I kneeled on the floor, pondering the silence of the dark. I expanded my awareness outwards, into the bowels, alleyways, and partial ruins of Carnarvon Station and probed the damage. The battle had truly been spectacular, or at least the readings on my HUD seemed to indicate so. It ended so fast, too. I was certain that the Kenzenken warlord would push through, but perhaps he had found his limits.
The thousands of civilians around me shone bright in the eddies of gridspace. Their fear and confusion swirled around them like the winds in a storm. Some shone as bright lights and others less so. I probed further and further. They moved towards designated shelters and apartment complexes. I scanned through the domed city at the top of the station, through empty holo theaters, VR centers, restaurants, and outfitting stores. Nothing. The station became as silent as a tomb. A small sliver of frustration started growing in the back of my mind.
After the battle, I had slipped onto the station through the shadow of the stealth field, but without any prior knowledge of its environs, the warlord would be difficult to find. A curious oversight on our part. Did we miss something? Regardless, he could not escape. Finding a terminal, I used my intrusion software to access their power network and sent a surge that blew up one of the transformers. I also magnetically sealed any docked ship to the station and decided to leave the gravity on. Doing too much would risk station security finding my location. There would be enough time to find the warlord. He did not appear on any additional scans.
Only one other solution. I needed to find some high-ranking Republic officer and extract his location from them. I shifted my probe towards an administrative building under the dome. There. The commander of the station. I stood up and engaged my internal gravity generator. The Advisor would disapprove, but sometimes direct action trumped discretion.
I stepped forward into the darkness. The station’s intricacies surprised me. For such an unimportant civilian station, its volume was vast, enough to house a half dozen dreadnaughts. They must suspect something if they would bring so much hardware to this area of space. Unless the Advisor did not tell me all the relevant details of my task. That would be typical of him. I used my gravity field to float up into a ceiling passage. No time to question now. This task did not require me to make sense of things.
I watched the Republicans and Kenzenken soldiers scurry about through the darkened halls. Some even drew weapons on each other. This fragile peace balanced on a delicate edge. One small push and the blood would start to flow. This stalemate could not endure. I needed to move quickly or I would find the warlord dead in the crossfire.
As I approached a recreational center, I noticed two figures whose signatures in gridspace shined like fusion engines. As if by instinct, I identified them as the candidates. Through the darkness, they groped towards a passageway leading towards the center of the city. They were going the same way I was going. Good, they seemed to be smart people. I followed them, keeping my distance so my sounds stayed out of earshot. I recognized them as a man and a woman in Republic uniforms. As I continued to shadow them from a hundred meters, I felt that familiar pang of emptiness that I experienced at the willow tree. Something drew me towards them. Their pace quickened. I wondered if they had noticed me. I would need to capture them, but only after the completion of my primary mission.
The rest of the station grew still. The peace still held. A warning light in my HUD indicated that the authorities had detected my hack on the power. I imagined frantic techs working on getting around my programmed defenses. Time was running out.
The man and woman found flashlights. They progressed much faster. Through the dark city, through streets and alleyways they went, their way illuminated by the twin suns above the dome. I suppressed the gnawing feeling that I was wasting my time. Some strange compulsion drew me towards these people. I decided to continue following. They reached the façade of an empty noodle bar. The streets were still quiet.
“Stop!” a man’s voice called out. I switched on optics and a scarred man in heavy armor entered my vision. The warlord was here after all. He also came accompanied by four other armored soldiers. As if on cue, his gridspace signature convulsed like solar flares around him. He radiated the energies like a shining star. I raised an eyebrow. This was quite unusual. No human should have these readings.
The man and woman whirled around, their pistols aimed. The warlord’s security detail pointed their needleguns, weapons that fired thin cylinders of hot metal, at them. I stepped back, staying hidden in an alleyway. I did not want to endanger the mission by interfering at the wrong time. Something also told me that killing all of these people would not be a wise decision.
“Warlord Batu,” the woman said with a shake in her voice. “What’s going on?”
“Stand down,” he replied. “I’m not here to hurt you. We’ve been tracking your movements.”
“I don’t think so,” the man said, keeping his pistol aimed. “Less than eight hours ago, you were butchering thousands of our people. Why should we believe you?”
Batu blinked. “A mistake. I made the wrong choice in attacking. I apologize for the deaths of your comrades.” He waved at his guards to lower their weapons. They did. “Please, you must trust me now. The fate of everyone on this station, perhaps everyone in the galaxy, depends on it.”
They didn’t move. The warlord stepped forward. “I admit I’ve done many terrible things. Let my surrender be my first gesture of goodwill. I will give you a second one. Both our peoples are under threat, a threat from something beyond our current understanding. So please, let me explain myself.”
I started recording the conversation and storing it deep within my memory. The Advisor would find this information most intriguing.
The dark-haired man stared for a long time at him and his guards. Then, after a second, he lowered his pistol. The woman followed soon afterwards. I started strategizing a plan of attack, one that would allow me to access Batu and avoid killing the candidates.
“I know you, Alan Vuong and Nalia Sargire,” the warlord announced. “They told me of you. You two are the keys to this whole mess.”
“Wait, what?” the woman asked. “What’s going on?”
Batu raised his hand. “Let me start from the beginning. And I’ll try to be quick. I am quite sure that we are being followed.” He closed his eyes and opened them again. “Right before the war’s end, the Prime Minister approached me. He told me that the Coalition had been infiltrated at every level, but he didn’t know by whom. At first, we thought they were Republic agents, but none of what they did matched our knowledge of your intelligence agencies. We eventually deduced that they were someone else. The Prime Minister suspected the Republic had the same problem. After the Artifact incident, he became convinced that this infiltration threatened the very existence of our people. Thus, we had to end the war.”
I drew in a sharp intake of breath and shaped my gravity projection into a sharp point. I had to get rid of him before he told them too much. The debate in my mind held me back. I needed to kill him soon, but I was also curious as to how he obtained this information. Our plan was in great jeopardy and we needed to prevent any more setbacks. Killing him and his guards would take time, and some might escape. I decided to wait.
“Okay, and the rebellion? And the killing?” the woman asked.
“We found a few of the infiltrators. After months of torture, what little they told us was truly disturbing. The Prime Minister asked me to lead as many as people as possible away from the Kenzenken Coalition. The best place to hide from prying eyes, we believed, was in the Ramanujan Expanse. However, we could not tell anyone about our suspicions. Thus, we lied to our people. I convinced the die-hard militarists to join me on the pretense that we would continue the war.” His eyes looked downward. “I truly regret all the killing. All those brave soldiers dying without knowing why. I told them we would regain our glory and that we had a secret weapon waiting for us.” He hardened his look. “But it was the only way to act without alerting the conspirators.”
Clever and ruthless, I thought.
“Who was this someone else that the Prime Minister was so afraid of?” the man asked. “And what did you find out?”
The warlord reached into his pocket and pulled out a case. “Authorization: Batu,” he said to it. With a low hum, it opened, revealing a small yellow crystal. My eyes widened. My internal sensors grew wild and detailed charts popped up throughout my HUD. This was the source of the grid fluctuations. I detected a space-time distortion within the object and realized that the energies did not come from the crystal, but from somewhere in the grid. Sensors also detected a number of Kenzenken instruments embedded within it. Whoever built this had cooperated with them. I did not know whom.
“This is a key,” the warlord said in a low voice. “You know about tesseracts. You can go almost anywhere in the Republic or the Coalition using them. However, this only works with stable ones and it takes a long time for that to happen. We found an alternative way. Rather, we found out that the infiltrators had created an alternative way. They told us that these objects would lead to our salvation.” He looked around. “I will tell you the short version. We found this key on one of the spies. When we tested it, we were able to make something much more important than a tesseract. Our scientists were amazed. They said that it could potentially change the face of space travel. Then something—” As I aimed my projection at him and prepared to extend it, the lights switched on, illuminating me.
The first quiet whisper of a shot came from one of his guards. Warlord Batu ducked down. The man and woman stepped back. My shield caught the deadly needles. They clattered to the ground, still hot and sizzling. I jumped back and swept my gravity projection out in a slashing motion. It decapitated two of the guards. Their bodies fell on the ground as blood stained it a bright crimson.
“Run!” the warlord yelled. He threw the crystal at the woman, who caught it in her hand. “Get it to our people!” The remaining guards shot at me. I retracted the projection and rushed at them. They jumped to the side. I impaled one of them through the gut and kicked the other’s legs out from under him. Before he could get another shot off, I slashed his throat. I withdrew from the impaled guard, who fell and doubled over in pain. A shot pinged off my shield. It was from the dark-haired man, who stared at me with his mouth wide open. I prepared to disable him by severing his ankles, but before I could act, some internal process stopped me.
A roar came from Batu’s direction. The charged needle embedded itself in my shield and then exploded with a strong concussive force. The shockwave threw me towards the ground. I scrambled up, trying to get a read on the warlord. He did not appear on any of my sensors. Impossible, I thought. In the corner of my eye, I saw the man and woman running away towards a side street. I would need to deal with them later.
The ground beside me erupted in smoke and permacrete debris. I stepped to cover behind a nearby building and noted the molten hole where the shot had hit. An internal algorithm quickly calculated the location of the shooter based on the shot’s trajectory. It came from the top of an office structure five hundred meters away. Batu could not have run that far. Did he have a hidden sniper? No matter, the level of damage indicated heavier firepower. I brandished the impact rifle that I stored on my back. My fingers programmed its projectile into a shaped charge explosive and I aimed my rifle at the building. The gun found a lock within a second. I pulled the trigger and a bright bolt surged out of the rifle’s barrel. In two microseconds the top floor of the building exploded in fire and steel. Focusing my sensors on the ruins, I found the melted chassis of a heavy weapons drone and the corpse of a Kenzenken technician. He or she must have deployed it while I skirmished with the guards.
I did not receive any warning when Batu rushed towards me from the side. The shield failed to repel him and we fell to the ground. He brought the butt of his weapon up in an attempt to bludgeon me. Before he could hit me, I used a gravity projection to cut off his arm holding his gun. Blood spurted onto my chestplate. He screamed in pain as he fell to his side. Regaining my bearings, I picked him up and impaled him against a nearby wall with another gravity projection. The stump of his arm continued bleeding as I prepared my hand for interface. My eyes focused on his face. I saw that his smile, like that of a hunter catching his prey.
“Not today, bitch,” he said as he pulled out a grenade with his intact arm. The indicator light went off before I could react. My vision filled with light and shrapnel. Auditory sensors blew out from the explosion’s roar. The HUD went dark.