“It’s gone.”

Jayce Hunter stood on the edge of the wound in the Hallows Moon surface. They were only a short distance from the Alaska Forward Operating Base. In fact, Jayce could still see the perimeter with her rangefinders. These were the right coordinates. But there was nothing here.

“Commander if I didn’t know better I would be inclined to think these Ithis hives are pulling the same disappearing act Colonel Atwell’s operations are.”

“It certainly does seem like they don’t want to be found, ma’am.” Rebecca Islington was a short distance away, attempting to verify the readings originally taken by Colonel Moody and Sergeant Alexander. “They left all the equipment untouched. That much we’ve been able to verify. But despite the subterranean energy readings and the tremors we picked up from orbit, I’m not getting the same data Apache Blade got. No life forms. No unusual temperature or humidity readings. No sulfuric acid or bromine either.”

“What’s so remarkable about those compounds?”

“Your brother found residual traces of both aboard the Dunkerque when she was first discovered at Sierra Tango. These readings seem to follow the critters around and we know there were alien life readings aboard when Hunter and his landing party boarded her.”

Jayce slid her rangefinders into their pack on her utility belt and picked her way down the ridge. “Commander, does it seem odd to you these creatures can not only vacate what appear to be rather elaborate lairs virtually on demand, but they can take all their sensor readings with them?”

“It does.”

“If humans inhabit a house, I can walk in there two weeks after they leave for good and find DNA, carbon dioxide concentrations, salts, water vapor, skin cells, hair, bacterial infestations, insects that have hatched using all those residual organics for food and probably lizards, frogs, rats and who knows what else feeding on the insects. Everywhere man goes, he leaves a trail of clues behind, almost all of which are biologically related in some way. Yet these things, whatever they are, can pick up and leave without a molecule of evidence they were ever here.”

Rebecca switched her ATMAS over to optical scanning and began sweeping the empty cavern beneath the ridge. “Perhaps their biology is different enough from ours to prevent our instruments from recording their presence.”

“That’s one theory.” Jayce put her hands on her hips. “I know our weapons can kill them, and if those things bleed, they can’t be all that different from us. I just wish Jason and Annora had time to properly study the creature they killed aboard the Dunkerque.”

“Didn’t they bring it back to Argent?”

“Whatever they did to recover the crew from the alternate reality field the ship created sent all the Ithis creatures somewhere else,” Jayce replied, crouching to examine the gritty surface. “They always manage to slip away somehow and leave us with nothing but more questions and no answers.”

“Nothing on optics either.” Islington closed her ATMAS. “What if the next time we encounter them, we attach some kind of sensor probe to their carapace? Even if they find it and remove it, by the time it’s out of operation we could probably gather quite a bit of information from it.”

“That’s a thought, but if we get that close, I’d like to think we could just capture or kill one of them and turn the remains over to Annora.”

“Remind me to put in for an exo-biologist the next time we have a crew rotation,” Rebecca said.

“Going to be kind of cramped for lab space, aren’t we?”

“Well I think we’ve got a closet someplace we can set up a station. We can probably spare two or three square feet of table space.” Islington grinned. “Perseus needs a science ship so the eggheads can spread out all their toys.”

Hunter began making her way down the side of the sloping surface. Sand and gravel clattered around her feet as she reached level ground. “I’m not a scientist. This is one of the things I keep trying to remind Skywatch Command to remember before they order me into situations like this. I don’t have the right specialists. I don’t have the equipment. I’m a soldier. My job is to take out enemy personnel and break things.”

"‘Ours is not to ask why’ is what they’ll say.”

Hunter held a hand over her eyes. “Commander, I don’t believe for a minute the Ithis constructed that portal between Bayone Three and the Alaska Base.”

“I would have thought that would be their specialty.”

“Why there, though? Wasn’t the whole point of the portal that base? Or did they just happen to pick the exact right location on their own, and if the portal was already there, why didn’t the base commander locate it before we did?”

“That is a very good question.” Rebecca lifted her rangefinders. “It’s only a short distance from the base perimeter. The orbital survey scan would have picked up the energy readings before they even hit dirt.”

“So that portal was established after the base was built. Now why would someone want to put a portal on Bayone Three that leads to the Alaska Forward Base on Bayone Four’s moon?”

“Well, if they started on Bayone Three, then they were attacking Skywatch. If they started here, they were establishing a retreat option.”

“Assuming it was built by Atwell.”

Islington looked up from her rangefinders. “You have a different theory?”

“I know what I’m about to suggest doesn’t make any sense–”

“We don’t have the technology to build portals like that.”

“Strictly speaking, neither does the colonel,” Jayce replied.

Rebecca glanced back at the hive. “Ma’am, I’m going to offer an equally unusual theory with your permission.”


“What if the portal has nothing to do with the base? What if it has more to do with what Colonel Moody and Sergeant Alexander discovered here?”

“The portal has something to do with the hive.. interesting.” Jayce keyed her commlink. “Hunter to Sai Kee.”

“Sai Kee, Tixia.”

“Zony, run an electromagnetic recursion scan of the surface within one mile of our location. See if you find anything on the same basic wavelengths as that portal but underground.”

“Acknowledged, commander. Stand by.”

Hunter looked back at the former location of the Ithis hive. “If there’s anything within a quarter mile of the surface, our SRS banks should at least alert us to the energy. The source, however, is going to be–”

“Sai Kee to landing party.”

“Go ahead.”

“There’s a low grade interference pattern registering in the atmosphere and under the surface, commander. It’s not being produced by any mechanism we can detect, but its power source matches the energy signature of the portal near your coordinates.”

“Zony, is it possible the portal is the source?”

“Hard to say, ma’am. The pattern is almost perfectly uniform. There are no fluctuations in power levels to speak of within its diameter.”

“What might account for that?”

“To be honest ma’am, it looks like a natural phenomenon. Artificially produced electromagnetic fields decay based on the range from whatever power source is in use. That’s basic physics. This thing is just there, like cloud cover on an overcast morning.”

“Is it possible the field produced the portal?”


“We’re just throwing stuff at the wall, commander. I’ve got a portal where it doesn’t belong and an empty space where an Ithis hive does belong. Rebecca is going to upload her findings. I want you to go over what we’ve found so far and see if you can come up with some answers. We’re going to take a second look at Alaska Base. Landing party out.”

“Nothing like a science project to keep you up on the night before a test.”

“Sai Kee to Hunter.”


“That field down there is designed to scramble SRS tracking.”

Hunter and Islington exchanged a surprised glance.

“Are you sure, Zony?”

“That would explain the uniform distribution of energy. If it were possible to localize the source, then it would be possible to knock it out of commission. They are using exactly the same technique we use with ground-based missile defense.”

“Explain. I thought the field was natural?”

“If I want to hit something with a track-on-signature warhead, I’m going to program it to look for certain kinds of electronic signatures. If I want to prevent something from getting hit by a track-on-signature warhead, my job is to make sure nothing in my battlespace stands out. It’s possible whomever or whatever is generating that field wants it to look natural.”

“And nothing down here is meant to draw attention.”

“That’s affirmative, commander.”

“But the power levels are so low. What if something puts out more signal?”

“Simple, you just ratchet up the power level on your scattering field to match. In fact, as long as I know what I’m supposed to be masking, I would tune the scattering field to counter that signature. That way no matter how you come at the problem, you’re going to run into a signal that isn’t remarkable in any way because its job is to make sure the signal you are looking for isn’t there.”

Hunter snapped around and looked intently at the perimeter of the Alaska base, then back at the ridge. “Zony, can you modify Sai Kee’s SRS banks to cancel out that scattering field?”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Do it and tell me what you find.”

“Stand by, landing party.”

Hunter looked over at Islington. “If my surmise is correct, this unscientific soldier just might discover something that’s been hiding in plain sight since this whole thing–”


“Go ahead.”

“I have an alien energy source–”

Hunter made a fist and performed a small victory gesture as if smashing an invisible soda can against a table.

"–bearing one three five degrees true. Range from your location six hundred yards.”

Both Islington and Hunter looked towards the position Zony had just described.

“That’s inside the operating base perimeter, ma’am.”

“Zony, verify the energy source’s altitude.”

“It’s underground, ma’am. Approximately two hundred feet.”

“Very well. Have Zack perform a high-energy re-entry maneuver for least-time transit. Set the Sai Kee down on Alaska’s launch platform. I want a fire and demolitions team standing by to rendezvous with Commander Islington at the main personnel doors. Have Lieutenant Winchester put Minstrel in a geosynch orbit over the location of that contact at 110 miles. His orders are to engage anything in space, in the atmosphere or on the ground without a Skywatch transponder. We’re going to breach the underground facility and seize that energy source. Hunter out.”

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