(Abandoned Edocite Quarry, Nuevo Edo)
Two officials were waiting in the early afternoon sun, surrounded by a dozen troopers of the Nuevo Edo Peace Force. The Premier and her top general were having a spirited discussion about whether the top official on the entire planet should be risking herself on this first contact meeting.
“Premier Fukuya, I must protest you meeting this… this man in the open like this. We have no idea what his plans are, and they came through the Demon Gate!”
“And what would you have me do, General Akagi? That man, as you call him, is in control of a fleet of ships larger than anything we have ever seen before, even in the last Demon War, and you yourself said that if they had wished to attack us, they could have wiped out our space-based defenses before we ever knew their strike force was there.”
“But that is no reason to trust them completely! And certainly no reason to risk you out in the open like this, where we could have you waiting in the bunker where you wouldn’t be as exposed to enemy action. Minister Takahara could have come to represent the civilian side of the government, if we needed to meet out here.”
“And lose face appearing to be afraid of this man, and his ships? Someone who may know how to contact Earth after all this time? We need to project strength, and confidence, so we can get the best deals possible. You know this, Hikari.”
The General sighed as her old friend patted her on the shoulder. “Fine, but just let it be known that I was the voice of pragmatism and caution, while you were the one rushing off into the unknown.”
The Premier chuckled. “Yes, yes. Quite the departure from normal.”
One of the troopers spoke into their comm unit in her helmet, and then turned to face the two officials. “Madam, General, report from the bunker. Sensors are tracking one inbound ship, with what they believe are fighter escorts. The… visitors identify it as the owner’s personal transport, a light freighter called the BSS Starlight Raven, with Ghosts One through Four as escorts.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Looking back to the general, Fukuya chuckled. “So their leader moves about in a freighter, but takes fighter escorts with him. An odd duality.”
From the comm unit concealed in the Premier’s clothes Minister Takahara’s voice whispered softly. The Minister of Internal Security sounded amused. “He’s probably playing the same games you are, Madam Premier. You noticed he does not appear to be Japanese, but he bowed to precisely the proper angle for the occasion? Or the way that his ships revealed themselves to us on purpose the moment he began speaking to us? He has an eye for theater.”
“Then all the more reason we must be at the top of our game, it seems.”
General Akagi nodded. “Indeed, Madam Premier.”
(BSS Starlight Raven, approaching abandoned quarry)
“Boss, we have two military transports. Looks like APCs. Probable anti-air capability, but we haven’t been locked up by any sensors.”
I was alone in the Raven’s cockpit. Shearah was with her engines, Cali and Jaynie were in the turrets, and the others were prepping for our meeting with the Premier. “Roger that, Ghost Leader. Probably the rides those troopers came out here in. I’m counting a dozen troopers in what looks like unpowered armor with weapons present but in parade rest. Not expecting trouble, but capable of responding in case of threat. Raven, you confirm?
“Confirmed. No targeting sensors, though there was a sharp uptick in sensor radiation after we launched from Shinokage. I believe that they’ve tasked almost every sensor system in this region to tracking us and analyzing our ships.”
“Well, that is why we brought the Raven, instead one of the larger ships. And the tac-teams for the Shinokage and Assassins are standing by, with the Marines behind them in case this turns ugly. But we’re hoping for a first contact, not a war.”
“But we’re preparing for a war, anyways, just in case.”
“Right in one, Ghost Leader. No sense going and getting lazy since none of these people have any reason to hate us that we know about. Plus, it seems they’ve been having some kind of problems around here. You noticed how they called the Gateway the ‘Demon Gate’, and were surprised humans were using it?”
Raven answered instead of Parca. “Indeed. Between that and the defense satellites in orbit, I calculate a 78.6 percent chance that Nuevo Edo has faced enemy forces from the Gateway. Based on the tech level of the colony, I believe the chances that the ‘Demons’ they’ve faced are the X’thari are approximately one in ten.”
“Meaning we may have a new player that has access to Gateways we don’t know yet. We need to make access to the records that this explorer guy mentioned a priority, even if we only get Raven in there for a few minutes.” After all, if Raven got her drone body in there, she could record everything so we could decode it at our leisure.
If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.
“All right, we’re coming up on the landing zone. Ghost Leader, how you feel about giving the locals a show?”
“Pilots are always ready to show off for the locals. That’s how we get all the ladies.”
“All right, the Raven will go in and hover, before landing in the center of the quarry. Call a formation, burst as we come into a hover, and then land next to the Raven. Stay with your birds, just in case someone gets stupid. People we’re meeting might be on the level, but there’s always someone who thinks that they can force a play.”
“Roger that, Starlight Raven.”
Switching channels, I said, “Carissa, Sheila, Shearah. You ladies arm up with the rest, but you’re staying with the ship in case people decide hostage taking is a valid form of negotiation, or try to do something else stupid like sneaking spy tech on our ships. Raven, Cali, and Jaynie, you’re going to be with me in the meeting. Raven, keep a record of the conversation and pipe it to the rest of the group, as well as the Shinokage, so if we need to call in the cavalry, they’ll already be mounting up.”
(Abandoned Edocite Quarry, Nuevo Edo)
The four sleek black fighters peeled off in perfect synchronization, flying four different but identically timed routes (some in defiance of puny forces like gravity) to land a spread formation next to the Starlight Raven, all four of them noiselessly touching down on gravitic drives.
Then the cargo ramp on the arrowhead-shaped freighter soundlessly lowered, revealing the first glimpse Nuevo Edoans got of the brightly lit cargo bay of a Black Star ship, and seven figures standing there. Six of them were obviously female, and dressed in what looked like very high tech armor, carrying weapons in a ‘parade rest’ like the Edoan troopers who were all now at attention. The seventh figure was quite clearly a male, which made him one of the few that any from Nuevo Edo had seen in, well, a long time.
One of the armor-clad troopers from the freighter remained behind, at the top of the cargo ramp, and two others peeled off at the bottom of the ramp, taking up positions to support eachother in case anyone was foolish enough to try and steal the ship while that fleet was in orbit. But it was better to put the cookie jar out of reach than to rely on slapping hands after the fact.
The man and his three escorts walked up to Premier Fukuya, and the man bowed once more, before saying, “Madame Premiere, it is good to meet you in person. With permission, I will have my people set up an area where we can speak, under view of both sets of guards so your military companion does not get too uncomfortable.”
The Premier chuckled. “Well, Mollen-san?” After the man nodded that this was an appropriate way to address him, she continued, “You certainly have a flair for the dramatic. But while your people are setting up a meeting place, let me introduce you to General Akagi Mayumi, leader of our planetary defenses. And I believe you would make her very much more at ease if you would perhaps tell us how you came to Nuevo Edo through the Demon Gate?”
The man looked at one of his faceless armored companions, who nodded shortly, before he turned back to look at the premier. Even as he began speaking, the Edoans could see four floating… containers? Whatever they were, moving off the ship without anyone pushing them or directing them. “Certainly, the fact that you call the Gateway a ‘Demon Gate’ is of particular interest to us, since we’re new to the area, as you might say.”
The containers began opening up, and small robots emerged, quickly going to work spreading their building materials from the first three containers. As they watched, a squat grey slab ‘grew’ into a seamless bunker-style building with a single formed entrance in just under two minutes. The fourth container contained a table and chairs, which the robots had placed on the slab before the building grew around it (which was a good thing, since there was no way that table was fitting through the door).
“What you call the Demon Gate we call Gateways. There are sixteen gateways in what is generally called ‘Known Space’. The closest to Earth, coincidentally, is located in the Alpha Centauri system, and was discovered during the early colonization efforts by the Francis Drake, though since they were only using Alpha Centauri to slingshot to another star, it took another four years before their broadcasts made it back to Earth, by which time I believe the Ponce de Leon had already launched.”
The man chuckled at what must have been stunned looks on our faces, and said, “We’ve made a few new discoveries along the way, especially after we found actual aliens. Anyways, there are sixteen known Gates. The one in this system makes seventeen. And we only know about it because someone from this side came through one of the Known Gates.”
As the robots finished up and loaded the containers back onto the freighter, the man led the way to the newly constructed bunker. At the doorway, he stood a side, and offered to let the Premier’s security detail pass by him and check the place out. When the ‘all clear’ was given, everyone walked into the room. It was a drab, grey, concrete building, or at least that is what it looked like, but the way it had been built was far too fast for concrete. The man took a seat at one part of the table, purposefully putting his back to the door in a rather brazen show of confidence, and his guards sat flanking him. There were fourteen more chairs at the large round table, enough for everyone present to sit if they wished. Once they were seated, the man’s guardians removed their helmets and set them on the table in front of them.
The Premier sat, and the General only grumbled slightly as she motioned for the other guards to sit and follow the outsiders’ lead. Looking across the table at the man, Fukuya said, “Is Oscar Espina, the so-called ‘explorer’ with your group, Mollen-san? There are people who would dearly like to speak with him about his sudden departure, starting with his mother, the former Premier.”
The man sighed, and shook his head. “Alas, Espina is dead. When he exited the Gateway, his shuttle was discovered by pirates who happily sold the ship for scrap and enslaved Espina to work as part of their crew. The pirates were later captured and themselves enslaved, but most of them died when a plague engulfed the planet they were on, Espina included. However, the data recorder of the Juan Ponce de Leon survived, and was recovered by individuals working for Black Star. When we figured out what it was, and what it could mean, we began putting together the expeditionary fleet you saw on your scanners.”
Premier Fukuya nodded simply, accepting the man’s death, though it was clear it was not the most desired outcome. General Akagi leaned forward, and asked, “Enslaved? Have humans fallen back on such barbarism in the time that has passed since the Ponce de Leon left?”
The man did not seem perturbed by the accusatory tone in Akagi’s voice, and said, simply, “There was a great deal of instability, unfortunately, after the early colonial years, and when mankind first developed Faster Than Light drives. The ability to get from Earth to Alpha Centauri in a month instead of years was groundbreaking, and there was a push by Earth to bring some of the old colonies back into the fold, while using the new technology to colonize other worlds that had not been thought viable before. Suffice to say that out of the chaos, the Terran Empire was formed. Then we met aliens, and things got more complicated. The Empire copied a practice of judicial slavery some of the aliens practiced, though they took it further than some, which caused several wars to break out between different interstellar governments.”
“If you like, I can have a basic primer on galactic history since your departure rom Earth downloaded to your systems so you can read it at your leisure. But I must say, I would love to hear how the Ponce de Leon ended up all the way out here. Did you know that you are over twenty-five THOUSAND light-years off course? Ever since we charted where this gate was, how you got here has been the talk of the fleet.” He shrugged. “That’s what I get for bringing scientists along, I guess. “
The Premier chuckled good naturedly, while the General simply nodded in understanding. Scientists could be a headache, at the best of times. When they had a puzzle they couldn’t solve, they were a damn nightmare.
Akagi started, “Well, according to the histories…”