Chapter 19 – Preserved Knowledge

Chapter 19 – Preserved Knowledge

«Are you sure? Is this really the Ark?»

«Of course I am sure!» replied Maenikad, her hologram floating beside Mote’s helmeted head. «This is the Sadrenos Ark!»

«Right…» Mote responded warily, his eyes surveying his surroundings as he cautiously moved through the dimly-lit hallways. Dust, dirt, and occasionally water stained the metal flooring and walls, walls with faint designs and insignia that bore the wear and tear of a hundred thousand years. Many of the designs matched the sharp geometric lines on Mote’s armor, forming triangles and hexagons with perfect angles. Most of the color was stripped, however — and of the colors that weren’t, Mote could only just barely make out their crimson, gold, and black colorations through the intense aging and dark lighting. Wherever the main lights were, they weren’t active; only the occasional emergency light lit Mote’s way, forcing him to use a flashlight mounted in his armor to find his way through the darkness. And as if that wasn’t enough, the air within the hallways was rank, unfiltered, and above all else — toxic. Mote’s first breath within the Ark had been an incredibly painful one; he now wore his armor’s helmet, choosing the closed atmosphereless system of his armor over the painfully toxic air of a bunker built long, long ago, and deep, deep underground.

«I don’t like what I’m seeing,» Captain Krick declared over Mote’s open comms connection to Genesis’s bridge; accompanying the comms connection was a video feed from a camera mounted on Mote’s helmet, allowing everyone up in orbit to see what Mote was seeing. «This place looks like a goddamn run-down slum! Do we expect to find anyone still alive, down there?»

«I warned you that the Sadrenos Ark was on the verge of power failure,» Maenikad replied.

«More seems to be failing than just the power…» Mote muttered as he shone his flashlight on a nearby pile of dirt that had fallen through a crack in the ceiling.

«The Arks were not designed to withstand a hundred thousand years of wear and tear,» Maenikad stated. «I have had to triage the power systems to ensure enough power remained for the stasis blocks. Unfortunately, that has included turning off the life-support, the lights, the mainframe computers, and even the structural shielding.»

«But not yourself.»

«I am the key to this Ark! If not for my presence, you never would have found it!»

«Still, things do look pretty dire down there,» Colonel Saito pointed out. «Are you sure the stasis blocks are still intact, Maenikad?»

«Of course I am sure!» Maenikad replied indignantly, with her pyramidal holographic frame rotating about her eye more rapidly than before. «I am the Ikad-class Intelligence in charge of this Ark! No one knows better the state of this Ark than I!»

«How large are these stasis blocks, exactly? How many people?»

«All Arks contain the minimum viable population for the Aldredas people of 5000 individuals.»

«5000?!» Krick echoed incredulously. «…We could make that work, especially with both Genesis and Origin here. But that’s still a goddamn ton of people.»

«It’ll get fucking crowded, sure,» Kate said, «but it’ll be worth it if it means we get to talk with actual fucking Aldredas!»

«Aldredas that won’t be able to understand us,» Mote pointed out as he navigated around another cracked bulkhead and a large rock that protruded through it.

«Imperial translation technology is incredibly robust,» Maenikad declared. «It is the only reason I am able to speak with any of you, after all. All I need to do is upload my English-to-Raenarian dictionaries to the translation database.»

«Right… how much farther to the control room?»

«Not much farther. Only a few hundred meters of hallway left.»

«Why the hell are these halls so long? And why couldn’t we just beam down into the control room, directly?»

«I said that this Ark houses 5000 people, did I not? Its size is necessary.»

«There’s a goddamn beam-jamming field over the control room, anyways,» Krick stated. «I’m not the only one who thinks it’s fucking suspicious that only part of the Ark is protected by beam jammers, am I?»

«The jammers are a core component of the Ark’s defenses,» Maenikad replied. «I cannot control them. However, due to cross-facility power failures, some of the jammers have failed. This is why you were able to beam in.»

«This place sure doesn’t seem to be standing the test of time,» Mote muttered.

«It’s been a hundred thousand fucking years,» Kate retorted. «Personally, I’m amazed it lasted even this long! But while we’re waiting for Mote to reach the control room — hey, you AI thing, answer me this! A few months ago, we found something called a ‘Superspace Drive’ in an old Aldredian facility. What the fuck is ‘Superspace’?»

«I am not familiar with the term,» Maenikad responded. «Many different classified research projects were running in tandem during the Apocalypse War, and they were all mandated to keep cross-contact to a minimum, so as to reduce the likelihood of being discovered by our adversaries. As such, I am unlikely to know anything about those projects.»

«Damn. Well, maybe one of the fucking Aldredas knows something, then.»

«How did you find this ‘Aldredian facility’?» Maenikad questioned. «In fact, how did you come to discover Sadrenos?»

A moment of protracted silence followed; Mote could only assume that the group aboard Genesis were discussing just how much information to share with Maenikad.

«…Well, you’re the closest thing to an answer sheet that we’ve found, so we might as well tell you,» Saito eventually said. «A few months ago, we discovered a chain of Aldredian facilities that all lead to one another. We found Mote’s armor in one, the Raenaros in the next. And the Raenaros led us to a shipyard in deep space, where we found an Aldredian Dreadnought.»

«N-named, ‘Rynisaren’,» Kirstin added.

«Right. We found a massive list of galactic coordinates on the Dreadnought’s computers, and one of those coordinates led us here.»

«So you found this Ark through the Dreadnought Rynisaren? I see,» Maenikad replied. «So the pride and flagship of the Imperial Fleet still lives, then?»

«Well… no,» Saito answered.


«While we were on the trail of the Aldredian artifacts, there were some Drakkars on our trail. They followed us to the shipyard. We didn’t have the time or the people to recover any of the ships, so we scuttled them to prevent the Drakkars from getting them.»

«That’s when Mote and I fought Telregina, too,» Kate pointed out. «It was a real clusterfuck!»

«I see…» Maenikad replied slowly, the rotations of her pyramidal frame slowing down and her eye drifting off, as if in thought. «Hmm. Very well. If the choice was to destroy Rynisaren or allow the Drakkars to claim it, then the Empire would certainly have chosen to destroy it. You chose well.»

«So that goddamn Dreadnought was the ‘pride of the Imperial fleet’, huh?» Krick questioned. «Damn. And we had to throw the goddamn thing away…»

«You’re the one who suggested we scuttle it!» Kate retorted.

«And I stand by that decision. Doesn’t mean I don’t wish we could’ve saved it.»

«At least you were able to find it,» Maenikad said. «I know not how the Arks were meant to be discovered after the Apocalypse War, only that we Ikad-class Intelligences were instructed only to respond to a descendant of Raen. Given what you have told me now, I believe the original intent was to have Maenisaren revive the Arks — after all, you found her armor, and then her fightercraft. But for some reason, she did not revive us.»

«This Maenisaren person was just that fucking important, huh?» Kate questioned.

«Indeed,» Maenikad replied. «She and her compatriots were the Empire’s tip of the spear against the Drakkars, and later, the Morikai and Nanocreatures. And while she may have hailed from a branch family, she still established for herself a credible claim to the Imperial throne. Even I am named for her.»

«And yet this supposed hero of yours disappeared without a trace,» Krick retorted.

«So it would seem. The Arks were completed and sealed away from the galaxy shortly after the Morikai and Nanocreatures were deemed as existential threats. For many years, I feared that Ikirom, Morcii, or the Drakkars had obtained victory and now ruled over the galaxy… but your presence here indicates that is not the case. In which event, I am most puzzled as to Maenisaren’s ultimate fate. She would not abandon the Empire, and she was too skilled and powerful to fall in battle…»

«Maenisaren…» Mote repeated under his breath. «…This Maenisaren… what did she look like?»

«The very image of strength and beauty!» Maenikad proclaimed. «A woman of power with an exquisite olive complexion and silken, flame-red hair adorning steely red eyes capable of both righteous wrath and warm approval, accompanied by the refined musculature of a hero and the elegant air befitting of an Empress aspirant—»

«This doesn’t sound like a biased description at all,» Kate interjected.

«The audacity! You dare insult the accuracy of the description of my namesake?!»

«If that description sounds like you lusting over her, then yeah, I do dare.»

«I cannot believe this! You would…!»

So the woman in my vision, then Mote thought to himself, his brow scrunched up in thought as he momentarily tuned out of Kate and Maenikad’s argument, …and the woman I saw in that video aboard Raenaros — was that Maenisaren? I suppose I can understand why there would be a video of Maenisaren on the Corvette, if it really was her personal ship. But why would she have appeared in my vision several months ago? His brow furrowed even further, though this time in frustration. If she was the Aldredian Ayas Imperium, then does that mean…? No, no, something must be wrong. This can’t be right…

«Ah! We have arrived!»

«Hmm?» Shaken out of his thoughts, Mote looked up at the room he had just entered: a small control room, judging by the presence of a handful of computer consoles against the walls. Maenikad’s hologram zipped across the room, hovering over one of the consoles as her eye swept across it.

After a few seconds, her eye swiveled around to focus on Mote. «This is it,» she declared. «At this dire stage in the Ark’s lifetime, restarting vital systems — power, life-support, and so on — require the touch of a descendant of Raen.»

«Hold on, Mote,» Saito quickly interjected. «Maenikad — will this also release the stasis blocks?»

«No. The stasis blocks have their own controls elsewhere,» Maenikad declared. «Before we shutdown the stasis systems and release the inhabitants, we will need to revive the life-support, anyways — else the Aldredas will simply die as soon as we free them from stasis. That is the purpose of our stop, here.»

«So there’s even more…» Mote muttered. «Colonel, should I go through with this?»

«Can you tell if Maenikad is telling the truth? By tracing the electrical systems, or something?»

«One moment…» Mote took a deep breath as he turned his attention to focusing on the electrical circuits in the adjacent computers and the nearby walls. Carefully, he sent a small shock through the circuits, using his skill as an Electrotechnic to trace the shock through the facility’s electrical systems — even as the circuit ran almost a kilometer away from him. Even over that distance, however, Mote was quickly able to discern an answer to Saito’s question. «…I believe it’s telling the truth,» he stated. «I can detect where I believe the stasis blocks to be, but they seem to be on an entirely different circuit from the control room here.»

«’It’?» Maenikad echoed with a scoffing tone. «You Earthians truly have no respect!»

Mote passed Maenikad an annoyed look as Saito responded, «alright, Mote. Let’s go ahead with the systems re-activation. Once the power’s back on, I want you to investigate the facility more thoroughly, and determine if you’d be able to power it yourself, or if Danielle could create a replacement generator. We’ll figure out what to do with the stasis blocks after that.»

«Understood, sir,» Mote replied as he moved over to the controls and began interfacing with them through his armor. «Bringing the facility back on-line…»

30 Minutes Later

«How are things down there, Mote?»

It’s getting better… Mote replied to Saito’s question as he continued walking down the halls of the Ark — though this time, with actual lights to illuminate his way, and breathable air to accompany him. I can do without my helmet, now. The structure of this ‘Ark’, however…

«The Ark will be fine!» Maenikad insisted, her hologram still floating in the air next to Mote. «Especially now that you are here!»

«It’s a good thing the lights and the life-support still work, at least,» the Colonel remarked. «It’s a good sign for the overall viability of the Ark.»

I’m not so sure… Mote muttered in response as he climbed over another pile of dirty metal debris.

«Well you should be close to the fuckin’ stasis blocks by now, right?» Kate questioned, «once you get there, we won’t have to waste all our fucking time on speculating about the Ark’s survival.»

«Indeed, it will not be long now,» Maenikad declared, her tone carrying a hint of impatient glee.

«This all makes you wonder, though, doesn’t it?» Hackett commented over the comms, «Maenikad, you said the so-called ‘Apocalypse War’ was between the Aldredas, Drakkars, and Morikai, right? So if the Aldredas set up these Arks, is it possible that there are Drakkar or Morikai Arks out there, too?»

«Would explain how the goddamn Drakkars survived a supposed galaxy-ending war,» Krick replied.

«N-Nanocreatures, too…» Kirstin pointed out.

«I know not whether our adversaries had the same foresight as the Empire,» Maenikad stated. «The Drakkars, perhaps. But at the time that the Imperial Arks went dark, Imperial projections claimed it would be the Morikai or the Nanocreatures who dominated the galaxy. Imperial leadership considered it unlikely that either Ikirom or Morcii would entertain the thought of loss.»

«That tracks with what we saw of Morcii 20 years ago…» Saito muttered.

«20 years ago?» Maenikad’s hologram zipped into Mote’s face, her glowing red orb of an eye staring straight at Mote as he recoiled in surprise. «This galaxy has faced Morcii and the Nanocreatures? And survived?»

«We almost didn’t,» Saito said. «The Nanocreatures wreaked havoc before a handful of Chaotics found a way to kill Morcii.»

Maenikad fell silent, her hologram lagging behind Mote as he continued down the hallways. «…This is most concerning,» she eventually said. «Not only have the Drakkars survived to the modern age… but the Nanocreatures have, as well? Next you’ll tell me that Ikirom is still alive!»

«Can’t say much about that one,» Saito replied.

«Hmph. This outcome suggests a most unfavorable outcome to the Apocalypse War… and yet, neither the Drakkars nor the Nanocreatures dominate the galaxy? And neither do the Morikai… whatever happened? I would expect one of the sides of the war to have been victorious.»

«Maybe the war just lived up to your ominious-as-fuck name, and everyone lost,» Kate suggested.

«And yet, aspects of each side survive…» Maenikad responded. «This is not an outcome we had planned for… but it is workable. Tell me. You have mentioned finding Aldredas ruins before, and given that you were able to understand me when you first arrived, you must have had access to enough information on the Empire to construct a translation database. So, then — in all that you have learned of the Aldredas, what do you know about the end of the Apocalypse War?»

«N-not much…» Kirstin said.

«We didn’t even know you called your war a fucking ‘Apocalypse War’ until today!» Kate exclaimed. «Why do you think I want to pick the brains of the Aldredas you have down there, huh?»

«Most concerning…» Maenikad said as she and Mote turned down another corridor, this one with erratically flickering lights — as opposed to the steady lighting of the halls prior.

Concerning is one way to put it… Mote muttered as he looked up at the lights. He slowed his pace, but still continued onwards, warily watching his surroundings as he went.

«Signs of bad power,» Krick remarked, having seen the flickering lights through Mote’s body cam. «It would fucking figure. I bet that Ark—…»

…Hmm? Chief Captain? Mote stopped in his tracks after realizing that Krick’s statement had been abruptly cut off. Chief Captain, repeat. …Chief Captain Krick? …Colonel Saito?

«Hmm. It would appear that communications with your craft have been cut off,» Maenikad asserted.

What? Mote turned to look accusingly at Maenikad. Did you do something?

«To imagine that a descendant of Raen would be so distrustful of an Ikad-class Intelligence!» Maenikad exclaimed indignantly. «I have done nothing of the sort! More likely, something about this area of the facility is cutting off comms.»

More likely? You don’t even know?

«As I have said, the Sadrenos Ark is in a dire state! I have been upfront with the possibility of systems failure!»

Right… Mote drawled, and then turned around to begin retracing his steps. Well, if it really is just a part of the Ark that’s stopping communications, then—

«—you there? Lieutenant! Answer!»

I’m here, Captain, Mote replied to Krick’s hail; notably, as soon as he had returned to the beginning of the flickering hallway, the comms came back online.

«There you are! What the hell happened?!» Kate exclaimed, «why weren’t you answering us earlier?»

According to the AI… Mote said as he passed Maenikad an irritated glance, there may be some kind of… systems failure in this part of the Ark. Something that’s breaking comms contact.

«I suspect it is the signal repeaters that have failed,» Maenikad asserted. «However, it would appear that the diagnostic systems in this area of the Ark have also failed, so I cannot diagnose the true cause.»

«This is where the goddamn stasis blocks are supposed to be, isn’t it?» Krick pointed out. «After this, are we really still expecting those fucking things to have survived?»

«Of course they have!» Maenikad insisted. «The stasis blocks are the very core of this Ark! The Ark would be pointless without them! As such, this structure has been very carefully designed such that the stasis blocks are the last systems to fail. You cannot write off Imperial technology so quickly!»

«As much as I’d fucking like that to be true, I’m starting to have doubts, myself…» Kate muttered.

«This whole situation has smelled fishy from the get-go,» Krick declared. «I’m just about ready to pull the plug on this whole goddamn op.»

«What? After we have come so far?!» Maenikad countered, «you even activated the final power systems! If you leave now, your actions will directly have caused this Ark to use the last of its remaining power — and thereby, all 5000 individuals stored within will die!»

«She’s not wrong about that, sirs,» Hackett pointed out.

«And how do we know we aren’t just entertaining the delusions of a goddamn mis-programmed AI?» Krick shot back.

«There is one way to know,» Saito stated. «If we just check the stasis blocks, we’ll know for sure if anyone survived. Mote, are you up for that? What do you think of this situation?»

Mote glanced toward Maenikad again, who returned the glance with her single eye. He then turned to look down the flickering corridor; it stretched for a couple dozen meters before terminating against another perpendicular hallway, so Mote was unable to determine the state of the Ark beyond that. I agree with Krick, something about all of this seems off… such as trusting an ‘AI’ in the first place, Mote mused. Is this really an AI? SERRCom has yet to figure out true AI, and it’s my understanding that the CSA bans the research or creation of high-functioning intelligences — for good reason. I simply don’t see any reason to trust this thing. But, with that said… …I’ve already spent close to an hour down here, Mote eventually spoke up, if finding the actual stasis blocks can determine once and for all if this ‘Ark’ is worth our time… then I might as well continue.

«I still don’t like this,» Krick declared. «Why do we have to check the goddamn stasis blocks directly to see if they survived? What dumbass designed this place?»

«If we get a chance to wake the Aldredas up, maybe we’ll have more concrete answers,» Saito stated. «But in order to know if we can even do that — Mote, you’re clear to continue. Watch yourself, down there. And at the first sign of trouble, get back to where you are right now and report to us.»

Understood, sir. I’m heading out, Mote replied as he prepared to strike out on his own, continuing his search of the dying Ark for the inhabitants stored within.