Star Force: Marauders (SF63) (2 page)

BOOK: Star Force: Marauders (SF63)
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There were no workers outside the ship save for those
in the mechs as of yet, with Mandy being the only person on the ground. It
would stay that way until she gave the order, and she was going to hold off on
the heavy work until they got the site cleaned up a bit. The Kiritak were more
mobile than she was, given their hopping ability, but she wasn’t going to have
them moving around in the muck, which was damn distracting and tiresome.

Mandy got to the control station on the outside of the
slab of machinery and confirmed that the various segments had been locked
together into workable order. With a final check of the area to see if the
mechs had retreated back far enough, which they had, she powered up the
internal reactor and brought the mass to life.

With the press of a button several arms lifted out of
the smooth surface as the machine began to transform, unfurling like a giant
flower and sending various legs out to the sides that dove down into the muck
and created grip points. About four minutes later the base of the machine
lifted off the ground, pulling Mandy up into the air with it as some of the legs
became rigid and inserted into the soil below as pylons, fixing the now
elevated platform in place as various other arms and legs stretched out and
created a perimeter around the dig site.

Energy shields colored to be visible to the workers
snapped into place on the underside while extendable walkways formed outside,
including an addition to the staircase that Mandy had climbed up. Once fully
deployed, the mobile rig was set to begin cutting down into the muck and the
bedrock beneath it. The tech held off on that, needing a crew onboard to handle
the machine so that it didn’t eat out the very ground it stood on, but before
that happened it was time to create some roads.

Mandy left the
coring
machine and walked across to several other packaged machines that needed
activating while the mechs unloaded the last of the initial equipment, then
they also went through a transformation, brandishing small scale digging
equipment of their own which they began sinking into the muck at various points
where the Human indicated, scooping it up and carrying it over to several dump
sites around the perimeter, forming a ridge-like mound that started to stretch
around the square edge of the clearing as they continued to add more and more material
to it.

When they got a stretch of nearly half a mile long
cleared out from the area in front of the ramp, Mandy ordered the next set of
crews to come out. Several small hovering craft flew down carrying stacks of
panels which they first deposited at the foot of the ramp. With the rest of the
small convoy holding on the ramp and within, floating in place patiently, a few
Kiritak clad in their own environmental armor unloaded and unfolded the ‘road’
plates, further scraping and smoothing the exposed areas of ground before
laying down the first section, which was 12 meters square after unfolding and
1.3 meters thick.

When that one was set they added three more on the
sides of it, excluding where the ramp now was, with the convoy beginning to
come down and unload more plates as more and more workers were given workspace
to use. They continued to add to the grid, locking them together like
legos
and creating an offloading plaza that they then began
expanding into much narrower roads that stretched around the perimeter of the
MCV and eventually connected to each piece of machinery that Mandy had went
around and activated.

When a road spur finally connected, the Kiritak
workers would come with it, traveling on the smooth paving stones and avoiding
the mass of muck around them, with the ground water now leaking into the small
trenches alongside and outlining the roads with tiny, muddy moats.

When the roads hit the
coring
machine Mandy returned along with the work crew, seeing to it that they got
underway. She didn’t need to issue any orders other than to get to work, so the
tech just watched from a distance, standing on the edge of the loading platform
the road plates had made nearby as several mechs waited beside her.

With a huge lurch a drilling pylon dove down from the
center of the machine like a spike and ate into the muck beneath. Within a few
moments that material was shot out another arm on the machine where it fell
into an open collection crate that was the equivalent of a huge bucket. Mandy
watched it fill up, then the spout shut off and a mech walked up to remove it
as the mud and dirt, soon to become mixed with rock from below, began flowing
out another arm into more waiting crates so there would be no delay.

The mech behind Mandy picked up an empty crate and
moved it into the open slot while the full one was carried away down the road
then off it and onto the mech tracks that led to the perimeter mound. The
Kiritak at the controls tipped the crate over and dumped the material on top of
what was already there, piling it up higher in a wall that would eventually
encircle the construction site.

Mandy liked how procedure had them build their own
little fort out of the excess material, and this one was going to get some very
high walls before they were done. Those walls would eventually be cannibalized
by factories within the MCV and sorted into various useable materials, nearly
all of which would be shipped elsewhere. Everything in this base was going to
be built from parts shipped in, but the ground they were hollowing out had to
go someplace.

Star Force would find a use for it somewhere on the
planet, in one form or another. That wasn’t Mandy’s concern, she was just here
to dig and build, which right now meant playing in the mud.

As one of the walkers came back by her it stomped on
the road plates, leaving a trail of mud behind and smacking tiny bits of it up
into the air with each step, some of which splattered Mandy’s faceplate. The
energy shield covering it didn’t allow any of it to stick, but the rest of her
green armor was already dotted with brown and she knew it’d get far worse as
the day went on, especially given the rain clouds to the south that were slowly
making their way closer.

The tech sighed. At least on the inside of her armor
she was clean.

 
 

2

 
 

Garen-248 was reading the display
holos
over his desk, noting the update ping that the construction of the Bsidd base
had just begun, when something hit him in the back of the head. He spun around
in his chair and saw a food cube on the floor, as well as sensing a familiar
mind in the doorway. Before even looking at her he telekinetically picked up
the cookie and flew it into his mouth, then left the chair spinning as he stood
up.

“Three second rule still applies, I assume?” he asked
Victoria-243, who was holding and munching on a handful of the snacks.

“Not on a clean floor.”

“I wasn’t expecting you back. What’s up?”

“New assignment. Davis didn’t like what you’ve been
doing so he’s giving you the boot.”

“If you’re going to lie at least make it sound
genuine.”

“You sucking sounds genuine to me,” Victoria said,
stepping forward and giving
Garen
a friendly hug
while carefully cradling her stash in her hand. She hadn’t seen him in over two
decades. “I’m passing through, just wanted to stop in and say hi.”

“Where to?”

“Taking a fleet up the trade routes to do some
patrolling. No more empire building for me, just pirate hunting and shooting
other types of bad guys. How are you doing?”

“You mean since I took over your job and all the
others? Slow and steady progress.”

“I still think you should have come back with us. The
hard work was over.”

“Some days I agree, but the Benoid is better off for
me staying…and don’t argue that point. I know the Hevmaj better than anyone,
and bringing in less familiar Archons to take the lead would have led to inefficiencies.
We need the Benoid as a stronghold, both militarily and economically to
stabilize this region, and the sooner the better, else the trade routes are
going to get very dicey.”

“They already are, which is why I’m here. I assume
you’ve read the reports?”

“The attempted hijackings? Yes.”

“No, the successful ones.”

Garen
frowned. “When did we
lose a ship?”

“Not us, our trading partners. Their ships have been
getting hit after they leave the commerce planets and its diminishing the
incentive of weaker races to do business with us. I’m here to hunt the hunters
and restore peace and justice to the galaxy,” she said sarcastically. “I’ll be
stopping in for resupply from time to time. This is going to be my fleet’s port
of call, so make sure your appropriations adjust adequately.”

“Glad to have you in the neighborhood, but I don’t
like the idea of you sucking up all my replacement drones.”

“I don’t plan on losing many, but I would suggest you
enlarging your prison facilities. I don’t plan to shoot everyone.”

“Bringing some trophies back?”

“Who knows, but I need some place to stash them if I
do. And so far your multi-racial facilities are minimal.”

“We only have one at present, and it barely gets any
guests. Did Davis send you?”

“Steve did, but he said Davis was urging us to push
the trade routes harder. He really wants a connection to the Voku, more so than
branching out first.”

“We’re a long ways from that. What does he expect to
get from them anyway?”

Victoria smiled. “That’s what you get for hiding out
here. Paul and Cal-com are working some master strategy together, and Davis is
in on it. Star Force and the Voku are unofficially joining each other.”

“Why hasn’t that been in any of the updates? I do
monitor the boards you know, even if they are on a stupidly long delay.”

“This isn’t public knowledge yet.”

“We’re Archons.”

“This isn’t known to anyone yet, and is traveling
through word of mouth. We’re kind of still feeling out what a merger would look
like.”

“We?”

“The trailblazers are asking for suggestions.”

Garen
huffed. “That’s a
first.”

“Not so much. What they’re talking about is a lot of
low level interaction with the Voku, the sort of stuff they’d never get
involved with.
Us
lessers
do, so they want to brainstorm. Nothing official, and it’s not like they’re
taking a vote, but they’re quietly asking around and Steve wanted me to have a
chat with you about the Benoid while I’m here.”

Garen
looked over his
shoulder and telekinetically dragged two chairs over, sliding one behind his
fellow Archon. “We’re not talking militarily here, I assume,” he said, sitting
down.

Victoria twirled her chair around and straddled it,
resting her arms on the backrest. “Davis wants free flowing commerce and travel
permits between the two empires, but we can’t really do that until we get a
trade route linkage set up. The
Voku’s
own convoys
are shipping out necessary equipment and personnel, but there’s no civilian
angle as of yet.”

“I didn’t think the Voku had any civilians.”

“They don’t have lazy ass freeloaders, but they do
have independent ventures. It seems only their top tier is dedicated to the
empire round the clock, with the rest supporting it more like a hobby. That
leaves a lot of down time that they fill with other things. And no, that’s not
in the database, just word of mouth I’ve got from Steve. Davis wants the Voku
to be able to access our transportation grid and involve themselves as much as
they like within our society, and if we can do that the Benoid is going to be
on the primary trade route connection.”

“What do the Voku want with this?”

“Their empire is split in two, and rather than try and
colonize a string of worlds across the gap they’ll just use our
infrastructure.”

“So we’re a rail link for them.”

“Will be, eventually. But Davis wants to make it more
personal than that. ‘Teammates’ was the word that was used.”

“Territorial acquisition?”

Victoria shook her head. “I don’t think so. At least
not within our borders, but you never know going forward. That’s why they’re
looking for input from local commanders like you. I assume you’re still going
to stick around here for a while?”

“I don’t like other people playing in my sandbox.”

“Star Force is our sandbox. You’re just sticking to a
small corner of it.”

“Point taken. Other than self-defense, what is Davis
looking to get from the Voku here?”

“Nothing specific. He just wants to open the link up
and see what develops. But we’re all encouraged to make use of any
opportunities that arise to include the Voku where beneficial.”

“So the Benoid is going to become a way station and
you want to set up some stores to take advantage of the traffic?”

“Metaphorically speaking, yes.”

“And you’re here to plow the road for more colonies to
be established.”

“I’m here to mow the weeds. Others will do the
plowing.”

“Are we pulling back the extensions to the other trade
route branches?”

“Not pulling back, but the Voku line is taking
priority. Once we get that established we’ll branch off of it heavily.”

“That’s a change of procedure, and is going to hinder
our ability to get out ahead of the lizard creep
rimward
of here.”

“I know. Steve thinks this is the better tradeoff.”

“Warship traffic?”

Victoria nodded. “Once we make a connection and Voku
ships are moving along the route it’ll be a lot more secure than through just
our own efforts. That’ll allow us to build it up faster…”

“…and then we branch out. I get it, but we’re still
going to be losing systems to the lizards that otherwise we could have saved.”

“You think we shouldn’t then?”

“I think the Voku should build our way as well.”

“Not happening. They’re pouring their resources into
what used to be Nestafar territory. Word has it they’re getting ready to hit
Orica.”

“Ambitious bastards.”

“Their new toys are rather impressive. I’m told that
most of them are staying in their home territory, but a few have made their way
out with the reinforcements. They severely outclass us now.”

“What kind of toys are we talking about?”

“They’re still using the transformative tech, but the
components have gotten smaller. The new ships and mechs have been dubbed
‘sandmen.’”

“Weaponry upgrade?”

“They have chimra now.”

Garen
frowned. That sounded
familiar.

“Look it up later,” Victoria said. “It’s in the
database.”

“I know I’ve seen that word before,”
Garen
said impatiently, swinging his chair around and scooting
it across the floor until he got back to his desk. He accessed the secure
Archon files while Victoria rolled her eyes and scooted her chair as well,
pushing it with her feet until she came up beside him.

“That’s right, ignore your guest.”

Garen
typed in the word and
it went straight to the V’kit’no’sat weapon system. It wasn’t one of their
primaries, more like an older model they’d retired, but it was something that
they’d used rather than just cataloged.

“Tri-beam?” he said, reading the statistics that were
still listed in V’kit’no’sat. The Archons preferred them that way, not always
trusting in a translation.
 
“That’s hard
to target.”

“But incredibly damaging if you can,” Victoria added.
“So far we haven’t seen them use it in combat, but I’d wager they know what
they’re doing.”

“Where are they getting all this stuff anyway?”
Garen
wondered, for this was a huge step forward in their
already impressive tech.

“The big shots are still mum on that.”

“Think they found their own V’kit’no’sat leftovers?”

“Not according to the map. They’re way outside the old
borders.”

Garen
stared at the database
records a bit longer, getting a good grasp on the weapon system that he must
have come across at least once earlier, then he spun around to face Victoria.
“I can see why Davis wants to make friends.”

“We’re already friends. Steve says that they want us
to become brothers.”

“Sharing brothers?”

“I doubt it. Not like we need it anyway.”

“In the short term we could.”

“Hardly. We already have the blueprints for the
chimra, it’s the prerequisites we lack.”

“They could give us a few and we could glue them onto
the hull,”
Garen
offered sarcastically.

“I think we’re doing well enough with our own tech,
but if you can get them to sell you some then go for it.”

“How soon until I start seeing Voku on my doorstep?”

“The route they’re using now is more of a straight
line to Achkor, but they’re having to convoy up heavily and only have so many
ships available. If we can link in they can forego most of their military
escorts and begin shipping cargo on our jumpships as well.”

“As strong and fast as they are, why the need for
heavy escorts now? I know they’re brushing up against the Skarron advance but
they shouldn’t have much trouble blowing through systems.”

“Would you send one of ours out without protection
here?”

“Of course not, but I don’t see how a longer detour
will be that much of an advantage to them.”

“I’m not completely sold on that either, but Davis is
and that’s good enough for me.”

“Just wondering, or is Davis wanting me to head up
this route expansion?”

“No, he just wants you to integrate with it as much as
you can when it happens. Offer up any suggestions that come your way.”

“Keeping my ears and eyes open, check. Now tell me,
what big baddies are floating around out there to warrant you getting the
patrol assignment?”

“I spent a lot of time with the
Denshur
building up the Benoid too,” she reminded him. “I want to clean up the
neighborhood so I volunteered.”

“Missed me that much, huh?”

“Actually, yeah, but I could have just visited. This
needs done and I already know the region. Seemed like a good fit.”

“How long you staying?”

“A few years at least. There’s no fixed timetable, but
I may end up roaming around the route endpoint as it extends toward the Voku.
We only have their maps to rely on, and there are still a lot of uncharted
systems with who knows what lurking out there.”

“I wasn’t aware of any holes in the map between us and
the Voku?”

Victoria glared at him. “Not as in missing star
systems, but as far as not knowing what’s in
them.
Damn,
Garen
, you sound like a
newb
.”

The Archon spun back around to his desk without saying
a word, then pulled up a map of the huge region between the Benoid and Voku
space, all of which sat below them on the galactic plane. He zoomed in on the
area in question and gestured towards all of the system tags that highlighted
where each race was located.

“Looks filled in to me.”

“What the hell?” Victoria said, scooting closer and
taking over the controls. She’d just looked at the map three days ago.

“Seems you can’t read a map,
newb
.”

“Wait a second,” she said, pulling up a panel with map
statistics. A moment later she turned and punched
Garen
in the shoulder. “These are unconfirmed.”

“So is most of the galaxy.”

“No, I mean these are traveler logs compiled by races
we’ve had contact with. They’re unreliable.”

“Reliable enough to spot any big threats,”
Garen
countered.

“Not if those threats keep to themselves or a single
star system.”

“If they keep to themselves they’re not going to be a
threat to us.”

“Unknown means potentially dangerous. We can count on
the Voku charts, but everyone else’s are suspect. Why do you use that map
anyway?”

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