Chapter 1: Salvation

Chapter 1: Salvation

Playful flickering lights and humming surrounded the area. The ship’s cockpit was massive and easily held enough room for a party. At the helm, a slim, blue-skinned humanoid with thick oily black-cuffed dreadlocks stood with his arms across his chest. His gold cat-like eyes swayed back and forth reading the information on the hologram in front of him. He then pressed a discreet button under his dreadlocks on the back of his head and slumped down in his over-sized chair, looking exhausted as his labored breathing wheezed through his respirator.

“Overseer Draques, this is the collection from our scout party. The information sent is from the planet MD-0715. As you will see, their scans show multiple deposits of celestium strewn about the area and it even has a few deep veins,” a voice from the hologram chimed.

“Thank you, I’ll be back shortly,” said Overseer Draques.

“Yes, Thaba,” replied the voice.

Draques twisted one of his dreadlocks while staring off into space. In his concentration, his neck fluffed in and out, like that of a frog. Little screens cascaded in front of his eyes as he sifted through all the information sent and focused diligently. The other members in the cockpit watched Draques and waited obediently. They knew he was a patient man and liked to devise the best plan of action before making a decision and they trusted his wisdom due to the many years he had occupied his seat.

The Thabians, a race of patience and technology and having come from a planet that was harmful to its own inhabitants after the destruction of a neighboring planet, had a creativeness and resilience that made them quite unique among the races of the galaxy. Their tactics, technology, and mild-temper made them a worthy adversary in any battle. Overseer Draques wasn’t any exception. Holding his seat for over one hundred years, the frail-looking alien didn’t look to be much, but all of Thabia knew he was a force to be reckoned with.

Most generals, or any high-ranking officials for that matter, never went on expedition vessels, let alone an overseer. Draques however, having previously been a general in battle, preferred to be at the helm of his people, leading them every step of the way and facing every issue head-on and tactfully. Thabia had never had a ruler quite like Draques and he was the precise reason the Thabians had done so well in the past years.

Draques closed the screens shifting in his eyes and leaned his head back on his chair, wheezing, with a sigh of relief. He was tired from all his years of service. He pulled a small violet crystal from a console in the arm of his chair and held the button on the back of his head. A compartment in his rebreather opened up as he slid the small crystal in. The compartment slowly receded back into the breathing device and with a large sharp inhale and another sigh of relief, Draques’ wheezing stopped. The crew members watched as their overseer struggled through his duties to make every inch of his celestium last for his heat dispersal system in his rebreather. He didn’t want to use more than necessary of the rare material and he tried to avoid having to use it as far as he could. His leader and childhood friend Volpus needed it more.

Volpus had grown up to be in politics, making his way to eventually rule all of Thabia, while Draques grew up going the military route, making his way through the ranks, to eventually go into politics with his beloved friend and leader. The friends were a team like none other but Volpus was more than great on his own. Draques was glad to have such a good friend and an even better leader. Draques was doing all he could to try and find a new way to utilize celestium. Seen as the savior of the people, the Thabians believed that the celestium could be used to still the thermal degradation of Volpus’s cells, providing his rule with near immortality.

The rarity of the material had made it difficult to proceed with any plans. They only ever located enough to sustain the equipment that was already utilizing the material. Draques had been spending the past six months looking for a planet worth mining on and this planet MD-0715 looked pretty favorable. He pressed another button from the console of his chair and a ring chimed throughout the entire vessel. “All scout ships prepare for launch. We have come to the planet MD-0715. Celestium is the primary target. All scouts to launch bay. Search for mining deposits and possible mine locations. T-minus ten minutes.” Draques leaned back in his chair once again, winded from having to speak so loud, clear, and concise.

Alarms started blaring, lights flickered and different colors painted the black canvas that covered the massiveness of the ship. In the launch bay, large groups of Thabians gathered to their vessels preparing for the mission at hand, all working in unison for their great leader. They knew what was at stake. Just before the launch bell was about to sound, a giant screen emerged, showing the face of Overseer Draques, his voice echoing and flooding the entire bay.

“This is just a routine scout. Go in and send back your information for download. If there is any kind of resistance, immediately fall back to the ship and we will concoct a plan thusly.” Draques’ giant head zoomed in and out of the screen as he spoke.

The ships all started to turn on their platforms for their exit launch as the hangar doors opened in the bay. The high whirring and rushing of thrusters boomed throughout the entire place, rattling the structural supports and permeating the air with a humid musky smell, the smell of refined celestium. The fleets’ ships all had celestium integrated thrust drivers for emergency situations and initial launches. The amount of technology in the shuttles was enough to drive a techie mad with their lack of understanding.

The ships started taking off, zipping out one right after another in a beautiful cascade of uniformity, towards the planet in search of the one thing that might save their leader. Draques, watching the launch in his chair from the giant screen, hoped that this expedition would have the answers he had been looking for, for quite some time. After the ships had launched and dispersed, Overseer Draques closed the screen, got up from his chair and turned to the crew members sitting behind him working away at their posts. “Someone please come and wake me when we get a word back from the scout party,” he wheezed while shuffling past them. 

The crew members all looked at each other and together answered, “Yes, Thaba,” as they watched their beloved overseer drag himself away.

Dooqour, the fleet commander, led the scouting parties to land on the planet. His blue skin had light purple scars all over his face. This man had clearly seen many battles and his decorated oily-braided beard around his respirator showed it. 

“Initiating cloaking systems for atmosphere entry,” he spoke into the console. The ships instantly and almost simultaneously vanished into the abyssal space around them as they descended on the planet, while also disrupting any communication in the vicinity.

Back at the mothership, after a few moments of silence from the fleet, the crew started receiving information and was furiously reading all the algorithms they saw before them that were being transmitted. The amount of celestium was unreal. 

“Thaba, we have received word from the scouting party.” 

Draques opened his eyes and looked around his empty room and with a large sigh from his back replied, “I will be there momentarily.”

He slowly rolled himself out of his bed and left his chambers for the bridge. Upon arriving there he could see the determination and urgency in his crew members’ work. “Hail Commander Dooqour, I’m ready for status report,” he wheezed. There was no delay in the reply and the clarity of the signal was so clear it almost sounded as if he was on the bridge with them.

“Yes, sir?” inquired Dooqour over the comms.

“I heard status report is ready, fill me in Commander,” ordered Draques, taking up his usual thinking habit of patiently stroking his dreadlock while puffing his throat.

“Yes, Thaba... Our scans confirm Planet MD-0715 is quite rich in celestium. However, the United Fleet and Trust have already made presence there.”

“What's their status?” Draques questioned with concern.

“The United Fleet seems to have landed not too long ago and are unaware of any extraterrestrial presence except for seeing our ship. Our unit flew above a small encampment, they seem to be having troubles with the natural inhabitants of the land. There’s just one concern, sir.”

“And that is?” Draques replied with curiosity.

“There is no evidence as to why they’re here. We didn’t see any mining facilities, equipment, structures, or anything. They have two camps and one of them is abandoned.”

“Hmmm...” Draques slowly scratched his undulating throat. “And Trust?”

“They have been established for some time. They have functioning mining facilities in several locations,” Dooquor replied with distress.

“Thank you Dooquor, I shall counsel with Volpus now. Head back to mother-flag and await further instruction.”

“Yes, Thaba.” Dooqour closed his comms and Draques turned and left the bridge to seek the counsel of his leader and friend.

Draques knocked on the door to Volpus’s room and entered. Volpus was lying on his bed staring at the ceiling of his chambers. Wheezing heavily, he turned to meet Draques’ golden eyes and his expression was blank, like he was peering into the abyss.

Draques could see the laborious effort in every breath he took and it cut him to the core to see his best friend and the great leader of their people in such a state. At that moment, Draques didn’t see a leader. He pulled up a chair to the bedside of his childhood friend and laid a hand on his chest. He could feel all the fluid and phlegm bubbling inside his lungs. Draques sighed and opened a console in his thigh to reveal another small crystal of celestium. He opened Volpus’ respirator and inserted the crystal. Volpus then took a heavy sigh of relief and coughed, becoming more alert. Volpus looked up at Draques with smiling eyes, knowing he had used one of his personal crystals.

“My friend,” hummed Volpus looking up at Draques’ worried face. 

“We have word, my friend,” Draques replied softly.

“Please,” Volpus slowly motioned his hand to continue, trying to speak as little as possible.

“Trust has already made contact and has had mining facilities for some time now, they are well established. I have halted further scouting until we have a plan of action as they are not aware of our presence yet. The humans have made contact as well. However, we aren’t sure of the intention of their presence as they have little to no establishment.”

As Draques filled in the details to Volpus, his eyes flickered with attention, concentrating on every word and absorbing every little thing he relayed to him.

“What do you think?” Volpus inquired.

“We shouldn't interact with the humans until necessary. I don’t believe they are aware of the celestium and they seem to be more concerned with the locale. They are a selfish and wasteful race and they excel at excess, if they knew the celestium was here, they would have invaded by now. If they do know it’s here, then they plan to invade soon and we would do well to avoid involvement in that, keeping the neutrality, but preparing nonetheless.”

“... and Trust?” Volpus asked.

“We should seize a mining facility. They are completely unaware of our presence and we could take them by surprise.”

“Do you have a suggestion?” Volpus questioned, listening intently.

“We use our discretion to our advantage and wait for an opportune time. Whether the humans are planning to invade soon or not, it’s only a matter of time until they discover a Trust mining facility and learn of celestium and decide to invade thereafter. We could use this to our advantage. If we wait until the United Fleet invades, we could seize a mining facility during the commotion under the guise of a human attack, keeping us under the radar for as long as possible while Trust focuses on the human resistance.”

“The humans' discovery of celestium is going to cause waves. Great change is coming,” Volpus said while gazing into space, entertaining all the possibilities of what’s to come.

“Yes, it certainly won’t be the same anymore,” commented Draques.

“You’ve put much thought into this,” said Volpus. “Here, help me up,” he said while extending an arm. Draques assisted him out of bed and he took a few slow paces around the room, controlling his breathing and getting used to the physical activity. He pulled his hood over his head and tucked his dreadlocks behind his neck. 

“Well here’s what I suggest,” Volpus responded. “I suggest you go down to the bridge, gather the men, and announce YOUR plan.” His cheeks slightly fluffed around the respirator, showing a slight smile and putting a hand on Draques’ shoulder. “You’ll be a great leader yet...”

Volpus turned away and left the room, leaving Draques completely stunned at what he had just heard. “I’m going to the bridge... If I’m not mistaken, you have a fleet of men awaiting your orders, Overseer Draques.” Volpus’ voice echoed down the hall as he made his exit.

“Yes, Thaba...” Draques muttered to himself under his breath. What does THAT mean? His mind went spiraling into a cacophony. He snorted and fluffed his vocal sac to collect his composure and proceeded to leave for the bridge to address the crew. He approached the main console on the bride to once again bring down the giant screen that hung in most of the rooms throughout the ship.

“Attention!” Overseer Draques said sternly to grab the attention of the entire ship, then changed his tone to be more endearing. “As some of you may already know, Trust and the United Fleet have already made contact with the planet. Neither have discovered our appearance. We expect the United Fleet plans to invade once they have made the discovery of celestium and will interfere with Trust’s plans. During this time, we will use our best efforts to stay undetected and amongst the chaos, annex a mining facility. The local natives are of no interest or concern to us, avoid them to the best of your ability. Defend yourselves if necessary, but we have no need to acquire new enemies, so non-lethal is preferred. We are going to send a small foot party to establish a landing ground for when the time is right.”

Thabians peered all around the ship, glancing at one another, knowing the pandemonium that was about to ensue, but excitement flickered through them as they also knew what this could mean for their beloved Volpus.

“Commander Dooqour,” Draques boomed over the screens throughout the ship. “I want you to assemble the team, make sure to grab a few aggressors and a few healers in the event of your discovery. I want your team to find an optimal mine to strike and a landing zone in close proximity to it. Take a few worm-sticks as well. If you are discovered, there’s no better way to escape a hive-mind than planting false information in the stream to buy you some time until backup forces are sent. As for everyone else, standby for further orders and make preparations for contact. We can do our best, but it’s only a matter of time until we see conflict. We have the advantage of anonymity, so the more prepared, the better.”

Draques ended the transmission and receded the screens. He was ready. He was ready to change the lives of the Thabians and to save his great friend and leader. Commander Dooqour gathered his men in the hangar, preparing them for launch. After the ships were readied and provisions were put on board the vessel, he turned to his fellow Thabians shouting words of encouragement. The heat from the thrusters of the engines starting up and the smell of refined celestium was thick in the air and with his head held high, he looked at his associates and screamed “For Thabia! For Volpus!” which they all shouted back inspired as ever.

Excited and cautious, the Thabian fleet made its way to land planet-side. Dooqour came in over their radios, “I’m sure it’s a mining facility not too far from where we made the initial scan. There’s some kind of structure there, so I figure that’s where we start our investigation.” All at once, the fleet turned and bayed in unison to dive down into the atmosphere toward the coordinates Dooqour sent to their consoles. The technology on their ships kept them covert and barely even rose in temperature with the friction of the atmosphere. “I have marked a landing zone a few kilometers from the structure, let’s make this quick.”

The ships knocked the trees and other flora around while landing, but noise from the ships themselves was practically absent, landing with just slight hisses and bursts of air as they softly pressed into the ground. As all the ships landed and the Thabians exited their vessels, Commander Dooqour gathered them around for a debriefing.

“Alright tadpoles, we don’t have long for my plan to take place, so listen quick.” Dooqour got serious suddenly. “We have no idea what lies ahead at this structure, so we need to prepare for anything and we only have so much time. Some of you have had the misfortune of dealing with this hive-mind. The second we break into Trust’s systems; they all know we’re here. The second even one of them sets eyes on us; they all know we’re here. If this happens, our anonymity will be blown and all our plans to annex this place quietly go to shit and it will probably start a war.” The foot crew all looked around at one another, gauging the severity of the situation at hand.

“We’re going to go in there, drop a worm into their systems that is already pre-programmed to be intercepted and act as the incoming humans, steal their data, and then relay the information to mother-flag to discuss the actual seizing of the building. In and out. Let's do this.” Dooqour walked through the middle of the group and they all turned to follow as he led them onward.

After some time spent walking through the dense forest and upon arriving at the edge of the structure’s area, they realized it was a mining facility. You could already smell the thickness and humidity of refined celestium in the air. There was a drill protruding from an opening in the building’s center. There were very minimal patrols. They had obviously been established for a while, there was already stains on the outer walls, sections that were already deteriorating. Just how long have they been here?  Dooqour wondered to himself. The building was quite large, easily two to three floors with an outside bay area filled with shipping containers, small cranes, and forklifts strewn about the area. Could they really have been here that long? Have they advanced that quickly? What have... hey... what’s that? Dooqour snapped out of his own thoughts and noticed a console on one of the walls of the structure. “Seriously?” he muttered to himself while his crew stared at him with confusion.

Dooqour smirked, looked at his men, and pointed to the console on the wall. “Well lookie here boys, they really couldn’t have made that any easier, could they? They aren’t even guarding it.” He chuckled to himself.

“Isn’t that a bad thing, sir?” One of the crew members piped in nervously.

“Nonsense. If it’s the one thing you can count on Trust for, it’s being overly advanced. Since they’re a hive-mind and their technologies are so advanced, they see themselves as superior to others and they also communicate much differently. But this is also their downfall. They don’t have any guards at the doors because they believe they simply don’t need them. If you have a hive-mind, any camera anywhere will let the entire populace know and share the information immediately. In turn, even just a little ‘ol camera at the door can suffice to an unbeknownst on-comer, because they assume they are that stupid, and they’re generally none the wiser.”

The Thabian crew was listening intently to all this new information that their commander was sharing with them. “They’re pretty impenetrable, so they don’t expect anyone to make any ballsy moves. Especially something like shutting down their entire system and all the robots linked to it with a giant emp that they just so happened to bring with them.” Dooqour giggled while pulling a switch from his chest console and simultaneously pressing it.

Everything stopped. Trust robots dropped dead, machines stopped working, it went to absolute silence. “MOVE!” Dooqour screamed as all the men raced toward the door after him. The men swiftly arrived at the console, immediately used the worm stick and started extracting all the data from Trust that they could. A fraction of time that felt like an eternity went by and they had received all the data that they could manage to steal in a timely fashion.

“Get out and back to mother-flag now!” Dooqour commanded. The men gracefully removed all their equipment from the console and left without a trace to their vessels. As they arrived at their ships, Dooqour hailed Overseer Draques over the comms while they took off.

“Yes, Commander?” Draques came into the comms after a few short minutes breathing heavily.

“Thaba, we have data and we remained anonymous. I used an emp to halt the facility temporarily, during which, we installed the false intrusion of the United Fleet as instructed,” informed Dooqour.

“Good form Commander, Volpus will be pleased to hear of our swift success.”

“Many thanks Thaba... and Trust is unaware of our planetary presence entirely. An emp wouldn’t have worked if they knew we were here.”

“I know Commander. Thank you for your insight regardless, it is always encouraged to divulge wisdom,” Draques complimented softly.

“Thank you Thaba,” Draques commented while shutting off his comms.

Draques turned to address the crew and then briskly left to update Volpus of the current events. When he came to his friend’s door, he stood outside for a moment to listen for how his breathing was doing before stepping in. Volpus looked confused at seeing Draques again after only discussing the plan a few hours ago.

“Is something amiss?” inquired Volpus.

“No Thaba, mission success, exactly as planned, surprisingly enough,” remarked Draques.

“Trust had no idea?” Volpus’s confusion was increasing.

“No, they had no emp protection. Either they thought they were truly off the radar and didn’t need it, or they weren’t as set up as we initially thought,” Draques deduced.

“...or arrogance,” muttered Volpus.

“The virus was also successful, so they’ll assume it was the United Fleet. However, it’s only a matter of time until they actually figure it out. Let's hope the humans attack soon to stretch that timeframe and to further solidify the framing,” Draques said while wall-gazing.

“Now all we have to do is wait until they show up for us to initiate our attack...” Volpus said to himself while reveling in thought. The two sat for a moment in silence thinking about all that was about to take place and all the things that could take place. Each one intermittently glancing at the other to read their emotions. Draques was twirling one of his dreadlocks when he suddenly spoke.

“I can’t just sit here and wait Volpus... I must think of something. I must DO something.” Draques started pacing around the room. “I should at least be making some sort of contingency plan, or maybe I can test the thrusters of the ships to make sure they’re good for the next launch, or I could go down to the battlements and check...”

“Draques...” Volpus interrupted quietly wearing a grin. “You’re pacing again and you’ve begun to wheeze. You’re not a general anymore, sometimes we just have to learn to wait...” Draques calmed at the notion of feeling like a child. He was always the patient one and here he was, barely able to stay in his seat because he was so on edge. “You may be overseer, but you still have much to learn Draques,” Volpus giggled through his wheezing.

“Oh, hush it, Pus.” Draques sat down chuckling at hitting him with his old childhood insult.

“You know, most people couldn’t speak to their leader like that,” Volpus mentioned facetiously.

“Most people wouldn’t unplug their leaders’ respirator either...” Draques turned to Volpus with a serious face. After a few moments of silence, the two broke out in absolute hilarity, recollecting the years they’d shared with each other while tossing banter back and forth. The crew members were almost concerned with all the noise and laughter coming from Volpus’ room. They wondered how he could even laugh that hard through all his rasping. Still, it was good to hear their laughter as they didn’t often get to hear it as of late, with all the bumps in the road they’d had, all to arrive at this planet and solar system.

“Oh, creator...” Volpus said through his chortling while sniffling and wiping his eyes. Draques was using his dreadlocks to wipe his tears at this point and couldn’t even collect himself he was in such a giggle-fit. “Oohhhh, it’s been too long since I’ve been able to laugh like that,” Volpus chuckled. “...Mainly because I’ve been too scared to.” Draques immediately burst back into uncontrollable laughter and Volpus quickly followed suit. The crew outside, listening to the symphony of laughter gained a surge of morale that could be felt through the entire ship. All the Thabians were glowing with excitement and joy, and each one could feel it coming off the other.

Draques came out to the bridge of the ship, his eyes still watery and pink from all the crying. He spoke to the crew with much effort because of the pain in his stomach from all the laughter a few short moments ago.

“Please bring up the screen, that I may address the entire fleet,” Draques asked, finally calming down. The screen pulled down and, once again, Draques’ face appeared all over the ships. “Everyone. Mission success. We have infiltrated the Trust mining facility and have gained access to its information under the guise of the United Fleet. Now we must wait until they plan to attack before we can join the commotion. In the meantime, we are going to send back our previous foot-units to establish a camp at the coordinates they have provided. I also want to heighten security. I know we haven’t been discovered, but I want to be prepared for when we are because it is inevitable. I want additional ground troops to be dispersed with the ground party to help them initialize the camp and to set up posts. Dooqour, this will be your team again. I will let you choose the additional soldiers to take with you and return a report when you’ve finished set-up. Thank you.” Draques cut the communication and proceeded to leave the bridge.

A short while after Draques’ orders, the ships were already taking off and heading planet-side. When they arrived at the coordinates for the camp, it was just as they had left it when they initially landed not too long ago. Several hours went by before anything was heard by the team, but eventually they got a hail on the bridge. Draques had been waiting in his oversized chair the entire time and answered the call immediately.

“Thaba, we have the camp set up,” came in Dooqour over the comms.

“Thank you, Commander. Status Report.”

“Camp is done and patrols have been set, I also had a small group of scouts check out the mining facility we attacked earlier and they are already up and running again. So, I guess the plan worked otherwise we’d be getting attacked right now.”

“Very good Commander, anything else?” Draques asked.

“I have one concern, Thaba,” mentioned Dooqour.

“Which is?”

“They picked up right where they left off as if nothing happened. They haven’t increased security, sent out patrols, or even sent out scouts.”

“Hmm...” Draques went into thought while twisting one of the cuffs in his dreads. “Maybe the plan worked exactly, or perhaps they simply aren’t worried about a human attack.”

“Well that’s just the thing, sir.”

“What’s that?” 

“The humans have started to arrive... sir,” Dooqour said with disdain. “We caught a signal of two ships entering the atmosphere and they clearly weren’t concerned with discretion. It’s probably the landing party to initiate attack, they were freighters.”

“Thank you, Commander, keep to the plan and wait for instruction, I will inform Volpus of the situation.” Draques ended the communication and left for Volpus’s room. Upon arriving there, Volpus was sitting up in his bed, already awaiting Draques’ return.

“I have word,” Draques said quietly while opening the door.

“I know, I was listening to the transmission,” replied Volpus, sitting contently with his fingers crossed in his lap.

“What say you, Thaba?” Draques inquired.

“I say it's time to execute your plan, is it not?” Volpus asked sarcastically.

“It shall be done,” Draques smiled and bowed to his friend and left presently. He made his way to the bridge and asked for the screen to be brought down a final time.

“Thabians, now is the time we have all been waiting for. The humans have started launching an invasion on the planet. We must strike the Trust mining facility with swift, great force and annex it as planned. Dooqour will launch the initial attack, upon his first strike, we will send down two additional ships with troops to start our invasion as well. I want this to be as clean as possible to stay under the radar as long as we can. Once again, there is no need to get involved if we don’t have to. Stay strong fellow Thabians, for the moment the United Fleet lands, so begins our attack. All hands to battle stations.” Draques cut the transmission.

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