Frontier – Act00 Chapter33 – Hardcover

Chapter 33: Hardcover

Luna
The Collapse

The weapon felt odd in her hands. The weight of the rifle seemed to speak with authority to its lethality. She had held a gun before. Of course she had. She was a soldier, after all. Well, that wasn’t actually true. There were very few soldiers these days, but a lot of people decided that a change in career was necessary since this mysterious invader had arrived.

The enemy had moved in quick, and all the security that people thought they had in this golden age quickly evaporated. The Warminds, stalwart protectors of everything they had built with The Traveler’s gifts, ceased all communication, but people really started to panic when The Traveler began to move from Mars to Earth. Was it afraid? How could a god feel fear?

Her father had been a knight. An avatar of The Traveler’s protection. He’d trained her in the arts of war, and she had loved those days dearly, but as she grew older her heart turned to different mysteries and her mind focused her towards the study of the newly-vibrant Martian ecosystem. Now, Mars was being evacuated, and she was on Luna, with a gun in her hand, being told that if they failed to repel this threat, it was all over. She could see a symmetry in it, and in the past she would have mused at it. Not now.

At least she was not alone. Sure, there were knights leading the largest volunteer army humanity had ever known, but that’s not the presence that made her feel safe.

Years prior, when she had left home to pursue her thirst for knowledge, she went with a group of her colleagues to Mars. Most were university students at the time like herself, but one individual stood out to her while she waited for the transports to be filled with passion-filled youth like herself. An Exo. Clad in a tasteful cream with brown patches tweed jacket and some well-worn blue denim jeans, he sat in a terminal lounger reading an old paper-printed book about Martian beetles.

“How did you come across that?” she asked, sitting in the lounger next to him.

“I beg your pardon?”

She nodded towards the book and smiled at him. His glowing azure eyes blinked at her curiously.

“It’s a widely-read treatise.”

“I’m very familiar with the paper but how did you get it on… actual paper?” she asked with a giggle. “I don’t think I’ve seen someone reading a physically printed book in years.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. Forgive me. It was a parting gift from a friend. A bit of a running gag with him. He always enjoyed giving me archaic items as a juxtaposition to my synthetic nature.”

She hid a small laugh.

He smiled at her and closed the book to give her his full attention. “I assume you’re here with the rest of these students.”

“Yes! I’m very excited to begin my work on Mars. I have to say that I’ve never met an Exo academic. Your kind is-”

“-As full of surprises as any other sapient being. Yes, originally we were made for war, but many of us explore… let’s call them divergent paths from the one that was set out for us before The Traveler.”

She nodded, understanding his intent. Being a knight was a calling of the highest honour, but not all Exos were given the chance at such exaltation. Of course such sentient beings as the Exos would be free to follow their individual callings. They were perhaps most blessed by The Traveler, after all.

He held up the book. “Ever read it?”

“Of course! The giant Olympian beetles are fascinating. The largest known invertebrates by a wide margin, and such complex behaviours! Some call them Martian dolphins on account of how intelligent and agile they are. Reading about their study was more entertaining than most of the fiction I relaxed with.”

The Exo smiled, picking up the book and retrieving a pen from his inside jacket pocket. “To whom should I make this out to?”

“Wait… you’re…”

“I can tell you’re really going to love Mars.”

In a year’s time, they were wed at the base of Olympus Mons, where the beetles were first discovered. Now, they were both looking up from the lunar surface at an enormous space battle that spanned as far as they could see, and The Traveler itself limping its way to Earth. The enemy was plowing through humanity’s forces like they were not even there. Enemy monsters were amassing on the ridge two klicks away from the anti-space batteries their volunteer unit was tasked with defending. There was no plan, no strategy, and no hope.

“My kind was made for war, but I’ll admit that I’m probably just as terrified as you, my love,” said the Exo, clad in the same equipment as her but looking not one iota more competent. His visage was especially calming to her as it was encased in a forcefield helmet, and she was thankful for it.

“I miss our beetles,” she said softly, knowing the carnage was almost upon them.

 

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Frontier – Act08 Chapter32 – Time In A Bottle

Chapter 32: Time in a Bottle

50:38
50:37
50:36

The derelict’s nose segmented into sections and slid back, revealing a portal more than large enough to allow small ships to enter. Inside was mostly open space. Scaffolding supported the outer hull and hundreds of docking clamps, gantries and other connectors to secure passenger ships for their ride through impossibility. However, not a single one was occupied. The emptiness seemed to echo with the voices of those long dead.

Arrenn gunned the engines and aimed the shuttle to the derelict’s centre, a huge glass orb that housed engineering as well as a few adjacent pods. He seemed completely unfazed by the sight.

“I wonder what happened here…,” whispered Vatyr under his breath. Perhaps the captain of the ship decided to make his own escape. Perhaps the ship’s engines began their catastrophic pattern and the crew managed to evacuate all the refugees in time. Perhaps the ship was full of people who met their end in the light of all possible futures.

41:13
41:12
41:11

Hard seal. Too much radiation coming from engineering to safely transmat in or out, so Arrenn quickly docked the shuttle as close to the core as possible. Telemica had the modified frontier unit packed up and strapped to her back. They darted through the gantry walkways, Arrenn taking point with a fusion rifle on standby spin. There were no corners to turn, doors to open or rooms to clear on the way, so Fireteam Warden’s dash took them right into engineering…

…and a wall of Vex energy rifle fire.

The glass orb of a room had three levels. The middle level was a ring, cluttered with towering server pillars and control consoles. Stairs led from the centre ring at the cardinal points to suspended platforms above and below. The lower platform was once clearly arranged to be a large office and meeting area, probably for the command staff, while the upper platform held the spacetime manipulation device that was key to the ship’s operation.

Telemica popped up a curved wall of void light to block the Vex salvo, large enough to give them some quick tactical options. The titan shifted right and took cover low behind a nearby server stack to protect the frontier unit, while the hunter and warlock engaged the enemy. Vatyr blinked high and settled into a perch between two support beams, while Arrenn ducked left and posted up behind what may have been a navigation console.

“Not to add yet another complication to the mix, but those are not your usual Vex. They’re Sol Imminent.” Relayed Glitch.

“So they’re not just Vex, but they’re Vex from the future?” asked Vatyr.

“It makes sense, considering the nature of this ship.”

Arrenn’s fusion rifle sprayed mercilessly into the advancing Vex units while Vatyr’s scout rifle popped their chest-mounted mind cores rapidly. Telemica would have been first into the fight, but the mission came first. While her cargo was built to take a beating, she didn’t want to put it in the crosshairs of a hobgolbin’s line rifle. Peeking out and looking up a staircase, she spotted the target. Encased in a Vex conflux and perched on a pillar surrounded by controls, the core spun slowly and in random directions, suspended in its clear casing. Its shape was reminiscent of three large-belled hourglasses fused together on the X-, Y- and Z-axis. Small orbs of rainbow light wandered between the bulbs and seemed to become excited when observed.

The Vex transfer portal was set up in the middle of the lower platform, the pleasant furniture having been destroyed to make room for it and the command controls repurposed to control the portal. Vex began to crawl out like metal zombies from a glowing grave, first replacing the destroyed units, and then to bolster their numbers. A small group of hobgoblins were using their stasis fields to defend the portal from attacks, making it impossible for the guardians to stop the endless flow of enemies. Things were escalating quickly and time was running out. Arrenn launched a spread of void bombs, eliminating two minotaurs that had tried to flank, clearing a path for the titan to reach the stairs and get to the core. Telemica grabbed the frontier unit’s straps tight and roadie-ran to the upper platform.

24:55
24:54
24:53

The titan slid into the core’s control pillar, bringing her pulse rifle up quickly to confirm that she was alone on the platform. She set the rifle down at her side and unclipped the straps holding the frontier unit to her back. Activating the unit was as simple as opening the two latches on the front of its rugged case and opening the lid. Automatically, the unit’s interfaces and antennas unfolded as the computer booted up.

///GUARDIAN NETWORK: NOT FOUND///

“Tell me something I don’t know…,” muttered Telemica, slightly irritated as she checked the countdown to the next overload. Arrenn had explained that once the wired-up chronospanner had interfaced with the conflux, the frontier unit was programmed to tap into the Vex network and begin scanning for signs of Solas. She quickly grabbed the alien disc and held it up to the conflux. It hummed, whistled and glowed a bit before latching on hard like a magnet.

///VEX NEXUS NETWORK: ACCESSING///
///SEARCH PROTOCOL “SOLAS”: RUNNING///

Vatyr didn’t have an opportunity to stick his head out from behind cover and take aim. The hobgoblins were doing too good a job at pinning him down. Luckily, this was not the first time he had to snipe blind. Glitch formed and blinked off to another vantage point not covered by the Vex and remotely accessed Vatyr’s armour. They’d practiced this in the past, even tried it once while they hunted Fallen. They were still figuring out what they were going to call it once the technique was ready for primetime. String Fighting. Puppet Master. Vatyr was pretty sure regardless of its name that people would think he was crazy for letting his ghost use his body to fight. Then again, the relationship between guardian and ghost was anything but simple.

Vatyr held on to the secure feeling he got when gripping his sniper rifle and waited for it. There. It was as if the rhythms of his suit’s systems skipped a heartbeat. He was in the passenger seat now. His grip on the rifle shifted into just his right hand, which shot out from around the corner and fired off a round quicker than Vatyr could think. “One down.” Glitch said to him over comms. In another lightning fast movement, the rifle was tossed to the left hand and another shot loosed. “Two. Hang on…”

Glitch switched over to team comms as the lower platform was engulfed in smoke and flashing lights. “Hydra is inbound. They’re probably pissed we’re messing with their toys.”

The sound of a hydra, flanked by four minotaurs porting in was enough to chill even experienced guardians. Nobody was quite sure what the sound was or why they made it, but it was as if the Vex roared.

21:24
21:25
21:26

///SEARCH PROTOCOL “SOLAS”: SIGNATURE FOUND///
///SUMMONING PROTOCOL: INITIATED///

Arrenn unloaded a fusion clip into the new arrivals, vapourizing two of the minotaurs before they could bring their torch hammers to bare. The other two came up and returned fire, forcing the warlock to fall back. He could have obliterated the minotaurs and perhaps even the hydra with a single nova bomb, but if the transfer portal was damaged, this entire mission would have been for nothing.

While the minotaurs and remaining hobgoblins pressed forward, the hydra fell back and traveled up towards the top platform. Vatyr took control back of his armour and began laying down fire, allowing Glitch to return. “Telemica, you have an incoming hydra. Arrenn and I are stuck dealing with his buddies, so the glory of a solo hydra kill is all yours,” he said in grim humour. Taking on a hydra solo and in such a tight space was insane, not to mention she’d still have to protect the frontier unit, but there was nothing he could do.

The hydra slowly rose up to the upper platform while Telemica readied herself. Squire urged the frontier unit to work faster, but the transfer portal showed no signs of activation. The titan brought out a heavy machine gun and began unloading it as soon as the hydra’s eye came over the platform’s edge. The loud and chugging repetition of the weapon’s call rang hard against the walls as the slugs slammed hard into the Vex monster, causing both titan and hydra to stagger and brace. She emptied the clip, threw up the strongest barrier she could, and began unloading with her pulse rifle. The hydra roared its mechanical roar, and the titan roared back in defiance.

19:43
19:42
19:41

Vatyr and Arrenn both tossed grenades at the advancing Vex group, eliminating the last two hobgoblins. The minotaurs were fast enough to blink forward and lunge at the guardians. Arrenn took the hit directly and was sent smashing through a server stack, while Vatyr barely avoided the blow by rolling to the side and broke into a sprint around the curve of the platform, dodging from cover to cover. As the minotaur turned and gave chase, new flashes of light in the corner of Vatyr’s eye drew his attention to the transfer portal.

///SUMMONING PROTOCOL: IN PROGRESS///
///TRANSFER PORTAL: ACTIVE///

The breach clicked empty on her weapon as Telemica’s ward shattered like sugar glass under the hydra’s pressure. Instinctively, she lunged at the Vex, ready to tear it apart with her arc-wreathed hands. A pulse of energy not only stopped her in mid-flight, but also sent her back to the platform with such force that she went through it, falling through the middle- centre platform and landing right next to the flaring transfer portal.

“Telemica! Arrenn! Sound off!” Vatyr called out. Nothing. He’d lost sight of the warlock and his pursuing minotaur as the other minotaur teleported rapidly to close the distance on him. The hunter pivoted, thinking what this minotaur needed was a few solar light bullets in the face. Instead, the Vex giant teleported right on top of him, knocking him hard with the side of its arm and sending him flying to the lower platform.

15:34
15:33
15:32

Telemica was just coming around as Vatyr’s ragdoll body plopped right next to her in a lifeless heap. “Guardian down! Vatyr’s severely injured! I’m not sure I can get him back on his feet!” said Glitch over comms. The titan was still dazed. Her ears rang and her vision was blurred. She recognized the feeling of her injuries before looking at Squire’s reports on her HUD. Queasy and blurred vision means severe concussion. Copper taste means internal bleeding. Four, five, six broken ribs and both legs are shattered.

“Anyone get the number of that moon that hit me?” she said with a shake in her voice. She propped herself up with a hand under her body and shifted towards the transfer portal, which was now going crazy. The energy lattice within the portal that seemed to encase a blindingly white liquid was reverberating and jumping as if someone had placed it on a huge speaker. From within that chaos, Telemica could make out something else sticking up from inside the pool of light. Something solid.

An Exo’s hand.

Without thought of aggravating her own injuries or the enemies surrounding her, Telemica lurched her body forward enough to grip the hand firmly with her left hand. It gripped back. She used her right to anchor herself to the portal’s rim. “I have him! Traveler’s light, I have him! I need help!” she screamed. No response. Vatyr had yet to move and she had no idea what had become of Arrenn. The Exo’s hand began pulling back, threatening to submerge and disappear. Was the Vex network resisting? She howled in pain as she pulled back with every bit of strength she could muster, feeling another rib crack under the pressure. Her armour was working overtime just to keep her alive, and she knew at this point Squire must have been protesting her continued exertions, but she could barely hear anything over the ringing.

Vatyr came to slowly, staring up at the hole left by Telemica in the upper platform. Seeing the hydra and the hourglass core begin to spin up for its next overload cycle, he was not quite sure what terrified him more.

“Vatyr! I have him! I have Solas! Help me pull him out!” Howled Telemica, barely reaching through to her hunter companion through his own daze.

The arm yanked hard, pulling deeper into the portal. Refusing to let go, Telemica cried out as her body began to fall in, the sound of a sister in need releasing some instinctual reserve of energy within the hunter. Suddenly, Vatyr was diving for the titan and seeing her arm submerge into the portal and evaporate into nothingness.

The moment Vatyr made solid contact with Telemica, the whole world around them exploded into everything and nothing. His last thought was that he must have screwed up the overload calculations, and now they were all being erased from the world.

 

Frontier – Act08 Chapter31 – Lost In Spacetime

Chapter 31: Lost In TIme

L4 Lagrangian point of the Sun-Jupiter system

The passcodes supplied by Prince Uldren would only allow entry to a single ship, so the fireteam requisitioned a small troop carrier from the Reef Navy. There was some talk about sending a small SpecOps team along with the guardians to ensure that they didn’t steal any valuable secrets from the derelict ship. It was top-secret property of the Awoken, after all. The idea was quickly dispelled, as those in the know expected any incursion on to that ship to be suicide.

The Corsair escort had broken off some time ago, leaving a few short words of luck in their wake. Telemica didn’t find them comforting in the slightest, but was happy to be out from under Awoken scrutiny all the same. She sat in the small troop bay going over her equipment again and again to occupy her mind.

Vatyr sat calmly at the controls of the sluggish vessel. His hands danced aimlessly along the control interfaces, not really doing anything but making sure that things were still working as they had been seconds prior. Autopilot: still on. Engines: not about to explode. Cabin: not about to vent into space. Running lights: still blinking. There was nothing out there to even gauge relative speed, leaving him alone in his head to decompress everything that had just happened to him.

Arrenn simply went to sleep once they were on their way, stretching oddly across some seats that lined the trooper bay wall. The other two envied his calm detachment.

A light on the comms panel blinked yellow a few times, and then green before going dark again. The ship’s computer has shaken hands with the automated sentries hanging somewhere in the black, and been given leave to proceed. Chances are if anything had gone wrong with that part, they’d be dead before knowing it.

1143 Odysseus rolled silently in space, but it took hours of approach before the ship came into view. Rather, the absence of the ship came into view. The massive ovoid vessel was nearly a kilometer from stem to stern, but was so black it was almost darker than the backdrop of deep space. The ship didn’t have any lights or markings of any kind, making its presence more than a little intimidating.

“Transmatting on or off that ship will be impossible. The hull plating is designed to absorb all electromagnetic radiation, among a few other things. The provided data indicates that there is a large docking bay on the bow of the ship,” informed Squire over the shuttle’s internal speakers.

“Fantastic. Does the provided data also mention that?” Vatyr pointed out the window at an almost imperceptible oddity just off the derelict’s hull. Looking like a perfectly clear and still pool of water, it was as if the black derelict was surrounded by a nearly invisible barrier. Then, as if someone had dropped a small stone into the pool, ripples began traveling along its surface and through the ship itself. More ripples propagated and became more violent as minutes passed until the ship was completely enveloped by a white-hot cataclysm.

“Squire, what are we seeing?” asked Telemica softly; as if a raised voice would send the fury they were seeing upon them next.

Squire’s tone was not unlike that of a professor. “Whatever mechanism was created to bend the universe around this ship has been on an overload cycle since The Collapse. Every distortion you see is a different spacetime continuum overlapping and colliding with another. It causes a chain reaction within the 4th dimension until the 5th dimension is breached. You are seeing the future starlight of all possible futures compounded on each other.”

External radiation and heat warnings began sounding off. Brilliance surged and crashed around the derelict so brightly and fiercely that Vatyr began moving the ship back, fearful that the small star would tear the asteroid apart.

Just as it seemed as if the chaos before them would reach a crescendo, it simply stopped. Squire hummed in understanding, which earned him a glare from the titan. “Deepest apologies, my lady. I hypothesized that a form of cosmic censorship would cause the reaction to cease. Otherwise such a thing would have caused our universe to collapse on quantum level ages ago.”

Vatyr rubbed his face in exasperation. “OK. The universe ending or not, we still need to board that damned ship. How do we do that?”

“I’ve built a virtual model of the reaction and it seems as if it all happens on very strict intervals. By my estimations the reaction should occur every 52 minutes and 42 seconds.”

After sitting through the universe-ending violence nearly a dozen times, Squire was proven correct. The shuttle’s sensors were nothing to write home about, but after launching a few probes and some creative math by the ghosts, Warden compiled a reasonably accurate layout of the ship’s interior, which now hung holographically in the troop bay. The egg-shaped ship was laid bare in orange light. Most of the ship was empty frame, no doubt once destined to be filled with refugees. For some reason or another, there was no evidence that anyone had been aboard when the ship attempted its jump.

At the centre of the ship was a gigantic engineering section. Scans showed that this was where a number of Vex had set up shop. The engines themselves were built around a device that the team couldn’t quite make out but was no doubt the spacetime-manipulation matrix. The Vex had encased it in a large conflux in an attempt to interface with it. Every time the device went into its overload cycle, all the Vex units on board ceased to exist, but were quickly replaced by other units through a portal next to the conflux. Dozens seem to mill about the space.

“They must be trying to stop the reaction and take control of the ship. No doubt it would be a useful asset for them,” noted Glitch.

“Let’s say we manage to make it on to the ship, get to engineering and eliminate the Vex threat. Then what? I still don’t understand what we’re doing here or how this thing helps us get Solas back.” inquired Telemica. At this point, this all felt like a half-planned suicide mission with no real victory conditions.

Arrenn actually taking control of a conversation had simply never happened before, so Telemica’s surprise when he started talking from his seat was no surprise to Vatyr. “I’ve studied Vex technology and how it interfaces with our own. I’ll use a modified frontier unit to take control of the conflux, scan the network for Solas’ unique guardian signature and summon him through the transfer gate they’ve built.” he said in his usual deadpan tone.

Frontier units were the all-in-one stations that guardians used when claiming new territory. The first use of one was on the Moon, and it could still be found at the Archer’s Line accelerator. It was rugged, compact, multipurpose and powerful, designed to effectively expanding the influence of guardian logistical networks. Arrenn pointed to a frontier unit tucked into the small cargo compartment. “I’ve modified this one for our purposes using a Vex chronospanner as an I/O bridge. Assuming there isn’t more than one guardian floating around their web, finding him and pulling him out should be a simple task.”

“You can do that quickly enough that we have time to get out of there before reality explodes around us?” asked Telemica. All she got from Arrenn was a nod.

“This is the largest stable conflux I know about. The larger and more powerful the conflux, the better the chance we have to finding Solas. Also, since the ship is constantly being wiped clean, there’s no heavy support like minotaurs or a hydra.” quantified Vatyr.

“This is crazy, even for us,” mused Telemica.

“I think we passed crazy quite some time ago. Since when have you been afraid of a little crazy?”

Telemica’s belly laugh seemed to blast the pall of dread that had soaked into the shuttle’s walls. “Afraid? This will make a fantastic tale to tell! I can’t wait!”

“We should move into position near the docking bay. We’ll need to board the ship as quickly as possible.” noted Arrenn as he took the controls and activated the maneuvering thrusters. His new assertiveness warranted a raised eyebrow to pass between the hunter and titan, but the warlock was not wrong. Time was a real enemy here, as it often was when dealing with the Vex.