CHAPTER 19 : THE REGAN TROPHY
At first he could not remember anything. All there was in his world were sensations. Then slowly the fog of oblivion lifted and he found himself floating in a tank of greenish goo.
The cables and hoses to his body pumped vitalizing fluids with concentrated cell nutrition and medical nanites through his veins. At the same time memory and knowledge was added forcefully via cerebral upload into his mind. With memories and knowledge came the realization who he was. Since he was in the process of being animated, that meant he had died.
Or better the original him had ceased to exist. He was a clone and was kept down here in this hidden crypt many levels underneath the Main temple of the Church of Darkness.
The Cloning machine was of finest Saresii origin and operated by an equally fine and incredibly expensive Saresii Clone Process Bot.
Cloning of sentient beings was strictly prohibited by Union laws and the Saresii, now member of that Union upheld these laws, despite their millennia of experience and advance knowledge in this field. Well most of them did. Greed, crime and corruption were rare but not entirely eliminated from this morally aloft civilization.
The original Larthop had prepared for his eventual demise before he could reach his goal of obtaining god like power by collecting and utilizing twelve tokens of power. Pieces of a Cosmic puzzle that when completed would elevate him to omnipotent levels.
Larthop the clone was exactly like the original, possessed the same Psionic powers and held all the knowledge and gathered life experience of his predecessor.
To be exact of course his memories only included the last memory dump, and that was after the Original Larthop had returned from Netlor and his last meeting with the Brotherhood and prepared for his journey to Koken the original home world of the Kermac.
While the machines made the final adjustments and he was lifted by a robotic arm out of the bio tank and into a warm bath of soapy water he checked the time stamp of the last memory dump and compared it to the current date.
Over ten month had passed since then. His predecessor must have met his fate somewhere on that journey. The impulse that started the animation machine raising the mindless clone had come from an implanted device in the original body. It was only a single data burst containing no data of the reason for his demise or the actual location where it happened. The data pulse traveled instantaneous on the GalNet network.
Small robotic fingers massaged his body stimulating his muscles and nerves. It was an unpleasant and almost painful process that took over two hours during which he was unable to form coherent thoughts, but then the robotic arm took him out of the bath and placed him inside a simple auto dresser assembling a new black robe around him, the hallmark dress of the First Son of Darkness.
He left the auto dresser on his own and before he walked to the elevator that would carry him up to the temple, he activated the process to get another clone ready.
There was of course a limit how often this process could be repeated, every copy lost something and there would be a point the result would not have anything in common with the original, but this was the first time and it could be repeated at least five or six times.
There was still a meeting to arrange between the Kermac and the Purple Worm. There was the challenge to find out if and where the Union kept Y'All warriors all this would keep him busy for a while and also increase his funds. Funds he would use to find out how he died and what his former self had discovered. Did he manage to find the disc and whatever that Dualix was? Did his former self gain knowledge how to obtain a token of power?
He was Larthop, but he also had the energy and the drive of a newborn.
CHAPTER 19: THE REAGAN TROPHY
After the rest period, the gathered once again in that large assembly hall without chairs. This time however I notice only about two hundred cadets.
We went through the same motions. Standing in attention as the Admiral of the Fleet, the other Academy Commandants and Dent and his associates moved onto the platform and gathered by the lectern at its center. We sang the hymn again and after all this was done, Admiral Mc Elligott stepped up, looked down to see if anything was obstructing his legs, then placed his hands on the lectern and said." Good morning everyone. It is a splendid day, the weather is marvelous and before me the cream of the crop, the remaining ninety nine Cadets that past the intensive tests and evaluations of the past days. Your comrades and colleagues that are no longer here have just barely missed the final hurdle and I am as proud and impressed as one can be to have witnessed such excellence, skills and devotion. You and all the others are the hallmark, the pinnacle of what our so different civilizations combined under one goal can accomplish.
The eleven teams that remain will now face the final challenge. I have not the slightest doubt you all will complete it and it will be a close call to determine the final team that will take the trophy home." Mc Elligott motioned with his hand and Admiral Stokes, the Ult and Commandant of Arsenal II used a small remote and a large field screen established itself behind them above the platform. The Ult said. "To show you all just how well you did and to visualize for you how close the scores were in some cases we are displaying your score tally now."
I had watched Dent and it appeared he had not been informed of this and he did not approve. "Is that really necessary? They know they made it to the final challenge, Admiral Stokes?"
The scores however already became visible. I knew it was not very professional and perhaps childish but I could not stop the grin that crept on my face as I saw my team on top.
Har-Hi nudged me and he too was grinning and whispered." I call this a fair margin, over 2000 points to the runner up."
Wetmouth who flanked me on the other side said in a quiet tone." The Newport team has made it by one point!"
It was true; the Newport team was listed as the bottom with just one score point above the ones that didn't make it.
Dent replaced Mc Elligott behind the lectern, but without his stepping stool, all he could do was peak over the thing. He barley contained the anger that colored his voice as he thanked the Admiral of the Fleet and Stokes. Then he addressed us. "Let us get to the business at hand. In this year's challenge you will orbital jump to the surface of Dover II which represents a simulated hostile planet. Each team must destroy a Sensor base, make contact with the local sentient life form and show their first contact skills. If successfully establishing contact, the tribal leader will give information how to find a hidden D 12 shuttle. Whichever team returns to Dover first and rings the academy bell wins!" His displeasure and anger had evaporated and he appeared very pleased with himself.
Har-Hi put my observation in words as he said to me. "I can't shake the feeling either. He somehow managed to stack the deck to his favor after all!"
"I was thinking the same, but what can he do? With the Admiral there and all the others watching?"
Hans rubbed his big hands. "I love it; it sounds like a nice challenge. They pulled all stops on this one. You know Orbital Jumps mean we get Quasimodo Suits issued!"
I could not share his enthusiasm. I remembered all too clearly my first jump from Daniel Station and the fear I felt doing it, this time it was not just me who would fail if I messed this up, but I would let down my team. I had to get over that feeling of fear that already started to rise from the bottom of my stomach.
We boarded a Marine Drop ship an hour later. The lumbering giant was hovering only a few meters above the grass near the landing field. It was an older model most likely used for training purposes only and its crew did not consist of marines, but Navy Instructors.
Once aboard they did issue us fully equipped Main Battle Suits. These, almost six ton suits were known as Quasimodos due to their humpback shaped appearance. The hump contained the main weapon, six long range multi warhead missiles and the Mini ISAH pack that allowed the space battle version to go superluminal. Even more than Union Battleships these behemoths of the latest Union and Terran Mil Tech symbolized Union fighting power especially in the eyes of our enemies. The shields powerful enough to survive a dive into the corona of a star, the armor nearly indestructible molecular compacted, lattice woven Ultronit and each strain coated in a atomic thin layer of Neutronium, the main reason for the suits great weight. Yet a wearer could move as fast and agile as if wearing nothing. The synthetic muscles augmented the strength of its wearer to truly superhuman levels. With a Quasimodo it was possible to jump clear across a five story building, even without using its flight capabilities. Finest X101 computronics enhanced reaction and agility while regulating the power. A trained Marine could pick up a raw egg without breaking it and then crush a lump of granite to dust. None of us, with the exception of Hans perhaps had this level of control of course.
All our weapons were in training mode, otherwise we would have laid waste to the target world, simulated or not.
Seeing Krabbel in his version of a Quasimodo after he came out the specialized Battle Dresser was perhaps the most impressive and perhaps frightening sight. Each of his four upper arms carried a FTL Forced Energy cannon and extendable mono blades.
Har Hi and Hans could not stop praising the suits and acted like children with their favorite toys.
Mao walked in it like second nature. Shaka was obviously not as used or comfortable but he managed.
Cirruit had a specialized engineering version; it was not as heavily armed but had a wide variety of engineering tools and an impressive load of demolition equipment. With his suit he could repair another Quasimodo or a Battle tank, remove obstacles, dig trenches, destroy enemy bunkers and clear mines just to name a few of its capabilities.
Elfi's suit was a recon model, lighter and faster than the regular main battle suit. It could operate completely silent had several cloaking and camouflage options. She had a wide range of communication choices and specialized equipment to jam, disrupt and neutralize enemy communications.
Even though there was a Science model available, Wetmouth decided on a regular battle suit. However since we had a choice Hans opted for the heaviest model the Artillery Unit. When he wanted to engage the main weapon, he had to deploy outriggers and become stationary. The power of his gun however was enough to bring down anything up to escort class space ship or tackle regiments of enemy robots and troops at once.
Har-Hi true to his nature selected the Aerial assault version, with superior flight capabilities both in atmospheres and deep space. It was basically a miniature fighter jet that could also walk and fight on the ground.
I had no problems with Quasimodos as long as I didn't have to use one in space and I too selected the Main Battle version, but with the command module, giving me advanced tactical and strategic options such as seeing what my team mates saw, checking on their suit and health status and so forth.
I tried to concentrate on little things and not to think too much about the orbital jump ahead.
It did not take long for the Drop ship to reach the second planet in the local system and each of us was fitted into the drop rack. Almost like the security bars of an amusement ride heavy tubes lowered and pulled us snug into the rack.
Har Hi gave me thumbs up before he was pulled inside, he knew of my fear of deep space.
A voice told us we were only three minutes from our orbital drop zone.
Red lights rotated and a horn blared, the drop rack I was in moved and shoved me down into the ejection tube. The tube sealed with an audible hiss. It was completely dark. My suit systems should have come on now. I had checked them, but nothing happened even after I pressed my chin against the emergency start up contact. Not even my HUD came on. The suit was completely immobile, not just because of the launch rack, but without energy I could not so much as lift a finger. I was inside a rigid coffin!
I never felt more helpless in my life. Then I felt the auto-doc unit move and felt a sharp prick in my neck. Nausea reached my throat and then there was nothing.
Interlude: Newport Academy – Officer's lounge
Har-Hi sat there motionless with and with expression as hard as stone. Wetmouth's mask looked the same as ever. But her shaking shoulders told everyone she was crying. Elfi held her close; her thick black Saran style eye make-up she was always wearing had partially dissolved and ran in smears down her cheeks. Mao had his head buried between his fists and he too was crying. Hans held a wadded towel in his fists and his chin kept trembling whenever he looked at the Reagan trophy that stood before them on a low table.
Shaka appeared completely withdrawn and did not react to anything that went on around him. Cirruit stood in the back, his machine face completely incapable of emotions somehow looked endlessly sad, even to someone who never seen an X101 before.
Krabbel was all balled up, not even touching the ice cream someone had put on the table simply rocked back and forth.
They had seen Eric's suit burn up as his suit failed and the ISAH pod on his back overloaded.
Har Hi had pressed them on, screamed and told them to win the damn trophy in honor of their friend for he knew that is what he would have wanted.
Har-Hi had rung the Academy bell and they all were escorted to this room.
Dent was more than annoyed that they had won, despite their loss and actually argued that only a full team should be able to win. Since there was no such rule in the conditions, Admiral Mc Elligott had handed them the trophy and Har-Hi could swear there were tears in the Old Mans eyes as he did.
The Admirals and the other high ranking Officers then retreated behind the door before they were sitting to make an official inquiry into the death of Midshipman Olafson.
Wetmouth whispered but they all heard it. "I can't believe he is dead. I simply can't"
Hans broke down again and cried bitterly." I never heard of a Quasimodo fail in that way."
Har-Hi drew the sacred knife of revenge, only to be drawn in case of the death of a close family member, and not to be put back into its scabbard until it drank the blood of the killer." I don't believe it was an accident, no matter what they come up with in there?"
Elfi sobbed."What now? What are we going to do now?
None of her friends had an answer for her.
Here ends Book 7