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XK15 "Enlil" Precision Beam Rifle

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posted by alias Archkyrie - Coffee on Friday 26th of February 2021 11:35:15 PM

Sarah Wallace had never killed a man, but at this moment she was very close. The thin, soft spoken, fragile-looking young woman who had spent so much of her life two and a half feet from a screen was closer to breaking than she had ever been. And this was saying something. In the last year she had found herself soaring in her career, living her dreams, and feeling like she was finally getting to make a true difference in the universe as we know it. Within the last 6 months she had seen her mentor and close friend inexplicable evaporated, half her team go missing, her publishing clearance revoked, and research project she was assigned to indefinitely shuttered. The last 30 days had been spent fruitless struggling against an ever-tightening web of Centauri federal red tape; the feeling that she was being restrained until some metaphorical spider was ready to suck her dry was palpable. But then again, having someone standing beside you disintegrated to goo has a way of inducing paranoia. Ms. Wallace was far from home, incredibly far. She had grown up on a family-owned automated farm in the old American Plains Governance Region of Earth. As was often the case with Earth-born farm children, the nearest other holdings were too far away to make in-person education feasible. After all, the Wallace Automated Farm precinct spanned almost the entirety of what was once the western half of Nebraska, back when North America was still divided into states. While this meant that Sarah’s physical socialization was limited to her family, pass-through traffic, the family dog, and some pretend conversations with the automated farming drones, it did provide for her the opportunity to attend via comm-link a very prestigious military academy on Oranis where her family hoped she would eventually attend in-person. Their dream for her was to see her become a famed military pilot, as many in her family had before they retired back to the family farm as decorated veterans. Sarah was a model student. Her grades were high, her behavior was stellar, and her performance in flight sims was excellent. However, her grade in a particular subject was distinguishing, and it was to the great surprise of the entire Wallace clan that little Sarah received the long-awaited scholarship to Oranis. But not as a pilot. As a xeno-biologist. For the young academic, the years flew by in a rush of starlight and research. After finishing her advanced classes on Oranis at the top of her class, she landed a spot on a full-ride tuition for a xeno-biology research college: Minerva University. The bar was higher, classes taught by legendary professors whose work she grew up reading, and she now faced against competitive peers who were all, like her, prodigies in their fields. There was so little sleep, so many tears, and an unhealthy amount of coffee. Yet she had finally made it. She was the lead research assistant on an expedition to a recently discovered fringe system where early reports had found fascinating connections to flora and fauna previously only known in the Perseus Arm systems. “Welcome to K15-2766b, or as we’ve been calling it: Kohara.” Professor Maxwell had said. Sarah wiped her hand across the fogged dropship side-window to get a closer look. Kohara was a strange planet, beyond what was normally the habitable zone for its system. A thick atmosphere of almost constant storms kept enough heat in to make life possible, but it was a turbulent form of possible. Gusts of cold wind tore about while a thick, warm humid fog rose from ground. High geothermic activity combined with terrifyingly common lightening strikes meant the growth was always vibrating or rumbling in some way. Plants of deep bluish green and vibrant purples shimmer against the rainfall then never really stopped. As gloomy as the downpour was, Sarah would come to prefer it to the stickiness of the misty days. Then the rain came lightly enough that it could not keep the thermal geysers suppressed. Those were the hot humid days, where the sun gleamed through as a murky teal lamp. The only escape from the wet was to stay in the habitation pods at camp. Yet for Sarah, the darkness of the planet was offset by the joy of her work. Each day the team met to discuss their plan. Maxwell would lead an expedition in the morning to attempt to reach some previously unfound point. Sarah would oversea via vid-link while accessing the mobile database to provide accurate information to support the expedition. Additionally, Sarah’s job was to adjust the communications array when necessary, as the constant electronic activity of the planet was a nightmare for communications. If all went well, the expedition would arrive back at camp by mid-day, though it was not uncommon for disorientation in the thick wet undergrowth to delay their arrival. After a spirited lunch, most of the researchers would go about documenting their finds, while Sarah would accompany Maxwell and a few other assistants on returning to a few established research sites. Here they would collect data from observational sensors, place new sensors, and continue to probe and sample the flora. They knew fauna was present on Kohara, yet none of the researchers had managed to make contact beyond glimpses from a distance. Curiously, for such stealthy, cautious creatures, the fauna appeared to all sport some vibrant blue bioluminescence that pulsed when they were alerted. They had noticed a similar, though milder, form of bioluminescence in the plants. While they could not confirm with the animals, the plants pulsed their light with the lightning strikes. Brighter the closer the strike. The exciting thrill of research, of finding new things, kept spirits high despite the gloomy local. Sarah and Maxwell talked at great length about their plans to try and get closer to the animals. Many ideas were discussed: traps, lures, bait, decoys, etc. Sarah had wanted to try using food bait to gain their trust, but they had not fully deduced what plants were eaten (or if plants were eaten). Maxwell thought perhaps a trap would be the only way, though they both worried that something so traumatic might not give them good data. The breakthrough of discovering an animal path brought them both closer to their goal. Observational sensors confirmed that a pack of small, ferret-like glowing lizards sped along this path in one direction. How they returned was unknown; they did so by another path. A plan was quickly hatched to place a variety of plants that, according to testing, were most likely edible. With video sensors in place, they would soon learn what the animals ate. This, Maxwell insisted, was key to finding out how to capture or tame them. The research group had been to Kohara before but contact with some kind of fauna would be a first. The excitement of that prospect had all of the research students chattering. Sarah could not even sleep, instead electing to play cards with Professor Maxwell and a few others of the sleepless research crew. Sarah’s fingers shook, and she could not tell if it was from the cold downpour or from the excitement. This was the day. The sun was not visible as a heavy storm had rolled in. The team worked slowly through the thick foliage, relying on the dim green glow of chem-sticks to guide them, not using electric lights for fear of scaring wildlife away. The crashing of water through the thick fleshy leaves of the Kohara plant life was deafening. Communication was extra hard – it was nearly impossible to hear anyone’s voice. Their communication devices were all they had. Yet this did not stop everyone from excitedly chattering on the local channel. Occasionally communication with base would go down, and Sarah would get a twinge of guilt. They drew sticks on the exciting operation of the day because Sarah did not want to be left out, and now as a result Michael was staying behind to man comms and database. If the rest of the team were not so excited, they would have teased that it was because Sarah was Maxwell’s favorite that the draw ever happened. They eventually reached the path and began spreading out to set up devices and bait. Suddenly, a cool breeze swept through the ravine that the animal track ran through. Random cold gusts were common on Kohara, but Sarah noticed something strange. A slight pulse in the plant bioluminescence. She had never seen it before. She glanced up to spot Maxwell standing on a small rise, where the vegetation was a little thinner, supervising the group. “Max! Max!” He turned to face her as she struggled her way up to the grassy lump beside him. His eyebrow raised, “What is it Ms. Wallace?” “Something with the storm is different. The plants pulsed with the wind.” It took a moment for this information to register on the professor’s face. “There was no lightning, Sarah.” “I know,” she said breathlessly. In her excitement she forgot to breathe, “Something new is happening.” Maxwell nodded quickly in agreement, raising his eyes to the skyline to inspect the weather. The dark clouds swirled as was normal, with the customary faint glow on the horizon that marked a setting sun they had never seen all day. The glow illuminated the lighter grey of the stony cliffs overlooking the ravine from across a small lake. It was a welcoming bit of light amidst a world of dark greens, blues, and purples that made up Kohara’s vegetation and blackish dirt. The large tree-like plants atop the trees glimmered blue with a distant lightning strike, a strange contract to a little green glowing speck. A green glowing speck- of what? It was too far to see. But the only green lights on the planet were the researcher’s chem lights. Maxwell’s brows furrowed, “Who is that up on the cliff?” “What?” Sarah blinked. She had all but memorized the plan, “No one is supposed to be there. We’ve not even gone that far out yet.” “Maxwell to base, Michael we’ve got someone out of formation!” The radio buzzed with static, “Sorry si-….. -ear you… storm is interfere-… -justing commu-…-tions…” Sarah swore under her breath. This happened all of the time. It would take about thirty seconds for the communications to recalibrate. Thirty seconds for her. Michael had only been on comms once before; it could take him twice as long. “Max… I’ve got a really bad feeling about this. We need to get their attention now before we lose sight. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get communications back.” Maxwell nodded grimly, “You’re right, Sarah. I’m going to wave my chem light at them and see if they noticed. If they cross over that cliff, between the storm and the rock, we may not be able to hail them on comms.” He stepped up on to a large rock that he had be standing beside and began to wave his chem stick back and forth over his head. Sarah focused her eyes intently on the distant green spot, looking for a sign of movement or acknowledgement. Strangely, it never moved. But then it pulsed, almost like Koharan animal. Sarah spun to face Maxwell quickly to tell him her observation when she saw it. Just a split second, but a second that would be etched into her mind as if it was a century. Maxwell, illuminated by a distant lightning strike, rain pouring down his concerned face as he waved his hands and shouted to the cliffside… and a brief blink of green laser light on his chest. Suddenly the air was filled with bright, searing, shrieking light as an intense energy blast like lightening cracked across the sky. In the blink of an eye a green beam shot from that distant glowing speck- and blew straight through Professor Maxwell. A black gloopy ash scattered across the area, coating plants, Maxwell’s backpack that was resting beside the rock, and across Sarah’s face. Instinctively, Sarah Wallace hit the ground, and as she did, she realized: Professor Timothy Maxwell was gone. And she had been very close.

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  • Published 01.21.22
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