Kila looked through the conference room from one face to the next. He saw two soldiers, one standing on guard next to the door, the other one was gazing silently into space, through the large windows behind Kila. The two captains of the other ships were sitting at the opposite side of the table. Eddie sat next to him, nervously tapping the table, while they waited for someone to speak up.
"So they sent you…" It was the soldier behind Kila who finally broke the silence.
"Excuse me?" the squirrel said, looking over his shoulder. A pair of tired-looking, turquoise eyes stared back at him, in the middle of a brown, furry face. It was the trained observing stare of an experienced marksman and Kila knew this appraising glance all too well, the glance of a hunter, examining the situation before he would land a safe and deadly shot. Luckily this man wasn't examining his prey, but a friend he hadn't seen for quite some time.
"Federation's Spec Ops and U.T.N. Specialists…I just hope, that's enough…" Gabe said and sat down at Kila's left side "Good to see you, Commander" "Also good to see you, Sergeant"
The black shepherd on the opposite side of the table took a deep breath and said "Now that we're assembled, guys, how about we start with the briefing?". Kila knew this person from the academy. Sebastian Johnson, Captain of the gunship Juno, the strongest and biggest ship, the federation ever built. His effective, straight-forward battle tactics were the origin for his nickname "Rambo".
"Well, if you let me, I'll begin" The person sitting next to Sebastian said with a soft, calm voice and started tapping a data pad.
"You are Lisa Calvin, right?" Kila asked hesitantly "Daughter of Marion Calvin from the Spec Ops Intel wing?". The woman looked up and put a strain of black, shoulder-length hair aside, revealing gloriously blue eyes and a small feline nose with three long whiskers on each side. Her twitching ears had large, soft brushes of fur on top, like that of a lynx, but her fur was of a very dark blue and slightly gleaming in the artificial light. "If you know as much, you should probably know, that I don't really like that name…my crew calls me 'Sapphire'" she answered and put her data pad on the table. It started emitting several beams of light, quickly projecting a flickering hologram into the air.
The hologram showed a solar system of three planets around a blue main sequence star.
Thin lines pointed at a small object between the second and third planet, naming a space station and several ships. "This is Darath and we're here…" Lisa said and made the hologram turn and zoom around in different directions "Captain Johnson, you came with a shuttle, but the 'Juno' is somewhere out here?" "That's…correct…" A marker appeared at the outer boundary of a dark-grey sphere, labeled "Darath Short-Range Scanner". "Alright, this map will be refreshed in real-time, now…" Lisa looked around and her eyes rested on Kila "Commander Green , Legat said, you'll be in charge of the operation"
Kila held his breath for a few seconds, as six pairs of eyes focused on him. He had been serving as the Captains right Hand for the past 8 years, but this was his first real Command and he was pretty nervous accordingly. Suddenly, the squirrel felt a hand resting on his shoulder. It was Gabe, who made the one gesture, that could help him in this situation. I'll have your back. He didn't even need to say it loud, it already helped. From one moment to the other, Kila knew, what he had to do.
"Sergeant Skritcho…Gabe…you made contact first, can you tell us, what you saw? We need to estimate the threat, before we can make a plan on how to deal with the Loki" "So, they ARE called the 'Loki'?" It was more of a rhetorical question by Captain Johnson. "Well…" Gabe started "We saw Digitalis, nano-mechanical plants spreading on the ground and the trees like ivy and thousands of runners in between. As far as we know from the 'Delta Invasion' back then, they are most likely trying to adapt to the biology and chemistry of the planet, before they can start harvesting biomass, so the 'Infection' is in phase one, but still…even though we found them early, it's already too late to take ground action"
Kila remembered the time, they met the Loki for the first time and nodded "I guess, you're right…once they planted the Digitalis on the surface, there's not much we can do"
"What bothers me though" Gabe continued "is that we can't find the source of the infection"
"You mean-" "As you remember, normally there would be some kind of vessel, either a nano emitter hive or a crystal ship, but there's nothing in a radius of several light years."
"Wait a second" Lisa interrupted and issued a voice command to the stations board computer.
"Computer, communication channel to T.S.C. Cypher, encryption 'Calvin'"
It took the powerful AI system of the station only a short moment to perform the necessary calculations, before a brazen voice answered with pre-recorded words "Channel established; peer-to-peer encryption"
"Commander Darro?" "Everyone's on post, Sapphire, what can we do for you?"
"Commander, please get the scanner feed from the station and have the astrometry perform a Hawking-simulation on the surface of Darath Three" "What are we looking for?" "Gravity wells around artificial subspace rifts" "Aye, Captain"
"I think, I know where this is going" Kila said and scratched his head "When we met the Loki at the Delta Sector, they used rift technology similar to our subspace communication system to transport nano machines onto our ship…so you think they're using subspace rifts to transport the Digitalis directly onto the surface? Is that actually possible? I mean, I'm not a physicist, but you know how much energy we need just to send a single text file over a few lightyears".
Lisa shook her head "It's just an idea…anyways, this may take a while now"
Captain Johnson was the only one in the room who still maintained a poker face. Unlikely for him, he remained passive and listened silently.
"Actually-" Kila said, looking at Captain Johnson "Actually, how well are we armed? In all honesty, we'll need a ton of firepower if it comes to a fight"
"The Juno is ready" Johnson said "We stocked up on ammunition on our way here. Long focus beam and pulse laser cannons, HHEAT cannons, SMDs, HHO warheads...and for the worst case scenario, two cold-fusion cruise missiles. Everything state of the art. Also, there's something else...you should've received notice, we're delivering an experimental weapon for application on your little...ship…"
Kila didn't like the tone of the shepherd and the fact, that they didn't get any notice about any kind of delivery left an uneasy feeling in the squirrel. “Might've missed it. What kind of weapon are we talking about?” he asked.
Captain Johnson shifted from one elbow onto the other and his nose and ears twitched a little. His answer was short and sounded like one would expect.
“Can't tell you here. We are told to have you dock with us later to transfer the package”
His eyes locked with captain Johnson's, Kila issued a similar voice command as Lisa did earlier “Computer, uhm...open a coms channel to the 'Liberty' and please without any comment”
Almost immediately, Kila heard An-Jun's deep, calm voice “Captain, any problems?” ”Nah, just checking in, did we have any messages?”
A short silence “None that I know of, but-” “Indeed, I had one. Sry, cap' safety measure, I hear anything that get's over the coms” It was Archibald who had hooked into the channel and cut of AJ's response “Our computer misdirected it, but I got notice about something we would need to install on our ship”
Kila rested his face in his hand and held back an irritated sigh “Why didn't you tell me earlier? I'm in charge, I need to know things like that” “Sorry cap', I thought you knew. I was busy rewriting the security subroutines, so the ship would accept new hardware and I mean REALLY busy, like damn me. I had to override some federation directives, because the computer core is actually-”
This time it was Kila who interrupted his board engineer “I guess so, but could we discuss that later? Any possibility you'll be done in time?” “Sure thing cap'” without further comments, Archibald cut the line.
Kila sighed audibly. No federation training could've prepared him for the potential difficulties of a real command.
“Anyways” Lisa broke the awkward silence and continued the conversation “I can offer real-time, long-range reconnaissance and large-scale computation. The T.S.C. Cypher is the first federation cruiser with an independent cloaking system and a full-band trans-spacial amplifier, not to mention our AI Core, based on the Spec Ops' R&D 'Full Transcendence' project-” “Oh Lordy”, Kila groaned involuntarily “...so in short, you're the 'Eye in the Sky'” “So to speak, yeah”
“Well then”, Kila said, softly rubbing his temples “Now that we assessed the situation, all we can really do is try and find the enemy vessel in this system and, if possible, destroy it before they consume Darath like they did with every other star in their path” again, the blue squirrel looked from one person to the next, before he continued “Darath Three is lost, that's for sure. Sergeant Skritcho here is the only one of us, who fought the enemy head-on and he knows, what he told us later, it is an impossible task”
Captain Johnson, who had been impassive, spoke up again “But didn't you defeat a Crystal Flagship and their Nanite Seeds during the 'Delta Invasion'?”
Gabe leaned forward, his blue-green eyes tired, but warily fixed on the shepherd on the other side of the conference table “The T.S.C. Winter Maid destroyed a goddamned crystal monolith, back when we were actually prepared for the unknown and the Loki had no real knowledge of us. Years ago. The tables have surely turned now, as the enemy is smart, adaptive and relies on a fucking hive mind. From what we know, after we disappeared from ground zero, a vessel of unknown size warped in from outside the galaxy, collected the debris from our battle and surely sucked every bit of information there is out of it. That means not only do they know who we are, we are unusually lucky, if they don't have the sol coordinates yet”
Kila stood up from his seat, as Gabe was talking. Eddie didn't say a word this whole time, but now he looked up to his captain and asked, if everything was alright. The squirrel looked out of the window for a moment, remembering the battle with the 'Winter Maid', then he turned to Eddie and lowered his voice “Smartass, would you do me a favor? I need you to go up and fetch me a crate of courage” “I gotcha, 'Sol Seven' amirite?” “Yeah, I'll see you back on the ship. We're following Johnson's shuttle to the Juno to get our package” “Aye, Cap'n”
'I can do this…' Kila thought to himself, as he stepped to the table again.
They expected him to come up with a plan, so he'd do his best.
“Captains, this is how we'll do this: Sapphire, I need the Cypher to lay low. Proper reconnaissance is crucial here. We need an encrypted uplink, so we can communicate, even though the Loki are probably able to hack it anyway. Rambo, the Liberty will go on a rendezvous with the Juno to fetch our package, then you'll get in position behind Darath 4, while we will go into an Orbit around Darath 3. Any Questions?” That sounded much more confident than Kila actually was, but Captain Johnson was visibly surprised by Kila's sudden determination and Captain Calvin presented him with a warm smile. “May I suggest”, she said “that you call in reinforcements? The Odin protocol actually grants you access to any available federation resources, so you might as well use them.”
“I probably should, though we have to be careful. The public doesn't know what's going on out here and it should stay that way.”
“Sounds like a plan”, Johnson admitted and stood up from his seat. “From the fourth planet, we are more mobile and if the enemy is really as good as you claim, there's no point in hiding for us anyway. After all, the Juno doesn't have a cloaking system, so we might as well go for the threatening route. Once we're in position, I'll have the 'Banshees' gear up.”
Now that it was decided, Kila felt much better. For the first time on this mission, he had the feeling, that it would actually work out in their favor.