — and then shut down entirely when Kate blasted the group with a rocket, creating a thundering roar as the explosion cratered the floor and launched the robots all around the room. One of the robots flew toward Mote; as it drew close, he electrically manipulated the robot’s energy shielding capacitors to zero out their voltage, thereby shutting down the shields in an instant. He then moved to follow up by smashing the robot with his battlehammer, but just before he could, the robot disappeared into a mist of blue particles.
Not even half a second later, the quadruple-winged robot with the zeta insignia on its chestplate flew through the blue mist, its scythe raised overhead. Mote quickly lunged to the side to evade the blade as the robot swung down on him and missed, instead driving the weapon into the metal flooring. As Mote spun around to face the robot once more, he noticed that the ground around the scythe had dissolved into a blue mist, much like the Drive and other robot before it. “What the hell is that scythe…?” Mote muttered to himself, only to throw out his hand toward the robot and attempt to shut down its shielding, just like how he had done to the other robot. However, the zeta robot’s shields failed to react to Mote’s meddling as it turned toward him and brandished its scythe once more.
“Tch…!” Mote scowled and quickly brought his battlehammer to bear as the zeta robot began to lunge at him. Just as it did, Mote spotted a rocket fly in from the side — but the robot simply swung its scythe through the air, intercepting the incoming rocket and turning it into a blue mist. It then continued its swing around in a full circle, bringing the scythe’s blade toward Mote’s side. In reaction, Mote blasted the robot’s weapon arm with a powerful lightning strike, knocking the weapon out of its grip and staggering it backwards. As soon as he saw an opening, Mote engaged his armor’s flight system and blasted off across the room to make some distance between himself and his aggressor.
“Mote!” Danielle called out as he landed nearby. “Are you done yet?”
He glanced over at her, and then at the five wrecks laying across the hanger; it was clear that Danielle and Kate had made short work of the lesser robots, and yet, the zeta robot remained standing. “…The bigger one is tough,” Mote eventually stated as he returned his attention to the zeta robot, just as it jumped over to its scythe and snatched it off of the ground. “I couldn’t zero the voltage on its shields — they must be some kind of advanced Chaos Shielding. And that scythe looks like it can annihilate anything it touches, so keep away from it at all costs!”
“That damn robot better not have fucking annihilated that Drive!!” Kate exclaimed irately as she focused her aim on the zeta robot and fired another rocket. In the second that the rocket took to travel, the robot swiped its scythe in front of itself, creating a mass of blue particles that rapidly coalesced into a white barrier — which the rocket then slammed into, exploding the wall into a massive white dust cloud that obscured nearly a third of the hangar. Mote fired several lightning strikes into the debris cloud, electrifying it in an attempt to damage the robot hiding inside; however as he focused on sensing the electric fields generated by the electrification, Mote realized that the robot was no longer in the cloud — just as it slammed into Danielle from above, knocking her to the ground. It grabbed her face with its left hand and chucked her across the room, in the same motion whirling around to swing its scythe at Kate. She reflexively held up her right arm to block, only to furrow her brow as she realized her mistake — but it was too late.
“Shit—!” Mote spun around and lunged for Kate to push her out of the way, but the scythe’s blade made contact with her arm before he could. Immediately, the gauntlet covering Kate’s right forearm dispersed into blue particles, but her arm itself was knocked away as the scythe’s blade deflected away from her. “…What?” Mote muttered in confusion, eying Kate as she staggered backwards, and the zeta robot withdrew into the air.
“Argh… damn it! That fucking hurt!” Kate swore, and then looked down at her now bare forearm. “And it— what the hell? How did that scythe penetrate my shields?!”
“And why didn’t it do to you what it did to your armor…?” Mote questioned, and then looked up at the robot. It hovered in the air across the hangar as it stared down at Kate, as though considering its next move. “So that robot didn’t expect this, either…?” Mote muttered to himself, “still… what the hell is going on, here?”
Mote snapped his gaze up to the observation room, where Saito was peeking around the broken window to wave at them.
“We need to leave!” the Colonel shouted, “I just heard from Commander Mishra. One of the Drakkar Cruisers was just destroyed, and it’s about to come down on top of us!”
“Understood—!” Mote started to respond, only to snap his attention back to the zeta robot as it launched itself through the air toward Saito. As the robot raised its scythe overhead, Mote realized its intentions, and quickly engaged his armor’s flight system to intercept. Golden holograms of triangles arranged into the shape of two wings spread out behind him as he blasted through the air, reaching the robot in a split second — just as it had begun to bring its weapon down on Saito. A blast of lightning deflected the robot’s weapon swing and fiercely flared up its shields, but it recovered immediately and swung the other direction, this time toward Mote. With his armor’s wings, Mote deftly dodged out of the way of the scythe, and then threw himself back even further as another of Kate’s rockets exploded across the robot’s back. It swung around to face her, just in time to see Danielle — now standing nearly as tall as the hangar itself — reach out toward it and grab it by one of its wings. She then yanked it out of the air and slammed it into the floor, and then the wall, and then the floor again, each impact flaring up the robot’s shields that protected it from direct harm.
“Danielle! Over here!!” Kate shouted, beckoning toward a stack of explosives on the floor at the far side of the hangar. Danielle glanced her way, and then gave her a brief nod as she moved to swing the robot down on top of the stack. Before she could cross the entire hangar, the robot managed twist itself around in her grip and bring its scythe down on her enlarged forearm. As with Kate, Danielle’s forearm remained intact — but she immediately released the robot and recoiled, grabbing her forearm with her other hand as she grimaced.
“Ow!” she exclaimed, “that… that hurt!!”
“Tch…!” Mote quickly zipped through the air toward the robot, managing to smash his battlehammer into it before it could begin to move. The blow knocked the robot backwards, closer to Kate’s explosives, but still a handful of meters away — so Mote lunged in for another attack. This time, the robot was prepared and began to swing its scythe down on Mote’s path, but Mote ducked around it and knocked the scythe away by slamming his hammer into the weapon’s shaft. He then brought his hammer down on top of the robot, knocking it down to the ground, at which point he blasted it thrice with lightning strikes to send the robot staggering backwards… and right into Kate’s stack of explosives.
“Ha HA!” she shouted with a grin as she began dashing across the hangar, across from the stack. “Fire in the ho—!”
Before she could even finish her sentence, a bright flash of light emanated from the explosives’ location. Mote reflexively shielded his eyes and flinched away, only to become immediately overwhelmed by the thundering roar of an explosion, and then violently thrown against the wall by shockwaves. Smoke, dust, and debris filled the air, accompanied by the echoes of screeching metal and collapsing rock as the hangar began to cave in.
“Fucking…” Mote muttered, squinting his eyes as he attempted to see through the dust clouds. As a piece of debris nearly collapsed on top of him, however, he realized that he hadn’t time to waste — instead of searching visually, he began parsing the electric fields all around him in search of Kate, Danielle, Colonel Saito, and Major Hackett. Thanks to the intensity of their energy shielding, he soon located them, and used his armor’s flight system to quickly grab Kate and Danielle from the hangar floor and bring them up to the observation room.
“Wow!” Danielle remarked as the three alighted on the ground, “way to go, Kate!”
“If you’re going to blow up a room that we’re currently in—“ Mote began, pausing only as the thundering echo of the hangar fully caving in resounded through the air and masked all other sounds, “…maybe give us a little more warning, next time?”
“Oh, fuck you, you unappreciative bastard,” Kate retorted. “I stopped that fucking robot, didn’t I?”
“This is no time for arguments,” Colonel Saito cut in, as the floor and walls of the observation room began to rumble. “After that kind of explosion, this whole outpost might just come down on top of us. Not to mention that Drakkar Cruiser!” He then began running out of the room, gesturing for everyone to follow. “Now let’s get the hell out of here!”