This week we showcase a story from Steve Rzasa. Steve is the author of several science fiction novels and a Hugo award nominee for “Turncoat”, a short story published in Ride the Red Horse, an anthology of military science fiction and fact. His latest fantasy novel, “The Bloodheart”, comes out next month. Check out his website at http://www.steverzasa.com/.
“Patrol Craft 606” is a tale from the Albion Empire in Takamo Universe. Part one of a two part series is presented here. Part two will be posted later this week. Enjoy.
Patrol Craft 606
Lt. Den Blacksword leaned over the pilot’s shoulder, allowing him a clear view out the cockpit’s duraplex bubble. The asteroid filled their approach, a great lumpen ball of white and gray rock streaked with black organic deposits. Initial scans had pegged it high in precious metal content, and in ice deposits, both of which were essential to the survival of a roving habitat like Dawn of Albion. Protocol would have necessitated the dispatch of a tug, complete with refining facilities on board, and a pair of high-thrust, short range booster shuttles. The carvers and miners on the tug would begin processing the ores and cutting up the ice; the booster shuttles would attach themselves to the asteroid and redirect its trajectory through space until, within the next 48 hours, it crossed Dawn of Albion’s track.
That was the plan until the drone on station reported energy fluctuations from the supposedly dead asteroid.
Now it was Blacksword’s task to investigate. His command was Foxtrot Company, Sixteenth Battalion, 4th Royal Fusiliers. Fifty soldiers in the lower passenger bay awaited his orders to swarm the asteroid and root out the mystery.
They’d wait a bit longer, until Blacksword was satisfied every precaution was taken. “ETA to target.”
“Four-oh-nine minutes,” the pilot said. “Energy levels are stable, matching the drone’s scans. Never seen anything like it.”
Blacksword folded his arms. He wore a tight-fitting combat suit of dark gray laser-resistant weave, trimmed with the black piping of a Fusilier officer and flanked with white panels that signified a unit commander. His head was shaved bald, making way for the purple and black tattoos of the Blacksword clan. They stood out bold against pale skin. His eyes were brilliant blue. Just above his left ear, a sensor unit was plugged into a recessed socket in his skull, linked directly to his central nervous system. Tiny green lights flickered as the unit processed everything on the shuttle’s scanner readouts, an easy enough task for Blacksword to accomplish considering the cockpit was crammed full of dozens of screens, holo displays, and control surfaces. “Explain the readings.”
“They’ve been fluctuating, according to the drone’s records, sir. Some of the power signatures have been as low as those of a comp’s power cell, while others have spiked as high as a fusion generator. Right now, it’s barely a trickle—like a communicator’s battery. There’s no pattern I can discern yet; it’s got the shuttle’s comp pretty damn befuddled, too.”
“Well, keep at it. The girls at Data Intel couldn’t make sense of it either, and they’re the best in the Third Kingdom. Lord knows their comps are certainly the best tech on Albion.” Blacksword clapped the pilot on the shoulder. “Sig me when we have an approach vector.”
Blacksword left the tiny cockpit through a hatchway that opened into a long corridor. It was flanked on either side by small compartments—the head, or rather four of them, plus a cramped commissary with six chairs and a bench seat, were arrayed on one side while the opposite was packed with weapons and equipment lockers. At the tail end was a ladder that Blacksword descended into the bay.
“Officer on deck!” a sharp voice snapped. The murmur of conversation shut down and fabric rustled as the company all rose to attention.
“As you were.” Blacksword made his way between the men and women, nodding and smiling as he checked each one for the proper kit. If there were a power pack unsecured or a beacon poorly aligned, he’d spot it. His soldiers knew this, too—he saw nothing he’d have to chastise. “Report, Sergeant.”
First Sergeant Oro Farris saluted. She was equal in height to Blacksword, though three quarters his weight and much slimmer. Farris had blonde hair cut short, close to the nape of her neck, and pale brown eyes. She wore a similar uniform, minus the white sideboards and with checkered blue and green piping in place of the black. “Sir. Weapons check complete. I’ve briefed each platoon on their assignments; all five stand ready. As you requested, Heavy Weaps will move in first. Laser rifles are charged to full capacity.”
“Is there anything further about the target?”
“No, Sergeant, we’re as much in the dark as when we boarded ship. I expect answers soon.”
“Is this power signal manmade, sir?”
Blacksword took her aside, as privately from the other 48 men and women as could be managed in the low-ceilinged, tight cornered confines of the passenger bay. “It gives every appearance of being so,” he murmured. “Data Intel informed me prior to departure that it carries a specific signature—very close to the kind used by Cyber units in the war.”
Farris’s eyes widened. “They think it’s Cyber technology?”
“Some remnant, most likely. So you see, we must take extra care. I can’t imagine Cybers intentionally abandoning vital equipment. If the tales of old are true, they salvaged everything in the aftermath of a conflict—weapons, communications, supplies, power cells, even scraps of hull. Whatever is on this asteroid was not left willingly.”
“Permission to inform Heavy Weaps, sir.”
“Negative. This stays between you and me, for the time being. The orders stand—investigate, and confiscate, if possible. If a threat presents itself, we’re to escape and destroy it. Dawn of Albion is our priority, as ever.
“As ever, sir. Understood.”
The patrol craft was a wide-bodied vessel intended for both atmospheric and space duties. It sported a pair of glaring white floodlights on the bow, just beneath the bulging cockpit view port. The pilot shone both on the tail end of the asteroid, from a distance of one kilometer, illuminating in stark relief to the gray and black rock what his sensors had finally pinpointed.
There was a jagged cave entrance, and beyond that, the tarnished remains of a corridor.
“Metal’s unknown composition,” the pilot said. “Never seen anything like it, not in ten years on this job. Nothing’s coming up comparable in the databases. There’s a crystalline substructure that Albion doesn’t use, nor does anyone else with whom we’ve made contact, and that includes the Naplians.”
“It’s some kind of installation, then. Are you getting anything in terms of defenses? Active or passive sensor stations?”
“No, sir. Nothing’s up.”
“Send the drone around.” Blacksword took the co-pilot’s chair and linked his implant with the external sensors.
Farris stood behind him. She pointed at the drone, a six-meter cylinder studded with antennae and sprouting four close-in laser turrets. “It should have triggered defenses by now, Lieutenant, especially at less than a klick.”
“I’m well aware, Sergeant, but I’ll not send in my people until I’m certain.
The drone edged in to the corridor, navigating far in until all they could see from the cockpit were the triple bright blue flares of the drone’s ion exhaust ports. The corridor measured at four meters tall by five meters wide.
“Drone isn’t picking up anything out of the ordinary. If that power source is in there, it’s deep inside and it’s dormant,” the pilot said.
“Roger that. If it was going to trigger sentry defenses it would have done so by now.” Blacksword nodded. “Sergeant, prep four of our platoons. I want Fifth to remain back, under Sergeant Towernhall, to support the pilot and report back to Dawn of Albion if anything goes wrong.”
As the company was already on high alert, it took less than three minutes to get the four platoons of ten soldiers each fully suited for extra-vehicular operations. Blacksword sealed his uniform in an adaptive armor sheath with an atmosphere pack and power supply on the back, fitting tight to his clothing. He kept his mag-pulse fusil ready, with six extra magazines of forty tungsten core projectiles attached to the equipment belt. The helmet was a solid piece with a variable transparency screen in the front that gave him the ability to “see” as far as he could crane his neck.
“Go for orbital insertion,” he said into his helmet’s communicator.
“Roger that, go for orbital insertion. Good hunting, Lieutenant.”
The forty men and women divided into four platoons were gathered in staggered groups of three and four, facing the broad airlock doors at the end of the passenger bay. The lights went blood red throughout the bay; then, the inner airlock opened.
“Equipment’s strapped down, sir,” Farris reported.
Blacksword nodded, then keyed the override for the outer airlock doors. Alert lights flashed and holographic letters streaming around his field of vision warned, “Full bay depressurization in 15 seconds.” The patrol craft’s life support systems siphoned off all the atmosphere in the bay, and the outer doors split open, revealing the star-studded inky black of space.
The tail end of the asteroid was framed in the midst of those stars. The gaping corridor was dead center.
Blacksword pushed off into space, using the maneuvering thrusters on his wrist and belt to orient himself. With Farris at his side and the eight soldiers of First Platoon at his back, he flew swiftly across the vacuum to the corridor.
“Sir, this whole edge looks blast damaged,” Farris said, her voice scratchy over the communicator.
“There’s thermal distortion around those edges, possibly from a plasma beam.”
“I see it. The couplings on the underside of the corridor’s deck plates have all been neatly severed.” Blacksword used his sensor unit to highlight the points of the cut, and fed the data back to the patrol craft’s comp for analysis. “Distance to the drone?”
“Thirty oh six meters. Drone reports no alert systems or automated defenses. No life signs. The power signal has gone dormant.”
“Understood.” Blacksword switched frequencies. “Blacksword to PC Six-oh-Six, any news on our power source mystery?”
“Negative, sir. Shall I recall the drone?”
“Let’s do. No sense having it clutter up the corridor. Blacksword out.”
First Platoon reached the corridor, its members spreading out into a defensive stance; three men with laser rifles crouched at the front. Two soldiers with mag-pulse fusils were paired with each laserman, Farris included. Blacksword as the even man out assigned himself to Farris, her laserman, and two Fusiliers named Glidden and Canderspell.
The drone cruised silently out of the corridor, white puffs of its bow thrusters pushing it out. It traded places with the incoming platoons, as Second and Third leapfrogged each other, bounding in the near-zero gravity to secure more of the corridor. Not until the drone was out of the corridor and half a klick clear of the asteroid did it ignite its ion drives in brilliant blue flares.
Once all units were in position, Blacksword routed all position data on his 40 soldiers to his personal sensor unit. “All right, let’s make this quick and precise. Sensors show sets of corridors branching on three levels—this one, one above us and sixty meters ‘east,’ and another below us and fifty meters ‘west.’ Second, you secure the corridors system below. Third Platoon, take the one above. First will secure this level. Sig silence until objectives are cleared or hostile contact encountered. Move out.”
The platoons fanned, using thrusters to ease into the depths of the corridor. Third platoon angled up and to the east, following a sharp bend on the right into a darker corridor that banked up. Platoon leaders including Farris released palm-sized globes that glowed pale yellow. They drifted along like fireflies, ridding their environs of all but the darkest shadows.
Blacksword was on point, with Farris guarding him, when his communicator activated. “Go.”
“Sir, I have a spike in power levels. It’s on your level, range—it’s difficult to tell, between a hundred and three hundred meters.”
“That’s a big swath.” Blacksword and Farris cleared a room off the corridor—benches, empty cabinets, nothing else. It was stained with coolant and riddled with frost.
“Yes, sir, but I can’t narrow it any further. Be advised, power levels are consistent with those of a drone’s backup power cells.”
“That’s substantial. Route me the feed from the ship’s sensors. Keep us advised. Blacksword out.”
They cleared a half dozen more rooms without incident, finding nothing but bare storage facilities and abandoned barracks. Whatever the asteroid had been, it was a graveyard.
“There’s not much here, Lieutenant,” Farris said. “Can’t say we’ve found anything of greater import than a door motivator.”
“It certainly fits with the Cybers’ reputation for stripping down abandoned posts.”
“I’ve got nothing back from the comps on this metallurgy.” Farris rubbed a gloved finger along the wall, her light globe making the crystalline bands shimmer. “It’s big on error messages.”
“I count that as equally promising, Sergeant.”
An alert flashed in Blacksword’s helmet readouts. The power level indicator shared by the patrol craft spiked high—and its proximity increased dramatically. At the same moment, the pilot cut in on his communicator’s emergency frequency, his panicked tone distorted. “…closing! Repeat, energy lev… consistent with discharge of plasma…”
“Down!” Blacksword shouted . . .
To be continued.
What does this mean for Takamo Universe players?
Stories, data fragments, items and personalities in stories are all content that players may encounter in the game. The acquisition of the content will permit the discovery and use of new items and technologies in the game. They may also be used as clues for hidden artifacts and knowledge throughout the galaxy.