As the Flagrant Swordmaiden fleet made their way to Aeon Corona VII, it became clear that they were moving far slower than they ought to. After continuous calculations and estimations, they figured out that it might take thirty percent longer to reach orbit.
Worse, the time and space distortion only grew stronger the more they approached the deviant planet!
According to some calculations, time in the vicinity of the Super Earth-like planet may run several times slower than normal, perhaps by as much as ten times on the very surface of the planet.
Despite the alarming phenomena surrounding Aeon Corona VII, neither Major Verle nor Commander Lydia showed any hesitation. They expected the Flagrant Swordmaidens to charge straight ahead regardless of what the abnormal planet threw at them. They were finally about to commence their mission!
Due to the extra time needed to reach the Super Earth, Ves figured Ketis and him wouldn't be needed at the command center. The Vandals maintained a yellow alert condition, but other than that they didn't expect to bump into anyone. The odds of meeting a rival force during transit under these blinding conditions was almost nil.
The astral winds both hindered them as well as shielded them from encountering other forces.
Ves tallied their current conditions from the records he had access to and made a log. "Fuel supply has been dipping, but we have a healthy reserve remaining. We have enough supplies to sustain a months-long campaign on the ground, though if our conditions are difficult we'll need to supplement them with supplies produced on site."
The Vandals prepared plenty of production equipment that enabled them to produce ammunition and recharge energy cells from locally-sourced resources.
"Crew morale is somewhat shaken due to the strange phenomena caused by the spacetime anomaly originating from Aeon Corona VII. However, now that we are finally nearing our mission site, all of the Vandals are fired up and ready to fight. So long as the Vandals are focused on what is straight ahead of them, they won't think too hard on the myriad of dangers involved with approaching such a dangerous planet."
The science officers issued various reports that indicated that the strange astral winds and all of the spacetime distortions wouldn't have any effect on their health other than to accelerate their aging relative the rest of the galaxy. Nonetheless, not everyone trusted their judgement.
It was hard to trust anyone when it came to this strange and mystical planet. What few details they gathered of the seventh planet already drove the exogeology specialists nuts.
"Some of our starships are still recovering from the sabotage attempts by the cultists, and the absence of the Finmoth Regal and the Goombal Chelsea isn't helping matters. Both of our spaceborn and landbound mechs are in their best state yet if the mech complement of the aforementioned ships are taken out of the equation. Even Venerable Xie has shown he feels more at ease when piloting the Parallax Star."
Ves had no doubt that some of the addictive qualities started to make their mark on the expert pilot's psyche. Addiction played a key role in the cocktail of positive reinforcement mechanisms that slowly associated contentment, safety, fulfillment and other positive emotions to serving the Vandals.
The expert pilot regularly deployed into space in order to gain some valuable experience in piloting the actual Parallax Star.
Early indications already showed that the brainwashing tentatively started to shift the expert pilot's mentality. The Venerable still insisted on calling Prince Hixt-Klaaster, but paid less and less attention to the conversations. It became easier for the AI pretending to be the Fourth Prince to maintain the facade.
"As for the cooperation between the Vandals and the Swordmaidens, our relations have grown back to normal since before we've picked up the survivors of Chopra Interstellar Security. A healthy separation still exists to guard against contingencies, but it's hard not to grow on the women since they are rather adept at diplomacy."
Every Vandal spoke positively when they organized joint patrols or collaborated in other matters. Ves was no exception to this phenomenon as he found Ketis quite adorable under her tough girl exterior.
All-in-all, after crossing through Vesian space, mucking about in Harkensen and Mancroft, crossing from one end of the Faris Star Region to the other end, most Vandals expressed relief at finally coming within a stone's throw of their mission.
Once they reached the Starlight Megalodon and looted it with whatever their bosses wanted to retrieve, they could make a straight shot towards home!
Ves snorted at the thought. How naive. "Treasure attracts danger. Besides, I don't think Aeon Corona VII will relinquish its bounty without a fight."
He could feel it in his restless gut. A deep sense of anxiety mixed with anticipation ran across his body whenever he studied the increasingly more detailed model of the seventh planet.
"One giant Super Earth. Five medium-sized moons. Extremely likely to possess a thin atmosphere with a sufficient amount of oxygen to allow baseline humans to breathe, though with great difficulty."
In fact, besides estimating the planet's gravity at six times the gravity of Old Earth, the planet seemed suspiciously livable to humans.
The exobiologists all concluded that the planet likely used to be a lot more hostile to human life, but that centuries of faint but focused terraforming changed all of that. Due to the time acceleration on the surface of the planet, the change may have only taken a couple of decades in the perspective of the outside galaxy.
Aeon Corona VII tentatively hit all the boxes when it came to the requirements to sustain human life. Water, air and temperature all fell within a moderate range, while its strong magnetic field protected it against the harmful radiation against the combined output of three stars in the center of the system.
The biggest question of all was whether any humans actually lived down there. So far, clones piloting FTL-capable shuttles managed to escape the planet and star system and leak out word of the Starlight Megalodon's existence.
Yet who grew those clones? It didn't have to be other humans. It could be aliens or some automated cloning system at work.
The journey to the planet progressed quietly. The Vandals kept up constant patrols and tried to study the glowing particles as best they could, but none of their attempts at capturing them succeeded. It was like they truly existed out of phase, yet somehow cast their reflection into a few dimensions down.
All of the science talk went over Ves' head. He recognized a few terms related to FTL drive technology, but he lacked the foundation to understand or participate in a discussion of that level.
"The best way to put it is like this." Chief Avanaeon said when Ves paid a visit to engineering. "Imagine you take some clothes out of your closet and place them neatly on top of each other. You'll end up with a mostly-flat pile of clothes consisting of multiple layers of fabric, right?"
"Then one day you take your palm and press down right into the middle of the pile of clothes. Your arm sinks down and the layers of clothes get squeezed. Right now, Aeon Corona VII is kind of in such a situation. Imagine the pile of clothes as a stack of dimensions. Normally, there's plenty of space and separation between the layers. Pressing down our palm on them has changed the equilibrium and caused them to press against each other. As far as we can tell, the dimensions are so compressed that they are partially overlapping into each other."
"What the hell does that mean?" Ves frowned.
"It means we start to see things but we can't touch them. It isn't correct to say that interaction between matter and energy in different dimensions is impossible, but we don't have the knowledge nor the theory to do something like that. However, we did manage to develop some hypotheses on what is going on. We haven't been sitting on our butts all this time."
"Can you tell me what is going on?"
"Our first guess is that the Starlight Megalodon's FTL drives are most likely responsible or at least involved in this persistent spacetime anomaly. I won't bore you with the specifics but when highly advanced FTL drives fail in a certain way, they essentially cause an effect on the dimensions similar to how you press down your arm on the pile of clothes. From what little we can manage to extrapolate from our long-ranged sensors pointed to Aeon Corona VII, the origin point of all of the astral wind is very likely to be her crash site!"
This was a bold and frankly ridiculous-sounding revelation! Even if battleships possessed enough firepower to destroy a planet, to flood an entire star system with all of this spacetime distortion for decades or centuries sounded far too ludicrous!
"How can that be possible?" Ves expressed his disbelief. "Pressing down on the layer of dimensions and keeping them compressed requires you to expend an enormous amount of energy to maintain this state! Battleship or not, the Starlight Megalodon's energy reserves shouldn't have lasted that long!"
Chief Avanaeon shook his head. "Are you certain about that? We know that humanity has mastered the means to create endlessly renewable energy sources, and CFA battleships are known to incorporate the best and greatest technology of humanity. As long as the battleship hasn't incurred too much damage, it is not out of the realm of probability that her malfunctioning FTL drives are perpetually sustaining an abnormal dimension compression effect."
"You have no proof that this is going on, right?"
"It is the simplest answer we can think of right now. Occam's Razor, Ves. If your understanding of FTL drives has reached my level, then you wouldn't be so dismissive of my words. The greater the capabilities of an FTL drive, the more we are tangling with dangers we don't fully understand. An active FTL drive is a wild beast that seeks to tear a hole through the dimensions and subject everything around it to chaos if left to its own devices."
"Will it be dangerous for us to get close to such an anomaly? I used to be part of the Glowing Planet campaign, and the forces there borrowed dimensional smoother devices that could forcibly suppress wrinkles in spacetime."
"We're not talking about a couple of wrinkles here, Ves." Avanaeon shook his head again. "Whatever is at the center of the Starlight Megalodon is at least a hundred times worse. It's a massive pit. However, it is a remarkably smooth and stable one as well. The danger with dimensional wrinkles is that ships tend to get crumpled into the folds of spacetime when they come across a wrinkle. That problem won't happen here because the distortions are smooth and gradual enough that we won't get folded in ourself or something."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
That sounded reassuring. Not.
"What if we slip and slide all the way to the bottom of the pit?"
"Nobody knows. We might get pulled into a singularity for all I know, but as long as we maintain some distance we won't be at risk. Considering that the battleship is very likely to be intact enough to sustain a perpetually active FTL drive, we don't believe it's all that bad down there."
Ves couldn't comprehend the chief's dismissive attitude towards the potential dangers. It was like the chief telling everybody that taking a dip into the corona of the sun would just leave them with a bit of sunburn on their skin!
Just as Ves was about to express his skepticism, the yellow alert suddenly turned to red alert!
"OUR PATROLS HAVE MADE CONTACT WITH SANDMEN ESCORT VESSELS! ALL HANDS TO ACTION STATIONS!"
Both Ves and Avanaeon cursed.
Ves hustled to the command center as best he could with the Earth Ant. After a long period of avoiding the aliens, they suddenly bumped into the silicate life forms all of a sudden in the middle of interplanetary space. How did they even manage to enter the Aeon Corona System?