Chapter 1: A Visit to a Red Planet
"Welcome to Mars," Brittany said, opening the shuttle hatch.
"Not what I expected," Quinn said, standing next to her and scanning the horizon.
"It’s a great big dustbowl," Santana said, joining them. "Kills equipment faster than one of Quinn’s troopers."
"My troopers don’t kill equipment," Quinn said, turning to glare at her.
"That’s not what my techs say," Santana said.
"Ladies! Not the time or place!" Brittany said. "Save it until we get home."
"You wanted to show us something," Santana said. "Couldn’t you just take a picture?"
"You have to see this in person," Brittany said. "Come on." Closing her suit’s helmet, she stepped through the safety field holding in the air.
Santana and Quinn quickly followed her out onto the sand.
"Not like walking on the moon," Quinn said, giving a slight bounce.
"Yeah, it’s less like walking on powder, more like sandpaper," Santana said, kicking at the ground.
"How far is it?" Quinn asked Brittany.
"Ten klicks," Brittany said, leading the way towards several low hills.
"We couldn’t land closer?" Santana said, grumbling.
"Nope," Brittany said. "Too dangerous."
"This is Mars," Santana said. "Big empty planet. What could be dangerous?"
"Besides the sandstorms and low atmosphere?" Brittany said, correcting her. "You’ll see."
"How are the defenses going?" Quinn asked. "When will we be able to set up the training facilities for my troopers?"
"The eyes-in-the-sky are all up, and connected to our security network," Brittany said. "We’d finished surveying the area you wanted when we ran into this." She pointed ahead to an object that seemed to rise up out of the ground.
It was a wall, at least twice her height, that disappeared off into the distance.
"A wall," Santana said. "Could have sent a picture."
"It doesn’t photograph very well," Brittany said. "It just looks like a line from space. A very thin one. The tech who found it thought something was wrong with her camera."
"So… wall…" Quinn said. "Who built it and why?"
"It’s the only known structure on the planet that looks made and not just the result of nature," Brittany said.
"What’s it made out of?" Quinn asked.
"Rock," Santana said, grimacing.
"Actually, it’s made out of an unknown crystal substance. It’s not really this color." She rubbed her hand across the dull surface, revealing an opaque material.
"Huh," Santana said, following suit. "Is the whole thing like this?"
"As far as we can tell. Almost two klicks of crystal, in a big circle."
"A circle? What’s inside?" Quinn stared up at the top of the wall.
"Nothing you can see from the outside," Brittany said. "Fortunately, we found the door." She gestured for them to follow her. After five minutes of walking, they came to a slight depression in the surface of the wall.
"How’d you figure out how to open it?" Quinn asked.
"We have our ways," Brittany said, her grin clearly heard over the comm. "Watch!"
There was a low pitched whistle, centered around her suit. With a huge rumble they could feel through their suits, the depression slowly deepened, becoming an oval opening.
"Be careful," Brittany said, blocking the entrance. "That first step is a klick deep."
"Whoa!" Santana said. "We didn't lose anyone down it did we?"
"No, we followed safety protocols," Brittany said. "That’s how we know how deep it is."
"So, it’s a long wall around a deep hole, and you can’t see it from the air?" Quinn asked. "How is that possible? It should stick out like a sore thumb."
"Look," Brittany said, shining light into the opening at an upward angle. The light reflected off of something shiny. "It has some kind of shield, hiding it from the surface. We think it’s the same material as the wall."
"Two kilometers around, with a cover?" Quinn said. "Any idea what it’s for? I’m assuming you sent in probes."
"And you have pictures, so we didn’t have to come down here in person?" Santana said, grumbling.
"You have better places to be?" Quinn asked.
"Yes," Santana said. "Your 'little' training base isn’t the only thing going on."
"Ladies, enough," Brittany said. "I brought you down here for a reason, and not just to hear the snark. Lovely as it is."
"The reason being?" Santana said. "I love you babe, but this little field trip could have waited."
"Watch," Brittany said, stepping through the oval. Instead of plummeting to her death, or at least falling from view, she stayed level with the entrance.
"Don’t do that!" Santana burst out, grabbing Brittany by the arm.
"It’s perfectly safe," she said. "There’s no gravity."
"Well, you don’t know that!" Santana said.
"I’ve tested it," Brittany said. "Besides, it’s only a couple thousand feet deep. My suit can handle it."
"What’s down there, Brit?" Quinn asked.
"It’s an underground base," she said. "Or it might be. Come on!"
Quinn and Santana cautiously joined her inside. They couldn’t see the other side but looking up, they could see something overhead, a featureless shiny flat roof with no markings. Their suits sensors gave them dimensions and a general idea of size but that didn't dispel the feeling of being in a dark cave, standing on nothing.
"Artie says it pre-dates the Confederation," Brittany said.
"And this anti-gravity thing still works?" Santana asked.
"Yup," Brittany said. "I have some techs looking into it."
"How do we go down?" Quinn asked, tired of staring at lots of smooth nothing.
"It’s like zero gravity," Brittany said. "Use your suit jets. Like this." There was a low flash and Brittany started to move down into the dark shaft. Quinn and Santana once more following her lead.
They went down for several minutes in the dark.
"Could use some decorations," Santana said.
"I don’t think it would last," Brittany told her. "It’s some sort of launch tube as far as we can tell."
"You found ancient spaceships?" Santana asked, excitedly.
"No, just a launch pad of sorts. The only thing working is this. And some lights. It’s been abandoned for a very long time. Probably before Mars became a desert," Brittany said.
"Not seeing the excitement," Santana said. "Sure, this gravity free tube is interesting but no ships? Are there any documents of any kind?"
They can to a stop, landing on a slightly angled oval. As soon as they stepped off of it, the room lit up. They were standing at the edge of a huge room.
"This, is impressive," Santana said. Quinn murmured in agreement. "The tube was huge. A shuttle could fit in it, if we got the cover open. A small cruiser could fit in here with room to spare."
"Or a small city," Quinn added. "What are your plans for it?"
"Plans?" Brittany said.
"We know you babe," Santana said. "You didn’t bring us down here to see a big hole in the ground or that fancy gravity trick tube."
"We haven’t really discussed plans for Mars, other than a training base for Quinn’s troopers," Brittany said. "We have a base out on Pluto, and our main space station out in the asteroid belt but there’s so much room in this system that we haven’t begun to use."
"We don’t have the people," Santana said. "We aren’t even half staffed yet. We can barely handle the few out-system patrols we have going now. And we aren’t going to be huge when we are. We’re just the local cops, not a whole world."
"I think we should have a backup base here," Brittany said. "We can do things we can’t do on Terra, because of tech issues. Or maybe we can terraform it. Earth needs room to grow and there's plenty of room here."
"That doesn’t usually go well," Quinn said. "There are dozens of stories of what could happen if people colonize Mars and the other planets."
"It worked for Star Trek," Brittany said.
"But getting there was not easy," Quinn said. "It took them a long time."
"Terraforming takes centuries," Santana said. "And that assumes it even works. Even with top of the line Confederation tech there’s still a sixteen percent chance of failure."
"I think we should still do it," Brittany said. "As soon as the Bugs are gone. By the time it’s complete the people will be mature enough to handle it."
"These are Terrans we’re talking about," Quinn said. "They’re worse than the Clans were. It could be millennia before they are civilized enough for what you have planned."
"I’d rather be positive," Brittany said. "We need to start planning for the direction we want to guide them to for after the Bugs."
"You and Rachel can do the post-Bug planning," Santana said. "Q and I still have a war to plan, and defenses to build. Is there anything else to see here?"
"Just the tech that makes the gravity tube work and the environment," Brittany said. "Everything else is long gone. Any objections to turning this into a base?"
"Not from me," Santana said. "If you can figure out how to actually get a ship down here, that would be good."
"Is this going to be separate from my desert training base?" Quinn asked.
"I’m thinking that it should be our private space port," Brittany said. "But we should put your training base underground like this."
"Order the equipment once you agree on the design," Santana said.
"Will do," Quinn said.
"Anything else?" Santana asked. "If not, I need to get back to Flag. The planning sessions for mapping the rest of the sector are starting tomorrow so I need to clear everything else from my desk."
"Just a minute," Brittany said.
"Hey boss!" a voice on the team comm interrupted her.
"You need to come see this," Jayce said. She sent a short video down channel.
"Where are you?" Brittany asked.
"In the south quadrant, second tunnel. The one that looks like living quarters," Jayce said.
"Jayce found something in one of the side caves," Brittany said. "I need to check it out. Can you spare a few more minutes?"
"I’ve got an hour," Quinn said. "Rachel’s expecting me for dinner tonight."
"I can do an hour," Santana said. "Or I can send the shuttle back for you."
"If you can’t stay, I can catch a ride back with Joy," Brittany said.
"Is it something interesting or something only a Shadow would care about?"
"Don’t know," Brittany said. "But I need to go. Are you coming?"
"Sure, why not," Santana said. "My desk can wait. It isn’t going anywhere."
Quinn and Santana followed Brittany deeper into the cavern. As they walked the faint glow became stronger, making it easier to see.
"So, big cavern, no evidence of the previous occupants?" Santana said. "Nothing? No clues to what they looked like or ate?"
"Nothing," Brittany said. "We know that something built this but there’s not enough info to know anything about them. Not a thing our archaeologists can use. Just dust and this empty place."
"We have archaeologists?" Quinn said, surprised. "Clan archaeologists?"
"They’re part of the Memory’s Office," Brittany said. "Rache started requesting them after we found that cruiser in Cancun. There’s enough work to keep a team of them busy full time."
"Doing?" Santana asked.
"I have them analyzing old Clan bases, and Andy has one on her staff," Brittany said. "They bring a unique perspective to things. We’ve managed to have Clan trained ones so far. The Indiana Jones films are a great recruitment tool. Things aren’t quite so exciting in real life but it has its moments."
"Huh, guess I never thought about it. So you’ve got one around here somewhere?"
"Jayce," Britany said. "That’s who we’re meeting down here."
"What do you think she found?" Quinn asked.
"No idea," Brittany said. "But we’ll know in a minute."
"Sorry," Quinn mumbled.
They came to a stop in front of a tunnel, three meters from floor to roof. They were met by a short woman in an enviro skin suit.
"Come on," she said. "You won’t believe this!" She quickly disappeared down the tunnel, the three women following closely. As the walked, she talked. "We’ve been exploring the back rooms," she said. "Mostly dust. Nothing organic. Interesting design, sort of like that cave base on that planet in the Ring system. But much older. And then Frankie noticed that one of the rooms had thicker walls. So we started scanning it to see if we’d missed anything."
"Secret door?" Santana guessed. "Or hidden closet?"
"Bathroom?" Quinn suggested.
"Better," Jayce said, stopping in front of a tall doorway. She led them in, joining another woman similarly dressed at the far wall. "Show them," she said.
Without saying a word, the other woman, Frankie, reached over and pressed on the wall. There was a slight humming and a large lit oval appeared in the wall. The humming continued and the oval split, half disappearing into the ceiling and the other down into the floor, revealing a shelf with a jumbled pile of small square crystals.
"Shiny," Brittany said, leaning down to scan them with her suit’s sensors. "Crystal storage?"
"Possibly," Frankie said, in a surprisingly deep voice. "But no way to read them at the moment.
"Janice and Joy brought back several different readers from their Ring trip," Brittany said. "They might have something that’ll work with these or at least tell you what they are."
"We were waiting for you to see this before contacting anyone," Jayce said.
"Did you find anything else down here today?" Brittany said. "They seem to have picked up after themselves really well."
"It’s been millenia, Lady Shadow," Jayce said. "Anything they left behind that wasn’t crystal or metal is long gone. If there was a reader it went with them."
"Maybe there are more closets," Quinn said.
"Keep looking, and let us know what else you find," Brittany said. "You’ve got two weeks before we start remodeling."
"Yes, Boss," Frankie said.
"And we need to head out," Santana said. "Coming with us?"
"Part of the way," Brittany said. "Need to check on another project south of here."
"More hidden alien bases?" Quinn asked.
"Nothing as exciting," Brittany said. "One of the construction teams is drilling for water a hundred clicks from here."
"Pass," Santana said. Quinn just shook her head.
"Okay," Brittany said. "I just need a drop-off. The drilling team has transportation I can use to get back to Flag."
"Okay," Santana said. "Now how do we get back to the shuttle from here?"
"Easy peasy," Brittany said. "Just follow the breadcrumbs." She pointed at their unique footprints on the dusty floor.
"That was mildly interesting," Santana said, after dropping Brittany off.
"If it makes Brit happy," Quinn said.
"A happy Brit is a sexy Brit," Santana said. "But sand doesn’t mix well with hard suits."
"That’s why we need a training base here. Too many of our battles are in sterile conditions. They need to be able to operate in all kinds of weather and terrain."
"Not arguing," Santana said. "But I prefer the nice clean of space."
"Understood," Quinn said. "How are your plans to explore the rest of the sector going?"
"Well, the Ring system is a bust. At least until we can figure out how to send equipment through. It’s not big enough to send a shuttle, even in pieces," Santana said.
"I’m sure you’ll find a way. Did they fix their navigation problems?"
"The one way trip. Forward or backward only."
"Not yet, but Brittany’s crew thinks they have an idea," Santana said. "And she has some bright kids on her crew."
"Have you gotten the 'don’t poach' speech yet," Quinn asked.
"Who’d you try to steal?" Santana said, laughing.
"No one," Quinn said. "Harriet Potter is spending a lot of time with Janice."
"Not surprised," Santana said. "They spent months working together and probably like each other."
"Really not time for romance," Quinn said.
"So I hear," Santana said, laughing.
"Rachel told you?" Quinn said sheepishly.
"The partner earring and the long speech about responsibility?" Santana laughed again. "Brittany would have staked me out on the nearest ant hill if I did something like that to her. Not very romantic."
"She didn’t talk to me for a month afterward," Quinn said, grimacing.
"She must have gotten over it," Santana said. "She was bragging about it the other day."
"Had to take her out to dinner in Paris," Quinn said.
"There’re some nice restaurants near the Eiffel Tower," Santana said. "That’s Brit’s go to city for make up dates."
"Expensive," Quinn said.
"As long as you don’t buy them, the Clan budget can afford to make the Memory happy."
"How many do we own now?" Quinn asked.
"In Paris? Two. World wide? A dozen. But they don't last very long. Restaurants have the shelf life of a box of donuts at the Fleet Chief’s annual staff meeting. Measured in seconds." Santana shook her head. "By the time they start making money, the celebrity chef will be tired of it and move on."
"What do you do with a failed restaurant," Quinn asked.
"Rent the space out to another one," Santana said. "That’s where the money is."
"Have there been any Bug sighting yet?" Quinn asked after several minutes of silence.
"Nothing," Santana said. "Artie still says they’re headed this way but they must have stopped for a nooner because there’s no sign of them anywhere."
"Maybe they aren’t coming?"
"No, they’ll show up," Santana said. "We’re in the way of their exit from the Confederation. They have to go through us."
"Sure, but it’s longer and they probably think this is an empty sector. Radio traffic from Terra hasn’t even reached the nearest star system yet."
"Good," Quinn said.
"Not in a hurry to squash some Bugs?" Santana asked, as the shuttle landed gently on Flag’s deck.
"Nope," Quinn said. "Gives us more time to train, and plan."
"Still planning to fight them in the asteroids out beyond Pluto?"
"I’d rather we stop them in a different system," Quinn said. "The less local fighting the better."
"As long as you record it and bring the Press," Santana said, locking down the controls. "Otherwise they won’t believe it."
"You’ve seen those old recordings," Quinn said. "Unless we get up close and personal with the Bugs, something I hope to avoid, if Fleet can keep them from landing anywhere, it’s going to be boring. Real wars in space are not Star Wars."
"No, they aren’t," Santana said, "And we’ll do our damnedest so you don’t. But, either way, I have confidence that between Brit and Rachel we’re going to look like heroes. Big ones."
"As long as we’re not dead ones," Quinn said. "I’d rather my troopers be alive, than have Rache write epic ballads about them."
"She’s getting better," Santana said. "She only wrote two about the 'Search for Miranda Priestly’."
"That’s because Lady M threatened to leave and take the whole family with her if she didn’t stop. And you don’t ignore her. Ever."
"Or call her an asset in her hearing," Santana said, as they entered the bridge. "That doesn’t go over well."
"She’s like a more evil, but stylish, Sue Sylvester," Quinn said. "Not sure what Andy sees in her."
"Evil can be sexy," Santana said. "As long as she’s on our side."
"Definitely," Quinn said. "And maybe someday they’ll actually explain where Andy’s family comes from. Though, Lady M’s first husband being from another Clan is almost believable," Quinn said.
"You didn’t believe their last story either?"
"No," Quinn said. "There’s no such place as Krypton."
"They’ve got evidence," Santana said.
"And you believed it?"
"Of course not," Santana said. "But hearing them construct such an elaborate explanation can be fun. Eventually they start contradicting themselves."
"I’d like to station troopers on every planet in the ring system," Quinn said, when they reached Santana’s office.
"You don’t need my permission," Santana said, pulling off her suit. "It’s exploring our defenses. Looking for holes."
"No, but I want a ship for each in case my troopers need to evacuate in a hurry," Quinn said.
"Not a problem, once we can get ships out there," Santana said. "We can get some of the cost out of the surveillance budget. You just need a solid plan that’ll survive the inevitable Shadow review."
"I have multiple plans," Quinn said. "With multiple layers. Ogres full of layers."
"Does Rachel know you can reference her favorite childhood movies?"
"Of course," Quinn said. "It’s hard to stump her, but she never really watched that kind if thing."
"Wildlife shows and specials about puppies on PBS?" Santana said, laughing and taking the captain’s chair.
"And shows about Broadway," Quinn said.
"Of course, how could I forget," Santana said, laughing.
"Her childhood wasn’t really that narrow," Quinn said. "Her fathers insisted on a well rounded childhood."
"In Lima?" Santana said, not trying to hide her disbelief.
"They traveled all over the place," Quinn said. "Every summer and school break they were off on another 'adventure', according to her."
"Well, we’re all living a huge adventure now," Santana said, sitting behind her desk. "Are you sticking around?"
"I’ve got a meeting with Tech about a new hard suit design," Quinn said.
"Better you than me," Santana said, poking her desk.
Shaking her head, Quinn left her and headed towards her meeting.
Sand. Lots and lots of sand, as far as the eye could see. Her suit sensors weren’t much better. The high wind blowing over the plateau obscured anything more than a click away. Dropping into a sandstorm from orbit was looking like a bad idea, Quinn thought, but it’d seemed like the perfect opportunity to test the new suit design.
Like all hard suits it was nearly impervious to all forms of radiation and stopped most forms of direct blunt force, but that didn’t mean it was perfect. A well directed energy weapon could still knock a wearer out of action and shake them up. It didn’t matter if they couldn’t get killed if their suits became so damaged that they were basically just a lump on the battlefield.
Apparently, sand was also something to watch out for. It was like walking through sandpaper, she decided, looking at the bare suit structure where the protective coating had been worn away by the sand blasting it had been subjected to for the last hour.
"How’s it going?" Rachel asked over their private comm. "When are you going to get to the base?"
"Right now I’m grounded," Quinn said. "I can’t hop in this weather, and my sensors don’t see through a wall of solid sand."
"Close enough to it," Quinn said, pausing in the swirling sand. "My suit tech is going to kill me when I get back. I haven’t taken this much damage to my suit, ever."
"I thought it could withstand a nuclear blast," Rachel said, sounding worried.
"The radiation of a nuclear blast," Quinn said. "And it wouldn’t be much use afterward. These suits are designed for fast moving combat, not extreme weather conditions like this."
"You’re going to be okay, right?" Rachel asked.
"Peachy," Quinn said. "It’s a valid equipment test, just a little extreme. Hopefully we won’t need to fight the Bugs in a Martian sandstorm. But this will give us data to make them better."
"Why you?" Rachel asked.
"You didn’t just ask her why she’s risking her cute butt in an experimental hard suit, did you?" Brittany said, joining them on the comm channel. "You know why."
"I’m sure there are other ways to test a new hard suit than sticking yourself into a blender," Rachel said.
"I won’t send my troopers out in a suit I haven’t tested myself," Quinn said. "You know that."
"I rest my case," Brittany said.
"Did you have a reason for joining our discussion?" Quinn asked.
"We’re getting a strange signal ten clicks to your west," Brittany said. "Our satellite sensors can’t see through that storm. can you check it out?"
"I’m not moving very fast," Quinn said. "Might be a little while."
"It’s still faster than anything else we could send," Brittany said. "I’ve got a team headed your way but they’re several hours out."
"Sure," Quinn said. "Send me the co-ordinates."
"Already sent," Brittany said.
"What if it’s a Bug?" Rachel asked. "You aren’t armed."
"I’m still wearing a hard suit," Quinn said. "I’m always armed."
"And there’s an experimental beam weapon on that suit," Brittany said. "If it’s really a Bug they don’t stand a chance."
"See? Not a problem," Quinn said. Flipping on several sensor pack modules in her helmet, she sped up. She couldn’t go full speed in a sandstorm but in the new suit she was faster than anything else currently on Mars. "Do we have any data on this 'strange signal'?"
"It doesn’t match any known profile," Brittany said. "It started broadcasting when you hit ground."
"So, something is watching me?" Quinn said.
"Possibly. If it is, it’s using tech your suit and our sensor arrays can’t detect. It’s also possible it’s a coincidence," she said.
"And you’re sending her right to it?" Rachel squeaked. "Send someone else, now!"
"What’s my title?"
"Lady of the Hands of the Council of the Serpent Clan," Rachel said, enunciated every word.
"And what’s my job?"
"You’re the Council war leader."
"War isn’t a sport," Quinn said. "You know this. It’s deadly serious. And I lead from the front, like all Hands."
"I don’t like it," Rachel said. "Come back."
"I can’t," Quinn said. "If this is a Bug we need to stop it before it takes root. If I promise not to get myself needlessly killed will you be okay?"
"You can’t promise something like that," Rachel said. "It could be a trap."
"My team is an hour out," Brittany said. "And San has two cruisers inbound."
"Cruisers?" Rachel said, her voice going up. "So you really think this is a Bug?"
"No," Brittany said. "We would have detected it as soon as it came in-system. But it is an unknown so we’re being cautious."
"And it makes a good training exercise," Quinn said.
"Yes, there’s that also," Brittany said. "It’s probably something harmless."
"An unrecognized signal that’s harmless?" Rachel said.
"Yes," Brittany said. "It’s a big universe. It could be a random visitor who snuck through our sensors."
"To Mars." Rachel said dryly. "Land of infinite beaches."
"You don’t need water to have a beach," Brittany said. "Though there are some large underground lakes that we’ve found."
"I must be close," Quinn said, slowing down to a jog. "I’m picking up a signal. It’s not very strong."
"That’s the one," Brittany said. "The strength fluctuates."
"You’re almost on top of it," she said. "Any second now."
"Whoah!" Quinn said, stopping suddenly. "Can you see that?" she asked. "A large silver cylinder. Looks familiar."
"I’ve seen one before," Rachel said. "Can’t remember where. A movie?"
"Historical record," Quinn said. "It’s not a Bug but it is definitely an unfriendly."
"Oh! Usually they’re a different color," Rachel said.
"Sandblasted," Quinn said. 'Brit, search for escape pods. Specifically the kind used on troop transports used during the Bast Queen wars."
"That was a very long time ago," Brittany said. "Thousands of years."
"That gravity elevator in sector seven is a lot older," Quinn said. "This predates the pyramids on Earth but isn't much older."
"Stasis pod?" Brittany asked.
"Possibly, but it’s been here for a very long time. Stasis is meant for a short term emergency."
"So, ancient escape pod. Occupants?" Brittany said.
"Maybe," Quinn said. "The Bast Queen wars took place a long way from here. They must have had a drive failure to end up here."
"It isn't going anywhere," Brittany said. "Look at the ground around it. It’s been here a long time. Stay back until my team gets here."
"Can we look inside," Rachel said. "How close can Quinn get?"
"It probably has automated defenses," Quinn said. "We’ll need Brit’s crew to turn it off. The tech in this suit doesn’t have the right kinds of tools to hack something like that."
"This is exciting!" Rachel said.
"And it wasn’t before?" Quinn asked.
"That was dangerous. This is archeology. Historical."
"Team inbound. Ten minutes before they reach your co-ordinates," Brittany said. "We’ll have answer soon."
"Are we recording this?" Rachel said.
"My suit’s log is always running," Quinn reminded her. "Of course you’ll get your recording."
"It’s important," Rachel said. "First people to examine a Bast escape pod."
"First in a millennia at least," Brittany said.
"Hey Lady Q," a familiar voice said, as she was joined by a three member Shadow search team.
"Ladies," Quinn said, acknowledging their arrival. "What can you tell us about this?"
The team quickly started setting up sensors around the pod. "It’s old," Janice said. "But not the oldest tech I’ve seen on a planet."
"It’s empty," Joy said, glancing down at her sensor pack. "It was probably empty when it landed."
"Can you open it?" Quinn asked.
"It might be booby trapped," Rachel said. "Be careful."
"Careful is my middle name, Lady Memory," Janice said.
"Right next to 'not'," Joy said, laughing. "But we can spring it and take a look inside."
"When you’re ready, ladies," Quinn said. "The storm is dying down."
They place sensors on the pod itself, until it looked like a freckled tube. "That should do it," Joy said. "We should get back just in case."
The four of them backed away from the pod, until it was just visible in the storm.
"Ready?" Janice asked.
"Go for it," Quinn said. "I’m sure we have insurance for acts of antique tech."
There was a series of quick clicks, followed by a large thump and sharp flash.
"You weren’t supposed to blow it up," Rachel said.
"We didn’t," Janice said. "That was the pod safety letting go. It should be safe now."
"Hatch?" Quinn asked.
"They didn’t have hatches," Brittany said.
"How do we get in?" Quinn asked.
Janice leaned forward and pressed on the pod. After several seconds, a large panel detached itself from the pod, leaving a dark hole. Smoke poured out for several seconds."
"No, just an old stasis field shutting down," Joy said. "They didn't work very well back then. Half the time they didn’t even work."
"That must have been a surprise," Quinn said. "Not a ringing endorsement."
"Definitely," Brittany said. "There was a reason why the Bastites lost that war. They couldn’t handle those kinds of losses."
"So the Clans had better equipment?"
"Much better," Brittany said.
"Is it safe?" Rachel asks over the comm. "What do you see?"
"Just lots of dust," Janice said, leaning in.
"Accessing the logs," Joy said. "Looks like it was ejected accidentally when a troop carrier jumped into the asteroid field. No mention of passengers."
"So there's a troop carrier from the Bast wars out there somewhere?"
"Possibly," Janice said, "though it’s not something we’d have missed."
"Space, it’s huge," Joy said. "If it crashed into a planet we’d never find it."
"We can use the emergency beacon," Brittany said. “Reverse the polarity.”
“What does that mean?” Rachel asked, over the comm.
"Ancient Shadow secret," Brittany said.
"Do you want us to box it up and take it back to the lab, Boss?" Janice said. "Maybe we missed something."
"Go ahead," she said. "Sorry to distract you, Q."
"Not a problem, Brit," Quinn said. "Just another mystery. This system is full of them. It probably came through another one of those dimensional portals."
"Well, if it was I feel sorry for whomever might have landed here," Brittany said. "It was a desert out here back then also."
"Are you coming in," Rachel asked Quinn returning to their private channel.
"I think i’ll finish my trek," Quinn said. "Make it a fair test of the suit."
"Well, don’t go falling into any portals or deep holes," Rachel said. "We have a date tonight."
"No plans to miss it," Quinn said. "Brit, I’ll check in with you later. Still more sand to look at."
"Don’t get lost," Brittany said, echoing Rachel, "or fall in a hole."
"A bunch of comedians," Quinn grumbled. Shaking her head, and shaking off the layer of dust that had accumulated while she was standing there, she turned and headed back out into the storm at speed.
Chapter 2: Into the Red Planet
More discoveries on Mars. Follows right after the previous chapter, on the same day.
Chapter Word Count: 4,826
"Hey Brit?" Quinn said, as she traveled along an old creek bed, using her new suit’s battle comm channel that supposedly only Brittany knew about.
"How deep have you scanned this part of Mars?"
"Just a preliminary scan," she said. "It’s mostly a big red ball of dust."
"But you’ve found things," Quinn said, hopping over a large boulder.
"Sure, a few things here and there. It’s an old planet. Things tend to end up on it like galactic driftwood."
"What have you found so far?" Quinn asked.
"There was that underground base with the gravity well, of course, and the escape pod you just found," Brittany said. "A few old things from the Russians and NASA. Mostly museum level stuff."
"Any signs of inhabitants or visitors? Living ones?"
"Not yet. Why?" Brittany asked.
"I still feel like someone is watching me," Quinn said. "You’d have noticed if we had any visitors, right?"
Brittany hummed for a moment. "They would have to be here already, before San’s system sensors went up, or have tech better than ours to sneak past her. Or to sneak by mine. And Artie would have told us."
"Your system watch is better than Fleet’s?" Quinn asked.
"We have slightly different approaches, but yes, much better," Brittany said. "But don’t tell her."
"I didn’t hear that," Quinn said, laughing. "So, if anyone is watching me, and it’s not you or anyone in the Fleet, or Artie, they’ve been here for years?"
"Yup," Brittany said. "Let me know if you find anything."
"Will do," Quinn said. "Out."
"Later, Handy Babe," Brittany said, giggling.
Quinn scanned the sand dunes she was currently passing through. Now that the sandstorm had lifted, the horizon seemed to stretch out forever, though her suit said it was only a dozen clicks away. The feeling of being watched persisted as she approached some hills, still a thousand clicks from home base. If she didn’t stop or slow down she’d be there in an hour.
She was starting to feel the strain of constant movement. Not including the interruption for the escape pod, she’d been in her suit and constantly moving for twelve hours, her trek taking her across a huge chunk of planetary surface. Not a long time in a Clan hard suit, she’d gone weeks in her previous suit during training exercises in the past. But there were rarely such sustained periods of exercise at speed or on rough terrain. Even with her Clan enhanced physique and the hard suit she could feel it.
A sharp beep from her suit nav system warned her of an obstruction ahead. Slowing down, she looked ahead and saw jagged hills. As she approached them it was looking more and more like a large blast crater. Fairly common on the moon and some of the outer planets but the first she’d personally seen on Mars. Cautiously making her way through them she stopped at the edge of a large crater that her suit’s sensors said was twenty klicks across.
"That’s a big hole," Santana said in her comm.
"Voyeur much?" Quinn said. "Don’t you have some space monkeys to scare?"
"Why would I do that when I can peep on you?" Santana said. "Sure, it’s kind of boring on Mars but you do find interesting things."
"It’s a crater," Quinn said. Her suit beeped a warning. "With a high radiation count…"
"Which doesn’t register with all those expensive high tech sensors floating over you," Santana said. "So, why does your suit see it and we don’t? And why don’t they show you where your suit says you are."
"Can’t answer that," Quinn said. "Maybe one of them is broken?"
"Your suit says it’s okay," Santana. "And so do those satellite sensors."
"They can’t both be right," Quinn said. "And the suit isn’t invisible to Clan scanners. Not even in stealth mode.
"And that escape pod shouldn’t be there either, but oops, there it is, Santana said.
"Brittany won’t be surprised," Quinn said. "She’s being very silent out there."
"She’s busy," Santana said. "She doesn’t watch you 24/7, you know."
"Feels like it sometimes," Quinn grumbled.
"Nah, she does have minion AI’s keeping an eye on the rest of the Council. They let her know if she needs us. She doesn’t have time to watch us all personally anymore."
"Ah," Quinn said. "Not sure I should be relieved or concerned she’s so busy she has to do that."
"I’ve got the worrying about Brit under control," Santana said. "You go check out that crater."
"If I die, I’m telling Brit on you," Quinn said, looking down into the crater.
"If you die we have bigger problems than Brit yelling at me," Santana said.
"Don’t worry, I’ve got good minions," Quinn said. "They can handle the Bugs."
"That I’m not worried about, as long as your battle plans are on file somewhere Brit can get to," Santana said. "It’s your planning skills we need, not your fighting skills."
"Gee, thanks, San," Quinn said. "Love you too."
"You know what I mean," Santana said. "But Rachel would kill me if you get killed doing something I told you to do."
"No, she won’t," Quinn said.
"Doesn’t matter," Santana said. "Nothing’s going to happen. Now go find out what’s going on with that crater. Maybe it’s the troop ship that pod was from."
"Not going to be much left of it if it is," Quinn said. "Probably just radioactive dust."
"Just go," Santana said.
"Going," Quinn said, flipping the suit comm channels to 'do not disturb'. It wouldn’t stop anyone from contacting her but only emergencies would get through immediately.
That’s a long drop, she thought, leaning over the edge. She looked behind her, back towards the plain, mapping out a straight route. If she planned it correctly she could get a high enough jump to get a better close view of the crater. If the sat scanners weren’t showing her, who knew what else wasn’t being seen. It probably wasn’t Bugs, they weren’t subtle. Or sneaky. According to the history records, you always knew when they were in the neighborhood.
With a clear route in mind, Quinn moved back a click. Turning back towards the crater, she took off. Even with the rocky ground, she was able to get close to her maximum speed before reaching the edge of the crater. Hitting the edge like a high diver on a springboard, she hit her boosters, the momentum propelling her up in a high arc above the crater. As soon as she was airborne she switched all of her suit sensors to maximum sensitivity.
The arc wasn’t high enough to carry her even half way across the crater. Hitting her suit boosters again she briefly came to a stop, hovering several hundred feet above the crater floor for several seconds, before continuing her journey to the ground. Fortunately, her suit was built for this kind of use. It wasn’t much different than the final stages of planetary insertion. And this time no one was shooting at her.
As she reached the ground, Quinn prepared for the bounding jump that made the Clan’s hard suits so unique. As soon as her feet touched the ground she was pushing off again, gaining ten meters elevation. Not high enough to see above the crater rim but giving her a clear field of view across the crater.
On the third bounce she saw a dark shadow halfway up the crater wall. On the tenth bounce she was close enough to detect a metal oval embedded in the wall, set back several meters. Just barely leaving room for her to stand there, if she judged things correctly. With two more bounces she was headed straight for it.
With a hard thump, jarring enough to knock out a suit-less person, she slammed into the metal oval. Hitting the magnetic grapples built into her suit gloves she grabbed the oval to stop any further movement.
"That was fun," she mumbled.
"What was fun?" Rachel said on the Council comm.
"Oh, hey Rache, didn’t know my comm was live," Quinn said.
"It just came on," Rachel said. "You’ve been out of contact for thirty minutes. We were starting to get worried. Brit was going to send a rescue team after you."
"I told her you were busy," Santana said, jumping in. "But someone didn’t believe me."
"Sorry," Quinn said, not saying what she was sorry for, a deflection trick she’d learned years ago. "Found something."
"You’re very faint," Brittany said. "And still not showing up on our monitors. Must be something about that crater."
"Do I have enough signal to send a data dump?" Quinn asked, under her breath. "Not sure what’s here but I did a full scan of the crater while crossing it. Trying to send it now."
"Crossing it? Did you climb down and run across it?" Santana said. "Would have been faster to jump across it."
"It’s too far, even in this new hard suit," Quinn said. "I only made it halfway before I landed. But I had my suit sensors going full blast the whole time."
"Getting it now," Brittany said. "That radiation you detected is some kind of camouflage shield. That’s why we can’t see you."
"What are you doing now?" Rachel asked. "Your video comm isn’t transmitting anything, just static."
"Suit status is still good," Quinn said.
"Not getting any suit data," Santana said. "The suit techs are freaking. Only that comm channel is punching through and it is just dribbling the data. Your suit telemetry signal isn’t strong enough."
"Can’t help you there, San," Quinn said. "Didn’t design the suit, I’m just wearing it. They can fix that when I get back. It is supposed to be experimental."
"Argue later," Brittany said. "What did you find?"
"It’s a large metal oval," Quinn said. "Sort of looks like that one near that underground base you found. How do I open it? Does my suit have the right tech?"
"Use code Aleph - Finn - Moloch, authorization Clan Council override. That’ll give you access to the suit lock picks," Brittany said.
"Can anyone access those?" Santana asked. "The suit lock picks."
"Just Shadow suits on ops," Brittany said. "And a couple others."
"So I can’t?" Rachel asked.
"Do you need to get into places you normally can’t?" Brittany asked.
"Umm… no…" Rachel said.
"That would be a no, Shorty," Santana said. "Q-ball’s suit has a special test pilot mode for this test. It can do some things most suits can’t."
"And isn’t ready, remotely, for real ops," Quinn said. "All that extra tech like the special telemetry that isn’t working requires too much power. It’s going to need a full recharge tomorrow before I can wear it again."
"What’s behind the door?" Brittany said, interrupting them. "Do we need to send a team to meet you? I’ve got one team at the base. The other is in transit with that Pod."
"Just a minute," Quinn said. She triggered the suit lock picks, pressing gloves against the oval again. It shuddered for several seconds before it started to slide to her left. "It’s dark." She aimed her suit lights into the dark.
"Do you need a flashlight?" Rachel asked.
"She’s wearing a hard suit," Santana said. "She doesn’t need a flashlight. She’s got sensors and shit."
"Oh, right," Rachel said.
"It’s a tunnel," Quinn said. "Walls are smooth. Sensors say ceramic of some sort. Are you getting it?"
"Still only getting voice," Brittany said. "Even compressed down as far as possible there isn’t room for video on that channel."
"Understood. I’m going in a few meters. Let’s see how far you can 'hear' me," Quinn said. Putting words to action, she carefully entered, wary of triggering any traps. "Can you still hear me?" she asked.
"On max gain," Brittany said, her voice very faint. "You’re barely understandable."
"Got it. Compressing the signal more," Quinn said, adjusting her comm channel. A regular suit didn’t have the ability to change comm settings to that degree but her test suit seemed to be full of interesting features. "How’s that?"
"Better," Brittany said. "I suspect the tunnel material is affecting the signal. If you go much further we’ll lose you completely."
"Understood," Quinn said. "So, save the exploration for later?"
"Just wait until I can get a team down to you," Brittany said. "It’s not going anywhere. Looking at historical data on Mars, that spot has looked like that for as long as we’ve had detailed images."
"Okay," Quinn said. "Closing it up." She stepped back out of the tunnel and triggered the door. "How long until they get here?" she asked, looking across the crater. "And how are they going to find me?"
"You’ve got enough signal for them to find you," Brittany said. "But tag the door just in case."
"Done," Quinn said, placing a tag on both the metal oval and the surrounding rock just in case. "Think I’ll go explore. Maybe there’s something else here. We could cover it and add some air and have a nice place."
"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves," Santana said. "We still have Brit’s underground base to set up and your training base. Who would use this new base you are proposing?"
"It was just a thought," Quinn said. "We aren’t exactly outgrowing what space we have. At max population density, how many of us will there be?"
"Not counting the diaspora? A quarter million," Rachel said. "There really aren’t that many of us. Half a million if we add the Lost."
"Small but powerful," Santana said. "We aren’t supposed to be large or need to be. How big is the largest clan?"
"The Ghost Clan had two million active members at the last Clan census," Brittany said. "We’ve never been very large, which is probably why we ended up out here."
"But large enough to stop the Bugs, right?" Rachel asked.
"Our tech allows us to punch way above our weight class," Brittany said. “Some of the other Clans don’t have tech like ours and had to grow to survive."
"Two hundred and fifty thousand is still a lot of people," Quinn said. "Enough for a small city."
"I’m sending Pip and Squeak," Santana said. "They should have been on this little trip with you anyway. They should reach you before the others."
"I don’t need bodyguards," Quinn said, repeating a familiar complaint. "And we didn’t have any spare suits for them that could keep up with this one."
"Well, obviously you need to be watched," Santana said. "There’d be a riot if you got hurt. And you aren’t moving now. I think your adventure is over for now. You can test that suit some other time."
"I’m doing fine," Quinn said, jumping down from the tunnel entrance. "This just looks like a huge bomb crater, not from some asteroid. I wonder what happened."
"There are heavy elements scattered across the whole crater," Brittany said. "We’ll have to get some heavy scanners in to look at it. Some of those elements aren’t native to Mars."
"So, another alien facility? Or the remains of one?" Quinn asked, headed towards the center of the crater. "Still feels like someone or something is watching me."
"Can’t say," Brittany said. "That’s going to have to wait until my team gets there. It’s possible it’s some kind of automatic watcher. Something must control that camouflage field."
"Just a bunch of rocks," Quinn said. "If there’s something here it’s hidden under more rocks."
"Pip and Squeak should be with you shortly," Santana said. "They were already headed towards you when this happens. Apparently they agree that you need a babysitter."
"I might have suggested they join her," Rachel said.
"You don’t have the authority," Quinn said. She wasn’t going to yell, but she was tempted. Sometimes Rachel didn’t understand chain of command in her command. And sometimes it seemed like she just ignored it, taking advantage of her position on the Clan Council.
"I didn’t order them to do anything, Quinn," Rachel said. "I didn’t have to."
"See what you have to look forward to?" Santana said, laughing. "Someone who takes care of you even when you don’t want it."
"Of course," Rachel said. "Someone has to keep an eye on her."
"Brittany?" Quinn said, hoping for backup.
"Don’t look at me," Brittany said. "I have enough trouble keeping San out of trouble. Rachel’s your problem."
"Hey!" Santana said. "I’m not trouble!"
"Keep telling yourself that," Quinn said, with a loud snort as she landed in the middle of the crater. "Not very impressive. Pluto’s more exciting."
"You can freeze your ass off on Pluto," Santana said. "It’s not a garden spot."
"There’s just enough weather on Mars to have erosion and variety," Brittany reminded her. "That’s why you wanted to have a training base set up there."
"It really looks like a bomb crater," Quinn said. "A big one."
"The aliens probably blew themselves up," Santana said. "Not going to find anything there."
"Hey Boss, nice picnic spot you picked out," Pip said, landing in the crater next to her. Squeak landed a few seconds later.
"I do what I can," Quinn said. "You were getting bored."
"We’re never bored," said Squeak. "Hanging out with you is more exciting than refereeing a tech robot fight."
"Watching grass grow is more exciting than a tech robot fight," Santana said. "Ladies, don’t let your boss out of your sight."
"Yes, Lady Air, Ma’am," Pip said. "We’ll stick like glue."
"Like glue," Squeak echoed. "What’s the plan?"
"Lady Shadow’s team should be here in a few minutes and then we’re going exploring," Quinn said. "Found a tunnel." She waved back in the direction of the tunnel.
"Exploring exploring? Or Bug hunting?" Pip asked.
"No Bugs," Quinn said. "But my suit doesn’t have any close range weapons so we aren’t going to barge in and attract attention."
"Plenty of weapons to go around," Squeak said. She handed a suit blaster to Quinn. "Here you go Boss."
"Thanks," Quinn said, locking it to her suit.
"That suit hasn’t been certified for weapons tests," Santana said. "If you break it, you can explain to the techs what you were doing."
"Lady Air, we got the blaster from one of your techs," Pip said. "It’s coded just for that suit."
"You’re the best, ladies," Quinn said happily.
"We ain’t ladies, Boss!" Squeak protested. "We’re Serpent Clan Troopers. The toughest suits in the Galaxy. Right Pip?"
"Exactly, Squeak," Pip said. "Tough Suits! None are better!"
"I think they’ve lost it," Santana said to the others over the Council comm. "Who’re her backup body guards?"
"They’re troopers," Brittany said. "They’ve earned their attitude."
"And they’re going to need it," Quinn said quietly. "The Bugs aren’t pacifists."
"So what else did you find, Boss?" Pip said.
"Nothing so far," Quinn said. "We’ll have to wait for a full heavy scan team." A proximity sensor in her suit pinged. "Looks like they’re here." Turning, she headed back towards the tunnel, her entourage keeping pace.
"Boss, that’s an awesome looking suit," Pip said. "Moves so smooth. When do we all get them?"
"Hopefully before the Bugs get here," Quinn said. "But right now it’s too experimental. The power signature needs some work. And the weapons load is a bit off."
"Still a sweet looking suit," Pip said. "The chicks dig test pilots, I hear."
"I wouldn’t know," Quinn said, ignoring comments from Santana in the background on the other channel.
Quinn watched the Fleet engineers building a platform around the tunnel entrance to give them more room to maneuver. Another team, a Fleet Heavy scanner team, had taken up position in the center of the crater. Gold Team had also arrived fully outfitted for close quarter operations.
A comm relay had been set up at the edge of the crater to take care of the comm problems. The crater had quickly become a bustling hive of activity.
"So, a lot of bored people today?" Quinn asked.
"What gave you that idea?" Brittany said.
"It’s like a circus out here," Quinn said. "I’ve got one of your Shadow teams, several Fleet Engineer teams, and one of my teams. All for a little cave exploring."
"Think of it as a training exercise," Brittany said. "Your chance to direct a combined Clan team."
"I do that all of the time," Quinn said. "When was the last time we had a major operation that I didn’t get Fleet and Shadow support?"
"There was that time when you snuck into Moscow with your team and rescued that Ambassador’s wife from those mobsters," Brittany said.
"How’d you hear about that one?" Quinn asked, surprised. She’d thought that little misadventure hadn’t been noticed.
"One of my monitor AIs noticed some unusual traffic, and copied your suit logs before you erased them," Brittany said.
"Sorry?" Quinn said. "That was totally unplanned. The Queen asked my Grandmother for help and I couldn’t really say no."
"So, the Queen now knows you’re from Ohio?" Brittany said.
"Maybe?" Quinn said. "She knows how to contact me in an emergency."
"Well, if she does know there haven’t been any leaks," Brittany said. "She’s got mad intel skills. And some good people working for her that would surprise you."
"So, some of the big intel groups know who we are?" Quinn guessed.
"From almost the beginning," Brittany said. "I’ve got an agreement with them. They don’t spill our secrets and I don’t spill theirs. And my tech is much better so they can’t cheat."
"How much do we charge them?" Quinn asked.
"Charge them?" Brittany said innocently.
"For the intel?"
"Going rates," Brittany said, "but mostly trading in favors. And we don’t play politics with intel."
"So we’re basically neutral?" Quinn said.
"As much as we can be," Brittany said. "They know who we are and that we’re law enforcement with some extra zip. We aren’t going to get involved in their petty wars and squabbles."
"Do any of them know about our long term plans. About the Bugs?" Quinn said.
"Not yet, though they are suspicious. Too many things we are doing don’t make sense if we’re just building a base for a sector wide police force. If we were just space cops we wouldn’t buy NASA or share some of our tech. And we probably wouldn’t have grabbed Yucatan. We could have built our base anywhere. Like Mars."
"Huh," Quinn said. "So one of them told you about Russia."
"Yes," Brittany said. "You can’t hide anything from me. The Shadow always knows."
"As long as you don’t tell Rachel," Quinn said. "She doesn’t need to know about these kinds of side projects."
"I won’t lie to her," Brittany said. "And some day she’ll find out. She’ll get all of our records eventually."
"I know," Quinn said. "But by then it won’t matter."
"No worries," Brittany said.
"What do you think this is?" Quinn asked her.
"I think Santana has it right," Brittany said. "Somebody blew themselves up, or someone else did it for them. The tunnel probably goes to the control room for the camouflage and nothing else. It’s possible there’s some kind of security system still running but it seems to be ignoring us right now."
"Mostly passive," Brittany said. "There was some low energy comm traffic in the area that seemed to follow you."
"And you didn’t say anything?" Quinn said.
"Hard to track them down if we scare them away," Brittany said.
"Ready?" Quinn signaled over the command comm, to her team and the Shadows. Everyone else had pulled back to the center of the crater, with reinforcements guarding the non-combatants. Green status lights flickered in her display as they all signaled ready.
Quinn stepped up to the metal door and signaled it to unlock. Even in the low atmospheric conditions of Mars, it slid open, eerily silent. Tossing a probe beacon down the tunnel, Quinn and her team quickly followed it, the Shadow team bringing up the rear.
There were no explosions, no gun fire, nothing. A large empty tunnel stretching out into the crater wall for an unknown distance. They cautiously walked in standard patrol fashion down the tunnel. With no reaction.
"Anything?" Quinn asked.
"It’s dead, Lady Hands," Jocelyn, the lead Shadow said. "Nothing on any of the comm bands or frequencies we can monitor. And the tunnel material absorbs any other kinds of energy. Not even a vibration."
"Mapping?" Quinn asked.
"The probe just says it’s a ten klick tunnel with an opening at the end. It’s not sensing any doors or other openings."
"Looks like we have a long walk ahead of us," Quinn said. "How are our comms doing?"
"Loud and clear," Brittany said. "Much better than last time. Definitely the camouflage shield that was affecting comms."
"Let’s go see what’s at the end of this," Quinn said, leading her team deeper into the tunnel, lit only by the infrared combat lights on their hard suits.
"Still nothing?" Quinn asked Jocelyn after they’d slipped a klick down the tunnel.
"Still dead," she said. "If there’s anything here we’ll need a heavy scanner team to find it."
"The heavy scanner team scanning the crater can scan the tunnel once you clear it," Brittany said.
As they passed the probe, Pip picked it up and tossed it further down the tunnel. "Did it go into the opening at the end?"
"No," Jocelyn said. "It bounced off of something in front of it."
"You need to practice your throw," Squeak told Pip.
"Looks like a corner," Pin, Gold Team XO said. "Someone want to scan that before we stick our heads around the corner and get them blown off?"
"You have such a way with words, Pin," Quinn said. "Joyce, check that out."
"Yes, Ma’am," Jocelyn said. Reaching into a pocket she pulled out a smaller probe and tossed it towards the corner, where it floated for several long seconds before moving out of site around the tunnel.
"Anything?" Quinn asked.
"Just more tunnel, Lady Hands," Jocelyn said. "It curves to the right, back towards the crater."
As soon as she finished, the was a large vibration and bright flash of light. Both teams pulled back from the corner.
"Lost contact," Jocelyn said. "Something triggered the self destruct."
"Any readings?" Pin asked.
"A brief blip when it blew, on a low frequency," Jocelyn said. "No detected direction."
"How many more of those do you have?" Quinn asked.
"Standard load, three each," Jocelyn said.
"Let’s try three this time," Quinn said. "One high and one low. And one here with us looking down the tunnel."
"Yes, ma’am," Jocelyn said. Her team pulled out several more from their pockets. The three were released into the tunnel. One stopped, hovering with a view down both legs of the tunnel.
There was a double flash this time, as the two probes sent down the tunnel exploded at the same time.
"Did you catch that?" Quinn said impatiently. "Was there anything from the third?"
"There’s a shield of some sort in the tunnel," Jocelyn said. "They ran into it and it fried them."
"So passive protection," Quinn said.
"Yes, ma’am," Jocelyn said. "Not a weapon or not intended as one."
"What setting for our suit scanners so we don’t run into it?"
"Tiger tech shield setting," Jocelyn said, after a minute. "That’ll show it."
"It’s Tiger tech?" Quinn said, surprised.
"No, ma’am," Jocelyn said. "But the Tiger tech scan setting will reconfigure your scanners to see it."
"Okay," Quinn said. "Britt?"
"She’s right," Brittany said. "It’s running at a low frequency like some really old Tiger tech they haven’t used in thousands of years. But the shield signature isn’t Clan. Any Clan. Ours or Tiger."
"Got it," Quinn said. "So, set your suit scanners to include setting Tiger-Alpha-Zed."
"Yes boss," Pip said, echoed by the others. "That’s the one that gives everything a faint green tinge."
"Could be worse," Squeak muttered. "There’s that one scan setting that gives everything a purple tinge, and you have to replace the scanner module to fix it."
"Ladies," Quinn said. "Save it for later."
"Yes, Boss," Pip said.
"Not seeing it," Quinn said, stepping around her bodyguards into the side tunnel. "Will it activate before we run into it? Or when we’re in the middle of it? Jocelyn?"
"It looks like the shield came on as the probes passed through it."
"So, being able to see it won’t do much good," Pin said, following her. "Who wants to get fried so we can turn it off?"
"We know approximately where it is," Quinn said, pointing at the charred probes several hundred meters away. "Just be careful."
"Janey, this one’s yours," Pin said.
"Gee, thanks XO," Janey said sarcastically. "I expect an awesome Journey party when you bury me."
"Only the best," Pin said. "Now go!"
Chapter 3: Lost in Spaces
Lost things. Some found. Some not.
Disclaimer Update: See end of chapter for additional disclaimer info.
Chapter Word Count: 5,247
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"It’s just a little singed," Pip said, poking Janey’s hard suit, as they waited for Jocelyn to open the large metal door on the other side of the protective shield. The rest of Gold Team waited in standard entry formation.
"That’s not a little singe," Janey said, trying to rub off the black mark down the front of her suit. "The Chief is gonna kill me, after she makes me clean all of the other suits after this op."
"I’ll vouch for you," Pip said. "You should get a medal."
"You cut it awfully close," Squeak cut in.
Any reply by Janey was stopped by the large door slowly sliding into the wall, with a large rumble that shook the floor.
"Go... go..." Pin said, as Quinn dove into the opening before it was fully open. When the others joined her, she was standing in the center of a large room. Along the walls were a number of viewing panels, displaying random scenes from the crater and surrounding area.
"Some kind of viewing room," Quinn said, before her eye caught something.
On the far side was a recessed alcove containing a large crystal ring.
"Well, that’s surprising," Quinn said. "Didn’t think we would run into one of those."
"That looks like one of the Rings that Lady Andrea discovered," Jocelyn said. "I wonder where it goes."
"It might not go anywhere," Quinn said. "So let’s not be in any hurry to try it out. Or it could go to the one out in the asteroid belt."
"That gives us a general age," Brittany said, in her ear. "All of the other rings are several hundred thousand years old, at least."
"What do you want us to do with it?" Quinn asked. "No one’s been here for a long, long time, based on the layer of dust."
"Not air tight," Pin said. "Might need to fix that."
"Is there anything else there?" Brittany said. "Or do you still need that heavy scanner team?"
"Definitely need them," Quinn said. "It’s the same material as everywhere else. Even the enhanced scanner on my test suit can’t penetrate the walls. If there are any secret doors or hidden passages we aren’t going to find them."
"I’ll get a full team down there," Brittany said. "The rest of Black Team should be there soon. Did you want to wait for them?"
"How long? This suit is running low on juice," Quinn said. "I’ve got maybe another hour before I turn into a pumpkin."
"There’s a shuttle up top with a suit tech and hookups just for you," Brittany said. "No pumpkin needed."
"Thanks, Brit, you’re awesome," Quinn said.
"And don’t you forget it," she said.
"Ladies, I’ve got to head out," Quinn said to her team. "This suit wasn’t meant for long ops. Pin, you’re in charge until the rest of Shadow Black team arrives. There should also be a Fleet Heavy Scanner team on the way. If they don’t have security with them, cover them until it arrives."
"Got it Boss," Pin said. "Anything else?"
"A quick review of this op tomorrow," Quinn said. "Janey shouldn’t have taken a hit from that shield. Take it apart and find out what went wrong."
"Yes, Boss," Pin said, before turning to the others and issuing orders.
Quinn headed for the tunnel, after one last look at the Ring. She’d yet to go through one and was admittedly curious, but there were other priorities. But having one on Mars could be useful.
"Hey Boss," Pip said. "Don’t forget you have dinner with Lady Memory tonight."
"Shouldn’t you two be back with the rest of Gold Team?" Quinn asked. "And when did you become my social secretary."
"Wherever you go, we go," Squeak said. "Orders from the top."
"You work for me," Quinn said. "I don’t need the company."
"Not when we’re on guard rotation," Pip said. "Only the combined Council can override that."
"You’re not going to win, Quinn," Brittany said.
"I’m a trooper," Quinn said, grumbling, as she reached the outer entrance. "It’s foolish to assign me bodyguards. They’ve got better things to do."
"You’re a member of the Council," Brittany said. "You’re entitled to protection."
"I’m my own protection," Quinn said.
"Call them your Handmaidens then," Brittany said, "if bodyguard doesn’t work for you. They aren’t going away."
"The Hand’s Handmaidens," Pip said. "I like that!"
"Wouldn’t you rather be leading your own teams?" Quinn asked them.
"Some day," Pip said. "But right now following you around is exciting."
"And gets us chicks," Squeak said. "They can’t get you so we get them."
"But you didn’t hear that," Pip said. "She didn’t say anything like that."
"I don’t want to know," Quinn said, grimacing. Handmaidens didn’t sound much better, she thought. It was still a babysitting job.
"Looks like they still haven’t turned off that camouflage shield," Pip said.
"There’s probably a control center near the Ring," Quinn said. "They’ll find it. Have you qualified in the new hard suits yet?"
"The ones Lady Andrea and the Potters wore for Lady M’s rescue?" Squeak asked. "We’ve had the pod time to familiarize ourselves with them and the nanite treatments but our suits aren’t ready yet. Maybe this week."
"If you’re going to follow me around, you’ll need them. They’re the only suits that can keep up with this one. We have a couple more weeks of testing in this model."
"Okay, Boss," Squeak said. "The shuttles are over there," she added, waving towards a section of crater wall. "Looks like there’s an elevator now."
"We’ll just wait out here," Pip said, once they reached the shuttle. "Let us know when you’re ready to head back to base."
"Okay..." Quinn said, wondering what they were up to. Pressing the hatch control, she slipped into the shuttle, the hatch closing behind her. It was occupied by one more person than she expected.
Quinn popped her suit helmet, exposing her face to real air for the first time in eighteen hours. She ran her hands through her short hair, trying to fluff it up after so long in the suit.
"What brings you here, Rache?"
"Hello Quinn," Rachel said. "I thought I’d come get you in person, it was taking too long for you to get back."
"Sorry, a few unexpected side trips today," Quinn said. "And the suit needs a recharge."
"Francis can take care of it," Rachel said. "Apparently I’m not allowed to touch the tech."
Quinn raised an eyebrow at the tech, who shrugged.
"Chief’s orders," Francis said. "She didn’t explain."
"I might have broken something the last time I wore one," Rachel said, blushing. "Something went wonky."
"What’s going on Brit?" Quinn said, over the command comm.
"Ah..." Brittany said.
"You won’t like it," Brittany said, warning her.
"Go ahead," Quinn said, frowning.
"Suit tech goes wonky around the Memory,” Brittany said. "The techs haven’t figured out why but it means she can’t wear one until they find out why and can fix it, and touching one, especially an experimental one like yours? They don’t know what will happen."
"Okay..." Quinn said, staring at Rachel. "They’ll figure it out."
"If you could sit here, Lady Hands?" Francis told her, pointing at a seat. "We need to hook you up to power."
Nodding, Quinn gingerly perched on the cabin seat. Hard suits weren't that heavy but they did wreak havoc on ordinary furniture. Most chairs just weren’t designed to support the weight of a hard suit wearing Clanswoman.
"How long?" Quinn asked.
"An hour," Francis said.
"Do we need to stay here or can we take the shuttle back to base?" Quinn asked.
"Your suit can charge while the shuttle is airborne," Frankie said. She started plugging Quinn’s suit into a row of equipment.
"Good," Quinn said, after signaling to Pip and Squeak that the shuttle was leaving. "Let’s get this thing moving."
"So, we now have a local Ring that we can use?" Rachel asked.
"Well, we have a Ring that isn’t in the middle of an asteroid field," Quinn said. "We don’t know if it’ll work or where it goes. It’ll take some research."
"Andy and her crew figured out how to use them," Rachel said.
"They were in a hurry," Quinn reminded her. "They were stuck parsecs from home and had no other choice."
"I’d like to go on a trip like that," Rachel said. "It sounded like fun."
"After we defeat the Bugs, you and I can go on a long road trip," Quinn said.
"Where?" Rachel asked excitedly.
"Wherever you want," Quinn said. "But not today."
"Can we take the Ring?" Rachel said.
"I’ll have to check with the experts," Quinn said. "I haven’t had time to look into how they work."
The sound of of the shuttle docking cut her off.
"Another twenty," Francis said. "I’ve already warned the pilot."
"Captive audience?" Santana said, entering the shuttle. "Don’t see the Might Q tied up like that so often."
"Santana," Quinn said. "Has your scanning team found anything else in that crater?"
"Nada," Santana said. "But deep scanning takes time. They might find nothing. But that Ring is cool. Now we just need to find one on Terra."
"Might be too expensive to use it to commute," Quinn said. "It must take lot of power to run."
Santana shook her head. "Not as much as you’d think. The techs think it has to do with the crystal. It doesn’t require as much power as the Rings in that other universe."
"What about all of those crystal storage devices Andy brought back?" Rachel asked. "Do we know what’s in them yet?"
"That’s a question for Brit," Santana said. She plopped down into an empty seat, making herself comfortable. "I don’t think her wiz kid have quite figured it out."
"When are we having the inquest?" Rachel said.
"Inquest for?" Santana asked.
"For the Clan member they brought back, the one with the Goa'uld problem," Rachel said.
"Can’t answer that," Santana said.
"Can’t or won’t?" Rachel asked.
"Can’t," Santana said. "Someone needs to put it on the agenda for our next meeting."
"Oh," Rachel said, frowning.
"Boss, what are we doing on Pluto?" Pip asked, imagining the cold creeping through her hard suit as they stood on the frozen plain.
"You wanted to be bodyguards," Quinn said. "I’m testing the new hard suit in extreme conditions."
"Are we going to be fighting in a blizzard?" Squeak asked. "I can make snowballs."
"Not if we can help it," Quinn said. "The Bugs aren’t too fond of the cold."
"So, Venus next?" Pip said.
"Right. You missed that," Quinn said. "That was three weeks ago. Learned a few things."
"Not to go to Venus?" Squeak said.
"It’s not my favorite vacation spot," Quinn said. "It was worse than the sandstorm on Mars. Our hard suits are tough but they aren’t ready for an extended campaign on Venus or Mercury. If the Bugs make it to those planets or any like them in other systems, Fleet is going to have to take care of them."
"So not even scouting?"
"The Shadows are testing hard suits for those environments that can handle their ops needs," Quinn said.
"Why not our hard suits?" Pip asked. "These fancy new ones?"
"Different operating parameters," Quinn said. "You’ll have to talk with the Fleet suit architects if you want to know details."
"What’s left to test, Boss?" Pip asked.
"We aren’t testing nuclear blast survival," Quinn said. "Simulations say we’ll be okay but Fleet wouldn’t sign off on the test."
"The Memory said no, didn’t she," Squeak said, giggling.
"Possibly," Quinn said. "Looks like our ride is here." She took off across the ice towards the waiting shuttle. Pip and Squeak kept pace beside her.
"A little early," Quinn said, as they settled into their racks.
"Might need your expertise," Santana said, over the comm. "We have a situation."
"Do I have time to change suits?" Quinn said. "This one isn’t suitable for regular ops."
"Plenty of time," Santana said. "Fleet is in-system waiting for us. We can get you out of that tin can and into your regular one once we get there."
"So, what’s going on?" Quinn asked. "Do you need me or a whole team?"
"The three of you should do it," Santana said. "We need a bit of mobile firepower. We’ve also got a Shadow assigned to the op."
"Details?" Quinn asked. "And where’s Brit?"
"She’s out on an op," Santana said. "Radio silence for the next month."
"Crap," Quinn said. "So just junior Shadows for intel support?"
"She can’t be everywhere," Santana said. "Fleet intel is just as good."
"Just as good as a Junior Shadow," Quinn said. "Brittany’s the best at what she does."
"There’s a large gap between good enough and not here," Santana said. "The Shadows are well trained."
"Details?" Quinn repeated.
"It’s another retrieval," Santana said. She paused to land the shuttle in Fleet’s landing bay. They settled to the deck without a sound or vibration. "Or maybe a diplomatic mission?"
"Who are we rescuing and what’s the priority?" Quinn asked.
"Priority? I want you all back alive and in one piece. Rescuing? Not sure yet. Seems to be an on-going extra-dimensional incursion."
"Another one?" Pip said. "We just got back from stopping those Nega-verse bozos from dragging us into their feud with that Moon Princess."
"She was cute," Squeak said.
"She has a destiny," Pip said, "and it doesn’t include someone from a different dimension."
"This solar system seems to be full of portals to other places," Santana said. "I can see why the Confederation wanted us here. Someone needs to keep an eye on all of these accidental crossovers."
"It does seem as if it’s unusually unstable," Quinn said.
"And not getting stabler any time soon according to Brit," Santana said.
"Didn’t Brittany say she had a way of closing them all down?" Quinn asked.
"Only if we can find them," Santana said. "Her techs are still trying to find a way to detect them all."
"So, what is it this time?" Quinn asked.
"Robots from the fifth dimension!" Squeak said. "Or maybe Buckaroo Banzai himself?"
"Nothing from a movie," Santana said. "A town seems to be missing."
"A whole town?" Quinn said.
"Apparently," Santana said. "There’s a forest where it used to be. And space has gotten extremely unstable."
"Anything special about the town?" Quinn asked. "Or just random?"
"No idea," Santana said. "But the US President has asked us to investigate."
"What else?" Quinn asked.
"His daughter might have been visiting a friend there at the time."
"Might have?" Pip said. "He isn’t sure?"
"Thy have a contentious relationship," Santana said. "Her car was found nearby."
"Okay, so that’s the rescue part. What’s the diplomacy part?" Quinn asked.
"It’s in the Salomon islands."
"Didn’t there used to be a launch facility out there?" Quinn said.
"Japanese," Santana said. "They lost their funding when we bought NASA."
"They were part of NASA?"
"No," Santana said. "But they had a quick launch capability their Japanese sponsors didn’t think they needed once they saw what we could do."
"What’s the catch?"
"There isn’t one, that I know of," Santana said. "They might not be happy to see us."
"So, stealth op? Why not some Shadows? They specialize in this kind of thing." Quinn said.
"The President doesn’t want anyone to know his daughter was there. And there were several Kaiju reported in the area."
"Kaiju?" Quinn asked.
"Monsters. Like Godzilla!" Pip said excitedly.
"Godzilla is a movie monster," Quinn said.
"Might be another portal letting them in," Santana said.
"I’m starting to hate portals," Quinn said. "There are way too many in this system. Do we know if the Bugs know about this? It might make us a bigger target than we thought."
"Artie? Did the Confederation know about the portals?" Santana said.
"There is no mention in Confederation records of the kinds of portals you are encountering," Artie said. "And no intelligence available about Bug knowledge about the portals."
"We need to get them under control before the Bugs get here," Quinn said.
"Not disagreeing," Santana said. "Britt’s spy kids are working on it, as I said."
"I’ll take your word on it," Quinn said. "So, what’s the plan for this Solomon Island thing?"
"You drop in and poke around?" Santana said. "I’d start with the launch center. We have almost no intel about the area, just what shows up on long range scanners. So we can get you a map of before and after and that’s about it."
"So, they just picked up their whole village and moved it somewhere else? And no one noticed?" Santana said, listening to Quinn talk with the Village Chief. "How did they manage that?"
"Their gods helped them?" Quinn said. "I have no idea what he means. But it isn’t a mystery anymore."
"What about the President’s daughter? Where’d she go?" Santana asked.
"She’s friends with the former astronauts," Quinn said. "They were having a sleep-over."
"A sleep-over? Is that what they’re calling it now?" Santana said, laughing.
"The astronauts are three tiny Japanese women," Quinn said. "Pip and Squeak want to bring them home with us."
"They would," Santana said. "Do we want them?"
"They do have experience with space flight but they aren’t big brains like the NASA scientists," Quinn said. "They were picked because of their size and the rockets used. Not sure what we’d do with them, unless we can find them a job at NASA."
"Riding rockets into space," Santana said. "They must have guts."
"Very much," Quinn said. "Two of them are actually related, stepsisters, and their father is the village head."
"See if he’ll let them go with you," Santana said. "We’ll get a shuttle down to you that can take regular passengers. And we’ll take the President’s daughter home."
"Okay," Quinn said. There was a long pause. "He said sure."
"Really?" Santana said in surprise.
"They’re adults, he said," Quinn said. "At least I think that’s what he said."
"The shuttle should be there soon," Santana said. "Get them packed up and ready to go."
"Where are you taking them?" Quinn asked.
"The President’s daughter goes home. They get to visit NASA until Britt gets back and decides if we can use them for something. They aren’t likely to have any Clan DNA."
"Not unless some Mayan princess made it to Japan," Quinn said.
"Well, we’ve run into a few in other places. I wouldn’t be surprised."
"Hey San, did you miss me?" Brittany said, sliding into Santana’s lap.
"Is that even a question?" Santana asked.
"Just asking," Brittany said.
"So, two weeks with a bunch of hot Amazons," Santana said. "How’d that go?"
"They bought it," Brittany said. "We’ve got a treaty for an outpost on their world."
"What’d it cost us?" Santana said.
"Training. We help them increase their tech level so they can make their own hard suits," Brittany said.
"I thought they didn’t have Clan DNA?"
"They don’t but they do have some interesting genetics," Brittany said. "We can show them how to get the same effects as we do."
"No problem with arming a potential trouble-spot?"
"We proved we were worthy of their culture," Brittany said. "And then there’s the whole woman warrior thing they have going on."
"I’m surprised you didn’t have to bring in Quinn for the negotiations. She’s the ultimate warrior babe, even if she doesn’t think so."
"What did you do?"
"I promised them a visit from her and her 'handmaidens' when we start building the base."
"Ha! That’ll go over well," Santana said. "We almost lost Andy to them. They aren’t going to want to let her go once they see her in action."
"We’ll just send Rachel with her," Brittany said. "They won’t break up a bonded pair. It’s against their laws."
"Rachel and Quinn aren’t bonded," Santana said.
"They will be, or else," Brittany said grimly.
"This I’ve got to see," Santana said. "When do you plan on telling them?"
"I won’t have to tell them anything," Brittany said, smirking. "It’ll happen."
"Are we taking bets on this?" Santana asked.
"What do you want to bet?" Brittany said, frowning. Slipping back off of Santana’s lap, she paced back and forth across Santana’s office.
"No buildings or real estate," Santana said. "That’s too easy. And no chocolates or treats like that."
"Hmm... I’ll have to think of something," Brittany said. "But the bet is on."
The ship rocked as asteroids bounced off of its shields. They’d come into the system at an oblique angle, bouncing through the orbits of several planets before finding themselves in a vast field of rocks and ice. Too many in their path at once to just be knocked away.
Time seemed to move at a slower rate as they traveled towards the second planet from the system’s star. Santana could see rocks whizzing by in the front screens.
"Santana, watch where you’re going," Rachel said, almost shouting.
"I am," she shouted. "Just a bit crowded out here. Stay in your seat."
"I’m not going anywhere," Rachel said, gripping her seat rightly. "How long before we get there?" "Another twenty minutes, if we don’t run into something," Santana said.
"I thought you said this was safe?" "It’s space travel in a small metal craft," Santana said. "It’s as safe as you can get while traveling through space."
"Well, be careful? Some of us aren’t space jockeys."
"Some of us are buckled into our seats," Santana said.
"Why are we feeling this?" Rachel said. "It’s like being on a rollercoaster."
"We went through a gravity wave," Santana said. "It knocked out the inertia controls .They’ll be back online in a minute."
"When are they expecting us?" Rachel said.
"The base opening ceremony is tomorrow," Santana said. "We have a meeting with the team tonight."
"Good," Rachel said.
"You’re ready for tomorrow?" Santana said. "You can handle not being with your favorite Amazon warrior?"
"My favorite Amazon?" Rachel said, puzzled.
"Q-ball?" Santana said.
"Oh," Rachel said. "She doesn’t think of herself as an Amazon."
"Well, they were impressed with her," Santana said. "Especially the way she defeated their champion. Fast but not so fast she embarrassed them."
"Is there a recording of it?" Rachel said. "I’d like a copy."
"I might be able to find one," Santana said. "I have connections."
"So Brittany was there?" Rachel said.
"Of course," Santana said. "And this was done in their traditional combat armor."
"What do you mean what?" Santana said.
"What does their traditional arms look like?" Rachel said. "You sound like it was something unusual, like nude wrestling."
"Well, there was no wrestling," Santana said, laughing. "You should have seen Q’s face. Spears and swords in the nude."
"You watched Quinn fighting in the nude?" Rachel asked.
"Why not?" Santana said. "You would too."
There was a screeching tearing sound and the shuttle shook for a moment. And then shook some more.
"Hang on," Santana said.
"What’s wrong," Rachel said.
"Looks like there’s something wrong with the shuttle," Santana said.
"Really?" Rachel said sarcastically, as the lights dimmed.
"Please stay in your seat," Santana said. "Looks like we’re going to have to go into stasis."
"For how long," Rachel said.
"No idea," Santana said. "But we’re probably going to miss tomorrow’s ceremony, unless they find us quickly."
"I’ve never done this," Rachel said.
"Sure you have," Santana said. "When we were kidnapped, they threw us into stasis. It won’t hurt a bit."
"You better be right," Rachel said.
"Just be glad I’m running the show. In five," Santana said.
"I’m not ready," Rachel said.
"Santana, can you tell Quinn something for me?"
"4... you can tell her yourself..."
"But what if I die?" Rachel said.
"3... you aren’t going to die. The Clan has been using stasis fields for emergencies for forever.
"Tell Quinn I love her," Rachel said.
"2... you can tell her," Santana said.
"What do mean, their shuttle disappeared on the way to the ceremony?" Quinn said, staring at Brittany from the door to the small hut. "Where are they?"
"Something happened," Brittany said. "We’ve tracked them and they disappeared after reaching the system from Santana’s cruiser. But then the ion trail just goes away. No wreckage. Nothing."
"Why were they taking a shuttle? There’s a Ring on the planet," Quinn said.
"Santana has a crew mapping that system and the one next to it," Brittany said. "It’s just barely inside of our mandate."
"Aren’t most of the Ring inside our mandate?" Quinn asked, pacing back and forth in front of her.
"It’s possibly a coincidence," Brittany said, "but yes. One of them is in old Ghost Clan territory. An unoccupied planet but still in their territory."
"So, if their shuttle had blown up there’d be evidence?" Quinn said.
"Yes. Some trace. Something left behind. There would have at least been a stasis pod."
"Are they still searching?" Quinn asked.
"Of course," Brittany said. "If they are anywhere in this system, Santana’s Search and Rescue teams will find them."
"And what are we doing until then?" Quinn asked.
"Waiting," Brittany said. "My primary search team is also looking. But they haven’t found anything yet."
"Portal?" Quinn asked. "We’ve seen enough of them."
"Haven’t found one yet," Brittany said. "And no signs they were kidnapped." "So, mystery?"
"We’ll find them," Brittany said. "We know they’re out there."
"Ugh! My aching head," Santana said, sitting up with a groan. She looked around. The emergency lights were on but it was otherwise dark. She triggered her emergency channel. "Brit? Are you there?" but there was no answer. And no answer on any other channel.
"Santana? My head hurts," Rachel said, moaning.
"Don’t move," Santana said. Getting up, she looked around for Rachel. In the dim light she could see her slumped against a bulkhead. "I told you to stay buckled in," she said.
"I am," Rachel said, her voice full of pain.
"Well, don’t move any more." Santana carefully moved towards her.
"It’s dark in here," Rachel said.
"The power is out except for emergency," Santana said. "We must have hit something."
"I’m not hearing anything on the comm," Rachel said. "How is that possible?"
"No power, the shuttle can’t relay us, and the comms aren’t strong enough to reach anything, wherever we are." As she finished speaking, she reached the panel for the emergency kit. Pressing a hand against it, she opened it and pulled out the small med-kit and a light, leaving the survival kit where it was.
Still walking cautiously, she made her way back to Rachel. Setting the med-kit down, she scanned her with the light, careful to avoid shining it directly into her eyes.
"Not looking too bad, Shorty," she said, seeing no visible signs of damage.
"Still hurts," Rachel said, shifting slightly.
"You ran into a wall," Santana said, opening the med-kit and taking out the med-scanner. Turning it on with a quick twist, she started to scan Rachel from top to bottom.
"What’s the verdict Doc," Rachel said, her voice strained. "Will I live?"
Santana shook her head, and looked at the scanner readout. "It says you’re okay. Just some bruises."
"Can I have something for my headache?" Rachel said.
"I don’t see why not," Santana said. She grabbed a hypo from the med-kit. "This stuff is strong, it might make you a little more flakey than normal."
"I’m not flakey," Rachel said, protesting.
Santana shook her head. "Just stay still for a minute," she said. She pressed the business end against Rachel’s shoulder and press the trigger. "There. Give it a minute and you should be pain free." She put everything back in the kit.
"Why haven’t we been rescued yet?" Rachel said.
"Don’t know," Santana said. "They’re probably still searching for us."
"How long were we out?"
"Umm..." Santana stalled. She really didn't want to tell Rachel that her comm was telling her it’d been a month since they’d been in contact with Fleet. She couldn’t think of anything good that would keep Brittany or Quinn from finding them for that long.
"How long, Santana?" Rachel said, sounding stronger. The meds must have taken effect, Santana decided.
"It’s been a month. We were out for a month," Santana said.
"A month? Quinn must be going crazy," Rachel said. "And Brittany too," she quickly added.
"Nah, they’ll be cool," Santana said. "It’s just like we’ve been on a long vacation."
"You usually come back from a vacation," Rachel said. "And you can send postcards."
"We’re probably not on any postal routes," Santana said. She got up and put the med-kit away. "You should eat something." She grabbed one of the survival rations. They weren’t exactly gourmet but it would keep them from starving right away.
"Do we have enough food to survive a long stay?" Rachel said. "It’s like being on a desert island."
"We have a week’s worth of supplies," Santana said, "but we still have the stasis field so it isn’t really a problem."
"Shouldn’t we still be in stasis?" Rachel asked.
"Yup," Santana said. "Something must have caused the shuttle to turn it off." She tried to access the shuttle comm with her own. "It’s not talking to me." She carefully moved to the front of the shuttle in the low gravity. Activating the command console, she quickly scanned the log, looking for whatever had put them in stasis and why they’d come out.
"There’s a slow power leak," Santana said. "It needs our permission to put us under deep stasis now that the emergency is over so it can save power."
"Is it that smart?" Rachel asked. "It could have killed us getting us out of stasis."
"Smart enough," Santana said. "But it should have just shifted us into deep stasis without asking."
"Can we see where we are?" Rachel asked. "It must be somewhere Quinn and Brittany can’t find us."
Santana nodded, and turned on the view screen. There wasn’t enough spare power to scan but simple video was possible. "That’s interesting," she said.
Rachel stumbled over to the command console. "Trees?" She frowned. "Weren’t we in space?"
"Yes," Santana said. "And nowhere near a planet."
"So we crashed into a planet and didn’t go splat?" Rachel said. "How is that possible."
Santana looked at the log. "Looks like the trip was sudden. We were in space, there was a collision and then we were here. Wherever here is. There’s no comm traffic, at least not on any frequency this can pick up."
"We’re lost, like in some bad 50’s TV show," Rachel said, her voice rising in panic. "Do you think they’ll find us before we’re canceled?"
"They’ll find us," Santana said. "No reason to panic."
"Of course you’d say that," Rachel said. "You’re the positive plucky engineer. I’m just the in-flight entertainment. We’re always the first to die!"
"You’re not going to die," Santana said. "Take a deep breath and calm down."
"How do you know?" Rachel said, taking deep breaths.
"Because I won’t let you," Santana said. "Quinn would kill me if anything happened to you."
"Well, with that kind of logic, why was I so worried?" Rachel said sarcastically.
"I’m well known for my logic," Santana said, winking at her.
Disclaimer Update: The Nega-verse and Moon Princess were created by Naoko Takeuchi. The Solomon Island launch facility and related characters are from "Rocket Girls", by Hōsuke Nojiri. The 'Ringworld' in this chapter was inspired by the ringworld in Larry Niven's novel Ringworld though none of the characters or aliens from his 'Known Space' universe appear in this story.