Caedus Chronicles #3 – Prologue

Caedus Chronicles

The third instalment of this ongoing sc-fi series by Oliver Dixon delves into the world of Caedus.

Caedus awoke with a jolt, thrashing wildly in the amniotic tube. Tearing away his breather and swimming to the top, he pushed through the sealing membrane gasping for air. With feet firmly on the floor, he shook his head, trying to clear away the horrific memories of his dream. The residing flashes seemed so real, his fear palpable even now. Screaming hordes had backed him into a cargo hangar, sheltering behind some haphazard piles of metal. A burst of StarCon coding fired through his internal receiver, ordering a conformation from him. As Caedus ambled towards the vid screen, the last fleeting images of his dream death evaporated, seeping down to a place Caedus knew he could never confront.

As he approached the vid screen it flared into life: “Commander Caedus, welcome home”

“Who do I have the pleasure of talking to this time around then”. Caedus knew this voice, maybe a previous handler.

“You are NOT cleared for that answer as you well know Commander, try not to focus on the unattainable”

With a sigh, Caedus rubbed his temples.

“Understood sir, what do you need from me on this fine, er, day?”

Silence filled the room.

“What an interesting phrase Commander; archaic at its best”

By the gods, this handler was trying.

“What do you need of me, Sir”

 

The vid screen switched channels, displaying his standard pre operation orders in text. Obviously his handler was some sort of stickler for appropriate interaction and had switched to text delivery, which, always pissed Caedus off. He hated dealing with sentient machines, preferring the V.I assistants. Machines shouldn’t think or come to their own conclusions or solutions, it was dangerous and unpredictable.

As Caedus strolled through the sterile white corridors, his mind began to wonder back towards the dream he had. It felt so real, not so much the images but the emotions. Fear was prominent but there seemed to be something else,something closer to betrayal perhaps. Staring into space through a viewpoint he snapped out of reprieve, realizing a dream was just that, a dream. Time to focus on the future, not get caught up in subliminal suggestions.

The orbital itself must be new, a lack of those small permeating signs of occupation. Even the best O2 scrubbers couldn’t completely remove the permeating smell of cooked foods, no insulation could fully blank out the chatter of an off duty crew nor the ambient sounds of a skeleton crew at work. The logical conclusion: he was here before the orbital entered active service. Because the other conclusion, that this orbital was fully managed by AI, was in itself laughable. StarCon had pushed cross system development laws to sequester the control allowed to an AI, making the only other conclusion available ridiculous at best.

He approached the huge doors.

“A truly intimidating sight!” mused Caedus, only the slightest bit of sarcasm in his voice. Knowing he was one of the only commanders to see what lay behind those emblazoned doors on the other hand filled him with a sense of pride, in himself and the responsibility that his genealogy left for him. Placing his hands onto the doors concealed pads activated a retinal scanner, causing the door to soundlessly slide into its underfloor recess. The room was massive for its purpose, a waiting area of gigantic proportions. Sterile white wall to wall, no decoration to be seen – even the light fixtures were minimalist to a fault, barely detectable whilst emitting a sharp, clean, light. A single plasformed chair rose out of the floor for Caedus, who promptly dropped into its embrace. This room was practical to a fault, almost soulless in its totalitarian functionality, which, not for the first time really got under Caedus’s skin.

Before he could gather and focus his thoughts on all these odd little details a double burst on his internals blasted through, telling him to look at his wrist screen. One sentence that left his head spinning.

“Report to requisition center and proceed to operational briefing.”

This was not the standard operating procedure, not by a long shot. A hiss of pneumatics announced his chair was receding, tipping Caedus to his feet as a door across from him opened up without a sound. The requisition hall was far smaller than the previous room, with a real wooden desk and chair, supporting a single screen. The low lighting threw shadows across the enclosed space, calming Caedus’s nerves as he settled into something familiar. No operation briefing meant there was no pre determined access level set into the programme. Before him was a list of unflinching military might, a visual flexing of muscles from the research and development programme.

His first selection was his armor. Mass Reactive Nanite armour, capable of environmental protection, shield and contra-gravity fields and ,most importantly, it could stop anything short of a point blank pulse blast, the nanites in the armor fusing together to deflect and contain energy weapons fire. Near enough indestructible, the armour’s limit was met by anti-nanite tech, EMP’s and the like. Even if the nanites were completely disabled the armour still provided protection against physical attacks, so it was a competent choice facing the unknown. The next choice was physical augmentation, although most of these decisions were just compliments to his extensive genealogy, a long line of commanders bred for excellence in service. Caedus chose the full package: every available boost. Strength, speed and vision upgrades applied to his nervous system, a cocktail of chemicals to cause time distortion and a litany of other marvellous biological combat capabilities. Meta mutations was done in a quick swipe, his standard tactical choices with a little addition from the network, which at the time just didn’t seem relevant.

A soothing wave approached as he dialled in the weapon selection, his favourite part of pre-mission prep. It was a tougher call not knowing what he was approaching but needs must, and an unrestricted selection certainly eased Caedus’s inhibitions. Scrolling through the multitudes of menus took some time, Caedus read through every selection slowly and methodically.

Surprised was an understatement at the depth of the StarCon tech list. Magnificent. From the near endless list a newly finished pistol caught his attention. According to the spec sheet, this was the Reaper, a top of the line EM Rail Gun. Each magazine held up to 100 small, magnetically propelled shots, with a choice of 6 different tips including but not limited to: Incendiary, explosive, low impact kinetics (limiting collateral damage), stun, high velocity and anti shielding rounds with, according to the spec sheet, enough punch to cut clean through all but the best armours. Next up was his primary weapon. It was a narrow choice between an old favourite or the newest version of the particle beam rifle, and, on a whim, he chose the new rifle, curiosity getting the better him. A list of magnetic mines and throwing blades, grenades and other bits of clever weaponry was presented to him, assumptions based on previous choices. Sometimes the A.I did make good calls. After coding in his melee weapon authorizations, and confirmed his order, he received permissions to assign a management system to his armour and sensors.

To no one in particular: “This is not happening, I WILL NOT USE A SENTIENT,” Caedus caught himself breathing heavy, his rage so suddenly at boiling point. With a visible effort he unscrewed his face and forced calm upon himself, knowing he was probably being tested by Echelon High Command. With a slow amble he crossed the hall once more, to another open door leading into the storage area. As he crossed the threshold, a platform rose out of the ground directly in front of him, the center hollowing out to form a recess that Caedus stepped into. With a hum and a click the machine engaged, tailoring and fitting him with each piece of MRN armor, bolting the suit to him.

“Hmmm, feels good,” a smile whipped across his face, gone as quickly as it had appeared.

“Welcome to the MRN mk.3, I am a Virtual Interface, compiling and presenting you with tactical information analyzed from both onboard sensors and the StarCon Data Drives”

“I SAID NO AI.” The rage was instantly back, pulsing through his veins, driving him blind with fury.

“ I am merely a virtual interpreter, conveying computations gathered from the armours sensors along with StarCon data drives, not an AI. I detect a bio-spike, do you need a suppressant ?”

A soundless scream bellowed out of Caedus, forcing the air out of his lungs. He should have known a MK3 armour would contain an observer. Not quite AI but still, a dangerous asset to become reliant upon.

Turning on his heel he walked out of the fitting room, bristling with tension and anger, a sense of being deceived foremost on his list of inhibitions. A quick code burst ordered him to the hangar to pick up his module.

“Caedus to Echelon High Command. I’m not going anywhere until i receive a briefing, this is insanity incarnate,” he barked with ill hidden contempt for this violation of S.O.P.

“You orders are to hunt down a defector, a traitor who must be captured. He has evaded us for the last 25 standard days, suggesting he has moles within our organization, hence the need for such counter productive deployments. We have a number of potential sites where he could of hidden, it will be your job to search through these places until you have the fugitive in custody, is that clear enough for you Caedus?”

“I’ll need this info code bursted to me in hyperspace, I’ll analyze as I travel,” Caedus sighed, frustrated but feeling a little better. At least there was some cause for this abnormality.

“That was our presumption, you’ll find all the required information and specs within your modules data drive, but a warning Caedus. Do NOT harbour any misconstrued ideals, your failure or deviation will not be tolerated, return without the fugitive and your contract will be terminated”

“Nice to see High Command has complete faith in me,” Caedus rolled his eyes and with even, measured paces he stalked through the orbital, heading to hangar deployment.

This operation was to be the biggest of his life, he had little doubt.

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