2 Years Ago
Screaming, shouting… chaos.
Mote stood over the crumbled remains of what had once been an outpost administration building. Around him were the ruins of one of SERRCom’s first off-world settlements, crushed and crumbling, with little left worth to salvage. An eerie silence surrounded and washed over him, but in his head, he could still hear the frantic cacophony that had taken place barely an hour prior. A visiting Chaotic from the CSA had gone berserk, mindlessly ripping into their surrounding buildings with wild and unpredictable tendrils of water. Mote had never before seen such power unleashed; he knew that all Chaotics held within them the potential to go temporarily berserk, but neither he nor any of the other Eximius Vir had ever done so. Only now did he realize the kind of devastation a single Chaotic could unleash.
He looked off to the side, where the survivors were grouping up to gather food and water from the SERRCom emergency response teams. Fortunately, CSF-1 and the Eximius Vir had been visiting the settlement as well — in fact, the entire purpose of their visit was to meet with the CSA Chaotic. So the Eximius Vir were readily able to minimize the damage wrought, and were able to keep the casualties to a bare minimum, but even then… the decades of skill and experience in possession of the berserk Chaotic had been laid bare in their mindless rampage, and now an entire settlement was in ruins.
“Um… excuse me…”
Mote glanced over his shoulder, finding a young man stood behind him. The man was covered in dirt and seemed to have a few bruises, but otherwise appeared to be fine. “…Can I help you?” Mote questioned.
“Oh, no, you already did!” The man responded, the smile on his face one of both relief and sheepishness. “I just— er, I’m not bothering you, am I?”
“…Did you have something you wanted to say to me?”
“Uh, yes! I did, actually.” The man stepped closer. “I just wanted to thank you for what you and your team have done here.”
Mote stared at him incredulously. “…What? But the settlement was destroyed.”
“Sure, but the fact that no one died is practically a miracle! If the Eximius Vir hadn’t been here to save everyone, then…” The man stopped for a moment and shuddered, but then turned back to face Mote, his smile now one of gratitude. “…I just wanted to say, I don’t know what we could have done without you. Thank you!”
* * *
— Thursday, October 13th, AD 2129 —
“This is quite an interesting ship… I wonder exactly what its purpose is.”
“It seems rather straight-forward to me. It’s an attack craft. All of its systems are built around that purpose.”
“How can you tell? Can you read anything on the HUD?”
“No… I don’t have RTV implants. And even if I did, I don’t think they would help me read any information fed through the neural dive system.”
“Oh, right…” Mark trailed off, leaving Raenaros’s bridge in relative silence as Mote steadily piloted the craft toward one of the distant dormant Aldredian ships.
The two had been ordered to go check on the Black Suns team that had left Genesis to investigate the shipyard, as had several SERRCom away teams. Beaming seemed to work within the shipyard — the yard’s jamming fields merely prevented any beaming across the shield barrier, but Captain Krick remained paranoid that an enemy force might be able to beam inside the shipyard anyways. As such he was poised to activate Genesis’s own beaming jammer at a second’s notice, and mandated that all away teams be accompanied by a boarding craft in the event that they were caught off-board when the jammer activated. This mandate also meant that Mote and Mark were forced to physically travel to the Black Suns’ location instead of simply beaming there. Mote wasn’t fond of the wasted time, but the respite it afforded him wasn’t wholly unwelcome, either.
“So you can fly the ship without being able to read any of the displays?”
Mote sighed quietly; peace and quiet never lasted long in the presence of company. “Yes, I can,” he eventually replied to Mark’s inquiry. “The actual operation of the ship is fairly intuitive.”
“I guess that’s to be expected from a neural dive system,” Mark commented. “You say it’s an attack craft. How effective do you think it is?”
“Hard to say. My only engagement so far was in Dead Space, which left the ship crippled. It should be much stronger now, but there’s no way to test its limits without actually engaging in battle.”
“Right. …I’m just not sure what this ship is supposed to accomplish. It’s bigger than a fighter, smaller than a Frigate, and doesn’t have any heavy weapons… right?”
“Maybe. The only weapons I’ve found are the Chaos Cannons, and there are only two of those, so I’m inclined to agree that the ship isn’t that heavily armed. Although…”
After a couple seconds of contemplative silence, Mark prodded, “although what?”
“I’m not sure…” Mote thought back to when he had first docked Raenaros with the Dreadnought. After activating the Dreadnought’s basic systems and returning to Raenaros, Mote had found a number of new messages strewn across the Corvette’s HUD, but as he was unable to read them, he had no idea what they were saying. He simply assumed that they were status updates, but now that he thought about it, the ship seemed to handle slightly better now than she ever did before. That could just be because this is the first time I’ve flown the ship undamaged in regular space, he mused, but still, I wonder… “…I can’t be certain, but I think the Dreadnought may have improved some of the Corvette’s systems while they were docked together.”
“Oh? What makes you say that?”
“…Call it a hunch. That’s all.”
“A hunch? This is the second time in a week. That’s surprising, coming from you.”
Mote scowled. “So? What about it?”
“I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it,” Mark replied. “You’ve just never been the kind of person to rely on hunches before. Seems like our Aldredian treasure hunt has changed your mind.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. This treasure hunt has only proved that SERRCom is too eager to jump on vague nonsense like hunches, visions, and dreams as though they were fact.”
“Maybe. But you have to admit that, if not for your vision, we wouldn’t be here.”
“All my ‘vision’ has done is revealed a load of half-functioning ancient technology, and somehow convinced everyone that I’m somehow special. I’m not.”
Silence followed, giving Mote several moments to stew in his own irritation. Anything he could do, anyone else could do. Anything that happened to him, could happen to anyone.
“…Hey, Mote,” Mark spoke up almost half a minute later. “If there’s anything you want to talk about…”
“Why would there be? I’ve done nothing wrong, nor anything different than usual.”
“…I heard from Danielle about your spat with Kate.”
“What?” Mote pursed his lips in frustration. “No doubt you heard about her useless complaining, then.”
“Complaining?… So that’s how you see it?”
“So you’re going to side with her, then?”
“That’s not what I—” Mark cut himself off; Mote’s vision was still arrested by the neural dive system, so he couldn’t see Mark, but he could hear him sigh wearily. “You really do think that everything that happened to us was for the best, don’t you?”
Several more moments of silence followed as memories of Mote’s past flashed through his mind. An orphan for as long as he could remember, shunted from foster home to foster home, only half of the time able to remain with any of the other Eximius Vir. At seven years of age, his Chaotic abilities discovered in an accident that nearly killed the man taking care of him at the time. Being taken in by SERRCom, and Saito, and later Hackett and Travis; training his abilities, honing his skills to eventually be used in the field. Secret missions run for SERRCom against the Drakkars and interstellar criminals, and then, SERRCom’s reveal of the Eximius Vir to the world four years ago. And now, the exposure of more Earthian Chaotics, along with their conscription.
Frustration wracked Mote’s features, his fists reflexively clenching. “Of course everything that happened was for the best. It was the only way for things to happen. Chaotics are dangerous. Me, you, Kate, even the new recruits. Hell, remember the settlement on Dinya? The one that was demolished by a berserk Chaotic? Imagine if we weren’t there to contain the damage, or, hell, if one of us went berserk. Chaotics can’t be allowed to simply wander around, untrained. And the only means Earth has of training Chaotics, is to leave them in SERRCom’s hands.”
“I… understand where you’re coming from,” Mark replied slowly. “In fact, on a certain level, I agree. I don’t think you’re considering the entire picture, however.”
“What else is there to consider? Danger must always be eliminated. If someone is a danger to themselves or those around them, then they must be dealt with.”
“Yes, but there are still a number of different grades of ‘dealing with’ such an issue. Do you really believe that pressing children into military service is the best option to teach them how to use their abilities?”
“So you are siding with Kate.”
“I’m not siding with anyone. I’m just trying to present a valuable argument.”
“If you truly believed that SERRCom wronged us, then why are you still here, following their orders?”
Silence ensued for several seconds. “It’s… more complicated than that,” Mark responded, his tone carrying a hint of frustration.
“No, it’s pretty straight-forward. What SERRCom did was ultimately correct. We both know it, and so does Danielle, and Kate. All three of you could easily spurn SERRCom’s orders and disappear into the galaxy somewhere; hell, normal Chaotic containment procedures wouldn’t even work on us, since we can still use our powers in CENT fields and Dead Space! The only thing holding you back is yourself, and that’s because, deep down, you know that I’m right. That SERRCom is right.”
“I don’t even know where to begin to counter that. Mote, you can’t be serious. To pretend that this situation is so black-and-white is ridiculous! We’re talking about forced military service, here. Of children, no less!”
“The rest of the galaxy does it.”
“That’s no argument! Aren’t you the one always saying that we can’t rely on others, anyways? Why should we measure ourselves with the same meter that the rest of the galaxy uses?”
“It isn’t a matter of what’s right, it’s a matter of what’s necessary. The rest of the galaxy presses Chaotics into military training before they reach puberty. That means that their Chaotics have years worth of training at even a young age. If we want to be able to keep up, we have to match them — except in our case, I can count the number of Earthian Chaotics on my hands! Do you have any idea how massive a handicap that is? We have to take more drastic action, to compensate for our numbers — which are woefully lacking.”
“The galaxy isn’t playing a game of keep-up. We don’t need to match the CSA, or the Nimalians, or the Syraus in every facet of our military. We’re not going to war with them, they’re our allies!”
“There’s no guarantee that will always be the case.”
“Alright… alright.” Mote could hear some rustling behind him, as if Mark was shifting his position in his chair. “…Let’s step back a bit,” Mark suggested, “like I said earlier, I can understand where you’re coming from. I understand that you think what SERRCom has done is necessary. But do you like it?”
Mote scrounged up his face in confusion. “What?”
“I mean what I said. Do you like the life you’re living? If you had the choice, would you do something different?”
“Of course not. It would be irresponsible of me to do anything other than join SERRCom.”
“Okay, sure, but is that what you want to be doing?”
“Damn it, Mark, what are you trying to say?”
Mark paused for a moment to sigh. He then continued, “if you think about it, surely there are parts of your job here that you don’t like, right?”
Training sessions with the rookie Chaotics momentarily sprung to Mote’s mind. “…I suppose.”
“Alright, okay. Now imagine that you could have a job where you don’t have to do those things. You’d want to switch to that job, wouldn’t you?”
“Just pretend that doing so wouldn’t endanger any lives. For the sake of argument, if you must.”
“…Alright. What’s your point?”
“Now imagine that you can’t switch. Ever. You have to keep working your current job for the entire foreseeable future, despite being able to think of better options.”
“I don’t have to imagine that, that’s reality.”
“Exactly! Then you should know why Kate was so angry. It’s why I dislike conscription so much. It robs us of our ability to take our lives into our own hands, to choose for ourselves our own futures. Surely you’ve at least considered that.”
Mote scowled. “…I have, but it doesn’t change the fact that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
“Sure, perhaps. But can you at least understand that the few aren’t always going to be happy to sacrifice themselves for the many?”
“I’m not asking you to change your mind, Mote. Not necessarily. I just want you to understand where the rest of us are coming from when we disagree with you.”
“Tch… how did we even end up here? Weren’t you questioning my vision? What the hell does that have to do with conscription?”
Mark released an audible sigh. “…I’m just worried about you, Mote. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ever since we started on this scavenger hunt of sorts, you’ve been getting more and more irritable.”
“Because the whole world has decided that I’m unique, when I’m not. I’m nothing special, so far as Chaotics go.”
“But that’s the thing — you really are. Kate, Danielle, and myself as well; we aren’t typical Chaotics. Trying to convince yourself that we are will only lead to frustration.”
“And trying to convince yourself that we aren’t is the road to arrogance.”
“Assuming that everyone can do what you can do is its own kind of arrogance. It gives you a reason to look down on everyone around you, even though you stand on a pedestal. Not everyone can be measured against the same bar, nor should they be.”
Mote simply responded with stubborn silence. The sentiments Mark was sharing were absurd — Mote’s current skill and ability came from over a decade of training, experience, and hardship. It’s natural for anyone to become strong through such experiences. Sure, Mote was “special” in that he was a Chaotic while most Earthians weren’t, but there were still millions, if not billions of Chaotics throughout the entire galaxy. He couldn’t possibly be more unique than all of them. Anything he could do, they could do, if only they had more training or experience. Assuming otherwise — especially when doing so would run counter to literal millennia of established precedent — would be the epitome of excessive pride.
When his mind turned to the thought of pride, he inevitably reminded himself of Kate — and with that, of their argument a few days ago. While Mote fiercely disagreed with most of what Mark had to say, he couldn’t help but admit that Mark may have had a point in regards to Kate’s attitude. Mote still held that the Eximius Vir had a moral imperative to use their powers to aid SERRCom and Earth as a whole, but at the same time, he could see why Kate would react so strongly to her own conscription. There were times that he was given orders that he didn’t like, such as being forced to train the rookie Chaotics. If his entire job consisted of orders like that, then he had no doubt that his frustration might bubble over as well. He’d still follow the orders, of course; it would be wrong not to. But he could understand why someone wouldn’t like it. I suppose I might’ve been too harsh with Kate, after all…
A quick chirping noise brought Mote’s attention to the space around Raenaros. The Corvette had approached to within a few dozen meters of one of the smaller Aldredian craft, approximately the size of a Destroyer; Mote recognized it as one of the craft he had remotely activated earlier in the day. Docked against the side of the ship was one of Genesis’s small boarding crafts, indicating that there was an away team aboard.
“Looks like we’re here,” Mote commented flatly.
“Yeah…” Mark responded. “…At least think about everything I’ve said, okay?”
“Yes, yes…” Mote pursed his lips in impatience before activating Raenaros’s comms. “This is Lieutenant Emerson speaking. Black Suns team, please respond.”
A moment of silence followed before the response finally came. «This is Commander Rabine. Is something wrong?»
Mote quickly swept his view across the Aldredian Destroyer. Several lights on its hull glowed faintly, indicating that the ship was active, but little else about the craft stood out from its surroundings. “…No. We were just sent to check up on you. It’s been some time since you last checked in, if I understand correctly.”
More silence. Then, «I see. Everything here is fine. Are you piloting the Corvette right now?»
“I am. Why do you ask?”
Two seconds passed, at which point the loud clunk of a heavy metal object being dropped on solid metal flooring reverberated through the bridge.
With a scowl, Mote deactivated the ship’s neural dive and leaped out of the Captain’s chair, spinning around to glare into the room outside of the bridge — where Rabine now stood, next to a large piece of machinery. “The hell is this?” he demanded.
“It’s Aldredian technology,” the Commander replied.
“Well, yes, I know that, but—”
“One moment, please.” Rabine spontaneously disappeared into thin air; a moment later, she reappeared in the cabin with another large piece of machinery in tow, this one significantly larger than her.
“What? Stop!” Mote stomped past Mark over to the first piece of machinery as he glared at Rabine. “Who said you could transport Aldredian tech onto this ship?”
“I don’t recall anyone saying that I couldn’t,” the Commander responded. She then teleported into the bridge, allowing her to converse with Mote without having to shout over a mechanical blockade. “I understand that SERRCom is salvaging their own tech from the shipyard, are you not?”
“That…!” Mote glanced over at Mark, who simply shrugged. He then turned back to face Rabine, his arms crossed as he continued, “you still need to go through the proper channels. This shipyard is a shared find, after all. You have to at least tell us what this crap is.”
A coy smirk crossed Rabine’s face. “How interesting, to hear that claim from you.”
Mote pursed his lips. Don’t tell me she’s going to lord our own conscription over us? Damn it, if only I had been more vigilant. The Black Suns really can’t be trusted…
“At least let us contact Colonel Saito,” Mark suggested. “At the very least, we’ll be using our own ship to carry this tech around. We deserve at least some say in the matter.”
“…Fair enough,” Rabine admitted after a few moments of thought. “I’m curious to know if CSF-1 has discovered anything, as well.”
“Right. I’m sure you are…” Mote muttered as he returned to the Captain’s chair and re-initiated the neural dive. Once he was back in control of the ship’s systems, he opened up a new line of communication. “This is Lieutenant Emerson. Colonel Saito, do you read me…?”