Most Honorable Dwamak
- Aug 12, 2009
Chapter 5: Infiltration
Olympia Prime, Olympia system
Olympia Prime was considered the Bahamas or the Hawaii of Terran Federation, located at the edge of the border. With tropical ocean climate more pleasant than Earth, it became the prime destination for vacations. Numerous resorts levitated over the calm horizon of the ocean, traveling to and from the beauty spots. At least before the Contingency. Then it became the staging ground for the Terran Interstellar Marine Corp, and Planetary Defense Force.
Its pristine white beaches and grand floating resorts used to bustle with the members of the armed forces. Now, with the looming Estwani threat approaching ever closer to home, they became empty as the servicemen reported for duty. Only few scattered synth servants could be seen tending to the abandoned infrastructures.
Music eerily echoed throughout the empty lobby of the resort. Outside the large window, over the horizon of the blue ocean, a Titan appeared as big as the moon, partially obscured by the white clouds.
Admiral Moreau and her brother sat across from each other at a table overlooking the shore, both in their off-duty clothes. She stared at him silently, but fiercely. Whereas her brother looked around awkwardly, unable to keep the eye contact. He eventually took a deep breath and finally spoke.
"You should go back."
"No," she bluntly replied.
He sighed and said, "Remember the tar pit behind the foster home, where we dared each other to see who would jump in first?"
"Remember how I jumped in and almost drowned--"
"And I almost died trying to save your ass. What's your point?"
"Just saying, old habits die hard."
Alex sat quietly for a moment, squinting her eyes.
"Well, you are here because of me, aren't you?" Mike said. "I promised myself that I will never put you in harm's way again, since then."
She looked up, holding back some of her emotions. Empathy and rage. But mostly rage.
"You being here... makes my job harder. Now I feel like I have to turn around to see if you are okay. Now I have to second guess my every move," he bluntly said. His tone grew cold. "You are not a soldier like me."
"Oh, you have no idea," she replied. "Do you think, because I'm an intelligence officer in the navy, that I don't know how to fight?"
"You are not battle enhanced like me. In battle you need speed, reflexes, stamina and strength," he retorted like he would to the defiant and undisciplined new recruits.
"Oh, don't you lecture me about what I need!"
"You are an erudite, sis! You chose that life as I have chosen mine. Now back off!"
The pair's bickering boiled over to a point where the synth clerk at the front desk hesitated to leave its post to calm them down. The arguments eventually stopped however, and the music could be heard again. They both silently looked outside the window, towards the Titan growing larger and taller as it rose up from the horizon.
"That's my ride," Alex said and both got up from their seats.
FSS Atlas, Orbit of Olympia Prime
"From what I hear, you aren't supposed to be here, Moreau."
Grand Admiral Palmer, leading the vanguard of the unified Terran fleet above Olympia, was a veteran of the early Bilnoc conflict before the Contingency and the return of the Estwani empire. He was 121 years old. He may be frail, but his mind was still sharp enough to lead his ships into battle. President and now a Consul, Dugalle, trusted him with the defense of the border. He was known to be a logistician, and therefore strict with the enforcement of the military codes, and was a textbook tactician. But even so, the navy knew he needed fresh and unconventional minds to fight against the foes as powerful as the Estwani. He welcomed Moreau onboard the Titan, but tested her limits.
The Admiral's study was filled with relics, trophies and awards, as old as himself, but one thing that caught the eyes of Moreau was a hollowed skull of a Bilnoc. Only a hardcore xenophobe would keep around a skull of a sentient being, she thought.
"For your brother, yes?" Palmer cut her off. "You do know, we do not tolerate familial issues to get in the way of service."
"I'm fully aware," she hesitantly replied.
"Your friendship with the president doesn't mean shit, as long as you are embedded in my fleet. Don't think that you will get your way. Do you understand me, Captain?"
"Now, report to the commander of the ship. She will fill you in on our situation."
"Sir, I have one last request."
"What the hell did I just tell you?"
"... I will report to the commander right away."
"Get out of my sight!" Palmer barked from behind his desk. "Damn youngsters."
Commander Zhi had a completely different personality than Palmer. She was composed and much younger, and Moreau could tell Zhi had more patience. Moreau wondered how the pair worked. In her knowledge, Palmer was stationed on FSS Atlas, Titan, for more than 5 years. Just as long as Zhi had been commanding the ship. They just didn't seem like the ones to click. She almost felt bad for Zhi.
"Captain on deck," Zhi said as Moreau emerged from the entrance to the bridge. The officers got up and stood at attention, and sat back down in their stations without a word.
"Welcome to Atlas, ma'am. It's an honor to have you here with us."
"Thank you, commander. As you were," Moreau replied and paced around the holographic virtual battlespace several officers were studying.
"Again," an officer said, when the blue blips, representing the Terran fleets, were about to be flanked by the red blips, representing the Estwani. The simulation turned off and reset. When it restarted, there were more red blips than before. The Terran fleets were heavily outnumbered.
"Destroyers advance," the officer said. "Slow Atlas and all battleship lines."
The officer gave commands to the simulation as Zhi and Moreau observed. The outcome was the same. Destroyers were flanked by swarms of Estwani strikecrafts and were destroyed, and then eventually the capital ships, despite the best efforts by the Terran strikecrafts to assist them. Moreau was impressed by how accurately they captured the NIS's intelligence on the Estwani fleet into the simulation.
The officer sighed and said, "Again!"
"Wait," Moreau stopped the officer. Zhi and the others looked on with curiosity. "You've got all these destroyers armed with point defense. Why send them in and not the corvettes to secure the flanks and swarm them?"
"We can't, ma'am. Admiral's orders," Zhi replied.
"He says we'll need the corvettes to escort our capital ships. He expects the enemy escorts to swarm on us."
"So he's willing to sacrifice the destroyers? For what?"
"We tried to reason with him ma'am," the officer said. "We have to play this out by his book, and make it work. That's what we are trying to figure out."
"We don't have time for this bullshit. Lives are on the line," Moreau said. "Every destroyers they down, thousands of lives are lost."
The officer shook his head apologetically.
"May I speak to you, privately?" Zhi asked. The other officers eyed them both, knowingly. Moreau nodded and followed her outside.
"What is it?" Moreau asked.
"It's Admiral Palmer. He's not the same," Zhi whispered with worry.
"Can you be more specific?" Moreau squinted her eyes, trying to figure it all out.
"Few days ago, I was waiting outside his quarters when he had a call from Grand Admiral Yamato."
"The reformist?" Moreau asked and Zhi nodded.
"They talked for a while, but I couldn't make out the conversation. All of a sudden, Admiral Palmer began yelling. He was angry and spoke all kinds of gibberish. Something about perversion of the mind," Zhi looked around the corridor suspiciously and continued. "When it was all said and done, I went inside to speak to him. He was a completely different man. I couldn't recognize his tone of voice, his posture... I know I sound crazy, but this was not the man I served with for years on this ship."
"Perversion of the mind... huh?"
"That's the only thing I caught. The rest, I think he was speaking in New Odessian dialect, which I am not familiar with. But I've traveled around the stars long enough to know how socialites sound like."
"I still don't know if I have the right to be the judge of anything that goes on around this fleet," Moreau said.
"Please, captain... he's losing his mind. It's gotten worse, and this battle is so important for all of us. I can't lose my men because of Palmer."
"Those words could put you in court."
"I apologize. I just don't know what to do," Zhi said. "His strategy... it's insane. We can't push our escort destroyers against them like how he suggested."
"I concur. It's like throwing bodies against the waves. It's a brash move, almost as if..." Moreau stopped mid-sentence.
"He wants to lose," Moreau said in realization, but Zhi seemed confused. "Perversion of the mind!"
Zhi gasped and trailed off, "You can't mean..."
Moreau barged into Palmer's quarters, flanked by naval security officers.
"How dare you come in here!" Palmer yelled and pounded on his desk.
"Admiral Palmer, please come with us, sir," one of the security officer said.
"Do you know who I am, son!? I will have you locked up for this! This is my ship, MY FLEET!"
"Sir! Calm down!" officer said.
"You will get nothing from me!" Palmer screamed until his voice began to break. He foamed at the mouth like a mad dog. "A god is coming, you will all die!"
Moreau noticed a slight flicker from Palmer's eyes. Something about his eyes weren't familiar. When she stared into them, she realized his irides weren't human.
"Be careful, boys," she quietly said, struggling to find words. Her words were drowned out by the mad laughter of the old admiral. Things took an even stranger turn when the admiral's feet seemed to be off the ground. Moreau looked down to check her feet, making sure the artificial gravity was there and she wasn't imagining it.
"What the f..."
Suddenly, the laughter stopped. As the officers approached to apprehend him, the admiral spoke calmly.
"So this is a Terran," he said with a darker tone of voice, and looked down and around at his own body and limbs. The officers froze in place, unable to move. Neither could Moreau.
"For hundreds of centuries, I have yet to meet an interesting species so close to the potential of the Shroud, until now. Close, but not close enough. How disappointing."
"It's you, isn't it?" Moreau thought, but couldn't speak. "But how? You are half a galaxy away."
She felt unusually calm and thought clearly, even though she couldn't move and knew she should panic. She also felt mentally linked to Palmer, which was an unnerving sensation.
"This universe is nothing!" Palmer barked out loud, smiling. "You are all but a step away from me in the Shroud. I am all around you. There is nothing in this universe that I can't grasp. Compared to my dominion, this world is insignificant."
"Why don't you kill us all and be done with it, if you are so damn powerful?" Moreau thought.
"Your very existence fuels me with more power!" Palmer yelled.
With a sharp pain in her head, she saw the infinity unfold before her. She flew at high speed, across the flat planes. The skies above and below were violet, lit up with lightning behind silhouettes of dark storm clouds. Was she going up, forward or down through the seemingly endless fall through the storm? She did not know. Eventually she sped up, and the two skies closed in, becoming narrower. Then she traveled at the speed of light, and both planes merged until she could see nothing but blackness and white light at the center she was falling towards. She felt as though she flew for years. Thousands of years, perhaps. Maybe millions of years. Forward or back in time. Then, with a sudden stop from the speed of light, she felt an enormous weight on her chest which crushed her every particles, down to her atoms. Moreau shattered into nonexistence, and like a spring, the leftover force pushed her back into reality. With a tremendous energy, she was flung across from where she stood and splat onto the wall, leaving a crater. She gasped for air and her visions blurred. Moreau's matter and blood held her on the wall for a while, but eventually came down. Her hair painted the wall with trails of blood and meat, like a brush. Every ribs in her were crushed, puncturing her lungs, liver, and multiple arteries around the heart. Areas behind her skull broke open, exposing the pulp of the inflamed brain wanting to spill out. Within a short moment, she was quite sure that more damage had been done to her body than she thought. Her consciousness then slipped back into darkness, with faint ominous laughter in the background. She had died. This is what death is.
"AAAAAAH!!!!" Moreau screamed as she woke. She found herself standing in Palmer's quarters. The two officers she had brought along were tending to her. They were both caked in blood.
"Ma'am, are you okay!?" one said. "You were unresponsive for a second."
Moreau couldn't speak, and the voices were muffled by the ringing in her head. She dropped to her weak knees. Her body shook uncontrollably. Before her laid a lifeless body of Admiral Palmer, missing a head. But she hardly cared.
"We need medical team down at section E7, admiral's quarters immediately. There's been a psionic attack on the senior officers. I repeat..." the other officer spoke into his comm, and then the alarms went off all around.
"Help will be here soon. Sit tight, captain." then, the pair left her. She silently mouthed, "don't go."
It didn't take long for her to gag and vomit, and lose consciousness on the cold floor once again.
Medical wing, FSS Atlas
Moreau couldn't remember much prior to waking up in the medical bay. She vaguely knew she had died. In her mind, anyway. But it was visceral and felt real. It wasn't like any nightmares her erudite brains ever had, which usually suppresses them. Whenever she would close her eyes, she could see the mystical and hellish scape of the Shroud, burned into her vision like a branding. She felt jumpy and had to look around to see if anyone was present to harm her. But all she saw was her brother, sound asleep in a chair next to her bed.
"Captain Alex Moreau, genetic preset sequence ID Y dash 3 3 4 6 2 9. Subject's neuron patterns indicate a traumatic experience, but the genetic preset seems to be restoring her to normal functions. However, memory erasure is highly recommended for the sake of morale," a man in a officer's uniform spoke into his comm, leaning against the wall. He eyed Moreau knowingly and smiled.
"Welcome back, captain," he said after turning off his comm. "I'm Colonel Schmidt, medical officer for the marines. I will monitor your conditions until Dr. Taylor arrives from Mars. Courtesy of the president--I mean Consul Dugalle."
"Dr. Taylor?" she asked, her voice cracked and weak.
"You may not have heard of him, but he's an interesting one in the world of medicine. A bit unconventional. He's a xeno neurologist, expert in the school of theoretical psionic studies."
"A what?" she asked, disoriented. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"Well, its practitioners are very rare for obvious reasons," Schmidt loomed over her. "Anyway, for now, your neurons are healing, thankfully. They've been under a lot of strain in such a short time. But not to worry, your genetic preset is designed to be tough, you should be fine. As for your mind, well, that's up to Dr. Taylor."
"I can't stay like this," she said, getting up from the bed.
"You are out of my jurisdiction, so I can't stop you. Would I, if I could? Yes. Definitely," Schmidt replied, unusually enthusiastic as if there was no upcoming battle to worry about. He almost had Moreau convinced.
Moreau stared at him with a raised brow.
"I totally understand. Your obligation is very important. But so is mine, captain," he said and walked out of the medical bay. Another medical officer soon stepped in. This time, he was navy.
"You are not going anywhere, captain," the doctor said, frowning.
"Damn it..." she whispered.
"Huh? What?" her brother woke up. "Where do you think you are going?"
"Oh, great..." she rolled her eyes and laid back down in the bed.
Hermes System, Array Bravo, Sentry Array Service HQ
The command center of Array Bravo was the busiest out of all other sections of the Sentry Array. They were responsible in monitoring the Estwani movements at all times, and advising the unified Terran fleet and the NIS. Array Gamma came in as close second, as monitors of the Contingency threat. The large chamber was filled with bright screens showing statistics, galactic maps, and visuals of the large Shroud beast accompanied by the Estwani fleet and Colossus, jumping stars after stars, getting closer to Terran home.
One operator at his station stared into his monitor screen, with his comm ready just in case of any new developments. And before his eyes, the Estwani fleet disappeared. Comm chatters intensified with panic, and the room was lit in red with alert messages across all the stations. "Warp signature," it read.
"Where did they go?"
"Find them now!"
"Umm guys?" a naval officer on break stared out the window, into the darkness of space. "GUYS!"
All the operators turned around and rushed towards him. Their jaws dropped. Outside, they witnessed a bright ghostly being ahead of them.
"EVACUATE THE ARRAYS, NOW!" the officer shouted, and the operators screamed and scrambled in panic.
He kept a cool head and ran towards the nearest monitoring station and spoke through its comm.
"They are he--"
Suddenly, all the screams and movements subsided in an instant. It was as if time itself had stopped.
Hermes System, Starbase Citadel
Commander Jameson puffed on his cigar, his collar unbuttoned. He swung the golf club in slow motion, then readjusted his feet and back, shaking his behind. He raised the golf club to swing again, and almost tripped when his lieutenant's hologram appeared before him.
"What the hell!?" Jameson yelled.
"Sir, they are here! They are here!"
"Damn it, calm down!"
"The Estwani fleet is here!"
The commander looked serious for a while. He laughed.
"That's a good one. I'll let this intrusion pass," Jameson said and returned to his posture.
"Sir! This isn't a joke, it's serious!"
"Alright, that's enough. I know you want to be transferred but this isn't the way to go about it. Now quit shoutin' and get out of my office," commander said and shook his head. "Pfft. Estwani fleet? So deep in our territory? Yeah right."
The lieutenant huffed loudly out of frustration and ended the holo.
"Sir, now what do we do?" a crewman asked the lieutenant back at the command center.
"What do you think? Sound the alarm, and I want all hands on deck!"
"But only the commander can--"
"Do as I say or we'll all die. Your call!"
The crewmen hesitated and got back to work in their stations. Finally, the alarm blared across the starbase and its weapons activated.
"Sir, our shields are not on..."
"What the hell do you mean!?"
Thousands of engineers in the engineering sectors casually went about their business, making sure everything was in working condition. Everything worked except for the shield generator, which was on routine maintenance. The engineering crew in charge of the shield generator rotated the shift, instead of rushing to get it fixed. Half of them slowly worked on it, while the other half played cards and watched a synth gladiator match in the breakroom. There were no set quotas. When the alarms sounded, they stood silently for a while.
"Xeno invasion confirmed. All hands to battlestations. This is not a drill," a voice spoke from the speakers. The engineers threw down their cards and ran outside.
Half of the entire crew had gone on leave or been redeployed to the frontlines. The station was practically run by skeleton crews. No one had expected the war to come so deep in Terran space, so early and without warning.
Earth, Presidential Palace
Dugalle's large command center, located in the subterranean levels of the presidential palace, was alive with activity, particularly the arguments among the dozens of senior admirals and generals. Dugalle's new council.
"Consul, we must deploy the 7th and 8th fleet, as well as the Capitol Guard--" a general spoke, only to be cut off by an admiral.
"Are you insane!? That's all of our reserves. We need them to secure our borders against the Lox."
"We are not at war with the Lox. Our boys on the ground need fleet support. Land invasion on the orbital habitat is imminent!"
"Consul, I suggest we lure the enemy fleet to Alpha Centauri. We have habitats there that are better prepared, ready to fight to the last man. They will delay the enemy while the unified fleet turns back to intercept them," another general suggested. The officers shook their heads and scoffed in disbelief.
"Alpha Centauri!? You want to endanger the lives of billions of our citizens!?"
"Alpha Centauri is the heart of our republic!"
"They are already at the heart of our nation. Wake up!"
"I have made up my mind," Dugalle said, and the room grew quiet. "Turn the fleets around. Deploy all reserves. Order the local habitat to brace for possible invasion. We will cut them off and crush them where they are."
Immediately the officers opened their comms and dispatched their orders.
"Sir, if we turn our fleets, our flank will be exposed to the second Estwani wave. And we don't know if the habitat in Hermes system could hold until the unified fleet arrives," an admiral said.
"Then they will have to hold, won't they?" Dugalle replies.
A general sighed and began, "It's risky, but if that's what you think should be our course of action, then I will not complain. But we should at least send the best man for the job."
"And who do you have in mind, general?"
"You won't like it sir. Retired General Markovics."
The officers quietly gasped.
"The Butcher? Responsible for a million Bilnoc civilian deaths?"
"He may be a war criminal, but he could get the job done."
"Would he be willing? After everything we've done to that man? I mean, we made him take the fall for the galactic council, after all."
"We can get him out of Tartarus penal colony, and get him aboard a stealth transport, sneak past the Estwani. We could offer to reduce his sentence to convince him. Just say the word sir, and he's yours."
Tartarus Penal Colony, Hades System
"Work hard, and earn the freedom that you don't deserve!" Propaganda blared across the skyline of the crowded and rugged district. Above, the red star blazed, scorching the golden plains of sand and dirt. The shanty town part of the district provided occasional shade, where crowds gathered to shelter themselves. On the street level, rows of convicted miners, escorted by enforcers, marched on to the direction of the mine transports to fulfill another day of repaying their debt to society. While in front of a building, a group of enforcers breached a suspected drug lab, sponsored by a xeno cartel stars away. No one paid much attention to it, as it happened regularly.
By the entrance to one of the housing complexes was a well-built topless man, casually sitting in a chair biting down on a fat cigar and skinning a local wild critter with a knife. The xeno neighbors didn't seem to mind as they passed by. But some had fear in their eyes. His dogtags dangled from his neck, drenched in the blood of the animal.
He nearly hacked off the critter's head, but he stopped and looked up when an armored prisoner transport vehicle rolled in and the enforcers emerged from it. One of them took out a scanner and aimed it at the man's disgruntled and tanned face.
"Look, I already told you assholes. I didn't kill those shrimps. I thought it was settled with the district warden."
"That's him," the enforcer said, completely ignoring the man. Then another man emerged from the vehicle, wearing a uniform the convict had recognized. His frown faded. He almost teared up. It was a sight for sore eyes.
"I haven't seen your type in a long time. I miss it. What the hell is the army doing here anyway? The nearest fort is that way."
The uniformed man stood at attention and gave a firm salute.
"Whoa whoa, no need to salute me soldier. I'm nothing more than a criminal and an old man."
"General Markovics, sir! The consul is willing to pardon you if you accept your reinstatement!"
"Wha-what did you just say?" Markovics dropped the knife and the creature, and slowly got up from the rusted chair. The enforcers stepped forward cautiously.
"You are being reinstated sir!" the soldier said, staying firmly at attention.
Markovics breathed fast with excitement, but he frowned and said, "There's a catch, isn't there?"
"You are to be immediately deployed to Hermes system, sir!"
"To that backwater? They really are out to destroy me, aren't they?"
"Sir... the thing is... the Estwani--"
"The Estwani!? I knew we were fighting some xenos, but them? Why the hell are we fighting them!?"
Markovics only knew a fraction of what was unfolding before the Terran Federation, due to the information quarantine imposed on the penal colony. The occasional rumors of internal politics were considered a rare commodity, heavily regulated by the penal colony.
"This world's gone insane. I like it," Markovics said with a wide smile and slapped the soldier's arm. The soldier gulped, nervous.
"Now, you go tell that son of a bitch Dugalle that if he wants my service, I am to be deployed on the front lines. Is that understood!?"
"Sir... Hermes is the front line."
There was a moment of silence.
The soldier's eyes moved around nervously, trying to avoid eye contact as reddened Markovics drew in closer to his face. Markovics whispered, "Do you know how hard my men and I fought during the Bilnoc wars, so youngsters like you could be spoon-fed? And now, here you are, telling me that the xenos are inside our home."
"S-sir, it's-it's not like that--"
"I've heard enough," he said, turning away. "If you idiots need a man like me, then this country's going to hell."
Markovics chuckled and shouted aggressively at the building, "I will miss you all!"
The observing xenos, startled, hurried back into the building.
"Sir we need to go, now."
"Let me go get my gear!"
The enforcers and the soldier looked at one another, baffled.
"I thought weapons aren't allowed here," the soldier asked and the enforcer shrugged.
Hermes Fortress habitat, Hermes system
Sirens and murmuring crowds filled the streets. A wide eyed child suckled her thumb in her father's arm, while he struggled to make sense of everything. He stood there with a bag in hand, looking up to the blackness beyond the atmospheric frames of the habitat. His wife then took the child to comfort her, and he hesitantly took his eyes off the void. He continued to pack his shuttle with bags of supplies and other belongings. The child began to cry when the sirens got closer and louder, and the grounds shook with military vehicles slowly passing overhead.
"This is the Federal Planetary Defense Force. Evacuate to the nearest shelter immediately," a soldier from a military shuttle spoke through the speaker. "Please follow all directions sent out to your personal comms."
Below the shuttle followed an armored personnel transport. Some soldiers sat on top of the fully enclosed armor. One of them stared blankly at the crying child, while casually leaning back against the turret behind him. This wasn't a parade. There were no welcoming cheers on the streets, but confusion and horror. Perhaps it was a parade to their doom.
Not too far away, massive lines of civilians trailed around a large temporary field encampment which blockaded a strategic point in the city. Turrets and missile launchers were deployed on the walls; tanks, artillery, drone swarm hubs, atmospheric VTOLs and shield generators occupied the base's inner field. Officers sat at portable tables, and processed the necessary paperworks as the civilians approached. They received their battle gears and weapons, saluted and moved on to the side, and the next in line followed. They were then taken inside the personnel transports, never to be seen again. Outside the perimeter walls were members of their families, crying hysterically in choir. Above them, a banner depicting a soldier and words that read, "What it means to be a citizen."
All personnel transports headed to the gigantic structures in the distance, shaped like a pyramid and protected by a dome of energy shield. The forts of the Hermes habitat. They were each marked with large letters and numbers on their windowless armored surfaces.
Despite being a fort habitat for the military, the civilian life here was peaceful. No one had realized the war would ever come this deep. But it has.