Thursday, 11 August 2016

6. Reconnoitre

Aethian had been awake for two days straight, but found that he wasn't feeling fatigued. He sat quietly in the guard room of the inner Keep with his Gobot, whom he had now named “Tackle.”
His initial request to put Lars Reathal on his drop team had been rejected, although the man would be available in three weeks time after serving out a prior commitment on Ishtar. What could be more important than this?
Lars was the man for the job but he would have to wait.
The outstanding remaining shortlisted Master to serve as his Second Blade was Jinder Sondeus,  - an interesting and capable alternative.

Jinder and Aethian had quartered together at the Temple as Acolytes but had only seen action together once, twenty eight years ago at Strekenhaunt. - Now,  - That was a battle.
Jinder Sondeus, had negotiated a last minute treaty with the Sword Monks of Hessen, allowing an alliance between themselves and the Makers which had tipped the balance of power for the entire campaign.
During the final battle for Mount Kasbek, he had fought single handedly, with just a land crawler and an energy poniard, against five mercenary Captains and a troop of support Gobots.
Jinder had lost his left hand in the process.
He had wasted them all. They lay dead and broken at the entrance to the bunker and the image of Jinder’s carnage had been spread far and wide. The same image that headed the Strekenhaunt entry to the Encyclopaedia Galactica.
Jinder had then powered down the planetary defence network to allow the Maker army to subdue the dissidents. He was awarded “The Dark Star” for it. One of only thirty nine Masters ever to receive the medal without dying in the process.

Aethian sat restless in the chair behind his desk as he scanned over the personnel reports for the Lunar Keep.
Well then Tack, that's you, me, and Jinder, to cover surveillance, tactical and covert operations. If it were down to me, that would be all - but Enik is insisting that we take an Exobiologist too.”
A reasonable request sir.” Countered Tackle. “I have worked with her. Laeisa Danis, is an excellent scientist and has been here on the Gia project since it began fifty years ago. The natives down on the surface are difficult to coordinate with. Having Laeisa with us will be an asset.”
Aethian scratched his stubble and sat back. “Tarapel assures me that when the Shem is activated the Apes are more malleable. It will put them into a semi trance state, at least that way they won't panic when they see us all. We are at least twice their height and they've only ever seen Gobots. The Elish did a good job. I'm intrigued to meet them and see what they are really like.”
Indeed sir.” Replied Tak in his metallic timbre. “They are quite inquisitive and eager to assist us.”
“That's a good start.” Said Aethian. “All I need is a guide for two hours, ideally Habber, the elder who witnessed the mouth breather's death.”
“He lives to serve us commander.” Said Tackle.
“Excellent. Let’s get this briefing out of the way then shall we?”
Aethian stood up and made for the tube link gate in the opposite wall.
There's no time like the present Tack.” He said as he and his Gobot entered the sphere.

When Tackle and Aethian arrived at the briefing room, the remainder of the drop team were already waiting for them. Jinder Sondeus and Laeisa Danis were sat at the conference table along with the head Quartermaster, Lemin Tarapel, and his Acolyte assistant Dolan Yin.
The Holoframe at the head of the table was occupied with the image of the head and shoulders of Enik the Ancient.
Tackle marched to the head of the table next to Enik and stood to attention. Aethian sat at the opposite end of the table so as to face Enik as the doors sealed and locked behind them.

This briefing is now in session.” Said Enik. “We shall begin with each of you giving an introduction of yourselves please, starting with you, Master Sondeus.”
The Master stood up.
“My name is Master Jinder Sondeus, I am a tactical combat specialist attached to Stellaris Millitia Intelligencia.” He said. “Lord Enik has asked me to attend here today. I have served with Master Korbandin before,” he gestured to Aethian, “My skill set is flexible and I serve at my best when I am in the field. It is a pleasure to be here and I am eager to find out what the situation is and how I can assist with it.”

Thank you Jinder.” Said Enik. “Lemin?” Jinder sat down as the Quartermaster stood up to address the room.
Good morning. I am Lemin Tarapel, most of you know me as the head Quartermaster here at the Keep. I am the leading authority on advanced technological research to the Maker army. I have served three hundred and two years with Lord Enik and I have held my current office for the last one hundred and sixteen years. I have recently made some modifications to the arsenal here, along with the standard survival gear with which some of you are acquainted. Any further equipment or modifications of existing kit that you may require - I am your man. Along with my assistant here, Dolan,”  - The Acolyte stood and bowed from his shoulders, - “I have also recently brought a new cutting edge Angel fleet into production. Each new Angel, of which we currently have forty units completed and hangared here, has slip send capability, phasing shields and a built in tactical scout tank which can be detached and deployed to land, sea or air. I am at your disposal and am honoured to serve as always.” He bowed briefly before reclaiming his seat next to Dolan.

Thank you Lemin.” said Enik with an approving nod. “Now our Exobiologist please.” He said looking at Laeisa. She stood up and activated a viewer on the side wall of the room which she stood next to.
My name is Laeisa Danis.” Her voice was soft and calm, like a musical note.
Enik smiled at her and said, “Speak up Doctor Danis, some of us are a little battle worn and hard of hearing!” This was a ploy to bring out a more assertive side from her. It was clear to Enik that the Doctor was not entirely comfortable here amongst both soldiers and royalty, she would have to be far more sure of herself than this to gain respect from the Masters.
Apologies my Lord.” She continued in a louder, clearer tone. “My name is Laeisa Danis, I am the lead Exobiologist here at the Keep and I am an expert on the existing life down on the surface of Gia, including flora, fauna, megafauna and the Ada'Maya Apes.”
She manipulated the viewer to zoom in to the centre of the Ed'n enclosure, bringing the Ziggurat into focus.
This clearing here, just outside the Ziggurat wall,” she continued, “Is Habber's village. There is a population of sixty eight individuals, twenty nine males and thirty nine females all of varying ages. Their general life expectancy at this point is around thirty five solar years although this will be shortly improved. They are omnivorous hunters and gatherers. They have rudimentary tools and primitive metalworking knowledge. They build mainly with clay and stone and have a good working knowledge of pot firing. Since the recent Elish treatment, they have ceased fighting with the nine other surrounding settlements and have been worshipping our Gobots while assisting with some of the more simple finalisation building at the Ziggurat. The quantum sync has also given them the Telspek tongue, which they now speak. Their old language remains but they seem only to use it in their homes. When the fire stone at the centre of the surface Keep is lit, they are completely in tune with the Shem and very eager to assist. They will address us all as Gods – it will be best to encourage this view to make way for Adoni's return and placement on Gia. I should also note that ALL of the Apes in the entire Ed’n basin drink from the same water table and as such, the Elish has had the same basic effects on the other nine villages too.  - The Holy Mothers have cleared the way for us.” Her voice held an air of reverence as she finished.
Walking to her seat calmly, she then leaned on her fingertips as she stood poised over the table to address the room clearly. “I am not a fighter, gentlemen, I am one hundred and eleven years-  a scientist - and a bloody good one too. But anything you can demonstrate to me with the use of weapons, I can assure you I will mimic perfectly.” She said.
Swift and fluid, Aethian leapt out of his seat, and in a single swooping motion drew his Poniards, activating their Whipping Energy setting and cracking the molten blade whips through his end of the table, causing it to slide, burning to the floor. In the blink of an eye, the Poniards were sheathed back in his belt as he stormed across to the Doctor.
“Have you ever used a Poniard Doctor?” He barked at Laeisa.
She had recoiled in shock to the wall but recovered a second later.
“Master Korbandin,....I.”
“Never mind!” Said Aethian sternly as he kicked what was left of his end of the table aside and straightened his collar.
Enik smiled and sat back in his holoframe.

“I am Commander Aethian Jentha Korbandin, - Spymaster, Blademaster and servant of the Makers. For the purposes of this mission, it would be best if I do not even exist - that goes for the rest of you too! I will be leading this reconnaissance mission to the surface. We have reason to believe that there are at least two, and maybe as many as five, reptilian entities down there which will stop at nothing to kill the Adoni, poison the stem, or do fuck only knows what else to destroy our efforts here. They are invisible for the best part and they would kill you as soon as look at you if it suited them Doctor!”

Laeisa sat quivering in her chair. “Then we should find them and kill them Commander, wouldn’t you agree?” She said earnestly.
“A good attitude Doctor! And a good attitude, is a good start. You will stay within the live monitoring range of my Gobot, Tackle, at all times while you are on the surface. Understood?” He squatted down to look her in the eyes.
Laeisa swallowed and stared back at Aethian.
“Am I to understand that there is a species of hostile reptile on this planet that I do not know about Commander?” She said sternly.
“Most certainly Doctor!” replied Aethian. “Not just on this planet but throughout the universe - you just never had the clearance to hear about them until now. They are called the Levyethin. And remember this well Doctor,  - They mean to kill every last one of us!”

With a huge smile on his face, Jinder Sondeus clasped his remaining hand with his Gobot prosthetic and leaned over what remained of the destroyed conference table as he looked at Aethian and said,  - “I have missed you Brother.”

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