Part of Deathworld Origins
Approximately 65,000,000 years BV Eternal Thought Kraol
Kraol immediately took command of the situation. “House of Stars, House of Codes. Root cause analysis. Now.”
The engineers dug up the logs, which seemed to confirm what digital-Rdaer had suggested in his note. His compilation had not finished until a full three minutes after the construction pylons had been released. And yet, the SUPERSIM logs indicated that a digital mind was present until just before the main thrusters powered up. The network logs revealed that the mind in question had entered and then fled the shipyard. By now, it could be anywhere.
Some pacifist dissenter had gotten access to a SUPERSIM mind scanner, and sabotaged the test flight. Kraol was not happy. “It’s going to take three more weeks to get our second engine up to test flight stage.” he informed Btoan.
“So we’re delayed.”
“Could be worse though. We had a second one in construction for just this sort of setback. I’ll order that project to be accelerated, and then we can redo this test.” He paused for a moment, licked his eyeballs, and then added “With extra security around the test environment, of course.”
Meanwhile, Btoan handled her part beautifully. She swiftly locked down the station. Twenty minutes later, she had authorization from the High House to use an Interrogation Module.
Every employee on the station was questioned. None of them had released an unauthorized mind-sim. Betting on digital fights had become a popular off-duty activity, but that took place in an isolated environment that the network engineers had set up specifically for that purpose.
One by one, every employee was cleared, from Btoan, Rdaer, Tnaes, and Kraol, all the way down to the janitor, who looked as if she should have entered a spawning pool years ago. None of them had been guilty. Btoan even gave extra scrutiny to the tech who had allowed the wrong AI into the ship, but ultimately it had been a careless error - nobody had expected a second individual to try to gain access to the ship.
A full two days after the explosion, Btoan was forced to admit defeat and lift the lockdown.
Guardsmen Academy, V’Strakkath, Strak’kel Drassik
“...And that is it.” concluded Trainer Vsaht. “Now, for this next scenario...”
Drassik was crestfallen. Another round of promotions had gone by, and he and Mezhir were still stuck in training. He was a lot stronger than he had been, but still had not made the cut.
Mezhir had no trouble meeting the physical demands for promotion, but his tactics still left a lot to be desired. Granted, he was a lot more effective with Drassik guiding him, and he was good with vehicles, but he still was not terribly bright.
Drassik desperately wanted to make the next promotion.
“...So, to recap, hostages at the top of the building, hostiles throughout. Standard urban combat tanks will be available, but with the usual kinetic pulse cannons instead of actual Zheron radiation. Objective is to extract hostages with minimal friendly casualties.”
“Fitzh and Zarrit, you are the first pair.”
Fitzh and Zarrit got up and exited the room through the door to the training grounds. Drassik waited patiently.
Ten minutes later, the trainer returned. “Second pair, Jax and Rossus, your turn.”
Drassik continued waiting. Even less time elapsed until the trainer returned. All four trainees must have been “killed” in combat.
“Drassik and Mezhir.”
Apprehensively, Drassik and Mezhir entered the scenario, with their urban “combat” tank rolling behind them, and promptly took shelter behind a blown-out transport.
Drassik got out his binoculars and surveyed the building. It was a ten story structure, with ground level entry only. There would undoubtedly be defensive forces waiting to ambush them in the lobby.
But a hundred yards away from the objective building was another, taller structure. Drassik picked up some loose rebar and pointed. “Think we can get up there with the tank?”
Mezhir nodded. “Elevator probably broken. We go check.”
Drassik and Mezhir worked their way towards the taller building, running from one piece of cover to the next, while the tank trundled along behind them. It was impervious to the kinetic pulse shots splashing off its armor.
After a few minutes, they reached the taller building. Not only was there no working elevator, the car itself was missing.
“False god take it.” swore Drassik. “I need that tank on the top floor.”
Mezhir looked at Drassik like he had been asked to intentionally evacuate a flumlout. “Is no problem.” Mezhir opened up the manual controls on the tank, and promptly began driving it up the stairs. “Cannot go up stairs normally. But I adjust suspension at each step. Lift tank.”
Sure enough, the tank’s suspension pistons were lifting it up each individual step. Mezhir’s fingers danced over the controls, raising and lowering each piston individually. “Learned trick when service droid stuck at bottom of quarry,” he explained. It was a slow process, but after nearly an hour, they had reached the fourteenth floor.
Drassik looked down at the objective building a hundred yards away. “This is good enough.” he said.
“Now what?” asked Mezhir.
“Now, you bend this rebar into a grappling hook while I...” he popped a panel off the side of the tank. “...remove the power regulator from the pulse cannon. There we go.” He replaced the panel.
Mezhir grunted and bent the rebar pieces into hooks.
“You have your fusion knife?” Drassik asked.
“Get me the elevator cable.”
Mezhir left. Drassik began charging the cannon. He took off his pack, and began setting up his personal stasis bubble, just as Mezhir returned with an enormous length of steel cable. Mezhir’s eyes widened when he saw tank’s charge target. “Will kill someone.” he said.
“Relax, nobody’s getting hurt. Cable?”
Mezhir handed it over.
Drassik cut two five-foot lengths off the end of the cable with his own fusion knife.
“Give me your fusion knife? I need two for this.”
Mezhir handed that over too. Together, the two knives formed a rudimentary fusion welder. Drassik welded the bent rebar into a grappling hook, then welded that to one end of the elevator cable. He welded the other end of the cable to the tank, and loaded the grappling hook into the barrel of the kinetic pulse cannon.
“Now watch this.”
A grin spread across Mezhir’s face as he realized what the plan was. Drassik pressed the button. The pulse cannon dumped its kinetic charge directly into the grappling hook. The hook soared across the gap, carrying the cable with it, and embedded itself in the roof of the target building.
Drassik popped his stasis field around the tank. “That will hold it in place. Now quickly, we do not have much time.”
They each picked up one of the short cables Drassik had cut off, looped it over the grappling line, and slid down. They tumbled on landing.
The door to the roof opened. Instinctively, Drassik turned and shot. A V’Straki soldier, wearing an “IGRAEN” vest, stumbled, signed, and sat down.
Drassik and Mezhir proceeded down the stairs. They easily cleared the upper floor of “Igraens” and found the hostages - two more V’Straki soldiers with “HOSTAGE” vests.
“Time to get you out of here.”
The four of them made their way to the elevators. “That was almost too easy,” Drassik commented, as he summoned the elevator. “I think they concentrated their forces in the lower floors.”
His eyes went wide as he realized his mistake. “Nope - run!” They bolted and made it around the corner, just as the elevator doors opened to a barrage of kinetic pulse fire.
“I should have expected that. We will take the cargo elevator instead - it should be back here somewhere.”
After a minute of looking, they found the service hall, and summoned the cargo elevator. It was slow in rising, and it wouldn’t take the “Igraen” ambush heavies very long to clear the floor and find them.
Seventh floor, Eight…. nine...
The door to the service hall opened, revealing two “Igraen” heavies. They smiled, did a poor imitation of eyeball-licking, and raised their pulse rifles.
Mezhir roared and lunged. The kinetic pulses hit him square in the chest, but they failed to stop him from falling on the attackers. Drassik heard a sickening crunch and he realized that someone had broken something.
Mezhir stood up with a goofy smile on his face. “They knocked out, but I dead. You go on, win mission.”
Drassik and the hostages took the elevator down to the third floor, where they ambushed four more “Igraens” before jumping out a window to safety.
“Pretender take me, those two are good.” Trainer Vsaht said.
“Mezhir got killed though," responded Vezzik.
“He got killed securing victory though. And did you see what he did with the combat tank?”
“I did. It was highly irregular. If that was a real Zheron cannon on that tank, it would have melted the grappling hook rather than launch it.”
“Irregular but brilliant. I say we pull them from the regular training sequence and bring them on board the Operation.”
“It would be an… unconventional… choice. But I agree. They may be young but their skills are exactly what we are looking for. I confess that I did not have high hopes for Drassik, but it seems that sending him here may have been the right move after all. I think his attention to detail might prove to be useful.”
“Well done, you two.” Trainer Vsaht congratulated Drassik and Mezhir as they exited the training scenario grounds.
“Thank you” responded Drassik and Mezhir in unison.
“Your performance in that exercise was impressive enough to earn the attention of Grand Warmaster Vezzik, who has requested that you be pulled aside for a special mission. Come with me.”
They followed Vsaht to his office, where Vezzik was already waiting.
“Drassik and Mezhir, pleasure to meet you.” Vezzik said. He was pretending not to know Drassik, so Drassik responded in kind.
“Same to you.”
“Wonderful. Have a seat. Congratulations on your performance out there today. That was some impressive work with the tank and the grappling hook.”
“Thank you” they again responded.
“It was actually good enough that Vsaht and I have decided to pull you out of the regular training program for a special mission. But before I can brief you on this mission, you will need to swear the Silent Vow - you do know it, right?”
Drassik and Mezhir each dutifully repeated the vow and pretended to sew their lips closed.
“Good. Now then, we have developed a bio-weapon that should be capable of ending the war in our favor, by disrupting the Igraen food supply long enough to press an advantage. You will see to it that the weapon is delivered to the Igraen farm worlds.”
“How?” asked Drassik.
“We will put you on board a cargo vessel, along with all supplies you need. From there, you will use small unmanned drones to space-drop vials of frozen biologics to the various Igraen worlds.”
“What if we caught?” asked Mezhir.
“There is minimal risk of that. You will be on a V’Straki vessel flying under stolen Galactic Compact codes. Your route will be that of a trade ship - long and meandering. You will be posing as crew, and you will only deploy drones when passing near an Igraen world. The vessel’s Shiplord will be briefed on the mission, but nobody else will. Is that clear?
“Good. If there are no further questions, here are your mission folders. Your instructions are inside. If everything goes according to plan, we will be celebrating your victory before too long.”
Eternal Thought Tnaes
“So we’re back on track? I was worried.”
“Indeed we are.” responded Kraol. “The damage to the launch bay turned out to be minimal, and so the actual delay will be significantly lower than what the initial estimates projected.”
“Good. I’ve had my engineers isolate the test environment from the main network. No mind-sim is getting aboard that ship unless it’s physically plugged in.”
“Of course. Have you been able to track down the saboteur?”
“Not yet. It entered the ship on one FTLsync tick, and left on the next one. So it knew when we would be launching the prototype. I’ve also taken the liberty of using the spare test bay to set up a honeypot environment. When the next test happens, we will hopefully be able to trap it there.
Two days later…
Drassik and Mezhir reported to the Imperial Spaceport in the Outer Wastes of V’Strakkath.
They boarded a shuttle to the orbiting space station Full Ascension, using tickets that had been included in the mission folders. The shuttle docked, and Drassik and Mezhir entered into a bustling whirl of mechanics, doctors, engineers, and military personnel. “Very busy,” Mezhir commented.
Following their mission instructions, Drassik and Mezhir worked their way to Gate C12, where a Sunstorm-class supercarrier was docked, They were met by someone in a sharp red uniform.
“Are you the Shiplord?” Drassik asked.
“I am.” he replied.
“We are your new assignees.” Drassik told him.
“Will you be having refrigerated cargo?” the Shiplord asked, using the code phrase from the mission folder.
“Frozen, actually.” Drassik replied. “I am Drassik, and this is Mezhir.”
“Pleasure to meet you. I am Shiplord Xagh. Welcome to the Zhadersil.”