Prologue: Amongst the Stars
Captain Thomas Vance let out a deep sigh in relief and ran his hands through his curly black hair as the screens finally flicked off. Almost an hour of cultural briefing about the systems he was heading to was more than any mortal man could take. He leaned back in his leather chair, admiring the infinite expanse of darkness through the spaceship's front windows, only pricked by tiny glowing stars.
"Beep!" The monitor pinged and then the ship's computer 'Lisa' chimed in: "Urgent attention required Captain, oxygen levels in cabin five have dropped by 3.5% over the last two minutes, I recommend further investigation without delay."
"Fuck, again?" The Captain rose and checked the instruments, sure enough on the dashboard in-front of him a red light flashed. He sighed and picked up his microphone.
"This is your Captain speaking, we have a potential air-leak down in cabin five, all hands to your positions immediately. This is not a drill; I repeat this is not a drill! You all know what to do from when this happened last week, so hop to it."
The Captain let the microphone fall back onto the dashboard with a thud and got up from his chair, striding towards to the lift down to the lower parts of the ship at the fastest pace he could without jogging.
"Make sure they're doing something Lisa" he called back to the computer as he left the bridge.
Lisa chimed in in her normal voice.
Lime was in the drowned decks when heandshe noticed the lights. The walls were covered in these translucent strips and they began to light up communicating the message.
Lime wasn't exactly sure why they'd ask a military tactician to solve a maintenance problem, probably didn't have to staff. Slinging the pressure ram over herandhis shoulder Lime followed the advancing lights.
Coming to the surface lime emerged to find a startled lallow.
"Don't sneak up on me like that!" She looked like she was shouting and was clearly distressed. Maybe she shouldn't have been hanging out on the edge of water she knew had creatures that were almost invisible in water. But anyway.
Lime was already considering. Probably not Klendervein since the ship wasn't even one anything at the time and the sealing was supposed to be top class, so what then?.
A little annoyed at not being able to come up with a solution lime decided to ask (well more demand).
Presumably she'd be able to sign even if she couldn't understand spectrum.
Brian's eyes flashed opened as the words of the Captain rang through his ears. He had been trying to get some shut-eye for the past few hours but sleep avoided him more than usually. Upon nearly falling off his bunk he grabbed his combat jumpsuit in a spur of spontaneity and got dressed.
He ran out of his room, looking for whoever had a more exact idea of what was going on.
James' head jerked upwards towards the speaker as the captain spoke. He had decided to make his way over to the observation deck to check out the view. And it was breathtaking. Below him was the massive expanse of the Atlantic Ocean broken only by the equally large continent of jungle and desert to the east. To the west he could see the glow of a thousand lights that marked the cites of America's east coast. It was hard to imagine that just a week ago he had been in one of those cities.
But now he was in orbit, aboard the Star Brigade, and now there was an emergency. Although he recognized the potential severity of the situation, he couldn't help but feel a bit bothered. He was enjoying the orbital view and did not want to be taken away from it. But he had a job to do, so he jogged towards the lift that would bring him to the engineering deck.
Til looked up from her paperwork at the sound of the captain's voice. With a deary grey, she stood up and headed out of the door, making her way to the assembly point with the others from neighbouring rooms. The sight of those around her brightened her to a pastel yellow, and she followed on quietly.
When she arrived, she took her place and leaned slightly against the wall, wondering quietly to herself about nothing of much consequence.
Nate sprinted to the infirmary. Moving oxygen tanks to all free beds he began to scrub up, ready to deal with any injuries. "Captain, the infirmary is ready to take any causalities into immediate Intensive Care."
Thor's mechanical eye flickered on, reflecting it's red glow off the pilots instruments in front of him. He'd been taking a nap after reading through the ship pilot's manuel about the FTL drive. Reading always made him tired. Warning lights were flashing on the bridge, clearly indicating a problem and irritating his eye. Rubbing the sleep out of it fixed that. Reluctant to addressing whatever was going on after just waking up, Thor did, bringing up a display. "Air leak again. Who the hell builds a ship like this without test ramping up the air pressure till the doors blow off". A large sigh of discontent was exhaled. "Well, least I don't have go down there to deal with it".
Thor buckled himself to the pilot's chair. He issued a voice command for the ships intercom. "All crew, this is your pilot Thor. Anyone not currently headed to help the captain, a friendly reminder to suit up and strap yourselves to a chair. Out". Thor checked to make sure the bridge was sealed off, Lisa had made sure to that. He was really liking the ships AI, took alot of the workload off him. Now all he had to do was monitor the situation, letting him relax back in the chair.
Mae jumped in surprise at the sound of the alarms and the captains sudden orders, and quickly saved the page he was on in his book, "The History of the Empires: A Look at Ancient Earth", and got to his feet. He then stood there, motionless for a good 10 seconds, before running to his terminal and looking up the safety guidelines of the ship.
"Search Query: Oxygen Leak Protocols" He said into the microphone, and in a split second his specific instructions were brought up, and he quickly began reading through it.
"In the event of an oxygen leak in your cabin please-" Mae quickly paused and tried to remember. What cabin do I live in? He thought and thought, tapping his long fingers on his front left knee until he decided Baeser! and quickly bolted out of his room and made his way to the bridge.
Brian had walked past several of his crew members as they tried to fix the supposed air leak. He had made a conscious decision that it would be best for him to head to the bridge as he had engineering expertise whatsoever, he would inhibit progress rather than hasten it.
A short Mezian crossed his path as he entered the bridge. Though Brian took no particular note of him, he assumed that the Alien had as much engineering prowess as he had.
Tom awoke with a sudden jump at the sound of the alarm. Cold sweat beaded on the back of his neck while panic started to settle in. "Emergency protocols activated. All personnel to ready stations." That infuriatingly calm voice didn't help either.
The alarm klaxons eliminated any sense of drowsiness Anderson had left, and he jumped to his feet, frantically pulling on his work clothes and jamming his feet into his boots. Hopping on one foot while trying to get his left boot on, Tom Anderson stumbled out of his cabin into the wide hallway. This was immediately followed by him tumbling into a rather angry looking Ferrax.
The four hundred pound alien turned his large, tusked head to Tom and growled. "Watch where you're going Farworlder." The Ferrax snorted at Tom before continuing down the hallway. Slumped against the wall, Tom managed to squeeze his foot into his boot. Getting to his feet, Tom patted himself off, and made his way down the hallway.
Tom didn't need to guess which way it was to the diagnostics room. The emergency lights had conveniently lit the walkways to each operating cell aboard the Star-Brigade. Following the winding path, and working his way through the bustling corridor, Tom finally found his way into his workstation. He was surprised to see a tall, red tinted Astrid in his signature orange engineer's jacket. Demexin was already on the case.
"Can someone please tell me what is going on?" moaned Tom. The other diagnostic workers were too busy to listen, but the chief of engineering turned to him with a glare in his eyes. Demexin closed the panel he was tweaking and spoke.
"Some genius hasn't been checking the atmospheric compensators to differentiate the pressure levels for the upper tier cabins." he muttered. "The oxygen leak is just part of the problem. Sure, it's the only part this blasted computer will detect, but if I don't fix the thing soon, it'll blow the whole cabin out. Then, I've got an even bigger problem to fix!"
Thomas simply responded with a short "Oh." He was good with computer tech, but mechanical labour wasn't his strong suit.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Yeah, there is something you can do." said Demexin hauling his toolkit out the hatch. "You can go up to your captain and tell him that he might need to find new sleeping arrangements for the next six months if the goddamn computer doesn't seal the upper tier cabins!"
And with that, Demexin stormed off. Thomas took a small cloth out of his shirt pocket and wiped his brow. This was going to be a bad day.
The pneumatic doors to Main Engineering hissed open as James aproched. Once through the doors he pause for a moment to catch his breath, and then preceded to question the person closest to him, a Ferrex to his right, as to what exactly was going on. "Everyones asking that same question. I don't know".
James let out a sigh of exasperation. "Well wheres Demexin?" Surely the Cheif of Engineering would be able to enlighten them."No one's sure." The alien responded "We think he's over in-"
But James would never hear the rest of that sentence, because just then Demexin burst through the door, glowing the color of a searing hot bon fire. Emmediatly the Astrid was attacked from every direction with the same question.
"Quite!" the Cheif screamed. Everyone in to room fell silent. "You two" he said, jabbing a finger at James and the Ferrex beside him "suit up and follow me".
Suit up? James thought, and it was only then that he noticed the pressure suit that Demexin wore, with the helmet tucked beneath his left arm.
"Yes, sir" he and the Ferrex said in unison, and they both ran to get their own suits on, the croud parting to make a path.
Underveen woke from his sleep and slammed his head against the bunk. He moaned in pain, and spent a few minutes rolling about, clutching at his head. When he finally stopped, he grabbed his pills off a table, popped one in his mouth, stuffed them in a pocket of his robes, and pushed out the door. "Oh, I'm a diplomat, I don't have a formal station, why do I even have to this, I want to sleep!" Never the less, he found himself scuttling down to Main Engineering, complaining the whole way. "Now what do I do? Oh, people are suiting up in pressure suits, the cheifs gone mad, and..." He was cut off by a cold glare from the rest of the crew. "Alright," he muttered, "No need to be cross."
The lallowens hadn't been any help just muttering something about needing to see someone who's department it was.
Lime had advanced by now and had found some of the other crew. Many were suiting up, maybe they'd have to do a spacewalk. Lime was never comfortable with suiting up but if it had to be done.
Ah there was the engineer. Clearly someone was mad.
Lime asked what was necessary hoping it wouldn't involve going into space but doing hisandher best not to show discomfort at the idea of a spacewalk.
James trudged down the hall as one in a group of eight, the three engineers plus five marines. Walking in a pressure suit was awkward at best but he managed, though the welding equipment on his back and belt didn't help. While they where suiting up in Engineering, one of the alien diplomats had barged into the room, bitching about this and that. Doesn't that idiot have a better place to be? James had thought.
That had been a few minutes ago, and now they, with the marines, where heading towards Cabin 5. As he walking down the hall a Crelm approached him expressing a will to help.
James stopped walking to address the Crelm. "We're going to evacuate and seal off the bow-side part of this deck. You can help with that, but once that's done you should let us take care of it."
Now that was manageable.
Lime nodded before going about business. The skin quickly changed displaying the message plain to see. Now to business.
Lime suited up reluctantly, the space suit was surprisingly comfortable and heandshe could actually still see pretty well.
The chamber was dark, possibly an electrical fault. Probably the Klendervein oh well food was food.
Otherwise systems seam pretty, then something exploded a computer console flew towards Lime. Not having any bones sure did help when your being crushed. Tossing the counsel aside lime was quickly up again decompressing to find one of the humans.
A little shake didn't wake them up, which was worrying, very much so. Checking the oxygen monitor in the suit certainly didn't help matters. Ok so he was probably going to make it providing Lime could get him out.
James heard an explosion and turned around. A console on the wall had apparently short circuited and exploded, hurting the Crelm and one of the marines. Because the deck was still pressurized while everyone evacuated, a small fire raged in the new hole in the wall. One crewman started for an extinguisher but James placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "Don't bother, we're depressurizing this deck in a second anyway. Just get out." James had to raise his voice to be heard over all the other rabble, but the man heard him and hurried away.
James then turned to the downed marine. The Crelm was already checking his vitals. "How is he?" he said, once more speaking up. The Crelm didn't need to say anything though, as one look through the marines visor revealed that he was not only unconscious, but also bleeding through a gash in his forehead. James looked at the Crelm. "Can you get him to the infirmary?"
Again Lime nodded. Lifting up the man with only a few tentacles.
To be honest it probably wasn't a hard toss but that was probably risky.
Carrying the downed man carefully lime brought him to the door.
Handing him over to the first medic heandshe saw.
While the Crelm was gone, Demexin had said that everyone was evacuated. "Get out and seal the doors behind you. This area is about to be depressurized so that we can start welding the hole shut. Thanks for your help, but hear on out you and the marines will only get in the way, no offence of course." James hoped he hadn't offended him, he really did appreciate his help with everything.
Lime quickly left. Upon getting out he was greeted by one of the engineers.
"Thanks for getting that solider out of there (trying not to be emotional) How about I get you something to eat sometime. "
"Thank you but I only did what I had to in the situation."
"Sure but still..."
"Sorry but there's someone I need to speak to."
"Oh of course."
Lime was soon gone, thankful to be out of the suit.
Then heandshe noticed someone heandshe didn't know.
"Are you new here?"
Thomas was watching the inspection team from the viewing monitor on the bridge. He'd hopped up a few minutes earlier to tell the captain what was happening, and then got to work running diagnostics.
"Lisa, run the recordings of deck tier one over from the past hour. See if we can figure out what caused the leak."
"Initializing scans, Mr. Anderson. One moment please..... Approximately thirty two minutes prior to Cabin Five's air leak, biometric security layers detected an unauthorized life form tampering with the internal pressure controls. Additionally, there has been an explosion in Corridor Two, near the site of the initial leak."
Oh great, thought Tom. A saboteur.
"Is there any footage of the perpetrator entering or exiting Cabin Five, Lisa?"
"One moment.... negative. There is no record of any access to Cabin Five during the requested period, Mr. Anderson."
Damn, he thought. How did someone get in then? He moved over to the comm table next to the monitor. "Demexin? Are you in position yet? We've got a problem. Lisa's telling me it's sabotage, not faulty wiring."
Demexin answered over the comm. "Yeah, one marine got hit already. Lime's taking him to the infirmary. Give the signal to close off the bulkheads and depressurize Deck Tier One."
"Got it. Lisa, seal it off."
"At once, Mr. Anderson. Attention all personnel. Emergency depressurization of Deck Tier One will commence in One Minute Thirty Seconds. All personnel not assigned to the inspection team, please vacate Deck Tier One."
Thomas watched through the monitor as the heavy bulkheads slammed shut behind Demexin and his six remaining crew members. The air was slowly let out, indicated by the streams of oxygen being released from the pipelines. Soon, Demexin responded.
"Deck is depressurized. We're in."
Captain Vance groaned for the hundredth time in the last five minutes and repeatedly punched the lift buttons in the desperate hope that they might start working again.
"Lisa... why on Earth didn't you tell me that the left lift down from the Bridge had a malfunction?!"
"I did yesterday" the computer chimed cheerfully "I'm sorry for not reminding you today, I assumed that you would remember. I tried to get Demexin to fix it but he was busy working on other parts of the ship. I'm finding a temporary solution now that will have you out in no time!"
"Uhhhh..." The Captain put his head in his hands.
Why now of all times? You wouldn't believe this ship was brand new.
"Eh, Lisa, is the leak being fixed?" he asked with trepidation.
"I believe so, Lime and James are organising the repair at the site and Tom Anderson is up in the bridge. The cabins have had to be depressurised to avoid further damage to the ship."
"Could you connect me to Mr. Anderson by video link?"
"Sure, he'll appear on the screen to your right any second now."
"Hello? Captain? Operative Anderson here. I came up to the bridge looking for you, but you weren't here." he said into the monitor.
"I had Lisa run a scan on Cabin Five. According to her biometric scanner, someone was in the room before the leak started, but there is no footage of a person entering or exiting the cabin during the time frame of the malfunction. We believe it's sabotage. Right now I'm on a link with Demexin's inspection crew. I'll put him through."
The link cut to static for a moment, before changing to a shoulder mounted camera on Demexin's pressure suit.
"Well Captain, we've depressurized the cabin section to contain the leak, and I've got my team cutting into the cabin now."
The camera turned to focus on Demexin's crew hauling a large cutter up to the door frame of Cabin Five. The machine made three loud thumping noises, before breaking loose of its bearings. Inside, the camera feed showed the interior of the cabin. In the vaccuum, everything simply floated past, untouched by the artificial gravity orienting the rest of the Star Brigade.
"Lights are out, looks like the power cut out when we sealed the.... ah. Captain, I think we found our saboteur. At least, what's left of him."
James walking over to the body floating in the vacuum, with the others close behind him. The flash lights mounted on their helmets illuminated the room. Bits of blood, bone, and grey matter drift around the room. The crews magnetic boots keep them grounded but many object where free floating among the guts. The body hovered half way between the ceiling and floor. It was a human male, not more that 25 years old. The hands where still clamped around the throat, the eyes wide with fear. The sides of his head had burst open, likely a result of the sudden depressurization.
"Poor bastard" said one of the marines. They had decided to stay with the engineers once they had learned of the saboteur.
"Ya, now we can't interrogate him." said Demexin. The alien showed no sigh of sympathy. "One of you drag him out. We still need to fix this hole." The marines maneuvered the body out of the room, and the engineers began to work.
Power was restored. Good, Lime was starting to dry out so returning to the drowned decks was probably just what the doctor ordered.
Then lisa flashed in.
"You're needed in the command chamber. It's standard procedure that all operations be followed by debriefing, and the captain will appreciate hearing you take on the situation.
Plus Kalade programed me to suggest we all meet and introduce ourselves."
"I thought engineering still needed to be a carried out."
"Engineering duties will be taken care of but it is standard protocol that debriefing happen as soon as soon as possible."
Why they let the lallow have so much freedom when programming the ships AI was a mystery.
She wasn't even from S.U Territory, she hacked into the system after all she was a massive security risk as far as lime was concerned.
The Captain's dark skin turned a tone paler as the lift's screens briefly showed all that remained of the saboteur being taken away. Despite the many corpses he had seen in his time in the S.U. army, it never ceased to be unpleasant.
"It was... sabotage?" he muttered to himself.
Never had anything like this in my army days... I hope it isn't an omen for what's to come
"Good news Captain, I've found a way of getting the lift moving again." Lisa blurted out happily "You'll be returned to the bridge immediately. Sorry for the inconvenience caused."
The lift began to move back up again and after quick sigh of relief Captain Vance stumbled through the opened doors into the bridge. He made his way over to the control panel where Tom was sitting.
"Thanks for taking charge whilst I was... eh... occupied. Do we know who the saboteur is?"
Thor flicked several switches over and pulled out a key lock, activating the auto pilot mode and locking the pilot controls. He unbuckled himself and jumped out of his seat. "They just recovered what remained of the bastard Cap'. He's human, thats what we know of now". Thor tucked his key away as he walked up to Anderson and Captain Vance. "I recommend we keep the ship locked down though and scan for any other rats aboard before we let anyone move about".
"What he said. Hopefully the autopsy will tell us where he's from."
Thomas leaned back in his seat and sighed. "We barely leave the homeworld and we're attacked already? Even when I was doing assignments out of the New Terra for the Corps, it at least waited until we were at the job site before everything went to hell."
Lime had made hisandher way to the control panel.
"I was informed by the AI that I should come here?
We'll need to discuss how this happened and possible solutions. Do we have any suspects yet? We'll need to check personal records of anyone involved make sure we know who their service history leads us to, I'd recommend cautioning anyone we know to have been in contact with them."
Now you might say that was a little harsh but that was how the military handled things and this was certainly a dangerous issue.
Captain Vance nodded in agreement with Thor's suggestion, resting his hands on the back of Tom's seat.
"That makes sense, Lisa, scan the ship for any anomalies. Only allow Diplomatic Corps and support staff with high priority tasks to move between sections of the ship and report any attempts to violate that immediately."
He then turned to Lime to answer hisandher question.
"That was quick. As Anderson and Thor have told me, currently we have no ID on the body found other than he was a human male. We don't know yet whether he was a crew member or a stowaway. I think it's time to call a meeting."
The Captain leant back towards the computer screen in front of him.
"Lisa, get all Diplomatic Corps who aren't working on fixing the leak up here immediately, with the exception of Nate. Tell that doctor to get an ID on the body ASAP."
"Of course Captain, I believe he is already studying it in the infirmary now"
"I think this could be a great opportunity for us to formally introduce ourselves sir. After all you haven't technically met all of the new crew."
Lime would have loved to have objected but there wasn't really anything sensible to complain about. Then again that didn't have to stop himandher.
"You know this isn't some social club right?"
"Of course by Emilie thought it would be a good idea."
Lime addressed the captain directly again.
"Why did you give that lallow so much freedom when programming our ships AI? She isn't even S.U."
The Captain looked sheepishly at Lime and shrugged.
"Don't blame it on me, I wasn't responsible for the ship design or software. If you've got a complaint take it to Commander Cerise, head of the entire Diplomatic Corps. Heandshe was the one who picked Kalade to work on our computers as far as I know. That wasn't a bad suggestion from Lisa anyway, I've met every new corp here in passing but it would be good to have a reminder."
Not even a centurion and they put herandhim in power?
"Good suggestion or not I object to the fact an AI not even programmed by the S.U was capable of making it.
Anyway if I were you I'd take charge more often, cerise is barley 80, and you're much closer to the ground here so to speak."
Sounds like there's history.
Tom just sat in his chair, twiddling his thumbs. He figured it was best if he stayed out of arguments regarding the technical aspects of the ship. The last time he'd made a query about Lisa, Demexin had looked like he was going to kill him. He'd been more cautious since then, and he generally stayed on the upper deck levels.
"I wonder what's taking everyone so long? It's not like its a big ship. I mean, the Crelm have their waterlines all over the hull, it'd take them less than a minute to get up here." He sighed. "Still, not being dead is a bonus I'd like to capitalize on, preferably by relaxing. Let them take as long as they want."
The polarized visor became clear again as James turned off the welder. It had taken them over an hour, but they where finally done. They had filled in the crack with solder and then welded another piece of titanium over it. Although it looked rather ridiculous, it would have to do until they arrived at a shipyard for proper repairs. James glanced at the display on his wrist and saw that his oxygen supply was nearly depleted. Just in time he thought.
They hauled the equipment out of the room, closing the door behind them. "Bergmann, contact the bridge." Demexin said. "Tell them to re-pressurize this deck."
"Yes sir." James said, and brought up the bridge on his display. "Anderson, it's the engineering crew. We finished patching up the hole. You can re-pressurize this deck now."
Lime took the opportunity to stare out over hisandher homeworld. It had been a while since Lime had been backing home. It was then heandshe notices the rockets.
They shot out lightning fast from the planet, in all directions.
Lisa was as always her annoying self-made only slightly better by the slight tinge of fear.
"Sir the planet below appears to be shooting at us!"
Several of the rockets got uncomfortably close before the shields dealt with them.
"Sir I really recommend you deal with this, the shields aren't going to hold."
"Shut up." (That was lime rather annoyed).
"But the rockets."
A few had bypassed the shields.
There was a burst of colourful light
"Those aren't any kind of projectile I've seen before, I'll check for any toxins, could be some form of bio weapon."
"You really don't know much about earth do you Lisa."
"I'm programmed with all the relevant information about the planet bellow us."
"Then what date is it."
That should shut her up for now Lime had a yellow glow about himandher, clearly someone was amused.
"Happy 5252 everyone." Lime flashed out, enjoying the show.