Orivile wrote on his own time’s equivalent of a chalkboard. He worked tirelessly, calculating how various chemicals, synthetic and natural, would interact. He just had to find the right formula. Risalv walked in.
“Any progress?” Risalv asked.
“Just a few dozen more things that won’t work,” said Orivile.
“I guess that’s something,” Risalv said.
“It’s really not,” Orivile responded. “I have absolutely no idea what might work, I’m just guessing based on treatments for anxiety disorder--”
Orivile suddenly collapsed onto the floor.
“You alright?” Risalv asked.
“I’m fine,” Orivile said, as he stood back up.
“Dude, you look pale,” said Risalv “how long has it been since you’ve fed?”
“Three days,” Orivile said.
“What the…? Why?” Risalv asked. “No wonder you’ve made little progress. You need to keep your mind working at its best.”
“I know,” Orivile said, “I just can’t help but feel sorry for them.”
“I understand,” Risalv said. “But that’s exactly why you need to make as much progress on this as possible.”
“Fine,” Orivile said, “go ahead and send one in.”
Mat woke up. He and his squad put on their armor and began toward the briefing room. As they walked down the hallway, Mat turned to Kron.
“How do your powers work?” he asked.
“It’s exactly like I told the Humans,” Kron said, “Nature finds me authoritative. When I instruct a particle to move, a photon to change its properties, or the higgs field to decrease interaction with a particle, it listens to me. It does whatever I tell it to, so long as it can do it.”
“So that’s the limit to your powers?” asked Mat.
“Right,” Kron said, “If the particle simply cannot do what I command it to, it won’t.”
“Could you give me an example?” Mat asked.
“I can’t tell gravity to become a repulsive force instead of an attractive one,” Kron said, “That’s just something outside the bounds of what gravity is. And that’s just one limit to my powers.”
“What else is there?” Mat asked.
“I can’t control minds,” Kron said. “Or anything else the divine ones simply will not allow me to do. Or at least I assume that’s why I can’t do several things I should be able to do. I also have an endurance limit for very detailed work like cloaking. I can only focus on cloaking a large object in a crowded room for about 90 seconds.”
They arrived in the briefing room.
“Hello shadow squad,” said the briefer AI, “Your target today is not a human, but a member of another species. This species, the Draconians, were the first extra-terrestrial intelligence humanity encountered when the species launched into space in their 2300s. The two species are consequently very close allies, but we’ve allowed that because they’ve never actually helped the Humans in staving off their rightful sentence, until now. It’s been discovered that they’re helping to design human warships. We have decided to show them who they’re dealing with. We’ve found them chattering about a research project. We’re not sure what it is but it’s very important to them, which makes it the perfect method of retaliation. Your task is to find and destroy this research, and kill the Draconians performing it, thus teaching them not to make enemies with Conduits. You’ll be dropped on the opposite side of the massive facility from the location where the research is being done. You can expect not to face resistance at first as the wings of the research facility, which throughout its history has also doubled as a hospital, that you will be navigating through for most of your visit, have been abandoned for hundreds or even thousands of years. This is because, rather than each wing being dedicated to a different function, each one is an entirely functional facility that would later be replaced by the next wing. Once you get to the current wing, the only resistance should be from the unarmed researchers and the Photon Squad. Is your mission understood?”
Aaron gestured in the affirmative.
“Good then, your dropship is waiting.”
The Photon Squad landed on the Draconian home planet and entered the medical research facility called “the Callux Research Facility.” Orivile greeted them once they went inside.
“Hey there,” Orivile said.
“Sup?” asked Mike.
“Sadly, not much,” Risalv said. “We’ve made no real progress at all. We’ve been one chemical away for nearly a decade. I’m starting to give up hope, and if the Conduits do take away all of our progress we’ll be centuries away from finishing.”
“We won’t let that happen,” said Tim.
Orivile grinned, turned back to his Computer and resumed work.
The Shadow squad likewise landed on the draconian home world and crept into the Callux research facility.
“This is the oldest wing in the facility” said Aaron as he and his squad entered the ancient building. “This section was built about 2350 years ago. Remember, we’re in no hurry and know next to nothing about this species. Feel free to look around for anything that might help us out.”
They looked around the facility. Despite the unpainted walls, broken windows, and scattered paper, the facility was surprisingly intact for its age.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Mat said, “It looks like a normal hospital.”
“Indeed,” Dany said, “Nothing special that I can see,”
“Alright then,” said Aaron, “let’s move to the next wing.” They walked carefully through the old facility, and crossed the above-ground bridge to the next wing.
“This one was built around 125 years lat…” Aaron looked with awe at the massive storage room he’d entered. Below the scaffolds they walked on was an ocean of broken glass from old hypodermic needles.
“My guess: vaccines,” said Mat.
They entered into the main room of this wing, it was negligibly less decayed then its equivalent in the last wing. The squad’s attention was drawn to the large table in the center. Printed on its surface was a large map of the area.
“An epidemiology chart?” suggested Nax.
“Maybe,” said Aaron, “but then why are there three colors?”
“What do you mean?” asked Kron.
“The map is color coated,” said Aaron, “and there are three different shades. Someone check the key to see what they mean.”
“I’m not very good at this language,” said Mat, “but as best I can estimate, green, which this area is colored in, means ‘Untouched’, blue means ‘Seen,’ and purple means …” Mat paused “purple means ‘conquered.’”
“What disease conquers land?” asked, Kron.
“The same one that merits these,” Nax said. He pointed toward a row of now rusted metallic beds, each one with restraints on them.
“Look at this,” Mat said, pointing to a set of injection needles. “It looks like they were holding someone or something down so they could inject it with something.”
“Is there a label?” Aaron asked.
“Yes,” Mat said. He looked at the label. “It says ‘caution, highly toxic.’”
“Maybe they were mercy killing the infected?” suggested Gar.
“Could be,” said Aaron. “But then why would it be necessary to hold them down?”
They crossed the next bridge, the door at the end of which opened straight into the main room.
“No warehouse,” noted Dany. “Maybe the epidemic ended?”
“Then why’s there still a giant chart in the center of the room?” asked Nax.
“Let me take a look,” said Mat. “It’s the same three colors as last time, except the green is now yellow. Blue is now marked as ‘spread’ and there’s a lot less yellow then there was green on the last one. In addition the purple was mostly up north before. Now it’s…” Mat saw something that made him stumble back. “This area is purple,” he said. “The only places yet to be ‘conquered’ are five sections in the southeast corner, only one of which is green.”
“So the ‘conquest’ doesn’t result in the hospital being shut down?” asked Kron.
“As it would seem,” Mat said.
The Shadow Squad went into the door that, in the previous wing, had led to the room with the restraining beds. Inside they found a dingy hallway, lined on either side with cells with rusty bars.
“Any ideas for what these were for?” asked Aaron.
“Maybe the same persons that were being held down on those beds,” suggested Gar.
“Could be,” said Aaron, “But there are no needles, or anything else to kill them with.”
“Nothing that’s obvious to us,” said Mat. “We know nearly nothing about them. Maybe there’s something here whose fatality we don’t recognize?”
“Like what?” asked Nax.
“I’m not sure,” said Mat.
They proceeded into the next wing. Upon entering, they found no large map in the main room.
“It looks like a completely mundane hospital, except, the cells are still there,” said Kron.
The wing after that was the same, as was every wing after that. Each one more technologically advanced than the last. Each one less decayed. Each one had the same structure, a main room, with the exit to a long abandoned street to the right, and hallways leading to bedrooms for patients and research labs on the left. And in front, there was always a hallway lined with those cells, a door at the end of which led into the next wing. This went on for forty wings. At one point, they found the first transmission the Draconians received from humanity.
“What does it say?” asked Aaron.
“Let’s see,” Mat began, “This was a trium—”
“Don’t read the whole thing,” snapped Nax, “Just give us a summery.”
“Let’s see, an entity is explaining that it is still alive, and celebrating that it can continue its scientific research. There’s nothing of a tactical significance. It’s clearly not an intentional transmission, but rather a song or poem that was leaked somehow.”
“Alright then,” said Aaron.
After another thirty-six wings, they reached wing 44, the current one. They could hear people talking on the other side.
“It’ll be less risky,” said Aaron, “for just one of us to go through to the cages and wait a few minutes for this place to close up for the night; at which point they should be able to quietly kill anyone that spots them.”
“I’ll go,” said Mat.
After Aaron approved this, Mat opened the door. As Kron meticulously arranged that it appeared to all those in the waiting room that none of this was occurring, Mat quickly snuck across the room and into the hall with the cages. When he looked to his right, he saw what was being kept in them. It was the same species that he saw in the waiting room: a Draconian. The creature was yellow in color, had tentacles for arms, and a mouth clearly designed for filter-feeding from the air. It looked at Mat. By its appearance, it was clear that, though in a cell, it was at least treated well enough. The conditions inside were also quite comfortable looking compared to what you’d expect. But the look in the Draconian’s eyes would have you believe that every second of every day was utter hell.
“Please, press that button over there. Let me go,” it said, its voice shaking.
Mat reached into his armor for a device he could type on to communicate with the creature in its language, which was probably the only one it knew. He could not simply speak the language, because his mouth was probably not structured properly to speak its words.
“No,” he typed, “I have no idea who you are and for all I know you were locked in here for a very good reason.”
“Do you really think those awful things would lock me up for a good reason?” asked the Draconian.
“What do you mean ‘those things’?” Mat asked.
“You came in through the waiting room,” said the Draconian, “you must have seen them; their awful purple skin, their wretched odor, the intolerable screeches that they dare to call speech, and those fangs, those dreadful fangs! They’re horrible,” the creature changed its expression for the first time, “and if you won’t set me free from them, you’re horrible too.” It got a knife that it had evidently crafted from its bed and thrust it out at Mat through the bars in the cage.
Mat dodged the thing. He typed out on the communicator again, “I might let you out if you explain why you were locked up in here.”
“I was born here,” it said, “born in captivity. I don’t know for certain why they breed us, but I can tell you what they do. A few times a day, one of them binds me, takes me to the room of a patient or worker, and,” it paused, as one would when recounting a traumatic event of their past, “whomever took me to them runs a blade across my arm, and they drip the blood into their mouths. Never enough to do me serious harm, and they always carefully bandage the wound, and do not use that arm again until it’s healed the next day.”
“They drink your blood?” asked Mat.
“Yes,” the creature said. “But it’s worse. Once I had a cellmate. If you look around most of us do. One day, they took him, but not at a time they usually would. They never returned him to our cell. But the next day, I was wheeled out to be one of their morning meals, and when I looked up, I saw him. He was one of them now. He had the same purple skin, the same awful odor, and the same dreadful fangs. But I could recognize enough of his distinct features to tell it was him. As he fed, he reassured me that he would not hurt me, that he wished no ill upon me, and that he was merely doing what he had to do. Whatever they told him after they made him one of them explained why we were locked up, and that they were working on something that would allow them to let us go. All of that may sound good, but he ended by saying…” The thing paused again. “By saying he had put in an application to make me one of them!” The Draconian entered a mild panic at the mere thought.
Footsteps could be heard coming down the hall, this had all taken a few minutes, and the place had just closed down. Mat exited the hall with the cages and passed through the waiting room into the hall along which the patient’s rooms, and probably the room with the data they were looking for, were housed. As he searched for the research room itself, he was able to render unconscious every person who happened across him. He eventually reached the room in which the research was being done, and past progress was being stored. He grabbed a smoke bomb and pair of sonar goggles from the back of his belt with his tail and grasped it with his hand, which would have been considered a paw if it didn’t have a thumb. He put on the sonar Goggles which would allow him to see despite the smoke. He threw the door open and tossed the smoke bomb inside. Once the room was enveloped he ventured inside and quickly disarmed the disoriented Photon Squad. Once he had done so, he grabbed the drive that held the data he had been sent to destroy. The smoke cleared right as he held his gun to the drive.
Risalv pleaded for Mat not to destroy the drive.
“Why ought I not?” Mat asked.
“Because you want to punish us,” Orivile said, “for helping the humans in their war with you. That research project isn’t to help us, it’s to help them.”
“The Humans?” asked Mat. “That encourages me do destroy it.”
“No,” said Risalv, “The uninfected.”
“Elaborate,” Mat demanded.
“About 2350 years ago,” said Orivile, “an epidemic emerged on this planet; our own home in case you hadn’t guessed. The disease had been seen before, but never in these numbers. It made those it infected into conduits for spreading the illness. It gave them fangs, and altered them so that they would need to drink the blood of the uninfected to survive. The intention was that in the process of getting the blood they would spread the illness to whomever they were getting it from. The virus spread. The infected would go to an area, and quickly infect enough locals so that they could hold the rest up in farms, use them for feeding, and infect one on occasion. This was necessary to ensure that the society’s numbers never dwindled too low because the infected could no longer reproduce normally. Eventually the infected conquered the entire world. We would have gladly lived peacefully with the uninfected, making an agreement to acquire their blood and infect one on occasion, but this was rendered impossible. For whatever reason, the uninfected have a crippling fear of us. When they see us, they run. Around us, they enter a state of panic so severe that they cannot listen to reason. But we think that fear can be cured. If we can construct a compound that will alleviate their fear in the way that only infection does now, we can live in peace with them. Please, don’t punish them for our error, we promise we will never help any of your enemies to oppose you again. I’ll let you take any other project here, and even my own life, if you will please simply leave this research intact!”
Mat paused, thinking about it for a moment. He came to a decision. “It’s quite a shame that you were able to wrestle these plans out of my hands … no, actually it was Tim, that’d be less embarrassing.” Mat tossed the drive back to Orivile. “Though we do need to figure out why I couldn’t just get it back. I’m completely uninjured and--”
The Commander shot Mat in the knee.
Mat fell on the floor, writhing in pain “Actually,” Mat said, “I was thinking that maybe you managed
to get me outside and seal the doors.”
“Good idea,” said the Commander as he flipped a switch beside him. “The doors are sealed. Now let’s talk about how we managed to capture you, and how you told us exactly how you just casually tossed the Glistening Guardian’s wall into the forest.”
Mat quickly signaled for a wormhole back onto the ship. It was granted, and he fell into it and back onto the Righteous Judgment.
“Well their leader’s a pleasant one” said Mat once the rest of the squad was onboard.
“So you failed?” Aaron said.
“Yes,” Mat said. “Now maybe we get me to the medical ward?”
“Of course,” Aaron said. “By the way don’t feel too bad. It was six against one, the general should understand.”
Several hours later, after his talk with the general, Aaron came into the medical ward where Mat’s wound was being treated.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Mat said, “The doctors say I’ll be fighting again by tomorrow.”
“Good,” Aaron said, “By the way, what were the plans you failed to get.”
Mat explained what Risalv had told him, though not in a manner that made it clear why he had failed.
“I see,” Aaron said, “Well, I guess I’ll just leave you alone then.” He did so, and Mat went to sleep.