The Protector, flagship of the Human Confederate Naval Fleet, straddled the open space between Earth and the red planet. The Pariah had touched down in the cavernous hangar a few hours before Early Pay Day. Shayara hadn’t seen fit to leave the bridge of her ship yet. It was only fair to wait for the President to arrive she had told herself. When his escort arrived she wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. Sure it was inconspicuous but she wondered why they’d chance the hazard of it not being able to complete the journey at all. Its chassis squealed as it touched down to let off its first passenger. As she saw him, Shayara clasped Isaac Jericho with surprised thanks. “Didn’t I tell you to take it easy?” added James Crow from the sidelines not entirely joking.
“Duty called, Doc,” Isaac brushed off with a smile as Shayara slapped his shoulder. “Plus I couldn’t sit idle while Ventii here took all the glory for herself, now could I?” President Wilhelm descended next with a curiously hooded Sarcurian male in tow,
“Miss Ventii, I’m pleased you escaped that unpleasant mess. I hear you’ve got a plan for us.” The next figure was Cesh Zhurl, Shayara gasped and shook her hand warmly before turning to Alexander.
“You too, Mr President. Not my plan exactly. We can talk more when we address the confederacy. Who’s the escort?” she quizzed as the other Sarcurian threw back his hood to reveal his hideously disfigured face.
“This is Vad Turso, a smuggler by trade but a good man who offered his services for the right price. He was originally framed for the attack on Hope’s Deliverance.” Great, thought Shayara, a man whose loyalty were to credits and one who had a score to settle…that just made it worse. Regardless, he’d gotten the President to them safe and sound so she offered her hand which Vad shyly accepted. “Pleasure,” he struggled all too clearly.
The operations room, close to the bridge, was a place of technological marvel. As well as packing the biggest punch, The Protector was also the most advanced ship in the fleet. The designers had worked in collaboration with a think tank of Sarcurian minds which spoke volumes about interspecies relationships. Especially when compared to the trouble between the two when Humanity had first ascended. At the far end of the circular holoprojector table was Admiral of the Fleet Victor Edwards. He was a man of African descent with a low maintenance smooth bald head. His arms were spread wide, clutching tightly at the railings in front of him as he hunched over analysing the data streams in front of him. He allowed his eyes to roll up from his work to regard the entering group. President Alexander Wilhelm entered first followed by Shayara Ventii, Jarner Nevo, Isaac Jericho, Cesh Zhurl, James Crow and Vad Turso. The group fanned out around the table evenly as construct R051E materialised on top of it and smiled to her comrades. Alexander nodded in thanks as the Admiral snapped a tidy salute in his direction. “With all due respects, Mr President, this is a Human problem so if the aliens could wait outside…” Jarner started for the door but was stopped as Shayara blocked his path with her arm.
“I think I speak for everyone here when I say we’ll have to deny that request, Admiral. Jarner is a member of my crew so whatever you have to say to me you can say to him and as for Vad. The President’s head would be hanging in Arkan’s study if it wasn’t for him. Cesh Zhurl has survived a Votheen attack before. I think you’ll appreciate her insight on their tactics,” Shayara answered with no sense in her voice for leniency. The room was silent and the air thick. The insubordination did not sit well with the Admiral, his knuckles had turned white as his grip strengthened.
“This is my ship, Miss Ventii, you may be sympathetic to aliens but look where that’s gotten you. While you are here you will play by my rules. Unless you have forgotten with all your mingling, you are Human, the aliens tossed us aside,” spat back the Admiral dropping any niceties or subtext from his speech.
“You are out of order, Admiral. I happen to agree with Shayara. The Senate didn’t cast us aside, the Caliterrian did. The crew of the Pariah stay, without them we’d already be bending a knee to these ugly four armed bastards. Vad Turso stays as without him I’d be dead and you’d be pissing in the wind and Cesh Zhurl is a valuable ally you’d do well to keep on side. Now, do I make myself clear?” shot Alexander forcefully, furious at the rift between relations. There was a long pause before the Admiral nodded submissively.
R051E covered her virtual mouth with the back of her hand in a feigned yawn. Everyone looked in her direction which caused her actuators to simulate anxiety as she had not expected to get everyone’s attention so easily. She tugged at her collar and smiled nervously. “If I may?” she pressed awkwardly. Alexander agreed long before the Admiral could say otherwise. R051E nodded, spun on her heel and burst into millions of tiny lights which all gravitated to their predetermined places in the galaxy. R051E manipulated into the quarantine zone and the space station while providing live commentary, “When I first came across the Votheen AI construct named Collective, it managed to worm its way into my subsystems and hid within low priority pathways.” The Admiral let his grip go and folded his arms, brooding as he shifted uncomfortably where he stood.
“You mean to say you’ve brought a compromised AI onto my ship!” he barked toward Shayara.
“Are you going to listen to her?”
“It. Not her,” the Admiral corrected as Alexander put up a hand which meant rather clearly to hurry up and quit the petty bullshit.
“I believe the Votheen AIs may be a hive mind like entity,” R051E continued. “Collective had many voices and faces. Maybe it can communicate with other AIs like me or maybe it is like every other AI and manifests itself as a fragment.”
“Is that it?” The Admiral shrugged. This time R051E shot down his poor behaviour with a well-placed finger against her lips. She shut off all the consoles and lights in the room so her avatar was the only point of interest. “Now that I have all your undivided attention. When Shayara made the decision to remove me from what she thought was an update the connection with the Votheen AI was severed and it was left in the Senate mainframe.” Alexander had heard The Keep was in turmoil. He had tried his hardest to get through to confirm his fears but all attempts of communication had failed thus far. “The good news however is that a good hunk of its memory was left behind as it was unable to purge my memory banks due to the abrupt ejection. I’ve spent a good deal of my time processing what I have.”
“A few hours is not a good deal of time if you have as much as you say,” the Admiral suggested bluntly.
“You forget that I compute at a much higher rate than yourselves. In comparison, I have already eclipsed all your lives combined working on this project.” A smirk crossed her face. R051E proceeded to explain that the Votheen had been hard at work since their exile. They had fanned out in uncharted space and begun to colonise worlds on the very edge of the Milky Way. On the cusp of the nothingness between galaxies. The records suggested that patrols near those planets had come under attack and the planets not long after. Once that had happened the Votheen had started to retreat inwards which had eventually led to them making contact with Senate races. “The Sarcurian Luminaries avoid the edges of the galaxy out of superstition. There is said to be a powerful ancient force out there that would do us great harm. That and the fact that nothing is out there worth sacrificing a great amount of effort and resource to get to,” Jarner voiced not all too confidently. R051E cocked her head and added the Sarcurian perspective to the amassed enemy intel.
“It would appear as though they came under attack by an alien entity we are unaware of.”
“So what’s the plan?” Shayara felt anxious in the amount of unknowns and felt there’d been far too much lead up to the climax. R051E nodded and zoomed into the galaxy arm shared by the Sol system. The world at the very edge was the target. “This was the last colony to fall just two years ago. After that the Votheen stopped pushing the borders and focused inwards.” She sighed heavily and shrugged. “We can all pretend but by my calculations the Votheen have the Senate beat if it turns into full scale war. Especially now that we are segregated, it is highly likely Earth will be hit first. I won’t depress you with the probability but these mythical beings will tip the scale.” She paused and considered herself. “I realise how insane I sound right now just to clarify.”
“It is a stretch.” Shayara considered. Thoughts kept swimming around her head. It would be a huge assumption to presume if they did exist that they'd still be there two years on and what if they did find them? Would they care? They could be hostile from the start and worse than the Votheen if they had the capability to devastate colonies at will. She voiced as much and the room stopped to consider. “Granted it is a long shot but what are our options?” R051E asked, “This could be our…what’s that cute Human expression…our ace in the hole? I have drawn similarities between each attack and it would not seem that this race is overtly hostile. They seem to be playing shepherd and defending the edge of the galaxy. When one ship crosses that border, they burn the nearest colony to the ground. I cannot say whether they will care about the Votheen’s campaign of genocide but they have previous so what could we lose?”
“We could gain another enemy,” added the Admiral.
“If they wanted the system they have the ability to sweep through and take it,” R051E answered flatly. That was a throat lump that wouldn’t budge. The thought of this race scared Shayara but she wouldn’t allow it to show. Alexander considered what he was hearing. They were indeed at a grim junction. “We have to face facts. The Senate and Engevaal may already be lost and Humanity cannot stand alone. It could be a suicide mission or a waste of time. It could be first contact with an undocumented and possibly hostile alien race but I think the benefits outweigh the risk.”
“I am not committing any of my forces to this fool’s errand. We need to be here. Ready for the Votheen when they show up on our doorstep or had you forgotten that, sir?” refused Victor sharply.
“Last time I checked, I was a free agent,” Shayara said.