‘Be careful approaching this planet, Nikolai. It’s categorized as a cat-5. A complete wasteland, destroyed by a severe change in climate a few hundred years ago.’ said Zeph, Nikolai’s completely unique and personalized AI-assistant.
‘Has anyone ran any activity or habitability tests on the planet recently?’ Nikolai responded, confused at why this was the planet he’d have to land on. He came out of warp to look at the planet for the first time, and it was exactly as Zeph described. Both the planet itself and the space around it joined to form the wasteland described, the planet with no visible activity whatsoever and the space filled with junk. The image looked like a ball of scrapped paper with abandoned eraser rubbings surrounding it in the void of space.
‘Checking, and… No, nothing since the civilians fled.’
‘Really, odd how it’s ranked as a 5, surely it can’t be some sort of-’
‘It is certainly possible.’
‘Either way, I shouldn’t need much more information for now.’ Nikolai commanded, it was a prompt to shift Zeph’s focus back onto the small fighter Nikolai was piloting instead of searching the omninet.
‘As you wish.’
‘Tighten my shields, time to fly through all this… trash.’
Without a word Zeph tightened the shields from a bubble into a tightly fitted shield around the ship. This was required to navigate the field of wasted resources, if his shield bumped into too many things it’d break, it was worth the extra knock and possible damage they’d receive if they were hit.
Nikolai sped downward toward the planet, combining both his engine's power and the planet’s whispering gravity, calling him to its surface. ‘Sweep.’ Nikolai called as he approached the wall of debris. The glass at the front of his fighter glowed with a blue pulse, as it moved across the individual objects it gave them each a blue outline, using different shades for different depths and distances. As he passed the first few scraps of metal his blue eyes widened in what was almost fear, the extent of this field of junk was the worst he had ever seen, instead of being a sparsely dotted swarm surrounding the planet it was an extensive, deep and thick labyrinth of metal, plastic and tech. ‘Make that sweep, uhh… continuous.’ he stumbled out. The glass now had an almost radar-like pulse passing over it every few seconds, each pulse identifying new items and adding to Nikolai’s horror as he began weaving through them.
‘How on earth did the civilians leave this place?’ Nikolai muttered to himself as he found himself needing to pull every maneuver he had in his arsenal to get through this matrix of debris.
‘You don’t want me to answer that, right?’ Zeph eventually responded.
Nikolai remained silent as he continued to weave, duck, roll and even spin out of the way of the needless trash. He bared his teeth as he plummeted in what would look to even a highly trained pilot to be an uncontrolled fall, the only indicators that it wasn’t was the fact that his ship was completely unscathed and that it also seemed to just miss anything that might hit it. He controlled the thrusters like they were the limbs of a gymnast, the row of many silver cuboids flashing on and off whilst flipping up and down independently on their axes in a magnificent display as he dodged the scraps, then they all finally and suddenly all coming to a constant and unified final jog to the planet's surface. The flipping and flashing stopped. He sighed in relief.
‘The inhabitants escaped this planet by brute forcing through the debris with a giant starship, they also fitted it with a top of the line shield.’ Zeph stated, causing Nikolai to jump slightly before scowling and ordering Zeph to turn everything else on his ship back to default. This included his shield, which ballooned back into a bubble.
‘Think you can scan the surface for technological, Environmental and biological activity as I approach the LZ? I’ve got the coordinates here, so you won’t need to bother with that at all.’ Nikolai said. He reached into a compartment by his leg, and brought out from it a simple slip of paper, giving latitude and longitude coordinates for an area that was supposed to be safe for landing, though he doubted it.
‘Sure, I’ll run an active scan as you move closer, the report and mappings will be ready when you land and I’ll update your AR cache so that you can view my mappings.’
‘Thanks, don’t update the omninet with this until I give you permission, I’m still slightly unsure of how I’m supposed to be operating here… So just leave everything in the local cache.’
‘As you wish.’
Above Nikolai to the left on the glass display he saw the temperature rising slightly, the widget going to an orange instead of the usual red that he’d expect from a planet with an atmosphere this dense. ‘This planet is unusually cold, hm?’ he mumbled as he flicked a few switches, turning his space fighter into a craft more suited to air travel.
He sped onward at a high altitude, his whirring thrusters now echoing through the cold, snow filled air around them. He watched the serene, resting mountains pass beneath him, looking at them from this height you would have thought they were entirely made from snow, and only infected by the exposed rock. He eventually began flying over a large plain, he looked at his coordinates to confirm that he was supposed to be landing in an area towards the edge of this large flat. He descended. His thrusters slowed and became louder as they hissed against the ice he landed on.
‘Alright bud, what are the main things you think I should know from your scans?’
‘There is still some multicellular wildlife on this planet, they mostly exist in caves bellow,’
‘Right, considering this climate I’m assuming they’d be something I’d want to avoid?’ he questioned as he tapped on a few screens around him, the final tap lifting the glass from his ship.
He stepped out, being sure to stay inside of his force field while Zeph continued to brief him, ‘Definitely, I’d certainly recommend taking your rifle instead of just relying on your suit.’
Nikolai grabbed his rifle from a compartment in the side of his ship, being sure to leave it open as Zeph continued, ‘The area you need to head for is mapped, so just head toward the green object in your helmet display.’
‘Yup, anything I should know about the place?’
‘It’s filled with technology I couldn’t Identify, even the security seems alien to me, It’s as if I only saw specific pieces of information that they wanted us to see… Who exactly are these people, Nikolai?’
‘As expected, they’re some of the best hunters in the galaxy... doesn’t surprise me at all if they’ve recovered and reverse engineered artifacts beyond our understanding.’ Nikolai responded, as he looked at the wasteland surrounding him, seeing snow, ice and jagged rock as far as the eye could see. He saw purple and red hazes in different areas around him from the mappings in his helmet.
‘What are these other coloured identifiers?’
‘Yes, I was about to get to those. The violet is where I scanned life forms before, so you should avoid those areas by a long shot. The red is still actively being scanned, it’s where there are extreme weather conditions.’
‘How extreme, should I take my portable shield?’
Nikolai once again reached into his compartment, taking out a dark, metal collared cloak that he hooked onto the nape of his sleek, icy coloured astrosuit.
‘That all I need to know?’
He raised his wrist, tapping a screen which caused a holographic interface to spring from it. After a few taps and swipes, the hatch to his ship closed with the compartment door.
He stepped outside his ship's shield, only to immediately be caught by the winds, his cape tugging him in the winds direction. Almost instinctively, he stiffened his legs and opened his interface, but the wind was so powerful that it disrupted the projection. He fought against the current to bring his hand to his collar and click the emergency shield button. A blue flash surrounded him, before settling into a dome, one that was more visible where it still struggled against the wind. His cape still flew wildly in the wind, but dropped down slightly, where he was able to grab it, and raise it in front of his face. The dome shifted like it were a projection when he did this, the stronger part of the shield was now facing the wind and his front, instead of what would be the preferable default of it protecting his back. The wind seemingly came to a halt as soon as he raised his arm, and he no longer needed to struggle to stand his ground. He progressed onward, toward the green highlight in his AR display.
‘Zeph, why didn’t you tell me that we landed in a storm of some kind?’ he prompted, confused as to why the supposedly active mist wasn’t informing him of it.
‘Sorry, Nikolai, forgot to inform you that this planet has severe resting weather conditions. The storms are being actively tracked as red on your interface.’
Nikolai chuckled,‘This is insanity!’
He hadn’t felt this way since he first became a hunter and was introduced to all the concepts that were second nature to him now. It truly felt as though he had just entered a new world, which he hadn’t felt in all his years of hunting.
He made his way across flatlands and the occasional, cliff, hill and valley until he came to a small collection of rocky mountains. They weren’t the largest but their magnificence still captured Nikolai. The grouping were huddled together as if the snow covered children were protecting the base of their more rocky parent from the raging snow that raced across wastelands surrounding them. The green indicator was somewhere within this formation.
The edge of one of the many red mists running amok in mist mappings creeped into his vision as he entered a crack in the side of one of the mountains. The violent winds from just the edge of the storm were enough to make Nikolai drop his cloak from his face and stare at it’s violent complexity batter the stone of one of the mountains outside the crack, he stepped back in fear the pebbles and ice being thrown this way and that might catch him. That’s when he felt himself jerk forward slightly. He turned to see a dark, disgusting wolf-ape looking creature with it’s red eyes trained on him, as it slowly began to rise from a short toss his shield gave it. That was way too close. He pulled his rifle off of his back before raising his cloak to his face once again, this time holding it further down and outward, he crouched in preparation for the beast. It growled a few metres away from Nikolai, baring it’s fangs and scraping it’s claws on the ground. But, to be honest, it looked like it’s frozen solid fur could cut Nikolai just as easily.
It sprinted toward him only to be sent sliding back to exactly where it began with a squeal, only this time, it was dead. Nikolai lowered his plasma rifle, it’s heat creating an aura of steam in and around the shield. A few more howls could be heard down the cave, and Nikolai returned to his guard. The scraping of claws on ice came closer and closer, from both the beasts that charged on the ice that Nikolai stood on and the ones turning the corner on the walls of the crevice, ‘Zeph, I’m gonna need an active scan for this.’
The top of his helmet, above the glass display emitted a blue slight that swept back and forth. A pulse mimicked the motion in Nikolai’s display, creating a pink outline for the army that approached him. ‘Oh what the fuck.’ Nikolai complained quietly to himself, this was going to be intense but he could quite easily pull it off.
A beast leaped, only to be sent to rest next to his friend, then the next jumped off of a wall to be knocked by a plasma bolt into another that came behind it. The dark slobbering things came in many combinations, Nikolai was able to hold them off with ease, using only his shield and rifle to bring them to rest. Then came the last few who seemed to have learned from seeing dozens of their brethren taken out in similar ways. The first jumped forward off of a wall, sacrificing itself for another to come from beneath it to leap toward Nikolai as he shot the first. Nikolai, like he had done multiple times at this point stepped forward to push his shield into it, knocking it backward. But that’s when the third leaped off of the opposing wall, Nikolai turned and reflexively shot at the thing, leaving himself exposed to both a fourth coming from directly above him and the second that he had only knocked backwards earlier. This forced Nikolai to risk getting close to the storm by jumping backward, extending the jump with his foot rockets. The creatures landed from their jumps a few metres away and in front of Nikolai, allowing him to easily get a shot off on them both. He instantly began jogging forward with his cloak behind him when he felt some ice pebbles bouncing off of the back of his shield.
‘Why on were those things here, Zeph’ he growled between pants, the danger of the situation starting to hit him, ‘Your scan said there was no wildlife near here.’
‘I… couldn’t give you a plausible answer.’
Nikolai didn’t expect that response at all, rarely had Zeph not thought up an idea of why something unexpected happened, this made him feel truly uncomfortable; he felt like he was in an all encompassing fog that blocked out all senses.
Nikolai walked onward, through the icy hall that seemed to be infinite, until he came across a tall, smooth and shaped boulder with strange carvings in it. The engravings seemed to read vertically instead of horizontally. ‘Any idea what this says? Think it’s from them?’
‘It’s in the ancient native language, it says “Welcome, friend. Glad you made it here, use your key on this stone and you’ll be allowed access”.’
Nikolai squinted his eyes to see that there was a small flat for him to use his new identifier on. He took the card out of his breast pocket, hovering it over the smoothed out part of the structure, and saw the stone come to life. Purple lights flashed on the circular flat along with the engravings, flashing on and off before turning into green for an extended period. Once this final light left the stone, ice one a wall parted to form an open doorway around the same size as the stone that it lay directly behind. In the doorway stood an old man wearing a bulky astrosuit, must’ve had some robotics in there for enhanced physical ability.
As Nikolai approached, he smiled under his beard and glass display, it told Nikolai everything he needed to know. ‘How’d you find the ahh… Planet.’
‘Y’know, the trials were a little too easy, you could certainly make them harder.’
The man chuckled, ‘Well then, you’d certainly be welcome here, No scratches in all! I’m glad to bestow upon you the title of hunter S-Z.’
Nikolai felt the warmth of awe grip him in this cold, realizing fully whose presence he was in. ‘Glad to be here, Lorek, hunter S-A , leader of the 26 and grand-hunter.’
Lorek bowed his head at Nikolai, who bowed deeper, ‘You’d best get in and make yourself comfortable, before having your first meeting with us in the next few hours.’ he beckoned to Nikolai, allowing him to enter the headquarters.