Pariahs and Peacemakers

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Eighteen

The boarding party from the Ubiquitous Light had been wiped out, almost entirely. Arkan took it as a personal insult due to the fact the vessel was acting on his orders. Nevertheless he had granted an audience to the Colonel that had led the team and brought him the navigational readouts. He scrutinised the data which confirmed his fears, the Votheen were moving freely around the galaxy and had the peace of mind to avoid patrols and sector scrub drones. This raised so many security concerns it made his brain hurt. He pounded the console emitter and the image fuzzed on impact. Larik remained still, inside he was scared shitless. Arkan followed the Votheen ship’s trajectory through several systems as Harbinger Reno Vas’Dia brought up his holographic tool, no doubt requesting a sweep for Votheen hacking attempts on the network. Reno had been Harbinger for most of Arkan’s tenure. The pair shared an extremely tight bond and under Reno the Armada was recruiting record numbers per Caliterria standard year. He was rather slender for a Caliterrian and had a very rare colouring. His black hide was a genetic defect that had a one in two billion chance of materialising and his white tattoos symbolised he was from the independent state of Kevna so his allegiance to the Forerunner was an odd one. He was a keen tactician and was more eloquent than any Caliterrian Arkan knew. Rumours had it he was destined to succeed Arkan. The trail they had been following ended at, “Sayloch, their home world if I’m not mistaken, High Senator,” Larik pointed out. Arkan looked up slowly and thoroughly at the Colonel. It made Larik feel uneasy.

“I’m indebted to you for this, Colonel, but under your watch I have lost a large amount of promising personnel.” His voice grew louder and louder. Larik had been expecting having chunks torn off him, after all Arkan didn’t have the reputation for being soft on operational fuck-ups. “I however will allow this huge failing to go unpunished due to this being first contact with the Votheen for you.”

“I’m in your debt, Forerunner.”

“Indeed you are. You are dismissed,” Arkan fired back as Larik made a swift exit after a respectful and brief salute.

“Keep an eye on him,” Arkan suggested as Reno nodded obediently making a note of his task. Arkan shifted his gaze back to the planet of the Votheen birth. A displeasing dust ball which would have been inhospitable to most. He wondered whether this was why the race was intolerable and hostile themselves. “Magnetise,” he requested as the 3D model of the planet was replaced with a collection of satellite images. Arkan skimmed through them and wasn’t at all surprised. A lot of arid scrub land, vast deserts and then something else. A trio of ships clustered around a mountain range. The largest of which didn’t match the others. It was of a more ambitious design and was dark in colour. He saw a trail of what could have been people or cargo containers funnelling from a gorge. His gut wrenched. They’d been prospering underground under the Senate’s noses. The AI Construct Curator, the core AI for The Keep, analysed the data as Arkan and Reno made note of vulnerabilities and cover opportunities. They had to assume the smallest ship was the cruiser they’d already intercepted. So that should leave the dreadnought and the frigate still on Sayloch if they hadn’t left already. “I can determine Sayloch was not this vessels point of origin. Using the updated Votheen encryption key, although dated, it has allowed me to bypass security features,” the AI spoke as it zoomed out to the star chart and into an uncharted region of space which was just a short walk to the Senate border. It centred onto a planet that was ripe for colonisation. A tropical climate with several continents of rain forest like biomes which had suitable living conditions for most races although likely too unpredictable and humid for Caliterrian’s long term. “14b121 never visited and only observed once through telescopic research stations. Labelled Caboona in the Votheen database,” the AI informed as it bobbed confidently archiving the new data in its memory core which would later be uploaded to the secure underground servers of the Senate Archives. These were protected against corruption, loss and AI fragmentation. The two carbon-based life forms sat unnerved by the whole idea. “Is it possible the Votheen could have colonised other unsettled worlds around wild space?” An unsure silence followed the intelligence’s awkward questions.

“I hope not,” Reno pressed angrily as he moved closer to examine its geography. “Here,” he snapped as he clawed the largest continent. In the north-west was a subdued grey area that ran the length of one of the larger rivers.

“A city?” gasped Arkan. “By our ancestors...”



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