— Your objective is recon! Try to avoid shootouts. However, according to information received from the drones, the system is uninhabited. An analysis of the data that we received from automatic reconnaissance ships sent to the rift suggests that there are terrestrial planets there suitable for a quick settlement. This is especially true now when the “Guardian-17” is crowded with refugees. The situation is tense, we are experiencing problems with resources... — a grizzled colonel completely lost his mind and continued saying something about the station’s internal problems, which clearly worried him much more than the sudden rupture of space on the outer boundary of the Hill sphere.
Olaf looked around. The briefing room allocated to their group looked old, shabby, untidy, and long abandoned. The walls hosted dilapidated dusty holographic panels, partially defective. Even the lighting was dim. Some of the lamps flickered unpleasantly.
The flight team matched the room perfectly. Tired pilots with dead eyes. They were completely uninterested in what the old mutt from the operational command group was mumbling. Another useless day in the world, where everyone's relatives or friends died.
— That's all. Departure in thirty minutes, — the colonel finished his speech. Pilots started moving pro-plastic seats and rustling packages. — You, Richard, and you, Olaf, stay behind a little.
Lt. Richard Meehan moved from the edge to the centre. Olaf, after a little pause, settled down next to him, but a little behind.
— Where did you get this rabble, Colonel? — the lieutenant asked without really expecting an answer, it was clear that he already knew.
— These are the best pilots we could find for this operation. — The colonel’s voice seemed to say that everyone already knew this, it was not the time to choose, but the time to take what they could. — At the request of Security, we are sending centurion Olaf Larsen with your group.
Olaf affably nodded to Richard.
— Olaf’s task is to obtain additional data about the rift and new systems, — the colonel continued. — To make a preliminary decision on the possibility of colonization and resettlement of refugees. His role in the group is exclusively to be an observer.
— I really hope so. — Richard's gaze did not bode well. — Security keeps sticking their nose everywhere.
Olaf tried to smile, but as always it turned out strained, crooked and unconvincing. However, the task looked simple and should not have taken much time.
A couple of days ago, tracking stations recorded an anomaly at the boundary of the Hill sphere in the Ontregos system. Scout drones sent there showed that this is a rift in space, potentially leading to other systems. The drones used it to pass to the other side and returned safely. Judging by the data obtained, beyond the rift there was a previously unknown terrestrial system with planets suitable for settlement. Oxygen atmosphere. Oceans of water. Green continents. A fairy-tale world that was immediately christened the Dreamland.
And now it's time to send a detachment of pilots to the rift, to see it with our own eyes. Prepare everything for installation of the transition gates. A quick mission. In and out. Easy!
The breach was blinding with a riot of colours up close. Flashes of red, blue, and green at the edges of the contacting spaces sharply contrasted with the blackness and mystery of the “eye”. The ships slowly entered the anomaly and disappeared from radars and everyone's eyes. First, a couple of scouts disappeared, then the command carrier frigate with Lieutenant Meehan dived behind them, and after them the main group. Olaf hesitated a moment, giving the group time to clear the way out, although they told him that this was not necessary, and began the dive.
Passing through the wormhole (or as the mercenaries called it — a rift) was not particularly impressive. Almost all the electronics were cut off during the passage, and the visual control is blocked by the lowering armor plates. Clever guys from the research departments said that this was protection from special radiation. Surely, as always, they probably lied. So this time it all went almost imperceptibly. But at the exit, the ship received a powerful blow to the right front side. The armor plates moved away from the external viewing screens, and Olaf was finally able to see the brave new world with his own eyes.
Very close to his ship, the burnt-out remains of a fighter aircraft drifted slowly. Not a single identification mark remained on the wrecked and burnt hull. The cabin's bulletproof glass was broken. The guns on the wings were partially torn from their nests. It was these remains that prevented Olaf's ship from routinely leaving the passage. And then all the electronics turned on.
Panic reigned on the air. Someone yelled about an attack and betrayal. Someone was asking for help. Someone was dying in a burning ship. The burnt hull, which covered Olaf in the first seconds of the transition, exploded from a missile hit, taking on the main blow of the warhead. This gave the pilot some time to navigate and turn on additional shields that his ship was equipped with. The second missile, which arrived half a second later, was safely intercepted and destroyed.
— This is Charlie five. What's happening? Alpha two, I can’t see you on the radar.
— Alpha two is gone. The whole Alpha squad... is gone. They were waiting for us. This is an ambush — hysterical notes in the pilot's voice were not helping. — We will all perish here!
— Stop the panic! Name yourself. Everyone who can hear me. Roll call!
— Bravo three. Hiding behind the rocks from the fire.
— Bravo five. Trying to hide behind the dead. Shields are running low.
— Bravo six. Maneuvering. Cover me!
— Alpha seven. Main engines damaged. The rest are gone.
— This is Charlie five, — Olaf hesitated a moment, sighed. — I'm assuming command. Get behind my shields. They are modified. We can break through to the asteroids. Take cover behind them.
The remnants of the squad united as a single force. Only a third of the original group survived. The rift was close. An attempt to escape through it would most likely lead to death. The situation looked dire...
To be continued.