Author: toadie
Rating: R
Summary: John Crichton is not the man he thinks he is.
Notes Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche 1886
Archiving: Please contact the author for permission.
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Black & White
Part 1

 

Command Node

Psyrix Sector

  

And that’s the latest intelligence we have from the region.

“That’s it?” The older man shook his head with disgust. “All this time and all the effort we have expended on the operation and this ... this is all we have to show for it?” He threw the stack of flimsies to the floor. “Operatives have lost their lives for that garbage and there is little in it that we couldn’t have learned from their own bloody media”

“Well, sir, it was thought that the operation would, at best, be of limited value. But it was decided that the potential value of the information outweighed any personal risk to the operatives involved.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to ward off any hint of personal involvement in the decision.

The older man regarded the younger with a look of skepticism.  “Really? Or was it merely a political decision made to appease certain factions within Command?” As he said this, he moved back towards his desk with its black leather chair. As the elder man sat, his subordinate moved from parade rest to a more casual posture before the desk.

The younger man shifted uncomfortably as he considered just how to answer the question. There was a distinct sheen of sweat appearing on his forehead as he regarded his senior, watching him like a cat waiting to see which way a mouse will run before pouncing. “As you know, sir, it is forbidden for Fleet officers to discuss anything of a political nature and I couldn’t speculate upon how exactly the decision to send in operatives was reached….”

The older man snorted in response. “So, is that what they’re teaching now in Command school? How to get out of answering a direct question from a superior officer? And if you think that the Fleet isn’t involved in politics, then you are more naive than I thought possible for an officer of your rank and experience.” He pinned him with a piercing gaze, watching for weakness.

The younger officer, by this time, was trying hard to conceal the nervousness this line of questioning caused him. But he could tell his body was betraying him; his face was becoming flushed, his breathing heavier. He could also tell that the older officer was reading his reactions and found them amusing. The old bastard is baiting me for his own pleasure.

“Never mind.” The elder intoned with an airy gesture of dismissal. “What is the current status of the fleet build-up for the incursion into the Takara Sector?”

The younger officer gave a silent prayer of thanks to every god he could think of. He had survived the suddenly deadly turn of the briefing and was once more on solid ground. Knowing this could be just as deadly if handled wrongly, he took a deep silent breath before answering. “The last of the carriers should be arriving within seven standard rotations. After their arrival we have Fleet exercises planned to start the next day, continuing for another fourteen standard rotations. After that, presuming they perform within expected parameters, the incursion can take place at your discretion.” He watched for a reaction from his superior, but the wizened face remained hard and expressionless. This one knew too much of life to be read like a book.

“Good, I’m glad to see that for once everything is going as planned. I don’t expect that to last. But for now I’m satisfied that there are no problems.” With that he leaned back in his chair with a look of satisfaction slowly appearing on his face.

“Permission to ask a question, sir.” At the elder’s gesture of assent he continued. “Why is the fleet is being built-up in this area? This sector is so far away from the incursion zone, it makes no sense. It would take almost 30 standard rotations for our fastest ships to reach the border and double that for the carriers.” Come on. I know you’re dying to let me know. Tell me.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard the rumors about the mysterious new drive system we have been developing?” The elder officer said with a dry chuckle. “Or about that rather large device we have been pouring resources into over the last ten standard cycles? I know you younger officers are trained not to question, but I think you might be taking it a little far if you’re claiming not to have noticed it. After all it is inside our defensive perimeter. A perimeter, I might add, that you helped design when we had to enlarge it to include the cursed thing.”

“There has, of course, been speculation as to the nature of the device but no one has come up with anything definitive.” Let’s see if his ego can resist telling me what he knows about the device.

“That is fortunate. If anyone had speculated correctly, they would be in custody undergoing interrogation as we speak. Security on this project is the tightest I have ever seen, and considering the nature of the project, it’s little wonder.”  As each word was spoken the senior officer leaned a little further forward in his chair, as if to drive the significance of the statement into his brain through sheer will alone. “If the full-size version works even half as well as the test models, it will change the balance of power in our favor in not only this quadrant, but the entire galaxy and beyond. That is, unless we run into a situation like the Cythags.” With this he shifted in his chair, a grimace plain on his face like he had bitten into something rotten.

The younger man suppressed a shudder as he remembered the hideous nature of the Cythags and their practices towards all other races. It had taken years to wipe them out and cost countless lives and ships. In the end it was worth it. After all, a race so technologically advanced that considered every other species a source of food and recreation did not make the best of neighbors. Probably the one truly good thing the Imperium has ever done.

 “Thankfully the Cythags couldn’t fight worth a crap.”

“They never had to. The vermin always outnumbered their enemies and were completely indifferent to losses. If they lost one fleet they would just send another and another until they won. Did you know they actually threatened the home system once? But by that time Command had gotten its act together. They were finally able to play against Cythags weaknesses instead of our own. We didn’t have the numbers but we had the weapons and the strategy. Hopefully we have learned from the mistakes made against them. After all, that’s why we have an Intelligence Division with a military capacity, and what they can’t handle internally, we can.”

“Yes sir, I understand that, but you must know that some Fleet officers are ... well ... nervous over just how much firepower they have.” As he said this he felt his heart leap into his mouth as he mentally berated himself for such an obviously dangerous statement to a senior command officer. Please tell me I DIDN’T just say that. Please.

“Don’t think Command hasn’t already thought of that, so don’t let it worry your pretty little head.” The elder officer said, the lightness of his words belied the stern expression on his face as he leaned back in his chair. “I am glad, though, that you seem to have an interest in our Intelligence Division, because it seems they want you to do a little bit of work for them.”

“But I’m Fleet, not Intelligence, what could they want me to do?” Apprehension filled his voice, and he knew it. But he did NOT want to be seconded to Intelligence. To be so would be a death sentence. Christ, can they know?

An amused, almost evil smile appeared on the older officer’s face. He was obviously contemplating letting him worry a little longer but decided he had enough amusement at this officer’s expense for one day. “Don’t panic, it will be a Fleet operation. But Intelligence will be setting the mission parameters and they will also be sending along certain specialists to aid you. It’s a not-so-simple recovery operation of a scout who has gone… missing. So be thankful for all the help you get. There is also a species out there that has Command worried. There is some confusion as to whether it is called Sebacean or ‘Peacekeeper’ but it is a major concern to Command.

From all our reports they are extremely militant and are doing intensive research on wormholes. So they appear to be after our scout for whatever information he might possess, as they know he arrived in their space through one. What is worse from our point of view is the fact that outwardly they look no different from us!”

“Recovery of a scout? From the clutches of a race that look like us?” He was surprised. “But why? I thought the point of the scouts was to provide intelligence without revealing our involvement or interest?” He started to pace in front of the desk as he considered possible reasons for such a radical departure from doctrine. “If we send in ships to get a scout, they are bound to know we have some interest in their region of space and start arming for a conflict with us. After all our ships are hardly unknown.” With that he stopped pacing and turned back to face the man behind the desk his face displaying the worry he felt. There must be more to this than there appears. After all why would they risk a confrontation over one man?

“This scout was sent, shall we say, a little off the beaten path.” Through the stern facade a malevolent delight crept back into his voice, clearly evident to the young officer. He closed his eyes and savored the moment before speaking. “Yes, this particular scout was sent much further out than normal, almost, in fact, to the limits available by the technology.”

“I didn’t realize there were limits to the distance a scout could be sent.” Puzzlement was clearly etched on his face as he tried to piece together the clues he had been given. He shifted his weight slightly, as he became aware of his Commander’s gaze upon him. Where? Where could they possibly send a scout that’s so far away but is still of interest to Command?

“There are limits, but they are so large, that, for all practical purposes, they don’t exist. But, even so, they were stretched to the limit in this case. This particular scout was sent “extra-galactic.” He was not disappointed in the younger officer’s startled response.

The younger man’s breath caught in his throat before he managed to speak “Outside of our galaxy?” His eyes widened at the implications. “Intelligence wants me to be involved in rescuing one of their damned scouts from another galaxy? Please tell me that this is a joke sir. That’s impossible. The mass limits of a wormhole are far too low for…..” there is something that they aren’t telling me. There has to be. What could they have discovered in another damn galaxy that would justify sending my task force outside our own?

“Yes, yes, don’t you think we know that?” The older man interrupted impatiently fixing him with a glare. “That’s why I am about to tell you about that large hole we have been pouring billions of credits down for the last decade. Sit down and listen.” He waved in an intolerant manner at the chair on the other side of his desk “I think you’ll soon understand just how it’s going to re-write the meaning of power projection.”

The elder officer touched a control on his desk and a hologram appeared between the two men. It was an image of the device near the station, only it seemed smaller somehow. It was made up of eight separate pieces that were placed in such a manner that the four larger pieces were positioned at the cardinal points of a compass and if they were joined would describe a circle. The four other pieces were positioned in the spaces between the larger pieces but made up a slightly smaller circle. As they watched the device started to move. The larger outer circle started to move in a clockwise direction, while the smaller circle moved counter clockwise. It seemed impossible that they did not collide; they were so close. Little appeared to be happening, although the device itself seemed to exude a sense of great power and menace.

Then it happened. Inside the circle proscribed by the device, space seemed to... warp... was the only word he could think of to describe it. Or perhaps bend? Then there was nothing but darkness in the circle, no stars to be seen on the other side, but he was sure there had been before the device had started to operate. It all seemed alien to him.

“Quite impressive, isn’t it?” The older man said, getting out of his chair and walking around his desk, studying the device from every possible angle. “It is called a Knossos device and with it we will be able to send ships anywhere at a moment’s notice, react to any threat instantly, decisively and overwhelmingly.” As he was saying this, the younger man, turning in his chair to face his commander, noticed a slightly dreamy expression come over his senior’s face, as if all his fantasies had come true at once.

“Very impressive, sir, but if I might ask, just what is it and what does it do?” With the attention of the Arch-Strategos clearly distracted, he took the opportunity to take a calming breath and to discreetly swipe at the sheen of sweat on his forehead. So this is what all the secrecy has been about. I can see why. Christ... with this there will be no limits to their ambition. I have to get this information out.

“This is the new drive system you have heard so much about.  It effectively folds space, making one point in space correspond with any other we desire. We acquired the technology from the Cythags, much in the same way they got it. But we actually got it to work, after a fashion at least. At first we tried to outfit ships with it but… well, let’s just say that there are easier and more pleasant ways to kill soldiers and destroy ships. It wasn’t until some drone in Research thought of using a static generator and just making it large enough for our ships to pass through that it was of any true value to us. Obviously we built several small-scale models and they were effectively tested and now we have finally finished our first full-scale device.”

“That’s amazing sir. So with this device it is possible to send any class of ship to any point in space? It is hard to believe such a device could exist.” They have more of these things! We’ll have to locate them before we make any sort of move.

No. The device is limited in that we must use this base as a staging point. However, it is bi-directional so we can use it relocate forces swiftly. Which I think answers your earlier question of why the incursion fleet is being assembled here, so far from the border. It is to be the first military test of the device. But not the first use. That’s where your mission comes in.” With these words he fastened his attention back on his subordinate and made his way back behind his desk. “We shall be using this device to send you to the last known co-ordinates of the scout and from there it will be up to you to recover him. And when you do we will simply open a fold-space corridor for you to return through.”

“Will we be able to remain in communication over such a distance?” He said hoping for a negative answer. This just gets better and better. But I’m pretty sure it not a nightmare, just nightmarish.

“Admittedly, our comms system hasn’t been tested over such a vast distance, but the techs claim that the quantum tunneling effect our communications system uses, should be unaffected by any distance.” Disappointment crashed through the Cohortach at these words. Damn I had hoped for a little breathing room.

“So, the proposal is that we send you through, close the corridor and wait for a signal from you. If we don’t receive one after a pre-set time, we will reopen the corridor to re-establish communications. We will then simply send a ship through to the same co-ordinates on a schedule to receive your reports. Far from ideal, I know, but it’s the best we can do I’m afraid.” He gestured his helplessness over purely technical matters, simply by spreading his arms, palms up, as if in surrender.

“It shouldn’t be too much of a obstacle sir.” Well at least there is some hope.

“So you’ll agree to go willingly then?”

“As long as it is truly a Fleet operation. Happily.” The creator save me from the clutches of the intelligence directorate.

“Good, good, good. Here is all the information we have on the subject you’re going to recover.” He said, holding out a data chip to the younger man. “And when you do recover him, remember to treat him well. This is an important man, both for what he has done and because of who he is. And his kind bear grudges for a long time, remember that.”

“His kind?” Wariness colored his voice as he waited for the hammer to fall. I knew it. Bad things always come in threes. This Knossos device, being assigned an intelligence mission with their damn ‘Observers’ and now……?

“Yes, the man you are going to recover was a younger son of one of the great Houses, but is now heir.” The elder man regarded the younger with pity. “This is about as political as it gets, so be on your guard. The briefing on the chip goes into much more detail but to put it simply your mission, is to recover the heir to House Crichton, collect a few biological specimens of these Peacekeepers and as much technology as possible. Your flagship will have specialist medical personnel from intelligence assigned to it as well as some rather esoteric equipment. I would suggest you familiarize yourself with the information as soon as possible because you are scheduled to depart in a solar day.”

The younger man stood slowly, grasping the data chip tightly. He regarded the elder officer in his chair for a moment. Wonderful, all this time I try to make myself invisible to politicians and now I get a high profile POLITICAL mission. I’d better get out of here before anything else happens. “Thank you for the warning sir. I will be as careful as I can. Honored to serve, Arch-Strategos Winkler. Long rule the Emperor.” He saluted with a fist to the chest.

“Long live the Empire” The commanding officer of Psyrix Sector replied. “And heed my warning, Cohortach Gemmell, be careful with this one. You will be observed from the very highest of levels. All is not as it may seem. To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘There is something rotten in Denmark’”

With that he waved his dismissal to the younger officer and turned in his seat to regard the Imperial banner, tracing with his eyes the blood-red form coiled around the blue planet, its claws out-stretched on the ebony background as if to sweep the scattered stars towards itself. And upon its head the Imperial Crown.

Yes, he thought, a most fitting symbol. The dragon sweeping all its enemies before it while guarding Mother Earth from all harm. “Yes most fitting.”

 

 

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