New to the Serial? Start from beginning here.
Mendin entered the hexagonal war room. A circular, gray table was in the center, bounded by metallic, concave walls. Three other officers were present at the circular table. Two stood at Captain Firehoon’s approach, a larger female did not.
Mendin slowed his paced as he saw the larger female, a sector commander. What was she doing out here? Mendin now understood the real reason he had to give up the prisoner, she was too important to risk losing in an outmatched firefight.
Firehoon stood rigid as he approached the table, staring forward, but never making eye contact with the sector commander. Mendin deftly dropped his head in reverence as was customary for one of his station.
He only heard her deep voice. “Please be seated. There is much we need to discuss.”
Mendin reached for a chair and sat slowly. She was ready to discuss his failure to secure the artifact. Shame crept into his usually confident mind.
“Eye contact is permitted,” she said.
Mendin slowly lifted his head. He was directly across from her. Her eyes were large, brown irises with red sclerae. Her snout was more pronounced; Terrans considered one of her breed monsters. It was the one of the few times Mendin would agree with them.
Within a moment the room was bathed in darkness, followed abruptly with the sudden flash of millions of stars and other celestial objects surrounding the table. A map of the known areas of the settled galaxy.
“Spies have hacked some information as to what the Terrans have been up to in regards to this unknown probe,” the sector commander began.
The galactic map zoomed into a cluster of systems, the Arboreal Cluster, an area rife with human stellar settlements. The map zoomed further, focused on a single star system, Magellan. The map flashed the system’s large sun directly above the table. The eight planets of the system and other celestial objects filled the room. A blue circle highlighted the sixth planet. A ringed gas giant, Trinidad.
The sector commander stood and walked toward the gas giant. It spun wildly, its gravity pulling eight rocky satellites with it.
“Terrans first encountered the alien probe here.”
A blue light flashed around the fourth moon.
“It appeared in low orbit around the moon Carrack. From what we know, it appeared with a barely detectable gravity wave and heat source.”
The floor of the room flashed reddish brown, with the curve of the moon. Mendin observed a diamond-shaped object appear along the moon’s terminus. It stood out from the Terran satellites and manned communication relays due to its size.
“There are reports that the probe scanned every object within orbit around the mining colony. It caused communication problems between the moon and the mining facilities in low orbit above Trinidad. A security force was sent to investigate, but the colony lost contact with the team the moment it approached within fifty thousand kilometers of the object. A local patrol cruiser from Magellan’s defense fleet arrived an hour later. They dispatched a series of probes at the object; however, the artifact pulled out from its orbit and vanished before the probes could complete an analysis.”
The sector commander fell silent. “You may speak now.”
Firehoon was the first. “Vanished?”
She nodded. “Yes, it was how the Terrans described what happened. No gravity wake, no temporal distortion, no heat signature, not even a radiation trail. Nothing to hit that it dropped into hyperspace. It was simply gone.”
Impossible. Mendin mouthed the words. Who had the Terrans upset this time?
“The Terrans had contact with the probe in seven other systems in the Arboreal Cluster. Each time it appeared, collected information on the system, and vanished before it could be intercepted. It never seemed hostile, but the Terrans were paranoid about its ability to travel undetected through their most populated cluster.”
“The probe has a keen interest in the Terrans,” Firehoon mused.
“Uncertain.” The sector commander shrugged. “Intelligence is not certain, but we know the Terrans have recently been able to pursue it through three isolated systems from the Arboreal Cluster to the verge of Terran system, which eventually led them here.”
The room went black and then promptly lit up with the metallic, diamond structure Mendin remembered. However, this time it was in low orbit above a rocky planet, not within its atmosphere. Also, the probe looked fully enclosed with pulses of bluish-white energy pulsing along its perimeters like rivulets.
He noticed three cylindrical Terran probes approach the artifact. They fell into orbit around the object.
“This encounter near the edge of Terran space is when the artifact appeared to be less concerned about the Terran probes. A squad of three survey cruisers were in pursuit, but they kept their distance on the outskirts of the system.”
“Did they find some way to trick its sensors?” asked Firehoon.
“We do not know. We know they sent transports loaded with troops and a science team to investigate. When the teams were within a million kilometers the probes went silent and the artifact jumped again. The Theseus pursued, but the other two cruisers had to pick up their transports.”
Mendin smiled. The Theseus was the cruiser that had made it to this system, ambushed by Firehoon’s vessel in unclaimed territory. It was still out there somewhere limping around while its two companion cruisers circled them now. Everyone was waiting for the spark. Mendin craved that spark.
Firehoon leaned back in his chair. “Well, that brings us up to speed. We were aware of the Terran’s obsession with this artifact by the time they encountered it at the edge of their territory.”
Mendin smiled again. Which led to the glorious ambush.
“Something funny, lieutenant.” The sector commander’s red eyes focused intently on Mendin.
He felt like prey. He shook his head. “We should be proud, we were the first to land on that artifact, we were the first inside. Perhaps it has chosen us to delve its secrets. Maybe the Gods have chosen.”
Mendin heard those words echo in the back of his mind. That is what he heard before the artifact imploded. But he was there, he had made it inside. Surely, there was a reason.
The sector commander grunted. “The Gods don’t grant promises.”
Inagrin. Mendin uncomfortably readjusted himself in the seat. He had said those exact words to Inagrin, moments before a rocket killed her.
“What did you see inside of the artifact?” The sector commander was now upon him.
Mendin stumbled over his words, his composure shaken. “We, I saw mostly a hollow inside. There seemed to be a central core or processing center in the center of the artifact. However, it had little in the form of consoles or even holographic projections. It was never meant to be manned.”
“Then, how did you get in?”
“There was a door.”
“How did you open it?”
“I didn’t. It opened once the attack from the Terrans began.”
“It let you in?”
Mendin choked, he had never thought it let him do anything. But why did it open? “I cannot be sure, but it did open. I was only trying to find a tactical advantage.”
The sector commander placed a large hand on his shoulder. It was twice the size of his own. She bent down to stare directly into his soul. Her breath was hot. Mendin realized she never blinked.
“You have gotten the closest than any other sentient to the purpose of that probe. Will you, for the glory of the Curtani, do it again?”
Mendin nodded. “However, it imploded. There is nothing left.”
“I’m not certain of that.”
The sector commander stood erect and the room switched to a view of the two Terran cruisers with the circular table nestled between them.
“If it is confirmed that the probe is no more, why haven’t they left?”
© 2018 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.
Join us on Facebook!