Chapter 9 – Approach

5 Days Later

“Five minutes until we reach our destination!”

“Understood.” Chief Captain Krick nodded once before pressing a button on the armrest of his Captain’s chair, activating the ship-wide intercom. “Listen up! We’re about to drop out of Subspace. Secure your asses and any crap that’s still loose. If I hear about any microgravity accidents then so help me god, I will find who caused it and roast their asses! Captain out!” He then strapped himself into his chair before swiveling it around to face Colonel Saito and Commander Rabine, who both stood toward the back of the bridge. “You two had better strap in, or at least grab something. Last thing I need is floating bodies catapulting around my bridge.”

“The soles of my boots are magnetized,” Rabine replied, “I’ll be fine as is.”

“I’ll just rely on my grip,” Saito remarked as he casually grabbed a handlebar connected to the back of Krick’s chair.

The Captain glared at Saito’s hand and then passed him the stink eye. “You better hold on for your goddamn life then, Colonel. What I said about microgravity accidents applies to your ass, too!”

“Relax, I’ll be fine.” Saito simply waved off Krick’s concern before turning his attention to the large bridge window. Outside was the fuzzy grayscale gradient of Subspace, an alternate plane of spacetime that allowed spacecraft to travel at speeds far faster than light. Visually, it appeared not unlike the static on old analog televisions, except less energetic and with a heavy softening filter. But beyond that, Saito didn’t know much about Subspace, nor did he truly care to know; he was in charge of a ground team after all, so Subspace wasn’t his wheelhouse. Yet as he thought over the mission he was about to embark on, a simple question popped into his mind. “Is there Chaos Energy in Subspace?”

“You’d have to ask one of the nerds back at HQ,” Krick replied dismissively.

Captain Tang passed Krick an annoyed glance from her seat on the side of the bridge, and then looked back at Saito. “There has to be. Our Chaos Energy-based equipment functions perfectly well in Subspace.”

“I see…” Saito glanced over at Rabine. “You’re a Chaotic, right? Can you use your powers in Subspace?”

She shook her head. “I’ve never tried, and I don’t plan to. Historically speaking, Spacetechnics that attempted to teleport around a ship while traveling faster than light have… regretted it.”

“…Oh.”

“Amazing story. Now cut the chatter, we’re here,” Krick declared, just as the grayscale environment outside of the bridge window gave way to the deep black of real space. To the upper right was a planet that appeared to be visually similar to Earth, featuring the same blue oceans, green landmasses, and white wispy clouds.

Saito felt his body grow weightless as the ship’s anti-gravity systems shut down in the absence of Chaos Energy. He noticed several of the holographic displays toward the front of the bridge growing dark as well, as various sensor systems went offline, and the ship’s primary reactors adjusted their output to deal with the lack of Chaos Energy.

“Activate whatever stealth systems we still have!” Krick barked. “Even if we can’t use the goddamn ACS, I want something, damn it!”

“The RADAR dampeners are active,” Tang replied, “but it looks like that’s all we have.”

The Chief Captain scowled. “Damn. At least it’s something. Are the sensors picking up anything in local space?”

Origin dropped out of Subspace shortly after we did. They’re twenty kilometers away, and matching our course. The sensors aren’t picking up any other spacecraft.”

“Good. Then get to scanning that damned planet up there. Get Origin to hook into our sensors and boost the whole array. As we’re doing that, set us on a course for geosynchronous orbit. I want to be in and out of this shithole before the day is over!”

At this point, Saito checked out of listening to the bridge operations. He gave Krick’s chair a gentle push, sending him slowly floating toward the back of the bridge as he twisted around to look at Rabine. She responded with a raised eyebrow, but otherwise remained standing where she was, her boots magnetized to the floor and her arms crossed.

“So.” Saito offered her a small wave. “You ever run a mission in Dead Space before?”

“A handful of times,” she replied.

“Even though you’re a Chaotic?”

Rabine adopted a pained expression, the kind that Saito could only assume meant that she had heard his question before countless times. “Black Suns soldiers are trained for all manner of field duties, not just those that they excel at.”

“Is that so,” Saito responded as he grabbed a guardrail attached to the back of the bridge. “You know, I’ve never had the chance to ask. What’s it like, working for the Black Suns?”

“Should we not be focused on the mission?”

Saito made to respond, but then he caught the impatient look Rabine was giving him. It was at that point that he realized her question wasn’t sincere — she was just trying to shut him up. The hell’s up with her? he thought to himself warily, she seemed reasonable enough the last time we met

“Colonel! Get your ass over here!”

“What is it?” Saito questioned as he pushed off of the bridge wall to approach Krick. “You find something?”

“Much as I hate to say it,” the Captain growled, “…looks like that goddamned coordinate of yours panned out. We’ve picked up an old structure located in some foothills.”

Rabine slowly stepped up to Krick as well, taking each step slowly and deliberately to prevent herself from flying off. “You found something that quickly? We only just arrived.”

“That’s what I fuckin’ thought! Turns out, this stubborn son of a bitch is still active.”

“Still active?”

“That’s what I just goddamn said. The structure. Is still active. As in, we can see the goddamn infrared from its power systems, plain as day.”

“Is it Aldredian?” Saito asked.

“That’s for you to find out, not me.” Krick gestured toward the bridge holograms, prompting a map of the planet’s surface to appear. Two marks then manifested on the map. “The base looks like it’s 50 kilos out from the planet’s Interstellar Gate. We aren’t picking up any life signs anywhere, not matching any sapient life we know of at least. There’s only one big fucking issue with all this.”

“…Which is?”

“The building is covered in a beam-jamming field,” Tang replied.

“The whole fucking building, and a good two goddamned kilometers around it!” Krick scowled. “What a pain in the ass.”

“We are capable of walking that distance,” Rabine stated, and then passed Saito a challenging glance. “At least, my soldiers are.”

“Oh please. I could handle a two kilometer hike in my sleep,” Saito retorted, and then turned back to Krick. “Just beam us down outside the jamming field. We can investigate from there — after all, it’s just as you said. This is our job.”

“Tch…” Krick stared at the map for a few more moments before looking back at Saito. “Just know that if you run into trouble, then neither I nor Mendoza will be able to save your asses. You’ll be on your goddamned own.”

“You said that there’s no sapient life signs, right? And there’s no ships around here, either. That means no Drakkars.” Saito patted Krick’s shoulder. “Relax, we’ll be fine.”

“Even if there were Drakkars, they would be handicapped in exactly the same ways that we are,” Rabine commented as Krick swatted Saito’s hand away. “We should easily be able to handle them.”

“If you say so. It’s your asses.” Krick then gestured at the holograms again, at which point the giant map disappeared. “Get your teams together, Colonel, Commander. You should set up a secondary team to secure the Gate, too. Don’t want those damn blank-faced bastards sneaking up on you.”

Saito smirked. “It almost sounds like you care about us, Krick.”

“What I care about is Genesis’s spotless mission record. I’ll be damned if my first mission failure is because of some other dumbass’s decision! Now get going already, the less time I have to spend in goddamned Dead Space, the better!”

“Riiiight. Understood.” Saito rolled his eyes before pushing off of Krick’s chair toward the bridge exit and gesturing for Rabine to follow. “Well, let’s go see what fantastic artifacts await us this time, shall we?”

*     *     *

1 Hour Later

“And here we are. I believe that’s our victory, Colonel.”

“Pah…” Saito grunted as he stepped past the tree line and massaged his shoulder. He glanced back at the rest of his team, who were just behind him, and then turned toward Commander Rabine. Three other Black Suns soldiers stood with her, all four of them having beaten Saito and CSF-1 out of the forest from their planetfall location. “…Looks like it is, Commander,” Saito eventually replied. “It was close, though. We were right behind you the whole way!”

“But still, nevertheless, behind us.”

“In our defense…” Captain Travis raised his hand. “Your stuff seems a lot lighter than ours…”

“Let’s not start with the excuses already, Travis,” Saito responded, and then turned his back on the tree line, hands on his hips, to look at what lay in front of him. “We still have an ancient alien outpost to explore!”

Everyone present turned to look in the direction Saito was facing: toward the mysterious uninhabited structure detected from orbit. The massive building stood in the middle of a rocky clearing, slightly sunken into the ground compared to the forest around it. The remnants of an overgrown and heavily worn metal barrier surrounded the structure, though there appeared to be more collapsed or eroded sections than there were sections that remained standing — yet, the building itself seemed comparatively pristine. Its blackish silver walls bore no decorations nor painted designs as far as Saito could tell, but they were also completely clear of rust, overgrown plants, or any other signs of a long-abandoned building. In the center of the structure — which itself was vaguely circular and over a kilometer in diameter — was a massive tower, stretching nearly a kilometer into the sky. As with the rest of the structure, the tower was constructed out of a blackish silver material, but was otherwise unremarkable apart from its height. It was simply a massive cylinder, apparently stacked on top of a large disc of a building which itself seemed to be three or four stories tall.

Rabine stared up at the top of the tower for several moments. “…I don’t see any windows,” she eventually stated, “which seems rather odd for such a tall tower.”

“There’s a distinct lack of overgrowth on the building itself, considering the state of the surrounding wall…” Hackett passed Saito an apprehensive glance. “Did someone beat us here?”

“Neither the Genesis nor the Origin picked up any life signs, so that seems unlikely,” Travis replied.

“However, we’re currently in Dead Space. By your own Captain’s admission, the lack of Chaos Energy hampers your ships’ sensors.” Rabine gripped her gun as she looked back at the Earthians. “It’s possible that someone is here, and we simply haven’t detected them.”

“I agree.” Saito stepped up next to Rabine as he continued to look over the structure from afar. “…Hell, we don’t even know if this building is actually Aldredian. It’d have to have a hell of a maintenance system to last this long…”

“Which means that we must proceed with caution.”

“But we also can’t afford to be slow. We don’t want to keep our ships hanging around in Dead Space for longer than necessary.” Saito turned toward Rabine as he brandished his own rifle. “We should split up. Once we’re inside, I’ll take my team clockwise. You take your team the other way.”

Rabine nodded once. “Understood. Keep in constant contact while we’re in there.”

“Was just about to say the same to you.” Saito glanced back at the rest of CSF-1 and gestured toward the structure. “Alright, everyone. Let’s check this place out.”

1 Hour Later

“This place is givin’ me the creeps…”

“What’s the matter, Captain?” Hackett replied with a smirk, “haven’t found a good hidey hole to snipe from yet?”

“Hmph, I wish,” Travis retorted. “I prefer to be far in the back lines, watchin’ y’alls’ backs, providin’ cover fire… not sneakin’ around abandoned buildings. The Colonel wouldn’t even let me take a sniper rifle!”

“We’re searching a building,” Saito responded incredulously as he slowly approached a hallway intersection. He stopped in the middle and shined a flashlight down each corridor, illuminating the pitch-black areas. It was an abandoned building with no windows, after all — the flashlights each member of CSF-1 possessed served as their sole sources of light.

“I know, I know…” Travis sighed, as if reminiscing over a long-lost love. “Still… when you need someone shot from several kilos away, I’m your guy. But when you want to check out a creepy, abandoned, supposedly one hundred thousand year old building…? Well, I would pass, but I guess I wouldn’t get paid that way, huh?”

“You’re on CSF-1, Captain. I’d hope that you’re here for more than just the paycheck,” Hackett countered.

“The paycheck isn’t even all that great,” Saito added. “…But you had a good point with your second thought, Travis. The Aldredas disappeared over a hundred thousand years ago, right? So how the hell could this building belong to them?” When Hackett and Travis responded with shrugs, Saito turned his flashlight on MacTavish, who reflexively flinched away and shielded her eyes. “You’ve been pretty quiet,” Saito remarked, “any thoughts?”

“U-uh…” MacTavish turned toward the nearby walls, sweeping the beam of her flashlight across the surfaces and revealing nothing except more blackish silver material. “…I-I’m not sure… s-some kind of, um, uh… s-self-maintaining system?…”

“Over a hundred thousand years, though?”

“I-I don’t know…” She cast her eyes downward as she shrunk away from Saito. “…I-if we found a, um, a c-control room, th-then maybe…”

“Yeah, that could help a lot in figuring out what the hell this place is,” Travis commented. “Er, assumin’ it still works, of course.”

“On one hand, I’d be incredibly surprised if we were that lucky. I mean, a hundred thousand years? By all rights, this building should have collapsed and had all its traces wiped away by nature long ago,” Hackett replied. “On the other hand, Mote did find a set of working powered armor on the last planet we visited. So who knows, I guess.”

“Are we even sure that any of what we’ve found is actually Aldredian?” Travis questioned.

“Um, th-the first device we found had Al-Aldredian numerals,” MacTavish responded uneasily. “A-and th-the armor was, um, i-it was behind a door locked with, um, with Aldredian text.”

Travis frowned. “Still… the entire galaxy knows how to translate the Aldredian language, right? How do we know some prankster didn’t just set all this up long after the Aldredas disappeared?”

“We don’t. Not yet,” Saito answered. “But we might be about to find out.”

The other three members of CSF-1 all turned their attention toward the Colonel, and then to the room he had just stopped in front of. The room was pitch-black, just like the rest of the structure, so it was difficult to tell exactly what was contained inside — but a quick survey with their flashlights was enough to give everyone an idea of what they had just found.

“There’s consoles everywhere…” Hackett cautiously stepped into the room as she continued inspecting everything with her flashlight. “…Is this… the control room?”

“Or at least a room with a bunch of hardware.” Saito approached the far wall and pointed his flashlight at a massive lever. Above the lever was a series of symbols that he didn’t recognize. “…Hey, MacTavish, do you recognize this?”

The researcher scurried over to his side and adjusted her glasses before squinting and staring at the symbols above the lever. “…I-it’s Aldredian…”

“Can you read it?”

“Uh…”

Saito watched her fiddle with her glasses before they suddenly lit up brightly. Her normal glasses were simply a pair of regular vision-correcting lenses, but for the sake of their current mission, Saito had managed to requisition her an old pair of AR glasses with an Aldredian language cipher. The task was more difficult than he had expected, largely because the rest of the galaxy had moved toward widespread ocular implants instead of AR glasses, but as he watched MacTavish slowly scan the symbols on the wall, he was glad that he had bothered to do so. Otherwise we’d have to rely too much on the Black Suns, he thought to himself. The more we can do on our own… the better.

“I-it’s an activation switch…”

“Whoa, really?” Travis approached behind Saito and MacTavish. “What for?”

MacTavish squinted at the symbols above the lever again before frowning. “I-I don’t know…”

“Krick said the power systems were still active, so if we’re lucky, this will turn on the lights and the computers.” Saito grabbed the lever and began attempting to pull, but was met with incredible resistance. “Damn… this thing won’t budge!” He glanced toward Travis. “Captain, a hand?”

Travis stepped up to the lever next to Saito and grabbed hold. The two men began tugging it, futilely at first, but after a few moments a loud snap reverberated through the room and the lever slammed downward, prompting a brief shriek from MacTavish and sending Saito and Travis stumbling back.

“Colonel! Captain!” Hackett immediately pointed her flashlight toward the lever. “Are you alright?!”

“Uh, let’s see…” Travis began to pat down his body, and then glanced upwards as an electrical whirring began to fill the room. “…Uh… is that a good thing…?”

Almost immediately after his question, the room’s lights flickered on. Everyone reflexively shielded their eyes, but after getting used to the new light level and turning off his flashlight, Saito took another look around the room. It was a circle, with a slightly raised platform in the center and three long, curved consoles  standing around it. The room seemed to be around ten or eleven meters in diameter, with the raised platform itself having a diameter of three meters; the surrounding consoles stood another meter back. Along the walls were a number of switches and levers, similar to the large lever Saito and Travis had just pulled. Each of them were accompanied by a number of small lights, which Saito assumed to be status indicators of some sort. What status, he had no idea, but they were all slowly transitioning from a sort of dull gray to green, so he assumed that they were indicating an all-fine status.

«Colonel? Colonel, come in.»

Saito tapped his earpiece, activating his communicator in response to Commander Rabine’s voice. “Saito here. Something wrong, Commander?”

«The lights just came on where we are. Has anything happened for you?»

Just as she asked, the three consoles lit up, and a white holographic sphere appeared over the platform in the center of the room. The sphere then transformed into a map — on closer inspection, it appeared to be a three-dimensional map of the same facility in which they stood. “…You could say that,” Saito quipped. “We found what looks like some kind of control room. We pulled an activation lever, and it turned on the lights. Some of the computers, too.”

«You should have consulted me before pulling that lever.»

Saito rolled his eyes. He glanced over at MacTavish as she stared at the center hologram and then stepped up to one of the consoles, her eyes wide in wonder as she began scanning over the readouts that appeared; he then looked at Travis and Hackett, who were busy inspecting the hologram. “It’ll be fine,” the Colonel eventually responded. “We won’t be able to find out much about this place if we don’t turn shit on.”

Silence. Then, «very well. My team and I will continue our investigation of the rest of the base.»

“Sounds good to me. I’ll let you know if we find anything interesting.”

«As will I. Rabine, out.»

The Colonel sighed wearily as soon as the communication was cut.

“Something wrong, sir?” Hackett questioned.

Saito shook his head. “Oh, nothing. The Black Suns are continuing their investigation on the far side of the building. In the meantime, it looks like we’ve got a treasure trove right here…” He looked at MacTavish again, who was completely oblivious to him as she readily tinkered with the console controls. She then dumped her backpack on the floor and fished out a laptop, which she dropped on the console, opened up, and began rapidly typing away. Then she froze as she noticed Saito looking at her, her eyes wide, not unlike a deer in headlights.

“Uh… sir…?”

Saito shook his head and smirked inwardly. MacTavish may have been terrible with people, but Saito knew few others who were better at handling technology — particularly alien technology. “Nothing,” he eventually responded, “keep at it, MacTavish.”

“O-oh… okay…”

“In the meantime…” Saito rolled his shoulders before gesturing toward Travis and grabbing his gun. “Captain, you stay here with the Researcher. See what you can find from this computer. Major, you’re with me; let’s see if we can find anything else here—”

“W-wait, sir…” MacTavish continued typing for a moment before looking up timidly. “Um, i-if you’re going to, um, explore, th-then, uh… I-I think I can, um, download a c-copy of the, the map…”

“Oh. That sounds like it could be incredibly useful, let’s do that.”

“O-okay…” She dropped her eyes back to her laptop, her fingers flying across the keyboard.

“A map, huh…” Travis eyed the hologram in the center of the room with interest. “…Too bad it’s labeled in Aldredian, huh?”

“Ah, I-I can, um, ch-change that…”

A second passed; then, the map hologram in the center of the room disappeared, only to reappear a moment later with its labels translated into English.

“Wow, cool!” Travis remarked. “How’d you do that?”

“I-it isn’t, uh, too hard…” MacTavish muttered. “It’s mostly, uh, just the a-adapter hardware…”

“What’s here, anyways?” Hackett questioned as she approached the hologram to take a closer look. “Hmm… it looks like some kind of weapons-manufacturing facility.”

“Is that so?” Saito replied, “what kind of weapons? Anything useful?”

“…Looks like drones, sir. Automated ones. Might explain why the building is still intact, if it was maintained by a bunch of automated robots…” The Major then pointed toward the center of the complex. “I think this is the command core.”

“It’s pretty far from the power generators,” Travis commented, standing opposite the hologram from Hackett. “Though I guess this map confirms that the base runs on geothermal power, huh? Man, look at those magma chambers! …Hey, what’s this big opening below the command core—?”

In the middle of his sentence, the hologram flickered, and then disappeared. In its place appeared a generic sphere, over which a text box was displayed, containing Aldredian script.

“What just happened?” Hackett questioned warily, reflexively grasping her weapon as she began looking around the room.

“Uh oh… s-sir…”

“Hmm?” The Colonel turned toward MacTavish. “What is it?”

She looked up at him, her eyes wide — but this time, they were filled with worry. “I-it, um, i-it’s rejecting the, uh, the adapter. I-it wants a password…”

“Can’t you just hack around it?” Travis questioned.

MacTavish simply gave him a blank stare. “…Uh… n-no…? I-it doesn’t work like that…”

“See if you can find a way around it, or just brute force through it,” Saito suggested as he began approaching the room’s exit. “There has to be a way to—”

“There’s a t-timer!”

The Colonel stopped in his tracks before snapping his attention back to MacTavish again. “A timer? What for? How much time is on it?”

“U-uh…” The Researcher looked down and squinted at the console for a few moments. “…F-five seconds?”

“Five seconds?!” Travis exclaimed, “…well, hey, it’s probably just a simple lockout timer, right?”

As soon as the words left his mouth, half of the lights in the room shut off and the center hologram turned purple. A box with multiple lines of Aldredian letters appeared over the hologram, facing MacTavish, as all of the tiny lights next to the levers and switches on the walls slowly transitioned to purple and red.

“…Something tells me that you’re wrong, Captain,” Hackett muttered.

“MacTavish, what’s going on?” Saito questioned as he approached her side. He then looked at the hologram. “What’s it say?”

“U-uh oh…” MacTavish’s face drained of color as her eyes slowly swept across the holographic message. “Th-this is b-bad… r-really, really bad…”

What’s bad?”

“…I-it acti-activated a, u-um, d-defense protocol…” MacTavish slowly turned toward Saito, her eyes wide with fear. “I-it th-thinks that we’re in-intruders!”

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