This time around the Pariah was not asked for clearance by the fast attack fighters, nor did the fighters leave their side on approach to The Keep. They were forced to dock into a hangar much higher up than the last which was specifically for Senate Security purposes. As they touched down the Pariah was surrounded by a contingent of armed enforcers none of which looked all too friendly or Human. They waited until the crew disembarked the ship before marching them away, not a word was spoken. Shayara didn’t argue, she’d expected this all the way back from her little venture but was pleasantly surprised when the main Caliterrian escort keyed up The Keep Senate Congress hall and not the detention centre from the skycar interface. The ride was grim and their fortune didn’t change any upon arrival to the upper level. It was completely vacated from the depot to the assembly area. Even the bar was closed. As they took their seats an Admiral from the Confederate Navy was allowed to pass through. “I’m here to debrief you, Commander, and schedule you for immediate reassignment,” he ordered in a grave tone that didn’t permit questions or approval. Tobias turned to Shayara and gave her a warm embrace which she wasn’t at all prepared for.
“Thanks for not leaving me behind and getting me back, Captain.” He smiled as the Admiral checked his watch impatiently. “Good luck in there. This fight isn’t over.”
“We should be thanking you. Without your help we’d still be on that station…or floating out in space if that AI had had its way,” Shayara joked. With that Tobias moved through the group to the Admiral who looked more bored than sympathetic.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Captain.” Shayara sat there in silence for almost an hour with Jarner and James for company who also didn’t have much to say. If nothing else happened today at least she had made another ally in the universe thought Shayara optimistically. It was nice. She was in short supply of things to be optimistic about.
Not long after Shayara had decided she’d lost her mind through boredom, another group moved through the waiting area. An escort similar to that which had brought her and her crew now brought Senator Alexander Wilhelm before them. The two groups merged as the lead Caliterrian instructed them forward. The Senator moved toward Shayara and greeted her with a shake of the hand as they walked. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Ventii. I had feared the worst,” he admitted so quietly she really struggled to hear over the background noise. She guessed it was to avoid the guards overhearing.
“How bad is it?” she asked not entirely wanting the truth from him.
“Bad. They’re leaving me out the loop a lot now but they’ve gone public about the Votheen and they believe they were behind the outbreak on Atlas. Plus special branch has trashed my office.”
“Fantastic,” Shayara muttered as they climbed the steps reluctantly once more. She was so tired her lazily dragged feet were almost her undoing but Jarner was there to lend a hand. Once they crested the summit it was of great relief that Arkan was absent.
“Looks like our luck’s changed for the better,” Jarner mumbled under his breath, loud enough for only Doctor Crow to hear. Ora stood to address the speaker’s podium, for once looking as old as she truly was.
“Welcome back, conscript Ventii. As Senator Wilhelm is aware under any other circumstances your actions would have been enough to find you guilty of treason which is a charge punishable as you are rightly aware by death. Although we don’t support what you did we also have to take into consideration that the information you brought forth has given us much needed time to act on the threat we face. So that aside I would like to move onto why you have been unreachable for several days.” Shayara almost smiled as the relief washed over her, she had expected a huge reprimand and even prison time but here the Sarcurian Queen was showing mercy. It was indeed a good thing Arkan Sha’Ni was elsewhere.
“I thank you for your understanding, your majesty. As for our whereabouts over the past few days. I made a poor decision to take a short cut back through a disused trade route in the hopes of bringing this dire news to the Senate earlier. Needless to say we ran into trouble with local pirate factions and I was forced to evade them for quite some time,” she confessed, the white lie attempted to choke her but she managed to get it out without any awkward pauses and it seemed convincing enough.
“It wouldn’t be your first poor decision of late, would it, Miss Ventii? I’m sure you’re wiser from the experience,” responded Ora flatly, Shayara was well aware she’d walked into that jibe.
Arkan emerged from the side door and made his way to his seat on the High Senate platform. “Ah, conscript Ventii, nice of you to join us. We are indeed blessed with your presence,” he joked through jagged teeth completely ignoring his own absence.
“As I was just saying Senator, I had trouble with pirates,” Shayara snapped just respectful enough for it to go unpunished but not unnoticed. Alexander stepped forward and held onto the railing illustrating that he wished to speak next.
“Can I ask the High Senate why me and my fellow colleagues were brought here in the manner we were? Surely if this is supposed to be just a debrief and a reprimand I should be sat among you. I have a feeling it is more than that.” Arkan shuffled almost excited to become involved in the debate, he had the look of a hunter closing in on its prey.
“As you know the colony of Atlas has for the foreseeable future been placed under quarantine. We now know that the Votheen has manipulated a bioweapon that the Senate of years past used to end the war with them. They have most definitely distributed it amongst the people of Atlas. We assume they’re treating the colony as a test site before they ramp up their efforts. The only problem we have in this theory is understanding how they were able to navigate freely without raising suspicion. Our investigation has turned up through a rather brutal interrogation on Atlas that the Underground Resistance movement has been in direct contact with the Votheen and were responsible for distributing the bioweapon into the water supplies of the population.” Senator Wilhelm held a face that didn’t betray his emotions but if it was anything like what Shayara was feeling then she wished she could have his poker face.
“That doesn’t make sense. The whole idea of the Resistance is making humanity the alpha race, they’re xenophobic nut jobs who conspire in the shadows. Why would they turn a weapon on other humans? Working with other aliens at that?” Arkan looked to be taking great pleasure in holding all the cards. He let the question hang as the human senator became increasingly red-faced.
“What is that charming Human expression? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Did I get it right?” It was obviously rhetorical and Alexander wasn’t going to dignify it with a response. “The Resistance wish to gain power, a foothold on the galactic stage and overthrowing the Governor of Atlas would have given them that. We are told that they were promised a cure once they managed to topple the governing body on Atlas, although I am sure the Votheen would never give that up willingly. It would appear they were used.”
“We are entrusting you, Senator, to investigate these claims and bring those responsible to justice,” Ora chipped in sheepishly as Arkan tussled to add salt into the wounds.
“Should you fail to bring us the culprits within three galactic cycles then there will be consequences for humanity,” Arkan warned gravely. Anger shot across Alexander’s face so blatantly that it made his brow quiver. Shayara felt it too, the audacity of the Forerunner to blame an entire race for the failings of a few.
“You do realise, Senators, that if I knew the location and identity of such individuals then they would already be answering for their crimes? I would like to add that supremacy movements are not an affliction just suffered by my race. The Sarcurians have theirs who believe humans are a lesser imitation of themselves and the Caliterrian still think us unworthy of what we have. I refuse to be judged by individuals with similar failings as a people.” The Forerunner’s face tightened to an angry knot. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, it was almost like he’d never met someone as fiery as him.
“The Sarcurian are still weary of you as you killed one of their monarchs during first contact and we are cautious of you as you yourself have rightly shown, you cannot be trusted. Your ambition knows no bounds. Perhaps we should ask the opinion of our Selin Senator since his race escaped your little smear campaign?”
“I’ve never known the Selin to make any decision or show any emotion so I doubt xenophobe is a word they process.”
“That is enough!” Arkan spat with more venom than Shayara had ever seen. “You will investigate the charges we have brought forward and you, Shayara Ventii. For your part in this continued freak show, your Conscript privileges have been revoked. I employ you to avoid our path again in future.” Before she could even protest the Caliterrian had left and was soon followed by the rest of the High Senate. Alexander sat on the top step, head stooped between his legs. Shayara slumped down next to him and gave out a very intentional sigh. “I’m sorry, Captain, I shouldn’t have involved you in this,” the Senator said out of conscience not sincerity. He didn’t regret his actions or there results and nor should he, thought Shayara.
“Don’t blame yourself, sir. Looks like humanity is on its own out here. So much for progress,” Shayara stated sullenly.
“What do you think they’ll do?” asked Jarner.
“I honestly don’t know,” said Alexander.
The director of Senate Security, Caliterrian Halto Al’Ku, looked over the Guardian’s report with an open mind and a closed expression. The vacant gaze from Keeto was evidence enough that something troubled him. “This,” the director said pointing out one particular section, “expand.” Keeto sat forward and kept himself in check reciting the events following their rescue from the Lost Sentinel prison barge. “You are sure Shayara Ventii’s brother is the Pirate Prince?” the director asked very matter of factly. It was a very serious claim.
“Positive, Director.” Al’Ku took back the report and gave a contemplative grumble.
“Her records don’t indicate a sibling but you have my word that your claim will be properly investigated. Do you believe that Shayara was aware of her brother’s occupation prior to the events?”
“Hard to say.”
“She hasn’t come forward with the information and she has just been debriefed by the High Senate so one can assume she isn’t entirely honest as that would have been a chance to admit it. This likely factored into her suspension from our Conscript program,” the Director mused as he keyed up the tracking beacon code that Keeto had offered him. The Guardian wasn’t surprised the Human had been kicked out and nor did he care. She had been lucky not to be tried for treason after what she had done. Halto Al’Ku frowned when the signal came back unresponsive. “It would appear you’re not the saboteur you thought, Guardian Cha’Bin. Your beacon has already been found and discarded it would seem.” The anger that boiled inside was almost too much to contain for the young Guardian.
The Pariah had been moved to a more permanent location in the lower hangars upon the crew’s return. Everyone was feeling worse than they ever had. Not only did they know that a hostile alien race was out there but now they literally couldn’t do anything about it. Shayara looked up Construct R051E’s activity log to find her downtime had bought them an extra year of stability, three linguistic packs and an increase in performance. She frowned. All were beneficial but none were essential. Nothing explained why she had gone offline. Just at that moment an encrypted transmission crossed the Pariah’s view screen. The surprise contact was the Pirate Prince once more. “I’ve got to be quick as they’re monitoring you now. Just thought I better let you know that your little Caliterrian pet tried to hand me over to Senate Security. Thankfully I found his little beacon before they got my location. We’re currently on the move to a new location, can’t be too careful. I’m sorry to hear about your resignation by the way sis.” Shayara swore internally. Keeto had no doubt thrown her under the bus too in that case and more trouble was the last thing she needed right now.
“It’s all over the network. Top Conscript calls time on her duties. Doesn’t paint you in a good light.”
“My status was revoked, Arkan Sha’Ni’s especially prickly today. I fear they might kick humanity out of the senate for good,” Shayara admitted much to her brother’s surprise.
“Then these are very dark times indeed.”