21/04/2018 at 04:03 #32314Adele MundyParticipant
Personal Log, SubKommandant Adelaide Mundy, ISN Oblivion, 2nd Space Flotilla, 4th Hunter Group
The good news is that Matthew Vaj’s promotion to SubKommandant, and his appointment to XO on Invictus, were ratified and cheered.
And then there’s everything else.
The mission undertaken to the Poseidon Rift last shift (while several officers were off to the training conference) was officially considered a success: although the ship carrying Caltrons (Caltrons! Voiddammit!) was destroyed, 4th Hunter recovered sufficient Caltron fragments to be delivered to the Imperial Labs for experimentation and investigation, and excitement on the part of the scientific personnel suggests that they are close to some kind of breakthrough. So that’s no cause to worry at all…
The idea of anyone in control of Caltrons chills me to the bone. The idea of this Empire of yours in control of Caltrons… I don’t have the words. The idea of this Empire gaining an inkling of the implications of our existence as universe-trespassers is worse.
So, being ordered to go to Titan System to break up any remnants of smugglers seemed something of a relief. I have no liking for Prefect Romanova, and no reason to trust anything she says; but when she claimed to have received information about the smuggling of Hjocoa in Titan, I had a brief glimmer of hope. Of course she claims that, at the very least, Moritani was turning a blind eye to the smuggling in order to win favour with the locals; possibly, that the Hjocoa is part of some plan by Moritani to drive the population into some drug-induced frenzy — or was it stupor? One or the other, it really doesn’t matter, since the result is citizens who are not appropriately loyal and productive. And she required 4th Hunter to intercept the next smuggled shipment, seize it, and put a dent in the smuggling operations for a while; and, I suspect, she may also find a way to use it as proof of Moritani’s wrongdoings.
We were told that a shipment was expected to arrive from Hjorden to the Titan Gate in Atlantis, most likely hidden among normal cargo in the regular merchant traffic. We would have to identify the transport ships and check them individually, by dropping off inspection teams via our shuttles. If we found any contraband, we were to take it onto our own ships, together with the crew of smugglers, stow the goods in the hold, the crews in the brig, and destroy the smugglers’ ships. And we were to expect the smugglers to have armed escorts, which we could engage and destroy as we saw fit.
We had just finished a standard run of training simulations, so we had our ships and crews ready: Oblivion, Relentless, Invictus. The Fleet Captain… oh, Well of the Furies… the Group Leader ordered Relentless (Aramond in Command, Hall as his XO, Nhaima on Helm, Yooey on Weapons, Agoom on Science, Starry in Engineering) to be ready to lead off the escorts while Oblivion (I was XO, and on Science, Morlock, just transferred from Invictus, on Weapons, Parra on Helm, Ironclad in Engineering, and Xansta on Comms, ready to take over the shuttle as needed) and Invictus (Matsiyan in command, Vaj as his new XO on Science, Graybeard in Engineering, Beaumont on Weapons, Xiph on Helm and Maxwell on Comms) were to engage the smugglers.
We started from Atlantis Command, heading towards the Titan Gate in Sector 12. Apart from minor interruptions from pirates, it was a fairly quiet flight. In Atlantis 6 we sent our shuttles out to inspect a few transport ships; one of them turned hostile as she was boarded, and our marines had to overcome the crew’s resistance before they surrendered themselves and their smuggled cargo.
We were about to destroy the ship, when CIC informed us, through secure channels, that they had received a message from the TSN: according to them, the shipment was medicinal Hjocoa — see? I always said Hjocoa was medicinal… well, maybe I didn’t always say it, but dammit, I thought it frequently enough, especially when no Hjocoa was to be obtained. Anyway, this Hjocoa had been treated in some way that made it less addictive; and it was intended for a group of disaffected Kraliens, followers of Zolmar. (Another parallel to our universe.) The pirates had taken the convoy with the medicinal Hjocoa, and were planning to sell it in the Titan System, where, apparently, it mitigates the effects of terraforming on the local non-human population. There seemed to be similarities between these pirates and the privateers who were punished in Antara last shift, so there is clearly good profit to be made from smuggling Hjocoa.
I was only half joking when I asked the Fleet Captain whether we could keep some Hjocoa on board, and I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed — in fact, he put me in charge of the detachment of Marines who were escorting the shipmnt aboard, so I made a very thorough inspection of it. We still wanted to find a way to have the Hjocoa reach its intended destination among the Zolmari, while the last set of orders we received were to destroy the ship. So the Fleet Captain negotiated with the Zolmari, allowing them to keep 90% of the cargo while we kept the remaining 10% as the evidence we had been ordered to get. We would claim that we had simply picked up representative samples of the cargo, and destroyed the rest.
Such a big discrepancy in the quantity of recovered Hjocoa would leave me rather unconvinced, were I in charge; but I’m not, and I can only hope that Romanova is not so much concerned with the amount, as with the presence of the Hjocoa and the chance to incriminate Moritani. Who knows, if she suspects we’ve kept some Hjocoa for ourselves she might think she has material to blackmail us in future.
The Zolmari sent out jamming signals to interfere with our transmissions and sensors, and were ready to disappear, but pirates rudely interrupted, and we had to make sure none of them got away. So we did. Then we continued on our separate ways.
As we proceeded on our course back to base, the labs on board analysed the Hjocoa samples, and found something different about the way they were processed, so that their chemical composition didn’t match samples that had previously been taken in the Titan System. The crew we had captured was an interesting bunch, too: not just smugglers, they had had contact with the pirates in Antara, and were under instruction from someone else. We weren’t able to determine who. But the Fleet Captain speculated that the ISN had been known to use pirates to destabilise systems, and that they might actually be involved in the Hjocoa smuggling. Interestingly, this particular shipment, as we now know, was intended for the Kraliens, not the Empire, until it was hijacked… and if we reveal our suspicions that the ISN might be involved in the hijack, we may expose ourselves to the sort of scrutiny that we have so far managed to avoid.
Cronus was our destination for our next mission, as we were ordered to investigate the movements of Hegemony forces on the Cronus border. Which sounded rather routine, until we were told we were to make a rendez-vous with two Imperial Griffzungenschwert, escort them through, and let them act as the backbone of the assault, while taking note of their capabilities. Hmm.
We started from Promethean, headed for the Cronus Gate, and once there met the two Griffs, callsigns A35 and G97. That was when I started feeling the low grade headache, but I thought I was just tired, or dehydrated; or maybe it was the thought of that Hjocoa we had to deliver to Void-damned Romanova before I could even sneak a taste… We set course for Sector 6, meeting resistance from pirates and a small Kralien fleet; once in Sector 6, we were attacked by Skaraans, who made appropriately annoying use of their cloaks, jump drives and tractor beams.
But the real shock came in Sector 8: the Hegemony had built bases and weapons platforms, and as we approached… the Furies-blasted Griffs deployed Caltrons. So, that explained the headache. And made it noticeably worse. Caltrons showing as friendly on our screens is a sure sign that there is something profoundly, irredeemably wrong with this universe.
Adelaide, did you have any idea your Empire was working on making Caltrons?
The Caltrons, Void damn them and Well drown them, engaged the Hegemony ships launched from the bases and weapons platforms, while we… assisted. Assisted Caltrons. Never in my darkest nightmares did I think I would ever say that. There were only Primaries at first, but later in the engagement I also counted three Tertiaries. I didn’t see them combine, but I didn’t see them launch from the Griffs either, so I don’t know if the Empire has learned how to manufacture Tertiaries, or whether the Imperial Primaries are enough like the Forerunner Primaries that they are programmed to and capable of combining. I don’t know which is worse. Dammit.
We had a particularly disturbing moment when one Caltron Tertiary locked onto Oblivion’s engine signature. The Fleet Captain had the presence of mind to order our Helm officer to lead it to one of the Griffs, and it seemed to recognise its mother ship, and went back aboard.
Once the mission was complete and the autopilot systems engaged to take us back home, we gathered in the Briefing Chamber, with the 4LD security protocols engaged. Actually, I stopped by MedBay first, for some painkillers. Not that they helped much. But there was no time to make Hjocoa.
It’s no surprise that we discussed the Caltrons. We should have guessed something big was coming, from the propaganda messages we have been picking up, suggesting that the Empire is preparing a weapon that will finally put an end to the Senatorial uprising. We didn’t know it was going to be Caltrons…
We compared sensor readings and logs: Relentless noticed one group that briefly went hostile, which suggests that their control isn’t perfect yet. That leads us to two alternatives, both of which are horrific: if the Empire can control Caltrons, it gives them a weapon that could threaten not just the Senatorial resistance, but all the Empire’s systems, and the Empire’s neighbours; if the Empire cannot control the Caltrons once they are manufactured, they are a threat to all life forms, indiscriminately.
Caltrons were the Forerunners’ weapons, and they could be the Empire’s, reducing the need for human crews, reducing the possibilities of human disagreement with inhumane orders giving rise to rebellion. And if the Empire were to become aware of us, who we really are, where we really come from, the Caltrons could be a weapon to carry out conquest beyond this universe and into ours.
Dammit, I need a glass of Hjocoa right now… just going over these options again is hammering nails into my brain.
[pause, accompanied by the sounds of a liquid being poured and whisked to frothy deliciousness]
We saw the Griffs launch the Caltrons. Unless they were original Forerunner Caltrons, somehow reclaimed and reprogrammed, they must be manufactured somewhere. If we can get hold of a few parts, even fragments, and determine their age, we should be able to find out; and then we need to search for the manufacturing facility. How we do that without arousing suspicion is another question. And we may be past that point already. I think we’ve used the same tricks too often, scrambling comms, erasing logs. We’re running out of excuses, and somebody is going to notice any day now. We need to be ready to leave.
There are three places I can think of going, off the top of my head: the Hjorden System, the Zolmari, and the TSN. Of course, we might not be terribly welcome in the Hjorden System; we don’t know exactly where the Zolmari might be hiding; and we know even less on the whereabouts of the TSN. We do have a secure code we could use to contact them. No, Adelaide, that isn’t something I’m going to leave any record of, for you or any Imperial spooks.
The best place to go would be home, of course. If we knew how. I don’t know if that’s cowardice, or discretion. And the thought of leaving the Empire with Caltrons in its ranks, when we don’t know how they travel, if they’re capable of … dammit, I’ve said all this before. It goes round and round in my head, and leads nowhere.
[end log]22/04/2018 at 22:14 #32316XiphParticipant
// polite prod as requested – Beaumont and Xiph swap.
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