The crash of the Arclight has quickly become a seminal moment in our history, as humanity found itself moving from the cusp of near-infinite possibilities, to the very brink of extinction.
Although New Eden has held back the Melding so far, each day remains a struggle. When the Arclight fell to Earth its impact was felt – quite literally – far and wide. While much of the hull remained intact during its descent, the ship’s eventual impact generated such force that many pieces of the hull were scattered for dozens, if not hundreds, of kilometers.
One especially large chunk of the Arclight landed just south of Copacabana – in an area known as Broken Shores. In the weeks that followed, once the Accord reestablished order, numerous science and recovery teams were dispatched to secure the fragment and study it. However, with resources being directed towards the war effort, any attempts to physically move the piece have been halted. The question remains, however – what went wrong, and how can the people of New Eden learn from it?
Traveling through Broken Shores is always dangerous, but at dusk it is doubly-so. Yet, in the sea of darkness I see the illumination from countless spotlights shining on and around a massive fragment of the Arclight. I also see more Accord soldiers – far more than were even at the Nautilus Science Facility. As I approach the dig site, I pull my Chopper to the side, dismount, and walk into the site. For the number of men who are posted here, practically none of them seem to care about the fact that I’m freely walking into their highly-guarded facility. Testing fate, I approach one of the soldiers.
The soldier, a rather large, stone-faced man who doesn’t even take the time to look down at me, grunts. I speak again.
“Uh, excuse me?”
The man slowly turns his head towards me, still not speaking. He looks me over as though I’m little more than a bug to him – one that he could surely squash at his discretion, I’m sure.
“Hi,” I continue. “I’m, uh… this is going to sound like a completely daft question, but why aren’t I being accosted by a half-dozen security officers right now?”
“Are you a Chosen,” he asks. I admit, the question gave me pause.
“Um… no? No, I don’t think that I am.”
“No, you are not,” he tells me. “You are not a member of the raider parties that have been scurrying around here, either, because none of them are dumb enough to drive up the main entrance. So you are either lost, are an Accord citizen for whom we have strict orders to not confront unless necessary, or you are so unbelievably stupid that I would feel guilty for crushing you.”
The man gives me a full, albeit wholly sarcastic, smile. I allow a moment to pass, if only to let him have his moment.
“Uh, okay. Thank you. Um… are you who I talk to, or should I wait for somebody, or…?”
“Dr. Lee. She’s in Research Lab One – ground level, all the way to the back.” The behemoth points towards it with his heavy machine gun. “Oh, and little man – if I actually manage to be wrong about you, and you do something stupid while you’re here, I’ll snap both of your femurs like twigs and make you crawl out of here. It will be painful.”
I slip my way past the guard and walk towards the laboratory. Walking past many pieces of equipment, most of which display some sort of data on the Arclight fragment, I eventually find myself at the rear end of the lab. Standing in front of the main computer terminal is Dr. Nikita Lee, a short, petite woman with white streaks in otherwise jet black hair, and yellow-tinted glasses which conceal the true color of her eyes. She must hear me approaching, as she gives me a brief glance before taking a second longer and somewhat concerned look.
“Who the hell are you,” she greets me.
“Oh. Hi. I’m Emmanuel Almas, and I’m--”
“Son of a…” she mutters under her breath before continuing to interrupt me. “How in the hell did you get back here?!”
“Well,” I explain. “That’s a good question. You’d think a facility like this would be more stringently guarded.”
Her eyes narrowed before walking past me and leaning around the corner to peer down the hallway.
With an aggravated sigh she pulls away from the corner and walks past me again, back to the computer terminal. I try to see what is on the monitor, but she shifts her position to consistently block my view of the screen.
“What do you want,” she finally asks.
“I want to know about the Arclight; what happened, how its loss affected New Eden, and what effects the crash had within the bureaucracy.”
“It was a ship. It crashed. The crash unleashed the curtain [referring to the Melding – ED]. And I’ve no idea what the hell you’re talking about.” Dr. Lee never takes her eyes off the computer screens as she speaks, and it becomes obvious that I’ve interrupted something important. “Now what do you really want to know, reporter?”
“Reporter,” I ask her, admittedly stunned that she knew of who I was. “How do you know that I’m a reporter?”
“I read,” she says. “I saw your bit about Stonewall. Good stuff. It made me homesick.”
“Homesick? Where is home?”
“Just outside of Brussels.”
“…Stonewall made you homesick for Belgium?”
Dr. Lee looks away from the screen and gives me the most indignant stare for what feels like a small eternity before she returns her attention to the computer screen.
After a moment, I speak up. “Okay, let me ask something more specific.”
“What are you studying?”
“The big chunk of starship we happen to be standing under.”
“Yes,” I say, my annoyance with Dr. Lee, Dr. Benton, and Dr. Steranko bubbling up into a snide tone of voice. “I see that. But what is it about the ‘big chunk of starship we happen to be standing under’ has you absorbed in your work?”
I notice the small smirk form on Dr. Lee’s face.
“This is the Arclight’s Star Drive. We’re trying to find a way to use it to locate the ship’s Star Chamber.”
“Yeah,” Dr. Lee leans back, placing a hand on the back of her head. “Basically it’s a giant navigational computer room. I mean, since you can’t simply jump to any point in space that you want without knowing where you’re going, and any practical data we have is years out of date at best, you need something really advanced to navigate it. That’s what it did, basically.”
“How does something like that even work?”
“It just does,” she says. “I can’t tell you the details of it – it’s classified. Hell, some details about it are classified even beyond my level of clearance. What I can tell you is that it works, and now it’s missing.”
“Yes, missing. It’s presumed that it landed somewhere out in the ocean, so we have teams skimming every square kilometer on all sides of the ship. It’s a long shot, but hopefully we can find that damn thing before the Chosen do.”
“So you don't know where it is?”
“That would explain why all of the heavily-armed men and women of the Accord are looking for it.”
I must admit, she has a point.
Dr. Lee leans back over the computer terminal, forgetting me almost as soon as the conversation is over. As she punches in a few commands, I ask the only question that I can think of.
“So… what happens of the Chosen find the Star Chamber before we do?”
Dr. Lee leans up a second time, turning to face me. Slowly she removes her glasses, revealing her tired brown eyes as she rubs them.
“You mean, ‘what happens if an unknown, hostile, world-destroying alien species is able to locate and utilize a piece of technology that will allow them to move almost anywhere in charted space in the blink of an eye’?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I would imagine that it would be pretty bad.”
Dr. Lee and I stand there for a moment, neither of us saying a word. She continues to look me over, or maybe her eyes are wandering due to fatigue. I couldn’t tell you. But after another few moments, she sighs softly and takes a step towards me.
“This isn’t the interview you were hoping for, is it?”
“Not even remotely,” I tell her. “In fact, this has been something of a disaster.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. But here’s a little bit of advice for you, from somebody who finds you to be adorable in a ‘constantly-embarrassing-himself’ sort of way: leave.”
“Leave this base. Go somewhere else. Find something else. Don’t poke around with the Arclight, the Star Chamber, or what makes it work. All you need to know – and all that the public needs to know or care about – is that if it fell into enemy hands, Earth suddenly becomes a very small part of the new Chosen Empire.”
“What makes you think the Chosen want to establish an empire?”
“I don’t know what they want! I stare at computer screens all day. Hell, you’re the reporter – you think of something flashy.”
“I’ll do my best,” I tell her, somewhat passively.
“Good. Now do me a favor and tell Horace that I want to talk to him when you leave.”
With that she turns away from me and goes back to the computer terminal. Somewhat confused about what just happened, I turn around and make my way back outside. As Dr. Lee asked, I walk over to the juggernaut, who is now sitting on a large bench as he polishes his machine gun.
“Hey, big guy,” I address him. He arches an unimpressed brow. “The fair Doctor would like to have a word with you. Don’t worry – I didn’t break anything.”
Horace grunts indignantly as I pass him and return to my Chopper. As I peel out of there, and make my way through Broken Shores, I take in the surroundings and wonder how much of this damage came from the Arclight, and how much was from the raiders and constant fighting since. I don’t think about it long, though, as I head towards my next destination…