Spiral Nebula - Chapter 12

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13 of Legacy of the Veiled Stars Captain Redding is sent to investigate a ghost of a signal but soon finds that the barren planet turns out to be a dead end.

Cold and darkness walked hand in hand on this planet. Hardly anything could be seen by the naked eye, and the atmosphere was almost frozen. The entire team had to wear their exoskeleton suits; Captain Redding was no exception. In order to see anything, they had to either use their light-enhancing helmet setting or use simple torches to illuminate an area.

The wolf was told this would be a frustrating mission, because they were investigating only a whisper that probably didn't even exist. The soil was barren, no building in site and yet the scientist crew that they picked up were certain something was here. Calvin was sure that nothing was here, and if there were it'd be buried. The Fury didn't have the time to excavate artifacts off of alien worlds, especially since they are now beyond the Black Line.

Gale was beside him, remaining silent for the moment while they searched another small ravine, changing the setting on their helmets to enhance the light more. Nothing other than more rocks was seen at the bottom. Discontent, the searched a way around the ravine in order to continue the search but it took nearly an hour to find a crossing.

Behind Redding, the team of several dozen troops and scientist were scatter over a small valley, searching for any sign of an alien presence. They've been down here for hours by now, and no one has found any evidence of an alien presence, dead or alive. Occasionally a report would come over the coms, stating that certain zones were cleared and nothing was found.

Captain Redding and Gale ascending the foothills when Calvin eventually sat down on a boulder and gazed over the valley floor. This search was frustrating because they were practically searching for a white dwarf star in the night sky with the naked eye, except this star might not even exist.

Gazing over the valley, he could see some lights shining from the explorers while the search continued. Gale was standing at his flank, keeping an eye out over the area for anything of interest but his body composure betrayed how bored he was feeling.

Looking down at the ravine that they recently passed, Redding saw the wind stir up some black dust straight up into the air out of the ravine. A moment later, the suit recorded the wind speed and direction as the gust of wind. Something was wrong.

He replayed what he just saw, and barely saw the dust. It didn't really even look like dust, just the lights behind it were more faded for a moment. The wind was blowing in the wrong direction and wasn't nearly strong enough to disturb the light that much.

Standing rigidly all of a sudden, Redding realized that they weren't alone on this rock. Gale jumped back from Calvin's sudden reaction, shocked and confused. The wolf clicked his mike thrice, sending the order for all units to halt. Contact spotted.

All the lights flickered off across the valley floor while the team switched to relying solely on their light enhancing equipment. At that instant though, one of the team member's suits alarmed. The bio signs flat lined instantly.

A situation report was requested from the Fury that was orbiting above. Before Redding could even send the video and wind speed data, another life sign flat lined in the darkness. Lights quickly started to shine back on, more than before all in a desperate search for their attacker. The infantry all had their guns raised, including Gale.

Redding removed his pistol from its holster and raised it. He switched his display to thermal readings, but could only see his teammates body heat. Something faint, barely registering on the scanner moved among the team, avoiding the lights and then it was gone hidden by the cold wind and dust.

Whoever was attacking them had superb stealth. Redding switched to different setting of detection but none had any better luck. The only thing he noticed was that the attacks only came from behind and away from the light.

Even with his mute handicap, he sent the order for everyone to group together and form a perimeter of light. The ghost of the creature was occasionally seen near the border of the light but it failed to make any more attacks. That was until it completely disappeared. It never really seemed to even notice the Captain and his spotter on the foothills.

"Expedition team, fall back to the Fury," came the order from the Commander. "Bring our wounded with you. Captain Redding, casualty report?"

The Captain sent his report, four dead two critically wounded. No one had to be told that they died for nothing; No information was gained as a result of their deaths. The dropship arrived soon after, that was originally scheduled to bring down some light equipment. Now it was their lifeboat from an unknown assailant.

With lights on, Captain Redding and Gale were able to rejoin with the rest of the team by shining the light at the slightest sign of movement. Only once did Calvin think he saw the target come near them, but it never attacked.

The dropship arrived, all floodlights beaming brightly and landed near the team where they were trying to treat the only survivor who was attacked.

"Hurry up," insisted Nishant over their com links. The pilot of the dropship focused the brightest lights near the entrance of the dropship while everyone loaded onboard, including the dead.

Escaping the planet's gravity field took less than a few minutes before they docked with the Drach'n Fury. The moment they docked, the massive ship turned away from the rock and sped away.

Redding left the dropship with Gale, both of them surrounded by rushing medics and scanning crews who were to search dropship. Captain Dewitt was waiting for him.

"Captain Redding and Sergeant Gale," he said, signaling them both to follow without a moment's rest. They didn't even have a chance to change out of their exoskeleton suits. "The Admiral wishes for your council on this immediately."

Through the confusing maze of corridors, Calvin realized that they were heading in the wrong direction to be going to the Admiral's office. When they arrived in an unfamiliar slanted room, a large holographic planet was floating at the other end of it. Redding quickly realized it was the planet he just left.

The Admiral was standing near it, with Commander Yelena and the two marten scientists that were picked up off a similar looking planet. Captain Dewitt stood at attention along with the wolf and hare, but before he could announce their presence, some one else did.

"Admiral," came a strange voice that neither sounded male nor female. "Captain Redding and Sergeant Gale have arrived."

The young fox, dwarfed by those standing near him, turned to gaze upon the wolf and hare with a serious stare. "Thank you Fury," he said. "Thank you Captain Dewitt for bringing them to me. You're dismissed."

"Yes sir!" The ermine spun on his heel and left the room.

"Fury, bring up the footage that Captain Redding sent to us," requested the Admiral, speaking seemingly to no one. The holographic image of the planet changed however, into a three dimension visual of the first sighting of the creature. The image froze, when a figure could barely be seen through the dark dust. "What is your analysis on this creature Captain?"

Using a unique form of body language and paw signals, Captain Redding said, "Only one. Came from ravine. Hid in the shadows. Used melee weaponry."

"I agree," said the Admiral. "If there was more than one then our losses would have been far more significant. This is Tang and Jun Fa. They have their own theories."

"The degree of stealth performed by this creature is the most advanced anyone has ever seen," said the taller female pine marten, Tang.

"None of my systems were able to track it, and no irregular patterns were detected either," came the strange voice over the intercom.

Gale glanced around for another person but failed to find any, and everyone on board noticed.

"Fury, please show your self," said the Admiral, sighing and sitting in commanding chair. Redding then realized that this was the bridge of the ship. It has been restricted ever since they left the port, and no one has even set paw in it except for the commanding officers until now.

What shocked him further, was that the image of the shadowy creature disappeared and was replaced with a holographic image of an ocelot, who looked younger than even the Admiral. An advanced AI that can think on its own has never made it pass the prototype stage.

"My name is Fury," said the AI, whose body matched its voice by having neither gender.

"Fury was installed before we left the port, and is soon ready to be granted access over all ship systems. Before that though I'll announce him to the crew."

"I'm not a 'him'," remarked the holographic image, glaring at the Admiral.

Admiral Alexander ignored the remark, although his irritated expression betrayed the arguments he had shared with the AI. "Tang Fa had an interesting notion on these creatures. Tang?"

The holographic ocelot disappeared and the image of the shadow figure was brought back. "Jun and I have concluded that this is an intelligent creature part of a space-faring race. Why this one is alone on this cold planet? We don't know. From the advanced stealth technology and methods used by this creature, we theorized that this race has developed their military power solely around stealth throughout their development."

"We spotted something interesting during the attack," said the younger marten, Jun. The holographic image brought another image, strange to Redding, of the second attack. Someone else recorded the death. "There." Some of the blood was highlighted that fell from the dark dust.

"It was wounded," claimed Jun. "That blood was not of the soldier that it slain but of the creature itself. It is possible that it's stealth capabilities were affected by this wound."

"The amount of difficult I had tracking it could have been the creature at its worst performance," said Fury. "I believe that their soldiers are capable of avoiding all forms of detection."

"That's what we know of right now," said the Admiral, standing from his chair and facing toward the Captain. "It's a lot of speculation and nothing is certain but it is confirmed that we've made contact with another alien race."

"A hostile alien race," muttered Gale next to him.

"We can't confirm that," said Jun. "This individual may have been desperate and felt threatened by our presence. There is no way to tell if other members of the race are willing to be diplomatic or not."

"The crew is going to know about these shadowy creatures but they cannot start fearing every dark corner on the Fury," stated Yukiomaru, shutting off the images. The ocelot took its place in the hologram instead. "Tang, your crew needs to study this individual and find a way to track it in case we run into more of them. And why this one was avoiding the light; it is very possible that his handicap forced him too but the others might use the light to their advantage. Fury, give me reports on ship-wide scans. If there is anything suspicious, I want to know about it. Captain Redding, Sergeant Gale, is there anything else we should know about?"

Redding shook his head and Gale said "No." They had all the recordings from the team, they saw what the team saw so there wasn't much left to explain.

"Then Captain Redding, you have another mission awaiting you," said Admiral Yukiomaru. "You're both dismissed."

Just as they left the bridge, Redding's PawPad burst one high-pitched beep. He retrieved it from his pocket and opened his new message. Gale didn't wait for him while he read the message. With a grunt he turned in the direction of the hangar he just escaped from. The wolf wondered if he ever was going to get to rest, and get out of this suit.

By the time he reached the hangar, it looked like nothing has happened. All the medic crews, and emergency crews were gone, even the refitting crews were absent. Normal maintenance crews were seen leaving the deck, but Nishant was there near his dropship waiting for him.

With a quick exchange of greetings, they both boarded the ship. Neshant climbed into the cockpit and immediately set off. However, Redding quickly noticed that they weren't heading back the way the Fury came toward the planet but they were flying in a path perpendicular with Fury's.

The flight took several hours, and they passed many stars before a planet took the place of their destination coordinates. Large clouds swirled over most of the frozen planet, but through the clouds, ice and even some liquid bodies of water could be seen.

Staring throughout the passenger bay window, Redding was distracted by his PawPad vibrating. He sat back down and checked his new message, which ordered him to inspect the surface at very specific coordinates near the equator of the planet.

"I received new orders," announced Nishant from the pilot's cockpit. "I'm too land you on the surface near the equator. I assume you have new orders as well?"

Calvin clicked an acknowledgement over his suit's communicators, and glanced back out the window at the cold world. Fortunately he was still in his exoskeleton suit otherwise it would be a very cold trip, if the atmosphere contained enough oxygen for him to survive without the suit.

The entrance into the atmosphere came with the violent rattling and shaking while the air resisted against the dropship's hull. The dark clouds that accompanied the harsh winds blocked the light from the star. It didn't take long before snow was swirling outside against the windows also.

Nearing the ground, Nishant gasped, "The mission is over. You're lucky today. We got what we came for so now we're headed back."

Curious, Redding moved toward the cockpit and squeezed through the small bulkhead in his armor. Outside the windshield there, partly hidden by the swirling snow, came floodlights from a metallic structure that was embedded in the ice. The structure curved out of view when Nishant banked the ship back toward the sky.

This planet was not in the path of Fury's course, no one else has been out this far before so how did their contact in the Intelligence learn of some alien outpost. If the owners of this outpost weren't hostile like their last three encounters, then maybe diplomacy can finally be established with an alien race.