Chapter 17: Kalian Launch Facility
The stars were out that night. I spent some time enjoying the luxury of watching them before bed. Since I needed time to heal, I didn't use the inducer again. Bad dreams came and went confirming their connection to Laian. But they were nothing that I hadn't already experienced so I decided not to tell her. She had enough on her mind to worry about this. In the morning hours, Kalia stood in the distance. But due to other carrier and barge traffic, we wouldn't dock until mid afternoon. I spent the time trying, without success, to find Sepheoi and Silvima.
To make an appointment on another carrier, Silvima already left for Kalia. Sepheoi was gone also, she left with the other buyers on a supply run that would last all day. When asked about ferrying us over, Larani said the launch isn't going to happen earlier than planned. I purchased another set of clothing at the store to kill time. Eiran went around saying his good byes. While he was sad to leave, he accepted it and didn't try to quit so he could stay. Finally we arrived at the city and we disembarked. Eiran's parents gave him a tearful, and pretty embarrassing, farewell to him as Tiran saw us off. As we walked off the gangplank, we were greeted by two Kargan soldiers who led us to a truck with EMF markings. Standing in the from of the truck, wearing an officer's uniform, is a tall, smiling, red-haired woman.
She greeted us, and introduced herself as Colonel Lisa Caball. She sent the soldiers back to get our luggage, and welcomed us to the Kalian Launch Facility. She loaded us into the truck and took us to the launch facility. On the pad is a large multi-staged rocket, with a group of mektons being loaded into it. Lisa explained that we will be launched in a smaller shuttle, to be followed up my the transport rocket. The launch was set for tomorrow morning and we have some time to relax.
Larani decided that now it was time to tell her about the hidden warning in the coded message. She was surprised that this could happen and ordered her people to comb over the shuttle. An hour later the bomb was found strapped to the fuel tank. "It will take 24 hours to fully examine all our shuttles for more bombs. Whoever planted the bomb did some sabotage along the fuel line. You will have to take another shuttle. I'm afraid that your launch will be delayed by a day. But until then you may move about the island as you wish."
We were first taken on a grand tour of the base. Nothing too extraordinary but interesting. The highlight was the mass driver under construction. It will be completed in a few years and is designed to knock out ships from orbit. I know a few people who'd like one of these for Christmas. However all of those people deserve coal in their stockings, not a device of this magnitude. Most of it was classified so we only got a passing glimpse on the way to the practice area. The new mektons we were assigned were called Sentinels. Larani decided that we could make the best use of our time by practicing maneuvers with the Sentinels.
On the way to the mekton hanger we ran into one of the base's mekton pilots. His name was Eima "Falcon" Daris. When Karin spotted him, he immediately turned away and left. I asked her if they had a history. She was her usual stoic self and didn't answer. So the only remaining questions were how and why it ended. Did her personality got in the way? Naaaaaaaa. The Sentinels were over forty feet tall and had some impressive weapons. I liked the particle beam rifle because it had two settings, a more powerful blast and a rapid fire pulse. Combine that and a mini fusion generator providing nearly infinite ammunition results in a happy Edgerunner.
The practice mektons had fake weapons and a computer link to simulate damage taken. We took turns between transversing an obstacle course and combat. Since the time on Fiora island, my new skills had gotten a bit rusty, but I was able to polish and even improve them over the day. Over a dinner of (sub)standard military food, I attempted to make progress in learning what Karin was hiding. She told me to mind my own business in less than polite terms. Best to stay off the subject.
One of the other mekton squads had reserved the use of the practice area for the evening so it was off to target shooting. I needed little practice and considered it to be a waste of bullets for me, as was the same for Tharis, but the others.... Few of them had any real experience with a hand held weapon and fewer still were proficient in their use. Several hours and many clips later, everyone can at least hit a target twenty five meters away nine out of ten times. This was under the best of conditions with a stationary target, but they were better than before. Laian had more problems due to the high rate of fire. It seems that whenever she pulled the trigger, the kick would ruin her aim. The question of whether or not she was strong enough to handle such a weapon was immediately refused.
The situation was corrected when I made some small adjustments. Now there was a small switch on the side which selected the rate of fire had three settings. Previously there was only two, single shot and full auto. I had added a three round burst option. With the kick greatly reduced, Laian's performance improved drastically. I could feel her pride and was a bit taken back by this. Never before have I had the ability to sense a person's thoughts. I was about to ask her about what was happening to me when Larani gave the order to cease fire and to turn in for the night.
But before I could follow Laian, Tharis slapped me on the back and struck up a conversation about the thrill of adventure. He made it sound like a sport, something to pass the time. But, in the same way I could sense Laian's pride, I could feel that he considered me to be a fellow adventurer like himself, always living a life of danger and excitement. That much was true, but he didn't know about the darker side, the carnage of a street battle, the disappointment of learning the info you stole is worthless, the frustration of knowing that all you do probably won't make the world better, the sadness realizing that you actually made things worse, the fear you have of enemies you've humiliated who would do anything to kill you. He has the spirit and the history to be a fine Edgerunner like myself, but reality will do more to crush him than any physical threat.
Despite all this, I found myself liking Tharis like a good friend. He reminded me of the good times I had on missions, the satisfaction of springing a well designed trap, the pride of a job well done, the gloating, and the joy of watching your corp foe get ground under by their superiors. We did some comradely drinking and story swapping. I only told the highlights of some of my better exploits so the mood wouldn't be spoiled. The hours past much quicker than expected. More used to late night drinks, I had to half carry Tharis to his quarters. He fell asleep when his head hit the pillow. I wondered how much of tonight he would remember.
Before I went to sleep, I remembered how much time I spent with Laian and the dreams that would come tonight. Physical enemies I could deal with. But how do I fight my own mind? Until I could learn more about this psychic power building up inside me, the sleep inducer is the best way to avoid the problem. I set the timer on four hours. Though more than enough time for a good rest, I would wake up with everyone else and not have a severe hangover (at least not as bad as one after a two hour sleep). Oblivion was rarely as blissful as it was now. No dreams or visions or rearranged furniture dared approach me in the morning. I felt better than ever. So much so that I foolishly decided that my questions for Laian could wait. Maybe I subconsciously just didn't want to worry about them or concern myself with the consequences of asking.
Poor Tharis had better days. He had more to drink than I did and it showed. The day was spent with more practice with mektons and firearms. Falcon was seen on occasion, but Karin refused to speak or even look in his direction. Now all I could get from her were feelings from a past relationship and worry about the present. Instead of fearing this ability, I realized that with control and practice, this could be a great advantage in my business if I ever got back home. Perhaps it would be best to keep this from Laian. Make this a secret weapon.
A new fear came to me. I was unique here, born on a far off planet and now exhibiting new powers. What would the Murians say? Would the offer to train me or imprison me? Was their school for psychic powers a brainwashing center to keep these powerful minds in check and loyal to their ruler? Her nation is pretty secretive maybe there was something bigger going on. I knew the chances were small, but Night City kept the idea alive. After all it did make sense to want to keep a tight rein on someone who could not be disarmed. It was best to remain quiet. Though I wouldn't be moving forward, I wouldn't be moving backward either. I stayed away from Laian whenever possible and tried to guard my thoughts from her.
It might have been easier if I knew how to do it. Either I did a good job, or she wasn't looking because nothing happened. During a break I caught Eiran doodling on a napkin. "It's just an idea for a new mekton." he said simply. The drawing stood at attention and looked like any other mekton. He said that it was specialized for city fighting and asked for advice. "Maneuverability is more important than speed. A transformation into a ground vehicle might be useful. Add a few rockets in case the pilot needs to bring a building or two down. But don't have too many or make them a major weapon. A miss could be disastrous. Try to have the weapons armor piercing instead of having a high destructive power. Again consider what would happen if you don't hit your target. Size is also a factor, though it's not as important if it transforms. Again maneuverability is the reason. A smaller mekton could hide in a parking garage better than a larger one." I offered.
He got the message and got the look of inspiration as he did some more scribbles. No more bombs were found on any of the shuttles or transports and the launch would take place tomorrow at 0500 hours. Larani gave us an early night so we'd be ready for the launch. I had successfully avoided contact with Laian without getting her suspicious so I figured that I had the luxury of real sleep. Besides, what else could I do between now and the launch? There were dreams as I expected, but they didn't have a feeling of doom the others had. But I couldn't shake the feeling that there was some hidden meaning there.
The alarm woke me up and I completely forgot just what the dreams were about. All I remembered was that they weren't bad. We would be traveling on the second rocket with the Sentinels. The first was on an unrelated mission to the far side of the planet. We were driven to the launching pad in an armored truck. Through the tiny windows, I could see that the perimeter was heavily guarded. We were strapped into the rocket's small passenger compartment behind the pilots. The last hour's countdown had begun. It went down slowly, methodically. Sweat beaded on everyone's forehead. Was there another bomb? Was asked silently by everyone. The worry assaulted my brain from all sides. After an eternity, the engines burst into life and, the giant cargo rocket lifted off the ground.
There was no artificial gravity here unlike Dion's shuttle. After the intense G's from lift off faded away, weightlessness took over. The pilot said we could no unstrap and relax; the long ride home had begun. It was rather uneventful. The novelty of 0Gs wore off quickly in the cramped quarters of the cargo shuttle. It was impossible to avoid Laian under these conditions. I took the opportunity to ask about her psychic training. Much of the school was considered secret information, but what she did tell me reminded me of Japanese schools were every waking hour was spent in either class or study. It was the only home she had ever known and her classmates were like family. Nothing she said led me to believe that she had any knowledge of my abilities so I relaxed a bit.
I asked about the nature of her abilities using ignorance as a smokescreen to gather more information. Care was taken so that I wouldn't accidentally make her think my questions were anything but innocent curiosities. I couldn't learn if mental powers were contagious directly because then she'd ask why I asked. So I wound up asking about why some people have these abilities and others don't. "According to ancient history, when Algol was first settled by both Humani and the psionically strong Elomani. The only difference between the two races was that Elomani had three fingers and had a much greater chance of devolving mental powers. They were genetically compatible, maybe even part of the same species. The Elomani and some Humani came to, what is now, Murain and settled there. Over time intermarriage practically wiped out the physical features of the Elomani's decedents but their mental talents remained. There are some 'pure' Humani with psionics, but they are rare."
"Why did Murian close off their nation?"
"Most of the scientists and technologists were among those who first settled Murian. When war was seen on the horizon between other nations, Murains worried that their nation might be seen as a prize so we build a force field to keep them out. After a few years of trying everyone gave up and left us alone."
Through her I was able to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of Algolain history. I spent the rest of the trip updating my journal making note about every psychic occurance I experience. Not having a good opportunity since the hospital Rilla's goons sent me to, I had a lot to write about. By the time I was done, we were about ready to dock at Dion City. Haversom was there to welcome us. With him was a man who was introduced as Altair Dass, Captain of the Rimfire ship. After a polite greeting, he went off to supervise the loading of our mektons onto Rimfire.