Mal and I mulled the audio and video files over for another hour or so and came to all kinds of wild conclusions. An elaborate Imperial plot to get the Federation worried. And equally ballsy Federal plot to consume vast amounts of Imperial resources chasing red herrings. Perhaps even an overly ambitious Alliance scheme to confuse both the Empire and the Federation.
But whatever we came up with, it just didn’t seem to fit. No, this was something else. And we were both thinking the same thing.
“I thought we wiped them out with that bio-engineered virus… what was it called?”
“Hyper-mycoid” replied Mal, without a moments hesitation. “And it was a fungus, not a virus!” His ability to stun and amaze rarely failed to impress. Especially his ability to consume beer in quantities that would otherwise incapacitate a Disian Rhinoceros.
“You’re convinced about this aren’t you?” I asked.
“You bet your ass I am. I mean come on, let’s look at the evidence.” Mal brought up the files from the doomed Hauler on Thunder Child’s main astro navigation panel. “There” he said, pointing to the grainy image of what we were now calling ‘the artifact’. “You’re not telling me that thing is man made? And listen to those bloody noises it’s making! I’m telling you Darius, that thing is alive!”
The haunting sound of the artifact filled the otherwise silent bridge of the python. Mal cracked open another bottle of his beloved Hobgoblin and took a long swig. A long silence followed as we both stared at the nav screen, the artifact singing in the background.
“Talk to me Darius.”
I leaned right back in my chair, staring out the cockpit window as if, by some magic, the answer was going to be floating about inside the docking bay at New Dawn station. “You’re right Mal. But what do we do?”
“One thing I want answered Darius, is this. Pepper knows full well what that thing is and what it is capable of doing to the inside of a ship, and yet she has you out here looking for one. Why?” Mal’s worried look was now replaced by his more familiar ‘stern-yet-mildly-irritated’ look.
“I don’t know Mal. Maybe she doesn’t know.”
“Are you freaking kidding me Darius Torkalar!? The Emperor of Achenar doesn’t take a dump without that woman knowing!” Mal’s ‘stern-yet-mildly-irritated’ look giving rapid way to the ‘i’m -a-bit-pissed-off’ look.
“Fair comment. Ok. So, what do we do?” This was an unusual state of affairs. Me, asking Mal, what we should do in a complex situation.
The ‘Carl Sagan’.
“First of all, we get out of here and back to Alioth.” Mal replied, opening another bottle of ‘thinking potion’, or Hobgoblin as it was also known. “Here, take a look at this.” Mal closed the database system and opened up the Galnet News channel. After a brief moment the screen flickered as the latest news stories started to populate the screen. He then touched the icon for a story titled ‘Scientists Baffled by Mysterious Artefacts’.
Thanks to the efforts of dozens of Commanders taking part in a hunt across hundreds of systems, Dr. Arcannon and his team are delighted to announce that they have finally managed to retrieve an Unknown Artefact.
The artefact was recovered from a Federal Navy Convoy, following a broadcast from the group that their ships’ systems were failing. CMDR Red Wizzard is said to have demonstrated outstanding initiative, bravery and skill in recovering the artefact. Sadly, none of the convoy survived to accompany Commander Wizzard back to civilisation.
A team of scientists are currently analysing the mysterious object in an undisclosed laboratory somewhere near Timocani. It is hoped that the artefact will provide a clue as to how to cure the people of He Bo.
Scientists working on the mysterious item have yet to ascertain the origins of the artefact. Early reports indicate that all attempts to take samples from the object have met with failure.
CMDR Arcanonn wishes to extend a warning to all Commanders. The artefacts emit a strange form of radiation that will severely damage the systems of any ship carrying the object. As such, all potential artefact hunters are advised to travel as part of a wing in case of module failure.
“You’re not the only ones looking for these things Darius.” He swiped his hand left on the screen, the story scrolling with his gesture, replaced by the next story.
Prism Senator Planning New Voyage?
Leaked images from the Avalon shipyards appear to indicate that Senator Kahina Tijani Loren’s Imperial Courier, the ‘Seven Veils’, is undergoing a significant refit just weeks after her recent visit to the Sol system.
Security at the Avalon shipyards, which are owned and managed by Persephone station, is extremely tight. The images themselves are grainy and ill-defined, but seem to show that the drives, shields and possibly the frame-shift drive components have been significantly upgraded.
Sources within the Empire note that Senator Loren has been seen at several significant social events within Imperial space recently. Despite this, she has refrained from speaking to any member of the press since returning from Sol.
Speculation is rife as to her involvement with the ongoing struggle for power within the Senate. Loren has yet to declare her support for any of the leading contenders, a fact which some political pundits believe is a strong indication that she may be considering her own play for power.
“Kahina Loren? You think she knows something about these things?” I asked, trying to rub away the headache that was fast approaching.
“Indeed I do Darius. So, here’s what we are going to do. You are going to return to Melbourne Park and ditch the Carl Sagan. Then, you are going to outfit Texas with the best shield generator you can. And you are going to continue to look for one of these things.”
“Ok. But why Texas?” I replied.
“Because you are the only family I have left in this galaxy Darius. I just want you to be as safe as possible.” he said, placing his hand on my shoulder. And for a brief moment I thought I saw a glimmer of emotion deep within that frosty hard-ass demeanor.
“Ok. Deal. What about you? And I still don’t get the connection between this artifact and Kahina Loren?”
Mal closed the Galnet channel and opened up the galaxy map, “I’m heading to Jameson Memorial.” he said, pointing to the Shinrarta Dehzra system. “I have a few contacts within the Dark Wheel that owe me a favour. I think it’s time I called them in. As for Kahina Loren… besides the fact that she’s hot and I desperately want her to be involved in this… let’s just call it a hunch.” he winked the sly Malcom Washburne wink that normally ends up with the pair of us getting into some kind of trouble.
“Yeah she is hot isn’t she. Ok, so Baiju and I will get back to Alioth. I’ll call you when I get there.”
“No worries. I’ve gotta stay put for the next 8 hours while they service the drives on this thing.” Mal laughed, gently patting the bulk head wall of his Python. “I’ll let you know when I get to Dehzra. You be careful Darius Torkalar. And do me a favour… don’t let Pepper know I was out here eh?”
“You to numb-nuts! And no, I won’t tell her.” We both laughed, more to ease the tension than because what I said was funny. I left the Thunder Child and made my way back to where the Carl Sagan was berthed, contacting Baiju on his communicator to let him know we would be leaving in the next 20 mins and to call ahead to get departure clearance.