The cargo hold’s entry shielding, which kept the vacuum of space at bay, was still operational when the Pariah’s spherical drop ship eased its way through. The transporter wailed as the frost cracked under the propulsion systems of the boarding team, the interior had become a very frozen and hostile place. The ship touched down in a clearing barely large enough to sustain it. The rear hatch swung open with a poorly oiled squeak which eliminated any remaining element of surprise. Shayara clambered out first as her heads up display told of the dire condition of her new environment. It was evident reserve power was going the same way as the primary, environmental control was usually the first casualty in those circumstances. Her breath clung to the interior surface of her visor with every exhale. It was cold beyond her protective shell, much colder than it should have been. They’d likely have contracted hyperthermia within a few minutes if they hadn’t of been prepared, they still could if they suffered an unfortunate suit breach. A fact which didn’t bode well for finding survivors, she thought realistically. She primed her Indatech R19A assault rifle, a weapon widely popular among special operation units due to its power, compact design and the fact it was crazily customisable.
The hangar had evidently been a battleground that much was clear. “Where are the bodies?” Shayara observed more confused by the revelation than anything.
“No cargo pods either, that’s slightly peculiar given it’s a transport ship,” Jarner replied sarcastically as he nursed his skull which he had clumsily thumped against the hatch due to his haste. He swept the barrels of his two Indatech manufactured T21-S Predator heavy repeater pistols across the immediate landscape and drew a blank, “Consider the ghost ship secured, ma’am, are you proud of me?” He smirked. Shayara looked at him with a cynical look he’d seen a million times before when out on operation, it was her way of telling him to focus. Not that she’d shy away from giving him verbal direction if the look didn’t get his attention.
“It could be a trap so do take care, won’t you?” she jibed back in a deadpan manner. She wasn’t being sarcastic to worry him, probability was it could well be a trap. Slavers and pirates often used barbaric tactics to cover their tracks and satisfy some sick feeling of perverted ingenuity. Explosive rigged escape pods were a recent favourite and proved handy in dealing with witnesses which had slipped their clutches. “Traps I can deal with, it could be an ambush,” he mused.
“Forever the pessimist, Jarner.”
The pair dashed across the blood encrusted grate flooring as shadows disfigured every surface. The unstable lighting caused the figures to contort into grotesque shapes. They tentatively reached where the blast door should have been and Jarner fired a flare through the jagged hole to allow a visual in the murky corridor beyond. It spluttered at first, Jarner was half expecting it to be a dud, yet it impressed by igniting and basking the area in an ambient blueish glow. As expected, nothing moved. The flare had only revealed the final resting place of large chunks of the displaced door and a T junction at the far end. Shayara rolled her eyes and cursed the fact she didn’t know the basic layout of the standard transport vessel; “It’s never simple. I’ll go left.”
Alexander Wilhelm, Human president and newly elected representative of the High Senate, sat with regimented posture. He clutched a docpad in his right hand, a glass of whisky in his left and his mind was elsewhere. As the voice of humanity it was his role, one of so many, to schedule a meeting with the rest of the High Senate as soon as he’d been contacted by the personnel AI assistant of Senate Security Conscript, Shayara Ventii. Her exploits were legendary and had rightly earned Homo sapiens much respect among the wider galactic community, so getting a personal ping had caught his attention instantaneously. His mind formulated many theories upon hearing the details of her discovery, the most prominent and worrying of which was the thought of corporate terrorism. Using his contacts he had already discovered the ID of the missing Indatech transporter as well as rumours about the high level cargo it was presumed to be carrying. He didn’t know the specifics, even his clearance didn’t get him everything. The aliens were still wary of humanity. Was it possible the Sarcurian’s had seen the mystery haulage being carried aboard the Senate transporter Hope’s Deliverance as a threat? Did they find whatever it was harmful enough to want it wiped out of existence or had there been a high level dispute amongst the dignitaries that he was unaware of? It was feasible, but when he thought about it longer, weren’t they all on the same side at the end of the day? Alien politics was often more frustrating than human politics. If those questions were answered, the question still remained of what took out the Luminary vessel as the Senate transporter was not armed. The damage readouts were inconsistent with opportunistic pirates as such social waste did not possess such power capabilities; to his knowledge at least.
The holo-projector energised on his desk as a miniature stereotypical Butler waddled from inside. “The High Senate have authorised your meeting, Senator Wilhelm.” He paused, Alexander assumed this was for Human-like dramatic effect as AI constructs were more than capable of computing millions of bytes of data per second. “Scheduled immediately, of course.” Alexander nodded his approval at the welcome news as he got up and straightened himself out in front of his office mirror which ran the full length of the west wall. “Shall I keep you updated on any new data bursts from construct R051E, Senator?” questioned construct GR3AV35.
“Yeah, you do that while I go fishing.” Alexander smiled, he believed someone had to know something.
The internal and external pressure variations tested the fortitude of the ship’s hull as it wailed in agony continuously through the ever expanding darkening depths. Shayara progressed alone, vulnerable to the walls which seemed to almost loom over her. The slightest security came from the steady and reliable illumination from her rifle’s built in flashlight. Up ahead it drew R051E’s attention to scorch marks etched into the wall plates; the AI was capable of monitoring the team over their HUD and the dozens of tiny cameras weaved into their armour. Construct R051E was an advanced Vanguard class intelligence developed by a well-funded and recognised human company named Arcadan Industries, although her design was based on Sarcurian technology. “Damage vector and origin inconclusive,” she observed to a muted response, audibly disappointed, for all her tricks she was unable to give a definitive answer.
The vacuum of space overwhelmed every crevice of the lower decks as it subdued what little oxygen pockets remained. Jarner Nevo cursed his rotten luck, first for choosing to go the wrong way and second for being cut off when power to the airlock had failed as he tried to backtrack. Whoever had hit the Luminary ship had intended to kill it off, yet it was highly evident the same intention had not been a part of the plan for the Senate transporter. All the damage had been targeted toward engineering and it had decimated the main thrusters. The reactor had fried itself and emergency power pitifully limped in support with the insurmountable task of holding all the systems together. Jarner bounded on, as quickly as the gravity-less environment allowed, encased in suspended debris and severed circuitry. He breathed heavily as he became increasingly annoyed at his helmet obscuring his peripheral vision; a necessary yet irritating hindrance. Another airlock came into view and Jarner allowed a slim smile to occupy his exhausted face, due to the fact he’d been wandering aimlessly for some time attempting to locate any other exit. He’d considered blowing the wall out and getting picked up by The Pariah. The safety protocols built into the airlock wouldn’t allow themselves to be disengaged automatically while the conditions persisted on Jarner’s side of the ship yet this hardly concerned him. He’d grown up on Coroniss, the crime capital of the galaxy. He’d earned numerous useful skills and techniques because of this, including but not limited to, busting through locked doors of any shape, size and design.
He removed a small service panel and activated his holographical interface which emitted from his armour's wrist plate. He went to work re-routing power and manipulating firewalls. Lights flickered angrily in protest around the entryway’s frame. It screeched in submission after a little persuasion and parted just enough to allow the Sarcurian to squeeze through. It closed clumsily behind him and the nausea of pressure adjustments and the returning gravity soon took over. A reptilian-like hiss signalled the end of the switching process and the opposing door beckoned him to continue. “Keep up, old man, you’re way behind,” jibed Shayara over his headset competitively.
The Keep’s Auditor was displeased that High Senator Wilhelm was, as always, unpunctual. The Auditor, a fairly stocky Sarcurian who was tasked with making sure the political side of The Keep ran smoothly, took his job very seriously. Any tardiness cascaded into upcoming meetings and the whole thing became one big logistical headache. This is why before Alexander could even reach the seating area he was herded by Senate Security through the archway into a checkpoint and down the hall beyond. Alexander, unfazed by the abruptness, smiled warmly at a Human male he clocked amongst the rank and file of the checkpoint’s staff. He reflected on just how far humanity had come in the past decade. A century ago, such a well-respected position would have been reserved for the more established races such as the warrior caste Sarcurian or the ever loyal Caliterrian. Although the two aforementioned were still the most prominent players on the galactic stage, Humans were slowly making their ambition and presence known.
This wasn’t without opposition however; rapid expansion was frowned upon and divisions within Human society had surfaced. Some considered sharing power with aliens was an insult to what it meant to be Human and xenophobia was rife amongst many colonies. Typically, such worries originated from propaganda churned out by far right political groups and it wasn’t an affliction isolated to humankind as other races had their own variety of supremacy groups.
The steps to the speaker’s platform, as imposing as they were steep, came into view and clawed skyward at a sharp angle. The two thickly set Caliterrian, kitted out in heavy-duty ceremonial armour, stepped aside to allow the climb. The main decorative aspect was the flowing black and grey marble-like surfaces which covered all the walls, floors and ceiling spaces. Sapphire lighting intersected at set intervals in an attempt to calm and subdue. Alexander reached the summit. He surveyed The Keep in all its glory despite being here many times before. Hundreds of staggered seats outlined the two walls to both sides as they came to a point at the far end. This seating was for the representatives from many worlds, settlements and factions. At the tip of the polished onyx pyramid was a raised tier containing four throne-like seats belonging to the High Senate quadruplet. Three of the High Senate seats were occupied, the only chairs occupied in the entire gargantuan chamber in fact. The fourth belonged to Alexander yet centuries old traditions demanded him to concede it if he wished to address them on matters concerning his own species. It was a way to avoid bias; its effectiveness was yet to be seen.
The exuberance of the High Senate’s area depicted the power they held quite effectively. Being the foremost important individuals in the known galaxy, one would have thought that would have led to a kind of arrogance yet they remained surprisingly well grounded. A vote of no confidence was exceptionally rare and the position was only usually lost in the event of death. To the far left was an age old Caliterrian warrior greatly championed by his own race and well respected amongst every other despite his grizzly nature and blunt attitude. Arkan Sha’Ni had recently gotten the unprecedented rating of a hundred percent confidence in the polls and at over four hundred years of age, an unthinkable vintage in Human standards, he was still going strong. His chalky frame didn’t betray his age and Alexander assumed, quite rightly, the alien could easily break him in two if they were ever in a scenario which called for it. The fiery Caliterrian hailed from Neolo, his home world's second largest city which had gained precedence for producing a high standard of warrior. Alexander was unclear whether this reputation preceded Arkan or not. Next to him was the last member of the Sarcurian Royal Family, Queen Ora Acil who had assumed the position after the passing of her father. Her elegance was expected but even she was fending off the reaper at this point and without ever conceiving children of her own, the monarchy was doomed to die with her. The last figure was one that hadn’t changed in recent or collective memory. The Selin often reached ridiculous ages yet it was rumoured 19217-JB was beyond the norm. “Welcome High Senator Wilhelm,” introduced Ora as the other two settled their postures to accommodate the complexities of their seats’ flamboyant designs, “Do you care to expand on the limited information you used to arrange this meeting?” she questioned. She was rightly wondering why the Human representative couldn’t wait for the full Senate congress, scheduled only two days away. Alexander composed himself before engaging his voice, a skill he hadn’t had much luck with in his younger years much to his downfall. “You are no doubt familiar with the Senate Security Conscript vessel The Pariah, captained by Shayara Ventii. Well, six hours ago it discovered the wreckages of two ships on the cusp of charted space-”
“This is hardly noteworthy. Pirates and slavers often prove problematic to wanderers in those sectors, hence why travel there is ill-advised,” the Caliterrian interjected waving his claw dismissively. Arkan Sha’Ni was known to have little patience and thus enjoyed a much more direct approach than any other politician Alexander had ever come across. He guessed this was why he appealed to the impatient public as the whole political song and dance often got in the way of business being done. Alexander allowed a sigh to pass as he brushed off the rudeness of interruption, he was all for action but there were certain guidelines that had to be adhered to. “Granted that is true, however the two ships in question are an Indatech transporter and a Sarcurian Luminary.” A stunned silence clutched The Keep; it was most unwelcome and unexpected news, which put in the wrong hands could have put a huge amount of negative publicity against the Senate. There were more prominent questions to be answered but the selfish awareness of public perception was never far away from any politician in truth. “The Indatech transporter Hope’s Deliverance was carrying a high level cargo. I’m of the belief a rogue faction, possibly influenced by the Sarcurian Luminary on site, received a tip off on the transporter’s cargo and location.” Arkan pivoted in his seat just in time to witness the Queen’s ever present regal facade vanish in an instant at the accusation.
“What evidence are you basing such a statement on?” she seethed as if placed in the hot seat personally. Alexander didn’t pretend to be an expert at reading alien facial expressions, such an art was something which eluded him as of yet. It was still fascinating to him that the different races with their many languages and dialects could communicate at all. Centuries ago the Sarcurian’s had developed a microchip that manipulated sound waves and perception. It made it appear that everyone spoke a common tongue and was small enough to be conveniently placed into many everyday items such as clothing or jewellery. It could even be implanted into the skin, usually fitted in the earlobe in most political and public figureheads. But even to him it was clearly obvious, without any training or technology, he had hit a nerve and her rapid response led him to believe whatever had gone on, she hadn’t been a part of it. “Admittedly it’s currently a theory but as I speak The Pariah’s crew are scavenging for evidence which I do hope will lead us in the right direction.”
Jarner’s HUD flashed with an objective update in the upper right hand corner which brought a sly smirk to his face as he read first to the bridge; failed. A fact confirmed as he rounded the last corner to be confronted by a smug Shayara. “Stop for some fresh air did you, old man?” she joked.
“Quiet the opposite in fact,” he wheezed avoiding the irony of oxygen deprivation. Shayara squeezed through yet another demolished door which now served as more of a viewport than an obstruction. She emerged onto the bridge and deduced that most of the fighting had been done in the space around her. It had been a last ditch attempt to remain in command of the ghost ship, as was usually the case when being boarded by a superior foe. No threats were present on the pair’s arrival; in keeping with the lifeless precedent the rest of the craft had set.
AI construct R051E burst her jittery avatar onto the central command desk. “I am now fully integrated into the Deliverance’s systems. I regret to inform you that the ship’s power systems are insufficient to accommodate me for any decent length of time,” she informed as her avatar became fuzzy and inconsistent before phasing back, this caused the already unstable energy to flux rampantly.
“Do a sweep for anything relevant R051E and I mean anything.” Another flux this time audibly tested the fortitude of the crippled vessel which signalled the start of the AI’s data mine efforts.
“No data available, I detect a recent memory restore.” She paused, exceptionally frustrated at the very prospect of drawing a blank before a pulse rocked Hope’s Deliverance so hard Shayara feared the outer hull had buckled leaving them at the mercy of space. “My sensors have detected a significant current draw on deck 5a, the stasis pod centre. Enough to sustain a common class sentient life form.” Shayara looked as worried as she felt. She turned to face Jarner who knew they both were thinking the same thing:
“Bad guy or good guy?”