Draco Outpost, Primary Archology. 148 LY From Earth.
Draco’s Primary Archology orbited above a planet that was entirely suitable for mining, and completely useless for life. Because of the valuable minerals that were under it’s aegis and the fact it was earth’s last anchorage before civilization fell away to the coldness of wild space, traffic to and from was heavily scheduled and monitored.
When an unannounced blue-shift was detected three things happened. The first, the two Arcturus infolifes and their AI pet activated the PDL Screen and the secondary repulsor shields that had been installed in case magical defenses were compromised. Then they sent notice to all mining ships. The manned ones were to cease mining immediately and start assembling for an evacuation if necessary. The drones were to immediately prepare for defensive screen usage. A mining laser could drill through the hull of a ship as easily as the metal they were mining.
The Genius Loci that controlled everything from the Chessmen MK XV security patrols to the food production spells activated the siege wards and the massive lodestone network that composed the magical architecture of the mining settlement shifted into a battle stance. Golems that were using spells to transmute the minerals into viability begin calling up combat protocols. Kill boxes and other traps that were on the surface and aboard the four stations went live. The Draco’s Loci prepared for war.
Then the commander of Draco, a polar Ursine uplift, received a message through the psynet regarding the hyperspace exit. She sent a message to her second to notify all command staff, that no this wasn’t a drill and to meet in the CIC.
Nani Sakari pawed her muzzle and growled stressfully.
Ten Minutes Later.
Commander Sakari stepped onto the CIC, her command staff was already present. The room had been cleared of anyone who was non-essential. Normally the display was of the status of the mining colony. Instead it displayed a patch of space that was the estimated arrival trajectory of their unexpected guest.
“Do we have configuration readings?” She asked the room. Her tac chief, Scott Clark, nodded.
“The impeding blue-shift matches Exploration class. It’s too far away for our psyker’s to get a read but we’re thinking it’s the Owens.”
Nani chuffed thoughtfully.
“They shouldn’t be back for another month at least,” Nani growled.
“Unless Pax was a bust.”
She shook her head.
“No, I saw the readings myself. It was promising. When is their ETA?”
“Assuming this isn’t the Owens, what ships do we have?”
“We’ve already sent a QEC to the Twelfth Fleet. The Honor Before Glory and all attending can be here within twelve hours. We have the Mount Saint Helens and the Fall of Pompeii,” A dreadnought and a carrier, both on shakedowns, both top of the line. They were part of the Twelfth Defense Fleet, but had stayed behind because both were experiencing issues with their targeting systems. Some new mix of AI and Artificing she thought “abomination”. She really hoped they had ironed those out. If nothing else at least the Pompeii’s starfighters would give them some help.
“Their Captains inform us that they ships are at full readiness. The Saint Helens has already launched, and the Pompeii is cold starting as we speak.” Her tac chief again. She didn’t know what should would do without Scott.
“Tell them that we’re grateful for the help but have them continue normal startup procedures with the Pompeii.” Scott nodded and his eyes became unfocused as he accessed his neural lace.
“Should we tell the Infos and the Loci to stand down yet?” Her chief enchantress, Emmaline Clark, Scott’s wife, asked.
“No, I still don’t like this situation. When we know for certain it’s the Owens we’ll tone down the defenses.”
Moments later the incoming ship dropped out of hyperspace.
“Ma’am. These scans are worrying. IFF is reading the Owens, but we’re not receiving any sort of communication. Plus, we’re detecting free ether emanating from the ship. What ever happened to them was bad.” A klaxon sounded and was almost instantly silenced.
“We just detected an explosion in their bow. Four shuttles are launching. We’re receiving hails,” Nani took in a sharp breath. Those shuttles could hold twenty people apiece, the Owens carried a complement of three hundred.
“Main view, pipe to the Helens and the other Archologies.”
“This is Captain Baxter Owens of the Jeremiah Owens, we are requesting emergency assistance. We’ve sustained heavy casualties.”
“Confirm these and reply that they can dock, send a couple of our gunboats out to help.” Nani barked.
“Ma’am, it’s a loop.” Her comms chief said after a moment.
“Fuck.” She usually didn’t swear in public. But this was gods-damned bad.
“Dispatch gun boats to search for survivors or Presence retrieval,” she paused for a second, and thought, “amend that order, man the boat with Chessmen,”
Five minutes passed, then ten as a gunboat was dispatched. They reached the first shuttle. The Genius Loci of Draco Station took remote control of the shuttle and docked with it. The Chessmen entered.
“No life signs present. Seventy-Two Cortical Presences found.” a semi-robotic voice said over the loudspeakers of the CIC. This repeated three more times.
Draco Station Primary Archology Conference Room A.
Twenty minutes later.
Scott Clark spoke into the recording sphere.
“Draco Mining Cluster, All Senior Staff, all Archologies in attendance. Also in Attendance Captain Victoire Dubois, Twelfth Fleet Dreadnought Mount Saint Helens. Captain Michael Acidalia Twelfth Fleet Carrier Fall of Pompeii. Fleet Admiral Josiah Markov, Commander of Twelfth Fleet attending via QEC,” he said, paused, and took a drink of his water.
“At approximately 03:00 Hours the Jeremiah Owens exited hyperspace. Upon investigation, all hands were apparently lost less twelve. These remain unaccounted for. We’re in the process of resleeving Captain Baxter Owens, but that will take time. We need at least a week to grow the body, another two for his aura to take hold and a fourth for him to learn to function again. Presence interrogation is out of the picture. We don’t know what psychological trauma he has already been subjected to. His psyche might shatter, ” Lieutenant Commander Clark said
“Can we board the Owens and attempt to view their logs?” Captain Acidalia asked. His eyes were unfocused, he was multithreading this meeting and his duties aboard the Pompeii.
“We’re in the process of assembling a team right now. Captain Owen’s put the ship into lockdown. We need to find the counterspells in the archive or devise our own if they changed the ward schema,” Emmaline said. Nani knew she had a sub-conference going with the Artificing, Enchanting, and Alchemy staff aboard the ships and stations present.
“How long?” Markove asked. He had apparent age of an old fifty-ish. His closely cropped hair and carefully trimmed beard were as white as Nani’s fur. His eyes were a curious ice blue, either Fae Touched or letting his aura through. Nani knew he was at least twice that age, and probably older given that mages aged well. Functional immortality and resleeves had helped that nicely.
“Possibly three or more days. Depending if Captain Owens made any off the books changes to the Schema. The Owen’s was, is, an older vessel. It might even be easier to simply blast the door open. Given the already significant structural damages we don’t want to do that,” Emmaline said that, and made a flick gesture with her off hand, possibly dismissing a message or renewing a spell she kept on herself.
“Bloody fuck.” Markov said,
“Do we have dossiers on who is missing?” Captain Dubois asked, her features locked in an inscrutable gaze.
“Yes, we had the infolifes go over the dossiers for the mission. There were four battle mages, four warders. One of whom is the daughter of Fleetcom’s admiral,” that fact caused a sharp intake of breath. Corina Coldhallow was a bitch with a mean streak wider than a dreadnought, and the mother bear instincts to match.
“The pilot was their healer. There was an enchanter and an artificer to prime spots for spire injection, and the last one was a necromancer,”
Looks were exchanged around the room.
“They were one of Selene’s I’m guessing?” Nani asked. Praying to whatever deity would listen the answer wasn’t a “yes,”
“Has Pluto been notified yet?”
“Sol Hasn’t been notified yet,” Fleet Admiral Markov spoke up,
“We were hoping to handle this before we notified them,” Markov finished and took a sip of his iced coffee.
Nani and Scott exchanged glances, and she sent a private message to him over comms to possibly back channel this. Something was rotten there. It could be a matter of him wanting to save face and deal with this without getting Parliament involved, but it didn’t feel right.
“Is there any way they could have escaped?” Scott asked.
“And gone where?” Captain Andrews, Tactical Chief of Draco Archology 1, asked.
“To the perfectly habitable planet beneath them maybe?” Markov said. For a moment Nani liked him.
“Regardless, as soon as meeting is over, I’m dispatching the Pompeii and the Helens to find them. Their hyperdrive rating is superior to the Owens, and they should be able to reach Pax 18 within a couple of days. What we need to focus on is entering the Owens and finding our missing team. Let’s gather again when we complete one of those objectives,” Markov said and disconnected his holoprescence. The meeting was effectively over.
Jeremiah Owens Shuttle 3, 250 LY from Draco Station.
Alexandra Coldwood Family was one of the Ancient Seven that had united the globe after the Thule Crisis.
She was of the second branch. Her mother had a prestigious career and the expectations of having a successor was strong. She had been sent to the best schools. Had graduated the Academy of War and Magic at Mars with highest honors.
None of her prep work, or her field exercises or drill sergeants ripping her throat out had prepared her for the pants shitting terror that was being trapped in a tractor beam being slowly pulled toward an unknown races battleship.
And she couldn’t show it.
Her mother was the savior of Gleess-B, and Alexandra was the leader of a squad of rookies that were all wetting themselves at the prospect of combat.
“Get it together people!” she barked. She issued a mental command and the squads comms. shut off besides her own. She pulled up the shuttles tactical readout on her AR display. They would approach be inside the enemy cruiser at any moment. The Owens had fled for parts unknown after getting trounced. In short, they were raw dogged.
She looked to the pilot.
“Any way we can break whatever hold this is?”
“No, already tried. If we force it the frame could fracture,”
Alex sighed and was glad that her visor blocked the disappointed expression. Corporal Bethany York sent her a private comms message. Beth was her best friend and her second in command on this exercise.
The message read two words.
“Trojan Horse.” They didn’t have a psynet, so instead Alex sent her a thumbs-up emoji over text comms.
“Warder Adams. You four are familiar with a Valentine reactive dome, correct?” She said over suit comms.
“Artificer Jones, how many chessmen do we have?”
“Two Squads. Pocket Contained.”
“Our Weapons complement pilot Temple?”
“Four Ship to Ship Freki class. Two EX Cannons.”
“Authorizing weapons use. Code Black Tango Alexandra Nine,”
She told them the plan, and it was a decent one, given her situation and her resources.
Chessman were their version of the Paxian Berserkers or the Arcturus Vengeance. They had been part of combat on terra for almost millennia. When the JER-O 3 was dragged into the shuttle bay of the enemy ship and touched down a few things happened. The first, two panels opened on the side of the shuttle and the runic frames that connected to pocket dimensions anchored to the shuttle opened. Twenty hulking magical constructs walked out and surrounded the shuttle. These were fifteen-foot-tall, seven foot wide and bristling with weaponry. They looked like the medieval knights of old.
They had one order before deployment. Destroy anything without a friendly IFF tag, and defend the shuttle. They set about doing their job nicely. Streams of acid, of fire, of spells that detonated upon impact begin flying. The ground crew that was dispatched to detain their guests died almost instantly. The enemy analogue of a fighter jet exploded in a shower of black metal and flame.
A round diamond orb roughly the size of a beach ball dropped out of an exit hatch, and activated in a cascade of colors. The Warders had used one of the lodestones meant to contain their campsite and activated a Valentine reactive dome. This specialized set of spells had been designed in the mid twenty-first century during the Paxian Incursion.
Run of the mill wards were meant for defensive use. This variant deflected most enemy spells and attacks up to damn near a megaton. It also lashed back at the attacker, disintegrating them or containing them in a prison sphere that slowly crushed them to death.
Then four Freki missiles launched. These were designed to wreak havoc among enemy ships. Instead of impacting upon a ship and detonating they would swarm through an enemy fleet, destroying it as they went and riddle a ship with holes.
In short, the shuttle bay erupted into chaos. Three of the missiles went on their merry way. Pinballs of death that soon gained access to interior of the ship and begin cutting their way through vital systems.
The fourth used what rudimentary self-awareness it had and targeted the landing bay door, it destroyed the ward analogue the enemy had and detonated, reducing the door and part of the ship to so much and creating a gaping wound in the side of it.
Aboard the shuttle the pilot took that as his cue, activated the cloaking spells on the shuttle and roared out of the bay.
They were halfway to the planet and when targeting lock sensors started screaming. A beam of white hit the side of the shuttle, it grazed the left ion drive output. The pilot momentarily lost control, but regained it. They hit atmo and the Ion drive finally gave out completely. Their stabilization spells weren’t meant for only one engine. The ship begin listing to the left and after a couple of minutes of freefall the shuttle slammed into the ground and drove a furrow into the prospective colony’s ground.