Pariahs and Peacemakers

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Scheduling another meeting so soon after the last should have been difficult but it was funny how quickly the words galactic security got things done. The fact the Pariah had brought back a witness or a suspect had strengthened their argument, yet High Senator Wilhelm liked to think he knew how to work the system, although it was just nice for humanity to be taken seriously for a change. The Senator arrived promptly and exchanged pleasantries with the two crew-members of the Pariah, he was told there would be a third but the staff doctor was absent from the group. He’d met Shayara numerous times and had always found her pleasantly blunt however Jarner he only knew through reputation. He didn’t say much and came off as a little roguish which partnered his sarcastic and dry humour rather nicely. They entered the Congress hall and scaled the steep steps of the speaker’s platform. There they found, much to Alexander’s surprise, that the High Senators were already seated impatiently. This was highly unusual. Senator Wilhelm knew from experience that the High Senate usually kept speakers waiting for a whole host of reasons not least of which to remind would be usurpers of who was in charge. This situation had obviously sparked grave concern or interest amongst the rank and file of the elite but what would spook the Senate this much kept Alexander guessing.

A circular platform rose up to the speaker podium’s height; on board was a slightly refreshed Luminary flanked by two thickly set Caliterrian enforcers. Alexander observed Ora gasp. “Welcome back, Senator, I am pleased the conscript has returned with you safely. Perhaps she can shed light upon the situation and improve the lack of satisfaction you brought at our feet last time?” grumbled Arkan Sha’Ni. The High Senate had been forwarded Shayara Ventii’s findings in a report she had mocked up on her journey to the Senate home world. They already knew whatever cargo had been aboard had been taken and oddly the crew too so there was no point raking over covered ground.

“You recognise the Luminary, Queen Acil?” the Human Senator probed bluntly.

“Is it true you remember little?” she directed towards the blank expression of the Sarcurian Luminary, intentionally ignoring the question laid before her.

“Very little, ma’am.” In hearing this, Ora slumped back in her seat, her eyes cold and unloving.

“To answer your question, Senator, yes I do recognise my dead husband’s own daughter.” This revelation almost knocked Alexander back down to the foot of the auditorium. Not only was it common knowledge the Queen didn’t have a daughter but if the dead king had an offspring that would mean the monarchy wasn’t dead after all.

“She goes by Cesh Zhurl although her real name is Cestine Paav Acil.”

“The Queen has requested your presence Madam Zhurl,” instructed the chief royal hand from the door of Cesh’s humble dwelling in the castle grounds. She nodded in approval and threw her packed haversack over her shoulder. She double checked she hadn’t left any of her belongings behind. She hadn’t come back for much, as most of her things had already been transported to her ship. She had hoped not to run into the Queen as she’d have much preferred to have slinked off world unnoticed but her spies were everywhere. She sighed before locking up for good, sure she’d never return home again. On her dainty jaunt across the courtyard she didn’t arouse any kind of attention, why would she? No one knew who she had been but it didn’t matter to her as it wasn’t who she was now. Being the bastard child of a dead king wasn’t an honorary role to fill and she’d been brought up in secret, said to be the daughter of a well-known general. The honour guard allowed her to pass, she took time to look up at the huge shield dome protecting the city and saw the irony in an asteroid collision which was of similar magnitude to what she expected to receive from the Queen. She navigated the castle like a seasoned servant using hidden passages and unconventional short cuts until she reached the Queen’s personal chambers.

Cesh found her being attended to by her tailor; “Ahem,” Cesh grunted impatiently. The pair leapt out of their embrace and the tailor out of the quilted protection of the duvet. He attempted to cover his pride the best he could as he darted from the scene. Now that all the royal attendants were out of earshot the pair could speak freely. “Are my whole family this loose?” Cesh spoke curtly from the door frame.

“I didn’t expect you to come. However, I am a single woman, Cestine, and your father, however, was not,” Ora snubbed as she made herself appropriate for company.

“What do you want with me, Ora? I enlisted to get me away from here so why call for me? Isn’t me being far away beneficial to you?” Cesh asked plainly as she allowed herself to move deeper into the room now the Queen was at least half decent. “How long does it take you to get dressed, I bet it has been years since you’ve dressed yourself in this palace of yours.”

“Careful, young one, I am still your Queen even if I am not your mother. I demand respect or there will be consequences.” Cesh stayed silent and leant against the bed post being mindful to stay well clear of the overhanging bed cover. “I was of the mind that a Luminary had to have the approval of the ruling monarch. I recall giving no such approval.” Cesh didn’t even blink.

“I know. I forged my accreditation, thought you’d approve, ma’am.” She smirked as she moved to the door.

“I never said you were free to go, I could have you executed for what you’ve done. You and your father be damned,” warned the Queen.

“Goodbye, Ora,” ended Cesh as she left her stepmother to her own devices.

The Queen slumped into a form fitting armchair and contemplated her next step, that was if there was to be one. Maybe the troublesome daughter-in-law of hers was right. She could do less damage out in uncharted space. Ora felt horrible for thinking it, but a part of her hoped the newly instated Luminary might run into trouble out there on her own. Cesh left the royal house for the last time. She rued the day that Sarten, her real father not her biological one, confessed to all of this on his death bed. She knew why he’d done it but it didn’t make it feel any better. Lies and negative actions affected how well you were treated in the afterlife and although her father had died honourably from wounds sustained in battle he must have still feared for his soul.

The Human contingent stayed very quiet. This was a highly disturbing revelation with huge political ramifications if this news were to ever surface. It still didn’t explain what had happened aboard Hope’s Deliverance. “A little is coming back, I remember bodies. Lots of bodies ripped apart by very heavy fire power, an ambush, I think,” Cesh struggled.

“We know at least then if the Luminary’s testimony is to be believed that the bodies were removed after her arrival,” chipped in Shayara.

“What exactly was that transporter carrying? I am the same rank as you politically and my people put themselves at great risk, so I demand to know. Any scrap of information could trigger Cesh’s memory and I’m sure that’d be hugely beneficial to you too,” Alexander barked frustrated at what he assumed was a perversion of data flow. He was being excluded and he knew it.

The Caliterrian Forerunner looked uncomfortable where he sat. He gestured a reluctant but approving head toward that of his two companions before easing forward. “The transporter was carrying a prototype project codenamed Aurora. That’s all I can really divulge but in any hands other than ours, this is a serious threat. You may be of the same standing Senator but you forget your race is new here and you are required to earn our trust,” he teased. Alexander had to keep his temper in check. Subconsciously Shayara stepped in front of him to break the tension but before she could speak Ora spoke for her, “This meeting is adjourned. Until Cesh remembers anything to progress this we will get no further. An internal investigation will be set up and our best trackers will be sent to the region. The Pariah and the Luminary will be grounded until further notice and will be required to stay within the city limits.” The High Senate concluded long before Shayara or Alexander could put up a defence. The High Senators wasted no time vacating their seats. Alexander was not content. Arkan had hidden something beneath his bullying of the Human race, whether it be information or fear something said had shaken him. Alexander was positive he wouldn’t get information the conventional way.

Alexander didn’t even acknowledge his lovely and ever so helpful secretary on his way to his office. It wasn’t a decision he made purposely, his mind was just elsewhere and wherever it was it was pissed. Still he was thankful for the strong whiskey on the rocks that Miss Chambers had entered with not five minutes after he’d blown her off. Thankfully she hadn’t taken it personally and was well aware politics was politics. He waited for her to make a swift exit before beckoning on the services of AI construct Greaves. “You rang, Senator?” he asked with a polite cock of the head.

“Going to need your help, Greaves. Can you do me the pleasure of searching the Senate archives for anything to do with Aurora? Refine search by projects specifically those conducted by Indatech.” With that the butler retreated back into the base to carry out his given task. Alexander expected a long wait so allowed himself to slide back in his chair. His eyelids lowered rapidly due to the plethora of nights he’d not been able to sleep. A position like his was a level of stress no Human had been privy to before and he’d aged a lot in a year. He’d even noticed a few grey hairs lining his brow in the mirror a week ago.

He had no idea how much time had passed when he was startled by the reappearance of Greaves who looked at him quizzically. “Are you feeling okay, sir?”

“Just catching up on some much needed nightcap, Greaves, what time is it back on Earth? I don’t think my biological clock’s adjusted yet.”

“It is currently one thirty two GMT however you’ve been here on Engevaal using galactic standard time for four hundred and fifty two days Senator. It should be well adjusted by now.” It should have been of course but the Senator found it spooky that it was so early back home and he was feeling it. Or maybe it was the aforementioned sleep deprivation? Either way his newly woken up brain was getting off subject quickly.

“Did you find anything then?”

“Very little to be honest. What I did recover was heavily guarded by the Senate core AI and I was only able to salvage a small amount of data. There is mention of an operation Dark Aurora. Time period is unknown but I believe the Senate or at least some of its races were at war.” The Senator rocked back in his chair and mulled over the connection. Hearing the Senate was at war was interesting, it wasn’t a part of their history that they promoted. At war with whom interested him more than the finer details but the operation name could have been a coincidence all the same.

“And?” He pressed his synthetic companion to continue.

“Project Aurora was a prototype created by the Shiva wing of Indatech industries.” The Senator sprung out of his chair. Shiva was the secret super weapon branch of the Senate’s technology manufacturer and they only dealt in research that pushed weapons of mass destruction. They were of course a last resort and highly controversial which is why they weren’t known to the public. Someone very high up long before Alexander had arrived believed that such research was essential so it continued to receive funding. Alexander didn’t trust their devices in the right hands never mind in those of a terrorist, revolutionary or supremacist. “Get me the Captain,” he ordered as Greaves once more retreated into his emitter.

Cesh sat legs folded on her bunk that she had been so graciously provided by Senate Security. In her room was the bunk she was perched on, a toilet, sink and that about summed it up. The essentials were apparently enough for a woman who hadn’t even been convicted of a crime. As she laid back something clicked in place. As she closed her eyes something wormed its way through the haze

Cesh swept her weapon freely across the kill zone but nothing gave any cause for depression on the trigger. Movement through the bridge was difficult as everything appeared to have been dropped where it had once been held and the volume of bodies rivalled that of the cargo bay. It had been a last stand for the cornered who had been cut down honourably like warriors evidently defending the bridge in a desperate attempt to hold onto control. The Luminary stepped over one of the dozens of bodies which appeared to have been tossed aside like a rag doll. She made steady progress toward Sana Mas, a middle-aged Sarcurian who had seen more than his fair share of combat and rough situations over the span of his career. Yet, even he was uncomfortable in the midst of so much death. Mhen Senni, the youngest member of her Clan, tossed aside one of the small crates he couldn’t crack the encryption of and joined the pair in the centre. Cesh’s clan had made its way through literally all the maze like corridors the ship had to offer on their journey to the bridge, a route they’d later learnt was the scenic one. Apparently alien-friendly maps and identically proportioned and designed corridors had thrown the experienced Sarcurian. Upon reaching the last map she conceded they could have halved the journey time by cutting through what she assumed was a medical facility due to its insignia with the lack of a legend.

She was startled mid step as an ear splintering alarm squawked out suddenly, a spiral of white light materialised beyond the view screen “Senate reinforcements?” questioned Sana, his assumption immediately disparaged by the huge alien warship of origin none of those present could even place.

“Ambush!” Exclaimed Cesh as a colossal brute of a beast she also couldn’t identify de-cloaked and vaporised Sana with plasma rounds that had no problem penetrating shields, armour and flesh. Its momentum carried it forward as it sliced Mhen’s head clean from his body with an energy weapon that shot from an underslung arm launcher before any of them could even react. Cesh sprang into full retreat and got to unload a few rounds of her own into the monster which sent its next volley off target, saving her life for now and allowing her to duck out into the corridor.

Cesh sat bolt upright in bed, sweating profusely and incapacitated by the pounding in her chest. It was agony as her semi-recovered primary heart attempted to join in. That was no dream, she was certain she’d lived that experience and was certain that was a memory from Hope’s Deliverance. Her comrades, her friends, were dead and that realisation was almost too much to bear in itself. She tried her hardest to focus on the creature that had ambushed them so much she began to have a nose bleed. The specifics of the creature was fuzzy. All she knew was that it was large, had two pairs of arms and was not a race she had ever come across before.

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