“I’ve gone over the mission data that was recovered from your suits,” the First Minister said, “It corroborates your reports. I think I have enough to go on that I don’t need to debrief Herne or Euless. They can rest up and heal. The doctor says they’re doing well… all things considered.”
Roslin sat in a cushioned chair at the head of a long table. It was a stark contrast to what Regent Yates had requested. This was more functional, far less ostentatious. Link, Bruno, and Saito sat along one of the sides with written reports in front of them, their own rough explanations of what happened. The Captain spoke for the two men to her right.
“That’s good to hear ma’am. Will you be assigning anyone to fill their positions while they are out of commission?”
Roslin lifted her hands towards her chin, pressing the sides of both her index fingers to her lips as she considered her words carefully.
“Considering the length to which your team has gone to establish a rapport with one another, with the exception of the Lieutenant, I’m inclined to leave you as you are, just the three of you. Depending on what the next mission demands, I may assign a secondary unit for support, under your team’s direction. But that still leaves the matter of who will be in command. Captain Saito, your record is exemplary. You’ve performed above and beyond the expectations of your commanding officers. Logically, you should be the next person in line.” she said.
Saito fought to keep from smiling. It wasn’t necessarily a promotion, but being in command was certainly going to be a feather in her hat. It would give her a chance to prove she warranted a change in title.
Unfortunately, everyone in the room–Saito included–could sense a ‘but’ coming, and it didn’t take long to arrive.
“But…” Roslin said as she lowered her hands and leaned forward across the table to address the three, “When he was incapacitated, Euless placed Link in command. He recognized the Lieutenant’s ability to navigate the situation as well as the ancient structure. Hell, he took down the hostile attacking you all with a single shot. I’m somewhat inclined to lean towards putting him in command of the team until Euless returns.”
Link was completely stunned. This wasn’t what he expected at all. He opened his mouth as if to speak but he was too slow. Saito cut him off, practically leaping out of her chair.
“With all due respect First Minister, Link is a fine soldier, good at following orders, even pretty good at giving them… but he doesn’t have command experience necessary for this kind of scenario. I’ve been on this team for two years. I’ve been part of Covert Ops for five, the TSDF for ten. I have the experience. I can command this team. I just need you to give me that chance.” the Captain said, displeased with needing to defend herself in only the latest of a long line of instances.
Roslin looked to the woman now on her feet with the tiniest hint of disdain in her eyes. She wasn’t amused by the outburst. She could understand the defensive reaction about being passed over for command, but there was a better way to let it out. She leaned back in her chair, ready to release a volley in response. She didn’t get a chance to.
“I agree with her, ma’am.” Link said.
Three pairs of eyes turned to the Lieutenant. He looked directly at the Minister and stood to offer his support to the Captain.
“She has the experience necessary for missions like we just came from. She can see beyond the obvious better than I can, to make the hard choices. She should be in command.”
Roslin was taken by surprise.
“Lieutenant, you’re willing to throw yourself under the bus for another soldier’s command? This could be a serious boon to your career.” the Minister said.
Link frowned deeply.
“Ma’am, I’m not in it for the career. I want to make sure the job gets done, and gets done right. If that means I stay under Saito’s command, then that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t want this… ‘hero’ title being part of the issue. I can still do my job under someone,” he said as he turned to look at the young lady who was similarly stunned by his selfless vote of confidence in her, “All of that aside, I don’t think there’s anyone on this team better qualified to command in Euless’ absence.”
Saito tightened her jaw, resolving to give the Lieutenant a good slug across the cheek and then buy him a drink. Maybe she would only slap the back of his head. Roslin considered what he had to say and looked back to the Captain, her attempt to curtail the woman’s hot-headed behavior somewhat subjugated.
“A very stirring sentiment from the Lieutenant, you’ve already managed to instill an impressive degree of loyalty in your teammates,” the Minister said, changing her tone to that of one ready to apply a healthy dose of discipline, “However… I feel I need to address the issue of your temper. Another outburst like that from you and I’ll snap you back so hard you’ll think you’re the janitor cleaning up my spilled coffee. Do I make myself clear?”
Saito nodded, feeling at last that she had crossed a line, “Yes ma’am. It won’t happen again.”
“It had better not. It’s not very becoming of a Major,” Roslin said as she extended an arm, holding her hand out to summon forth one of the petty officers in the corner to step forward and place a small black case in the Minister’s palm, “If you could learn how to argue your point with a little more self-control, this would have come a good deal sooner. Captain Saito, I hereby promote you to the rank of Major, with all the rights and privileges that rank carries with it.”
She opened the case, revealing Saito’s new insignia and slid it slowly across the table to her. The other woman was speechless. Roslin had been planning this for quite some time it seemed. Suddenly she felt like a terribly great fool for how she had just acted.
“Th-thank you First Minister. I won’t let you down.” Saito said, fighting to hide the catch in her voice.
She took the insignia and replaced her old rank with it. Immediately the badge seemed to fuse with her uniform, changing the striping at the shoulders subtly to reflect the new station. Adaptive uniforms were a glorious thing to watch in action.
“You had better not. No offense, Lieutenant, but I’m not entirely thrilled at the prospect of putting you in command should you lose anymore team members,” Roslin said as she stood and looked over all three as they stood with her out of respect, “Keep each other alive. I don’t want another incident like the power station on the books.”
Just as she was about to dismiss the group, the intercom crackled and relayed a voice rather familiar to Link.
“Minster Roslin to command. Distress call incoming. All rescue stations stand by.”
It was Nadia. Clearly she wasn’t just a support operator. Maybe that was why he didn’t hear very much of her during the mission. That and Roslin was in his ear more than anyone else.
“On my way.” the Minister responded to the voice, turning towards the door, motioning for the three to follow her.
The team didn’t question it in the slightest. As Link passed the end of the table, Saito stopped to let him catch up. It gave her the opportunity to firmly pinch him on the back of the neck. She had an odd way of showing appreciation and affection.
“That’s for stickin’ up for me like that. If you just gotta defend me, don’t do it like that again. I don’t like people getting’ mushy on me.” the Major said.
Link winced and rubbed the back of his neck once she let go.
“I was just telling her the truth. I’m a beat cop, not a Colonel.” he replied.
Saito smirked and pushed him onward to follow Roslin, “No you’re not. You made Detective before you got brought on from what I hear. Now get a move on. “
The group was ushered through the halls briefly down to command where everyone was already busy. Roslin marched her way straight to the holographic display in the center, flanked by the three members of her primary team.
“Report.” she said in as gentle a commanding tone as one could expect from her.
“Two minutes ago we began detecting an emergency distress signal from the Midoro Sea, approximately one hundred forty kilometers off the coast. Scans put the source deep underwater. We’re running it through the filter now to compensate for the ocean’s distortion.” answered one of the control staff.
“Put it on screen as soon as you’ve got something.” Roslin said.
She looked from the holographic map in the center of the room showing a rough idea of where the signal was coming from to the larger screen on the distant wall. It quickly shifted from an overview of the area to what they had of the signal so far. It was badly garbled and heavy with static. What came through was a feminine visage, decidedly not Hylian. She possessed a pale blue-grey hue to her skin and a long protrusion extending from the back of her head adorned lightly with fins.
“This is Director Ralin, Drilling Platform Epsilon, Zora Dominion, declaring a maritime emergency! An unknown illness has claimed roughly half my crew! They are turning on the rest of us! We estimate twenty-five have already been killed! We are unable to reach the main control center to engage full lockdown! We require immediate assistance! Please! Someone! Respond!”
Roslin turned to the communications officer, “Open a channel, boost the signal to cut through as much interference as you can.”
The man at the station nodded, doing as he was instructed. A tone sounded letting her know they were transmitting. He had been quick to make it happen.
“Channel open, manually adjusting signal to compensate.” he replied.
“This is First Minister Terentia Roslin of Hyrule Central Command. We’re receiving you director. We are ready to assist. Please advise.” she announced.
Thankfully, the communications officer had been able to cut through enough of the static to make the conversation possible.
“Oh thank the goddesses! Minister! My people have gone mad! They’re tearing each other limb from limb! I don’t know what’s come over them! Most of the unaffected have barricaded themselves into their quarters or into whatever chambers they can secure! We can’t institute proper quarantine procedures from here! Please send rescue! We’re transmitting our coordinates now!”
“We’re receiving those coordinates now, director. We’ll be contacting your government to inform them of your status. They might know a better way to help than we do. We’ll be deploying rescue personnel immediately,” Roslin turned to the rest of her staff, “How soon can we get emergency support on site?”
Nadia was already on top of calculating the matter, “Sensors show the platform is one and a half kilometers deep. It will take our deep sea capable rescue craft fifteen minutes to reach the site on the surface and another five minutes to descend, dock, and equalize.”
“Captain, your team isn’t in any condition to respond to this right now. I’ll need you here with the operators,” Roslin said to Saito, Bruno, and Link then turned back to Nadia and the rest of the staff, “Get our response teams in the air, now!”
“Ma’am, we’re receiving a transmission from the Zora Dominion. Confirmation code identifies it as from the high council.” Nadia reported.
“Put it through.” the Minister said.
The screen shifted, pushing the director into the corner so that she wasn’t completely ignored. The rest of the screen was filled by another pale blue-grey figure, this one adorned with the clothing clearly identifying the individual’s status.
“First Minister, this is Chancellor Artan! Call back your rescue teams immediately!” the Zora shouted.
He wasn’t speaking out of anger. There was something more going on. It set everyone in the room immediately on edge. Normally the Zora didn’t leave their people in such a state with no hope.
“Chancellor, we’re responding to a diver emergency. We cannot in good conscience leave people under threat of harm.” Roslin replied.
“I understand your desire to come to our assistance, Minister Roslin, and it is greatly appreciated, but if you do not call back your teams, they will be walking into a blood bath. Any attempt to respond will need to be carefully orchestrated. We are sending a delegation to you now to facilitate a joint rescue operation,” the Chancellor said, “Director Ralin, I’m sorry but we cannot respond immediately as previously stated. Contact as much of your staff as you can reach. Tell them to bar the doors and stay isolated. We will advise you further when we are able to respond appropriately to the situation. We are working to connect to the platform’s computer core as we speak. Once we have established a link, we will begin gathering data to assess your status.”
The director settled, rather than getting even more worked up. It surprised most of the staff to a modest extent. She still sounded disheartened, as if she had just been asked to give her life. The Zora were quite the stalwart people.
“Understood… I will leave this channel open for further communication as long as I’m able to.” the director said, sounding resigned to the notion that she may not survive.
The Chancellor’s expression hardened. He didn’t like leaving his people in such a situation, so he offered her something to give her hope.
“Hold on as long as you can, we’re coming.” he said.
The director nodded softly, looking more encouraged. The visual feed was cut off leaving her signal open but muted. Roslin turned to Artan, rather displeased.
“Now that she’s off the channel, you want to tell me why the hell you’re blocking an ally’s rescue efforts!?” she cried in well-controlled anger.
“I’m sorry Minister, I cannot discuss it here. I will arrive in one hour’s time. Have your teams on standby. We will be supplementing you with our own contingent.” Artan answered, not providing enough to satisfy anyone, and he recognized that fact.
The woman gazing back at the leader of the Zora people relented, knowing all too well that more was going on than was easily seen. The fact that he wanted to wait until he was physically present to discuss the matter troubled her.
“We’ll prepare to receive you. Security will be on alert for your arrival. Safe journey, Chancellor.” Roslin said just before the Zora on the screen bowed his head slightly and the screen went dark.
“We’ve established an operational link with the Zora Dominion. They’re reporting as being on high alert.” called out one of the technicians.
Roslin sighed quietly, rubbing her eyes in frustration, “Set up a rotating shift to stay in constant communication with the director. We need to establish a stream of information. The Zora have a way of connecting to the platform to glean its status. The director is the only source we have at the moment. Keep her calm, keep her hopeful. Try to get as much information about what’s going on as possible. All emergency teams, stand down but remain on deck.”
The entire room went immediately to work, doing anything and everything they could to get an edge on the situation. It was an impressive display of military efficiency.
Link approached the Minister, lowering is voice so that only she could hear him.
“Is it just me or is that a little too convenient?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” she replied.
Quietly, he looked about, making sure no one was noticing his private conversation with the second most powerful person in the nation, “We’ve only just gotten back, debriefed, stored the shard we found, and another one pops up? Immediately?”
Roslin frowned, not turning to look at the Lieutenant, “Are you suggesting the cult is activating each shard one at a time?”
“I think it’s a possibility. You heard what Shad said, it erodes the mind.” he answered.
The woman remained silent for a moment before turning to leave the command room, “I’ll be in my office. You’re with me, Lieutenant.”
She walked briskly, forcing Link to quicken past his usual gait to keep up. They scaled the stairs to the next floor and disappeared behind her door. Inside, Impa was standing quietly, waiting for the Minister’s orders. The young man turned to peer out the one-way window at the crowded, busy room below.
“So… the Chancellor will be here in less than an hour, what do we do until then?” the Lieutenant asked.
“Quiet, I’m trying to listen.” Roslin snapped as if he had interrupted a conversation.
When he turned around, he saw her holding a hand to the side of her head, the ends of her fingers pressed against one of her ears. He frowned at her, wondering if he should take offense. Sure, she was First Minister, but that didn’t necessarily grant her the right to be rude.
Just as the Lieutenant was about to speak again to call her out on the behavior, she spoke again.
“Okay, start over, I didn’t catch half of that.” Roslin said.
Link blinked incredulously, starting to wonder if she was beginning to crack under the stress. When she saw his confusion, she rolled her eyes and shoved a hand into one of the drawers of her desk. She retrieved a small grey object, flat and square, appearing as if it were made of stone. It easily fit atop a single finger and had etchings on it that appeared as though they were ancient Hylian. She handed it to Impa, who in turn offered it to link.
“Hold this just behind your ear.” the silver-haired woman said.
The young man nodded, doing as he was told. When he placed the small square as he was instructed, a sound entered his mind. He wasn’t actually hearing it. It was as though the voice was in his thoughts.
“I take it the Lieutenant has been given one of our devices?” asked a familiar voice.
“Yes, he’s in on the conversation. Now, from the top… you’re aware of the situation, report.” Roslin said.
It was Shad. Somehow, they were able to communicate with him wherever he was, and the Minister was comfortable with doing so in spite of the security breech concern.
“Well, as we discussed earlier, the shards are giving off a very specific type of radiation. It brought the dead back to life. I had said it could have a deleterious effect on the living. I think we are beyond doubt at this point that there is another shard somewhere on board or very near the drilling platform. I suspect it is the cause of the sudden and widespread pandemic of madness.” the young scientist explained.
“We both came to the same conclusion Shad, you said you had something else.” Roslin replied.
“Yes… forgive me ma’am. I wasn’t sure if the Lieutenant was on the same page,” the young man said then cleared his throat and resumed, a little flustered at the notion that he might have insulted either of them, “I’ve been examining this portion of the spectrum. It appears that the effect it causes is cumulative. Once it reaches a particular threshold, the symptoms begin to emerge. Some of us are more susceptible to it than others. The only defense is a powered screen that blocks its specific radiation. I’m working on other possible treatments, but this is the power of the goddesses we are dealing with. There may be no treatment.”
Link nodded, assuming that had been the case from the start, “We’ll be sure to have the suits’ protection screens modified to incorporate that frequency. Now, you said it was cumulative… does that mean it’s permanent?”
Shad fell silent for a brief moment. Clearly the news was something of an unpleasant nature.
“The evidence is… inconclusive. The simulations show some subjects returning to normal once exposure is cut. Others remain afflicted even after being completely isolated. There is too much room for error to assume one or the other, or even a mixture. I am continuing my research, but the permanency may be, as with the onset, a matter of accumulated exposure.” he explained.
Roslin sighed and rubbed her eyes again, “So the longer someone is exposed to the shard, first off, the greater the chance they have to turn into a bloodthirsty savage, and second, the greater the chance that they’ll stay that way even after the shard is removed… great. Until you can provide any more conclusive evidence, we’ll treat all who are affected as hostiles, unable to be changed back.”
Shad was satisfied with that result, even if it was a little bleak. He had hoped he could have persuaded her to think differently.
“Could I at least advise you to use the stun setting on all your weapons? Use lethal force as a last resort?” he asked.
Roslin nodded her head slightly, having already been in that mindset, “That’s the idea. Keep working. Report back to me immediately as soon as you have something.”
“Yes m’lady.” Shad replied.
“Do not call me that!” Roslin shouted.
Link could hear Shad shrink away from her bark.
“Yes! Sorry ma’am!” the scientist replied quickly.
Roslin truly did hate titles it seemed. She slumped into her chair as the little tablet went quiet. She waved a hand to Link as he attempted to return his.
“Keep it. Install it in your helmet each time you go on a mission. It’s the most secure form of communication we’ve developed.” she said.
“About that-” Link asked, stopped mid-sentence.
“Telepathy,” She cut him off, “It’s a form of telepathy. The tablet contains metals and minerals that act like a sort of antenna for Hylians. We all possess a low grade ability to speak through thought. This just amplifies it.”
Link gazed at the square in his hand, making the connection Roslin expected, “The ancients used to use tablet like this, larger ones, with a place to kneel. It was a ritual, not unlike praying. They would communicate across great distances to one another. I remember one of the heroes using it a great deal to speak to an old man who guided him.”
The lady nodded, “Over time, their use faded with the advent of things like… the mail system, rudimentary electronic communications, and then things like phones and vid-chats. Unlike all of them though, the signal cannot be hacked, or even detected. It is the absolute safest form of communication we have at our disposal. I want you to be my eyes and ears down there. You’ll get the hang of using it covertly pretty quickly.”
“Down there,” Link said, realizing the instant that a shard was likely behind all of the trouble that he would be on the mission to rescue the Zora, “I never did handle ‘covert’ terribly well. I didn’t think things were so dire.”
“Well they are. I’ll get back in touch with Shad later to check in on him, pass on anything you have to report once you’re on site, and see if his findings are consistent with that,” Roslin said, then changed posture and tone again, “Tell Saito to pick a unit to have as support. I’m sending all three of you. Be ready for a rescue mission. Your team is going to be on the front lines. I wish I could give you all more down time than this but-“
“No rest for the wicked, huh?” Link asked as a little smile tugged at the corners of his lips.
A slight smirk creased the Minister’s mouth, “Does that mean you think we’re all sinners?”
Link returned the smirk in full, “No, I’m saying we give them hell every chance we get.”
That was the sort of attitude the Minister had hoped she might get out of him. Her amused expression quickly melted away back into the stern look that was so common these days. She beckoned Impa to follow her as she walked back towards the door.
“Go deliver Saito’s orders. Impa and I have business to attend to, preparations for the Chancellor’s arrival. I’ll be in contact.” Roslin said.
Link nodded as the two passed him on their way out the door. He followed closely behind, rejoining his teammates. The lady commanding his unit stepped in close to speak without being so easily overheard.
“So… what did she say? Why didn’t she bring us in with you?” Saito asked, trying not to take the private meeting personally given that she was in command of the unit.
“It’s complicated. Hero stuff,” Link said then immediately winced.
“Oh… hero stuff…” Saito replied, unamused.
Link kicked himself for wording it the way he did. He realized in that moment that it was starting to get into his head and he absolutely hated that.
“You know what I mean. Don’t worry, you’re still in command. She has orders for you. Pick a unit, it’ll be our direct support while Euless and Herne are down. She said to be ready for a mission. And if I were you two,” he said then looked over at Bruno to include him in the conversation as well, “I’d keep this all rather quiet. She looks like she doesn’t know who she can trust around here anymore.”
Saito nodded, lifting a hand to order him to follow.
“Right, then let’s get down to business. We’ve got a team to put together and gear to prep.” the Major said.
Bruno nodded with a grunt, “Hell yeah.”