Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 2 (2)

The morning dawned a beautiful pale lavender with calm winds that promised an easy flight for him. He headed to the flight centre in a much better mood than he had been in the day before. Hans loaded the small plane that he had booked for the trip and gave it the once over. He knew that the plane was in good shape, but some habits were hard to break.

“Don’t trust me to do my job?” Duke’s voice made Hans jump slightly. It was fairly early and he hadn’t expected any of the daytime staff to be in yet.
“It’s just habit. I’ve been checking my crafts ever since I started flying.” Hans stood up and stretched. “It looks good to go and I expected nothing less.”

“I’d do the same. Still planning what you were planning the last time we talked?” Duke leaned up against the plane blocking the way into the cockpit.
“Nothing’s changed. I’m still taking a little vacation, that’s all.”

“Uh huh,” Duke shrugged and walked away. Hans stared after him until he turned the corner. He was starting to get concerned with Duke’s interest in what he was planning. There was no way Duke could know the truth of what Hans was really doing heading out to where he was. He didn’t have necessary knowledge to connect all the dots.
Hans climbed into the cockpit. He had a scheduled flight plan to stick to and he wasn’t one to put such things on hold for minor suspicions. He took off and felt the same joy that he always felt when he left the ground. It was a pure, simple joy that being in the air always gave him. It was the place that he belonged.
It didn’t take long for him reach the destination that he had chosen just outside of the Mantou Islands. It wasn’t terraformed yet, but there was a mining camp there inside a protective dome. He had flown plenty of workers in and out of this location and there was a small town there for the families of the workers. It wasn’t ideal, but it was as close as he could get with drawing too much more suspicion than he already had.

He checked into the only hotel that the town had. The room was small, but clean. It didn’t matter to Hans though it was just going to be a place to store his stuff once he got geared up. There were a few things he wanted to get still, but hadn’t wanted to buy outright. Here he could rent it easily enough with no one asking questions.
Hans went back down to the front desk to get the information he needed about where to rent the equipment he wanted. He wanted a reliable renter who wasn’t going to be asking any questions about where he was going and what he was planning to do. He was directed to a company called Sure Thing Rentals.

“Hi there. How can I help you?” The friendly clerk piped up as soon as Hans walked in through the door.
“I’m planning on doing a bit of exploring out around the islands. I need a boat and some emergency supplies for the journey.”

“No problem at all, sir. Do you want any terrain or nautical maps with that?” He didn’t seem the least interested in why Hans wanted the items.
“Yeah, that would come in handy.” Hans smiled. “I’ll be needing he rentals for about a week. I plan on leaving this afternoon.”

“Right-o. You should probably know that ocean conditions in this area are pretty dodgy in the afternoons though. High winds and all. That’s why they haven’t made the equator areas more habitable yet.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with the peculiarities of this area and its weather patterns.”

“Great. I’ll get it all arranged for you then.” It didn’t take the clerk long to set it all up and Hans was all set to go within in 15 minutes. He packed up his gear and headed out for the largest of the Mantou Islands. It was his best bet as far as he could guess and it was, at least, a place to start.
As expected, the sea was rather choppy and the winds were nearly hurricane force. It was a hard go across the small straight to his destination, but it seemed to take forever. Hans wished he could have flown in, but he knew Duke would check the GPS tracker on the craft he had borrowed and he didn’t need any more questions.

It was an hour of hard going before he arrived safely at the largest of the four islands within the chain. Conditions on the ground weren’t ideal, but he landed on the more protected side of the island. He was glad that he had paid a bit extra to rent a full atmosphere suit. It would protect him from the debris that was being carried by the wind.
Hans pulled out a small hand held device that was the only thing he had ordered in from off planet for his expedition. It was very sensitive to magno-electric fields and he was pretty sure that it would point him in the right direction. Right away it began to light up and he fiddled with the settings until he could better pinpoint the exact location of the where the field was coming from.

It came as no surprise that what he was detecting came from beneath him, but he was surprised by how deep the signal seemed to be coming from. It was several kilometres beneath the surface if he was reading things right. It wasn’t what he was expecting, but he had come prepared.  
Hans pulled up his tablet to get the few survey plans that existed for this particular island. There wasn’t much to go on, but a few of the caverns had been charted by one of the early expeditions that had come this way. Hans studied the map for a second before deciding on which entrance he wanted to attempt first.

He headed confidently northeast towards the entrance he had chosen. Despite the wind, it was pretty easy going. Cantun had been a fairly dead planet before the terraforming had started. No life above the single cell stage. Even once a stable atmosphere had been created, a large part of the planet was still considered barely habitable. Very few plants managed to survive here and the equatorial region would have been ignored if not for the rich ore deposits.
Hans stopped for a moment as he came to the worn base of what at one time could have been a mountain, but the wind had worn it into a humble hill. It didn’t take any special equipment to see the partially collapsed entrance to the cavern system. As a safety precaution Hans marked the entrance with tracking gel just in case. He wasn’t keen on the idea of getting lost down there.

Hans took one last look at the bright daylight before crawling through the small entrance that the cave-in had left and into the darkness. He paused just inside the entrance to give his eyes a chance to adjust to the dim light that came in from behind. He had brought lights with him, but this was one of his favourite parts of going underground.
He looked around in the dim light and was disappointed by what he saw. There were no formations of any kind, just rough worn rock that continued at a slight slope downward. He had been hopeful that there would be more to see than that, but it was pretty dry in this area.

With a sigh, Hans turned on his light and got a better idea of the size of the cavern. It wasn’t quite tall enough for him to stand in, but at least he didn’t have to crawl. He stood slightly stooped as he followed the cave downwards. It seemed to go forever, no branching off to either side. So far it was exactly has described in the report. He could expect pretty much the same for close to a kilometre or so and after that it would be a mystery because the surveyor hadn’t bothered to continue at that point.
Hans glanced down at his GPS unit to check his status. Even this far down, it seemed to still be working quite well. He had long passed the one kilometre mark that the initial survey had recorded and it was still much the same. Although the ceiling had raised just enough for him to be able to stand straight once again.

Checking the time, Hans sat down for a rest and leaned against one of the walls. It was getting late and he was hungry and tired – and he was getting frustrated with the lack of anything interesting. It was just the same dark blue and grey rock with nothing to distinguish one part of the cavern from another. He had at least hoped for some good spelunking even if he was wrong about what was causing the magno-electric field.
He felt around the ground and, without any surprise, noted that it was dry and relatively even in this section. It was as good a place as any to call it night. He set up his compact camp and started to make a dinner. He had another three days he could keep going for before he had to turn back and he prayed that he would find something before then.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Blood on the Stars - Part 1: Secrets & Lies - CH. 2 (1)

Hans took his time looking up the information that he wanted. He doubted that anyone would notice the queries he was making, but he preferred to be careful. He still wasn’t sure of what he had found, but if he was right, it would pay for him to cautious.
Everything he found pointed him towards one possible conclusion and he couldn’t wait for a chance to head over to those islands to see what he could find. It would take more than just a weekend to go through an unmapped cavern system he’d need a lot more time to make it worthwhile. And more information.
He did his best to keep it at the back of his mind as the weeks wore on. Work, since the incident, had been going more smoothly now that Duke had at least a little respect for him. Hans couldn’t wait for his vacation time to start in just a week so he could start exploring the Mantou Islands. It was almost all he could think about now.

“Phone call, sir.” Alice interrupted his thoughts.
“Who is it?” Hans had been just about ready to pack up and leave for the night. It was unusual for anyone to be calling him at this time.
“It’s a Major Ken Hu.”
“Put it through.” Hans sat up a little straighter in his seat as an image appeared before him.
“Hans! Long-time not talk old friend. How is civilian life treating you?” Ken smiled brightly at him.
“Hey Ken. It’s day after day of the same old stuff. Just less saluting.” Hans smirked. “How is life on your side of the galaxy?”
“Ah, you know. It’s the same as it always was.” Ken shrugged. “Some things just don’t ever change.”

“So what do I own this wonderful little phone call to?” Hans smiled, but inside he was starting to get a little suspicious. He had lost touch with most of his friends in the Armed Forces when he had left. A few still called once in a while, but not Ken and none ever called him at the office.
“Just wanted to catch and see what you were up to. Heard you were on that new planet, Cantun. It’s got some really interesting geography doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it makes piloting around here a little special sometimes, but I really haven’t had time to do much besides work out here.” Hans smiled and tried his best to be evasive. It was clear now that he hadn’t been circumspect enough in his queries.
“I bet, but I hear there’s some interesting caverns and such. Looking to pick up that old spelunking hobby of yours?”

“I wish,” Hans laughed. “But you know how things can be my business. I’ve got this centre to manage and as the planet grows I’ll be in charge of all addition centres we open here as well. It would be nice to have time for hobbies again.”
“I bet. Well, I ought to go now it’s getting late over here, but I just wanted to touch base with you. It’s been a long time.”

“Appreciated. Don’t be such a stranger, Ken.” Hans held his smile until Ken’s face vanished from the display. He hated being so suspicious about everything, but it was too much of a coincidence for him to take it lightly. He briefly thought about stepping up his plans, but decided against it. There was no need to hurry, not yet at least.


“Hans, can I talk for a minute?” Duke stood in the doorway to his office looking as unimpressed with everything as usual.

“Yeah, what’s up?” Hans closed the display of reports that he was working on quite gladly.

Duke stepped into the office and closed the door behind him. “I was just wondering about this flight plan that you filed.”

“What about it?” Hans leaned back in his chair and motioned for Duke to take a seat.

“Well, it goes kind of close to the Mantou Islands, doesn’t it?” Duke continued to stand, ignoring the offered chair.

“Just trying to get a better feeling of this planet since I’m going to be calling it home for the foreseeable future. Besides, the plan keeps me out of the hot zone. I’m a good pilot. Anything else?” Hans smiled politely, but the last thing he wanted was for anyone to questioning his flight plan, not after the call from Ken a few weeks previous.

“Just a little concerned is all. These machines are my responsibility and boss or not, I’m not going to let you take one into a no fly zone. It’s not exactly against the rules to take one for personal use, but it’s not exactly smiled upon either. So, just concerned is all.”

“Don’t worry Duke. You ought to know that I’ll take good care of it.” Hans pushed the annoyance to the back of his mind and kept his voice even. “I do appreciate your concern though.”

“Huh.” Duke crossed his arms and leaned back against the door. “You know, I’m thinking there’s more to this vacation than you’re saying.”

“It’s just a vacation.” Hans frowned. “I’m not sure what business it is of yours where I decided to go on my vacation, Duke.”

“Sure, boss.” Duke shrugged, turned and opened the door to leave. He stopped for a moment just outside the door and looked back. “You’re going to those islands aren’t you?”

“Have a good afternoon Duke.” Hans brought the display of reports back in front of him again so that Duke was partially obscured by the translucent display. He waited until the door closed before pushing the display aside again.

He pressed his fingers together and stared at the door. He couldn’t help but wonder at what Duke was thinking or what conclusions he had already come to. Hans was sure that he couldn’t know the truth, but it was still a small cause for concern. Either way, he was leaving tomorrow to explore those islands on his own.

Hans brought the display back in front of him and tried to focus on the work in front of him. He wanted as much cleared off his desk as possible before going away for a week. The thought of coming back to mountains of work was not one he enjoyed. For that reason alone, he needed to focus on getting his job done today and nothing else.

It felt like the slowest day he had ever experienced. Every now and again, when he left his office, he noticed the occasional sideways glance from Duke that he did his best to ignore. Business as usual became his mental mantra until it was time for him to leave. He couldn’t wait to get home and get packed up for the trip.