UNSS Asclepius orbiting 7262 Apep Prime
Dr Gretchen Leitkin gazed upon the makeshift quarantine zone. The last week saw her placed in charge of a team to combat a mysterious illness on the Asclepius. They had so far been unsuccessful. From behind her, someone cleared their throat. “Cytonites have exhausted all possible tests. There’s nothing there.”
Dr Alexi Junn, her second-in-command, addressed her.
Gretchen expected that result. She had a hunch though.
She said “We’re looking in the wrong place. Switch the nites to spectral imaging and scan again. I suspect we’ll find what we’re looking for in the Aether field.”
Junns voice rasped. “Recalibrating the nites for that type of scan will take at least a day of programming. There’s over twenty-four thousand infected. A fifth of that won’t make it through the night!”
Gretchen’s throat tightened. “I’m well aware of the stats! Run the scan!”
She turned back to the cargo bay.
Nadine Evoy, Medical Investigator and member of Gretchens team overlooked a Holoscreen. Streams of data scrolled past as she tried to glean anything that the team may have missed. The synthanium wall across from her peeled open. Its integrated hydronite system had detected the approach of an authorised NanID. Junn passed through the threshold, his face red and his fists clenched.
Seeing that look before she asked “What did Gretch say?”
Junn took a deep breath “She thinks it’s an Aether born bacterium. We’re to do a spectral image to confirm her hypothesis.”
Junns shoulders sagged and he slumped against a console station. He looked defeated.
Evoy considered the order. “Actually… That might explain these readings I’m getting from the Ioatan measurements.”
Junn straightened up to swipe the Holoscreen to his station.
“What!? Let me see!”
She sat next to him and pointed at the index levels “There! See it? It’s a loss of forty five Es Eyes.”
Interrogation Room 1:
Xenolinguistics specialist Danny Caracalla reviewed the case file from behind a biometric field. Selected by Gretchen to speak to the alien, he eyed the life-form. The beings known as ‘Chumu’ appeared to be sentient fungi. An advanced race with biotechnology native to the planet designated 7262 Apep Prime. Danny watched the plant prowl its containment cell. Its eight spidery stalks and long purple tendrils probing the goal. The communication between Terran and Chumu had been rudimentary at best. Yet, a basic understanding existed.
As a language specialist, Danny spent the last forty-eight hours interrogating it. The results had been less than promising. An incoming call alert showed up on his Holotab screen. Evoys icon displayed. He answered. “Hey, what’s up?”
Evoys unkempt hair and large shadows under the eyes spoke of a week without rest. Her mouth widened in a yawn as she said “Gretch wants to try spectral imagery. Won’t know anything until seventeen fifty hundred hours tomorrow. She thinks it’s Aether born, which is why it didn’t show on any of our scans.”
3D Additive Manufacturing Room 4:
Fresh from Med school, Dr Jennabel Keino also held a position on Gretchens team. Using AM3D equipment she completed a physical study of patient excretion samples. An outdated test, the increasing seriousness pushed them to unconventional methods. She had taken two hundred throat swabs, nose swabs, and urine samples. All to find the presence of bacteria or immune cells. With the aid of their most sophisticated analytic format, ELISA5, nothing turned up.
Jennabel coded the data into an operations console. Beside her, her Holotab lit up. Gretchens icon displayed. “Good evening, Dr Leitkin. What can I do you for? Ah…d…do f…for you?”
Appearing not to notice Jennabels stumble, Gretchen said “Finish coding those samples. Then head to the command centre. Dr Junn is calibrating nites for a spectral image. Observe and assist with the process.”
Jennabel’s eyes widened. “Thank you, Dr Leitkin. I’ll get right onto it.”
Evoy started awake as lights and Holoscreens lit up. Looking about, she saw Gretchen entering. She rubbed her eyes. “Wha…what time is it?”
Waving at one of the Holoscreens Gretchen said “It’s Lunch. Have you been here all night? Get cleaned up, you look like hell”
Evoy choked back a ragged laugh at such an absurd thought. “You’re not looking so good either.”
Gretchen replied. “Thanks. I’ll make sure to clean up for the inquest.”
An awkward pause filled the space between them. Broken by a cough from Evoy. “I’ve been going over the Chumu seed files we retrieved with the prisoner.”
Pulling up a screen, Evoy pointed at some stats to Gretchen. “Prelim chem analysis show they contain the mitochondrial coding for Ex Ay Seventy Five.”
Gretchen seemed to mutter some unintelligible words to herself. Then said “Excellent. Can we use this to start on a vaccine?”
Evoys brow furrowed “I don’t know. The data’s not completed rendering. Then there’s the question of how to administer it.”
Asclepius PRT Shuttle Pod:
Danny massaged his temples and wiped his nose; early symptoms of the mysterious illness. Maybe that’s why the Chumu prisoner had communicated with him. He wondered through his headache. It seemed to be a scientist of sorts, from what he understood. The alien developed a biological weapon to target the Terrans. A last ditch effort to right the wrongs of the war.
Five years ago the Terrans had Astral jumped into planetary orbit. Their ships meta-neuron probes had detected life signs in the system. Contact with the indigenous life had been peaceful, with information and resources shared. Both races enjoyed the prosperous relationship. This did not last long.
Terran factories soon dotted much of the planets surface. Built to take advantage of 7262 Apep Primes high compositions of silicate. Pollution began to disrupt the delicate ecosystem. Mega-groves of the Chumu withered and died overnight. Panic and fear caused unrest. Violent clashes with UNEMA personnel providing help, escalated into all out war.
A private incoming call alert appeared on Gretchens Holoscreen. She recognised Dannys icon. Connecting, her NanID activated the remote language program so no one would overhear. “Danny? What’s going on?”
The image displayed on her screen answered her question.
Danny Caracallas face looked drawn and faded. “I’m sorry Doctor Leitkin.”
Danny said, before breaking into a hacking cough.“The rash appeared last night and it’s spread everywhere. I’m heading to the Q-Zone now. All my data scripts and recordings are in your dakdrive”
Gretchen wanted to argue, but there seemed little she could do for him now. The call ended, and she tracked his Shuttle Pod to the quarantine zone. Through the NanVid she watched UNS navy crew meet him. Dressed in hazmat suits they lead Danny to an old fashioned cot made from the AM3D. “Dammit!”
Gretchen slammed her fist into the transparent synthspex console. Pain shot up her arm and she swore again. Evoy looked up from her work. “Gretch? What’s happened?”
Tears dripped down Gretchens cheek “It’s Danny.”
Evoy swore under her breath.
Jennabel could hear Junn grumble about over the Comms. For the last six hours, he had been inspecting nite software for code errors.
Her disembodied voice directed him. “The back-propagation neural network file should be right in front of you Dr Junn.”
She heard him grumble some more, when his tracker program Red Cloud stopped in front of an AR file. Junn said “Ok, got it. Expanding to find that collapsed synapse. You keep working on locating the source of that Default.”
At the AR operator console, Jennabel switched back to her array of Holoscreens. Each one displayed the nites MMU component. Along with comparisons of the virtual and physical memory address. Finding the error would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, in the middle of space. Jennabel squinted her eyes. She wondered if the lights had always been so bright. Her attention strayed to the countdown set for operating the spectral imager. About five more hours of this and dealing with Dr Junn. Rubbing her forehead, she continued trawling through hundreds of millions of potential broken segments.
It wasn’t bacteria. Gretchen kept going over the data from the Spectral Imager. It didn’t make any sense. In many ways X-A75 displayed the symptoms of an obligate intracellular parasitic bacterium. Much like Old-Terra Typhus. Imaging instead showed it to be some sort of Æther fungus. The final analysis of the Chumu seed files confirmed it. Plus, revealing some surprising information. The seed files contained the entire blueprint for a new life form created from scratch.
The rest of Gretchens team sat at the conference table. No one had spoken or moved for near an hour since getting the news. Gretchen glanced at the vacant spots around the table. Danny, and now Jennabel counted among the infected. Gretchen herself already began experiencing many of the symptoms. The Q-Zone failed. Junn sat at the far end. Alone, even to the end. Evoy hadn’t given up yet. She stared at a Holoscreen. Thousands of yotabytes of data sped by. Searching for anything at all that might save the. Gretchen decided to speak. “I think we need to begin initiating the Kali protocol.”
Gretchen saw Evoys body tremble, her eyes narrow, and her fists raise. “How dare you give up! The great Dr Leitkin can’t figure something out finally, so she throws in the towel?! Dammit! I believed in you…we all did. It can’t end like this. We can’t let forty thousand people die and it means nothing?!”
Junn looked up from behind his hands. Wiping tears away, he said. “That’s not what she’s saying Evoy. We have to think about the other colony ship coming; the Troilus. We have to stop this thing from spreading.”
Gretchen nodded her support to Junn. “We have to clear the planet.”
Evoy stormed from the medical centre and headed towards a PRT Shuttle. Once inside, she waved her hand over the screen to take her to the bridge. Maybe she could talk some sense into the Admiral. The Shuttle hummed to life and rocketed across the Astral ship. Then the power cut out.
In the medical centre Gretchen and Junn scrambled to their feet in alarm. “Everything’s off line!”
Junn said in the dark. Panic rose in his voice. “The astral drive has shut down!”
After an hour without power, the backup generators finally reached the medical centre. Emergency lights flickered on. The soft glow of crucial operator consoles beckoned to the remaining Terrans. Gretchen brought up data on the astral drive. Initial reports showed the drives definitely off line, but undamaged. A Biohazard alert appeared on screen. It indicated a large Iotan mass filling up the drive room.
Asclepius PRT Shuttle Pod:
Low lights switched on in the Pod. Processing the last request it restarted the journey to the bridge. An internal error occurred and the Pod stopped. Log history noted Medical Investigator Nadine Evoy should be on board. Her NanID indicated no life signs. Iotan measurements showed a Terran sized form present. Particulates appeared to be like Nadine Evoy within an acceptable range. The Pod evaluated the data. Information processed at near light-speed and a conclusion made. Due to the loss of power it determined a simple file code error had occurred. The Shuttle Pod powered up again and continued on its way.
Interrogation Room 1:
The captive alien life form sought out a psychic link with its Æther creation. They touched the minds of many Terrans in the search. It could feel their fear and confusion. After twelve hours, it made a connection. The Chumu could sense the fungus had taken control of the ships systems. Perfect mimicry of Terran Iotans allowed it to access and disable the astral drive. Now amassed in the drive chamber, the creator directed them.
UNSS Troilus orbiting 7262 Apep Prime
“Yu, En, Es Asclepius, this is Yu, En, Es Troilus. Please respond. Over.”
Static filled the receiver. Coms Officer, Maya Ngata turned to Admiral Valeria Caspersen. “Still no response Admiral. Sensors show normal levels of Iotans but there’s some damage to the astral drive.”
Caspersen stood at the bridge looking out at an AR Holoscreen of the UNSS Asclepius.
She responded “Send a team to board and investigate.”
Ngata swiped at her screen and initiated a call to special operations. “Operation Trident is green. I repeat, operation Trident is green. Over.”
Drop Shuttle Bay 3:
Commander Anya Xun puffed her chest out taking a deep breath. “Gear up! Trident op is a go! Let’s move it!”
Around her, three hundred troops and support staff scrambled like ants protecting their nest. When her platoon finished loading up, Xun strode to the centre of the Shuttle. Looking at her soldiers, she did a quick head count. Then, she activated the shuttles disengage program through her NanID. Once strapped in herself, she swung her XM50 rifle onto her lap and set the system to ‘lethal’.
Asclepius Cargo Hold:
Seventy five special operations teams disembarked the Boarding Shuttle. Spreading out they began securing the cargo bay. There didn’t seem to be any sign of trouble, or life. Lt.-Cmdr Tandra Bakari pointed at her Holotab. “Iotan analysis show a mass of movement heading this way mam.”
Xun held her arm up extending and twirling her finger in the air. Her platoon moved on cue to get into position. Speaking into an on-board communicator, she said “This is Commander Xun of the Yu En Es Navy. We have boarded due to non-compliance of communications. A violation under section Seven Oh Six of the Yu En Es Communications Code. Do you understand? Over.”
The receiver crackled to life. “Commander Xun, this is Doctor Gretchen Leitkin. We’re about to access the cargo bay please stand by. Welcome aboard the Yu, En, Es Asclepius. Over.”
The synthanium wall peeled open. It revealed a small armed force. Xun counted about fifty UNS naval personnel accompanying five civilians.
A woman in her late forties stepped forward. “Good afternoon. I’m Dr Leitkin and acting captain of this vessel. We’ve had a big week commander. Please follow me to the bridge so we can begin debriefing.”
Xun made herself at home in the Admirals console. Her eyes remaining shut longer with each blink as she listened to Gretchen drone.
“…as you can see, once we discovered the bacteria wasn’t carbon based, we could better look for it. This allowed us to develop an appropriate vaccine. Unfortunately, we lost over five thousand crew as a result of the initial infection.”
Dr Leitkin stood beside a large Holoscreen. Xun couldn’t make heads or tails of the data. She asked “What about the prisoner? What happened to it.”
Xenolinguistics specialist Danny Caracalla stepped forward. “It died during interrogations. It’s now dissected. Doctors Junn and Keino intend to learn more about how it carried the Biohazard on board.”
A strange series of events, thought Xun. The Asclepius’s Admiral, Moira Shibato, allegedly tried ramming the ship into the planets surface. The bacterial infection having caused delusions. She instead overloaded the astral drives. This resulted in a gravitational wave reaction. System after system disrupted and knocked offline. Including external sensors and long range communications array. Everything seemed just a little too neat for Xun. She nodded at Gretchen. “I’ll have my people look at repairing the communications array immediately. As of now I’ll be taking command. All Asclepius personnel will answer to me until a new Admiral is appointed.”
The Æther born, astral-forms of Gretchen, Evoy, and Danny cleared the bridge. Heading back to the medical centre Evoy commented “The Terran commander is not convinced.”
In response, Gretchen sent out a mental command. She dispatched a small team to keep an eye on Commander Xun, to Evoy she said “Begin evaluations. See whose Iotans are low enough for the process. I will send Jennabel to evaluate Xun.”
Evoy bowed. “At your command.”
Danny and Gretchen remained to deal with the rest of the plan.
Soon her mothers revenge on the Terrans would be complete. If only she could have seen this, Gretchen thought. Regrettably, her creator would not. Due, in part, to the effects of the gravitational wave. The powerful reaction caused the Æther fungus inside the Chumu to astral-form its cells. This Gretchen became the product of that dimensional feedback. Clearing her mind of such thoughts, she looked at the Holoscreen readouts with Danny. Soon the communications array would be back online. By then Commander Xun and her platoon would be completely evaluated. And ‘Mother willing’, astral-formed.