Star Force: Initiation (SF61)

1

 
 

January 2, 2690

Macalania
System
(Tether)

Shiva

 

Orval woke up to his alarm, a soft tone beside his
head in bed that gradually got louder until he finally woke or it elevated to
ear piercing levels. He reached over and tagged the off button, then rolled out
of his narrow bunk and stood up, stretching in the overly warm quarters. His
muscles were tight after the last round of workouts, so he threw in some real
stretches before he hit the lights and began to get ready for the day.

That meant shaving, showering, and heading over to the
nearby cafeteria for some breakfast bars that would give him some extra energy
without weighing him down when he hit the track for his morning run, further
loosening up his body. After an easy 8 miles he accelerated and worked the last
2, then stopped by the equipment room where he rinsed off and changed into a
skin-tight swimming suit that extended from elbows to knees. On top of it he
picked out a breath mask then headed over to the underwater course rather than
one of the standard training pools.

The difference was the course was more tunnel and
terrain than a rectangular pool, with Orval slipping his mask on, checking the
air reserves, then tagging the start pedestal and diving in. Once underwater
there were light beacons everywhere to guide
him
and a
narrow bubble tunnel at the top that contained air should his mask fail, but
otherwise it was a totally submerged playground.

After about 20 seconds of swimming he came to a fork
in the road, so to speak, with three possible paths to follow. He took the
middle one and continued on his course, swimming through various obstacles and
through small tubes that required him to move in all directions. It was an
agility course, forcing him to maneuver in multiple ways, and halfway through
his ‘run’ he was passed up by another swimmer.

Orval let her go, seeing that she was swimming with
jets and he’d never keep pace with her. Trying to minimize the disruption he
slid aside while still moving forward and let her pass him in the narrow tube,
with her chest brushing against his arm as she likewise twisted to give him
room on the pass. It was tight, but both swimmers were on the clock and didn’t
want to be slowed down. These courses were usually underused, so occasional
run-ins like this were tolerated and both swimmers got back to their pacing,
with Orval seeing her using all four gauntlets as he clawed at the water with
his bare hands and feet.

That meant she was probably working on skills rather
than fitness, for each gauntlet was its own little jet engine. She had two on
her ankles and two on her wrists, giving her considerable maneuvering
capability.
Orval’s
had to come from his own body,
making his course run a workout. While commandos and aquatics were different
branches of Star Force, swimming scores were part of his levels rank and they
were one of his weaker areas that he was trying to focus on during this new
assignment.

It was guard duty, boring as could be, but within Star
Force that meant an opportunity for virtually uninterrupted training. His
assignment didn’t have him standing guard over any particular facility, but
rather stationed on planet for response to potential hostiles or unknown
circumstances…which meant he was going to be left alone to train his heart out,
for Shiva was in the middle of nowhere.

The ice world was currently the furthest tip of Star
Force’s ‘tether’ territory, which was what the long string of breadcrumb
outposts leading out towards the rim was called by those who knew it existed.
Orval had been looking for a training assignment for a while and when this one
had opened up he immediately put in for reassignment. His commando ranking of
level 254 gave him the priority pick, not that there was a lot of demand for
the slot. Some people liked exploration outposts, but most preferred to remain
in the ADZ or on combat missions, leaving only a small pool of individuals to
compete with for these far out there slots.

Star Force usually filled them with low level
personnel, but in their wisdom they required some ‘senior’ slots along with
what were usually filled by
newbs
.
Orval’s
presence here wasn’t superfluous, for if the small
colony came under attack he and the others would be their only line of defense,
hence the need for at least some seasoned personnel in the mix, but the whole
point of creating the tether worlds was to quietly establish a presence heading
out towards the rim and not to attract a lot of attention.

Some of the colonies were more public, but this one
was meant to be secret…in so much that it was in a system that nobody wanted.
The only habitable planet was Shiva, and it was covered pole to pole with ice
and snow fields. Nothing living had been found on the planet, making it a prime
spot for Star Force to establish their own
Hoth
base
and put down another foothold that would eventually grow into a breadcrumb that
would then be leapfrogged even further out by another expansion.

As it was, Shiva was the furthest out with the
majority of their cargo fleet taking more than a year to reach the ADZ. Some
ships were faster than that, but the system was some 3,490 lightyears from Sol
and in the nearer edge of the gap between the Orion and Perseus galactic arms.
That ‘gap’ still had star systems, but the density of them diminished in
various spots making for a pseudo-geographical border. The denser regions in
between the two arms acted like land bridges with the most traffic and
civilizations present, according to the Nexus information.

Technically they were within the Nexus domain now, but
all that really meant was they were in the neighborhood. The nearest Nexus
world was some 680 lightyears away, leaving the local region in what would be
considered ‘fly over’ territory. The jumplines between systems out here were
longer, with fewer options, and that kept less advanced races from moving
through the area or colonizing it. Furthermore the lack of habitable worlds was
significant, with only a few well outfitted races/factions cherry-picking the
available ones and leaving the rest untouched.

That was why Star Force had chosen to reach their
tether out through this region in order to get to the Perseus Arm. They were
nowhere close to that, but this was the first good step out into the ocean of
emptiness between the two, and the less attention drawn the better. There were
plans to establish other branches within the tether, but those would be
constructed later off the main route, which Shiva was on and had been the tip
of for some 14 years.

Other colonies would have been much further along
after a similar period of time, but Shiva had been visited by only a single
convoy and exploration team that had done well to set up operations. Yet given
the insanely long supply routes virtually everything had to be built locally
and the other nearby links in the tether chain weren’t in a position to offer
up exports just yet either.

That said, scouting teams were already searching for
where to establish the next link in the chain while Shiva grew to a
prerequisite level of infrastructure…a tenuous hold, but the Archons knew that
so long as they could maintain anonymity they could stretch the chain out fast
and far, while letting outposts like this develop into colonies at their own
pace instead of waiting for them to become full blown civilizations.

So as it was, Orval was one of some 72,000 people on
the planet that were busy digging new tunnels down through the usually 2 mile
thick ice and into the sandy crust of the planet. The mining probes had to go
down even further to get to the actual rock layer, and then even further to get
to the limited geothermal heat the Mars-sized planet produced. That’s where the
bulk of their mining operations were taking place, with both crust harvesting
and magma siphoning being utilized, though the latter had only come online in
the past 6 months.

But that’s not where he and the bulk of the colony was
located. They were up in the ice layer, with a few spires poking up through to
the open air…which for a world this small was extremely thick. The CO2 levels
were a bit high, but tolerable if you could stand the cold. The atmosphere was
habitable, meaning you could walk up top without any breathing gear, but with
temperatures never getting above the melting point aside on some freaky
occasions Shiva definitely earned its nickname of
Hoth
,
save for there wasn’t a lick of wind on the planet…nor
wampas
.

Orval spent his days inside, only rarely going up on
the surface in armor just to get a feel for the planet. Today wasn’t going to
be one of those days, for he was in strict training mode and volume protocol…which
had him doing virtually nonstop training at lower intensity levels. If a
problem arose he’d drop what he was doing and deal with it, but ever since he’d
arrived on Shiva he hadn’t known of a single ship to pass through the system
aside from their own. Star Force had chosen their location for this little
breadcrumb extremely well.

And the commando enjoyed the anonymity, for while the
interior of the colony looked the same as any other Star Force city this one
felt different. He knew that was because of their distance from the rest of
Star Force and how exposed they were out here, but it also had something to do
with the fact that they were in the middle of nowhere. This was definitely a
frontier outpost, but it felt like as much of an exploration mission as a
foothold grab. That technically didn’t involve him since he was just here as a
military babysitter, but it definitely felt like they weren’t in Kansas
anymore.

And no matter what the internal temperature of the
city was, he always felt cold. The water he was swimming through was mildly
warm, but when he finished his course and came to the finish/start area on the
opposite end he pulled himself up into the air and felt a mostly psychological
chill. He pulled his mask off and took a few normal breaths, letting the small
cell recharge fully pulling oxygen from the air to replenish what he’d burnt
off during the swim. It did the same when underwater, but at the moment there
was no need to be breathing the supply when he was taking a momentary rest.

The room temperature was fine, but just knowing he was
on an ice world made him subconsciously aware that he was wet and his mind told
him that wasn’t a good thing, so after a few minutes he jumped back into the
water, starting the timer for a reverse swim down a separate group of tunnels
and feeling ‘safe’ back in the water as his skin was no longer chilling.

When he finished up his swimming workout he walked
through the chilly air over to the equipment room and got dressed in a casual
uniform before heading back to the cafeteria for a larger second breakfast.
Getting that food down him was necessary but he knew he’d need a bit of time to
digest it, so as usual he went to one of the targeting ranges where he wouldn’t
need to move around too much. His focus right now was straight up fitness, but
taking breaks with skill work kept him from having to wait between workouts and
he’d found it better that if once his mind got going in the morning he never
stopped till he went to bed, in order to keep the low level fatigue from nudging
him into nap mode.

On the way to the targeting ranges he hopped into a
skybridge
that connected two of the surface towers, with
him feeling absolutely chilly the moment he stepped out into the clear tunnel.
Aside from the footpath the circular tube he was walking through didn’t appear
to be there at all and gave him an awe-inspiring view of the surface ice
sheets. They weren’t smooth, but rather ragged and sometimes spikey giving the
illusions of topography when in reality there wasn’t a bit of rock, dirt, or
sand anywhere near the surface.

But ice was hard enough, especially at these
temperatures. The twin
suns
in the sky didn’t produce
enough combined heat to melt more than just a tiny layer on the surface, giving
numerous gleaming mirrors to reflect the light into his eyes as he walked
across. Fortunately there was recent snow on the ground which cut down on the
blinding light, but in many places where there were vertical faces the mix of
yellow and blue light bounced off and gave the surrounding landscape the look
of being decorated with Christmas lights from afar.

Most of the reflections were a mix of sunlight, but
get one sun shadowed and the other not and the colors would become evident,
making it hard to look at sometimes with
Orval’s
eyes
yearning for something
nongleaming
to lock onto…which
they did when a speck of dullness caught his attention below him to the right.
It was moving across the surface on its metallic biped legs, with the mech
following a faint path of footprints in the snow as it moved about doing what
the commando didn’t know.

Feeling considerably chilly just by looking at all the
ice, he walked across the long straight bridge until he entered the nearby
building and his eyes readjusted to normal light levels, then he headed down to
the range which was built just below the ice layer and picked up a sniper rifle
in the nearby equipment room. It was one of the new
sammies
,
which had replaced the well-established lachars, but for the purpose of target
shooting the intensity was dialed down so he wouldn’t melt the targets. That
said, if he accidentally shot someone it would still do damage akin to sticking
your hand in an open flame.

Stepping out into the gunnery circle he started the
automated practice program and began tracking targets within a 30 degree cone
ahead of him. He couldn’t brace the rifle on anything other than his arms,
which made the really long shots difficult. That said, the sniper weapon was
capable of shooting further than the range, so he wasn’t going to have to get
super steady to hit the furthest targets…in theory.

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