Welcome back for the start of Book 2. There will be two chapters up today (Prologue and Ch. 1). Then Ch. 2 & 3 on Wednesday and Friday.
For those wanting more, Patreon is currenty on Ch. 6 with Ch. 7 coming out later today. Patreon.Preface from Mooderino
Antecessor Facility, Level 2
Static crackled inside Ramon Ollo’s helmet. The poor signal had nothing to do with the speakers positioned next to his ears — ironically the comms were about the only system in his suit still operational.
Ollo gritted his teeth and ignored the pain in his arm. The suit’s left side was severely crushed and his arm was pinched from wrist to elbow. He suspected the only way to extract himself from the suit would be to leave his arm behind.
The polylederite shell could withstand a building falling on it — he had tested it to be sure — but the impact from the projectiles being fired by the Antecessor droids was more akin to someone picking up a building and repeatedly smashing you over the head with it.
He had seen it, though. The sigil, a new one. He had seen it flicker and change and he had recognised the pattern. It was similar to something humanity used a long time ago — a coincidence? Highly unlikely. And then he had been knocked off his feet, even with the suit’s stabilisers on maximum, and hurled out of the room.
Ollo forced himself to a kneeling position, the asteroids low gravity making it a little easier. One of his men was shouting something from the far end of the passage, his mouth moving fast inside his helmet.
It was impossible to tell what he was saying, his ears filled with hissing. The static was due to the dampening field that made any sort of electronic communication virtually impossible once you entered an Antecesor site.
Ollo had dedicated his life to understanding the alien technology that was so far superior to that of humans. He had become the foremost expert in the field, feted and revered for his discoveries and theories on how the long-dead predecessors of the human race had dominated the galaxy, maybe even the universe.
But his knowledge was less than skin deep. He scratched at the surface with no idea what might be hidden underneath, deep in the flesh.
How did the Antecessors block electronic signals? He had only unproven hypotheses to work with. Unproven and unprovable. An unknown particle was the best he could come up with, and what kind of scientific theory was that for a double-winner of the Herschmann First Principles Medal?
The pattern was there across every form of Antecessor technology. Work was being done, something was doing the work, but it was undetectable by any known form of sensory perception. The only way to affect Antecessor tech was with other Antecessor tech. The only way to pierce the signal blackout was by using an Antecessor-derived organic. Unfortunately, the one on the exploratory team Ramon Ollo had sent in to investigate the Tethari site was now lying dead at his feet.
The Antecessor droids didn’t kill him. He was responsible for the man’s death. He had forced him beyond his limit to send out a signal, a message to the rest of the galaxy. Maybe he was wrong and the sacrifice he had forced on this man had been in vain, but if he was right...
Ollo used his right arm to remove his helmet, taking it off entirely rather than just opening the visor.
“Your helmet, take it off, Andellas,” he shouted over the noise of screaming and objects slamming into each other that suddenly echoed down the passage towards him. He was reassured by the noise — at least some of his men were still alive.
Andellas, a man who had been on Ollo’s staff for twenty-some years and had never disobeyed an order, hesitated.
The air was breathable, they knew that, but it was still wise to take precautions. The first team had gone in fully suited-up. When they had suffered heavy losses and needed reinforcements, they, too, had entered the site in regulation gear. Just because the facility had decided to become more environmentally friendly didn’t mean the offered hand should be shaken. The reason for the sudden change of heart could be an act of goodwill or one of malice. Judging by how things were going, taking such precautions seemed more than justified. Indispensable, in fact.
But there was no longer any reason to opt for caution. Death was by far the most likely outcome, and minimising risks was not going to help.
Andellas pulled off his helmet and dropped it on the ground. His dark hair was slick with sweat and his eyes were red from exhaustion. “My Lord, we can’t hold them off much longer. We need to retreat and save those we can.”
Ollo felt his lips start to sneer and restrained himself. He didn’t like being referred to as lord or liege or sire. It was his birthright, but one that he had given up long ago. Only those who had been with him the longest sometimes fell back into old habits.
There was a muffled explosion followed by a whistling sound. An object flew past them at a speed that made it impossible to identify until it smashed into the wall behind, revealing it to be one of his men.
Ollo looked at the man, broken and bleeding, and then turned back to Andellas. “We need to press forward. They won’t let us leave in any case, this is a category six engagement.”
Andellas’ face reacted with shock, eyes wide, shoulders sagging. “Six? But how… why?”
Ollo had encountered all types of Antecessor sites in his time. When he was younger, he had travelled across the galaxy, looking for the most hostile Antecessor facilities to explore and plunder. There was a very straightforward relationship between how hard the engagement and how rewarding the treasure.
Some sites were harder than others, but one thing remained constant — the deeper down you went, the harder things got.
The Tethari facility was not classed as a very high-level site. The first two floors were relatively easy to negotiate and contained only minor Antecessor technology. The only thing of value that had been recovered was a human body, the rest was unremarkable. The defences were of the expected ferocity — manageable.
But now those same defences had somehow become upgraded.
Perhaps if they’d managed to find a way down to the lower levels, this sort of brutality would be expected and prepared for, but up here, there was no reason for it. No reason other than the door.
Ever since the change in atmosphere and the discovery of a sigil imprinted on the only access point to the lower levels, the droids on site had become enhanced to a level Ollo had only seen on the most dangerous sites, ones that required hundreds of disciplined men working to a detailed battleplan in order to overcome.
Not something you would expect at a small wormhole station. This was a functional service station, a necessary junction box to operate an interspatial tunnel, that was all. The only thing of note were the inaccessible lower levels, and their defences would be on the other side of the door, or so it had been thought.
Ollo put his suit into self-maintenance mode. Those areas no longer functioning would be sealed off, the rest would be boosted. The suit shivered for a moment and then stood up. Ollo’s head felt small and exposed on top of the large battlesuit.
“What we need to do is get to that door,” said Ollo.
Andellas nodded, no confidence in his face and only fear in his eyes. He was being ordered to near-certain death and he would obey. But he wouldn’t do so blindly. He was too experienced a soldier to fool himself with lies of improbable victory.
Ollo nodded, as much as he could from inside the suit, the collar cutting into his neck, satisfied with his officer’s resolute determination in the face of insurmountable odds. Each of these men was an organic, trained by him, taught skills and methods no other organics had access to. They were the best of the best, members of an elite company. If Ollo was a king to anyone, it was to them.
“Together,” he said, “we will test them to their core.”
Andellas nodded and turned around. Ollo moved his legs. They felt heavy and sluggish but the suit responded. He followed Andellas, limping slightly on the left side. He made a mental note to rework the compensators and smiled grimly at the foolishness of thinking about repairs when his chances of survival were next to nothing.
When he entered the room, he was met by the sight of two large droids in ultimate mode tearing through the remaining men. Eight of them, plus himself and Andellas, were left from an original complement of twenty-one. Men who could have run this floor solo were now being tossed around like dolls, disorganised and panicking, their weapons and organics having little effect on the droids.
The long black limbs of the droids pulsed with streaks of white light as they thrashed out to strike at the men surrounding them. And behind them, the door.
It had only been discovered by accident. Its edges imperceptible but marked now with chalk. It was the only substance the droids didn’t routinely wipe away. For some reason, they didn’t see calcium carbonate. Ollo had drawn it himself, a way to see the outline easily, like a child’s drawing of what a door should look like.
Ollo walked into the fray, barking out orders. The men responded and formed ranks as they had been trained to. Ollo broke into a run, the suit’s movements becoming smoother as he built up speed.
He was positioned in a blind spot. His men were drawing fire. The second droid was blocking the first so neither saw him until he collided with the first and followed through to hit the second.
The men didn’t hesitate. They swarmed in, looking to hit vital points, doing their best to stop the severed limbs from reconnecting.
Ollo’s suit was entwined in droid limbs but his eyes were on the door. The sigil was flashing between symbols, the door’s outline visible as though light were leaking through from the other side. It was open, he was sure of it. If only he could reach it.
Blinding pain blasted through him as the suit’s arm was ripped off. Instinctively, Ollo hit the eject button and was launched out of the top of the suit, his own left arm a bloody mess but still intact.
He floated through the low gravity like he was flying, and came down next to the door, landing on his feet. A strange high-pitched scream came from the droids but they were in the process of reassembling and couldn’t get to him.
Ollo looked up at the door, twice as tall as him, and put out his hand. He touched the sigil with his palm and it flickered. The door moved as he pushed, slowly but not from being heavy, it was just taking its time.
There wasn’t time. Behind him, the droids had thrown off their overly-optimistic attackers and had nearly completed reforming. His suit was still sitting between them. His suit which contained a self-destruct system. It would give him a few seconds, make the droids have to reassemble again, but it would also kill his men. His brave, loyal men.
Ollo hit the button on his belt. Nothing happened. The signal was blocked.
He took a breath of the bitter, inexplicable air and his eyes turned into balls of fire. His ability suppressed organics but they were just one form of Antecessor technology. If he could affect them, why not other forms?
It wasn’t something he had tried before, the scale was too imbalanced. He felt the enormity of the force against him and pushed at it with his mind. The strain made his skull shudder and he felt blood trickle from his nose, his ears. He just needed the smallest of windows.
There was a gap, he could sense it, the tiniest slit. He pushed the button again and the suit exploded.
Droid parts and human bones separated and flew apart. The droids began to come back together, the humans didn’t.
Ollo paid no attention. His men were all dead, fallen for their king. He pushed the door with his hands, put his shoulder to it, used every last drop of energy he had, and it gave way. He fell into darkness.
He couldn’t tell if he was falling into a hole or rising to the surface of some waterless sea. But he would find out what the Antecessors kept here and the lives of his men would not have been sacrificed for no reason.