I arrived at the Deloft station a few minutes after I spoke to Tolth, but not before I grabbed the dead aliens. With my ship safely sitting in the dock, I stood outside the dissection room looking down on the ugly brutes I had managed to kill. They had successfully taken off the exoskeleton on the arms. Walking over to Tolth I stood there watching. "This is most impressive. It is good you retrieved these samples," Tolth said.
"These, these things caused a hell of a lot of trouble. Might as well be of use," I answered.
"True," Tolth replied dryly. Standing still made me edgy. The still silence that hung in the air snapped my military training ingrained into my very soul that nothing should be so silent. My eyes looked around the room taking not of everything, when they fell upon an obscure holographic projector facing the window on the opposite side of the room.
"What's that?" I asked, indicating the star chart I had seen before, "I don't recognize it."
"Temporal Infinity," he replied, switching it off hurriedly, "there's nothing there. It's an old nebula."
"Permission to enter?" I asked indicating the door.
"Go ahead. It's already dead," he said sarcastically. After the war, the citizens of Duliar lost their trust and respect for anyone involved in the military save the few heroes. Anyone with the military was thought of scornfully because of the Duliar incident. Luckily for the president they loved him even more when he paraded around after the victory shouting, "I have brought victory, as I walk our home once again."
"Please state your name and registration number," the security computer said.
"Kevin James. ISN 3-961," I replied. The first digit represented my service in the military, marking me as veteran, but non-active. The remainder was just randomly chosen. Just so happens that's the year of my birthday. As the airlock whooshed open, I walk through the clean room, and donned a dissection suit, and stepped through the cleaning chamber. Once allowed access, I came up behind the scientist who seemed to be in charge of the operation.
"Interesting he should choose this point to hit. There's a major artery there. With the added weight, and the increase in muscles size. It was death within seconds. The thing bled to death. But here, the armor is even thicker there," he said, talking to himself.
"Are you saying they evolved?" I asked.
"What?" he said suddenly, not knowing I was standing behind him.
"Sorry," I said.
"Don't worry. I don't understand this. This is the second one you killed?" he asked.
"Yeah. I noticed Anubian rank markings on this one. I killed the leader," I said.
"Wait. How would you know Anubian ranks," he demanded.
"Ex-military," I replied.
"Oh," he said quietly, somewhat resigned at my words.
"Well? You have my answer?" I asked.
"In a way. They seem to share a hive mind. Or at least in a way. I can't tell till I have studied more of them. But the armor as you see here isn't completely connected. It's somewhat like tectonic plates. In between each section is a fluid. The armor shifted," he explained.
"How would the armor shift? These creatures are obviously modeled after Anubians, and even Anubian exoskeleton armor doesn't change," I pointed out.
"I believe it's an ingrained instinct, a sort of response to attack. You see when I throw a punch at you, you respond as a reflex. I think the exoskeleton plates, unlike an Earth insect, are like appendages, and responds the same way, covering weak spots when they're present. You'd have to have extremely fast reflexes to have reacted to a bullet though," he answered.
"How is that possible? The exoskeleton is just like a hardened skin covering," I pointed out.
"You're right. But it has been altered see? We see the same thing on Duliar in the Fire beetle. The exoskeleton can shift, depending on the climates. They must have genetically engineered this aspect. It's not Anubian. But it's enough," he said.
"What do you mean by it's not Anubian?"
"Their appearance is undeniable, especially their limb orientation. However the primary difference is their overall structure. You killed the first one, so the others responded by strengthening their weak points," he explained.
"So, they anticipated? Why not just have no external week points," I asked.
"Because, their muscles have already been expanded to their limits, without completely redesigning their skeletal structure. You see here," he indicated, "the muscles have almost doubled in size. They augmented the leg structure because of the imbalance. There is a weak point, because they can't hold any more armor there or the heart would fail."
"They look a lot like Anubian grunt warriors from the stabbing claws on the bottom. But on top, they're just human arms, plated. Elongated appendages. Stronger, but it's almost the same. Voice box too," I pointed out.
"I noticed that. But all of this makes no sense. Anubians have six base pairs of amino acids in their DNA. How do you successfully engineer a creature melding the different pairs of genes? It seems near impossible, unless the amino acids making up the DNA we're so similar. But DNA dictates cell structure and operation. I'll have to look into this more extensively," he mused.
"Well. My only condition is don't tell anyone you have these. I'm not supposed to be here," I said.
"Mr. James? You have a transmission," the P.A. blared.
"What! How is that possible? We're thousands of light years away from any relay station, and the military doesn't enter this area," I said.
"It's piggybacked off another transport running in anti-space," he explained.
"I'm on my way out," I said. I walked through the cleaning area, leaving the scientist to their dissecting, while the clean room, removed the 'clean' suit from my body. After the sensors made sure that I was not carrying anything I shouldn't I walked out, climbed the stairs to the communications center, and spoke to Tolth.
"Do you know where it's from?" I asked.
"Your boss," he said.
"Damn. Always on my ass that bastard," I cursed. Thankfully it wasn't live, but was almost 6 hours old.
"DAMN IT KEVIN! WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU! YOU SAID YOU'D BE HERE IN AN HOUR, BUT INSTEAD WE LOST FUCKING TRACK OF YOUR SHIP! I WANT YOU IN HERE NOW!" the message screamed.
"Seems like he doesn't like you," Tolth said.
"Shut up. If you wanted me out, then say it," I demanded.
"Nothing. Just leave. I'm saying it," he said. I could sense the unease in his voice as I towered over him by a foot easily.
"Fine. Then I'll leave," I snapped. I walked out and headed to my ship. Sitting in the hanger, it laid there, a relic of the past, a memory I didn't want to stay for the future. Phoenix was the name of my marine squad, and Lance was the name of my best friend. We'd signed up for the military a day after the Ukai Ambush, exactly ten years before our final victory. He was killed because the federation refused to send in a pickup and allow us to fall back after we walked into an Anubian trap. We had managed to steal an Anubian transport. He died protecting me as I boarded and prepared to leave. He died in my arms.
"Deke? Are we ready to take off?" I asked.
"Yes Kevin. Tolth refueled our ship as a courtesy for bringing him the samples. But for some odd reason, I seem to sense an urgency in his wanting us to leave," my computer said.
"You and me both old friend. But I don't care what he thinks. We'd better leave, before he hints anymore about his dislike for us being here," I suggested.
"Very well. I will transmit our clearance once I have established a stable atmosphere for you to board," Deke replied.
"Thanks," I said, smiling slightly. Besides being a marine, I opted for a transfer into the data analyst division after Lance died. Deke was modeled after Lance. Kind hearted, but slow sometimes. I entered my ship once I got the okay from Deke. Making sure my cargo was secured; I opened the secondary hatch to the cockpit, and took my rifle out to make sure everything was in order. After my encounter with these creatures, I didn't want to be caught with my shorts down. Tolth was kind enough to give me what few ammo clips he had left in the station from the war.
"Deke. Let's go," I said.
"Very well Kevin. I have already transmitted clearance to the control tower. We should be able to leave soon," he said.
"Thanks Deke. Let me know when we're about to leave," I sighed. Five or six years ago my friend died. We were best friends since academy. Damn. I lost my faith in my leaders that day, the same way the people lost their faith in me when I failed at Duliar. I am the man I am today because of what happened to my friend. But enough of history.
"Kevin. We have just received clearance to leave. Our confirmation codes have been accepted. Shall I prepare to take off?" Deke asked.
"Yes Deke. By all means. Take it away," I said, still slightly depressed.
"I am preparing to initiate maximum burn to allow us to clear atmosphere. Shall I engage stasis shields, and compensators to dampen inertia?" Deke asked.
"Deke we've been through this. You don't need to explain protocol. Just do it," I growled.
"Sorry Kevin. It is hard to override programming. Activating inertial dampeners and engaging maximum burn," Deke said. As we took off and engaged maximum burn, reaching terminal velocity, all I could think of, was why I got here in the first place. Things were difficult for me. Making a little over minimum wage, and scarred by memories of my past. I don't want these memories, I thought, but to push them aside was considered weak. And above all things I hated weakness.
"We have just exited atmosphere. The moon still displays life sign signals. Should we eliminate them? They still pose a threat to the Deloft science station," Deke said.
"No. I don't like Tolth. He makes me feel edgy. Let him deal with those bastards by himself. A man who has no respect for me does not deserve my respect," I said.
"Wouldn't this defy the basic principle of human compassion? I have a limited perspective given the little amount of programming you gave me in that area, but still. This defies normal human logic," Deke pointed out.
"Deke. Since when do you have such an understanding of human emotions? I don't even remember putting any programming in that area," I said.
"I am not an evolving intelligence for nothing. I am programmed to learn. And through our years together I have learned quite a lot about humans," Deke said, almost proud.
"Deke. You're a computer modeled after a friend. You're not even an android! So stop trying to understand me!" I shouted, getting angry for no reason.
"I am sorry sir. If you'd like I will remove that from my command list," Deke suggested.
"No I'm sorry. Just leave it," said.
"Yes sir. You have a destination in mind? How about Adel Shipping Station?" Deke offered.
"Fine. Just fly," I sighed, and fell asleep. These were going to be tough days. I needed to pull myself together, before I lost it.