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[Novel] Protocol Cy-Fox v1.0
Chapter 20

“What was that?” Maria asked as the deck shuddered from the blast shield falling. Janus turned towards the closed blast door and looked up at its top. Maria blinked, confused as to why she wasn’t speaking. She moved closer to the mouse. “What was that, Janus?” Suddenly the mouse turned her head towards the woman, her purple eyes starting to glow. Maria stepped back in surprise as the mouse looked back towards the door.

“You need to get back, Dr. Robotnik.” The mouse said, her tone an eerie calm. Then she looked back towards the door, closing her eyes for a few moments. Then the door began to rise. Once it rose high enough, Janus disappeared inside and started to walk further into the compartment. She turned her head from left to right, no sign of the hedgehog. Then she froze taking notice of Miles’ body crumpled up against the blast door. Moving closer to him, she knelt, pressing two fingers to his neck. No carotid pulse. Then she reached out, opening his eyes. The pupils were fully dilated, no sign of any light reflex. Something caught the mouse’s attention, causing her to focus on his head.

Zenith Defense Industries CSBv1.5 chip detected
CSBv1.5 operating and intact
Last biological state recorded:
Irreversible brain trauma detected
Blood pressure below sustainable levels
Ventricular fibrillation detected
No defibrillator implant detected
Committing last save to secondary storage
Save state successfully recorded
Asystole detected

Janus reached under the fox’s back and started to lift him up, turning towards the blast door, carrying him through while triggering the door’s lowering sequence again. Maria stared at her and then down at Miles’ body, stunned. He wasn’t moving and with the way Janus was carrying him, it was casual. She stepped closer as the mouse lowered him down to the floor. Then she realized what had happened, the way his eyes were fixed, noticing the same absence of light reflex. Pressing a hand to her mouth, she turned away and lowered down to her knees. Janus watched as Maria lowered her hand down to her chest, her body shaking as she turned and faced the two, sliding closer to the fox. The mouse could see her eyes reddening as tears streamed down her cheeks. Maria reached out and pressed her hand to the fox’s burned cheek. Then she reached up and closed his eyes before dropping her head onto his chest, sharply inhaling before letting out a muffled shriek.

The mouse lowered down to her knees as well, waiting. After what seemed like a few minutes, Maria raised her head up, makeup running. Then her eyes widened as she looked at the way the mouse stared at her, much like the hedgehog. She slid back suddenly, sputtering and pointing up at the mouse.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” Maria hissed. “You were in their hands for the longest. Miles was the one that got you away from them.”

“One of the Acornian sleepers?” Janus tilted her head. “If that were true, I would have likely killed the both of you by now. No, my loyalties were not in question. Especially to him. In fact, if we work together he can still be recovered.”

“Recovered?” Maria looked back at Miles’ body and shook her head. “He’s dead. There’s no way that body can sustain life any longer, in any shape.”

“Correct, but there is more than way for a person to live, even past this state.” Janus said, centering her head. Then she pointed up at her head. “Are you familiar with the concept of a cortical stack backup chip?”

“Yes, but they’ve been experimental for some time and not approved for general usage.” Maria said. “Miles never had any degenerative brain disease or any other terminal condition that would have called for it and I would know if he did or went in for any trials. Not to say that procedure’s even in the trial phase.”

“He has such a chip installed. It was installed with the assistance of Dr. Moddex Everest. The uptime data shows it was activated Sunday, November 1, 2111.” Janus explained. “Most importantly, it is working. It saved a checkpoint right as he was dying. His memories, thought processes, everything that you would use to define his consciousness is in there.”

“Yes well, we may have a chip but how would we use it?” Maria asked, wiping her eyes.

“A suitable computer system could be used. But with the station under attack and main computer potentially compromised, I wouldn’t recommend linking into it. A decentralized system. I would recommend something that we could arm.” Janus advised.

“Like a robot?” Maria asked. Janus nodded and pointed past her. “That MAARS has more than sufficient power. If we tie the chip in, he could assimilate its systems.”

“I would think if anyone was capable of it, he would. The boy thinks in code.” Maria said softly, lowering his head. “Look at me, I’ve gotten so attached to him I speak of him in the present tense still, even though he’s dead.”

“What do we need?” Maria asked.

“Tools, there should be a maintenance area for the security robots nearby.” Janus lowered down and picked up the fox’s body. Then she stared over at the MAARS, the robot starting to become animated again, righting itself and rolling towards them. “I have it on manual control for now, so I would advise that we stay behind it.”

KRSS Warspite

“Excuse me, Captain.” The weapons officer motioned towards the main viewscreen on the bridge. Captain Concha got up from his chair and moved closer to the man. The weapons officer pointed towards the counter-boarding team’s tactical display, then brought up the telemetry icons for Miles’ team. Concha blinked and stared at them. One of them had went gray with a red X overlaid on it, biotelemetry readings going flat. Then he focused on the name, his eyes widening.

“We’ve lost the IWO, sir.” Lieutenant Commander Percival said. Concha slowly reached up and took off his glasses, running his other hand through his hair.

“Goddamn it. The rest of his team’s coming back though. What the Hell happened?” Concha asked.

“If I might suggest sir, you might want to look at the helmet camera in private. It wouldn’t do to have this out on the bridge.” The cat said quietly.

“Of course.” Concha nodded and put his glasses on, making a fist. “Goddamn it.” Percival motioned for Concha to take the lead. He looked over at Lieutenant Commander Bolton. “Take over if you would, Scott. I’ll be in bridge conference with Mr. Bolton.”

“Aye, aye, sir. I have the bridge.” Percival acknowledged. Concha stepped out with Bolton joining him. They left the bridge and entered the bridge conference room, the cat locking the door behind them and blacking out the outer windows. Captain Concha leaned in and started to punch commands into the display where he typically sat.

“What’s going on, Captain?” Bolton asked, watching the projector at the center of the table coming alive.

“Prower’s dead.” Concha spat, slapping the table. “I shouldn’t have sent him on that boarding team. I should have sent someone else. So now I must write two letters and a report, that’s the price I must pay for my foolishness. I shouldn’t have given him permission to go.”

“Sir. The lieutenant was counter-boarding rated and you did instruct him not to take unnecessary risks.” Bolton said quietly.

“Risk is our business sometimes, Mr. Bolton. Sometimes even death!” Concha snapped. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” He then looked towards the projection that came up now. The two watched silently as a first-person view of the fox’s fight against the hedgehog played out. Bolton couldn’t help but to try to turn away as he saw the hedgehog’s foot and booster came in contact, but Concha continued to watch as the Webley came up and fired twice, suddenly sending the viewer hurtling towards the blast shield. Then he rewound, seeing both Maria and Janus getting away. The human took a deep breath, held it and then let it out.

“He sacrificed himself to let them get away and put a highly dangerous asset out of play.” Bolton said, leaning in. “Shall I put Lieutenant Prower in for the Victoria Cross?”

“No.” Captain Concha straightened up and stared at the cat. “You may put Lieutenant Commander Prower in for the Victoria Cross. Assuming we get out of this to where there’s someone to receive the request. Take the bridge, Mr. Bolton, I have to make a call.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Bolton stepped back and unlocked the room, giving it a five second delay before it relocked and darkened. Concha sat down in his seat, pulling up a communications system that he had wished he did not have to use. Establishing a one way and secured connection would take some time. He swallowed, readying himself to speak, the words clear in his mind.

Field Marshal, it is my regret to inform you that your son, Lieutenant Commander Miles Prower was killed in action on this day of May 24th, 2115.

Mobotropolis, Keplerian Republic

I have outlived my wife and now my son.

Field Marshal Amadeus Prower had calmly closed off the call with Captain Concha but afterwards, the sixty-two-year-old fox rose up to his feet, and with a struggle he had upturned his desk. The loud thunderous crash of heavy wood, shattering plastic, shuffling papers and other equipment had gotten everyone’s attention outside of his office. Even his red telephone added to the cacophony with a shrill busy signal. Then came the loud hoarse yell.

Major Antoine D’Coolette slowly approached the door and opened it, his ears twitching as he saw the fox pacing around through the wreckage.

“F-Field Marshal?” The coyote stammered.

“My son’s blood is on their hands now.” Amadeus growled, turning towards D’Coolette, chest heaving. “My only son is dead, Major. I want an interservice meeting in ten minutes here.”

“In your office?” Antoine asked.

“YES! IN MY OFFICE!” Amadeus bellowed. “I don’t care! We are going to sit in here and come up with a plan to relieve the station and once we have that plan in motion, we are going to execute it and I’m going to get my hands on King Frederick and he will die, slowly.”

“Ten minutes, yes Field Marshal.” D’Coolette said, slowly stepping back. Amadeus slowly walked over to the bookshelves on the wall in front of him and took up the same bottle of whiskey that he had drank from close to fifteen years ago, uncapping it before starting to swallow every drop left in it.

Space Station ARK
Small Robot Maintenance Bay – Observation Deck

Janus had set the fox’s body down on a large workbench, looking around before spotting a large red tool chest. She rolled it close to the bench while Maria approached from the other side. The mouse opened drawers, searching for a knife. Maria looked over at Miles’ body before speaking.

“What do you have to do to get the chip?” Maria asked.

“You have to cut into the neck, at the base of the spinal cord.” Janus said. Maria reached out and touched the mouse’s arm.

“Then I want to be the one to do it. Kepleroid or whatever you are, I’m the surgeon here.” Maria said quietly.

“I understand.” Janus said, holding the knife out to her. Maria slowly took it and took a deep breath before putting on a set of insulated gloves that she had found. A little bit thicker than surgical gloves but she had to make due. She took the knife while Janus stepped around to roll Miles’ body onto its stomach before moving the overhead light closer. Janus felt around the fox’s neck and pressed down a region, grabbing a pen that was left there, drawing a line. “There is your guide line, Doctor.”

“Thank you, Miss Rotarl.” Maria said, slipping almost automatically into the behavior she adopted in the operating room. Ironically Miles was the model patient for rapid surgery here. No need to worry about infection or maintaining vitals, she could cut at will so long as she didn’t cut herself or somehow damage the stack. She pressed the blade down against the fox’s fur, cutting in deep and drawing it down the line as darkening blood started to flow out onto the bench. She extended the cut with clamps and made another cut, getting past the fat and muscle tissue until the base of his spine was exposed.

There it was, inside of a diamond mold that was made around the base of his skull and spine. Maria picked up an extraction tool and carefully guided it in to the operating field, closing its pincers around the handle and slowly pulling back. The chip was unseated, and she set it down carefully on an antistatic sheet on the bench. She carefully folded the sheet around the chip and moved to another bench where the MAARS IX sat, shut down. Unfolding the sheet, she set it down on the second bench. Janus lowered a magnifier that was on an arm, turning on its light, carefully studying the chip.

“No imperfections or issues from removal that I can see.” The mouse said, looking at Maria. “Excellent work, Doctor.”

“Will the blood be any problem?” Maria asked. Janus shook her head before pointing to an open panel that was between the two tracks. She saw the empty expansion processor slot and then raised her head. “There should be a set of keys around here for the weapon safeties.”

“Weapon safeties?” Maria blinked.

“We’re plugging him into a new system that’s armed. I do not think that you would have wanted us to go through this effort to only end up shot by him.” Janus said. “Engaging physical safeties would be best.”

“You make a good point.” Maria looked around and walked over to the tool chest that Janus was using, opening drawers until she found a ring of keys with a green plastic tag. She walked over to the mouse’s side, holding them up. “Are these it?”

“Let’s see.” Janus said, taking the keys while squaring up the lock. Flicking through them, she held one and inserted it, turning it to the left with a small click. The mouse nodded before holding them out to Maria. “We’ll keep that on until he’s acclimated.” Then Janus picked up the chip and inserted it into the expansion processor slot, beginning the startup process by flicking the main power switch. Nothing seemed to happen other than a small whirring sound from the base. Maria looked at the robot nervously while Janus looked over at a direction terminal that was set up nearby.

QinteQ MAARS Mark IX
BIOS Version 2114.06 rev 01
© 2114 QinteQ Group plc

Memory Check – 4096 TB (4 PB) OK
Storage Check – 1024 PB (1 EB) OK

Expansion Chip Detected
Sideloading Expansion Chip

Zenith Defense Industries CSB v1.5
© 2111 Zenith Defense Industries Inc.

Malware Check Completed
No Malware Found

Host System Detected as QinteQ MAARS Mark IX
Memory Capacity OK
Storage Capacity OK
CSB Integrity OK
No Biological Systems Detected – Monitoring Service Stopped
Copying Core Consciousness To Storage
Please Wait

After a few moments the camera turned to focus on the two women. Janus could see the first-person view from the camera while new telemetry was coming from the robot. She found herself unable to take control of it as she did earlier. Suddenly the camera feed went black, causing the mouse to reach for the terminal, trying the usual key combinations to get to a command line or to attempt to access task management. The shell was still there but just blank until Maria leaned in and noticed a new line at the bottom.

Acclimation in progress.

MAARS IX Datascape
Everything around him was white. But the last thing that Miles remembered was crashing into the door, as well as those strange words that appeared in his field of vision before everything went black. He looked around for a few moments, realizing that he appeared to be alone before looking at himself. No boarding suit, that was strange. He appeared to be in his standard KRSN uniform. Reaching up, he took off his peaked cap and looked down at it. The texture felt right as did the weight. He hefted his cap for a moment before tossing it forward. It sailed forward for what appeared to be a meter before abruptly disappearing. Then he felt it back on his head, as if he never took it off.

“What the-“ Miles reached up and took his hat off again.

“Mr. Prower.” A male voice suddenly spoke behind him. The fox turned on his heel, finding himself face to face with what appeared to be another Keplerian fox, his fur more of a reddish orange of a classical Earth fox. He had a head of blue hair as well, with yellow eyes and rectangular rimmed glasses. Finally completing the ensemble was what looked like armor and businesswear combined.

“You gave me a start!” Miles growled. The other fox closed his eyes and bowed his head.

“My apologies Mr. Prower but we don’t have very much time here.” The fox said.

“Just who exactly are you? Where are we?” Miles asked, looking back up towards what he thought to be the ceiling.

“A more accurate set of questions would be ‘Where am I?’ and ‘What am I?’.” The fox said, crossing his arms. “As for me, I am technically not a person, just a virtual avatar of the man who created this system. His name is Dr. Moddex Everest, chief innovation officer for Zenith Defense Industries.”

“I recognize the name.” Miles said, looking back at the avatar. “One of the first and few Keplerian defense contractors. All right then, where am I? The last thing I recall was being on the ARK.”

“You are still on the ARK.” The Moddex avatar said. “As for the second question. It must be asked.”

“Why can’t you just tell me?” Miles inquired.

“My program only has a limited scope of awareness and abilities.” The avatar answered.

“Fine, what am I?” Miles said, putting his cap back on.

“You associate yourself with the identity of Lieutenant Miles Prower, a 22-year old Keplerian fox who was born on October 16, 2092. Your program however activated today on May 24th, 2115.” The avatar said.

“My program?” Miles focused on the fox’s words, narrowing his eyes.

“Yes, your program. You are currently within a computer system, what appears to be that of a QinteQ MAARS Mark IX armed security robot.” The avatar advised. “This robot is your vessel, your physical body at this stage. Everything you see here, everything you sense, and feel is your own program.”

“Physical body? I already had a body though.” Miles swallowed, a sense of dread washing over him. Had. Then he started to put the pieces together, remembering what he had seen before everything went dark. “Unless I…unless I died.”

“This program would have activated if the conditions meeting clinical death were met. A copy of your consciousness was saved within a cortical stack backup implanted at the base of your spine. It would have been ready to be installed into a proper vessel the moment that state was detected.” The avatar explained.

“So, everything that I am is within one chip.” Miles said quietly.

“Currently, no. You are within the robot’s computer systems, using its sensors, storage, memory and processors. The cortical stack backup chip is refreshing and saving everything regularly so that if you have to be moved, you will not lose anything.” The avatar said.

“Why did I have this though? I’ve heard some rumors about the technology, but they were just rumors. Why me?” Miles asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t possess that information. You will have to ask Dr. Everest directly.” The avatar said.

“Assuming I can get off the station.” Then the fox’s eyes widened. “Maria and Janus. I have to find them.”

“First I would recommend that you take the time to probe the systems that are available to you. There are translation systems ready for use that will help you assimilate them.” The avatar advised.

“That should be simple enough. I just think about it, don’t I?” The fox asked. “I’m a MAARS Mark IX now.” Suddenly the robot appeared in between them. “The camera is my eyes, there’s microphones that would be my ears, speakers for a mouth. Weapons and other hardpoints for limbs.”

“You’ve already activated the translation systems then.” The avatar said. “Dr. Everest anticipated that you would be a quick study.”

“This gives me a sense that this was preplanned though. I have to ask again, why me?” Miles said quietly.

“I’m afraid-“

“I’m afraid I don’t possess the information.” Miles said, then froze, his voice had transformed into a mimic of the avatar’s. He blinked as the avatar smirked. “Fine, I’ll ask this Dr. Everest when the time comes.” His natural voice returned.

“My task is finished then, Mr. Prower.” The avatar said, starting to disappear while the white space began to turn black. Suddenly he felt as if he was sitting on something like a table, Janus and Maria directly in front of him.

Space Station ARK
Small Robot Maintenance Bay – Observation Deck

“Maria?” The voice came from the robot’s speakers and was unmistakable. Maria blinked in surprise as the camera panned around again to focus on her. She reached out and held her hand in front of it, flexing her fingers.

“He recognizes me!” Maria said incredulously. “Miles is that you?”

“It is.” Then the camera turned to focus on Rotarl. “Lieutenant Rotarl.”

“Lieutenant Prower.” The mouse tilted her head as the camera angled up, lens focusing as it switched to a different spectrum.

“I detect organics but for the most part you are by majority robotic. A Kepleroid?” The fox inquired.

“That would apparently be correct, Lieutenant.” Janus replied.

“Apparently? How could you not know?” Miles asked.

“It would appear that my creator wanted to ensure I could pass without scrutiny.” The mouse said.

“I’m getting Zenith Defense product identifications all over from you.” Miles said. “Would your creator happen to be Dr. Moddex Everest?”

“Everest?” Maria cut in, looking over at Janus. “Now I remember why that name seemed to ring a bell! He was there when Miles had that surgery. He seemed out of place. So, he put the chip into you but also positioned Janus here as well.”

“Apparently so. Again, I don’t know why.” Janus said softly. “It would have been nice to have these systems activated far enough back to where some of this could have been avoided.”

“What I don’t understand is why I was chosen for this chip. You might have unknowingly assisted Everest in selecting me. For all I know your presence on that transport years ago might have been deliberate.” Miles said.

“I..I hope not.” The mouse blinked, tilting her head. “With what I had to endure on there, I thought it was just bad luck. Though it is possible there was some larger plan involved, I just do not know.”

“Hopefully we can get some answers once I get you off the station. I have weapon systems, ammunition count is still green on all of them, but I can’t activate targeting. Why?” Miles asked.

“We engaged a physical safety to ensure there wasn’t any misfire.” Maria said.

“Well turn it off, my aim wasn’t bad in my original body. Now I have stability and better optics.” The fox’s tone of voice suggested he was grumbling. Janus angled around and turned the key this time two places to the right, a small green light lighting up before she removed the key and closed the panel. Cautiously, Maria and Janus stepped out of his line of sight.

“No jams detected in the squad automatic weapon, 40mm cannons seem OK as well, several ammunition types to load from including non-lethal. This will do nicely.” Miles said.

“You seem to be awfully enthusiastic about this for someone who’s been dead for several minutes.” Maria commented from behind. He turned the camera to face her, one of the manipulator arms rotating and pressing against her abdomen.

“This is our way out and hopefully to a better body.” Miles said. “One to where I can actually feel what I’m touching. Now, let’s get started.” He started to roll forward, causing Maria and Janus to bolt to grab him. The robot pitched forward but landed on its tracks, stopping.

“Damn it!” The fox growled. “That was stupid of me.” Then he started to roll towards the closed door, the human and the mouse glancing at each other before following.
Chapter 21

Mobotropolis, Keplerian Republic

    “Vice Admiral.” Amadeus staggered up to his feet as Vice Admiral Crow Seetan stepped into the ruined office with several other representatives from the Keplerian Republic Space Navy, the Army of the Keplerian Republic and the Keplerian Republic Space Marine Corps. The one-eyed fox and the wolf exchanged salutes, with the others about to follow suit until Amadeus waved them down. “I don’t care about salutes at this time. We need to get the ARK back under friendly control. What’s wrong with Earth? I would have thought they would have sent counter-boarding forces on the first indication of trouble.”

    “Political issues I would wager.” KRSMC Brigadier General Norman James piped in with a low growl. “There’s hostages of multiple nationalities, on a large scale and of course the Warp Gate. They’re probably trying to figure out whose special operations forces are going to act, who’s willing to take the blame if the bowl of poo hits the fan. Then you’ve got technical considerations with the virus that’s crippled every ship and satellite that’s near the damn station.” He reached into a pocket on his jacket and removed a cigar, clenching it between his teeth before lighting it.

    “The virus, that’d explain why we haven’t heard anything from Earth since. The satellites are the first step in the communications process from Earth, the ARK runs the relay network which routes traffic through the Warp Gate, then our relays pick it up and our satellites bring it all down. Our equipment’s fine here. So logically we should be the ones counter-boarding.” Seetan positioned.

    “We don’t have any assets capable of fighting over there except for the Warspite and the only reason we know that is because it was able to transmit through the Warp Gate and contact us.” Amadeus said. “It’s avoided infection because of emissions control.”

    “Then we gather every ship that can act as a transport, we gather all available cruisers, destroyers and patrol craft that we can get, and we put them on emissions control.” Seetan concluded.

    “Hang on there, Crow. You could put a fleet together, yes but how are you going to coordinate that large of an action in complete emissions control?” James asked, his ears twitching.

    “We take a page out of Nelson’s book.” Seetan said reassuringly. “If the Army and Space Marines can get me the manpower for an assault force, I’ll get the ships. We’ll sit down and work out an overall plan as well as signals and let our subordinates understand what our objectives are, then give them the initiative to get them done.”

    “Nelson?” James blinked. “You mean you’re going to utilize naval doctrine from a one-eyed, one-armed 18th century Brit?”

    “We have to scale accordingly, Norm.” Crow explained. “On top of it, working this way doesn’t give the enemy anything in the way of signals intelligence.”

    “There’s one thing I don’t understand, and it bothers me.” Amadeus cut in. “That’s the logistics and command element of this attack. The Acornians were always on the defensive against us. They never centralized if they could avoid it. Every time we got close to anything major, they would pack up and evade.” The fox moved over to the undamaged whiteboard on the wall and picked up a marker, drawing a rough L to make x/y axises. He wrote ‘2085’ at the start of the X-axis and then made intervals on the Y-axis ranging from 0 to 1000. “Population and economics, they started with a small crew from that craft that escaped South Island in 2085. Let’s say that as soon as we got spaceworthy others loyal to the Acornians joined them. They should not have had a stable population growth and with no market access, they had to be reliant on defectors, slavers and criminal profits.” He started to draw a straight line from the point of 2100, then started to jump the line higher at 2115. “Suddenly they have robots? With what production capabilities? Someone’s been feeding them.”

    “A rogue nation?” James chomped on his cigar. “Who has an axe to grind though? Everyone has everything to gain and everything to lose with this type of attack. It doesn’t seem like an Earth nation and there would have been regulars sighted at some point.”

    “Maybe a private interest, then. We should do a little bit more intelligence gathering.” Crow suggested. “Field Marshal, we should see if any of the Warspite’s crew can bag us a robot or two. Preferably an active unit, but I won’t be too disappointed if we have some wreckage to sift through.”

    “Know your enemy,” Amadeus nodded. “Go ahead and wire the order.”

    “Should we see about having the crew swarm the station?” James asked.

    “They are our best intelligence asset and firepower base there right now. I don’t want to potentially lose that.” Amadeus shook his head. “In the meantime, I am going to speak to Maximilian and request that we formally declare war against the Kingdom of Acorn so that we can shift production and get manpower reserves ready.”

Space Station ARK
Main Concourse

    The main concourse was arguably the hub for the entire station, situated in the middle, the civilian yard bays connected to it with enclosed gantries. It was also one of the largest commons area on the station next to the observation deck. Geralt had been led to the dimly lit concourse after minimal attention was given to his wound to keep him from bleeding out. Panting, the scientist was left with the other civilians on a bench. One of the red uniformed ARK-SEC guards recognized him and looked at his wound. Concerned, the brown-haired man knelt beside him.

    “How are you doing Professor?” Karl Schmitz asked.

    “Other than the pain and being penned in like this, I can’t complain too much.” Geralt smiled faintly. “I think I aggravated our captors, stabbed King Frederick in the neck.”

    “Not fatally, though I assume.” Schmitz surmised.

    “I’m afraid not. Even then, there’d likely be a number two to worry about. They wanted me to help them with the Warp Gate. Fat chance of that, I shredded my card. Unless they have some cryptological genius who can bypass the security systems for the Chaos Reactor, we’ve got some time at least.” Geralt said, running his tongue around in his mouth, which felt dry. “How is everyone else doing?”

    “We’re fine. They’re letting us roam around in the concourse though dinner consists of whatever that’s still fresh in the restaurants or dry goods.” Schmitz answered.

    “So, there’s water too.” Geralt started to rise but Schmitz shook his head, placing his hand on his uninjured shoulder.

    “I’ll get you water, Professor. I’ll be right back.” Schmitz said, standing up.

    Geralt started to straighten his posture, looking around for Maria. It was possible that their captors got her and put her into the general population. Then again if that were true, wouldn’t Frederick had made a spectacle of it? How good was their communications? If he could find her, perhaps he could give a greater resistance to their efforts. He sat back as Schmitz came back with a foam cup of water and took it, drinking from it slowly.

    “Have you seen my granddaughter?” Geralt asked. “She would have been working in the Medical Deck.”

    “I have not seen her, Professor. Then again, they are finding people and bringing them here, at least those they consider worthwhile or cooperative.” Schmitz replied quietly. “Some of the newer arrivals say they saw dead or injured Keplerian troops, Space Navy.”

    “The garrison most likely.” Geralt thought aloud.

    “No, what little of the garrisons that were left alive were stripped of their weapons and brought here. These spacers had boarding armor on. A ship had to have attached here recently. Perhaps a destroyer or a cruiser made it, tried to help.” Schmitz shook his head.

    “But if it’s the Warspite then we might make it out of here. Perhaps if they send a larger armed party, we’ll get out of this.” Geralt reasoned.

    “Spacers pressed in as naval infantry isn’t going to get us out of this. This is something that I would expect either masters-at-arms or special operations forces to deal with.” Schmitz countered. “They’re twiddling their thumbs down there though on Earth. No demands have been given, they are completely blacked out up here.”

    “We have to stay resilient though. Sooner or later someone will come for us. We may have to work together to turn the tables on the King’s forces. For now, we have to keep our heads.” Geralt finally decided that he was tired of standing. “I’m going to get more water and find out more.”

Observation Deck

Adaptation (noun) – The process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment
-Oxford English Dictionary

    Seeing in normal color vision had its perks in looking familiar and normal to a mind still adapting but a combination of curiosity and inherent knowledge had caused Miles to switch to infrared. He was leading the way in formation with Maria in the middle and Janus in the back. Their footsteps were joined by the sound of his internal drive motors and the tracks rolling along on the floor, but he was still on the alert, lowering those sounds down with filters. Every so often he paused, turning the camera to look in a complete 360-degree sweep. This made Maria tense up every time, but a few seconds later the robot would continue forward.

    “Find something?” Janus asked, breaking the silence as her ears twitched.

    “No.” Miles answered quietly. “No hostile contacts yet.”

    “You sound rather eager.” Maria said hesitantly. The robot came to a stop as he turned the camera to look at her.

    “If you’re worried about some notion of revenge or bloodthirstiness intermixing with my mind because of my new shell, I can assure you I’m more eager to get you onto the Warspite than anything.” Miles countered with a strand of what sounded like annoyance in his voice. The camera swiveled forward as he detected new noise. New sounds that he hadn’t heard earlier, machines approaching. They didn’t sound like the hedgehog at least, there seemed to be a pair of them.

    They were dark in coloration, a mixture of olive green and grey. Two glowing red eyes were the only features that could be made out in normal light. Though in infrared Miles noticed an energy weapon of some kind built into their right arm, a regular styled ‘hand’ on their left. There was something familiar about the design, but he couldn’t exactly place it. They certainly didn’t fit anything from ARK-SEC, the design was too anthropomorphic. He also wasn’t reading any IFF signals, so assumed they were hostile, rolling forwards towards them.

    The robots stopped, noticing him. They didn’t seem to have as much trouble identifying him as hostile, as a moment later they had their right arms pointed at him. Definitely hostile, Miles thought as bright energy beams shot out at him, scorching at the floor near him. Tactical considerations had to be made as he started to reverse, 40mm grenades were out of the question at this moment. With a thought, the internal magazine switched over to its M993 7.62mm armor-piercing ammunition. He targeted the nearest robot and fired three shots in semi-automatic, the muzzle flashes briefly illuminating the corridor as the first robot stopped moving, a large hole in its midsection indicating the effectiveness of his choice. Miles rotated the turret to target the second and fired again. Other than the clinking and rolling of his spent casings, it was quiet again.

He rolled up closer to the destroyed robots and looked them over. What was so familiar about these robots? Miles switched from one infrared filter to another, seeing everything in almost monochrome black and white. From what he could tell, he didn’t destroy anything critical to processing at least. Then he looked at the wreckage that separated from the robots, detecting hydrogen in the air. The conclusion to draw from this was easy, when he hit them with the M993 rounds, he struck what had to be hydrogen fuel cells, causing the hydrogen to be released into the air, he had killed their main power source. Rolling back to the bodies, he unfolded his manipulator arms and started to force one down onto its back.

“What do you have there?” Rotarl asked, starting to walk up to the robot. Miles turned his camera to face the mouse and shook it.

“Stay with Maria for now.” Miles commanded. “I’d like to look this over myself.” He rolled around to the head of the robot and brought the manipulators down slowly around where the head met the rest of the body. Angling one of the edges in, he hooked the manipulator claws and pulled to detach the head. There appeared to be a way to separate the halves from the inner neck which he did by position both claws to the neck, spreading it outwards. With the robot’s head opened, he set it down, raised his camera and looked down at it carefully.

Everything fit together as far as what he was expecting from a robot like this. Optical sensors, microphones, audio processors, wireless network adapter, solid state storage and central processor were all there. None of the boards though or the chips had standardized markings. All of this was custom built but at the same time it was made in a factory. He zoomed in, following the traces and examining each chip until finally he stopped on the central processor. Finally, recognition dawned on him. If he had eyes, they would have been widening as he saw a familiar profile of an egg-like face with circles suggesting glasses and goggles on top. Though this profile looked wider than what he remembered. It looked very close to the Eggbot Corporation stamping.

He turned to face Maria and rolled over to her, raising the camera up while folding his manipulator arms in. Maria looked down at the robot, blinking as he said nothing.

“Did you find something?” Maria asked. The camera bobbed up and down to simulate a nod.

“The Acornians are using Eggbot designs.” Miles said.

“Eggbot rebranded after Ovi died though.” Maria raised her eyebrows in confusion.

“They’re using his stampings though, so either someone from the company is selling off their excess on the black market or-“ Miles trailed off to let her follow his line of thinking.

“Or Ovi’s somehow still alive.” Maria finished. “But you saw the explosion.”

“We detected debris.” Miles corrected her. “As well as what seemed like an explosion in transit. But it wouldn’t take much if the Acornians were planning this. Perhaps they sabotaged his shuttle engines, had a craft on standby to grab him and then left the remains behind for us. I must work out the mechanics of it but it’s the only reasonable explanation for this. They have him, Maria and we’ve got to rescue him.”
Chapter 22

Space Station ARK Exterior

Primary objectives still in effect
Terminate primary targets: Prower, Miles and Robotnik, Maria
Performing system health check
System health check OK
Engaging boosters

    The hedgehog’s eyes started to glow fully red again as it came back online. The boosters started to brake its momentum as it looked around. Open space with the ARK directly before it, Keplerian and human ships floating around useless. The nearest ship was the American destroyer USSS William D. Porter. Sonic turned to face it before pushing his boosters to full burn before cutting them off. No need to waste any fuel when inertia would do just as well, combined with the trajectory he set. For a moment, a wave of fear peaked as he noticed the point defense turrets, but it was quickly dampened out by the knowledge that they were offline.

    He contacted the hull and brought his feet forward, magnetic locks sticking him to the hull. Carefully the hedgehog started to walk along the underside of the ship until he found an EVA lock. Interfacing with the outer lock access system, he was able to temporarily suspend the effects of the malware that was crippling it, watching the lock open. Gripping the ladder, Sonic began to climb after disengaging the maglocks in his feet. As the EVA lock door closed, he made his way to the top and opened the door in front of him.

    The Porter’s computer was slaved to him by way of the malware and he considered his options. He could bring down the life support systems but then again there was another option that allowed him to strike fear into the enemy. There was a nearby security armory that would do well for this purpose. Advancing on it, he noticed that there was not a roving security team. They were not expecting boarders. Inefficient. The hedgehog walked into the armory, which was more like a closet and disengaged the security locks protecting the small arms. He plucked an Atchinsson 12-gauge automatic shotgun and checked the drum magazine. All 32 rounds were present, this was favorable, but he took up a canvas bag and removed magazines from the other AA-12s and checked them before putting them in the bag before slinging it to his body.

    He moved over to a stairway and started to advance up from what was believed to be Deck 4 to Deck 3, then found the stairway curled around, moving up steadily to Deck 2, then finally to Deck 1. No one came across him to momentary confusion, at least until he moved into the Combat Information Center. The crew there in CIC was still scrambling, trying to see how they could get the destroyer’s systems back online. On sighting him, one of the crewmen reached for the 1911 that he had holstered but the hedgehog lined the AA-12 up and fired, knocking him over in his seat as it bent to the left. The other crew members turned to face him, some reaching for their weapons and some opting to try to go for cover. Sonic fired two more shots, twenty-nine left in the magazine as the spread of buckshot cut the standing men down.

    He left the CIC by climbing another staircase that led directly into the bridge while bringing the ship back online. The red emergency lighting on the Porter’s interior was joined by regular light, making the bridge crew glance around in confusion. The person seated in the center of the bridge, who Sonic assumed to be the captain blinked, then snapped his fingers.

    “Security alert team to the bridge!” Captain John E. Kent called out, but there was just a hiss of static coming from his handmic.

    “Ineffective.” Sonic declared, pointing the AA-12 at the crew as he moved in. He stepped in front of Lieutenant Commander Kent and then turned to look up at the camera that was used for video transmissions. He looked over at the communications officer, pointing the weapon at him.

    “Link the ship to your ground command uplinks.” The hedgehog ordered.

    “Sir?” The communications officer looked at Kent.

    “Belay that, son.” Kent stood up. The Michigan-born 25-year old lieutenant commander had his sidearm out and pointed it at the hedgehog. “Who are you and what are you doing on my ship?”

    “My designation is Metal Sonic Mark V and my purpose here will be made clear once you have made the connection. If you fail to comply, I will kill this man and make the link myself.” The hedgehog replied.

    “Sir, if we make a connection to ground then the virus will travel down with it.” The communications officer advised shakily.

    “Unfortunate but correct.” Sonic said.

    “I’d rather go down with this ship rather than to allow that.” Kent growled. He snapped his fingers towards the other bridge officers. “Send a party down to the engine room with hand radios, if you don’t hear anything from the bridge then they’re to blow the reactors. If you can make it to escape pods, do it.” The hedgehog turned as the other bridge officers started to move and fired at their feet, knocking them down to the ground, blood pooling from where their feet and ankles had been, separated from them. Kent fired at the hedgehog until his magazine was emptied but Sonic did not return fire. Instead he pointed the weapon at the communications officer.

    “If any of you want to live to get off from this ship, you will do as I command.” Sonic growled. The communications officer paled as he reached out with shaking hands, starting to program the new instructions for the antennas. He didn’t have to use the crew since he had computer access, but it was far more fitting to have them do his bidding.

    A video link to United States Space Navy Pacific Command appeared with several people, among them an admiral with greying brown hair.

    “USSS William D. Porter? We’re surprised to hear from you, wait a moment. Who the Hell are you?” The admiral said, stepping into the center of his feed.

    “This is Metal Sonic Mark V representing the Kingdom of Acorn.” Sonic answered. “Identify yourself.”

    “This is Admiral Mark Peabody of United States Space Navy Pacific Command. What are you doing on my ship? Where’s the captain?” Peabody demanded.

    “Here Admiral,” Kent had his hands raised up, empty 1911 in hand.

    “Admiral, you are to instruct your superiors that there is to be no attempt to board the ARK or to retrieve your ships. Any attempt to do so will result in severe and fatal consequences.” Sonic said, turning to point his shotgun at Kent. “As proof of our resolve, I will demonstrate our capabilities.” He linked to the Porter’s computer, bringing its weapons online as well as propulsion and helm.

    “Sir,” The helmsman reported to Kent after trying to manipulate the controls. “The helm’s back online but not responding.”

    “What’s our heading?” Kent asked.

    “We are turning to a bearing of 40 degrees, mark 0.” The helmsman said, looking at the computer display.

    “Sir, weapons are online. Torpedoes are armed, and mounts are targeting. Master-1 is being assigned as HMS Jervis. Master-2 is being assigned as USSS Indianapolis, Master-3 as HMS Glowworm, Master-4 as FGS Bismarck and Master-5 is Space Station ARK.” The weapons officer called out. Before he could do anything, torpedo status panels turned from green to red. “Torpedoes away!”

    “No!” Kent launched himself towards the hedgehog. “You son of a bitch!” Sonic thrust the shotgun into the man and shoved him away before bringing up camera feeds from the torpedoes as they proceeded towards their targets. Jervis, Indianapolis and Glowworm took two torpedoes while the Bismarck took four before they exploded, their ruined hulls starting to dip down to Earth. The torpedoes sent towards the ARK however did not make contact and instead exploded at proximity, tearing into the space station’s outer hull. The Porter continued to turn and headed in towards the breach that was created as Peabody and the others at USSNPC watched in horror.

    “Sir, there’s a problem with our computers.” An information warfare officer said. Peabody looked to him, then back at the hedgehog. “The virus. Have the hardlines cut! Send people with axes and torches if you have to!”

    “Where are you taking us?” Kent asked. Sonic said nothing but instead pointed with his free hand towards the Auxiliary Orbital Naval Yard.

    “There is still an active KRSN battleship that’s managed to evade our attack.” Sonic explained. “I intend to resolve that problem.”

KRSS Warspite

    “Sir, we’re detecting detonations.” Percival said as Concha raised his head up on the bridge. “Something fired torpedoes and destroyed at least four ships and caused several outer hull breaches on the ARK.”

    “There’s a ship coming in, Captain. Bearing 120, mark -20 and approaching.” Percival reported. “I think it’s intending to engage us.”

    “Back us off slowly but get ready to go to quarter speed forward.” Concha ordered. “Mister Percival, identify the target.”

    “The target is identified as the United States Space Navy destroyer William D. Porter.” The cat stated. “Point defense reports that torpedoes are being fired. Countermeasures are operating on full-auto.”

    Concha took his glasses off and stood up, moving to Percival’s weapons station. “Are the main X and Y turrets targeting the Porter?”

    “Yes sir.” Percival looked up at the human. “Shall I engage?”

    “No. I will.” He watched the monitor as the red obstruction alerts on the X and Y turrets began to clear as the ship reversed.

    “It’s launched all of its remaining torpedoes at us, Captain.” Percival said urgently.

    Concha pressed the firing controls for the X and Y turrets and watched the gun cameras as two bright yellow-white laser beams noiselessly fired out, blinding the camera.

USSS William D. Porter

    “We’ve been struck by two heavy laser batteries and railgun fire!” The damage control officer of the Porter called out. “Effective hull damage, we’re going to lose the ship, that was right through our center line.”

    “You got our ship holed but you got your torpedoes off.” Kent growled at Sonic. “May I at least have my crew get off this damn hulk?” The hedgehog watched the torpedo cameras as the Warspite’s point defense systems rendered some of them to static, indicating the point defense killed them before they could reach their targets. There were enough in the salvo though.

    “Permission granted.” Sonic said as Kent stepped back.

“Let’s get out of here. We’ll get another ship and we’re going to make that metal bastard pay.” Kent yelled. He looked back at the hedgehog as Sonic turned to face him. Once he was certain he had a good spread, the hedgehog opened fire with the AA-12 on automatic, cutting Kent and the bridge crew off. With the bridge silent now and his objective seemingly achieved, Sonic finally stepped forward, moving to disembark from the dying, unlucky but useful Porter.

KRSS Warspite

    “Point defense got 70% of the spread.” Percival reported. Concha moved back to his seat and picked up his handmic.

    “All hands prepare for collision alert. Damage control parties prepare to muster out.” The human said, forcing himself to be calm. “Bring up the aft cameras, starboard side.”

    Two torpedoes were approaching, barely visible. While the ship began to move forward at quarter speed, the farthest to the left seemed as if it was going to miss but instead detonated at proximity, the second hitting the ship on the aft side. The ship shuddered, and Concha looked up at the damage control boards on the ship’s main viewscreen. Outer hull breaches and cracks along the torpedo bulge and armor belt and propulsion was knocked out, but they’d be getting back into the yard anyways. If they could override the controls for the outer doors, they’d gain literal breathing room, otherwise repairs could still be made in suits. The only other concern was if another ship like the Porter would try the same tactic.

United States Department of Defense Headquarters
Washington, DC, United States

    Operation Blackout was hastily put into practice after the report from the United States Space Navy that Pacific Command had received the malware that was crippling their ships and satellites. Lockdown procedures were put into effect as the affected computer systems were being separated from their networks and replaced with the last generation’s systems. Defense Secretary Scott Campbell’s decision to have all prior generation systems held in reserve rather than to be sold in private was probably one of the best decisions he ever made. Of course, to guard the United States against cyberwarfare, it was best to have someone that knew about it. After several years in the Air Force, Campbell retired but stayed active, happy with making beer while keeping up on the changes in technology. When he became Secretary of Defense with the incoming administration that won in 2112, ten years on the outside made it hard for contractors to sink their teeth in.

    For safety purposes, Blackout was going to be rolled out not just in the USSN but with every installation, even at the Pentagon. With the relative state of things, no one was likely to take a swipe at Uncle Sam because of the overall cooperation between nations but also because they had a common enemy. It also helped to have one of the largest manpower reserves in the United States. Under the guidance of communication-graded NCOs and officers, everyone that could load a dolly and lift a system in would do so and even wire them up. Especially when Campbell decided to wave a double hazard pay bonus in front of them, the grunts would get their date with the Acornians soon enough, but they’d appreciate the extra beer money. It was likely that the other defense chiefs of the UN member nations were following suit in preparation for a counter-attack.

    Still the message that Metal Sonic Mark V delivered along with his attack hung in his mind. An Acornian robot managed to get aboard the USSS William D. Porter while it was crippled, destroyed four ships and wreaked havoc on the ARK itself. What had to be going through the minds of the people still on the station? Plus, there was the threat made against a counter-attack. Would the other ships be forced to make the same kind of attacks, perhaps at one’s whim rather than by direct command? They had to consider the situation very carefully and assess their options. Satellite systems would also have to be replaced, but fortunately Operation Restoration would take care of that problem. GPS systems were critical and design archives had been rapidly consulted to resurrect the original satellite network. While the original satellites had long burned in after piecemeal replacement, 3D printed circuit boards and the installation of hardened firmware would do to prevent an infection of their systems. Unless their enemy got wise and started to utilize the orbiting warships against them, unmanned rockets with drones would do for deployment.

    There was still the question as to how to shake off the malware from the remaining ships and how to take the ARK back. Demands still had not been made and there was no way of obtaining any intelligence. The ARK was a giant black box that Campbell and the combined scrutiny of the United States defense and intelligence apparatuses could not look into, for now at least. All they had was the boogeyman that was the metal blue hedgehog that had spoken to them. He was reminded of one of Sun Tzu’s sayings; if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles but if you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

    They knew themselves but not their enemy. They had in fact suffered defeat as a result of it. Who had a robot fashioned like a Keplerian hedgehog? Campbell opened his old-fashioned Rolodex and thumbed up to the B tab where cards of certain people from the defense and intelligence communities sat. He stopped at one name and then picked up his phone, dialing the number there. After a few moments of ringing, a hoarse Scottish brogue could be heard rumbling.

    “Blackheart,” The answerer said.

    “Horace,” Campbell leaned back. “Scott Campbell.”

    “Yeah, I could tell from caller ID. What did you want?” Blackheart asked.

    “I was wondering if you could lend an old friend some information from when you worked at Division K.” Scott sad.

    “Officially you’d have to clear it with Six because I’m bound-“ Blackheart started, causing Campbell to roll his eyes upwards.

    “By the Official Secrets Act, I know. I also know that you’ve been watching BBC, CNN and god knows what else. My next call is going to be to Haviland and then to Andrews Air Force Base. There’s going to be a plane waiting for you at Fort Wainwright. I expect you to be on that plane as soon as possible.” Campbell said.

    “Can I at least finish my beer?” Blackheart grumbled.

    “Horace, you can bring all the beer you want, so long as you’re sober enough to talk face to face.” Campbell declared.

    “Go call Haviland.” Blackheart said. “I’ll be on your sodding plane.”

    “Thanks Horace. I’ll send Haviland my regards.” Campbell said. With that, the line clicked dead and he put it back on its hook because dialing another number that he knew by memory, staring at the clock. Odds were that Sir Haviland Antiel, the Director-General of MI6 was going to be just as busy as he was now. Antiel started in the Royal Air Force and the two had a mutual understanding, he was certain that he would greenlight Blackheart giving him information from Division K, MI6’s desk for Keplerian/Acornian foreign intelligence concerns. Officially MI6 did not spy on the Keplerian Republic, nor did the CIA but they did spy on the Acornians whenever they could get a human in. They had better luck hooking Acornian spies and turning them around to work for them. Perhaps Markus Frieburg over at the BND might have some insight as well. Campbell leaned back in his seat, reaching into his jacket to pull a cigarette out from the pack resting in the inner pocket, clenching it in his teeth while searching for his lighter. To Hell with DoD smoking regulations for now.

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