02 – Quen Souq

Beyond the Federation’s fringeward border is the small state of Tribesson whose capitol is Mirida—merely a shadow of its ancient glory—and is the largest of the Federation’s fourteen protectorates. Deep within a relatively remote volume of Tribesson space sits the Hadrast system, home to a small orbital research facility operated by the Akkain Conglomerate subsidiary Akkain Technologies. Originally built as a geology laboratory situated above Hadrast’s exceptionally mineral-rich fourth planet, the station has since been repurposed for the study of omnium and related technologies.

     Doctor Quen Souq sat alone in his office checking his mail and sipping his coffee. He wore his white lab coat and other clothing generated from his civilian REMASS gear, all emblazoned with Akkain Technologies’ corporate logo. He was a Larissian, and like his daughter, had lavender skin and violet hair. The scientist maintained a beard that he would scratch from time to time, more of a nervous tick than an itch. Above his desk hovered a lumigraph of his late wife, a Defense Force officer. The Souq Laboratory was on a lower deck of the station where he expected all forty-five of his scientists and technicians to be laboring away on the secrets of omnium bright and early in the morning while he sat in the comfort of his office writing grants and proposals to keep the machine humming.

     Meanwhile, those within the station’s security headquarters were left puzzled as their detection systems registered the presence of two unidentified craft on a course for the station, likely originating from the planet’s barren, lifeless surface. Of course, the craft refused all communication. The station quickly mobilized its contracted security force of a little more than a hundred personnel who took up their posts around the station, primarily around the main hangar bay. They were equipped with Accellus 3: a generation behind the Military but the best the civilian population was allowed to possess under the law.

     Both ships were black, largely flat, and were roughly frigate-sized. One of the station’s chief security officers gave the order for the station’s external weaponry to open fire, but the weaponry could do only minimal damage. The frigates returned fire upon the station, rattling everyone within and destroying the external weapons. Bits and pieces of the station broke off and entered their own orbital trajectories independent of the station, slowly drifting away and leaving trails of ash and dust.

      The station entered strict lockdown. Amid the blaring sirens, flashing lights, and spontaneous rumbling, Dr. Souq did like any unprepared civilian would do: crawled under his desk and placed his arms over his head. His beating heart competed with the noise in his ears—every moment beating faster and harder. His skin became moist as his tension set in. All he could think about now was seeing his daughter Lieren again—the same gifted daughter he sent away to school after the death of his wife. The lights went out and the emergency lights switched on. Souq, feeling very alone, braced himself against the rumbling within the station.

     The thunder now came from the battle that began when the first frigate hovered just beyond the hangar door. Soldiers dressed in black armor leapt across the meter-wide gap between the hangar and the frigate, firing their weapons before they even passed through the airscreen. The security forces began sacrificing their lives in an attempt to keep the scientists, most of whom were from the Federation, safe from the violence; however, they were quickly overwhelmed by the stream of black-clad combatants and were forced to retreat deeper into the station. Warnings from station security remained “shelter in place” despite the availability of escape pods. Security did not want to place the pods in danger of being blasted out of orbit by the attacking frigates. One daring security officer was determined to defy this warning.

     Doctor Souq’s door opened, sending a chill of terror down his spine. He struggled to contain his emotions, trying to keep from shouting. In walked an armor-clad security officer who called to him through her helmet.

     “You need to leave,” she demanded. He would not budge. The officer grabbed him by the arm, dragged him out from under the table, and walked out of the office with him in tow.

     “What the fuck is going on?” he shouted. The security officer spun around, clasped her hand to his mouth and pinned him to the wall.

     “Quiet!” she whispered loudly. “I’m trying to save you. I’m taking you to a pod. Do you understand?” Souq nodded, and she released her grip. “Just follow me and stay quiet.” The station continued to rumble. Sounds of gunfire seemed to grow louder as they moved down the corridor, then quieted again as they approached the closest pod room. There were a few others already within, staking their lives on the planet below rather than the station. The officer shoved Souq into an emergency escape pod before stepping inside herself, and she separated the pod from the station without waiting for any others. The pod activated its gravitics and used them to reverse thrust, slowing the pod’s orbit and letting it fall down toward the planet’s windswept surface.

     The two black ships departed the station after an hour of carnage, leaving a third of the station’s inhabitants dead. Fortunately for the survivors, two Federation Navy vessels were passing within a few lightyears of the station when the attack occurred. An Aries-class destroyer escorted a frigate-sized Atlas-class landing ship carrying over three-thousand Assault Force soldiers and a host of ground and atmospheric Military vehicles. The pair of ships were en route to a military installation deep within Tribesson space when the destroyer, GFN Vonn, received a brief emergency subspace broadcast from the stricken station. After several attempts, the Vonn finally made contact, and acting on orders from THORCOM (Thalassia Orionis Command), the two ships changed course toward the station.

     “Hyperplane convergence in five seconds,” the Vonn’s conning officer said as she sat in her chair staring at detailed information presented by lumigraphics. The ship’s hyperwarp drive quieted as it decelerated its spatial pocket during hyperplanar travel. Once slow enough for the ship’s spatial pocket to naturally converge with the surrounding space, the new strain on the drive from spatial friction brought on a resurgence of humming throughout the ship. “Disengaging hyperwarp in five seconds,” said the conning officer as the craft’s apparent velocity continued to slow. The two ships came to a stop three-thousand kilometers from the station.

     “Hail the station on em-comms,” the captain ordered. The Elestan captain was flanked by her first officer, Commander Yora Sesh, a Zelnaran possessing skin blue as the ocean and long hair black as the night. Her eyes were violet and her straight hair flowed behind her, covering the large, orange Federation Triangle emblazoning the back of the standard uniform.

     “The station is responding, captain,” the communications officer reported.

     “Announce our arrival,” the captain commanded, “and tell them that we will be boarding as soon as possible.”

     “Understood.”

     The captain then turned to Sesh and said, “Sesh, you’ll take responsibility for securing the station and all that entails.” Sesh nodded to her superior as she continued. “We don’t have enough space on either of our ships to evacuate everyone, so try to get as many of the critically injured to the Vonn as you can.”

     “I’m on it,” Sesh said. The commander took a step back from the captain, and then she changed her Accellus 4 from the standard uniform to a featureless dark gray bodysuit that was then layered with thin, configurable, white SIRAC armor minus a helmet. She opened a lumigraph to communicate with her preassembled teams of Auroras and medical officers, and then made her way down to the Vonn’s hangar, embarked one of the Vonn’s two shuttles, both of which were destined for the station, and took off. The Vonn’s shuttles landed first, then the landing craft moved its bow such that it sat directly in front of the hangar door. Lumionic fields allowed the landing craft to dock with the hangar, and Assault Force soldiers in orange SIRAC streamed out from the landing craft’s forward bay door and toward the station’s interior.

     Chunks of duralithics littered the floor. Scorch marks and solidified metallic ooze covered the walls. Bodies in dull green Accellus 3 armor lied in pools of blood—some missed appendages or had cauterized perforations. The main lights were still off, and red emergency lumigraphics flashed messages about station power and warnings about intruders.

     “Commander Sesh,” said an Elestan of the Assault Force with neutral gray skin and short, messy, white hair. Her rank insignia denoted colonel, and her orange armor only covered her breasts, upper arms, and shoulders—a fittingly low SIRAC armor to polyalloy bodysuit ratio considering her primary combat class as a phantom.

     “Colonel Kyora Teseri,” Sesh said. Kyora was accompanied by her longtime service partner, an Exan lieutenant colonel named Virn Lorralis. She had verdant green skin, tan eyes, long, straight, black hair not quite as long as Sesh’s, and trimmed bangs. She wore an armor ratio higher than Sesh.

     “My soldiers are securing the station,” Kyora told Sesh. “My medical teams will supplement yours.”

     “My Auroras will place the critically injured into stasis until your troops are done,” Sesh told her. “We need to get station power back online.” Sesh took two of her Auroras and went with Kyora and Virn as they followed the wave of Assault Force soldiers flowing across the station’s dark corridors. It would not be long until the station lost emergency power and with it lights and gravity. The station was large enough to make the loss of life support a non-issue, but it was an issue to be avoided nonetheless. A little over an hour later, Sesh gathered with Kyora and Virn and called the captain of the Vonn.

     “We’ve restored power and moved all of the critically wounded to the Vonn,” Sesh said. “We’ve begun our investigation, and so far we know that one lab in particular was heavily damaged. Everyone we found there was deceased.”

     “How many?” the captain asked.

     “Forty-five.”

     “My god.”

     “Most of them appear to have been executed,” Kyora said. “Ten of the escape pods are missing.”

     “I see,” the captain said. “I will dispatch a probe immediately and scan the surface.”

     Virn stood a few meters away from Kyora and Sesh, studying the remains of the carnage all around her. As she turned her head to glance around, she spoke softly, “Like a plague, the horde called death devoured them; robbing the innocent of love, life and limb.”

     Dr. Souq was lying down inside the pod. His savior sat across from him, and he recognized her as Krystal Zara who worked station security for nine years. She had since recalled her helmet and armor, reverting to a dull green standard uniform bodysuit designed by the security company, Jakova Multinational. She was a Terran with blonde hair and silver eyes, and she kept her hair tied into a bun behind her head. The two sat across from each other in silence for the past few hours, thinking about the station, about their colleagues, their friends, and when they would be rescued. The wind outside was fierce, but it was barely audible through the craft’s walls. The windows revealed a rocky desert plain and a blue sky washed out by the thick dust being carried on the swift gales. Towering cumulonimbus filled the horizon. The interior glimmered from the low lumionic lighting.

     “What’s it like being a scientist?” the woman asked, attempting to break the long silence.

     “I want to thank you for getting me off the station,” said Souq, ignoring her question. His eyes were open and staring toward her, through her.

     “You’ve thanked me enough alre—”

     “Why me, though?” Souq started to sit up.

     “I was making my way down the hall,” Krystal said in a mild tone, “and I was passing by.”

     “There were plenty of other people with offices in that hallway. Why didn’t you save them?”
     Krystal remained silent.

     “What makes me so fucking important?” Souq shouted at her, fighting back tears. He placed his head in his hands.

     “Okay,” Krystal sighed. “You want to know what I know?” Souq said nothing, so she continued. “I know what you study in that lab. I know that they would have killed you if they had the chance.”

     “Who are they?” he said, half laughing. His tears were flowing now. “What the fuck is going on?” he shouted through his hands. Krystal kept quiet and let Souq’s tears rush down his face and drip on the pod’s floor. The pod protected them from the toxic atmosphere outside, but it would not protect them from each other.


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