Part 24: Shenanigans, AssortedOn the bridge:
Keep our guest on a short leash. If she does anything suspicious, tell me immediately.
In the hanger:
Your concerns have been noted, lieutenant. But this is my ship, and we don't follow Alliance protocols here.
Tsch. Don't come back to me begging for heratium when the Phoenix leaves your Paladin in the dust during the battle.
Well then, I do believe I have more work to do. May I be dismissed, captain?
You're dismissed, lieutenant.
Carry on, Icari.
In the mess hall:
Asaga's right, Chigara. Eat up.
It was frightening to finally meet the veniczar in person ... I can still hear his voice ringing in my head when I sleep.
Bah, don't be scared, Chigara! We'll take him down together!
Veniczar Arcadius. Who do you think he is underneath that mask?
He was a former slave who led the PACT Rebellion against the New Empire, right? I heard some rumors from my father's advisors that the man who claims to be Arcadius now might actually be a different person though. Hmmm, why do you suppose he always wears that mask, captain?
Cera Naval Intelligence theorized that it might be to make Arcadius appear immortal. Even if the real Arcadius dies, someone else can.
Ahahaha, you suppose he looks really ugly underneath?
The veniczar's been around ever since the beginning of the PACT Rebellion. If it's still the same guy from back then, he's probably in his late 60's. I don't imagine he's that good looking.
Hmm ... The veniczar we met definitely seemed younger than that.
He could just be acting. Or maybe the veniczar now really is a different one from back then.
Eh-heh, I want to be the one to finally tear that mask off!
One day, Asaga. One day.
Calibrating the Liberty for the big day?
I was just finishing up.
Still not sleeping well?
I'm sorry. I hope I won't be a burden during the battle.
You're still the best engineer we've got. Get some rest.
The veniczar's voice ... I feel like it's ringing in my head. It calls out to me, like a siren's song.
Hey relax. You've been under a lot of stress lately.
Ah, uhh ... I'm sorry, captain. I-I must just sound crazy. Please forget what I just said.
I've been thinking of what happened on Diode lately.
You mean the Diode catastrophe?
Do you want to talk about it?
Umm ... If it's not too much trouble. I was just finishing up with the Liberty here.
Come on. I have a tea set in my office.
Thank you, captain.
Make yourself at home, Chigara. Heh, I never imagined Command would give me such a nice office. I guess the Sunrider's pretty cutting edge in more ways than one.
I heard from the reports that nobody made it out of the Diode catastrophe alive. I guess they forgot to count one survivor.
My father was the lead scientist on the Paradox Project. I was actually born on the science station on Diode.
The Paradox Project?
We were seeking the holy grail of scientific technology: the power to control time. Imagine a device which lets you return to the past and redo your life. Or which allowed you to restore yourself after you were killed. Or which even allowed you to remove your enemies before they were even born. Not even the ancient Ryuvians discovered that power, or else they'd still be alive today.
Technology like that would sure help us now.
Eh-heh, technology always did make our lives easier ...
Too bad it can't save us all the time ...
So what happened to the Paradox Project?
How did that happen?
It's kind of complicated, but two super dense particles must have collided with each other during the experiment at a high enough velocity to create a singularity. The resulting particle would have been dense enough to tear a hole in the space-time continuum, or open what is commonly called a black hole. There was only one possible outcome after something like that happened. Our research station was torn apart by the gravimetric shear. Luckily, I just happened to be right next to the escape pods. Everyone else wasn't so lucky I saw with my own eyes the entire planet crumbling under the massive gravitational forces as I escaped. While the planet was luckily uninhabited, it was still terrifying seeing the power of what we had accidentally unleashed that day. It was... life changing.
Do you know what went wrong?
There's no explanation as to why a black hole would have formed. We had so many safeguards ... Something like that was simply theoretically impossible. I've rerun simulations of what we did thousands of times. Every time, everything worked exactly as it was supposed to. I ... don't have a scientific explanation as to why something so horrible happened.
There's only one possible explanation left: what happened on Diode was sabotage. Someone on our team must have betrayed us.
Betrayal? What would someone stand to gain by killing a team of scientists?
I've thought about what happened so many times ... Our calculations ... they were perfect. There's no way we ...
Keep searching, Chigara. Black holes don't just pop up and swallow planets for no reason. There's got to be a cause.
Yes, captain ...
But I'm very sorry to hear what happened.
Thank you. I never want to see the people around me die again. I'll do my best to protect this ship.
Of course, Chigara. We'll do everything in our power to make sure nobody else has to die.
The tea was delicious.
Ah, glad to hear it. My sister got it for me.
... I'm feeling better now I'm glad to have you as our captain.
I'll try not to let you all down.
Thank you for having me over. You must have other matters to attend to.
It was my pleasure, Chigara. Knock on my door anytime you need me.
Ummm ... I'm not sure if we're allowed to be here, Asaga
This is all for the sake of the ship, Chigara! All for the sake of the ship!
What are you two doing here?
Shh! Don't break our cover, capt'n! We're keepin' our eyes on the spy!
You mean the lieutenant?
Sigh ... You wouldn't have been spreading rumors about her, would you, Asaga?
Well ... I might have warned some of the crew who were eating with me in the mess about the admiral's mole, but nothing more! I'm just doin' my duty to the ship, sir!
I'm sorry, captain ... I accidentally let slip to Asaga about the lieutenant's forged service record ...
You know everyone can tell that you're here, right. See? Look at Ava glaring at you from across the bridge.
I think you have a lecture coming later.
Well then, I think the two of us will be going back to the hangar ... tune up our ryders ... practice a bit on the simulator ... You know, pilot-y stuff ...
Yeah. I think so too.
Sir. As you know, we estimate five PACT fleets approaching Far Port. Our objective is to hold this planet until our reinforcements arrive.
What's the ETA on the Alliance fleets?
The First Fleet is approximately two days out. The Third, Fourth, and Sixth Fleets will not arrive for another three days.
With PACT liable to strike any time, we'll be heavily outgunned in the coming battle. Based on our numbers, I don't think this is a battle we can win head on. What are our options?
Far Port may be a strategically important world, but it is largely uninhabited. We could try scattering the Alliance fleet around the planet and picking off the PACT fleet with hit and run tactics. With no risk of civilian casualties on the planet, we could draw the battle out until the rest of our ships arrive.
With all due respect, commander, such a plan involves the risk of PACT bypassing us all together and warping deeper into populated Alliance space. Alliance Command has ordered us to keep PACT contained at Far Port at all costs.
PACT won't be able to warp out an armada of that size easily. And facing a PACT fleet that large with our current forces would be suicide.
Looks like we're in quite a bind. Ill look over our options. Ava, with me.
How're you feeling, Ava?
Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned? Facing a far superior force with minimal backup and no hope of reinforcements arriving on time, all for a naïve schoolboy cause?
Feels like one of our old summer vacations all over again.
And here I thought you had forgotten everything about those days.
Why didn't you ever respond to my messages after you graduated?
Heh. I figured as much.
I moved on. I went to the academy and you stayed home. It's not like it could have lasted forever.
Nothing's set in stone unless you let it stay that way.
Reviewing your camera footage again? The captain shows up at about the 61 minute mark. O-oh, right there! Eh-heh, there's our man!
Heh. I don't know what you see in that loser, Chigara. He's just a little schoolboy.
...The captain's always doing what is best for the crew. But ... there's something lonely about him. He must miss his home.
Ah ... young love!
Stop it ...
Heh ... You're hopeless.
Eh? I don't remember ever seeing this part...
Wait a minute ... Isn't that
(I thought I could get away with it until after the battle.)
Captain, we need you in the hangar!
Icari? What's the matter?
That Alliance mole's been tampering with our systems! You've gotta arrest her!
I'll be right down.
What's going on here!?
I caught the spy snooping on the Sunrider's reactor core controls. No doubt trying to copy our core schematics into that little data drive she's hiding.
An unfortunate misunderstanding, captain. I was merely running a diagnostic on the ship's performance specs so I could optimize our plan for the coming battle.
Chigara, did you see anything?
T-the lieutenant attached some kind of a data copier to the console ... I think she was trying to hack into our secure data.
See? She's a spy!
Are you sure, Chigara?
Yes ... I have it all on video ... Since I did set up some cameras in engineering and all.
Look people, we're all on the same side here.
I should have known better than to trust the Alliance. Ava, escort the lieutenant to the brig.