Not as long as I would have liked it, but I decided that something to push things along would be better than waiting it out. So.... Surprise update! ********** Arcturus Station L5 Themis Lagrangian Point +14 hours since the pirate attack Most people got a good rest cycle on Arcturus stations administration level. Not Anton Sidorov. The section chief of the Alliance intelligence arm hated his personal witching hour. Something about the dimmed lighting in his quarters and that border between being awake and asleep made him introspective, made him wonder about the choices he had made to get this far. That and whether the Alliance would get a great big screwing in the ass in the next four weeks or so when something invariably blew up because of something they didn’t do, or did but failed to cover up well enough from people who shouldn’t know. A soft bed didn’t do anything to quell the fretting, and he’d eschewed the use of sleeping drugs. Didn’t even touch the old family cossack cure for insomnia, 100-proof vodka. If only because the mood had a tendency show up when- “Sir?” the console beside his bed chimed, “Sorry for disturbing you, but I think you need to see this. Deep recon unit out in the Verge investigated a Case Six anomaly, they’ve reported it under the Firebreak Protocol. They’ve just sent the recovered data in on priority channels.” - things were about to go to hell. Fully awake now, he swung out of bed with a sigh and punched the reply button a little more savagely than he should have. “Right, forward me the data.” Case Six meant derelicts where there shouldn’t be, not some luckless civilian freighter either. And the Firebreak Protocol meant someone’s very hot little black operation had come to a bad end before they had had a chance to scrub the really incriminating evidence. Rubbing a hand across his face, he patiently waited as the console scanned his retinas, spoke the twenty six digit memory key, and watched as the holographic display began lighting up with intelligence reports. “Let’s see what part of the galaxy is on fire this time...” It was less than twenty seconds later when he slammed a hand on the table. “What the devil is this?” He barked at his aide on the other side of the video link, “This is... is...” he struggled for the words to describe just exactly what he felt before giving it up as futile, “It’s too goddamn late for pranks Nattel.” “Sorry sir,” the grey haired German looked anything but apologetic, “but both Jaider and Wasallia station have already crunched the data through their systems. It’s not a sensor malfunction or manipulation. As far as we can tell, it’s entirely legit.” Another six seconds passed as he glared at his aide, trying to force his aide with sheer intensity alone to tell him it was a joke so he could eject the man out the nearest airlock. Unfortunately, Nattel was made of sterner stuff. “God damn.” Anton resisted the urge to throw something heavy at the console, choosing to pace around his apartment instead. “How the hell did the agency miss something like this? It’s like that mess with Sovereign all over again. Worse! At least with the Citadel invasion we had some warning before it turned to hell. Where in the devil's toybox did this blasted thing come from?” He paged through the rest of the report, hoping for a silver lining in the mess so it wouldn’t be a total... Fuck. The section chief pinched his nose and shut his eyes to stave off the impending aneurysm. The derelict was a frigate of unknown design, probably one of the hundred possible variants churned out by the assorted Terminus manufacturers and common enough to be the go to vessel for any half dozen less than legal operations out there. Common enough to go unremarked, but the intel... the information retrieved was incredible, a hint of something fantastic with a lot more if they looked harder. But it was also goddamned impossible. It was too fantastical to be believed, and yet two clearing houses had authenticated the salvaged logs. He looked at the damning evidence again. The recording was fragmented, filled with static, and only consisting of a precious few seconds of clear footage before disappearing into noise again. But it was there, and his analytical teams insisted it was real. Somewhere out there in the Verge, there was a piece of xenotech nearly the size of the Citadel. In the Verge. Yes, the sector was fairly well travelled so discovery would have been inevitable eventually, but that was besides the point. The Verge was practically the Alliance’s backyard, with every system charted, every active relay monitored for traffic. And still someone else had found it first. “Heads are going to explode over this once word of this filters down to the rest of the services.” He muttered before focusing on the dreadnought in the room. “We practically own the Verge, Nattel. There’s no way we could have missed something this big in the initial surveys.” “Or avoided the notice of the galaxy if it had taken any of the active relays, I am aware sir.” “So either we have an invisible alien megalith out there that’s only just become visible for reasons we don’t know, or it doesn’t need the relays. Or maybe I’ve actually fallen asleep and I’m having a stress induced nightmare.” He got an odd look for that. “I wouldn’t think so sir. Nevertheless, it’s a little too early to make any conjecture regarding the anomaly.” Anton waved him off, turning his attention to the less vexing parts of the report. “Did the recon teams pick up anything else from the derelict? Did it talk to anyone, did it have friends? Communications logs, distress beacons, anything. For that matter, do we even know who it belongs to?” “Unknown sir, the ship was heavily damaged when the teams found it, and the communications suite was practically scrap.” “Wonderful,” he deadpanned, “so what do we actually know?” “We’re still matching patterns for the ships profile against recorded traffic in the Verge, but Analysis thinks the timing is indicative of it being part of a larger group. Seven standard days ago, the SAINTS determined a slight increase in inbound sector traffic, spread out over a period of three days. And then thirty seven hours ago, one of our stealth probes picked up four heavily damaged frigate class ships from the earlier group leaving through the local relay.” “So a bunch of pirates, treasure hunters, whatever, found this megalith, tried to take it, and got blasted for their troubles. Unknown is whether the thing shot at them, or they got into a fight with a rival gang and came out the losers.” He really wanted a bottle right now. If only to smash it over his head and spare himself the coming agony. He settled for throwing up his arms. “Just great. That means everyone with a halfway competent intelligence service is going to find out.” “It’s a possibility sir, but we won’t know more until we can have the hulk towed into a salvage facility for in-depth study” Nattel looked off screen for a moment as Anton rubbed his brow, and then coughed diffidently. “but I believe word has already gotten back to the Naval Office at minimum sir. You have an incoming call from Admiral Shepard, flagged as urgent.” The section chief shot his aide a dirty look. He didn’t need a full intelligence brief to figure out how the Navy could have found out. “Figures. Hasn’t even worn the shine off her bars yet and she’s already giving me more grief than most admirals. Either she’s got more contacts in the Verge than we do, or she’s still got friends in SAICOM who don’t know the meaning of keeping their mouths shut. I don’t know which possibility I like less Nattel.” The only upshot about the whole mess was that Shepard was less anal about inter-service rivalries than some of the other admirals if it got in the way of protecting the Alliance. “Well tell her to wait a few minutes while I sort out this clusterfuck.” Slowing the pacing, he rubbed his chin, settling into the proper mindset. He took a breath. Right, he told himself, time to focus. It wasn’t the end of the galaxy, not yet, but it might be the end of his personal ass and his department he didn’t get a handle on this now. “Have Wasallia double check the data again, I want to make sure it’s legit and not someone else’s spooks trying to scare a reaction out of us with false leads. We’re still recovering from that mess with the Sobamee incident. And while they’re at it, get Analysis to sift through the intelligence packet for locational data. If this is the real deal then I want to know where it was found, when it was found, and a dedicated intelligence gathering ship at the incident site last year.” Scrubbing a hand through his hair, the intelligence chief grunted, “How’d we get this intel Nattel? And not just the sanitized stuff in the report. Section nine from Deep Recon just manages to stumble on a derelict combat ship around a pirate point with this kind of information on it? Something doesn’t sound right here. Why would anyone who shot up the frigate leave behind valuable intel like this?” His aide looked off screen again, the almost inaudible hum of air exchangers sounding particularly loud as the man went through the relevant information. Nattel shook his head. “I’d say the attackers didn’t have the chance to do so sir. The ship was probably disabled from exacerbated battle damage. Most of the damage comprises of melt patterns consistent with high energy thermal weapons, probably sustained close range GARDIAN fire but we won’t know for sure until the forensics is done.” Images began popping up on Anton’s console as the man forwarded the relevant files. “But from the radiation readings, it’s likely the ship managed to escape before suffering a catastrophic FTL drive failure while in transit.” “Giving everyone on board a lethal dose of radiation.” Anton grunted, turning the facts over in his mind, eyeing the deep holes that went in one end and out the other. Something about the damage patterns disturbed him though, but he couldn’t put a finger on what it was. He rubbed his chin, deciding to leave the matter for the Forensics department to mull over. “Who do we have out there with the appropriate ship and the clearance to know this right now?” “Just agent Nox and his cell sir,” Nattel answered after a moment, “they’re not assigned to any priority tasks at the moment.” “Jensen’s not available is he?” The aide shook his head, “Fine, put Nox on the job, but I want this done under Observer rules. Strictly information gathering only, no overt actions. Anything that looks hostile in that sector and doesn’t fit in the usual threat profiles? I want him out of there, no delays and no excuses. Even if whatever that thing is our derelict found shows up and doesn’t shoot first, he is not to initiate a First Contact protocol without direct authorization from my office. We don’t need the diplomatic and political shitstorm from a Shanxi-lite.” “On it sir.” A few more seconds of silence passed as Anton’s aide punched in the relevant authorization codes which he confirmed. “Nox acknowledges, he’ll be on station at the anomaly site in six hours.” “Good,” Anton leaned back and sighed, wishing for a bottle of vodka to make the upcoming headache easier to stomach. “Now that that’s done, patch Admiral Shepard through. Maybe she’ll give me less grief than the last time.” Nattel gave him the kind of look he hated getting, one filled with a mixture pity and just the right amount of insubordinate smugness to not get called out on it. “I wouldn’t count on it sir.” ********** Superheavy freighter P.F. Flubber Monnovai L4 Lagrangian Point +16 hours since the pirate attack It was a simple room where the two Salarians worked, a spartan affair with minimal furnishings to distract the mind. Not that a more lavish furnishing would have caused much of a drop in efficiency. The real distraction lay in the communications networks that ghosted through their consoles. "Did they receive the intelligence packet?" A flick of a finger. Reams of data, branching points of information sprouting like a demented tree of flickering light and flashing words. A heartbeat to absorb, process, conclude. "Yes. Trackers indicate that it's disseminating through their information networks. No failsafes triggered, SAICOM unlikely to realize actual source." "Good. Status on the Turian Overwatch and Asari Circle?" Another flick. Two other trees in colours of blue and purple. A single red spark rimmed by a crimson triangle. "Still processing data, same as the humans. Noticing a four percent increase in Turian fleet activity though. Patrol fleets Decimus and Tecius. May be ordered to investigate anomaly in packet. Asari networks mostly quiet. Councilor Tevos activated two huntress units from personal retinue in last standard hour, but placed them on standby, nothing else. Also noticed increased communications with Omega station" A considering sound takes the center stage amidst the sudden silence. Fingers drum on hard plastic surfaces. "Cagey. Tevos possibly suspects other agencies aware, adopting cautious approach. Denial? No. Contacting Aria, not committed, but expanding options. Understandable. Turian activity problematic in current situation, but manageable. Hm, actually may be beneficial. What is the status of our own analysis?" The data trees disappear, replaced by a rotating constellation of lights and nebulous mists. Magenta lines criss cross, panning across thousands of light years until they settle on one particular bright star. "Just completed. Very little data, but we've managed to isolate the coordinates where the recordings were made to within half a light year." "Good. Have coordinates deployed into Turian networks. Better to let them take the lead. Keep a watch of course. Put STG on alert, ready to follow up. Should have results soon. Although...” “Raider vessel?” “Yes, hostile contact with alien megalith. Uncertain if result of ill advised aggression or otherwise. Still, interesting to note that Verge is well traveled. Raider may not be first contact with megalith. Hm. Unknown if friendly contact is possible, but cannot dismiss out of hand. If so, curious about current situation. Individual, grouping, maybe even large organization may already be aware of megalith and made contact.” A pause, figures frozen in thought before one breaks the silence with three words. “Should know soon.” ********** Work on this is pretty tentative, so if you've got any criticisms and what not, let me know so I can patch it into the overall work.