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214
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An Alien Cache is Discovered

An Alien Cache is Discovered

‘So, what do you think it is?’ Captain Zaro asked. He was only half listening. Likely it was another cinder cone like the last three moons. Years in college studying the finer points of command, another six months trying to get noticed then finally a ship of his own – directing it between the stars, meeting alien species, bartering under triple moons while the night sky is alive with meteorites. Then the reality hit home; go to the backend of nowhere and do repeated scans of dusty little moons around a dull red sun barely indistinguishable from the background starfield hoping to find a few mu’s of collidium, jacium or possibly some stone that would make nice facias on some planet bound bureaucrat’s office. That was two years ago and other than three visits for maintenance in an especially dull outpost Zaro and remaining crew had done little else.


‘… Sir? I said they seem to be artificial.’ Zaro was across the deck in a single stride. One of the benefits of low spin gravity.




He double checked readings as on each maintenance visit anyone that had shown enough promise and competency to get promoted to veteran status was replaced with someone fresh from training. The data however was unmistakable; there was a small cluster of cinder cones on this asteroid that had high levels of complex compounds according to the spectral analysis. Had this been a larger world, they would easily have been overlooked. In fact, there was a much larger featureless ball sunwards that also had quite a lot of dust sectors but nothing in the way of useful minerals. Might be worth double checking if this proved interesting.


As the ship was orbiting only a few kilometres above the asteroid and relying on attitude and manoeuvring thrusters due to the lack of gravity, it didn’t take long to put down. Even so, Zaro and two rookies were suited and waiting in the rotating airlock by the time the grapples engaged with planetary surface.


The small mounds were little more than a dozen metres in height with a typical ascent angle of around thirty degrees. Scaling up the cinder cones proved straightforward enough. Three billion years of cold had effectively welded all but the upper few centimetres of regolith to a firm surface and the micro-gravity made for easy ascent. Dust from each step or jump was quickly left behind, following lazy parabolic trajectories and leaving the boot prints of the team visible for next few hundred thousand years.


The top of the caldera scaled was found to be only a couple of metres in diameter and thick rime of dusty ice lined the inside. This would have once spewed cryo-gases such as nitrogen and possibly oxygen along with carbon dioxide powder and fine dust particles. If sufficiently cold, the oxygen may well have welled up in liquid form, spewing over the top as mud and blanketed the surrounding terrain in a thick layer of dissipating fog. Or something like that. Zaro was always a bit vague over the actual temperature states. Maybe it would have been liquid nitrogen and oxygen clouds. Jack would have known, till some bastard back in the heart of the Empire saw fit to drag him off last maintenance due to his exemplary record.


He dropped a glow globe down the tube. It descended lazily, illuminating ice and silica scintillations while pushing data back up to his heads-up display. Nothing particularly unusual until it got to a dozen or so metres below mean surface level; then things got interesting. As it hit what was presumably a natural bend it popped a relay to maintain signal and carried on though the rock and ice walls had been replaced by something that appeared pearlescent. Organic? Then the feed cut out.


‘Imhez, get down there,’ commanded Zak. Imhez turned from peering into the hole to the captain.
‘Not a chance, I’ve seen what happens. I ain’t going down there. I’ll get another globe.’


Wisdom prevailed though Zak was annoyed that his authority was challenged. Maybe he will file a recommendation for Imhez and promote him off the ship on the next maintenance. In the meantime, while awaiting his return with the replacement globe, Zak had Beili take samples of the material around the cone and determine minerology. This proved as dull as expected until Beili stepped into a crack and his boot came out with flakes of pearlescent material. As Zak jumped down the side of the cone to join the rookie the ground started to crumple and when Zak touched down the terrain had changed sufficiently to send him tumbling in slow motion down the rest of the slope. As he lazily spun he caught a glimpse of gas erupting from the ground where he last saw Beili. Screams first of panic then agony erupted across the coms before the signal started to glitch and within a few seconds dropped out completely. Rock and the shattered remains of Beili were launched up into the black, carried by the dissipating gas.


Liquid bubbled in the newly formed hole, boiling and forming thick mist, spreading out and quickly rolling up the sides of the cone and sweeping over the captain. The sudden increase in pressure sent his suit into critical as it detected rapid temperature drop across the membrane. Emergency response kicked in, inflating the suit to near spherical shape with a gas injection to act as a pressure barrier between the cryo-liquid exterior. This also had the effect of popping him to the surface and washing him downhill.
Within seconds it was over. Zak, his suit now deflating was more than a hundred metres away from the slowly crumbling cone. The liquid had all but boiled off and dust was slowly returning to the ground. His coms were rebooting and pins and needles were throbbing in his fingers and toes. His face shield was covered in a thick layer of frozen icy mud that the visor wipers was having difficulty removing. It settled for partial success and Zak slowly returned to his feet, holding his head an odd angle in order to get a half decent view of his surroundings.


Eventually his coms kicked back in, hallway through what was likely a running monologue from Imhez, both excited and petrified, with a repeating refrain that Beili vanished.


He staggered over to where Imhez had stopped on the far side of a large crack in the ground extending from the now inverted remains of the cinder cone. Looking down revealed the pearlescent lining of a roughly cylindrical cave maybe a two kilometres metres deep and approximately sixty in diameter though occasionally drawing in not unlike a stack of bubbles.





‘What is it?’ asked Imhez.
‘No idea. Mine shaft?’
Suspended on translucent threads extending inwards from each of the narrow section at the top of the bubbles was a small blob maybe a couple of metres in diameter.
‘You think those things made this?’
‘Yup,’ replied Zack.
‘Why?’
‘Beats me. You drop that globe you are holding and let’s see if we can find out what the hell they are.’


A few days later, having finished the accident report, Zack and Imhez looked at the fifteen blobs, now neatly stacked in the cargo bay. They still had no idea what they were for, but testing had discovered that they could convert a mass of rock into base elements, excavating a volume equal to a standard cave. Unfortunately, when their connectors to the walls were severed the pearlescent sphere quickly decayed and the entire cave became unstable and collapsed in on itself within a matter of hours. There were still a few of the blobs buried deep under unstable rock and ice and no doubt there they will stay forever.


Zack finished the report stating that the true purpose of the blobs is unlikely to ever be known and when they tested, they couldn’t find a way to keep the blob from shrivelling up into little more than a husk and risking the rest was considered a waste. On the plus side the hole created was stable unlike the ones found initially. With suitable drilling equipment, power and facilities they could be used to create a series of cave extensions to a base.


Time to check out that dust world. There may be more cinder cones and more of those strange artefacts below.



Pearl Cave Module
A free special action can be used by a base in a land sector to exhaust Pearl Cave Modules in order to create a quantity of cave complexes equal to 10 times the Cave Modules exhausted.











 
News
Is open for business...
 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Return of the LiQuans

A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely “not cute or cuddly” Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it’s not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‘civilised’ norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, “What is this amateur b*llshit?” into an uncaring universe.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war “veteran” Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf’s buffoon-like response amounted to “Dewiek be Dewiek, let’s drink and forget about it.” Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 

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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic