Beyond the energy shield and the dodgy defence drones the solar system was exceptionally hostile. Energy storms, asteroid fields and an oversized sun all contributed to a rough trip. Shayara could be forgiven for contemplating that the Senate shut the system down purely for safety. That is if she didn’t know any better. That’s when she saw it on the far side of the closet planet’s moon. The space station was strange, it looked like it was based on Caliterrian architecture which would have meant it was created in a time when the Sarcurians weren’t the designated master builders of the galaxy. A very long time indeed. Either that or the Sarcurian didn’t know about this place. Fairly feasible, thought Shayara, the Caliterrian did like to hold all the cards. As they drifted closer some very new and familiar battle scars became more visible, some as new as Shayara’s sense of ‘deja vu’. What didn’t make sense however was that despite the obvious damage and the fact the station had gone dark, all systems read as expected. The power output, energy signature, automated systems and when construct R051E broadcasted the Senate IFF the docking clamp reached out to meet them. “I don’t like this,” Shayara conceded curiously.
“Me either,” admitted Jarner yet they’d come this far and coming back empty-handed wasn’t an option especially with the amount of trouble they were no doubt already in.
No one had come to meet the boarding party which consisted as usual of Shayara and Jarner. They’d been funnelled through the docking station by some sort of automated system that had to be controlled by an AI. It made Shayara uncomfortable. As soon as they’d cleared processing to the humid and sticky space station beyond James’s worried voice buzzed over their headsets, “Guys, as soon as you got far enough in, the docking clamp sealed and disconnected. It won’t respond anymore.” That was a problem. They now needed to formulate an exit strategy.
“Sit tight, Crow, we’ll think of something.” Shayara hoped more than promised.
The pair inched down the corridor until the smell hit them about half way down. Shayara followed her nose which led them to the right and through two double doors which opened up into hell’s kitchen. It was at least refreshing to find casualties but that didn’t make being in their presence any easier. “I think I’m going to be sick.” grumbled Jarner as he crouched down holding his stomach. Shayara couldn’t blame him as the scene was quite graphic. The canteen had been transformed into a war-zone and just from the door she could see plasma injuries, decapitations, dismemberments and blunt force trauma fatalities. Before she could venture further into the mess hall, more literal than it was intended to be, she was lifted off her feet and pinned up to the doors by her throat. “Fuck!” she screeched as Jarner unloaded a few rounds just in front of her not that he could see a thing. It hit home as the silhouette shimmered but before Jarner could follow it up the figure raised its arm and fired something from an underarm launcher. It bundled the Sarcurian up in shock netting usual employed by bounty hunters that wanted to bag their target alive. It gave him a jolt as he tried to wriggle free to no avail “Shit this hurts,” he whined.
The creature lowered its cloaking device to reveal a very ragged Caliterrian Guardian.
“State your business, Human, before I tear you in two,” it seethed with breath that rivalled the intensity of the stench of the room.
“Senate Conscripts investigating why this facility has dropped off the grid,” she wheezed due to her rapidly crushing windpipe.
“Liar. The Senate would not have brought Humanity in on this yet.”
“I didn’t say it was official.” With that he dropped her to the floor as she gasped for air on all fours. She looked over to Jarner who was still wrapped up with pain plastered across his face. “You mind releasing my friend?” she suggested sarcastically from down near the Caliterrian’s ankles. The webbing lost power and fell away from Jarner, understandably he looked pissed.
“Nice fucking welcome routine you got worked out here, get many visitors?” he growled almost standing toe to toe with the alien that was so much broader and taller than him. That didn't seem to phase Jarner in his current state of mind. “Care to fill in the blanks before I tear you in two?” The Caliterrian chuckled in a lower key sort of way at the threat from somebody he considered vastly inferior.
“I’ll give you some respect, Sarcurian, not many stand up to me and even fewer that do do I allow to live.” He smiled with a jagged sinister mouth as Shayara got to her feet and flexed her aching windpipe. She placed a hand upon Jarner’s shoulder, part as back-up and part to tell him to wind the attitude in a little. He had every right to be upset but they needed the Caliterrian alive to divulge what had transpired here. “So, what wouldn’t the Senate have brought humanity in on?”
Kate was impressed with her new ship and especially with how it had handled under such a taxing assignment. The stealth systems especially were cutting edge tech only really designed for short covert drops behind enemy lines, not for tailing another vessel across the galaxy. Upon arriving at the space station, the Pariah had evidently been in a rough fight. She was impressed at the fortitude of such an old structure. The boarding party had likely consisted of Conscript Ventii and Jarner Nevo, or so intel suggested. Not long after arrival the weirdest thing had happened. The docking arm had powered down and kicked the Pariah off causing it to drift until the pilot had gotten his bearings and gained control. It had come perilously close to hitting You Can’t See Me but thankfully they were none the wiser. The Pariah had limped away to a safe distance, with good reason, which by happy accident allowed the stealth frigate to get in closer. The secret intelligence operative on board hacked into radio frequencies which allowed the stealth frigate to listen in on the boarding party’s comm traffic.
Their new Caliterrian pet was most unhelpful indeed. They’d learnt his name was Keeto Cha’Bin and they’d also found out the Forerunner had sent for him personally. Arkan had indeed held out on them during Congress. As soon as they’d asked about the space station however, all they'd been able to deduce was that getting to the central computer was important and so they followed reluctantly in the shadow of the grizzly-looking warrior. He’d made it especially clear something was still on the station hunting him. He hadn’t seen anything however and it was a hunch he’d not been able to act on as it turned out he’d been on site not much longer than the Pariah. So relatively uninformed, the trio edged forever onward becoming very uncomfortable by every passing shadow.
Shayara had actually heard of Keeto, he was quite a renowned figure if you moved in the right circles. He was often used as the Forerunner’s personal assassin, off the record of course, and he’d been linked to many high profile kills amongst enemies of the state. She knew they had to be careful around him from here on out. If the chance presented itself she knew he wouldn’t hesitate in confiscating loose ends if they were in as deep as she thought they were.
The primary corridor seemed to run along the whole length of the station, with it offering little in the means of cover. An exposed mass of circuitry and pipes was over their heads, large enough for someone to stand on and ambush from. Shayara wasn’t brimming with confidence about their situation. The blast door to the bridge up ahead appeared to be seized partly open leaving a gap no larger than the width of Keeto’s shoulders for them to squeeze through. Shayara noted it would be a problematic bottle neck if they encountered any trouble beyond. They stacked up in reverse order of importance as they entered but were met with no opposition. The bridge was on par with the mess hall. The main computer console had been tampered with, luminous cables crisscrossed against other more recognisable ones. The primary holo display seemed to be still functional so Jarner transferred R051E’s AI fragment into the space station’s systems. She strode across and gave a wry smile as she surveyed her surroundings and allowed a cock of the head. “Why do you never take me anywhere nice?” Suddenly her face began to droop as if having a stroke, her avatar jittered before dropping to its knees. Lights pulsated with anger and gravity dropped for a millisecond as construct R051E flickered in and out of existence like a dying flame. Just as rapidly as it had fallen apart, stability returned and the AI’s avatar looked exceptionally traumatised by whatever she had experienced. “R051E, you okay?” Jarner requested not exactly standing too closely.
“There’s another AI in the system the likes of which I have never had the displeasure of meeting. It attempted to vent the atmosphere on the bridge. It is rather rude,” responded Construct R051E seemingly not overly affected.
“That’s an understatement,” huffed the Caliterrian as the AI glared at him with anger.
“What is it?” Shayara questioned cutting through the stagnant air with more ease than she expected but the glare moved to her. R051E pointed an accusing finger at their new companion.
“He should have told us!” She looked back at him as his jaw dropped ever so slightly. “We are in so much danger and while you play lapdog to the Forerunner trying to keep everything quiet they move to kill people in their millions!” She sneered.
“Who is, R051E?” Jarner asked.
“The Votheen! They know we’re here!” she exclaimed. Keeto looked riled by the mere mention of the name, so much so he threw a chunk of debris through her avatar and returned the judging finger with a raised weapon.
“Blasphemous light bulb!” Before anything could even begin to escalate further a sound rather rapidly chilled Shayara and her companions to the core. The sound of movement. The sound of movement on mass. “Defensive positions!” exclaimed the Caliterrian which received a well-deserved glare from the Captain as she bounded over a workstation and slammed into the half open bulkhead door opposite Jarner. What or who the hell was a Votheen? Shayara hated being kept in the dark. She hated the ignorance and self-entitlement of the Caliterrian. “This is my show, Keeto, not yours,” she spat in a rather annoyed tone. Jarner made a huge leap of faith by exposing his head to sneak a peek of what was heading their way. He jumped back as several rounds hit the reverse side of where his face had just been, causing sparks to fizzle on contact. “R051E, any chance the rogue AI has access so the stations security systems?” The AI paused for a moment to consider the Sarcurian’s question although she didn’t know why as the alien AI seemed to have complete control.
“It’s possible, yes.”
“Then that’s what we’ve got, security droids and lots of them. Can’t you subdue her?” he insisted as he peeked once more to learn they were uncomfortably close. AI R051E scanned for the foreign body’s presence and looked frustrated at what she found.
“It would appear it has downloaded itself into fragments and has full control of the mechanised combatants. It activated a signal upon its escape,” R051E responded arms folded. Shayara blew away the two humanoid but skeletal-looking figures that dared to cross the threshold onto the bridge.
“Be more specific! What kind of signal?” she yelled over the ringing like tinnitus in her own ears.
“A distress beacon to something in system.” Shayara’s eyes widened as the severity of the shit storm they were all in took hold. They needed off the station and they needed off now.
“Sneaky bastards,” Isaac mouthed as he sprung from the workstation he’d been listening in from. From just the audio they knew the ground team was in a rough spot so he began to sprint toward the armoury to his surrogate team when he overheard a crewman sat at the star chart. “Tracking something, ma’am, on the long range sensors, it’s big and coming in very quickly!” he yelled as alarms began to sound.
“This is it, people. We extract the Pariah and we bug out before company arrives. We have a damn slight window and if we’re caught with our hands up our asses it’s likely we won’t get to tell this story over a hot mug of cocoa to our grandkids, so let’s move!” she ordered simultaneously to her nearby associates and over the speaker system to the rest of the frigate. The star chart sitter grimly determined that on its currently heading and speed rating they had no more than twenty minutes at best estimates. This was going to be a bad day.
The amount of combatants filtering down the hallway surprised Shayara. Did a secret research station really need so many synthetics around that were liable to be hacked...go figure. They were now cornered at the far end of the station with no viable means of escape having conceded the entrance to the bridge long ago. That was until an earth shattering crash knocked over almost everyone, aside from Keeto who managed to smugly stay upright. “You’re not going to believe this, Shay, but a Human Confederate Navy frigate is offering assistance. They’ve just breached the hull and a special operations unit is on its way to you.” Shayara didn’t know how or care why help was in a system that to the rest of the galaxy didn’t exist. The fact she might live past the current date was all the reassurance she needed. She was interrupted mid-daydream as her face was splattered by oil sprayed out by a recently decapitated droid as it stumbled away from Keeto. “Could you tell them maybe hurry it on up? We’re not going to last much longer here,” Shayara summarised as she pulled another close and blew its brain circuitry out at close range, allowing it to fall away and be crushed under the Caliterrian’s hulking hoof. Jarner was in the thick of it, absolutely swamped by metal faces left and right, a couple he’d recently caved in. He was exceedingly aware he was fighting a losing battle as he suffered numerous glancing blows not least of which a sharp-edged blade that nicked his ribcage.
“Jarner!” exclaimed Shayara as she vaulted from cover using a dismembered droid as a human shield, trying to work her way to him. She didn’t have to. The amount of targets were dropping sharply, it wasn’t until she noticed this that she realised they had company in the form of jet black silhouettes who were filtering in from behind the enemy line. One grabbed Jarner before he hit the deck and was his crutch for the duration of the fight. The robots were disoriented and struggled to focus on just one target, the marines moved around them like water. Striking in one place and ending up in another.
Once the enemy was a pile of misplaced parts the trio caught their much needed breath. Shayara nodded as she passed by the mirrored visors of the ninja-like figures, they could only assume how grateful she was, on her way to Jarner’s rescuer. He was the only one in the entire unit without a helmet which she guessed made him squad leader. He smiled warmly and had a charismatic charm which you didn’t often see in military types who’d been sterilised by the system. His blue eyes glinted in the artificial lighting as she clasped his outstretched hand. “Captain Shayara Ventii.”
“Commander Isaac Jericho, we gotta get you out of here, Captain. We’ve got a fast mover on approach. Turns out your AI friend sent for help.” He hurried as Jarner swiped Construct R051E’s fragment from the computer console.
Without exchanging any other pleasantries or explaining away the presence of a Caliterrian Guardian, the group rushed back down the main corridor again but it looked like time was already up. Shayara froze mid-stride as a huge alien warship sliced passed the corridor view panelling toward the HCNF You Can’t See Me. It hailed crimson plasma down upon it, stripping its shielding away in no time at all. Once the protection was gone that’s when the hammer blow came. Energy seemed to flow across its surface from the thrusters to the newly rearranged front end which revealed a main cannon. That in itself was likely as large as the Pariah. Once it had built up enough energy it launched toward the frigate in a constant stream and ripped it in half, a scene she guessed not all too dissimilar to that of the Sarcurian Luminary ship that had been next to the Deliverance. A shower of shrapnel and debris littered space in all directions, many of it slamming into the space station. A large chunk of hull nicked the glass of the view panelling further down causing it to buckle and rupture. The vacuum ripped two of the marines out into dark space, screaming, before the blast shutters slammed down to seal off the hazard temporarily. “Move!” exclaimed Shayara and Isaac simultaneously as they resumed their escape.
“James, stay out of that thing’s range, swing by the marines insertion point and open the hatch in two minutes. Do not wait around if we’re not there. Bug out. R051E can tell Wilhelm what happened,” ordered Shayara over the comm system. Jericho took the lead, Shayara didn’t have any qualms, after all he did know where to go. As they ran the alien ship must have opened fire on the station as a chain reaction rocked the stability of the ground they trod on. A life support tube cracked overhead, igniting and melting the three marines not quick enough to react and knocking Isaac off of his feet. It was hard to tell how badly he was injured with all the adrenalin being thrown about but his screech was a decent indicator of the displeasure. Despite being physically able to carry the only surviving member of their rescue party over his shoulder without breaking a sweat, Keeto didn’t stop to lend a hand. Shayara and Jarner grabbed a shoulder each and moved the Commander as quickly as they could. “The smell of burnt hair always turns my stomach. The smell of burnt flesh too, I guess.” wheezed Isaac with a croaky grunt of sarcasm. His skin had already begun to blister and his rapidly melting armour was beginning to mould itself onto his flesh. The extra weight was a hindrance and slowed them down but no one of any decency could bring themselves to leave their rescuer behind. They reached the T-junction where the SpecOps drop ship was perched and where Keeto had already reduced the droids on site to scrap. Shayara wondered how he knew where to go but did a double take remembering the Caliterrian were excellent trackers. He could probably smell its scent. They placed Isaac in the back, Jarner took the controls from a twitchy Keeto who he assured was the better pilot and Shayara hung out the back unloading her magazine upon another approaching horde. “Get us out of here!” she yelled. The black cuboid rose through the hole in the ceiling and out past the containment shield that stopped atmosphere from leaking out. As soon as it peeked from its hidey hole it was showered by plasma fire from the dreadnought hot on its tail. “Brace!” shouted Jarner as he barrel-rolled and sped toward the Pariah, swinging by on a tight vector. A round scuffed the outer hull and the Sarcurian had to battle to retain control as he punched through into the docking area of the Pariah despite the access ramp being only partially open. It came to a halt as it smashed through a series of storage crates and one retaining wall. Jarner dabbed his brow which had drawn blood from the impact. “Everyone okay? Having fun?”
“Not the time, asshole,” Shayara responded amongst the murmurs.
The warship lined up its main cannon and began to charge. Before it was anywhere near ready its target entered hyperspace and vacated the system. The Pariah was safe for now but their journey had thrown up more questions than answers.