“What the hell have you done?!”
“What have we done? We just got here!”
“Exactly. We’ve been here for months with no issue. The fact that the Drakkars have appeared now must be because of your arrival!”
Colonel Saito stared incredulously at Colonel Triiant, who had just stomped over from the Black Suns command tent. Saito had been conferring with Major Hackett, Captain Travis, Mark, and Danielle — the members of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir who hadn’t gone ahead to investigate the dig site — in an attempt to plan for dealing with the incoming Drakkar threat before being interrupted by the Black Suns Colonel; the fact that Triiant seemed to be blaming the Earthians for the appearance of the Drakkars merely irritated Saito even further.
“I can think of a dozen reasons for the Drakkars showing up here that don’t revolve around us,” Saito countered. “The fact is, Colonel, you’re the ones who have been mucking around on this planet. It’s far more likely that the Drakkars picked up on the months of your activity than on the hours of ours.”
“And hours might just be all it takes,” Triiant shot back. “We have been traveling to and from this planet through the Interstellar Gate, and keeping a low profile as we did. You’re the ones who decide to traipse around the galaxy in spaceships all the time, instead of just taking the Gate like a normal, organized military!”
“Ships that have faster FTL drives and increased stealth abilities over the rest of the galaxy, you mean. The chance that the Drakkars detected the Out of Hand from their territory and is so minuscule as to be non-existent.”
“And so you think that they detected our outpost on its own, then? Might I remind you that you, yourself, were surprised to find us here? You, the ones whose Homeworld is so close?”
“You can’t honestly expect our sensor technology to be on par with the Drakkars. The CSA can’t even keep up with them!”
“Sirs,” Major Hackett interjected, “I don’t quite think that there’s time for this—”
“Of course there isn’t, because you brought down the Drakkars on all our heads!” Triiant snapped.
“Cut the attitude, Colonel. The Major’s right,” Saito countered. “According to our Frigate’s sensors, the Drakkars will arrive in under an hour. We need to come up with a plan to deal with this situation.”
“We? And just what tactical knowledge about the Drakkars can you provide?”
“Oh for the love of…” Saito sighed in frustration and massaged his temples. As he was doing so, he noticed Commander Rabine suddenly appear in the air just next to Triiant.
She glanced between the two Colonels warily. “Sirs? What are you doing?”
“I was just about to tell the Earthian Colonel here to pack up and leave,” Triiant replied, his furious gaze fixated entirely on Saito. “They’re the ones who brought the Drakkars here.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Saito responded in exasperation. “We’re the ones with a ship! Just what the hell is your evac plan if we leave without you?”
“Lay low and wait the Drakkars out. We know they’re coming, after all; we just need to leave this site, flank around the Drakkars, and beat them back to the Gate.”
“And then when the Gate is still active and connected to a Drakkar world?”
“We wait until they leave. They don’t know we’re here.”
“Ah yes, I forgot. They’re here because they detected our ship. And so, in response, they send a ground team through the Interstellar Gate. A ground team that just so happens to have immediately started moving toward this exact location. But certainly, they don’t know you’re here at all.”
“Sir,” Rabine interjected, stepping forward to put herself within Triiant’s line of sight, “we can argue about who attracted the Drakkars here later. For now, we need to focus on dealing with them.”
Triiant opened his mouth to respond, but then he closed it without saying anything and pursed his lips. A few moments passed as he and Saito continued glaring at each other, but eventually Triiant let out a frustrated sigh and snapped his gaze away. “I suppose you’re right.”
At least he listens to her, Saito thought bitterly, but knew better than to say as much out loud. Now that the Colonel’s second-in-command was present and he seemed slightly more likely to listen, it was time to address the actual matter at hand. “With that out of the way,” Saito began, “the Drakkars will be here in… probably around forty minutes, at this point. According to our Frigate’s scans, they have a few vehicles with them. The actual Drakkars number around thirty. Now, we have a ship on our side, but the Out of Hand isn’t outfitted for ground combat. And there’s only eight of us. How many combatants do you have with you?”
“…Only ten of my soldiers are Chaotics,” Triiant begrudgingly replied. “All twenty of us have received combat training and can fire weapons, but we’re Sector 3. My team’s primary purpose is research, not combat.”
Saito nodded as he began processing possible courses of action in his head. “Alright, so a fight is out of the question.”
“Is it, though?” Danielle spoke up from behind him, drawing the attention of both Colonels. “If it’s just a bunch of Drakkars, well, we’ve handled that before.” She then glanced at Mark. “Right?”
“Yeah.” Mark nodded. “We can handle a few Drakkars.”
“Even if you could, when the expedition team doesn’t return, the Drakkars will know to send a larger force, maybe even a ship,” Rabine pointed out. “This dig site isn’t worth escalating up to a Drakkar siege.”
“Speaking of the dig site…” Triiant looked around himself at the Earthians, and then back at Rabine. “What happened to those Earthians I told you to keep an eye on?”
Saito and Triiant both reflexively glanced off to the side, where Mote was approaching with Kate and MacTavish in tow. Both Colonels’ attentions then immediately dropped to the overly extravagant crimson, gold, and black armor that Mote was now wearing, with elaborate designs and flowing robes that seemed designed more to impress than to protect. It clashed heavily with both the Black Suns’ black, blue and silver armor, and the Earthians’ conservative blue and green armor — and neither group had nearly as much robing as Mote now wore.
“C-Colonel,” MacTavish began as she rushed to Saito’s side, “th-that armor—!”
“Where the hell did you get that?” Triiant interjected, his gaze fixated on Mote.
“It was stored in the tomb we discovered three months ago,” Rabine answered.
“WHAT?!” The Siion exploded in fury, prompting MacTavish to shrink away and hide behind Saito as Mote reflexively backed into a defensive stance. “Take that off, immediately!”
“Sir? Sir!” Rabine quickly interposed herself in between Triiant and Mote just as sparks began flickering around the latter’s arms. “He is wearing the armor under my advice. If you’ll allow me to explain—”
“There’s no explanations needed for this! They’ve shown their true colors. They were here to steal the artifacts from under our noses all along—!”
The low hum of electrical motors cut Triiant off as Out of Hand suddenly appeared in the sky just above the treetops. As a Frigate, she wasn’t a large ship — just slightly over 80 meters long, bow to stern — but her altitude was so low as to scrape the tops of the tallest trees and cast shade over most of the dig site.
“And now you’ve come to make your escape,” Triiant growled, glaring up at the hovering craft.
“Oh for the love of…” Saito simply shook his head in response before looking up at the Frigate and activating his communicator. “Commander Huerta, what’s going on?”
«Lo siento, sir,» Huerta responded, «but we had to act quickly. A Drakkar Cruiser just appeared in orbit.»
«Sí señor, I do not lie. I believed it prudent to approach and activate our beam jamming field in order to prevent them from beaming any of you away.»
“Shit. Well you made the right choice—”
“We’re under attack!!”
“What the…?” Saito, and everyone else in the immediate vicinity, turned their attention in the direction of the shout: toward the far side of the dig site. Flashes of flames and weapons fire could be seen, as well as flickers of familiar silhouettes — silhouettes with lithe frames, digitigrade legs, and long hair-like spikes extending from their heads.
“Drakkars!?” Triiant exclaimed.
“Damn!” Saito scowled. “Did they beam down before Huerta could activate the jamming field…?”
“Don’t worry, Colonel,” Mote responded as he materialized his massive battle hammer, wreathed in extravagant blue and silver designs and possessing a faintly glowing blue orb inset on either side of the hammerhead. “We can take care of the Drakkars while you get everyone on the Frigate.”
“I don’t think so!” Triiant roared. “Not while you’re in that armor! Take it off and hand it over, now!”
“We don’t have time to argue about this,” Mote snarled back. In the distance, a couple explosions could be heard, followed by the loud creaking of falling trees. “I’m going to deal with the Drakkars. Then we can talk about this armor—”
“Hold on, Mote.”
“Huh…?” Mote stopped in his tracks, his attention focused on Saito as the Colonel stepped forward.
“Oh c’mon!” Kate complained as the sounds of combat began to draw nearer. “Just let us fucking fight already! It’s been forever since I saw a decent fight!”
“That depends on what Colonel Triiant has to say.” Saito turned toward the Black Suns Officer. “Listen. I’ve been trying to help, but so far, all of my attempts have been met with contempt.”
“You’re the one who—!” Triiant started, but Saito held up a hand to stop him.
“I’m not done,” the Earthian Colonel insisted. “I tried to play nice, but that ship has sailed. So now you have two options, Triiant. You let us keep that armor, and we’ll kill those Drakkars, and then let you on our ship. Or, we hand the armor over, wipe our hands of this asinine situation, and leave you to deal with the Drakkars all on your own. Your choice.”
Saito maintained his gaze on the Siion Colonel, but in the lull that followed, he could feel the surprised stares on him from everyone present. Even Mote and Major Hackett, who Saito could see just out the corners of his eyes, seemed uneasy at the Colonel’s ultimatum. He was threatening to leave behind an unprepared group to fight a superior force all on their own, after all; he wasn’t directly violating any SERRCom rules or procedures in making the threat, but it was a questionable act all the same. In a way, he was glad that the rest of CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir were startled to hear him make these threats — it meant that none of them would stoop quite so low as he was now.
It also meant that his bluff was all that more successful.
A flash of light emerged from across the dig site, and a stray laser blast tore through a tent just a few meters away. Saito ignored the encroaching chaos and kept his attention focused on Triiant, who readily returned the glare — but through the corner of his eye, Saito could see the Black Suns forces fighting against the Drakkars. Waves of water and rock washed over the Drakkars, and blasts of weapons fire exploded across their shields; the Black Suns were fighting surprisingly effectively for a research team, and were doing a good job of keeping out of melee range with the Drakkars so as not to have their Ciei stolen. But their Chaotic attacks were unrefined, and their weapons fire was overwhelmed by the sheer number of Drakkars. The Black Suns were being forced back, with several of them already taking cover in excavated parts of the dig site itself.
On the other side of Saito, he spotted Mark tighten his grip on his halberd, and Mote leaning forward, as if preparing to enter the fight. But Saito simply held out his hand to signal that they should stay put. Triiant’s glare remained unbroken, but Saito could tell that he was tense. Part of Saito hated holding a non-hostile force hostage like this, but the other part of him knew the value of both Aldredian artifacts — particularly intact ones — and of the need to enforce SERRCom’s borders. Yielding to the Black Suns, the galaxy’s largest and most powerful PMC by far, could set a dangerous precedent for SERRCom sovereignty.
Eventually the conversational lull was broken by Commander Rabine, who’s attention was focused on the fighting by the dig site. “Sir,” she urged, “we need to act now.”
Triiant growled in response, his eyes still on Saito. “…You wouldn’t leave us behind.”
“I’d trust what the Colonel says,” Hackett interjected. “He’s no joker.”
Saito cast a glance toward the Major. ‘No joker,’ ha, he thought to himself as he fought the urge to smirk. She’s definitely seen through me.
The Siion bristled, but held his tongue. His eyes bore incredible fury, but he seemed to have grasped the situation and realized it better to cease his antagonistic attitude. “…Fine,” he eventually conceded. “…You can keep the armor.”
“Good!” Saito smiled and then turned toward the Eximius Vir. “You’re free to engage.”
“About fucking time!” Kate whooped as she materialized a pair of red and golden greaves around her feet and two large grenades in her hands, and then charged forward. “Let’s murder us some Drakkars!!”
“Kate! Don’t get careless!” Mote shouted after her. “…Damn it. Danielle, make sure she doesn’t accidentally kill anyone she isn’t supposed to. Mark! You’re with me!”
“Got it!” Mark and Danielle replied simultaneously. Mark then followed after Mote as Danielle transformed into a giant mech and dashed after Kate.
The four rapidly crossed the dig site and entered the battlefield, at which point an incredible bolt of lightning struck the ground around Mote, blowing away all of the trees within fifty meters of him and frying everything within twenty. Mark immediately bounded over him and slammed his halberd into a fallen tree trunk, imparting enough force to immediately split the entire trunk into two lengthwise halves. He grabbed one of the chunks, hoisted it into the air with one hand, and then hurled it through the air at a nearby Drakkar, nailing it in the head and sending it flying. Danielle, as a giant mech, snatched the Drakkar out of the air and then chucked it at the ground, completely overloading its energy shielding and splattering it in the process. She then stomped on another Drakkar nearby before opening fire with a 10mm rapid-fire gauss cannon mounted to her arm, tearing through the surrounding shrubbery and forcing the remaining Drakkars back under a hail of bullets. Mote seized the opportunity afforded by their distracted state to approach and remotely manipulate the voltage of the batteries in their armor, setting it to zero and therefore immediately shutting down all of their energy shields.
“Fire in the hole!!”
With little warning, a massive explosion erupted from deep within the forest, incinerating trees, dirt, and Drakkars alike within several dozen meters and flattening everything else within a hundred. Kate promptly came tumbling forward, thrust through the air by the blast wave; as she landed in a roll into a sprint, she fabricated half a dozen chunks of plastic explosive in her hands and began slapping them to the backs of the remaining Drakkars. Several of them attempted to grab her, but she managed to dodge all of them, save the last — which was then cleaved clean in two by Mark’s halberd.
“Mote!” Kate shouted toward the Electrotechnic, and then gestured toward the Drakkars she had tagged. “Light ‘em up!!”
Mote responded with a brief nod before holding his hand out toward the Drakkars. A streak of lightning jumped from his fingertips to each of the chunks of plastic explosive, detonating them and blowing the attached Drakkars to pieces. Danielle and Mark then rushed through the aftermath to chase down and deal with the remaining Drakkars.
From their location across the dig site, Triiant and Rabine watched the battle in awe.
“…I must admit, Colonel.” Rabine glanced toward Saito. “When I heard that you Earthians had a handful of Chaotics, I didn’t think they would be quite so… effective.”
“This isn’t even them at their best,” Saito responded airily. “I guess they’re using it as an excuse to let off steam. Normally a fight like this wouldn’t last two seconds.”
Triiant gave Saito an uneasy look. “…You’re bluffing.”
“Now now, Colonel,” Saito replied sagely, “I never bluff.”
“Hmph. I could believe some of what I’m seeing. But your Electrotechnic and Explosives Formtechnic are more powerful than they have any right to be.”
“You mean Mote and Kate? Ha! You just haven’t seen Mark and Danielle at their full potential, then.”
“I’m serious.” Triiant’s eyes narrowed again into a glare. “This level of power at their young age should only be possible with an Ayas.”
Saito frowned. “If you’re suggesting that they’re using any Ayas, then you’d be wrong. You as well as anyone should know that SERRCom only has one Ayas, and we sure as hell didn’t bring it with us here.”
“And even if they did, now isn’t the time to discuss the matter,” Rabine interjected as she turned away from the battle. “Colonel Saito, I understand that you’re willing to help us evacuate?”
“Our ship should have enough room for all of you,” Saito replied. “We can take you to the nearest Tier 5 world with a Gate and then send you on your way.”
“You have our thanks.” Rabine briefly bowed her head, and then glanced toward Triiant. “Right, sir?”
“…Yes,” the Siion begrudgingly admitted, and then turned around to leave. “…I’ll go gather my soldiers.”
“Make it quick,” Saito shouted after him, “we need to leave before that Cruiser approaches to within firing range!”
Triiant raised a hand in acknowledgment, but otherwise remained facing forwards as he left.
“Alright…” Saito turned around toward the rest of CSF-1. “Pack your bags, everyone. It’s time to leave.”
“Barely had any time to see the sights,” Captain Travis remarked.
“I-I saw something im-important, though…” MacTavish commented quietly.
“What are you talking about?” Rabine questioned, stepping forward to approach the group.
MacTavish shied away from her, but continued anyways. “…Th-the armor that, um, th-that Mote is wearing. J-just before we g-got here, i-it showed him a-another set of c-coordinates.”
Rabine’s face scrounged up in confusion. “’Another’?”
“Mm-hmm. I-in Dead Space—”
“Alright, MacTavish, that’s enough for now,” Saito interjected as he passed a surreptitious glance toward the Black Suns Commander. Rabine herself seemed reasonable, but he had no desire to leak information to Triiant’s chain of command — or even the Black Suns as a whole. “Let’s save it for the debriefing, shall we?”
MacTavish backed away, startled. “O-oh… w-well… okay…”
“This isn’t the first time you mentioned something about prior knowledge,” Rabine commented, and then crossed her arms as she stared at MacTavish. “Just what do you know? What information lead you here?”
“Like I said, let’s save it for the debriefing,” Saito insisted as he activated his communicator. “For now, we need to get out of here. Colonel Saito to Out of Hand, come in! We’re preparing for evac, standby for further instructions…”