Out of Time


Credit: NASA

In a world devastated by a chromal shift of their parent star, the last great power must be on constant look out to reclaim the knowledge of the past and add people with skill in the present to rebuild.

Tales told that this land used to harbor many plants and animals, some big, some small, but after Luciel, the light bringer changed her color, nearly everything died. Now, the land was a desert as far as the eye could see, and many within the tribe had never witnessed an area that was not arid and dry. Most of these people had never seen a flying craft, there really was only one nation that could still afford to use them, and The State rarely ventured this far from their borders. Nevertheless, a crowd had formed outside the camp to watch as a helicopter approached from the west to settle down in the sands beyond the camp. The masses wore loose coverings of many light materials, from the increasingly scarce modern textiles to fabrics of a more rustic nature. All had as much of their skin covered as possible, to protect from the harmful radiation of Luceil, now more dangerous than it had ever been before the shift.

As the hurricane of dust kicked up by the rotating wings erupted, a loner exited, grabbed a large backpack, and shut the sliding door. The man wore loose desert colored military grade BDUs with multiple pieces of tech and munitions attached all over him and his large backpack. With his oversized hat and paint covering his face instead of local custom of cloth, there was no way he would blend into the crowd. After he hit the side, the metal bird leapt back into the air and the sands calmed once more. He approached the masses as they recovered and a single large warrior greeted him.

“Welcome to our humble camp, Statesmen.” He placed his closed fist on his chest in greeting, “I am Avel, Juggernaut of the Sultan, He was expecting, a greater commitment to our find.”

“Greetings of the day, Avel, I am Daven Muth, Captain in the Archeology council of The State,” he inclined his head, “As you know, resource is scarce across the globe, as much as we would like to, we cannot jump headlong into each lead that crosses our desks. I am here to assess the potential benefits of cooperation.”

“Of course, I understand, the Sultan invites you to partake in a feast in your honor and the hopes of many years of peace and cooperation. This is Stephen, he will be happy to take your gear...”

As he spoke another, in rattier clothes approached to help Daven take off his pack, “If it’s all the same to you, I would prefer to keep my things with me, it being sensitive and rare tech and all.”

Stephen looked to Avel for a decision and he indicated the man should depart, “Of course we understand, please, the Sultan’s Camper is in the center of the camp.

The camp was a motley collection of campers and other vehicles surrounded by tents and animals, “If I may, with fuel so scarce, how do you maintain all these vehicles?”

“We have solar and other renewable energy sources, we trade with some of the other tribes that claim some of the old oil rigs, and we also grow and harvest algae that can be refined into fuel and food.”

“That is beyond my expertise, but that tech might be something The State is willing to trade for.”

“It is also beyond my knowledge, but it is something to keep in mind for your negotiations.” Avel shrugged, “Here is The Sultan’s camper, welcome.”

Within the grand camper with slide out panels and powerful air conditioning, the Sultan sat at the far end of a large table, being set with some of the finest smelling food Daven had had in awhile.

“Ah, this must be the leader!” The Sultan beamed, “Can I assume the rest of your team is ‘securing’ your accommodations?”

“It is just me for now, Sultan, this is quite a distance from where we normally tread.”

“The complex is vast, and we cannot wait around and support you while you explore it all.”

“Highness, be assured we are eager to see what secrets are held in the underground, however, with resource as scarce as it is, we have to be assured, with our own eyes, if it is worth it first.”

There was half a second where his veneer of calm wavered, “Ah, but of course, I understand completely. Please lay down your burdens and join us at the table.”

As the Sultan stood to make his short way to the table, a group of servers pulled dishes from the table and removed some chairs. One of his helpers pulled his chair out for him as Daven put his pack down at the base of the wall closest to the chair he chose to sit in. In the end, there were only 2 chairs left at the table, all the staff, and even Avel stood back and waited to be called on to do whatever task they had been assigned.

“Will you be wanting to make your way to the ruins tonight?” the Sultan asked around a full mouth.

“It has been a long trip, Sultan, I believe I will turn in early and take an early start tomorrow.”

“Excellent choice, Avel will be your liaison between yourself and us, he has been given the information he needs to get you to, into, around, and back from the site.”

“You honor me Sultan.”

As Lucille began her climb into the heavens, Avel led Daven out of the camp, past an oasis, and into a fissure beyond. The entrance to the compound was a good distance into the fissure and well hidden from passing view.

“We first learned of this facility some years ago, “Avel exposited as they approached, “But we didn’t know that it was such an extensive site until this season, when we finally gained entrance to the foyer, we have been awaiting some kind of assistance or something for a while.”

“It was my understanding,” Daven returned, looking over the area, “That your tribe didn’t stay for more than a few weeks at any site?”

“It is true, and to be honest, I and some of the others have been getting itchy to move.” Avel nodded with a sigh, “We only work at the site a little during the time we are here. The Sultan believes a great reward waits for some kind of information from this site.”

“Is this a recent idea?”

“This is the first season I have heard of it, though I am not in the inner circle.”

“I have to say, Avel, we of The State do value knowledge, but even with tribes local to us where we have recurring trade, trade is difficult. I’m not certain what common ground we could find.”

“Such matters are not mine,” Avel shrugged, “Fighting and honor are about all I know. But remember, you did have interest in our solar and algae knowledge.”

“That is true, so let’s see what this place may be worth so we can get negotiations started.”

“By your leave, Statesmen.”

They stepped into a shallow cave and approached the door. It was certainly not natural, but the metal was painted and camouflaged to look like rock. There were clear indications of many people entering and leaving and the door opening and closing. As Daven took some readings and measurements with his equipment, Avel approached the side of the door, opened an access panel and punched in a code he read from a shabby note.

“I thought you only knew how to fight?” Daven laughed as a puff of air passed over them.

“I can also read, did I not mention that?” he smiled, “This is as far as we have gotten, but it was enough to attract the attention of the many tribes of the region.”

“I can see why, this is far beyond the tech level of the area.”

The inside was cool, soft organic light cascaded over composites, ceramics, and metals. Many artifacts and tools littered the ground covered with dust and dirt. The center of the room was a lowered pit with mounts where a collapsed grating should be connected, and above were some pipes and wires and spikets. Around the lowered area were raised areas where controls should be, though some of it was stripped of components and some railings, this was a decontamination center. Directly across from the entrance was a door that had not been breached, but around the room were others that had, though they went nowhere.

“This matches the layout of compounds we found in the Feylorne Mountains back home. It’s probably a fallout shelter, there should be food, water, munitions, fuel, etcetera in there.”

“Fall out shelters?” Avel asked, curious because he had nothing better to do.

“Yeah, the old governments designed and built these things all over the world before Lucille turned red.” Daven finds a powered down hidden panel.

“I always thought yellow Lucille was a myth, are you telling me it’s true?”

“Yes, The State has extensive records from the time immediately following the chromal shift.” Daven shrugged, digging through his bag, “Looks like this was an unmanned facility, unlike the ones we had, and it has survived relatively untouched, there may be complete Yellow Lucille records.”

“Is that significant?”

“Oh yes, a lot of knowledge and tech was lost during that time, not to mention literature and other records.” He started to search for connections in the wall to attached his own equipment, “We’ll have to see when we get out of decon.”

“I have to ask, what’s ‘Decon’?”

“It means to remove contamination, like radiation, biological debris, environmental contamination that kind of stuff.” he returned finishing his connections.

“What are you doing?”

“There is no power, and this door can’t be opened without it, so I have to introduce some."

“How can there be no power, there is light?”

“The light is emitted by a form of algae behind those panels designed so they have enough food for a few dozen more years.”

As he started up his very concentrated fuel cell the panels around the door light up and flashed symbols. As quickly as the symbols appeared Devon responded and navigated menus and submenus.

“Are you actually reading that, or guessing?” Avel marveled.

“Reading, if you make the wrong entry you risk putting the facility on lockdown, and that would be a major bad situation.”

“How can you read that?”

“It's pre-shift Aznian, not a local derived language.” He finished his computer work and pressed an action key, “Open sesame.”

The door shifted slightly back and tilted to become floor, as it did so, Devan pulled out a pair of breather masks then sampled the air, “That’s odd, I was expecting the air to be far more stale, but these readings of relatively normal.” He put the masks back and pulled out a gun.

“You appear concerned, Statesmen,” Avel observed as he too pulled out a sword and handgun.

“I am extremely concerned, Avel, if the air was not stagnate, it means this facility could be manned, and if they haven’t been out of the facility as the state suggests, they will more than likely be hostile.” He acknowledged, “I was under the impression that the peoples of this area didn’t use projectile weapons?”

“It is not normal, no.” Avel shrugged, “But we have to be ready in case a major offensive happens. Rest assured, I am one of the few that is very proficient.”

“Good to know, stay at the ready.”

As they had been talking light wavered to life illuminating a long corridor, devoid of dust and debris, “How far does it go?” Avel gasped.

“Given how far underground it is,” Daven shrugged stepping in, “As far as needed. Watch your step, security protocols may be in place.”

He hesitated, this was already more than he had bargained for, but he was bound to protect the statesmen, and would not dis honor himself by staying behind, “By your leave, Statesmen.”

The pair cautiously made their way down the corridor, clearing some rooms as they went, Daven making notes on his wrist mounted computer, Avel suppressing his fear of enclosed spaces, and doing his best to cover their flanks.

“I do not wish to speak out of place, Statesmen, but do we have a destination in mind?”

“The main control node and primary server at the center of the facility, all the applicable information will be there and a decision can be made.”

As they tried to access another room an alarm suddenly sounded, “That does not bode well for us, does it?”

“No, Avel, it does not, that is a vault integrity alarm. I was wrong, it’s not manned, it’s a seed ark with a central growing chamber. And this door must lead to the biosphere and it didn’t recognize my tech.”

“Did it suddenly get cold?”

“Yeah, it’s a flash freeze protocol to protect the seeds, invaders will not normally be equipped to handle cold, especially in a desert,” Daven bolted down the corridor, “We have about 15 minutes before we freeze to death.”

“Well, today is not a good day to die, but how is there enough power to cool it?” Avel demanded.

“Oh, this place is probably nuclear powered and it has a heat sink miles away to mislead tomb raiders.” Daven returned as if his life wasn’t at stake.

Just before they were to enter a cross corridor, Daven abruptly stopped them both, “That is the main corridor not far from the control node, it will have traps, and they will be active now.”

Avel pulled from one of his many pockets a mini spyglass used to look around corners, “Looks like there are 2 turrets that extended from panels on either side of the hall, and one from the ceiling.”

“And their auto targeting protocols will be too quick for us to react to.”

“I hope you have a trick up your sleeve.” Avel’s breath was already puffing.

Rather than waste time by acknowledging the other again, Daven pulled out a large datapad and collection of wires and tools to break into a peripheral processing unit a few steps away from the corner behind an unassuming panel. With shivering hands, he sniped and attached wires systematically, and tapped on the pad.

After a moment of furious work and whisper-screamed epitaphs he rubbed his hands and turned to Avel, teeth chattering, “Avel, are the turrets still active?”

With fumbling hands, he peeked through his spy glass again, “The turrets have retracted, the way is clear, Statesmen.”

Before he could finish, Daven rushed past, “Com’on, we’ve not much time left.”

The pair began to run, “If you could hack the system from there, why not stop the cold?”

“That was a local power node, environmental controls are hardened and the only high-speed access to it is directly from the control area."

The door to the control node was in lockdown, and Daven’s fingers started to fail to respond correctly, but he diligently hacked the door. Finally, the door slid open and revealed the control room. It was a decent sized room filled with controls screens and other technical gadgetry.

“Do you have any idea which console controls the chills?” Avel gasped, seeing the complexity of the room.

“A little idea, but the cold is starting to get to me,” Daven responded heading to a terminal at the far end of the room.

Seconds seemed like hours as Daven worked controls and surfed a bazillion menus. Finally, as lips turned blue and skin became grey, Daven sighed and collapsed in victory.

“It’s not getting any warmer.” Avel breathed into his hands to warm them up.

“It will take a bit for the system to reset from quick cool to warm.” Daven sighed, “After I get feeling back in my fingers, I’m going to search the system for what it’s worth.

After the pair recovered and the mainframe was scanned for useful bits, they made their way back to the decon chamber. Just outside the facility, the Sultan waited with a contingent of well-armed warriors.

“Ah, Sultan.” Daven remarked calmly as Avel’s eyes grew in shock, “This facility is impressive, we may be able to negotiate a finder’s fee for you and your tribe.”

“Foolish Statesmen,” The Sultan chuckled, “This was never about your precious ‘production resource.’ I have no use for the coin of a dying empire. I was hoping to have more of you to sell to the Gegne, but at least you opened a new shelter for us, we could always use the supplies inside.”

“My Sultan...” Avel started, his shock all over his face, “What is this, this was...”

“You’re out of line, Avel.” The Sultan sneered, “Return to your post or suffer the same fate as the statesmen.”

“I accepted the charge of the protection of this statesmen, and I have honor.”

“Very well.” The Sultan shrugged, “Take them both down, try not to kill them unless you have to, we can’t sell corpses.”

The pair darted back to the decon chamber, “The Gegne are not kind to their slaves. I would recommend not being taken alive. As short as it was, it has been an honor to work with you. Let’s take as many of these honorless pigs with us as we can,” Avel sneered.

“Sounds like a plan.” Daven shrugged, but stopped Avel from darting out into the fray, “How do you feel about ex-machina?”

“Are you still recovering from the cold, what is ex-machina?”

“While we were looking through the computer, I contacted The State, all we have to do is survive for 30 more minutes and air superiority will be ours.”

At times it was a little hairy, but the pair did manage to hold out for the right length of time. Then, quietly at first, a loud drone erupted. A hovering craft blew over the aggressors.

“What type of craft is that?” Called Avel over the deafening noise.

“High air speed, vertical takeoff and landing jet. The only craft that could get here from The State in time.”

“Troops of the Sultan!” the loudspeaker on the craft blared, “Lay down your arms and retreat, you will not be warned again!”

In response, the Sultan's troops shot at the plane, at which point the planes mini-guns roared to live and made blood stains of anything that moved.

Daven manipulated his wrist computer, “Air wing ‘Nightterror’ thanks for the assist, looks like you got them all.”

“Not a problem, Captain.” The plane returned, “We can’t set down here, we’ll take up a position just before the oasis, sending you an op-point called Able.”

“Roger, copy receipt of coordinates, meet you in ten.”

“Roger, out.”

“Though the troops have scattered, the survivors will be back, and since I do not see the Sultan amongst the dead, we have made a dedicated enemy today.” Avel held his hand out to Daven, “The State will be persona non-grata in this area. Though you can obviously take care of yourself, you should probably leave quickly.”

Daven returned the handshake, “The State hold our own. What of you Avel? Surely you are non-grata yourself.”

“There are other tribes and my skill is renowned, as well as my honor...”

“There is also The State.” Daven shrugged, “We highly value honor and skill.”

“But I am of a tribe that tried to kill you...”

“And you sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears, and ruined your life to save your charge.”

“How does one become a statesman?”

“We find citizens in many ways, but in the end, one gets sponsorship to attend indoctrination.” Daven returned, “From what I’ve seen, you have great potential, if you want it, you have my endorsement. But we have to leave now.”

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Out of Time
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Chapter One