March 24, 1886 Starship Vorallis Orn
Kregg turned away from the shuttle, facing Erlan. He said nothing and followed Erlan out of the shuttle bay.
The two walked through several corridors to a room containing a round table. Several seats surrounded the table, each one set in place. Galim and Katima were already there, sitting at the table.
Erlan pointed to a chair. "Sit." he commanded.
He did as ordered and Erlan left the three there in the room.
Kregg realized the state of exhaustion his body was in. He folded his arms on the table and rested his head. Double checking his power reserve. It really was almost gone.
Erlan came back with a tray of unfamiliar food. “Eat”, Erlan placed the tray in front of Kregg. He left again. At least the eating utensils were familiar unlike any of the sites he'd seen in the last day.
None of the food appeared appetizing. There was something red in a syrup, quite a few semi-hard bars of something. There was a pile of what appeared to be vegetables and fruit, and what appeared to be meat. This was more food than most would be able to eat in a day. Kregg's body had the ability to convert it over and fill his power reserve so he had no fear of not finishing. This probably wouldn't even fill his reserve.
The taste wasn't so bad. Quite a bit of salt, and some of it was sweet, sweeter than anything Kregg had ever ate.
Kregg broke from eating to look at Galim and Katima, sitting on the opposite side of the table.
"We already ate." Katima spoke, seeing Kregg's look. Galim had stopped crying. His expression still displayed his sorrow.
Kregg dug back in, wolfing the food down.
Erlan came back and took his seat at the table. “When Hal is done in the med bay, Lark and him will get here. Right now I want to go over some of what happened. The first thing we’ll do is go over the Mining mission. Katima, did you have any problems with infiltration?"
Erlan manipulated something on the table. A display like the one Arshala and Hal watched in the shuttle appeared. It displayed a top down image of the mining site.
Katima answered. "We had no problem with that. Josto, Galim and I made contact with Lark's men without problems. Our credentials held up with local authorities and our training worked to fool those who interacted with us. We were able to find someone who could recruit us to work at the mine site quickly. Our assumed identities held up even then.”
“How was the mining camp? Go over what you saw and dealt with.”
“The place was a shit hole. The conditions weren't even close to as good as the recruiters led us to believe. The Empire cut corners with everything. A day didn't go by without someone dying. Our work consisted of general labor around camp. This allowed us access to near everything on the surface, including where they packed and shipped the mined ore. Galim and I worked for a time packing. We placed as many tracking devices into the ore shipments leaving the mine as we could.”
“Did anything come back about the tracking devices?”
“Not that we saw. We were not caught, and nothing came back to show they knew something was up. We finally gained access to the mine itself. Not just anyone could go into the mine. It was Josto at first who got access. He obtained a position taking supplies and equipment to the working miners. This allowed him to acquire the first samples from inside the mine. Then he got Galim work doing the same. In the meantime, I gained work with the administration staff. At first it was as an assistant to the man who supervised the shipping. Then it was to the quartermaster. I was able to bug the building they worked out of. Nothing ever came back while I was there that they suspected anything.”
Erlan spoke, "Working with other contacts in the Vindrik Empire, I was able to confirm that the foreman is a tier two agent of Carios. He was directly under Tarlan who was under Carios. We established this fairly quickly once we had his office bugged. What if any precautions did you see for safety?”
“The miners had basic respirator equipment, some of it broken so the miners didn't make a pretense of using it. I saw no evidence of the hazmat gear you described. Most of the long time miners were sick or dying of radiation poisoning or problems with their lungs. The administrators forbid everyone from leaving once they arrived. The exception was for those who came and picked up the ore shipments. The miners worked until they died of sickness or had an accident. There were showers setup in the barracks, but it was optional to use them, and not everyone did. The shipping containers were lead lined, but not secure. A few times, they'd get dropped and the cases broke open forcing the workers to repackage it again without any protection."
“How did exfiltration go?”
“It started out well before going to hell. We were going to cause a distraction by causing a cave in. Everyone would exit and this would allow us to work inside setting the actual demolitions. Josto and Galim were successful in this. They and a few of Lark's men were able to move in with explosives and set them to destroy the mine."
The display switched to a different view. It showed many people running out of the mine. Some carried others out
"Our distraction didn't last near as long as we thought it would. The administrators had the guards force everyone back to work. The miners were told to dig out the cave in if they had problems. We should have realized that the lack of safety would indicate they didn't care about checking the mine out first. The laborers were hesitant and the guards killed a few of them as an example. Josto, Galim, and Lark's men had finished placing the explosives, but the miners and guards moved into the mine. The alarm was raised when one of the explosives had been found. Both were caught inside where they shouldn't have been. The guards were quickly fought off but their cover was blown. The whole compound was alerted to their presence. I set an impromptu explosive in the shipping area to cover their escape. This distracted the guards. Josto realized the goal of shutting down the mine long term would fail if he didn't fix the explosives already found by the guards."
On the display an explosion went off on the surface. Fire and smoke erupted out of the cave entrance. The view expanded outwards showing more of the surface above the mine. Part of it caved in.
"The mine went up and we escaped in the chaos. We waited at the evacuation point as long as we felt safe, but Josto and a few of Lark's men never arrived."
Hal and Lark entered the room.
"How are you feeling Hal," Erlan asked.
"I feel good, in fact never felt better." Both Lark and Hal took their seats at the table. Hal sat next to Kregg, giving him a nod. Kregg could see Hal had a tray of food as well, but it didn't contain near as much as what had came on Kregg’s tray.
Erlan spoke, "Now for the mining samples."
The display changed to show pictures of unfamiliar rocks.
"What samples we obtained by you and taken from intercepted supply shipments show that it was Uranium they were mining. This is the key material needed for the nuclear Weapons. The ore also contained a high amount of copper and several rare-earth elements. With the right equipment, this mine would be an incredible resource to the Empire. We’re working on tracking down the shipments. Now for the R&D facility. Hal, you start. Kregg, finish your food."
Kregg realized he had stopped eating to pay more attention to Katima's recounting. He returned to finishing his food. The display switched over to a top down picture of the Ondrass facility.
"Both Arshala," Hal looked to Kregg, "and I traveled to the Empire without problem. Our credentials held up. We were there two days before the Empire's foreign office pounced on us. They invited us to visit with Tarlan at the Ondrass site. They were fairly nice. I don't think any of them really knew what was going on behind the scenes."
"What type of technology did they show you?"
"What didn't they show. I'm not a scientist, so I didn't understand most, but some of it, I saw the utility of. Quite a bit of displays were about the military. There were many displays on geared towards the civilian population. Stuff from manufacturing techniques to farming methods. The only one other than the bomb which stood out was their ability to create touched. They had on display what appeared to be two successes. Tarlan didn't give numbers but it seemed like the rate of success is low. Of the two men, one appeared to control fire, and the other appeared to levitate. It was here we also saw Tihr's body and several other deceased."
"The last message we received from Tihr, said he had a chance to discover more information but he couldn’t say more. This might be what he was referring to." said Erlan.
They had the nuclear bomb display and we watched them detonate one in the desert. While the detonation distracted everyone we made our move and took down Tarlan. He attempted to resist, but Arshala subdued him. He tried to play ignorant, then he claimed we didn't stand a chance against Carios. He also spoke of Carios sending a Herald. The man then committed suicide on Arshala's weapon."
Kregg felt a bit nauseous at the memory of Tarlin's suicide and stopped eating, no longer hungry.
"That's unexpected, but it appears Carios influence is worse than we thought if he is confident enough to send a Herald."
Lark interjected, "Tarlan was never one to throw his life away. This evidence of dedication to Carios to the end is quite unnerving. It's not like him to stick it out. He's always been one to back off and try again at a later date."
Katima asked, "Erlan, who is this Herald Carios is sending?"
The display switched over to show more than a dozen humanoid creatures or persons. Those in the room would be hard pressed to identify what species they were other than vaguely humanoid. No two of them had the same appearance or build.
"Carios likes to mass produce his armies. He's always taken a quantity over quality view of things, but his Heralds are different. These are the most loyal of followers. They have the most experience and the most success under their belt. They usually come packaged with many powers that would put Kregg’s alt-form power to shame. All are one-offs, no two the same. A Herald is usually placed in command of an invasion force, or made a planetary governor. They are tough and hard to kill."
"How soon can we expect this Herald's arrival."
"I honestly don’t know. There are several factors. I can assume since he isn't already here, and we'd know if he was here already, the Herald left for here before the bridge network was unlocked. The facilities that produced the bridge network have long been destroyed. We have documented every single bridge network node in his territory as destroyed. The nearest bridge node without our side controlling it, is here in the fringe. This herald is most likely travelling by starship. Even with faster than light travel, the distance involved means the journey would take decades.
Erlan brought up on the display, a view of the galaxy. He zoomed in on one of the spiral arms and then down to where it showed a small expanse of stars. Colored areas appeared grouping the stars together. One remained black in color and seemed almost as large as the rest.
"This is Arsan."
One of the stars brightened in an area outside of any colored area. This is the nearest star system under his control. A star in the black area brightened. A line drew between them.
If the Herald left at the time Lark's father turned to Carios, and with the current tech base Carios' forces are known to have, I estimate it will be anywhere from 60 to 120 years.
"What about the bridge network? What's to keep this Herald from going to the nearest node and port over?" Lark asked. "One of the nodes here on Arsan is right on the palace grounds in the Vindrik capital"
"Tactically use of a bridge node would be unwise. The quantity of material a bridge node can transport is limited. Maybe a few dozen people in full combat gear, or one armored car with occupants. The Herald’s starship will be full of weapons and equipment and all sorts of nasty things he can use. The only non-watched nodes we know of are here on the fringe. There’s about a hundred or so. If Carios sneaks a ship to the fringe and uses a bridge node, then he’s close enough he travel the remaining distance and use his starship. He might do both. We don't have enough information to forecast with any clarity. I’ll notify the other Vanir of what’s transpired here and they’ll work it on their end gathering info. Regardless, it will be a while before he gets here. We have decades to prepare and we will prepare as fast as we can.
Katima asked, "Lark, were you successful with your father?
"Yes, I took care of him."
Kregg held his tongue until now but couldn't resist and asked. "What is all of this?" He waved his hands to indicate the ship around him and the display. "Where did that shuttle come from, what is this place we're on. How did you get these moving pictures?"
Erlan hesitated. "I feel I can definitely share this with you now. You've probably suspected it, but I'm not from Arsan."
A star in the outlined black territory indicated as belonging to Carios brightened. "I'm from somewhere far away, where the people you believe the Vanir to be live, or lived until Carios took the star system. This craft you're on is what's called a starship. It's old, really old, but a good one. A starship is like a sailing ship, only the seas she sails on would be the depths of space. Once upon a time, the ancients as you call them spread through the stars before they messed up. Few of them survived. Arsan was one of the colony worlds in the area called the fringe. The five of you along with everyone else on Arsan, is a descendant of those you label the ancients. You are the ancients. Does that answer your question Kregg?"
"It does, but I only have more." Kregg stared at Erlan. Hal placed his arm firmly on Kregg's shoulder to calm him.
"I'll answer them later Kregg. Right now I'll tell you our immediate plan of action. Larkosa will return, and be a guiding force with the Empire. She and other likeminded individuals will work on the Empire, preparing it for the Herald's arrival. It is unfortunate that Tihr and Josto did not survive. Hal, Katima, and Galim will return to the Fallonde Peninsula and lay low. The Empire is not familiar with your lands. Lark will work to distract them from it. If it comes to light that you survived, their eyes will turn to you. I've had decoys in place living as you but we don't want to risk anything. After a year or two, you should be able to travel about without problem. The Knights of Aturn are at risk as well and will have to go underground. I've already notified the rest of the Knights that they are to lay low. Tarlan's mention of me means he and others in their group know I had a hand in their demise. They also may realize that Tihr and Josto were Knights after they pick through the wreckage we left them. . Basically, all of you will do nothing to draw attention. You can wait for a while and with Larkosa doing her part, the Empire will soon forget what was going on."
Kregg asked," What about me. What am I going to do?"
The display changed again to show a close-up of a planet, one that was not Arsan. This one had six continents instead of Arsan's two.
"I'm going to have you leave Arsan and go to another star system. Your alt-form identity has been compromised and cannot stay on Arsan. The Gaeta and other six tribes have no protections against any encroachment by the Empire. The Plains of Kusartha they reside in are open to settlement and not recognized by the Empire as a nation state. The stigma of the three craters keeping settlers away won't keep the Empire away if they set their eyes on it. I don't want to risk you on a risk no matter how small. You won't be able to see your family, or tribe for quite some time."
"What would I do if I go?"
"I have friends, and you will work with them helping their planet they call Earth. I will have you travel there by bridge. Probability forecast says you are important to our plans. Our side can't afford to lose you. If we lost you, it would cripple our efforts here in the fringe to stop Carios. You're going Kregg. I will not risk you like this."
Erlan turned off the display.
"I wish the events of the past few days could have gone better for us. But please realize, this fight is far from over and each of you have a part to play."
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