Echo-1: Part 21
The lights dimmed and the window polarized itself like a pair of sunglasses. A projection appeared above the table and we all watched.
There were two Varans with greenish yellow coloring standing over a large table. A surgical droid, a kind of altered attendant robot with a bunch of extra arms, did its best to keep the creature alive, while another humanoid droid translated the conversation between the Varans and a Mega Therion. The animal on the table was something out of a horror movie. It was a monstrous wolf with large pointed ears standing straight up and huge jaws full of pointed canine teeth. Its head was the size of a lion’s, but with a longer snout. Its fur was dark gray and black, much of it was burned off with red bloody wounds remaining. The left side of its body was twisted and crushed. Its left arm was mangled beyond recognition and its left leg was missing below the knee. It was wearing a kind of black padded armor, that was partially removed and partially melted into its skin. It was clearly in a great deal of pain. Its eyes, that were the size of my fists, looked around frantically, bloodshot and panicked. It growled as it spoke.
The Varans attempted to ask him if he would like to be returned to his people. He knew he was dying and said he would be joining the Vedma soon. He spoke of the three female matriarchs of the cult; she-wolves named Faye, Baba, and Yaba. How their beauty defied explanation and how he was going to be with them forever following the Morning Star across the galaxy.
He had been aboard their ship once. It was a hundred deck battlecruiser of ancient design called the Magus. It was constantly updated and added to by assimilating ships they captured. Apparently, there was a large population of Mega Therions aboard. They also have a small fleet of other ships, which he did not define. Though he was only a shock trooper, tasked with attacking and capturing ships he felt a great connection to all the others including those on the Magus. He had spent one week on the ship and was not able to give many details about its workings. He had no fear of revealing anything to the Varan. He viewed other species as weak compared to the Vedma and only wanted to be with them. He spoke of the many treasures he had acquired and how his people would deliver all of it to the Vedma when they passed again and how he would be rewarded.
He coughed and spat blood through his pointed teeth. His language was a series of growling words that made little sense to me at the time. He pushed himself up on the table in an attempt to stand and came crashing back down, ripping out IVs and monitoring devices. He huffed and puffed his body up. His matted hair standing on end, he raised his head to the sky and howled. It was an ear splitting sound that distorted the recording. He howled again and fell back onto the table with a thud. The projection ended with the wolf gone still on the table, the surgical droid declaring the creature dead and giving a basic medical report on the species.
“Male, 7 years old, died of blast wounds, internal damage, and exposure. Remaining limbs were frozen due to a minor contact to the vacuum of space. 3.2 meters tall. 181 kilograms. A short-lived species with limited intelligence and a highly evolved instinct. True carnivores. They have fanatical religious beliefs and a devoted pack mentality.”
The projection flickered out. Dreyllyn leaned back in his chair. “These creatures are vicious, single-minded, and incredibly strong. They make their way in the universe by hunting others. They’re not to be taken lightly.”
Mox stood up and continued the tale of the Vedma. “I’ve been passively tracking the comet for the last ten years. Earlier this year I witnessed a bold attack on a large space freighter.”
The projection came back and annexed Mox with flight paths, ship video logs, and sensor readings.
“The Vedma were inactive for the first three years we followed them. One day the Magus suddenly left the comet’s orbit, fired its engines and attacked a mining ship. They weren’t just after the fuel crystals nor the ore deposits aboard. They were after the pilot, a sperm whale called Maximilian. I didn’t want to reveal my presence and I’d no idea they were capable of attacking a ship so large. It was half the size of the Banga. At first, it seemed they were out of their league. The freighter open fired doing obvious serious damage.
“Smaller fighters came off of the Magus and several were immediately destroyed. The spikes that stick out of the Magus are actually fighters, there’re entry points all over the hull. The ship is literally covered in them. They detach from the Magus and look a bit like a large animal horn with a rocket and a canon. Simple one-man ships, put together with scrap metal, kind of creepy looking. They launched off in a giant swarm, flying through the blasts from the freighter’s guns. Then as quickly as the freighter began firing it stopped.
“The Magus was emitting some kind of a ray at the bridge of the freighter. It appeared to be nothing more than a purple light beam, possibly a communication single. The freighter was sending out its defensive fighter crafts. A short series of dog fighting ensued, but similar rays were aimed at the fighters and they were all quickly destroyed. The Vedma blasted the freighters weapons until there were none left. Several of the spiny fighters attached near the ship’s main hangar bay and began cutting a hole in the side of the ship, then they simply flew straight in. Not much time passed until the hangar door opened and invited in the whole swarm. It was like wasps invading a beehive.
“The Magus hung in the air above the freighter occasional firing on the bridge, which was completely destroyed. They had managed to send out one call that they were being attacked and there were no further communications. The Vedma never made any kind of signal what so ever. Time passed. Three large cargo transports came out of the freighter carrying fuel crystals. They went back for one more round each. During this time there was little activity until a large explosion came from inside the ship. Water came rushing out of hangar bay being sucked by the vacuum of space. The water turned to ice and drifted away from the ship. That’s when I saw him, Maximillion, the captain of the ship. He came flying out of the hangar attempting to swim through space. In no amount of time he stopped moving, he was dead.
“The ship’s engines stopped. Like its captain, it floated motionlessly in space. Another internal explosion led to even more water rushing out of the hangar, this time with twenty or more Mega Therion wolfs and another whale. The water turned to ice and all the life died away. It was an unbelievable waste. Some time passed and the swarm of fighters started to emerge from the ship. A cargo ship flew out of the hangar. It was a ship designed for moving whales. You have similar transports on the Banga. Half the swarm surrounded the transport and led it to back to the Magus, while the other half went to the back of the freighter and physically cutting away one of the ship’s engines. They hauled it to the Magus and attached it to the hull. Several of the fighters attached cables and hauled the two dead whales on board. Once all the fighters had re-attached themselves to the Magus it fired its engines, retook the comet and anchored itself in its wake.
“We waited a day before we approached the ship as not to give our position away. I boarded wearing my rust armor suit and took my rust Sentinel droid with me. They had blown holes in the central sea of the freighter and the interior of the ship was covered in ice. The air pressure was nearly all lost and there was no one alive from the crew. There were very few bodies and the ones left behind were there because they froze to the walls when the water escaped. They appeared to be partially eaten. Many ripped in half or torn to pieces. All the ships robots were gone. They had synthetic Zero-G commando units. They were all there, though blasted and ripped apart. Some looked like used chew toys, only their mechanical innards remaining, with raw chewed chunks of skin hanging off of them.”
Mox paused for a minute, slowly extended his tongue into the air of the room, probably to gauge our anxiety levels, then he continued.
“I made my way to the bridge. There wasn’t much left. I tapped into a stable panel on the ship’s computer. It was swimming with this strange code that I couldn’t get past, I couldn’t read it nor could I get into any of the ship’s intact systems. There was one smashed droid left on the bridge. It was not active and was pinned under part of a wall. I pulled him out and re-activate him. He’d been shut down during the initial attack and was offline when the ship was hit with the light beam. It wasn’t able to tell me much other than offline droids were not affected. I had the droid re-connected with the ship’s systems in hopes that it would be able to tell me something. It went dead for a moment. I thought it was the damage it had received during the battle, but it came back to life and was unresponsive from that point on. It accessed the communications system and sent a message to the Magus. I tried to stop it to no avail. It initiated the ships auto-destruct sequence. My Sentinel droid got very agitated and proceeded to smash the non-responsive droid like stepping on a tin can. We frantically smashed a hole in the remaining rubble of the flight deck and punched a gateway into space. We made a beeline back to the Brick and got as far away from the freighter as we could before it exploded.
“This explained why there were never any ships left behind by the Vedma. There must have been something in the ship’s system that spread to the droid. I suspect my armor suit wasn’t affected because the rust material is resistant to the virus. The beam must be the way they transmit a set of codes that invade a ship’s computer system and takes over. The ship’s systems were still under its control when the droid established a connection and it too was assimilated. We sat back in the Brick and watched the light show of a fully loaded freighter exploding in space. The shock wave sent us tumbling, but we were undamaged. The Brick lives up to her name. She’s really tough.”
Mox smirked as only he could.
“We resumed following the comet. Ships were keeping their distance. A year went by and space lane travelers started getting bold again. How soon everyone forgets.”
One thing about deep space traveling is that everyone is expendable. It’s a dangerous game.
“What we witnessed next was new. The Vedma made contact with ships that passed within communication range of the comet. They were making attempts to trade a baby whale. I found this odd as they were normally not traders. It would seem someone on their crew understood that their latest plunder had great value. And what were they looking for you might ask.”
Mox looked around the room.
“Well, I’m glad you did, because they were looking for a large scale virtual environment simulator. It turned out that was the reason they’d been going after deep space freighters. An independent deep space trucker called Galfon contacted them and said he had what they needed. The Magus broke orbit with the comet again and went to meet the ship. It was a short meeting and to my surprise, they left the ship unharmed. I tailed the freighter for a couple days and contacted the Captain. He had a three man crew and an attachment of robots.
“Galfon was a large unscrupulous man, covered in some kind of space algae, giving his body a grotesque puffy yet slimy blue glow. He moved about piled on a hover chair which could hardly contain his body mass. He was waited on hand and foot by droids. He had traded, and get this, a small simulation unit containing, of all possibilities, the flying simulation that Jonas made for the underground inhabitants in system 3. In return, the Vedma offered him one hundred droids. He, of course, made a play for the whale, but they argued that since the VR system could only maintain a handful of users, it would not suit their needs and was not worth the value of the young Sperm whale. They also promised him eternal life if he wanted to follow them.”
Mox rolled his eyes in two directions simultaneously.
“Galfon went on and on about Baba and Yaba, two large round women he met from the Vedma. They were his species and he claimed to have had a spiritually uplifting sexual encounter with both of them that left him a changed man. It, in fact, was curing his condition that was much worse in the past. Galfon was very pleased with himself and quite the jolly fat man. He offered to sell me the droids, stating that their memories had been completely wiped out and that he had started to reboot them from an old factory restoration file he had. I bought two in the hopes of finding out what happened to them. All traces of the Vedma code where gone as well as any memory or programming that the robots had. They were effectively blank slates. As cold as you can get for black market stolen technology. Untraceable.
“Galfon offered me some other illegal contraband which I declined. I paid him out in fruit from my yum-gum trees. The trees where my monkeys live. Extremely bountiful trees, they bear fruit every other week. Those Silvery Lutung have it pretty good.”
He glanced over to X and licked his own eye with a tongue flash that seemed to go into slow motion for a moment as it glided over his eyeball. She wasn’t buying it.
“Anyway, I left the rotund space trucker to his own fate and continued following the comet. I broke off about a month out from the Varan system, connected with a deep space satellite and sent a message to Jonas. I then made my move.
“We maneuvered the Brick inline with the Magus and magnetized our hull to the Comet. I sent out a signal saying I might be able to find what they were looking for. My ship was immediately scanned and the light beam was fired at us continuously. I was taking a big chance, but it didn’t penetrate the hull. The Brick is impervious to the Vedma virus attack. They fired a volley of missiles at us. Which didn’t even put a dent in the Brick. They sent out fighters who were unable to board us. With the blast shield down the Brick is an impenetrable object. They tried attaching tow lines and dragging us into the cargo bay of the Magus, but with a few adjustments to the ship’s magnetic field, we were able to break through them and destroy a few fighters in the process. Just to let them know I meant business I polarized the Brick to attach to the Magus and then hitting our version of space breaks ripped the Magus away from the comet. That was the last straw for them. They fired on us with everything they had. It wasn’t enough.”
Mox made wild hand gestures as he talked.
“This is the recording of the communication we had with the Vedma.”
The room projector activated again and everyone adjusted themselves in their seats. It was a split screen display with Mox and crew pictured on the bridge of the Brick on one screen and the Vedma on the other. At first, it was a Mega Therion who spoke then later the Vedma priestesses.
Mega Therion Commander (great gray wolf head filling the screen): “You will die, intruder. Break off your connection with our ship or we will drag you into the nearest star.”
The Magus fired its engines and set a course to do just that. They weren’t able to hold them still with their engines firing. The Brick was being dragged behind them.
Mox: “We’ll see who burns up first then. I know you have been looking to trade for an advance virtual simulation system. I happen to be acquainted with the being who designed the Flying Simulator you recently acquired. The one you traded with was eager to be acquitted of any charges of dealing in stolen merchandise.”
Mega Therion Commander: “Your charges mean nothing to us Varan. You primitive lizard-brained fool.”
Several more blaster attacks followed, having no effect other than shaking the transmission screen a bit.
Mox: “My acquaintance is extremely skilled, well connected, and I would be glad to broker the deal. He wouldn’t be interested in being involved in any kind of whale trafficking, however.” The Mox on the viewer opened his eyes wide. “As I’m sure you have seen with the Flying Simulator his ability to make vast virtual worlds is unmatched. He’s also designed a simulation that can run for a one hundred year space journey. I hear it’s very popular amongst deep space travelers. It can be used in cryosleep and one lives out an entire lifetime and then wakes with the fond memories of a past life. As real as if you lived it. Amazing educational possibilities, don’t you think?”
Mega Therion Commander: “Die!”
One screen went all fuzz and another round of blasts shook the Brick.
Mox: “Did I mention he can do custom jobs?”
Zandar Vandar Blunt: (speaking Varan): “They’ve changed their direction and are returning to the trail of the comet. Want me to knock them off again?”
The fuzzy screen cleared and two female Varan appeared.
Baba and Yaba: “Hello space cowboys.”
They were entangled together and ever so slightly changing color, clearly, this was some kind of sex show for Varans. Both Mox and Blunt seemed very into it.
Baba: “I am Baba and this is my sister Yaba. You should come aboard and meet us.”
Their eyes seemed to light up and they both giggled infectious Varan laughs. Mox and Blunt joined them in their chuckling. They then changed languages and addressed the Sentinel droid who was visible in the background behind Mox on the bridge.
Yaba: “Krazix. Tromula? Klastorn Ragsta. Florendusta?”
The sentinel droid came to life.
The Sentinel Rust Droid: “Klasbek Drantool. Slag Burntaz. Garlvek. Tromulz Mox.”
Mox (to the Droid): “What the fuck are you talking about? Don’t tell them anything.”
Yaba (switching back to Varan): “You don’t have to worry about your droid, it’s obvious to us that you got him from the alchemist Slag. We met him long ago. We speak the rust language. Melding your body with metal has never been something we’ve been interested in. However, we are interested in this friend of yours who makes simulations.”
Mox: “Like my droid said, I am Mox and while I’m sure we’d love to come aboard, I’m afraid we have to go meet my friend first. I have nothing of interest to trade with you as of now. His latest opus, like I was saying, is the program called ‘One Hundred Year Lifespan.’ It’s a sizable program but could be transferred physically using a small storage device. I could also arrange for a computer that would run it and could amplify the program to have as many as a five thousand individuals using the system simultaneously. That would easily be worth the value of your little whale.”
Baba: “You could trade us your ship?”
Mox smiling: “Ah, but it’s so very useful for me and I don’t think I could easily find one like it again. I’ve had it for so many years.”
Baba: “We know you’ve been following us since the freighter. We don’t want you coming back with a bunch of your Varan friends. We will be in their system soon enough. How do we know we can trust you.”
Mox: “I think we have established that you aren’t really able to control my actions. However, I can assure you I will return to your trajectory in two months time and with a computer system that can run the program I have described to you. You can activate it and be any humanoid you like and you will keep the memories of their life with you in the real world. The possibilities of the program are endless.”
Yaba changed into a blue somewhat human looking female with dark long purple hair and radiant sapphire eyes.
Yaba: “We can already be any humanoid we like.”
Baba: “Alright, my Varan friend, but when you come back you are going to have to come aboard to get your whale. My sister Faye would like to meet you.”
Mox: “I’m sure she’s just as charming as you both. I’ll be back in two months. And please try to control your dogs.”
Both the sisters cackled and sneered at Mox.
Yaba: “We’ll see you soon lizard man.”
She shot out her tongue that was long and black like a Varan tongue. Then the communication ended.
The windows lost their tint and the room was flooded with light again. I had a whole new respect for the Brick. I finally felt like I was being let in on what was going on. Which was nice. No one really said anything else for a moment. Everyone let it all that sink in.
The only movement in the room was tiny Charlie tinkering with one of the transmitters on the table.
“This will do nicely I think. We should head back to the Banga, we’ll need all the time we can get to prepare for this mission.”
Mox picked up Charlie and the transmitters, he handed the whale size one to me. It was functional, but the material was so strange it almost moved. It was in a constant state of decay and expansion. It was like the alloy would grow only to crumble. It seemed like the state of all things in the universe.