“Second Lieutenant Hans reporting in, Sir!” Hans Angori saluted sharply, his face impassive and body rigid. The commanding officer returned the salute and waved him to the facing chair.
“Lieutenant, you have been summoned here to undertake a mission of great importance and of the utmost secrecy. It is for that reason that you received no briefing whatsoever prior to this. Given the nature though, i can only offer you two options moving forward. The first, that you trust us implicitly in having assigned you to a mission that is both suited to your abilities and capabilities. Doing so will mean auto-acceptance of the mission.
“Deferring or expressing second thoughts past that point will, unfortunately, lead to your treatment to a Psyche Reset, which, undoubtedly, can have disastrous effects.”
He paused, looking into Hans’ cold and apparently dead eyes.
“The second option, though offering a tad more flexibility, is nonetheless uncomfortable, to say the least. It entails injecting you with a 250cc dose of Hydrolucil, which, once its effects kick in, will put you in something of a stupor. You will retain full mental functions, but for the duration of thirty to forty minutes that the compound is active, no memories will be made. It is during that time that you will be briefed and asked to decide on whether or not you accept the mission. Simple enough, but as you know, Hydrolucil leaves you with painful stomach cramps and debilitating headaches for at least a week.”
Commander Zeth twiddled his pencil, shifted in his seat and bore down on Hans. “Please make your choice now.”
Hans, unflinchingly “The first, Sir. I have confidence in the Forces. I pledged my life to it and the Flag, and give every fiber of my being to serving its cause.”
Zeth allowed the corner of his lips to turn up in a near-imperceptible smile. As predicted, and as hoped. Hans was the man and the plan could proceed.
“Very well. On behalf of the Forces and the Flag, I thank you for your loyalty and utmost dedication. To proceed: you will be given a new identity and shipped of to Second Terra. There you will attempt to infiltrate the Galaxy Gang by joining it and working your way up the ranks. Intel suggests they have a second base of operations where phase weapons are being developed. We have been unsuccessful at digging up anymore information, and need an inside man.
“As soon as you get the coordinates or location, relay the information to us as soon as possible. We have already assembled a strike team and have warships on the ready. Affirmative action cannot be delayed, as I’m sure you’re aware, given the current… delicate political situation between us and them. That’s all from me. Sergeant Roi outside will escort you to the secondary briefing chamber where you will also receive the necessary equipment. Good luck soldier, and Godspeed.”
At that the hologram of the Commander blinked out, and just for a moment Hans’ eyes widened. He had not seen a holographic projector of such high fidelity. All of a sudden, he had been pulled into the deep world of military secrets and top-of-the-line tech. Exciting times lay ahead.
In the year following his deployment and start of mission, Hans had the fortuitousness of being caught in a nasty firefight with high stakes. That unplanned incident quickly bought him the trust of the Galaxy Gang watchman who had been keeping tabs on him.
The recruitment happened quickly and earlier than planned, and Hans lost no chance to prove to his superiors that he was every bit the man they needed on their side. It worked. Hans Angori, now Rigland May Sinfeld, was exceedingly good at what he did.
“Sinfeld! Come here, sit, please. You… have been with us for some time. Not officially, but somewhat a member. How are you, friend?”
Lino Deltori, the mysterious Gang agent who coordinated Hans’ sector, was a thickset man with slits for eyes and an unpleasant aura. He leaned heavily into the plush sofa, studying Hans with beady eyes.
“I am well. It has been an honour. As you well know, the greater honour is mine. Since my father’s death, I have been thirsting for something… real. Something that could get us all to a better place. I have not looked back.”
“Yes, indeed. If only your father were here, eh? But come, let us not dally. You have proven yourself. You are a friend. It’s time… to make you a brother. We will have the ceremony this weekend, after dinner, at the Meglari Side. We will see you there, eh? Dress well.” Deltori smiled a humorless smile, and crossed his right leg. From a hidden corner, a runner brought in his hookah, and Hans knew the meeting was over.
“Very well. Again, the honour is mine. I will take my leave.” He rose, kissed his signet ring, and walked backwards three steps before turning and leaving the dingy room.
The raucousness and merriment gave way to pindrop silence the moment His High Excellence Gravis Manrin stood up, signet-hand raised.
“Our cause has come a long way. We have grown from strength to strength. Today we have feasted, for we have in our midst three friends, who will soon be brothers.”
The assembled crowd boomed “Brothers!” once, crisply, and was silent again.
“Gentlemen, bring out the Goltori.”
From the ends of the room, men emerged silently with bronze pitchers and silver cups. The cups were handed, each to a man, and from the pitcher poured forth a thick, shiny liquid. Each man then spat into their cup and swirled it around.
The three new initiates had been briefed, and did so. As they swirled their cups, Gravis Manrin spoke once more.
“We have fought together, bled together, and proven our alliance to the Gang and one another. So tonight, we will all drink Goltori together. Friends to brothers. Brothers, to remember who you are. This is us, this is unity, this is for the greater good of the Gang and all its work. We drink.”
Every man in the room brought his cup to his lips and tilted it back, the black liquid first viscous and slow, then rapidly sliding in once it touched their lips. It was hardly necessary to swallow, for despite its appearance and heavy scent, there was no taste and it left little sensation on their mouths. Cups drained, spirits raised, the men raised their signet hands and cheered.
The merriment continued, and everyone was rapturous, maybe even insanely so.
Some indeterminate time later, through the fog of work, battling, covert operations and everything else imaginable, Hans found himself in a meeting discussing the very thing he set out to find: the location of the covert base. The weapons factory, the Gang’s newest and deadliest addition.
“Gentlemen, the agenda of today’s…”
The agent spoke on, but Hans’ attention was not with him. Silently, he studied the star chart on the screen, which displayed intercepted shipping routes and travel paths to the new base. He triangulated the locations in his head, heart thumping but face always impassive, as he slowly worked out its location.
Geth. Hidden in the gas cloud of the third planet orbiting its double-star. He checked his calculations, going slowly this time. He was right the first time.
He listened to the briefing then, soaking in all the information he could, and contributing when called upon. Just awhile more, and he’d be back to his room…
The door closed, he double-checked its lock. He proceeded to his pack and removed the still-new shoes inside. Peeling back the sole, he removed the concealer chip from one shoe, then the long-range transmitter from the second.
His fingers moved swiftly and accurately and outer appearances would indicate a calm and relaxed person doing some routing task. But inside, Hans was hyper-aware that he was now in the most critical moment of his mission. He was close to achieving something big.
The chip and transmitter were hooked to his computer, and he began typing the access codes and transmission address. The screen flashed and the connection status became ACTIVE. The road was open, an invisible thread from his computer to the receiving one, through blockers and bafflers, to some remote listening device in a hidden location. Once he hit ‘send’, the data packets would should through that thread, like a silver bullet piercing through time and space, to reach its target and begin a cascade of events which would knock the Gang to its knees.
Only… the moment he put his fingers to his keyboard to start typing, his hands froze, and he felt a painful cramp in his arms. He drew a sharp breath and grunted as a wave of pressure built up in him. He sat there, nearly motionless and in pain, for ten agonizing minutes.
Then he heard the override warning; someone was outside. The door beeped, and hissed open. Hans could only move his eyes towards the direction of the door, as a figure stepped slowly in, heavy boots thudding crisply with every step.
It was Enedi, the medic. He looked at Hans with questioning eyes, then lowered his head and shook it.
“Brother… i felt your pull. You… tried to do something.”
He looked up at Hans again, disappointment plain on his face.
“But why? You’re one of us!” And he looked down again.
“Of course you couldn’t. We drank Goltori together. You became one of us. Bound to our mission. Now you know what Goltori does…”
A few more men had appeared at the door, and they exchanged words. With a look of disgust, Enedi left, and the others came in and roughly removed Hans from his room.
Three years ago, in the Galaxy Gang’s infancy.
The exploration ship Ulra II was dispatched to enter the Oort cloud in search of a long-gone research vessel. It had been shut down and quarantined for some reason, but the records held no information.
Now, in the Gang’s approaching phase of rapid expansion, they needed that vessel again. Whether or not there was valuable resources onboard was secondary; of prime importance was the first-edition nucleic mold, which, despite its many flaws and quirks, could handle phase bombardments much more readily than the flashier, fancier, but cheaply made new models.
Ulra II was docked, and in their suits, Meyer and Fito left the ship’s airlock to the sealed-off one of The Niriti Sun. Peeling back the yellow-blue quarantine tape, Meyer looked at Fito.
“This is the part i hate the most. It feels… wrong.”
Fito kept at his work and did not reply.
“You know, like opening Pandora’s box or something? Or… trespassing. Yeah more of that. They sealed it off for a reason, right? I don’t know. I mean…” Meyer trailed off.
With the tape out of the way, the two engaged the manual overrides and opened the hatch. It opened silently, and the two left the vacuum of the tube to enter the vacuum of the entry sectional. The closed the hatch behind them and opened the next, leading into the ship proper.
It was dark, save for some glowing lights on certain equipment and panels. Fito stopped. For the first time, he spoke.
“Meyer. Stop. I don’t get it. This ship’s been out for years. Why are there still some lights? Where’s the power source?”
“Huh. Well. I suppose you’re right, but aren’t these old ships nuclear-powered or something? And given the low-consumption of the equipment and possibly an improper shutdown of the core, i suppose-“
Fito hit on his headlamp and pulled out his blaster simultaneously, aiming it at the far table where things had been suddenly knocked off and floating away.
“Shit! What the hell?!” and Meyer’s blaster was out too.
Please! Don’t shoot!
The two men froze, as they heard that whisper of a voice in their heads.
“BENETH, Fito, you hear that?!”
Fito held up a finger to silence his friend, as he strained to make something out.
I’ll approach slowly. Please, don’t shoot. I am weak and defenseless. Please.
And from the next table, a strand of black slime stretched and latched on to the next table, and in that fashion, webbed its way across to within deadshot range of their blasters.
Help. I am here as a refuge. Do not harm me, I beg of you.
“What the hell are you?!” demanded Fito.
Xalgan parasite. From far beyond. Stranded in space, landed here. I’m dying.
“No, wait, how come you speak our language? I mean, you- It… Answer!”
I don’t speak, merely interfacing with your psyches. Your minds make meaning of my communication.
“So why shouldn’t we finish you off right this instant?”
I want to live! Just like you. And… I can be of use. I am an adaptive parasite, able to mesh with nearly any lifeform. Once i am integrated, infected lifeforms are then connected to a primitive hive mind. But what you want me to do with that… is your wish.
Use me, and you can control others. Please, that is the truth.