Star Force: Marauders (SF63)

BOOK: Star Force: Marauders (SF63)
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August 3, 2734

Deeran
System
(Benoid)

Wexfa

 

Wixxi ran through the forest following the small trail
that connected their frontier villages as she stared up into the sky where
there was an occasional break in the yellow canopy. Up high there was a ship
was descending, and it was Star Force. At first the Hevmaj though it was right
over their heads, but she didn’t grasp the size of the thing until a few
aeroships
passed underneath it. They were flying high
already and the little
fuzzball
had thought they were
going to pass over top of it, but when the reverse happened she realized that
this was something bigger than big and had jumped out of the treehouse she was
in and began running to the nearest village.

Wixxi’s
stubby legs moved as
rapidly as possible, hopping over a few puddles on the trail and otherwise
trying to avoid the rocks and roots that had been exposed after the recent
storm. It had dropped so much water that the rivers had flooded…something that
hadn’t happened in more than a century.

The rain had very rarely used to come to her
continent, with the forests being dry scrubs for the most part, but ever since
the Hevmaj had joined Star Force things had changed rapidly. The rain was
something new, and coming on the heels of several atmospheric adjustments that
were being made. Though Wixxi didn’t fully understand what they were doing,
she’d learned in the maturia that there were large pockets of water beneath the
surface, and that Star Force was tapping those to create subsurface structures.

The water they took out was then being shunted up to
the surface, with the humidity of the planet gradually increasing. That had
produced an escalating climate change that was causing the forests covering her
continent to grow rapidly, and even a few ‘lakes’ had been created. Previously
all surface water had been located on other continents, but now the central
landmass was beginning to become dotted with shimmering pools that many of the
older Hevmaj still couldn’t believe were actually here.

Wixxi continued to run as the giant ship came closer
to the surface, with her guessing it was headed for the large plain that had
been cut out of the forest further to the south. There was no way she could run
all the way there, but in the village there were high observation posts open to
the public and that’s where she intended to go, hopefully being able to see
what was happening before they got too crowded.

It took a few more minutes before she reached the edge
of the village and the thick yellow trees disappeared, with her bare paws
crossing over from dirt to synthetic paving stones. They were impossibly
smooth, yet
grippy
, and covered the narrow walkways
running between the 14 tree-like buildings that made up this village.
Wixxi’s
continent wasn’t densely inhabited like the others
were, but rather dotted with tiny villages that allowed the large tracks of
forest to be preserved rather than cut down and replaced with the magnificent
cities that Star Force had taught the Hevmaj to build.

They’d been here all her life, and she’d grown up in
one of their maturia, but now that she’d chosen to live on the frontier Wixxi
had met many older Hevmaj that told her stories of the times before, and it
seemed like most of them had chosen to migrate away from the magnificent cities
and cluster here, where they could live in relative isolation, given that the
Star Force empire was so different from what they’d originally known that they
could never become completely comfortable with the changes, at least not in the
major population centers.

They weren’t naysayers, fortunately, and Wixxi found
that she rather liked the odd Hevmaj. She wasn’t one to work, rather simply
living her life on the spur of the moment and doing what she liked. Most of
that time was spent in the forest, exploring and just soaking in the natural
environment that had been absent from her maturia training. What she would do
tomorrow she didn’t know, nor care. All that concerned
her
was the moment, and right now there was something big going on that she wanted
to see.

Wixxi ran through the narrow streets and darted inside
one of the three tallest structures, heading up a stairwell with considerable
effort and coming out on the top level breathless, sucking in heavy puffs of
the argon-rich atmosphere that the Hevmaj breathed. The Star Force people
didn’t, and had to wear masks whenever they went outside. Likewise the Hevmaj,
if any of them were to go into the few oxygen-rich cities, had to wear their
own else they’d take in the poison. Because of this there was a stark divide
between the empire and the Hevmaj. They were part of Star Force, but a
disconnected piece of it that could never fully integrate with the oxygen
breathers.

The same was true of the other races in the Benoid,
all of whom had also joined the empire. They could either breathe their air or
at least exist in it, save for the
Vonx
, who were
fully aquatic and couldn’t breathe atmosphere at all. Even within the Benoid
the Hevmaj had been necessarily separated from the others, or so Wixxi had been
told, but they’d always kept close ties with the others how and when they
could. The same was true now that they were part of Star Force, yet the
physical limitations of their race always kept them distant.

Which was why it was rare to see one of the Star Force
ships on the surface of the planet. Normally they’d dock with starports in
orbit and transfer supplies there that the Hevmaj ships would bring down, but
this was even
more rare
, for her continent saw almost
no traffic at all, and the size of the ship was so big that it could have held
the population of the nearest 100 villages with ease.

When Wixxi finally got her breath she pushed her way
through the other 8 Hevmaj and got a place on the window that stretched the
entire length around the tower top, staring out silently with the others as
they saw the giant ship finally touch down in the clearing. She’d come up here
before, using at telescopic viewer to watch the clearing being cut so far away.
She would have walked there to see it in person, but it was
very
far away. Fortunately, the building
was taller than the forest by quite a bit and allowed enough of an angle to let
her and the others see a great distance, including the tower tops of the nearby
villages that all stuck up above the sea of yellow leaves that carpeted the
landscape like a big, fluffy blanket.

But off in the distance the ship that had landed stood
taller than even the towers, with its size almost fully encompassing the plain
that had been cut by Hevmaj workers. Wixxi was pretty sure that there weren’t
Hevmaj in this ship, and pulling her viewer out of a small pocket on her
utility belt and used it to zoom in enough that she could pick out individual
trees.

It took a while to find one of the entrances on the
giant ship, but when she did she saw a ramp half lowered and disappearing below
the tree line. Wixxi couldn’t see the ground, but she could see what was coming
off the ship.

They were construction mechs, and there were a lot of
them. She knew what they were based on her maturia training, but she’d never
seen more than a handful in person. Some had been used to build a neighboring
village two years ago, but these were much bigger and pouring out of the giant
ship. Wixxi watched for several minutes before cargo crates and bundled
machinery started to follow, being brought out on anti-
grav
sleds. The mechs would be using it to do what, the Hevmaj couldn’t make out.
Until the machinery deployed she couldn’t tell what it was for, and
unfortunately the tree line was in the way.

She couldn’t see anything below the ramp, and even the
mechs were shorter than the trees…or at least most of them were. A few monster
versions could be seen roaming around the ship, but other than a few meters of
mech Wixxi couldn’t see anything.

That didn’t matter, for she and the others stayed
there for a quite a while watching the offloading and trying to catch any
glimpse of activity that they could. No one knew what was going on, but
whatever it was it was big.

At least for their little corner of the frontier
continent.

 

Mandy Garrison walked down one of the MCV’s many
ramps, following the last of the mechs out of the atmospheric containment field
that separated the ship’s interior from the oxygen-less atmosphere. The Human
tech wore a fully body suit of light armor that had an attached pack with
enough air to last more than 24 hours.

The soft, wet ground past the ramp was now a mess of
mud thanks to the mechs, but she didn’t care. Her armor was completely
self-contained so, even as her dark green boots sank into the inch of muddy
water and depressed twice that far, she pushed through and began following the
mech trail not caring about how dirty she got. None of it would reach her skin,
and she’d
learned
from many past construction missions
that the grime was just part of the job. Once they got this site properly
conditioned the wildness of it would be replaced with Star Force
infrastructure.

Until then, she and the others got to play in the mud.

Mandy was the only
Human
on
the MCV, with the rest of the crew and workers being comprised of Kiritak. Now
that the trade route between the Benoid and the ADZ was up and running, a lot
of new faces were showing up in the mini empire, herself included. Regular
jumpship traffic was moving along the route, with citizens now able to book
passage whenever they liked. The trade routes had even moved out past the
Benoid now, with the cluster of systems becoming a central hub with four other
spurs branching off of it out into the surrounding region, establishing a Star
Force presence in the huge tract of stars that was many times the size of the
ADZ and beyond their control.

Key to it all was their military, and the Benoid
already had a sizeable fleet patrolling its 7 systems, plus a handful of
Sentinels in each, but that was just the first few phases of development. Mandy
had been sent here with her crew of Kiritak to begin carving out a subsurface
military base that would be recovered with forest after construction was
complete.
Wexfa
already had several military bases
located on other continents, both made up of Hevmaj and mainline troops, but in
order to more firmly secure this world there needed to be other bases, some of
which were clandestine.

This project was for one such facility, and while they
weren’t going to try and disguise the construction site, most of what they
built would be below ground and therefore not visible for others to see. The
location of this future base might become public knowledge, but such things
often faded with time and the remoteness of this continent, which Star Force
intended to keep remote and virtually unpopulated, would make it a different
type of challenge for any invading army to overcome.

The more varied a planetary defense plan was, the
greater longevity it would allow. Right now the planet was safe, but only with
a couple of layers of protection. This base and others slated to be built in
the coming decades would add another layer, though with resources always being
a limitation this was a significant project that she’d been entrusted with.

Mandy had learned that a lot of races outside of Star
Force only built what they thought they would need, and a lot of times that
proved to be insufficient when the time of crisis came. Star Force built to be
ready for more than they expected, and were always adding additional layers of
defense, even on Earth, as time progressed. It could have been deemed as
wasteful when these resources could have gone to establishing new colonies or
additional habitats for the ever growing Hevmaj population, but when an attack
came you didn’t want to be in the position of wishing for more military
resources.

And those resources had to be built during times when
they seemed extraneous.

The lizard front was still approaching, but its rapid
progress had been reduced down to a creep thanks to Canderous’ activities within
the region. That said, the lizards were still expanding elsewhere and flanking
the protected region that Star Force was securing as much as it reasonably
could. It was never enough, and lizard incursions were still occurring around
the perimeter. Mandy didn’t know if they’d ever get this far, and if they did
it would be after fighting through several other defense forces, but the key to
holding territory was in the creation of strongholds that you could fall back
to if things went poorly for you and good for the enemy.

This planet wasn’t a stronghold yet, though the Hevmaj
and others might think so given the upgrades Star Force had made. The base
Mandy and the Kiritak were about to build would be designed for the Bsidd, who
would eventually be depositing a large amount of troops in the system. When
they did the ‘stronghold’ status would ensue, but they couldn’t come until
enough facilities were constructed, both on planet and in orbit, which was why
Mandy and this MCV had been sent along with 9 others to the system.

The tech hopped out of the mech tracks and got to the
short grass that had yet to be smashed into nonexistence. Staying on it she
paralleled the mechs’ path and followed them out to the various depots they
were creating with stacks of crates and equipment, ending up at the
coring
machine as it was set in place. The giant slab of
machinery had been cobbled together from multiple sections and now stood like a
thick, square brick that had squashed itself into the mud, but there was an
access staircase on the near side and Mandy jogged across the mech ruts,
getting to it and climbing up before the next one strode past.

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