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The Zeta Directive [Section 3]

[The previous section of this story can be found here. The next section can be found here. If you are a new reader, the first section of this story can be found here.]


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   <<<Destination profile TERRAN - INDIGENOUS LF1>>
<<<Some linguistic items retained to maintain context.>>>
<<<Original linguistic items are transcribed in writing system: TERRAN - IPA>>>

Fiir exhaled and opened her eyes to a pixelated parallax distortion as her vision re-adjusted to a top-down view of the grey metallic walls of her cramped quarters. She reached behind herself and used one hand to push off of one of the ceiling railgrips to give herself some momentum to come back down to the ground. Slicers were supposed to strap in somewhere when going digital to prevent their limp bodies from being thrown around in the event of unexpected turbulence, but Fiir never really did that. Sure, she definitely knew better than to free float, though she hated waking up all stiff from being belted to her chair. But more importantly, who was going to tell a slicer not to?

The ambiance in Fiir's quarters darkened as the ceiling light strips shifted to a deep red and the ship's calm synthetic voice broadcasted over the intercom, "All personnel to combat positions and prepare for deceleration."

Everything was right on time, it seemed. As she quickly floated down from the low ceiling, Fiir tapped her palm to the control fibres on the thigh of her uniform, enabling the magnetic traction assist in the soles of her alloy skinsuit. She spun her body around to land legs-first and there was a gentle clank as her feet grabbed onto the polished floor.

Fiir grabbed the mag pistol from her bunkside table and slid it halfway out from its holster. With a gloved thumb, she single-tapped the battery release button right above the grip in order to light up the small charge indicator behind the rear sight. Satisfied that the weapon was at full capacity, Fiir slid it fully back into its holster. She clicked the holster to the waist of her skinsuit and exited her quarters into the empty red-lit hallway. There was no crew to be seen, but on a small blockade runner vessel like the Kalte most of the systems were automated without the need for a bustling crew to man all the positions.

Fiir briskly made her way to the ventral airlock, which was located in a fortified chamber at the fore of the ship and equipped specifically for the breach and clear operation they were about to undertake.

A menacing mechanical voice spoke up as she entered the arming chamber right outside the airlock, "Slisha is present." Several faceless silver androids stood to salute Fiir, backs straight and with their left fist at shoulder height with their elbow at a right angle to put their fist roughly half an arm length out in front of their right shoulder.

She ignored the android's greeting and sized up her squad. Five droids to back her up. By all means enough to co-opt an undercrewed seta jakeri scout vessel. All of them were state-of-the-art Hijsha-7 urban combat units, each equipped with two wrist-mounted magnetic scatterguns along with an integrated plasma cutter. However, their real strength was in their agility, their speed, and most importantly their training. Fiir could work with this.

All five of the hijsha androids filed into the interior airlock chamber and closed the door behind them, leaving Fiir alone in the arming chamber. She quickly took a seat and strapped herself in to a forward-facing gravity harness.

The calm synthetic voice of the ship spoke over the intercom once more, "We are making a final approach to the hostile vessel. Please brace for extreme manoeuvre gravity."

The crimson ceiling lights faded to be replaced with a bright ocean blue to signify a gravity alert. Fiir closed her eyes as she started to feel her head pushed into the headrest on the back of her seat, as if the hand of a giant was grasping her face and smothering her with its strength. She relaxed her muscles and focused her breathing as she was trained to do.

The ship began to rattle and there was a deep BOOM carried through the metal of the ship's hull as the chemical afterburners fired off. Fiir's chest tightened as the weight on her abdomen made it more difficult to breathe. She winced and continued to focus on regular breaths, in and out.

"Initiating physical contact with hostile vessel in twelve tijk..."

There was a clink of metal from the harness straps going taut as the force quickly shifted from pushing Fiir back into her seat to pulling her forward.

"Eight tijk"

Fiir could hear the ship counting down, but she was more focused on keeping herself conscious than she was on hearing the ship talk.

"Three tijk"

She braced for final impact.

"One tijk"

The ship lurched an shuddered from the sound of metal crashing into metal, and the feeling of acceleration subsided. A thud resonated from outside the airlock chamber as the exterior electromagnets grasped the hull of the target on the other side.

"We have made contact. Breaching team is clear to make entry."

Fiir fiddled with her harness strap to let herself loose, unholstered her weapon, and deactivated its safety. "Kalte, cycle the airlock as soon as the hijsha are on the other side", she commanded.

The crackle of metal being sliced open with superheated plasma was audible even from the other side of the airlock door, followed by a loud metallic clatter and then silence.

Roughly 36 tijk or so later, the inner airlock slid open. Fiir stepped in and went to cover with her back to the wall at the side of the exterior door. With her free hand, she tapped several controls on her wrist to open a neural link channel with both the hijsha squad and the ship.

A grating monotone voice rang in her skull, "Slisha Fiir, the insertion point is secure. Hostiles have not made contact."

"You heard the android, Kalte. Open the exterior door." Fiir stood at arms ready and craned her head to survey the surroundings as the door cycled open.

A slight gust of air blew past her ears and ruffled her hair; seta jakeri vessels kept a much lower operating pressure to match the native atmospheric pressure of the seta home planet.

Bright green light bathed the scene, with various containers and cylinders filling a small room. They had hit a storeroom, from the looks of it. There was a single wide circular door leading from the room; the droids were stacked up against the door in a breaching formation with one to the left of the door and the other four in a line to the right.

The droid to the left nodded to the one on the right, and they drew their cutters in unison to slice the door open from the sides. Fiir's vision dimmed significantly as the digital flash corrective contact lenses she wore compensated for the brilliant arclight glare of the plasma torches coming into contact with the sturdy metallic door frame. Within moments, the droids had circled the outline of the door with their torches. The droid to the left slammed the door with the bottom of its powerful fist several times, echoing a mighty hollow resonance with ear hit until the door collapsed to a hallway on the other side.

As soon as the door fell, the droids to the right immediately streamed into the hall with arms raised and Fiir's ears rang as the shooting began. Just like the simulations, capacitors discharged and ballistics whooshed through the air to make a rhythmic orchestra of back-and-forth weapons fire. Fiir crouched low to the ground and dashed to the side of the storeroom doorway where the droids had previously been stacked up.

Peering around the doorframe with just the corner of her eye, Fiir was able to make out the lanky corpse of a seta jakeri on the floor that the hijsha droids had made swift work out of before moving further down the hall and out of view. The circular design of seta jakeri spacecraft left the central ring hallway a veritable killzone; by design it was an empty hall with smooth floors and walls completely devoid of any sort of cover or protection to those making their way through it, with defenders able to take cover behind the doorways of the various outer-ring rooms and pick off those in the hallway. Nonetheless, that was little to worry about, with the enemy being severely outnumbered and outgunned. If the intel reports were anything to be trusted, there were supposedly only two seta onboard, one of which was now lying in a pool of its own innards on the hallway floor.

From here, it would just be a game of clearing the outer-ring rooms one by one until they found the other seta and then completing the mission by recovering the Terran diplomat who was supposed to be on this ship. Simple and by the numbers.

Or so Fiir thought.

Despite her extensive combat training, she couldn't help but flinch as one of the hijsha droids came soaring through the air from across the hall in her direction, crashing back-first into the hallway wall. The droid was launched with such force that its landing deformed the wall, embedding the droid upright into the metal right beyond where Fiir was standing. The torso of the android was completely crumpled from the impact and its limbs were bent and mangled beyond any hope of repair. Fiir instinctively raised an arm to shield her face from the heat as the automatic thermite anti-tamper safeguard on the droid lit up, trashing its neural cortex to prevent any recovery by enemy hands.

Fiir shivered at the carnage of twisted metal before her. That was not supposed to happen. That was most certainly not supposed to happen.

"Slisha, there is an esper on board. There..." The monotone robotic voice cut off. Two hijsha down.

Fiir cursed under her breath and then quickly recomposed herself. She poked her head out from cover to look both ways and then, seeing that the way was clear, sprinted out into the hallway in the opposite direction from where the droids had gone.

She sent a communication to the remaining droids via neural link, "Keep that esper distracted and let me know if it comes my way. I have a plan, but I need to find a jack point."

Fiir had never seen an esper before in the flesh, nor did she have any plan to see this one. She bolted down the hall toward a heavy security door to the inner chamber. The polished metal walls of the central ring hallway were devoid of any computer equipment, but she was hoping that the inner chamber would have a suitable hardpoint to slice into the mainframe.

Fiir approached the reinforced glass control panel of the door, raised her mag pistol, averted her eyes and fired several rounds to burst through the covering on the panel. She holstered her weapon and then began to pick the glass shards out of the way so she could get to the inner panel electronics. To her surprise, as soon as she reached her hand in to grab as the inner components, the security door whooshed open.

The pale grey skin of a seta jakeri towered in the open doorframe right in front of Fiir's face... it had one hand on the door console on its side and in the other hand a plasma launcher pointed straight at Fiir's chest at point-blank.

She craned her neck to take a look up into the creature's jet black empty eyes, and then flung herself down onto her back as vigorously as she could muster. The characteristic screech of a plasma discharge whizzed past her ear as she dived, and she hooked her leg around the seta's ankle to sweep it down with her as she fell.

It gave a hiss of bewilderment as it tumbled, but Fiir hit the ground and didn't miss a beat. She landed on her buttocks and rolled on her back to transfer the momentum of the fall up into her legs and kip up to a fully upright standing position. She gracefully snatched her pistol from its holster and swiftly emptied four rounds down into the torso of the foe laying at her feet.

Fiir casually stepped over the corpse into the ship's inner chamber, which housed the ship's central power core. Despite being a large circular room, it was a cramped mess of cables and tubes running everywhere, both to and from a giant glowing yellow cylindrical pillar at the centre of the room. Various computer equipment lined the walls of the room. Fiir approached one of the several terminals that protruded from the ground beside the central power core and ran her gloved hands along the sides to find the casing release. Click. One of the side covers popped open.

She reached behind her head and pulled a thin slimy web-like retractible cable from inside the back of her neck. Fiir placed the tip of the cable inside the terminal and watched as it slid out tiny little needle-like legs and skittered along the various circuitry. Fiir's skin tickled as the cable slack shifted around behind her neck from the motion of the cable spider scurrying along on the other end. Like a ravenous tapeworm, the spider scoured the guts of the terminal and found a place to burrow itself into the control system.

Pixelation began to fill Fiir's peripheral vision and quickly spread in its intensity. She closed her eyes and the sensation of wind rushed past her as she fell into the digital void.



Some linguistic notes:

  • For those not familiar with IPA, the sound that /j/ makes is pronounced the same as the letter 'y' in the word yellow. I hope that that helps to clarify some of the pronunciation in this section.
  • For the purpose of readability, I've chosen to represent /θ/ as "th" and /ʃ/ as "sh". I understand that these are anglicisms and aren't really IPA, but you're gonna have to deal with it.

Art sourced under free to use license. Minor edits made by me in GIMP. Source assets are listed below.

https://pixabay.com/photos/alien-backdrop-background-3233076/