Star Dusk Lore
MANKIND has long been destined to settle beyond our pale, blue planet.
History recalls our greatest discoveries and innovations came from encounters with the unknown. From the discovery of fire to the invention of the steam engine, humans have always possessed the ability to adapt and thrive. At some point in our history, however, more attention was drawn towards the skies than to the ground beneath our feet. And while all eyes were eagerly pointed towards the stars, pestilence streamed through the corridors of a dying planet, reaching out with its merciless tendrils to claim the defenseless.
Centuries of political warmongering, international genocide, dwindling natural resources, and increasing pollution levels had all weakened our atmosphere and terrain beyond repair. As a result, the world fell into chaos.
Riots, revolts, and usurping militia powers threatened what remained of our collective societies. Terrorist factions began taking strongholds across various countries and territories, drastically shifting the power away from elected governing bodies. Fear, being a powerful motivator, forced humans to hasten technological developments. All available resources were redirected into planetary expansion and colonization.
Scientists and international committees had failed to provide results, and private
businesses and corporations stepped in. With the cutthroat survival mentality, persistence, and necessary unlimited funding, the CEOs of the world slowly began to replace the national space forces...
JUSTIFIED with good intentions, the space race was renewed. The
government agencies had become inefficient and private corporations had become dissatisfied. And unlike their counterparts, the private business owners had the means to provide consistent stability for their private space explorations. This set in motion a change of events that would forever change the course of human history.
The first phases included going back to the moon; each flag placed leaving behind another blemish. After the initial colonies proved to be successful, more and more effort was focused on spreading past our lunar enterprises. Within a few generations, our intentions shifted from survival to a deeper, less benevolent desire.
Meanwhile on earth,
A barely breathing planet was wrought with plague and criminal chaos. Those who remained were forced to watch as titanic ships propelled explorers into the newly veiled atmosphere. The world that was left behind was overrun with famine, desolate wastelands, and casualties of a lawless landscape. Above their heads, mankind was extending its poisoned reaches further than had ever been thought possible...
CORPORATE commerce was masqueraded as interstellar manifest
destiny. More generations passed as humans and their ever-increasing technological abilities stepped onto foreign, cosmic worlds. Planets of wind, smoke, storms, water, ice, and gas all involuntarily became hosts for human colonies.
Nearly a millennia had gone by before intergalactic travel had come to fruition. The ancestors of corporations that sent us into space were now capable of establishing trade relationships with these exotic worlds and new star systems; thus making them almost completely unstoppable.
Power and dominance are two words that are rooted deep within our DNA. Our survival had been assured long, long before the first intergalactic trade relations were established. It has been almost 1,700 years since humans first migrated from their home world; some historians still wondering if it was ever about survival...or on supremacy.
The world of Star Dusk is set in an uneasy future where mankind is forced to expand beyond Earth and seek resources from neighboring galaxies. Unfortunately, law and order cannot be contained beyond our atmosphere. Mankind has overpopulated their Earth and are forced into the outer rims of space. The powerful and corrupt trading corporations are left with their only option for business...to industrialize the planets, moons, and the stars themselves! Set in the year 3701, Star Dusk follows the stories of five characters, each one related to the genocidal business perpetrated by human trading corporations. The five characters, burdened by their own personal vendettas, must band together to survive in an industrialized Universe... where danger is abundant, currency is King, and Stars are dwindling rapidly. This. Is. Star Dusk.
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 first began toying with intergalactic travel 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!
Commander Alder lies perched against a Gyza Nebula tree, weakened from the wounds of battle...
Mankind was extremely vulnerable in its first century of deep space travel. To better prepare for an unpredictable universe, earth’s governing bodies deemed it necessary to establish a united military force. This new service, referred to as the "United Terra Defense Force" (UTDF), was sworn in to protect all migrating Earth Colonies. Each division would not only assist during the actual migration process but also in overseeing colony security. The UTDF was made up of splinter cells that integrated soldiers from every country, nationality, and geographic region on our planet. The brave soldiers were also accompanied by diplomatic representatives from each country. Both parties were then dispersed within each new deployed Earth Colony (EC). This was done to ensure that every human soul within the new settlement would be able to communicate with their EC officials and UTDF service men and women.
The UTDF military was comprised of volunteer soldiers from all walks of life and from every continent. Because of the eclectic spectrum of military training, it boasted some of the toughest survivalists ever seen. For centuries, this united force looked after the human race as their protectors, with some UTDF individuals eventually becoming elected EC officials. While these militia men and women were well respected within the colonies, eventually the duties of defending their race took a toll on the policing troops.
While the UTDF was intended to be nonaligned, a new, emerging industry began requesting their services. As humans spread themselves across the universe, the need for economic stability started to become a topic for discussion. It was during this time that the Earth Colonies began developing their commerce and trade, eventually expanding past each new galactic border. Updated technology eventually allowed human representatives to establish extraterrestrial communications, thus ushering in the intergalactic trade industry.
There were many in the UTDF that wanted to begin earning more money by taking work for trade businesses. The remaining troops thought it best to stay nonaligned and only serve to protect the earth colonies. All the while, the dutiful soldiers found themselves embroiled with every new interplanetary conflict. These conflicts all arose from humans entering foreign star systems, some less peacefully than others. These diplomatic squabbles, along with a gross lack of compensation, allowed for cracks to start forming within the ranks.
This time of disunion was seen as a catalyst for change by a rogue UTDF cell, led by an assertive general. He thought it was time to forge a new, forceful destiny for the humans amidst an increasingly dangerous universe. The general took control over additional cells that supported his cause, amassing a large legion in quick fashion. This began a destructive civil unrest within the UTDF, resulting in a great loss of colony life and resources. The power-hungry general led his defected ranks into an all-out war against all opposing cells that lasted for decades.
All of this turmoil culminated in the year 2605 when him and his troops departed from official UTDF duty. His divisions were then pulled together as a new, lone army known as, “the Legionnaires”. Any remaining cell groups stayed loyal to the UTDF and the peaceful protection over EC settlements. This new, Legionnaire army began promoting their services as “for-hire” protection amongst the wealthiest of their race, fit for any business entities that would pay enough. The bloody civil war that resulted in the deaths of millions of human lives did not stop then. The war continued on through the humans’ intergalactic trade routes, swallowing every planet and star one by one...
Thirty-four hours have passed since the private debriefing in the general’s war room. Kyran has settled into his newly promoted rank, preparing the Reaper Division platoon for their upcoming mission. Lieutenant Colton Aftin has been given additional specifics on the mission while Kyran preps the soldiers. The lieutenant has also been provided the platoon’s drop point coordinates and old models of Volta’s communicator mouth pieces. The latter included so that the native Zarbrïct people may be able to suitably speak with them. Both men are in their platoon’s barracks, Colton having just given a rousing speech to all forty men before suiting up. The transport arrives in less than two hours.
Colton looks across the room to his commander who is talking with a couple of Legionnaire soldiers. He begins walking over to Kyran who is on the other side of the room.
“Troopers,” the lieutenant asserts, “excuse us for a moment. The commander and I must continue prepping solo.”
Both soldiers stand at attention, salute their officers, and turn to leave the two alone. Colton begins walking slowly down the middle of the barracks towards the door, motioning Kyran to follow suite.
Lieutenant Colton Aftin looks to his left at Kyran.
“We should go over the mission objectives again before transport arrives.”
Kyran looks back at Colton with a trace amount of confusion. They had already gone over the mission briefings some six hours ago. It was unusual to go over the mission briefings twice within such a short span, especially right before boarding transport. Perhaps the lieutenant has received some additional news? Or perhaps he is still unclear on some minor points? Either way, another review of specifics would not be a bad idea.
The two men reach the front of the barracks now with Colton pausing underneath the doorway. He looks away from Kyran to scan the entire room of moving soldiers. They are still gearing up and preparing for the transport that will arrive shortly.
“There have been some small changes to the timeline leading to the drop point,” Lieutenant Aftin begins, “They are subtle, but we should go over everything once more.”
Kyran’s ears perk up when he hears that there has been new changes. He has never known briefing specifics to change so suddenly prior to boarding a mission transport.
Alder meets his friend’s eyes. “Oh? What’re the changes?”
Lieutenant Aftin peers off to his left,
“The general and admiral want you as the point man to lead a recon team in first”, he articulates softly, “Once we set-up after the drop zone, you’ll take the first team to Point B along the upper ridge and look for signs of those wells, deposits, or caverns.” Colton’s prolonged eye contact unsettles Kyran, sensing a rising passion in the lieutenant’s voice. Colton continues, “You report any signs of landmarks or areas that could contain the precious substance, are we understood? We need those confirmations before the negotiations take place.”
Commander Alder shakes his head in agreement, quick to leave no delay between Colton’s question and his response. However, Kyran is now intrigued. He has been point-person before on ground missions, but it has been a while ever since he began training duty with the new recruits. He is confident in his abilities, but the original plan was to touch down on the planet together. From there, they would follow the coordinates to the nearby Zarbrïct settlement where the representatives would be awaiting them. The fact that Aftin was given the news first with little to no time before the mission makes this development curious to say the least.
“So, once our parties meet back up, we are still to proceed to the Zarbrïct representatives?” Kyran inquires, “Or are there any other changes that I should be aware of?”.
Colton, able to read between his friend’s subtle quip, offers an affable grin.
“Spit it out, Alder” - Colton places a hand on the commander’s shoulder
- “What’s on your mind?”
Kyran has been staring off towards the platoon, but now redirects his attention back towards the lieutenant.
“Does any of this feel weird to you?” Kyran gets outs, “Why all the sudden changes and this ‘Reaper Division’? What is the real purpose of this mission?”
Commander Aftin looks inquisitively at Kyran. “What do you mean, Ky?” Alder peers at their surroundings, leaning in closer to his comrade. He utters low, “Well, how is it possible the Zarbrïct’s have become open to business all of a sudden? I mean, they’ve avoided our advances all other times, so why the change now?”
The lieutenant backs away from Alder, seemingly thrown off guard by his friend’s line of questioning.
“Alder,” Colton uttered low, “The general is no fool. He knows the importance of gaining the Zarbrïcts’ business, and you know better than most that he does not give up so easily.” He looks away for a moment before continuing, “This planet is El Dorado, the planet of gold, and it’s our duty to make a deal with the Zarbrïcts that’ll benefit both of our species. Volta wants what’s best for the greater good, right?”
Kyran straightens himself up, looks to Colton, and shoots him a half smile. “I know you’re right,” Kyran confidently states, “Guess I’m just still adjusting to everything at once.”
Colton extends a hand towards his friend for a firm handshake before the two head back to finish gearing up. They will give one final run-down on the mission timeline before assembling the crates and loading up at the docking bay. Transport arrives in two hours.
Hyper-space is just as cold, if not colder, than open space. There are some who claim that on an older model ship, you can feel the space outside of the hull moving backwards. It is almost as if time is skipping past your face and it gives you a nauseating headache to even imagine. The transport is coming up onto the Gyza Nebula system, dropping out of hyper-space above the opaque blue planet. Once they arrive, Reaper Division will deploy the landing transports with a course set for one of the planet’s forested field regions. The timeline then calls for the commander’s recon squad to make their way up to Point B on the upper mountains to do a complete sweep for signs of any mineral deposits. Beyond that point, Lieutenant Aftin will reconvene with Commander Alder’s party and make way to the Zarbrïct settlement. The time until touch-down is approximately 90 minutes.
Alder’s squad has reached Point B, however, they find no signs of caves, wells, or significant landmarks. Kyran pulls out his multi-purpose tablet but still finds nothing on the scanners. He is not even getting proper electro-magnetic readings; something is not right.
Kyran brings his hand to his helmet to activate his comm-link,
“Lieutenant Aftin, come in. Lieutenant, do you read?”
“Commander, I read you,” Colton replies through the static, “Status report. What have you found out there, Kyran?”
Alder takes another look around the lush, forested horizon before responding, “Nothing here, lieutenant-“ he looks down at his empty scanner tablet,
- “Nothing at all, in fact. No caves, no pools, can’t even get an electro-mag reading without the meter getting thrown off.”
There is an unsettling rush of wind that picks up, providing the slightest whistling noise to an otherwise silent environment. Lieutenant Aftin comes through again over the comm-link, “Keep at your positions, commander, we’re on our way to rendezvous.”
Kyran assumes that the plan will continue as scheduled. Unfortunately, their report back to Volta will have to include that they were unable to find sources of the precious Zarbrïct matter. He wonders if maybe the previous intel might have been incorrect. Kyran checks his wrist gauntlet for the mission time, about sixty minutes have gone by since he last transmitted to Colton. That same uneasy feeling washes over his entire body, causing him to anxiously recheck his scanner. Suddenly a loud blast echoes from his three o’clock position, just over the south ridge. Another blast drills through the still air.
“Soldiers!,” Kyran booms, “Let’s move!”
Commander Kyran Alder and company run towards the blasts as quickly as they can, the light weight of their Volta tech gear affording them more speed. Another three blasts sound off while they are running, Kyran picking up pace with his men following behind. Up ahead they spot a cliff ledge that allows them to pan out over the landscape, spotting the blast origins. They are coming from an area within the wooded valley. Kyran and the rest remove their individual grapnel hooks from their gear bags, finding a rocky border to sink in their metal claws. They deploy the steel wires and begin making their decent down the cliffside into the valley. Once they reach the bottom, they eject from their grapnels, reposition, and follow the blasts into the woods.
What Kyran sees ahead of him beyond the trees almost immobilizes him. He sees Lieutenant Aftin and the remaining platoon in defensive position, fighting unidentified adversaries. The commander runs towards the rest of Reaper Division, his men taking cover behind some rock formations. Kyran makes swift movements between oncoming fire to join Colton who is pinned down behind a smaller rock.
“What the hell happened?!” Kyran shouts over the blast fire, “Who are the hostiles?!”
Kyran leans out to his right to fire off several shots before returning to his low position. Lieutenant Aftin roars back, “We can’t confirm!” He then takes a few shots from behind their cover before leaning back to safety, “We think it’s the Zarbrïcts!”
Kyran looks alarmingly at Colton after removing his helmet to breathe in the oxygen-heavy air. He takes a quick breath before snapping, “The Zarbrïcts attacked us?!”
None of this makes sense. They were supposed to meet with the Zarbrïct representatives peacefully and come to terms on a mutual business agreement. Granted there were some sudden changes to the plan that might not have been officially reported to the delegates, but that does not warrant an all-out attack. Why would they ambush the lieutenant’s men without even allowing them to open the discussions?
Colton confirms with a shake of his helmet before both men take fire in unison, Kyran replacing his helmet to use the target tracking. Then, just as suddenly as Kyran’s team arrives, the fire ceases and all residual blasts ring through the air. The echoes continue until there is nothing left but silence. Kyran and Colton look at each other, the lieutenant raising his clenched fist in the air. He alerts the Reapers to hold their positions.
Kyran hears a faint sound getting closer to their position, something is coming towards them. Without warning, a horde of Zarbrïct warriors riding enormously large beasts charge Reaper Division! Each enemy armed with all different forms of the weaponry documented in the holo-files! Kyran counts at least fifteen Zarbrïcts in the cluster, none curiously toting any blasters. Instead, they wield varieties of energy staffs, maces, and lethal pulse bows. The blast fire that Kyran heard earlier came from their mortar rounds, these beaming orbs of concentrated energy that burst on impact like frags. The glow appears to be coming from the use of that sought-after material that was briefed on in the war room. They are all highly skilled combatants, taking on the Reaper soldiers with ease.
Just as Kyran begins to stir, Colton stands up from their position. He removes his helmet, takes aim, and opens fire on the horde! The Zarbrïcts scatter to the best of their abilities, several being thrown from their companion beasts. Commander Alder looks at the lieutenant, his sullied face seething with rage and anger. Lieutenant Aftin places his helmet back on and fires off more shots, skillfully clipping several of the beasts with deadly precision. Just as the Reapers manage to gain the upper hand, the remaining Zarbrïcts cease their fighting. Colton now activates his communicator on his helmet before speaking the natives’ language. He booms,
“< Zarbrïct clan, you have fought valiantly. But this will be my only offer! Lay down your weaponry and order your beasts to stand down! >
Alas, the lieutenant’s generous offer is met with unwavering resistance. When they do not follow the order promptly, Colton shells out a single blast, hitting a lone Zarbrïct and knocking him to the ground. Kyran reaches out to grab his friend’s arm, pausing his fire instantly.
“Colton, stop!” he shouts to the lieutenant, “They have no blasters!”
Lieutenant Colton rips his arm free from Kyran’s grasp, sending him crashing back to the ground.
“What the hell difference does it make!” Colton snaps, “I gave them an order and these creatures ignored it!”
Kyran has never seen heard such ferocity in his friend’s voice. He stands up to Colton’s level and reaches up to activate his own helmet’s communicator.
“Lieutenant, give me the chance to talk to them,” Alder counters, “it makes no sense why they would attack on sight!”
Colton motions his men to hold their positions, before returning his line of sight back to the commander.
“There is no reasoning with them,” Colton fires, “They meet a diplomatic party with open fire?! That is an act of war, not peace!”
Colton is not aware that his communicator is still activated on his helmet, as the Zarbrïcts begin to mutter in low tones with each other. One stands up from his crouched position on the ground about ten kilometers away. He speaks,
“< Your officer tells lies! You have no business here after your last attacks burned down farm regions! >”
Alder hears the words translated through his own helmet comm-link. The last attacks? Burned farmland?
He turns to Lieutenant Aftin, “What the hell is he talking about, lieutenant? What last attacks?”
Colton shoots a fiery glare from behind his visor, directed right at the lone Zarbrïct. He then turns his attention back to the commander, “He is speaking nonsense, commander. The only returning party never reported such findings! That is the whole reason why we-”
Colton stops himself, not making eye contact with Kyran who has now removed his helmet once again to look at the lieutenant. Kyran replies, “I thought our mission was dually-tasked with assisting negotiations and ground observations? Is that why changes were made?”
Colton swings his Volta blaster up to refocus on the Zarbrïct standing across from them. He retorts, “Our mission, Commander Alder, is to complete the job entrusted to us by Volta! In order to that, we first need to trust them...”
The Zarbrïct boldly steps forward before replying,
“< We know nothing of your negotiations! The last humans that came here observed our settlements, stole from our mines, and burned the land! We never wished any contact! >” His stance as strong as any of the planet’s trees that contour with the surrounding forest’s edges.
Colton receives the translation through his comm-link just as Kyran does through his own. His face tenses in detest, his forehead frowning down. “They lie!” Colton shouts back to the Reapers, “They wish to hoard what has been promised to us! The lives of your brothers and sisters back home are spit on by their withdrawn dealings!”
Suddenly, the Reaper soldiers erupt in loud roars, all chanting at their irate lieutenant. Without hesitation, all the men raise their weapons in unison, targeting the startled Zarbrïcts. Kyran looks on in horror at Colton and yells, “Wait!”
He fixes his gaze on the lieutenant who still has his weapon drawn at the Zarbrïct. Kyran asks, “I thought Volta hadn’t confirmed any caves or mines on the planet yet?” The unsettled commander now stares at Colton, “I thought we were here only to confirm if that intel was true?”
Lieutenant Aftin shoots his weapon around and gives the commander a hard look. He booms, “They are lying, commander! These negotiations were never intended to continue. We cannot let them keep that substance matter and go back on their promise to Volta. Reapers, weapons up!”
Kyran is now visibly shaking, mortified at the lieutenant’s genocidal decrees. His eyes widen before dropping his weapon.
“Colt, no!” he screams as he reaches for his friend’s arm. Kyran feels a blow connect with the back of his head, sending him crashing to the ground. There is a ringing that pierces from the center of his head and extends outwards through his ear canals. All the continuing combat is muffled into indistinguishable noises. His vision blurs until everything he gazes out at sweeps side-to-side, his entire body now rocking back and forth. Kyran turns around to observe what struck him before he feels another blow once again make contact, this time with the top of his head. He stumbles backwards and collapses to his knees. Kyran’s body manages to perch himself against one of the several trees that line the forested battlefield. He can make out more blurred shadows, splattered with bursting colors of mortar rounds and blaster fire off in the distance.
Another blaster fires off yet again, this time seemingly closer than before. Kyran feels an intense, stinging vibration on the left side of his chest. He envisions the sensation as a suspension rod on a Volta vehicle absorbing the shock from a rocky terrain. It takes a few seconds for him to realize that the terrain, in this imagined comparison, is in fact his own skin. He has been shot at close range! Kyran feels a pooling of liquid cascading down the inside of his already drenched body suit. Then it all goes to black. The ringing, the blurred human forms, everything ceases as he crashes to the ground.
His eyes open slowly. Kyran turns his head to the right, the ringing picks up again instantly upon this subtle movement. Whatever corrected vision he is briefly afforded only allows him to make out more blue-tinted explosions from all directions. Silhouettes of bodies are sent flying and large divots of ground burst around him. He can make out the image of what appears to be Colton leading soldiers away from him, retreating in quick fashion. Then it all goes to black again. Everything goes numb. His sight closing with the blacks of his inner eyelids. Shadows begin approaching him. The vibrating sting in his chest, however, does not cease.