The King – Chapter 9

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Chapter 9.1 – Ancient Archives.

While his training was nearly 50 cycles old Hocdin was amazed at how quickly he brushed off the rust from his piloting skills. His investigation into Sear had turned up no facts, all rumors. Rumors in the coalition had an odd knack of turning out to be half true. An old family member had crazy stories he had heard from his dad who had served in the Neerkin war, said his reconnaissance wing had seen a heavily armed fortress on Sear once upon a time. The rumor was not considered a crazy myth among the lower ranks. Of course the fortress wasn’t some minor thing anymore. The myth had been exaggerated. Now the fortress was filled with enough arms and armor to equip every soldier in the coalition and had enough stored food to feed a planet for a week.

If it was actually there, Hocdin’s long range sensors weren’t reading anything, but weaving through the asteroid belt at the edge of the Sear system had allowed him to evade detection while limiting his own scanning potential. The tiny speck of a planet in his display appears and disappears as he weaves from one asteroid to another limiting the time in open space as much as possible. Eventually as he reaches the edge of the asteroid belt he begins to pick up more details of the planet. He takes the plunge into Neerkin space. Hocdin looks to his right as he catches a slight vibration in his transport. He looks around suspiciously at the hull as if something in the ship had betrayed him. His thoughts shift from a possible mechanical issue to something more sinister.

“Computer, identify vibration.” Hocdin says looking forward.

“Outer hull Vibration occurred .05 micro-cycles ago. Unknown origin. Possible causes: sun corona burst, dark particle condense, pre-black hole gravity well. Area marked in coordinate system for possible extensive analysis upon return to fleet.” The computer replies. Hocdin rolls his eyes at the last part forgetting that he hadn’t stripped everything Coalition from the ship, but he was happy he had heavily modified the craft to be more comfortable as well as being more power efficient, and stealthy.

“It has been 49 Cycles and 323 milli-cycles since this vessel has docked at a fleet or had its maintenance logged.” The computer chimes in a minute later.

“Thank you computer. Discontinue log of maintenance and fleet connection status.” Hocdin says finishing with a sigh. Approaching the planet Hocdin enters an orbit pattern into the computer.

“Orbit pattern accepted, automatic course engaged.” The computer replies. Hocdin ignores the further interruption and concentrates on the scanning. The planet had considerable vegetation, though much of the animal life was smaller with only one species that was taller than a foot in height. Hocdin marvels at how much damage is underlying the vegetation.

“Computer run side by side screens with the left giving just rock formations.” Hocdin orders. The second screen to the right of Hocdin turns on and begins displaying the landscape as if no plant life was there. While Hocdin had noticed various areas where energy rounds and explosives had hit, he gasps at seeing the bare land. The surface of the planet is pocked with explosive craters leaving almost no area untouched. He tries desperately to scrounge any thoughts or passing conversations to explain what he is seeing. A light at the top of the screen blinks lightly gold. Pulling his thoughts from his memories he hits the button below the light. The video of the top vegetation closes in on the upper right quadrant of the screen. A wire outline traces over several small objects.

“Magnify and reposition on a flat plane. Also check primary memory bank and cross check with M.U. memory bank for any information on sentient life within Sear system.” Hocdin says. As the computer checks the memory banks the objects with wire outlines are copied to a hologram in front of the view screen. Hocdin spins the hologram of the objects around inspecting them from several angles. Remembering something from the few years after he passed combat training he goes to order the computer but is interrupted by it’s response.

“All banks checked no information of any sentient life on Sear was found.” The computer replies. Hocdin closes his mouth pondering that information a bit before replying.

“On the wire outline put a sixth pillar of equal height to the other pillars. Position it between the two pillars furthest from me, space it so they are equal distances from the two pillars.” Hocdin says. With the sixth pillar in the outlines, it looks exactly as he remembered seeing it. The computer responds again before Hocdin can say anything.

“Analysis complete. Second generation xinduo primary defense battlement. No turrets are found in place.” The computer finishes. Hocdin is confused why such a post would be in the middle of the jungle. As the sight of the battlement gets closer a more detailed outline of the landscape shows a stark picture of what occurred there. Most of the pillars for the other nine xinduo primary defense battlements are toppled over. The scanners picking up mineral deposits of nearly 90,000 skeletons lying before the battlements and another 20,000 after them leading up to several cave entrances in the mountain the battlements looked to be protecting. Another 10,000 skeletons littered across the surface of the mountain all the way up to a large opening towards the top of the mountain

“Bring us down to a quarter of a mile above that mountain and check memory banks for any creature larger than what we have scanned so far.” Hocdin orders. The ship quickly accepts his orders begins to rock slightly as it comes in contact with the atmosphere.

“No record present of animal life larger than those being recorded currently.” The computer responds as the descent continues to be bumpy.

“How far back are the records on Sear?” Hocdin asks suddenly skeptical that the planet records are in good standing.

“Records of Sear do not go back further than 299 cycles and only 283 samples of plant and animal life have been recorded. 98% plant, 2% animal. The only historical note is that the planet was contested during the Neerkin war.” The computer answers. Hocdin is angered at this. He knows now something happened here, something that coalition leadership does not want anyone to know about. As the ship comes to hover over the mountain top the scanners pick up a detailed map of the other side showing a massive base complex with a small courtyard between it and another wall leading into the side of the mountain. The doors leading from the mountain are busted outwards while one door to the complex was laying in the courtyard and the other not in sight.

“Is it possible to land in that courtyard with the plant life so overgrown?” Hocdin asks looking up to the view screen of the small area before the base. It was heavily over grown, but soon Hocdin’s thoughts turned to how hard it would be to leave should his excursion into the base take longer than 50 to 60 micro-cycles.

“Landing possible. Anti-growth measures capable to allow ship to take off after landing.” The computer answers. Hocdin is finally happy with a response the computer had given. He looks down at the control panel keying in instructions into the computer. He turns his chair and stands up as the ship rocks forward a bit as it descends toward the landing area. Stepping in to the back of the ship Hocdin begins pulling gear out of cabinets on the sides of the cargo hold. After debating he decides to put on an aging hazard environment reconnaissance suit. Putting on the slick suit Hocdin remembers why he had hated wearing the suits. They did little to hide any anatomy and because of the camouflage system they couldn’t be fitted with any armor. Flipping open the holsters at his sides he shoves in the pistols. Tapping his thumb and middle finger together the holsters shut camouflaging them. Pulling out a rifle he slips the gun into a pouch on his back. He slips ten of the energy charge cartridges into pouches at his side. He grabs the mask and head wrap as the ship comes to a thud onto the ground. He slides the head wrap over his head hooking it up to the mask.

“Ship wake detected for .03 micro-cycles at maximum distance.” The computer says as the rear door opens.

“Activate detection evasion procedures.” Hocdin says stepping off of the door and looking up into the sky. As he looks up at the sky an odd thought had occurred to him. He wondered if this planet had been a pet project for General Rustin and because he had been killed before stepping down he never passed on his knowledge of this place. Hissing fills the air as harsh cold inducing chemicals shoot from vents at the primary heat points on the craft. Turning towards the craft his visor in the mask switches to thermal showing the hot points disappearing until they match those of the plant life surrounding it. Looking down the visor switches back to a standard vision showing the suit blending into the surrounding greenery. He looks up briefly again at the sky before turning and walking towards the opening of the base. The back door of the craft seals up with a click. Hocdin looks at the other door of the base, cracked and pushed open. Much of the door was covered in vines and roots, half of the floor the same way. He moves into the base following the constant skeletons. The majority of them seem to be the same type. He briefly considered if they were Neerkin, but quickly dismisses this, the Neerkin were masters of combat, not only hand to hand but shielding and rifles. These people didn’t seem to have any sort of weapons other than spears and crude staffs, a few swords.

Hocdin leans down pushing one of the bodies over, what resembles a spear underneath him. It was badly decomposed but it was obvious that it had broken in multiple places, the tip of it ripped off. A yard in front of him is a skeleton of a Farasha wearing body armor, the tip of a spear still embedded into the armor. Inside of the Farasha’s skeleton are two more spear heads, the staff that they were tips for obviously decomposed some time ago. The other warrior who had died on top of his spear was flanked by two more of his kind, likely the two that died killing that Farasha soldier before they were killed themselves by more guards further down the hall.

“Ugh” Hocdin says suddenly bolting upright. He looks down noticing several Carious Beetles at the edge of the hallway where the plant life had broken through the floor plates. He shakes his head before speaking to himself in the hall way. “Even on this forgotten planet your damn species survives when it shouldn’t.”

Occasionally Hocdin finds various maps on walls, thick dust covering them. Removing the dust he is able to add more segments of the base to the outline he has loaded into his visor. The complex was built using very advanced deflecting technology at the time making it very hard for the sensors to get an accurate picture of the hallways. Now he was left with finding map segments to fill in the gaps. The lines of skeletons occasionally stop making him wonder if coalition forces had been able to stop a charge long enough to fall back and set up new barricades or had that simply been the last group of defenders for that area. Moving further into the base it was becoming obvious that no one had survived his attack. The plant life was so invasive, that some hallway segments were covered from floor to ceiling in vines.

After following the staggered defensive lines of the coalition troops Hocdin finds himself in a defense shelter, the heavy doors busted down, several Eiris men underneath them. The room occasionally had an attacker skeleton but the majority of them were various Coalition races, mostly women and children. It seems the attackers had been so enraged they didn’t care, or perhaps to them they never cared. The sight was slightly nauseating to Hocdin as he walks back out of the room. He realizes if he continued to go about the complex like this it could take him days to find something worthwhile. He needed to find the control room. At worst he would have a detailed map. At best he might find a clue to why Rustin named this planet. That is if the computer systems were intact. Locating a map near the shelter he scans the map piece, like he had done the previous 18 he had seen. The display on his visor inputs the newest map portion. He taps his thumb and pinky finger together activating the voice command module on the mask. His visor displays several overlays letting Hocdin know it is active and ready for commands.

“Map route to probably command center.” Hocdin commands, his voice nonexistent outside of the mask. The visor displays a small wire map of the inputted base, several different sections light up as the computer cross checks base structures from his ship. A final decision is made and the wire map vanishes to show a close up of the section he is in with a gold line with arrows jutting out of it in the direction he is supposed to go. He climbs through the base, the growth of wildlife getting thicker as he gets further from his ship. Soon the crystal glass ceilings to the outside are entirely covered in plant life. Hocdin stands and stares at the ceiling seeing various small animals that had gotten trapped in the plant life. Perhaps they had fallen asleep and been covered up dooming them to starve in the thick foliage, or perhaps they had actually been wrapped up by the plant life and crushed by its grip. It was obvious that the plant life had become the dominant life on this planet. A normal ecosystem would have a large herbivore to keep it in check. Those were obviously collateral damage to whatever took place here. The plant life had evolved to survive after the war or bombing.

Entering a large hallway Hocdin is able to see a half destroyed barricade at the end. The hallway is lined with skeletons, some stacked five high. The coalition forces put up their final stand here, hoping to stop their enemies with the bodies of their allies. A bold plan, it had worked before, however it was obvious at this point that they had wasted so many security forces at other defense points that the final stand at control center ended when they ran out of energy cells for their weapons. Walking up to the barricade strewn about the various vines were nearly a hundred spent energy cartridges. Inside the door behind the barricade he can see the commanders’ office to his left the skeleton holding a large book to his chest, a still intact spear going through it and likely right to where his heart would have been.

Looking to his right another entrance is busted open showing another barricade almost the same amount of energy cells littered on the ground as well. This side had fared better. One of the rifles has a small button lit up. Clicking the button the rifle lights up showing it has 98 rounds available, before disappearing from energy depletion, the rifle hadn’t updated how much energy it had in the 300 cycles. It seems the left hallway had fallen first, the right wasn’t completely out of ammo. However that wouldn’t have changed anything. Whatever race was on this planet was obviously wiped out by the Coalition after this base fell. Likely heavy use of high energy explosives from fighters or even space would have created the craters that pocked the planet surface. The heavy bombardment would explain the lack of larger animal life. Small animals can hide in rocks, small cracks, or even single foot increments of plant life that were spared the wrath of the explosions. Its original sentient species though was not.

He pulls one of his spare energy charges and walks over to the computer, ready to bypass the native generators which would obviously be long dead at this point, if they weren’t destroyed by the mass of enemies. Setting the cell down and tracing along a panel for the telltale latch the computer system wakes up. Hocdin is shocked and unsettled by this. He taps his thumb and middle finger again opening all of the weapon holsters as he reaches down to pull a pistol. On the holographic screen a schematic is displayed showing a reroute of power from the firing point energy cells recharge station. Hocdin puts his gun back in the holster however leaves them released. He taps his thumb and pinky again disabling the voice commands to his mask.

“Computer, show the firing point base.”

“Attempting to query base commander for release of sensitive material.” The computer responds, a slight beep is heard in the commanders’ room. Hocdin moves over to the room seeing the skeleton still in the chair with the spear through the book. Moving shreds of his uniform Hocdin grabs the commander override on what would have been his chest. The thin small chip looked to be dirty but complete. He hoped that it would not have corroded to much since the commanders death. He lifts it over the skeleton’s head only briefly glancing at the book the commander had clenched to his chest. He inserts the chip into the desk. The machine hums briefly before displaying a message.

“Key accepted, your key has not been updated per coalition security regulation in 302 cycles 13 milli-cycles. Please contact your local data security specialist.”

Hocdin chuckles lightly as he can hear the computer in the other room start to speak again. Stepping out of the door the computerized voice drones on but something in the back of Hocdin’s mind causes him to stop. He turns to look at the chair with the commander in it, now facing away. He walks back over spinning the chair. He inspects the cover from the book, lightly pushing dust from it.

“Valo Kal” The spear going into the third word. Hocdin is unsure if he should break out into a laughing fit or be unbelievably angry at the placement of the spear. Yanking the spear out he tosses it onto the floor. He can hear the computer stop reciting the report Hocdin had asked about. He pulls the book from the skeleton’s hands. The arms fall to their sides causing the skeleton to sit there staring at Hocdin. He turns the chair around wanting to be rid of the creepy feeling he was getting from the skeleton. He sets the book down on the commanders’ desk and opens it. Anger and disappointment floods in as the pages are mostly blank. What writing there was is nothing more than smudges, occasionally a word is still intact but a form of moss had sustained itself on the energy transcribing that was placed on the pages. The book contained nothing more than several hundred mostly empty crystal pages.

“Computer, display logs of commander. Override commander permission with commander desk override chip.” Hocdin orders. A list of nearly 700 reports is put on the screen, listing nearly 100 at a time. Hocdin sighs before clarifying his search more. “Display logs of commander, which include the words Valo, or Kal, or Horun.” This left only four logs. Opening the first it seemed to be a standard report regarding complaints about white paint used in certain areas giving off noxious fumes which put several soldiers into the infirmary. Sighing at the wasted time Hocdin deletes the log and goes to the next.

The commander seems to expel at great length about how he wishes he could visit the chosen planet, to bask in the power of the great Horun. Hocdin is confused. The way Horun is used doesn’t seem to fit. Though great soldiers had sometimes been called Coalition spears. In the early days of the coalition the undefeated spear award was given to those that had overcome great amounts of enemies to snatch victory in a battle. Despite all the babbling the commander does about being unworthy of stepping into the presence of the great Horun, Hocdin runs across an interesting passage.

“I have heard rumors that only the most devout Eiris or Farasha can stand the sight of the Horun. The greatest of us must train rigorously on the other side of the planet until we are filled with unimaginable power and only then deemed worth by the great Horun. We will be approved and granted the audience in his palace. Those deemed worthy are capable of power equal to the greatest gate users, truly a marvelous time for us.”

Without a doubt Hocdin knows he has come to the right place. Such a power is the only way he can describe his battle with General Rustin. A Farasha that used power equal to a gold gate user. Such a power would elicit this kind of joy in the commander’s words. Opening the next log he is greeted by more discussion of the planet which houses the great Horun.

“I must truly thank the curator once I am back home. While this post is far from lavish I understand the importance here will strengthen our cause. With its importance I will gain renown and rise up. Then another of our order will hold reverence above the others in the fleets, but this is small next to the honor I was bestowed; able to transcribe my book from the great pages of the white script in person. I will go to whatever lengths possible to repay my elders in the order for allowing me to see and stand in the same room as the ancient script. I was even given the code to enter the vault from the back entrance. To be thought of so highly, my joy must be almost palpable to those around me every time I think of it.”

The message ends there but a note at the bottom lists “SRNNWNWC10034331” The number was long but was the standard configuration for a lock box containing items of high security nature. This proves that at the time this order was very powerful in the military. The power that was exerted by General Rustin was continued proof that the order was still around 50 cycles ago. Unfortunately the encounter with General Quoris just yesterday makes Hocdin realize that such an order could very well be alive and active now. The names ring back and forth in Hocdin’s mind, making him believe there was another connection there, one he had known at some point. He looks down at the screen catching the line about reverence above the others in the fleets and instantly is reminded of the supreme commander. Hocdin recalls the time serving with General Rustin prior to confronting him. Reports going back and forth between him and the Supreme Commander had seemed Casual and friendly. Now it seemed logically that he, Quoris and the Supreme Commander were all comrades within this religion. This religion that was powerful 300 cycles ago and vied to control all of the Coalition had achieved just that 230 cycles later when the Supreme Commander rose to power. The revelation was shocking to Hocdin. He shuts down the log and goes to the last one.

“We fired at their main army, decimated all of them. This is the true weapon of our order, but now they come for us. They’ve breached the recharge…”

“Can I help you? If you have a query please speak it or type it out with the key pad on the desk.” The computer says in the lobby of the command center. The voice startles Hocdin and he looks up from reading the last log. He pulls his pistol slowly creeping around the desk to the door way. The camouflage works well in the darkness of the room. Peering around the edge of the door he can see four individuals one in an all-white armor with two in red and one in green. Hocdin blinks before pulling his head back behind the door way. He begins to breathe heavily as the realization hits him. This was a Neerkin patrol. They had seen him enter their territory and managed to follow him down. Hocdin had little doubt that the ship wake that was detected earlier was that of their ship going through the atmosphere. He moves slowly around to the other side of the desk taking a picture of the lock box number before pulling the commanders secure key from the station causing it to shut down. He turns to the back wall remembering that most commanders’ offices were equipped with an escape route. He frantically slides his hands over the whole wall trying to find a seam.

Eventually finding the seam Hocdin presses the chip to the top right corner causing it to slide open. The door was designed to be soundless but the amount of dust caused a light grinding sound to come from the door. Shimming through the door he hits the release on the door causing it to shut with the same sound.

Chapter 9.2 – Ambush

Approaching the target at maximum speed, the patrol craft had been at the end of its patrol run when the sensor net had gone off at the furthest point of their patrol. Fortuitous timing had been on the side of whoever had decided to transgress on their territory. All but the captain was nervous. He was a grizzled one who had managed to intercept and fight some of the most amazing battles. An easy patrol like this would be child’s play.

“It could be Vino.” one of the red armored soldiers says to the other.

“I heard before we shipped out that sometimes the Coalition drives them over the border knowing we’ll do the work for them.” The other red armored soldier says

“Don’t get a head of yourself, more than likely it’s salvagers. If they even wield weapons they will likely be so underpowered that they won’t even scorch your armor.” The captain says his white armor glistening in the light of the main deck.

“Sir, the communication is off to command. Analysis says it’s likely a single pilot craft, very small wake, likely highly maneuverable. Vino escape craft is 93% likely.” The green soldier says handing a white pad to the soldier in white armor.

“Very well newborns, you may very well get to see or face a Vino.” The captain says turning back to face the two soldiers in red. He can tell they are excited at this chance. Such a trophy as a Vino kill would likely allow them to move up in ranks and have a shot at training to be a purple or blue. They recheck their armor and weapons making lots of noise for the captain to speak to his officer. “Even if you kill a Vino they wouldn’t restore your rank would they?”

“I could decimate the entire coalition and they still wouldn’t remove these shackles from me.” The green soldier says turning away from the captain and walking to the back. Hatred and anger tinge the reply of the green soldier.

“Energy trail calculated to Sear.” The computer chimes. The green soldier stops turning back around.

“Is there any evidence of craft on planet?” The white armored soldier asks the computer.

“Very slightly elevated heat signatures coming from historic point: Alpha one.” The computer responds.

“I guess I’ll go with you to prevent any others from suffering my fate.” The green soldier whispers coming to stand next to the captain. The captain turns to look at the green helmet.

“Very well” The captain replies. The ship rockets through the atmosphere. The crew stands at their points waiting for the ship to get within sight of the complex. They move through the clouds seeing the peak of the mountain and the piles of vegetation surrounding it.

“Is there any sign of the ship?” The green soldier asks.

“All signs of the ship have vanished. There are no signs of a body heat source.” The computer responds.

“It is definitely a Vino, from the elusive or originator caste.” The captain says. The ship comes to a stop hovering over the mountain peak looking down at the Coalition base.

“I don’t understand, nothing is getting picked up, how can that be, even Vino are uncovered at this range.” One of the red soldiers says.

“Perhaps the originator caste?” The green soldier asks.

“No, that would be impossible. Computer, scan the whole base for any anomalies.” The white soldier says. The display of the base comes up with lines tracing over the whole base dozens of times in a few seconds.

“Elevated Co2 is detected in this area.” The computer responds highlighting the courtyard where Hocdin had landed his ship.

“Good, activate drop cables, star formation. Drop us at that location than relocate to a safe spot for quick retrieval.” The captain yells. The ship accepting the order dives down to 60 feet above where Hocdin’s transport sits. A small sphere comes out of the ceiling attached to a cable in the middle of the command deck allowing all four Neerkin to hook up to it. The floor beneath them opens up suddenly causing them to fall through it. The cable slows the decent while the sphere generates a small shield around the group. They hold their rifles out letting their helmets scan the area looking for any sign of movement or attack. The group hits the ground. A second passes before the hooks in the sphere open up setting each of the soldiers loose. The white soldier generates a primitive shield around all of them, but after a few more seconds nothing seems to happen. He lets the shield drop waiting a few more seconds for possible ambush. The other three move to a triangle formation as the captain slaps his rifle to a magnetic holster at his side and generates white and black energy in front of him. The energy quickly forms a multisided sphere. The Captain activates the sphere causing it to disappear then reappear 150 feet in diameter centered on his position. The sphere pulses for several seconds detecting any life that would be in its perimeter and sending those locations to the captain before disappearing.

“No one is here.” The captain says dismayed.

“I am hesitant to say it’s just one person.” The green soldier says staring at the ship.

“It’s not Vino design.” The captain adds. The green soldier looks over at him a bit surprised at the statement.

“No, it’s coalition.” The green soldier replies.

“Coalition, how can that be?” A red soldier asks, shocked by the statements he was hearing.

“It’s a military transport, it’s possible they are salvagers or mercenaries. This ship is almost amazing. How it slipped past us is a bit frightening.” The green soldier says.

“Perhaps it’s their black guard. They would use the most advanced ships.” The captain says. The two red soldiers fan out and begin to look for signs of where their prey went.

“I don’t believe so. The overall design is old. I haven’t seen a transport like this in 35 years.” The green soldier says, pausing briefly to look at the outlets on the side before continuing. “But these modifications are not standard, and they are also very new. This metal for the cooling ducts are only maybe 10 years old. The metal is considerably stronger than the rest of the frame. There are a lot of modifications done through the whole thing. There is no reason to retrofit a 35 year old military transport like this if you are black guard, or even likely military. If it isn’t scavengers or mercenaries, perhaps a Vino did steal this away from a mercenary crew.”

The two red soldiers look to each other, both excited that a Vino might still be a prospective target to track.

“Be on guard, don’t get too excited.” The captain says. He walks up to the green soldier whispering so only she could hear. “We may need you more than ever if it is a powerful Vino.”

“What do you expect me to do?” She says turning back to face the captain, her voice letting him know she was both angry and weakened.

“I could get the shackles placed on you removed.” The captain says.

“No you can’t. So don’t hold out a piece of meat expecting me to do tricks for it when I know better.” She replies. The Captain growls slightly out of earshot of the green soldier. She walks toward the base, obviously tracking something. She had more experience then all of them combined and nothing the captain could do would get her to cooperate much with him.

“There is only one set of prints, no re-indentation. It’s likely only one target. They went into the base.” The green soldier says pointing forward into the base.

“Please lead, you are the best tracker.” The captain says to her. She scoffs slightly before taking the lead. They weave slowly through the base. The captain and green soldier had been here before, seen the slaughter, but the new red soldiers marveled at it. Each hall they passed through held more skeletons.

“What happened here?” One of the soldiers asks.

“The Seargar inhabited this planet, they were a mix race. They wouldn’t bow to the coalition, so they were wiped out after they decimated this base.” The green soldier answers, leaving out considerable pieces of information from the story.

“Typical coalition arrogance just inflicting their will on the inhabitants. Probably pissed them off seeing this monstrosity built here.” a red soldier says.

“Probably.” The green soldier says not wishing to promote any further inquiries from the two new soldiers. The group reaches the open mess hall next to the family dormitories, the skeletons of the children and woman strung about where they had been killed trying to flee the invading Seargar. The two new soldiers stand speechless at the sight.

“The tracks seem to disappear near the barricade, so this is the best place to use your scan. Any further in and we risk issues with the plants.” The green soldier says to the captain. The captain once again holsters his weapon and calls forth the energy into the sphere. Condensing more energy into the sphere to make it cover a larger area the captain can be heard grunting slightly. The sounds make the green soldier angry causing her to turn away from the captain as he struggles. Finally condensing the power he releases it. The sphere regenerates surrounding most of the base. He had failed to put enough energy into it to cover the whole base. He sighs, still on his one knee.

“There isn’t anyone in the mountain or most of the base. The only area’s left are the command deck at the furthest side and the lab below it.” The captain says between heavy breaths, no longer caring that he was showing weakness at using the skill to his near maximum capability. The green soldier turns to return the stare the captain is giving her. She is both angered and annoyed at the captain’s weakness. She turns and leads the group toward the lab. The captain gets up and follows behind trying to regain as much power as possible but soon begins to lag further behind.

“The captain is amazing.” One red soldier whispers out of earshot of the captain in the back.

“Yeah, too bad he got stuck out here.” The other red soldier replies. The green soldier sighs lightly not letting them hear. She is angry at the two red soldiers who have no clue about what they talk about. The captain had survived many battles. His ability to command proven, but he was past his prime. His abilities had waned considerably. Heading down a set of dark stairs the group readies their weapons. Reaching the floor they can hear slithering slightly. Realizing the sound was from behind the green soldier turns to see several vines wrapping around the legs of the captain. Dropping her gun she pushes past the two confused red soldiers. The two hit opposite walls turning with their guns trained down the hall that the green soldier runs down expecting to see an enemy. Generating energy it solidifies it into two white swords with flickers of flames around them. She slices the ground to the captain’s sides cutting the vines before jumping over him and cutting the vines at his back. As she lands on her feet she heaves the swords up the stairs causing the vines to chase them for a second as she seals her gate shut. As the swords vanish the green soldier hits the captain in the head bringing him back to his senses.

“Stabilize now!” She yells in his ear. He blinks a few times before regaining control of his gate and sealing it off. The vines stop moving at the loss of a target.

“Thank you.” The captain says standing up. The two new soldiers are still unsure of what they had seen.

“Due to corruption of the plant life during the war between the Seargar and Coalition the plant life is attracted to gate use. So keep yours in check, don’t be lax here, even if you are only reds, you can still find yourself tangled and dead here. More than one soldier has died to this plant life, and this base has been considerable overgrown in the last 200 years.” She yells at the two still against the vine covered walls. The two take the chiding poorly but neither wish to die on this base so they follow her rules to the letter as they move away from the walls.

The group eventually comes to a door that has “lab” written in Coalition basic on it. The green soldier walks toward the corner of the hall way while the other three watch. As she walks to about a foot from the wall she vanishes. A moment later she immerges and waves for them to follow. Hesitant but not wishing to be chided again the two soldiers follow her through the cloak field. Once in the field the wall that had stood there had an opening no bigger than a person to fit through.

“You three check the left labs and the master researcher’s room. I’ll check the couple labs to the right.” The green soldier commands. The two red soldiers look back at the captain who was still recovering, waiting for him to countermand the orders.

“Come on you two.” The captain says waving for the two to follow him. They follow the captain into the room at the left. They are confused by what is going on, but the captain and green soldier seem to have some sort of knowledge that they lack. Once they are into the first control room to the left the green soldier turns to the right to look at the crystal walled rooms. She walks through several rooms leading up to the final test chamber. The door is still open to the chamber. She can sense no other gate user or even another person around. She takes a moment to look at the device which still sat on the podium.

“If I would not be sentenced to death I would destroy you right now.” She thinks to herself looking on at the device, the hate and self-pity welling up in her. “You took my best friend, my mentor, my captain from me.” While she blames the device she ultimately knows she was blamed and she pitied herself for the role she played in the death of her superior officer. On the opposite side of the room chains and stools sat where various items were set in front of the weapon to be tested. Turning slightly to the right she can see burn marks in the crystal wall. Touching them she loses track of time contemplating the good memories she had of her captain.

“So that’s the device.” The captain says standing behind the green soldier.

“Yes, the one that shackled me, if that’s what you want.” She says turning to face the captain.

“Wait till you are my age and feel what shackles are.” The captain responds, much of his strength had returned to him. He eyes the device one last time before turning and walking through the observation room. The green soldier turns and follows him out. The two walk out of the lab and into the main area where the door way was.

“Hey!” One of the red soldiers says waving for the two to come quickly. The two jog up to the other two that stand near the entrance to the lab before the red soldier continues. “We just heard a female voice echo from upstairs and a bunch of clanking.” The green soldier and the captain look at each other before stepping through the door and out of the lab. The two red soldiers pull in close behind them. Pulling their guns again they take it slowly up the stairs. Taking a right hallway they reach a cross roads. The two red soldiers guard the corners as the green and white soldier step out back to back ready to shield in front of them. Now hearing the speech more clearly the four all face the barricade in front of the control room.

“It’s a computer voice” The green soldier says.

“Prepare for battle.” The captain says. The group crouches along the wall and walks towards the door. Coming to the door the computer stops reciting what it had queued. Looking in the group can’t see anything.

“If a Vino is in there he has no doubt sensed us and will know we are here. This could be bad.” The captain says. Thinking for a second the captain gives additional orders. “Reds, hook in and on the ground, green right, back to back.”

“Affirmative.” The three reply in unison. They ready their weapons.

“Engage!” The captain orders. The red to the left hooks around the corner and drops to his stomach as the red to the right lunges forward to lay next to the other red their weapons trained forward. The white stays crouched hooking around the corner to kneel behind the two reds. The green crouches with her back to the captains. A minute passes with nothing.

“Do it.” The captain orders. The green props her gun against her shoulder and knee as she places her hands apart gathering energy quickly into a sphere. Letting it loose it covers the whole room.

“no one is here, again.” She says letting out an exasperated sigh.

“Ship, has anyone approached or has the intruding vessels done anything?” The captain asks after toggling the ship communication channel.

“The vessel has not moved, no power fluctuations have been scanned.” The ship replies. The group looks around a bit still scared to move but soon the tension breaks and they all stand up.

“The Vino could be on the way back.” The green soldier says.

“Let’s see what they were accessing.” The captain says with a sigh. He moves around the desk to the console that was active.

“Can I help you? If you have a query please speak it or type it out with the key pad on the desk.” The computer speaks. The captain looks around a bit before typing in several things. He seems to look through several things before the group stops. Their helmets display a warning about unnatural sounds in the vicinity. The sound replays through the speakers in all of their helmets. The green soldier listens to the grinding sound. The display illuminates the door way at the end of the room on the right. She runs across the room as another alert is given for the reoccurring sound. Coming to a stop in the door way the office is empty, but the console in the desk is lit up. Hooking her weapon to the magnetic holster she puts her hands up once more generating the white and black energy quickly into a sphere, letting loose, the energy expands quickly. In her mind she can see Hocdin located on the other side of the wall, he turns briefly to face where she is on the other side of the wall, the ability giving away her location as well. The ability lingers for several seconds. Using mental commands she pins a location into her helmet and updates the other three soldiers. Hocdin realizing he had been found begins to run down the thin escape passage. Feeling him move quickly she updates the map program to calculate his route as she takes off running down the hallway parallel to Hocdin’s passage.

“Ship! Insure the coalition transport does not take off or leave!” The captain orders as he begins to jog after the green soldier. His screen blinks red slightly

“Connection to ship has been forcefully disconnected. Nullification field in effect up to 100 feet.” The message displays across the top of his visor. He growls at his plan being stopped.

“When he used the escape hatch for the base commander’s office it must have activated a wide nullification field to cut communications between attacking forces to allow counter attacks or escapes.” The captain yells into the communications. Reaching the edge of the nullification field at the end of the hall the green soldier sees a blur run past at the junction ahead, she is certain what she saw was her target. Exiting the nullification field around the corner from the main hall she goes to radio the ship. As she rounds the corner to see the flash charge hanging by a gate created string. The grenade goes off blinding her before her helmet can adjust the sensors. Feeling his gate open she pushes herself backwards dodging his sword. She can feel him at 64% gate use. The sword digs into the chest plate of her armor. She desperately puts up a shield but without more than a millisecond to do so the shield is only able to divert the blade enough to prevent severe bodily harm. The sword cuts across her helmet nearly hitting her cheek and leaving a slight cut on her ear.

Regaining her stance the intruder had vanished. Looking around she is unable to pick up any sign of the cloak he had used. Thinking back she realizes she had missed so many subtle manipulations of gate power, not only had he used it to increase his speed but set up energy anchors at points to teleport into striking distance after the flash grenade went off and then teleport away after the strike. To think the coalition had a soldier of this level in their midst would require the Military Command to rethink their stance on the coalition. The captain and red soldiers run up to her out of the nullification field.

“Ship!” The captain gets out before an ear deafening screech goes through their headsets before the helmets turn them off.

“It’s a screamer gate trap, come on, I feel it.” The green soldier says waving for them to follow. The other three are shocked that she still wants to continue with only half her helmet and giant line cut through her chest armor. Running down several halls they finally come to the source of the trap near the exit of the base. Vines had extended to the center of the hall where the ball of energy was slowly being siphoned away by the vines. The plants were easily 10 feet thick and would prevent any from going through while the screecher trap was active. The orb spins changing colors every second. The captain runs up to the vines, pulling a cylinder from his waist and throws it towards the ceilings. The cylinder careens off of the ceiling and embedding itself four feet into the vines. He waves the group back as he runs towards them. The grenade explodes destroying the jamming sphere. The vines that had been wrapping around the sphere lay against the walls smoldering.

The group runs towards the opening but are stopped as two more spheres near the ceiling activate from the screamer sphere’s destruction. They eject plasma randomly into the hall setting any tissue alight. The whole hall becomes an inferno. After the spheres fizzle out the captain and the two red soldiers jump through the fire leaving the vulnerable green soldier standing there. She curses how rusty she had become. She assumed it was a Vino and never expected Coalition tactics, but even then, this soldier, he was better than any she had come up against. He knew how to make the most of his power. it was almost as if he had fought against more powerful opponents multiple times.

“Ship, has the coalition transport left?” She radios to the ship computer system.

“Coalition transport left two minutes 43 seconds ago. Ship has already reached planet six and will make border before interception possible.”

“Is anyone else in range?” She asks.

“Negative, no other ships are within intercept range.” The ship replies. She stares into the hall as she can see three blue orbs being thrown into the fire. A gust of freezing air is ejected from the orbs freezing the floor and walls extinguishing the flames. On the other side she can see the captain walk through the steam.

“To see a Vino best you, I am a bit surprised.” He says walking out of the steam.

“He used 64% of gate.” She replies.

“I felt that. Still you faced off against others just as powerful.” He says pointedly.

“He wasn’t a Vino. He was a coalition soldier.” She says pausing for a second before continuing, cutting off the captain “A Draia I believe.”

“Saying that only makes you look weaker.” He finishes with a scoff and walks away.

“He is probably the most powerful coalition soldier a Neerkin has ever faced. His timing was perfect, his ploys impeccable, he was only burdened by his lack of knowledge. Had he known plasma traps wouldn’t have stopped us, he would have only used one, to mask a second explosive one.” She says causing the captain to pause before he steps back into the hallway. He turns slightly looking back at her. He turns back forward and walks away leaving her standing there as she waits for the temperature in the hall to return to one above freezing.