AN: This AN isn't going to be nowhere near as long as last time. A couple of quick clarifications. I in no way meant that Star Trek humanity surpassed the Forerunners. OH HELL NO they don't. What I meant was that when they actually focus on developing real ship grade armor purpose built for battle they beat out current Halo humanity and the Mass Effect universes. Oops, my bad on not making that clear enough.

Star Trek shields also most definitely block physical impacts. The Nemesis movie shows this clearly when the Enterprise E shields block a rather large chunk of another ship hitting it twice in quick succession. That happened when one of the Romulan warbirds was destroyed in the fight with the Scimitar and blew apart. One of the chunks bounced off the saucer section and then the warp nacelle with the shields blocking the impact both times without them failing. If I remember correctly there was an old episode of The Next Generation with Q in it where they were using the Enterprise D's shields to push a large asteroid off a collision course with a planet. So yes, Star Trek shields block physical impacts.

What happens in the first part of this chapter occured in a Star Trek: Voyager episode titled 'The Swarm.' So don't go saying I made it up to just bullshit my way around things.

Basic disclaimer: I do not own the properties in this work. Halo, Mass Effect, and Star Trek: Voyager belong to their respective owners. You do not have my permission to repost this anywhere else for profit. That's just parasitic in practice trying to profit off of something I'm doing for free.

Chapter 15: Scientific curiosity, Planning for the future

April 30th, 2183. 1330 hours

USS Voyager

Captain's ready room

Captain Janeway, along with several of Voyager's senior staff, were gathered in the captain's ready room discussing their next objective. Ensign Kim was standing in front of the display as he started his presentation of what they knew for the moment. "So far, we've discovered five dormant mass relays as we've been investigating star systems outside of the reach of the current active network. We've kept our sensor scans to basic observation only for the time being to avoid potential unintended activations. If we're going to learn more about how they function… we'll need to observe an active one."

Chakotay and Captain Janeway nodded and accepted his suggestion. Before they could say anything about it Seven of Nine spoke up. "Considering the rather primitive nature of their sensor systems I believe we can modulate the shields to hide Voyager entirely from them."

Ensign Kim quickly went over the sensor systems that they had encountered so far in his head before he shook his head in agreement. "As long as we stay well outside of visual range that should work. That'll give us a chance to properly scan and observe a mass relay in an active state."

Captain Janeway looked between Seven of Nine and Ensign Kim. "Get with B'Elanna in engineering and see to the shield modifications. These mass relays are more than they appear to be, and investigating them should shed some light on perhaps why this entire galaxy uses nearly the same tech base."

"Aye, Captain." Both Ensign Kim and Seven responded in kind.

After the two had left the room Chakotay and Captain Janeway shared a look. Chakotay spoke up first. "The mass relays we've found have been in varying states of being buried or covered in layers of space dust. Carbon dating and other methods show them to have been buried for hundreds of thousands all the way up to millions of years. They're far too old to have been built by the protheans as the races of this galaxy believe."

"Hmm… that's what has me worried about all of this. Our investigations into uninhabited planets has shown that previous civilizations have utilized the mass relays and their tech base to a great degree." Captain Janeway said before she took in a deep breath and sighed. "Figuring out how old they really are and how they function could potentially reveal who or what built them."

"But more importantly, why we've seemingly discovered a cycle of catastrophic events causing civilizations to disappear without warning." Chakotay added.

They both shared a look before leaving the room and getting back to their tasks.

USS Voyager

Bridge 1800 hours

"We've finished testing the shield modulations, Captain. They won't be able to detect us as long as we stay outside of visual range." Ensign Kim announced from his station.

"Good work, Mr Kim." Captain Janeway complimented. "Now then, which star system are we close enough to that has an active relay?"

"What they refer to as the Argos Rho cluster has an active relay within it. Specifically the star system of Hydra. It is close to us and far enough away from any of the galactic governments that traffic to and from the system will be light and not monitored very well." Seven of Nine answered as she had been studying their data from astrogation in preparation.

"Good work. Mr Paris. Plot a course to the outskirts of the Hydra system." Captain Janeway ordered.

"Aye, Captain. Plotting a course to the Hydra system outside of visual range." Ensign Paris acknowledged. "Estimated time of arrival… approximately twelve hours."

A slipspace rift opened and the starfleet vessel disappeared inside of it before it closed behind them.

Argos Rho cluster, Hydra system

May 1st, 2183. 0700 hours

USS Voyager


The trip through slipspace was as uneventful as all of their previous uses of the new technology. After taking over the stations that the secondary command staff had occupied, the primary crew made preparations for their exit from slipspace.

"Mr Paris. How close are we to our destination?"

"ETA… five minutes." Ensign Paris answered as he observed his station's readouts.

Captain Janeway nodded as she voiced her next question. "What does the information in the Codex say about the Hydra system?"

Seven of Nine brought the information up on the main view screen. "The Hydra system consists of a G class star with five planets. Two gas giants and three rocky planets. None of the rocky planets are hospitable for life unless significant terraforming operations are performed. One of the rocky planets, Metgos, is mineral rich. It is a target for mining operations, but it's inhospitable atmospheric conditions and distance from occupied systems has largely prevented its development."

Chakotay added his own views on the system. "This far out… I wouldn't be surprised if piracy and criminal activity increases significantly. They'd have to either somehow contract a military escort or a private mercenary company for defense. I can imagine that both options are exorbitantly expensive."

"An accurate assessment." Tuvok replied. "The Codex states that undeveloped areas like the Hydra system are plagued with lawless activity."

"Slipspace exit above the orbital plane of the Hydra system in thirty seconds." Ensign Paris called out.

Captain Janeway nodded. "Mr Kim. Are we hidden from their sensors?"

"Shield modulations active and functioning, Captain."

The view screen had shifted away from the information on the Hydra system and to the black and empty void of slipspace. A portal leading out of the extra dimensional space opened in front of the starfleet vessel and it exited without issue. The local space of the Argos Rho cluster then occupied the view screen.

"Slipspace exit above the orbital plane of Hydra confirmed." Ensign Paris announced.

"Beginning initial sensor sweep of the system." Ensign Kim said as he started scanning the Hydra system. "Mass relay located." The view screen showed what the sensors could see from their basic scan. The mass relay was clearly highlighted near the edge of the system outside of the farthest planet's orbit.

"Mr Tuvok. Scan for any ships in the system."

"Scanning." Tuvok manipulated the controls at his station and observed the readings they displayed. A few moments passed as he performed his scan before he put the results up on the main screen and announced his findings. "There appears to be a small group of similar ships of unknown design hiding on one of the moons of the gas giants. They are operating in a low power state indicative of automated craft without life support."

"Automated craft without life support?" Chakotay muttered aloud as he looked at the displayed ships. "With this galaxy's aversion to AI, I can only imagine that those are potentially geth ships. Their VI systems are too primitive to be able to operate on their own in a system this far out for ships of that size."

"Are those the only ships in the system at this time?" Captain Janeway questioned.

"Yes Captain." Tuvok answered. "I am detecting relatively recent FTL exit vectors from ships that were in the system previously. They appear to have been headed to the other systems within the Argos Rho cluster."

"Acknowledged. Seven. Continue scans of the unknown ships. I want to know everything we can about them without alerting them of our presence."

"Yes Captain." Seven of Nine replied as she started her in-depth scans.

"Mr Paris. Set a course for the mass relay well outside of visual range." Captain Janeway ordered.

"Aye, Captain."

Voyager jumped into low warp in order to reach their intended destination. They arrived several minutes later well out of visual range of any sensors that could be nearby. The view screen then shifted to a magnified view of the mass relay. The spinning rings were clearly lit by the sphere of blue energy within them.

"We're within scanning range of the mass relay." Ensign Kim called out.

"Alright. Now to see what makes these things tick." Captain Janeway said to herself as she stood from her seat and walked forward. "I want deep scans on the mass relay. We need to know everything there is to know about how they function and why they appear more ancient than they seem."

"Right away, Captain." Ensign Kim replied as he got to work at the science station near him as he was doubling as both operations and science officers today.

The incredibly powerful sensor systems of Voyager then went to work peering inside of the inner workings of the mass relay in front of them. A feat which had never been achieved by any race before them in this galaxy. Slowly, system by system, minute by minute, the wayward Starfleet vessel unraveled the mystery of how mass relays functioned.

May 1st, 2183. 1200 hours

UNSC Infinity


Captain Lasky was looking over the progress of the construction of the spaceyard on the holotable in front of him. He nodded to himself as systems started coming online on the newly finished sections. Soon, they would be able to start fabricating the antimatter production facility that would power their future endeavors. He marveled at how fast they were able to fabricate just about anything they needed with the industrial size replicators that the crew of Voyager had built for them.

"If we had this tech back during the war we would've been able to pump out ships faster than we'd be able to crew them." Captain Lasky mused aloud to no one in particular.

Roland's avatar flared to life on the holotable at his words. He waved his hand to the side as the display of the spaceyard shrunk and numerous graphs took its place. "By my estimates we would've been able to completely overwhelm the covenant with fleets in a matter of a year at full scale production like this. With enough replicators and power we can build a frigate in a matter of two weeks with just one spaceyard."

"Spread that out across all of the shipyards we had at the start of the war… and we would've had thousands of ships ready and waiting." Captain Lasky agreed. "Our only issue here and now is our limited available personnel. It's not like we can just make new people to crew anything we build." He nearly grumbled out at the end as he reached up and rubbed at the back of his neck exasperatedly as he sighed.

"Well, we could try to recruit people from this galaxy." Roland offered suggestively.

Captain Lasky raised an eyebrow as he tilted his head to the side. "Oh? And how would we pay them? Let alone how we'd keep ourselves a secret until we reveal our presence."

Roland scrunched his face up in thought as he put a finger to his chin. He relaxed as he replaced the graphs on the holotable with several common items they had. "Considering that we have several technologies that would be very beneficial to them, we could 'leak' them to the Systems Alliance in the form of patents through a front company. We kinda already did that with the sterile field generators we gave to the quarians."

Captain Lasky shrugged at that. "I guess we have. Alright, what do you suggest?"

"I'll get into contact with Cortana and Lt Commander Daniels for that, sir. I'm not really suited for those kinds of things." Roland admitted. "In the meantime though, I can outline a few technologies we can leak to the Systems Alliance." Captain Lasky nodded for Roland to continue.

The cylindrical object floating on the holotable enlarged as Roland pointed to it. "Biofoam. Their medi-gel might be really damn good at treating and stopping the bleeding of flesh wounds, but it falls flat with severe traumatic internal injuries. Someone hit hard enough in the gut or chest is gonna bleed out internally or worse before they can get them to a proper trauma center out in the field."

"I can see that happening. From what I've read on medi-gel so far I can definitely see where it has it's issues. Medi-gel is good, but it's not perfect." Captain Lasky agreed. "What else do you suggest we leak?"

A section of metal plating enlarged next on the holotable. "Molecularly reinforced titanium A would be my next suggestion. I doubt they'd use it in their ships since it would more than likely make them overmassed for their purposes. No, they'd use it in building orbital stations and groundside bases." Roland said as he brought up images of Systems Alliance ships and their displacements compared to their own.

Captain Lasky looked over the displayed ships. "Considering that our Strident frigates nearly outmass and do outmass even their dreadnoughts in some cases, I can see why they'd stick to other uses for it. Hell, a halberd destroyer outright outmasses anything they field right now."

Roland switched the image on the holotable to a medical symbol signifying flash cloning. "We could also do something relating to flash cloning methods. But, considering the laws around cloning it might be a bit harder to pull off with introducing it."

"True. But it still wouldn't hurt to see how far we can push things in that area." Captain Lasky replied. "Being able to rapidly clone replacement organs in an hour or whole blood in minutes for accident victims and wartime casualties might make them change their minds in that aspect."

Roland shrugged and hummed. "Good point. Only way to find out is to see if it goes anywhere."

Captain Lasky nodded at all the suggestions so far. "Get into contact with Cortana and Agent Daniels so we can coordinate further on this."

"Aye aye, sir." Roland saluted as his avatar faded away and the hologram of the spaceyard took up the image again.

Not only had they been building and setting up the final pieces of the spaceyard, but they had also built a veritable fleet of automated mining drone ships. They weren't very large individually, but when they were built en masse they could easily gather large amounts of resources quickly.

Captain Lasky had been using the Infinity's sub vessels essentially as mini carriers as the drone ships had latched themselves onto their exteriors. They had been busy ferrying the drones and other materials around the system as they gathered resources for their endeavors. Other defensive measures had been set up on the edges of the system such as numerous early warning long range sensors.

Roland's avatar appeared on the holotable several minutes after he had set about getting into contact with the Cover of Night. A window with Cortana's image appeared next to him. "A little birdy told me you're looking into releasing some of our tech out into the wilds of this galaxy."

The Infinity's AI gave a mock offended look to the window beside him as he mouthed 'little birdy' from the side. "That's the idea. We'll need funding if we're going to recruit anyone to our cause from this galaxy." Captain Lasky answered back. "We can only hide for so long before we'll eventually need to come out into the open to more directly address… whatever we're supposed to fix."

"And since being in another universe has cut off all support from the UNSC, our buying power and political weight won't matter much to the established nations. Not only that, but our limited resources will make it hard for others to take us seriously." Cortana finished Captain Lasky's argument. "Guess it's time to change things up from the norm for the people of this galaxy." She said in a confident and snarky manner. "Either that or prepare for them to come after us for our vastly different tech once they find out about us."

Captain Lasky nodded and hummed at that. "Hmmm… that's what I'm afraid of in the end." He sighed as he thought about their options for now and then answering. "Alright. I'll leave that part up to you and Lt Commander Daniels. We can only do so much from our end without announcing ourselves to the rest of the galaxy with a ship the size of the Infinity."

Cortana tilted her head to the side and put a finger to her chin thoughtfully. "Well, there is one thing you can do on your end." Captain Lasky gestured for her to continue. "We'll need a ship built if we want any of our plans to play out properly. Because I doubt waiting long enough to build up enough finances to buy a ship will mesh well with anything we do. Not to mention it'd be hard to trust their ships in general when it comes to their computer tech."

Captain Lasky nodded at that. "In that case… do you have a general ship design in mind?"

"Well… it's going to have to be a custom design. Something that will showcase some of the new technologies that we'll be incorporating into its overall design." Cortana explained. "We'll need to construct it using their design methodologies in general, but with our own twists added in. I would suggest basing the overall design on one of our smaller colony support vessels. That way, we'll be able to have different sections of the ship dedicated to testing our tech."

Roland spoke up at this point. "Using titanium A in key structural points and sparingly throughout the superstructure will have to be the extent of its use. Hull plating made out of it will make the ship overmassed by their standards." He paused as he looked back up to Captain Lasky. "I know that ship design isn't your specialty, sir. We can take it from here if you have nothing further for us?"

"No. That'll be all, Roland. Carry on." Captain Lasky said as he left the holotable and turned to head for the officers' mess hall. Cortana and Roland disappeared off of the holotable and into the Infinity's systems to continue their conversation on ship design.

The chatter of the rest of the bridge crew continued on uninterrupted as they coordinated their operations in the system. The image of the spaceyard spun lazily on the holotable until Captain Lasky returned from his lunch half an hour later.

Captain Lasky looked over the image of the two kilometer long space construction yard. It was equipped with a dedicated raw resource processing plant and all the necessary fabrication facilities needed for fleet maintenance. Soon, they would be able to more properly maintain and refit their ships while also building new ones. The addition of the Starfleet replicators made fabrication even faster for simplistic systems and components.

The hologram shifted and shrunk as Roland and Cortana's communication window appeared above the surface. "What have the two of you been able to come up with?" Captain Lasky asked as he looked between them. Roland waved his hand to the side as a familiar ship design appeared to his side. "That looks like… a Star Charter class colony support ship."

"You'd be correct, sir. Built before the human covenant war, these ships supported colonization efforts for smaller operations. Not too big, not too small. It's perfect for what we have planned for it." Cortana explained as the image spun. "With the addition of a mass effect core we've been able to reduce its overall tonnage by quite a lot. It won't be equipped with a slipspace drive for obvious reasons, but it'll still be able to survive being transported through if necessary."

"Sounds good so far. What else can you tell me about what you've done with its design?" Captain Lasky questioned as he looked at the obvious design features.

Roland snapped his fingers as a list of the ship's components appeared. "The fusion core, for one, will be a civilian design. It may not have a lot of capacity compared to our military fusion cores, but it's still more capable than their own military fusion cores. And since it's one of our fusion cores, we'll be able to use our highly efficient and powerful fusion torch engines."

"We'll have to thoroughly test what adding a mass effect core does to our ships considering the output of their fusion engines." Cortana added from the side. "In simulations the fusion engine output paired with a mass effect core turns this ship class into a high performance personal yacht."

Captain Lasky's eyebrows raised at the declaration. "That's quite the claim. Star Charter class ships aren't known for being particularly fast. They were efficient and well rounded colony support ships for their time." His brow scrunched in thought for a few moments. "Do you plan on introducing slipstream space travel theory to them?"

Cortana merely smiled and tilted her head.

"Right… moving on. What about their shielding systems? What were they called again?"

"Kinetic barriers. They can protect against high velocity physical impacts, but do nothing when it comes to plasma, heat, or lasers." Roland explained as he showed a short video of shipborne kinetic barriers in action. "Our shields, however, stop everything. As long as it doesn't overwhelm the shields themselves."

Cortana then gave a suggestion. "Kinetic barriers don't require much power to function. Hell, you could slap a small fusion battery pack and emitters into our soldiers armor and they'd have working kinetic barriers." Roland shifted the hologram to show how minor of a change it would make to their armor systems for their common soldiers and ODST's.

Captain Lasky nodded with a hand to his chin. "Have some prototypes produced and tested."

"The Infinity science center already did, sir." Roland said with a smile as he brought up the design on the holotable.

"Oh…" Captain Lasky muttered as he looked at the design. "I must have missed that update report from our scientists?"

Roland looked up in thought for a moment before he looked back to Captain Lasky. "Nope. You didn't miss it. They just haven't forwarded the results from what they've managed to come up with yet."

Captain Lasky huffed a short laugh. "Guess they've been too caught up in scientific discovery mode to think about letting us know what they've been up to."

Roland nodded rapidly. "Pretty much."

Several more back and forth conversations happened between the three of them as they further discussed future plans using mass effect technology.

Unknown location

Cartographer's observation room

A being of unfathomable intelligence watched countless screens patiently as the events of thousands upon thousands of universes played out before them. They would occasionally focus on one universe and exert their will as a minor to major change was enacted that would carefully guide its growth. Said individual relished in guiding species on their path of evolution. Both the good and the bad were accepted as they added to the experience of any universe. In fact, destruction paved the way for new developments to occur. Just as creative species' tried to shape the universe around them, so too do the destructive ones in their own ways.

Cartographer glanced to their side as a bright flash of light signaled the arrival of a fellow being of higher existence. Q looked up to the far larger being before looking back to what was all around them as he spoke. "Quite satisfying, isn't it? Watching them grow and develop from mere simplistic organisms all the way up to space faring civilizations."

Cartographer hummed in agreement. "Yes, quite. I may not go about creating life from nothing like many of my brethren do, but I methodically guide and map out the development of their creations with great care."

Q hummed several laughs. "Putting them through various trials and tests of their growth can challenge them to develop in new and interesting ways." He reminisced about how he had purposefully exposed Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise D to the Borg. "It's amazing how a chance encounter can fundamentally change how a species goes about defending themselves."

The Precursor turned his head and gave Q a long and silent look. He hummed to himself as he looked back up to the countless screens floating around the room. "Indeed. The Primordial serves his purpose well as the final test of humanity and the punishment of the Forerunners. He does so willingly in every possibility that branches from that worlds' timeline."

"Time…" Q mused out loud. "Nearly all races struggle with that concept. Not knowing that time is irrelevant."

Cartographer brought one pair of arms together in a gesture of silent thought and contemplation. "All things, past, present, future. They are all happening both simultaneously and not at the same time." He pulled his arms apart as he looked around the room. "They perceive the world around them in a linear fashion. Only those who have truly become enlightened to the nature of time and the infinite can comprehend even a fraction of the growth of the universe around them."

Q held out a hand and an image of a swirling ball of dust formed above it. "Even the smallest dust particles have the greatest potential of becoming something more." The ball of dust began condensing and eventually forming a protostar. The disc of dust forming around it continued evolving along with its newly formed star. "A continuous cycle of birth, death, and rebirth drives all realities forward." The star and its system grew and developed before it reached the end of its lifespan. Eventually going nova and spreading its newly formed elements out across its area of space. "But when something has perpetuated a never ending cycle of stagnation? Well, that's just unentertaining."

The screens surrounding them froze and then started fading away. Cartographer turned and fully faced Q after the last image faded. "What is your purpose here?"

Q laughed slowly. "Am I truly that transparent?"

Cartographer spread his multiple arms wide as he tilted his head. "You have not visited me for mere conversation before. State your business."

The much smaller being smiled as he snapped his fingers. A screen with the image of a Starfleet vessel appeared. "I have a feeling that things will become rather… bland… without something, or rather, someone to push things along diplomatically."

Cartographer carefully scrutinized the ship in the image. He hummed in contemplation as he nodded his head. "If you wish to involve them, you must convince them to undertake this endeavor."

Q smiled whimsically. "Oh… I'm sure that I won't have any issues with that." He spun while spreading his arms wide in a grand gesture. "Uniting an entire galaxy against an ancient invading force? What kind of consummate diplomat would he be if he didn't want to partake?"

The large being of intertwined flesh and cybernetics hummed and laughed as all of the screens began reappearing again. "Yes. This will work quite well for all who will be involved." He reached for a particular screen and brought it closer to himself. It held the image of a large vessel that had just entered into a long distance travel phase through normal space. "Yes, all who will be involved." Cartographer said to himself under his breath.

AN: I wanted to add more at the end but I had gotten sick over this weekend. Thankfully it was just a minor chest cold and I'm pretty much over the worst of it. Seriously folks, if you work in food service and have a cold, don't go to work! You'll spread it to everyone you prepare food for! That's the only way I would've caught whatever I got since I don't go in and interact with people.

Sorry for yet another long delay between updates. I've still been working a whole hell of a lot this last year. Yet more build up before things start heating up.

For now, I ride my 18 wheeled stallion.