Chapter 59 – Earthly Struggles

Chapter 59 – Earthly Struggles

The Next Day

— Tuesday, November 29, AD 2129 —


A deafening roar echoed throughout the room as the energy shields protecting the walls shimmered and flickered under the force of an explosion. Smoke filled the air and began to spread — only for a mid-sized mech to spring from the smoke and bring down its arms on an olive-skinned, red bandana-wearing woman below.

HA! Kate retorted with an aggressive grin, deftly dodging around the mech’s arms and then slapping them with a large chunk of fabricated C4. She then immediately set off the C4, causing another explosion that launched her across the room and sent the mech reeling. In response, the mech’s destroyed hands transformed into two laser cannons that opened fire on Kate, who managed to predict the cannons’ aim and dodge out of the way of their lasers. She then fabricated two smoke grenades in hand and set them both off, obscuring her location.

As soon as the smoke popped, the mech transformed into a large wolf. Its nostrils flared as it searched for Kate’s scent; only a scant couple moments passed before it found her, at which point a large railgun appeared on its back and opened fire, launching a projectile at Mach speeds directly into Kate’s frontside.

Argh…! Kate grunted in pain as she was flung against the far wall, impacting with such force that the energy shields protecting it flared. She then dropped to her knees, with one fist on the ground as she clutched at her chest.

Oh no! came a worried exclamation from the wolf — who’s head suddenly transformed into that of Danielle. Kate, are you okay?!

Kate remained as she was, taking several deep breaths before glancing up at Danielle with a spiteful smirk on her face. Ha…! Like this… she began, speaking between breaths as she held up her right hand, …could stop me!

Huh…? Danielle questioned, confused, as she eyed Kate’s raised hand. Barely a second later, Danielle realized that Kate was holding some kind of detonator — but by then, it was too late.



The instant Kate pulled the trigger, a handful of mines — masked by the smoke in the room — exploded underneath Danielle, launching her into the air. The railgun on her back cracked off and she soon tumbled to the ground in a painful heap, just as a quiet alarm began sounding in the back of the room.

Alright, time! Kate shouted, and then pumped her fist as she returned to her feet. Ha, yes! That’s a win for me!

Oof… Danielle muttered, her broken wolf body quickly transforming into her normal uninjured self, with a steel cybernetic right arm and black hair tied back in a low ponytail. Explosions hurt…

Oh, relax, you’re fucking fine, Kate retorted as she brushed herself off and inspected herself. Despite taking several blows to her unshielded body, the worst of her injuries consisted of a couple bruises.

True, Danielle conceded. I guess you look fine, too, huh?

Of fucking course I do, Kate replied proudly. It’ll take a hell of a lot more than just a few fucking explosions and railgun shots to take me out!Her boast was soon followed by a tired exhale, however, as she bent over with her hands on her knees. …Oof…

Tired? Danielle questioned.

Anyone would be, Kate responded defensively. We’ve been sparring for almost three straight fucking hours.

Ah, ha ha, right… Danielle glanced around at the training room the two were currently inhabiting. The room was devoid of all features save for a few markings on the ground, denoting different distances from each of the four walls; as the smoke from their fighting cleared, the walls could be seen as well, all four of them just as pristine and undamaged as when the two started fighting — all thanks to energy shielding.

Oof… Kate took another several deep breaths before standing straight again and pumping her fists. Alright…! I fucking needed that! Thanks, Danielle.

It’s no problem! Danielle replied cheerfully. Duels like these can be really fun!

“They’re good for blowing off steam, that’s for damn sure.” Kate rolled her shoulders before making for the room’s exit. And now, I need a fucking shower…

I guess I could use one, too, Danielle remarked, quickly skipping over to Kate and then falling into step beside her.

What do you need a shower for? Kate questioned incredulously. Can’t you just do that thing where you turn into a clean version of yourself?

Well, yeah, but showers are good for more than just cleaning, you know! Standing under the cold running water feels really good!

Huh, yeah, I get what you— wait, fucking what? Kate stopped herself mid-sentence to pass Danielle a disgusted look. Cold water? What the fuck?

Danielle shrugged. What can I say? I like it.

…You can be fucking weird at times.

I guess. Same for you, though. It’s been a while since you wanted to spar with me!

Yeah, well… Kate pursed her lips as she returned her attention forward, the two women rounding a corner in the hallway. …It’s been a fucking while since I needed it.

Really? Why?

Just fucking think about it. Normally I get to blow some steam while on a damn mission, fighting Drakkars or some shit, but that hasn’t happened very often.

Danielle frowned. Weren’t we fighting Drakkars just two weeks ago…?

Yeah, but that was the first fucking time I got to fight in a god damn month! Kate protested, and we fucking lost! Hell, I lost the two fights before that one, too! Fucking… damn it! She punched the wall beside her, causing a loud metallic thud to echo through the hallway. I’m fucking tired of losing!

…I mean, we all survived all our missions, right? Danielle pointed out, that counts as winning, right?

Surviving is the fucking default state, Kate countered irately. I want to win fights! You know, fucking actually beat our enemies! When was the last goddamn time that happened, huh?!

Danielle fell silent as she thought back over the past several missions — and a frown formed on her face as she realized that the last time the Eximius Vir had an undisputed victory in combat was months ago, when fighting off the Drakkars that had attacked the Black Suns dig site that had found the Aldredian Armor; though even that mission ended in the Earthians and Black Suns both fleeing from a Drakkar Cruiser. Every following mission had been either a loss or a half-victory: when recovering the Aldredian Corvette Raenaros, they were still forced to flee from the Drakkars; at the Aldredian shipyard, they had been forced to destroy all of the ships despite fighting off Telregina; at the abandoned space station, they had run into Nanocreatures and were forced to flee without finding anything — not to mention that Kate wasn’t there in the first place; and on their last mission, they had almost recovered a mysterious new piece of Aldredian technology, only for it to be snatched out from under them.

Fuckin’ exactly, Kate muttered in response to Danielle’s silence. Just once, I want to win, damn it!

Well, there’s always next mission, I guess, Danielle replied.

’Next mission’. Tch. We don’t even know what our next fucking mission is.

I guess… well, it’ll probably be looking into Aldredian tech, right?

Hmph. Maybe. If it is, we better fucking actually get something out of it…

Well, either way… Danielle clasped her hands behind her back and passed Kate a smile. If you ever feel like you need to blow off some steam again, feel free to ask! This was fun.

Yeah… Kate sighed warily. …Thanks. I’ll remember that. For now, though… She looked up at the door the duo had just arrived at, and the sign above it that read “locker room”.

Time for a shower! Danielle cheerfully remarked as she bounded through the door, leaving Kate behind in the hallway.

So fuckin’ cheerful… Kate muttered, and then followed her friend into the locker room. Here’s hoping she’s right, I guess…


“…Say again, sir?”

“You heard me,” General Lead replied, his hands clasped on top of the large desk in his office as he stared levelly at Colonel Saito, who sat across from him. “On Sunday, December 4th, CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir will ship out to Eana to prepare for Operation New Dawn — to reclaim SERRCom’s old colony of Sunova, under the command of Commander Shepherd.”

Saito responded with an incredulous look as he searched for the words with which to reply. “…Why? I thought we were supposed to be investigating the Dreadnought coordinates.”

“That’s still a long-term priority,” Lead answered, “however, Genesis is still under repair. Until she is back in mission-worthy condition, your investigations are on hold.”

“Why not use the Origin? Or one of the other Genesis-class Battlecruisers?”

“None of the Genesis-class Battlecruisers actually match the capabilities of Genesis herself. We just haven’t yet figured out how to perfectly recreate Genesis’s technology — and Genesis herself was almost destroyed while investigating one of the Dreadnought coordinates. Only a couple of our Carriers have sturdier shields than Genesis, and they’re occupied with other tasks.”

“Right…” Saito sighed warily. “Still… you’re putting us under Shepherd’s command?”

Lead responded with a deep exhale, his gaze momentarily dropping as he massaged his brow. A few seconds later, he returned to making eye-contact with Saito as he replied, “I won’t lie to you, Colonel. This assignment is mostly political. As much as Shepherd and I… don’t see eye-to-eye, he made several valid points during last week’s Command Meeting. The lion’s share of SERRCom’s military budget goes to the Space Navy over the Ground Forces, and for good reason, in my opinion. Nevertheless, the morale of SERRCom line members mustn’t be neglected, and this kind of symbolic operation may be just what SERRCom needs to show that we’re still in control.”

Are we in control, sir?” Saito questioned.

Lead chuckled. “Well, there’s no doubting that recent events have put us on the back foot. Still, there is value in keeping up appearances — and that’s where the Eximius Vir, and by extension CSF-1, come in. The eight of you are symbols in SERRCom, whether you like it or not.”

“Which makes us convenient to use, I’m sure,” Saito remarked. “Both by Shepherd, and by anyone who wanted to keep an eye on him… am I right, sir?”

“Heh…” Lead offered a wry smile. “…It is what it is, Colonel.”

“Although, I don’t suppose I could get a higher paycheck out of all of this?” Saito quipped.

“We’ll see. CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir have certainly faced greater danger than usual over the past several months.”

“Yeah… well, as much as I dislike working under Shepherd, sir, it’ll be nice to have a straight-forward, low-threat mission, for once.”

“Ah… yes.” Lead pursed his lips, though the action was partially hidden by his mustache. “About that…”

“I should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy,” Saito deadpanned, and then shrugged. “But I guess it’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? Well, what’s the catch?”

“Last Friday, one of our scouting Frigates did a flyby of Sunova, as preparation for Operation New Dawn,” Lead explained. “During this flyby, it was discovered that someone had moved in. Closer inspection revealed that ‘someone’ to be the Black Suns.”

“Them again…”

“It would seem so. And they had blanketed the entire region in beam jamming fields, so they clearly know that there was a risk of us discovering them.”

“Do they know that we discovered them?”

“The scouting Frigate was equipped with a PCS and detected no large-scale sensor equipment on the planet’s surface, so it’s unlikely that the Black Suns detected her. However, as per galactic policy… we reached out to the Black Suns to inquire about their presence on Sunova.”

“So they know that we know, then.”

“The Black Suns claimed that the outpost on Sunova isn’t connected to their official operations — essentially, they claimed no ties, and that we can do with the outpost whatever we see fit. It’s hard to know how much of that is true or a bluff, however.”

“I’m sure Shepherd was pleased to hear that,” Saito quipped.

“If he had it his way, we would have ambushed the Black Suns without warning,” Lead stated. “But that would risk an incident and increased tensions with the Suns as a whole, which SERRCom cannot afford right now. We may have lost the element of surprise, but the ambush play was too risky, politically speaking.”

“I understand, sir. It still makes this whole op tricky, since the outpost might know we’re coming, now… is there a plan to address that?”

Lead shook his head. “That is ultimately up to Shepherd. He’s the one planning the op; you’ll be informed of the details when you arrive on Eana this weekend. All I can tell you is what the scouting Frigate discovered — and part of that is that the Black Suns weren’t actually inhabiting the gatefort we left behind.”

“Huh?” Saito passed Lead a confused glance. “…You’re saying they left it abandoned?”

“It would seem so. The building showed the signs of wear and tear that you’d expect from 20 years of abandonment, and there were no indications of Black Suns defenses. They seemed to be focused entirely on the caves, which if I recall correctly, are around a hundred kilometers from the Interstellar Gate and the gatefort.”

“The caves of Sunova…” Saito muttered. While Sunova may have been an abandoned colony, the planet was still well known among the members of SERRCom for the part it played in the organization’s history. 40 years ago, the galaxy was hit by the first Chaos Energy Quake, after which all of the Chaos Ayas — the only nine objects in the entire galaxy capable of generating Chaos Energy — disappeared. The first time anyone encountered the Ayas again was 20 years later, in the caves of Sunova, where a young Captain stumbled upon an odd silver sphere and grasped it in his hands. That silver sphere turned out to be the Master Ayas, and when the Captain touched it, an incredibly advanced spacecraft of mysteriously familiar construction spontaneously appeared in orbit around Sunova. That spacecraft was the Battlecruiser Genesis, the origin of much of SERRCom’s current technology — and the Captain was none other than David Shepherd, now the Commander of the Ground Forces.

“…Well,” Saito eventually commented, “I know that the caves of Sunova hold some significance for SERRCom… but why are the Black Suns interested in them?”

“That’s impossible to say,” Lead replied. “But I suspect it has something to do with the Nanocreature outbreak 20 years ago.”

“Were there any signs the Nanocreatures were still around?”

“Not that the scouting Frigate could see. Still, the Nanocreatures came from the caves, and were far from the only… odd thing that we found there. We weren’t able to map out the entirety of the caves before abandoning the colony, however, so it’s possible that there are undiscovered mysteries that we left behind.”

“And let me guess — Shepherd wants to get his hands on them?”

“If they exist, yes. That reason is why this op is moving forward so quickly: Shepherd wants to get the jump on the Suns before they can pack up and leave with anything they found.”

“Right…” Saito sighed warily. “…The damn Black Suns, again… and I just heard that one showed up on Nimalia, too…”

“Master Captain Gavon Savénos, yes,” Lead replied. “I heard that, as well. The Suns suddenly showing up around the recruits does sound suspicious on first glance, but it is actually a coincidence. The Master Captain’s arrival was arranged months ago, before we even knew about the recruits.”

“It’s still concerning, sir, isn’t it?” Saito pointed out, “to have a Black Suns officer so close to our own activities?”

“The recruits’ presence and activities on Nimalia are hardly confidential, Saito,” Lead countered. “Enrollment in the Nimalian Schools of Chaos is public information. The Black Suns could learn all they wanted, even without sending an officer — much less a Master Captain, which is roughly analogous to a SERRCom Major in terms of authority.”

“Sending a Major to spy would be a bit much, I suppose…”

“Master Captain Savénos is with Sector 1 of the Black Suns, as well. I remain wary of the organization as a whole, especially in light of what’s happening with Sunova… but based on what I know from watching galactic politics for nearly three decades, Sector 1 is trustworthy — it’s perhaps the only Sector that is. They declassify as many of their mission reports as they can — I suspect as an advertising tool, but the reports are nonetheless impressive, and Savénos’s history with the Suns checks out.”

“I suppose if it didn’t, he wouldn’t be a ‘guest instructor’ on Nimalia.”

“That is my thinking, as well. The Nimalians have yet to do us wrong, so I’ll continue to trust their judgment.”

“And I’ll continue to trust in yours, sir.”

“Thank you, Saito. I know CSF-1’s recent experience with the Black Suns was more adversarial than you would have liked, but each Sector of the Black Suns is practically and effectively their own, independent organization — so your encounter with Sector 3 won’t necessarily reflect how an officer from Sector 1 would act. And on the subject of Sectors… it is Director Hamasaki’s suspicion that the Black Suns on Sunova are associated with Sector 2. Black Ops are Sector 2’s M.O., and this situation sounds like exactly that.”

“I suspected as much, myself…” Saito muttered. “…Oi. I originally thought that we’d just have to clean up some dead nanites, but now there’s Black Suns involved… This mission is starting to sound like more of a pain in the ass than I expected.”

A regretful smile passed over Lead’s face as he replied, “I’m sorry, Colonel, but I need you for this one. I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”

“There is my paycheck,” Saito replied cheekily, and then adopted a thoughtful look as a realization crossed his mind. “…Actually, sir, I know something you might be able to do for us. For CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir, that is.”


“Some leave. The others are starting to feel some real fatigue from all of these missions we’re going on. We had already been on a string of missions before the recent Chaos Quake, and since the Quake, we haven’t had a break. And at this rate, things aren’t looking good for the winter holidays, or the new year.”

“I see. I’ll look into that, but I think it should be doable. Genesis is liable to be under repair all through December, anyways.”

It figures that our only chance at leave is because one of our most important spacecraft can’t go out, Saito thought bitterly. Things really are busy around here.

“Anyways, that covers everything I wanted to discuss,” Lead declared. “I’ve arranged for Captain Travis and Lieutenant Cox to join you for Operation New Dawn, as well. Until then, you have time to prepare.”

“Understood, sir. We’ll be ready.”

“Good to hear, Colonel. I’m glad SERRCom has officers like you to count on. But for now, you’re dismissed.”