It's been so long since I've been back home. Back to earth after so long. I never thought I'd miss it as much as I did. But, life's busy, and after some r and r, I'm shipping out already. So after a tour of 18 months into deep space, I only get to spend 4 days with my love. I guess that's a price to pay to be in the AICO (Alliance's Intelligence and Covert operations). When I joined up, I didn't think too much of it. Being out in the vast regions of space, being part of something larger seemed like an adventure. Finally out of the poverty of the slums, make something of myself, be somebody.
On earth, there wouldn't be much for anyone like me. Maybe get real lucky and actually land a shitty job, minimum pay and nothing to show for it. Seems like a form of slavery, being given the hazardous and dangerous jobs, but being on the bottom of the payment ladder, way down. Either that or join some tug gang, turning to thievery, robbery or worse. You might get a lucky big score off some rich person, but the luck ends there. They would swoop in with the heavy guns, and keep sweeping the slums till they find what they look for. If they don't kill you, they'll ship you to rot in Tartarus, the alliance's prison, a planet on the far reaches of the galaxy, light years away of any civilisation. It's a one way in with no way out. No second chances. You get dumped on the planet and you're on your own, with a couple of satellites and a guard station on the nearest moon to keep you from getting off. Or become a prisoner with hard labour. You work till you drop dead, as part of a mining or salvage vessel. Private companies buy the prisoners, you get an imprint, which is a lobotomy of sorts, taking away all free will, turning you into a low cost working tool. Either way, survivability is slim to non-existent. I've been close to either scenario in my youth, real close.
So signing up with AFAD (Alliances Forces and Discovery) came pretty natural to me. After the standard 9 month training and schooling, I took my Aptitude Tests and the result was very surprising. I expected to end up like 90% of the bunch, become an Alliance cadet and be stationed on an outpost or on a spaceship, serving your 3 years after which you discharge, or pursue a career after you test again, branching off into one of the many paths one can take serving in AFAD, serving on a Alliance vessel or in one of the new colonies.
But not me. I was qualified to go into AICO, where I'd train to become an intelligence operative. Basically it means I gather intelligence on new planets and star systems not yet explored, make first contact with discovered life, investigate off world crimes and piracy or settle colonial disputes. It's been some time since new sentient beings have been discovered and the colonies are organized trough the AGA (Alliance Governing Agency), featuring members of all the races, so usually it will be private companies fighting over a claim of planetary resources and development. Piracy and off world crimes are still widespread, and there's still countless planets and systems to survey, so I would be keeping busy with that mostly.
It was during my standard training that I met him. We hit it off, but after 9 months, it seemed over, we got separated. I started my AICO training on A-12, or Alliance-12, a space station on the edge of the Theta Cluster. He went to serve on the AV-Aurora (Alliance Vessel), a frigate in the alliance fleet. We promised each other to keep in touch, keep track of our first steps into the big void of space. As months went by, we both dropped the frequency of our messages, eventually losing track of each other. But fate decided differently.
After AICO-training, I did a couple assignments after which I was sent to a spice colony on Ziffa 3, where pirates were hijacking the spice cargo leaving the planet. I was asked to link up with the AV-Aurora, where he made it to first lieutenant. We picked up where we left off, and after we rounded up the pirates, I put in a reassignment form, to become the AICO Officer on the Aurora. It would take time, the current AICO Officer still had a couple months left to serve, so we shortly parted again, but with plans to take leave together on earth. We both felt weird being back on earth and actually be somebody, and we enjoyed our short time together. But, as we both realised, Alliance comes first, and I had to ship off to the Thetas Cluster, back to where I started my training. We planned on meeting up as soon as possible, and said our goodbyes, promising each other we'd be together soon.
Arriving at A-12, I got briefed quickly. A distress signal from a space freighter had reached the station, and I was ordered to investigate. Arriving at the location where the signal originated from, there was no sign of the freighter. Nothing on our active scanners, nor loose debris floating about. We entered orbit around Graxol, an enormous planet nearby, a big uninhabitable jungle world. Wreckage popped up that resembled the lost freighter and we set off to the surface. When we arrived, our reconstruction scans of the wreckage showed a breach in the side of the ship's hull. Accessing the chip's logs, we found an entry saying something hit the broadside of the freighter breaching the hull, but the on board scanners couldn't make out what it was. But that's also the last entry that was made.
Looking around the area of the impact hole, for debris or leftover from the meteor, again, we found nothing. We split up in 2 teams, to search the ship for survivors or bodies of the crew, but to no avail. Because of all the wildlife on the planet, using long range scanners to pick up life forms wasn't an option. We contacted AICO-Command, advising on how to proceed. They told us to report back to the A-12, leaving a couple operatives behind to establish a base camp, in case the surviving crew fled in into the jungle, and would return to the ship. At A-12, in our initial reports we found it unlikely to be pirates or raiders. Damaging the ship like that risking the cargo would be stupid. They would target the the engines, disable it and then board the ship, overpowering the crew to make of with the cargo. A meteor or space debris would have been an option if it weren't for the fact that there was no trace evidence to support that.
We contacted AFAD for assistance to look for survivors by combing out the jungle around the wreckage. The following day an MTC (Mammoth Troop Carrier), used for inter stellar transport of civilian and military personnel, brought the needed manpower to start. Arriving at the base camp, again we came across a mystery. The three left behind had vanished without a trace as well, though the camp seemed undamaged in any way. There were no signs of struggle. We updated AICO-Command on the situation. We established a perimeter and kept a close watch, while a more thorough search inside the wreckage began. The fact that the wreckage landed in a swamp area, flooding parts of the ship makes it all the more difficult.
We stopped the search for today and would stay in camp for the night and look around the surrounding jungle for any traces in the morning. Lying on my bed, I wrote to him. Telling him how much I miss him already, and how much I regretted cutting our time together short. As I was writing, I received a message from him, saying the exact same thing. Funny how that happens sometimes. Lying in the dark, trying to get some sleep, listening to the jungle noises, I couldn't help wonder what happened here. It all just didn't make sense.
In the morning, a small troop transport arrived, with a senior AICO-agent. He took a glance at the hole in the freighter, and asked to speak with me in private. He explained that the freighter isn't the first they found like this. In the last month, 6 more ships were lost in the exact same way. Found mostly intact apart from the 1 or 2 holes in the hull, no sign of anything. No bodies, no survivors, nothing. He said he couldn't say what happened, but that he had a theory, though nothing official. He thought we're encountering some new life, hostile in it's initial encounters.
As expected, the search parties in the jungle didn't turn up anything, and AICO-Command sent word to call off the search, break up camp and leave first thing in the morning. I wrote to him again, explaining the situation. I wrote him I never thought we'd give up like that. If I were in the situation of the crew, I'd take solace in the hope of someone out there looking for me. For the first time since I joined, I'm having doubts. I told him that I love him, for the first time, and that I would have preferred to say it to him in person.
I woke up this morning, showered and had some coffee. She wrote me another message. She told me she loved me. I had to read it again, to take notice of all the other things she talked about. I wrote her back, telling her I feel the same way, and that I couldn't wait to see her again. I reported to the bridge, back to another mind numbing day of patrolling the sector. I could do this in my sleep. All of my crew is trained to do so. I'm not yearning for war or conflict, still, a change of pace would be nice sometimes.
It's been days since I heard from her. This isn't like her. I'm contacting AICO and ask about where she is or why I can't reach her. They can't give me an answer. I'm worried something has happened, but even more so, that even AICO doesn't seem to know what's going on is really troublesome. An encrypted message from AFAD had come in and the captain wishes to speak to me. He explains that after the freighter incident, all contact with the AICO-agents and the AFAD company was lost. They checked in with A-12, but they are also unresponsive. They had sent the AV-Armstrong, a reconnaissance ship to the area who hasn't reported back either. We're next to go in, on full alert, and to proceed with extreme caution.
I can't stop thinking about her. About what could have happened to her and expecting the worst. I feel like I'm loosing my mind, and hope I can fulfil my duties as is expected of me. The captain isn't sure about the whole operation either, though he wouldn't let it appear so in the presence of the crew. When we arrived at A-12, we find it clearly attacked, as it was described before. No damage other then the multiple hull breaches. Scans report no life signs on the station. We find the the AV-Armstrong in exactly the same way, in orbit around Graxol. I'm sent to the surface, to retrieve any intelligence that might be in the base camp near the freighter. Just in and out, no lingering on the surface, no wandering off alone. We need information about what we're dealing with first, before we can take further action.
I ask the captain's permission to stay on the surface. I explain that I need to find her. He reminds me of my duties as an AFAD officer and orders me back to the Aurora. I ignore the order and stay behind alone, sending the rest back. It's late afternoon, and I decide to quickly check the freighter before nightfall. Inside, it's like she described in her messages. Nothing wrong at all, except for the hole. I'm panicking, thinking the worst again and realise I'm shouting her name. I get a hold of myself and start making my way out. This was stupid of me.
Getting back to camp, I make contact with the Aurora. The captain chews me out, saying he expected more of me. He will sent a transport to pick me up and that's the end of it. We aren't here just for me. Back on the Aurora, after another reprimand of the captain, I retire to my quarters. I'm lying on my bed thinking of her. I wake up violently in the middle of the night and I'm sweating like mad. What a nightmare. I dreamed I was running through the freighter when I saw her. Or what looked like her. She had no body, just her head and shoulders, her bare spine, floating about. She came for me. I can't get back to sleep after that. I get up and read through the findings we have thus far. It's not much but I try to look at it from different angles. I can't seem to concentrate. I need to go back to the surface. She's there, I know it.
I steal a shuttle from the shuttle bay, head straight to the surface. The aurora is hailing me but I won't answer. I'll find her, I'm sure, nothing else matters anymore. I land near the camp, head straight out and run towards the freighter wreck. The sun is coming up slowly as I enter, and I head straight for where I saw her in my dream. I look around, but no sign of her. I think I'm loosing it. I hear a feint sound behind me, slowly creeping closer. I slowly reach for my side arm and then turn around swiftly, ready to pull the trigger. I can't believe it. It's her. She's here. Her eyes glisten in the light of my flashlight. When I shine the light down her body, my stomach turns as there's nothing below her chest but the metallic, android like spine. I'm stunned, standing there, and I lower my weapon and flashlight.
I whisper her name, but she does not reply. She moves in closer and reaches to me. I drop my weapon and flashlight and touch her hand. It's cold, and as our fingers intertwine a chill runs down my spine. I want to hold her. I keep repeating her name, asking about what happened, but she won't answer me. Her hand caresses my head and I can feel her in my head. She tells me it's her, that it will be ok. Things will be alright. I'm not able to resist.
Nothing has been heard from my first lieutenant since he stole one of our shuttles and headed to Graxol. I cannot risk further loss of men. We've had no luck in contacting Alliance HQ on Thulla Prime. There has been no communication between vessels in our fleet on Alliance channels, no communication on public channels, nothing. Question still remains what we are up against. The situation dictates we must return to our home port on earth, hopefully getting some answers.