Installment 1.1

Colton Aftin and Kyran Alder make their way up the ship's winding halls.

They are heading towards the war room for their mission briefing...

 

Generations of painted war heroes and relics stare at them from the walls as they make their way up the core hallway. With each step, another chronicle of history gazes out at the two men. The year is 3701 and there are plenty of preserved artifacts to display within the hall’s endless glass panels. Stories amongst the personnel and officers always recount how these Superior Class-A ships feel significantly colder out in Open-Space. The two soldiers confirm these accounts as they make their way up the wide halls. For the last two-hundred years, this ship has acted as a transport, corporate headquarters, and training facility. The ship is currently serving as a base for the commanding ranks of Volta Enterprises, the oldest and largest Human-operated trade federation across the farthest galactic regions.

The Bridge hallways retain the footprint echoes of soldiers and leaders long since departed. They linger on as archaic souvenirs from the annals of mankind’s history. The halls themselves are long enough to easily allow multiple lanes of foot traffic from deck officers, troopers, and recruits alike. Whether it be a routine drill or preparations for a docking bay landing, these hallways can be seen streaming with single-file men and women. The two men are met with parted silence as they passed through the crowds of the grand hallway.

“You think they have any idea?”, Kyran asked his companion, “My guess, from the ‘Red Sea’ treatment, tells me they might.”

Commander Colton Aftin walks side-by-side with his long-time friend, Captain Kyran Alder. Colton is in command of Onyx Squad, stationed off in the Dozer star system. While he is close in age to Kyran, he has long exceeded his counterpart in military training and exams. For the last several months, Captain Alder has been tasked with training the latest recruits for advanced placement on the EC-19 citadel outpost. He and his garrison now find themselves positioned aboard this impressive war ship, awaiting their next assignment.

“Couldn’t tell you”, replied Colton, “Maybe they heard about your recent triumphs during the field assessment simulations.”

He slyly turns to look at Kyran, who, sensing the sarcasm, is shooting his friend a displeased look.

“You know as well as I do that those simulation stats are not properly calibrated for my men!”, Kyran retorted, “We use quick-change audibles tha-”

“And you should know,” Colton cut in, “that they probably know just as much as we do.” He places a hand on the captain’s shoulder, “So don’t worry about what isn’t there yet, captain.”

“Guess we’ll find out”, Kyran responds.

Both men were told that neither had been informed on the current situation, instead having intel withheld until the official briefings. It is not a secret that higher-ups have been stirring since the recent reports of trade disputes and back-peddling from various allied systems. Recently, a negotiation team was sent to the Gyza Nebula system to establish new trade routes in that sector. Volta has been trying for years to set up business relationships in those untouched regions of space. For the most part, however, inhabitants of the system’s planets and moons have either voiced their disinterests in human relations or have rejected communications outright. This is the first time that a landing party has broken through the system’s edge and actually landed onto the planet, Gyza Nebula.

The method of withholding sensitive intel is not an uncommon occurrence, especially with the notorious relationship between the Commanding General and Admiral. The general, Valek Alder, is the latest ancestor to take helm of Volta Enterprises. This influential trade conglomerate has been owned and operated by the Alder family since the year 2901; nearly 450 years from the time when humans established their intergalactic routes and 900 years since their departure from a dying Earth. With so much human history coursing through the Alder bloodline, it is no wonder why the family name garners so much respect and notoriety. It also has made it necessary for the family to pay for kin to quietly move up the ranks of the Legionnaire army.

No heir to the Alder tree will remain unnoticed, especially when it comes time to pass down the reins to the next head of Volta Enterprises. Kyran is no exception to this storied tradition. And while his abilities cannot go unnoticed, it is universally understood by the Legionnaire senior officers that this boy was to be protected. This protection is provided by the general, his father, Valek. The general is known for his cavalier nature and his ability to seize control over a room with the slightest draw of his slim, groomed eyebrows. With this type of personality, there are very few that can parallel him when it comes to commanding a conversation. The admiral is considered one of those few individuals.

Admiral John Scheilt of the Legionnaire army is the military strategist and senior advisor to Valek Alder of Volta Enterprises. The admiral has what some might modestly describe as a volatile temper. He portrays the complete persona of a quintessential military man, from his composed body language right down to his well-kept hair; hair that is never allowed to grow beyond three inches. The two will often call for abrupt conferences amongst the rank and files without the other knowing, most times on purpose. Throughout the day, one can walk past the room and hear the elevated conversations taking place between the commanding general and admiral.

In order to maintain their trade stronghold, the Alder’s employed the services of the ruthless militia-for-hire army, known as the Legionnaires. This army was created from the remnants of a united human defense military, established a century after humans carved paths through their first unfamiliar galaxy. The history and mystique behind the Legionnaire army has garnered much attention and raised many questions since their inception. The brunt of the intrigue specifically lies in the training of their loyal, devoted soldiers. Never-the-less, the Alder family began utilizing these armed forces in the year 2910, almost 10 years after the creation of Volta Enterprises. They continue to employ the Legionnaires’ services to this very day...A day which will soon prove to be yet another defining moment in Volta Enterprises’ storied legacy.

Both officers entered through the same entryway of the double-doored room. It is the first time in many months that both of them have been together in the same location. Colton was usually off with his Onyx pack doing reconnaissance work for Volta higher-ups. Kyran was busy preparing his recruits for their advanced division assignments. When the two friends are reunited, however, it typically means that whatever duty awaits them is of the utmost importance.

The great room’s antiseptic atmosphere can be attributed to the pristinely clean floors and walls. A metallic chrome scent lingered in the air as the commander and captain passed over the threshold. Cast along the riveted walls is the fluorescent lighting from the holo-map table; a technological marvel set directly in the center of the room. The map’s radiating neon light began at the middle of the wall and continued upwards, twisting and swallowing every inch of that section until it spread to the ceiling. Concealed within the wall’s luminous blanket are the shadowed silhouettes of the admiral and the commanding general. They were standing not far apart from one another, both waiting to greet their guests. The admiral affords the approaching soldiers a brief salute, while the commanding general offers an uncharacteristically calm head nod.

“Gentlemen,” the admiral begins, “we commend your promptness.”

They turn to face the commanding general, whose passive facial expression has not changed. The pair then make their way towards the room’s center to gather on the opposite end of the holo-map table. They are now adjacent to their superiors.

“Eleven days ago, we sent a Volta communication droid into the Gyza Nebula system”, Scheilt began, “After officially making contact four days later, a secondary party was sent to follow-up for discussions with an accompanying squadron.”

At this point Kyran and Colton share a brief passing glance at each other before the admiral continues his introduction.

“Approximately three days ago, we received confirmation that our party had entered the Gyza Nebula system”, Scheilt dryly spoke, “They touched down on the surface and established contact with the inhabitants that answered our communication efforts.”

The admiral motioned the two men around the left side of the table, closer to him. He began plucking out a holographic mountain range from the suspended map and firmly pointed towards a spot in the upper regions.

“Upon their return to base, they reported sensitive intel found at a mountainous region along the southern ridge,” The admiral states.

A pinging blue circle marks the exact spot, and with both hands he quickly motions outwards. The map then rapidly brings the pinned spot closer in view with the highlighted area elevated above the rest of the region. This zoomed-in area is now bordered by the blue circle and begins turning in a slow rotation. The admiral takes a step forward closer to the map.

“The intel found here is vital to our negotiations and will allow Volta to design an appropriate proposal for the planet’s representatives”, he continues.

“And who are the representatives?” Colton asks, “Will they be there to greet our diplomats upon our arrival?”

Kyran, now sensing a hesitation in the admiral’s response, turns his head slightly towards the stoic commanding general.

He breaks the silence, “With all due respect, Admiral, why are we here exactly?”

Colton, with his right hand at his side, purposefully nudges his friend’s leg in objection to the out-of-line question.

“You are here,” Admiral Scheilt booms, “to listen for y-”

“Commander Aftin,” the general now says, “you are still assigned to Onyx Squadron in the outer regions, no?”

Colton nods in agreement and quickly answers,

“Yes sir. We just finished bounty hunter watch while our party completed their ground duties.”

“Excellent,” the general replies, “We are lucky to have you back on base.”

He now turns his attention towards his son, standing beside the commander.

“Captain Alder,” he now speaks, “How has training duty been going on the Earth Colony base?”

“The recruits are coming along nicely, general”, Kyran says.

“Wonderful”, the general replies emotionless.

Silence now covers the cold room. The general makes his way around the table closer to his subordinates, then places both of his hands onto the table. His head begins turning towards Admiral Scheilt.

“Scheilt”, he states “tell these men why we are here.”

Admiral Scheilt steps in, “First, and foremost -“

He moves his arm towards the map, pulling and rotating it in his direction.

-“The landing party confirmed heightened electromagnetic activity coming from just beneath the planet’s surface, pooled around caves and ridges.”

“Second,” the admiral continues, “the Zarbrïct representatives have allowed for the second negotiation team to meet on the surface to work out the details to a trade agreement.”

Tall, slender, and pale green humanoids, the Zarbrïcts are recognized as a Class II civilization. This classification verifies that they are a semi-advanced race, composed of small tribal clans established across the planet’s vast surface. They are highly intelligent, deeply motivated through their spiritual ideals, and are armed with weapons of their own, unique design. As the holo- file rotates and focuses on each key detail about the native species, Admiral Scheilt continues discussing related intel before Kyran interjects.

“The Zarbrïcts?” the bold captain inquires, “The tribal race of nomads and shamans? How were our diplomats able to set up discussions with them?”

General Alder fires a look at his son that could melt a glacier.

“They explained the advantages and rewards, captain,” the general thunders back, “And no amount of spirituality is matched for financial security!”

Kyran breaks gaze with his father, turning his head off to the side. He knows that the Zarbrïct people are noble and possess no ties to worldly possessions. Volta’s efforts have been thwarted for years to establish trades in those sectors.

Colton and Kyran do not notice at the same time, but when they do, they both turn in unison to look at the general. His eyes are transfixed on the highlighted weaponry holo-file, almost in a mesmerized state. The two comrads now see that the general has his arm extended out with a single finger on one of the table’s numerous keypads.

“This, gentlemen,” General Alder utters keenly, “is why we are here.”

He uses both of his hands to zoom in on the holo-file, bringing the core of the Zarbrïct weapon in for a closer view. His eyes are still piercing holes through the levitating dossier.

The general continues, “Zarbrïct weaponry uses an extremely dense, naturally found resource that is abundant on their planet.”

 Just as he begins talking, Admiral Scheilt begins making his way around the table towards the commander and captain. He takes an object from out of his pocket and places it down on the table in front of Colton.

The admiral chimes in, “For the last several months, Volta has made attempts to establish a new trade route through the Gyza Nebula star trails.”

“Their goal,” he continues, “has been to set up a new business relationship with the Zarbrïct people and gain access to this substance.”

He brings attention to one of the table’s observatory platforms where he has placed down the substance. The radiant material catches and reflects the neon blue light from the holo-table. The light bouncing off of the substance’s veined, green ridges. Admiral Scheilt continues to move around the table, walking behind Colton and Kyran.

“This substance,” Scheilt says, “is what we believe lies within the planet’s countless valleys and caverns.” He goes on,  

“It is highly conducive as a renewable resource, with just 50 kilograms of it being enough to sustain up to five Earth Colonies for a full interstellar year.”

Colton places his helmet on the ground, bends back up, and reaches out to pick the specimen up off the platform. He turns his head towards Kyran, a look of astonishment on the captain’s face. Colton shifts his eyes back down to further examine the sample within his palm, hypnotized by its crystal valleys of green.

The audacious captain opens his mouth to speak, “How is th-“

“Your mission right now,” the admiral interjects, “is to listen to the full briefing, Captain. Understood?”

Kyran apologetically nods and falls back in line with Colton. Admiral Scheilt returns his attention back to the holo-table,

“The landing party’s mission,” he explains, “was to touch down on the planet’s surface and make contact with the largest identified tribal community.”

The admiral resumes, “Before that, however, they investigated the planet for any cave formations, land regions, or mines that might house that precious substance.”

A tension is now building in the room, all focus somehow shifting towards the general, whose eyes have never left the holo-table. He is in a trance-like state, his gaze like two black holes swallowing the light of the holo-files. The admiral walks over to stand near Colton and Kyran, while the general remains on the far end of the table. System relations have been weakening for some time now within the Volta business network. Some have taken notice of the company’s new, less peaceful diplomacy methods to ensure continued trade agreements. This comes amid the recent reports of heightened bounty hunter activity threatening their product traffic.

Volta has always been a polarizing force within the bounty hunter guilds. Over generations, there have been those who oppose the business’ dealings and those who support their dealings. These opposers would usually clamor for the bounties posted on Volta supporters or their political allies. Some have even been so inclined as to make their own bounties a personal one with no ties to any guild nor reward. Those that were in support of Volta, only favored the chaos that was created in the wake of their tyrannical fear mongering. The smaller planet systems that would do business with Volta would typically see a hierarchical division within their populations. The wealthy would get wealthier from the trade dealings, while the lesser would be forced to fend for themselves in the chaos. And chaos is the breeding ground for bounty hunters, especially the less honorable ones.

Lately, Volta has had to get creative with their negotiation methods, using the muscle provided from their Legionnaire forces. This increased intimidation from the Legionnaires has only further weakened trade relationships. As of late, the developing conflicts have strained the union between the Legionnaires and Volta Enterprises.

“I am sure that it’s no secret our diplomatic bodies have been reporting some disapproval over the last several weeks,” The admiral begins, “and I am also aware of the strained relationship Volta has fashioned with some of its partnered systems.”

General Alder’s eyes boil with intensity, piercing daggers right at the admiral. Scheilt pans the table before looking back at Colton and Kyran.

“This brings us to why you both are here right now,” he begins, “It is has been decided to promo-“

“Admiral,” General Alder snaps, “I can take it from here.” Valek begins walking from his end of the table around towards the three men.

Admiral Scheilt, visibly irked, obliges and steps off to the side of the table. He settles and begins folding his arms across his armored chest. General Alder refocuses his attention towards the commander and captain. He reaches from underneath the holo-table and pulls out two, unidentifiable objects. Valek begins walking until he is standing directly in front of them both.

The general speaks, “Gentlemen, please step forward.”

Colton and Kyran take two steps forward in military unison with their arms firmly pressed at their sides.

He addresses them, “You are now both in command of the Legionnaires’ newest consolidated platoon, referred to as ‘Reaper Division’.”

Colton looks over to Kyran, his friend almost in a stunned state from the general’s declaration.

General Alder continues, “It is the goal of this new platoon to follow through on planetary recon, scouting missions, and enforcing positive trade relations to support Volta’s endeavors.”

Valek observes the surprised expression on his son’s face, providing no reaction before he resumes.

“You are tasked with taking this new platoon to the Gyza Nebula planet,” he commands, “to confirm the existence of the caves and mines before making your way towards the Zarbrïct village to finish the mission.”

Kyran’s eyebrows furrow in bewilderment by his father’s actions. He peers out beyond the General, observing Admiral Scheilt who remains in the shadows.

“Your mission is not only to assist in the completion of negotiations,” General Alder emphasizes, “but to also survey the land for resource hotspots.”

He takes quick glances back to the holo-map be continuing,

“You are to document all major landmarks, report any findings of that abundant substance of theirs, and do so only once you have exited their atmosphere.”

“We are not positive,” the general states, “but we have reason to believe that the planet is littered with these deposits full of the precious material.”

He looks back over to the two men,

“Part of your mission is to confirm this detail and inform us of your findings. If they have these caves, we must know so that it may be included in our mediations.”

He then brings the first object into view from behind his back, now clutching it in his left hand.

“Commander Colton Aftin,” General Alder proclaims, “your leadership helming Onyx squad has been valuable in combating these riotous systems.”

Kyran watches his friend lift his head to view the general’s face, a shine flickering from his eyes as his father places the object into Colton’s hands.

He draws the commander’s attention down towards the object, a rank medallion.

"You are hereby promoted to Lieutenant,” the general resumes, “and in command of the Reaper Division platoon.”

The newly promoted officer purses his lips, then replies,

“Thank you, general. It’s an honor to serve the Reaper Division.”

He fastens the new badge without hesitation to his chest armor on his left side. The new lieutenant responds with a firm salute and then stands back at attention. It is at this point that Kyran barely notices Colton take a slight step backwards before the general speaks again. The Admiral, still behind Valek, now looks away almost simultaneously as Colton steps back.

“Captain Kyran Alder...”

Kyran’s eyes opened wider as his father’s voice boomed.

“You are hereby promoted to the rank of Commander to the Reaper Division platoon.”

General Alder’s face is stoic as he hands his son his newest rank medallion,

“You will be second-in-command under Lieutenant Aftin as you embark on Reaper’s first assignment.”

Kyran is taken aback by the events that have just transpired, almost unable to react. He extends his left hand to accept the medallion, his right hand already moving towards the left side of his chest armor to remove the previous badge. Kyran affixes the commander medallion to his armor, salutes the general, then returns back in line with Colton.

“Reaper Division,” General Alder exclaims, “You have your mission, you have all of the briefings and files, now go ready your men. Transport leaves in approximately 36 hours.”

The admiral walks up from behind the general to his right side, saluting the new heads of Reaper Division standing in front of him.

Both men bring their arms and feet together at attention before reciprocating a firm salute to the general and admiral. As they bring their arms back down to their sides, General Alder clasps both of his hands behind his back.

“Gentlemen, you are dismissed.”

Both men do an about-face and begin walking away from the center of the room, heading towards the double-doored entryway. Kyran cannot help but still feel a sense of bewilderment about the last part of their meeting. It has been a few months since the last time he was a part of a ground mission briefing. Usually, however, at the end of such meetings he has a firm understanding of the key objectives and intentions.

He recognizes that Volta has always chosen to conceal their business tactics from the public, especially shrouding the presence of accompanying Legionnaires on planetary negotiations. Still, Kyran knows it to be uncommon for officers to receive a promotion during a mission briefing, let alone in conjunction with the creation of a new platoon. It also is unusual to promote a captain who has underperformed in his squad’s latest field assessments. Kyran’s suspicions are quelled by the lieutenant’s congratulations as they exit the war room.

“Damn,” Colton remarks, “I left with the Zarbrïct piece.”

He turns abruptly, coming face to face with the newly ranked commander. Kyran gives his friend a good-hearted smirk before turning his head back towards the war room. He rotates his body in a half circle away from Colton,

“Come on, drop it back and let’s head to the armory for outfitting.”

“You go ahead and give them the briefing codes,” Colton insists, “I’ll walk it back and pick up my helmet too.”

Kyran had not noticed earlier as they left the meeting that his friend unusually left his helmet behind. He gives Colton a curious nod and continues walking towards armory, leaving the new lieutenant behind…To be continued!