The Kilkenny dropped out of the mass effect field established by the mass amplifier and standard FTL took over, pushing the cruiser through the Hercules system of Attican Beta at a quick pace.
Admiral Anderson looked at the time on the display in front of him. They would be entering the Theseus system in a little while. He double checked the ship status reports and then headed off the bridge. The door to the elevator opened and Anderson stepped in.
“Main hangar,” he told the transport VI.
“Acknowledged, Admiral Anderson,” the VI droned. David laughed on the inside, finding it funny that he was much more comfortable with the cold, indifference of a military interface compared to the overly nice and helpful software now in use on the Citadel.
The elevator descended swiftly a few levels before lurching sideways to whisk the admiral halfway across the length of the ship to the central flight deck. It slowed to a stop and Anderson exited onto a busy floor. Pilots and engineers inspected and worked on the fighters, interceptors, and shuttles that lined the bay. Some crew members ran parts around the deck while others made minor repairs to bad systems or broken tools. One of the pilots, hustling across the floor, noticed Anderson and snapped to attention with a salute. “Admiral on deck!” she hollered.
Those in earshot turned to make sure it wasn’t another attempted prank by the more senior jokers in the various fighter squads, but then jumped up from the middle of their activities to mirror the pilot. Anderson waved them off.
“Cut that bullshit out, crewmen,” he told them in a relaxed tone. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to salute and be all official. This is not that time. As you were.”
“Sir, yes sir!” the first pilot said and then resumed her dash to a far bay of the hangar. The rest of the men and women returned to their tasks as well and Anderson continued on to the shuttle area. He walked up behind an older man who was busy with a data pad showing system scans of the shuttle in front of him on one half and a checklist on the other. The longtime mechanic rubbed a gray beard with his free hand and let out an impressed puff of air. Hearing Anderson’s footsteps, he casually turned around and nodded to the familiar face.
“David Anderson. It has been a long time, my friend.”
“Henry Korlov, you old dog. Pounding away at ships, just like the last time I saw you.”
“How have you been, Admiral?”
The admiral smiled and shook the man’s offered hand. “Good on some days, worse on others. What about you, Hank?”
“Ha ha, I know the feeling,” the Russian native said with a heavy accent. “About the same, more or less. Glad you pulled me on board, buddy. Haven’t had the chance to talk with you since I got dragged into this super secret project. Thanks for that, by the way. I know you had a hand in that decision.”
“Might have something to do with being the one in charge of said project,” David chuckled. “So . . . is that stuff going to work?”
Hank stepped up to the shuttle and wrapped the hull with his knuckles. It barely made a sound. “I don’t see why not. Great time to test it,” he cracked with a roll of his eyes. “You know, on an actual mission with only computer models to assure us that it’s good. It is amazing stuff, though. I’ll give them that. I see what they did and I get how it works, but I just can’t imagine how long it would have taken them to develop it, nevermind us.”
“They didn’t survive through the ages and wipe out who knows how many thousands of races by not having proven armor. As for how long- who knows? Who’s to say the Reapers even came up with it in the first place? Might have stolen it from some species a billion years ago, for all we know. I just want to be prepared for whatever we face on Logan and I figure that gas giant will be a good real world test.”
“Still, I’d feel a lot better if you’d sit this one out, my friend. Not many admirals left and even fewer good ones. I’d hate to be responsible for losing the man that kept Earth alive.”
“Quit worrying, Korlov. Just prep that bird and we’ll take her for a nice easy flight to . . . whatever we find on that planet.”
With a mock salute, Hank Korlov returned to his checklist. “Sure thing, Admiral. You’re the boss.”
“And don’t you forget it, Chief,” the old soldier said, slapping his friend on the back with a laugh before leaving.
* * * *
“Don’t rush us in, Mills,” Admiral Anderson told the slightly nervous looking young pilot of the shuttle. “Just ease us into orbit to start with.”
“Aye aye, Admiral.”
“What are we looking at, Kahlee?” Anderson asked from the blonde scientist sitting in the co-pilot seat at the front of the shuttle.
“Odd readings, that’s for damn sure. Those signals are definitely there, just very very weak. If we weren’t looking for them specifically, or knew what to look for thanks to the Inusannon data that Sooltir dug up for us, we’d never see it. The signal strength must have been magnitudes higher when it was detected by chance all those years ago.”
“Can we pinpoint it?”
“I’m already working on it,” Brynn answered from a seat behind Kahlee. She made some adjustments to the scanning parameters and a red data stream changed to dark orange. “Barely,” she finally answered. “We’ll have to go in closer.”
“Can the shuttle handle that?” asked Major Coats.
“These things are rated at a thousand standard atmospheres, so yes. It will handle the planet. It’s what we find behind those clouds down there that I’m more worried about,” Anderson said.
Kasumi spoke up,”That surprises me, Admiral, what with that Reaper tech covering this flying box.”
“Sir?” Coats questioned, looking to Anderson.
David turned from looking over Kahlee’s shoulder to face his trusted resistance leader. “It’s true. This shuttle is a test platform for one of the various pieces of their tech that’s being looked at for wider implementation across the fleet.”
“Do we really want to start blending Reaper technology with ours? Look at what Cerberus did to their own people! No offense Taylor,” he tacked on, looking Jacob’s direction.
Jacob shrugged. “Hey I’m not Cerberus anymore. I corrected that mistake.”
“Easy, Major. We’re not doing any organic-synthetic blending. Weapons, armor, the militarily prudent. Hell, it wouldn’t be the first time. Don’t forget where Thanix Cannons came from.”
The soldier looked down, conceding the point.
Next to him, Nahlyon looked up. “Where did your weapons come from?” she asked.
“It came from a Reaper named Sovereign that attacked the Citadel a little more than three years ago. He had indoctrinated the Council’s top Spectre, a snake of a turian named Saren. That Spectre tried to open the Citadel relay after the Reaper’s signal to the keepers failed, thanks to your scientists from Ilos. Sovereign brought an armada of geth to destroy the Citadel fleet while Saren worked to transfer control of the station to that damned Reaper. We took him out and lost a lot of ships in the process.
“Every species allowed on the station snatched up whatever bits and pieces of scrap from that ship that they could. Now is no different. If humanity stays out of the game for some altruistic notion, we’ll be at the point of a very advanced gun in the not too distant future. The Alliance isn’t willing to risk that. That’s half the reason we’re out here now. Whatever Logan is hiding . . . we think it’s very old and most likely very advanced. Let’s just hope it’s still intact. Helmsman, keep her going in. Slowly.”
The conversation ended, each of the crew lost in thoughts of the Reaper war, this cycle and the last. The shuttle moved closer and closer, the swirling clouds of the planet becoming more defined on the ship’s multiple video displays. The mix of red and brown obscured the view of anything behind the thick puffy formations. Anderson squinted at the main display that overlaid the signal strength with the actual video of the planet. He tried willing it to turn green. Instead, after a long couple of minutes of waiting, it turned bright orange.
“Closer,” the admiral stated. “Looks like we’re on the right track. Take us in a little more and a little faster, Lieutenant Mills. I don’t feel like sitting in this clown car all day.”
“Yes sir,” the pilot complied.
“Clown car?” Sooltir asked.
“Human expression,” Kahlee said. “Small area packed absurdly full.”
The shuttle rocked lightly. “Just a little turbulence. Not even a drop in the bucket of what we can take,” informed the pilot. Anderson saw the orange turn yellow and exchanged a questioning glance with Kahlee.
“Hold this spot and drop down some more,” Anderson said, acting on a hunch.
The shuttle’s elevation indicator steadily lowered. The so called turbulence increased. Flashes of blue energy began to punch through the impenetrable clouds around the ship.
“That is not a natural phenomenon,” Sooltir observed.
“Is that . . . an eezo field?” Major Coats asked.
“Starting too look like one, isn’t it?” Kasumi agreed.
The signal strength started flashing between yellow and green rapidly. An alarm went off. “Sensors say we’ve got . . . something. High velocity! Heading right for us!” the pilot yelled. “Hold on!”
There was a hard impact and Anderson was thrown off his feet, falling back across Coats and the Protheans. They caught him and he slid into a seat and grabbed the safety harness for stability. The shuttle took more hits. “These things are good! Adjusting for every move I make!” Mills shouted.
“How are we holding up?” the admiral called.
“Lots of contact. Shields dipping, but even with all that, hull integrity is still good.”
“Nice test run, eh Admiral?” Coats asked.
“That’s one way to put it,” he replied with half a smile. “Keep going, Mills.”
The pilot pushed the shuttle deeper into the clouds with the attacks coming even faster and harder. “Shields can’t recharge at this rate of fire, Admiral. We’re going to start taking more damage. This armor should hold . . . as long as they don’t focus on any one spot, I guess.”
“Understood. Max out our speed. I have a feeling . . .”
The signal went solid green as another round of hits exploded on the front corner of the ship, closest to the pilot. A section of the console burst open. Fire and electricity shot directly into Mills’ face. The pilot screamed in pain and then slumped forward on top of the ruined controls.
“Mills!” Kahlee cried, jumping out of her seat. She checked his pulse while she pulled him from the seat. “He’s gone, David!” She pulled his body to the side and went back to her seat to use the co-pilot controls. “Do we keep going or turn back while we still can?” she asked.
The admiral looked at his crew.
“Admiral, perhaps we should consider turning back,” Sooltir suggested.
“I would stick to the path, Anderson,” Kasumi offered. “The strongest defenses protect the most important treasures.”
Anderson glanced to Kahlee and then from the master scientist to the master thief quickly making his decision.
“Take us in, Kahlee,” he ordered. The ship shuddered and warning alarms continued to blare in the small confines of the modified Kodiak. “I’m willing to bet we’re almost-“
The shuttle broke through the wall of clouds and into a clear section of the gas giant’s skies. The attacks ceased and the only sounds were those of the signal trace with a positive lock on its target and the alarms warning about significant damage to the ship.
“-through,” Anderson finished. He looked at the video feed. “Look at that,” he told the others who were getting up from their seats to inspect the strange calm. “No wind. No clouds.”
“And one huge ass asteroid floating in the middle of it all,” Jacob observed.
The crew studied the images coming in over the video display. A blue field of energy shimmered every few seconds around the asteroid that easily matched the size of a modest space station.
“And another unnatural phenomenon,” Brynn added. “Looks like it’s the source of our signal, too.”
Anderson leaned towards Kahlee and put a hand on her shoulder. “Let’s look for an opening,” he whispered.
The synthetics expert nodded and moved the shuttle in towards the levitating rock.
“I don’t like it,” Coats said. “Why did the attacks stop? Why attack in the first place?”
“I don’t know,” Anderson answered. “When we find the source, we might get some answers. Make a pass around it, Kahlee. Let’s give it a look.”
The Kodiak drifted in a lazy loop, scanning the large object from what Sanders hoped was a healthy distance. Two thirds of the way around, Kahlee swore. “Holy shit!” The shuttle coasted to a stop.
“Jackpot!” Kasumi exclaimed with a smile.
Tethered to the asteroid by short metal looking tubes were two distinctly different alien crafts. One was close to the size of the Kilkenny in orbit and it had a second covered walkway extending from its side to the other, much larger, ship. It was easily twice the size of the largest Reaper.
“Master!” Nahlyon gasped. “That ship . . . the smaller one . . . is it . . .?” she trailed off in disbelief. All eyes turned to the younger Prothean woman. Sooltir looked at her assistant closed her eyes and nodded with a slow confirmation.
“Inusannon,” Sooltir said.
“And the other ship?” Anderson asked.
Sooltir studied the huge ship for a moment and shook her head. “I do not know. I can tell you it is not of Inusannon design. It does not resemble any style of vessel or architecture they ever described or left notes on that I can recall being found. I believe we may be looking at something very very old, Admiral. We must get aboard both of these ships. Hidden for ages and defended well. There must be good reason.”
“And don’t forget that space station,” Jacob said. Anderson looked over to the former Alliance soldier turned consultant with a questioning expression. “What? That’s gotta be what that rock is. The tunnels to each ship. That’s no mining operation, either. Those ships are docked for something other than some crates of palladium. I’d look for another docking port and check out that too.”
“Good points, Taylor,” Anderson agreed. “We might want to split into a few teams. We’ll look for a place to dock or land, check things out and then a separate group will search each point of interest here. Kahlee, take us to the far side of that unidentified ship. I don’t see a dock on this side of the asteroid. Maybe we’ll find one there. But let’s send a message to the Kilkenny and let them know our situation.”
Kahlee shook her head. “Already tried. We’re being blocked. I’m guessing by whatever energy is forming their protective bubble,” she said, indicating the display where both ships and the asteroid could be seen more clearly as the shuttle coasted by them to the far side of the docking area.
“Great,” David said. He tapped the display screen to take note of the new object coming into view. “Looks like we’ve got some luck finally. Put us in there.”
A single docking port extended to the emptiness in Logan’s high atmosphere next to the massive unidentified capital ship. Another lay crushed into the rock surface of what Anderson was beginning to believe really was a space station or research facility of some kind. How it came to be suspended under the cover of the planet’s shroud he had not guessed yet. As the ship approached the port, it came alive with a bright yellow light.
“That looks promising,” Jacob said.
“I don’t know,” Coats countered. “Yellow doesn’t scream safe to me. Plus, one minute it’s about to turn us to scrap, the next it’s welcoming us? Why?”
“I say we go find out,” Kasumi answered, the thief’s eyes wide with anticipation of new and exotic items to procure.
“We’ll find out when we get in there,” Anderson told them. “But we’ll go in armed and ready. Suit up and stay alert.”
The shuttle came within a few meters of the port’s end and the yellow light extended outwards, surrounding the ship.
“What is that?” Brynn asked.
“I think some sort of shield,” Kahlee thought out loud. “And I’m getting readings of breathable atmosphere from inside it.”
“Alright. Open the door and let’s get moving. But keep your helmets on, people. Friendly or not, this stuff is old. I don’t want to get spaced if the power suddenly burns out.”
“Roger that, Admiral,” Coats responded, pulling down his helmet and picking up a weapon.
* * * *
Commander Jack Miller stood next to the Kilkenny’s communications officer, Chuck Little, who sat working to try and find a way to make the cruiser’s signal punch through the interference coming out of the Logan atmosphere to reach Admiral Anderson and his team.
“So, Chuck, how’s the family doing?”
Little didn’t look up. “Doing good, Jack. I’m so damn lucky to have them all make it through that Reaper hell. Running from broken building to hole in the ground, day in and day out, living under the Resistance’s watch when they were stretched so thin. My boy Ronnie . . . he’s found himself a sweet little girlfriend. Cutest thing and she makes him smile all the time.”
“It’s nice to see one bright mark come out of the blackness.”
“I know. Who’d have thought it? And my baby girl just turned six and Lynn and I are just hoping that schools get moving again so she gets the education we always wanted for her. There will be a lot of home schooling, though, I’m sure. A lot of schools were too close to all the big targets for the Reapers.”
“Too many teachers are gone, that’s a fact,” Jack said, providing Chuck’s unsaid thought.
“What about you, buddy? Monica . . .?”
“She had a section of a wall fall across her legs during an attack. Lost one leg completely and the other from the knee down.”
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. She’s strong. Nothing but positive thoughts and looking to the future for my beauty. And the doctors are amazing. You know that rumor about Commander Shepard having died and getting brought back to life?”
“Yeah . . . isn’t he Captain now?”
“Something like that, but it’s besides the point. Turns out, it’s true. He was torn to pieces and spaced. Helmet had sealed, protecting his brain from what I hear. Point is, he was nothing but chunks and they put him back together.”
“Didn’t Cerberus do that?” Chuck asked.
“True, but the project lead on that task turned from Cerberus after helping Shepard defeat the collectors and all their medical breakthroughs came to the Alliance. They’re growing Monica real legs, from her own DNA.”
“Thought that was old hat, Jack?”
“But it will be done in weeks instead of years, and it’s not even a tenth of what it used to cost!”
“She’ll be as good as new,” Chuck understood, looking up to share an approving smile with his friend.
“Damn right!” Jack said, beaming. “Now how’s that communication coming?”
“Not too good. I’m getting something back, and it’s from our shuttle, but nothing useful.”
“Well, at least that means they’re probably still mov-“
“Commander Miller!” a frantic crewman shouted.
The commander yanked his head around, feeling his stomach sink. “What is it, Saj?”
“Spit it out, man!”
“The Normandy just came out of FTL at our rear!”
“What? The Normandy? That can’t be. They’re at Sur’Kesh.”
“Something isn’t right, Jack,” Chuck said.
“Give me a visual, Saj.”
The unmistakable outline of the galaxy renowned frigate streaked towards the Kilkenny, a black shadow coming out of the Theseus system’s sun.
“Sir, I’m reading massive energy spikes!”
“WHAT?” Chuck yelled.
* * * *
Anderson stood behind the crouching Kasumi Goto as she worked at the outer door of the asteroid’s airlock, the rest of his eight person crew waiting less and less patiently behind him.
“I seem to remember you being an expert at this, Kasumi,” Jacob said. Brynn gave the soldier a disapproving push. Kasumi didn’t turn from her task.
“I seem to remember you being an idiot,” the thief shot back with a smile. “But if you’ve suddenly become an expert at never before seen, ancient alien technology, by all means, lend me a hand. Other wise, please refrain from distracting banter. This may take a while.”
The large door flashed yellow and there was a heavy thunk from the seal between the door and floor. The entire team instinctively stepped back. When the expected explosion did not materialize, Kasumi looked from the door to Anderson.
“Or . . . not?”
The door opened slowly but with little of the noise the admiral expected. He estimated it was on the order of hundreds of thousands of years old, if the city-ship dwarfing the Inusannon ship was from a cycle prior to that race, as Sooltir conjectured, was any indication. It was a technical marvel that anything that ancient still worked at all, never mind operated so flawlessly. As the door receded into the ceiling, the interior passageway was illuminated with more yellow light, the source of which could not be readily determined.
“Let’s go,” Anderson ordered.
They made their way down a smooth tunnel that was easily five meters high at the apex, but only two across its widest point. It extended in front of them with many connecting branches meeting the apparent main hall on both sides. Kasumi tentatively reached out a hand and touched the nearest section of wall. Her fingers depressed the material slightly. “Creepy. Feels like flesh.”
“Fascinating,” Master Gelten said, poking the wall herself. “This is not Inusannon construction. At least, not like any we ever recovered or read about.”
“We should look for a command center and see what we can find out about this place and who left it behind,” Kahlee said.
“Station Slenthix is a multipurpose facility with no command center and it has not been left behind. Not exactly. I am here,” said a voice that caused the Alliance team to raise their weapons, sweeping the immediate area for the owner’s face while continuing to head down the main path into the station. The voice continued. “You will find your weapons quite useless. Security measures were enacted upon your unauthorized access to this facility. Further hostile actions will provoke automated defenses and you will most likely perish.”
David waved his hand down and everyone lowered their weapons. “We’re not here for a fight. We came looking for information.”
“I know why you are here, Admiral David Anderson. Though, to speak plainly, you did yourselves no favors arriving in a vessel integrated with the technology of the Rialusans. The station’s automated defenses nearly destroyed you before my data hacking processes absorbed your Alliance information and determined you not to be an indoctrinated enemy. I apologize for the death of the one you called Mills. It is an unfortunate side effect of adapting the enemy’s tools.”
David bit his tongue, wanting nothing more than to give the speaker a piece of his mind for the killing, but he told himself to let it go for the sake of the mission. “Rialusans? You mean the Reapers?”
“That is what they have come to be known as, yes.”
“Where are you? Who and what are you?” he asked.
“I am accessible from anywhere on this station, my creators’ vessel, and the Inusannon vessel docked here. That required modification, but I was able to convert an enemy agent and it made the necessary changes. As for who- I am the caretaker of Slenthix.”
“Some sort of advanced VI? Like the one Shepard found on Ilos?” Brynn asked.
“Not one of ours, that’s for sure,” Nahlyon answered.
“That is the ‘what’. I am what your cultures call an artificial intelligence,” the voice answered. “My creators identified me simply as Caretaker. You may do the same if you like.”
“What is this place?” Major Coats asked.
“This is Station Slenthix. A multipurpose facility, as I stated before. However, there are no active parties currently utilizing the station. You are presently making your way down the main hall of the docking area. It leads from the many sections of the docking area to a transit system that accesses the rest of the station. The transit vessel can be found straight ahead.”
“You mentioned using an enemy agent for modifications. Are you only a program with a voice for communication?” Kahlee asked.
“You wish to know if I have a physical form, Kahlee Sanders?”
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“How about something different,” the admiral suggested. “Maybe something representing what your race looked like?”
“That is not advisable. I do not wish to reveal information that I was sworn to withhold.”
“Give me a visual, Saj.”