Chapter 26: Space
Around 9:00 Dass called for a general meeting on the bridge. Once again, everyone packed in. Without Haj's complaining, the seemed even more crowded and humorless. From his command chair the captain spoke, "Outside this room only a handful of people on the planet know about the danger we face. If this satellite does manage to make contact with the Aggendi, then we can assume that all human life in the Algol system might be destroyed. General Haversom and I are unwilling to let this happen. You have all been part of this program for less than two months, and many of you are probably hoping that the Overwatch program will be disbanded so you can return home. We will deal with that problem when, and if, it arises. Right now, we must stop this madman's plot to signal the Aggendi, and bring them to us. We must destroy the satellite, no matter the cost."
Suddenly there is a flashing light, and Arisa indicates incoming units...hostile units. By the time we had entered our mektons and exited the Circus, the attackers were too close for comfort. The sensors identified the swarm as eight Pariahs. The satellite was too far away to try for it without first eliminating the Pariahs. Cedric and Larani split the others into two groups as I readied the drone cannons. To better protect myself, I didn't launch them and instead merely activated the lasers for side defense.
This was the first chance I had to try a new targeting program I developed in the days spent in inactivity. This would link the tracking and firing of any or all of the mounted weapons and drones to either of the hand held particle rifles. The Pariahs also split into multiple groups, two groups of three, which engaged each group of Sentinels, and one group of two which launched themselves straight at me. The first test of my program was a success as the left Pariah learned as five beams of light melted various areas of the mekton. There was an explosion when a particle rifle hit the grenade case in the right leg. Being part way inside the mekton, the armor provided little protection for neither the mekton's inner structure nor the other grenades. There was a chain reaction which totally obliterated the limb. The shock from the attack caused both pilots to miss with their grenade launchers.
We flew at each other in a cosmic game of chicken. At the last second I turned about letting them have it with one side's drones and a broad sweep with my tail. I wasn't sure if the lasers hit, but feeling the twin shock waves through my Scarab answered any questions I had about the improved tail. As I swung around, letting loose another barrage of laser there was a sharp pain in my right shoulder. Outside the second Pariah had its chain buzzer bite into the corresponding part of my Scarab. When I was once again facing them, I noticed that the Lefty's cockpit had caved in and was floating dead in space.
Shifting the particle beams to their forearm holsters, I grabbed the remaining Pariah at the shoulders and shook it violently. As suspected, the pilot was bouncing around so much that he couldn't do anything against me as I dissected it with the drone cannons. I picked up the mekton-scale grenade launcher and examined it briefly. Rather similar to its Earth equivalent, it was easy to load, aim, and fire at the other Pariahs. The irony of this was not lost on anyone.
It was long range and a moving target, but then the Pariah was caught completely by surprise. Its own grenade launcher was shattered while in the process of firing. The resulting explosions cost the Pariah everything beyond the elbow. Using the resulting confusion, Cedric and Tammis stabbed it with their beam swords. Panic rippled through the attackers and one by one, they broke off the attack and headed towards the satellite. Larani's team had managed to destroy one of the Pariahs but Aleoi's mekton had been severely damaged and there were doubts as to whether or not it would survive long in a firefight.
Larani's plan was to rush the remaining attackers and I would attack the satellite from behind. Being several times faster than the Sentinels, my orders were to charge at full throttle and try to scatter and confuse Axis long enough for everyone else to deal with them. However I was also faster than the Pariahs, at least some of them. Half had their thrusters damaged and I was closing in. The others were much faster and streaked off into the blackness of space. My tail cannon disabled the remaining engines of the more damaged Pariah. As I flew past, I couldn't tell if the pilot was still alive so I brushed it off leaving the question behind for Larani et al.
The other damaged Pariah turned suddenly and attacked me. The last shot I had with a stolen grenade launcher reduced that threat to atoms. But not before a laser hit my side. There seemed to be no major damage and there wasn't time available to do a full systems check. Unfortunately there also wasn't enough time to retrieve any stray ammo. The only further use I'd get out of this thing was as a club.
Soon the target was in visual range. There was a debris field surrounding it. It was a safe bet that Axis mektons were hiding in there. My attempt to relay this to the others uncovered the fact that the laser hit had damaged the radio. Switching to a rear view, I noticed no one was behind me. There must have been a change in plans and no one bothered to tell me about it. I hate it when that happens. Homing in on the satellite, I found a large new type of mekton hovering in front of it. It was humanoid with a large shield in the left arm and a bazooka mounted over the right shoulder. Its pilot saw me and flew in my direction at an astounding speed.
When faced with an unknown assailant, especially a mean looking one, discretion is the better part of valor. The debris field contained too many surprises to risk using for cover, leaving only the option of fleeing. But where would I go? I had no idea where Rimfire was and everyone was counting on me to complete my part of the plan. Ahhh, the good ole days where I was in charge and didn't have to answer to anyone. Instead of flying through the debris, I opted for flying over it. At the least it would slow the enemy down and give the calvary a chance to arrive. It was bigger than I originally thought and took vital time to reach the other side. But as I prepared to enter the field, there was that new mekton revealing itself from behind an asteroid.
The short-ranged radio built into my helmet crackled to life, "So we meet at last. Axis has been watching you, Nathan Conners. Why do you ally yourself with these fools? We are not that much different, you and I. Join us and everything you ever wanted is yours." a female voice offered.
Radar reported that this was the only mekton in range, but the debris made the readings unreliable. "You seem to know much about me. Who are you? And where did you get that robot?"
"My name is unimportant right now, but I'm glad you like this mekton. It is called Rogue and it can be yours if you switch sides. This wouldn't be a first for you, would it now?"
Just keep talking as I scan you for weak spots, I though to myself. Her last comment struck a cord with me. I had known betrayal. But I only backstabbed someone when I knew that they were out to get me. "Why is Axis so interested in me?"
"Isn't it obvious? You are from another world. My lord, Dremmond, believes salvation would come from the stars. With you and the Aggendi at our sides, we cannot fail! Algol will be ours!"
My scanners reported the Rogue is one tough mother, decent armor paired with high speed thrusters and the plasma gun from hell resulted in a low survival rating for yours truly. Preparing for the worst, I activated the reflex booster and bought some more time. "Is this why you're here? To make an offer I cannot refuse?"
She chuckled, "I was not ordered to, but here you are alone. Without Overwatch intervention, we can give you the chance to be on the winning side. It's not our usual procedure, but I think you deserve a second chance. Besides, I've seen you in the news and found you rather att-" A slight pause, "You must make you decision now! Fireflight is close. You may either join us or die and I would much prefer the former. This is your last chance!"
Outgunned and outmatched couldn't sway my principles. I charged straight into the debris field firing every weapon I had at the Rogue. With reflexes nearly as fast as my own, she dodged most of my attacks. What she couldn't avoid, the shield absorbed. "You had your chance, Fox. Know that I take no pleasure in destroying you." she called back firing her beam rifle.
Only a broad barrel roll saved me from the lances of plasma energy. Knowing the odds were stacked against me, I played to survive not to win. The others were headed to the satellite so that was where I would go. Maybe together we have a chance of defeating her. Off in the distance between large moving rocks signs of a firefight between Fireflight and the Pariahs. I pushed the throttle as hard as I dared, weaving between obstacles and dodging the Rogue. Just after I circled a larger rock, it exploded pelleting me with pebbles. The Rogue's main cannon was smoking as an example of what would happen to me soon.
The satellite was in my sights and I was just about to blast it when there was a burst of activity. Lights went up all over the satellite's hull, and a burst of energy escapes flying off for parts unknown. I felt some sort of psionic backlash, like what happens when a truck passes you on the street. But my own innate defenses protected me. Looking around, I notice that almost everyone else is floating dead in space, including the Rogue pilot. I couldn't tell if everyone was alive or dead, but I wasn't going to take the chance and prepared to destroy my prone enemies. Turning my attention back to the satellite, I noticed that there were several life support pods attached. Why was it there? Who was living inside? Well since it wasn't going anywhere, I decided to leave it alone long enough to take care of a few Pariahs. Laian had also survived and was currently under attack by the two Axis pilots.
"Looks like I got a live one here!" I said into the mike as I let loose with the particle rifles.
Already damaged from before and totally unprepared for the psionic attack, they fell very easily. Laian flew in close, her mekton was barely holding itself together. "Thank goodness you're here! What happened, we tried contacting you but you wouldn't acknowledge?"
"Radio's busted. Listen we've got a new brand of Axis mekton to deal with. I don't know if the pilot's dead, but we've got to take care of it quickly before it destroys us all!"
"The mental attack's only temporary. Everyone should return to normal soon. What happened with the satellite? Why didn't you blow it to atoms?"
"There's life support pods on it. People might be inside. Now let's go!" I steered my mekton to where I last saw the Rogue. There it was in all its glory. Rather impressive from where we were standing. Laian reported that Cedric and Karin were coming out of it, as was a Pariah. But instead of attacking, the Rogue saluted me and retreated into the depths of the debris field.
"What was that about?" Laian asked as we disarmed Axis and insured the rest of Fireflight was still alive.
"I'm not quite sure. Except for that I'm sure that we will meet again, soon." With all of Fireflight helping, moving the satellite to the Rimfire was a cinch. Dass asked for volunteers to enter it and preform an investigation. In case there was anything hostile, I offered to go in first. Aleoi, Tammis and Larani also volunteered. The airlock had a simple lock which I expertly disarmed and we entered.
Inside there were twenty glass tubes, each inhabited by a nude person. About twelve women and eight men were imprisoned in these glass cells. There were some recognizable faces: Arisa's little brother, Terrin Fellai, and Eliza. I nearly dropped my Mauser when I saw here there, lying inside that tube straight and rigid. Only steady breathing testified to the fact that she was still alive. I reached back with my right arm, intent on smashing the glass and freeing her, but Larani stopped me.
"Aleoi thinks that there might be a booby-trap here. You just wait until we know for sure." she said.
Sure enough, Aleoi was right. If there was any tampering, every tube would be killed by lethal gas injected into their life support. I interfaced my personal computer to the controls and jacked into it. Without a skilled netrunner or a proper computer, the cybernetic world of this machine was a mass of jumbled icons and pathways. Worried about the consequences of failure, I helped Aleoi search through the programs for the trap. Once found, I stood back and let her disarm it, ready to pounce the second something went wrong.
After tense seconds, the trap icon disappeared and the "revive" function flowed out into the pods. Ejecting out of Cyberspace, I saw the pods filling with a bluish gas which quickly dissipated. But when the chambers opened nothing happened! I ran over to Eliza, desperate for some sign that she was regaining consciousness. I took her hand and looked long and hard at her face for some change of expression. My mind rushed back to that other girl who was also in a coma. Would I be so willing to kill Eliza in the name of mercy as I was for her?
Reaching out with my mind found nothing and the question remained. I couldn't even think of reaching for my weapon. The answer was an unconditional no. But what if Eliza is going through the same thing as that other girl and my sister? What then? I hoped that the mystery person would awaken first and answer the needed questions so I may know what would be the right thing to do. It wasn't until I heard some commotion behind me, that I finally looked away.
Terrin Fellai had awakened and had came out swinging. It was obvious that he was trying to escape, what he didn't seem to know was that we were in space. I left Eliza's side and walked up to him. He blindly punched my chest and received a set of bruised knuckles for his effort. Seeing Eliza there made me more upset than I realized. Not even bothering to use any martial arts which I spent years developing, I punched him in the jaw. It was a knockout punch worthy of any boxer. Terrin collapsed on the floor like a sack of bricks. Looking over his body, I noticed that he was suffering from malnutrition, something too common in Night City, but not what I expected here.
Dass ordered the victims' evacuation to the Rimfire then to have the satellite destroyed. I was last to leave, doing a final check to insure everything useful had been salvaged. With no one else around, I punched out that blasted computer which held these good people prisoner and nearly killed them. It spurted sparks as the last volts of electricity flowed through its circuits as I left.
The satellite was vaporized by the Rimfire and we returned to Sunlight1.
It was a grueling two day trip. No one from the satellite had awakened, including Terrin, and I should know. I was there with Eliza the whole time. Dass walked in hoping for some good news, which there was none. He commented about how annoyed he was about the fact the other ship was still sitting at the dock where we left it. We docked with Sunlight1 on the evening of the third day, and all the patients were transferred to the medical bays of the station. With the use of the medical computers, they were at least able to wake Terrin. The poor guy was in lousy shape, suffering from serious malnutrition, muscle atrophy, and a bruised jaw.
He remained awake long enough to talk with us, "They used the others.... I was used to keep them alive. They drew their nourishment from my body. I felt it when they screamed. Something is out there, something huge. I almost saw it. It's by a giant silver ring. The ring.... There are thousands of them, sleeping. He wants to be the alarm clock...."
He passed back into a deep sleep. There was nothing else the medical crew can do, only let him rest. We were joined by Emilia, Tharis, and Dass. Tharis had a Sunlight1 uniform with sergeant stripes. In the mist of the reunion, Emilia explained that the second transmission was sent to the same spot as the first, the same asteroid. The Space Command also ordered that the Tarsus was to remain at Sunlight1, despite Emilia's best efforts. The Rimfire was the only ship able to find out what is at that asteroid. The trip would take 300 days, much longer than our supplies would last. Dass spend the evening with Emilia and in communication with Haversom.
Tharis bought us dinner and we exchanged stories about what has happened. He and Emilia got married a few days ago and the new Sentinels had arrived. Everyone on the station had finally settled into a normal routine and Tharis seemed rather content. This surprised me, as I never thought that Tharis would ever be comfortable with such predictability. Marriage and security can really change a person. Tharis was impressed with our own exploits, but he appeared somewhat glad that he wasn't a part of them.
It was late when we finally decided to turn in. The night passed without event. I didn't want to use the inducer in hopes that my subconscious mind might do something to help the people from the satellite. Morning came and nothing seemed to have happened. Dass called the entire crew of the Rimfire into one of Sunlight's conference rooms. For once, all of us were assembled in a place large enough to hold us easily.