Space Station Konxerus
"Dio Qze lies ahead, Ma'am," the panel worker at Right Com prefaced the visual of the unincorporated planet that graced the gigantic views-screen which also doubled as the Cockpit Section's main window.
"Let's get a look at it," Captain Borcuk said. "Wrap around the planet once, and then conform us to orbit."
"Yes, Ma'am," the panel worker at left com acknowledged before typing away the the appropriate keystrokes on the console that effectuated a thunderous yet effortless encirclement of the planet.
Next, the Captain posed what, with her experience, would turn out to be a rhetorical question, "Any sign of the Carriveaua?"
"Nothing, Ma'am," the panel worker at weapons com, who had the most interest in picking up the Carriveaua scent, responded.
"No, I didn't expect there would be," Captain Borcuk stated with what would have seemed like cockiness to anybody who was not familiar with her demeanor, but that was clearly seniority talking. She had quite literally seen every trick or maneuver in the eBook and lived long enough to author its follow-up volume that many of her opponents probably studied from. But they had not learned all the secrets because some of those were not going to be publicized until well after retirement.
Sitting in the cockpit of his Class V Fighter with its canopy open on the middle level of the Docking Bay Section, Boyd adjusted his gloves - getting ready to take hold of the ship's twin yokes to begin a departure. The tone playing in the Enforcer's right ear prompted him to bring his gloved right hand to the Ear-To-Mouth Com in order to accept the feed:
He expected the Captain's voice to come over that feed with orders of flight clearance but instead received a peculiarity, "I'm not quite sure what you see in Dio Qze. If I'd been cooped up on a planet with that much smog for as many months as you'd been, I would've just opted for its destruction to save the inhabitants from the misery - on a synthetic planet no less."
"Wait," Boyd interjected an honest query, "smog?"
"You sound surprised," Captain Borcuk replied based off what her empathy picked up on from the undertones of unfamiliarity in the Enforcer's voice.
While working his fighter's keyboard with both hands worth of fingers typing, Boyd brought up a stream of the live evidence on the monitor which sat between his legs and admitted, "It's because I am. That's certainly not how I left the planet. I'm trying to do some image scaling in order to figure out what the plume consists of, but I don't know enough about what I'm looking at."
Another tap on the tiny buttons of the Captain's Ear-To-Mouth Com added an additional party to the conversation, "Uraine, are you busy?"
With the absence of war or even conflict, Uraine Roswell had resorted to the psychedelic trip of virtual 3-D modeling. Though in perfect health, he lay on one of the patient beds from the Science Medical Section's upper level with enough life support apparatuses connected to him, poking at his various veins, and probing inside any available orifices which would have allowed for such invasive prodding. The body was a machine after all, so when the science/medical team Lead resorted to retreating within his mind in order to explore the furthest mysteries of his trade and/or practice without sluggish, menial life distractions getting in the way; another machine needed to pick up the slack from its neglected autonomic nervous system.
Uraine had opted for suspended animation technology like that seen on the former penal colony (Planet Exile) which included both freezer tubes and containers, but Captain Borcuk nixed that idea because of the obvious lack of spontaneity in the revival process. SpaceStation Konxerus was still an active duty ship - one of the most revered and traveled vessels in the history of the Space Force, so it received a certain number of procedural exceptions over the course of the decades, but taking the science/medical team lead completely offline for his own selfishly irrelevant purposes of geeking out was not going to be one of them. That request never even made it to the review process and was precisely denied for times like this when his expertise needed to be called upon at a moment's notice.
Whereas the middle level of science/medical was open to general admission, the upper level was much more of an intensive care unit. Various different types of full-blown surgeries and outpatient procedures could be performed there, plus the level also accommodated overnight or extended stays. The lower level featured a lesser-used morgue which did not see much of any autopsies these days, thankfully. Even with the exclusivity of this private room, people still found a way to interrupt a passionate set of work.
"Very busy," Uraine answered via a feed that was connected directly into his mind. Tubes for nourishment were shoved down his throat and oxygen nodules were jammed up his nostrils, so he could not exactly utilize his mouth to speak.
"I'm sorry to bother you and ask you to have to do your job," the Captain sniped, "but could you please take a look at some telemetric data that's being picked up by and transmitted from Right Com?"
"Yes," Uraine hissed back over Captain Borcuk's Ear-To-Mouth Com, "fine. What do you want to know?"
The Captain handled the part of asking the questions because Boyd did not have a direct relationship with Uraine. Otherwise, this conversation would have been carried on - out in the open across the overhead speakers for all to hear. Again, the Enforcer did not exist, and to anybody who saw him walking around the spacestation, he just appeared to be some sort of hotshot consultant or something. Nobody paid his or Lalia's presence any additional or undue mind as a result. "What exactly is the smoke that's wafting over the planet? The result of fire? Smog? Dust?"
In being able to visualize the molecular structure of the query in three dimensions which allowed Uraine to not only analyze, reposition, and sort the genetic makeup in real time but consult a virtually unlimited directory of referential resources (also) as quickly - instantaneously, he came to a simple conclusion, "Pollen - laced with nanites," without the interest to elaborate or the context to care.
But the silent observer of this conversation had the perspective. Boyd realized that the Deew was trying to spread itself, but the part about the nanites offered a hint of malicious intent.
"Tell me...our options...for getting rid of it," Captain Borcuk ordered impatiently. Uraine could sometimes get on her nerves with a schizophrenic denseness which did not recognize the urgency of certain situations.
"It's a synthetic planet," Uraine said in annoyance of the answer being obvious to him, "so vent the atmosphere to flush the spores, and then destroy them."
That seemed simple enough, so the Captain concluded the consultation, "Thank you for your time," and severed the extra feed on her Ear-To-Mouth Com - making this a normal, two-person chat.
"Can you open up both shutters of Dio Qze's shield aperture at the same time?" Boyd asked while closing the canopy to his Class V Fighter and running through a series of preflight preparations. Crucial environmentals, recharged power, and reloaded weaponry all checked out as optimal.
"I can," Captain Borcuk agreed, but that statement spoke more toward an overreach of unheralded power than any sort of routinely permissible activity. It happened to be at the very crux of what Galaxy Bloc feared most from its virulent breach of their privacy but also at the same time, and in times like these, the skeleton key proved the Space Force's point as to why such ignoble acts of oversight came in handy.
For the astute, this also pointed to a clandestine link between an overall intention of the Space Force and the Slorgs to leave backdoor hacks worth of entries into the very design of the planets that they jointly terraformed. The handy albeit shady option provided one more uncanny example of those factions working eerily in concert toward some unspeakable goal of a hidden agenda, for no apparent reason. Why would they help each other in the first place, and why would they assist each other in such a specific manner? Those answers might possibly be addressed in stories to come, but the point here was that the Captain and the assumption of anybody else associated with the Enforcers had the ability to come and go as they pleased on any synthetic planet despite its inner shield that held in the good atmosphere and its outer shield which held back the vacuum of space. This could conceivably be used as a weapon, but to do so would be to tip an incredibly secretive hand and risk losing a continual advantage. The use of this ability sparingly addressed a greater benevolence in its creation.
Similar to both outer space and underwater depressurization technology, the idea was this: A returning ship could enter through the outside shield into the miles-long middle cylindrical zone between a synthetic planet's shields, the outside shield would reengage to trap the absence of good atmosphere between the zone, and then the inside shield would open up - allowing the vessel access to the actual world and no loss in that atmosphere. Terraforming had evolved to such a point where the entire process had become seamless, so with the appropriate clearances, ships could come and go as the aerospace traffic controllers on the surface pleased without having to slow down because the shield aperture system was also dynamic. Hovering and heavily armored plus heavily armed shield emitter beacons provided those fields within the mesosphere.
Normally, opening both shutters of the shield aperture up simultaneously would have proven detrimental to the inhabitants of the planet. Again, if this same instance occurred with an airlock being breached in the dead of space, not only would atmosphere have been vented but also the next lightest material which was closest to the breach (that was not battened down) at the time as well. But in creating a smaller opening nearest the drifting spores for only a short period, the inherent danger to Dio Qze's inhabitants could be minimized - heck, the true threat would actually be sucked out in that scenario.
But lording over extraordinary responsibilities often required some semblance of approval. Almost with an ease that seemed inappropriate for effectuating something of this magnitude, Captain Borcuk simply offered her own superfluous authorization, "Let's use the doormat key to create an aperture opening directly above the focal point of the spores. Work out the dimensions based upon a conical timer." Effectiveness was what she wanted here, and the computer could allow the hole to reach upward of a half of the planet's diameter (in its own diameter) for as long as the computer would allow which wouldn't cause people to get sucked out along with the nanite-enhanced pollen. She added the following order, "Make use of the weather pattern randomizers to douse the planet in rainwater to deal with any residual fallout that doesn't get taken into space."
The panel worker at Right Com said, "Yes, Ma'am," and carried out those orders with nimble taps of dexterous fingertips across the console.
The tactic happened to be as much about sending a message to the Deew as it was about protecting the people of Dio Qze. From what the Captain had learned of the situation, she had to put the biological weapon in the category along with the rest of those unassuming types that did not say a whole lot from the realm of who did not beat their chest when foretelling a foreboding occurrence but were always modest yet excessive in plotting privately. The statement which was being made here was that its pollination attack could be beaten in one way or smothered in another, rendering it basically useless. But Captain Borcuk was a vindictive competitor - opting for the complete capitulation of an opponent and the crushing of any spirit of hope for the possibility of a differing outcome. She was not here to play games, and even though the campaign could be likened to a game, how something happened to be won contributed mightily to why something was (usually) won.
"Ready the Mulgulous Weapon," the Captain commanded.
But then, this particular extraordinary responsibility had its safety precautions removed. The reason for Space Force spacestations being dubbed planet killers was about to come online, and SpaceStation Konxerus was the only one of its kind that did not require a Mulgulous Plant to be set at the point of a target.
To activate the weapon and fire its ray, a plant (to which only ranking Space Force officials had access) needed to be placed where the massive energy burst distribution was destined to be unleashed. Checks and balances were instituted on one of the megapower's most powerful weapons in order to prevent it from being used for unprecedented genocidal acts. This prevented mistakes on the part of professionals who were only Human and might not have meant to miss or maniacs that willfully chose to engage in inhumane acts and could care less in any event.
This also spoke to the level of seniority that Captain Borcuk possessed to be able to ignore an edict of appeasement which had been passed down by the current Leader One: Jerry Stuyvescent to dissuade other factions from beefing up their own weaponry when keeping pace (or trying to keep pace) with the Space Force in spite of common sense provisions like instilling limits to the use of such power. But this was no ancillary hack. The spacestation could easily run roughshod over a good portion of the universe - ringing up incalculable deaths and irreparable damage with the destructive capability before being brought to account, so she was much more adept at using that power with the precision, surgical tact of a laser scalpel.
As the panel worker at Left Com coolly used the controls to maneuver SpaceStation Konxerus around the outer orbit of the planet, the lower half of the cockpit opened up like a mouth - exposing an oval, bulb-type projection device which extended into position like a tongue. The Captain turned toward the panel worker at Weapons Com and advised, "Target that dust cloud of spores. Use the narrow burst to cook them." She always liked to put her people in a position where they could not fail, and this situation would prove to be little more than target practice, so a Mulgulous Plant was theoretically not necessary. Tracer plants could normally be fired out in instances like this where boots were not able to touch down to a firmness of ground where one could be officially set, but this was little more than a slam dunk to a person who was going to cautiously decide to lay the ball inside the rim rather than showboat a thunderous performance.
Besides, the Mulgulous Ray spoke for itself as devastating when its charged and focused solar energy shot toward the spores and bathed them in a bath of obliteration. Again with the posturing - Captain Borcuk wanted the biological weapon to know that it was potentially next to feel the flames of Space Force domination.
And through those fires flew Boyd's Class V Fighter which had since exited the spacestation's docking bay on path to what he hoped was an anticlimactic return to Dio Qze. As the shield aperture closed in time with his arrival, a monsoon worth of rains began to rush downward across the planet - pounding the lands and dotting the seas while striping the skies with its purposeful downpour that his ship just seemed to outrun in a brilliant grace of soaring descent.
When the Mulgulous Ray began to fizzle out at the completion of its intense dispersion, SpaceStation Konxerus suffered from a brutal blindside attack which Boyd witnessed from the corner of his ship's monitor. He would have been more worried for the spacestation had this not also been a part of the wily Captain's plan to draw out an invisible foe into the prematurity of the open by giving them the first shot, but an infuriated Deew (which had grown large enough to try and challenge him while in the air) was taking precedent over any other misplaced concerns!