Task Group Actium
"Centurion Amy Dietz, Imperial Intelligence Directorate, reporting as ordered Cohortach," she lazily saluted Gemmell as he turned in his command chair to face her. She saw his face tighten over her actions and felt a thrill of satisfaction.
"So you are what I.I.D. sent me." He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers before his mouth, regarding her. She reminded him of a creature that he'd once found hiding under a rock - strange and disgusting.
"Sir?" Her voice cold and hard as she realised he was not intimidated by her presence.
"Never mind, here are some orders for you." He leaned towards her, his expression dark and his tone harsh. "You are not to interfere in the running of this ship or task group in any manner or form. If I hear that you have, you'll find yourself going out an airlock without the benefit of a pressure suit. Am I making myself clear?" He gestured to the two guards on the Flag Bridge and they came to stand behind her. The threat was obvious, and serious.
"Yes sir, perfectly…. clear." She willed herself not to react to the intimidating presence of the guards behind her. She looked on with hatred when Gemmell smiled and leaned back in his chair.
"Good. Now tell me, just how I am supposed to track one man, who has been missing for over 5 standard cycles, through an unknown region of space." His obvious distaste for being left out of the loop was fuel for both her ego and her new found hatred of the man in front of her.
"Wasn't that covered in the briefing chips, sir?" she uttered smoothly and with no attempt to hide her satisfaction over his lack of knowledge.
"It was mentioned in them, yes. Let me paraphrase, 'the scouts location shall be determined by use of a classified method', hardly the most revealing briefing I have ever seen. Now that I think on it, there were an awful lot of 'classified methods' and 'information' mentioned. It would appear that I am not considered sufficiently trustworthy by I.I.D to have free access to this information. Now I'm guessing here, but I suspect that you know a lot more than I do. So perhaps you would care to enlighten me?"
"I'm afraid my orders only allow me to give you that information as I perceive necessary for the successful outcome of the mission." She smiled slightly at his lack of reaction, knowing that somewhere deep inside he was raging.
"Ah I see, so in effect you will be telling me what to do?" Some of his hidden fire leaked into his voice, which had a dangerous tone attached.
"Not at all, sir, but…" she said cautiously as she began to wonder just how far it would be safe to push him.
"But nothing, Centurion. Here are your options." He raised his hand and slapped the armrest of his chair with a resounding crack! "You can either tell me all I wish to know or I'll have you taken to the medical bay and have the information taken from you. The choice, of course, is yours." The anger he had struggled to control now blazed for all to see. It was obvious to Dietz that he was serious and that she had no option at all but to go along unless she could get some orders from Central Command to remove her from his chain of command.
"You can't do that to me. I'm Intelligence," she stalled, trying to think of someway to gain access to the comms in order to have him over ruled.
"Yes you are but you are assigned to me and under my orders. Which means I am your God Centurion, and I can do anything I wish to you. I may have to answer for it later, but for now I have a completely free hand. Decide." He smiled at her obvious evasions and attempts to stall for time.
"May I at least contact my superiors to gain their permission?" This, she decided, was her only hope. Once they had travelled through the Knossos portal he would totally control all communications.
"For your information, Centurion Dietz, I am your superior and I would say you are already in contact with me. And before you ask, no, you can't contact anyone in the Intelligence Directorate." He smiled at her coldly before mocking her with a copy of her salute to him.
"He nodded to the lead guardsman, "Take her to her quarters and keep her entertained until we have completed the…" He paused before turning to his flag captain. "Gillian, what is the proper terminology for travelling through the Knossos portal?"
Flag Captain Gillian Rameriz, who had been watching the confrontation between Gemmell and Dietz with amusement, shrugged her shoulders and said, "I have no idea sir, it wasn't mentioned anywhere as far as I could see. So I guess it is whatever you want to call it."
"Ah what an honour I have." He grinned at her before adding, "I think we shall call it a jump. That is, after all, what we are doing, jumping from one region of space to another." He turned back to the guardsman, "Take her to her quarters and stay with her until we have completed our jump." With that he gestured the guards to take her away. As he watched, Dietz shot him a look of pure hatred over her shoulder , which condensed into an all-consuming rage as she saw him smile and wave at her mockingly.
"Do you really think it was wise to annoy her so early on?" Rameriez's voice came from behind him.
"I think it is best that we get these things over and done with as quickly as possible. That way misunderstanding will not occur." He turned in his chair to face her. "I take it you disagree?"
"Not disagree, so much as think you are taking an awfully big risk. If she starts to dig, there is a lot of information that could prove…damaging…to you and to the cause," she said in a quiet tone, not that she feared the lack of integrity of her crew but because it was better to be safe than sorry.
"I suppose you are right. Wipe my personal database of all incriminating information. Do your own as well. No point in taking a needless risk." A young officer approached and held out a status report.
"Sir, all ships are prepped for the jump and the Knossos device is spinning up to produce the portal. Command states we should be ready to go in less than an hour" Gemmell smiled as he caught the use of his newly coined terminology. He took the report from the officer and dismissed him.
"Well, Gillian, ready to see what's out there?" he questioned in a light-hearted manner.
"As always, sir." She smiled back before resuming her duties.
An hour later the first ship moved towards the portal. As it got close, the ship appeared to elongate for a few seconds before it vanished with a flicker of pseudo-motion, almost like it had been sucked down a hole. The next ship in line repeated these actions until the entire task group had gone and the portal started to slow down.
On the Flag Bridge of the largest ship, Gemmell turned to his comms tech and waited.
"Sir, I have Arch-Strategos Winkler on a priority channel for you." Gemmell patted the tech on the shoulder before turning to enter his private office just off the bridge.
"Route the signal to my private terminal, I'll take it in my office." The room he entered was an eclectic display of all the worlds he had visited in his career, ranging from small items to the stuffed remains of a Tarsis bear with its foot long teeth and razor sharp claws. He sat at his desk and hit the accept button on his comm. The image of the commander of Psyrix sector appeared on the holo imager.
"So it works then. Good. Well, you know what to do and just how much you have riding on this personally, so don't fuck it up." The old man in the image looks less threatening in miniature than he does in real life. I wonder if I can submit all my reports to him like this?
"Well, I am glad to see you find something amusing, Scott. God knows if I were in your position I would have trouble finding anything to smile about," Winkler's voice lashed out, startling Gemmell from his thoughts.
"Sorry, sir, I was." he trailed off and finally just shrugged.
"Never mind, I don't want to know. Just remember to file reports occasionally. Winkler out." With that the comms channel was cut.
"Well, that was painless. What a surprise!" He left his office and walked down to the officer quarters, entering the room assigned to Centurion Amy Dietz. He gestured for the guards to leave the room before sitting himself comfortably on the bed in the quarters, the only chair being used by Dietz.
"So have you decided to accommodate my wishes?" he asked in a calm tone, idly studying the interior of the room.
"I have little choice do I!" she spat at him, loathing evident in her voice. "But rest assured, you will be punished for this when we return. Ask me your damn questions."
"Good, I am glad to see you are being reasonable, my dear." He watched as she almost jumped to attack him before regaining control. "But I would be careful about making threats. After all, you never know what could happen to someone out here." Her face drained as she realised it was true that for now her survival depended upon his good will. She nodded shortly at him, letting him know his meaning was well taken.
"Very well, come with me and we shall have a staff conference where you can explain all about your methods of tracking our prize." He gestured at the door and when she stood he exited after her.
Minutes later in the staff conference room, the Flag Staff assembled and all the other captains attended by holo relay. Gemmell motioned for Dietz to start her brief, which she did with only slight hesitation.
"Now that we are here, I have been, ordered," at this she glared over at Gemmell, "to tell you our method of locating Centurion Crichton. Aboard his vessel six strands of Metallic Hydrogen were hidden. Each strand is encasing twenty gigatrads of Magnetic Monopoles, which are synthetically produced of course. As the strand's Metallic Hydrogen naturally decays it releases the monopoles. We will then be able to follow the trail of free monopoles like a trail of bread crumbs."
"But if we can detect these monopoles why couldn't anyone?" asked Gemmell, who was curious about this technology. It seemed to have possibilities beyond simply locating missing scouts.
"Because they would not know to look for them. They were only present shortly after the big bang. There are none naturally present in the universe now. No one would think to look for them." She said this as if it was the most obvious thing in creation and Gemmell was a fool for even posing the question.
"But what if his ship were captured or is being held on some planet?" Rameriez interjected into the seemingly private loathing competition between Gemmell and Dietz. The intelligence operative shook herself free from the intimate hatred she held for Gemmell to answer the question.
"We used Metallic Hydrogen because it is the densest material known to exist. It also is the only material that can suspend the MM's. If his craft were inside a ship, the MM's would simply pass through the hull. If he is on some planet, we will be able to track the halo that would circle the star that it orbits." She paused for an instant, glanced at Gemmell before adding, "See? Foolproof."
"But what if their ships' hulls contained Metallic Hydrogen?" the Flight Operations Director, Tetrarch Li Han, asked.
"Impossible. It took three years for the Imperium to collect enough Metallic Hydrogen to produce the strands for this one craft," Dietz dismissed the suggestion with scorn.
"No plan is ever foolproof," Gemmell stated flatly.
"What about Crichton himself? What do you know? Can you tell us about him?" Rameriez asked her, curious as to how security could be maintained when scouts were sent all over the galaxy and beyond.
"We use an advanced type of neural mapping. We overlay the existing memories and personality with a wholly new construct. The personality is designed to ingratiate it's self into any environment and adapt to survive as needed. The memories it has are out of date by 400 years. We also have implanted mnemonic cursors into the brain programmed to react favourably to specified stimuli, Like the shape of our ships, our uniforms and certain key phrases."
As she was talking, Gemmell contemplated the extent of preparation that had gone into this mission. There was obviously something important out here that high command was deeply interested in.
Aeryn was walking the corridors of Moya in the depths of the crew's normal sleep cycle because she was unable to sleep. As she passed John's quarters she heard a soft whimper of 'no'.
Pausing for an instant to draw her weapon, she entered his room scanning for any threat that might lurk in the deep shadows. Again she heard a soft cry and finally turned her attention to the lump on the bed. John lay in a foetal position at the centre of the bed. His blanket was a crumpled heap around his feet. His blanket was lying in a crumpled heap around his feet and John himself was clad only in his Calvin's. She watched as he shook from the force of his dreams and noticed tears were rolling down his sleeping face.
"John," she said softly as she sat beside him on the bed and shook his shoulder. "Wake up, John. You're dreaming."
Aeryn hesitantly reached out to touch his face. Instantly his eye flew open. John threw himself off the bed, away from where Aeryn was sitting. His pulse pistol appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and it was pointed directly at her.
"John it's me!" She cried out, realising that although he was awake he was still in the grip of his nightmare. John's eyes darted around the room wildly. His chest heaved convulsively, drawing oxygen deeply into his lungs.
Slowly his conscious mind reasserted control over his senses and he began to relax. He lowered the pulse pistol that had been pointed directly at her chest throughout the event. He stared at her for an instant before speaking.
"God, Aeryn," he panted through a tight chest. A wave of sickness almost overcame him as he thought about what he had almost done.
" I almost shot you," he wavered. Then dropping the pistol on the bed, he ran for the basin in the corner and was sick. For an instant she though of just leaving. But she realised that John was suffering from something and she had no idea what.
She hesitated at the threshold to the small room. The sight of John bent over the basin was a shock to her. For a moment, her desire to help him wavered. Peacekeepers were trained to control their fears; seeing him exhibit such a lack of control brought a brief wave of revulsion.
Then with a shake of her head, she walked over and crouched down beside him. She put a hand on his back and was shocked at the chill his flesh had as well as the layer of cold sweat she could she covering his body. Eventually Johns convulsions ceased and she helped him clean himself up before helping him into his bed.
All the while John had been watching her from the corner of his eye, afraid of seeing contempt on her face because of his weakness. But her face remained unreadable. Once he was in bed he expected her to leave but instead she sat beside him on his bed and took his hand in hers.
"I will get Zhaan. She can do something-"
"No. It's nothing Aeryn, really. Just some bad dreams." He hoped that would be an end of it but Aeryn's next statement dashed that frail hope.
"Then tell me what is
wrong. I want to know what it is. I have offered you my help before and
you have refused it, so now I am not offering I am telling you that you
will take it." She leaned forward slightly to better see his face and
clearly saw the look of panic that passed across his face in that instant.
He was silent for a long time, his attention focused inwards. He started
to hesitantly speak in a quite, subdued voice.
"I am seated in front of some sort of holographic projection near the centre of the bridge. It shows a green/grey world and lots of ships like the one I'm on in orbiting around it. How do I know they are the same type of ship? I don't know, but I know they are." He paused before glancing up at Aeryn who still sat watching him with the same unnerving blank expression. He swallowed dryly before continuing his story.
"An image of a female alien appears in place of the world. As far as I can make out, she seems tall, kinda feline, with downy, dusty-grey fur all over her. She is begging for a second chance, saying that they know we are truly their superiors and if we let them live they would live under our demesne loyally. As she is begging, I'm nodding, as if agreeing with her. Then, when she is finished and awaiting my answer, I can feel myself smiling at her. I open my mouth to tell her it will be ok, we can work things out, but that's not what comes out of my mouth."
"As I am watching her face, I order them to start the bombardment of the world. I see weapons falling away from the other ships, sparking briefly as they enter the atmosphere, then the planet is blanketed in huge explosions. Her face is horror-struck as she hears me give my orders, then there is a bright flash and she is gone. I … I don't know why I gave those orders, but I did." His expression echoed the haunted tone of his voice. In a quiet voice he continued.
"That's some of what haunts my sleep. There is more, but that is the worst. I feel that I did it, Aeryn, as if it's a real memory, not just a dream. I remember it in detail, too much damn detail for it to be a dream. But it has to be." He looked at her with eyes that housed a lost soul.
"Peacekeepers don't dream very often John, but the times I have it has always seemed so real to me upon waking that it scares me, but the memories fade quickly." She kept her voice low and calm, trying to soothe his obvious fears, but she was finding it hard. His belief that these dreams were real, when added to his behaviour for the past few monens, led her to be very worried indeed.
"It's as if I have two voices screaming at me to behave in two different ways," he continued. "Like when I hurt you, I was just so angry. I listened to the dark side and the next thing I knew you were down and it felt so good." His voice trailed off at this, and when it returned, it was lacking all emotional content. "And Rygel, I really was going to space the scuzzball, but at the very last second I changed my mind." He reached up and covered his face, trying to hide his shame over his actions from her.
"He makes us all mad, John, I'm sure you weren't really going to space him." she reached out and gently removed his hands from his face. Smiling softly, she said, " I know it seems hard now, but there is nothing we can't overcome together, I know that now."
"It scares me, Aeryn, I am out of control and there is nothing I can do. And to top it all off, I have Scorpius whispering in my ear, telling me to focus, to concentrate. I'm not me anymore, Aeryn. But if I'm not me, who the hell am I? Have you ever looked into a mirror and not recognised the person staring back at you Aeryn?"
"John I .."
"Because that's what it's like for me now, and has been for a long time. I don't know who I am. I once said I couldn't lose my mind because that was all I had left, well I'm afraid I might have lost it anyway."
"Long range scouts report this system has a operating base of some kind on the fourth planet. Also our own sensors report extremely high tachyon density in near orbit of the planet. Almost as if they have been creating proto-wormholes."
"So you think this is a research base into wormholes then?"
"Yes, sir, I do. All evidence points to it, the disguised planetary base coupled with the high tachyon readings and the fact that we know they are researching wormholes. It must be a primary research base."
"What does Imperial Intelligence think, Centurion Dietz?" he turned his command chair to look at where she was sitting in order to judge her reaction to the question.
"I agree with the captain's assessment of the system and the base. I would also suggest that this would make a perfect opportunity to gain the biological and technical samples called for in your orders." She paused for a second before adding an acid dripping, "Sir."
He smiled as he heard her words and her insult.
"You do, do you? Well fortunately for you I agree with your assessment. Gillian, move us in towards the planet and have my staff begin plans for a raid on that base. To be on the safe side, make it a full aggression assault. We know little of their defensive capabilities so we will play it safe."
New Gammak Base
"Sir, we have detected a number of ships less than 400 metras from the planet. They have launched fighter size craft, which are closing rapidly on the base."
"How the hezmana did they get so close before they were detected?" he thundered at his unfortunate second in command.
"Unknown sir, they must have some form of anti-scan technology," she replied simply, spreading her hands in denial of responsibility.
"Can you identify the ships? Are they Scarran?" That was his one true fear. A deep penetration raid by the Scarrans into the unknown territories.
"The ships are of an unknown configuration sir. The largest is equal in size to the largest of our command carriers. The others are cruiser and destroyer size."
"We cannot repel firepower of that magnitude. Start recording all information for transmission, encode it for any Peacekeeper vessel, priority Decca one. Then get me a channel to the largest ship and initiate our defences. We might at least be able to take some of them with us if they attack. I shall join you in command in a microt."
"Sir!" the comm tech called out. "We are receiving a signal from the base, do you wish to acknowledge it?"
Gemmell contemplated his options for a moment before deciding. He was curious to see for himself just how alike these aliens were to humans. He nodded to the comm tech and gestured to the holo display in front of him. A few seconds later the image of the base commandant appeared in front of him.
"Who are you? What regiment?" the surprised figure in the image said once he seemed to get over his shock of seeing another sebacean instead of an alien. "What are you doing here and what are those ships?"
Gemmell regarded the image for a few moments, amazed at just how alike sebaceans and humans appeared, at least outwardly. He knew that they must be similar as his scout teams were always thought to be of Peacekeeper origin when surveying commerce planets in this region, but until now he had had no idea of just how alike the two species appeared.
The figure in the holo image began to appear nervous as he watched the other male in the strange grey uniform studying his image. He suppressed his anxiety, feeling confident that these must be Peacekeepers of some kind. The first words from the other dispelled this half-formed hope.
"You will lower any defences you have and surrender your base and its personnel to my command intact. Any variance from these orders will be met with deadly force." Gemmell sat back in his chair as he watched these words reach the other. The commandant's face went white, red, and then back to white again as he tried to formulate some response to this ultimatum. After a few seconds he seemed to reach a decision and terminated the communications link.
"Well," the commander of Task Group Actium said. "I think we can take that for a no." He turned to his flag captain. "So Gillian, what op plan have you got for taking that base with minimal damage to the infrastructure?"
Flag Captain Gillian Rameriz put a data chip into the holo projector in the centre of the table that his flag staff were sitting around. The planet's image appeared above the table. The image rotated and zoomed in until they were looking at a three dimensional representation of the base plus notations on the locations of fire control systems and suspected weaponry emplacements as well as the theorised range of each weapon.
"So far we have detected over 40 heavy energy weapon emplacements and over 100 small to medium ones. What I suggest we do is stand off outside their range and destroy all the fire control systems we can locate with remote targeted munitions." She touched another control and the image zoomed in even more to show just one target designator.
"As you can see, these systems are embedded within a serious amount of armour but they should be vulnerable to the penetration power of the XAM-4 fighter missile. Unfortunately we only have a small supply of these missiles. As a result we can only target 60 sensors with them. That should be enough to take the heavier weapons off-line, but the smaller weapons seem to incorporate their own targeting systems. In order to destroy these we would need to send fighters inside the weapons range."
"What is the threat
assessment of those weapons to our fighters and assault shuttles?"
the flight operations director, Tetrarch Li Han asked from the other side
of the table.
"Unfortunately we can't tell you because we don't know and won't know until our fighters enter the weapons range. Until then, all we can do is make our best guess based upon our own technology. But there is always the chance that they have a completely new type of energy weapon that outperforms anything we have ever seen." She shrugged apologetically to the flight captain as she shook her head and grunted at these words.
"Great," Han said, "just what I and my people wanted to hear." A chuckle ran around the table at this.
New Gammak Base
"Sir, they have launched a new wave of fighters and larger marauder sized craft but they are maintaining flight paths just outside our defensive range." The commandant listened to the report as he watched the screens' display showing the ships in relation to his base. He turned to face his second.
"Launch all our prowlers, have them try to get the fighters to follow them inside our range. Also load all the marauders we have on the base with explosives. If nothing else we can attempt to use them to ram the capital ships." He turned back to the display. "But for now we can only wait for them to make their move." As if his words were prophetic the display altered as the orbiting fighters turned in toward the base and launched their missiles.
"Initiate the close-in defences," he shouted as he watched the projectiles streak in towards his base at speeds he had believed impossible until he saw it for himself. The defences, caught by surprise by the sheer speed of the attack, were slow in reacting and by the time the defences started to fire, intense explosions were already rocking the base.
"Sir, the missiles are being targeted at our heavy weapons and targeting systems. We have already lost over 60% of our armament. They have used contra-matter warheads, it's cutting through our armour like it's not there," the panicked officer at the weapons panel called out. Another shout from across the room caused the commandant's head to turn swiftly back towards the scanner.
"Sir, the larger ships are closing in on the base and the fighters are attacking our remaining defences." The report came from the miserable scanner tech, who watched as the ships wheeled around the base with seeming immunity from the remaining weapons at the base's disposal. The commandant was silent as he considered the situation.
"It is obvious now that they don't plan to merely destroy us, they want the base as intact as possible." He dropped his head, accepting the inevitable. "Launch all ships, have the fighters cover the marauders against fire as they try to reach the capital ships. Sound the intruder alert, then seal off all areas sequentially. Transfer the self-destruct command to my console." He looked around at the stunned faces in the room. He then smiled grimly as he felt the same shock. They were Peacekeepers, nobody should be able to do this to them!
He turned back to the scanner relay just in time to see the first of the troop ships crunch into the top of the base and disgorge troops in some form of armour, carrying large and powerful looking weaponry.