The Federation of Stars: Chapter 1
Posted July 23rd, 2020 by Panthera
AN: You know what? I might as well post this here. Hey, I'm Panthera, I'm 18, and even though I've been off this site for years I'm posting the draft of my most recent novel here because why not. If you read this, toss a comment my way, then go do some writing and upload it! There are curse words in this story.
Dakota’s breath was hot and wet on the inside of her helmet. It muffled her grunts of exertion and dampened the unrelenting howl of the winds all around her. Her field of vision of was narrowed to her hands and the shelf of ice in front of her. She risked a glance down. Her partner had made it to a wide ledge on the shelf about thirty minutes ago, which made her climb much easier. She could have let him lower her down and take a rest, but the wind had begun to pick up and push through the gulley, howling around them and tugging at the ropes and other climbing gear they were using to make their descent. Dakota risked being bashed against the wall if she let her partner belay her down, and with the equipment she was carrying they couldn’t risk that. So instead she slowly worked her way down, using the pegs Anders had set deep into the ice. They were secure, but were already being slowly covered with ice as the storms began to start. Byakia was known for its hellish weather, particularly in the early evening- the warm air from the sun was rapidly cooled and created winds that tore at the icy surface of the planet, and the ice that had melted and evaporated rained down on them at first as half frozen rain and then snow.
What had taken Anders fifteen minutes took Dakota over an hour, in which the rest of the light disappeared from around her. The slightest glimmer of light from any of them could give away their position and risk the entire mission, so Dakota reluctantly left her headlamp lights off. It was hard going. She began to hate on the flicker of lightning that occasionally lit up the gully. Every time it happened her night vision went a bright white and she was forced to shut her eyes and cling where she was to the side of the ice shelf. Then she had to wait for her night vision to come back and get her bearings. Only then could she keep moving downwards. A badly timed flash of lightning sparked across the sky. She was in the process of moving her left foot to the next peg when her vision went white. Dakota felt her foot hit the ice-covered side of the peg, then it glanced off the metal. Her boot slipped, and for a frantic moment she was standing on nothing. Instincts kicked in, and in her flailing the metal spikes on the bottom of her boot caught on the ice. She breathed heavily, heart pounding in her ears as she frantically tried to find the peg that she had fallen off of and continue her descent. Snow whipped around her and the wind tugged at the bulky armor she was wearing. The rope attached to her danced wildly, dropping off into darkness.
“Fuck.” Dakota’s radio was off. The initial descent was supposed to be reconnaissance only until they had found a viable route. This descent was the most crucial part of it. They other side of the gorge housed a Varien compound, one that technically didn’t exist and one the HCIF shouldn’t have known about. Any kind of radio communication could be picked up by them. She watched the rope attached to her harness dance in the wind out of the corner of her eye and felt it tug on the harness strapped to the outside of her armor. She risked a glance down. Visibility had become low, which wasn’t too much of a problem when all she was staring at was the ice shelf a handful of centimeters from her face. The snowstorm had picked up, however, and she could barely see down past her own feet. There was no way Anders could see her predicament. All he could tell was that she had stopped moving, which wasn’t unusual for her. With the massive piece of technology she had strapped to her back, it wasn’t unusual for her to stop while on her descent. In short- Anders had no way of knowing she was in trouble. Dakota was on her own. She clung to the wall like a spider, frantically praying for the wind to let up a moment or for the visibility to improve. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, however. And she could feel her left foot slipping, moving ever so slightly as she desperately tried to figure out what to do next. Finally, she managed to figure out how to reach the peg she had missed. It was just out of reach for her to move her foot back up to, but if she could just get her toes in a tiny foothold she saw just a little bit closer to it…
That action proved to be Dakota’s literal downfall. The tiny foothold must have been formed that evening by the night’s flash freezing of the melted ice from the day before, because it was more fragile than Dakota anticipated. It crumbled beneath her foot, and in the same instant her right foot slipped off of the peg she had managed to find.
She scrambled on the wall for a moment as she first pitched forward. Her head slammed against the wall, and the world exploded in pain as she fell. The wind crashed into her, and she twisted just in time to keep the equipment strapped to her mostly out of the way. She hit the ice shelf with a sickening crunch, all of the air in her lungs knocked out before she fell to the ground. She lay there for a moment or two, breathing wildly in short, painful bursts as her vision spun. There was a pain that had exploded in her leg, and the lancing pains in her chest kept her from being able to get her breath again. Her the display in her helmet had cracked. The lower left hand corner was completely shattered, and a large crack ran upwards to the upper right hand corner. Still, the majority of it was still functional. Dakota lay there on her side, listening to her whistling breath and trying to ignore the pounding of her head.
Suddenly she was aware of two bulky hands on her, rolling her over and inspecting her as well as the equipment. Anders appeared in her display, and it took Dakota a dazed moment to realize that he was checking for blood. After a moment, he stopped and she heard the tell-tale click of a private radio channel opening up.
“Hey, you okay Matthews?” His voice was muffled, and despite her pain Dakota couldn’t help but grin. Ever since she had filed a formal complaint about Anders’ complaining about the weather on Byakia with her company captain he had taken to shoving an extra scarf in his helmet, and despite the gravity of their mission tonight it seemed like this mission was no exception. Still, his breach of radio silence made her nervous. She couldn’t see it from this distance- but she could just imagine a varien on the other side of the gorge listening in to them. “I was worried when you fell. Tried to slow your fall as best I could, but the wind was just too strong. Could barely see you until you practically fell on top of me.”
“I’m fine. Stop talking.” Dakota signaled back. Physical intergalactic common was made more difficult by the bulky gloves and clothing, but it was easier for her than talking. She saw Anders hesitate for a moment, then shake his head.
“Sorry, I know we’re not supposed to be doing this. But there’s just no way we’re going to be able to complete this reconnaissance if we can’t talk. It’d help if you knew English- then we could talk without worrying about those damn bastards. Where are you hurt?”
“M’chest. Leg. Head.” It was painful to talk, and Dakota was forced to shut her eyes as another blinding flash of lightning set off her night vision. If she had a concussion, then the weather was not helping at all. He hummed thoughtfully as he continued to inspect her leg and her ribs, carefully watching how she reacted to him pressing in certain places. Even through her armor, the pressure hurt. Finally, Anders pulled the equipment she had been carrying and hefted it onto his back. Then he slowly helped her up. Dakota tried to help as much as she could, but she was practically wheezing just with the effort of standing up. She threw her arm around Anders’ neck, trying her best to keep the weight off of her injured leg.
“Shit, you sound bad. When the rest of the company shows up, we’ll see if someone can take you back. I don’t think you’ll be any help in this state, Matthews.” Dakota grunted. It was a disappointing thought. Great. My first real mission as a G.S. and I fuck it up by falling three meters down a cliff. Wonder if I’ll even be able to wait for the company or if Anders is going to make me sit on my ass until this is all over.
“Well, either way, we have to get to the point so we can get them in here first. I’m shutting off my radio now, if you need to stop or talk with me tap me on the shoulder.” Ander’s voice brought Dakota out of her bitter train of thought, and she nodded in response to his instructions. They slowly began to trudge forward, shuffling their way carefully down the sloped edge of ice. The wind continued to bother them, and Dakota kept her left hand on the ice shelf and a careful eye on Anders’ footing. He was closest to the sheer cliff on the other side of them, and Dakota shuddered to think about what could happen to them if they fell now. Still, they were steadily descending towards the floor of the gorge. Even though Dakota’s injuries had begun to fade into a dull throbbing instead of a searing pain, every step and every breath she took still made her ache. She didn’t complain though- even without their radios on she could tell that Anders was struggling to carry the equipment and help her down.
Dakota and Anders eventually made their way down to the bottom of the gorge floor and struggled towards where they were supposed to set up. Dakota’s vision was blurry by this point, her head was throbbing, and all she wanted to do was sleep. I’m never fucking doing reconnaissance scouting again. Why the hell did I have to tell them I had taken a minor in geography…
Dakota and Anders had been selected specifically for the reconnaissance side of this mission because he was a meteorologist and she was a geologist. Somewhere along the line, command had gotten the brilliant idea to send soldiers who had something of an idea about what they were doing and what the environment was like on the important missions. Dakota personally felt that they could have used a few more soldiers and a commanding officer with them. Captain Lewis, however, had chosen only them.
“You’ll get the job done. You’re just carrying a couple pounds of equipment down to a pre-marked spot and telling the rest of us how to get there. We don’t need any more soldiers- we’re stretched thin enough as it is, and you have a better chance of going unnoticed as long as you’re quiet.” He had said to her, when she had voiced her concerns. And that was the end of that. Then she and Anders had set off into the craggy wastelands of Byakia, weaving their way through valleys of ice that had been pushed up towards the sky like broken teeth and around deep valleys where the glaciers had cracked. Dakota had turned her helmet display brightness all the way down to zero, and she still ended up squinting at the brightness of the sun reflecting off of a thousand surfaces of ice. Dakota had carried fifteen pounds of computer equipment she had no idea how to use strapped to her back as well as the climbing gear, the survival kit they were all required to carry, and her gun.
Dakota inspected her gun as Anders worked on setting up the equipment. It was an assault rifle, a sturdy one that Dakota had been carrying with her practically since her beginning as a galactic soldier. She had initially applied to the program on something of whim. She had been a soldier in the HCIF for a number of years beforehand, and had found the military to be a surprising fit for her. She never considered herself a violent person, but she did take well to combat training. Dakota had done well in school but never really planned to get a higher education, but after serving in the military for a few years she went back and used her scholarship money. Afterwards, she returned and was surprised to find that one of her officers had recommended her for G.S. training. It wasn’t something she had ever really considered. Dakota had grown up speaking intergalactic common, had even seen alien visitors in her home city on more than one occasion, but never really expected to leave Earth more than a handful of times in her life.
Being a G.S. changed everything. The training had been beyond grueling, and she had struggled with the classroom courses they were all required to take if they wanted to graduate the program, but Dakota had pulled through. Being enlisted as a private within the ranks of the G.S. was the best day of her life. Dakota, Anders, and the rest of their squad had all gone bar hopping and gotten tattoos that night. The next day they boarded a ship and headed off into Federation space. Dakota had been working at an HCIF space station, occasionally responding to calls to help hunt down smugglers or pirates, when they had all been deployed to Byakia.
And here she was. Stationed on an alien planet, freezing, injured, and just waiting for a varien patrol to stumble upon them as Anders fumbled with the equipment they had brought. They were sitting just inside a large cave on the other side of the gorge, practically right under the varien base. The entrance was tiny, just barely big enough for them to slide through, but the inside was easily large enough to fit the rest of their small company. If we aren’t found out. If they get our message. If they actually manage to get down that route. She thought. Finally, Anders stood and looked at her, brushing off the snow that dusted his clothing with his hands.
“Working.” He signed to her.
“Wish you had signed to me before. Worried about being found out. We’re too close.” Dakota signed back, gesturing above them. Anders paused, staring at her, echoing her movements with his own hands for a moment.
“Repeat?” He finally replied. Dakota rolled her eyes.
“Wish you had signed to me before now. Too close. Pay attention.”
“I am paying attention. I do not sign well. You know this. It was easier to speak to you than it was to sign.” He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts, before gesturing out his next words slowly. “I was worried that your arms or back was injured and you wouldn’t be able to speak to me this way.”
“Sorry. Thank you for your concern. I’m just scared. It’s not enjoyable, being injured and right beneath an enemy base.”
“I have spoken with Captain Lewis. They should arrive by morning. They had already begun following our route here. However, they needed to wait for our information about the cliffs.”
Dakota nodded, then turned to look out the entrance to the cave. She glanced at her slightly broken display, and noted that it was only a few hours to sunrise. Inwardly, she sighed in relief. She didn’t want to be a burden to the mission, but quite frankly she wasn’t thrilled about the thought of trying to break into a varien base with only one good leg. She settled into her spot and began to wait.
Dakota woke to a hazy field of blue and white swimming in front of her. Anders came into focus, gently shaking her shoulder. She felt another hand on her leg, and became aware of the medic, Hughes, running a scanner over her leg. She saw him make a note in his log, then nodded to her.
“Your left leg is broken, Dakota. You also have a concussion and two fractured ribs. You could be in a lot worse shape. I’m supposed to tell the Captain whether or not I think you can come with us.” He signed at her. To her surprise, Hughes glanced around at the other soldiers busying themselves with sorting out the rest of the gear as they established a temporary base before the infiltration before moving closer to her.
“Look, I’ll be honest with you. The fall wasn’t as bad as it could have been. A little tape and a half-decent split then I think there wouldn’t be much reason for you to not come with us. Sure you’d probably be kept in the back and move a little slower than the rest of us, but I don’t think you should come.” He used smaller gestures when signing to her this time, a clear indication that whatever he was telling her he did not want the others to see. Behind her helmet, Dakota frowned deeply. She glanced at Anders. He was looking into the darkness of the cave behind them, pointedly avoiding the conversation taking place right next to him. Narrowing her eyes, she looked back at Hughes through her cracked display in her helmet.
“What do you mean? If I need to go, I’ll go. I’m not afraid of the compound.” She signed back. Hughes hesitated and glanced around one more time.
“When we got the message that you were injured, Captain Lewis specifically asked me to give you the all clear unless you were anything short of incapacitated. When I asked him why, he said something about you being too valuable to just leave behind. You’re good, Dakota, I’d say even better than the average G.S. But I don’t think you’re that valuable.” He paused for a moment. “No offense. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be brought back to the base- it wouldn’t be too difficult for you and Anders to go back. We should be able to do this mission with both of you gone, but Captain Lews is being odd about this. The point is- something odd is going on and I don’t like it. You’re the only one here with an excuse not to come with us. If you say that you don’t want to go with us, that you’re in too much pain? I won’t question it. I’ll tell Captain Lewis that you physically can’t go with us.”
Dakota looked across the cave where Captain Lewis was standing, directing the other soldiers to do their work. His camouflage armor stood out only because of the small insignia on his left shoulder that identified him as their commanding officer. He seemed to be acting in his usual manner, crisply signing orders to the other soldiers in her squad who stood eagerly awaiting his command. It was not a comforting thought, thinking that Captain Lewis knew something that they didn’t and had neglected to share it with them. Still, they were practically family. And Dakota didn’t want to be left behind.
“Splint me up. I’ll go.”
See more stories by Panthera Tigris Tigris (Grace)