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Chapter 9

November 7, 2406 AD

29 Light-years from the Sol System

Monday, 4:35 PM, Expeditionary Mission Standard Time

The team traced the wall for several hundred meters until they found a large sewage drain with a grate covering the exiting flow. The water was murky with obvious chunks and glops of brown and green sludge that smelled like the sewage treatment plant in the belly of the Madira after chili was on the menu. DeathRay closed his visor and set the air filters on high.

“If there are no occupants anywhere how the hell is there sewage?” First Sergeant Rondi Howser asked.

“Shit stinks too, First Sergeant.” Corporal Simms observed.

The sewage splashed into a small fast-running river that flowed further down the hill. The river seemed to simply start at the wall and was fed from somewhere underneath the surface.

“Maybe it’s residual sludge from whoever was here?” Amari offered.

“Who gives a shit,” Simms laughed.

“No, Simms, who gave a shit?” Howser corrected him.

“Alright, stow that shit,” Boland was almost too serious to smile. “We go in under the wall in the river,” he ordered.

“You know, Boland, if I were designing a fortress, getting in wouldn’t be as simple as swimming underneath the wall.” Nancy frowned.

“Well, let’s hope whoever did design this thing doesn’t think like you.” Jack knew that was a long shot. He’d even thought of that himself. But if they were going to have to blast a way in he’d rather do it below ground and out of sight.

“Move,” he said.

Jack watched as the three AEMs dropped into the water flow and out of sight. He tracked them on the QM Blue force tracker. They seemed to fall forever and then at thirty meters depth they stopped.

“Jesus, that thing is deep.” Nancy looked at ET1 Amari. “Standard Navy suits can handle that, right?”

“I’m not sure,” Amari replied. “Give me a second.”

Jack and Nancy watched as Amari’s face glazed over for a second as if she were having a detailed conversation with her AIC. Then she blinked her eyes and nodded at them.

“We are good to fifty-one point two meters according to my AIC.” Nancy had worked with the tech for about two years now and trusted her assessment.

“Good, then. We go.” Jack jumped off the edge into the water.

“Dammit, Boland!” Nancy hated it when he went headlong into things without consulting her. “You heard the man.”

Nancy did a forward flip off the edge into where the waterfall of sludge hit the clear water of the river. As she splashed into the water she switched her suit to full QM sensors. EO/IR sensors had no range in the turbid murkiness. As the weight of her suit sank her deeper into the river the current subsided a bit and the water cleared dramatically. At about sixteen meters there was a thermal barrier in the water and they passed into very clear water that seemed to light up all around her. She realized that the rest of the team had their external floodlights on.

What if there are sensors down here, she thought to Allison.

It would seem to be wiser to stay on passive QM sensors, Allison agreed.

Better warn Candis to tell Boland.


“Listen up,” DeathRay’s voice came through on the com. “Turn off the floods and any other active sensors. Stay on passive QMs only. They might have sentry sensors down here.”

Nancy almost laughed. “That’s another one you owe me, Boland.”

The current had brought them to a stop at the bottom about sixty meters from where the wall should be. The suits were heavy and powerful so walking upstream on the bottom wasn’t too difficult. The soft, muddy bottom proved more difficult to balance in than pushing against the current. Jack felt each foot drive into the muck up to the knee and then the pull free came with a big schlurrpp!

“Stay alert. My sensors show us right beneath the wall.” Jack checked the whereabouts of his team in the Blue force tracker that was displaying in his mindview. “Lieutenant Franks, take your men ahead of us. Spread out a few meters between you and take it slowly.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Penzington, you and Amari on me.” Jack couldn’t see more than a few centimeters through the visor but the QMs painted a perfect view of the terrain. The undercurrents were displayed as vector arrows, and objects were painted in grayscale. The river bottom was featureless as best he could tell. Ten meters further upstream there was the wall.

“The QMs show the wall is here but the water is flowing right through it.” Lieutenant Franks exclaimed. “Makes very little sense to me, sir.”

“Roger that, Franks. I got it.” DeathRay scanned the wall left to right and up and down. The current vectors showed the water flowing continuously as if there were no wall. “The QMs don’t see the wall and neither does the water, but I can see it right in front of me.”

“Jack, I don’t like it,” Nancy warned on a private channel.

“Yeah, I’m going to bring my optical floods up slowly. Starting at low intensity.” Jack ordered his AIC to bring up the suit’s exterior light. A soft white illumination rippled and reflected off the wall that was clearly in front of him. “What the hell?”

“Sir,” ET1 Amari said. “I think it’s a modulated SIF and a hologram.”

“So the wall isn’t really here then?” Jack asked.

“Maybe,” Amari replied. “I don’t think the wall is real at all. Somehow the structural integrity field is modulated so the water is flowing through it in rapid bursts. You would think there would be ionization, or eddy currents, or some sort of vortices at the surface. This is very complicated tech, sir.”

“How complicated?” Jack asked. “Could we build it?”

“Hah,” Jack could almost hear laughter in her voice. “Of course, sir. This is no different than the coolant flow field SIFs on the large directed energy guns on the Madira.”

“I see. Well, it looks like there aren’t any light-activated booby-traps, so go ahead and turn on your floods.”

“How do we get through the wall?” Lieutenant Franks interrupted. “Explosives?”

“It will take me some time to figure it out, sir. I’d have to find the right modulation frequency of the SIF itself and then we’d have to match it.”

“Okay, get with it ET1.” Jack turned to look at Nancy but she had backed off several meters. “Penzington? What are you doin—” Jack didn’t have time to finish.

Penzington kicked her jumpboots and fired her thrusters directly into the wall at top suit speed, which in the water was about ten meters per second. Her suit flickered and a brilliant blue light danced across the wall as she passed head first through it. The flash was so bright that DeathRay wasn’t sure if she’d actually made it through or was vaporized on impact.

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